Jun 142019
 

The Undercroft #2 (OSR)

The second installment of the Undercroft-zine clocks in at 21 pages (laid out in 6’’ by 9’’/A5) if you disregard front cover, editorial, etc. I own the print copy, which is stitch-bound, well-made little booklet as far as ‘zines are concerned.

 

Anyhow, important to know: While nominally, the content herein is designed for use with the LotFP (Lamentations of the Flame Princess) system, the majority of the articles contained within are not only pretty rules-lite, they actually can be applied rather easily to other systems – to the point where I’d consider this to be almost system neutral. So yeah, if you’re playing 5e or PFRPG or the like, it’ll be easy to adapt the materials within.

 

Okay, that out of the way, it should be noted that this ‘zine’s installment is devoted to HORROR.  Not dark fantasy, not “kinda creepy let’s kill undead”, but frickin’ horror. While it also features components that are strange, the ‘zine is actually effective in what it does, so reader discretion is advised.

 

The most “normal” article within this booklet was penned by Tony A. Thompson, and is situated smack in the middle of the ‘zine: On a two page spread with the artwork, cleverly situated in the middle of the page, making smart use of the binding chosen. The article contains 12 different potions, suitable to teach PCs not to drink any weird liquid they find – there would, for example, be one that makes the characters’ toes fall off, to be replaced by tiny hooves. Severe disorientation, blindness, smelling breath, flesh oozing from the mouth – some seriously nasty effects here, and it should be noted that these make for interesting complications/side-effects as well. Overall, the rules-component is almost non-existent here, which may be a plus or downside, depending on where you’re coming from.

 

The ‘zine also contains three different monsters, illustrated by Matthew Adams in a stark and intriguing style that captures ScrapPrincess frenetic energy while being more concrete and defined – I really enjoyed his art style and wished we got to see more of it. The creatures are, for example, the nightmare fodder storkman, whose long legs stride through mist that sedate the legs of those caught in it – while they steal babies to place them at the threshold of other households for an inscrutable agenda. Briar witches haunt old ruins, and each word uttered in her vicinity will cause damage – and strengthen her. These witches can cause the growth of briars and brambles, and emit screams by spending hit points they absorbed.  The artwork seems to show her with a rose in her mouth, which made me shudder. Finally, the snailing is a man with a snail’s shell on the back – transformed by their miserly nature into obsessive and dangerous collectors. All of these don’t have stats, but their concepts speak for themselves.

 

Daniel Sell’s “The Visitor”, also illustrated by Matthew Adamas, does come with stats – the entity is a weird, preternaturally quiet supernatural serial killer who enjoys invading homes and paralyzing targets, arranging them in grisly tableaus, mummifying its victims. Seriously twisted! Less horrific: Tobis. That’s short for Transplasmic Organic Bifurious Inductors, these entities can help stabilize magic and represent essentially a kind of unique homunculus that comes with special variants that have their own rules as well. Nice.

 

Speaking of which: Simon Forster contributes a brief short story, “Blood”, which, while slightly experimental, was a great read! Kudos! Simon Forster also presents the little scenario herein, which ties in with another article.

 

In order to talk about the brief module (which could jumpstart a whole campaign), we need to go into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

 

..

.

 

All right, only referees around? A perfectly circular pool somewhere in the wild contains a massive ring at the bottom – once the curious adventurers pull it, the water willd rain into the sealed wizard’s laboratory/cave complex hidden beneath – and the water will erase the binding of That Which Slips Between. And this alone is worth getting this ‘zine if you even remotely like horror. Seriously. This entity gets its very own article, penned by Luke Gearing.

 

It is inspired. You see, the entity is essentially a nigh-unstoppable, strange force. To quote the start of the article: “It moves towards you. Its gait leisurely. Each step It takes moves too far towards you, the distance seeming to warp with every step. A nightmarish child-drawing of a human figure – a jumble of lines masquerading as a man, a stick figure given malignant life and purpose…” The entity comes with stats, but it can’t be harmed, it can’t be slain – I can just be contained. Its actions are not guided by mortal sense or dramaturgy – there is a generator to determine its actions, with 20 different entries, random directions and some rumors provided. These tables are GOLD. One of the things that makes the hounds of Tindalos and similar entities like Slenderman work so well, is that they seem to adhere to inscrutable rules – this is the case here. For example, the entity might move to the lowest depression within a 500 foot radius, then kill anything in that depression. It will kill anything that moves into the depression. After finishing its work, it will stand perfectly still for 6 minutes and 34 second. Time and its rules imposed on the creature, observing, roleplaying, is the only way to have a chance to deal with this utterly horrific…THING. It is genius, amazing and thoroughly glorious. It is genuinely SCARY.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level, where applicable. Layout adheres to a one-column b/w-standard, and as noted, the artworks featured within, particularly for the monsters, are awesome. The adventure-site gets a nice piece of b/w-cartography, but no untagged player-friendly version.

 

Daniel Sell, Simon Forster, Matthew Adams, Tony A. Thompson and Luke Gearing have created a humble little ‘zine that made me redefine what I can dare to hope from regarding ‘zines. This supplement is literally all killer, no filler and That Which Slips Between alone warrants getting this supplement. If you even remotely like horror, get this. The entity is so cool, I’m tempted to use it in pretty much all systems GUMSHOE, CoC, etc. – the monstrosity is just brilliant, and I’d pay serious bucks for a whole book of entities of this caliber. All in all, an excellent ‘zine for horror-fans, well worth 5 stars + seal of approval and my “Best of”-tag. Highly recommended!!

 

You can get this inspired ‘zine here on OBS!

 

Want print? You can find a copy here on Exalted Funeral (preferable for US customers) or here on Melsonian Arts Council’s store (better rates if you’re in the EU).

 

Enjoying my reviews? Please consider supporting my patreon here!

Endzeitgeist out.

Jun 142019
 

The Master of Forms Expanded – The Wood Element

This expansion for the Master of Forms-class clocks in at 9 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

This review was requested to be moved up in my reviewing queue by my patreon supporters.

 

I assume familiarity with the Master of Forms class in this review.

 

All right, so the wood stance allows the master of forms to grant a single growth point to a floral ally within 30 ft. What’s that? Well, the element comes with the sow the seeds ability, which nets the buried wildthorn, shieldroot and tilling broadleaf forms. Each of them creates a stationary floral ally that has a single action per round. These forms do not count towards the wood forms known for the purpose of prerequisites, but do count as wood forms for the purpose of entering and maintaining elemental stances.

 

You can only have one floral ally planted, but once you know 4 wood forms, you can have 2. If you know all 8, you can have three floral allies. You may not have more than one floral ally of a given type at a given time, though. At the end of your turn, when within 30 ft. of one or more floral allies, you may grant a single floral ally within 30 ft. 1 growth point. At 5th level, all floral allies start with 1 growth point, which increases by a further +1 at 11th and 17th level. Sow the seeds is not per se a form, but when the master of forms gains any wood form, they receive this as a kind of bonus ability.

 

Buried Wildthorn has a range of 30 ft., focus requirement of 0-3, and entails no focus change. The wildthorn is planted as a standard action, and 1/round attacks a target within 30 ft. of its position, with an attack bonus of class level + Charisma modifier. Damage is 1d8 piercing damage, with 7th level making the attack count as magical. The ally shares all attack and damage bonuses and penalties you have, and gains an enhancement bonus to attack and damage rolls equal to the highest bonus your weapons have. It has hardness equal to Charisma modifier, and thrice class level hit points. Melee attacks hit automatically, but ranged attacks have to hit a paltry AC.

 

Shieldroots follow a similar design paradigm, but act as buffers, providing temporary hit points to those nearby, while tilling broadleaves can use pollen to dazzle those that fail a save, or temporarily create difficult terrain. Here’s the thing: All of these have a second ability section: Growth. At 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 growth points they increase their effects. The buried wildthorn, in sequence, first adds Charisma modifier to atk, can expend growth points to execute cone-bursts of needles, cause bleed damage, overcome metal-based DRs, or self-destruct in a shrapnel explosion (to which the master of forms is btw. immune)! Cool! The shieldroot adds AC boosts, can make you share temporary hit points granted to allies, enhance saves, grant minor DR, or detonate in a short-lived, but AoE-affecting temporary hit point burst that could well mean the difference between triumph and TPK.

 

The tilling broadleaf gains wholly new abilities – flammable variants of grease, entangling targets, temporary focus grants and walls of vegetation – rather versatile!

 

These three can be improved with the “Enhanced *insert floral ally name* forms” – these reduce execution time for them to move action, focus change to +1, and provide an Escalation for the respective floral ally. Nice! With fecundity, a passive, whenever a creature dies or is destroyed, you may expend 1 focus point to grow one floral ally that doesn’t count towards your maximum. The short lifespan of these do prevent any abuse scenario I managed to come up with. The second passive, Bonsai, requires 6th level, and allows you to plant a floral ally in a small pot that you can carry around – it basically occupies your square. You can only have one such ally, but it does enhance its AC somewhat – and, well, it’s now mobile. Speaking of mobility: With the transplant form (an active one available at 6th level+) (swift action, range 60 ft., focus change +1), you can transplant a floral ally to an unoccupied square in range. Unique: This does allow for the use of an additional form, but any form with a +1 focus change instead has a focus change of 0. The third passive lets you the first time when you’d be reduced to 0 or below hp per day, expend 3 focus points as an immediate action, regaining 1d10 hit points per class level. Nice.

 

Fertilize, with a focus change of +1, allows you to grant a floral ally within 60 ft. 1 growth point, 2 at 11th level. There are three actives that require the respective “Enhanced” floral ally form: Razor Lash has a range of 30 ft. and a focus change of -1: It nets a nearby wildthorn +1 growth point and lets you make an attack that deals 1d8 + class level + Charisma modifier piercing damage as either a standard action or as an attack in a full attack. The Regrowth form requires the Enhanced shieldroot, and nets temporary hit points and a growth point – as an immediate action, which explicitly allows you to bypass the fixed limit on forms. Nice. The form building on the Enhanced broadleaf lets you create broadleaf forms, as though you had 1/3rd class level growth points (minimum 1, rounded down) and grant, bingo, a broadleaf a growth point.

 

Starting at 6th level, metabolic overdrive is unlocked: At focus change -2, it requires a move action to activate, and allows floral allies in range (60 ft.) execute two actions, but at the cost of 3 growth points per round. Virulent Decomposition, also at focus change -2, may be activated as a standard action, has a range of 60 ft., and infects a target with a fungus that deals constant acid and Constitution damage. Killing the target nets you growth points to floral allies within 60 ft. of the vanquished foe. At 8th level, masters of forms can choose the Rampant Growth form, which lets you bury instantly undeployed types of floral allies, or immediately max out growth points, at the cost of the floral ally dying after its next action. At -2 focus change, it can be escalated to -4 focus change, which lets you choose both effects AND the order in which they take place! Nice: Players with less experience get a full hint here how you can use this to combo! The -4 focus change form, Mulch, which requires 10th level, combos 1d6 acid damage per class level plus 1d6 fire damage per class level to a target within 60 ft., and if killed thus, you really boost the growth of your floral allies in range.

 

The pdf also features two new feats: Miracle Grower allows you, up to 5/day, grant a floral ally that would receive one growth point to get two instead. Vengeful Gardener lets you, when a floral ally is destroyed, perform the wood form associated with that ally (the one with “enhanced” before the name – they’re listed in the prerequisites) as an immediate action, without having to pay or gain the focus change of the form or having to meet the focus required. It also doesn’t, obviously, count towards the forms-per-round-limit. However, you may only do so once per day per form associated with your floral allies – once for shieldroot, once for tilling broadleaf, and once for buried wildthorn.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to interjection Games’ elegant two-column B7w-standard, and the pdf uses some nice b/w-artworks. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

 

Bradley Crouch’s wood-expansion for the master of forms is awesome. Full of combo-potential, the floral allies look weak at first, but with the right set-up and a capable master of forms, can make for the difference between life and death. With combo-potential and a very distinct flavor, this is a prime example of an excellent class-expansion pdf that is well worth its exceedingly low price. 5 stars + seal of approval.

 

You can get this great expansion for the master of forms class here on OBS!

 

Missed the Master of Forms? You can find the class here!

 

The shadow expansion for the class may be found here!

 

Want a compilation of Brad’s combo-classes? You can find that book here!

 

Enjoying my reviews? Please consider supporting my patreon. It’s keeping the lights on.

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jun 132019
 

Menace in Ravenreach (5e)

The 5e version of Menace in Ravenreach clocks in at 30 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 25 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreon supporters.

 

Okay, so first things first – while this module is part of a two-part mini-series (the second part of which is “Mystery in Ravenrock”, named after the fortification), this very much works smoothly as a stand-alone scenario. Nominally intended for characters level 4th to 7th, I’d suggest in favor of sticking to the lower level range if your player characters tend to gravitate to the higher power-levels.

 

As far as the setting is concerned, this module is situated in a borderlands-style frontier in both physical location and themes; aesthetically, this is very much a Lost Lands module that hearkens closer to the tradition of Greyhawk; it feels gritty and pretty down to earth, which is a plus in this instance. As a touch I greatly appreciated, for example, the module does suggest trade good equivalencies if you want to emphasize the remote location; this remains optional, but it is a touch that imho rather enhanced the atmosphere of the environment.

 

Ravenreach is a small town carved from the wilderness, courtesy of the stalwart and firm Baron of Raven’s Reach Bartholomew Blackraven, and a proper settlement overview has been provided. Nice: In the 5e-iteration, there is a table for the random effects of the foul-smelling brews the local alchemist concocts. A minor downside of the module would pertain the cartography featured – while the module does contain a properly, grid-using map of the initial scene, of the Ravenrock border fortress and of one encounter site, all of which come btw. as full-color maps and don’t have annoying numbers or the like and thus work in the context of VTTs and as handouts sans breaking immersion, there are no maps of the general region or the starting border village provided. While e.g. Raging Swan Press’ offerings provide a plethora of options there, it is something that a few people might consider to be a detriment.

 

A downside of the 5e-version: All but one of the original 4 handouts of the PFRPG-version have been purged in favor of other material (read: more monsters).

 

Speaking of which, the supplement also is rather detailed regarding its rumors on various matters, differentiating between different topics to inquire about; kudos for that. There is one more thing you definitely need to know about regarding this adventure, and that would be its rather unique focus: This is not a location-driven module per se, and doesn’t focus on a given environment or singular storyline. Instead, the module can be considered to be a means of establishing Ravenreach as an environment with its own peculiarities. The module establishes a series of encounters that run the gamut from the quick combat to the mini-dungeon, which, as a whole, cover more than one season. This is, in a way, a module concerned with the long narrative, and this is definitely something I appreciate. It also enhances the usefulness of the material within beyond the confines of the module. It is rather easy to dissolve the module into its constituent encounters and e.g. intersperse them into your own adventure.

 

The module does feature a pretty significant amount of read-aloud text for many encounters, and the book does feature two new magic item and a couple of unique NPC statblocks. Regarding those: The book is smart in that is doesn’t waste wordcount on stock characters. As far as wordcount is concerned, the adventure does something pretty clever – it uses default statblocks for 5e-critters, and then proceeds to list individual proficiencies and similar deviations from the standard stats, offering some serious variation there. Indeed, if you’ve been wondering – the extra page-count of the 5e-iteration stems from the expanded bestiary appendix. Beyond the NPC stats (which also provide stats for the local captain in this iteration), we also get a small bestiary featuring e.g. prehistoric beavers and the like. Since 5e does not yet have the same wealth of monsters as PFRPG. this expansion makes sense. Much to my pleasant surprise, this chapter also provided quite a few full-color artworks for the critters, and the 5e-statblocks are properly portrayed in full details, with the rules integrity of the material rather commendable. If the small tidbits above were not indicator enough, it’s here that we can see the module going beyond the call of duty regarding the demands of 5e.

 

All right, and this is as far as I can go without diving deeply into SPOILER territory. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

 

..

.

 

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, if the “call to adventure” style handout doesn’t do the trick, the module offers a bar brawl in the fully mapped “Dancing Bear” tavern against the 4 Gretis brothers (thugs in 5e instead of multiclassed characters) as a means to get the PCs on track for the adventure; those that slay one or more of the brothers may find themselves under arrest and press-ganged into the service of the local lord, which, while an old trope, is also pretty classic, and can be executed rather well. Smarter PCs that avoid casualties may find themselves in a position where they will have a better basis for negotiation.

 

Either way, the PCs are taken by Captain Jeremy Thorn to the keep, to see Master Minder, the local wizard who is neither friendly, nor that well-versed in social graces, and tasks the PCs to find a troll. Oh, and return the beast alive. Fun!

The trek to secure a troll will lead the PCs into the wyvern mountains, with several landmarks noted, and the suggestion of 0-2 wilderness encounters per landmark lightening up the journey, until the PCs find a particularly nasty troll to shackle and drag back. A peculiarity in the 5e-version would be that we do get random encounter tables, which I certainly appreciated.

 

Once they have the fearsome brute in shackles, the PCs will be ambushed by spriggans under the command of the daughter of an elven enchantress killed by Blackraven; whether or not she survives is accounted for. Returning to Ravenreach, soothsayers will predict an early onset of a harsh winter, so the PCs might well earn their keep as mercenaries while settling in for winter, and indeed, the second part here deals with encounters during these darkened months. Speaking of which – the module provides handy sidebars for cold weather and the like.

 

The PCs will be pitted against particularly nasty trolls responsible for a wayside massacre, escort a wagon train through the biting snow (and either cross an icy lake or a dangerous, rocky ridge – with individual challenges) to Camp Rough’N Ready – where fans of Witcher 3 may find a nice easter egg where the PCs may inadvertently find themselves fighting (for glory and wagers) a fist-fight with a black bear. Odd: There is one page that has an obvious snafu where two lines of text seem to have superimposed versions of themselves; pretty sure something went wrong in layout there, but that part is cosmetic. A plus-side of the 5e-version: Optional encounters and general structure is laid out rather clearly.

 

In the spring, Captain Jeremy Thorn has another opportunity for the PCs – a mule train is set towards the silver mine Dimthinlode, where, en route, once more there should be more intriguing encounters. At the silver mine, the player characters will be called upon to investigate a cavern the dwarves broke into. The traveling experience through to the mine is provided and manages to evoke a pretty nice sense of exploration –and yes, the troll-leitmotif of the encounters on the road is further emphasized here. The module also features some stats for classic hazards, as well as two magic weapons.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level – the 5e-conversion of the module has been undertaken with surprising care, going above and beyond what was required – this does not feel like a conversion, and indeed, there are quite a few touches where the module does feel different from its original iteration. Layout adheres to a nice two-column standard that, for the most part, adheres to classic Frog God Games-aesthetics, with blue highlights thrown in. The artwork and cartography are both full-color and rather nice – as noted, the wealth of critters gets quite a few full-color artworks. As mentioned before, the presence of player-friendly maps constitutes a big plus for me. The pdf-version comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. I can’t comment on the virtues or lack thereof of the print-version, since I do not own it.

 

James Thomas provides an uncommon adventure here – the long narrative is something we only rarely get to see done well, and here, it is executed with surprising panache. In an age where elevator pitches often end up disappointing, it’s nice to see an adventure that focuses on low key aesthetics that don’t browbeat you with some KEWLoneoneleven!!! Concept, and instead focuses on just establishing a concise mood and rapport with a given environment. While the lack of a map for the geographic region/village constitutes a bit of a detriment, the module per se doesn’t necessarily require it to work. The pretty modular approach allows for simple and quick expansion of the subject matter, or for the insertion of this adventure’s content into different contexts and campaigns, which is another plus.

 

Somewhere between a series of encounters, a module and a regional setting book with mini-adventures, this module provides a fun and well-wrought old-school yarn that captures the elusive spirit of grittier old-school gaming rather well. Indeed, if anything, that is the module’s central appeal, at least to me – the tone. It feels down to earth, yet sufficiently fantastic, and the sense of pure age and tragedy suffusing the small components are what elevate this adventure for me personally. On a mechanical level, it’d have been nice to see a few tougher tidbits, but that should not deter you – if you’re looking for an adventure that gets the gritty tone done right (and part II will deliver some serious payoff; no, not spoiling its nature here!), go check this out. Particularly since Richard A. Meyer has went beyond the call of duty converting this adventure to 5e! If you have the luxury of choice, regarding versions, then my advice is as follows: If you want to use in conjunction with kingdom building and the like? Then the Pathfinder version makes more sense, as the system simply has more material for that type of gameplay. However, if you’re going by content and context, I’d probably recommend this version over the PFRPG – it feels like it has seen this touch of extra care and development to make an already nice module shine. My final verdict for this version will be 4.5 stars, rounded up.

 

You can get this well-wrought conversion here on Frog God Games’ store!

 

Enjoying my reviews? Please consider supporting my patreon – it’s what keeps the lights on!

Endzeitgeist out.

 

 

Jun 132019
 

Menace in Ravenreach

Yep, I know – that’s the S&W-cover. I couldn’t find a picture of the PF-version’s cover. (It’s the same, safe for the system-indicating logo)

The Pathfinder version of Menace in Ravenreach clocks in at 27 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 23 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreon supporters.

 

Okay, so first things first – while this module is part of a two-part mini-series (the second part of which is “Mystery in Ravenrock”, named after the fortification), this very much works smoothly as a stand-alone scenario. Nominally intended for characters level 4th to 7th, I’d advise in favor of sticking to the lower level range if your player characters tend to gravitate to the higher power-levels.

 

As far as the setting is concerned, this  module is situated in a borderlands-style frontier in both physical location and themes; aesthetically, this is very much a Lost Lands module that hearkens closer to the tradition of Greyhawk; it feels gritty and pretty down to earth, which is a plus in this instance. As a touch I greatly appreciated, for example, the module does suggest trade good equivalencies if you want to emphasize the remote location; this remains optional, but it is a touch that imho rather enhanced the atmosphere of the environment.

 

Ravenreach is a small town carved from the wilderness, courtesy of the stalwart and firm Baron of Raven’s Reach Bartholomew Blackraven, and a proper settlement statblock has been provided. A minor downside of the module would pertain the cartography featured – while the module does contain a properly, grid-using map of the initial scene, of the Ravenrock border fortress and of one encounter site, all of which come btw. as full-color maps and don’t have annoying numbers or the like and thus work in the context of VTTs and as handouts sans breaking immersion, there are no maps of the general region or the starting border village provided. While e.g. Raging Swan Press’ offerings provide a plethora of options there, it is something that a few people might consider to be a detriment.

 

On the plus-side regarding the aesthetic formal components, from public notices asking for adventurers to price lists and the like, the book offers not one, but 4 (!!) handout lists that you can just give your players, which most assuredly is something to be applauded!

 

Speaking of which, the supplement also is rather detailed regarding its rumors on various matters, differentiating between different topics to inquire about; kudos for that. There is one more thing you definitely need to know about regarding this adventure, and that would be its rather unique focus: This is not a location-driven module per se, and doesn’t focus on a given environment or singular storyline. Instead, the module can be considered to be a means of establishing ravenreach as an environment with its own peculiarities. The module establishes a series of encounters that run the gamut from the quick combat to the mini-dungeon, which, as a whole, cover more than one season. This is, in a way, a module concerned with the long narrative, and this is definitely something I appreciate. It also enhances the usefulness of the material within beyond the confines of the module. It is rather easy to dissolve the module into its constituent encounters and e.g. intersperse them into your own adventure. Considering the existence of Pathfinder’s Ultimate Campaign-hardcover, that’s pretty much the immediate association I had – this may be a great way to set up the PCs as rulers to come. So yeah, it is prudent to bear in mind that this may be considered to be a long narrative, or that it may just as well be dissolved into a more episodic context.

 

The module does feature a pretty significant amount of read-aloud text for many encounters, and the book does feature one new magic item and a couple of unique statblocks. Regarding those: The book is smart in that is doesn’t waste wordcount on stock characters, instead making smart use of PFRPG’s wealth of critters and NPCs. Speaking of whom: The NPCs and monster-builds herein do tend to do some interesting things, and briefly summarize more obscure rules-components, allowing you to run them more smoothly – certainly something I appreciate. On the downside, I did notice a few minor snafus among the statblocks, such as HP not checking out for the Constitution values provided. The pdf provides stats for the Baron and his Wizard in the back. The minor snafus don’t hamper the integrity of the narrative or the like, and the module still remains challenging, but it’s something to bear in mind.

 

All right, and this is as far as I can go without diving deeply into SPOILER territory. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

 

..

.

 

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, if the “call to adventure” style handout doesn’t do the trick, the module offers a bar brawl in the fully mapped “Dancing Bear” tavern against the 4 Gretis brother as a means to get the PCs on track for the adventure; those that slay one or more of the brothers may find themselves under arrest and press-ganged into the service of the local lord, which, while an old trope, is also pretty classic, and can be executed rather well. Smarter PCs that avoid casualties may find themselves in a position where they will have a better basis for negotiation.

 

Either way, the PCs are taken by Captain Jeremy Thorn to the keep, to see Master Minder, the wizard responsible for e.g. the manacles. The wizard is neither friendly, nor that well-versed in social graces, and tasks the PCs to find a troll. Oh, and return the beast alive. Okay, but how? Well, he hands the PCs magical manacles to coerce the troll to tag along. And yes, the manacles are properly statted.

 

The trek to secure a troll will lead the PCs into the wyvern mountains, with several landmarks noted, and the suggestion of 0-2 wilderness encounters per landmark lightening up the journey, until the PCs find a particularly nasty, multiclass’d troll to shackle. Once they have the fearsome brute in shackles, the PCs will be ambushed by spriggans under the command of the daughter of an elven enchantress killed by Blackraven; whether or not she survives is accounted for. Returning to Ravenreach, soothsayers will predict an early onset of a harsh winter, so the PCs might well earn their keep as mercenaries while settling in for winter, and indeed, the second part here deals with encounters during these darkened months. Speaking of which – the module provides handy tables for condition modifiers depending on weather, Stealth, etc.

 

The PCs will be pitted against particularly nasty trolls with class levels responsible for a wayside massacre, escort a wagon train through the biting snow (and either cross an icy lake or a dangerous, rocky ridge – with individual challenges) to Camp Rough’N Ready – where fans of Witcher 3 may find a nice easter egg where the PCs may inadvertently find themselves fighting (for glory and wagers) a fist-fight with a black bear.

 

In the spring, Captain Jeremy Thorn has another opportunity for the PCs – a mule train is set towards the silver mine Dimthinlode, where, en route, once more there should be more intriguing encounters. At the silver mine, the player characters will be called upon to investigate a cavern the dwarves broke into. The travelling experience through to the mine is provided and manages to evoke a pretty nice sense of exploration –and yes, the troll-leitmotif of the encounters on the road is further emphasized here.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level – I noticed a few minor glitches in statblocks and some formal ones (like skill-references not capitalized), but as a whole, the module gets is right more often than not. Layout adheres to a nice two-column standard that, for the most part, adheres to classic Frog God Games-aesthetics, with blue highlights thrown in. The artwork and cartography are both full-color and rather nice. As mentioned before, the presence of player-friendly maps constitutes a big plus for me. The pdf-version comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. I can’t comment on the virtues or lack thereof of the print-version, since I do not own it.

 

James Thomas provides an uncommon adventure here – the long narrative is something we only rarely get to see done well, and here, it is executed with surprising panache. In an age where elevator pitches often end up disappointing, it’s nice to see an adventure that focuses on low key aesthetics that don’t browbeat you with some KEWLoneoneleven!!! Concept, and instead focuses on just establishing a concise mood and rapport with a given environment. While the lack of a map for the geographic region/village constitutes a bit of a detriment, the module per se doesn’t necessarily require it to work. The pretty modular approach allows for simple and quick expansion of the subject matter, or for the insertion of this adventure’s content into different contexts and campaigns, which is another plus.

 

Somewhere between a series of encounters, a module and a regional setting book with mini-adventures, this module provides a fun and well-wrought old-school yarn that captures the elusive spirit of grittier old-school gaming rather well. Indeed, if anything, that is the module’s central appeal, at least to me – the tone. It feels down to earth, yet sufficiently fantastic, and the sense of pure age and tragedy suffusing the small components are what elevate this adventure for me personally. On a mechanical level, it’d have been nice to see a few tougher tidbits, but that should not deter you – if you’re looking for an adventure that gets the gritty tone done right (and part II will deliver some serious payoff; no, not spoiling its nature here!), go check this out. All in all, a neat adventure, well worth a final verdict of 4.5 stars, though I do have to round down.

 

You can get this adventure here on Frog God Games’ store!

 

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Endzeitgeist out.

Jun 132019
 

Menace in Ravenreach (OSR)

The OSR version of Menace in Ravenreach clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 19 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreon supporters.

 

In case you were wondering: As always for Frog God Games, the rules employed are Swords & Wizardry.

 

Okay, so first things first – while this module is part of a two-part mini-series (the second part of which is “Mystery in Ravenrock”, named after the fortification), this very much works smoothly as a stand-alone scenario. Nominally intended for characters level 4th to 7th, I’d suggest in favor of sticking to the lower level range for the most old-school experience.

 

As far as the setting is concerned, this module is situated in a borderlands-style frontier in both physical location and themes; aesthetically, this is very much a Lost Lands module that hearkens closer to the tradition of Greyhawk; it feels gritty and pretty down to earth, which is a plus in this instance. As a touch I greatly appreciated, for example, the module does suggest trade good equivalencies if you want to emphasize the remote location; this remains optional, but it is a touch that imho rather enhanced the atmosphere of the environment.

 

Ravenreach is a small town carved from the wilderness, courtesy of the stalwart and firm Baron of Raven’s Reach Bartholomew Blackraven, and a proper settlement overview has been provided. Nice: In the OSR-iteration, there is a table for the random effects of the foul-smelling brews the local alchemist concocts, though personally, I preferred the 5e-version there. A minor downside of the module would pertain the cartography featured – while the module does contain a properly, grid-using map of the initial scene, of the Ravenrock border fortress and of one encounter site, all of which come btw. as full-color maps and don’t have annoying numbers or the like and thus work in the context of VTTs and as handouts sans breaking immersion, there are no maps of the general region or the starting border village provided. While e.g. Raging Swan Press’ offerings provide a plethora of options there, it is something that a few people might consider to be a detriment.

 

Disappointing: All but one of the 4 original handouts of the PFRPG-version have been cut without replacement content.

 

Speaking of which, the supplement also is rather detailed regarding its rumors on various matters, differentiating between different topics to inquire about; kudos for that. There is one more thing you definitely need to know about regarding this adventure, and that would be its rather unique focus: This is not a location-driven module per se, and doesn’t focus on a given environment or singular storyline. Instead, the module can be considered to be a means of establishing Ravenreach as an environment with its own peculiarities. The module establishes a series of encounters that run the gamut from the quick combat to the mini-dungeon, which, as a whole, cover more than one season. This is, in a way, a module concerned with the long narrative, and this is definitely something I appreciate. It also enhances the usefulness of the material within beyond the confines of the module. It is rather easy to dissolve the module into its constituent encounters and e.g. intersperse them into your own adventure.

 

The module does feature a pretty significant amount of read-aloud text for many encounters, and the book does feature one new magic item and a couple of unique statblocks. A peculiarity of the OSR-version: Due to the condensed nature of statblocks in this iteration, pretty much everything, from random critters to townguards, gets stats. There is no defaulting to standard statblocks required. While this sheer number is interesting, it does not necessarily reflect artistry in their creation – depending on what you want from your old-school monsters, this may come as a bit of a downside: There are no detailed ecologies or the like (understandable), but there also are no particularly engaging or interesting signature abilities among the monsters, something which has, in recent years, greatly enhanced quite a few amazing old-school bestiaries and adventures I’ve drooled over. If anything, the monsters should be considered to be solidly crafted, but not necessarily artistic in their implementation. They make copious use of critters from Monstrosities and Tome of Horrors Complete – and I’m not a big fan of either bestiary.

 

All right, and this is as far as I can go without diving deeply into SPOILER territory. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

 

..

.

 

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, if the “call to adventure” style handout doesn’t do the trick, the module offers a bar brawl in the fully mapped “Dancing Bear” tavern against the 4 Gretis brothers as a means to get the PCs on track for the adventure; those that slay one or more of the brothers may find themselves under arrest and press-ganged into the service of the local lord, which, while an old trope, is also pretty classic, and can be executed rather well. Smarter PCs that avoid casualties may find themselves in a position where they will have a better basis for negotiation.

 

Either way, the PCs are taken by Captain Jeremy Thorn to the keep, to see Master Minder, the local wizard, who is neither friendly, nor that well-versed in social graces, and tasks the PCs to find a troll. Oh, and return the beast alive.

 

The trek to secure a troll will lead the PCs into the wyvern mountains, with several landmarks noted, and the suggestion of 0-2 wilderness encounters per landmark lightening up the journey, until the PCs find a particularly nasty troll to shackle. A peculiarity in the OSR-version would be that we do get random encounter tables, which I certainly appreciated.

 

Once they have the fearsome brute in shackles, the PCs will be ambushed by spriggans under the command of the daughter of an elven enchantress killed by Blackraven; whether or not she survives is accounted for. Returning to Ravenreach, soothsayers will predict an early onset of a harsh winter, so the PCs might well earn their keep as mercenaries while settling in for winter, and indeed, the second part here deals with encounters during these darkened months. Speaking of which – the module provides handy sidebars for cold weather and the like.

 

The PCs will be pitted against particularly nasty trolls responsible for a wayside massacre, escort a wagon train through the biting snow (and either cross an icy lake or a dangerous, rocky ridge – with individual challenges) to Camp Rough’N Ready – where fans of Witcher 3 may find a nice easter egg where the PCs may inadvertently find themselves fighting (for glory and wagers) a fist-fight with a black bear…which is a pretty deadly surprise in S&W…

 

In the spring, Captain Jeremy Thorn has another opportunity for the PCs – a mule train is set towards the silver mine Dimthinlode, where, en route, once more there should be more intriguing encounters. At the silver mine, the player characters will be called upon to investigate a cavern the dwarves broke into. The travelling experience through to the mine is provided and manages to evoke a pretty nice sense of exploration –and yes, the troll-leitmotif of the encounters on the road is further emphasized here.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level – the OSR-version has been done with solid craftsmanship, accounting for adjusted gold values and the like. Layout adheres to a nice two-column standard that, for the most part, adheres to classic Frog God Games-aesthetics, with blue highlights thrown in. The artwork and cartography are both full-color and rather nice. As mentioned before, the presence of player-friendly maps constitutes a big plus for me. The pdf-version comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. I can’t comment on the virtues or lack thereof of the print-version, since I do not own it.

 

James Thomas provides an uncommon adventure here – the long narrative is something we only rarely get to see done well, and here, it is executed with surprising panache. In an age where elevator pitches often end up disappointing, it’s nice to see an adventure that focuses on low key aesthetics that don’t browbeat you with some KEWLoneoneleven!!! Concept, and instead focuses on just establishing a concise mood and rapport with a given environment. While the lack of a map for the geographic region/village constitutes a bit of a detriment, the module per se doesn’t necessarily require it to work. The pretty modular approach allows for simple and quick expansion of the subject matter, or for the insertion of this adventure’s content into different contexts and campaigns, which is another plus.

 

Somewhere between a series of encounters, a module and a regional setting book with mini-adventures, this module provides a fun and well-wrought old-school yarn that captures the elusive spirit of grittier old-school gaming rather well. Indeed, if anything, that is the module’s central appeal, at least to me – the tone. It feels down to earth, yet sufficiently fantastic, and the sense of pure age and tragedy suffusing the small components are what elevate this adventure for me personally. However, while Jeff Harkness has delivered a well-wrought S&W-conversion of the adventure, I can’t help but consider this to be the least interesting version of the module. It does what it’s expected to, and that’s it. Compared with the wealth of rules the PFRPG-version can draw upon, and the extra details provided for 5e, this version is missing PFRPG’s extra handouts and 5e’s extra critters and material, gaining not much in return – a few dressing tables to emphasize the narrative focus of old-school gaming would have gone a long way there. In a way, this feels like “this’ll do.” All in all, a solid conversion, but when compared to the other two, probably the weakest one; if you’re good at converting complex systems on the fly to S&W, then I’d suggest going with the other versions. My final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

 

You can currently purchase this module exclusively here on Frog God Games’ store!

 

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Endzeitgeist out.

Jun 122019
 

The Wraith Base Class

The Wraith clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 21 pages of content, so let’s check out this fellow!

 

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreon supporters and readers.

 

The wraith-class is proficient with simple weapons, scythes and light armor, has 4 + Intelligence modifier skills per level, d8 HD, and is a Mid-Caster using Charisma as governing spellcasting ability modifier, with a spell pool of class level + Charisma modifier spell points per day. The class has a ¾ BAB-progression, as well as good Reflex- and Will-saves. On a cosmetic note: Rows 1-7 and all save columns of the class table lack the plusses before BAB and save values, respectively. This should really have been caught. It’s evident at one glance. Magic talents are gained whenever the wraith gains a caster level increase.

 

1st level provides a haunt path, which acts akin to bloodlines and similar abilities with a linear progression array: At 1st level, these paths grant the listed path sphere or talent from the sphere if you already have it, and for these class level is treated as CL. 2nd level nets the path possession ability of the path, with 8th and 14th level providing the improved and greater path possession abilities, respectively; at 4th level, we add ½ class level as insight bonus to a listed skill. Unless I have miscounted, there are a total of 9 paths provided (as an aside – the excellent Sanguinist’s Handbook does have a path as well!).

 

In all brevity: The Path of the ancestor is aligned with the Protection sphere, and allows the character to act as a buff/beneficial entity, including (aegis) talents at higher levels. Anima is associated with Nature or Weather, and allows the character to possess natural material, creating elemental-style and use talents associated with the elements; higher levels also unlock plants. Associated with Death, the Path of the Corruptor lets you possess dead bodies (as though reanimate-d) and later undead.  The Path of the Despoiler, also for the Death sphere, lets you possess vermin and attract/generate swarms to possess – nice!

 

Path of the Cryptid is associated with animal possession and Alteration, providing shapeshift (not properly formatted) synergy; the path of the poltergeist lets you possess unattended objects, and as such, is obviously (for veteran sphere-users) associated with Telekinesis, though it s limitations are based on Enhancement’s Animate Objects. Higher levels allow for construct possession and possessing multiple objects at once, generating a construct swarm! OUCH! The Path of the Phantasm is associated with Illusion, and becomes more potent versus targets in illusions – with higher levels providing means to bypass immunities and safeguards. The Path of the Spook is basically a terror-inducing option, with the Mind-sphere as associated path sphere, and penalties to saves versus Mind sphere effects.

 

At 1st level, we have wraith form, which lets you, as a move action (ending it is free) for class level + casting ability modifier rounds, gain the incorporeal subtype with some modifications, including a slowly descending, but perfectly maneuverable gliding speed – and yep, if you’re going the high-fantasy route, there are optional rules for you here. In case you need a bullet point summary of the modified incorporeal state, a handy sidebar lists it all. The capstone btw. delimits wraith form and refunds previously spent class talents (so-called “wraith haunts”; more on those below) that modified the ability.

 

But we’ve been talking a lot about possession in the brief list of paths, so how does it work? At 2nd level, you may possess a creature in natural reach as a standard action as a mind-affecting possession effect. The challenge rating of the creature governs the possession duration, with guidelines for companions and the like provided. The target may resist this attempt with a Will save based on DC 10 + ½ class level + casting ability modifier. There are two types of possession: Passive and active. Passive possession grants no control over the target, and an attempt to passively possess a target costs a spell point. The wraith maintains his mental ability score modifiers, BAB, alignment, mental abilities, extraordinary abilities not derived from his physical form, combat talents, supernatural abilities and magical abilities including spells, sphere abilities and SPs. If the host is dazed, stunned or unconscious, the wraith can control the body as though via active possession. Passive possession MAY go unnoticed if the wraith is sneaky!

 

Active possession entails the full hijacking of the target, retaining the boy’s physical ability score, natural and automatic abilities. Extra limbs don’t allow the wraith to make more attacks, and 6th level needs to be attained to trigger extraordinary abilities, 12th for supernatural ones. Active possession also imposes stringent level caps on when the respective combat talents, sphere abilities etc. may be accessed. Any time the wraith would force the actively possessed target to do something against their nature, they may make a saving throw attempt to end the possession. Self-harm or suicidal actions are not possible via wraith possession. This type of possession also btw. costs a spell point. A target that ends or resists a possession increases the spell point cost for further such attempts by 1, stacking with itself, thus discouraging wraiths from trying to spam-possess the same target. Here’s the cool thing: As a move action, the wraith may change an active possession into a passive one and vice versa – unwilling targets get a save to resist this change. Beyond the different details, there is another reason to switch possession types – time. The duration of different types of possession differs between active and passive possession, even differentiating between willing and unwilling targets! (And yes, the rules-language gets this right.) And before you ask: Yes, the rules do cover the possession of unconscious targets. Wraiths may end possessions as a free or immediate action, appearing adjacent to the possessed target, and the wraith may expend a round of wraith form to manifest in his incorporeal (and less squishy) form. Careful: Mind-affecting effects targeting the possessed body don’t just end for the wraith jumping ship, and immunities, if any, are not shared!

 

At 6th, 12th, 16th and 18th level, progressively more knowledge of the host body’s capabilities are unearthed to the wraith – oh, and guess what? We have Dreamscarred Press-psionics synergy. If possession seems complex, the because it system-immanently is, but a handy table does help you keep track of active possession effects. 10th level provides Greater Possession, which allows the wraith to retain control over a possessed target while jumping to another, and the wraith may divide actions between possessed targets! This is kickass and really, really cool! The wraith can “only” possess up to casting ability modifier, minimum 2, creatures at one time.

 

At 3rd level and every odd level thereafter, we have wraith haunts – basically the talent array of the class, which, if requiring a save, employ 10 + ½ class level + casting ability modifier to calculate DCs. As mentioned before, there are talents that enhance wraith form, allowing for e.g. immediate action concealment, for rounds per day and the like. We have Technology Guide synergy (cool!) as well as a properly gated always on flight. There is an option for willing possessions to grant Silent and Still spellcasting for serious Stealth/infiltration synergy, and options to phase through objects and walls (awesome!). Possession is something folks remember, so if you’d rather have them forget that, well, there’s a haunt for that as well! Wraith form may be shared and even, with a  follow-up haunt, be forcefully applied to adversaries AoE Intimidate (with Spheres of Might synergy) and enhancement-sharing – these talents surprised me in how creative they apply a wide variety of benefits!

 

Favored class options are provided alongside two feats – one nets you an additional wraith haunt, while the other enhances your possession for multiclass characters. There are three casting traditions and a martial tradition included.

 

The pdf also includes 4 archetypes: The Draugr loses wraith form and replaces it with basically being a blended training Spheres of Might-crossover archetype with rage and the Berserker sphere, with rage sharing and a properly-themed ability array replacing the usual haunt path. The Mistshade is interesting, in that it replaces wraith form with becoming mist – this form prohibits certain actions, but allows for the creation of mist beyond the wraith’s form, better flight, squeezing through holes, etc. – it’s an interesting change of the class paradigm. The Swarmheart, you guessed it, replaces wraith form with the means to discorporate into swarms in a variation of e.g. Swarm transformation, which is btw. also accounted for regarding prerequisites. The archetype gets a couple of solid, exclusive haunts. The Unbodied, finally, is a means to let a perished character contribute – they are locked in wraith form, taking damage while not possessing a target, and no, this damage can’t be healed! If slain, the character becomes a mindless haunt; as such, the archetype also accounts for limited possession at 1st level, with higher levels allowing for the limited assumption of corporeal form, and the capstone providing the means to reassume proper form.

 

Ninja, (unchained) rogue and slayer may elect to become ghost steppers, losing sneak attack and3 talents/tricks in favor of wraith form, with options to gain a spell pool via talents and the ability to take wraith haunts. The pdf also contains the spirit blade armorist archetype, which is massive: A blended training archetype that “has the Fortitude and Will saving throw progression of the Incanter” (read: Bad Fortitude saving throws, good Will saving throws) and the shapechanger subtype at 1st level. Instead of summon equipment, we have the ability to assume the form of a weapon, counting always as attended, becoming a weapon that may then possess the wielder, using their actions to direct the wielder’s body! This basically allows you to play one part of a kinda-gestalt-y character, which is a truly unique experience! Particularly since higher levels allow for BAB-sharing, directed AoOs, teamwork feat sharing and the like – while very powerful and not for every campaign or group, I adore this archetype. It’s complex, deadly and utterly unique in its premise. It also spans multiple pages, coming with its own massive array of haunts. Yes, this class hack could have carried a base class of its own. Really like it. And it seems like the author agreed, for we not only get a sample NPC for the wraith class, but also for this cool archetype! (Both at CR 5, fyi.)

 

The book closes with an appendix containing the rules for incorporeity and swarms for your convenience.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are not perfect, but can be considered to be good on a formal level. On a rules-language level, the class juggles impressive high-complexity tricks I genuinely enjoyed seeing. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The full-color artwork provided is neat.

 

Andrew Stoeckle is a force to be reckoned with as a designer – slowly but steadily, he has garnered, at least with me, a reputation for never shying away from mechanically-creative and compelling, complex top-tier difficulty designs that few designers can pull off reliably. The wraith is another example where he flexes his design muscles in a way that, in spite of the system’s age, manages to be fresh and novel – there literally is no other class that does what the wraith does, let alone this precise. That being said, playtest has shown that the wraith *can* be pretty potent, depending on the skill of the players and overall party composition, but this is not an issue or fault of the class, and instead can be construed to be rooted in the system-immanent nature of the concepts presented. In short: Not the fault of the class. In an interesting change of pace, this power does not stem from an escalation of numbers, but from creativity – the wraith is a class that thrives in the hands of players thinking in terms of breadth and creativity, rather than just a min-maxing of numbers, and as such, presents a power level (and means to control it, if required) that I genuinely enjoy seeing. While the formal criteria of the file could be a bit tighter (CAB not bolded in one statblock and other minor snafus), this nonetheless is a genuinely cool and worthwhile addition to the roster of spheres-options, and as such, will receive a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded up, with my seal of approval added for good measure. Well done indeed!

 

You can get this unique, interesting class here on OBS!

 

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Endzeitgeist out.

Jun 122019
 

Starfarer Adversaries: Saline Horror (SFRPG)

This installment of the Starfarer Adversaries-series clocks in at 6 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 2 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Fans of Dark Sun (and/or its Ravenloft spinoff domain) will know what to expect here – an slimy, slick creature with no visible eyes or ears, but a lamprey-like mouth – and the hands of these horrors similarly contain such maws. Build-wise, the saline horror in SFRPG is a CR 6 creature using the expert array. The monstrous humanoid graft has been properly applied, attack and damage-values check out, SPs list their proper DCs, and the creature has a signature attack, which it can use to drain immobilized or grabbed targets of their saline, inflicting Constitution damage. Even its scent-based tracking and blindsense have been properly noted. And yes, we get a one-page handout-style version of the artwork.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no formal or rules-language-related glitches. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the artwork provided is nice and icky. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

 

Jacob Blackmon delivers a nice critter here – nothing to really complain about, save that it’d have been nice to get a second statblock or some other form of supplemental material. Still, all in all, a worthwhile addition to the SFRPG-roster, which, at $1.95, is certainly worth its fair asking price. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4 stars.

 

You can get this nice, inexpensive critter here on OBS!

 

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Endzeitgeist out.

Jun 062019
 

Dear readers,

 

as always for Whitsuntide, I take my annual and much required sabbatical for the WGT. Don’t be alarmed. I will consciously steer clear of the online-world for the next couple of days. Regular reviewing will resume next Tuesday.

 

See you then!!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

Jun 062019
 

Nagaji of Porphyra (Porphyra RPG)

This installment of the „…of Porphyra“-series clocks in at 33 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of SRD, though it should be noted that one of the SRD-pages also contains a bit of information taken from a magic item update. The pdf is laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), which means you can fit up to 4 pages on a given sheet of paper.

 

As always: While this is intended for the Porphyra RPG currently being playtested and streamlined, the book as a whole is properly compatible with PFRPG 1e with minimum fuss. This was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreon supporters.

 

After a brief bit of introductory prose, we start with notes on the physical description and ecology of nagaji, and their society – which seems to be hell-bent on amassing enough money and power to reclaim a glorious past that may never have been; hell-bent of punishing the Porphyrite Dragon (which, while awesome, should be referred to as awful from the nagaji’s perspective) and reclaiming a glorious empire, the by now tribal people worshiping Empress S’sluun certainly represent an interesting angle on the racial concept. Ironically (for serpent people) poisoned by ideology and religion, the race includes notes on various faiths prominent among the nagaji-people of Porphyra. Proper vital statistics are included, and nagaji in Porphyra get +2 Strength and Constitution, -2 Intelligence, are Medium reptilians with a normal speed, low-light vision, +1 natural AC, +2 to saves against mind and poison descriptors (nice taking advantage of one of Porphyra RPG’s improvements), and a +2 racial bonus to Perception and Handle Animal.

 

7 alternate racial traits are provided: The skill boost and low-light vision may be exchanged with darkvision (which works differently in Porphyra RPG and thus has no range listed – that’s not a glitch!); the save-boost  may be exchanged with one that applies to disease and poison and includes being able to go longer without food and drink before starving. The skill boost may also be exchanged with a 1/day SP hypnotism, using HD as CL. The spell-reference is not italicized here, which may be subject to change depending on the way in which Porphyra RPG ends up establishing formatting conventions.  Similarly, nagaji may exchange their resistance with a +1 racial bonus to attacks against prone or flanked targets. There also is a trait that replaces the reptilian subtype with the human one and nets you a nasty social skill penalty, but also a boost to initiative. Poison use can be chosen in lieu of the skill-boost and the armor can be exchanged for a boost to Stealth, courtesy of darker scales.

 

The pdf includes 5 race traits that actually are mechanically-relevant, power-levels-wise in line, and that do tie in with the race’s lore – nice! After this, we get 6 different new racial feats that highlight another nice thing in Porphyra RPG – they have a line below, after which they note a BAB-value. Once you reach this value, you unlock new benefits! Blood of the Serpent requires that you fail two saves to move down the poison progression track, and at BAB+6, you get to choose two tracks and become immune to poisons of those tracks. Cool! Guarded Thoughts nets +4 racial bonus to saves vs. mind descriptor spells, and BAB +11 upgrades that to include immunity vs. divinations with the mind descriptor. Naga Speed lets you bite as an immediate action when a flanking ally hits, and BAB +8 upgrades this to allow an ally an AoO when you hit with the bite. Snaketongue lets you communicate with snakes, and BAB +4 makes snakes helpful. Sharp Fangs nets you a properly codified bite attack (strength should be capitalized, though); at BAB +8, you get a poisonous bite. S’sluun’s Warrior nets proficiency with the sawtooth sabre, and CMD to resist demoralization increases by +4 while wielding the deity’s favorite weapon. BAB +9 makes the sabre deal 1 point of bleed damage and renders you immune to being demoralized.

 

The pdf proceeds to provide two racial archetypes: The Fanged Assassin for the Assassin base class gets proficiency with simple weapons, kukris, sawtooth sabres and short swords, and replaces poison use with the Sharp Fangs feat; Venomous Bite is gained at 2nd level.  16th level makes the bite ignore poison immunity, and the archetype comes with its own racial assassin secret. Class-skill-wise, this means we get Deception, Knowledge (dungeoneering) Knowledge (religion) and Survival . ½ class level (minimum 1) is added to Athletics and Sap checks, and the class features provide scaling poison damage, the option to spit venom, and poison upgrades.

 

The Naga Clanpriest cleric may use Knowledge (religion) instead of monster lore checks, and retry each Knowledge (religion) check once. At 2nd level and every 4 levels thereafter, the clanpriest may choose one of 6 marks; these represent fanatic devotion, and sometimes are double-edged swords. 3 unique and rather cool poisons are presented next, from red lotus powder to rapture, and we get 4 new exotic nagaji spells: Agony of the Naga Empress caused crippling pain that renders the target helpless. As an aside – the description did remind me of my own migraines…and yep, you are struck no matter what by pain – the save determines whether this is permanent. OUCH. At level 8 and properly gated by spell scarcity etc., suitable in a way. Breed Posion makes use of Porphyra RPG’s poison engine, enhancing duration and frequency. Shape of the Sacred Snake is a painful process that transforms the caster, body and mind, into an emperor cobra. Shedding Flesh makes you hallucinate that you’re shedding your flesh – not good for morale…

 

The pdf also sports 5 new magic items:  We get write-ups for arrows with a magical sleeping effect, idols that provide serious penalties, but reward those suffering through them with a boost (should specify that they don’t stack in effects with other idols), daggers that allow for the use of detect thoughts, and we get cursed rings that slowly kill targets in excruciating agony as a twisted kind of magical sacrificial device. Rings of the serpent make the wearers aware of other wearers, making for a deadly tool of elite strikeforces.

 

The pdf also surprised me by diving deep into nagan politics, with multiple faction leaders noted with their positions and ranks, adding some serious flavor to the pdf. The bastion of the naga, the Asp Fortress, receives a full settlement write-up as well, including a fully realized settlement statblock that lists qualities ad defenses, etc. The pdf also provides some neat updates penned by Mark Gedak – from universal monster rules referenced to emperor cobra stats to two magic item updates, this appendix renders the supplement easier to use. Nice one!

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. The few glitches I found were cosmetic in nature. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly one-column standard with purple headers and highlights, and the pdf features some rather nice 1-page full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

This is, at least to my knowledge, Quinn Carter’s first offering, and I am happy to report that I ended up being duly impressed: The flavor is interesting, and the execution of the rules is precise. The supplement does a great job highlighting several of the improvements and unique components that Porphyra RPG brings to the table. All in all, I consider this to be a great example of what a well-crafted racial supplement can achieve. It also has achieved something that is worth noting: It genuinely serves as a great pitch for the entire Porphyra RPG. The changes to the rules presented, the concepts – they managed to make me truly excited about the game, making this a great first-exposure-pdf. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars; and the combination of showing the system improvements, flavor and freshman bonus combine to grant this my seal of approval. If this type of book is what we can expect, then the future looks rosy…erh…I meant…purple, of course!

 

You can get this cool, flavorful pdf here on OBS!

 

You can directly support the creation of Porphyra RPG here on patreon!

 

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Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jun 062019
 

Occult Skill Guide: Actual Cannibal Corruption (SFRPG)

This installment of the so far absolutely amazing Occult Skill Guide-series clocks in at 9 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreon supporters.

 

So, on the introductory page, we already have something I genuinely enjoyed seeing, namely a more diversified take on addiction. As you all know, Starfinder treats drug addiction as a disease that progresses each time a drug is taken. Which, come to think of it, doesn’t always make sense – addictions certainly develop when a drug is consumed, but withdrawal effects occur from abstinence, and not indulgence. As such, the pdf presents a variant for addiction as a disease (drug use). Save and track are specified by the respective drug, while the effect is as follows: Every 1d6 days, the victim must attempt a saving throw against the disease, with the DC equal to the drug the victim is addicted to, +2 for every time the victim consumed the drug within the last 7 days. On a failed save the victim progresses from the latent to to impaired, to a maximum of weakened. Each hour, the victim attempts a new save progressing to the next step on a failed save. This continues until the victim uses the specified drug or succeeds on 3 consecutive saving throws, after which the addiction reverts to the latent stage for 1d6 days.

 

Each addiction starts as a minor addiction, and on 3 failed consecutive saving throws, progresses to moderate,, and after that, we reach severe. These have new maximum steps to progress to. Cure is noted as well. This is pretty elegant, in that it presents a frame-work that is easy to tweak – the cooldown in days, the penalty to the DC – all components that can be tackled on their own. Plus, for gritty games, this allows you to portray the effects of addiction decoupled from individual drugs, or in conjunction with individual drugs. Speaking of which: This framework does work smoothly in conjunction with the awesome item-level scaling drug-rules presented in the phenomenal Pop Culture Catalog: Vice Dens.

 

Now, as before, this is a stand-alone book: All the rules required to introduce corruptions into your game have been provided in this pdf, and since I’ve explained them already, I will refrain from doing so again – suffice to say, they are damn cool, one could call them…addictive. See what I did there? 😉

 

The Cannibal corruption is associated with Will as save and Wisdom as the relevant ability score modifier, and the source is obvious here: The target has partaken in sapient flesh of their own race, either willingly or unwillingly due to wendigo psychosis or sadistic compulsions. As far as save DCs are concerned, they scale with the corruption’s victim’s level and start at DC 13 and progress to 19, with each stage tracking its save DC increases separately, making the progression per se less burst-like and more steady.

 

Wait. You don’t have rules for wendigo psychosis? Well, guess what! We have a unique simple template graft to create wendigo creatures, including howl, properly codified airwalking (based on a supernatural equivalent of force soles) and the psychosis codified as a proper curse! But let us get back to the corruption: You progress through it whenever you consume sapient (properly-codified, fyi!) meat – 1d6 corruption points; if the target consumed is of your own race, it’s 1d20 corruption points for you! The latent stage also nets an addiction to consuming the flesh of creatures of their own race, and latent stage nets Cannibalistic Euphoria – which provides a bonus to an ability score of your choice for 10 minutes, which doesn’t stack with augmentations whenever you consume flesh of your own species. Higher corruption stages increase this bonus. At this point, simply abstaining from meat-consumption for long enough (provided the addiction lets you!) suffices to cure this. At Stage 1, consuming flesh of your species also heals you with a scaling mystic cure, with higher levels and corruption stages also adding remove condition/affliction to the roster of benefits. Sure you want to get rid of this?

 

Stage 2 nets you proficiency with entangle, grapple., gravitational, mire, throttle and trip weapons, or +1 to atk or save DCs/skill check DCs related to them, if you already are proficient…gotta hunt your meat, Hills Have Eyes IN SPACE!!!-style. At stage 3, only death and a proper cleansing ritual before resurrection may revert the horrific corruption the character has underwent. This also provides some serious benefits – including skill ranks, bonus feats, and means to stay in the fight – basically, at this point, you’re almost Jason. And before you ask, yes, the rules of the corruption are presented in a way that lets you apply it to NPCs without much hassle.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch on a formal and rules-language level. I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to the series elegant two-column full-color standard, and the artwork featured is neat, and an original full-color piece. Kudos: The pdf is fully bookmarked in spite of its brevity.

 

Alexander Augunas’ cannibal corruption kicks behind and takes names; the entire Occult Skill Guide series so far has been nothing but a joy to review, and this is is no different. Corruptions are an amazing concept, and how the author manages to portray the lure that their powers offer, while contrasting them with nasty detriments, is awesome. This is role-playing gold, and I seriously recommend getting all of them, particularly if you’re as excited as I am for e.g. Grimmerspace, for which these pdfs imho make a natural fit. All in all, a great offering, well worth 5 stars + seal of approval.

 

You can get this amazing supplement here on OBS!

 

Missed the brilliant pop Culture Catalog: Vice Dens? You can find it here!

 

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Endzeitgeist out.