May 292015
 

The Opened Mind

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This module clocks in at 25 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 20 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?

 

First things first – this is intended as an intro-adventure to psionics, so went in without expecting it to produce exceedingly complex or odd storylines. 2 pages providing a total of 4 sample pregens are provided for the convenience of players and DMs alike. This module can be used in conjunction with the Third Dawn-setting, but is not limited to it.

 

This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

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All right, still here? The town of Jace’s Stanchion has a colorful past – when settlers came, they befriended a race called hanoshafyr, a peaceful tribal people and subsequently discovered psionically-conductive phrenoric ore, which they mined to use in lieu of metal. Alas, as often, when one mines, one risks the danger of wakening something horrible and indeed, the evil that burst forth from a submerged complex proved to be formidable – only due to the massive power and sacrifice of Jace, the town’s leader, could the tide be stemmed. Alas, as often, the wards are crumbling and require maintenance – in the form of psionically gifted individuals that now sacrifice themselves to keep the degrading containment functional. Worse, the rather nasty ruling family has started abducting outsiders, with the erstwhile peaceful hanoshafyr having been driven insane, but still maintaining a distance from psionically-endowed individuals.

 

This is important, for the PCs are assumed to be caravan guards and the very first encounter is a CR 6 monster – the hanoshafyr assault and slaughter the caravan’s men, but only deal nonlethal damage to the psionic PCs – whether “saved” by the “good” folk of Jace Staunchion or escaped to the village out of their own strength, the PCs are stranded. From here on out, the short gazetteer provided for Jace’s Staunchion and the rather detailed tables that reward legwork and investigation of town and creatures. It should be noted that the production values here are superb – not only do we get a glorious full-color map and village statblocks (and notable locations etc.), the notable NPCs herein ALL get their own full-color mugshots. This is definitely impressive.

 

Speaking of which – the town’s dark secrets managed to elicit a sense of slowly creeping, palpable threat that hearkened, at least for me, back to slowly unearthing the rituals in the Fatal Frame/Project Zero-series of games, with ample and multiple skill-uses that can be used to glean information. Eventually, the PCs will want to investigate the local mine, where, should they pass the racist sibling guards and the alarm traps, they may start to piece together – they may free a still-living unfortunate from the pillar of phrenoric ore and witness the oblation, the strange wall of ectoplasm themselves while also linking the seeping nastiness with the madness of the hanoshafyr. Confronting the ruler about the lull-like memory modification in town and the strange things they witnessed in the mine, the PCs will have to defeat the powerful man – and decide where to go from here. The barrier, the customs, the powerful ruling house, the mad hanoshafyr – there are so many ways to spin this story, it should not be an issue to devise your own plots here.

 

The pdf also sports the monster-entry for the hanoshafyr and the psionic items used in this module.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and sports a HUGE amount of glorious, original full-color artworks; more than I’ve seen in many a 60+-page module! Layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press’ two-column full-color standard. The cartography in full-color is also absolutely stunning, though I wished we got player-friendly versions of the maps sans those annoying numbers and legend. I hate having maps with “hotspots”. The pdf comes with a printer-friendly, second version – nice!

 

Okay, I did NOT expect this. I expected a bland little intro-adventure; you know the kind – kill a couple of orcs, slay the shadow/ogre-boss, done. The usual intro-adventure blandness that provides handholding and is just boring. This is the rebuke and anathema to all such modules.

 

Author Eric Hindley with Dave Harris, Jeff Lee, Josef Shindler and Paul Gazo has crammed into the few pages herein more local color, more diversity and more excitement that I’ve seen in quite a while. With dangerous combats, thrilling mysteries and a great combination of challenges, from combat to social, we receive a thoroughly compelling, inspiring mystery that practically DEMANDS sequels – it’s that good. With the cool gazetteer and top-notch production values, the formal criteria are awesome, but they pale before the exciting narrative. While the module is challenging, it also is not overbearing or overcomplicated and, ultimately, is triumphantly psionic. It effortlessly manages to *feel* different in its execution, focus and leitmotifs. The Opened Mind blew mine; I did not expect this module to not be bland, much less expected it to actually captivate me and render me this excited! If this pdf did one thing, then it made me crave more mysteries and modules from Eric Hindley and this team – this is a stellar, inspiring psionic module and well worth a final verdict of 5 stars +seal of approval. Seriously, get this – it’s pretty much a by-the-numbers example of how to craft an intro-module that is NOT boring.

 

You can get this awesome 1st-level module here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

May 292015
 

Gossamer Worlds: Hollow Thune (Diceless)

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This installment of the evocative Gossamer Worlds-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, leaving us with 11 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

What happens if Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s thesis in Vril, The Power of the Master Race, of a subterranean master-race and their quasi-mystical super-technology was set against a backdrop of genocidal struggle between two competing races and then combined with a classic “you dug too deep” twist, unleashing dread Erebi on the genocidal victors of the struggle? We get one messed up setting. Add to that a sprinkling of hollow earth and H.G Wellsian Time Machine and we have even more of a mess – in the ruined, desolate planet (swallowed by a titanic shadow-like…thing, slowly breaking the world asunder) and its tunnels, survivors, ranging from degenerate morlock to the last surviving racist Übermenschen (the pdf gets the plural wrong – you add –en in the end), fight their desolate and doomed battles against reality-annuling aliens led by a Slenderman-esque figure, while an undead umbragunt may be the last champion of a planet doomed to die.

 

Hollow Thune is not a nice place, and if the above wasn’t enough, the writing and narrative voice further drives that home – essentially, the pdf not only borrows Bulwer-Lytton’s terminology from another age, but in the emphasis on Germanic Nomenclature and the quoting of concepts like the Black Sun, draws less than subtle parallels with the popularized notion of the Thule society’s mysticism, thus adding a nasty sense of gravitas to the whole setting.

 

That being said, as a German, I sometimes tire of the whole imagery, mainly since we’re bombarded with the atrocities of the Third Reich in both school curriculum and media and I have a hard time separating games and fun and the popularized stereotype of the Nazivillains from the gruesome realities of history. This pdf made this particular component relatively easy on me – with the clear condemnation of the socal-darwinism exhibited by the destroyed races of Thune, with the clear pointer not at the Third Reich, but at the intellectual streams that existed in literature, culture and intelligentsia of all fields, the pdf manages to evoke the themes, but do so in a thoroughly unique manner that is at once creative and still, very clear in the themes it quotes.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s beautiful 2-column full-color standard for LoGaS and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Artwork consists of glorious full-color pieces that are absolutely gorgeous to behold.

 

Matt Banach’s Hollow Thune could have devolved into an utter mess in the hands of a lesser writer – I have literally seen all components that make up the defining elements of this book in multiple cases, have read Bulwer-Lytton and thanks to my keen interest in history, I am pretty well-versed in the atrocities committed by different nations. Hollow Thune still manages to keep these together, to toe the line between the horrific and fantastic, never falling into the realm of tastelessness. And for that, I applaud it. The whole setting even would make for a great Dark Soul-ish background of a desolate world you slowly explore, a world of lethal adversaries…and once again, I find myself wishing, that this Gossamer World had more room to shine. Oh well, as provided, we get a great installment in the series and yet again, a verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval.

 

You can get this dark, unique world here on OBS!

 

Endzeigeist out.

May 292015
 

Mini-Dungeon: Tiikeri’s Revenge

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This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map (alas, sans player-friendly version) and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked to d20pfsrd.com’s shop and thus, absent from the pdf.

 

Since this product line’s goal is providing short diversions, side-quest dungeons etc., I will not expect mind-shattering revelations, massive plots or particularly smart or detailed depictions, instead tackling the line for what it is. Got that? Great!

 

This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players may wish to jump to the conclusion.

 

Still here?

All right!

 

The PCs have been contracted by a sect of local fanatics on the verge of eradicating weretigers, dangerous lycanthropes (coincidentally, those guys are mostly neutral, but never mind…) – arriving at the locale, the folk tell the PCs that the shrine’s been closed for some time…which does not bode well. Exploring the complex, the PCs not only will have to find the various, hidden keys (which a handy table tracks!), they’ll also quickly realize that NOT all is well here – information on the fanatics can be unearthed and what they find shows clearly that some kind of doom has befallen this place. Deadly traps and creatures room the halls and bespeak the revenge wrecked upon the incompetent clergy, visited upon them by Tiikeri, the rakshasa they brought into their midst, who, unsurprisingly, withstood the cleansing rituals and doubles as the big bad boss.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes sans bookmarks, but needs none at this length. Cartography is full color and surprisingly good for such an inexpensive pdf, but there is no key-less version of the map to print out and hand to your players.

 

Stephen Yeardley does it again – this mini-dungeon is awesome and every DM worth his salt can expand this even further. It breathes the flair of the exotic, of pulp, offers even a tinge of moral conflict – this is awesome 5 stars + seal of approval, my favorite one so far!

 

You can get this awesome mini-dungeon here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

May 282015
 

Demon Cults: The Hand of Nakresh

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This installment of Kobold Press’ Demon Cults-series clocks in at 16 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page advertisement, 2/3 of a page SRD, leaving us with 11 1/3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

The fourth Demon Cult the series offers would be the Hand of Nakresh – who is Nakresh, you ask? He is the forty-fingered simian demon-god of thieves, with his lower left hand reserved for his most daring of thefts – it is this hand that gives this cult its name. The leadership of the cult is firmly in the hands of the Five Exalted, which receive full-blown statblocks herein – a kobold alchemist, a gnoll trapper, a derro sorceror, a tengu cleric and a roachling sanctified rogue make up this illustrious party, which could pretty much be run as an opposing adventurer party,a rival group, should you choose to. Beyond the basics, you should be aware that the members receive background stories and minor, loving tidbits – like the roachling’s mutation, which nets him 4 hands. Small special features like this and the superb equipment (yes, influences CR) set a group apart. Well done!

 

As always, the pdf does sport a significant array of exceedingly detailed adventure hooks involving the cult, grouped by rough APLs and once again, the hooks go beyond the boring default, establishing some rather cool and inspired ideas and providing enough fodder for DMs to base multiple adventures around the cult. Midgard-aficionados will be glad to hear that we receive advice for using the cult in Midgard. There is a new spell herein, a variant of mirror image, wherein the duplicates run in random directions if you move – I do like the concept and the spell is functional, but I would have liked to see interaction with damaging terrain – do the images running over such terrain ignore it? I assume so, but this conversely makes finding the true culprit easier.

The magic items sport a demoralizing aklys and a magic monkey’s paw for luck – and an artifact. This one is a beauty: The Ley-line absorber can tie in with the agendas of some members, aiming to steal magic and absorbing it for a vast power-gain of the operator – now that is a high-profile heist!

 

“But wait”, you say – “I don’t use the Midgard-setting or ley lines!” Perhaps you are wary of the ley line magic rules or perhaps it doesn’t fit your concept. Well, the artifact comes with a second version, one for ley-line-less settings! Now *this* is care! Oh, and then there is the new vehicle provided herein. Nothing I could write would drive home the awesomeness of the concept better than the one line before the devices’ stats: CLOCKWORK SIEGE CRAB!

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to a modification of Kobold Press’ beautiful 2-column full-color standard, with the borders evoking the theme of the gorgeous front cover. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Jeff Lee’s cabal of master thieves is awesome – whether as a rival party, as high-class thieves or as elite criminals, I really, really like this installment. The writing of the fluffy hooks retains the significant quality established in the series and the artifact is a cool plot-device. While the new spell did not wow me and while I wasn’t too excited about the solid new items (though I love the minimalistic style of the pulpy monkey’s paws!), there is this level of detail of the characters I enjoy. We have nice little tidbits, resources worthy of such an elite force…and we have a CLOCKWORK SIEGE CRAB. Say it with me: “CLOCKWORK SIEGE CRAB.” Hell yeah!

 

Before I ramble on – there is nothing truly wrong with this pdf and while not all components blew me away, there is a lot that did incite my imagination to run with it. My final verdict will hence still clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval. Now excuse me, I need to get my villains a new ride…

 

You can get this awesome cadre of foes here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

May 282015
 

Dire, Devilish Deeds III – Devaneum Arcineas I

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The third part of the “Dire, Devilish Deeds”-saga clocks in at 41 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 36 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?

 

This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

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Still here? All right! At this point, I do assume you are familiar with the premise of this series of modules – if not, please consult my review of the first 2 books. Now the second installment saw the PCs vanquish (hopefully) the first gauntlet of challenges and thus, if the inversion of the eponymous titles was not ample clue, this time around, we enter the second gauntlet. Now this warrants some explanation -this series could actually be considered a 2-part series in my book: Dire, Devilish Deeds I and II (collectively the Arcineum Devaneas-parts) covered the first gauntlet, III and IV (collectively the Devaneum Arcineas-parts) cover the second. Now, as before, the puzzles and challenges can definitely be scavenged from the books, should you choose to – but you could also easily run just one gauntlet – imho both halves can stand on their own without the second gauntlet. And indeed, the module does sport an introduction similar to the one sported in the first module of the series, thus allowing for the second gauntlet to stand alone – e.g. the tree of the worlds has been replaced by the cave of the worlds – we get essentially a kind of reskin of the intro..

 

The sorceror’s gauntlet, which the PCs are about to enter, is obviously not a labyrinthine forest and instead takes the shape of a dungeon, which, of course, comes with a full-color map and a player-friendly version, though, as far as AAW Games-maps are concerned, this one is nothing special -it does its job, but do not expect something mind-boggling.

 

All right, so the premise is similar to the first gauntlet – each test herein provides first a puzzle with visual representations (including the solutions) before providing a combat challenge that can be likened to a puzzle itself, for the PCs are transformed stat-wise into creatures (apart from Intelligence and the option to communicate) – percentile HP are carried over between forms, which still require the somewhat clunky math to determine properly. Additionally, each of the combat challenges nets one letter that, collectively, makes up the final puzzle of the gauntlet.

 

The first puzzle already is pretty much different from the first two installments – we receive a grid with a blue and a red warrior on it, the blue representing water, the red fire. The players receive tokens that represent fire, water, earth and air-warriors – the goal, then, is to place as many warriors of non-identical elements on the board as possible – straight lines drawn through the warriors of the elements should yield no more than two warriors fighting one another, essentially avoiding a “flanking” position. Combat-wise, the PCs are transformed into celestial fire beetles that have to square off against dire rats, showing another difference – this time around, the PCs take the forms on magical creatures in their transformed shapes. If the puzzle above wasn’t ample clue – in a subtle way, the puzzles of this second half of the series have a different style, working less via intuition and being based more on logic – nice to see such an example of indirect storytelling and differentiation.

 

Challenge number two also works this way, with an archway requiring the PCs to decipher a sentence, wheel of fortune-style (sans wheel) -perhaps it’s the language-nerd, but yes, I considered this puzzle exceedingly easy. The combat challenge here would be an example wherein imho, the sorcerous creatures the PCs turn into aren’t perfectly chosen – pitting celestial giant bees vs. dire bats does not feel that iconic as “arcane vs. natural” as I would have liked.

 

Okay, the third puzzle is kind of awesome – plates of a lot of strange combinations of arrows, plusses and the like need to be deciphered, with some symbol-combinations actually amounting to different letters. It’s pretty much a nice glyph-deciphering puzzle here. The combat challenge, once again pits celestial animal PCs, here, dire badgers, against dire weasels. My previous criticism remains – celestial animals do not make interesting magical creatures for me, when there are so many intriguing options.

 

After this, we have a glorious puzzle – set within the earth, we can perceive a cross of massive emeralds – the task here is one of logical thinking and visual, geographic capacity – determine the amount of squares hidden in the shape of the emerald cross – neato! The combat challenge pits celestial lions versus dire boars.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard. The full-color artwork is neat indeed and the map of the gauntlet is also provided as a player-friendly version. The puzzles and solutions come in handy full-color and can easily be printed out.

 

Okay, so this one has me somewhat torn regarding direct comparison to its predecessors – it obviously inherits the necessity to tackle Stephen Yeardley’s saga on its own ground. So no change there. What I adore, though, would be the change in focus of the puzzles – somewhat away from intuition towards puzzles that are more logical and thus, feel more arcane, at least to me. The puzzles itself, universally, surpassed the predecessors for me – I really loved these. At the same time, though, the choices of which creatures the PCs transform into felt mind-boggling to me – with so many awesome magical, arcane creatures, which choose the blandest of the bland, celestial animals? Seriously, that’s just not awesome. Why not use archons, outsiders, etc. and provide some more unique set-ups for puzzle-combats? Instead, the celestial animal vs. animal dichotomy, at least to me, felt blander than in the previous installments, which saw animals and elemental creatures challenge fiendish creatures and devils. To me, these pairings do fall woefully short of the premise of “arcane” vs. “nature”, especially when compared to the first two installments. That being said, this is still a superb and innovative module, but one that falls behind the previous installments in combat diversity, while upping the ante regarding the execution of the puzzles.

 

How to rate this, then? Well, obviously, I love this saga – if you’ve read my first two reviews of the modules in this line, you know how much I adore the unique premise and challenges of this series. This same love extends to this pdf, but it is a love with more trepidation than before – while the puzzles render this installment in this regard my favorite one in the series, the combat challenges fall far behind regarding my enjoyment of them. In the end, this made this installment somewhat less superb for me. Also, as mentioned above, unless you only wish to scavenge content, you need Part IV, for this is only half of the gauntlet, though this, at least, will not influence my final verdict.

 

My final verdict will, in the end, clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 – still, if you like the premise and enjoy the saga’s great puzzles, this should be considered a must-buy.

 

You can get this cool, innovative puzzle-gauntlet here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

May 282015
 

Rite Map Pack: River Isle

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This map-pack clocks in at 35 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, leaving no less than 33 pages of content – so what’s on the map?

 

Well, first of all, a couple of semi-transparent trees that allow for the easy placement of miniatures and determining line-f-sight. Secondly, we get Tommi Salama depicting drop-dead-gorgeous water that looks like you just want to take a dip. The map depicts a road leading past an isle in a body of water, with some irregular stones making for an eroded, makeshift bridge towards a small isle, on which five trees grow in a conspicuously pentagram-shaped pattern. While I enjoy small rocks near the solid land jutting forth from the waves, it is this subtle detail that provides a further level of a subtle, evocative visual element I truly enjoy.

 

Beyond the overview-style map featured on page 3, a total of 16 pages provide a blown-up version of the map for convenient use with miniatures for your perusal – and if you’re price-conscious, the b/w-version provided thereafter should also suffice. Bookmarks render navigation to each easy. All versions of the map come with a grid.

 

Conclusion:

I’ve never made a fuss about my conviction that Tommi Salama is perhaps the heir of Jonathan Roberts – his maps are gorgeous – whether in this stunning full-color or in b/w (as can be seen in many a village backdrop by Raging Swan Press), his maps are a joy to look at. Now that alone may be nice – where things get great is when a map makes me ask questions and provides subtle hooks and unobtrusive nudges for storytelling like this one does. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval -a gorgeous, actually inspiring map for a fair price.

 

You can get this great map here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

May 272015
 

Vehicles of Legend

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This supplement clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, 2 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 9 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?

 

Okay, the first vehicle herein is called the Calamar – and is a massive, bronze kraken. Yes, including deadly tentacle and arm-attacks. We’re talking about a WAR-KRAKEN SUBMERSIBLE!! I thought “..of legend” was a bit much, but oh boy, what a furious first one! Better yet, beyond the default stats, the vehicle also receives a means for an emergency escape – heck yes! Do you prefer your vehicles less far out? Well the 1/day teleporting Century Osprey may then be just what you’re looking for, especially thanks to the magical ballistae!

 

Speaking of superb – the Doom-Lord’s Chariot would be the sarcophagus of a vanquished ancient lich, which is now used as a chariot that coincidentally can channel the energy of spells via the lenses of the sarcophagus, enhancing their potency. Even worse, the damn cool vehicle also contains a dread secret, but one I am not going to spoil for you… Thought this was nasty? You haven’t seen the frost giant’s war tower, a massive mobile fortress of destruction that DEMANDS to be used! What about a dirigible powered by mildly euphoric gasses, with a crew of drugged out air mephits as a crew?

 

The colossal iron leviathan would be a massive submersible in the shape of the iconic master of the seas. The Nomad of the Void would be a plane’s walker’s vessel, shielding its passengers from the rigors of the planes, whereas the Shrike as a mobile aerial hunter, can launch alchemical death upon foes and makes for a great representation of the steampunk dogfighter. An appropriate vessel for the terrestrial transportation of the discerning noble/mage, the intelligent carriage of Sir Cullen, the carriage offers means to not only create illusory horses, it can actually threaten foes and yes, trample adversaries. The final vehicle, the stygian warwagon, drawn by cauchemar nightmares, is a deadly thing of obsidian and destructive potential and rounds out a supplement of utterly impressive imaginative potential.

 

The final page is devoted to a vehicle-sheet for your convenience.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to a gorgeous two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports bookmarks for your convenience. The pdf comes with thematically fitting full-color art, though you won’t find direct representations of the vessels themselves.

 

Jeff Lee’s vehicles of legend went completely under my radar. I only recently realized this pdf exists at all and honestly…ladies and gentlemen, this is a hidden gem. The name may sound pompous, but this book delivers. There is not a single “good” or mediocre vessel herein – literally each and every vessel herein is pure awesomeness. Each and every vessel does something mechanically unique and combines awesome special abilities with imagery that had me salivating like crazy. This book is exceedingly inspired, extremely affordable and downright fun to boot. I was honestly quite shocked when I realized for how long this went under my radar. I absolutely adore this supplement and the superb vessels herein. I absolutely recommend you get these inspired vessels – literally all-killer, no filler, this does no retread old tropes and can be considered perhaps the best vehicle supplement out there. A thoroughly impressive book and well worth 5 stars + seal of approval!

 

You can get this awesome collection of high-concept vehicles here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

May 272015
 

Genius Adventures: The Black Skull Laughs

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This genius adventure clocks in at 21 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 17 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

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All right, still here?

This is, layout-wise – the most boring dungeon imaginable -10 identically-sized rooms connected by 30-ft-corridors. That’s it. And yes, this is by design. The complex herein depicts a minor dwarven way station turned doom-laden crypt, recently disturbed, as per the tradition by bandits – who unleashed the so-called Black Skull. Now to clear this place and claim its riches, the PCs have an interesting task ahead of them: For one, they should get that there is a “safe route” – finding and deciphering the subtle clues that point towards it can significantly make the task ahead easier.

 

Now, as you know, one of my by now probably redundant rants is about how a good encounter sports proper terrain tricks and complications – well, this module *does* sport the like – in ample spades. If you realize that the author of this short module is Ed Greenwood, you also won’t be surprised at the sheer level of imaginative things that happen in these rooms:

 

Take for example floating sarcophagi, flying skulls and crawling hands, magical tapestries…there is a LOT going on within the few rooms of this short dungeon and the challenges are as brutal as you’ve come to expect from master Greenwood, though without the optimization tricks mostly used in new school modules; this module is pretty much brains over brawns and should drive home, within a few rooms and via the magical taunts of the mad Black Skull (using the aristrocrat class as a base, btw.), that careful exploration is not necessarily a task for the foolish. Have I mentioned comets of raw magical energy streaking through one of the chambers, roaring testimonies of the deadly tragedies that have taken place herein?

 

In fact, beyond interesting encounters, which universally have something unique going for them, the module also is pretty much awesome in the way in which it handles its indirect storytelling – with some legwork prior to entering the tomb and open eyes, the PCs can very much glean what has happened here – and they better should; beyond the deadly challenges posed here, they may actually end up fooled by their adversary if they aren’t careful…

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant issues. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly two-column standard and the pdf sports some solid stock-art. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and with unobtrusive hyperlinks. The cartography is solid, but I wished we got player-friendly versions of the map.

 

You can do some great indirect storytelling with complexes your PCs explore – from similar themes and locking mechanisms to traps and the like, there are a lot of indirect ways to maintain themes of e.g. a sunken culture etc. However, this also means that some complexes ought to be somewhat pragmatic, functional, even – and thus, for once, I applaud the premise of this module. Indeed, the module actually voluntarily handicaps itself by working with what can arguably be considered the most boring possible dungeon layout.

 

This is Ed Greenwood, though. I always liked his notion of realism and the nasty tendency towards difficult modules and this delivers both. Each encounter herein sports some kind of intriguing, unique theme or hazard and even in the cases where a given encounter is CR-wise not too deadly, the imagery makes up for it. Now don’t get me wrong – I really like this module for its unpretentious premise and its exercise in what good ideas can do to flesh out the most basic of set-ups. That being said, at the same time, I would have wished the pdf had made slightly more use of the taunting adversary.

 

Now you should be aware of the fact that this module cannot be solved by rollplaying – it is pretty much old-school and rewards gamer-instincts and smart decisions. Personally, I like this, but some people might have probably liked DCs to negotiate with a giant burning head and similar solutions when the players are stumped. Now this is NOT a big flaw in my book, but something to be aware of – here and there, the deviation from what one expects as viable problem-solutions in PFRPG might well cause some consternation in groups not used to this type of thinking, this design-philosophy and here and there, a DM could probably have used a tad bit more guidance.

 

If you do not mind that – well, then this is indeed a cool, fun meatgrinder of a sidetrek. If old-school problem-solving or potentially very meatgrinder-y dungeons are not your cup of tea, then this is not for you – if you like them, though, then this is a great test of mettle for players and PCs alike. My final verdict hence will clock in at 4.5 stars – whether you round up or down very much depends on your personal tastes and whether you consider the premise sufficiently interesting. While I did enjoy this module and its evocative challenges and hazards, it also left me with a subtle feeling that it could have been even cooler by quoting more strongly the previous usage of the complex, hence, personally, I will round down. As a reviewer, though, I have a policy of in dubio pro reo and will round up.

 

You can get this neat, deadly module here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

May 272015
 

C04 – The Play’s the Thing (revised edition)

108018

This revised edition of the module is 50 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 45 pages of content, so let’s check this out!

 

This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players may wish to jump to the conclusion.

 

All right, still here? Good! Naytella is a goddess of relaxed, pleasure-driven life and one of her adherents, a man named Teatteri is finally settling down, has managed to ingratiate himself within the town of Bankside. Unbeknownst to most, their secret allegiance to the goddess made them clash with conservative authorities before and in order to secure permission to create the theatre, they have allied themselves with doppelgangers seeking the goddesses capability to provide joy and revelry.
Said shapeshifters have since replaced parts of the council and flyers that are charmed do their part in securing the steady flow of audience members to the theatre – after all, the goal is to convert a whole town to the worship of Naytella! The powerful men and women of the town may act as hooks for the PCs and the doppelgangers as foils, presenting us with a concise depiction of their agendas, ways to use them etc., providing a nice framework to set up a complex, smart investigation before entering the (still) closed theatre, where a gamut of theatre-themed, clever traps await enterprising PCs. The general set-up of the investigation component works rather well indeed, so kudos.

 

Before they can reach the cellar of the building (which btw. comes with 4 full-color maps, all of which come with player-friendly versions), they will also have to best the first group of NPCs. First group? Yes! A total of 4 different NPC-groups are part of the module, each coming with essentially “party-sheets” that include all the necessary pieces of information to run the parties on one page – supremely comfortable for the DM – I approve!
Now the cellar and dungeon below are interesting and highly chaotic in theme, including skulls chanting a litany that confuses the listeners (without deadly effects – the results are hilarious, after all, the servants of Naytella are chaotic and not evil!). The tactics of the servants of Naytella mostly reflect that as well – if the PCs get beaten, it’s not necessarily their end. Now, when they find the intoxicated council alive and well, the PCs will have a tough decision at their hands – free the council? Join the adherents of Naytella? Help them escape the wrath of the citizenry? The options are there and the result up to your players.
It should be noted that the module also includes clothing-material golems as well as 4 pages of maps of the complex, both in a keyed and a keyless version.

The pdf also features the new companion of Naytella PrC, which grants d6, 6+Int skills per level, comes with a wide variety of potential means of entry, good ref and will-saves, 3/4 BAB-progression. The Companions gain the option to use multiple skills (like sleight of hand) at range, their cha-bonus to saves and even a sonic-based breath weapon and attribute boosts. They may also choose from 3 special abilities at 8th level. All in all, an interesting an more worthwhile alternative to the arcane trickster, with generally solid wording with only minor hiccups that pertain only aesthetic components of teh rules-language and do not obfuscate their intent. All in all, a solid PrC.

 

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting of the revised version have been upgraded indeed – they can now be considered rather good. Layout has been completely revised and now adheres to a beautiful 2-column standard that is suffused with a plethora of full-color artworks, some of which are stock, whereas others are original – impressive to see the crew go the extra mile here. The module’s 4 maps in full color are neat indeed. EDIT: Now with full bookmarks!
Make the primary antagonists Calistraeans or extremists of Cayden and this module will work perfectly in Golarion. The module’s antagonists for once not being evil is a cool change of pace, as it makes the PCs ponder their own moral choices and honestly, the sheets to track the NPC-groups are extremely useful to run what would otherwise be very complex encounters. Kudos for the good idea! The location in which it is set, as well as the (potential, but mostly optional) investigative backdrop in the beginning adds also a nice touch that allows you to decide how to tackle the module with your group. Stephen Yeardley has crafted a neat module indeed and overall, I did enjoy reading these pages. The amount of content provided is also appropriate and overall, the module is a fun romp with a distinct identity that can argueably be played as sinister or as a lighthearted, fun diversion.

 

Beyond that, the level of care the AAW Games-crew have put into making this more aesthetically-pleasing is quite impressive – the cleaned-up layout is professional and makes running the module easier and the improved editing gets rid of some minor ambiguities. Now I wouldn’t be me if I had nothing to nitpick now, right? The PrC, while generally managing a superb job in making it appeal and work for both 3.X and PFRPG, could have used a bit more unique tricks and choices. Here and there, from a rules-language-aesthetic point of view, one could have smoothed the wording slightly – “deal 2d8 damage of sonic energy” should read “deal 2d8 point of sonic damage”. … Yeah, I know. But this level of nitpickery I all I can muster here. The revised edition surpasses its predecessor and thus receives a final verdict of 5 stars.

 

You can get this revised edition here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

May 202015
 

Ultimate Truenaming

144006

This massive pdf clocks in at 104 pages, a total of 101 being content, so let’s take a look…

 

…wait. A quick note before:

 

DISCLAIMER: I was a contributing author for this book. I also provided some editing, so yes, I am involved with this project. Beyond that, though, there’s a reason why this review exists in the first place and that would be that I had no part whatsoever in making the basic system. The truenamer originally debuted in “Libram of the First Language,” which I reviewed long before anything like Strange Magic or my involvement with it was even contemplated in the first place. This, the basic system was so good, it would have made last year’s Top Ten, had this pdf, the expanded and revised version, not come around. Obviously, my own take on the classes I contributed is a positive one, so please take that into account. I am going to explicitly state whenever I created something and I will ignore all parts of content I created for the purposes of my final verdict.

 

So, how does truenaming work?

 

Okay, much like the misaligned original 3.X Truenamer, Bradley Crouch’s class gets access to a diverse set of codices: First would be the codex of mind body, which is essentially a starter’s codex. Truenamers start game with 3 recitations from this codex and get +1 at every level. At 4th level, the truenamer gets access to the codex of artifice, with another recitation gained at 5th level and every two class levels beyond that. The third codex, the codex of far-flung spheres, is gained at 7th level, with an additional recitation every 3 class levels after that. Finally, the codex of the realized vision nets the truenamer the first recitation at 10th level, with 14th, 18th and 20th netting additional recitations. All recitations gained are subject to their respective limitations/prerequisites.

 

Got that? Okay, so how do recitations work? First of all: Thank all philosophies you may or may not believe in – it’s not a skill-check. How that system didn’t work, anyone who tried truenaming in 3.X already knows. But it does maintain the spirit – there is a so-called truenaming check: DC 7 + 3xrecitation’s level. The check is essentially a d20+class level+int-mod, saves against them 10+recitation level+int-mod analogous to spells. Relearning recitations, interaction with established spell schools (via similar schools), Spell Resistance – all the interactions with regular magic/spellcasting are taken into account. And yes, defensively reciting at the usual 5-DC-penalty is also included. Now it should be noted that truenaming magic always is verbal (d’uh), but rather interesting, penalties which would apply to a similar concentration-DC are halved.

 

Now failure has its price – 4 laws govern truenaming magic: Upon failing a truenaming check, the truenamer incurs a penalty to subsequent truenaming checks equal to the failed recitation’s level for 5 rounds. Whenever a truenamer recites a recitation one level lower than the maximum of what s/he can recite, s/he may take 10 on the check, resulting in less chaos and some degree of reliability. VERY interesting would also be the law of flowing rhetoric – a truenamer cannot have the same effect twice in play, i.e. no two same recitations. Even if counterspelled or otherwise failed, a truenamer needs to wait for the recitation’s duration to have elapsed to again try to utter it – this makes durations of buffs etc. a double-edged sword…interesting. Finally, the multiverse gets annoyed by truenamers asking the same thing over and over again -each subsequent use of a given recitation per day increases the truenaming DC by +2 until the truenamer has sufficiently apologized to the multiverse (i.e. rested).

 

Now if that wasn’t enough complexity for you so far, at 3rd level the truenamer gets an inflection (something not all truenaming classes get, btw.), and another one every 3 levels after that, though it should be noted that different classes/archetypes may get different inflections. These increase casting time of an recitation to a full-round action and also increase both the DC of the truenaming check to properly cast them and the law of malleability-DC by a fixed amount. The latter would be the law that makes casting consecutive iterations of the same recitation that day harder. Essentially, these are kind-of metamagic modifications that allow you additional effects, but at the cost of not being able to pull off the same trick that often. And yes, inflected recitations count as the base recitation for purposes of the law of limited malleability. These inflections allow you to e.g. substitute a chosen energy form with another, empower recitations, increase their range, maximize them or even penalize target creature’s saves by -2 as well as forcing them to reroll the save and take the worse result. As you can glean, the respective inflection vary in strength, but thankfully are concisely balanced via level-requirements.

 

The base truenamer class would get d6, 2+Int skills per level, d6, good will-saves, 1/2 BAB-progression – we have no doubt a full caster on our hands. The first interesting component can be found in the proficiency section – truenamers do not take the classic arcane spell failure chance, instead increasing the DC of their recitations by at least +1 (for armor/shields etc. sans armor check penalty) or otherwise by their armor check penalty. It should be noted, that, while they do get proficiency with simple weapons, no shield or armor proficiencies are part of the deal, thus imposing a feat tax if you choose to go that route. Still, an interesting design decision here.

 

The truenamer also gets some archetypes: The Orator gets a modified spell-list and increases the bonus gained for speaking a creature’s language at higher levels at the cost of one inflection. Instead of the 12th level inflection, he becomes harder to demoralize (and more adept in this game of chicken!) He also becomes rather adept at prepared speeches, adding int-mod to them if he had time to prepare (does not extend to truenaming!). Instead of the double-inflection-trick, an orator gets a special inflection that extends a recitation to all creatures close to the primary target of the recitation.

 

The Truescribe can create one scroll per available codex, containing one recitation that does not influence the law of finite malleability, essentially netting the archetype a small pool of reserve recitations (which can’t be used by others btw. – no UMDing these…) These special scrolls adhere to their own set of unique limitations and, while expanded via another ability, they remain thus limited. They also become particularly adept at resisting writing-leitmotif spells and effects and later even gain a save against the dreaded explosive rune-spell. At 12th level, they even have a shorthand, which allows for a difficult UMD-check to properly use their scrolls – rather cool.

 

The third archetype would be the verminspeaker, who gets the shared-language-bonus versus mindless creatures (thus making him/her also an ooze-talker or golemwhisperer) as well as a vermin-animal-companion sans share spells and very limited tricks. At 6th level, they learn an inflection that allows you to use mind-influencing effects on mindless beings…which can be VERY strong in my experience. DMs should take care when throwing golems and the like at a vermin speaker…

 

Now Brandon F. has sponsored an archetype called the “Chessmaster” – beyond being specialists in the codices of artifice and hearts and minds (not gaining access to the codex of the realized vision), chessmasters are defined by the mnemonic conceit with which they organize truename magic in their minds – said conceit would be a chess board – each recitation may, upon resting, be associated with a chess piece, more of which are unlocked during the regular level-progression – now here’s the catch, though: this association is fluid and can be broken. A chess piece’s passive ability is triggered whenever the associated recitation is recited. Active abilities, however, are only triggered upon the association being dissolved, making this essentially a very versatile form of unique metamagic for truenaming that provides significantly different benefits from what inflections grant.

 

The Savant of Heart and Mind obviously is a specialist of said codex, but more than most specialists, this one only gains access to this one codex – obviously, this massive decrease in flexibility needs to come with benefits – and indeed, the savant can provide unique tricks for the codex and easily heal himself – each recitation nets temporary fast healing, which makes the savant tough. While I usually would complain like crazy about nigh-infinite personal healing, the relatively low frequency means that it does not outclass proper healing.

 

When the master of Forest Guardian Press and great designer in his own right, Morgan Boehringer, sponsors an archetype, you better know it’ll be interesting – the Tuneful Inflectionist receives three unique inflections and more of them – while that may not sound like much, in a highly modular system such as this, the inflections can result in VERY interesting additional tricks at your disposal: At-will dismissal of recitations, for example!

 

The second base-class herein would be one of my own design, the Scion of Discordia. The basic idea here would be simple – these guys can insult the multiverse. Rather than just making the universe do their bidding, they can pronounce words that can be considered anathema by the language of creation – this constant insulting does mean that the basic, reversible codices of a scion are somewhat unreliable for a small whiff of chaos magic. The true catch here, though, would be the multiverse’s reaction to the insults the scion of discordia flings: The result is a so-called Discordant Zone. This can be considered a kind of zone in which the rules of reality are modified. The zone’s radius scales over the levels and it also can be directed at higher levels, making it mobile. Now here’s the thing – the zone can be modified upon being established, making the scion within the zone a nightmare for casters – not only is the scion a superb counterspeller, the zone also doubles as a means to making magic REALLY hard. Think of the zone being the one rebuttal to all those nasty casters – from crippling healing to dispersing negative conditions, the discordant zone allows the scion to undermine resistances and immunities and essentially be a blue magic-style lock-down controller of other casters… And yes, there are more unique tricks to be found here, courtesy to the significant array of talents with which one can customize the scion’s nasty tricks – like a sudden-death mode for the zone, deflecting missiles, options to selectively take creatures and exclude them from the zone’s effects.

 

Brandon F. also sponsored an archetype for the scion of discordia, the disciple of discordia – the zones of these guys always try to center upon the disciple, moving back towards them, but as a fun note, they receive options to become faster (and/or make the zone slower!), thus making it possible to run from the zone as they move about the battle-field – which is pretty much more awesome in play than it sounds on paper. Discordant Instigators, designed by yours truly, would be a kind of ninja/scion-blend – these guys get modified skills and proficiencies etc. and use the discordant zone to provide them with extra sonic damage – think of them as cosmic battle rappers who can deliver killer insults – quite literally. The final archetype would be the rulebreaker who does just that – instead of receiving a counterspell pool, these guys can get a loophole pool with which they can modify the basic rules of truenaming.

 

Obviously, a significant array of feats allow for the modification of truename magic, class features of truenamer and scion, etc., adding a significant array of further options to the fray.

 

Beyond these, there also are Prestige Classes, the first of which would be Jason Linker’s Polycosmic Theurge, which blends truenaming magic with ethermagic. Yes, this was just as insane to balance as it sounds like, but know what? It works! Speakers of the Word would be Bradley Crouch’s blending of divine magic and truename magic. Brandon F. also sponsored the Trueshapers, specialists of the powerful codex of the realized vision, with an oracle’s clouded vision featuring in the class – the cool thing here, would be the means to modify how the recitations behave range and area, providing a kind of recitation nexus. The wordsworn defender would be a combat/truenamer class – solid! Finally, Bradley Crouch provides the willshackler, who receives so-called command words, which provide enchantment-like unique effects. It should be noted that roleplaiyng advice for both e.g. the wordsworn defenders and general recitations are provided.

 

All right, got that? Great, let’s take a look at some select recitations (though I’m NOT going through all in detail – you want this review to be shorter than 10+ pages, don’t you?).

 

The first thing you’ll note in the codex of the heart and mind would be that we not only get a list of all the recitations – beyond sharing a range of 60 ft and targeting one creature and applying SR, they actually have two effects! Take the attraction-recitation: You can pull creatures 10 feet in a straight line towards you, the movement netting a +4 dodge bonus to AC vs. AoOs. The reverse instead sends the target away. So far, so obvious, right? What about slightly increasing/decreasing DR? Things become more interesting with e.g. ice-themed attack recitations that can deal damage to targets or provide a defensive, cold-damage dealing sheen? Here, we have different durations for the regular and reverse effects and both have their own conditions to reduce the damaged target’s movement speeds temporarily halved. And yes, temporarily raising zombies (or destroying mindless undead) is possible.

 

Rather awesome would be a recitation, which makes a target a living bomb – but also makes the target realize this, allowing it to being able to minimize collateral damage. The reverse is rather special as well – this one makes it possible to negate self-destruct abilities. Beyond the tinker’s kamikaze directives, think certain staves and their planes-shattering final strikes. Yes, useful and unique. Many of these recitations actually work with rather cool durations/effects that only happen on the end of a recitation’s duration, necessitating actual planning on behalf of the truenamer.

 

Now the codex of artifice is more about item-modification, allowing you to net temporary charges to wands (or make them consume twice that amount when used), buff weapons/armor etc. A minor nitpick here – the recitations dealing with charges should probably in their reverse function double the amount of charges consumed. As written, the recitations only consume “2 charges” when activated, which becomes problematic as soon as some item has abilities that cost multiple charges – is it double the charges or +1 charge consumed?

 

What about instilling alchemical items with paranoia, inciting them to go off? What about making items orbiting bodyguards or imbuing items as deadly splash weapons? Ranged stealing (via proper use of CMB etc.) or protecting belongings is possible! Very cool for those ambushes in the night – make temporarily hastily donned armor properly donned and vice versa.

 

The codex of the far-flung spheres has a range of 100 ft and an AoE of 20 ft. and, unless the first two codices, this one has only one effect per recitation. Barring creatures from teleporting, making creatures more adept at grappling etc. – all nice. But what about yodeling and making the target area difficult terrain? Yes, funny and oh so cool! What about insta-growing plants/fungi etc. for rations? Also VERY interesting – an area that deals damage to the target in it that has the MOST hp. This one has a LOT of tactical potential!

 

The final codex, the codex of the realized vision, is the one closest to regular spells, with just about every recitation featuring its own formal properties like individual ranges (e.g. 60 ft., personal, touch…) etc. Animating up to gargantuan animated objects, afflict targets with crushing ennui (save or do nothing -for 5 rounds! Ouch!), creating non-weaponized spheres that can dig tunnels for you. Also interesting: Cover the floor with material that deals +3d6 damage upon falling, including being tripped! Cool for its tactical options! Asking questions to the multiverse, fabricating objects ex nihilo – quite a few options here. Oh, and there is also a recitation that erases creatures from the multiverse – but instead of save-or-suck, it requires consecutive saves over the duration. Once the target has failed 3, s/he/it’s gone – cool take on the mechanic – Think about players scrambling to take down the truenamer to prevent their comrade being erased! When mechanics in themselves make for more fun/excitement, then that’s a good indicator for good design! (Preventing falls with huge spongy discs can also be achieved, should you be so inclined!)

 

Have I mentioned e.g. the truespeech “Lament of the Platypus” or the “Ode to the Porcupine,” hinting at a slight embarrassment of certain cosmic forces? Yes, much like the best of Interjection Games-releases, a subtle, unobtrusive humor permeates some of the pieces of content herein. What about making the dying explode, Diablo II-style or generating a sphere that can burrow through the earth?

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. layout adheres to a nice, custom 2-column b/w-standard with cool b/w-artworks blended with runes and the like. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Even before this revision, the base system was a glorious, beautiful, even, piece of math – the original system took the most infamously broken magic subsystem of 3rd edition and actually made it work – superbly so. Now the additions made by both Bradley Crouch and Jason Linker alone imho would have made this a legendary supplement.

 

Now, I ask you to indulge me for a second – I am VERY proud of the Scion of Discordia – I know of no other class out there that has a customizable, mobile and flexible debuff zone that does not focus on hampering melee et al., but on locking down hostile casters – whatever the nasty caster combo your players use, the scion can probably throw a wrench into it, all without devaluing other casters. Oh, and its zone has some VERY unique effects that no other debuffing class can execute.

I consider this class, alongside the etherslinger, the best pieces of crunch I’ve written so far. That completely aside, though, the base system, even without its refinements, even without the additional work by Jason Linker and myself, was a thing of beauty and awesomeness – you can still check my review of it on my site.

Said review praised the base system as “Truenaming that ACTUALLY works!” – and I stand by that.

Now with the vastly increased content, all those additional bits and pieces, I definitely consider this to be one of the coolest subsystems out there – well worth a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval and I also nominate this as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2015.

 

You can get this massive truenaming supplement here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!

Want the whole Strange Magic-subscription? You can get it here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!

 

Endzeitgeist out.