Mar 302012
 

92421[1]

The 8th installment of the “Splinters of Faith”-series from Frog God Gamesis 36 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page advertisement and 1 page SRD, leaving 31 pages of content, so let’s check this out!

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

Still here? All right! The 8th installment of the series once again presents us with a truly distinct and unique temple: The lady of searing waters is a temple shaped like a lotus-flower and built upon the largest one in a field of geysers, resulting in a geyser of scalding water falling down and gathering in the petals of the lotus-shaped temple. After visiting a village at the edge of the volcanically-active badlands, the PCs once again will have to do a favour for the temple: The tube of volcanic glass channelling the scalding water has been compromised by a sleeper-agent of Orcus in service of Akruel Rathamon and in order to get the blessing for the Scepter of Faiths, the PCs will have to replace the broken section with volcanic glass. Fortunately for the PCs, a mine is nearby.

Unfortunately, said mine is now housing more than a few problems: Adherents of the vile teaching of parasite-god father host are trying to build a base in the mines of Honn. Worse, aboleths have started laying siege to the servants of and the cult has lost control of some summoned outsiders from the lower planes that are now hunted down by demonic retrievers. Father Host’s druids and wizards are nothing to be trifled with, either – the druids have the unique ability to transform into vermin-forms and animated Buckets and Ropes make the exploration of the mines rather lethal. The climax at the shores of a subterranean lake featuring aboleths, stone giant guards and even a purple worm make for iconic foes the PCs are sure to remember. And then there’s again the problem of carrying the volcanic glass back to the temple to finally get the penultimate blessing for the Scepter of Faiths.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, though a bit worse than in the other installments of the series – I noticed quite a few minor glitches. layout adheres to a 2-column standard and the pdf once again has no bookmarks. Once again, the pdf features no transitions from locations to location or even module to module. Once again, no player-friendly maps are provided, but seeing the lack of wilderness-exploration, that’s not as bad. The mines are a stellar dungeon, the temple is excellent in its iconicity and the locations presented rank among the best of the whole series. Even more so a pity that the temple and its surrounding, geyser-studded badlands haven’t been further developed with unique hazards. Apart from this complaint on a very high level, I have nothing to be picky about. The dungeon rocks and the temple is a genuine delight. On the other hand, the pdf has no bookmarks and more glitches than other installments of the series, thus preventing me from rating it the full 5 stars. Seeing that the limitations of the series are not as prevalent in this installment and that the overall writing by Gary Schotter & Jeff Harkness is still awesome, I’ll settle for a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.

Splinters of Faith 8 Pathfinder Edition is available from:

rpgnowlogo_sized43333333333333333333[3]

Mar 302012
 

100263[1]

This pdf from Purple Duck Games is 15 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 1/2 pages SRD, leaving 10 1/2 pages of content for the new treasure chests, so let’s check them out!

Treasure chest elicit, like rarely another piece of room dressing, a certain glow from players and DMs alike – the former are delighted due to all the precious loot just for the taking and the latter grin because they know that they get to try out their latest traps. This pdf offers a neat little variety of new traps for chests that come with construction-information and some rather interesting and logical ways to ensure that your items remain undisturbed. The individual chests come with a short fluff paragraph each, helping you to choose which of these to use for which occasion. CR-wise, the chests range from CR 1 to CR 15 and quite frankly, are smart: The very first chest is one that should probably be the standard for corrupt merchants and officials alike – Destroying Evidence drops oil and alchemist’s fire in the box and whoosh! All the evidence is gone. Unless the careless adventurers quickly extinguish the flames, potentially harming themselves. A trap that makes you visible as a thief features a time-delay before spraying your hands with red beet dye – no damage, just the awkwardness of hiding your hands and avoiding justice. Very cool!

Even cooler, though, would be the friendly minimics (CR 2) – these nice brethren of their species are smaller and form friendly relationships with humans and other species, guarding their possessions in the guise of small objects for the option of further studying objects. Cool, interesting, neat little creature! Of course, more classic traps like electric shocks and sprays of acid are included in the deal. The electrical chest is built with a new spell included in the deal, the defensive shock. Neat! Wizards can now also be hit with a devastating new poison called Mind Hammer.

And then there are the creature-chests – chests that summon wolves, contain slithering trackers that can breathe fire and then there’s a truly brilliant chest: One of the chest shrinks the opening PC via the new “Greater Reduce Person Spell” and unleashing a swarm of dancing elementals – Normal-sized Pcs can’t attack the swarm with area-attacks without hurting their shrunken ally, who is fighting what to him/her is a vast army of fire elementals. Iconic, smart, cool! We need more of this! A particularly devious chest hits you with a fireball, deletes your memory and remains – rinse and repeat, if you’re not careful. Extra sadistic DMs combine that with an illusion and you’re in for pain…

The higher CR-traps are devious indeed and include gates, fingers of death, weirds and even a trap the soul (including stats for its previous victim) – but, of course, we also get a neat bit of treasure for our so plagued players – The new legendary item, the Duckaxe! Yes. The Duckaxe. And the item actually rocks – you may giggle at first, but this mage-hunting axe is nothing to laugh about. The material it is made from, Noqual, is also detailed in the pdf.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly 2-column standard and the artworks are neat. The pdf is extensively bookmarked. The traps herein are smart and range from generally useful to deviously clever, especially the reduce/swarm chest being a trap that could easily have been made a whole adventure. And then there’s the VERY low price – combine these factors, the bonus legendary weapon and the new material and we’re in for an excellent pdf at this low price point. While there are other trap-books out there on par with this one, the focus on chests and uniqueness of the design makes this a valid and cool little addition to your game. Not all of the traps feel as brilliant, though, some of them just using a spell in a straight-forward manner. This, however, is not enough to truly stain the pdf and thus I’ll settle for a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4.

Endzeitgeist out.

A Score of Trapped Chests is available from:

rpgnowlogo_sized43333333333333333333
Mar 292012
 

100440[1]

This pdf from Rite Publishingis 6 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving 2 pages for the 10 new feats for the imaginative changeling-class, so what exactly do we get?

  • Dreaded Shape lets you use your moment of change to grow into a more powerful, frightening version of your form, including attribute bonus and aura that shakes foes and might even frighten them. I’m not sure whether I like that the aura grants no save, though.
  • Greater Change Shape grants you access to the undead anatomies (from UM) and geniekind.
  • Imprint Racial Traits: Use moment of chance to change a racial trait for 24 hours – AWESOME idea! Especially if there are more books providing racial traits like RiP’s “101 Alternate Racial Traits” in the future, this feat could become the catalyst for stellar versatility.
  • Improved Change Shape: Gain access to monstrous physiques and vermin shapes.
  • Phoenix Rising: You can expend all moments of change when you die and be raised from the dead and be transformed into a phoenix. This feat is awesome and iconic in so many ways, I don’t even want to start. Iconic, cool, powerful. Two thumbs up!
  • Task Adept: Imprinted feats last longer.
  • Task Savant: Use moment of change to exchange Dex and Str for skill checks.
  • Touch of Deformity: Use moment of change to gain a touch attack that deals non-lethal damage, hampers foes’ movements and deals minor attribute damage. Again: Iconic, cool, two thumbs up!
  • Touch of Malformation: Use moment of change to either hamper attacks, movement or defense. While no save makes this seem powerful, the penalties are specific enough not to unhinge balance.
  • Viper’s Riposte: Transforms the weapon an enemy hits you with into a snake under your command, but unfortunately lacks the information on how the DC of the save to avoid the transformation is calculated.

The pdf also features the Geniekind-spell, which lets you take on qualities of the different kinds of genies. Neat!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, with the exception of Viper’s Riposte, as mentioned above. Layout adheres to RiP’s two-column standard and the pdf has no bookmarks, but at this length, needs none. This pdf is straight-forward in that it delivers 10 feats (and a spell) for a price that is hard to beat indeed. Add to that the fact that the new feats ooze style and usability and make the taskshaper-class even more interesting and I’m left with not much to complain about. Phoenix Rising, Viper’s Riposte – these feats offer truly iconic options in battle and add to the overall options in battle, while adding a significant coolness-factor to a character and my final verdict would be 5 stars and the Endzeitgeist seal of approval, were it not for the glitches with e.g. Viper’s Riposte, which forces me to detract a star, as it lacks crucial information.

Endzeitgeist out.

10 Taskshaper Feats is available from:

rpgnowlogo_sized43333333333333333333
Mar 272012
 

99467[1]

This pdf from Super Genius Games is 8 pages long, 2/3 of a page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, leaving 6 1/3 pages of content, so what exactly do we get?

This pdf provides us with 110 different oddities you might put into the loot of your monsters. But why would you do it? Well, because most of the items provided herein have no intrinsic value, but are ODD.

For example, you might find phosphorescent pine splinters. A rattle filled with children’s teeth. An acorn carved from a lacquered stair or bed-post and even an empty picture frame that can light itself up. All the items have in common that they can feel rather out of place when used for diverse critters and that they may all inspire an adventure or provide a lead and a bit of detail and intrigue to a fantasy setting.

In addition to the vast amount of cool items herein, we also get a page of advice for the Dm to deal with item fixation and help one use the items presented herein.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. The pdf adheres to SGG’s classic 3-column layout and features some neat pieces of artworks. The pdf has no bookmarks. Designer Rich Redman provides us with an extremely usable, cool and imaginative array of odd items, strange contents and thus potential hooks that is sufficiently different from e.g. Raging Swan’s “So what’s…”-line to be useful when used in combination with it. The items herein are cool and feature weird ones along more common items, which also brings me to my only and rather minor gripe with this file – not all of the items are as imaginative as I would have liked – a vial of blood or a brass ring don’t constitute interesting items in my book. While the vast majority of items ROCKS, it is these minor hick-ups that make me go a bit lower than I would have liked to – thus, my final verdict will be 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4. I hope for a sequel with more of these wacky seeds!

Endzeitgeist out.

The Genius Guide to What’s in my Pocket? is available from:

rpgnowlogo_sized43433333333333333333[3][3]
Mar 272012
 

93863[1]

The penultimate installment of the “Splinters of Faith”-series from Frog God Games is 32 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page advertisement, leaving 27 pages of content, so let’s check it out!

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

Still here? All righty! Following the format of the series, we venture to the island city of Jah Sezar, a magocracy under the benevolent auspice of good arcanists. Once again, a task must be completed to receive the blessing and this one is rather peculiar: A good being has to willingly sacrifice his/her life in order to provide for the final blessing. Thankfully, an angel is currently being tortured in Abhor Brazier, the temple-fortress of Hecate. Situated at the complete other end of the world map, the two locations are VERY far apart and make the lack of transitions/journeys/wilderness-sections quite apparent. As the temple is located at the top of a mountain, altitude adaption is a problem that has to be taken into account. While rules are provided, more hazards and a more pronounced effect of the altitude would have been nice to add complications to the scenario.

The Hecate-temple of Abhor Brazier (3 levels btw.!) is a rather large fortress and features some individuals that would make careful planning on part of the PCs advisable: From a 5-headed iron-golem hydra with decapitating bites to several NPCs of CR 15 and higher, we are in for pain – a lot of pain. Especially the high priestess is a foe not to battle on her own terms – CR 20 if they do, even without additional support from other denizens! While the intrigues within the temple make semi-stealthy solutions viable, they do so only to an extent – with all the spells at the disposal of Hecate’s wizards, PCs will be hard-pressed to keep their intrusion under the radar. While the dungeon is lethal and works well as a deadly crucible for the PCs to pass and as a preparation for the things to come in the climax, the scenario nevertheless borders on being a meat-grinder. Which is not bad per se, at least for me – after all, I really love Rappan Athuk.

What is a downer for me in this module is, that some obvious chances were not taken: The followers of Hecate scream “Witches” to me, not wizards/sorcerers and I would have really loved for this module to provide us with some high-level witch-antagonists. That’s a personal preference, though: What is more grievous, is that the temple is, especially when compared to the excellently-written temples from the other installments, rather bland. It just feels common, like yet another deadly dungeon to be cleaned out without offering much in the way of originality. Oh well, once the angel has been rescued and the followers of Hecate vanquished, the anointment of the Scepter will be complete and it is time to confront Akruel himself in issue 10.

Conclusion:

The decline of quality in editing and formatting started in the 8th installment unfortunately continues and I found quite a bunch of editing/formatting glitches, even some double sentences. Layout adheres to the 2-column b/w-standard of the series and the artworks are neat. The pdf thankfully has bookmarks, although I don’t get why so many other installments don’t have them. This installment, more than others, is plagued by the issues of the series – no transition is especially grievous when the good temple is FAR away from the last one visited and when the evil one is essentially on the other side of the map. The high altitude and environmental complications have been kept to a minimum in favour of extremely deadly fights with spell-casters that feel a bit redundant – some less overkill on their levels in favour of environmental obstacles would have gone a long way in making the whole module more memorable. The lack of infiltration-routes like secret passages etc. unfortunately lead towards the DM either pooling resources and crushing the PCs like bugs or the “waiting bad guy”-syndrome. Information on how the temple reacts to alarms/ repeated incursions would have helped a lot in portraying the temple as a believable fortress. Add to that the fact that the temple is nothing special in appearance/structure etc. and we’re unfortunately in for my least favourite installment of the whole series – “Duel of Magic” feels like “the obligatory evil magic-user fortress” of the line and didn’t excite me crunch or fluff-wise. In fact, I consider the fluff of installment I to be superior to this one. Were it not for the glitches, I’d settle for a final verdict of 3 stars due to some interspersed good ideas, but as written I can’t say I was impressed by any component of this module. The authors have shown that they can do better. My final verdict will be 2.5 stars, rounded down to 2.

Endzeitgeist out.

Splinters of Faith 9 is available from:

rpgnowlogo_sized43433333333333333333[3]
Mar 272012
 

93911[1]

This pdf from Open Design is 108 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page advertisement and 1 page back cover, leaving 103 pages of content, so let’s check this scenarios out!

The anthology of adventures begins with a prologue depicting the rather complex plotlines that span a millennium and that will have your investigators struggling against terrible odds…and die. A couple of times. For one of the basic ideas of the anthology is that all of the adventures are connected via reincarnation – the Investigators actually are the same individuals and, via the new, story-driven Incarnum skill, may even tap into skills they had in past lives etc. – for a price, of course. And the currency is your sanity…

Each of the adventures comes with 4 pregens and the campaign is very much centred on using pregens suitable for the respective eras, so if you do plan to run these adventures with more characters, you should plan in some additional time to create fitting characters.

That being said, this is an adventure and thus the following text contains massive SPOILERS. Investigators should cease to further investigate and jump to the conclusion.

Are you a Keeper? Sure? All right! The overall storyline centres on a cataclysm of proportions most terrifying: Lei Peng, ancient Chinese sorcerer and vassal to the Denizens of Leng jerks his leash and breaks free of his master’s control. While the Denizens seek to unravel the truth behind a brass-sphere artefact of Lei Peng and want to harness the “Red Eye of Azathoth”, the red harbinger star to make earth their own playground and possess mortals at their leisure, Lei Peng uses the original sphere to reincarnate over the ages and wants to summon Azathoth to earth and usher in a cataclysm of madness and despair under his reign. The only drawback of Peng’s ceaseless reincarnation (his true life-force secured in the dreamlands) is that the displaced souls of his former incarnations also resurface with each of his sojourns to our earth – cue the Investigators! A brilliant way to make the characters WANT to stop Peng and end their never-ending nightmare!

Our first scenario takes place in Lindisfarne, 887 AD. The harbinger star looms over the abbey, in which the twisted bones of a former Peng-possessed saint lie and unfortunately for everyone involved, dark magic has taken over the cloister. The Vikings who were in the process of raiding the place did certainly not expect the red rain of blood, rising tide or dark magic of Peng and thus, 2 monks and 2 Vikings are sent to find the reason and put an end to Peng’s dread sorcery. The initial constructed mistrust between the characters makes for a great way to encourage roleplaying and 2 handouts sum up what the respective characters know – this set-up, while potentially problematic, works only to unite the characters, though, as soon visions of past lives (5 are provided) and with it, the Incarnum skill slowly surface and forge them into a team while the apocalypse seems to loom. In order to stop Peng, they’ll have to infiltrate the abbey, push blindly past corpse spiders (hideous amalgams of dead bodies who can only see what sees them) and finally stop Peng by breaking through his magical defences. This climax sets a precedent for the whole anthology – while many Cthulhu-scenarios focus on investigation and offer a climactic show-down in the end, in this anthology, the stretch from investigation to full-blown, almost survival-horroresque escalation is a short one and while not common, it does work here – after all, if the Investigators die, not much is lost, thus encouraging players to go for the blaze of glory/gibbering, homicidal insanity approach.

The second scenario, 1287 AD, takes place in the Kamakura era in Japan. The land is still suffering from the repercussions of averting Mongol invasions and one particular, isolated mountain village alone, Iwazumi, always manages to pay its tribute. 6 visions, a summary of what the investigators know (including glossary), 3 hand-outs notes, 3 new creatures and 4 new spells (mostly for the bad guys) are included. Sent to investigate by the authorities, the investigators will reach the village after an encounter with a servitor-race creature only to find a massive problem for their investigation: The people are mute. All of them. Thus, the investigation will mostly work via written notes, perhaps even improvised gestures and a wall of silence literally blocks the investigators in the beginning – until they hear a newborn’s scream, which cues them, hopefully, that the local Kami is not all it seems and takes the voices – to put them into voice-boxes. When Peng attacks the village with a flock of disturbing bird-like servitors, the Investigators will have to save people, hunt the sorcerer…and find that the Kami is in fact a Denizen of Leng who has already taken care of Peng’s latest incarnation and seeks to undo Azathoth’s lullaby via the thousands of stolen voices. It’s up to the PCs to stop this via any means necessary and hopefully thwart the plans of the now-revealed second faction of masterminds involved in this deadly game of chess.

The third scenario, 1487 AD hits the town of Valencia in Spain rather unexpected: The Spanish inquisition has taken the town under the leadership of the charismatic Esteban del Cassandro, divine saviour of the town, guarded by angels made flesh…and latest incarnation of Lei Peng. To make matters truly worse, the angels are Byakhee in disguise and he has already rounded up Muslims, Jews and anyone else who might make for a good scapegoat and seeks to have them all purified by fire in the morning. The scenario kicks off without any of the investigators knowing which of the other inmates subjected to torture actually are investigators and after a gruelling torture session potentially characterized by forced confessions and blaming of others, the players will find their latest incarnations confined to the city dungeon. This time, things are a bit different, though: We get 7 different handouts, 3 additional ones that help the players get used to the era and 5 different visions. The new characters are more experienced and some of them even know spells. And they will need them, for this particular scenario is HARD. Not only will they have to escape the prison, they will also have to navigate the streets of Valencia under the watchful gaze of the “angels” and mobs routing up people to be burnt – in order to stop the madness of a pogrom, the investigators will have to unearth how Peng controls the angels and expose/assassinate him in front of the whole town while exposing that he’s not who he claims to be – otherwise, Peng’s death will do nothing to spread to impending carnage and the fires of hatred will indeed defile the skies…

The fourth scenario, 1587 AD, is rather tame in comparison, but no less compelling – the investigators are colonists and have purchased their tickets toward a new life in the new world – they’re set out for Roanoke! We again, get 5 visions as well as a handout. With regards to the scenarios in this anthology, this one is rather tame, but things can be deceiving. Once the investigators have taken care of their business in the old world and survived the perilous journey to America, they’ll settle in the abandoned colony and try to establish contact with the natives to find out what exactly has befallen their predecessors – hopefully without opening hostilities with the natives. Peng’s latest incognito tries to incite and escalate the dealings with the natives, but is soon stopped short in his tracks by being killed off alongside other people missing. Tensions are running high on the side of both settlers and natives and existential anxieties threaten along-side maddening drums from the woods the existence of the whole settlement. Hopefully, the PCs dealing with the natives keep a cool head and find the remnants of failed Leng possession (flawed copies of Peng’s sphere) devices along the remains of the former colonists. If they fail to stop the denizen that has taken the shape of an evil tribal spirit, the Denizens will complete their duplicate spheres and condemn the world to eventually becoming their decadent playing ground of self-destructive urges…and that’s not even the finale!

The final adventure, 1887 AD, takes place in Desperation, Arizona and includes wild west gun-fighting rules, 4 new spells, 2 new creatures, 3 visions and a whopping 11 pages of handouts – which is plain awesome in itself. The mining town of desperation has been beset by sandstorms and cut off from outside influences – even worse, Peng has finally had enough of the investigator’s meddling and located them prior to them awakening to their nature. He also dealt with them. Permanently. All is lost. Well. Not really. A gallows in the desert suddenly sees the corpses coming to choking life – without any memories and still mostly mummified by the scorching heat, corpses spring the life, clotted blood starts to slowly unclot itself and half-undead gunslingers shamble back towards desperation in order to reclaim their identities and stop the apocalypse the mad sorcerer with the shown eyelids seeks to bring down upon earth. Even with the benefits of six-shooters and their excellent gun slinging-skills, these individuals will be hard-pressed, for Peng’s grip on Desperation is tight – controlling the food supply of the town, he has fed the town human flesh and is on the verge of having the town consume itself in a homicidal, cannibalistic fury. Even though the investigators are half-undead (though slowly returning to life), proficient in some spells and have a lot of skill on their side, Peng has stacked the odds against them: A conjured azagoth guards his codex, undead wendigo (and a lot of them!) servitors have taken over all positions of power and with a town teetering on the brink of madness, investigating when the whole town knows you’re supposed to be dead and without knowing who you are tends to be rather difficult. Worse, this is their last incarnation, the last chance for the wayward souls to stop Peng – their incarnations are at an end and the demon-sultan looms. Hopefully, they have succeeded in some of the other adventures and pierced together enough of Peng’s M.O. to get rid of him permanently and seal Azathoth in a showdown of cataclysmic proportions. Even if they succeed, though, their victory may prove to be bitter-sweet if they botches the Roanoke-scenario – the hottest goods out there are these intricate brass spheres…

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I only noticed 3 glitches, and all were punctuation glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked. The pdf is full color, though the softcover (no longer available) is b/w. The artworks consist of a mélange of period piece stock-art, original drawings and beautiful maps and handouts. This anthology is wholly different from anything I’ve ever played in CoC – chock-full of interesting mechanics and apocalyptic scenarios, the anthology may fall a bit flat on the investigation side of things, something purists should be aware of. However, the time-period-spanning sequence of scenarios and the non-traditional, episodic narrative structure make up for that in presenting you a tour de force of escalating nightmares, oppressive doomsday scenarios and disturbing allotopias, with each scenario featuring some kind of special set-up for roleplaying or some complications – this still is CoC, after all and whoever thinks that unfocused violence will solve anything will be squashed. Brains over brawns – even though this anthology feels more like a action-horror offering than a murder mystery. If you’re looking for something different or want to show players of more combat-oriented rpgs how awesome CoC can be, this should be considered your anthology of choice. My final verdict will be 5 stars + Endzeitgeist seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.

Red Eye of Azathoth is available from:

rpgnowlogo_sized43433333333333333333
Mar 252012
 

100663[1]

This adventure from Raging Swan Press is 95 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages advertisements, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, 2 pages editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page statblocks by CR (and a cool rhyme for your bard!), leaving 86 pages of content, so let’s check out Raging Swan’s latest adventure!

This being an adventure review, I urge potential players to jump to the conclusion in order to avoid SPOILERS.

Still here?

Shadowed Keep of the Borderlands is essentially a sandbox adventure in the truest form – intentionally reminiscent of the classic moathouse of ToEE, the now ruined keep was originally constructed by adventurers who have subsequently been routed and destroyed in a night of carnage by their goblinoid foes.

Now, the woods surrounding the keep have become rather unsafe – animals, vermin, bandits and worse prowl the woods and some sages speculate that a map to a famous lost dwarven hold might still lie within the keep – hopefully enough prompting to get the PCs to try to tackle the keep! The surface section of the keep essentially has two different areas – the bandit queen’s tower and the donjon of ruin. In the former, the bandits (who may be tricked, negotiated with and even be joined by your PCs and get the RSP NPC-treatment with mannerisms etc!) make for a potentially lethal coordinated defense and if your PCs think they’ll be in for an easy ride, they’ll learn a harsh lesson here – the foes in the keep react organically to threats. Which is a VERY important thing to consider about this adventure: The amount of detail provided for the keep is stunning – many rooms feature d20 tables to find valuables not found by other looters, bones of small animals, harmless mold etc. Essentially each room has SOMETHING going for them and NPCs and critters use the terrain to their advantage. Bandits use tables for cover, red hot pokers scare the hell out of goblins who used them on foes and know all too well the effect the things have, giant spider hang on the walls and throw nets on PCs, who in turn may hide behind tapestries – there is some environmental peculiarity in every room.

Wait, goblins? Yeah, but let’s talk about the donjon first – essentially the middle ground between the two factions of the fortress, the donjon is in a state of dilapidation and disrepair, overrun by vermin and haunted by the ghost of the former lord’s child who wants to have his remains buried with his parents – only that’s not as easy as one would hope. It is at the latest here that PCs will realize something – traps are not randomly strewn about, but instead can be anticipated and found via clever roleplaying, interrogation etc. The same holds true for the as of yet undiscovered and magically trapped vault of the adventurers, cleverly hidden within the donjon.

Beyond the donjon, in its cellar and dungeon, the blood moon goblin tribe has found a refuge and lurks, waging war on the bandits under the leadership of the despicable…ogre. Yeah. I was not impressed by that. How many adventure modules have you read for 1st level where the PCs eventually fight a damn ogre? My cynicism should be proven wrong in this particular instance, though, for said ogre-brute is a horned, EXTREMELY deadly fiendish monstrosity (with a corresponding artwork), guarded by 3 medium, dual poison-sickle wielding concubines! It should also be noted that PCs may actually use tribal politics to gain an ally in a megalomaniacal goblin adept as well as rescue prisoners and even attack the green threat with the bandits – all options that should be considered, for the PCs are up against a goblin tribe that may actually launch a coordinated defense against their intrusion and makes good work of their bugbear mercenaries and environmental surroundings.

Beyond the caves of the Blood Moon (which may be entered via multiple ways, btw.!), there lies the undercrypt, a once hallowed hall (essentially a couple of extra rooms) now teeming with undead – a strange, necrotic corruption is spreading from a fissure of dark, ice-cold water and hallowing the ground/finding out what the source of the corruption is, might make for a nice follow-up to the things happening in this particular part of the dungeon. Once the goblins have been crushed, the bandits defeated, the ghost laid to rest and the undead disposed off, the PCs might actually lay claim to the fortress, which would make for an interesting product in the future – here’s to hoping that RSP releases one!

The adventure comes with 9 pregens (including witch, oracle and magus, but no summoner or alchemist), 3 pages of handouts (an overview of the keep and two beautiful maps leading to the lost dwarven hold and depicting its layout, which served to immediately spark my imagination for further adventures) and 9 pages of illustrations that you can show to the players – this whopping amount of player-friendly additions is simply amazing.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, as I’ve come to expect from Raging Swan Press, is top-notch – I didn’t notice any glitches. The layout adheres to RSP’s classic and printer-friendly, easy to read 2-column layout and the artworks are plentiful, classic b/w and amazing – with the exception of one piece (a certain treasure guardian, who looks cgi-ish and doesn’t fit with the rest of the artworks), the artworks are top-notch in quality and evoke not only a sense of nostalgia, but also help illustrating the mood of the locations. Even better, their additional reproduction as player handouts make it easy on the DM to just hand them off instead of having to cut up the printed-out pages. Neat! The pdf comes fully bookmarked and comes with an optimized version for use with e-readers.

I’m a huge fan of the maps of the dwarven hold (and want to see the adventure set there!), but I would have loved it even more if the PCs had some way to find a similar (perhaps faulty) map of the dungeon below the donjon. Oh well, you can’t have everything. Which brings me to the foes encountered.

I know, this is by design, but I’ll come out and say it. Bandits, ogres and shadows. I don’t want to see them in a first level adventure. They have been done to effin’ death. Seeing that this adventure is a homage to the classics and deliberately tries to evoke a feeling of classical modules, I’m willing to let that particular gripe slip, though – especially due to doing at least SOME things different.

Much like many classic modules, the shadowed keep is not necessarily a good read and when first going through it, I didn’t feel too impressed. In fact, I probably would have put this down, were it not for my experience as a DM – Creighton provided me with an advance copy and thus I had the option of running my players through the whole module prior to writing this review and… they had a blast, as did I. Which is not a given. I’ll come out and say it – I don’t like the “Temple of Elemental Evil”. There. I did it. Pull out the rotten tomatoes, but I never liked the module and always considered it extremely overrated. Thus, deriving any sort of enjoyment, let alone this amount from a module that is a declared and designated homage is rather astonishing.

While the story/location is not too exciting, it is all about the details in this particular adventure – the whole adventure makes for such an immensely detailed place, the foes and their tactics are so detailed that actually RUNNING the adventure is a blast, especially with all the things to show your players. Even better, the module provides quite a challenge – if you play your odds smart as a DM, the players will be up to a Frog God Games-level challenge – during our run, my experienced players had 3 fatalities and none felt unfair or unjustified. Brains is just as important as brawns when challenging the Blood Moon on their home turf, especially their chief and his concubines! Even better, a timeline of events to spring upon your players – wandering animals, weather phenomena, goblin attacks – you name them, is provided to make the adventure feel even more organic and alive than by virtue of its excessive details. Using this timeline and shifting events around enables a DM to further customize the individual playing experience and provides for an excellent tool to put up and ease off pressure from the PCs while they are exploring the keep, thus ensuring no boredom can ever settle while exploring the different areas.

All in all, we had a surprisingly awesome time while clearing out the keep and thus, in spite of my initial cantankerous nitpicking, I’ll settle for a final verdict of 5 stars for this very old-school module.

You can get the Shadowed Keep here!

Endzeitgeist out.

Mar 252012
 

100384[1]

This installment of the Anachronistic Adventurers-line from Super Genius Games is 15 pages long, 2/3 of a page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, leaving 13 1/3 pages of content, so let’s check this out!

The third of the Anachronistic Adventurers-classes is the Daredevil, who gets d8, 7+Int skills, medium BAB, good ref-saves and thus is probably closest to the skill-monkey classes like the rogue. In contrast to the rogue, bard, etc., the focus of the daredevil is acting under stress and influencing actions when it counts. The signature ability dauntless surge, which can be used a couple of times per day and continuously improves over the levels of the class, enables daredevils to add a flexible, dice-based bonus to their throws, especially when it counts. The ability to use dauntless surge can be used further via the usage of up to 5 daredevil talents as well as 4 so-called limited talents – both kinds of talents can be chosen from a list of 32 talents, some of which can’t be taken via limited talents, though. This vast selection of available talents ensures that the daredevil can fit a rogue’s feet, disable and spring traps etc.pp., but still remain true to the distinct thrill-seeker, to the man who walks away from explosions without looking back – perhaps because they have literally done it too many times.

Of course, the class stays true to the AA-line and also uses anachronistic archetypes, which are completely exchangeable with those from the two predecessor-files. This time, the new archetypes once again are rather interesting: If you ever wanted to play a Houdini-type of acrobatic character, the Escapist will suit your needs. For fans of James Bond and similar agents, the Secret Agent-archetype is what you’ve been looking for. Even better, the Masked Adventurer, a being like the Phantom, Bruce Wayne or masked wrestlers, who truly counts as different personas when wearing his or her mask and comes with 7 special talents. The final archetype includes once again a kind of crunchy masterpiece on par with the research-rules for the Investigator: The Occultist comes with working ritual magic rules. Essentially, it is possible to cast any spell as a ritual, but each ritual costs money, needs skill and each casting of the ritual has to be tailored towards the individual circumstances. These rules are simple, entwined slightly with the research rules and make it possible to finally run gritty, Conan-style campaigns while using the Pathfinder-rules and opens a whole new approach to magic. And the rules fit on approximately 2 pages.

The pdf also includes 4 new anachronistic feats (three of which deal with ritual magic) and information on progress levels with which you might already be familiar with.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. The layout adheres to SGG’S 3-column standard and the B/w-artworks are fitting and nice, hearkening back to both comic classics and pulpy illustrations. The pdf has no bookmarks. This class and pdf has a terribly high expectation to fulfil on my side, seeing that the Investigator is my favourite PFRPG-class out there and that I loved the research-rules. The Daredevil surprisingly manages to fulfil my expectations in its presentation of iconic archetypes and a talent-focused class that oozes style and flavour. I do have some minor gripes, namely that I would have loved for the escapist and secret agent to get their exclusive talents like the masked adventurer. The ritual-rules, though, at least for me, come close in brilliance to the research-rules (though not completely reaching their level of abject awesomeness) and make up for this very minor shortcoming. All in all, I’m complaining here on the highest level possible, as this line has continuously baffled me with its brilliant ideas and while I did not like the daredevil just as much as the investigator, I still consider this pdf a stellar example of design. Thus, my final verdict will be 5 stars and the Endzeitgeist seal of approval.

Anachronistic Adventurers: The Daredevil is available from:

rpgnowlogo_sized43433333333333333333
Mar 232012
 

92710[1]

This first part of the “Psionics Expanded”-series/book from Dreamscarred Press is 29 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving 26 pages, so what exactly do we get?

After the introduction to the material at hand, we are introduced to the update of one of my favourite 3.5-base-classes, the Marksman. Being a specialist psionic ranged fighter, the marksman gets d10, 4+Int skills per level, proficiency with most ranged weapons and light armour, full BAB, good ref and will-saves, up to 70 PSP and access to up to 4th level powers. Depending on your own preference, your marksman will choose from a style of ranged weapons that include bows, crossbows, thrown weapons and spears. Over the course of the marksman’s 20 levels, they get access to respective style talents that enable them to rain vast amounts of arrows down on their foes or become the quintessential sniper. While I do love the individual styles in their iconicity, I can’t help but feel that they are restricting in that, once chosen, no array of powers or talents is provided to choose from, making the class distinctly more linear than it ought to be.

After this new base-class, we take a closer look some new options for the psionic core-classes – psychokinticists can now focus on telekinetically pummelling foes, a new psychic warrior path is provided to make them archers and soulknives can now become soulbolts via a complex archetype that enables them to use a ranged form of their iconic trademark weapon. In order to offset some balancing concerns you might have, the soulbolt loses access to several blade skills of the soulknives, but can choose from 10 new blade skills.

16 new psionic feats are included in the deal as well and at first, I was rather stupefied by some of them: (Greater) Intuitive shot and Deadly Throw let you add your Wis and Dex-bonuses to damage with your ranged attacks as long as you’re focused. While the usefulness of these feats is somewhat diminished by working only within 30 ft., they still are wide open to abuse and personally, I’m wary of them. On the better side, there’s also a feat that lets you have your weapon return to you after being thrown and if you expend your focus, the weapons immediately return, enabling you to potentially make a full attack with one thrown weapon. Oh, and there’s a feat with concise rules for ricochet-attacks. Which rocks.

The last major section of the pdf is taken up by new powers and kicks off with the respective power-lists, including the new list for the marksman and most of them rock, as they expand upon class-abilities and in some cases, are even reliant on them, resulting in a set of rather complex connections and a feeling of organic wholeness that links the options provided by class-features with those provided by powers.

In case you’re looking for a new PrC, the Mystic Archer might be what you’ve been looking for: The class spans 7 levels, gets d10, good BAB, good ref and will-saves, 2 + int skills per level and give life to one iconic classic of fantasy: The Blind Archer. Gaining blindsense, tremorsense and even blindsight, the ability to expand their senses and unleashing inevitable strikes (as per the power), it is hard to hide from these mystics. If you’re playing in an Oriental campaign, this class makes for a great zen-archer!

5 new weapon qualities, specially suitable for ammunition and 3 new magical items round up the book.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting were very good, I didn’t notice any glitches that impeded my enjoyment of the pdf. The book adheres to an easy-to-read, printer-friendly 2-column standard and the b/w-artworks ROCK. The pdf comes with extensive bookmarks. On the one hand, I love this pdf, on the other hand, I’m disappointed. Let me elaborate: Most of the crunch is expertly-crafted and I love to see the Marksman find his way to PFRPG. What I don’t like, is that while Psychic Warriors, Wilders etc. all now have a wide variety of options, the Marksman is still very limited in styles to choose from and there is a distinct lack of transparency between the styles. If the approach of talents etc. would have been taken and more options provided, the class would be even better. Secondly, while I love the treatment the archetype-soulbolt got, I still would have loved to see a soulbow-PrC-class in addition to the archetype – after all, sometimes PCs want to learn certain things later in the game. That being said, my disappointment probably stems from extremely high expectations and is not entirely fair.

The (with the aforementioned notable exceptions) excellent feats provide an entertaining selection of cool new options and the new powers and magic items can be considered to be unanimously well-made. I do have another gripe, though: Where’s the psionic gunslinger? Seriously! I recall an excellent psionic duellist PrC in the deepest recesses of 3.5 and now, with the release of UC, support should be included. In fact, the lack of a gun-style for the marksman is another downer for me, as I always considered Roland of Gilead a multiclass Pala/Gunslinger/Marksman-type of character. I seem to recall that Find the Mark was released before UC, but in the final book, the option of including UC-support should definitely be considered.

While the pdf is still very cheap and I guarantee you won’t regret buying it, I can’t bring myself to rate this higher than 3.5 stars due to the accumulation of afore-mentioned, nit-picks and gripes. Due to the low price, though, I’ll round up to 4 for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.

Psionics Expanded: Find the Mark is available from:

rpgnowlogo_sized43333333333333333333[1]
Mar 222012
 

100233[1]

This installment of the Faces of the Tarnished Souk-line from Rite Publishingis 13 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD and 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 9 pages of content for the 3 incarnations of Xoti, so let’s check them out!

In order to understand the character featured herein, we have to first acknowledge his race – Xoti is a mahrog, a subrace of humans that is the chosen people of a goddess who consciously rejects progress for a more primal lifestyle – hence, the mahrog have other racial traits, which are included in this pdf. The other aspect about Xoti you have to understand is that he is a mighty godling, as per SGG’s by now legendary class-supplement. That means he is a direct descendant of the goddess who, in his opinion, stifles and stunts the potential of his people. In order to truly bring progress and enlightenment, he seeks all the pleasures and sensations the Tarnished Souk has to offer in a never-ending Dionysian revelry. A consummate playboy, Xoti may be an ally to the pcs, but bear in mind the words of Goethe – “You can’t carry the torch of enlightenment through a crowd without singing some beards.” – Xoti is an exile to his own race, but one who very well may one day transcend into divinity.

His low-level version starts out relatively tame as a CR 5 mahrog mighty godling. His mid-level (CR 12) incarnation adds another 6 levels as well as the cunning template and finally, his CR 19-incarnation adds another 6 levels as well as the fascinating creature template. Xoti utilizes a variety of different items, one of which, the Angel Plate, features two new magical item properties. He is also seldom seen without an extremely potent elixir of healing, his gauntlet of smiting and his morningstar of retribution, while his robe of actions ensures that he is not caught completely off-guard. The godling also uses a feat and 4 dream-related traits are included in the package.

Which brings me to the fluff – as has been the tradition with the FoTS-series, the first page offers information on dreamburning rules for the character as well as advice for the DM on how to use Xoti. And he should be used – reading through his selection of abilities again, I can only gawk at the vast amount of options available to this godling and a mean grin forms on my face. While not as hard to touch as Khufursis, access to bloodline arcana abilities and revelations as well as other godling abilities ensure that Xoti is a tough nut players probably don’t want to try to crack. And if they do, you have a variety of options available – each of the 3 incarnations also has 3 variants in addition to the main version of his stats: The (also included) simple templates Resilient (CR +2), War (CR +2) and, more complex, fortune-blessed (CR +1) templates are included along the fascinating (CR +1) and Cunning (CR +1) templates to provide for variants of Xoti and the new preservation domain is just the icing of the cake.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good – apart from a very minor tab-glitch, I didn’t notice any problems. Layout adheres o the classic rune-border b/w-two-column standard and the artworks are stock. The pdf comes with bookmarks. Xoti is an excellent character and an instance of cooperation/usage of content by other publishers that is a joy to behold. While you don’t need SGG’s Guide to the Godling to use this pdf, I strongly encourage you to buy it – the pdf is worth every cent. That being out of the way, Xoti is perhaps one of the most versatile characters in the whole series in terms on how he can be used – the line between ally and foe are blurred and he might make a good example of either. Moreover, the character is complex in a question his very existence poses – is it wise for him to bring civilization to his people or is he perpetuating what could become their undoing in the grand scheme of things. Can a form of racial ignorance, enforced by a divine edict, be bliss? And if his people associate this ignorance with divinity, how can he hope to succeed his divine mother and convey how divinity is not necessarily a lack of progress? In the hands of a capable DM, a prolonged interaction with Xoti might yield some hefty philosophical questions. Or, well, you could play him as a kind of playboy who is all about Dionysian revelry and nouveaux frissants, perhaps to counter a kind of existential boredom. In the end, it’s up to you and that makes this NPC great. I do have some minor gripes, though: The last page of the pdf is mostly empty – space that could have been used for more content. Which also brings me to a recommendation for the whole series: Rues-wise, there’s nothing to complain about (and while I would have loved for this one to feature a legacy-item like Khufursis, I get why there’s not one in every FoTS), but one page for the fluff and background sometimes feels a bit short. Especially due to the expertly-written in-character prose we sometimes see in other RiP-publications. Adding short PoV-narratives, perhaps by him or one of his fellow revellers, would have been the icing on the cake. Note that this is complaining on the highest level, though. I hope to see more FoTS-entries with “Renegade”-classes. My final verdict will be 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.

Faces of the Tarnished Souk: Xoti, the Usurper is available from:

rpgnowlogo_sized43333333333333333333