Jun 272012
 

101588[1]

This collection of monster from Fat Goblin Gamesis 49 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page FAQ on creaturedaily,3 pages of advertisement and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 41 pages of content for the new monsters, so what exactly do we get?

The creatures herein follow a two-page standard – one page artwork/statblocks and then additional information about tactics/strategy etc.

The first creature, the Blood Shadow, already provides for quite an interesting read. It’s a creature of the “mode”-type, as I’ve dubbed them in my homebrew – essentially, it has two different versions: One is its incorporeal version that is quite alike a powerful shadow. However, as soon as it deals its con-damage to its foes, it becomes corporeal, gains access to the ability to spray damage-dealing blood and vulnerabilities. I do like this one, however, it suffers from editing that is below sub-par (including more than 3 editing glitches in its entry) and the blood spray signature ability does not specify which kind of damage its blood spray deals. Acid? Cold? Piercing/slashing? We don’t know.

The second creature herein is the Boglin – a subtype of goblin that can squeeze its body through tight spaces and eat just about everything. Unfortunately, the amount of editing glitches remains in that one and while no abilities suffer from that, it rips you from the entry.

The Frost Hag is dependent on her winter stone for power (a nice weakness to exploit) and add the [cold]-descriptor to any of her spells. The hag can also stun foes with her glare. Her statblock doesn’t put the spells she knows into italics, violating the formatting standard.

The Glacial Gaunt (with a very disturbing artwork) can chill the blood of mortals via their bites and also come with a neat aura. Unfortunately, this critter also suffers from the prevalent editing problems.

The Goblin Naga is a spined serpent with poison and an oversized maw – a great creature per se, but again, editing and the lack of italicized spells detract from the quality of the critter.

The Great Yeti seems to have been made for people like me, who’d rather use the Yeti as the mythical force of nature than as a kind of humanoid – it clocks in at CR 16, can call avalanches and will tear foes that meet it in melee to shreds. Unfortunately, the avalanche call does not specify, which kind of earthquake-effect it duplicates – just that the avalanche works like the spell. Unfortunately, the spell works differently for different terrains. It should be noted that SGG’s Avalanche spell is much better suited to be used.

The malignly intelligent Hoarfrost Hound can lure foes into its clutches and comes with a breath weapon – I do like this critter, as I do the Hoarfrost Rams, a neat new, potentially deadly animal with again, an awesome artwork. Speaking of cool, deadly animals, the Horned Bear is another winner. I’m going to stop commenting on the editing glitches.

The Icewisp is a neat lower level, ice-themed wisp – once again, nice! The Ighalan is a disturbing kind of savage degenerated humanoid. What’s truly awesome, though, is the Iron Swamr Golem, which can change from swarm to golem-form and back.

Evil, lightning-imbued treants seek to pulverize foes via electricity, while Nysrogha demons (subtype demon, should be under “d” in the alphabetical order) has the option to frighten foes and gain combat bonuses via its tumorous growths. While the latter ability is cool, I think it could have been easily expanded to make this one even more awesome.

The Flea-covered Rat Ogre may already be known to those owning the Ecology of the Ratfolk, but its revised edition in this book is better – it now has a cool signature ability and feels better rounded and unique – nice!

Stone Goblins are dwarf-hating, elemental earth-infused goblins that can throw clusterbomb-like stones that deal splash damage.

The Storm Phoenix, Storm Wraith and Storm Angel provide 3 cool creatures, all with their very own signature abilities and awesome artworks as well – nice, especially due to the iconicity of storm-riding magical birds and its potential usefulness in Skull and Shackles.

The final creature is the winter wight, an undead that causes hypothermia – and treats it as a poison. That’s not how hypothermia works in PFRPG.

“Creatures that suffer nonlethal damage from the cold climate become frostbitten or hypothermic, and are fatigued until the nonlethal damage is removed. It is possible for a character to undergo both frostbite and hypothermia simultaneously by failing two or more saves against cold or exposure, at which point she is treated as though suffering multiple fatigue effects, becoming exhausted.”

Why not make its attacks grant a fort-save, on a failure the target suffers from hypothermia until all damage inflicted by the wight is healed. On a second hit and failed save exhausted etc. If you would have wanted to make them deadly and frightening, the third hit would bring unconsciousness. Why shoehorn hypothermia into a lame, easily curable, temporary fatigue-like poison? Also, the DC is miscalculated, I think. Undead use Cha instead of Con for the calculation of such abilities and the wight has a Cha of 17, but the ability has a DC of 14 to resist. It does have the ability focus-feat, though, so we’d actually arrive at a DC of 15, at least if the hypothermia is supposed to be an extension of the touch attack. However, said touch has a DC of 16 to resist and I don’t get how that’s correct.

Conclusion:

Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full color standard and the artworks by Rick Hershey are stellar and a joy to behold – e.g. the Iron Golem Swarm is AWESOME. Editing and formatting. Oh, editing and formatting. This pdf does not need another pass, it needs a couple of them. Each entry has one or more glitches. Spells are not italicized. Sometimes damage-type is not specified. The version of the pdf that works with my version of adobe (the second still having problems with the artworks) has no bookmarks, which is a pity. This pdf is one of those that hurt me – the artworks are stellar. The creatures are mostly awesome in concept and their ideas rock. Their artworks also underline the awesomeness that most of these creatures are, or rather could have been. Welcome to the subjunctive, everything could be so awesome here.

In fact, were this an ideal world, I’d give this the full 5 stars for the creatures – nice signature abilities, cool concepts etc. Unfortunately, the at best sloppy editing all but ruins this pdf, at least for me. I did not make all the calculations because I frankly don’t have the time to, but the wonky DCs of the Winter Wight make me fear that the glitches extend to the other creatures as well. It’s really sad, actually – the ideas are great, the signature abilities sometimes even inspired, but the editing and formatting glitches all but ruin this pdf for me. Generally, this pdf unfortunately has so many flaws, from one version that doesn’t work to statblock errors and wonky mechanics, that all greatness of the ideas, at least for me utterly evaporates. If I want hand-waved monsters, I can build them myself – I want solid statblocks and this pdf just does not deliver and breaks conventions a couple of times – a subtype that does not exist, a CN angel – the list goes on.

And those are the ones that IMMEDIATELY came to my intentions – sorting through this with a fine-tooth comb would probably result in many, many more glitches. I’m not picky when it comes to statblocks, but the errors herein are significant and impede the usability of these critters. Add the price and not even the good concepts and great artworks can save this. I’ll settle for a final verdict of 1.5 stars, as it fails VERY hard at editing and displays a lack of sureness regarding the rules – I’ll have to round down on this one for now. Let’s hope this gets a revision to make the creatures shine as they deserve to.

Endzeitgeist out.

Creature Monthly is available from:

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Jun 272012
 

103053[1]

This installment of Rite Publishing‘s 101-series is different and that becomes readily apparent by taking a look at the page-count – 51 pages, 1 devoted to front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD and 1 page advertisement, leaving a whopping total of 47 (!!!) pages of content devoted to new encounters, so let’s check them out!

If you’re a patron of Questhaven (Rite Publishing’s upcoming city-setting), you’ll be familiar with the basic premise of this pdf, if not, I’d suggest especially players to jump to the conclusion. Just let it be said, that the basic premise is awesome and that this pdf takes a completely different approach to encounters than e.g. one can see in Raging Swan’s excellent “Caves & Caverns”. Instead, the creatures indeed are distinctly “Not so” random. This pdf is dedicated to me (thank you, Steve!) for reviews good and bad – so in which category does this one fall?

SPOILERS follow.

You have been warned. Still here? All right! In the magical renaissance of Questhaven, there is an organization called “The Fold”, essentially an organization of organized monsters – think “The Godfather” with monsters. Worse, all the individual monsters can thus combine their powers, making the Fold a formidable force indeed. Spawned from the rich background currently being developed in the Questhaven-project, this installment of the “101-series” provides us a plethora of NPCs that are tied together by this frame-organization. It should be noted, however, that the individual entries can be taken and used by their own – in no way are you restricted by the narratives to use the beings herein as part of the Fold.

It should also be known that most of the creatures herein have more than one use, one CR respectively and can not only be considered foes to kill, but actually intriguing characters to interact with. Need an example? What about the Rakshasa maharaja who awaits the natural death of his powerful wife to reincarnate her as one of his own people. Oh, and she’s an advanced exemplar harridan lamia. (With full stat block!) Said rakshasa also gets his own, modified war juggernaut. Even better, while not every NPC herein gets a full statblock, where applicable, quick modifications provided in the entries can be applied to the basic statblocks.

Not only are there multiple instances for interesting (and often rarely used) beasts that have been made true characters, including a whole network of relationships entwining the different component parts of this cell of the Fold, the characters also can be considered beyond all doubt iconic: Take Jack Straw, for example: A pale stranger that has lost all ties with mankind and usually appears disguised as a scarecrow! Undead, gunslinging scarecrows? Yes, please! Or take lonely Skanda of the thousand whispers: A collective of thousands of mandragora plants, the creature comes with both a single, swarm and collective form and takes up three of the entries – and its roots are, truly, everywhere – keeping a secret from this spymaster should provide to be a rather significant challenge. Hunting-falcon style domesticated stirges? Medusa apothecaries? Or what about an enforcer who is actually a dream-spectre and known as the “Romantic Nightmare” due to its disturbing courtship habits?

In the end, the pdf provides tables by party levels for the creatures to roll, if you’re so inclined.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good – while I noticed some minor glitches, they were few and far in-between and did not impede my enjoyment of the pdf. Layout adheres to RiP’s two-column standard and the artworks are ok. The pdf comes with bookmarks for every 10 NPCs – Cr-information for the respective beings would have helped. I’ll come right out and say it: This pdf is not perfect in its formal criteria – there could be more bookmarks and there are minor glitches. Usually, that would deter from my enjoyment of the pdf enough to warrant a downgrade in the final rating. However: This pdf is awesome. Steven D. Russell is an expert writer and I’m a huge fan of his fluff. Enjoyable to the extreme, this pdf is one of the rare pdfs that immediately make you come up not with a hook, not with an adventure-idea, but with a whole array of possibilities, enough to spark a whole campaign in fact. It is rare these days that a pdf can truly surprise me with its imaginative potential. Rarer even is the pdf that has me smile at the coolness of the idea and indeed, this pdf had me smile – a lot.

Colorful enough to be the cast of a novel (or a whole series of them) the beings herein a so different from what one usually expects that I can wholeheartedly say that NONE of the beings herein can be considered filler. Add to that the intricate web of connections and social relationships and you not only get a vast variety of interesting creatures, but also a portray of a complex crime family that has a staggering array of options and strategies at their disposal, challenging your PCs when trying to outwit the Fold. The writing and imaginative potential contained in these pages is superior and frankly, the characters in most novels are less colorful.

This is one of the installments of the “101 series” that BELONGS into any well-stocked GM-library – and if you’re e.g. planning an urban campaign, this is essentially a must. Even better, if your own campaign has become stale, take this pdf and make the creatures herein perform a hostile takeover of a local underworld or even a kingdom and watch your players struggle. The potential is vast and thus, in spite of my minor gripes, I’ll settle for a full verdict of 5 stars + endzeitgeist seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.

101 Not So Random Encounters: Urban is available from:

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Jun 272012
 

103061[1]

This pdf is 13 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 2 pages editorial, 1 page ToC/foreword, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving a total of 6 pages of content for the second “Dungeon Dressing”-pdf, so let’s check it out!

The Dungeon Dressing-series of pdfs seeks to add details, details, details to your game and provides tables of enticing, unique and evocative pieces to your creations, enabling you to make your locations feel more distinct – at least that’s the idea. Does it succeed?

Quite original, Creighton Broadhurst kicks off this discussion of stairs by classifying multiple kinds of stairs, from gradual to spiral staircases as well as stair made from e.g. magically hardened glass. We also get information on how different kinds of stairs impede movement, acrobatics-DCs etc., all contained in a concise page.

After having these basics covered, we get the tables and we’re in for a table I absolutely adore: Random characteristics provide a page of features that range from low ceilings, to masoner’s marks and niches and even steps with different heights – sometimes these features provide for added complications that influence e.g. DCs and options available to the PCs.

A total of 2 pages containing 100 dressings and features, from graffiti to dust and tracks, broken spear shafts, chipped steps and blood trails and slippery water are contained herein, once again providing different angles, hooks and, again, often modifications of crunchy circumstances the PCs may encounter.

My biggest gripe with the predecessor detailing statues was that the traps were not on par with the tables. This installment also features traps, 3 to be precise: Cr 3m 4 and 7 and boy, they are better: From the classic sliding staircase (with effects depending on the round) to a barrage of shadow-magic style boulders, the three different traps all can be considered winners – while not particular in their fluff, the traps are iconic enough to make not only for cool challenges, but also remain easy to integrate in the sample staircase of your choosing.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to RSp’S elegant 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes in two versions – one optimized for screen use on tablets and one to be printed out. The pdf is fully bookmarked. I’m a big fan of details – they make for the spice of adventuring and the difference between a cool world and one that can be considered truly immersive. The stairs contained herein are not simple fluff, though, instead adding a nice variety of modifications that can not only make the player’ experience better, but also provide for neat environmental challenges that influence your combat tactics. In the end, all of the content herein should be considered top-notch and taking the low price into account, I am more or less forced to grant this pdf the best possible rating 5 stars + endzeitgeist seal of approval for an exciting, cool supplement that is guaranteed to enrich your GM-arsenal.

Endzeitgeist out.

Dungeon Dressing: Stairs of Time is available from:

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Jun 222012
 

102626[1]

This pdf from Raging Swan Press is 13 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 2 pages editorial, 1 page ToC/foreword, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving a total of 6 pages of content, so let’s check this out!

We all know the deal – sometimes you just don’t have the time to furnish your dungeons or locales, either due to space reasons (when using commercial modules) or time reasons (when crafting your own. Raging Swan’s new series seeks to remedy that situation and provide beleaguered DMs with a variety of sample furnishings and dressings to add flavor to their carefully crafted locations.

The pdf kicks off by providing hardness and hp for bone, glass, iron, wood and hewn stone statues as well as a table to topple statues via strength check and the damage they do when falling on foes. A comprehensive list of statue-foes from the 3 core bestiaries is also included here with respective CRs for your convenience.

After that, we get a page of statues depicting personalities, one page depicting beasts and monsters and one with dressings to further flesh out your statues. The descriptions are nice, serve their purpose and can generally be considered well-made.

After that, we also get a selection of 5 traps, ranging from CR 2 to 9, ranging from the basic and rather bland fusillade of darts to the release f poisonous yellow spores.

Conclusion:

As I’ve come to expect from RSP-releases, editing as well as formatting is top-notch – I didn’t notice any glitches. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and with a printer-friendly version and the b/w-artworks are neat. This is once again one of the little, extremely useful files just about any Dm will be happy to have – details and fluff, dressings and minor objects do a LOT to make individual locales more memorable and if you’ve read “Shadowed Keep of the Borderlands”, you know that the folk from RSP knows their craft. Much like Spes Magna Games’ excellent “Dodeca Weather”, this pdf provides a nice array of cool fluffy bits that will serve to enhance your campaign – useful, affordable and nice, I wholeheartedly welcome this new line of RSP-products and look forward to future installments – with one caveat: The traps are boring. I would have much preferred to get additional statues, perhaps even abstract ones of strange shapes or magical effects tied to them. Thus, I’ll “only” settle for a final verdict of 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.

Dungeon Dressing: Statues is available from:

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Jun 192012
 

102571[1]

This pdf from Purple Duck Games is 11 pages long, 1/2 a page editorial/artwork, 3.5 pages of SRD/advertisement, leaving 7 pages of content for the Dhosari, so what exactly are they?

Dhosari get +2 to Str, +2 to Cha, -4 to Wis, are large and have an upper Torso extending from the shoulders of a fully sized human body, have a base-speed of 30 ft. and since they move on their legs and 2 of their arms, they gain +4 CMD against trip, +2 to climb and perform, may bond with an ally to gain +1 on atk against an aggressor of the ward and may rear up on their hind-legs as a full-round action to bring all 4 arms to bear, taking a penalty of -1 to ability checks and attacks. Fluff-wise, the Dhosari are the slaves of the Erkunae.

The race gets 4 well-balanced race traits, 6 alternate racial traits (making e.g. the Dhosari faster, but unable to rear) and 7 new racial feats: From exotic weapon proficiencies to the ability to trample foes, carry two shields when rearing and even serving as a mount, One feat takes the cake, though: Dance of arms grants you ANOTHER attack when using a full attack and flurrying and standing on the legs – at -2. I’m not sure whether the penalty is cumulative with flurry of blows. 4 arms. Multiattack, flurry of blows – SICK.

We get a discussion of the race and its take on classes and 7 favored class options as well as a level 1 sample paladin. Since the Dhosari are quadribrachial, paladins of the race can gain a kind of biped eidolon at summoner level -2,while cavaliers get a heroic npc with class-levels equivalent to a druid’s companion’s HD. This takes a powerful race bordering on broken and makes it sickeningly powerful. Not gonna happen in my campaign – ever. In contrast to regular animal companions/mounts, these companions have a much higher chance of getting appropriate weapons and gear and eidolons are powerful for the summoner – to supplement the already powerful paladin-class utterly breaks this option for me.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are ok, I didn’t notice jarring glitches, although I would have e.g. liked the flavour-text of the feats to be in italics in order to better separate it from the crunch and felt that formatting could have been tighter. Layout adheres to PDG’s 2-column standard and the pdf has no bookmarks, which is a pity. The one piece of artwork is nice, though you may already know it from Monsters Unleashed. The Dhosari are a cool concept indeed – the basic idea for this strange race of slave creatures is awesome and the cost of a full-round action for rearing up and bringing all four arms to bear is nice.

However, I feel a further restriction would be in order for the 2 additional arms, especially with the racial feats and e.g. a monk-class , they make for a deadly PC – especially since rearing up does not cancel the stability of the race. The cost for rearing up and which penalties are cumulative are fuzzy, at least for me: Is the penalty for rearing up cumulative with the -5 or -2 penalty for secondary natural weapons? What about the Dance of Arms-feat? Do the penalties stack? What about flurry of blows and the interaction with the feat? Especially with a rule that is such a hotbed of rules-interpretation/clarification, an additional section helping the player would not only have been helpful, but rather all but required, at least in my opinion. And then there are the Paladin/Cavalier-options, which are SICK. Eidolons are powerful, but giving a four-armed paladin an eidolon-rider is insane.

That’s also my basic gripe with the race – the Dhosari are VERY powerful – too powerful for my conservative tastes. Also: Can they e.g. wear a magical ring on all 4 hands? Being quadruped and gaining access to a whole slew of potentially game-changing moves (4 magic weapons…) in addition to the ability to use two shield bonuses and stack them, there are oh so many ways with which to abuse them – If you build a Dhosari-tank, you’ll see your foes CRINGE. That being said, as a monster-race, I can see DMs having fun with this. As a player-race, though, I’d rather eat the core-rules before I allow them as written. My final verdict will thus be two scores: 3 stars as a DM-monster-race, 2 stars as a player-race. My final verdict will reflect the latter due to them being intended as a player-race.

Endzeitgeist out.

Fehr’s Ethnology: Dhosari is available from:

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Jun 192012
 

101773[1]

This installment of Raging Swan Press‘ “Urban Encounters”-line is 22 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 2 pages editorial, 1 page ToC/foreword/stat-blocks by CR/encounters by EL, 1 page advice on how to read statblocks for novice GMs, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving a total of 14 pages for the new encounters, so let’s take a look!

Since this review takes a look at ready-made encounters to be inserted in an urban environment, the following review contains SPOILERS. Potential players may wish to jump to the conclusion.

Still here? OK! The first of the encounters has the PCs witnessing one of the two basic clichés of “You walk by a dark alley…” – the roughing up of some guy by armed men. Unbeknownst to the PCs, though, the man is a fence and the mercenaries have been hired by legit businessmen to teach the dealer in illicit goods a lesson. The PCs can support either party and get appropriate benefits. While I like that there’s no clear-cut good-evil-distinction here, I was rather underwhelmed by this particular encounter.

Thankfully, the next one more than makes up for it: Tengu thieves try to steal from the PCs and bolt – the chase is on! A flow-chart provides an easy way to handle the chase and each section provides two options to move on. The mechanics are fun, simple and cool.

The third encounter has the PCs contacted by a destitute noble to take care about some ghouls that haunt the local graveyard – two acrobatic brothers. An ok encounter, I guess, though some environmental effects/descriptions of the ghoul’s antics, sample DCs for jumping from tombstone to tombstone/mausoleum etc. would have been nice.

Law & Order: The taxman and Law & Order: The Watch provide statblocks for guardsmen, a sergeant and the taxman as well as 2 NPC write-ups, but no complications/environmental hazards – essentially they only are short collections of low-level statblocks, not true encounters.

After that one, a daughter of a jeweler who’s new in town contacts the PCs – her father is being hurt! The thug works for the local upstart thieves guild and wants to expand into the protection racket business. With or without the help of the local guardsman, the PCs can break into the back of the shop and rescue the jeweler. Information for all 3 NPCs are provided, as well as stats and even some read-aloud text for eavesdropping PCs. Again, an ok encounter, but some kind of unique feature of the shop (Glass cabinets? Perhaps gem-cutting implements?) would have made it more memorable.

The next encounter is rather useful for any GM in that it provides three sample statblocks for thieves and cutpurses as well as 5 suggested encounters (EL 1-5) and 10 different distractions. It is especially latter list that makes me enjoy this entry – I would have liked to see more potential complications the thieves might use to shake off pursuers, though.

When Milt, a filthy never-do-well of the streets confides his crimes in the PCs they may feel rather pity than the urge to hand over the destitute commoner to the watch – especially once he tells them about his partner in crime, who may be infected by lycanthropy and thus be responsible for the recent string of death. he wants them to find his partner and put a stop to his violent spree. An ok encounter, again, though as the fight takes place in a hovel in the slums, I would have enjoyed more environmental peculiarities.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, as I’ve come to expect from Raging Swan press, are top-notch: I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to RSP’s easy-to-read 2-column b/w-standard and the artworks are neat. The pdf comes in two versions, one optimized for screen-use and one to be printed out and also provides all the statblocks in one collated file so you can easily add it to your statblock library. The pdfs come with full nested bookmarks.

Oh boy. On the one hand, I consider the section on cutpurses interesting and the chase-encounter cool. The NPCs are nice and having their mannerisms etc. is cool. But quite frankly, that’s it. I am rather sad to say, but this installment of the “Random Encounters…”-line just felt (with the exception of said chase) terribly bland to me. If you’re in for the statblocks, ok, but quite frankly, these encounters are not fleshed out enough to not be something any GM worth his salt could improvise. There’s no twist, no complex statblock, no unique environmental hazard. The distraction-table for the thieves is one glimmer among encounters I perceived as rather dull. Why not provide unique urban complications, like e.g. in the Kobold Ghetto of OD’s Zobeck Gazetteer?

There’s also a distinct focus on the run-of-the-mill basic urban clichés – boring thugs and mercenaries, ghouls and a lycanthropy-afflicted person. Where are the leprous beggars? Where’s the cat-burglar who missed jumping rooftops and now needs the PCs to hide him from the watch? Where’s the slumming aristocrat who draws the PCs into his revelries? Instead of more diverse ones, we essentially get repetitions of the watch vs. rogues tropes and two other clichés that have been done to death. Especially when compared to “Random Marsh Encounters”, this one falls very painfully flat in that it does not take its setting and the options available into account. And yeah, the other installments also had “classic” encounters, but they felt more…unique. Organic. E.g. a certain jeweler’s shop feels very sterile. You can jump on the counter and there are boxes in the back room. Really? No loot for the PCs to plunder subtly? No glass cases to crash? No caltrop-like shards on the floor? See what I’m doing?

I can come up with more intriguing additions to these encounters – easily. As written, they unfortunately display a severe case of feeling like bland cardboard cut-outs lacking unique details and, at least for me, fail horribly at what they set out to do. This lack of imaginative components becomes especially readily apparent when e.g. compared to Raging Swan’s own “Caves and Caverns”, which I’d much rather advise you to buy. And two of the “encounters” are not encounters, but just NPC-write-ups with some stats for generic low-level watchmen accompanying them.

Let’s sum it up: I enjoyed one encounter. One encounter is an ok GM-aid for low-level pickpockets. The rest? Unfortunately utterly forgettable and 2 of the encounters only provide statblocks for low-level officials (sergeant, taxman) and watchmen without being an encounter. If you’re in need of some low-level statblocks or a true novice among GMs who hasn’t yet used the trite clichés on his players, this might work for you and could be considered a 3 star-file. For everyone else, though, I fear I can’t recommend this pdf. Since the chase scene is nice and the production values are good, I’ll settle for a final verdict of 2.5 stars, rounded down to 2 for the purpose of this platform. Get the other installments of the line, they are vastly superior.

Endzeitgeist out.

Random Urban Encounters is available from:

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Jun 182012
 

102794[1]

This installment of the free Pathways e-zine by Rite Publishing clocks in at 41 pages, 1 page front cover, 11 pages of advertisements and 1 page SRD, leaving a whopping 28 pages of free content, so let’s check this out!

After David Paul’s editorial, we immediately jump into this issue’s template by Steven D. Russell, the CR+2 envious creature template, which can not only magically steal objects, but also curse all forms of social interactions of characters and a character’s attributes, but also comes with a rather cool, narrative-driven DR. The sample creature, this time drawn in beautiful full colour by Juan Diego Dianderas, is Mortal Envy, a CR 2 envious sprite.

Will McCardell, one of the in my humble opinion currently up and coming people with the potential to become true gurus of cool crunch design, provides us with 6 new feats to support allies and teamwork, in the true spirit of his “Secrets of Tactical Archetypes”-books – all of them centred on setting foes up or making “aid another” finally a course of action that doesn’t suck that much.

If you’re following my reviews, you might know about several of the great NPC-books put out by Raging Swan Press – currently, the compilation “Scions of Evil” provides us with more than 135 of these expertly crafted adversaries. Better yet, the compilation also features bonus material and Gahlgax Attarith, a vampire balor and his marilith graveknights belong to the new high-level adversaries also contained in this stellar compilation. If you’ve by some twist have passed on the individual books, now is the time to strike and even if you already have them, the new content of this quality makes the compilation an absolute steal. (Also check out my review for imho one of the coolest critters in the tome…)

Ron Lundeen of Run Amok Games, who has so far offered us stellar investigations with a nice, twisted humour (again, check these out – both of his Run Amok Games releases got 5 stars + seal of approval…), provides us with the second installment of the Scattered Sheaves-series of mini-adventures/sidetreks to track down pages from a manual of bodily health.

————————–SPOILERS——————————

The trail leads the PCs to an unusual brothel, the once high-class establishment called the “Golden Slipper”. The Pcs will quickly realize, though, that something is very wrong here – when the former, dead, madame comes down and tells the girls to work LESS and becomes aggressive, the heat is on. So, what has happened? Kokelia, a night hag has taken over the place and the madame has indeed died – the PCs have essentially fought a nightmare manifest. Exploring the brothel and putting an end to the threat of the heartstone-crafting Night Hag will prove to be quite a challenge, with dreams manifest running around, a ghostly tarantella -haunt and stained glass golems. It should be noted that this installment of the trilogy gives you a much better example of Ron’s imaginative potential than the first one and brims with his quirky creativity. Two beautiful, full-colour maps of the brothel, made with dundjinni, are also part of the deal and though I would have loved for numberless versions of them as well, I won’t complain about a free sidetrek.

—————————–/SPOILER———————————————————–

The next chapter is a novum in the tradition of Pathways and sees Adventureaweek.com joining the fray of publishers providing free content in this e-zine – Mek’Madius is a strange lich – once devoted to bringing potential annihilation down via a fragment of the sun, he is now bound to a piece of said destructive force as a dread lich. Thankfully, the Cr 17-threat is no ordinary lich, though, and instead comes with specific unique abilities granted by his uncommon transformation, including soul-searing rays and a burning aura. His full statblock is provided alongside a whole page of beautiful, pencil-drawn cartography by Todd Gambleof the lich’s hideout – not only from the top-down, but also from an isometric perspective -NEAT! I look forward to seeing AaW providing more to the fray – perhaps a fully depicted description of the lich’s hideout to complement the map in the next installment?

We don’t speak anymore of “Legacy Weapons” in PFRPG, but of “Legendary Weapons” and this is in large chunks thanks to Mark Gedak, who took a cool, albeit flawed, basic concept and refined it to make it actually work. Purple Duck Games has since went on to make some of the coolest, affordable little pdfs out there and the interview with him is nice to read – oh, and if you’re looking for some interesting mini-dungeons or even a consistent, old-school dungeon, his Purple Mountain might just fit the bill!

As always, Pathways closes with reviews of great, 5-star books, this time provided by yours truly as well as Joshua “KTFish7” Gullion.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are at the best I’ve seen them in an installment of Pathways so far – I didn’t notice any significant glitches! Kudos! Layout adheres to the 2-column, full-colour standard and the artworks are nice and in fact, the full-colour artworks, cartography etc. of this installment are stellar indeed. The pdf has no bookmarks, which is a bit of a pity.

Wow! From the cool template, to the neat feats, the awesome urban sidetrek and the new lich, we have a virtual potpourri of quality content this time – in fact, this is one of my, if not the new favourite installment of Pathways so far and I’m hard-pressed to judge which components I enjoyed most – surprisingly, all contents more or less tie in their coolness on a neat, high level. From the neat feats to the awesome side-trek and cool high-CR-critters herein, this issue is absolutely all killer, no filler and features less advertisements than many issues to boot! Being free, of top-notch quality and leaving not much to be desired, I’ll settle for a final verdict of 5 stars + Endzeitgeist seal of approval. Kudos to everyone involved!

Endzeitgeist out.

Pathways #16 is available from:

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Jun 182012
 

101875[1]

This installment of Rite Publishing‘s free e-zine Pathways is 49 pages long, 1 page front cover, 16 pages of advertisements, 1 page SRD, which leaves us with a whopping 32 pages of free content, so let’s check this out!

This installment kicks off with an editorial by David Paul about working on the latest RiP-projects and his own break-down of Adventure Quarterly #1 in particular.

After that, we are introduced to this issue’s template, this time by Will McCardell, also known as “Cheapy” on the Paizo boards and recently of e.g. “Secrets of the Tactical Archetypes I+II”-fame. The new template is the “Gluttonous Creature”-template, which adds + 1 to CR and is simply disturbing: The creature grows a maw that leads to a pocket dimension and enables creatures to be swallowed whole by it – worse, the maw provides additional attack-power, the ability to heal by feasting on foes and eating makes these beings actually FASTER. The sample creature also featured on the cover is Feygos, a CR 5 gluttonous Satyr that comes with complete lore-section and the inescapable grip-monster feat. The illustration by Lance Red is absolutely gorgeous and deserves praise – it could also be easily used for a variant demon of Orcus, for all the Slumbering Star-fans out there…

Jonathan McAnulty continues his support of the divine channeler and divinely-inspired characters in general in the next article, where he presents us with 3 new sacred tomes, 3 new spells and channeling effects for the metal and cave sub-domains. While I’d usually praise this section, the adamantine blade spell is broken in my opinion: A 2nd level spell that makes a weapon count as adamantine? Not gonna happen in my game. EVER.

Raging Swan’s mastermind Creighton Broadhurst provides us with another sample encounter: A rope-bridge across a huge chasm and two rather deadly harpies with character levels make sure that your PCs will remember this particular one! Very cool!

Scattered Sheaves I, by Run Amok Games’ Ron Lundeen is the first of a trio of urban mini-adventures that centre around reclaiming the missing pages of a manual of bodily health.

————————–SPOILERS—————————————————-

The trail of the thief leads the PCs sooner or later to an abandoned house titled “Flamelobber’s Lumber” (which comes with two small dundjinni-maps) and is guarded by some well-armed thugs. Beyond a secret door lies not only a complex a rather deadly trap to deter intruders, but also the secret lab of the gnomish alchemist who makes his home here and his alchemical golem. Once the PCs have vanquished these foes, they’ll have two more sojourns to go before they have the complete tome.

————————-/SPOILERS———————————————————

A nice little scenario, though if you truly want to check out Ron’s excellent writing, I’d encourage you to check out Run Amok Games’ first two adventures, both of which scored excellent ratings not only from yours truly, but also from other people.

Mike Welham, RPG Superstar 2012 is next up and gives us answers to 20 questions in a rather neat interview – heed his advice if you’re interested about the contest, designing etc.

The remaining content of the issue is a selection of 5-star-reviews of yours truly – if you are following my humble endeavours, this is a nice place to check some of them out.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I didn’t notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to RiP’s 2-column full-colour standard and the pdf comes with no bookmarks. The cover artwork, also includes as a one-page, background-less version, is awesome and deserves praise. The pdf unfortunately has no bookmarks, which is a minor bummer. My favourite part of this issue, hands down, is the new template – it’s just awesome and the artwork brings the disturbing creature to life. I also enjoyed Creighton’s excellent encounter and the mini-adventure by Ron Lundeen, though personally, I hope that the sequel somewhat amp up the ante – as written it does provide a nice sidetrek, though his full-length adventures are better, probably also due to more space available. On the downside, the adamantine blade-spell is utterly broken in my opinion and somewhat tarnishes the otherwise nice entry penned by Jonathan McAnulty. While usually this would suffice to send me on a rant, Pathways is free and thus I’ll only detract half a star, for a final verdict of 4.5 stars, which I’ll gladly round up to 5 on behalf of the spell being easily ignored and the rest of the magazine being awesome.

Endzeitgeist out.

Pathways #15 is available from:

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Jun 182012
 

101099[1]

This pdf from Necromancers of the Northwest is 40 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 35 pages of new content, so let’s check this out!

After a one-page short story about a mad scientist, we delve right into the subject matter, but what exactly is that? Well, alchemy in D&D and subsequently Pathfinder has always felt at least a bit like magic’s little brother – complimentary and sometimes useful, but nothing to write home about. Paizo has already done a lot to make alchemy feel more distinct and this book seeks to expand that even further. The first way in which the pdf tries to do this, is by adding two new item categories: Infusions and serums. Infusions are permanent ad change the bodies of those under their effects, but every person can only benefit from one infusion at a time. Infusions require ranks in alchemy, a certain minimum constitution of the person to which they are applied and also require skill-checks when they are applied. Infusions can also be flushed from the system and range in market price from 10.000 GP to 72.000 GP. 20 sample infusions are provided and each of their write-ups comes with individual drawbacks for the respective infusions – if you e.g. become immune to acid via acidium, you also lose 1 HP per HD you possess. On the more interesting side, the Buoyar-infusion enables you to fly, but penalizes your CMB and CMD due to quite literally becoming a lightweight. All in all, a well-crafted, innovative section that utilizes its drawbacks well to prevent any form of significant power-creep.

The second new class of items, serums, are usually directly injected into one’s bloodstream, via a syringe or the new serum injector, a wondrous item, which makes it possible to have multiple serums ready on the fly. The 20 serums range in price from 50 GP to 500 GP and, as with the infusions, rules to craft them etc. are provided as well. In contrast to infusions, though, serums grant their benefits temporarily. Even cooler though, you can actually swallow additional doses for enhanced benefits – generally, 6 steps of consecutively higher benefits for the intake of a specific serum are given, though these bonuses come at a price: If you “overdose” on serums, you get consecutively nastier penalties depending on the serum. From bonuses to attributes, saves and skill-checks to DRs, the serums are interesting to say the least. Even cooler, some unstable versions are part of the deal: While they offer significant bonuses, they also come with e.g. risks of petrification by wild growths of bone or similar unpleasant demises.

12 new poisons are also at the beck and call of ambitious alchemists. The poisons all come with a lack of full stops, capital letters in their effect description, but provide an interesting, high-level poison: Anti-panacea gets rid of foe’s immunities. Ouch!

And next is a chapter which provides wondrous items… that can be crafted via alchemy, at 1/3 of the price instead of 1/2. A one-page explanation is given for this option, though it contains a duplicated paragraph. A total of 50 such items that blur the line between alchemy and magic are included in the pdf and provide requirements to create them by magical and alchemical means. From a draught that causes amnesia to artificial pheromones, vapours that increase combat prowess, elixirs to temporarily grant you racial abilities and attribute boosts to e.g. ever-burning salts to temporarily ghost-suppressing bombs and intensifying lenses, the chapter provides a neat selection of new tools for your alchemy-inclined character.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are not up to the highest standards: From missing commas and colons to double paragraphs and caps-errors, I’ve seen quite a bunch of them. The pdf adheres to NNW’S parchment-style 2-column standard and features stock-art, which is nothing to write home about, but also not required at this price-point. The pdf comes with an extra version that is printer-friendly and is extensively bookmarked. Once in a while, the Necromancers of the Northwest create a pdf that is not only useful, but at their constantly low price point, a total bargain. This is one of them. The expansions on the options of alchemy with the two new item-classes rock hard and if you like e.g. the “Witcher”-games and novels, a potential godsend. Especially if you’re playing in a rather low magic world, this pdf is a treasure-trove of coolness and the content herein can be considered to be top-notch. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the quality-control that went into editing and in said discipline, the pdf unfortunately loses some of the favour its great ideas have built up, at least with me.

It should also be noted that the “craft-via-alchemy”-rules could have been expanded further and made more unique, but that may be just me. More grievous is something potential buyers should be aware of: If you’re looking for new mutagens, extracts or bombs for your ALCHEMIST-class, this pdf will sorely disappoint you by providing none. Yes. The alchemist gets no specifically-designed new class-features. While the pdf provides content galore, I would have loved to see the at best mediocre poison-section be cut in favour of options for the class – after all, alchemist players are probably one of the target audiences for this pdf. That being said, serums and infusions still feel like they complement the class well, though some advice of e.g. the way in which mutagens, extracts, serums and infusions interact would have been appreciated. It is the lack of said information that costs the pdf further points. In the end, we’re looking at great new item-classes with some problems in their interaction, a lack of new features for the alchemist-class and some editing glitches – which is a pity. Were they included, in fact, were there a bit more fine-tuning, perhaps some content for the alchemist-base-class, this would be a stellar book, a 5 star + seal of approval recommendation. As written, though, it feels rough on the edges and somewhat rushed. Adding up the gripes, I find myself unable to rate this higher than 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 for the purpose of this platform. At the low asking price, though, I wholeheartedly encourage you to check this out.

Endzeitgeist out.

A Necromancer’s Grimoire: The Wonders of Alchemy is available from:

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Jun 162012
 

99716[1]

The second installment of Fire Mountain Games‘ evil adventure path centred on serving Asmodeus is 106 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving 101 pages of content, so what exactly do we get?

This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Asmodeus and the dukes of hell will be greatly displeased with potential servants glimpsing at their grand plans beforehand. If you don’t want to incur their wrath, skip ahead to the conclusion!

Still here? That means you’re either foolhardy or classified to know about the information, so let’s take a look! After Adrastus Thorn’s ninth knot (i.e. your PCs) have unleashed terror, death and destruction by opening Talingarde to the hordes of the fire-axe, they have been enjoying a pleasure-cruise with Tiadora, the handmaiden devil, who leaves a trail of demoralized villages in her wake, pillaging and raging at the populace in the guise of Mitran clergy and knights in a bid to destroy the unity of the nation. But that’s only the intro. Once the PCs have reached Farholde, they are tasked to do what another knot has failed to do – locate the famed Horn of Abaddon, summon the daemon prince Vetra-Kali Eats-the-Eyes and claim the famed tears of Achlys from the bringer of pestilence – a supernatural plague upon the land to serve as a second strike to break the nation of Talingarde. The seventh knot under the command of Elise Zadaria, which the PCs know from their indoctrination/training and which might contain potential love interests, is to stage murders and keep the town in line and the PCs up to what’s going on. But before the Ps can get to anything, they have to meet with the local Asmodean elven noble, NOT blow his cover and enlist his aid. With some basic research, the PCs can unearth the location of the dread Horn of Abaddon among the jungle-covered spires of the Caer Bryr.

Unfortunately, the fourth knot has not failed solely due to incompetence – the horn is guarded by quite a powerful treant and far from abandoned. The lower caves of the place are now inhabited by a tribe of Dagon-worshipping boggards. Once the PCs manage to slay the treant and enter the boggard-territory, the adventure starts to feel different immediately: They may actually slay the leader, enlist the drug-addled, mad shaman and subjugate the whole tribe. Until now, if you take away the lillend with her elven/feyish consort who attack and harass the PCs, the overall fortress is a standard dungeon exploration – only…it is not. You see, the Horn of Abaddon was once home to a dread, pestilence-worshipping daemon cult and was squashed by the legendary paladin-king dubbed “the Victor”, its evil sealed. Thus, the PCs encounter remains of the horn’s original defenses, natural predators that have invaded the place, undead remnants of the cult and daemons still standing guard. Inc ontrast to a traditional dungeon, though, the horn’s defenses lie in tatters: There’s even a good shrine to Mitra impeding evil magic here! And the paladin-king screwed the PCs over in the worst way possible – he created a seal to prevent Vetra-Kali’s return and the damn thing is an artefact! Even with the 3 eyes of Vetra-Kali, logically and cleverly hidden in the complex, the PCs have no idea on how to break the seal – unless they explore or listen to the mad ramblings of the boggard shaman.

Among the incoherent blubberings, they may find a hint that points them towards an annotated, unique version of Vetra-Kali’s scriptures, in which a mad member who witnessed its creation of the cult wrote down a way to break the seal prior to ending his existence. 666 prayers over 222 days and 3 sacrifices – 1 to start (a priest of the cult that failed Vetra-Kali), 1 at the 111-mark (a devout Mitran) and the final sacrifice, blood from the Victor’s bloodline. 3 hearts cut from the chests of the noble and pure, 3 prayers a day, one for every eye of Vetra-Kali – which the PCs have hopefully found and inserted into the statue of the daemon, for they grant scrying, knowledge about exact locations of spells being cast etc. Oh, and there are allies to be recruited – from undead remnants of the former cult to rituals to conjure mudmen to the aforementioned boggards, the PCs will have quite their hands full. If they want to successfully complete their ritual, they will have to outfit their dungeon: Each of the rooms comes with suggestions on reactivating/building traps, posing sentries and security points, which will determine the ease of incursions.

For your ease, Fire Mountain Games provides a 4-page handouts pdf available for free, which contains key-less maps of the dungeon and surroundings as well as a one-page spread of the defunct golem. Defunct Golem? Yep, among others, the PCs may activate a sociopathic alchemical golem who may make for a dread sentry, but only if posted alone – living creatures tend to die ugly around it and only if the PCs manage to find all ingredients necessary to repair the thing. Grumblejack, if he has survived so far, may be transformed via a fiendish apotheosis and thus also increase in power, just to let fans of the ogre know! (This, of course, being purely optional!) Now, the PCs can create traps, have minions to direct and prepare the defences of their own dungeon – it should be noted that many of the enemies that will harass the PCs during the 222 days can be caught, broken and/or recruited – especially things like messenger-eating hangman-trees and minion-munching dire tigers might make for rather strong allies.

Of course, the first though of most player-groups will be to keep the ritual secret. That’s not an option. The one-page beautiful artwork of the overgrown horn is ignited in green balefire and makes clear to anyone in quite a distance, that something is WRONG there. Take a look at the front cover – that’s your PCs’s new home and castle for the next 222 days and it is here that the adventure leaves any territory you might have played before. I already mentioned minions and indeed, the leadership-problem is tackled: Essentially, the adventure not only provides ways to gain allies, but also proposes a kind of super-party-cohort, purely optional, mind you. More interesting are the concise rules to run your own evil organization: Essentially, this module assumes an organization to have 6 scores ranging from -5 to 10, much like a character: Ruthlessness, Secrecy, Survivability, Connections, Espionage and Loyalty. Organization start off with 0 on each score and the leader’s charisma bonus may be used to enhance those scores. Since running a dungeon, abducting peasants for monster-food, indoctrination, smear campaigns, espionage and assassinations are all time-consuming endeavours, the PCs may thankfully delegate said tasks to the orphan-minions of their contact in Farholde, the vile, aforementioned baron. If they do a good job, they may whip the servants into an effective tool to sow confusion, disinformation and destruction. Each organization has a limited amount of actions each week depending on the charisma and level of its leader and 17 organization actions are provided, including chances to fail and 15 organizational events provide further opportunities/challenges.

Now that the PCs have a (hopefully) staffed dungeon, intact traps and minions at their disposal and now that the ritual has prematurely blown their cover, the truly awesome part of the adventure begins: While not every day should be played out, managing the organization is a challenge in itself and if the PCs opt to ally with the afore-mentioned hangman tree or dire tiger, they will have to use their minions to make sure the creatures are well-fed. And then there’s the worst kind of predator coming their way: Adventurers. Multiple groups of adventurers, complete with artworks and stats, will try to infiltrate the complex and vanquish the PCs and ruin their ritual. From some megalomaniacal local heroes to scrupulous mercenaries, groups are coming their way. And every DM knows – adventurers are DEADLY.

Thankfully, the 7th knot under the command of the winter witch warns the PCs of such incursions. Until the first truly lethal group heads the way of the PCs and knows ALL their defences, making tracking them down a true challenge – it seems like the winter witch has betrayed Thorn and thus, hopefully with some evidence, will have to work that out as well. On the bright side, one of the group can be salvaged as a cohort. That’s not all of the problems the PCs will face: The horn has a teleport-network, and while the ritual prevents regular teleports inside and out of the dungeon, a certain inquisitor has found an reactivated an outpost’s teleporter and will use it to great effect for truly deadly hit and run techniques. Even better, you can do something the adventure heartily encourages: Take one of your player’s favourite strategies from other groups and send their own former characters after them or at least pay homage to them. The annoying enchanter? The untouchable dwarf? Send them in! It is here that DMs will have FUN GALORE and players will finally get a taste of what your poor villains had to face! Thankfully, the local descendant of the Victor is also among the foolhardy who will try to crush the PCs, thus unknowingly deliver the last ingredient for their sacrifice. Oh, have I mentioned that the PCs may have to get their Baron out of the way? After all, a SILVER DRAGON is convinced that he has to die to stop the darkness…

And then, there are the last 5 days. If your players have thought that being a villain bent on calling down a daemon prince while being besieged by adventurers, moon dogs and the like while running an organization was too easy until now, they are in for a surprise, for in the end, as with many a plot out there, everything goes horribly wrong: An earthquake shatters parts of the dungeon, destroying some components of its defences and creates breaches. Minions get hurt and die. An Avoral breaches their defences. The boggards abandon them and potentially turn against them to consecrate the horn to their father Dagon. The remaining undead priests of Vetra-Kali seek to kill and replace the PCs. Any survivors of the adventurers band together to attack one last time. The freakin’ silver dragon makes for an all-out assault. And following the trail of broken villages, the hardest party so far enters the horn – allies/family/survivors of the slaughter in Balentyne make for one final desperate attack on the PCs. In short: Just about anything that can go wrong, does go wrong and only a fraction of their allies does not turn against them. Keeping the ritual going will be a true challenge for the PCs and test their prowess to the extreme. One of the survivors of Balentyne, though, will probably escape – we have not seen the last of this particular man…

Provided the PCs succeed against all odds, they break Mitra’s seal, summon Vetra-Kali and hopefully heed the advice on haggling with the Daemon Prince in order to get his dread plague. Better yet, the PCs can become carriers to his disease by asking the being a boon or even double-cross it, sending it back to oblivion – after all, they want to rule these lands one day and having a disease-ridden daemon prince sowing pestilence might not make for a good start for Asmodeus’ glorious reign. Anyways, the adventure concludes with Thorn having the Tears of Achlys, though failure might be an option.

The pdf also contains aforementioned organization/minion-rules (which would also work well for thieves guilds or similar illegal organizations), a gazetteer of Farholde including a beautiful map and ideas on how to run variants of “Way of the Wicked” – e.g. with an all-duergar party or class-restrictions. I didn’t care too much for these, but I guess some of you out there might enjoy the ideas.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, though not perfect – I did encounter some minor glitches like an additional “t” after a full-stop or a formatting inconsistency in the organization-rules: The rolled-20-entry and rolled-1-entry are swapped in one entry. While not providing wrong information and amounting to about 5 glitches on the whole adventure, it’s not perfect. The adventure adheres to one of the most beautiful full-colour 2-column layouts I have seen in any publication, 3pp or otherwise. The pdf comes with a printer-friendly version that gets rid of the background, but not the colours or illustrations. The pdf comes with 4 pages of player handouts, which can be downloaded on the fire-mountain-page and the pdfs come with full bookmarks. Artworks are up to the highest standards, as is the cartography – Michael Clarke provides not only beautiful illustrations, but also stellar maps. Which brings me to the second minor gripe I have with this pdf: The town of Farholde-map comes without a key-less version of the map to hand out to players, which is a bummer, for the town is beautifully detailed.

This installment of the “Way of the Wicked” feels, on the formal side, slightly less polished than “Knot of Thorns”. If you’re like me, you’ve read a LOT of adventures and ran a lot of them. And after a while, at least if you’re like me, you start to see the same plot-devices, the same tropes, repeated over and over and over. And it starts to get BORING, oh so boring. You’ll start to yearn for nouveaux frissants, new sensations with regards to rpgs to ease the existential boredom creeping up to your game. And then, once in a while, you read an adventure that does something different. That is innovative. That tears apart the old yarns and does something ambitious, something radical and, more importantly, something NEW. Most adventures that feature such a component use it in one fight, perhaps the climax, in one location. Some adventures, and these are the ones that we remember as bright stars, as iconic legends, as part of the must-play canon, though, are brave and radical: They take an idea, develop it and present it in a supremely professional and concise way and offer a whole new way of having fun, a new story, a new angle. “Call forth Darkness” does that.

This module not only surpasses “Knot of Thorns”, it leaves it at the wayside sobbing for its infernal mommy. And “Knot of Thorns” was excellent, but at its heart still a rather conventional module on the other side of the alignment scale. An excellent module, to be sure, but one on the conventional side nevertheless. “Call forth Darkness” is smart. It’s supremely ambitious. It succeeds at what it sets out to do (though it is an adventure that is a challenge for DMs to run) and it puts two gleeful “i”s into “Villains”. These are not heroes, they are villains and they do villainous things and thus face completely different challenges. I am still baffled at the quality Gary McBride and Michael Clarke manage to produce as essentially a two-man enterprise. Artworks, Cartography, Writing, Crunch and Fluff – all are up to top-standards and then, the scenario is brave, smart and INNOVATIVE. Where other adventures move on known ground, this one feels different. Want to know why it took me so long to write this review? Every time I got frustrated due to reading boring/bad pdfs and writing reviews for them, I went back to this adventure. Read a couple of pages. Smiled. And went back to work. I don’t regret a single buck I spent for the print version and if your gamers are anything like mine and if there is some kind of justice, this adventure will go down into the must-play canon and be remembered in years to come as one of these iconic, unique scenarios that are classics – and this module also offers a stellar bang-for-buck ratio.

If you’re thinking I’m exaggerating, I’m not. In spite of the minor glitches and the lack of a player-friendly gazetteer-map, I’ll gladly settle for a final verdict of 5 stars plus Endzeitgeist seal of approval. I’d go for 6. Or 7. Or 10. In any rating-system, this represents almost the apex, at least in my humble opinion: Excellent presentation, top production values, stellar ideas, innovation – anything you’d want, it’s here. My only concern for the overall AP is that this part will be nigh-impossible to repeat, let alone surpass.

Endzeitgeist out.

Way of the Wicked Book Two: Call Forth Darkness is available from:

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