Aug 312012
 

104944[1]

This mini-bestiary from Open Design is 10 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let’s check this out!

Starting off with a short introduction on the concept of sin and the rules to quickly make a prideful creature, we delve into the monsters:

  • Abominable Beauty: This CR 13 fey considers herself so beautiful that none are worthy to behold her and thus have to die. Her beauty blinds, her touch burns, her voice deafens – perfection that destroys all it comes in contact with, showcased by great signature abilities. Great!
  • Emperor Kobold: This new type of kobold gets +2 Str, +2 Dex and Cha, an energy affinity and a rallying yelp to make for a born leader among koboldkind -inspired by megalomania and considering him/herself a descendant of the dragons, these beings make for similar roles as e.g. Lizardkings. Ok, I guess, but BLAND. How many times have we seen this type of pseudo-draconic kobold angle done? Too many times. Plus: This is not a real new creature and the abilities are not as interesting as to warrant this entry
  • Mirror Hag: These deformed CR 8 hags punishes those who recoil from her appearance by cursing them with reconfigured features to teach them the superficiality of their ways and instil some humility – rather a creature that punishes vanity than pride in my book.
  • The Embodiment of Pride: At CR 22, this embodiment rocks hard – a being of pure pride and superior ego, the embodiment comes with a mocking dance, an aura of superiority (linked to a summoning ability – quite cool) and two awesome signature abilities: The primary means of attack of this embodiment is an open-handed slap across the face that can deal sickening amounts of damage and the creature can ignore up to a full round of actions 1/day by completely disregarding it. AWESOME and my favorite embodiment so far.

The pdf closes with embodiment of sin traits as well as a short narrative on pride in the Midgard campaign setting.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to a nice full-colour 2-column standard and the artworks for the creatures are awesome. The pdf has no bookmarks, which is a pity – by now all but BP-length pdfs should have bookmarks.

Pride. If I’m guilty of one deadly sin much more often than any other one, it’s definitely pride. And why not? After from lust, it’s perhaps the one closest to being considered acceptable in society and is even positively connotated. Do a corpus search and you’ll e.g. get “justifiably proud” -which other deadly sin can claim ANY positive undertones apart from pride? None. That’s what makes this the most viscous of the deadly sins and if we take the Judeo-Christian mythology, it is pride (and envy) that cast down the devil from heaven. Pride is enticing. We want our parents to be proud of us. We yearn to feel pride and the lack of it can just as easily destroy a man as an overabundance of it. Pride. The “King of Sins”. How does this installment hold up?

Well, on the one hand, we get two of the best creatures in the whole line so far. On the other hand, two of the creatures fail hard: The Mirror Hag is one that punishes superficiality and vanity and is at best loosely connected to pride and the emperor kobold is just there for the sake of kobold fanboys and obviously unimaginative filler with a tired concept and no stellar mechanics to lift it out of the muck of “been there, done that”. While I personally abhor the high kobolds from SGG’s Kobold King-pdf, I consider them the vastly superior take on the concept of a high kobold. Which leaves us with the imho best 2 creatures in the line so far, but only half the content of the whole pdf. And that is not enough. With only 4 creatures per installment, I expect imaginativeness, novel ideas and cool signature abilities to justify the asking price when compared to SGG’s Mythic Menagerie-line. And this pdf, while it does deliver some stellar coolness, fails as hard as it succeeds when it fails. I guess Pride comes before the Fall, after all – my final verdict will be 2.5 stars, rounded up to 3 for the purpose of this platform. I hope the upcoming installments will be of a more consistent quality.

Endzeitgeist out.

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Aug 312012
 

104112[1]

This massive pdf from Magic Skull Games is 172 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of ToC, 4 pages SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 163 pages of content, so let’s check out the first PFRPG-product by Magic Skull Games!

After a background story focusing on the battle between serpentine hordes and an army of light that saw the defeat of the snake-like demon god Sarkuroth, the pdf kicks off with the new base classes, first of which would be the shapeshifter: The class gets d8, 3/4 BAB progression, 4+Int skills per level and good fort-and ref-saves and no spellcasting prowess. Essentially, the shapeshifter gains improving capabilities to turn into at first animals like beast shape and slowly gains access to improving options – starting at 5th level, for example, the shapeshifter can turn into flying creatures. Additionally, when in natural form, they can enhance themselves via e.g. bear’s endurance etc. Shapeshifters may also choose a variety of favoured forms over the levels, enabling the shapeshifter to get bonuses when in these forms. He can also have his natural attacks count as magic, good, evil, lawful or chaotic. AT higher levels, shapeshifters may also change into e.g. centaurs, lamias, winter wolves etc. and monster feats like flying-related ones, improved natural attacks etc. are added to the classes roster of bonus feats. Finally, at 5th level and every 3 after that, the shapeshifter can choose from up to 15 powers, including classics like uncanny dodge, but also granting access to e.g. knockback. Finally, at higher levels, the class can turn into dragons and giants and change shape as swift actions at 19th level. The class has no true capstone ability, though, which is slightly disappointing. The class is an interesting, non-casting take on the iconic shapechanger and works well in its intended niche. What somehow disappoints me about this class is that e.g. there is no option to grant the shapeshifter truly unique bonuses like e.g. adding an eidolon’s evolutions to its forms, extract-like powers etc. As written, the class serves its niche, but I’m not sure its changing-capabilities combine with its non-full-BAB to its full advantage – a druid might be the stronger choice in direct comparison.

The second new base-class would be the Pyro, a class that also gets 3/4 BAB progression, d8, 6+Int skills per level, goof fort and ref saves and are proficient with torches and light armours, learning to utilize their torches to deal additional damage and choose from a total of 14 different torch-related talents, some of which, though, enable the Pyro to create special torches that add effects of e.g. thunderstones, smokesticks with an added minor debuff effect. 14 talents and 7 advanced talents are also available to the Pyro, though generally, I have a problem with this class: Essentially, this is a rogue variant with a gimmick weapon, including abilities that are dependent on catching foes off guard. The class lacks the full BAB to make up for the lack of spells and several of its abilities are taken straight from the rogue, while lacking the additional damage-output of sneak attack. And then there’s the problem of the class carrying a TORCH. a) This makes stealth all but impossible. b) It could blow you up if you go into dungeons and encounter pockets of gas. c) The class is utterly useless under water or in massive storms. Wanna cripple a Pyro? Douse him. This class feels like a good idea that just hasn’t been thought through to its logical implementation. As an NPC it might work, but as a player-class? Not so much. And I haven’t even begun elaborating how ridiculously useless the class becomes if it encounters any creature immune to fire…

After that, we delve into chapter 2, which deals with PrCs. And there are a lot of them, 33 if I haven’t miscounted, out there. However, there is also something rather evident from looking at them – several of the PrCs require you to have x class levels in a specific class, something not conform with PFRPG design-standards are worse, often illogical, but more on that later. The PrCs also have extremely steep attribute requirements. A total of 6 different prestige classes deal with warchiefs of different tribes: Bear, Eagle, Horse, Panther, Wolf and Snake. The classes all provide abilities you’d expect from a totem-focused class like wild empathy and e.g. improved grappling capabilities for the Bear Chief, but also all have problems:

The Bear chief has to endure the massive prerequisites and can take the class at 5th level in theory, but if he advances in the class, he gets access to greater rage a whopping 5 levels after the regular barbarian without offering any ability that makes up for the catastrophic power-loss incurred in comparison with the base-class. The Eagle Chief’s abilities are even worse with the notable exception of the 7th level, which provides a chance for an auto-crit on a hit – one compelling ability does not a good PrC make, though. The Horse Chief makes for an interesting mounted barbarian, but also has a problem – the class has the balls to offer a terrible greater endurance ability as capstone. Useless and boring. Panther Chiefs have to use cat’s claws to use their best abilities, which happen to be that they can add a second attack to a charge at -3 and later another one at -5, making this class a rather boring one-trick pony. Charge, attack, repeat. Again, no offset for the relative powerloss when compared to the base-class. The Snake Chief can use poisons and is good at ambushing, but again gains access to greater rage 5 levels later. The Wolf Chief gains pack tactics, which add bonuses, but ignore the new mechanics of teamwork feats, solo-tactics etc., something I would not only have expected, but demanded of the class. And then there’s something wrong with all of the classes: They don’t grant you rage rounds when progressing, but instead +1/rage per day. Unfortunately, THAT’S NOT HOW BARBARIAN RAGE WORKS IN PFRPG. I’m sad to say, but ranging from design-remnants of the 3.5-days to boring concepts that have been done to death and predictable, weak abilities, these chiefs all FAIL.

Speaking of FAIL: The Black Lord, a gish that focuses on darkness-and necromancy-related spells gets only 3+Int skills, 5 levels of spell progression over 10 levels and can turn darkness into e.g. a gibbering mouther. Sounds cool? Yeah. It also gets its own spell-list (of up to 9th level) – why not prohibit e.g. simply all [good] and[light]-spells? Generally, this class has potential. But: It has dead levels with only +1 level of existing spell-progression, something thankfully mostly absent in PFRPG-design. It also completely and totally IGNORES THE MAGUS. This class is made for fighter/wizards/sorcerers, when the niche has been filled by a more appropriate class. Worse, due to its stunted spell-progression, its upper echelons of magic as mentioned in the spell-list are useless, seeing that the progressed level of a level 10 Black lord will be 9 – 4 levels of wizard prereq + 5 levels of spell-progression over 10 levels. The character will be level 17 by then. Ridiculously weak and not up to design-standards, in spite of the cool ideas. Worse, the Earth Lord and Fire Lord PrCs follow the same structure and add the insult of being boring elemental classes (we’ve had enough of these!) to the design injury. The Storm Knight is also victim of these design choices, though at least they can summon a cool storm chariot, though its capstone is again insultingly bland and weak – an aid spell + 2 caster levels for some spells when in a storm.

The Champion of Light is a class focused on light-related effects and the countering of darkness effects as well as gaining a small selection of spellcasting powers. What I don’t get is – why not play a paladin? Why doesn’t this class get to choose from abilities like mercies? With the relatively few darkness effects out there, the class feels like a cripplingly over-specialized poor man’s paladin that doesn’t even get full BAB-progression. Also weird: Since the class must already be able to cast divine spells to enter it, why doesn’t it offer a spell progression for its existent casting capabilities, instead providing a new and rather limited list?

The Dread Crusher is essentially a version of the breaking barbarian archetype at higher levels, a class centred on sundering equipment. Ok, I guess, though again, not particularly versatile. The Faceted Conjurer, a PrC centred on permanently conjuring figurines of power and ioun stones is another PrC that leaves me cold, again coming at a paltry 1/2 spell-progression. Better, at least concept-wise, is the cobra master, one of multiple serpent-themed classes in the pages of this book, this one being focused on providing a monk with some rogue talents and the option to poison your unarmed attacks. However, a capstone ability that grants +1d6 sneak attack, better slow falling and a bonus feat feels not adequate, nor does the BAB-progression – a monk’s melee abilities are bad enough as is, this class only provides 1/2 BAB-progression. The class offers continuous monk-power progression – with the exception of AC. Yeah. No improving AC-bonus for this PrC. Whether that’s an omission or a design-choice, I don’t know. It does feel like an unnecessary impediment of an already not too strong class.

The Knight Heretic is essentially a poor man’s antipaladin as a PrC – no cruelties, lame abilities etc. Antipaladin and SGG’s Death Knights are vastly superior options and less linear. Dispel good as a capstone ability would be neat, but it can only be used 1/week. Weak. *puts 2 bucks into the bad pun jar* The Knight Inexorable is a more interesting class: If you can meet its steep feat-requirements, it makes for a will-strong knight that can affix special insignias to his equipment. A nice alternative to the cavalier, though I probably would have preferred it to be designed along the lines of said established base class, perhaps improving order powers or challenges. The class lacks a unique signature ability. Knights of the Black Glade represent a cool concept: Druidic knights. Unfortunately, the restriction of a set amount of druid PLUS ranger or fighter levels restricts the class. Worse, the class, a knight centred on the idea of druids, only comes with a horse companion advancement, when it should take all kinds of possible mounts into accounts. The class also gets access to some nice spell-like abilities and an acclimation to metal armours – depending on your setting/take on druids, the latter might upset some basic tenets of the faith. Knights of Entropy grow to large size, get minor spell-access and the option to mutate and also get a changed mount. Per se a good class including a nice capstone (earthquake), were it not for the dead level and one fact – this has been done, and done better: Malhavoc Press’s Mutation rules from the Chaositech book for 3.5, alone or combined with Green Ronin’s Unholy Warrior’s Handbook’s Knights of Bedlam PrC constitute the vastly superior options – both in style and execution.

The Knight of the Death Angel is a concept that is rather cool – a sorcerer/fighter multiclass (again, class-level restrictions – beh) serving the angel of death with both martial and arcane might. The class gets an excellent ghostly intangible plate, spectral warhorses etc. Again, though, this gish-class only offers us 5 levels of spell-progression – at least it gets 9/10 BAB-progression. As a Magus, this design would have been vastly superior – as written, it remains an ok class. The Knight of the Lion Rampant is a paladin-exclusive PrC that offers fighter bonus feats and worse lay on hands and smiting capabilities. While he can negate one crit per day and at 9th level make his shield a lion’s shield, that does not offset the knight’s lack of full BAB (only getting 3/4-progression) AND the lack of any spell-progression. This class is essentially a PrC that is worse in any conceivable way than the base class.

The Master of the Flamberge is a true paragon of two-handed weapon fighting (though not only of the flamberge) and can be considered a powerful, cool class – were it not for the fact that there’s already the two-handed fighter archetype – combine both and balance leaves the building. Masters of the Handaxe are actually a cool class that hasn’t been done before in PFRPG, centring on both dual hand fighting AND on improved throwing capabilities. There is an unclear wording here, though: Dual Axe Wielder reduces the penalties for dual wielding hand-axes by 1, but the class does not require the two-weapon fighting feat and yet this ability seems to presume it does/or is supposed to grant it: The ability only mentions a penalty of -1, when without the feat the newly modified penalty should be -7. The Final Master Class is a specialist of the Razor Scourge that combines his mastery of the whip with sneak attack progression and some improved intimidation. This PrC would not be bad, were it not for the fact that both Above Average Creation’s Scourger Variant Class and Abandoned Arts’ Lasher Archetype do the better job.

And after that, the reign of serpentine classes begins: The Serpentine Necromancer is essentially a regular necromancer that can utilize the 3 undead templates later in the book. Ok, I guess, though I don’t get why it takes a PrC to command what usually would be commandable by ANY NECROMANCER or why we needed a “Vampiric Serpent Template” when we could easily apply such a template to a base-creature. Superfluous. The Serpentine Temple Warrior with its minor sneak, mystical powers and poison use can be considered a good flavour class with nothing to complain about apart from the weird save-progression of 1/2 fort and 2/5 ref and will. The Serpent Warlock would be a nice caster-class, gaining a transfixing gaze, shapechanging, scales, poison etc., were it not for, again, the stunted spell-progression and the fact that e.g. serpent- and snake-themed bloodlines and revelations have done similar things without nerfing a character that hard. The Silent Adder is a serpent-themed assassin (again, with annoying class-level prerequisites) that could be cool in concept – were it not a strikingly boring monk/rogue mishmash. Especially strange that fast movement, something that would greatly benefit such a class, does not advance. The Snake Cult Leader is a cleric that gains wild empathy and some serpent-themed abilities, again being stumped by its crippled spell-progression and the fact that its new abilities in no way make up for the trade off in power and versatility. The final snake-themed PrC would be the Viper Assassin, an extremely fast class that grants the user truly deadly bleeding criticals and the option to hide in plain sight at higher levels. I don’t have anything to complain here.

The Temple Assassin is another combo-class, this time cleric/rogue gain limited spell-progression, further sneak attacks (though the gained dice are only d4, not the regular d6) and can, by divine favour, gain temporary access to rogue talents. Grab your seats, fellows: I really like this PrC’s basic concept! It’s balanced, feels distinct and its benefits are sufficient. Its capstone is holy word, blasphemy, word of chaos or dictum, depending on alignment – ok for such a class! It still suffers from the weird class-level design choices, though, as well as from a ridiculously low 1/2 BAB as well as a weird save-progression. The final prestige class is the Winter Warlock, an ice-themed arcane caster. Design-wise, this class is not bad either, though it is also not too exciting.

After that, we’re introduced to 16 sample NPCs using the new classes, but no fluff, mannerisms or the like – in fact, not a single word of crunch is provided for them – lame. Chapter 4 details so-called eldritch Path feats: These feats require a specific caster level as well as access to specific spells. The feats then enable you to modify the spells they apply to in various ways, for example to move walls you have cast, enable walls of thorns to grapple foes or detonate walls of flame. The basic ability the feats provide can usually be used once per round or day, while the more specialized appliances that modify specific spells can only be used 1/week. The eldritch path feats are a truly cool and interesting innovation in my book that a resourceful GM can easily use to enhance the flavour of arcane societies and traditions – while these big brothers of SGG’s spell-modifying feats could be considered strong and I would never make them available freely to PCs, if used sparingly, they are a true winner of a concept and an innovation of which I’d love to see more. The new magic items, most of which are serpent-themed, can also be considered well-crafted and include a plethora of Sword & Sorcery style, pulpy items like enchanted warpaint. Nice!

After that, we delve into the massive spell-section with spell-lists by class -lacking spell-lists for all APG classes and the Magus as well as a reprint of the spell-lists for all the new classes, making this section much harder to navigate than it should be. The Omission of the APG and UM-classes is an inexcusable oversight at this point. How are the spells? Does a spell that makes your weapon get the brilliant quality elicit any excitement from you? What about separate spells to call the new amphisbaena monsters? What about a slightly improved chilling grasp that leeches life-force? Oh wait. That already exists. There also are good spells herein, like the blade barrier’s mobile little brother, the dagger swarm. There are problems, though: The 3rd level spell explosive meteor deals up to 8d6 bludgeoning damage – less than a fireball, but damage that cannot be countered by magic- making this spell much stronger. Magnetizing spells are cool, yeah, but their rules should enforce this and when compared to others, the one herein just does not feel like it is up to the task. The variations of the phantom horse spells, providing draught or war horses, are nice ideas, though Dire Destiny Press’ “The very last book about mounted combat” also does that one better. And honestly, do you consider a sor/wiz spell at 3rd level that shoots a ray of coldness dealing 1d6 damage of cold damage, up to 10d6 innovative? Yeah, me neither. This spell-section is FILLER and has nothing truly ingenious to offer – when compared to Rite Publishing’s 101-spell-series, Dreadfox Games’ Grimoires or Necromancers of the Northwest’s stellar Advanced Arcana-books, this section falls by the wayside -HARD.

Chapter 7 introduces us to another new mechanic, so-called signs: Signs are essentially constellations and marks that represent a being destined for greatness – they can be considered quite powerful, raising the CR by at least +2 and mechanically can be likened to what one would consider templates. Signs can duplicate whole domain-suites, bloodlines and arcane school powers, grant access to a paladin’s mercies and aura of courage, among other things. From the Grand Cross to the fleur-de-lis and the phoenix to evil signs like the black goat, the sign of insanity or the sign of slaughter or vile serpents, these new mechanics…are actually really, really cool! Think about how much superstitions of signs and omens have shaped the course of our own societies and still does. Then think about the heavenly constellations and other symbols that represent these beliefs, granting them inherent power. Add the versatile options and the unpredictability-angle these templates provide and we have a great basic stock to create not only bonuses for destined heroes (it’s important to keep the players balanced in group, though), but also a neat system of representation by the respective signs. Better yet, we get little b/w-renditions of all of the signs. I honestly would have wished this chapter were longer. This idea could definitely need some expansion, perhaps with neutral and ambivalent signs etc. Kudos!

All right, let’s get to the final section of this massive review, the bestiary. Let’s face it. Snakes in D&D used to suck. In fact, all poisons SUCK in derivatives of d20. In my home game, I amp up their lethality. Always. And I require caster checks against the DC to cure them via magic. Failure means the particular caster can’t cure this poisoning. This bestiary introduces the so-called deadly snakes, which have the design-goal of no longer sucking – do they succeed? Well, first of all, summon nature’s ally spells can now also conjure these neat critters. Good. Better: THEIR POISONS DON’T SUCK!!! Eureka, baby! Let me give you an example: The Deadly Dire Black Mamba’s poison deals 1d3 Con for 6 rounds, cure 2 consecutive saves. The cool thing here is that if the victim botches a save by 5 or more, he is further impeded by the poison via one of 7 (!!) random effects: From blurry vision (granting concealment to all beyond 50 ft. in daylight or halved viewing distance in dim light), over joint pains and dex damage to swollen tongues that impede casting, these toxins are gold. Seriously. And looking at the deadly dire snake king cobra made me cackle with glee – especially DMs of Serpent Skull should consider checking these out! A total of 12 such snakes are presented and we also get other beings – the serpentine medusa, for example and some minor modifications for existing creatures like the Trog Ettin (yep, smelly) or the vile Xocouatl, a corrupted counterpart to the iconic winged serpents. We also get a total of 10 templates, from the primal chaos creature (what you’d expect – icky mutations and cthulhoid flair) to a lot of serpentine templates. I already commented on the undead serpent templates, which in my opinion are mostly superfluous. Not all belong into this category of lazy templates, though: From the half-serpent to the amphisbaena-template to the hydran-serpent template, most of them are actually rather cool. And the snake-vomiting template for undead s also rather fun. You can even create dragons with poisonous snake-heads now!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to a full-color 2-column standard with a yellowish parchment like background. The artworks range from b/w to full color, don’t adhere to a unifying style, but have in common that they illustrate nicely the represented concepts and can be considered nice. Not all monsters and templates are illustrated, though. The pdf comes without a printer-friendly b/w-version but is fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks that allow easy navigation.

Reviewing this pdf has been a dual blast from the past for me: On the one hand, slithering, serpentine monsters have always fascinated me and are closely tied to Conan, my childhood hero and the kind of sword and sorcery fantasy that brought me to the game in the first place. Much like Xoth Publishing’s offerings, this pdf contains options that feel steeped in antiquity and a world before the chivalrous age. Mostly. If you’ve read this far, you can probably glean that there’s a big, big catch. And said catch is that this pdf is also steeped in rules-antiquity. The two base-classes feel weak when compared to the core-classes, the Pyro almost superfluous, since its unique torch abilities have no way of keeping up with the usefulness of just about ANY other character in utility and damage. And then there are the PrCs.

I’m not going to mince words here: These 63 pages of PrCs almost universally SUCK. They fail due to multiple reasons: First would be the decision to deviate from Paizo’s established standards that makes PrCs open for more than obscure class combos. Secondly, they feature dead levels, uneven skill modifiers per level and similar weird decisions that are odd in PFRPG – from strange save and BAB-progressions to a terribly stunted spell progression for just about ALL CASTING CLASSES, these PRCs manage to contradict efficient and trusted ways of making PrCs not suck. Thirdly, they completely ignore the new classes beyond the core material. Who plays an obscure multiclass gish when we have SGG’s excellent Archon AND Vanguard as well as Paizo’s own Magus, who has gotten a fair share of cool options? Worse, many of the PrCs have perhaps one good mechanic and recycle all the bland and trite clichés you’ve seen a dozen of times. Warrior of light with radiant weapon, good against darkness and undead? Check. Etc. Most of these PrCs feel like they hail from the beginning of PrC-writing, when in the 3.0-days the classes were so terribly off it hurt. Also due to their multiclass restrictions and insane attribute requirements. None of these classes felt special to me. None felt like a prestigious class to me. There is no way around it – were it for the PrCs alone, I’d rip this pdf to virtual shreds.

But there is also some good in these pages – while the magic items can be considered ok, I really like the chapters in which the pdf offers NEW RULES like the signs and the eldritch Path feats. Heck, I may even expand these concepts and use them myself. The snakes in the bestiary with their innovative poisons are also sheer awesomeness and the bestiary section is only hampered by some parts like the serpentine undead that feel like someone took an existing template and cut-copy-replaced the word serpentine into them.

What about the spells? Lacking lists for the PrCs and the new Paizo-classes from APG; Um etc., this 31-page strong chapter is PrCs all over again. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: We don’t need boring bad spells, we need original, creative, smart ones. We already have more than 1500 excellent spells released from companies like RiP, SGG and Dreadfox Games – we need stellar ones that push the envelope, that do unique, new things. These feats feel like SGG’s spell variant line – “like fireball only bludgeoning, minus2d6”. There. That’s one spell. This is not original, it’s BORING. And every DM worth his/her salt can make these him/herself. Worse, again, they don’t take spells into account that do similar things at the same level, but better. PrCs all over.

This might look unfair, me harping on the PrCs and spells. But they make up over 90 pages of this book. This pdf reminded me of the bad old D&D-days. When you had to comb through crap to find gems in many 3pp publications. You did find gems, sure, but the expense of nerves was immense for me. In PFRPG, the standard of 3pps is VERY HIGH. In fact, I could name some Paizo publications I’d consider worse than comparable 3pp-books, Ultimate Magic and the recent equipment book springing to mind. This pdf has a great bang-for-buck ratio, yes, but at the expense of a lot of obviously unplaytested garbage. There is another thing obvious about this pdf: Either, the content is from a home game or some other rules system, at least in inspiration, for the rules herein feel like they belong rather in a low or rare magic world, not a standard PFRPG-setting. That would be the benevolent interpretation. The more malicious would be the following: It is evident that these PrCs were not balanced against their core counterparts. They are universally weaker, have less options and feel blander than their core versions. They don’ get a lot of new powers or talents to choose from. They are very linear. They mention mechanics like “additional rages per day” instead of rage rounds per day. They represent concepts that Paizo archetypes and CLASSES LIKE THE ANTIPALADIN have already covered. Sound familiar? Weaker abilities? Less versatility? Outdated mechanics? These classes were designed for 3.5 (or even 3.0) and hastily and exceedingly sloppily converted and then jammed into this pdf without taking archetypes, solo-tactics, teamwork feats or even new base classes that have become PFRPG-staples into account.

Which makes me doubly angry, since the new mechanics could have used the space: We could have used more snakes, any archetypes, class options for all the existing classes… and for example guidance. As DMs. On awarding eldritch Path feats, since they obviously are much more powerful than regular feats. Or on the signs and how to balance handing out signs to player characters. Or more signs. Some class options for the new Shapeshifter and Pyro-class to enhance their respective capabilities. Especially the Pyro is desperately in need of a windshield and some alchemical tools to stop him from being the group’s laughingstock once a gale hits. What about personalities and hooks for the sample NPCs? We know NOTHING about them and they are packed in rather short…wait. *double-checks* Yup. The bestiary adheres to PFRPG’s statblocks with neatly separated defence, offense etc.-sections. The NPC-blocks don’t. They are the old, crammed, ugly D&D-blocks. Further evidence for my suspicions. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have anything against conversions, but they have to be done with care – see Misfit Studios’ “Superior Fantasy Synergy” for an example of a great conversion.

This pdf feels like some completely unrelated pdfs were hastily cobbled together, thrown in the blender and much like the frog, the result is less tasty than the ingredients would have made it. The pdf also lacks a leitmotif – less than half of the total content is related to snakes and in contrast to e.g. the Sword & Sorcery low magic setting of Xoth, there is no alternate/limited spellcasting system to justify or mitigate the catastrophic power loss many of these PrCs entail. Which is a pity, for, again, the snakes are awesome and the paths and signs have potential.

This is a prime example why I have started reviewing. To keep blunders like the ones herein from tarnishing otherwise great content – be it in the pages of the same book or in competing publications. In PFRPG, Magic Skull Games will have to do much better than that. And I believe they can. If you’re only looking for the signs, path-feats and the snakes, this pdf might be 3 stars for you – unfortunately, they constitute only 39 pages of the pdf in total. The whole package though…ouch. We get a good amount of content for the asking price, it’s true, but most of the content- well, just isn’t good. As much as it pains me to do so, I have rated down better pdfs for less and I have established a 0-tolerance policy for pdfs with conversion errors and obviously sloppy balance and design-choices. As such, If I want to keep my own frame of reference intact and not become guilty of a double standard in favour of a small margin of ideas I really liked, which still need some guidance and balancing guidelines and thus could also be considered flawed.

I have no choice – my final verdict will be 1 star,

Endzeitgeist out.

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Aug 312012
 

103761[1]

This supplement from Legendary Games is 19 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page author bios, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let’s check this out!

Legendary Games, back from the hiatus, continues to provide us with plug-in products that further enrich the APs of Paizo and to the everlasting joy of yours truly, have returned with a triple offering of further supplements for the wonderful Carrion Crown AP.

After a short introduction on how to use this pdf, we are introduced to Sanity rules! Yes, sanity rules! The system herein is more geared towards providing general penalties and being tied to the books provided and thus can be considered serviceable, if not as elaborate as the one I use in my home-game – I still would love a vast system of madness and sanity with quirks, disorders etc.: Preferably at around 30 – 100 pages, but honestly, I hope legendary games expands the basic rules and eliminates the generic penalties for madness effects in the revision – the basic system is well-made and great at the scarce space devoted to it. Following these neat pieces of crunch, we are introduced to a new descriptor – the mythos-descriptor, which denotes creatures and spells associated with the dark tapestry. For those not familiar on what to expect, here’s a short run down: Some regular spells also have [Mythos]-versions, which can potentially unhinge one’s sanity and several creatures are also categorized as being Mythos-creatures. And then there’s the introduction of Mythos rituals, which enable people who’d otherwise be unable to cast a spell or ritual to do so, but at the cost of the caster’s sanity. Cool ideas that need to be expanded further.

After this initial crunch, we are introduced to new tomes and here I have to inject something: I was always concerned about spellbooks and magical tomes sucking in iterations of D&D and being just collections of spells. Raging Swan Press’s “So what’s that spellbook like, anyways?” has addressed the problem, but this supplement takes the idea up to eleven with the first tome being the Sarkulis Shards, which are a collection of strange, red glowing crystals inscribed with nordic runes by dread witch-cannibal cults devoted to the serpent world eater. An extensive section of lore as well as 6 new witch spells are contained in this most-intriguing tome, the spells enabling a witch to create razor sharp, vampiric diamonds from their blood, call hellish ghouls, implant cannibalistic compulsions in foes, dazzle foes with weird flying serpents, entangle and crush them via madding illusions and even call servants of the dread World Eater to serve your whim.

The second tome in this book is another one in an uncommon form – the Xanthutep Tablets, written in ancient hieroglyphics, were once penned (or rather chiseled) by heretics of an ancient pharaonic hierocracy (Osirion, anyone?) and include a spell that bends space to grant you a massive miss chance and get an AC-bonus, increase your reach, can dimension door with a shockwave that sends your foes to their knees, wrinkle reality to gain a luck bonus (though that one is rather petty),a shield against force effects and t5wo improved, mythos-related scrying spells as well as a variant summoning that can call Hounds of Tindalos as well as a mind-damaging true seeing. All of these spells have some kind of cool cost/danger associated with them and frankly, I’d enjoy magic in PFRPG even more if all spells were designed like this!

The third tome is the Palestone Analects, a collection of disturbing and weird poems that includes a version of false life that can be improved by etching diagrams into a victim’s face (!!!) and pouring acid on him/her. Faces are a topic here, and a disguise spell is twofold and shows you as a disturbing, faceless being and there’s also a version that adds a rage effect. And then there are three elemental body mythos spells that also make you partially amorphous.

The final tome contained herein is called “All Flesh & Form by Flame made Ash” and is different from the other books in that while it contains spells, it also contains 4 different Mythos Metamagic feats:

-Ashen Spell: +3 caster levels, fire damage results in a glitterdust-like effect by ash,

-Atomic Spell: +1 or +2 levels, adds bubonic plague radiation sickness effects to your spells, either with onset or immediately.

-Incinerating Spell: The fire-spells ignore hardness and deal 200% damage instead of 150% to vulnerable creatures. Also incinerate foes slain by the spell. +1 level.

-Smoking Spell: +0 or +2 levels: Leave a fog cloud or a stinking cloud with fire area spells.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to a horizontal, two-column standard in gorgeous full-colour. Legendary Games’ gothic, cool layout in full colour, with blood splotches and glorious full colour artworks, one for each book, is stellar and up to Paizo standards -beautiful indeed! The pdf comes fully bookmarked and the pdf also includes a full-colour background-less version for ease of printing out.

I’m a sucker for things Mythos-related and that’s no secrets, but even if you don’t like the great dark tapestry this pdf still has something to offer to you – perfect examples on why “Necronomicon” and “Von unausspechlichen Kulten” are household names and why your players don’t even remember the name of the latest tome they’ve found: CoC tomes are characters in their own right, with quirks and dangers and significant, unique benefits to be obtained. And these tomes finally bring this sense of uniqueness and identity to PFRPG, providing an awesome example on how to make books stellar protagonists in your game.

Add to that the cool concept of providing benefits beyond the normal at the cost of detrimental effects to one’s body/sanity and we have spells that work very much how I’d prefer magic to be – powerful, but with an inherent risk that needs competent practitioners and still leaves the sense of danger and wonder intact. That being said, not all of the new spells herein feel perfectly balanced and honestly, while the production values are stellar, I still feel this pdf is rather on the short side. If you don’t mind any of that, you will love this pdf as much as I did and if you’re one of the players/DMs who enjoy flavourful spells and concepts over power-gaming utility, I can definitely recommend this to you, if not, you might wish to detract a star. Personally, I love this pdf and thus, my final verdict will be 5 stars plus seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.

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Aug 292012
 

103760[1]

This adventure-path plug-in adventure from Legendary Games is 20 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page introduction/how-to-use, 1 page author bios, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving 13 pages of content, so let’s check this out!

This being an adventure review, the following text contains SPOILERS. If you’re a player, don’t risk your immortal soul and incurring your DM’s wrath by reading on!

Still here? Righty right! Early in the Carrion Crown AP, this plug-in can be considered interesting in that it centres on the tragic elf-maid Alhindriosa – fair and out of touch, the dancing maid lived a life with the gypsies until a sinister figure massacred her adopted kin with only her surviving – traumatized, she’s been in custody of varying institutions, catatonic and all but a shell of a being. The stranger has returned and he’s taken her back to the village and given her one task: Play this violin for your kin. And for the first time in over 80 years, the maid reacts and plays a dirge of the saddest kind- and her dead kin rise.

The mini-module kicks off with a cool establishing encounter in a fully mapped, full-color shop and zombified grand-parents coming to visit their living kin. and from here on, things get worse and the Pc can hire themselves out to money-lenders, save old local dogs, the postboy and even an old councillor from varying undead threats before, finally, the PCs will have to stop Alhindriosa at the cemetery by vanquishing her now resurrected brethren and destroying the dread Rebec Malevolenti, the fiddle she unwittingly plays that resurrects the undead menaces. Once they have destroyed the fiddle, the PC’s victory will be bitter-sweet, for the elven maiden falls back into her stupor and the townsfolk asks for blood – hopefully the players can prevent further death. The pdf has a one-page, stunning artwork of the final confrontation as well as another piece of beautiful cartography of the final confrontation and full stats of the devilish fiddle as well as a nice table to track the trust the PCs can get ( and lose!) during the course of this module..

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to Legendary Games’ two-column landscape format and is delivered on par with Paizo-level quality. Especially the beautiful artworks by Colby Stevenson are legendary indeed and we get two versions of the pdf, the second being more printer-friendly and backgroundless. The cartography is also up to the highest quality. This module is beautiful, the artworks stellar and the production values are awesome and up to the highest demands. And the module can easily be dropped into not only CC, but also into just about any village- that being said, Greg A. Vaughan can write adventures – we all know that. The writing is thus creepy, cool and imaginative. BUT: This module is SHORT. Very short.

And honestly, I would have enjoyed slightly more detail or choices on part of the players. Perhaps a sandboxy format with a timeline and consequences for dillydallying would have much improved my enjoyment – as written, the module feels rather like a string of sequential encounters that borders on the railroady but manages to skirt that dread appellation by virtue of its excellent writing. In the end, the “Fiddler’s Lament” is a neat little plug-in module, but one that will, at the maximum, occupy for players from 2 to 4 hours and is about as long as 0onegames’ “The Sinking”-installments, of which you could get 2.5 (albeit in b/w) for the same price. Content-wise, e.g. “Politics Unusual” and “Ascension of the Prophet” will serve as my frame of reference for rating this module.

If Legendary Games’ quality production values would not be up to these high standards with original artworks and cartography etc., I’d rate this down another star. Taking everything into account, my final verdict for this module will be 4 stars – a good, though not a stellar, short module.

Endzeitgeist out.

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Aug 292012
 

102038[1]

This pdf from Raging Swan Pressis 22 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 15 pages of content, so let’s check this out!

Just like the first installment of the series, this pdf provides exactly what you’d expect from the pdf .- i.e. we get fully detailed hoards and treasures. Only this time, we’ll cover the medium experience levels, i.e. the scope from 8 to 14. We get 12 hoards for each level, for a total of 72 hoards herein.

What made the first installment great was the attention to detail given to the individual descriptions of the loot and to be honest, with higher levels and less mundane items, I expected the overall level of detail to sink. Thankfully, the pdf does deliver us cool items – we don’t just get potions, we get potions in specific flasks, wands that look like branches, marble sundials, expensive rugs and tapestries, a portable altar, a nine-branched candelabra and even platinum wire! The pdf also includes a page on identifying and appraising mundane and magical treasure and it should be noted that DCs to appraise the value of the items are provided as well.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, though not as perfect as I’ve come to expect from Raging Swan: A demon-slayer’s two-bladed-sword (Similar to one character had in my current campaign – one side silver, one cold iron) e.g. always speaks of “iron” instead of “cold iron”. Layout adheres to a 2-column b/w-standard, is elegant and printer-friendly and comes with EXTENSIVE bookmarks. The pdf also comes in two versions, one optimized for the screen and one for print.

This pdf delivers its promise of cool hoards, there’s no doubt about that. BUT, I noticed some minor issues: Apart from the glitch already mentioned, I also encountered one hoard that is lame and stood out like a sore thumb: While all the others (71!) are rather cool, I noticed that hoard 10 of level 8 is only a boring wand (not too descriptive/imaginative) and coins. That’s no hoard. I don’t know whether to save space or whatnot, but this one read like something rather disappointing. Note that I only mention this due to the superior quality of the other hoards. If you’re like me and own a lot of “So what’s…”-pdfs, you’ll also notice that e.g. ancient electrum coins and their text have been reprinted, which, while the exception, is also a minor bummer.

Bear with me for a moment: This pdf is great, it really is. However, Raging Swan Press has established a very high standard and one that this pdf does not *quite* reach. While the predecessor also had a one-item-hoard, it was a star-sapphire stuck in a HAND in the floor! That’s iconic, that’s cool. Aforementioned short hoard felt bland in comparison and while the vast majority of these hoards are, great, I feel like the pdf overall can’t reach the predecessor’s level of being close to perfection. Thus I’m going to settle for a final verdict of “only” 4.5 stars, still rounded up to 5, though, as I can’t bring myself to rate this 4 – it’s too good for that.

Endzeitgeist out.

So What’s the Hoard Like, Anyway? II is available from:

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Aug 282012
 

102842[1]

The first original class by TPK Games comes as a 21-page pdf, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of advertisement and 1 page of SRD, leaving a total of 16 pages of content for this new base-class, so let’s check it out!

After a second version of the GORGEOUS cover by Anna Rigby (which would make for a nice Dark_Mistress-avatar…), we are introduced to a new piece of short fiction, an extract from Talitha Shadowtongue’s memoirs, herself a tiefling doom herald and malefactor – and, as I’ve come to expect from TPK Games, the fiction is well-written, sets a gritty mood and makes me once again curse not being in the US – otherwise I’d invite the guys from TPK to join my game or try to score at least a con-game: We seem to have similar styles. Oh well. But what is this new malefactor-class?

Fluff-wise, the malefactor represents a kind of people who are, from their earliest childhood, afflicted with a so-called Yla, amoral, intangible chaos-spirits that wreck havoc, misfortune and destruction without being interested in the consequences. Some rare children learn that while these spirits cannot be driven out, the misfortune not averted, they can be channeled and commanded – these persons become malefactors. Malefactors get 3/4 BAB, good ref-and will-saves, no spells, d8, 6+Int skills per level, proficiency with shields, medium and light armor, simple weapons, light crossbows, rapier, longsword, short sword and shortbow and much like other “trick”-classes like the Time Thief, the Luckbringer etc., they are rather dependant on their abilities to make them count, but what exactly are these? Well, first of all, they start off with an aura that gradually increases and imposes a profane penalty on saving throws – to everything around her, without a save. Yes, that includes allies and the malefactor herself – interesting and somewhat reminiscent of 4WFG’s Jinxs-PrC, but not where the class stops. The penalty is also slightly offset by later gaining the wis-bonus to fort-and ref-saves.

The Malefactor also gains a so-called pool of strife, that can hold a maximum of 1/2x her level + WIs-mod strife points. They also gain access to so-called maledictions, one at 1st level and every two levels afterwards an additional one, but more on them later. In melee, she can use a standard action and a point of strife to execute a so-called harrowing strike at a target that is under the effect of a curse or one of her curse-like powers (including hexes, you witch-aficionados out there!). The ability improves to add wis-mod to atk and later damage, inflict bleeding damage, add a second attack and at the highest levels is even considered a touch attack and gets a wicked DC to stop the bleeding. And then there is strife surge – perhaps the coolest ability I’ve seen in quite a time for a class: Every time a being within the malefactor’s aura rolls a natural “1” on a save or attack, the malefactor is energized, reducing the amount of strife her powers consume for one round by 1 to a minimum of 0. Yes. This class actually makes having bad rolls at the table something that can be honestly cheered! And if you’re like me, you have this one player with the most miserable of luck, who is glad to only roll one fumble per session… Among the other abilities the class gets is the one to draw curses unto herself, trying to break them, but suffering potentially from the effects of the curse, whether successful or not. The malefactors can also force opponents to use the lower of two d20-results for a point of strife, wear cursed items without any adverse effects (YEAH!), displace attacks to hit other creatures, reroll natural “1”s for points of strife and finally, a cool capstone ability that renders her immune to curses and makes all “2”s in her aura count as “1”s – unlucky for her foes indeed!

But back to those maledictions – a total of 18 are provided and they have a save of 10 + 1/2 class level + Wis-mod and an increasing range (starting at 20 ft, going up to 60) and last wis-mod rounds. What makes them even more interesting is the fact that each of the maledictions has an option to use a dread escalation as soon as the malefactor has reached 10th level – essentially, an additional cost in strife points increases the effect. Take for example the first one, Apt Curse – on a failed will-save, the victim has a 50% chance to take no action on his/her/its turn. Dread escalate the malediction and we add not only +2 to the DC, but also make the curse permanent. OUCH! Or let your misfortune cling to a weapon that hits you, making it count as a size smaller than it actually is via Benign Weapon. Have I mentioned that Malefactors are essentially the black cats among characters? If they cross your path, you’ll count as flanked until next turn. On the defensive side, the malefactors may also reduce the amount of damage area-spells deal with “Eye of the Storm” and even dread escalate the type of dice down (e.g. d8 -> d6).

Among my personal favourites, though, ranks “Feats of Fate” – while it can be used only once in 24 hours on a given enemy, it prevents said foe gaining any kind of natural or magical healing, while curing the malefactor. Neat, neat, neat. I know one sadistic bastard of a DM who will have his players on the business-end of that one soon… Of course, there are also maledictions to impose skill penalties, make concentration harder, foes slower to react etc., but it is abilities like lightning rod that truly rock: Essentially the Malefactor draws all types of lightning, forcing foes to attack her with the respective spells/effects, while gaining evasion against these attacks – dodging lightning has never been that much fun. (take heed, FF 10-designers, if you happen to read this!). Of coursing stumbling, losing items, losing AoOs are all nice, but e.g. declaring a creature taboo and have foes stunned, or even blinded and deafened for ignoring your sanction is also neat. It should be noted that the dread escalations could have easily been called advanced maledictions and thus space artificially created, but instead this more elegant solution was take. I really like the mechanics and hope to see support for it in future supplements.

5 archetypes are provided as well, though at least for me they don’t necessarily qualify as such and should rather be considered alternate class features – the Moirae can declare an action fated to succeed and treat the ally as having rolled 20 at the task a number of times equal to wis-mod per day. They don’t get the misfortune aura and the save-boost. The Doom Herald gains additional languages, a bonus against mind-affecting abilities and exchange the aura of misfortune for the ability to utter words of doom that force all in hearing distance to save or take the worst of 2 results from saving against hexes and curses. Reavers gain heavy armour proficiency and deal additional damage against foes they have cursed. Kismets don’t get the aura and harrowing strike, but rather can grant their cha-mod as a luck bonus to rolls of allies. Finally, the curse-breaker draws health and spell resistance from breaking curses and can transfer them to other beings.

Before we get to the new feats for the malefactor, we first get a nice little lore-section on information on malefactors. A total of 12 feats are provided, ranging from the ability to use strife to increase your aura, the ability to manifest maledictions as part of melee attacks to further capitalizing on the unluck of other characters in your aura by also gaining str-bonuses to the inevitable extra points of strife, extra malediction to the ability to exclude allies from your aura of misfortune (but also from your potential benefits) and improved surges, we essentially get the basic feat-catalogue to improve the abilities of the class. No feats for the archetypes are provided, though.

The odf also provides favored class options for all basic races, aasimar, tieflings, dhampirs, fetchlings, goblins, changelings and drow – neat!

The pdf closes with advice on how they work in your campaign as well as the fully stated and hyperlinked statblock of the succubus-descendant Tiefling Malefactor Talitha Shadowtongue.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting is very good – while I noticed some minor glitches, none jarred my reading experience or enjoyment of the class. The pdf adheres to TPK Games 2-column grey layout, utilizes cool fonts and features a gorgeous full-colour artwork of the highest calibre. The pdf is also extensively bookmarked and the sample NPC’s statblock linked to d20pfsrd. The printer-friendly, artless b/w-version has no bookmarks, but since it’s intended to be printed – who cares? The deal also comes with Herolab files of the class and the sample character, so great if you use the software. I honestly didn’t expect much from this class, seeing how much I enjoy RiP’s Luckbringer and well – I should have.

This is a completely different take on (un)luck and the design decisions that went into the creation of the Malefactor are concise, well-thought out and the overall class makes not only for a great team-player, but a fun addition to any table and a godsend for unlucky players. The ability to customize the class and its unique feel and tactics make the base-class a definite winner. However: The archetypes. They have good concepts behind them, but couldn’t they have changed more than, oh let’s say 1 -3 abilities? Personally, I enjoy them when they are more complex, but rules-wise, I see nothing wrong with them.

The feats do a basic job of what is expected and I seriously hope for e.g. a witch/malefactor PrC/archetype/whatever and more complex feats in a future supplement. The favoured class options and the inclusion of uncommon races was a nice addition. The pdf is rather pricey for the amount of content provided, but seeing we get Herolab support, an original, beautiful full colour artwork and due to the fact I can’t discern any truly major flaws, I won’t hold the price-point against this class, especially since the way the class is designed is actually rather innovative. All right, let’s sum it up: Class: GLORIOUS. Gorgeous. Fun. No balance concerns or options that felt bland. The class per se is a total winner. The supplemental material, though, can be considered to fall a bit behind that stellar quality – were I to rate them separately, I’d give the base class 5 stars + seal of approval and the additional material 4 stars. Since I tend to meet in the middle if in doubt, I debated whether to go 4.5 (and round down) or 5 and in the end will settle for a final verdict of 5 stars – innovative design, cool concept and professional execution need and should be rewarded. Well-played, TPK Games! Can we now have a luckbringer/malefactor comboclass? Please?

Endzeitgeist out.

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Aug 282012
 

103853[1]

This pdf is 17 pages long, ~1 page front cover/editorial/ToC, ~ 1 1/3 pages advertisements and ~ 1/2 page SRD, leaving us with 15 1/6 pages of content, so let’s check out the first commercial installment of Zombie Sky Press’ Tattlebox!

In case you’ve missed the free pilot issue, Tattlebox is a mini-magazine somewhat similar to our beloved Kobold Quarterly – this installment kicking off with a short narrative called Nigredo before introducing us to Vander Telmane, alchemist (reanimator) 13 on his quest for immortality and his forbidding abode, the tower called “Devil’s Finger”. The problematic and even slightly comedic alchemist is fully stated and comes with adventure hooks as well as original pieces of full-colour artwork. Speaking of which: The Prison of Zhang Guo, a legendary mortar and pestle that not only can make you a master of brewing potions, but can also imprison those pesky outsiders. The legendary tools get their own, neat artwork. Of course, Vander’s research has also yielded some results – 2 new discoveries, one to enhance undead creatures via a special mutagen and the other enabling you to create more alchemical zombies.

Since this issue of tattlebox is all about alchemy, we are also introduced to a new alchemist ability that is called Transmutagen – a form of mutagen that can be combined with it via infusion (but doesn’t otherwise stack): Transmutagens enable an alchemist to have your skin covered with different types of metal , all of which grant different defensive capabilities. A total of 6 different transmutagen-coatings, from humble lead to adamantium are covered by the same amount of new discoveries and enable a prospective alchemist to become faster via quicksilver or become a walking juggernaut – great for potential melee-builds. But ranged alchemists must not fret: 3 new discoveries are provided for them and oh boy, do they rock: From the ability to turn foes into solid gold statues via transmutation bombs to create a bomb that locks a foe in a temporal loop (including repeating taking damage from last round over and over again…) and my personal favourite: Golemites! What are golemites, you ask? Simple, golemites are a modification of bombs, creating them with mini-clay golems that follow your directions! How awesome is that?

Of course, alchemy is also dependent on ingredients and thus we get new coatings – from adamantine to cold iron coatings and the elixirian steel coating, a table provides all the necessary prices to add these new properties to your weapons. Better yet, e.g. alchemical timers, tripwires, a powder to eliminate bad taste to bottled lightning (storms) and a cold-based version of alchemist’s fire and even a mushroom that absorbs light and can release it as a strobe pattern, the respective items are logical, flavourful additions to the repertoire of just about any adventuring group. An new class of items, the alchemical ampule, is also introduced: Essentially, these ampules can be added to items and modify their properties by adding either metamagic effects, making them ignore minor resistances or changing components of the damage types.

For those of you into whacky effects (and honestly, who isn’t), a new table containing 12 different effects deals with the subject of mixing magical potions – from aging effects à la Benjamin Button to turning the PCs into blueberries, Charlie and the chocolate factory, style, the table promises fun galore – I just would have wished it to be longer.

The pdf closes with the new 5-level Fire Scion PrC, which gets +3 BAB, good fort and ref-saves, 3 levels of alchemist-progression, 4+Int skills per level, d8 and improved bombing capabilities, which include disabling devices via bombs, and improved capabilities to use bombs to destroy objects, making this a kind of demolition expert.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good – while I did not notice any editing glitches, it should be noted that the PrC-table lacks the pluses that are usually standard in PFRPG. Layout adheres to a full-colour landscape 3-column format and is generally beautiful and sufficiently printer-friendly, but another gripe of mine would be that e.g. tables for alchemical items are found on different pages than their write-ups, making the pdf slightly less comfortable to use. The pdf comes fully bookmarked. The full-colour artworks are of a very good quality.

I’m a sucker for alchemy and I absolutely love most of the innovations herein – from the endearing, yet rather evil alchemist, the major artefact to the excellent new alchemical items and discoveries, I can’t complain about the balancing of the new crunch herein. That being said, the PrC somewhat feels a tad bit underpowered to me, its niche being very specific, but I gather that for its intended purpose, it does work. In the end, I can definitely say that this first commercial foray of the new series did a great job of making me look forward to future installments – especially if the slight problems with layout and the aforementioned formatting peculiarity are taken care of. For now, I’ll thus remain with a hearty recommendation for all fans of alchemy of 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.

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Aug 282012
 

101595[1]

This pdf from Raging Swan Press is 21 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 14 pages of content, so let’s check this out!

The pdf kicks off with a short introduction to the matter at hand, to be precise, weapon properties and descriptions. How often have you just said “It’s a masterwork xyz-weapon”? Not only does this make a weapon less interesting and unique, it also deprives the DM of potential hooks (how did this weapon, made of this uncommon wood, get here?) and the PCs of a sense of immersion in the world.

Raging Swan’s latest offering seeks to remedy this problem by providing tables galore: Organized by general weapon category (e.g. simple melee weapons), quite a bunch of rather rare weapons are provided along-side a suggested GP-value for the item. It should be noted that the descriptions are rather evocative and could also be easily scavenged for your own magic items. One page is devoted to simple melee weapons, one to simple ranged weapons, one to light martial weapons, one to one-handed martial weapons, one to two-handed martial weapons, one for martial ranged weapons, 1 for exotic melee weapons and 1 for exotic ranged weapons.

This is not where the pdf stops, though:20 previous owners of the weapons, 20 famous victories of the wielders, 20 marks and inscriptions and 20 miscellaneous complications/peculiarities serve to further enhance the usability of this pdf and make sure that the weapons your PCs find will be truly exciting.

Not even content here, 7 specific magical weapons, with full stories and suggested powers are detailed on the final two pages of the pdf.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, as I’ve come to expect from Raging Swan press-releases. Layout adheres RSP’s 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf is extensively bookmarked. The pdf also comes with two versions – one for screen-use and one optimized for printers. “So what’s that shiny thing, anyway?” was a brilliant GM-help and to cut to the chase: “So what’s that weapon like, anyway?” is just as awesome- a truly useful GM-help, that, while not reinventing the wheel, provides beleaguered GMS with descriptions galore they can put on all kinds of weapons and thus make their campaign setting more immersive. I have but two minor complaints: I would have loved to see tables by weapon type, not only by weapon category. While this would have meant that the pdf gets much, much longer, it would have also made the tables easier to navigate. The other complaint is nested in the first: While the content is enough for the fair asking price, this pdf left me wanting more, so much more: Richard Green has whetted my appetite and I’d love to see e.g. an installment devoted solely to exotic weapons, one for shields, armours, etc. – the possibilities are endless and the pdf extremely useful. If you want to add some nice fluff to the loot for your players, this is a must-purchase. My final verdict, due to lack of complaints and the stellar usefulness of this pdf, will be 5 stars + the Endzeitgeist seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.

So What’s The Weapon Like, Anyway? is available from:

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Aug 252012
 

104069[1]

This pdf from Raging Swan Press is 23 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page ToC/foreword, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving 16 pages of content, so let’s check this out!

As with all the pdfs in this series, this installment kicks off with a bunch of tables – to be precise, 100 tavern name descriptors and 100 tavern name descriptors and 50 ready to go tavern names. After these basics, we get a two-page spread table on interesting tavern features ranging from paintings of raunchy fey to excellent cuisines and leaking roofs – neat! Even better, we get two pages of sample customers and 2 pages of sample staff NPCs in short write-ups to populate your taverns.

Even better, sample food and drink is provided, 3 d20-lists for different poor fares (drinks, food and house specialties), 3 d20-lists for common lists and the same for good fare – awesome to add spice, quite literally to an adventure’s fare.

Even better, since taprooms are a place of encounters, we get a total of 100 different taproom events and 50 different forms of taproom entertainment. And then the awesomeness amps up: We get 3 perfectly spelled out sample songs for bards to recite in taverns as well as two pages of different forms of entertainment like arm wrestling, broom jousting, tavern dice games etc. – all with different rules that are provided for your convenience.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to RSP’s two-column standard in b/w and the pdf comes in two versions, one for the printer and one for screen use. The pdfs are fully bookmarked.

This installment of the “So what’s…”-series is just plain awesome and up to the highest standard of any installment, providing detail upon stellar detail at your fingertips, offering cool tavern-games etc. – and honestly, I would have loved more tavern songs and games! Especially when combined with RSP’s excellent Barroom Brawls, this pdf makes for a truly stellar offering that should not be missing from any DM’s library – hell, if you’re running an urban campaign, the staff and customers alone might make for awesome pdf, but combines with the cool lists and the awesome games, we’re in for a vast amount of fun. Now I want a sequel to this and a high-level barroom brawl-pdf! My final verdict? 5 Stars + seal of approval!

Endzeitgeist out.

So What’s The Tavern Like, Anyway? is available from:

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Aug 242012
 

103199[1]

This pdf from Raging Swan Press is 25 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 us a total of 18 pages of content, so what exactly does this installment of the “So what’s…”-series cover?

The answer seems simple at first glance. Spellbooks! But is it really that simple? One of the features that has always jarred me about D&D and all its derivatives is the lack of detail regarding magic tomes – take a look at Call of Cthulhu, where the very fabric and how a book is made adds to its character. I realize that the amount of magic present in a setting limits its inherent wonder, but I always strive to add said wonder in my game to any spellbook the PCs stumble across and this pdf is essentially a generator for exactly that task:

From a massive table on spellbook titles, subjects and 12 sample books, we go on to wizard names and epithets as well as some pre-generated wizard names to the truly intriguing components of the pdf: Distinguishing features like small rainbows and ornate brass rivets to spellbook cover materials like aboleth fins and even cover groups are neat: From the makers of the covers to big game-notes and loving mementos of familiars that have had their existence immortalized by becoming the cover of a book, we are in for a plethora f neat ideas that go beyond “Made of an animal”, though animals, good creatures and fabric are also covered.

Of course, uncommon types of paper and its condition are also covered in tables: Ever thought about goblin skin vellum, for example? Of course, not only paper, but also the most uncommon types of ink are part of the tables in this pdf. Even cooler, we also get 10 different preparation rituals, including costs, that enable a prospective caster to enhance spells cast from the respective tome via minor magical effects, putting the tome itself rather than its content into the focus – very cool and hopefully an idea that will be expanded upon in a future release or by other 3pps.

Books can also contain maps, poems., notes etc. – all kinds of potential hooks and this pdf does not fail to provide them – ranging from straight adventure hooks to terrible, humorous love poems. Speaking of hooks – the knowledge tables provided add interesting hooks to spellbooks and provide a beleaguered GM with a host of options to entice players into varying adventures and potentially arouse their suspicion regarding the respective contents.

A massive table also offers 5 columns of varying means of protection for an arcanist’s most valuable tool, presented by level and including mundane locks as well as dreaded symbol-spells. Random spellbook costs and contents can also be generated and if you don’t have the time to do so in-game, no problem: The pdf closes with a smattering of sample spell-books presented by level, from 1 to 13.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to RSP’s 2-column b/w-2-column-standard and the pdf is fully bookmarked. The pdf comes in two versions, one optimized for screen-usage and one to be printed out.

I’ll come out and say it, if my introduction wasn’t ample clue, I’ll right out state it: This pdf addresses one of the things that have bugged me about magic and its presentation and does so in a most formidable way. Add to the fact that it can be seen as a vast fluffy generator of coolness and hooks and provides more content for its low price than many comparable releases of the series and we’re in for one of the generators in the series that is literally a boon, a blessing and simply an awesome tool for just about any DM out there. Seriously, this one brings the wonders of spellbooks and their very excitement back to the table and, once your players have gotten used to it, will stop them from considering a spellbook as just a list of spells, but rather as its very own entity. My final verdict? 5 stars + endzeitgeist seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.

So What’s The Spellbook Like, Anyway? is available from:

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