Oct 292012
 

105832By Thilo Graf

TPK Games are back with their latest installment of the Infamous Adversary-line, this time featuring a cool collaboration with fellow 3pp Super Genius Games. The pdf is a whopping 36 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 4 pages of advertisement and 1 page SRD, leaving us with 29 pages of content -still quite a bunch for a pdf centered on one particular villain.

From rather humble beginnings, the Infamous Adversary-line has improved so far to include some of the most iconic villains sold in PFRPG and this time, they take SGG’s antipaladin variant-class Death knight to infuse unlife into it. As with all recent Infamous Adversary-pdfs, we get an extensive and expertly-written short fiction that draws the reader into the narrative, information on the villain’s allies, resources, tactics, lair, quotes and motivations. After an introduction by Super Genius Games’ Owen K.C. Stephens, we thus delve into the background of Urizen.

And it is here that I pronounce the inevitable SPOILER WARNING. I’m going into details that will spoil your experience with Urizen, so potential players: Please skip to the conclusion!

Still here? All right! Once, Urizen was a mortal barbarian living in the frozen wastes under the reign of cruel Utgaroth, god of the frozen north winds. Then, he was not only mortal, but also known by a different name, that of Graldis the Cold. Obsessed with the cold and seeing his brethren as weak for requiring the warmth of the fire to stay alive, he took his magical bone beads and was banished to the cold. Just before succumbing to the dread terrain, he found a suit of demonic armor that whispered to him fell promises of power and sure enough, he donned it. When the half-giant exilant winter witch Valkiri found him, she realized that this man would become the fabled dark messiah she had hoped for – guiding him towards the frost giants, Graldis managed to gain dominance over them – at the price of his death and, subsequently as per his pact, his immortal soul: Graldis rose again from the pyre, reborn in cold undeath as the Graveknight Urizen the Bleak Lord, the fragments of his erstwhile humanity being slowly shed like frostbitten toes and fingers.

The ensuing subjugation of tribes and giants now see Urizen on the brink of being able to wage a war from the north to extinguish the fire of the living, not unlike the threat of the Walkers behind the Wall in “A Song of Fire and Ice”. Apart from his stats when he still was mortal (CR 6 armored hulk barbarian), we also get a CR 14-version with 8 Death Knight levels and the fearsome CR 19-incarnation of the true master of the north, sporting 13 death knight levels in addition to his armored hulk powers. Beyond that, we also get two possible mounts fully statted with an ancient skeletal wyvern and a skeletal mammoth that should serve as appropriate steeds for the Death Knight. Finally Valkiri also gets two incarnations, one at CR 10 and one at CR 15.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, unfortunately, as much as I’m loathe to say it, can only be considered sloppy. Double blank spaces? Check. Inconsistency in names (Valkiri/Valkari as an example)? Check. “Nearby” in Arcane Familiar Nearby not bold? Check. Then we have punctuation errors, etc. making me REALLY wish this had gotten another pass at editing – it needs one,a s the glitches detracted ratehr heavily from my immersion in what otherwise would be a compelling background story. The artwork of Urizen is top-notch indeed and beyond reproach. The pdf comes with extensive bookmarks and an additional, printer-friendly version sans artworks. As with all releases by TPK Games, much of the pdf is hyperlinked to d20pfsrd if you’re using the pdf on your tablet/PC. Layout adheres to TPK Games’ 2-column standard as well as a sufficiently frost-bitten looking font for the headers. The character comes with full herolab files.

This is one of the pdf that make me be annoyed at being a reviewer – there’s a lot to be enjoyed in the pages here and Urizen is indeed a cool (pardon the pun) villain that will lead to memorable showdowns, cool encounters etc. While personally, I prefer Ischadra and Raxath’Viz, he is still on par with the line’s high standard. Getting 3 different statblocks is also nice and ensures continued usability of the adversary. What is less awesome, though, is the rather unpleasant amount of editing glitches that has crept into these pages. I try not to be too anal-retentive when it comes to them, but this pdf is beyond what I’d consider neglectable, especially since they detract from the appeal of the otherwise great fluff and also found their way into the statblocks, which is a big no-go. As an additional gripe, I have to mention that the witch-consort featured herein lacks stats for her familiar – though these critters are rather crucial for witches. The rules of the Death Knight have been implemented well and the characters, fluff etc. are also executed rather nicely. But the glitches, combined with the lack of a familiar unfortunately make it impossible for me to rate this higher than 3 stars. If you don’t care about them, go ahead, check it out. If you’re really stingy about this kind of stuff, wait for the (hopefully upcoming) revision this pdf deserves.

Endzeitgeist out.

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Oct 292012
 

Goblin-CaveBy Thilo Graf

This module is 28 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving 25 pages of content, so let’s check this out!

This being an adventure-module, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players may wish to jump to the conclusion. Oh. The module is called “Goblin Cave”. Guess what you’ll get? Goblins. In a cave? Perhaps. Yeah that might be it. Seriously, though. The title is lame as hell.

Still here? All right! The village of Svor has recently suffered from incursions of goblins that are oddly well trained and since the isolated village is rather small, it falls to the PCs to put an end to the threat. After a round of investigation gathering (if desired), the PCs can track their way to the cavernous hideout of the goblins and it’s all old-schoolish dungeon crawl from here on out: In order to enter the cave situated at the edge of the murky lake, the PCs will have to wade through stagnant water and then best goblin sentries and make their way through a complex, in which they’ll be challenged by slippery cooking oil, worg-riding goblin cavalry and even make an uncommon ally: Grog the former chief of the tribe of greenskins is now a ghost that has been supplanted by the wizard Taraxian.

In an ironic twist, neither filth fever, nor poisonous spores make for the most deadly hazard in this place, but rather an overstocked storage area that might have the PCs buried in an avalanche of goods. Have I mentioned the rust monster that will add both to the chaos and frighten the players fearing for their precious goods…

Both the stolen goods and Taraxian’s library are rather detailed and the finale is also rather neat, offering not only a classic tactic, but also a circle which is a representation of the Circulus Sanguinus-spell the wizard employed to take command of the goblins. Whether with or without the help of the goblin ghost, the PCs will have to face down the wizard and hopefully manage to avoid slaying a controlled acolyte. If they have helped the ghost, he may even point them towards his hidden treasure stash, which is a neat mini-puzzle to end the module.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I didn’t notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to AaW’s two-column standard with a white background, following the standard of the C-series. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks and will get herolab support, though the files have not gone online as I write these lines. The cartography provides us with an awesome full-color map of both the dungeon and the overworld, with the latter coming in two versions, one of which is player-friendly – kudos!

I expected to hate this module. It’s rather short and has one of the most boring titles imaginable. But, here’s the catch: It’s actually rather good and has some memorable moments: If worg-riding goblins flinging disgusting, hot goblin soup at PCs doesn’t sound like fun, what is? The option to unearth a hidden treasure (even one as paltry as a goblin’s) is also rather iconic and a cool idea and the complex storage encounter is neat as well. All in all, this is definitely a solid, well-written module, but also one that sports a distinct lack of je-ne-sais-quoi. The spark. The additional environmental challenge. The encounter that will have the players talk about it for days to come. While it won’t win any prices for ingenuity and lacks the vast iconicity of C1, it is still a low-level adventure that has its moments. I’d also consider it a good introduction to old-school play-styles since it can be difficult, but not nearly as deadly as comparable modules like C1 or the offerings of Frog God Games. In the light of all of this, I can settle for a (at least for me) surprising verdict of 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3 for the purpose of this platform – for a module named “Goblin Cave”. Yeah. I still can’t get over the title.

Endzeitgeist out.

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Oct 272012
 

105865[1]By Thilo Graf

The first in Raging Swan Press‘s new series of short side-trek modules, Gibbous Moon clocks in at 19 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 2 pages editorial, 1 page ToC/foreword,1 page advice on how to use an adventure, 1 page of advice on reading statblocks, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with a total of 10 pages of content, so let’s check this out!

After a title-card page,we are introduced to the adventure and since it is an adventure I’m reviewing here, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players may wish to jump to the conclusion.

All right, still here? p10 (saves) The adventure kicks off with a background story and two hooks – to retrieve bones from an hermitage and the other, to find the source of cattle-thefts. Either way, the adventurers are led to the Clear Pool hermitage after unearthing some additional pieces of information via social skills etc.. Once at the hermitage, they can find not only the grisly remains of sheep, but also encounter a savage dire boar. The hermitage, located in cliffs near a waterfall, is presented as series of natural caves with RSP’s trademark attention to detail being reflected in a table of carvings, carcasses to find etc. Speaking of grisly finds – in one of the caves, Viljo, lone survivor of his adventuring team, awaits – he was also sent to this place to recover the saintly bones, but his companions have been slaughtered by the resident of this place, a man named Dunstan who subsequently made zombies out of Viljo’s former companions.

Dunstan, himself once an adventurer and necromancer, was infected with were-boar lycanthropy and is responsible for the cattle thefts – he stole the livestock to quench his lycanthropic hunger and prevent the beast inside from turning upon the local populace. The moral dilemmata in confronting Dunstan are evident. While the man has acted to keep innocents from harm, he has resorted to theft to do so. Moreover, he has slain Viljo’s comrades, animated them and infected the poor man with lycanthropy as well. He’s not evil (yet) though, and while he is a necromancer, he’s not one of the insane kind – so what do the PCs do? Kill him? Try to negotiate a deal between him and the village? Try to cure him? What is the right thing to do? The openness of the module, especially for its briefness, is commendable and DCs to broker a non-violent solution, a cure for lycanthropy of his particular strain and multiple hooks for further adventuring are also included.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, though not up to the almost blemish-less standard I’ve come to expect from Raging Swan – on page 10 there’s e.g. a line where “save” should read “saves”. Layout adheres to RSP’s concise and crisp standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked and in two versions – one optimized for screen use and one to be printed out. Both files are small enough to not be a burden on mobile devices. The b/w-artworks and cartography are nice and I’d advise any Gm wishing to run this sidetrek to check out Raging Swan’s HP to download high-res jpegs of the dungeon as well as statblocks to use infected/uninfected version of the two NPCs as companions in future adventures – cool, though I don’t get why they are not part of the zip-file in the first place.

My direct frame of reference to compare this to is 0onegames’ extremely affordable series of short urban modules of the Sinking-series – at least in formal criteria. Content-wise, the focus of Raging Swan vs. 0onegames is so different in theme that comparing a weird urban fantasy setting with classic old-schoolish sidetreks just doesn’t work. In contrast to the Sinking, the ideas herein are not too imaginative. The basic plotline has been done before and mechanically, you will find nothing too exciting herein – but that’s also not at all what this is about: This module is about providing an affordable, easily inserted sidetrek and at this, its prime objective, it succeeds. This module makes for a nice insertion into your campaign and its web-enhancements ensure that a DM should be able to run this module on the fly, without any preparation. The variety of options on how to potentially resolve this sidetrek is what makes “Gibbous Moon” stand out and rise above what would be seen as rather mediocre. With all the options for future complications and resolutions, the adventure can actually be considered good – though when directly compared to the slightly longer and more expensive “Dark Waters Rising”, it falls a bit short of excellence. Thus, I’ll settle on a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.

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Oct 262012
 

104387[1]By Thilo Graf

This module from Gaming Paperis 54 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page back cover, leaving a total of 50 pages of adventure so let’s check this out!

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

All right, still here? Leander d’Arstand is not your everyday lich – in fact, the undead creature was rather smart and modified the standard phylactery-ritual to split his phylactery into 4 parts and scattered them subsequently to the elemental planes. Half a millennium has come and gone and the tide of years has eroded Leander’s resolve to exist, nourishing a subtle death wish. Now, he depends on a twisted game, challenging the strongest of heroes to put an end to his undead existence. Since this is a high-level module, the adventure provides some pieces of advice on how to deal with the by now obligatory divinations and teleportation capabilities your PCs will no doubt have. Of course, since plane-hopping is involved in these pages, we also get a short run-down of planar qualities and necessary protections and peculiarities that separate planar adventures from their prime material counterparts. Additionally, much of this module is presented in a rather free-form, sandboxy style and at the end of a given section, expansion ideas and options for the respective planar forays are given alongside suitable suggestions for creatures..

That being said, first would be the elemental plane of fire, where the PCs will have to enter the palace of Overthane Grosk, fire giant warlord and owner of whole kennels of nessian warhounds. Of course, the obvious way would be for the PCs to merrily slaughter themselves through the fortress, though perhaps not the wisest one: If they agree to peacebonding their weapons, they may enter the thane’s hall and can even negotiate the release of the ruby they seek from the thane’s throne – if they endure the cruel pranks of e.g. magma mephits etc. and have come peacefully before the thane. Of course, they could also fake peace-bonding etc. – sideboxes elaborate on these tactics, though I would have liked some sample DCs for the peaceful negotiation with the thane – an omission that could have easily been rectified.

After that, we’re off to the plane of water where the keeper of this part of the phylactery is already expecting the PCs – in a vast grotto, the PCs are lead towards the old one, an exceedingly powerful Aboleth sorcerer who awaits them with a peculiar and deadly trap as well as a whole cadre of aquatic minions to challenge the PCs and add them to his collection. His spellcasting prowess notwithstanding, I couldn’t help but feel that this final confrontation felt a bit behind its own potential: One of the coolest and most defining traits f aquatic battle is its 3-dimensional aspects, which are absent from the encounters portrayed here. See Alluria Publishing’s legendary Cerulean Seas Campaign Setting/Underwater adventuring guidebook for an excellent example on how buoyancy, streams etc. can be used to make battles under water truly interesting and feel DIFFERENT.

After this one, we have an interlude when a rogue 6/assassin 10 and a summoner 16 are sent after the PCs by Leander to make things interesting and slaughter them – even if the death of one or two characters is only an inconvenience at this level. On the elemental plane of earth getting to the adventure locale might make for the toughest hindrance, even though what awaits the PCs is no cake-walk – carnivorous crystals and an advanced crag linnorm as a boss make for a challenging foray, though honestly, I would have enjoyed to see the tunnels featuring more evocative environmental elements like earth spikes, earth quakes, crystallizing viruses – you know, things that make the players appreciate how non-hostile the prime is.

The final foray, then, leads to the plane of air, aboard the flying air ship Skydragon (which comes with full stats as a magic item, but not with stats for the naval combat system – wasted chance there!) and meet its surprisingly nice crew of air-born smugglers, who is currently trying to safely deliver some astral devas – Only to have the ship attacked by a horde of demons. Whether the PCs fight with the crew, with the demons or choose to use the chaos to get their fingers on the final part of the phylactery, the ensuing epic battle and chaos aboard the Skydragon will definitely be something the players will fondly remember.

With the fractured phylactery in their hands, it’s time for the PCs to hunt a lich and their only lead to the whereabouts of Leander lead to an abandoned mansion situated in a swamp – which is, of course, a false lair protected by guards and wards as well as the spirit of a human bard who had to witness his children being slain by Leander and turned into Blood Urchins, some of the more deadly inhabitants of this haunted house-style. Among the other challenges, traps and minor undead will serve well to slowly but steadily deplete some of the PC’s resources before the meet Leander – who turns out to be a grave-knight! After taunts about wasting time on the elemental planes and an epic battle, PCs will hopefully be smart enough to realize that this seemingly final boss is just a dupe and enter the teleportation circle towards Leander’s true lair. The house has a great flair and if you don’t know the tricks to make “old” paper, a sidebox explains the usage of coffee or tea. Nice for those who didn’t know about this classic trick!

Leander’s true lair is no cakewalk and it is here that the difficulty of the module escalates – iron golems. Clockwork Golems, Alchemical, Brass and Bone Golems, Zombie Megalodons guarding a lake. Have I mentioned a room that has every inch covered in symbol and rune traps, from explosive runes to the worst of the symbols? And then there is the final showdown, in which the supra-genius lich hurls undead, spells and even dominated, good adventurers at the PCs in a lethal, epic final confrontation that would a worthy conclusion to a campaign – or the beginning of a new one, if the PCs fail and Leander reignites his ambition, seeking to enslave towns, cities and perhaps even kingdoms…

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect: I noticed multiple typo-style glitches in the module. Furthermore, a peculiarity of the formatting is that each chapter begins on a new page, often resulting in the final pages of a chapter containing perhaps 3 paragraphs of text and being otherwise empty – space that could have been used for further information, content, or even cut in order to save printing/ink costs. Layout adheres to an easy-to-read 2-column b/w-standard, with monsters and traps as hazards being highlighted with respective symbols to make the information easier to find. The b/w-artworks herein belong to the upper echelon of quality and carry evocative themes and look neat. Robert Lazaretti’s maps are b/w and simply awesome, though the Overthane’s fortress feels a bit bland in comparison. What I don’t get is why we don’t get player-friendly versions of the maps sans map keys – the maps are nice, yes, but the players will see the letters on them – and I hate that. Player-friendly maps are by now in many publications standard. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for easy navigation.

High-level adventures are few and far between and honestly, I don’t get why – sure, stats are messy, the rules are complex, but high-level adventuring can be a total blast – with Coliseum Morpheuon still being one of my favourite modules/sourcebooks of all time, it should come to you as no surprise that I joined the kickstarter that gave birth to this particular module. If you’re following my reviews on a regular basis, you probably also know about my aversion to elemental-themed classes, though perhaps not one secret of mine: I really love the elemental planes! I really do and think that the lack of coverage and modules set on them is a huge gap not only in PFRPG, but in practically all d20-derivate. Here we have untapped potential and this pdf seeks to tap into that. Or at least tries to. What I do like about the elemental sojourns is that they not only consist of the locations, they do also take the planar traits and PC capabilities into account, yes, actually require them. I also really liked how two of the trips to the planes can be solved by non-hostile means – I just don’t get why no sample DCs to make the discussions more complex, why not more information on the NPCs to negotiate with was given. And I don’t get why the elemental plane of air has to resort to an attack by hostile beings from the outer planes instead of creatures from the inner planes. For e, that felt a bit jarring in theme.

The final location is flavourful and sufficiently creepy and the respective boss encounters as well as the final confrontation feel sufficiently epic for such a quest. Where the pdf fails, albeit slightly, is showcasing the unique nature of the respective planes – why no 3-dimensional combat on the plane of water? Why not battle between rival skyships on the lane of air instead of an invasion of one vessel, especially with naval combat rules established and made by Paizo for Skull & Shackles? Why no cave-ins or sentient earth on the plane of earth? The module features a lot of going to other planes without making them feel unique – and they should be more than a more hostile, elementally-themed version of the prime. Yes, the traits are there and fractured in, but the module lacks the environmental hazards that create the true feeling of estranged otherness. Don’t get me wrong – the planes-hopping is still good and enjoyable, but it hurts my heart to see how easily it could have been a module of truly epic coolness and instead settles for being just good.

Combine that with the editing glitches, blank space and lack of player-friendly maps and we have even more wasted potential at our hands. A capable and imaginative Dm can make this module still the stuff of legends, but as written, it falls a bit behind what could have easily been a benchmark for PFRPG planar modules. Thus, my final verdict will be 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3 for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.

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Oct 242012
 

105746[1]By Thilo Graf

This pdf from Run Amok Gamesis 79 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving a total of 75 pages of content, so let’s check this out!

We’ve all been there. There’s this awesome module we’re playing in. The adventure works just fine. And then – boom! A cruel twist of fate. A bad roll of the dice. A critical hit to head with a scythe. A ton of rocks on the head. A sewer-gas explosion. An assassin’s knife to the back. Damn. Resurrection is not an option, either due to circumstances of the death, the campaign setting or group finances. It’s off to character creation again. Only: You don’t have a character in reserve. But damn, you want to play! Or perhaps a friend who moved away is in town and wants to roll dem bones again, but has no character ready.

This is where this book comes in, providing a selection of a total of 13 different NPCs. It is noticeable from the get-go that each character comes with a mug-shot in b/w as well as full stats and gear. A sidebox also details traits, wealth by level and increased point-buy-options for the respective characters – each one of them, thus enabling you to potentially modify them on the fly and already taking the tedious starting-treasure-selection off your chest, if you’re so inclined, that is. Now, each of the potential PCs herein comes with short information on appearance, personality and behavior in combat as well as enough space on the page for hit points, conditions and modifiers as well as general notes, cramming the full stats of the character on one page without making it feel bloated – probably thanks to the concise and easily navigated presentation. It should be noted though, that due to the length of higher level statblocks, the respective higher-level incarnations have less room for notes (or none at all), conditions etc. on the page necessitating an additional piece of paper. Furthermore, each of the characters comes with a suggested way of getting them into action right now via teleportation mishaps, proximity etc.

What higher level incarnations? Well, to maximize usability, each of the characters presented herein comes in 4 different versions: One at level 1, one at level 3, one at level 6 and one at level 9. So, what kind of characters do we get? We get Aleksandros, a zealous human battle oracle, Adeniel, an elven witch (who unfortunately lacks the stats for her fox familiar) and Caffey, a human urban ranger (with information on adding the skirmisher archetype. The archetype-information is cool and I wish each of the characters would come with one, but formatting-wise, it’s a problematic: You only have to print out one page per character to use them, that’s the layout’s goal – and it succeeds. However, to preserve this unity of presentation, the information for on the fly appliance of the archetype is presented on its own page – almost lost amidst a lot of white space that could have at least been filled with more boxes for notes. The dwarven cleric Foscrim also suffers from this, providing information on 3 variant alignments and respective domain spells in a similar manner – which is doubly a pity since he comes with an intelligent phylactery of faithfulness at higher levels (with full stats) that would have made an excellent legendary item that scales with his levels.

All those advocates of weird races and feline friends will enjoy Janakath, a noble catfolk paladin that comes with full information on how to change the noble warrior alternatively into an antipaladin. Lat Keth, a half-orc monk is another rather interesting character, as he comes with a vow of poverty that utilizes an interesting idea: Essentially, he has built-in bonuses AS IF he owned level-appropriate gear due to his vow, but they can’t be stolen and stack with spells. However, he may not use respective items and gear. I’m not sure I’m sold on this particular one, since the bad memories of the Book of Exalted Deed’s utterly broken poverty-mechanics still linger in my mind. I simply did not have the time yet to properly judge the repercussions in game of this approach to the vow and thus can’t fairly comment on whether the approach is balanced or not. What I can, though, is advise DMs on working with potential players of Lat Keth and make sure that the limitations imposed on the character by the vow are strictly enforced.

Half-elven Arcane Duelist Bard Lhostra Dragonblood makes for an interesting character especially for players all into draconic heritage etc., especially if her alternate progression is taken: At 6th and 9th level, she has multi-classed into the dragon disciple PrC and may actually have a forest drake cohort, for which we also get full stats (though also half a page of blank space). A more straight-forward gish than Lhostra then would be Osmer, a tiefling magus who also comes with rules to balance the tiefling-race in a low-powered group vs. the other races as well as information on making a scarred half-orc out of him. Quorena, an elven fighter, is the obligatory eleven archer with a secondary focus on melee and comes with full information on flipping the focus from ranged combat to melee. Speaking of iconic roles bordering on cliché: Of course, there’s also a halfling rogue, one named Tedric. His level 9 build can be changed to rogue 6/assassin 3 and honestly – his dashing mug-shot makes him look badass -cool!

Speaking of badass: Thura Thunderbirnger, a dwarven gunslinger with a Vampire Hunter D-hat can also be changed into a human pirate via the information contained herein. Vinkia, halfling druid, also is rather interesting: The druid comes with full stats of her juvenile roc animal companion from the stars as well as information for replacing the roc with the animal domain. Unfortunately, this entry is where the formatting hits its limits: In order to get all the information on one page, the size of the font is reduced and the higher-level incarnations come with a 3-column presentation that is slightly harder to read. Separate sheets for the animal companion would have been awesome. The final new character introduced would be Zarastar, Gnome Sorceror with a celestial bloodline and his trusted signature summon, Blinky: A celestial dire bat that comes with full stats. Blinky is awesome. My players probably would love the critter as much as Misk’s Boo. I just wished the balnk space on Blinky’s page would have been used to also present us with an advanced version of Blinky’s stats.

Conclusion:

Editing is top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Formatting, though, is a slightly troubled subject, at least for me: First of all, I really like the ambition to get all the stats on one page for maximized usability. However, the lack of space for notes etc. on higher-level versions of the characters slightly impedes the otherwise stellar usability. The pages with a lot of blank space that result from the decision to get all information on one page also means that some of the characters feel like additional variants, more complex modification options etc. would have easily fitted into this pdf as well as that the impressive page-count should be scaled down a notch with regards to how much crunch you get. The decision to jam the juvenile roc animal companion into Vinkia’s statblocks for example, is another gripe I have with the presentation: I would have loved for separate pages of animal companions – and familiars. Adeniel’s lacking familiar is another nitpicky gripe I have about this pdf.

Layout adheres generally to a 1-column, landscapeish presentation of the fluff next to the portrait of the character, clearly separated from the mostly 2-column-presentation of the crunch. Layout per se is printer-friendly b/w with corresponding artworks that can be considered nice and run the gamut from awesome to slightly goofy. The pdf comes fully bookmarked, but not with nested bookmarks for the respective levels of the characters. And there’s another extremely annoying formatting peculiarity that resurfaced for me with Adobe Reader X: While perfectly readable in print, it takes some configuration to properly display the text, otherwise you’ll see certain letters and combinations of letters as bold. I usually wouldn’t complain about that, but since Adobe is still the assumed default, I figure the problem should be addressed sooner or later by using another variant of the font.

This collection of characters is very useful for its intended purpose and would also make for a good starting ground for DMs who want a rival NPC-group sans work – just take some of these guys and gals and there you go. It’s also a slight pity that we don’t get a sample inquisitor or a sample summoner. Though this book is a nice collection of ready-to-go characters, it also has some room for improvement in the area of layout/formatting and supplemental characters like animal companions etc. The options to customize the characters are awesome and yet more of them/ more extensive modifications would be nice. So is this worth your money? Well, if you want to have characters for the levels provided, then yes, I think so. However, there are still several areas in which the pdf could improve and minor, slightly annoying peculiarities (no nested bookmarks, lacking familiar stats, blank pages etc.) which prevent me from unanimously recommending this pdf. Thus, I’ll instead settle for a final verdict of 3.5 stars – nice to have if you’re in a bind for new characters that deserve the name and depending on your situation, a 4 star-file. For me, though, I’ll round down to 3.

Endzeitgeist out.

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Oct 232012
 

105384[1]By Thilo Graf

The latest installment of Raging Swan’s Dungeon Dressing-line is 13 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC/foreword, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with a total of 6 pages of content for the information on altars!

Following the format of the series, we first are introduced to basic characteristics and appearances of altars, providing 5 base materials ranging from stone to bone including base harness, hit points and break DCs, a list of common protective spells and things that can be found on altars as well as a summary of rules for e.g. higher ground when jumping on the altars before getting 47 different entries for basic appearances that include height, manacles and even the inclusion of symbol-spells.

After that, we’re on to a list of 100 different forms of dressings and features, including luminescent fungus, candles, ground bones, pentagram carvings, acid scars, gongs and even a magically-induced cold/warm feeling.

Of course, no good altar would come without some kind of security/defence and thus, we are also introduced to 11 different and rather deadly spell traps alongside some more conventional ones (3 to be precise) – in the broadest sense: From a cool, multi-round crushing ceiling trap to a cursed idol and even a battery of skulls emitting fire and enfeebling death, the different traps are pure gold and make for a fitting final element for this pdf.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to RSP’S b/w-2-column standard and the pdf comes in 2 versions, one for screen use and one optimized to be printed out. Both pdfs come fully bookmarked. Concisely presented with a lot of great content, imaginative traps and some cool coverings, this pdf can be considered not only a worthy addition to the excellent Dungeon Dressing line, it is also one of my favourites so far. Lacking any gripes and having enjoyed this that much, my final verdict will clock in at an unsurprising 5 stars + endzeitgeist seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.

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Oct 232012
 

106195[1]By Thilo Graf

This pdf from Abandoned Artsis 4 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, leaving 2 pages of content for 3 new witch archetypes, so let’s check them out!

The first new archetype has me fearing it would be one of these boring environment-based ones: The Desert Witch. And at first, she seems likely to fall into the trap, limiting the selection of available familiars, patrons etc. and granting only an improved [fire]-descriptor spell DC and a constant endure elements as well as improving fire resistance that turns to immunity at 14th level. So far, so bland. However, the archetype also gains access to two rather interesting hexes that save the archetype from mediocrity: The first not only grants a modified version of the goodberry-spell, but also enables the witch to brew a potion from this berry and at higher levels, expend all her uses for the equivalent of a hero’s feast. The second hex lets her find water in the desert, but omits e.g. corrupted or tainted water – quite a vital power in the desert. While still not the apex of ingenuity, this archetype serves its niche thanks to these two hexes.

The second archetype is the grisly fetishist, who gains the Knowledge (Religion) and Stealth class-skills as well as proficiency with picks and the scythe. This type of witch replaces the familiar with an inanimate corpse poppet made from a deceased tiny being or from some sort of humanoid remains – rather creepily, this witch’s poppet also communicates exclusively with the witch. It’s rather interesting to note that, while the text refers to an evil will communicating with the witch, no alignment-restriction is provided, meaning that essentially, it could be easily reskined as some form of semi-benevolent, albeit creepy ancestral worship. Witches of this archetype may also add their class level as bonuses to attacks, intimidate and sense motive checks against foes suffering from some kind of fear-based condition and can demoralize foes without sight contact. They may also get these bonuses at 4th level against flat-footed opponents. This archetype feels, at least to me, somewhat akin to a twist on the voodoo priest introduced in an earlier class act, just with slightly less panache – the poppet per se as a concept is cool, but the archetype does not really provide a sufficient benefit for losing the familiar’s mobility and abilities. Fluff-wise nice, but crunch-wise a tad bit too weak for my tastes.

The final archetype in this pdf would then be the Maleficium, who eliminates all (healing)-spells from her spell-list, but casts her inflict and harm spells at +1 caster level. The Maleficium is essentially a negative energy-based blaster, they gain a scaling supernatural ability called “Wracking Blight”, which deals painful non-lethal damage to foes and, if applicable, could turn non-lethal, pre-existing damage into lethal one. Unfortunately, the ability is called a hex in the text, but does not follow standard hex-formatting, making me wonder which of the two it’s supposed to be. Furthermore, it does not specify what action it requires to use and how often it can be used per day. Even cooler, at 8th level, she may add this ability as a free action to a creature that has failed to save against a hex of the witch. At 16th level, the Maleficarium can add a harm effect to a creature that is affected by one of her hexes -OUCH! This probably is the most powerful of the three archetypes and apart from the ambiguity in the wording of the ability, it is also the one I’d personally would like to play. Wracking Blight is just a cool ability with nice mechanics to back it up.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, though the formatting/wording inconsistency in the Maleficium is a painful blunder that hopefully will be rectified soon. Layout adheres to a 2-column, no-frills standard and the pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length. All right, I’ll come right out and say it: The first archetype is not too exciting to me and while the hexes are nice, they can’t really save it. Scavenge the hexes, ignore the rest would be my approach. The second one has a cool fluff, but the crunch backing it up is rather weak – I wish we had got more content and abilities to make the archetype feel more distinct. The final one is a nice, cool archetype, though the ambiguity/formatting glitch here is a major bummer and the lack of information regarding what action it takes to activate makes this unusable as written, which costs this pdf massive points on my scale. Since at the moment only two of the archetypes are functional, my final verdict will be 2.5 stars, rounded down to 2. As soon as the Maleficium has been cleaned up, I’ll happily add +1 or +1.5 stars to the verdict.

Endzeitgeist out.

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Oct 222012
 

101841[1]By Thilo Graf

This installment of acclaimed cartographer Jonathan Robert’s Fantastic Maps-line is 23 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page on how to use the map, 2 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 19 pages of maps, so let’s check this out!

The 1-page overview map depicts a small coastal settlement in the icy north, including mostly snow-covered ground and a total of 4 paths, one of which is snowed over. The settlement has 5 houses, 2 of which have broken walls, while one houses 4 beds to sleep and another features 2 beds as well as a desk. The final house only has a desk with a couple of chairs. There’s also a fisherman’s boat on the shore as well as a burning pit of fire.

Beyond the maps in letter-pack format, we also get a A4-version of the pdf for Europeans like yours truly, as well as maptool files and a high-res jpeg, but no grid-less version of it.

Conclusion:

The map per se is beautiful, as we’ve come to expect from Jonathan Roberts and the pdf is rather inexpensive – however, we do lack a grid-less version of the map, which is a minor bummer for me. The pdf-versions of the maps are fully bookmarked. This settlement is a nice, minimalistic outpost suitable for Vikings, Inuit or similar northmen, though calling this tiny thorp a settlement might be stretching it a tad bit. Is this a great little outpost? Yes. If you’re looking for a beautiful map of a northern outpost, I’d suggest you check this one out. If you’re looking for a whole village, though, you won’t find a full one here. Thus, my final verdict will clock in at solid 4 stars.

Enzeitgeist out.

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Oct 222012
 

106214[1]By Thilo Graf

This pdf is 4 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, leaving a total of 2 pages of content for 4 new gunslinger archetypes, so let’s check them out!

The first one is the Deadeye, essentially a long-ranged sniper that specializes on the use of the deed of the name, making it more potent over the levels at the expense of evasive capabilities. Drifters on the other hand gain 6+Int skills, Wind and later lightning stance, more skills and are faster, but lose access to 6 deeds.

The Grim Outlaw is probably more suitable for NPCs, also gaining 6+Int skills, more skills and exchange their gun training for the abilities to expertly catch enemies off guard, shooting them in the back etc., making them especially deadly betrayers and e.g. great when a PC is a drifter hunting one of these guys. Then again, if you’re more wickedly inclined, there’s some fun to be had with this one.

The most interesting of the archetypes by far, though, is the harrier, who learns to lay down suppressive fire via an exclusive deed, be more efficient against enemies suffering from a negative condition and a very cool ability called improved targeting: By spending a point of grit, the harrier can shoot at body parts of foes to dazzle them, knock them back, send flying foes temporarily downwards etc. I really wish more of the new archetypes had access to these new options – they look like fun indeed!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to AA’s 2-column, no-frills standard and the pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length. I’m sort of torn on this one. In contrast to the Class Acts: Gunslingers-file, there is something the kind of jars me: The first 3 archetypes are more or less one-trick ponies or at least that’s as far as their distinction from standard gunslingers go – they are good, don’t you mind, but honestly, I would have loved to see more versatile archetypes there. After all, the harrier easily proves that the potential is here – it is honestly this archetype that made me enjoy this pdf – the rest is nice, but this one’s cool. Were I to rate only the former, I’d settle for a final verdict of 3 stars, but since I really, really like the harrier and since the pdf is as cheap as it is, I’ll instead settle for a final verdict of 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4.

Endzeitgeist out.

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Oct 162012
 

106196[1]By Thilo Graf

All right, you know the drill by now – 4 pages of content, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of content for new class-specific options, so let’s check out what Abandoned Arts‘ Daron Woodson has in store for alchemists!

What do we get? Well 15 new discoveries and 3 new grand discoveries for the perusal – and they are actually quite diverse: For once, there are two discoveries for the investigator-type alchemist: Deep Study lets you strap a willing (or sufficiently subjected) creature in your laboratory to properly reevaluate what you know about it with massive bonuses. Better yet, it can be combined with the option to make a proper autopsy to determine cause of death, etc. While personally, I prefer the scaling DCs in Rite Publishing’s “101 New Skill Uses” for the representation of autopsies, the alchemist’s new discovery works well enough to make it a cool alternative for e.g. a town’s guard’s coroner or similar specialists.

If you’re rather more into the potion-making aspects of alchemy, the craft wondrous elixir discovery enables you to create elixirs, glues etc. and similar materials in line with the alchemy-theme as if you had the craft wondrous item-feat. Combine Potion is a rather interesting one as well, as it lets you combine two potions that duplicate the same spell-effect to increase the caster-level up to your alchemist level, thus enhancing their potency.

If you’re like me and read something like “Cumulative Mutagen”, all your alarm-bells will go off: I’m happy to tell you, though, that the discovery only lets you imbibe another mutagen that replaces your last one and heals you in the process. There’s also the option to imbibe a maddening mutagen that allows you to act under the effects of a controlled confusion-effect – which at first sight might look detrimental, even though it grants immunity to fear, confusion and insanity as well as a bonus to damage. For me personally, though, this is gold: Insanity and fear as well as horror-elements feature heavily in all of my games and the option to describe cthulhoid horrors that would shatter a sober mind through the haze of such a mutagen is simply awesome! This might not see use in all campaigns and situations, but when it does, it will be awesome! If you’re more gravely-inclined (pardon the pun), you can also craft a necrotic mutagen that will make you seem like one of the living dead as if under the effects of false life and one that makes your flesh elastic.

Those more enjoying the explosive powers of the alchemist also are covered: You can now throw caustic corrosive bombs that inflict temporary dex-penalties due to itching to those hit by them and a grand discovery that lets you create extremely deadly radiation bombs! YES! Better yet, another grand discovery transforms the life-force of those killed by your explosives, conjuring elementals from the foes you slay. With Fecund Formula, you can create weird plant-like growths, making terrain harder to pass and perhaps illuminating areas via strange fluorescent fungi, depending on the amount of bomb-uses you expend. There’s also a new formula for ether dust, which duplicates glitterdust, but with a twist: Put that dust into a light source and the light temporarily highlights invisible and ethereal creatures – great not only for players, but also for DMs to sow paranoia!

There’s also a cool synergy hidden here: Delay mutagen enables you to offset the onset of a mutagen’s effect (great in aforementioned “Face down with tentacled madness”-scenarios, while deathly induction allows you to make an enemy (or yourself/allies) seem death – great storytelling tools, once again! And then there’s a discovery that enables you to inject foes with poisons in grapples.

The final grand discovery, again, is narrative gold, as it enables an alchemist to imbue a mindless being in a lab to gain semblance! IT LIVES!!! Guess Victor Mordenheim has this discovery and the potential for “attack of the xyz”-scenarios is plentiful indeed.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to a 2-column standard and the pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length. The best of crunch-books not only provide new rules – they provide new rules that ignite the spark of creativity. The best crunch-books ignite that spark on both the level of the player and DM in me. Each and every discovery herein has a valid and iconic imagery and/or reason to exist and works smoothly as intended, providing cool new options that go beyond just being bland bonuses. This pdf sets a whole new standard for the Class Acts-line and should be considered one of the best pdfs in the Bullet Point-price segment, providing excellent options that can fuel multiple adventures and the tools to create new types of alchemists. I not only have nothing to complain, but am rather flabbergasted by the excellent content herein – if you’re remotely into alchemy: Check this out. It is alongside ZSP’s Tattlebox #2 one of the best alchemical supplements available for PFRPG. Final rating? 5 stars + endzeitgeist seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.

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