Mar 312013
 

HoG

This adventure is 65 pages long, 2 pages front cover/editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 61 pages of content, so let’s check this out!

 

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

 

Still here? All right! It all starts with a missing rabbit. No, seriously. When the rather difficult daughter of a retired adventurer turned innkeeper misses her rabbit, he asks the PCs to investigate and, providing the distracting child can be persuaded to let the PCs snoop through her things (her interference actually makes the job harder – VERY cool!), they will find that a bauble has gone missing alongside the pet. The trail leads the PCs to a warehouse and it is here I’d like to mention one peculiarity of this module: The maps. While not particularly awesome, the fact that just about every major location is detailed not only in the module, but also as a separate jpg that makes for a nice player-friendly hand-out is a big factor on the plus-side. What about the warehouse? Well, turns out the culprit is one nasty druid named Alydon, who sent his snake companion to retrieve the bauble – the animal just couldn’t let the fluffy food just be! Alydon and his thugs are currently trying to “persuade” a local captain to get them to a certain island. It should be noted that we get a buff-suite and rather extensive tactics for Alydon, adding to the massive skill-DC-tables that help in the beginning investigation.

In the aftermath of the quarrel, the PCs will find yet another of the strange baubles – as well as a treasure map that also features a rhyme that will help the PCs decipher what to do – both again replicated as a jpg-hand-out. But how to reach a remote island at this level? Thankfully, they have just rescued a captain and thus, the PCs can board the Astrid to get to the island of Snakero. The tropical island was once a playing ground of Geryon, who led the local kobold tribes in a vast game to almost exterminate themselves while squabbling over the baubles called Hydra Eyes, 2 of which now are in the PC’s possession.

 

The sea-journey aboard the Astrid, a vessel with 4 (!!!) full color maps (again, with player-friendly versions) is AWESOME. From the mutated rats, chances to deal with diseases, minor lightning elementals accompanying a storm to bad dreams, the journey should be remarkable and would make a great way to e.g. enhance adventures à la “Journeys to the West” even if you don’t plan on running the module.

After 7 days, the Astrid reaches the island and the captain tells the PCs he’ll return twice for them at specific dates – after that, he’ll assume they’re dead. The island of Snakero is a great case of nomen est omen and offers a variety of dangerous serpentine life as well as a great, concise table of travel speeds that provides a godsend, easy help for the Dm to track movement and time. GLORIOUS and something I wish all modules with any amount of wilderness featured. Wandering monster tables, skills it takes to scavenge food and water would be expected – where the module starts breathing this magical sense of wonder, all too often absent from modern modules, is with the allies – from a lucky pelican that actually will provide quite a boon (great synergy with real life mythology) and a monkey (who may or may not give his life to prevent a particularly nasty ambush) to a well-endowed, but not particularly bright mermaid, the PCs will have some nice means of…ehem…interacting with the locals. Especially cool – not all of these interactions are required; there is no catch unless you absolutely want there to be one. This breaks the “everything is connected”-assumption and makes the module feels more…alive. Speaking of alive – the degenerate descendants of the kobold tribes of once still inhabit the island and the tactics of them are WORTHY! They fight dirty and smart – and oh so glorious. Poison-darts, cower below the water surface while breathing through reeds, summoned beasts, deadly ambushes – the environmentally-relevant combat encounters will test not only the mettle of the PCs, but also the brains of the players, which is EXACTLY what so many modules get wrong.

 

Presentation-wise, the exploration of the island is a sandbox in the truest and best form – the aforementioned encounters should provide for a lot of things to do alongside e.g. dealing with malaria and, of course, the Ordeals: Spread throughout the island, there are temples – one devoted to Geryon’s supremacy over the respective elemental lords and home to an hydra eye each. Every temple again comes with a full-color map that also is featured as a player-friendly map – and yes, e.g. wall hp/hardness are included! The respective shrines will scare the players and manage to evoke a sense of danger as well as explorer’s awe – the PCs may see the stones a medusa has left in the earth shrine before they find her remains the caryatid column guardian, for example. Or take the shrine of air, which is a small volcanic cauldron, only accessible from the main island when the tide is low – worse, the caldera is suffused by sulphuric mists that obscure everything inside and make for great hunting grounds for the giant constrictor snake living there. If your PCs are dumb, they’ll die here. Wait, why? Well, I mentioned tides, didn’t I? Turns out the mists clear depending on the tide and tables make this easy to recall for the DM.

But wait, you’ll say, do I have to track tides? Yes, for this module features 10 pages of tide tracking and food consumption-sheets for all the time the PCs spend on Snakero. Adventure-writers out there: Read this. Look at it. THEN COPY IT. These sheets are the difference between tedious tracking and easily looking it up and will feature in ALL my future island/coastal explorations. Better, they are not simply a backdrop/relevant for this one shrine, the tides also greatly influence the type of challenge the PCs will find in the shrine of water – as that one floods completely at high tide, but houses dangerous animals on low tide… The fire shrine is also awesome – toxic fume/heat build up, a maze full of hot mud lakes and flammable gas make exploring these caverns and the foe inside, an advanced thoqqua so rewarding I consider it one of my very favorite locations in ANY first level module I’ve read for any iteration of a d20-based game. Yes. That good.

 

As soon as the PCs have picked up the different eyes, they’ll have the tools to access the temple of Geryon, which is a stone 1 to 10-Hydra in the island’s central lake – yes, it rises from the water, NOT an island. In order to open the door, the PCs will have to scale the stone hydra-heads rising from the waves and set the eyes into the stone irises of the hydra-heads. As the 200 ton stone door slides open, the PCs may get inside the temple and face its guardian – a variant hydra that fights rather democratically and not to maximum efficiency, but which should still make for a massive challenge for the PCs. Worse yet for them – upon defeating the beast, the door will crush down in one round, the eyes will pop from the sockets and the PCs will be sealed inside. Now escaping via a variety of means is covered – from toppling Geryon’s statue and climbing out and various other means, the PCs will have some options…if one of them managed to get outside, he might even manage to find the eyeballs and set them back in – which, however, will trash the temple for good, for a suitably climactic finale. To once again show you the amount of details crammed into these pages: It is mentioned how many rations of meat the Hydra yields… Hopefully the PCs don’t succumb to the predators of the island while waiting for their trip home – now that they have wrestled the Horn of Geryon (by the way: Not the true horn, of course, but valuable nonetheless!) from the serpentine hell-hole of Snakero…

 

All spells used by spellcasters in the module have been reprinted in an appendix, as have been fluff-only descriptions of all monsters/adversaries included. A glossary of rules-terms, feats etc. provides even the most inexperienced of DMs with rules-information for just about any particular tactical option without requiring the DM to consult additional books and beyond the GENIUS tide/food-tracking sheets. The 12 pieces of artwork in the module have been reproduced in their own appendix to print out and show to your players, making for yet another great way to make “Horn of Geryon” more rewarding.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting re top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to a crisp, easy-to read, superbly organized standard that makes running the module with an absolute minimum of preparation time not only feasible, but rather easy. The concise table of challenges and rewards also makes customizing the module rather simple with regards to reward/challenge-levels. The pdf is fully bookmarked and the pdf comes in two versions – one optimized to be printed out in a4-format and one optimized for letterpack (US)-paper standards, meaning that Europeans like yours truly get a printed out format that is nicely suited to our paper-size. The pdf comes with extensive, nested bookmarks, 10 jpg-player-handout maps, additional 2 player handouts (which are slightly lacking in the resolution department and could be a bit more crisp) and is VERY easy to run overall.

 

There are not enough wilderness adventures out there. In spite of their popularity, when compared to dungeons and urban modules, wilderness modules often get the short end of the stick – which is a pity, for when I think about 2nd edition and old-school gaming, the environment, the epic journeys through locations like the Desert of Desolation or the jungles of Maztica are what made a LOT of the glorious sense of wonder associated in retrospective with old-school modules. This module captures that sense of excitement, that sense of wonder, danger and challenge that made me get into roleplaying games in the first place. Suffused with subtle humor, details galore, puzzles that don’t feel artificial or might not be even seen as puzzles and studded with just about every comfort a DM could want, this module offers a window back into this peculiar way of crafting modules, one that evokes the sense of wonder associated with e.g. the first tomb raider game or aforementioned classics. Going even beyond that, its mastery in both writing and mood-crafting surpasses just about every module in the Dungeon Crawl Classics 3.X-line and is on par and perhaps even beyond Frog God Games. Yes. That good.

Author Richard Develyn has managed to meld superb ease of mastering with stellar writing in a grand voyage to the heyday of wonder, excitement and danger – survival, tides and the best environmental encounters I’ve read in any PFRPG-module make this a challenge that raises the bar for any wilderness module out there. Yes, the story is not that awe-inspiring, but it doesn’t have to be. If I were to complain about one thing, it would be the relatively low-res handouts jpgs, but then again, this pdf also comes at a price-point that is almost insane for this level of quality.

 

Want to really know how good this is? It’s so good that I consider it on par with Raging Swan Press’ Retribution, my all-time favorite PFRPG 1st level module. Where Retribution is story-driven, the Horn of Geryon exhibits a mastery of the genre of wilderness modules that has me craving more. “The Firemaker” was good – the “Horn of Geryon” is a whole different beast. Any DM of Freeport, Razor Coast, Skull and Shackles (and perhaps Serpent Skull) – GET THIS. And other DMs – get this as well. If you even remotely have a soft spot for a sense of wonder, for having your preparation time minimized (who doesn’t?) and for those of you who like humanoids that act INTELLIGENT, shell out the extremely fair 4 bucks. This module is iconic in all the right ways: Smart, witty, clever, easy to run, challenging, deadly, unique – in one word: Glorious.

If I could, I’d immediately, without hesitation, rank this 6 stars. We need more wilderness modules of this quality, more of this wonder, of this excitement, of this design philosophy. If you even remotely like Frog God Games modules, old-school-style or if you’re remotely curious what all those grognards are talking about when they complain about a lacking sense of wonder in those new modules, then this is an absolute must-buy.

And yes, if 2013 does not spoil me completely with mind-bogglingly good releases, this one will feature on my Top-Ten-list. It is not often I get to enjoy a module as much as I did this one. Far more scarce is the module I feel the NEED to run in my campaign. This one, I’ll run come hell or high water (pardon the pun!). Adventure-writers, take a peek. This is how it’s done. Final rating? 5 stars and seal of approval and the status of sharing the throne of my favorite PFRPG-1st-level module. Here’s to hoping we’ll get more wilderness modules from 4 Dollar Dungeons.

Get this superb module here!
Endzeitgeist out.

Mar 312013
 

goblins

The latest issue of the 100% Crunch-series does many things different from its predecessors and clocks in at 23 pages, with 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 2 pages editorial, 1 page ToC/foreword, 1 page how-to-read-statblocks for new DMs, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 15 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

As with all 100% Crunch-pdfs, we get a table of the CRs and statblocks in the beginning – that’s, though, where the similarities end: Whereas until now the series has dealt with undead and templates, this one deals with a type of humanoid, namely goblins. Which is great timing-wise, since the new campaign I will kick off these days will actually feature a LOT of goblins in the low-levels. That being said, what exactly do we get here?

 

Beyond basic goblin racial traits, we kick off with goblin children and females at CR 1/4 and CR 1/3 respectively, with experts and warriors making up the basic rank-and-file soldiers at CR 1/3. The goblin cleric provided has access to the trickery and evil domains. Now if you didn’t like the fact that the Rise of the Runelords anniversary edition changed goblin battledancers from warrior/experts to bards, then you’re in luck, for this pdf actually provides a statblock that is a direct translation of this classic build to PFRPG. Goblin Drummers make use of the savage skald archetype and while the rank and file creatures usually use warrior and expert-levels for their build, there also are progressions of PC-classes – skirmishers use e.g. the mobile fighter-archetype, whereas sorceror-builds use the shadow bloodline.

 

Goblin cavalry (roughriders) are part of the deal as well in multiple CR-regions. Druids get two different builds in here, with the wolf shaman (including animal companion!) and cave druid offering different foci on druidic magic. Now we also get a goblin two-handed fighter, barbarian and ranger builts, a poisoner/fighter multiclass (nice one!) and also what I’d call the goblin-abomination-build (after its highest CR-member): The Half-fiendish goblin antipaladin! Have I mentioned the goblin sniper as well? The CRs span the regions from CR 1/4 to CR 5.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch as I’ve come to expect from Raging Swan press. Layout adheres to RSP’s no-frills, crisp 2-column b/w-standard and the two b/w-artworks, while I’ve seen them before, are neat indeed. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and in two versions, one optimized for the printer and one optimized for screen-use.

All right, you’ll probably think, here we go again – the obligatory array of complaints regarding class diversity… No, not this time. Why? Well, every gobbo knows that writing steals words, so wizards, magi and clerics would be rather weird. Gobbo paladins, inquisitors, monks and cavaliers would be downright weird and gunslinger goblins would probably just blow themselves up. This severely limits what kind of classes one can expect from this pdf – and while I would have loved to see an oracle, a witch or a summoner in here (perhaps as alternate chieftains at the higher levels?), the builds per se are surprisingly varied. When I heard about the series being more tightly focused in future installments, I feared for the worst, but the amount of thematically-fitting archetypes and multiclass-progressions in this pdf somewhat alleviates my concerns – especially the antipaladin-builts are a delight and seeing actual animal companions feature in the book is neat indeed as well. That being said, I still would have loved to see an insane goblin- oracle or a twisted goblin summoner in these pages. Still, for what it offers, it is a nice addition to the line, with not much to complain about – my final verdict will reflect this and clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 for the purpose of this platform.

Check it out here!

Endzeitgeist out.

Mar 312013
 

FoD

All right, you know the drill – 3 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, 1 page content – this time detailing 10 new feats of dexterity!

 

-Aquatic Acrobatics: Make swim-check in lieu of acrobatics-checks to move through occupies squares or in and out of them while submerged in water. Also upgrades evasion to improved evasion when submerged in water. I’m not a big fan of skill-substitution-feats and this is one of them. Not my cup of coffee.

 

-Backstabber: As long as you’re flanking an opponent, you gain a bonus to crit-confirmation-rolls equal to the amount of sneak attack-dice you have.

 

-Improved Mobility: If you are the target of a failed AoO caused by moving out or in a threatened area, increase you mobility-granted dodge-bonus by +2 until the end of your move. Weak feat that builds on one of the weaker feats out there. Not impressed.

 

-Improved Sneak Attack Sniper: When gaining the benefits of Sneak Attack Sniper, you may roll sneak attack damage dice and then choose to discard the appropriate number of sneak attack dice after damage is rolled, but before it is applied. That feat is actually rather neat!

 

-Improved Tricky Defense: When a creature unsuccessfully aids an ally against your atk, that creature loses its Dex-bonus to AC against the next attack you make this turn.

 

-Leaps and Bounds: You can use walls as equivalents of running starts for jumps, may jump as part of a run or charge action and may successfully jump and fly over opponents – if you succeed in doing so, you don’t incur an AoO from said foe. A rather interesting feat!

 

-Reflexive Step: You may make a 5-foot step before making a reflex save versus an incoming area-attack. Nice one!

 

-Sneak Attack Sniper: Perform sneak attacks beyond 30 ft. – for every 10 ft. beyond  30 ft., reduce the sneak attack bonus dice by 1. This feat is genius. Well worth the price of admission.

 

-Tricky Defense: The DC to aid another versus you is your CMD. When fighting defensively, this DC is increased by +4.

-Tumbling Charge:  As long as you move 5ft., you may use acrobatics to move through squares while charging.

 

Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good, I didn’t notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to Abandoned Art’s no-frills 2-column standard and the pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

At first, I was not that impressed by this collection of feats – Several of the feats herein did not excite me, whereas others make sense, but in a restricted environment. However: Sneak Attack Sniper alone is worth you getting this pdf. It’s actually rather weird that this one hasn’t been done before and it was high-time that we got such a feat – which remains balanced, nonetheless – it’s one of the instances where Abandoned Arts has found this nail sticking from the rules tapestry and hits it on the head, erasing an unfortunate bump in the mechanics. Seeing the low price, I consider this pdf well worth the price of admission for this feat alone and while the other feats for me didn’t live up to this feat’s brilliance, the lack of balance-issues make sure that I can still rate this 5 stars with a clean conscience – If you have a ranged rogue – then get this!

Check it out here!

Endzeitgeist out.

Mar 302013
 

Amethyst Renaissance

This massive pdf is 399 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of ToC, 1 page Index, 1 page SRDs and 1 page back cover, leaving us with a whopping 391 pages of content, so let’s check this out!

I’ll just come out and say it: I’m not familiar with any old iterations of the Amethyst-setting, thus I can’t draw any direct comparisons. What is Amethyst then? Essentially it is a what-if scenario of vast ambitions: What would happen if a logical fantasy setting, with all its consequences, with its magic etc., was thrust upon our technological world. Not a black/white dichotomy, nor a stylized version of fantasy. The ambition is to create a setting in which the problems, social and ecological are very much intact, including all the topics that move us – only that now the force of magic has entered the world and while it does change the options of the people, it is also a force that is at direct odds with technology – but even this dichotomy is too simple to properly explain the intricate web of themes and topics opened by this book. But let me try to explain via the setting’s history: Essentially, it presumes that there once was a magical age here on earth, when the world was still called Terros and people worshiped a benevolent entity of unbridled creative energy and chaos- until the arrival of the black gate and a deity of order and syntropy started to lay waste to the world, culminating in the K-T-extinction event, resulting in the death of legendary dragon/god amethyst and the extinction of magic from the world. Technology and natural evolution reigned. Until a second impact, a meteorite saw the resurgence of magic. The forces of order and chaos have returned and in-between, mankind has to witness its technology ceasing to work in the presence of magic, thus creating enclaves of the size of nations, cities of hyper-technology in a world where magic looms beyond the walls and dragons and fae have reclaimed the planet. Add to that the legend that there’s an artifact that may expel magic again and forever or make the one bearing it a god and we have ample potential for the earth-shattering things your PCs can do in AR. “Which side will you stand on in the end?” is a question that will be hard to answer in the setting…

After a brief description on altered magic (though that is covered in more detail later) and the origin of power for clerics, druids and mages, we are introduced to a glossary before we get into chapter 2, where we are introduced to the variety of races available for character creation in the Amethyst Renaissance setting and from the start an interesting consideration is put into focus: Traditions. Tenebri curse and swear loudly while executing daily affairs, Laudeni never wear undergarments etc. – while these points may seem boring and mundane, they actually prove a point I often try to make: Races are more than the conglomerate of their stats and should be treated as such. This chapter thus includes a stunning wealth of gestures and peculiarities, from considering silent gestures rude to kowtowing to one’s tools and even a complex appropriation of the “metal-gesture”, i.e. the devil’s horns as both a potential greeting (with a thumb in the fist) or an request for intercourse (with the thumb exposed). Sexuality and the Fae race’s take on it is also thankfully covered, being rather open and non-discriminating regarding e.g. homosexuality and monogamous when married, but rather polyamorous before, thus creating further potential for cultural conflicts and misunderstandings. Add to that the existence of a particular form of ironlead that is particularly toxic to fae and an inherent magical nature that disrupts technology, as reflected by a saturation level that can never plunge below 20 and we’re in for cool and complex creatures even before we delve into the respective racial entries, which are spearheaded by the Chaparrans, who can essentially be considered wood elves that believe their existence is eternal and changes between being a being of flesh and blood and being a tree. These wild fae are truly deadly experts with their bows, get climb speeds etc. and can even teleport in forests, making them feel truly unearthly.

The Damaskans, on the other hand, can be considered a race of intellectual, bibliophile,obsessive chroniclers of the things that happen in their chosen field. Equipped with a vastly supreme sense of balance, gravity etc. and being universally ambidextrous, they also make for stellar swashbuckling-style characters and warrior-scholars, as their intelligence-modifier influences their combat prowess. Gimfen are a peculiar race of Fae as well, lacking the disruptive field that characterizes many echans (slang for magic-users and magical beings) and being obsessed (and rather successful) with melding magic and technology. While not being as apt as humans, they make for interesting alchemists, tinkerers and could be seen a s a type of gnome/halfling-hybrid, also due to their height. Laudenians then, would make for the classic high elves – a pure first race in decline, their culture is determined by a fear of degradation (as their descendants turned into other fey) and hence they have turned to living in a fabled city in the sky – however, they are not only haughty, immortal and rare, they also have lost any connection to nature due to their hatred/fear of the corrupting influence of walking the earth.

The Narros can be considered the strong warrior/miners of the Fae races, determined by a 100% commitment and making for natural born soldiers. Speaking of good soldiers – the Pagus, Fae changed by the black gate do not disrupt technology, but are stigmatized from birth as heralds of the black gate and are prone to old-age insanity. And then there are the Tenebri, a race of deceptively fragile-looking blind Fae with a deadly scream, these beings have allegedly been cursed by a god and are interesting in that they are more or less at war with the Narros and, due to their blindness, have a completely different take on attractiveness etc., thus subverting preconceptions of beauty ideals. The final Fae race then would be the Tilen: Fragile and graceful, yet strong, these beings are essentially fae who have clawed themselves back from undeath and can be seen as a playable Fae vampire race: They have no reflections, are blinded by light etc. – but in a twist of the theme, while they can heal via draining blood, they are passionate and rather non-violent creatures and thus make for a great duality between dark pasts, themes of hereditary sin and kindness in the face of xenophobia and aversion. Among the evolutionary races, Humans are first and detailed just about as much as the other races, taking the fall of old ideologies and virtues and the varied nature as well as the cataclysm that decimated their race into account before going on with the Kodiaks – upright walking bears that are a recent phenomenon and which have only begun to rise from hunters and foragers to farming communities. With such a diverse roster of races, a whole entry is devoted to crossbreeds between Fae and human as well as crossbreeds between the different types of Fae.

And we’re only just past the playable races – now, let us turn our heads towards the background of the setting! The section kicks off with an idea I whole heartedly endorse – a selection of backgrounds and organizations for the whole group to belong to – essentially providing a way for the player characters to know each other and get a benefit and starting point to properly develop their backgrounds. After that, we are introduced to new traits, though it should be noted that a new class of traits, so-called Amethyst Traits, are introduced: Every character may only have one of these slightly more powerful traits. Since the setting’s peculiarities, religious and belief-based traits are subsumed and/or replaced by supernatural traits that enable a slight tapping into the forces that be via an unexplained natural talent. Traits, to be honest, have swiftly become my least favorite thing to review – they provide paltry bonuses, boring one-liners and half of them boil down to “You have been bullied by X/grown up in Y/etc.” -BORING. Now this is what this book does perfectly right: Each trait comes with an extensive, long flavor text that immerses one in the respective background and best of all, also roots the character believably and deep in the world of Amethyst Renaissance. This is how traits should be handled. Kudos, respect and two thumbs up – 3pps, take heed, this is how it can be done!

In the next chapter, we deal with classes – rather important, taking the peculiarities of the setting into account- magic is usually channeled by a totem, for example, meaning that wizards may use other things as focus – for example orbs, shields and even more esoteric things. Of course, we also get a variety of new Techan classes, starting with the Grounder (d10, 4+Int skills, full BAB, good fort- and ref-saves) that gains access to brotherhood abilities, improved recoil absorption etc., while the heavy grounder is the heavy arms/explosive specialist variant of the class. We also get the new Marshal base-class (d8, 6+Int skills per level, weird 19/20 BAB-progression, good ref-saves), who can be considered a war-master-like support class with auras to enhance team-mate capabilities and enhanced benefits for teamwork. What I was missing from this class was the option to utilize teamwork-feats/solo-tactics – a good class that could have been better by being more streamlined with PFRPG-content. The mechanic operator (d8, 7+Int skills per level, weird 19/20 BAB-progression, good ref-saves) can be seen as the tech with the customized weapons, including a cool ability called “Shiny Red Button” that enables the operator to do rather deadly stunts with his deadly modified weapons like automatically hitting, dealing additional damage etc. – very cool! The Medic (d8, 7+Int skills per level, weird 19/20 BAB-progression, good ref-and will-saves as well as 4 levels of exploits) can be considered the techan combat medic, able to negate e.g. the last hit to strike an ally and use his injections to strengthen allies. VERY cool, though I would have loved more exploits. The next general category of classes is called stalker and can be considered soldier-specialists – from the blazing Gunslinger (d10, 4+Int skills per level, full BAB, good ref saves) that can put a deadly ballet of bullets (flurry-style) through his enemies and the diametric opposite, the Sniper, who learns to enhance his single shots to further maximize his deadly potential. The Vanguard (d8, 7+Int skills per level, weird 19/20 BAB-progression, good ref-saves) is the final of the classes herein, gaining knowledge to fight with primitive powers, unarmed attacks etc. – essentially a mundane, dirty and cool alternative to the esoteric monk. (Also nice: Fighting-game inspired ability-names as inside jokes.)

In a world of both technology and magic, we also need new skills and thus are introduced to new skills dealing with the proper use of explosives, engineering, knowledge (science) and vehicle operation. The setting also includes 7 1/2 pages of feat-LISTS before giving us the feats and they do something I really like: Apart from racial feats etc. you’d expect to find, there also are a vast variety of feats that have background traits as prerequisites, expanding upon the background concepts and making the traits matter that much more. Again, 3pps, take heed – this is a great idea. But are the feats up to the quality? To cut a long, uninteresting and potentially ruinous listing of feats and what they do short (and to stop myself from blowing this review completely out of all proportions) – yes. The feats are well-designed and the techan feats, for explosive, new armors and weapons etc. make for fine additions and since I’m a huge fan of vehicles, especially the nice coverage of them, via both the extensive skill-section and the feats makes this chapter a crunchy winner in my book.

The equipment section is also rather smart, beginning with a cool recap on ever-improving technology and stagnant, unchanging magic before going into the different currencies, ranging from the familiar gold pieces (echan money, including local names for the pieces) to the universal credits used by the techan. Next would be the obligatory entries on different technology levels, up to antigrav and complete reconstruction of beings from dust as well as information on e.g. battery types and EDF – echan disruption fields that represent the disruptive effects of magic on technology as well as means to at least temporarily cancel and/or diminish said detrimental effects. Of course, Echan weaponry is also detailed. If you ever wanted to play one bastard with a REALLY big weapon, fret not, for super heavy weaponry is also covered – if you put that tripod down and aim your foes will know to weep. It should also be noted that auto fire is introduced with cohesive rules and that we get stellar artworks for many new weapons. Have I mentioned the almost mecha-like classes of heavy armor (and their respective lighter counterparts) and the class on shields, both traditional and kinetic and the rather large array of modifications that can be added to armor, enhancing customizability even further? Other cool bits are the AEN, essentially an echan-detection system, camera balls, information on viral/gene therapy, rules for exotic materials and best of all: Vehicles galore – tanks, jeeps, whatever you desire. And then there are the cool vertibird-like airships and even high-tech blimps! HELL YEAH!

In Chapter 7, we get to check out PrCs, for both the echan and techan fractions – from knights of Abraham, the PrC-incarnations of rangers and paladins (not available as base-classes) to the determined Gimfen assassins of the Crimson Leaf to the elite techan angel snipers, infantry support specialists, sierra madre gunslingers and york gun dancers, we are introduced to flavorful, regional and organizational PrCs that truly feel like they belong to their niches and make sense in the context of the world. mechanics-wise, they offer nice rules. In order to keep this review from blowing further out of all proportions, I’ll refrain from listing them all. The chapter on magic is also rather interesting, as it talks about the strange dichotomies of white and black magic, disruption and the concepts of infinite creation vs. absolute syntropy as well as about theories on summoning beings and the effects of magic – both white and black magic change the user – Ixindar’s black magic adds corruption points and changes you and even white magic and association with fey has the tendency to slowly turn you into an echan-like being. Also rather cool: Powerful spells are usually limited to being only learnable from an anchor, which means that learning such a spell entails quests of its own and making access to such spells rare and coveted – want polar ray? Get that crystal skull! Antimagic fields can prove lethal to echan beings not associated with Ixindar and we also get 4 technology-disrupting EMP-style spells. The magic items and what’s available in Amethyst Renaissance would also cover a whole chapter – it s especially noteworthy that we get an awesome array of artifacts that come with extensive background stories before we get into the sections that especially should be read carefully by prospective DMs.

The following two chapters deal with the leitmotifs of the Amethyst Renaissance setting, ranging from familiar foreignness and constructions of alterity to eschatological ramifications of the cataclysm that was the second hammer and the canonical continuation of human religions, belief, ideologies and science as well as covering the plethoras of alternative models for society as introduced by the Fae and adapted by the echan races – which, of course, is anything but unilateral and in fact a topic not to be neglected. The corrupting influence of Ixindar, transportation and travel, languages, ideologies and warfare – you name it and these pages provide. A gazetteer of the world, introducing us to the bastions, their tech levels, to the kingdoms and also the homes of the worst infections is also provided and makes for a nice lead-in to the new beasts- While most beings can work in the Amethyst-setting, several creatures are replaced by races unique to the setting and thus, the bestiary section kicks off by introducing us to said replacements. Special mention in this section deserves the beautiful representation of the fae and the “degenerated” subtypes that have developed from them. The corrupted Dragons of Ixindar also get a nice treatment herein and the pdf hints at the worst of these beings and their special strengths.

In Chapter 13, the DM gets the grand gamut of inspirations for campaigns – whether you and your group would go for a theme of echan/techan differences, mixed groups or campaigns focused on a place, this section provides even further ideas and guidance for DMs before presenting us with a beginner’s adventure, which serves as a nice starting point for both echan and techan or mixed groups. A nice module, though I would have preferred an echan and a techan start scenario.

After that, the expertly written narrative that leads us throughout this massive tome concludes and an Index finishes this massive tome.

 

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good – I noticed not a single wording that would have impeded my understanding of the text or rules, though I did notice several passages where text was in italics that wasn’t supposed to be. Generally, though, the formatting is excellent. The layout adheres to a drop-dead gorgeous b/w-2-column layout with graphics on the borders and no printer-friendly version, which is a minor bummer. The artworks, oh the artworks: They belong, tops, to the most iconic, awesome, evocative and brilliant pieces I’ve seen done in b/w and the couple of full-color artworks herein are no less dazzling in their beauty. The pdf comes with extensive bookmarks, though no nested bookmarks, which is a bit of a pity, since nested bookmarks would have imho further improved the ability to navigate this massive book. The pdf also comes with high-res jpegs of 3 full color artworks, a map of Canam and 4 different wallpapers.

Now, this review took me much longer than anticipated due to several reasons – first of all would be the ambition of the setting: Essentially its endeavor of creating a what-if-scenario that is logical is laudable – what is truly stunning, though, is the variety of play styles it can accommodate. Yes, you can play a fantasy campaign laced with sci-fi elements in this setting. Just as easily, you could participate in a technology vs. magic, scifi vs. fantasy war of the worlds, a gritty cyberpunk scenario or even explore themes of ideologies, races, conflicting society models or a theme of technical evolution vs. chaos that is stagnant in its magical creations etc.
Amethyst Renaissance accommodates all of these playstyles and infinitely more. Secondly, this review took forever to write due to the crunch being so different from what we usually see in PFRPG. Due to the peculiar nature of magic an technology in the setting, checking the balance of the classes, PrCs and options makes for a monumental task I can only hope I partially achieved in completing. Balance is precarious and there were many an instance where I actually thought that a given race, feat or other class option was overpowered, since e.g. automatic hits and similar concepts are used. However, the setting’s unique balancing factors like the EDF and ideological differences/conflicts, tech levels etc. also mean that there are a lot of uncommon factors that mitigate the relative power of the races and options herein. To make matters perfectly clear: This is probably not a setting to scavenge from, since just about all crunchy elements are tightly inter-connected both with crunchy and fluffy bits to weave a complex tapestry of both exciting and uncommon options.

Amethyst Renaissance is also, and that should be stressed, an intelligent setting: Its logic, coherent approach demands a mature approach both on the side of the gaming group and the designers, as the elements that are relevant social topics in our everyday world still matter in this setting, including unpleasant topics like racism, fanaticism and the escalating clash of ideologies. All while retaining an identity beyond the sum of its component parts. Is this pdf universally balanced? Hard to tell, even for me. If a DM is not careful with regards to feats, equipment etc., I can see such a game being hard work – this is not the fault of this book, though, as the parts actually DO work they way they are intended. Another note for all the people with extensive PFRPG-libraries and a minor problem I see with this pdf should be mentioned, though: Rules concepts like teamwork feats, solo tactics or the gunslinger’s grit mechanic have not found their way into this setting. Instead, we have setting specific solutions and rules-representation, which, while they do enhance the individuality of the setting, also mean that adding other content to the setting could prove to be problematic. It is also due to this that I hope we’ll get more techan equipment, vehicles etc. in future supplements – introducing other content could prove to be a decision that should be carefully considered.

Finally, I feel compelled to mention one thing: As per the writing of these lines, I really hope for a print version of this book – BUT: This pdf is cheap. I mean it. Ridiculously cheap in fact. 15 bucks for 400 pages? Of content of this quality? Now if that is not an excellent bang-for buck ratio, I don’t know what is. I’d honestly be hard-pressed to mention another book that marries stellar artworks, a truly unique and smart setting, innovative rules and interesting ideas while being this damn affordable- At the low asking price, Amethyst Renaissance is a total, complete steal. What’s my final verdict, then? I’ve thought. I’ve calculated. I’ve pondered. Is this book perfect? No, there are some minor formatting glitches. There is the lack of nested bookmarks. I’m new to Amethyst and have no idea how this one and its prior d20-incarnations interact. What I can say is that this pdf made me want to play in the setting. That its races came more to life to me on these pages than just about ALL races I’ve reviewed this year. That the ideas are often not adhering to standard PFRPG-solutions, but work well and in unique, special ways. That the base-classes rock hard and feel cool. That I love the creative ideas, twists and all the unique “clash of culture”-style pieces of information. If my review left you even remotely curious and/or you’re looking for a truly new, unique and versatile setting, I’d strongly encourage you to check this pdf out – Amethyst Renaissance is clearly a professional book and a labor of love. And at the low price, I can still justify to give this book my full blessing – thus, my final verdict, in spite of the minor blemishes that can easily be neglected, will be 5 stars.

Wabt to take a look? Check it out here!

As always, thank you for reading my ramblings,

Endzeitgeist out.

Mar 302013
 

In the Company of Monsters

compnay of monsters

This compilation of Rite Publishing’s playable monster races is 94 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages advertisement, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with a total of  87 pages of content, so what exactly do we get?

 

Well, first of all, I have reviewed ALL of the component pdfs of this compilation and thus won’t go into each and every detail of the respective races and instead focus on providing you a good overview of the respective entries.

 

The first race of the pdf would then be T. H. Gulliver’s Gargoyles or rather stonewardens. As they call themselves – probably inspired by the cult animated series that gave the name to my favorite villain-strategy (Xanathos-gambits – even if the PCs “win”, they actually help the villain). The respective entries of Rite Publishing pdfs (and these chapters are no different) are written as conversations between Owain Northway, a scholar/detective in the city of Questhaven, and a member of the respective species. While perhaps a minor point for some of you, the fact that the entries are written from the perspective of one member f the species helps immensely to draw you inside how the race views itself, works in the context of a world and actually makes reading what would otherwise be a dry accumulation of crunch a joy. If all publishers did this, reviewing pdfs like this would be so much more enjoyable for me. Now stonewardens are essentially the racial foes of their mad bestiary gargoyle-cousins and their racial class (a full-blown 20-level one) allows them to learn to glide and later even fly – especially deadly if you take a couple of facts into account: First, stonewardens get bonuses to all physical attributes. Secondly, their racial class is full BAB. Thirdly, while not good with weapons, they get bites, claws, gore and potentially even tail attacks. Have I mentioned the options to chose talents (here called enticements) to grow additional arms, spew acid and the like? Yes. These stonewardens are damage Brutes that hit hard indeed! Especially when taking aerial combat feats and combining them with their already rather impressive array of attacks and use them to further empower their frightful presences. A total of 6 feats as well as 10 spells (one for each level) and some new magic items complement this first entry.

You can get just the gargoyles here.
The second entry is Steven D. Russell’s take on playing giants, one of the earlier installments of the series. The Jotun-class and race reflect those humanoids born with the potential to be giants among men – literally! Infused with the raw elemental power of their giant-kin, adherents of the racial paragon-class are prohibited from taking any other class-level without perishing due to this nature becoming unstable – this major restriction is design-wise a major criticism I have against the race of Jotunnar and while I get that the size-changing capabilities, energy infusions (including elemental auras and the like), attribute gains, improved rock throwing and slam attacks need some balancing factors, I still maintain that being incapable of multiclass is too stiff a restriction. If you’re like me and into cultural concepts, you should know that Vird, essentially proper conduct, veneration and embracing of giant values as well as Osoem are introduced: Where the latter feels more in line with being “good” and the latter more with being a more base being, both concepts cannot be truly reduced to an alignment and remain a more complex ambiguity, which I very much welcome. Iconic grappling, rending of foes, increased elemental damage output and the like cannot only be customized via the new feats contained herein, but also via a broad selection of talents, resulting in an overall martially-inclined race that is held slightly back by its restrictive racial paragon-class.

EDIT: The Jotun may multiclass once he reaches 6th level.

You can get just the Jotun here.

The third race is the Ironborn and a young race they are: Only relatively young as a whole, these sentient constructs modify their base racial traits with ability packages that reflect for what they were created – but without forcing them down a particular path. Ironborn come in small, medium and large sizes and their respective ability suites come with primary and secondary abilities, with e.g. large ironborn getting only a limited access to the latter to balance their increased reach. Beyond the obvious versatility (that allows for cursed ironborn that benefit from bad luck in minor ways akin to TPK Games’ Malefactor, those with truly alien brains, tanks and the like), we also are introduced to feats to create ironborn as well as modification-feats that e.g. improve the Ironborn’s joints and cost gold pieces in addition to the feat-investment as well as a “blood”line for constructed sorcerers. By the way: Ironborn make great saboteurs of constructs and traps via some intricate and complex feats and still, after all this time, constitute my favorite take on a playable construct-race, even before Rhûne’s Automata and the Fabricants of Necromancers of the Northwest and definitely before Midgard’s VERY disappointing and bland take on the subject – even though the centurion ability-suite still feels quite overpowered to me, I still consider the overall race to be versatile and work fine: Especially since Ironborn don’t get all those annoying construct immunities. Oh, and steampunk-aficionados should also know that the Ironborn can get clockwork familiars! There is no racial paragon-class here, though.

Check out the imho best construct race for PFRPG here.

The next race was, when it was released, a kind of revelation for me: The Minotaur-race, the children of Asterion are detailed by authors Jonathan McAnulty and Steven D. Russell in a blending of mythologic and game-lore: Coming with two distinct sets of ability-suites as well as alternate racial traits (which by then were almost unheard of), they also come with favored class options, an archetype for barbarians and one for monks, a bloodline for sorcerers and the 20-level Rog-Kalem racial paragon class. Culturally, the minotaurs have created a lawful evil society that per se would not be considered that evil, were it not for the misogynistic tendencies they exhibit and base their very society on – disturbing and mature in the approach of this particular evil, the writing shines here especially. Axe and horn-based feats as well as a broad selection of new Taurian weapons complete the installment of race/class-books that upped the ante for the whole genre.

Want to charge some foes and gore them real bad? Just the minotaurs can be bought here.

Speaking of upping the ante: Restless Souls. This was actually the first small crunch-pdf I ever bought from Rite Publishing and boy, did it hook me! If you follow my reviews, you might be aware of the fact that I HATE raising the dead/resurrection. A PC-death in my campaigns tends to be final unless the survivors embark on an epic quest to return their fallen comrade to life and even then, there often is something going wrong. Restless souls address this problem for DMs that want death to matter, but at the same time cater to players who don’t want to lose their favorite character to an unlucky roll of the dice. The basic idea is that sometimes, people return, much like revenants, from the grave since they have an unfinished task, something that defines their very being upon their return. Scarred by death, restless souls forget their death and can walk the earth again as augmented outsiders. Essentially, the race is a template that is applied to a fallen being and costs 2 negative levels, but allows the player to play a macabre version of his character with a vast array of cool new options that cover aura sight, blinking, telekinesis (poltergeist-style), calling a storm, a damaging gaze attack and even the option to gain regeneration, but at the cost of never being able to be resurrected. The restless souls are GLORIOUS for any setting that is a bit more on the darker side and keeps returning the dead a rare phenomenon, superb for players who have just lost their favorite character and ooze flavor – and I’d still give these five stars + seal of approval today without any hesitation!

Only interested in these quasi-dead guys? Buy them here.

The final new race would be the Wyrd, one of the cooler bastard-races you’ll ever find – a race of ogre-magi/elven-crossbreeds with a slightly oriental flair (that remains subdued, though), the Wyrd are a proud race of beings that combine elven arrogance and supremacy with a very distinct and unyielding sense of honor. Their powerful bloodline can be modified with feats (which could have been revised as alternate racial traits) and makes for consummate schemers and very capable sorcerers, especially if they follow their 7-level racial paragon-class that allows what originally was an ECL+6-race to work in the PFRPG-framework without sacrificing their integrity. Backgroundstory-wise, the Wyrd are the result of the experiments of the Dark Emperor, a mythic being that could stand for a certain whispering Tyrant or similar legendary evils – the thing is, the Wyrd consider themselves to be the crowning achievement of said being, essentially the creation transcending the creator and telling them otherwise will earn you just an entry on their lists of grudges – for they carry them, perhaps even more so than dwarves. The race also comes with an oni-bloodline for sorcerers, multiple feats to enhance their spellcasting prowess and modify their ancestral heritage as well as a prestige class that not only deserves the name, but imho still belongs to the more iconic ones I could name: The Whispering Advisor of the Emperor Dragons is a prime example of a nice 5-level PrC that not only swims in skill points (8+Int, baby!), but also gets abilities of such illustrious names as “Power behind the Throne” and the option t create deadly traps that let the victims know who ushered in their end – all in all a cool PrC, especially for campaigns that are roleplaying and intrigue-intensive. We also get new spells for the wyrd and some bonus content for the race I really welcome: The Wyrd get 12 alternate racial traits as well as a new archetype: The Hawk of Vengeance, an inquisitor-archetype, gains full BAB in exchange for their spells and orisons as well as the option to rapidly dispatch (coup-de-grace) downed foes, maim opponents instead of killing them and grant allies morale bonuses when you crit or kill foes. Furthermore, we get a neat, complex character, Cirith Masked Starfall, a CR 12 luckbringer 12/rogue 1 wyrd, fully detailed with all the information necessary to run her.

Want to check out the wyrdest race? Here you go!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, while not perfect, are still good – while I didn’t notice any glitch that would have made understanding any rules harder, I noticed minor issues like a missing blank line between feats, minor punctuation glitches etc. – not many, though. Among the more annoying glitches are e.g. 3 lines missing from a spell in the wyrd-entry (components, school, level) – that should not happen.  Layout adheres to RiP’s old, rune-covered 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes with massive, nested bookmarks that make navigating this pdf easy. Artworks herein range from ok stock-art to plain awesome b/w-drawings, with e.g. the depictions of the restless souls still ranging among my favorites.

This compilation of materials and races by Rite Publishing contains some excellent gems – the races and their respective classes, where applicable, are awesome and e.g. details like relationships with other classes and races, age, height and weight tables and the like all feature herein. Moreover, in contrast to many crunch-centric books, “In the Company of Monsters” is actually fun to read, which is a definite plus, for not only is the prose good and the writing concise, it manages to get you in the mood for the respective race and even spawn character concepts. That out of the way, each compilation has to answer the question “Do I need this if I have all the components?” For “in the Company of Monsters”, the answer unfortunately would be “No, unless you absolutely want it in print.”

Why? Simple, really: While the design of the respective classes and races is solid in every case, the compilation has simply missed the chance to expand its material and smooth the edges: Since this book has been around for a time, I won’t hold the lack of UM or UC-support against it, but what I do hold against it, is the fact that the APG-support is partially non-existent. The additional material for the Wyrd is great and really makes me wish ALL of the races (with the exception of the Minotaurs, they already are covered) had gotten a similar treatment – favored class options, alternate racial traits, a sample character, the like. Instead, the chance to bring the components up to date has been squandered. Speaking of squandered – I don’t get why the overtly restrictive Jotun-paragon-class has not be reevaluated and stripped of the restriction.  As provided, the bonus-content is not enough to warrant a recommendation for people who already own the component pdfs.

 

Now that being said, while this pdf is in no way perfect, it is still a compilation of great material that contains some of the coolest races out there – and I’m VERY picky about allowing races in my games, since they imho should feature distinct and unique cultural concepts. These deliver, one and all, many dripping iconic goodness. Still, the relative scarcity of bonus-content, the lack of revision and the glitches make it impossible for me to unanimously recommend this compilation. For a final verdict, I’ll settle on a final verdict of 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 for the purpose of this platform. If the races intrigue you, check them out – the verdict reflects my inability to rate the top-notch content at 5 stars due to aforementioned gripes.

Want to get the whole book? There you go!

Endzeitgeist out.

Mar 302013
 

In the Company of Lurkers

lurkers

This pdf is 16 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD and 1 page advertisement, leaving us with a total of 12 pages content, so let’s check this out!

It’s been a while since Rite Publishing has graced us with another installment of their awesome race-books and this book follows the format by kicking off with a frame-narrative that has Owain Northway, Questhaven investigator and sleuth interview a member of the race in question, thus making the overall presentation an intriguing read. But what are lurkers? Chances are that you’ve read that they are half gnome and half cloaker and, thus, you may suspect that the race’s genesis was anything but planned: Born from an accident via shadow walk and magical energies, the first lurker managed to uncover a way to replicate the transformation and thus the genesis of a new race begun by what could be considered a mad genius made by accident – and lurkers have bred true. There are essentially three dominant ideologies in lurker society: Those following the way of Mullaglem are flamboyant dandies and can be considered the most public of the lurkers. Most of the race adheres to the Mullirog – the stealthy and less glamorous accumulation of secrets to further the race’s agenda. Finally, there are the dark Balrafang, lurkers that revel in amoral behavior.

The lurkers get +2 to one ability score,, are small, slow, get darkvision, +1 to saves against illusions and, provided a Cha of 11+, 1/day invisibility as a spell-like ability, a natural attack with their tail slap(Essentially a skin-cloak from the head), +2 to Intimidate, stealth and disguise and the ability to emit a terrible wail that shakens foes.

There also are alternate racial traits: Lurkers can have+2 to Con and Cha, -2 to Str, +2 to atk against flat-footed opponents, a wail that panics or cowers foes, a wail that nauseates foes, can also be medium-sized (but then can’t take one of their coolest feats), roll twice in social interaction and take the better roll, +2 to disable devices and use the skill 1/day as a swift action, gain minor spell-like abilities, emit a shriek that holds foes and gain a +2 to initiative – quite an assortment of unique racial options there!

Thankfully, the race also comes with age, height and weight tables and favored class options – and if you’re like me, you’ll love the 3pp-synergy here: SGG’s Godling, Time Thief, Witch Hunter, Shadow Assassin and Death Mage are covered as well as RiP’s own taskshaper, 4 Wind Fantasy Gaming’s Gladiator and finally 0onegames excellent Guttermage-class, though the latter is missing the information from which book it is.

A total of 6 different feats enable one to further customize the respective lurker by improving the duration of his/her vocal attacks, spell-like abilities and two especially neat ones: One lets a lurker use his tail slap to engulf smaller foes and the other actually grants a lurker the ability to fly (and yes, this feat can be taken multiple times to fly faster and with better maneuverability)!

After that, we’re on to the archetypes: Bards get access to the new dirty trickster-archetype and oh boy, is it nice: Not only do these bards get access to dirty trick-feats, they also essentially are spin doctors, being able to impose penalties on foes, cause memory lapses (enabling you to reroll botched social skills) and modify memories. Even cooler, the PrC has an ability somewhat akin to one of my favorite spells from Dreadfox Games’ Grimoire Mortalitas, which enables the trickster to falsify information gleaned from the communication with the dead. Also rather nice: Faking weaknesses, even one’s death are part of the trickster’s repertoire and at the highest levels, a trickster can actually modify the landscape to twist paths and finally even purge all memory of certain events from collective knowledge, making these bards indeed deadly and disturbing villains.

In Questhaven, the Inquisitor-archetype Night Haunt makes for a kind of vigillante-city-watch: They gain full BAB, can generate partial concealment via shadow, smoke etc. and gain shadowy grappling-hook lines as well as cohorts as per the leadership and gain a telepathic network with her allies and even improvise magic items of up to 2000 GP. The archetype comes also with a new inquisition and a new judgment to capture foes alive. Sounds familiar? Yep. Essentially, the NIght Haunt lets you create a Batman-style character -awesome!

And then, there’s the final archetype – another awesome piece of 3pp-synergy, the Kithmourn Lurker, an archetype for SGG’s stellar Shadow Assassin-class: Creepy to the extreme, these beings died and are then returned, alive or undead, indoctrinated into the order and then let lose upon their foes – their techniques including a str-damaging effect, an unhealthy curse and the ability to soul bind the souls of those slain by the Kithmourn.

 

Conclusion:
Formatting is per se solid, but I feel I need to address editing: This pdf is not up to Rite Publishing’s usually high quality editing and sports a rather uncommon amount of easily avoidable editing glitches that range from double letters over faulty grammatical constructions to missing blank spaces. I couldn’t help but feel as if something went wrong: The prose of most of the pdf is a great read, but some paragraphs feel a bit off, suddenly exchanging the avid prose for short and simple sentences, especially in the beginning of the pdf. It should be noted, though, that none of the glitches particularly detract from one’s ability to understand the rules. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and the b/w-artworks by Mark Hyzer are wonderful – creepy, cool and disturbing -excellent job! Layout adheres to RiP’s classic, rune-cornered two-column b/w-standard.
Oh, you lurkers, how I love these creatures, how I enjoy the race and how am I torn on my verdict. The crunch of the race is rock-solid, the abilities iconic. The feats offer options, the 3pp-synergy is awesome and then there are the archetypes: Each of them is absolutely stellar, cool and imaginative – I love the three and they are quite frankly, at least for me worth the price of admission. Apart from the hopefully soon resolved editing glitches, I also noticed a distinct absence of a racial paragon-class, which is a true pity if you take the quality of the other racial classes of the series into account, which always felt like a central piece to me -taking the tail slap and the shrieks and making a PrC centered on these cool signature abilities would have been the icing on the cake.
In the end, the editing glitches, slightly inconsistent prose and missing PrC conspire to drag the lurkers down from what could easily have been my favorite installment in the whole series so far – as per the writing of this review, I’ll settle for a final verdict of 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3 and with my hoping for an update/revision that makes it as awesome as it’s supposed to be. Don’t get derailed, though: Especially if you liked what I said about the archetypes and if you want to go for a truly unique race, the lurkers still are a good buy, even with their flaws.

Take a look at them here!

Endzeitgeist out.


Mar 302013
 

In the Company of Henge

henge

This pdf is 26 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 5 pages of advertisement and 1 page back cover, leaving 15 pages for the Hengeyokai, so let’s take a look at them!

As has become tradition in the high-quality supplements of the ItC-series, the pdf kicks off with an extensive and aptly-written IC-narrated origin myth and a thorough discussion of the respective clans of Hengeyokai. Wait, clans? Yep, Hengeyokai are actually quite variable, being shapechangers in Japanese mythology that significantly differ from Western mythology in several key aspects: First of all, they are rather cultivated tricksters and not savage beasts. Secondly, while being shapechangers, their appearance in both human, bestial and true form (humanoid with an animal’s head) are constant and not variable. 7 sample clans (dog, badger, cat, rat, monkey, raccoon-dog, hare) that differ in personality as well as racial abilities and preferred alignments are presented, essentially offering 7 distinct basic sets of abilities to choose from – neat!

Apart from these modifiers, the hengeyokai get survival and stealth as class-skill, keen senses, low-light vision and the ability to change into aforementioned shapes. They also can choose two favored classes instead of one and additionally, they are susceptible to cold iron, being forced into their true forms and receiving minor additional damage from them.

True to RiP’s formula of extensive coverage, we also get full details of their stance on religion, height, weight and age tables, 5 alternate racial traits to customize your hengeyokai and details on hengeyokai of the adventuring professions. All classes from the core-rules and APG get their own little paragraph as well as specific name to make them more appropriate for an Asian setting like Kaidan, but Magus, Gunslinger, Samurai and Ninja from UM and UC are not covered. 9 new favored class options are provided, though, as well as 3 new class archetypes:

The Henge Emishi (Barbarian) who gets a bite attack and focuses on fast movement, the Henge-Kannushi (Druid) who gains a bond with a shrine and the Kami of the land – a quite cool take on druids in general. The final archetype is the Henge Matagi, a ranger-archetype who bonds not with animals, but with forests in general, gleaning knowledge from the leaves and branches.

Of course, we also get a new 20-level-racial paragon class, the Mushakemono: The Mushakemono gets d8, 6+Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB, good ref and will (?) saves, proficiency with simple and martial weapons, light and medium armor and up to +4d6 sneak attack, classifying him as a skirmisher.

While at first glance, the parallels to the rogue-class are evident, the array of henge tricks (9 available) you get to choose from as well as the advanced henge tricks (6 are provided) make for a distinct playing experience beyond the traditional rogue: From improvements of shapechanging and stealth to the ability to mask objects in invisibility to the supremely cool ability to duplicate one’s self, the tricks provide options for very cool ideas and strategies. The class also offers useful survivalist abilities that hearken to the ranger like evasion and favored terrain, emphasizing the Henge’s connection to land and kami. The capstone ability, transcendence to shapechanger, though, is a bit bland.

The pdf closes with 10 feats for Hengeyokai that e.g. enable you to talk to all animals, talk in all forms, use the forest as a cover etc. The rather bland two shrine-keeper feats from In the Company of Kappa also make a return, though.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are good, but aforementioned glitch in the saving throws is rather unpleasant. Layout adheres to the beautiful, bamboo-lined full-color 2-column Kaidan standard and the artworks, though mostly stock, are very appropriate and serve to underline the overall appeal of the pdf. Mechanics-wise and fluff-wise, we get an excellent offering of the ItC-series, however, In the Company of Henge suffers a bit in comparison to the Tengu-installment – there simply is not such a cool archetype like a special Tengu cavalier herein. That being said, the trickster-shapechangers nevertheless fare quite well and offer a plethora of neat ideas, concise writing and a sufficiently unique-feeling racial paragon-class that captures the spirit of the tricky shapechanger quite well without being op. In the end, due to the rather severe glitch in the table and the fact that I was not utterly blown away, I’ll settle for a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5.

Take a peek here!

Endzeitgeist out.

Mar 302013
 

In the Company of Tengu

tengu

This (now revised) pdf is 31 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 5 pages advertisement, 1 page back cover and 2 pages SRD, leaving 20 pages for the Tengu, so let’s check them out!

In tradition with the series, the pdf kicks off with three tales that illustrate the mindset via 3 tales – I really enjoyed the read and the minor editing glitches of V1 have been taken care of. After that, we get the concisely-written and compelling IC-narrated origin myth of the Tengu race as well as a great introduction to the unique, enlightenment-seeking nature of the race as well as its concept of honor. The Tengu society and their relationships with other races (including the Kappa, Hengeyokai and Korobokkuru) and we also get discussions on alignment and religion, languages (including their love of poetry), discussion of their adventurers and nomenclature. It should be noted that the IC-narrative is consistent and consequently used and thus makes this a very enjoyable read.

After that, we get the racial traits of the Tengu: They get +2 Dex, -2 Con, +2 Wis, low-light vision, a natural bite attack, get two additional skills as class skills, +2 to Stealth and Perception (here is a blank line too much in the block), +4 to linguistics and learn more languages and proficiency in swords. Alternate racial traits are also provided, in case you want your Tengu to use axes or spears instead of swords, a tengu proficient with riding and handling animals, Tengu born in forests or mountains, especially gifted poets or brown especially fierce Kite Tengu. We also get an Age, Height & Weight table and an extensive discussion (including the Japanese terms) of the Tengu’s take on all classes. Following RiP’s excessively detailed and customizable standard, we get 9 favored class options covering the base classes as well as one for the summoner and one for the cavalier – nice!

Speaking of the cavalier: The Tengu get new archetypes and the cavalier gets one of the most kick-ass takes on the class imaginable.. I’ve got 4 words for you.
Dire-boar Tengu cavalry. HOW AWESOME IS THAT???

I’m a jaded cynic, but this just blew my mind!

And the mechanical execution rocks, too, providing you with mount stats and an extensively detailed order. Believe me, this one ROCKS! The next archetype is less awesome, but still nice, offering a valid take on a dexterous fighter. Their very own paladin-archetype, focusing on interaction with nature and kami and awakening the spirit within one’s blade is nice.

Magus-friends rejoice, for RiP has added the archetype of Tengukensei, an awesome and very iconic take on our favorite arcane fighter in the revised pdf – this quite frankly goes above and beyond what almost any company out there does and once agin proves RiP’s commitment to offeing the very best to its fans as well as heeding the criticism they receive. Awesome!

After these, we get the Hishoken, the 20-level Tengu racial paragon class. The class gets full BAB, good fort and ref-saves, 4+Int skills per level and d10, being a fighting class focusing on agile attacks, lightning fast strikes and finally can become weightless (standing on e.g. thin branches) and even getting limited flight and the ability to temporarily transform into elementals.

After this rather cool class, we get a short discussion on the Daitengu, the legendary Tengu-sages of their respective mountains. The pdf closes with 10 new, Tengu-related feats, centering on improving their flight and swordsmanship. Mechanically, I didn’t have a problem with any of the feats, all seemed balanced and like reasonable picks.

Conclusion:
Editing is top-notch, I noticed no more glitches, all the old ones have been taken care of. Layout is full-color and adheres to the beautiful, bamboo-lined Kaidan-standard. The artworks are mostly ok, but the b/w-artwork depicting the Tengu simply kicks ass – kudos to Mark Hyzer, I love this piece! The pdf is extensively book-marked and I’ll come right out and say it: It’s my favorite book of the “In the Company”-series to this date. I have no complaints regarding the racial class and the archetypes rock hard. I love the mindset of the Tengu and where “In the Company of Kappa” sometimes felt a bit confused with regards to IC-narrative/crunch, this book, like the wind and the mountains that gave birth to the Tengu, creates a concise and serenely beautiful work that makes for a great read while providing you with the tools to use the Tengu. Even better, V.2.0 offers more content (Magus-archetype), features no glitches and quite frankly is one of the most kick-ass reads for a asian-themed race/class. It offers an excellent bang-for-buck-ratio and you quite frankly have no reason not to pick this up. The new and improved “In the Company of Tengu” gets my highest verdict of 5 stars with the Endzeitgeist-seal of approval.

Check it out here!
Endzeitgeist out.

Mar 302013
 

In the Company of Kappa

kappa

Note: This review details version V3, which has dealt with some issues of the original pdf.
This pdf is 20 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving 15 pages for the Kappa, so let’s jump in.

The pdf begins, as all the ITC-pdfs, with an aptly-written IC-introduction to the race and, indeed, their outlook on religion, alignment and the like is presented IC as well, helping one to immerse in the feeling of the race. We even get an origin myth. This takes up 4 1/2 pages. The editing glitches of the old version have been taken care of.
On to the racial traits of the Kappa:

Kappa get +2 Str, are small, have a movement rate of 20 ft., low-light vision, +2 natural AC, a swim speed of 40 ft. and +8 to swim, don’t get the small-penalty to CMB and CMD but rather a +1 bonus, always treat stealth and survival as class skills,, have a natural claw attack that deals 1d3 damage, weapon familiarity with Kappa weapons and can be weakened by successfully draining the bowl on their head of water, resulting in Str and Dex-damage.
They come with 5 alternate racial traits:
-Goblin Nature: +2 Dex -2 Wis, goblinoid subtype
-Hard-shelled: natural AC-bonus rises to +4, speed drops to 15ft., swim speed drops to 30 ft.
-Kami-friend: Replaces natural wrestler; Ability to cast dancing lights, ghost sound, pass without trace, and prestidigitation 1/day and a +2 bonus against enchantment.

-Natural Prankster: +2 Cha, -2 Wis

-Soft-shelled: Only get +1 natural bonus to AC, but gain a plus 2 bonus to acrobatics.

In the table containing the ages and heights, there is a editing glitch, putting the “age” from “Maximum Age” in the beginning of the next line instead of e.g. in the blank space below “Maximum”.

In the next section on Kappa adventurers, we get their attitude towards the different classes and how frequently they usually follow the specific calling. As a nice bonus, each class is presented with a Japanese-flavored moniker. To my pleasure, the APG-classes have also all been covered here. Two thumbs up for this!

After that, we get 14 new favored class options for the following classes. Alchemist:1, features a missing “+” sign to fit in with the formatting of the rest of the pdf, the same goes for the barbarian; Barbarian:1, Bard:1; Bone-Breaker:2; Cleric:2; Fighter:1; Ranger:2; Sorceror:2; Wizard:2

After that, we get 2 new class archetypes:

-Cleric (Kappa-Kannushi): Can work without focus, focuses on spirits.
-Fighter (Kappa-Bushi): Nice wrestling-focused Kappa-only archetype.

We also get a new Sorceror-bloodline which I found surprisingly cool – you get enhancements to AC, eventually even DR, water and earth-based resistances and even cold claws and an antimagic shell. The capstone ability is also nice.

After that, we get to the crunchy heart of the pdf, the 20-level racial paragon-class, the Bone-Breaker. Unfortunately, we have yet ANOTHER editing mistake, the first paragraph, including the header of the class, is printed twice, once at the bottom of the left column on page 13 and once on the upper right column.

They get d8, 4+Ints kills per level, medium BAB-progression, a good fort- and will-save, improving unarmed damage and bonuses to natural AC. Their table features another formatting glitch, with the columns of the individual stats not being in line with the headers of the table and “damage” from “Unarmed damage” being located under “Will”, “AC” from “Natural AC” being located under “Unarmed”. This has, as of V3, not yet been fixed.

The bone-breaker class is focused on, surprise, breaking things (bones in particular), but also gets a ki-pool, the ability turn into turtles and water, abilities to temporarily enhance its Str-score. The ki-pool section features blank place-holder blocks instead of hyphens in front of the options available.

The new incarnation of the bone-breaking abilities as combat maneuvers rocks, is balanced and improves via the levels in a balanced manner without relying on wild DM-fiating. All the problems I had with the old mechanics are gone and as an additional benefit, the ability actually encourages only subduing enemies rather than killing them, something I absolutely love and encourage. After all, good guys shouldn’t kill everybody, right? 😉

I’ll move on to the 10 new racial feats:

-Greater Shell and Shield: “kappa” in the prerequisites should read “Kappa”. Gain cover when equipped with shield as long as you are not in melee. Nice idea.
-Improved Natural Armor: +1 Natural AC

-Kappa Crawl: Move at full walking speed when prone, reduce AC-penalty to minus 2; Great idea. “Prerequisites, Benefits” and “Normal” should be bold, though.

-Kappa Kiyup: Big brother of kappa crawl, no more Ac-penalty while prone, standing up provokes no attack of opportunity and is a free action.

-Master Shrinekeeper: When within reach of your shrine, you get a bonus to channel energy and DCs.

-Practiced Swimmer: While the wording of this feat once was rather ambiguous, it now is easily understandable. “Prerequisites, Benefits” and “Normal” should be bold, though.

-Shell and Shield: Gain partial cover when equipped with a shield. nice.

-Shrine-keeper: Attaches you to a shrine – when close to it, you gain +1 DC to all spells you cast. Boring.

-Swimming Jump: Jump from the water, Dolphin-style. Nice one. Why is there no charge-follow-up-feat? Would have made a nice feat-chain.

-Turtle Speed: Run while being prone or on all four limbs, gaining a +4 AC bonus against ranged attacks.

Finally, we get two new Kappa weapons. The Kappa dagger, which can be used under water with no penalty and the Kappa net. Thanks to a new piece of artwork and additional text provided, I now actually know what the web does and like it.

Conclusion:

The layout of this file is beautiful and Japanese-themed, plus, it is actually full-color. The cover artwork is stunning and made me see the Kappa with whole new eyes. The IC-writing filled me with anticipation, which in the revised edition, has been more or less fulfilled – while still plagued by the odd layout and editing glitch, the mechanics no longer suck, most of the mistakes have been taken care of and the file has improved a great deal, proving that RiP is not content to let glitches slide and just move on. Thus, due to the several improvements made, the complete rewrite of the core mechanics of the class and the significantly less editing and layout glitches (though there still are some left…), I’ll upgrade my review of this pdf to 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.

Mar 302013
 

 

101 Magical Armor and Shield Properties

101 armsh

This pdf is 18 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD and 2 pages advertisement, leaving 13 pages for the new enhancements to the magic items, so let’s take a look, shall we?

First of all, I have to come clear – I HATE magic item inflation. I mean, come on, how cool is a flaming sword if half the kingdom sports one? How special is an armor plus 1 if the local blacksmith’s apprentice wears one? In my home campaign ALL magic items that are not scrolls and similar one-use items have names. Subsequently, I have been a vocal advocate of unique magic items that bring back the wonder to the game, that make magic feel less like a stratified set of bonuses and do more than “cast spell xyz, 3/day”. I’m not the easiest audience for magic items and this pdf has a hard standing with me.

The pdf kicks off with a d%-table of the properties that shows you that base-price increments herein range from a modest 400 GP to the equivalent of a +5 bonus. The coolest design-innovation from 101 magical weapon properties has also been implemented here, i.e. the DCs, where applicable, of the items abilities, scales with level: DC=10 + 1/2 character level + attribute modifier. Excellent choice, as it keeps items from becoming obsolete.
An more in-depth look at the item-properties will immediately show you that some of the items deal with terrain control/economy of actions when it comes to movement – from additional 5-foot steps to 3/day extra move actions to a quality that lets you swim in an armor and breathe underwater, some nice new tactics are opened up by the new qualities. I expected as much, though Knight’s move is quite cool, letting you dimension door a move as a knight in chess would.
I also expected the two spiny enchantments that deal melee and ranged damage to attackers and the racial properties that work only for a set race (though their implementation is cool: Humans get a prophecy pool and add one to said pool for each 1 they roll – use the pool to change fate. Neat!). There are also enchantments that give you DR 5/slashing/piercing/bludgeoning respectively.

What I did not expect, was to get a new specific property for just about any armor-wearing class, INCLUDING APG, UM and even UC-classes like the gunslinger and samurai – very cool.

One of the most utilized enchantments, prismatic palisade, lets you once per day walk unscathed through anything prismatic and counter it. Iconic enchantments like energy absorption and minor shielding against draconic powers may be nice, but the pdf has more to offer: It’s the enchantments that truly stand out, that make you immediately come up with cool ways to use them, that are for me the stars of this pdf:

Ironheart for example, makes you the ultimate tough guy, converting up to 100 points of lethal damage to non-lethal damage. (And no, munchkins, it doesn’t work if you’re immune to non-lethal damage.) And then there are the extremely costly last resort enchantments: Involuntary Retribution and Safeguards – one lets you heal, one casts destruction on your foes if they drop you to negative hp. Ouch. Even cooler, there’s the martyr enchantment: You get automatically hit by foes and criticals confirm as well – but you also inflict maximum melee damage against that foe without an attack roll. No if that does not make for cool rp-moments and heroic sacrifices, what does?

Another favorite of mine would be the animated defense armor, that turns into an animated item when you are hit by negative conditions and follows a set of programmed instructions, i.e. carrying your dead body through a desert or shaking you from fascination. I can see the plots forming in my mind – very cool. And what about the shield that can be turned into an extremely fast sled for getaways or an armor quality that lets you phase through difficult terrain? There is also a quality to lessen the effects of penalties, halving them and mechanically, you get a lot of cool ideas.
My very own silent stasr of this pdf, though, are the vital warding and dramatic counter enchantments, the former of which, if you use critical charts or decks, lets you roll twice and take the outcome of your choosing. While not for everyone, it’s just one of 101 qualities and makes for a very cool thing to have if you use these rules. Dramatic counter lets you react once per day to an attack by vanishing in a cloud of smoke and makinga plus 20 acrobatics check to get far away. And Cheating Death is the ultimate enchantment for villains: 1/day negate anything that would kill the wearer, greater teleport and mindblank – OUCH!

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good, I only noticed a case of a missing comma and a tab too much, but neither impeded my understanding of the content. Layout adheres to the full-color, 2-column RiP-standard and the artworks we get for some of the items rock. The pdf is extensively bookmarked.
What can I say? I was more than pleasantly surprised by this pdf. 101 magical weapon qualities was a nice pdf, but some of the enchantments felt a bit like filler – not so here. I think that each and every one of the properties has its place in a campaign and many actually offer enough evocative potential to make the enchantment worthy of its very own magic item – they just feel unique, stylish and cool and not like some run-of-the-mill bonus.

I’d usually rate this 4.5. stars due to the minor glitches. BUT: For the added tactical depth these properties offer, and the supremely cool ideas crammed herein by RiP’s mastermind Steven D. Russell, my final verdict will be 5 stars. Without the minor glitches I’d also add my seal of approval, but this remains a stellar offering that enriches just about any PFRPG game out there.

Check it out here!

Endzeitgeist out.