Apr 292013
 

Annals of the Drunken Wizard: +0 Weapon Modifiers

plus zero

This pdf is 5 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

I’m a fan of low-magic, gritty settings and my players tend to find magic items on a basis where the items actually matter – hence my personal love for Legendary Items (that level with characters) and alchemical items that offer quasi-magical benefits. But standard-rules have a discrepancy there -between masterwork items and even +1 weapons, there’s empty space, treasure-wise, and this pdf tries to remedy that.
The item-qualities cost 500 GP and a total of 20 are provided and range from weapons with retractable hooks to acidic weapons – that only deal regular damage upon critical hits, but splash the foe as a flask of acid would upon crits. There are some of these minor enchantments that trade in the bonus damage on critical hits for alternate detrimental effects, which personally, I like.

The Dense quality is also interesting – the quality offers -2 to CMD, but also +1 to sundering attempts, whereas the jittery quality provides its enhancement bonus not to damage, but to initiative, making this particular enchantment rather useful at higher levels. Another quality allows you to heal enhancement bonus Hp on a critical hit instead of bonus damage and then there is the least spellstoring weapon – which makes it possible for the weapon to discharge a spell of up to 1st level upon striking the target creature in exchange for the regular additional critical hit damage.

As a further balancing mechanism, the quality also halves the weapon HP and adds the broken condition upon releasing a spell thus. Really like this one! Another weapon is simply awesome – lighthurling. While requiring multiple rounds of concentration to properly use, the wielder can once per day throw force-damage dealing stars at adversaries.
“Vengeful” is also a great quality – within one round of being critically hit, 1/day, the wielder can declare an attack a smite that deals an additional 2d6 damage to the wielder as well as the target.

Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to Interjection Games’ elegant 2-column b/w-standard ad the stock-art sigils complement the pdf nicely. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

I didn’t expect to like this pdf – at all. All the more surprised was I upon reading it and finding the presentation completely professional, the mechanics interesting and the balancing sound. At low levels, this pdf provides a significant boost in variety, one that is not necessarily lost in high levels and the design decisions are rather cool and uncommon. Add to that the low price and I can gladly rate this 5 stars + seal of approval. Author Bradley Crouch has delivered a nice offering indeed.

You can get the Annals here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com!

Endzeitgeist out.

Apr 292013
 

Psionic Items of Legend: Moldev, the Secret Strike

moldev

The latest installment in DSP’s Psionic Items of Legend-series is 6 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1/2 page editorial, 1 page introduction to the legendary item-rules and 1 page SRD, leaving us with 2 1/2 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

This ring was born from a betrayal that saw one soulknife highway-man killing his kind-hearted brother and thus, this ring allows the wearer to create a potentially non-lethal mind blade, enhance it and knock out foes 3/day  if they fail a scaling save. The other abilities include dispel psionics, hamper movement (and especially alternate modes of movement) and finally, render a foe helpless 1/day on a successful touch attack.

 

As many non-weapon items of legend, the ring only gets 5 levels of power-progression and the final page, which contains the knockout weapon quality, is almost empty. Also, the knockout weapon quality introduced by the pdf has not been properly revised to the updated pdf, featuring still a fixed save DC that should have been replaced with a scaling one.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to a 2-column b/w-standard and the full-color artwork of the ring is awesome. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

 

The revised take on the ring is vastly superior to its first iteration, with 3 issues that rendered the item problematic at best resolved – unfortunately, though, without revising the new weapon quality. Furthermore, what somehow irks me is the fact that no support for soulknives using the ring is given – the abilities duplicate a serious amount of soulknife-powers, but the item does not sport unique benefits for soulknives – a wasted chance, at least in my opinion. Hence, I’ll settle for a final verdict of 4 stars.

Get the Secret Sting here on OBS or the whole series as it releases here!

Endzeitgeist out.

Apr 292013
 

Treasures of NeoExodus: Infinite Fury

inf fury

This pdf is 4 pages long, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

The blade Infinite Fury was crafted by the legendary Cynean arcanist Kal-Dor upon mastering (at least in his perception) the arcane arts and turning to physical combat. The Cynean saw the end of his lifespan approaching and tasked the entity within the blade, one Sana-Dol he created, to continue to track the progress of wielders in order to one day accomplish mastery of the martial arts. The blade has since, guided by the intelligence, changed hands multiple times and is an intelligent item.

 

Rules-wise, the blade can cast 1/day Tactical Acumen. While the write-up features a minor glitch (“insight” has slipped one word ahead of where it’s supposed to stand), the blade can bestow a +2 insight bonus upon identifying creatures. As a full round action, the wielder can even focus on a creature within 60 ft. to gain a +10 bonus to identify the creature and the weapon gains the appropriate bane quality for the type/subtype for the respective creature. You can also use Transformation at will – rather powerful – and lacking the italicization in the text. The blade is a +2 defending transformative mithral longsword, btw.

 

The final page of the pdf is devoted to beautiful weapon-cards of the sword.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are not up to the recent standard of the line – two (minor) glitches in such a  short pdf could have easily been avoided. Layout adheres to LPJr Design’s drop-dead-gorgeous 2-column full color standard and the blade’s artwork is awesome. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none and the pdf comes with an additional, more printer-friendly version.

 

I really like this blade- not only does it allow mages to stand in the front-lines, should they choose to do so, it also makes for great roleplaying/questing goals – perhaps the PCs need the knowledge of the blade. And what if it deems its task complete? That’s narrative potential there. The glitches still somewhat weigh this pdf down, unfortunately, and make it impossible for me to rate this the full 5 stars. Instead, I’ll settle for a final verdict of 4 stars – author Loren Peterson has done a neat job.

 

Get Infinite Fury here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Apr 262013
 

Hej everybody!

Little Red Goblin Games has made the Alpha-pdf for their current Necropunk-kickstarter availabe to me and I figured, I’d let you in on what to expect from this project!

904108_548085631908251_1699784086_o

 

So what is Necropunk? Well, first of all it is a kickstarter by Little Red Goblin Games, but why should you check it out?

First of all, because it is something not seen that often – innovative. Scott Gladstein, head of LRGG, provided me with their playtesting document and I had some time to digest it – and am honestly surprised by it.

The “Necro” in Necropunk made me anticipate a grim, gory setting – which it essentially isn’t – at least not necessarily.
Mankind has left earth and evolved, developing species-wide psychic powers, spurned by a genetic trigger left in our DNA by some progenitor to activate upon achieving a certain distance from our solar system – the means of conducting these powers being uncommon and smart – human bones. The results of this discovery were catastrophic – a bone-rush began and since bones not only contained power, but also were a means of attaining wealth, they changed how society works. Via these bones and the psychic augments at the beck and call of humanity, a rise to melee weapons and extreme powers that hearken to fantasy without copying genre conventions was the result.
The races of Necropunk have developed from humanity and no elves, dwarves etc. will show up – why? Since races, especially in roleplaying games, lend themselves to overly simplistic stereotyping, they would rather hamper what the setting sets out to do – in spite of appearances, the setting’s goal is not a dystopian nightmare (though you could easily make it one), but rather a setting of political intrigue, social combat and horror – the subtle type of horror. Psychological horror and tackling philosophical questions relevant to life and death and what constitutes a human are core themes of the Necropunk setting. The respective human races are quite different from one another and should still offer something diversity-wise -also thanks to rather extensive and interesting pieces of information on the respective cultures that developed.

Languages deserve a special mentioning in that they come with dialects as well as sample alphabets – a neat level of detail that adds further depth to the setting.

Class-wise, there is no magic and hence a bunch of classes from standard PFRPG are not an option in Necropunk, but there are psionics- a whole different beast from standard 3.X-psionics, btw.: Every individual has a PPI, a psychic potential index. The higher the PRI, the psychic resistance index of bones, the less well it conducts your psychic powers. As swift actions, you can allocate PPI to Necrotech or specific powers. Psychic charges on weapons can be used to get +1 to damage per charge, whereas armors can be enhanced with regards to AC and DR. The ready availability of DR should already point towards a concept – namely that combat works slightly different:

As combat happens at the speed of thought, there are phases – each turn having several phases – analogue to e.g. reflex boosters in Shadowrun, individuals with golem armors act first and may act out a standard action per phase they have – which immediately makes battles a different brute. Having much experience with additional actions in my homebrew setting, I can attest to the way they can change a given setting.

The skills also point towards a change – heal can be sued to adapt to body modifications, zero-g combat is covered etc. Advice on converting from PFRPG to Necropunk and vice versa is part of the pdf and there also are quite a bunch of new classes that support the changed focus of Necropunk, coming e.g. with potential conflicts inherent in the class.

Take the diplomat, where Self versus Community is a central theme – as is their ability or the Magpies that can see the flow of luck and possibilities, but also deliver some grand roleplaying catalyst-quirks or the non-magical medic-class, which, with some reskinning, should also be nice for campaigns that never liked divine magic and how its healing works. The classes also feature several racial archetypes for major customizations of the base-classes. Or take the Psychic, who may actually lockdown abilities and items via their abilities and even highjack them or the hyperfast Qu’em practitioners, martial artists akin to WuXia-heroes with their differing traditions or the ranged weapon fighters called sentinels.

Of course, beyond an admixture of the innovations of phases and psychic abilities with classes and the plethora of new feats, there is another piece of content that surprised me and which I think you should be aware of: Social Combat. How many times have you had the scene at your gaming table: One player does all the talking while the others watch. In Necropunk, all classes get social combat modifiers and a wide variety of different maneuvers to undermine social confidence. This combat is not only a nice way to support player involvement, but also is rules-wise analogous to regular combat, making mastering it simple.
Outfits also influence social combat and there is a wide array of items provided of both mundane items and Necrotech, allowing for a wide array of shopping and customization options. Have I mentioned the drugs, body modifications etc.?

If by now that hasn’t been made abundantly clear – from what I’ve read so far of Necrotech, I consider it more than interesting – it’s innovative and NEW. I have quite literally never seen a setting like it and its rules so far are solid and serve well to support the unique components the rules introduce. The ability to lock down items, the emphasis on social combat and the overall melding of necromantic aesthetics with cyberpunk has potential galore to do something different -not only in fluff, but also in crunch.

I’ve read only the unfinished playtest-manuscript and I’m quite impressed with what Little Red Goblin Games has created here – If you are interested in what I described and if you want to see a setting that has true potential for innovation, for doing something different, I’d suggest you give Necropunk a chance – it’s funded already, so the risk is nil.

I’ll, of course, be reviewing the final version as well, but from what I’ve seen so far, I think the final product will be a quite impressive feat and beyond what I’ve seen from LRGG in other releases – the heart’s blood they poured into this really shows – this might develop into THE setting to explore complex questions of ethics, philosophy etc. and provide a backdrop for intelligent roleplaying just as well as a more action-oriented playing-style.

You can check out the Kickstarter here!

 

Thank you for your attention! I hope I gave you a good impression on the potential of this product!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

Apr 252013
 

Heroes of the Jade Oath

hotjo

This massive book is 175 pages long,  1 page front cover,  1 page editorial,  3 pages ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 168 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

First of all, let me tell you about the genesis of the project – HotJO has been in the making for what seemed like forever and was originally the first BIG project of Rite Publishing, intended to be released as a supplement to Monte Cook’s Arcana Evolved. When the Beta-version of the book was released, the content was fresh and interesting in style and flavor. Now, with the advent and influx in popularity of PFRPG, people on the RiP-boards, yours truly included, started to ask about a conversion and the pdfs released so far in the line were used to get more artwork and even better production values for the Omega-version and the book this review is all about, the very first iteration of Heroes of the Jade Oath for PFRPG. Why is this important? well, because it explains some of the design-decisions made as well as all the races introduced – AE doesn’t feature the standard races as prominently and thus, this book has a LOT of ground to cover in a scarce few pages, even at its length.

 

Now that doesn’t mean that this book is all crunch and indeed, it begins by introducing us to the very concepts that define social structure in the setting of the Jade Oath: Favors, Family and Face. The importance of (extended) family structures, clans and the value of face are all concisely and easily understandable to western audiences as relayed herein. Thankfully, the done-to-death cliché of Seppuku is also addressed and put into a valid cultural perspective that shows that author Frank Carr has a firm grasp on social strata and cultural concepts. If you’re looking for an almost historical level of detail regarding customs like in the release of the German old-school setting Midgard’s (NOT the one by KP) KanThaiPan, though, you won’t find that level of detail here, with e.g. the making of appropriate presents, food and medicine not covered, but chances are you probably are not reading this review to know about the likes anyway. That being said, the map of the lands of the Jade Oath should be commented on – made by cartography-legend Jonathan Roberts (now of “A Song of Fire and Ice”-fame), the 2-page spread is eye-watering in its gorgeousness – and it is my pleasure to report that the locales featured in the gazetteer-style gloss-over of the lands provides places that stand in no way behind the quality of the map:

 

The respective regions not only include massive amounts of write-ups for covenants, societies and clans (all with their respective symbols and tokens), but also contains areas like the undead-hampering “Fallen Pillar of Heaven”, the gorgeously-illustrated city of Xinmar in the Heaven’s Reach Mountains, the floating garden or the crawling dragon mountain, which is in fact the world’s oldest dragon,  slowly winding its ways through mountainous ranges. Now if the extensive gazetteer-section with all its pieces of information on culture, produce, locations etc. has not sparked some sort of great idea for an adventure, I’m not sure your imagination can be helped. The Lands of the Jade Oath feel very distinct and there is no way they could be mistaken for any other Asian-themed setting. That out of the way, let’s take a look at the chapter on races and their mechanics, shall we?

 

Now first we get pronunciation-guidelines for races and an entry on the breeds of human (the discovery of the eight will usher in a great doom, by the way!) before delving into the Bakemono. A metal-eating, goblinoid race, their males are small, horned almost goblinoid looking beings that get +2 to Con and Int as well as -2 to Cha, slow landspeed, darkvision 60 ft., light blindness, a bite that is devastating vs. objects and undead, +2 to saves vs. poison and +2 to craft-check relating to metal. They also have slow speed and count as evil goblinoids and get full spell-progression. Their females instead get +2 to Wis and Cha and -2 to Str. They also can take levels in the Bakemono-Paragon-class, which spans 6 levels and gets d8, 4+Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB-progression and good ref-saves. The class also improves bites by granting improved sunder to the bite and allowing bakemono to eat magical items as well as continuously detecting magic. The class also allows them to gain the shapeshifter-subtype as well as turning into large size, the form corresponding to their chosen totem or even into a swarm. And also minor attribute enhancements depending on the gender of the bakemono as well as attribute bonuses over the levels, something that almost each of the paragon-classes grants.

 

The towering, ponderous Dahren can either gain +2 to Str or +2 to Con and Wis, low-light vision, +2 to intimidate and sense motive and craft as well as the giant subtype, in spite of their medium size. The race also gets its paragon-class, spanning 20 levels and having them grow to up to colossal size (the additional sizes also being covered in the height & weight-table, btw.!) – the class is essentially a revised variant of the Jotun Paragon-class featured in RiP’s “In the Company of Monsters“, but allows the character now to multiclass as soon as they have passed 6th level. The class offers d8, 4+Int skills, 3/4-BAB-progression, good fort-saves, up to +13 natural AC and improving slam-attacks (up to 4d6) as well as rock catching skills and a selection from a wide variety of elemental-themed talents. Now, it would have been easy to just cut-copy-paste the class, but there actually are new talents in here and since the original class is elemental in its theme and HotJO uses the eastern  system of elements, the respective abilities have been modified, which is nice to see.

 

Next up are the agile Faen, who get +2 to Dex and one mental attribute of your choice, are small, gain their own fey-related subtype, slow speed, low-light vision, +2 to perception, stealth and proficiency with bows and faen-weapons as well as a reroll 1/day. They may replace latter luck with minor spell-like abilities or the run-feat and +1 to initiative. Their paragon-class gets d8 HP per level, spans 6 levels, 4+Int skills per level, 34 BAB-progression, good ref-saves, 3 levels of spell-progression and an interesting idea: Depending on the racial trait chosen, the paragon-class expands the options, gaining either more spell-like abilities, more luck-based options or more quickness-based options. Cool! The most important thing, though, is already known to people familiar with Arcana Evolved: Faen may undergo a metamorphoses at 3rd level of the paragon-class, going into chrysalis and emerging as a full-blown fey, a so-called sprite. These sprites threaten regular 5-foot squares, gain +2 to Dex and -2 to Str and also wings, which allow them to fly at 30 ft. It’s also nice to see that the conversion adds fly to the list of class skills upon the transformation.

 

The Garuda should make for an interesting class you almost assuredly haven’t seen before: Partially scaled and feathered, this race resembles a badass-version of a humanoid archeopteryx with a stronger lean towards colored feathers. Story-wise, they are the hunters of the tainted, created by the dragons to stem the tide of the infernal dragon’s taint. They gain +2 to Dex and Wis, -2 to Cha,  +1 natural armor, low-light vision, may glide up to 100 ft. with their wings, gain +2 to perception and may cast detect evil 1/day as a spell-like ability. Their racial class grants d8, 2+Int skills, 3/4 BAB-progression, good fort-saves, up to +3 dodge-bonus to AC and also increasing flight capabilities as well as bites, claws, spell-like abilities and finally even pounce.

 

Now if you’re more a fan of canines, the goushen-race has you covered. The race is descended from the foo dogs of legend and get +2 Con and Wis, -2 to Int, low-light vision, +2 to survival, scent and their 6-level paragon-class gets d8, 2+Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB-progression, good fort and ref-saves and up to +2 natural armor. Their paragon-class provides them with bite attacks, grab with their bites and also massively improving grapple-capabilities.

 

For more feline-affine people, the Hushen-race would be what you’re looking for – essentially a tiger-faced class of proud feline humanoids, they gain +2 to Str and Cha, -2 Int, low-light vision, +2 to intimidate, stealth and perception and suffer from blood frenzy, requiring a save to break from combat once blood has been spilled. Their 6-level paragon-class comes with 3/4-BAB-progression, d8 HP, 2+Int skills per level,  good ref and fort-saves, +2 natural AC, scent, bite, claw and even rake and pounce as well as the option to run while using stealth, making them rather lethal with their natural attacks.

 

Now, the Kirin Shen-race is interesting in that it essentially is an acquired template that can be taken by taking a single-level as a Kirin Shen racial paragon. Kirin Shen are the chosen of the Kirin, gain +1 to BAB, ref and will, 6+Int skills and d10. The template they gain requires them to be of at least 6th level and is provided for the DM’s convenience with all the tools necessary to add it to respective creatures (it’s Cr +1 if you don’t take levels in the racial class, btw.) and allows it to use a healing touch that improves with HD as well as overland flight, ethereal jaunt and finally immortality at the highest HD.

 

Perhaps the most far-out and interesting race of the setting, at least for me, would be the Mandragorans: Mandragorans are essentially humanoid plants with alluring bodies that feature long vines instead of hair. They may manipulate objects and taste via these vines and they gain +2 to Wis and Cha, -2 to Str, low-light vision, +4 to stealth in forested and marshland areas, 1/day roll a will-save twice and take the better result, full spell-progression, + HD on saves vs. poison and their spores grant them +1 to diplomacy, handle animal and bluff, but also make hiding harder. Mandragorans may also heal a limited amount of damage via spending time in the sunlight and resting at night as well as communicate basic emotions via spores. They also get 5 alternate racial traits that feature magic abilities, desert and water-dwelling mandragorans, mandragorans with a mild poison and those with thorns. Their racial paragon-class gets 3/4 BAB-progression, d8 HP, 2+Int modifier skills per level, more spell-like abilities, woodland stride, the option to regrow from being torn to shreds and plant-like immunities. The racial paragons may also change gender in a week-long ceremony, which emphasizes their alluring strangeness as well as providing for interesting roleplaying options.

 

The reptilian Nagaraja, genderless asexually-reproducing humanoids are the stewards vs. the infernal taint introduced by the dragons, but many think they are shirking their racial duties. They gain +2 to Int and Dex, -2 to Con, 60 ft. darkvision, +1 natural armor, gain a limited array of spellcasting abilities, +2 to acrobatics and swim as well as linguistics and may opt to chose from two alternate racial traits, one granting a hood and a charming gaze attack, while the other replaces legs with a tail they may use as a natural weapon vs. foes. Their 6-level racial paragon-class offers them 3/ BAB-progression, good will-saves, 5 levels of spell-progression, d8 HP, 2+Int skills per level, blind fight an improved detect magic per will and up to +2 natural armor as well as increased casting prowess.

 

The Qahngol, a variant half-orc-race, once conquered the empire, only to ally with their subjugated race to vanquish an undead dragon. They gain +2 to one ability score of their choosing, count as orcs, gain low-light vision, +2 to ride and handle animal and an interesting racial curse: The Qahngol get a name mask upon their coming of age and upon removing/losing it, they run the risk of being targeted by their ancestral curse, which turns them into infernal cannibals – the simple template is provided as well as rules for the creation of name-masks and the simple-template. Their 6-level racial paragon-class gets d8, 2+Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB-progression, good fort and will-saves, 2 levels of spellcasting progression, rather massive attribute bonuses, a limited synergy with the fighter and barbarian classes when determining bonuses for feats, rounds of rage etc. as well as keen scent and wild empathy.

 

Ruishishen are essentially the HotJO setting’s Litorians, i.e. Lion-like humanoids, this time descendant from the celestial lions and massively decimated by traitorous groups. They gain +2 to Dex and Int, -2 to Wis, low-light vision,+2 to perception, intimidate and survival, count as one size larger for effects based on size and their 6-level racial paragon-class gets d8, 2+Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB-progression, good fort- and ref-saves, up to +2 natural AC-bonus, bite and claw attacks (the latter counting later on as ghost touch weapons!), scent, faster movement, a fear-inducing roar and may as a capstone temporarily turn incorporeal.

The variant dwarven race, the Sanesaram, get +2 to Con and Wis, -2 to Cha, slow speed (and no encumbrance speed modifiers), +4 dodge bonus to AC vs. gainst, +2 to appraise, +2 to saves vs. spells and spell-like abilities, + 1 to atk vs. goblinoids, +4 to CMD vs. bull rush and trip as well as clan-dependant bonuses, 8 of which are provided. Their racial paragon-class spans 6 levels, grants d8, 2+Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB-progression, good fort and will-saves, 3 levels of spellcasting progression , stonecunning, may add their class-level to craft-checks, further increase their resiliency to detrimental effects and improve their distinctiveness by gaining more abilities depending on the clan they belong to. At highest levels, they also get minor bonuses to atk and damage whenever someone hurts them – a Sanesaram’s grudge is a force indeed.

 

The Shenxue are the descendants of spirits and mortals, being thus native outsiders that can be influenced more with their truenames. Since the term shenxue thus applies to a vast variety of combinations of races and spirits, they come with information on racial traits for all the core and HotJO-races as well as a rather large array of different aspects that offer access to snow, panda or mountain spirits, to name just a few. Each aspect has its own penalties as well as different penalties to balance their benefits. Since they are born from such a cosmic union, the shenxue are required to adhere to a certain obeisance chosen at character creation, prohibiting them from for example sealing them from private dwellings, crossing rivers and cool, unique ones: Wandering Eyes for example, makes it only possible for the shenxue to see through the eyes of a chosen host. The shenxue paragon-class develops these further by modifying the class-skill-list according to aspects and providing highly versatile spell-like abilities and unique options depending on the aspect you’ve chosen. Like most paragon-classes, they span 6 levels and also gain d8 HP, 2+Int skills per level, 5 levels of spellcasting progression, 3/4 BAB-progression and also an ability that lets them see the presence or absence of all the spirits inhabiting everything, making for an interesting story-telling device. The racial paragon class suffers from non-standard save-progression for all 3 saves: They cap at +3 at 6th level instead of +2.

 

The penultimate new race we get would be the Verrik, another familiar face from Arcana Evolved,  who gets +2 to Str and Wis, -2 to Cha, blindsense, the option to shut down senses (making them temporarily immune to gaze attacks, language-dependant effects etc.), minor spell-like abilities and may opt to be born with a magic-discerning third eye. Their 6 level paragon-class nets them 3/4 BAB-progression, good ref-and will-saves, d8 HP, 2+Int skills per level,  5 levels of spellcasting progression, improved sell-like abilities and as a capstone even get blindsight. All in all…I honestly consider the Verrik overpowered. Blindsense alone is powerful Combined with all the sense-turning of-options, the race becomes a bit too strong for my tastes.

 

The final new race would be the Yueyangren and Yueyinren, the moonfolk, which are essentially variant elves. Regular elves, moonlight elves are the Yueyangren and get +2 to Dex and Int, -2 to Con, low-light vision, +2 to perception, elven immunities and bursts of speed for 3 rounds. The dark-skinned moonshadow elves, are closer to high elves in mentality than to drow, in spite of their appearance. They get +2 to Dex, Int and Cha, but -2 to Str and Con, count as elves, gain darkvision 60 ft., elven immunities, +2 to perception, +4 to CMD vs. trip and bull rush, light blindness and both types of moonfolk may take the Yueren paragon-class, which gets d8, 2+Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB-progression, good ref-saves,  5 levels of spell-progression, improved spell-like abilities, may walk on walls and ceilings 1/2 character level rounds cha-modifier times per day (cool!), gain superior vision with different effects depending on sub-breed, and gain movement-bonus-feats as well as the option to charge through difficult terrain.

 

Now that we’ve covered all those new races and their respective classes, let’s take a look at the new base-classes in the pdf, starting with the Demon Hunter. But before I get on to that, let’s quick classify that “Demon” does not mean only chaotic evil outsiders in the context of the lands of the Jade Oath – it means undead, goblinoids, fey and aberrations just as much as demons and similar outsiders – they essentially hunt the supernatural. The class gets d10, 2+Int skills per level, full BAB, good fort-saves, spellcasting of up to 4th level. They gain the ability to detect infernals via their powers, gain ranger-like specialization versus foes and may at higher levels even delay taking damage (including attribute damage) for 1 round cha-mod times per day. They may later also craft iron flasks and gain a cool capstone that allows them to change creatures into their servants, elevating them from their tainted being to celestial heights. There are also 6 different suites of abilities available to the Demon Hunter-class, including one that grants infernal companions that improve over the levels, improved ofudas and boons for wooden swords, the signature weapons  of the immaculate exorcism-tradition.

 

The enlightened scholar gains 3/4 BAB-progression, good will-saves, up to +4 AC bonus, up to 2d6 unarmed damage (better damage when ch’i-focused), d6 HP, 6+Int skills per level  and may also chose from a variety of talents from varying paths, that set them upon track for becoming immortal, allow them to create strange contraptions etc. The Folk Magic-table (which allows minor spellcasting) is now also included, as is the immortal knowledge-table (though that mentions “monk” when “scholar” is meant). The class per se is truly unique with its wide array of options and the complexity of rules for contraption-creation etc.

 

Similarly, the Kusa-class predates the Ninja-class from UC, getting unarmed strikes and sneak attacks as well as 3/4 BAB-progression, d8 HP, 6+Int skills per level, up to +7 insight bonus to AC, good ref-saves. The Kusa also gets a Ki-pool as well as multiple talents, grouped in three general level-classes, providing access to new talents at higher levels. Again, the class feels like it should have been converted to options for the Ninja-class, especially since the Kusa is not half as complex as the abilities of the enlightened scholar.

 

Speaking of archetypes: The other classes also get a variety of options – Barbarians may now for example take totem rage powers that correspond to specific animals like centipedes and mantises. There are multiple powers assigned to each totem and for barbarians wholly committed, there’s an archetype to gain a totem-related animal companion. cavaliers may now chose from 2 new Xia-orders, which are also available to samurai, btw., one devoted to the ancestors and one to protecting the chosen organization’s land and people. We also get an array of different monk-archetypes, which range from the kensai with their living weapons to the grapple-focused Thaskalos, the armored sohei to the spellcasting, lawful good yamabushi. Witches get perhaps one of the coolest option in the book – 4 new patron-spell-lists and a bunch of hexes. What’s cool about these hexes is the factor that the hexes come with descriptors that mark them as particularly appropriate for the respective patron. At least in my opinion, as long as the choice of other hexes is not penalized, this is a great idea to enhance flavor.

The next chapter introduces us to the new Feng Shui-skill, which allows you to improve the regenerative boons of resting by properly aligning the area and even the time required to rest. It should be noted that a bunch of the mechanics to come make use of the arcane focus and ki-focus (interchangeable as term with Ch’i, btw.). Gaining focus in either, much like gaining psionic focus, is a full-round action that provokes AoOs. Arcane Focus requires an arcane pool to be used (problematic, since the magus’ arcane pool and this one’s is different  -I’ll get to that in a second), while ki-focus needs at least 1 point of ki in your reservoir. You may expend either focus to take 15 on a concentration check.

 

Among the different feats included in the chapter, we are introduced to a variety of feats with the new (Arcane)-descriptor. In order to make use of them, you have to take a feat that grants two points of arcane points, which do NOT stack with the magus’ arcana pool. Substituting “Arcane” with “Eldritch” or a similar word would have GREATLY helped to avoid confusion here. A botch, in my opinion, since while the non-stacking is mentioned, I consider two pools with the same name problematic. (Arcane)-feats usually grant you additional points of arcane pool and allow you to do uncommon things by expending your focus: Arcane Dodge, for example, grants you a stacking dodge-bonus of +1 to AC and allows you to expend focus as an immediate action for an increase to +4 to AC versus one attack as an immediate action.

Ki-focus works much the same way and feats from other sources now retroactively get the ki-descriptor. It gets more complex, though: There is a subset of Ch’i-feats (or Ki-feats, whichever spelling you prefer) called chakra-feats. These feats require the character to be ki-focused to work. Characters may invest ki-points into chakras when ki-focused and there’s a limit depending on level on how many points can be invested into a given chakra. Much like other points, these allocated points on the chakra allow the character to do uncommon things while focused and grant additional options via expending them. Moreover, each chakra has 3 different sets of potential ways to invest ki: Ki can be invested in Balanced Ki, Yang Ki or Yin Ki, granting different benefits for being focused or expending the aligned ki. A total of 7 chakra are provided – and that’s before the additional options via chakra-feats come in!

Speaking of complex options: Want a lesser version of the gestalt idea that is not as unbalancing and allows you to play essentially two characters in one body? The Ancestral Possession-feat allows you to do just that, giving you a second set of mental ability scores and actually a second class – problem is: The change of personality in command is disorienting and  happens EVERY time you roll a 1 on a d20. Yes, that can lead to some VERY awkward roleplaying situations and while it may save you, it may also doom you. Especially for a group low on players unable to cover all fields a great feat.

Regarding enhanced options – several of the feats deal with yet another concept integral and iconic in lore: Sutras. While some brackets still point towards the single-pdf-release, rest assured that Sutra Magic is also within the pages of this book, allowing e.g. divine casters, demon hunters etc. to gain access to the iconic ofudas and providing guidelines on creating new sutras as well as a bunch of them for your immediate perusal.

 

Beyond the vast array of feats that use these new and complex mechanics, we also get short suggestions for cinematic houserules à la damage-based knockback, improvised weapons for everyone, the option to throw foes in grapple, a new use for hero points and (Chinese) Zodiac Signs: These work essentially as traits, but come as a double-edged sword: While being stronger than your average trait, they also come with drawbacks, which might make for truly intriguing roleplaying opportunities. I really like the approach to traits, though you should be aware that they make HEAVY use of hero points, thus, if you don’t play with them, you will get less of this chapter. (But when playing a WuXia-style setting, why not use hero points? Oo)

 

It should also be noted that we get an array of new exotic weapons (that are not that exotic in the HotJO-setting), most of which actually come with neat artworks, as well as new alchemical gear. Thankfully, the rather complex ch’i-mechanics come with a cheat-sheet in the section on magic that also details aforementioned sutra magic and closes the book.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting. Well. If you take a look at the credits, you’ll see that beyond being a patron, I also helped proof this book. But just a couple of pages. Without wanting to harp on my fellow proofers (after all, it was a non-paying gig) – some glitches slipped past us. Some that shouldn’t have. The Enlightened Scholar is still violating PFRPGF-design with its +9 ref-save progression and lacks its capstone ability. The Kusa should have been upgraded with regards to the Ninja-class. There are still multiple references to Arcana Evolved classes like the Magister (full-blown arcane caster) and the Mage Blade (Gish-class) and similar classes in here: Not in any rules-context, mind you, but they still are there.

While MOST (about 90%) of the conversions are successful and awesome, the rest could have been caught with more proofing and more care. I noticed multiple instances of non-italicized spells, a lack of uniform italicization regarding the terms “ki” and “ch’i” etc. And we also get some pages that clearly show that different people have been at work here – while many pages are free of glaring glitches, there also are some pages in this pdf that feature several.

Layout…is GORGEOUS. Paizo-level and beyond beautiful. Two-column standard, green highlights, golden kanji-borders, Wayne Reynolds-cover and interior artwork that more often than not is on the level of the cover. That is: Up to the very most beautiful you’ll ever see in any publication. The pdf also comes with extensive, nested bookmarks. As per the writing of this review, no printer-friendly version is included.

 

This is a crunch-monster and perhaps the one pdf that took me longest to review so far. So much math to do. More, in fact, than in just about any product I’ve reviewed so far. The races with their racial paragon-classes should definitely prove to be a boon for fans of the Diamond Throne-setting that have since the Arcana Evolved-days switched to PFRPG and concept-wise, the Mandragoran is perhaps one of the coolest plant race I’ve seen in ages.

I really like the Arcane Pool-idea – but why not rename it? Why make it ambiguous and easy to confuse with the pool of the Magus?

Mechanically, Sutra Magic, Chakras etc. are bold, exciting and cool and speak of a solid grasp on rules by author Frank Carr (for AE) and Timothy Wallace (for the PFRPG-conversion) as well as something only seldom seen: Boldness in design. these options marry cultural fluff with solid rules and uncommon design-choices, making them a joy to behold, at least for me.

The cultural fluff of the book of the book speaks not only of a knowledge, but of an understanding of cultures and myth and offers fresh and exciting vistas on eastern roleplaying that could work together with established setting like Rokugan or Kaidan, but still brings its extremely distinct flavor to the table and can easily stand on its own. Distinctiveness and modularity are well-mixed in the options provided herein. The writing per se ranges from extremely evocative…to. Well. Not so evocative. When proofing my chapters, I continuously stumbled upon instances when multiple sentences started the same way in a quick succession. There were paragraphs containing what I call “no conjunction-disease” – something that ruins the reading experience of any given text by providing essentially a quick succession of basic subject-verb-object-sentences sans prepositions, conjunctions and subordinate clauses. I tried to correct that, but overall, when the book is concerned, I have to say that generally, HotJO cannot be considered a universally great reading experience. When the writing works, it works well, but these sometimes cropping up accumulations of bland, boring sentences, while conveying information, still tug at what would otherwise be a universal sense of wonder and awe at these intriguing lands.

 

As much as I’m loathe to say it, since I really, really like the book. It feels like it has been pushed out slightly too fast.

Yeah. I know. Get the pitchforks and torches ready.

The book’s been in the making for very long, postponed etc. – but after such a  long wait, I think that a flawless quality should have been of tantamount importance. Perhaps giving each of the chapters to two proofers minimum would have been the prudent thing to do. I don’t know. What I do know is that with just one or two more months of proofing and editing, this pdf could have been a new benchmark for crunchy-setting books, a hallmark, a legend.

 

Now, with all the glitches still here and there in the pdf, some of which actually impede the rules, this pdf feels like it falls flat of its own potential.  Not all of it, mind you, and the glitches are nothing that can’t be potentially fixed/errata’d.

 

This book could have been my number 1 of 2012 or 2013- it had all the potential, all the right ideas. And, again, generally, they do work. But those that don’t combined  with an amount of editing glitches/conversion relics make it impossible for me to unanimously recommend. I can’t rate this 5 stars, though I so want to – for the sutras, the demon hunter, the ideas herein, for the imaginative pieces of crunch and fluff. For the well-done conversions of spellcasting, which is hard to do indeed. But the quality of the writing fluctuates hard and there are quite a few relics here. This conversion had the chance to set right all the small (and large) glitches from the HotJO-pdfs and let the chance slip. The thing is: I really, really liked this project. I put $60 down for the patronage, tried to help with the conversions as much as my schedule allowed. I proofed as much as I got, chapter-wise, and as much as my time allowed. I’m dedicated to this project and it could have been one of the best Pathfinder-releases ever.

 

It could have.

But as a reviewer, I have never let the likes of such problems slip and won’t start now, no matter how I’d want to. As much as it pains me, in spite of the glorious ideas, in spite of all crunch that teems and bristles with ideas, I can’t rate this higher than 4 stars – with seal of approval, though.

If you want to supplement Jade Regent, check out the setting or simply scavenge ideas – here’s the link to OBS to check it out!

Endzeitgeist out.

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Apr 252013
 

Adventure Path Iconics: Path of Jade

pathsjade

This collection of pregens for the Jade Regent AP is 29 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD/editorial, 1 page caravan-sheet, leaving us with 25 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Now this is the second set of pregens that a 3rd party publisher has released for the Jade Regent AP and hence, I’ll compare how it fares with Imperial Heroes by Legendary Games. That out of the way, we get a short introductory page that explains how Paizo’s intellectual property is maintained before providing us with the first character – Chan-Ona, a cynean wizard who may seem ponderous, but in fact is a brilliant scholar with a good heart. Cyneans, btw., are one of the races introduced in the NeoExodus campaign setting by LPJr Design – Essentially, Cyneans are magically-adept crystalline humanoids with a rather massive physical build. Now, half of the characters se these NeoExodus-races, while the other half are human characters. Whether you like the new races or not somewhat influences thus how you useful this pdf is for you as the races per se are not per default part of Golarion and is something you should be aware of.

 

That out of the way, the characters all come with original, full-color mugshots, a sample quote and are structured thus One the first page of a character’s depiction, we get the mugshot and crunch information/statblock. On the second and third page, we get advice on roleplaying advice, background, physical description etc. as well as level progression advice of up to 4th level and information to scale the 20-point builds up to 25-point builds or down to 15-point builds. The final page of a character usually has some free space as well as a transparent version of the character’s mugshot enlarged in the background. As a final note to Cahn-Ona – I’m not a fan of his name. The -chan-suffix is usually belittling/familiar in its use in Japanese and if my very rusty and rudimentary Japanese doesn’t deceive me “Ona-” as a suffix denotes something akin to honor, which doesn’t fit together that well for the character. I know, that’s nitpicky, but -chan is one of the most recognizable syllables in the Japanese language and its inclusion in the name slightly bugs me.

 

The second character is one Chelish alchemist named Colm Durban, who has a nice easteregg-nod in his background story to a certain event involving giants as depicted in Rise of the Runelords -nice! Not particularly versed in social graces, he is a brilliant bomber nevertheless – compelling character! Dorozan Alned Jawal is a Gevet, NeoExodus-nomenclature for Tiefling – and he looks the part: Horns, black and red eyes, he looks extremely badass and that contrasts nicely with his lingering childhood crush, heretical views (which are explained – a plus!), witch class and included scorpion familiar-stats.

 

Horse-Breaker is next up, an Enuka fighter. Enuka are beast-men of NeoExodus that may sport an incredibly wide variety of mutations, this one looking somewhat simian and coming with an increased physical stature that makes using large weapons possible -OUCH! I quite like this character, but his final age is only his scaling information – a bit of a pity, I would have enjoyed slightly more information on this character.

 

Saiyeth Inissi, best friend of the destined empress and Taldan Zen Archer monk, makes for the next character and an interesting combination of stemming from a wealthy family and being kind-hearted as well as a monk. Neat combination!

 

The Prymidian cleric of Desna, Talar Meda belongs to a race of beings suffused with linguistic powers and arcane polyglots and she combines this ancestry with being a rather forceful personality, often cursing in her obscure native language.

 

Valentina Yeris, a Varisian rogue (acrobat) is next up and her artwork and cheerful manner should make for a nice character especially if you’re not that into the brooding hero type – reading her entry, at least, made her sound fun to me. The final character in the collection is one Vash Kandar, whose artwork reminded me of Mitsurugi from Soul Blade/Calibur – and that is a good thing, for the man is a Varisian Samurai – how that works? Well, after a youth of crime, he was taken in and schooled by an aging samurai, again tying hsi background-story in with the history of Sandpoint via a traumatic incident. Also rather neat: We get a fully-described code for Vash and a cool discrepancy between his  honorable  samurai-class and his somewhat crude utterances. Nice one!

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to a glorious, original and professional full-color two-column standard and as mentioned, the artworks are glorious indeed and make for beautiful complements to the pdf, bringing the characters to life. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks and in two versions, with one being more printer-friendly than the other one. Sooo…how does this stand up to Legendary Games’ pregens?

 

Now let’s compare the formal criteria, shall we? Whether you prefer Imperial heroes’ full-body artworks or the mugshots of this pdf, artwork-wise, they both range in the highest echelons – you’ll rarely see this well-crafted artworks in any publication. While the Legendary Games-product has slightly more detailed progression-suggestions, a big pro in favor of Adventure Path Iconics is that we get advice on scaling the characters up to 25-point-buys, something absent from legendary Games’ offering. That one, though, has slightly more archetype usage – but LPJr Design’s iconics uses the more interesting races. Both pdfs feature characters that deserve the name – with codes, complex personalities, easy tie-ins into the AP that link them to the characters and both have characters I wouldn’t hesitate using as a DM. Adventure Path Iconics has no hyperlinks, though it features a samurai code.

I honestly didn’t expect this, but in the end, both are on par with each other, delivering top-notch content for a fair price and if you’re looking for pregens, your class preference will probably be the deciding factor.

For this collection of pregens, my final verdict will also be 5 stars.

 Check out these iconics here on OBS or here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!

Endzeitgeist out.

 

 

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Apr 252013
 

Dungeon Denizens El 2

dd2

The second Dungeon Denizen-installment is 13 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page ToC/foreword, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let’s check this out!

 

The pdf kicks off with a table of 12 entries featuring 12 sample creatures/creature combinations including young giant rot grubs, skeletal champions etc. The respective creatures feature information on in which bestiary they can be found where applicable. These first creatures are intended for dungeon rooms and, like the first installment, each of the encounters comes with an evocative paragraph of fluff to enhance the respective encounter. 3 of the encounters feature named NPCs which are featured on the following page and consist of a level 3 orc fighter, a level 3 human barbarian and a half-fiend hobgoblin fighter 2.

 

The second table, again features 12 sample encounters, this time appropriate for cavern areas.And boy are they interesting – take for example Gro’Durx, a bugbear exiled from his kin for his multiple personality disorder that has him sometimes show mercy and beg for forgiveness! Among the other encounters, we get a dwarven miner who just struck lucky, an exiled goblin chief as well as a ranger in search of a rare mushroom – the latter 3 being the featured statblocks to feature on the following page, which also includes the stats for the rabies-sickness.

 

The final 12-entry table features wanderers and includes the Faerie-Dragon Aelfrigg and a unicorn. The statted creatures this time feature a generic statblock for bandits and their bandit leader. The final new statblock details Sygeric, the oracle of life. The table has a glitch, though – it refers to page 7 regarding the statted creatures when the correct statblocks actually show up on page 11, making for some unnecessary confusion.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good – apart from the unpleasant page-glitch I noticed no significant issues. Layout adheres to RSP’s printer-friendly, elegant, 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked and in two versions, with one being optimized for the printer and one for screen-use.

Author Alex Connell has delivered a solid, nice selection of 36 fluffy encounters with some nice statblocks thrown into the mix that will definitely help as part of the DM-toolkit to keep encounters/adventuring organic and exciting – with the aptly-written prose and interesting creature-choices, we have a nice little pdf at our hands…though one that still has me wondering how the progressively larger statblocks will influence the future of this product-line.  When all is said and done, we get a solid selection of fluffy encounters to spring on our players and the page-glitch, while annoying, does not ruin the pdf for me. What somehow jars me is the fact that none of the encounters made me truly excited or got me thinking on how I’d have to include this particular encounter – they are good, memorable even, but could have imho used a dose more of the uniqueness of aforementioned bugbear. Thus, I’ll gladly settle for a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 for the purpose of this platform.

Check out these Denizens here on OBS or here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!

Endzeitgeist out.

Apr 242013
 

Dwellers in Dream

dwellers

This pdf is 83 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages ToC, 3 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 75 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

After a two-page introduction by TPK Games mastermind Brian Berg and an aptly-written piece of short fiction, we are introduced to the first of the 5 new fey-themed races herein, but before I get into its details, here are some assumptions of the pdf: Instead of bogging everything down with a vast and massive cosmology, we get a concept that ties fey to the realms of dreaming, essentially a first world/plane of dreams-style demiplane that serves as a thematic link and to explain the weirdness associated with fey. Mentality-wise, the introduction shows a comprehensive grasp on what makes fey work and fascinating, showing TPK Games’ aptitude with the creepier concepts of fantasy off quite well.

 

Now let’s take a look at the first race, the so-called Briarborn. Before I get into the mechanical details, I want to mention that starting age, height and weight tables, favored class options, racial relations etc. are provided for each race in these pages. Briarborn get +2 Con adn Wis, are plants (with all immunities), get +2 to AC in forested areas, +2 natural armor, +4 to stealth in forests, Knowledge (Nature) and Stealth as  class skills or +1, speak with plants at will, 1/day tree shape and low-light vision. They get +50% damage from fire and are potentially staggered by cold damage.

They may replace their barkskin with +2 caster levels for enchantment, get rid of their cold vulnerability by trading in some of their bonuses or lose tree shape and get -2 to Wis for +2 to Cha and +1 to fort-saves. In case you haven’t noticed – this build is a 20 RP race-build and thus stronger than even the imho OP Aasimars. The whole book uses the ARG-rules for the race-builds and as much as I’m loathe to say it – it HURTS this pdf. Yes, the race feature a entry called “Effective Level: +1, but one of the things I enjoyed about PFRPG was that it got rid of those annoying ECL+X-races.

Now I maintain that even with the weaknesses and  acknowledging the RP-build, the Briarborn are too strong – not necessarily due to the aptly-crafted Dreaming Tree Shepherd (insert Phantasmagoria 2 joke here)-archetype for the druid, but due to the 12 new racial feats included in here. Boy, are they broken. Grow an EXTRA LIMB for a feat, up to 2? There are feats for that. Make ANY weapon potentially stick to the briarborn? There’s a feat for that! Permanently increase your size to large? Feat for that. 25% immunity to sneak attack and crits that doesn’t stack with fortification, but from the imprecise wording I assume works as a SECOND chance to ignore the hit? There. It breaks my heart, really, for the feats represent cool concepts – take Ashen Bark: After having taken a total of 100 points of fire damage, the character can take this feat to get rid of the fire vulnerability and gain fire resistance 5. Apart from Briarborn scorching themselves over campfires and with one of the alternate racial traits, this race could get rid of BOTH vulnerabilities VERY fast. Concept-wise, these feats are nice and have good ideas indeed – balance-wise, though, they are quite broken. Have I mentioned the option of growing, sans costs, armor with up to +9 armor bonus?

 

Now the thing is – the race acknowledges its relative power and honestly, were it not for the options to get rid of the vulnerabilities, I’d still consider it a powerful take on plant races, but a viable one that has something going for it. The thing is, with the broken feats included in the deal, it just falls flat – especially since there are the Seedlings by Jon Brazer Enterprises, the Mandragorans by Rite Publishing, the Dalreans by LPJr Design, the Arborlings of Clockwork Gnomes, the Xhesa of Purple Duck Games out there – and all of them manage to be better balanced than the briarborn.

Their concept is great, 6 traits, racial lore, a new magical item and even a settlement statblock and a sample CR 2 NPC make for good supplemental material, but honestly – I don’t see any justification beyond the fluff for this race to exist.

 

After another aptly-written short story, we are introduced to the Crimbli, storywise goblinoids/fey-crossbreeds that kidnap children for the fey lords – complete with disturbing nursery rhyme and once again a plethora of favored class options. Ability-wise, they get -2 to Str and Con, +2 to Dex, Wis and Cha, are small fey with a 30 ft base speed, increase their miss chance due to dim light to 50%, get resistance 5 to cold and electricity, can HD rounds per day turn invisible as a swift action (though only in shadow or darkness), get darkvision and low-light vision, skill training for bluff and stealth, +4 to bluff when lying and as weaknesses light sensitivity and a -4 penalty when dealing with animals.

As alternate racial abilities, they may replace invisibility with +2 rounds duration when summoning fey creatures or replace their increased miss chance with 1/day dancing lights, ghost sound and prestidigitation as spell-like abilities.

As a built, the race takes only 9 RP from the ARG-guidelines, which would make it weaker than dwarves – still, I consider it on par with them and even beyond them due to the superior senses, resistances and increased miss chance. As a racial archetype, they get a rogue archetype that is exceedingly fast. The archetype is supposed to be a child snatcher, but honestly, it doesn’t get any abilities that would truly help abduct children, rather only ones that focus on getting away. The race gets 6 new feats, which include a useless scent-ability to track children (flavorful, but much like the witch hex – who’ll waste a feat on that? Also: Oddly the only one with the [Racial]-descriptor…). Otherwise, they are solid. The same can unfortunately not be said about a spell that renders the whole archetype obsolete – Quickling legerity nets you the legendary speed of the evil fey alongside concealment, evasion and uncanny dodge – as a 4th level spell. Sorry, but the speed alone would be a tough pill to swallow – with the added benefits, I consider it broken. The withering stone, Cr sample character and settlement statblock are solid again.

 

The third race, this time not introduced by a short story, is the Glimmerkin – essentially a race of alien elves that have spent too much time in the dreaming, taking on slightly insectoid habits and creepy, off behavior. Concept-wise, I REALLY love this race, so what do we get mechanically? Glimmerkin get -2 to Str, Cha and Con, +2 to Dex, Int and Wis, +1 natural armor, electricity resistance 5, +2 to bluff and +2 to the DC when using sense motive against them, +2 to Perception, Blind Fight, can shed soft radiance (though the pdf does not specify in what intensity – torch? lantern?), may 3/day use blur as a spell-like ability that also work versus blind fight and tremorsense, low light vision, may make perception checks in place of will saves versus sound-based attacks (!!!!) and take +50% sonic damage.

The Dreamweaver archetype for the wizard is solid, though message-spells and premonitions are not particularly exciting. Among the 10 new feats, gaining spell resistance 11+ HD/levels, growing fully functional wings (Potentially at 1st level!!!) and fast healing while resting are contrasted with weak +1 to natural armor and fort saves or +2 to effective caster level for enchantment spells. Power-level wise, this race is a monstrous 23 RP-build – before the unbalanced feats are applied. Their light-based language, premonition-spell and supplemental settlement and NPC again are solid – but what good does it do? Why not scale the race down, keep the signature blur and actually make it balanced? At least the race is imho, even with the op feats, less broken than the brianborn.

 

Next up is the True Changeling – replacement creatures for kidnapped children/victims of teh fey and consummate spies/assassins. They get +2 to an attribute of their choice, are of the fey (shapechanger)-type, get skill training with bluff and stealth, +4 to diplomacy to gather information, +1 language per linguistics-rank and to bluff and diplomacy, Knowledge (History and local) as class skills (or +2 if they already are class skills), low-light vision, cold iron vulnerability and their trademark ability, mimicry:As a standard action, they may change appearance and get +10 to the disguise check, but always retain one tell-tale sign like an off-colored streak of hair, a birthmark etc.

The race is a 18 RP-build and what can I say – it’s essentially the same as with Glimmerkin – the plethora of additional bonuses beyond the signature ability (which I actually consider balanced and cool!) make an otherwise great build much less accessible than it ought to be. The Fighter-archetype Shadowrazor, which gets access to gain sneak attack in lieu of bonus feats and is rather agile makes for a valid choice, whereas among the 10 feats we once again run the gamut from broken to pitifully weak. When not in natural form, they can get 25% chance to ignore sneak attacks and crits (not stacking with fortification – again, improperly worded – is it a second chance to negate or not) to the utterly INSANE Master of Mimicry, which nets you access to any physical abilities, extraordinary abilities and inherent ability score bonuses of the race into which you change. Combine that with another feat that lets you become large and a completely broken feat gets even worse. There’s also a case of formatting gone wrong:

“When you are the target of a

Transmutation spell, you are able to gain

either a +1 competence bonus or caster

level per five levels. You may not choose

both. Additionally, when subject to harmful

transmutation spells, you may reduce

the amounts by a like amount and gain the

competence bonus as a bonus to saves.” (pg. 53, italics added)

 

I wager the italicized sentence should be in the end of the feat’s text or does it refer to the bonuses exclusively? If yes, it’s a weak benefit, Compare that with +4 to demoralize attempts and we once again have a very wide span of powers between the feats. Two racial traits, a settlement and a sample NPC are also provided.

 

The final new race are the Sylfaen – marked from birth with swirling tattoo-like birthmarks, these elf-like fey with catlike ears and alien eyes were bred as a kind of warrior-caste by the fey and get +2 to Dex and Cha, -2 to Int, are fey, get +2 to AC in forests, +1 to all saves, +4 to stealth while in forests, reduce stealth-penalties when moving by 5 and may stealth at -20 while running, get skill focus (perception) as a bonus feat and may cast Alter Self, Blindness/Deafness, Blur, Dancing Lights, Ghost Sound, Prestidigitation and Speak with Animals 1/day AND 1/day Aspect of the Falcon, Aspect of the Stag and Chameleon Stride – mentioned in a separate entry that fails to mention whether the abilities also work via cha as the first set of spell-like abilities. They also gain elven weapon familiarity as well as low-light vision and may replace chameleon stride with barkskin or wood shape and Aspect of the Falcon with Tree Shape. Their ranger archetype, the Wylde Hunter, is actually rather cool and may designate whole groups as foes of the forest and later summon fey hounds to help him hunt. 7 new feats allow you to sing a masterwork bow from a tree, get DR 3/cold iron, 1/day dimension door, use cha in place of con when determining HP and intimidate foes via your barkskin spell – the feats this time around are not as broken as I’ve by this point come to expect. The race gets an additional racial trait, a poisonous whip and a sample NPC and settlement. This RP 20-race is yet another example of what I wouldn’t consider good design – why? Because it tries to take a class/character role, namely the protector of the forest/wylde hunter and make it a race. A race with cool fluff, yes, but all those spell-like abilities bloat it and make it, again, overpowered when compared to the standard races. They also don’t serve a racial ability’s purpose of enriching a race, rather shoehorning the Sylfaen into a specific class direction, something I generally dislike.

 

And finally, there are the general additional pieces of information in the guise of 9 additional feats, which let you for example ignore any difficult terrain in a forest, let you add cha-mod to ref-saves or 1/day cast vanish. Nothing to complain about them, neither about the two traits – or at least I presume they are traits that got mixed into the feat-section. Formatting is inconsistent, offering flavor-text in italics in half the feats and non-italicized fluff in the other half, leading me to assume that the very weak “Favor of the Seelie/Unseelie Court”-entries actually are the feats in question – though, again, I’ not sure.

 

The spells again, though, have some issues: Harrowing Dance, for example, removes the ability of the target to move – replacing the regular movement with a forced movement of 10 ft. directed by the target. If the save is failed, the poor saps (1 per 3 caster levels!) also get -2 to AC and -5 to ref-saves and lose AC-bonuses granted by shields. To add insult to injury, the spell leaves the target exhausted for 1 hour per level of the caster, on a successful save 1 minute per level of the caster. Give me a pool of acid, magma, a cliff and any moderately capable foe and this spell, with no means to counteract the movement, even upon making the save, is a guaranteed TPK waiting to happen – and not in the good sense I usually associate with TPK Games. There are relatively bland protection/magic circle versus fey-spells and two heals-spells for plants and twilight spells that essentially give you an armor and sword that can be diminished and expended to produce magic missiles.

The pdf closes with dew that makes you faster and more graceful as well as a short 3-page mini-gazetteer of the Demiplane “The Dreaming”.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are worse than I’ve come to expect from TPK Games. There are a LOT of minor issues that start with anal-retentive nitpicks like Knowledge (Nature) being written as “Knowledge: Nature” and continues to  whole sentences that are out of order. Not good and quite a bit short of the usual attention to editing and formatting details I’ve come to expect from TPK Games. Layout adheres to a nice b/w-2-column standard and the b/w-artworks are nice indeed, though the blank spaces between lines are rather pronounced, especially when compared to e.g. FGG-layouts, which means that much less information fits on a page than the page-count would lead you to believe. A minor additional nitpick you might want to know about is the fact that there are 2 advertisements in the middle of the book as opposed to the back – if you’re like me and print out all pdfs, something to be aware of and while I’m not a fan of it, at least that won’t fracture into my verdict. The pdf is excessively bookmarked and hyperlinked unobtrusively and efficiently to d20pfsrd.com – kudos in that discipline.

Let’s start with the more pleasant things I have to say about this book. TPK Games GET fey. They understand them and manage to capture the flair and panache, the danger and alien nature of the fey that resonates strongly with us and makes this pdf, fluff-wise, a huge joy to read. Fluff-wise.

I’ve said so multiple times, every time someone has asked me about it and I stand by it: The Advanced Race Guide is in my personal opinion CRAP. Not Savage Species-level crap, but crap nonetheless. Providing guidelines to create races is fine and all, but they need to be balanced on the respective point levels and, well, the ARG spectacularly fails at that. Not only that, the ARG also fails to provide cohesive means of balancing races of different racial point values, indirectly necessitating the thrice-cursed effective character levels that the system got rid of. I bought the book expecting the worst and only to keep up my reviewing and was not disappointed by its complete failure at the race-creation guidelines.

Now the races in this pdf use the ARG guidelines to create races and make it very clear how they were crafted and utilize the guidelines – the thing is, if the foundation of the rules-building you construct on is flawed, then the resulting construct will necessarily be flawed as well. And this is exactly what we have on a basic level here – the races, not even the 9 RP-race, can be considered perfectly balanced in context with the base-races or those generally found among 3pps out there. And there’s the issue – the other races are even stronger, and not necessarily because they need to be – they all have at least one genius idea/concept going for them, but are bloated by unnecessary spell-like abilities and minor skill bonuses that bloat their RP-builds farther than they’d need to in order to drive home their uniqueness.

Another issue would be that, essentially, they are slightly geared a bit too much towards specific rules for my tastes, but that pales in comparison with another issue – the races are not only not balanced with regards to the core-races, they also are not balanced among themselves, featuring quite a discrepancy in power-levels between each other, thus making an all-fey campaign also problematic. And that is when only taking the imho broken ARG Race-builds into account.

And then there are the feats. The feats are completely and totally all over the place. Apart from glitches here and there, we can encounter a STAGGERING discrepancy in power-levels here that range from minor skill bonuses in specific circumstances to absolutely SICK feats that are so broken, I won’t even start venting. Where a talented DM can salvage the races and tone them down to work in a context with regular races, upon introduction of the feats into the equation, any semblance of balance is completely and utterly shattered.

 

This is a completely and utterly depressing book for me to review – since even the broken feats carry a part of a concept in each and every instance that makes these races stand out and feel unique – but honestly, I feel like they would have been better off as racial paragon-classes to better balance the races. They are high-concept and per se glorious ideas – only terribly flawed in their execution.

So…is this a bad pdf? If you’re looking for player-races that are not utterly broken? Yes, then this is a 1 star-pdf for you. I maintain, though, that a capable DM who can judge their power and fracture that into the equation of CR-calculation might still get something out of this pdf – for this explicit purpose, this might be considered a 3-star file. My final verdict will fall in between the two, at 2 stars.

Still wnat to take a look? Here you can on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop.

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Apr 242013
 

Dungeon Dressing: Thrones

thrones

This installment of the Dungeon Dressing-series is 13 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages editorial, 1 page ToC/foreword,1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let us take a look, shall we?

Kicking off in the fine tradition of the Dungeon Dressing-series, we first get a page of rules-relevant information for the DM – whether thrones provide cover, that they grant high ground and construction materials/hp/hardness. Rather cool – there is a way to make spring-loaded thrones to get up faster. Superb for a paranoid rulers, though I would have loved to see information how such a mechanism would influence crafting DC/price.

After that, we’re off to this installment’s first table, which features 37 entries of unusual characteristics for thrones, which includes being made of glass, being made for unusual sizes, consisting of a living tree, being bolted to the floor etc. Rather cool: From having an intricately-detailed map in the back to secret compartments and valuable items that can be looted from it to thrones of books that potentially could contain spells, the thrones offer an interesting array of options and hooks to make them stand out.

The second table contains, unless I miscounted, 80dressings and features to add details to the thrones that run the gamut from being simply knocked over or termite-infested to having a dead rat nailed symbolically to it, fart-pillows on it and mysterious waxen remnants. Sabotaged or simply rickety thrones are also covered and feature nicely into a truly fine example of a well-crafted, evocative table.

The last two pages are devoted to traps and tricks associated with thrones and boy, are there some iconic ones there: From a hollow stone “panic room” to dropping cages and spiked backrests (can you say “Iron Throne” with me?), seat-mounted crossbows, hidden pits or huge skulls that bite those that dare approach the throne, we get a neat array of modifications that usually come with further customizable variants. Oh, have I mentioned the “No surrender”-Wail of the Banshee-last resort button? Now that one is spiteful, evil … and I love it!

 

Conclusion:


Editing and formatting is top-notch, though the editorial’s first page gets the author’s name wrong and credits Creighton Broadhurst instead. While the regular credits get it right, it should be noted that Greg Marks is responsible for this particular installment of Dungeon Dressing. Layout adheres to RSP’s elegant 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked and in two versions, one optimized for screen use and one to be printed out.

This installment is yet another one of those excellent, intriguing little dungeon dressing-installments you’d be sorry to miss – due to the iconic qualities associated with thrones, the small entries of the tables, the details, are especially evocative this time around and make you really want to include MUCH more throne-rooms in your modules. That being said, the lack of construction-relevant rules for the spring-loaded thrones is a minor bummer, but the only reason why I’ll refrain from giving this my seal of approval. It still remains an excellent offering and clocks in at well-deserved 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.

Apr 242013
 

Amazing Races: Duergar

duergar

This pdf is 4 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 2 pages of content for the duergar, so let’s take a look!

 

The pdf kicks off with 3 new feats for the grey dwarves:

-Grey Craftsman:  +2 to a Craft-skill to a craft-skill you have at least one rank. Ranks count as caster level for the purpose of Craft Magic Arms and Armor and only increase the DC by +2 for every spell requirement you don’t have. It also counts as the Master Craftsman feat, Awesome feat!

-Labor and Toil: Create magic items, spending 1 day for every 2K gold instead of the normal 1k per day.

-Slave Taker: +1 damage with spiked chains and whips. When tying up pinned foes, you may use manacles instead of ropes.

 

We get 2 new traits for duergar:

-Dour Pessimist: +2 to saves versus spell with the [emotion]-descriptor.

Duergar Slave Master: Choose any language as starting language, even secret languages.

 

We also get 5 alternate racial traits:

Armorsmith: -1 armor penalty when wearing self-crafted armor.

Blacksmith: +2 to Craft & Profession skill checks related to metal.

Locksmith: Gain disable device and use it to disable magical traps.

Toiling Spirit: Unseen Servant 1/day

Vanisher: Vanish 1/day, +1/day at 6th and 12th level.

 

The Duergar also get the Tormentor Inquisitor-archetype, who exchanges solotactics, monster lore and teamwork feats for access to torments. At 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter, the inquisitor learns one of 9 torments. They range from gaining weapon focus (spiked chain and whip), demoralizing as a move action etc. to overpowered ones like preventing verbal casting via grapples (no check!!) and cursing others to detect as evil and hamper their spellcasting of [good] spells. or hobble foes. All in all, I like the idea of the archetype, but the archetype feels too limited in the scarce few lines allotted – why not make e.g. cruelties available as torments?

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, but not excellent – I noticed some minor glitches here and there. Layout adheres to Abandoned Art’s 2-column no-frills standard and the pdf features no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

This is a solid addition to the Amazing Races-line, mostly courtesy to the well-crafted crafting-feats – the traits and racial traits and the archetype didn’t convince me, though – they are ok, I guess, but nothing that would make me yell in excitement. Especially the archetype falls behind what it could easily have been and thus, I’ll settle for a final verdict of 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3 for the purpose of this platform.

Take a look at these craftsmen here on OBS or here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!

Endzeitgeist out.