May 302013
 

Fantastic Maps: Iconic Towns

113110

This latest installment of the Fantastic Maps-series is Jonathan Robert‘s second entry in the “Iconic”-subseries, i.e. maps that don’t feature the usual grid of the close-up Fantastic Maps-series and instead takes a look at a larger geographic region, this time around a town – and what a town it is! Coming as a 35-page-pdf in letterpack standard, the town takes up 1 page, as does cover and how-to-use, leaving a total of 16 pages devoted to blown-up versions of the map in full color and grayscale respectively to be printed out and e.g. laminated or made into one massive  hand-out of epic proportions.

 

Now taking a look at the overview-map (which btw. includes map-keys), you’ll realize that this town is rather intriguing – a coastal town with a relatively sheltered river harbor lies nestled behind massive, fortified walls, the harbor’s entrance being guarded by a massive keep. The southern part of the town, with its boat yard and lumber yard (the latter on an adjacent cliff-side) thus evoke a sense of industriousness that is underlined by the quarry featured in the Northeast of town and the massive stone elevators and water wheel also featured on the map – in fact, there is so much to discover on this map, it makes you realize where other town-maps are lacking. Beyond the superb quality of the map per se, Jonathan Robert’s Fantastic Maps-line has improved and reacted to the criticism I voiced about this map’s direct predecessor – it also includes an archive, wherein one can find high-res jpegs of the town in color and b/w as well as with labels as well as 33 .png-files you could easily use to massively customize towns of your own making, adding massive value to this specific offering. Finally, we get the pdf also alternatively in a4-format so that Europeans like yours truly can also properly enjoy the maps when printing them out.

 

Conclusion:

The pdfs are bookmarked, the hand-drawn maps of Jonathan Roberts are nothing short of mind-bogglingly beautiful and this town in particular has inspired me to actually craft a story around the map. Yes. Those nice, little details like stone circles, the elevator etc. add a touch of the special while the town still remains easily inserted into just about any setting and locale. Add to that the amount of support via .pngs, high-res jpegs and the option to get the map sans keys and we have an stellar, superbly beautiful offering that will make many DMs looking for a town-map quite happy I’m hoping I’ll get to see many, many more of these awesome settlement-maps and remain with a well-deserved 5 stars + seal of approval for this installment of Fantastic Maps.

You can get this awesome map here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

May 302013
 

Houserule Handbook: Spellpoints Compilation

113961

This compilation of SGG’s spellpoints-pdfs is 39 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, leaving us with 37 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

The spellpoint system essentially boils down to this:

 

The first 50% of a pool are a caster’s are an open pool, the second half make up his reserve pool. Casting from the reserve pool entails first fatigue, then exhaustion and even unconsciousness when failing a will save of 10+spell points used in the casting. Divine spellcasters have to attune themselves to spells when praying and can attune themselves to a number of spells equal to their wisdom score (not the modifier) per spell level. And then there’s eldritch dissonance, which is a great balancing factor: Preparation spellcasters add the spell’s level to the spell point cost after having cast it once, thus preventing them from spamming a certain spell. Spontaneous spellcasters only add +1 to the spell point cost. Metamagic increases the casting time  of spells enhanced by it and also the spell point cost – with quicken spell being the exception to the first clause.

 

The respective classes come with suggestions for renaming the spell-point variants when compared to the non-spell-point-using ones. The cleric’s imbue with spell-like ability spell as well as the arcane mnemonic enhancer also gets a revision. Diminished spellcasting archetypes and PRCs are part of the deal as well, providing some guidelines for DMs to modify the respective classes. The book also provides favored class options  for the classes.

 

A total of 26 feats are part of the deal as well – from aspects to arcana, judgment etc., there are feats to use spellpoints to enhance anything from judgments to wild shapes, master the modified metamagic, regain spellpoints via superb counterspells and regain spell points via sex – a rather cool idea!

 

The pearls of powers and rings of wizardry are modified by the system as well and the pdf closes with the optional, iconic rules of overcasting and conserving power via reducing casting levels.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch; I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to SGG’s 2-column b/w-standard with solid b/w-artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

The original pdf  was a great innovation that had its minor issues eliminated via its expansion – and now we have all the different pdf collected in one easy-to-use, more polished final offering that greatly enhances the usefulness of the whole system. As a neat little supplement, this pdf provides us with an exciting, interesting alternative to the basic vancian casting system. All in all, a superbly useful version of the cool alternate system and definitely worth a look – if you don’t have the original pdfs, that is. This is a compilation and as such it imho well replaces its component predecessor pdfs, but also doesn’t feature that much incentive to get beyond added comfort should you already have these. My final verdict will be 5 stars with the caveat that this might not be for those who already have the component pdfs.

Want to change up your magic system? Here you can on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com!

Endzeitgeist out.

May 302013
 

Wilderness Dressing: Swamps

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This installment of the Wilderness Dressing-series is 13 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 2 pages editorial, 1 page ToC/foreword, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Following the format of the wilderness-dressing series, we kick off with a massive 2-page table depicting minor events, a total of 100 different entries that include hunting sparrowhawks, deep pools cloaked by hallucinatory terrain and swarms of insects infested with filth fever. A solid table of nice entries.

 

After that, we’ll get to the swamp dressing-table of 100 entries- including drag-marks of slithering…things…(with Survival DCs), sucking mud that impedes movement, cryptic mounds rising from the slough and weirdly decorated skull fetishes and other signs of disease and decay.

 

Just like Raging Swan’s Dungeon Denizens-line, we also get a list of 12 random encounters that come with a rather extensive fluff-write-up each to make them relatively easy to plug and play and which include the almost to be expected lizardfolk (one of which needs help versus a witchfire…) and mosquitoswarms as well as giant slugs and an ancient black dragon.

 

The final page is my personal favorite, though – a superbly useful DM-cheat-sheet for the terrain, with stealth, paths, bogs, quicksand and undergrowth, all provided on one easy to navigate page for DMs to make sure that running the encounters remains a smooth experience. I really love these!

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, as I’ve come to expect from Raging Swan Press, is top-notch – I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to their elegant 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked and in two versions, one of which is optimized for the printer and one for screen-use.

 

Raging Swan Mastermind Creighton Broadhurst has taken details in RPGs and dressing up to an art form with his supplements and this pdf shows once again why these product lines are as useful. And call me odd – but I’ve always liked marshes – perhaps because insects don’t like my nicotine-haze, but all in all, I love the smell of marshes and bogs, the sense of ancient life pulsing between decay and depths and the plentiful life beneath the murk and exemplified by the majestic trees found there. Swamps have always captured my imagination and this installment does a lot to properly convey that into words. So all well? Well, yes – though the series has me spoiled to a very high degree and I honestly missed the one weird encounter, the oddball random encounter – you know, the flail-snail, the crash-landed flumph, the vegetarian, schizoid werewolf (and yes, I had such a druid in my games as an NPC once), the weird hermit…something like that. Hence I’m “only” going to settle for a final verdict of 5 stars, omitting my seal of approval, but remaining with a heartfelt recommendation.

 

You can take a trip to the swamp here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

May 282013
 

The Rogue Alpha: A Tinker Archetype

rogue

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

 

We’ve all been there – a treasured character dies and we need a new one – in-game, that’s a bit more problematic, though: We all remember the scene from “The Gamers”, where the group suddenly takes in the new mage standing right in front of the BbeG’s fortress. And, of course, such characters suddenly know all the information the player knew – usually this is explained via talks around the camp-fire etc., but that solution always felt unsatisfactory to me. Interjection Games has recently released the superb Tinker-class, one complex, glorious beast of a class and this is an archetype of an uncommon type. As the Tinker comes with more than the character, this pdf’s idea is essentially, that the Tinker’s treasured Alpha automaton becomes free-willed upon the death of the Tinker and BECOMES the new the player character.

 

As such, the archetype is uncommon – you get to play a full-blown construct and the issue of constructs on low levels are addressed. Rogue Alphas hence get their very own progression table – they get full BAB, good fort-saves and up to 12 build points as well as a maximum invention level of 6th. Rogue Alphas start game at two levels lower and may not multiclass into other classes and since the transition is from a class feature to a full-blown character, the stats are rolled upon transition – with the exception of con, since constructs don’t get a con-score. It should be noted that the archetype behaves like a  fighter archetype and as such, the Rogue Alpha gets 2+Int skill mods per level, though I would have appreciated that being spelled out in the pdf.

 

Now much like a tinker, a rogue alpha gets access to blueprints and an invention book, but unlike Tinkers, they can essentially only use these to modify themselves – with a caveat at a later level, but more on that later. As you can glean by now, a rogue alpha is not yet another tinker, but rather  loses all access to other automatons and at least temporarily, inventions netting class skills and skill ranks are disabled. Speaking of skills – Rogue Alphas may actually select one of their former master’s Knowledge skills as a class skill. In place of armor training, Rogue Alphas learn to scribe inventions down at 3rd level, get their int-bonus to bonus hp per level and at higher levels, may execute their integrated inventions as a move action instead of a standard action and later even as a swift action a limited amount of times per day.

At 9th level, the Rogue Alpha learns to forge a link with an automaton without opening itself to Tinker-domination and thus gains one automaton – his/her/its Beta: The Beta gains up to 7 HD, up to +5 BAB and +2 saves, up to 16 Str and Dex (starting off at 12) and 47 hit points and much like a tinker’s automatons, the Beta greatly benefits from being close to its master, gaining massive bonuses when being close to the Alpha. Later, the Rogue Alpha may deploy a minor version of itself a limited amount of times per day and may use pool abilities with the Beta and not be destroyed when reduced below 0 HP and may add permanent additions at the highest levels.

 

Conclusion:

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

This archetype is interesting and ambitious in that it makes a construct playable and makes for a new type of character – instead of playing another tinker, you play your character’s legacy including a new class. The concept is glorious and the execution is more than solid. However, I do have one gripe – while the class is intended to be earned by gaining an Alpha via the Tinker-class, I think the period of “brokenness” at the lowest levels could have been easily solved to make this class work more universally – by making the Rogue Alpha at lower levels subject to negative conditions, for example and give them a pool of rounds per day, where they can ignore these “Prototype design-flaws”. That way, playing one of these at lower levels wouldn’t even pose a risk. Since this, while not a crucial flaw, remains a flaw nonetheless in my book, I’ll settle for a final verdict of 4 stars.

 

You can carry on the legacy of your deceased Tinker here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

May 282013
 

More Malcontent
malcontent

This supplemental pdf for TPK Games’ much-lauded Malefactor-class is 23 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 18 pages of content, so let’s check this out!

 

All too often in the days of old, we got cool classes -and never any support for them. Thankfully, these days are over – the 3pps of PFRPG thankfully cooperate and often support one another and their products. Rather nice is also that multiple classes have gotten supplemental products to further expand their options – which is absolutely awesome! And now, the Malefactor gets a massive expansion of the available tools – but what do we get?

After a one-page introduction to the matter at hand, we delve right into the meat with new archetypes for the Malefactor, first of which would be the Bog Witch: The archetype changes the class skills available and replaces strife surge with the ability to put on a face-paint of mud, netting cha-mod extra strife points that are used LAST and if the face-paint is washed off (it is PRECISELY mentioned how much water is required!), the points are lost. While not particularly complex, I really like how fluff and crunch are married here – a good start for the supplement.

 

Cavetappers get expanded weapon proficiencies , modified class skills, can’t bypass concealment via harrowed strikes and may use percussion instruments/their signature ratcheting flails to duplicate limited amounts of bardic performance-style abilities. Again, a nice blending of fluff and crunch, though not particularly complex. Frostblights change their skill lists and leave no footprints in the snow/icy terrain, tremorsense on icy terrain and 1/round roll twice and take the better result when spending a strife point in a melee attack – terrain-bound classes/archetypes tend to be problematic and this one just isn’t exciting. Essentially a filler-archetype. The final archetype is the revised Curse-Eater Archetype, gaining cursebreaker at 2nd level, gain HP from devouring curses, gain SR from devouring curses as well as the option to transfer the curses to foes. I like this one.

Next up are new feats, a total of 5 to be precise: Cursedrinker allows you to destroy cursed items, recharging your strife pool (nice feat!), whereas Split Malediction allows you to target additional foes with your maledictions, each additional target reducing the DC by 2. Hex Bringer nest Malefactor access to witch hexes, whereas draw upon the grave lets all maledictions you cast count as strife surged when within 30 ft. of a haunt or unhallowed location – which is cool, though it does pose a minor issue – if you’re like me and have started attaching haunts to items as well as locations, then this becomes mobile and permanent. Apart from that, I would have liked varying benefits based on haunt-strength/caster level of unhallowed areas. Not perfect, but still a passable feat. The final one is Oracular Conduit, which grants you an oracle-curse that progresses with your levels and also nets you access to a 0-level or 1st level spell as a spell-like ability. I assume these spells follow the Oracle’s default by working via Wis to their DC and are cast at the Malefactor’s caster-level, but the feat does not specify that, which is a flaw in my book since spell-like abilities usually work via Cha and I’m not sure which to use.

 

After the feats, we get new maledictions, a total of 22 to be more precise. It should be noted that the one page of advertisement is in the middle of the pdf – while I understand the reason for doing so, I also think that this is slightly problematic when printing out the pdf and is something to be aware of. Three of the maledictions allow you to create special traps like letting some overhanging things fall on foes (including damage-types for icicles etc.), trap foes in murk and create a special trap that makes those subject to it become hopelessly lost. They, like all the other maledictions, can be enhanced via dread escalation. Among the others, we get ways to deal non-lethal damage to creatures with breath weapons by turning their own weapons against them, increase your capabilities to break, lift, etc. objects, coldsnap items to impede item-use, loosen and open straps, dim lights, curse foes to accidentally buff foes or debuff allies, decrease DR, make vermin attack those afflicted with a sickly sweet stench incurred by being subjected to hateful honey, make foes easily flammable, drive creatures into a deadly rage (with some neat bonuses if you can really enter rages that deals subdual damage to the raging characters and thus works both defensively and offensively), let summoned creatures mutiny, displace items (making drawing them harder), caltrop foes, disperse animals and vermin, make incorporeal creatures more vulnerable versus corporeal creatures, curse healing via a tumor that results in confusion, divert projectile weapons and echo the damage of poisons or diseases. My favorite ability, though, would be Blind Spot, which creates its ominous blind spot in the field of vision that gets total concealment – this one in particular is simply awesome!

 

The first PrC would be the Black Cat Rager, who gets full BAB-progression, good ref-saves, 2+Int skills per level and may use maledictions and other spell-like and supernatural abilities while in rage. If rage wasn’t ample clue – this PrC essentially is a combination of a beast totem-using barbarian and a malefactor, enhancing claw damages and rage/rage-power progressions. Helping the Rager is harder than usual as a minor penalty for the class and it gets a choice between two capstones. The second PrC is the Hellbound Witch, that gets 2+Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB-progression, good will-saves 5 levels of spell-progression and is essentially a combo-class between malefactor and witch, allowing the class to meld hexes and maledictions into one deadly curse. You might notice something absent from my usual formula – both PrCs unfortunately lack their hit dice, essential information for using the two PrCs. I hope this crucial information will soon be added.

The pdf closes with 2 new ratcheting flails, an oil that creates artificial strife surges as well as an unluck bringing animating scrimshaw albatross.

 

Conclusion:


Editing and formatting per se as a whole are neat – though glitches have slipped here and there past the watchful eyes, negating some of the appeal of this pdf. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly 2-column b/w-standard and the artworks provided are neat. The pdf comes with full bookmarks and hyperlinks for your convenience.

I love the Malefactor -as long as you’re not up to searching for DPR and if the other players are okay with that, the class rocks. That being said, the content herein is high in flavor and offers some glorious options for the Malefactor – idea-wise, this is definitely a great supplement. However, there is some filler interspersed throughout the pdf and the editing could have used another glimpse, with several rules-relevant glitches, chief of which would be the missing HD for both PrCs, detracting from what would otherwise be a great supplement. It is said glitches as well as the interspersed filler here and there that drags down what has great potential to a supplement that is good, but flawed. As such, as much as it pains me, I have to rate this down to 3 stars.

You can plunge foes into misfortune with new tools for your Malefactor here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

May 282013
 

Neoexodus Chronicles: The Fleshwraith

fleshwraith

This pdf is 13 pages long, 1 page editorial/SRD, leaving us with 12 pages of content for the class, so let’s take a look!

 

The Fleshwraith, (very) loosely based mechanically on the Machinesmith, gets 4+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple and natural weapons and light armors, 3/4 BAB-progression, good fort and ref-saves and access to prototypes of up to 6th level. Unfortunately, the pdf fails to specify the type of HD the class gets, though I assume d8 analogue to the Machinesmith. Nevertheless, a major glitch that renders the class potentially unusable.

 

Like the Machinesmith, the Fleshwraith can create a greatwork, though there’s a major difference here –  a fleshwraith’s greatwork is a bioengineered construct with d10, fast BAB-progression, no good saves and no skill points. Their whole features are provided in a comprehensive list (and yes, being bio-constructs, they can be healed) before we delve into the different types of bioengineered greatworks.

 

The Mechanus, Mobius Weapons and Mobius Puppets (Check RiP’s excellent “Secrets of Renegade Archetypes” for those) get some additional rules to set the fleshwraith-take on them aside from the machinesmith-take. The class also gets two new greatworks – the Genetic Lab. Unlike other greatworks, this one is not particularly mobile, though a new one can be set up via either some time or a shorter time-frame supplemented by monetary investment. This lab produces so-called gesigner-cells, but more on them later. This lab also provides an array of low-level at-will/charge abilities as well as  the option to get 1/2 class level to Knowledge (Nature) and create toxins via this skill instead of Craft (Alchemy) as well as the poison use ability.

 

The second greatwork would be a more disturbing one – the hivemind, which allows the Fleshwraith to cultivate insects to bring forth 1/2 level + Int-mod hivemasters, which act as a kind of charges. Fleshwraiths with this greatwork gain a vermin companion and use the hivemasters for a limited array of basic spell-like abilities. In contrast to Machinesmiths, Fleshwraiths get a scaling healing touch, usable 3+int mod times per day, which is not based on positive energy and makes for an interesting ability – allowing for non-divine healing.

 

The Intelligent Design ability is also interesting:  The Fleshwraith gets 1/2 level in evolution points, with which s/he can modify her own body just as if s/he were an eidolon. The rules are relatively solid here, but there’s a weird disjunction regarding fluff and crunch here: At first, from the description, I thought the Fleshwraith could only modify her constructs via this ability when in actuality it is his/her body that is being modified – the fluff here is just confusing and needs a rewrite.

 

As the Machinesmith, Fleshwraiths get tricks, to be precise at 2nd level and every 2 levels after that. Beyond Machinesmith tricks, we get 3 new ones for the genetic lab that allow for the addition of alchemical  extracts to be added to the list of his/her prototypes, consume unused prototypes to duplicate healing effects or imbibe poisons and drugs to create clouds of spores with the respective effect – nice for an escape-bluff, for example. Adheres to the Hivemind-type of Fleshwraith may get vermin affinity, improved stealth when moving slowly or 1/day web shelter. Other tricks enable her to reappropriate 1/day one point of her evolution pool to another evolution as a standard action, more often at higher levels or gain the craft construct feat – all, of course, with a distinct focus on her/his biomechanical work.

 

As the machinesmith, greatworks get updates over the levels – this time around a rather cool one:  They may essentially highjack racial abilities via RP and temporarily grant racial abilities to the recipient (whether willing or unwilling) of the injection. I’m not particularly sure whether detrimental racial abilities like light blindness  and similar traits with negative RP-costs fracture into this ability, though – which is relevant, since the potential for offensive use is there and the lack of save against it means that a cocktail of racial weaknesses might make  for a powerful tool. The amount of creature-types that can be used as well as the spell-like abilities are further expanded.

 

Hivemind-Fleshwraiths can add evolutions to their vermin, as granted per intelligent design class features and mount vermin and even vermin swarms (like a certain Spiderman villain) and heal themselves  via their hivemaster insects. Chitinous plating and finally, frightfully powerful insects complement this greatwork’s upgrades.

 

After that, we get a second new base-class, the Host. The Host gets 4+Int skills per level 3/4 BAB-progression, proficiency with simple weapons, good ref and fort-saves and no spell-casting. The lack of class HD here really hurt the class, since whether d12, d10 or d8 are granted really would make a difference – after all, the class is rather melee-centric. Essentially, the basic idea is to allow you to play a creature akin to my most beloved Spidey-villain Venom. The Symbiont that melds with you allows you to create gory shields and also permanently enhance your physical attributes and gain faster healing. Per se a great concept – but the execution makes some mistakes: Level 18 is an empty level – no benefits, nothing – that does not confirm with PFRPG-design standards. Also, the class is terribly linear, offering only a minimum of choice and no e.g. talent/trick-selection etc., rendering its characters more exchangeable than I’ve come to expect from classes. The decision to make the class 3/4 BAB would require it to be supplemented with abilities on par with that of e.g. the monk and honestly, I don’t see that right now. It doesn’t happen often, but here I’m actually asking for a power-boost – tricks, full BAB, something in that vein. Oh, and we NEED those HD to play this in the first place.

 

9 new spells/prototypes for the Fleshwraith have been included in the deal as well, many of which are exclusive to the class: Making animate objects bioengineered constructs is cool, though spells in the description have not been properly italicized. Spitting or sneezing corrosive acid, grant 1-point evolutions, grow spiky exoskeletons, add poison to target creature’s attacks, implant brains into bioengineered constructs, throw sticky nets – it’s there. Two prototypes in particular are awesome: Larval clone grows a cocoon and makes your body grow a tumor-like larva that can carry your consciousness from your dead body and rejuvenate you or even carry it to other creatures, allowing you to dominate them bodysnatchers-style. The other lets you, as an immediate action, fall prone and be covered with a rather powerful defensive mucus and crawl only while under its effects, leaving a slimy trail – awesome imagery there!

 

We also get a new feat that allows you to demoralize flat-footed creatures in the surprise-round and a new 2-point evolution that nest your eidolon a small pool of 1-point evolutions that can be changed for a more versatile companion.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are not particularly impressive: While I didn’t stumble across any too glaring glitches, non-italicized spells in text and the overall formatting and at times disjunction between fluff and crunch make this pdf a harder read than it ought to be – especially with complex classes like this , this is an issue. Layout adheres to NeoExodus 2-column full-color standard and is beautiful to behold, as is the alternate, slightly more printer-friendly standard in the second version of the pdf. The pdf comes extensively bookmarked with nested bookmarks as well as several pieces of full color artwork which will be familiar to fans of NeoExodus-products, as they’ve been used before.

 

Damn. This is one of the cases where I just don’t like being a reviewer. Why? Because I LOVE THE IDEAS TO DEATH. Author Benjamin Rombeaut has created a compelling class/variant with cool abilities and a sufficiently icky feeling. However, this pdf features several issues beyond the subpar formatting – while now the class-tables are included, the pdf still lacks the HD of the respective classes, which renders them unusable as written.

Worse, I somehow feel as if the Host-class just doesn’t belong – linear design, dead level, overall rather weak, this one feels like it desperately needs another takeover/its own pdf to properly shine. Said space should have been devoted to providing more abilities/greatworks and especially, tricks, for the fleshwraith – as provided, the Host feels like half-done filler material that has been dropped into a pdf where it doesn’t really belong.

 

This pdf has/had potential galore, but as written, it falls terribly and painfully flat of its own potential, with the lack of necessary information and the none-too-easy to process presentation conspiring with these glitches to force me to rate this at a verdict the pdf doesn’t really deserve – 1.5 stars, upgraded to 2 for the purpose of this platform – I hope the issues will be addressed and that I’ll be able to  upgrade this pdf’s rating in a manner similar to what happened with the Machinesmith back in the day.

 

You can check out this pdf here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

May 272013
 

AL4 – The Way Station

way

This pdf is 19 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 15 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

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

 

Still here? All right! Many a world features massive remains of underground dwarven subterranean city complexes and this pdf details one such complex or at least a part of it – the titular waystation, which features hammer-handed, old dwarven guardian-beings as well as an infestation of fungous, acidic ambush predators. PCs may also find an ancient, powerful magic hammer (with deeds to unlock the powers) or find multiple entries on donations from days long past – but do you know what makes what would otherwise be a relatively good, but not too exciting dungeon-crawl really stand out?

 

One word: Railway system. Essentially, the now defunct empire once featured  magical rail cars the PCs can ride through the depths and battle on. This idea alone is imho worth the very fair, low asking price and any even remotely talented DM should be able to properly craft from this framework a more massive set of vehicular encounters – not only in the DCC-ruleset.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to PDG’s printer-friendly 2-column standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked and with both a player-friendly map and a DM-map for your convenience. The pieces of b/w-artworks, all original btw., greatly help enhance the unique mood of the set-piece dungeon locale.

 

I’m impressed – while short and sweet and more locale than adventure, author David  Przybyla has crafted an iconic, interesting place that can easily be expanded and add some speed to your underdark explorations with not only the content it features, but also with the ideas it introduces and leaves for the DM to develop. A prime example of an inspiring supplement, I’ll gladly rate this 5 stars and can recommend this to DMs of other rules-systems for idea-mining just as well.

 

You can travel through the Way Station here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

May 272013
 

B13: Frozen Nightmares

b13

This pdf is 40 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 36 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

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

 

The PCs are recruited by one Wilhelm Dobbenspeck to venture to the remote village of Domandro, thought lost in the icy Tundra to ages and unknown problems. After an exhausting trek through the icy regions, the PCs find the village – and there’s something seriously problematic going on there. The whole town seems to have been flash frozen, courtesy of the adventurers that once lived in the town – but why? Well, the PCs, provided they can withstand the supernatural cold, will have some nice, sandboxy explorations to do.

 

See, the town is anything but empty – two factions of giants have settled down here: A bunch of ignoble, vile ettins and some slightly more approachable and honorable frost giants – both factions would like to take a bite out of the PCs, though… Worse and complicating everything, a necromancer named Jimmie Quickfingers also has settled in the village. In order to properly navigate the village and piece together the clues, the PCs can use these factions against one another and finally deduce what has happened:

 

Creatures from the stars descended as deadly creatures upon the town and in order to contain the infection used an artifact aptly-named “Cold Snap” – unfortunately, proximity to its elemental cold also results in some mutations (which you can represent via a new table) and the artifact rests now in the clutches of the local white dragon. The combat against this dragon is unfortunately rather handwaved and represents the weakest part of the module.

 

Upon destroying the artifact, the PCs will have to deal with the dread invaders from the dark Tapestry to secure a future for this village out of time – as its population wakes from the cold slumber into a world that is no longer their own.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect – minor glitches here and there, like a wrong creature-type (though the crunch is correct) of a giant to minor typos can be found, though nothing that would truly impede your ability to run this module. Layout adheres to AaW’s 2-column full color standard and the 2 new maps are beautiful, though they come sans the usual player-friendly versions. The pdf doesn’t have any bookmarks, which slightly detracts from its usability, but it does come in two versions, with the second one being more printer-friendly.

 

Author Haakon Sullivan has created a great sandbox with some awesome pieces of fluff and an atmosphere of forlorn doom. The module offers quite a few excellent scenes and overall, the sojourn is a joy to behold – with some minor issues, though: The lack of bookmarks and player-friendly maps as well as the handwaved dragon encounter somewhat detract from the module’s appeal, at least for me. Especially the latter is simply not necessary and should have been cut in favor of more details on the superb location. All in all, what remains is a nice adventure-module that only closely misses the higher echelons of its craft. Due to the well-crafted mood and locations, I’ll settle on a final verdict of 4 stars.

 

You can explore this frigid landscape here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

May 272013
 

Saturday Night Specials: Ice Tower of Salka

salka

This module is 28 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD and 3 pages of advertisements, leaving us with a total of 21 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

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

 

Still here? All right! This module depicts a crawl into an uncommon locale – when the Zemeth ice-flow swallowed the tower of the notorious sorceress known as the Salka 60 years ago, her riches (and twisted experiments) were deemed lost – unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on the perspective), a crack has been found that makes journeying into the tower from its top a possibility again – and exactly that is what the PCs are planning to do.

 

Now after the obligatory rumors, the very first room already pulls no punches – unless uttering an obscure passphrase, the PCs will be trapped by walls of force and peppered with fireballs – the Salka’s defenses are still active and in order to pass, the PCs will have to dismantle some VERY tough pillars. This module pulls no punches and doors out of phase with reality that make the demons invading from them, especially with teleport-supplemented hit and run tactics – DMs can be VERY nasty here.

Speaking of nasty: I haven’t yet mentioned the fact that the whole tower of the Salka is suffused by necromantic energy and hence, her former retainers and guests have been turned undead since the flow swallowed her tower: Undead scorpion familiars, undead green hags, retainers, ghostly butlers and maids, vampiric monks and even soulspinners . In order to prevent their allies from reviving as undead and purge the necromantic taint, the PCs will have to destroy the Salka’s enchanted chandelier.

 

Beyond the 3 levels of her tower, the complex also hides a dungeon-level, guarded by a pi-headed non-standard iron golem and allowing the PCs to fight 3 unique creatures of elemental air and finally hiding a hint as to what truly happened to the Salka. The pdf also contains an rather awesome new spell of the Salka’s device and two new magical items.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect: One particularly problematic one being part of the warshadow-creature – the statblock mentions 1d6 Str damage, the quality at the bottom 1d6 points of Dex-damage and the non-statblock text mentions damage and 1 point of Dex-drain – so which of the 3 is it supposed to be? Layout adheres to FGG’s 2-column b/w-standard and the artworks in b/w are ok, though the military jacket of the golem looks rather ridiculous. The maps are nice, but we don’t get player-friendly versions, which is an additional downside. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks.

Author James Carl Boney has created per se a deadly, cool locations/dungeon for the PCs to explore that should challenge even experienced groups. That being said, the lack of printer-friendly maps is a first strike against the module – and there’s a second one: This is a tower inside a huge ice-flow – so why does the module do nothing with? No claustrophobia, no tons of ice grinding the tower, no potential collapses, parts of the ceiling falling – and even if the necromantic energy suffuses the complex – why not make it rejuvenate all undead inside the complex, requiring the PCs to barricade doors etc.? There’s potential galore here that is left mostly untapped.

 

While the dungeon per se is great, I can’t help but feel that this could have been so much more. As written, due to the lack of player-friendly maps and said discrepancy between potential and execution, I’ll settle for a final verdict of 3 stars – a nice dungeon crawl that an experienced DM can easily expand and make it live up to its potential.

 

You can get to the deadly tower of Salka for the Pathfinder-system here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!

Prefer a more old-school gaming experience? The module is also available in FGG’s Zero-edition homage Swords & Wizardry: Here you can get that version on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

May 252013
 

Gygax Magazine #1

Gygax #1

The first installment of Gygax magazine is 68 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page ToC, 1 page introduction, ~17 pages devoted to advertisements (two pages of my count represent accumulated smaller ads that don’t take up a whole page), leaving us with a total of ~48 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?

 

James Carpio kicks off the issue with an appropriate overview of the roleplaying systems that have developed from our hobby’s humble beginnings via a massive galaxy-style spread-graphic. The article per se is very meta-game and as a first introduction/primer – while a daunting task, the overall graphic is surprisingly beautiful, though not complete, as was to be expected. Generally, I applaud the idea of the article and it is well-written, but the article, even when taken on its meta-level, has an issue – In order to properly  depict a genesis/overlook of the systems, one would either require insight into the respective design-philosophies or simply more space for a proper scientific and extensive look at the genesis. In the space allotted to it, the article serves to whet one’s taste and sate basic curiosity, but not more.

 

The second article by Tim Kask, “Still Gaming after all these Years” is a look at the fascination of gaming and effort to determine what the true essence of the fascination of tabletop rpgs is all about – and it’s not a bad article. Unfortunately, I am perhaps the single worst person to comment on it, since I’ve read a couple of dissertations in sociology that necessarily took a more complex and analytical approach to explaining the dynamics and components of gaming. Now, that being said, if you want an essay-style article to formulate some components of the fascination of gaming out for you or make an eloquent point, then this might be just what you’re looking for.

 

Lenard Lakofka’s contribution is a direct continuation of the “Leomund’s Tiny Hut”-articles, now under the name of “Leomund’s Secure Shelter”. Beyond an overview and reminiscence of days of old, old-school gamers (and guys like me who fondly remember COMPONENTS of old-games – all in all I’m VERY content with the direction gaming has taken…) get a table and calculations that seek to answer the old question “Is +1 damage or +1 to hit better” in the context of THACO. One of my players got a chuckle out of this table, since he actually did a spreadsheet for all ACs/THAC0-combinations to optimize his attacks. Yeah. In 2nd edition. My players were and still are insane sometimes. And yeah, I would have appreciated a concise THAC0/AC-rundown table here as well.

 

Ronald Corn offers us an article that depicts the ecology of the banshee, perhaps my most favorite incorporeal undead creature – and it is a great article, even if you don’t directly use the old-school, rather rudimentary mechanics provided by the article. The optional abilities mentioned can easily be transcribed to a wide array of systems and apart from the slightly trite genesis that is provided for the banshee and a lack of ties to elven/faerie lore, this article, as the first with actual content, does its job well indeed and should provide some neat ideas for you to scavenge.

 

Luke Gygax shares an extensive anecdote on the acquisition of Dragon #8 and Nevin P. Jones tells us about the virtues of tabletop gaming and his good experiences with the Roll20-community and system in particular. The latter article is split in half, btw., requiring you to skip to later pages.

 

Dennis Sustare brings us an article focused on bringing the magic back to a game and making magic feel more magical – something I can get behind and often have commented on with regards to spell, curses, incantations and how the codification of enchantment and sense of entitlement has imho hurt this central aspect of the game. What I can’t enjoy about the article is that it essentially boils down to pointers towards e.g. the Quicksilver or Mistborn-RPG/books. I don’t need that and it doesn’t help me – it’s a pity, really: I fondly remember Denis Sustare’s ideas and this article is surprisingly bereft of them and remains basic advice that did not bring anything to my table.

 

James M. Ward makes, especially in contemporary fantasy, a very good point in his article “Playing the Science-fiction Way” – the boundaries of genres have been blended in modern fantasy/sci-fi, with hybrids like steampunk, cyberpunk etc. influencing the parental genres and said influences often being seen as “wrong” by grognards – even though classic modules of our youth were trailblazers in this blending of genres, with often extremely remarkable results. Giving said influences a chance can enrich any given game in my opinion and the author makes a concise and poignant case in defense of sci-fi elements in fantasy. Something to think about when the knee-jerk impulse to condemn psionics, nations like Numeria in Golarion or the inclusion of space-travel (whether in Spelljammer ships or proper space-crafts…) kicks in next…Variety adds spice and contemporary fantasy literature is richer for the facets the blending and cross-pollination of genres has provided us with.

 

Cory Doctorow has an interesting article to bring new players into the fold – advice on DMing for toddlers! Beyond the basic math and similar skills learned while playing, the advice is, as far as I can tell, having no children, sound and makes for a good article that might not only make your children appreciate the hobby from an early age, but actually help them develop their skills as they play – while not in a scientific way, then at least in a fun way that will prove to be more efficient and fulfilling for both parent and child.

 

On the more crunchy side of things, Steve Kenson gives us 9 new powers complete with stunts (often multiple), limits and which cover e.g. evolution forwards and backwards through time, before Ethan Gilsdorf takes us on a meditation on the past, present and future of roleplaying games, how they changed the world and what the future may hold for them, while Ernest Gary Gygax Jr. shares with us some personal memories on how the art of storytelling to make children sleep in the house of Gygax evolved – a heartwarming article, to be sure, though again one that was split in the middle.

 

Players of the Godlike-RPG will enjoy 3 new Talents by Dennis Detwiller and we also have a massive article by Michael Tresca who talks to us about conversion and the subtle traps of converting modules and content from one edition of D&D to another – an intriguing one, that, and there’s quite some potential here – in future issues, I’d love to see concrete conversion guidelines for respective systems, though, instead of just general pieces of advice.

 

Michael Curtis provides us with the lengthiest article in the magazine, the village of Gnatdamp – a fully depicted town, including a one-page b/w-map and extensive information on the village as well as 3 sample adventure hooks – a great article, though I would have enjoyed a keyless (i.e. no numbers etc.) version of the map to show to players without breaking immersion by denoting the village’s “hotspots”.

 

Kobold-in-chief Wolfgang Baur also has his corner in the Gygax magazine, providing us with more crunchy morsels, this time especially nice for fans of AGE: Randall Hurlburt has 16 new magical miscellaneous items for the AGE-system ready, while Rodrigo García Carmona brings inventions to the system with concise rules for the new engineering focus (subset of cunning), the invention talent as well as rules for blueprint-creation and gadgetry. Nice!

 

Marc Radle also has something up his sleeve that is especially relevant for players of Pathfinder (or other d20-iterations, though these require potentially more work!): We’re talking feats. Not feat-bloat, but rather an alternate approach to a couple of them, namely feat-chains: We’ve all been there: All right, we have two weapon fighting, that means later we’ll have to get the Improved and greater varieties. And let’s face it, they’re boring. Useful, yes, but oh so bland – Marc Radle’s approach is the following: Kill these feat-chains. The feats herein are designed to replace whole feat-chain with organically-scaling benefits that have their powers unlocked gradually. The process by which more of these can be made or some excluded is laid bare and rather simple, making it possible for DMs to customize how many they’ll use and create new ones. Mechanically a great contribution ad actually imho more streamlined than the basic Regular-Improved-Greater-progression.

 

There is one thing the article omits, though, and it is a crucial piece of information DMs NEED: Balancing. Replacing 3 feats with 1 is a net-power gain of 2 feats that can be allocated in a different way. If you take a fighter, he can get A LOT of complete feat-chain-feats via these rules. And “The

GM will need to decide how to handle these grey areas should they arise.” is NOT a valid piece of balancing advice. Now don’t get me wrong, design-wise I LOVE these and enjoy them quite a bit, but just thinking how much easier normally feat-intense tricks become available to classes like e.g. the bard or rogue makes my head spin and requires proper balancing advice.

 

We also get some comics, “Marvin the Mage”, “What’s new?”, “Order of the Stick” and “Dungeon 101”. Since humor is highly subjective, I’ll refrain from commenting on these.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch; I didn’t notice any glaring mistakes – though I don’t particularly care for the articles split in the middle. They annoyed me back in the day and have thankfully died out mostly here in Germany – I hope future issues of the magazine will have them all in one place. Layout adheres apart from some pieces of advertisement to a relatively printer-friendly b/w-3-column standard that proves that the 3-column standard can work when done right, so nothing to complain on that front. The b/w-artworks are thematically fitting and hearken back to the days of old in flair and execution and are solid, though not mind-boggling. As a mayor comfort-detriment, especially with the presence of split articles, I’d rank the fact that this magazine has no bookmarks – in this day and age, where even some files with less than 10 pages feature them, this is a serious blunder. I’m also not sure whether any part of this magazine’s rules is open content since there is no SRD included – not sure whether I like that.

 

Oh boy, how to review this? Gygax Magazine seeks to provide something for everybody while hearkening back to the days of the old Dragon-magazine – but does it succeed? Yes…and no. The presentation and overall flair of the magazine is dauntingly old-school and evokes that same feeling that puts it in a direct line of succession with the classic. The magazine “feels” right, it tugs at your heart’s strings and provides that warm, fuzzy feeling of nostalgia so many of us crave. And nostalgia isn’t bad or foreign to me – I do own ALL Frog God Games/Necromancer Games-products ever put out and have a complete collection of just about every obscure 2nd edition setting out there as well as a myriad of old Dragon and Dungeon issues.

 

And still, a nagging feeling of something missing just wouldn’t go away. First, I attributed it to the magazine covering a variety of systems – but that wasn’t it – I own all KQ-issues and never minded that they covered a multitude of systems. Nor was it the eclectic range of articles. No, it was something different. And then it hit me: Ideas.

Roleplaying is about ideas and they can be great, no matter what the system. And that is where the issue finds me unsatisfied. THACO-math is nice, but system-relevant and not about ideas, to give you an example. The general problem I have with this magazine is that there are not enough inspiring ideas, not enough content. The non-crunchy articles, the non-fluff articles are universally not bad reads – in fact, most of them are nice and even compelling at times – but too much space is devoted to establishing the old-school credibility of the authors and reminiscing. Somewhere along the line I didn’t feel like I was reading a game magazine, but rather as if I was listening to some people tell me about their gaming stories and anecdotes. There’s nothing wrong with such articles, they can prove to be insightful. But at this extent, we simply need more gaming content instead of moderately exciting talk about gaming and if we do get articles like this, I’d like them to have a proper punch-line, a point that is not readily apparent to 90% of DMs.

 

Even if you pull the card and say that this magazine is made to recruit, introduce new people to the fold, is not valid –  a system-spanning magazine with this target demographic simply doesn’t need to establish many of the things established in here – the audience is already listening and in the know.

 

Not due to any lack in quality (apart from the jarring lack of working bookmarks), but due to a lack in content, I can’t rate this higher than 3 stars, in spite of it having some leeway due to being the first issue – even for those wearing the sepia-tinted glasses of nostalgia. If you’re like me, you’ll get something out of this issue, yes, but if you don’t care for old-school gaming or simply lack a nostalgic vein, then this might not be for you. In spite of the criticism, though, I consider this a promising first issue of a magazine that could develop into something great. Future issues will show whether Gygax Magazine can manage to add some substance to its bones without losing its charming old-school appeal.

 

You can check out this issue here on OBS!

Endzeitgeist out.