Aug 302013
 

The Dark Totem Pt.2: The Dead Dragon’s Den

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The revised edition of the Dark Totem Pt 2 is 51 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC,1 page SRD, leaving us with a massive 48 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?

 

If you have avoided Rocks Fall Games so far – rest assured that this has NOTHING in common with their first offerings. Following on the heels of the excellent revision of the First Dark Totem module, we actually get new maps, content etc. in this one as well – and yes, even artwork. That out of the way, this review necessarily contains SPOILERS.

 

Still here? All right! The PCs have acquired this weird Dark Totem in the last adventure and now probably are doing some massive research on the enigmatic item in their home-base city of Varatolo – which comes with several entries of relevant shops and their owners, adding essentially a nice mini-gazetteer-section to the town, thus bringing it to life (or serving as a template for you to insert into towns of your own!) – but more on that life: Unlike many modules, this one actually feature several so-called “Daring Deeds”, i.e. encounters that you can place in the module to bring to life what’s going on beyond the module’s main plot: Wizards charming bouncers in the tavern and an exiled ogre holding a pet rust monster who thinks his gnomish captive can actually pass gems from his bowels (including a map of the cave) to foolhardy idiots carrying a troll’s head into their tavern (and having the troll regenerate – pissed and hungry!) to a halfling wanting to cheat at gnome toss by infiltrating the favorite tavern game of the Blind Basilisk and finally a jealous suitor of one of the tavern’s maids make for various diversions beyond killing x monsters – kudos for going the extra mile there!

 

But on towards the meat of the module: The PCs are called towards an alley via a missive (provided as a hand-out) – and find a description of them and the totem on the assailants, the possible fugitive finding a grisly end nailed to their haunt, mutilated and desecrated. In the aftermath of this assualt on them, they are contacted by The Prime Wizard, who tells them that the idol is the prison of an unknown entity – originally found in the now derelict Westgaard Mine, where once the legendary dragon “Verbrennung” (roughly means “incineration”) had its lair. Unbeknown to teh PCs (or anyone else, for that matter), death as not the end for said dragons and since then, a tribe of former slave kobolds have made the mine their lair, worshipping the draconic skeletal champion as a sort of deity.

Suffice to say, the PCs will have to contend with various traps and actually SMART fighting kobolds. That’s not where the module shines, though – the central strength of this crawl is the sheer amount of lovingly crafted detail featured here – each and every room has multiple things going for it. Corpses have names and (short) background stories, there are a lot of skills to use and the PC’s adversaries utilize the terrain via barriers, cook disgusting stew etc. – the whole place feels organic, authentic, with all the details truly making the complex come to life – up until the final battle, which rather comes to unlife instead.

After a decisive battle, the last words of the undead dragon are a warning to the PCs versus the dread, dark idol and woe betide them if they don’t find a way to prevent the escape of the imprisoned demon… but that’s another story – for now, teh PCs may gather the lavishly detailed dragon’s hoard and report the name of the entity trapped in the totem to the Prime Wizard – until further adventures await them.

 

The pdf also comes with a player-friendly version of the map and reprints of all spells used by the opposition, thus not requiring you to do page-flipping.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I didn’t notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to a parchment-colored background with a 2-column standard and red highlights for read-aloud text and the pdf comes in 4(!!!) versions – the regular version and its printer-friendly backgroundless cousin and high quality versions of both. All pdfs come with fully functional bookmarks, though instead of content, they tend to denote the page-number. A minor glitch, but one that slightly impedes their usefulness. The maps are serviceable and finding original pieces of b/w-art in a pdf at this price-point is not something I would have expected – kudos!

 

The team of Rocks Fall Games (Charles T. Marleau, Kristofer Konkel and Kurt “Morloka” Henry” did the writing here) have created a module that truly breathes, that feels alive – all its details, all its small tidbits, all its “Dressing”, to loan the term as coined by Raging Swan press is excessive without being overbearing: Not lost in the details, but still remaining detailed, this module manages to convey a sense of being “alive”, of feeling authentic, that few modules manage. It’s hard to describe what the true virtues of this module are since it does not reinvent the wheel, nor does it endeavor to do so.  It has potentially dark moments, potentially light-hearted ones and mixes them in a blend that has me admittedly nostalgic for a time where all the bleakness of life haven’t yet crept into the game. Its unpretentiousness makes up a significant part of its charm and hearkens back to the modules I grew up with – and that’s a good thing.

That being said, the writing sometimes wavers a bit – from per se neat writing, the text sometimes stumbles and starts heaping short sentences on another, then returning to form. That being said, there is another factor you should consider: This pdf is ridiculously cheap for the quality and amount of content it provides  – at $2.50, this is a steal indeed and well worth the asking price even if you only want to scavenge the supplemental encounters. Missing my seal of approval only due to the flawed bookmarks and slight inconsistencies in writing, this revised edition is still very much worth a final verdict of 5 stars. Congrats to the Rocks Fall-crew!

You can get this very affordable module here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!

EDIT: The bookmark-glitch has been fixed.

Endzeitgeist out.

Aug 302013
 

Supporting Roles: Teamwork Traits (Revised Edition)

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This pdf is 5 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 2 pages of content – so let’s take a look at those teamwork traits!

 

So what are these teamwork traits? Essentially, they constitute a subset of social traits – essentially netting either you, your allies, or both a bonus. A Total of 15 traits are provided:

 

Always by your side: Choose one an ally. You count as if you have heal as a class skill and treat your character level as heal ranks when treating that character. Rather cool!

 

Armed Together: Works only in conjunction with another ally taking the trait: 1/day, you may act on your ally’s initiative count for one round. Your initiative does not change and you may only use it if you haven’t yet acted in this round.

 

-Bait and Tactics: Also works only in conjunction with an ally. 1/day, a foe you successfully feint is treated as flat-footed for your chosen ally.

 

Competitive Friendship: When challenging an ally to do the same task you just performed, you grant that ally the aid another bonus to all rolls associated with the task – now usable 1/day. No complaints!

 

Entourage (New One): Select an ally or NPC – when accompanying said character, you get +2 to social skill checks when interacting with others.

 

Encouraging Words: As a free action, net allies a pep talk that grants them +2 to a will save. Nice!

 

Follow my Lead: Allies following in your wake through difficult terrain do not incur movement penalties. Cool idea and now also features a caveat that makes gaming it impossible – two thumbs up!

 

Forgotten Face (New One): When not being looked at, you reduce the DC of e.g. pick pocketing and similar skills by 2 as long as the target is distracted.

 

-Hype Man (New One!): You can hype up a crowd via social skills to lower the DC for follow up performances/social skill checks.

 

-Jealous of your Rival: Select a rival: When said Rival fails an atk, save or skill check and you witness it, 1/day you get a +2 trait bonus to your next d20 roll.

 

-Just a Friendly Hand: 2/week, increase the aid another bonus you grant by +2. Nothing to complain about here!

 

On your Feet (New One): 1/day use an move action to lift up a prone ally. You provoke AoOs, but your ally does not – cool to step in and save the mage! Nice!

 

-Till Death Do Us Part: Choose a spouse – when said character drops unconscious or dead, you get +1 to atk and damage until you can verify that character’s condition. Nice, though perhaps it’s the romantic buried below a mountain of cynicism speaking, but personally, I would have preferred this to be a feat with more significant bonuses.

 

-Together, We Ride: 1/day, get a +2 bonus to ride checks or net an ally +4 to that ally’s ride check. Two thumbs up!

 

Working Together Makes the World Go Faster: 1/month When working with an ally who also has this trait, you and your ally add your Profession skill checks together when working for money and then each get the gold pieces of this combined check. Now a rather cool option for downtime money-earning.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good in the revised edition.. Layout adheres to Amora Games’s two-column b/w-standard and the pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

 

I usually HATE reviewing trait-books. They tend to be(though not always) BOORING. Not so this one – quite the contrary in fact: By focusing on teamwork, these traits provide some rather iconic, cool options and foster friendship in and out-game, making for neat roleplaying catalysts – and they generally are well-crafted. In fact, this revised edition provides some of the coolest traits I’ve seen in quite a while and as an added bonus, Amora Game makes this an ongoing project – you may submit new teamwork traits to the project! Coming at a very fair price, having exorcised the issue I had with the first iteration and adding some cool new bonus content to boot, this pdf now is a great offering all about working together and well worth a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval – congratulations to designer Greg LaRose!

 

You can get this humble, cool supplement here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

Aug 272013
 

Courts of the Shadow Fey

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This mega-module is 130 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a total of 123 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

This mega-module Kobold-in-Chief Wolfgang Baur was originally released for D&D 4th edition, but I can’t comment on that once since I don’t have it – I only have the PFRPG-conversion done by ennie-award winning designer Ben McFarland. That being said – I’ll break my usual format for adventure-reviews – to pieces. I’m not going to go through this step-by-step – the review would become redundant fast and extremely long to boot. Instead I’ll just say one thing:

 

GET THIS NOW. Seriously. Buy it. Give it as a gift to your DM. If you’re a DM, get this NOW. If you, for whatever reason, want to buy only one Kobold Press-adventure – BUY THIS ONE.

..

.

You’re still here, aren’t you? Ok, I guess I have to do better.

First of all, let me address that this book features skill-challenges, i.e. obstacles your combined group can surpass by combinations of skill checks, with each player contributing (hopefully) something to the fray – they are designed in a way where even fighters will have something reasonable to do. Furthermore, above and beyond and a great help for DMs a bit weak on the fluffy roleplaying side, suggestions for the respective argumentations on why the skill in question works/doesn’t work are given. Beyond these even, class abilities, spells and feats feature into the respective checks and get covered in a level of detail I’ve never ever seen in any publication – without bloating the book. And if you don’t like skill-checks, you could still use these pieces of information as simple roleplaying guidelines. The same holds btw. true for incantations, which, while a part of the module, do not occupy a crucial role and can be abstracted rather easily. Ben McFarland has done an astounding job of translating the module into the context of Pathfinder-rules. It should also be noted that the module is relatively light on Midgard-specific fluff, i.e. it can be transported to Golarion or any other world you choose with minimum hassle – you just have to switch out cosmetic terms like “Zobeck” for another big city name and there you go.

 

And that’s about it regarding the formal qualities of the crunch – next up follows a VERY BRIEF synopsis of what you can expect – and thus from here on out reign the SPOILERS. Players, do yourself a favor and jump to the conclusion. You don’t want this one spoiled, believe me. I’d actually love to play this, but having read it, that is out of the question.

 

All right, we kick off when Zobeck (or another big city of your choosing) experiences a swift occupation: One day, everyone wakes up and finds that the shadow fey now run the town – and who violates their capricious decrees has to contend with their harsh, humiliating repressing punishments. Turns out after some research and diplomacy with the envoy of the scáthesidhe (shadow fey) and some reading between the lines, that an obscure deal between the former ruling family and the shadow fey has expired and that they now consider the city their domain – with an almost unstoppable Statthalter on the way.

 

In order to reclaim mortal sovereignty over the city, the PCs have to research a ritual to send them off on the perilous journey towards the home of the shadow fey – and should they survive this journey into the very heart of shadow, they’ll be surprised: The Scáthesidhe have made elitism a form of art and at first, the courts seem empty – those of too low status actually can’t even perceive the upper ones of the layered, fey-glamour-clad echelons of the courts and in order to gain an audience with the queen of the fey, they’ll have to first rise in status. From lowly goblin servants, lantern dragonettes and fey rakes to the higher echelons of court, the PCs will require all their wits and capabilities to survive the perils of the dueling season and slowly work their way up through a court enamored with the theft of memories, illusions and deception. Courtly intrigue and harmless and not so harmless pranks abound even before the PCs become aware of the existence of the Demon Lord of Roaches as a fixture in the court, of the various deadly factions (which include a celestial and old weaving crones that are more than they seem) or of the alluring courtesans and courtiers that can play a pivotal role in the rising through the ranks of the courts – if the PCs can manage to win (and keep) their favor. And yes, the affections of the shadow fey may very well turn out to be something rather problem-laden, as some of the numerous NPCs, both mortal and immortal that frequent the courts can attest to.

 

Even before the Black Prince’s favorite quickling swordmaster challenges the PCs, even before the factions start actively recruiting PCs, we actually get a codified, complex and thoroughly rewarding rules-framework for the depiction of rising through the ranks of a court, a system, which when reskinned towards mortal courts, could be used for Song of Ice and Fire-like machinations. And I have only scarcely touched upon what there is to come – what about e.g. a hunting trip with the hostile and antagonistic Black Prince and a chase for the immortal firebird, represented via a cool, mapped mini-game? The very best banquet-scene I’ve ever seen in an adventure – easy to run, complex and thoroughly weird? A roach-like, loyal warrior who just wants to find a nice place to lay eggs – which have to unfortunately hatch from a body? The lists upon lists of events, intrigues etc.? The glorious maps?

 

What about the fact that the finale, after the PCs may finally get their audience with the Queen, requires them to find the insane Moonlight King in a maze of light-hazards and unique dangers and either kill him (in a fight that challenges brains and brawns) or convince him to  abstain from the claim to Zobeck? Have I mentioned the potential to transcend the bounds of mor(t)ality in the aftermath of this module?

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are the one weakness of this module – while not bad by any measure, I did notice a couple of editing glitches that could have been caught and here and there a small conversion relic in places where their presence is not crucial in any way. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column b/w-standard and the provided handouts and maps should water the mouths of any aficionado. The artworks are original b/w-pieces that fit thematically well within the context of the book, creating a seamless, unified impression. The pdf is extensively bookmarked for your convenience, though I’d still recommend getting dead-tree for this one.

 

Wolfgang Baur and Ben McFarland are immensely talented designers and authors – that’s no secret. But even as a fan of many of Wolfgang’s pieces, I can’t recall any one that blew me away like this one did. Not one. This is the 123 page refutation of the claim that social interaction in Pathfinder is boring, the triumphant sneer in the face of all who claimed that d20-based systems with their combat-focus don’t lend themselves to social interaction, court intrigue or any scenario, really, that requires subtlety. “Courts of the Shadow Fey” is a legend, one I slowly digested over multiple months, because every single page herein had some idea, some spark that made me cackle with glee, a pervading sense of jamais-vu suffusingthe pages – more of it than in the whole catalogs of some companies. I have no doubt that this module will become one of the must-have-played pieces of Pathfinder with its complex sandboxy structure, its attention to details. Its inventiveness and its elegant, at times beautiful, at times creepy blending of themes serve to more perfectly evoke what being “fey” is all about, it redefines evil in the context of fey as a form of elitism that may very well be justified.

 

Even if I tried, I could have never conveyed the sheer scope and awesomeness of this module, cover all the ideas herein, short of copying about 90% of the module. This is the gold-standard of what an ambitious module should be like and while perhaps not recommended for novice DMs, this is  incredibly good – almost painfully so. And much like its unconventional ending that resounds so well with the theme of returning from the lands of the fey, turning the last page of this book left me with a sense of loss that it had ended, that there were not another 100 pages of shadow fey waiting for me. If I could, I’d rate this 6 stars. I got this book this year, so it will feature on my top 10 of 2013-list. It’s one of my favorite Open Design/Kobold Press-books released. It’s one of the best adventure-resources out there, either as module or setting and in scope, quality and detail on par with one of my all-time favorites, Coliseum Morpheuon. I’ll repeat it again: GET THIS. Even if you run Golarion, not Midgard. Want a break from Kingmaker? Get this. Run another setting? Get this. Don’t have a group and want a good read that is inspiring? Get this. Need ideas for fey tricks, hazards etc.? Get this. This is my unanimous recommendation towards anyone who even remotely is interested in the topic of fey: WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? GET THIS! Final verdict? 5 stars +seal of approval – this might be the best thing Wolfgang Baur has written so far – I know I consider it the best one, and Ben McFarland has gone above and beyond to make this module work in PFRPG. When do we get the courtly intrigue handbook for mortal courts?

 

Well…have I mentioned in my review that you should own this? Not? Well, here’s the link to OBS!

(And if you prefer D&D 4th edition, here’s the link to that version!)

 

Endzeitgeist out.

Aug 272013
 

Convergent Paths: Fey Archetypes

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The second installment of Rite Publishing’s Convergent Paths-series is 16 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD and 2 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 11 pages of content – so let’s take a look, shall we?

 

Following the direction established in the first issue, we once again have the class options provided herein framed by a well-written narrative – and honestly, I do really enjoy these. If you read as many crunch-heavy supplements as I do, you’re welcoming supplements that don’t read like an EULA. Just wanted to for once acknowledge this, as the narrative also roots the content in a thematic context and, from experience, I know that my players prefer it like this – fluff accompanying their crunch. That out of the way, let’s take a look at the Faerie Knight, a cavalier archetype.

 

The challenge of these cavaliers is less reliable that the base challenge – the damage to challenged targets only scales up to +10, but depending on the level of the faerie knight, bonus damage equal to +1d3 (up to +6d3) is added to damage – nice way to represent a more chaotic version of the class feature. Faerie Knights also add the fey creature template to their mount, but thankfully not at once, instead improving over the levels. The mount is intelligent and requires gold to be replaced once it dies. The faerie knight does lose banner, greater banner and tactician for all this gained power via the mount though, and while it doesn’t require Handle Animal, it has its own mind – which can be quite interesting. Not needing expert trainer, the knight also gets a bonus to social interactions with fey. At higher levels, the faerie knight may send his mount to the realm of the fey to procure assistance from the fey – though frivolous use will have repercussions…

 

Monks may now opt to become so-called Laughing Men – who get Bluff, Diplomacy and Knowledge (nature) as additional class skills. Laughing Men get a new array of feats to sue with bonus feats in lieu of their regular ones and also replace flurry of blows with the option to make feints, intimidates and wild empathy checks at -5 as part of a full-attack action, allowing the archetype to later even make a second check with an additional -3 penalty and at 15th level, even a third one at -7. Furthermore, he can use ki to roll social skill checks twice, taking the better result. When using this ability, the laughing man doesn’t even have to speak the language of those s/he taunts and may use said options versus plants, animals and vermin, treating them as if they were not mindless. He also becomes harder to demoralize/influence, gets the wild empathy class feature of the druid. By the way – the words of the Laughing Man are just as efficient as sticks and stones and may break your bones! As part of the flurry of words, the laughing man may use words as ranged unarmored strikes with a 5 foot range increment.

 

Instead of purity of body, at fifth level laughing men may use wis-mod for bluff, diplomacy, intimidate and wild empathy, but need to expend their swift action to do so – which becomes relevant when learning to feint/demoralize etc.  – 3 foes at once. Plus, laughing men may divide this ability between feints and demoralization attempts Starting at 15th level, he may make three of these skill checks versus one foe – when succeeding in 3 bluffs/intimidates/wild empathy, laughing men may opt to negate the effects of all successes for one unique effect depending on the skill employed.

 

The third archetype herein would be the masquerade reveler – for the barbarian! And be forewarned – these revelers are nothing for players shying from the task of additional book-keeping. But oh boy is it worth it – instead of regular rage, revelers create so-called masks, which consist of 4 evolution points. For the purpose of which evolutions qualify, the reveler counts as biped humanoid with arms and legs. At each barbarian level, the reveler gets another masque, providing quite some versatility. Type of ability, effective levels – all of the complex questions such a system will perpetuate, are addressed – kudos! I did try to find an instance of less than precise rules-language and found none.

 

The abilities the reveler gets at later levels further enhance the awesome concept of masks.

After these archetypes, we are introduced to feats of the fey,7 to be more precise: Faerie Knights may improve their whimsical challenge by expending a second use of it to maximize the d3s involved. And if you really want to get nasty, you can take another feat, that allows all allies to also get these maximized d3s when you utilize the former feat. OUCH!  Three of the feats make up for a feat-tree of the Sidhe style, which adds additional benefits to those feinting or intimidating successfully at a base level. The two follow-up feats allow you to make demoralized opponents provoke AoOs from your allies or further penalize foes you feinted. Revelers may spend 3 rounds of masquerade to change masks in combat. With the second feat, you can get a bonus after using the change of masks for the second time in combat.

 

The pdf also provides us a new sample creature, the CR 7 Gancanagh. that secretes a new drug (provided as well!) and may exude an aura of selective silence while plying his socially based, mindbending abilities. The fey also comes with cool signature weaknesses and a bond with one of its possessions that makes for good adventure hooks/smart fighting-rewards. Speaking of adventure hooks – 3 sample ones are provided.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to RiP’s 2-column full color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Special mention deserves the gorgeous cover by Kevin Ksottam as well as the neat artworks herein – two pieces in particular I haven’t seen before and apart from one classic stock art image (which fits in nicely, though), they are rather impressive.

 

This is, at least to my knowledge, author Mark Seifter’s first PFRPG-product and it is promising indeed – the whimsical challenge class feature and its feat-expansions rock – though honestly, the fey mount feels bland. Yet another pet-archetype? Come on! There’s nothing wrong here, but think about it –  getting a horse that can change into equipment /buffs (yes, can be found in mythology!) would have imho been so much cooler than getting a strong, slightly more useful mount.

The laughing man suffers most from these archetypes:

On a concept-level, it lacks a loosening of the lawful alignment restriction and honestly, basing it wholly on demoralize and feinting has been done before as well – not in this combination, granted, but still. Beyond that, the archetype is even more MAD (multiple attribute dependant) than a regular monk – who already has it worse than any other class: Requiring cha for the signature skills and Int for skill ranks, this archetype imho requires a realignment of cha-based skills to wis or wis-based powers to cha as well as increased skills per level. Furthermore, I’m not sold on the massive skill-based usage – 3 rolls to get a unique effect at high levels? Ok, that is MUCH leeway to roll bad once and waste a lot of other potential benefits. Additionally, the unlimited use of unarmed strikes at range is VERY powerful and should have some kind of cap. Also: The fluff concept of paradoxes/words are weapons is simply not that well integrated mechanics-wise. At this point, I was rather disappointed.

And then – BAM! The Reveler. O.M.G. This one is so GLORIOUS. Seriously, this archetype ranks among my favorite for the barbarian – in ANY publication. The supplemental feats  range from cool to a tad bit on the weak side and the new creature once again can be considered a winner.

 

Author Mark Seifter definitely has potential – there is nothing terribly wrong with the first archetype and while the laughing man fails rather miserably at what it sets out to do, the reveler makes more than up for this by its pure unadulterated awesomeness. The supplemental content and prose suffusing the pdf also do their share in making this pdf a well-worth purchase for you, if not a perfect one. The Reveler alone is worth the fair asking price and hence, I’ll settle for a final verdict of 4 stars and remain in anticipation of the author’s next offering.

 

Don a masque, start laughing and join the dance of knights and ladies here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

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Aug 272013
 

More Faeries!

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This installment of Abandoned Arts’ More Monster-series is 8 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?

 

Not wasting any space, we kick off with the CR 2 Asrais, benevolent fey at home both in the air and in the water, who, depending on whether in contact with earth or water, may pass traceless through terrain or turn greater invisible. Rather cool: When flying by, the hypnotic hum of an asrai’s wings may fascinate foes or send them into a deep slumber.

 

The CR 1 frostjacks benefit constantly from slipstream and icewalking as well as with a breath weapon they may alternatively use to create items (or weapons) from ice or to cover the area around them in ice – rather cool, versatile uses of breath weapons. Nice!

 

CR 1/2 Grogochs look essentially like whiskered, smelly fey bums who make for excellent housekeepers (via e.g. Improved Familiar) – if you can bear their terrible stench aura. Special mention deserve the whiskers – they net the fey +8 initiative – but only as long as there’s no too powerful breeze blowing. Haven’t seen that caveat before – neat! Also rather cool – the fey come with a severe antipathy towards all things divine.

 

At CR 2, the butterfly-winged, voluptuous Leanhuan are tricky things – they charm enemies, then task them with impossible tasks as per geas/quest – but only if they succeed in convincing the target. On a failed attempt, the Leanhaun has to serve the crafty individual as muse for a year as a muse – with significant benefits, especially for craftsmen… Oh, and when they succumb to the wiles of the truly powerful, these fey may change alignments and become truly loyal servants of said master – these Leanhuan are essentially a variant with some significant oomph added for CR+2.

 

The CR 1 Sheoque come not only with a nice rhyme, but are also guardians of the fey’s sacred places – as such, they may hallow areas – to the point where the undergrowth actually attacks intruders! Neat!

 

The final page provides a list of the fey herein by CR, combat and skill role and also reprints the slipstream and vanish spells for your convenience.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to Abandoned Arts’ no-frills two-column standard and the  artworks by Katie Brandley and Carlos Torreblanca are originals and their b/w-awesomeness is not something you’d normally expect to see at this price-point. The pdf has no bookmarks, but doesn’t necessarily need one at this length.

 

Author Daron Woodson has once again created a collection of well-crafted monsters for your perusal, all with their respective signature attacks – but in contrast to the installment on Gremlins, this one feels a tad bit weaker. Only marginally so, though, and thus I feel justified in rating this neat collection of monsters 5 stars – no complaints and a definite recommendation.

 

You can get those fey here on OBS and here in d20pfsrd.com’s shop!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

 

Aug 262013
 

Shadowlands: Carthica’s Pride

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This module is 28 pages long, 1 page front cover, 3 pages editorial, 2 pages ToC, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover  and 3 additional blank pages between acts, leaving us with 16 pages of content – FREE content, I might add, so let’s take a look!

 

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

 

All right, still here?

 

When the two thieves Jhaari and Atharius returned to Tarina loaded from their last adventure, they started spending gold for the good life almost immediately – and made a fateful decision. When stumbling home, they crossed paths with a very intoxicated noble named Carthica Portenus. Taking his gold, goods and signet ring, they left the drunk noble in one of the doors of the streets, which resulted in said noble going to jail and being publicly humiliated. Not one to let such an insult slide, the noble has hired one Natasha Corvina to hire capable help – his goal is easy right now: Via his contacts, he has determined the whereabouts of his signet, in the custody of the “Urgent Messenger”. He wants this signet returned and the thieves publicly humiliated. Enter the PCs.

 

After a short negotiation with Carthica and Natasha in The “Column’s Shadow Tavern”, the PCs (studded with starting secrets, by the way – secrets are worth quite a bit in the Shadowlands…) take off on the trail of the two missing rakes and the mysterious “Urgent messenger” – probably going to the “Flower Shop” first: A posh house of indulgences of the flesh that requires quite a steep sum to enter, where voluptuous Lady Lilliana can point the PCs towards their goal – if they pay for her guidance with secrets, favors or solinns (currency, beyond PCs at this level…), she reveals that the Messenger is not a person, but a place – an underground tavern frequented by thugs and rakes. Now in debt or in the know that one of their secrets rests in the hands of beautiful Lilliana, the PCs are off to the messenger.

 

Unbeknown to the PCs (unless they are paranoid), would be the team of agents of the black hand seeking to acquire the signet for their own nefarious purposes (and thus working as a potential hook for the sequel) – fighting them near the well-hidden location of the messenger may make for the module’s first combat if the PCs notice them – otherwise, they’ll be in for a surprise in the end of the module. In the aftermath of an eventual combat, the signature rings of the black hand may provide the players an edge in the well-hidden underground tavern. There, they can find the rakes and demand the missing signet ring – and potentially humiliate them in front of all their friends: by besting them in a series of skill-challenges that range from gambling to balancing, arm-wrestling and dagger-tossing and also a blindfolded test of courage. How well they entertain the tavern will determine whether they may leave unmolested.

 

the module contains also a list of 25 back street encounters for the city of Tarina dn a map of the tavern that’s player-friendly and one of the back alley, which unfortunately is only appropriate for DMs.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard with gorgeous artworks and mosaic-studded borders that fit well the quasi-Roman theme that subtly suffuses the Shadowlands. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, but without a player-friendly version of the first map and without a printer-friendly version.

 

This is a nice, short but sweet introduction to the city of Tarina and the fluff the Shadowlands-setting seeks to evoke – while not reinventing the wheel, we get a solid prologue module to the bigger things to come in commercial modules. This product being free, I don’t have much to complain. Usually, I’d harp on the numerous blank pages that artificially bloat page count and can elicit an undue toll of ink or toner when printing this one blind, but being free and coming with top-notch production values, I still consider this well worth a download – not only for those interested in the Shadowlands-setting, but also for fans of shady back alley dealings – this module would e.g. also work well in conjunction with Streets of Zobeck.

 

My final verdict? Well worth your HD-space – 5 stars!

You can get this neat FREE module here on OBS!

Endzeitgeist out.

Aug 262013
 

Hobgoblins: Blood, Iron and Honor

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This supplement is 10 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 8 pages of new content to make hobgoblins more distinct, so let’s take a look, shall we?

 

Kicking off with a brief discussion on the nature of savage humanoids and hobgoblins in particular, we dive right into new class options to make these goblinoids feel more distinct, namely rather martially-themed archetypes, the first of which would be the Hobgoblin ensnarer, an archetype of the rogue base-class: All about setting snares fast to catch prey (and even not setting them off), the archetype per se is a nice idea – but ultimately a one-trick pony that falls to the wayside when compared to similar trap-centric full base-classes à la the Vauntguard. Also imho a lost chance to boost non-lethal damage-dealing capacities to further drive home the slavery aspect – but per se, for NPCs, an ok archetype.

 

Number two among the new archetypes would be the expeditious arcanist for the wizard, who may drastically cut preparation time in the morning and 1/day, as a full-round action that provokes an AoO and has you flat-footed for an additional round, exchange a  given spell they have prepared with another eligible one. At 13th level, the class gets an interesting ability that would allow it to prepare spells from scrolls – prepare, NOT LEARN, i.e. even though the arcanist doesn’t need his/her spellbook, to prepare the spells, they still have to be learned prior to preparation. The downside of this approach being, that while you may e.g. prepare 3 casts of shield from a shield-scroll, upon completion the scroll burns out.

 

Clerics may now opt to become Heart’s Blood Ritualists, who exchanges his granted domain abilities for  the ability to, as a full round action, kill dying creatures elaborately, netting allied hobgoblins a +1 luck bonus to atk and damage and penalizing all other creatures within 30 ft by the same amount. These bonuses scale up by further +1/-1 at 8th and 15th level and additionally, the ability consumes a channel energy attempt for the day. At 8th level, these ritualists are symbols and when reduced to below 0 hp, all allied hobgoblins within 30 ft get +ritualist’s cha-mod to damage for one round. Per se cool – but also expends channel energy , which usually would take a standard action. While I’m nitpicky here, the pdf ought to specify the type of action or lack thereof the ability’s activation takes – I assume no conscious effort of behalf of the ritualist, but still. Over all my favorite archetype so far, if a bit weak due to the VERY limited, not improving range of its signature abilities, which will fall behind comparable domain abilities in power at higher levels – especially since the ritualist gets no domain powers at all.

 

The Manstalker is an archetype for the ranger class and comes with one damn fine high-concept ability beyond its other option to track humanoids better: Concise rules for tasting and remembering blood and identifying humanoids by the taste of their blood – kudos, especially since mixed/boiled blood, dilutions by water/acid etc. are also part of the deal! Also, since they are specialized in killing intelligent humanoids, those dropping to or below Int 3 are more likely to survive an encounter with these nasty hunters. Nice idea there!

Fighters of the hobgoblin breed may now chose to become master tacticians: They can not only gain bonuses to stealth when ambushing, they may also explain their plans to allies to share the bonus and are also rather adept at using combat maneuvers… and honestly, I really like this archetype. It’s not particularly complex or Hobgoblinish, but it will make for a nice addition to NPC-bandit leaders everywhere. Barbarians may opt to become ruthless pursuers. These get bonus feats to Step up to foes and deal additional damage when stepping up to foes and dealing damage. As a cool drawback, the class loses one round of rage when failing to deal damage on the previous round. Rather cool!

 

Bards may now opt for the Singer of Triumphs Future-archetype, who may bind a weapon used to kill a foe and gains weapon focus with it and later enhance the weapon via stored spells and may add weapon enhancements to stored spells for the purpose of overcoming SR. Instead of fascination they get fear-countering camaraderie and instead of inspiring competence, they may grant a single ally fast healing. Bloodletting is also interesting, allowing a singer to focus on a foe – whenever the singer is dealt damage, the target also suffers a point of bleed damage that stacks with itself. At 18th level, singers may expand said ability to multiple targets. All in all, a nice take on a savage, more martial bard.

 

Clerics may also opt to become Thrallminders, specialists of the animation and control of lesser undead. At 3rd level and every 3 levels after that, they also may opt to learn a ritual that takes 10 minutes to perform and has a fixed price in gold – a total of 8 such rituals are provided and they allow the thrallminder to enhance undead this way – from netting them fast healing to granting them craft skills. I noticed a glitch here, though – the thrallminder gets the command undead feat at 1st level, allowing the archetype to control undead. One of the rituals enhances opposed cha-checks to make undead do things – which is useless. Why? Because, admittedly confusing as it is the command undead feat is not based on the command undead spell, but rather on its more powerful big cousin, control undead, which does not require this opposed check, granting absolute control. Hence this particular feature is in need of revision – and it shows that the design intention isn’t 100% fulfilled – getting a SLA à la command undead (spell) as a bonus feat is weaker than the regular command undead feat. Also, the rituals are in addition to existing clerical powers and while the archetype is limited to only one domain, which needs to be death or the undead subdomain, that still feels a tad bit powerful, especially since clerics already are excellent necromancers…

 

We also get the new hobgoblin bloodline for sorcerers, who gets access to a barbarian’s rage (albeit with 3+cha mod rounds instead of 3+con-mod) and some melee-enhancing powers. I actually liked this combination of sorcerous powers and at least basic melee capabilities.

 

Interspersed throughout the pdf, we also get 6 racial feats, which allow hobgoblins to shrug off pacifying compulsions, provide cold resistance, a teamwork feat to show their discipline and +1 bleed damage.  There’s also a feat that allows you to extend racial exclusive benefits to allies of other races and a feat that allows you to be treated as a hobgoblin in addition to your regular parental races. The latter did strike me as perhaps more appropriately represented by a trait, though, whereas the former NEEDS a requirement that it ONLY works for hobgoblins – as written, it works for any race and with some of the rather powerful racial powers out there, that could become problematic – casting e.g. spells that would require scales to make sense in-game would now be open to non-scaled races etc. – a whole can of worms there…

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I didn’t notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to Interjection Games’s easy to read, elegant 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes sans bookmarks, which at this length is still, though barely so, acceptable. Artwork is thematically fitting stock art – not of the humanoid, but of the elegant classic b/w-pictures kind.

 

This pdf has some really neat mechanics and concepts inside, concepts that should help you make hobgoblins feel more distinct – as such, in this endeavor, it works. And archetypes like the barbarian one, the sorc bloodline and the ambush specialist fighter are rather cool – if a bit tightly focused for my tastes. That being said, I’m NOT going to rate this pdf as if it were a player-supplement – if taken as such, the archetypes would feel too specific, too streamlined towards one particular end – in most cases, at least. As a DM’s toolbox to enhance hobgoblins in your campaign, the pdf works rather well and should make the race feel more distinct. That being said, there still are minor hick ups in here and while most archetypes have something going for them, others were not as compelling – as a DM-toolbox, I’d still consider this a 4 star file. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up if you use the pdf as a DM, rounded down when looking for fodder for PCs – since I think the former is closer to the design-intent, my review will round up for the purpose of this platform.

 

You can get this neat supplement and expand your hobgoblin’s arsenal here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

Aug 262013
 

Wilderness Dressing: Bandits

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This installment of the Wilderness Dressing-series is 13 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC/foreword, 1 page stock art, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Unlike most dressing-pdfs, this one is rather statblock heavy, offering us 8 statblocks ranging from CR 1/2 to CR 4 and kicks off with a page of rank and file bandits, including a d10-table of names and short backgrounds for the bandits. Beyond that, we also get d4 half-elf backgrounds for the CR 1 statblock provided for them, while Half-orc bandits get 5 backgrounds.

 

We also get 4 sample statblocks for bandit leaders ranging from CR 4 to CR 1, featuring rangers, fighter/rogues, cleric/fighters and a rogue/enchanter as well as 8 sample backgrounds as well as 6 sample bandit groups from EL 3 to 6 and d12 hooks and complications that include having the bandits starving, having bandits having been ambushed themselves etc. – all well-written, as we’ve come to expect from RSP’s mastermind Creighton Broadhurst.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adhere 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 for the printer. Both come fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Creighton Broadhurst knows how to create neat backgrounds and the statblocks are nice as well – low level and not a challenge for experienced players or particularly interesting builds, but ones that fit well within the context of the role of bandit lords and easily integrated into a given setting. And yet, the pdf, while useful, feels like it could have used another format – one pdf stats and one fluff or a bigger book – like one that actually also features ambush tactics, traps, concealment etc.

There is nothing wrong with this pdf, but it’s a) short and useful, but not as useful as a collection of encounters (spanning more levels) supplied with fluff tables would have been. Thus, I’ll remain with a final verdict of 3.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform – unless you need bandits for the lowest levels. As written, this pdf offers nice content, but perhaps could have used another format to truly shine.

You can get these bandit-stats here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s store!

Endzeitgeist out.

Aug 232013
 

The Direlock

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This first offering by Forest Guardian Press is 20 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 17 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Full disclosure: I was asked to critique the first draft of this class and have received no compensation for it, nor have I asked for any. I have had no hand in developing this final iteration of the class and consider my verdict in no way compromised.

 

That out of the way, let’s take a look! The Direlock is a new base-class that gets 3/4 BAB-progression, d8, 4+Int mod skills per level, proficiency with light armor, bucklers (but not other shields), all simple weapons and one melee weapon of choice, which is designated dire weapon, but more on that later. Said weapon may be exotic since the write-up per se does not prevent it – something to take note of. The direlock gets spellcasting at 4th level and up to 4th level spells they have to prepare ahead of time. They cast via Int and incur arcane spell failure when wearing medium/heavy armor, proper shields etc. They also get good fort- and will-saves. At higher levels, they may cast spells while wearing medium and heavy armors respectively.

 

So essentially we’re looking at a gish-class? Stifle the yawns, ladies and gentlemen, this actually does some unique things. But let’s break down those class abilities – first of which would be the dire pool, which is 1/2 lavel 8min 1) + cha-mod points per day. Direlocks may expend said points as a swift action for +1 t damage with the dire weapon for cha-mod rounds, scaling up by +1 for every 4 levels of the class to a maximum of +5 at 17th level. At 3rd level, the point may also be spent to get +2 to saves versus spells, spell-like abilities and hexes cast within the dire zone (more on that later) for cha-mod rounds. At 7th level, 2 points may be expended to penalize all saves of foes within the dire zone by -2 for cha-mod rounds. I assume the ability is an instantaneous effect and does not apply to foes that enter the zone after its initial activation, but I’m not 100% sure. Finally, at 1oth level, direlocks may expend 3 points to grant their dire weapon the spell-stealing ability for one minute.

 

Now I’ve already mentioned the signature dire weapon, but what is so special about it? Well, first of all, it can’t be broken as long as the direlock has at least one point in his/her dire pool and repairs itself as long as the dire pool can refresh. It is also required to access the dire pool. Dire weapons net a constant +2 competence bonus to CMD versus sunder and disarm, which improves further by +2 for every 4 levels, making the weapon hard to get rid of, but not impossible -as it ought to be, seeing how the direlock’s abilities hinge on it. More importantly is one rather interesting signature ability that sets the direlock apart from any other gish-class: They can counterspell – without magic. Essentially, they follow the same rules as standard counterspelling, but instead of using an appropriate spell, they expend as an immediate action 1 point from their dire pool per spell level to be countered – and poof, the magic is sliced to smithereens. Of course, the spell needs to originate within the direlock’s dire zone and after successfully counterspelling, all inimica (more on them later) are suspended until the direlock’s next turn.

 

Now I’ve already mentioned the Dire Zone – starting at first level, direlocks radiate a zone of 10 foot that scales up to 30 at 20th level. As long as s/he still has at least 1 point in the pool, the zone nets the direlock +1 to saves versus fear-effects and penalizes foes by the same amount – said bonuses scale up to a maximum of +/-5 respectively – more important, even creatures immune to fear lose this immunity while in the zone – a nod to Dreamscarred Press’ Dread-class.

 

Now the weapon’s been covered, let’s talk about the so-called “Fell Regalia” -adding these to armor and clothes, the direlock gets 1/ level to intimidate checks, but suffers the same as penalty to Diplomacy and Handle Animal. Now what were those inimica-things? Inimica can be activated by spending a swift action and affect those within the dire zone. When applicable, inimica have a save of 10+1/2 level+cha-mod. Direlocks start with cha-mod+1 inimica and learn an additional one at 2nd level and every two levels after that. Inimica typically last until the end of the combat and can, as an additional limit, only be used 1/day, +1/day at 4th level and every 3 levels after that. Only one inimica can be in effect at any given time, though they may exchanged without additional point-expenditure of dire pool points and an incapacitated  direlock only means that the effects in question are halted, not eliminated. Now let’s check out some examples of the 15 inimica provided, shall we?

 

On the more basic side of the scale, there’s an inimica that provides 1 hp bleed damage to foes hit by the direlock’s dire weapon for as long as they remain in the dire zone – but here is a minor wording issue that needs to be addressed – the ability does not specify whether the effect ends when reentering the dire zone after leaving it – a question, by the way, not addressed in any of the ongoing effects herein, though I do assume the effect resumes. More peculiar and absolutely awesome concept-wise would be the Dire Magic inimica – whenever an enemy caster casts an area of effect spell or spell-like ability within the dire zone at the direlock and his/her allies, its effects are also extended to the casting foe’s allies. But what about the caster? Why not the caster? Apart from that, this inimica looks VERY powerful since its effect extends to otherwise rather hard to deal with spell-like abilities, but the limited range of the dire zone and the fact that channel energy for example, can’t be repelled by it keep me from complaining. If this extended to supernatural abilities, we’d be looking at one killer combo here. (Hint for sadistic DMs seeking to truly torment their players…)

 

Increasing their own DCs and concentration DCs of foes is also within the possibilities of inimica. On the fluff/anti-gas side, we get a solution for one hole in the rules – you may conjure forth a strong wind within the zone, essentially dispersing gases and hampering ranged weapons. Ignoring some DR based on level, penalizing attacks and will-saves, skill-checks, damage inflicted, AC and CMD, decrease threat-ranges (and even multipliers for weapons that only threaten on a 20) – you get the drill. All of these scale slowly up with the level. There also are two different abilities that deal damage when foes consciously enter or leave the dire zone respectively(i.e. no skipping to-and-fro to make foes pass the barrier again and again) – interesting for tactical combat. beyond that, there also is an inimica called woundrede – which halves the effect of magical healing and penalizes applications of the heal-skill. Now where this otherwise awesome ability stumbles a bit with regards to in-game logic is when it comes to channeling negative energy (it specifically addresses that it affects channel energy – ANY way of healing really) and undead. Let’s say an undead spellcaster channels energy to deal damage – the inimica does not kick in. If he does the same to heal his/her undead allies, the inimica kicks in. That does not make sense to me. Perhaps a limitation by energy type would be more prudent here.

 

Direlocks also get Dire Senses, i.e. deflect arrow (a bit weird, since they are not very dex-centric) and can later choose to get a bonus to their flatfooted AC equal to cha-mod versus a foe in her/his zone, whereas invisible opponents have to contend with wis-mod bonus to the AC – again, a slightly weird choice to split the attribute-dependant AC-bonuses. At 10th levels, these capabilities are further enhanced.

 

Very interesting is the fearsome slough ability – via the expenditure of a point from the dire pool, the direlock may essentially transfer a limited set (and only one per round) of detrimental conditions that required a save and are not permanent as a swift action to an adjacent enemy by succeeding a reroll of the save that prompted the condition at +10. It should be noted that this +10 is untyped and thus does stack with ALL bonuses the direlock may have. I seriously would have preferred a typed bonus here. The new target must make a save at the same DC as the one the direlock incurred when s/he suffered the condition – which is really cool, HOWEVER: What about “progressing” conditions? Let’s say a direlock is shaken and then becomes frightened. Now the direlock sloughs off frightened to a foe – is the direlock now shaken again or is the condition completely gone?

 

The next class feature is also rather unique, the Dire Mantle – which essentially allows the direlock to absorb spells targeted directly at them of up to 3rd level (or cha-mod, if lower) if they succeed a Spellcraft check versus 15 + spell level as an immediate action – important since action economy is crucial for many of the direlock’s abilities. Each spell-level of the absorbed spell is essentially converted into a charge, of which no more than cha-mod can be held at any time. Additionally, spell-power thus absorbed may not exceed the dire mantle’s remaining capacity to store energy. These so gained charges can be expended via 8 different ways, three of which have a limit of once-per-combat and require the expenditure of 3 spell levels at once.

 

I could go on a tangent why 1/combat powers make no sense to me, but here we have a prime example why this does not work as intended: 1/combat, the direlock may expend a charge from the dire mantle to gain a point in the dire pool. Direlocks may only do this once per combat, but can, via allies, have their spell-levels recharged via spells (of course, sans having to identify them!). The caveat here is – if allied casters pump spell levels into the direlock so s/he can regain dire pool points, why can they do so only once per combat and why only in combat? If the restriction does not apply to peaceful situations, it makes e.g. a very cheap level 1, CL 1 wand essentially a dire pool battery. If it does apply, it makes no sense in-game and provokes “false” combat for dire pool farming purposes. Beyond that, it’s also a bit weird to me that no spell-like abilities can thus be absorbed – though that’s for the better, I guess, since after all there is a plentitude of creatures with at-will SLs. Still, I think the recharge should go or get a daily limit. On the plus-side, metamagic and psionic powers are given guidelines for the ability.

Starting at 3rd level and every three levels after that, the direlock gains a so-called incunabula, essentially the talents of the class. They may also exchange these for direlock-class-level requiring feats and, if applicable, the DC is 10 +1/2 level + cha-mod. A total of 17 incunabula to choose from are provided herein. Incunabula allow the direlock to e.g. chose one spell from a specific witch’s patron (the choice is fixed) to add to their spell-list, learn a hex that is only usable within the direzone. These abilities are surprisingly versatile – for example, there is one that allows the direlock to reduce the amount of dire pool points his abilities cost by 1 for 1 round whenever s/he scores a critical hit or a foe fumbles while within his/her dire zone.

 

Beyond passive abilities like this one, we also get active ones – e.g. the option to make the dire weapon count as one size larger for one round. Unfortunately, the wording runs afoul of a minor issue here: RAI, the increased size probably should only apply to damage, but RAW, the ability specifies the weapon is “one size category larger for all of her attacks until the end of her next turn.” – which potentially means penalties to attack due to the increased size. A nitpick, yes, but one minor issue nevertheless. Dire spell is also another candidate where I’m honestly not 100% sure how it works – 1/day, as a swift action, the direlock may cast an offensive spell that affects creatures within the dire zone. Said spell affects an additional target. Only spells gained from this class can thus be enhanced.

 

Now the thing is – can said target be beyond the dire zone or not? If e.g. a fireball damages a foe within the dire zone, could the additional target be beyond the dire zone? If yes, does the maximum range of the spell still apply? I wager the additional target would have to be within the dire zone, but I’m not sure.

 

Another problematic wording can be found with the “Dread Assault” incunabula – by expending 1 point from the dire pool, a direlock may make an extra attack as part of a full-round action with said attack using the class level as BAB and if multiple attacks hit in one round, the threat range is expanded- per se awesome. The thing is, as written, it would potentially be possible to expend multiple points from the dire pool for multiple attacks at this increased BAB – since neither the general rules for incunabula, nor the ability itself specifically prohibit using multiple dire pool points this way, the ability can be munchkin’d rather easily – though clearly (I hope) that was not the intention of the ability.

 

But not every incunabula is problematic – adding e.g. the progressing fear-themed conditions to foes works well, as do better chances of confirming crits, temporarily expanding the dire zone by 5 feet, adding spells from wizard, magus or alchemist spell-lists, turning undead or an increase in potency of ravening strike (allowing for the destruction of spells rather than the absorption) – the majority works as intended.

 

Ravening Strike? Yes, at 9th level, 1/round when criting with the dire weapon, a direlock may forego the additional critical hit damage in favor of leeching 1d4 available spell-levels from the target into her dire mantle – or dissipating it, which is weird since I figured the incunabula void strike would be required to do so. As a balancing factor, lower level spells are consumed further, the target gets a save and the direlock takes minor damage when using ravening strike. Also, the may not draw spells whose level exceeds their cha-mod. Apart from the incongruity with the incunabula a cool ability.

 

But I’ve skipped past perhaps one of the most ambitious abilities of the Direlock – Eldritch Tentacles. Essentially, direlocks of 5th level and above may establish as a move action that provokes an AoO one invisible tendril. Connecting said tendril takes a standard action (or a full round action for a set of tendrils), a successful touch attack and can only be done with a creature within the dire zone, plus one tendril for every 3 levels beyond 5th. These tendrils allow for the transference of conditions via fearsome slough. Beyond that, exiting the dire zone while such a tendril is attached causes pain to the target, dealing cha-mod x 1d4 damage. More importantly, direlocks may also take negative conditions from their allies and heal while being under the conditions, with the amount of hp regained per round depending on the severity of the condition. The ability can be used 1/day and is upgraded further at 17th level, making the attaching of tendrils faster.

 

 

At 8th level, the dire mantle is further upgraded, netting +2 to saves versus spells and effects analyzed, but not absorbed. Furthermore, somewhat akin to a rod of absorption, spell levels absorbed may be used to power the direlock’s spellcasting without expending the prepared slot. The wording here is a bit hard to understand at first – as an added caveat, a direlock needs to have spell-energy equal to the spell-level they wish to absorb for purposes of casting their own spell stored. That means to absorb a 3rd level spell and use it to power a third level spell of their own casting, they’d require 3 spell levels already stored in their mantle. At least that’s how I understood it. A slightly more concise wording would help this ability. Finally, direlocks may now also store a portion of a spell, exceeding their total capacity, e.g. absorbing a 3rd level spell when only having room for 1 more spell levels – this comes at a cost, though: Exceeding spell levels are lost and deal damage  – though that damage still is significantly lower than what the respective spell would deal.

 

At 10th level, the inimica-list is expanded by 4 major inimicas: And yes, one allows for the absorption of area-spells cast in the dire zone – at a large dire pool cost, but still: Awesome! Another one penalizes enemy initiative, deal enhancement bonus damage to all foes within the dire zone when hitting foes as well as an expansion of the fearsome slough, which allows sloughed off conditions to move on to another target after a foe successfully saved against it. If all save, the condition lingers in limbo for one round and the save-game resumes the next round until either its duration expires or a foe fails his/her/its save.

 

 

At 13th level, direlocks may pay dire pool points to use cha-mod instead of wis-mod for a save (again, as an immediate action -action economy), at 14th level, spells of up to 5th level can be absorbed and as a capstone, both spell levels potentially absorbed via ravening strike and tendrils are upgraded and additionally, direlocks may now absorb spells of up to 7th level.

 

We also get favored class options for drow, dwarves, elves, gnomes, goblins, half-elves, half-orcs, halflings, humans and tieflings. The Half-elf bonus makes not much sense – add 1/2 foot to dire zone is absolutely useless until level ten since 5 foot increments are the basic minimum – so essentially, it’s 1/10 5-foot range for the dire zone. Also: Since the dire zone is essential for ALL significant abilities of the direlock, the expansion is much stronger than all other favored class options.

 

 

Next up are new archetypes, first of which would be the Banelock, who gets diminished spellcasing, but proficiency with an exotic weapon and shield (I thought a dire weapon could be an exotic weapon? The base-class has no restriction there…). Instead of dire pool/weapon, they get a bane pool, which may be used to add enhancement bonuses weapon qualities to their weapon. They may get up to 2 additional dire weapons and get the armor proficiencies 2 levels earlier. While it can be gleaned from the context easily, a special shout out that a bane pool works as a dire pool for all direlock abilities would have been nice – though since it’s so obvious and all but spelled out in one explanation, I won’t hold that against the pdf.

 

Number 2 of the archetypes would be the Dreadmasque: In place of a wizard’s book and spells, they get an eldritch warmask – hard to remove from their face and netting them bonuses versus mind-affecting effects and serving as the focus for their dire zone. Said warmasque stores spells akin to a witch, instead of storing them within the familiar, utilizing the mask. As swift actions, Dreadmasques may enter masques, essentially arcane katas that make spellcasting for the masque more difficult. This ability is usable 1/day +1/day at 4th level and every three levels after that and starts the game with one known masque and gets another one at 2nd level, 4th and every 3 after that. As a minor pet-peeve of mine, they last until the end of combat, but thankfully, they also have a non-combat duration – 1 minute/daily use. I’d be interested in how these two durations interact, though – let’s say one masque is activated and almost has run its course – 6 seconds prior to ending, combat breaks out – is the duration expanded to the duration of the newly initiated combat? And why not simply give the masques a fixed, solid time-duration? The combat-caveat seems like an unnecessary, complicating factor.

 

A total of 11 masques await for the taking and general confer a variety of scaling bonuses to different checks and also net access to specific witch hexes while enacting the respective masque. Analogue to regular inimica, we also get 4 greater masques that become available at 10th level. Medium armor proficiency is delayed to 10th level and dreadmasques pay for their masques (which are slightly stronger than inimicas) by losing among other thing, spellcasting in heavy armor. At 19th level, 4 masques based on major hexes also beckon.

 

The third and final archetype would be the Fear Eater, who may eat fear of foes to heal him/herself and/or remove fear-themed conditions (and later use absorbed fear to negate his/her own non-fear-based negative conditions). They may also assign targets within the dire zone and hit them with fear-effects and cure allies of fear-based conditions. They also get an exclusive inimica that enhances their prowess when attacking fearful foes and a new incunabula for extended durations of the fear-effects they impart.

 

Next up are 17 new feats, which cover the obligatory extra inimica, incunabula, pool points, tendrils, mantle capacity etc. and also provide a feat for more resilient eldritch tentacles. Speaking of tentacles – one feat allows you to share inimicas (and dire zone effects in the improved version) with a tentacled ally and another lets you transfer conditions from allies to foes via them. Nice! The most interesting ones would be those that allow for modification of the dire zone – by excluding a foe from it, you may extend the zone to include one foe within 5 foot of it and do this with 2 foes via a second feat. You may also exclude squares adjacent to you from the dire zone to expand its reach by 5-foot and increase this to 10 foot via another feat. Unfortunately, all of these feats fail to specify what kind of action the morphing of dire zones via these feats is, if any, and in a class so dependent on action economy, that’s kind of a big deal.

 

The pdf also provides a new spell, the exclusive second-level Accumulating Error, which is a minor debuff that gets worse if the foe gets hit/fails to hit you and has it duration set depending on the amount of times s/he/it fails – per se cool, though personally, I don’t like the wording “fails to defend” – why not “is hit/fails a save”? Would be more precise.

 

As a rather cool help, we get one-page of inimica cut-outs and a direlock management-sheet – awesome! Seriously, I wished all complex classes had one – two thumbs up for that!

 

 

Conclusion:

 

Editing and formatting are very good, though here and there small glitches like e.g. a feat-“Benefit:” that is not bold have crept in. Layout adheres to a drop-dead gorgeous, atmospheric and very cool two-column b/w-standard with an easy to read font and is a beauty to behold – which can’t be said about the original pieces of full color artwork. While I understand that at this price-point, there’s no such thing as a big art budget, the artworks are very cartoony and actually imho detract from the grim, gritty, dark feeling of the direlock – especially faces look rather frightening – but perhaps that’s the goal? However, the armors of the characters look presentable – so that one works for me. Still, don’t expect to be blown away art-wise. The pdf comes in two versions, with the latter being more printer-friendly – but, and this is especially annoying for such a complex class, both have no bookmarks. This is a comfort-detriment and imho any pdf longer than 6 pages should have them by now.

 

This has got to be one of the longest class-reviews I’ve ever done (and I don’t plan on doing any of these length in the future) mainly because of two factors: The complexity of the class and because I wanted to give you a fair impression of the class. I expected yet another gish and what I got was a caster’s worst nightmare/controller-type class that succeeds very well at the complex things it tries to do – the basic mechanics (with the notable exception of the mantle) work well – but, once again, the devil’s in the details:

 

At first glance, this class is absolutely and complete awesomeness if you’re looking for a “creepy” antihero-style warrior or a representation of a character who uses supernatural abilities to foil spellcasters, but closer analysis unfortunately unearths quite a few issues, most of which aren’t by any means game-breakers, but still should be fixed. The Direlock is, concept-wise, perhaps one of my favorite 3pp-classes out there right now and almost has the execution to match the awesome concepts. With a little more polish, this could even jump into my Top Ten-list for 2013 – its ideas are that good. Since it shows some first-time product-style errors, though, I can’t go as high as I’d like to. In fact, were it not for the majority of the class features working in spite of rather complex mechanics, I’d probably rate this down further. As written, as much as it pains me to, I can’t rate this higher than 3 stars. – here’s to hoping for a revision that this awesome class definitely deserves. I’m looking forward to seeing more from Morgan Boehringer and Forest Guardian Press!

 

You can teach those casters to fear you here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!

Endzeitgeist out.

Aug 232013
 

Feats of Observation

116263

This pdf is 3 pages long – 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, 1 page content providing 9 new feats, so let’s take a look!

 

-Assassin’s Eye: Study foes faster for death attacks and potentially delay executing the death attack by up to 5 rounds. Nice one!

 

-Stonesense: As a full round action, get tremorsense 5ft for a round – I LOVE this one – rather iconic and cool!

 

-Improved Stonesense: Instead gain Wis-score feet tremorsense, rounded down to increments of 5 – neat!

 

-Investigative Tracker: Glean information from crossing tracks – including a round by round description of combat, if one happened. Cool for investigative characters!

 

-On my command: Allies that ready action for you to give the order to attack get +1 to atk and damage. The bonus is untyped, but does not stack with itself. Nice for commander-type characters, if perhaps a bit strange on the power-scale – I would have expected a maximum number of allies that can benefit from it or a scaling bonus.

 

-Reconnoiter: Ignore 10 ft of perception-penalties, plus 10 ft for every two ranks in perception you have. Neat for scouts!

 

-Scout’s Eye: +Int-mod to Perception and Sense Motive when observing flat-footed foes unaware of your presence. Okay, though I’m not a big fan of multiple attributes being added to one skill.

 

-Sensory Joining: Extend a limited form of bond sense to summoned creatures, which takes 1 minute and is at -10 – but still so full of potential, it’s awesome. The storytelling potential for NPC-masterminds is boundless, as is the one for PC-scouting without being overpowered since summons lose quite a bit of their duration. Neat!

 

-True Disbeliever: When passing 10 ft. by an illusion, you may disbelieve it without interacting with it.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to a two-column no-frills, landscape standard and the pdf doesn’t have any bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

 

Observation-feats could have been boring. Could have. Instead we get a collection of feats that contains some true winners (especially for “brainy” investigator-style characters and scouts) and can be considered well done indeed. The feats are interesting, open some cool options and should be considered welcome additions to your game. Add the more than fair price and we get a package that is well worth the low asking price and a final verdict of 5 stars.

 

You can get these feats for less than a buck here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!

 

Endzeitgeist out.