Jan 312014
 

Hej everybody,

 

I’ll not go into the details, new reviews will *probably* show up next Monday. I’m sorry for the short hiatus and hope you people, after all, the ones I do this for, understand.

 

Thank you for your patience.

Endzeitgeist out.

Jan 282014
 

Between Chains and Starlight

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This book by Space Potato Productions is 228 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page SRD, 2 pages about the book, 2 pages ToC, 1 page blank inside the back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a whopping 218 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?

 

We kick off this setting’s introduction with a flavor-text in character that gives us a brief (and surprisingly well-written) run-down of the setting: Essentially, it was not an AI that led to this dystopian future, but rather mankind’s own potential for less than savory practices: In a vast war, a significant amount of planets was destroyed and made uninhabitable and now, the empires of Corinth and Kurion are at a stand-off  -when Altair is discovered: A comparably primitive world, yes, but a populated one and one rife for the taking, one that dares stand up to those two entities. As you can glean from this introduction, the sci-fi setting as depicted herein is not particularly rosy, but it does have the makings of being potentially played in a more over the top space-opera style.

 

Now the first thing you’ll notice from the introduction of the setting would be that both magic and technology exist  -some of the worlds covered in the setting may actually be of your regular technology-level of fantasy worlds or pre-industrial revolution societies – the opening of portals and interstellar travel to those can of course result in massive changes in the way demographics react to ideas – as a catalyst for change and sheer unlimited potential for cultural clashes, the premise could be described as “Magic offsets technology’s advantages in part” and “There is no prime directive”. In the meanwhile, the darker empires out there are on the verge of decline, whereas the fractured empires of Altair have united under the Admiralty, and much like other human empires, crafted space ships to defend them, taking half-understood knowledge salvaged from wrecks etc. to do so. On the side of most important technological advances should stand the 3D-printing and CnC-advances, Plasma Thrusters and cold fusion reactors – while computers have hit a dead-end, with sufficiently powerful AIs and systems usually running afoul of a weird wave that hampers their processes – hence, human presence is still essential in warfare, though drones and the like are still used. Trans-planar communication is handled via satellites and asynchronous, for the information only manages the speed of light, so in Simmon’s terms, information incurs quite a time debt. Travel between galaxies is undertaken via worm-holes in the (relative) proximity of the respective central stars. Surprisingly, only ships boarded by organic life seem to be able to make these instantaneous jumps – hence, the jumping is actually treated as a magical/psionic effect. So let’s sum up the status quo – we have two evil empires, an emergent light in the Admirality, Hazioth (more on that later) and some potential, including hostile galaxies.

 

Okay, that essentially are the basics – after that, we’re introduced to Altair, the first faction: Essentially a feudal, magical setting that has instantly been made aware of technology – hard sci-fi mixed with a backdrop of feudal fantasy. Much like the overall star-system map, we also get a map of one part of a planet and quite an array of fiction that goes into the peculiarities from this unique set-up, written in-character from various perspectives and covering thus some peculiarities – e.g. the problems of attacking undead with laser-guns. Each faction herein comes with nice in-character narratives, by the way!

 

The Corinthian Hegemony is a dystopian society where the rich and powerful have, via a tight control of education etc. – life-expectancy is 54 years (strangely for men and women), while only 10% truly hold power and live in comfort. the hegemony is considered an empire devoid of large innovation – as befitting a culture that deliberately enforces aggression and stupidity to create soldiers. Those guys should probably have read the memoirs of the “Alter Fritz” (aka Frederick the Great), the Prussian king – he understood that stupid and malnourished/addicted soldiers are bad soldiers and via his educational reforms turned a semi-backwater kingdom into a significant power with one of the most efficient militaries of his time… What I’m trying to get at is…I understand the intention of providing a dystopian, noiresque background, perhaps even one that may act as a kind of satire on our own culture. But systems like these here don’t work as flawlessly as depicted here – there always will be revolutionaries, brilliant minds born from idiot parents etc. and postulating an absolute class system sans means of ascending not only will prove to be fatal for the gene-pool, it also simply won’t work in the long run. I get that that may be the intention, but for me, I can’t truly suspend my disbelief for this society – it’s a tad bit too dreary, too grimdark to seem “realistic” to me.

 

Hazioth is the utopian equivalent to Corinth’s Dystopia – loosely based on egalitarian values as practiced in our world, this faction is most earth-like and un-alien, also in its aesthetics –  the faction represents mankind “getting it mostly right” – and yes, that’s a direct quote from the book. The thing is – it feels TOO close. From the writing, I did not glean any information on how stellar travel, magic etc. has influenced society and this, honestly, makes the faction feel a bit like the obligatory bland goody-two-shoes faction for players to oppose the evil empires.

 

Speaking of evil empires . you thought the Corinthian Hegemony was despicable? Kurions use cybernetic implants to rule absolutely over a huge population of people, enforcing their will upon them – where the Corinthians are decadent, the Kurions are downright fascist bastards, complete with Running Man-like gladiatorial TV-programs and mass-deportations to refresh the ranks of their cyborgs. Environment is poisoned and ruined, military police is corrupt and overall, the living conditions are a total disaster – though at least here, we get a form of rebellion in the making, futile and doomed though it may be. Again, I feel as if this whole construct was born from dystopian concepts like the “Running Man”-like shows and  similar disturbing visions and to an extent, it works, but overall was not consequently thought through – why oppress and bury in violence when you can rule and be loved by the population? All dictators that are truly “successful” have learned to sway the masses in their favor – you can antagonize adversaries, but you need to establish a common enemy, a cultural identity, an ideology to enforce properly such a system – essentially a threat that justifies being a tyrant. Overall, for me, this is too plainly and one-dimensionally evil. We also are introduced to some smaller factions, but in order to not bloat this review further, I’ll skim over pirates, patchers etc. here.

 

The basics of the setting out of the way, we are introduced to 5 new feats related to e.g. starship piloting. Computer-Use and Crafting of various technological tools are also covered, as is piloting and repairing items. Speaking of items: Sealed suits and integrating magic items into them is covered as are powered armors -the rules to create these are awesomely customizable, though they do leave some minor questions: One: They net DR 2/- – Does that stack with the DR granted by adamantine powered armors? What harness and hp have the exotic materials? It’s cool that armor may have chameleon skin for invisibility-camouflage, but does the spell see invisibility for example see through that one? It’s small bits and pieces like that make mixed settings like this one slightly problematic – there just are so many options – perhaps too many. Energy weapons, sonic weapons etc. are also introduced and while generally, I like the range-modifications (sonic weapons working e.g. better under water), they also suffer from some minor inconsistencies: Laser-weapons are blocked by sand clouds or smoke. And while lasers as weapons as a concept are problematic (slightest wiggles make them off-kilter, air becomes plasma that blocks the laser etc.) – smoke is NOT a problem for lasers. Even if you assume that lasers work as weapons, smoke and sand as obstacles are ill-defined  -dusty room + gust of wind/ventilator: Does it still work? I don’t know. And yes, I realize this is nitpicky, but still. Burst Fire and auto-fire get their own rules, though the latter gets an easy, fixed DC of 15 + 1/+2 for focus/specialization to avoid: Why not tie that to the actual attack roll? Oh yeah, another issue here – it requires a hit versus a fixed AC 15 and covers 10 ft. x 10 ft. – why not make this area variable for different weapons? What’s rather cool on the other side is the inclusion of large weapons intended for powered suits and vessels as their peculiarities – it’s hard to shoot medium or small targets with railguns, for example.

 

Scanners, psionic receptacles (which can regenerate bullets, repair items, ships etc.) and similar items are introduced and rather cool. What about magic and technology? Well, there is an arcane technology school and a cleric domain (both of which violate standard formatting for lists like that) and essentially, magic and technology can be freely combined – true strike sniper rifles? Yes, possible. Spells to highjack machines, clear viruses etc.? Covered. Punch others through the web via Punch by IP? Yes. If this spell existed irl, I’d be quite probably dead. While cool and catering to my sensibilities, these spells make for problematic laws – while dealing only non-lethal damage, how authorities deal with options like this would be VERY interesting. Oh, and I want to cast Summon Ferret Inside Enemy Spacesuit – yes, this spell exists herein. AWESOME. Speaking of awesome – while I’m not wholly sold on the blending of technology and magic, at least the book wholeheartedly embraces the potential: Cold lasers, bayonets that cause machines to flee, crystals that can be substituted for XP in crafting and even medical units and regenerating pods can be found herein.

 

Now what about creatures? The setting herein has Cyborgs  -quite a bunch of them, and yes, they can be hacked, their control/torture-chips over-ridden. And yes, we get all the DCs as well as neat artworks for most of the cyborgs – from strange assassin-cyborgs to walking turrets and the Kurian nobles, we get quite a neat array herein. Have I mentioned the Cyborg Tyrannosaurus or the optional ability-upgrade Kurian nobles may get by entering a pact with a demon? Or the fact that the Kurian emperor’s brain has been implanted into a gold dragon (yes, there’s a template for that!). Living machines are essentially free-willed machines that developed a sentience and have since turned away from their erstwhile creators: Taking imagery from insects, fungi and similar designs, these machines feel distinctly alien, with e.g. the fungi being able to reactivate defeated machines and huge mechanical mantises acting as “living” siege weapons. Per se, all of that is damn cool – take the mantis – it’s weaponry sucks the air from its surrounding area, drawing potential beings closer. Problematic – instead of properly using pull/drag-maneuvers as per the PFRPG-standard, the ability instead works via a fixed Str-DC, which is not only uncommon, its antiquated design more suitable for 3.X. Unfortunately, this does not remain the only example where a closer scrutiny of PFRPG’s rules-conventions would have made for a much smoother integration/unified feeling. Have I mentioned undead space pirates?

 

Now, we also get ship-to-ship combat rules – and they are actually rather good: Not using the basic vehicle-rules, though, they allow for multiple characters to act, with the pilot’s skill adding to the AC each round, gunners shooting, electronic warfare etc. – a rather significant amount of options are available, though distances are mostly handled on a relative scale, not a simulationalist’s scale. We also get a rather impressive array of quick-to-play rules here – mass warfare, Point-blank combat, planetside combat and combat as cruise speed – a surprising and more importantly, surprisingly easy to grasp array of options for proper ship-to ship combat that can keep more than one player engaged is presented here. Kudos! We also get a SIGNIFICANT array of generic ship classes including mass, hp, hd etc., including some planetside combat vehicles like hovertanks. Customization is also rather important -from shield generators, to increased speed, weaponry etc. to actual technology that can be further upgraded via magic, this chapter, if anything, could have been even longer for my tastes – it’s by far the most fun and versatile of the chapters so far, even before introducing jammer missiles and all those delightful ship weapons. And yes, all of these components are expensive as sin, but come on – you KNOW you want to blast something to pieces with a friggin’ fusion torpedo! I don’t get why mines don’t get an easily readable chart like missiles and instead have costs etc. in the regular text, though  -a formatting oversight, I guess. What’s not an oversight, but a tinker’s wet dream, would be the massive rules for creating your own ship – tables upon tables upon tables upon tables – easy to understand, expensive, but oh so rewarding. Of course, we also get sample crews and ships by the respective major player fractions, with e.g. Corinthian ships utilizing modules to change type and weaponry – cool idea and solid execution! Oh yes, and there are  star- wraiths and pirate ships herein, too!

 

The next chapter deals with vehicle combat rules – These work mostly analogue to ship combat and include spider-mechs, hover limousines and the like – a rather large array of vehicles, but by far not that many exclusive customization options as the ships – as such, this chapter feels comparably a bit bare-bones for my tastes. Some additional land-vehicle only-modifications to make use of varying levels of gravity (something btw. mostly ignored herein) and similar environmental peculiarities would have gone a long way here.

 

Chapter 5 then offers Missions, i.e. adventure-outlines, intended for characters between level 6 and 9 and providing basics as well as a general outline and maps. I’ll only briefly glance over these, but still: Players should skip to the end of the

 

SPOILERS

 

Still here? All right! The first mission is all about two cults warring on Altair, both of which have purchased a biological weapon that now kills the primitive inhabitants. In order to stop the plague, the PCs have to unearth the origin of the plague, its design-specifics from a cell-phone, and request help from Hazioth. In the next mission, they are to follow up on this issue and thus defeat lizardfolk, kobold tinkers’ berserk reverse engineered Cyborgs and finally defeat the Kurion spy and his evil druid assistant. The next mission sees the PCs stranded on Tajano, a Kurion-controlled planet, where they’ll have to survive in the wasteland, deal in trading bunkers and scavenge in hostile terrain featuring both living machines and marauders – fully mapped, btw.! Finally, the PCs will need to travel to the city of Lixian, where they’ll have chances to interact with a living machine nursery and even infiltrate a military base before finally repairing the ship and escaping first the world, and then the system- I would have LOVED this mission being depicted in full-blown mega-adventure-detail – it is rather fun, but due to its format also requires severe work on behalf of the DM to flesh out. The next mission is more straight-forward and has the PCs hired to deal with pirates attacking a particular asteroid-colony  -when properly played up, this one may become VERY creepy. Neato. The next mission has an uncommon target – the PCs are to crash a Kurion series and prevent psionic rift drive components from falling into the hands of either competing Kurion nobles. This, of course, is harder than it seems at first and includes  infiltration and finally entering a huge ice-lump in space (with ship to steal the prize. Again, neat!

/SPOILERS

The appendix includes fluff-only write-ups of sample NPCs, random encounters (CR 6 – 15) and an example for ship to ship combat to help you get how the rules work.

 

Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are still ok – I noticed a couple of instances where the font-size changed, where information was not put in item-boxes or minor formatting issues and here and there some clunky wordings/mistakes. Nothing too serious, though. Layout adheres to a per se nice 2-column full-color standard and the background is essentially a leather-like skin spanned over dark techy engines and the pdf comes with quite an array of relatively neat full color artworks that lend the product its own distinct identity. Some pages are black with white ink. The pdf has been updated to include a printer-friendly version and now also sports bookmarks, making navigation much more comfortable -awesome!

Benjamin Martinali’s “Between Chains & Starlight” is an extremely ambitious setting – planar and stellar travel, ship-to-ship combat, magic & technology – that’s A LOT to cover and indeed, in spite of this book’s massive size, I fear cramming all inside one book may have been over-ambitious. Why? Because magic and technology and their interaction is NOT that simple: What about divination-communication? How do humans treat other humanoids? The introduction of ONE such component creates a vast panorama of changes that can make for intriguing material indeed – and this book skirts the premise, but only grazes it. The introduction of two such components then would massively change the whole dynamics of how societies work – why not teleport/assassinate into Kurion palaces, for example? As much as I’m loathe to say it, “Amethyst Renaissance” has covered the results of magic/technology (though there in opposition to one another) in a more concise, mature way – in “Between Chains and Starlight”, the resulting blend essentially makes technology just an extension of magic – since it can be enchanted, the “real” component, the rationality implicit in technology, is lost. The fact that AIs don’t work, but Cyborgs and Living Machines are out there also feels a bit like a cop-out – Dan Simmon’s TechnoCore or similar scenarios show easily how such a concept can be included sans breaking humanity. Now I do love some of the ideas, but the web is also rather ill-defined and sketchy, while the factions are a tad bit one-dimensional, which also doesn’t fit with the more shades-of-grey mentality that accompanies most sci-fi settings – and the fact that this setting screams “Firefly with magic” to me. That is a good thing, for I’m a huge sucker for said series. Essentially, the book stretches itself too thin to provide anything but sketchy outlines of the factions and thus make them less believable than e.g. “Amethyst Renaissance“‘s cultures. Which sucks, for both some of the mission-outlines and the crunchy bits indeed do show promise, but could have used some expansion as well.

 

Unlike Necropunk, we don’t get proper Zero-G- (or phase-)combat rules and overall, this book feels like its respective cultures, as unfortunate as that may seem, make no sense to me. They are too stereotypical and they are most certainly not what I’d label “dark” – in fact, as an over-the-top fun space-opera setting where anything goes and hard science has no place, this setting probably works best and is thus, at least imho, misnamed. While we have two dystopias, there is more to being “dark” than having “Evil Places” – in order to be “dark” and memorable, one has to ask questions – transhumanism, relative morality and the choice of lesser and greater evils, survival – all these resonate and are NOT the focus here; instead we get a mostly b/w-morality that tells us plainly: “Here there be culture clash, here there be evil, here there be good, here there be more evil.” What about deities? Can they leave their planets? Demons etc. exist -can outsiders survive in space? Can planar gates be used to jump from planet to planet via the planes? By not limiting magic in any way, there are more question here than this book could ever have hoped to answer. And that’s before getting into the issues with technology/interaction. Magic weapons vs. rifles, breast-plates versus plasma guns etc. – nothing covered, though even per the regular firearm rules, old blackpowder weapons can shoot past armor like that.

 

As a setting, I can’t really get behind this book – it feels too undetailed, too black and white, too anything-goes and not logical enough to make proper use of its premise. Now does that make it a bad book? The answer would be a resounding NO. In fact, both the equipment and ship-rules are rather interesting and cool and really neat – seeing how “Sailing the Starlit Seas” was cancelled, this is, with reskinning, probably as close to space travel we’ll get in a while and these rules are actually rather fun. I’d also complement the monsters – idea- and style-wise, the cyborgs, living machines etc. are AWESOME. However, they also suffer from various instances where they simply don’t utilize rules as per PFRPG’s design-standards. Also: Don’t expect any support for non-core classes herein, vehicle rules, firearm rules in line with Paizo’s or the like.

 

This book oozes heart’s blood and passion and contrary to my nagging, I actually enjoyed several section in here, the irreverent tone of some spells/rules and several ideas just filled my heart with joy – in fact, this book should be considered a monumental achievement for such a small newcomer company. Benjamin Martinali can definitely be proud. That being said, the nitpicks accumulate. As a book for space ship-to-ship combat/ weapons/idea-mine via missions, as a scavenging ground, this book works well. As a believable setting, it fails due to too many unanswered questions and often one-dimensional depictions, at least for me.

And I probably would give this more leeway, were it not for how more mature both “Amethyst Renaissance” and “Necropunk” have handled the sci-fi/magic-technology/dark-themes. “Between Chains and Starlight” is by no means bad, but it also has MUCH room for improvement – for every nitpick there’s a cool idea and every neat idea offers one or more particular instances where additional information can be developed. I think that by splitting this in a proper setting-fluff and a proper crunch-book and developing both, this could have indeed reached a high pinnacle and cover all the things it missed. And I’ve only scraped the ice-berg. Now I’ve haggled a lot with myself, since the at times non-standard rules are massive detriments I have to take into account as a reviewer. Still, there is enjoyment galore to be found here, cool ideas, working rules – but within the context of all other books I’ve reviewed, I can’t ignore the issues that are here.

 

In the end, I’m settling on a final verdict of 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3 for the purpose of this platform – the components that work in here are glorious, just don’t expect to have your work cut out for you or a truly dark setting as advertized. Instead, consider this as an anything-goes book that requires some development to work as a setting, but also offers some awesome ideas and for scavenging purposes, makes for a nice offering. Feel free to add +0.5 stars to the rating when getting this only as an idea-mine.

You can get this massive pdf for a very fair price here on on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!

Endzeitgeist out.

Jan 282014
 

NPC Arsenal: Mercenary Pikeman

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This new series by Abandoned Arts offers you one NPC-build, a complex one – 3 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, 1 page character, so what do we get here?

 

This time around, we get a human polearm master fighter 9 at CR 8 – finally some love for the poor, underutilized polearms! The mercenary fights with a glaive-guisarme and  when pictured, should remind you of how fighting against Kilik (or any other long-range character) can annoy the hell out of you in Soul Calibur: With improved readied actions and pushing assault as well as vital strike, running against the readied actions of this guy will prove painful indeed. The extensive notes on further leveling the build and tactics of this NPC add more value, showing (gleefully so), how utterly evil this build can be in melee, with potions helping against some of the character’s weaknesses.

Conclusion:

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

 

A more than solid build centered on just being a polearm master, AoOs and readied actions, this build may not be the most complex one, but it is a fun build; One that should definitely make some PCs gnash their teeth. Now it’s not a particularly complex build, but it’s versatile and mobile enough to make for a fun NPC – taking the low price into account, I’ll settle for a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5: A very good, if not exceptional build.

You can get this nice NPC here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop.

Endzeitgeist out.

Jan 272014
 

Admiral o’ the High Seas

107068

This supplement for Pathfinder and D&D 4th edition is 81 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC,1 page back cover, leaving us with 77 pages of content, so let’s check this out!

 

So, if you’ve been following the Zeitgeist steampunk-AP by EN Publishing, you may have noticed that the naval combat rules used by the AP are different from those used by Paizo in “Skull & Shackles”. Well, that’s because this supplement in the basis for them.

 

We kick off the supplement with general considerations on technology level, availability/feasibility of teleport and similar means of travel before getting into the meatier aspects of the rules, namely ship statblocks. Ships have sizes (D’uh) and a hull integrity – this is the amount of shipboard weapon damage it can take before the vessel sinks. Ships also have a defense value, which essentially acts as a form of DR against shipboard weapons. In Pathfinder, ships have a touch AC of -3 and +0 to all saves, which feels a bit weird, since  usually, the size of a vessel should influence the AC, whereas here a single default value is assumed. Ship saves, when called for, usually are rolled versus a fixed DC 10, at times modified, but more on these intricacies later. The Maneuverability-value applies to some command checks and essentially determines how easy a ship can be turned around. The Speed is also a fixed value (like 7) that denotes the amount of 5-foot squares a ship can travel in combat (and the amount of knots per hour it makes). It also applies to some command checks and  double the value equals the vessel’s maximum speed. Each vessel has a command rating depending on captain and crew, a minimum amount of crew members required to run it and an entry that denotes how many crew members are required for maximum functionality as well as an entry on how many people can make up the vessel’s crew.

 

Height, length, breadth, decks, weaponry and total cost are also displayed in a ship’s given statblock. and before getting into battle, hazard pay for crew as well as plotting a course and following it – essentially, via simple skill-checks solutions, the basic stuff is covered. One particular thing you’ll have noticed by now is that the system, since it was designed for two systems, teds to provide Pathfinder information in a slightly greenish tint and brackets – which should annoy me, but honestly, it blends unobtrusively in and seriously does not impede the flow of the text – plus, it makes ignoring it easy for 4th edition DMs. Still, I wished the authors had e.g. provided tables for the skills.

Chops, small crash hazards etc. – most minor annoyances in battle can be negated by aforementioned command check, which btw. constitutes a d20+1/2 level+ highest mental attribute modifier…which is a bit problematic. While an elegant way that allows characters to easily command vessels, it also means that ranks in Profession (sailor) and similar skills are essentially wasted – once relative mastery in such a peculiar field becomes so easy and requires no investment from the characters, it takes away from the sense of accomplishment when actually doing something awesome as a captain.

 

Now Stern chases are covered via an abstract system that approximates different round-lengths for the ships depending on how close they are – per se a cool idea that manages to make the chase per se be more tight – the system per se is simple, requiring only one side to get 3 successes over the other and makes for a nice, fast to play solution…until you start taking it apart: While we are told that failure of a navigator in such a chase might grant the other a bonus from +2 to +5 or allow a navigator to incur a penalty on one round for a bonus in the next, we get no hard guidelines – essentially this is do as you please” – which isn’t bad, but also fails to provide a solid framework from which one can glean what would be appropriate. And no, CR-modifications for encounters based on naval hazards are not provided- why? Because, if you haven’t gleaned it, naval combat essentially happens in naval rounds…and it follows abstractions. Take counterspell defense – if you have a ship’s mage, said mage can briefly ward a ship 3/day, reducing damage of an incoming spell by 10. Only…that’s not how counterspelling works. Also: What kind of resources does this shield cost? Why doesn’t it scale with the level of the ship’s mage? Where things get completely ridiculous is with the dinner plate defense – mage hand + plate =blocked AoE-spells or rays thanks to PERCEPTION? Sorry, but that’s just so incredibly NOT how it would work: Mage Hand has a duration of concentration, which means usually maximum one spell in effect per caster, at close range. Worse, even with a readied action, the plate could only be moved by 15 feet: NOT enough to cover a whole vessel… Yes, I guess that this is intended to be a fun countermeasure to spells, but it ends up being ridiculous, Pythonesque even (Sailors of the penetrated plates, anyone?) and also does simply not work as a strategy as presented – the rules directly contradict it.

Where any semblance of dual systems fall apart is with the mechanics of hitting hooks into sea serpents and similar huge creatures to drag them towards the ship – first of all, the sample creatures usually have an array of spell-like and supernatural abilities. Secondly, the whole maneuver may work against “Defense”,, but essentially would be a drag/pull-maneuver in PFRPG – don’t expect CMB/CMD or the like here and while the system works at least within the proposed subsystem in 4th edition, it also mentions strikes and honestly, just doesn’t feel like you could simply insert a given creature into the equation – removing tethered hooks is in no way dependant on the creature hooked (Kraken!) nor are actions given for e.g. servants to remove the hooks. All in all, an abstract maneuver not thought through to its logical conclusion.

 

Next up would be different crews (and morale categories that modify the difficulty of e.g. command checks) as well as two feats that allow you to take e.g. multiple elite officer roles and optional modifications for ship-shape, crew size etc. to further modify the basic rules and add more variety to the respective components. Mutiny is also mentioned shortly, as are supplies, but it is here that the supplement also fails – supplies, water, disease – essential components when it comes to the well-being of a crew (not to start with superstitions) are basically only glanced over in the most cursory of ways. While I get WHY this was done, the fact is that a lot of people out there, me included, actually DO track water-consumption, food resources etc.  -if only so survival means something. In the context of perilous journeys on the ocean, such components should NOT be simply a half-developed backdrop – more often than not, survival may be just as exciting as straight out combat. So in that particular department, the supplement, at least for me, fails miserably – in either system.

 

Sooo….naval combat. Each round of naval combat consists of 5 phases: maneuvers, location, terrain, bearing and attack. In the maneuver phase, perception-checks are made by the look-outs and maneuvers are being decided upon – it is here that it becomes evident that the aforementioned chase is essentially handled like a naval combat – why don’t the chase-rules just mention that? Oh well. Essentially, the maneuver-phase allows for tactics via 6 different maneuvers, which usually pay for a bonus in one phase with a penalty in another and thus allow for some strategy…but also could have used more variety. A total of 10 maneuvers (6 basic maneuvers and 4 situational ones) to choose from may be enough for sojourns to the seas, but in full-blown nautical campaigns, they’d get boring fast. In the Location phase, blocking an enemy, pursuing ships etc. become possible – again, why first list the chase and then, pages later, provide the other rules – the chase rules aren’t bad, I just don’t get why they’ve been divorced from the combat rules on which they’re based in the first place. In the terrain-phase, hazards are dealt with. In the bearing phase, competing command checks are made to determine whether the ships can outmaneuver one another and bring weapons to bear. I do like that we have multiple degrees of success and failure here, with varying effects and consequences. However, with opposing d20-rolls, much is left to chance and at least in Pathfinder, that’s a violation of how such things are done – usually, one would shoot for roll versus fixed value. In the attack-phase, a ship can fire from each of its firing arcs and hit other vessels – each hit hitting one of 4 potential regions of a ship, with varying consequences: Each hit constitutes a STRIKE. One strike means damaged, 2 broken and, as always, 3 and you’re out, i.e. the component has been destroyed. This, again, is rather abstract for my tastes and becomes problematic and overly general once exotic materials and enchantments enter the fray: What if components are guarded versus a special damage type? How much damage does a strike cause when applied in regular damage terms? What about weapons used to decimate the crew? There are some significant holes here, and while we get rules for volleys and a simplified alternate way to track crew damage, I still would have liked more diversified rules there and better synergy with the other levels of battle.

 

Where the system does something RIGHT would be with the officer roles – a ship has a total of 6 officer-roles, all of which allow players (and NPCs) to influence the performance of their ship in varying degrees and phases, allowing for a nice and dynamic experience that feels superior to essentially the “one player versus DM”-experience the default naval combat rules for Pathfinder provide – if your group isn’t as large as mine (over 6 players), you’ll be fully covered and have things to do for every player. On the magic side, though, we once again get a massive failure, when an “Arcana check (DC 10 + half the level of the target’s highest level component)” can be made to bypass the shoddy arcane defense rules on which I harped before. In my opinion, this particular component is overly simplistic and works in neither system. What’s nice, though, would the very real possibility for burning boats to sink, though we are not introduced to shipwrecked rules.

 

Boarding actions, with and without grids, crew templates – there is quite a lot to be found here. Speaking of which: What I really, really love about this supplement are the myriad floor plans for vessels of all sizes – in lavish full color, with grids – there are so many of them, they actually accompanying the respective ship statblocks, it’s just awesome – especially since we also get zeppelins, airships and the like. The fluffy write-ups of sailor’s superstitions are awesome as well, though actual mechanical consequences would have been neat. Extensive information on real-world ghost-ship legends, some fantasy ports and 4 legendary vessels (which include an undead whale) also feature here, before we get easy to follow design guidelines to create your own ships, including a wide array of additional components, which, yes, even include a time machine. Unfortunately, you won’t find Pathfinder rules for these and much like the previously mentioned components, several of them come apart when taken into the design-context of the respective system.

 

The pdf concludes with 2 pages of sheets for vessels, a short summary on Admiral Lord Nelson’s life and a one-page adventure hook/synopsis for you to develop.

 

Conclusion:

 

Editing and formatting per se are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glaring glitches. Layout adheres to an easy to read 2-column full color standard and the pdf is layered, allowing you to customize it and make it more printer-friendly. The artworks are universally thematically fitting stock art and the floor plans of the ships are awesome and full color. The pdf comes extensively bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Author Ryan Nock has created a system that works in this supplement, and one that perhaps is a bit more fun for the whole group than the default ship-combat of the respective systems. That being said, this pdf has issues, many of which can be attributed to it trying to provide one system for two vastly different roleplaying systems. Instead of working with the rules and design-assumptions of D&D 4th edition and Pathfinder, Admiral o’ the High Seas creates its own system, necessitating quite some conversion work on the DM’s side. I wouldn’t complain about that.

 

What I do complain about is that the system introduced herein may work on its own, but roleplaying systems are not like computer games – mini-games that suddenly follow radically different assumptions don’t work here. If arcane batteries can that easily be countered, why don’t fortresses follow these rules? Armies? How does one raise a defense shield on a ship? How much resources does this consume? Can it be raised on land? Why not? I get that the system endeavors to make magic artillery not as overpowering by providing countermeasures, but instead of working with the systems, it jury-rigs an ill-conceived concept together, which, when thought to its logical conclusion, makes no sense within the reality of the game world.  Since all rules are connected, taking this system and divorcing it as thoroughly as this pdf does from basic rules assumptions and how things are handled results in an almost jarring backlash.

 

Worse, while the options herein allow for a more tactical approach, it just doesn’t cover enough: With some many moving parts via spells, magic items, smaller vessels, flying animal companions etc., this supplement falls painfully short of accounting for the myriad of options potentially available. Now, again, I understand this is partially due to being system-spanning, but my point is: It doesn’t work as well as it should in D&D 4th edition and in Pathfinder, it flat-out fails. The latter ruleset has obviously been an afterthought at best, with A LOT of rules differing completely from how things are done in the syntax and grammar of the rules and many options herein simply lacking PFRPG-equivalent rules.

 

This supplement shows that its system actually works, is fun and provides something to do for players – but it doesn’t fit seamlessly into the given rules-systems (though D&D 4th edition works MUCH better with this than PFRPG) and potentially breaks some of the underlying tenets on how your campaign world works in the first place – hardness, hit points, damage of spells etc. – all that is NOT THAT UNMANEGEABLE. This system could have worked with the rules instead of against them – it has all the makings of a good supplement. But it execution is at times lackluster and it suffers from trying to cater to two audiences, ultimately missing one completely and not perfectly hitting the other either. In the superb Zeitgeist AP, these rules may work – because naval combat is used as interludes. But in prolonged naval campaigns, all those small glitches, all the unaccounted possibilities, all the cracks in the system and the relative few tactical options WILL sink this supplement – I guarantee it.

 

How to rate this, then? For D&D 4th edition, this is a valid supplement, if not a perfect one – it leaves many small options to be desired, but does provide some fun and a relative easy system – 3 stars. For Pathfinder, this supplement fails – it ignores design-tenets, rules-information seems to have been forgotten for many pieces of crunch and the information provided is barebones and reeks of an uninspired, shoddy conversion at best. For Pathfinder, I’ll settle for a final verdict of 1.5 stars. My final verdict will fall in-between at 2.5 stars. I’ll round down though, since the huge amount of logic issues this supplement may bring up can thoroughly destroy any sense of immersion and internal logic in a given setting.

You can get this supplement here on OBS.

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jan 272014
 

Monstrous Bloodlines for Sorcerors IV

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This supplement is 9 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?

 

Perry Fehr’s series goes into the fourth installment now and kicks off with the Elohim bloodline, obsessed with creation: The bloodline allows sorcerors to create creatures with a CR of less than 1 ex nihilo cha-mod times per day by incurring 1 point cha-damage per CR of the creature – why per CR? Because later, apart from defensive abilities, they also learn to create slightly more powerful creatures.  Per se an imaginative, nice bloodline for tinkers who want the right creatures for the right task – especially since they don’t have control over their creations. Nice one!

 

The second bloodline would be the Fungal bloodline. This bloodline nets you DR/slashing equal to the spell-level you cast for one round and can expel clouds that fatigue targets and deal minor con damage. I assume the cloud immediately disperses, but no information on whether that’s true is given here, so clarification would be nice. Faster healing is also nice, but at least for me, gaining all plant-traits as soon as 9th level is a bit on the strong side, whereas the poisonous blood at 15th level and the apotheosis capstone feel a bit weak in direct comparison.

The Kyton-bloodline gets the ability to manifest blood-glazed chains cha-mod times per day at a range of 30 feet that deal minor damage plus a bit of wis-damage on a failed save. They also get an unnerving gaze, which may make targets shaken for 1/2 your character level rounds – which is fine per se, though a range would have been nice – I assume it follows the default of gaze attacks, but I’m not sure. Useable 3+ cha-mod times per day, this is also rather strong at 3rd level.

 

The descendants of the Mythic bloodline hail from the seed of heroes of legend, and as such, they essentially may enact what could be called the little siblings of mythic abilities, namely, the mythic surge: Adding 1d4 to any d20-roll cha-mod times per day before the roll is made and later upgrading dice-sizes to up to 1d12. Solid.

 

The Nosferatu bloodline can grow claw attacks and emulate a combination of verminous and vampiric abilities that includes transforming your arm into a blast of nauseating vermin that damage a foe. Overall, once again, a solid bloodline. The penultimate one would be for those that carry the blood of Psychopomps in their veins and these beings may add ghost touch to their attacks or show targets glimpses of the afterlife as well as gaining some immunities à la death effects, poison and disease – once again a bit soon at 9th level, at least for my tastes, but not per se broken.

 

The final bloodline herein would be the Starspawn bloodline, which allows you to enter telepathy with willing targets or deal wis-damage to foes as well as bonuses to skill-checks based on mental attributes. At higher levels, you gain the no breath-quality and immunity to cold (again, a tad bit soon) and also leadership at double followers or two metamagic feats at 15th level. I’d be interested how this interacts with sorcerors that already have the leadership feat, an answer the pdf unfortunately does not provide.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I didn’t notice any glaring glitches that would impede the quality. Layout adheres to PDG’s 2-column no-frills standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked in spite of its brevity- nice!

 

The fourth installment of monstrous bloodlines offers us some rather unique takes and ability arrays, with overall solid bonus-spells selections and varied options that should make creating more diverse sorcerors a fun task. That being said, personally, I’m not too big a fan of the level 9-immunitites (and I know: there are precedents…) many of these have. That’s a matter of taste, though, and will not feature in my final verdict. What will feature here instead is the fact that the high-level abilities at level 15 and 20 often are not that impressive. +4 Str and Con, -2 Dex + no more eating? Not particularly impressive and unfortunately, the same hold true for a couple of the capstones herein. That being said, there is gold here – the rather experimental Elohim bloodline, which in the hands of the right player, can be rather powerful, for example or the “little sibling” of Mythic Surges make for cool cutting edge ideas – and offset the at times slightly (though much less than in no. 3) imprecise wording slip-ups and none-too impressive capstones some of these have. Taking the very low, fair price into account, I will settle for a final verdict of 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 for the purpose of this platform.

You can get these interesting bloodlines here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!

Endzeitgeist out.

Jan 242014
 

Tome of Twisted Things

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This pdf is 34 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 31 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?

 

We kick this pdf off with the Darkborn-PrC – essentially a character who opts to take the wickedness into him/herself, slowly becoming the monster they ought to destroy – in the words of “The Dark knight” -either die a hero or become a monster. The PrC spans 10 levels and ofefrs d10, 4+Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB-progression, 7 levels of spell progression and medium ref-saves. Unlike many other PrC, this class comes with a fighter/melee-centric alternative that offers full BAB-progression, but no spell-progression. Rules-wise, darkborn get a wickedness-pool of 3 x HD. Which brings me to two concepts – wickedness and purity: When the Darkborn uses his/her Darkweaving ability, a non AoO, non-touch SU with range, both s/he and the victim wager purity versus wickedness-points and the creature that wagered less is afflicted with the darkweaving. While said points do regenerate, they don’t do so particularly fast, so a poker-face is helpful indeed. From exiled outsiders to walking on spiritual shards of glass to damage bonuses and negative energy damage, the 8 different effects truly are intriguing and fit thematically well with the PrC. On the downside of the doomed hero-angle, the PrC exudes a seductive draw – every level may see the hero slide closer towards the evil they seek to combat and an alternate rule may even make taking class-levels in other classes harder… Darkborn also learn to suppress darkweave effects that affect them, detect evil and undergo at later levels essentially an evil outsider apotheosis. Oh…and the capstone…you better quit before the capstone, for it has you transform into a truly vile monster, consumed by the darkness – of course, the lure may prove to be too great and still see you become an NPCs, perhaps even the final villain of the campaign? (And yes, there is an optional rule to avoid this depressing fate – but honestly, I think I’d omit that one – I’m into bleak, dark endings. Still, its presence is awesome!)This PrC does a great job at handling the doomed antihero-concept very well and while the purity-score determination may be a bit extra work for the DM, the formula is easy enough to do it on the fly – so all in all: One superb PrC!

 

The next class we get herein would be the Avenger, an alternate take on the Paladin that is not restricted in their alignment, gets no spellcasting and channel negative energy. Being all about revenge, they learn to place marks on designated prey and deal more damage (cha-mod) versus foes that have injured him/her. Foes designated as targets of this retribution also heal the avenger by cha-mod whenever he manages a crit versus the target. The avengers also learn so-called reparations – effects in addition to retribution, which come from a wide variety of selections that scale up over the levels and the class also nets auras that extend powers to the avenger’s allies, allowing them to provide bonus damage to allies helping them with their revenge. They also learn to imbue their weapons with weapon qualities and finally, as a capstone, their get a kind of semi-apotheosis with DR and max negative energy channeling and all and their prey becomes almost impossible to resurrect.  Again, a quite awesome class-  the avenger makes for a flavorful, cool, alternate class!

 

Third among the offerings herein would be the Ruiner, who replaces touch of corruption with the option to supplement the damage dealing spells he casts with additional damage and may also thus increase the damage dealt via channel energy as soon as s/he gain it. At 3rd level and every 3 after that, the Ruiner may choose a Ruin, their replacement for cruelties. – essentially, being all about pain, they are focused on dealing painful and bleeding wounds, penalizing foes’ saves against pain and yes, they may even negate morale benefits with their dread auras. A deadly, cool concept for an avatar of the blackest, most destructive nihilism. Neat!

 

The Tyrant PrC offers d10, 4+Int skills per level, full BAB, medium fort- and will-saves and essentially is a non-good, extremely lawful and honorable, but potentially twisted individual, fuelling his power with conviction (of which he gets 2+cha-mod +2 per class level): Tyrants are specialists of demoralization and may even demoralize the mindless and later even use conviction to prevent foes with a readied action to attack them – this is AWESOME! Stacking dominate person effects on the demoralized and smiting chaos to finally become a larger than life sovereign of his/her own domain, this PrC could have easily been a lame anti-chaos-borefest and instead proves to be a rather cool little PrC, albeit one that could have used a tad bit more  versatility.

 

We also get a new race with the warped -offspring of mortals and eidolons, these folks replace the attribute modifiers of their base-race by +2 Con, +2 Wis and -4 Cha, get darkvision 6o feet, are treated as aberrations for effects and spells (but don’t gain the benefits of the type) and get an evolution pool of 1 + 1 for every 5 character levels. Said evolutions follow their own distinct rules, preventing e.g. the skilled evolution from becoming overbearing. Only 1 and 2 point evolution are eligible and transforming costs a full-round action that provokes AoOs and leaves the Warped sickened – and is limited to the amount of times per day it can be used.”We should wait before returning to the city, gotta get rid of that claws…wait, the paladins are around the corner?? Oh damn, better scram…” While they may Disgusie self as if not having any evolutions, still – quite some roleplaying potential there! They also get +4 to saves versus polymorph and +2 to Knowledge (planes) and Intimidate. A strong race, yes, but their social stigma should make sure that they remain a balanced and cool option. Two thumbs up!

 

We also get 2 new archetypes – the Bloodborn Summoner , a racial archetype of the Warped, who prepares spells as a witch, substituting his/her eidolon for a familiar and uses the magus’ spell-list as well as Int as governing attribute. However, the eidolon is also changed: d8, -2 Wis, Int and Cha and 1/2 str and dex-bonuses over the levels. In order to unleash the eidolon, the summoner has to cut himself and let the beast gush forth from his/her wounds – interesting concept, especially since the archetype allows the warped to slowly partially ignore the restrictions imposed on their own mutable forms. We btw. also get 4 favored class options for the Warped.

 

The second racial archetype for the Warped herein would be the Monk of the Flowing Form – these monks blend their own shifting powers and natural weapons with the training of the basic monk-class. Again, a compelling, neat little archetype!

 

Finally, we get 20 feats, one of which is a story feat and one campaign trait – the feats per se are cool, offering e.g. synergy for avenger and rogue-builds, cavalier/avengers, more options for darkborn and even more tools for the warped. Whether by evoking the Lex Talionis (“An Eye for an Eye”), adding judgments to retributions, swearing dwarven blood oaths or fueling your meta-magic with wickedness – the feats one and all work rather well and even a feat the offers synergy between noble and Tyrant-classes is provided – overall: Kudos!

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting has traditionally not been Little Red Goblin Games’ strongest suit. Since their imaginative, intriguing campaign setting Necropunk was the first indicator on what they can do, I’m happy to report that the team of editors Dayton Johnson, Christina Johnson and Jeremiah Zerby have done a great job here – apart from the fluff-text in a couple of feats not being italicized and similar inconsequential nitpicks like “immediate reaction” instead of “reacting with an immediate action”, I have the pleasure to report that LRGG have not stepped down from the level they’ve reached with Necropunk, instead applying the vastly increased standards to “regular” publications like this. Tl;dr: Editing and formatting very good, though not yet perfect.

The book comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Layout. OMG. With a slight purplish tint, black borders and SUPERB, original and copious b/w-interior art by Tamas Baranya and Nathan Winburn, this book is a beauty to behold and ranks simply among the finest examples of b/w-art out there – aficionados of dark fantasy tones and artworks will love these evocative pieces.

 

Ian Sisson, Caleb Aylsworth, Christos Gurd and Scott Gladstein have created herein the BY FAR best book in their “Tome”-series I’ve read so far – while the purity-mechanic may be a little bit clunky in the beginning and not for everyone, it is a daring design – and one that does not extend to the other classes. The variant classes capture their respective topics well, their rules-language is rather polished and oftentimes simply INTERESTING. Imaginative, daring even. The avenger especially is a cool character and probably my new go-to class to recreate Guts from Berserk. By the way: If you haven’t read this milestone of dark fantasy manga, go out there and get it NOW. (The anime is essentially btw. ONLY the extensive flashback!) Where was I? Oh yes, Tome of Wicked Things. Sorry there – this book just felt like it would seamlessly fit in one of the darkest and coolest sagas I’ve read so far and its content is overall…well, just awesome.

The new race is working surprisingly well, its restrictions preventing the “overpowered-omg-eidolon-evolutions” aspect I dreaded, while providing a great way to play a character that looks normal, but has a monster waiting just below the surface. Thematically, content fits seamlessly with presentation – from conan-style headers (with swords through letters) to the artworks to the content and we get one crunch-book aficionados of dark fantasy should not let slip through their fingers. While I could complain about the aforementioned minor glitches, that would by hypocrisy at its finest and simply not do this awesome pdf justice – The innovative ideas herein are more than enough to let one see past the exceedingly minor, almost non-existent little issues and hence, my final verdict will clock in at a heartfelt recommendation of 5 stars + seal of approval.

 

Congratulations to the crew of LRGG – if this is what we can expect from them now, then start saving and keep an eye on them, ladies and gentlemen!

You can get this cool supplement for darker campaigns here on OBS!

Endzeitgeist out.

Jan 242014
 

A Steam-Peek Guide to Orbis

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This free teaser of Gaming Paper’s Seeampunk-setting of Orbis is 11 pages long, 1 page front cover/editorial/SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 8 pages of content – though that would rather be 16.

 

Why? Well, because the pdf has one weird quirk – even if set to single page, it always displays two pages at once, something that usually only happens when a file is scanned in. Slightly annoying, but oh well.

 

So what is Orbis about? Essentially, it endeavors to be (as far as possible) realitsic, at least regarding the results of the availability of magic – the old guard, those that command arcane and divine might, are essentially the rulers and the machine age has relatively recently upset their power-base, inciting a struggle between the old and new, technology and magic, rich and poor – so far, so compelling – as further enforced by the nice in-character narratives in boxes.

 

In the following sections on the respective nations, we get a glimpse at potential for racial issues, colonialist discourses and problems and similar relatively unexplored tropes and topics that do offer quite a compelling selection of varying topics to cover via adventures (of which there are at teh very least, 3 planned) – in a world in revolution, a lot of changes can be made and the PCs may well end at the forefront of said upheavals.

 

All the usual races can be found on Orbis (so no humano-centrism), but orcs and half-orcs are unknown – instead, there are Crocodilians, who get +2 Str, -2 Cha, can hold their breath twice as long as humans, get a bite attack at 1d6 that is treated as if it were an unarmed attack (why not as a primary natural weapon?) and can be used in e.g. monk damage progressions as if it were a regular unarmed attack. Furthermore, they can 1/day move double their movement rate as part of a move action. The race feels a bit strong, but still okay. I hope the bite attack is streamlined for the final books, though. The second new race would be the Hekano – aquatic humanoids (full blown water + air breathing) with 4 tentacles they can use to make skill checks while protecting themselves. They also get +2 stealth,+2 to Int and Dex and -2 to Str. Those tentacles are a can of worms – can they wield weapons? If not, why? Can they activate magic items (via UMD a skill-check…) – do they get better grapple? Urgh…the concept is cool, but I fear that unless handled with much, much care, these guys will end up as terribly broken, even though the concept is intriguing. It should be noted that, while they do get a lengthy write-up, neither race comes with an age, height and weight-table, something I hope to see in the final book.

 

Now a new rule would be the calibration of weapons – via concise, easy to grasp rules, one component stat of a weapon can be raised, whereas another is lowered – which per se is damn cool – more damage for slightly less chance to hit (i.e. +1 damage, -1 atk) and similar options sound like fun. Magic items that are calibrated lose some of the inherent bonuses they get, but can be calibrated for three benefits instead of the standard two – and here I’m not 100% sold – why? Because threat range and crit multiplier are part of what can be calibrated. That means x5 scythes and picks. Urgh. Stacking with keen etc.- urgh. Also, giving a weapon range may be cool, but is the thrown weapon, if it was prior to calibration a pure melee weapon then treated as an improvised weapon? Uses it str or dex to calculate atk? Can it be thrown at the end of e.g. a flurry? Why not make weapons more usable for different maneuvers instead or provide an anti-calibration to make items especially suitable to destroy the efficient, but fragile wonders? The system is complex and can be rather cool, but I hope that all the moving parts are properly covered in the final books – this, as written, is still very exploitable.

 

The pdf concludes with a massive map of the world.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I didn’t notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly, nice two-column b/w-standard and the pdf has no bookmarks, but various beautiful b/w-artworks.

 

From what I could glean, Dan Comrie and Steven E. Schend have created an intriguing setting full of adventuring potential, cool nations and ideas – but at the same time, this pdf leaves me slightly cautious – while Orbis seems very intriguing, both tentacled humanoids and the calibration-mechanic are cool, but require very skilled hands to properly pull off without breaking the game –  a mastery I’m not 100% sure that is there from what I’ve seen so far. Now this being a free sneak-peek, there’s nothing to lose here and the ideas per se are inspiring – now let’s hope the team Gaming paper has assembled is up to the task and that enough space is allotted to the respective rules. I am cautiously intrigued and hence my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.

You can get this free first look at Orbis here on OBS!

Endzeitgeist out.

Jan 232014
 

Road to War: The Equinox Crown

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This module is 26 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page introduction (in which a rare Legendary Games typo can be found – a missing “Y” in “you” that has been eaten by the layout), 1 page back cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 20 pages of adventure, so let’s take a look!

 

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

 

All right, still here? Level-wise and concept-wise, this module is somewhat different from usual plug-in adventures in that is rather modular: Essentially, this module level-wise is intended to span levels 6 to 7 and are intended to make the path to Drezen more varied, providing XP and more things to do for the PCs. While they may have an army of crusaders, each encounter herein actually covers whether/how the presence of their army interacts with the encounter.

 

The 7 encounters herein are woven together via a subplot centering on the eponymous Equinox Crown and features a short summary of time traveled since the PCs have left as well as the number of miles they have since then covered – nice to keep track of distance etc. So what can the PCs do? Well, the trail of the Equinox Crown begins when the PCs have to essentially convince a small village to evacuate. In the night after that,. a traitor contacts the demonic forces, which results in the PCs having to fend off a couple of Hala demons and…getting the Equinox Crown. As l00t. Yeah. Somewhat anticlimactic.

 

When the PCs then encounter deserters, things get weird fast – during interrogation, the deserters vomit forth swarms of locusts unwittingly implanted in them and dealing with the swarms via area effects may severely damage the PC’s army. On the plus-side, this event may see the PC in question automatically bonding with the crown. That being said, this also features a massive moral dilemma I’m not sure the module handles well – what to do with the deserters? Execution may seem harsh, but letting them off the hook should have a catastrophic impact on troop-morale unless sold right – and this whole dilemma is completely glanced over and ignored – why not modify their army’s prowess to reflect their decisions? A lost chance there.

 

We also get a bit of mass combat (and intrigue) when one of the Condemned (pardoned criminals) pleads the PCs to save his men and finding out about a noble who has essentially sacrificed the unpopular company -defeating an army of shir-demons can integrate the remnants of the Condemned into the PC’s fold.  Pity that said noble is already dead, though – here there would have been quite some potential for a hard choice and benefits/penalties depending on your PC’s inclinations – again, lost potential.

 

Next up would be a fight for the PCs to handle alone (after losing scouts), against a Frost Drake (Who has a miraculously large font-size in the offense-section of his statblock) in a battle with different heights (awesome) – after that, we have the PCs explore the home of an ettin guerilla fighter and his bear companion Ripclaw.

 

The final encounter takes place within “The Demon’s Heresy” and has the PCs convince an earth-elemental guardian to cease attacks and then take out a mythic locust demon, including a mini-ritual, which is nice, but could have used some more detail. The pdf also contains a full-blown bestiary entry for the earthen guardians, the Durdalis and a very detailed entry on the equinox crown as well as suggested means of increasing power.

 

Finally, we get no less than three awesome, grid-studded full color player-friendly versions of the maps of the encounters herein, adding to the module’s value by providing top-notch cartography.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, though slightly below Legendary Games’ otherwise almost flawless track record. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard with a flame-like orange top border for a distinct look. The artworks (2 full-page beauties that could be cover-images and 2 no less beautiful smaller pieces) are simply gorgeous and on Paizo-level. The full-color cartography also is up to a very high quality standard and the presence of player-friendly maps that can be used time and again is a huge plus for the value of this module.

 

So, Jim Groves and Neil Spicer deliver us the Road to War here to make the journey more interesting – Legendary Games has already shown that Jim Groves can do journey-adventures well with Road to Destiny and thus I was looking forward quite a bit to this one. Unfortunately, I have to admit to being rather disappointed – it’s not the fact that this is not a module, but instead more of a chain of loosely linked encounters, mind you – the encounters per se are well-crafted, utilize terrain, come with LG’s trademark superior production values. That’s not the problem.

Unlike all other LG-plug-in modules I’ve reviewed so far, this one feels a bit redundant in it choice of adversaries. While I’m a fan of themed modules/APs where your primary opposition has a theme, certain tricks the PCs may adapt to etc., the foes herein feel a bit like random encounters, also thanks to the overarcing storyline around the Equinox Crown being simply, I’m loathe to say it, boring. The item per se is nice and has some distinct, cool abilities, but story-wise, there simply is nothing going on here – whether regarding the legendary item’s background or the link between encounters, this whole module lacks a compelling frame narrative. And consequence. The PCs don’t have to make any hard choices herein, even though several of the encounters practically hand the DM the necessary respective dilemma on a silver platter. Choice is what makes linear journeys matter – why not choose between arrogant nobles and redeemed criminals? Why not modify the army’s stats according to the decisions made? Certainly not due to a lack of capability, seeing how excellent Legendary Games’ “Ultimate Battle” turned out to be.

 

At least for me, this linearity, the lack of consequence and the rather flimsy story of the crown and the adversaries herein drag this module down from the position its otherwise superb production values would guarantee. This becomes especially evident when seen in direct comparison with the SUPERB plug-in modules LG has crafted for Jade Regent, all of which mop the floor with this one, offering a deeper story and more varied experience for the AP and even when played as standalone offerings. Even as a collection of encounters, as which I’ll judge these, the lack of choice means that PCs will not consider this a respite from a railroady journey, but rather a prolonging. Is this a bad supplement? No! But also falls spectacularly flat of what it easily could have been. My final verdict will clock in at 3 stars.

You can get this module/encounter-collection here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop.

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jan 232014
 

Bullet Points: 5 Magical Diseases

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All right, you know the drill – 3 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, 1 page content, so let’s take a look!

 

Soooo. magical diseases! YEAH! I’m a sucker for diseases, poisons, hazards, traps, curses and haunts as my poor players can attest, so let’s dive in!

 

-Ashenblood: Contracted by magical fire, this disease damages your con-score, but for each point, you actually get fire resistance – to the point where you can temporarily gain the fire subtype! The downside is that upon death, you are incinerated and replaced by a fire elemental. But your players don’t know that…hell, they might even keep diseased agents lying around when seeking to do battle against flame-using foes…

 

-Barrow Plague: This is also a transforming plague and will henceforth be added to the arsenal of each and every necromancer, lich and other undead mastermind I can find. Why? It not only damage con, it also imposes an additional penalty equal to the total of con-damage received to saves against necromancy, negative energy and level drain – and seeing how several of these are based on fort, that just adds insult to injury. Nice! Speaking of which: OF COURSE, you turn into an undead upon succumbing to this plague. What did you think?

 

-Fury Fever: This one deals int-damage and has an incubation of mere MINUTES. Worse, upon receiving a mere 4 points of int-damage, the target enters a mindless, barbarian-like frenzy, attacking everything larger than tiny and not infected. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we have an appropriate representation of a rage-plague. Excellent!

 

-Green Guts Also highly virulent and with only an onset of mere minutes, this one nauseates the subject with a 10%-chance every minute, for up to 1d10 rounds. Now here’s the cincher: Every time a victim is nauseated, it starts vomiting up green slime. Yes! Delicious, deadly, green slime. Oh, and the target is NOT immune against the vomited slime’s effects. Hope your character has practiced projectile vomiting during his/her apprenticeship-days… Oh, and because its fun, having this for too long turns you into a gelatinous cube.

 

-Spellblains could be transmitetd optionally via the contact of diseased magical energies and is a bane for all casters, increasing the level of their spells for preparing or casting (for spontaneous casters) them, essentially crippling tehir spellcasting prowess – oh, and it gets worse, sicne the penalties are cumulative.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good – apart from some minor improper capital letters, all is well. Layout adheres to SGG’s old 3-column portrait-standard, which is somewhat cluttered and since then thankfully no more around in RGG’s supplements. The pdf has no bookmarks and needs none at this length.

 

Owen K.C. Stephens delivers – 5 diseases, all killer, no filler – cool effects, iconic imagery, solid crunch – this is easily one of my favorite Bullet Points of all the time and 5 star + seal of approval material. And it lacks one important piece of information for every disease: Namely, how many consecutive saves are required to shake them off. Yes. None of the diseases come with the information on the cure-saves. That is a major blunder and the only reason I can’t rate this otherwise superb supplement as 5 stars +seal of approval and instead have to penalize it down to 4. Still: A definite recommendation, folks – take a look: The fun concepts will prove to be infectious!

You can get this nice little pdf here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!

Endzeitgeist out.

Jan 222014
 

Prepare for War: Basic Training Manual

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This Player’s Guide for Amora Game’s new AP is 29 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC,1 page SRD, leaving us with 25 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?

 

Military-life is not for the faint of heart or easy, and the same holds true for the city-state of Thaddeus, where, in the Compound 13, the PCs will undergo their training for war against the city-state’s adversaries. Hence, as you can imagine, the player characters don’t start as full-blown adventurers, but rather 0-level characters. Where via SGG (or now, RGG’s) Apprentice-level character-rules (don’t fear – all required is in here) and char generation, the PCs are made. And we’re in for at least my preferred style, with only 15-point buy (or the regular conservative rolling) making the PCs not super-heroes, but rather diligent soldiers. We also are introduced for the roles of the respective non-humans in the predominantly human Thaddean military. As the new race here, we have the ferals, essentially urbanized orcs that get +2 Str and Wis, -2 Cha, 2 primary natural claw attacks at 1d4, low-light vision,  +10 ft movement when running, charging or withdrawing, always treat Perception and Stealth as class-skills and get +2 to melee atk and AC when below half HP and without conscious ally within 30 ft. Compared to the other standard races perhaps a bit strong, but still within acceptable parameters.

 

Now background as per Ultimate Campaign, starting level traits, alignment etc. is covered in here as well, lending you a hand for proper character-generation. We also are introduced to the social hierarchy of the Thaddean Empire, which imho lends a level of realism to the set-up unfortunately all-too-often ignored in most settings, so kudos for that! Simple and easy to grasp though it is, its presence lends a distinct flair to the chapter!

 

The next section covers more than basic training, i.e. the graduation from 0-level to 1st level characters, which includes extensive breakdowns of the respective character-classes and the units they are considered as – from bards and alchemists and druids to infantry and the support-units – each class gets recommendations that help fit it within the context of the campaign and teh Thaddean Empire – and does a better job at depicting this than quite a few player’s guides I’ve read. Furthermore, we are introduced to the Thaddean Empire’s patron god Damocles. Here we also are introduced to a cool variant rule: Per default, Gods don’t heal non-believers; Damocles heals e.g. only his believers and citizens of his city-state. Non-believers can be healed, but at reduced efficiency and with the chaplain (the name for clerics of Damocles) being temporarily sickened. At least for me…Two thumbs up! The clause of alternately belonging to a city-state being enough makes infiltration, not using healing as detect-spells etc. possible, so yeah: Neat one! It should be noted that gunslingers, monks and ninjas are not covered, though – they don’t fit within the context of the campaign and while seeing them would have been nice, I’d rather have a believable, concise fluff than a half-baked hodge-podge, so again, kudos for having the guts to exclude them.

 

We also are introduced to quite a slew of new traits to choose from: A total of 30 new traits, to be precise. Also interesting here – they actually have a cool fluff and offer some rather interesting bonuses: Adjusting the Draw of your bow for 1 hour nets you a +1 damage-bonus to your shots, but also risks breaking the bow on a natural 1 or 2. The equivalent of the soldier fine-tuning the signature gun – rather awesome! Firing crossbows with one hand, increased pain-tolerance due to having met the military’s bone-breakers, being known for arcane friendly fire (which makes saving for your allies easier!) etc. –  these traits are actually all rather awesome and one of them is even a teamwork-trait, following Amora’s rather cool installment in the Supporting Roles-series, which btw. makes for a superb supplemental pdf for an unbeatable price.

 

Next up are a total of 10 new feats: From Coordinated Volleys to charging through allies, being better at sabotage, combining dirty tricks and rage, improved resiliency in groups to avoid damage from forced marches and one that allows you and an ally to stack morale bonuses and extend them to allies, but at the cost of actions every round – these feats, overall, are well-crafted and flavorful.

 

Now, of course we also get new archetypes, first of which would be the Armiger – no, not the RGG base-class, here, it’s a magus archetype that gets a reduced arcane pool, but may impart special arcane marks on weapons for bonuses, learn to craft magic arms and armor rather soon, at 5th level. The signature ability, though, would be arcane heraldry, which allows the armiger to create a seal on his tabard, armor etc. – when using his/her arcane pool, they may via this seal improve temporarily all weapons imbued with their marks, later learning to even add magical qualities. I can see playing this one being fun – nice, if unfortunately-named archetype.

 

The Battlefield Sapper Ranger chooses affiliations and organizations/nations as favored adversaries instead of creature types, get trapfinding and additional ranger traps. Even cooler, they can lay down bombs, Bridgeburner-style: Including countdown, increasing damage and rules to disarm them. Oh, and they later learn to combine these with ranger traps! AWESOME. Seriously, I really, really like this one!

 

Battle Sorcerors draw strength literally from their highest level arcane spell, boosting their strength and they may also erect spontaneous spell barriers to avoid being reduced below 0 hp, using his still remaining spells as a kind of hitpoint substitute; Nice, especially since the Battle Sorceror gets some solid weapon proficiencies! Later, the barrier can be used without even the immediate action it required in the beginning. Again, a cool archetype! The Cavalryman Cavalier is essentially a cavalier that is theme-wise more in line with the mounted soldier than the questing knight, with a variety of subtle modifications that make sense and should be considered balanced.

 

Decrier Inquisitors are masters of propaganda and censure, essentially the ideological think-tanks, whose words may stop the adversaries dead silent in their tracks or censure foes with negative effects depending on the alignments of the affected. The words of censure may later be imparted via attacks as well – again, a nice archetype. Field Medics are alchemists that get weaker bombs, but access to cognatogen as well as improved healing discoveries and fast healing-imparting smoke bombs. Nice! The Commander-class from Amora Game’s Supporting Roles-series also gets a new archetype with the Iron Fist, especially fearsome and harsh commanders. Nothing to complain here either. Peacebane Oracles are masters of antagonizing adversaries and have an aura of strife. Raider rogues are mounted rogues that are particularly adept at striking from horseback – essentially mounted skirmishers. Again, rather cool. The Siegemaster-archetype from Abandoned Art’s Amazing Races: Humans! has been acknowledged and adapted to this book as well. Bards may opt for the War Chanter archetype, who gets less skills per level, but 3 special bardic performances that allow them to negate fatigue, temporarily grant endurance and as a capstone world wave to sweep away enemies. Add to that sonic-damage causing war chants, calling lightning and grant temporary hit points to allies that respond to his call and we have one damn awesome archetype. Finally, War Wizards may reduce arcane spell failure chance, get Tactician and bonus feats, but pays for this with no less than four opposition schools.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any significant glitches that would have impeded my understanding of the content’s intent. Layout adheres to an easy-to-read two-column full-color standard with golden borders at the top and bottom. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and the interior artwork in b/w is fitting.

 

Amora Game supplements have been work for me so far and I’ve bashed a couple of them to smithereens. Hence, to be honest, I wasn’t particularly excited to read and review this.

Holy Moly was I wrong.

 

From actually fun to read prose to complex mechanics that are handled well, this supplement had me reread it multiple times, my heart swelling a bit every time – Greg LaRose, Daron Woodson (mastermind of Abandoned Arts), Wayne Canepa and Wojciech Gruchala have crafted a supplement that draws you into the culture of the Thaddean Empire, that breathes flair, offers solid crunch and feel surprisingly unified in voice and style. Oh, and the crunch here is excellent for the target goal of providing a good crunch-backdrop for their War-AP. Almost ex nihilo, the crunch herein is actually so cool and compelling that I’m rather surprised how well all the archetypes came out – there are several herein that just had me smile my predatory “Hell yeah”-grin; With these, your group actually could go all-out Bridgeburners (early books, before the demigod-aspects came in); Better yet, Amora Game shows awareness for other supplements, adding value to them as well, though not necessarily requiring them.

 

Seriously, there are more great archetypes herein than in MANY of the countless supplements I’ve reviewed and the fluff, traits etc. -everything goes seamlessly together, quoting all our favorite fantasy war tropes. This player’s guide is superior to most I’ve read and is well worth the fair asking price – I salute the designers and team from Amora Game: 5 stars + seal of approval, Endzeitgeist reporting ready for the AP; If it can stand up to this guide, then I’m in for a blast.

You can get this fine collection of crunch here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop.

Just interested in the fluff? Here’s the free, less crunchy version on OBS!

 

Oh, and one more thing: What do the talented designers Alexander Augunas, Bradley Crouch, Scott Gladstein, Mike Myler, Eric Morton, Will McCardell, Daron Woodson and the Amora Game-team have in common? Well, they are all working together on a book of uncommon, cool, novel classes. The project has already been funded and currently, the kickstarter is aiming for stretch-goals. I did actually pledge on this KS, so take a look and plesge if you like what you’re seeing: Here’s the link to Liber Influxus Communis, the Book of Collective Influence.

 

Endzeitgeist out.