Jun 302015
 

Dungeonlands III – Palace of the Lich Queen

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This massive mega-adventure clocks in at 220 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 3 pages of SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us a massive 212 pages of content, so let’s take a look at this!

 

This review was chosen as a prioritized review and moved up my reviewing queue at the request of my patreons. Furthermore, I received a hardcover copy of this book for the expressive purpose of running it and providing a fair, unbiased review.

 

Wait, there’s one more thing – after I ripped Tomb of the Lich Queen, the first part of the trilogy, a new one, why don’t I review Part II, Machine of the Lich Queen next and instead jump to the final book? Simple – because Machine and Tomb still receive some polish/revisions and I’d rather review and playtest the best iteration of a given book. All right, so that out of the way, we begin this massive book with a truly extensive and well-written chapter of prose detailing the legends of the 9 fragments the lich queen has stored in her mental palace, providing further and somewhat tragic exposition for the genesis of this being- and after that, the crunch begins.

 

This being an adventure-review, unsurprisingly, the following will contain massive SPOILERS. Potential players should thus jump to the conclusion.

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Still here? All right! The lich queen’s hall of world-spanning mirrors lies shattered by her hand, the machine grinding and stuttering – and to reach the palace of her, the PCs will have to traverse what amounts to a gigantic array of planes-hopping. If you’re familiar with Savage Mojo’s Suzerain Continuum, that may not come as a surprise; if not, let me give you a run-down – there are *A LOT* of what amounts to campaign settings galore, each with their own, unique takes. Beyond just taking a look at either of them, the respective chapters essentially provide a means for the PCs (and players) to glimpse at the wondrous realms provided – think of them like a selection of Gossamer Worlds for Lords of Gossamer and Shadows or akin to the strange alternate realities provided in Shadowrun’s classic Harlequin’s Return-saga. So while the cynic in me considers this a kind of advertisement, the fanboy grins and considers this a very smart move – why? Because, let’s face it, at the end of a campaign, there is always the discussion on what to play next – here, more than its fair share of interesting options are provided.

 

Now, by design, this does mean that each world is represented in what amounts to a short vignette (I’m using this term through the review to denote the literary function implied by its meaning, not one of the others) that sums up some peculiarities and pits your PCs against a target adversary, aligns them with a positive figure and provides a bonus for success, a story-hook/future conflict in the case of failure. The first array of these vignettes, happening in day-time, send the PCs off to a true myriad of established settings and new ones: A Greece-inspired scifi-setting with mechanic pegasi would just be the first of these excursions – beyond this strange world, the PCs get a glimpse at a dystopian cyberpunk citystate controlled by a monolithic church, struggling to find a chosen child that can shatter the boundaries of reality, all while being besieged by strange anarchists and probably playing into the very plans of a silver-tongued angel in service of true darkness. In a celtic world, an assault on a ritual site against armies of demons awaits and fans of Greek mythology may actually fight side by side with Jason and pit wits and magic against none other than Circe.

 

In a steampunk world of highly-spohisticated goblins, a time-travelling tub and an aerial chase through the dangerous skies provides for a change of pace, before, sooner or later, the PCs get a chance to test their mettle against a demonic incursion to free the Dark One from his celestial prison, finally fighting against a tainted solar…and said being may not even want to escape his eternal prison. When none other than the sung-god Ra draws up on his chariot (a hyper-modern sports-car) to take the PCs on a trip through his hyper-technological pyramids and finally, stop agents of Set in a night-club, including zombie-ravers, that’s awesome. Stopping agents of chaos from exposing the rigidity in a hyper-lawful realm may sound conventional, but at that point, the PCs enter a realm of pure science, elevated to the realm where it becomes indistinguishable from magic – when you’re defending a mad scientist from his elemental Frankenstein’s monster and what amounts to a revenant-igor, all while powerful spirits that embody chemistry, physics and biology try to kill them, your players WILL continue to talk about the wealth of ideas here.

 

What about a planet where hyper-powerful cybertechnology has been blended with wild west stand-offs or one where hyper-technological dinosaurs duke it out in an alternate stone age? There is also a vignette wherein the 3 ages of Relic blend in a kind of temporal disjunctions, a swashbuckling-themed, fast-paced one wherein the PCs get to defend a ship from a massive sea-dragon and yes, a terrible post-apocalypse of nanite and radiation-caused mutations and doom, where an impending nuclear strike might well be within the range of options. Have I mentioned the sojourn to what amounts to the Plane of Fire or the City of Brass, where agents of an unknown entity seek to extinguish the eternal flames of the grand braziers? Now each of these places does have something to offer for the further journey -and after all those short vignettes, finally, night is upon the PCs as they traverse the myriad worlds – and from here on out, the lethality of the vignettes, in which the PCs so far have shaken hands with legends and gods, increases further.

 

Here would as well a place as any to note several peculiarities I noticed so far – for one, by necessity for a module that spans this many realities, the respective vignettes are somewhat sketchy – do not expect handholding or excessive read-aloud texts – it is very much assumed that, provided the massive array of high-level statblocks, you as a DM can properly portray the respective worlds. While reading this, I was extremely skeptical whether this worked out in practice, but the frenetic pace assumed by world transitions did, in actual playtesting smash so many unique vistas over my PC’s heads they didn’t mind – whether this whole chapter works depends very much on an experienced DM who can maintain a fast pace that does not allow for too many in-depth analysis on parts of the player – as well as assuming a pretty cinematic transition from key-scene to key-scene. At the same time, though, this actually can work in favor of the module: This high-fantasy realm-stuff, these clockwork-gadgets or high-scifi-stuff you always wanted to use? Well, here you can. I ultimately failed to resist the lure of adding my material and some unique worlds to the fray – after all, how often do you get a chance like that? And at this level, very much all gloves are off – your PCs are called demigods by the module for a reason… Now, this slight opaqueness, which was an exacerbated issue in the first part of the saga, ultimately is here, yes, but at the same time, this book is very much concrete – the key-scenes, like the clockwork aerial chase, provide full vehicle-rules, terrain-hazards and features where applicable, are fully integrated and the book makes smart use of the troop-subtype alongside many items and yes, even the Technology-rules in a minor way. Among the nighttime-worlds, fighting in an alternate Shanghai versus huge mobs of vampires and braving deadly haunts in a realm of gothic horror only constitute two examples of proper rules-usage that supplements the narrative – a significant step forwards, especially considering the fact that the complex builds for the high-level adversaries and allies, while not always being flawless, generally come out on the good side of things.

 

Not on the good side of things, at least for the players, would be a venture into imperial Rome, where Ceasar has just been slain by demo cultists and only defeating a massive shadow kraken may provide an escape…though this world has a particularly nasty story-game-over for a bad, bad decision on the player’s side… From an imperial Rome in the throes of demonic possession, the journey continues onwards into a tale of American noir, where possessed train yard cranes await. The realms of winter, complete with their nasty fey, do something I would have expected from a certain Dresden File book – including a fey lord that encases himself in a gigantic frost-mecha. In an alternate version of Tokyo, the PCs can duke it out against magical girls corrupted by a powerful hero-hunting demon, before they ultimately are deposited in a realm of darkest fantasy, including a blotted-out sun and a showdown in a ruined abbey before entering the Red Realm, a prison plane, and, more importantly, a nasty place where insanity abounds and a silent hill-esque array of perception-tricks, as well as a harrowing escape await. The final two vignettes pit the PCs against the horrors of a full-blown China Miéville-style fantasy…and has them battle Fafnir. Who makes proper use of the kaiju-subtype. NICE!

 

Then, finally, the chaos of worlds ends and the palace and its 7 halls loom: Here, this book becomes a much more conservative killer-dungeon once again – with each of the massive halls providing ever-escalating danger as well as full-color maps with solid detail, though you should be aware that no blow-up 1-page versions are provided. In the first hall, massive, lavishly-illustrated briar worms, demonic apes and finally, the Great Beast await the PC’s prowess – only to have to face down the mashine gun-like efficiency of the deadly archer Tianet – though personally, I used the Deadly Aim-feat when modifying Tianet’s build – at her firing rate, the damage piles quicker up that way -oddly, this will not be the last they’ve seen of the huntress and smart fighting is rewarded here. In the Garden Hall, flytrap hydras and the Lich Queen’s foster mother Grandmother Maugh await and the Hall of Grandeur pits the PCs ambitions as well as djinns to finally defeat another mentor of the queen – the erstwhile djinn-binder par excellence, turned into her mayor-domo, Ranalek the terrible. The 4th hall does offer a new challenge – the hall of pleasure, where the lich queen’s consort awaits alongside untold pleasures that can destroy one’s spirit, memory and thus, identities – in this gilded hell, the lich queen’s consort is the gatekeeper and, upon defeating him, the PCs will note he in fact is an automaton – the true fate of the poor sort is cataloged in the adventure “Consort of the Lich Queen”, which I do not own. Even if you don’t have it, though, you’ll notice something – obviously, Ayrawn has purged any thoughts of doubt from her mind to retain her sanity- perhaps the one shot the PCs truly have to defeat her – and defeat her they’ll want after the next hall, wherein the PCs are subject to a nasty, never-ending array of tortures – which may permanently cripple them, if they are not smart enough to escape their mistress.

 

Speaking of smarts – a vast library may see the PCs fight – but only if they behave in a manner unfitting of the place – otherwise, they’ll find an agrippa, a man turned into a tome and librarian, master who once told Ayrawn to purge memories from herself, seeking freedom – and offering a further piece with which the PCS may shake the immortal confidence of the legendary lich queen. In case your PC’s swords have since then dried of viscera, the hall of bones will end that – while the lich queen’s tutor and lich here also provides a further piece of information about a skull with which the PCs can shake the confidence of the legendary adversary, she also follows her commands and unleashes not only her own might, but also that of a vast horde of powerful undead – and yes, the combines stats span multiple pages.

 

Finally, after much tears, exposition and pain, the PCS can final track down Ayrawn in her Hall of Broken Mirrors – her and all her mayor allies not yet slain, rendering this confrontation potentially very, very nasty – worse, the lich queen’s phylactery is the very dungeon itself and only by shaking her confidence, only by understanding, can the PCs cause a realmsquake and breach the phylactery…and only then will the lich queen truly be slain by their efforts. Should they achieve this miraculous feat, they’ll bear witness to the collapse of dungeonlands and possibly even ascend beyond the providence of mere mortals – in any case, infinite possibilities await.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect -I noticed a few italicization glitches, minor errors in statblocks and the like, but seeing the size of this tome and the complexity of the statblocks, that is not surprising and well within the level of tolerance. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard that conspires with a mix of gorgeous full-color and b/w artworks to render this book a truly beautiful book to behold -aesthetically, there is nothing to complain about here. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and my hardcover sports nice, thick, matte high-quality paper and a shiny cover – all great in that regard.

 

Kevin Andrew Murphy, Darren Pearce, George “Loki” Williams, Allan Hoffman, Andrew Hoskins, Brendan LaSalle, Matthew Medeiros, Richard Moore, Monte Reed – this is one epic book and it was a fun ride to embark on. But also one that is terribly hard to rate.

 

Why? For one, there would be the issue of high-level gameplay requiring a lot of foresight – pre-written modules have a hard time properly predicting PC-capabilities and one massive issue with the first book was the arbitrary stripping of powers from PCs and the issues with rules-interactions. I am more than happy to report that this book sports NONE of these. Neither will you find “Pcs have to solve this EXACTLY like this”-solutions and similar issues – instead, this massive mega-adventure essentially provides vignettes, vistas and general storylines – you can skip through them at your leisure, ignore some, substitute your own or expand them to full-blown module length.

 

When handled properly, these vignettes can act as epic, never-ending climaxes – if you took the final scenes of a vast array of stories and stitched them together, a kind of cool-moment-collage, if you will. Better yet, where applicable, the places do sport nice rules-tidbits from mutation-tables to steampunk gadgets. While not all such tidbits are perfect, this is a module and the like is simply not the focus of this review. The world/planes-hopping vignettes ultimately can be a vast amount of fun if handled properly, but they could also go horribly wrong – if you are accustomed to handholding, extensive read-aloud texts and not good at making transitions and filling in the blanks of the respective vignettes, that may result in massive issues – essentially, do not expect any guidance beyond a basic plot-summary and the statblocks for the respective adversaries. Yes, this DOES include a lack of maps for the respective vignettes, but not one I’m going to fault the pdf for – why? Because the focus on cinematic transitions ultimately, at least here, does not require them necessarily. In my game, this went off pretty well after my players sopped trying for the analysis-route.

 

The second part is a more old-school killer-dungeon and it is very much worth the status as a finale – the palace itself is exceedingly deadly, full of iconic adversaries and challenges and provides a great way for the DM to provide some exposition regarding the dread lich queen. The background story, as written, is surprisingly intelligent and beyond what you’d expect from a killer-dungeon, so yeah – kudos here. On the downside, the lack of one-page maps to print out can be considered a comfort detriment.

 

So, what does that mean? It means that this module, more so than many others, will prove to be a very polarizing book. If you can see the vignette-style planes-hopping working for you, then chances are, you’ll love this beast and enjoy it immensely. On the other hand, if you as a DM have problems generating transitions or fleshing out details on the fly, or if your players are all about the small details, then this one may result in some issues – the discrepancy between whether this will be awesome, or, well, not so great – it all very much depends on your group’s tastes, capabilities etc..

 

At the same time, this book, unlike the first one, does not cheat in obtrusive ways – one instance where a sleeping gas may send players to their sleep sans DC or stats comes to mind, but, quite frankly, if DC 40 is too hard for the PCs at this point, they’re doing it wrong anyways… So overall, this book can be considered indeed one of the few examples of high-level modules that truly managed to captivate me – the glimpses at realms beyond the regular, whether released or yet unpublished, is interesting indeed and provides some pretty imaginative ideas and a much needed change of pace, while also providing a sense of the epic to the whole experience.

 

It struggled quite a bit with how to describe this massive module – and the closest analogue was delivered by one of my players – this is pretty much a module-equivalent of an all-star-movie akin to Avengers – it provides components for each world and concept to shine and show what’s cool about it – but there is, by virtue of its format, no room to linger on the individuals, to go into depth regarding the individual vignettes and their characters. So do not expect the module equivalent of primer or a TV drama, but rather that of a big-screen all-star action movie. Personally, I tend to prefer more detailed modules, which is also why I’m pretty happy to have been able to test this module in detail -and while I did not have an easy time as a DM and preparation did take a lot of time, the results proved to be very entertaining and my players, surprisingly, enjoyed the continuous barrage the weird of the continuum threw at them. While some minor oversights can be brought to field against this book, the amount of material that works and shows an understanding of the intricacies of Pathfinder does offset this in my book.

 

Yes, I’m rambling. My final verdict, ultimately, will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 for the purpose of this platform, while less experienced DMs should probably round down due to the significant skill this requires to pull off.

Personally, I loved the massive array of cool ideas spotlighted and hence, I’ll add my seal of approval for the vast imaginative potential.

 

You can get this massive mega-adventure here on OBS!

 

Do you prefer the Savage Worlds rules? You can get that copy here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

Jun 292015
 

The Motebringer – An Edgewalker Archetype

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This archetype for the edgewalker-class clocks in at 6 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 4 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

The motebringer has the same basic class-chassis regarding saves and BAB as the edgewalker – unlike the edgewalker, who oscillates between light and darkness, the motebringer is a specialist of utilizing light – as such, the archetype only receives a radiance pool equal to class levels x2 + Wis-mod – but no shadow pool. Seeing how this means that several of the combo-set-ups that render the edgewalker captivating to play fall away, we thus receive a significant array of infusions, the first of which is gained at second level, +1 at 3rd level and every 2 levels of motebringer thereafter.

 

This list of unique tricks, ultimately, is here for one reason – to add a level of flexibility the class would have otherwise lost – and I applaud the motebringer for it. Reflexive temporary hit points, high-level poison immunity, energy resistance and the like can all be found herein -as can blinding motes of light that act as replenishing blinding flash bombs. The significant array of choices is interesting due to two further design decisions – at 2nd level, the motebringer receives a mote pool that scales with the level totaling 1/2 of class levels, rounded down -these are spent when infusing aforementioned infusions into the second interacting component – the radiant shawls.

 

Also gained at 2nd level, radiant shawls constitute pieces of roughly-shawl-like solid light that can be modified with infusions by spending 1 hour. The shawl occupies the shoulder slot and also provides a bonus to AC and a penalty to Stealth-checks – it can be activated and deactivated as a standard action, and yes, the infusions that can be woven into the shawl can, for example, grant temporary radiance pool points to power the waypoints learned. Both radiance and mote pools increase over the levels and obviously, hide in plain sight is not part of the deal for motebringers. The capstone allows for instant modification of infusion loadouts as well as replenishment of daily uses of infusions.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious glitches. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf has no bookmarks, but doesn’t necessarily require them at this length.

 

Bradley Crouch’s motebringer is a good archetype – it replaces the MAD and combo-playstyle of the edgewalker with a more deliberate planning that makes the motebringer easier to run for less experienced players. While I was weary of a loss in flexibility, the new mechanics and their interplay render the playing experience per se fun. While personally, I draw more satisfaction from setting up combos and the duality of the base edgewalker, the motebringer provides for a fun experience with a different emphasis. I really applaud the fact that this is not a bland +/-2 archetype, but one with a completely different style and for the extremely fair price, this pdf definitely delivers. I know I’ll send some light-shawl wearing badasses at my PCs sooner rather than later. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.

 

You can get this neat archetype here on OBS!

 

Do you enjoy Interjection Games’ shadow/light-classes? Then you might want to check out Interjection Games patreon right now, for June’s big custom release will deal with exactly that! Take a look here!
Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jun 292015
 

GM’s Screen Inserts (Landscape + Portrait versions)

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What do all screens I have for PFRPG have in common? They never seem to list the modifiers I actually need.

 

Enter these screen-inserts: The landscape format inserts provide a list of action types by abilities, skills and spells, movements and mounts, miscellaneous, attacks and equipment uses alongside maneuvers, identifying monsters and movement rate modifications, covering just about all action types.

 

Page 2 covers combat modifiers to attack rolls, including a separate table for two-weapon fighting and AC-modifiers as well as default concealment miss-chances and a splash weapon miss diagram. DMs will probably also appreciate the 3 advanced, giant and young simple templates receiving a summary. The list of common conditions alongside their effects (including grappled, energy drain etc.), but excluding the more obscure dazed and cowering conditions in both iterations. It should also be noted that either iteration of the screen lacks the rules for feinting DCs (though it’s covered among the action-tables) in either maneuvers (though technically, feinting is not a maneuver) or Bluff as a section. Conversely, demoralizing foes via intimidate would constitute another component that would have imho warranted a short entry – intimidate is completely absent from the screens.

 

Page 3 covers magic and treasure, with lists providing the identifying DCs for items and auras, concentration-modifiers and yes, an extra table of alignment-detect-spells. The page also provides the battle-mat-style square-representations of 15-foot cones, 30-foot cones, radii from 5 – 20-feet, and ways to align 30-foot-lines.

 

Page 4 covers the skills – but not all. Rather than duplicating the default screen, Acrobatics, Climb, Ride, Swim, Perception, Bluff, Diplomacy, Sense Motive and Disable Device are covered, i.e. the skills that have the most impact in combat and the least cohesive structure in DCs. It should be noted that the portrait-screen-inserts lack the Sense Motive entry, meaning you’ll objectively be better off with the landscape version.

 

Conclusion:

I’m gonna deviate from my usual reviewing standard and just mention that the pdfs come with versions for both printer and screen-use as well as a separate credits pdf. Creighton Broadhurst delivers a significant step up when compared to PFRPG’s default screen – the tables herein proved to be significantly more useful than those of the default screens. At the same time, each screen-insert-style product needs to be very selective with what to include and what not – and ultimately, I found myself wishing the screens had not included the prep-time-associated simple templates and instead provided entries for demoralizing or feinting targets – yes, the rules are simple, but with them, one could consider this one pretty much complete. As provided, it is a step upwards and well worth the investment, but it falls slightly short of what I’d subjectively consider perfection. I get the restriction regarding space the portrait-version suffers from, but providing slightly less content that the landscape version makes a difference for me. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 for the landscape version, rounded down for the portrait version.

 

You can get the landscape version of the screen-inserts here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!

You can get the portrait version of the screen-inserts here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!

Finally, if you want to support Raging Swan Press paying a better wage to their freelancers while also getting their books on time, consider taking a look at the Raging Swan Press Patreon here!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

Jun 292015
 

Purple Duck Storeroom: Magic Pants!

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This pdf clocks in at 15 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 11 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

This statement by grandmaster crunch Owen K.C. Stephens could have come from a review of yours truly as well: “Know your item slots. Don’t just invent them. Best to avoid magic pants.”, to briefly paraphrase the comment that spawned this supplement – so yes, here, we tread in the glorious tradition of the Baldur’s Gate-saga’s easter-egg and get magical pants, though admittedly more balanced ones than the ridiculously OP item we got via the pantalon-transmuter.

 

So, this pdf introduces the leg-slot, where one may wear leggings, kilts, skirts, stockings and the like – a decision I actually like because I NEVER understood the lack of battle-kilts, stockings of seduction and similar items in the presence of belts, amulets etc. That being said, this does not mean that the items themselves universally lack a certain winking, unobtrusive sense of humor: Take the Clam Diggers of Harvest – they allow you to be considered proficient with monk’s shovels (and treat all shovels as such), confer a +2 bonus to atk and damage versus crab and clam-vermin and let you treat shallow water and mud flats as normal terrain instead of as difficult terrain. This is at once hilarious to me and makes sense – in a world where giant crabs and deadly clams exist, why wouldn’t there be specialized magical equipment to deal with them?

 

On the high-level David Bowie-fanboy side of things, the legendary Codpiece of the Goblin King increases your illusion and enchantment DCs by +2 while also increasing your sorceror level by no less than +5 for the purpose of determining which bloodline powers they possess. Here, I do think the item overshoots its target; unlocking new bloodline powers 5 levels early (in the face of no caveat that abilities are not gained early) seems excessive. That being said, this can be nerfed easily. And it’s the codpiece of the goblin king – dance, baby, dance!

 

Also pretty interesting – Grown-up Pants – +4 to saves versus fear effects and 1/day swift action enlarge person for 8 minutes. Pretty hilarious! The very costly and powerful Happy Pants increase any beneficial morale bonuses by +1, while also providing immunity to spells of the emotion and mind-affecting descriptors. On the low-level end, 3/day message and +4 to Heal checks as well as no requirement for a healer’s kit are interesting options. It should be noted, that not all of these items imho are well-priced – the Jodhpurs of the Mounted Guard provide no less than +5 to Ride checks AND the Mounted Combat and Spirited Charge-feats AND makes all mounts be treated as combat-trained- for a paltry 7500 GP. There are also some glitches to be found herein – the Kilt of the Tyrant, for example, has only a CL of 5th, which, for an item that costs 59000 GP – while I get this rationale for the spell-like ability it confers and seeing how the headband of alluring charisma has a CL of 8th.

 

Fans of magical girl anime may enjoy the new magical miniskirt, whereas fans of classic comedy will almost certainly get a chuckle out of parachute pants. Skald’s kilts provide btw. benefits for the ACG-class, so yes, there is some support for that one herein as well – and yes, swashbucklers et al. also get there. I also very much got a smile out of magical traveling pants that lose their enchantment if not passed to new wearers regularly…

 

More fun still – what about cursed pants that compel you to brag about your own awesomeness? Pants that conjure forth swarms of ants…inside? Pants that set themselves ablaze whenever the wearer utters a lie? Yeah, fun!

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect – I noticed a couple of minor issues, though nothing too jarring. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly 1-column standard, which means you can print this one out in digest-format. The pdf provides one original piece of full-color artwork. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Mark Gedak, Perry Fehr, Sean O’Connor and Jacob Trier have crafted some pretty awesome and fun material – the pants herein are ridiculous and often, downright fun. And no, I do not expect magical pants, an item-class that adds a new slot (resulting in more stacking options etc.) to be perfectly balanced. Alas, in some cases, there obviously are some issues herein, with CLs not lining 100% perfect up and power-levels of some pants being quite frankly beyond what I’m comfortable with. If you utilize some caution and nerfing, this *WILL* be a very inexpensive, exceedingly fun product, but without it, it does sport some rough patches in balance and minor hiccups in rules-syntax/semantics. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 for the purpose of this platform.

 

You can get magical pants (come on, that is cool!) here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jun 262015
 

Faces of the Tarnished Souk – An NPC Collection

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This massive book clocks in at no less than 323 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of ToC, 4 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 314 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

This review was moved ahead in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons.

 

Well, first of all, I will deviate from my usual take on detailed analysis of the individual pieces of content herein -why? Because that would take AGES and bloat this review beyond the page-count where this would have any semblance of help for anyone of my readers. Beyond that, there is another factor – I have written detailed reviews for each and every NPC (apart from the new one) sported in this massive compilation – combining them would result in more than 30 pages, so there you go. If you’re interested in one particular NPC, you can have a detailed analysis of said build in my individual review of the respective pdfs. If you have read them, here’s a general summation of what sets the NPCs apart.

 

Fluff-wise, the Tarnished Souk can be considered an interplanar nexus situated on the plane of dreams, right outside the legendary Coliseum Morpheuon, where the most powerful mortals and immortals duke it out under the auspice of the khan of nightmares, all hoping to gain the cusp of desires. Oh, and yes, the tarrasque is actually part of the competition’s challenges, to give you an inkling of the level of expertise required in this competition. Dreams are a vaulable currency in Coliseum Morpheuon and thus, they actually carry relevance beyond the story’s basic requirements for the characters in question. As such, they may actually be found by PCs and provide a level of background information one regularly does not expect. Dreams are more, though – they are power. While dreamburning rules from Coliseum Morpheuon are not required for this book, it does add a nice further dimension and honestly, Coliseum Morpheuon is the best high-level module available for Pathfinder, so you definitely should have that beast anyways.

 

So what is special about the NPCs herein? Well, regarding crunch they are special to me because they don’t suck. There. I said it. Pathfinder’s high-level gameplay and the general experience of many a DM that high-level gameplay comes apart, at least partially, is due to just about all published books simply having an impossible job at their hands: The directive is to create adversaries that a casual gaming group can vanquish and the more the levels pile up, the bigger the discrepancy becomes between people that exhibit a high degree of system mastery and those who don’t. At high levels, this ultimately leads to whining I’ve seen on boards about ACs of 36 in high level-ranges where that is not an insurmountable defense. At the same time, posts complain about 1-round curb-stomping BBeGs, a problem exacerbated by the mythic rules, famously being quoted by Alexander Augunas as the Rocket-launcher-standoff.

 

In my main campaign, I run next to no unmodified published modules – why? Because, if I took Karzoug against half my group, they’d mop the floor with him. Yes, I’m talking about the enhanced Anniversary Edition. Playtesting published modules only VERY rarely results in any PC deaths at my table, even in Frog God Games killer beasts. And I’m not alone in this issue. While my group may be an extreme example, it is a trend that is exacerbated with each new release, with each slight power-creep. In 3.X that resulted in me wearing down my Advanced Bestiary and templating EVERYTHING. In PFRPG, I follow a similar modus operandi, though one supplemented with many, many base classes, archetypes etc. So that would be problem No.1.

 

Problem number 2 is a more pleasant one to have – ultimately, there are MANY awesome 3pp-products out there -glorious base-classes, exceedingly fun subsystems etc. – and yes, I’m using more 3pp material than Paizo material at this point. Alack and alas, there is no big 3pp NPC Codex and that means making A LOT of NPCs and monsters from scratch. Faces of the Tarnished Souk did something rather unique – it provides a vast array of templates,. both original and from the best of sources and combines them with unique classes – taskshapers and time thieves, malefactors – whatever your heart desires, there is a good chance you’ll find some of the unmitigated stars within these pages. Add to that unique, custom-tailored magic items and you get an array of NPCs that is ACTUALLY CHALLENGING.

 

Now that would be awesome in and of itself, but it becomes even better when you take into account the vast imaginative potential that lies at the roots of the characters provided herein – you won’t find “Human Paladin 20” herein – instead, you’ll find, for example, Nameless Nil, the Beggar of Self. An imaginary friend turned killer turned beggar, whose wonderful class/template line reads “Bloody Maw Half-construct horrifically overpowered hungry nightmare unfettered eidolon savant 10.” This is, as the back cover proudly proclaims, NOT your pappy’s NPC book. Nameless Nil’s prose and background story ranks among the best pieces of character writing I have seen in ANY roleplaying product, btw. – this guy is my favorite NPC for Pathfinder. Yes, I’m talking about all-out number 1 spot. Oh, and have I mentioned that, for example the legendary bulwark Ahnkar-Kosh has an AC of 64? This should put an end to the smirk on your level 20 min-maxers face…

 

But wait, before you put away this review – no, not all NPCs in this book exist only in the CR ~20-range – instead, each of the NPCs herein comes with a build for low levels, mid levels and high levels, allowing you to introduce the NPCs at any level you like and depict their progression to greatness- or utilize the statblocks of the lower iterations for servants, creatures or whatever you like. Another issue you may expect to face would lie in the aforementioned presence of a lot of 3pp-content utilized in the truly beautiful builds created herein. Well, approximately the last 100 pages of the book are used to provide all rules used in the builds of this massive cadre of glorious CHARACTERS. For, thanks to the interplay of glorious prose and superb crunch, the NPCs become more than the sum of their respective parts.

 

If you are not inspired by the glorious write-ups of the respective NPCs, many of which can spawn multiple adventures (or even campaigns!), boxes with pieces of advice further help using the NPCs and integrating them into the mythos of your campaign. Have I btw. mentioned Smiles-Under-teh-Bed, the legendary Cheshire cat that is pretty much a psychotic, playful killer that clocks in at CR 19 in its most powerful iteration? The eidolon that is the summoner that wants to be mortal? The goblin time thief convinced that things between the seconds are gearing up to tear time and reality asunder? If you have ANY joy contemplating high-stakes games, personal tragedies, captivating NPCs and a level of imagination I have not seen since the heyday of Planescape, and there only in its better products, then this compilation should be considered a ridiculously glorious must-buy.

 

How can this be further enhanced? well, the original pdfs sported some artwork which has since been used by other supplements as well – this has been expanded by new pieces that seamlessly fit with the respective character portrayals, with Juan Diego Dianderas and Kamil Jadczak delivering great pieces in the fitting b/w-standard this book offers and adding to the talents of illustrators that not only include master of the creepy Mark Hyzer, but also Tamás Baranya and Hugo Solis and many, many more. How can this be made better on a content-level, you ask? Well, what about adding a brand new NPC by none other than legendary, Ennie-award-winning design Ben McFarland? This would be Strai Tkossirk, the whispered word of dream. This would be, in his highest CR-iteration, a psychic (telekinetic) vrock oracle (aetherurgist) – and the level of imaginative potential of this NPC in no way falls back behind the ridiculously high standard of the series, utilizing for example a magical drug-addiction in the mid-level version. And yes, as per the tradition with this series, vivid prose, GM-advice and tactics combine to create a creature that is more than the sum of its myriad parts. On a nitpicky side – I think it would have made more sense to include him in the NPC-roster instead of in the appendix, but that is ultimately one design in a huge book….and remains the only true gripe I can muster against this tome.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, especially for a massive tome of this size. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard with elegant borders and the artworks provided, as mentioned above, are thematically fitting and, in many cases, awesome. The book comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

I have all individual pdfs printed out. I want this book in dead-tree. This is not “an” NPC collection – to me, this is THE NPC collection. Faces of the Tarnished Souk epitomizes what made me a fan of Rite Publishing in the first place: The combination of awesome prose and imaginative fluff that goes one step further. I guarantee that the vast majority of characters herein, once encountered, will remain the talk of your gaming groups for years to come. Beyond the cool mechanics, this series has pretty much defined what I consider apex-level NPC-crafting and remains my point of reference for any such book. It should be noted that exactly ONE pdf can claim to adhere to this level of awesomeness beyond the series – LPJr Design’s Cyrix. That’s pretty much it.

When anyone asks me for challenging or simply evocative NPC builds, this book immediately comes to mind. When someone asks me for the spirit of truly uncommon fantasy, this book is what I think about. Whether as antagonists, allies or both, the characters herein pretty much define my campaigns in subtle ways – by the legends they have crafted, by the guidance they provide, by the growth my PCs can witness. Matt Banach, Justin Sluder, Steven D. Russell and Ben McFarland have quite simply created THE NPC collection for the discerning game-master, the remedy for players bored with standard builds and, via the builds herein, a great toolkit for GMs to use themselves.

 

Even if you never plan to run any of the characters herein and are not interested in Coliseum Morpheuon, this book provides so many iconic characters that it remains my honest belief that this book can serve as an inspiration for other settings as well. If my gushing diatribe before was not ample clue, I consider this quite frankly the best NPC collection out there, one distinguished by excellence in the beautiful statblocks AND the prose that draws vivid pictures of truly unique characters that deserve the moniker while epitomizing the key strengths of Rite Publishing as a publisher. This book, unsurprisingly, receives a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval as well as being a candidate for my Top Ten of 2015.

 

You can get this legendary compilation here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

 

Jun 252015
 

Zeitgeist #9 – The Last Starry Sky

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The ninth installment of the superb Zeitgeist AP clocks in at a whopping 105 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 100 (!!) pages of content – that’s more than some self-proclaimed mega-adventures out there…

 

This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. As such, players wishing to play this intelligent and exceedingly ambitious AP should jump to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, still here?

We rejoin our loyal constables of the RHC in the realm of the Dreaming, the lands of the fey, where they were dumped after facing off against Nicodemus, the immortal head of the Ob’s conspiracy. Now if you have any degree of familiarity with roleplaying, you’ll probably know that the combination of “Stranded” and “Fey” in any combination in one sentence do not bode well and indeed, if the PCs were expecting whimsy, they’ll get that – of the lethal sort, for there is war brewing in the realms of the fey. Let me elaborate – two courts have been in a state of cold war for quite some time – until Rock Rackus, troublemaker and celebrity bard, entered the fray – remember this loud-mouth from the campaign’s beginning? Well, turned out that his claims have had some truth – he indeed slept with the Queen of the Fey…who also is the king, as the mirrored face of said lord projects the subconscious of any who look upon the entity. Worse, his inclination of “sticking it to the man” made him a pawn of the machinations of the second court as well and thus, a valid linchpin to destabilize the whole realm.

The fey/elder evil-combination the players know from adventure #3, the Voice of Rot, has had an agent abduct Rock and “murder” a false body instead, inciting hostilities between the courts – a conflict the PCs will have to resolve to return home. That is if they manage to maneuver through the politics and oddities of the fey courts – worse, returning home is not as simple as one would deem, nor is finding Rock, who has been safely sealed away in a pocket/prison dimension-ish place called the absurdist web. It should be noted that unearthing the truth may not *necessarily* be the interest of the PCs – allying with the mastermind behind the abduction may well be a smart move…for now. Then again, choosing the new sovereign of the fey and duking it out with a potential candidate or the majesty ought to be considerable fun. Still, the investigation here is just as modular, odd and challenging as you’d expect it to be. My only gripe here would be the lack of a proper planar-trait synopsis as established in PFRPG’s standard, though that admittedly is a gripe I can classify as a nitpick in view of the overall interesting plot here – including a rather phenomenal potential for a face-off against a fey-titan that is truly ridiculously huge…and deadly.

 

Time, alas, waits for no one, not even PCs stranded in the realms of the fey, and meanwhile, the world is succumbing to the vision of the Ob, with Risur a beacon of hope and resistance, thanks in no small parts to the PCs warning the king and thus ensuring the united spirit of his people (as established via the concept of Rites of Rulership) to remain intact – for now, for when the PCs arrive at a wedding he oversees, the OB’s plan kicks in and they use wayfarer lanterns to draw the vfery palace into the Bleak Gate. The PCs have exactly 5 minutes to thwart this transition before they and everyone is fully manifest in the Bleak Gate and faces essentially unbeatable odds. Oh, not that the constant barrage of elite assassination teams and Ob-forces defending the lanterns would make for an easy time – quite the contrary. The Ob have failsafe upon failsafe and defeating one team is by far not enough – essentially, this is a constant stream of highly lethal attacks on the king, with success being rather likely unless the PCs are up to the a-game. The Ob are smart – let’s hope the player’s minds have been sharpened as well by the constant tangling with their foes.

 

Whether the king lives or dies – there is more to be done, namely interrupting the ritual of Stanfield – only issue being having to attack the best-defended lighthouse in the world – simple, right? An epic naval battle ensues, one that comes, as always, with my firm advice to utilize the naval combat rules of Fire as She Bears instead. Other than that, the dramatics and set-up here are pretty much awesome – as would be the final assault on Stanfield’s fortress, where the mighty oracle fights the PCs with all his prior incarnations. But once he falls, so does the sky, evaporating his lighthouse and saving Risur…for now – but as the PCs scramble from the rubble, they realize that their magic is gone (a notion covered and explained alongside the rules of the New World Order in a sidebox that makes infinitely more sense than the ill-conceived 30-cap in #8) and there may or may not be one final battle to brave…in any way, as the night-sky changes, the nebulae of the heavens form the shape of titanic gears – the New World Order has dawned and the PCs may have witnessed indeed the last starry sky…

 

The pdf also deals with the rather likely death of the king and the notion of PCs becoming monarchs, appendices with stats for both creatures, NPCs, ships, etc., magic and training and handy maps that e.g. make the overlaps of the lanterns during the assassination apparent, etc. – as always, the quality of the full-color maps is superb, though I wished the layered pdf had a way to make them player-friendly (i.e. no legend/keys).

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Zeitgeist’s beautiful, layered two-column full-color standard and thus allows for significant customization. Artworks range from gorgeous to stock and are copious. The cartography is excellent, as always.

 

Ryan Nock’s #9 of the AP sees a return to form for me – while I am not yet sold on whether the new abilities imposed by the finale of the module will receive proper rules-translation in future installments, I can safely say that this installment of the series, apart from pretty much negligible details, can be considered one of the most creative. Much like in WotBS, this one could be deemed the oddball, feyish, planar interlude and as such would make perhaps one of the easiest modules to rip out of the context of the whole AP – the first Act, the assassination etc. could be relatively easily scavenged for other purposes beyond this AP. That being said, the main star of this module, let’s be honest, is the cinematographic dramaturgy exhibited by the scenes – the stakes are impossibly high at this point and one can see that from the get-go. The challenges also reflect this more than just on a cursory way and yes, when played right, this module can be a delight, but also exceedingly lethal. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval, though I am somewhat skeptical about the new magic rules for the world and whether they will work properly in future installments. One more nitpick, perhaps – the rules, at least as hinted here, seem to not take #7 into account, which imho is a lost chance for the meta-plot to make the PC’s decisions matter – an oversight I hope to see rectified in the compilation of the second act.

 

You can get this great installment of the Zeitgeist AP here on OBS!

 

Prefer 4th edition? You can get that one here!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jun 252015
 

The Compendium Arcanum-series by D20pfsrd.com Publishing is a generally cool one – taking the concept of diminishing and heightened spell-effects from Arcana Evolved and adding it to PFRPG is a sound idea and one I enjoy.

 

Alas, the execution in the last couple of installments has been showing some serious issues regarding how the system works regarding spell-like abilities, crafting, etc., while also sporting some issues with the individual balancing. The publisher has reacted and installment #2 and #3 have been updated and improved, with some minor changes:

 

#2: This has made magic missile’s diminished form non-broken and cleaned up and yes, the balancing of the most significant offenders regarding balance has been taken care of. Most, but not all, mind you. The problem still remains that all of the diminished spells, as cantrip-equivalents, can be cast infinite times per day. The interaction with other components of the system hasn’t been improved either, making it remain a problematic system to plug into one’s game. Hence, I do not consider the changes made enough to provide a full revised review of the installment. You can read my original review here!

 

#3: The big design-guffaws I’ve mentioned have been cleaned up by the errata and the installment benefits quite a bit from that. At the same time, not all have been cleaned up  -there are quite a few still remaining and, once again, the base system’s issues regarding the interaction and balance with other components of spellcasting is not addressed. Hence, my verdict will remain. You can read my original review of #3 here!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

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Jun 232015
 

So,

on the Paizo-boards, some people asked me to note some reviewers I have read and consider to write reviews that bring up valid points. Now, you should note that my own opinions on a product may differ wildly from the following people, but I do respect their work and figured they could use a shout-out that acknowledges the good work they do!

I am only including people who have been active recently and have not expressed (at least, to my knowledge) a fatigue regarding reviews. This means I have to exclude e.g. Gozuja, Dark_Mistress and my friend Joshua Gullion (KTFish7, R.I.P. – still miss you…) This list is not comprehensive and I’ll definitely provide more in the future. To get to the collected reviews of a given person, just click on the names!

 

First of all would, unsurprisingly, be the very prolific  Malwing, who is nearing his #100th review – while we often differ in what we like or dislike in a product, I value the feedback Mal’s reviews provide and consider the contribution to the community top-notch! Keep at it! 🙂

 

The closest contender to this, to my knowledge, would be Eric Hinkle, whose well-rounded reviews I tend to enjoy – with only 2 reviews behind Mal, Eric has written a lot of informative reviews.

 

Michael Sayre, (aka Sslarn) is not only a talented designer, he has also written quite a few well-reasoned, neat reviews!

 

Now Julian Neale has recently started a thread asking for reviews of 3pp-products on the Paizo-boards (which also contains some nice advice for new reviewers!) – this thread has spawned quite a few neat reviews. Hence, here is a list of “new” reviewers in no particular order by the following ladies and gentlemen: 137Ben, Andrew Boucher 88, Adam B. 135, Chemlak, Cuuniyevo, El Ronza, Oliver Volland, Sethvir.

 

My hat’s off to anyone writing a well-reasoned, balanced and analytical review, especially when writing one that is less than superb – from personal experience, I know all too well how writing bad reviews can leave one feel unsatisfied, so double kudos for doing so, especially when you provide valid reasons for your verdict.

 

Ladies and gentlemen, I sincerely hope you’ll continue providing your feedback! Consider this post to be my bow to you all and be sure to tell me once you hit your #100 and I’ll provide a little something for you to celebrate! 🙂

 

All the best,

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

 

 

Jun 232015
 

Psionics Augmented: Mythic Psionics

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This massive book clocks in at 75 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 71 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

This supplement was moved up in my queue as a prioritized review by my patreons.

 

So there we have it – the massive sourcebook that brings the much beloved psionics system up to mythic proportions, but can it whether the test of numerical escalation while also providing some iconic tricks? We’ll see.

 

First of all, the pdf does something smart – it covers terminology. Why is that smart? Well psionic powers tend to have an Augment-option, whereas mythic spellcasting has established an “Augmented” line – making the difference clear is pretty vital, with a similar potential confusion regarding psychic warrior paths and mythic paths being another topic that is clarified from the get-go. This deserves special mention because it renders nomenclature precise from the get-go and renders the potential for ambiguity issues minimal – kudos!

 

We begin this supplement’s huge array of crunchy options with a psionic-exclusive mythic path, the path of the overmind. Covering the whole ten tiers, with each tier netting 3 bonus hit points, this path begins with a psionic secret. these include the option to expend one use of mythic power to manifest any one psionic power without expending power points, with augmenting being treated as if augmented to the manifester level of the character, if applicable. The power thus manifested cannot be improved via metapsionic feats and requires non-mythic creatures to save twice and take the worse result – so yes, this is kind of a modified wild surge that is different from the regular wilder ability in some unique ways – and yes, having both actually yields different results in their customizations, so mythic wilders may still get something out of this – and the two abilities can work in tandem, though there are more efficient uses of either. Another option allows for the expenditure of one mythic power as a swift action to execute an attack that bypasses all DR and adds +tier to damage, but does not allow bonus damage from e.g. weapon special abilities still are subject to resistances and immunities.

Surging psionics allow you to expend a use of mythic power as a standard action to treat your manifester level as two higher for level-dependent effects, with the power being treated as if augmented to your manifester level, should it provide augmenting. You can apply metapsionic feats to this power, but still need to expend your psionic focus and still have to pay for the power, which may not exceed your manifester level and still count versus psionic augmenting. On a nitpicky side, I do consider this wording to be somewhat less precise than it could be, as the wording does not specify whether the surge-enhanced modified manifester level or the base manifester-level applies for purposes of augments – I assume the modified level, though. Where things become somewhat complex is once you apply this power to powers enhanced by wild surges – the stacking of manifester levels can potentially be rather nasty here, with potential ML-increases of up to +8 being rather significant. Via one path ability, one may even expend one use of mythic power to increase ML by 1/2 tier, which translates to a potential +11 ML for wilders. Both leave me HIGHLY uncomfortable.

A more important change of pace these mythic path abilities provide would not be apparent at first – since the reduction of manifesting time down to 1 standard action is pretty massive, astral caravans/travelers, augured answers etc. pretty significant changes in the utility of such powers -checking through Ultimate Psionics, the powers for which such a decrease proved relevant turned out to be mostly information-based/utility/healing-centric, so not that bad – just something to bear in mind regarding the future-proofing of mythic psionics. This also deviates somewhat from Paizo’s standard of tackling similar abilities – in the base array, the intent is to expend a swift action for mythic power to ENABLE the better casting of the respective spell. While the prominence of swift/immediate actions among powers would render this less effective, just locking psionic powers into standard actions overrides their manifesting time and thus can result in problems. Additionally, this changes action economy in a second, significant way – it allows you to break the 1 swift/immediate action limit per round by fixing the mythic augmented manifesting time at the standard action-level. While per se presenting a concise way to handle the general system, I am at this point not 100% convinced this system is airtight – while psionics makes excessive use of swift/immediate actions on its own, the combination with other classes and sub-systems may be used to execute some truly nasty combos otherwise prevented by the hard action-type-limit. While this is less of an issue with mythic rules in general, I can see issues arising from this and wished the manifesting time modification had a slightly more limited flexibility. I really wished this mechanic did not lock manifestation times as standard actions.

 

1st tier and every tier thereafter net the overmind an overmind path ability or, of course, an universal path ability, with the capstone netting 15 +highest manifester level PR, forcing non-mythic targets to roll twice for any save and take the worse result. Additionally, once per round when subjected to a power manifested by a mythic foe that fails to penetrate your PR, you regain a use of mythic power. Here, I got ready to complain hard, but the pdf at least specifies that the foe needs to be an enemy, thus preventing an easy infinite mythic power-exploit. Nice job! As with all paths, tier abilities come in 3 general categories: 1st, 3rd and 6th-tier abilities. The abilities here all have in common that they do something rather significant: Psions may, for example, unlock additional discipline abilities of a second discipline and a scaling force-field that provides a 3+tier AC-bonus that works essentially on an unlimited basis as well as aforementioned surge-improvement all have in common that they change the way in which a psion of mythic proportions works. Getting power points from the collective and using mythic power to manifest powers of a member of the collective also can be considered unique benefits, with thankfully tier being utilized as a means of limitation.

 

Bypass mental defenses also deserves special mention – the ability allows you to affect a creature immune to mind-affecting effects with a class feature or psionic power for the price of one use of mythic power. While this pretty much can translate into an “I win”-button versus certain enemies, the caveat that this does not work versus mindless foes renders the whole trick actually valid without marginalizing constructs and similar adversaries, so kudos here. Better crafting can be found herein alongside significant increases to ML for the purposes of discipline abilities, thankfully sans netting earlier access to them and one favorite of mine allows for the free distribution of dice between two active energy types, thankfully applying the bonus to either to all dice and attack rolls – more impressively, the ability does provide a wording that prevents confusion with e.g. the Elemental Blast feat, being limited to powers. Gaining resistance to energy you manifest and access to discipline-exclusive powers can also be found herein and adding an augment to a personal healing power is also covered, thus allowing for an interesting interaction with vitalists in particular. Numerical escalation of class ability-granted insight bonuses and more efficient methods and warrior’s path abilities can be found alongside having a focus active while being asleep, unconscious, etc. Using mythic power to ignore any and all energy resistance and immunity does not gel well with me – usually, the default mode would be to differentiate between non-mythic and mythic adversaries and flat-out ignoring of all instead of a scaling formula does feel a bit off to me. Reflexive blasts when being crited as well as better and faster astral construct generation may be awesome, though e.g. expending mythic power to swap one of your psionic powers with another one on your class list of equivalent level feels VERY powerful.

 

Among the higher-level abilities, using metapsionic feats that do not increase the PP-cost of a power sans expending the psionic focus via the expenditure of mythic power can be considered an interesting option. Psychic Tsunami is pretty iconic in its imagery: For one use of mythic power, you generate a 30-ft.-aura that damages all non-magical objects in range for 5 x tier force damage that ignores hardness for tier rounds, with psionic focus allowing you to exempt structures, creatures and objects at your leisure. Additionally, the vortex makes the area difficult terrain. An aura of scaling fire is also among the cool options one can take here. Ravaging Time, as an ability, imho needs a tighter wording: “When you are affected by time stop or similar effects that alter your time relative to the manifester’s, you can expend one use of mythic power to take a standard action during the effect.” So, as per this definition, what constitutes an eligible effect? Can an allied spellcaster cast haste on you and thus unlock an option to expend 1 use of mythic power for + standard action? Or does this only apply when being targeted by a detrimental effect? I get what this ability tries to do, but as written, it remains less precise than what I’m accustomed to by Dreamscarred Press. The 6th tier abilities allow for mythic power-based immunity to mind-affecting effects for 1 round and AoE telekinetic bull rushes also work rather well – as do the creature-enslavement-enhancer tricks. Sample builds for overmind are provided.

 

Beyond the path of the overmind, we also receive expanded path ability lists for the other mythic paths, with a storm of AoE-mindblades for champions, significantly increased DR for astral suits and grapple-based cages for guardians. personally, I’m not a fan of the parrying mechanic used here, but that is a personal preference – the rules-language is precise enough and the immediate action-requirement prevents abuse. Marshals may choose to use any marshal mythic power on any creature in their collective. As a 1st tier ability. This is powerful. Fitting, yes, but it specifically makes powers you could only target on yourself available at bigger ranges, so that’s definitely something to be wary of. Extending the collective to all creatures within 100 feet at a 6th tier ability also is something that may be pretty nasty.

 

A glitch has crept in among the trickster abilities – “You can expend your psionic focus to add your mythic tier to your altered defense value for one round.” – is that supposed to be AC or is it supposed to apply to the cryptic’s altered defense class feature as implied by the prereq? If so, the wording is not 100% in line with how such things are usually phrased. In any case, the wording could be *slightly* more concise in its reference towards the correct class feature. And yes, I’m aware this is nitpicking – I certainly won’t rate down the pdf for this hiccup, just wanted to provide this as an example. Project Impossible Location is, on the other hand, a trickster ability that is worth its weight in gold: As an immediate action, you can expend a mythic power to make a 5-foot-step, making the attack miss. If a creature fails a will-save, further attacks may miss as well. The ability manages to get the 5-ft-step limit covered as well, so kudos!

 

The universal path abilities can mostly be summed up by “numerical escalation” -better disrupt pattern, more astral suit customization options, expanded collective, better devastating touch, breaking the mind blade’s +10 limit – you get the idea. Interaction with select core mythic rules pertaining spellcasting is also covered.

 

The next chapter covers a literal ton of mythic psionic feats – enough so that the feat-table spans no less than 2 full pages. Perhaps most interesting would be Ascendant Power – this metapsionic feat requires the expenditure of your psionic focus and increases the power point cost by a whopping +8 – for this, the power instead uses its mythic version, but still does not count as a mythic power for the purpose of effects interacting with it. The thus improved power cannot benefit from mythic augmentation and does not allow for the utilization of effects that require the expenditure of mythic power. What this feat essentially does is unlocking mythic psionics for non-mythic manifesters. It also allows for a significant increase in flexibility beyond the feat-tax that Mythic Powers Known imposes, which clocks in at 1 power per tier. Mythic Psionic Attack is interesting, allowing for all attacks in a given round to benefit from the expenditure of your psionic focus – I say “interesting” because it decreases the focus on singular, exceedingly powerful attacks towards a support of multiple ones, rendering characters with many attacks instantly superior to those with just one. This changes basically how Psionic Fist/Weapon-builds work and puts the whole thing on its head. While not a bad choice, imho, this could have required a more fluid balancing – as written, it just inverts the build, thus greatly decreasing the comparative efficiency of single-hit-builds. A great idea, though one I wished had more complex mechanics for a more fluid experience.

 

The other feats herein represent mythic versions of the numerous feats and they can, like most mythic feats, be grouped into various types: For one, we can find numerical escalations, which, while fitting, tend to not exactly blow me away – essentially, I am of the conviction that mythic gameplay already is escalated enough in that regard. The second and in my opinion, more interesting array of feats allow for an increased array of tactical options – going into breadth and flexibility over numerical depth, if you will. Here, the feats and their benefits range from the solid to the exciting: Using mythic power and a swift action to change the alignment component utilized by Aligned Strike, for example, would constitute such an increase in flexibility.

 

Body Fuel would also be interesting in that it only requires one attribute to suffer the ability burn of the base feat, mitigating one drawback of the original feat and increasing its potency. Rendering astral constructs mythic for the purpose of interaction with other creatures and increasing their DR is impressive, though rendering the DR as bypassed only by epic weapons makes them pretty strong in certain campaigns – personally, I would have preferred a DR-bypass that scales with the levels of power or manifesters. Burrowing Power’s mythic version also should be noted in that it no longer requires line of sight – a powerful and fun option generally, though I wished the wording were a tad bit more specific regarding the failure criteria: “If no creature is in that space, the power fails.” – from an aesthetic position, I would have preferred this to reference the target/area of effect of the power itself. Now note that this does not render the feat bad or problematic, it only constitutes a minor nitpick that will not influence my final verdict. Deep Impact’s mythic version may be a bit nasty, allowing for the expenditure of mythic power to treat all your attacks as touch attacks for the remainder of the round. Efficient Aid not only increases the efficiency of healing requested by +50%, it also allows for the expenditure of mythic power to allow for the healing of attribute damage.

 

Of course, mythic upgrades of the +x class ability-type feats can be found in this chapter. Nomads fast stepping as a swift or immediate action are interesting – though, alas, the immediate action trick opens up an issue that was not part of the original Fast Step – the teleport can now be used reflexively, though the feat does not specify whether using it as a response to an attack negates said attack, makes it miss or lets the attacker decide in which way to utilize he attack that would have been directed at the psion phasing away. While this is no something a DM can easily fix, it still remains a minor blemish. I am also not a fan of utilizing mythic power to make a skill-check count as if a natural 20, as some feats utilize in their mechanics. Adding a tier-based or scaling bonus would probably have yielded a bit more flexible results.

 

The next chapter provides us with a massive, huge list of mythic powers – again, we begin the chapter with a rock-solid explanation of functionality and terminology of mythic powers, how to get them and how they work, including nice options to make them spontaneously more potent or more resilient towards being dispelled. This section can be considered a very well-written piece that provides the functionality and examples required to make the blending of psionics and mythic rules work. All in all, one can assert that basic modification via these choices and the aforementioned options as well as the non-mythic augment-options render the powers themselves more flexible than comparable spells, thus making up for the decreased flexibility from power selection itself. Kudos! The power-lists come organized by class and level.

 

The powers provided do sport some instances of numerical escalation and, of course, augmented-options dependant on tier in some cases, with just about all tiers being featured. Yes, this includes 10th tier: The augmented option for temporal acceleration allows for the use of 3 uses of mythic power to increase the duration of the now multi-target power to 1 hour per level. Yes, this is essentially permanent, mass crush-em-all and broken as all hell, but at tier 10, that’s exactly the capstone-level of brutal destructive potential I like to see. Telekinetic force’s now longer duration should also be considered to be interesting in that it enhances the move option and provides a more powerful throw option (that also expends it) – a nice example for numerical escalation that in fact is no escalation, but rather an expansion into breadth rather than depth.

 

I also enjoy the option to selectively exclude some targets from swarms of crystals and while slumber nets a linear increase of hit dice affected by the power, its true benefit imho would be the control exerted over which creatures are affected. Now the 8th tier augmented option is AWESOME: Affect all living creatures with 8 HD or less within a mile of you – for days on end! Yes, 3 uses of mythic power are steep, but this is narrative gold. Love it! Schism‘s second augmented option also deserves special mention, as it provides a swift action to the second mind you create. If that does not sound like much, then you’ve never had a psion with this power as a combo-enabler in your game. Personally, love the engine-tweak here! As a nice note, even basic powers that did not provide this much strategy like the energy-based powers do benefit from an extension in breadth – energy push foes straight upwards? Yup, this can be pretty awesome. Over all, this chapter did impress me most among the pieces of content provided so far – it is relatively imaginative, provides a significant array of tactical depth and goes beyond basic formula for the powers – it very much feels like something lovingly handcrafted.

 

The final chapter of this book provides 9 mythic versions of monsters introduced in the Psionic Bestiary, from the deranged trepanner to the puppeteer and phrenic scourge, they range from CR 16/MR 6 to CR 2/MR 1. They provide some interesting, added signature abilities and enhancements for their respective mythic powers – generally, a solid array…so when do we get the full mythic psionic bestiary? 😉

 

Conclusion:

 

Editing and formatting generally are very good – I noticed no serious, formal hiccups, though here and there a minor rules-glitch has entered the fray. Layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press’ beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf provides an array of nice full-color artworks, some original, some I have seen before. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and with a second, more printer-friendly version – very considerate!

 

Jeremy Smith, Andreas Rönnqvist, Eric Hindley, Guillermo Daniel Ordoñez – gentlemen, you have my respect. Psionics and mythic are not that easy to blend – I’ve been experimenting with it myself and there is a LOT to take into account. Psionics has more connected, moving parts than regular spellcasting and as such, the task of upgrading this system to mythic rules is not something I’d consider easy by any means of the word.

 

That good news is, my nitpicky complaining-tirades none withstanding, this is pretty much the functional, neat upgrade to mythic rules fans of psionics have been clamoring for. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by the relative diversity of options provided herein, many of which go above and beyond what one would expect to see in such a massive supplement. More often than not, the authors have opted to provide unique perspectives and tactical options rather than succumbing to the numerical nuking less inspired mythic design is prone to.

 

On the other side, it would be remiss to mention that the complex interaction of mythic and psionic rules with all the moving parts inherent in either system does result in some sand grinding in the well-oiled engines of both systems. While some of the gripes boil down to nitpicks, minor inconsistencies and similar issues that can easily be handled by a capable DM, this pdf also does sport some combos that leave me shuddering and which are, ultimately in my book, in need of a nerfing. Even in the context of mythic rules, there quite frankly are some combos herein that are a tad bit too good to be considered okay in my book. Especially the fixed reduction of manifesting time to one standard action is not only a component that deviates from how the spellcasting-analogue works (which is required, as powers adhere to a different manifesting action economy), but also changes in a somewhat wonky way how the systems interact with one another. The new mythic path provided does sport some of these components. However, at the same time, the path does not sport boring or pseudo-feat-abilities, instead opting for utterly unique tricks – kudos for getting that right!

 

If you’ve read this massive review, you will have noticed quite a few instances where I picked apart some components and mechanics – however, at the same time, this pdf does provide a staggering amount of content, much of which can be called downright inspired. Finally, and there are no two ways to look at this, this is the all but required supplement for use of psionics with the mythic rules. How do I rate this brute, then? I’ve been honestly struggling with finding a verdict here. On the one side, this supplement works perfectly (for the most time) in game and has some awesome, inspired components. On the other hand, it does have some rough edges that can be abused and/or grind the game to a halt – essentially, there are also some design-aesthetic deviations from how Paizo and Legendary Games have structured mythic augments etc.

 

In the end, I could have settled on a review in the middle range of my rating system, but that would have been a disservice to the content provided herein. While obviously, this pdf is not perfect, chances are that you’ll find some truly exciting and interesting options within these pages and for mythic campaigns, there are no two ways around this, this book remains a must-buy option. My final verdict, hence, will clock in at 4 stars, with the caveat that DMs using this book should have some serious experience with psionics under their belts to prevent some of the combos this enables from overwhelming them and to be in a position to say no to some of the combinations.

 

You can get this massive, mythic psionics-book here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!
Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jun 222015
 

13 True Ways (13th Age)

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Disclaimer: I received the hardcover of this book for the purposes of an unbiased, critical review, which I hereby provide. This review is based on the 256-page hardcover and not on the pdf –hence, I can’t judge electronic qualities etc. The material herein underwent playtsting for the purposes of this review.

 

13 True Ways, much like the 13th Age Core-rule-book, is a combination of crunch-book and setting material, though this one is focused slightly more on the setting aspect. I have already discussed in length and depth my stance on just about all rules-decisions of 13th Age in my review of the core book, so this review will NOT focus on those; Instead, I will analyze this book for what it brings to the table and assume you are already familiar and have an opinion on whether you like basic decisions of the system or not.

 

Without further ado, let’s begin! In my review of the core book, I mentioned that both monk and druid would be in this book and indeed, there was much ado about their absence in the base book. The druid especially is a rather interesting class, mainly, because its design-tenets, more so than the base key-attribute switching in e.g. the bard-class, provides deeper customization options than the core-classes. The class differs in that is chooses whether it gains many abilities at initiate-level or less at adept level, changing just about all base assumptions you may have and allowing for wildly diverging focuses. Animal companions for initiates cannot participate in every combat, which provides a nice source of basic, very limited resource-management, for example. Adepts can still have their companion around all the time. Death for companions is ridiculously lenient – one combat -1 level, then back to full strength, no repercussions. Disarm the trap, Fifi! Sarcasm aside, the plus-side here is that the companions get used more and less carefully. Once again, we’re at a matter of opinions whether this is a bug or a feature. The class itself can be pretty much pictured as a druid with a significant array of archetypes rolled into it – elemental casting, wildshape, terrain casting – all here, with the nod towards the vast Koru Behemoths being one of my favorite crunch/fluff-cross-over glimpses into the fascinating world. The most elegant rules-decision here would be the scout form, which allows the druid to assume the shape of a harmless animal, which, while distinctly unearthly, makes scouting via wildshape less broken – and it also provides pretty easy to grasp repercussions that limit the utility without crippling it. All in all, a very nice and modular class.

 

Now almost every group has this one player that just loves the rod of wonders – and anything like it. For these players, allegedly, the Chaos Mage was made. With the options to wilder in other spell-lists, defensive high weirdness effects and icon-specific tricks, the chaos mage is an unreliable caster, yes. A fun, unreliable caster. But also one that is not *that* chaotic – with e.g. less than 50 high weirdness effects, the class falls somewhat short of what I’d expect from the concept -but then again, perhaps I’m just spoiled by having read too many takes on the chaos magic concept. It’s not a bad class, mind you – just a tad bit too predictable for the concept. Commanders are very much physical fighters that can help allies via interrupt actions with the flexible resource of command points. I do enjoy that said resource is tied to their own performance in combat, thus requiring active participation in order to enhance their allies. Tactics would be the second resource, and these would be active and non-interrupt based. All in all, the commander is a solid alternative to e.g. the bard’s capabilities. I’ve read a lot of takes on the trope and this definitely is one of the better ones.

 

Monks in their 13th Age iteration utilize quite a few of my favorite concepts – they know three types of unarmed attacks with different effects, which I really like, as anyone who has read my review of Little Red Goblin Games’ Dragon Tiger Ox knows. Monks attack with so-called forms – they could be likened to styles, but instead of breaking up a style over various feats, each form sports an opening attack, a flow attack and a finishing attack. Some of you may recall my constant gushing for Dreadfox Games’ Swordmaster with its opener/sequitur/finisher mechanics, so it should come as no surprise that I like this choice – especially since you can switch freely between forms you know, only having to adhere to the opener/flow/finisher-sequence, not the sequence of the respective flow. Basic class features à la flurry of blows (here reimagined as one of the basic Seven Deadly Secrets) and talents further complement this pretty modular class well alongside a nice ki-based resource-management – the monk is one of the most fun melee-centric classes herein, though also one that most suffers from 13th Age’s issues with Acrobatics and skill-use.

 

Now apart from the druid’s summoning, there is another class herein that requires the use of the concise and pretty conservative summoning rules introduced in the very beginning of the book. That second class would be the Necromancer. And the necromancer is a pretty great example of designs I enjoy within 13th Age – the class has a built-in mechanic for being frail, yet incredibly hard to kill, for having weird and skewed alliances and the spells and minions do support that – one of my favorite crunch-pieces herein! The final new class would be THE Occultist. Yes, THE. As in iconic. As in “there is only one” – and generally, this concept is pretty much awesome – a class all of your own, now if that does not say “epic” from the get-go, what does? The Occultist is very much a caster with a focus on destiny, karma and truly odd options – like The Occultist’s shadow jumping forth to absorb the attacks of foes. Mechanically, the interesting component would be a focus, somewhat akin to what one knows as the psionic focus, which usually is expended upon casting the reality-warping spells of The Occultist. It should be noted, though, that the class does sport options that work only while unfocused. The relative ease with which you can deal psychic damage can also be noted here. On the downside, much like other casters, there is not that much to choose from regarding spells…and the class, while sporting some of the most awesome spells I’ve seen in 13th Age, does feel like its mechanics do not necessarily require it to be THE ONE. While easily remedied, this would be an example where the seemingly implied importance of being the one occultist is subsumed under the need for balance…and for once, ladies and gentlemen, mark this on your calendar, I would have loved the class to be less balanced. Yeah, bet you that you never thought I’d say, right?

 

Now after these new classes, we delve into the multiclassing rules. These essentially treat multiclassing not as advancement in two distinct classes, but rather as an amalgam, at least at 1st level. The general rules do allow for later multiclassing, but if you do use that, the generally pretty streamlined options tend to become a bit messy and work. That being said, a handy table of key ability-modifier interaction and class-by-class multiclassing advice that also sports new feats to help mitigate the implied power-loss. Now I do *get* why 13th Age utilizes this approach to multiclassing as opposed to the “take a level here, take a level there”-approach – the base system, with its HP-calculations etc. simply would not work with the stacking web of crunch that is the base assumption of 13th Age character advancement. Still, this did feel somewhat like a return to 2nd edition multiclass characters, which may or may not be to your liking. Rest assured, though, that this analogue only extends to the concept and the dreaded efficiency-loss in said classic edition has not found its way into 13th Age – multiclassing does not cripple the character and very much renders the character much more flexible.

 

This concludes the crunchy bits of the book – and over all, they are more varied and imho, cooler than the options provided in the core book – I know that quite a few of players tended to concur. The crunch herein is more varied and fun and should be considered a must-own supplement for that alone – on the level of e.g. the APG. That is – a must-own book for any 13th Age table.

 

But that is NOT where this book ends. Instead, we delve into the chapter on cities and courts – from Axis to the Elven Queen’s Court of Stars to the Three’s Drakkenhall and The Archmage’s Horizon or the Priestess’s Santa Cora, the chapter can be considered as an inspired gazetteer for these centers of power – with massive two-page spread artworks/maps, various iconic relationships and 13 rumors for most (though e.g. not for Santa Cora), these provide inspiring glimpses at a world that should have its own, massive, rules-agnostic setting-book, mainly because they manage to evoke beautiful imagery and inspired ideas in my mind.

 

The book also does sport a massive section of new monsters – which includes dire animals and quite an assortment of deadly adversaries. Among them, there are quite a few that stand out – for example the illithid-inspired soul flensers or the class of flowers of unlife, which managed to really creep me out – so yeah, neat chapter, though once again, only a specific array of creatures receive full-color artworks – those that do receive artworks, though, rock. This chapter also ties in with hands down my favorite chapter in the whole book, one I maintain that can be of extreme use even to games that do not use 13th Age rules – the chapter on a beloved creature type conspicuously absent from the original book – devils.

 

Now the chapter on devils is not simply a lame assortment of traits, feats etc. – instead, we essentially receive whole hierarchies and original stories for devils – each of which can easily carry a whole campaign…or more. Know what’s even better? Each is thematically tied to one of the iconics – whether the devils are the agents of the cosmic machinery, loathe the elf queen’s beauty, have been freed by the Dwarf King – each take on devils can essentially be considered its own glorious origin myth, an inspiring mini-ecology that breathes the very awesomeness that good fluff can evoke. Reading this chapter made me come up with so many ideas, it is absolutely stunning and once again validates my claim that we need more fluff for this cool world – especially if the fluff can maintain this specific peculiarity while not becoming prescriptive.

 

After the downright glorious reading experience of the former chapter, we dive into the GM’s chapter, wherein artifacts like the feathered crown or the First Wrought of Blood await – and yes, they increase in potency with tiers. Beyond these, the DM also receives e.g. 13 flying realms, 13 taverns and inns, 13 dungeons and ruins etc. – though all of these tend to come as a pretty short fluff-only blurb, so expect a short inspiring hook here rather than a fully-depicted adventure locale. There also are guidelines for magic item creation by chakra and 3 fluff-only monastic tournaments (just as brief) follow up.

 

On the completely opposite side, detail-wise, 4 characters are provided in lavish detail with extensive background stories and 13 hooks (!!) EACH as well as guideline for diverging uses of the characters as allies or antagonists. But that is not where the book ends- instead, we get what amounts to two campaign seeds, each with various extremely evocative suggestions that should be considered downright inspiring: One deals with the advent of the underkrakens, burrowing/planar shifting mountain-sized krakens that invade – perhaps as living dungeons or siege weapons, perhaps as the instrument of destruction engineered by the dread soul flensers. The second is no less inspired, focusing on an inverted, flying ziggurat spawning nigh-unkillable undead/mutated flowers of utter corruption. Yeah. Awesome. I wish that one were a mega-adventure with fully detailed maps etc.

 

Beyond this high note, we also get an index/glossary.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful, easy to read two-column full color standard. The artworks are gorgeous and the book per se comes with high-quality, glossy paper.

 

Rob Heinsoo, Jonathan Tweet and Robin D. Laws have created what amounts to the absolutely required APG of 13th Age – beyond the inspired classes, which indeed can be considered superior in the playing experience, not in power, to the core classes, it is the second half of the book that just made my day. The fluff, the inspired ideas herein, even beyond the mechanical rules, must be considered absolutely top-notch and inspired – and they constitute the one gripe I have with this book – I wish it were two distinct books, one for crunch and one for fluff.

The NPCs herein show a glimpse of the awesomeness that can be made with this setting and quite frankly, while reading just about any section, I was left wanting more – I wanted the full-blown underkraken campaign; I wanted a fully mapped Drakkenhall, with all details. I wanted Santa Cora in all its details, with hundreds of festivals and taboos. The material herein managed to do what the fluff in the core-book failed to achieve – thoroughly captivate my imagination. While my criticisms still remain, this is exactly what 13th Age needs to prosper – a detailed, awesome, evocative world that is tailor-made to support the high-fantasy, high-impact playstyle suggested by 13th Age’s rules.

 

So yes, this is an inspired book that provided quite an array of cool ideas I will most definitely use, including using one of the devil myths in my current campaign. For 13th Age-groups, this is a glorious supplement, a must-have purchase and even if you only are remotely interested in the world or the concepts I mentioned, this may very well be worth it for the idea-scavenging alone. I really wished it were two books, with more support for each class and the core classes in one, more fluff/campaign setting info – but that remains my only true gripe with this book. If you like the system, you need to have it – it one-ups the core book with imho more interesting classes and glorious fluff. It won’t convert you if you don’t like the system, but even f you loathe it, you may still draw tons of inspiration from these pages. My final verdict will hence clock in at a full 5 stars.

 

You can get this awesome book here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.