Nov 302015
 

Ultimate Antipodism – Drawn from Light and Darkness

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Ultimate Antipodism is a massive book of 93 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with a whopping 90 pages, so let’s take a look!

 

First: What is this book? Well, one could assume this to be the unofficial fourth part of Strange Magic, seeing how this basically represents a massive, non-vancian casting system and classes based on it. Antipodism is all about light and darkness and the things in-between – instead of the linear progression that characterized shadow magic in 3.X, antipodism is more about combos and the oscillation between light and dark. The concept was pioneered in the edgewalker rogue/assassin/shadowdancer-y class, then expanded to a full caster via the antipodist…and then, Interjection Games patreon happened and made Bradley write a huge expansion plus a third base class…and here we are, Ultimate Antipodism, courtesy of patrons Sasha Hall and Sean Paetti. I will structure this review by base-class and chapter.

 

Chapter I: The Antipodist

All right, so let’s get this party started! We begin with the antipodist: The antipodist base class receives d6 HD,1/2 BAB-progression, no good saves and a locus-progression of level 1 to level 4 and 2+Int skills per level. Antipodists are proficient with simple weapons, but not any armor or shields – no here’s an interesting cincher – they double the point costs of their loci when wearing armor they’re not proficient in, but are otherwise not hindered by them – meaning that you’re only a feat away from armored casting with these guys – sans penalties.

 

The Antipodist receives two pools – a radiance pool equal to class level + Wis-mod and a shadow pool equal to class level + Int mod. These replenish after 8 hours of consecutive rest. Now an antipodist’s career is called “Journey through Light and Shadow” for a good reason – the antipodist learns so-called loci, which range from passive extraordinary abilities to supernatural and spell-like tricks. Loci are broken into three subtypes – light, twilight and dark.

 

Within these subtypes, there are different philosophies further providing variation/sub-subtypes if you will. Now antipodists surprisingly have no caster level per se, but for interaction purposes, they treat their philosopher level as caster level. Additionally, though some of the antipodist’s loci are treated as spell-like abilities, they do NOT count as spells for e.g. PrC, feat-qualification and similar purposes. Catching this one and covering it properly is rather impressive. For the purpose of concentration, a locus is treated as locus level + 1/4 antipodist class level, rounded down. It should be noted that supernatural and extraordinary loci cannot be identified via Spellcraft. In order to activate a locus, the antipodist requires a key attribute (Wis or Int) of 10 + 2x level of the locus and save DCs, if required, are 10 + 1/2 philosopher level + key attribute modifier. It should be noted that antipodism utilizes the aforementioned term “philosopher level” to denote caster levels in antipodism-related classes in a streamlined, concise terminology.

 

An antipodist begins the game with 3 loci and she receives +1 locus every class level. However, within each philosophy, an antipodist can never know more loci of a higher level than of a lower one – in order to e.g. learn a second locus of the 3rd level of a philosophy, the antipodist needs to know at least 2 loci of the second level of the philosophy – essentially a pyramid rule. The antipodist may replace a locus with a new one at 6th level and every 3 levels thereafter, but must maintain the level of the retrained locus – but NOT the philosophy, allowing you to “cheat” the pyramid rule to some extent. Some loci require the use of the antipodist’s shadow and thus, only one of them can be in effect for a certain time.

 

At 2nd, 7th and every 6 levels thereafter, the antipodist may also choose one 1st level locus to become “well-travelled”, reducing the cost of said locus to 0, but at the cost of treating a level-dependent effect as half the actual philosopher level, with the exception of DCs and saving throws. At 11th level, the antipodist may 1/day cause a 3rd level or lower locus to be spontaneously treated as well-travelled, +1/day for every 3 levels. Finally, at 20th level, three different capstones loom, depending on the philosophy chosen – these include turning one 4th level dark locus into a light-locus (and vice versa) or a third pool, the twilight pool, which can exclusively be used to pay for loci of the twilight philosophy.

 

Got that? Well, that’s not all – the antipodist can have different philosophical leanings – radiance, shadow or twilight. Twilight maintains the duality between light and darkness, whereas light and shadow, whereas the specialists in either light or darkness may not be able to utilize the other’s tricks, but instead receive a slightly (+2) increased pool and, more importantly, may choose to ignore aforementioned pyramid rule to compensate their decreased versatility – anyways, all choices further modify what an antipodist receives bonus-wise – which is nice. At 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter, the philosophical leaning also provides further bonuses – increased pool size and minor bonus to one of the three saves. It should also be noted, that extensive advice for the DM and player to handle the transition of philosophies are provided – and that both light and dark are not tied to an alignment – playing CE radiance specialists or LG shadow specialists is very much possible. Now interesting in this seeming dichotomy would be the “drawn from experience” ability gained at 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter, choosing a philosophy and increasing its potency – the trick here being that the very progression of the class can be used to mirror the moral development of the character and the preferences chosen.

 

Now a total of 4 philosophies for radiance and shadow are provided and additionally, there is the twilight philosophy, which counts as either. Got that? All right, so I’ll give you a brief run-down of the philosophies (If I mention every locus, the review would bloat…): Anima allows you to animate your shadow to execute close range reposition maneuvers, have your shadow record a locus (and execute it at your command) or stretch and peek around corners or even invade a target, potentially slaying it via fear. Other tricks of anima allow you to animate other’s shadows, commanding them to help or hinder target creatures and passive bonuses to AC when not utilizing your shadow actively can also be found herein. Bull rushing targets via swats of your shadow is also neat.

 

The Beacon philosophy can help you cancel out ongoing fear-effects. on yourself and allies and perfect, short-burst flight alongside buff/debuff-effects, fast healing and healing (the latter with a 2 round delay-mechanism – interesting!) as well as beneficial mood lighting. Reflexive damage + dazzle when targets of a locus are hit by attacks and eliminating diseases and poisons also make for interesting choices. There also is e.g. an option to use your shadow to grant DR that scales with your level and e.g. mass, light-based flight.

 

Now the coruscation locus is more combat-centric – duplicating color spray, unleashing deadly blasts of atomizing light and blinding light make for interesting choices. On a design paradigm level interesting, one locus allows you to regain limited radiance points of spent loci when reducing foes below 0 hp, meaning that the ability can’t be cheesed or kitten’d via well-travelled loci – nice way of preventing abuse there. Dazzling and blinding of foes are often accompanying effects of this, and the negation of concealment as well as causing “catching fire” (akin to alchemist’s fire) with coruscation loci can mean a nasty drain on an enemy’s action economy. We can also find a locus that enhances the damage rolled via coruscation, treating all 1s as 2s – Interesting.

 

The illumination locus allows you to e.g. charge and increase the damage-output of the next damage-dealing locus you cast, net yourself darkvision, infuse texts with appropriate bonuses to skills or even “store” a d20 roll and later substitute it. Among the more interesting options, crits granting temporary radiance points are interesting…and since they only pertain the loci, no way to kitten this one.

The Manipulator philosophy has some truly unique options as well – take for example the possibility of subverting and hijacking summoning spells – damn cool! Subverting enemy morale also makes for a cool idea – as does intensifying conditions – making the relatively useless dazzle-condition blinded instead, upping entangled to staggered – really cool, especially since the save varies on the condition intensified! Also rather unique – clouding the minds of foes, causing them to treat all targets as if subject to concealment. Ignoring the immunity of mind-affecting effects at the cost of shadow points also makes for a cool idea, somewhat analogue to DSP’s dread class. Also rather nasty – one high-level locus that is the equivalent of mass-haste for allies and mass-slow for adversaries. Causing the shaken-condition via images of “spiders, mothers-in-law” and similar horrific images made me chuckle and manipulating weapon-hands is interesting – a word of warning, though – if a target’s HD exceed those of the antipodist, they may instead receive a buff! Now while this may look like an strange design decision, it also opens an uncommon way of using the class – cohorts and similar followers may actually end up as buff-specialists for their masters, with minor manipulation thrown in the mix. Oh, and yes, you can make foes attack themselves en masse.

 

Now the Obscurity philosophy, of course, is the go-to toolbox of stealth-focused tricks – from turning into smoke and instantly moving 5 ft. per class level (to e.g. escape from the guts of a huge creature that has swallowed you whole), entangling globs of greasy darkness, dual short-term reflexive shaken/blindness – so far, so good. What about beginning an insurrection of shadows, resulting in a target receiving additional weapon damage when hit by a target for the first time in a given round? This philosophy has also perhaps one of the most powerful passive abilities of the whole class – once per day, your shadow dies instead of you when first reduced by something that required an attack roll reduces you below 0 hp. (Of course, the shadow regenerates, rendering this a neat type of life-insurance, though your shadow’s absence may severely limit some of your options…) Shadow evasion and granting a weak sneak attack can be considered rather cool options as well, rendering this philosophy probably one of the go-to choices for thieves and those versed in the lore of the underworld – tag-teaming with your shadow to ignore the movement-penalty of difficult terrain does make for cool imagery. Evasion when unarmored is surely appreciated.

 

The Refraction philosophy allows for 1st level invisibility via bend light, with the added caveat that taken items (up to 10 ft. sticking away from your body) also become invisible. Now while the mechanics of parabolic dishes may not be particularly elegant (not a fan of opposed rolls in PFRPG), it works mathematically here – d20+BAB+Wis-mod+deflection bonus to AC (e.g. granted from the hovering parabolic dish) against incoming rays – if you win, you can catch and return the ray to its sender, destroying the dish. Generally, this one can be thought as the most defense-focused of the philosophies, with quite an array of e.g. AC-bonus netting and even mirror image-like loci. An abuse-safe retribution-spear can also be found among the loci here. What about a locus granting charges that grant resistance bonuses to saves and can be spent in place of your shadow?

 

The Umbral Embrace philosophy is probably the most sinister of the respective philosophies – a lot of the loci impose negative levels and e.g. darkness rising even further penalizes saves against the ability depending on the amount of negative levels accumulated. One of the more iconic loci would e.g. allow you to conjure forth the literal sandman to put your foes to sleep and another generates an anti-duplicate of the target that crashes into it for massive damage. What about a nice combo-set-up that adds negative levels to foes when you continue to pile on umbral embrace loci?

 

The Twilight philosophy is rather peculiar in its general versatility, allowing you to increase the potency of loci when alternating between light and dark loci. Increasing the point cost of loci in order to have them apply to additional targets also makes for versatile options and adding swift action dimension doors to the casting of 4th level loci also offers some unique tactical tricks. A sneaking, auto-flanking weapon of shadow, a bolt that can be modified as belonging to any type of philosophy – the twilight philosophy is probably the most versatile and diverse of the philosophies. All in all, a total of more than 170 loci (that’s a SIGNIFICANT upgrade over the first iteration!) make sure that antipodists will have A LOT of combo-potential and tricks at their beck and call.

 

The class also comes with favored class options for the core-races plus drow, aasimar, tiefling, kobold, orc, hobgoblin and puddling. Furthermore, we get antipodist archetypes, the first of which would be the extremist. In the extremist, light and darkness wage war and thus, the archetype gets a duality pool. This pool’s size cannot exceed 5 and begins play empty. Whenever the extremist activates a non-well-traveled locus and the pool is empty, she gains 1 duality point and the pool is “charged” or flagged in opposition to the locus activated: Activation via light flags it as dark and vice-versa. Each time, the extremist activates a locus whose descriptor does not match that of the pool, she gains 1 point. As soon as she activates one that matches the pool’s descriptor, it empties and provides benefits according to a handy table – from one-round-rendering a locus well-traveled to reduced costs, careful planning can provide some neat combo-potential with this pool added. Philosophical leaning-wise, extremists get +1 locus (+1 at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter), but may never learn any loci from twilight. The Drawn from Experience ability of the base antipodist is also heavily modified, precluding e.g. the taking of a given benefit more than oonce, but at the same time having a scaling upgrade at 11th level. As a capstone, the extremist gets ANOTHER pool, the EXTREME (cue in 90s music) pool – 10 points that can be used to escalate the benefits granted by her duality pool when activating its benefits. Some people may complain about the pools to manage. I’m not some people. I like the extremist and how it plays. It’s a unique, nice archetype.

 

The second archetype, the Specialist Philosopher, is just what you’d expect in such a context – a specialist of one of the philosophies: They choose a favored philosophy and begin play with +1 locus from this philosophy, gaining an additional one at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter. When learning loci from this philosophy, the specialists can ignore the pyramid rule. The specialization has full compatibility with the philosophical leaning class feature, though changing it from the prescribed specialization means that the character loses the access of the 11th level class feature. 11th level nets a well-traveled 2nd level locus from the favored philosophy, +1 at 17th level, instead of wayfinder. Drawn from experience is also modified. The capstone nets the specialist a specialist pool equal to 4+ number of 4th level loci known in the favored philosophy – these points emulate the points required by the respective favored philosophy. In a minor nitpick – the text calls the specialist philosopher “extremist” here.

 

Chapter II: The Edgeblade

 

The edgeblade would be the new class herein – it gets full BAB-progression, good Will-saves, d10, 2+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple and martial weapons, light armor, medium armor, shields. The penalty for non-proficient armor is to increase the cost of waypoints by +1. The edgeblade gets class level +Wis-mod shadow pool and class level + Int-mod radiance pool, minimum 1. This does not look like much, right? Well, the edgeblade also gets residuum pools – a light residuum pool and a dark residuum pool. Whenever the edgeblade uses a non-finisher light waypoint that costs at least 1 radiance point, he gains 1 light residuum; the same holds true for dark residuum and dark waypoints. These pools can hold a maximum of 2+1 per 6 edgeblade levels each. Residuum is used to fuel residuum powers and waypoint finishers. They also have a stability score, which begins at 1: Any minute the edgeblade does not gain or spend residuum decreases the residuum score in the pool until the pools reach the stability score. residuum does not replenish – it empties upon resting and needs to be filled again each day. The stability-score is interesting in that it represents a crucial balancing mechanism and some really intriguing untapped potential to play with in further designs – tying it to waypoints, abilities and the like does sound like something I’d sooner or later try to craft myself.

 

At 1st level, edgeblades get 3 residuum abilities: One light, one dark, one twilight. 2nd level, 3rd level, 4th level, 7th level and every 4 levels thereafter, the edgeblade gains +1 residuum ability. These abilities need to be prepared – each day upon resting, the edgeblade chooses one light, one dark and one twilight ability, which then are considered to be prepared. Residuum abilities can be considered the unique passive buffs – resistance against all elemental energy types + sonic equal to residuum or twice residuum, decreased armor check penalty, adding mighty cleaving at higher level to the weapon, better initiative, saves, hurling minor fire-damage causing balls of flame, reflexive dazzle or generating the other type of residuum when one pool is full, these abilities provide a baseline of unique options to supplement the fighting styles of the edgeblades.

 

1st level nets the edgeblade gets two waypoints, +1 at 2nd level and every two levels thereafter. If applicable, the DC for such abilities is 10 +1/2 philosopher level (=class level)+key attribute modifier (Int or Wis, respectively). As always, waypoints marked by an asterisk utilize the shadow of the respective edgeblade – only one such effect can be in place at a given time. You’ll notice something: Edgeblades are crazy MAD – as such, at 3rd level and every 5 levels thereafter, they get +1 to Int and Wis for the purpose of waypoint DC, stacking with itself, up to a maximum of the highest physical ability score. At 4th level and every 5 levels thereafter, an edgeblade gets +2 to his pool-sizes, to be freely distributed among radiance and shadow. 5th level and every 4 levels thereafter provide a antipode or combat bonus feat.

 

5th level and every 5 levels thereafter provide a greater waypoint for the edgeblade. 6th level edgeblade may perform a finisher that requires a standard action in place of the first attack of a full-attack action or in place of the first attack while charging or instead of a charge. The wording here is slightly wonky, but still precise enough – still, I’d be interested to know whether the benefits of the charge still apply to the finisher combined with it. As a capstone, the edgeblade may prepare a 4th residuum ability. We get favored class options for the usual array of races in IG-supplements: Core, orc, hobgoblin, tiefling, drow aasimar, kobold, puddling.

 

Archetype-wise, the first would be the Dawnblade, who only gets a radiance pool equal to 2xdamblade level +Wis mod. Unlike the regular edgeblade, the dawnblade has no stability-score to contend with – his residuum does not decay/dissipate – which also precludes the archetype from qualifying for feats and abilities that modify residuum stability. The dawnblade begins with 2 residuum abilities, +1 at 3rd level and every 4 levels thereafter. Residuum abilities have to be prepared and the dawnblade may prepare two – both of which obviously must be light residuum abilities, since the archetype cannot choose dark or twilight. However, the dawnblade receives some unique residuum tricks – like a blade of light (cue in all the Star Wars jokes and quotes you know…I’ll be waiting…all right, all done?) that scales its potency at higher levels, no-save dazzle, reduced finisher costs and temporary radiance points when spending 3+ light residuum. The archetype gets 2 waypoints at 1st level, +1 at 2nd level +1 every two dawnblade level. The entry here is a bit redundant, since it mentions dark waypoint DCs, even though the archetype can’t use these. 4th level increases radiance pool by +1, a further +1 every 5 levels thereafter. The 6th level ability is modified by reducing the cost of the first finisher in the first round of combat by -1 t a minimum of 1. This does not allow for the execution of finishers beyond the maximum residuum capacity of the edgeblade.

 

Where there is Dawn, there is Dusk – and hence, there also is a dark-specialist. Analogue to the dawnblade, the duskblade receives only a shadow pool of 2 x class level + Int mod. Conversely, the duskblade does not get light residuum. Now this would not be Interjection Games, if we just got a mirror image, right? Instead, we get a pretty cool mechanic based on the symbolic phases of the moon: When the duskblade prepares residuum abilities, he assigns one ability to the new moon phase and one to the full moon phase. The beginning phase each day is “new” – during combat, there is a cumulative 20% chance to change to the next phase. Phase-change eliminates 1 point of dark residuum and resets the chance to 0%, but also gets +2 atk, saving throws and skill checks for one round.

The interesting thing here is that the archetype thus gets an unreliable, slightly chaotic flow, but one that allows for the simultaneous activity of two residuum abilities at once when the phase is waning/waxing…oh, and new/full also have additional benefits that play with the residuum mechanic – and they’re beautiful. Seriously, love this mechanic! Akin to the dawnblade, the duskblade does get some exclusive residuum abilities, including nonlethal cold damage and immediate action-residuum-powered reflexive invisibility at higher levels. Like the dawnblade, the waypoint section, somewhat confusingly, notes the information for light waypoints, when the duskblade can’t take them. The other components of the chassis are similar to that of the dawnblade, so to avoid redundancy, I’ll skip ahead.

 

The waypoints provided are grouped by type and by minimum level – 8th philosopher level is the maximum such abilities require, with greater waypoints at most requiring 15th level – from globe of invulnerability-type immunities to other tricks – now the intriguing idea here is, obviously, that the terminology of finishers allows for the combination of waypoint-mechanics between edgewalker and edgeblade, while still maintaining the unique identity of the edgeblade. Between Loci, finishers and the like, this means there is still a lot of untapped potential within the systems presented here that could be expanded in future supplements.

 

Chapter III: The Edgewalker

The edgewalker gets 4+Int skills per level, d8, proficiency with simple weapons, short sword, rapier, sap, kukri, shortbow and whip as well as light armors and shields. Over the 20 levels of the class it receives a sneak attack progression from +1d6 to a maximum of +7d6 at 19th level and the class gets a 3/4 BAB-progression and good ref- and will-saves. The edgewalker has also been codified according to the philosopher level terminology and has full philosopher-level progression. As you can imagine, Uncanny Dodge also can be found among the class features, at 3rd level.

 

So, what is the edgewalker’s deal? The class can be described as a martial artist with a thematic connection to light and darkness – a kind of monk/rogue blend, if you will, and more importantly, one that does not fall by the wayside. Edgewalkers at first level receive thus two pools – the radiance and the shadow pool, both at least containing one point and both using an attribute modifier (as before, Wis for radiance, Int for shadow) plus level to determine additional points for the respective pools. At 5th level and every six levels thereafter, the edgewalker receives a +2 to maximum pool size that can be freely distributed among the pools (for a net gain of +1/+1 or +0/+2)

 

Now as a Batman/stealth type of class, receiving evasion relatively soon should not be considered uncommon (2nd level, improved evasion at 11th level, nerfing these two and taking away any lingering sense of these components being problematic) and 6th level edgewalkers receive hide in plain sight as long as they are within 10 feet of a sufficiently large shadow. Now this still makes targeting the edgewalker with spells et al rather difficult – the class is geared rather well towards taking softer targets out.

 

Beyond FCOs for core races, drow, aasimar, tieflings, hobgoblins, kobolds, orcs and puddlings (all solid) and it’s the time I should explain the core talent system of the class: Essentially, edgewalkers start the game with two so-called waypoints known, one light, one darkness and at 2nd level and every 2 levels thereafter, the class receives an additional waypoint. Now there is a cool restriction in place here – the edgewalker needs to keep a balance between light and darkness, which translates to waypoint selection: If your light-based waypoints exceed those that are darkness-based, you need to learn a darkness-based one next and vice versa, creating a kind of equilibrium. It should also be noted that a couple of these waypoints count as either light, darkness or twilight.

 

Now before I get towards waypoints, you should also be aware that at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter, the edgewalker also receives a greater waypoint, which can be considered a kind of more powerful talent – one that requires some planning, for the greater waypoints also have to adhere to the light/darkness-dichotomy, offering opportunities for proper planning of character progression.

 

The capstone of the class allows you to use radiance and darkness pool interchangeably – a slight increase in power when compared to the original iteration of the class, but one I welcome.

 

Archetype-wise, we receive the motebringer (previously released on its own). 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. From extending ropes of light from the shawls to granting himself a temporary radiance point, and minor (but untyped) damage as rays that can be fired as swift actions or whirlwind touch attacks render this archetype interesting-

 

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.

 

The second archetype provided herein is no less complex than the motebringer – the shadowfriend. The shadowfriend loses sneak attack and instead begins play with a shadowy remnant of what he once was in an alternate reality – unlike companions and the like, the motivations of these guys sync automatically up with yours. If the shadowself is destroyed, it can be regained in a rite costing 200 gp x level. The shadowself has 1/2 HD (min 1), 1/2 BAB-progression, halved bad-saves, gets up to 20 skills (2 at first level, +2 at third and every odd level thereafter) and begins play with one feat, +1 at 5th level and every 4 levels thereafter. The shadow also gets sneak attack that scales up to +6d6. Healing via waypoints may spontaneously be redirected towards the shadowself and waypoints with a range of personal may also affect either. The shadow can always spider climb and occupy the same square as the master. Taking away its surface lets it snap back to the master’s feet and even teleportation is properly handled for the shadow. The shadow self is immune versus precision damage and crits and all its attacks are touch attacks. When removed from the master by more than 30 ft or out of line of sight, the shadowself curls up in an inactive ball and is helpless, dissipating after 1 hour of inactivity. Masters and shadow can freely communicate verbally, but other creatures do not understand this communication – which is a bit odd: Why not make this a telepathic link? I don’t really get how that works.

The master uses a language, right? Anyways, at 2nd level, the shadowself gets DR 1/- (+1 every 4 levels) and uses Int-mod to calculate hp, Fort-saves and Con-based special abilities. At 5th level, shadowself duplicates the master’s weapon or shields as masterwork versions, with 8th level allowing for a +1 enhancement bonus that scales up by +1 every 4 master levels thereafter. 5th level provides improved evasion. Shadowselves have Str, Dex, Wis, Cha and Int 10 and no Con on account of being a construct, which also means d10 HD. The shadowfriend does pay for this powerful pet with pools – they only get a shadow pool equal to 2xclass level+Int-mod, minimum 1. No radiance tricks and neither may they learn radiance waypoints. 3rd level nets the shadowfriend and his shadowself a shadow of their own for the purpose of waypoint/locus-activation and 5th level and every 6 thereafter increase the shadow pool point size by +2. The shadowfriend is an extremely cool archetype and imho mops the floor with the motebringer – touch attack sneaks are nasty, in spite of the bad BAB and while the shadowself is fragile, it can be used in pretty awesome ways. That and the ability’ codification is a thing of crunchy beauty.

 

All right, I’ve stalled long enough – let’s talk about the waypoints that constitute the primary resource of unique, active tricks of the edgeblade and edgewalker. Now you’re of course interested in the aforementioned waypoints and the waypoints themselves have diverse prerequisites – from none, to level-caps and other waypoints have certain skills and feats as prerequisites, which thankfully are listed in the handy lists provided for the respective classes. Now what can you for example make with these waypoints? Well, since there are more than 100 in here (approximately double of what we had before!), I’m just going to note that the following is not a comprehensive list, but rather an array of options that should be considered kind of representational for the classes. While many waypoints are available for both classes, of course there are some that are exclusive for either. As a special mention: Yes, the theme of character-development and specialists seem contradictory, but the pdf does provide guidance for archetype-switching, so that should also be noted…just in case you notice on of the numerous combos herein too late and/or have a change in your character’s development. There is another component I should mention: Finishers tend to allow for escalation – i.e. the payment of additional residuum to increase the potency of waypoints. Waypoints also thankfully generally provide scaling benefits, but I guess, at this point, that’s a given.

 

Very interesting for blocking charges and the like, “A Thousand Grasping Tendrils” allows you to, as a swift action, reshape your shadow into an array of tendrils that create a micro-aura of 10 feet of difficult terrain around you – which, of course, does not hinder you in any way. Ignoring difficult terrain and effortlessly scaling any incline less than 90° can also be done by these fellows. Another waypoint offers a dazzle against a creature you threaten – sans save, as an immediate action, useable whenever you switch between light and darkness consecutively. Armors of light (that do not necessarily enhance your stealth…), a shaken-causing breath weapon of black wind, 1 round slow at a higher save DC, better stealth, cushioning falls (the longer the fall, the higher the cost), very minor reflexive damage (plus dazzle), creating areas of demoralizing gloom and putting creatures subjected to fatigue-related negative conditions or con-damage/drain to sleep is rather interesting. Why? because for the edgewalker, rolling bad on sneak attack is not necessarily a bad thing: For each natural 1,2 or 3 rolled on such a roll, you also deal one point of Con damage if you take the right 8th level dark waypoint. What about edgeblade clothing themselves in DR-granting armor of hardened light, with options for escalation?

 

Now where things get interesting would e.g. be with the exceedingly cool ability that lets you set up your shadow as a flanking supplement and, quite possibly for the first time since I’ve been doing this reviewing thing, gets such an ability actually right. Now, with Ichor of the Firefly, the edgewalker may coat his/her weapons with virulent light that invades the bodies of target, negating invisibility etc., while also providing significant bonus damage, especially against creatures sensitive to light. Making conversely, a poison from darkness itself that scales damage-wise over the levels also becomes a distinct possibility. Speaking of said poison – if you use the dark-aligned poison, you may add a neat combo (though the following is not restricted to the darkness-based poison) that allows you to ignite the poison coursing through your foe’s veins, dealing significant fire damage. Damn cool!

 

The equivalent of solo tactics sans requiring an ally (but only while your shadow isn’t otherwise occupied) also makes for a cool array of tactical options. Want to know what’s lurking round the corner, in the adjacent room etc.? What about stretching your shadow up to 60 feet and looking through its eyes? This ability, which can be taken at first level, is narrative gold and iconic in imagery!

 

Of course, various spell-like abilities, poison use, pillars of light that heal minor damage, motes of searing light or making your shadow the equivalent of a kind of bear trap are possible, but for me, the anti-ray/attack-roll spell Tenebrous Tango, which allows you to have spells utterly miss you – think mirror image variant with an edge. At a permanent cost of 1 point from a pool of your choosing, you may also master poisons to the extent they become more potent, making your poisons at +1 DC more lethal – and with quite a few requiring consecutive saves in PFRPG, this makes sense.

 

Now I did mention those greater waypoints and as you may have imagined, they are the big ones – Summoning forth several shadows from you one – cool. But more interesting would, at least for me, be the game-changer that is Cumulative Exposure – it deals automatic damage to all adjacent creatures whenever you subsequently use two waypoints. Using multiple dark waypoints may also yield bonuses and igniting mundane light sources to emit blinding flashes makes for a cool idea and better light/darkness poison/ichors are lethal and cool – what about e.g. an ichor that makes the target suffer from miss chances galore, but also receive an applicable miss chance as it becomes insubstantial -nice reflection of the duality-theme in the crunch here.

 

Now also rather awesome would be the option to steal other creature’s shadows via ranged CMB to power darkness-waypoints. Cool here – the ability manages to properly prevent kitten-bag abuse. Lifelinks also are possible – ouch! Now it should be noted that, although the page-count of the pdf remains unchanged, quite a few stock artworks have been taken out of the file to make room for more waypoints, which is rather cool and adds to the arsenal of an already fun and inspired class. It should be specifically noted that the greater waypoints receiving some awesome tricks – what about establishing a link that damages a target when you are healed? Yeah, evil and oh so cool!

 

If all of these options still are not enough – yes, there are feats to enhance the classes here, but this review is already 12 pages long as is – so let’s jump to the conclusion.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good – there are almost no issues in here, most being typo-level and in the exceedingly rare case some piece of mechanic is influenced, it is to a small degree that still allows you to deduce what’s intended. The pdf sports thematically-fitting stock art and layout adheres to Interjection Games’ elegant 2-column b/w-standard. This book has one massive issue on the formal side – no bookmarks. Beyond making this review relatively painful with a lot of scrolling, this means that printing out this massive book is something you should do – a book of this size, sans bookmarks, is very user unfriendly. I asked what happened and it turns out, there are supposed to be bookmarks – but the technical side of things has screwed the pdf, thus breaking them. It would basically be required to build the whole book anew to make them work.

 

And ultimately, that’s my one issue with this book. You already know I loved the respective three classes, with particularly the edgeblade being just fun to play. All archetypes herein are unique, sporting a significantly-changed playing experience from their unmodified classes – to the extent where the archetypes can be considered more unique than some variant classes out there. Bradley Crouch delivers a highly complex and rewarding casting system here, one that codifies antipodism and makes it feel more concise.

 

Unlike previous systems, antipodism is all about the combos: Much like the themes it represents, you’ll have better DPR-options with other systems. What makes this book’s classes awesome is their deliberate emphasis on cool combos and synergy effects – if you enjoy classes that play intelligently, then this book provides content galore, with the vast majority being quite frankly unique and not something you’d see in the arsenal of other classes. Juggling highly complex concepts and getting the wording right also constitutes one of the unique benefits here. Content-wise, this is awesome and if you’re willing to print this out, it’s definitely worth the investment of the fair asking price. That being said, the lack of bookmarks really, really hurts this massive, otherwise great book.

 

Let’s make this abundantly clear – this would be 5 stars + seal, in spite of the few minor glitches here and there and to me as a private person, it is just that….But, as a reviewer, no bookmarks constitute a big fat issue for a book of this size. If you don’t have a problem with printing this out, then get it – for you, the above verdict very much holds true. However, as a reviewer, I can’t just assume that and have to rate the pdf as is; as much as it galls me, I have to detract 1 star, ending with a final verdict of 4 stars – if you print this out, I’m pretty sure you will love it, though!

 

You can get this massive, unique system here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!

 

Want Bradley to make unique classes/supplements according to your specifications? You can do just that here on the Interjection Games patreon!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Nov 272015
 

Night’s Black Agents: Double Tap (GUMSHOE)

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This massive expansion book for Night’s Black Agents clocks in at 134 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 3 pages of ToC, leaving us with 123 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

This review was moved up forward in my reviewing queue due to me receiving a print copy in exchange for an honest and critical review.

 

All right, so, if you recall my original review of Night’s black Agents, you’ll recall that I have received said book as a gift from a friend of mine and how much I loved it – however, there always remained one particular observation that may be considered somewhat problematic: Night’s black Agents is based on the GUMSHOE engine, which is perhaps the best investigative RPG-engine out there. At the same time, though, Night’s Back Agent’s different gameplay styles at least partially implied a higher degree of emphasis on action and high-octane gameplay than what you’d see in Trail of Cthulhu or Esoterrorists. Night’s Black Agents managed to partially offset the engine not being per se designed for this type of gameplay via the introduction of a significant amount of thoroughly inspired tweaks to the system. Well, if you’re like me and have played a couple of Night’s Black Agents-scenarios, you’ll immediately notice what this book is: It’s the high-octane Advanced Player’s Guide, the 13 True Ways, of Night’s Black Agents.

 

Let me elaborate: The book is divided into two sections, one for players and one for directors, with the player-section beginning with abilities – here, we are introduced to ability focuses like money laundering that concisely define what can be done with them; better yet, the respective entries do sport a plethora of techniques associated with the respective ability focus – in the above example, we’d for example receive information on overseas accounts, shell companies and the like. The abilities also sport tactical fact finding benefits that list sample possible spends and clues, the latter of which sport the handy glyphs denoting the nature of vampires in your given campaign. Beyond offering benefits for the players, this excessive section also provides a significant amount of unique hooks that directors can utilize to weave into their respective campaigns – from astrophysics to handling radioactive material to gladhandling via Cryptography, this chapter provides an immensely enriching array of options not only for investigative abilities, but also for the various general abilities featured.

 

Indeed, beyond significantly enriching the rich tapestry of options at the beck and call of the agents, the supplemental rules also improve the versatility and variety of action-scenarios available. Oh, and if you’re annoyed by absolute super-pro secret agents failing certain tests, then you may want to check out the optional mastery rules provided. That being said – yes, this chapter also covers an impressive array of new cherries for your agents, further diversifying the abilities and improving the reward ratio for specialization beyond what the core-book offered -from retro-active pickpocketing to nigh-undefusable bomb-set-ups, this chapter is a true beauty and further cements Night’s Black Agents as the mechanically most refined GUMSHOE game out there.

 

Beyond combat-centric cherries and a general expansion of abilities, one should not fail to mention the tricks of the trade – usually requiring 8+ in the respective ability, these allow for superb cheating skills via a 3-point spend, improvising alibis, mad hacking skills (played via hilarious techno-babble) or even James Bond/Knightrider-esque signature vehicles. And yes, this extends to a set of unique and inspired new thriller combat maneuvers, including being thrown away by the blast – riding the shockwave, if you will. On a personal note, that had me chuckle quite a bit since it’s been a running joke in my games ever since I once managed to evade a lethal 20T-explosion in Shadowrun and come out of it unscathed thanks to a ridiculous amount of luck. Now one basic issue regarding espionage tradecraft ultimately remains the problem of what can be done with which ability – here, adaptive tradecraft helps, suggesting a rather impressive amount of uses for the respective abilities in uncommon ways – from monitoring a negotiation to manipulating webcams, this section, once again, is all about the glorious options that should be at the fingertips of elite spies.

 

If your players are like mine, they will have, not only in-game, immensely benefited from the standard operation procedures and thus quickened the general pace with which you can handle complex operations, investigations and plans – well, there’s more here: The Carthagena rules should further help agents operate within the challenging requirements of destroying a global vampire conspiracy.

 

Obviously, an agent is only as good as his tools – we did learn that from Mr. Bond et al., right? Hence, new materiel is introduced – by the buckets: Voice synthesizers, scramblers, facial masking, RFID sniffers and even low-powered wrist lasers can be found here. And yes, the optional rules here also cover the effects of EMP-weaponry, should you wish to go that route! Oh, for high-octane games, I should also mention jetpacks, while dust-games in particular will appreciate e.g. winches or magnetic licensing plates. And yes, if you’re particularly prepared, you can benefit from the Q-rule and have utterly awesome, strange gadgets at your disposal – at the hefty price of a 12-point preparedness spend… Obviously, this level of detail also extends to weaponry, which is not only listed by special OPs forces that employ them, but which now benefits from new uses and cherries as well.

 

Thriller contest rules have been a crucial part of Night’s Black Agent’s appeal for a more action-driven gameplay style and indeed, the rules receive some utterly non-optional expansions: Beyond digital intrusion, infiltration, surveillance and manhunts all receive extensive supplemental rules to make them more exciting – this chapter alone is so compelling, I’d never want to miss it in any of my NBA-games…and yes, even when playing different games, a GM can still learn quite a bit here.

 

Where the player-section of this book was focused primarily on expanding the options and further streamlining the suspense-factor, the director’s companion chapter can be considered to be all about utility: Need some sample NPCs that don’t necessarily feature in the main-plot? The significant array of Cameo-stats for mechanics, superintendents and the like has you covered – and it hilariously includes a goth in love with the dread vampire predator. Nice, winking nod towards one of my subculture’s obsessions and how that would pan out in Night’s Black Agent’s world…. Beyond these people, ready-made establishing shots of various places, sporting enough details for compelling narratives, can be considered another godsend for the director whose agents have once again gone off script.

 

Among the new options for the agent’s monstrous adversaries, manipulating blood to create servitors, cursing them and Chupa, Ekimmu, Homunculus, Penanggalan and Nosferatu stats have you covered with more unique vampiric adversaries. Speaking of which – now directors can utilize the pyramidal structure of the Conspyramid to chart out means by which the conspiracy may be torn asunder – the suspicions-pyramid, or suspyramid, helps in that regard and is an apt planning tool. Particularly fond and a high note for an already excellent book, would be the advice given regarding variant eras – should you choose to, you can chart out storylines detailed the struggles of generations of agents against the dread conspiracy, including relevant rules for social class, telegraphy and the like…and rules for old agents up for one final stab at the nebulous masters…

 

The book ends with handy summaries of cherries, combat rules, vampire powers etc., all available in a very user-friendly manner, as well as with a massive and very useful index.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are excellent, I noticed not a single glitch. Layout adheres to Night’s Black Agent’s 3-column b/w-standard and the artwork utilized is original and generally, high-quality and evocative. The electronic version comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience, while the softcover print version features high-quality, glossy paper and leaves nothing to be desired regarding the quality – and it better not, for this book will see A LOT of use.

 

All right, if you’ve been following my reviews, you’ll have noted that I pretty much spoiled the review from the get-go: Mentioning this book in the same breath as the Advanced Player’s Guide and 13 True Ways should tell you something about it: Namely that this book is, what I’d call the “unique identity marker.” Don’t get me wrong, Night’s Black Agent’s core book is an absolutely excellent tome that deserves all the praise I heaped on it. At the same time, though, it is still very much obviously a GUMSHOE-book and as such, offers a playing experience that may deviate from Esoterrorists, Trail of Cthulhu, etc., but at the same time, there are parallels you can utilize. When adding “Double Tap” to the fray, the unique components of Night’s Black Agent’s are not only expanded, they are amplified – significantly. And best of all, for the better. For even in a game that blends multiple GUMSHOE-games, you can still make this the representation of the step up to hyper-pro mode. Basically, this book makes everything more exciting and versatile for the players and at the same time, it helps the directors out there manage what’s important with its extremely useful cameos and set-piece establishing shots.

 

If the above accumulation of basically unfiltered praise was not ample clue for you: This may very well be the best GUMSHOE rules book I’ve read so far. It succeeds also absolutely perfectly at making Night’s Black Agents run more smoothly – the fast-paced infiltration rules, the nice nods regarding digital intrusion, the rules that run the gamut from realistic grit to high-octane action – all of these conspire to make this book a non-optional purchase for a GUMSHOE-system if there ever was one. I fact, if you liked the rules of Night’s Black Agents and scavenged them, I wholeheartedly encourage you to do the same here – Double Tap is chock-full with pure excellence.

 

Kenneth Hite, John Adamus, Will Hindmarck, Kevin Kulp, Christian Lindke, James Palmer, Will Plant, Rob Wieland, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan – gentlemen, you have created a truly astounding, must-have book that has to be considered non-optional for Night’s Black Agents and extremely rewarding for GUMSHOE beyond that. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

You can get this inspired, must-own expansion for Night’s black Agents here on OBS!

Endzeitgeist out.

Nov 272015
 

Crisis of the World Eater Prequel: A Warning Too Late

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This prequel for the unprecedented Crisis of the World-Eater-saga clocks in at 14 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement,1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 9 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

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

..

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All across the world, an uncanny psychic scream echoes through the minds of the minds of the world, driving many individuals to suicide – and the trail leads to the irradiated Kray Wasteland, officially a hostile area broken by the impact of a meteorite. Major Marco Dempompa send the PCs into this wasteland – and it is here, the PCs find something they did not expect: Beyond the deadly gangs that inhabit the wasteland, the PCs unearth a strange, star-shaped complex – for from it, the scream was sent forth. They are not alone in their discovery, though – it is here that a secret super-soldier program was launched and three of these changed beings now have returned: The apathy-field generating arcanist Synapse, the unbreakable Colossus like berserker Vault and the Magneto-style elven storm sorceress Ozone.

 

Finally, beyond the locked down central section, the deadly quicksilver/flash-like Black Silver and the cabalists of the Onyx Cabal remain – and here, the PCs find the broken figure depicted on the cover, the chronicler – who has regained his strength to emit the scream…to warn the world of the approach of Saitan, the deliverer of Omega…before falling back into hibernation. I should btw. mention that the bosses/super-soldiers of this module, like bosses in Metal Gear Solid or superheroes/villains sport unique abilities that render them significantly more interesting than the sum of their builds.

 

It is with a sense of doom impending, paranoia versus the world’s nations and a player-friendly map of the complex that we end this first taste of the dread things to come…

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly, elegant 2-column full-color standard established in the surprisingly awesome “Chronicle of the Gatekeepers”-campaign serial, though with minor modification. The pdf’s artwork is original and absolutely stunning and the cartography is just as awesome. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

This brief module by Michael McCarthy, Jeff Lee and Louis Porter Jr. delivers in its promise – it makes me excited for “Crisis of the World-Eater” – even more so than I was before – the evocative backdrop suffused with exceedingly cool bosses renders this a great little module. Oh, and this one is “Pay What You Want” – which means there is literally no reason why you shouldn’t check out this cool little module. Personally, I do believe that it is worth a tip/compensation for the obvious care that went into it for the unique bosses alone. Seeing how this is PWYW, I can’t see a reason why this should not be considered to be 5 stars + seal of approval – an intriguing, first glimpse at the vast things to come.

 

You can get this cool module for any price you want here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

Nov 272015
 

Village Backdrop: Coldwater

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This installment of RSP’s Village Backdrop-series is 11 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let’s take a look at the settlement

 

Coldwater is perched upon an inhospitable, mud-drenched coast, with one access by land, its harbor is in the delta of a miserably stream that empties its contents into the sea – and if that does not reflect a place you’d like to visit, then that’s pretty much a representation of how most folks see this place. Nearby caverns sport strange stair-like features that only rarely become visible and the inhabitants of the village are just as sullen and unfriendly as the weather suggests. Both village lore and statblock reflect the relative hostility and rugged nature of the village rather well, while a Finnish-inspired nomenclature emphasizes an association with the colder climes.

 

Indeed, the rustic and eccentric locals e.g. sport a man named Holg, who has a well-stacked ware-house, but lets no one in – you have to tell the old man what you’re looking for and mysteriously, more often than not, he procures the object from within the depths of his dubious “locker.” Indeed, one cannot really fault the locals for their sullen outlook on life: As the events and the subtle wrongness in the tides underline, there is something wrong here – you see, there is a terrible template herein that is applied to many of its citizens: The Deformed creature – how and why the poor folks of this village are struck by this curse ultimately is up to the GM, but the presence of the template and its varied effects alongside the stigmatization such folk may experience should drive home pretty well that something is wrong here…

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to RSP’s smooth, printer-friendly two-column standard and the pdf comes with full bookmarks as well as a gorgeous map, of which you can, as always, download high-res jpegs if you join RSP’s patreon. The pdf comes in two versions, with one being optimized for screen-use and one to be printed out.

 

Creighton Broadhurst has skill – and this one shows it pretty well. The mastermind of Raging Swan Press delivers what I’d like to call a wide open sandbox: We are faced with problems and the respective NPCs mentioned can be used to exacerbate it, change it…all depending on your whims. Basically, this is one of the village backdrops that is so compelling, it can make PCs pretty much write their own tale: Throw them in and watch what happens. In this aspect, though, this one is slightly inferior to Kennutcat. However, at the same time, it sports local color that made me think of the slight surreal elements that made Twin Peaks so compelling, at least for me -from the dwindling fortunes of one family to female, hard-working and drinking half-orc, there is a lot of quirkiness, a lot of unique bits and pieces here; enough, to make this thoroughly compelling and well worth 5 stars + seal of approval.

 

You can get this great village here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!
Endzeitgeist out.

 

Nov 262015
 

Dear readers!

 

It’s time again for me to showcase some Kickstarters I consider worthwhile:

 

What lies Beyond reason: An Adventure Path for PFRPG/5e by Pyromaniac Press:

Okay, usually I don’t do kickstarter-recommendations for newcomer publishers that do not yet have an established track record. This would be the exception to the rule due to 2 factors. 1) I’ve seen the module’s current state and it has progressed to a pretty professional state; the fact that the crew sent its Pdf my way bespeaks their confidence and the nice layout and artworks, upon skimming through, make obvious that this confidence is not misplaced. 2) More importantly: They got none other than Rusted Iron Games’ great monster-craftsman Russ Brown AND, and that is a BIG deal for me, Richard “I write modules that are pure ART and am perhaps one of the most humble and awesome authors out there” Develyn from 4 Dollar Dungeons (you know, the guy who routinely makes my Top Ten-lists as if it were a cakewalk…) on board. With less than 500 Australian Dollars to funding and 6 days to go, I certainly hope they’ll be funded and take the advice provided. Seeing these factors, I’m rather confident, the module will turn out to be awesome!

 

You can check out the KS here!

 

The Blight: Richard Pett’s Crooked City by Frog God Games (PFRPG/S&W – 5e is currently Pdf only, but a stretch-goal may change that!):

How the master of the macabre Richard Pett lost the rights for the legendary all-time favorite adventure-locale Styes is one of the sad stories of 3rd edition. Now, Frog God Games has managed to broker a deal that lets Richard Pett present his magnum opus “The Blight” in all of its tainted, shades of gray, mature glory and keep the rights. Doing the right thing – that’s what the Frogs are about….after all, they actually managed to put Razor Coast out there!! Yes, this means a full city sourcebook/AP that dwarves Slumbering Tsar; a book that may actually surpass friggin’ Ptolus as the most unique urban sourcebook ever crafted. We’re talking about one of the most unique voices out there providing an epic, vast tome of weird, dark fantasy – of a city in the tradition of Miéville that creeps and sifts and burrows into realities, it’s where Planescape’s weirdness and Ravenloft’s horror meet to birth a grotesque thing beyond either of them. The KS is a big one, but an absolute no-brainer – Frog God Games has a track-record of releasing awesome, huge books and Richard Pett has yet to disappoint me with ANY of his modules. But no amount of gushing on my part could better sum up The Blight than these words:

“The Blight is a city; a vast corpulent, mad, ugly thing, but it is so much more than that. Its veins seep into other places, drawn across the Between, which rips at its fabric and tosses it about like a child throwing a ball. You might find a curiosity shop from the Blight crammed amongst the mighty tenements of some other city, a horrific character staggering along the streets of an otherwise normal town, or perhaps even a whole block perched within another city like a cuckoo in a nest. 

Her polite name is Castorhage; named after the grotesque royal family that rules here, a family even worse than those who would depose them. It has been called lots of other names, other oaths have been flung at her and her constituent filthy, chymic poisoned parts. From Sister Lyme to the chaos of Toiltown, through the throttling alleyways of the Jumble to the airy madness of the Hollow and Broken Hills, every facet has a story, and every story a dark edge. Yes, the Blight is a place, but it is a place that touches others, like a cancer, suddenly infesting a brighter place and poisoning it. There is no escaping its touch, and once it draws you in, you may never escape. Welcome…”

And if that sounds too Victorian for your tastes (though personally, I love quasi-victorian fantasy), then take a look at Matt Finch’s post here, where he explains the unique tone of this place.

Yeah, that would be the next thing: With Matt Finch, Bill Webb, Greg Vaughan, Skeeter Greene and Chuck Wright, you know that some of the true masters are about to add their talent and expertise to this book as well. If you couldn’t tell – I’m incredibly hyped for this book! The KS has 52 days left and is well on track for funding, so do yourself a favor and check out this beast!

 

The Blight’s KS can be found here! (And at all other places, Castorhage’s influence may seep in…)

 

All right, that’s it for now!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

Nov 262015
 

Into the Breach: The Inquisitor

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This installment of Flying Pincushion Games’ class-centric “Into the Breach”-series clocks in at 29 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 25 pages of crunch, so let’s take a look!

 

This book was moved up in my review-queue as a prioritized review at the behest of my patreons.

 

As always, we begin the book with a selection of archetypes, the first of which would be the Circuit Judge, a mounted inquisitor that exchanges the domain for the full mount progression at first level. 3rd level nest the mounted tactician ability, which nets the mount the teamwork feats of the circuit judge. At 5th level, the archetype gets “Stain of Guilt,” which lets the judge cancel out ally-based bonuses (like flanking etc.) on a failed save and is treated as an enemy for all creatures and their spells/spell-like abilities etc. This curse-based ability is unique and pretty fun, though its details require some clarification: The ability lasts for class level rounds per day and is increased analogue with bane (the ability it replaces), which is a nice way of depicting this. However, the ability, prior to this information, locks duration as one round – so which is it? Additionally, a range of the effect would be appreciated – as written, it does not have one and would allow a character affect creatures at very long ranges. 12th level nets the circuit judge’s mount the benefits of judgments instead of bane. I like stain of guilt – the ability is unique and fits the class well, but it does require a bit of fine-tuning. Other than that, a great mounted inquisitor, particularly fitting, flavor-wise, for e.g. Kingmaker campaigns.

 

The Duplicating Accessor is obviously inspired by comic book character Multiple Man and similar characters: Instead of spells, first level Accessors get Never Alone, a spell-like ability that can be used 1/2 class level, minimum 1, times per day as a standard action. The ability creates a shadow double either adjacent to the inquisitor or up to 10 feet away (I assume failure if that space is also occupied). The copy, unlike mirror images, does have all stats of the Accessor, though attacks can be disbelieved via a Will-save versus DC 10 + class level. The Accessor can direct all copies as a standard action. All copies? Yes, at 4th level and every 3 levels thereafter, the Accessor gets +1 copy from the ability.

Now the interesting part is yet to come: The accessor may sacrifice Wisdom (which regenerates upon resting) to further enhance the copies: 1 point damage makes one copy semi-real, possessing half the Accessor’s hit points. For 2 points of Wis-damage, a copy may partake in the Accessor’s bonuses granted by the active judgment and finally, for 3 points, a copy can have all the Accessor’s class abilities, drawing from the same pool of daily limits. Instead of domains, the Accessor may touch an ally and grant said ally a class ability, with the exception of Never Alone or teamwork feat ability. This lasts for one round per class level or until used and the target uses the Accessor’s stats for the ability. At 6th level, the Accessor can affect +1 character with this ability, +1 for every four levels thereafter.

The 3rd level lets the Accessor use duplicates as a kind of mirror image-y effect instead of solo tactics and the capstone doubles the number of copies and may daze anyone surrounded by him and his doubles, also increasing the flanking bonuses versus victims. This archetype is utterly unique – it juggles exceedingly complex concepts and even gets illusion-subtype effects for the SPs right…and it plays in a unique and intriguing manner. While the Wis-damage as a resource is uncommon, it does work out here within the framework of the archetype. Have I mentioned that you can’t heal the Wis-damage thus incurred by regular means, preventing spell-based cheesing of the ability? Aye. Apart from one very minor thing (what happens if all adjacent squares and all within 10 ft. are occupied?) pretty much a textbook definition of a creative archetype with a unique concept and playstyle, executed almost at perfection-level – pretty damn impressive!

 

The Lineage Master gets a blood call, which acts a point-based resource, totaling 3+Wis mod points. These points power the class abilities and the class can expend a point upon scoring a critical hit to add scaling bleed damage to the attack. Additionally, this resource may be used to get the favored enemy bonus of a ranger of equivalent level versus a foe for class level rounds, with higher levels allowing for the maintenance of multiple creature types at the same time. 2nd level (upgraded at 10th) nets 3+Wis-mod blood biography (at higher levels with additional information gleaned) to the fray. On the nitpicky side, this should be SP, not SU – as presented, it lacks CL.

 

Instead of bane, the lineage master can generate a ward that sickens allies of the affected creature – again, on the nitpicky side, the ability’s fluff implies the necessity of shedding the blood of the target creature, while the crunch does not support this restriction – clarification would be appreciated here. 8th level nets point-based Bestow Curse, again classified as a SU, when it should be SP. The capstone allows for a save-or-die judgment that may also generate blood golems under your control. This archetype has nice, visceral imagery, but the ability-type issue is somewhat annoying. Finally, one could argue for a disjoint between crunch and fluff here: While the abilities very much emphasize blood as a component of importance, the crunch does not reflect this…which is rather relevant in a fantasy game, where not every foe has blood… Finally, the archetype suffers from having a very restricted base ability that is pretty front-end heavy. By tying the base ability’s scaling to class levels instead, this could have been mitigated. Not a bad archetype per se, but also a long way short of being a truly awesome one.

 

The Ossuary Chaplain gets proficiency with simple weapons and firearms and diminished spellcasting and gets a gunslinger-like firearm at first level instead of a domain. The interesting part, though, would be the option to generate scrimshaw bullets from bones: 1 at 3rd level, +1 every 3 levels thereafter, which also doubles as the limit of such bullets you can carry at a given time. Now here’s the interesting thing: When you defeat a creature with a CR equal to or greater than 1/2 your own, you can create a scrimshaw bullet from such a foe. Better yet, bullets made from such foes also get a so-called “potent ability” – an extra boom, if you will. From creation of the bullets to their creation, the rules here are solid, with animals, devils, demons, dragons, (monstrous) humanoids, undead and vermin sporting different bonuses. The interesting thing here is that thus, the character can refresh scrimshaw bullets on the fly when defeating foes, rendering the very conservative limit crucial for balancing: E.g. humanoid bullets deal additional force damage! Without such a limiting factor, the ability would be too strong. On the downside, I really abhor the archetype inventing the “potent bonus” nomenclature – just keep it untyped and don’t invent bonus types or phrase the ability differently. Apart from that, an archetype with nice visuals and a cool playing experience.

 

The Relic Seeker replaces monster lore with better item identification, gains trapfinding instead of stern gaze and locate objects 1/day at 2nd level, +1 every 4 levels thereafter – and it should be SP, not SU – it’s lacking the proper CL for SU, if that’s intended – which it shouldn’t be. This is pretty much a textbook variant SP. The relic seeker may choose rogue talents instead of teamwork feats (advanced rogue talents at 12th level) and may expend judgment uses instead of limited daily use rogue talents – interesting interaction here. 5th level nets arcane sight, which is the proper SP, but did not italicize the spell and 11th level nets SR versus abjuration spells only – the SR can be lowered. Apart from minor hiccups, a nice archetype, probably particularly suitable for e.g. Mummy’s Mask.

 

The Revelator replaces bane, greater bane, monster lore and domains with a mystery sans spells at 1st level, +1 mystery at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter. Instead of stern gaze, solo tactics, track and teamwork feats, the revelator gets a revelation chosen from any mystery for which he qualifies and has learned, using Wis instead of Cha. 5th level and 10th penalize the character’s Will-save by -1, with the penalty reaching -3 at 15th level – however, in exchange for that, the class can activate two revelations with a standard action as required activation at once – interesting! Mysteries and revelations are strong, but the restricted access and tight balancing reigns here keep the archetype functional – nice and very distinct in playstyle.

 

Righteous Assassins replace the ability to cast spells with the ability to conjure forth a phantom weapon as a move action (scaling regarding the DRs it bypasses), and get an expanded spell-list. Furthermore, 3rd level nets sneak attack, +1d6 every 3 levels thereafter – for these tricks, though, the righteous assassins pay with spellcasting as well as with solo tactics and bonus teamwork feats. The conjured weapon is enhanced at 5th level and every odd levels thereafter by +1, for a maximum enhancement bonus of +5 (plus/mixed with special weapon abilities up to a total of net +8) and a highly customizable magic weapon, all in exchange for the judgment. This “godblade” archetype can be pretty powerful, but also rather one-dimensional. Personally, I prefer Jason Linker’s ethermagus (see Interjection Games’ Strange Magic) for a similar, but more versatile concept, but per se, the archetype is okay.

 

The Sacred Commander replaces lore with +1 improved aid and instead of solo tactics, the archetype gets two unique judgments: Assistance allows the commander and allies within 30 ft. to aid another as a swift action, increasing the bonus granted at 6th level and every 6 levels thereafter by +1. The second judgment, Tactician, allows for the 30 ft.-radius share of teamwork feats. This replaces solo tactics. 11th level nets the sacred commander the option to bolster an adjacent ally’s save by his Wis-modifier as an immediate action. An okay commander-style archetype, but I’ve seen the concept done in more detailed ways.

 

The final archetype would be the Varying Verdicist, who gets diminished spellcasting, but may 3+Wis-mod times per day change her size to large or tiny, scaling up to huge and diminutive at 10th level – the size modifiers are conveniently listed…or at least, parts of them are. Here, it is obvious that a small table listing them and including the modifiers regarding CMD etc. as well as reach etc. would have been appreciated…The capstone allows for the spending of 1/3 of the daily uses to grow to gargantuan size. I really like the size-changing tricks here, but the presentation of this archetype is very user-unfriendly, omitting several crucial changes for the sizes and requiring players to be properly familiar with the size-change rules beyond the numerical benefits granted. I like the idea, but Everyman Gaming’s SUPERB Microsized Adventures should probably be used by any player wanting to play this one – the book provides all and more) than you need to properly use this archetype.

 

The pdf also depicts an alternate base-class, the Vengeant. The class needs to be within one step of the patron deity’s alignment and gets d10, full BAB-progression, good Ref- and Will-saves, 4+Int skills per level, simple and martial weapon proficiency and proficiency with the deity’s favored weapon. No, I did not forget something – no armor proficiencies. A vengeant may choose a domain or inquisition and 4th level nets Wis-based prepared divine spellcasting from the inquisitor’s spell-list. The base ability of the class would be oath of vengeance, which can be used 1/day, +1/day at 4th level and every three levels thereafter. The character gets +2 to skill and ability checks versus the target thus designated via a swift action and may perform oath strikes against the foe: These attacks provoke AoOs from each target that is not the chosen adversary, but do allow the vegeant to roll each attack roll twice and take the higher result.

 

As a minor nitpick, the end of oath of vengeance is tied to the dead/dying conditions, thus discouraging nonlethal means of enemy neutralization…but then again, that may be intentional. The class also gets a monk’s Wis-based scaling AC/CMD-bonus and adds Wis to Initiative in addition to Dex. (Yes, in mythic game play with its emphasis on quick, hard assaults, I’d nerf this ability.) 3rd level nets the vengeant a so-called censure, +1 every three levels. When successfully performing an oath strike, the vengeant adds a censure of her choice to the attack’s effect, to be resisted with a DC of 10 +1/2 class level+Wis-mod and save-type depending on the censure. The censures include negative conditions, extra damage, minor retributive damage etc., with 6th and 12th level unlocking new censures, deed-style. These later censures allow for caster-hampering and even free combat maneuvers.

 

Higher level vengeants get an interesting ability that lets them move towards their oath’s target sans provoking AoOs, extending her rerolls to allies at 11th level. 14th level provides exploit weakness (ignore DR when criting and potentially lock down regeneration temporarily) and 17th level eliminates ALL movement-based AoOs. The capstone lets the vengeant reroll the first attack each round and take the better result. As the developer states, this class is based on the avenger…and it does a pretty good job at what it sets out to do. In practice, the class is a glass cannon and one that requires some planning by the player…but then again, it’s also pretty satisfying to crash as the unarmored fanatic into your foes. A niche class with a nasty damage-output, sure, but a fun one with a significant Achilles heel.

 

Next up are the PrCs, the first of which is the Infernal Enforcer, who gets d8, 4+Int skills, 1/2 spellcasting progression, 1/2 save-progression for all saves and 3/4 BAB-progression. Every odd-numbered level, the infernal enforcer increases his effective monk-level by +1 regarding an array of monk abilities. The class also gets an infernal essence pool equal to class level + Cha-mod. From second level onwards, each level is associated with a circle of hell – the abilities thus granted can be cast as SPs or SUs for the cost of 1 infernal essence (unless otherwise noted) each and saves are equal to 10 + class level + Cha-mod. From Vanish & Blur to healing and DR, improved mobility and debuffing touch attacks to a potentially highly lethal wave of roiling insta-kill hellish power (balanced by HD akin to Cloudkill). Each circle but the ninth sports multiple abilities and3rd level and every odd level thereafter puts player agenda on the table: Via boons, infernal enforcers can learn to customize the respective circle abilities, increasing their potency, making them less expensive, etc. I pretty much yawned when first reading the premise, but know what? This take on the infernal martial artist is actually pretty damn cool – I made a sample character and really enjoyed it. In fact, this may well be my favorite PrC from Flying Pincushion so far!

 

The second PrC, the Soul Arbiter, sports 5 levels and gets d8, up to +3 BAB, 1/2 Fort-and Will-save progression and 4+Int skills per level. The class gets 3 levels of manifester level and power point progression and 2 levels divine caster level progression. The first level ability allows for the standard action implantation of phobias in target creatures, though a trigger needs to be available…and, alas, while the ability has a hex-like 1/target/24-hour cap, I do think the ability should specify its range – the fluff implies crunch or close range, but I’m not sure. First level also adds +2 to mind-influencing or “telepathic” power DCs…which deviates from Dreamscarred Press’ established nomenclature. At 2nd level, the soul arbiter adds +1 to the effects of her judgments and stacks prestige class levels for the purpose of judgment effects. 3rd level has a broken ability: No Bluff or Diplomacy when someone is under the effect of a soul arbiter’s telepathy – this makes in-game logic come apart HARD. 4th level allows for CL or ML-checks versus alignment hiding effects and 5th level provides nonlethal damage and Wis-damage when a target tries to lie to her and ignore immunity to mind-influencing effects. While wording-wise not perfect, the PrC still can be considered kind of okay – not my favorite part of the book, though, and as far as rules-language goes, the least precise component herein.

 

Okay, this is NOT where we stop, though – we also get inquisitions, a LOT of them, though there are central themes, the first of which is the Foe Slayer: Aberration Slayer nets you, for example bonuses against Will-based effects and retributive, potentially stagger-inducing damage for those that try to break your mind, while construct slayers get Disable Device as a class skill as well as the option to hamper them via your skill in minor ways. Balance here is not always perfect, though: Smite Evil at full paladin level for Fiend Slayers, for example, is a bit of overkill. Humans, Elves, Dwarves, as well as DSP’s Elans and Maenads get racial inquisitions. Particularly interesting is the elven ability to make all unattended objects within 60 ft. count as attended – haven’t seen that one before and it allows for some interesting tricks…

 

At the same time, the Elan’s option to burn ability points for power points needs a note that it can’t thus exceed the power point maximum and the 8th level ability also asks to be broken: As an immediate action, for each 2 power points you spent, you increase the CL or ML by 1. No cap. This rewards nova-style gameplay and while I get the intent (making psion/inquis keep up regarding CL), this is not the right way. The Maenad on the other hand is pretty cool – retributive skin when outbursting and an aura that can end mind-influencing effects fit pretty neatly into the racial concepts. The final page provides 6 new mundane items – from the folding holy symbol for secret agent inquisitors to gauntlets housing scrolls and holy dust, the items are interesting. The traveler’s shrine (collapsible altar) also makes a return. Particularly so the bolt feed – up to two of these can be attached to a crossbow, allowing for swift action reloads that make crossbows suck less: THANK YOU.

 

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good -while I noticed minor formal glitches here and there, there are less than in previous installments of the series. The rules-language is also more polished than in previous iterations of “Into the Breach.” The pdf adheres to a two-column full-color standard with a great cover artwork and thematically fitting, though slightly less awesome interior artwork. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Dylan Brooks, Kiel Howell, Richard Litzkow, Jeff Harris, Jacob W. Michaels, Jason Linker, Mark Nordheim, Taylor Hubler – congratulations. This is, by far, the most refined Into the Breach-supplement in the whole series. While the last one oscillated between highs and lows, this time around, we’re all about solid and yet far-out options. A significant array of the archetypes and options provided in this book are fun and cover niches that so far did not see much love, many of which resonate with powerful concepts – that’s a very good thing. An even better fact about this book is that the balancing, over all, is much more streamlined than in previous offerings by Flying Pincushion Games. Indeed, to the point where I can recommend this pdf – not simply for the shining stars, but for the majority of the content herein. While there are some pieces in this book that are less refined, over all, this is a quality supplement that adds some nice tools to the inquisitor’s arsenal. My final verdict will clock in at 4 stars. If the crew of authors can maintain this pace of improvement, I’ll be able to slap my seal of approval on one of these pretty soon. So, again: Congratulations!

 

You can get this neat inquisitor-toolkit here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

Nov 262015
 

Chronicle of the Gatekeepers Omega: Dawn of a Thousand Wars

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The final adventure in the Chronicle of the Gatekeepers Campaign Serial clocks in at 22 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 18 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?

 

Now if you want to know what happens if the PCs did not play all the sidetrek and thus have not yet reached the required 4th level of this module…well, the book already hints at what to expect from “Crisis of the World-Eater,” as a handy sidebox provides suggested fluff-only adversaries from diverse worlds to be inserted after the first encounter of the module: Whether drow from AAW Games’ Aventyr, Puppeteer-ridden humanoids from Dreamscarred Press’ Third Dawn, leather-clad ladies from Legendary Games’ Hypercorps 2099, goblin firestarters from Rogue Genius Games’ Veranthea or ghouls from LPJ Design’s Obsidian Apocalypse – there is some serious diversity here regarding the suggested adversaries to bridge the XP-gap.

 

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

..

.

All right, still here? Great! Atlantis folly and hubris are well-documented in the myths we weave o earth – struck down by a cataclysm of deific proportions, the Atlanteans drew back from the worlds and their nexus gateways – until recently, when the Deltans, former colonists, re-established contact to save their home world from the forces of Entropy. Bringing Atlantean weapons to bear, the inexorable advance was slowed, but not stopped. Where Atlantis fell into fatalism, the vespans didn’t – and thus, Sodan took control of the legendary city and sent forth legions to scour the worlds for something to save Delta. He found what he was looking for on NeoEoxdus, in the guise of the rather unpleasant animancer Pushae, whom the PCs hunted back in module alpha. Thanks to the work done in the previous sidetreks, the PCs and their mentor Large-Biter can finally narrow down the activity of the Vespan’s to one particular gateway – and beyond that lies the answer to their questions – stepping through the portal with the nexus key (or not, if you want to reiterate the cool portal activation in “Speaking the Same Language”, the PCs arrive in the buffer – where a Comozant Wyrd awaits – and after this line of defense, there lies Atlantis.

 

The beautifully mapped (player-friendly, btw.) city then constitutes the backdrop for the PC’s further investigations – and if visitors from hundreds of worlds were not ample clue, then the Vespan patrols will be: They better be low key. Alas, unfortunately news travels fast, even in Atlantis – hence, the module tracks PC notoriety, with certain special encounters happening upon PCs crossing a certain threshold. It should be noted that multiple skills and degrees of success are featured here for a pretty fine-grained investigation, particularly for a module of this one’s brevity – bravo! Indeed, finding Pushae may go both ways – with either the PCs finding the animancer or him coming after them – still, exploring the wondrous vista while laying low does have its appeal in either way. Sooner or later, the PCs will have to venture forth to Old Atlantis and the soul crucible there. And exploring the place does reveal some terrible truths: Beyond the scrupulous guards and assistants, traps and people stripped of their souls do not bode well as the PCs explore this fully mapped mini-dungeon (including a player-friendly version, just fyi!) – and finally, the PCs will be face to face with Pushae inside his Soul Crucible. Interesting here: Pushae is a powerful foe, but as a researcher convinced of the necessity of his work, he is thankfully underprepared for the PCs.

 

The module does not end here, though: As Pushae’s own soul is consumed by his crucible, Sodan and his vespans enter the building, telepathically contact the PCs…and make clear that they just literally stuck their faces in the wasp’s nest: From here on out, the PCs will be hard-pressed to run…fast…and hopefully, to the artillery range…to sink Atlantis! As legions of vespans assault the PCs, they’ll have high-powered atlantean siege-weaponry at their disposal to mow down scores of attacking foes while the Obliteration cannon charges – 10 rounds. Believe me when I’m saying that 10 rounds can be a nail-biting experience. It should be noted that this encounter is not run as a siege-weapon combat, but rather as a mini-game – a welcome change of pace in this instance…and yes, notoriety also features in how quick Sodan can muster his troupes…

 

Soon after Atlantis’ hull is breached, its final defense mechanism kicks in – and the city warps to NeoExodus, stranding on the planet! Let’s hope that the PCs can escape in the chaos…but this is not yet the end of either the story of the pdf: 12 hook allow for further customization and the pdf ends with a brief gazetteer of Atlantis, fully depicted Atlantean siege engines (like miniguns and tesla lances) as well as magic items and stats for the no-longer fully human CR 6 Atlanteans and the powers – which includes a domination aura that does look a bit like Khaynite tricks to me…but we’ll see.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no glaring glitches (apart from one instance mentioning “Hypernet 2099”, which should be “Hypercorps 2099″…); the pdf’s layout adheres to LPJ Design’s beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf’s artworks are pretty gorgeous, as is the cartography. The book comes with a second, more printer-friendly version. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Michael McCarthy and Louis Porter Jr. had me curious, but ultimately skeptical regarding the end of the “Chronicle of the Gatekeepers”-serial – I wasn’t sure whether the omega-adventure could live up to the hype and anticipation generated by the previous modules, particularly after the more down-to-earth sidetreks. Then I saw the page-count and my heart just dropped. I couldn’t conceive the module living up to its ambitious premise and title in so few pages. Well, I’m glad to report that the omega adventure of “Chronicle of the Gatekeepers” is a fast-paced, exciting action-romp par excellence: Partway infiltration/espionage, partway full-blown action-movie escalation, this trip to the legendary city is not only well-structured, it is downright cinematic and bombastic in its concepts and settings – most AP-ending adventures do not manage to evoke such a palpable sense of high stakes. At the same time, the module does have one “flaw”, if you will: Due to its brevity, the legendary city explored in this book does not get *that much* space to shine, when it, by concept alone, could have carried an epic 100+ page plot of a mega-adventure. Oh well, GMs can add to this unique location, so if you’re like me and excited for this…well, there you go.

 

The furious finale, with its alteration and reveal of one damn cool addition to NeoExodus’ metaplot made me conclude this module with a palpable sense of gravitas and foreboding, but also with a lot of excitement and anticipation for the world-spanning “Crisis of the World-Eater.” Oh, and the unique finale’s mini-game is, in the hands of a capable GM something players will keep talking about for years to come. Beyond being a very good module, this also constitutes, in my opinion, Michael McCarthy’s best module so far and a worthy conclusion of a series that saw me skeptical and managed to win me over via the diverse, unique challenges offered – in short, a final module for the serial well worth a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval.

 

You can get this awesome finale for the campaign serial here on OBS!

Want the whole subscription? You can get that here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!
Endzeitgeist out.

Nov 262015
 

13th Age Monthly: Summoning Spells (13th Age)

152024

This installment of 13th Age Monthly clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD/editorial, leaving us with 11 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

13 True Ways introduced summoning for two new classes – druid and necromancer, and now, we get rules for the core-classes as well – but can they stand up? Do they maintain balance? Let’s take a look! Summoning creatures is a standard action and they take their action immediately after the summoner in the initiative order. Summoned creatures fight until the end of the battle or until reduced to 0 hp – if they are defeated, you take psychic damage equal to the creature’s level. Creatures may be dismissed as a quick action. Unlike druid and summoner, the summoning options presented herein do not limit the character to one in effect at a given time – they do require the actions of the summoner to be fully effective, though. Integration of these rules is made more streamlined by a rather interesting idea: There are three types of summons -ordinary, superior and independent. Druids and necromancers summon superior creatures that have the regular array of actions.

 

Conversely, clerics and wizards using these rules summon ordinary creatures, unless otherwise noted. Ordinary summoned creatures only take a standard, move and quick action if a summoner used a standard action to control the creature on his/her own turn. If not controlled thus, you roll a d6 to determine the default action the creature takes, varying from creature to creature. Lesser summoned creatures thus can take a full turn when controlled directly – but when more are available, you have to decide which one to control. An exception to this would be the option to summon mook swarms – the whole mob is considered to be one creature for the purpose of being controlled. Summoned creatures also are not quite as real as the…well…real deal. As such, they lack some of the better tricks the “proper” creature could pull off and most commonly is represented by less hit points. Summoned creatures may use the escalation die, but can change its value only during the turn they are summoned – this rule rewards PCs not immediately spamming creature upon creature on the battle field. Summoned creatures also count as allies – which means that they may soak up random recoveries and the like – another reason not to have too many of them around all the time.

 

Summoned creatures also get no recoveries and heal only your level when subject to a healing spell based on recoveries and no, they do not get nastier specials. Personally, I am not a fan of the sloppy way in which the creatures are codified as spell or creature: Basically, the pdf says that they behave as spells when being cast, thereafter as creatures…unless the GM rules otherwise. More precise guidance would have been called for here.

 

The pdf begins with lantern archons (level 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 stats provided) and hound archons (lvl 5, 7, 9 stats provided) as summons for the cleric, with both coming with appropriate feats for all tiers – though personally, I don’t think the epic feat for the lantern archon is fitting – on a crit, it becomes a superior creature for the rest of the combat. How? Why? I don’t get the in-game logic behind this. And yes, the feat belittles you for taking it: “Surely there must be something better you can do with

an epic feat? No? Very well then:” – I kid you not, that’s what’s written here. I don’t get why the designers of 13th Age insist on such unprofessional conduct. Not often, but here it is again – it’s probably intended to be funny, but it comes across as arrogant and belittling. Thankfully, the other summons do not feature such a line. On the plus-side, I do like how certain feats reward having certain domains…though the relative scarcity of spells herein means that only some domains are covered.

 

Okay, as for wizards, there are two types of summoning, with the first being demon summoning? As the pdf aptly observes, the floating pentagram on the cover? That’s the archmage’s innovation and, like an ironic halo, it allows for at least rudimentary control of demons. Alas, it’s not fool-proof – on an attack versus MD that scores a natural 18+, the summoner must save or see the pentagram canceled for 1 round. Thankfully, dismissal/death is covered in detail here. On the downside, the formatting here is a bit cluttered and makes the rules-text continue right below the last statblock of hound-archons. Interesting: There is an eternally laughing type of demon that can be controlled more easily…but still…having an abyssal engine of destruction that continuously laughs can grate on your nerves…especially when you think the joke’s on you… The other and more reliable means of summoning would pertain to earth elementals, which are provided as an example (lvl 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 covered) – so no, no sample water, air or fire elementals. 🙁

 

As for demons, we get the imp (lvl 3 and 5), frenzy demon (lvl 5 and 7) and aforementioned laughing demon (lvl 7 and 9) as summoned creatures…and the laughing demon as a non-summoned, standard creature – and their nastier special is joker-gas-level brutal. Psychic damage whenever you save. Including death saves. Yeah. Ouch.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good – however, I do not understand the strange decision to clutter text together to the point, where one statblock and the text of another chapter almost visually blend together – that’s just odd. The pdf comes with nice full-color artworks and layout adheres to 13th Age’s 2-column full-color standard. The pdf has no bookmarks, when it’s one of the longer installments in the series and one more likely to see a lot of use – I don’t get why they’re absent from this installment.

 

Rob Heinsoo knows his system and it shows – mechanically, there is quite literally nothing to complain about here – the rules provided are concise and playtesting did show them to be pretty balanced – no necro or druid will complain about them stealing their thunder and the unreliable demon summoning in particular can be considered to be pretty awesome. At the same time, this feels like a band-aid pdf…for a bullet wound in the system. Summoning creatures pretty much is a staple of fantastic gaming and this pdf does manage to introduce this component into 13th Age for two classes that ought to have had it in the first place.

Still, that’s good. For two classes.

If you’re a sorceror, chaos mage or the occultist wishing to dabble into summoning – tough luck, you get nothing; No special rules, no unique tricks – nothing. That’s one gripe I have against this pdf. My second gripe would be that non-combat summoning, utility-summoning, if you will, isn’t covered well here – and the scope even within the classes and in combat, is too limited. Want fire elemental summons? Design them yourself.

Basically, we have the topic for a big book here, condensed down to its very basics. Sure, what’s here is solid – but the sheer amount of what isn’t here feels downright jarring. Relationship-effects on summons? Nope. Not even PCs in league with the Diabolist get some special tricks. Gold Wyrm/Priestess clerics and archons? Nope, no synergy. The domain-component is solid, sure, but the only thing this pdf accomplished in my group was to incite grumbling about the rules not supporting the character-concept my players wanted.

 

This is not a bad pdf and a capable GM willing to do a lot of work can use it to make A LOT of summoning spells and creatures, sure. But my point remains that this should have been a big, concise book or expansion. With the limited scope it has, we get a solid offering, but one that does not cover the topic at hand in sufficient depth. While personally, I was annoyed by the half-assed and belittling epic tier feat for lantern archons, you may disagree here, hence I will not take this into consideration for my final verdict – just a note: Belittling your audience and players may not be a smart move in the long run. I know that at least one of my players is really pissed and I am inclined to add my name to the list…

 

What remains, what’s here, is a solid pdf that manages to avoid balance-issues and the spam-syndrome associated with summoning in other systems. But also a pdf that leaves a lot to be desired, a long shot from a comprehensive array of summoning magic in 13th Age. My final verdict will clock in at 2.5 stars, rounded up to 3 for the purpose of this platform.

 

You can get this pdf here on OBS!

 

Want the whole subscription? You can get that here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

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Nov 252015
 

A Friend in Need

164530

This module clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, 1 page inside back cover (which doubles as a picture you can color), 1/2 a page advertisement, leaving 20 1/2 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

This review was moved forward on my reviewing queue as a prioritized review at the behest of my patreons.

 

First of all, before I go into details: This module is intended for a younger audience – basically, this is intended to be a very kid-friendly module – to be more precise, for the age-range of about ~ 6 years. I ran the module in my playtest with a mixed group spanning the ages of 4 – 11 and the players that had most fun were those in the lower ages, so personally, I’d suggest this approximately for ages 4 – 8. The module does take into account the changed requirements of the target demographic – namely by calling out when a good time for a break would be, when to guide them by incorporating suggestions into your “What do you do?”-questions, when to explain the discrepancy between character and player-knowledge…the like. For parents not sure whether their kids can handle “killing” adversaries, an alternate wording is provided as well, with the defeated “returning home.” The copious amounts of advice provided are generally not only welcome, they tend to be very sound.

 

I, for example, wholeheartedly endorse the notion of taking away nonlethal damage penalties in combat encounters and rewarding PCs for doing “what’s right” and handing off defeated foes to the proper authorities. It is my experience that kids become pretty adamant about doing “what’s right,” particularly when bonus XP are on the line – this may sound stupid to adult readers, but it is my firm conviction that acting like this can help kids develop their moral compass. Even distribution of candy/gummibears used as monster-substitutes on the map also is a pretty sound advice, since it prevents instances of jealousy and kill steals, while still providing immediate gratification.

 

All right! Children/players, in case you’re reading this, please jump to the conclusion. No one likes a cheater and I’m going to explain the adventure now. If you continue reading, you’ll only make the adventure boring for yourselves and have an unfair advantage that will be noticed by your GM. Please do what’s right and jump to the conclusion.

..

.

The monastery of the monks of the kneeling wind is a tribute to the elements and, visually inspired by Japanese aesthetics, well-represented by a truly beautiful full-color map. Alas, all things must end, and so did the time of the monks – and after they were gone, the crystal dragon Azhuryx chose this place to rear her precious wyrmling Kurisutaru. Alas, once again, trouble brewed and the mother dragon did not return from a hunt, leaving Kurisutaru terribly bored with the soulbound doll left for him, yet cautious of strangers. One day, Kurisutaru saw a child folding origami and was left overjoyed when he saw dragons among the figures crafted – he thus swooped down to talk with the magical prodigy Azumi, who, in a panic, conjured forth an origami crane (made possible via the new spell) and sent it forth – said crane is what jumpstarts the module in earnest, as the PCs happen to find the origami swan and read the cry for help on it.

 

In order to reach the monastery, the PCs have to start climbing the mountain (a great way to btw. use the hazard here to explain altitude sickness as they encounter it to the kids for a nice educational interlude) and on site, the exploration can commence – the PCs can for example brave the most huggable earth elemental I can imagine. A Wisteria tree whispers to the PCs that the key to Azumi’s location is hidden in the koi pond and indeed, swimming in can yield it. Underwater, the PCs encounter a friendly, awakened koi who breathes bubbles on them and wants to talk to them: He’ll give them the key, if they answer a simple riddle. Beyond the moon-viewing tower, there are animated dog statuettes that may attack (impotently) the PCs – less defense and more offense would have probably made this encounter slightly more enjoyable, but that may just be me.

 

The PCs will also have a chance to test their mettle against the haunt-summoned non-evil undead weapon master of the monks in honorable combat. In the just as lavishly-rendered map of the complex beneath the monastery, a Sudoku-puzzle beckons alongside a friendly haunt testing the PCs whether they can distinguish reality from illusion, while another requires balancing on a rope to swing a bell…in an interesting twist, the spectral teachers of the monks may provide guidance in-game to stumped players. Combat-challenges include dealing with the dragon’s overprotective soulbound doll and some animated objects.

 

When the PCs finally happen upon the dragon, they’ll think they have a deadly fight on their hands…but Azumi intervenes and the PCs have a chance to make friends with the dragon, the positive modifiers of which btw. also entail playing a game of hide and seek with the dragon…and hopefully convey to him that kidnapping others, no matter how well-intentioned, is not a good way to make friends. In the end, though, capable PCs will probably leave on Azumi’s origami riding cranes, with Kurisutaru’s friendship bracelet for a fine, tasty dinner at Azumi’s house – who now has a friend most unique.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a Japanese-looking, beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The book provides ample of child-friendly artwork from the pen by Jacob Blackmon -more so than in many modules of this size, rendering it a nice, visual treat. The unified and beautiful style also extends to the gorgeous cartography by Travis Hanson, which also features player-friendly versions that you can print out, cut up and hand out to them as they go! Extra kudos for that update!

Jenny Jarzabski and BJ Hensley have already proven that they can make good crunch; however, as it turns out, they can also write captivating modules. “A Friend in Need” is a great first module for the small ones, breathing a bit of the spirit of Hayao Miyazaki’s movies and the innocence conveyed therein. It is not perfect, being a freshman offering, with minor hiccups like the somewhat tedious combat versus hardness 8 animated dog statues…but it is still a pretty impressive one. You see, the module does a lot things right: The flavor is child-friendly. Even the spirits of the monks, which may evoke a slight sense of creepiness (in a good way), still provide more aid than hindrance. The challenges are diverse and the inclusion of social encounters, riddles and puzzles make sure that the players actually are challenged in more than one way, which is a good thing in any module, particularly so in one intended for kids.

 

Now personally, I do believe that even small kids can handle a bit more threat and danger than this module featured (see e.g. the pretty serious themes of fear of loss and reorientation in “My Neighbor Totoro”, for comparison), but I will not hold that against the pdf. It should be noted that I ran this with a 4-year-old among the players and the module proved fitting for children this young as well, while the kids in the age-range of 8 and beyond would have liked a bit more grit. Now the good thing here is that, should you not endeavor to cater to a crowd as diverse as I did in my playtest, you’ll have no issue slightly increasing the creepy-factor of the benevolent monk-spirits – in my playtest, I added some minor creepy-dressing to them and thus managed to engage the kids even more – if you heed this advice, though, please make sure you know what your players are comfortable with – a tiny scare is okay, but not more.

 

How to rate this, then? Now that’s the tricky part: You see, I very much believe that we need more modules like this. In fact, many more modules.

I have vastly benefited from my roleplaying in both terms of foreign languages, vocabulary, problem-solving and social skills and the sooner we can get such a positive development going, the better. At the same time, I am somewhat hesitant of awarding this per se very good module my highest accolades – it is my firm belief that a slightly more pronounced emphasis on morality (or a slightly more complex hide-and-seek-encounter) could have added that little je-ne-sais-quoi to this already very good module.

Ultimately, we are left with one well-crafted module for young children – hopefully, only the first of many more to come. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars for this freshman offering, rounded up to 5 for the purpose of this platform. Congratulations to the authors for an impressive first sojourn that certainly made the children ask for more.

 

You can get this kid-friendly module here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!
Endzeitgeist out.

 

Nov 252015
 

Fehr’s Ethnology Collected

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This massive compilation of Purple Duck Games’ “Fehr’s Ethnology”-series clocks in at an impressive 130 pages, 1 page editorial/ToC, 3 pages of SRD, leaving us with a massive 126 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

We begin with a brief introduction of the subject matter and how to use this book before delving into the races themselves. Each of the write ups not only comes with the basic information on the race’s stats, but also extends to new race traits, alternate racial traits and favored class options. Beyond that, we get mundane and magical equipment for the respective races as well as unique racial archetypes, spells and feats – all of these help particularly in making the unique races fit within Purple Duck Games’ unique patchwork planet Porphyra. The inclusion of age, height and weight-tables for the races featured is also rather appreciated.

The first race covered would be the Avoodim. Essentially, they are a melancholic race cast down from heaven – having failed at becoming archons, they in their shame didn’t try again and hence have been sent down to earth, looking for a way, a purpose, a chance for redemption. Avoodim get +4 Con, +2 Str,-2 Dex and Cha, are native outsiders, get darkvision, celestial resistances, +2 to craft or profession-checks related to stone/metal, and +1 to atk against all outsiders, the option to use doom on foes as well as a racial susceptibility to bouts of melancholia and despair. The increased potency over the previous iteration of the race is justified via a 1/day forced reroll on a natural 20, as creation itself seeks to keep them low. (And yes, there is a feat, which, while lacking the “Benefits”-header, lets you mitigate this – and yes, the feat is more solid than in the previous pdf.

 

While an uncommon mechanic and while I’m not a fan of the martial bent of the race (preferring races to have both bonuses for physical and mental attributes), this balancing mechanism can be nasty…and pretty unique. It also should show you something rather significant: Unlike many compilations out there, this is not simply the sum of its parts – it has been tinkered with, retooled and changed. While not all components like traits are 100% precise in their wording à la “You may cast virtue as a spell-like ability 1/day, only on yourself.”, one can glean the intent of the range being modified to personal from this still -not perfect, but it’s functional. Similar hiccups à la “sightline” for “line of sight” and the like continue to crop up throughout the book and while they are neither glaring, nor crippling, if you’re a stickler for rules-language, you may feel a certain twitch when reading such components. At the same time, e.g. getting temporary assistance of avoodim NPCs at level-2 once per month can be pretty cool. It should be noted at the same time, that the aforementioned hiccups in rules-language are not a constant throughout this book, mind you: Some of the new archetypes/class options provided, like the anti-mook fighter “One-Man-Army” get highly uncommon, yet interesting abilities, the signature of which lends you +1 attack at your lowest BAB when attacked by more than one creature. While this looks like it can be kitten’d, that’s not the case – the requirement for even attack dispersals between valid targets prevents any cheesing of the ability – NICE.

 

The quadribrachial dhosari are an interesting race – flavor-wise, bred as slaves for the Erkunae, these uncommon beings not only have 4 arms they can bring to bear – their additional archetypes and material are also interesting; alas, at the same time, the race has still inherited some of the issues from the individual installment first detailing them. The pdf still does not specify, for example, whether they can wear two sets of bracers, 4 rings, etc. and I still consider their abuse-potential quite frankly too high.

 

The same can thankfully not be said about two of my favorite races from the original series, namely the dragonblooded and the erkunae – both races are pretty well-balanced and yes, inspired even. To the point where I allow both in my own games, though, again, the rules-language is not always perfect in either cases. The yeti-like Ith’n Ya’roo have btw. also been cleaned up: The broken feat-granting trait is gone and instead, bleed damage via bone weapons becomes feasible and the prior first level immunity to cold has been properly nerfed to a significant, but feasible immunity. Granted, the racial trait “Resistance to Cold Adaptation” should probably just read “Cold Adaptation,” but at least the ability works. This level of fixing and expansion btw. also extends to the formerly pretty ridiculously-named Hhundi (which sounded like the German equivalent of “doggie”) being renamed Kripar: Gone is the broken “roll twice” trait that constituted the race’s most grievous glitch: Instead, we get a nice race of solitary lurkers and ambush predators – and yes, now we get a proper age, height and weight table.

 

The psionic, mute cat-people Qit’ar still can be considered nice and e.g. a solid psychic warrior path among the new features makes sure that I am not going to revise my rather positive stance on the race – I like them. My favorite plant-race out there by now, the wonderfully weird Xesa (and perhaps the one race where I swallowed my disdain for +4 attribute-races) also are further expanded…including a psion-archetype that allows for the limited and controlled burning of Con to gain power points, which is pretty nice. The fact that they also gain +1 power per level as long as psion is their favored class, though, is too much. I’d cut that down to at least +1/2. Still, a compelling write-up. The most problematic race among the original series was the Urisk-race and while, balance-wise, I am still weary of it and consider the thematically-awesome fey-hillbillies too strong for my tastes, I should note that e.g. the highly problematic Dance of the Fey-feat has since been cleaned up and now has a precise, functional wording – so yes, such changes overall make the race better than it was before.

 

The book also sports new material regarding whole races, btw.: Take the Eventual:+2 to Con and Int, -2 Cha native outsiders with darkvision, electricity resistance 5, 1/day shocking grasp, at-will tongues and law affinity for sorc-spells and abilities render this law-centric variant of the outsider-blooded theme pretty solid regarding the foundation, something that thankfully generally extends to the traits and alternate racial traits. The racial feats allow you to further build on the inevitable-flavored heritage of the race. Indeed, e.g. a counterspell specialist-feat can be taken as example for what I love and hate about this book: The feat per se is solid in its intent, but we have a wording like this right in the middle: “Your Spellcraft check you must succeed at to identify an opponent’s spell is equal to 20 plus your opponent’s spell level, but you are able to cast as your counterspell any spell from the same school as the foes.” That’s the middle of the three sentences and yes, I pasted it straight from the book…and yes, it hurts me to have to complain about hiccups like this, particularly among concepts I enjoy. One spell that allows for a limited time-reversal is somewhat problematic and should be controlled rigidly by GMs, but it may also be truly outstanding for some groups. The saberhagen lawful barbarians with their rigid rage codes may be locked into a progression according to the code chosen among the 3 available, but they are interesting enough. All in all, a solid racial addition.

 

The second newcomer herein would be the Polkan, who is a somewhat centaur-like race that gets +2 Str and Wis, counts as monstrous humanoids, is large (but wields medium-sized armor + weapons), can see twice as far in starlight/dim light (low-light vision by any other name – why not use the proper name?), a base speed of 40 ft, +4 quadruped bonus vs. trip and limited retries on failed Diplomacy-checks. Generally, I like the race and its racial options – the feats, hoof-spikes and similar supplemental contents provided are nice; alas, much like all centaur-like race takes I’ve seen so far, the race fails to provide the proper information regarding the magic item slots it should have and neither does the race fix the old ladder-conundrum.

 

Now, I like to end reviews on a high note and the xenophobic, elemental-worshiping Zendiqi definitely are just that. Being one of the few races that have managed to secure a permanent place among those in my campaign – something precious few races managed to achieve, mind you, the Zendiqi are simply inspired and work well in just about any campaign – from Sword and Sorcery to high fantasy. The introduction of e.g. an archetype of the hero-point-based infinyte-class is more than welcome here: The archetype takes the narratively intriguing fluff of the base-class and expands it by a flavorful concept, introducing a kind of antibalance, a champion of change by virtue of order or chaos. Speaking of high notes: The extensive rules-index in the back of the book helps keeping tabs on all the options contained herein.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, on a formal level, are pretty good. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games’ slightly streamlined, printer-friendly two-column standard, with quite a few nice full-color artworks and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for our convenience.

 

First things first: This is the type of compilation pdf for which I do not mind re-reading the whole material – this is due to two facts: 1) Perry Fehr’s fluff is excellent. While the main author of this book imho is much better with fluff than with crunch, one can see both his and Mark Gedak’s talent in the expertly-written, high-concept fluff provided herein. 2) The compilation here actually took the vast majority of the more grievous issues and balance-concerns and cleaned them up, something also by far not all compilations do. And then, there would be the SIGNIFICANT array of new material provided in this book, which I btw. only cursorily touched upon in this review.

 

Indeed, if this compilation did one thing right, it would be that it further expanded upon the strengths of the material herein and were I to rate concepts alone, this would be my favorite racial pdf in a long time. At the same time, however, and there is no denying that, the rules-language, while functional for the most part, is simply imprecise. I’d indeed harp on it much more, were it not for the fact that, time and again, the book gets it right..and then restarts the glitchy parts. It’s odd and somewhat frustrating, at least from a reviewer’s perspective. There is a lot of non-standard wording in these pages and if you’re like me, that may make you cringe a bit. The book, alas, also suffers from a few questions not answered regarding e.g. minor balance-concerns with some of the races herein.

 

The question thus is valid – to get this or not to get this? I am quite frankly hesitant to pronounce an all-out recommendation for this book, considering the hiccups contained herein – they are somewhat glaring and, at least to me, tarnish the otherwise inspired content herein. Undoubtedly, though, few books on the topic of races have managed to inspire me to the extent that this book has and fewer still had their featured races enter my game to the extent this book has. GMs confident in their abilities to iron out the rough spots and capable in determining whether a given race is for their game should definitely take a look – for the low price, this indeed is a good haul of not always perfect, but always inspiring, content that is bound to inspire with its prose, content and cool races. My final verdict will hence clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 since this book does not deserve being relegated to the middle grounds.

 

You can get this flavorful collection of uncommon races here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!

 

Endzeitgeist out.