Mar 312016

Path of Iron


The second of Ascension Games’ massive crunch-books clocks in at 165 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page KS-thanks, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 158 pages of content, so let’s take a look!


This review is based on the electronic 2nd printing-version of the book.


After a brief introduction on the subject matter at hand, we dive pretty much straight into the first base-class, which would be the archivist. Archvists get d6 HD, 2+Int skills per level, 1/2 BAB-progression, good Fort- and Will-saves and receive simple weapon proficiency, but no armor proficiency. As should be evident from the framework, the archivist is a full caster, but not one who utilizes spells – instead, he uses rune magic, a new type of magic introduced herein. An archivist begins play with 3 fundamentals (scaling up to 8 at 12th level) and begins play with 2 scripts – a new script is gained every level, with 5th and every 4 levels thereafter granting an additional bonus script – handily summed up in the class table, just fyi. To learn a given script, an archivist must have an Intelligence score of 10 + the script level and DCs, if applicable, are 10 + script’s level + Intelligence modifier. Much like other casters, archivists receive bonus scripts based on high attribute modifiers. As usual, there is a maximum level of the given rune you can learn, determined by class level – this time around, we obviously are looking at full access, i.e. runes of up to 9th level are unlocked.


Okay, before we go into any more details, let’s make a not-so-quick-detour, wherein I explain rune magic – makes no sense talking about a full caster sans explaining the casting system used, right? *Takes a deep breath*


So, how does rune magic work? Well, unlike prepared or spontaneous casting usually work, the rune magic user only gets access to the scripts he actually has learned. It should also be noted that the rune magic has a linear-rule – that is, users of this system must know e.g. at least 1 3rd level script to learn a 4th level script. Casting a script requires you to be able to speak, but curiously, neither shields nor armor impedes the casting of a rune’s script – basically, the magic has verbal, but no somatic components and is not subject to arcane spell failure. Now here’s the interesting thing – much like a spontaneous caster, the rune magic user can cast each script he knows a select number of times per day – but the casts are tied to the respective scripts, not the script-levels. the extra castings granted from high attributes in the governing attribute act as wildcard slots that can be applied to any script on the fly, allowing for some degree of flexibility – basically, while the core scripts are limited, the bonus scripts can be applied as flexible daily uses on the fly. The negation script is used for counterspelling purposes, while generally, the system assumes that scripts cannot be counterspelled by spells and vice versa, with dispel magic being an obvious exemption from the rule – so limited transparency between runes and regular spellcasting is the default assumption.


Scripts have so-called designs, which can be likened to the basic schools of regular magic: Alteration, Creation, Destruction, Invocation, Manipulation, Revelation. Some sport subtypes, descriptors and the like. In case you haven’t figured that out, fundamentals are the cantrip-equivalent and can be cast an unlimited amount of times per day – but they do not generate runic charge. What’s that, you ask? Well, much like prepared spellcasting, runic magic assumes that the scribe has prepared the bulk of the rune in advance, to only finish it when casting the script. The runes prepared in advance then proceed to become charged with the energy of the script – this is referred to as runic charge. Up until 5th level, the maximum runic charge the scribe can have is 1; starting at 5th level till 10th, the number is 2; 11th level upgrades this to 3 and finally, 17th level to 4. The level of a given script does not affect the number of runic charges gained – 1st level and 9th level scripts all deliver the same +1 runic charge. A given item can hold exactly one runic charge and the charge dissipates after 1 hour out of the scribe’s possession as well as when the scribe rests. Runic charges can be identified via Spellcraft and the pdf manages to even cover auras of such charges.


So far, so good – but do we do with these runic charges? Well, here things get interesting: You see, each script has a special paragraph to overload it. When overloading a given script, a scribe expends all accumulated runic charges as part of the casting of the respective script. BAsically, you could liken these to how psionic augments work, but in a more limited fashion – the overloading allows a given script to exceed its usual limit, providing e.g. additional targets, more arcane death to rain upon foes etc. So far, so cool, right? Well, the catch here is one I hinted at before – know how I mentioned the aura of a given charge? Well, turns out that quite a lot of overloading options provided for scripts have additional effects depending on the design (school) of the runic charge. Since the respective scripts are more limited than spells, they tend to provide more flexibility, but let’s provide an example, shall we?


Alter Form, a level 6 alteration, lasts for 1 min/level and nets you your choice of +4 to eitehr Str, Dex or Con or two enhancements from Lesser Alter Form: These include +2 to Str and Dex and size increase or decrease by one step. The 6th level alter form furthermore grants one of the following: Fly speed 30 ft. with good maneuverability, 60 ft. climb or swim speed, burrow speed 30 ft, +4 natural armor or two of lesser alter form‘s two additional benefits, which include claws or bite (both not specifying whether they act as primary or secondary), a climb or swim speed, scent or +2 natural AC. Now with overload, thing become even more modular: Alteration runic charge can provide DR 5/adamantine; Creation provides fast healing 5, Destruction adds Improved Critical to natural attacks; Invocation provides energy resistance 20 versus your choice of the classic 4 energy types; Manipulation increases base speed by 30 ft. and revelation provides blindsense 30 ft.; You may also choose the overload effects from lesser alter form and for every 2 runic charges, you may choose +1 ability. And yes, there is an 8th level greater version.


Now here is the interesting part beyond the extended complexity the scripts provide – the book actually manages to properly codify the way how scripts and magic items/spells etc. interact – so yes, while direct counterspelling and the like does not treat the system as transparent with regular magic, magic item and school-based immunity correlations are perfectly codified – yes, including potions, scrolls, wands etc. – rules-wise, this is very tight.


By the way – if the above example was frightening for you: Fret not. There are plenty simpler runes herein – barrier duplicates a modified wall of force, for example, with overload increasing caster level. Banish sends outsiders to their homeplanes, with overloading allowing the scribe to affect more HD. So yes, beyond the delightfully modular ones, there are ample less complex runes for your perusal.


Rune magic has one final peculiarity, which would be engraving: Engraving a script takes 10 minutes as opposed to the usual casting time (or +10 minutes, if casting time is already 10 minutes or longer) – upon completion, the script is treated as maximum runic charge’d for the scribe’s level, but does not generate a runic charge of its own, neither does it expend a runic charge you have. And yes, it does expend the use of the script – essentially, you cast longer, but get better results and don’t have to waste your runic charges on a script where you don’t want to waste them on -since runic charges are a limited resource based on previously cast scripts, this option makes sense, in particular for long-term buffs and the like.


*Exhales* Okay, got that? Great, so let’s return to the archivist-class, all right? Starting at first level, the archivist chooses a bloodline-like specialization for a given script design, somewhat akin to school specialization – this unlocks new abilities at 1st level, 2nd and every 6 levels thereafter. The choice also determines the design of archivist bonus scripts granted over the class’s progression. Finally, this choice also provides a new function regarding the overloading of scripts, called study synergy.


4th level provides a 1/day swift action runic charge gain and may exchange all runic charge’s design for that of another design. The ability can be used +1/day at 4th level, +1/day for every 6 levels thereafter; at 16th level, the archivist gains two runic charges from the use of this ability instead.


Now, regarding study-synergy, one example would be a +1d4/-1d4 surge-like bonus/penalty that is applied to a physical-attribute related action of the recipient of a rune, a radius-based AC-granting barrier or energy resistance. The study abilities include combined benefits of endure elements and a ring of sustenance or granted/forced rerolls – the more powerful abilities obviously being often limited to daily uses. The respective design specializations also determine the capstones granted by the class and yes, there is interaction with Metascript-feats. Applying a metascript feat increases casting time to 1 full-round action, with the exception of Quicken Script, and only one such feat may be added to a given script. Metascript feats have built-in daily limits – you can use them only a limited amount of time per day, though additional uses are unlocked as you progress through the levels – interestingly, not tying the benefits to e.g. archivist levels, but instead to character levels.


The second class contained herein is the saboteur, who gets d8 HD, 6+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons, hand crossbow, net, rapier, sap, shortbow, short sword, all firearms and light armors. The class gets 3/4 BAB-progression and good Ref- and Will-saves and begins play with trapfinding. The defining trait of the saboteur, though, would be the impromptu creation of magical traps with minimal materials – these saboteur traps behave in many ways like spells in trap form; if applicable saboteur level acts as caster level and Intelligence would be the governing attribute for them. Preparing a trap takes 1 minute and, once set, it remains active for 1 day. Traps can be disabled via Disable Device. Saboteurs may thus keep their trap-slots open and unprepared when going out to adventure in the next dungeon – after all preparation is rather quick. The saboteur has an assembly-list that governs spell-trigger items he can use. Traps are “cast” by being set, which is a standard action that provokes AoOs. Traps affect a 5ft- square and may not be stacked upon another or similar magical traps like glyphs. Type-wise, they are codified as Type: Magical, Trigger: Location, Reset: None.


Once set, traps remain functional for 10 minutes per CL; hereafter it falls apart. (15th level upgrades that to 1 hour per level.) A saboteur can’t just make one death-ambush after the other, though: A saboteur can have a maximum of Intelligence modifier traps placed at a given time; setting a new trap beyond this limit deactivates the oldest trap. When a trap is triggered, the trap affects first the triggering creature and then the closest creatures nearby, as per the respective parameters. Effects with concentration require line of sight from saboteur to trap to maintain it. Additionally, once per round as a move action, a saboteur can trigger a trap within 30 ft. planted and a placed trap can be disarmed sans check with only a standard action, no check required. Costly material components are expended upon placing the trap. In order to prepare a given trap, the saboteur needs his assembly book – the saboteur begins play with 2 1st level assemblies +Int-mod assemblies, gaining +1 every level and saboteurs may add assemblies as a wizard may add spells to his spellbook. In order to locate a placed trap, the searching target has to beat the DC +10.


Additionally, at first level, the saboteur class receives the marked target ability, which allows the saboteur to mark within line of sight a target as a move action, adding scaling bonuses to atk/dmg, AC or the like – 4 such benefits can be chosen. Once marked, a creature can thereafter not be marked again by the saboteur for 24 hours and the saboteur may dismiss the mark as a swift action. Only one mark can be in effect at a given time, with 9th level providing the option to maintain two marks at once – all of which can be then changed as a swift action. 17th level increases this to three marks, including the option to place two marks on a single target, but at the cost ob not being able to mark another creature while the dual amrk is in place.


2nd level nets evasion (13th improved evasion) and the first saboteur trick – basically the talent-array of the class. An additional talent is gained every two levels after the second. When applicable, save DCs are 10 +1/2 class level + int-mod. These saboteur tricks are pretty much brutal: There is, for example, one that makes opponents ALWAYS flat-footed against you in a surprise round and, when hit by the saboteur, they remain so for the first combat round. I *think* this should only apply when the saboteur has the surprise, not when he’s surprised – and yes, there are options that allow you to act in a surprise round or even get the regular action contigent. There also would be a crazy prepared trick that almost works perfectly – sporting a sensible recharge mechanic that prevents abuse, it’s great, though it lacks the “can’t produce unique items”-caveat – you could draw the key to that door/manacles from your backpack, which is something I consider problematic. Now all tricks have issues, though – there is a higher level assassination that requires only one round of study, but does require the enemy to be unaware of the saboteur’s intent as a foe. Limited SPs, conversation-based charm/suggestion tricks etc., numerical boosts that interact with marks and temporary regeneration-elimination provide unique options. I particularly enjoyed the means to temporarily split into two at the highest levels, codifying the classic shadow twin-stunt in a concise manner. Using AoOs to parry enemy strikes when said foe is properly marked may not be too elegant, but it does work sans hassle – so if you don’t have rules-aesthetic objections to the ability, you won’t have an issue with it. Nondetection, becoming trackless, item-destruction or arcana theft can be found – also cool: properly scaling DR-bypassing.


At 3rd level, passive detection of hidden doors and traps is possible. 5th level provides quicker trap disarms and at 19th level, the saboteur may almost instantly disable traps as barely a standard action, with full-round action Open Locks being possible as a swift action! 7th level also nets the saboteur combined arms – this is where the class becomes interesting, as the saboteur can now combined multiple assemblies as one trap. 11th level allows a saboteur to throw a trap up to 20 ft. as part of the standard action of placing it. Alternatively, the saboteur can add the trap to a ranged weapon like a bow, crossbow, etc. – shooting the trap thus takes a full-round action, though at teh cost of decreasing the DC against the trap’s effects.


The class provides a massive array of 5 lengthy capstones that allow the class to excel in one of its components – whether it’s the mark, easy dismantling of magic, bypassing all kinds of traps or making exceedingly powerful traps, the capstone abilities are worthy. The assembly list is btw. relatively limited, which is ultimately what keeps the saboteur balance-wise in line.


The third class in this book would be the vanguard, who receives d8 HD, 4+Int skills, proficiency with simple and martial weapons and firearms as well as light armor, medium armor and shields and may cast spells in light and medium armor sans incurring spell failure. Vanguards are prepared spellcasters that gain access to spells up to 6th level, drawing exclusively from his own spell-list. Vanguards’ spellcasting-governing attribute is Charisma and the class gets 3/4 BAB-progression as well as good Fort- And Will-save progression.


The class begins play with a construct companion pet that gains 3/4 HD- and BAB-progression, 1/4 saving throw progression, up to 30 skill points, up to 8 feats and up to a +8 primary ability bonus, +4 secondary ability bonus – these are determined by the respective base forms chosen, of which 3 are available – combat, eldritch and scouting form. Construct companions are not immune to mind-affecting effects and they have an Int-score. Pieces of equipment cna be integrated into the construct companion, which is, rules-wise, a pretty impressive display of rules-language craftsmanship – and no, no quick switching available. The construct gets a link and share spells. 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter provide a bonus feat and 2nd level provides 1/2 class level to Craft, Disable Device and Knowledge (engineering) as well as to Spellcraft checks made to identify magic items.


1st level also provides the first 2 augmentations – one of which is mending touch, which allows the construct companion not to be a really bad drain on resources. The second can be freely chosen; 4th level and every 3 levels thereafter provide an additional augmentation. However, these augments connect with another mechanic: Resonance. Causing a resonance is a standard action that does not provoke an AoO and the effect of a given resonance depends on the augmentation. Only one resonance may be in effect at a given time. a vanguard can create a resonance 1/2 class level + Cha-mod times per day. The action required for activation improves to move action at 7th levelm swift action at 13th level. If the companion is destroyed, a vanguard can still use a resonance at twice the cost, unless it requires tandem activation by both vanguard and construct companion.


2nd level also allows the vanguard to imbue a contingency-type of effect in his weapon or that of his construct or in himself or his construct. These effects are limited in what can be imbued, but still are pretty powerful. This ability is further upgraded at 11th level and 17th level. 3rd level provides teamwork feats to the companion. 5th level and every 6 levels thereafter add +1 spell poached from the sorc/wiz spell list and 8th level allows the vanguard to chance an augmentation chosen via 8 hours of work, though the prerequisites must align; i.e. not replacements of inferior with superior augmentations. 14th level provides exceedingly fast item construction. As a capstone, he gets an all-day augmentation – whenever he uses resonance with it, he also gets battlemind link with his companion for Cha-mod rounds.


Augmentations pretty much look like feats – they have prerequisites (usually levels, attributes and previously gained augmentations and can range in type from Ex to Sp. They include attribute bonuses, integrated bags of holding, more spells, added weapon properties and the like, with solid daily limits balancing the more powerful tricks. Resonance-entries for the augmentations are pretty diverse – AoE abundant ammunition, swapping of places, granting an ally a form of movement…there is diversity and tactics here. Suffice to say, all three classes do receive favored class options that extend partially to the more popular planetouched races aasimar and tiefling, with the saboteur also getting FCOs for drow and kobolds.


The book also covers an array of archetypes: Metallurgist alchemists apply salves, a specialized extract, to objects. Bloodragers may select the forgeborn bloodline to become construct-y/particularly adept at destroying items, while the sorceror-version is themed around crafting/object manipulation and defensive tricks. Blade Shifter fighters can supernaturally alter weapons (cool idea!) and benefit from the fluidity of their weapon. Technique masters utilize the new technique feats and may have multiple ones active. Inquisitor runebinders are interesting – a complex archetype utilizing Wis-governed runes, with special judgments tied to runic charge, offering a unique playing experience. The Arcane Defender and Marauder magus-archetypes are pretty much BLAND – diminished spellcasting defense/offense specialists – boring and pretty much filler the book didn’t need. The Eldritch Eye is more interesting – basically, a ranged magus with the option to learn to use arcana as grit, quicker reloads, etc. The Mystic dervish is basically the two-handed magus and, once again, okay, if not really exciting The Rune Knight is more interesting, being, bingo, the rune-using magus, with unique rune strike and arcane pool-powered runic charges. The Zen marksman is a power-gamer’s wet dream regarding dipping – combining monk with gunslinger, you get all the great saves and may flurry with firearms, even though they’re ranged…and yes, this includes free action reload while flurrying…though at the cost of continuously increasing misfire rates for each shot. Let me state this load and clearly – craftsmanship-wise, there is nothing to complain about here – but the fact that you get firearm-flurry including free action reloads at first level is ridiculous. For a 1-level dip, a gunslinger gets a LOT out of this archetype – too much. Spreading this ability over the levels would have made much more sense. Not getting near my game.


Rangers get 5 new, very well-crafted combat styles with firearms, polearm, quarterstaff, spear and unarmed as well as the entrapper archetype, which would be the saboteur/ranger crossover. Shamans may elect to go metal shaman in a well-crafted, rather cool option and skalds may become ancestral warriors, gaining an ancestral weapon that increases in potency over the levels…yeah, you’ve seen that trope before.


Obviously, the new classes are not forgotten either: Vanguards electing to become arcane menders can heal via their construct’s mending touch and may only imbue protective and healing spells, while getting limited spells from the cleric’s list – cool! The Steelbound Warden gets weapon, armor or shield as bonded object and basically replaces his companion with this object – the pet-less vanguard, if you will. Nice! The transmuter replaces his imbuing with the means of changing the basic composition of objects. Archivists perhaps are the most versatile regarding additional options here: They may choose from 12 focused studies, which can be considered to be minor modifications of their chosen study – whether it’s animal companions, magic disruption or controlling gravity – there are a bunch of useful and well-presented options here.


The Saboteur may elect to become an ambush specialist or a demolitionist – these guys can convert their regular traps in bomb-like charges that scale as 1d6 per 2 class levels +1d6 per trap slot level converted. This damage thus eclipses that of the comparable alchemist bomb class feature by trap level and additionally, the charges damage is not halved versus objects AND bypasses hardness depending on the level. It should be noted that this explosion cannot be avoided by guys with evasion and the like since the save is Fortitude-based. While the alchemist has superiority regarding customization of bombs, the sheer damage output, combo potential and options to create truly devastating death traps means that this guy will only see action in my most high-powered of games, even though I like its concept. The ruin raider gets an on-the fly versatile intuition bonus, can learn movement rates/sight-types and learn symbol spells.


Okay, I already dabbled in feats, so let’s make the remainder of this review quick, shall we? Beyond the aforementioned metascript feats, we receive an array of metaconstruction feats, which basically constitute metamagic for traps. These work pretty much as you’d expect, increasing level, needing to be built-in upon preparing the traps, etc. – but seeing how quickly you can prepare traps, they are significantly more useful than their much maligned regular brethren. The next new feat-class provided are technique feats, which usually are named after outsiders. These feats are activated as a swift action, whereupon you enter the associated stance; tricks and benefits of a specific feat only apply while in this stance and follow-up effects similarly only work while in the associated technique: When in Angel Technique’s stance, you get the benefits from that stance but can’t use the abilities granted from Protean Technique’s stance and its follow-up feats. Sounds familiar? Yeah, this is basically a huge array of [Style]-feats by another name, with one crucial difference – they are specifically intended for use with WEAPONS and do not work when unarmed.

Changing techniques is a swift action. The feats per se are powerful, if situational: Asura Motion, for example, provides bonus damage when striking multiple targets in one round – per additional foe hit in a given round, +2d6, up to +4d6. Annoyingly, the feat fails to specify damage type, which means that the bonus damage is the almighty unmitigated untyped damage. In this chapter, you can find a couple of these hiccups in the author’s otherwise mostly flawless rules-language – while mostly negligible à la “Creatures do not get an attack roll benefit…”, it’s still something I noticed. that being said, there also are pretty awesome tricks like whip-grapple synergy with instant draw to an adjacent square, harder to heal bleed damage and there also is a take on the standard action-TWF-attack. Over all, the feats are interesting, though not as polished as the majority of this book. And yes, the pdf specifies the interaction of Technique and Style feats: In short – no dice. Overall, this chapter’s technique feats generally impressed me and represent certainly a rather cool variant of style feats that can (and should) be expanded further – kudos!


The chapter on spells, finally, introduces the meta-descriptor alongside a metric ton of new spells, some of which interact, obviously, with class features of the new classes herein, whereas others extend the options of more vanilla classes. Temporarily liquefying objects (sans harming them), ranger level 3 spells to perform a full-BAB attack versus each foe in reach…interesting. Armor-manipulation, scattering objects, symbols of locking – there are a lot cool ideas here! Finally, there are special abilities for weapons and armor as well as an arsenal of magic items for your perusal, several of which, once again, interact with class features introduced herein, with rune magic items and lavishly-depicted unique weaponry, metascript rods and talismans of power (pearls of power for scripts) complementing the book’s content.


It should be noted that the artists get proper recognition with all pieces individually credited and that the feat-section for example, sports a full-blown table for handy reference. Finally, the book has an excessive, well-crafted index that makes handling it rather comfortable.



Editing and formatting, in spite of my nitpickery, can be considered excellent on both formal and rules-language levels – there are almost no glitches herein, which is a significant feat for a crunch book of this size. Layout adheres to Ascension games clean, elegant 2-column full-color standard and the book sports copious amount of beautiful full-color artwork that manages to mostly retain a unified style, which is pretty awesome to see. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. I can’t comment on the print version, since I do not own it.


Christopher Moore’s Path of Iron is a truly impressive, massive book of balls to the wall CRUNCH. The most significant and defining characteristic when describing his unique design-style is probably that this book feels like a Paizo-book. It’s design-aesthetics, rules-language, presentation – the whole shebang not only looks like a Paizo-crunch book, it feels like one. The class design paradigms are very close to what you’d see in Paizo material and the precision, even in complex rules-interactions, can simply not be denied. This is, craftsmanship-wise, rather excellent, in spite of the few minor hiccups. (And yes, there are plenty of those in Paizo books as well – depending on the book, more than herein.)


So, what about the artistry? Well, I did write in my review of Path of Shadows that Christopher Moore’s design was pretty conservative and it still is – however, when he lets loose, he goes full out: The Rune Magic’s modularity with the escalation bar-type runic charge reads nice on paper, but it plays friggin’ amazing. It adds a completely new tactical dimension to playing a caster and frankly, is just capital letters fun and by far my favorite component of the pdf, in spite of e.g. the wording of the alter form scripts I quoted being a bit confusing upon first reading: Establishing primary and secondary abilities as nomenclature would have made them clearer, but that’s just me being a rules-language snob – they work, and that is what counts.


The saboteur, on the other side, imho suffers a bit from having his traps basically being relegated to a limited selection of delayed spells – the framework is great, the rules-language is precise and no, this will not influence my review, but personally, I was a bit disappointed to see the traps of the class being just another version of spells. That might be me and the class is a cool playing experience, particularly with the new spells herein that add a whole roster of tactical tricks, but still – I found myself wishing the class had actually unique traps. Perhaps I was just too excited about the concept, but for now, that niche will be continued to be filled by Drop Dead Studios’ Vauntguard in my games.


Of all the classes, I was least excited about the vanguard – having reviewed too many pet-robot/summoner-ish classes already, I was not expecting to really like this one: By axing the whole evolutions-bit and replacing them with augmentations, by introducing the rather rewarding concept of resonance, I couldn’t really help myself…in spite of my prejudices, I ended up enjoying the class.


As for the supplemental material – in the vast majority of cases, it is interesting, excellent even. At the same time, however, there do exist components within the pages of this book that are OP or could have used a whack with the nerf-bat – and this is not me speaking about design-aesthetic preferences. That being said, these hiccups are few and far in-between…so how to rate this? See, this is where my job gets hard, so let me way lyrical for a second:


If path of iron was personified as a golem of iron standing in front of you, it would be polished to a dazzling shine that stuns you at first glance – only at close inspection you’ll notice a few unpleasant pieces of rust and make a mental note to yourself that this and that component would require a bit of sanding off. The golem works and does its job smart and admirably and the creator has added some cool protocols and functionality you never saw before and you love them, but once in a while, it emits a grating creak. That’s pretty much this book to me – a great offering, mostly refined to perfection, with some minor flaws that stand out more due to the book’s otherwise impeccable presentation. So how do I rate this? I’ve thought long and hard and compared this with similar big crunch books I picked apart and ultimately decided on a final verdict based on the sheer amount of great material versus the slightly tarnished bits. Hence, my final verdict will be 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 for the purpose of this platform.


You can get this massive, evocative book of crunch here on OBS and here on’s shop!


Endzeitgeist out.

Mar 312016

Lost Lore: Ecology of the Basilisk


This installment of the Lost Lore-series clocks in on 9 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 3/4 of a page blank, leaving us with 5 1/4 pages of content, so let’s take a look!


Okay, so the first thing I actually noticed (and enjoyed) about this pdf is that it’s actually written in character – so yes, the reader is basically diving into the field notes of Lady Daxitroniusilluminarious Jaedall – and know what? I really like the style in which this is presented: Beginning with a brief anecdote, we go on to properly classify the creature within the context of its history and physiological contexts – and yes, the tales do include e.g. the effects of reflective substances and basically applies the scientific method to the study of fantastic creatures – several spells and their roles and interactions during the study of this creature are properly covered, conveying a sense of authenticity to the subject matter I found myself enjoying – this *does* feel like a scientist properly studying the basilisk.


Similarly, the pdf goes on to explain psychology and societal norms of the basilisk and the respective life cycle, while also providing tips for facing these creatures and a brief list of useful spells. The pdf also contains two spells – one that provides limited protection versus gaze attacks (appropriate at 3rd spell level) and another that lets you telepathically communicate with petrified creatures. The pdf also covers a brief list of useful items to wear when facing off versus these lethal creatures as well as two new magic items.


The first of these items would be a mask that provides immunity versus gaze attacks, while the second is a robe that has a 50% chance of reflecting rays back…and unfortunately, the item is rather opaque: “The wearer is not protected from gaze attacks, but can instead reflect any gaze back upon the original attacker.” Okay, HOW? I have no idea. Is this supposed to be automatic? I.e. wearer takes effect, attacker takes effect as well? Only on a failed save or also when making the save? What if the wearer can’t see the attacker, but the attacker can see the wearer? Similarly, the reflecting back of rays is odd – it requires a ranged touch attack by the wearer, but I’m not clear whether this requires an action or not – spell turning, for example, does not require an attack, but is more limited. This item…does not work as written.


The pdf also offers a CR 7/MR 3 version of the mythic basilisk that gets a nasty petrification aura – nice. The pdf also provides an 8-level “Bestiary Class” for the basilisk – basically a means to play a basilisk. The class nets d10, 2+Int skills, proficiency with natural weapons, base movement rate 20 ft. and begins play as a small creature, growing to medium-size at 3rd level. To progress in this racial class, a basilisk needs to consume a limited amount of GP per level. The class provides multiple attribute gains and unlocks the petrifying gaze (with a daily limit, increasing uses and range) at 4th level. BAB-progression is full and the class gets good Fort- and Ref-save progression as well as significant bonuses versus trip and bull rush attempts. This is an okay monster class and using basilisk blood to revert petrification represents a nice balancing mechanism once the gaze gets into player-hands.



Editing and formatting generally are very good on a formal level, though I do not understand why the petrification aura of the mythic basilisk, as one example, is bolded. Apart from the one item, the rules-language is precise. Layout adheres to Frog God Games’ two-column full-color standard and the pdf has a nice piece of b/w-artwork. While a pdf of this length doesn’t require them, the absence of bookmarks could potentially annoy you, though I won’t penalize a brief pdf like this for their absence.


Jeff Swank’s ecology of the basilisk has me torn – on the one hand, I really enjoyed the prose of this supplement – the presentation of the basilisk as contained herein is more than rock-solid and evocative. The advice and inclusion of a mythic version was also nice. Still, at the same time, I couldn’t help but feel that the pdf is a bit too short for its own good – what’s here is pretty nice, but the pdf feels very constrained in what it offers – the basilisk-class, for example, while pretty well-balanced, feels a bit more tedious than it could be: I *get* the linear gaze progression, but why doesn’t the player get any say when to get the attribute bonuses? As presented, it’s 8 levels sans any player agenda, sans any choice. Boring. Secondly, the class requires you to look up basilisk natural attacks, since it does not provide the information for it…which kinda sucks. It’s no deal-breaker, but neither is it comfortable. Thirdly, I was really missing an age, height and weight-table, particularly considering the size-increase: If you do play a basilisk…can he cross that rickety bridge sans it collapsing? Tables would have really helped there.


That being said, this is not a bad supplement and certainly, the well-written prose helps elevate this pdf to being a solid read. My final verdict will hence clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 since this is the first such ecology-style book in the Lost Lore-series.


You can get this ecology here on OBS and here on’s shop!


Endzeitgeist out.

Mar 302016

Southlands Campaign Setting



#7 of my Top Ten of 2015!


This massive campaign setting-style book clocks in at 302 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 4 pages of ToC, 2 pages of KS-backer thanks, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a massive 290 pages of raw content, so let’s take a look!


I was a (hesitant) backer for this book’s KS, but otherwise unaffiliated with the production of this massive tome. My book is mainly based on the print version, though the electronic version was consulted for the purpose of determining electronic functionality of e.g. bookmarks and the like.


What do I mean by “hesitant”? Okay, before we dive into this book’s subject matter, a brief history lesson: I consider myself a pretty faithful fan of Kobold Press, ever since it was Open Design -I own literally every supplement and even have, back when I actually wasn’t dirt poor, acted as a high-level-patron to get my very own special, unique module. I *really* like Midgard and the evocative potential Kobold press brings to the table. Alas, Deep Magic, the previous big book, was a heartbreaking exercise for me (see my review of that book) and it took, frankly, quite some prodding to dive in. I had a minor windfall and invested that, back in the day, in this book, as a kind of “make it or break it”-test. Did it pay off? Let’s see!


The Midgard campaign setting’s allure, so far, did lie primarily in its dark fantasy Germanic/Slavic flair, somewhat expanded upon by the Argonaut-style adventuring in the Journeys-books, but yeah – the focus was arguably euro-centric and thus, I was very much interested to see how the respective mythologies and power-dynamics would interact with the massive Southlands. The first thing you’ll notice, though, is that the structure and organization of this book eclipses that of Deep Magic by leaps and bounds: We begin this book with a deatiled history of the Southlands – and it is a glorious read.


No, really – I mean that – the history as presented already takes you right into this book’s world; it’s prose is evocative and makes you remember immediately what you wanted, what you craved in fantastical settings. Still, this is the general history, the time-line. The book also is suffused by small sideboxes, where an in-character narrator provides quotes as a guide and adventure hooks/bucket-lists for adventurers for the respective regions can be found. The book also provides 5 general, new races that can be found throughout the Southlands: Gnolls, Trollkin, Tosculi (see the advanced races-installment for more on the wasp-people), Nkosi (feline shape-changer humanoids) and Kijani (plant humanoids that seek to become mammalian). The races themselves are pretty powerful (plant-immunities, for example), but not excessively so – they should work within the context of most fantasy games, though, if your gunning for gritty gameplay, you may want to take a close look at them. An innovation used here for the first time (for the tosculi exclusively) and later expanded in the Advanced Races Compendium is advice on racial scaling – so yes, you can scale down the tosculi by a bit, though imho the race does not require this in all but the grittiest of games. On a nitpicky side, some races are “lopsided” with attribute bonuses allocated to physical attributes, so if you’re like me and prefer your races with a strong suit in both physical and mental attributes, that may be something to be aware of.


It should be noted that ethnicities of regular races as well as age, height and weight tables are part of the deal here. Now the interesting component here, ultimately, does not lie in the crunch (though it is significantly more solid – kudos to the authors! The intriguing component, however, would be the seamless and smart integration of literally thousands of years of history within the mythology of Midgard as a whole – whether it’s the origin of Boreas, the frigid northern wind and the tie to the survivors of sunken Ankheshel or Umbuso, the ancient empire of titans, fleeing from the domains of Wotan – the most intriguing aspect here is that this massive continent of pure historicity manages to weave its meta-narrative seamlessly into the overall context of Midgardian mythology, extending the diversity and organic feeling of the world by leaps and bounds. An interesting component is also how mythic rules are handled – as a basic tenet, they are considered to be the effects of remnants of divinity sparks, left behind by fallen pantheons and titans, which provides a nice in-game rationale for the existence of powers like that.


Now, it is after this that we focus on the first overall region, which would be Nuria Natal, the eternal realm – Nuria Natal, at first glance, seems very much like the pseudo-Egyptian realm, but it is distinct from e.g. Osirion and Khemit or similar realms in several key aspects, the first of which is the focus on the river that defines it – springing from a planar rift of the world-tree Yggdrasil, it blends the mythologies of the Nile and Midgardian theology in a truly distinct and unique vision. Similarly, the trope of undying godkings has a twist that goes far beyond what you’d expect – the legendary rulers of the land, semi-divinities and halfgods, have achieved a sense of immortality and may return from the grave to vanquish the foes of Nuria Natal, thus also explaining why the powerful, draconic sultanate Mharoti has failed to conquer this powerful nation. Similarly, the gods, while utilizing the themes of real world mythologies, never feel like simple carbon adaptations of real-world mythology, instead acting as a properly woven-in essential component of the vista portrayed.


Nowhere does this become more apparent than in Per-Bastet, the city of the everlasting cat, home of the deity…and basically a modern metropolis seen through the lens of the fantastic: A distinct patriotism unifies the quarters and their diverse residents, which contains gnolls and catfolk in abundance alongside werelions; from planar alleyways to a churning river of elemental-inhabited sand making its way through the chaotic jumble of the metropolis, the influence of Bastet, her church, the god-queen and her agents or the vampiric masterminds in the shadows, the vision of a true melting pot of fantastic ethnicities resonates with a character one usually only ascribes to real world cities. The writing here is impeccable and, much like the entries on a certain city and its necropolis, the staggering panorama extends in its quality throughout the whole chapter – from sandships as a vehicle-modification to a well-written ecology of the mummy (with ample variants and death curses), this chapter is abask in inspired writing and makes the places jump forth from the pages – whether they be the aforementioned places or the Ghatazi salt pits or the dreaded city of Per-Anu, devoted to ending lives in all manner of ways. The church of Aten and its diverse teachings, variant mummies, a city of undead and 4 archetypes (including archetypes for Theurge and White Necromancer) as well as a 10-level-PrC complement this chapter. While not universally awesome and sporting some minor deviations in rules-language, the content herein still is rather solid and well-ingrained within the context of the world. The book also sports multiple nice traits for further customization. The book also sports a HUGE number of hieroglyphs – these work akin to how rune magic or ankeshellian glyph magic work – and, while powerful, their limitations per associated cult do offer a rather easy way for the GM to control their availability – want that trick only followers of Anu-Akma have? Well, you better buckle up and join that organization!


The second, massive chapter details the nation under the auspice of the remaining wind lords, the same entities that sent Boreas packing with his aspirations of genocide – but that does not mean these eternal lords of the lands are kind – far from it. Their description very much makes clear that these elemental spirits do not adhere to the same morality as mortals. It is also in this domain that the twin lands of the gnolls (with a delightfully nasty gnoll-tactics sidebar) can be found. What do I mean by these? Well, here’s an entry: “Three words: leucrotta sorceror chieftain.” If you’re like me, this made you grin from ear to ear. The pages chronicling these harsh regions also tell of a depressed sphinx and her honor guard watching over the verdant ruins of a fallen empire and of the fate of Roshgazi, minotaur-nation and Catharge-equivalent – the nation has been razed to the ground by Mharot’s might, but in the ruins of this place, the sentient maze still draws visitors inside, hoping for salvation…before its other personality comes to the surface – and the “Broken” does not take kindly to intruders…


Goblin-occupied Mardas Vula with its black pyramid still exerts a lure on others and, wandering the sands, a colossal dire camel prophet sports howdah-like gnoll-encampments. The jinnborn race hearkens back to the genasi or planetouched and can be pictured as the elemental-themed mortals and the race sports quite a diverse and well-crafted array of options, including limited protection versus one’s element, endure elements and elemental blasts that can be upgraded via feats. That being said, this is very much a strong race, stronger than the “core”-races of the book, so take care when using them. At the same time, I thoroughly enjoyed their unique psychology and culture…but still. At their pretty high power-level, I wished more abilities were alternate racial traits instead of jamming all those abilities into the base frame of the race. The archetypes here are interesting – an elemental-themed paladin, gnoll caravan raiders and janni-calling summoners can be found and a PrC depicting the elite guard of aforementioned sphinx priestess is part of the deal. The chapter, like those before and after, also sports several unique spells and magic items – the latter of which deserve special mention, after all, we get an enchanted bed of nails and several unique carpets. One belt should be eyed very carefully, as it lets you pilot willing outsiders, fusing your body with them, which is exceedingly powerful when not handled with care.


Beyond the dominion of the wind lords, the book finds its full-blown stride with the high jungles, where access to the fabled well of urd can be found, as powerful aeromancers guard the Black Lotus Mesa as intelligent white apes afflicted with arcane wasting prowl the jungles. More unique and perhaps one of the most awesome and disturbing components of the whole book would be the fact that an Old One, verdant and all-consuming, ever-growing, extends its tendril’d reach beyond the confines, ever seeking to mutate and grow – it should then come as no surprise that the nation of Kush has, in efforts to stem the tide, turned to all manners of magicks most dark – but it may not be enough, as the corrupted Kijani that couldn’t escape its influence spread spore pods far and wide, creating horrid tendril slaves. The chapter also is a JOY to read due to an actually neat aeromancer archetype and, more than that, due to the vast array of hazards and the 8 lotus-types, which act as addictive, yes…but they also serve as powerful power components. This chapter is twisted, inspired and absolutely glorious.


The kingdoms of salt and steel, bustling and defined by commerce – here, the land of serpent-scholars beckons, while in the land of ancients, the living reliquaries roam. This section is not only brilliant for its take on themes usually not represented – a royal mythic naga lich rules over Ankhrimari, while the Narumbeki legions with their battle tactics and unique combat options represent a powerful militaristic force – the themes evoked here are seldom seen, borrowing heavily from Africa’s mythologies, with magical masks and awesome incantations sweetening the deal, while powerful combat divinations make for a unique and compelling magical tradition.


On the Corsair Coast, the holy city Shuruppak beckons, while the city of Sar-Shaba contains horrific demonic legions, warded and sealed await intrepid adventurers. The fabulously wealthy island nation of Shibai and wicked corsairs can be found…but there is also the happiest land, Kesara, realm of the saffron rajah, where everyone smiles – a smile of desperation and fear, for the tyrannic rajah of the land is capricious and nasty indeed – a realm devoted to the decadence of the horrible rakshasa master that sits bloated on its throne. Fiercely meritocratic lion kingdoms of Omphaya, led by a returned titan and his rakshasa vizier may not be a nice place to visit either. – but it sure should prove interesting.


The heartlands of the Southlands, the abandoned lands contain vast stretches of desert – it is here that the massive, black towers of the disturbing hive-cities of the tosculi can be found. Why disturbing? Well, there is one that consists of the resin-hardened corpses of the fallen. Yes. Awesome and so perfectly evocative. Someone has also probably read China Miéville’s excellent “The Scar”, for there is a floating city in the style of Armada to be found. Mechanically, these lands are brutal, as the web of ley lines is damaged, which makes primal magic rather powerful…and excessively dangerous. The long-limbed Ramad are a balanced race sported here and significant ley line magic expansions and delightfully disturbing living tosculi items complement this evocative, harsh land as we turn our gaze southwards, to the fringe of the southlands, where dinosaurs roam and the minotaur nation of Sudvall stands guard. The xorn sultanate of Zanskar can also be found here…and should you hesitate to set a whole campaign in the southlands…did you know that one particular bottle contains a whole city of assassins? Yeah…if you don’t come to the Southlands, they may well come to you.


The pdf’s last chapter is devoted to the pantheons and gods of the Southlands – and their depictions are inspired, utilizing concepts and names from real-world mythology, but putting a thoroughly unique spin on them. The book concludes with an equipment table as well as a feat-index. My copy also sports a truly superb, glossy poster-map of the gorgeous cartography.



Editing and formatting are top-notch for a book of this size – while I did notice an instance where the page-reference was still the layout-stage’s “$$”, the crew of Kobold Press has done a vastly superior job when compared to Deep Magic; the formal editing is more than solid and while I consider not all crunchy bits to be perfectly balanced, the rules-language is significantly more precise than in Deep Magic. Layout adheres to a 2-column standard in full color and is absolutely stunning; much like the lavish amount of original full-color art, the aesthetic components render this book frankly one of the most beautiful RPG-supplements I own. The pdf comes fully bookmarked. The hardcover uses high-quality, thick, matte paper and glossy, high-quality paper for the huge map. The cartography of the book is superb for the most part, though some of the more ruined cities look “only” very good – still, overall, this is one of the most beautiful books you’ll ever see.


Wolfgang Baur, Eric Cagle, David “Zeb” Cook, Adam Daigle, Dan Dillon, Amanda Hamon Kunz, Steven T. Helt, Steve Kenson, Ben McFarland, Richard Pett, Marc Radle, Stephen Radney-MacFarland, Ted Reed, Stephen Rowe, Adam Roy, Owen K.C. Stephens, C.A. Suleiman, Brian Suskind, Henry Wong – ladies and gentlemen, congratulations are in order.


You see, Golarion and similar setting have often drawn upon the tropes of Arabian nights and pharaonic Egypt – but never this way. The creative approach to this book could be summed up as follows: The book took the classic real-world mythologies that resonate with us and put a spin on it – so far, so common. However, the true excellence of Southlands lies not within this; no. The massive achievement of this book lies in the concise manner in which it brings the truly fantastic to the table and treats it seriously; the Southlands feel alive and concise, because it takes a very much logical, concise approach to world-building – whether as stand-alone or as part of the Midgard campaign setting, the Southlands excel. The blending of mythologies and use of more obscure themes collides with pure imaginative potential in a true, creative firework. I wouldn’t have expected this book to be that great a read – as a huge fan of Catherynne M. Valente’s “Orphan’s Tales”, my bar for myth-weaving is ridiculously high…but here’s the thing: I loved reading this book. Much like the best of mythpunk novels, much like the most inspiring of fantastic novels, this tome is a true page-turner and contains more imaginative potential than just about every setting I could list. This is not Al-Qadim v. 2.0. – it surpasses this excellent classic and mops the floor with it.


Now granted, I am not sold on all design-decisions herein, not perfectly convinced regarding the balance of some components – but all of that ultimately pales before a book that is true excellence. I haven’t enjoyed reading a campaign setting this much since the original Midgard Campaign Setting and honestly, enjoyed this book even more – because it takes less familiar concepts, because it brims with the spark of genius and more evocative locations than multiple settings combined. There is not a single campaign setting book that is comparable in scope and ambition and, better yet, while not all the crunch reaches the constant, almost frightening level of genius of the prose, there are ample instances where I simply fist-pumped – the lotus-magic is pure awesomeness and similarly, quite a few of the magic items just feel magical, unique, awesome…and the hazards…oh boy, do I love me some hazards!


Here’s the most important component, though: Beyond simply being a superb read and surprisingly, in spite of heavily quoting real world mythologies, Southlands is a book of jamais-vus, of the novel and still familiar, an accumulation of brilliant ideas that practically DEMAND that you run modules, campaigns, whole APs in this wondrous, exceedingly captivating setting. My only true gripes while reading this tome pertained to the organization of player-material – out-sourcing that to a Player’s Guide would have probably been a prudent move – but I’m ultimately just nitpicking. If anything, just about every nation herein made me crave more; each chapter made me want a whole AP set in it so bad… Southlands is a furious return to form for Kobold Press. This book very much shows how and why Kobold Press became as popular as it now is – even if you’re not actively gaming, this is well worth buying: Flip open those pages, start reading and dream a dream of harsh jungles, enchanted deserts and gorgeous cities, both bustling and ruined, of a savage land of splendor and glories untold. Go to the Southlands. Get this book. Dream. There are very few books of this size that manage to maintain a sense of narrative consistency, much less at the thoroughly impressive level of quality the ideas in this tome have.


This may well be the best sourcebook Kobold Press has released (I’m a fanboy of some adventures…), perhaps this is even one of the best sourcebooks I’ve ever read. If anything, I do hope that Northlands at one point get a similarly detailed second edition. Southlands is excellence – if you even remotely are interested in the subject matter, do yourself a favor and get this glorious tome – it contains enough ideas and adventure for a lifetime and I am not engaging in hyperbole here. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval and I’ll also nominate this as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2015. (Scheduled for release soon!)


You can get this glorious tome here on OBS!


Endzeitgeist out.

Mar 302016

Snow-White Mini-Dungeon: Cabin Catastrophe


This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map (alas, sans player-friendly version) and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked to’s shop and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM.


Since this product line’s goal is providing short diversions, side-quest dungeons etc., I will not expect mind-shattering revelations, massive plots or particularly smart or detailed depictions, instead tackling the line for what it is. This is one of the optional expansions for AAW Games’ superb Snow-White mega-adventure and thus has a certain fairy-tale-flair and can easily added into the superb mega-module.

Got that? Great!


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



Still here?

All right!

So, what do we get here? Well, basically, we get a brief expansion of Snow-White in the traditional sense – know the Huntsman’s cabin, how it doesn’t really impact the plot? Well, this allows your PCs to properly explore the potentially rather creepy cabin of the Huntsman. The cabin itself has been rigged by the Huntsman – it now sports several traps waiting for the unwitting fools that would stumble in. Nice, if you’re like me: The archetypical role of the Huntsman is made more relatable by using this mini-dungeon – there is indirect storytelling that tells you something about the motivations and character of the huntsman.



Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes sans bookmarks, but needs none at this length. Cartography is full color and surprisingly good for such an inexpensive pdf, but there is no key-less version of the map to print out and hand to your players.


Much like the previous mini-dungeon, this is very much an extension of the main-module, highlighting what could e considered a “deleted scene” – not necessary for the plot, but more than handy to have, we get a well-written exercise in indirect story-telling. Granted, the trap-centric challenges are not that diverse and the pdf is mechanically less interesting than the best in the series, but from a narrative perspective, this can be considered a great addition to the main module. That, and Will Myers’ cabin is FREE. Free is hard to beat and a free expansion for the glorious main-module that seamlessly fits in? Heck yeah. (Oh, and if you need a slightly creepy, trapped hunter’s cabin, this’ll do the job!) Final verdict? 5 stars + seal of approval in the context of Snow-White. (As a stand-alone, it loses some of its charm – for such purposes, consider this 4 stars instead.)


You can get this neat trapped cabin/expansion for Snow-White here for FREE on OBS!
Endzeitgeist out.

Mar 302016

Snow-White Mini-Dungeon: Glass Golem Go-Round


This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map (alas, sans player-friendly version) and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked to’s shop and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM.


Since this product line’s goal is providing short diversions, side-quest dungeons etc., I will not expect mind-shattering revelations, massive plots or particularly smart or detailed depictions, instead tackling the line for what it is. This is one of the optional expansions for AAW Games’ superb Snow-White mega-adventure and thus has a certain fairy-tale-flair and can easily added into the superb mega-module.

Got that? Great!


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



Still here?

All right!

Okay, so this one takes place just after the PCs have been recruited, but before they begin the sweep of royal chambers/gauntlet at the beginning of Snow-White….and basically, this is not a regular mini-dungeon; instead, one should understand this as an optional tie-in, for the castle’s glass-domed dining courtyard shatters, as a lethal glass golem seeks to kidnap Lumi! (Yes, this adds yet another kidnapping angle to the main meat of the module – one I enjoyed!)


Featuring info on the golem itself and the rather complex set-up, the encounter is exciting and diverse and emphasizes PC-competence versus that of regular creatures – nice!



Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes sans bookmarks, but needs none at this length. The pdf sports a small version of Ruhtin’s excellent artwork from the main Snow-White book. Cartography is full color and surprisingly good for such an inexpensive pdf, but there is no key-less version of the map to print out and hand to your players.


Will Myers delivers a great expansion to the main Snow-White module; while not a dungeon per se, this instead opts to be a great encounter that supplements the main module well. It’s just one encounter – but it’s a great encounter with cool visuals…and it’s FREE. Seriously, go get this right now if you’re planning on running Snow-White! My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.


You can get this great supplemental encounter here on OBS!


Endzeitgeist out.


Mar 292016

Occult Character Codex: Occultists


This installment of the Occult Character Codex-series clocks in at 32 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page how-to-use, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 25 pages of content, so let’s take a look!


I like Occult Adventures – a lot. It’s one of my favorite Paizo-books out there and the classes rekindled my faith in Paizo’s class design, even though the book has some rough edges here and there. Suffice to say, the rather complex classes are cool – but making characters with them takes obviously a bit longer than for less involved classes…and we’re all time-starved anyways, right? This is where this series comes in – basically, we have a collection of characters herein, spanning the CRs from 1 – 20, all ready and set for your perusal.


So how were they made? Well, for one, the builds use Pathfinder Unchained’s automatic bonus progression, which means that the characters have a better chance to stand against the PCs sans flooding the campaign with magic items. The builds are not made to be sheer exercises in powergaming superiority that exist in a vacuum, instead championing the approach of making viable characters that work concisely as though they were proper characters, complete with a brief personality sketch, though that component is less pronounced than in Purple Duck Games’ codices. Options and buffs are included in the statblocks, though handy pre-buff sections provide the information sans them, should your PCs be able to catch the character unaware. There are also some minor pieces of advice for GMs using the character


As far as diversity of the statblocks is concerned, there is, particularly concerning the racial variety, enough going on: Tieflings, core races and even wayang and hobgoblins provide an overall diverse array of unique races. As in the previous installments, not all archetypes are covered – this time around, we get battle hosts as well as necroccultists, the latter including a baykok companion. Interestingly, age categories and spell selection appropriate for it, are covered as well – there would be e.g. an old occultist who casts age resistance as part of her buff suite. The pdf also sports the ordo metamorphic mundi, including information on the domains it grants.


Now, as in installments before, there are some builds that look a bit similar at first glance – but there are quite a lot differences once you dive into the nit and grit of the respective statblocks, you will notice diversity – both in skill and feat selection and focus of the respective statblocks. Similarly, implement school choices are diverse and run a relatively broad gamut. And yes, the spell-selection covers a lot of ground and does not restrict itself to doing the same thing over and over – instead, the choices for the characters make sense and emphasize their distinctions.



Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful, two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports several beautiful pieces of full-color artwork, some old, some new. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience


Julian Neale’s Occultists are refined – as far as the statblocks I looked at are concerned, I saw no glitches and the characters are varied enough to make this a complex and fun collection of statblocks. While I would have loved for the other archetypes to be covered as well, the builds herein are neat, fun and sufficiently distinct to allow a GM to challenge his PCs with significantly different challenges herein. It’s perhaps just me, but I did feel like the characters herein were a bit more diverse than in the previous installments, with different foci. Rock-solid stats, varied builds…what more can you ask for? My final verdict will hence clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.


You can get this neat collection of Occultist-statblocks here on OBS and here on’s shop!


Endzeitgeist out.


Mar 292016

Snow-White Mini-Dungeon: The Army Surgeons


This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map (alas, sans player-friendly version) and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked to’s shop and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM.


Since this product line’s goal is providing short diversions, side-quest dungeons etc., I will not expect mind-shattering revelations, massive plots or particularly smart or detailed depictions, instead tackling the line for what it is. This is one of the optional expansions for AAW Games’ superb Snow-White mega-adventure and thus has a certain fairy-tale-flair and can easily added into the superb mega-module.

Got that? Great!


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



Still here?

All right!

This “mini-dungeon” is actually, much like “The Spirit Bottle” a rather unique set-piece: The Klavekian kingdom is not known for being particularly welcoming regarding the stance towards non-humans – and this pdf puts the players in a situation, where they witness one of the more unsavory practices firsthand: Leikata and Ommella Ruumis are both retired army surgeons – and now they’re part of the Klavekian means to destabilize the “hostile” area called haunted forest, known hiding places of fey and non-humans alike…by controlling and re-animating zombies and sending them inside. The problem is: Something went wrong, big time, and now zombies roam…and the two clerics are locked inside their little abode, trapped by the undead and nearing death – in order to save them, the PCs will have to defeat the undead (potentially enjoying the neat plunder-table included)…and then make a decision…for while what the clerics do is not ethical, to say the least, they still follow orders and provide a service to the local populace by relocating the undead…



Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes sans bookmarks, but needs none at this length. Cartography is full color and surprisingly good for such an inexpensive pdf, but there is no key-less version of the map to print out and hand to your players.

Stephen Yeardley’s third mini-dungeon intended as a Snow-White tie-in is interesting mainly due to the moral conundrum and potential for consequences it poses. That being said, beyond the basic idea, it does feel a bit less imaginative than the superb first two Snow-White mini-dungeons, which would mean, I’d usually refrain from slapping my seal of approval on this. However, this is FREE, and as a free offering, it provides a fun, intriguing set-piece, well worth of 5 stars + seal of approval.


You can get this FREE mini-module here on OBS!


Endzeitgeist out.


Mar 282016

In the Company of Rakshasa


The latest installment of Rite Publishing’s “In the Company of..:”-series clocks in at 23 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 18 pages of content, so let’s take a look!


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


We begin this supplement, as always, with a letter from a member of this race to Qwilion of Questhaven, one that has a sense of decadence and the disturbing reverberating in it, setting a great precedence, theme-wise, for what’s to follow. The pdf asks the question whether you ever did *STARVE* – not just hunger, starve. Now if the implications of this very concept are lost, I’d very much recommend Knut Hamsun’s legendary “Sult” (Hunger) Now here’s the powerful imagery: The in-character narrator states “We are that hunger.” That actually did send shivers down my spine.


When the in-character narrator speaks of “hunger and desires so terrible they transcend death”, you believe it – the yaksha are CREEPY. Terribly so. And in fact, the leitmotifs of hunger and desire extend throughout the whole fluff, providing a slick and surprisingly suave justification for the predations of these beings – in case you haven’t gleaned that by now – yes, the relationships with races, adventurers etc. actually are a joy to read here.


The rakshasa base-race here is the yaksha, a medium shapechanger which gets +2 Dex and Cha, -2 Wis. The race gets +4 to Bluff when lying (NOT when feinting) and has darkvision 60 ft. and they may alter self at will, but sans modifying ability scores and retaining darkvision. This ability allows the character to become small or medium. Thanks to their shapeshifting, yaksha get +2 to CMD vs. grapples and +2 to Escape Artist checks made to escape grapples. Now here’s the deal, though: Yaksha are defined by their hunger, which can only be sated by consuming humanoid flesh – said flesh may come from a living or dead humanoid, but may not come from the undead (which interestingly puts them at odds with necromancers). Yaksha must consume their weight in humanoid flesh in a given month – failure to do so results in 1 negative level, more if the yaksha is starved further. See, this is interesting – by tying hunger to a long time frame, it becomes less of an active hindrance for adventuring and still retains its theme. Before you’re asking – yes, I’d allow this race as presented, though the shapechanging is pretty powerful. The race sports age, height and weight tables and 7 alternate racial traits with which you can modify the base race. These include natural armor, saving bonus versus divine spells; a 2 RP or less wildcard ability representing the host race, better impersonating, +atk versus outsiders, better CL or better positive/negative energy – all of these are valid and feel balanced versus the abilities they replace – kudos!


The race also has favored class options for bard, brawler, luckbringer, monk, slayer, sorceror, time thief, rakshasa paragon…and vizier! Yup, we actually get support for the great Akashic class here! There also are racial archetypes in this book, the first of which would be the Cheeno (slayer) – these guys only get simple weapon and light armor proficiency. Instead of studied target, the archetype provides a predation pool equal to class level +3. These points can be used to activate predations, supernatural abilities, as a swift action, expending 1 predation point. And these are…brutal. Blissful Ignore of the Prey makes all humanoids within 30 ft ignore the cheeno for 1 round, being treated as unaware…ooh, and the memory of events involving the cheeno are eliminated as if subject to modify memory…and yes, this is properly classified as a mind-affecting compulsion effect. As long as the cheeno has at least 1 predation point, the character is protected from cold by endure elements. Cheeno can also use these points to gain scent, which increases in effectiveness versus the starving, cannibals as well as humans upon which the cheeno has fed and a 15-ft-range to pinpoint humanoids. At 1st level, the cheeno gets a 1d6 primary natural bite and gets a morale bonus after consuming sufficient humanoid flesh as well as counting as a rakshasa – this is known as hungerborn.


4th level provides a 10-ft. aura of 1d6 cold, Fort save to mitigate fatigue, which can be activated as a swift action, but only when in the original form. It can similarly be dismissed and otherwise lasts for 1 minute. At 7th level, the archetype gets the cannibalism rarefied taste (see my breakdown of the paragon class later) and an original form with features of a starved stag. At 10th level, the chenno can shapechang into a large form, complete with a gore primary attack and thabkfully sans shapechange-stack abuse. Additionally, at higher levels, the archetype may choose predations at full level and sports two unique ones – Snow striding (which also mitigates sleet or hail) and feast of ashes as an SP – note that, as a predation, this is subject to predation point consumption and has a solid DC. Quarry is limited to creatures fed upon, cannibals or the starving and 16th level allows the chenno to add class level in cold damage to a single melee or ranged attack, with the target also being denied Dex-mod versus these strikes, while 20th level provides full shapechanger apotheosis with cold immunity, SR and powerful natural weapons.


The second archetype would be the Hokhoku for the luckbringer class, who gets a pool of predatory chance that can be used interchangeably as predation points or moments of chance. Predation-wise, the aforementioned blissful ignorance trick is part of the deal…as is perfect maneuverability fly at 60 ft. (40 if wearing medium/heavy armor), but only for one round, upgrading to 1 round/level at 8th level. While this is restrictive, it still violates the prohibition versus unassisted flight at the lowest levels and can break quite a few modules – not a fan and, depending on your campaign, OP. This replaces weal or woe and narrow escape. At 1st level, hungerborn is gained. Instead of 3rd level’s nothing is written, the hokhoku gains a rarefied taste (more on that in the paragon class) based on misfortune, which features an original form with avian features – they can feed on humanoids that fail at something of great importance (or that roll natural 1s on their saves) and may use fatespin to force rerolls of saves, using the lower of the two. Instead of 4th level’s improbably, the archetype gets an ability that I have used in my home game for YEARS for some creepy magic – consuming the eyes of the dead plays the last minute of the dead person’s life before the hokhoku’s eyes. Creepy and awesome! 8th level allows for the consumption of the brain of the deceased for a speak with dead-like ability and 10th level allows for predations to be gained instead of improbables, basically streamlining them and using them interchangeably, with two exclusives being included: Both are activated as immediate actions – one combines a visually neat vanish with a debuff for the attacker, while the second increases the crit multiplier of the bite to x4 – based on action expenditure, of course. The archetype sports a similar apotheosis that instead of cold focuses on better crits.


The taotie monk gets an expanded skill-list and begins play with hungerborn and the archetype begins with a pool or predation, as with the other archetypes – predation-wise, they can use the pool to bite off chunks off her opponents, adding Con-damage and counting as having consumed 10 lbs. The second predation allows the taotie to ignore class level hardness when sundering objects with the bite – magic items consumed can potentially be reconstructed upon killing the monk…but that is not easy. Taotie are also excellent liars, gaining a predation that provides a significant bonus and may be even proof versus magic. As long as the taotie is not starving, she gains Cha-mod to AC instead of the monk’s usual progression and 2nd level provides predatory resilience at fool level (see rakshasa paragon) instead of evasion/improved evasion. 3rd level provides rarefied taste: gluttony, which allows the taotie to feed on gluttonous humanoids and upgrades bite damage to monk unarmed damage. 5th level provides a 30 ft.-cone belch that sickens foes and may even stagger those that fail the save – nasty predation! 9th level provides addictive feeding and 11th level and every 3 levels thereafter provide a new predation, with a scent to smell out valuables or assume the form of statues, urns, etc. This one is full of potential! finally, 20th level provides an apotheosis, this time with an added focus of better DR and unarmed strikes.


All right, so the archetypes heavily intersect with the paragon-class – is it good? Well, framework-wise, it provides proficiency with simple weapons, no armors or shields, d10 HD, 6+Int skills per level, full BAB-progression, good Ref- and Will-saves, 1/2 AC-bonus progression. 1st level provides the hungerborn class feature and similarly, the class begins play with a pool of predation. The class gains the blissful ignorance trick, the option to smell out mortals affected by emotion or fear-effects or that have been fed upon and they also get the silver tongue-ability. Every two levels above 1st, the paragon gets an additional predation – some of these require more predation points and/or have minimum levels – high-level paragons can, for example call adhukait, make illusions supplemented by shadow, compress her form (great for infiltrators) or become a predatory protector of the humanoids that nourish her – dismissal bite versus outsiders.


Size-increase to large, aforementioned gluttonous bite, marking humanoids on who’s she fed as property (potentially useful not only offensively), sight that can pierce darkness and deathwatch…cool. But the most fun would probably be “playing with one’s food” – i.e. magic jar-ing corpses or undead while in spirit form. Oh yeah, spirit form. HP-based precision damage that will end most foes via killing blows, assuming forms of specific individuals, beast shapes and suggestions, forming scaling figments, mesmerizing prey – there are a LOT of thoroughly unique, awesome tricks here – tricks that make the class highly viable beyond the martial role expected by the chassis – indeed, these often allow for awesome new tricks.


Now I did mention rarefied taste – chosen at first level, this determines the animal head and features and may draw nourishment from the respective rarefied taste – anger, cannibalism, curiosity, creativity, fear, heresy, lust, etc. – and yes, these allow the rakshasa to work in the context of good groups, depending on the taste chosen. However, this is not the limit of customization options – 2nd level and every 2 levels thereafter, the paragon may choose a hungerborn gift – these include making being fed upon addictive, an affinity for asura, claws, at-will nondetection or a second head and high-level paragons may even get extra limbs, complete with hand and ring slot-rules-clarification – kudos. Better DR and SR are also provided…wait? Yeah, second level nets scaling DR and 10th level provides an outsider apotheosis and SR of 4+class level…as well as at-will command of lesser yaksha with HD of 10 or less. Finally, 20th level provides better SR, DR and unlimited yaksha command.


The pdf closes with 2 feats – one for +1 rarefied taste and one that allows characters sans the paragon class levels gain hungerborn and rarefied taste.



Editing and formatting are top-notch – I noticed no significant glitches in either formal or rules criteria. Kudos! Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with plenty nice full-color artworks. The pdf is fully bookmarked for your convenience.


One caveat before we start: Yes, this is a powerful race/class; one definitely intended for high-powered gameplay – but you could have guessed that, right? It’s a monster class/race and they don’t necessarily mix well with gritty low fantasy. (Though, provided other PCs have similarly cool tricks, I can see this race working well in a gritty, but high-powered game.)


Wendall Roy shows how it’s done. It’s as simple as that. Wait…it totally isn’t. Apart from the one unassisted flight ability of an archetype, which may be problematic for some campaigns, I’m pretty much left sans complaints. This is PRECISE. Exceedingly so. Natural attacks specify their type and damage dice properly; mind affecting effects are properly codified; otherwise boring spells-in-a-can-abilities get modifications that make them unique; there are ROLEplaying abilities that are super-useful and completely unique. Sure, you can go natural attack shredder…but you’ll miss out some awesome tricks that make the class unique. The Full BAB-high-skill-combo is an uncommon chassis, but works. Best of all, though – beyond being a highly customizable array of options that puts player agenda high on the table, the concepts are awesome. Visually stunning. Oh, and as a further plus, guess what? This book’s prose is also excellent.


So basically, we get a powerful, but balanced array of options with a cool base-race, awesome class options with great ideas and a superb paragon class that is also a joy to read. This is how such books ought to be crafted. I tried so hard to pick this apart, but can’t find anything that sucks. Finally, one should not fail to mention the elegant sustenance mechanic utilized here – relevant and nasty, but it doesn’t cripple the character. Overall, my favorite part about this book remains the fact that the pdf doesn’t chicken out – it sports rakshasa as what they are, adds dimension to them and still allows PCs with less problematic alignments to use this book. Triumphant. My final verdict clocks in at 5 stars + seal of approval. This is how a race book’s done.


You can get this great installment of the series here on OBS and here on’s shop!


Endzeitgeist out.

Mar 282016

Occult Character Codex: Psychics


This installment of the Occult Character Codex-series clocks in at 30 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page how-to-use, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 22 pages of content, so let’s take a look!


I like Occult Adventures – a lot. It’s one of my favorite Paizo-books out there and the classes rekindled my faith in Paizo’s class design, even though e.g. the kineticist’s presentation in needlessly obtuse in comparison to the playtest…but that’s just me being a nitpicking bastard, I guess. Suffice to say, the rather complex classes are cool – but making characters with them takes obviously a bit longer than for less involved classes…something that, as a GM, may prove problematic. This is where this series comes in – basically, we have a collection of characters herein, spanning the CRs from 1 – 20, all ready and set for your perusal.


So how were they made? Well, for one, the builds use Pathfinder Unchained’s automatic bonus progression, which means that the characters have a better chance to stand against the PCs sans flooding the campaign with magic items – a decision I very much welcome. The builds are not made to be sheer exercises in powergaming superiority that exist in a vacuum, instead championing the approach of making viable characters, complete with a brief personality sketch, though that component is less pronounced than in Purple Duck Games’ codices. Options and buffs are included in the statblocks, though handy pre-buff sections provide the information sans them, should your PCs be able to catch the character unaware.


Beyond that, advice on using the characters in combat and class-specific peculiarities are covered as well – and yes, bonus discipline spells are denoted separately, while psychics with the abomination discipline have dark half’s rather complex ramifications included in the statblock for your convenience. Mimic metamagic, where present, does not sport a preselected metamagic feat to account for the individual campaign.


All right, so that would be the basics – how do the respective characters fare? Well, for one, the first thing you’ll note is that the races run a gamut from the common core to the more exotic – sylphs, wayang, samsaran – there are some “oddball” races here among the builds, though not as much as in Purple Duck Games’ comparable codices. Archetype-wise, we cover mutation mind and psychic duelist – so no formless adepts and amnesiacs herein. On the plus-side, the psychics do offer variety regarding age category and two of them sport 1 ranger level multiclassed in, though both of these take different approaches here.


For the psychic, spell and feat-selection as well as discipline-choice and phrenic amplifications constitute major decisions that provide diversity and indeed, the pdf does a GREAT job here. Granted, there are some cases of straight-progressions to be found, you’ll still find a rather nice diversity of foci regarding the respective characters. While the flavor-text is pretty minimalistic, the tactics-section for the characters is rather extensive, which makes using them on the fly rather simple.



Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful, two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports several beautiful pieces of full-color artwork, some old, some new. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Okay. I know some of you skip past that first section of my conclusion, where I talk about formal criteria. I’d like to draw your emphasis to the “top-notch” and the “no glitches.” As you know, I tend to not pick apart every creature statblock, but I do pick apart a couple of them in a given file – and more often than not, I notice a small hiccup here and there…sometimes a big one. I care primarily about whether a statblock can be used by the GM sans violating x tenets or botching some crucial things. When I started picking apart these…I found nothing. No glitch. I picked apart the next one…same game. This may sound like it’s an easy thing…it’s not.


Julian Neale’s psychics herein may be on the short side regarding their fluff when compared to Purple Duck Games’ more evocative codices, but the wildly diverse builds herein are exceedingly refined and polished – and for that I really enjoyed this pdf. While I wished it had covered the missing two archetypes as well, this is at best a minor hiccup considering the diversity otherwise exhibited. My final verdict will hence clock in at 5 stars.


You can get this neat collection of psychic-stats here on OBS and here on’s shop!


Endzeitgeist out.


Mar 282016

Animal Races: Dawn of the Carnosaur


This installment of the Animal Races-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let’s take a look!


Once, a great and terrible empire existed, one ruled by the saurians – but it fell and so did the carnosaurians, who resemble humanoid carnivorous reptiles (surprise!) – in an interesting take on the T-Rex stereotype, only inbred royals were supposedly afflicted with small arms…and yes, this shows awareness of recent discoveries, including mentioning of plumes. Society and relationships with other races are covered alongside detailed age, height and weight tables.


Carnosaurians may be medium (+2 Str, -2 Int) or small (+2 Dex, -2 Str), have the reptilian subtype, normal speed (20 feet for small ones), low-light vision, scent 5 ft. (increases to 30 ft. at 6th level), a primary bite attack at 1d4 (1d3 for small saurians); they begin play with +1 natural armor that increases to +2 at 10th level and three racial heritage clans to choose from. The Allosaurus clan provides +2 Cha and may select Allosaurid Heritage as a fighter bonus feat; the Maniraptor clan +2 Int (and may use Int instead of Wis for monk class features) and may select Coelurid Heritage as a monk bonus feat. The Megaraptor clan gets +2 Cha and can select Coelurid Heritage instead of a rage power.


So, what do these Heritage feats do: Allosaurid Heritage provides one of the following racial tricks: Claws, fast movement (+10 ft.), faster movement (+10 ft.), improved bite. Once you’ve covered all of these via taking the feat multiple times (you may do so once per two levels you have), you may choose gripping bite, pounce, primeval mind or rake. Coelruid Heritage works similar and offers fast movement, faster movement, improved bite, leap and talons as choices. After covering these, the feat offers improved talons, leaping charge, pounce and primeval mind. In case you’re wondering: Primeval mind provides +2 to Will-saves and makes you immune to charm effects – the other options should be familiar.


Now, as has become the tradition with this series, we get neat information on genealogy and folklore, tying the race to specific creatures and enhancing thus organic immersion, while also providing information on their deity, the failed and deceased god Anzu. The default assumption is certainly that the empire has failed and fallen, potentially eradicating this clan – but nothing is forever, right? I mentioned those degenerate tyrants – well, there is a CR 3 statblock provided…and a CR 13 lizard tyrant lich included in the deal, though we don’t get the unique two-sided traits based on heraldry this time around.



Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to the series’ elegant, printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard with thematically-fitting full-color and b/w-art. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for you convenience.


Eric Morton’s carnosaurians are an intriguing, well-crafted offering – this is a balanced, cool take on the saurian race and blends his predilection for “realistic” takes on the animal aspects well with the fantastical, providing an overall well-crafted, intriguing supplement – at the low price-point, definitely worth a final rating of 5 stars.


You can get this nice, inexpensive racial supplement here on OBS!
Endzeitgeist out.