Oct 312016
 

Don’t Walk in Winter Wood

104196

This game clocks in at 46 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 3 pages of credits/thanks/reference, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 40 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

So, what is this? The simple answer would be that this is a cooperative, narrative, rules-light HORROR game set in a vaguely colonial setting in the United States. Society is one of rough and closely-knit, often isolated communities. Superstitions run wild and even well-meant belief may seem barbarous to us. Transportation is still mainly defined by equestrian means and print books are rare and expensive. AT night, it is still candles that are used to pierce the dark. Against said backdrop of, quite literally, dark times, there is the village. On its east side, there is the Winter Wood…and pretty much everyone agrees that its strange, unseasonal cold is not natural. The perpetual fog, its nature as unexplored and the people going missing – all of these mean that it is a place usually not visited.

 

Children grow up with folklore pertaining said dread wood – the first would be supplemented by Indian legends, underlined by e.g. The Algonquin Legends of New England, and war chiefs may still haunt this place. Similarly, the cowardice of erstwhile settlers may have brought the ire of a woman scorned, deprived of her husband upon the place – strange, legless apparitions and vanished women do not bode well…

 

The sad tale of Nelly Anderson supposedly has her taken by a strange crone of clouds and changing eye-colors; the purported Roe Witches, caught, according to statements, in some pagan rites and thus executed, replaced with effigies…deer with wolf-like, sharp teeth…and then there would be the soothsayer Caleb, who averted calamity from the village, only to give his life…consorting with a strange trophy…

 

Within the forest, there is a hole, which may lead to hell…and there was a strange tendency and occurrence of a grave robber paying dearly for his crime. A strange, horribly mutilated, perhaps undead bear, Scarfang…and, of course, wars and skirmishes among the colonial powers have also cast a dark shadow on this land. The chittering tress and a tale of cannibalism and, purportedly, eternal youth…and Mr. Buglesuede…the grey wolves and the dread meadow in the midst of the foreboding woods…oh, and those ghosts on the Indian hill… it is not wise to thread where so much darkness gathered…

 

The village does have a series of entries pertaining folk wisdom: Red thread around the throat of women does supposedly cloak them from evil. White grass supposedly kills you, inciting horrible hunger; doors are warded with iron nails or crucifixes and there is a secret sign to ward versus evil…of pagan origin, some belief. Similarly, the burial customs sport silver coins under the tongue and separate paths are taken home after burials. Of course, children’s games are about dares here…but is it smart to recite the rhyme about the women of Roe?

 

So this would be the basic set-up – complex, evocative and suitable dark. How do you play it: Well, you have two types of players: The Walkers, each of which controls a single character. The second type would be the Watcher, who is basically the GM of the group. You need one six-sided die per player and some sort of object you can use as tokens. That’s it. Regarding atmosphere, a dark place, slightly cold, is obviously ideal.

 

Character creation is dead simple: Make up a name, concept, motive – there you go. As a default, actions are described in the past tense and 3rd person, thus making it akin to the cooperative telling of a story. Whenever a character comes across something frightening or harmful, he hands the walker a cold token. Entering the wood nets you cold token #1. To determine whether you encounter something and for conflict resolution, the basic system is easy: You roll the d6 and compare it to the cold tokens you have: If you roll more than the cold tokens held, your result may become less pleasant – in short, this does mean that things escalate further, increasing the pace in the latter stages of a game. Upon gaining 6 or more cold tokens, you are taken out. And that’s it. As simple as can be, right? Yep, but also deceptively efficient.

 

The game continues to provide a section on building proper scenarios for the game – these steps are simple and contain the notion to build a premise, then the woods, mood and climax of resolution. Sound advice regarding the generation of folkloric fear (subtlety is king, my friends, and so is the rule of omission) bespeaks an obvious knowledge regarding how to run evocative horror. (Fyi: A solid b/w-conceptual map of the area’s provided.)

 

The pdf also features ready-to-play scenarios, which focus on saving a girl from a witch’s curse, strange lights in the woods (love that one’s antagonist(s), but won’t spoil it here; there’s also a gory take on a classic creature’s haunting from American mythology; there are foolish kids, seeking to steal totems..The sample scenarios with their details mean that, basically, you can just take this pdf and play sans any preparation.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a 1-column standard in b/w and the book is intended for A5 (9” by 6”) in size, so you’ll rather have a booklet-style offering. The pdf’s artwork is thematically-fitting photo-montage-ish artwork I enjoyed. The pdf has 3 rudimentary bookmarks, but I’d strongly suggest printing this out – navigating this in its electronic iteration can be distracting and none too comfortable.

 

Clint Krause, with additional material by Daniel Bayn, Jason L Blair, Rafael Chandler, Jeremy Keller, Daniel Moler and Jason Morningstar, has created a ridiculously simple, amazing little game that shows that horror needs no vast rules. This game is simple, works amazing as a means to show non-roleplayers how amazing RPGs can be, understands its genre and generates a truly evocative, disturbing atmosphere. The fact that you can play it literally with one die, if you want to, makes it a perfect companion for urban exploration or trips in the wilderness…or spontaneous games on days like Halloween, amidst the darkness… You can explain the rules in less than a minute and a watcher who has read this book (and has a good memory) can literally run the game without a book! Handing off, deliberately, slowly, a cold token can be nerve-wracking and the various ideas presented should carry a ton of games.

This is as simple as it gets and as efficient as it gets. This understands proper horror. An awesome, inexpensive little game – 5 stars + seal of approval. Get this!

 

You can get this amazing, flavorful and thematically concise rules-light horror game here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Oct 312016
 

Killer Clowns from Hell

179755

This pdf clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of how to use/introduction, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 15 pages chockfull with content, so let’s take a look!

 

Even before I read Stephen King’s “It” or ever heard about a psycho called Gacey, clowns creeped me out – it was not full-blown coulrophobia, but rather an uncanny sense of unease – my infantile mind kept wondering what would make grown men paint their faces and generate antics. It is with some sense of self-conscious irony that I now look back on this and realize that, to a certain degree, the goth subculture and shock rock have taken the aesthetics of in particular the harlequin and reappropriated them…that my favorite supervillain ever is the Joker…that to this day, I consider the Jack of Tears introduced in 3.X’s Blood Bayou one of the best villains to ever grace a d20-supplement. Evil clowns. They are creepy and awesome.

 

This pdf, then, would contain an assortment of outsiders that employ this most disturbing of tropes – but can the builds hold up to the legacy of the evocative theme? Well, let’s look at the CR 9 Coulrodaemon: Think of these guys are daemonic harlequins, whose head floats above their body. They juggle burning skulls that corrupt the luck of those hit and also have an aura that generates pratfalls, which duplicate combat maneuvers…oh, and if you’re like me and one of the folks who misses the time when monsters had a well-written habitat, ecology…you know, a story beyond stats, well, then this book does deliver just that!

 

The second clown herein would be the Mazzak demon at CR 10: Ogre-sized and covered with shaggy fur, these guys wield oversized hammers that can inflict negative conditions upon adversaries and generate a rain of shadowy objects that plummet from the sky, dealing damage to the unfortunates caught below, reflecting well their theme of gleeful sadism.

 

The CR 7 Paglichino (mockery devil) gets bardic performance akin to a court bard and may generate a shocking array of duplicates while turning invisible…and if he tires of laughing at foes being shocked, he can rematerialize and blow foes asunder…once again, a winner and one that reflects well the efficiency theme of devils.

 

The laetitius kyton can be found on the cover of this book and has a CR of 8…and if the war razor is no indicator…yep, these guys can take off their OWN faces and put them on foes, potentially suffocating them…and you thought slicing off faces was bad…delightfully disturbing!

 

At CR 14, the anglerfish-like Lophigogdue qlippoth look like gigantic misshapen anglerfish. Wait, what? That’s not clowny, right? Well, wait a second…you see, these nasty beings veil themselves as travelling circuses! Oh yes, I can see that being truly sick…no wonder all the folks are weird, right? I never even thought of this one! Two thumbs up!

 

The CR 10 Bhozol Sahkil would be a hunched and lanky giant with terrible flexibility and a touch that can disfigure those afflicted; embodiments of the uncanny and fear of it, they may look humanoid…pretty harmless, even…but are anything but that. Emotional sadists, one and all, these critters complement the excellent array of critters presented herein perfectly.

 

The pdf also has a total of 6 new magic items for us, the first of which would be the capricious carriage, which comes with its own demiplane and certainly makes some twisted adventures possible. Clown shoes that enhance trip, but make you more clumsy and slow your movement are similarly neat. An enchanted hand-puppet theater (and a cursed, twisted version!) allow for cool storytelling and then there would be the slapstick armor, which allows you to Bluff foes easier (and generates your choice of funny sounds while you’re being dismembered…). And yes, cursed version included.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to a unique, gorgeous two-column full-color standard and the pdf provides original, awesome full-color artworks for ALL monsters herein. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

This is the first book by Deborah Kammerzell and Chris Van Horn I have read…and OH BOY does it make me want to read more! I am not kidding when I’m saying that this is absolutely amazing – the level of detail and information, the monster builds with their unique tricks, the cool and creative ideas I haven’t seen before…instead of just making yet another It-ripoff with balloons and the like, we get full-blown amazing killer clowns that made me immediately dust off the ole’ Blood Bayou. This little bestiary is literally all killer, no filler and well worth every cent – 5 stars + seal of approval, given without any hesitation. Get this…or the clowns might get you!

 

You can get this cool supplement here on OBS! Make sure the clowns don’t get you…so get them first!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

Oct 312016
 

The Outer Presence (OSR)

154781

This module/system for very rules-light investigative horror clocks in at 45 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 2 pages of editorial/introduction, 2 pages of space for notes, 2 empty pages, 2 pages depicting the Kort’thalis glyph, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 33 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

We begin this book with character generation, which is pretty simple – we begin with choosing a profession from a list of 20, though adding new ones is heartily encouraged. For purposes of determining cohesion and identity within the world, 10 organizations and 6 possible relationships with said organizations can be found. A total of 8 different basic motivations and drives that push the character forward are similarly included and the system also assumes that you must pick one of 20 character flaws.

 

This background, mostly dressing, as you may have noticed, is in service to the very simple and important design paradigm that everyone is average until proven otherwise, which ties in with conflict resolution and basically anything. The system presented is based on the VSd6-engine also employed by other books by Kort’thalis Publishing, though with a modified focus towards the subject matter at hand. To reiterate: You usually roll a dice pool of 2d6 and consult the best value. Advantages on your end let you roll 3d6, disadvantages/slim chances are represented by rolling 1d6 and the worst cases require the rolling of 2d6 and taking the worse result.

 

The latter is particularly important if you wish to play a “Special” character – whether you’re psychic, a sorceror, an alien or other weird entity or just hard to kill, the decision to become special has a serious drawback, namely that you either must take 3 flaws…or just 1 flaw. If you elect to pursue the latter option, you, alas, suck at your background and thus reduce your dice pool for related tasks by minus 1d6…which can accrue a lot of flack fast. You see, while the backgrounds mentioned before don’t look like much on paper, they are your guideline to determine what you get to do and how many dice you can roll…

 

Dice pool interpretation is simple: 1 is a Critical failure, 2 is a failure, 3 a partial failure, 4 a partial success, 5 a success and 6 a critical success. I’d strongly suggest going with the optional rule, which lets you change your fate when rolling doubles, allowing for quirky twists of fate. Combat is also based on the dice pool system and the respective system: Even a roll of 4 wounds your victim and 2 wounds equal being rendered unconscious; 5 already knocks the foe out in one hit and 6…well. Instakill. It doesn’t take a genius to determine that combat with this system is very lethal. Here’s a very important aspect, though: You do get a bonus die per session, which you may use to increase your chances of success…and each session survived nets you another one. You’ll need them. Trust me.

 

Encountering the truly weird, i.e. the insanity-inducing, pretty much is an instant efF-U for the poor sap of a character, who rolls a d6 and may immediately be converted to basically cultist status, assume fetal catatonia, begin ranting and raving, faint, develop a phobia…or, on a roll of 6, just shake it off. Yeps, a 1 in 6 chance to remain basically in control. You won’t do a lot of fighting versus the weird (without dying horribly) in this system – a general notion I like as a fan of purist Cthulhu-esque games. Similarly, killing the basically unkillable is subject to GM-fiat more than just rolls and as such, can lend itself to appropriately bleak scenarios. Initiative, just fyi, is assumed to be handled via “common sense” – which may just boil down to rolling and going by results, but whatever works for your groups is fine. After the first combat, players won’t be so keen to begin one anyways…at least they won’t be after some of their own have died horribly.

 

Anyways, this is about the extent of the rules array; told you it was simple, right?

Anyways, the bulk of the book is actually devoted to a rather significantly-sized scenario, which lends the title its name. It is set in the 1970s (obviously) and begins when Dr. Karl Steiner and his expedition-force with rival Dr. Zachary Stevenson, assistant Vanessa Hargreaves and crony/lackey Elliot Richelieu and the student Jasper Johnson is lost in New Guinea, supposedly on an anthropology trip to study the Meepie tribe (which generates associations of “meek” and “sheeple”…at least for me) a random 12-entry table lets the GM easily determine what characters were doing when they got the class, for they are off to New Guinea on behalf of Miskatonic University!

 

…and this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILER-territory. Players should jump to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, basically, while the system looks like it is geared up for bleak, purist Cthulhu-style horror, the scenario herein is actually somewhat of a Frankenstein-entity, which is a good and a bad thing, as far as I’m concerned. Even in the introductory scenes at university, a missive from Steiner can be found, which bespeaks already his madness and if that alone did not send your alarm-bells a-ringin’ – well, then you probably haven’t see the movies and read the books I have. Anyways, the first section of this module boils down to a bow before the exploitation classics like Cannibal Holocaust…or, if you’d be more literally inclined, “Heart of Darkness”, one of the most misunderstood books ever written. The travel to the Meepie tribe, is, surprisingly, glossed over for the most part, which really surprised me, considering that Heart of Darkness is all about the progressive changes and the effects on the human psyche. Anyways, you may well insert and emphasize the journey – though the association with the aforementioned exploitation flicks becomes immediately obvious upon making contact with the Meepie – who are now lorded over by Dr. Steiner as a kind of god-king, leading them ever further into depravity.

 

The PCs will probably want to kill the Kurtz-ian villain that Steiner has become, but this is where the weird begins – for he does not perspire, victim to his self-inflicted, own horror and psychological devolution, but rather find out that the 7-eyes beast/deity Zor’raev Tsog is protecting the bestial man. Worse, his crony Eliot is very willing to kill. Let’s hope the PCs keep their composure for now, for there are things to be found in the Meepie village – Jasper’s journal, for example…as well as a scroll and a weird skull…but yeah. Between the feud with another tribe, the Kahli, and Steiner’s atrocities, it should be possible to slip away and move towards the temple that seems to be Steiner’s obsession – if the PCs manage to not be eaten by a giant snake, they may encounter an intriguing vignette here – the mountain does contain a weird, jellyfish-like thing, worshipped as deity by local tribesmen; examined by another expedition…and hunted by a large game hunter and his team, making for an intriguing dynamic…I just wished it had a bit more room to shine for its dynamics; at just one page, it feels like a captivating insertion and one you can easily cut in e.g. the convention-circuit. I think it could carry its own module…but onwards.

 

The second part of the module would be the exploration of Nafu Aata, the temple of dark secrets. The complex comes with a lavish map in b/w, though no player-friendly iteration can be found. Yes. Dungeon-exploration. With these rules. PCs will die. Horribly. The complex begins by throwing giant spiders at the PCs…thereafter, the hapless fools can find a statue of Zor’raev Tsog – who is lavishly-rendered in b/w…thogh, alas, in its obvious, awakened form. Pity that we don’t get the non-fool-grabbing art to show the PCs…the artwork is amazing, but now will only be used when PCs are stupid enough to tinker with it. The rest of the complex’s challenges, from water to strange, star-shaped entities, are surely sufficiently diverse…and include a battle of cultists of Zor’raev Tsog and teh Outer Presence sealed within the complex – both of which arrive from strange portals, ending in a combat of laser guns versus curved, magic daggers. The finale, ultimately, deals with the horrific-insight-granting, living black tentacle-studded relic. You see, the eponymous Outer Presence and Zor’raev Tsog don’t really see eye to eye regarding the extinction/enslavement of humankind. Tsoggie sounds bad…but see that cover? That’s what happens if the presence isn’t stopped…which is nigh impossible. Thankfully, both Meepie, mad journal, the horribly-impregnated Vanessa that can be found here or other NPCs can fill in at least a bit of the blanks here.

 

The pdf concludes with further adventure suggestions as well as a nice primer of Meepie words for your roleplaying edification.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant issues. Layout adheres to an easy-to-read, cleanly-presented two-column b/w-standard. The pdf sports several absolutely gorgeous b/w-artworks, including full-page ones that make for cool handouts. Cartography is excellent, though a key-less, player-friendly version would have been nice. The pdf iteration of the book has no bookmarks, which constitutes a comfort-detriment -I’d suggest getting the print-version, which has thus the upside regarding the navigation aspects.

 

Venger As’Nas Satanis’ Outer Presence is two things – for one, it is a simple, easy to explain and grasp roleplaying system that works rather well for purist horror modules. Oddly, then, would be the fact that the system eschews this basic strength (perhaps supplemented via a bit more investigation) and instead bashes you over the head with its barrage of the weird. This book is about as subtle as a sledgehammer to the face and, to make that clear, in my book, this is about as scary as a dungeon of bones and blood.

 

If you expect fully developed psychological horror, the system can deliver that, though the module employing it does not – this is very much indebted to the aesthetics of exploitation movies and pulpy explorations into the weird. Reading the module, it frankly feels like a jumbled mess of themes – Apocalypse Now/Heart of Darkness/Cannibal holocaust, interlude of weird set-piece, then dungeon, which includes sudden influx of potential scifi aesthetics. If your players stop to wonder and think this through, the module may crumble under its own weight and the fact that its themes feel a bit too crowded. You don’t have one theme, but a rapid oscillation of horrible things. But guess what? In play, if you maintain a proper pace, you can actually employ this strategy to maintain a sense of wonder and surprise, always keeping the players on their toes. The Outer Presence, frankly, plays much, much better than it reads.

 

For all intents and purposes, this shouldn’t work this well, but it does…which is surprising. At the same time, you should probably generate an atmosphere that emphasizes this pulpy aesthetic: If you go the whole way with sounds, lighting and locale, the module is too inconsistent in its themes to make full use of these components. There is no linear rise of tension, but rather a rapid succession of spikes and as such, a beer-and-pretzel-environment may actually work better here and make it still feel like pulpy horror; something also emphasized by the simplicity of rules.

 

So, while we had a blast, I’d hesitate calling the module-portion “horror” – it features horrific themes, yes, but the engine could do the horrific better than what is presented here. That being said, this can be an incredibly fun, pulpy experience of dying in horrible ways and marveling at what’s around the next corner – think of this, in theme, closer to Cthulhu meets JohnnyQuest/Indiana Jones than bleak, nihilistic cthulhiana. In my own sense of the word, this is not horror – it does not generate fear, a sense of being disturbed or the like. This startles the players, it does not frighten them.

 

For people looking for a psychological scenario, I’d rate this as a low 4; however, for getting a fast-paced, easy to run and prepare pulpy one-shot, this is a fun book to have and works well in the context. Thus, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars…and while personally, I’d round down (since I’m very much a believer of the power of subtlety in horror, of establishing leitmotifs and themes and of some restraint being better than overkill), if you’re looking for popcorn-cinema horror, this delivers in bucketloads and spades. Hence, my official verdict will round up.

 

You can get this fun, fast-paced romp here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Oct 312016
 

Monster Classes: Undead

175763

 

The third installment of the Monster Classes-series clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

So, what is this? In one sentence: It’s Dreamscarred press providing the Savage Species type of “Play monsters”-rules for the context of the Pathfinder roleplaying game. The pdf does acknowledge that this series (or even, individual installments) may not be for everyone – the fact is that most modules are humanocentric and thus, playing monsters can wreck havoc with the assumptions of a given game…more so than players are liable to anyways.

 

Let’s not kid ourselves here – the guidelines presented in the bestiaries aren’t really doing a good job; CR = levels doesn’t work out too well – the concept needs a finer balancing. The series acknowledges exactly this requirement. The solution here would be to employ basically racial paragon/monster classes; instead of progressing in a class, the respective critters advance to grow into the full power array.

 

This pdf contains two such classes – the first of which would be the Deathless Ghost, who, race trait-wise, gains +2 Int and Dex and is undead with 50 ft. darkvision, normal speed and here things become interesting: Deathless Ghosts aren’t incorporeal per se- they have no Strength-score and use Dex instead and may only benefit from ghost touch armor and no natural armor bonus. They get +4 to Stealth and Perception.

 

The 3-level racial class gets d8 HD, 4+Int skills,3/4 BAB-progression and good Will-saves, proficiency with simple weapons and begins play with channel resistance +2, which increases to +4 at 3rd level. 1st level also may use a corrupting touch as a standard action, causing 1d6 x HD damage (10 + 1/2 HD + Cha-mod DC), save halves. Not a fan of the untyped damage here, but it’s true to the original creature. The ectoplasmic form nets a 10% miss chance at 1st level, which increases by +10% per class/character level; said chance is halved for spells, magic attacks etc. They gain Cha-mod to AC and 3rd level nets immunity to flight and a 30 ft. perfect maneuverability flight. 2nd level increase the Stealth-check to +8.

 

Attribute bonus-wise, the racial class gets a total of +4 Cha. Undeath makes fragile and the lack of options to improve via items offsets the powerful tricks this one gains beautifully. Powerful, but not overly so. I like this one!

 

The second playable undead herein would be the ghoul, whose basic racial traits are +2 Str and Int, being undead and gaining darkvision 60 ft. These guys get 2 racial class levels, 3/4 BAB-progression and good Will-saves. The racial class gets d10 HD, 4+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons, a 1d6 bite, 2 1d4 (1d6 at 2nd level) claws (properly codified) and +2 Dex at 1st level. 1st level also has +2 natural AC 2nd level also nets +2 Dex, +4 Wisdom and Charisma and provides ghoul fever and the signature paralysis.

 

The pdf also contains a total of 11 feats: These allow deathless ghosts to drain attributes from others, healing themselves. Someone hand me that bag of kittens, please. Urgh. A Frightful Moan, gaining the full incorporeal subtype, possessing foes telekinesis, Poltergeist-style, with a cooldown and high-level Rejuvenation complement the ghost…oh, and have I mentioned manipulating weapons?

 

There is a feat to use Int or Cha instead of Con for Fort-saves, a cool feat that nets you skill bonuses when you eat brains, gaining a burrow speed…or becoming Old as Dust – which means you’re VERY hard to destroy – and is cool!

 

As always, we get a nice glossary, but no age-, height or weight table or FCOs/traits.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level – no significant complaints. Layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press’ two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with a second, more printer-friendly version. The artworks are solid and partially stock, but nothing to write home about. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this point.

 

Jeffrey Swank’s undead are impressive – particularly the deathless ghost, which screams OP by being incorporeal AND undead actually worked better than expected when picked apart. The ghost is impressive and cool…and I do like the Old as Dust feat – it’s just cool. That being said, there’s the unnecessary, failed kitten-test and the ghoul falls flat on its face in comparison: Kobold Press’ Darakhul are the superior take on playing a ghoul, simple as that. More flavor, more options, better balance. Where does this leave this one? As a nice installment that certainly has more universal appeal than the previous installments. While not perfect, it’s certainly a step in the right direction. My final verdict will hence clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3 for the purpose of this platform.

 

You can get this pdf here on OBS!

 

You can get the full subscription here on OBS!

 

You can directly support Dreamscarred Press here on patreon!
Endzeitgeist out.

 

 

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Oct 282016
 

Occult Adventures

pic2784585

This massive hardcover clocks in at a whopping 271 pages, though 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC and 1/3rd of a page decrease that down to 267 2/3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Well, before we do, let me deal with the confusion for a second that this review undoubtedly will cause. Yes, I usually only do 3pp material. This has several reasons: For one, I want to showcase the fringe of gaming, the evocative books that push the envelope. Secondly, I’m not particularly affluent, to say the least and want to reward the publishers that do send me their books. Well, I obviously *HAVE* to get the Paizo books anyways, but for the most part nowadays, that means pdf or waiting until they’re open sourced – I just can’t afford them all. Then again, I do have a policy of covering all books I receive…and I got this book on gencon.

 

That would be the justification I provide from an intellectual point of view. There is another reason. I *WANT* to write this review and, since I have the hardcover now, have absolutely no reason not to.

 

Now usually, I provide the respective breakdowns of classes and crunch, but frankly, there are whole guides devoted to that out there, which is why I have elected to pursue a different path this time around. (Different path…that’ll be a leitmotif, as you’ll see…) In order to properly be able to contextualize my take on this book, I will have to embark on a little recap of Paizo’s hardcovers and my history with them, so if you’re not interested in that, please skip ahead.

 

When I got my hands on the core rules hardcover for Pathfinder, I was generally positively surprised – it represents a tightening of 3.X’s engine and some sensible, smart tweaks to the mechanics. Still, it didn’t manage to elicit cheers or particular excitement at my table – that only came with the APG. The Advanced Player’s Guide, in spite of its minor flaws, would represent, at least to me, the truly identity-constituting moment of Pathfinder. It is here, with the alchemist, witch, oracle, etc. that the game set out to truly distinguish itself from its roots and transcend basically anything 3.X ever offered. To this day, the APG classes rank among the favorites at my table, which only bespeaks their staying power and coolness. Next up were Ultimate Magic and Combat and with them, alas, came the power creep.

While, much like many out there, I did enjoy the magus, not much else from Ultimate Magic sees regular use in my games and I went through the book with a fine-toothed comb and ban-hammered/restricted material. Ultimate Combat is a more complex story – on one hand, I did like the new classes and e.g. the emphasis on the narrative aspect the gunslinger entailed; alas, for said class, player agenda suffered and mathematically, it would have been served better with a slightly different chassis. So while I like what it represents and quite a few pieces of UC’s options, many aren’t used in my games. Mythic Adventures is peculiar – I like mythic gameplay, but only when supported by the ton of Legendary Games material I own – I tried running vanilla WotR and it was PCs curbstomping through everything. Still, I do like this book – just not as a stand-alone. I adore Ultimate Campaign. Its downtime and kingdom building make sense to me, are used a lot at my table and story feats are a good idea as well – there’s nothing I don’t like about that book and what it has brought to my table.

Well, and the less I say about the ARG and ACG, the better. My stance on both books is well known. (Hint: To say I don’t like them would be a gross understatement.)

 

Fast forward to Occult Adventures. For one, this book’s class design represents an organic development that benefits the game. An easy way to look at a class would be to examine it regarding player agenda and character agenda. Character agenda, in this instance, would pertain the ability to contribute meaningfully to various situations. It’s why I think that skill unlocks are a good idea and 2 + Int skills for all but Int-based casters, generally, is not a good idea. It’s just not as fun to play a fighter who can only kill things and excels at one non-combat thing…unless, of course, that’s how you roll, but in general, I have observed players gravitate to classes that provide more skill-use and versatility. Player agenda would be just as important: Can the player make meaningful choices that alter the playstyle? The higher the player agenda is, the more rules-knowledge is required; true. But at the same time, it does help immensely in the long run to generate a unique being from a mechanics point of view – if you don’t get to choose, you’ll sooner, rather than later, run into a character on distinguished from you by his skills, equipment and feats. Pathfinder, as a system, has covered the base classes for a while; it has advanced players that demand unique concepts. As such and at this point in the system’s life, the occult classes with their plethora of meaningful choices are very much appreciated – and if you need some proof of players loving choices, look no further than the modularity of the “Talented” classes invented by Owen K.C. Stephens.

 

Speaking of classes – let us talk a bit about them and begin with the least “occult” class herein and the most popular one. That would, obviously, be the kineticist…and while I kinda like Avatar, I’m not a rabid fan of this franchise, though I get its appeal. This does not change the fact that the class, as presented, is very niche in focus. Then again, thankfully the 3pp-circuit has since expanded the kineticist’s appeal far beyond its thematic confines. (A cheers to N. Jolly for that, even if I don’t always agree with all balancing…) So, flavor-wise and regarding base-options, I am not the biggest fan of this class…but at the same time, I absolutely ADORE it. Why? Because it is an engine that would be daring for a small publisher, much more so for Paizo as the industry leader. The rules-engine employed by the kineticist is inspiring and complex and its success is well warranted. Were I to nitpick this class, then my complaints would pertain the fact that its power-curve could be a little better distributed; 17th level plus in particular can be an issue…but that extends to more than just this class and is, to an extent, system-inherent. That being said, I still love this class, though for completely different reasons than probably 99% of its fans and players. It remains a great addition to the class roster and I’m glad it exists.

 

Now, let us talk a bit about the classes that are designated as occult not only by inclusion in the book, but also by their themes…but for that, we need to talk a bit about genre conventions. It is a general truism that Pathfinder, as a game, is indebted by proxy of D&D to Tolkienesque fantasy and a society structured very much akin to the Early Modern period in history due to the advances of magic. Kobold Press’ Midgard is closer to the beginning of the Early Modern period and features a more feudal, medieval flair. Golarion and Pathfinder’s default, due to the influences of the weird that made me enjoy the setting in the first place, can be roughly situated at the end of the Early Modern period, with overlaps with the Edwardian and Victorian age – once China Miéville (one of my favorite authors – read the Bas-Lag books!!!)-like aesthetics come into play, you’re definitely looking at a society that is bordering a magical industrial revolution. This suits me well, for I come from a Ravenloft background (don’t ever get me started on 4th and 5th edition Ravenloft and what I think of those…for all of our sakes…) as such, have always been in love with the fantastic aesthetics of Penny Dreadfuls, early weird fiction, Sword & Sorcery, Sword & Planet…you get the idea. I enjoy these somewhat less standardized, less covered aspects that have been an organic part of the old school aesthetic back in the day, but fell by the wayside somewhere along the lines. Anyways, the classes herein very much support this slightly advanced aesthetic; they resonate well with both the ancient and the more modern themes evoked in their resurgence in aforementioned timeframes. The more subtle magic psychic magic represents and the emotional component inherent in the variant spell system works well in the context of more magic-hostile environments as well as in less fantastic settings with more subdued themes than all out fireball-slinging. The marriage of the aesthetics associated with occultism and their relevant mechanical representations are what makes the classes interesting for me.

 

Take the medium – while I prefer spirits with names and unique identities, the need to offer the general mechanical framework for the defining spirits of the medium is obvious for such a book and in this context, employing the nomenclature of the mythic paths does make sense and can generate some pretty fun tricks. Had a mythic campaign? Use the PC-names when acting as a vessel for the respective spirit – it’s simple, but incredibly rewarding. The general notion of taboos and the influence mechanic similarly can make for some great roleplaying. The mesmerist class tends to be called unfocused by some reviews I’ve read…and frankly, I have no idea why. The mesmerist, from the cool concept to the execution, makes for a very rewarding playing experience and has some serious optimization potential to boot -the implanting of tricks, the skill-array…both from the perspective of the stories you can tell with this class and the options available for the enterprising player, this class is absolutely amazing and allows for some neat, diverse characters. The stare-mechanic is also something that can be employed to rather great effect. The occultist is a similarly evocative concept – the focus on implements and fact that each can make for an unique item on its own is a lot of roleplaying potential and the respective focus powers provide a similarly interesting playing experience. The psychic, as the full caster, ranks as one of the more intriguing full casters in my book, with magical amplification and disciplines providing a nice array of diverse builds. The spiritualist, finally, would basically be a balanced take on the summoner with a fluff that I consider amazing.

 

This would bring me to what sets the classes apart more so than their mechanical validity – the fact that, to me, they represent, universally a great blending of providing player and character agenda, but this also means that they have things they can do beyond the confines of combat – there is a significant emphasis on the ROLEplaying aspect of the game we all know and love, with a wide variety of diverse tricks associated with actual roleplaying; the classes have means of depicting interesting characters; a player can really make each class its own: The implements, phantoms and all the components of the classes and their structure almost demand, organically, to be used by the player to make something that exceeds the totality of the mathematical components. In short, as far I’m concerned, these are the best player-focused options since the APG and as a whole, I consider the roster to be superior to even that gem of a book.

 

However, the customization options similarly provide some seriously cool tricks: Want to play Scarecrow from Batman? Yup. Cultist leader? Yep. Eat books and draw strength from it? Yeah. Amnesiac psychic? Yup. As a whole, covering archetypes and feats would obviously bloat the book beyond compare – but one crucial point as opposed to most books of this size lies in the big C-word – consistency. There are no overpowered options here…and neither are there options that you’d consider to be subpar traps sans value – there is some character concept, some specific thing that makes sense from a build and/or flavor perspective. (The options that I won’t use will be the onmyoji, elemental annihilator, psychic duelist and kami medium – the Eastern-themed ones mainly since I prefer Interjection Games’ take on the Onmyoji and its themes; the psychic duelist is a nice specialist, but doesn’t blow me away. Finally, the annihilator…well, I have 3pp options that are more versatile.) – notice something? My criticism here pertains mostly taste.

 

Now this alone does make the book shine very much for me; at the same time, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have complaints, right? So there we go: The book contains various pieces of advice and alternate rules/subsystems of the material and one would by psychic duels…which are generally an awesome idea and provide for cool, creative minigames when handled right. Alas, the spell used to start them, instigate psychic duel, pretty much is a save-or-suck option, since the affected target has the save…and while the duel is in process, the target cannot move…which allows allies to stab the foe to bits. Oddly, the instigator of such a duel can end it via a Will-save as per the spell, when the psychic duel-rules do not mention such an option for the affected character – this is intended, undoubtedly, since those caught in a duel can be shaken out of it. At the same time, I think that pretty basic modifications could have prevented that little lockdown-aspect: For example, taking a penalty on MP to be capable of at least utilizing a fraction of the action array available…you know, moving slowly towards the instigator while battling him in the duel, maintaining at least defenses…the like. Granted, the system is optional and can be modified rather easily, but I’m still somewhat astonished that this very basic strategy was not used, particularly after the complaints the slumber hex etc. received. Still, this represents a relatively minor issue when seen in relation to the number of things that *do* work pretty perfectly…and the fact that psychic duels work infinitely better than 3.X’s mindscapes and similar tricks.

 

Once again, the storytelling potential is what sells this on me. Beyond the copious GM-advice, the book contains some information on esoteric planes like the akashic record, the positive/negative energy plane and the like – which I generally enjoyed. At the same time, I did feel like the book could have done a little bit more with unique planar features for some of them, since not all receive this component in detail. Of course gear, both mundane and magical, can be found in this tome – from the phrenologist’s kit (phrenology being the by now debunked belief that the size and shape of the skull influences personality etc. – and yes, there’s a feat inspired by it here!) to the Dorian Gray-ish pictures, we notice one thing – the items, much like a ton of material herein, is steeped in a sense of the real, in the occult traditions and pseudo-science of days gone by.

 

What do I mean by this? Take alchemy, an established concept in our fantasy games. If you have the stamina to power through them, I’d sincerely suggest getting a copy of the writings of real world alchemists, sit down with the cool alchemy recipes and start – I guarantee you’ll come up with new and evocative material. A similar observation can be made here – the tying into concepts and ideas established in our world generates basically the largest hand-out you could fathom and some research will almost assuredly provide a vast selection of truly evocative concepts to represent, while also teaching something new along the way. You do not have to be interested in masons, OTO, etc. to enjoy this book – but you can draw upon esoteric and occult knowledge to enrich the game tremendously. Heck, I’m pretty much a nihilistic atheist and my fascination with the subject matter stems from a purely intellectual point of view, but I still appreciate all the ideas and their impact on the genesis of our mode of thought. Similarly, the idea of locus spirits, of tapping into ley lines and similar high-concept tricks complement an implied world-building and -conception that goes beyond the surface, that extends into a level of depth beyond the superficial pushing of numbers.

 

I’m rambling, I know. I’ll break my format for a second here, mainly since it’s Paizo we’re talking about – on a formal level, the one thing that haunted some previous books, namely editing, is excellent herein. The fact that the artworks are AMAZING and copious, that the binding’s nice, the paper good, the layout awesome – you all already knew that. Production-value-wise, this is a glorious tome and yes, index-wise, it leaves nothing to be desired.

 

Designers Logan Bonner, Mark Seifter and Stephen Radney-MacFarland, under the auspice of Jason Bulmahn, with authors John Bennett, Robert Brookes, Ross Byers, Adam Daigle, John Compton, Jim Groves, Thurston Hillman, Eric Hindley, Brandon Hodge, Ben McFarland, Erik Mona, Jason Nelson, Tom Philips, Thomas M. Reid, Alex Riggs, F. Wesley Schneider, Robert Schwalb, Ross Taylor and Steven Townshend have created an awesome, amazing to me that represents a development in PFRPG I wholeheartedly support.

 

You see, from the very beginning, there always were weird and occult themes in Pathfinder adventures; it’s what drew me to the game. That being said, I sometimes have the impression that my own playstyle, particularly for my campaigns, is a bit more cerebral and roleplaying focused than that of many groups and I do believe and understand that Paizo needs to cater to that demographic. In fact, I do have players that itch for fights when there’s too much talking involved. I get the wargame-aspect and appeal of the game and enjoy it tremendously…but at the same time, making room for the ROLEplaying aspect of the game is very important to me.

 

An example (ROTRL-spoilers ahead!):

When I ran RotRL, my pathfinders were agents of the lodge and had the task to prepare Sandpoint for becoming a halfway-station for agents. Each faction had a representative in town and PCs had to juggle adventuring, faction duties and a political balance, while I slowly seeded hints for them to pick up and slowly meld together. I created a rune-language for Thassillion for them to find and decipher, a task which would bring them to the frigid North as well and had them establish a frontier outpost against the bitter cold and dire threats looming at the top of the world, all while having them research the strange languages and customs of various tribes, from Shoanti to Vikmordere to ultimately, slowly put the pieces together that the war with the sudden influx of green-skins and the sieges were due to the machinations of the BBEG rune lord. Alas, I redesigned their magic to be an intentionally OP version of truename magic, coupled with soul magic and in order to have a fighting chance, the PCs would need to decipher the esoteric rules that govern this evil and radically different way of using magic. It is only via similarly involved contemplation that a certain dungeon could be found…and I’ll stop rambling here. What I tried to illustrate was that, while the AP itself can be run as pretty straight-forward, its concepts and themes are already steeped in the occult. In fact, I only extrapolated concepts that were already there – whether it’s the Shamballah/Eldorado-aspect of the finale of the AP, the notion of there being power in strange writing, even in characters…or any other component. The seeds are already here and just require watering to grow into a fully developed thing of eldritch beauty.

 

*End Spoilers*

 

The fact that Occult Adventures hardwires serious roleplaying, research, investigative tools, the mystical and the non-combat-centric into the very mechanics of most options herein, on its own, is a huge deal for me. I get the fun behind optimizing, mind you – but in the end, a character is more than a sum of his numbers. As a publisher, you can go the power-creep route and do just fine; heck, for ages, that was the business model of MTG…but it also was what disenfranchised me from that game. The story and game took a step back. Similarly, one can play Pathfinder pretty much as a wargame and there’s nothing wrong with that; you can do so with occult adventures material and still have fun…but to me, this book reads like a rebuttal to the claim, often posed by rules-light advocates, that crunch-heavy games can’t tell a good story and get in the way of roleplaying. Don’t get me wrong – I love rules-light games just as much as crunch-intense monsters and each exist for a reason. But I do believe that their individual iteration is what makes the difference – it’s not the system that hampers the story – it’s the story-teller. Rules-light systems empower the GM and players by leaving blanks; rules-heavy systems empower them by providing new means or direct inspiration – it’s leadership by leading or by omission – both have their pros and cons…but neither are responsible, provided their rules are solid, for getting in the way of a story set within their intended field of reference.

 

Pathfinder does tactical combat exceedingly well; with the advent of this book, we can see a focus in design on breadth, rather than depth. Instead of generating escalation, the focus here lies in making a more holistic array of class options that allow for the depiction of unique and rewarding heroes – whether from a roleplaying or rollplaying perspective. You can still optimize here and it is a rewarding experience…but it’s not the sole goal of this book. It’s about the story – of the campaign, of the world, of the characters, of their tools, tricks and allies.

 

Let me emphasize that: After I had almost given up on Paizo’s non-bestiary hardcovers, occult adventures has risen to become my favorite book of such options they ever made. At a point where I thought that the golem may have lost his mojo regarding such options, the talented cadre of excellent writers has proven me false without any doubt. For me, as a person, this is better than Ultimate Magic and Combat and ARG and ACG combined. There is more I not only use, but love within the pages of this book. There is more storytelling potential here. And if you like the subdued, the strange, then this will be a revelation for you as well. I’m going even so far as to say that the design-paradigm shift this represents is very healthy for the game we all know and love…and that this book surpasses the Advanced Player’s Guide. There. I said it. If I had to choose one Paizo hardcover for Pathfinder and get rid of all else, I’d choose this one. From the haunt-expansion to the classes, feats, skill unlocks – you name it. I adore this book. It may not be perfect, as no book of this size is bound to be perfect – but it gets as close as I haven’t seen any rule-book get in ages. Heck, quite frankly, I want to see occult-only or mainly occult APs that give justice to the awesome framework we’ve been granted here.

 

At a time and place where I did not expect anything in that department from the golem anymore, but almost exclusively focused on the options/expansions brought forth by 3pps, this book has renewed my faith in the system and its potential…and it, honestly, is a courageous move from Paizo: This represents an expansion of themes regarding the type of game you play with Pathfinder beyond the confines of the Tolkienesque, towards shores of the imagination where fresh ideas, modules and campaigns loom, towards a type of cooperative storytelling that does not necessarily rely exclusively on the rolling of the dice – it’s still important and won’t go away – this is Pathfinder, after all – but the book, as a whole, dares to tread new paths to an extent you would never expect to see from an industry leader.

 

Dear authors – feel hugged for this book. Dear readers: If you were starting to feel disenfranchised with the system or have, like I did, mostly moved on towards the creative and fresh impulses of the 3pp-circuit, I wholeheartedly recommend checking out this tome. This provides the customization, cool classes you want, the novel themes you crave and the design-cohesion you require. In short, this is a resounding affirmation of the system’s strengths and an utilization of its better aspects in a truly masterful fashion.

 

To spell it out for you: I consider this book a masterpiece, 5 stars + seal of approval…oh, and make that an EZG Essential, if you will – this book is absolutely required for any campaign I will ever run with PFRPG.

 

If you don’t have it already, you can get this gem right here on Paizo!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Oct 282016
 

Campaign Kits: The Mysteries of Hollowfield

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This Campaign Kit clocks in at 39 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 35 pages of content, so let’s check this out!

 

This installment of the Campaign Kits-series is a charity product for the Roleplaying Game Creators Relief Fund and it is, to make that clear from the get-go, a “Pay what you want”-product. The original iteration has sported some glitches that have been identified and rectified, which is why this review is based on V.2.0 of the book.

 

So, what is this? Well, in short, this book contains 8 expanded adventure seeds: With statblocks and structure and all, just needing some fleshing out and get the GM grove on; if you’re time-starved and don’t want to start from scratch, this may well be what you’ve been looking for. Formally situated in the eponymous Hollowfield (isometric, CGI-created map provided, just fyi), the tales herein can conceivably be transplanted relatively easily to other locales – a wood and a body of water in the vicinity are pretty much all you need.

 

Now, in order to cover these, I will need to good into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, still around? Only GMs here? Great!

 

Adventure #1 begins with a commotion in the village square, where lichlytes, macabre fey that look like hummingbird-sized cadavers, have agitated the crowd and create a volatile situation they hopefully defuse. A quick investigation turns up that not all is well here: Villagers and foreign laborers in the Kaizermein saw mill have been feuding; at night, the clanging of metal can be heard; a prospector thinks he can reinvigorate the mines; bodies of livestock and the local cemetery show up across town; the pagan harvest festival has not been properly observed and then there’s that old crone…enough potential leads yet? Anyways, the trail regarding the bodies will lead towards tunnels below the graveyard and there, pit the PCs in conflict with a redcap.

 

Once the PCs venture into the woods (or as an alternate lead-in, J Gray’s adventure #2 will work: There, the PCs can find Lydia, a scared little girl of 6 years, who just wants to go home to Hollowfield…and indeed, provided the PCs can defeat the goblins en route, they will escort her home…only to realize that they have been escorting a ghost, for Lydia’s dead and now, finally, home.

 

Jennifer R. Povey’s adventure sketch has the PCs attend the pagan harvest festival only to be interrupted by the crone dubbed “Nasty Nellie” by the local population – whose apprentice Sera (cue in Final Fantasy XIII-reference and hundreds of “SERA!!!”-screams…) has vanished. The PCs will have to venture into the woods to retrieve SERA!!! and brave a nice take on the grasping wood as a haunt and deal with her standing amidst an ancient battlefield, possessed by the ghost of a general of days long gone.

 

Kiel Howell’s up next and his adventure sketch starts with a mob threatening violence against a sweets seller. Why? because people have been losing their teeth…but oddly, only the adults. After some preliminary investigation involving barber and apothecary, the trail will lead the PCs to an abandoned mansion, where an advanced broken soul tooth fairy and her cadre of minions are behind the creepy happening. Now *this* hook is cool and amazing! I want to see that as a full module!

 

Matt Roth’s Fallen leaves is up next and begins with the local lmber baron Johann Kaizermein inviting the PCs for dinner. Alas, not all goes according to plan and the PCs witness a incursion of leaf leshys, stained with autumn’s touch, assaulting the groundskeeper. The maddening pestilence provides a neat autumnal decay angle, as the PCs venture into the forest to negotiate with the leshys (preferably sans being killed) and unearth the source of the corruption, a child lost and perished in the woods, now ascended to daemon-kind.

 

Kalyna Conrad’s angle focuses on the disappearance of little Timeney, who was last seen in the vicinity of the half-elven, deeply prejudiced woodsman Edlemil – who not only has a nasty trap, but also a massive garden…in which a dread flower is growing that he uses to…well. Dispose of unpleasant (read: human) beings. Nasty and disturbing…I like!

 

We return to the Kaizermein mill in Garrett Guillotte’s sketch, but oh boy, how we return: It’s been some while since Gibs Greck was cut apart in what looked like a mill accident…but when the wood of the local tavern starts groaning, forming a face and uttering prophecies of doom, something obviously must be done…and indeed, there are other, haunt-based challenges to be found and dealt with, all based on the odd wood employed…oh, and then there’s the spectral treant, whose power will be depending on the number of haunts dealt with. Another winner, at least in my book!

 

The final adventure sketch would be John Bennett’s “The House Death Built”, with one person, slumped over, being dragged away by shadowy servants to an abandoned house, which once belonged to Sir Erasmus Dratho – the house, which has been standing empty for a while, can be explored in a nice exercise of building tension, but the creepy hints the PCs can find, in conjunction with their nightmares, will suddenly make clear that the place is haunted and that there is some nasty darkness that needs to be laid to rest. If you need a reason why I consider John Bennett to be a master of horror/the creepy…this is a nice first glimpse of his talent.

 

The pdf comes with full statblocks for just about every critter and a map of the sawmill; the final appendix is a GM’s cheat-sheet for the NPCs features in the town, be adventure. The town gets no statblock, though.

 

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting of V.2. are good – I noticed some minor hiccups here and there, but not enough to spoil the book in any way. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard with interior artwork being full-color stock. The cartography employed is CGI-based and does its job, but expect no player-friendly versions. The pdf comes bookmarked for your convenience.

 

The cadre of authors assembled here sports some delightful little adventure sketches suitable for the darker times of the year; particularly the tales of John Bennett (no surprise there), Kiel Howell, Garrett Guillotte and Kalyna Conrad managed to invoke a sense of “I’d actually like to build on this and run it!” While not perfect, as a charity product and PWYW to boot, this makes for a truly nice little book as Halloween approaches. If you’re starved for time or ideas and want to play a suitably creepy adventure, this certainly will do the trick: With a minimum of work, you’ll get some nice mileage out of this book. Better yet, you can download it, check it out and then reward the authors in a manner you consider appropriate. Alternatively, this may well be worthwhile to check out for the haunts to scavenge – there are some cool ones to be found here!

 

How to rate this…well, here, it becomes a bit harder for me, but ultimately, I consider this worthwhile and thus, this receives a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded up due to its more than fair PWYW-status. If this was a full-priced title, it’d be somewhere in the 3 – 4-echelon, just fyi.

 

You can get this neat book here for PWYW!

 

Fat Goblin Games also has a Goblin Army-patreon, which you can support here!
Endzeitgeist out.

 

Oct 282016
 

Monster Classes: Earth Elemental

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The fourth installment of Dreamscarred Press’ Monster Classes-series clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

So, what is this? In one sentence: It’s Dreamscarred press providing the Savage Species type of “Play monsters”-rules for the context of the Pathfinder roleplaying game. The pdf does acknowledge that this series (or even, individual installments) may not be for everyone – the fact is that most modules are humanocentric and thus, playing monsters can wreck havoc with the assumptions of a given game…more so than players are liable to anyways.

 

Let’s not kid ourselves here – the guidelines presented in the bestiaries aren’t really doing a good job; CR = levels doesn’t work out too well – the concept needs a finer balancing. The series acknowledges exactly this requirement. The solution here would be to employ basically racial paragon/monster classes; instead of progressing in a class, the respective critters advance to grow into the full power array.

 

The earth elemental’s base racial traits are +2 Str and Con, -2 Dex and Int. Earth elementals begin play as Small and are outsiders with the earth and elemental subtypes with 20 ft. speed, 60 ft. darkvision, +3 natural armor.

 

The 16-level racial class gets d10 HD, 6+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons as well as good Fort-and Will-save progressions and full BAB-progression. 1st level provides a slam attack at 1d6, which increases to 2d6 at 12th and 2d8 at 10th level as well as 2d10 at 13th level. At first level, the elemental may step through 5 feet of earth or stonebased difficult terrain each round, including the option to use this ability to 5-foot-step. They also start with tremorsense 30 ft., which imho is too early. The ability doubles its reach at 9th level. 2nd level provides Improved Bull Rush as a bonus feat as well as earth mastery.

 

Starting at 4th level and every level thereafter, the natural armor of the earth elemental increases by +1. 6th level nets DR 1/-, which increases to 5/- at 8th and 10/- at 13th level and the attacks are treated as magical. 4th level makes the earth elemental Medium, 8th Large, 10th Huge. 7th level provides 1/2 speed as burrow speed and 11th level nets earth glide.

 

Attribute-dispersal-wise, the class gets +22 Str, + 8 Con for a total of +30. This is ridiculously paradox – +11 to atk and damage basically take the assumptions of AC of even max’d characters and throw them out the window…then again, the math, system-inherently, starts coming apart at higher levels anyway…and the singular focus on the physical side of things actually make the earth elemental less problematic from a balance point of view than similar entries in the series.

 

The pdf sports 4 feats, which include Elemental Jaunt for 1/day plane shift, adding 1 point of acid damage to weapons (stacks with corrosive, which is not italicized) and better saves versus acid attacks and spells. Finally, there would be Groundbreaker, which is a cool ability that lets you rise and emit a shockwave that can render foes prone.

 

The pdf concludes with the usual glossary and, as always, no age, height or weight table is included and neither do we get FCOs or the like.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good – I only noticed minor, formal hiccups. Layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press’ two-column full color standard and the pdf comes with a second, more printer-friendly version. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length. The artwork is okay.

 

Jeffrey Swank’s earth elemental is a “Hulk, Smash!”-melee-focused beast, but we expected as much from the base creature. Interesting here would be that the balancing, in spite of the melee focus, is actually much tighter than in other monster classes releases so far. I can see myself allowing these guys, depending on the context/campaign style. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 stars due to in dubio pro reo.

 

You can get this pdf here on OBS!

 

You can get the whole subscription here on OBS!

 

You can directly support Dreamscarred Press here on patreon!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Oct 282016
 

20 Things #2: Looting the Body (system-neutral)

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This installment of Raging Swan Press’ system-neutral #20-series clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Looting the bodies of creatures is its own series in Raging Swan press’ product roster, but this does not mean that we can’t use more of these, right? Right! So, we begin with the remnants of 20 adventurers to loot, which sport healing potions, wooden scroll cases full of dungeon maps, trapmaker’s kits – quite a few different entries that provide a sufficient diversity.

 

Beyond these, the pdf also sports an entry of 20 things you can find on the corpses of bards -as well as 8 outlandish costumes. Copies of The Tragedy of T’kar, weird, hexagonal gold coins, ornamental rapiers – the diversity and potential are right back to the level we have come to expect!

 

20 things found on dead clerics, 10 unholy symbols and 6 decisive unholy water flasks complement the page: Incense burners, secret compartments in symbols and jet black flasks with slightly mobile patches once again rock, though some of these entries will be familiar to Raging Swan Press veterans – in particularly those that own “I loot the Cleric’s Body.”

 

The rogue’s respective loot-entries, with hidden-compartments in heels of boots, hollow-hilted daggers and pouches with secret items sown in, the items are cool – but, alas, the table is completely taken from the GM’s Miscellany: 20 Things Volume I -book, so if you have this book already, this will only be a retread for you.

 

The next page contains 20 things to be found on the body of a warrior, containing notes that can be part of a crude treasure map, weird, cinnamon-smelling powder or dried meat. This table is great and, unless my memory deceives me, I am pretty positive that I have not seen these before.

 

The same cannot be said about the wizard-table that’s next – it once again has been taken from the excellent GM’s Miscellany: 20 Things Volume I compilation.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Additionally, the pdf comes in two versions, one optimized for the printer and one for screen-use – kudos for going the extra mile there!

 

Creighton Broadhurst, Ronald Calbick, Seamus Conneely, Taylor Hubler and Anthony Jennings deliver a nice installment of dressing here: I very much enjoyed pretty much all of the tables featured within…however, at the same time, I was slightly disappointed to notice the partial overlap with the big GM’s Miscellany: 20 Things Volume I-book: The completionist will want this pdf still and if you don’t need the big book, you’re good – but in the end, I couldn’t help but feel that all-new material would have been a better way to reward the customers. The new material definitely is nice, but in the end, I can’t go higher than 4 stars on this one.

 

You can get this nice dressing file here on OBS!

 

You can directly support Raging Swan Press here on patreon!
Endzeitgeist out.

 

Oct 282016
 

20 Things #1: Seedy Tavern (system-neutral)

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This installment of Raging Swan Press’ system-neutral #20-series clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

We begin this dressing-file with a selection of 20 different seedy tavern patrons you can find in a seedy tavern. The respective individuals are presented with their name, followed by an alignment abbreviation, gender and race…though some of the entries, oddly, feature class names and levels as well, while others don’t even though worn armor mentioned etc. would point towards an adventuring career. Drinking, boisterous dwarves, ancient gnome-beggars nicknamed “Filth” or an annoying, womanizing half-elf can be found here, while clerics review papers by candlelight.

 

Slightly more intriguing than the patrons would be the staff here: From friendly half-orc lasses with fractal tattoos to magic-supported gnome-barkeeps, they offer some more unique sketches. Beyond that, a table of 20 drinks and brief price-list for ales and wines 8only 4 entries) can be found on a page that also contains no less than 10 odd things that may be found behind the bar: Whole arrays of battered and broken shields, a dusty, cob-webbed bottle on a pedestal, a yellowed giant’s skull – here, the level of imagination I expect from Raging Swan Press is back in full force.

 

The pdf then goes on to note 8 specialties of the house, 12 meals to order and a total of 20 things that may have been left behind in a tavern’s given bedchamber- from deeply carved initials, paranoid scribbling, small metal flakes, rats with broken backs – there are some seriously diverse things that are hook-worthy. The 20 things to see in a tavern, from drunken half-orcs to scarred warriors and similar drunks, the focus here, alas, could be a bit more diverse – there only is one entry featuring a woman and breaking out in a drinking song…I don’t know if that warrants an entry of its own.

 

The pdf’s last page contains 6 different tavern brawl triggers alongside 20 things to see in a tavern brawl. The things that can happen here are intriguing and feature, for example, alcohol catching fire – it should be noted that this can cause 1 point of fire damage…which is relevant if you’re very peculiar about that kind of thing or want it purged from a system-neutral file. Another instance of such a remnant would be a slick space, which still sports a DC and a note of Acrobatics being required.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch apart from the remnants that some entries taken from PFRPG-supplements sport. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Additionally, the pdf comes in two versions, one optimized for the printer and one for screen-use – kudos for going the extra mile there!

 

Creighton Broadhurst, Jeff Gomez and Liz Smith know their dressing. The pdf isn’t a bad offering by any means of the word, but at the same time, the Pathfinder-remnants that are still in here. Similarly, fans of Raging Swan Press will notice overlap with other tavern-centric supplements the company has produced so far, which may decrease the usefulness of this pdf for some readers. Similarly, not all selections sport the usual level of diversity and imaginative potential. As a whole, this offering left me slightly disappointed at a relatively high level, delivering a solid offering worthy of 3.5 stars, though I will have to round down for the purpose of this platform.

 

You can get this pdf here on OBS!

 

You can directly support Raging Swan Press here on patreon!
Endzeitgeist out.

 

Oct 272016
 

Four Horsemen Present: Comedic Character Options

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This pdf clocks in at 17 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 14 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Ah, the art of comedy – a topic only relatively seldom used in gaming – all the more reason to take a close look at this particular little file, which begins with 6 new traits -these include being able to Disguise as a clown or properly insult adversaries, featuring mechanical relevance as well as a mundane prestidigitation effect via Sleight of Hand. Slapstick Offense is pretty powerful in that it offers unarmed strike damage at one size larger for characters with Improved Unarmored Strike, but only when dealing nonlethal damage. This is in addition to not provoking AoOs, but does not count as Improved Unarmored Strike. While not problematic in a vanilla context, I can actually generate builds where the strength of this trait exceeds what I’d consider viable for a trait. Considering the very fringe builds, though, this gets a pass. On a slightly annoying note, the traits do not feature the respective trait subtype.

 

After these traits, we move on to the archetypes presented herein, the first of which is basically a complete rewrite of the most awe-inspiring class in PFRPG: The commoner. Yes, you heard me – the Comrade archetype designates up to Charisma modifier buddies, which must be helpful humanoids he has spent at least 24 hours with. These buddies grant the comrade hit points, BAB, proficiencies, save-bonuses, skills, etc. Beyond that, they begin play with two aid another actions for one and may apply the benefits to the same target. 7th level and every 6 levels thereafter increase the bonus of aid another up to +5 at 19th level. Starting at 11th level, aid another automatically succeeds and 17th level adds a duration to aid another – 1 round, instead of one action. The archetype also provides an array of bonus feats chosen fro a list, utilizes Pathfinder Unchained’s skill unlocks at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter and at 3rd level, these guys may emulate non-spellcasting 1st level class features of allies, which stack if he ever takes class levels in a class that has the ability. Additionally, at 6th level and every 3 levels thereafter, he gains another one of these. All in all, this archetype is a mechanically relevant and fun take on the comedic sidekick that bumbles along and will see ample use in less high-powered games. Two thumbs up!

 

The derelict paladin loses her aura of good and detect evil, but may turn a blind eye to evil-doers. 4th level provides channel negative energy (sans undead healing option) and 5th replaces divine bond with a mopey debuff aura. 8th level provides the “Aura of Whatever”, which renders immune to confusion and emotion effects and confers a bonus to saves to allies. And yes, this one made me actually grin while reading it.

 

Utterly ridiculous in a world where gods are pretty much evident everywhere, the gnostic atheist cleric may have any alignment because gods don’t exist. D’uh. They don’t get domains, auras, but do get bonus spells – these are called “domain spells” in their header. They also gain SR + 6 + class level, upgraded to 11 + class level at 8th level versus divine magic and 4th level provides Improved Counterspell. 6th level and 12th level enhance counterspell capacity versus divine magic and 8th level allows for immediate action counterspelling, but at the cost of actions in the following round, reducing that to a move action. Finally, at 10th level, the archetype gains an aura that hampers outsider spellcasting and scales with levels. Hilarious and cool!

 

Mad scientist alchemists may make devices, which are a variant of extracts (which they can still make) and replace Brew Potion with Craft Wondrous Item. 2nd level allows for the poaching of sorc/wiz spells for formulae…but at the very real chance of blowing up the laboratory (and the mad scientist). Very powerful, but pretty funny! 2nd level provides also scaling bonuses versus fear that end in immunity at 10th level and 6th level nets SCIENCE!, which lets him sacrifice two prepared devices to create/jury-rig another device from his formulae book…and yes, the restrictions prevent abuse. Powerful, but cool…GMs of low-powered games may want to cap the experimentation ability to poach sorc/wiz spells, though.

 

Prankster bards replace Diplomacy with Disable Device and replaces bardic performance with antics: At first level, he has 4 of them and gains another at 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter, with saves adhering to the 10 + 1/2 class level + Cha-mod formula, if applicable. Some antics have an asterisk, which means that they have a mechanical component – they basically sport a cool-down of 1d4 rounds before they can be used again, though some of teh antics do have hard daily caps. Basically, instead of a linear sequence, we get a ton of antics to choose from – which is something I wholeheartedly support. Souring the mood of everybody via bad jokes, acid-squirting Joker-flowers, comical weapons, false appendages, immediate action debuffs, imitating horseplay to improve charges…pretty cool. Now the archetype, as a whole, is pretty amazing…but it does overshoot its target a bit in e.g. the inflatable image: As an immediate action taken as a response to being hit, but before effects/damage are rolled, he can declare the attack to hit an inflatable dummy, dealing no damage whatsoever to the prankster. I get the intent and like it, but considering that it’s an limitless (apart from the cooldown) ability that can negate any melee (melee only – no help vs. spells/ranged attacks) attack, I can’t help but see the lucky player dancing around a foe. Still, the restriction to melee keeps it from being totally OP, though I would have preferred a class-level scaling damage reduction instead. Have I mentioned the prismatic pie? It’s pretty cool…though layout/formatting here is a bit deceptive – it has a minimum level of 15th, which looks at first glance as though it was applying to Shocking Gag. And for die-hard Ravenloft enthusiasts who remember the utterly horrid (but conceptually cool) jester darklord…guess what? At 18th level, we get the Killing Joke.

 

The pdf also offers a selection of feats: Dodecahedron Spell increases damage dice to d12; the higher the base damage of the spell, the higher the spell-level increase…and yes, this should let the poor d12 get some use. Extra Antics is self-explanatory; I Think I Can lets you retry failed skills with bonuses, but inflicts nonlethal damage. Better iterative attacks after missing are interesting and gaining the bonus even after an ally failed to aid you is nice as well…though if you do get it thus, you can’t be aided by that ally in 24 hours. Oh, and rounding up on save DCs and class levels/HD, etc. Why? Because you’re weird.

 

The pdf provides the classic inversions Bull’s Grace and Cat’s Strength as well as a properly as evil-designated spell that many a person can cast IRL: Dreaded Nag. Oh, and that cool animal companion/familiar/eidolon/phantom/mount of your foe? Let’s see how well it does as an utterly useless rubber chicken. Oh, and when you or an ally deal precision or crit damage, neutralizes an opponent or drops him unconscious, you may cast the most annoying audible support ever – vuvuzela.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good; while the missing trait types and the formatting of the pie-antic could have been better, that’s not a game-breaker. Layout adheres to Rogue Genius Games’ two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports a number of thematically fitting b/w-artworks inside alongside the cover. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with detailed, nested bookmarks for individual archetypes, feats, spells, etc.

 

Steven T. Helt’s comedic character options are actually FUNNY. No, really. This book is pretty amusing and a nice read, in spite of being a very crunch-dense book. It is also a return to form, at least in my book – there is not a single filler archetype herein: All have some sort of unique mechanic that makes me want to play them or see them in action and from lowly trait to feat and spell, I consider none of the options herein filler. The buff-inversion variants maybe…but not everyone is familiar with that idea. Anyways, this is certainly one of the best character options the horsemen have put out and I wholeheartedly enjoyed just about everything here. My own gripes pertain ultimately personal preferences with one exception: The Mad Scientist should imho really have a poaching cap for sorc/wiz spells (or a bigger tradeoff!). This and the missing trait types are all that keep this from being a unanimous recommendation. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4.5 stars, but considering how good the majority is, I’ll round up and since it’s hard to do comedy and still get rules etc. right as well as the fact that I really like both fluff and crunch here, I’ll also slap my seal of approval on this.

 

You can get this cool collection of options here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.