Jan 312017
 

In the Company of Giants (5e)

The 5e-conversion of the classic “Play a giant”-supplement clocks in at 21 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 16 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Now one of the definite strengths of this series, should you not be familiar with it, lies in immersion – like most Rite Publishing books, the “In the Company of…”-series is defined by being simply pleasant to read, which is a pretty big deal for me. How does it achieve that? Well, know how some crunch-supplements read like telephone books? Rite books employ a cool strategy here – they are written from the point of view of actual characters. Thus, this pdf begins with Owain Northway, one of the sages of Questhaven, receiving a letter from a member of the Jotunnar race, who then proceeds to explain the basics of the race.

 

If Jotunnar does sound Norse-flavored, you wouldn’t be wrong (their names sport the Icelandic suffixes of -son and -dottir, denoting “son of” and “daughter of”), but neither would you get the totality of the picture. Far beyond what other product lines offer in either 5e or PFRPG, we receive an in-depth look at culture and mindset of the race – which begins as Medium-sized and only slowly unlocks the true potential of their heritage. Philosophy-wise, the race similarly does take an unconventional stance – there are two dominant ways of thinking, with the first being called Vird. Vird would be pretty much a philosophy steeped in Norse morale – i.e. cherishing the value of bravery, being forthcoming and true, but this does not extend to traditionally “good”-coded concepts like mercy. Courtesies and proper behavior still are very important and the elaboration of the concept is enticing and well-presented.

 

Osoem, then, would be the path of embracing what one could construe as the base giant desires – they are not necessarily evil, though their actions would be considered as such; instead, they very much behave as one would expect from the more unpleasant real world giant mythologies, rationalizing it as part of their nature. The scorpion on the turtle crossing the river comes to mind.

 

Racial trait-wise, the race may either choose an increase of strength by 2 or the increase of both Con and Wis by 1. They begin play as medium creatures and gain proficiency in Intimidate (should be Intimidation) and Insight. They are counted as one size category larger for purposes of what they can drag, push, etc. Once per rest interval, the race may roll 1d12 + Con-mod as a reaction to being hit, subtracting the rolled number from the damage incurred…okay, so how does this interact with e.g. poisoned weapons and attacks that cause damage and add effects/conditions? Are these negated upon absorbing all damage or not? This is also as good a place as any to note that the pdf violates a lot of 5e-formatting conventions: Racial features are not italicized, for example. I’ll note a couple of these during the review.

 

The race also sports a jotun paragon class, which receives 1d8 hit points, proficiency with simple weapons, Strength and Constitution saving throws and two skills chosen from Athletics, Insight, Intimidation, Perception, Performance and Stealth. The class is missing the starting equipment choice and has no quick-build-rules either.

 

At 1st level, the class chooses an elemental power – one of the four elements and the associated energy with that element…you know, lightning for air, etc. Multiclassing, if an option in your game, is prevented until 6th level if you take this class…though the pdf does not classify whether this refers to total class levels or character levels. This elemental might manifests itself via powers chosen at 1st level, 3rd level and every 3rd level thereafter, with some featuring prerequisite feats, which is a VERY odd design choice for 5e. The rules language here does not help: “Some Elemental Powers have prerequisite feats, which are optional.” Optional and prerequisite? What?

 

Unfortunately, the elemental powers available are problematic. Dealing unarmed damage while grappling…is pretty underwhelming as far as potency is concerned. The power backbreaker, for example, is pretty much non-operational RAW: It ties Dexterity damage to grapples. On a nitpicky side, the wording employs the “opposed check” standard, rather than 5e’s “contested” phrasing. The requisite levels are weird as well – call lightning, for example, requires 5th level as prereq…and no power is gained on that level. The presentation of the spell’s DC and atk modifier is similarly weird and innate spellcasting-like tricks universally fail to account for casting at increased levels. Oh, and don’t expect the spellcasting-basics to be presented, as usual in 5e, at the front end of the respective ability. Similarly weird: Spellcasting attributes here change willy nilly. Call lightning? Wis. Chain lightning? Cha. WTF?

 

The wording comes absolutely and completely apart in the crush ability, which has a cool concept, but will not survive even casual contact with the table realities. These sub-abilities also are not properly formatted for 5e – 5e bolds and italicizes sub-abilities; see maneuvers, for example. This one italicizes them and adds a colon after them, where 5e uses a full stop. Oh, and guess what? Standard action. Yeah, I am not kidding you. The abilities also sport “daily uses” instead of 5e’s rest interval mechanics. Mentions action types that do not exist in 5e. Lacks average damage values. I’ll stop now. This whole section, which constitutes a significant part of the class, is BROKEN and needs fixing in both a formal and rules-perspective.

 

The class nets a natural armor increase of up to +11 (WTF???) and a scaling slam attack that scales up to 4d6, with 3rd, 10th and 16th level as well as 20th providing size increases – nice: The jotun paragon may reduce his size, so adventuring does not become highly problematic, though the verbiage here is a bit wobbly. Rock catching and wielding oversized weapons are included…and 19th level nets proficiency with martial weapons…which is odd to me, to say the least. The pdf also sports a significant array of feats. Ridiculously broken and non-operational: The ability to transfer magical weapon properties to natural attacks. Why? because RAW, there is no limit. The feat has no cap. You can transfer an infinite amount of these to your hands. *sigh* level-increases for ability/feature-purposes, daily uses, knocking prone sans save, feats that lack the maximum cap…oh, and the feats don’t have their benefits properly formatted. Urgh.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal level. On a rules-level, they are, unfortunately, BAD. As in: Several instances of non-operational pieces, copious pathfinderisms…you get the idea. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s classic 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf sport thematically fitting stock art. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Seeing Steven D. Russell’s amazing jotunnar race suffer such in the conversion breaks my heart. The flavor of the race is absolutely amazing and inspiring, but as soon as we hit the rules, the pdf falls apart. The rules herein are littered with Pathfinder remnants, presentation deviates in plenty of crucial ways from the established 5e-paradigms and, as written, I can’t see the class working even haltingly without copious GM-fiat. The prose remains excellent and an inspiration, though – which also constitutes the only reason I could find to round up from my final verdict of 1.5 stars. I hope for a proper revision, the race deserves better.

 

You can get this pdf here on OBS.

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jan 312017
 

Unlikely Heroes (5e)

The third pdf converting unique Midgard-races to 5e clocks in at 27 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 2/3 of a page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 23 1/2 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

We begin this pdf with a nice and brief introduction to the weird races – and the considerations that adventuring with them entails before diving into the subject matter. It should be noted that each race receives 5e’s standard of fluffy introductions, guiding the prospective player towards making well-considered characters. Playing advice and nomenclature are similarly covered, which is nice to see – particularly when playing, for example, an insane derro! Yep, that would be the first race and the guidance is much appreciated. Speaking of dressing and guidance – a series of inter-connected tables helps you come up with endearing “eccentricities” for such characters – whether its irrational fear, taboos or the like, small objects and living creatures, delusions or physical effects like inappropriate weeping or hunchbacks – just a few rolls and there you go. This is the level of “one step beyond” I love to see in racial supplements.

 

Crunch-wise, derro increase Dex by 2 and Con by 1,a re Small and have a speed of 30 ft. They have superior darkvision and sunlight sensitivity, advantage on Constitution saves versus spells and saves versus the charmed and frightened conditions, courtesy of their insanity. Amazing, evocative, best iteration of the race I’ve seen so far.

 

Dhampirs would be up next and icnrease their Cha by 2, Dex by 1 and are Medium. They gain darkvision and have advantage on saving throws versus disease as well as resistance against necrotic damage. As an action, they may beguile a creature within 30 ft., gaining advantage on Charisma checks versus said creature for 1 hour, but thereafter, the creature will turn hostile. immunity to charm proofs against the ability and it requires a short or long rest to recharge. And thankfully, the blood thirst aspect has not fallen by the wayside (seriously, if you play a dhampir sans blood thirst, what’s the point??) – the dhampir has a bite that inflicts 1 point of piercing damage, inflicting up to Cha-mod (min 1) necrotic damage while feeding. If the target is damaged thus, you regain a spent hit dice, but these thankfully cap at Con mod hit dice per rest interval, once again, minimum one. Powerful, yes…but not to the point where I’d consider them problematic, considering the stigma they will necessarily suffer from. That being said, I *do* have one complaint. Dark Thirst should only work on intelligent foes. RAW, you can carry around a snack-bag of kittens to satiate your thirst…which is despicable, but efficient. The rest interval cap does prevent me from going all ranty on it.

 

The Great Old Ones-worshipping dust goblins would be next – they increase their Dex by 2 and COn by 1, are Small, have a speed of 30 ft., gain darkvision and have advantage on saves versus being charmed or frightened. They have proficiency in Stealth and Survival. When they attack a creature from hiding, they must succeed a Wisdom save or be frightened for 1 round. Solid.

 

The jinnborn are next, with the name pretty much explaining the concept. They increase their Con yb 2 and gain darkvision 60 ft. as well as proficiency in Persuasion. They also are tied to the desert and every month spent apart from it results in a Charisma save or a madness incurred They also choose a mystic path, called siraati, which is aligned with one of the elements. The race sports two subraces: Speaker jinnborn receive an increase to Wis by 1 while shapers increase their Strength by 1. Speakers may, up to Wisdom modifier times (min 1) per long rest interval either gain advantage on a save or impose disadvantage on an attack made against them and they have advantage on saves versus stunning and extreme environments and on checks to navigate the wild and avoid being lost. Shapers, on the other hand, may up to Constitution modifier times per long rest interval add +1d6 damage corresponding to the siraati’s energy to their attack, but only once per turn. They also gain resistance to the energy corresponding with the chosen siraati.

 

The humanoid plantskijani increase their Wisodm by 2 and another ability score of their choice by 1 and are plants. They gain darkvision and have proficiency in their choice of one of Arcana, History, nature or Religion. They enter a state of dormancy, but are immune to sleep-causing effects and unlock speak with plants at 7th level, cast as a 3rd level spell, with Wisdom as governing attribute. When below 1/2 maximum hit points, a kijani’s serenity makes way to their primeval fury and they may once per turn add +1d4 to weapon damage or add +2 to their AC as a reaction to being hit. Nice!

 

The seductive and serpentine lamia are up next – they increase their Strength by 2, their Charisma by 1 and are monstrosities with a climb and swim speed of 20 ft., respectively. They gain darkvision and are proficient in Deception and Intimidation. Additionally, they gain advantage on attack rolls versus surprised creatures or those charmed by you or your allies as well as saves versus being knocked prone. HOWEVER, due to their serpentine body, they cannot benefit from any items, effects etc. that enhance legs or feet or require them – nice catch!

 

The Ramag may look like humans at first glance, but the erstwhile servitors of titans are a different breed entirely, with strand-thick hair and generally, an angular and spindly look. They increase their Intelligence by 2 and teir Dexterity by 1 and have proficiency in Arcana as well as advantage on Strength and Dexterity saving throws versus spells. oh, and they can ignore class requirements when attuning magic items, which is pretty damn strong…but also cool. And since the other requirements are untouched, I’m cool with the choice.

 

Next up would be a classic – the sahuagin, who increase their Strength by 2, their Wisdom by 1 and they have a swim speed of an impressive 40 ft. in addition to the default land speed for Medium creatures. They gain superior darkvision, surprisingly sans the usually accompanying light sensitivity or blindness and a natural AC of 12 + Dex-mod. They may telepathically communicate with sharks within 120 ft. and are proficient with both claws and bite, each of which inflict 1d4 damage, slashing and piercing, respectively. As a bonus action, they may enter blood frenzies, which nets advantage on attacks versus creatures that do not have all hit points – weird: I figured this should not work versus constructs. Anyhow, the ability can only be used Con-mod (min 1) times in a long-rest interval. As a major downside, the race needs to be completely submerged once in every 4 hours or they begin suffocating, which is an apt balancing mechanism for the power gained.

 

All of the races come with an height and weight table and we also receive backgrounds – 4 fully presented ones can be found, including personality traits, goals etc. – not just the feature boil-down! Cannibal Headhunters can use their…unconventional practices to prevent hostilities with humanoids and savage beings, while prophets can generally hope to receive a helping hand from those inclined to believe in their patron. Scavengers can dumpster dive in settlements, scavenging low-cost items from refuse, while seers don’t necessarily have divinatory powers…but they sure as hell can draw upon the well-meaning of the relaxation and favor of their patrons…which in itself sports copious amounts of roleplaying potential. All of these backgrounds come with appropriate benefits regarding languages, proficiencies and equipment.

 

Finally, we receive two variants of other backgrounds, the first of which would be the tinker, who modifies the guild artisan, who can use downtime to jury-rig traps and devices (cool!), while the urchin-variant beggar knows where to get basics and how to get by on less than a shoestring budget and also receives variant skill proficiencies.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no grievous hiccups in either formal or rules-language criteria. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard with gorgeous full-color artworks for all races. The pdf comes bookmarked with nested bookmarks.

 

The four horsemen’s 5e-specialist Dan Dillon, with additional design by none other than Kobold-in-chief Wolfgang Baur, delivers a thoroughly amazing collection of races herein. The totality of options here is balanced, evocative and flavorful, with roleplaying potential galore and mechanically unique, evocative components. The drawbacks, where present, are not crippling, but rather of the rpg-enhancing variety and the complete collection of critters ultimately can be considered to be better balanced than the PFRPG-iterations of the respective races, all without losing what makes them amazing in the first place. Add to that the cool and evocative backgrounds that do exactly what they should, namely help with the details of the characters in question, and we have a fantastic racial supplement, well worth of 5 stars + seal of approval. Midgard in 5th edition is shaping up to be even cooler than in PFRPG.

 

You can get these phenomenal races here on OBS!

 

Oh, and by the way: There is currently a kickstarter running with the goal of bringing more Midgard awesomeness to 5e AND expanding the available PFRPG Midgard material! You can (and should) check it out here!

Endzeitgeist out.

 

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Jan 312017
 

Mythic Mini: Feats of Agility

All right, you know the deal by now, right? 3 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD/editorial, 1 page content, so let’s go!

 

-Acrobatic Spellcaster: Replace concentration with Acrobatics when casting defensively. Also allows you to expend mythic power as part of spellcasting to also move. The move, even for mythic power expenditure, is very powerful and takes away one of the few balancing checks spellcasters still have. Also: There is a reason spellcasters don’t use a concentration skill in Pathfinder anymore. I can easily cheese Acrobatics very high. This one is not getting into my games, not even into the mythic ones.

 

-Careful Flyer: When flying at 1/2 speed, you gain a massive bonus vs. being checked or blown away and suffer less penalty due to high wind speeds. Expend mythic power to enhance skill check. Solid.

 

-Cat’s Fall: Take less damage from falls softened by Acrobatics and convert more falling damage into nonlethal damage. Use mythic tier for a bonus on the check. Solid.

 

-City Sprinter: Increases bonus and allows for mythic power expenditure for quicker movement via skills. Solid.

 

-Deft Catcher: Use feat as a free action and when used as an immediate action, you can add tier to the check. You may use it even while panicked, stunned, etc. (cool!) and may expend mythic power to avoid falling prone on a failure. Like it!!

 

-Owl Style: Less Stealth penalty when charging, eve less when flying. When catching a foe unaware thus, you don’t take charge’s AC-penalty and add the charge’s atk bonus to damage as well. Solid.

 

-Owl Dive: +1/2 tier to Acrobatics to move through enemy spaces. Use mythic power to temporarily get perfect maneuverability and if your charge ends at a lower place than it began, your charge will be more potent. Really cool one!

 

-Owl Swoop: No Acrobatics penalty while moving quickly. Also has an immediate action, mythic-power-costing parry built in. Okay.

 

-Sliding Dash: Numerical escalation – less AC-penalty, higher Acrobatics bonus. Nice: If you fail the Acrobatics-check, you may forego the attack to not provoke an AoO. if your Acrobatics-check’s really good, the target loses an AoO. Love this one!

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant hiccups. Layout adheres to Legendary Games’ two column full-color standard and it features the artwork on the cover; that’s it – the one page content is solely devoted to crunch. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

 

Jason Nelson and Alex Riggs deliver some nice feats here – while a couple only are numerical escalations and while I consider one to be OP; even for mythic gameplay, there are also some nice gems herein. In the end, this, to me, is pretty much a decent installment with some serious gems inside. Particularly Owl Style’s tree is pretty cool and so is Sliding Dash. Arkham series Batman, anyone? I digress. I will settle on a final verdict of 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4.

 

You can get these feats here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jan 312017
 

Mythic Mini: Intrigue Magic Feats II

All right, you know the deal by now, right? 3 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD/editorial, 1 page content, so let’s go!

 

-Extra Contingency: Cast two contingency spells that trigger simultaneously; cast two entirely separate contingency spells with separate triggering conditions or cast 3 contingency spells that use the same triggering condition, happening at 1/round. And we have an amazing must-have feat for pretty much every spellcasting adversary ever. Amazing!

 

-Fey Spell Lore: You gain the mythic versions of all spells granted by the feat and may prepare them as though you had Piercing Spell. Nice!

 

-Fey Spell Versatility: Gain all mythic versions of the spells granted by the base feat. You can also expend a number of mythic power equal to the level of a spell from this list you prepared to change it into another spell (and cast said spell’s mythic version!), but at the cost of no longer being capable of preparing the spell for which you exchanged it. A Willing fey ally provided, you may switch spells when preparing spells without having to expend mythic power.

 

-Fool Magic: Add 2x mythic tier to Disguide and UMD-checks to emulate other races and alignments for the purpose of bypassing nasty effects or handling items etc. VERY cool: For one mythic power, your Disguise detects as the new alignment; for 2 mythic power, your Disguise can actually let you count as another alignment for spell etc. purposes. Amazing one!!

 

-Gaze Reflection: When averting eyes, subtract twice mythic power from the percentile roll to determine whether you’re affected or not You may also expend one mesmerist trick to gain mythic tier rounds immunity to gazes. For two expended mesmerist tricks, you gain immunity AND reflect the gaze back at the creature, range 30 ft. Awesome!

 

-Read Spell Traces: Double the bonuses granted by the base feat; expend mythic power to automatically identify a spell from its aura and gain a rough estimate when it was cast. Nice for magical investigations!

 

-Sabotage Magic Items: When exceeding an item’s DC by 5 or more, you can render it cursed instead of magic it cause a mishap; UMD can be used o negate the curse. Via mythic power, you may roll thrice on the common curse table, choosing which you’ll take. Damn cool!

 

-Superior Scryer: Perception bonus by the base feat is increased and the save DC is similarly increased; however, it also lets you use a slew of spells through the sensor, which is pretty cool! As a minor and purely aesthetic hiccup – an “OA” that should be superscript isn’t.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant hiccups. Layout adheres to Legendary Games’ two column full-color standard and it features the artwork on the cover; that’s it – the one page content is solely devoted to crunch. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

 

Jason Nelson and Alex Riggs’ second array of intrigue magic feats is absolutely amazing – creative, evocative, with some seriously cool options, this once again transcends the use for mythic gameplay, offering scavenging potential galore beyond that. Well-crafted, creative and diverse, this is well worth 5 stars + seal of approval.

 

You can get these amazing feats here on OBS!
Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jan 302017
 

5e NPCs: Bullies and Brutes

This collection of NPCs clocks in at 44 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC (including challenge ratings), 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 38 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

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

 

The pdf covers a total of 18 characters, ready to be inserted into your game, which range from CR 1/2 to CR 18. Fans of the Tangible Taverns/Tavern Tales product-lines will notice some overlap regarding the NPCs, as for example Pie-Eating Pete or Tuffy Brokehaft make a reappearance herein – which can be considered to be a slight detriment for some – personally, I would have preferred an all-new cast, but considering that the vast majority of NPCs is new, I can live with that.

 

Speaking of which – in case you are not familiar with Dire Rugrat’s 5e-character design philosophy: Instead of making just numbers and replicating pre-existing abilities, one of the charming peculiarities in their books would be that characters do actually receive special, unique abilities. Beyond these, the characters each come not only with a statblock, but also with their own artwork – these either are hand-drawn or stock. Most, but not all characters herein also feature a word of advice in a small box on how to best use them.

 

Now, what type of characters can we find herein? Well, for one, e.g. Pie-eating Pete or Jaiblik Nibork would represent two characters best describes as, bingo, bullies – Pete’s signature ability, for example, lets him consume insane amounts of food, while Mr. Nibork is known for his incessant cursing and rambling, which can be pretty distracting for assailants.

 

These guys and a particularly cantankerous lady would be more on the semi-social side of things, but they are not the only characters herein – if you’re looking for an instant-villain, you’ll find the like herein. Take Lockjaw, the half-orc cannibal who can initiate grapples with his bite and who receives temporary hit points for biting foes. More ambiguous in use would be Butcher Bill, the dwarven headhunter, whose prickly spiked armor and expertise at shoving foes deserves mention.

 

Need a slaver? Hesssk Ta’Vaoren and his two worgs deliver just that -and there is more to the trio than meets the eye, for Hesssk not only is a master of the whip, he maintains also quasi-telepathic contact with them, making surprising them pretty hard. There would be a half-orc, wondering of what may have been and his fellow she-devil with a sword. There also is an enchantress-information broker with a mega-powerful way of maintaining control over dominated foes. There is also a corrupt guard captain (ironically named “shill”) and a half-elven, humans hating eco-terrorist ready to shed blood.

 

There would be a halfling enforcer with a fear-inducing reaction stare, who may not only break legs – her cold fury is something to witness. That being said, the ability diverges a bit from how 5e usually handles the like, providing a 3/day hard cap, instead of tying it to long rests, analogue to the barbarian’s rage feature. The powerful drow evoker Vreix Azztelle may pinpoint AoE spells to instead affect single targets and is pretty cool – however, if you’re very picky about this kind of thing, the character is missing the drow magic feature the race usually has. Aforementioned half-orc cad also does not have the usual relentless endurance feature. Now, it is pretty evident that such features were exchanged for others that fit the characters better, but depending on your stance on NPCs and racial features, it still is worth mentioning. In dubio pro reo – I will not hold that against the pdf.

 

However, where things become ever so slightly annoying from a reviewer’s perspective would be with the per se pretty cool Kel, the Blessed – a tiefling underboss with several nice, luck-themed abilities, whose hellish rebuke is noted as innate spellcasting, which does not include the note at what spell-level the spell is cast – a mostly cosmetic hiccup, but a blemish in one of the coolest characters herein. Seriously a nice character, though -and yes, I am nitpicking hard here.

 

Speaking of cool characters: Urden Shalespear, the dwarven herald of entropy, pretty much looks like the NPC-version of a class/archetype I have recently written and gets some cool tricks: Beyond an aura that brings desiccation and destruction, he is reborn in a bleak phoenix-like burst when slain—but pays a hafty price for this power. Oh, and he can tear open a devastating gate into nothingness, duplicating a new 9th-level spell featured herein. Slight complaint: The spell does not note for which classes it is appropriate. A suggestion would have been nice to see.

 

The final character herein, Lady Davia Belcouer, would be a powerful champion of the hells: With a sword of wounding, a powerful magical armor and the ability to behead foes with discernible heads, she also has no less than 3 legendary actions to negate crits or use Charisma-saves instead of others, making her a viable campaign-endgame adversary.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good – I noticed no significant hiccups in the rules-language and the pdf is similarly well put together in the formal department. Layout adheres to a pretty printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard and the pdf sports a solid piece of full-color artwork for each NPC – some are stock, but most are actual pieces drawn by the authors. The older pieces here do show that they have refined their crafted compared to the newer ones. Still, nice to see. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Kelly and Ken Pawlik’s collection of 5e adversaries is a pdf worth getting, let’s get that right out of the way. The price-point is pretty fair and the characters feel like actual characters. The lengths to which I needed to go to nitpick some aspects here should tell you something about this pdf, namely that it is a neat, well-made collection. The only truly relevant gripe I can field against this economically-priced, inexpensive collection would be the inclusion of previously-featured characters. Even if you take these away, the bang to buck ratio is still pretty neat, though – which is why my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.

 

You can get these NPCs here on OBS!
Endzeitgeist out.

Jan 302017
 

Bloodforge (revised edition)

This massive book clocks in at 98 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with a massive 93 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

So, the first race herein receives +… Wait. Wait a second. My usual in-depth analysis, piece-by-piece approach doesn’t work here. This is literally a huge book of races and if I go into that level of detail, we’ll be here come next Christmas-season. So, I’ll paint a picture in broader strokes than usual, all right? First, if you’re not 100% sure what this book is – this is essentially PFRPG’s update of 3.0’s Bastards and Bloodlines – a book much lauded for its creative race, but also somewhat notorious as one of the many, many ones in the 3.X era that had no idea whatsoever what this “Bahlenz”-thing is.

 

Speaking of this dreaded concept – the pdf does one thing right from the get-go: It ignores the flawed RP-guidelines established in the ARG in favor of an individual balancing, which I applaud. Each race comes with a short guideline as per name, appearance, demeanor, background and their relations to adventurers, with a handy table explaining the crossbreed-relationships. A massive age table and its corresponding height & weight-table also can be found herein, satisfying that pet-peeve of mine. The pdf begins by establishing the respective crossbreed subtypes featured within its pages, which is similarly helpful.

 

Another component of the racial design I generally can applaud would be the equilibrium of racial bonuses/penalties – most, though, alas, not all races herein receive a bonus to a physical and a mental attribute and one penalty, resulting in races that are not by their design geared towards specific career paths. It should also be noted that the pd thankfully avoids attribute-bonuses of more than +2 per the base racial traits. Another pet-peeve of mine (and many a DM out there), races that can fly at first level, also are thankfully absent here – instead, a two feat-chain that begins with slow-falling via vestigial wings and ends with proper flight, tied to HD when applicable and thus circumvents this issue. Excellent work there. I do have something I’d like to mention – the pdf always uses the phrase “X can see in the dark out to 60 feet.” for Darkvision. Something in me cringes when I read this sentence. It’s usually “up to” as a wording convention. Personal nitpick, though, and will not influence the final verdict.

 

Bastards and Bloodlines also did not have to deal with favored class options – which this massive book thankfully provides for quite a few of the classes, notably often also for Psionic classes, Akashic classes or Path of War classes. The minor hiccups in formatting previously present have been dealt with.

 

The races generally sport a couple of alternate racial traits for further customization (with e.g. the elf/unicorn-hybrid alicorn also coming with alternate racial traits for evil brethren…)and each race comes with full-color art – which represents one of the most poignant and immediate changes the revised edition featured: The previously at times needlessly cheese-cake artwork (and the couple of truly horror-inducing ones) have been replaced. While not all artworks adhere to the level of awesomeness featured on the cover, the majority of them actually now are amazing, high-quality pieces.

Movement rate-wise, we run the gamut from slow land speed 20 ft. to 45 ft. The respective races now all have their respective speed values for their movement rates properly codified and presented.

 

Before I go into the races: Please, read the whole review, don’t just abort after a few lines. Why? Because I went very nitpicky on this one, showcasing some of the issues the races sport and you might construe that as problematic – however, there are concepts herein that warrant close scrutiny beyond the races and the flaws I’m about to point out. So, please – at least read the conclusion. Thank you.

 

So let’s take a look at the races, shall we? These would be the elitist and proud hybrids of elves and giant eagles, the winged aellar – here, an interesting choice can be observed: Instead of providing Fly as a class skill via a racial trait, the race can opt into it via favored class options, many of which add the skill to the list alongside a bonus – though one that does feel a slight bit odd in the wording: “Gain Fly as a class skill and a +1/2 bonus.” is okay wording-wise, but could have been slightly more elegant. On the plus-side, skill-starved fighters instead receive a full +1 bonus per FCO – I applaud that!

 

Where I get grumpy is with the option to use the fly-skill in lieu of their Reflex save when flying. Skills can easily be buffed through the roof. On the less nitpicky side, I do love how the previously slightly opaque ability to deal additional damage when charging while airborne has been made more precise. Similarly, the cool option to decrease miss-chances due to sight-based obstacles etc. now is as crisp and precise as it should be – kudos for improving it.

Instead of vestigial wings, some aellar receive claws, which, I assume, follow the default damage values for the type and scale up to d6 later – why “assume”? Because the ability does not specify the base damage value, nor whether they are treated as primary or secondary natural weapons – yes, one can assume the default, but from a customer’s point of view the information still ought to be here, at one glance. This issue with natural weapons can be extended throughout the pdf, btw. The short fluffy write-up is inspiring and the revised edition, while still not perfect, is significantly improved.

 

So let’s move on to the aforementioned alicorn, the first of quite a lot of fey-themed crossbreed races herein – the signature ability here being that the alicorn can transfer damage, diseases and poisons and ability damage to herself. The ability was a horrific clusterf*** before and has been significantly improved. However, it still has no daily cap, just begging an alicorn player to come up with a way to cheese it. I do believe that this may be an oversight, though, for the similarly fixed evil variant that can instead push these upon others now does have a daily cap.

 

Blinklings, the blink dog/halfling hybrids, on the other hand, are awesome all-around- 3/day reactive concealment as an immediate action? Yes, please! Extending their sight to the ethereal? Utterly unique and cool – and has some neat narrative potential. Seriously, I love this race and its write-up!

The ability that nets a blurring effect while moving has been reigned in and now is balanced versus the core ability – as a nitpick, its referred spell is not italicized, but oh well.

 

Decataurs, Elf/Centaur-hybrids sport a base speed of 45 ft., which seemed odd to me and they ignore movement and skill-check penalties caused by difficult terrain – which seems excessive to me – why not provide a scaling mechanic here instead of downright immunity? though, to be fair, the provided caveat versus damage-causing terrain helps. On the plus-side, the rest of the race is pretty much the best centaur-like race I’ve seen in quite a while. I feel obliged to mention that as per the writing of this review, the errata has not been incorporated into this book. Yup, this unfortunately means that the revised edition of this book does not contain the errata’s information on hooves vs. feet. Oh, and as pretty much always (with ONE exception) when I review a centaur-ish race, I found myself shaking my head at the lack of notes regarding the handling of ladders and similar obstacles. On the plus-side, going for the 2-legged satyrkin alternate racial traits does alleviate this, so this kinda gets a pass.

 

The freedom-loving Dreigi, half-giants with an ancient grudge (against fey and chaotic outsiders) are flavor-wise one awesome piece of work, with an inspiring artwork etc. – but their massive scaling bonuses versus aforementioned creatures (+2 to saves, damage and atk, +1 more for every 4 levels), is too much in my book – though that one is easily scaled down, and it should be. Why? Because these guys get two damn awesome signature abilities: For one, their attacks count as cold iron; they may also create 1/day difficult cold-iron caltrop-y terrain. Secondly, they ignore the hardness of magical barriers and add their character level to damage versus them. Yes, this means they have a fighting chance versus walls of force and the like. I love this race and really would enjoy it more, had it not this one critical flaw that otherwise mars a superb example of race design – it’s also unnecessary, mind you, since the theme of pro-freedom/anti-enslavement also is reflected in quite a few other racial abilities.

 

You may have noticed something – no Tanis-syndrome race so far. And indeed, you will not find mopey, angsty half-breeds herein. Take the Grendle, combining the best of parent race and troll, these guys are hardy and charismatic – and heal as if they had rested every hour. Apart from an unnecessary and imho rather OP ability to demoralize foes at +2 as an immediate action after being hit (or first level AoE-demoralize), the grendle is stylish and works very well. Strange, considering the revisions made to the book: The alternate racial traits still feel confused: One mentions “increasing a morale bonus to Str to +4” – a morale bonus thankfully cut in this iteration of the book, thus leading me to believe that we have a remnant of a previous iteration here. The ability the trait references simply does not exist. On the plus-side, gaining swim speed, but requiring 1 hour submersion in water to benefit from their healing each day is a pretty cool alternate racial trait, as is gaining a climb speed, but also fire vulnerability.

 

Half-Gnolls are glorious – powerful, but lacking any issues (apart from once being called “It”, to which some gnoll-aficionados will vehemently object) – scent and claws plus pack hunting – exactly what you’d want and expect! Hunting down fleeing foes is also neat, though an ability that automatically deals bonus damage versus foes suffering from “a condition” should a) be more limited and restricted to the half-gnoll and b) once again, specify the damage type as belonging to the weapon used to execute the attack. Finally, since ranged builds already are pretty adept at the whole damage-dealing, I’d restrict the ability to melee – it’s called Born Predator, not “I shoot you from behind my allies.” 😉 Still, all in all, a great race, though the alternate traits can use some finetuning.

 

Speaking of finetuning – the half-goblinoids, while melee-centric, all can generally considered pretty cool – though again, the alternate racial traits and what they replace does not always match power-wise: What would you take: A +2 bonus to Perception and taking 20 for 30 ft x 30 ft as a full-round action or +8 (!!!) to Stealth and +4 (!!!) to Escape Artist plus the option to squeeze through tiny-sized areas? Yeah, the fast search is awesome – I like it. But I don’t see these two line up – the bonuses of the latter are too pronounced in my book; I’d cut them in half AT LEAST.

 

Half-hobgoblins still see better in the dark than their parent race (90 feet that pretty sure should be 60 instead…), but apart from that, both they and the half bugbears are pretty damn glorious! Also on the strong, but cool side, half-sahuagin may be slightly too well off on the winner’s end-side regarding bonuses, at least for my tastes, but in groups that sport powerful races, the will fit in perfectly. Thankfully, the previously rather ill-conceived 4-arjm option has been purged.

 

 

The Hexbreather, heirs to the dreaded hags, have some nice hex-related abilities in the base form and yep, the revised book does fix some minor hiccups, making me generally more than okay with the result. One alternate racial trait also refers to the cursed condition, now properly defined (reference to Path of War Expanded, fyi).

 

The half-nymph Houri are a gorgeous example (literally) of this book’s tricks – no issues, functional, versatile and unique signature abilities (debuff-beauty 1/day or friend to all animals…) -oh, and the new artwork rocks. The same can be said about the Kestrel – good, positive halfling/harpy-hybrids that use their powers for good- generally speaking, at least. The Kijin are the elf/oni crossbreeds and hit two rough spots for me – one, they have a per-encounter ability. You all know how much I love those. Secondly, they essentially cover the same niche as Rite Publishing’s wyrd – and the wyrd benefit from a much more detailed and for me, compelling, cultural background courtesy of the expanded room within they can operate – full pdf versus couple of pages. I don’t consider them perfect either, but in direct comparison, the wyrd are superior by a long shot. The same applies for the direct comparison of Rite’s take on the lurker versus the one herein, though again, I consider both to fall slightly short of what they could be.

 

Nevertheless, this pdf does manage an utterly admirable job at rendering the respective halfbreeds distinct and culturally unique – to the point where some of the brief fluff-write-ups actually captivated me enough to make me consider playing the half-breeds – and that coming from a guy who went out of 3.X with a distinct oversaturation regarding fiendish/celestial creatures and half-dragons as well as a distinct dislike for mopey halfbreeds. So yeah, this pdf can be considered inspired in that regard – from the roper/dwarf bio-weapons created by the phrenic hegemony to the love-conquers-all children of merfolk and men to the inspired and monstrous ornibus, suffused with the essences of howlers, the halfbreeds manage to avoid thematic redundancy.

 

And, if the above exercises in racial nitpickery were not ample clue for you – over all, they tend to be *almost* awesome – during my analysis, I regularly found myself enjoying myself and getting ready to write a recommendation for a race, only to have some ability overextend what I consider viable. It should be noted, however, that the revised version does eliminate a couple of the big issues.

 

Generally, about 1 ability among the racial traits, more often among the alternate racial traits, can be considered too strong and in need of nerfing – or its balancing versus its replacement feels like it is wonky, but there are similarly races that work well. To give you an example – both the ornibus and the half-satyr pipers can be considered generally well-crafted. Similarly, the ophidian halfbreeds rana now have a scaling trick that lets them expend their psionic focus for better disarming…and they increase their AC in each round where they manifested something, providing a nice, built-in flux. And yes, if that and the examples above were not clue enough for you – there is yet another thing I need to address regarding the races – and it’s a HUGE plus!

 

Know how the ARG-races tend to feel somewhat sameish? How many races are just a recombination of the same tools, again and again? Not so here – every race herein has at least one unique trick that sets it apart – a racial signature ability, if you wish. I *love* this general idea, if not always the execution of them. – the half-gargoyles may e.g. use their wings to take 1/2 damage of an adjacent ally – think of it as a limited, immediate action-based shield other and yes, the wording has been improved in the revised edition. It is an ability like this that really sets the race apart and makes it feel distinct – also in a mechanical way.

 

I have mentioned the tentacle-faced obvious heir to the half-illithids, haven’t I? Yeah. The woodborn, which are just the race for anyone who ever wanted to tackle playing Pinocchio? Yeah, awesome. Even better – an alternate racial trait that nets you an assassin vine symbiote that deals more damage on a grapple just oozes style and its wording has been similarly improved.

 

Winterwolf/Hellhound/Worg/humanoid half-breeds also deserve two thumbs up regarding their ability-suites.

 

Now this pdf does have more to offer than just a metric ton of half-breed races – namely templates – for bi/quadruped creatures, half-doppelgängers/medusas, half-elementals (!!!), half-rakshasas and also so-called titanblooded creatures – the templates are pretty solid all-around, with ample cool ideas and tools for mad scientists/transmuters to play with – nothing grievous to complain about here.

 

The book furthermore offers a distinct array of feats, most of which have the [heritage]-descriptor. The feats run a wide gamut: We have for example one that substitutes a mental attribute (Wis or Cha) for Con – which would make me yell – however, it is restricted to bonus hp, not all the saves – which does, surprisingly, work for me. The presence of the Feral Fighter-feat feels a bit odd – it nets you claws or a bite as appropriate for your creature type. Why don’t some of these races use this instead of the at times redundant or unnecessary-seeming amounts of natural weapons some receive? That would also put players agenda higher on the list. Bloodsong adept has thankfulyl been nerfed to now feature a cap -the feat allows you to use bardic performance only affecting your type/subtype, basically providing+1/2 your bardic performances additional performances as bloodsong performances that only affect your race. On the okay-side, there are multiple SP-granting feats and some that e.g. net grab to add to bites and tentacle attacks – not a fan of the latter, but that is personal taste.

 

Now on the other side, there is Mixed Blood, previously a feat, now a trait, which covers almost two pages and presents a wide variety of odd bloodlines/unlocked types. The re-evaluation here was well-made indeed, considering the ease by which it now can work in conjunction with various builds.

 

There also are 4 racially-themed PrCs – the brief run-down of them would be as follows:

 

The Bloodsong Heritor is the herald of his people – a solid, good bardic PrC with neat mechanics and not much to complain about – previously, its main issue did lie in the broken feat upon which it was built – now, it works and represents a nice PrC with unique performances that also include the expenditure of multiple rounds for interrupt-style effects while still maintaining the performance. Think of it as a less complex, much more limited and racially-themed take on what Interjection Games’ Composition magic does.

 

The Kith Hunter is an okay slayer-type 5-level PrC. Seen better, seen worse. The Kithlord can be considered a solid racial champion PrC with commander-style tricks/auras and even teleports at higher levels – okay, though I’d be wary of this PrC in a uni-race group – mostly great for NPC-adversaries. Also has per-encounter tricks, if that bugs you. The 5-level mongrel has the most choices among the PrCs, offering quite an ability-array to choose from and some rather unique bonuses – including ways of getting rid of ability damage by leeching off magic – nice one.

 

The book also sports a small selection of new spells, which can generally be considered among the more powerful examples available – they are not bad, mind you, but the option to e.g. have earthskin and stoneskin overlap may not fit well with some groups. That being said, spells that provide minor bonuses versus e.g. kobolds and goblins will not break anyone’s game. The spells are solid.

 

Finally, the book provides new magical items, including 4 new special abilities, one of which nets you a standard action in a surprise round for just the equivalent of +1…though you remain flat-footed. A +1 enhancement that bypasses the DRs of elementals and constructs essentially renders golems utterly useless at +1 enchantment – ridiculously OP and should be torn to smithereens. On the plus-side, conjuring forth a red blade of flame via bracers is pretty cool and the traveler’s backpack will be a favorite for most wilderness adventures. So, all in all, solid section with some winners and some that obviously require significant nerfing.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting in the revised iteration of this book have improved and taken care of the most glaring of issues. There are some minor deviations still here, but nothing too glaring. Layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press’ two-column full-color standard and the pdf has copious full-color artworks – the revised edition’s artworks are pretty amazing for the most part and render this a beautiful book. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and the file comes witha second, more printer-friendly iteration.

 

You may have gotten a wrong impression from this review – I actually like this book.

 

No, really. I was honestly positively surprised by this pdf.

 

The signature abilities provided for the races, the unique, non-redundant fluff and the overall balancing of the races is great. No, really, I mean it. Alas, even in the revised iteration, this book is also the very definition of flawed – almost every race had either a wording hiccup or one ability that just went beyond what would be considered balanced in all but high-powered tables. Essentially, I could play “look for the bit that’s too strong” with a huge array of races I otherwise loved – races that feel more organic and viable than they have any right to, provided the limited room they each have. So let me state this again:

 

This is a good book; in the revised version, it is a good to very good book.

 

The thing is, it could have easily been an OMG-HOW-AWESOME-IS-THAT-book. Perhaps I expected too much from the revised version of this tome. Matt Medeiros, Jade Ripley and Andreas Rönnqvist have ultimately crafted a massive racial book that has been streamlined and improved SIGNIFICATLY since its previous iteration. It is, as a whole, vastly superior to the previous version of bloodforge (still available as per the writing of this review as a .zip included among the downloads).

 

I can see people hating and loving this book. The rules-language of the revised version has significantly improved, and similarly the big, really bad hiccups are all cleared up; the issues that remain are the small ones. I’d still only recommend it unsupervised for high-powered games, but the chance that a GM can say “yes” to this book as a whole has increased by approximately +40%, at least as far as I’m concerned. The races do feel iconic, they can be cleaned of the problematic bits and a capable DM can adjust them with relative ease to a lower power-level, if such is required. Oh, and they, and that cannot be under-emphasized, do not suffer from the sucky bloat of skill-enhancer racial traits (Get +2 to Skill A and B) that hound so many races since the ARG, instead providing something unique.

 

How to rate this, then? See, this is where I was frankly disappointed on a high level: When I saw the new cover, heard about the changes made, I was stoked and downright excited to see the final book, hoping I’d be able to praise it to the high heavens. I hereby do praise it – it represents a SIGNIFICANT improvement in both balance and aesthetic quality as well as rules-language precision. This does net the book +1 star, rating-wise. There still are some hiccups in the details here, though – and some aspects still need nerfing as far as I’m concerned. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars for the revised edition. Whether you round up or down is contingent on how picky you are regarding wording and, more importantly, the power-level of your game: High-powered groups will want to definitely round up, while gritty groups may want to round down. As a person, I will round down, but as a reviewer, I do have my in dubio pro reo policy, which means my official verdict will round up.

 

You can get this now significantly improved racial book here on OBS!

 

You can directly support Dreamscarred press here on patreon!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jan 272017
 

Miscellaneous Musings: EZG in the US Part IV

Heya, everyone!

 

In case you missed it, here is part I!

Here is part II!

Here is part III!

 

Since someone asked – I did not tweak the colors or anything in the pictures, just tried to crop folks who did not want their likeness on the internet.

 

All righty, that out of the way, let’s begin!

 

I have already gushed and rambled on about the vast inspiration and consolation I drew from deserts while in the US – how the sheer width, the grand vastness and beauty of the desolations provided a sense of an enlightened perspective hard to convey with mere words.

 

Said perspective was infinitely expanded when we arrived, after a long drive, at the Petrified Forest national park. Situated in the midst of nowhere, it sported several characteristics I immensely enjoyed. First of all, the relatively remote location and subdued publicity the national park receives meant that there were few other tourists – to be more precise, there was a distinct absence of the annoying, constantly babbling and screaming type of tourist that seems to be afraid of silence of contemplation.

 

More important, however, would be the beauty this place offered and its transcendent quality: The massive logs of petrified wood, impressive on their own, shone like gigantic gems in the blazing sun – and once you settled, stopped gawking, you could just stand there – and hear the wind whipping over the sand and shrubs, continuing, unimpressed by human presence, the grand work that unearthed these wonderful monuments.

More than that, this place, by virtue of its tangible temporality, added a chronological sense of context to the sheer vastness of the landscape – Each and every one of these massive trees had seen more years than we could ever fathom and conceivably grasp, their existence measured in million years, when our feeble minds can scarcely grasp the vast time-frame of a millennium. Standing there, amidst this gorgeous and blazing product of our planet, amid this impressive, mind-blowing openness, confronted with the sheer endlessness of our world, I was frankly dumbstruck and none of my futile words to describe the impact of this place can come close to describing what I have witnessed there.

 

Never before have I had such a tangible, gorgeous metaphor as a place to represent my world-view. Some of you may know that I am an atheist; that does not mean I begrudge anyone his or her religion. I will not belittle anyone and I will in fact defend you and your beliefs from attack, provided said beliefs do not promote ignorance, hatred, the restriction of rights of others or a proper education. In fact, it is my conviction that religions can provide a tremendous amount of solace, comfort and support, and I believe that they serve an important role in the context of our species’ evolution.

Usually, it’s not the religion that’s at fault, but rather the institutions and people that use it to their own malicious ends. Similarly, considering the observer effect, I am not disinclined towards anyone sending good vibes or prayers my way. While I don’t subscribe to the common misconception of the observer effect being based on a conscious mind, I do believe in human behavior being complex and determined by a myriad of factors beyond our current state of knowledge – the more positive one’s reception in the world, the higher is the chance that, by some way, one is treated well. You could call it a collective unconscious karma, if you’re spiritually inclined. This does not change, alas, that I don’t have a believer’s bone in body. What I’m trying to say is, in Julian Barnes’ immortal words “I don’t believe in God, but I miss him.”

 

Where am I going with this? At one point, I came to hold the conviction that basically all is futile and bereft of any global meaning in the grand scale of things – but where most people would consider this nihilism (and they’d be correct to an extent), my conclusions drawn from this epiphany vastly diverged from the depression usually associated with such a world-view. You see, to me, it was a matter of perspective: This may relativize anything I ever do or achieve into meaninglessness, but so will it eliminate all the pain and suffering I may experience or unintentionally cause.

 

If you ever found yourself in a similar mindset, looking at everything that way may provide solace – I certainly hope so. Just know that this realization does not exempt anyone from establishing an ethical context, a proper perspective. Anyways, in the petrified forest, amid the murmuring wind, in this vastness of both spatial and chronological proportions, these massive, multi-colored gleaming trees represented to me the perfect image for the beauty of the vastness, of one’s existence as not even a fraction of the grand eye in the sky. The wonderful gleam of what was once plant-material made me contemplate all of us being stardust, eternal, reconfigured in some way and ultimately, beautiful.

It is my fervent belief that the one reason this park is not better known, lies in the inability or unwillingness to stop. Be silent. And think. If anything, I was both sad and relieved that we couldn’t spend a night there – if you added the vast, starry sky to the fray, I may have never wanted to leave the place. Still, this is as close to a religious experience as I’m liable to get and it is my ardent hope that I managed to properly convey that to you. Past gorgeous and multi-colored rock-formations in the painted desert, we drove on – towards Albuquerque.

 

Why? Well, to get off my pseudo-philosophical soapbox, the reason is quite profane: I like Breaking Bad. A lot. There. Profane. Mundane. When we arrived in Albuquerque in the night, our place to stay was nice and the next day, we checked out the *STILL* tourist-swamped old town and did our own private sightseeing tour. It’s amazing – if there is anything Americans have perfected, it’s making money out of something. The whole Breaking Bad-tourism-industry is pretty hardcore. It did leave me with a sour taste in my mouth, though – Walter White’s house is privately owned and the poor people had to put up signs, locks, etc. to keep people from throwing pizzas on the roof. Not cool. On the plus-side, I found a great little bookstore, which was run by an 83-year-old gentleman, with whom I talked for about 2 hours. I also got a respectable and well-researched book on Diné mythology, including, but not limited to the Diné Bahane’. Oh, and in a comic book store there, I finally found about half of the missing Savage Sword of Conan books that were pretty much my sidequest for the trip!

 

But we only had one day planned for the city, so we ended up leaving after a long day – to drive towards Santa Fe. To give you an update on our planning and where it colossally failed: We grossly overestimated the price of gasoline. I mean, seriously – gas in the US is dirt cheap. Even cheaper than we figured it would be. And the cars go a lot longer on one tank. At the beginning of our trip, we were pretty paranoid regarding the tank and the vast stretches of road we’d have to cover – that vanished pretty soon. A full tank for the massive car we had clocked in at around $40. That is ridiculous from my perspective. That’s what you pay for half a tank of a car of the size of a Mini-Cooper here. If you’d fill up a car of this size in Germany, you’d pay €100+. Euros, mind you.

 

So that would have been a great help to our shoestring budget…but, alas, there was this other aspect which we grossly underestimated: Places to sleep are ridiculously expensive. First, we told ourselves that this was just California…but the longer we drove, the more states we saw, the sooner did we realize that we would never find a good place to sleep for less than $100 a night, not via AirBnB, not in motels. Call me naive, but in Europe, you can find nice, minimalist places to stay for €40. So yeah, our budget was crashing fast. Hence, we decided to sleep in a motel in Santa Fe – not the cheapest, but a relatively cheap one.

 

Big frickin’ mistake. When we arrived, we saw some folks in the parking lot, sitting around, shuffling like the walking dead. We were tired, so we went to the room. It had metal grating on the windows. Indentations in the walls, which looked like the result of blunt instruments. The night was defined by police sirens every couple of minutes. The wall below one of our windows had a bullet removed from it. (I really wished I had failed my Perception-check there.) My girl-friend was pretty much panicked all night, but we had no options. I am not an easily scared person – in fact, I am afraid of abstract things, much more so than tangible ones. That evening was tough on even me. When I went outside, one time, to have a final smoke that evening, a guy came over to me and asked for one and I was glad I had one – broken teeth, meth sores…it looks like we had ended up in junkie-ville. Amazing.

 

We got up at 4 AM and got the hell outta dodge, towards the city – which did not really make up for the night. The breakfast was nice, but for the first time in the US, I felt distinctly unwelcome there. Everyone kept eyeing us as though we were some psychos. The shops were all incredibly overpriced and there seemed to be no one there who could afford the goods – I did not see a single customer in all the shops we visited. What I did see, however, was an open office, where a muscular, bald man with huge golden rings was wearing a black suit, while resolutely talking to someone – he looked basically like Wilson Fisk IRL. Perhaps I was sensitized by the night, but the selling point, the “being somewhat like Mexico” didn’t impress me either – having been to Mexico, it felt like a ripoff. On the plus-side, I managed to get even more Conan-comics and had almost completed my collection. I am cognizant that Santa Fe is bound to have some amazing places and I don’t judge the city for what I’ve seen there, but more so than the horrible night, the treatment we received there was, at least compared to literally EVERYWHERE ELSE in the US, very unwelcoming.

 

When we left the city, it was only noon, so to give you an inclination of what I mean: We drove towards the South and, in the middle of nowhere, found a gas station that looked like it came straight out of the 40s/50s. The people inside were obviously friends all, chatting on an old sofa. This is NOT meant as a disparaging remark or slur, but from dust-covered clothes to accents and cars, they were obviously hardcore rednecks. My girl-friend was pretty afraid of them, but I’ve always held the conviction that just being open-minded opens a lot of doors – and since I was absolutely puzzled on how to operate the gas station (turns out you had to press a portion that had no button or anything like that!), I asked. And oh boy, were these awesome folks – kind-hearted, open, nice and helpful. In my semi-sleep-deprived brain, I forgot to close the tank and one of them drove after us and told us. Now THAT is doing the right thing. Really amazing folks. If, by coincidence, some of you read this – my hat’s off to you. Never judge a book by its cover. That would never, in a million years, happen in Germany.

 

Similarly, when we finally arrived in Alamogordo, the folks there were once again courteous, kind and open – and from there on, we had to check out the next National Monument on our list: White Sands. I wasn’t even aware of its EXISTENCE until I started researching…and oh boy. It is, once again, one of the places that literally smite you with their beauty. A vast area of white dunes of gypsum crystals, balm to bare feet (at least when not fluid-drenched – then, they become hard) – you see, gypsum is water-soluble, but the Tularosa Basin containing it is enclosed, preventing the gypsum from draining.

 

Honestly, i can do only so much. If you really want to realize the beauty of this gorgeous white desert, do a quick google image search. This place looks, quite literally, out of this world. When Joshua Tree was how my kid brain thought Mars would look like, then it similarly had visions of stars even further away, where strange plants rose from endless, soft white dunes. If you’re writing for anything fantastic or scifi-related and want to witness something truly inspiring, go there. Once again, the vastness of the horizon is intimidating and exhilarating, as white, bleached earless lizards scramble on the dunes.

 

And if you want some fun, take a plastic saucer, wax it and slide down the dunes. It actually works and can add some additional enjoyment, while you walk over this transcendent landscape. Like Iceland’s black sands mirrored, the whole atmosphere here seems almost like the diametrical opposite – like two sides of the same amazing coin. How beautiful is this? Well, I’ve got a 360°-photography of the place on my phone.  Just taking it out alleviates any stress I feel and makes me almost feel the soothing breeze, the clouds passing by. Oh, and guess what – the place becomes even more beautiful in the evening and night, at least when the sky’s not too cloudy.

 

Why? The light of moon and stars illuminates the white desert and generates a surreal panorama that completely takes you off of planet earth. This was, you guessed it, once again a place that stunned me, one I need to revisit in the future. This is a phenomenal gem. I didn’t find any glass from the trinity site for sale anywhere, but still – there are few experiences as mind-blowingly transcendent as this one. And yes, I am aware that I’m throwing superlative upon superlative around – but honestly, I don’t get why this is not better known – in Europe, it’s practically unknown and in spite of being unique IN THE WHOLE WORLD, it isn’t one of the well-publicized American natural treasures either. Wandering on these dunes, feeling the breeze and the silky-smooth sand beneath my feet, I experienced pure joy.

The next day, however, would feature one of the longest drives of the whole trip – over 600 miles in a day, from Alamogordo to Denton, Texas, where I was scheduled to meet up with one of my friends and long-time supporters. Oh boy. This drive was per se one thing – boring. But instead of describing the endless hours (we arrived pretty late and I’m glad, Chad managed to still meet us!), let me go on a brief tangent regarding driving culture in the US. People drive, as a whole, very passively and considerate. Heck, even in San Francisco and L.A., I never felt unfomfortable or stressed while behind the wheel. The roads in the US are HUGE and the option to use the breakdown lanes are huge. Heck, on some roads, you can comfortable fit two cars per lane! That puts the “Oh yeah, I drove 6 hours to see my friend!” statements by Americans into perspective. For my US-readers: Driving in Europe is NOT like that, particularly not in Germany. Speed limits exist, but are routinely and grossly ignored. If you drive according to speed limits on some roads, it’ll only be a matter of time before someone starts honking or tries to overtake you. And Munich or Berlin, traffic-wise, are infinitely more stressful than aforementioned US-metropolises – you’ll take longer in the US to get through these juggernauts, but at least people tend to drive considerately and not like psychos.

 

Well, that’s what I thought. When we crossed the Texan border, something happened. And people started driving like Germans. Speed limits? Exist, but let’s ignore them. Construction sites? Utterly confusing. Up until this point, I was overtaken exactly ONCE in a risky manner during our whole trip. And only because I wanted to guy to drive past. You basically had to force the guys to drive past. Not so in Texas, no siree! Our stay in Denton was amazing, though: The hospitality, friendliness and amazing gifts I received blew my mind: Chad, once you’re reading this – I’m so humbled and happy to count you among my friends. You taking us to this amazing used-book-store, to the candy store…everything was great. Thank you! And we *WILL* meet again! I will come again to the US!

 

Now, our plan was to go to Austin on the next day, so when we said goodbye to my friend, we began driving. Well. We encountered the most atrocious, nerve-grating, mind-numbing and utterly soul-crushing gridlock I have ever endured. No movement for ages. Nothing happens. When we finally reached an exit ramp after more than6 hours and less than 20 miles progress…it turned out to be just a loop towards a construction site…that led straight back into the gridlock from hell. Oh, and our gas was running low. After 8 hours, we were hungry and tired and finally managed to get off the damn highway. Thoroughly frustrated, I thought I could drive the roads towards our stop for the night, idyllic Wimberley. Hahaha. It is here that my nerves started to fail me. People kept driving at obscene speeds on curving roads that had no median strip. I was utterly exhausted when we finally arrived and fell asleep straight away. Wimberley, while nice, did turn out to be geared more towards senior citizens, so off we went to Galveston – after all, New Orleans would be the final destination of our trip and we’d have a nice thematic connection there!

 

On our way, we also engaged in one of the culinary highlights of our trip: Lockhart. Oh my gosh. If any of you who met me at Gencon remember one thing in a culinary context, it’ll be the crazy Kraut gushing on and on about how glorious the barbecue is in the US and how you can’t get decent ribs in Germany. Well, I have NEVER EVER SEEN A PROPER RIB before. If you can find good ribs around here, it’s babyback ribs. In Lockhart, I had this HUGE chunk of MEAT. Delicious, amazing meat. Better yet: An array of hot sauces to properly spice things up. People gave us the strange eye first, but once I started mixing the naga jolokia with habanero sauces for a more versatile kick, we immediately had conversation topics – which brings me to another point. People had basically told me several horror stories about Texans. These, at least as far as I’m concerned, proved contrary to my experiences. If anything, the people seem to be a hard breed, but extremely cordial once you get around to talk to them properly.

 

One example: My girl-friend is really into scented candles and, much like all goods, the US has a vast array you can’t get hereabouts. When we stopped at one shop, we kept talking to the very kind lady there – and in the end, she gave us her MASSIVE employee discount. Just because we had a nice talk. I don’t know if that’s a completely strange occurrence, but I encountered similar generosity  multiple times during our trip Something like that will never, ever happen in Europe. You can count yourself lucky if they let you keep the change. Seriously. It’d be a once-in-a-year-occurrence, tops. Getting a free 60%-discount? Never gonna happen. Galveston wasn’t too remarkable as far as I’m concerned – but the inexpensive and eccentric  pseudo-Victorian house there, where we even got smores and had a firepit, was a nice way of regenerating one’s nerves.

 

On the next day, we were off to Louisiana – and basically everyone whom we told about our final destination was fear-mongering regarding New Orleans. I was pretty positive that would not be an issue, but I was more skeptical regarding the back country. If you, at least around here, hear about “hardcore, crazy Christians” and “reddest-or-the-red-we-don’t-like-folks-like-you-round-here”-stereotypes, it’s this state we think about. That being said: We crossed the border…and people suddenly stopped driving like Texans…Hmm…perhaps that’s due to so many German families in Texas? No idea. Anyways, driving over the massive highways of Louisiana was an experience in and of itself: Raised above the endless bayou, I was absolutely blown away by the beauty of this land.

 

Our only stop before New Orleans would be Nottoway plantation, since my girl-friend wanted to stay at least once in one. And let me tell you – the guide was amazing. The same cannot be said, alas, about the food. We figured we’d go for a good, proper dinner to soak in the landscape. The restaurant was overpriced, my meat was overcooked and dry and not worth a single buck – back to back with Lockhart’s culinary delights, that represented a stark disappointment. While reserved, people were also quite friendly, in spite of us being two goths.

 

After checking out several plantations en route, we finally arrived in New Orleans. At this point, however, pretty much everyone had told us how ostensibly dangerous the place was, which proved to be a constant stressor for my girl-friend, one I could not really alleviate and one that is not in any way grounded in any real experience. Okay, it is kind of understandable – we had a really amazing place in North Rampart street, which used to have a bad reputation. That being said, there is one cardinal rule in New Orleans: “Don’t be a dick.” It’s simple as that.

Now New Orleans would have not been half as amazing without George “Loki” Williams. In case you were not aware of that – he is not only a gifted author of RPG-supplements, he also hails from one of the city’s oldest families, is a tour guide and has a sheer endless and encyclopedic knowledge of both the city’s history, both public and private and its mythology: He is also an amazing gentleman and scholar who redefined hospitality, pointing us towards amazing places to dine on our by then none-existent budget. New Orleans is great. If you’re even remotely extroverted, if you love walking through the streets while glorious music lines the alleys, if you love breathing in a sense of thoroughly unique culture, then this city will steal your heart. Occult bookstores on every corner, including academic books by proper scholars on mythology (as opposed to the standard fare), amazing hot sauces, the best seafood I ever had for almost-fast-food-prices…

New Orleans is glorious and polarizing – you either get it, or you don’t. In my best Kyle McLachlan-impression: “Damn good coffee” as well – the best I had outside of Vienna. There is color and culture everywhere, from the bars to the musicians. In every part of the French corner, history looms. Oh, and the mentality in New Orleans was similarly amazing: We for example visited a museum, where the old lady (and I mean lady – stylish, pearl-necklace, etc.) that served as cashier and curator told me about several books that really provide well-researched insight – and when I told her, our budget was depleted, she gave us free access and let me even photograph the books, telling me to get them via amazon. Where else can you walk into a diner and have the people behind the corner and in the kitchen just sing and provide clapping entertainment and good-natured ribbing? That being said, if you’re an introvert or a scaredy-cat, I can see the city being very much to take in. New Orleans feels like a gloriously anarchist counter-culture haven to me, where all kinds of art are ever-present. At this point, I’d also like to extend my sincere thanks to Desirée for showing us some gems of the city.

Still, I have never learned more in a more entertaining manner than in George “Loki” Williams’ tours. You see, I have taken a lot of tourist tours in cities like Venice, Prague, etc. – they either end up force-feeding you tourist-legends and semi-true crap or end up as horribly dry, but accurate. George’s tours entertained us from start to finish and clearly distinguished fact and fiction, history and mythology. Oh, and have I mentioned the “Tree of Life” (Étienne  de Boray Oak)? The fact that I actually saw an alligator in a Bayou excursion organized for us? From the delightfully twisted LaLaurie-legends to voodoo and the murder museum, a sense of the both lighthearted and macabre, of old world mixing with the new, of cultures fusing, suffused the whole city. It is an absolute and total shame we could not spend even more time here – I am absolutely in love with this city and it made, alongside San Francisco, a phenomenal bookend to the whole trip.

 

(Btw.: This is the company that features George’s amazing tours!)

Now, I should write a conclusion. The US is an amazing place. At least what I’ve seen so far and I am very cognizant of the fact that I haven’t even scratched the surface. I’d gladly and happily return to every place we visited (though to Santa Fe only with a local as a guide…). The American people we encountered, for the most part, are absolutely amazing, open and hospitable. Similarly, in a land this defined by hyper-capitalism, it was refreshing to see, at least on a personal level, interactions to be this amazing, open and kind – my impressions at Gencon were pretty much confirmed during the trip. I was pretty surprised to not encounter a single negative statement or persecution for my long hair, black nails and black clothes during my stay in the supposedly intolerant areas. Then again, I’m white. Cheesy, white-bread white. That may be a reason, at least if I believe the black and native American folks I talked to. Which brings me to an interesting observation: The media has used the slogan to call the US a divided nation.

 

This, at least partially, seems to be true. While I did not encounter, surprisingly, any negative stereotypes regarding Germany or Germans, there are ample of negative stereotypes among Americans. Heck, even people North and South California seemed to be incapable of not ribbing the other part…and that’s state-internally. There seem to be a lot of negative things to say about one another, which, to an extent, was puzzling to me. While we have stereotypes in Europe and internal disputes (Call a Scot and Englishman or a Franconian a Bavarian and you’ll get where I’m coming from), I was pretty surprised to hear how critical Americans tend to be towards their own nation and states. Then again, to an extent, the cultural differences do exist, but they seem to be based on mentality and an intangible conglomerate of perceived values, rather than direct and glaring cultural differences. The language’s the same. The goods are the same…etc. And I’m not saying that states should give up their individual identity – it’s the United STATES for a reason…I’m just saying that I was somewhat surprised to hear this  much internal negativity. More so, since, when I asked whether a person had been to X, Y, or Z, the answer, more often than not, was “no.”

 

Which brings me to my closing words – there is nothing that eliminates prejudice, hatred and preconceptions as quickly and thoroughly as traveling. I have not even started to scratch the surface of this thoroughly amazing nation and its mind-boggling natural and cultural treasures, of its amazing cuisines and diverse, kind people.

 

Ultimately, it is my hope that these travelogues perhaps inspire someone out there to take a car and drive. Soak in the vastness and beauty of this nation and appreciate all the joy of America the Beautiful – in the face of such beauty, such sheer scope, it is inconceivable to me how one can retain negativity or a narrowed perspective. One look at the rich diversity of landscape and people, when seen by an open mind that tries to rid itself of preconceptions, can by virtue of the road, ever-present perfect metaphor for the journey, see the dazzling, enriching diversity of a nation built on acceptance, tolerance and a vision worthy of its natural and cultural splendor. A nation not built on prejudice and fear, but by courage and idealism. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” – in the immortal words of Emma Lazarus.

 

Beyond that door lies the road, just as gleaming; the fresh air, bereft of the miasma of routine, sends its breezy wisps forth as it calls with its promises of adventure, of new impressions that are worth more than any accumulation of money. The road is beckoning. The wheel in the sky is turning and paints the world in colors most gorgeous. If you have the chance, take a breather. Drive. See. Perhaps you’ll see what I did. More likely, you’ll see different things, experience a whole different nation, have different connotations. That’s the beauty of it – the beauty of both the land and the conditio humana.

 

Thank you for reading these.

I remain, as always, your Endzeitgeist.

 

P.S.: Next time, I’ll talk about Nazis, being German and why I’m not comfortable with media exploitation of the trope.

 

P.P.S.: If you feel inclined to and enjoy my review and posts, please consider supporting my patreon here. It’s literally what keeps the lights on.

 

Jan 272017
 

Dispatches from the Raven Crowking Vol. III: Building the Sandbox (DCC)

The third collection of essays on game design by Daniel J. Bishop, intended primarily, but by far not exclusively, for the DCC RPG, clocks in at 58 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 54 pages of content, though it should be noted that this book’s layout is intended for A5 (6” by 9”)-booklets and, as such, you can fit up to 4 of these pages on one sheet, provided your eyesight is good.

 

Please read the whole review, not just a paragraph or two. This is going somewhere.

 

All right, so…the topic is the sandbox and the author begins, wisely, I might add, given how opinionated we RPG-folks tend to be, with a subjectivity-clause: This pdf and its essays represent opinions and *one* way of dealing with the theme of the sandbox – this does not mean it’s the only way, but yeah. It also helps if you’ve read Dispatches Vol. I, wherein the importance of choices and consequences was discussed – why? because frankly, the sandbox *IS* the result of saying yes to choices and consequences. Before we dive in, let me add my own subjectivity disclaimer: While it is in the nature of a review, that it is an subjective opinion, this one is more subjective than most and my criticism herein is offered in the spirit of discourse, not with the claim of owning a monolithic truth.

 

A sandbox is an attempt to create a breathing world, one that is not beholden to a given plot of a sequence of adventures; a simulation, if you will – you generate the playing field and contemplate how xyz reacts to various impulses and then throw your PCs in. It is how I’ve ran pretty much all of my campaigns. This obviously does mean that there is more preparation, or at least, consideration, involved in making a sandbox: After all, you have to create (or improvise) more than just the sequence of places the PCs stumble through on their railroad…but this endeavor is very much rewarding, s it can generate truly magical moments.

 

This does NOT mean that the sandbox has no plot, mind you – quite the contrary: At any given time, only your mind and capability to juggle them is what counts. If the PCs don’t want to get involved in that brewing war between kingdom A and B, it’ll still happen – just without them. In short: The sandbox does not revolve around the PCs, but rather turns on its own. This also means that a proper sandbox takes off the stupid CR-restrictions (if employed as restrictions, not as guidelines) popularized in many games in favor of, tie in Vol I, choice and consequence- if your PCs are dumb enough to challenge the old wyrm at level two, they deserve being killed. Similarly, just because they have level 5 does not mean that they should waltz, staves blazing, into your game’s equivalent of Mordor.

 

We’re coming full-circle here – the determinant of any sandbox game is not ONE plot, but the player’s DECISION to follow one of the multitude of plotlines that happen at any given time. So far, the reasoning of the pdf is, as far as these aspects are concerned, flawless. It’s a democracy of choice within the realm where the GM is the absolute ruler.

 

At the same time, the subjectivity clause is well-deserved, for ultimately, these well-construed and -reasoned points do unfortunately intersect with what I’d consider a classic case of preaching to the choir and the advent of opinionated gaming where you tell groups they or their system are doing it wrong. You see, I do agree that the lack of choice inherent in linear storytelling formats like APs *can* be stifling. I do not agree with the notion, however, that whether or not they are wholly rests on the shoulders of a great GM-narrator. Similarly, “skirmishing games”, as an aside towards rules-heavy games, are not by definition opposed to the very notion of a sandbox. To deconstruct a couple of theses herein: The pdf claims that a system matters for sandboxing. This is, indeed, true to a certain extent – the less preparation a given combat encounter or social scenario requires, the easier it gets. However, this does not mean that it’s hard or impossible to do so. It may require marginally more work, but ultimately boils down to a GM’s willingness and creative muscles. Similarly, there are ample COLOSSAL sandboxes out there for rules-heavy games – one look at Frog God Games’ library would for example yield several monstrously large sandboxes that represent massive rebuttals.

 

That being said, if you define sandbox as a whole world as opposed to an adventuring region, no matter how large it is, then a sandbox cannot be contained in any published module due to the constraints of any given product – this fallacy is rebutted later, thankfully. Under such a perspective, it is up to the GM (or judge, or referee, or…) to take a world and litter it with adventure – but when such a definition is used, the whole argument of pre-packaged modules not working, no matter their structure, has rendered itself ad absurdum.

 

Nevertheless, there is a truth here, no matter the barbs towards certain systems – namely that, by virtue of the limitations of space and popularized formats of pre-existing modules, many publishers and authors have started designing in a very video-game-y manner. Scene A -> Combat -> Talk -> Transition -> Scene B. That is the railroad. That is a lack of player-choice, and very often one that sports a distinct lack of interaction options. It is pretty much what disillusioned me regarding many video games and made me go pen and paper in the first place. However, it is not a design aesthetic that is INHERENT to any system – it is, instead, a design CONVENTION that many authors elect to follow. No matter how complex a game’s rules are, you *can* always make a sandbox. The ability to do so does not rely on the system. Note that the pdf does not claim it does, but heavily implies as such.

 

Point 2 is that sequential, prepackaged campaigns are similarly not necessarily anathema to a sandbox – there are examples of very free-form ones out there; but beyond that, the validity of the point the author makes here is subverted by one guiding principle of his own philosophy – player choice. See, if the players encounter, for example, module #1 of an AP, elect to start playing it…and then abandon its plot halfway through to do something else, then that is their CHOICE. If they are intrigued enough to follow the plot to module #3 and then abandon it, then that’s their choice as well – it’s not a question of the structure of a system or its conventions for module design, it’s an issue reliant on the GM saying yes to their freedom of choice and preparing accordingly. Now the slightly schizophrenic aspect here is that, in the partially well-justified criticism of sequential adventure formulae, the book later (down in the DCC-section) concedes exactly this point – that published modules, with all their limitations, do not necessarily destroy a sandbox – basically, the tune changes completely and becomes inclusive. Now, I get it. The issue the author fields it that railroady campaigns are the problem – when the campaign is all the world. Railroady single modules are okay, though. Here’s the thing, though – no one forces a group to stick to one campaign and a campaign consists of…modules. Again, it boils down to convention of how a GM looks at the material available, not the formula of presentation – whether that’s a hex-crawl or an AP.

 

Let me, at this point, quote one of the most beautiful sentences of genuine wisdom this offers, one that may well be worth getting this: “Present me with a word. If I want to change it, I will.”

 

This sentence is absolutely amazing. It is poignant and glorious and something every GM ever should always bear in mind. In the face of such wisdom and beauty, it is my contention that the arguments fielded in the beginning are slightly lost in the opinionated way they’re presented here, when looking at it neutrally may have not yielded the same cheers from fans of the respective rules-lite systems, but would have yielded the more stringent impact. Chances are, that the GMs who were bound to benefit the most from this gem and the enlightened stance taken later in the pdf may have put the file away at this point, with the proselytizing in favor of certain systems detracting from the appeal of those most in need of the guidance herein.

 

The task here is not to praise system a) for qualities, which are entirely subjective, not to bash system b), whose merits and flaws are similarly subjective and a matter of taste. The point is that the CONVENTIONS of how modules are presented and a lack of consciousness for their limitations and downsides, for their meta-structure, are what governs an inability to properly sandbox more than a rules system ever could.

 

I’ve already talked about the sequential AP-formula; so, while I do adore sandbox gaming, let’s take a look at the downsides here, which the pdf could imho do a slightly better job advising GMs: The biggest one, obviously, is choice paralysis. This may not necessarily be a thing in your game; veterans generally tend to be able to handle it rather well and find things to do. However, in the long run, just exploration and stumbling into the week’s latest dungeon/monster/weird settlement can be just as frustrating as a restrictive railroad. Granted, the task of plotting meta-narratives is up to the GM…but then, how to seed them and maintain them? I’m trying hard to be the advocatus diaboli here, mind you.

 

Another point made to emphasize how some systems are less capable of depicting a sandbox would deal with character progression – broad, rather than narrow, are the terms employed here. Broad implies that more options are gained, whereas narrow implies that the respective options are improved. Similarly, these denote the type of challenge a given group can tackle over a series of levels -can a challenge be relevant for multiple levels or does it require redesign, etc.?. 4th edition, for example, would be a very narrow system. If you’ve been following my reviews for a while, you’ll know that I loathe the system. I really dislike it, but ultimately, you can sandbox in it. It takes serious effort, but it is possible. Ultimately, it depends on the GM being capable of and willing to modify stats, encounters, etc. It’s infinitely simpler for retro-clones like S&W, LotFP or DCC – sure. And yes, I absolutely agree that system does matter in this discipline. But what matters most, ultimately, is a GM’s prowess.

 

*takes a deep breath* All right, that is not to say that there are no theses with which I 100% agree: One, simulationalist approaches work best in sandboxes. It can be extremely thrilling to see PCs risk starvation while exploring a wasteland; in the right hands, such a set-up doesn’t require a single combat to be a nail-biting experience. Speedy character creation and world creation are two aspects that most certainly work easier for rules-lite games – not going to argue there, just note that capable players and GMs can whip out new characters even in incredibly rules-heavy systems rather quickly. Or purchase them. Such systems do tend to have a plethora of NPC-books, pregens, etc.

 

Encouraging GM fiat can be an empowering aspect and one that current generations of GMs often forget – particularly in rules-heavy environments. As opposed to a proper game-designer trying to use the system, a GM can, regardless of system, be the final arbiter…and should be just that. It is one of the most troubling developments in rules-heavy systems to see this aggravating player-entitlement that complains about an enemy not being “CR-appropriate”. It’s a world – or rather, simulation thereof. If you’re demonstrating for whatever cause and come to blows with a soldier and get your behind handed to you, you can’t complain about it being not fair regarding power-levels. At the same time, GM fiat can be very frustrating – it puts a lot of strain on a GM, as corner cases need to be remembered, sample rulings kept in mind. Sure, you can discard those…but that takes away from the all-important immersion, the sense of a concise and organic world. So, like everything, there are two sides to contemplate here.

 

Once again, that is not the consequence of a system, but the consequence of the design-conventions in place for that system – and the GM-conventions in place for the system. CoC-Keepers will run games differently than DCC judges, Pathfinder GMs or OSR referees. Okay, so, I’ve rambled on long enough about my take on the respective theses in the set-up chapters, but the book has more to offer than that. We begin with considerations pertaining initial bases of operations and a MORE THAN APT revision of Ray Winninger’s rules of dungeoncraft – these two guidelines make significantly more sense and do not feature the implied justification of doing only the basics – kudos for a thoroughly well-reasoned expansion. Similarly, the pdf provides handy guidelines on grouping NPCs, how to know where to get more involved etc. – basically, it is a nice way of establishing priorities. Similarly, establishing the basics of making an interesting outdoors area are covered in succinct and crisp detail and similarly, guidelines for lair placement, into how much detail you should go – and ample inspirational reading, from RPGs to beyond, provide an excellent way of generating the mindset for a GM.

 

Now, this is billed as a DCC-supplement, so judges are in luck, for, from the general, we move to the particular, at least system-wise – we begin with a consideration of what a good funnel should achieve as a kickstart of a sandboxy environment; similarly, from classic Hommlet to White Plume Mountain, via basics of the gaming classics, we receive some excellent models which are used to illustrate the craftsmanship aspects of sandboxing. While I know that both are classics, I did wish the book to a slightly broader approach here and included more current examples – once again, since those most in need of this book probably haven’t heard about those two classics. Oh, and you may stone me and pull out the pitchforks, but I consider both to be somewhat overhyped.

Huh, no giant d20 squashed me. Guess I have to try harder at RPG-heresy. Kidding aside, the pdf does lead by example – a minor sample adventuring site and a 2-page full-color hex-crawl map with basic notes for the respective hexes help getting the feel of how to run such a game and are, as we’ve come to expect from the author, well-written. A ten-entry (one is roll twice, one is no special ability) d30-table for judges to add special abilities to centaurs and the sample centaur character Asbolus as well as an aspect of Chiron complete this section and provide a nice base-line to illustrate how you can get serious mileage out of a given work/creature.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a 1-column standard and the pdf features some really neat full-color artwork. The pdf also sports nice full-color cartography as well as bookmarks for your convenience.

 

Daniel J. Bishop’s third collection of Dispatches from the Raven Crowking would have, to be honest, landed in my recycling bin if I wasn’t a reviewer. After a couple of pages, I just shook my head at several of the argumentative fallacies committed and put the pdf away. Let it be known that it has haunted me for a couple of days, as I began formulating why some of the initial claims felt so wrong to me. I returned, as you can see, I due time – and I am glad I did. From the bottom of my heart.

 

Now, as you may notice, I very much disagree with several core tenets of the train of thought constructed by the author. Significantly. It is my firm conviction that, in spite of the subjectivity clause, the needlessly judgmental way in which some systems and presentation modes are depicted, hampers the point the pdf tries to make – with the audience that most needs it. The pdf, in short, could have taken a more diversified stance here and been, ultimately, more respectable in its argumentation here. Then again, it does have the material – the synthesis of thesis and antithesis comes late. Similarly, the pdf does not necessarily paint a diversified picture of the issues that a group can face while sandboxing, focusing on GM preparation and how to handle this aspect – but less about how to handle players dealing (or not dealing) with a sandbox. There is only so far reactions and the like will get you and while the pdf does cover these aspects, I believe they are very much born of experience here and could have used a more novice-friendly depiction.

 

Oh boy. I’m realizing right now that this all sounds very negative. And it shouldn’t be. Whether by happy accident or just by impulse, my annoyance in the face of some statements herein made me reevaluate basic structures of the presentation of gaming materials and systems in general and has left me enriched for it. While, as my review above should make more than clear, I do disagree on several finer points and agree with others, much like any good discussion with a dissenting point of view that is presented in a strong and concise manner, this book has left me richer and, hopefully, more enlightened than I was before; not by assimilation of another opinion, but by contemplating my own.

 

This is, ultimately, all you can ask of from a series of essays on game-design and structures.

 

Oh, and the book also is a pretty neat guideline to sandbox gaming. Yeah, there was that aspect as well while I was getting lost in the argument.

 

So, worth getting? My answer would be a resounding “yes.” Final verdict: 5 stars + seal of approval.

 

You can get this neat tome here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jan 272017
 

Vigilantes of Skybourne

This massive expansion-pdf for the vigilante-class clocks in at 40 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page introduction, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page blank, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 32 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

All right, we begin this pdf with a collection of archetypes, the first of which would be the living banner. At 2nd level, the archetype is locked into the inspired vigilante talent. At 3rd level, a unique peculiarity begins – the living banner receives access to the war sphere, using inspiration points instead of spell points. The totem abilities gained are always centered on the living banner and affect only allies while he’s in the vigilante identity. In social identity, an ally within 30 ft. may be affected by the rally abilities, but not the totem abilities. 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter net a talent from the war sphere. This replaces startling appearance and unshakeable. 11th level allows for a cool option: Whenever the banner would be reduced below 0 hit points while in vigilante identity, an ally within 30 ft may aid another for AC as an immediate action – if the AC bonus suffices to raise the vigilante’s AC high enough so the attack misses, it is negated. This one replaces frightening appearance. 17th level nets the ability to allow allies to execute an attack as an immediate action against an adjacent target when the banner crits, replacing stunning appearance. All in all, a cool archetype.

 

The Iron Lord is basically an Iron Man archetype – instead of the default dual identity, the archetype can conjure forth a bonded armor that is of masterwork quality, +1 enchanted for every odd level beyond first, with the +5 cap maintained. Enhancements/special qualities can be switched upon reaching a new level. The armor vanishes once it loses the iron lord’s possession and 7th level provides a second suit of armor for more flexibility, with changes between suits and identities following the normal dual identity rules Starting at 3rd level, the iron lord unlocks progressively better special materials to craft the suit from, with 7th and 11th level providing progressively better options. Now this is not meant as criticism and I won’t penalize the pdf for it, but I would have loved to see some GM guidelines of when to unlock new materials beyond the standard Paizo stuff. Oh well.

 

The third archetype, the masked duelist, gains Weapon Finesse with one-handed piercing weapons and light weapons, replacing seamless guise. 2nd level replaces the vigilante talent with the swashbuckler’s panache, including dodging panache and opportune parry and riposte, with 3rd level unlcoking precise strike and swashbuckler’s initiative. 6th level replaces another vigilante talent nets Dazzling Display and treats all Weapon Finnese’d weapons as Weapon Focus weapons for the feat’s purpose. A number of times per day equal to Cha-mod, the masked duelist can mark a foe as part of Dazzling Display, potentially dazing the adversary. You’ve no doubt discerned it – this is the Zorro-archetype. And I like it. One issue remains, though, one that is retained from the base swashbuckler – the archetype, much like the swashbuckler class, lacks a reliable skirmishing option, one that imho would have really benefited the archetype.

 

The next one is pretty interesting – the Possessed gains 4+ Int skills per level and instead of vigilante specialization, he gains possessed identity The possessed identity can either be construct, aligned outsider, elemental, plant, dragon or construct. The vigilante identity, before you start groaning, does not gain all immunities of the respective types (which is good), but still provides unique tricks: Construct possessed do not require air to breathe; undead are treated as both undead and living for the purpose of spells and effects and elementals provide speeds. The transformation is magical and thus faster – it can be completed in 5 rounds, but it is anything but subtle. Somewhat disappointing – no guideline regarding how loud it is was provided. The possessed is btw. treated as a low caster for the spheres system, using Charisma as governing attribute, he does not gain talents. MSB and MSD increase normally, but the spell pool only equals 1/2 + casting ability modifier points – odd: Why not use Cha here?

 

The secret police gains proficiency with the bow, sap and whip instead of martial weapons, shields or medium armors and replace seamless guise with Enforcer. These guys receive a scaling unarmed damage (Small and Large damage values included) and may execute these even with hands full and applies full Str-mod to damage, including off-hand attacks. Nonlethal damage does not impose penalties to atks with these. This replaces level 1’s social talent. 2nd level replaces the vigilante talent with an inqui’s judgment and 8th level provides a ring of protection that increases in power as more class levels are gained and this ring may conjure forth tears of death with an immediate onset, replacing that level’s vigilante talent. I really liked this one – strong theme, well executed.

 

The sky marine adds Fly to the class skills and loses medium armor proficiency. The vigilante identity of the archetype relies on war paint, oils, piercings, etc., and as such does not gain any protection from scrying etc. usually conveyed by dual identities. That being said, the vigilante identity provides a scaling dodge bonus and improved startling/frightening appearance duration/AoE. This also kills off seamless guise, obviously. 6th level replaces the vigilante talent gained there and at 13th level as well as Vengeance Strike with the ability to enhance a ship he gains control of, with a handy table listing the quite significant benefits. Also at this level, the archetype may designate any spot on the ship as a temporary control device via cranks and pulleys – cool! 12th level either increases maneuverability (for engines) or nets the ship the ability to work sans sails. The capstone is so cool – it makes the ship return to the archetype within 1 week…and if the archetype is in contact with the ship, both marine and ship receive regeneration 5. Cool!

 

The next one would be the overwatch nets either a flying familiar or animal companion at full level, replacing the talent usually gained at 2nd level. 6th level nets improved empathic link, including the option to look through the companion’s eyes, replacing 6th level’s vigilante talent. The capstone lets the companion contribute up to 2 standard actions to vengeance strike. I consider this one somewhat problematic, taking into account the superiority of animal companions and their power at low levels; going druid-progression for them looks like a slight overkill to me. Ranger-route at -3 would have imho been smarter here, but it remains a pretty easy modification to execute, so yeah.

 

The uncanny archer loses medium armor proficiency and gains Precise Shot as a 1st level bonus feat. 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter net a hunter’s trick from the skirmisher ranger archetype, which may only be executed with ranged or thrown weapons. These may be used 1/2 class level + Cha-mod times per day. This replaces 4th level’s vigilante talent. 8th level replaces that vigilante talent with 30 ft.-range ranged maneuvers and 12th level provides a ricochet-shot. Decent, but not too interesting as far as I’m concerned. The vessel archetype is interesting – the archetype has no control between the identities – they have to start the day in the social identity and may not sue the vigilante abilities while in social identity. Starting at 1st level, when the vessel or an ally is below 50% hit points, the archetype can assume their vigilante identity as an immediate action. 5th level lets the vigilante transform 1/day as a standard action, regardless of ally conditions, 10th level lets them assume vigilante identity at will and unlocks the vigilante talents for the social identity. The form also nets class level x2 temporary hit points when assuming vigilante identity, though it should be noted that these cannot easily be cycled. Okay, so how would I play this? I’d find a fluffy little kitten. Then…yeah, you get the idea. I’d be angry and whop out my supernatural identity as well when a kitten is hurt. Anyways, at least you don’t have to kill them…

 

Moving on, instead of vigilante specialization, the archetype receives a luck pool equal to 1/2 class level + Cha-mod, which may be spent as part of an attack or damage roll to add a surge-y +1d6 to atk, or +1d6 per 5 class levels to damage. As an immediate action, the vigilante may add this amount to saves, thus replacing vigilante specialization. Also as an immediate action, the vessel may boost an ally’s save or AC by +1d6 by expending 2 luck points. I really like this mechanic, but alas, the ally option is a separate ability and does not specify when it is unlocked. Until 10th level, these cannot be used while in vigilante form.

 

The next chapter provides more archetypes, this time racial ones – if you remember my review of the PG and its gross power imbalances, you’ll notice that this does not necessarily leave me stoked. So, for the purpose of this book, I’ll just look at these on their own, distinct entities, all right? The Cecaelia deepstalker replaces Climb with Knowledge (history) and gains proficiency with heavy and light underwater crossbow, but loses medium armor and shields, excluding bucklers. 1st level nets poison use and seamless guise is replaces with a bonus to Craft (alchemy) and (traps) – how much? No idea – there is a box-like layout/formatting remnant where the bonus should be. I assume from context that it should be 1/2, though. 4th level replaces the vigilante talent gained with a ranger trap and 20th level nets a pretty hard to counter final death-y ability when reducing foes to 0 hp.

 

The aasimar divine avenger replaces 5th level’s startling appearance with Call Truce and 11th level nets an ability in social identity that makes it hard to say no to the avenger, requiring a WIll-save to not have your attitude improved temporarily – which is cool. However, it replaces “startling appearance” – which is wrong. That ought to read frightening appearance. 17th level replaces stunning appearance with a stun versus anyone at least indifferent when the vigilante identity is revealed. Okay one, I guess, but nothing special. The fenghuang ebon phoenix can assume the eponymous ebon phoenix form in only 5 rounds (as always, talents can hasten that) – and once again, there is no guideline for Perception checks to notice the pretty stark transformation. 1st level locks the character in the Renown social talent and quickens the ability to gain renown in settlements with some fenghuang. The downside here being that it’s pretty hard for these fellows to disguise themselves from their people. 2nd level nets bonuses to skills and atk and damage versus fey, which increase at 8th and 16th level. This type may be changed in a 24-hour-ritual that requires sufficient knowledge of the threat being lethal to his people. The capstone allows for a cold-based self-immolation + full-healing auto-resurrection that is particularly potent versus the chosen threat.

 

The cherufe archetype lava walker is only available for the amet subtype and all members of the archetype share the same vigilante identity, gaining a bonus to Intimidate. Interesting: No mundane or magical compulsion can make a cherufe give up a lava walker’s identity. This replaces seamless guise. 2nd level last longer lava and +1/2 class level additional uses, allowing you to perform iterative attacks with it. The lava may also be added to wielded weapons and unarmed/natural attacks, with 5th level making it magical and 7th and 11th level increasing the damage output, the latter also increasing duration. This replaces 2nd level’s vigilante talent. 12th level upgrades fire resistance to 25 (or 30 with hotblooded) instead of the vigilante talent. The Reimagined created has basically two modes – the vigilante form may have a different configuration of creation points, though each form per se is fixed.. 3rd level lets the archetype, as a standard action, move around the ability score bonus granted by the repurposed ability, with additional daily uses gained at 6th level and every 6 levels thereafter.

 

The technophile tatulani replaces martial weapon proficiency with firearms and begins play with a battered laser pistol and replaces seamless guise with +1/2 class level to Craft (mechanical) and Knowledge (engineering). 1st level’s social talent is exchanged for Technologist and 7th level provides the pretty amazing ability to, in 8 hours, repurpose a room into a crafting laboratory, cybernetics lab, medical lab or military lab, with the Craft-check made determining the charges available. The character also receives Craft Technological Arms and Armor and thus replaces the social talent gained at 7th level. I love this lab-improvising-mechanic…really cool, though I wished the archetype went one step further with it.

 

The cuazaj winged terror replaces 1st level’s social talent with +1/2 class level to Craft (alchemy) and gains alchemist bombs instead of a vigilante talent at 2nd level, though he does not add Int-mod to damage.5th level’s startling appearance is replaced with a 30 ft. average fly speed (40 ft. and good with Real Flight) and 17th level’s stunning appearance is replaces with even better flight. Weird: While two of the appearance abilities are exchanged, level 11’s frightening appearance still is here. Aesthetics-wise, I consider that choice a bit odd.

 

The pdf does feature archetypes for classes beyond the vigilante, the first of which would be the Beast Tamer for the damn cool Luchador-class. The beast tamer replaces skilled combatant with a full-progression animal companion (alongside a bonus on wild empathy and Handle Animal checks. Thing is…he does not get wild empathy, RAW. Oversight? I don’t know. 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter provide a teamwork feat, with class level acting as BAB for prerequisite purposes – all animal companions he has are treated as though they also had these feats. Basically a pet-luchador.

 

The cloaked killer ranger archetype replaces wild empathy with dual identity and replaces spells with the stalker’s hidden strike ability at -3 levels and damage increasing by +1d8 per 2 levels thereafter. 7th level lets the killer move unimpeded through crowds and nets concealment as well as an Intimidate bonus to influence crowds instead of woodland stride. The mutator alchemist replaces the default mutagen with a so-called evolutionary catalyst, which, instead of a mutagen’s usual benefits, provides a pool of 1/2 class level 8min 1) spell points as well as a single mutation vigilante talent. Brew Potion is replaced with dual identity and two discoveries and one grand discovery can be used to further enhance the evolutionary catalyst. More on those mutation talents below, just fyi.

 

The swordsmith fighter loses heavy armor and tower shield proficiency, but gains 4 + Int mod skills per level (thank you!), +1 per level that must be used for Craft (weapons). 5th level nets Master Craftsman for Craft (weapons). Starting at 3rd level, the swordsmith designates one weapon he made the blade of legend, which receives a +1 bonus when wielded by him, +1 at every odd level, with the usual +5 cap in place. The assigned abilities may be changed via a ritual and drawing said blade adds the bonus of the blade to Ref- and Will-saves as well as Cha-checks when drawn: The swordsmith basically transforms into an alternate identity, which may even be of a different alignment. However, the character may still be recognized by keen-eyed individuals. This replaces armor training ad qualifies as dual identity for prerequisite purposes. 19th level nets DR 5/- while wielding the sword instead of armor mastery and 20th level allows for on the fly reassignment of blade abilities. Love this one. It’s basically He-man. Damn cool!

 

The pdf also features two 10-level-PrCs, the first of which would be the hellsworn, who receives d8 HD, 4 + skills per level, 3/4 BAB-progression, 1/2 Fort- and Will-save progression and prereq-wise, 5th level access. Oh, and you have to pledge your soul to hell, obviously, which makes resurrection unreliable – the interesting aspect here is that dual identity, if present, means that only one identity is condemned to hell. 1st level nets the option to add hellfire damage (untyped) as a swift action to attacks with mutations, bombs, attacks, etc. The ability also improves at 3rd level and every odd level thereafter, which extends to the skill bonuses it conveys. 2nd level provides class level DR/good and allows for quicker identity change. 4th level nets poison use as well as the option to conjure forth imp poison 1/2 class level + Cha-mod times per day. 6th level nets 15 + class level SR and 8th level lets him inflict devil chills Cha-mod times per day. The capstone nets an aura of fear.

 

The second PrC would be the shrouded captain, who receives d8 HD, 6 + Int-mod skills, 3/4 BAB-progression, 1/2 Ref- and Will-save progression and can be taken prereq-wise as soon as 4th level. The character does need a ship, though – and losing it is nasty. They begin at 1st level with a shrouded crew, which means that the captain can cloak their identity, crafting basically dual identity’s lite version for up to 10 x class level beings…which is an AMAZING rpg-catalyst! 3rd level and every three levels thereafter provide a social talent, which may be then included in the generated identities for crew members, though they can’t get Renown and the ship will always be the Safe House, if applicable. 2nd level nets jolly roger, which doubles as dual identity for the captain, but extends its benefits to the ship – it also allows for ship intimidation and provides a scaling bonus to crew members’ damage rolls and saves versus fear. 5th level and 7th level net a teamwork feat, which may then be shared with all crew members within 60 ft., for a daily total of 5 x class level rounds. 10th level is amazing: If the captain dies and is not returned to life within 24 hours, a member of the crew may take up his mantle, becoming for all intents and purposes the fallen captain, including personality and identity. And yes, this interacts properly with captains later returned to life. Amazing PrC full of flavor, one of the best Pirate-y ones I’ve seen.

 

The pdf also features a significant array of new class options for the vigilante: The enigma specialization makes the vigilante a Mid-caster using Cha, with class level + Cha-mod spell points, but does not gain magic talents. Two magical talents may be foregone in favor of a mutation vigilante talent. Mutation vigilante talents are supernatural abilities that do not provoke AoOs and, unless otherwise noted, require a standard action to activate. Many double as sphere effects and may thus be enhanced by magical talents, but may not be enhanced by staves. MSB is based on class level. The massive collection of talents include discoveries for alchemist bombs, Alteration sphere traits (Bestial Form, the talent, is not properly italicized), a combined teleport/darkness, [meld]-scavenging or several SPs. (Once again, one is not italicized correctly) that scale with levels. generating light daggers which can later be used to 30.-ft-whirlwind also are amazing…and yes, dear reader, if you’re like me and loved the “Cloak and Dagger”-comics (Mantel und Degen, for my German readers) – the light and darkness-related tricks here are an amazing homage to these characters. Fire-breathing, laced energy, preventing lying, firing ocular blasts and radically improved speed all make sure that the ample inspiration from the superhero genre was well integrated with both spherecasting and the vigilante’s engine. Speaking of which: You get two nerd-cred-points if you can reliably state the inspiration for “There is only the Night”, which “kills” off a social identity and allows you to build a new one. So. Cool.

 

Social talent-wise, we get a bit less – only 5. One nets you a copycat, which you can use to retain your identity’s secret, one that lets him buy at military discount in an area of renown, one that lets him request the help of fighters, one to make a ship the safe house and one that is the opposite of the aforementioned one that lets the vigilante have his vigilante identity “die” – only to construct a new one. The pdf also features favored class options for the skybourne races and closes with 6 feats: Clangorous Crash deafens foes temporarily when you roll maximum damage with a bludgeoning weapon (finally a reason to use hammers…). Dazzling Blow is smart: Single attack dazzling foes that also renders them flatfooted against you…but only until the start of your next turn, making this a great AoO/tactics set-up that can’t be cheesed. Kidney Cutter allows your potshots to deal continuous nonlethal damage (neat!); Mutation nets you, bingo, a mutation. Sealed Mind proofs you versus divination/Mind Sphere abilities and Tertiary Identity nets you another social identity – cool!

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a rules-level – the pdf juggles complex concepts rather well. At the same time, there are some oversights and formatting hiccups here and there. Layout adheres to a really nice full-color two-column standard and the pdf sports a blend of stock art and several amazing full-color pieces I haven’t seen before. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Michael Sayre’s vigilantes of Skybourne are pretty amazing as a whole; while not all archetypes wowed me, there are indeed some gems herein. In particular in the talent-selection, I kept grinning from ear to ear. As a longtime fan of Cloak And Dagger and as someone who grew up with He-man, there is a lot of heart’s string-pulling involved here. The talents, if you’re playing with Spheres of Power, are pretty much a reason of its own to get this. If you’re not playing with the system, then this has less to offer, so let that stand as a warning.

 

To make that clear – SoP-using groups that feature vigilantes should consider this a must-have, though not all options reach the level of awesomeness as the ones I mentioned: The Zorro-archetype inherits the issues of the swashbuckler and the hellsworn, while obviously a homage to Spawn lacks symbiotic costume and the unique timer, ending up being basically just another hell-themed PrC…one that, theoretically and RAW, could be cheesed via the new talents that let an identity “die”. So yeah, this is not perfect, but it represents a book worth getting. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 for the purpose of this platform.

 

You can get this massive crunch-pdf here on OBS!

 

You can support Drop Dead Studios making more Spheres of Power supplements here on patreon!

 

Furthermore, there is an extremely promising kickstarter running running now, promising to bring the spheres-system to martial characters – it can be found here!

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jan 272017
 

The Templar Base Class

This base class clocks in at 8 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 4 pages for the templar base class.

 

The templar has d10 HD, 2 + Int-mod (lower cap’d in the pdf) skills per level, full BAB-progression and good Fort- as well as Will-saves. They gain proficiency with all simple and martial weapons as well as all armors and shields, except tower shields. The templar can cast arcane spells gained from the class (and only those) sans arcane spell failure. 4th level nets prepared arcane spellcasting based on Intelligence at -3 levels, with spells drawn from the sorc/wiz-list. As soon as they can cast spells, they may do so with hands full – and here the “only templar spells”-caveat is missing.

 

The class begins play with at-will detect magic and the option to 1/day chastise another as a swift action, which is basically a variant smite sans the bonus to atk, but with + class level to damage and a -2 penalty for attacking other targets while the ability is in effect. It may be used an additional time per day at 4th level and every 3 levels thereafter, though the ability itself does not spell that out – you need to look at the table to deduce that.

 

At first level, the templar also pledges an oath – these basically come with flavorful adventuring modifications and provide a passive benefit and an active benefit: These include gaining proficiency with tower shields, Arcane Strike as a bonus feat or an increased spell level of +3 (for full CL). The active benefits interact with chastise and provide e.g. DR, attack bonuses, save bonuses and AC – the standards, all of which scale with the chastise daily use progression. 2nd level provides eldritch hands, which is a temporary hit points granting variant of lay on hands, governed by Int (not properly capitalized in text), with 1/2 class level + Int-mod daily uses and 1d10 + 1/2 class level gained for use. This is upgrades to 2d10 + class level at 14th level.

The temporary hit points last an hour and touching others is a standard action, personal sue a swift action. 3rd level nets a familiar at full progression (WTF?), with 10th level providing Improved Familiar for free. 5th level provides at-will mount, though it can’t be recast until its duration expires, so no mount spamming, which represents a nice catch. This upgrades to phantom steed at 11th level.

6th level and every 3 thereafter net a bonus feat chosen from combat, metamagic, Spell Focus or Spell Mastery or an Arcane Discovery.

 

Starting at 8th level, as a standard action, the templar can generate a 1-round aura that increases CLs or arcane spells by 1 and their DC similarly by 1, usable 3 + Int-mod times per day. 11th level allows the templar to expend two uses of chastise to grant all allies within 10 feet the ability to chastise, though they need to do so before the templar’s next turn. Sooo, can the chastise once? As often as the templar? Before or after expenditure? Do they deplete his chastise-uses? That one could be more precise. The aura is a bit too opaque. It is upgraded by another +1 and a decreased activation action at 17th level. The capstone makes the templar immune to mundane weapons (Yay at this level?) and allows him to once per chastise double the damage bonus, add a targeted greater dispel magic AND end the chastise, allowing for a flexibility the class could have used sooner.

 

The pdf sports a feat for +2 chastise uses and the eldritch vindicator, a cold iron bastard sword that becomes more powerful in the hands of a templar…bingo, it’s basically the equivalent of the good ole’ holy avenger etc. It also sports some minor formatting hiccups.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are decent – the rules-language and formal criteria, for the most part, are solid, if not always perfect. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard and the b/w-artwork’s nice for a PWYW file. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

 

The templar by Angel “ARMR” Miranda is a decent take on the arcane paladin – nothing more, nothing less. It is, in short, a pretty basic rules-operation, with the oaths being the one source of player-agenda apart from the spells. The class’s spellcasting engine is pretty brutal, but has to make up for the loss of mercies…which brings me to another point – this is basic and it could have been interesting: Adapting arcane mercies or tapping a substitution ability into the sellcasting instead of going the standard route could have made this guy really interesting. As written, it is a decent take on the trope, though I’ve seen better. On the plus-side, this being PWYW means that you can check it out rather easily and determine whether it’s for you or not. If you need a quick arcane pala class with minor rough edges and sans frills, this may be worth taking a look at. My final verdict will clock in at 2.5 stars, rounded up by virtue of being PWYW.

 

You can get this class for PWYW here on OBS!

 

You can directly support the author here on patreon!

 

Endzeitgeist out.