Feb 282017
 

Four Horsemen Present: Heralds of the Apocalypse

This massive pdf clocks in at 45 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 42 pages of content – quite a lot, so let’s take a look!

 

So, what exactly is this? In short, this constitutes a massive toolkit that deals with evil campaigns. Everyone who has ran an evil campaign can attest to the special considerations such a campaign demands of the GM, particularly if you do not restrict the chosen options to Lawful Evil only. (And yes, I have ran multiple evil campaigns…though all started as the PCs being good guys…says something. I guess…)

 

Anyways, there are quite a few things to consider when running a game for an evil party of PCs, so this pdf takes a step back and helps as an orientation guide in the beginning: By discussing the ramifications of various evil alignments in game, for example. The pdf goes beyond alignments, though: As it notes, evil is not a universal catch-all term, and instead encompasses a wide array of diverse notions of moral shortcomings. At least in the part of the world that has morals inspired by Judeo-Christian book-religions, an easy and central focus would be the seven deadly sins and what they actually mean in the contextualization of evil PCs (and NPCs, obviously) – each is discussed alongside angles that can be employed for interesting narrative elements and twists, thankfully with an explicit note to the GM and players that shapes a consciousness for finding a common ground. Speaking of which: The pdf also explicitly tells the group in question to maintain teamwork ethics – without them, a game sooner, rather than later, collapses.

 

Beyond that, there are several means of properly integrating evil characters and giving them a reason to cooperate: From the manipulation angle to the necessary good to having no choice, the book sports an interesting assortment of angles to pursue, which also features ideas on evil backgrounds and results, as a whole, in a well-written and truly helpful array of considerations that both players and GMs should contemplate when making their evil PC or party. This is, obviously, supported by various bits of crunchy rules, the first of which would be an assortment of various traits. These generally represent some truly amazing ideas, like the ability to compartmentalize evil deeds by having an almost split personality-style second alignment. Similarly cool would be to option to Bluff to keep your aura from being read. At the same time, these do not specify their trait subtype, which is a bit annoying. The leg-breaker trait is also pretty OP, granting you +4 to Intimidate versus an opponent you have successfully damaged (damage must exceed target’s HD) within the last minute: Considering the relatively pronounced bonus and the demoralize-options out there, +4 seems like overkill. On the more humorous side, I am pretty sure that one trait should read “loan-shark”, not “lone-shark”.

 

The pdf also sports a serious array of diverse feats, 14 unless I have miscounted. It is here that the horsemen-theme comes around the proverbial corner, with Death, Famine, War and Pestilence constituting leitmotifs among the feats. These btw. contains several pretty amazing ideas: Like 1/day evading what otherwise would be certain death, but requiring you to kill another creature, making it basically take your place -and yes, this has a caveat that prevents abuse via kittens. Negating flanking and aid another or several immunities for following pestilence…there are some very powerful and flavorful options here. Unfortunately, there also are some options here that are pretty broken: In spite of requiring BAB +9 and Critical Focus, Acute Critical would be one such candidate: It lets you add any source of precision damage you may have, like e.g. sneak attack etc. to all crits you score. Considering how many options there are for critical enhancing and getting them more often, that can be really nasty. Substituting costly material components with blood sacrifice of killed creatures by HD is for example a cool trick. So, as a whole, this section is nice, but not perfect.

 

After that, we are introduced to an array of new archetypes for evil characters, with the first being the ascendant lich for the wizard class, who begins play with a special bonded phylactery and replaces Scribe Scroll with a gradual transformation that provides scaling AC-bonuses as well as resistances, though the splintering of the soul the process requires does ultimately decrease the social competences of the archetype. 5th level yields a damaging lich touch with scaling damage output that can also be used to heal the undead, thankfully featuring a daily cap, with 15th level adding the paralysis effect and 10th level providing the fear aura. Oh, and obviously, the capstone would provide the signature rejuvenation trick.

 

Really unique and twisted would be the choir macabre bard, who, when dealing damage equal to or greater than twice his class level, may play with the pain of the victims, which means they don’t need to expend rounds of bardic performances in such a round. Twisted and cool idea that is balanced by only 2 + Cha-mod rounds of performance, +1 per subsequent level! The archetype also receives several unique bardic performances that include a debuff, short-ranged damage (which should be sonic, not untyped – it is classified as a sonic effect, but RAW deals untyped damage), worsening of ailments and high level dispels of buffs/immunities makes for a compelling archetype.

 

Next up would be the Daemon Knight, a neutral evil paladin archetype that has a built-in self-atonement option which is pretty amazing and helpful – as is the modified code of conduct that makes the archetype actually playable. The archetype receives immunity to aging penalties, but only gets 1/2 Cha-mod to saves. 5th level provides btw. the boon of a chosen horseman, all of which scale: We have auto-raise from the dead, raging capabilities, scaling diseases or bite attacks that get grab and swallow whole added…flavorful and fun archetype. Fleshsmith alchemists receive a flexible mutagen they can forcefeed to others, warping their bodies and charming them (why hasn’t that done before? Seriously!) – which is seriously cool storytelling material right there. The archetype also offers some new discoveries that include fleshwarped cohorts, tighter control over the creatures affected by his mutagen, extended range of creatures that can be affected, and even learning to lace the mutagen to bombs! Amazing idea, with my only regret being that its concept could have carried a full-blown hybrid class.

 

The order of the Broken is not, as you may first believe, a new cavalier order: Instead it represents a massive archetype that represents, to a degree, an antipaladin-lite version, as these once proud crusaders were twisted beyond comparison. While the archetype does not get to choose another order, having that hardbaked into the archetype, it offers more flexibility than the regular cavalier class ever did, allowing at several levels for the choice of a corruption from an impressive list of diverse mutations, dark boons and deadly tricks. I love this archetype. It rewires the whole cavalier-chassis and adds some serious player-agenda to the fray, while at the same time providing antipaladin-like gameplay sans the ridiculously restrictive base class codes of conduct.

 

The peerless brawler can use Sense Motive to temporarily learn a number of feats as a swift action, drawing upon the opponent’s tricks. While Sense Motive can be cheesed, the DC required is based on the opponent’s BAB and Wis-modifier and thus, to some extent, manages to be kept in check. Not a big fan, but yeah. Instead of martial flexibility, the peerless brawler learns to deny his foes access to some of their feats by adjusting his fighting style, which can make for some interesting melee control options and foiling of highly specialized builds, with higher levels potentially denying ever more feats. This archetype is interesting: While I’m not a big fan of the skill-based mechanic, the feat-denial makes them actually excel most when pitted against other martial characters, which works well from a dramatic and flavor point of view. So yeah. Nice! Ravenous Soul druids replace wild shape with a bite attack that increases in power based on player choices: At 6th level and every 2 levels thereafter, you can customize the bite with several nice options, making this a pretty nasty famine/cannibalism/predator option. The emphasis of choice is certainly appreciated!

 

The riven witch takes a cue from the oracle in that she begins play with a torment: Whether controlled by an entity or cultist, damned, terrorized or mad, the archetype receives basically a variant curse that nets bonuses at 5th, 10th and 15th level. She also does not gain a patron, drawing her strength from the trauma she endures, thus gaining spontaneous spellcasting and a bonus spell-list determined by her torment, with the exclusive hexes tapping into the torment as a means to let others feel her pain well as offering some debuffs. The warlord barbarian is adept at intimidation and may select trophies instead of rage powers, potentially gaining items, banners, bones etc. with benefits ranging from AC-bonus to enhanced saves, etc. Solid.

 

The pdf also contains several magic items, 9 to be more precise: From the potent apocalypse staff to the others, there are some nice, thematic tricks here: What about a ring, which makes you retain functionality when dying and also increases the negative damage threshold, but prevents returning to life…and makes you dread wraithify upon death? There would be various rods, a flail that makes those nearby nauseated on a failed save, a robe that allows you to add insult to the injury of bleeding, dying, energy drained, etc. foes, ushering them further towards death, the AoO miss-chance granting shawl of vermin and the mutable weapon of war. I have no pricing or power-concerns in this section. Kudos!!

 

Next up would be an assortment of new spells, 10, to be more precise. Blackbolt fires dark rays that can inflict negative levels, balancing the relatively low level with a max cap of negative levels inflicted via the spell. Adding diseases to bite and claw attacks, massive swarms of locusts, a level 9 spell that crushes its victims with pure misery, a spell that can generate the illusion of having violated one’s code, cursing soldiers to rise again after death and shriveling a target’s limbs…the spells are nasty and nice, their respective levels making sense from a balance point of view. No complaints. Speaking of no complaints: The new famine and pestilence domains actually are pretty cool and represent the first domains I’ve read in a while that I consider mechanically interesting, with the latter offering the option to counter attacks with a defensive disease, while famine actually adds crippling hunger pangs to necromancy spells cast…pretty nice – kudos for both!

 

Now this is called “Heralds of the Apocalypse”, so it is only fitting that the pdf closes with an assortment of apocalyptic plots, supplemented by rules. (If you need more: LPJ Design’s Obsidian Apocalypse is a nice toolkit for the like!) Each of the plots contained herein also have angles for each of the various horsemen regarding their potential thematic involvement. The first of these would be the classic evolved bubonic plague; thereafter, we have parasites that enhance physical scores, but render those affected mindless and raging – interesting angle I have used in my own game when I ran my version of RotRL in conjunction with 3.X’s Elder Evils. Similarly frightening: Soul Rot. It’s a curse and disease…that actually destroys the soul of those affected. Worse, it affects powerful outsiders quicker! The meek shall inherit the earth…this can potentially destroy deities and make for a great reset/radical change for your setting! A highly potent, more flexible variant of ghoul fever that can turn you even into devourers or banshees and the like completes the array of devastating plagues/curses in style. Oh, and know what’s cool here: The higher the HD…the higher the save! Loved this chapter!!

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, though not perfect. I noticed a couple of minor hiccups. Layout adheres to Rogue Genius Games’ two-column full-color standard and while I have seen a few images herein before, the selection of artworks is excellent and cool. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

The four horsemen (Dan Dillon, Steven T. Helt, Tim Hitchcock and Stephen Rowe) are pretty much a guarantee that something doesn’t suck; this is no different: This massive collection of options contains some amazing engine tweaks clad in intriguing archetypes, juggling highly complex rules-operations. There are several archetypes herein that bring much needed player agenda to classes (*cough* cavalier */cough*) and the guide regarding evil campaigns should be considered a must-read for GMs and players alike to ensure a smoothly proceeding gaming experience. There are a couple f instances where I consider some components within this book problematic, but that certainly should not keep you from getting this. The plagues in the back made me wish we got more such cool events/hazards for apocalyptic story-arcs – hopefully we’ll see more of those in the future.

 

The placement of spells regarding spell-levels is precise and so is the pricing of magic items, which is something that’s pretty hard to get right as well, showing the massive expertise of the team. In short: This is a great pdf, though one that misses my seal of approval by a tiny margin. Still, this very much deserves its final verdict of 5 stars and should be considered a must-read for any group attempting WotW, Hell’s Vengeance or a similar campaign focusing on evil PCs.

 

You can get this cool toolkit for evil characters here on OBS!
Endzeitgeist out.

 

Feb 282017
 

GM’s Miscellany: Village Backdrops IV

The fourth installment of the amazing Village Backdrop-series clocks in at 92 pages, 1 page front cover, 3 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC (including statblocks by CR), 2 pages of author bios (wish all books included that – author name recognition is important!), 1 page advice on reading statblocks for novice GMs, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a total of 81 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

This book contains the villages of Cahill Abbey, Feigrvidr, Feyhall, Greystone, Macrimei, Ossoka Draconsha, Revenge, Shroudhaven, Silver Bluff, Tigley, Umelas, Vaagwol and Y’taris. These villages all have in common that I have actually reviewed the respective Village Backdrops for them, so if you require in-depth guidance pertaining them, please take a look at my respective reviews. (On my site, just click on the village backdrop-tag at the bottom of the review for a handy list, if you don’t want to search them by hand.)

 

Now, the respective entries here range from pretty good to phenomenal, with several entries compiled herein ranking as definite highlights even within the high-quality series. Unfortunately, the respective entries don’t seem to have received an additional editing pass, with some obvious minor glitches that have haunted the original files having found their way into this compilation as well. The weaker installments like Y’taris have similarly not received an overhaul, which is all that keeps me from not erupting into lavish praises.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, but not perfect – the book takes the base files and compiles them. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The pdf comes in two iterations, one of which is optimized for screen-use, one intended to be printed out. The cartography for the villages is phenomenal and amazing – Raging Swan Press’ patreon has, unlike I am sorely mistaken, the option to get separate versions of the glorious maps.

 

John Bennett, Creighton Broadhurst, Jeff Gomez, Richard Green, Steve Hood, Greg Marks, Jacob W. Michaels, Stephen Radney-MacFarland and Mike Welham have crafted a glorious compilation that contains some of my favorites in the whole product lines, some villages that shine like stars even in this series. At the same time, there are also a couple of slightly weaker installments included herein, which does help to even the gems out a bit. As a whole, this is a great compilation if you want the respective villages in print and if you don’t have them already. If you do already own them, then this provides nothing new apart from a few really nice b/w-pieces of art I can’t recall having seen in the respective installments. If you want all (or most) included villages, get this. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.

 

You can get this cool compilation here on OBS!

 

You can directly support Raging Swan Press here on patreon!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Feb 282017
 

Village Backdrop: Greystone

This installment of RSP’s Village Backdrop-series is 12 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let’s take a look at the settlement!

 

Sharp-inclined hills huddle together in the deepened shadows of the Mottled Spire, where, once upon a time, settlers from nearby Languard founded a fishing village and outpost for a watchtower/lighthouse. Linked by steep and narrow, inhospitable inclines, the village that was here may once have housed up to 200 people…but nowadays, greystone is a shadow of its former self, with not even 70 souls remaining…and whether they’d constitute humans ultimately depends on your definition of the term, for there is a reason the almost palpable shadow of fear clings to this settlement, seemingly clouded in the spire’s looming shadow in perpetuity.

 

Astute fans of the series will notice that no settlement statblock in the traditional sense is included here as a concession (probably) to the transition to multi-system support the series has undergone, though frankly, I am missing it. That being said, the settlement does come with the traditional notes of villager nomenclature and dressing as well as local lore…which does make for an amazing warning, as the houses are supposed to contain tunnels, shielded from the light of day, tunnels that allow the degenerate inhabitants to move from place to place unseen by the light of days. Some murmur about the massacre that once took place here, when the strange antediluvian structures were found beneath the manor that belonged to none other than dread Dagon, who gets a basic deity write-up here.

 

I already mentioned the deformities, which are represented by a 12-entry strong table accompanying a template. The template also sports 12 cosmetic deformities (erroneously headed by a d20 instead of a d12 in a cosmetic hiccup). Beyond Tommi Salama’s superb cartography of the village, the pdf comes with a second gorgeous map drawn by the Finnish master of cartography, which depicts the labyrinthine caves below the hills, allowing for easy two-step functionality here. In short: This is basically a great set-up for a truly creepy village, with the closest analogue I can think of being a blending of the village in Darkest Dungeon and a backwoods horror movie flick à la Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

 

Strange carvings, mostly rendered unintelligible, weirdly mixed architectural styles and two tables to depict minor details for the caverns or add in small events can be found here as well, though the die to roll is d12, not d% as noted here. These cosmetic glitches, however, should not be taken as an indicator that this pdf contains anything but the most impressive of prose, which generates an atmosphere so thick you can almost cut it.

 

Conclusion:

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

 

Creighton Broadhurst, master of Raging Swan Press, is an absolute master at depicting desolate places, decrepitude and a general sense of a world that has moved on, to paraphrase the classic King-sentiment. Indeed, even among the offerings he has penned, this stands out. Seen from a neutral point of view, I should not be half as impressed by this as I am – from a rules-perspective, the template didn’t blow me away and the lack of a statblock for the village is a minor detriment…though frankly, here it is less relevant.

 

Why? Because this is, in short, an adventure in disguise: Throw the PCs in and have fun. Haven’t prepared anything? Whoop out this pdf, read it (5 minutes, tops), make a few notes…and bingo, you’ll have an adventure on your hand. Just watch the PCs interact with what they find. The atmosphere is amazing and in my mind, I can almost hear the voice of Darkest Dungeon’s ancestor say “Ruin has come to our noble village…” In short: This is an installment that lives by virtue of its phenomenal prose. In fact, were it not for these minor complaints, I’d consider this on par with the very best of all offerings in the series, as the atmosphere evoked is perhaps only rivaled by the brilliant Kennutcat. Still, there are a couple of uncharacteristic minor hiccups herein and, while the prose is pure amazing, the crunch supplementing it feels slightly less inspired. Hence, I will rate this at 5 stars, with an explicit recommendation for anyone looking for a truly atmospheric settlement.

 

You can get this, the best version of the village, here on OBS!

 

You can directly support Raging Swan Press here on patreon!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Feb 282017
 

Village Backdrop: Greystone (system neutral)

This installment of RSP’s Village Backdrop-series is 11 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let’s take a look at the settlement!

 

Sharp-inclined hills huddle together in the deepened shadows of the Mottled Spire, where, once upon a time, settlers from nearby Languard founded a fishing village and outpost for a watchtower/lighthouse. Linked by steep and narrow, inhospitable inclines, the village that was here may once have housed up to 200 people…but nowadays, greystone is a shadow of its former self, with not even 70 souls remaining…and whether they’d constitute humans ultimately depends on your definition of the term, for there is a reason the almost palpable shadow of fear clings to this settlement, seemingly clouded in the spire’s looming shadow in perpetuity.

 

Astute readers may notice that the system-neutral iteration of this village clocks in at 1 page less than PFRPG’s version – well, the whole page depicting the degenerate creature template and the brief write up of Dagon as a deity is missing here, which is a big drawback, as both contained flavorful descriptions that most certainly would have been appreciated herein as well.

 

That being said, the settlement does come with the traditional notes of villager nomenclature and dressing as well as local lore…which does make for an amazing warning, as the houses are supposed to contain tunnels, shielded from the light of day, tunnels that allow the degenerate inhabitants to move from place to place unseen by the light of days. Some murmur about the massacre that once took place here, when the strange antediluvian structures were found beneath the manor that belonged to none other than dread Dagon, whose deity write-up, as mentioned before, has fallen to the chopping block.

 

Beyond Tommi Salama’s superb cartography of the village, the pdf comes with a second gorgeous map drawn by the Finnish master of cartography, which depicts the labyrinthine caves below the hills, allowing for easy two-step functionality here. In short: This is basically a great set-up for a truly creepy village, with the closest analogue I can think of being a blending of the village in Darkest Dungeon and a backwoods horror movie flick à la Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

 

Strange carvings, mostly rendered unintelligible, weirdly mixed architectural styles and two tables to depict minor details for the caverns or add in small events can be found here as well, though the die to roll is d12, not d% as noted here. These cosmetic glitches, however, should not be taken as an indicator that this pdf contains anything but the most impressive of prose, which generates an atmosphere so thick you can almost cut it.

 

Conclusion:

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

 

Creighton Broadhurst, master of Raging Swan Press, is an absolute master at depicting desolate places, decrepitude and a general sense of a world that has moved on, to paraphrase the classic King-sentiment. Indeed, even among the offerings he has penned, this stands out. That being said, while I absolutely adore the prose herein, the pdf falls behind by cutting not only the rules of the deformities and Dagon, but also the flavor, making this system-neutral, yes, but also stripping away some nice dressing that most certainly wouldn’t have been out of place once stripped of the crunch. As much as I adore the vivid prose herein, losing a whole page in comparison to PFRPG makes this a weaker version of the village, one that lacks one pretty flavorful component. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars for this one: The prose is still excellent, but unless you REALLY hate any semblance of rules in your game, get the PFRPG-version instead. You can still ignore the rules-components of the degenerate tables etc., but you’ll have more content as a whole.

 

You can get this version here on OBS!

 

You can directly support Raging Swan Press here on patreon!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Feb 282017
 

Village Backdrop: Greystone (5e)

This installment of RSP’s Village Backdrop-series is 11 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let’s take a look at the settlement!

 

Sharp-inclined hills huddle together in the deepened shadows of the Mottled Spire, where, once upon a time, settlers from nearby Languard founded a fishing village and outpost for a watchtower/lighthouse. Linked by steep and narrow, inhospitable inclines, the village that was here may once have housed up to 200 people…but nowadays, greystone is a shadow of its former self, with not even 70 souls remaining…and whether they’d constitute humans ultimately depends on your definition of the term, for there is a reason the almost palpable shadow of fear clings to this settlement, seemingly clouded in the spire’s looming shadow in perpetuity.

 

Astute readers may notice that the 5e iteration of this village clocks in at 1 page less than PFRPG’s version – well, the whole page depicting the degenerate creature template and the brief write up of Dagon as a deity is missing here, which is a big drawback and pretty unexplainable to me. It’s not like 5e doesn’t know special features for NPCs galore or similar modifications. I can come up with no viable reason why there is no 5e-version of the unique mutations and degeneracy of the locals…and why the cosmetic changes have fallen to the chopping block as well. A couple of unique features for the local folks would have certainly been easy to include.

 

That being said, the settlement does come with the traditional notes of villager nomenclature and dressing as well as local lore…which does make for an amazing warning, as the houses are supposed to contain tunnels, shielded from the light of day, tunnels that allow the degenerate inhabitants to move from place to place unseen by the light of days. Some murmur about the massacre that once took place here, when the strange antediluvian structures were found beneath the manor that belonged to none other than dread Dagon, whose deity write-up, as mentioned before, has fallen to the chopping block.

 

Beyond Tommi Salama’s superb cartography of the village, the pdf comes with a second gorgeous map drawn by the Finnish master of cartography, which depicts the labyrinthine caves below the hills, allowing for easy two-step functionality here. In short: This is basically a great set-up for a truly creepy village, with the closest analogue I can think of being a blending of the village in Darkest Dungeon and a backwoods horror movie flick à la Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

 

Strange carvings, mostly rendered unintelligible, weirdly mixed architectural styles and two tables to depict minor details for the caverns or add in small events can be found here as well, though the die to roll is d12, not d% as noted here. These cosmetic glitches, however, should not be taken as an indicator that this pdf contains anything but the most impressive of prose, which generates an atmosphere so thick you can almost cut it. Much like in PFRPG’s version, these dressings and minor events remain system neutral and do not have mechanical repercussions.

 

Conclusion:

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

 

Creighton Broadhurst, master of Raging Swan Press, is an absolute master at depicting desolate places, decrepitude and a general sense of a world that has moved on, to paraphrase the classic King-sentiment. Indeed, even among the offerings he has penned, this stands out. That being said, while I absolutely adore the prose herein, the pdf falls behind by cutting not only the rules of the deformities and Dagon, but also the flavor these brought. This was jarring in the system-neutral iteration. In the 5e-version, I am even more baffled by the decision. This makes the pdf excel in prose…but also means that it can’t mechanically back up the promise of the amazing prose.

 

I am really torn regarding the final verdict of this version. The prose does not deserve being rated down to 3, but at the same time, the lack of unique mechanical tricks when they would have been so easy to integrate is jarring to me. Ultimately, in spite of my policy of in dubio pro reo and the strength of the prose, I feel I need to round down from my final verdict of 3.5 stars. If you have the luxury of choice and feel that you can handle the basic conversion, I’d instead get the PFRPG-version and do the conversion of the minimal crunch herein – the lore DCs have, e.g. not been modified, which makes the 5e-relevant material mostly pertain the abbreviated statblock-references in the important NPCs-line. If you do not care about the mechanical components, consider this a 5 star-offering instead.

 

You can get this flavorful village here on OBS.

 

You can directly support Raging Swan Press here on patreon.

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Feb 282017
 

Hybrid Classes Vol. I

This collection of hybrid classes clocks in at 34 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page empty after editorial (why?), 2 pages of SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 27 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

All right, the first class herein would be the forgepriest…hey! Déjà vu! Bingo, this pdf compiles hybrid classes from the Cultures of Celmae-series and adds two new ones, the Mariner and the Looter. I’d usually revisit the respective hybrid classes…but, to give you an example: Forge-priest from Cultures of Celmae: Dwarves? Still missing his skills per level…and guess what? The missing information and wonky wording? Still all here. Forest Warden from Cultures of Celmae: Elves? Still opaque and horribly broken. Shadowskiver from Cultures of Celmae: Gnomes? Still redundant in a game that has Antipodism and Path of Shadows as better alternatives. These three are full-blown misses, here bereft of the fluff and racial origin myths etc. that salvaged their inclusion in the respective pdfs to some degree.

 

The mariner (available as a stand-alone PWYW-file), while mechanically better than these three fellows, is a decent, if unremarkable coastal specialist. I have covered all of these classes in more depth in my respective reviews of the books. I’m not going to repeat all my gripes with them here.

 

That leaves us with the looter, so let’s hope for a gem in this compilation of misses, shall we? the looter is a hybrid of barbarian and rogue and receives d8 HD, 6 + skills, and “looter’s are proficient with all simple weapons, plus hand crossbow, rapier, sap, short-bow and short sword.” [sic!]. They are proficient with light armors as well. They gain good Fort- and Ref-save progressions and a nonstandard BAB-progression: While they start at +0 at 1st level, they gain full BAB-progression each level, excluding the 5th, which means they’ll end up with a BAB of +18 at 20th level. They begin play with fast movement (+10 feet) and also receive sneak attack at first level, increasing sneak attack every odd level thereafter. Additionally, they begin play with Weapon Finesse, which, at third level, may apply Dex to damage instead of STr, gaining this benefit for another weapon at 11th and 19th level.

 

The eponymous looting ability of 1st level translates, rules-wise, as Improved Steal (not properly capitalized in the pdf), with 6th and 9th level providing the next upgrades in that maneuver’s feat tree. 12th level nets even the mythic version of the Improved Steal feat, substituting 1/4 of her looter level as mythic tier. I get the idea here, but why bring mythic into it? Sure, the feat’s bonuses are pretty standard and work in non-mythic gameplay, but personally, I’d have translated them to non-mythic gameplay and added “This doubles as blablabla for prerequisites…” – if only to take a it the edge of a kneejerk reaction of suddenly seeing mythic in a regular class progression. Still, only cosmetic as far as I’m concerned.

15th level nets the option to execute a steal attempt as a swift action before or after taking a standard action once per round. Now RAW, this would make it impossible to use this ability when using a full attack. 20th level lets the looter perform the maneuver as an immediate action – the once per round caveat, in both cases, is a bit odd, but doesn’t necessarily hurt.

 

2nd level nets evasion and the swift foot ability, which adds +10 ft movement rate for 4 + Con-mod rounds, +2 rounds per class level, with 8th and 14th level extending the benefits to +20 and +30 ft., respectively. 3rd level nets Danger Sense, 4th Combat Expertise (not properly formatted) and uncanny dodge. 5th level provides Deep pockets, which provides the Sleight of Hand skill unlocks. 10th level provides, analogue, the Appraise skill unlocks. Finally, 15th level nets the Perception skill unlocks. Which is weird: Either you play with these…or you don’t, right? If you already play with them, they make less sense as class features, particularly as late as 10th level. If you don’t…they make kind of sense…I guess. On a formal level, it is evident that they have been ct-copy-pasted, since they use the second person instead of the third, so if that’s something that bothers you, now you now.

 

6th level nets a 1/day Sleight of Hand reroll, +1/day at 10th level and every 5 levels thereafter,. Improved Uncanny Dodge is unsure where it’s gained: The text reads 5th level, the table 8th. 10th level nets improved evasion. 12th level nets skill mastery (as the table calls it) or Sleight of Hand mastery, as the class text calls it – skill mastery with one being locked as Sleight of Hand, basically. 14th level nets immediate action no escape (double movement, only for purpose of following a withdrawing foe), usable for as long as the character still has swift foot uses left. 16th level nets defensive roll and 17th careful scavenger, which nets + Con-mod rounds +1 dodge bonus to AC versus melee attacks “which increases by +1 for every 6 levels the looter has attained” – which makes it pretty clear that this ability was ccp’d from a lower level. Why not rephrase it properly? 18th level provides Opportunist. As a capstone, the class gets the option to spend a swift foot use to gain a dodge bonus to AC and Reflex saves equal to Constitution modifier for 1 round. Additionally, 20th level provides the Sense Motive skill unlocks.

 

The pdf also contains several feats collected for your convenience, from Mythic Improved Steal to those featured in the mariner pdf as well as the aura of inconspicuousness and renew air spells previously published.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are not good. The classes have inherited all original issues, making it pretty clear that none received a further close examination when compared to their original sources. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full color standard and the pdf sports some nice artworks, both original and stock. The pdf comes sans bookmarks, which is a HUGE no-go for a pdf of this size, particularly one that, like all Wayward Rogues Publishing-pdfs, does not allow for text-search…which is quite ironic, considering the amount of previously published material that was used in making these classes.

 

Robert Gresham’s compilation of hybrid classes is not one I can recommend. While the mariner is decent on its own, the forgepriest, shadowskiver and forest warden are all problematic, bordering on non-functional. Which is somewhat of a pity, considering that the looter is by far the best hybrid class he has penned among the books I’ve covered so far. It is flawed, has, like others, abilities that contradict when they’re gained and similar no-goes, but the focus on stealing and the swift foot-mechanic make for a unique idea. I wished there was more interaction with it as a resource, but hey. The use of Skill Unlocks in the class progression and the quote of one mythic feat (which is not that strong, mind you!) as well can limit its usefulness for some games, though. The class feels like, with a pass by a good dev who can refine it and some actual choice and player agenda (it has none and is completely linear!), it could have been a good class. As written, one looter will be identical to all other looters regarding class abilities. As a person, I dislike the non-standard BAB-progression, but as a reviewer, I can live with it. You have to cherish the small things in life, right?

I so wished this was the improved version of those Cultures of Celmae classes. I so wished that the looter was this piece of genius that would elevate this pdf. Instead, we have two extremely linear, decent classes, one of which is available as PWYW, and 3 trainwrecks. I can’t recommend this pdf. My final verdict will clock in at 1.5 stars, rounded up by a tiny margin due to the presence of mariner and looter. Unless you’re a completionist, skip this. Here’s the good news, though: This represents the low point of the early Wayward Rogues Publishing hybrids. It gets better.

 

Youc an get this pdf here on OBS.

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Feb 272017
 

Campaign Elements – Goblins of the Faerie Wood (DCC)

This installment of the Campaign Elements series of modules/sites/set-pieces to introduce into a given campaign clocks in at 37 pages, 1 page front cover, 1/2 a page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 33.5 pages of content, though these pages are formatted for A5-sized (6” by 9”) book, which means you can, provided your eyesight is good enough, jam up to 4 pages on one sheet of paper if you’re printing this out.

 

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

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All right, only judges around? Great! The goblins presented here are small humanoids, accomplished miners with a lazy streak and a decidedly fey touch, with some sporting only a finger and a thumb on one hand and a reputation for being pretty ugly and abducting kids, but also for being talented craftsmen, provided you can keep their tendency to cut corners in check. Beyond basic adventure hooks, the pdf also contains a brief sketch of making this basically a goblin-themed funnel – one that features a table of nasty faerie tricks that include tiny flint arrows that magically and slowly burrow inside the affected being and worse…

 

The funnel is basically divided in a daytime reconnaissance and a nighttime full-blown exploration, which is a clever way of getting twice the value out of a given locale. Speaking of locale: The PCs will be able to encounter goblinoid cross between a bridge-troll and a water-beetle (yep, with artwork), witness red-hooded goblins haggle with elf-like faerie and twig-men. The PCs may encounter spatial disturbances that loop the area back upon itself; the PCs can encounter the goblin king of the red-hoods, perchance receive charms from the goblin witch doctor. Speaking of which: If the PCs ask the good doctor for advice, you’ll have a nice and handy table to consult, which, you guessed it, does contain not only pieces of advice, but also rules-relevant repercussions for the respective prophecy.

 

Have I mentioned the grey ones? The wise, carnivorous sheep that answer your questions…but if they do, you’re their lawful prey? There is also a dance-inducing faerie ring; rock-shell crabs. What about the small spider, whose voice can be captured, teaching the character to speak spider…which may lead to a sidequest to help her against her bullying spider sisters. Oh, and Gaulmurk, the ogre-sorceror is actually looking for such a voice, willing to trade it versus the weird of Sortharl that not only constantly changes appearance when unattended (massive table included), it’s benefits are similarly chaotic.

 

Oh, and the pdf actually contains rules for 0-level goblins as well as the goblin warrior and goblin witch doctor class, both of which come fully depicted…so if you’ve been itching to lay a gobbo-game, you can do just that. As always, we receive information on how to get the most out of this particular book in the handy “squeezing it dry”-section…which btw. should be mandatory for all kinds of modules.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no hiccups. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games’ 1-column b/w-standard and the pdf sports nice full-color artworks, most of which I have not seen before. Cartography is in b/w and solid, though no player-friendly map is included. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Daniel J. Bishop is one of the authors, who, by now, has not only earned my respect – I go into each of his offerings expecting to be wowed in some form or another. That usually is bad news for an author, for I am one jaded bastard and I have seen a lot at this point. We have seen in the amazing “Faerie Tales from Unlit Shores“-series (Get it! If you’re not playing DCC, convert it!) that he can do faerie tales meet horror; he can do weird and sword & sorcery…and this pdf is proof he can do classic faerie tale material as well. This pdf breathes the spirit of the original tales of the brothers Grimm; it is suffused with an angle of the strange and uncommon and depicts the environments and beings in a captivating and concise manner.

 

The added classes for goblins are a nice plus and indeed, this could be read as a great scavenging ground, not only as a set-piece. In short, he once again did it and created one great pdf. While personally, I considered the Giggling Deep to be slightly more intriguing, that is just a matter of personal taste. This most certainly constitutes one amazing pdf…but has the added handicap of having to compete with another goblin-centric set-piece by the author: Compared with the Goblin Market in Faerie Tales from Unlit Shores I: The Creeping Beauties, it falls a bit behind. In fact, it is my contention that perhaps the best use for this pdf is as a supplement to the amazing aforementioned module. (Srsly, if you’re a DCC-judge, these are must-own; even if you’re not, they’re worth converting!!) Well worth the fair asking price, my final verdict for this pdf will thus clock in at 5 stars, just short of my seal of approval.

 

You can get this neat pdf here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Feb 272017
 

The Enhancer’s Handbook

This installment of Drop Dead Studios’ expansion-books for Spheres of Power clocks in at 28 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 23 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

All right, after some introductory prose and advice on navigating this book, we begin with a selection of archetypes, the first of which would be the Herculean Scion for the mageknight, who replaces 1st level’s magic talent with a domain power of a domain of her choice, with 2nd level increasing the CL to class level for enhancements that target the scion – in short: Full CL-self-buffs. 7th level replaces marked with immunity to all poisons and diseases, with 11th level providing DR 3/- that improves every 4 levels thereafter by 1, replacing mystic defense. As a capstone, self-targeting enhancements instead last 24 hours and nets an outsider apotheosis.

 

The wizard may elect to become an eclectic researcher and is considered to be a high caster, with a spell pool of class level + Int-mod points, 2 magic talents every odd level and 1 every even level, with 1st level netting the Spellcrafting and Create Spellbook feats as well as the focus casting drawback with the spellbook as the focus. This spellbook is known as a researcher’s notebook and 1/day a spell cast from it may be reduced in complexity by 1, with 10th and 18th level providing further decreases in complexity. Here’s the deal, though: The archetype receives so-called name-bound spells that only the archetype may properly cast, gaining the option to enhance such spells in special ways, allowing for the application of enhancement of magically duplicated weapons or armor generated via spells. This…is at once awesome and ridiculously strong in the hands of a system-savvy player. That being said, it is also a very creative and potentially very rewarding exercise for experienced players. The wide-open nature of the engine thus created can result in the requirement of GM-calls here, though that is the consequence of a system-inherent property and not necessarily the fault of the archetype.

 

The snake-oil salesman replaces sneak attack with being a low caster as well as class level + Cha-mod spell points, with enhancement as a bonus sphere at 1st level and magic talents at 3rd level and every 2 levels thereafter. Trapfinding is replaced with bonuses to Appraise and Bluff. The enhancements of the class can be delivered via pills or oils to creatures and weapons, gaining the special delivery drawback. 4 special rogue talents allow for lingering effects, better magic and poisoning. Personally, I would have liked the concealing poisons talent to specifically state its DC without requiring the looking up of the precedence, but that is a minor and cosmetic inconvenience that stems probably from me not exclusively playing with the spheres system. 5th level replaces uncanny dodge with Brew Potion, allowing for once again, complexity modifications. It should be noted that “primarily Enhancement effects” is pretty wobbly as far as rules-verbiage is concerned. That could have been solved more elegantly. Higher levels net quick pill-swallowing and resilience versus negative side-effects, with the capstone providing some fun options to really sell prouct.

 

The spirit-wielder fighter replaces bravery with the option to awaken one weapon, which proceeds to gain the Enhancement sphere at 3rd level and the weapon’s Cha-mod as spell pool. The weapon may select a casting tradition and receives additional magic talents at 7th, 11th and 15th level, replacing armor training. 5th, 9th and every 4 levels thereafter and 17th level enhance the weapon’s resilience, with 19th level further enhancing the weapon. As a capstone, the awakened weapons are resurrected alongside the character and are part of the being for these purposes and the weapon may not be disarmed…and the character may 1/round take 10 for an atk with it. The final archetype would be the whitesmith armorist who replaces summoned equipment with the Enhancement sphere and treats the full character level as CL for object enhancement. Special qualities may also be applied from enhance equipment thus by the archetype, with +1, +1 at every 5 levels. Instead of bound equipment, the bonus further increases by +1, with 7th level and every 4 levels further enhancing the bonus. 5th level allows the whitesmith to repair broken objects and adds a further weapon affected, +1 object affected at 10th level and every 5 levels thereafter. 19th level allows for swift action concentration on enhancement, with the capstone allowing for spell point expenditure for doubling the number of additional objects affected – basically, a god-weapon-smithing one.

 

The pdf also contains a significant array of new basic talents that allow for the increase of the potency of poisons, optional spell point expenditure for more enhancements when using options that allow for multiple options…which can be a bit weird when interacting with class/archetype abilities that add additional benefits. A bit of clarification for such interactions would certainly be appreciated. Temporary reduction of fatigued/exhaustion conditions and there are more than a few similar…well…enhancers. From better movement to generating a magical sink as a kind of dispelling buffer to finally, an option to render items more fragile or adding bleed effects to weaponry – the array is generally solid. 4 advanced talents are also included, one of which lets you employ aegis and enhancement not suppressed by antimagic, one to go ascetic via spell points, one to grant temporary sentience via Embodiment of Magic to non-instantaneous effects – this would btw. be a pretty complex template with a CR-enhancement of 2/3 HD, +1/4 potency that allows for the creation of critters based on spells…which is VERY cool and may make this, scavenging-wise, pretty worthwhile even if you’re not that interested in SoP.

 

Regarding somewhat problematic options: I generally like how referential enhancement makes enhancements acts as bursts for +2 spell points…the question remains, though, if such bursts can enhance options that are defined by self-only targets and enhanced thus. Would a herculean scion’s enhancements of his tricks potentially be expanded? Do the class abilities or the talents take precedence here? It’s these interactions where the system obviously could have used some slightly more precise notes, since it’s not 100% evident which takes precedence.

 

A total of 3 incantations, from talking to locks to making statue servants or forming stone as clay, these are pretty amazing. Kudos! The feats are arguably the crunchy heart of this installment of the series: Two feat categories are introduced here: Drawback feats allow for taking alternate benefits from drawbacks, which is amazing, as it allows for further customization and differentiation between crafted traditions. These include interaction between addiction and enhancements, bonuses to MSD for slower and more deliberate casting, etc.

Secondly, there would be the category of proxy feats, which builds on enhanced creatures acting as Circle Casting candidates, manipulating the respective proxy enhancements build upon that feat’s effects – basically, via these feats, you can gain, for example the option for a proxy expending an immediate action to get you a reroll, etc. These basically are a bit like a chopped up tactician/collective-generating archetype…interesting, though I think the engine would have perhaps worked better in the context of an archetype…but that may be me. The other feats contained herein also represent some serious gems – extended options for making weaponry aligned, multiple expansions for animated objects and shapeshifting enhanced objects is similarly cool…though this one needs some system-mastery and sports a component that could use a bit clarification: The enhancement becomes a shapeshift, I get that, but do class abilities and talents modifying enhancement apply? Those that modify shapeshift? Both? The interaction is a bit problematic here – not to the point where the material doesn’t work, but to one where I can easily construct cases where the interaction becomes somewhat opaque. I also couldn’t find Fate Magnet in either the book or SoP, so not sure whether this is an option that will be released to the public in the future.

 

Very cool: A total of 9 different sphere-specific drawbacks can be found within these pages, with 2 new boons included as well – a total of 6 traditions have been tailor-made for the book as well. The pdf concludes with the bestiary-section, which includes truly ginormous colossal items, from colossal+ to colossal+++, CR 12 to 16, 3 sample embodiments of magic and a whole section that expands the animated object section with special material, notes on animating structural features and several new abilities and flaws for the respective items.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good in both formal and rules-language levels. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard and the pdf has a decent blend of stock and original pieces. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Marcus Dirr didn’t have an easy task here – Enhancement is simply not as “sexy” as a concept as some other themes for Sphere-handbooks and he did a more than valiant job, focusing on some interesting rules-operations. The feats contain some seriously intriguing gems and the focus on spell customization is cool. The magical embodiments are pretty amazing as well…but in this pdf, more so than in previous handbooks, it becomes pretty evident that the SoP-system, when not handled very carefully, can easily result in some glitches in the interaction between the highly modular components. This does not make this a bad book in any way, but it makes it an installment that could have used some further streamlining. As a result, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, still rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

 

You can get this expansion here on OBS!

 

You can directly support Drop Dead Studios making more of these books here on patreon!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Feb 272017
 

Cultures of Celmae: Elves

This installment of the Cultures of Celmae-series clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page of advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 20 pages of content, quite a lot for the low price-point, so let’s take a look!

 

The elves, in an interesting twist of the traditional myth, are not the oldest humanoid race of Celmae: Instead, the mysterious beings have suddenly appeared on the world as the Shattering was unleashed…alongside many a significantly less benevolent entity. As such, the arrival and war-effort of the elves against the creatures unleashed was met with a mixed response, with treaties confining them to their chosen forest homes for the most part…though a dwarven prophecy of global annihilation at the elven hands still floats like a portent of ill omen over the race’s dealings with the stout folk. Considering that Delwynndynn Morningstar, greatest hero of the elven race, succumbed to ghoul fever and turned into a horrible mockery of his erstwhile noble nature (think Athas of Warcraft-fame, in elven), that prophecy may yet come true. And yes, this legend is indeed represented herein as a badass CR 19 dread ghast magus/slayer. Oh, and guess what? You won’t believe that: His stats, while not perfect, italicize the spells! Okay, the magic items are not italicized properly and there are some formal hiccups here…but it’s a start! On a plus-side, his artwork is phenomenal and cool.

 

But I digress: Things turned more confusing for outsiders with the arrival of the Dray-kel’aravaas, a completely different type of elf who promptly won an internal war against the other elves, one that also meant an end to the previously-enforced exile and confinement of the elven people. This reorganization also meant the splitting of the elven people according to the lines of different houses, with the original elves being further known as members of the house of the lost. The scholar Brezzleman has an interesting and somewhat controversial report that tries to explain the elven mystery: He claims that the Dray-kel’aravaas are aliens, who have been sent by their Mi-Go-masters to find the fugitive original elves, who were led away by a mythological figure. The Dray-kel’aravaas were then abandoned by their fungal overlords…and it is hinted that elf-like behaving orcs may be tied to the Dray-kel’aravaas as well, allowing for a Middle-Earth-y overlap, should you choose that aspect to be true. So yeah, much like Golarion’s elves, these guys are aliens, though the focus is admittedly different.

 

Racial trait-wise, the elven people herein are modified from the default: Their weapon familiarity is changed to hand crossbow, lightning rod, rapier and short sword and instead of elven magic, they can cast dancing lights, darkness and faerie fire 1/day as a SP – oddly without requiring the standard minimum of 11 in a pertinent ability score. They also get +1 to atk versus dwarves (not as a racial bonus) and SR 6 + their class levels. This, as a whole, constitutes a significant upgrade of the power of the race. The Houses represent different alternate racial trait packages that alos modify the weapon familiarity: The House of the Sun gains +2 Str and Cha, -2 Con and applies the grudge bonus to orcs instead of dwarves and loses darkness. The house of the moon gets +2 Dex and Wis, -2 Con, +2 to Sense Motive (erroneously called “Keen Senses”) and changes the SPs to detect magic, enhanced diplomacy, guidance. The House of Stars gets +2 Int and Cha, -2 Con (making them lopsided caster-focused), +2 to all Knowledge Checks, daze, charm animal and charm person as SPs, making them imho stronger than other houses. There is one background trait included (erroneously referred to in the plural) that nets +2 to intimidate versus non-elves, -2 to Diplomacy versus non-elves. The trait is not properly formatted and does not feature the proper nomenclature and verbiage regarding bonus type etc.

 

The pdf mentions elven short- and longblade as alternate origins of katana and wakizashi, though the latter is not spelled out and must be deduced from context. The pdf also introduces us to two elven nations: the island-nation of Aravaasa (including the settlement stats of the city Moonmeadow), as well as the forsaken forest of Endiel, which is now haunted by Delwyndynn Morningstar and his ghoulish legions. The description of this region and its horrid transformation represents one of the highlights of this pdf, so kudos there – though if you expect to see the level of detail allotted to the Briranor’s realm, you won’t find that here.

 

Marsila Moonbow, patron deity of elves, is depicted herein as well, with 4 domains and subdomains assigned to her and both elven long- and shortblade as favored weapons. As always, this can result in some favored weapon interaction chaos, but considering the thematic unity and rules-precedence that treat a daisho as one entity (like Oriental Adventures, back in 3.X), I can kind of, sort of, see it. Kind of.

 

Next up is a new class, the forest warden, who receives d6 HD, 4 + Int-skills per level, proficiency with simple and martial weapons and light as well as medium armor and shields, excluding tower shields. The class receives 3/4 BAB-progression and a completely weird save progression that begins with good Fort- and Ref-save progression and then switches it up to make Will the best save, culminating with +9 Fort and Ref, +13 Will at 20th level. I am not a big fan of this decision.

Oh, and the class receives Wisdom-based spellcasting that is spontaneous (uncommon, but I don’t mind that attribute-choice) drawn from both ranger and druid-list, using the lowest spell level if it shows up on multiple spell-lists. That in itself would already be pretty strong, but starting at 5th level, the class can also select spells from the sorc/wiz-list, the most powerful list in the frickin’ game. So, spellcasting alone…makes this class overpowered as F***: We combine two of the most powerful spell-lists in the game, cherry-pick the lowest level AND add a spell-list (ranger), whose 1st level exclusives are balanced for 4th level access. Oh, and guess what: They’re divine spells! You can cast in armor! F*** ME. If that sounds horrible, wait for this gem: “A forest warden cannot use spell completion or spell trigger magic items (without making a successful Use Magic Device check) of sorceror/wizard spells of 7th level.” You can read that in the spell-section. So, what about 8th level and 9th level? No idea. Oh, and 8th level nets you the option to ignore arcane spell failure in nonmetallic light or medium armor…which does not apply in the first place, since the class casts divine spells. This class is a mess. So base spellcasting is jumbled wreck and even with that unlock, even if I’d assume the base spellcasting had the proper wording to prevent that…this ability would provide full armored sorc/wiz-casting in addition to all the druid/ranger/hunter-tricks.

 

And yes, this being a hybrid of hunter and sorc, we further add animal companion and focus, bloodline (at 5th level), trackless step, woodland stride, etc. And no, I’m not going to dignify this abomination of a class with a detailed breakdown. Whoever wrote this chucked out any notion of balance out with the bathwater. This is better than both druid and sorc. That says everything. Unless you go for insanely powerful gaming, this class is broken – and when you do, you’ll have issues with rules-precision, something VERY important in high-powered games. I usually try to find something positive to say about every class. I tried really hard. I can’t.

 

*takes a deep breath* We close this pdf with two pages of elaboration on the various houses of the elves, which here make up the seelie court…which can provide a fluff-disjoint if you sue that nomenclature for fey, but that at least remains a nitpick that you can ignore.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are not good: There are several obvious formatting issues in the rules-language and the hybrid class is confused and not balanced in any way, shape or form. Layout adheres to an aesthetically-pleasing two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports a blend of amazing new artworks and older pieces. The pdf has no bookmarks, which constitutes a comfort-detriment.

 

Robert Gresham, John C. Rock and Michael Whitney provide a pdf on elves here that sports some nice fluff. The power-upgrade for the elven race(s) herein puts them on one level with the more powerful races, meaning that they eclipse regular gnomes, dwarves and humans of Celmae in direct comparison. The prose is generally nice, though a couple of hiccups do exist on a formal level. The hybrid class should have crashed and burned alongside the elven starship and seriously needs to go back to the drawing board as one horribly overpowered mess.

 

…this leaves me with not much to recommend. The prose is nice. The background flavor has some pretty nice bits and the inclusion of high-CR villain stats are nice…but the statblock sports several formatting glitches and errors as well. I like much herein, but if crunch is involved in any given section, you’ll find an error here….and prose can only do so much to salvage a pdf, even one that is relatively inexpensive for the page-count. My final verdict will clock in at 2.5 stars, rounded down. If you’re not in it for the fluff, steer clear of this one.

 

You can get this pdf for 2 bucks here on OBS.

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Feb 242017
 

Wrath of the River King

Honorable Mention for my Top Ten of 2016

This module clocks in at 66 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page backer-thanks/introduction, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 60 pages, so let’s take a look!

 

My review is mainly based on the print version, though I also had access to the electronic version.

 

This is an adventure-review and as such, it contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

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Okay, so before we begin: This is one of the modules that perfectly encapsulates what sets Midgard apart from your run-of-the-mill fantasy setting, for its begin in the small village of Riverbend is steeped in the feudal structures that should be inherent in all fantasy worlds. Let me elaborate: The miller in ancient times doubled as a taxman of sorts and was directly put in charge by the respective lords: There was no free choice of where to go, etc. and you had to pay miler and lord when having your grain processed. It is thus that the stereotype of the greedy miller came into being. An edge of the sinister had always stuck to the profession in a fairy tale-context, one perfectly exemplified by Ottfried Preußler’s “Krabat”, building on the Wendish legend. Not only does the book perfectly highlight the horrors of love and war and poverty, its use of mystical numbers and general plot have influenced magical traditions in my own games for ages. It is, in short, glorious and if your German is good, I’d strongly recommend the folk-rock cd “Zaubererbruder” by ASP, a poetic and really catchy version of the tale that has some really smashing tunes like “Denn ich bin Dein Meister” (“For I am your master”) or a brilliant portrayal of a duel of polymorphing cat and mouse – literally!

 

I digress, back to Riverbend: The miller here, as often, was the target of not an undue amount f jealousy…and worse, he actually had an elven wife! (Note: In Midgard, elves are VERY rare and considered to be closer to fey than regular mortals, making them feel more mythological.) The elven wife of miller Froderick has vanished, alongside with his millstone and people are pretty sure he has murdered her…after all, someone who consorts with fey is prone to be suspicious, particularly if he’s also the miller! The presence of the fantastic is making itself felt in town, with the omnipresent fey (exemplified as bugbears and forest imps) making the area dangerous…oh, and guess what: poor Froderick is facing the gallows if the PCs don’t help him. Indeed, investigation of Riverbend may yield the PCs some interesting information: For one, a band of satyrs with a talking bear have taken refuge at the local inn, much to the panic of the local population. Getting them out will require a complex skill-check-interaction…which brings me to one of my favorite parts in the module, at least from a design perspective.

 

You see, this was originally released for D&D 4th edition and while I loathe that system, its skill challenge mechanic is interesting: Basically, you set a complex task in front of the party and allow the respective PCs to accumulate success and failures based on skill-use. Let me make up an example to illustrate the concept: A tree blocks a trade road. The mage may use Knowledge (engineering) to discern the best way to move it, the fighter uses his Strength (or Profession (Woodman) to cut off some big branches and finally, the ranger or druid use Handle Animal to make the horses draw the tree away. Sure, you could depict that in sequence, but the beauty of complex skill challenges lies in the variety of options and the teamwork aspect inherent in besting them. The system is ridiculously easy to understand and I sometimes wish that particularly deadly traps used such a system more often, instead of relying on one roll. So yeah, the inclusion and proper conversion of these skill challenges is a big plus for me and I can’t figure out any drawback to their inclusion.

 

Beyond the satyrs, there is a flaxen-eyed kid in the mill – who is very nervous and claims that it belongs to him. The PCs don’t yet know that…but this boy is Froderick’s son. Ellesandra, his missing wife, was pregnant and raised the boy in the Summerlands, where time follows different laws….a magical place which can, just fyi, be accessed by the mill pond…which also explains the presence of a rather potent sidhe knight and his squire there…and they’re not pleasant beings. Speaking of not pleasant: The module makes an excellent display of highlighting the strange and capricious nature of fey, whilestaying true to the myths: If the PCs take a look at the accounts of Froderick, they may well find out that there is something missing…confronted with this discrepancy, the strange coincidences may make suddenly sense, as Froderick confesses to having had an enchanted millstone that he had to grind each day in order to keep his wife’s love…oh, and his wife was gifted to him by a fairy lord, to whom he was sending the missing tribute…but he vehemently denies being the shape that was seen attempting to drown his wife. (On an aside: Morally compromised, but well-meaning man, young and gorgeous wife that is only kept entranced with him, courtesy of his toil…you can see some nice social commentary here…yep, the like has even existed back in the times quoted by fairy tales…)

 

It seems that the PCs will have to dive deeper into the matter at hand and brave the mill pond if they want to get to the bottom of this mystery…literally here, for the tithe collector of the fairy, one nasty hag (who also, coincidentally, knew about the miller skimping on the due amount and who is the culprit of the attempted drowning) has sunk the mill stone in the mill pond…so the PCs will have to dive down…and there, finally, brave a kind of mini-game, if you will, as you’re diving into the river – getting to shore in the lands of the fey will be not an easy task…but once the PCs have managed to reach shore, things turn very much wondrous, as the Summerlands feel, without a doubt, like a realm both wondrous and magickal, as PCs get a chance to encounter eel hounds, witness the dance of moths, deal with frog-riding goblins…and save Elessandra from a fey bandit…and she is willing to fill the PCs in on her marriage being arranged…and thus that the woman has no intention of ever returning to the realms of mortals…but her wedding ring makes for a somber way of hopefully getting the miller off the gallows…but while the GM may elect for this encounter to just happen, it is very much at this point that the linearity you’d expect from a module like this…completely vanishes.

 

Sure, there are aspects that can be presented in a certain sequence, but, at this point, any remotely capable GM and group can either go in sequence through the specific dressings and NPC/monster-encounters, sure – but the goal itself and how they achieve it will depend in a very nice emphasis of player-choice highly upon the interaction with the mythologically-resonant cast of character: You see, with the miller not delivering the proper tribute, Riverbent is actually bound to become part of the Summerlands unless the deal can be renegotiated and the River King’s wrath quelled. Oh, and even if the PCs just want to run…well, they may have access to an incantation that lets them navigate fey roads…but that does not mean they can simply return home!

 

Thing is: Fey are elitist. And cold. And alien. And they seem to have taken a liking to some of the feudal structures seen among the mortals – thus, the PCs will definitely need to make some allies with powerful entities…and the entities being fey, well, let’s just say that strings will be attached, new roleplaying potential generated as the PCs make their impact known among the noble fey. In fact, the PCs may even claim a title, encounter the dragon Tatzel and there would be the Birch Queen’s magnificent and unearthly fair to visit. An evil lord of verminous butterflies, scorched treants and similarly wild beings allow for plenty of deadly encounters…or corresponding opportunities for roleplaiyng opportunities with some of the most interesting creatures to interact with in a while.

 

In order to save Riverbent, the PCs not only have to reach the source of the river and gain access to the court of the river king, they will also need to make a case for the claim of lord Flax on the lands being spurious…and negotiating with a personified force of nature…well, is not an undertaking to be taken lightly or disrespectfully. Fey are capricious, though, and the hag may well demand for a duel…oh, and in order to return to the mortal world, the PCs will have to defend the fairy-realm version of the mill from the forces of Flax in a furious siege…and, much like real-world fairy tales, this ends with a melancholy and bittersweet note, for Flax is Froderick’s son, the humble kid the PCs saw before, grown quickly and prematurely, providing a somber tone to contrast with the wondrous and impressive nature of the summerlands.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good. I have noticed a couple of minor hiccups, but nothing grievous. Layout adheres to a gorgeous two-column full-color standard. The pdf sports several unique and beautiful full-color artworks and the pdf version comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The cartography is glorious full color, though there are no player-friendly versions included. The print softcover, unlike earlier Kobold Press books, is just as gorgeous and full color as the pdf and definitely well worth getting.

 

Wolfgang Baur’s Wrath of the River King, beautifully and expertly translated to PFRPG by Ben McFarland was for a long time one of the blind spots in my Midgard-collection: While I have all the early Open Designs, I sat this one’s funding out back in the day, since I had no interest in 4th edition. That being said, after the glorious conversion of Courts of the Shadow Fey, I was hoping we’d get to see this one as well. When I finally got my hands on this book, I was surprised to see its relative brevity… but don’t be fooled: There is a metric TON of gaming to be had from this module. I’d be seriously surprised if any group can finish this book in anything below 6 full-day sessions unless they skip everything: This book not only manages to create an ambiance wondrous and miraculous, it also, much like the excellent “Courts of the Shadow Fey”, GETS fey. Where the shadow fey excursion was all about the dark and somber shadow fey, this one very much is all about the wondrous fey that are in tune with nature; this pdf pits the PCs against an alien and intriguing incarnation of the capricious forces of nature. From the small dressing bits to the NPCs and environments, the module oozes flavor from every single word and manages to be extremely concise while doing so.

 

This belongs in the hall of fame of the precious few modules that truly manage the feat to tap into the wonder and feeling of fairy tales and translate it to the medium of roleplaying games, only being paralleled by the amazing Courts of the Shadow Fey and AAW Games’ superb Snow White for PFRPG. This is a true gem that basically demands a place of honor on your shelf next to these classics. In short: It is not only one gorgeous book that manages to cram an insane amount of crunchy bits in its page-count, it also manages to perfectly evoke the sense of the fantastic. This should be considered to be one of the modules that need to be experienced by anyone who even halfway enjoys the world of Midgard, a module that I’d consider core-canon and brilliant. Particularly the beauty of the ending and its resonance of classic tropes is genius and an emotional note only few modules manage to hit. This is one superb offering and effortlessly receives a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval as well as a nomination as a candidature for my Top Ten of 2016.

 

You can get this amazing gem of a module here on OBS!

 

Oh, and if you’re a fan of 5e or PFRPG – this is the last call! As per the writing of this book, you have 4 hours to back the massive new books! Now or never! The link can be found here!

 

Endzeitgeist out.