May 222017
 

10 Kingdom Seeds: Plains

This inexpensive pdf clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

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

 

After a brief piece of introductory fluff, we dive right into the nit and grit of this file, namely villages that you can use to craft, bingo, kingdoms from them – each of these settlements comes with a village statblock, but does not end there: Beyond a small summary of the village, we also get one or more sites of interest and 3 different rumors per village to potentially jumpstart adventures from.

 

So that’s the format employed here – but what kind of villages are we talking about? Well, for starters, LG Belpond, is a surprisingly lawful and cozy village of guild-organized structures, where a visit of the local tavern may see your pockets emptied…only to have the goods be returned to you before leaving! Lightley, in contrast, would be a LE thorp of only 13 folks and is known for its bears.

 

Taking the example of settlements tied to creatures, the hamlet Morlea, situated between these spectra of the alignment axis at LN, actually does not rest – instead, it follows the migration patterns of the mammoths, making for an interesting and rather evocative backdrop. Ornesse would be an interesting, touristy destination with serious population fluxes, for the chariot race tracks always draw plentiful folks to the hamlet during the racing season.

 

In contrast to this place, the folks of Prydwin are living by their herbs, which are grown in excessive herb gardens that are meticulously maintained by the populace. Have I mentioned the druidess and her pest-devouring chameleon companion? Revale is either white or red – steeped in snow or showcasing its red sandstone beauty – and the theme of color extends to the primary industry, which hinges upon the extraction of color from rare lichen. Unlike its name, the hamlet shadowhurst is actually known to be a rather lively place, famed for its straw-related craftsmanship and corn.

 

Soulhill sounds foreboding – and indeed, the village, after an uprising and burning of the previous rulers, has taken to a rather selfish and dangerous demeanor. Westerfox is build around a horseshoe-shaped abbey, with sprawling buildings around, and represents a community that is rather disciplined and tight-knit – formally a meritocracy, but in fact, controlled by a nasty elite. Finally, Woodedge would be a place you don’t want to visit: Buried in banks of tall flowers and flanked by beehives, it may seem idyllic enough, but gigantic bees and rather nasty halflings make this place a dangerous prospect for visitors.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no serious glitches. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience: While the bookmarks haven’t been labeled properly, they are functional. The pdf sports nice full-color artworks.

 

Liz Smith delivers a nice variety of small settlements to visit and develop. The respective places have sufficiently diverse themes to make this worthwhile and while I wished this had more room for the individual villages, it does provide enough to jumpstart one’s imagination. Considering the very fair price point and the writing, which provides a nice array of different concepts this time around, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars – and due to the low price, I’ll round up for the purpose of this platform.

 

You can get this inexpensive pdf here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

May 222017
 

Everyman Minis: Interval Spellcasting

The first of Everyman Gaming’s mini-pdfs clocks in at 6 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 2 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

So, what is interval spellcasting? In short, it represents a variant spellcasting tradition available for arcane, divine and psychic casters and the decision to do so must be taken at first level, since it represents a significant component of the base fundamentals of the spellcasting tradition. Only one such variant spellcasting tradition may be known by a single character per class; multiclass characters may choose to use a given variant spellcasting tradition in one class and be general spellcasters or adherents to another tradition in another class – but each class can only hold one variant spellcasting tradition. Variant spellcasters have one fewer spell per day at each spell level – ouch, particularly for the prepared folks! (And yes, I do like that, since the spontaneous guys can use some love…)

 

So, the basics out of the way, what does an interval spellcaster get, benefits-wise? Upon becoming such a spellcaster, you choose one school of magic and that school is hindered or enhanced, based on the interval of the day, which is concisely defined as a 6-hour sequence: Dawn is 6 A.M., midday starts 12 P.M., dusk starts at 6 P.M. and midnight at 12 A.M. – obviously, the GM may freely adjust these to his or her needs. Each such period is split into three phases: Waxing, essence and waning – all of which consist of 2 hours each.

 

During the chosen school’s interval period, your spells of the school gain +1 to CL and +1 save DC, if any. During waxing, you increase the CL bonus to +2 to CL-checks for the purpose of overcoming SR. During the waning phase, you get +1 to all saves versus effects from your chosen school. During the essence-phase, you get both benefits and, additionally, once per day, you may cast a spell from your school and apply Enlarge, Extend, Silent or Still Spell sans caster level or casting time increase, adding some crucial, but limited flexibility there. Additionally, you gain an interval ability while your school’s interval lasts, which, unless otherwise noted, is a free action and may target yourself or an ally within 30 ft. This ability may be used once per day, +1/day at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter.

 

These benefits do come at a cost: Each school has an opposed school, and, during your school’s interval period, you take a -2 to saves and a -1 penalty to CLs and save DCs of the school. Sooo, what happens if that would reduce CL to 0? I assume that would prohibit casting the spell altogether, but specification would have been nice here. It’s a very minor flaw, but one I noticed due to the otherwise immaculate presentation of the material.

 

The intervals and how they have been assigned to the respective spellcasting schools makes sense – abjuration is assigned to dawn, enchantment to dusk, necromancy o midnight – this resonates with the respective tropes and can generally be considered to be a rather well-made array of choices. Abjuration nets a save-reroll with casting attribute modifier as an insight bonus, which conjuration provides an immediate action very short-range teleport…which brings me to another minor complaint here: The effect should be codified as a conjuration (teleportation) effect for the purposes of spell etc. interactions. Additionally, the school-abilities, while pretty obviously Su, are not declared as such in the pdf. Divination nets the target a bonus to initiative, enchantment nets a morale bonus to atk or skill-checks, illusion a scaling miss chance. Necromancy yields temporary hit points for 1 minute and transmutation an enhancement bonus to an ability score for spellcaster key attribute rounds.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious glitches. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard and the full-color artworks by Jacob Blackmon are nice. The pdf does no have bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

 

Luis Loza delivers a damn cool concept: I found myself often wishing that there’d be more such basic tweaks to the spellcasting engine and while this requires a bit of time tracking, it makes for a rewarding engine. The concept is amazing and I sincerely hope we’ll get to see more such traditions, perhaps even suffused with a bit of flavor, special rites etc. – this represents the very basics of the concept and, while it does so rather well, I found myself wishing it had at least provided some basic guidelines and suggestions for further modifications. That being said, I’m complaining at a high level here – my final verdict will hence clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

 

You can get this interesting, fun pdf here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

May 222017
 

20 Things: Slaver’s Compound (system neutral)

This installment of Raging Swan Press’ system-neutral #20-series clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

All right, much like in the installment on creepy graveyards, we begin with minor events to spice up the game – a total of 8 such entries are provided and range from guttural laughter of bored (and drunk) guards to horribly disgusting smell leading to the slave pens…

 

Next up, in the tradition of the series, we get some fluff-only entries of slaves with a pronounced personality: These folks include a wizened sage, an mad guy who thinks he is the emperor of the world or a heavily-tattooed, blind seeress – white a few folks here that can use the PC’s help…and who may well prove to become rewarding assets! Of course, a righteous, yet completely bloodthirsty and savage slave may be a potent ally…but can he be allowed to roam free? Can he be redeemed? Pretty cool!

 

Of course, there also are beings on the other side of the equation – and thus, 10 sample slavers with a personality would be next: From the clichéd, disgusting and thoroughly vile to the guilt-ridden man faced with an impossible choice, these guys are surprisingly nuanced: We have different justifications (or lack thereof) showcased here in a surprisingly versatile selection. Big kudos!

 

Next up would 20 entries of dungeon dressing tailor-suited for the compounds of slavers: These include, but are not limited to, whips and torture devices, bloody handprints on the wall, complex tally systems, various brands or treasures hidden from view – once again, an evocative and well-written page.

 

Finally, we’ll take a look at what one can loot from the bodies of slavers: From crude and coiled rope used as a makeshift whip to meager coins, bone dice and other, grisly items associated with the trade, we end this pdf with a potentially inspiring and intriguing table here.

 

Conclusion:

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

 

Creighton Broadhurst knows his craft – it’s simple as that. The chief of Raging Swan Press is a master of concise writing and manages to evoke a surprising sense of diversity and fun in his brief elaborations; the entries herein all have been lavishly hand-crafted to add dimension and hooks to a given environment. They also fit the theme perfectly and manage to achieve a sense of cohesion. In short: This is a great, fun dressing-pdf, well worth 5 stars + seal of approval.

 

You can get this amazing dressing file here on OBS!

 

You can directly support Raging Swan Press here on patreon!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

May 192017
 

Miscellaneous Musings: On Horror Part II

 

First things first: In case you missed part I, here’s the link!

 

The TL;DR-version of Part I is: The Castle of Otranto and Wieland exemplify early horror, focusing on anxieties; internalized and externalized, with loss of control and a feeling of helplessness as a leitmotif, in one case internalized, in the other externalized.

 

Okay, so last time we took a look at the basic mechanics of horror. This time around, let us take a look and consider how we can achieve horror in our games.

 

First things first: The table must be on board for it. Just throwing a horror scenario at an unreceptive audience will do nothing and just generate frustration. There are folks out there that don’t like horror, that shirk even away from darker fantasy. There are players who very much want to be heroes , they want to be Captain America, Superman, etc., players that enjoy the clear-cut distinction between good and evil. Horror, much like any genre, is not for everyone.

 

Since horror is based in a significant part on immersion, make sure that phones are turned off, that the players know their rules and that you’re not playing in a place where the Saturday morning’s kid’s cartoon show’s on the TV. Your gaming location doesn’t have to be “spooky” (though it helps), but neither should it actively subvert the expectations.

 

Then, make sure you have a consensus for Rule I: Make sure that everybody is comfortable with the themes you’ll employ. People have widely different tolerances for certain things and while it’s okay to make people feel uncomfortable, you want that feeling of creeping dread – not wholesale disgust, which, as mentioned before in Part I, has nothing to do with horror per se. Similarly, particularly violence against children NPCs and the fictional depiction of sexual transgressions can result in unwanted complications. Make sure that GM and players all know their limits – think of this as the SSC (safe, sane, consensual)-code of BDSM applied to gaming: You don’t cross lines unless everyone’s okay and talking about such lines beforehand is important. Don’t ask “I’ll kill off kid-NPCs in this module, everyone okay with that?”, but rather ask, sans SPOILERS or implying anything, what the limits of people are.

 

Listen.

And then accept them.

I am serious.

Other players and GMs are different, but you’re all there to play a game, so respect them and don’t discuss or argue. Horror often gets a bad rep due to not respecting people’s borders – it’s transgressive, yes. It should make you feel slightly uncomfortable. But it should remain within acceptable boundaries for everyone.

 

Okay, that out of the way,  establish whether you want to play a “purist” horror-game or a “heroic” one. In a “purist” game, the struggle of the PCs, ultimately, is a doomed one – if you choose that route, you probably will be thinking about games like CoC first. However, a note here: If you don’t leave the illusion of hope and thwart everything, it loses its impact, its raison d’être: The impact of such stories lies in the final scene, in the utter realization of total helplessness and despair. It is a playstyle that requires mature audiences and is not for everyone; it is, however, arguably also incredibly satisfying when pulled off right.

 

If you’re playing the “heroic” horror game, the central theme focuses on the struggle of the characters with their flaws, failures, etc. – and overcoming them. There should be a chance for survival, for triumph, but in order to have meaning, it must be a significant struggle with a very real chance of failure. This can result in happy feel-good endings, but also in truly amazing and extremely rewarding “reap what you have sown” depictions of anti-heroes, of story-arcs where the PC is potentially unmade by his or her own choices.

 

These distinctions are fluid, mind you, but they are handy to bear in mind.

 

Both have in common that they require a mature and fair GM and similarly, mature and fair players. If you’re a GM that tends towards railroads and power-trips, you may need to rethink your role: You are there as the facilitator and negotiator of the story – and yes, in horror, that means taking control away from players in certain circumstances, but you need to be careful with it and don’t overexert this aspect of your duties. And remain FAIR.

 

Similarly, and this is often overlooked in my book, players don’t realize their own responsibilities in a horror game. I have seen many a player, often justifiably, complain about a GM abusing power in horror games…but remain wholly ignorant of the actions that “forced” the GM’s hand: So let me spell a couple of things out for you – it sometimes helps to see them written down:

 

Unlike in a fantasy game, horror does not work in conjunction with one-dimensional characters. You can’t just play a flawless paragon of virtue…and neither can you play a disgusting psycho-monster. If you’re the source of horror while in control, by definition you won’t experience the game as intended, you will never dread losing control. It’s the player-equivalent of a GM’s power trip, a subversion of basic premises, as though you put Bugs Bunny in a heart-wrenching drama.

 

Much of horror’s fascination stems from the struggle, from the Fallhöhe (height of the fall), potential or actual, of a character from a moral standpoint. The best horror characters are flawed – they can be powerful, yes. But as a player, you need to contemplate how actions influence your world-view, what would and would not compromise your character’s principles and communicate that with the GM. Then, when the like happens, play accordingly.

 

If you just want to bash creepy crawlies, then you want to play fantasy with a horror coating, perhaps dark fantasy, but not horror – know in advance what you’re getting into.

 

Here’s another mind-blower: When playing horror in a rules-intense game like Pathfinder, optimizing your character to kingdom come may actually detract from your fun.

 

Yeah, I know. Counter-intuitive. I myself derive significant fun from creating murder machines as well. But unlike in fantasy, your goal is not to create a superhero, but a fallible, well-rounded character. A dumpstat here, a flavorful choice there that is not optimal – all these can actually increase your enjoyment of the game in a horror environment.

 

In a rules-intense game, you should also make sure, more so than in other games, that all players and their PCs are on the same level – wide discrepancies in optimization skills can make running a horror-game all but impossible: If the werewolf can insta-kill some characters, but is killed by others in a single round sans breaking a sweat, then the GM has an impossible task. All characters need to experience a similar level of danger.

 

Finally, there is what I call the “Covenant-clause” – the GM and players enter a kind of covenant in horror games: The GM has more power, but also more responsibility – and the players trust the GM to exert it with caution and fairness.

 

A nice way to illustrate this school of playing, a means to symbolize this covenant, would be the drawback/flaw: Going with the theme of the flawed hero, all PCs get to choose a serious drawback – madnesses, lost limbs, etc. As a player, this is your way of telling the GM “Look, here you have a means to really challenge/ undo my character. I trust you and want you to challenge me with this Achilles heel. While my PC may die due to it, I believe that you’ll be fair in the challenges posed.”

 

As a GM, these represent weak spots you can and should target – but not too often. If a player, out of his own volition, accepts such a drawback and the GM screws him constantly over with it instead of tailoring challenges to account for it, then we have an issue. It’s your way of saying: “I recognize and thank you for making a well-rounded character. It is in the nature of such weaknesses that they’ll negatively influence the character’s performance and I will do my best to reward your roleplaying and while I will challenge you via this Achilles heel, I will do so in a manner that is not designed to screw you over.”

 

Let’s take the example of a limping character: He’ll be slower to get away, so while he should *feel* that the drawback matters, while he should require help or experience a chase by werewolves through a dense forest in a more harrowing manner than a non-limping PC, the GM should not try to kill the character for the choice and instead consider this a window: This handicap means that the character and player are ready for a major adrenaline kick – you use the weaknesses of characters to make them feel special, to highlight their struggle, much like you’d highlight the use of their coolest abilities in a fantasy game. A drawback is an invitation to engage with a character’s weaknesses, not an invitation to screw the character over. (MANY, many published books violate this crucial rule…) Unlike in horror movies, your goal is not to kill everyone off – if e.g. the limping character was saved by a fellow PC, that can influence the relationship between the PCs…if the other PC died, how does the limping character react? Such weaknesses can make for amazing catalysts for nuanced and rewarding gaming.

 

The consequence of well-handled engagements between GMs and players of flawed characters is that the characters will engage in-game with their own flaws, interact with them – for the better or for the worse. Once you’ve almost been eaten twice by tentacled horrors, you’ll be more likely to listen to that vampire promising you a functional leg…

 

In short: GM and players have to establish a baseline of what’s acceptable. More so than in other genres, creating multi-faceted characters instead of cardboard-cutouts is crucial. Starting with good (or at least relatively good), but flawed characters is highly recommended. Players should cooperate to create characters that don’t outshine one another. GMs have an incredibly high responsibility…but so do players.

 

GMs should not abuse their position. If you have to resort to forcing players to roll to make the PCs act scared, you’re doing it wrong. If players play their characters in a manner that is befitting of the situation, if they act appropriately panicked, then don’t force rolls on them to simulate it. Use caution when taking PC control away from players and only do so sparsely and as a last resort.

 

Players should try to play their characters in a concise and fitting manner; more so than in fantasy games, constantly spewing out-game talk, quoting pop-culture references etc. is not acceptable behavior in a high-immersion horror game. Embrace multi-faceted, flawed characters – you can play the Superman-and Captain America-boyscouts or Mr. Hyde-villains in your regularly scheduled fantasy games.

 

Above all: Communicate. That goes for GMs and players alike.

 

Players, make sure you and the GM are on the same page regarding your character. Embrace flaws, and yes, also the death of your character. GMs, make sure you understand not only the PCs, but also the players…and while it is perfectly okay to create deadly modules and challenge the players, don’t penalize them for the weaknesses they offered you in good faith and never, ever use save or die to make a point. PC death should be a real possibility, but should never be used in a haphazard manner. Death should, as a whole, be the result of CHOICE, not just the roll of the bones.

 

All right, so that would be my horror gaming 101 (though these rules hold true for dark fantasy as well),…next time, we’ll talk about horror gaming in high-powered games like PFRPG and why it actually works…and we’ll go full circle and resume the reasoning on the nature of horror from Part I.

 

See you there!

 

If you enjoy my reviews and ramblings, kindly consider taking a look at my patreon here – every little bit helps and I am relying on you all to be able to continue providing all this content!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

May 192017
 

101 Plains Spells

This pdf clocks in at a massive 65 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with an impressive 59 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

There are few environments with such a bad rep as plains – compared to trackless deserts, swamps or mountains, there are next to no good modules or supplements for them out there. In fact, it took Frog God Games’ phenomenal “Fields of Blood” to make them really stand out and finally get their due.

 

The pdf provides spell-lists for all pre-Occult Adventures spellcasting classes, organized by class first, then by level and then alphabetically.

 

Oh, one more thing: This review was moved up in my review-queue as a prioritized review at teh request of my patreons.

 

All right, so far these terrain-specific spell-books by David J. Paul have been characterized by pure excellence, but can this pdf retain this impressive streak? Let’s see!

 

Taking a look at the spell-selection provided herein, we begin with a feasible and interesting variant of disease-curing magic: Alleviate Animal Affliction mitigates the disease suffered by animals, which makes sense in an environment of vast plains, where a broken leg of one’s horse may well spell doom for the weary traveler. This is particularly relevant, considering the effects of spells like sore horse or the ability to summon giant drone ants as mounts – come on, that is damn cool!

Once again, the pdf provides a selection of spells that is directly entwined with the terrain: For example, while ankheg’s awareness is a pretty straight attribute-buff when considered neutrally, those that cast the spell in a plains terrain also gain senses even further extended. In a great and fun interaction with the material component, an ankheg’s leg, we also gain additional abilities within the hunting grounds (qualified, area-wise, btw.!) of the ankheg used in the casting of the spell. This is a simple operation and frankly, one that more magic should sort: It rewards players for engaging with the world, nets a GM an easy way to motivate PCs and also explains potentially nasty advantages of spellcasters in their home-turf.

 

This design-paradigm is btw. one that thankfully graces the spells contained herein rather often. These interactions that modify the spellcasting engine per se are not limited to the interaction with the terrain or creatures, though – if one takes a look at the Assured Diviner spell, for example, one can see that characters with the knowledge domain, lore mystery or the lore spirit double the duration of the spell. While the base spell is not one I’d consider mind-blowing, it is this thematic connection that rewards character choices that makes this remarkable, at least to me. I am a big proponent of diversification among characters and the more player choices matter, the better – spells often are rather static and linear pieces of crunch and this pdf taking some of that linearity and tweaking it makes sense in all the right ways.

 

This also extends to the summoning spells contained herein, with e.g. the atomie gang that you can call forth being an interesting example – while GMs may need to exert a bit of caution regarding these group summon spells, it is interesting to note that chaotic clerics with the arcane subdomain may select the aforementioned spell as a substitute domain spell. Also intriguing: Fey bloodline sorcerors and witches with specific hexes generate the maximum number of creatures summoned, tying the base spell mechanics to player choice here as well.

 

What made me go “AWWW!” when reading it would be Bevy of Bumblebees – I love bumblebees. They’re fat, clumsy and the cutest insects you could fathom. (As an aside – research bumblebees and aerodynamics -the folklore that they can’t fly is inaccurate…) While uncontrolled, the giant insects can be held at bay with smoke, allowing for interesting combinations of spells and effects for the savvy players. If there was one prevalent leitmotif to the magic herein, it would most certainly be “choice” – in particular, choice that hinges upon magic feeling less static – it makes sense that those, whose character choices represent the spell thematics can enjoy additional benefits.

 

Similarly, the terrain-centric and localized benefits make use of the old adage of magic working by appropriating a part for the whole, a maxim most popularly represented in e.g. voodoo dolls. But these do actually, to a degree, entwine. If you takes a look at black art of the bouda, you’ll notice the requirement of a bouda’s fetish as a focus, which represents an obvious adventuring angle. The spell does allow for a variety of choices themed around the creature – and the abilities directly interact with the choices of abilities tapped in: The more you utilize the powers, the more the total duration of the spell is reduced. This is rewarding from a game-design perspective, as it emphasizes resource-management once again.

 

What about growing metallic wings, Archangel-style, including the option to fire them? Oh, and you can actually ruffle them in bright conditions, creating a blinding effect. While we’re at the topic of spells that should put a smile on the faces of superhero fans – burn on through hearkens to speedster-like acceleration – including overruns with trails of fire. There would also be an interesting cleave herd spell, which can make for a rather intriguing narrative device, allowing you to cause fear among great numbers of animals and magical beasts – either to hunt stragglers or bypass areas that would otherwise be beyond the PC’s abilities to traverse.

 

Beyond the narrative and design-aesthetic components, we should also mention that tactics are an important component for a lot of spells: Divine doe’s grace allows the cast to immediate action move, potentially negating attacks (and yes, the spell-level assigned is appropriate for the power this offers). Better yet, the spell’s wording manages to make the complex concept work – and emphasizes a concept I very much enjoy. As you may have noticed in a couple of my statements, my own game tends to feature a lot of terrain hazards, shifting frontlines and dynamic arenas. I absolutely loathe it when an epic duel boils down to two characters just trading full attacks for rounds on end. It’s boring and non-cinematic to me. However, PFRPG, as a system, rewards exactly this type of melee and every help we can get to render combat more fluctuating, more versatile. The downside of this ambition is, obviously, that it requires some serious consideration on part of the GM and players to make combat this interesting. This pdf does offer quite a few interesting spells that help in this way.

 

Speaking of tactical options: Remember the tunnels popularized in StarCraft etc. – what about a pathway that modifies spells and allows you to channel spells through the established conduit…and you may reassign its endpoint! So yes, there are some specific spells within this pdf that can radically change the dynamics of combat or make a specific combat unique. Speaking of such scenes that will be kept in mind: Well, there are spells, much like in previous examples of these pdfs, that represent serious ritual-like benefits and generate epic environments – eclipse the sun. The effects of this very powerful spell should be rather evident, right?

 

Feed from friends, a life-leeching spell, is an excellent example for a spell that manages to depict the vampiric leeching concept in a way that precludes use of kittens or similar cute critters – by virtue of the rules-language focusing on actual hp transference and allies as viable targets – thus, kittens could only yield pitiful amounts of hit points. Big kudos! I tried poking holes in this one and did not succeed. Generating slashing fields of grass is cool – but it is not as cool as Fire Bleeder – this spell launches missiles that cause piercing and bleeding damage – and temporarily adds the fire bleeder Su to the creature hit, which aerosolizes and ignites the blood seeping from bleeding wounds. Alas, as thoroughly amazing as this spell is, I am pretty confident that this ability should not be permanent – the duration reads “instantaneous, see text”, which makes me believe that this ability should probably be lost after a certain duration has elapsed.

 

It should be noted that, in particular these volatile fire spells herein, have additional effect for the pyromaniac goblin race, emphasizing racial spellcasting traditions. Another interesting one would be giant flea leap – which requires the consumption of a potentially sickening drop of blood, but which also allows for VAST jumps when successfully used…oh, and in a feat of internal consistency, the spell actually is easier for alchemists to use. There would also be a variant of mage’s magnificent mansion that generates a run-down, gremlin-haunted abode, a Thinner-curse that renders a target incapable of sustaining nutrients, spells that help hunting down the users of the arcane arts…and a spell, which allows you to join the swarm, allowing you to potentially evade a horrid fate AND making for an evocative getaway-strategy. Speaking of swarms – conjuring forth a butterfly swarm (fully statted) at 1st level, a harmless swarm, should provide some interesting options for the adherents of Desna etc.

 

Relatively accurate long-range forecasts (the coldest winter is coming…), mesmerizing foes via waves of grain or similar plants make for an interesting array of visuals and narrative possibilities – one exemplified as well by the plains clan spell, which generates a kind of mystic union between the participants – and it actually generates a true reason for PCs to strive to become part of a clan; it is a viable benefit provided for belonging. I love this type of design. It also ties in with a low-level spell/cantrip that allows for the easy identification of clan companions.

 

If you’ve been waiting for the flashy, devastating high-level spell in this discussion so far, fret not: Prairie Lightning Storm will indeed result in a highly flexible and devastating environment that will even push high-level PCs to their limits. Transmute Gnome to Goblin is an evil polymorph effect that may have significant repercussions on lore. As a minor complaint – variant volume fireball obviously is a more controlled, powerful iteration of the classic spell and as such, it is pretty obvious that it inflicts fire damage, RAW, the spell does not “damage” – sans the type. This is me nitpicking for nitpicking’s sake, but I figured it’d be worth mentioning, since the pdf’s flaws are so few I honestly need to strain this much to find anything worthwhile to complain about.

 

What about a spell that adds poisonous tentacles to a given shield, which may be severed by attackers failing to hit you, spraying them with poison? In an environment where horrid blazes can eliminate whole communities, withstand the fire comes at a horrible cost…but also allows you to weather even death by fire, tying into the purification and rebirth effects…and explaining why NPC xyz survived the encounter with the red dragon, why the mystic could live through the cataclysmic inferno. I adore this spell and its serious drawbacks do mean that constant maintenance is not something PCs will want to do.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are excellent on both a formal and a rules-level. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks. Artwork-wise, we’d get quite a bunch of cool full color pieces.

 

David J. Paul’s series of spells blows me away. If I were to choose a single series of spellbooks to the exclusion of all others for my PFRPG-games, it would be this one. Why? Because the magic is precisely-structured; it taps into evocative concepts, features thoroughly glorious concepts, feels magical and sports rules-innovations. The emphasis on player-choice is glorious, the support for GMs and the roleplaying component of the whole game is extremely rewarding. A lot of the spells featured within this book practically demand being used – their visuals are amazing and more than one can generate a glorious adventure, or at least, scene/encounter. Spellcasting, magic, as featured herein, does feel magical: As a tradition, its shamanistic components, its arcane components – all FIT. All feel real to an extent; all transcend just providing numbers – they are magic in a sense that is often lost on more rules-intense games. Just take a look at the page-count – these are not spells that just palette-swap components and the vast majority of them do something unique and creative in some manner.

 

In short: This is a phenomenal, inspiring pdf and should be part of the library of any group that looks for well-crafted magic. Very highly recommended as a superb spell-book. My final verdict, in spite of my nitpicks, will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval. And this is a candidate for my Top Ten of 2017.

 

Check out this gem!

 

You can get these phenomenal, evocative spells here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

May 192017
 

Artifacts & Artifice: Abhorrent Naginata

This pdf clocks in at 19 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 14 pages of content. It should be noted that 5 of these pages are used to highlight the mission statements of Infinium Game Studios and the peculiarities of the massive adventure books and supplements the studio creates.

 

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

 

All right, so the first thing you’ll note would be that the weapon itself, the abhorrent naginata, is depicted in a quadded version – that is, the weapon comes in basically 4 different iterations – ranging from +1 to +4. The lavishly-illustrated weapon (amazing full-color artwork there) sports rings of color, and each is tied to a specific race – RAW, the GM retains control of whether the PCs automatically get to know which band corresponds to which race – which is relevant due to the dynamic bane special weapon quality the naginata offers. As a formal complaint: This special weapon ability is bolded/not-bolded here, when special weapon qualities usually are italicized in PFRPG.

 

As a swift action, such weapons may change their bane type. The general special weapon quality is depicted in two iterations – as a +2 and as a +3 equivalent. From the abhorrent naginata, I could extrapolate that the lesser version is supposed to grant a +2 bonus to attack and +1d6 damage versus the target, whereas the greater version provides a bonus of +3 to atk and +2d6 damage – the lesser quality has been applied to the two less costly weapons, whereas the greater version has been applied to the two more pricey, high-level iterations of the weapon.

 

I’m saying “extrapolate” here, since dynamic bane as a generalized effect, in its explanation reads “dynamic bane weapons inflict an additional 2d6 points of damage if wielded […] they also receive an additional enhancement bonus of +2.” – for the greater version, however, that should be +3, which may generate some confusion there, as there is just one explanation in the box summing up the effect, even though the box lists the two variants. Cool: The pdf does note the weapon’s notoriety and potential quirks of ownership, which makes me expect more in that regard from the final book. A nice bit would be the table that allows for the random determination of preset enemies.

 

Another issue I have with the item would be that, in particularly the naginata’s higher iterations are underpriced – while the pdf notes that this is by design, it really, really annoys me. The naginata is priced at 36K in its third (+3 enhancement bonus), 54K in its 4th (+4 enhancement bonus) iteration – to this, we’d add the +3 equivalent of the very powerful greater dynamic bane, which would place the weapon at 72 K for the +6 equivalent 3rd version and 98K, respectively, for the fourth incarnation. I’m generally good with specific weapons being less costly than general ones, but in one case LITERALLY half the price of the crafted item…is brutal. Particularly considering how dynamic bane makes having a regular bane weapon generally a dumb and obsolete proposition. Personally, I’d have placed the lesser version with its flexible, untyped damage boost at +3. UNLESS, and that would be an easy way to limit this item and bring it in line with the pricing suggested, it actually had a cap of how many different modes it has – if e.g. the second iteration had 3, the 3rd 5, etc., I’d consider the pricing well-done depending on the modes it has…but since RAW, we have free and unlimited selection of types, I think it could use a higher price.

 

Really cool and developed would be the lore-aspect: In a quadded rumor table, a whole page is devoted to unearthing rumors and information about this weapon and its origins. This attention to detail and commitment to placing the weapon in a proper context extends to class-based hooks and general hooks that may be employed to integrate the item within the context of the game – a brief, fully-depicted quest, included a quadded rogue statblock of a wielder of the weapon has been included. Now this wielder is rather squishy at the higher levels, but considering the assassin-y angle and serious damage output the NPC can pull off, I can see the idea behind the NPC.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are generally good on a formal level and, for the most part, on a rules-level as well. They need to extrapolate the lesser/greater distinction is a nasty glitch, though. Layout adheres to Infinium Game Studios’ two-column full-color standard with color-coded blocks, etc. The pdf comes with a backgroundless, second version that is more printer-friendly. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks -kudos! The artwork of the weapon is really cool.

J. Evans Payne’s abhorrent naginata is a cool and promising magic item: In particularly the commitment to detail, lore and instant usability with a pre-made mini-quest should make this a feasible addition to the game. That being said, we do have a couple of hiccups in the mechanics that detract a bit from this item – both pricing and formatting could be tighter as far as I’m concerned – while I applaud the hyperlinks of e.g. the bane quality, seeing it bolded just rubs me the wrong way, big time – there is a reason we have formatting conventions in PFRPG and this is particularly baffling since the pdf gets it right most of the time.

 

That being said, I am a total prick here – I am, after all, complaining about a WIP-teaser for a massive compendium of magic weapons – and the teaser is FREE, ladies and gentlemen. FREE is hard to beat and while I disagree vehemently regarding the pricing, there is still time to play with the balance-screws there. The contextualization within the world that the item presentation format showcased here most certainly has serious potential and the lore aspect’s emphasis is similarly a significant strength that makes me interested to see the final book. In the end, taking the FREE-bonus into account, my final verdict for this FREE teaser will be 3.5 stars, rounded up – worth checking out and you have literally nothing to lose…and as a nice benefit, after this review, you’ll be well-equipped to deal with the one aspect where the rules may have you stumble for a second.

 

You can get this item FOR FREE here on OBS!

 

You can support the kickstarter to make a massive tome of items like this here! It’s fully funded and has met a couple of stretchgoals already!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

May 192017
 

20 Things: Dark Caverns (system neutral)

This installment of Raging Swan Press’ system-neutral #20-series clocks in at 14 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

All right, we begin this pdf with 10 different types of atypical caverns – these include massive stalactites generating the sound of rain atop pools, cracks from which unwholesome odors rise or rubble-covered collapses for an overall very evocative start, but there is more: A total of 10 uncommon encounters can be found as well: With e.g. the daemon Blight’s Kiss, whose lair contains a thinning of the veil to the Abyss, where rotting souls spew forth in a vile, brown sludge…and the PCs may notice a purple worm ambushing them with a DC 25…wait a second! Yep, there are some remnants here, as this table represents the fluff-only version of the phenomenal encounters from Raging Swan Press’ by now classic “Caves & Caverns“-supplement – which is btw. one of the best books the company released, even considering the impressive quality of RSP’s canon! Still, avoidable glitch there.

 

Next up would be a collection of 10 legendary caves, which include Saldonator, the wandering cave, the legendary Deephold of the ylanic puzzle stone – and yes, these are truly inspiring and easily my favorite part of this pdf. A couple of the entries actually inspired me to use them ASAP! 12 natural hazards/terrain features, from crumbling escarpments to thick mud, can also be found within this pdf, providing several considerations to ponder regarding the precise make-up of your caves.

 

The 20 Pieces of Cavern Dressing & 10 notable cavern features table has been taken from “GM’s Miscellany: 20 Things Volume I” and reproduced here – but is has also been stripped of the rules-relevant material in the original version, which means that those of you who want it system-neutral, get just that! The 20 Things to find in a purple worm’s stomach table has similarly been reproduced here and stripped of errant crunch – kudos, in particular regarding the partial rewrites shown here!

 

The final page provides once again completely new content – 20 things to find in a subterranean river makes for a cool little table: From very low ceilings to precariously-balanced stepping stones and mineral-based discolorations, we get a rather cool collection of entries here.

 

Conclusion:

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

 

Creighton Broadhurst, David Posener and Alex Riggs know how to write great dressing, that’s for sure. That being said, whether and how much of the material herein you’ll consider useful is ultimately dependent on whether you already have the phenomenal “Caves & Caverns” and the similarly great “GM’s Miscellany: 20 Things Volume I” – if you do own these two already, you’ll have some duplicated content. Which would be less irksome, if all aspects had been purged of rules. While MOST have been properly converted, I nonetheless found the DC-reference in the encounters a bit annoying. In the end, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars – round up if you want system-neutral or don’t have aforementioned books, round down otherwise. My official verdict will round up due to in dubio pro reo.

 

You can get this dressing-file here on OBS!

 

You can directly support Raging Swan Press here on patreon!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

May 182017
 

Miscellaneous Musings: On Horror Part I

 

So, horror in gaming.

It’s no secret that horror is my favorite genre, but at the same time, it is widely considered to be the hardest to achieve in gaming, the most difficult to write for. The reasons for this are pretty obvious: Sitting around the table, munching pizza and pretzels with your best friends doesn’t prove to be particularly conductive to creating fear.

 

This behavior brings me already the first issue I have with many a gaming supplement: We have been conditioned by mass media to associate different things with “horror”, to the point where the term has been almost robbed of any meaning. If we take a look at movies, for example, the asinine practice of jump-scares has been mistaken, widely, I might add, for horror.

It’s not horror.

It’s startling the audience.

It’s a dumb adrenaline kick. It’s why I LOATHE, with a fiery passion, the Paranormal Activity movies. They generate a great atmosphere and then break it for the sake of startling folks. Blergh.

 

In order to understand where “horror” came from and why it often doesn’t work in gaming, we should take a look at history: The first major canon of books we’d consider horror, as per the term used today, would probably be the canon of works that we nowadays consider to be “Gothic Horror” (which contemporaries would put in a completely different category, but that as an aside) – and here, things already are more complicated than one would assume.

Why? Because they don’t work the same way for us as they did for their contemporaries. Two very early examples of the craft would be Horace Walpole’s “The Castle of Otranto” (1764) and “Wieland” by Charles Brockden Brown (1798).

 

If one reads these books, one realizes two things pretty much immediately: They are not even close to what we expect from the genre nowadays, and yet, their aesthetics pretty much have coined the term – literally in the former’s case, as it visualizes perfectly the “Gothic” aspect: This hearkens to bombastic, monumental and larger than life architecture and its blending of realist and supernatural and fantastic fiction – nowadays, we’d read the book more like a fantasy novel than something that would elicit horror. The same holds true for “Wieland” – here, the aspect of sensationalist psychology and then current scientific breakthroughs take center stage.

 

Both novels are not exactly exciting by modern standards and can feel rather meandering, but I have chosen both for a reason: They both share things in common and radically diverge from one another. Their commonalities include that they observe a world that is on the verge of becoming incomprehensible, the weltanschauung, previously monopolized by book-religions, is subverted by science, and in the radical dogmatic and societal shifts, a sense of underlying unease with the experienced world suddenly became a topic for our species. As such, they observe developments and escalate them to supernatural proportions – it is not difficult to read an anxiety about the end of monarchy into Walpole’s work or a creeping realization of Freud’s claim that we are not masters of our own mind into Wieland.

 

Both observe societal and structural changes and cloak them into somewhat apocalyptic vistas; both would have been perceived by their contemporaries as somewhat scandalous in structure and theme, as somewhat transgressive – but, as literary criticism of both has shown, both also ultimately, at least from our perspective, buckle under the social norms of the age and ultimately revert to a reassertion of the status quo.

 

In the case of Wieland, reading the constant, ponderous reassertions of proper social mores that made the book palpable to its erstwhile audience makes getting through it a horrid bore – I actually managed to fall asleep while reading it. That being said, it is well worth slogging through, at least once. The plot centers on hypnotism, ventriloquism and from a gamer-perspective, can make for a really challenging murder mystery, but that just as an aside. We can assert, thus, that both create a sense of unease that never completely translates into wholesale shock – something that can be seen nowadays as well: Horror does not equal torture-porn or particularly disgusting visuals – those disgust us, they don’t frighten us.

 

Now here is my thesis: Horror always stems from the realization of a lack of control. Humans, as a whole, don’t deal well with realizing a lack of control. People that feel like they’ve been cornered by the decisions made in life are prone to despair and depression; whole societal structures, be it religions or an adherence to science and humanism or our very own government structures, are founded to a significant degree on the desire to explain the world and thus assert control over it. If you understand a problem, you can fix it – but to do so, you need control over the problem. You can’t fix a country you don’t control, you can’t fix another person…the list goes on. It’s a basic point, granted, but it is an important one.

 

You see, and that may shock you, we are actually not in control most of the time. Whether it’s society, daily interactions or even our own bodies and psyche – we can assert a *degree* of control over the respective area (how much control is very much a matter of contention and dispute – I’d personally argue that any control is an illusion and limited at best, but I digress), provided we have a sufficient understanding.

 

But total control, whether by us or a deity, is an elusive concept. Successful horror deprives us of our illusion of control and puts us into a context, where we have to face, to a certain degree, our own impotence and how exposed to machinations and interactions far beyond our own means to influence we truly are.

 

In general, there are two strategies, exemplified by these early works, which employ this truth in radically different ways.

 

The first of these, exemplified by “The Castle of Otranto”, deals with the world as an unknowable and hostile place; not only does the labyrinthine architecture of the castle represent our minds, it also mirrors our quest for knowledge in an existence deprived of simple solutions and comfort.

 

This school of horror, if you will, asserts the environment and treats the external stimuli encountered as a representation of the inner world; however, even this perception is not accurate, as it is filtered through our sensory apparatus. The horror is generated from encountering a world that is literally, beyond our understanding in its structure, even before we project our interpretations on it. This school’s culmination and most popular representation would obviously be the Cthulhu mythos, quoted ad nauseum by the gaming community, often without understanding even a fraction of what makes it work.

 

The sense of an unfeeling universe infinitely stranger, wider and beyond our control serves as a humbling and the breakdown of laws of nature as we know them, exemplified in many a book and game (like Silent Hill) unnerve us, because they contextualize our whole species, not just us, as subjects without control.

 

Wieland, on the other hand, exemplifies the second school of horror that works well, a school that is nowadays more associated with the term “gothic horror” than the above: Here, we instead experience horror on a deeply personal level. Our inability to control our minds and bodies, the internal anxiety, can be found here. To a degree, the psychological and body horror subschools are both heirs to this strategy: The horror stems from a personal, rather than an all-encompassing, loss of control – over our faculties, our bodies, our thinking, our perception – and what that means for us as a species, as society.

 

We do know that our morals penalize those that violate common, structuring principles thus; hence, the fear is amplified by the anxiety of punishment. At the same time, unlike the all-encompassing loss of control exemplified by “cosmic horror”, there is a lure in this, one that partially stems from our biology. It is no wonder, then, that this school of horror is often intensely sexually charged.

 

This may seem obvious nowadays, but the “beast within man” exemplified by lycanthrope represents just such a fear: We have freedom, loss of control, cannibalism, power, raw instinct all blended together; similarly, there is a reason why vampires have so incredibly successfully been sexually charged: When these fictions were first released, their subtext enforcing the virgin-whore-dichotomy (in short: An inability to see a woman as anything but either angelic and pure or vile and slutty, something many males nowadays unfortunately still exhibit…) has backfired spectacularly. In the most famous example of the craft, Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”, we encounter a rather unattractive vampire (read or reread Dracula – the guy’s UGLY!) who can set free women from the bonds of society, replacing their bonds with others, sure, but still – the carnal nature of blood and sexuality, set loose from Victorian morals. While the end is obviously once again a kowtow to re-establishing the status-quo and “proper” societal order, it is never the protagonists, never the reassertion of normality that capture our interest. It is the monster, a monster that lurks in us all. And do we really *want* to retain control? Particularly when it comes to our instincts?

 

That’s the horrific aspect of this school – perhaps it’s the vampiric, perhaps it’s another fantasy, but we all harbor some component in our psyche over which we cannot exert full control – so matter the psychological model you subscribe to. This type of fiction thus internalizes horror, it makes it personal – and this is the reason that, while it can work perfectly at your table, it is VERY hard to write for regarding gaming supplements, because it requires, to a degree, a personal connection. It’s why many supplements delegate these experiences to other characters. One of my favorite supplements of all time, Ravenloft’s “Bleak House” boxed set did just that in a nigh-perfect manner, taking a universally beloved and well-characterized NPC and undermining him; particularly the first part “Whom Fortune would Destroy” ranks among my all-time favorites.

 

The problem that these observations pose for the gaming table are quite evident – loss of control over a fictional character, who acts as a proxy in a shared world of make-belief, sounds dangerously like GM-fiat and not like fun….and this brings me to the second part of these essays, where I take a look at gaming and horror in particular. See you there tomorrow!

 

If you enjoy my reviews and ramblings, please consider supporting my patreon – every little bit helps! You can take a look at it here!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

May 182017
 

Adventure Avenue: Fallen Dawn

This module clocks in at 48 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 3 pages of SRD, 3/4 of a page blank, leaving us with 42 1/4th pages of content, though it should be noted that the pdf is formatted for A5 (6” by 9”) size, which means, that if your sight’s good enough, you can fit up to 4 pages of text on one sheet of paper.

 

Fallen Dawn is a location-based exploration adventure for 5th level characters, taking place in the Lotus Blossom Steppes of Porphyra, to be more precise, on the Lung Plateau. These steppes (fully mapped in full color, just fyi!) are the home of many struggling clan of powerful nomads, awaiting a Khan to unite them into a coherent force, but that won’t happen, at least for now, for the dread half-rakshasa Khan Tiikeri is keeping things pretty deliberately as they are. However, sealed away after the NewGod wars, there are tools to be found within the steppes – tools that may change all of that…

 

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

..

.

All right, only GMs left? Great! So, the adventure features several different hooks that can be used to point the PCs towards the adventure locale, as the default origin would be the sleepy village called “The Nest”, which has recently seen some business…impeded…by a traveling scholar of Paletius, deity of knowledge, looking for a lost and sacred site on the plateau. Well, turns out that this scholar is actually an agent of the eventual Katek, seeking to dissuade potentially dangerous individuals by tales of boring details…though, PCs being PCs, that will obviously backfire quite spectacularly.

 

Further observation via clockwork spies and said being may tip off the PCs regarding strange machinations afoot – and on the halfway point between the nest and the tower of the setting sun, a bhorloth, a gigantic, green-furred bison-like thing and its mounted archer master may try to dissuade the PCs further. Personally, I would have liked the journey to be slightly more detailed, but oh well.

 

What the pdf lacks in details regarding the journey, it makes up for in the approaches to the tower, for no less than three angles (East, West and North) are covered in the pdf, all with their own read-aloud text – kudos! The forlorn tower’s broken top, leaning against the plateau’s stone for a support lost ages ago, certainly makes for an evocative visual impression.

 

The exploration of this tower, once a sanctuary and repository of forbidden knowledge, can make for a compelling narrative and provides the brunt of the module’s content – you see, the tower has by no means been thoroughly explored and Paletius being a benevolent deity, it can actually yield some interesting pieces of loot for the PCs. It also features two distinct, well-blended themes: On one hand, we have the sense of antiquity of the place, evoked rather well with prose etc. – on the other hand, we have the current, organized inhabitants of the tower, the expedition of the eventual Katek, who seeks to unearth the knowledge herein to challenge Khan Tiikeri. His intentions were once pure and arguably still are – but in his quest for truth, the eventual has begun a slide down the alignment scale – should he prevail with his less than scrupulous allies, he could become a truly fearsome iron-handed tyrant. This knowledge is not necessarily dumped on the PCs per se, but e.g. reactivated constructs and the choice of creatures (which include shiko-me, unique variant clockwork creatures, advanced shadow drakes and komori-ninjas in a cool selection of less common critters) and their notes can actually have the PCs unearth this knowledge – in short, a nice example of how indirect, less obtrusive storytelling can be used.

 

Now beyond those aspects, the exploration also manages to depict the leitmotifs of Paletius’ iconography well – and PCs may well find out that the knowledge locked in the so far undisturbed sanctum was deemed forbidden. In fact, they may actually succeed where Katek failed and open the sanctum – but only if the GM desires, for the puzzle/riddle-based mechanism to open the gates to this vault hinge, even if you know how to use them, on an aspect that is completely under the GM’s control – which is pretty nice. The artifact Katek is looking for is btw. depicted (and “just” a 35K ring), but it’s still nice to a) have such a well-wrought puzzle in the pdf and b) retain full GM-control over the treasure and how this aspect pans out.

 

Speaking of panning out: The pdf provides full stats for all foes faced (though e.g. the Students of Order lack their cleric level noted in an aesthetic glitch) and also includes notes on further adventuring possibilities – from redeeming Katek to uncovering the secrets of Paletius. It should also be mentioned that the book contains a nice break-down of XP and treasure by locale, which is really helpful, allows for easy XP and WBL-tweaking and should be industry standard, as far as I’m concerned.

 

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no glaring glitches. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games’ 1-column b/w-standard with purple highlights and the pdf features some nice pieces of full-color artwork of foes faced within. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The cartography is in color for the region, b/w for the adventure locale, and pretty nice indeed. The tower itself has sideviews for Western/Eastern approach, respectively, which is a nice touch. BIG PLUS: Purple Duck Games added a player-friendly map to the deal!!

 

Matt Roth’s “Fallen Dawn” is a well-crafted location-based module; it breathes a sense of the exotic and antiquity, making ample use of its unique backdrop – surprisingly while still maintaining the means to be dropped in most environments with relative ease – you just need a chaotic tyrant somewhere and that’s it. The most impressive aspects of the module, to me, did lie in the smart choices regarding adversaries faced and the sense of authenticity this managed to evoke. It’s a tenuous, hard task to evoke such a sense of cohesion, especially in a dungeon that features two different leitmotifs (abandoned/inhabited). Furthermore, the challenges and foes faced throughout the module allow a capable GM to tell the story of the antagonist in an unobtrusive manner, which is another plus. Finally, I’m a BIG fan of the puzzle to open the sealed chambers – it makes sense, perfectly mirrors the iconography of the deity, retains GM-control AND it feels MAGICAL in a sense of the word that’s usually only found in old-school modules. It also doesn’t make the antagonist look like an idiot for not having breached it, which is just the final nice thing to comment upon here.

 

Now, the module is not perfect – the lead-in feels a bit rudimentary and so does the journey – it is pretty evident that both only act as an extended preamble for the main meat of the module, when they could have used a bit more meat on their bones. The espionage angle in the beginning also could have yielded a bit more consequences regarding payoff, but I’m nitpicking here. That being said, once you reach tower, the adventure locale, the module becomes an excellent example of a nice, unpretentious, but thematically very concise dungeon: With fitting traps and foes, nice NPCs and well-executed indirect storytelling. Now, Purple Duck Games actually added a player-friendly map – which catapults this to the echelon of a true steal: You get a great module for a fair price! Well worth 5 stars!!

 

You can get this inexpensive module here on OBS!

 

You can directly support Purple Duck Games here on patreon!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

May 182017
 

Horrific Curses

The first of the AP plug-ins for the Strange Aeons AP (which works perfectly for pretty much any darker campaign) clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of introduction, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 15 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

We begin this supplement with new archetypes, the first of which would be the accursed witch. These witches are locked into death, insanity, moon, plague, spirits or vengeance as patrons. Starting at 1st level, they gain an oracle’s curse, based on level and, nice, the archetype comes with multiclassing options regarding the curse, Starting off at 4th level, the accursed witch may basically, hex-like, inflict her curse on targets – the recipient does not gain the benefits unlocked later and, since this slightly exceeds a regular hex in potency, we have an Int-governed daily limit as well as the hex-save-caveat. Instead of 8th level’s hex, the witch may choose increased durations of curse spells, higher CLs, higher ranges (listing the progression of ranges and specific, non-scaling ranges – big kudos!). All in all flavorful.

 

Next up would be the hex hunter, who replaces Heal with Knowledge (arcana) as a class skill and loses proficiency with wither medium armors or shields. These guys cast Int-based arcane spells taken from witch and ranger spell lists and replaces animal companion with a witch’s familiar. Animal Focus is delayed until 8th level, with the second unlocked at 16th level. Nature training is replaced with the ability to apply, as a swift action, the effects of evil eye in melee, usable 3 + Int-mod times per day. Instead of hunter tactics, we gain the beast of ill omen hex, with the teamwork feat being replaced by attacks of the cursed strike mentioned before being extended as per cackle on a critical hit. This becomes more relevant at 6th level and every 3 levels thereafter, as new hexes to be added to the strikes are unlocked, replacing the respective teamwork feats. At 7th level and every 6 levels thereafter, we add new curse-spells to the spell list, replacing bonus tricks and. 10th level provides the option to gain a hex from a list of 4, which may be determined anew each day, replacing animal companions.

 

After this nice archetype, we are introduced to the jinx sorceror bloodline, with Perception as a class skills and a fitting array of spells as bonus spells. Similarly, the bonus feat selection is nice. The bloodline arcana increases the DC of compulsions, curses and pain spells, with the DC to dispel or remove such effects increased by 2. Bloodline powers-wise, we begin with an orcale curse, with 3rd level yielding an aura of despair. 9th level yields the misfortune hex and 15th level allows you to place glyphs of warding with select triggering conditions to targets. 20th level yields immortality – you no longer age, are immune to death effects, etc.

 

From here, we move on to the new spells, which make use of the dying spell concept, allowing casters to take a final potshot – while they can be cast in less dire consequences, such cases are rare, considering the extremely high concentration required. As such, these spells will usually be cast upon being incapacitated or slain and a special, but costly ceremony, can render them viable even in scenarios, where action economy is an issue, guaranteeing that you’ll get your deadly vengeance. Spell-wise, we can find, e.g. Avenge Me!, compelling creatures to seek vengeance for you. Call the Avenger similarly combines sending and demand to destroy your killer and sending off dying words to allies similarly makes sense, representing properly a fixture in fantasy literature. Providing a dying scrying for a final witness or entombing yourself in ice also make for intriguing, flavorful options….and yes, there is a funeral pyre…

 

Now, this book is called has “curses” in its title for a reason and we receive a diverse assortment of different curses – the base-rules here follow the first curse-based supplement released by Legendary Games and the representations of the respective curses contain cannibalism compulsions, shrouding a target in palpable, demoralizing gloom or shrinking the target continuously, until it has become basically nonexistent (see Atom or Ant-Man for more on that concept…and there is a variant, which ties shrinking to magic use…). Rendering the flesh of a target unstable or instilling an unquenchable gnawing hunger are interesting tricks…but there are some curses you may want to seek out: Fatal Strength, for example, can yield benefits to the PC, but also burns away the years they have. Instilling a horrid hatred in foes, suppressing any form of empathy or cursing a target with insomnia.

 

Have I mentioned the option to create a kinslayer curse, a curse whose effects are determined by the phase of the moon or the curse that makes your eyes turn black and makes you susceptible to bright eyes? More complex and potent yet would be the 6 different mythic curses included, including knitting the victim’s mouth’s flesh together, making targets feel the pain inflicted on others, transforming digits into thumbs, regressive aging or having prepared or known spells inscribed visibly o the skin make for fascinating curses…and the latter one also comes with a version that makes you bleed for casting the spells inscribed in your flesh. Come to think of it, these two curses alone could work as a basic spellcasting tradition capable of carrying a whole campaign…I think I’ll have to design the like at one point…

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no glaring glitches. Layout adheres to a gorgeous two-column full-color standard and the pdf uses nice full-color and b/w-artworks, though fans of LG will recognize most from previous publications. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Jason Nelson, Alex Riggs and Jen Page deliver a cool, fun collection of curse-themed options in this pdf. Particularly the spell-inscription curses are gold and I’d be seriously surprised if there was no campaign by a fan of dark fantasy or horror out there that employs these for a custom magic system/tweak – as mentioned, these may very well be worth the asking price for you on their own. The dying spells and archetypes are fun, with the hunter in particular being interesting. The curses are also rather nice, though, as a whole, they felt a bit less horrific than I expected from the pdf, with many focusing on concepts that strike me as more fantastic than horrific, but that may just be me.

 

As a whole, this is a good supplement with excellent craftsmanship, but at the same time, it feels like it doesn’t completely realize its full potential. In short, this is a good supplement, bordering on the very good, but I can’t really bring myself to round up from my final verdict of 4.5 stars.

 

You can get this neat supplement here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.