May 312017
 

VirtualFront (Cybergeneration 2027)

This expansion book for the classic Cybergeneration-game clocks in at 90 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 86 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

This review was commissioned by my patreons as a prioritized review.

 

Ah, the virtual world, as seen through the delightfully (at least from nowadays) retro-perspective of the 80s and early 90s, through the dystopian lens of Cybergeneration – we have an interesting sourcebook on our hands here, one that wastes no time and immediately situates us within the meta-narrative of the setting, explaining the legal situation and how the ISA have managed to basically abolish privacy…with the benefit of nowadays hindsight, the means by which this happened rings as delightfully top-down; as per the zeitgeist of the time of publication, it is obvious that a smart populace was considered to be the standard, not one that gleefully throws data out there…but I digress. If you need a good indicator of why I almost consider this cute, take the following sentence: “Even your cell phones are no longer considered private.” If you know anything about cell phone-location, how whatsapp etc. operate…then this will get a wry chuckle out of you.

 

While netspace may have sounded dystopian back then, the whole section on it and how Joe ISA uses virtual shopping and the Net almost rings cute today, with chat areas and flap rooms providing forums where a degree of free speech is still maintained. Considering the existence of the darknet, this, once again, presents a delightfully retro and…positive take on the net. On a rules-level, we have a nice sidebar called “The Online Generation”, which elaborates on things you can do on the web – and online encyclopedias and the like will bring quite probably a smile to the faces of most folks. Think, people – not too long ago, these types of things had to be EXPLAINED. General allowances of software and difficulties for such tasks are btw. included here.

 

There are aspects where the erstwhile conceptions of the future have yet to be surpassed by reality, though: The extremely immersive and potentially addictive V-sims and virtuality aspects of the sourcebook fall into this category and retain the “not yet fully realized”-status as per the writing of this review. That being said, considering that we already have people that played until they died, the potential warnings here do ring a bit like a dire prophecy for the shape of the things to come.

 

Really interesting from a contemporary status – the intersection of virtual reality and reality, virtual illusions and the like will sooner or later become relevant for us, as augmented reality and the like become less scifi-like during the game. The book does contain concise rules for virtual camouflage and using gaussian fields to hamper the effects of virtual reality on real life.

 

It is also interesting to note that the book makes certain that you’re aware that the Net, for most folks, is a fairy land of infinite options and convenience – while both ISA and yogangs etc. are keenly aware of its dangers – electronic barbed wire, AIM sysops, brainwashed CorpsSec-hacking kids and the like – the book paints a picture of the web as a zone of conflict that is globally relevant and actually less cold or covert than you’d think – after all, that is the consequence of the overlap of virtual reality and real life.

 

Of course, considering the extensive depictions of angles, threats, etc., it should also be noted that we require some resources to navigate the virtual space. Basic rules for establishing flap rooms (safe home-bases, basically) are included, but I frankly wished this section had allowed for a bit more base building – RAW, the rules provided here are pretty rudimentary. On the plus-side, from NetBoxes to unabridged corporate encyclopedias and databases, the pdf does highlight several important resources with varying degrees of risk attached to them. A summary of Eden Cabal personalities also is nice…and the book’s irreverent tone is glorious here. The chapter lists: “Netwatch. Just kidding.” and then elaborates why it’s a good idea to use them…

 

TSAIs (Transcendental Sentience AIs) are also elaborated, before a variety of different power players and net groups are depicted. Now, this is a “-Front”-book in the series and as such, it does also list the respective actions the yogangers may want to undertake, with sample allies and adversaries noted: T-squaring, Paranoia Painting, Leeching, Reality Checks…and after that, an extended Q&A-section, once again, a nice read, makes for a cool elaboration of how all of this works for the purpose of your characters – obviously, with a focus on wizards. D’uh. (And yep, sample familiars included for your convenience!)

 

With all of these aspects, you’ll realize that we also should gain some new V-tech and, indeed, including a two-page-spread window-dressing-style artwork showcasing items, the section provides several cool tools. The first new yogang presented within the tome would be the v-punks, whose yogang skill would be Private Idaho, which allows for the creation of things – from floor to creatures…which can be EXTREMELY potent in the hands of a creative player. The second new yogang would be the Networker, basically the information-gatherers and spies of the online-world, whose datahound yogang skill is all about extremely effective online research…and in contrast, while powerful, I do believe that some slightly more precise information on what exactly you can find out would have helped getting a clue on the general potency of the skill here…but that may just be me.

 

That section out of the way, we begin with the extensive section on GMing successfully adventures that feature a sufficient amount of virtual components – including electronic handwriting. Legendary Rache Bartmoss is also depicted here…as are his RABIDs…which have had a rather…ähem…let’s say, colorful background. Beyond that, Lt. Marcus Taylor, ISCTF field programmer complements this section.

 

And this is as far as I can go without diving into deep SPOILER territory – from here on out, we’ll look at the adventure herein, Operation Upgrade. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around?

Great! So, the adventure begins with the group’s wizard being contacted by a mysterious mental call, which proves to be an AI called Scoop (communicating in pseudo-binary – much to my chagrin, no correct correlation of letters here to the 1s and zeroes here)…and it soon becomes evident that the AIs are inhabiting a world of their own within the net…and the trail leads, via relatively creepy and urgent timeframes to an arcade (hopefully past some distraction) and meet up with a committee of AIs that tease about knowledge regarding the origins of the Carbon Plague…and they need the PCs – they want them to enter a facility of the ISA, where 601 awaits -an evolved AI that is scheduled for deletion within 24 hours. Double-checking the task of the AIs…well, doesn’t really yield helpful assistance, so it looks like the kids are on their own…or at least, they’ll have no cavalry.

 

However, this is where e.g. the networkers come in: Leg-work is smart and the pdf actually provides a full employee-roster for the complex, requisition forms and the like; pretty impressive attention to detail! From Vidiots (introduced in MediaFront, review forthcoming!) to V-punks, the other relevant gangs are also covered, but ultimately, time is not on the side of the characters – they have to infiltrate site 601: Getting past security can be accomplished with a variety of means, though it is pretty obvious, by which route the adventure assumes the PCs to enter is pretty evident. The facility itself is fully mapped, which is rather nice, but the maps do not sport a scale, which can render descriptions a bit more opaque than they should be. That being said, since the primary mans of infiltration assumes the use of cleaning drones as hide-away spots, it is interesting to note that the pdf specifies which drone cleans what area – once again, intriguing detail!

 

While the AI seems to be slightly creepy, ultimately the PCs should be able to get it outside…and as thanks, the AI installs a kind of program into their brains that allows for quasi-telepathic communication…and prevents them from leaving the immediate vicinity! It claims the carbon plague was generated via computers and has, at this point, basically enslaved the PCs! While scanners receive a new ability from this ordeal, the PCs are in a big bind – as 601 forces them, time and again, into dangerous situations, its evolved AI-human-interface making the AI prone to emotional outbursts mirroring the PCs…and its operation upgrade’s tasks are completed one by one…so in order to stop the AI, the yogangers will need help, smarts and some serious backbone…otherwise, the dread operations will complete…but if they do prevail, they’ll have made some seriously neat AI allies…just hope that 601’s done for good…

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no undue accumulation of glitches or the like, Layout adheres to the nice 2-column b/w-standard of the series and the book features quite a lot nice b/w-artworks. Cartography is functional, but the lack of scales on them may be considered to be annoying. We don’t get player-friendly maps, which is a bummer. The scan itself is generally nice, though the pages are slightly slanted. On a few pages in the upper right corner, the text could be a bit cleaner. Huge No-go: The pdf has no bookmarks, which constitutes a serious comfort-detriment.

 

Edward Bolme’s VirtualFront is per se an intriguing and well-wrought sourcebook, though one that has aged a bit in some aspects. That being said, the retro-charm fits Cybergeneration really well – we have a somewhat more naive and friendly conception of virtual reality, though one that is not bereft of knowledge of the more problematic aspects. The supplemental material is well-made and the setting-information’s prose is superb. The new gangs have very different power-levels and appeals, at least for me – the networkers just feel dry to me, more like an NPC-organization than a PC-option, but that may be me.

 

In contrast to EcoFront’s module, the adventure herein may lack the epic final scene and feel more mundane, but at the same time, it is, at least to me, the better of the two: It is a fun and evocative ride and one that emphasizes throughout its course the importance of engaging in roleplaying with the AI – this module can only be beaten by smarts and roleplaying…and I really enjoyed this aspect. The module features a great antagonist and has plenty of follow-up potential. All in all, I really enjoyed this sourcebook…though the lack of bookmarks for the electronic version really sucks – if you can, get print instead. In the end, my final verdict for the pdf, the only version I own, can only clock in at 4 stars – while a lot of this book’s content is still phenomenal, the aged components and the lack of bookmarks do not leave me the choice of rating this higher. Still, I’d love to see a new VirtualFront, updated and expanded!

 

You can get this pdf here on OBS!

 

You can get this book in print here!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

May 312017
 

Moar Goblins! (A Mini Bestiary) (5e)

This mini-bestiary clocks in at 18 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

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

 

All right, first things first: The layout of this pdf has been streamlined and adheres to a two-column standard with color artworks, so that’s the first thing I did not necessarily expect. Secondly, we begin this pdf with a nice recap of the term goblin and the various things it meant over the course of the centuries and in various cultures – for that’s what this pdf basically does: It expands the concept of “goblin” and looks at different incarnations of the concept. Sounds intriguing, right?

 

Well, the interesting part here beyond the theme would be that the respective creatures all come with different and rather detailed notes on their background, nature and behavior – beyond what you would usually see in a 5e-bestiary, so that added flavor is something I personally welcome. The classic grindylow, for example, has adapted to water and may function for brief periods on land, but also is much harder to kill in water and is particularly adept at breaking wooden objects in water. Personally, I think it would have made sense to interact with the damage threshold mechanic here and the resistance to all mundane damage types while in water is potent for a challenge 1/2 creature (Why are magic attacks not exempt?), but these are aesthetic quibbles. Interesting: We get harpoons as weapons, with the mariner property introduced, which allows for non-penalized underwater attacks.

 

At challenge 1, the gudro bonga is unique and a piece of folklore I wasn’t familiar with – basically, these goblinoids are worshiped as somewhat divine in subtropical climes; they can disguise themselves as children and may pilfer items at short-range, even potentially stealing items fasted down due to their unique talent of temporarily making objects incorporeal. Pretty cool! Notes on a sample settlement of multiple of these tricksters can also be found here.

 

Speaking of obscure: The Kallikantzaros from Anatolian folklore should rank as one of the lesser known creatures: Vicious, gray-skinned and trapped on the plane of shadows, legend has it that these vile beings are seeking to destroy the world tree. Creepy, ritualistic inclusion in their doomed ranks makes for a fantastic adventure hook, with the means to prevent being found resonating with mythology. Challenge-wise, these guys btw. clock in at 5 and they can sense victims born during winter solstice…but they may be tricked: making them say “triple” or “three” sends them back to their horrid prison! Amazing!!

 

Nacht kabouter are chaotic creatures with, stat-wise, a sexual dimorphism – both males and females can stretch and squeeze through small holes, both wear red caps (no, not the blood-drenched ones) that can make them invisible (greater invisibility) and both risk turning to stone when subjected to sunlight, but females (at challenge 1 versus the male’s challenge 1/2) can cause nightmares. Anyway, as an aside, in Germany, there is the beloved child-icon Pumuckl, a cartoon/live-action crossover kabouter who is living with an old, kind carpenter called Meister Eder…so if you’re looking for a nice way to learn German, that may be worth checking out.

 

The pukwudgies would be up next and come with both a regular challenge 1 statblock and a challenge 4 shaman version. These goblinoids once sought understanding, but cultural misunderstandings and similar issues have not been kind to them, which led towards a shift towards more mischievous behavior. These folks can assume a porcupine-shape and burn with their touch. Touching these prickly fellows is also generally not the best of ideas…Shamans gain the ability to use a reaction to emit a spray of porcupine-like quills to debuff nearby foes.

 

Decidedly evil would be the final critter herein, the tokoloshe, Tiny humanoids that clock in at challenge 2: Snatchers of children that ostensibly can hear others wishing harm upon their fellow creatures. With snares (sample trap provided), notes on how to call them and a binding obligation to heed their summoner, these vile child snatcher that can render themselves invisible make for a dark angle of the fairy-tale creature…

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant issues. Layout adheres to a relatively printer-friendly two-column full-color standard and each creature herein receives its own full-color artwork, which is nice for such an inexpensive pdf. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Kelly & Ken Pawlik have created a nice mini-bestiary worth checking out here: Beyond the basic builds, which all have at least one intriguing feature, it is undoubtedly the copious flavor and inspiring supplemental text that makes this pdf come into its own; it s also a big, big plus that this does not simply regurgitate the same tired creatures we have seen over x editions and instead opts to go for the uncommon and novel, drinking deep from the wellspring of more obscure myths and legends. In short: Totally worth the low asking price! An inspired mini-bestiary worth getting, full of evocative, nice ideas – only the classic grindylow feels like it falls a bit flat of its promise. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.

 

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

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

May 312017
 

What Lies Beyond Reason Prologue: Difficult Circumstances

The prologue-adventure for the “What Lies Beyond Reason”-AP clocks in at 65 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page KS-credits, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a hefty 59 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?

 

This was moved up in my review-queue due to me receiving a print copy in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

 

The first thing to note here would be that, generally, this module works well enough as a stand-alone offering, so if you don’t want to run the whole saga, that is very much a possibility. A total of 5 sample pregens with brief notes on personality etc. are included in the deal, which is pretty nice, though scaling advice for higher or lower point-buy versions would have been nice to see for them.

 

Another thing one should be aware of would be the tone, for while this module is still very much a rather gritty endeavor, the campaign itself becomes a very much high fantasy saga, though one with mature themes. I will discuss what exactly that means in my forthcoming review of the campaign guide, but for now, just be aware that this module’s theme could fit rather well in pretty much any fantastic context.

 

A thoroughly impressive component of this module, being a freshman offering for Pyromaniac Press, would be the cartography – we get full-color maps, with player-friendly for all encounters, with key-less versions provided as high-res jpgs in an attached archive, making this fully VTT-compatible. Since the main adventure site features a pronounced aspect of verticality, we even get a cross-view section of the main site’s map – and a player-friendly version of that one as well. In the formal criteria, this is most definitely impressive – something further emphasized by the fact that this sports A TON of original artwork – pregen-portraits, important (and unimportant!) NPCs, wondrous caverns…this is impressively heavy on the full-color artwork, so if you and yours tend to enjoy modules supported by plenty of visuals, this delivers in that respect, impressively so.

 

The module also provides ample commentary in sidebars, which can help troubleshooting or just make the module run smoother and provide a glimpse behind the curtain. Finally, I should not be remiss to mention that, particularly GMs who have a hard time with read-aloud text and description-improvising, will get quite a bit out of this one – it sports impressive amounts of read-aloud text, some of which may be a bit overkill for players keen to act…but that’s a catch 22-scenario. With the exception of the setting-the-stage-monologue, player actions or feelings are not prescribed by the text. (And here, the disgust exhibited by the PCs is very much justified…but more on that below.)

 

I mentioned a bunch of NPCs and there is a reason for that…but the most challenging aspect in this module would be that the GM has to juggle quite a few of these folks. Interestingly, while some have more levels than the PCs, they are built in a way that will not hog the spotlight from the PCs – big kudos avoiding the GM-NPC-syndrome there. The print copy is btw. a bit darker in tone than the pdf – which of the two you prefer is a matter of taste, but personally, I preferred the print copy’s grimier, darker look.

 

In short: From a formal perspective, this looks rather interesting, so let’s take a look at whether the module itself holds up, shall we? From here on out, the review will contain a ton of SPOILERS. Only potential GMs of this saga should continue reading.

..

.

All right, so we begin during a horrible storm, at night, in a rickety, thoroughly unpleasant tavern in the middle of frickin’ nowhere. One of the places that just smell bad, that are bad news, you know, the kind you only get stuck in due to the horrible weather and lack of options. All NPCs and their stats are included in the NPC gallery in the book, just fyi: We have Bob, a thoroughly unpleasant and downright nasty old man of an innkeeper, Melissa, the gorgeous barmaid, Duran the merchant, James his apprentice, Lucious Thannillar the bard, Rufus and Faldor, mercenary brothers with a bad attitude, Thorgrim Shatterstone, the dwarven cleric, Barrat the gambler and Theric, the ranger. The PCs will have ample opportunity to interact with and seize up these folks and the GM retains a surprising degree of control over how much of the module pans out due to this cast of characters: Barrat, for example, seems to be cheating at cards, but strangely doesn’t seem to empty the coffers of his victims…and there is a reason for that, but one the PCs may or may not find out during the course of the adventure.

 

As the storm rages on outside, the PCs awaken to some shenanigans, yes, but the module itself begins once the creaking starts…and a part of the tavern, with NPCs and PCs inside, tumbles through the floor into the cavern below, clogging the exit with rubble, unceremoniously dumping the PCs in a cavern complex that retains a surprising sense of authenticity – it is evident that the author has taken the timeless advice of consulting the Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide…or has at least done his research regarding spelunking. The astute reader will notice that such a fall would usually kill PCs, but the rules-justifications for not doing so actually rang sensible to me…and if you’re a sadistic prick GM like yours truly, that is a great chance to start bleeding their cleric NPC’s resources dry…

 

It should be noted that NPC interaction is appropriately detailed for the GM…and one can quickly surmise that the danger-level and DCs required generally is pretty low. This has a reason: The anti-optimized and rather…let’s say “colorful” NPCs that are caught with the PCs can provide the edge required to triumph, yes…but they also can be a liability if not handled properly. You tell the dwarf to get rid of his armor…

 

The exploration of the cavern-complex should lead players to an interesting cavern illuminated by quartz-like structures where a black ring-like thing with strange runes, obviously magical, can be found. While negligible in relevance for the plot of the overall AP, this is the linchpin that holds the module together – the ring beckons and behaves very much like a well-known example of its kind. If the PCs want to get rid of it and let someone else do the heavy lifting of this burden, the module becomes a bit problematic. That’s another reason you need those NPCs – to talk some sense into the PCs or to try to take the ring. It is, in short, the weakest aspect of the story and the one thing you need to make your players accept. Oh, have I mentioned that this ring actually made one NPC immortal? Calls to him? And resurrects him after days of grueling torment in the netherworld? Yeah, if you have read the module, you should find one angle or another to appeal to even the most mercenary of PCs

 

But before the ring becomes a true problem, the matter of escape needs to be handled and it is less simple than it should be due to the NPCs. While the DCs are low for PFRPG, getting all NPCs out alive will not be simple, considering that some serious climbing and traversing of difficult terrain awaits beyond e.g. mud oozes. If you’re using this within the context of the campaign, it’ll be worth it, for boons beckon…as do the options to make enemies of the NPCs. There is quite a bit of interesting foreshadowing going on here, as the PCs make their way to the surface.

 

As a minor complaint, on a formal level, e.g. the “Dungeoneering” skill is mentioned, which should be codified as a proper subset of Knowledge, but that, as a whole, makes up the extent of what I’d consider problematic on a formal level. Once the PCs have escaped the tunnels, they will reunite with missing folks (or their remains) and have but one logical choice – start heading towards the Eternal City, main site of the AP and massive metropolis. Whether or not and how many NPCs accompany the PCs ultimately depends on their interactions and the GM, though the immortal does head in a different direction…only to be sent to a temporary grave by a missing man.

 

The journey towards the legendary Eternal City is fraught with peril and several scripted encounters that employ horror-themed, classic foreshadowing and doom…and it highlights a crucial monster in the AP, so-called psychic motes that are annoying on their own, downright lethal in swarms…and it is during these mapped encounters that the visions and nightmares begin taking their toll, imposing stacking negative conditions on the PCs, while everyone grows ever more paranoid. Personally, I was a bit annoyed by the lack of a concrete traveling distance: Considering PFRPG’s overland movement rules, just fixing the journey at 6 days made no sense to me and is a structural weakness. The same can be said on a narrative level by an enforced kidnapping and lavishly illustrated horrific scene, where an NPC (per default the barmaid) is strung up like a scarecrow, “Bring it Back” etched in her flesh. Considering that you want to instill the need for the PCs to bring the ring to the city, the unpreventable kidnapping and contradictory message thus sent seems not like the wisest decision and needs careful GM-handling – once again, the hopefully sympathetic NPCs can help here.

 

That being said, the PCs will sooner or later arrive at the Eternal City, namely at the vast tent-slum before it, dubbed “Pilgrimage” – and they will soon find folks with improvised weapons and murder in their eyes haunting their step, as they reach the city gates…where they will have to wait, where they’ll be ambushed by the insane tracker that wants the ring (who doubles as the final boss) and where they will meet both the arrogant captain of the city’s Seekers (more on that organization in the campaign guide review) and the helpful alchemist Damien – who presents the reliable means and candidates of whom to entrust the dangerous ring for safe-keeping…it turns out that these relics are not unknown here…

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are impressive for a first module, but can use a bit of work – I noticed, particularly regarding hyphens and the like a couple of hiccups. While there are a few hiccups in the rules here and there and while I’m not the biggest fan of the number of attribute-checks (some Dexterity and Strength checks in the waterfall cavern, for example, should imho be Acrobatics/Climb), this generally is a solid module in these regards. Layout adheres to an impressive two-column full-color standard and the number of artworks within in impressive indeed, particularly considering their unified style and sheer number. This is, in short, a beautiful module. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and comes with a second, more printer-friendly version. The cartography is top-notch and particularly the inclusion of player-friendly maps warrants applause. The print copy is most certainly worth owning in the bundle with the pdf – the pdf is added for free to it, so yeah, I’d go with that one.

 

Micah Watt’s first module is quite a gamble: It is a very narrative module that hinges on the GM juggling several NPCs, on social interaction, on players behaving in a certain way…and the module makes some risky gambles that look like they can push the PCs of the railroad. In short, it is not the easiest module to run, but when it works, it does so in a rather rewarding manner. While the plentiful read-aloud text makes this task manageable for even novice GMs, it still is a module that does require being capable of making NPCs likeable. So, form a structural point of view, I am not that impressed. The premise doesn’t sound like too much either…BUT. The prose is actually really good. While there are a couple of hyphen-glitches and affect/effect-style hiccups, the writing itself manages to convey a surprisingly dense atmosphere that begins with grit and slowly builds up unease: Particularly what should look like a doomed hustle to the final destination would be a visual representation I haven’t seen done well in a rather long while. There is also a handout-page, where short, unsettling descriptions can be printed out and then given to a player, helping immersion further – kudos for that!

 

In short: This is a module worth getting. It is not perfect and doesn’t reinvent the wheel and it is a rather thinly-veiled railroad, but as far as spelunking, interaction and atmosphere go, you can do much, much worse than this! Much of the draw of this comes, ultimately, from the NPC-interaction. Oh, and, minor SPOILER: It’s worth getting, in particular for the things to come, for the things set up here…but we’ll talk about that in another review!

 

The verdict, right…so, honestly, I really love the map-support, the art-density and the atmosphere this creates, but the structural issues and cinematic conveniences stick out a bit, particularly due to the rather linear structure – the first adventure in the city handled that better, but we’ll talk about that in that one’s review. As a whole, this is a nice prologue for a fair price with very good production values and I have to take the freshman bonus into account – hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, though I can’t round up for it. If you’re interested in the AP, this is very much a must-have, though!

 

You can get this adventure here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

May 312017
 

What Lies Beyond Reason Prologue: Difficult Circumstances (5e)

The prologue-adventure for the “What Lies Beyond Reason”-AP clocks in at 64 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page KS-credits, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a hefty 58 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?

 

This was moved up in my review-queue due to me receiving a print copy in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

 

The first thing to note here would be that, generally, this module works well enough as a stand-alone offering, so if you don’t want to run the whole saga, that is very much a possibility. A total of 5 sample pregens with brief notes on personality etc. are included in the deal, which is pretty nice, though I do have to complain on a formal level about stat-block formatting – several features that should be italicized are not. This is a mostly aesthetic gripe, obviously, but it should be kept in mind, as it extends to NPCs and monsters herein – speaking of the latter: The statblock of e.g. a dwarf lacks the notes on armor in brackets.

 

Another thing one should be aware of would be the tone, for while this module is still very much a rather gritty endeavor, the campaign itself becomes a very much high fantasy saga, though one with mature themes. I will discuss what exactly that means in my forthcoming review of the campaign guide, but for now, just be aware that this module’s theme could fit rather well in pretty much any fantastic context.

 

A thoroughly impressive component of this module, being a freshman offering for Pyromaniac Press, would be the cartography – we get full-color maps, with player-friendly for all encounters, with key-less versions provided as high-res jpgs in an attached archive, making this fully VTT-compatible. Since the main adventure site features a pronounced aspect of verticality, we even get a cross-view section of the main site’s map – and a player-friendly version of that one as well. In the formal criteria, this is most definitely impressive – something further emphasized by the fact that this sports A TON of original artwork – pregen-portraits, important (and unimportant!) NPCs, wondrous caverns…this is impressively heavy on the full-color artwork, so if you and yours tend to enjoy modules supported by plenty of visuals, this delivers in that respect, impressively so.

 

The module also provides ample commentary in sidebars, which can help troubleshooting or just make the module run smoother and provide a glimpse behind the curtain. Finally, I should not be remiss to mention that, particularly GMs who have a hard time with read-aloud text and description-improvising, will get quite a bit out of this one – it sports impressive amounts of read-aloud text, some of which may be a bit overkill for players keen to act…but that’s a catch 22-scenario. With the exception of the setting-the-stage-monologue, player actions or feelings are not prescribed by the text. (And here, the disgust exhibited by the PCs is very much justified…but more on that below.)

 

I mentioned a bunch of NPCs and there is a reason for that…but the most challenging aspect in this module would be that the GM has to juggle quite a few of these folks. Interestingly, while some have more levels than the PCs, they are built in a way that will not hog the spotlight from the PCs – big kudos avoiding the GM-NPC-syndrome there. The print copy is btw. a bit darker in tone than the pdf – which of the two you prefer is a matter of taste, but personally, I preferred the print copy’s grimier, darker look.

 

In short: From a formal perspective, this looks rather interesting, so let’s take a look at whether the module itself holds up, shall we? From here on out, the review will contain a ton of SPOILERS. Only potential GMs of this saga should continue reading.

..

.

All right, so we begin during a horrible storm, at night, in a rickety, thoroughly unpleasant tavern in the middle of frickin’ nowhere. One of the places that just smell bad, that are bad news, you know, the kind you only get stuck in due to the horrible weather and lack of options. All NPCs and their stats are included in the NPC gallery in the book, just fyi: We have Bob, a thoroughly unpleasant and downright nasty old man of an innkeeper, Melissa, the gorgeous barmaid, Duran the merchant, James his apprentice, Lucious Thannillar the bard, Rufus and Faldor, mercenary brothers with a bad attitude, Thorgrim Shatterstone, the dwarven cleric, Barrat the gambler and Theric, the ranger. The PCs will have ample opportunity to interact with and seize up these folks and the GM retains a surprising degree of control over how much of the module pans out due to this cast of characters: Barrat, for example, seems to be cheating at cards, but strangely doesn’t seem to empty the coffers of his victims…and there is a reason for that, but one the PCs may or may not find out during the course of the adventure.

 

As the storm rages on outside, the PCs awaken to some shenanigans, yes, but the module itself begins once the creaking starts…and a part of the tavern, with NPCs and PCs inside, tumbles through the floor into the cavern below, clogging the exit with rubble, unceremoniously dumping the PCs in a cavern complex that retains a surprising sense of authenticity – it is evident that the author has taken the timeless advice of consulting the Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide…or has at least done his research regarding spelunking. The astute reader will notice that such a fall would usually kill PCs, but the rules-justifications for not doing so actually rang sensible to me…and if you’re a sadistic prick GM like yours truly, that is a great chance to start bleeding their cleric NPC’s resources dry…

 

It should be noted that NPC interaction is appropriately detailed for the GM…and one can quickly surmise that the danger-level and DCs required generally is pretty low – in the challenges posed, the 5E-version of the module, with rather low DCs, manages to capture the gritty feeling rather well. This has a reason: The anti-optimized and rather…let’s say “colorful” NPCs that are caught with the PCs can provide the edge required to triumph, yes…but they also can be a liability if not handled properly. You tell the dwarf to get rid of his armor…

 

The exploration of the cavern-complex should lead players to an interesting cavern illuminated by quartz-like structures where a black ring-like thing with strange runes, obviously magical, can be found. While negligible in relevance for the plot of the overall AP, this is the lynchpin that holds the module together – the ring beckons and behaves very much like a well-known example of its kind. If the PCs want to get rid of it and let someone else do the heavy lifting of this burden, the module becomes a bit problematic. That’s another reason you need those NPCs – to talk some sense into the PCs or to try to take the ring. It is, in short, the weakest aspect of the story and the one thing you need to make your players accept. Oh, have I mentioned that this ring actually made one NPC immortal? Calls to him? And resurrects him after days of grueling torment in the netherworld? Yeah, if you have read the module, you should find one angle or another to appeal to even the most mercenary of PCs

 

But before the ring becomes a true problem, the matter of escape needs to be handled and it is less simple than it should be due to the NPCs. While the DCs are appropriately low, getting all NPCs out alive will not be simple, considering that some serious climbing and traversing of difficult terrain awaits beyond e.g. mud oozes. If you’re using this within the context of the campaign, it’ll be worth it, for benefits beckon…as do the options to make enemies of the NPCs. There is quite a bit of interesting foreshadowing going on here, as the PCs make their way to the surface.

 

On a formal level, it should be noted that the adventure has a couple of instances where the skills have not been properly renamed – you’ll find e.g. “Intimidate”, “Bluff” and “Diplomacy” referenced here and there – not consistently, mind you, but the instances are there. Once the PCs have escaped the tunnels, they will reunite with missing folks (or their remains) and have but one logical choice – start heading towards the Eternal City, main site of the AP and massive metropolis. Whether or not and how many NPCs accompany the PCs ultimately depends on their interactions and the GM, though the immortal does head in a different direction…only to be sent to a temporary grave by a missing man.

 

The journey towards the legendary Eternal City is fraught with peril and several scripted encounters that employ horror-themed, classic foreshadowing and doom…and it highlights a crucial monster in the AP, so-called psychic motes that are annoying on their own, downright lethal in swarms (stats are provided and the pdf introduces the disoriented condition, which generally is an interesting addition)…and it is during these mapped encounters that the visions and nightmares begin taking their toll, imposing 3 exhaustion levels on the PCs, while everyone grows ever more paranoid and desperate – the effects are more pronounced in 5e than in PFRPG, which, for one, is something I applaud. Personally, I was a bit annoyed by the lack of a concrete travelling distance, but in 5e, that’s less relevant than in PFRPG. I was also slightly taken aback on a narrative level by an enforced kidnapping and lavishly illustrated horrific scene, where an NPC (per default the barmaid) is strung up like a scarecrow, “Bring it Back” etched in her flesh. Considering that you want to instill the need for the PCs to bring the ring to the city, the unpreventable kidnapping and contradictory message thus sent seems not like the wisest decision and needs careful GM-handling – once again, the hopefully sympathetic NPCs can help here.

 

That being said, the PCs will sooner or later arrive at the Eternal City, namely at the vast tent-slum before it, dubbed “Pilgrimage” – and they will soon find folks with improvised weapons and murder in their eyes haunting their step, as they reach the city gates…where they will have to wait, where they’ll be ambushed by the insane tracker that wants the ring (who doubles as the final boss) and where they will meet both the arrogant captain of the city’s Seekers (more on that organization in the campaign guide review) and the helpful alchemist Damien – who presents the reliable means and candidates of whom to entrust the dangerous ring for safe-keeping…it turns out that these relics are not unknown here…

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are impressive for a first module, but can use a bit of work – I noticed, particularly regarding hyphens and the like a couple of hiccups. The module does feature a few relics where skill-names have not been 100% perfectly translated, but as a whole, the theme may actually work a bit better in 5e. Layout adheres to an impressive two-column full-color standard and the number of artworks within in impressive indeed, particularly considering their unified style and sheer number. This is, in short, a beautiful module. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and comes with a second, more printer-friendly version. The cartography is top-notch and particularly the inclusion of player-friendly maps warrants applause. The print copy is most certainly worth owning in the bundle with the pdf – the pdf is added for free to it, so yeah, I’d go with that one.

 

Micah Watt’s first module is quite a gamble: It is a very narrative module that hinges on the GM juggling several NPCs, on social interaction, on players behaving in a certain way…and the module makes some risky gambles that look like they can push the PCs of the railroad. In short, it is not the easiest module to run, but when it works, it does so in a rather rewarding manner. While the plentiful read-aloud text makes this task manageable for even novice GMs, it still is a module that does require being capable of making NPCs likeable. So, form a structural point of view, I am not that impressed. The premise doesn’t sound like too much either…BUT. The prose is actually really good. While there are a couple of hyphen-glitches and affect/effect-style hiccups, the writing itself manages to convey a surprisingly dense atmosphere that begins with grit and slowly builds up unease: Particularly what should look like a doomed hustle to the final destination would be a visual representation I haven’t seen done well in a rather long while. There even is a handout page containing short, unsettling descriptions to hand out to a player, further enhancing immersion. Kudos for going the extra mile there!

 

In short: While not perfect, this is a module worth getting. It is not flawless and doesn’t reinvent the wheel and it is a rather thinly-veiled railroad, but as far as spelunking, interaction and atmosphere go, you can do much, much worse than this! Much of the draw of this comes, ultimately, from the NPC-interaction. Oh, and, minor SPOILER: It’s worth getting, in particular for the things to come, for the things set up here…but we’ll talk about that in another review!

 

Now, the 5E-version of this module has me at a bit of a disadvantage (haha – sorry, I’ll beat myself for that later) – you see, while the conversion relics and minor hiccups in statblocks are annoying, I do believe that this very gritty and grimy playstyle actually works a bit better for 5E. Comparing both versions back to back, the 5E-iteration has a bit more hiccups, but it, at least to me, tells the story slightly better. If you have the luxury of choice, I’d suggest getting the system that fits your preferences more, for while this one works, thematically, better in 5E, that cannot be said about all adventures in the AP. To give you a view behind the curtain: The 5E version gets +0.5 stars for fitting the narrative better, but also loses 0.5 stars for having more formal hiccups, which puts it on par with the PFRPG-version.

 

The verdict, right…so, honestly, I really love the map-support, the art-density and the atmosphere this creates, but the structural issues and cinematic conveniences stick out a bit, particularly due to the rather linear structure – the first adventure in the city handled that better, but we’ll talk about that in that one’s review. As a whole, this is a nice prologue for a fair price with very good production values and I have to take the freshman bonus into account – hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, though I can’t round up for it. If you’re interested in the AP, this is very much a must-have, though!

 

You can get this flavorful adventure here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

 

May 312017
 

5E Mini-Dungeon: The Halls of Hellfire (5e)

This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM. Unlike most 5E Mini-Dungeons, this one does not come with VTT-maps or player-friendly iterations, which is a bit of a bummer.

 

Since this product line’s goal is providing short diversions, side-quest dungeons etc., I will not expect mind-shattering revelations, massive plots or particularly smart or detailed depictions, instead tackling the line for what it is. Got that? Great!

 

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

..

.

Still here?

All right!

 

The Halls of Hellfire were once a sacred neutral ground, a place for peace talks – now, the halls are a beacon for creatures of pure evil, tainted by the darkness that saw the downfall of this once-sacred space. The lamia of the desert have been drawn to this place and both regular specimen of the feared species as well as a spirit naga and a young blue dragon await the PCs to toy with their minds and break both their bodies and souls.

 

Conversion-wise, we have protection from good on the whole complex, which is solid, but skill-wise, we have Str and Thieves’ tool DCs equal to one another…and that’s it. No interesting terrain tricks or the like.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant hiccups, though, unlike in earlier mini-dungeons, DCs and skills are not bolded. Layout adheres to a nice 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes sans bookmarks, but needs none at this length. Cartography is full color and surprisingly good for such an inexpensive pdf, but there is no key-less version of the map to print out and hand to your players. Stats, as mentioned above, obviously are hyperlinked to the SRD.

 

Jonathan Ely’s Halls of Hellfire provide a storied locale with per se cool combat encounters and some solid traps. Alas, at the same time, I did feel like this locale fell short of its awesome background story – some tantalizing hints, a bit more fluff, perhaps a series of short special terrain features – something to make the PCs experience the tragedy of the place first-hand would have gone a long way to make this more than a cool ruin inhabited by some lethal lamia. Since 5e doesn’t have PFRPG’s wealth of lamia, the other monsters also detract a bit from the strong leitmotif of the PFRPG-version.

Kyle Crider didn’t do a bad job with the conversion, mind you – but I still felt like this could have used something more to make it properly unique. As written, it is a decent offering and hence, my verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, though I can’t bring myself to round up for this.

 

You can get this mini-dungeon here on OBS!

Endzeitgeist out.

 

 

May 302017
 

Legendary Villains: Vigilantes

This installment of the Legendary Villains-series clocks in at 40 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of introduction/how to use, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 29 pages of raw content, so let’s take a look!

 

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

 

All right, let’s begin with the new archetypes contained herein, the first of which would be the alchemical scoundrel, who gets a modified class skill list and reduced the skills gained per level to 4 + Intelligence modifier. They replace the vigilante talents gained at 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter (until 16th level) with the alchemist’s alchemy ability as well as the infusion discovery and they may select alchemist discoveries in lieu of vigilante talents. The main meat here would be over 20 special discoveries here, several of which may be taken as alchemist discoveries. These include alchemical splash weapon damage upgrades when damaging a target for the first time. Note that I assume this to not apply to bombs, since they RAW are not defined as alchemical splash weapons. I arrive at this conclusion partially due to other discoveries, which allow the archetype to replace the fixed DC of regular alchemical items for a limited number of them and designate these items as breakthrough items with a scaling DC.

 

Gaining access to bombs and throw anything can be achieved via another talents. Bomb Tinkerer is not perfect – it allows the alchemical scoundrel to change the damage inflicted to “fire, ice, cold, electric or bludgeoning damage” – neither “electric”, nor “ice” damage exist in PFRPG. Worse, when combined with a discovery that changes a bomb damage type, you can choose half one such predetermined one, and “one damage type of the alchemical scoundrel’s choice” as the second. Problem here: This should refer to the available choices. RAW, it allows for free damage type selection. 8th and 12th level unlock sonic and force damage, both of which reduce bomb damage dice size, though. A feral mutagen variant that also enlarges, penalty-less cognatogen options or evolving mutagens, which grant limited access to unchained evolutions (OUCH) can be found. Personally, I’m partial to e.g. a false tooth for immediate action infusion access with scaling uses.

 

Gaining the master chymist’s mutagenic form and mutate class feature has interesting interactions with identity-change, though personally, I’m not too big on granting PrC-signature abilities via regular class features. Interesting: Those that choose the mutagen can learn brute archetype’s special talents, which makes sense – particularly since they only work will mutated. Nyehilists (puntastic!) can choose the true mutagen at 20th level. I am not a fan of quicker creation of mutagens, cognatogens, etc. – delimiting limited resources can get wonky in the long run.

 

I am also not the biggest fan of persistent mutagen as a discovery being a way to gain the class ability as soon as 12th level, as opposed to the alchemist’s default 14th level. All in all, a crossover-archetype I would have expected in the hero-book…and one that I’m not that keen on.

 

Second would be the consumed vigilante, who replace their old identity and gain Nameless One as well as bonus hit points. Instead of social talents, they gain Skill Focus (okay, I guess) To make up for that, these guys do require less food, water and sleep to regain health, with higher levels further decreasing this. 3rd level nets renown, with 9th level unlocking greater renown and 15th level incredible renown, with the duration to acquire renown also reduced. 5th level provides a +2 bonus to Will-saves, which increases at higher levels and applies the bonus also to several negative conditions. As a complaint here: The bonus is once referred to as insight and once as morale, so which of the two is correct? 19th level greatly increases the difficulty to find out anything about the vigilante. Suffice to say, this archetype gets rid of the whole social talent-stuff.

 

Now the next one would be the first one I’d consider a villain archetype in theme, the dread champion, to be more precise. These guys must be evil in their vigilante identity, get an aura of evil, smite good, etc. – dread talents can unlock further abilities in that field…you guessed it, this guy is basically an antipaladin/vigilante crossover. It’s generally a solid archetype.

 

The Fortune Thief gains access to a witch hex and when affecting a target with the hex, they gain a luck point, with Cha-mod acting as a cap for how many they can have. Cool: The ability actually is kitten-proof and cursing one’s allies is also no reliable means of refreshing the pool. These points may be spent as a free action for skill-check bonuses or temporary boosts to atk and damage…yeah, this is somewhat luckbringer-like in style. The pool does per se not empty or replenish without this refreshing, but since this ability replaces vigilante specialization, the new talents the archetype receives can allow for minor regeneration of luck points while sleeping, Hex Strike to be added to non-unarmed melee weapons, passive benefits for holding on to luck points, longer bonuses and reflexive luck boosts that can negate crits or allow for attack and damage rerolls. All in all, the engine is REALLY cool…but e.g. savage hex causing untyped damage (should be typed) equal to class level on a successful save is something I’d strongly suggest typing. Nice: This one does get its own capstone.

 

We’ll get delightfully disgusting next – the plague scion is locked into the stalker specialization and begins play with the antipaladin’s plague bringer class ability. At 3rd level, the archetype gains a signature disease, which gains a scaling DC…and from here on out, the scion can add diseases contracted to this list, which is rather cool. 6th level and every 3 levels thereafter adds further diseases, with one being dominant. This replaces unshakable. 4th level yields plague strike, which connects Sleight of Hand and hidden strike with the infectious warfare they engage in to lace objects with their virulent strains…and this is actually pretty cool and limited uses prevent abuse! I like it! Higher levels yield frequency-increases for diseases, detecting the diseased, variant transmissions for signature diseases and, at higher levels, adding the ravaging template to those infested…oh, and at the top, we get magic-resistant diseases. Two thumbs up for this nasty villain!

 

The protean prowler is locked into a chaotic vigilante identity and replaces vigilante specialization with access to scaling unchained eidolon evolutions, which they may reassign Constitution modifier times per day – this process takes 1 minute and covers half the points – so two uses for complete reassigning. This pool can also alternatively be used to use evolution points to duplicate a scaling array of transformations, duplicating the effects of ever more potent spells. The process of investing the evolution points to affect these changes could have been worded slightly more concisely – as presented, I am not sure whether the evolution points required for the respective transformation are regained upon its end – I assume no, but “invest” does imply that in contrast to “spend”…

 

Anyways, onwards to the shadow savant, who replaces vigilante specialization with shadow clone, a duplicate they can generate as a standard action within 30 ft., a total of 1/2 class level + Cha-mod times per day. The Disguise check rolled as part of creating this clone is also the Perception DC required to notice that the clone is not actually real.. The clone lasts for Cha-mod rounds and has an AC of 10 + Dex-mod + Cha-mod +1/2 class level and vanishes on a successful hit. It is properly codified as an illusion [shadow] effect, so kudos there. The maximum distance it can travel from the savant is equal to 45 ft., +15 ft. per level. At 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter, the ability conjures forth an additional shadow, and when sharing the space with the savant, they duplicate mirror image’s benefits. Only one use of the ability may be in effect at any given time and all shadows may be controlled with the same swift action – all in all a mechanically sound take on a very difficult concept to pull off. The archetype adds shadow control techniques to their arsenal of social talents, allowing for shadow control beyond line of sight, light-dimming, longer-lasting duplicates, control over the shape of the shadows, the ability to see through their eyes…and at higher levels, things become awesome and include swapping places – kudos, btw.: Codified as teleportation effect.

 

Beyond these, there also are tricks added to the vigilante talents, and, as you may have guessed, it is here that we find the more combat-centric options, which include partial reality, retributive negative energy damage (and at higher levels short-term staggers), Now, this becomes even more intriguing at 5th level, when 2 non-tangible shadows can be replaced with a semi-real doppelgänger that shares your non-limited-use abilities and also duplicates non-consumable magic items – it is really impressive to see this ability this waterproof and airtight – an excellent representation of what N. Jolly is capable of. The appearance-tree of abilities is then further replaced by upgrades of this doppelgänger ability-array, making for one of my favorite archetypes in the book: Mechanically-challenging, diverse, sporting a unique playstyle, this is a really inspired one. Kudos!

 

The symbiotic slayer would be one that I can’t, in any shape, way or form, judge neutrally. When I was a little child, I already loved good villains more than heroes…and I will never forget the Spider-man comic with the glorious Todd McFarlane-cover of Venom holding Spidey’s skull. It was #207 in Germany, not sure which one it was in the US. So…yeah, for a couple of years, I was a huge venom fanboy after that. This archetype gets a tiny ooze-like familiar (sans bite and with 0 speed, it’s an aberration) – the vigilante identity is assumed quickly as a standard action and this cannot be hastened via the usual talents – the end-result, obviously, would be the vigilante identity. And yes, when under duress, the symbiote may force being used; it dies when the host dies, but can be rendered dormant, though the host can feed hp to it to wake it from slumber. Symbiotes have an ego and increase that ego, the longer they are manifested, representing rather well the Spidey-trope. Instead of the familiar’s regular benefits, it acts as an armor for the host, has a telepathic bond…but also sports an elemental weakness.

 

The symbiote has a cool, linear progression and while I am not a fan of stalwart, at least the ability is gained at 11th level and only works while the symbiote is manifested. The archetype also gains several unique vigilante talents denoted by the [symbiote] tag: These include gaining natural attacks (properly codified!), duplicating armor…really cool. Cool alternative to fast healing: The buffering symbiote talent: It nets class level + Constitution modifier (twice Con-mod at 10th level) temporary hit points that recharge at a rate of 1 per minute while not manifested, + 1 regained per two symbiote talents possessed. Represents the concept, abuse-proof. Elegant solution. Interesting: Stealth-upgrade that may bypass automatic blindsight/sense-detection. Dual minds, reflexive acid is cool – gaining first Improved Grapple and then, at 6th level, also Strangle and at 10th level smother looks like a bit overkill for one talent, though: Strangle alone is very, very potent.

 

Increased reach, throwing a limited amount of times per day an entangling cluster at foes, temporary swift action fast healing with limited uses (thankfully), creating a duplicate living garments, reduced weakness, allowing the symbiote to gain control, resistance, burrowing, alchemical self-enhancements of physical ability scores (Str or Dex), flight (locked behind 6th level, gets better) and whip-like tendrils…as well as a proper capstone ability complement a thoroughly amazing archetype…and if you’re like me and love venom/carnage etc., then this may well justify getting the pdf on its own.

 

The new social talents included herein allow for complete disjunction of social and vigilante identity (absolutely overdue!), being able to use skills that would need tools without them, gauging marks, being able to use a vigilante talent in social identity sans compromising either, Performance Weapon Mastery and a chameleon-style serial-killer talent that lets the vigilante assume the identities of the slain – some really, really cool stuff here.

 

We also gain a significant selection of new vigilante talents that range in power from cool and balanced to KILL IT WITH FIRE. Advanced Grip would be one such candidate I don’t consider too necessary. +1/2 Str-bonus to damage with one-handed weapons and offhand attacks are treated as not-offhand for Power Attack purposes. This…just is a further number escalation and I can make fearsome sh** with it. Boon Companions, bonuses while bleeding, making nearby terrain count as difficult – all cool. There also is a talent many folks will hate: Know the famous spiked chain exploit from back in the 3.X-days? Well, the chain lasher talent unlocks that one again – attack both adjacent and at reach. Personally, I consider this cheesy and won’t use it. Death Dealer is also problematic – it nets the assassin’s death strike…and at 12th and 16th level, it reduces the number of rounds of study required. Oh, and with sniper, that becomes available at any range – explicitly. There also would be talent that stacks critical range with other critical range-increases, which can be really, really nasty – there is a reason that stuff does not stack usually. The multiplier may be reduced to x2 as a catch, but the threat-range is the issue. Cool on the other hand: Breaking the 6th level cap of spellcasting vigilante options. There also are a few nomenclature hiccups here – one punch assault once was probably once punch hero, as its follow-up talents calls it by that name. Gaining a panache pool and then, via another talent, access to deeds, is interesting. Gaining hair hexes, smashing foes in walls…there is some cools tuff here. If you’ve been using Legendary Swashbuckler or Assassin, you’ll notice both of these being supported, which is nice.

 

Notice something? Yeah, they really oscillate in power and utility. WILDLY. I’ll return to that aspect later in the conclusion.

 

The pdf also sports feats, some of which add e.g. more shadows for the shadow savant, modified spellcasting, reduced symbiote ego, more social talents, using Int or Wis as governing attributes, hidden strike and sneak attack synergy…cool. However, I do have an issue with Injected Infusions: Why? Because it lets you inject mutagens and infusions in allies…which is once again a number-escalation. Modifying symbiote weakness is cool…buuut: Adding hidden strike/sneak attack to splash weapons targeted at foes at -1 damage die size is either solid or brutal. I assume that the bonus is supposed to not apply to splash damage? Once again, this felt a bit weird.

 

The pdf also sports a 5-level PrC, the Crimson Dreadnought with full BAB-progression and good Fort- and Will-save progression, d10 HD, 4 + Int skills per level and BAB +3, 5 ranks in two skills, etc. as moderate prerequisites. The PrC gains martial weapon proficiency and gains Nameless One and acts under royal edict: Horribly scarred by the brutal initiation, they gains scaling bonuses to AC and saves and makes removal of their armor nigh-impossible. There is also another issue: You see, these guys, RAW, are constantly fatigued. Sleeping in heavy armor automatically fatigues the character. Pretty glaring oversight there for a PrC that fuses you in the armor…2nd and 4th level yield vigilante talents, 3rd level bonuses to saves versus mind-affecting effects and a 2/day reroll. 5th level yields 2/day swift action fast healing and the option to fight on…I love the idea of the PrC, but I wish the abilities gained were slightly more interesting and fitting for the concept.

 

The pdf provides nice and balanced variant multiclassing rules for the vigilante and the pdf sports new magic items: Mystic bolt enhancers, memory-wiping smoke pellets (no, you’re not immune – hilarious Code Geass-style intrigue can ensue…) and charming gloves…nice.

 

We do end with one of my favorite parts in the whole pdf; Red Love. The beauty on the cover. Her story ties in with Legendary Vigilante’s NPC and she clocks in as a fearsome level 14 symbiotic slayer. She is…basically Carnage. The female version of Carnage. Her boon, unsurprisingly, focuses on killing and her tactics are brutal. Nice build!!

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are inconsistent in rules-language and formal criteria: There are components of the pdf where it’s almost perfect…and some that sport glitches neither characteristic for the author, nor for LG. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard and sports a variety of nice full-color artworks – most I have seen before in LG-books, though Red Love’s amazing artwork does make up for that. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

So, I have this theory that explains some issues that haunt this book: You see, usually the “Legendary” class supplements for PCs and Villains are strictly separated; The PC options tend to be tighter in balance and, by design, the NPC villain options sport cheesy, nasty and powerful tricks beyond what I’d allow for PCs. Thing is, this, at least in part, feels more like “Legendary Vigilantes II”; The theme for “Legendary Vigilantes” was hybrids and we have two of the more interesting hybrids in this book – ones that don’t really strike me as evil, mind you.

 

At the same time, we have powerful and obviously evil ones herein, distinctly designed for villains. In the archetypes, this aspect, this blending of the product lines, doesn’t hit as hard, but once we get to the talents and feats, the small optimizing tweaks, things get nasty….and this is my main gripe with the book. I can live with a couple of nomenclature hiccups, but we get too much straight number-escalation here. Do we really need even more damage? Did we need the resurgence of one of the most-quoted abuse-builds ever? Sure, it’s not as potent as it once was due to PFRPG’s diverse options…but still. These aspects make me cringe, and not in a good way. In fact, a part of this pdf feels like it’s the B-side of Legendary Vigilantes, where the concepts aren’t as tightly controlled etc. That side is what I don’t like about this book.

 

At the same time, OMG; I CAN HAZ VENOM!!! It’s the single best representation of the symbiote-user I have ever seen. It’s glorious. It’s worth the asking price alone. In fact, don’t get me wrong, there is more to LOVE, ADORE, OMG-level celebrate herein than in all of Legendary Vigilantes. The brilliant highlights are brighter here and this pdf, or so I’d like to believe, and it shows where N. Jolly was really inspired. At the same time, the proverbial shadows of this book are also darker, it feels less carefully designed than usual in some aspects, uncharacteristically so.

 

This strange duality also seems to extend to the power-level of archetypes and talents provided herein – there are some that yield PrC-signature abilities and actually improve them. As a talent. Yeah, can see it for NPCs, but players will never see them…but here’s the problem: “Legendary Vigilantes”, the PC-book, does point towards this book, implying player-use.

 

I am, ultimately very torn on this book – on the one hand, I consider enough material herein to be less interesting and/or problematic…but on the other hand, there is plenty of material I adore and want to praise to the high heavens – one side of me want to slap 5 stars + seal on this, while another tells me to rate it down to 3.5. I honestly wished we got a distinctly PC-centric book and one that is obviously and clearly designated as villain material…and I wish the glitches weren’t there.

 

THAT BEING SAID. If you’re a capable, rules-savvy GM, gives this book careful oversight and then give the aspects you consider non-problematic at your players. This book contains pure awesome. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars…and while there are components that deserved so much better, I can’t round up or slap my seal on this. Still: Thank you, master Jolly – from the bottom of my heart. The Symbiotic Slayer is glorious.

 

You can get this massive supplement here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

May 302017
 

Myrmidon Hybrid Class

This hybrid class clocks in at 9 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page back cover, ~1/2 page SRD, leaving us with 5.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

The myrmidon class depicted here gets d10 HD, 2 + Int skills per level and proficiency with all simple and martial weapons as well as all armor and shields, including tower shields. Chassis-wise, we get full BAB-progression and good Fort-saves.

 

The myrmidon’s defining class feature would be exclamations -basically the talents of the class, with one gained at 1st level and another one at 2nd level and every 2 levels thereafter. If required, a save is based on DC 10 + 1/2 class level + Intelligence modifier. The target needs to see, hear or smell (weird!) the myrmidon to be affected by an exclamation, but does not need to share a language with the character. Unless otherwise noted, an exclamation is a standard action to use.

 

So, what do these exclamations do? Well, they basically are martial, hex-like abilities that have limited daily uses. These include 1/day temporarily gaining a combat feat for which she meets the prerequisites. We can also find cure light wounds (scaling up to cure moderate wounds as an extraordinary self-only ability, with CL = character level and, thankfully, a hard, daily cap of uses. There is also an exclamation, which represents a curse that lasts for 3 + Int-mod days – when the target is healed, the caster needs to succeed at a CL-check, otherwise the last 10 points simply are not healed. At 5th level, this also imposes a penalty on saves versus diseases and poisons contracted from injury. Cool concept, if a bit wonky in its presentation – you usually describe the effect first, then the parameters. Unfortunately, I have no idea how this exclamation works. It has no range, no note on how you use it. Standard action, sure…but what’s the range? Touch? Sight? 30 ft.? The flavor-text makes it sound like the myrmidon has to defeat the foe, so is it activated upon reducing foes to 0 hp?

 

Improving the attitude of an animal of humanoid within 30 ft. is nice…but it’s not mind-influencing, has no negative repercussions for miss-use and oddly only lasts Int-mod rounds, which would make all but fast Diplomacy to avoid escalation not an option. The myrmidon may choose combat feats instead of an exclamation. As a whole, I get the idea here: There is, for example, a cackle hex variant that instead affects the exclamations of the myr-midon[sic!]. However, in the details, there are some rough edges. Let’s take dazzling groan, a pretty simple operation: You get Dazzling Display sans meeting the prerequisites – which is Weapon Focus. A feat you require to use Dazzling Display – instead, the exclamation ties this to weapon groups chosen via weapon training…which is a valid decision per se. However, a weapon group is only gained at 5th level, which means that, at lower levels, this does nothing – it should have a minimum level. There is also a duplication of a 60 ft.-range doom (not italicized, like many a spell-reference) – and it’s Ex, which can be considered to be slightly problematic, considering the infinite uses.

 

Similarly penalties that apply on even a successful save are problematic for an infinite use ability. There is also an exclamation to keep a creature from drawing weapons – which should probably be a mind-affecting compulsion. A variant of misfortune can similarly be found. Starting at 10th level, booming exclamations may be chosen – the formatting is inconsistent here, as in the weapon group summary, both of which sport sub-abilities that have not been italicized. The wording is not always perfect – “Once per day equal to her weapon training bonus” could have been phrased more elegantly, for example.

 

Beyond these exclamations, the myrmidon begins play with the ability to keep functioning as staggered while below 0 hp, gaining an untyped bonus to Intimidate while thus wounded. 2nd level provides a variant bravery that also is applied to mind-affecting effects, increasing the +1 bonus every 4 levels after that. 3rd level yields armor training and Endurance as a bonus feat. As mentioned before, 5th level yields weapon training,

 

7th level provides the first Heart of the Hero ability – which looks like it would allow for a choice of sub-abilities, when in fact, there are distinct, linear abilities – the meta-header is wholly unnecessary. This sequence of abilities include Heroic Recovery at 7th level, Heroic Defiance at 9th level, both with scaling uses. 11th level provides the option to get quickly recuperate from the fatigued condition. Problematic: Losing fatigue by being subjected to healing. 13th level provides stalwart. The fatigued condition elimination fails to properly interact with the 15th level ability: Exhaustion is reduced to fatigued…which then requires a slightly longer rest. The pdf does not specify how this interacts with the cure-options, though. 17th level yields the ability to roll twice whenever the myrmidon tries to recuperate from an ongoing effect. As a capstone, we get immunity to mind-affecting effects.

 

The pdf closes with a new feat, Verbal Combatant. This nets a character an exclamation with a save DC of 10 + Int-mod.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are okay on both a rules-language and formal level – I noticed glitches and hiccups in both, but not to the extent of earlier Wayward Rogues Publishing books. Layout adheres to the nice two-column full-color standard and the pdf uses solid stock art. The pdf has no bookmarks and also does not allow cut-copy-pasting text from it, which constitutes a serious comfort detriment when using the pdf.

 

Robert Gresham’s myrmidon, let me state that clearly, is better than his earlier hybrid classes. It has a moderately unique angle and while it sports several hiccups in the details, it does generally have some decent ideas and can work. Not all abilities are as precise as they should be and ultimately, the exclamations could have used more unique abilities – the witch-based ones are decent when they work, but action-economy-wise, the standard action use means that the myrmidon has to choose between exclamations and full attacks. The class also feels a bit weird in actual play, feeling a bit unfocused. Compared to the hellion hybrid class, for example, the witch-aspect, apart from the engine stand-point, is thematically not really there. Is the myrmidon bad? No, but it features some glitches and does not really offer something truly amazing to set it apart. In the end, my final verdict will thus clock in at 2.5 stars, rounded up to 3 due to in dubio pro reo.

 

You can get this hybrid class here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

May 302017
 

5E Mini-Dungeon: Torment at Torni Tower (5e)

This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM. Oh, and the series now comes in an archive that also contains…*drumroll* a .jpg-version and a .tif-version of the map! Yeah, that’s pretty amazing! The dungeon’s number-less version of the map doesn’t sport any deceptive trap icons or traps – kudos, though the place where the secret doors are can still be gleaned by proximity…but if you conceal that part, it works well. In short: Full, proper VTT-support and help for guys like yours truly that can’t draw maps.

 

Since this product line’s goal is providing short diversions, side-quest dungeons etc., I will not expect mind-shattering revelations, massive plots or particularly smart or detailed depictions, instead tackling the line for what it is. Got that? Great!

 

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

..

.

Still here?

All right!

Somervel has not been treated kindly by the seasons – its pale forts, somewhat akin to beaver lodges, earthen mounds on islands in the marshlands, have been isolated for quite a while – most of the complex is below ground, with one tower jutting forth from the mound. Torni’s tower has fallen to the seasons and when he PCs are sent to investigate the place, they are greeted by a haggard female – but that’s just the beginning of the trouble.

 

Turns out the female is a disguised night hag who not only single-handedly (or better: single-clawedly) took the fortress and slaughtered its inhabitants, she also makes off to rouse her ogre, ettin and troll minions, some of which in states of drunkenness (which is accounted for by the mini-dungeon with nice quick and dirty 5e-rules!) and prepare her detailed and rather awesome tactics – while in 5E, she doesn’t collect stirges to throw at PCs, she instead gets will-o’-wisp allies. What about speaking tubes? Yeah, smart! So, the presentation provides the roster of inhabitants, the rooms and the tactics of the night hag – all in all, providing a surprisingly awesome and best of all, organic mini-dungeon against foes with unique tactics and in a distinct backdrop.

 

Here’s an issue in the 5E-version – the pdf does not specify how good the hag is at her ruse; here, we would have had a great chance for a bit of social skill use, but we, alas, don’t get that.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches apart from the hyperlinks – there are quite a few that don’t work, which is a bit annoying. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes sans bookmarks, but needs none at this length. Cartography is full color and surprisingly good for such an inexpensive pdf. The pdf does sport one nice piece of original full-color art – kudos! The cartography, with player and GM-VTT-maps, is nice.

 

Stephen Yeardley does it again – this mini-dungeon is inspired, cool and does everything right: From an awesome, unique locale to smart adversaries and a surprising amount of fluff crammed into the scant few pages, this mini-dungeon is concise, logical ad downright awesome. The hyperlinks aren’t always properly implemented, which can be slightly annoying. Kyle Crider generally did a good job in conversion, though the pdf does lose a bit in the tactics department. It’s not bad, mind you – not even close. But the PFRPG-version just made me cackle with glee, where this one only made me smile – it’s nice, but if you’re playing both systems, the PFRPG-version is the better one.

 

This notwithstanding, we still have a nice mini-dungeon here, well worth a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

 

You can get this nice mini-dungeon here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

May 302017
 

5E Mini-Dungeon: The Soul of a Prince (5e)

This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM. Unlike most 5E Mini-Dungeons, this one does not come with VTT-maps or player-friendly iterations, which is a bit of a bummer.

 

Since this product line’s goal is providing short diversions, side-quest dungeons etc., I will not expect mind-shattering revelations, massive plots or particularly smart or detailed depictions, instead tackling the line for what it is. Got that? Great!

 

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

..

.

Still here?

All right!

So, prince Remlek’s soul has been hijacked – the PCs are sent to retrieve it. It is in the claws of a devourer trapped in a complex under the city’s sewers and it can’t escape the complex. No one knows the soul is in the hands of a nigh hag, but the crafty creature has established defenses to lure more powerful souls to activate the escape portal. Okay, if this sounds a bit confused, then because the introduction is just that – how do the authorities know where the soul is, but not that it’s in the claws of a night hag?

The complex is brutal: There is a chamber that sports a circle that continues to summon wraiths. Without hallow, the circle can’t be destroyed. Spell not available/prepared? No divine caster with the spell? Tough luck – your module has just gone from hard to insane in difficulty – and that is provided your players guess that they are supposed to cast the spell. There is RAW no means to find that out within the module. Worse, in subsequent rooms, we have HEZROUS summoned. While these guys are no longer as bad as in D&D 3.X, that’s insane – particularly considering the lack of means to find out what you’re supposed to do. Worse, this is billed for characters level 9 – 11. Guess how many hallows you’ll usually have at 9th level? Bingo. ONE. Have fun with infinite respawning foes.

 

There also is a “puzzle” that boils down to “roll a skill-check,” with the ticking timer of the aforementioned constant summonings rendering the whole thing potentially super-lethal.

 

Conclusion:

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

 

This, in its PFRPG-version, was one of the most confused and BAD modules in the whole series – and good things first: The 5E-version is actually better than the PFRPG-trainwreck. Rory Toma’s Soul of a Prince, however, is still a middle finger to the players. No means to decipher the means to eliminate the constant summoning, a flimsy lead-in that doesn’t hold up to rudimentary scrutiny…etc. In short, this is not a good module. If you don’t have at least 2 hallows and a character that can reliably meet high Intelligence (Arcana) checks (the only skill this module requires, btw., don’t try. I’d strongly suggest going for one of the many, many better modules in the series. My final verdict will clock in at 2 stars.

 

You can get this module here on OBS.

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

May 302017
 

5E Mini-Dungeon: The Case of the Scrupulous Pawnbroker (5e)

This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM. Oh, and the series now comes in an archive that also contains…*drumroll* a .jpg-version and a .tif-version of the map! Yeah, that’s pretty amazing! The dungeon’s number-less version of the map doesn’t sport any deceptive trap icons or traps – kudos, though the place where the secret doors are can still be gleaned by proximity…but if you conceal that part, it works well. In short: Full, proper VTT-support and help for guys like yours truly that can’t draw maps.

 

Since this product line’s goal is providing short diversions, side-quest dungeons etc., I will not expect mind-shattering revelations, massive plots or particularly smart or detailed depictions, instead tackling the line for what it is. Got that? Great!

 

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

..

.

Still here?

All right!

This mini-dungeon begins with the PCs having either a business relationship or wanting to establish one with a hard, but fair pawnbroker – now his store’s door is open and suspiciously empty, while an iron door in the basement leads towards a gruesome scene – the assistants have been slain and reanimated as zombies, though the PCs may save the owner’s dog as further support. If the PCs do not tarry, they may save the pawn-broker from the hostile assault of a really nasty gang of thugs under the command of a cult fanatic – they’re trying to break into his treasure vault, after all…

 

Pretty big plus: Kyle Crider has done some nice modifications to traps and stats in short-hand, which adds a bit more 5E-feeling to the conversion.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches apart from the hyperlinks – there are quite a few that don’t work, which is a bit annoying. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes sans bookmarks, but needs none at this length. Cartography is full color and surprisingly good for such an inexpensive pdf. The pdf does sport one nice piece of original full-color art – kudos! The cartography, with player and GM-VTT-maps, is nice.

 

This mini-dungeon has me torn – on the one hand, the story Stefanos “The Netlich” Patelis weaves is a nice one that can easily fit in any urban environment and it does sport the small details and level of believability I enjoy.

 

On the other hand, it could have benefited from a short tactics-section for the adversaries if the PCs e.g. call the watch- a couple of lines would be there to warrant it and this may very well turn into a kind of hostage situation – bartering is a quite possible notion for the PCs and since the foes use the pawnbroker’s traps to their advantage, one can see the potential of the writing here. It is pretty obvious that, for once, we could have used some Intimidation, Deception, etc. – and we get nothing like that; much like most of these mini-dungeons, Perception, Investigation and thieves’ tools are the main non-combat options used.

 

This is by no means bad and Kyle Crider did a solid conversion here, but the few rough patches in the formal criteria, joined by the lost chances for social skills and the like, do drag this down a bit. My final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

 

You can get this pdf here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.