Jul 172017

Skill Challenge Handbook

#1 of my Top Ten of 2017!!


This handbook clocks in at 79 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 3 pages of advertisements, leaving us with 71 pages of content, so let’s check this out!


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


It is no secret that I never liked D&D 4th edition. I tried the game and I’m not trying to discredit it or its playstyle – it just wasn’t what I considered to be enjoyable and in contrast to PFRPG and 5e, it didn’t let me tell the stories I wanted to tell. That is not to say that I think it’s a bad system. I get why people like it and it has its definite merits. One such merit outshines, at least for me, pretty much all others, and that would be the concept of the skill challenge. In short, this represents a cooperative, dangerous endeavor undertaken by the group, based mostly on skill use – preventing a raft from going down the waterfalls, stopping a trap-room slowly filling with sand, chases – there is a vast plethora of different applications of the original system. However, at the same time, its implementation wasn’t always as smooth as it could have been…but that’s a topic for another rant.


Ultimately, skill challenges addressed an issue with skills that has been with us for quite a while, namely that, for such an integral component of the game, skills tend to…not be as fun as they should be. When 101 New Skill Uses hit sites back in the day, I was ecstatic. Similarly, the idea of rank-based Skill Unlocks was one I cherished and thankfully, more and more modules differentiate between degrees of success and failure when it comes to skills. All of these, however, do not necessarily change the structure in which skill-use works. To take perhaps one of the most maligned and disliked components of the game, namely traps: Mechanically, they’re usually 2 – 3 rolls: Perception to see them, Disable Device to disarm them. Or an attack roll by the trap. Or a saving throw. It took a while, and then publishers like Raging Swan Press etc. realized that this was not necessarily the most fun incarnation of such challenges and thus began crafting more interesting traps that involved the whole group. Similarly, whether via conversion (e.g. in the Zeitgeist AP) or even via the big dog Paizo, which has, by other names, used similar mechanics in chases and the like – a complex series of tasks that would be resolved, a series of tasks that does not hinge on just one roll, but multiples and that engages the whole group, as opposed to just one characters. You know, emphasizing the cooperative aspect that makes roleplaying awesome.


The downside and caveat that ultimately comes with these tasks would be that, at least right now, they have not had a proper engine to run on; their mechanics had to be clarified, which cost words…you get the idea. This is where this book comes in. The Skill Challenge Handbook’s goal, hence, would be to codify rules that allow you to set up any type of cooperative, non-combat task as a group-based endeavor.


The mechanics for this are interesting, to say the least: We begin with the so-called “Skill Challenge Cycle”, which behaves basically like a combat round: You roll initiative and retain it throughout; you get your turn and may even begin with a surprise cycle and you may be flat-footed until you act. Here’s the thing that sets it apart: While you can easily assign a cycle of 1 round and run a skill challenge even during a combat encounter, there is no requirement for doing the like: You can run skill challenges in pretty much any temporal interval you’d like: Want to depict a grueling, weeks- or even months-spanning overland trek/escape from a hostile army? Well, you can simply define the cycle as hours, days, months…or conversely have two brilliant strategists try to outthink one another in a manner of seconds! While the default cycle-lengths, called frequency, are defined tighter, as a whole, there is nothing keeping you from expanding these – the system retains its modularity.


Similarly, the spatial factor can diverge wildly – squares of movement, from the local to the global, are covered – in theory, you could play skill challenges with kingdom or settlement stats with a minimum of fuss! More important for most groups, however, would be that both targeting, riding and vehicles, all those dicey types of movement, are covered within the frame of this modular base that sits at the heart of this book.


A skill challenge has, obviously, per definitionem, an inherent chance of failing it, but the completion of the challenge may be just as modular – in fact, multiple parties, characters or otherwise active participants may have wildly different success conditions! Beating a skill challenge is called “Completion” and is achieved, ultimately, by making “progress.” Progress is made y using the applicable primary or secondary skills associated with the skill challenge – secondary skills decrease the die-size used to roll progress by one step. Wait, what? Yep, if you have a lot of ranks (based on hard ranks, thankfully!), Skill Focus or class skills used here, you’ll roll a larger die than those who have less expertise in the field, allowing you to actually become better in the way you succeed. And before all those munchkins start complaining: Your carefully minmaxed skills still yield bonus progress if you beat the DC by 5 or more. Oh, and 20s may become crits when confirmed, while 1s are always failures – akin to combat.


Speaking of which: The book takes class abilities, ability checks, feats and spells into account, covering and codifying in concise terms the way in which such abilities are used in the context of the skill challenge system. So, how does it work? Actions are defined as pertaining the cycle, differentiating between cycle and half-cycle actions – this allows for the easy integration of all action types of PFRPG easily and yes, swift/immediate actions are codified properly as well. Beyond these, there are some special actions: Aiding others, creating an advantage in a movement-based skill challenge…oh, and an important aspect: How do players or PCs know what they can do in a given challenge? A concise system for actually realizing how such a challenge works has been included: Relevant Knowledge versus a DC that scales with the CR of the skill challenge at hand.


The skill challenges as a base system can easily be modified by optional elements – from languages to skill bonuses, time pressure, backlash for failures, demerits (deteriorating benefits the longer it lasts) to failure tolerance – the modifications are all concisely defined and present perfectly defined key elements to customize the base system. These are further expanded with optional SQs that allow for critical fumbles, individual completion, limited completion or perhaps the challenge takes place in a magically imbued area – all of these frameworks are defined in the clear and precise manner we have come to expect from Everyman Gaming. Beyond these, an engine for obstacle creation for movement-based challenges can be found – including unavoidable or magical obstacles! Oh, and I should mention thresholds – with this system, you could create multi-step rituals the PCs must complete, with escalating and different conditions and tasks in each of the steps, separated by thresholds.


All of this sounds highly theoretical, but if you prefer examples, from babysitting to powering up runestones, making a meal for a dragon, cracking encoded spellbooks to gaining an audience with the king or staying the course in a brutal storm – the system’s applications are, without any hyperbole ENDLESS. But perhaps you’re a GM who does not like to bother with the nit and grit of math and all that stuff? Well, in that case, you’ll ADORE the massive, massive tables of sample skill DCs by CR, the progresses, obstacles etc. – basically, if you don’t want to bother with a variety of customizations, you can simply take one of these rows from the table and run them as is.


Okay, so this would be the base engine – it is titanic in its vast potential…and it becomes more awesome from here on out. You see, from here on out, we move to the subchapter that take a look at specific implementations (and modifications) of the system: The first of these would be the chase challenge, which includes rules for forced marches, tracking quarries and obfuscating trails. You’re the couriers, trying to warn the kingdom of the impending invasions, with killers and soldiers at your heels? There you go – here are the rules to depict your heart-pounding escape! Whether chased or chaser, the system works. The second system covers something I have been waiting for: Contests. From Poker to Chess to pretty much any athletic of other form of competition is covered: Grapple contests, momentum contests, those featuring nets/walls, competitive recollections and stochastic/strategy contests -all are concisely and precisely defined – subcategories and point-based completion…all included. The actions, from blocks to fake outs, catches, passes, pushing self etc. are provided. Want to play Fantasy Soccer or Football or Bloodbowl (yep, dogpiling rules…) or Quidditch in PFRPG? There you go – the rules are here! If you once again encounter the challenge of playing chess in-game, you won’t have to whip out the board and bore your players or resolve it as a banal series of roles – you can actually make it INTERSTING and EXCITING. The sample challenges include, fyi, baseball, chess, horseshoes, poker, rope-skipping (!!!) or trivia contests…the options are as infinite as our tradition as a species to make games. Heck, you could go meta and have your PFRPG-characters play a simplified RPG in-game…


Now, all of this is cool, but personally, I gravitate to complex plots – as such, influence challenges of e.g. diplomatic tasks during banquets, backroom dealings, courtly intrigues, hashing out deals with merchant consortiums – all of these and infinitely more can be realized with the chapter focusing on them, adding a vast array of playability to any intrigue scenario – I certainly know I’ll use the hell out of that in a certain, upcoming Taldan AP…and speaking of which: Verbal Duels tie in perfectly with the former, acting not only as a stand-alone chapter, but also as a kind of extension: From an influence to a verbal duel and back, you can stack these upon another in a variety of genius ways – since discovering a bias, seeding audiences and gaining edges are all provided, you can basically run a whole campaign focused on senates, hearings and the like if you so choose! Various strategies and the like can be found, with skills being assigned to tactics…and yes, before you’re asking, countering a tactic with the same tactic, repeating one over and over and the like all come with repercussions! And yes, this retains, obviously, full compatibility with Ultimate Intrigue.



Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Everyman Gaming’s two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience. The full-color artworks throughout are full-color and well-made, provided by Brett Neufeld and Jacob Blackmon. The softcover print copy is nice, though it does not sport the name on the spine, which is a bit of a pity.


Alexander Augunas’ Skill Challenge Handbook is an extremely versatile…oh who am I kidding? Let me spell it out clearly:


THIS IS PERHAPS THE MOST IMPORTANT RULEBOOK I HAVE READ IN YEARS. Perhaps, it is even the most important 3pp-PFRPG book – period.

Are you playing Pathfinder? Do you want to do more than killing things? Then this is a MUST-HAVE PURCHASE. Scratch that, even if you just want to kill things, this’ll make the combats more exciting!


I am not kidding, nor engaging in the slightest kind of hyperbole when I’m saying that:


-This should have been Core. Seriously. If I had to choose one 3pp-book to add to PFRPG’s core-rules, this would be it.


-This book makes EVERY single PFRPG campaign better for using it.


-This is a MILESTONE and vastly improves the game.


-I have NEVER seen a supplement, regardless of rules system, enhance the number of stories I can tell to this extent.


The skill challenge handbook is, even among Alexander Augunas’ impressive cadre of amazing books, a shining example, a paragon of its kind. Didactically-concise, well-presented and easy to grasp, yet incredibly modular, the system presented herein unlocks innumerable, nay, infinite options to tell fantastic, engaging stories. Heck, I even used it for stuff it was never intended to do – like portraying conflicts between settlements! The system is so incredibly modular and versatile, it can literally depict anything in an exciting manner.


Nail-biting in-game chess-duels for the souls of fellow adventurers? Check! Backstabbing courtly intrigue? Check. Over the top fantasy bloodsports? Check. Venturing into the depths of the earth? Check. Scaling a giant beanstalk? Check. Flying a ship through the deathstar’s/SIN’s defenses? Check. Navigating the Eye of Abendengo? Check. Leading the Chain of Dogs through the desert? Check. Playing Quidditch? Check. Making traps that engage the whole group? Check. Diffusing a magical reactor? Check. Finishing a ritual to banish a demon lord while he tries to eat you? Check. Catching enemy spies? Check. Running down couriers? Check. Ben Hur-style chariot races/combats? Check. Doing the Cicero in Senate? Check. Going fantasy Ace Attorney? Check. Ride an Avalanche? Check. Scaling a Kaiju? Check. Riding the gigantic tsunami-wave of crystallized shards from the heavens? Check. Deciphering a grimoire before the THINGS get you and your comrades? Check. Negotiating with the cannibals about to eat you and yours? Check. Navigating the dragon’s hoard sans waking the wyrm? Check. Depicting guild warfare? Check.


…I could literally go on all day long and just add to this list.

I am not kidding when I’m saying that this is the single most important 3pp PFRPG-rule-book I know and own. I cannot stress enough how incredibly, incredibly inspiring this book is. The base engine is deceptively simple-looking and elegant and can be tweaked by even the most novice of GMs to deliver pure, unadulterated awesomeness. All those situations that some players sat out, all those high tension scenes that deflated by being reduced to a single, bland roll now extend to the whole group – and by virtue of the structure of the system, they engage all players and deliver the high tension of comparable scenes from other forms of media.


There is no other book out there that delivers a similar increase in quality and versatility for the game. If you are a GM, BUY THIS ASAP and never look back. If you’re a player, buy it as well. Keep a copy and gift one to your GM. No matter how good your GM is, chances are that your game will be better with this book in your life.


In fact, even if you do not play PFRPG and thus can’t sue the math aspects of the game, as long as you have actions you take in combat and some sort of skill system, you can use a big portion of this system with some modifications!


If the sequence of superlatives was no clear indication: This belongs on the shelves and HDs of literally EVERY PFRPG GM. No exception. This book is fantastic, a one-of-a-kind masterpiece that is supreme, no matter the scale you apply: If I had 10 stars, this would be 10 out of 10 and I’d complain about not being able to award it 11. This book is an apex-level toolkit of raw potential and excitement, 5 stars + seal of approval, is a candidate for my Top Ten of 2017 (who am I kidding – this has a very high chance of getting the number 1-spot!) and also gets my designation as an EZG Essential, as one of the books I’d consider to be absolutely required reading.


Do yourself a favor and get this dazzling, resplendent gem of a book today.


You can get this phenomenal milestone here on OBS!


Endzeitgeist out.

Jul 172017

Dear readers,


I will be incredibly busy for the remainder of July – to the point where the whole daily communication routine (I spend at least 1 hour a day replying to mails) is just not possible.


I have smashed through a ton of content in this month so far (more than 1000 pages of material!), but the final 3 prioritized reviews will have to wait right before my cutoff date: At the 4th or 5th of August, I should be back with full force and the daily array of review, but until then, I will abstain from replying to e-mails, going on facebook and communicating in any way – I lose a ton of time social networking, time I can’t afford right now.


I can’t guarantee new reviews in the next two weeks. While I will try hard to provide as many as I can, it’d be safest to assume that there won’t be much movement in that regard.


Thank you for your understanding! I’ll be back to my usual output in August!


Before I post my final review before this brief hiatus, I do have a couple of cool kickstarters for your consideration:


Infinium Game Studios – Dark Obelisk Druid Enclave Campaign Resource (PFRPG/5e)

This book is fully funded, with 27 days to go – it is intended to provide a massive, exceedingly-detailed hub depicting a druid enclave – and considering the tendency of the author to vastly over-deliver, it’ll be one massive tome of a book!

You can check it out here!


New Paths Compendium by Kobold Press (PFRPG)

Fully funded with 11 days to go, this revised and expanded edition of Kobold Press’ unique classes and class options has smashed through quite a few stretch-goals already and promises to deliver an iuntriguing, cool collection.

You can check it out here!


The Midderlands – An OSR mini-setting/bestiary by MonkeyBlood Design (OSR)

Shout out to Tenkar’s Tavern, where I stumbled over this intriguing campaign setting! It depicts a weird fantasy take on Middle-England with grime, slime and plain, delightful strangeness! AUthor Glynn Seal is now newbie and the deal offered by the KS looks fantastic! (Oh, and if you have the funds, you can have a collector’s edition WITH EYES!) Sounds amazing? The previews sure look like it! With 13 days to go, it can use some love and personally, I really want it to fund, so please check it out here!


All right, that’s it for now! Onwards to the next review!


Endzeitgeist out.

Jul 172017

LG BK Classics: Blue Scales, Red Secrets

This module clocks in at 29 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 25 pages of content, so let’s take a look!


This review was moved up in my review-queue due to me receiving a print copy of the book.


So, before we start, a little history: The Living Greyhawk campaign back in 3.X was a campaign I would very much have enjoyed playing in; I always liked Greyhawk’s relatively down to earth and classic tone. In particularly the region of the bandit kingdoms would have tickled my fancy, for the Bandit Kingdom summary-book I read really made its shades of gray mentality and pretty gritty feeling sound like something I’d appreciate. Alas, the general public doesn’t have a way to play these modules now – they’re lost…or rather, they had been lost. You see, this module would be the conversion of one such module to PFRPG, with the serial numbers filed off, if you want. I sincerely hope that we’ll get to see more of the bandit kingdoms…but does the module hold up?


The module is designed for a party of APL 6, with characters ranging from levels 4 – 7, but also contains notes on how to increase the challenge posed by this module up to APL 8. A handout and maps for the combat-encounters have been provided – the maps are in color in the pdf, b/w in the print version.


It should be noted that the bandit kingdoms are slightly darker in tone than standard fantasy and feature slightly more explicit themes. While still firmly PG 13, squeamish players and kids may require a slight alteration of some text – though, big kudos, the pdf does note such instances! Kudos!


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



All right, only GMs around? Great! The pdf assumes that the PCs are accompanying a man named Yulkin on an errand, acting as guards of sorts. The module features copious read-aloud texts, including some local color that ties into the Riverton-backdrop, but that as an aside. The way taken skirts the so-called Scar – the domain of none other than Morginstaler, the mighty red dragon. The terrain and environments provided for the areas, for the landscape, etc. btw. has mechanically-relevant repercussions – the lack of plant-life, for example, makes certain spells not work. The fact that the pdf mentions tidbits like this should be taken as testament to the attention to detail exhibited here.


Speaking of detail – this attention to detail also extends to the first encounter. Where Morginstaler swoops down and threatens to eat the PCs and their charge, unless they provide a bit of a service for him: A weird group of kobolds has intruded upon is domain and he is a bit perplexed – the kobolds did not grovel or run in panic and hence, he wants some intel on them. Best of all, he’ll graciously not kill them all. The interaction with Morginstaler sports A LOT of troubleshooting, read-aloud text, etc. – and yes, Morginstaler is a bit of a Casanova, so charismatic female PCs may actually start a romance with the dragon. He’s quite a charmer and, player-consent provided (the pdf notes this in bold all-caps!), the lady may actually become pregnant…though, if you consider these topics icky, you can simply ignore them – it’s just one of the possibilities. The potential issues paladins may face here are similarly touched upon.


Ultimately, the group will probably consent to the dragon’s request and thus travel into the badlands of the Scar – only to feel watchful eyes upon them…the PCs don’t know yet, but dusk kamadans are stalking them right now -and yes, there are full stats for these monsters, which bring me to one thing I honestly LOVE about this pdf. The stats of both NPCs and monsters herein are lavishly-detailed and hand-crafted, using creative templates, 3pp-classes and even some unique tricks – like a scaling Spell Mastery variant and a feat for move action spellcasting. The latter represents one of the few issues I have herein: It is included for the sake of the build of the NPC the PCs meet in the Scar, the Indiana Jones-like archaeologist/wizard Mumford Ravine, who, with his griffon-figurine and ties to some of the local humanoids, can provide some advice and social interaction for the PCs. While the feat works in context with his stats, I’d strongly suggest never allowing it anywhere close to PCs.


The encounter with Mumford, just fyi, also offers the chance to trade spells – told you, this was detailed! Oh, and once the dusk kamadans do strike, the pdf mentions how their pelts can be used for magic item creation! Yes, this is exhaustive regarding the GM-guidance and details provided and I mean that as a compliment!


Sooner or later, the PCs will find the location where Morginstaler has slaughtered the irreverent kobolds – only that since then, slime crawlers have begun taking a shine to the delicious corpses…oh, and there is an optional complication in the guise of a VERY potent kobold magister who survived the massacre – once again, a potent and custom-made threat. It should, at this point, come as no surprise that speaking with the dead and similar options of information gathering are covered. The PCs can find a prayer to the new “deity” of the kobolds here…ostensibly, a powerful blue dragon…oh, and they can find out that there are many, many more kobolds. Whether or not they try to discern the location of the massive kobold settlement, the PCs should have some information for Morginstaler….who has amused himself in the meantime by playing with Yulkin…who hence lies unconscious at the dragon’s feet.


The interrogation of the returned PCs once again sports serious detail…and once the dragon knows enough, he’ll “reward” the PCs – by slamming his tail on the floor to call forth basically his half-draconic umberhulk children. Since umberhulks are closed IP, the book has instead used ankhegs with multiple templates to retain the abilities and flavor – big kudos!


The showdown, while Morginstaler laughs, seems like a cruel game of cat and mouse – after all, the mighty dragon could kill them any time…but sooner or later, he will have to retreat – in his absence, Mumford has triggered a hoard defense of the dragon, calling him back to his cherished treasure…and thus allowing the PCs to hopefully escape with their lives. (And yes, the module even accounts for how Morginstaler evades the confusing gaze of these critters…)


The pdf concludes with possible XP awards and boons the PCs may have achieved during this module.



Editing and formatting are excellent, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to a no-frills two-column standard with thematically-fitting b/w interior artworks taken from the public domain. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The softcover is a nice one to have – being old-school, I prefer that version. Cartography is decent and player-friendly, though I certainly wished we got blown-up versions of the battlemap-style maps to print out at the proper size.


Casey Brown’s little module is much better than I can probably convey here. You see, I’ve read and run my fair share of organized play modules; more often than not, they boil down to a lot of fights and a flimsy story without much roleplaying involved. This, while similar in scope due to its heritage, is not such a module. While there is plenty of challenging combat to be had, against utterly unique threats no less, the star of this module is frickin’ Morginstaler. For the first time in a long, long, LONG while, the depiction of a dragon in a module actually nails what dragons should be, at least to me: Arrogant, smart, capricious and incredibly dangerous. This module NAILS how a dragon works and doesn’t treat him as a throw-away encounter. The amazing final battle is another big plus. The attention to detail provided is a sheer joy to behold – from mechanically-relevant terrain to atmosphere, read-aloud text and more, this leaves nothing to be desired.


My only two complaints with this glorious module are that I would have really liked to see high-res versions of the maps for printing/VTT and the one feat used in an NPC build, which should seriously never fall into player hands. Apart from these two minor hiccups, the module delivers by the buckets and makes for an amazing experience, well worth of a final verdict of 5 stars, just short of my seal. If you enjoy Greyhawk or want to see a dragon done right…or if you just some actually well-made, complex statblocks, then take a look at this little gem, for it’s well worth checking out!


You can get this captivating and fun module here on OBS!


Endzeitgeist out.


Jul 172017

The Esoterrorists: The Love of Money (GUMSHOE)

This massive adventure for The Esoterrorists clocks in at 111 pages, 107 if you take away editorial, etc.


This review is based on the print copy of the module. I do not have access to the electronic version.


Okay, so the first thing you have to know about this massive adventure would be that it is pretty hard to integrate into an ongoing campaign, working best if you have a couple of months to set up the proceedings. Otherwise, it may make sense to play this as a one-shot with the supplied pregenerated characters – 6 of these are provided, with detailed motivations and notes for the players to establish their relationship to their team-mates and the NPCs featured herein, in particular a specific one, but more on that later.


For the GM’s convenience, we actually get a handy table that sums up team-skills by category, providing all you need to know on one page – really comfortable and nice to have! It should also be noted that this module is really great when it comes to hand-outs – no less than 12 have been provided, ranging from photographs to strange scribbling, puzzle clues and images of ODEs, I was positively surprised by the amount of neat supplemental material featured here – including brief suspect profiles etc.


Speaking of ODEs – the module does feature a new ODE, the so-called spectrosite and provides a full write-up with stats, limitations, theories, etc. Genre-wise, its hould be noted that this is an adventure for SMART players – it has two rather unforgiving bottlenecks and if you’re new to investigative roleplaying, you may want to elect for something easier. That being said, this is a nice challenge for those of us who enjoy challenging modules that require some brainpower to solve. It should be noted that this module is not particularly gory or combat-centric, being more about psychological horror and personal tragedy.


All right, and this is about as far as I can go without going into serious SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.



All right. Psychological breakdowns are responsible for most OV-agents being retired. When John Sheldon and his sister were recruited into the OV, things went well for a while – John was brilliant and he championed the operation that gives this module its name: Operation 610, after Timothy 6: 10 – “For the Love of Money is the Root of All Evil.” – he figured he had found a way to deal a crippling blow to Esoterrorism by destroying their financially backing, but it hinged on using a lone operative, him – something the OV generally does not condone, for good reasons. Frustration built up.


Then, one winter’s night, his obsession rising, his sister and wife wanted to take his mind off things – all drinking. Caroline took her brother’s car keys and drove home, being the most sober of the 3…and then, in the rear-view mirror, the spectrosite, an ODE hiding in reflective surfaces like mirrors, showed itself – just long enough to make the car crash. John was inconsolable and severed all ties with his sister (who is btw. one of the pregens – see what I meant with “hard to integrate into an ongoing campaign?”). He had nothing left to lose. He initiated his plans for T610.


Traveling to Europe, he managed to infiltrate Métallon Incorporated, which is led by industrial giant Johan van der Hulst, who has been an Esoterrorist for most of his life, guided by his invisible play mate Nicholaus (who shows up in mirrors…) into the murder of, among others, his parents. He is deeply convinced of his twisted cause – and he has been gathering Rhodium, for Nicholaus has told him about a means of tearing the membrane temporarily.


It should come as no surprise that Hulst knew of Sheldon’s plan. Nicholaus poses as Mary in the mirror, twisting Sheldon’s already strained psyche further, convincing him that she’s trapped in the Outer Dark, that he must free her – and that Hulst would know how. Hulst has a device, but it does require a willing sacrifice – it would not end Sheldon, but it would “reunite” him with his wife…but to bring both him and her back, someone else would need to take their place in the Outer Dark…and it only took a bit of gaslighting to convince the embittered operative to blame the OV.


Sheldon allowed himself to be ritually slaughtered, fusing his heart with the Rhodium-device crafted by Hulst. He is waiting the right circumstances.


Meanwhile, the PCs have all been considered to be potentially compromised by Sheldon dropping off the grid and are thus sent to Amsterdam to investigate the proceedings, fitted with heart-monitors and surveyed by psychiatric metrics…and an SSF team may well be waiting in the wings…The briefing is btw- fully detailed and a nice flow-chart of potential adventure scenarios and sequences of scenes has been provided. The PCs thus travel to Amsterdam to not only get to the bottom of the matter, but also to clear their name: And they will have to contend with a rather grisly scene, namely that of Sheldon’s demise, carefully orchestrated to draw the agents ever closer into the proceedings – Veil Out of a potential witness’s gruesome death at the hands of the spectrosite, right in the police station, will require some serious creativity and quick thinking.


Indeed, things become even more complicated pretty fast: Beyond the professional killers and snipers under Hulst’s command, a rival Esoterrorist and former subordinate of Hulst tries to eliminate the PCs – with methods that are not exactly subtle. However, at the same time, this involvement may actually put stumped PCs on the right track! You see, there is a component that explains WHY Sheldon’s murder was staged this publicly – the heart, extracted from his body, needs to be activated…and for that, it requires bloodshed by his enemies, the OV.


This adds a great moral dimension to the proceedings, as the agents may be required to race the SSF…if they are not duped by “Mary” as well and survive potential encounters with the spectrosite…and it emphasizes that the OV agents are supposed to be the good guys. That being said, in one way or another, the heart will *probably* be activated…but Verity’s order remains: Get the head of the conspiracy. Hulst has the device on an oil rig, which is represented, image-wise, with a nice hand-out, yes, but it (and pretty much all of the action-oriented scenes) imho suffer from a lack of maps – in the case of the rig and the scenario, where the Esoterrorists try to dupe the PCs and the SSF to spill their blood in particular – these scenes could have really used some proper maps.


The approach to the oil-rig, btw., features the most brutal of bottlenecks in the scenario: If the PCs have botched their investigation, they may be shot out of the air by the surface-to-air-missiles installed on it via Hulst’s fortune and black market connections…unless they have found the proper coded MP3 to call off the automated attack, this may well be “Game Over”. The running gun battle through the rig feels like an afterthought, when set against the possible outcomes of the scenario – and while partial success is at least somewhat likely, stopping Sheldon’s tormented soul and succeeding at the veil out without a horrid, horrid gaze at the abyss of the Outer Dark will be only something truly smart (and compassionate) players will succeed in.



Editing and formatting are good, but not as good as usual for Pelgrane Press – my copy did sport quite a bunch of hiccups and glitches on the typo-level. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard and the b/w-artworks/photographs are nice and well-made. The big weakness of the module, ultimately, is that its action-scenes don’t have sufficient information to render them compelling – cartography, at least basic one, would have helped here. I can’t comment on bookmarks or the like.


Matthew Sanderson’s “For the Love of Money” is, in almost all disciplines, a glorious module: The Esoterrorist plot is challenging, smart and hard to foil and grasp, all while remaining fair. The antagonist reactions, detailed NPC-reactions, copious information for PC-actions and massive supplemental material really help. The investigation part of this module is really, really amazing. Unfortunately, the module does fall flat pretty much almost always (exception would be the cool visuals of the potential showdowns with the ODE) – they feel like afterthoughts. They don’t sport the same attention to detail, aren’t nearly as interesting and compelling as the rest of the module.


It is within the nature of the plot that integration into ongoing campaigns is hard, so I won’t penalize the module for that. However, the none-too-compelling action-scenes and lack of proper cartography drag down this otherwise great module. If you’re looking for a glorious investigation and don’t mind working on those bits, then this is a very clear recommendation. Otherwise, it remains a module for fans of investigation who don’t care much about the action-aspects of the game. When all is said and done, this gets the tone and feeling of Esoterrorists rather well and provides a compelling adventure, though one that falls slightly short of the excellence it could have easily achieved. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.


You can get this massive adventure here on OBS!
Endzeitgeist out.



Jul 162017

Echelon Reference Series: Barbarians (PRD + 3pp)

This massive book comes in two versions: One that focuses on PRD-options only, and one that also features 3pp-content. My review is based on the latter option, since it also encompasses the former. For completion’s sake, the PRD-only version clocks in at 180 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page blank, 4 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, for a total of 171 pages of content. The PRD + 3pp-version clocks in at a MIGHTY 352 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page blank, 10 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a massive 337 pages of content, so let’s take a look!


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


So, let us talk a bit about Pathfinder for a second: PFRPG is a damn long-running RPG at this point, proving that stories told matter more than just splatbooks. That being said, PFRPG has an intimidating, impressive array of options available for the game, including a huge wealth of 3pp material. I should know, I read the majority of it. But while the naysayers have been complaining about bloat for a while, I observe a different tendency: Instead, we have covered the basics. The type of supplements that come out for every edition. The obligatory bestiary I, the obligatory class expansions, the obligatory generic Asian-fantasy option – you get the idea. Instead, if anything, I have observed a general tendency to ramp up the quality of the books released in favor of some truly innovative systems, classes and options that transcend anything previously released.


The downside of this wealth, this staggering amount of content, would obviously be that it’s hard to keep track of. Where was this one talent again? Where did I find that feat? Unless you’re good at record-keeping, that can be rather problematic. This is exactly where this series comes in. Keith Davies, the compiler of this massive reference tome, works in big data and has used his expertise to compile a staggering wealth of class-related options. This is, thus a compilation – a reference, compiled for your perusal, a one-stop-shop file, if you will.


This was the first of these massive reference tomes and was, as per the writing of this review, last updated on February 12th, 2015, including a huge wealth of varied options. Now while I very well could reference (get it?) my vast wealth of pdfs and books to compile and paste together the takes on all those barbarian options herein, that would be really annoying for me and it similarly would not provide any value for the prospective reader. So instead of focusing on the content itself, let us talk about the organization.


We begin with a break-down of the class and then move on to the archetypes – the file does note the respective sourcebook used for the archetype below its header, and, for one’s convenience, the next chapter contains a variety of archetypes, already applied to the barbarian class, with class-tables and all. While not all have been thus represented, it is a comfortable way of getting the respective archetype already applied. From the original (pre stand-alone release) masquerade reveler to material from Rogue Genius Games’ series of class options, the book sports a variety of such options from a wide assortment of sources. Big plus for those classes with applied archetypes: A handyclass summary bubble that notes the quality of the saves, skills, HD, BAB-progression etc. at a single glance…much like I do in my reviews, basically, but more focused on “choose this or not”-aspects: Proficiencies, skills, etc. – all at one glance. That’s really useful.


The pdf then moves on to provide the respective class features – so yeah, these components and their respective contents have been organized alphabetically. The class feature-names are provided in a brown bubble with the respective type above the class feature, denoting whether an ability is “Ex”, “Su” or “Sp” and the respective level in a second bubble. This provides the necessary information at one glance. Beyond this, we have something I very much enjoy: When an ability influences others, the respective options provide something I *REALLY* loved to see – namely flow-charts for the respective abilities, with the bubbles involved also featuring the level-bubbles, allowing for an easy at-one-glance-overview each. This becomes particularly interesting for the separate chapter of rage powers, and the often complex trees there. From animal companions to the barbarian bloodline and its variants, this section is extremely tight, concise and well-presented.


From here, we move on to the feat-options available – no less than 52 pages of the pdf are devoted to the array of feats – which, yes, include their respective sources and, where applicable, bubble-flow-charts akin to those of the class features. Now, here is a cool aspect of the book: The vast majority of these flow-charts, feats and class features are internally hyperlinked: You click on one of them and, tada, you’re there. This makes use of what otherwise would require copious text searches very comfortable – or at least as comfortable as navigating such a massive book can conceivably be. Speaking of which: A massive index, including a diagram index, further complement this aspect of the pdf – it is impressive to see how much care has went into making this colossus of a tome actually easy to handle. This is all about utility – as it should be.


Beyond all of these, we also receive no less than 50 pages of sample statblocks, running the gamut from CR 1/2 to CR 20, collecting stats from both NPC Codex and some other 3pp-files. A nice addition, I guess, but yeah, wasn’t entirely stoked here.



Editing and formatting are excellent. I went through this looking for formatting glitches and the like and was pretty impressed to note that the material has been presented in an extremely detailed and concise manner. Layout adheres to a 2-column standard, which uses bubbles with brown backgrounds as headers and different bubble-types in the respective flow-charts. As a whole, it is pretty printer-friendly and bereft of interior artwork. While not necessarily gorgeous, the no-frills style layout enhances and enforces the central selling point of this pdf: Utility. It should come as no surprise that, beyond the excessive internal hyperlinking, we also receive a ridiculous amount of nested bookmarks to help making navigation and handling as comfortable as possible. A minor downside: Brown bubbles with white text are a bit mroe of a drain on the printer, but considering the electronic features of the pdf, I’m honestly not sure if I’d print out this colossus anyways.


I have the UTMOST respect for books like this and Keith Davies investing this much time in making them. I mean it. I am glad that people are different, for honestly, I couldn’t imagine a more mind-numbing task than compiling and hyperlinking a book of this size. It’s amazing to see someone making these and ostensibly enjoying the task.


This pdf is the result of SERIOUS work. It is a really useful compilation that focuses on utility above everything. While it is a system-immanent component that not all content for each option is organized by theme, the organizational tools, from the hyperlinking to the extensive indices, makes using this pdf as simple and comfortable as possible and the flow-chart-style components similarly help plotting character advancements and ability selections. In short: This is a great, well-made reference file. While it is due for a sequel at this point, the usefulness of this file cannot be disputed.


Now, I wouldn’t be me if I had no complaints, so here goes: As a system-immanent limitation, e.g. the reveler’s eidolon evolutions are not within this book – since they’re class features of another class. If I were to dream, I’d also love to see general evaluations for the respective options, but that would go far beyond the goal of this massive file and its mission statement, which is why I won’t complain there. At its given task, namely acting as a massive reference file, this pdf most assuredly succeeds. While it has aged a bit, it makes for a great stepping stone for fans of the barbarian to get a ton of material, concisely-presented, all in one place. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.


You can get the PRD-only version here on OBS!


You can get the massive PRD + 3PP-version here on OBS!


Endzeitgeist out.

Jul 162017

Deadly Gardens: Dream Weed

This installment of the Deadly Gardens-series clocks in at 5 pages, 1 page front cover, 2/3 of a page SRD, leaving us with 3 1/3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!


The pdf, as always, includes a couple of magic items – the first of these would be the low-cost accursed thorns – really cool magical caltrops that temporarily affect the unfortunates with a deforming curse, halving their land speed. The second item would be the silvered apple, which detects nearby lycanthropes and may be eaten to temporarily silver the unarmed and natural attacks of the person consuming it. Nice!


Also included in the deal would be 6 natural items, including tatzlwyrm glands that provide a bonus versus paralysis and sleep after consuming it. Shadow mastiff eyes can be flung to the ground (as a thrown weapon or slingstone), shattering and dimming the environment. Gecko glue, gar scale armors, disenchanter trunks that can sometimes recharge items (though it imho should have limited uses), sound-range doubling androsphinx-voice-boxes…some cool ones here. The dream weed snuff can help creating things in psychic duels.


Speaking of dream weed – the plant is a CR 10 creature: Upon being hit by these, they implant a psychic seed, instigating a psychic duel and creating a thoughtform to battle the unfortunate…and worse, defeating the thoughtform may not be the end: There is a chance the thing reconstitutes itself! Really nasty and cool…and know how these spawn? From those that fall to e.g. a xtabay’s victims, incapable of rising from the visions…yeah, creepy.



Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level. Rules-language-wise, it is similarly very good, but not perfect. Layout adheres to Rusted Iron Games’ 2-column’s two-column standard and the pdf comes with a nice b/w-artwork. Really cool: The pdf is fully bookmarked, in spite of its brevity.


Jacob W. Michaels, Joe Kondrak and Kim Frandsen deliver a rather cool installment here – the critter is cool and so are the items, though not all of the natural items are perfect. For the low asking price, this is very much worth getting. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.


You can get this cool pdf here on OBS!
Endzeitgeist out.


Jul 162017

Larius Firetongue’s School of Sorcery (OSR)

This massive toolkit clocks in at 100 pages, 1 page of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page artist contacts (nice), 1 page writer’s contacts, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 93 pages of content, though it should be noted that the pdf comes with 3 hex-crawl-y jpgs – one with icons and labels, one with icons sans labels and one that only notes the starting position. Nice!


Before you’re asking – the ruleset this is based on would be Swords & Wizardry, so if you’re familiar with the various OSR-rulesets, you’ll know what to expect here in that regard. After a brief introduction by the author and a similarly brief background story, we take a look at the first chapter, which deals with character creation for an all-caster party; the first suggestion we have here would be rolling 2d6 + 6 for an array of characters who are less prone to having devastating Achilles heels.


After that, we talk about lifting racial class restrictions – which makes sense, considering the goal of the chapter – but, as you know, this does interfere with the balancing mechanisms of OSR-gaming – level caps and class restrictions were employed to keep the magical races from outshining humans. The proposition here is to a) cap save-bonuses granted by race/class-combos at +4 and b) grant humans two +1 ability score bonuses they can freely assign, capping at 18. Since S&W does not use the d%-differentiation of the Strength-score of 18, I do not have a problem here, though, if you do, this is something to bear in mind and I’d suggest going for 18/01 as a default.


Very helpful, btw.: Since old-school games tend to have a strong race/class protection regarding the tasks available for the classes, the pdf lists several worthwhile publishers and publications you can check out to diversify your roster of options. Okay, this basic contemplations out of the way, you will realize that, to some degree, this pdf champions an opening of options available for the PCs. Personally, I am good with that, but it is something to be aware of. While the book does suggest e.g. potentially giving illusionists some thief tricks, I do lament that the per se pretty cool suggestion is not supplemented by a class-modifying toolkit…but that may just be the crunch-loving bastard in me.


Next up would be 10 new races, ready to be inserted in your game, which are here to provide a more diversified student roster. On a plus-side, these races do come with nice full-color artworks, but the inclusion of the artwork in the file, layout-wise, leaves a bit to be desired – white boxes on a colored background make very clear where the artwork begins and ends.


Now, the races presented herein have a few things in common: They represent iconic concepts and classic tropes…and their power-level exceeds those available in a vanilla S&W-game. Beastfolk, for example, gain a 1d4 unarmed attack, +10% Hide in Shadows, +15% Move Silently, 15 base movement, ability to breathe underwater (!!!) and swim movement 12, natural armor 7 (12 if you’re playing with ascending AC) and free Climb Walls as a Thief of their level as well as a ranger’s tracking as though they were a ranger of their level. Drow get bonuses to all thief skills ( +5% to 10%) and the assassin’s poison use as well as darkvision 120 feet and +4 to saves versus spells. Gnomes, goblins, kobolds, nagas, pixies, tieflings and vampires are included here…and yep, the latter is a nerfed down version, more akin to dhampirs, really. The races generally have in common that they gain several thief skill bonuses, a couple of immunities (vampire), save-bonuses – in short, they are all pretty potent. Some, like kobold and naga, also have intriguing tricks, like setting up impromptu traps or being able to ascertain features of divine or magical areas. The races generally tend to be on a roughly even playing field among themselves, though they outshine the standard S&W-races, though a single kobold, could, provided he has enough days of preparation, generate vast trap-gauntlets and the beastfolk’s swimming speed is imho a bit too potent.


The pdf also features three new classes: The bard (requirements Dex, Int and Cha 12), the mage-knight (Str 14 and Int 12) and the Unseen (Dex and Int 15, Wis 12). Bards gain d6 HD, a spellbook, use the magic-user, assassin and thief attack tables, receive +2 to saves versus mind-influencing and sound-based effects, need music to cast and start their saves at 15, using the druid’s XP-track. They learn more languages, can fascinate folks (depending on HD) and at 9th level, they get to establish a bardic college. The class has its own spell-list (going up to 6th level), which is not presented in the usual manner: Formatting sticklers like yours truly can be a bit annoyed by this, for, while S&W does not italicize spells in spell-lists, these usually are presented differently – in the way we see it herein, italicization would have made sense…but that is purely aesthetic and will not influence the final verdict.


The Mage-knight gets the paladin’s XP-track, d8 HD, fighter/pala/ranger attack tables, +2 to saves versus spells and gets a runic weapon at 1st level – this weapon can absorb spells and then unleash the absorbed energy upon hitting foes, inflicting +1d6 bonus damage per spell level. That…is kinda hardcore, as far as I’m concerned. Sure, it’s just one hit, but it still will make the other melee dudes look with envy at the class. Starting at 2nd level, they can cast spells drawn from their own spell-list (capping at 4th level) as long as they’re in chain mail or less and have a free hand. There is a problem regarding the interaction of mage-knight and magic-user spellbooks: RAW, the magic-user can transcribe spells from the mage-knight’s spell-list, if the spell is on his spell-list…however, for the mage-knight, e.g. disintegrate is a 4th level spell – and RAW, magic-users could thus transcribe the spell as a 4th level spell. It’s an obvious cheese and not something a referee can’t handle, sure – but it constitutes, from a design-perspective, a minor flaw. At higher levels, mage-knights learn to redirect hostile spells towards them and even rebound them to their casters, which is pretty damn cool.


The Unseen represents a conversion to Sword & Wizardry from “Theorems & Dark Pacts”, a book that is waiting for me to cover it as well; hence, in all brevity: 1d4 HD, attack table as thief, magic-user, assassin, no armors etc., spellcasting drawn from custom list of up to 6th level, thief ability-progression at -2 levels and a custom XP-progression track, capping at 2, 120, 000 at 20th level. At 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter, the class gets to choose a special ability that represents the magical sneak trope. (As an aside – I would have loved for the classes to feature the +x XP note for level 21+ gameplay, since that is significantly less problematic in OSR gaming than in most more math-intense games…but that may just be me.)


Okay, so this represents the basic expansion of rules for the player-side of things – next up would be the section that handles arcane school gameplay from a referee’s side, introducing arcane lore as a meta-currency: Scribblings, journals, strange items and the like are codified in various classes with values/cost assigned – these, for facility’s sake, btw. translate from gold on a 1: 1 ratio. They may be spent exclusively for the purpose of gaining levels, making magic items, scribing spells, etc. – I *LOVE* this. It’s somewhat akin to what LotFP does and what I do in my own campaigns – ascribe value to small things, champion knowledge and making magic thus feel less like a regular commodity. In fact, I’d strongly suggest making this the only way to get magic…but that may be me.


The next section is something pretty much anyone familiar with OSR-gaming has probably seen: A minimalist skill system, which boils down to rolling under the attribute. The pdf also suggests a free-form rewarding of backgrounds. Since hirelings are an integral part of gaming for many campaigns, the pdf does introduce the concept of loyal bonds – basically a story-reward for the PCs, one that is influenced by Charisma etc. as usual, but yeah.


After this, we have a massive chapter of new spells – as the pdf properly acknowledges (Kudos for that , btw. – the book always gives credit where credit is due!!), they partially represent conversions from various sources – classics like PFRPG’s blood biography or tongues can be found here, converted to S&W. Now, I am a bit torn on this chapter – the rules-language is precise and to the point, but more so than previous chapters, it changes how the game feels in some important aspects: The reliable detect poison in a pretty large radius, for example, changes how that aspect works in game and is reminiscent of systems that provide more in the range of utility. It is also interesting to note that clerics do not, RAW, gain access to it – it is a Mage-knight and Unseen spell here. Basically, this chapter represents an upgrade in versatility, with spells like tongues e.g. eliminating language-barriers. Whether you like that or not, ultimately remains a matter of taste, but it is something to be aware of.


Following the leitmotif of power lying in knowledge, we continue with treasured tomes: A character who spends at least 30 minutes a day consulting such a tome receives a substantial bonus – from medical textbooks to those containing cyphers, this section is one of my favorites in the whole book and I really wished it was a bit longer – the concept is pure gold. regarding layout, this would be as well a place as any to note that end-of-chapter text tends to result in a bit of blank space on some pages. You may not mind, but, yeah, it’s worth mentioning.


All right, this concludes pretty much the rules-section of this massive tome and we progress with a selection of various NPCs, both named and unnamed, that inhabit the school of sorcery. We get stats for all of them and brief write-ups. More importantly, their respective fields of interest and roles provide a variety of different unique abilities and tricks that make them stand out. Where applicable, loyalty bonds have been included with their respective information. Once we have covered this cast of characters, we move on to the locales within the academy, which include its own dungeon as well as a massive, primitive printing press. various spires and a magic, creepy out-of-order restroom…that provides visions for a price, but also may have some sinister purpose. A list of 20 brief random encounter set-ups and a simple generator for people and cliques as well as one for McGuffins can be found. Need to quickly generate a teacher and a potential mishap/complication for your PCs? No problem, there’s a generator for that as well. Clubs and extra-curricular activities similarly get their own tables.


Now, this is billed as a combo toolkit/sourcebook/hex-crawl, and indeed, the last 30+ pages of content are devoted to a basic outline of the surrounding lands of Frelundia – here, a desert looms where a mighty serpent-god once feel down and a city of titans long gone awaits exploration. The mysterious collector lives in the direblack swamp and the evil nation of Tyranor borders these lands. A plain of sunflowers contains the astral rock, which may unleash…things, a village of people who disavow the divine providence of rulership and legitimacy of nobles and the PCs may explore the resonating representation of a collective subconsciousness from the plane of dreams. The hex-crawl-section, in general, is pretty evocative, managing to create an overall sense of high-magic wonder, as you may have gleaned from the examples I chose. However, much like similar offerings, it remains sketch-like – you have to develop these wondrous locales yourself.


That being said, a level 1 haunted house (which is really vanilla and not too interesting) as well as level 3 ruins can be found – and the latter actually represents a solid sidetrek adventure. Unfortunately, the solid b/w-maps do not come with player-friendly, key-less versions, which constitutes a comfort-detriment as far as I’m concerned.


The pdf also features a proper, full-length adventure for 2nd level characters – basically a potentially lethal test, as the PCs explore the dangerous dungeon below the school, seeking to find 4 tokens to join the prestigious ranks of the Golden Claw elite students. Interesting here would be not necessarily the complex itself, but the fact that this represents a competitive environment – as such, a rival group of adventurers can make foils and a sequence of their progress is included in the pdf. Once again, there is no player-friendly version of the map.



Editing and formatting are good, but not perfect: On a formal level, I noticed a couple of typo-level glitches like “pendent” and the like. The rules-language, for the most part, is similarly crisp – most referees should not run into issues, though sticklers like yours truly will encounter a few instances where a bit more precision would have been warranted. Layout adheres to a nice 1-column full-color standard with a greenish background…and represents one of the weaknesses of the pdf: The artworks embedded in the file show their borders, which can be a bit aesthetically jarring. The pdf sports a wide variety of full-color artworks, though, if you’re like me, you’ll have seen quite a lot of them before. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience. The full-color hex-maps as jpgs are nice and serviceable, though the lack of player-friendly versions of the adventure-location maps in the book represents a bit of a comfort detriment for me.


Ray Chapel’s school of sorcery, as presented herein, is an interesting book: As a toolkit, it succeeds at its task and allows you to play characters and campaigns based on magical schools. I am not a fan of the new races and their increased power sans limitations on levels. On the other side, the tome and arcane lore rules and ideas like that really make this shine. I am similarly ambivalent about the adventuring portion of the book: While I adore the high-concept hex-crawl locations and their inspiring ideas, the detailed modules didn’t do much for me: The haunted house is a bit lackluster and the proving ground adventure’s trope of the controlled dungeon has been done better by Rite Publishing’s Ruins Perilous-series, serialized in their Adventure Quarterly magazine.


The ruins are nice, though – also courtesy to the tendency of providing cool and unique abilities for monsters and NPCs, something I thoroughly applaud. I also, surprisingly, found myself enjoying the notes on the school more than I figured I would – but ultimately, I found myself wishing we actually got a map or more details for it. As written, the daily life, structure etc. of how it works needs to be pieced together from the information throughout the book, which can be a bit jarring for referees looking for something more than a baseline to develop their ideas.


As a whole, I’d consider this a worthwhile purchase if you’re looking for a high-fantasy toolkit for OSR-gaming with more potent races. The pdf does have some nice, hackable aspects and features more than one idea that is guaranteed to spark one’s imagination. There is a lot to love here, but at the same time, I wished it was a bit more focused – the adventures contained herein eat precious word-count and pages that would have imho been better served to depict the school, suggest structures and the like – as written, we have a pretty free-form customization tool, but one that does require a little bit more work by the referee than I expected. Why? Because unlike e.g. Carcosa and similar huge-region hexcrawls, this oscillates between the big picture and the local one and the latter is not nearly represented as well as the amazing global ideas. Combined with the hiccups and minor layout glitches, I can’t rate this higher than 4 stars – though it definitely deserves these 4 stars. If what you read even remotely intrigues you, take a look!


You can get this massive toolkit here on OBS!


Endzeitgeist out.


Jul 162017

Veranthea Codex: Adventurer’s Handbook

This massive compilation of player-centric material for Veranthea clocks in at 197 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial,1 page ToC, 1 page of SRD, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 190 pages of content, so let’s take a look!


Okay, so we begin this book with a brief timeline and introduction to the setting of Veranthea and its distinct continents, with detailed (and really nice!) 1-page maps of the continents in question. The pdf explains the continents and leitmotifs in a concise and player-friendly manner, including the information on the Forever Dark, the collector cabal and a basic outline of the tesseract called the Veil – though here at least the main thing going on, metaplot-wise, is clearly spelled out for PCs, which is NOT something I would have wanted in a player-book. Pretty big SPOILERS there…


From here on, we revisit the various gods of Veranthea – you have at this moment seen those guys in the campaign setting, radical pantheon, etc., so I’m not going to reiterate the information once again. The section also contains various special materials for items, which can generally be called creative, though a few of them could use some minor finetuning – a material that absorbs energy, for example, and converts it to reflexive damage for the attacker, inflicts untyped damage that should probably be typed according to energy absorbed. Another material increases the damage output of weapons after being critically hit. Additionally, we can find dust that allows for the substitution of Strength as a spell’s governing attribute. It should btw. be noted that the occult rituals depicted in e.g. the Forever Dark book, have been included here. The gods come with obediences etc.


The pdf then goes on to recap the global rules Veranthea employs – the firearm recoil, the tweaks to psionics, the magic attunement rules, the rules for mirror weapons and fractal armor, the wild magic outcome-table, the rules for the scarring that defines the abilities of those born in Urethiel and the magic styles used there. Notes for playing monstrous parties, the Pilot skill, vehicles…you get the idea.


The player-section collates all the races of the setting, mentioning and explaining the distinction between people types, the divergent stats goblins and strix have in the setting and then going on to provide the racial stats of the Alterrans from “Into the Veil” (including all supplemental material like FCOs, equipment, etc.) and a stat-less mentioning of dread H’gal. Pantako, mongrelmen and leugho have been reproduced here with their associated material, while the previously only sketch-like feylves now get a proper racial presentation, with names, nomenclature, racial traits and associated material – they btw. get +4 Dex and +2 Int and Cha, -2 Str & Con, -4 Wis, making them pretty lopsided for certain builds. They are Small, have low-light vision, get +2 to CL-checks to overcome SR and +2 to Spellcraft to identify magic items as well as 1/day glitterdust and +2 to Perception. They also get quite a bunch of supplemental material, like new pieces of equipment and a racial archetype, the glitterbomber, who decreases bomb damage but blinds targets of direct bomb hits, with bombs that glitterdust foes and higher levels yielding immunity to being dazzled and several glitter-themed spells that they can cast by expending bomb-uses. They also inflict more damage versus targets subject to negative conditions associated with glitter-stuff: Blinded, dazzled or dazed characters, that is. Limited personal flight is locked beyond racial feats and enhancing drakones (animal companion and monster stats included!) they ride etc. make, as a whole, for a fabulous option.


The dengu and pengu variants of the tengu-race have been similarly expanded, though their racial trait modifications could have used highlighting – they are buried in a pretty long text at the beginning, but that remains an aesthetic formatting complaint. The half-doppelganger race is a but lopsided, gaining +4 to one attribute, -2 to another, darkvision, light blindness, immunity to the effects of the trekth’s architecture and free alter self with dynamic forms, which can be VERY potent in the hands of the right player. Flesh pockets, armor that is absorbed when changing forms and the like can be found as complimentary material here. A minor complaint: A feat that morphs your hand in a natural weapon of your choice does not take sizes into account and does not specify whether the weapon formed is primary or secondary – and considering the feat’s flexibility, there is no default to fall back on. This is a bit puzzling, considering a magic item that nets you bone claws gets the type classification right. The other options here, though, are pretty damn cool and include sound imitation and limited, food-powered fast healing that cannot be cheesed, though the Dexterity-check to negate AoOs when eating in combat can be considered to be a bit clunky.


The strange shokusei notoku halflings also get a proper, full depiction, at +2 Wis, -2 Str, Small size, low-light vision, keen senses DR 2/ slashing or bludgeoning as well as immunity to paralysis, poison, polymorph and sleep effects as well as stunning. They also get +8 to Stealth to hide in vegetation. All in all, pretty powerful. The god tear artifacts, their language, etc. are provided and the racial feats emphasize grappling via unarmed strikes, something that taps in their unarmed ranger archetype and its unique combat style options. They also get a variant, vine-based grappling hook, not unlike that used by the leugho, magic ropes and whips and the spells are interesting, allowing for the assuming of pod-forms, etc. The sun-gryphons have also been included. However, none of the races get an age, height and weight table, which is a bit sucky.


The pdf then reprints the conduit base class, first presented in Amora Game’s excellent Liber Influxus Communis, and the Betzekorps Attack on Titan-style PrC as well as the Dragonminded psionic PrC. Entr entrapper, green avenger and lycanthropic icon have been collected here. Similarly, the archetypes collected herein sport the academy trainee, the adversarial armorist, the bird rider, the conexcron investigator, the drunk brawler, the gobchopper skirmisher, the goblin pistolero, the iron fury, the merchanteer, the monstrous minstrel, the nightmare assassin, the nightmare prognosticator, the oni sworn, as well as qinggong ninja, scientific innovator, swarm minder, the tian-ti ang agent, wild mage and wild scholar. The nightmare assassin, just fyi, is a tweak of the blood candle mechanics of the gitwerc, using the candles fashioned from the dead to enhance death attacks.


Alchemist discoveries, general feats and tech like chain swords have been collected here as well, alongside tech items (Veranthea has its own tech-rules, btw.) and the stats of snow orms. The pdf also presents a selection of Veranthean traits and collects the spells associated with the various deities in one handy chapter. After the spells and sans header or the like, we immediately move on to a collection of magic items associated with the deities of the radical pantheon.



Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level – I noticed no significant accumulation of hiccups. On a formal level, the rules-language is concise, if not always perfect – it should, over all, not generate undue problems, though e.g. when I read something like “class bonus” or “reaction” to denote an action, I cringe a bit. Layout adheres to Veranthea’s busy 2-column/1-column standard, depending on the content on the page, and crams a ton of information on each page – this is a dense book. Artworks are a blend of full-color original pieces, stock-art, etc. – fans of Veranthea will be familiar with the pieces used. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience.


Mike Myler, with contributions from Michael Allen, Jacob Blackmon, Larry Dixon, Nicholas J. Giebel, Jeffrey Hersh, Luis Loza and Michael McCarthy, has collected a metric ton of player-material here, which is a good thing, as far as I’m concerned: I hate handing out campaign settings and all their juicy GM-specific secrets to players and this book helps in that regard, big time. At the same time, it represents a great way for those of you who are not interested in the setting and more intrigued by the crunch – while deeply situated in the context of the setting, this still represents a great way to get exactly that.


That being said, if you don’t want this as a player handout book or as a stand-alone, divorced from the setting, then this will do significantly less for you – for the most part, you will be familiar with the material herein if you own the other Veranthea books. To me, the book does represent a bit of a missed chance – hiccups in the original iterations of options are still herein, though e.g. the page-numbers are correct.


If you get this book for its own virtues, be aware that Veranthea is a pretty high-powered world and as such, this is not made for gritty games; there are a couple of options that are pretty potent, though still, as a whole, within the realms of the classic paradigms. As a whole, this is worth getting if you don’t have the other Veranthea material. From an organization-perspective, I think the special materials, mirrored weapons etc. should have all been collected in their own sub-chapter, mainly since looking for them in the deity write-ups can be somewhat hard to keep in mind. I also consider some notes presented here to be slightly SPOLER-y, with e.g. the nature of a certain god and the metaplot of the Veil being examples for information that should have been redacted. As such, this is not perfect, but neither is it anywhere close to mediocrity – my final verdict will hence clock in at 4 stars -a good offering and a nice way to get Veranthea’s crunchier bits to players.


You can get this massive array of player’s options here on OBS!


Endzeitgeist out.


Jul 162017

Arms of Myth & Legend (5e)

This pdf clocks in at 27 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, leaving us with 25 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?


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


All right, so crafting in 5e is rudimentary at best – considering the time it takes to craft mundane items and the fact that magic items require infinitely more time, the system puts magic item creation, even that born out of epic moments and spontaneous infusions of power, firmly out of the grasp of adventuring characters – a single legendary item would require the majority of a human’s life to fashion. This pdf is designed to allow the PCs to “make”, in a way, their own legendary item – a magic weapon/armor/etc. that may be improved over the course of the adventuring life.


The system remains pretty simple and elegant: 1st level (or whatever is deemed to be appropriate by the GM) provides the basic item, which is considered to be common regarding rarity. The rarity determines the maximum number of abilities available for the respective item, starting with 1 ability, and increasing the number by +1 ability for every item scarcity category upgrade. Items with charges may hold double that amount of abilities – may, mind you. So no, just because you have a sword that has charges does not mean you’ll drown in abilities. The item in question can be improved in this manner at 3rd, 6th, 11th, 17th and 20th level, with the capstone making it a legendary artifact. The items entail gaining features and a proper means of destruction, concisely defined here – and it should be noted that, no, the highest level results are not equal to the iconic artifacts.


Now, while a gold value that needs to be provided for the upgrade is given, it should be noted that the engine does not necessarily require the value to be paid for – instead, it actively encourages the GM and player to come up with means of paying for this increase – whether it’s acquiring e.g. adamantine, destroying evil items or the like – the value is a necessary guideline, yes, but not one that necessarily needs to be paid for in gold. There is another requirement for advancement, namely an increasing number of so-called pivotal moments that the item must be involved in. These provide a kind of GM control device as well as a means of determining the nature of the item involved. A blade used to slay fiends all the time will sooner or later thus gain thematically-fitting abilities. This would btw. be as good a place as any to note that the pdf sports a couple of minor, typo-level glitches: Missing full stops, blank spaces where none should be. While the exception, it should be noted that some of these could have been caught.


The system being relatively free-form, the book provides some much required guidelines for the GM. These would be as follows: Only one item per character; items must be fitting for the character; the item advanced in the way the character advances; item advancement is a collaboration of GM and player and it should be iconic, hard to lose and very hard to destroy. All sensible and pretty easy to maintain guidelines. Beyond this, an in-play example is provided and we move on to no less than 10 fully detailed such legacy items. Pivotal moments in the item’s history have been properly bolded in the respective write-ups and the abilities gained are organized by scarcity. The items run a rather diverse gamut, beginning with an enchanted alembic that has, at higher levels, a chance to properly identify the composition of compound liquids and retain remnants of potions consumed from it or at the highest levels, even generate random potions.


The pdf also contains the anvil of kings, which has a small change of infusing items with magic, nets Blacksmith’s Tool’s proficiency and the higher levels can allow for the addition of e.g. the properties of flametongue or adamantine properties…but here, we encounter a bit of an issue: The item seems to base its effects in a significant way on treating item enchantments as modular, which they not necessarily are – while it is easy for the GM to extract such properties, RAW, this is a bit wobbly, though the issue is, ultimately, a system-immanent one.


A black blade of razor-sharp glass that can generate temporary clones of itself, a crystal globe that shrouds the user in chaotic thoughts and that, alter can be inserted as a quasi-eye into the wielder, a buoyant staff aligned with the forces of frost and water. It should be noted that the amazing blade hellrazor, that ostensibly willed itself into existence, for example is very precise…but at the same time, some items do not precisely state the type of the bonus damage they inflict at higher levels; the type may be evident from context, but it represents a minor flaw worth mentioning. Similarly, e.g. the sanguine shield does not specify whether it’s a bonus action or action to activate its charge-based abilities -similarly, its recharge ability, being “fed” blood, is not really precise in how it works and left my puzzled. Silver sorrow, a blade entwined with the tale of a silver dragon, makes for a powerful tool for the causes of goodness, while the runehammer is a dwarven weapon with potent abilities pertaining dwarven scripture, the fight against the goblins, etc. The will of the one, finally, is a helm that was used breaking free from the control of the dreaded illithids – and while pretty potent, it makes sense…though the high-level duplicate generating option of the item lacks the necessary precision and left me with quite a lot of question marks regarding how it works.



Editing and formatting are uncharacteristically weak for a pdf penned by Micah Watt: From missed italicizations to punctuation hiccups to inconsistencies and issues in the interaction of more complex abilities, there are quite a lot of hiccups here. Layout adheres to the nice 2-column full-color standard used by Pyromaniac Pres books and each item gets an AMAZING full-color artwork – none of which I have seen before. In short: This is aesthetically-pleasing. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Micah Watt’s system left me torn. On one hand, I really enjoyed the lore of pretty much all items herein. Similarly, I found myself enjoying many of the creative abilities. At the same time, the formal criteria and rules-design of the items does have a selection of issues that could have been caught by a capable editor.

The system presented for 5e-legacy/legendary items is really cool…but ultimately, it is only a sketchy “here are guidelines”-type of system. The pdf does not actually deliver on the promise of crafting legacy items.


I couldn’t help but feel that, having a selection of common, uncommon, rare, etc. abilities to provide a modular toolkit for the GM would have seriously improved the value of this pdf. As written, you can try to extrapolate from the example items presented, sure, but it still requires the GM to do the heavy lifting – more so than a modular ability-array would have provided.


Now, this is not a bad pdf, though it sports some serious formal hiccups and falls short of its lofty goal…but there is one more thing to bear in mind: This pdf is ridiculously cheap – it only costs a single buck and it is worth getting for that low price, no doubt about that. I’d be rather surprised if you got this and didn’t get something cool out of it – the prose for the items, for example, is rather intriguing and the base system is promising as well. Still, with the glitches, I can’t go higher than 3 stars, even taking the low price point into account.


You can get this pdf here on DM’s Guild!


Endzeitgeist out.


Jul 152017

Maximum Xcrawl

This massive hardcover clocks in at 155 pages, 151 if you take away editorial, ToC, etc. This review is based on the hardcover of the book, namely the Swimsuit Edition 2014, which comes with a nice wrap-around variant cover. This book was moved up in my review-queue due to me receiving a print version of this book.


All righty, so first things first: What is Xcrawl? If you haven’t seen this unique setting/playstyle, then let me enlighten you: On one hand, the proceedings take place in an allotopia, an alternate world akin to ours, though it also borrows from near-future/cyberpunk as well as fantasy. What do I mean by this? Well, the setting itself is one wherein dwarves, elves etc. all live with us on the planet, and one where magic is real. The focus, for the purpose of this book, lies on the United States, or rather, the North America Empire, the analogue within the realms of Xcrawl. The world itself is not one suffused with a plethora of high-tech, but the cyberpunk influences can be seen in the tropes: The gulf between poor and rich has widened even further and the chances to rise on the social ladder are diminishing constantly. The empire is rotten and corrupt to the core – and it is in this dreary, somewhat dystopian vision, that Xcrawl takes place.


If the world itself sounds drab in its construction, then that is by design: You see, much like in movies like “Running Man” and similar cult classics, the empire has taken at least the “Circenses” of “panem et circenses” rather seriously: Thanks to modern technology and magic, the media have discovered perhaps the ultimate adrenaline kick, the piece of color and excitement in a grey daily life, a bloodsport at once complex and simple: Dungeoncrawling, as a spectator sport! Xcrawl has become so popular, it is a singular force, a means to escape ones’ limitations – whether if you’re an elf rebelling against your house, a half.orc trying to make it out of poverty, a halfling who has broken with organized crime – the Xcrawl environment provides the means to transcend the social strata in an increasingly rigid environment.


Now, I have touched upon races – the classic core races are all covered, though it should be noted that the book reprints these and expands the races slightly: Each race gets bonus skills: These do not allow the character to transcend max ranks, but they represent skills from previous, non-X-crawl environments. These are ranks and as such, they are gained over the levels – this may sound weird at first, but it should be noted that, while rules cover lower levels as well, the suggested starting level for Xcrawls is 3rd. It should be noted that all of the races receive interesting angles and that compatibility to mainstream PFRPG is retained throughout the write-up for the races and the respective races receive some sensible and interesting background information.


Now, while absolutely nothing prevents you from using the content herein with all the PFRPG-classes out there, the main crunch-meat of the book would be no less than 6 base classes that allow you to basically play the game with just this book. If you’re curious, yes, these are kinda in line with the traditional roles. Training between levels can be used as an alternate rule and as a thematic leitmotif, Greco-Roman pantheon and aesthetics can be found. So let us take a look at the classes, shall we? Due to the density of the classes and the sheer ground to cover, I will remain relatively brief.


All right, the first class would be the athlete, who gains 3/4 BAB-progression, good Fort- and Ref-saves, fast movement progression from +5 ft. to +40 ft., proficiency with simple weapons, light armor and shields (except tower shields) and don’t treat sport-equipment as improvised weaponry. They are grappling specialists and gain Improved Grapple from the get-go, with SERIOUS damage-scaling for grappling – from 1d8 to 9d8 base damage. Somewhat strange: Small athletes only get d4s, which is a pretty serious downgrade – why go two dice-steps here, when Small characters already are handicapped regarding grappling. The athletes also receive the training ability – basically, they get a floating bonus to a physical attribute score – this scales to up to +8 and may be freely divided among the physical attributes, representing the training regimes of the athlete and allowing for some preparation to specific events – whether it’s becoming more agile, improving damage output – you get the idea. Second level and every even level thereafter yield so-called special abilities. Quite a few of these tie into the aforementioned training and have requirements, being only available for the athlete while the sufficient training bonus is invested. The respective abilities do sport prerequisites in some cases, and, while they generally are precisely formatted, there are instances of italicizations that have not been perfectly implemented…but that as a cosmetic aside.


Several of the abilities obviously tie in with grappling here, while e.g. pole vaulting and the like can be found, there also are leaping attacks and the like. The rules-language, for the most part, is rather precise, but at the same time, we can find some issues in the finer details of rules aesthetics, like a selection of untyped bonuses that are typed in comparable abilities. Similarly, an attack that should be tied to CMD being tied to Fort-saves. At higher levels, the class does gain the option to temporarily ignore a series of conditions and even gains scaling immunities.


The other classes include the blaster, who gains d6 HD, 1/2 BAB-progression, good Will-saves, 4 + Int skills per level and proficiency with simple weapons and another light melee weapon, which gains “an attack bonus” that scales with the level – it’s small issues with the rules-language like this that can be seen The blaster also is an arcane spellcaster, who gains spellslots according to a unique table, which goes up to 8th level. The governing attribute is Charisma, though the spellcasting is prepared and based on a spellbook. The unique part of the class would be that it has the option to convert spells into blasts of raw eldritch might, dealing 2d6 untyped damage per spell level. As a minor hiccup, while the ability does note the ability is supernatural, the header lacks the (Su) that should be here. They also get an ability to make analyzing their spells harder to understand and thus counter. The class once against sports a selection of techniques to modify the respective blasts etc. – with advanced (11th) and supreme techniques (20th) being unlocked at later levels. The untyped damage is pretty nasty, and so is the significant spell arsenal – the class is the one in the arsenal that hasn’t aged well – the kineticist or the ethermancer represent better, more balanced options for the blaster trope.


The third class would be the brawler, the fighter-equivalent, who gets Improved Unarmed Combat at 1st level, full BAB-progression, d10 HD, 2 + Int skills per level, a bonus feat at 1st level and every even level thereafter as well as proficiency with all simple and martial weapons, all armors and shields (except tower shields) and no firearm proficiency. They gaina combat pool equal to 2 points +1 for every 2 levels thereafter, which can each round be assigned to attack rolls, weapon damage rolls, AC, and Will-saves “Willpower saves” here) – this is a simple, but fun ability. Speaking of minor hiccups – the Knowledge (Xcrawl)-skill in the class skills here lacks the (Int) that’s supposed to be after it – again, cosmetic, but there are quite a few glitches like this.


The jammer is proficient with simple weapons, as well as light and medium armor, shields and a weapon of their choice as well as 3/4 BAB-progression, 6 + Int skills per level and good Ref- and Will-save progression. The jammer is, among all the classes here, by far my favorite class: Think of these guys as artists/rock/pop-stars with a variety of combat music and the option to follow these up with somewhat sneak attack-y bonus damage assaults against the affected individuals. Add to that a ki pool governed by Charisma for better defense and we get an interesting, fun class – I honestly wished we got a lot more options for this guy!!


The messenger gets d8 HD, 2 + Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB-progression as well as good Fort- and Will-saves, proficiency with the deity’s favored weapon, simple weapons, all armors and shields (except tower shields) and 2 domains and prepared spellcasting based on Wisdom. Messengers are directly descendant from the divine and their blood can act as a holy symbol. Basically, this represents a variant cleric who does not gain channel energy and instead gets an array of abilities at 1st, 9th and 13th level. This would btw. be as good a place as any to note that formatting of attributes is inconsistent – I noticed quite a lot of lower case attributes like “wisdom” and the book is inconsistent in whether it uses the full-length attributes or the three-letter abbreviations. The class write up also features a table of domains etc. for the Olympian pantheon, some of which have abilities that made me seriously question how they got past playtesting. The ability “On my signal”, in the Strategy domain, for example, allows for the no-action (not even an immediate action!!) activation at the start of a combat round: Wisdom bonus + 1/2 class level allies can act on the highest initiative count among the allies (not sure if the “ally” has to be part of the chosen group). I assume that the action is instead of the action usually available at this round. Still, this allows for the old rocket-tag game; bonuses to initiative are very potent and this collective boost, usable 3 + Wisdom modifier times per day, can provide devastating initial assaults.


The final class herein would be the specialist, who gains d8 HD, 8 + Int skills per level, 1/2 sneak attack progression, 3/4 BAB-progression, good Ref-saves, proficiency with simple weapons and 3 martial weapons as well as light armor. They have special abilities, which are akin to talents, separated in two tiers, with the second tier unlocked at 10th level. Okay rogue-variant.


The book also features new skills, obviously: Drive, Grandstanding and Tactics – two are self-explanatory, but grandstanding takes the whole spectator-sport aspect into account – the crowd is important, after all! Where there are so many new classes, there obviously also will be a ton of new feats tying into the new options – expansions for the combat pool etc. – you get the idea. They also gain fame feats over the levels, which tie into the cool narrative framework – and yes, being Face or Heel can be found here! These feats are rather interesting and often feature fun concepts!


NPC-classes and a massive array of equipment, from skinmesh, electroshock weapons and the like all can be found – including real estate and the like, so yeah, the equipment section is really neat. However, as much as I’m not a big fan of the majority of the class section, I do love the Mojo pool: You can NEVER ask for mojo pools – only have them assigned to you by your teammates and an Xcrawl begins with 1d6 + the highest Charisma modifier in the pool; if only one character remains standing, he gets 3 mojo: minimum mojo is 0, maximum is 12: Natural 20s in combat net bonuses, rooms won and exceptional actions all yield mojo, but botches, party infighting and disqualifications decrease the pool. Rolls involving mojo that score natural 1s or 20s can yield escalated benefits or penalties. This small system is brilliant: It promotes teamplay, racks up the tension and makes the game cooler – big, big plus. Fame is btw. tracked from 1 to 20, representing the status of the character – temporary and permanent fame, modifiers and instant recognition all are covered in a well-crafted, intriguing chapter that also allows you to use fame to purchase e.g. access to crawls, manipulate media, etc. – there are a variety of ways to use these points to further the campaign and progress of the team.


The GMing of Xcrawl is depicted in an in-depth chapter as well: First of all, you make DJs – Dungeon jockeys, the guys and gals in charge of the dungeons, stars themselves and larger than life entities – and no, these should not be GM-stand-ins – and obviously, there are various types of campaigns: You can just focus on the Xcrawls themselves, but you can similarly run full Xcrawl campaigns, including the frame narratives, rises to fame, advertisement deals etc. – and from military to the different leagues, there is a grand variety of themes you can draw on. The goals of the Xcrawl and its highlight-reel-like structure, advertisements breaks, DJ-commentary – you can enter some serious 4th wall type of fun. Similarly, the constructed, artificial nature of the Xcrawls mean that you can go full-blown grotesque and absurd – the dungeon doesn’t have to make any sense and neither do the monsters – it’s unmitigated rule of cool dungeon-design, justified and supported by the very framework. This may sound weird, but particularly for one-shots, convention games or as a change of pace, these Xcrawls make for ridiculously fun, amazing scenarios – there is a reason I’ve been loving Xcrawl for so long.


The details of how the Xcrawl works, from non-combative badges (noncoms) to nogo doors, refs and PCs surrendering, breakrooms and the like are all included in the discussion of the Xcrawl games; advice on designing Xcrawls, the official imperial rules of the setting, structures of the time leading up to the crawl and a codified reward system make sense. Similarly, magic items and tools can be regulated for the crawl – depending on the Xcrawl, you have the options to custom-rig what works and what doesn’t. Stone-Age theme? No problem. Equipment-sponsorship deals, contracts and salaries, rules for personal appearances – the book is incredibly detailed in a variety of way and sports some really fine details.


The book also contains a massive index and a proper character sheet for Xcrawl characters.



Editing and formatting, on a formal level, are very good. On a rules-language level, the book doesn’t hold up to this quality, though: Rules-formatting is inconsistent in a variety of ways – while their integrity is generally there, I still consider this part to be very much the weakest aspect of the book – a strict rules-developer giving this a pass would have potentially made this shine. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard and the book sports really cool b/w-artworks, all originals. The insides of the covers yield a glorious full-color piece.


The hardcover is amazing – well-constructed, great sleeves, thick paper – one of the production value-wise really impressive tomes and worth the price.


Brendan J. LaSalle, with additional design by Duane Waldrop and Jeff Erwin, has penned one of my all-time favorite non-fantasy settings. The unmitigated wildness of Xcrawl is inspiring and extremely fun; it lets you create wholly different dungeons, tell distinct stories that usually are not represented in other settings. The massive background information, the glorious ideas and the Xcrawl-related tricks are really nice and flavorful and make this a fun book – a glorious book, even; I could make an argument for this being really top of the line in that regard.


At the same time, not all of the classes and player-options hold up well and sport some unfortunate hiccups – to the point, where, if I rated this as a crunch-book alone, it would not fare well. At the same time, systems like the glorious mojo pool or the cool fame engine represent fun subsystems that are extremely hackable. The majority of the classes were honestly not to my liking and crunch-wise, I’d consider this to be a mixed bag. However, the setting and the idea, the concept, make this at the same time a book I’d love to praise to the high heavens. Xcrawl is pretty amazing if you get it, if you take it in the spirit it is intended; if you’re looking mostly for crunchy bits, then this probably won’t hold up as well, as that aspect is simply not as refined.


I am really torn here – between wanting to complain hard and praising this book, it’s hard to find an official verdict. Ultimately, I’d love to rate this 3 stars for the issues in rules-language and formatting…and I’d love to rate this 5 stars + seal of approval for being simply one glorious setting, with great supplemental material. In the end, my official verdict will clock in at 4 stars – if you’re looking for the setting, if the idea intrigues you and if you cherish ideas more than precision in the details, then get this ASAP – Xcrawl is unique, fun and thoroughly inspiring.


You can get the pdf of this unique setting here on OBS!


You can get the print version here on Goodman Games’ store!


Endzeitgeist out.