Nov 172017
 

Tangible Taverns: The Hut (5e)

This installment of Dire Rugrat Publishing’s cool Tangible Taverns-series clocks in at 22 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 17 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

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

 

So, fans of the Wayfinder magazine may be familiar with the basic set-up here; the Hut was featured originally in that publication, though in a basic version – and for the first time, this time around, we get the establishment with all shiny 5e-rules!

 

Amidst the marshy expanse, propped up by stilts, there is a weathered hut awaiting the weary traveler; several mooring posts allow for the safe tying of boats for the travelers and from its inside, delicious smells waft forth – smells I can almost taste. The steps leading up may seem rickety, but they are safe – and inside a weathered woman ushers guests in with a smile of a life well-lived; this is Mama, and she is one tough cookie, as they say: As the rumors tell (8 are provided), she single-handedly fought off river pirates…and she also makes a mean fried crocodile! Her portions are huge, spicy and full of flavor and made my mouth water for the time when I visited NOLA – I can almost taste the delicious food…

 

And yes, this being a swamp refuge, there are ample adventuring ideas here – 8 sample events can help you jumpstart adventuring if the rumors alone don’t suffice. It should btw. be noted that, where applicable, the respective creature-stats referenced are hyperlinked for your convenience to the SRD.

 

Now, the hut itself does come with a solid full-color map that actually comes with a gridless version that’s suitable as a player’s handout – big kudos there! Speaking of big kudos! The picture of the hut, Mama greeting travelers with a pot of Jambalaya, is really nice and captures the heart and soul of the place perfectly – a really nice piece.

 

That being said, Mama is not a cliché provider; quite the contrary. In the detailed and well-written background, we learn about her interesting life story and also, just as an aside, receive even more angles for adventuring. This tale also serves as a great justification for Mama’s unique abilities: Dire Rugrat’s 5e statblocks tend to feature really nice, custom abilities and her statblock (challenge 3, btw.) is no exception.

 

She is not the only NPC who gets a detailed and sympathetic account of her life; the hermit/hunter Dexter Cloves, makes for a powerful guide/hunter (challenge 4) and the good-hearted, if socially awkward and silent man, has actually fallen head over heels for Mama – a fact to which she is utterly oblivious…so yeah, if you’re so inclined, PCs playing Cupid would most assuredly make for a nice change of pace. There also would be Turk Krager, beloved half-orc son and twin, looking for his missing family – who may be on the run from rather nasty money-lenders…or worse. Beyond these interesting individuals, we also get a cool magic weapon – the Titanfaller, deadly and very useful against giants. This potent blade is currently wielded by Tryali “Tryx” Bannialtyn and her boon companion, the wild cat named Astra – and yes, we get stats for the duo.

 

The final NPC within these pages would be Rolf Gunderberg – a kind, good dwarf with some magic talent- but not too much. Instead, he makes up for this by being almost obscenely lucky – he can use reactions to burn spell slots to avoid damage and negative conditions (the rules-language is tight!), and even better, he gets his own 12-entry table – Fortunate Fool. These happenstances are implausible and ridiculously funny in some cases; in fact, I smiled pretty widely while reading this.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no issues in rules or statblocks – kudos. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly two-column standard with full-color artworks and maps; particularly the inclusion of the player-friendly maps would be a big plus for me. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Kelly and Ken Pawlik’s Tangible Taverns have a distinct style I like: They are adventuring supplements bereft of mean-spiritedness; even bad guys are not cynically so. NPCs feel like they are good folks with their own wondrous stories, they feel very much PERSONAL. We have a ton of adventures and supplements that deal with the big picture, that deal with the weird and horrific – The Hut herein is a refuge from that; it is a place that oozes heart’s blood, warmth and kindness. It is obvious that the authors lovingly handcrafted these folks. They created a refuge that warms the heart, a place where adventuring, as epic as it is, mingles with the potential for doing good, for providing a heart-warming solace from the rigors of the adventuring life. The hut, in short, breathes a spirit of positivity that I enjoy and frankly, can’t write well myself. It’s harder to get right than you’d think – and this does it. What do I mean by this? Well, in spite of this being very much a feel-good supplement, it has adventuring potential galore. The hand-crafted, numerous NPCs are not only solid, they are flavorful personalities that can make for great companions for adventuring parties.

 

In short: This is a great installment, particularly in the season where bleak weather drags down the spirits of folks; it is a little, humble book for an extremely fair price that put a smile on my face and the desire to use location and NPCs in my game. What more can you ask of such a place? Now, excuse me – I need to scrounge together the ingredients for some delicious Southern cuisine…

 

Forgot the verdict? Well, obviously 5 stars + seal of approval. Highly recommended, particularly if you need a genuine ray of goodness and light in a bleak, hostile swamp/marsh adventure!

 

You can get this cool, heartfelt little tavern and the colorful folks associated with it here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Nov 172017
 

Star Log.EM: Shadowdancer (SFRPG)

This little expansion for Starfinder clocks in at 6 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1.5 pages of SRD, leaving us with 2.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

All right, so archetypes in Starfinder have been streamlined, which makes them, per definition, more flexible – as such, this concept does benefit the relatively broad theme of the shadow dancer, which never thoroughly felt right as something limited to rogues, at least to me. The Shadowdancer presented herein grants alternate class features at 2nd, 6th and 9th level, with 12th and 18th level being optional choices.

 

2nd level provides Shadowed Sneak, which nets both Sleight of Hand and Stealth as class skills (or when you get one later as a class skill or from another source, a 1/day double roll, taking the better result). You also gain darkvision 60 ft. or increase its range by +30 ft. 6th level provides the option to use Stealth while within 10 ft. of an area of dim light as if you had cover or concealment, but you can’t do so versus creatures that easily can see in dim light – darkvision and low-light vision, for example, make this trick fail. 9th level nets shadow jump, which nets you 400 ft. +40 ft. per level in dimension dooring between shadows – the end and start of the teleportation must target dim light areas. You can bring along other willing creatures, but they take away from your daily allotment – the jumps must be taken in 40 ft. allotments, just fyi. This is btw a supernatural ability and as such, represents a standard action. You also gain Dimensional Agility as a bonus feat and treat the feat-tree’s spell-reference as instead pertaining to shadow jump.

 

What does that one do? Well, usually, it is restricted to 11th level characters and it allows you to act normally after travelling via dimension door as well as granting you a bonus to Armor Class against attacks of opportunity provoked from casting a teleportation spell. The feat stacks with mobility, but has its bonus reduced to +2, for a total of +6. Minor complaint: The pdf mentions AC here instead of Starfinder’s more commonly-used Armor Class term in feats, but since Bodyguard in the Starfinder Core Rules also uses AC, this gets a pass. There are three different follow-up feats for this one – the 12th and 18th level option allow you to choose follow-ups feats in the tree. Dimensional Assault lets you cast dimensional door as a full-round action – when doing so, you teleport twice your speed and make a charge attack with the usual bonuses/penalties. There are two different follow-up-feats for this: Dimensional Dervish Adds the option to just move your speed, but make a full attack instead when using Dimensional Assault; additionally, you may divide the distance teleported into increments before the first attack and all follow-up attacks and the end of the attack sequence – You must move at least 5 ft. each increment. Single attacks with bonus damage may also be thus used in conjunction with Dimensional Dervish. Dimensional Savant provides flanking from all squares you attack from, allowing you to set up basically flanking corridors – from after you make the first attack to the start of your next turn. This can be pretty damn cool, but warrants. Minor complaint in the feat-tree – the Dimensional Assault feat’s spell-prerequisite is not properly italicized.

 

There is one final feat here, Cloak of Shadows, which does necessitate 5th level and the 2nd level shadowdancer ability: 1/day, this feat lets you alter the illumination level within 20 ft. as a standard action towards shadows: Lights are dimmed, darkness brightened. Magic requires a Will-save to suppress thus, btw., and the effect is a supernatural ability and lasts for your level rounds.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good – the only glitches I noticed were aesthetic. Layout adheres to the 2-column full-color standard of the series and the pdf sports a nice artwork. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

 

Alexander Augunas’ shadow dancer is more interesting that he’d seem at first glance: For once, the fellow doesn’t work in darkness; you actually need dim light; on the plus side, the shadow jumping ability is bereft of the 4-Medium-folks limit of the spell, but…well, not often. Having additional creatures consume more of the daily resource is a solid trick here. Now, you will probably want a shadow orb and a proper light source fast, just to make sure you’re set up correctly. The attack options are potent, but in Starfinder, the changed attack action economy does help here.

 

All in all, I liked the shadowdancer as presented here – I’m not exactly in love, though Dimensional Dervish and Dimensional Savant are things I’d like to do to foes, at least once. In short: This is imho a good offering if you’re looking for a solid Starfinder shadowdancer. My final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.

 

You can get this neat Shadowdancer-archetype here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Nov 172017
 

Whispers of the Dark Mother #5: Call to War

The fifth installment of the „Whispers of the Dark Mother“-series clocks in at 23 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with18 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

As always in the series, we do receive a deity-write-up – this time around, this would be Rullux, god of tyrants, treachery, violence and war – 4 domains, 3 subdomains. As always, the deity does come with extended notes regarding the role of priests, shrines, etc. – all in all, a decent write-up. The pdf sports 3 full-color maps; 2 of these, alas, are so small that printing them out is problematic: They only take up part of the map, which is puzzling. Considering that they’re pretty player-friendly. The pdf also sports a full-page map of the final environment – which is just as full-color and nice as the others, but unfortunately sports numbers, disqualifying it as a player-map. Frustrating, to say the least.

 

The pdf sports a lot of statblocks – alas, much like quite a few of the previous installments in the series, there are quite a few statblocks that sport errors. So, if you find that kind of thing troubling, be aware of this component.

 

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

..

.

Only GMs around? Great! So, if you thought that PCs would want to quickly track down the mastermind between the cult of Shub-Niggurath’s rise…you’d be wrong. The series considers it to be more prudent to restock in Brighton, which you *can* sell on players, but frankly, I think the module could have used some guidance there. The whole first part of the module is a series of combats throughout the town of Brighton – there is a map of a temple, a map of streets, and encounters to be fought against orcs and ogres. Encounters that range from “boring filler” to “mega-lethal” – there is an encounter with 20 ashen orcs, at CR 1/3. And one against 8 skeletons and 16 zombies. Or, as my players would call them: Boring filler. Or fireball.

 

Then, suddenly, there’s a mutated ogre, whose critical hits, even with the statblock errors, are potent enough to insta-kill melee characters with a single critical hit. Sure, there is some treasure to be gained for saving folks, but yeah – I also was puzzled what constitutes “reusing” the mayor’s cloak to save him…and how the hell the PCs can see him tumble over the cliff and be stuck in a branch. Do the PCs have a side-view of the cliffside? If so, what’s the Climb DC etc. to reach it/gain it? This whole section was really weak and was very inconsistent with the tone of the adventure-series so far; up until now, we focused on dark fantasy, and now, suddenly, we have a war-scenario? Kinda felt like thematic whiplash. The one good thing I can say about part I would be, that some random terrain hazards/complications to simulate the chaos of the raid, are nice. That being said, have seen that done better as well.

 

Part II of the module, then, would be a journey onto Bright Mountain – oddly, the parts of the way up the mountain note letters, which hint, somewhat, at a missing map. Traveling up the mountain, the PCs…bingo, encounter monsters – Tendriculous. Forest Drakes. A camouflages pit trap. Sounds boring? It…unfortunately kinda is. The ogre camp that represents the “finale” of the module. It’s a camp (curiously called “town” in the text) with 2 ogre sentries. There are gore-heaps that animate (“The undigested”) and a survivor, doomed, unless the PCs intervene…the one instance where a bit of the series’ themes can be found. In the center of the camp, an ogre cleric is conducting a ritual to summon a demon, with the help of the other ogres and orcs. How many? No idea. And since the ritual ends when the PCs get close, I have no idea regarding the opposition’s numbers. The encounter’s set-up (2 CR 6 foes) makes this look like they’re supposed to be all that the PCs fight.

 

And that’s it. There’s a path into Bright Mountain. Improperly formatted loot. And a sour taste in my mouth.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are still okay – not even close to good, but you can try to run this as written. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard with solid full-color artworks, though I’ve seen some of them before. Cartography is similarly in full-color and I’ve already commented on their issues. The pdf comes fully bookmarked. As always, it is pretty annoying to note that selecting text or copying it, is impossible – that aspect has been disabled.

 

This module was penned by Michael Reynolds, Jarrett Sigler, Robert Gresham and Charlie Brooks. It is a module that exists in this series…but imho, it’s not a part of the series.

This whole module is a prime example of filler.

This module does absolutely nothing to propel the meta-plot forward; it is based on a curiously non-sensible place within the series.

For the most part, crucial information is utterly opaque. Orcs and ogres that vanish suddenly (mentioned in the text, then gone, no stats), weird descriptions; it is evident that this module wants to be the series’ “Red Hand of Doom” and “Hook Mountain Massacre” – alas, it fails at coming even remotely close to either. It seeks to evoke them, without getting what made these classics work.

 

The encounter-balance is all over the place and bogs the PCs down in tedious combat that should be abbreviated by fireballing the heck out of everything.

Most puzzling, though: Beyond the technical and design-shortcomings, this module never manages to really evoke any sort of proper atmosphere, it lacks the quasi-occult, horrific threat that suffused even the subpar second installment.

The talk with the prisoner in the end gets closest to something intriguing, but boils down to either tough choice and needless ickyness that isn’t really explained, set up or deserved.

Instead of a compelling story or atmosphere (the big strong points of #1 and #4), unique environments or anything, really, we have a succession of utterly bland, generic combats.

Orcs, ogres and some random encounters, held together by a flimsy premise and next to no story, rhyme or reason. I can see folks salvaging #2 for the flavor and ideas in the module, flawed though it may be. The same can’t be said about this module. I can literally picture no reason to get this module. I tried really hard, I really did, but I can’t think of any even remotely good component about this. Not one.

 

Even if you play the adventure-series in sequence, I strongly suggest replacing this module with one that actually sports the themes of the series. Adding a “I die for Shub-Niggurath 11eleven!!!”-throwaway-line to generic orcs dying does not make them interesting.

In short: This module is generic filler and the low point of the series. Skip it. Go from #4 to #6. Add some other module. Anything. My final verdict will clock in at 1 star.

 

You can get this module here on OBS.

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Nov 162017
 

Everyman Minis: Malborgoroth

This Everyman mini clocks in at 8 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

So, what is a malborgoroth? Something really cool. You know how the cult-critter flumph is a representation of the weird good guys, the foes of the Dark Tapestry. Okay, now combine these with one of Final Fantasy’s most notorious foes – the Marlboro/Morbol! Add a dash of lovecraftiana et voilà – we have the critter in question!

 

The creature clocks in at CR 13. Its stingers inject acid for continuous damage, which is nasty; they can bury their tentacles into the ground to duplicate black tentacles and remain stationary. They are poisonous and have starflight, can emit entangling, acidic belches and are capable of starflight. The critter has impressive defensive capabilities, ensuring that it won’t be killed right off by potent PCs…and even better, the creature gets the FF-monster’s gloriously vile super-debuff/condition-heaping breath. Epic!

 

Even better, we don’t just get stats – the pdf weaves a tale of the creature’s origin in detail, providing ample inspiration – oh, and we get 2 CR+0 variants – a cold-based variant and a fire-based one.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no hiccups on either formal or rules-language level. Layout adheres to Everyman Gaming’s nice 2-column full-color standard for the series. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length. The artwork provided for the creature is cool as well.

 

Alexander Augunas once again proves that he can craft thoroughly amazing monsters – from the inspiration to the execution, this critter is inspired and worth the asking price. Highly recommended! 5 stars + seal of approval.

 

You can get this inspired critter here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Nov 162017
 

Slügs! (OSR)

This little supplement clocks in at 40 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page inside of back cover (both sporting neat b/w-artworks), 1 page editorial, 2 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 33 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

This review was moved up in my review-queue as a non-prioritized review at the request of my patreons. The review is mainly based on the softcover of the book, which I obtained at Gencon 2016, though I have also consulted the PWYW-pdf.

 

It should be noted that this is a gonzo-pdf for adults – slügs are giant slugs (because everything is better with a metal-umlaut!) and one of the slugs has basically penis-eye-stalks and a vagina-mouth. The artwork on the inside of the backcover depicts and orgy with the creature, so yeah, if you’re one of the people who have an issue with drawn sexuality, you have been warned.

 

So, what are the base mechanics of the creatures within? The armor rating assumes an ascending AC and a base unarmored rating of 12. Movement assumes an average human to have a speed of 120’. HD determines the number of d8 hit points and the Attack Bonus. Morale ranges from 2 – 12, with higher ratings denoting better morale. Unless otherwise noted, slugs can attack with both bite and tail in one round, but must attack different targets. 10 lbs. of salt per HD can provoke a save-or-die situation for the critters, but lesser amounts don’t cut it – here, I’d have enjoyed a bit of a scaling more. Damage based on HD, for example – RAW they either almost die or don’t care. Size-wise, slugs clock in at about 5’ per HD.

 

Now, since I have already mentioned the one controversial critter herein, we may as well start with it: The aforementioned HD 7 penis/vagina-slüg, the Love Slüg, is a motivator, muse…and the write-up does provide rules for successfully satisfying the slüg – and that is REALLY exhausting. But if a character *does* manage to satisfy the slug, it will then satisfy the character….which is extremely pleasurable and even nets 1d6 levels! However, these levels do slowly fade and after you’ve gone slüg, there’s no zurück! (Zurück = German for “back”) I.e. the character becomes solely attracted to slimy creatures. And yes, they usually are guarded by a mixed-gendered harem. Obviously.

Okay, if you were offended by this, well, there you have it – I warned you. If not, then read on and we’ll take a look at the other slügs herein. On the more conservative side, we have the HD 12 Spider-Slüg, which is pretty much what you’d expect – only that it takes its slime trail and whips it around like a sticky rope, while wiggling it around. This is the most conservative creature herein and perhaps the least interesting one. The Ocular Slüg, at 6 HD, is weird – it is a slüg all about sensory information and can look through the eyes of millions of agents, should it choose to. It also can switch the POVs of two characters on a failed saving throw – permanently. Oh, and not just characters. Insects etc. as well. This can prove to be a catastrophic experience for those suffering from it, and accessing the overwhelming sensory input of the slüg is problematic as well. Thankfully, you can make it your ally – provided you can put up a good Morris dance. Also on the more conservative, if disgusting side of things would be the Vomit Slüg – with 10 HD, these critters sport 8 different types of radioactive vomit, ranging from acid, full-blown radioactive vomit to glue and slime monsters (stats provided) – this critter should work well in most games. Oh, and the vomit smells. I can see PCs hating to fight this fellow.

 

The Rock Slüg, at 13 HD, has become infected with contagious stone – fighting it makes your armor rating go up – temporarily at first, but take too much damage and it may become permanent – which requires a mason to look after your petrified components to repair damage…alas, if this damage to the stone parts is healed and the character later cured of the contagious stone, she will find the repaired stone painfully embedded in her…ouch. The slüg was also fire rocks at range and roll into a ball to roll downhill and squash everything.

 

Want a taste of the weirder? Well, there are a couple of slügs herein that can change the course of whole campaigns. E.g. Kelvin Green’s guest-entry herein: The 8HD Slügatron! It’s basically a heroic transformer that can change between slüg form and humanoid robot form – artworks for both are included. And yes, PCs that are Enlarged can Tinker with the blaster to use it. The entry comes with 10 sample adventure tasks/missions slügatron is currently engaged in. Yeah, this happened. Okay, not weird/gonzo enough? Muscle Slüg. The slüg has arms, 11 HD and may perform feats of super human strength, generate shockwaves, etc. Ooooh yeah! Oh, and it may flex instead of attacking. Flexing is so amazing, it can break down the physical composition of matter and change it – turn wood to iron, etc. Larger objects can be affected by a full turn of flexing, brother! Oh, and the muscle slüg may flex to make a target in the vicinity pull a muscle, rendering the limb useless for 1d6 days. Minor complaint from a rules-perspective: The flexing has no range, which is brutal, as there’s no save to resist it.

 

The Mentallo Slüg clocks in at 8 HD and begins with a nice in-joke that’s resolved on the final page of the book. Anyways, the slüg is incredibly intelligent. It is probably the smartest creature on the planet and may predict a variety of terrible cataclysms…but unfortunately, it suffers from the Cassandra complex – no one listens to it. It’s a slüg. Would you listen to it? Figured. Anyways, it comes with 2 1d10-mini-tables for obscure tasks that the slüg needs you to complete. These include assassinations, sinking ships and all manner of problematic tasks that look senseless and strange to…well, pretty much everyone but the hyper-intelligent slüg. Still, this slüg could conceivably make for an uncommon BBEG or act as the benefactor of the PCs, sending them on guerilla tasks.

 

At 8 HD, there also would be the creature on the cover – though it is significantly cuter in the artwork in the book, the Christmas Slüg. When the slüg’s coming, settlements will haul trash in its way; the sugary slime will be collected by the villagers for delicious treats. The slüg also sports a variety of luminescent boils that often contain goods – candy, gems, gold…but, you know, these boils may actually explode! Oh, and popping these lights may cause regular slugs to feature similar lights. There also is a 12 HD Breakfast Slüg: It sports a bowl-shaped indentation on its back. Inside is a milky liquid, with a rotating metal rod inside – this rod acts as a radar for metal…and this pseudo-spoon is extremely magnetic. Metal is attracted to the spoon, wiggles down and is dissolved in the liquid. In said liquid, the slüg also sports biscuits, which may be the slüg’s excrements – but they are very nutritious. These can be used as rather excellent, but quickly spoiling rations. Really cool.

 

The 11 HD Hypno Slüg prompts a saving throw upon seeing it – merely witnessing it may be enough to have a series of complex suggestions embedded in the character’s psyche: The character may be forced to donate items, be incited to murder allies while sleeping, steal, etc. 12 sample suggestions are provided and there is a chance that any combat with the hypno-slüg will actually be just in the heads of the PCs… There also is the HD 10 Glass Slüg, which may generate inverted twin duplicates that become real…and damaging it is dangerous, as shards spray forth and more serious damage can cause light-absorbing leaks…and killing the creature will make all light intensify excessively – looking at the sun may blind you…

 

Speaking of explosive slügs: The HD 16 Swiss Army Slüg sports embedded halberds that reflexively strike assailants. Oh, and it stores musket barrels and sports tools as well as a black powder like compound – killing it may blow it up big time. Cool landsknecht-slüg! On the hazardous side of things that represents a serious problem, there would be the 8 HD Sluggish Slüg – merely being within the same vicinity of the slüg makes creatures suffer from progressively worse states of disenfranchisement. There are 5 stages of this horrible sloth presented, all with progressively worse effects…oh, and the effect’s range? 3 miles. The presence of the slüg can grind whole cities to a horrible stand-still. Thinking through the consequences, the adventure pretty much writes itself. Pretty amazing!

 

Speaking of which: There last critter would be the HD 12 Acid Slüg – it loves music and wanders the field. If threatened or if anyone expects it to do something actually useful, the stress will cause the slüg to perspire – and unfortunately, the sweat vaporizes when it hits the air…and it also acts as a really potent psychedelic drug! From time seeming to slow to witnessing the truth of the cosmos (not pleasant for non-magic-users), there are 8 different, strange effects that the Acid Slüg’s trips can cause.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious hiccups as a whole. Layout adheres to a nice two-column b/w-standard and the artworks of the slügs are funny, making some even seem a bit adorable. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The print-version is a nice A5/digest-sized booklet.

 

James Edward Raggi IV, with help from Kelvin Green (who also took care of the interior artwork), delivers a truly unique, gonzo bestiary – if you enjoy the uncommon and aren’t offended by the content, then chances are you’ll find something cool herein: From the hyper-gonzo to creatures like the Slügatron to the Swiss Army Slüg, which could be the creation of an insane magic-user in pretty much any setting, there is something herein for many campaigns. The creatures are generally interesting (with the exception of the lame Spider Slüg) and sport some unique tricks. Oh, and then there is the PWYW-aspect of the pdf: It most assuredly is worth checking out. If this was a commercial offering, I’d consider it worthwhile as well, particularly if you’re looking for something strange. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to the PWYW-nature.

 

You can get this bestiary here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Nov 152017
 

The S’rulyan Vault II (OSR/almost system neutral)

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

 

So, the first thing you need to know would be that this product is a map, a massive map, to be more precise. Drafted by the talented Glynn Seal as well as Monstark and Fizzbig, this map comes in two iterations: One would be the classic blue and white – and yes, if you zoom in, you can see the squares. Zoom in? Yeah, this thing is humongous. As in: You can make that a super-sized-poster-monstrosity. The map comes in 300 dpi, so yeah – you *can* actually make that happen without everything looking bad. For the tablet-users: The blue/white classic version clocks in at about 30 mbs.

 

Now, here I may be prejudiced, but for me, the true star would be the second version of the map – just as big, the same dungeon, but infinitely more atmospheric. Why? Because it sports a used parchment look with copious amounts of blood spatters – considering the eldritch feel of the complex, that not only seems appropriate – it really made me crave a print version of the map – to shred up and make the PCs hunt for. Now one of the many, many rooms of the map does sport Venger’s name and the triple Kort’thalis dragon heads, so if you’re a stickler regarding that kind of thing, be aware of this peculiarity. This one btw. clocks in at 116 mbs.

 

On the plus-side, there is a sense of gravity and gravitas to the dungeon: There are rooms, half-shattered by tectonic shifts; tunnels and caverns leading into obviously hand-crafted dungeon rooms…and there are the details. In some rooms, you can spot glyphs – what do they mean? Those things next to the underground river flowing through – what are they? Suckers? Eye-stalks? Those strange toadstools there…or are they spotted, strange rocks or something weirder? There is an underground sea vanishing in the floor to re-emerge; there are yawning, black chasms – some may be wells (Don’t go down!), some may be dimensional vortices. Oh, and this is Kort’thalis Publishing we’re talking about. There are tentacles. Three different types, actually! Altars, what may be weapon stands or mannequins, statues…heck, this one growth may well be a forest…or just some strange, organic growth. The map is precise in what it shows – just enough to jumpstart the imagination without shackling it to one concept. With one obvious exclusion to that rule. Tentacles. Surprise. 😉

 

If that does not suffice, the map does come with a short, system-neutral dressing booklet, much like its predecessor: This booklet comes in two versions, one of which is more printer-friendly than the other – kudos there. The dressing booklets come with extensive, nested bookmarks and cover 15 pages; of these, 1 page page is devoted to the front cover, 1 to the Kort’thalis glyph and 1 is the editorial, leaving us with 13 pages. As always in Venger’s offerings, the b/w-artworks featured are really nice. Three such full-page artworks are provided – two battling dragons, a weirdly mutated flumph that is kinda looking like an animated, dangerous sextoy for males and a naked woman in chains being held in front of a huge, obese version of a/the devil – and yes, he is sporting a non-erect member. If that (or the cover) offends you, then this may not be for you.

 

Okay, so far regarding these things, so how do we start this booklet? With actually salient bullet-points regarding dungeon-creation/population that actually helpful! We follow this up with random tables – one to determine the sound of the dungeon – d4-strong. More gonzo would be the 30-entry-table that provides things that happen when you camp in the dungeon. PCs may dream of drinking blood from a witch’s teat (which may curse them), encounter frickin’ murder-clowns, a magic item has gone missing – this table of complications is actually cool and well made – the table does include rocks falling (but sans necessary PC-death), being marked in various ways, being taken prisoner – the table is definitely creative and well-crafted, without being too weird or too tame or too random – it is a helpful, well-made array of strange things. Okay, so the next thing is actually credited to me, though I mentioned it to Venger in the passing – it is something that I figured would suit his tastes and frankly, I wasn’t even aware he ran with it. I am a big fan of using monster parts for magic components etc. – and Kort’thalis Publishing’s books tend to gravitate to the visceral, so yeah – we get a massive meta-table! 30 monster parts (including circuit boards, eyes, etc.), 4 removal difficulties, 12 different effects (all system neutral – increased spell power, virility, healing – you get the idea!!) and 6 entries on how long the benefits last. I really like this table – it is elegant, easy to use in a given rules-lite system and works smoothly.

 

Speaking of working smoothly: There is also a massive 100-entry-table – and if you#re running an eldritch dungeon/mega-dungeon/underdark, then this table will most assuredly help you. You see, we get faction quirks! From never or always using a peculiar weapon type, drinking the embryonic water of giant worms, covering the underside of their feet to not looking others in the eye, writing haikus after each brush with death…there are also weird ones: Like ritualistic combat with demon dungeon vultures strapped to them. So yeah, from the exotic t the more regular eccentricities, the table is rather nice.

 

Of course, most smart PCs will enter and leave most dungeons at least once – 6 entries for restocking dungeon, 4 additional effects (traps reset, evidence of sorcery (with a brief 12-entry sub-table, etc.) – nice ones. There are also 20 sample, fluff-only hirelings and 4 degrees of hireling loyalties – Name, race, class and miscellaneous notes are provided.

 

Now, the ardent reader may have noted that this book has the “Almost system neutral”-tag on my homepage – well, there is a reason for that: We get a new creature (most suitable for Crimson Dragon Slayer, but converted easily enough); 6 hp, armorless, 1d6 atk dice pool, ascending atk – the glitter worm, aka gem slug. These dangerous vermin lair among treasure and those bitten risk turning into them within 24 hours on a failed save. There also would be a new magic material – Zoth, which may be the liquefied remains of a Lovecraftian deity: It can enchant items, can be made into alchemist’s fire, animate objects, causes mutations – in short, it is a fun chaos-infusion.

 

Okay, so, the maps are amazing. But more importantly, the booklet this time around is INSPIRING. One of my criticisms of the first Vault was that it tried to at once tell a VERY specific story and then mixed the super-specific with the really widely-applicable. This booklet is much smarter – it is basically a great companion piece to the aesthetics of the maps: It shows you just enough to kickstart your imagination; it is smart, precise and its rules, where present, are as concise as possible within the paradigms set for such a system-neutral dressing file. It also retains Venger’s trademark characteristics and in fact, represents perhaps one of the best dressing-collections he’s produced – the material ranges from the mildly raunchy to the grounded; it does not drown the reader in weirdness, but still leaves plenty of stuff to go around. In short, it represents one of his best dressing-collections to date. It is unique and saturated with his distinct voice, to the point where it is pretty obvious that you won’t encounter significant overlap with other dressing files. As a whole, we thus get an inspiring supplemental booklet and well-made, high-quality maps. In short: This is cool and worth checking out. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

 

You can get this high-quality map and its accompanying dressing booklet here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Nov 142017
 

Dear readers,

 

My week-end was less than pleasant. My godmother brought me a nice roast from my mum – unfortunately, the cooling chain must have been interrupted – the week-end and yesterday was mostly spent dealing with the fallout from the food-poisoning. It’s not an experience I’m keen to repeat.

 

While I don’t have the chills anymore, I still do suffer from profuse sweating and serious kidney pains, which means I’ll lose some time going to the physician, getting a check-up, etc.

 

I’m not sure how many reviews you’ll see this week, but I’ll try to have at least one per day for you! (Prioritized reviews will all get done!)

 

All the best,

Endzeitgeist out.

Nov 142017
 

Neoclassical Geek Revival (OSR/NGR)

This roleplaying game clocks in at 112 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of ToC/editorial, 2 pages blank, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 106 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

So, what is this? In short, we have an OSR-rule-set here, one that, however, deviates so strongly from the roots of the game-chassis that it basically becomes its own beast. As such, we begin with asserting the global rules: The book denotes some of the rules with a “B” – these would be basic rules; for more complexity, there also are “F”-rules, with “F” standing for “Fiddly” – self-explanatory so far.

 

Interesting: The pdf does note basic rules for rolling dice: All modifiers need to be mentioned in no more than 2 statements before the roll – total modifier or total roll. If a modifier is forgotten, it does not apply. Coked dice and those outside of the dice-rolling area get rerolled. Positive or negative rerolls (à la advantage/disadvantage) get rolled at once, with the highest/lowest result, respectively, being used. Repeating/Exploding dice means that, when the die shows the maximum value, you roll again and add the result together.

 

Here, things become VERY interesting: The total modifier of a d20 (or any dX-roll) cannot do more than double the roll of the die. E.g. a d6 +3 that comes up as a 2 would result in 2 + 2 =4. The Dice-notation ?d8 refers to the required maximum roll to escape a given predicament/succeed – In this case, an 8 would be required to avoid/escape the hazard. Dice-steps refer to this sequence: d2 –> d4 ->d6 ->d8 -> d10 ->d12 -> nada -> nada -> nada ->d20. (If you’re using weird dice from e.g. DCC, you can modify this sequence accordingly.) However, please note that this stops working with the concept of inverted dice. Basically, the total of the original die and the inverted die result in 16. A d12 inverts to a d4, a d10 inverts to a d6 – you get the idea. D20s invert to 0.

 

“Cumulative” refers to a value increasing in a manner that reflects adding the integers of the previous number. Doubling refers to the interval being doubled – fro simplicity’s sake, the system assumes 64 doubling to 125 – unless you’re like me and my group, this solution will probably be more elegant for you as well – kudos! If a PC attempts to perform an action and the player doesn’t know the rule for it, he must select another course…or look up the rule. Doing so, however, yields a -1 awesomeness penalty for the player; GMs needing to look up rules grant all players +1 to awesomeness. More on that later. If these rules seem complex, rest assured that a nice cheat-sheet page of die steps, cumulative charts etc. are included – put them on the inside of your screen and there we go!

 

Next up would be character creation – the section btw. also contains a really nice, aesthetically-pleasing character-sheet. The character generation follows a principle dubbed “Schrödinger’s Character” -the PC will select a name, species, gender and distribution of attributes. During the first session, skills, traits and starting inventory will be developed. NGR provides 80 attribute points, which are to be distributed among 7 attributes. Alternatively, rolling 3d6 and adding 10 free points to distribute is suggested. Attributes may not be below 1 or above 20. The summary of their effects fits comfortably on half a page.

 

Strength determines the maximum damage limit, encumbrance and starting inventory. The modifier is used for melee bonus damage and the die is used for Stun Damage attacks. Agility’s modifier is used as a bonus to combat modifier and the die is used for initiative. Health is used for healing, maximum poison and disease limit. Perception’s modifier is used for bonus damage for missile attacks and the Stealth modifier. The die is used to accrue suspicion in stealth conflicts. Intelligence determines starting skill points. The modifier is used for the bonus to occult and reduces XP-costs. The die is used for social influence in social conflicts and may be used as an optional initiative die. Charisma determines you maximum Infamy limit; the modifier nets you a bonus to presence and the die is used for Luck points regained with a party. Will, finally, determines the maximum Stress/Influence limit. The bonus is used for faith and the die is used for mana per level for some wizards.

 

Attribute modifiers range from -3 (1) to +3 (20) and the corresponding die ranges from d4 to d12. Supernatural attributes have a score of 30, a modifier of +7 and a die of d20.

 

Okay, next up would be races. Here would btw. be a good place to note that, for a book of crunch, this is a surprisingly fun read. To quote the entry on mankind as a race: “If you are reading this and expecting great insight into the biology of mankind, please stop reading until you can find an appropriate safety helmet to wear.“ It may rub some folks the wrong way – personally, I had surprisingly much fun with these interjections. Now, in an interesting change, the respective entries actually focus on interesting peculiarities: Dwarves have problems in bright light, but can see farther than humans – oh, and they are immortal…provided they stay out of the sun’s reach – sunlight calcifies them slowly over the course of a human lifespan. Interesting! Elves can’t stomach meat very well and have a bloodline, which grants them an innate spell that ignores the difficulty. They gain an additional health die of mana in their mana pool. The wee folk have a size modifier of ½, while the brutish wodewose (half-ogres, half-giants, etc.) need raw meat and is immune to some sicknesses and natural hazards, but traveling in civilization is very hazardous for them. They have a size-modifier of 2.

 

Okay, this would be where Schrödinger’s character comes into play: Players can select a number of skill points equal to their Intelligence scores, an inventory of item with dots equal to their Strength score, 2 traits, 2 or more relationships, a major and minor morality and 3 pie pieces for class.

 

Speaking of which: NGR assigns three pie pieces per character (2 if you start with level 0). 10th level provides another pie piece. Each class increases one of the five modifiers: Warriors improve Combat, modified by Agility. Wizards improve Occult, modified by Intelligence. Rogues improve Stealth, modified by Perception. Bards improve Presence, modified by Charisma and Priests improve Faith, modified by Will. 0 pieces of pie are equivalent to a +1/3 modifier per level and 0 powers. 1 piece nets +2/3 per level and one power; 2 pieces provide +1 per level and 3 powers; 3 pieces yield +1 per level and milestone and all 6 powers. 4 pieces retain these benefits and add the locked power – more on that later. There is one more option: You can put a pie in “fool” – this grants no powers, increases no stat and has no special item roll at the end of a session. However, each piece of pie spent on the fool increases the luck die and luck bonus of the character.

 

So, each of the classes presented comes with 6 different powers, a locked power and personal items – for achieving important tasks, each class can gain a special, signature item benefit at the end of a quest/task/session. The fool is a special case: Beyond the aforementioned benefit, he gains a +1 bonus to awesomeness at the end of every night – why is that relevant? Well, the luck die determines your luck points per level – these are pretty important, for they keep you from suffering serious damage – they basically are the hit points of the character!

 

Now, there are a couple of traits provided to provide guidance, though the system does encourage making new traits: Being a barbarian e.g. lets you reroll Health checks and Health die rolls, but forces you to reroll Charisma-checks and Charisma die and take the worse result.

 

Skills fall in 3 categories: Languages, Knowledge and Weapon: There is no common tongue (thankfully!), so languages will be important. Knowledge provides a +2 knowledge bonus on related attribute checks or +1 to a lone attribute die. Weapons where you have no skill gain the unsuitable tag. Characters gain a new skill for each season spent training full time – at the end, they make an Intelligence check, gaining the skill on a success. Less time equals a higher difficulty. Nice: Upon establishing a party, you determine a group relationship – family, protector, employed – all have individual benefits. Similarly, 6 starting packages of pre-defined item-kits are provided – simple, convenient and easy to grasp.

 

Character morality is important: Major terms of morality provide the leitmotif and primary concern; the minor concern of the character is the priority of self-interest versus the good of the community. Finally, you choose a lucky number between 1 and 20. When it comes up on your roll, something cool’s supposed to happen.

 

Spellcasting works via mana and piety, respectively – they fuel the spells/miracles/etc. Fate points are basically rerolls and you gain more by being risky and stylish.

 

Let’s recap: We have 7 attributes, 5 modifiers, luck points and 1 fate point – at this point, you can basically start playing!

 

Okay, so, regarding global adventuring rules: 20s are critical successes, 1s are critical failures. A character that is CALM can take 10 with any roll. If a roll seems unlikely to suffice, a character may choose to become ON EDGE and instead roll 3d6. A character who is CALM or ON EDGE can become RECKLESS, you can roll 1d20. Here’s the thing: Once you go from CALM to ON EDGE or RECKLESS, you can’t go back for the remainder of the adventure! I really like this rule! When a character spends luck points, he becomes ON EDGE; a character spending fate points becomes RECKLESS.

 

On easy attribute check is DC 15, the standard man vs. nature check is 20. Saving throws are interesting: The d20 rolled correlates to the milestone achievements of the character – and here’s the thing: The more creative and cool your description is, the less damage you’ll take on a failure or success! NICE!

 

So, here’s the thing: NGR knows more than damage – it has one “damage”-value per attribute! Damage, Stun, Suspicion, Stress, Influence, Disease, Poison – these values all accrue against an attribute and cause penalties, effects and come with different removals etc. – really cool! This makes relevant debuffs and hazards feel very organic and easy to grasp: From Intoxicants to Fear and Infamy, Mutations or the Unknown, we also get concisely-defined uncommon hazard types. Here’s the thing: As anyone who has played e.g. Shadowrun can attest, such accruing penalties can result in a death spiral – hence, luck points may be spent on a 1:1 basis to negate the various types of detrimental points you can accumulate. Healing is based mostly on rest and conditions – and luck, just fyi, regains at 1 point per day. On the flipside, character partying hard may regain more luck points! Misers regain less luck for being stingy. Mana regeneration depends on the environment you’re in – orderly cities and structure seems to be anathema to mana regeneration – interesting choice there!

 

Now, we already mentioned creature size modifiers: Basically, you multiply damage by the size modifier: 4 becomes 12 with a x3 size modifier, for example – so yes, the big dragon will squash you. Similarly, the modifier applies to opposed Strength checks; for Agility, things are reversed – a size modifier of x2 would halve the Agility-result, for example.

 

NGR knows three types of conflict: Covert actions, arguments and combats. They have rounds. Each round, a character gains two actions. Initiative is governed by the Agility or Intelligence Die, with d6s as tie breakers. Note that initiative based on Intelligence does not make the character count as defending him/herself, requiring an action as a balancing strategy here. Skill bonuses may be applied, but only when all actions taken that round pertain to the skill in question. If no one chooses to go first, the character with the LOWEST initiative goes first – however, any being with a higher initiative can interrupt the character! The highest initiative interruption is resolved first, then the second highest…Really cool system!! This system also ties in with weapon reach. Aggressive rolls are compared with defensive rolls (not the biggest fan of such swingy systems), but in a nice change of pace, characters focusing on defense can roll again with a do-over – this means that offense is not necessarily better than defense. Some tricky maneuvers require multiple successes. All the tricky maneuvers you’ve come to expect from modern games – you can pull them off in an easy to grasp manner. Simple, right?

 

Covert action and social combat follow a similar stratagem and can be considered well-made. Morale, vehicles, quick and dirty mass combat rules, simple rules for incorporeal beings, trampling, trials, exorcisms, swaying the mob. Heck, if you’re like me and love the Thief games (the old ones…), you’ll like the 0 – 10 scaling between light and darkness. Now, I already mentioned that items are codified in “dots” – basically, they are abstracted by size and cumbersomeness – Large items have e.g. 4 dots, Reinforced plate 8 – you get the idea. Easy and simple to track. No complaints. Containers, with quick search times, different item materials…really cool.

 

Armor provides a base armor modifier, which penalize Agility and ½ of it applies to defense rolls. However, armor provides damage reduction – per damage dice incurred! If you take 3d4 damage and wear a DR 2 armor, you reduce the total damage rolled by 6 – cool idea for a finer-grained take on damage! Armors are further defined by tags. Helms, in a callback to the days of yore, help decrease the likelihood of being critically hit. Weapons follow a similar presentation – dots for weight, tags – and once again, the presentation is clear and well done.

 

Okay, do you want a strategically engaging combat beyond the aforementioned options? Something where charges, throwing opponents etc. matters? Well, that’s where the combat trick section comes in – they can be taught, have difficulties, effects and limitations – and succeed where A LOT systems fail: They make playing melee characters engaging and fun – you won’t be just standing around, saying “I attack (with most efficient combo of feats/features/etc.” every round. I adore this system to bits. Cool: There are preset trick selections and you can find a handy table to choose them on the fly.

 

Now, magic works as follows: The caster announces casting the spell, selects a spell power and pays any costs required, then casts the spell as a conflict action. Power level increases also increase difficulty, cost and scope of the spell in question. Occult is added to the roll. For each point by which he failed, the wizard must pay an additional point. Magic has a cost – you suffer 1 point of stress per point of cost. Components matter, because they can decrease difficulty and or offsetting costs. The counterspelling rules make use of the unique initiative system presented and similarly make sense. Dispelling is similarly easy and does NOT require a spell – though it is unreliable and has a stress point cost. Spells are simple and follow, in presentation, a system that is pretty close to how combat tricks work – now, we begin with a massive selection of spells that also act as a template to convert spells from a vast variety of resources; then, the book provides a sampling of spells converted from other sources.

 

Miracles work differently: The resource employed, piety, is directly related to the behavior of the character. Starting characters have 20 piety. Following the doctrine of the divine patron, spreading the faith, etc. all can earn piety points. These come, just fyi, in a similarly concise and detailed array, featuring tongues, summon wind, making a golem – the result of the piety mechanic being directly tied to the behavior of the character is amazing: Miracles actually feel different from spells!

 

The system, as hinted at before, knows two types of randomizer dice: Fate points represent minor tweaks – rerolls. Destiny points are tied to the character’s destiny and are more potent – and rare. At the end of a round, one player is voted MVP – most valuable player – this player’s character gains +5 to the awesomeness roll. At the end of the session, the player rolls a d20 – if the player manages to roll below the awesomeness collected, he regains a fate point, subtracts the die roll from the awesomeness result and rolls again – 20s are always fate points. On a failure, the awesomeness-rolling is concluded. Awesomeness is reduced back to 0, regardless of fate gained – you track it anew each session.

 

NGR uses a 10-level (plus optional level 0) character progression and level 1, 5 and 10 sport milestones that need to be completed to gain the level. XP values for wilderness survival, for finding strange places, defeating minions, etc. – all provided. Slaying proper monsters can yield massive luck, fate and even destiny. XP-values for solved riddles, treasures, etc. – all provided. The final section of the book deals with strategies to end a campaign in style.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I did not notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to a crisp and clean two-column standard with printer-friendly, white backgrounds. The pdf does have a few color-highlights. Artwork is thematically-fitting b/w-public domain art – so yeah, there is actually art in the book, and I’d rather have good public domain art than bad stock art. I can’t comment on the physical version of the book, but I’d suggest getting it. Why? The pdf, in a puzzling and annoying choice, lacks any bookmarks. Subtract 1 star for that massive comfort detriment for the electronic version.

 

Zzarchov Kowolski’s NGR was a surprise for me. I expected yet another retro-clone with some nice houserules and was surprised in a positive manner: For one, the author’s sarcasm is something that made me chuckle more than once – this may be a massive RULES-book that focuses on crunch, but I had more fun reading it than in almost all other supplements.

 

Moreover, and let me reiterate that: This is NOT just any OSR-system. NGR deviates strongly from the classic chassis and is better off for it. Why? Because the system is surprisingly easy to grasp and surprisingly fun. We have martials that have tactical choices available and thus no big issue regarding caster/martial disparity. The different accruing damage types may sound complex, but they really aren’t and lead themselves really, really well to gritty gameplay. Conversion into NGR is surprisingly simple and the system covers pretty much everything from pestilence to mass combat.

 

Let me talk about combat for a second: The initiative interruptions are brilliant; so are the social/covert ops tricks, as they make such scenarios exciting. You won’t just be “hitting it with your axe” and the system manages to retain quick gameplay while providing a depth of options. In short: This retains the virtues of old-school gaming combat while also presenting choice, player agenda – fun. The de-facto class-less, free combination pie-system is cool and I love the inclusion of fate/destiny points, how luck points work – in short, I loved reading this. Even if taken just for scavenging purposes, this is well worth checking out.

 

Here’s the thing, though: NGR plays really, really well. Playing it feels like OSR gameplay, but at the same time is fresh, evolved and engaging. It’s a bit like experiencing old-school gaming for the first time once more, just with, you know, the progress in game design aesthetics being taken into account. NGR plays actually better than it reads. And it is a very engaging reading experience. If you’re looking for variant rules or an old-school setting that is radically different from Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry or LotFP, then please, check this out. It manages to feel fresh, its presentation is didactically concise and easy to grasp and the mechanics marry simplicity with choice – what’s not to like? Well, the missing bookmarks in the electronic version suck. For that version, consider this a 4 star verdict. For print, make that 5. And I really loved how different, yet familiar this system is – hence, this gains my seal of approval as well.

 

You can get this cool, creative rules-set here on OBS!

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Nov 142017
 

Everyman Minis: Unchained Kangaroos

This everyman mini clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 4 pages of SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

So, why unchain the kangaroo? Well, they don’t trap foes like e.g. wolves and analogue creatures: They actually have claws. And even the front paws aren’t as harmless as they look. Hence, we get cool alternate stats for unchained kangaroo animal companion stats on the first page – no complaints regarding them in comparison to other animal companion stats. (They advance at 4th level, just fyi.)

 

The regular kangaroo presented herein would be a CR ½ creature, whose kick causes bludgeoning and piercing damage (which can be a bit odd in DR-interaction) and a threat-range of 19-20. They can’t kick as part of a full attack unless their BAB is equal to or exceeds +6. Crits with kicks can disembowel you, causing bleeding wounds and Con-damage – OUCH!

 

Things get cooler, though – there’s a second statblock in here. Jack. Jack isn’t like other kangaroos. He is actually an awakened unarmed fighter 5 that uses Everyman gaming’s cool Unchained Fighter-rules. He is quick, deadly, and damn cool!

 

Oh, and folks observing him have reverse engineered his fighting tricks – represented by a Style-feat chain: Kangaroo Style decreases the penalty to feint non-humanoids to -2, -4 against animal intelligence foes. Additionally, high ranks in Acrobatics increase the bonuses gained from fighting defensively or using the total defense action. The feat also doubles as both Acrobatic and Combat Expertise for the purpose of prerequisites. The follow-up feat is Kangaroo Gait, who allows you to feint as a swift action when moving more than 10 ft. When using Spring Attack, you can instead feint the target as a free action. Kangaroo Roundhouse, the third feat in the chain, lets you add Acrobatic ranks to the damage roll on all successful attacks versus a target you feinted successfully via Kangaroo gait, replacing Strength modifier. Kudos: Feat takes the Vital Strike chain into account.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are excellent, I noticed no hiccups. Layout adheres to a two-column standard with a printer-friendly, white background. The full-color artwork is nice. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at its length.

 

Alexander Augunas’ unchained kangaroos are amazing. The critter is cool. The companion stats are nice. The awakened character? Glorious. The feats are interesting as well – what’s not to like? My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

 

You can get these deadly, kickass (haha!) kangaroos here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Nov 102017
 

Deadly Delves: Reign of Ruin (5e)

This module from Jon Brazer Enterprise’s „Deadly Delve“-series for experienced groups clocks in at 46 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 41 pages of content. It should be noted that the pdf comes with an extra-pdf that contains properly-sized, big versions of the maps – these are key-less and generally player-friendly – with one exception: There is a “S” denoting a secret door left on one of them.

 

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

 

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

..

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All right, so this adventure begins with a ranger collapsing, talking about the village of Northam being razed to the ground – one of multiple settlements adjacent to swampy terrain. Trying to warn other settlements and find out more, the PCs will soon, in Mistlevy, happen upon their first massive fight – with the lizardmen of the Ixtupi tribe – a somewhat quasi-Aztec vibe accompanies them and their culture as a leitmotif, but more on that later. To their shock, the PCs will encounter a deadly black dragon crash into the clash between the elite Stormhammer guards and the Ixtupi – thankfully, this dragon, quite possibly the commander of the lizardfolk, does retreat – and she has an agenda.

 

You see, once, this whole area was rules by a black dragon named Nyrionaxys – the draconic being enslaved all it could find and killed the warmbloods. When the dragon was slain, the victors failed to notice one of the dragon’s eggs – this hatchling, fostered by the Ixtupi, grew into Nyrionaxys II, brainwashed to believe herself the reincarnation of the ancient draconic overlord by being raised by the Ixtupi. To complicate matters further, some more benevolent lizardfolk, tired of being salves to draconic whims, have since then split off, becoming the Tsiikil tribe, who was trying to keep the Ixtupi at bay – but with dark whispers in the dragon’s mind, her time seems to be drawing near: She heeds the call of Tlaloc, who has promised her power – all it takes is a blood sacrifice in her home, one of powerful individuals. And suddenly the blatant provocation of the dragon makes sense – the PCs are walking right where the dragons want them to go…

 

Still, this leaves the PCs without much recourse – they need to stop the black dragon, asap! Thus, they venture deeper into the marshlands towards the temple of the Ixtupi. Tsiikil lizardfolk can provide support and directions, should the PCs help them. The temple of the Ixtupi is a foul stone pyramid surrounded by a great moat – to even get to it, the PCs will need to deal with potent, dragonblooded lizardfolk; the presence of stormwyts, an alkaline-spit-using wyvern-variant adds a further danger – and woe if the PCs start using elemental magics: The taint of the place causes such magic to spawn tainted elemental spirits– stats for all 4 variants are included, just fyi. Big plus in the 5e-version, btw. – the lizardfolk get, at least partially, unique actions that represent their culture: We get e.g. the Tlaloc’s Blessing reaction and similar design decisions to represent the influx of draconic blood and the peculiarities of the tribe.

 

Breaching the temple is already a feat in and of itself – but exploring the dungeon will not be simple, either: Here, Ixtupi warpriests, mud-caked lizardfolk zombies, mummies and spirits, kobold trappers and even a dire venus flytrap, stand between the PCs and progress – but to reach further below, the PCs have to pass the mosaic pillar chamber – where multiple unique beasts spring forth from the pillar…and that’s before the traps, which make this transitional area a really nice gauntlet.

 

The bulk of Ixtupi resistance can be encountered in the lower temple – here, the most potent of the tribe await – alongside glass golems, demons, evil idols boosting the foes of the PCs…and even a half-dragon gynosphinx – and yes, she comes with sample riddles. Ultimately, past all the traps, the PCs will have to delve deep into the place where caustic water and grueling sights await and face Nyrionaxys II…if they don’t fall prey to the hatchling ghosts of her brood mates or the half-draconic anaconda. Or the stormwyts…and yes, all of this doesn’t sound so bad, right? Well, here is a big difference to almost all adventures featuring dragons: Nyrionaxys II doesn’t wait to be slain. A full page is devoted to tactics of the mighty dragon – who btw. comes with legendary actions as well as access to lair actions.

 

Speaking of which: Beyond the numerous variant monsters mentioned, I enjoyed the variety of the builds: The 5e-version goes above and beyond to make the respective lizardfolk feel unique and concise; the versions of the new creatures, similarly, are interesting. As a minor complaint, though, it should be noted that here and there, very minor hiccups can be found – an attack value that’s off by one (challenge 8, thus +3 proficiency bonus, with Str 16 = +6 to attack, not +5), but these glitches are rare and the exception – the stats, as a whole, as surprisingly well-made. Among all versions of the module, they are my favorites.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good. I noticed no serious accumulations of either formal or rules-language glitches in the module apart from a couple of minor hiccups. Layout adheres to a really nice two-color full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience. The maps featured for all major sites are solid and full-color; apart from the minor tarnish of the remnant secret door-relic mentioned before, the inclusion of player-friendly maps is another big plus. Artwork deserves special mention: The module sports a couple of really nice full-color artworks.

 

Richard Moore’s “Reign of Ruin” was an honest surprise to me: You see, there are two basic dragon-module set-ups (not counting random encounter dragons): The long, epic one, wherein you defeat a dragon at the end, after much hardship, and with the exact goal of defeating the draconic threat; and the briefer one, where a dragon at the end is basically the boss. The first tends to be represented by mega-adventures, campaigns, etc.; the second by smaller modules. Both have one thing in common: Most of the time, the dragons in them are DUMB, character-less engines of destruction, when ostensibly, they are supposed to be really smart. This module, thankfully, gets that aspect right: The dragon herein is an interesting character, embedded in a dungeon and social environment with an interesting leitmotif; she makes sense. Her proactive strategies can allow the Gm to unleash hell upon the PCs and vanquishing her doesn’t break ongoing campaigns – the rewards are significant, but won’t break the game.

 

In short: While this does not reinvent the wheel, it’s one of the few anti-dragon modules that did not cause my brain to hurt at one point – and that’s a big, big plus. 5e’s as a whole well-crafted mechanics help as well; to the point where I honestly believe that the mechanics of this version may be the best of the bunch in terms of creativity and how they enforce a succinct cultural identity. Were it not for the minor hiccups in the stats, I’d award this version my seal of approval as well. While thus not absolutely perfect, this still remains my favorite version of the module, directly followed by the PFRPG-iteration, which is why my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars – recommended as a fun, challenging module.

 

You can get this cool adventure here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.