Jan 192018
 

The Feat Variations (Castle Falkenstein)

This supplement for Castle Falkenstein clocks in at 22 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, leaving us with 19 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Okay, first things first – we actually retain Tom Olam’s traditional frame narrative in this supplement, which was transcribed by J Gray. In the tradition of the excellent engine tweaks presented so far in the series, we begin with the first variation. It should be noted that the pdf is suffused with nice prose, making it an enjoyable reading experience, in spite of its focus on rules. Big plus!

 

But what is the subject matter here? Well, you probably know that RAW, there is no limit to the amount of cards a player can play when resolving a Feat, allowing them to potentially play the whole hand to maximize its outcome. While this does result in rather amazing deeds, it may not be tonally suitable for all games, and, more importantly, it can lead to CF’s equivalent of novaing tasks. While Comme il faut (yes, I will review that book eventually!) does present options to limit this type of behavior, we have alternatives here, the first of which would be the Hard Limit Variation.

 

In this variation, we have a limit by Ability Rank: Poor or Average means being able to play 1 card per Feat, Good or Great = 2 cards…you get the idea. Basically, this sports a hard limit and the assignment of cards per Ability Rank can easily be modified to suit the host’s specific campaign. As you may have noted, this option greatly diminishes the influence of luck on Feats, and as such is suitable for campaigns that attempt to depict a harder or more down-to-earth (haha!) game. The second hard limit variation is a bit more lenient – oh, and it should be noted that these variations are explicitly tested for use with core-book only and for use with Comme il faut.

 

If you prefer another variation (or want to combine them for further limitations), the pdf sports the Half-Off Variation: Basically, cards of an improper Suit are worth half their face value, rounded down. The second such option here instead uses the color of the Suits to determine whether or not to halve the face value: If the suit as the same color of the one that is required, they are worth halve value; if they sport the wrong color, they instead only have a value of 1. Big kudos: The variation sports notes on conjunction with Tarot Variations – kudos! This one makes dud-hands less likely and can potentially be used to make things a bit easier for the dramatic characters.

 

Next up would be the Ability Harmonics Option: These apply a spell-harmonics like tweak to the Half-Off variation. When characters attempt a Feat, the host chooses a Suit or more that may alter the results of the Feat. If that sounds complicated, rest assured that 3 examples per Suit are provided to illustrate the consequences of using the harmonics option. Once more, compatibility with core and Comme il faut’s optional rules is maintained.

 

Okay, after that, we have the Dwarfish Requirement Variation, which expands the levels of Requirement of Feats from 6 to 13. Guidance is provided to choose difficulty; the new Requirements are properly defined and a handy table illustrates them at one glance. Big plus: If you want even more such levels, the table does actually contain entries for the values between the labeled ones. Kudos! Speaking of which: We get a reprint of degrees of success for our convenience, rendering the use of this section comfortable and neat.

 

But we don’t have an idea which task would be best assigned to which Ability, right? Examples for Requirements are helpful and the pdf knows it – hence, the pdf covers ALL Abilities in detail, listing examples for each of the 7 new Requirement Levels. Yes, including all the new abilities in supplemental books out there. Now that’s what I’d call considerate! And yes, compatibility with core and Comme il faut’s optional rules is maintained here as well.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no issues in the formal criteria or rules-language. Layout adheres to Fat Goblin Games’ elegant 2-column full-color standard. The artworks are thematically-fitting public domain b/w-pieces. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Mister J Gray delivers once more (seriously, if there’s a new version of CF planned at one point, let this man work on it!): The variant rules herein allow for meaningful, great modifications of the Castle Falkenstein engine. The variations explain their impact, which is helpful for less crunch-savvy hosts. Their modularity and potential for combination with other options and each other ensures that this humble pdf should be considered to be a great change of pace for pretty much every host that is not 100% happy with the base-rules. If you’re looking for meaningful variations to change your game and tricks to give your game a different feeling/theme, then this is pretty much required. Indeed, from simple and more down to earth to more modularity, this offers something for all tastes. Highly recommended at 5 stars + seal of approval!

 

You can get these great variations here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jan 192018
 

Everyman Minis: Mesmerist Feats

This installment of the Everyman Minis-series clocks in at 8 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page advertisement, 2.5 pages of SRD, leaving us with 2.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

After a brief introduction, we get two new spells: Mindshock (2nd level) laces your attacks with psychic energy that adds +1d4 nonlethal damage due to pain; critical hits cause the target to be confused for 1 round, which is pretty strong, considering the absence of a save to negate. That being said, immunity to mind-affecting or pain effects or critical hits prevents the confusion. The spell has another caveat that makes it balanced for the spell level: A target can only be confused by a single casting of the spell once per day. This limitation is crucial and very much appreciated. Well done. The second new spell would be phantasmal flagellant, which, depending on the class, clocks in at 3rd or 4th level. I love this spell, as it fills a rues-hole I always disliked intensely: It is basically a pain-based version of phantasmal killer that inflicts scaling nonlethal damage instead. Descriptors and scaling are perfect and neat…however, there is one rules-relevant inconsistency that, alas, influences rules-integrity: On a failed save, the target takes nonlethal damage, becomes exhausted and drops unconscious. On a success, damage is halved and the conditions are negated…but the condition mentioned here is fatigued, not exhausted. Sooo…which one is it? Sequence would make me think exhausted is correct, but fatigues imho would make more sense.

 

Okay, those two out of the way, let’s discuss the feats. It should be noted that, in spite of the respective names, only one feat herein has the Stare-descriptor, which is important, considering that only one stare-feat may be applied at any given time, at least if you do not have Compounded Pain.

 

So, what do the feats do?

 

-Agonizing Glare: Adds 12 pain-based spells to spell-list, some with metamagic hard-baked into them. They are also considered to be spells known. If you don’t have the metamagic feat in question or know the spell, you may only affect creatures currently targeted by your hypnotic stare, and sans gaining the benefits of hypnotic stare for them. Learning them properly later allows you to cast the as usual and hypnotic stare applies.

 

-All-Seeing Sight: Adds 8 divination spells to your spell-list and spells known, but with the same hypnotic stare restriction as before. Locate object can only find objects in range in the possession creatures that you have targeted with hypnotic stare; the same limitation applies for clairaudience/voyance. As you may have gleaned, this does not require that you *currently* target them, making establishing a network of such beings rather interesting…great tool for investigations!

 

-Burning Stare: Choose electricity or fire; half damage of painful stare thereafter can be turned into that energy type. May be taken twice to gain both energy types.

 

-Bright-Blazing Stare: Requires burning stare, which means that the 3rd level prerequisite, same as the Burning Stare-feat, makes no sense. That should be higher. Anyways, if a target takes 1 fire or electricity damage, they take -40 to Stealth versus your Perception (important!) for 1 + your Cha-mod rounds. Multiple instances reset this duration. Furthermore, the target of a Burning Stare, regardless of whether it takes damage, must succeed a Will-save or be outlined as per faerie fire until the start of your next turn, meaning that the penalties apply globally, not just to avoid you. And no, they don’t stack with one another.

 

-Kindling Glare (Combat, Stare): This is another upgrade for Burning Stare, and it unfortunately suffers from the same weird prerequisite-glitch as Bright-Blazing Stare. When using Burning Stare to inflict fire or electricity damage on a target, you inflict +50% damage, as though the target was vulnerable to the energy type. It does not stack with actual vulnerabilities. Additionally, inflicting fire or electricity damage via the Burning Stare feat requires the target to make a Fort-save or contract vulnerability to the energy type for one round.

 

-Imperious Stare: Cause targets to avoid their gaze from you for 1 round on a failed Will-save, granting you total concealment versus the target. The type of this effect is properly codified. Kudos!

 

-Majestic Stare: Follow-up feat for Imperious Stare; when a target fails its save against Imperious Stare, it also can’t approach you further for 1 round, duplicating the effects of antipathy. Cool: If a creature fails its save by 5 or more, they also have to prostrate before you, dropping prone, unable to rise. Amazing!

 

-Wrecking Stare: Whenever the target of your hypnotic stare attempts to save versus pain effects and fails, you can activate painful stare’s effects as though the pain-effect caused damage. If the source is a mesmerist spell you can cast, you inflict damage as though you had made a successful attack and were using painful stare to augment it instead. Big kudos for getting the tightrope-walk of a rules-language construct regarding the second effect! If the triggering effect causes nonlethal damage, you may elect to make the damage caused by this feat nonlethal as well.

 

-X-ray Stare: See creatures targeted by hypnotic stare up to 20 feet away, through solid matter- Different material densities are provided and interaction with obfuscating elements, are noted. Handy!

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are generally very good on a formal and rules-language level; apart from the two issues I noted, which unfortunately influence rules-integrity (though the prerequisite glitch is de facto just aesthetic). Layout adheres to the printer-friendly two-column standard of the Everyman Mini-series and the one artwork presented is nice. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

 

Clinton Boomer is one of my favorite feat-designers. I have seen him write feats that literally make, by sheer virtue of existing, thoroughly amazing character concepts possible. If anything, there are two complaints I could field against them: They tend to be very specific, and they usually end up on the higher side of the power-level. The feats in this book are more broadly usable, but that doesn’t mean that they lose the high-concept impact I expected from them; They juggle complex concepts within a pretty complex engine, all while making me think of cool ways to use them. I am absolutely certain that pretty much all feats herein will see use in my games at one point, making this, at least to me, an all-killer, no filler supplement.

 

That being said, no matter how much I like this supplement, the fact remains that we have glitches that influence, in minor ways, the rules-integrity of two components. It is only this minor imperfection that ultimately costs this my seal of approval, though both can be rectified by any GM out there. If you don’t mind these, consider this to be a 5 star + seal pdf. If you do mind, then consider it to still be an excellent file, at 5 stars, which also represents my official final verdict.

 

You can get these cool mesmerist-options here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jan 192018
 

Village Backdrop: Fulhurst Moors (5e)

This Village Backdrop clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving 5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

What once was a lush forest inhabited by brutal savages, is now a desolate windswept moor where the waters of Blackraven Creek burrow into the acidic, infertile soil. Haunted by will-o’-wisps attracted in times long gone by, the plain is now home to peat-diggers – a harsh folk that reflects the unpleasant environment they live in. The anxiety of the populace is almost palpable, as the locals await a doom most dire.

 

Unbeknownst to them, one greedy individual has struck a pact with the dread will-o’-wisps and the resulting tragedies have not managed to warm the local folks to strangers. It should be noted that this version sports a properly modified marketplace section of minor magic items to get.

 

Beyond brief notes on the diverse population that includes the best and worst of people (including proper references to 5e NPCs), we have the usual 3 village lore entries that players doing their legwork can unearth. Beyond these, we also get a write-up of local appearances, dressing habits and nomenclature, we also get the traditional 6 whispers and rumors. Similarly, no less than 6 different events can be used by the GM to establish the proper mood. Big kudos: The special moonshine that is sold in town comes with proper 5e-effects.

 

Now, in Pathfinder, we got a sample statblock – in 5e, we instead gain something I actually prefer: A massive ½-page table depicting uncommon will-o’-wisps. These creatures are no less deadly than their common brethren, but they seem to prefer a more…specialized diet…like folks that drowned, that became insane, etc. – each of these sample wisps comes with a brief, fluff-only entry that makes each of them a great potential antagonist for an investigation…and if you combine them, you can challenge even experienced players! (The modification of the rules is btw. dead simple, though the pdf does point out how to proceed there.)

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to RSP’s superb, streamlined and printer-friendly 2-column b/w-standard. The pdf’s b/w-cartography is just as awesome as I’ve come to expect from the series. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and in two versions, one optimized for screen-use and one to be printed out.

 

Okay, my first impression was “Oh yeah, another swamp/moor”-village – but know what? This is VERY distinct from anything you’d expect in a SWAMP. While Jacob Trier’s village works with the tropes, it also subverts them -no degenerate fish-people, no voodoo cults, no looming lizard-men, instead painting a picture of a village of hard-working people that cover the broad experience of humanity and morality, suffering from a climate of fear invoked by some vile individuals. Fulhurst Moors may not be a nice place at first glance, but it can be the town where, once the loyalty of the populace is earned, the evil rooted out, PCs may find haven even if hunted by the king. Remote and believable, with a rich history to develop and hooks galore, Jacob Trier’s village is great. Jeff Gomez’ additional design has made sure that the 5e-version is just as worth getting as the PFRPG-iteration, perhaps even a little bit more so. All in all, well worth 5 stars + seal of approval.

 

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

 

You can directly support Raging Swan Press here on patreon!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jan 192018
 

Village Backdrop: Fulhurst Moors (system neutral)

This Village Backdrop clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving 5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

What once was a lush forest inhabited by brutal savages, is now a desolate windswept moor where the waters of Blackraven Creek burrow into the acidic, infertile soil. Haunted by will-o’-wisps attracted in times long gone by, the plain is now home to peat-diggers – a harsh folk that reflects the unpleasant environment they live in. The anxiety of the populace is almost palpable, as the locals await a doom most dire.

 

Unbeknownst to them, one greedy individual has struck a pact with the dread will-o’-wisps and the resulting tragedies have not managed to warm the local folks to strangers… It should be noted that this version sports a properly modified marketplace section of minor magic items to get.

 

Beyond brief notes on the diverse population that includes the best and worst of people, we have the usual 3 village lore entries that players doing their legwork can unearth. Speaking of the NPCs, and since some of my readers are consider that a pet-peeve: Nomenclature-wise, some characters are referred to by names like “rogue” and “wizard” instead of “thief” or “magic-user.”

Beyond these, we also get a write-up of local appearances, dressing habits and nomenclature, we also get the traditional 6 whispers and rumors. Similarly, no less than 6 different events can be used by the GM to establish the proper mood. Big kudos: The special moonshine that is sold in town comes with proper effects tailored to old-school gameplay – kudos!

 

Now, in Pathfinder, we got a sample statblock – in the system neutral version, we instead gain something I actually prefer: A massive ½-page table depicting uncommon will-o’-wisps. These creatures are no less deadly than their common brethren, but they seem to prefer a more…specialized diet…like folks that drowned, that became insane, etc. – each of these sample wisps comes with a brief, fluff-only entry that makes each of them a great potential antagonist for an investigation…and if you combine them, you can challenge even experienced players! Now, in the system-neutral version, it would have been nice to get some slightly different suggestions when compared to 5e, since the rules-lighter games tend to e.g. not differentiate between damage types, or at least, to a lesser degree, but that is me nitpicking at a high level.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to RSP’s superb, streamlined and printer-friendly 2-column b/w-standard. The pdf’s b/w-cartography is just as awesome as I’ve come to expect from the series. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and in two versions, one optimized for screen-use and one to be printed out.

 

Okay, my first impression was “Oh yeah, another swamp/moor”-village – but know what? This is VERY distinct from anything you’d expect in a SWAMP. While Jacob Trier’s village works with the tropes, it also subverts them -no degenerate fish-people, no voodoo cults, no looming lizard-men, instead painting a picture of a village of hard-working people that cover the broad experience of humanity and morality, suffering from a climate of fear invoked by some vile individuals. Fulhurst Moors may not be a nice place at first glance, but it can be the town where, once the loyalty of the populace is earned, the evil rooted out, PCs may find haven even if hunted by the king. Remote and believable, with a rich history to develop and hooks galore, Jacob Trier’s village is great. Jeff Gomez’ additional design has made sure that the system neutral version is very much worth getting, in spite of my nitpicks. My final verdict for this version will hence clock in at 5 stars, just short of my seal of approval.

 

You can get this village here on OBS!

 

You can directly support Raging Swan Press here on patreon!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jan 182018
 

Mists of Akuma: Scourge of Róbai Shita Temple (5e)

This adventure for the Mists of Akuma-setting clocks in at 50 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 44 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Now it should also be noted that two pages of the pdf are devoted to providing a recap of the mechanics for both dignity and haitoku, the attributes introduced by Mists of Akuma. The module is intended for 7th level PCs and should be used with a well-rounded group. While this is intended to be run in the bleak, mist-shrouded lands of Soburin, the module works in other settings as well, provided you can tweak it to include Soburin’s peculiarities – i.e. Japanese Horror with a subdued steampunk angle.

 

Okay, as always with these modules, you don’t necessarily *need* Mists of Akuma to run them – all necessary information is provided, though personally, I definitely recommend them within the context of their setting. In this book, we get the stats for the Adeddo-oni. As far as other stats are concerned, we get two wielders of portable cannons, a powerful cursed shikome (hobgoblin, armor covered in prayer slips, who can broadcast radio waves and comes with notes on the Kodoma-Tachi chapter!) and more. As an aside: I have no idea what a leap speed is supposed to be – and the hobgoblin write up doesn’t specify. On the plus-side, we get 4 new tsukumogami, and the Fukō oni, who comes in two iterations. Once more, we also get a pretty potent legendary item, which. Once more, is sentient…and potentially thus rather troublesome. All in all, quite a bunch of new material!

 

All righty, this out of the way, let’s dive into the SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

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All right, only GMs around? Great! Once more the powers-that-be recruit the PCs via a missive found in an unlikely place; with autumn in the air, the PCs must travel to Kyusokuna, and there, find Hanashichū Grove – preferably without running afoul of the local taboos regarding tech. To reach the grove, the PCs will have to cross a massive suspension bridge, where they will, of course, have to deal with rather potent adversaries (serviceable map included) – and they should better not tary. Becoming lost or falling off the bridge may end up being late…something that is rather frowned upon in Soburin. (As a German, I can relate…)

 

Once they have arrived at the designated spot for their clandestine meeting, the PCs met the nature-wielder, here on behalf of Lord Sukochi. The task sounds simple: End the troubles at Shibai. It’s not. All the monks of the titular temple have been found dead or missing, and an oni is haunting the village. The famous, cannon-wielding Mubō Brothers have been hired to deal with the issue, but they are deemed to be heretics and too incompetent to solve the issue. The PCs also hear that the settlement was founded by a potent wu-jen and yamabushi, and is considered to be a safe haven from the feared mists of akuma – loss of the area is not acceptable. (As an aside, yes, we do get random encounter suggestions.)

 

Once the PCs arrive at Shibai, they walk into chaos – a full-blown adeddo-oni attack must be thwarted, which is also the first chance to interact with the rather unpleasant cannon-wielders. Once the chaos has been subdued, the PCs will have a chance to start to loathe the brothers before talking to the mayor, who, after being initially dismissive, warms considerably to them once the PCs flaunt their mission. The fully mapped settlement is at the slope of a steep hill, with heights noted on the map – kudos! The mayor tells the PCs over tea (somewhat of a lost chance for Culture-checks…) about the situation – and indeed, the constant monster assaults represent a ticking timer…the PCs should better hurry!

 

Ultimately, they will have to investigate Róbai Shita temple – and worse, the brothers will try to smear their names when they set out for the temple. Speaking of temple: The place is fully mapped (2 levels) and, while the maps sport no scale, it is easy enough to assume the default 5-ft.-grid. The maps are rather detailed and can be cut up and used as hand-outs, which is a big plus. Somewhat odd, though: The ground floor of the temple has the functions of rooms noted, while the basement is wholly spoiler-free. Just an observation, mind you – I’m good with the presentation. While the exploration of the temple requires a bit of GM panache (in the absence of room-by-room-read-aloud text), the exploration should elicit a bit of creepiness nonetheless…and upon their return from the temple, the brothers will attack, trying to secure their spot as top dog problem solvers.

 

The battle will rage, but before one side can claim a decisive victory, the monstrous ukō intercedes with a whole array of deadly creatures in tow. In the chaos, the brothers should manage to get away…and even if bested, the monster seems likely to return. Thus begins a bit of an investigation, which comes in two difficulties – simple and hard; the added difficulty version in particular is something I’d recommend to add a further sense of urgency to the investigation; turns out that an ambitious couple has taken the yūrei-fū wind chimes from the depths of the temple – and, well, they are not necessarily going to just give up on them or their ambitions….and the brothers may pose further issues.

 

In order to stop the troubles that have beset the village, the PCs will have to venture down into Róbai Shita’s dungeon, which is as much dungeon as it is a colossal accumulation of tsukumogamis! Once more, we get basic room descriptions (no read-aloud text) as the PCs venture through the dungeon to the catacombs. (Once more, the dungeon has room names included, while the catacombs don’t; once more, the maps are pretty detailed and scale-less, but perfectly usable). Placing the wind chimes back where they belong will have the PCs duke it out with the undying monster once more – if they succeed, they’ll have saved the town, hopefully with proof regarding the plot behind the wind chimes and their theft!

 

It should be noted that the pdf does come with a handy 1-page list of local rumors, which add some local color to the proceedings.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, while not perfect, are pretty good, I noticed no big problems regarding the rules and structure of the module. Layout adheres to Mists of Akuma’s busy 2-column full-color style, which manages to fit quite a bit of material on a given page. Artworks are a combination of nice full-color pieces and public domain art, which, in combination, has evolved into a rather distinct style I personally rather like. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Cartography is probably the best in the Mists of Akuma-modules – the maps are detailed, interesting and can be used as cut-up hand-outs.

 

Mike Myler’s “Scourge of Róbai Shita Temple” is perhaps the most easily plug-and-play module of all the Mists of Akuma-adventures I’ve read so far; it can be used in other contexts without major reskinning, which is certainly somewhat helpful. That is, however, also the weak spot of the adventure: While distinctly belonging to Mists of Akuma in style, themes and aesthetics, it is a slight bit less unique than my favorite, “Fangs of Revenge”, which I consider to be my personal favorite among the Mists of Akuma adventures.

 

That being said, I am not judging these modules by my taste, at least not exclusively, and this adventure is well-crafted…and easy to run. Where “Fangs of Revenge” can feel daunting at times and is aimed at experienced GMs, this one is much easier to run and represents a nice investigation with creepy locales, antagonists that the PCs will love to hate, etc. – in short, this is a very well-rounded module. The alternate suggestion for a more difficult investigation is very much appreciated as well and shows a level of extra thought that I certainly appreciate.

 

While this adventure doesn’t reach the tension of “Fangs of Revenge” or the covert-ops-assignment against the scorpion samurai, it is a module that should work well as an introduction to core tenets of Mists of Akuma, horror-gaming and, well, the leitmotifs of the setting. In short, I don’t have much to complain about here. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars. (Experienced GMs should definitely check out “Fangs of Revenge”, though – That one has potential galore and could be the start of a mega-adventure/series…it may be a bit too ambitious for its scope, but if you can write sequels, it’s amazing…)

 

You can get this module here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

 

Jan 182018
 

Desolation of the Black Terror (OSR)

This hexcrawl covers 16 pages (not counting the front and back cover and their insides), with about ½ a page devoted to editorial and explaining how everything ties together, leaving us with 15.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

So, I am, in spite of sometimes having issues with parts of his work, someone who enjoys the type of material Geoffrey McKinney brings to the table. As such, I have already covered his self-published, first 4 Carcosa hexcrawls…and when they left me wanting more, I figured I could check out his Wilderness Hexcrawl-series as well.

 

First things first, in case you’re not familiar with these: As per the writing of this reviews, this module is only available in print, as a saddle-stitch paperback, to be more precise. As such, I can’t comment on any electronic features or the like.

 

Rules-wise, this uses AD&D-rules and references them regarding spells, notating of attacks, etc. Now, something that is pretty crucial for you to decide on whether you’ll enjoy this would be how you prioritize aesthetics in your purchases. You see, the cover artwork is the only one found herein. The layout adheres to a stark two-column standard and sports no graphical elements or the like – this is, quite simply, two columns of text. Hex-headers have been bolded, spells are italicized (and so are magic items), but that’s about all the formatting you’ll get – if you are looking for anything more advanced or convenient, look elsewhere. In fact, the pages, much like in the Carcosa-crawls, aren’t even numbered, which makes finding information inconvenient, unless you pull out the markers. When a village is noted, it lists population and number of able-bodied folks as well as significant NPCs, which have their alignment and class as well as their level noted.

 

The back cover of the module is a rather nice hex-map that is a step up from the Carcosa-maps. Why? Well, while the white numbers and hex-borders are still here, they now have a shadow added, which makes them easy to decipher, even against a backdrop of a yellow desert. A downside of the hex-map, nice though it is, would be that points of interest like settlements, monuments, etc. have all been noted – though this time around, not all such locales have been fitted with a name, which is a good thing as far as I’m concerned.

 

It should also be noted that this series is not intended to be the author’s usual blend of the weird, instead focusing on more traditional fantasy – something I will take into account when rating this.

 

The module begins with a brief summary of the geographic features…which sport an odd and imho annoying peculiarity: While plenty of places have normal, proper names, you can e.g. read “G__y Mountains” or “M____d” here – the referee is expected to fill these in. I really dislike the inconsistency here – either provide names for all locations or none – when I give one of these places a strange name, chances are I won’t run with “Silver Peaks”, right? Anyway, I think that’s inconvenient. Your mileage may vary.

 

Okay, this out of the way, let us dive into the main meat of the module – from here on reign the SPOILERS.

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Okay, we begin this hexcrawl with basically a roadside encounter, where the PCs can hunt down a bulette, which may then be turned into a magical shield – while not brilliant, this is a solid start and better than most entries featured in the direct predecessor. A natural pit containing horrid stench, inhabited by otyughs, a lair of fire drakes, mistaken for proper dragons…we get some decent wilderness encounters throughout the booklet.

 

Now, as before, the settlements that can be found note important NPCs and the number of able-bodied folks, but also are a bit more interesting, as they can act as a hub of sorts – we get a variety of different connections from the villages to other hexes, making everything seem less fragmented and sterile, so that’s a plus. There are also some links to #1 in the series here and there – for example, when it comes to a temporal stasis’d gnome, who may become a hireling. A settlement haunted by wolfweres is a bit weird – personally, I like the set-up, but pulling out my AD&D-resources, I have to comment on the pdf somewhat mixing what wolfweres and werewolves are and how they operate, which can lead to somewhat weird in-game logic inconsistencies. referees should take care in the context of this section.

 

Following the theme of the evil worm cultists, we can also find a lost shrine of the strange cult and unlucky PCs exploring the remains of the fortress of the eponymous Black Terror (whose identity remains elusive and open for referee choice) can walk right into the very potent high-priest, who may well flip the alignment of unlucky PCs…so if that is an aspect of old-school gameplay you tend to be weary of, note that he is pretty much the BBEG of the hex-map: He is by far more potent than pretty much everything else.

 

While all of this does sound, correctly, I might add, as though this booklet had inherited the dubious aesthetics of the predecessor, this is not wholly true, for we do get some entries that go a bit beyond: I really enjoyed e.g. the idea of the Argent Death, a particularly deadly mining gas – exploring such a poisonous, deadly place is just what adventurers should do. Similarly, the idea of a strange horn that may summon silver dragons from beyond the north wind is interesting and oozes Tolkienesque pathos. While the humanoid tribes described do not necessarily win awards, exploring a ruin suffuses with runes that explode in irregular intervals makes for a great exercise in smart playing…so if a referee is willing to expand that entry, there most assuredly is some awesomeness there.

 

In a somewhat interesting nod to the Dark Souls franchise (Pr so I assume), there is a hex where generations of guardians have kept a fire burning…and the PCs may well end up playing matchmaker there. We can also find a boulder suffused with ancient magics, the flame of life, which may sear or heal…there is, frankly, more wonder to be found herein than in the previous installment, and that’s a good thing.

 

One of my favorite hexes sports a “ghost” of a little girl…only, she seems to be convinced that the PCs aren’t really real…turns out, she is living in the city-state of a certain overlord and basically projects her consciousness/sees them via magic infused in the building. Most assuredly a nice nod and an interesting roleplaying encounter. Speaking of fun encounter: In a clearing of high grass, clover, etc., the PCs can unearth the bodies of slain adventurers, located near some massive porcupines. A letter will show the adventurers being pretty snide about nearby gnomes, who “erroneously believe that porcupines can fire their spines.” Well, guess what? These porcupines can do just that! (If you foreshadow that one by gnomes advising caution, you’ll have a fun encounter…)

 

So yes, this is a huge step up. It still is not truly remarkable.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no undue accumulation of typos. I already commented on the formal peculiarities above, so let me get to the meat of this book’s issue.

 

Geoffrey McKinney’s second Wilderness hexcrawl is definitely a step in the right direction for the series. Don’t get me wrong: This is still very inconvenient to use; it lacks any pretensions of a metaplot and all settlements are small and far in-between…but then again, this is the wilderness, so that is expected. The potentially allied and neutral powerful NPCs that can be found here and there are nice and rather interesting. The entries themselves are more interesting and include some gems and visuals that carry the spirit of classic fantasy in a rather neat and inspiring manner. This is better than the first installment of the series in pretty much every way.

 

That being said, it also falls short of even the worst of his Carcosa-crawls; there is more fantasy in this one and it is slightly more dynamic than his previous work, but at the same time, there is less of a theme than the name would make you believe – ultimately, there simply isn’t much “desolation” going on here; in fact, the majority of the map is taken up by massive forests, so if you expected a magic wasteland, you’re infinitely better served by Frog God Games’ fantastic “Slumbering Tsar” or “Sword of Air.”

 

If you’re looking for a somewhat vanilla hexcrawl with a couple of nice ideas to develop into full-blown adventures, you can do worse…but also better.

 

While this hexcrawl is nowhere near as bad as the blandfest that #1 in the series was, it also falls somewhat short of what Geoffrey McKinney can deliver. In the end, this is a decent hexcrawl, but, in hindsight, not necessarily one I would buy again. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 2.5 stars, rounded up due to my policy of in dubio pro reo.

 

You can get this hexcrawl exclusively here on lulu.

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jan 172018
 

Everyman Minis: Patriotic Options

This installment of the Everyman Minis-series clocks in at 9 pages,1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of advertisement, 1.5 pages of SRD, leaving us with 2.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

All right, after a brief introduction, we begin with 5 new traits, which include being a supporter of a rebellion against an occupying force (and a +1 save bonus to one save chosen), having the ear of a powerful individual (tie-in with Fame-rules), knowing particularly much about your home (translating into skill-bonuses to two Knowledge skills), +1 skill rank and a bonus to Profession (soldier) for being a true shield of your people…and there is one trait that makes you a regional symbol and hence allows you to request small sums in goods and services. All of these traits are well-crafted, meaningful and have proper roleplaying tricks. No complaints.

 

Beyond these traits, we also get two different story-feats (YES!): Ambassador nets you Knowledge (local) & (nobility) as class skills and with a bonus, with a further bonus if you already have them as class skills; the goal is to broker a major treaty or accord and, yes, this is very much a feat for the faces and similar characters who strive to lead not only by force of weaponry. Cool: We have Skill Challenge Handbook synergy for verbal duels and influence skill challenges!

 

The second story-feat would be Patriot, which nets you a 3/day +2 morale bonus on ability checks, atk rolls, initiative, saves, skill checks or weapon damage rolls while in the chosen region. The goal is to save the region chosen or supporting it with a hefty donation – upon completion, the bonus increases and becomes more potent versus overt enemies of your nation. Oh, and additional uses. I *assume* that this self-granted bonus is not an action and that it must be announced before the roll is made, but clarification here would be appreciated.

 

We also receive two new vigilante social talents. The first would be Patriotism, which requires that you choose a nation you lived in for 5 years; in that nation, the vigilante’s social identity can mix and mingle with government and military, improving their starting attitude to friendly if at least indifferent. The vigilante identity may be loyal to the nation chosen or oppose it, which determines the bonus gained by the vigilante. The second talent would be the Improved Patriotism, which nets social skill bonuses and Knowledge bonuses. On the vigilante identity side, we have diplomatic immunity for loyalists or an escalation of skill-boosts for those opposing their nation – interesting material that reminded me of plenty a masked diplomat/symbol in various forms of media.

 

The final piece of crunch herein would be the turncoat vigilante archetype, who is locked into loyalist as the 1st level social talent, choosing home country and feigned country – the latter is the opposed country. Instead of unshakeable, 3rd level yields the option to change the feigned country 1/month. Instead of the appearance ability tree, the archetype provides startling betrayal at 5th level: When attacking a creature that considers the turncoat an ally, the creature gets a Sense Motive check: On a failure, the target is so baffled, he becomes flat-footed against the vigilante for a minute, with all attacks against the turncoat penalized. At 11th level, helpful NPCs, instead of having a higher DC, automatically fail this check and the effect gains a 30 ft.-radius range of outrage…indeed, even a whole crowd could thus fall to the betrayal of a turncoat. At 17th level, creatures with an attitude of unfriendly or better may be affected, making it really hard to not be suckered in by these guys.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches on a formal level and the rules-language is tight. Layout adheres to Everyman gaming’s nice two-column standard with a white background and the full-color artwork is nice. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

 

Luis Loza’s patriotic options are cool: While the social tricks are not necessarily world-shaking, they are interesting and made me recall a long-time plan of a campaign focusing on fantasy warfare and diplomacy that I’ve been wanting to run for ages…but I digress. This is a well-made, interesting supplement, well worth a final verdict of 5 stars – well done!

 

You can get these neat options here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jan 162018
 

5e NPCs: Goblins! Goblins! Goblins! (5e)

This NPC-collection clocks in at a massive 48 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page introduction, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 40 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.

 

All right, so, first things first: Not all goblins herein are regular goblins; instead, some employ rules from the Moar Goblins-pdf by Dire Rugrat Publishing. It should be noted that all rules taken from that book that are employed herein. This makes the goblins significantly more diverse and interesting and no, you won’t have issues using this book sans Moar Goblins. This book does provide a bit of a teaser for it and provides stats for the Tokoloshe snare trap, the nacht kabouter and the grindylow…and harpoons.

 

Now, as far as challenge-range is concerned, the material herein ranges from challenge ½ to challenge 12. The presentation of the numerous goblin NPCs herein is detailed: We get the name at the top of the page, a brief summary of the character (like “Goblin Exile, self-imposed”), a brief quote and then, extensive notes on the background-story of the respective NPC – so no, these are not fire-and-forget NPCs, they are proper, fully developed characters. The characters are presented by ascending challenge, beginning with the lowest challenge and moving up the scale.

 

What type of character can find herein? Well, the first fellow (aptly described by the summary mentioned above) is a goblin who a) is not much of a fighter and b) despised the lack of civility in goblin society; a survivor with boundless optimism, Zazutk Grimheap is anything but grim and sports something I really like about Dire Rugrat’s books: The lack of cynicism and generally…sense of a latent optimism suffusing their books. Sure, the fellow is basically an information broker, but he wants manners and is a pretty happy fellow.

 

That should not mean that the goblins here are all looking for a hug-party and acceptance, mind you: Take Wottle Skrimjaw, grindylow chief. This fellow is NOT nice. Then again, he is somewhat lazy, which makes for a nice roleplaying opportunity/rewarding of legwork done right. “Yeah, you shouldn’t go in that territory…but if you do…” It’s small bits like that, which make characters feel alive. It should also be noted that quite a few NPCs herein come with suggestions on how to use the character, but that as an aside. While we’re at the topic of tribal leaders: Grunko Whitemane would be one such fellow, one who is particularly adept at felling larger foes…oh, and if the name was no indication, he is a tundra goblin. And yes, the modifications to create rank and file tundra goblins have been included here. A dreadlock-wearing Pukwudgie chieftain, Tiponi, is a strong woman, the first to lead her tribe, in fact!

 

Next up would be Neeha of Banga Pracira, a rather charming gudro bonga lady…which brings me to another point that may be of interest to you, particularly if you’re new to Dire Rugrat Publishing’s supplements: The NPCs often sport their own signature abilities, often ones that go beyond the obvious defaults, which can add an interesting angle even to characters which usually, challenge-wise, would not pose much of a threat. Speaking of gudra bonga: Vaishikof Gartakara Rupa (challenge 2) (the place is once incorrectly called “Gartaka Rupa”) is an interesting specimen, as his protectiveness and stout build may make him seem almost a bit dwarf-like, while his uncommon heritage and the abilities granted by it add an interesting angle of the supernatural. While we’re on the subject of these, perhaps one of my favorite goblin subspecies: Eakogs Clutternugget is AMAZING. But let me explain: Each goblin herein gets his/her own full-color artwork, which is impressive in and of itself. The goblin merchant’s artwork rocks. However, it is his FUNCTION, which is the draw. Are you running an extensive wilderness/dungeon-campaign and the PCs can’t restock sans 2 sessions of traveling/running? Enter this fellow! Much like e.g. the merchants of Resident Evil 4, for example, he can show up at opportune moments and help out with just the right tools…which he obviously may have stolen somewhere, so potential further trouble can be set up thus as well.

 

Of course, aforementioned level of playfulness can take a potentially sinister tint – take Royce Mapplethorp, the mighty (challenge 2) goblin herald, whose fightsong is really potent for his allies. Minor quibble here: Only being able to hear as a limitation for its benefits is pretty strong – personally, I’d include a maximum number of targets affected or range-restriction here…otherwise any halfway decent group will get him a magical megaphone sooner or later… But I digress. This fellow may be basically a potent mascot, but he is not necessarily a nice guy… Speaking of which: Know what happens when a rather psychotic goblin kills a cosmonaut that has just injected him with a nanite solution that links him to a central computer? We get a really smart psychotic goblin, who goes on to make a blade that returns to him…and urns mercenary…after all, this vast knowledge at his beck and call can be applied creatively to all manner of topics…Yeah, shades the blade (challenge 6) is a creepy, creepy fellow.

 

Sometimes, folks are born that are different; most of us have felt that way at one point and for a few of us, this experience of otherness has changed our trajectory in life. Rilidyx Fastbutton is surprisingly good-looking by the standards of most folks…other than goblins. Her mother did not have an easy time, basically being slutshamed for ostensibly consorting with an elf…and after she vanished, Rilidyx ventured forth to find her place in life, charismatic, alluring and surprisingly deadly. Speaking of deadly (and much less pleasant): Fargrakle the despised, at challenge 5, would be a goblin necromancer who specializes in…animating crawling claws. Yeah, this fellow is creepy…

 

At challenge 3, N’tambu would be a tokoloshe, who is rather unique and no longer bound to serve vengeance seekers. He can drink water to become invisible and is exciting as a redemption story of sorts, one that celebrates the triumph over what one could consider being doomed to be evil. A child of nature and the representation of an almost obligatory trope, Wrelx would be a Wolfrider. Yes, he comes with stats for his wolf. Know what the name of the wolf is? “Grr.” Yes, they have unique synergy tricks. And yes, that name put a smile on my face. Picture it: “What’s the name of your companion?” “Grrr!” “No need to become aggressive, I just asked what his name was!” “Grr!” XD

Call me juvenile, but I can see that in my mind’s eye and it makes me smile.

 

Also something of a tale of just desserts would be that of Mekan (challenge 7), a former goblin guinea pig for his cruel master, who managed to turn the tables, becoming a fearsome fire specialist in his own right. Oh, and he can delay his magic in a type of spell-like bombs. Ouch.

 

The trope of the possessed godhand can be found in Flubboks Hugemitt, a goblin, whose right hand has grown to an enormous size and demonic sentience…oh…and Strength 20. Your PCs won’t be laughing about this goblin… Nix takes the idea of the blue (the blue-skinned psionic goblins known from previous editions) and takes a bow to the concept without requiring the introduction of psionics per se, as the mighty Nix behaves as a self-styled deity of the local goblins, with mind blade and potent defenses. Nice nod! She is not alone: Her sibling Zub makes for a deadly second half to the duo, only that his talents manifest as powerful spellcasting…

 

And then, there would be the final NPC. Koning. King of the Nacht Kabouters – legend to most, doom to many. He comes with no less than 3 lair actions, multiple (properly formatted!) legendary actions and the challenge 12. Oh. And, you know. He knows everything every single nacht kabouter on the same plane knows. Yes, he does have means to be defeated and weak spots – but PCs will probably have to be pretty clever to best this potent foe! As an aside: His missing cap, his weakness…the character’s stats made me immediately come up with an adventure sketch, where woefully underleveled PCs have to best him with brains, rather than brawn…it’s always a good sign when reading a critter makes me immediately have an idea for a whole module…

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, as a whole, are very good, though not perfect on formal and rules-level. As a whole, you should not encounter serious issues here. Layout adheres to a printer.friendly two-column standard with a white background; the statblocks sport parchment-style color-backgrounds to differentiate them. The artworks deserve special mention: There is a ton of them and I haven’t seen most of them before, which is a big plus. There are some original pieces within as well. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

I’ve really come to like Kelly and Ken Pawlik’s style. There is a positive core to their writing, something deeply human that manages to elicit a sense of joy without being naïve or bland. The characters herein are diverse and feel plausible. They are not just soulless fire-and-forget statblocks and they steer clear of the clichés…and even when such tropes are used, they are employed in a sympathetic manner. It’s hard to properly describe, but it could boil down to a sense of empathy with their fictitious creations. You can relate, in some way or another, with quite a few of them, with their motivations and characters. The NPCs herein are relatable and diverse…and frankly, I enjoyed them much more than I expected. There are a couple of real stand-out NPCs in these pages and the price-point of 5 bucks is really fair for the amount of content you get; the bang for buck ratio is rather great here. So yeah, this comes highly recommended, particularly in conjunction with the slightly less impressive Moar Goblins-pdf, if only so you know about the unique goblin-subspecies the Dire Rugrats have dug up! (without it, the pdf loses a bit of its appeal – not much, but a tiny bit of it.) My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars, just short of my seal of approval; a well-made NPC-codex and hopefully, not the last!

 

You can get these cool gobbo-NPCs here on OBS!

 

Missing the Moar Goblins-file? You can get for just 2 bucks here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jan 162018
 

Mists of Akuma: Cursed Soul of the Scorpion Samurai (5e)

This adventure for the Mists of Akuma-setting clocks in at 44 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 38 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Now it should also be noted that two pages of the pdf are devoted to providing a recap of the mechanics for both dignity and haitoku, the attributes introduced by Mists of Akuma. The module is intended for 7th level PCs and should be used with a well-rounded group. While this is intended to be run in the bleak, mist-shrouded lands of Soburin, the module works in other settings as well, provided you can tweak it to include Soburin’s peculiarities – i.e. Japanese Horror with a subdued steampunk angle.

 

Now, it should be noted that the module does not per se require the Mists of Akuma setting book, though it most assuredly is recommended; the adeddo-oni stats used are reproduced here, alongside new material, like the stats for the penanggalen (challenge 6), the challenge 4 scorpion ninja and, of course, the eponymous scorpion samurai. The legendary odachi scorpion’s tail is also included and is both really potent and really evil…it should not be too hard to make PCs not want to use the blade, in spite of its definite allure.

 

All righty, this out of the way, let’s dive into the SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great!

We begin this adventure in Yukinokyū, in the Kizuato prefecture, forced to the area by the uncommon spring weather. It is here that the PCs receive a secret missive from the benegoshi of Fuson on behalf of the emperor. (The missive is btw. represented as a nice, potential handout – though you have to cut it out of the page – having it on a single page would have been neat.) Anyhow, the missive is pretty peculiar, in that it requires that the PCs travel to the town of Kakasu, with the request and presence of the PCs needing to remain unknown. Thus, the PCs are supposed to take Hidaretei pass, which is a known hunting ground of ogres. Really cool: We get several nasty hazards for crossing the pass, from microstorms to stinking crevasses, this adds a bit of detail, and we do get a couple of random encounter suggestions. And yes, there will ultimately be a showdown on a nice little battlemap. (It has no scale, but I assume default 5-foot-squares.)

 

But wait! What if your players are smart and prefer forging travel papers to reach their goal? That option has similarly been covered in a sidebox – kudos! When arriving at Kaksu, the timing couldn’t have been worse, as the mists of akuma are approaching. The hustle to the settlement (which comes with a solid map) can once more include some nasty battles, and, as they arrive in town, the PCs need t be careful: They have to find Fūmiyutakana without alerting anyone – they’re sworn to secrecy, after all! (And yes, failure has consequences here!) Sooner or later, the PCs will find themselves at a restaurant, facing a test of their cultural knowledge – not showing the proper knowledge of etiquette may cast an unfortunate light on them – but ultimately, they will get a map concealed under dumplings, one leading into the forest.

 

Following the trail into danger once more, the PCs meet Yukari, who tells them about the deaths of various former servants of the Fuson family – and how they all had in common that they were part of the banishment of Hinjuku Nagaro, the titular scorpion samurai. The remainder of folks on the scorpion samurai’s death list, are currently enjoying the hospitality of lord Gabiru Fuson in Shinjitsu on Shōjiki Island. Secrecy is tantamount, for the trap is pretty obvious and the scorpion samurai has many allies – which is why outsiders, an unknown party, is required – secrecy must be maintained as the PCs are tasked to eliminate the disgruntled samurai – preferably before he completes his revenge-driven blood ritual.

 

Alas, as the PCs either travel on or try to return to civilization for the night, they’ll have to first face down deadly threats (once more with a solid encounter-map) – fun here: Terrain does matter and the bamboo squares can make for nice tactical tricks. Getting to the island has obviously more than one solution, and, indeed, more than one is mentioned. The mists do not let up – briefly after the PCs have landed on the island, the mists roll in – and with them, danger galore, as the populace barricades their doors and windows, leaving the PCs to fight in the tiny (mapped!) hamlet. Oh, and the PCs still have to maintain their secrecy…

 

Worse, once the PCs, hopefully disguised, ask around, they’ll soon realize that the scorpion samurai is pretty much a local hero here, which complicates matters further. Yukari has set up 3 targets as bait, three chances to catch the scorpion samurai…however, depending on how the PCs fared, one or more may already be dead…so let’s hope they didn’t blow their cover! Ultimately, the PCs should definitely manage to prevent the final sacrifice, for its none other than Chijmatsu, lord Gabiru’s daughter, that will cement the power of the scorpion samurai once and for all – in order to stop her sacrifice, the PCs will have to venture to Ikatteiru cave and stop the dread ritual before the woman’s soul is ripped from her body. While the cave is mapped, in an odd choice, the actual cave floor lacks a grid otherwise present on the map. There are further complications: A penanggalen hell-bent on revenge; a draconic ally…and the significant power of the deadly scorpion samurai. Suffice to say, the finale is challenging indeed…and it has some serious potential for further adventures.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are better than in the first two Mists of Akuma modules and the stats are solid – not much to complain here. Layout adheres to the somewhat cramped 2-column full-color standard of the series, but manages to fit a lot of material on a given page. We get a blending of original and public domain artwork and the cartography is in full color and solid, though the final map’s glitch is a bit annoying. Plus-side: The background story of the scorpion samurai is presented, hand-out style, on two pages – nice. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Mike Myler’s yarn here is a great example on how to make a high-octane railroad that doesn’t feel like one. The module is, structure-wise, pretty linear, but still provides means for the PCs to jump off the rails. The espionage angle adds further complications to the PC’s task and can be played up for some rather remarkable scenes, all while enhancing the themes of mistrust and paranoia that work so well in Mists of Akuma. In short, this is a great example on how to do a good, rewarding linear scenario that doesn’t feel constrained. Frantic, busy and intentionally opaque in some regards, the scenario, as a whole, is certainly well worth playing, particularly for the low asking price.

 

It is also a scenario that works rather well on its own: Unlike the (imho superior) “Fangs of Revenge”, this one is less steeped in the peculiarities of the setting. We don’t have a revolution, a vast cadre of NPCs, etc. – while this makes this module less unique, it also renders it easier to run than the somewhat challenging yarn of Fangs. They are two different breeds of module, but ultimately, both are steeped in the themes and atmosphere of the setting – and both are better off for it. In short: This is a well-made module for a fair price-point. It is easier to plug and play it than Fangs, but also doesn’t carry the same level of oomph and impact. In the end, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform.

 

You can get this high-tension covert-ops scenario here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jan 152018
 

Mists of Akuma: Fangs of Revenge (5e)

This adventure for the Mists of Akuma-setting clocks in at 39 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 33 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Now it should also be noted that two pages of the pdf are devoted to providing a recap of the mechanics for both dignity and haitoku, the attributes introduced by Mists of Akuma. The module is intended for 6th – 7th level PCs and should be used with a well-rounded group. While this is intended to be run in the bleak, mist-shrouded lands of Soburin, the module works in other settings as well, provided you can tweak it to include Soburin’s peculiarities – i.e. Japanese Horror with a subdued steampunk angle.

 

The adventure contains a rather extensive stat-section, providing full stats for the adeddo-oni and the hebikontorōra from the Mists of Akuma book, but also stats for potent factory workers, a hengeyokai ninja and two true hebi hengeyokai – as well as the template to create more of these fellows. As an aside, the picture on the page depicting the template, while a bit cheese-cake-y, is up my alley, in that it looks very Conan-like; scantily-clad woman + threatening serpents = win (sorry, I just like my Sword & Sorcery…)…but I don’t think it fits Mists of Akuma that well. That just as an aside, though!

 

All righty, this out of the way, let’s dive into the SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! The city of Samon is an important industrial center, and when the PCs are summoned by the benegoshi, they’d better heed its call – to do otherwise would equal a death sentence. But things are less simple than what the PCs may expect to find – as much can be gleaned from the NPC-section provided for the GM: We get 3 pages of bullet point motivations, goals, etc. (as well as pointers towards which stats to use, if in question), allowing for an easy way to get an overview of the plot. Similarly, a nice, isometric map of the city (looks like a modified public domain source and is thus surprisingly atmospheric!) and a brief overview of the city help contextualize the proceedings for the game – for Samon’s architecture is very much defined by foreign influences, allowing you to dive into the (fear of) progress/xenophobia angle and the railroads that the city sports make for a great way to have players into Japanese history (or, well, history as a whole), capitalize on the fear and superstitions surrounding that invention.

 

Anyways, the PCs are summoned to a rather disgruntled lord, powerful only in station and overshadowed by the importance of both the Taizuki Rail Company and the fudōsoge training facility nearby…and, as the posters the PCs probably saw highlight, a worker’s rebellion certainly won’t help his status…To add to the heap of issues, animal trickery is on the rise, so hengeyokai, kami, etc. may also be at work. He also mentions nine arrows, perverts…and falls promptly asleep, being addicted to black smoke, leaving the PCs with a rather daunting task ahead. (It should btw. be noted that the pdf sports a nice handout of the summons!)

 

Ultimately, the PCs must investigate the proceedings in the unique city – which sports a rather cosmopolitan populace due to the demands of the heavy industry. There is an easy point-based mechanic for the Gm to track the potentially favor with the Fangs, as they go into deep cover – and here, we get the cool and diverse investigation that matters that I wanted to see in the yai sovereign.

 

Remarkable, btw.: We get a semi-isometric sideview of the rail company’s base, with the outer walls partially cut open; a really nice picture that does an excellent job at highlighting why I actually comment in a positive manner on how Mists of Akuma books employ the public domain assets in really cool ways. The module here, both regarding investigation and strategy for infiltration, are btw. really varied: there is more than one way to get into the good graces of the Fangs and infiltrate them…though PCs may well end up having to cause some havoc. Similarly, tailing suspects is covered and the pdf does cover several individuals…which may well act as foils as well as targets when the PCs start asking questions.

 

In the end, the PCs will be led to Chujiang gardens in the middle of the night – which btw. come fully mapped and here, the PCs will probably have a fight on their hand – one in a rather cool environment. EDIT: Here, I botched. I wasn’t aware of one of the gender-neutral pronouns, since my professional environment uses a different solution. Mea culpa if anyone was offended!! On the plus-side, if the PCs botched their investigations, the aftermath of combat is a perfect way to fill in as many blank spaces as you’d require.

 

Let’s recap here: The PCs may quite well be fugitives at this point, considering their deep cover; the lord’s addiction makes him useless regarding support, unrest stirs and the mysterious 9th Arrow seems to have an alliance with Harold Itrikasu…oh, and guess what, rebellion is bound to strike! The PCs need to hurry to Tazuki Rail Company, as the streets are suddenly less than safe, courtesy of the uprising…and at this point, the true stakes should be somewhat clear: Unbeknown to most, there once was a serpent hengeyokai race (hebi), particularly vile and nasty; these had been mostly purged in the Kengen occupation, courtesy to a being from the Utamara bloodline absconding with a scroll containing names and guises. Well, guess who’s back and looking for revenge? Oh, one interesting component: Hebi can become stronger – requiring just a horrible sacrificial ritual, one that may well see the last descendants of the Utamara bloodline slaughtered.

 

The finale has the PCs enter the Tazuki Rail Company’s basement for a truly complex and interesting finale, with a ton of terrain features noted…and while the disruption of the sacrifice ends the module per se, it leaves Samon in shambles…and the PCs in a unique position: They may well be the only individuals who *get* what happened…and they may well have the tools to negotiate the future of the city and unearth more – the module is a perfect set-up for a sequel and modules to come, while remaining sufficiently self-contained.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are, as a whole, pretty good. Layout adheres to the slightly cluttered 2-column full-color standard of the Mists of Akuma supplements, which cram a surprising amount of content on a given page. The artworks sport a blend of historic, public-domain works and the aesthetics of the series, making the visual style relatively consistent. Original artworks, as for example for the NPC-role-call, are somewhat more comic-like and not that great. On the other hand, there are some amazing pieces herein as well. The module comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. I would have enjoyed another battle-map style version of the map for the final battle, but the other maps are neat, particularly considering the fair price point.

 

Fangs of Revenge is superior to “The Yai Sovereign of Storms” in pretty much every way; it’s smarter, more complex and makes truly excellent use of the unique Mists of Akuma setting. The investigation and plots are grand and require a somewhat experienced GM to portray, but it is fascinating how much cool content is crammed within these pages. The book reminded me, in some way, of the Shin Megami tensei Devil Summoner games, of Vidocq through the lens of Mists of Akuma; this module highlights social tensions, racial struggles, complex intrigues and a snapshot in history, where things change, generating a sense of an evolving world where the PCs may be catalysts or motors of change. In short, this is a really nice module that is modular, interesting and sports serious potential for further expansion – it’s a module that can sell experienced players on the setting. All in all, very much worth checking out, my final verdict for this one will be 4.5 stars, with the map for the finale and the none-too-strong editing being the downsides of what may otherwise be one of the best modules Mike Myler has penned so far. Considering how enjoyable I found this module, I will round up for the purpose of this platform.

 

You can get this high-concept, high.stakes investigation here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.