Jan 312018
 

Ethermagic Expanded: The Ethershaper Base Class

The ethershaper base class clocks in at 41 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with a massive 38 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Now, in case you were wondering, this is not just a new class, it is, in a nutshell, a stand-alone expansion to ethermagic as presented in the excellent Strange Magic tome. As such, I am not going to explain the basics ethermagic once more and assume that you’re familiar with the system. In case you don’t want to dig up my review: Think pre-5e warlock-style all-day blaster with a self-replenishing mana-bar and modular spells that consist of a core-component, namely the etherheart, and manifestations, which are used to modify the etherheart.

 

Chassis-wise, the ethershaper is a full caster and receives d6 HD, 2+ Int skills per level, ½ BAB-progression, proficiency with simple weapons and light armor. Ethershapers are subject to spell failure chance in armor etc. They unlock manifestations of the maximum level (level 6) over the course of the class progression and their ether point regeneration rate increases by +1 at 3rd level and at every odd level thereafter. They get good Will-saves and a bonus feat at 6th level and every 6 levels thereafter. Ethershapers gain EP equal to twice class level + Charisma modifier and use Charisma as the governing spellcasting attribute.

 

Ethershapers get access to the Alteration, Bestow and Genesis etherhearts that we already know, but NOT to the Lesser and Greater Blast etherhearts, which is interesting from the get-go, seeing how the blasting capability is pretty much a central focus of ethermagic. Instead of that, we get a new etherheart, namely Voidshape, but before we dive into that one, let us take a look at manifestations known: The ethershaper begins play with 5 Voidshape manifestations and 2 Alteration manifestations. The first Bestow manifestation is unlocked at 4th level, the first genesis manifestation at 8th level. The ethershaper gains another Voidhsape manifestation at 3rd level and every odd level thereafter. (For a total of 14 known at 20th level.) He gets another Alteration at 2nd level and every even level thereafter, for a total of 14. Bestow manifestations are gained in 3-level-steps (total of 7 at 20th level) and the maximum number of genesis manifestations will clock in at 5 at the time the class reaches its capstone.

 

But wait! Didn’t I call this “stand-alone”? Yep. Clearly designated as such, 17 pages of the file are devoted to all the legacy ethermagic content that is of interest for the pdf and its contents. Big kudos for this! (Though, seriously, Strange Magic is damn well worth getting!)

 

Voidshape has a range of close and lacks a delivery mechanism in the traditional sense. Any sum of manifestations may be added to a Voidshape etherspell, provided they do not exceed in sum the highest manifestation level known. Shape manifestations are treated as having a manifestation level of 1 for the purpose of this, but only one shape may be added per etherspell. All manifestations that are NOT shapes have a voidshape divisor, which represents the crucial component here: For each such non-shape manifestation, you compare the subject’s initiative roll with the voidshape divisor. If the initiative can be divided by the voidshape divisor and returns a whole number, the target is affected by the manifestation. Creatures not yet added to the initiative order are treated as though they had an initiative equal to their initiative modifier. There is another limitation imposed on voidshapes: Upon casting another voidshape etherspell immediately ends ongoing voidshape manifestations with a duration greater than instantaneous. EP cost is 1 + ¼ class level, rounded down and SR applies.

 

Okay, this should make one thing clear: The class requires that initiative is known openly. While this may seem as a drawback (I prefer to track initiative as a GM), there is a doubtless plus here: This class rewards a player for doing the bookkeeping work of tracking initiative, taking pressure off the already strenuous amount of bookkeeping the GM has to maintain. I tried pretty hard to think of scenarios where GM tracking initiative scores would be crucial for plot, scenario, etc. and couldn’t come up with one, so yeah, worth giving a try! It’s also nice to have one less chore, particularly if you’re like me and like springing large groups of foes on PCs…

 

Of course, this mechanic does require at least a degree of control: Thus, the class begins play with distort reality, which lets the ethershaper treat a target as though its initiative was 1 higher or lower for the purpose of voidshape divisors. At 8th level and 16th level, the ethershaper may do this an additional time per voidshape etherspell and how he treats initiative may be chosen individually for affected target.

 

Starting at 2nd level, we get persistent shaping, which is represented by a persistence pool equal to the ethershaper’s class level + his Charisma modifier. The persistence points in this pool do not constantly regenerate and instead replenish after 8 hours of rest. When an ethershaper casts a voidshape etherspell with a manifestation that has a duration greater than instantaneous, he may expend persistence points equal to that manifestation’s manifestation level. If he does, the manifestation’s effects do not end upon casting another voidshape etherspell, instead remaining in effect for the full duration. Only one manifestation per etherspell may be affected by this ability, as a means to offset the nova-issue. As a standard action that provokes AoOs, an ethershaper may reduce his maximum EP by 1 to gain 1 persistence point and the reduction remains in effect until the persistence pool is replenished the next time.

 

Beginning at 3rd level, the ethershaper gains the pseudoshape etherheart: A single 1st level manifestation with a duration greater than instantaneous must be added to it, and its main difference beyond that from the voidshape etherheart can be found in EP Cost (which is 0) and action economy: If the ethershaper currently has no pseudoshapes in play, he may cast a pseudoshape etherspell as a swift action; otherwise, it’s a standard action. Pseudoshape manifestations with a duration greater than instantaneous do not immediately end upon the casting of a voidshape etherspell and they do not end ongoing voidshape manifestations. (Since they are another etherheart – that’s thankfully pointed out, so no ambiguity there.) At 10th level, a single shape manifestation may also be added to pseudoshape…and if the name wasn’t ample indicator for you, only voidshape manifestations may be added to a pseudoshape etherspell.

 

At 14th level, the ethershaper gains aberrant physiology: Choose fear, disease or poison: The ethershaper becomes immune to the chosen threat, but takes a -2 penalty to saves against the other two. As a capstone, the ethershaper’s pseudoshape etherspells may be modified with either 2 1st-level manifestations or one 2nd-level manifestation with a duration of greater than instantaneous, and, as per the base pseudoshape etherheart, a shape may be added as well.

 

We get pretty extensive favored class options for Interjection games’ traditional, featured array: Beyond the core races, we cover aasimar and tiefling, hobgoblin, kitsune, kobold, orc, puddling and drow. These deserve special mention, for they are actually interesting: Sure, we have e.g. aasimars gaining 1/6th of a 2nd level bestow manifestation, but the there are also effects that are really creative: Drow may, for example, 1/day for every 4 times this bonus was taken, expend 1 EP when casting voidshape etherspell to inflict 1 Con damage to all creatures affected. Dwarves gain a scaling temporary hit points buffer; elves may declare 1/day for every 3 times selected, a chosen 1st-level’s voidshape manifestation’s divisor to be 1…You get the idea. These are meaningful tweaks that actually change the playing experience. Big plus.

 

We get a total of three new feats: Active Distortion lets the ethershaper expend up to 2 EP when using distort reality; for each point spent, the initiative may be increased or decreased by a further 1. Dual Fakery lets you cast a second pseudoshape as a swift action, even though you already have one in play – note: Only if you have exactly one in play. Extra Persistence nets +4 persistence points and may be taken multiple times.

 

The class also features a new archetype, the Herald of the Self: Instead of the bonus feat gained at 12th level, these fellows begin play with forced shaping, allowing the herald of the self to add a single 1st-level voidshape manifestation to a voidshape etherspell as though it had a manifestation level of 0th. The manifestation requires a voidshape divisor that may not be “see text”; After the changes to initiative via distort reality, you roll 1d4. For this one casting, the voidshape manifestation added with this ability has the rolled number as voidshape divisor. The ability may be used ½ Cha-mod times per day (rounded down, min 1), +1/day for every 4 class levels. Instead of 6th level’s bonus feat, the herald gains remote shaping: This allows the herald to extend the range of a voidshape etherspell to Medium (100 ft., +10 ft./level), but the herald also targets himself in addition to the etherspell’s normal targets. After changing initiative with distort reality, the herald adds +1d4 to his initiative for the purpose of determining the etherspell’s voidshape divisor requirements. Only manifestations that deal hit point damage may thus affect the caster. At 12th level, the herald gets the option to expend 3 EP to increase the range of a voidshape etherspell to Long rather than Medium.

 

All right, postponed long enough, didn’t I? Well, next up would be the list of manifestations, grouped first by level, then alphabetically within the level. Handy: List notes shape, if any, as well as voidshape divisors! Sooo…what do we get? Well, there are some that you’d kinda expect: Alien Fortitude, for example, nets DR 3/- (voidshape divisor 2); we have a scaling grapple enhancer (or anti-grapple move) that deals acid damage…but things become more interesting when e.g. caltrops suddenly manifest around targets; we have temporary hit points that transform into damage if not maintained until it has elapsed…at this point, you realize something, at least if you test this class: It plays completely and utterly different than anything you have played in a d20-based system so far…and some of you may well be concerned when thinking about the fact that this is a situation of absolutes: Either you are affected by a voidshape or not. Well, there are “near miss” voidshapes – basically, they grant an effect when the target’s initiative is not divisible by the divisor, it instead gains the Near Miss-effect when noted…and these allow for some interesting tactics: There is, for example, one manifestation that nets the equivalent of being hit by alchemical acid. On a near miss, the target instead gains a globule of fleeting, unstable ether that may be thrown as such! This means, ultimately, that this particular manifestation can act as either an offense or defense tool. Making a subject take more damage of a chosen type is nice…but know what I *really* liked?

 

Buffer against (all) cataclysm. There are two of these. This fellow is the bane of all overkill damage bursts, ridiculously OP one-attack novas, etc. At level 5, EP 8, it has a serious EP-cost, but oh boy: At a voidshape divisor of 3, it lets you choose one energy, including exotics like sonic or force for the better version. That one lets you also choose 10, 20, 30 or 50. The next time the target takes MORE damage of the chosen damage type than the chosen threshold, it is instead considered to be immune against the attack. This manifestation is not only really interesting, it is balanced by the unique casting engine and its limitations and provides a really fresh and evocative way to consider regarding design. This is inspiring.

As an aside: The class notes in e.g. the shape manifestation cage full of stars that it only becomes relevant with 2nd-level manifestations, which, while evident when you experiment with the class, is really helpful for players with less system mastery – kudos for including such notes! Also pretty amazing: Make targets (divisor 3) trail fire that can collapse to cause damage to those crossing the trail! The damage wouldn’t be too impressive, were it not for the system employed here, which lets you potentially generate some rather cool scenarios. Straight damage (save for half) with added conditions (negated by save) are expected…but what about at-range bestow etherspells? Here, we’re getting into serious combo-territory and the scenes where you get to cackle with glee. Sharing base saving throws (sans modifiers) is neat…but what about evenly-divided untyped damage, near miss temporary hit points? It should also be noted that some manifestations have different effect when they are not the only manifestation applied to a voidshape etherspell. And yes, there are self-buffs…and there is ether madness. Which has no less than 5 (!!!) different effects with different energy damages and different voidshape divisors…and yes, it will burn the ethershaper and his allies…but the unleashed cacophony, if set-up correctly, will hurt foes even more… (And no, this is NOT the only such multi-Division manifestation herein! There also is a chaotic condition-disperser on this basis…)

 

While we’re at the subject of manifestations with multiple divisors: There are also manifestations, where additional effects (and divisors) are unlocked at higher levels! Not all are offense-oriented, mind you: Reverse causality, for example flips negative conditions on its head, suppressing them. (As an aside, here, a spell-reference is not italicized.) Among the shapes, we have two targets (one with a 5-ft-radius), cubes, including caster as well as more targets…you get the idea.

 

And yes, there is a death knell-alike coup de grace to finish off foes below 0 hp; there is a means of short-range alteration-sharing. Oh, and what about involuntary hyperspace, which allows for divisor 2-shuffling of targets? And yes, sizes etc. are taken into account. There are more really creative tricks here: For example, there are manifestations that make the target behave as though staggered…but if the target doesn’t, he actually becomes staggered next round! Expend an action or suffer damage next round…there are, even in otherwise vanilla “deal damage”-tricks, some truly imaginative tweaks that make them behave differently. Another manifestation makes the targets treat all spaces as through they were caltrop’d. If there actually *is* a caltrop there, it detonates! Movement debuffs…and there are set-ups: By lacing a target with ether, the next physical attack against the target can be enhanced.

 

Oh, and want this epic final-boss throwdown, where you unleash your full might, survival be damned? Unleash the cosmos. Level 6, divisor 1. Subject takes your EP damage, no save, no type. The caster expends all remaining EP. For the next minute, all manifestations targeting the subject treat their voidshape divisor as 1. (Excluding “see text” voidshape manifestations.) If you can recover from the EP-expenditure, or to begin phase two of the fight (“I…AM…NOT..:YET…DONE!!!”), this makes for a really cool effect. Oh, and what about visions of infinity? It lets you treat impassable terrain as difficult terrain, but at the cost of damage per square.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level; the rules-language is crisp and easy to grasp, in spite of the complexity of the subject matter. Layout adheres to the elegant 2-column b/w-standard of IG, with interior art being stock art and swirlies, cover art being an original by Vera Crouch. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with detailed, nested bookmarks, for full convenience.

 

Bradley Crouch’s ethershaper, commissioned by Richard Perez via the Interjection games patreon, is a class that first had me scratch my head. Usually, I have a pretty good idea if something works or not right after I’ve read it. Here, I honestly had no clue. Only when I started tearing into the math, building ethershapers and devising strategies did the whole, mad genius of the class really click into place. And I was still somewhat concerned…though, with every in-depth look, that concern evaporated more and more.

 

Yes, the system is unusual and complex and may not be suitable for inexperienced players. Yes, the fact that the GM has to leave initiative tracking to the ethershaper may rub some the wrong way.

 

Give this a shot.

 

I’m serious.

 

A lesser designer probably would have devised the divisor system and called it quits then and there, devised some appropriate effects and moved on. Here, we get something radically and creatively different that is mind-bogglingly creative, even for Bradley Crouch’s oeuvre of classes. You see, the class is not just unique because of its divisor-system.

 

The actual effects of the voidshape manifestations make incredibly clever use of both the ethermagic base-engine and the voidshapes. Instead of just providing standard effects, we get a whole array of unique twists and turns for damage-delivery, buffing and debuffing, terrain-control, etc. In short: The book’s manifestations ooze with tricks that literally NO OTHER CLASS OUT THERE can do. There is not one of these fellows in the book, there are a TON of ideas and tricks that do radically different and creative things. Don’t get me wrong: This is not about being different for the sake of being different. Quite the contrary.

 

Instead, the class uses the limitations and unique delivery of voidshapes to full effect, creating effects that would not work with another engine, or at least would be exceedingly hard to balance. The innovation in the details blends with the unique system and creates something that manages to exceed the sum of its impressive parts.

 

Oh, and guess what? In the hands of the right player, the ethershaper is pure gold. What do I mean by this?

Well, are you a mastermind, a strategist?

Do you enjoy picturing yourself as a chessmaster, as you and your buddies vanquish hordes of monsters?

This is the class for you.

The ethershaper thrives and prospers in the hands of smart tacticians that know how to coordinate not only their own contributions, but that also help their friends. Similarly, if your group enjoys these moments when the tactics of the PCs click together like a well-oiled machine, the “gotcha!-moments”…well, this guy is your class. If you’re looking for a simple blaster, in case you haven’t noticed, well this guy is not that. It’s also not a class that you learn once and then rinse and repeat your same old tricks, forcing, by its very system, that you remain engaged and engrossed…and at the same time, it makes that fun. It rewards you for actually thinking, round after round after round. But if you like strategy, combos, tactics and unique playing experiences? Get it!

 

Or, well, perhaps you’re a bit like me and have read a metric ton of classes. While I am primarily a GM and thus play a ton of different things, I know that some players crave difference; crave the experience of playing something thoroughly fresh, something that not only differentiates itself from the vancian spellcasting, but also features effects that make their allies go: “That is possible???” Preferably while not going stale after 3 combats. I have read a HUGE amount of classes for various d20-based systems. A ton of PrCs and archetypes. More feats and spells than I care to ever try to count. Guess what: I have never seen anything like this.

 

The ethershaper’s engine is unique and innovative. Its options are unique and innovative. It plays in a unique and innovative manner. No matter how blasé you may usually be about a new class, I guarantee that you have never read anything like it. This class is suffused, drips, with pure imagination, with creative energy and, dare I say, brilliance. It is strange, different and fresh…and living proof that, even after so many years with d20-based mechanics, the system’s options are not nearly exhausted. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars, + seal of approval. Oh, and unsurprisingly, this is a candidate for my Top Ten of 2017.

 

You can get this unique, amazing class here on OBS!

 

Missed Strange Magic or just want more ethermagic goodness? You can Strange Magic here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jan 312018
 

The Manor #1 (OSR)

The first of the OSR-zines of the Manor-series clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 19 pages of content, laid out for digest size (6’# by 9’’/A5), meaning that you can fit up to 4 of these pages on a sheet of paper when printing them out.

 

The material herein assumes a silver standard and assumes a generic OSR-system, claiming no explicit compatibility with one of them. Presentation-wise, we get ascending AC, no differentiation between melee damage-types. Slightly odd: While certain terrain features note the type of save required to resist a given effect, creature statblocks don’t note this. That being said, it is quite obvious what kind of save to apply, making this aspect of the booklet a mostly cosmetic complaint. HP and HD are both mentioned.

 

As for the supplemental material, there is a brief poetry slam-style poem about umberhulks (fans of Beat-literature will get a chuckle out of it!) accompanied by a nice b/w-artwork in a comic-like style. Jason Sholtis, as a guest-author, provides a d12 table of things that may be found in a troglodyte’s dung heap. The table contains classics with nice flourishes – like “A ring of protection. Finger included.” This is also a nice way to note the formatting peculiarity here, namely that magic items are not italicized. The one character herein that does have a spell-book is designated as a magic-user, in proper old-school manner, but does not get a premade spell-list.

 

Now, as you can probably glean from the cover-image, this is a little e-zine very much in the tradition of the classic old-school DIY-zines and it embraces this aesthetic in both presentation and design. We get a surprisingly nice side-view map for the short micro-adventure here, and while I would have loved to see a key-less version, for the low price-point, I was pleasantly surprised. That being said, the map has no scale noted – we assume mind’s eye theatre here.

 

The manor is intended for mature audiences, but apart from a slightly raunchy pun, there is nothing I’d consider to be problematic for kids in this magazine. Presentation of locales and encounters first depicts what is readily apparent, then elaborates/notes the truth behind a scene in shaded text. Minimalist and elegant.

 

All right, so, the lion’s share of the content herein is devoted to material for GMs; to be more precise, we get a brief sidetrek-adventure, a creepy locale/adventure-setup and a particular vendor. Since this review will proceed to discuss these, I hereby urge players to jump ahead to the conclusion of my review. From here on out, the SPOILERS reign.

..

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All right, so let’s start with the micro-adventure: We don’t get read-aloud text for it, and the premise is simple: Paco and his family are working a salt pit; relatively unbothered by the authorities, with the exception of the due taxes. Now, Paco has an issue: Something has taken up residence in the mine, and, bingo, he’d like the PCs to clear out the threat. While he can warn the PCs of e.g. the long ladder being pretty rickety, he doesn’t know what’s down there. Indeed, the exploration of the salt pit, in spite of a lack of constant threats, or perhaps because of it, is a rather compelling affair: The little complex is pretty vertical, sports nice little dressings and details (horseshoes above a salt-rich tunnel, for example), and the use of terrain also deserves being mentioned: The threat slowly builds up to the inevitable confrontation with the troglodyte, made challenging and potentially deadly by the environment. Surprisingly well-made mini-adventure.

 

The adventure-sketch I mentioned has higher stakes and is grounded in a bit of real-world myth-weaving, but can easily be adjusted to instead pertain to a fantasy world: The ghoul house in rural Pennsylvania, where a nasty man named Mandris Hollen used his black arts to ascend to lichdom: He planted trees to channel ley lines, used them for his good…and the transients that came through, courtesy of the great depression, dug, unwittingly, not only holes for the trees, but also their own graves, awaiting his awakening as an army of ghouls beneath the surface. Really cool set-up, made creepier by b/w-photography of the creepy place and its surroundings. Reminded me in a good way of how the German CoC-supplements generate atmosphere.

 

The third major section of the book provides a total of 20 encounters while traveling. It is here, that the old-school Greyhawk-ish feeling suffuses the pdf the most: We can find greedy tax collectors traveling under the guise of a false identity; “Blacken[sic!] carcasses of large spiders”, ruined huts, an axebeak (the header for this encounter is the one slightly raunchy pun – “One Big Pecker”), a Halfling transformed into an orc (henchman material!), a sentient door in the middle of nowhere that can lead to some other place (a concept I myself am using – in my game, there is the Desolation of Doors, a pocket-plane-hub, where dreams are the currency to unlock new doors, but that as an aside…), gold diggers in a creek bed, a half-buried chest smeared with mandragora seeds and green sap…and there would be a lady who offers to cook for the PCs on a PWYW-basis. Oh, here’s the thing: She’s actually NOT a witch. Or hag. Or polymorphed monster. Just a friendly lady who loves cooking. I enjoyed these roadside encounters. They feel classic and provide a nice blend of combat and roleplaying, of the mundane and weird, of the threatening and benign.

 

Finally, we take a look at a Street Vendor, represented by a b/w-artwork, namely one Oren. Oren is a cobbler haunted by a dark past: At one point, he killed a woman in a fit of rage and was sentenced. While he managed to break out of prison, the life of an outlaw seemed to be his fate, until he met Laura, who not only became his wife, she also mellowed out Oren. His fits of anxiety and paranoia only rarely resurface, and he knows his trade. His business associate, Gerald the hunter, is also rather capable and loyal. 3 cool adventure hooks center around this constellation: One that sees the PCs hunting bugbears for Oren; one that has the (justifiably?) paranoid Oren caught by the PCs as he’s trying to hide a knocked out (or killed) watchman and one that centers on Gerald, who ostensibly slew a rare albino deer of the local lord – which brings legit bounty hunters right to Oren’s doorstep…

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are pretty good, if not perfect. I noticed a few glitches, but nothing glaring. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly one-column b/w-standard. The artworks and photographs in the pdf are really nice, particularly for the price-point, and sport the classic look the zine is going for. The electronic version does not sport any bookmarks, which represents and unnecessary comfort-detriment.

 

The first issue of Manor by Tim Shorts (shout out to Tenkar; found out about this e-zine there!) is something I frankly enjoyed more than I thought I would. It’s pretty difficult to get the classic, non-weird old-school vibe done right; there is a very thin line between being classic and being just redundant and boring. The mini-adventure’s racking up the tension, the diverse encounter and nice NPC-centric hook-set-ups all manage to evoke this sense of care, of passion, of the right aesthetics. The small details, the small hooks, are ultimately what makes this e-zine work. Now, I would have loved to see a player-friendly version of the sketch-like map, preferably with scale. Similarly, editing could be a bit tighter…but for the low and fair asking price, this humble installment most certainly delivered more than I expected. This is very much worth getting if you like old-school design-aesthetics. Fans of the weird will probably be less satisfied, but there are some nice angles here as well. Ultimately, my final verdict will hence clock in at 4 stars.

 

You can get this nice, inexpensive e-zine here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jan 312018
 

Hybrid Class: Persecutor

This hybrid class clocks in at 14 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages fo SRD, leaving us with 10 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

The persecutor is a hybrid of alchemist and ranger and gets d8 HD, 6 + Int skills per level, ¾ BAB-progression, good Fort- and Ref-saves, proficiency with simple and martial weapons, light and medium armor, as well as shields, excluding tower shields. The persecutor gains basically the alchemist’s alchemy ability, gaining access to extracts of up to 6th level, which is governed by Intelligence.

 

A persecutor begins play with darkvision 60 ft. (or +30 ft., if he already has darkvision), and adds his Intelligence bonus as an insight bonus to Will-saves versus spells and SPs from the illusion school. A persecutor also gains mutagen, and may select Extra Discovery as though he had the discovery class feature, but only for the purpose of selecting discoveries that augment mutagen or extracts. The persecutor also begins play with Track, gaining +1/2 class level to Survival checks made to follow tracks.

 

Instead of bombs, the persecutor gains the supernatural Signs ability. Making a sign requires one free hand and does not provoke AoOs. A persecutor may use signs class level + Intelligence modifier times per day. A sign generates a 15 ft.-cone that inflicts 1d4 fire damage “per 2 persecutor levels” – which isn’t per se correct. The wording here is slightly wonky, for signs inflict damage at 1st level and increase this at 3rd level by +1d4, plus another 1d4 at 5th level and every odd level thereafter. Alternatively, the persecutor may shape the sign as a 20 ft.-line “as a non-action” – that isn’t really how this is phrased in PFRPG, but it conveys the meaning, at least. The Reflex save to halve sign damage is 10 +1/2 class level + Int-mod.

 

Starting at 2nd level, the persecutor treats his class level as his BAB for the purpose of qualifying for feats. Additionally, the class gets a so-called discipline at this level, with another one gained at every even level thereafter. These disciplines basically cover what you’d expect from discovery-bomb modification: Acid, bludgeoning, piercing, slashing or cold damage, bane (sporting an (i)-relic in a botched italicization), changing damage at 10th level optionally to sonic or force…It’s a bit weird that force is considered to be as potent as sonic here, but that is really design-aesthetics. Combat feats gained by mutagens, poison use and resistance, quarry at 12th level and quicker weapons witching can be found.

 

Ranger combat style feats may also be gained this way, and no, you can’t select more and you can’t cheese the level-prerequisites. The explosive bolt discipline, unlocked at 4th level for the taking, is potentially brutal: You can add a sign to a bullet/bolt/arrow – if you hit the target, the sign triggers, sans save. There are a couple of issues here. 1) Do you have control of the direction of the sign effect? 2) When the missile misses, the sign does not trigger, so can the infused ammo be collected again? 3) On a miss, does that expend a sign use? 4) Does the infusion of a sign have a duration? I *assume* no, but RAW, you could infuse a ton of arrows and stockpile them. There is another issue: The firing of the infused bullet does include loading e.g. a firearm, which can be a bit messy. Favored terrain is also a discipline… There is also one discipline that nets you a pool of free action healing while under the effects of a mutagen. You may have noticed that, but the internal balance of these is not necessarily perfect – there are some significantly more potent options.

 

3rd level nets Endurance and swift alchemy. At 4th level, the persecutor gains a special medallion, which nets constant detect magic as well as +3 to initiative, which increases by a further +1 at 8th, 12th and 18th level. This medallion occupies the neck slot. 7th level nets woodland stride, 8th level swift tracker and 9th level evasion. 12th level lets the persecutor apply his Intelligence modifier to Will-saves versus all spells and SPs…which generates a bit of a weird situation: At 1st level, it’s the *BONUS* that applies to saves versus illusions; here, it’s the *MODIFIER* – there is an important difference here: A modifier may be negative. 15th level nets persistent mutagen, 16th level improved evasion and 20th level provides constant arcane sight and echolocation plus 2 disciplines.

 

There are 3 feats included: +1 discipline, +2 signs uses and 1/day tongues as an SP, +1/day per 2 class levels. We get a MASSIVE favored class option-list for several of the Porphyran races and while there is some overlap between them, as a whole, they are decent.

 

The pdf comes with a cool bonus-pdf that contains a new monster penned by Mark Gedak and Perry Fehr, the CR 4 emissary of the starfallen, a distorted, Large replica of a wasp, suffused with electricity. The critter is really cool!

 

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are okay: There are a couple of obvious formatting glitches that imho should have been caught. On a rules-language level, we have a couple of issues, though, for the most part, no game-breakers. Internal balancing could be a bit tighter. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games’ 1-column standard with purple highlights. The artworks on the covers of the regular and bonus pdf both are nice. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

So, in case alchemy and signs weren’t an indication, let me spell it out for you: This fellow basically is a The Witcher-class sans bombs; Aaron Hollingsworth’s persecutor thus takes one of my favorite concepts, bar none, and makes it a class…that unfortunately falls short of what it could have easily been. Instead of making the signs an interesting, additional tool in the character’s arsenal, it just is a tweak of bombs; the balance of sign and ranger-based options is a bit strange, the distinct options fall short of generating truly distinct playing experience.

 

And, you know, this could have been so much cooler: Picture this: Bombs added, distinct signs added and a talent-based, unique self-buffing engine; now, make all these resources tied to toxicity, analogue to the witcher games: You could generate a truly unique and captivating engine that plays radically different than the parent classes. As written, the persecutor doesn’t really manage to really differentiate itself sufficiently from its parents. The class, while flawed, remains functional, though; the bonus critter is nice and if you have less demanding standards than I do for classes, then this guy may provide some fun for you. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3 stars.

 

You can get this hybrid class here on OBS!

Endzeitgeist out.

 

 

Jan 302018
 

A25: Flute of the Four Winds

All righty, this adventure for levels 4 – 5 clocks in at 52 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 47 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

All right, so this is an installment of AAW Games’ A-series of adventures, which means that they are set in the world of Aventyr. It also means that they are pretty much canon and thus, they usually are penned by the most seasoned veteran writers of the AAW Games crew. The series as a whole is very evocative and interesting, so let’s see if this module holds up!

 

As you know, this is an adventure review. As such, from here on out, there will be a ton of SPOILERS. Players who wish to play this module should skip ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, the seasons and control of the weather has been a theme of sorts for the A-series, which makes sense, considering the shamanistic leanings of the unique Vikmordere-culture; the seasons are incredibly important and, in fact, the weather also plays an important part here. We once more visit the frontier village of Rybalka, outpost of the mighty Klavekian empire in the Vikmordere valley. It is this outpost that is once more ravaged by the brunt of the elements and worse, as a tragedy that has turned into history bears fruit.

 

The local Vikmordere tribe, the Snoqua, know of a mighty tree, imbued with the primal, elemental forces of the seasons; during the Klavekian incursion, the council of druids, elders, etc. decided that they would need to do something about the mighty magical tree. The invaders showed no care for custom or lands as their mining operations cut swaths into the majestic forests – thus, a plan was devised, one that would lead to the creation of the eponymous Flute of the Four Winds – a branch of the tree, one that, by law of sympathetic magic, would carry its power. The magic power removed, the invaders never grasped the significance of the once sacred site.

 

Unfortunately for the Vikmordere group designated as guardians of the mighty relic, the Klavekian soldiers littered the landscape, forcing them to take shelter in a cave system…one that was inhabited by lizards with a strange hive-mind. Beset on two fronts, the shaman and wife of the flute’s guardians, Shertayli, fell in battle. This tragedy tainted the mind of the leader of the guardians of the flute, on Manahzo, who beseeched the council to allow him vengeance against the invading forces. Being denied, he and his disgruntled band of Snoqua Vikmordere left tribe and area behind, to wander into the mists of legend and time.

 

As is wont to be the case in such cases, alas, the wrath of Manahzo and his band of renegades was not quenched by the years and instead festered – it is this wrath that is unleashed upon Rybalka as the PCs are enjoying a beverage in the Thirsty Serpent tavern while Mayor Igor Leonid is tipsily singing a Klavekian folk song: Rogue Snoqua and their animals may attack under the cover of a massive storm; if the mayor is in dire straits, a mighty totem golem may animate to defend the village, adding to the mystical themes that suffuse the module. (It should be noted that the module contains copious amounts of read-aloud text, which helps portray the proper atmosphere.)

 

After the attack, the somber task of assessing damage is up next: The PCs are part of the emergency meeting, where sage Yuri Statel plants the seed of dissent: He suggests vengeance against the Snoqua tribe, a people that already have a tenuous peace with the mostly Klavekian denizens of Rybalka – in fact, the extremely smart man may have planted suggestions (not italicized in the text) prior to the meeting, so yeah, it won’t be simple to dissuade the Rybalkans from the course of retribution, at least not sans proof. Thankfully, it falls to the PCs to undertake the scouting assignment – and after the meeting, Sulwotik, a former Vikmordere, contacts the PCs to fill them in on the very likely innocence of the Snoqua. In fact, perceptive PCs may have noted that it was he that controlled the mighty totem golems. He also fills the PCs in regarding the flute of the four winds as well as Manahzo’s exile – this section is particularly important when not playing this with players already familiar with Rybalka and thus maintains a broader appeal.

 

The next task for the PCs would then be to walk into the wilderness (random encounter table included) and find the Snoqua tribe; curiously, beyond the dangers of the wilderness, there is a significant likelihood that Statel will be crying them, adding a layer of potential paranoia to the proceedings that are pretty much guaranteed to be tense when the PCs are surrounded by the Snoqua’s warriors. Thankfully, Sulwotik’s name carries weight with the tribe, and thus the PCs get to participate in a mystical ceremony; in the aftermath, the location of Manahzo is revealed – he is actually on a high ridge atop Rybalka itself! Here is the problem: In order to reach the ridge, the PCs will have to brave the notorious Dark Wood, a place where infernal powers have corrupted the natural order of things. It is here that the PCs will be attacked by Arakel, the demonic wolf and her pack, ally to Manahzo and his Dark spirit. When the wolves have been vanquished, the PCs will see the massive storm resuming – and as the PCs venture nearer, the mighty Vikmordere prepares his last stand…and as the PCs are obviously to formidable a match for him, he jumps to his death.

 

This ends the module, right? Wrong. This is basically act one. Rybalka resumes a state of vigilant calm in the aftermath of Manahzo’s death, and while the local populace treats them well, Statel is not so easily deceived and, as an agent of the Klavekian crown, suspects complicity. The flute broke in the fall, becoming mundane and bereft of magic, so, as far as all are concerned, this seems to be the end of Manhzo’s misguided revenge. That is, until 3 days pass. Suddenly, non-Vikmordere people of Rybalka are targeted by a rather deadly phenomenon: They hear the sound of a flute playing, right before being buffeted by air geysers or even struck by lightning! It’s not over yet, and thus, Sulwotik counsels that the PCs once more travel to the Snoqua to deal with the issue….hopefully in a diplomatic manner, for they were expected to return the flute, now broken.

 

The Vikmordere have an idea on how to put the horrific haunt that is threatening to annihilate Rybalka to rest: They know that Manhzo was never able to reclaim the body of his lost love Shertayli. Thus, the PCs will have to travel to the gloomy coal mine (which belongs to the guy Yuri manipulated in the meeting, just fyi) where she has met her fate. The mine is a pretty amazing dungeon: For one, it is extensively mapped: A vertical mineshaft, with the tracks descending in a spiral pattern, for example, features a full-blown and proper side-view map. A total of 5 full-color maps are provided for the mine, including grid-less versions and ones with grid, for full player-friendly action. The maps are also very detailed, sporting spider-webs, tracks, etc. – depending on your own drawing skills, the cartography alone may be worth the price of admission here!

 

Things become even coaler…her…cooler here, though: There is a vast amount of coal dust in the air, which makes the proposition of handling fire pretty dangerous. A handy table lists the percentile chance to ignite a 10-ft.-cube at the source of flame, as well as at longer ranges. I LOVE dungeons that sport such unique, global mechanics and the table and principle is one that is convenient and easy to both scavenge and adapt to your needs. The workers in the upper reaches of the mine are not exactly friendly folks, but they can also warn the PCs of the spider infestation in the lower reaches, where “The Dark Lady” awaits, a giant black widow. There is danger beyond her lurking in the depths, though: An agent of Yuri has prepared an ambush and may require that the PCs deal with him…oh, and the guy is no saint: A murder victim of his may be found, the spirit of the dead miner put to rest, provided the PCs care enough.

 

Ultimately, the PCs will have to venture into abandoned sections of the mine, where the PCs can find wondrous “flowers” – really anglers, weird, subterranean predators. Oh, and the tunnel horrors and their queen await beyond a mushroom garden, making for a nice boss battle. Securing Shertayli’s remains, the PCs may return to the Vikmordere, have them consecrated, and thus end Manahzo’s thirst for revenge. Yuri, meanwhile, bides his time – he’s not one to argue with results, and as long as the PCs seem to be interested in keeping Rybalka safe and under Klavekian rule, he will spare them further machinations…at least for now.

 

It should be noted that the massive combat stat appendix not only covers the creatures, but also random encounter stats, etc.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no issues worth complaining too loudly about. Layout adheres to AAW Games’ aesthetically-pleasing two-column full-color standard. The interior artworks are high-quality full-color pieces, with only a few that I’ve seen before. The full-color cartography by Michael Allen is amazing in its detail; the fact that we get not one, but two arrays of player-friendly maps is a HUGE boon for guys like me, who can’t draw. In this case, the fact that the maps are this detailed for regions in the mine where no combat is expected also means that it’s very easy to create tension as the PCs explore the place…and if you’re like me, you’ll probably plan a follow-up return to the complex.

 

Only few authors get to play in AAW Games’ A-series, particularly in the Rybalka region,and for good reason: The main draw of the series is the ability to evoke an incredibly concise and flavorful atmosphere unlike any you get from other publishers. There is a distinct complex of themes that constitutes Rybalkan adventures, one that is hard to pin down, as it happens almost imperceptibly. There is a touch of the wonder of fairy tales, of frontier’s spirit in these modules; there is a sense of wonder that is hard to describe, harder to capture. This is distinctly fantasy, sure – but it feels different from other adventures; it sports distinct themes.

It is impressive that Maksim Kotelnikov (with additional content by Michael Smith) has managed to capture the essence of what makes AAW Games’ A-series stand apart. From a structural point of view, the emphasis on the clash of cultures is a great backdrop; the subtle intrigues are smart, and I particularly enjoyed how it bucks the clichéd structure of a revenge-plot and makes it about closure, about how it deviates from the “slay guy, done”-paradigm. This conscious deviation from expected structures also pertains the encounter-design in the mine – just because you would *expect* an encounter in an area that is truly remarkable doesn’t mean that there has to be one. You may not notice it consciously, but unconsciously, playing experience does carry with it such expectations – and when these are not met, it enhances the feeling of encountering something fresh.

 

What could have been one-dimensional instead feels like a compassionate tale. Additionally, unlike many module or supplement centered around a clash of cultures, neither the Klavekians, nor the Vikmordere are truly bad guys – they are just different cultures, with both good and bad people. As a whole, this creates an atmosphere that is enjoyable to read and that leaves the reader with a satisfied, warm feeling. So yeah, I did enjoy this module, much more than I imagined I would, considering that this is, to my knowledge, Maksim Kotelnikov’s first published module.

 

This is not a world-shaker of a module and it doesn’t e.g. sport the brilliance of Jonathan Nelson’s A24, but it is a damn fine adventure, particularly for veterans of the game. It also acts as a nice alternate means of introducing the power-dynamics of Rybalka and the Vikmordere, if your players have left the first couple of levels behind already, as this establishes the key themes and leitmotifs of the series rather well. So yeah, all in all, this is a thoroughly enjoyable adventure and an impressive beast, particularly for a newcomer. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars, with my seal of approval added for being a freshman offering.

 

You can get this atmospheric, flavorful module here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jan 302018
 

Village Backdrop: Quey’s Glade

This installment of the Village Backdrops-series clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Quey’s Glade is an idyllic village, situated in the deep woods. Mighty trees contain lookouts, and as befitting of such a place, there is a garden, curated by druids, where rare plants may be found. The mighty oak Bastionbark rises in the vicinity, and indeed, creatures of fey origin, like pixies, treants and nymphs are among the inhabitants of this wondrous place. And yes, there is a really nice isometric artwork of the village to complement the neat map.

 

As always, the dressing habits of villagers and notes on village lore can be found for PCs of a more scholarly bent; for PCs seeking to socialize, there are 6 different whispers and rumors to encounter. It should also be noted that we get a fully fleshed out market-place section, and, suffice to say, a proper settlement statblock for this strange place.

 

What’s strange about Quey’s Glade? Well, it’s a haven of sorts. Enchanted by powerful magicians of the fearie, the settlement seems to actually be mobile; at least that would be one explanation. You see, when you’re hunted by monsters through the forest, when intense, negative emotions coalesce, then you may well find yourself transported to the haven that is Quey’s Glade. Here, folks age as they wish, time flows strangely and the magics of the First World suffuse the land…but there is a downside to the potent forces that enchant this place (responsible for the danger rating of 20…): The negative emotions that trigger the magics of the transportations have also attracted quite a few potent and deadly creatures , making the surrounding woods anything but safe. And yes, Quey’s Glade indeed does wander…allowing for the relatively painless transition from region to region and use as a hub.

 

There is another aspect to this sanctuary: As progress marches on and fell entities are deprived of their prey, the places where Quey’s Glade may draw upon are slowly diminished, one by one. Then again, this place in wondrous in the best of ways: Have I mentioned the awakened porcupine fighter?

 

As far as law and order are provided, fey, being more dangerous, have their own part of the settlement, feyhome, and industry-wise, the druidic savoir-faire of the place is responsible for e.g. trade with rare plants and similar goods. Since the village is particularly partial to saving escaping kids, there is plenty of adventuring potential inherent in the place, with unintentional “kidnapping”; as a hub where time and space mean less and as a bridge with the realms of the fey, this furthermore sports quite an array of excellent adventure possibilities. If you do need to jumpstart the adventure aspects, you can, as always, rely on the 6 events provided for your convenience.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant and printer-friendly 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with an amazing map by Maciey Zagorski. The artwork, also in parts by Mr. Zagorski, as well as William McAusland, similarly is really neat and evocative. As always, we get two different versions – one optimized for the printer, one optimized for screen-use – kudos!

 

Mike Welham is an insanely talented writer; beyond his ability to write neat crunchy components, he is also capable of creating truly intriguing locales, characters, etc. Even better, he is not easily categorized: Each of his pdfs sports a distinct and unique identity, making him one of the most versatile designers I know – which is particularly interesting, considering that he manages to excel at almost every aspect he attempts. His designs also tend to be rather unique, which is a particularly prevalent notion here.

 

Frankly, my first response was “Why hasn’t this been done before?” The trope of the magical village that “saves” the kids from the horrible fate they were destined to meet…it’s a classic trope, and one that was executed with panache aplomb here. The presence of the quirky characters adds a fresh sense of the magical as well. (And can provide a superb angle to Oleander’s Sanctuary, penned by yours truly, but that as an aside.)

 

While this is amazing for all systems, in particularly for rules-dense pathfinder, this also sports an additional, really cool role: Know how the passage of time is subjective here? Well, this is a GREAT way to justify e.g. higher-level characters using Everyman Gaming’s Childhood Adventures-rules…or, you know, a way to make kid-characters, whose players have outgrown them, catch up with their real-life players, become adults – all without requiring that the GM retool impending dooms, invasions or similar, time-relevant components. In short, this can literally be a linchpin to hang a truly transformative event upon!

 

Even in the ridiculously amazing Village Backdrop-series, this is an outstanding offering. My final verdict will be 5 stars + seal of approval, given sans hesitation.

 

You can get this amazing pdf here on OBS!

 

You can directly support Raging Swan Press here on patreon!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jan 302018
 

Village Backdrop: Quey’s Glade (system neutral)

This installment of the Village Backdrops-series clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Quey’s Glade is an idyllic village, situated in the deep woods. Mighty trees contain lookouts, and as befitting of such a place, there is a garden, curated by druids, where rare plants may be found. The mighty oak Bastionbark rises in the vicinity, and indeed, creatures of fey origin, like pixies, treants and nymphs are among the inhabitants of this wondrous place. And yes, there is a really nice isometric artwork of the village to complement the neat map.

 

As always, the dressing habits of villagers and notes on village lore can be found for PCs of a more scholarly bent; for PCs seeking to socialize, there are 6 different whispers and rumors to encounter. It should also be noted that we get a fully fleshed out market-place section, properly adjusted to OSR-style systems.

 

What’s strange about Quey’s Glade? Well, it’s a haven of sorts. Enchanted by powerful magicians of the fearie, the settlement seems to actually be mobile; at least that would be one explanation. You see, when you’re hunted by monsters through the forest, when intense, negative emotions coalesce, then you may well find yourself transported to the haven that is Quey’s Glade. Here, folks age as they wish, time flows strangely and the magics of the First World suffuse the land…but there is a downside to the potent forces that enchant this place (responsible for the danger rating of 20…): The negative emotions that trigger the magics of the transportations have also attracted quite a few potent and deadly creatures , making the surrounding woods anything but safe. And yes, Quey’s Glade indeed does wander…allowing for the relatively painless transition from region to region and use as a hub.

 

There is another aspect to this sanctuary: As progress marches on and fell entities are deprived of their prey, the places where Quey’s Glade may draw upon are slowly diminished, one by one. Then again, this place in wondrous in the best of ways: Have I mentioned the sentient porcupine fighter? Nice plus for fans of older games: Rogue has been properly adjusted to instead pertain to the thief class, etc. – nomenclature is concise.

 

As far as law and order are provided, fey, being more dangerous, have their own part of the settlement, feyhome, and industry-wise, the druidic savoir-faire of the place is responsible for e.g. trade with rare plants and similar goods. Since the village is particularly partial to saving escaping kids, there is plenty of adventuring potential inherent in the place, with unintentional “kidnapping”; as a hub where time and space mean less and as a bridge with the realms of the fey, this furthermore sports quite an array of excellent adventure possibilities. If you do need to jumpstart the adventure aspects, you can, as always, rely on the 6 events provided for your convenience.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant and printer-friendly 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with an amazing map by Maciey Zagorski. The artwork, also in parts by Mr. Zagorski, as well as William McAusland, similarly is really neat and evocative. As always, we get two different versions – one optimized for the printer, one optimized for screen-use – kudos!

 

Mike Welham is an insanely talented writer; beyond his ability to write neat crunchy components, he is also capable of creating truly intriguing locales, characters, etc. Even better, he is not easily categorized: Each of his pdfs sports a distinct and unique identity, making him one of the most versatile designers I know – which is particularly interesting, considering that he manages to excel at almost every aspect he attempts. His designs also tend to be rather unique, which is a particularly prevalent notion here.

 

Frankly, my first response was “Why hasn’t this been done before?” The trope of the magical village that “saves” the kids from the horrible fate they were destined to meet…it’s a classic trope, and one that was executed with panache aplomb here. The presence of the quirky characters adds a fresh sense of the magical as well. (And can provide a superb angle to Oleander’s Sanctuary, penned by yours truly, but that as an aside.)

 

While the system neutral version obviously lacks the massive rules-synergy that e.g. Pathfinder offers, it does have its appeal – namely, that it taps into the OSR’s tradition of weird geographies, of strange places, and acts as a relatively low-impact hub to connect all manner of strange places.

 

Even in the ridiculously amazing Village Backdrop-series, this is an outstanding offering, one that loses nothing in its system-neutral version. My final verdict will be 5 stars + seal of approval, given sans hesitation.

 

You can get this cool village here on OBS!

 

You can directly support Raging Swan Press here on patreon!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jan 302018
 

Village Backdrop: Quey’s Glade (5e)

This installment of the Village Backdrops-series clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Quey’s Glade is an idyllic village, situated in the deep woods. Mighty trees contain lookouts, and as befitting of such a place, there is a garden, curated by druids, where rare plants may be found. The mighty oak Bastionbark rises in the vicinity, and indeed, creatures of fey origin, like pixies, treants and nymphs are among the inhabitants of this wondrous place. And yes, there is a really nice isometric artwork of the village to complement the neat map.

 

As always, the dressing habits of villagers and notes on village lore can be found for PCs of a more scholarly bent; for PCs seeking to socialize, there are 6 different whispers and rumors to encounter. It should also be noted that we get a fully fleshed out market-place section, one that has been properly adjusted to 5e’s rules and aesthetics.

 

What’s strange about Quey’s Glade? Well, it’s a haven of sorts. Enchanted by powerful magicians of the fearie, the settlement seems to actually be mobile; at least that would be one explanation. You see, when you’re hunted by monsters through the forest, when intense, negative emotions coalesce, then you may well find yourself transported to the haven that is Quey’s Glade. Here, folks age as they wish, time flows strangely and the magics of the First World suffuse the land…but there is a downside to the potent forces that enchant this place (responsible for the danger rating of 20…): The negative emotions that trigger the magics of the transportations have also attracted quite a few potent and deadly creatures , making the surrounding woods anything but safe. And yes, Quey’s Glade indeed does wander…allowing for the relatively painless transition from region to region and use as a hub.

 

There is another aspect to this sanctuary: As progress marches on and fell entities are deprived of their prey, the places where Quey’s Glade may draw upon are slowly diminished, one by one. Then again, this place in wondrous in the best of ways: Have I mentioned the awakened porcupine fighter? And yes, the NPCs noted herein mention the 5e-NPC stats upon which they are based.

 

As far as law and order are provided, fey, being more dangerous, have their own part of the settlement, feyhome, and industry-wise, the druidic savoir-faire of the place is responsible for e.g. trade with rare plants and similar goods. Since the village is particularly partial to saving escaping kids, there is plenty of adventuring potential inherent in the place, with unintentional “kidnapping”; as a hub where time and space mean less and as a bridge with the realms of the fey, this furthermore sports quite an array of excellent adventure possibilities. If you do need to jumpstart the adventure aspects, you can, as always, rely on the 6 events provided for your convenience.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant and printer-friendly 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with an amazing map by Maciey Zagorski. The artwork, also in parts by Mr. Zagorski, as well as William McAusland, similarly is really neat and evocative. As always, we get two different versions – one optimized for the printer, one optimized for screen-use – kudos!

 

Mike Welham is an insanely talented writer; beyond his ability to write neat crunchy components, he is also capable of creating truly intriguing locales, characters, etc. Even better, he is not easily categorized: Each of his pdfs sports a distinct and unique identity, making him one of the most versatile designers I know – which is particularly interesting, considering that he manages to excel at almost every aspect he attempts. His designs also tend to be rather unique, which is a particularly prevalent notion here.

 

Frankly, my first response was “Why hasn’t this been done before?” The trope of the magical village that “saves” the kids from the horrible fate they were destined to meet…it’s a classic trope, and one that was executed with panache aplomb here. The presence of the quirky characters adds a fresh sense of the magical as well. (And can provide a superb angle to Oleander’s Sanctuary, penned by yours truly, but that as an aside.)

 

The 5e-version of this settlement is very intriguing, in that it manages to retain the wonder associated with the other versions; while the book does not have the same sort of rules-synergy of PFRPG or the same wealth of strange laces to connect as the system neutral iteration, this one does have different, intriguing synergy effects, namely the connection with e.g. the intriguing 5e-fey-themed adventures out there.

 

Even in the ridiculously amazing Village Backdrop-series, this is an outstanding offering. While this one, so far, offers imho the least amount of synergy beyond the confines of its pages, that is due to the relative youth of 5e and what’s out there for the system, not on any shortcoming of this pdf. My final verdict will be 5 stars + seal of approval, given sans hesitation.

 

You can get this cool supplement here on OBS!

 

You can directly support Raging Swan Press here on patreon!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jan 262018
 

Battle for the Purple Islands (OSR)

This adventure clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page Kort’thalis glyph, 1 page editorial, leaving us with 21 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Well, as you may have deduced from my reviews, to this day, I consider Venger’s “Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence” perhaps the best of his adventures; it is certainly my favorite, for the combination of Carcosa-style weirdness without the constant doom and gloom (though there is plenty of bad stuff waiting to happen to everyone…), infused with healthy doses of gonzo and humor, created something that really resonated with me.

 

Suffice to say, I was rather excited when Venger suddenly sprang a return to these unique locales, haunted by basically a Great Old One, with all the “fun” ramifications for the locals that ensues. Now, this adventure, like all of Venger’s adventures, doesn’t really sport a synopsis, though this time around, this is well justified: In a sense, this is a scenario into which PCs are plunged. How it develops and what exactly happens remains a mostly player-driven thing.

 

It should be noted that I STRONGLY suggest getting the “Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence” before running this one; without its unique backdrop, the putrescence itself, etc., this loses a bit of its flavor. Also, much like Venger’s other modules, this is not something you can pick up and play – you definitely have to read the module in its entirety, preferably while taking notes, but since the preferred way to run this, is one situated within the islands, you will want to modify it anyways. It’s just important to note if you expect the level of convenience provided by quite a few of current modules.

 

That being said, the pdf is significantly more convenient than usual for Venger’s adventures, in that it explicitly provides three different entry vectors for the scenario: One for newcomers to the purple islands, one for veterans of the place, and, since the tie with Alpha Blue has been established (in fact, Alpha Blue was, to my knowledge, first mentioned in the Islands-supplement!), we also get an entry-vector for Alpha Blue. A big plus would also be that Venger actually included stats for the creatures encountered here: If it’s likely to attempt combat, you’ll get stats.

 

This isn’t all, though! We do get a massive 100-entry strong table for roll-as-you-go hexcrawling: From clearing to metallic sphinxes, possessed pythons etc., the table is pretty neat and a welcome addition to the GM’s arsenal. We also get a table to randomly determine the reaction of locals to lovecraftian entities, which cover abject terror, worshiping the entity, trying to defeat it – you get the idea. An 8-entry weather table allows the GM to further enhance this aspect – though I do suggest you check out the Islands-book, for purple rain there…well. You’ll see.

 

Beyond all of these, we have further help for the GM: A total of 8 different motivations can be used to further entice either players, or act as a fill in for an NPC-motivation that you just didn’t think of. There is an additional global rule on the islands for the context of this adventure, one that I rather enjoy: The Purple Destiny. The table depicting those is 20 entries strong, and the implementation is simple: Basically, when a character acts in accordance with the predestined fate, he gains advantage, but not more often than once per battle. (Note: This does not impose anything on the character – it’s just another angle to develop: predestined does not mean that the character is locked into this destiny!)

 

Now, I should mention that the fully-developed entry vectors do add an in medias res angle that can dramatically change the circumstances of meeting the person that kicks off the action…but to tell you more, I need to go deep into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMS around? Great! So, perhaps the PCs are half-delirious and hanging, captured by cannibals over a pit of sewage, as he is thrown into their cage; or, they encounter an ape-men-patrol hunting for the fellow, but things begin when the PCs meet this man from the Guild of Purple Prose, one Stenz B’wca – this purple-spandex-wearing fellow is on a crucial mission, namely to save the universe. He must find none other than H.P. Lovecraft and convince him to write his tales. You see, Lovecraft, dejected by refusals to be published, lives the life of a hermit on these islands, as he managed to venture here via the Dreamlands. Oh, know what? He’s guarded by shadow shoggoths. Yeah, it won’t be easy to get to him.

 

Anyways, the middle section of the module beyond the entry vector is, as you can glean from the different starting positions, very much is a dynamic field that oscillates between the actions of and interactions with the factions herein: Each of them comes with stats for rank and file members as well as for the leader, if applicable. Here, we embrace Venger’s gonzo Sword & Sorcery to the full extent: We have the cannibal tribe of the Uba-Tuba, with notes on typical behavior and a 12-.entry table for strange customs of such cannibal tribes; when the crescent moon is in the sky, one of the last snake-men named H’ssan, with deadly apparitions, comes down from the mountains to procure sacrifices; there would be the ape-men and we can encounter the deadly Brotherhood of the Unquiet Void – a cult of the old ones, inspired by their profane messengers, who has instructed them to create the Purple Missile: A missile that is bound to spread extreme, sanity-destroying mutation-causing radiation over the islands…there is just one component missing. An indigo crystal. A Crystal that also contains the hologram that Stenz is supposed to show Lovecraft…yeah, this directly puts the PCs at odds with the powerful brotherhood.

 

The crystal’s hologram does have a surprise: It’s Lovecraft, 20 years down the line, talking to himself, giving words of encouragement and pointing him towards an old art museum, situated at the bottom of a deep crevasse. Entering the weird museum, the PCs can find all sorts of strange things…and accompany Lovecraft to see the movie. Well, smart PCs will wait outside. The movie will do its job really well, but characters may well become permanently-changed by attempting to see the film.

 

How does Lovecraft leave the islands? Well, obviously, dream journeys are an option, but the GM can easily make the evacuation of the author yet another adventure…

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant hiccups. Layout adheres to the neat 2-column full-color standard of Kort’thalis Publishing, with splotches of dried blood, purple veins etc. making the pdf aesthetically-pleasing. The pdf sports a ton of really nice b/w-artworks, all original pieces that highlight the weirdness of the islands. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and sports a second, more printer-friendly version.

 

This is Venger at his best, simple as that. We get a glorious mix of pulp, sword & sorcery, horror and some subdued meta-references (without relying completely on them) and even a bit of humor. The blending of these aesthetics and themes works to the module’s advantage, making it feel more unique than his trinity-modules, for example. While the organization isn’t perfect, and while there are modules out there that are easier to use, this is a huge leap in the right direction and frankly, considering what this is, I am perfectly fine with how this is presented; this is a sandbox/toolkit, pure and simple.

 

While I tend to really enjoy Venger’s adventures, this is the first in a while where my rating doesn’t come with a caveat; the increased number of stats, the improved structure – this is a really cool set-up for another trip to those thrice-damned purple islands, where all manner of horrors lurk and almost everything is possible. While it would be nice to have names bolded, a synopsis, etc. for easier go-and-play use, this is pretty much my only valid complaint against this, and frankly, considering what this is and tries to be, it doesn’t feel fair. This is a brief set-up for a frame-narrative and a series of strange factions that coalesce into the plot and sequence you create; it has to retain this open structure to maintain compatibility with the diverse iterations of the Purple Islands out there (which, as you know, can go a LOT of different ways…), so as far as I’m concerned, the wide open nature is a here a feature, not a bug.

 

In short: This left me more excited about future modules by Venger than any of the Trinity-modules. Get the Purple Islands-book, then get this one. Marvel at the glorious, combined madness. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

 

You can get this delightfully gonzo module here on OBS!

 

You can get the amazing “Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence” here on OBS!

 

Venger has currently funded a saga for Alpha Blue – the KS has surpassed the funding goal and can be found here, with 7 days to go!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jan 262018
 

Goody White’s Book of Folk Magic

This supplement clocks in at 64 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/KS-thanks, 1 page ToC, ¼ page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 59 ¾ pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

So, sometimes, books just fall off my radar. I try to avoid such instances, but between priority reviews, the vast amount of books I cover and the huge number of books I receive, it simply happens. This is one such case…but well, better late than never, as they say, right?

 

This book is the adaptation of the work of Goodwife Elizabeth White, born 1640 and thus represents a take on classic themes of white folk magic, applied to the game. As the book notes, this does necessarily include spells that deal with serious topics – the introduction makes this clear and shows the utmost respect and restraint, kudos! The pdf explains the basics of hexes and design-aesthetic there, as well as establishing a special terminology, namely CAM, which is shorthand for casting ability modifier – undoubtedly to make the content a bit more future-proof for non-witch classes and hexes.

 

The pdf also introduces a new hex category, so-called perpetual hexes: They are somewhat alike to the permanent hexes that exist, yet different: They are bestowed upon targets. But thereafter require no concentration to maintain and persist until the witch dismisses the hex or until the recipient removes it. Unless otherwise noted, a witch can maintain a number of perpetual hexes equal to her Intelligence bonus and dismiss one as a move action. This dismissal does not have a maximum range and even transcends planar boundaries. Perpetual hexes have limits determined by the maximum number, with uses consuming a different number, preventing the spamming of them. Learning a spell contained herein also provides access to the reverse spell sans requiring double transcription.

 

The rituals contained herein require concentration as though casting a spell, unless otherwise stated, the equivalent of a 1st-level spell. Spellcasting level is taken over from the highest spellcasting class or ½ character level, if you don’t have any spellcasting levels. Rituals, as presented, are unreliable and only have a chance of success modified by CAM and whether you have a familiar. Rituals take twice as long to learn as to cast them and until you have successfully finished it, success chances are halved – in short: Unlike e.g. Incantations as a ritual-engine, they are not likely to kill you off, but they are quite likely to fail.

 

Okay, so that out of the way, how is the folk magic presented? Well, we begin with tame animals: We get a spell, a hex and a ritual…and beyond these three different mechanical representations of the concept, we also get basically a direct description of how to e.g. make a Taming Charm – if you’re like me and interested in occult lore and real world magic theories (nota bene: I’m an atheist and my interest is very much academic! I don’t believe in magic.), this is pretty glorious…oh, and we even get a sample chant. This very flavorful and lore-centric depiction is btw. something that can be found throughout the book. Want an example? As you wish!

“This evening we shall become one.

With the good spirits as my witness

I ask thee to bind the (man or woman) and beast

Through body and mind.

Let their bonding never part

Obedience and caring, everlasting art.”

Now, not all spells get such a neat chant, but yeah – it adds a level of plausibility to the pdf. Create Poppet is pretty amazing – it is low-level, but the poppet-benefits are pretty massive: The save-penalty of a target of the poppet is pretty significant, yet still beatable. Big kudos for this representation of sympathetic magic.

 

The pdf also notes ways to treat small burns (some of which work for small burns, though it should be noted, as the book states, it is not a medical advice booklet!). It also allows for a healing of heat dangers etc. and makes for a great tool in low-magic campaigns that rules that healing spells usually don’t apply to strains thus encountered. And yes, the hex is abuse-proof. Speaking of low-magic games and those that enjoy a somewhat grittier one: Remove cataracts is not only a cool little spell/hex/ritual – it also introduces the partially blinded condition, one that most assuredly will be used by yours truly. There are more medicinal hexes/spells/rituals: Dealing with warts, treating bruises and pain, staunching bleeding, curing sickness in animals, healing the lame, soothing bowels, fixing teeth, gaining/losing weight, calming vermin (like bees) and treating fits complement this section…often with the reversals, for less benevolent witches.

 

One of the classics associated with benign folk magic, the blessing of crops, can be found within this pdf…and we know that many a midwife, with knowledge of herbs and medicine was burned at the stake. Well, their most well-known task is also represented here: Ease birth…and, somewhat interestingly, someone who has benefited from e.g. the hex, thereafter becomes more susceptible to the witch’s influence…which makes sense. While we’re on the topic of a bit more…risqué topics: The book also covers a rather important topic (at least when considering historic beliefs regarding witchcraft): The treatment of impotence is represented by the spells restore/remove potency and the hex/ritual based on them. These options alone can carry pretty much whole campaigns and the countless stories of noble families etc. out there provide plenty of ideas there. Obstruct/Enhance Fertility can also be found – including a feasible section on human fertility. Speaking of pregnancy: Concealing/False Pregnancy breathe the spirit of what we associate with witchcraft. And yes, there is an option to cool or rekindle passions.

 

On the more magical side of things, we have the curse ward, spells to instill good or bad luck, an option to send warning visions…have I mentioned spirit letters as a cool low-level divination? There is a means to curse thieves and a ward to repel the living dead. Alternate options to find familiar and the option to talk with fey also are represented within these pages. Projecting your spirit is also a practice that is represented within, and yes, we do get options to expel spirits at low level – which may decrease the threat of possession, but which fits better the real world lore, where minor forms of possession can be found more often in the context of witchcraft. The identification of enemies is also interesting: Instead of blanket reveal, the magic operates with chances and suspicions you may have, which makes it much more useful from a narrative point of view. Shrouding targets from sight is another important concept covered.

 

We also get the chance to make witch bottles, which contain a focus and can act as a help against the supernatural creatures. On the subject of bottles: Of course, magical potions are part of the subject matter covered, e.g. sleeping potions in two severity-levels. A balm for confidence and love potions can also be found within, representing classic tropes of witchcraft. There also is room devoted to making food palatable (or cursing targets so all food tastes horrible) or the power to send pleasant or disturbing dreams. Loss and growth of hair can also be found, as can be means to enhance your chances when hunting targets. Assuming the shape of a Diminutive or Tiny animal can also be found. A limited form of appearance alteration (but it’s no illusion!) makes for an interesting alternative to the classic disguise self. There is a representation of the dowsing concept and a spell to conjure a household elemental with its own resistances and SPs…but unlike e.g. unseen servant, these are free-willed beings and thus require bartering. One of my favorites within would be the representation of the sator-square palindrome ward…nice, versatile and unique. On the evil side of things, there would be the creation of living zombies, which actually takes into account whether the target thinks it has died – neat! Quite a massive and cool array of tricks to make witches feel, well, more witch-like.

 

Speaking of witches: We do get a couple of witches throughout the book: A level 12 hedge witch, Tavra Ironbound, Jessica of the West (CR 6,Oz-reference, obviously), Larina Nix (CR 8), Acrimor (CR 11), an alchemist (chirurgeon/vivisectionist) CR 7 and a CR 10 fellow. Now, there is one annoying thing about these nice NPCs – they are spread out throughout the pdf without much rhyme or reason; this means that players reading the book will stumble over NPC-stats that imho belong in the back, in a GM-appendix, away from prying eyes. For those of you also into the Cypher-system, these beings also get cipher-stats in the back, all collated…which makes the decision to spread the PFRPG-stats throughout the book even more puzzling from an organizational point of view.

 

Okay, so, as you may have noted, the options herein are more “realistic” and often, more limited than what one would assume from PFRPG-options – they are very much suitable for grittier games and those favoring a lower power-level, which is all fine by me…but what if you want to use such concepts in your regular power-level campaign? Well, the book sports a MASSIVE mythic appendix that makes sure that these options remain viable threats. We get mythic versions of pretty much all spells. Now, design-paradigm-wise, these do not offer new options, following mostly the escalation of numbers, but in the context of this book, this is strangely fitting. Mythic hexes can be gained 3 for a 1st tier universal ability or tier hexes for a single feat, and mythic versions of the hexes can be found as well…but here is a big issue: This refers to “mythic points” – whatever THAT is supposed to be. I assume, it refers to mythic power, but frankly, it could refer to mythic surges as well. All in all, this section feels rushed and falls short of the main meat of the book. Similarly, it can be considered to be rather confusing that, without a header of anything, we switch systems when talking about tier 1 abilities – it took me a bit to realize that these do not refer to mythic tier abilities.

 

The appendix closes the pdf with a couple of nice notes, diarrhea as an affliction and a ritual for love, spirit expulsion and weight manipulation.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, for the most part, are top-notch on both a formal and rules-language level; in the mythic section, the book has some serious issues, though, and the formal editing quality does diverge between the two versions of the book. Layout is gorgeous and adheres to an elegant, nice two-column full-color standard with fitting full-color artworks here and there and b/w-portraits of the sample NPCs. Now, there are two versions of the pdf as per the writing of this review: The one I am referencing here and a briefer one; the version with the mythic appendix unfortunately does not any bookmarks, which is somewhat baffling, considering that the shorter version does actually sport them.

 

Now, here’s the thing: The shorter version is actually the one with “final” in the title, so while the version with the problematic mythic material and Cypher-addendum can be found, I assume it to be something of a WIP version, left online due to its additional content. Strangely, though, the sample NPCs can also be found exclusively in the longer version, which makes it somewhat difficult for me to determine which version to rate. As such, even though I have covered the longer version in this review, I will take both into account.

 

So, here’s the thing: Sean K Reynolds is an amazing designer who knows what he’s doing and this book oozes “passion-project” from all of its pores. While I could rattle off a number of supplements that deal with household magic in the context of a high-magic society, this is literally the only PFRPG book I know that focuses on representations of magic taken from real world beliefs. The presentation that allows each of the individual options the necessary room to breathe and develop its flair. The easy to implement ritual-engine is similarly something that fits really well into a context of a more subdued, low-magic world where witchraft is unreliable.

 

In short: I’d consider this, flavorwise, pretty much a masterpiece, as this sports a ton of options I’d be willing to use, even beyond the confines of the PFRPG-rules-set. At the same time, the big version of the file, more so than the smaller one (which also e.g. sports remnants like “[NOTABLE WITCH BACKER XX]”), feels a bit rushed. The mythic section is uncharacteristically problematic and feels like what it undoubtedly was, an afterthought – compared to what Legendary Games has recently been doing with mythic magic, this falls woefully short of being adequate in that department. Similarly, the Cypher-components, while nice, would have made more sense properly integrated into its own version of the book.

 

My second gripe against this tome would pertain its organization – more so in the larger version. Having NPC stats in the middle of sections that players may read is not exactly perfect; I am also somewhat baffled by the appendix: I could name chapters for each of the rituals and materials in it where the respective information would be more convenient to find – diarrhea in the bowel-section, etc. They feel like they have been either forgotten or added at the last minute; no matter what happened, that does detract a bit from the immediate usability and handling of the book. (Particularly evident when using the big, bookmark-less version.)

 

In short, this book is somewhat diminished by obviously having been completed at one point…and when it was done, more was added, or removed…at a time, when it was either already mostly done and/or the designer had already moved on.

 

How to rate this, then? Well, were I to rate this solely on the merits of the core material presented, I’d be able to praise it rather highly…but I can’t. The rough edges do detract from the overall appeal of an otherwise inspiring read…but I hope that, rating notwithstanding, this review will make some of you fine folks check this out. This deserves being read and checked out, particularly if you’re looking for magic that feels more steeped in folklore or when looking for options that fit a more down to earth aesthetic. For the right people, this can definitely be a 5 star + seal of approval-level of awesome file, but as a reviewer, I need to rate the total package, and here, I can’t go higher than 4 stars.

 

You can get this unique book here on OBS!

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jan 262018
 

How Do I…Use Magic Items?

This installment of the „How do I…“-series clocks in at 9 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 6 pages of content. As always with Straight Path games-supplements, we do get a second version optimized for use with tablets. This version clocks in at a total of 14 pages laid out in landscape format, but content-wise remains identical to the other version. All righty, let’s take a look!

 

We begin with a reiteration of categories of magic items – this list is great, particularly for newer players. There are a couple of notes I’d like to add here: While the pdf is correct in stating that unarmed attacks are usually enhanced by amulets, this is by now not the only way to affect them. It should also be noted that two spell-references in the explanation of potions have not been italicized – though the pdf correctly points out an NPC Codex issue. It should also be noted that references to precise magic items throughout the pdf have not been italicized. As another minor addition, while the pdf correctly states that staves can usually act as quarterstaffs, there are a few exotic exceptions, so a “usually” qualifier would be nice here. The pdf also lists the various forms of wondrous items and then mentions cursed items, intelligent items and artifacts, though sans elaborating on the mechanics of ego etc.

 

After we have established the categories , we take a look at activation types, starting with use activated items, noting potions as special and then lists the peculiarities of command word items and spell trigger and spell completion items. It should be noted that use activated magic items that require an extra action to activate, as correctly stated, do not per default provoke an attack of opportunity, unless the action undertaken to activate the item would provoke an attack of opportunity. On the plus-side: The pdf takes the notes of spell completion items and scrolls and blends them into a concise whole that is easier to grasp for new players.

 

Finally, the pdf mentions the Use Magic Device skill’s basics.

 

Conclusion:

Editing is tight and well-done; formatting is problematic, failing to italicize pretty much all spell and magic item references. Layout adheres to a 2-column standard with a touch of color, but remains pretty printer-friendly. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Michael McCarthy’s summary of how magic items work represents a really handy little pdf; while I could list all the odd exceptions to the rules presented, as a whole, this represents a concise and precise summary that can easily be handed to a new player, helping them grasp the basics of the game. As a PWYW game-aid of sorts, this is worth checking out if you’re not need a quick explanation of the basics here. All exceptions and deviations I noticed are the more obscure components that go beyond the basics – and as such, they are not necessarily required for such a pdf. While the formatting oversights are annoying, the PWYW-status of the pdf makes it a fair offering. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform.

 

You can get this pdf for PWYW here on OBS!

Endzeitgeist out.