Feb 282018
 

Genius Adventures: Blood Space and Moon Dust (SFRPG)

This introductory adventure for Starfinder clocks in at 50 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 45 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

All right, first things first: This takes place in the shared Xa-Osoro setting of Everyman Gaming and Rogue Genius Games, to be more precise, in the somewhat lawless region known as Blood Space. In also assumes the PCs have their own tier 1 starship, which is provided, stat-wise. I know that my PCs would want to customize it before play, but yeah. That’s not a downside, just something to bear in mind. We also get 4 pregens for the adventure, which are presented with rules-relevant components and stats, but sans names, background, etc. – the mechanical framework is done, but that’s it. Alas, I noticed pretty serious glitches in one of them. I recommend disregarding them and making your own characters. Just make sure that they know their battle-stations. Huge plus: We get a fully mapped, full-color rendition of the starting ship – and yes, only with keys, but that’s okay – after all, it’s the PC’s ship! Other locations in the module come with b/w-maps and these maps actually come with player-friendly, key-less versions to print out, cut-up and hand out as you see fit. That’s a big plus.

 

Now, it should be noted that this adventure assumes that the PCs are less of a mercenary bent and that they behave heroically; for neutral or evil PCs, a certain section might well see them abort the module. Not a downside per se, but it’s something to bear in mind. The module sports copious amounts of read-aloud text, helping GMs less versed in flavorful improvisation.

 

…all right, and this is as far as I can go without delving into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

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All right, only GMs around? Great!

So, after a brief read-aloud text, we begin immediately with a ship combat, as pirate raiders burst from the hazy red viscera of blood space! What’s that? It’s a cool unique terrain/hazard. It’s weird. Unsettling. And really cool: It’s the metaphysical blood of a dead star/deity and it may corrupt you and turn you mad. Fun! The pirate raider sports btw. a grappling beam, which is something PCs will probably want…but whether or not they lose the dogfight, the next step would be to deal with the mad raiders. And yes, their fervor has mechanical repercussions. That being said, we do not get a map of the pirate raider, so you may have to improvise there. Anyways, exploring the raider-ship is horrific and should conjure flashbacks of Firefly in the best of ways, as well as providing further angles.

 

Unbeknown to the PCs, the encounter with the pirates has left them with a stowaway, the xaosnarr…which is odd, yes, but may actually be befriended! In, what I take to be a nod to Futurama’s Nibbler, the critter can eat radioactive material and sniff it out – something that may prove to be rather helpful… Why was it aboard the PC’s ship? Turns out that their cargo hold contains a Hematomium artifact that the critter really wanted – dark, radioactive and potentially addictive.

 

Just two hours away, at the Dust City moon base Lunox, in the pre-paid dock, the PCs are scheduled to take their new drift engine anyways, which may be a good place to research and find out more. And yes, the pdf sports troubleshooting advice if the PCs kill the weird pet, fire the artifact into space, etc. – kudos! Dome 421 is btw. fully mapped and dialogues also provide sample guidelines. Here, the PCs may do a bit of space-sleuthing, find rumors and enjoy a nice cup of KafKafé –made of insects, obviously. This is probably one of the best things about this module: Without resorting to just a ton of exposition, the pdf brims with these small, glorious and inspiring details. Matt Banach’s myth-weaving and indirect storytelling really gets to shine here.

 

And yes, there is a cantina. With band. Drunken legionnaires. Come on, space bar fight! Once the Pcs have had their dose of exploration and sleuthing, we’ll have the antagonists make their play and attempt to steal the artifact from the cargo hold…or the PCs directly. Once more, there are multiple ways this can go and the wayang operatives (see Starfarer’s Companion for the racial stats) are nothing to sneeze at. Cool: Instead of railroading the PCs into losing the artifact, the pdf does account for their triumph! Big plus there! As an aside: Yes, we get stats for the authority here and the security droids – an optional complication, sure, but one I welcomed.

 

Either on a chase, or by comm.-device and a mutual agreement, the PCs will have to move outside on a buggy. The lunar surface has only a thin atmosphere, which makes for a complicating hazard here I enjoyed. Moon buggies are btw. stated and en route, the PCs can encounter hydrophagic wasps and silt sharks as they make their way to the security perimeter of atmospheric plant XJ-97, hopefully sans being killed by the security drones. Ultimately, the PCs will have to stop Targ Grazza, a corrupted variant solarian, from attempting to use the facility to disperse the artifact through the atmosphere, creating wide-spread madness, plague and genetic mutations…Oh, Tarq? Weregorilla. The mad solarian follows the dark cult of the Red Spiral…and yes, if that resounds with themes of Dead Space’s Marker, as seen through the lens of space opera, then you’d be correct!

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good for the most part, though a few glitches have crept into the pdf, also in rules-relevant contexts. Not enough to impede the use of the module, but they’re there. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports quite a few solid full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Cartography is b/w, apart from the PC ship, and high-quality. As noted, the player-friendly maps are a big plus. The pdf comes with a second version of a smaller size, which makes it more tablet/mobile device-friendly.

 

Matt Banach’s introductory adventure for Starfinder is inspiring. I had read about Blood Space before in the Star Log.EM-series, but until I read this module, I never got how unique, fantastic and imaginative the whole region is. The idea of strange, anomalous viscera in space, the echoes of bloody madness and the blending of the cute and innocent and the dark managed to evoke this rare sense of cohesion that really stood out. This, in short, reminded me a lot of the world-building of Firefly, without being a copy-cat. We have at once a fantastic section of space that you want to explore, that fires up the imagination; at the same time, it is a precarious line to thread and the cosmos may be a brutal place. Instead of the insistence of later Star Wars movies to cater to the lore established in hundreds of books and the throwing in of weird details to be explained at a later date, this supplement introduces, piece by piece, tiny tidbits of culture, creatures, processes and settings – unobtrusive, organically. It’s a presentation as we’d see it in a good novel, and the pdf is indeed better off for taking that route. Unlike many a supplement, the PCs also get to actually grasp the entirety of the plot, piece it together, etc. – in short, great storytelling.

 

In short: The adventure is fun to read. While it does sport a few minor hiccups, being an early supplement for a new system, it is one impressive adventure and one I’d wholly recommend checking out. While it may not be perfect, it is a fantastic first adventure foray for the author and I really hope we’ll get to see more from Matt Banach’s pen. My official, final verdict clocks in at 4.5 stars, though the minor issues noted before prevent me from rounding up. If you’re in for the lore (or enjoy the same things I do), then consider this to be 5 stars + seal of approval instead – for me, as a person, this is amazing, but as a reviewer, I can’t rate is as such.

 

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

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Feb 282018
 

This post was requested and sponsored by one of my patreons.

 

So, as you all have seen by now, I enjoy a wide variety of different systems. This, in itself, seems to be rarer than one would imagine, as there is a thoroughly baffling (to me) split in the RPG-community that generates a dichotomy that is not necessarily there.

 

This central dichotomy would be rules-lite vs. rules-heavy. It is funny, really: In my time as a reviewer, I have been accused of not getting either, for different reasons. Rules-heavy games tend to require a higher degree of system mastery, and some designers obviously don’t like when I point out flaws in rules-language, conventions, etc. On the other side, there are designers among the rules-lite games that think that just because there are not many components of rules-syntax, that is enough to warrant flaunting it altogether, potentially creating needless confusion.

 

Here’s the thing: Regardless of the complexity of a system, writing roleplaying material behaves very much like a variant of programming. Certain terms are loaded and refer to rules-concepts. This is a system-immanent truth and true regardless of system employed. Most games e.g. differentiate between spells and magic as a whole, using specific formatting conventions to point towards specific rules; most famously, spells are often italicized, feats are capitalized.

 

So that would be a basic component of the crafting-component of a RPG-book. There is another complaint I hear rather often, namely that “You can’t do XYZ with a given system.” That, ladies and gentlemen, is more often than not, patently false. Since our imagination is all that limits the potential modifications we can provide for a given system, we ultimately can do everything with every system – it’s just a manner of how many modifications you wish to add to a game. Heck, I ran a Ravenloft-campaign for over 8 years where every offensive magic had the potential to drive you insane, where you only got a precious few hit points and a fireball could annihilate even higher-level PCs.

 

Now, there is some truth to some systems doing some aspects better than others. Most famously, both Pathfinder and Starfinder excel at tactical, strategic combat with a lot of rewarding PC options; in contrast to that, e.g. GUMSHOE has been explicitly designed for investigative scenarios and thus sports a lot checks and balances to make that type of gameplay work smoothly. While basic GUMSHOE combat is not exactly exciting compared to PFRPG, it can be enhanced – just take a look at what Night’s Black Agents and Double Tap did for the game. Similarly, Ultimate Intrigue by Paizo and Everyman Gaming’s Skill Challenge Handbook have vastly improved the sleuthing options for PFRPG.

 

But what about rules-lite games? Well, there is a reason I love OSR-games: The lack of complexity in the base rules for adversaries puts a different focus on the adventure design, one that often favors creative puzzle-bosses and unique modifications of player interaction – LotFP’s puzzle-monsters would be a great example here. Similarly, there are quite a few adventures and supplements for OSR gameplay out there that excel by virtue of almost being art, of focusing on unique atmosphere.

 

There is no reason why you should not be able to mine the system-agnostic components, or to adapt such a book to your system of choice…and vice versa. If you can read PFRPG-statblocks, you can easily extrapolate NPC and monster capabilities and run e.g. the modules of an AP for e.g. Swords and Wizardry.

 

As a rule of thumb, extrapolating from complexity into simplicity is simpler than vice versa, obviously, but the matter of fact remains that our favorite hobby is one of imagination; as such, it is limited by our own needs and desires. It is, for example, very much possible to replace PFRPG’s spellcasting with that of DCC. Yes, it takes time and effort, but the argument of a system in itself not allowing for a given playstyle, is, as a whole, moot. A good example would be 5e here – there are archetypes in 5e that provide their own sub-system; you don’t have to play with the added complexity of such a sub-component, but you can, if you enjoy it.

 

Take one of the most rules-lite games I regularly cover, Fat Goblin Games’ Vs. Stranger Stuff Season 2. With just two attributes and a card-based mechanic, it looks like there isn’t that much to do with it in terms of longer game progression, right? Wrong. You can, for example, generate sequential, skill challenge-like group challenges; monster-conversion is simple. You can add degrees of failure, make a given card point towards a specific value – if you set your mind to it, you can add pretty much any degree of complexity you’d like to the system, and both e.g. traits or feats or races could be represented by Gimmicks etc..

 

To sum up: While RPG-systems are designed for specific gamestyles, the systems per se are not responsible for the limitations you can perceive in gameplay; it is, ultimately, just a matter of deciding and how to tweak the game to work in the way you want it to.

Yes, noticed something? You have just taken the first step to being a game designer! As soon as you start thinking about those things, really think about them, you’ll be en route to changing the system. Not all of your hacks and tweaks will work as anticipated; that’s part of the learning experience. For rules-heavy games, you’ll need to know some stochastic processes and have a proper level of system mastery, but even small tweaks can help.

 

Now, obviously, not all of us have the time and effort available to do such tweaks – and to a degree, that’s why I’m here, right? To help you find your customizations for your game. I assume that you’ll be familiar with a lot of the PFRPG-options out there from my reviews. At the same time, I think that anyone can benefit from looking beyond the confines of one’s favorite system and come out as a stronger GM, player or designer.

 

Thus, here a couple of recommendations for the purpose of expanding your horizon when looking at games, rules, etc.:

 

Dungeon Crawl Classics by Goodman Games: Remarkable for the weird dice used and the volatile magic system; also has glorious adventures and translation to and from PFRPG and 5e is remarkably easy, considering that all games are relatively rules-heavy.

 

Vs. Stranger Stuff Season 2 by Fat Goblin Games: My go-to rules-lite game for quick fun and card-based randomization. Simple and easy to grasp, yet studded with a plethora of options. The game can be explained in less than 5 minutes and is perfect to introduce RPGs to newbies.

 

The Esoterrorists 2nd Edition by Pelgrane Press: Great example of myth-weaving in a modern context; if you have issues constructing investigative scenarios, then analyzing this system can help you, regardless of the game you play, in making them work.

 

B/X Essentials Core Rules by Necrotic Gnome Productions: Crisp and concisely-presented old-school gaming; it helps to know one’s origins and the core rules, separated from setting components, illustrate rather well how they can carry a variety of different genres, settings, etc.

 

Lamentations of the Flame Princess by…well, Lamentations of the Flame Princess: While needlessly opinionated in its tone, the game is a crisp old-school system. It is remarkable for the way in which monsters are treated in the variety of adventures – more often than not, the only way to survive, is a focus on brains, and many issues cannot be solved by rolling dice, only by player-ingenuity.

 

So yeah, I love all of these systems. They all have influenced the way in which I design for other systems and I’d be less of a designer and GM without having experienced them. If you can, take a look beyond the confines of your preferred game-system – you don’t have to like everything out there; you can hate or love certain design-paradigms; but even cursory knowledge can vastly enhance your prowess as a GM. Alternating, once in a while between systems can also really invigorate your appreciation of one system for its virtues. I certainly know that I’ve come to enjoy PFRPG and 5e more after broadening my scope.

 

So, here’s to diversity – not only among gamers, but also regarding systems – as in every situation, there is something to be learned from looking beyond the borders!

 

If you enjoy posts like this, let me know! Also, I’d really appreciate it, if you checked out my patreon.

Reviews take a ton of time to create and every little bit helps to keep the reviews flowing. Thank you.

 

Endzeitgeist out.

Feb 282018
 

Save Yourself From Hell (OSR)

This adventure is intended as a one-shot for Alpha Blue and clocks in at 20 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page Kort’thalis glyph, 1 page editorial, leaving us with 17 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Now, first things first: This is a scenario for Alpha Blue, the rules-lite scifi-porn-parody game by Kort’thalis Publishing; as such, this contains copious amounts of gonzo and raunchy themes. If the like offends you, then you may want to skip this one. None of the artworks herein sport exposed boobs or primary sexual organs, though – artwork-wise, this is a tame one. Now the module does feature sexual themes, swearing, etc., but it is, as far as I’m concerned, not offensive. Then again, I’m from continental Europe and outrage over sexual themes has always puzzled me to no end. It should also be noted, that while this scenario is intended primarily for Alpha Blue, it can, rules-wise, be run in conjunction with Venger’s other VSd6-based games.

 

Speaking of which: The pdf provides a rules-update for all VSd6 games: Pulling a stunt. Once per session, a player may pull off a profession-related task without having to roll. This ability refreshes when dice pool comes up as triple 6s or when the character does something over-the-top-awesome and in-character. Stunt points may not be hoarded – you get one. As Venger probably would say: “Use it wisely, hoss.”

 

Now, as you could glean from the title, this module is basically a not-100%-serious take on the classic genre of scifi-horror in the tradition of many a darker tale, Event Horizon, etc. – but seen through the over-the-top lens of Alpha Blue. If you’re looking for cosmic bleakness, this is not what you’ll get here. Now, as with all kort’thalis offerings, we do get supplemental tables 12 male and female names, and 4 personality types. These cover: “Dick”, “Pussy”, “Asshole” and “Just Plain Weird.”

 

There is one further thing that sets this pdf apart from other Alpha Blue scenarios: Players don’t automatically get to steal the spotlight; instead, since a leitmotif of the adventure is reopening old wounds, we get a table of emotional traumata. When players vocalize the internal struggle and RP that aspect, they get double the dice pool. Each such instance must be fresh, so not rehashing of the same theme over and over. Towards the end, closure may be achieved – which once triples the dice pool. These do have a risk: If none of the dice come up higher than 2s, the PC goes berserk for 3d6 minutes, as trauma overwhelms him. The results here are represented as a table in the back of the adventure/epilogue, which makes sense when we get there. From an organizational point of view, a page number or getting that one in the front still imho would have made sense, but that as a presentation nitpick.

 

Now, since quite a few of my readers are interested in that component: No, we do not get an adventure synopsis or flow-chart or the like; in order to run this module, you should read it in its entirety and preferably, take notes.

 

Okay, this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

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All right, only SDMs around? Great! The pdf begins as the PCs are in a spa and hear a lady calling, who is currently getting a colonic irrigation with a blue liquid; she wants a towel…and there is a solid 50% chance of getting hit with the blue stuff. EW. The stuff causes hair loss, smells and hampers the ability to recall numbers. The lady’s name is Micayla, and yes, her preferences are noted.

 

Shortly thereafter, the PCs get a communication that there’s trouble brewing in hell’s Cluster – three potential hooks are provided to motivate the PCs to travel there, and more specifically, the friendly Eye of Asmodeus region. Contact with the X-III has been lost; this would be an abyssal-class spaceship with deep-space exploration track records; it is currently sitting on the periphery of the dread Eye and dimensional instabilities may be measured.

 

Slightly odd regarding presentation sequence: A key NPC of the ship is detailed before the PCs even get there: That would be Matey. Matey is the ship’s cat and just as intelligent as a humanoid. Oh, and capable of talking. Yes, this is the time where you pull out all those old Red Dwarf episodes and stock up your array of cat-like behavior, jokes, etc. How did he get off the ship? No idea. We don’t even get a random table here. Sequence-wise, the fellow would have made more sense later.

 

Anyways, before the PCs even reach X-III, they will be attacked by the bounty hunter Tengmarr Kouth, who seeks to blow them to smithereens with his gang of crystalline Q’xaanzee natives…who btw. are immune to energy weapons. Ouch. Nice: We get proper stats for them all. Before jumping to light speed, the PCs will have to refuel, but thankfully, there is a space truckstop just a few parsecs away. 4 sample complications/events can make the stay more interesting…and this is Alpha Blue: Yes, cheap sex can be had. Not all will be nice and dandy, though: Two one-eyes, barrel-shaped feathered lifeforms will demand passage to Hell’s Cluster – Gweez and Gwaaz are weird and can potentially commandeer the PC’s vessel! Further complicating the proceedings, the PCs will get a stowaway, who is carrying an omega device bomb taken from the space Muslims of the Caliphate – he wants to detonate the bomb in safety. Meanwhile Federation and Caliphate will want the bomb back. None of these passengers get stats, which is particularly weird concerning Gweez and Gwaaz, who are actually cultists that will try to turn PCs into sushi rolls sooner or later.

 

Once in hell’s cluster, the PC’s ship will probably be hit by a huge jar of raspberry jam and then attacked by kung-fu marauders. Here, we get a basic ship to ship combat, but oddly, no stats should the PCs attempt to fight off boarding crews. Finally reaching the vicinity of X-III, the PCs intercept an escape pod, where the almost naked Tana Drus tells the PCs about the X-III’s crew preparing for communion with the demons past the Eye…she is not in a good state and infused with demonic energy, potentially a big issue. The black hole seems to bring forth demonic energies, causing first strife, and then later full blown human sacrifice and worse.

 

Now, I noted before that the two aliens are cultists, and they may actually open a two-way portal to the X-III. Worse, the ship is…actually Hellraiser in space. There are demon-possessed spacers and three zenobites (stats for both included) that can be vanquished…as an aside, really hilariously: They are deadly, but if mocked sufficiently, they flee. Loved that! But ultimately, sooner or later, an anomaly will happen. The black hole starts to close and when it looks like it disappears, it instead turns into a dimensional rift, from which Cthulhu emerges. Yes. You read right. Cthulhu. No, you can’t blast him apart. Not even with kewl laz0rz. The only surefire way to save the universe, is to detonate the omega device, destroying the whole starsystem. Before Cthulhu emerges, obviously. This may or may not entail staying aboard the X-III or being blown to bits by the detonation. Now all of this sounds pretty cool, and it honestly is – but at the same time, the whole finale, where the pieces come together, feels more sketch-like than it should. The organization here could be tighter; as written, we have all these pieces – how exactly they come together is left pretty much up to the SDM. If you can pull it off and make the pieces fit, then it’s really over the top and fun. If not, well, then it can become a bit of a mess.

 

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are good, though I noticed a few minor typos. Layout adheres to a really nice full-color 2-column standard with blue veins and bloody splotches. Interior art is a mix of full-color and b/w-artworks, all of which are original pieces. The pdf comes with a second, printer-friendly version – kudos.

 

Venger As’Nas Satanis’ “Save Yourself From Hell” is a bit of an odd one; if you expected straight scifi horror, then this one will not deliver; instead, this should be considered to be a PARODY of the scifi-horror genre. Hellraiser in space, event horizon and a ridiculous amount of bad, bad scifi-mythos stories all get their due. MeowMeowBeenz are important. Anyways, once you understand that (and it’s pretty much evident from the get-go if you know Alpha Blue), the module can become really fun…but it feels less focused than what we usually get from Venger. The majority of the module takes place on the way to the adventure and is devoted to set-up, with the payoff resting almost exclusively in the hands of the SDM.

 

Whether you like that or not remains a matter of taste. Against this backdrop, the emotional trauma/closure-stuff feels oddly inappropriate. The module is utterly over-the-top and pretty ridiculous, in a good way. Adding heartfelt drama…just doesn’t fit. The serious, psychological horror-angle implied here simply does not work; it’s anathema to the parody over-the-top style of the supplement. This aspect feels like an afterthought, and frankly, I’d strongly suggest you disregard it.

 

The lack of stats for the kung-fu marauders is another thing I bemoan here. Most crucially, unlike e.g. Battle for the Purple Islands, the organization makes frankly less sense; it throws together amazing ingredients, but doesn’t really tell you how they best fit together, requiring that you do the hard parts in combining them, sequence of events, etc.. This is, per se, not something I dislike, but it is something that makes the supplement work more like a set-up, like a toolkit, and less like an adventure in the classic sense…at least in the final act. If the organization were tighter, this probably wouldn’t frazzle me, but as presented, the end feels abrupt and requires that you suddenly remember multiple dangling loose threads, which you then need to somehow weave together.

 

After the detailed voyage, we arrive in Act III, expecting that the play will last for at least 2 more acts…and then find out that Act III is indeed, the finale. This reminded me somewhat of series that were cancelled suddenly, requiring that all is jammed into the two final episodes…and as such, that may even be intentional.

 

That being said, I wholeheartedly recommend Rafael Chandler’s system neutral “Starship from Hell” supplement to flesh out the details of the X-III and provide the climax that this module per se deserves.

 

Oh boy. How in the 9 space hells should I rate this? The issue is really complex. The content’s organization is somewhat lacking and we don’t get stats for all relevant NPCs, which are detriments. The finale, similarly, feels sudden and less developed/detailed than I’d like it to be. At the same time, this book does the parody-angle really well and the finale, fragmented though it may be, can congeal into a slimy, gorgeous, over the top experience. Ultimately, whether you like this or not will depend on your angle: If you want a read-made adventure, then the structural shortcomings and abrupt ending may be jarring. If you’re looking for an adventure-outline of sorts, are willing to develop your own finale and how things come together, then this may work rather well for you. As a person, I found myself annoyed by the issues in the structure and organization, which did detract from the enjoyment the hilarious hodgepodge of scifi-horror clichés otherwise generated for me.

 

Ultimately, this supplement is worth the low and fair asking price for what it is; at the same time, it very much feels like it falls short of what it could easily have been. This feels like the first part of a two-parter, where the second part has been torn away and reduced to the bare minimum. This could have easily carried twice the page-count, and in such a case, it could have easily made 5 stars + seal. With aforementioned file by Mr. Chandler, you can expand what’s here to emphasize the horror of the finale, before you bring the full-blown ludicrous anomaly that initiates the end of the module. In such a case, this can be glorious…but I need to rate what’s here…and what’s here is a bit weaker than what we usually get from Venger. My final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded down.

 

You can get this worthwhile, if not perfect, over the top supplement here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Feb 282018
 

CLASSifieds: The Astra Base Class

This installment of the CLASSifieds-series clocks in at 14 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, ½ a page blank, leaving us with 8.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Okay, so the astra class is all about using the mind as a weapon – quite literally. Chassis-wise, we get d10 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as light armor and shields, except tower shields. The class gets full BAB-progression and good Will-saves. One of the signature tools of the class would be the astral blade:A s aswift action, an astra can draw forth this weapon, which may take the shape of any slashing or piercing weapon the astra is proficient with, being obviously magical. The blade always has the ghost touch special ability. Here we have an issue: RAW, the blade can’t have it. Special abilities require that an item has at least a +1 enhancement bonus. Here is the problem: The blade does not behave as though it had the property – it *has* it, which means that the +1 equivalent of the ghost touch should actually feature in the deal…but I digress. The blade can be dismissed as a swift action and regains all hit points upon being reformed – sundering it makes thus no sense. At 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter, the astral blade gains an enhancement bonus of +1.

 

At second level, the astra gains the first mantra, which ties in with the blade: Mantras are purely mental actions and the second level mantra must correspond to the alignment of the astra – which would be a good place to note that the astra needs to have a neutral alignment component…so yeah, this one is preordained by alignment choice. A new mantra is learned at 5th level and every 3 levels thereafter. Invoking a mantra is a swift action and mantras invoked last for 1 minute; however, the astra can be ended sooner by reinforcing it to increase its effects. Until 8th level, an astra can only have one mantra active at any given time; thereafter, the astra can maintain two active mantras at once, while 16th level provides the option to have up to 3 different mantras active at once. Mantras are psychic effects and have emotion components, making the astra’s mantras subject to the restrictions of psychic spells, in spite of mantras being supernatural effects.

 

There are a total of 15 different mantras included in the pdf: We get the balance, good, evil, chaos and law to represent the different alignment-based mantras at 1st level. The balance mantra nets a +1 enhancement bonus, as well as +1 to ability and skill checks. The latter bonuses increase by a further +1 at 8th and 16th level, a progression inherent in the passive bonuses of all the mantras. The other alignment-based mantras grant the respective special weapon abilities associated with it, as well as granting the PCs a bonus to saving throws versus spells of the respective opposed “subtype” – that should be “descriptor” for spells. The reinforcement options for the respective alignment mantras allow for the use of an immediate action to add an additional effect – for the different alignments, those would be e.g. 1-round dazes, nauseating, etc. – all with saves to resist. The balance mantra is significantly stronger: It instead grants frickin’ vorpal – pretty much one of the most potent options. The rules-interaction is also a bit strange regarding reinforcing mantras; it looks like reinforcing them ends the mantra…but when? Upon reinforcing or after the round in which it was reinforced? The sequence is a bit opaque.

 

Beyond these, we get acid, flame, ice, lightning – these all are basically identical, with just damage types exchanged: Passive benefits are resistances and well as the appropriate special weapon ability; the reinforced options upgrading that to the respective burst ability, while also providing brief one-round immunity to the assigned energy type. Beyond these, we can find Defense, which nets defending and +1 to CMD (which improves up to +3); as a swift action, this one lets you add the enhancement bonus of the blade to AC sans reducing its enhancement bonus – I assume for 1 round, analogue to the others. The dispelling mantra nets the ability of the same name, with the passive bonus pertaining all saves versus spells. Crits can be reinforced with dispelling burst for 1 round. The death mantra nets the vicious special ability as well as a passive bonus versus necromancy spells and effects (note: Me not noting application to effects above in other abilities was intentional!); crits can be reinforced to add wounding. Metal nets DR 1/bludgeoning as well as keen and may be enforced to auto-confirm (!!!) crits. Mercy nets a passive bonus to saves versus enchantment spells as well as merciful; crits can be reinforced to send the target to sleep. Finally, the Speed mantra nets agile as well as +5 ft. movement rate at 2nd level, which increases to +10 ft. at 8th level, +20 ft. at 16th level.

 

Beyond the astral blade, the class begins play with astral projection: +1 to AC, Reflex saves, CMD, which increases by a further +1 at 6th level and every 6 levels thereafter…but ONLY when armed with the astral blade AND wearing light armor. Odd that it does not apply when unarmored. 4th level nets uncanny dodge, 7th level evasion – but since these are granted by the same ability, I assume them to only apply in such a context as well, which is odd, particularly for uncanny dodge.

 

At 2nd level, the astra gains constant detect magic, with CL equal to class level, but only to detect presence or absence of magic auras. At 7th level, the astra may concentrate for 3 levels to detect mindscapes 1/day; 11th level nets 1/day retrocognition; 14th level provides 1/day dreamscape. If dispelled, the sight only resumes after rest. 3rd level and every 6 levels thereafter net a bonus combat feat. Astral step, erroneously called “astral slide” in the class table, is gained at 5th level: As a swift action, while having an active mantra, the astra may slip 5 ft. once per round, a distance that increases by +5 ft at 10th level and every 5 levels thereafter. The ability may be used a number of times equal to ½ class level + Wisdom modifier. The astra may act after using the ability and the interaction with teleportation-hampering means and charges is covered – kudos.

 

At 13th level, an astra may 1/day reroll a a failed Will-save,. +1/day reroll at 17th and 19th level. The capstone is ultimate mantra, usable 1/day, which activates all mantras you know. You also gain thoughtsense and arcane sight, double astral step range and add a +1 inherent (weird) bonus to atk and damage. The ultimate mantra ends after 1 minute and leaves the astra fatigued for 1 minute, which may not be magically offset, and it affects the astra even when the character would otherwise be immune to fatigue – nice!

We get favored class options for the astra, covering all the core races. They are solid, but lock races in certain alignment mantras. The elven one enhances weapon damage with the good mantra, for example. The class also gets 3 feats: Extra Mantra may only be taken if you already have 3, granting you an additional mantra. Improved Astral Step provides the option to use it in conjunction with mantra activation. Unbound Astra lets you choose to learn any of the alignment mantras, unlocking them.

 

The pdf also contains two archetypes: The first is the Hundred Arms, who must be neutral evil and replaces astral step with ghostly arm: This arm wields a duplicate of your astral blade and adds an additional attack at the highest attack bonus to your full-attack actions. (!!) Note that, RAW this arm manifests when you “reinforce any of your mantras as a swift action” – I am not sure if this replaces the regular reinforcement effect or not. The additional arm also nets +1 attack of opportunity, increasing by +1 at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter. Problematic: The additional attack RAW stacks with similar bonus-attack-granting tricks, blowing astral step out of the water, big time.

Instead of mental discipline, 13th level nets hundred-hand whirlwind, which lets your reinforce a mantra (in addition to its usual effects or instead of them?) as a full-round action, making one full BAB-attack per enemy within the threatened area. …Yeah, I also was expecting something more than a refluffed Whirlwind Attack. Okay, so, note how we replaced Mental discipline? Well, 17th level nets mental discipline 1/day, with an additional use gained at 19th level. The capstone nets you a super form as a swift action, where 5 spirit arms grow, each of which with its own mantra active. You also gain Multiweapon Fighting for the duration. Okay, how can a hand have a mantra active? Can you reinforce them? Do you gain the passive benefits? Not sure.

 

The phoenix soldier must be NG or CN and adds Fly to the class skills; this archetype is locked into the Flame mantra at 2nd level. 5th level replaces astral step with the option to shoot fire when invoking the flame mantra. This is a ranged touch attack, 60 ft. range, 4d6 fire damage; +1d6 at 10th level and every 5 levels thereafter, double damage when invoking ultimate mantra. The blast may be used ½ class level + Wis-mod times per day. Note that, RAW, you may only fire the bolt when invoking a mantra, which is interesting. Design-aesthetics-wise, full BAB is not necessary for touch attacks. Mental discipline is moved to 17th, and only gained once. At 13th level, the archetype gains phoenix wings, netting you wings of fire when invoking the flame mantra, lasting as long as the mantra does. These net you fly speed equal to land speed and good maneuverability. 19th level nets final conflagration, usable 1/day: When reduced to 0 hp, you detonate in a fire burst that heals allies and respawn with full hit points.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are generally very good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, the formal criteria are pretty precise; there are only a few minor deviations here and there. However, as far as sequence of abilities and actions go, this could be a bit more precise. Layout adheres to the nice two-column full-color standard of the series and the full-color artworks are nice. The pdf comes fully bookmarked, though the bookmarks comically refer to the hussar class instead of the astra. The bookmark to the second archetype is also not functional.

 

Thiago Rosa Shinken and Nina Hobbit’s astra is not a bad class per se. I wouldn’t call it an occult class in the sense that it is a pretty simple one, though: We do not have hard-coded narrative tools baked into the class design, nor do we really use the wealth of options of Occult Adventures – instead, we have a fleeting reference to psychic magic, which does not suffice for that moniker, at least as far as I’m concerned. That being said, that is just branding aesthetics.

 

The astra, while not perfect, is not necessarily a bad class – its attempt at the martial wielding a cool psychic blade is valiant. Here’s the issue: When this class was released, we had not one, but 3 vastly more interesting, dynamic and unique classes that covered the same things…just better. In more interesting ways. Whether you play a blade-kineticist (kinetic duelist, from Kineticists of Porphyra), a soulknife (Ultimate Psionics) or an ethermagus (Strange Magic), these alternatives provide more player agenda, more options, have tighter rules and sport abilities that are simply more interesting. (Oh, and don’t get me started on such concepts via Spheres of Power…The telekinetic’s handbook has a superb Elfenlied-hekatonkheires-style archetype that works smoothly…) The astra’s tricks are all about an escalation of numbers, basically a class with a magic weapon baked into its chassis…and that’s it. You’ll attack. You’ll cycle through the relatively bland mantras…and that’s it. Compared to the versatility these offer, the astra feels, unfortunately, like a bit of a dud.

 

Now, I have seen A LOT worse classes; with few decisions, you can make this guy work at the table…but why would you? Honestly, I appreciate that the craftsmanship is solid, but this guy feels phoned in; it doesn’t sport a unique trick. Not one. The engine falls short of what it could have been with interesting mantras. The class feels like it would have been decent, perhaps even good, when Pathfinder was a young system. However, it was released 2016, after all the options I quoted above. Yeah. Sorry, but I can’t go higher than 2.5 stars for this fellow, rounded down.

 

You can get this pdf here on OBS.

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Feb 272018
 

Tides of War: Kineticist/X Feats

This installment of Flying Pincushion Games’s Tides of War-series clocks in at 6 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

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

 

After a brief introduction (with a nice full-color artwork), we move on to the feats:

 

-Burn Cushion: Requires mutagen. 1/day, when brewing a mutagen that would allow for a Con-bonus, you can choose to accept 1 point of burn. If you accept burn while under the influence of this specially modified mutagen, you may reduce the bonus to Constitution granted by the mutagen by 2. I *assume* each such reduction only covers 1 point of burn; RAW it can be read as applying to ALL burn you’d accept. Limits on burn per round still apply.

 

-Burst Protection: Accept one point of burn when channeling energy to bestow the effects of the defensive wild talent to all creatures affected by the channel until the start of your next round. Cool!

 

-Hex Kinesis: Choose one single-target hex that can affect a living creature. When you successfully hit with a simple or composite blast against a single target (nice catch!), you can accept 1 point of burn and reduce damage dice by one step. If you do, the hex’s effects are added to the blast. Kineticist levels stack for the purpose of hex-DC and when thus used, the save DC is governed by your Con.

 

-Kinetic Summons: When summoning a single creature via summon monster/nature’s ally (not properly italicized), you may accept 1 point of burn if the creature’s subtype matches your elemental focus to bestow the advanced simple template. You also use your HD as your CL. This one looks simple, but managed to avoid a whole array of pitfalls. Kudos.

 

-Mind Your Element: +4 competence on all Knowledge checks pertaining elemental focus. Bonus improves to +6 if you stick to the element with expanded element.

 

-Pool Push: If you have a pool (like ki, grit, phrenic, etc.), you can, as a free action, accept 1 point of burn to replenish one point in the pool. Hard daily cap of 1 + Con-mod prevents abuse. Nice!

 

-Raging Kineticist: You can accept 1 point of burn when entering rage/bloodrage. If you do, a kinetic blade forms and you use your total HD as BAB and add Strength-mod to Con-mod to damage when attacking with it. Pretty much a numerical escalation. Not the biggest fan here.

 

-Sheathed in Wisdom: While defensive wild talent is active, you gain resistance versus the 1st level element equal to Wisdom modifier, stacking with resistances gained from other sources. Minor nitpick: It’s electricity resistance, not “electric resistance”. (Yes, it codifies the base elements.)

 

-Tactical Defenses: When using tactician while the defensive wild talent is active, you may accept 1 point of burn to bestow its benefits on allies benefiting from tactician for 3 rounds. Cool!

 

-Wilder Talent: Choose one talent from a non-kineticist class, with usage measured in rounds or minutes or daily uses. You can accept burn for an additional usage increment. Hard cap of Con-mod times per day prevents abuse of a complex, cool and hard to get right feat. (Yes, discoveries, tricks, etc. qualify explicitly.)

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting on a formal level are very good; not perfect, but still rather well done. Rules-language-wise, the pdf is precise and leaves nothing to be desired. Layout adheres to the 2-column full-color standard of the series and the pdf sports really nice full-color artwork – public domain though it may be, I haven’t seen these used before. Kudos! The pdf even has bookmarks, in spite of its brevity!

 

David S. McCrae’s multiclass kineticist feats are creative, offer a wide array of support and are interesting as a whole. I found myself enjoying quite a few of the feats herein and while not all are pure amazing, they should provide some food for thought for multiclassing characters. Considering the low and fair price-point, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform. Very much worth getting for the fair cost.

 

You can get these nice feats here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Feb 272018
 

Transcendent 10 – Feats of Offense – Spellcasting & Metamagic

The first offering released by Lost Spheres Publishing back in the day, and first installment of this series, clocks in at 6 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, ¾ of a page blank, leaving us with 2 ¼ pages of content, offering, as the name implies, 10 new feats.

 

It should be noted that there’s a nice difference here that sets this apart from other feat-books: We actually get notes on usage of the feats for each of them, which can be really helpful. Okay, without further ado:

 

-Cumulative Spell (Metamagic): +1 spell level; choose one spell you know; each time the spell has been cast within 1 round within range of another casting, its DC increases by +1, up to the governing casting attribute bonus. While the wording is a bit rough here, this can be a godsend for blaster specialists, though the feat RAW is tied to a specific spell, which is a bit odd. Still, I can see this work for some campaigns and the DC-cap prevents warfare abuse.

 

-Sundry Spell (Metamagic): +1 spell level; Choose one spell that allows for a save. For each spell of a different school (!!) you cast before casting the spell you gain a +1 to the spell’s save DC, up to a +7. Brutal? Kinda, but here’s the catch: You must alternate schools to stack up the DC. No, you can’t just oscillate between two build-up spells. And honestly, for the build-up, this is actually interesting. Kudos for a truly interesting design here.

 

-Life Burn: Choose a number ranging from 1 up to the casting ability bonus. You may choose to add that number to spellcasting DCs and CL-checks with the next spell you cast. Spells modified with metamagic or those with a casting time of a full-round action or longer get a further +1, while quickened spells or swift action casts decrease the boost by 1. After completion of the spellcasting thus modified, you take a number of negative levels equal to the bonus you’ve chosen. If this would make negative levels exceed your character level, you need to make a Fort-save (I assume the triggering spell level’s spell save DC here, but clarification would be nice). On a failure, you’re reduced to negative hit points equal to the modified spell’s spell level and start dying; on a success, you instead become unconscious and take 1 point of Con damage for every negative level in excess of your level. Negative levels incurred fade at a rate of 1 per hour and you may not heal them magically. The bonus may not be applied to harmless effects. Okay, I like this, actually: High risk/reward…but the feat should have an immunity-override caveat for negative levels and a Charisma-substitution caveat.

 

-Hidden Potential: Okay, here we have a feat with narrative potential: Chosoe one spell from a spell list your character has access to, but which is one spell level higher than what you could usually cast. 1/day, you can choose to cast this spell. If you do, you gain negative levels equal to the spell’s level and if these exceed your character level, you must make a Fort-save (I assume, against the spell’s spell level’s DC, but clarification would be nice); on a failure, you drop to the spell’s level in negative hit points, dying. On a success, you “only” drop unconscious and take the spell’s level in Con damage. The negative levels incurred by the feat fade at a rate of 1 per hour and may explicitly not be cured magically. When you reach the selected spell’s level, you must choose it as the first spell you take, and a new spell is selected. Okay, so what happens once you gain access to 9th spell level? Another oversight: RAW, nothing prevents Con-less creatures like undead or constructs from taking this one. The negative levels should have an immunity-override and a Charisma-substitution caveat…but know what? As a person, I really love this feat, in spite of it not being perfect.

 

-Thanatotic Instinct: This one requires Hidden Potential. If reduced to negative hit points, you may activate Hidden potential as a free action, even if you have already used it.This is basically a desperate parting shot, considering that a failed save means you’ll be pretty much dead. Slightly weird: Hidden Potential’s effects can leave you on a successful save at more negative HP than what you had before. It’s a minor thing and easily enough to remedy, but yeah. Still: Adore this parting shot.

 

-Void Casting: Choose one spell that you had prepared, but currently may not cast. You can cast this spell once more, but gain one negative level per spell level upon completion of the casting. We have the same chassis as Life Burn, Hidden Potential, etc. here, which, alas, also means that the caveats mentioned before are missing here as well.

 

-Insinuating Spell (Metamagic): +3 spell levels; Choose a Ref-save prompting, damage-dealing spell; you change its school to Transmutation and make the damage internal changing save type to Fortitude. Energy resistance (erroneously called “elemental” here) is halved against such spells, but immunity still applies.

 

-Phantasmal Spell (Metamagic): +2 spell levels: Works pretty much like Insinuating Spell, with the exception that it can be applied to damage-dealing spells that call for Fort- or Ref-saves and converts them into Illusions with the phantasm subtype and the mind-affecting descriptor. As such, they are resisted with Will instead and obviously, quite a few creatures are immune there. To make up for that, energy damage bypasses resistances and immunities and becomes untyped, which I am not a big fan of, but which makes sense from a payoff standpoint. Minor quibble: feat erroneously self-references as Psychic Spell.

 

-Thanatotic Spell (Metamagic): +3 spell levels. Works analogue to the previous two feats; you choose a Ref-save based spell that deals damage, convert its school to Necromancy, the save of the spell to Fortitude and the energy to negative energy…and yes, this explicitly covers undead being healed. That black fireball not only hurt, it also healed the undead legions…

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are pretty impressive, considering that this was the freshman offering of Lost Spheres Publishing. While I noticed a minor name-hiccup and while the rules-language provided a couple of non-standard verbiage-cases, the integrity is there for the most part, which is honestly more than I can say for a LOT of other supplements. Layout adheres to a basic 2-column standard with subdued lines on the borders. The pdf has no interior artworks or bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

 

You know, Christen N. Sowards’ Lost Spheres Publishing flew honestly under my radar for quite a while. I only “discovered” the company relatively recently…and if this pdf (and the amazing Shadow Weaver class I’ve covered at the request of my patreons) is any indicator, I am actually in for a treat for once. You see, this pdf may not be perfect and sports a couple of instances where anti-abuse caveats are required…but it still managed to genuinely impress me. Not one of the feats herein is boring. I have not seen one of them done before in that manner. Their design, complexity and ambition bespeak a deep knowledge of not only how complex concepts can be juggled, but of what is actually cool from a storytelling perspective.

 

I have read a metric ton of feats, to the point where I am bored by most of them, by endless accumulations of bonuses and numerical escalations. The feats herein, in contrast, all have strong leitmotifs and ideas and manage to pursue them in rather unique ways. Is this slightly rougher than what I’d like it to be? Yes. But it is also more fun than I had with a feat-book in quite a while. Considering the freshman bonus, my final verdict will hence clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform. If you can live with the aforementioned imperfections this has, then check it out – these are actually feats worth taking, ones that are interesting.

 

You can get these cool, high-concept feats here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Feb 272018
 

Adepts of the Inward Eye

This supplement clocks in at 31 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 27 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

So, the theme of this pdf, in a nutshell, would be gestalting and theurgy – i.e. the combination of different casting traditions. In the case of this pdf, these would be predominantly Dreamscarred Press’ much beloved Ultimate Psionics as well as Paizo’s psychic magic. Furthermore, we have class options for Path of War as well, making use of Path of War Expanded.

 

The options provided follow the format of PrCs, the first of which would be the phrenic channeler. This would be a 10-level PrC, requiring the ability to manifest 2nd level powers and cast 2nd level psychic spells, with skill prereqs being only a moderate 3 ranks in two skills. The PrC gets d6 HD, ½ BAB-progression, 2 + Int skills, as well as ½ Will-save progression. The class gets full progression of psychic spells as well as power points and new psionic powers as though the character advances one level in the respective class, but not any other class features that would be attained. The first level option would be call power: 1/day as a free action, the phrenic channeler may expend a psychic spell slot gaining a number of power points equal to twice the expended spell slot -1, but these power points only last for a single round. At 4th level, manifester level is increased by +1 on a round the ability is used, with 7th and 10th level providing further +1 ML-increases, respectively.

 

At 2nd level, we get Ex Interna, which allows the character to spend power points to augment psychic spells, with 1 + CL – twice the level of the spell as a cap of the number of points that may be spent to augment the spell. For every 2 power points spent, the DC increases by 1. By expending twice the spell’s spell slot in power points, the spell is not expended upon being cast. Finally, by expending 2 power points, the phrenic channeler may augment a psychic spell with higher level versions to a higher version. At 5th level, the ability is expanded to include 3 additional options: By expending psionic focus, psychic spells may be cast sans requiring thought or emotional components. By expending psionic focus and power points equal to those required by a metapsionic feat, the character can add the metapsionic feat to a spell. Finally, for every 2 power points spent as part of another augmentation, the spell’s effective level (excluding DC!) is boosted by 1. At 8th level, we get 3 further options: For every power point spent, CL increases by 1 to a maximum of 5 until the end of the next turn (BRUTAL!); for every power point spent, the spell deals +1d6 points of damage. Okay, this is problematic. Damage is untyped, which it shouldn’t be. Also: How does this interact with non-damaging spells? AoE? This needs precision. Finally, for every 3 additional power points spent, the phrenic channeler gets to add an additional target with a spell. Okay, so this needs clarification. It should only apply to spells with a limited number of targets greater than one, should exclude personal spells, etc. The 10th level ability allows the phrenic channeler to ignore spell or power resistance and may use psychic spells and psionic powers in antimagic or null psionics fields with successful concentration checks. Yes, always on. No, not getting anywhere near my games. I liked this PrC for the most part, but the high-level options suddenly become a bit sloppy and thus, alas, also OP.

 

The second PrC would be the empathic armsmaster, who needs to qualify for 5 ranks in one, 3 ranks in two other skills and needs to have the Empath feat as well as the ability to cast 2nd level psychic spells and initiate 2nd level maneuvers, including at least 1 stance. The PrC gets 4+ Int skills per level, d8 HD, full BAB-progression, ½ Will-save progression and 8/10ths spellcasting progression. Obviously, it covers 10 levels as well. 2nd level and every 2 levels thereafter, the class gets a new shattered mirror or veiled moon maneuver (or one from any discipline he had previously access to). 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter yields an additional maneuver readied and 2nd level and every 3 levels thereafter allows for the exchange of a known maneuver for another one. Stances are gained at 3rd and 8th level. Starting at 1st level, when using the Empath feat to study emotion auras in combat as a full-round action, the character gains no penalty to saves and regains a maneuver known, which is a cool blending of tropes. Cool: The character also gets a +2 insight bonus to atk and skill checks versus creatures whose emotions have been read thus, as well as a +2 insight bonus to AC, with duration of 1 minute.

 

Psychic discipline, mental focus, hypnotic stare, spirits, spirit powers, animus, armiger’s mark, dark claim, ki pool, mission and warleader treat PrC levels as class levels for the purpose of their progression. Beginning at 2nd level, the armsmaster may ignore the emotions component of psychic spells. Furthermore, when using a full-round action to read emotions, the character may read initiation modifier creatures within 30 ft. Alternatively, he may only read a single creature as a swift action, but does not regain a maneuver when doing so. Starting at 4th level, we get blindsight 30 ft., but only versus creatures whose emotions the armsmaster has read within the last minute. 5th level provides a potent combo: When initiating a strike (not a boost etc.!), he may, as a swift action, cast a psychic spell of on equal or lower level. 6th level expends the emotion-reading duration benefits to 1 hour and also knows the location of a creature thus read within 1 mile per class level. He may also read that creature’s aura as a free action…and may target the creature with a psychic spell while it’s in that range. That is ridiculously OP. It abolishes line of sight/effect in favor of a multiple-mile range. WTF. 7th level provides empathic affliction, which is pretty neat: When you strike a foe whose emotions you’ve read with a martial strike, you inflict an additional effect depending on the creature’s prominent emotional state, with a save vs. 10 + maneuver level + initiating modifier to negate. 12 effects are provided and honestly, I’d have loved them to scale benefits and instead be unlocked sooner. At 8th level, we get the option to abandon a stance as a swift action to enter the stance of perfect focus, which allows for the automatic success of all concentration checks (!!) as well as for the maintenance of concentration as a swift action. The capstone makes emotional reading automatic within 30 ft. and doubles the bonus for studying versus all targets within 30 ft. I really want to like this one. The line of sight/effect breaking needs to die in a fiery death, though – even in Path of War-power-level games, that one is ridiculously exploitable. Automatic concentration success is also somewhat ludicrous, though it at least prevents combos with other stances.

 

The third PrC would be the ocular enlightener, who needs BAB +4, 5 ranks Perception and Third Eye. The class gets d10 HD, 2 + Int skills per level, ½ Will-save progression, full BAB-progression and 8/10th spellcasting progression. The class may keep the 3rd eye open at all times, is no longer fatigued upon closing it, and it may read auras as a swift action. 2nd level provides uncanny dodge (improved uncanny dodge, if the character already has it), a bonus to Sense Motive equal to class level, as well as all-around vision. 3rd level nets blindsense 10 ft., which upgrades to blindsight 30 ft. at 6th level, to 60 ft. at 9th level. Furthermore, at 9th level, this range can be increased by +30 ft. for every round of full-round concentration, with range reverting to normal once concentration ceases. And we have another WTF-moment here. There is no maximum for the range-increase. Theoretically, you could encompass a vast prairie or desert thus. This is bitter, for I actually like the idea here. Still, needs a cap. Beginning at 4th level, the PrC suffers no miss chance from concealment or from incorporeal targets. The latter is a 3.5ism. In PFRPG, incorporeal creatures do not have a miss chance.

 

5th level provides immunity to being surprised and opponents do not gain benefits versus the enlightener for not being seen. Additionally, we get improved uncanny dodge and 7th level yields autosuccess on Will-saves and Perception-checks to see an illusion for what it is, rendering any shadow caster utterly obsolete. 8th level nets constant true seeing while the third eye is open. 10th level sports another “nowhere near my game” ability: While the third eye is open, the character ignores ALL DR and ignores ANY MAGICAL effect that would increase the AC. Remember: The eye will be ALWAYS OPEN. Magical effects include items. WTF.

 

Next up is the Godmind, who must have 3 ranks in two skills and be capable of casting 2nd level divine spells and as well capable of manifesting 2nd level powers. The class gets d6 HD, 2 + Int skills per level, ½ BAB-progression and ½ Will-save progression. The table has a minor, aesthetic glitch in the final row. The PRC also gets full spell-progression, but does not sport the usual spells per day/manifesting line, which can make spontaneous use a bit tougher. The first class feature of the godmind would be Deus Ex Cerebra, gained at 1st level, which allows the godmind to spend power points to cast prepared divine spells sans expending them; metapsionic feats may be added to the spells thus cast and even already expended spells qualify. At 3rd level and every odd level thereafter, the ability extends to a higher spell level, with costs increasing by +2 power points per spell level beyond 1st. Cap here is level 5, obviously. I like this one. It’s potent, but elegant and unique. At 2nd level, we get channel divinity: When casting divine spell, the godmind chooses one benefit to apply to all psionic powers manifested before the end of the next turn: Doubled duration or no AoO-provoking are potent from the get-go. 4th level also unlocks the option to ignore range for a power while a target is affected by a divine spell cast by the godmind. Which is not bad per se…but this includes explicitly powers with a range of personal. Nope. Nopenopenope.

 

Speaking of which, the second option is: “All of the godmind’s powers deal untyped holy damage rather than their normal type of damage until the end of his next turn.” There is no holy damage in vanilla PFRPG; Path of War introduced that damage type in a dubious design decision, yes, but even with the benefit of the doubt, I have no idea what “untyped holy damage” is supposed to be. Is it Path of War’s holy damage? Yes or no? 6th level provides x1.5 damage of a chosen alignment, half versus creatures of the opposite alignment. And no, we’re not talking about LG or the like, but about chaotic, lawful, good or evil. The second enhancement available increases numerical bonuses by powers manifested by +1. I assume that to be total and not per die/static bonus. 8th level is ridiculous: Until the end of the godmind’s next turn, ML increases by spell level. Yes, SPELL LEVEL. The second option reduces power point cost of powers manifested by spell level…which is similarly ouch-inducing. This whole ability complex needs to be bashed around the block with the nerfbat. At least twice. Remember, these benefits kick in with EVERY DAMN DIVINE SPELL CAST. The capstone, comparatively, is meek: We may spend +2 power points when using Deus Ex Cerebra to cast a non-prepared spell, which needs to be on the spells known list.

 

Okay, the reverend dreamer is another PrC that needs to be able to cast 2nd level divine spells, but also needs to be able to cast psychic spells. 2 skills with 3 ranks. The class gets d6 HD, 2 + Int-mod skills per level, ½ BAB-progression, ½ Will-save progression, full caster-progression. The signature ability of this fellow would by mystic invocation, which yields limited spell-slot transparency: The character may e.g. cast divine spells via psychic spell slots, but at +1 spell level. First, only 1st level spells, with every odd level thereafter increasing the maximum spell level that benefits from this by +1. Kudos: Spontaneous spellcasting interaction is noted. Apart from this, we get a capstone, enlightened faith, which lets the character substitute a divine focus for somatic, emotion, thought or verbal components. Potentially problematic: Up to 10K (!!) of material components can also be substituted thus. The consequences are pretty obvious. While this one needs a limitation, the PrC otherwise is interesting.

 

The esoteric scholar needs access to 2nd level psychic and arcane spells and, bingo, 3 ranks in 2 skills. The class gets d6 HD, 2 + Int skills per level, ½ BAB-progression and 1/2 Will-save-progression as well as well as full spellcasting progression in both parent classes. Harmonic arcana acts as an arcane substitute of the reverend dreamer’s mystic invocation – replace divine with arcane, there you go. The capstone provides +4 CL for all spellcasting classes and lets the character increase “spell’s effective level” of a spell cast by 1 or 2; uncommon, but the intention is explained.

 

The combat wonderworker needs 15 ranks Spellcraft, BAB +10 and the ability to cast 3rd level spells or manifest 3rd level powers. The PrC gets d10 HD, 2 + Int skills per level, ½ Fort- and Will-save progression and full BAB as well as spellcasting/manifesting progression. It also only spans 5 levels. Additionally, the PrC gains proficiency with all simple and martial weapons as well as all armors and shields. At 1st level, combat wonderworkers may manifest one power or cast one spell with a casting/manifesting duration of no more than a full-round action as part of a full-attack action. Okay, AoO? Hands required for spells? The ability may be used in conjunction with spellstrike or martial power, but seriously needs additional notes on how it exactly is supposed to work. RAW, it is guesswork. At 2nd level, the character can expend a prepared spell slot of at least 3rd level or 5 power points to gain a single combat feat for CL/ML rounds as a standard action. Additional power points/higher spell levels increase the duration. 4th level allows the character to use the ability as a swift action. 3rd level provides a “+20 divine bonus” to concentration checks made to cast spells or manifest powers. Yes, at least it’s not a flat-out auto-success. However. Including BAB, inherent, etc., PFRPG has 20 bonus types. “Divine” is NOT one of them. Come on. 5th level makes the character’s abilities not be suppressed by the antimagic/null psionics fields and they cannot be dispelled. Äh. What? The abilities of the fellow are supernatural, and as such usually not dispelled. “A supernatural ability’s effect cannot be dispelled and is not subject to counterspells.” It is suppressed by such fields yes, but that does not mean dispelling. Or is that supposed to apply to spells? If so, then thank the pantheon for the wording not catching that, for that would have been utterly broken, even at the high levels the PrC requires.

 

The twofold sage has the prerequisites of, bingo, two skills with 3 ranks and the ability to cast spells or manifest powers from two classes in the same category – for example wilder/psion, cleric/oracle, etc. – you get the idea. The PrC gets d6 HD, 2 + Int skills per level, ½ BAB-progression and Will-save progression and full spellcasting progression in both classes the character qualifies for. The PrC once more gets a scaling spell slot transparency ability that increases every odd level, with the usual +1 spell level, scaling of up to 5th spell level. Additionally, 2nd level and every even level thereafter nets a sage’s gift, which basically constitute the talents of the PrC. These include a variety of options, with a total of 16 such gifts provided. Aggressive conversion is weird: You can cast/manifest an additional power/spell as part of the same action. The second spell does not take effect, but converts the spell or power’s damage type to that of the second spell. However, this is no energy substitution, as base damage is not modified. I assume the base damage here to be the non-scaling component. While functional, the verbiage could be slightly cleaner. Treating a spell known on both spell lists as one level lower (to a minimum of 1st) is interesting; similarly, better metapsionics/magic, more spell slots or power points and the like can be found. Complaint here: The spell slot gain lacks a caveat that it should not be capable of granting a spell slot of a level the character has no access to. Also highly problematic: Two psionic focuses. The capstone lets you add CLs/MLs together, but thankfully caps at character level.

 

The final PrC would be the Grand Unifier, which needs 3 skills with 13 ranks and Compatible Arcana or Mind of Magic as well as the ability to cast spells/manifest powers with at least 2 different classes, one of which must provide access to at least 5th level spellcasting/manifesting. The PrC nets d6 HD, 2 + Int skills,1/2 BAB- and Will-save progression and full spellcasting progression in two of the classes chosen. One Form builds on the spell transparency abilities featured within several of the PrCs within, increasing the maximum level of spell/power that benefits from them by +1, for a further +1 every odd level thereafter – so yeah, with these fellows, you get spell slot transparency of up to 9th level. 2nd level yields form blending, which allows the character to apply class features or special abilities that pertain to only spells or powers to all of the resources, making the interaction field wide open there. Suffice to say, this needs careful oversight. 4th level yields form fluidity, which allows for the interchanging of components and displays – which is a really brutal boost. 6th level eliminates all components and displays save for expensive material components and foci (define expensive) from the requirements, as well as allowing the character to ignore inhibiting effects targeted at a specific form of magic/powers.

 

The pdf also contains Gestalt feats, like Abnormal origin (whose table erroneously refers to psychic magic as psionics), allowing you to switch magic. The components are converted…but, you know, there’s an issue here: Why ever take anything that’s not divine magic? You can freely cast it in armor…Yeah, that’s a glaring oversight. On the cool side, Arcane Chemyst lets you modify extracts with metamagic, use them to qualify for arcane spellcasting, etc. Armored Matrix is Another one of the feats where you have to shake your head: Equip up to AC-bonus unslotted magic items into your armor. Wandslinger, anyone? They are treated as being held in hands, btw. Urgh. On the plus-side, there are a couple of feasible multiclassing options here that are pretty intriguing.

 

The pdf closes with a brief one-page guideline to make gestalt characters.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting on a formal level are good; I noticed a couple of typo-level glitches, but nothing too serious. On a rules-language level, the pdf is inconsistent; for the most parts, it is surprisingly precise and to the point, only to basically shrug and wave hands in some cases where further definition would have been required. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard and interior artwork is solid color stock images. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Matthew Daley’s Adepts are a pdf I really wanted to like; I actually enjoy theurge-style tricks and gestalt gaming – not all the time, but it makes for a nice change of pace. And indeed, the author’s PrCs show, as a whole, a firm grasp of how a theurgy-style class chassis can be constructed. The fact that, while there are similarities between the classes, there still are distinct differences, is another plus. That being said, at the same time, this pdf misses the mark, big time.

 

Even if you prefer the increased power-level championed by Path of War, you’ll have a couple of abilities that simply lack the required precision. And, even in these high power-levels, there are a few tricks that simply should not be done. Taking, for example, all limiting factors away from spellcasting. Like line of sight/effect, range, delimiting Personal effects, making spells more potent, adding ridiculous CL-boosts to the fray…The list goes on. You won’t even have to try to be ridiculously strong with these. Several options that usually would be 1/day at best, are common always-on tricks herein. From ignoring SR/PR and all magical boosts to AC, always, mind you, to worse – this pdf’s options are the most OP components I’ve seen in a long, long time.

 

And honestly, it’s somewhat puzzling to me – for, for the most part, the basics in the design are solid, and indeed, there are components in every class that are interesting and more down to earth…only to have one or more overkill abilities that will make even the strongest psionics or Path of War characters blush with shame, thrown into the mix.

 

If you’re looking for theurge options for anything but the most high-powered, “screw balance”-sort of gameplay, then give this a pass. And it’s a shame, really, because the pdf does not NEED these overkill “I’m moar imba than you”-abilities; the dual spellcasting is potent and the supplemental abilities, where more subdued, are interesting. With one strict and capable rules-dev to whack the OP aspects into shape (or at least, adjust them to the high power-level of Path of War), this could have been a truly stellar reference book for gestalting options.

 

As written, though, I can’t even wholeheartedly recommend it to fans of Path of War, as it relentlessly slaughters the few checks and balances it retained, as well as further enhancing spellcasting supremacy.

 

Ultimately, I wanted to love this book, I really did, and I wished that it had received some tighter controls regarding the mechanical integrity and basic balancing. As written, in spite of the gems and ideas and the solid framework, I can’t go higher than 2.5 stars. And I can’t round up for this one.

 

You can get this pdf here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Feb 262018
 

Village Backdrop: Farrav’n

This installment of Raging Swan Press‘ Village Backdrop-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Okay, first things first: Farrav’n is situated within a stretch of desert called the luminous desert, a region, which is lavishly-mapped in a gorgeous, isometric map. This section also defines the surrounding environment, which is somewhat crucial to understand the nature of this settlement, for Farrav’n is indeed a holy site and a place of solace for the weary traveler through the deserts: Devoted to the mostly forgotten nature goddess Rrav, the settlement is a unique sight: It is basically situated in a crater dug out of the desert sands, ringed by a circle of staves that hold sand and storms at bay with purple, divine light…for it is here that the prophetess Jenndra was led to dig and find a new home. It should btw. be noted that the luminous desert actually is a mechanically-relevant hazard of sorts, impeding water-creation mechanics. The section also provides guidance to predict imminent worm attacks and the like. NICE!

 

The oasis thus generated by divine providence has since then become a fierce competition for the less savory Shadescar Oasis, erstwhile home of the children of Rrav, where cutthroat gnolls still follow a rather ruthless creed. Farrav’n, in contrast, may be overseen predominantly by gnolls, but they are gnolls that have renounced their evil ways, making the settlement a natural fit for e.g. the Southlands of Kobold Press’ Midgard setting, but that as an aside.

 

Of course, the gnolls of Shadescar Oasis will not wait forever as Farrav’n reputation for hospitality grows, and the infrequent worm attacks can also provide some conflict…

 

Now, as always, we do get notes on local color and dressing habits, nomenclature and local lore, as well as a table of 6 whispers and rumors for PCs to unearth. No less than 5 different sample NPCs are provided in the classic, fluff-only write-up Raging Swan Press tends to employ: I.e., we get a brief line on suggested power-level/classes, but otherwise focus on personality, mannerisms, etc. Instead of a unified table of events, this pdf benefits from the extended content made possible by Raging Swan Press’ patreon – i.e., we get one event table of 6 events for sand’s edge, the magical border of the village, and one 6 entry-event-list for the oasis public access. Now, beyond these, we also receive a massive table of 20 sample events of local color to be used throughout the village, including being potentially run over by frolicking gnoll children (with CMB-values noted), tasty smell of meats, etc. – all in all, this is a surprisingly NICE place, one defined in both laws and cultural traditions, by the worship of Rrav that freed the gnolls from the cycle of violence.

 

If that alone does not suffice for you, you should be aware that the village does sport some really amazing points of interest: Yes, there would be the visitor’s tent, the public resting place of sorts…but what if you don’t like tents? The Tan Worm, that’s what! Basically, the oasis contains a massive, taxidermized/alchemically-treated variant purple worm that acts as a home to many of the locals! Come on, that is amazing! Now, it should be noted that the pdf follows Raging Swan Press’ evolved formula for Village Backdrops: That means that, beyond the general marketplace section, each of the points of interest lists the respective services you can procure and the items available in its own entry. We also get read-aloud text for the individual points of interest and for the aforementioned sample NPCs.

 

Oh, and before you ask, yes, the PFRPG-version does get its proper settlement statblock.

 

Have I mentioned the scorpion circus? Or the fact that relevant mini-quest suggestions are provided throughout the pdf?

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes with not one, but two fantastic maps by Tommi Salama. (You can get these in a key-less high-res version, at least to my knowledge, by joining the patreon, just fyi.) The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and is included in two versions: One optimized for the printer, and one optimized for screen-use.

 

Mike Welham has a serious gift as far as I’m concerned. The basic premise of Farrav’n is honestly not one that had me particularly excited. Good gnolls playing against the trope? Okay, seen that before. Where Farrav’n won me over is the details: We get mechanical tidbits here and there; we have these exceedingly cool locations/points of interest. We have slight touches that make the surrounding desert special. Purple worm house. Scorpion circus. Purple-glow-ringed crater in the sand. Just picturing Farrav’n is an inspiring exercise, as the settlement comes to life. The surprising innocence and joy that is mirrored in the little pieces of local dressing and color make sure that this is a place the PCs will not only relish finding, they will want to defend this atypical slice of kindness and shelter in a thoroughly hostile desert.

 

As an aside, I can see this work, with serial numbers filed off, in a scifi-context with minimum hassle. Did I hear Dune somewhere? Anyways, Farrav’n is an intriguing village that greatly benefits from the evolved and expanded formula of the series, one that shows that artistry in the details and little flourishes can elevate something familiar to something thoroughly unique. I adore this place. 5 stars + seal of approval.

 

You can get this cool, magical oasis here on OBS!

 

You can directly support Raging Swan Press here on patreon!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

Feb 262018
 

Village Backdrop: Farrav’n (5e)

This installment of Raging Swan Press‘ Village Backdrop-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Okay, first things first: Farrav’n is situated within a stretch of desert called the luminous desert, a region, which is lavishly-mapped in a gorgeous, isometric map. This section also defines the surrounding environment, which is somewhat crucial to understand the nature of this settlement, for Farrav’n is indeed a holy site and a place of solace for the weary traveler through the deserts: Devoted to the mostly forgotten nature goddess Rrav, the settlement is a unique sight: It is basically situated in a crater dug out of the desert sands, ringed by a circle of staves that hold sand and storms at bay with purple, divine light…for it is here that the prophetess Jenndra was led to dig and find a new home. And yes, the sand’s edge has mechanical representations of how tough it is to traverse – which have been properly adjusted to 5e’s rules.

It should btw. be noted that the luminous desert actually is a mechanically-relevant hazard of sorts, impeding water-creation mechanics…and yes, these have been properly converted to 5e-mechanics. The section also provides guidance to predict imminent worm attacks and the like – and yes, once more, properly converted. NICE!

 

The oasis thus generated by divine providence has since then become a fierce competition for the less savory Shadescar Oasis, erstwhile home of the children of Rrav, where cutthroat gnolls still follow a rather ruthless creed. Farrav’n, in contrast, may be overseen predominantly by gnolls, but they are gnolls that have renounced their evil ways, making the settlement a natural fit for e.g. the Southlands of Kobold Press’ Midgard setting, but that as an aside. (That book is mostly system-neutral, btw. – totally worth it for 5e GMs!)

 

Of course, the gnolls of Shadescar Oasis will not wait forever as Farrav’n reputation for hospitality grows, and the infrequent worm attacks can also provide some conflict…

 

Now, as always, we do get notes on local color and dressing habits, nomenclature and local lore, as well as a table of 6 whispers and rumors for PCs to unearth. No less than 5 different sample NPCs are provided in the classic, fluff-only write-up Raging Swan Press tends to employ: I.e., we get a brief line on suggested power-level/classes, but otherwise focus on personality, mannerisms, etc. Before you ask: Yes, where applicable they refer to 5e’s respective sample statblocks.

 

Instead of a unified table of events, this pdf benefits from the extended content made possible by Raging Swan Press’ patreon – i.e., we get one event table of 6 events for sand’s edge, the magical border of the village, and one 6 entry-event-list for the oasis public access. Now, beyond these, we also receive a massive table of 20 sample events of local color to be used throughout the village, including being potentially run over by frolicking gnoll children, tasty smell of meats, etc. – all in all, this is a surprisingly NICE place, one defined in both laws and cultural traditions, by the worship of Rrav that freed the gnolls from the cycle of violence.

 

If that alone does not suffice for you, you should be aware that the village does sport some really amazing points of interest: Yes, there would be the visitor’s tent, the public resting place of sorts…but what if you don’t like tents? The Tan Worm, that’s what! Basically, the oasis contains a massive, taxidermized/alchemically treated variant purple worm that acts as a home to many of the locals! Come on, that is amazing! Now, it should be noted that the pdf follows Raging Swan Press’ evolved formula for Village Backdrops: That means that, beyond the general marketplace section, each of the points of interest lists the respective services you can procure and the items available in its own entry. We also get read-aloud text for the individual points of interest and for the aforementioned sample NPCs.

 

Have I mentioned the scorpion circus? Or the fact that relevant mini-quest suggestions are provided throughout the pdf?

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes with not one, but two fantastic maps by Tommi Salama. (You can get these in a key-less high-res version, at least to my knowledge, by joining the patreon, just fyi.) The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and is included in two versions: One optimized for the printer, and one optimized for screen-use.

 

Mike Welham has a serious gift as far as I’m concerned. The basic premise of Farrav’n is honestly not one that had me particularly excited. Good gnolls playing against the trope? Okay, seen that before. Where Farrav’n won me over is the details: We get mechanical tidbits here and there; we have these exceedingly cool locations/points of interest. We have slight touches that make the surrounding desert special. Purple worm house. Scorpion circus. Purple-glow-ringed crater in the sand. Just picturing Farrav’n is an inspiring exercise, as the settlement comes to life. The surprising innocence and joy that is mirrored in the little pieces of local dressing and color make sure that this is a place the PCs will not only relish finding, they will want to defend this atypical slice of kindness and shelter in a thoroughly hostile desert.

 

As an aside, I can see this work, with serial numbers filed off, in a scifi-context with minimum hassle. Did I hear Dune somewhere? Anyways, Farrav’n is an intriguing village that greatly benefits from the evolved and expanded formula of the series, one that shows that artistry in the details and little flourishes can elevate something familiar to something thoroughly unique. I adore this place, and it is a pleasure to report that the conversion to 5e has been handled with diligence and care, making sure that the mechanically-relevant aspects are not lost. 5 stars + seal of approval.

 

You can get this amazing oasis here on OBS!

 

You can directly support Raging Swan Press here on patreon!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Feb 262018
 

Village Backdrop: Farrav’n (system neutral)

This installment of Raging Swan Press‘ Village Backdrop-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Okay, first things first: Farrav’n is situated within a stretch of desert called the luminous desert, a region, which is lavishly-mapped in a gorgeous, isometric map. This section also defines the surrounding environment, which is somewhat crucial to understand the nature of this settlement, for Farrav’n is indeed a holy site and a place of solace for the weary traveler through the deserts: Devoted to the mostly forgotten nature goddess Rrav, the settlement is a unique sight: It is basically situated in a crater dug out of the desert sands, ringed by a circle of staves that hold sand and storms at bay with purple, divine light…for it is here that the prophetess Jenndra was led to dig and find a new home. This circle also comes with basic, old-school style notes for failing to climb it.

 

It should btw. be noted that the luminous desert impedes magical water-creation mechanics; alas, as a somewhat system-immanent issue of this version, this aspect is obviously not supplemented with hard rules, and the same goes for guidance to predict imminent worm attacks and the like. It would have been nice to get non-mechanics-based warning indicators noted or the like in this version.

 

The oasis thus generated by divine providence has since then become a fierce competition for the less savory Shadescar Oasis, erstwhile home of the children of Rrav, where cutthroat gnolls still follow a rather ruthless creed. Farrav’n, in contrast, may be overseen predominantly by gnolls, but they are gnolls that have renounced their evil ways, making the settlement a natural fit for e.g. the Southlands of Kobold Press’ Midgard setting, but that as an aside.

 

Of course, the gnolls of Shadescar Oasis will not wait forever as Farrav’n reputation for hospitality grows, and the infrequent worm attacks can also provide some conflict…

 

Now, as always, we do get notes on local color and dressing habits, nomenclature and local lore, as well as a table of 6 whispers and rumors for PCs to unearth. No less than 5 different sample NPCs are provided in the classic, fluff-only write-up Raging Swan Press tends to employ: I.e., we get a brief line on suggested power-level/classes, but otherwise focus on personality, mannerisms, etc. Big plus for the system neutral version: We get OSR-short-hand stats for one of the NPCs: AC (descending), HD, hit points and damage values. NICE! (As an aside, it would have been nice to see such shorthands for all of them, but oh well!) Nice, if you’re particular about that sort of thing: Nomenclature has been adjusted as well, referring to thieves and magic-users.

 

Instead of a unified table of events, this pdf benefits from the extended content made possible by Raging Swan Press’ patreon – i.e., we get one event table of 6 events for sand’s edge, the magical border of the village, and one 6 entry-event-list for the oasis public access. Now, beyond these, we also receive a massive table of 20 sample events of local color to be used throughout the village, including being potentially run over by frolicking gnoll children, tasty smell of meats, etc. – all in all, this is a surprisingly NICE place, one defined in both laws and cultural traditions, by the worship of Rrav that freed the gnolls from the cycle of violence.

 

If that alone does not suffice for you, you should be aware that the village does sport some really amazing points of interest: Yes, there would be the visitor’s tent, the public resting place of sorts…but what if you don’t like tents? The Tan Worm, that’s what! Basically, the oasis contains a massive, taxidermized/alchemically-treated variant purple worm that acts as a home to many of the locals! Come on, that is amazing! Now, it should be noted that the pdf follows Raging Swan Press’ evolved formula for Village Backdrops: That means that, beyond the general marketplace section, each of the points of interest lists the respective services you can procure and the items available in its own entry. Yes, the items available have been adjusted to a more classic aesthetic. We also get read-aloud text for the individual points of interest and for the aforementioned sample NPCs.

 

Have I mentioned the scorpion circus? Or the fact that relevant mini-quest suggestions are provided throughout the pdf?

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes with not one, but two fantastic maps by Tommi Salama. (You can get these in a key-less high-res version, at least to my knowledge, by joining the patreon, just fyi.) The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and is included in two versions: One optimized for the printer, and one optimized for screen-use.

 

Mike Welham has a serious gift as far as I’m concerned. The basic premise of Farrav’n is honestly not one that had me particularly excited. Good gnolls playing against the trope? Okay, seen that before. Where Farrav’n won me over is the details: We get mechanical tidbits here and there (though obviously less of them than in the PFRPG and 5e-versions); we have these exceedingly cool locations/points of interest. We have slight touches that make the surrounding desert special. Purple worm house. Scorpion circus. Purple-glow-ringed crater in the sand. Just picturing Farrav’n is an inspiring exercise, as the settlement comes to life. The surprising innocence and joy that is mirrored in the little pieces of local dressing and color make sure that this is a place the PCs will not only relish finding, they will want to defend this atypical slice of kindness and shelter in a thoroughly hostile desert.

 

As an aside, I can see this work, with serial numbers filed off, in a scifi-context with minimum hassle. Did I hear Dune somewhere? Anyways, Farrav’n is an intriguing village that greatly benefits from the evolved and expanded formula of the series, one that shows that artistry in the details and little flourishes can elevate something familiar to something thoroughly unique. I adore this place, I really do, but I can’t help but feel that the system-neutral version this time around is slightly weaker than the PFRPG and 5e-iterations. While it sports the basics and has been converted well, it could have used a bit of supplemental fluff to make up for the loss of quite a few of the mechanical tidbits. That being said, I am complaining at a really high level here – this is still highly recommended at a final verdict of 5 stars!

 

You can get this unique settlement here on OBS!

 

You can directly support Raging Swan Press here on patreon!

 

Endzeitgeist out.