Jun 282018
 

Deadly Delves: To Claw the Surface

This installment of the Deadly Delves-series clocks in at 57 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 52 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review.

 

Now, it should be noted that this adventure provides a new NPC-race that is supplemented by 3 racial feats and a really kickass full-color artwork. The module furthermore includes a total of 5 new monsters and no less than 20 different fungal items; 2 cool mundane items, 2 variant weapons and 1 variant armor, a minor intelligent item, a cursed item and a tightly-codified campaign trait.

 

It should also be noted that the module comes with an extra Map-pdf that spans no less than 21 pages of maps, including all relevant full-color maps in a player-friendly version, both with and without grid. Furthermore, these full-color maps also encompass handy sideview depictions and maps that allow the GM and players to better picture the aspect of verticality inherent in this adventure. This is an adventure for 1st level characters, and it has, to a degree, a survival aspect. Copious amounts of read-aloud text are provided for your convenience.

 

And this is honestly as far as I can go without venturing deep into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

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All right, only GMs around? Great!

The module begins with the PCs in the employ of Macharun Hardfist, who is mining the more dangerous and notoriously cave scorpion-riddled passages of Granitetop Mountain, a place where the dwarves of old unlocked the secrets of copper mining. The module begins with a bang, as the PCs deal with an infestation of purple worm hatchlings – but alas, the worm-riddled floors end up collapsing, stranding the PCs entombed in the lightless, dark passages of Granitetop.

 

Stranded as the PCs are, they have to contend with the deadly vermin that skitters and crawls through the tunnels, all while also looking for food, water, sources of healing…and, well, ultimately, an exit. Oh, and damaged equipment may need repairs as well! Salvage from the collapse and appropriately visceral description of the ordeal of being caught in the collapse set an incredibly strong theme for the start of the adventure. Bracing climbs and confronting underworld fauna represent a great start for the adventure, and terrain hazards similarly help set the stage for a feeling of being threatened, not by creatures, but by the general situation – something that only precious few modules manage to achieve. This proceeds to escalate via a cool haunt, and the boos for the first section, a degenerate and venerable giant that makes for a potent foe for 1st level characters!

 

The haunt btw. represents an inkling of the shape of things to come, as the second section of the module has the PCs explore the ancient copper mines, now inhabited by grindylow, where echoes of a more fantastic pasts, with krakens loom, and even rust monsters are starving. Translating ancient dwarven adds to the sense of exploring basically a haunted, lost archaeological site, which should show how the discovery of iron allowed the dwarves to escape the yoke of ancient giants. Ultimately, the exploration will have the PCs approach the so-called Sky Tomb – provided they can get past the Sky Shy, a settlement of disturbing fungalfolk (yes, with settlement statblock!), where help, but also danger may be encountered. When the PCs find the sky stairs (which include a cool trap!), they’ll note that a meteor strike has blocked the exit in days long past – thus, they will have to pass duergar and dire corby foes…oh, and have I mentioned the amazing running battle on mine carts, as the PCs make their way to the Sky Tomb? They’ll have to brave massive gaps and sub-encounters allow for great customization options. This section is imho enough to warrant getting the adventure!

 

The final section, then, has the PCs explore the Sky Tomb, hopefully surviving the derro and red dragon wyrmling there – the final boss here being the one choice in the module that I’m not 100% in love with – but that’s because I prefer my dragons huge or larger, and suitably deadly. This is, though, a personal preference and will not influence my final verdict.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no undue accumulations of hiccups on either a formal or rules-language level. Layout adheres to a gorgeous two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports quite a few excellent full-color artworks. The cartography, also done by the author, is fantastic, player-friendly and should render running this module simple enough, even with VTTs. This should be industry-standard. Huge kudos! The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Michael Allen is one of the authors you should definitely watch. So far, he has shirked, with grace and panache aplomb, anything in his writing that would even remotely look like mediocrity or being “just” good; and this adventure is no different: What we have here, to put it bluntly, is excellence. The attention to detail and amazing atmosphere, the creative set-pieces that organically flow together, the blending and development of themes – they all fit together so well. It’s weird, really – the adventure is, for all intents and purposes, very technical in its craftsmanship. At the same time, though, it also manages to evoke a sense of atmosphere you only very rarely get to see. In fact, this felt in many instances almost like an OSR-module, with so much care poured into the details, the small bits. There is a subtle, playful artistry in this adventure, one that made me reminisce about Tomb Raider, about some survival movies, about classic dwarven-themed adventures and underworld exploration…but at the same time, the adventure manages to somehow transcend all these diverse influences, weaving them into something distinct, novel and exciting.

 

I’ll just come out and say it: This is one of the best 1st level modules available for PFRPG. It’s, in fact, good enough to warrant checking out even if you play another system. This is a true gem, and will receive 5 stars + my seal of approval, granted without any hesitation. It also qualifies as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2017.

 

You can get this excellent adventure here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jun 282018
 

Advanced Adventures: The Flaming Footprints of Jilanth (OSR)

This installment of the Advanced Adventures-series clocks in at 18 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page advertisement, 2/3 of a page SRD, leaving us with 14 1/3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

This module is intended to be used in conjunction with the OSRIC-rules, though, as always, modification for other old-school games is pretty simple; similarly, conversion to more rules-heavy systems is very much possible. The adventure is intended for 6 – 8 characters level 3 – 5, though third level PCs may face some casualties – this is not an easy adventure.

 

As usual for the series, we do have some deviations from the formatting conventions, with magic items bolded. Oddly, the item among the 5 magic items that is most crucial has its reference in the adventure text not bolded – instead of referring to the item by proper name, it is noted as by its reputation, with a longer description that lacks the tell-tale bolded formatting. Cartography featured is functional and b/w, though no player-friendly versions/VTT-versions are provided. The module includes 4 distinct creatures, all of which are unique and flavorful – I will note these in the discussion of the content itself.

 

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

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All right, only GMs around? Great! So, this module begins when the PCs are hired to investigate troubling occurrences: The Lord Admiral of Ranste, a thriving trade port, has vanished, and the streets are lined with the eponymous footsteps, all aflame, tell-tale trademarks of the long vanquished, legendary pirate Firebeard. The PCs are tasked to travel to the hex-mapped Isle of Jilanth, where the pirate once dwelled, and find out whether he has risen from the grave – and find the Lord Admiral, if possible.

 

The wilderness exploration of the island, just fyi, comes with a pretty nice wandering encounter table, which focuses on animals and vermin, including a one-horned variant of a Triceratops and three unique, scripted events, which feature undead crocodiles, carnivorous apes, and a site where human explorers once committed an act of genocide versus the lizardfolk natives. Yes, this section already is pretty damn cool.

 

Here is a structural peculiarity of this module: In a way, the adventure could be solved in a variety of ways and encompasses three different locations, which could all stand on their own. Their sequence, similarly, is not necessarily set in stone. At the same time, running the locales in the default order makes sense, as the dungeons connect and transition in a sensible manner.

 

The first of these locations would be the caves that once were inhabited by the pirates: Here, threats from crocodiles to piranhas await, and PCs can well fall prey to the rather challenges environments. A survivor of another adventurer party may be saved (potential replacement PC, the first such NPC encountered – remains of further members, barely alive or dead, can be found throughout the adventure), and beyond giant spiders, the suddenness of the pirates being killed still suffuses the place: From the creepy cellblock (with a nasty trap and some really creepy imagery) to the puzzle fight against the rope horror, one of the new critters and a thing of deadly…ropes, the complex rocks. Heck, the PCs may end up facing off versus a mummy voodoo witch! Amazing!

 

From there, a tunnel leads deeper into the mountain, and the second location beckons – an ancient gnomish enclave, where the inhabitants inadvertently unearthed something that deformed their children, making the gnomes slowly degenerate into cannibalistic madness – now, just a rubbery, disgusting hold creeper preys on explorers through these silent, deadly halls. And yes, PCs can actually research what happened here. The funeral rites of the lost culture allows greedy PCs to float a boat on the hold’s “river of the dead” to the tombs, potentially getting rich loot – provided, they survive the nasty countermeasures, that is!

 

Following the river upstream will lead the PCs to the abode of Jilanth’s wizard, Lazio Sharpe – coming through the subterranean, aquatic backdoor, the PCs thus can bypass the “wyvern” at the gates and deal with the seemingly mad wizard…though they will notice something odd: The wizard seems to have been replaced by a wax doppelgänger of himself, one that has managed to exile his master – once more, the PCs can actually find out about this if they do their job. Dealing with the doppelgänger of the wizard still does not solve the mystery of the culprit of the footsteps though: Clever PCs may note that the wax creatures have exiled their master, and thus explore the jungle – and indeed, Lazio has been captured by the local lizardfolk, who are in the process of making him a ritual feast! Unfortunate here: The lizardfolk encampment lacks a map, making the climax of the module somewhat weaker than it should be. Still, the wizard can reward the PCs,s hould they save him, and the mystery of the boots and flaming footsteps is resolved…but where is the Admiral? That’s for the GM to decide!

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a classic two-column b/w-standard with a few nice b/w-artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Cartography is functional, but lacks player-friendly versions and the final locale is not mapped.

 

Andrew Hind’s “Flaming Footsteps of Jilanth” is the best of the early Advanced Adventures. Each of the three small dungeons has a strong, evocative leitmotif; story matters and PCs that explore thoroughly are rewarded with the means to understand what’s happening. Risk and reward are well balanced, with the deadlier, optional components also providing better loot. In structure and atmosphere, this is excellent through and through, though the absence of a map for the final locale, and the lack of player-friendly maps do slightly mar what would otherwise be a thoroughly excellent adventure.

 

This is still very much worth getting and comes recommended by yours truly: My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down.

 

You can get this adventure here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

Jun 272018
 

Mountains of Madness

This massive installment of the Perilous Vistas-series of books clocks in at 288 pages of pure content, not counting editorial, etc. This review is based on the hardcover version of the book, which is, quality-wise, on par with the high production values of Frog God Games hardcovers.

 

I backed the kickstarter that created this book, mainly because the previous two installments of this series of terrain-centric hardcovers have made my Top Ten-lists.

 

All right, I rambled on, in detail, about the origins of this series: the idea is simple, yet concise and fun: Highlight a given environment and really polish it and make it shine, make it feasible and unique for the purpose of adventuring. In that way, the series is a continuation of the aesthetics of the Survival Guides of old, yet the books are so much more. For one, they draw upon real world in an unobtrusive manner, enlightening the reader with carefully researched facts.

 

On the other hand, these books are gaming supplements through and through – don’t expect a dry assortment of scientific facts; while the book draws heavily on reality, these facts are coupled with gaming information, blending the real and the fantastic. This grounds the series of books in a manner that is only rarely seen and makes them, ultimately, feel more alive, more real than many supplements.

 

The books have another focus, and that is to make the biomes matter for both locals AND throughout the levels. In many a case, low level adventuring means that terrain matters, whereas high-level adventuring often starts ignoring these components. In a way, these books provide the means for making said aspects still matter – system-immanently less so, sure, but they retain an identity and a challenge that I very much cherish.

 

Anyways, as has become the tradition in the series, we begin with an introduction to the environment-type at hand – and yes, I used this term consciously, for, unlike previous books, we can’t well talk about a singular biome here. Mountains encompass more than one biome, and mountain does not equal mountain. We begin the book with a basically system-neutral series of considerations when creating a mountain, distinguishing between different types. Oddly and somewhat out of place, we get a new dwarven subrace here, the mountain dwarves, which obviously represent a callback to the race of old, with both ability score bonuses applied to physical scores. The race is not broken or problematic, but neither is it particularly unique.

 

What, however, is particularly unique and represents a core of the soul that sets this book (and the whole series) apart, is the attention to detail that transcends the system. It is my heartfelt conviction that the material herein can be useful for games beyond PFRPG. The charts to determine the presence of settlements in a given region, for example, represent an easy tool for the GM to craft sensible regions. Categorizing passes and their keep and maintenance, determining whether a structure is sound, travelling passes or moving around mountains – the attention to detail provided here is inspiring. It is a testament to the utility-driven writing that these sections, in contrast to what you’d expect, never grow bland or boring – at least not for me.

 

Altitudes and modes of travel are discussed, with llamas (heck yeah!) and yaks (double heck yeah!) included and costs to purchase suitable creatures noted. Handy charts also note travel distances per day by mount or means of traveling. The focus on blending sensible information with gaming utility can, among other things,m be perfectly observed in the hazards-section, which not only features concise and nice rules for falling rocks employed as weaponry, it also discusses anything from crevasess to avalanches, rockfalls, icefalls…and there is something I absolutely adore in here. Know how altitude sickness is often, erroneously handled as a disease or ignored altogether? Well, High-altitude cerebral and pulmonary edema are presented, and they get this component right – finally. The effects of these phenomena brought upon by oxygen deprivation mean that even high-level characters can be challenges by ascending to the highest peaks; the concise rules create a hierarchy that makes sure that the PCs, much like mountaineers, have to slowly build their way up to being able to really scale the highest peaks – beyond investing in the climb skill.

 

I love this. I also enjoy the other hazards – from poison ivy/oak to a contact variant of wolf’s bane, to ticks (with a variety of diseases) and notes on men and monsters there, the section is inspired. As before, this is not even remotely to where we stop: We receive detailed notes on wind speed, temperatures etc. – with heights in feet, temperatures in °F, so some folks outside of the US will need to do some calculations, but still – the presence of these tables adds some serious value here and makes the mountains feel more alive, more plausible, And yes, sunlight in these regions may well be a hazard in and of itself!

 

The first truly player-facing chapter encompasses new skill uses, including Profession (mountaineer) and ice-skating, as well as notes on, for example, the creation of ice igloos, climbing aids, etc. The new feats presented deal mostly with the terrain and its issues, and while some are geared towards a very specific flavor, there are also some mechanically interesting ones here. My personal favorite would be, oddly, one that is mechanically rather bland: If you take Yodeler, you can have your yodeling skills enhance your sonic spells. I shouldn’t like this, but I do – the image it conjures is just cool. I personally prefer, as far as player-facing material is concerned, the spell section over the feats: Beyond the utility spells you’d expect to find, we have wall of snow, mountains out of molehills, spells to inflict gangrene or hypoxia. Two places at once can be utterly OP, depending on your build, though: It nets you two initiative counts – on each count, you can either perform a standard or move action, but not both, and no full-round action. While this can be severely limiting for some classes, for others, it can be ridiculously potent – certainly stronger than the 2nd level assigned to it.

 

As in previous installments of these books, we do get a variety of archetypes for the core classes only, and as before, these are focused on contextualizing the respective class options in a culture: Highlander barbarians learn to see through fog, for example, while summit druids and alpine guards do pretty much what you’d expect them to do. These are flavorful and nice ways to contextualize the character, but in comparison to the marshes installment, represent a slightly less complex array of concepts.

 

The equipment section provides concise definitions for mundane mountaineering equipment, which include mukluks (high-topped fur boots), eyeglasses and the like –from caged canaries to carabiners, ice saws, etc., you can find the tools of the trade here. From liquid courage and oxygen to de-icer flasks, the book also provides a selection of different alchemical substances, and on the magical side of things, we can find yeti hide armor, a crystal to transfer consciousnesses, a stein that can blend potions (with caveats to prevent abuse)…the section is pretty neat. The bestiary section includes alpbocks and contains 20 critters that range from the mundane to the fantastical, including the volcano-based calderaborne, gin trees that can pepper you with cones, rag golems or yeti spiders. We get pretty astonishing, neat b/w-artworks for the creatures, and they do have unique abilities to set them apart.

 

As far as the extensive deities-chapter is concerned, here I’d actually argue that it’s better when mined for lore: We get basic information pertaining the deities, but no sub-domains noted. The number of domains available also fluctuates from god to god, hearkening back to the times when gods had a hierarchy regarding their potency. As far as myth-weaving goes, this is a neat chapter, though. Among the appendices, we can find a dressing table for evocative events, and a massive 4+ page random encounter table that encapsulates monsters of up to Bestiary 4 and the Tome of Horrors Complete.

 

Now, as always, this book also contains a variety of adventures set in the Lost lands. As in other installments of the series, we have some of these, namely “God of Ore,” ”A Little Knowledge,” “Between a Rock and a Charred Place” and “War of Shadows.” These adventures, should you absolutely only want the adventures, have been released as stand-alone versions as well, which is relevant for OSR and 5e-groups, for the stand-alone modules come for PFRPG as well as these three rules-sets. I still highly recommend picking up this book over the stand-alone modules, though, since the material of the “crunchy” section is a treasure trove for mining and sports a timeless quality.

 

There are two differences that set the adventures apart here: First would be a prologue chapter that depicts the town of Miner’s refuge in high detail, including a mini-.dungeon of sorts. Secondly, the adventures herein, while perfectly capable of being run as stand-alone adventures, transition into another, allowing you to run the adventures as a mini-AP of sorts. “God of Ore” is intended for 3rd level characters, while the highest level adventure, “War of Shadows”, is intended for 8th level characters. Depending on your progression speed, this may mean that you have the room to fit in supplemental modules. Now, one thing I absolutely adore, would be the maps: The book sports neat b/w-maps and provides player-friendly, key-less maps for EVERYTHING. This means that folks that suck at drawing maps like yours truly, or those of you that prefer VTTs are covered. The player-friendly maps go the extra mile and e.g. redact secret doors properly – this level of service and detail should imho be standard for the industry. Huge kudos.

 

But what are the adventures about? Well I will attempt to be relatively SPOILER-free, but that is nigh impossible when trying to talk about modules in a meaningful way, so, as always, potential players are urged to skip ahead to the conclusion.

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All right, only GMs around? Great, so “God of Ore” has the PCs set out from the prologue area of Miner’s Refuge to the heart of the Stoneheart Mountains, known from the classics of FGG/NG’s library. It has been two weeks since the dwarven, self-proclaimed prophet, has set out with an expedition to conquer Mithral Mountain. However, the fears of the families of the followers of this dwarf are concerned, and when the PCs follow in the wake of the expedition, they realize that raiders have killed pilgrims. Rumors of corruption regarding the dwarves of the mountain abound, and capturing the prophet Bagrus Farmud. Following the trail further, the PCs will witness that the prophet has unleashed dread Dwer-Bokham – a new creature introduced herein, an aberration that can, when fused with rock, making it seem like mithril. The dread entity has corrupted the thanehold, the legend being just a horrid lure – and it’ll be up to the PCs to defeat it. The module includes several nice dungeon-sections, etc.

 

“A Little Knowledge” has the PCs set out towards the Feirgotha Plateau, requiring the traversal of dwarven controlled “high-ways”, narrow paths winding along the mountainous peaks. En route, the PCs find a crumbling fortress besieged by undead maurauders – an assault of dread Thanopsis, a mighty necromancer whose designs are suffused with a rather interesting Khemitian (The Lost Land’s Egypt-analogue) flavor that adds a unique angle to the mountainous environment. The mighty librarian of the fabled Library of Arcady, makes for a grisly enemy, courtesy due to the means by which he extends his life.

 

“Between a Rock and a Charred Place” is perhaps my favorite of these modules, as it involves the PCs in dwarven politics, including an assassination-attempt grab for power, dark folk allies, traitors, etc. – it has a lot of roleplaying as wella s combat to offer and feels distinctly old-school in a good way. It’s not a complex premise, but it most assuredly is a remarkable module.

 

“War on Shadows”, finally, directly follows the previous module’s plot: In the aftermath of the assassination attempt in the previous adventure, the PCs are asked to travel to the frontier outpost of Tyr Whin, where a frickin’ army of hobgoblins is taking a toll on the defenders, and the besieged dwarves are sick as well. With not much options left, the PCs are asked to find a fabled, nigh-forgotten pass, infiltrate the hobgoblin camp and eliminate the leaders of the army! Cool premise, well-executed.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I did not notice any undue accumulations of rules language or formal glitches. Layout adheres to the classic 2-column b/w-standard Frog God Games uses – the layout allows for a ton of text to fit on a page – this is a massive book. The book sports a ton of great, original b/w-artwork and the b/w-cartography, including player-friendly versions, is extensive and nice. Huge kudos there. There is nothing to be complained about regarding the formal criteria.

 

Tom Knauss, with development by John Ling and Greg A. Vaughan, succeeds at the very rare phenomenon of 4 consecutive masterpieces of books. Much like “Dunes of Desolation”, the title of this book evokes a classic, much beloved roleplaying game supplement, and thus has a difficult task to live up to. In a way, it succeeds admirably. As we’ve come to expect, the adventures included sport the quality of prose and old-school sentiments that we’ve come to love from FGG’s offerings. The book also succeeds in being the definite mountain-exploration/design tome, with a metric ton of amazing stuff to be done. A GM can use this book as a great expansion for regions or to design concise mountainous regions that feel…real.

 

The copious amounts of hazards and lore transcend the system for which they were written, making the tome feel very much like a timeless, interesting classic, even now. That being said, in a series that excelled to this amount, that is so exceedingly amazing, I feel that Mountains of Madness comes in slightly short of “Marshes of Malice” or “Fields of Blood”; perhaps it’s the title or the emphasis on dwarves, but this one feels slightly less versatile in the themes evoked – this book is suffused in great fantasy lore and makes sense, but taking the title into account, the book feels somewhat less suffused with diverse cultural themes. E.g. Tibetan mythology or myths from the Alps could have added, via creatures and deities, more angles here – the blending of themes and tropes so artfully executed in other installments of the series is less pronounced here. And perhaps it’s because the Shuma-Gorath-storyline in the classic “Chronicles of Conan”-comics blew my mind as a kid; perhaps it’s because of the “madness”-angle in the title – but I expected some horror, some pulpy components, etc. Now, sure, Greg A. Vaughan has basically written the quintessential lost mountain-city à la El Dorado of this generation, with his by now legendary Xin-Shalast, but I couldn’t help but feel like the book could have used a bit more in the way of how magical lost mountain-cities would work. Instead, we focus on more traditional themes, which is fine and does not diminish the book, but when I saw the increased page-count of this book vs. the marshes book, I hoped for that.

 

This out of the way, this is still a truly phenomenal book; it’s down-to-earth, fantastic and extremely useful, and my criticism should be taken as voiced in the spirit of critiquing an excellent book. The take on altitude effects alone made me smile from ear to ear, for example. As before, I consider this book to be one of the gems that will grow in its appeal throughout the years. It’s unlikely we’ll get to see a book depicting mountainous exploration in this level of detail anytime soon, ensuring that the value, regardless of system, remains high indeed. As such, this also gets 5 stars + seal of approval and is a candidate for my Top Ten of 2017.

 

You can find this massive book here on Frog God Games’ store!

 

There currently is a deal to get the whole series for a ridiculously low price here!

 

Just want “God Of Ore” for OSR-rules? You can find it here! The 5e-version can be found here!

 

Interested in “A Little Knowledge”? The OSR-version is here! The 5e-version here!

 

“Between a Rock and a Charred Place” can be found here for OSR-gaming, here for 5e!

 

“War of Shadows” can be found here for OSR-gaming, here for 5e!

 

Finally, the Frog Gods are kickstarting an update of their fabled City of Brass, for 5e and OSR (S&W) only – you can check out the kickstarter here!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jun 262018
 

Creature Components – Tome of Beasts (5e)

This installment of Playground Adventure’s so far absolutely fantastic Creature Components-series clocks in at 54 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 3 pages of ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 46 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

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

 

Now, before we dive in, let me state the obvious: This book is about the concept of harvesting parts from defeated monsters for use with magic; conceptually, this is a development of the idea of power-components, i.e. optional material components that can change the casting of spells, function of other magic, etc. Secondly, it should be noted that the book, after the first installment for 5e took a look at the basic Monster Manual, covers the massive Tome of Beasts by Kobold Press. In case you do not yet have this phenomenal tome, you should definitely get it: The Kobold crew has delivered a truly fantastic tome of unique critters that is pretty much a must-own book for a 5e-campaign. To use this book, you need Tome of Beasts and the first Creature Component-book.

 

It should be noted that, aesthetically, the book adheres (if the cover was not ample indicator) to the same sentiments as the Tome of Beasts, mirroring layout and presentation-aesthetics as well as some artworks from the ToB, which is a nice touch here, though *personally*, I preferred the somewhat travelogue/catalogue-style aesthetics championed previously. The frame narrative of the book is retained via a nice piece of introductory prose. It should be noted that this book does not explain the basic mechanics of harvesting creature components in detail – for that, you will need to reference the stellar “Creature Components Vol. I”; since that book is simply phenomenal and covers the basic creatures, I wholeheartedly recommend getting it asap if you haven’t already.

 

Making use of Tome of Beast’s components, the book also inherits synergy with the Deep Magic-series of spellcasting-themed pdfs released by Kobold Press. While many of these have in the meanwhile been collected and expanded in the Midgard Heroes Handbook, the GM-centric “forbidden” magics covered in the series are not included in that tome.

Deep Magic, as a series, has been somewhat hit and miss for me, and the revision in the MHH has improved most components to the point where I consider them valid. That being said, since the Midgard Heroes Handbook does not contain the Void Magic and Blood & Doom installments (former is stellar, latter is super problematic), this Creature Component installment has elected to reference spells from the series with the unified, superscript “DM”-tag. You will be able to use the majority of the material herein sans owning the Midgard Heroes Handbook or the Deep Magic-installments not included in it, but I considered it still important to note. If you absolutely want to use absolutely every component herein, you’ll need aforementioned files. (Links collated at the bottom of the review.)

That being said, in this review’s rating, I am not going to penalize this pdf for its internal consistency regarding these spells, nor am I making any judgment on the spells the components build upon. I endeavor to focus on the content of this book, i.e. the way in which the components enhance the respective magics and the game itself.

 

That being said, the content of this second Creature Component-installment begins with a bang and a modification to the component harvesting engine that is absolutely phenomenal. It’s an optional rule, and one that, in hindsight, is one that I should have expected from the base engine: Harvesting complications. It makes sense once you think about it: You’re tinkering with potentially volatile and highly magical creatures, and as such, it makes sense that exposure to acid, toxins, etc. could happen. As such, the book opens with concise rules that codify potential hazards when harvesting components. You can handcraft these, or refer to a simple percentile roll and consult a table: Here, you take a look at component potency and immediately see the hazard category. In a nice analogue to the basic system, the hazards are grouped in three types: Lesser, moderate and greater hazards. Identifying and mitigating them, DC-wise, is concisely-presented, and the book also suggests skills by type to identify them.

 

DCs of harvested materials are contingent of the vanquished creature’s proficiency bonus, as well as an ability modifier of the defeated foe. This renders the harvesting process much more engrossing and captivating.

 

But you’re interested in the main meat of this massive book, right? Well, the majority of this book is devoted to a metric ton of diverse components sourced from a variety of creatures. Each component notes what type of component it is (like cerebral fluid, voice box, claws, etc.), the potency and the spells that can be augmented by them. Each component notes a price and a cost as well. Some of these can only enhance a very specific spell, while others can affect a variety of different magical effects. Take the first component, a nihileth aboleth’s cerebral fluid: It can augment crown of madness, detect thoughts, dominate person or similar enchantments: The fluid is rubbed on the spot where the “third eye” of the caster usually is, and once the spell enhanced thus has run its course (by broken concentration or elapsed duration), the target must succeed a Constitution save or fall prey to a disease that renders skin translucent and slimy, causing acid damage when not fully submerged every 10 minutes and prevents the regaining of hit points – basically, a skum-transformation light, which you can add as insult to injury or lace into a less openly hostile spell for a nasty surprise. You will also note that the component use here actually sports a description on *how* it is incorporated into spellcasting. This may seem like a small thing, but it is a component that enhances immersion: Instead of an abstract casting process, the use of the components becomes relatable: We can imagine the act of casting this way. To me, that is a big plus, and one aspect of the book that most assuredly enhances my enjoyment of it.

 

Ala essence can be employed to enhance spells dealing lightning damage, imposing disadvantage on the respective save. Andrenjinyi esophageal fluid can render polymorphs permanent; using an angler worm webbing strand can render web-spells harder to discern. You can enhance your climbing speed granted by spider climb…and there are some truly distinct changes: When using, for example, a hair braid of Baba Yaga’s horsemen in conjunction with conjure fey, you tap into a central concept of magical thinking, namely the use of a component acting as a sympathetic link to the whole- you can call forth an aspect of said Horsemen, with proper stats provided. Some of these components actually radically change how a spell can be employed: When you incorporate a Bereginyas essence in your fog cloud, to give you an example, allows you to attempt to smother one creature inside per round you maintain concentration, adding a whole new aspect to the spell.

 

Employing blemmyes intraocular fluid can make your compulsions carry a desperate craving for meat. There are also components that extend the duration or reach of spells – with the right components, you can, for example, enhance the amount of targets affected by water walk or increase the duration of the spell. Using a buraq feather while casting blade of wrath, for example, provides a shining, radiant blade that only slowly fades once your concentration’s been broken. There also are instances, where a component’s use taps into the cultural perspective of a being: Using a chernomoi amygdale when casting fear taps into the evolved fear of wyverns and channels that into the way in which the spell manifests itself. Chronamental effects, predictably, can be employed to enhance time-manipulation spells, but show a keen insight regarding balance, opting to extend the range of the slow spell instead of the already very potent benefits granted. There are also components that have multiple uses: Employing a dragon eel heart when casting fire shield switches the energy damage caused to lightning, for example; alternatively, spells that inflict lightning damage can enhance the damage caused by lightning-based spells – and in a smart way, the amount of possible augmentations thus is contingent on spell levels.

 

As an aside, the annotations provided throughout add interesting notions: The prevalence of some exotic beings from the outer planes in Midgard, for example, is mentioned as a phenomenon, acknowledged within the context of the multiverse – a nice note that is, should you choose to, easily ignored…or that may end up being truly inspiring. Notes on how drake hide breaks your quills most of the time also made me smile. These notes, in concordance with the physicality implied by the components, significantly improves the sense of tangibility that is associated with the spells – an arcane eye becomes just so much cooler once you take an incorporeal creature’s eye and make that the magical facsimile eye, enhancing the efficiency greatly.

 

The book closes with a section on new magic items: Here, we can find the lightning arrow, which may leap to nearby, metal-wearing beings; wing blades made with eala feathers can alter their composition based on the eala from which they were sourced, and also burst into flames; darts made from spire walkers, the legendary ghostwalk leather (rendered with a fantastic artwork) and bota pouches are in here: The latter can contain liquids and transport them rather stealthily. Super stylish (I’d wear them as depicted in the artwork!) red boots of the fey can execute devastating stomp-shockwaves. Shadhavar flutes enhance inspiration dice granted and lenses of the lynx allow you to peer through fog. 4 neat magical item variants and mithril dragon hide as a new material finish the crunch-section, before the book ends with the well-written framing narrative.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no serious glitches on a formal or rules-language level. Layout adheres to Tome of Beast’s elegant two-column, full-color standard with classic full-color artworks that fans of Kobold Press will recognize. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Daniel Marshall & BJ Hensley, with development by Stephen Rowe and Dan Dillon, provides a massive expansion to the Creature Component formula, one that I consider to be more than worth the asking price. Since I assume you’re already familiar with the previous book, let me talk a bit about a subtle aspect of this series that you may have missed. Do you recall my example given above, where a creature’s eye becomes the arcane eye, enhanced properly?

 

This example highlights a couple of aspects that explain the lasting appeal that this supplement and its predecessor have: One, it emphasizes the aspect of magic as a kind of technology-substitute, a crutch, if you will – magic is, much like modern, real life technology, a superb way to extend your senses, your power; but if Marshal McLuhan’s extension of Freud’s notion of the prosthetics god is to be believed, such tools also limit the individual.

 

Tellingly, in German, “watching TV” is called “fernsehen” – literally, “far seeing,” implying that you can see what’s far away…but not necessarily what’s nearby. Secondly, much like modern technology, magic in RPGs seems to conjure things ex nihilo; we are not cognizant of electricity flowing through our smart phones, conjuring images of our friends. Magic in RPGs, system-immanently, works along those lines – we don’t have the years of study or raw power our characters have. We do not understand magic in-game, just the sketch of the magical effects.

 

Modern magic in RPGs, as such, often by requirement of convenience, follows a design paradigm of simplicity that is hard to argue with: We don’t have the time or inclination to track minutiae of spell formulae, long strings of syllables to recite at the table or to track a huge amount of diverse components. Yet, this complexity is exactly what characterized historical approaches to magic. Even the process of thinking did ostensibly require purification, meditation, etc., as seen in the various mystic traditions inspired by religions, as well as the religions we have in real life themselves. Add to that the requirement for a variety of esoteric components, and we have something that is extremely arcane, in the classic sense of the word, hard to pull off. It has to be. After all, magic doesn’t work in real life.

 

There is, traditionally, effort required for magic to account for its scarcity, for its unreliability– phenomenal effort, in fact. We think of magic as rare and hard to master, even though, in the games we play, it’s anything but that, courtesy of the demands of the game.

 

Now, while a more “real”, a more “realistic” approach to magic would be unplayable and violate the design-tenets of actual usefulness at the table, creature components can provide a thematic bridge between the two extremes. Magic will still retain its functionality, its ease of use, the sheer accessibility that highlights it as a component of a game. However, at the same time, the use of these structurally-earned resources adds a sense of consequence, sequence and immediacy, of the real to magic – the benefits conveyed by the components, ultimately, make the magic that uses them feel more plausible. After all, the PCs know where and how they earned these powers, these extensions of magic beyond the functional default facsimile of narrative structures they usually represent. In a way, creature components allow for a dash of “real” magical feeling added to the convenience of the default spellcasting engine, and it does so without bogging down the game.

 

Or, you know, you could just be thinking “This is cool/like in some book I’ve read”; or you like the direct correlation of critter and reward, which makes it a rather easy and more interesting way to reward players without having critters carry gold that should not care for shiny metal.

 

Either way, the concept of Creature Components is amazing, and the notion of the harvesting being potentially hazardous adds a concise risk-reward ratio to the proceedings that I absolutely adore. In short, this is a great supplement, well worth getting. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval and it is a candidate for my Top Ten of 2018.

 

You can get this inspired supplement here on OBS!

 

Missed the phenomenal Creature Components Vol. I? You can find it here!

 

The epic, legendary Tome of Beasts can be found right here!

 

The Midgard Heroes Handbook can be found right here!

 

Deep Magic: Void Magic, a really cool installment of mind-wrecking magics, can be found here!

 

Deep Magic: Blood & Doom (if in doubt, skip it) can be found here!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jun 262018
 

Tinkering 303 – Matroishka Automatons

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

 

This supplement links into the Happy Little Automatons, Rocket’s Red Glare and Pimp My Alpha Tinker-expansions, as the pdf helpfully notes. We also get a nice little list of invention subtypes noted in a cheat-sheet.

 

The pdf includes 4 different innovations – all of which are based on the Matroishkabot greater innovation and require it: This greater innovation that nets two special, additional blueprints: The child blueprint can have a maximum BP of ½ tinker level and may not be deployed directly. The second is the matroishka blueprint, which is a standard automaton blueprint that requires two uses of deploy automaton to be deployed. These are also always associated with a child blueprint: When the matroishka is destroyed, it cracks open, immediately deploying the child bluebrint’s automaton associated with the matroishka. This child automaton, upon being deployed, may be directed upon being deployed as an immediate action, executing the directive on your next turn. It cannot execute kamikaze, but it can use contingent kamikaze.

 

The 4 innovations build on this: Efficient Matroishka lets the first two matroishkabots deployed only cost one deploy automaton use. Instant Matroishka lets you, twice per day as a standard action, associate an already deployed automaton with a child blueprint, retroactively making it’s a matroishka. Matroishka Study nets an additional child and matroishkabot blueprint. Matroishkas All The Way Down lets you, whenever a child blueprint automaton is destroyed, extend your reach by +30 ft. to determine deploying automatons to where the child automaton was, but only until the end of your turn on the round of the child automaton’s destruction.

 

There are 8 new inventions: Morale Module, at 1 BP, nets a +1 morale bonus to the next d20 roll when the master of the automaton with this invention deploys an automaton; this is explicitly in spite of automata being mindless. Inheritance Procedure, at 3 BP, lets a child of a destroyed automaton with this invention inherit a parent’s invention that does not require other inventions at BP-cost 1. Waste Oil Harvest Unit clocks in at 1 BP, and when an automaton is destroyed within 30 ft., it harvests waste oil that inflicts 1d4 acid damage +1 electricity damage + 1 fire damage, working otherwise as a flask of acid. This is contingent on the unit having a spare container, obviously. There also is a Design invention at 1 BP, Prototypical Paint Punnett Process, which lets a child inherit a paint invention of a destroyed matroishkabot automaton.

 

There are three different alpha inventions: Matroishka Matrix, at 5 BP, can only be installed on alphas, megadroids or gigadroids. This makes the respective alpha/droid behave as a matroishka, including the immediate action directive for the child of Matroishka All the Way Down. If you do have the Matroishkabot greater innovation, the costs are reduced by -2. Now, I assume a child of an alpha n longer counts as an alpha, but I am not 100% sure there. The intent here is to allow for dabbling, I get that, but the alpha interaction could use a bit of clarification. Premature Deployment Apparatus costs 2 BP and lets an automaton with the invention, as a directed standard action, cause another automaton within 30 ft. prematurely deploy a child automaton, without being destroyed. Cool one that also gets squares etc. right. Secondary Command Module, at 3 BP, is another combo facilitator: If the automaton has an Int of 3 or higher, it can deploy child automata as a directed standard action, consuming the master’s resources and maximum number of automata deployed. This is an exception to the caveat that prevents direct deployment of child automata. Alphas get to use this once for free per day, sans consuming the master’s resources. Secondary Command Booster requires secondary command module adds another free child deployment.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting is very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to an elegant two-column b/w-standard and the pdf has no bookmarks or artwork, but needs none at this length.

 

Bradley Crouch’s matroishka automata are another massive combo engine for the tinker that allows you to expand the unique options available for the complex class. The idea is cool, and while it could probably have carried even more tricks, for the low price, this is most assuredly worth getting for fans of the tinker-class. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform.

 

You can get this inexpensive class expansion here on OBS!

 

Want teh whole tinker-bundle? You can find it here on OBS!

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jun 252018
 

Marshes of Malice

This massive hardcover clocks in at 190 pages once you take away SRD, editorial, etc. My review is based on the hardcover book. It should also be noted that I have backed the kickstarter that gave rise to this massive book. As Frog God Games books have a very high level of quality, are built to last, I do recommend getting the physical copy if you can.

 

All right, as you all know, my funds aren’t exactly plentiful these days, but when I can, I do back KS that I wholeheartedly believe in. Now, this book, in structure and spirit, is a sequel to the “Dunes of Desolation” and “Fields of Blood” books; retroactively, alongside “Dead Man’s Chest” and “Glades of Death” (originally released for 3.X), branded as part of the Perilous Vistas series of books.

 

Why should you care about this sequence/series? Well, “Dunes of Desolation” and “Fields of Blood” stand as singularly powerful examples of books that will go on to become underappreciated, sought-after classics. You see, when we think of 3.X Necromancer Games-modules, we probably think first of Rappan Athuk and Tomb of Abysthor, both of which have since been updated to more contemporary systems. At the same time, Necromancer Games’s library sports a ton of gems that are less widely-known, but still cherished, perhaps even more so, books that have gone on to define their respective niches.

 

In a way, this series, then, represents a hearkening back to books from an age long gone, to timeless supplements. When grognards talk, full of nostalgia, about old-school GM-supplements, they often refer to books that work, for a significant part, much akin to how Perilous Vistas books work. The difference is one that is based in both substance and ambition. While the progressively ever more fantastic settings grew more and more suffused with magic, more and more influenced by narrative demands imported from video-game aesthetics, a nigh-intangible virtue was lost, one that provides an impossible to replace assumption that precious few books dare to still operate under.

 

This assumption is, to me, of tantamount importance, particularly for sourcebooks dealing with environments, with special geographies. This assumption is the one of the mind that’s wide awake; an inherent assumption of inquisitiveness and a thirst for knowledge. The reader, the roleplayer, is assumed to be willing to actually realize and care about making a world plausible. Magic is an extension of, not the be-all, end-all component that defines the world. As such, the book begins as it should – with a detailed discussion of marshes. And bogs. And swamps. And fens. And what sets them apart from one another, what other names mean, etc. This distinction, not exclusively linguistic, teaches the reader something about real life…and the book proceeds to make these distinctions MATTER.

 

Now, fret not – this is no dry, scientific book. The tome is wholly in service to the use at the table, providing advice on campaigns in these environments and how they diverge from those in other wetlands environments. But while you’re reading this well-written information that will enhance your game, you automatically learn something. There is an assumption of intelligence and, in an age of dumbed down, compartmentalized information, makes the inquisitiveness, the reading of the material, actually rewarding and enlightening. As most of you will know, I am German; English is not my native tongue, and while I was cognizant and capable of differentiating between the different types of wetlands covered here, I’d have had a hard time differentiating between fens and marshes, for example. I can picture the environments well enough, but having these aspects explained in a succinct manner proved to be rather enlightening.

 

This general assumption of broadening one’s horizon, while also providing a definite guide to making the terrain matter also extends to the second chapter, wherein wetlands travel is covered. Here, the game-supplement component of this book becomes ever more important, as bodies of water are categorized, with probability of settlements along the respective bodies provided, which is a timeless aid for designing your own wetlands, regardless of system. This level of detail also extends to the placement and determination of terrain elements – with distinctions made between dry and rainy season. Modes of travel, with sample vehicles and cost to purchase wetlands mounds (which, yes, encompass alligators and hippopotami) and the importance of guides – all covered. This chapter is something I haven’t seen in a while – a truly timeless toolkit that makes world-building tighter.

 

Now, this is not where the book stops – Not even close. We all know that terrain ought to matter to adventuring, but frankly, there are precious few books that provide much in the way of actually extending your GM-toolkit regarding this crucial, often overlooked way of making an adventure more distinct. I am talking, of course, about hazards, and the book delivers in this aspect in spades. Beyond quicksand and the often overlooked issue of rust, we get concise rules for peat fires (which beg for a mid to high-level module centered around them!), sinkholes and marsh gasses…and even trees start mattering, from the cypress to the mangrove. As befitting of one of the most voracious environments inhabited by humans, we also get a metric ton of diseases and poisons…and notes on the hazards posed by ticks, mosquitoes, leeches, snakes and microorganisms. If you ever whip out filth fever for swamps after this chapter, you obviously forgot this book while prepping your game. Weather, ranging from hurricanes to flashfloods, visibility above and below water, means to determine daily temperature (alas, only in °F) – the book attempts to be truly encompassing, and it even takes temperate and boreal wetlands into account, including massive tables for wind speed, precipitation chance tables, etc. This chapter, even if you leave PFRPG behind or have done so, remains an inspiring read that sports rules-content that remains exceedingly easy to translate.

 

The same can be said about the skill-section that is up next. Want to construct canals, for example? The book has you covered. The equipment-section reflects this attention to detail and the obvious care that went into this book as well – where mosquitos become an issue, the nets to keep them at bay become important, and equipment to avoid immersion foot syndrome makes similarly sense – the book does not simply present dangers, it also accounts for the consequences of such dangers in a fantastic context. Speaking of which: Beyond peat bombs and similar alchemical items, the book takes the fantastic factor in a direction I considered to be interesting: Where most fantasy derives its notions from an old-world aesthetic, we have an issue here, namely that most swamplands in Europe have been transformed into dry land during the Middle Ages and after that. Nowadays, wetlands are rare around here, with moors and peat, where available, or remoteness usually associated with said environments. At the same time, the new world does offer a ton of material in the way of swamp/marsh-based cultural mythology that evolves to this day. From magical alligator boots, we move on to include multiple items that hearken closer to myths of the swamplands of the southern United States, including gris-gris; from the victory cigar to the devil’s fiddle, a subtle current of Americana suffuses this book in a way that renders the total, which includes sensible items like goggles of underwater vision or mangrove stilts more real by providing a cultural context that manages to bridge diverse cultural aesthetics.

 

While we’re on the subject of things that PCs will be interested in: Frog God Games’ Lost lands-books have always been interesting regarding the world they depict, but have only rarely managed to translate this to the aspect of rules, and this book does a better job than most at this task. While several feats herein are, ultimately, representations of flavorful options that contextualize, region-wise, a character, there are also some feats that are mechanically-relevant and interesting. For example, there is a feat that lets you substitute Will-save for Ref-save when you see an assault combing, but which balances the otherwise too potent benefit by the aforementioned limitation and a scaling, daily cap of maximum uses. A means to use channel energy to cure diseases via successful caster level checks also makes for an interesting option that frees up spell slots – you get the idea.

 

The feat chapter is better than we usually get in these book, and this design-paradigm also extends to the archetypes and class options presented. While these may not rank among the most legendary of character options, they are not intended as such – instead, the obvious goal here is to flavorful options that come with feasible benefits. In contrast to some such examples from other books, the benefits can be rather interesting, with bards getting, for example, Conga-based tricks for allies based on Step Up and subsequent feats. What about deprogrammer paladins that focus on wresting the lost from vile cults (including the means to infiltrate these cults and extract brainwashed folks with nonlethal means from them!)? Yes, these matter, more than I would have expected them to. Their craftsmanship has improved significantly. It should be noted that only core-classes are covered thus, though.

 

On a slightly nitpicky downside, the book also offers a ton of swamp-associated deities, which include gods from Dagon to Samedi, but it should be noted that no subdomains are noted, number of domains is inconsistent and there are no expanded components like inquisitions or the material from the Inner Sea Guide notes – this retains their viability for more games, but I still found myself slightly disappointed here. Slightly odd: The spell-section does note witches and alchemists, with spell-lists noted etc., but as noted, that does not extend to the archetypes. On the plus-side, you can almost see the poison creosotes, hear the banjos (btw. included among the magic items etc.) twang, when reading a spell like ball-and-chain. I know that I will make use of the xenophobia spell as a nasty escalation sooner, rather than later. The book also contains 11 new monsters, most of which come with unique and evocative tricks like melanin drain. The critters are creepy and feature some nasty plants – and they get amazing b/w-artworks.

 

Speaking about the visual side of things: This book sports amazing b/w-artworks and the 3 modules contained within not only come with neat b/w-maps – the back of the book actually contains player-friendly b/w-maps, allowing you to cut up and hand them out as the PCs progress, or use them in VTT sans breaking immersion. Better yet: These are not token-PC-maps: Secret doors, for example, have been redacted for your convenience. I’ve said it time and again – this should be industry standard.

 

I should also note that the book comes with a massive appendix that contains a ton of sample wetlands events (if you need some additional tricks, consult Raging Swan Press’ superb GM’s Miscellany: Wilderness Dressing-book.) as well as more than 3 pages of wandering monster suggestions that encompass bestiaries I – V as well as the Frog’s own massive Tome of Horrors Complete.

All right, this is as far as I can go without going into SPOILERS, for we now take a look at the adventures contained herein. While I will remain brief, players wishing to experience these for themselves should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

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All right, only GMs around? Excellent! “The Hunter’s Game” is a 4th level module that takes place in the Dyrgalas swamp, and it basically represents a twist on the “Heart of Darkness” storyline, sans the colonial twist – instead, the module basically presents a diversified picture of the narrative, with the lizardfolk cast in the role of natives as a more alien, yet sympathetic and non-evil role. From hex-ploration to a more diversified and complex cadre of evil beings at the metaphyiscal heart of darkness here, the module provides an experience that is, to nowadays’ audience, more nuanced that Conrad’s classic without losing its punch.

 

The second adventure, Fishers of Man, is intended for 6th level characters and takes place in the Dragonmarsh Lowlands, and is basically fantastic horror that begins light-hearted enough: The PCs are tasked to look after a remote fishery, and early encounters with gremlins and similar beings create a slightly sinister, but not necessarily brutal environment. That changes once the PCs arrive at the fishery in question, where the horrors of steam-engine less, but still thematically industrial fishery have been switched, using crabmen and associated beings turning the tables upon men, making the locale basically an industrial human-processing plant. Yes. It’s grisly and really effective, and it manages to achieve this without resorting to magical steam-engines, retaining both feet firmly-planted in the quasi-medieval or quasi-early modern sensibilities (depending on your interpretation) of the Lost Lands. This is one of the most striking and difficult modules to have come out of this series.

 

The third adventure, “Forgive and Regret,” is intended for 8th level characters, and represents an event-driven exploration of a haunted bog, created by genocide most foul. In this accursed master uses his domain to deadly precision – this is, very much, a game of pitting the wits of a truly deadly enemy who knows the territory, against the PCs –a Ravenloft/Black Dogs-ish monster hunt against a potent and deadly vampiric mastermind. Compared to the previous two adventures, this represents more of an interlude, depending on the skills of your players.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. While I noticed a few typo-level glitches and very minor hiccups here and there, the book, as a whole, is as tight as it should be. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard and fits a TON of text on a given page – you *really* get a ton of content here. The b/w-artworks, all original pieces, are stunning. The pdf has bookmarks, and the hardcover has a slightly rounded spine and comes in the quality we expect from frog God Games – built to last.

 

Tom Knauss, with development by John Ling and Greg A. Vaughan, succeeds at something only precious few authors can claim – his books transcend the limitations of their systems. They are smart, intelligent, evocative, and in spite of being chockfull with carefully-researched facts, they always remain, first and foremost, gaming supplements. They have a timeless quality to them; they also end up being used more than any other book Frog God Games have put out, for, while the modules in them are certainly excellent draws, for me, these books shine due to the spotlight they provide for the actual land, for the all too often neglected challenges that the environment poses, or should pose. Any Gm worth their salt can flick open this book’s hazards and items and be immediately inspired by the material – and while it’s certainly amazing to have this material for PFRPG, it is my firm conviction that GMs of other systems can just as much benefit from reading this book. Sure, the modules have been released as stand-alone files as well, but if you’re asking me, you’re missing the best part of the experience when going for them.

 

The modules are complete, well-crafted pieces. Sure. But they become infinitely more when used in the context of the book, when you can flip open another chapter and suddenly smirk at just the hazard or trick you needed, at an interesting idea or complication that can make the experience even better. In a way, the modules within this book have all the means for the GM to enhance them further conveniently located inside the same tome. Unless you absolutely loathe anything PFRPG-related with a fiery passion, I’d strongly suggested getting the big book, and, if you don’t want to do conversion work, the modules for your preferred system.

 

It is my firm conviction that this book will be both interesting and enlightening even if you don’t use PFRPG. If you do, then this should be a no-brainer. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval, and this is, surprise, a candidate for my Top Ten of 2017.

 

You can get this brilliant book here on Frog God Games’ homepage!

 

You can get all 4 books currently for a ridiculously low price on Frog God Games’ site!

 

Want “The Hunter’s Game” for another system? You can get the OSR-version here, the 5e-version here!

 

What “The Fishers of Man”? You can find it here as a OSR-module, here as a 5e-iteration!

 

“Forgive and Regret” can be found here as a OSR-adventure, here as a 5e-module!

 

If you’re playing 5e or OSR – the Frog Gods are currently kickstarting a new version of the legendary City of Brass – you can check it out here!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jun 252018
 

Places of Power: Fort Vigil

This installment of the Places of Power-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Fort vigil, situated in a forest, would be an unremarkable fortification, manned by a skeletal crew. It is mainly known for being under the command of the veteran knight Sir Arnhelm Langeson. The fort, as a whole, is picturesque, and not a bad place to visit – it adds much sought-after security to the surrounding lands, and seems to be a safe haven. However, locals will tell that the fort is steeped in history, having seen diverse masters, and unbeknown to most, at night, silver shades roam the castle, spirits and echoes of things long gone…but it’s not really ghosts or the just echoes.

 

You see, Fort Vigil is situated next to the Wealdmere, a lake that serves as a transition point between the material and spirit world, particularly regarding the realms of dream. As such, the presentation actually takes this unique aspect into account in the formal structure: Beyond the by now classic whispers and rumors and the notes on nomenclature employed and dressing habits, we have a split between the daily life and the dreaming in the dressing table, a choice that nets 10 evocative dressing entries per table.

 

This is relevant, particularly since the pdf actually provides a small selection of concise notes and rules to remember the uncommonly-vivid dreams experienced here. Kudos for this unobtrusive inclusion of rules. As before, we do get flavorful read-aloud sentences that describe the keyed locations here, and one place in particular comes with its extra, custom dressing table to account for the haunting you can encounter here.

 

Now, dreams, beyond those that the PCs may experience, are personal and often archetypical, as we all know; this focus is mirrored in the presentation of the NPCs: We get an uncommon amount of different NPCs – 5, to be precise. These come as fluff-only entries that are surprisingly detailed regarding mannerism, background and distinguishing features, even for Raging Swan Press’ supplements, making them feel rather well-rounded.

 

These, btw., not only include the aging knight, who wishes to help the shades and phantoms move on, but also the Medium – a ghost, warden, caretaker and guardian of this sacred locale, a ghost who may be noble, but the unending task has started to take its toll on the otherwise noble soul, adding a sense of melancholia and gravitas, of duty and sacrifice to the supplement, a sense of a bookend that is cleverly contrasted via e.g. Signy, a character hoping to become a hero. The book thus feels like an encompassing scope of the condition of adventuring – the reminiscence and longing, the wide-eyed hopefulness, adding a second level to the duality inherent in the supplement, increasing the appeal and viability of the book in the most crucial of ways: In the themes, in the way it’s structured and the stories you can tell with it.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant hiccups. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes with nice b/w-artworks. The cartography, as always, is really nice, and the pdf comes in two iterations – one intended for screen-use and one made for the printer. This deserves as much applause as the full bookmarks presented, which render navigation comfortable and easy.

 

Amber Underwood’s “Fort Vigil” is a culmination of an author truly coming to terms with writing top-tier, evocative supplements. Fort Vigil is not a one-note place -. It feels tangible and real, courtesy of aesthetics that can be bent towards full-blown high fantasy if you want…or, if you prefer a more low-key approach, if you want to touch upon the human element, upon aging, mortality, different perspectives, the negotiation of dreams and reality – well, then this can deliver just as well. This is one of the most versatile and evocative installments in the whole series, standing shoulder to shoulder with greats like John Bennett and Mike Welham in delivering a place that puts GM-agenda and uses first, without compromising the integrity of a vision that is intelligent and compassionate.

 

Adding a bit of crunch for the PFRPG-version just adds the cherry of GM-comfort on top. This is an amazing place that will be used in a huge amount of different ways – they all, however, have one thing in common: They work and make this a phenomenal addition to a GM’s toolkit. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval. Highly recommended!

 

You can get this pdf here on OBS!

 

You can directly support raging Swan Press here on patreon!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jun 252018
 

Places of Power: Fort Vigil (5e)

This installment of the Places of Power-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Fort vigil, situated in a forest, would be an unremarkable fortification, manned by a skeletal crew. It is mainly known for being under the command of the veteran knight Sir Arnhelm Langeson. The fort, as a whole, is picturesque, and not a bad place to visit – it adds much sought-after security to the surrounding lands, and seems to be a safe haven. However, locals will tell that the fort is steeped in history, having seen diverse masters, and unbeknown to most, at night, silver shades roam the castle, spirits and echoes of things long gone…but it’s not really ghosts or the just echoes.

 

You see, Fort Vigil is situated next to the Wealdmere, a lake that serves as a transition point between the material and spirit world, particularly regarding the realms of dream. As such, the presentation actually takes this unique aspect into account in the formal structure: Beyond the by now classic whispers and rumors and the notes on nomenclature employed and dressing habits, we have a split between the daily life and the dreaming in the dressing table, a choice that nets 10 evocative dressing entries per table.

 

This is relevant, particularly since the pdf actually provides a small selection of concise notes and rules to remember the uncommonly-vivid dreams experienced here. Kudos for this unobtrusive inclusion of rules, particularly since they have been properly associated with 5e-rules and feasible DCs. As before, we do get flavorful read-aloud sentences that describe the keyed locations here, and one place in particular comes with its extra, custom dressing table to account for the haunting you can encounter here.

 

Now, dreams, beyond those that the PCs may experience, are personal and often archetypical, as we all know; this focus is mirrored in the presentation of the NPCs: We get an uncommon amount of different NPCs – 5, to be precise. These come as fluff-only entries that are surprisingly detailed regarding mannerism, background and distinguishing features, even for Raging Swan Press’ supplements, making them feel rather well-rounded. The 5e version makes good use of the default stats where even remotely feasible.

 

These NPCs, btw., not only include the aging knight, who wishes to help the shades and phantoms move on, but also the Medium – a ghost, warden, caretaker and guardian of this sacred locale, a ghost who may be noble, but the unending task has started to take its toll on the otherwise noble soul, adding a sense of melancholia and gravitas, of duty and sacrifice to the supplement, a sense of a bookend that is cleverly contrasted via e.g. Signy, a character hoping to become a hero. The book thus feels like an encompassing scope of the condition of adventuring – the reminiscence and longing, the wide-eyed hopefulness, adding a second level to the duality inherent in the supplement, increasing the appeal and viability of the book in the most crucial of ways: In the themes, in the way it’s structured and the stories you can tell with it.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant hiccups. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes with nice b/w-artworks. The cartography, as always, is really nice, and the pdf comes in two iterations – one intended for screen-use and one made for the printer. This deserves as much applause as the full bookmarks presented, which render navigation comfortable and easy.

 

Amber Underwood’s “Fort Vigil” is a culmination of an author truly coming to terms with writing top-tier, evocative supplements. Fort Vigil is not a one-note place -. It feels tangible and real, courtesy of aesthetics that can be bent towards full-blown high fantasy if you want…or, if you prefer a more low-key approach, if you want to touch upon the human element, upon aging, mortality, different perspectives, the negotiation of dreams and reality – well, then this can deliver just as well. This is one of the most versatile and evocative installments in the whole series, standing shoulder to shoulder with greats like John Bennett and Mike Welham in delivering a place that puts GM-agenda and uses first, without compromising the integrity of a vision that is intelligent and compassionate.

 

Adding a bit of crunch for the 5e-version just adds the cherry of GM-comfort on top and makes this iteration on par with the fantastic PFRPG-iteration. This is an amazing place that will be used in a huge amount of different ways – they all, however, have one thing in common: They work and make this a phenomenal addition to a GM’s toolkit. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval. Highly recommended!

 

You can get this great supplement here on OBS!

 

You can directly support raging Swan Press here on patreon!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jun 252018
 

Places of Power: Fort Vigil (system neutral)

This installment of the Places of Power-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Fort vigil, situated in a forest, would be an unremarkable fortification, manned by a skeletal crew. It is mainly known for being under the command of the veteran knight Sir Arnhelm Langeson. The fort, as a whole, is picturesque, and not a bad place to visit – it adds much sought-after security to the surrounding lands, and seems to be a safe haven. However, locals will tell that the fort is steeped in history, having seen diverse masters, and unbeknown to most, at night, silver shades roam the castle, spirits and echoes of things long gone…but it’s not really ghosts or the just echoes.

 

You see, Fort Vigil is situated next to the Wealdmere, a lake that serves as a transition point between the material and spirit world, particularly regarding the realms of dream. As such, the presentation actually takes this unique aspect into account in the formal structure: Beyond the by now classic whispers and rumors and the notes on nomenclature employed and dressing habits, we have a split between the daily life and the dreaming in the dressing table, a choice that nets 10 evocative dressing entries per table.

 

This is relevant, particularly since the pdf actually provides a small selection of concise notes and rules to remember the uncommonly-vivid dreams experienced here. As a plus, these rules had their DCs modified to reflect the different realities of old-school gaming. You will have already noticed the potential issue here: Remembering dreams is handled via a check that employs ability score modifiers as something to be added to the check, when many OSR systems instead opt for a roll-under mechanic instead. Getting a variant here, with penalties to the check, would have taken a grand total of one sentence and added to the immediate usefulness of the supplement for many games. Granted, this does not put the referee at much of a disadvantage, as conversion of the system ought to be super-simple, but as a reviewer, it’s a potentially rough patch I felt obliged to note. As before, we do get flavorful read-aloud sentences that describe the keyed locations here, and one place in particular comes with its extra, custom dressing table to account for the haunting you can encounter here.

 

Now, dreams, beyond those that the PCs may experience, are personal and often archetypical, as we all know; this focus is mirrored in the presentation of the NPCs: We get an uncommon amount of different NPCs – 5, to be precise. These come as fluff-only entries that are surprisingly detailed regarding mannerism, background and distinguishing features, even for Raging Swan Press’ supplements, making them feel rather well-rounded.

 

These, btw., not only include the aging knight, who wishes to help the shades and phantoms move on, but also the Medium – a ghost, warden, caretaker and guardian of this sacred locale, a ghost who may be noble, but the unending task has started to take its toll on the otherwise noble soul, adding a sense of melancholia and gravitas, of duty and sacrifice to the supplement, a sense of a bookend that is cleverly contrasted via e.g. Signy, a character hoping to become a hero. The book thus feels like an encompassing scope of the condition of adventuring – the reminiscence and longing, the wide-eyed hopefulness, adding a second level to the duality inherent in the supplement, increasing the appeal and viability of the book in the most crucial of ways: In the themes, in the way it’s structured and the stories you can tell with it.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant hiccups, though on a rules-language component, the solution to the dream-recalling component could have been slightly more encompassing in the approach taken. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes with nice b/w-artworks. The cartography, as always, is really nice, and the pdf comes in two iterations – one intended for screen-use and one made for the printer. This deserves as much applause as the full bookmarks presented, which render navigation comfortable and easy.

 

Amber Underwood’s “Fort Vigil” is a culmination of an author truly coming to terms with writing top-tier, evocative supplements. Fort Vigil is not a one-note place -. It feels tangible and real, courtesy of aesthetics that can be bent towards full-blown high fantasy if you want…or, if you prefer a more low-key approach, if you want to touch upon the human element, upon aging, mortality, different perspectives, the negotiation of dreams and reality – well, then this can deliver just as well. This is one of the most versatile and evocative installments in the whole series, standing shoulder to shoulder with greats like John Bennett and Mike Welham in delivering a place that puts referee-agenda and uses first, without compromising the integrity of a vision that is intelligent and compassionate.

 

This is an amazing place that will be used in a huge amount of different ways – they all, however, have one thing in common: They work and make this a phenomenal addition to a referee’s toolkit. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars. While the system neutral version still retains a truly evocative piece of writing, the needless limitation of the crunchy bits make this slightly weaker than the other iterations of the file.

 

You can get this excellent supplement here on OBS!

 

You can directly support Raging Swan Press here on patreon!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jun 222018
 

Dead God Excavation (OSR)

This module clocks in at 15 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of Kort’thalis glyph, leaving us with 11 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

So, first things first: This module was made for Crimson Dragon Slayer, using Venger’s FREE rules-lite dark fantasy rules. The adventure itself, is in presentation, very much an old-school module, in that it eschews read-aloud text and the like for the most part – there is a box provided for a key scene. When using said rules, a brief table for some effects a cleric might have on unearthly creatures is a potent angle. 4 rumors and 4 reasons for the PCs to arrive at the scene of the adventure are provided. Before the PCs reach the excavation site, they will have to deal with fully-statted winged bat-demon-things. Combat-relevant beings like these tend to be statted for Crimson Dragon Slayer, noting HP and dice pool, but conversion should not be too hard for most old-school GMs, should you use another system.

 

NPCs are noted with flavorful descriptions and motivations, but don’t have stats. The biggest hurdle, conversion-wise, would be a “spell”, which is thankfully slightly tighter in its codification that CDS’s in my opinion non-functional free-form magic system, which boils down to “I try to convince the GM this works.” (Yeah, I will forevermore complain about the like – I just don’t enjoy it. No, I will not penalize the pdf for this.) The module presented sports a couple of Venger’s trademarks: It is very high-concept, has a couple of delightfully nigh-unpronounceable names and focuses on presenting a situation, without prescribing how it’ll run its course. The adventure features a stunning full-page full-color artwork, but not map for the complex to be explored. It should be noted that I can see this work particularly well for DCC’s aesthetics or LotFP, should you be playing those systems.

 

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

..

.

So, the PCs arrive at basically an archaeological dig, where one person actually has the Al Azif (rename it if you’re as tired as I am of dragging the poor ole’ Necry around) and from nobility to a Rosicrucian and a sage, there are some interesting NPCs to interact with. Touching the strange metal of the tomb that is explored can btw. have disquieting ramifications. When the sage’s brother arrives, he consults the book and deems the excavation unsafe. No one listens. Sure, his agenda is black as the night, but he, technically, is right. As antediluvian air escapes from the breached sepulcher, the PCs can wander into a strange dungeon where drops of acid drip from daemonic flesh, and ultimately lay their eyes upon the eponymous dead god, sleeping or dead. Indeed, a PC may unwittingly bond with a horrific alien entity that acts as basically a symbiotic, living artifact that can halt the flow of time, a servitor creature that may well kill the wielder, one in service to the dread inhuman god-thing lying there. A dark wall contains mighty glyphs that contain a superbly potent spell; essential salts may be consumed to speak to the high priest of the fallen deity and worse, there are hatchlings…

 

The finding of the dread great old one/deity may well end civilization, the start of a truly apocalyptic campaign…if you, for example, enjoy Shadows over Vathak, it may make for an interesting prologue to the proceedings hundreds of years later. Or you can use this to start something weird. This module pulls out the biggest punches of the mythos in the very first session, connecting because they are not expected then, but rather at the end of a campaign. This presents a couple of interesting variations for you: As the pdf closes with ideas for the benefits of having a dead god under your kingdom. The angles/suggestions here literally can govern whole campaigns, making this a truly efficient kick-off module.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious glitches. Layout is gorgeous and one of my favorites in the whole Kort’thalis catalogue: With shades of purple and orange, blood-spatters and the like, Glynn Seal really delivers here. The b/w-artworks are nice, and the full-page full-color piece is fantastic and not something I expected to see in such an inexpensive supplement. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks and a second, more printer-friendly version. Kudos!

 

Now, Dead God Excavation is not a hand-holding module; it is a sketch for you to fill out; it requires that you flesh out the main locale, potentially stat the NPCs, etc. It has no synopsis that would make spontaneously running it easier. Here, I get why. This is a proposition for a whole campaign or at least a story-angle, disguised as a brief introductory module. A Gm should think carefully about the ramifications of the adventure, of how it will shape the future. The presence of a variety of very potent concepts usually reserved for endgame-scenarios means that this is deadly; greed can kill PCs; so can curiosity. This is unforgiving, but it is brutal for a reason. It makes sense in the context of the adventure. The high impact nature of the module and clever use of player-expectation subversion makes for a fun and ultimately cool scenario. Sure, as always with Venger As’Nas Satanis’ relatively free-form modules, you’ll have to do a little more work structuring/fleshing out components, but for $2.50, it is worth getting!

 

That being said, I think that this offering suffers a bit from its presentation – DGE can’t seem to really decide whether it wants to be a toolkit/campaign-theme or adventure; as a toolkit, it is a success – the setting of the stage it delivers, is fantastic and evocative. However, the whole thing is billed as a module, and as such, it is more sketch-like than it should be. The descriptions and prose are top-notch, but the adventure doesn’t offer that much meat/substance. As a module, I think this would have benefited from being less abstract, from being more concrete. On the other hand, the aspects of the toolkit function basically almost invalidate the function as a module. No GM/referee/judge will run this as presented. It doesn’t have sufficient details for that; it’s not intended for that. At the same time, the suggested turn of events and characters make the toolkit-aspect feel less customizable than they are.

 

DGE would have made a truly outstanding, high-concept toolkit for a campaign, had it gotten rid of its pretensions of being an adventure. As written, it does not really qualify as either adventure or toolkit as perfectly as the quality of the prose and set-up would otherwise guarantee – it tries to have its cake and eat it, too, and is weaker off for it. To cut a long ramble short: This is a phenomenal inspiration for a game; a great little supplement to scavenge materials and scenes from, and, much like the eponymous dead god, a nice place to build a campaign on – I just wished it focused structurally in its presentation more on embracing being the modular toolkit that it wants to be. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, but I feel I can’t round up for this one.

 

You can get this inspired premise here on OBS!

 

Venger’s current kickstarter for a new Alpha Blue module has just 48 hours to go! You can check it out here!

 

Endzeitgeist out.