Jul 182018
 

The (Pathfinder) Roleplaying Game Dictionary

This massive book clocks in at 53 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover leaving us with 49 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

“So, the other day while the GM had almost TPK’d us, he told me off as I was above character, describing how I’d be able to RAW Take 20, and then he’d suddenly argue my character build’s baseline, without which I could have never gotten to this level of being able to tank DPR, right? Which I btw. only did to make the cleric-guy less of a heal-bot, and then, suddenly, this whole thing became the tired old RAI-discussion…”

 

If you’re reading this review, then chances are you understood the entirety of the above, which you may very well overhear at a table. Once we take a step back, though, we’ll realize that, for non-gamers, this sounds like gobbledygook.

 

Every hobby, every science, every component of our lives does have its own terminology, its technical terms. Roleplaying games, as a medium, have more than most, as the hobby is wholly contingent on language and the associations you can conjure forth. As such, we have developed quite a set of terms, and while some, like THAC0 have gone on towards more obscure old-school games, the more rules-heavy recent games have added a copious amount of terms, while also borrowing heavily from video games.

 

This, surprisingly, can present a quite distinct entry barrier for new gamers. Enter this book.

 

What we have here, is basically a dictionary of game- and gamer-lingo, focused on Pathfinder.

 

We begin with the very basics that include shorthands like RPG and describe roleplaying games; Game Master and player, level-ranges, mechanics, dice and their notation – we move, in a sensible manner, from the large categories and frame to the smaller components: The book categories the sections from Rules and Game Mechanics to terms denoting adventures etc,, gaming materials, etc. SRD, 3PP, difficult terrain, light, planar basics, conditions – and we even get explanations of pure slang in the end – from GMPCs to TPKs, from rollplayer to roleplayer…

 

Oh, and we even get a detailed Index!

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no serious hiccups or omissions. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard and the pdf features nice stock art. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and comes with an EPUB-version.

 

Michael McCarthy’s Roleplaying Game Dictionary for Pathfinder is amazing. It is a godsend for new players and really handy as a starting point for people wanting to understand gamer-lingo. This book, in short, is a really great supplement that achieves its goal remarkably well. Organization is excellent…and it’s PWYW (pay what you want)! This must have been a ton of work, and frankly, I wholeheartedly suggest dropping the author a tip for this book – any supplement that helps new folks get into our hobby should be applauded. 5 stars + seal of approval, highly recommended for new players!

 

You can get this super helpful dictionary here on OBS for PWYW!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jul 182018
 

How Do I…Rest? (SFRPG)

This installment of the PWYW-series of rules-explanations clocks is for Starfinder and clocks in at 7 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 3 pages of content. The pdf comes with a second version optimized for e-readers, which clocks in at 12 pages and is presented in a landscape layout. Content-wise, the two versions are identical.

 

So, resting in SFRPG is more complex than it was previously, so I found myself somewhat surprised that the rules pertaining rests never were truly collated in one place in the SFRPG-core rules. This pdf remedies that oversight.

 

First of all: A character does not necessarily have to be asleep to rest, but the precise restrictions are presented. 10-minute rests and how they work, as well as the means to mitigate the exhausted condition to fatigued via a 1-hour rest, are noted.

 

The pdf then concisely lists the differences between a full night’s rest and a full day’s rest. How and what constitutes interruptions, the interaction with rings of sustenance…and the limit of “full night’s rest” in a universe where a night may be rather brief or agonizingly long, are presented and acknowledged – in short, only one 8-hour rest per 24-hour period. Medicine’s long-term treatment is also noted in this context.

 

The pdf then concludes with noting effects that are not necessarily healed by resting, or unaffected entirely.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no hiccups. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf has no artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked, in spite of its brevity – kudos!

 

Michael McCarthy’s summary of resting mechanics is handy to have and should prevent some book-flipping. What more can you ask from such a humble little game-aid pdf, particularly from one that comes as PWYW? This is very much worth leaving a tip for and makes playing more smooth. No complaints. 5 stars + seal of approval.

 

You can get this handy pdf here on OBS for PWYW!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jul 182018
 

How Do I…Polymorph?

This little pdf clocks in at 7 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD/editorial/ToC, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let’s take a look! It should be noted that the pdf comes with a second version, one optimized for e-readers that is landscape format – it#s 12 pages long and otherwise, content-wise, identical.

 

Now, as we all know, previous editions of the game often had…let’s say, rather byzanthine rules for shapechanging. In Pathfinder, this is easier. Comparatively. The pdf first explains, newbie-friendly, that polymorph denotes a spell – as well as a subschool of transmutation.

 

The pdf then lists the more common, specialized transformation spells for shapechanging (handy!) and the general ones – this explains, concisely, what type of spell you’d use for what…and then, the issue of speech is addressed. Nice: The pdf does correctly note how parrot’s won’t suddenly be able to speak and takes familiars into account; it also points towards the Expressive Pantomime solution for specialists. The ways to get past the casting limitations a new form may impose are also clearly stated.

 

The pdf then presents a handy bullet-point list of what you always gain and what you always lose upon shapeshifting – and we get a list of what you probably get. It is important to note that e.g. special movement or senses are not automatically bestowed, which can be awkward…having that spelled out makes sense for newer players. Similarly, having a list of what you never get is handy indeed. A minor correction here: While it is correct that a polymorph spell costs you natural attacks of a previous form, sorcerers and similar characters that can grow e.g. claws and the like as a class feature may do so in the polymorphed form! This little tidbit should probably be added.

 

Anyways, the pdf helpfully notes that the lesser one of special movement rates granted (base form vs. spell) is gained in an often overlooked component of the rules. Interaction between polymorph spells on a target and a handy little attribute modifier table for targets smaller than Small or larger than Large helps as well – though an additional table for size modifiers and special size modifiers would have improved this further.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious flaws. Layout adheres to a nice two-column standard and is easy to read. The pdf comes bookmarked, in spite of its brevity and has no artworks inside.

 

Michael McCarthy’s handy little guide is great for novices of the game. Since polymorph, while simpler than before, is still a pretty complex collection of rules, it’s nice to have such a pdf and the option to point towards it. Now, while not 100% exhaustive, it does its intended job rather well – which is why my final verdict will be 4.5 stars, rounded up due to the PWYW nature of this handy little helper.

 

On another note: If you enjoy shapeshifting and want to get deeper into size-changes and the like, there’s no way past Everyman Gaming’s superb Microsized Adventures-book (Link) and the corresponding template-mini (Link)…

 

You can get this nifty little file here on OBS for PWYW!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jul 182018
 

Crisis of the World-Eater Alpha: Immortal Wrath of the Armageddon Angel

The second part (if you count the prologue) and first act of the Crisis of the World-Eater saga clocks in at 39 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2.5 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 32.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Well, before we do, let us briefly discuss what this is: “Crisis of the World-Eater” represents, depending on how you look at it, either a mega-adventure in 3 parts (plus Prologue) or an adventure arc. It is inspired, as the name notes, by the much beloved comic book event “Crisis of Infinite Earths”, with a healthy dose of Ultimate Galactus-shenanigens thrown in for good measure. (If you’re not familiar with these events: Crisis of Infinite Earths was a story that basically streamlined the myriad different worlds in the DC-universe; Galactus is a being of nigh-infinite power in the Marvel universe, a consumer of worlds. You know. A World-Eater. Galactus also has an immortal herald who scours the multiverse for suitable planets to consume, the “original emo”, perpetually angsty superhero/villain silver surfer.)

 

As you can glean, I am very much a comic-book guy; they were one of the reasons I learned English at a very young age…but I won’t drown the review in all the references I find and only note the most obvious ones and explain them, if possible. You don’t have to be into comic-books to enjoy this series….but there’s one aspect herein where the comic-book heritage of concepts becomes important.

 

You see, the module includes a brief discussion of “non-vancian work days”; as probably most of my readers know, the “limited uses per day” type of spellcasting, often termed “vancian”, is named after Jack Vance’s writing. It’s different from the magic assumed in comic book universes. And the adventure actually has suggestions on how to get rid of these limitations. On a grand total of slightly less than two pages. If the lack of scope didn’t make that abundantly clear: This doesn’t work. AT ALL. But due to more reasons than you’d expect. PFRPG’s mechanics are based on limiting powerful abilities to ensure at least a modicum of balance, and the book basically tries to jam a hackneyed, half-baked attempt of introducing 5e/Starfinder-ish short rests into a system not designed for it. Disaster ensues.

 

The guidelines are sketch-like at best, lack any form of proper depth and are basically wasted space. They also are somewhat insulting, insinuating: “While this functions reasonably well as a means of keeping your physics-defying wizards somewhat more in line with melee warriors, it’s less good when it comes to letting players feel heroic for more than ten minutes into the day.” This is condescension in its purest form; it did D&D 4th edition no good to talk smack about a system that the fanbase enjoyed; it does a 3pp-module even less good to do so for the system for which it was designed, particularly in light of the absence of any feasible alternative – which, granted, would require a 100+ page book of revisions and detailed guidelines. Instead of working *with* the system, the module basically tells you that you may be playing the game wrong if you want “heroic” fantasy.

 

I don’t know about you, but if PFRPG does one thing well, it’s heroic high-fantasy. And vancian magic, while not for everyone, certainly is not alone as a spellcasting option – psionics, akasha, ethermagic, kineticists, etc. In spite of its detractors, there are plenty of folks that love vancian magic.

 

Novaing, the phenomenon of PCs blowing out all steam and then resting, is both the result of a too lenient GM, immature players and sucky class design. None of which are remedied by the solutions offered. Warrior-characters get even less power in the system proposed? Behold the brilliant solution proposed within: Replenishing hero points (oh boy…), plusses and faster XP gain. Yeah, my unbelieving chuckle pretty much drowned in bile right there.

 

In short: These 2 pages are a very ill-conceived notion that could be taken as insulting, doesn’t work or address the problems resulting from implementation, and is an all-out bad idea of working against the system for which you design, rather than with it.

 

You know, there is something out there for over-the-top superhero-style escapades for PFRPG. Maybe you’ve heard of it. It’s called Mythic frickin’ Adventures.

I apologize. This section really made me angry, as it misleads less experienced GMs into making modifications to their game, potentially destroying it utterly. It’s the worst type of half-baked alternate rules you can imagine and lacks the foresight and detail to achieve what it tries to do. Steer clear of these suggestions.

 

Okay, here’s a brief history lesson on the genesis of the series:

 

The idea underlying the series was pretty amazing and a cool, unique selling proposition: Have one event that affects a variety of different 3rd party publishing worlds! Damn cool, right? Here’s the catch, though: The KS, back then, blocked this unique selling proposition behind stretchgoals, which robbed the series of its…unique selling proposition. The KS still funded, but it fell, in scope, flat of what it was supposed to be, as a result of not funding tie-ins into many beloved worlds. Making the project an all or nothing high-end goal or making all tie-ins one stretch-goal would have probably been more enticing for backers. (Why back a series in the hopes that it *may* tie in with the world you’re invested in?) I believed in the project, and LPJDesign did create the series, but I still had to take a step back from it and let some time pass, so that my own expectations would not color my reviews of the saga.

 

The following discussion contains notes on the assumptions of the series. These contain SPOILERS. Mild ones, but SPOILERS nonetheless.

 

Now, the first thing you’ll notice upon opening this book and reading about it, is that it does assume quite a lot. Where the prologue’s assumptions were pretty unobtrusive, this adventure does reference a cadre of pretty specific details about both the planet the series starts on, and the cosmology underlying the campaign. Let me elaborate: The PCs are assumed to be professional soldiers of the Confederate of Nations, the mightiest empire of the world, with 41 nations under its banner. This quasi-UNO/NATO-like scenario is bound to be different from the realities of pretty much any other setting. Even in NeoExodus, which is pretty close to the starting scenario, that won’t go over without a hitch. The adventure also introduces the “Faith of Maroen”, a new religion, which is roughly based on Christian ideas, with halos bestowed upon worshipers, a concept of an immaculate conception, etc. Both of these receive brief summaries, and both could have used a proper setting book to adequately shine.

 

These are also not tangential components, but more on that later. The plot suggests that Beginning, Ending, Change and Continuation, as personified physical entities, predated the gods, with Continuation having a cadre of agents called “Entropy,” a race hailing from the shadow plane (I’d have expected negative energy plane…), one that consists of energy. The greatest among these beings would be Omega, and it can grant basically super-powers via the Omega Force. Comicbook aficionados may knowingly nod here – parallels to Darkseid’s Anti-life Equation and Omega Beams are certainly intentional. Omega’s herald of sorts would be the astral titan Saitan.

 

I usually don’t comment on nomenclature. But really? This sounds either like Satan, you know, the devil, or like the tofu-ish wheat gluten, “seitan.” Either way is not really ideal and either cheesy or unintentionally hilarious. I’d strongly recommend renaming this poor fellow when running the series.

 

The herald of what gluten, pardon, Saitan, is the entity called Asa – the eponymous Armageddon Angel. Much like the silver surfer, Asa looks for worlds to destroy…and a survivor of one such world, the Chronicler, rendered comatose by Asa in a battle over the implicit world, attempted to warn the nations…but the predictions of doom fell on deaf ears. Only the Onyx Cabal and the PCs that tracked down the warning of the Chronicler seem to grasp how dire the situation is…until it was too late. In the aftermath of the prologue, the PCs are invited to a summit of the Confederate.

 

And this is why I felt the need to note that this module is NOT campaign-setting agnostic. Adaption to a given setting will require some work on behalf of the GM, also to explain why, in face of global annihilation, mass exoduses via interplanetary teleport or plane shift are no options; the heritage of the comic-book storyline does collide somewhat with the planar cosmology assumed by pretty much any setting in Pathfinder – a global effect, akin to those posited in 3.X’s brilliant “Elder Evils” book, would have gone a long way in explaining why paltry level 6 folks suddenly fight for survival of the whole planet.

 

So yeah, at this point, you can probably see some of my issues with contextualizing the adventure in a given world…but let’s move on to the module itself, shall we? It should be noted that the module sports well-written read-loud text and comes with 5 campaign traits of sorts.

 

From here on out, the SPOILERS reign! Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, we begin with a bang as the PCs are en route to the summit: The carriage crashes, and a mental scream briefs them that Asa has arrived and must be stopped, before the “Deliverer of Omega” is called – we get some suggested random encounters, and the PCs have to make their way past Entropy-possessed beings towards Fort Nero. En route, the PCs can find the marble building called “Voice of the People” – with some minor encounters thrown in. The place is not mapped, but like many locales herein, does come with snippets of information for the players – a plus, as it foreshadows some foes faced later. (One of the founders mentioned by name, Saul Silver, will later be faced as a vampire…) I like this, but it once more assumes a depth of lore that implies a very specific setting – if you attempted to ignore the whole Confederate-angle, you’ll stumble over the like time and again.

 

A new monster, so-called entropy pods, herald the arrival of Asa, though their page references are “see page @@” – they are not the only ones, fyi; glitches like this and missed italicizations and similar formatting hiccups, alas, do haunt the otherwise professional presentation. Fort Nero comes mapped in full-color, but like the other maps, we do not get player-friendly versions sans key.

 

As the PCs make their way through the mook-y adversaries, they will arrive at the ruined Capitol building. Here, the PCs will have to fight Asa, and while the Armageddon Angel can’t be truly slain, an indistinct amount of soldiers will be firing and providing infinite healing for the PCs. Considering they’re level 6…that stretches the imagination somewhat. Asa’s artwork and statblock are btw. pretty cool and impressive, though a damage type that is untyped should be classified and some minor formatting and verbiage stuff may be complained about. After the first defeat, the PCs have two hours before Asa returns to life, fully healed. Okay. That was, kinda, expected after all the hubbub, right? However, know what Asa doesn’t have? Means to counter pretty much any sort of imprisonment. It’s almost sad. You don’t even need a proper imprisonment. You can pretty much render the much maligned armageddon angel utterly impotent via frickin’ resilient spheres. Forcecage. I could go on. At no Escape Artist ranks and CMB +18 and a Strength of 14, you could bind him with mundane tools.

 

But surely PCs never would think of double-tap-ing the frickin’ Armageddon Angel that heralds doom for the whole world…right? I can suspend my disbelief for the sake of the narrative, but this module asks us to accept a ridiculous amount of railroading. During the second combat with Asa (because, you know, PCs surely won’t do something to restrain him…), a silvery disk starts firing plasma upon Asa, helping the PCs. (No, plasma as a damage type is not defined – it should be noted that it’s traditionally half fire, half electricity. Not every GM is familiar with this esoteric energy admixture.)

 

The PCs are told that the only thing capable of saving the world now would be the Seed of Change, conveniently located beneath the very feet of the PCs in Vault II, as Major DePompa (what’s up with names here?) tells the PCs. Thus, the so far rather cinematic module becomes a dungeon-crawl through three levels of Vault II, wherein the PCs face undead guardians of the Seed, who once have been heroes of the Confederate. This is per se a really cool set-up and the encounter versus aforementioned Saul Silver has a unique hazard (though why chain-links on the floor require Strength to move and can’t be navigated via Acrobatics is anyone’s guess); indeed, this should have shocking consequences on the PCs. The beloved, legendary founding fathers/heroes of ages long gone, reduced to undead that can’t be bargained with? This could have had a ton of gravitas.

 

Only, it doesn’t. Because we know nothing about those heroes. The pdf does a valiant job at trying to foreshadow them, but for the proper payoff, these guys should have been household names for the PCs from the very start of their career. As provided, the impact is somewhat lost – same goes for the legendary gear the PCs get from defeating these bosses. The items are okay, though not exactly mind-boggling.

Ultimately, the PCs will get the seed; hereafter, Asa breaks free of the combat with the Chronicler (if he hasn’t already) or instantly revives, for a final showdown with the PCs, as he crashes through, suddenly, to the PC’s locale. Oddly, without getting a power-upgrade, which is a bit of a let-down and a pretty severe clash between flavor and crunch. The seed can destroy his omega blade, Asa falls and the PCs have a vision of things to come.

 

The module concludes with the chronicler opening a gateway to sidequests on 3pp worlds…that were never funded, as 5e-conversions (should have been part of the deal from the get-go) and sourcebooks were put as stretch-goals before them, diluting the focus of the series.

 

Big plus: The pdf comes with a bonus file: Adversaries of Crisis. This book, penned by Matt Medeiros with Louis Porter Jr., provides 12 pages of statblocks for high-level gameplay: ranging from CR 17 to 22, the NPCs depicted within this bonus pdf have unique super-power-like tricks, are fearsome to behold…and sport a couple of odd glitches like incorrect ranged BAB, missing gear-lines, italicizations that start in the middle of words where they shouldn’t…which is a pity, for per se, the ideas here are cool: We have a Green Goblin type of character, a super-deadly robot (30d6 force damage infinite gravimetric pulses, range: line of effect…) and similar beings. Per se, I liked these, but even the best designer can stumble with high-level statblocks, and these could have used a second set of eyes. As far as bonus content is concerned, I liked the NPCs herein very much, though. The bonus pdf has no bookmarks.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are okay; while I noticed several avoidable formatting hiccups, and while the rules-verbiage isn’t always as tight as it should be, the module remains playable. Layout adheres to a gorgeous two-column full-color standard and the artworks deserve special mention: The original pieces are downright gorgeous and impressive. Cartography is full-color and solid, but the lack of player-friendly versions is, at this point, a pretty sad state of affairs and detracts from the usefulness of the module. The pdf comes fully bookmarked, though that does not extend to the bonus-pdf, alas.

 

This was depressing. Michael McCarthy has written a ton of vastly superior modules, and Louis Porter Jr.’s influence can’t either be faulted for how this turned out, or the Gatekeeper-serial provided by the same team-up, turned out much better.

 

The issues of this module can be boiled down to one problem: It tries to make Pathfinder feel more like a comic-book-storyline, but attempts to do so in the most unfortunate way. The adventure suffers tremendously, more so than any module I’ve reviewed before, from the lack of context. We ultimately don’t care about the world, about the founders and legendary tools, because we have no idea about the setting.

 

Secondly, the adventure tries to be cinematic, and it can run that way – provided the PCs don’t try to jump off the VERY narrow rails – pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. Asa, as a adversary, is amazing and deserved better; heck, the combats per se have this sense of cataclysmic events that is a joy to behold. But the module does not really seem to know how to negotiate the different realities of comic book storylines and PFRPG’s heavily codified rules.

 

It’s hard to suspend your disbelief, when the world-ending armageddon angel clocks in at a paltry CR 10 and has no means to escape bonds. Thing is: This storyline could have worked without those issues! Easily! If the module, instead of suggesting half-baked alternate rules, had focused on actually utilizing the wealth of materials that is here! If the PCs had the option to play as soldiers from level 1 onwards, build relationships, the payoff could have been EPIC:

 

As the PCs arrive at the Capitol, they rendez-vous with their NPC-friends. They are then given armies or troops to command – Asa fights as a super-powerful one-man-army and kills hundreds of soldiers; each hit Asa takes during the army-combat will bring down the angel a notch; then, have the PCs and their NPC allies fight the weakened angel, preferably as Asa mows down the troops the PCs command, cherished NPCs, etc. – make the victory, even with the chronicler’s disk, nigh impossible. And THEN encapsulate Asa in omega force, telling the PCs that the thing will respawn. As they look around, mourn their foes and see the carnage, the PCs will realize that they have no chance of bringing down Asa a second time, putting a hard timer on the Vault II exploration…instead of the almost comical, multiple defeats Asa faces in the module RAW.

 

Then, as the PCs get the seed, don’t have the angel suddenly dues ex machine into the complex; have an emergency broadcast hurry the PCs to the surface as the complex collapses around them. Why can they now defeat Asa? Simple. The seed made them mythic. (Come on, if the seed can’t make you mythic, what could??) Now, they can actually bypass the custom DRs that made the angel nigh-impervious before. Asa’s defenses obviously include immunities to being trapped and stopped, etc. There, done. I fixed the plot. How? Simple. I worked with what Pathfinder offers, instead of trying to half-heartedly change the system into something it’s not.

 

This same methodology could have been used to make the whole plot work better; global effects, perhaps even a cataclysmic death of all folks beyond a certain HD limit (the strong are consumed first…) and the like – Pathfinder has all the means to make this exact story work, without the glaring logic holes that this module suffers from. If you provide the set-up and rewrite the majority of the module, you can make this a truly glorious masterpiece of an adventure…but as presented, it became a depressing dud for me, mired in logic bugs and narrative conveniences that disregard basic in-game logic and potential power-structures. I have rarely been this crestfallen about a final verdict, but I can’t go higher than 2.5 stars, rounded down.

 

You can get this adventure here on OBS.

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jul 172018
 

Haunting of Hastur #3: The City of Talos (5e)

This combined settlement supplement/ecology and adventure clocks in at two times 32 pages – 28 pages each for the adventure and gazetteer booklets, if you take away cover/editorial/etc. My review is based primarily on the kickstarter premium print version of this adventure/supplement. The sturdy wrap-around cover has a massive, gorgeous full-color map of the eponymous city of Talos on the inside – and Justin Andrew Mason’s map is player-friendly! That’s a huge plus for the print version right there.

 

As you can glean from the above, I have received a print copy of the module/setting supplement for the purpose of a fair and unbiased review. The books have thus been moved up in my reviewing queue.

 

So, at the end of the last adventure in the series, the intriguing “The Buried Zikurat”, which could be solved sans a single combat (amazing!), we this time take a sojourn into a sandboxy scenario in the truest form; but in order to talk about the adventure, we have to acknowledge the unique two-book approach. You see, one book is an extensive gazetteer of the massive City of Talos as the PCs encounter it, while the second book depicts the changes that will now befall this unique area.

 

Before we dive into the SPOILERS themselves, let me comment a bit on the formal components: The gazetteer is VERY rules-lite and can be of use in pretty much any roleplaying game. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a plus for the type of scenario presented here. Anyhow, the gazetteer also reprints the destroy stone spell that justifies the presence of the underdark as presented here, reprinted from the previous adventure. Similarly, the three formene items that granted the PCs access to this otherwise shrouded part of the realms below have been reproduced here. The minor hiccups present in them in the former adventure are still here, though. The prose, an important component of such a book, for the most part, is really tight and engrossing, though a few paragraphs feel slightly rougher than others. Still, atmosphere-wise, this does achieve something – more on that in the conclusion of the review, below. One aspect that I sincerely hope will be remedied at one point, would pertain nomenclature: The books use “Formene” to refer to both the reagion after which the unique elven culture herein is named, and to the elves. While this shorthand makes perfect sense to me, it can act as a minor detractor regarding reading flow. You won’t stumble over these, and context makes getting what’s meant easy, but it’s something I felt obliged to mention.

 

It should also be noted that the adventure-booklet includes an alternate segue into the module that does not require the PCs to have finished “The Buried Zikurat” – including an encounter map by Dyson Logos! It’s a pretty detailed alternate introduction and goes above what one usually gets to see. Skill references are usually bolded and in all-caps, making it easy for the GM to determine rules-relevant text on the fly. I noticed an exception, where the skills were only in Allcaps, but since it’s still easily discernible, I chalk this up to negligible aesthetic nitpickery.

 

The adventure book does come with a brief bestiary-appendix that includes short-hand monster stats that do not note all attributes; I know this is probably due to page-count issues, but it’s an aspect that slightly detracts from the otherwise nice chapter. As before, alas, formatting here also deviates in the statblocks from 5e’s standards: Colons instead of full stops, “Hit:” not italicized…you get the drift. The material is, as a whole, functional, but these deviations make it feel less refined than it otherwise would be. We do get a brief random encounter table for the Formene, should you require one.

 

We do begin the gazetteer-booklet with a detailed history of the Formene Elves, their trade nexus network and self-imposed isolation…but those were components we could piece together before. The two books go much farther than that. But in order to discuss the content, I need to go into SPOILERS.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, beyond discussing the connections with Hastur, placing Trade Nexuses in the campaign world (SUPER useful when playing this in e.g. Golarion, Faerûn, Oerth, etc.), we get something I haven’t read in about 20 years; the discussion of Formene Elves goes beyond just throwing stats at you. In fact, that’s probably one of the best things about this book. Instead, we are told about the Dehava. These beings are basically elemental-like, rocky creatures that were afraid of the other Formene denizens for their propensity to steal their eggs as trinkets or decoration. In a surprisingly sensible twist, the dehava did not really consider cohabitation or true sentience possible prior to making magical contact with the Formene Elves. Considering how alien they are, this rang plausible to me – and their unique metabolism, which can excrete ingots of precious rock, has led to a surprisingly smart and unique form of cultural symbiosis. The Formene Elves can guard dehava young while the parents hibernate, and the dehava can provide a truly “elven” form of mining that feels both distinctly magical AND plausible.

 

The Formene Elves, hence, also have the ability to fabricate weaponry of mithril, adamant and similar materials, generating a type of resonance with the old concept of the “riddle of steel” from our own history, one often quoted in sword &sorcery contexts, but without requiring copious rewiring of your game-world. Indeed, the adventure book does note the type of weaponry that may be available. The culture of Talos’ Formene Elves and their first gaze upon surface-dwellers in ages, can yield an interesting roleplaying potential.

 

And more so than in pretty much any book I have read in a long time, culture is emphasized as a roleplaying catalyst and as a means to generate immersion and wonder. The culture of Formene Elves is focused on the 5 virtues of Efficiency, Grace, Knowledge, Harmony and Privacy. Notice something? While many of us may subscribe to these values being important, we do not place the same value upon them. The consequences of this clash of cultures between PCs (and players!) and Formene Elves is amazing to experience and see. Anyhow, the different quarters are assigned special things of note: For example, the focus on Knowledge means that the quarter houses transcriptions of books deemed long lost on the surface, while new books are cherished. Opinions of the locals regarding the reopening of trade relations with the surface, as well as potential problems, can yield here a treasure trove of intrigue, side-quests and unique encounters – probably enough to last you a whole campaign, should you choose to really dive into this section. I should also mention that we get a sample farm area map and discuss other humanoids living in the Lower Formene.

 

This gazetteer fits seamlessly with the adventure booklet; you see, the module takes a defiant stand in favor of capital letters ROLEPLAYING. If you disregard the alternate introduction to the adventure, we get a total of 12 side-quests of sorts that form the very sandboxy and open plot of this adventure. The PCs are basically ambassadors for the whole world above! The PCs will have to negotiate reopening the trade network with the surface, with key aspects of the surface and the Formene Elves provided in bullet points. No, there is no simple “roll to solve.” I love the adventure for that. ROLEPLAYING, not ROLLplaying. Discovering the archive of the Formene Elves, negotiating trade of mithril weapons (and whether or not to teach the skills to make them…) – this is utterly inspired!

 

If your players get antsy and want to do some exploring, we also get a deserted, similarly alien city of the Ryba-Wiek fish-people, rendered abandoned by a strange statue that still remains, with explorers haunted by flashbacks. The PCs may have to contend with a temporarily insane Dehava, look for the lost caravan, deal with potentially hostile human encroachment upon Formene Elf territory, explore an abandoned duergar temple, deal with a black dragon…and there is a mushroom cave, which can have really chaotic psychedelic spore-effects – in case you needed an angle to insert a Narcosa-module, there you go! Defeating a pair of medusas can allow the PCs to free no less than 23 beings! (Ages since petrified, looks and names provided…)

 

Well, all of that, plus any underworld sidetreks you may want to throw at your players! Each of these little sidequests on their own would not be more remarkable than e.g. a solid Mini-Dungeon or OSR-one-page dungeon sidetrek; but their contextualization and detail does elevate them. The whole is here, for once, truly greater than the sum of its parts. Oh, and if the like doesn’t fit the tastes of your PCs, you can easily run this as a series of combat-related issues and make the whole module go by quicker…whether or how you tie these scenario-components together lies within your purview as a GM – this is, in the truest sense of the word, a modular module.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, on a formal level and rules-language level, are good, but remain the one aspect of the module where I can see some folks being less enamored by what’s presented. Layout adheres to a 2-column b/w-standard with copious amounts of high-quality cartography provided. Artworks range from compelling, original b/w-pieces to a few less amazing stock art pieces. As a whole, this is an aesthetically-pleasing module/supplement, though.

 

Okay, I have rarely been this glad to have been proven wrong. When I read the first adventure of this series, I filed the whole under “solid, but forgettable dark fantasy with obligatory Mythos reference”; I was dead wrong. “The Buried Zikurat” had a distinct voice, and so does this one. You see, L. Kevin Watson’s “The City of Talos” is an adventure unlike any you have probably read since the advent of d20. What do I mean by this?

 

Well, 3rd edition brought a focus on crunch, i.e. rules-relevant material. We’d get a gazillion of different elves with minor modification in racial stats. Fire elves, air elves…yeah, you’re probably as sick of them by now as I am. Rules-relevant material, from racial stats to archetypes, subtypes, weaponry and spells, began replacing what was once considered to be, you know, what made a race distinct. While the OSR-movement has somewhat flipped this, here, we often see an almost fetishized emphasis on *really* old-school dungeon-crawling and/or on immediate “gameability” – immediate hooks that affect the PCs on the personal level, that immediately segue into adventure.

 

This has cost us dearly, at least in my opinion. It took me a long time to formulate *what* exactly I loved so much about these two booklets; it’s not the presentation; neither the bite-sized quests/mini-adventures. It’s also not the emphasis on roleplaying over rollplaying, though I do like that. Still, we have seen all of these in recent years – not often, but we’ve seen them. Similarly, I have read and designed more races over the years that I could count, and the Formene Elves, while certainly distinct, also could not account for my fascination with these two booklets.

 

Then, it suddenly dawned on me. You know, when I started playing the game, and had NO IDEA what the difference between “gnomes” and “haflings” was, I read the books released in the boxed sets here in Germany. I read about gnomish ruby wine, and how it could render other races comatose, in strange psychedelic dreams; I read about elven poetry so haunting, it could break the hearts of mortals that witnessed it. I read about dwarven ales and bread. I learned why haflings wouldn’t usually want to go adventuring, about their agricultural (and pipe-weed growing) prowess, about the marriage customs of these races…and they came alive for me. Not because of rules, stats or immediate adventure hooks – but by virtue of their CULTURES.

 

Know what these things have in common? They are not immediately “gameable” and they are, what the low-attention-span, lowest common denominator demographics would consider “boring.” Now, it is my observation, that there, in some books, is merit to this observation. I know that plenty of racial books have bored me to tears with being uninspired twists/inversions on tired tropes. If I had to review one more “element + humanoid”-race (ice dwarf, fire elf, air halfling…blergh), I may smash my head against the table. I very much get how this type of writing got a bad reputation.

 

If anything “The City of Talos” represents a resounding rebuttal to the claims that only rules and immediate gameability matter; neither do you have to be weird to be interesting. Don’t get me wrong – there is PLENTY of material within this adventure that does offer immediate gaming; there are splices of things herein that can become atmospheric, weird, etc.

 

But that’s not where the soul of these booklets lies. The beauty, and I mean that in the truest sense of the word, was that this made me see elves, perhaps the most tired and exploited by various forms of media of the humanoid races, tarnished by a flood of good scimitar-wielding wanna-be Gary Stu drow Drizzt-clones and shield-surfing Legolases, in a fresh light. It showed me a magical culture that feels distinctly elven and yet, distinctly unique.

 

In a way, this module is an heir to an aspect of old-school gaming and aesthetics that is almost lost, that no one seems to give the proper due; an aspect that may, without folks realizing it, be responsible for a significant part of the fondness felt for those days long past. I couldn’t name a single adventure, or supplement for that matter, that takes this approach. This is very much conservative fantasy; it’s not weird, psychedelic or defiantly different – and yet, it proves in structure and presentation, in imaginative potential, that culture does not have to be boring; that it can engender, even nowadays, even among jaded veteran roleplayers, once more the sense of wonder that we all once felt upon exploring the first dwarven mine, the first elven town. Combined with the unconventional focus of the adventure and its open structure, we thus get an adventure that is wholly, utterly distinct in a surprisingly subtle way.

 

Is it perfect? No, as noted before, there are complaints regarding formatting to be fielded here, and when scavenged and divorced from the phenomenal flavor, this feels less compelling; the rules-components are simply not where the focus lies here. If these aspects truly irk you (they do irk me, don’t get me wrong), then detract a star from the rating. If you only want to murder-hobo everything, then this will not be for you.

 

However, otherwise, I can only wholeheartedly recommend you checking this out. L. Kevin Watson has found a distinct narrative voice and provides something within that is unlike anything you’re bound to find out there. This humble book has inspired me beyond anything I expected, even after module number #2– hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo…and this does get my seal of approval for managing the rare and tough feat of depicting a traditional fantasy culture that is wholly new. Highly recommended.

 

You can get this inspired supplement/module package here on OBS!

 

Prefer OSR-rules? You can get the old-school version here on OBS!

 

Missed the cool puzzle-dungeon that preceded this one? You can find it here!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jul 172018
 

Hybrid Classes Vol. III – Heroes of Wonder

The third compilation of hybrid classes by Wayward Rogues Publishing clocks in at 69 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 64 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

This review was requested by my patreons, to be undertaken at my convenience.

 

Now, as before, this represents a compilation of previously released hybrid classes, with new content added. I have previously discussed most of these in excessive detail, so I’m going to point you towards my reviews of the individual classes, should you be interested in them. Otherwise, I’m going to focus on whether or not they have improved, and new content, if any.

 

All right, so the Empath still suffers from formatting glitches and aesthetic rules-language hiccups galore, but e.g. the issue of the courage sensitivity for flying charges for allies has been resolved – it now sports the proper activation action. On the downside, the desire sensitivity still doesn’t work properly. Layout also has cut the letters of a sentence almost in half. The horror sensitivity’s capstone now also has a proper range. The OP 1st-level ability of euphoria hasn’t been nerfed, though. The central mind’s collective-style mental communication is still problematic. The emotive master is not included in the pdf. All in all, a very minor improvement of the class; not nearly as much change as I’d have loved to see, though, and the pdf, alas, has not improved the formatting hiccups or the often wobbly rules-language.

 

The orphic’s table seems to indicate that the class gets a fifth attack, which is not how PFRPG handles iterative attacks. Dark Half’s verbiage still is somewhat ambiguous. The utterly broken first level ability of the Dream orphic discipline is still here. Similarly, faith is still wobbly. Lore is still broken due to being too dippable. The pain discipline’s 16th level ability is still broken and doesn’t work as written. The drow FCO is still broken. The class has, unfortunately, not improved at all – the orphic could have been a 5-star class with proper fine-tuning. Oh well.

 

The prodigy’s base spellcasting still references spells that RAW don’t exist. Knacks still fail to specify from which class. Obvious missed bolding, the problematic wunderkind ability. Dead levels are still here. Formatting hasn’t improved…you get the idea. Once more, a per se promising concept could have been elevated to being good or even great with a bit of work and care.

 

The wonderworker still does not gain Handle Animal, a required skill to teach her pet. Bonded object plus domain, or pet are the options for the base class feature. Not even the heritage references to previous spells included in the one sample combo-spell have been cleaned up. The meddlesome magician in the archetype chamber fails to note that it is an archetype for the wonderworker – it’s not the only archetype that does not note the like. The spells of the wonderworker include a horribly broken, limitless item-recharger. There is a spell that, flavorwise, makes animals erupt in a dizzying cascade from an object, drawing upon cartoon-visuals. The rules for escaping the predicament suffer from false formatting and from deviating how the like works in PFRPG. Good indicator of how sloppy this pdf is at times: The spell is called miracle object. Like the completely different spell on the very next page. Which allows you to duplicate a magic item. Sans limit on CL and power. That should scale. Sequester Ribbon is nice, making a magic item temporarily a suppressed, harmless ribbon that may be drawn and placed on slots, etc. Temporary Wand generates a temporary receptacle wand. There is a spell that makes a token that prevents creatures from being aggressive. Pretty sure I’ve seen it before.

Cool: There is a spell that provides a badge with charges to a target: The target may, as an immediate action, expend charges when targeted by an attack, gaining a 10% miss chance per charge. This is pretty cool; seems familiar, though.

 

All right, so far, we have covered the previously-released classes – unfortunately, these do not come with sufficient improvements, which is particularly for orphic and prodigy, a pity.

 

The pdf also contains two new classes, the first of which would be the Comedian, a combo of bard and witch who gains d8 HD, 6 + Int skills, proficiency with simple weapons plus longsword, rapier, sap, shortsword, shortbow and whip as well as light armor and shields (excluding tower shields). Comedians may cast their class spells, which scale up to 6th level, unimpeded in light armor and with shields. Comedian spells must have verbal components, and spellcasting is spontaneous and governed by Charisma. The class gets ¾ BAB-progression, as well as good Ref- and Will-saves. The comedian may use Perform (act, comedy, etc.) in conjunction with countersong (Nice!). He gets +1/2 class level to Spellcraft checks made to identify spells when targeted by them. (I assume this extends to being one target among an area of effect.) The comedian gets an untyped +1 bonus to Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate, Linguistics and Sense Motive, which further increases at 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter. This bonus also represents the number of edges at the begin of a verbal duel that the comedian receives. Considering how hard edges are usually to come by (requiring roleplaying etc.), this is most definitely overkill.

 

The class gets a variant of bardic performance, comedic performance, which may have audible or visual components. These include a scaling penalty on saves versus charm and fear effects as well as on attack and damage rolls. Fascinate and short-range nonlethal damage that scales (with negative conditions added) can also be found: The latter deserves being mentioned, for it does get rules-interaction right and prevents abuse of the high-level dazing. Kudos! Temporary condition alleviation, scaling Cha-based penalty and a sonic touch attack can also be found – and the latter is actually genuinely interesting, as it builds on previous performances, being more potent when targeting an opponent that has previously suffered from the comedian’s rhetoric barbs. There even is a high-level flurry or single target trick here that renders this one rather interesting. Gather crowd, making targets flat-footed (with an anti-abuse caveat), suggestion (italicization missing from spell-reference), soothing performance, inspire heroics…cool. Lame and rather disappointing: Song of discord has been rebranded “scandal” – without purging all references to the original ability. That’s just sloppy.

 

At 1st level, 2nd level, and every 2 levels thereafter, the comedian gains a heckle – basically, the witch hex-analogues of the class, which are governed by Charisma. Good news here: E.g. the charm heckle and the charm hex and cross-class interaction have been accounted for – kudos for catching that one! Indeed, in a positive, pleasant surprise, the heckles prevent abuse by combo’d comedian/witches, with such caveats included for every overlap. The heckles include fortune and misfortune, a rebranded cackle, using the nonlethal damage during the surprise round at the cost of a performance use, adding witch spells, a variant rebrand of the witch’s gas-negating trick…some nice ones. Problematic: “eating” spells on successful Will or Fort-saves show their origin as a cut-copy-pasted class ability, with the three heckles implying a linear ability-progression, when they should note each other as prerequisites. The major heckles are similar/identical to witch options as well.

 

Starting at 2nd level, the comedian may always act in a surprise round. At 5th level, the comedian may treat initiative as a natural 10 1/day, +1/day for every 6 levels thereafter. 20th level upgrades this to a natural 20. At 10th level, the comedian does not lose edges for being at an extreme disadvantage in verbal duels and may ask for +1 bias when using Sense Motive or automatically seed a bias discovered. 1/verbal duel, he may reassign one verbal duel skill to another tactic in which he didn’t assign skills. The original tactic becomes unprepared. The ventriloquist archetype replace comedic performance with puppet-based summoning. The spells at the back include cantrips for background soundtracks and canned laughter. Catchphrase nets you Signature Skill in “(Perform/comedy)” *sigh* and if you already have it, both Celebrity Discount AND Celebrity Perks, but only for one advantage in the next 24 hours. Not a fan – that’s two class exclusives for a paltry 2nd-level spell. Comic duo nets you a shadowy sidekick, which provides a +2 competence bonus to Perform and to saves to resist performances, masterpieces etc. – at 3rd level. Yeah, balance is a bit odd. Final punchline wants to do something cool: Affect targets of a performance with hideous laughter – I like such combos, simple though it may be.

 

You know, while certainly not perfect and rather redundant regarding heckles, this class does have a couple of nice angles. The minor combo-mechanic is something that could have been expanded further, and the verbal duel angle, while somewhat over the top, has also been executed in decent manner. Not a genius class, but one that I can see being fun for some.

 

The second new class herein would be the poacher. The poacher is a hybrid of unchained summoner and ranger and gets d8 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons and all ranged martial weapons + bolas, nets, lassos, mancatcher, whips and light armor. No spell failure in light armor. The class gets its own custom, pretty potent 6-level spell-list and spontaneous, Charisma-based spellcasting. Chassis-wise, we get ¾ BAB-progression and good Ref- and Will-saves. The class gets the “Draw Monster” extraordinary ability, which should be Sp, or at least, Su to account for level variables of the duplicated summon monster/nature’s ally spells, which btw. do scale. Fail. Poachers may study monsters for 10 minutes, getting an untyped +2 bonus on the type studied. To do so, they need to have a copy of a specific, mundane book ready. Speaking of items: There is a magic or technological item that can deploy traps, which is a good idea, but the rules presented for it make it opaque. There is a magical tripping bola, a mundane write-up for generic monster bait (which I did not like) and the +1 equivalent pelt-pelting special weapon quality, which allows for the sundering of natural armor, but also notes how such damage can be healed.

 

But back to the poacher: We also get track at first level, and the trap-lamp. This lamp can be used an infinite amount of times per day and may be used as a standard action with a “range increment” of 30 ft., but no maximum range noted. The lamp fires a ray, and a creature hit must make a Fort save versus DC 10 + ½ class level + poacher’s Charisma modifier – on a failure, they are sucked into the trap lamp. They can escape, and successful saves net a +2 bonus, but boy, the DC is WAY OP for a save-or-suck first level ability. Sure, the critters have a chance to escape and need to be negotiated/handled with, but the pdf fails to acknowledge the intricacies of these interactions. Oh, and guess what: Captured creatures can be KILLED INSTANTLY at the poacher’s choice when trapped. RAW NO SAVE. W-T-F. Sure, it can only carry creatures with HD equal to or less than the poacher, and only two times poacher level critters, but still. INFINITE INSTA-KILL RAYS. That are not even conjuration (teleportation) or the like. I’m only scratching the surface of the issues here.

 

Wanna hear something lulzy? At 2nd level, any creature summoned (not only those drawn!) get ¼ class level, minimum 1 evolution points! This is broken on so many levels, I am not going to dignify it but bothering to explain it. Oh, and 2nd level, we get basically a poacher’s pride creature that respawns in the trap lamp. You know, like a yellow…okay, I’m going to drop the pretense right now. This attempts to be a Pokémon class. 3rd level, 8th and every 5 levels thereafter yield favored terrains. 4th level makes creatures on the summon list not count towards the maximum. 4th level yields shield ally (12th the greater version), 5th and ever 5 thereafter a bonus feat. 6th, 12th and 19th level add more captured monsters (with evolutions), 8th level nets swift tracker, 9th evasion (16th improved evasion). 14th lets the lamp act as 1/day magnificent mansion. 20th level nets a variant of master hunter with a 1/day swift action draw monster added on top. No, the list of evolutions does not provide anything interesting/new. There are archetypes that replace the signature monster and evolution pool with an animal companion with a baked-in evolution pool, but retrained monsters gain no evolutions. Arcane Enslavers apply the chassis of the class to humanoids and are evil. Hellholders are basically the Hellraiser twist on that concept. Trophy Hunters grant themselves evolutions via fetishes, which is a cool idea; said fetishes take up item body slots, but lack concise rules and fail to take into account that different evolutions have different values, which should be reflected in slots and costs.

 

The feats allow you to choose what you draw when using your own bags of tricks (let me waste a feat on that…), +1 evolution point to ALL summoned monsters drawn with draw monster; electricity damage added to the lamp, +1 to CMB versus quadruped creatures (Yay?), +1 DC for spells targeting studied monster (double yay?), a ranger spell (verbiage super-confusing) and using a weaponized trap lamp.

 

…Oh dear…the poacher is horrible. Unbalanced, top-heavy, opaque. You know, you can say what you want about Kevin Glusing’s Mystical: Kingdom of Monsters; it’s not a perfect book. But oh boy does it blow this fellow to smithereens. The poacher is an overpowered mess. If you want Pokémon-PFRPG, get Mystical: Kingdom of Monsters.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting…haven’t improved much on a formal or rules-language level. The compilation inherits most of the issues of the previous files. That being said, the rules-language pertaining quite a few of the comedian’s more complex components actually intrigued me. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with great, original full-color artworks, as well as a few stock pieces thrown in. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, though only to chapter/subchapter headers, not to individual feats, spells or archetypes. The book also sports a HUGE comfort detriment. You can’t highlight (or search) text within. Yep. Wanna play these? Well, you better like copying the content, for that’s the only way you’ll have the shorthand ready. Considering the vast amount of copied or slightly modified content within, which often barely manage to change the name of the ability of which they’re reskinned, I find this to be distasteful, to say the least.

 

Jarret Sigler, Robert Gresham, Aaron Hollingsowrth, Beth Breitmaier, Dave Breitmaier, and Margherita Tramontano, these authors have created hybrids within this tome that often deserved better than what they got in this compilation. Unlike the previous compilations in this series, the majority of the material herein has the spark of something unique and truly promising; particularly the Orphic and Prodigy, with a capable rules-developer, could have been 5-star hybrid classes. If you can live with formatting hiccups, the asinine inability to copy text and are willing to modify the rules along the lines I noted in my individual reviews of the classes, you’ll have fun with them. Empath and wonderworker are more problematic and less unique. The comedian has the glimmer of being on the cusp of becoming something unique; it has its issues, but with a bit more daring design and less scavenging from the parent classes, it could have been great. I mean it! It has potential and is my third favorite class in the book. The poacher just plain sucks and is the worst thing in the whole book.

 

Sooo, do you want this? Honestly? Probably no. Orphic and Prodigy may be worth checking out, and if the idea of the Comedian intrigues you and you don’t have these two already, then this may be worth a look. However, the lack of refinement since the original releases, the abundant verbiage and formatting hiccups, and the atrocious poacher, make it impossible for me to round up from my final verdict of 2.5 stars.

 

You can get this pdf here on OBS.

 

Want a Pokémon-class? You can find Mystical: Kingdom of Monsters here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jul 162018
 

Hero’s Blood

This adventure clocks in at 57 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of introduction, 1 page ToC, 1 1/3 pages of SRD, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 46 2/3 pages of content – all of which sport a surprising amount of material, as Legendary Games books have a pretty high word-per-page-density.

 

Okay, first things first: This adventure is intended for characters of 10th level and can thus fit pretty easily behind the 3rd adventure in the Curse of the Crimson Throne module, and before the 5th – the module provides a thematic continuation of the leitmotifs of colonial corruption that the first 3 modules sported, which are curiously absent from the otherwise intriguing and evocative 4th adventure. As such, theme-wise, this indeed enhances the AP. It should also be noted that this supplement includes a new corruption, making use of Horror Adventures’ rules. However, you do not necessarily need to have the Horror Adventure supplement to use this adventure.

 

Really cool: There are two new, properly codified occult rituals that feature in the plot of the adventure, both of which employ the themes and leitmotifs established in the adventure path. As always for supplements in the series, we have an adventure that seamlessly integrate with the AP, employing filed off serial numbers that still allow you to easily note what is going on. A huge plus would btw. be that the amazing full-color maps do come with player-friendly versions for your convenience. Big comfort-plus here! Inexperienced GMs will enjoy the fact that we have extensive read-aloud texts accompanying the module.

 

All right, as always, the following discussion contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, the chaos in Korvosa has generated opportunity: The Shoanti (Sklar-Quah), have attacked a remote fort: Fort Hiraksos. When the PCs venture towards the fort, they find a massacre – the battlefield is littered with fallen Shoanti and members of the erstwhile garrison. All of the corpses show a specific pattern: Gaping chest-wounds. As the PCs explore the remnants of the fortress, they will have to contend with lethal undead, ranging from wights to callers in darkness and juvenile rukhs; there are deadly corpse flies and Hiraksos itself is a rather grim – the exploration of the grim keep is fantastic – even beyond the confines of the AP, the depiction of a haunted place of a true massacre is intriguing and flavorful, in both diverse enemy selection: We get unique haunts that add to the sense of decrepitude and metaphysical corruption – and the them of blood/flesh engendering fear is reinforced via, for example, ectoplasmic hungry flesh or a particularly nasty, unique wight.

 

Speaking of which: Said sub-boss ties in with the Onochtu, the ravenous ones, deadly and vile spirits of shoanti myth, adding some intriguing myth-weaving to the proceedings; said spirits and their dark powers are what fuels the corruption of the culprit and the potent powers of foes faced here. The sub-boss can inflict the corruption of these spirits on victims…

 

You see, Austan Mileswood, decorated Korvosan hero, driven insane, is working on a ritual to transcend his form, as an invisible timer is ticking away in the background, and dawdling may see him improve his darkened powers – and we btw. get a CR 10 and CR 11 statblock for this big boss as well as an extensive and well-written background story for this rather tragically flawed individual, who exemplifies so well that one people’s hero may be another people’s villain. Anyways, he has learned from the darksome shoanti spirits – that there lies strength in the hearts of the living, stealing the courage, metaphysically seated in the heart, from his victims. An addiction had formed, and what the PCs now witness, is the sad culmination of, what could be considered to be a fantastic take on a form of PTSD.

 

Thus, in order to truly “win” in this adventure, the PCs will have to venture down into the ancient Well of Bloody Hearts, sanctified to the wicked cannibal spirits of old, where mummified clerics and warriors loom…but beyond these, brimstone oozes and a unique creature dubbed “The Tongue” await – the latter btw. is a unique aberration with a  twisted artwork, and a cool, superbly depicted athach is here as well – and stopping Austan’s ritual is NO trifle. With aether elementals and his own, significant combat prowess, the charismatic “hero” makes for a formidable foe – and yes, he is multiclass’d and has a cool mechanical angle. Here, I should definitely mention that the timeline noted before is not just cosmetic: throughout the adventure, the time elapsed always matters. Kudos for being consequent!

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no serious guffaws on either a formal or rules-language level. Layout adheres to the “Curse of the Crimson Throne”-plugins series’ elegant 2-column full-color standard. Huge plus: We get quite a lot fantastic full-color artworks that I haven’t seen before, and the cartography is similarly impressive and full-color. As noted before, getting player-friendly maps is a big plus. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Tom Phillips does horror and dark fantasy really well; if you’ve been following his works, this will be no surprise to you. He is one of the authors whose adventures tend to offer meaningful challenges for the PCs, while still retaining a dense and evocative atmosphere. “Hero’s Blood” exemplifies these virtues. The adventure manages a feat that is impressive indeed: On one hand, it actually manages to carry a leitmotif that isn’t present in the otherwise fun “A History of Ashes” and thus strengthen the overall plot of Curse of the Crimson Throne – the emphasis on Korvosa affecting these lands adds to the plot.

 

In addition to that, though, this adventure manages to transcend the status as an adventure path plug-in: Its plot and ideas are sufficiently distinct to carry the adventure as a stand-alone supplement – if you like horror or dark fantasy, particularly themes that feature blood/vampiric elements in a cultural context that is a breath of fresh air, then consider this to be a success and well worth getting beyond the confines of the AP.

 

So yeah, regardless of within or without the associated AP, this is a success, no matter how you look at it. 5 stars + seal of approval – excellent job!

 

You can get this inspired dark fantasy yarn here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jul 162018
 

Dear readers,

 

Fat Goblin Games has, in the hardest month for publishers, a special offering for you:

 

25 supplements I absolutely adored, for $25!

No, I don’t get anything from the bundle, and I don’t want anything – it’s just a fantastic offering for a price that can’t be beaten and I wanted to point it out, since it’s a honor for me, and a formidable deal for you!

 

Want to get into the Fat Goblin’s fantastic Castle Falkenstein supplements? You’ll find the best within!

 

Want to gate the criminally-underrated Vathak supplements? (Seriously, if you like Ravenloft et al., get these!) You won’t get them for a lower price!

 

Want to check out the Call to Arms-series? Some of the best ones are within this bundle!

 

Oh, and VsM-engine based GAMES (yes, full games!) are also included!

 

You can check out the bundle here!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

Jul 162018
 

Advanced Adventures: The Chasm of the Damned (OSR)

This installment of the Advanced Adventures-series clocks in at 17 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

This review was requested by one of my patreons, to be undertaken at my leisure.

 

As always with this series, we use OSRIC-rules as the default old-school system, with minor formal deviations from standard formatting, encompassing bolded spells and magic items, for example. The supplemental material includes a properly codified hand of glory magic item, and the pdf comes with 4 different, rival adventure groups that can be inserted as wild-cards into the game, particularly if the PCs have too easy a time. These groups are presented with basic stats noting magic items and spells, but no detailed write-ups of individual equipment. The module features three new monsters: A gargoyle variant that can, in groups, cause maddening winds that prevent actions of those affected; there would downy, small flying mammals with bat-like wings, poison and the ability to strangle targets on excellent hits. Finally, there would be the faceless ones, whom I will discuss below. Cartography is b/w, does its job, and the module sports 7 maps. Player-friendly maps, alas, are not included.

 

The following discussion contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great!

 

So, this adventure is a sandbox of sorts – a unique one! The number of competing groups noted before can also be determined randomly by the GM, and arrival sequence is similarly a kind of aspect that can be simulated with the help of the adventure. The adventure is intended for a well-rounded group of levels 6 – 10, though it should be noted that “winning” the adventure is probably left up to the higher levels. 12 rumors surrounding the chasm are provided for your convenience. The eponymous chasm is a “wandering” canyon of sorts – it magically pops up once every 37 years, for exactly 108 hours, before it vanishes once more. Its depths hold wonders, lost adventurers and stranger things – and as per the angle, the GM can easily integrate the module into pretty much any surrounding area. The predictability of the phenomenon also means that the “rush” for the chasm is very much justified. You could, in theory, even postulate a kind of chasm-micro-economy.

 

As you can determine from this unique set-up, the harsh and hard time limit of the chasm’s appearance and subsequent disappearance means that the PCs will have to hustle throughout the adventure. This, more so than anything, may be a limiting factor for the PCs exploring the chasm – in order to brave the trip, the PCs will have to conserve their resources, and there are two complexes, including the final one, which are linked caverns. The last one contains the potent secret at the heart of the strange behavior of the chasm – one that only PCs closer to the higher power-level will be capable of resolving.

 

As such, no two expeditions into the chasm will truly be alike: Lower level PCs will probably be exploring/looting, but not get to the bottom of the mystery; “Clearing” the location, though, will be an extremely difficult challenge. Anyhow, the chasm includes a total of 7 different mini-dungeons (as noted, caverns 5 and 6, and 7 and 8, are linked) spread out over three levels, and wandering monsters are provided for the dungeons. These range in themes: There is a cavern that contains orcs, one that houses svirfneblin (which may be allies of sorts); there is a cavern highlighting the aforementioned bogwings and one that houses deadly basilisks, petrified adventurers…and a frog that serves as a unique kind of oracle! Yeah, there is some nice weirdness herein, which never feels wrong or out of place, courtesy of the unique background of the chasm.

 

The faceless ones I mentioned before represent a healthy dose of weirdness, featuring the aforementioned variant gargoyles, with a birthing vat providing the respawning critters, and a weird mural can have unpleasant repercussions. There also would be the Gray Sultan, one of the fabled bosses here: A F12, Hp 90 monstrous bastard of a unique killer, whose attacks may instantly strangle targets…he can be one of the high-level bosses within: similarly, the entrapped godling within, Ar’Q-Ess, well-concealed, makes for one truly deadly final adversary – but to even get to the godling, the PCs will have to get past deadly demons and similarly potent foes.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, on a formal level, are very good, provided you get past the formatting deviations. On a prose level, the module sports unique and interesting, concisely-written prose. Layout adheres to a classic, two-column b/w-standard, including artworks. Down to the fonts employed, this is pretty classic. The cartography, as noted, is b/w and functional, though we do not get player-friendly maps. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

James C. Boney’s “Chasm of the Damned” is a delight in the premise and idea underlying the complex. There are quite a few clever components here – the unconventional oracle is delightful, and similarly, some of the adversaries rock. The blend of the weird and “normal” makes sense and the strange microcosm presented is cool. That being said, compared to previous adventures the author has penned, e.g. looting a statue that may animate is basically a guessing game – no chance regarding magic or the like to discern a means to bypass the animation.

 

This could be taken as symptomatic for the whole adventure: While the location and narrative angle are absolutely inspired, while the ideas featured for the respective mini-dungeons contained in the chasms are intriguing, the module does suffer from its page-count and brevity – in a way, the adventure is too ambitious for the scant few pages available. The chasm connecting the mini-dungeons, interactions between the locales, remain afterthoughts and somewhat sketch-like. The potential interaction between groups, the potential, unique economy of the chasm, could have provided a thoroughly distinct, fun environment – one that the adventure, per se, does not manage to realize fully.

Don’t get me wrong. This module is still a very fun and distinct adventure that has plenty of replay-value; suffice to say, the module can be scavenged easily – you could hack this apart without any problems. At the same time, this could have been a true masterpiece with a couple more pages to develop the ideas. I found myself wishing that we’d got more weirdness for e.g. the Iron Sultan’s complex, for the faceless ones, etc. – the compressed nature of the presentation of these dungeon-vignettes acts as a major downside regarding the level of detail and imaginative depths the author can provide. In short: “Chasm of the Damned” is a good module; depending on what you’re looking for, a very good module, even; but it did have the chance to be something special and doesn’t realize this chance. I found myself wishing that this had received the page-count of the atrocious “Prison of Menptah” instead – with 32 pages, this could have been a masterpiece.

 

Oh well, as provided, this is certainly worth getting. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4 stars.

 

You can get this adventure here on OBS!

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jul 132018
 

Dear readers!

 

It has happened – the Occult Secrets of the Underworld are finally revealed!

When AAW Games released Underworld Races & Classes, the Kickstarter narrowly missed the stretchgoal to make this book…but Jonathan G. Nelson listened to the fans, and commissioned this book, which, for me, is a passion project.

 

Why? Well, I was brought on board regarding the Underworld Races & Classes project relatively late…and this time around, I had full creative control; Jonathan allowed me full reign to unleash my imagination.The ideas, once I started designing, kept flowing…and like a good freelancer, I delivered what was promised, on time.

 

Here’s the thing…I fell in love with my own designs and really wanted to do more…and at this point, I figured I’d just go ahead and design what I’d love to see, what I’d deliver, unfettered by anything like page count. I wrote this version for myself…and I showed it to Jonathan. He was stoked.

 

That is how this project became the massive supplement it is now – over 60 pages of crunch, created from the ground up for 5e and PFRPG, far more coolness than was initially envisioned!

 

Yes, designed from the ground up. The two books have the same *ideas* and *concepts*, but they have been designed individually. There is no conversion here; from warlocks and distinctly 5e-centric rules to Pathfinder options, using, obviously, Occult Adventures, and ones that retain compatibility with some of the finest books the 3pp-circuit has to offer, the two versions are truly unique books.

 

Why “occult”? When Occult Adventures for PFRPG was released, it represented a paradigm-shift for the game; instead of new combinations of previously released material and narrow focuses that escalated the math, Occult Adventures focused on emphasizing player agenda and hardcoded unobtrusive flavor back into the options. This flavor could be easily reskinned or ignored, but it provided a first hook for the players and GMs to work with. This book tries to adhere to a similar design paradigm, and this extends to 5e. There is no standard, bland option within, no variant – each option is designed to be unique.

 

And yes, for those so inclined, the class options also all have underlying philosophical questions and themes that can enhance your roleplaying experience!

Emphasis on ROLEplaiyng – while the crunch is rock solid, I really wanted to make sure that this book is more than just rules – that it inspires GMs and players alike.

 

Beyond that, the books feature the best artworks I’ve seen Mates Laurentiu produce – just check out the kickstarter!

 

(As an aside – you can also get the limited edition hardcovers of Underworld Races & Classes for a great price!)

 

Oh, and guess what? Editing, layout, writing, art – this is completely done and ready to go! I have the print proofs right with me, and final edits are done as well. The book, literally, is finished and ready to go!

 

Anyways, thank you for checking out my work!

 

Endzeitgeist out.