Aug 312018
 

Demiplanes: Valhalla

This Demiplanes-book clocks in at 59 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 54 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.

 

So, the first thing I should note is this: I am super picky regarding my Norse lore; I have a degree in the field, can fluently read Norse, and I’m most of the time really pissed off when I see how adaptations to roleplaying games butcher the concept when trying to stay authentic. You see, the most common roleplaying games we play feature assumptions colored by the dichotomous thinking and values cultivated over the centuries, courtesy of Christianity and similar book-based religions. Without going into the finer philosophical details, a perhaps more easier to grasp analogue would be this: Do you know the “Vikings” TV-series, the one adapting Ragnars saga loðbrókar and the Ragnarssona Þáttr? I’m the annoying guy who’ll chew your ears off about the liberties taken with the source material, who’ll endlessly drone on about aspects not being correct. In my defense, I still enjoy the series, but yeah.

 

The more prudent and smarter way to adapt the concept of Valhalla, and thankfully the one taken within this book, is to distill the concept to its essence, and to create something new that takes the realities of the gaming world into account – you know, both regarding cosmology and the presence of the god-forsaken alignment system. So yeah, if you’re looking for yet another adaptation of Norse myth that will never properly fit your current campaign setting, then you won’t find that here.

 

Instead, Valhalla is depicted as an infinite Outer Plane – one roughly associated with the Chaotic Good alignment, and one central leitmotif: Heroism. While a contextualization within a smattering of Outer Planes is provided, it should be noted that actually integrating the material presented within this pdf is rather easy – the pdf does offer some guidance and, moreover, does account for the infinity presented by the Planes. In short, we begin with tantalizing ideas of how e.g. a draconic Valhalla might look – the morphic and subjective qualities of planar reality and values are employed rather admirably and set this apart from being just another take on the classic pseudo-accurate rehashing of the concept. This theme is also emphasized by the Greater Petitioner template, which, while lacking a CR-increase note, provides regeneration in the version presented for Valhalla. The idea is obvious – the eternal fighting of the einherjar warrior spirits obviously can be undertaken by such individuals. I am not going to penalize the pdf for the lack of CR-increase here due to the limited scale of the replenishment – the ability does have a cap, preventing abuse.

 

Now, beyond the general establishing of leitmotifs within the context of Valhalla, the majority of the book is devoted to a variety of different Demiplanes with ties to Valhalla; they all share themes in one way or another, but as a whole constitute an exceedingly smart angle, allowing, by means of compartmentalizing themes and concepts, for easy and seamless integration into the cosmology of an established game. I could e.g. integrate these into Midgard, Oerth or Golarion without much fuss. In a somewhat weird decision or oversight, the central hub of Valhalla, the grand metropolis known as “Champion’s Arena” (settlement statblocks provided) would be the only sub-section, the only one of the demiplane-like sub-sections that does not come with bookmarks.

 

Now, as a brief glance at the respective sub-chapters immediately makes clear, the respective entries do come with secrets noted for the GM to develop, and they do make excellent use of the planar nature of the locales. In short: They offer quite a bunch cool planar traits for each of the respective demiplanes, which really helps rendering the book more useful than its premise: Each of the chapters get crunchy rules for these, with e.g. Arena’s Oathbound property providing nasty penalties for oathbreakers, while the Forge of Destiny provides for much easier crafting, but also forges the destiny of the creator, inflicting a mighty curse (no, it can’t be broken as easily as usual) that takes the concept of Wyrd, the personal destiny, and makes it a leitmotif of sorts for the afflicted. That being said, the fact that this theme is divorced from the ideological components associated with the term does render it into a potent roleplaying catalyst. On the downside, layout botched in the aforementioned forge trait, adding a single, nonsensical bullet point that then becomes a regular text. That should have been caught in proofreading, it’s pretty obvious.

 

That being said, the traits do provide some really cool notions – in the region known as Training Grounds, for example, you can, provided you have the sufficient knowledge, conjure forth adversaries to battle, using the kenform template presented within. Similarly, there are quite a lot tables that feature e.g. alternate morphic mishaps and creature mishaps – and a table that is called “Fact of Fiction”. You see the book does feature a region called the “Unknown Expanse”, which is both every lost civilization and the yarns woven about them, but also every FICTIONAL civilization that never was! The latter is frankly phenomenal as an idea. Picture it: The BBEG is actually so smart that his plans can’t be fouled. They can’t. There is no refuge, no success possible anymore. And yet, the tale survives of a place that houses his downfall – and then, it becomes real, in a way. Of course, the same theme could easily be flipped. I adore this notion, and it is actually supported by thematic blessings for explorers and a mighty atlas that allows for basically fast travel in a tightly codified manner.

 

So yeah, there are more crunchy bits herein than just planar geography. But before we get to those, let us talk about connections and conjunctions – the former is pretty self-evident and-explanatory, but the latter represents something we know from mythweaving all too well – basically temporary planar overlaps. Full blown manifestation of segments of the respective planes are similarly noted. Most places also note important NPCs, though these only come with fluff-information, not full stats.

 

As previously mentioned, each segment also comes with a couple of supplemental rules that add some crunch to the respective write-ups. These do include the grudgeglass, an artifact created from the blood,s eqt and tears of the defeated, which allows for the tracking down of an enemy…and there would be Ekena, a CR 25/MR 10 monstrosity that can generate evil clones of those it faces – but, following the theme, it can be bested by bravery: the rules employed here allow for nonstandard skill use as part of attacks to bypass the creature’s defenses. Now, don’t get me wrong, I adore this notion, but I am not 100% happy with the very narrative implementation Slightly tighter rules would have been appreciated here. On the plus-side, anyone besting the monster does become mythic, so yeah – it’s a nice crucible for ascension. Unfortunately, my immediate association was obviously the comparison with Rite Publishing’s genius “Coliseum Morpheuon”, which is still, after all these years, one of my favorite roleplaying books. (If you don’t have it, get it asap!)

 

The cliffs of renewal allow for redemption for those with the faith to leap – once more, taking a classic image and codifying it; in the Eternal Tavern, bards can learn a new masterpiece, the First Hero’s Journey (and yes, the First Hero actually is in the bar…), and in an interesting take, this masterpiece does provide a take on the concept of the monomyth, with three stages that happen consecutively. Similarly, there is a minor artifact that does improve mythic power or make the owner count as mythic, which does come with narrative potential galore, particularly if you’re like me and love throwing mythic critters at regular characters… In the somber Gardens of Memoriam, those so inclined can live through the final moments of heroes, which once more sports narrative potential galore. A very potent mindscape-based trap and the notion of the norn’s curse/will is within these pages, while the tavern of unsung songs bestows a healthy dose of humility on the mightiest of mighty, including a rather impressive spellblight…and there obviously would the Well. A place where sacrifices can be made to gain basically any effects – but not even the gods can alter the finality of it or recover losses incurred here! Nice to for once see no divine intervention clause!

 

Oh, did I mention that there is a creature born from former-familiar ravens, so-called exensils, which actually may choose to become familiars once more?

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a rules-language level; on a formal level, I consider this to be only good; I noticed more hiccups than usual for Rite Publishing’s recent offerings. Layout adheres to the beautiful, new two-column full-color standard Rite uses, and the interior artworks, for the most part, are stunning, though they do not adhere to a unified aesthetic. For the most part? Yeah, the artworks are neat, but there is one really ugly CGI-piece herein. Not enough to tarnish the book, but it felt jarring to me. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, with the weird oversight of one subchapter’s, namely Arena’s bookmarks missing.

 

Andrew Mullen, Jennifer Povey and Stephen Rowe have created something that I thoroughly enjoyed – a planar toolkit/gazetteer full of inspiring and interesting ideas and material, a great little GM-toolkit that has appeal far beyond the concepts one usually associated with the term of “Valhalla.” Indeed, that may be the biggest strength of this pdf – the fact that it does not waste time trying to rehash bits and pieces from mythology we already know. Instead, it focuses, precisely and in an inspired manner, on how ideas can be distilled, and how they can be applied to the realities within the campaign worlds we play in. This idea suffuses the whole pdf and makes this a very worthwhile supplement to have. In short, this is exceedingly “gameable”, to use that buzz word. It also provides what definitely *is* Valhalla, without requiring the whole Norse pantheon – it is a Valhalla to customize, to make your own. You could, theoretically, make a grippli-Valhalla, for example.

 

This pdf provides a lot of interesting ideas, both regarding fluff and mechanics, and while it does offer from a few proofing-level hiccups, that is not enough to truly tarnish it. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo. Additionally, the exceedingly clever and versatile notion that distills the essence of the plane and makes it generally useful for various cultures and settings also means that this receives my seal of approval.

 

You can get this cool planar supplement here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Aug 312018
 

Echelon Reference Series: Fighters (3pp + PRD)

This installment of the Echelon Reference Series clocks in at 290 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page ToC, 1 page blank, 16 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 269 pages of content, so let’s take a look! (This page-count is the one of the 3pp + PRD-version, mind you.)

 

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

 

So, at this point, I have covered multiple Echelon Reference Series pdfs, so I’m going to be brief regarding the details: There are basically three different steps of completion for these pdfs: They grow, and once they have grown, their price goes up as they become more refined. There are three steps: RAF (Rough and Fast, 50% discounted), WIP (Work in Progress, 25% discounted) and the finished version. However, the “Rough and Fast” or “Work in Progress” monikers imho are actually a bit deceptive, in that they usually conjure forth images of Beta-tests for games etc. – this is nothing like that. Even the Rough and Fast versions already have full functionality provided, with bookmarks, etc. – however, a couple of the unique comfort functions of the series are not yet implemented in these versions.

 

Most importantly, the RAF-version does not yet include the flow-charts that depict the connections between feats, talents and similar class features – these can be particularly helpful when building characters or planning progressions. The RAF-version also does not yet feature full, internal hyperlinking (though there are plenty of working ones!), though navigation is sufficiently convenient, courtesy of the bookmarks provided. And yes, as you can see on the cover and probably have guessed by now, this indeed is the RAF version. The version already does provide the efficient presentation that makes ability types easier to grasp: With little bubbles noting minimum levels etc. noted at a glance, the added convenience the series offers is really nice; however, in this one, these have not yet been 100% implemented among the archetypes.

 

Now, structure-wise, we begin with the base class and the archetypes collated and collected from various sources among the more refined 3pps as well as the Paizo books. The version, right now, goes up to ACG and provides a solid selection of different archetypes – unlike the later versions of the series, we have the archetypes not yet integrated into statblocks, for example. It is due to not being (yet) the going-the-extra-mile level of convenience that this is characterized as a RAF-book.

 

However, this still is a curated compilation, and as such, it does offer a significant level of convenience. Particularly for fighters, the massive chapter that collects combat feats makes for a rather worthwhile section to check out. Note that suitable Style-feat progressions are provided in this compilation, and that the battle master with his martial techniques and derived feats – there is some nice, in-depth coverage here, though, alas, the Bravery feats by Roge Genius Games, for example, are not part of this compilation. Still, as a collection, this offers quite a few uncommon and lesser known, interesting components. I am looking forward to seeing the flow-chats here, though!

 

Of particular note when compared with other installments of the series would be the massive fighter NPC-section – the ToC alone takes up three pages, so if you needed a couple of statblocks collated, there you go! Many employ NPC races, templates like lycanthrope, etc., so yeah – there is quite a lot content here! Some have a bit of flavortext, some don’t. As always, this massive pdf comes with an extensive, detailed index that spans no less than 18 pages, making finding the proper components even easier.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no grievous glitches. Layout adheres to the functional and efficient 2-column b/w-standard with brown spliced in. This is a pretty printer-friendly file. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, with individual bookmarks for the archetypes, for example, but not for every single feat. The book is internally hyperlinked and the index further helps making navigation simple and painless.

 

Keith Davies’ Echelon Reference Series is a massive ton of work; if you ever have worked in academia or in a position where you had to collate and compile data, you’ll definitely appreciate what this does. In one book, you get a metric ton of fighter options – just material for the class, nothing more, nothing less. Now, you know that I really adore the flow-charts and added conveniences that the more refined versions of the series provide, and while the RAF edition does not yet have them, the matter of fact remains that this is indeed a worthwhile compilation. While the added convenience is not yet as pronounced as in the finished or WIP-version, this remains useful to have and a handy addition to e.g. the GM’s arsenal. Players can certainly appreciate getting all this content in one place. As a whole, this RAF-version is already a good compilation – not as cool as the finished ones, but enough to warrant a final verdict of 4 stars.

 

You can get this massive compilation here on OBS!

 

Want just the PRD-content? You can find that version here!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Aug 312018
 

Advanced Adventures: The Lost Pyramid of Imhotep (OSR)

This module clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial, ½ a page SRD, leaving us with 10.5 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 for the series, we have OSRIC as the default old-school system employed, and there are a few formatting deviations. Adaption to other old-school systems is pretty simple.

 

So, let me preface this review by stating one thing: The complex depicted herein is an inverted, subterranean pyramid, and this module has been penned by the same author as the utterly atrocious “Prison of Meneptah” – without the request by my patreons, I would not have bothered reviewing this, as I derive no satisfaction from trashing other people’s work. I am, as a whole, happy that this was requested, for while this can be construed to be a “bad” module in some regards, it can be rather intriguing for the right groups.

 

Now, the first thing you need to know, is that this hasn’t seen playtest – that much is pretty evident. The level-range noted, level 4 – 7, is ridiculous. Even at level 7, this adventure is exceedingly difficult and lethal. At the same time, however, much of this difficulty is derived from the demands the adventure has on the PLAYERS.

 

The angle is pretty simple: The PCs are hired to dig down at a hypostyle in a quasi-Egyptian environment. Now, the pdf does note that PCs won’t necessarily understand hieroglyphs they find; either they are locales, or they have a scholar on call that can slowly translate these. The adventure is probably not something the PCs can clear up in one go. There is a good chance the PCs and players will ram their heads against the solid brick wall of difficulty this adventure constitutes. Now, the “quasi” prefix of “quasi-Egyptian” is one potential weakness of the adventure that may well disqualify the module for your game: You see, being “close” to Egyptian does not suffice – the modules REQUIRES a VERY close analogue to real world Egyptian mythology and customs. It also requires that the players know a lot about the subject matter – and I mean A LOT. As such, if your group tends to differentiate sharply between character and player knowledge, you may consider this adventure to be problematic, to say the least.

 

As far as the dungeon is concerned, we do not have a lot of combat going on, which is a good thing here, as this is where the rules tend to falter badly; instead, we have a distinct focus on cultural puzzles and set-pieces. While the adventure is EXCEEDINGLY linear, the complex does not suffers from the sucky “Door closes, save or die” and “can’t use your tools” asinine design decisions of Meneptah’s prison. There is a stringent, internal logic to this adventure.

 

That being said, I consider this to be top tier difficulty and only an adventure that should be attempted by roleplaying game veterans, and only by groups that have at least one member that has PhD-levels of knowledge regarding Egyptian culture/archaeology/anthropology. I am NOT kidding, but in order to elaborate upon this fact, I will need to go into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around?

So, as the name implies, legendary Imhotep constructed this pyramid. Think of the fellow as a wrld-weary demigod-level magical architect, and that is EXACTLY how he designed this complex. This is steeped in myth and as deadly as you’d expect. In the first proper room, we see locust-like flying devices, which would allow for the spanning of a vast pit. An inscription tells the PCs to become like Apshai and do aerial battle – and indeed, enter the 2-seater locust constructs initiates an aerial battle with analogue constructs attacking from the opposite side of the vast pit. While we are told about ammunition, how you tilt the joysticks to move them, etc., and ramming notes, neither ammunition, nor ramming damage are codified regarding the damage they inflict. While you can theoretically try to extrapolate the damage from the stats of the flying constructs, these have 3 attacks, with one dealing much more damage…which I assume is supposed to be the collision damage. Then again, the shots + collision will usually not be triggered in the same round, so ultimately, I was left utterly puzzled by how these are supposed to work. It’s not hard to improvise rules here, but yeah. Bad crunch design. Neither does the pdf note how many piece of ammo they can fire, their worth when removed, etc. Oh, and since the PCs aren’t accustomed to using these, they take a -5 (!!!) penalty to attack rolls. WTF. The smartest choice here is to activate the hostile constructs, hang back and shoot the incoming constructs out of the air. There is nothing that RAW prevents this, in spite of the note.

 

Room 2 has a statue that requires in-depth knowledge regarding Egyptian mythology and beliefs. 4 questions must be answered to pass, and here, all groups that don’t have this IRL-knowledge will probably be annoyed. “Who records the judgment of Osiris?” “In man, where does the seat of wisdom reside?” Those are two of the 4 questions, and if you’re not really into the nit and grit of ancient mythologies and the like, there is a big chance that this may grind the game to a halt. This is, as the ardent scholar may know, based on the Book of the Dead, and indeed, I strongly recommend a copy on hand when running this adventure.

 

As the PCs venture further, they will have to place vanquished undead within the mouth of Ammit, Eater of the Dead, as one further example of a relatively…”simple” task. It is in these that the module manages to evoke a concise atmosphere, manages to feel like it indeed is a proving ground made for the aeons. That being said, when the more mundane aspects are concerned, the adventure is less inspired – for example, a prismatic spray trap in a chest? At this level? That’s just nasty.

 

There is another “insect-vehicle”-battle scenario herein, where the PCs pilot basically a scarab tank, which alas, suffers from pretty much the same issues as the previous locust-encounter, but which should definitely be won: The scarab tank is the only means to reliably navigate a vacuum corridor, though thankfully, if destroyed, the PCs can still brave it – though that, indeed, is a save or die. The complex includes a Ra-themed mirror puzzle, a game of senet (yep, rules provided), rope-pulling with Set to balance the forces of good and evil, and PCs will have to bake sacred mefekezet bread to proceed. And no, if they have no idea what to do…well, bad luck. As noted before, this is not a forgiving module and requires extensive knowledge on part of the players.

 

Oh, and know what’s really sadistic? That mirror puzzle? Well, you need the sacred Benben stone to activate it. That stone, though? Slightly radioactive. Scratch that. Frickin’ radioactive. 1d4 damage every TURN. In a radius. No, the PCs are not told where that comes from. The stone’s on level 1. And while the levels are brief, it’s used on level 3 and the puzzle-heavy nature of the scenario will result in delays. This is just sadistic and requires very methodical players to solve. Clever deduction can zero in on the source, sure…but ouch.

 

The Pcs will also need to extract a bulb from the serpents of wisdom and survive battle with them…and if they don’t learn from the stone and don’t take the bulb along, they may be screwed. You see, there is an intricate, undetectable trap called “birthing of cosmic eggs” that will grind them to a pulp. It also seals the PCs in the area, and if they don’t have the bulb…well, tough luck. This trap is conceptually really interesting, but try as I might, perhaps due to the map, I couldn’t envision it – having a visual representation of the room would have been really helpful here – I kinda suspect a miscommunication regarding cartography here.

 

Ultimately, the PCs have to bypass multiple elemental walls (note that excess oxygen can poison you…) and make their way to the top of the inverted pyramid, which hangs from the ceiling in a vast flooded cavern: With the bulb, they can activate the barge towards Imhotep’s true resting place – provided they’re not eaten by giant crocodiles. Imhotep himself still awaits the worthy and rewards the PCs with something that is indeed in line with the challenge: Immortality.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, we have several pretty nasty issues crop up. Layout adheres to the classic two-column b/w-standard and the b/w-artworks provided are solid, if perhaps chosen for the wrong components. Cartography is a no-frills b/w and functional, though, as noted, one map is a bit weird, to say the least. There are no player-friendly versions of the maps included. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Okay, to spell that out loud and clearly: This is not a well-designed module. The rules are problematic, the challenges uneven and deadly, and without out-game information or a scholar on call, the PCs have next to no chance to solve this with in-game logic. This is brutal, linear and harsh and fulfills pretty much all aspects of game-design that I’d consider to be bad.

 

Here’s the thing: For a VERY specific target demographic, this is frickin’ amazing. And, alas, I am part of that target demographic. I once created a puzzle where the PCs had to assign a gigantic astrolabe to duplicate the constellations of a specific event that required a thorough understanding of the respective mythology. And my players like that kind of cerebral, lore-heavy problem solving. This adventure is extremely well-researched in pretty much every way; it often feels a bit like a point and click adventure and is horribly linear, yes. It is also horribly lethal. In fact, most folks should probably consider this to be a 2 star adventure at the maximum. Most groups will absolutely LOATHE this and should steer clear.

 

That being said: If you and your groups enjoy clever puzzles AND you are well-versed in mythology and culture AND your players are roleplaying games veterans that enjoy a brutal challenge AND they are the type that can approach a dungeon methodically AND you’re willing to improve on the flawed rules, then this can be AMAZING. I all of these components hold true for you and yours, then this can be a truly unique and captivating experience that will go down in the group’s annals.

 

Alphonso Warden’s “Lost Pyramid of Imhotep” is, in a way, like a really inaccessible cult movie or book that was written for a very niche audience. A niche audience I happen to know very well.

 

How to rate this?

 

Let me state that clearly once more: You should NOT get this module if all of the above doesn’t appeal to you, if you want mechanical perfection, etc. This is, when examined for its virtues of game-design, structure, etc., not a good module.

 

However, if you do love your mythology; if your players like challenges and are well-versed in ancient cultures or would enjoy you handing them the Book of the Dead as a kind of “research-handout”, if that type of thing sounds cool to you, then chances are that you’ll enjoy this far more than you should. As a person, I had a blast with this module! I really did! I am very cognizant of its copious flaws, of its massive issues, but it’s creative, smart and deadly – and if this sounds like it’d tickle the fancy of your group as well, then check this out. For you, this may even be as high as a 4 or 4.5 star-adventure.

 

Now, as a reviewer, I can’t bring myself to rate this down as much as I probably should; after all, there is a very specific appeal in these pages. I can’t rate this twice. Hence, my official verdict will be 3.5 stars, rounded down – though I strongly suggest you instead consider this to have the verdicts I mentioned above, depending on your proclivities. For the very niche number of groups that this appeals to, it will do so in a thoroughly compelling manner.

 

You can get this adventure here on OBS!

Endzeitgeist out.

Aug 302018
 

Deadly Delves: The Temple of Luminescence

This installment of the Deadly Delves series of modules clocks in at 41 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of advertisement, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 35 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue due to being prioritized by my patreons.

 

Now, first things first – this is a high-level adventure intended for level 15 PCs, and as such, is bound to be challenging. A well-rounded group is very much recommended. The adventure, theme-wise, centers around a sun deity and a grand malfeasance befalling her most sacred of temples, and as such, the stats for the deity are provided in an appendix. Domains, subdomains, inquisitions and mysteries are noted, as is an occult ritual unique to this belief. Big plus here: The deity is easy to replace with Saranrae and similar sun goddesses and gods – the module does not require in-depth understanding of doctrine or the like to work, making adapting it simple. A CR 18 high-level monster is also introduced and doubles as the BBEG of this adventure – and yes, the demon is actually VERY destructive. This adversary is not the only fully statted high-level being herein, mind you.

 

As far as cartography is concerned, this module gets two thumbs up: The adventure comes with a second pdf that provides the map in a version with all keys and features, one sans keyed numbers and all features, and one sans features or keyed numbers, providing all the tools we expect regarding the respective cartography demands of the modern player. The maps are in full-color and neat. Big kudos for including full and proper map support here.

 

A big plus here would btw. be the terrain use of the module: With complicating terrain hazards and a global effect that makes the fire theme work in properly codified rules, the adventure makes clever use of obstacles, traps, curses, etc. – this is a big plus and a component that keeps the battles dynamic.

 

A big issue that many a GM faces regarding high-level dungeon exploration, is that most modules do not take player and PC-capabilities into full account. This module has a distinct and clever way to make the PCs explore the dungeon properly without handholding.

 

But in order to talk about how this works, I need to go into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, bad things have been happening, and the PCs are asked to investigate the Temple of Luminescence, which is on lockdown. Bluffing or fighting their way past the guards, the PCs will soon realize the reason for the seismic activities haunting the area – it seem like the faithful have taken to a rather…well, let’s say, “radical” interpretation of their deity’s creed. The High priest plans to draw the sun closer to the planet, to bask all sinners and folks in the glory of a scorching sun. So yeah, the stakes are high – we’re talking about a global apocalypse here!

 

I did mention global effects for the dungeon before: Flame damage inflicted within stems half from divine energy, bypassing resistances etc., while maintaining the elemental theme. Furthermore, the seismic activities add further complications while exploring the already challenging temple. The clever idea I mentioned before, the one that makes the PCs explore the whole temple, ties btw. in with the ritual: The sanctum sanctorum can only be breached by defeating the Morning Priest and the Noontime Priest. In an interesting twist, this often puts the PCs in conflict with creatures only seldom faced in combat by PCs, for example devas and similar angels.

 

The traps, just fyi, are suitable for PCs of these lofty levels as well, and better yet, smart players may actually never get to see a few of them, as there is a sensible reason and means to bypass them – kudos for not sacrificing in-game plausibility for design here. That is not to say that they’re simple, mind you: One combo of a trap and a particularly nasty haunt (whose existence makes sense!) can be stated as something rather brutal, and delightfully so. The haunt is btw. fast, so yeah – this is a module that demands respect, even from high-level PCs – it’s not pleasant being blasted to dust by a photonic cannon or being crushed by a gravitic corridor, after all… That is a good thing. Not convinced yet? Well, one of the bosses that the PCs will need to best to get to the High Priest? Very old solar dragon. Did I mention the encapsulated singularity or the searing pulses of light? Light can be a cruel mistress indeed, and guess what? The High Priest is not the final boss! That CR 18 critter I mentioned? That would be a really nasty new form of demon, the sun demon. And no, he’s not so stupid as to fight those interlopers alone… So yeah, bring industrial quantities of magical sunscreen, you’ll definitely need them…

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on both a formal and rules-language level. I noticed no serious glitches. Layout adheres to the nice 2-column full-color standard of the series, and the pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks – these are organized in a smart way, btw., featuring nested entries for specific sub-routes the PCs have to take. That’s going one step beyond and deserves applause. Interior artwork is consistent and mostly of the same style and quality as the cover. The cartography, as noted, is nice and full-color, and the player-friendly map support is a big plus for guys like yours truly that suck at drawing, or for those that play online.

 

An elemental dungeon at high levels? In the hands of a lesser author, this could have easily been a trainwreck. However, Mike Welham is a veteran, and his reputation is well-deserved: The Temple of Luminescence is an actually well-done, cataclysmic and dynamic dungeon. The clever use of traps, monsters and modular and local terrain hazards and effects can constantly maintain the gravitas of the situation at hand. It’s very hard to forget what’s at stake here, and the plot of the adventure, as well as the clever way to make the PCs actually explore the dungeon, is really cool. The adventure, in spite of being a rather technical dungeon crawl, never loses its unique and sensible atmosphere, never feels like “just another” dungeon. The clever adversary choices and diverse challenges render this an excellent example for rewarding high-level dungeon design that also has a BBEG who is surprisingly smart in how the last stand is set up – but you can see that for yourself.

 

In short: The “Temple of Luminescence” continues the streak of excellent adventures that have lately come out of the Deadly Delves series – this is a great adventure, worthy of 5 stars + seal of approval.

 

You can get this impressive high-level module here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Aug 302018
 

20 Things: Sun-Scorched Desert (system neutral)

This installment of the #20 Things-series clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

We begin this dressing-file with 6 sun-scorched landmarks, with deep chasms cut by fast-flowing rivers into the desert, mysterious carvings of unknown hands and the bleached bones of an ancient dragon, silent testament to the prowess of an ancient battle mage. These absolutely rock, include the mundane and magical, and they sport prose even more efficient than usual for the series. These entries are followed by 6 sample ruins to be found amidst the blistering sands, where carven stone steps vanish in hillsides and shifting sands reveal ceremonial corpse ways. Truly inspired and captivating, these two collections of dressing entries deserve applause and set a high standard on the very first page.

 

Now, almost every desert adventure will feature a sandstorm at one point, though the particulars are often hazy there. … Sorry, I’ll punch myself for that one later. Anyways, the second page of this pdf provides 10 sample events to happen during a sandstorm: Dunes collapsing in torrents of sand, fine sand concealing deep depressions, and more…mundane complications, from horrid howls to zero visibility, similarly are found here. Super handy to have – I could have used even more of these!

 

Now, every GM who has run a prolonged desert or arctic adventure will know that, in the long run, it can be rather tough to come up with new ways to describe the endless heat, right? Well, the pdf does contain a table of 20 desert dressing entries, which includes barren, lifeless sections, purple-fringed towers in the distance or the remains of animals and beings fallen prey to the harsh climate. Even cooler, the table specifically calls out good candidates for mirages! Kudos for going one step beyond here!

 

The next table adds on top of the GM-convenience, big time – the final table provides 20 entries for uneventful days of traveling. As we all know, few things are as painful for the GM to describe as bland days – after all, we have to convey that nothing happened without boring the players, preferably while also foreshadowing/further emphasizing the atmosphere! As such, this final table is a super-handy tool for the beleaguered GM. Now, I usually don’t comment on the like, but this pdf is slightly shorter than usual: The final page is devoted to a gorgeous 1-page b/w-artwork that oozes Sword & Sorcery flavor. Usually, I’m more of a content guy, but the inclusion of this one? Totally in favor of it!

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to an elegant, minimalist 2-column b/w-standard, and the pdf sports a couple of really nice b/w-artworks; the big one-page artwork in particular really grabbed my attention. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, and the pdf comes in two different versions, one of which is optimized for screen-use, and one is optimized for printing it out.

 

So, I’m, and that is no secret, a HUGE Sword & Sorcery fan; I adore the genre and its aesthetics, and this pdf perfectly encapsulates the amazing atmosphere conveyed in the old Savage Sword of Conan comics, to give you an example. The harshness of the desert, the strangeness – it’s here, all without becoming high fantasy. The dressing within this book is inspired. Creighton Broadhurst has surpassed himself here. When I noticed the artwork taking up a whole page, I frankly planned on penalizing the pdf for this decision, but I can’t bring myself to do so. This collection of desert-dressing is simply too good, being one of the best in the whole series. And honestly, I’ll always take quality over quantity, and this delivers quality. Super handy for those desert-modules, this gets 5 stars + seal of approval. Highly recommended!!

 

You can get this great dressing file for just $2.45 here on OBS!

 

You can directly support Raging Swan Press here on patreon!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Aug 272018
 

Changelings of Porpyhra

This installment of the player-centric „…of Porphyra“-series clocks in at 23 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 20 pages of content, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), which means you can fit up to 4 pages on a given sheet of paper when printing this.

 

Really nice: This supplement is framed by a short story, namely “The Pink Flowers of Saint Zenobie”, previously released in a collection of stories the author penned alongside Cassandra Lee Hollingsworth. The story uses the implied Averoigne-setting and does so with permission. Thanks to the patchwork nature of Porphyra, though, that should provide no problems. The story is a nice reading experience and contextualizes the changelings of the patchwork planet rather well.

 

Now, here is a huge thing that differentiates the changelings of Porphyra from other worlds: We take a step away from the fey-angle. To quote the supplement: “As infants these beings are abducted, adopted, abandoned, sold, and/or traded, and then changed by magic to resemble a member of a different people.” This, of course, can provide ample fuel for nature vs. nurture storylines, for angles on self-determination of one’s race, gender, etc. and, as a whole, adds a rich variety of narrative options to the fray. So yeah, that small change, while perhaps something that most folks would not even notice, is pretty important to me and enhances the narrative angles available for both players and GMs.

 

Rules-wise, the chassis of Porphyran changelings is pretty much identical to the base changeling, though, and this is a plus, there are actually aspects that are MORE precise herein: The changelings’ claws, for example, get properly codified damage-types, requiring no defaulting to standards. Kudos for not just cut-copy-pasting here. Indeed, the changelings as presented here arguably make for better representatives of their expanded trope than the vanilla race. Porphyra changelings receive the racial emulation feature: You choose two races: the changeling looks like one humanoid race, but is, in fact a member of the other race chosen. This nature may be noticed by those well-versed in Knowledge (nature). The second racial trait unique to Porphyran changelings pertains the varied nature of the race as well: Upon character creation, changelings get 2 RP that are not assigned. These may be used to customize the race with standard traits taken from Defense, Feats and Skills, Magic, Movement, Offense, Senses and Other categories. While I have complained time and again about the exceedingly flawed nature of the RP-guidelines as presented in the ARG, I consider this limited form of customization actually an improvement over the alternate racial traits provided for the non-Porphyran variant of the race. It may be a flawed foundation to build upon, but the heritage/upbringing dichotomy should provide ample guidelines here.

 

The pdf proceeds to explain in details the diverse takes on adventuring, roles in society and ecologies of changelings and also sports sample names, age, height and weight tables and even non-gendered names. Since Porphyran changelings obviously have a much broader focus, this makes sense and further emphasizes this interesting and cool thematic expansion of the concept. The pdf also includes a total of 5 different race traits, one of which is missing a bonus type; the others are precise and interesting, providing for example a bonus to Concentration checks made to maintain spells with psychic components. Nice. The pdf does sport 5 different alternate racial traits, which includes damage type change for the claws, turning them into slams, being fey-descended, replacing claws with skill boosts or darkvision with a boost to saves versus illusions. I have no complaints here, and bonus types as well as powers of exchanged tricks are generally in line. The race, as a whole, can be very strong in the hands of a capable player, but it doesn’t have to be; the wide open nature is kept in line by the limited RP-wild card array, and the requirements regarding narrative consistency.

 

The pdf also includes a couple of class options, the first of which would be the Malcontent arcane trickster, based on the Prestige Archetype core class. This archetype loses ranged legerdemain in favor of +1/2 class level to Bluff and qualifying for Feint feats sans Expertise or Intelligence. Additionally, daze loses the HD-limit, which is a surprisingly interesting tweak on the engine here. Instead of Scribe Scroll, we get Deceitful. Instead of arcane bond, we get Signature Skill (Use Magic Device) and add Intelligence bonus to UMD checks as well.

 

The changeling bloodline nets Disguise as a class skill and focuses on disguise/alter self and polymorph spells, culminating with frightful aspect etc. Interesting: The arcana makes you ignore armor check penalty when wearing glamered armor – this adds the equipment-based angle to the disguising focus. Bloodline Powers net +1 to enchantment DCs and 1/day charm person as a SP at 1st level. 3rd level nets you 3 + Charisma modifier rounds of claws that may be grown as a free action. Damage is properly noted for Small characters as well, but the damage type requires defaulting. At higher levels, the damage increases and the claws become cunning. 9th level nets Cha-mod times Silent Spell sans spell slot increase. At 15th level, you may, as a move action, start an aura that makes it impossible for you to be individually targets by spells and SPs for up to sorcerer level round per day. The capstone nets either transmutation immunity or +4 save DC versus transmutation and +2 Cha and Dex. Solid bloodline.

 

The pan swashbuckler replaces Ride with Fly and gains the flight hex at first level, but may only use it while panache is greater than zero. Not a fan of this unassisted flight option at first level. At 8th level, instead of the bonus feat, the pan may expend 1 panache for +1 minute of flight per day. I assume this is no action or a free action. 1st level provides an interesting angle: For every rank in Perform (wind instruments), the pan gets to choose one from countersong, fascinate and distraction. The pan may maintain these bardic performances for class level + Charisma modifier rounds. Minor complaint here: Multiclassing interaction would have made for a helpful note here. The pan only gets 2 deeds whenever new deeds are gained.

 

Really cool: We get two new items: One handy lore book, and one alchemical mop that eliminates quickly traces of blood! Love this one! 3 racial feats are provided: Spell Rend is OP as hell. When you confirm a critical hit, as an immediate action, you can cast a touch spell on the target sans AoO. This should have limitations regarding casting duration, it should specify whether the touch spell still must hit, and flavorwise, it implies it only works with claws, which it RAW doesn’t. This does not work as intended. Spiteful Strike lets you, 1/day, as part of an attack action, declare a spiteful strike with a +1 morale bonus to atk and damage that increases to +2 at 10th level. This is boring. Strange Humor lets you 1/day as an immediate action apply Charisma modifier to a single Fort- or Will-save. This is the only worthwhile feat here.

 

The new magic items are thankfully a return to form: The queer egg can crack loudly in the presence of shapeshifting beings, forcing them to resume normal shapes. There is a claw-enhancing ring and there are caltrops that become living spider swarms upon damaging targets – cool! The pdf also contains 3 new spells: Create Changeling makes infants changelings; made from scratch is theme-wise cool: the spell targets a living creature or corpse and transforms it into food. Here’s the problem: The level 6 spell is save-or-die and is thus better than finger of death in all but range. OP, needs nerfing. Topsy turvy should probably be a cantrip, not 1st level. It renders a close target prone on a failed save – for 1 round.

 

The pdf also sports a metric ton of favored class options for diverse classes, including e.g. PDG’s Brujo and gladiator, illuminates and the classic classes + ACG and OA classes. We end the pdf with a sample level 1 bloodrager changeling.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are generally really good – with a few exceptions, the pdf is precise in both formal and rules-language categories. There are a few broken components among spells and feats that are problematic, though. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard with purple highlights, and the pdf actually sports nice full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Aaron Hollingsworth’s changelings are REALLY COOL. I did not expect to like these to the extent I ended up enjoying them. The expansion of the changeling trope makes these feel fresh, creative and novel – a huge plus as far as I’m concerned. The rules-operations similarly represent some neat and fun tricks, particularly among the base racial features and the item array. In fact, this was pretty much en route to getting my seal of approval, when the problematic feats and spells, as well as the very dippable and slightly problematic swashbuckler archetype dragged this a bit down. That being said, for the low asking price, you actually get a really fun expansion for the changeling concept, one that actually will find its way into my own game. Considering the more than fair asking price of just $2.99, this is easily worth getting, in spite of its minor blemishes. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.

 

You can get this rough, but also inspiring, inexpensive pdf here on OBS!

 

You can directly support Purple Duck Games here on patreon!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Aug 272018
 

Everyman Minis: Mystery of Riddles

ross

This Everyman Mini clocks in at 6 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 2 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

On the introduction page, we find a new oracle archetype, namely the erudite seer, whose skills are restricted to Appraise, Bluff, Craft, Knowledge (all), Linguistics, Perception, Sense Motive and Spellcraft, and the archetype only gets 2 + Int skills per level. This would be super annoying, but the archetype, but both spellcastings and revelations are governed by Intelligence as key ability modifier for the archetype – and before you ask, the class remains a spontaneous caster. Really sucky: The spell save DC of the archetype is just 10 + Intelligence modifier. No, I’m not kidding you. The spell level’s out of the picture. Is that an oversight? I assume so, for the archetype does nothing else, apart from replacing 11th level’s revelation with + Intelligence modifier as an insight bonus to Will-saves. Boring, sucky, wouldn’t take it.

 

Now, the second page is wholly devoted to the new riddles mystery, which adds Linguistics and all Knowledge skills to the oracle’s list of class skills. The bonus spell selection is eclectic, beginning with speak with animals and see invisibility and also including ones like shout, symbol of sleep and scaling up to statue, greater spell immunity and communal mind blank. Nice spell selection. The revelations of this mystery are varied: You can get a constant feather fall via the growth of wings as a standard action that may be maintained in 1-hour increments for class level hours. Improved Grapple, Trip and Stand Still are also there for the choosing. Higher levels unlock glide and fly speed with improving maneuverability. At 10th level, this also allows you to end a charge with a grapple – and yes, pounce and the interaction with it are included. Another revelation nets Conceal Spell, with 5th level adding Stylized Spell, which may be used sans casting increase and at +1 DC.

 

The mystery also allows you to poach divination psychic spells or glyph-themed spells, and this interacts with another revelation: Diviner’s Insight nets you Charisma modifier + ½ oracle level clairvoyant reservoir points. These points may be used to cast divination spells known as a SP, expending points in the reservoir equal to the spell’s level. Interesting! A bonus to Sense Motive and constant nondetection, with higher level constant foil enchantment making for a nice defense. The minimum level requirement is well-chosen. Knowledge bonuses and the bard’s loremaster ability may also be found. High level oracles can get 2/day maze – with a unique caveat: A trapped creature can contemplate while trapped – emerging nets vision. Cool twist on the concept, adding a non-offensive option here. A hex-like variant of hideous laughter that is language-dependent and doesn’t render targets prone, but spans species, makes for a fun idea. Really unique: There is a revelation that lets you 3 + Charisma modifier times per day puzzle your way out of an ongoing spell effect, with higher levels eliminating some restrictions. The mechanics here are interesting and compelling.

 

The final revelation nets constant mind blank that may be reactivated as a swift action. The minimum age for you to qualify for each physical age category increases by a factor 10, and the aging modifiers are similarly adjusted. Particularly cool if you’re using Childhood Adventures.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a rules-language level, but on a formal level, I noticed a few typos. Layout adheres to the 2-column full-color standard with the artwork-borders, and the pdf comes with a nice piece of full-color artwork. The pdf has no bookmarks, but does not need them at this length.

 

David N. Ross’ mystery is evocative, intriguing and mechanically interesting. The same, alas, cannot be said about the archetype included. The erudite seer is really weak and feels like an afterthought at best. That being said, this is still a nice little pdf, hence my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.

 

You can get this neat mystery here on OBS.

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Incoming search terms:

  • mystery archetypes
Aug 242018
 

Mythic Monsters: South Pacific

This installment of the Mythic Monsters-series clocks in at 32 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of introduction, 2 pages of SRD, 3 pages of advertisement, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 18 pages, chock-full with content, so let’s take a look!

 

This installment of the Mythic Monsters series begins with supplemental content, here in the shape of a total of 7 different magic items, three of which are magical boomerangs: The ricochet boomerang is obviously returning (like the other two) and allows the wielder to make an attack as a standard action at -2 to atk; if the attack hits, the wielder can select a second target within 10 ft. and may even bounce this way past cover, managing to get the complex verbiage done right. Mythic wielders suffer from less penalties for this type of attack and mythic power can be used to make full attacks with bouncing, allowing you to potentially bypass hard terrain etc. – impressive. The clever boomerang can execute at-range trips and within 30 ft., can be used to feint. In the hands of mythic wielders, the weapon can execute more potent combat maneuvers and use mythic power to snatch disarmed or stolen objects. So cool! The third boomerang would be the bloody boomerang, gaining an extended threat range that causes Constitution damage and bleeding damage that stacks with itself and other sources of bleed damage. The mythic wielder can use mythic power to bestow the keen property for tier rounds, or the wounding property for 2 mythic power uses. Both can be activated at once. The boomerang may also be fired via mythic power as a line-based AoE-attack. LOVE IT!

 

The pdf also includes the outback woomera, a spear thrower that may be wielded as a magical club in melee, and it makes short spears fired treated as distance or keen, and maximum range is increased as well. Mythic wielders get both properties, and mythic power may be used as a swift action to gain a bonus to atk and ignore cover and concealment and bypass DR, or vastly increase range. Path ability synergy is properly taken into account, and the same holds true for feats. The woomera of a mythic wielder can also produce goodberries and water. The possum-skin cloak fortifies versus the weather and elements, gaining also a bonus to Knowledge (local) and (history) checks due to the ancestor’s influence. The cloak can make for a warm shelter on trees that is hard to notice. Mythic wearers can consult with the ancestors via mythic power and the cloak enhances the surge mechanic. Similarly, the shelter-ability improves. Cool! The final two items would be amulets: The Hei Tiki Amulet fortifies versus fear and emotion effects and helps avoiding being surprised. Mythic wielders can benefit from mage’s faithful hounds or interposing hands, the latter in the shape of tiki masks or idols. Cool! The Hei Matau Amulet nets a luck bonus on saves and helps navigating the waves, greatly enhancing Profession (sailor) and allowing for know direction on the waves as well as limited water walking. If dropped into sea water, it becomes a celestial giant seahorse, a manaia, which is tightly codified and sports unique abilities. Mythic wielders can exert limited control over the waves and gets better interaction with the spirits – really cool. These items are really amazing.

 

Now, let’s take a look at the monsters, shall we? At CR 1/MR 1, we have a platypus familiar, who gains electrolocation in water, with mythic power upgrading its range temporarily, as wella s the ability to generate a mud cloud. Cool. There also are two marsupials at these CR/MRs – mangaroos and thylacines. Mythic kangaroos get massive leaps as long as they have mythic power and pretty brutal kicks. Thylacines can render a target flat-footed via movement, courtesy of distracting stripes, and they get a serious threat range, with the option to enhance the critical modifier to x3 via mythic power. The final creature at this CR/MR-range would be the lavishly-illustrated orang-pendak, whose backwards feet get proper rules-representation and better object-bursting. Unique and nice one.

 

There are also two mythic megafaunas – at CR 3/MR 1, the moa, and the CR 8/MR 3 megalania – the former may use mythic power for speed bursts and trample/stampede targets, making them more potent in groups. The megalania is brutal: 1/round, as an immediate action, the critter can expend a mythic power to take a full round’s worth of actions! Resting in sunlight can allow it to regain mythic power and their acidic stomach is particularly nasty.

 

At CR 4/MR 2, the adaro can create swirling cyclones of water and ride these, and their rain frenzy ability is upgraded. Solid upgrade! The manananggal’s mythic version, at CR 8/MR 3, deserves special mention: It gets the ability to emit deceptive noises, drain mythic power and the incredible flexible, prehensile tongue is a much-desired upgrade the changes how this one runs for the better. Add a mythic power-fueled shroud of shadows, and we have a winner here. Speaking of undead: There is a CR 6/MR 2 mythic penanggalen based on a oracle 5, sure…but the write-up is inspired due to another reason: The book contains a massive mythic template: 10 tiers net progressively cooler abilities. I adore this. Two thumbs up! Speaking of amazing undead: The CR 10/MR 4 mythic polong leaves thin blood coatings that grease the area, get proper bloody possession 8including tell-tale signs), and the mythic polong may attempt to slip the bonds of its limitations..its terrible wounds have also been improved. Glorious upgrade of the base critter!!

 

The Cr 16/MR 6 papinijuwari comes with a reprint of the mythic Awesome Blow feat, and receives an aura of fecundity. It can also crawl inside of deceased creature’s mouths, leaving a horrid disease behind that renders the corpse into a disgusting biological mine, while also replenishing mythic power. The write-up also provides a nasty pestilence form…inspired. At CR 12/MR 5, the kapre’s smoke can be made to last longer via mythic use expenditure. The mythic version also gets a massive debuffing aura that enhances flanking, interacting with confounding aura. 1/day spewing embers and better invisibility, a boost when almost defeated and the ability to grant a limited wish make this version of the creature infinitely cooler than the original. Huge plus! At the same CR/MR, the tiberolith’s corrosive strikes kickin MUCH sooner (thankfully!) and gets Power Attack, in spite of being mindless. The rudimentary clockworks of the construct net bonus feats and +2 to AC, as well as allowing mythic characters to imbue power within. It can also trap spells and discharge them. Damn cool and potentially, super lethal!

 

At CR 11/MR 4, we also get a coral golem’s mythic iteration, which reconstructs itself in water. Its attacks can infest targets with coral, and the entity can expend mythic power to break off parts of its body to generate healing powder. Very cool!

 

Speaking of “very cool” – At CR 5/MR 2, the new creature within these pages would be the Tiddalik – a Medium, bipedal magical beast that somewhat resembles a frog: The creature can absorb the liquids of those grappled, and absorb vast amounts of water – enough, and it actually assumes a giant form of sorts! Yes, stat mods provided! Super cool and oozing flair: bringing these guys to laugh can result in devastating expulsions of tidal water! I love this critter!

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to legendary Games’ two-column full-color standard, with a mixture of new and old full-color artworks – the one-page version of the cover artwork in particular is amazing. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Alex Riggs, Mike Welham and Jason Nelson have done it – this installment of Mythic Monsters is genius. From the cool and unique items to the critters: Animals make sense and feel plausible; undead are icky and tap into taboos and anxieties; constructs feel effective and magical beings feel magical, improving vastly upon the base creatures in a wide variety of ways. This is a superior supplement in every way, even within the context of the high quality Mythic Monsters-series. This is a 5 star + seal of approval gem. You should definitely get this – it does vastly enhance the rich lore and concepts of the base creatures. One of the best installments in the series!!

 

You can get this superb book here on OBS!

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Aug 242018
 

Mythic Monsters: Fey

This installment of the Mythic Monsters-series clocks in at 32 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of introduction, 2 pages of SRD, 3 pages of advertisement, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 18 pages, chock-full with content, so let’s take a look!

 

So, this time around, we get something rather radically different – we get an actual, full 10-level PrC as supplemental material, the fey-bound knight, who requires a BAB of +4, the ability to cast a 1st level arcane spell from the illusion and enchantment schools, suitable languages for the courts and 5 ranks in a skill. The knight gets d8 HD, 2 + Int skills per level, 3/4th BAB-progression and ½ Ref- and Will-save progressions and 7/10th spellcasting progression. The PrC nets proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as light armor. At 1st, 5th and 9th level, the PrC nets “Skill Focus (enchantment or illusion” or “Greater Skill Focus (enchantment or illusion)” – that should be Spell Focus and Greater Spell Focus, respectively. The PrC gains low-light vision at first level, or upgrades the ability further. Additionally, the PrC class levels are treated as fighter levels for the purpose of feat prerequisites, 2nd level nets a +4 bonus to Bluff and on saves versus mind-affecting spells or effects, which upgrades to slippery mind at 7th level. 3rd level nets +4 to Stealth checks. The knight may also become class levels rounds invisible, as per the spell, as a swift action, with 7th level increasing duration to 1 minute per class level. At 4th level, when confirming a critical hit, the knight can force a target to fall asleep 1/day, +1/day for every 2 levels thereafter. The ability notes that the save is Charisma-based, but since this is a PrC and not a monster, we’d expect to see the save DC spelled out here.

 

At 5th level, the knight gets DR 2/cold iron, which upgrades to DR 4/cold iron at 8th level. 6th level nets class level minutes of fly via gossamer wings, with activation being a swift action. 7th level nets an illusory armor (once more, disbelieving DC should be spelled out); 8th level lets the knight roll twice on Bluff or Disguise checks. 9th level nets a breath of life/dimension door combo that also greater invisibility-s the knight as an illusory duplicate dies in her place. Usable 1/day. The capstone nets fey apotheosis. The prestige class comes with mythic upgrades for all abilities – darkvision and greensight, mythic spell abilities, etc.. However, there is another pretty crucial flaw here: None of the abilities properly codify their type – Ex, Su, SP? No idea in many instances. This is really puzzling, and, like the save DC-guffaw, a puzzling oversight. Don’t get me wrong – neither breaks the PrC, but they constitute unnecessary flaws in the PrC.

 

Okay, there are a couple of CR 1/MR 1 fey herein: The brownie gets a series of cool SPs and makes these fey really helpful for Crafting and persuading folks, using the surge die in a cool manner. Their happy whistling while working also translates to some bardic tricks, making this an epic take on the concept. Big plus! The jinkin gremlin can solo the group tinker ability and leading a group, a mythic jinkin improves save DC and CL while also increasing the severity of the curse placed on magic items. The mythic jinkin can also use its hatred to penalize a target (I assume the default standard action for SU-activation, but an activation action would have been nice…) and become permanently greater invisible to the target – for mythic power, this may extend to a second target…damn cool! The mythic grig may 3/day upgrade its SPs to the mythic versions, and the grig may maintain its fiddling, once started, quicker and use mythic power to regain rounds of fiddling. The mythic sprite can use its luminosity to dispel darkness-based effects. The verbiage has a slight deviation from standard here. The sprite also gets the ability to emit a burst of potentially blinding light. The tooth fairy is wicked: Odontophobia makes it gain frightful presence versus a victim after extracting a tooth and imposes a penalty to saves versus its tricks. Brandishing a creature’s tooth lets them restart this ability. EW. They can also penalize natural bite and claw attacks. Really cool mythic upgrade.

 

The pdf also contains 2 CR 3/MR 1 creatures, the first of which would be the forlarren gets more versatile SPs and may exchange heat metal uses. The forlarren may also use an immediate action to relegate the remorse felt to other characters – when it uses this ability, a mythic power use nets an AoO nauseating aura. The nuglub gremlin would be the second creature at this CR/MR loadout and gets opportunistic grappling and bleed damage claws and teeth as well Improved Sunder as well as use mythic power to ignore hardness of an item.

 

At CR 6/MR 2, we get a mythic version of the sprite swarm, which can duplicate a hypnotic or rainbow pattern, though the latter requires a mythic power expenditure. The swarm also gets a bleeding damage causing needle cone that also affects targets with distraction. Nice one! The mythic iteration of the fastachee clocks in at CR 13/MR 5 and may use its abilities to 1/day duplicate heroes’ feast and the summon nature’s ally spells can be cast faster, with mythic power even as a swift action, and single creatures can get the agile or savage templates added. They can also instruct targets in farming and gardening, with a bonus for 1 year. Domain spells may be freely upgraded to their mythic iterations and the fastachee criting a target can alleviate starvation, but also make the target overly full – and yes, this may be used with regular attacks via mythic powers.

 

At a pretty massive CR 18/MR 7, the mythic hamadryad can’t be flanked or caught flat-footed, may extend her DR and energy resistance to allies, and is excellent at social skills – oh, and more targets for charm effects. Her arrows entangle (add constriction via mythic power…ouch!) and a mere touch can wreck metal – really cool. The hamadryad is also guarded from harm by terrestrial animals, plants and vermin, as befitting of her station. Cool mythic upgrade! The Cr 8/MR 3 mythic sangoi reprints the Mythic Aid feat for your convenience, and the curse of misery ability is significantly better. They can sneak attack bleeding targets, their horrific critical ability gets better…and they receive a paralyzing gaze, making an already cool critter even more badass. Speaking of which…at CR 20/MR 8, there would be the Vilderavn. This fellow is AMAZING. They can analyze fighting styles, use mythic power to reopen bleeding wounds just closed, add murderous command to their already nasty shatter loyalties ability. Oh, and they get better defenses, a death curse, better critical (including fortification-negation…), instant assumption of those whose souls they have eaten…the statblock takes up a total of 2 pages with a ton of unique and amazing abilities that further enhance an already impressive critter. Big kudos!

 

The new critter herein is a winner: The Horzitoth is described thus: “A thick mound of lumpy, tattered rags hangs suspended like a cloak over a blot of darkness in the doorway. Its two spindly arms end in long, downward-facing knives, and a horse skull, with a wild green eye behind it, rests where its face should be.” Yes, this one is CREEPY. At CR 8/MR 3, these fey are addicted to nightmares and pull the nightmares of the sleeping into the waking world. It also regains hit points or gains temporary hit points in the presence of sleeping targets, and it may Wisdom drain targets and regain mythic power. While this cannot be cheesed, these fey can use mythic powers to affect the waking world with them. They can also return home via mythic power, but only while near a civilized structure or observed. Not unobserved. Observed! Nice one. Oh, and it can dimension door with grappled targets through doors… Super cool critter!

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very precise regarding most components, but there are a couple of details that are not as refined as we’ve come to expect from Legendary Games, particularly regarding the PrC. Layout adheres to the 2-column full-color standard of the series, and artworks are a mixture of old and new, with the quality being high. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Mike Welham, Jason Nelson and Loren Sieg all are designers that stand for excellence, and as such, it should come as no surprise that I adored most of the builds within. While the sprite somewhat underwhelmed me, the horzitoth is amazing, and so are most of the upgrades herein. HOWEVER, the PrC is significantly less impressive. It offers nothing I haven’t seen before apart from the mythic upgrade-synergy, is conceptually okay, but its rules-presentation is more in line with monsters than with PrCs. It feels a bit cumbersome and unfocused, as far as I’m concerned, and not up to the coolness of the rest of the pdf. If you don’t mind that, then consider this an excellent installment; as a reviewer, however, I need to take this into account, which is why my final verdict, alas, has to be 4 stars. However, since a couple of the builds herein, particularly the horzitoth, hamadryad, vilderavn, brownie and sangoi really captured my imagination, I will bestow my seal of approval onto this in spite of its imperfections.

 

You can get these inspired fey here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Aug 242018
 

Mageblade! ZERO (OSR)

This game system clocks in at 32 pages, with the wrap-around cover provided as its own .png. If you take playtest thanks and editorial together, they’ll take up about half a page, and the character sheet provided similarly clocks in at about ½ a page. As a whole, one can claim that this has about 31 pages of content, which are laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5)-size, meaning you can fit up to 4 pages on a sheet of paper when printing this.

 

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

 

Now, Mageblade Zero is a rules-lite system that could roughly be associated with the OSR games out there, but it deviates pretty far from retro-clone territory, being its own system. The core mechanics of the system would be to roll under attributes, but there is an interesting twist here: If you roll equal or under the value of the attribute with a d20, you succeed – so far, so common. However, where things become interesting, is when there is a competition or contested action. Here, the victor is NOT, as you might have expected, who rolls further below the target value of the attribute, but who gets closer to the target value; the less you manage to roll under the target value, the better. Now, one oversight here would be how stalemates are handled: I assume just rerolling, but alcrification would have been nice.

 

The game knows a total of 4 classes, and hits (hit points) are governed by these classes. Every character begins with a Mana value of 0.

 

The game also knows a kind of proficiency bonus – here, this is the Focus modifier, which starts at +3 and improves by +1 at 3rd, 6th, 9th and 12th level. As you can glean from that progression, Mageblade! Zero scales up to 12 levels of character progression. The values to which Focus is added depends on the character class chosen.

 

All characters start with one Perk. Here, nomenclature is inconsistent – “Focus” is always capitalized, while “Perk” is not consistently – I’ll stick with the capitalized version for the purpose of this review. A second Perk is gained at 2nd level, and then once more at 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter.

 

Perks can be exchanged to either gain 2 Skills, or a class-specific ability. The game knows two skills based on Strength (Climbing and Feat of Strength), 2 based on Wisdom (Surgery, Mind over Body), 2 based on Constitution (Swim and Stamina) and the remaining attributes have 3 skills each: Intelligence governs Lockpick, Engineering and Research; Dexterity encapsulates Sneak, Acrobatics and Sneak Attack, and Charisma nets Bullshit, Gather Information and Diplomacy. Foreign, Dead or Esoteric languages are skills not associated with a given attribute. Dexterity-based skills are penalized by armor: -2 for medium, -4 for heavy armor. If you don’t have a skill, common tasks can be accomplished by rolling under 1/3 of the relevant stat. The GM is the final arbiter of what can or can’t be done via a Skill. Sneak Attack is remarkable, in that attacking a target unaware of you lets you roll both attack and the Sneak Attack skill roll. Even if you miss one of these, you still hit and do damage if you make one roll. If you make both, you roll damage twice and add the results together. This is elegant and rather cool. Like it! The other skills are pretty self-explanatory, but some guidance is still provided.

 

Now, each character also has a Melee and Missile rating. These determine how good you are at hurting people and begin at 12. Fighters add Focus to both. Both are sometimes collectively referred to as “attack” in rules-language – spelling that out explicitly would have made sense from a didactic perspective.

Each character also has a Defence value that begins at 0. Light armor and shields net Defence 2 each, medium armor Defence 4, heavy armor Defence 6.

 

Now, as pretty much always, you roll attributes, which are known as Stats in Mageblade! Zero. You roll 3d6 and assign the values. If you favor a tad bit more complexity, there is an optional rule, which makes the values here matter more: Values of 7 or less impose a -1 penalty, 13 – 15 net +1, and anything higher +2. Note that this means different things for all attributes and is NOT applied to skill checks! If you’re coming from a PF or 5e background to this game, then this is something to bear in mind. Strength modifies Melee and Missile damage, Dexterity Missile, “Defense” (inconsistent here, since the version with a “c” is what the pdf usually refers to) and Initiative. Intelligence modifies perks and spells gained. Wisdom modifies the Mana point total. Constitution governs Hits. Charisma governs Luck. (More on Luck later.)

 

Fighters get d10 and may use all armors; they increase the damage die size of any weapon they wield by one step. Weird: Other classes explicitly specify when they can use shields (see mageblade), but the fighter RAW does not say so, which RAW means that they may not. Really odd oversight. They may spend Perks to learn a wide variety of combat stances, which may be combined, at the GM’s discretion. The class-write-up provides quite a few of interesting combat stances that allow for meaningful differentiation between fighters: Take, for example, -5 to attack for 1 extra attack. As a minor nitpick, I do think that specifying that the penalty applies to the extra attack as well might make sense – it’s clear from context, but it may be read otherwise. There are a few such instances throughout the book, where being slightly more explicit in the precise details may make sense and improve readability of the book.

 

Rogues get d6 for hits and have a daily allocation of Luck equal to their Focus and may spend Luck on any roll affecting them, including enemy’s rolls. Luck and Mana are, in some ways, similar. While nominally, the rogue has 0 Mana. Mana and Luck replenish at sunset and one may spend a Mana or Luck to reroll a Save you failed or force other rerolls, if the referee deems that applicable. Luck, however, cannot be used to power spells. Rogues get a free Skill and get three Skills per Perk spent. Additionally, they can use a Perk to become masters in a respective skill, spending half cost in Luck or Mana for the Skill chosen. This means that the first reroll is free, with subsequent rerolls costing 1 (2nd and 3rd reroll) or 2 mana (4th and 5th reroll), respectively. This increased cost for subsequent rerolls is only ever noted in this particular Perk, when it should be explicitly stated in the general rules for pushing your luck. Rogues may use all weapons and armor.

 

Casters get d6 hits, and targets of the caster’s spells take a penalty equal to the spells known by the caster of a single discipline, rewarding specialization. This penalty cannot exceed the caster’s Focus. Now, as you could glean, each spell is associated with a so-called discipline, basically the mage’s school. It takes a Perk to learn a new discipline. Casters begin play with 3 spells, and each spell may be cast exactly once per day. To cast a spell, the caster must spend 1 mana point and make strange noises and gestures. Casters get +2 spells chosen from the disciplines known or scrolls and grimoires on every level. Casters start with a mana value of 1, and when meditating on an item, they understand its magics. Casters may channel mana into a magical attack. This does not necessitate mana expenditure, and deals 1d6 damage (explodes on a 6) + Focus. Now, veterans will know what “explodes on a 6” means, but the pdf fails to explain what exploding dice are. (If you’re puzzled: If you roll the maximum on the die, you roll again and add the results together.) In any way, the notion of exploding dice should be explained here. Victims of such an attack may save on constitution or dexterity to halve the damage. The caster may also spend 1 mana if close to an ally to shield one target per level from spell effects. Okay, can this be done when it’s not the caster’s turn? How close does the ally have to be? This is pretty opaque. Casters may use all weapons, but not any armor.

 

We get 3 sample disciplines with short spell write-ups for each – in case you were wondering: Yep, the spellcasting engine is pretty similar to that of Adventure Fantasy Game. The level of precision of the spells, however, does oscillate and vary rather greatly. The Æther Path’s kataplasm spell, for example, greases a tightly-defined area with precise borders, while Psychomancy’s dust of the sandman spell covers “a small area” – whatever that’s supposed to mean in game terms. Before you’re asking – no, this does not concisely define what’s “nearby” etc. Regarding rules-precision, there are quite a few instances where some more stringent and tighter codifications would have made sense, even for a rules-lite game. The fourth discipline, surprisingly, does not grant spells per se; instead the Jevnacack Praxis basically provides a Vancian tweak to overcome the 1/day spell limit and the requirement to know a discipline. I like this example of how the concept can tweak the playing experience.

 

Finally, there would be the eponymous mageblade class, which receives d8 for hits and gains Focus on all saves. Additionally, they can spend 1 Mana to add Focus to the athame’s melee attacks. The athame would be the bound ritual blade of the class, with damage depending on size. Athames also store the mageblade’s mana, and if lost, bonding to a new one takes a month. The blademagic Perk allows the mageblade to 1/round when wielding the athame, spend one mana to activate a variety of benefits, which include adding Focus, attacking 3 enemies or make the athame take flight. This does not specify how far it can float per round. Doubling damage based on type is also available, but it’s weird: This one implies that the banes need to learned separately, when the blademagic Perk does not specify as such. So, is only one blademagic gained per taking of the Perk, or does the mageblade get all of them? Each order has a list of available banes, but since the Perk lists the option for additional ones, does this mean you could spend a Perk to gain another order’s bane? Or does this mean that these are the sole banes available for taking via Perks? No idea. Mageblades may also cast devotions, their spell equivalent. They begin play with one devotion, but additional devotions require taking a Perk. These devotions are granted by membership in an order – the class does not classify whether membership in an order locks the mageblade out of other orders or not. I assume so, based on the rules material present (or lack thereof), but the similarity of orders and caster disciplines means that this may not be intended. Mageblades may use weapons, armor and shields. 2 sample orders are presented alongside their respective devotions. These, once more, are sometimes rather lacking in precision. A coiled snake will coil around the mageblade, and attack anyone attacking the mageblade in melee. Okay. How? How much damage? Why not at-range? Can it be killed?

 

Beyond basic starting equipment, 5 starting packages of equipment are provided, as are guidelines for mundane equipment, and the pdf provides a couple of equipment pieces regarding arms and armor – enough to extrapolate new equipment and price it. Another inconsistency here is that the equipment implies differentiation between damage types, which is something I do enjoy; however, the remainder of the pdf does not make this distinction. Similarly, the pdf is inconsistent with damage notation, sometimes just providing a damage value, sometimes referencing wounds, which implies a difference between them or individual injury tracking, which the rules RAW do not support.

 

Okay, so how does combat work? For initiative, roll 1d6, with rogues getting +1. Combatants act from highest to lowest value, with ties decided by level first, then, if still tied, the PC goes first. PCs may delay their action, acting at a lower initiative number. Since this RAW does not change initiative, you could act twice in a short time. Not a fan there.

 

During a round, a character gets one action: Move closer to the enemy (by how much?), attack, retreat (how far), cast a spell, etc. Hitting an enemy requires a roll under Melee or Missile, and this roll must also exceed the target’s Defence value. This is pretty interesting and something I enjoy. Damage ranges from d4 to d8 in base damage, with the fighter increasing damage by one step, up to d10 for two-handed weapons. The game does not specify what happens if a target gets to 0 hits, leaving that up to the referee. Saves are pretty basic and explained in a tight manner. Apart from the movement ambiguity, this section is solid.

 

The pdf also includes a couple of adventure locales with abbreviated stats for targets, and there is a quick table to generate NPCs etc. on the fly. 6 sample magic items are provided. A night of rest regains Focus hits, +1 if a character with Surgery is available. The pdf does note overland movement, traps and secret doors, and no, magic bonuses do not stack. The pdf concludes with some nice notes to hack the engine for your own games, which was something I very much enjoyed seeing.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting on a formal language are good – I did notice a couple of inconsistencies and typos, though. On a rules-language level, Mageblade! Zero has some ways to go. Its precision oscillates greatly, and rules-concepts are not always where they should be. A general rule should not require extrapolation from a class feature, and terminology should be concisely explained in a consistent manner. If you’re not a veteran or require precise rules, then be warned. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard without interior artworks. Utterly no-frills and decent, but not exactly aesthetically pleasing. Utterly annoying: The pdf does not have bookmarks, which is, particularly for a rules-booklet, a pretty big comfort detriment these days.

 

Paolo Greco’s “Mgeablade Zero!” is an interesting game that offers quite a few really cool ideas in how they gel together; the core mechanic is intriguing, and there are quite a few decisions in the class design and the Perk/Skill-system I very much enjoy. Mageblade Zero! manages to create a rules-lite game with meaningful differentiations between characters of one class, and even offers a degree of meaningful tactics and some player agenda during character growth. I really, really enjoy this, and there is a LOT about this game that I really love.

 

HOWEVER, this *is* the ZERO-edition, and more so than e.g. Macchiato Monsters , it really feels like a ZERO-version, a playable BETA-version. There are a lot of minor hiccups and gratingly byzantine decisions regarding the presentation sequence of rules, and their precision, something just as important for rules-lite games as for more rules-heavy ones, still leaves quite a lot to be desired, including some core aspects of the game.

 

Don’t get me wrong, though: You can use this system if you have some gaming experience and you can have fun with it. In fact, I think Mageblade’s ZERO-edition is already more rewarding and fun than either of the playstyles supported by Adventure Fantasy Game. It’s elegant and simply more fun. In fact, Mageblade! has the potential to evolve into my favorite rules-lite game; it offers simplicity and choice, and it may be taught within minutes. This game has the potential to become a 5 star + seal of approval game, but as written, in its current iteration, I can’t go higher than 3.5 stars, rounded down, for this game.

 

You can get this game here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.