Sep 152018
 

Dear readers,

 

As noted before in the last two patron-announcements, I’ll be offline for a couple of days. Regularly scheduled reviewing will resume at the end of the month.

 

Cheers,

your friendly neighborhood endzeitgeist.

Sep 152018
 

Legendary Shifter

This player-facing class book/class redesign clocks in at 32 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page introduction, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 24 pages of content, though it should be noted that, as always, legendary Games has stuffed a TON of content within these pages, so let’s take a look!

 

Wait. Before we do, I need to fully disclose one fact. To say that I don’t like the shifter class would be a frickin’ understatement. After all the shapeshifting classes I’ve reviewed, the class was the blandest, more bring implementation of the concept I could possibly fathom. It’s one of my least favorite PFRPG classes released by Paizo, and coming from the amazing Occult classes and the similarly awesome vigilante, it was a huge disappointment for me. It’s a dedicated shifter class that’s less flexible than one that gets shifting as a bonus. And don’t get me started on the lack of actually unique things it can do. I wasn’t alone in that, so let’s see if the class redesign by Legendary Games actually manages to make the shifter interesting.

 

The legendary shifter base class gets d10 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as natural attacks gained from class features, and light and medium armors and shields, excluding tower shields. The class may take Sylvan as a bonus language, as well as Aklo, and they speak Druidic as a free language. Nice touch there! Chassis-wise, the legendary shifter gets full BAB-progression as well as good Fort- and Ref-saves.

 

Now, the basic shifting engine has been changed rather drastically: At 1st level, you choose a shifter’s aspect, and entering it is a swift action; ending the effect is a free action. Forms may be switched as a swift action and the aspect may be maintained indefinitely. Until 9th level, when chimeric aspect is gained, only one form at a time may be maintained. 14th level nets greater chimeric aspect – three aspects and related forms. The shift is NOT a polymorph effect. A new aspect is gained at 5th level and every 4 levels thereafter. Unless I have miscounted, 19 different aspects are provided and provide minor benefits that often actually manage to be interesting. I have no balance-concerns with them, as the form’s usefulness and the benefits gained correlate in smart ways: While a mouse aspect may generally suck a bit, gaining evasion does make it quite tantalizing now, doesn’t it? Also at first level, we’d have shifter’s shape, which allows for the assumptions of badger, bird, camel, cat (small), dire rat, dog. Dolphin, horse, manta ray, pony, viper, constrictor snake or wolf forms, analogue to beast shape I. However, it lasts for class level + Wisdom modifier hours, min 1, and the duration may be split, but only in 1-hour increments. Changing form in this shape may be used ½ class level + Wisdom modifier times sans penalty; beyond that, it reduces the total allotment of duration remaining by 1 hour. This is treated as wild shape, but the shifter lsoes the ability to communicate while in the. 3rd level unlocks all beast shape I forms, 6th level allows for the assuming of Large and Tiny and beast shape II forms. 8th level allows for the assumption of Huge or Diminutive animal form, or that of a Small or Medium (not capitalized properly) magical beast; the ability is upgraded to beast shape III. 12th level upgrades that further to beast shape IV, and unlocks Tiny and Large magical beasts; 16th level unlocks Diminutive and Huge magical beasts and makes the ability behave as magical beast shape. 6th level hastens shifter shape to a move action that does not provoke AoOs. 10th level upgrades this to optionally use as a swift action, and 18th level allows for the use of shifting as an immediate action.

 

The class also begins play with wild empathy and shifter evolution: This lets the shifter, as a swit action. Grow claws and a set of fangs – these are (HUGE kudos!) properly codified both regarding damage type and precise nature of the natural attacks. These start with the ability to bypass DR/magic and begin bypassing DR/cold iron and DR /Silver at 3rd level, with 7th level making them behave as ghost touch. 15th level lets the shifter ignore DR/adamantine and 19th level even DR/- – ouch! These benefits also extend to natural attacks conferred by polymorph effects and the synergy of natural attacks and those she can grow is properly codified. Damage dice of the shifter evolution natural attacks increases from 1d6 to 2d10 over the course of the 20 levels of the class. As you can glean, this makes shifters at low levels pretty dangerous, considering that we’re looking at 3 primary natural attacks. For very conservative games, this may prove slightly problematic, though in such a case, I’d simply advise in making the damage default to the standard for the natural attacks and rendering claws or bite, depending on low power level sought, secondary instead. Most games will not encounter a problem here.

 

At 2nd level, the shifter gets track and adds Wisdom modifier to AC and CMD, or half as much when also wearing armor or using a shield; 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter increase this by +1. 3rd level nets woodland stride; 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter yield a wild shape based bonus feat; 5th level nets trackless step. The capstone nets shifter shape at will and nets shapechanger apotheosis, becoming immunity to transmutation effects unless willing to accept them.

 

The pdf also provides a wide array of different archetypes, 12, to be precise. Bound beastmasters get an animal companion and instead apply shifter evolution benefits to the companion’s attacks instead. The Wis-bonus to defense is lost in favor of the companion sharing in aspects, and instead of chimeric aspect and its greater version, we have the option to have the companion also assume shifts, but the form taken must be that of the legendary shifter. The dragon touched is an archetype I would not allow in more conservative games, as the claws gained from shifter evolution are replaced with a 15 ft.-cone or 30 ft.-line breath weapons that deals 1d8 + class level damage of the chosen energy type corresponding to the dragon blood; the damage increases by +1d8 at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter, and there is no limit imposed on it. It won’t break the game for most groups, but unlimited AoO energy damage can be pretty potent. Personally, I’d have imposed a hard cap for the low levels here and then delimited that at higher levels. Instead of shifter aspect, the archetype begins with low-light vision and gains progressively better draconic traits. Unsurprisingly, the shifter shape is completely changed to instead provide the ability to assume draconic forms. Similarly, the chimeric aspect and capstone are modified.

 

The elemental nexus chooses a chosen element’s basic utility wild talent as well as a kinetic blast wild talent, with full damage progression as though shifter levels equaled kineticist levels. Additionally, we get the kinetic fist form infusion at 0 burn cost and Improved Unarmed Strike. The blast may only be used in conjunction with kinetic fist and replaces shifter evolution. 1st level and every 4 levels thereafter net a utility wild talent, and Wisdom modifier times per day, the archetype may lower the burn cost of a wild talent by 1. This replaces shifter aspect. As a nitpick here: The reduction should imho only work for utility wild talents granted by this archetype; otherwise the option is a bit too dippable for my tastes. Instead of the Wisdom boost, we get elemental defense at 2nd level, being treated as having accepted 1 burn. 5th level and every 3 levels thereafter, the archetype is treated as having accepted 1 more burn. Bonus feats allow for kineticist tricks and 5th level unlocks elemental forms via the modified version of shifter shape. 9th and 14th level provide expanded element instead of the chimeric aspect abilities.

 

The fairy shifter has HD reduced to d8 and only ¾ BAB-progression, but gains the hunter’s spellcasting progression, but draws spells from druid and ranger lists, using Charisma as governing spellcasting attribute. Kudos: Spell overlap between spell lists is noted. Unsurprisingly, this one then proceeds to codify shifter shape in the fey form direction. Instead of the Wis-boost, these folks use Charisma to bolster their defenses and extend that to flat-footed. The capstone is similarly modified. The Giant shifter replaces claws with slams, and bingo, does what it says on the tin. Lycanthropic warriors are limited regarding their aspects, but get scaling DRs instead of the Wisdom boost and they begin play with hybrid form availability – nice tweak and easily multiclassed one. Metamorphic genius has d8 HD and 3/4 BAB-progression. The archetype also gets the infusion discovery and alchemy instead of shifter aspect and the chimeric abilities; extract levels of shapeshifting tricks are reduced by 1 and it also comes with some flexibility. These also get a longer duration and Int is a governing attribute here. In the absence of shifting, quicker extract imbibing (only of those noted by the archetype) maintains the action economy of the base class.

 

As a huge fan of the Dark Souls games and the classic monster, I smiled broadly when reading the Mimickin – you get Disguise as a class skill and the archetype nets scaling mimic shapes…and yes, this means grab and swallow whole at higher levels. Oh, and multiple mimickin can form larger objects! Oh, and they get to move stealthily. As a fan of the Prey game and Dark Souls, this one really rocked my world. And before you’re asking: The 3 new object form spells within are what makes this work.

These is a mini-engine tweak/micro-archetype that exchanges trackless step and bonus feats for a ranger’s spellcasting. Necromorphs are a cool thematic undead/undead-controlling type of shifter that can maintain multiple gentle repose effects and Hide in Plain Sight in dim light at 5th level. One of the cooler theme-archetypes; no Dead Space-y stuff, though. Speaking of which: Oozeling. It’s the single best ooze-style class option I’ve seen in a long while. Compression from level 1 and some potent defenses, as well as a more complex natural weapon table made me smile. Protean masters would be the inevitable unchained eidolon archetype. Surprisingly, all eidolon subtypes are unlocked – I kinda expected these to unlock over the levels, but limited evolution points keep this in check. Higher levels provide more flexibility here.

 

The pdf also includes a new 10-level PrC, the Polymorph Savant, who needs the Basic Alteration feat (one of the feats within – unlocks speaking and behaves like alter self) as well as shifter shape and a BAB of +5. The PrC has ¾ BAB-progression and ½ Fort- and Ref-save progression, 4 + Int skills per level and d8 HD. The PrC adds class levels to legendary shifter regarding the effects of class features and gets the ability to assume Tiny, Small, Medium or Large insect shapes, as per vermin shape II. 2nd level adds ghost touch to shifter evolutions, with 6th level making the attacks count as aligned, 10th providing the adamantine bypassing. At 2nd level, being under shifter shape nets uncanny dodge and evasion. 3rd level unlocks Diminutive, Tiny, Small, Medium, large or Huge monstrous humanoids; 4th level and 8th net a bonus feat, 5th nets fey shapes – get it? Yep, the progression is pretty close to the base class, and instead of specializing provides basically the jack-of-all-trades shifter.

 

Now, the feats within allow shifter to retain combat power while Tiny or smaller sans being crippled; Animal Spirit makes you use Charisma as governing attribute; Bestial Roots allows archetypes that trade this in to gain animal shapes (but not the magical beast shapes of the base class); Morphic Berserker is a legendary shifter/barbarian crossover feat, and Morphic Lyricist and Morphic Stalker represent the multiclass facilitators for bards and slayer, respectively. The pdf concludes after aforementioned spells with Ines, a beautifully illustrated and well-written, fun NPC – Ines is overflowing with love, raised by fey and comes with a cool boon. Two thumbs up for the cool NPC!

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on both a formal and rules language level. Layout adheres to Legendary Games’ two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with a blend of previously used and new full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Siobhan Bjorknas and N. Jolly deliver a huge improvement over the standard shifter here. Honestly, just forget about the base class and use this one instead. The legendary shifter is, at least in my book, preferable in pretty much every way – this class does the dedicated shapeshifter, the one based on the magic-chassis, as well as you can probably do the concept. Heck, while a lot of this pdf delivered pretty much exactly what I expected to find, it actually managed to surprise me in a positive way, in a book that I honestly expected to bore me to tears. The oozeling and mimickin, in particular, made me smile a really devilish grin. So yeah, this is a very good book. There are a few components where I’d have preferred a tad bit more nuance, but that’s me complaining at a very high level. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up, since given the design goal, this is probably as close to excellent as the shifter without divorcing it from core-engines, is ever likely to get.

 

You can get this vastly improved shifter-rebuild here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Sep 152018
 

Fever-Dreaming Marlinko (OSR)

The second big Hill Cantons-book clocks in at 72 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 66 pages of content, laid out in the classic digest (A5-ish) standard, so let’s take a look!

 

This review was requested by my patreons, to be undertaken at my convenience. I do own the print version of this booklet and my review is primarily based on the print version. I did also consult the pdf.

 

Content-wise, I probably should state that if you’re a super-devout Christian, one particular aspect of the supplement *may* potentially offend you; it also contains profanity. I found it hilarious, but yeah. Warning disclaimer and such.

 

Now, I assume familiarity with the concepts of the Hill Cantons in this review, so please bear that in mind. I have reviewed the Cosmology pdf and the second compendium of rules-material – this is relevant, since the Mountebank and the Robo-dwarf race class have been presented in the second compendium. The pdf does contain 30 female and 31 male names, a brief page on nicknames and a short pronunciation guide for the Slavic nomenclature employed in Marlinko. Note that I am no specialist in Slavic languages and have a hard time determining authenticity here, with Czech being the only Slavic language I am rudimentarily familiar with – though my proficiency, so far, is unfortunately atrocious, which is a pity, considering how much I loved Ajvaz’s and Topol’s writing – I need to read them in the original one day. But I digress.

 

The pdf does include 3 monsters, with robo-dwarves being one; the second is a wobbly giant, and we get a vampire variant. A tiger wrestling mini-game is also includes in the deal – it’s fun, rules-lite and a nice diversion. Speaking of rules: As before, labyrinth Lord is the default rules-system assumed here, though conversion to other OSR-games, as always, is dead simple.

 

Now, this city is in pretty close proximity to the Weird, and as such takes on the cast that the “fever-dreaming” indeed so successfully implies: This city could make for a great place to splice e.g. Narcosa-content into the game, and it *is* weird. And gonzo. And genuinely funny.

 

You see, this supplement/book focuses on making a super-gameable city: Not one that drowns in details, but neither one that just remains a sketch. The city section as such straddles that ephemeral line between the two extremes with panache aplomb, and is utterly HILARIOUS while doing so. This is one of the very few honestly FUNNY gaming books that actually manages to blend humor with excitement. There are few gaming books that made me laugh out loud. This has succeeded doing just that. The city supplement component does present a lot of things to generate and to work with – if you do want a go-play city, then this will not provide what you’re looking for: This is a place to work with, a hazy inspiration that comes together by the hand of the GM taking the ideas presented and developing them.

 

Now, beyond the city supplement aspects, this also has two fully-detailed adventure-sites. Both are super-challenging for the level-range suggested (levels 2 – 6; total party levels 12 – 18); if you’re looking to actually kill the opposition/murder hobo through these sites, you’ll die horribly. These adventure-sites, as well as the city itself, are provided in gorgeous isometric versions provided by the talented Luka Rejec. They also are available as their own free map-pack – a direct link is at the bottom of the review on my homepage. Now, unfortunately, neither map-pack nor the book provide redacted player-friendly versions of these maps, which is a bit of a bummer here.

 

As mentioned before, I do own the PoD softcover – it’s a nice little book with interior b/w-art, and the city map is on the back cover in the PoD-version. If you do get this, get print.

The pdf has no bookmarks.

Yep, you heard right. I actually delayed my review for months, hoping that they’d be added, but so far, no dice. The pdf thus is a huge pain to navigate.

Not cool. Get print.

 

Now, it is in the nature of this supplement that the ideas and notes presented in the setting supplement sections will gel together with campaigns and the adventure-locations; as such, this constitutes my big SPOILER-WARNING. I will talk in detail about quite a few of these aspects. Potential players of this one should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Seriously, players – jump ahead! Okay, final question: Truly only GMs around? Great!

 

So, the book begins with a brief in-character vignettes that PERFECTLY encapsulates the themes and tone of the city. The scene depicts a trip to the Serene Guild of Seers, just to provide context:

 

From the darkness above, a booming, hollow voice demands, “WHAT DO YOU SEEEEEK?”

Ba Chim replies: “Where is the tip of the sword Fauxbringer located, and what must be done

to restore the sword to its full powers?”

The oracle begins to sway side to side melodramatically, shouting: “VIAKHANA Xitchol!

Serpadon! Cuccagna! NATAS!” and then breaks in with a monotone, “What is a stick that is

not a stick? When is a rock not…”

The attendant hurriedly interrupts her. Ba Chim can make out over the attendant’s stage

whisper that he is urgently saying “full rate.” The oracle abruptly stops and says in a perfectly

clear, normal-toned voice: “Oh, well, you can find the sword in the underground level under

the Tower of the Master in the Slumbering Ursine Dunes. Cirl the Petulant left it sitting on a

worktable right next to the magical forge that can repair it. Cirl was slain for reneging on a

gambling debt by a blue-skinned giant apparently before he could complete his task.”

“Next!”

 

If you’re like me, then that made you at least smile. The humor is truly amazing and suffuses the whole book in an unobtrusive and fun way.

 

So yeah, that is the type of humor you can find within; but there is more. So much more. Marlinko, as a city, is divided into 4 contradas, with central roads separating these quarters; all but one of these central thoroughfares lead to a gate. As the map notes “Lacking Gate of Cracked Skulls” – things are weird here, after all! In the center of the city, at the nexus, there is a black square block, the tomb of the city gods, with 4 of the 5 gods each associated their own contrada. These include a literally razor-tongued town god rumored to be an idiot and a vaguely bee-shaped bringer of both affluence and anxiety. Think about the latter for a second – beyond the outré nature of the concept, it is actually CLEVER.

 

Now, the contradas each get their own, small section: These sections provide an overview, a couple of sights to see around the contrada, as well as a selection of random encounters, with stats provided. These include e.g. Borko, Collector of Pollen (to be found in the richest Contrada, the one devoted to the bee god-thing…), asking for a “voluntary donation”…or Maus. (German for “mouse.”) That guy is convinced that the secret postal and matchmaking service “Axis of Tindrthurn” has it in for him….he’s obviously paranoid and delusional. Well, kinda. You see, he may be right.

 

What does that mean? Well, the amazing Chaos Index to simulate fluctuations of weirdness and magic from Slumbering Ursine Dunes? It makes a return here. And at a sufficiently high level, he is actually right! I still absolutely adore the Chaos Index and its implementation here is inspired – the write-up does mention a couple REALLY weird happenstances and customs taking place in the city of the weird’s rising. I actually found myself wishing we’d get more. This also btw. interacts with the brief news of the day generator, which basically doubles as 20 adventure hooks.

 

But let’s return to the contradas: Each of them also sports a brief table of sample buildings, though one is mislabeled as “random encounters.” It should also be noted that the pdf includes a few choice sample sentences from the mouths of the illustrious NPCs found within the city, to give you a feeling for how to portray them. Speaking of the NPCs – in a city, where cons are pretty much a way of life (the book even explains popular cons, both long and short!), the freakishly honest Fraža makes for a great sample NPC: This guy is a fair curio dealer, but due to a curse, he has no filter whatsoever regarding his thoughts, explaining to non-humans in detail why he secretly hates and fears them. There is a former anti-cleric of the Anti-World-Turtle. And don’t cross the suave and immaculately-dressed František, the checkered mage and basically what constitutes the city’s foremost magic-user. Speaking of which: The book does come with a MASSIVE marketplace section, noting spells for sale by aforementioned mage, hirelings, mundane items, the prices demanded by the seer’s guild…and the cost of killing people.

 

You see, Marlinko is chaotic and weird, as such, there is sanctioned and unsanctioned crime, and yes, there is an official guild that nominally requires a proof of wronging and operates only for citizens…but unsurprisingly, that is no hard guideline whatsoever…Now, one of my favorite concepts presented by Jeff Rients would obviously be the carousing rules, and I’m certainly not the only one. In a city as weird and in flux as Marlinko, I very much welcomed the inclusion of a dedicated carousing section, with different sections for the contradas and adventuring potential galore. So yes, the whole city section is pretty much amazing.

 

Now, as mentioned before, the book also presents two brief adventure locales/mini-dungeons if you will. Together, these, including their maps, take up slightly more than 10 pages of the supplement. The first would be the abode of a strigoi, who is also a major mover and shaker in the city. While zombie maids and a Mr. Mxyzptlk-reference made me smile, the location simply doesn’t have the room to live up to its potential. This is further exacerbated in the second adventure locale, which depicts the Catacombs of the Blood Jesus. The latter made me really sad, for the premise is amazing: Picture a drunkard priest from our world stranding in Marlinko, proselytizing and unwittingly getting a cult going, one that emphasis divine cannibalism and blood-drinking. Do nun-maenads sound cool? Yeah, they are. However, much like the first locale, the dungeon, while interesting and neat, doesn’t really live up to the amazing and bonkers potential its premise deserves. There is so much weirdness you could get going here…

 

Don’t get me wrong, these two locations aren’t bad per se; but they simply don’t live up to how great the actual city supplement section is. Even after all of the things I mentioned, I have only given you a taste of the creativity within this book.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good; I noticed a few minor hiccups in both formal and rules-language criteria. Layout adheres to a no-frills 1-column b/w-standard, and the supplement sports a couple of really nice original b/w-artworks by Jeremy Duncan and Jason Sholtis. The isometric b/w-cartography for the locales and color for the city by Luka Rejec is fantastic, but the lack of player-friendly versions is a strike against them. Similarly, the dungeon-maps lack a scale, which makes judging distance problematic. They are thus beautiful, but not particularly useful. The print version has a white spine without its name on it. More annoyingly, the pdf version, as mentioned, has no bookmarks, which, particularly for a book like this that requires page-flipping and quick navigation, a huge no-go. Detract a whole star from my final verdict for the pdf version.

 

Chris Kutalik’s Marlinko is indeed a fever-dream, and an amazing one; I’ve had enough of them as a child to recognize the aesthetic and tone, and it is BRILLIANT. The city section, the contradas, the NPCs – everything is quirky, and the hilarious and audacious blend with the odd and horrific in a most inspiring of ways. Marlinko is a city like no other and manages to evoke a surprising sense of consistency. I really wished this supplement had been longer and it left me wanting more! The writing, in short, is excellent. However, the rules-relevant components are less impressive when e.g. compared to what Necrotic Gnome Productions brings to the table for Labyrinth Lord. The adventure locations, while both nice, fell flat in direct comparison, at least for me. Both have promising concepts and notions, but both, perhaps due to a lack of space, can’t properly develop their cool concepts. They would have been better served as stand-alone modules. Particularly since Marlinko could have very much used the space they take up to elaborate further on the intoxicating and captivating atmosphere of weirdness it evokes.

 

How to rate this, then? Well, the city supplement sections as such deserve 5 stars + seal of approval; the adventure locales come in at a 4 stars; and then there would be the bookmarks/maps/etc. issues I mentioned. As a person, I love Marlinko. I really do. For me, this is a 5 star + seal of approval settlement; however, as a reviewer, I have to take the shortcomings this does have into account – and as such, I can’t go higher than 4 stars for it. However, since I really enjoyed the city as such, this does receive my seal of approval.

 

You can get this unique, and often hilarious, city here on OBS!

 

You can find aforementioned map-pack here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Sep 142018
 

Vathak Terrors: Cured of Ursatur

This little bestiary clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

We begin this pdf with a brief introduction of the context of Ina’Oth and the deadly Plague of Shadows that ravages these lands…and the results of the methods to combat the plagues that sweep Ursatur.

 

The children of vinari healer Anna Schafer still haunt the places, constituting the first critter within, Anna’s Forgotten, a CR 13 undead. Born from the desperate attempts to find a cure from experimentation on children, the canonization of the good Dr as a Saint of the One True God has not helped to render the gas/miasma-themed and mist-shrouded undead rest easier in their graves. Chilling.

 

At CR 5, the second creature within would be the extergeist. While the plague of shadows was hard to stop, some folks tried to combat it with cleanliness. And as someone who used to be very OCD in that regard, let it be known that cleanliness can harm you…so yeah, this makes this ghosts extra chilling for me: They are those that perished, in spite of their cleaning neurosis, and they still fear disease…their touch capable of unraveling, of scrubbing away the tissue that makes up the living…and their pronounced fear of contamination beyond death making for a great Achilles’ hell. Big kudos!

 

The final critter makes use of one rules-innovation from the superb Gamemaster’s Guide to Ina’Oth (seriously, one of the best regional sourcebooks I know!), namely multi-stage diseases, one of which is presented here to accompany the creature. You don’t need that book to make use of the creature, but the Plague Cymoth, equal parts plague and creature, makes for a chilling finale…oh, and we actually get two feats for those that learn to…utilize their horrid parasites! Nice! (Btw.: One of them nets you a second bite in your bite, Alien-style…)

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard, and the pdf comes fully bookmarked, in spite of its brevity. All 3 creatures get their own full-color artworks as well – impressive for a mere $1.50 asking price!

 

Landon Winkler delivers big time with these three creatures – they are all interesting and chilling in some way, and they have strong concepts and even manage to provide some mechanically interesting tricks. Honestly, you can’t ask for much more from such a humble, inexpensive pdf! This is absolutely worth getting if you even remotely like dark fantasy/horror and/or the Vathak setting! This gets 5 stars + seal of approval.

 

You can get these inexpensive critters here on OBS!

 

You can get the excellent Ina’Oth GM’s Guide here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

Sep 142018
 

Rogues of Porphyra

This installment of the player-facing „…of Porphyra“-series clocks in at 34 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 30 pages of content – and yes, regular-sized pages!

 

This book is intended with both the classic and unchained rogue in mind, using brown text to denote content devised for the unchained rogue. The pdf begins by acknowledging the issues the rogue class has, and the ones that the unchained rogue class has. The author does offer some introductory advice for the player, and then begins to present basically fixes for the rogue and unchained rogue class, the first of which would be alternate key abilities, which allow the rogue to choose one of two key ability modifiers to govern their skills, thus reducing the inevitable multi-attribute-dependecy of the class. As an interesting idea, the pdf suggests modified the unchained rogue’s edge to grant virtual skill points in the edge’d skills, which don’t escalate numbers, but instead are taken into account as far as skill unlocks are concerned. I do like this notion. Superior retraining starting at end level and rogue talent replacement make sense. Sneak Attack has an alternative here as well, eliminating precision damage and instead choosing one of the base damage types of the attack for the bonus damage. I *assume* that this bonus damage still does not multiply, but clarification would have been nice. Interaction with defenses is properly codified, though.

 

The pdf does suggest a houserule I have been using for years: More skill points for everyone. +2 are suggested; and take it from me, the +2 skills per level will make your roleplaying experience beyond combat much cooler. Speaking of which: This also can be said about the plethora of skill uses codified within the pages of this book – for example, there is a means of analyzing traps, a means of using Disable Device to use demolitions to destroy objects instead of pure Strength, fire starting and extinguishing, making hurdles. Interesting would also be that the pdf champions of only rolling the best Perception check of the observers to counter Stealth. This greatly speeds up the game and is one rule I have been using myself, though I do myself use a variant, where concerted search efforts do accumulate benefits. The write-up does take into account the cases in which it’s important to know who’s observing. Speaking of Stealth: A compounded Stealth modifier table is pretty helpful, and as an optional rule, the unaware condition is suggested as a possible accelerator for faster playing.

 

There also is a cool section here for avoiding combats: Group and Marathon Stealth can both quicken the process in a nice manner. The pdf also sports no less than 9 cantrips/low-level spells (taking occult classes etc. into account) – these include a weak ray to push objects, conjuring forth ground mist, create a blind spot or tools. One of the spells is there to purge evidence and there is a lower level version of a short-range dimension door. Not the biggest fan of the latter, but that’s a matter of aesthetics. There are 7 new feats that allow for using alternate key ability modifiers, a follow-up for Spring Attack/Shot on the Run, and there is one interesting feats that lets you respond to a charge with an immediate action to retreat. Tower shield use via Pavises is also an interesting one. There also is one feat that lets you add Dex-mod to crossbow/firearm damage – and no, it doesn’t stack with other sources of Dex to damage or Str to damage – kudos and two thumbs up. There also is a Quick Sheathe feat.

 

The next section is one of the reasons you will want to seriously consider getting this supplement; it’s an example of honest design-work: The rogue talent section has a list of 1st party sources of rogue talents that are suitable for unchained rogues! The pdf goes further, though: It lists talents that should have their daily limits removed, advanced talents that are now available as regular talents and vigilante talents that should be available for rogues. This list is super-handy and keeps the class more relevant. Big kudos! A similar approach was btw. taken for advanced talents, and yes, if you have come to the same conclusions as I did with the progress of the game, then these are very much super-appreciated. The pdf also contains a ton of different rogue talents that offer further options that can become pretty ridiculously potent: Stealth Exploit, for example, lets you maintain Stealth after breaking it until the end of the round, allowing you to reestablish it. I’m super-torn on this one – on one hand, it makes infiltrations for specialists more reliable; on the other hand, a well-prepared group can use this to super-deadly effects and potentially cheese enemies really bad. That is not necessarily an issue of the talent, but rather one of the engine, but yeah. Still, as a whole, I thoroughly enjoyed this section, and depending on the system mastery levels of your game, this could well be a godsend of a section.

 

The pdf also contains no less than 10 different archetypes. The first of these would be the arcane adventurer, which is a hybrid of magus and rogue, though here, the sneak spell ability, which is intended to be the centerpiece of what makes this one unique, doesn’t properly work – it fails to designate how it actually works regarding spellcasting and “An arcane adventurer can use sneak spell on an outflanked target even if her spell is not a melee attack.” is just broken. The unchained rogue Brutal loses finesse training and gains a modified proficiency list and Combat Stamina. Solid tweak. Covins are basically mesmerist-versions of the hybrid-y magus/rogue chassis – and it, unfortunately, suffers from the same crucial issue. Everyday heroes get a vast skill list and a limited proficiency list. In a unique change of the engine, the everyday hero gets a scaling confidence pool that can be used to rerolls and skirmishing surges as well as special attacks, so called confident strikes – this pool is btw. easier to refill than even grit or panache, and the pdf does provide pretty extensive guidelines for replenishment. Instead of trapfinding, the everyday hero’s station, and confidence improves later. All in all, this is a well-made engine tweak with a distinct feeling.

 

Leeches gain good Fort-saves as well as Stalwart at higher levels; the archetype also gets a quite extensive array of unique talents that enhance further the already hastened mundane medicine that the archetype can apply. Using folk remedies to offset negative magical conditions etc. and using either super-quick surgery (or longer ones) for significant Con-damage regaining make this one interesting, particularly for games that make magical healing harder to come by. Mountebanks get a couple of investigator-y tricks and limited spellcasting, focusing on force effects etc. The saint of sinners is an interesting, complex fellow with a bit inquisitor thrown in. The archetype does gain a channel variant that deals damage to living and undead, and while it does note that constructs aren’t affected, the ability states that it’s a blend between positive and negative energy. This is super-problematic, as resistance and immunity interaction of the blended energy is not clear in the slightest, and many beings resistant to one component are also vulnerable to the other. Sneak channel, as a synergy ability, does actually work. The archetype also gains special abilities dubbed hoodoo, and makes for a potent, and interesting. The sapper is an interesting specialist/breach/pavise-user and is pretty neat. Solos are an interesting engine tweak – they sneak attack adjacent foes, but only if they’re not adjacent to any rogue ally. The final archetype is the most complex one – and it is this type of guy many guilds will want: Specialists: Instead of trap sense etc., you get to choose a rogue specialization, with changing later potentially possible.

 

The pdf comes with the lavishly-illustrated and rather dark crypt mother CR 6 monster, penned by Mark Gedak and Perry Fehr. Really dark bonus critter!

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level. On a rules-language level, the pdf is, for the most part, remarkably precise, top-tier even. It’s just a precious few instances where the integrity is compromised. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard with purple and brown highlights, and the pdf does feature a couple of nice full-color artworks I haven’t seen before! The pdf comes with EXTENSIVE bookmarks for everything – feats, spells, talents…big kudos in the comfort department.

 

Carl Cramér’s Rogues of Porphyra is a surprisingly compelling grab bag for everyone that wants to see the rogue upped, power-wise, to the levels we’re seeing right now in PF’s lifecycle. The variant rules allow capable groups to cherry-pick aspects and implement them, and many of these are actually really inspiring, obviously tested and fun. It’s interesting to note that, even as late in the system’s lifecycle as this is, it still does offer novel approaches and some meaningful engine-tweaks. With the exception of a precious few blunders, this represents an excellent book. That being said, these few blunders, alas, do compromise the rules-integrity of a few aspects within, and as such, I can’t rate this as highly as I’d like to. Considering the amount of interesting options inside, though, I still do consider this to be a pdf bordering on very good. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

 

You can get this neat grab-bag here on OBS!

 

You can directly support Purple Duck Games here on patreon!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

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Sep 142018
 

Faces of Vathak: Survivors

This collection of NPCs clocks in at 18 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 14 pages, so let’s take a look!

 

The NPC statblocks within are, ultimately, NPC-Codex style stats for general themes, with the first page providing an overview of the NPCs by CR. It should be noted, however, that these stats are not exactly standard critters, providing a relatively complex array in some cases. They also come with a brief flavor description each, and the artworks featured are clever, often using public domain art that has been twisted in certain ways – I adore this, as it provides a sense of strange realism that suits the setting’s aesthetics really well. Take, for example, the cannibalistic cleric, former clergy driven to unspeakable acts. They are statted as a CR 6 ghoul brawler/ex-cleric.

 

At CR 3, we have a dhampir arcanist, at CR 2 bhriota scarred rider – and this fellow, alas, has a few minor snafus in the statblock. CMB, for example, is off. Also at CR 2, we get a Romni unbreakable fighter/fortune-teller multiclass is correct once more, though. There also is a grizzled veteran at CR 1, and the soldier 2 is indeed a nice low-level opponent. The half-life heretic is interesting, in that we here have a hauntling occultist 4 – love this combo; a vindari infiltrator investigator at CR 3 is neat…and then, we have a really cool candidate for a low level boos – the CR 4 patchwork butcher, who comes with a grotesque assistant fully statted – he’d be a wretched reanimator 5.

 

A vengeful remnant bhriota warpriest at CR 4 and a CR 2 romni hunter, including companion stats, closes the collection.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level, with only a few minor hiccups. Layout adheres to a beautiful two-column full-color standard, and as noted before, the full-color artworks are inspired and not something you’d expect in a pdf that is so inexpensive. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Matt Roth and Rick Hershey deliver a fun, evocative collection of NPC stats that make good use of Vathak’s unique tools – and to this day, the Vathak setting is perhaps one of the most criminally underrated settings out there. The NPCs are surprisingly cool, in spite of the intended, general appeal. My final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.

 

You can get these NPCs here on OBS!

 

Missed the massive Player#s Guide to Vathak? You can find that impressive tome here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Sep 142018
 

Secret Societies of Vathak: The People of Ash

This supplement depicting one of Vathak’s secret organizations clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

The huantlings of Vathak that believe that they have been granted their strange state of existence by virtue of fire hold the grimoires The Litany of Ashes in particularly high regards, searching for purpose in the book as well as the fragmented memories of their fire-stained past. Those that follow this creed of fire and ash are known as the People of Ash, and as such, the organization itself mirrors the diverse social realities of Vathak, with conflict, in spite of the lax unifying rules of the informal society, being scarce.

 

The pdf then proceeds to depict the three locations that are most known as gathering places for the People of Ash, depicting the locations in vivid, captivating prose. Following this presentation, three leaders of the society, Grandmother Bellace, Sarkara and The Foreman are depicted in flowery, well-crafted prose – no full stats are provided for these, but we do get write-ups that do grease the engines of the GM’s imagination. These NPC write-ups are indeed intriguing, and we do get 3 further fluff-only write-ups of further members that add further complications and angles to the material presented within.

 

The next section familiarizes us with the tenets and truths behind the beliefs of this society, which focuses often upon the realization of the hauntling condition, and a focus on the tempering of the body/mind, as ostensibly, only the strongest souls can make the transition, which adds an elite-thinking angle to the organization. The initiation rites of the society are presented, and as far as benefits beyond roleplaying are concerned, 5 feats can be found: Tempered Soul allows you to throw off mind-affecting effects for untyped damage that may not be cheesed; Fire’s Tempering builds on that in an interesting manner; Grace of Fire’s Fury is a torch-fighter’s feat and Graceful Brand lets you use fire to end bleed effects, building on it. Rekindle Soul can make fire have restorative effects while your hp is below 0 – and yes, it has a limit to prevent abuse. Nice one! The pdf concludes with 3 well-written adventure hooks.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf sports really nice full color artworks – impressive for the low price point asked! The pdf comes fully bookmarked, in spite of its brevity – kudos for going the extra mile!

 

Landon Winkler can craft compelling prose – The People of Ash are a cool secret society and sport some compelling, exciting angles to pursue. The feats are gold for grittier campaigns and retain their meaningful effects. That being said, I did wish we got some stats for the cool leaders of the society. That being said, at a paltry $1.50, this is definitely worth getting. A really nice supplement, well worthy of a final verdict of 4 stars.

 

You can get this cool, inexpensive supplement here on OBS!

 

If you missed it, you can find the excellent hauntlings racial guide here!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Sep 142018
 

Odditional Materials (OSR)

This collection of supplemental materials and hacks for Into the Odd comes as a 39-page pdf, 1 page of which is devoted to the editorial; the rest is content, as the cover and wrap-around cover are presented as .jpgs. The pages, as most of the time for OSR-type supplements, are laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), though printing multiple pages on a single sheet of paper is not recommended here: The pages have pretty wide borders for map-excerpts, commentary, supplemental information or the like – or some white space. The exception here would be the final hack within, which is really making use of its allotted space, cramming a TON of information onto the page.

 

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

 

The first of these hack, “Odd Dungeons”s could be described as a blend of Into the Odd with more traditional OSR-games, such as B/X; Eric Nieudan provides a surprisingly concise and well-thought out tweak that basically replaces arcana with traditional spells, which may be coaxed into new shapes akin to how you can use Willpower to modify arcana effects. Otherwise, each spell may be cast once, which makes this iteration pretty open regarding synergy with Mageblade Zero, Adventure Fantasy Game, or any kind of longform spell you may happen to enjoy. Of course, the inclusion of spells does mean that levels matter more, healing spells and how they interact with Hit Points and Strength damage need to be accounted for – and the supplement does all of that. An alternate background table to account for the different premises is included, and sidebars quickly note the benefits of non-human races – these are kept mostly narrative. A d20-table for replacement PCs/latecomers and a d6 table to learn about what happened to your belongings while out there complements this one. The hack also includes a one-page, rather nice faction generator, where you determine origin, status, means and goals and also get a table for peculiarities. All in all, an interesting hack for the slightly more experienced crowd. Still, enjoyable – but there also is “Maze Rats”…see below.

 

The second hack, penned by Sean Smith, would be “Cyber:London:Odd:Hack”; in fact, this one is actually two variants of sorts; the first of these would be the default mode, dubbed “Slick Thames”, where you choose a faction (Goths, punks, hoods, corps); the attributes have been reskinned, and Hit Points now are called Nerve; the background table is a bit brief this time around; it’d have been nice to get one for each faction, but that may be me. The hack comes with 12 tactical augments, basically the cybertech equivalent of arcana, minus the coaxing. 12 cosmetic augments are provided, and there are 6 adventure hooks depicting missions; the table here erroneously noted “d12” instead of “d6” as the die to roll. The second playing mode would be the police, whose attributes, oddly, get different names, in spite of otherwise sharing quite a few rules components with the previous one. Low HP may yield psychic powers, low attributes special abilities. A few sample items and notes on advancement for the police are provided, and we get a bit refereeing advice, as well as 4 sample criminals. There is a truth to the cliché that Germans love their cyberpunk – I certainly do as a long-time Shadowrun player. That being said, a lot of cyberpunk’s draw comes from the world, and while I appreciate the Judge Dredd police playstyle, I really found myself wishing that this had more space to develop its ideas. There are quite a few tweaks to the engine that are interesting, while renaming attributes, in comparison, just takes up real estate. I’d enjoy a proper, fully-fleshed out version of this hack. As provided, it leaves something to be desired regarding the fulfillment of its tantalizing ideas and is probably a reskin that most referees could execute themselves.

 

The, at least to me, most impressive of the hack within, in scope, ambition and execution, would be Ben Milton’s “Maze Rats”; the game is basically a more traditional fantasy tweak of the rules of Into the Odd, supported by TABLES GALORE. I mean it. You immediately see the start of this hack, as suddenly, the pages are CRAMMED full of information, with names, personalities, differentiated weapons, appearance and adventuring gear generators, etc. I really love this hack. It codifies short rests, has a precise initiative, a simple XP-system and 11 classes that are just one sentence and still offer meaningful ability differentiation. The magic system is inspired for a rules lite game: Magic is grouped in 5 circles; these designate damage caused, range, etc. in a precise and helpful manner; oh, and you build spells via 3 100-entry-strong tables; One denotes [effects], one [elements], one [form] – this is absolutely GLORIOUS. It’s a kind of freeform that allows for serious creative freedom, while still providing a solid rules-chassis that makes sure spellcasting does not become competitive BSing. Creatures, items and afflictions and even weird potion effects get their own, massive entries. I ADORE this one. “Maze Rats” cleans up a couple of the issues of “Into the Odd” and does so with panache aplomb. This is a prime example of how damn good a hack can be, and I’d honestly consider this hack to be required reading for Into the Odd referees. Mechanically, this is easily the strongest part of this book and warrants getting it on its own!

 

Now, this constitutes the hacks that are included within – beyond these, however, we have a couple of “odds and ends,” if you will: Brian Wille presents 4 new arcana for our edification, which include a magnetic, projectile-deflecting chapeau (heck yeah!), a massive plasma gun, a mechanized arachnid (stats included) and a device to animate the dead as a fighting force. Once more, stats are included. Kamil Węgrzynowicz also has a section of such oddities, presenting two genuinely creepy, fully statted monsters: The pretty nasty owlpeople and screaming pyrmaids of pulsating flesh, as well as an ancient sludge that can transform those it touches – I loved these critters! The article also mentions an area of Bastion that phased out of the world, only to randomly reappear…and there is this potentially addictive building. Oh, and oath-enhancing stones? Pretty nasty. Now, I’m not trying to be a dick here, but the editor’s note that claims that not tampering with the text too much was done to retain the author’s voice feels like a bad excuse. I absolutely adore Kamil’s contributions here, but a few editing tweaks versus plural errors and the like would not have compromised the integrity of the awesome concepts and prose, particularly in the adventure.

 

Adventure? Yep, this booklet also contains two adventures/explorable locations, with Kamil Węgrzynowicz’s “In Search Of Samson Aubrey” being the first of these, and it really gets the subtle tone of the industrial-revolution-plus-weird-themes of “into the Odd” and represents a nice little adventure, though, as noted, editing would have made it potentially even great. The second adventure, penned by Eric Nieudan, would be the “Nightlight Circus”, which pits the PCs against a new gang operating a gambling den, one that has a distinct Joker-esque style, though they do seem to be remarkably benign… This one’s another winner. And no, I’m not going into the details here – the pdf is PWYW, after all, so you can read those yourself. Both come with maps, but sans player-friendly versions of the maps.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are one of the weakest parts of this book; a more unified direction would have made sense. Layout adheres either to a one-column or two-column (Maze Rats) standard and is pretty much no-frills b/w. Cartography is b/w and okay. Annoyingly, the electronic version has no bookmarks. The softcover PoD is really inexpensive, though, so getting it may be a smart move if you enjoy the content. I have the PoD and found it easier to navigate than the pdf.

 

Ben Milton, Kamil Węgrzynowicz, Eric Nieudan, Brian Wille and Sean Smith have created a fun book of bits and pieces that can really enrich your Into the Odd game – mechanically, the Maze Rats hack is super-interesting and inspiring, and the arcana ideas and Kamil’s monsters in particular made me smile. The adventures are a nice plus as well. That being said, don’t expect Lost Pages’ usual level of polish here; this is a bonus booklet of sorts, and while offering it for PWYW certainly makes it worth getting, I do think that, with a bit more attention to detail, this could have been truly great. As written, I consider the totality of this book to be worth a verdict of 3.5 stars, rounded up.

 

You can get this file for PWYW (or print!) here on OBS!

 

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Sep 132018
 

Into the Odd (OSR)

This roleplaying game/sourcebook clocks in at 50 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 46 pages of content, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), so let’s take a look!

 

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

 

All right, I’ve already referenced this little RPG in quite a few of my reviews of rules lite systems, so it’s high time I covered this one!

 

Now, the game’s chassis is remarkably simple in its presentation, though the game does indeed work best for roleplaying game veterans. The extremely condensed presentation makes explanation and grasping the basics simple, but total novices may need some guidance. While the game is counted among the OSR-game systems, it significantly deviates from the traditional rules chassis.

 

Into the Odd knows three attributes: Strength, Dexterity and Willpower. You roll 3d6 for each. Then you roll d6. These final d6 are your starting Hit Points.

 

The other rules are similarly basic: In order to succeed a save, you roll with a d20 equal to or under your attribute. 1 always succeeds, 20 is always a failure. Combat is divided into Turns. The head of the group makes a Dex save to determine who goes first. This is one of the few instances where the rules are aggravating in their brevity. More precision on how initiative works would have been nice. On the PC’s turn, they can move and perform one action – attacks are an action, and here the game really differentiates itself from other games. You see, when you attack, you ALWAYS HIT. Same goes for enemies. This makes combat fast, but also really, really deadly. Damage depends on the weapon you wield, and two factors: Cover or other problems reduce damage to d4, while epic, dangerous stunts, attacks from behind, etc. increase damage to d12 – these damage de/increases are known as “impaired” and “enhanced”, respectively. Armor reduces damage incurred, but not by much. The system is very offense-heavy.

 

If a character takes damage, they lose that many Hit Points; once they have no Hit Points left, they instead reduce their Strength by the excess amount. Once you take damage to Strength, you also need to make a Strength save or take critical damage. If you take critical damage, you have 1 hour, during which an ally needs to tend to you – barring that, you die. Additionally, you can’t take anymore actions until you’ve completed a short rest, which is defined as a “a few minutes” – no precise amount is given, and a short rest recovers all hit Points lost. Full Rests take a whole week and also restores damage incurred to all ability scores.

 

Okay, but what if you rolled really badly on the ability scores and hit points? Well, that’s one of the cooler ideas of the game: The background package. You consult a table and look at your highest Ability Score and your Hit Points: If your highest ability score’s a whopping 18 and you managed to roll 6 Hit Points…you’ll start the game with a mace, a pigeon…and disfigured. If your highest ability score is 3-9 and you only have 1 Hit Point, you get a sword, a pistol, modern armor and the ability to sense nearby unearthly beings. What does that mean? What’s “nearby”?

 

Well, this is at the very latest where you’ll fall on one side of the spectrum or another. This game very much focuses on one aspect of the ideology associated with the OSR, and that would be “rulings, not rules.” While the book later tells you that the referees task is to maintain consistency throughout campaigns, the matter of fact remains that quite a few of these components could have used some more detailed commentaries, at least some rudimentary guideline. In the example above, stating that the character goes first when encountering such targets sans rolling would not have taken up much real estate. Now, this is my personal opinion, but I have seen more than oen really rules-lite game that is CRISP and PRECISE in its rules, and this book, for the most part, fits into this category. This makes such instances even more glaring, at least for me as a person. But I’ll swallow this for now and revert to my reviewer stance.

 

Characters advance after completed expeditions – the game, as a default, knows basically 5 levels. On a survived expedition, you gain d6 hit points and roll d20 for each ability score. If you roll higher than the score, you increase it by 1. Kudos: There are quick and dirty rules for running businesses, organizations and the like; these fit on a single page.

 

The background packages also ties in with equipment: Coinage is pennies (p), shillings (s) and guilder (g); 100 pennies make a shilling, 100 shillings make a guilder. The equipment comes with sample prices, with aforementioned super-powers one exception of unpriced components. Similarly, the “penalties” for good rolls are not really priced. You may end up as mute, for example. This isn’t that bad (unless it annoys you while roleplaying), as there is no spellcasting in the traditional sense. Instead, PCs that rolled badly can get a so-called “Arcanum.”

 

Arcana are the main source of magic here – they basically are magic/super-science items that everyone covets, and chances are, you’ll have a few of them in your starting group. Arcana are grouped in three categories: 20 regular arcana are provided and allow you to seal doors, windows, etc. fold space between flat surfaces, speak with other beings, blind targets, etc. The ideas here are great, and same holds true for greater and legendary arcana, though these can only be gotten by adventuring. A page is devoted to sample ideas for them as well, and the GM-section does provide a few more ideas for arcana. It is a bit puzzling to me that the GM-section arcana differentiates between one-use/consumables and weapons, but does not employ the same clarification for the arcana presented. I adore the concepts here, though I don’t fully grasp why particularly unlucky characters can’t have more potent arcana. The background table, as cool as it is, does not always feel even it its reward-ratios.

 

If you want an example on how opaque an Arcanum can be, let me quote the Pressure Needle’s, a greater arcanum’s, entire text: “If the target takes critical damage today, they explode in a bloody mess.” Okay, so is this a weapon? Does it require that you see the target? Just know it? How often can it be used? If you don’t care about ANY of these questions, then you’ll absolutely adore the rules presented here. If you do, however, then this will prove to e somewhat frustrating for you. Needlessly so, I might add – establishing one set of brief global rules for arcana use could have preempted a lot of the confusion these may cause. And it’s not like the book doesn’t have the space. And, even if you prefer the purely narrative ruling component – the book does already have that! By using Willpower, you can coax arcana to do things that are not their usual function! (As an aside: I really love this wide-open means of using arcana in creative ways, and we even get an example; I’m not against the like – but it’d be better and cooler if the base functions, you know, where precise…)

 

The referee section is similarly quick, painless and to the point: We get some general advice on how to describe the game; that, if luck’s called for, you roll a d6, with a high result favoring players. We get simple, global rules for monsters, a couple of actually pretty cool sample creatures and a page of hazards. Creatures and hazards tie in what, to me, makes the main selling point of this game, namely the setting constantly implied through the rules and Arcanum-based operations: That would be the “Odd World”, where Bastion, the Bas-Lag-ish hub of mankind serves as the massive heart of civilization in a dangerous world.

14 pages of this book are devoted to the Oddpendium, basically a massive array of generators found in the back, which partially is intended to help you make Bastion come alive. It allows for quick name generation. Beyond that, the generators provide occupations and capabilities, manners exhibited and connections, things that may have befallen the NPCs, and more. Generators to establish the feeling of streets, whether there are means to access the honeycomb-like underground and sample businesses can be found. Oh, and there is a table that features “Insane Council Decisions”, including a public response chart. I really smiled when reading that “War with all other cities” is deemed just as insane as “outlawing same-sex marriage.” The Oddpendium also features two pages of tables for creature inspirations and two that let you determine what’s in the darkness beyond. This is btw. a good place to note that “darkvision”, while mentioned, isn’t codified at all in the book, so yeah – you’re probably getting a good picture of whether this is for you or not. From a layout point of view, the Oddpendium, while really helpful, does feel like page-bloat: Its tables only cover about 2/3rds of the page, leaving a lot of white space in an already slim booklet. Space that could have been filled with more entries per table. I strongly suggest implementing the citycrawl-tricks from Vornheim when running Bastion – the tables alone will not suffice to make it come alive, as information is a bit sparse. While I did enjoy the 3 pages of playing examples, I honestly would have preferred the space used otherwise.

 

The final 9 pages of this booklet I need to talk about would present basically an introductory adventure. These pages are actually placed before the Oddpendium in the booklet (makes sense, since you’ll be using the generators more often) and include a brief settlement write-up, as well as a mini-hexcrawl and a dungeon – oddly, the dungeon is depicted before the mini hexcrawl that leads to it. There are no player-friendly versions of the maps includes for VTT-play or the like. However, random encounter tables very much are included in the module, and the wilderness section even gets a weather table. Nice!

 

The following paragraphs will contain SPOILERS, as I’ll discuss briefly the adventure included in the book. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only referees around? Great! So yeah, this adventure is an exercise in extremely concise writing, as you can see in the wilderness of the Fallen Marsh:

“House (sinking into marsh, cleared out, broken crockery, furniture smashed and burned); Woodshed (sinking into marsh, tools, dead horse).” This is minimalist, yes, but it manages to actually evoke atmosphere, with critters barely taking up more room than that and coming with unique tricks. Balck coral’s cold and extinguishes flame; anemones attempt to create drones, bunkers hide critters that can instantly kill you with critical damage in a manner befitting of horror games… This is inspired. Same goes for the dungeon, which is an exploration of an Iron Coral that has recently grown. It includes new arcana, cool critters and hazards and makes, combined with the wilderness, for one of the best introductory modules I’ve read in quite a while. Big kudos, for this really left me craving for more in this weird world!

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are either nigh perfect or barely good, depending on how you look at it; on a formal level, there is nothing to complain about, but whether or not you’ll enjoy the rules depends wholly on whether you can tolerate the unnecessary amount of rulings you’ll need to make. Layout adheres to a no-frills two-column b/w-standard. The artworks in b/w throughout deserve special mention – they are weird, inspiring and neat indeed; the pdf has a full-color illustration on the inside of the front cover, which, alas, is just b/w in the PoD booklet. Big downside for the pdf: The electronic version has NO BOOKMARKS. In this day and age, this is a HUGE bummer and comfort detriment, particularly for a core book. I strongly suggest getting print here; for the electronic version, detract a whole star from my final verdict.

 

Reading the above and really analyzing this book made me more critical of Chris McDowall’s “Into the Odd” than I was going into this review. You see, the game succeeds at many of its tasks in admirable ways; it presents a fast-paced, deadly and fun game that is PERFECT for convention games, long train rides and similar occasions. It’s easy to grasp, fast to learn and precise in its presentation regarding its core functionality. Ultimately, the book, though, tries to have its cake and eat it, too. On the one hand, it’s really rules-lite and easy to grasp, but on the other hand, it offers a lot of exceptions and small tidbits that require some GM-experience and a continuously building amount of rulings that need to be kept consistent, when a single paragraph of super-basic global rules, when a single explanatory line, would have sufficed to exterminate this vagueness and made things more comfortable for the referee. This is NOT a question of rules lite vs. rules heavy, mind you – it’s just a matter of precision in the details, and this is where the system struggles. The precision only extends to the big picture, when it’s obvious that this pretty thin booklet could have easily fitted the required rules inside. Cut down on the blank space, on the needlessly extensive playing example…just to name two options. I am harping on this to the extent I am, because Into the Odd is so damn close to being a 5 star + seal of approval masterpiece, only to struggle in these unnecessary instances.

 

That being said, I still very much found myself liking this book, mainly due to the amazing and compelling implied setting that made me really wish there had been more space devoted to it, that there’d have been more detail for Bastion etc. This is truly atmospheric and the setting and rules generate this weird union that keeps this book compelling and a good reading experience.

 

So, how to rate this? Well, I won’t lie, there are few systems that have made me grit my teeth to this extent; Into the Odd is frankly genius in its simplicity when it does things right; and this extends to the rules, their presentation and the setting. However, it suddenly becomes inconsistent in its details, and this is, in a book of this quality, just frustrating to witness. Without adding much in the way of complexity, with but a few paragraphs, this could have been something truly special and my favorite rules lite game out there. As presented, it is a game that you’ll love if you don’t mind the inconsistencies in the details and requirements for quite a lot of rulings; for those who want precision, I can only tentatively recommend this, though the implicit setting and the module do make this worth checking out. My final verdict, much to my chagrin, can thus not exceed 4 stars. I sincerely hope that there’ll be a second version some day – the engine and setting deserve as much, deserve this added notch that will make them phenomenal.

 

You can get this nice, rules-lite game and its inspiring setting here on OBS!

 

Unfortunately not included in the book or as of yet published in a compiled manner, but you you can find a TON of Into the Odd-stuff here on the author’s homepage!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

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Sep 132018
 

Starfarer’s Codex: Toonimancy (SFRPG)

This installment of the Starfarer’s Codex-series clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

So, the introduction specifies that technomancers can access magic tied t more than physical technology, mentioning search engines (digimancy), dubthurgy and spamorcery. Damn, now I really want a spamorcery-specialist! Anyways, younger technomancers (and those nerdy/young at heart) enjoy toonimancy, drawing upon concepts popularized by cartoons. This write up also mentions the Tooninomicon. It often comes in physical versions and contains this warning, in dozens of languages: “Warning! You are not B. Bunny!” Oh yeah? Yeah!

 

Anyways, we get a brief list that codifies spells by levels, just before we get the spells themselves. Anvil has a Medium range and comes in 6 versions – one for each spell level, and it targets a single creature or object, dropping an…anvil on them. Or, you know, pianos, safes, etc. Comparing the respective damage values with Starfinder’s spells, I have no complaints here. Ban hammer also comes in a version for level 1 – 6, and generates a massive, two-handed hammer with “BAN” written on it. It is massive, unwieldy, and critical hit effects as well as special weapon properties make sense. You btw. attack with caster level + key ability score. You may choose to end the ban hammer upon hitting a target – if you do, the target must save or be forced to move away from you. I’d love to have that IRL sometimes…

 

Boomspittle is a 5th level spell that may only be cast as a reaction while being an the area of a multiple-squares-targeting weapon attack that fails to hit you, or against which you successfully save. You inhale the weapon effect, and may then blow forth a harmless puff of smoke, or exhale the weapon’s blast! Heck yeah!! Control argument is a 1st level spell and makes the target disagree with everything you say. This made me smile so widely… The 3rd level spell coyote curse makes it impossible for the target to use technological or hybrid weapons, vehicles or equipment, including armor upgrades, but nor armor, without taking an extra move action to fix an annoying difficulty, a bizarre slip. I love this spell. I’m spo going to use its effects as a really brutal high-level terrain hazard!

 

Finger in the Muzzle is a 1st level spell that may only be cast as a reaction while adjacent to a target firing a ranged weapon. You put the finger in the muzzle. The target saves, and on a failure, for some backfire shenanigans. Neat! Flat foot is 2nd level and smashes a foe taking bludgeoning damage comically flat, making them…flat-footed. That is so funny on a meta-level, I actually laughed. Passpaint is a 4th level spell that lets you paint a gate in the time-honored tradition. Really neat. Shave-and-a-hair-cut forces targets to make a Will save or loudly proclaim “two bits” as a result of your knocks and take a move action or guarded step towards you – interesting 1st level spell. Theme music lets you hear your own theme music, inaudible to anyone else. This penalizes Perception…but it makes you automatically aware of danger – the music changes! It also can allow you to get a hunch of a given situation.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no hiccups on a formal or rules-language level. Layout adheres to Rogue Genius Games’ two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports fitting, cartoon-y artworks. The pdf does come with basic bookmarks, in spite of the brevity.

 

Owen K.C. Stephens’ toonimancy is amazing. The spells are genuinely funny, immaculately balanced and befitting of the quality we expect from Strafinder’s Lead. This is an all-killer, no filler collection of inspiring spells with even the fluff providing some damn cool ideas. I really found myself wishing for more, and indeed, in Starfinder, this works perfectly regarding aesthetics. 5 stars + seal of approval.

 

You can get these amazing spells here on OBS!

Endzeitgeist out.