Oct 152018
 

Black Sun Deathcrawl (DCC)

This supplement clocks in at 64 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 60 pages, laid out for 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), which means that you can fit up to 4 pages on a given sheet of paper when printing this one.

 

This supplement/module was brought to my attention by one of my patreons, who asked me to review this at my leisure and wished to remain anonymous. Thank you.

 

So, what is this? Well, “Black Sun Deathcrawl” is an experimental one-shot or basic campaign kit, depending on how you look at it. Others may call it “art”, while for some others, this may be about as enjoyable as a root canal; this is a polarizing booklet, and intentionally so.

 

This review could be said to “SPOIL”, the booklet, but it’s about experiencing *sour* iteration of this anyhow – there is not much plot to SPOIL, but still, please consider this to be the obligatory SPOILER warning. This should also be considered to be a TRIGGER-WARNING regarding depression and all associated topics. If you exhibit strong reactions towards depressing movies, media or the like, if mono-no-aware stories can plunge you into days of bleak moods, then you should probably be very careful with this one.

 

From the first page, doom-laden proclamations in huge fonts are used to convey tone, rather than setting; indeed, that is perhaps one of the most defining characteristics of this booklet: The setting it assumes is paper-thin and mostly implied; this, like a good piece of atmospheric black metal or ambient, is not about the text it contains, though said text is important. Instead, this is more about giving you the toolkits and tone for a game unlike any I have ever encountered.

 

Flanked by full-page illustrations by none other than Gustave Doré, this archaic, savage tone is perfectly illustrated, the visuals of the public domain artworks arguably encompassing the despair inherent in this book in a way that few, if any other illustrations would have achieved.

 

The first page, in huge letters, almost screams at you “In the beginning…there was nothing.” Then, the twin suns ascended, and the eponymous Black Sun resulted in the anxiety of separation from the All; “The door between the All and the Other slammed shut”; in a kind of free-form poetry, in a form of gospel of the end-times, the pdf then proceeds to note that the Black Sun is now unleashed. It sits, a black hole, a singularity, a kind of entropy, at the center of a bleak and desolate land, and the survivors, the Cursed, they are digging, trying to escape the Black Sun’s dark light and the Terrible Thoughts it send forth.

 

Direct exposure to its light causes you to roll on a chart that ranges from migraines to skinscabs to extended limbs, with 15 entries provided. One grows a wormtongue, which will then proceed to have prophecies of doom being handed by the judge to the player. This is experimental in many ways, and it is not a supplement for those currently recovering from depression…or it may well be particularly useful for such folks…it depends on the temperament.

 

You see, in a way, the Black Sun is no antichrist – it will reach Ultima Omega and break free, consuming all; the Cursed, escaping its light, are loosening its shackles. The tone is further emphasized by the character-creation, veiled in so-called “truths”: “Identity is irrelevant in the face of oblivion.” Characters have no names, no races. They are only the Cursed. You roll 4d6 and drop the lowest result for attributes. Only the strong survive. Knowledge has no meaning – there are no wizards. Possessions have no value. There are no thieves. If there are higher powers, they don’t care. There are no clerics. PCs begin with 1d6 starting corruption and are warriors sans equipment.

 

Every half hour of real game time accumulates Black Light as well, with only a rare material offering temporary respite from the rays of the Black Sun. Most importantly, Luck is replaced with hope – and it is finite and does not replenish. Indeed, the book provides rules for the theft of hope between players, allowing for PvP and some nasty grieving. If your group can’t handle that and/or differentiate between PC and player actions. The final 3 points of Hope may not be stolen, only burned. Mighty deeds are only triggered by burning the last Hope.

 

Characters are immortal – if they are reduced to 0 hit points, they regenerate fully one round later, but they do gain Black Light corruption. Now, there is a level up system based on the entropy roll (which is never mentioned again…), but ultimately, that one is as moot a concept as you’d expect.

 

There is a god, the final god, falling back through time as a great leitmotif, and the aforementioned Terrible Thoughts…they can’t be killed. The appendix included for music, art and similar inspiration features btw. an assortment of media that I own and very much enjoy, but then again, that is no surprise.

 

If the minimalist rules-array and its consequences above don’t make that abundantly clear: This book is one of the bleakest supplements I have ever read, and it is remarkable in the purity of its desolate vision. That being said, somewhat to my chagrin, pg 47 ff, the book presents a series of 5 encounters with stats and read-aloud text that have in common that they employ regular fantasy elements…and that they feel, after the exceedingly tight first section of the book, like an addendum, like a watering down of what this is. It is an application of principles, yes, but it is one that is tamer than what has come before. You wouldn’t miss much skipping this whole section. The supplement comes with a char-sheet for the Cursed.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, the material could be slightly more precise in a couple of instances. Layout adheres toa 1-column b/w-standard, with many pages containing but a few words, driving home the dogma of hopelessness that this seeks to evoke. The pdf has no bookmarks, which constitutes a comfort-detriment. The artworks by Gustave Doré are a perfect fit for the subject matter here.

 

James Mac George’s “Black Sun Deathcrawl” has been discounted as a lesson in abject nihilism, as a player-endurance test, as a grimdark test of the capacity to withstand misery. Those assertions, in a way, are correct, but they fail to see the whole picture…or they haven’t played it. Trying to run this will result in a couple of marvelous observations: As a species, we humans are conditioned to think in terms of cause and effect, according to quite a few philosophers and biologists, the explanation of the fear of the unknown and this tendency tended to forge us into the beings that we now are, that, as a whole, can believe in a higher power, in the fact that some random act of kindness will be repaid, that the evil are punished, etc., even though there is no objective metric by which this holds true. The fallacy of assuming cause and effect, of presuming a meaningful existence beyond the meaning we individually ascribe to it, is deeply ingrained in our psyche and cultural consciousness.

 

It’s why poetic justice resonates…and it’s also why some people exhibit an almost violent reaction towards any form of nihilism or nihilistic tendencies. The lack of a universal purpose is seen as an atrocious, all-consuming emptiness, and indeed, I have witnessed close friends reacting almost violently when confronted with this form of weltanschauung. The thing is, on a personal level, it is nigh impossible, perhaps due to an evolutionary imperative, to stop looking for or generating meaning, even if you subscribe to nihilism as your philosophy. It is impossible to play this supplement without the interplay of players and judge generating some form of meaning that is shared, even in a no-win-scenario like this, even if you preface the game by stating that there is no winning possible.

 

This is, perhaps, what can render this supplement, in the right hands, for the right groups, almost therapeutic.

 

In case you were wondering: the review above didn’t by accident evoke words that one would associate with Lars von Trier. In case you haven’t seen “Melancholia” – it is a movie that uses an end of the world scenario to showcase how basically an externalized metaphor for depression can prove depressive tendencies right and make it a somewhat benign factor. Suffice to say, I considered said movie to be extremely problematic, but also valuable, because it represents an apt visual metaphor for the depths of depression, when the certainty of futility and suffering is the only thing that can provide a twisted mockery of joy, when the depression-induced confirmation-bias of the very worst-case scenarios is all that you can accept.

 

Black Sun Deathcrawl, in spite of its grimdark trappings, tone and theme, in spite of doing something similar, is an infinitely more successful piece of fiction than the movie ever will be.

 

The Black Sun is an obvious metaphor for depression, or at least this should be obvious to anyone who ever had to fight it.

 

It sits square at the center of the world, and it expands, continuously. No matter how deep you dig, there is, no matter how far you retreat from the world, there is no escape. The Black Light will penetrate the covers, the doors, everything. The exposure chart, which features entries like migraine, skinscabs and mental and physical deterioration should sound familiar; the wormtongue mentioned before is reminiscent or a form of MPD due to a breakdown; degeneration, being only capable of walking of all fours (i.e. too weak to walk upright…akin to animals, akin to something lesser than human) – the whole chart, in a way, can be seen as symptoms as seen through the filter of gaming and dark fantasy.

 

It sends out Terrible Thoughts that destroy anything in their path, that can’t be stopped. Even the divine, even gods, can provide no succor, no shelter. The Black Sun is, in a way, a depression simulator disguised as a game.

 

That notwithstanding, I consider this to be an uplifting book; perhaps even a book that could help some people out there to claw their way out of the throes of depression. Why? Well, the first reason is one of mechanics. You can’t die. “Only when their Hope attribute reaches 0 may they actually perish.” May. Not Must. There is CHOICE there, and this single word is extremely important. It must be a CHOICE to succumb. Otherwise, the wheel in the sky keeps turning, and the nightmare continues. There never needs to be a game-over.

 

This serves an important purpose. It gives people who have never faced it a tiny glimpse, filtered through the lens of a game, of the immense struggle that depression demands from anyone afflicted, of the willpower required to even get out of bed, face another day with this horrid affliction, of the experience of universal futility and hopelessness sans recourse but the one you don’t want to take. Death. Choosing not to go on.

 

And yet, this is not a depressing book, contrary to the claims fielded against it. In a way, Black Sun Deathcrawl is a participatory performance artwork: By playing it, you cannot help but interact with other humans; you cannot help but tell you story, ascribe meaning on a personal level. The booklet employs the disjunction between the reality of the game and that of the table in an exceedingly clever manner: While, within the setting, there is no recourse, no salvation to be found, even one subscribes as a person to the most fundamental anti-natalist level of pessimism and nihilism, this is, by its very structure, a performed subversion of the all-encompassing nature of depression; the Black Sun Deathcrawl, ironically, is the one thing that can defeat, or at least weaken, the Black Sun.

 

Because it, by nature of it being a roleplaying game supplement, exists beyond the confines of its narrative; because there will be laughter, anger, perhaps even tears at the table. Because there is something beyond the Black Sun, even if it seems to be impossible to defeat, even if it seems to be all-encompassing and all-consuming.

 

In a way, Black Sun Deathcrawl can be the light, the real light, that exists beyond the Black Sun; it, as a book, as a game, can help understand those affected by depression, while also having the potential of offering a brief glimpse of hope, just by being played.

 

This doesn’t have to work for everyone. I do not claim sovereignty regarding my interpretation or perception of this supplement, and I certainly don’t wish to claim that this is a therapeutic tool; this does not replace getting professional help, and it (probably – you never know!) won’t end a depression. I’m just saying that it can be a signpost, a compass, that, under the right circumstances, may point the way past the Black Sun’s seemingly all-encompassing glare.

 

I wouldn’t play this with strangers at a con; I wouldn’t play it with acquaintances. But I certainly think that, among true friends, this can indeed be a beautiful and eye-opening experience, and one that is not even marred by the somewhat lackluster encounters at the end or by the minor inconsistencies. This is not for everybody out there; but I maintain that, for some people, it may, at least for a while, garner understanding and perhaps even pierce the veil of the Black Sun and leave one or two Terrible Thoughts where they belong – in the pages of a small supplement, confined in the shape of a few letters and numbers.

 

Oh, and guess what? This is, at least in its electronic iteration, available for PWYW!

 

In spite of its minor flaws, this is very much worth checking out. If what I described even remotely resonates with you, then please, take a look.

If you suffer from depression, please get help; talk to your friends and family, and don’t be ashamed.

 

There is nothing to be ashamed of.

 

If I can do something for you, do tell me.

You are not alone.

 

My final verdict will be 5 stars + seal of approval.

 

You can (usually) get the pdf here! (As per the writing of this review, the PWYW pdf seems to be temporarily offline, but it’s likely to return!)

 

You can purchase the print version of this supplement here on Goodman Games’ store!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Oct 122018
 

Mutants in Toyland (MCC)

This adventure/environment clocks in at 60 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a massive 56 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue…because I wanted to. Post-apocalypse is a genre that is not employed as often, and Goodman Games’ Mutant Crawl Classics provides a unique twist on the subject matter…and, unless I am sorely mistaken, this may well be the very first MCC 3rd part adventure released!

 

Structurally, this funnel is a combination of a sandbox that allows for a wide variety of different outcomes, and a more story-driven experience. It can be run as a straight fire and forget module, but arguably can provide more playtime by virtue of its free-form set-up. The module does include read-aloud text for the regions visited, and provides guidance with sample answers to likely questions posed in NPC interactions, making free-forming these conversations easy for judges usually not that well-versed in portraying such interactions.

 

Now, this being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

Okay, only judges around? Great! So, after the Great Disaster, Sammy Squirrel’s Smart Toys went dark, as the AI running the place went into power conservation mode to weather the centuries. When Servitors of a bored Star Child found the store, it reactivated – and combat ensued. In the centuries since the Great Disaster, the neural consciousness had been severed, allowing the Smart Toys to gain consciousness. Pilgrims, in the meanwhile, followed the “Star” of the Servitors, encountered the toys and promptly began worshiping them as gods. Not all sentient Smart Toys liked that, and thus, further fragmentation and shenanigans ensued…but that’s not all. Amoral and bound to the program, the Sammy Squirrel began substituting organic components in the creation of new toys, giving rise to Toy-Borgs and abominations. It is into this chaos that the PCs stumble.

That is a recipe for delightful chaos, and the AI acting as it does makes sense; plus, the Freddy Fazbear-like style of Sammy on the cover immediately gave me the creeps, big time. Now, if all of this seems like it’s a pretty large amount of things to decide and room required to make the factions work, then you’d be correct. However, the module does not leave you alone as a judge; instead, and this is a big plus regarding replay value and unique adversaries: Each faction comes with an at-one-glance summary of goals, leaders, noting leaders, allies and the like at one glance before providing details regarding the faction in question. Moreover, these do include, for example sample stats for members. These stats, however, do not just come with the basics, oh no! Each of the factions comes with tables to customize the aesthetics of the adversaries and NPCs encountered, and in some cases also provide more detailed customizations with MV values included, to give you just one example.

 

Beyond the factions I noted, there also are the Dollies, who want to make the store presentable once more; there are the Furries, which are led, no surprise there, by a bear. I’m having 5 Nights at Freddy’s flashbacks right now. In an adorable and really cool twist, these guys do have a weakness – hugging them makes them hug back! This can really generate some bizarrely-hilarious “AWWWW”-moments. Unique abilities of e.g. the Servitors, Sammy’s holograms and mechanically-relevant Toyborg modifications to customize them… all of these details are bizarre, weird, and oftentimes hilarious in a way…plain and simple, really cool. Oh, and guess what: The module does account for the means of using a Toyborg as a replacement PC! (A similar option is noted for toy worshipers, fyi!)

 

Now, the module sports a rather significant array of toys, and as such, it uses Artifact Checks, but for toys, these do not require the expenditure of Luck, which adds to the leitmotif of whacky playfulness suffusing this adventure, allowing the PCs and players to experiment with penalizing them for doing so. The sandboxy support goes so far to have tables suggesting two-faction or multi-faction encounters, with the respective tables further making the actual use of the module easier. The module presents its sandboxy aspects thus as comfortable for the judge to implement as you can potentially demand from a module.

 

This level of customization options also pertains to the amount of hooks that the funnel provides. It is this amount of tweaks that ensures that the module’s factions and environments may remain relevant beyond the scope of this adventure.

 

That being said, this is nonetheless also a story-driven module, and as such, it begins with an introductory scene, wherein the PCs happen upon mula-a-pedes (with their own mutation table!) and thus happen upon the buried toy store – this choice of location also allows the judge to potentially bury the place sans bigger impact on the setting or seamlessly plug and play it into ongoing campaigns, should such a solution be desired. After all, the extensive customization tricks ultimately do translate to the module being pretty easy to organically scale to higher levels.

 

Anyhow, the PCs are greeted by the slightly mad Sammy Squirrel, who obviously is an AI hologram in its decidedly unnerving following of programming and inability to process the state of the world of Terra A.D. As the PCs proceed to explore the store, they can find a wide variety of unique toys that come with evocative descriptions and rules-relevant effects, with TLs and CMs noted as appropriate. From smart boomerangs to zeroballs and hoverboards, another man’s toys may be a wasteland survivor’s potent tricks. Encountering the toy worshipers (led by, obviously, Ma-Ma…), finding the seasonal room of the store that can indeed change, med-bay (featuring boo-boo bandages, for example…), fake and real traps…there is a ton of stuff to find and encounter, and indeed, quite a few quests can be unearthed by encountering the diverse factions. Sarge and his toy soldiers, for example, want to secure the store from the invasion that they know will come. Mister Bear, the leader of the Furries-faction has a slight temper, which makes the sample dialogue one of the most hilarious examples of writing I’ve seen in a while – picture it, and then remember that hugging the fellow will make him hug back. Regardless of short fuse and a somewhat less than enthused relationship with regular folks and moderates – damn meat-huggers! XD (For the information of real life furries – this is not fursecution; it is not mean-spirited…unless you want to run it that way!)

 

This glorious absurdity encapsulates and captures a tone that is hard to get right without losing the thrill, without devolving into just fun and giggles. Ultimately, it’s the oscillation between what’s funny and what could be played as downright horrific that makes sections like this so successful within the confines of the adventure. This can also be aptly envisioned by the second level, where a room has Sammy (who makes for a great judge-proxy; bonus points for inhaling helium before speaking as Sammy…): “These pods let your parents make a backup copy of what they value the most: YOU!…” This notion of kids being clones by potentially neglectful parents in a pre-apocalypse dystopia…actually managed to send shivers up my spine, particularly since the system isn’t (and perhaps never was) reliable. Pet-combiner is another such super-science aperture that really creeped me out, and its undone button is broken…

 

Heck, this tightrope-like oscillation of tones that makes this work so well, combined with the attention to detail, is pretty impressive throughout. Candy with weird effects and notes on using them as nutrition (and the consequences!)…those are just a couple of examples.

 

Where I frankly started to stare in disbelief at the pages in front of me, was when the module provided the Game Room. Here, the PCs can enter a holo-dungeon (complete with a d7-table of holographic character classes!) and basically roleplay a fantasy roleplaying game within the roleplaying game. Yep, including adversary overlay and obvious further adventuring potential – as Sammy Squirrel, GM, notes, they can always get the full experience! Questing for new levels or simulations could make for some great adventure hooks and may well allow for a combination of MCC and more traditional fantasy games or even the blending of systems! After all, it’s perfectly feasible that the hologram game played may adhere to different rules! Or, well, you can just have that be a brief, if fun encounters wherein the PCs battle illusory adversaries…but why waste this vast potential? I mean, you can roleplay MCC-PCs roleplaying usual characters! That can and will be funny as all heck!

 

Did I mention that PCs can well become sleeper agents, and that the module can conclude in a truly amazing free-for-all bout of epic proportions?

 

Conclusions:

Editing and formatting re top-notch, I noticed no serious issues. Layout adheres to a nice and printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard with purple high-lights. The artworks presented throughout are often really neat full-color pieces, but the aesthetic highlight for me personally would be the GORGEOUS b/w-isometric maps, with artworks, details and grids all noted…and even better if you’re, for example, playing via VTTs or the like: In contrast to the (amazingly beautiful) Good man games maps, the maps within actually do come with an unlabeled, key-less version! You could print them out sans SPOILERS, cut them up and hand them out or use them in VTT. That is a huge plus for me, particularly considering the top-notch quality of the maps.

 

While Keith Garrett has, to my knowledge, contributed to the Gongfarmer’s Almanac community ‘zine before, this is the first of his books that I have read, and it’s his first release as sole author. As such, this would have received a freshman bonus and some leeway from yours truly. However, Mutants in Toyland is a rarity among such books in that it frankly doesn’t need me to be merciful.

 

Even if I wanted to pick this apart, it would withstand such attempts, as it perfectly encapsulates the outré and outrageous, wild and weird tone of MCC, walking the narrow path between being horrific and hilarious. You could run this for laughs and giggles, as something utterly disturbing or a combination thereof; tonally, this reminded me of the essence of my favorite Fallout-series moments, distilled and expanded upon, and then injected in a concentrated form.

 

Mutants in toyland is a furious debut of delightfully quirky and quarrelsome factions and places that will stay with you long after the adventure itself has ended; in fact, I can see this acting as a really cool and novel starting settlement or PC homebase of sorts!

 

If what I mentioned above, if the concept even remotely interested you, then you will want to checks this out; I’d even go so far as to recommend this module beyond the confines of its system, for the unique concepts work just as well in DCC or any other game. This is one amazing book and provides yet another super-impressive entry in Purple Duck games’ DCC/MCC-lines. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval – highly recommended!!

 

You can get this great adventure here on OBS!

 

You can directly support Purple Duck Games releasing more DCC/MCC material here on patreon!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Oct 122018
 

Pathfinder Playtest Analysis I – Ancestries v.1.4 Addendum

So, my observations regarding the ancestries in Pathfinder Playtest have been ninja’d by the release of the v.1.4 changes, which means that I have to go over A LOT of notes once more. In the meanwhile, consider this to be my addendum to the observations in my post on ancestries.

In case you haven’t seen it, you can find my original post here!

 

This series of posts was made possible by the generous contributions of the following folks:

-Jason Nelson

-BJ Hensley

-Chad Middleton

-Randy Price

-Christen Sowards

-Rick Hershey

-Chris Meacham

-Paco Garcia Jaen

-Justin Andrew Mason

-Stephen Rowe

-Jonathan Figliomeni

-Paul Fields

-Lucus Palosaari

-Anonymous

 

Now, the first thing I really enjoyed here would be that ancestries matter more. The double choice of 1.4, i.e. the fact that we get to choose a heritage and an ancestry feat at 1st level, translate to a more pronounced differentiation. That’s a very good thing in my book.

 

I am also pretty positive about dwarves losing unburdened and making it a heritage instead. Those are good changes. I also welcome the inclusion of higher level ancestry feats that allow further differentiation at higher level regarding ancestry-tricks.

 

Gnomes getting a speed upgrade is a good thing, and the heritage/ancestry-change means that half-elves and half-orcs are no longer all the same at level 1. The slight power-upgrade for halflings is also very much appreciated. Those are definite improvements, as far as I’m concerned.

 

That being said, if we take the ancestry feats into account, we’ll still notice a discrepancy in power between a few of them; Elf Step, the new 9th level ancestry feat for elves, for example, can in the long run add a whole tactical dimension, while Guiding Luck, in comparison, feels less impressive. Nonetheless, high-level ancestry feats are definitely a good step in the right direction. From a rules-language perspective, Elf Step already is one of the significant flexibility-boosting feats that X pdfs will forget about existing, resulting in potential cheeses.

 

Thus, while I do consider this to be an improvement and now opens up much needed design space for future races to be released, the ancestries, as far as I’m concerned, don’t align perfectly on a power-curve at this moment.

 

I foresee another problem, particularly for half-orc and half-elf and the similar, inevitable hybrid ancestries, at higher levels: Previously, the prohibitive cost of being one of these fellows was the price to pay for the ancestry-feat flexibility at higher levels. This drawback is now gone, and the two thus get to cherry pick from 2 lists of ancestry feats. This wouldn’t have been an issue previously (or at least, less of an issue!), but the design-paradigm has changed to include more potent higher-level ancestry feats, which can and will produce issues sooner or later during the game’s lifespan. A limitation caveat for the cherry-picking of these options is something I’d very much suggest to be implemented for half-breeds.

 

It is unsurprising that, at this point, flavor-concerns are not addressed. However, as a person, I sincerely hope that the default speed value is changed back to 30 ft. Not only because it makes the job for those of us, who, like me, think in the metric system, easier – it’s also a matter of retaining a part of Paizo’s target demographic, as one of my readers remarked in an e-mail.

 

Indeed, I have received a couple of e-mails that specifically brought something to my attention that I did not take into account:

 

30 ft., or multiples thereof, are pretty much the default speed of a TON of different roleplaying game systems. From the mainstream iterations of D&D to a metric ton of old-school retroclones, there are a gazillion systems that assume a 30 ft. movement rate and the grids such systems feature, if any, the dimensions of traps, corridors, etc. are often based on these values. Now, sure, movement rates aren’t the toughest things to modify for a character, but they carry a long tail of magic modifications etc. with them, and as a GM, judge, etc., a deviation there could mean that certain dungeons eand effects no longer run as smoothly and require work where they previously didn’t.

 

But why would Paizo care about that? Well, at least judging from the folks that contacted me, there is a target demographic of folks that love the Pathfinder adventures, but that don’t like the system, perhaps due to time-constraints emphasizing a more rules-lite gaming to get more out of a session; perhaps due to other personal tastes. I have been asked time and again by 5e GMs to recommend some amazing Pathfinder adventure in both 1st and 3pp circuits. There also are quite a few GMs that prefer the facility of rules-lite OSR-systems, but who nonetheless enjoy Paizo’s story-driven APs over traditional old-school dungeon-crawling and module design. There are plenty of folks that play the adventures, but not the system.

 

Granted, those folks are not the central target demographic of Paizo, and I have no idea how many such groups there are out there, but they do exist, and judging from the requests and responses I received over the years, there seem to be more of these groups out there than I anticipated. Backwards compatibility to PF 1 is also something that’s hampered with this decision – though that may well be intentional. So yeah, still not sold on the speed base values.

 

As a whole, I consider 1.4’s ancestry-changes to be a HUGE step in the right direction, but at the same time, I am hopeful that we’ll get to see more changes and tweaks made to components of this revamped system. I don’t expect the goblins to go (though I’m not a fan), but from a purely mechanical point of view, version 1.4 represents a definite improvement as a whole. The details need some polish, but that’s what this Playtest is for, right? 🙂

 

Anyways, see you next week, when I’ll be covering backgrounds, skills, etc., with v. 1.4 already taken into account – hopefully without being ninja’d by v.1.5…

If you enjoy my articles and want to support what I’m doing, please consider supporting my patreon – it directly influences how much time I can devote to reviewing. You can find it here!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

Oct 122018
 

20 Things: Traveller’s Inn (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!

 

All righty, we begin this installment with 6 sample traveller NPCs, who, as always, are depicted as fluff-only write-ups, noting alignment, race and class, if applicable, in brackets. Class references do mention the old-school classes like thief and magic-users. A lavishly-illustrated ranger wearing a wide-brimmed, feathered head (seriously, amazing artwork!), a magic-user looking for a lost barrow-mound…some really nice write-ups here; the NPCs do sport plenty of adventuring hooks. The pdf then proceeds to provide 8 locals and staffers: From sharp-tongued old ladies to borderline alcoholics and chronically disorganized folks, these fellows are rather fun and a diverse lot.

 

A massive entry of no less than 20 entries of tavern dressing notes old carvings of names in tables, tables and chairs for small folk, expensive drinks in locked cabinets – I adored this section. It did what it’s supposed to do: Add detail and jumpstart my imagination in unconventional ways. 12 different sights, sounds and events, including kids bored into mischief, barrels running dry and the arrival of travelers can change the dynamics of the inn, and if you’re gunning for a brawl, why not take a look at the 6 bar brawl triggers?

 

Now, obviously, an inn is most commonly differentiated from a tavern by the presence of proper guest rooms – as such, 12 different dressing entries for the rooms are presented. With shutters that sport loosened hinges. Threadbare rugs concealing weathered parchments and the sigils of dark gods carved into headboards, these are big time adventure hooks – kudos here! Beyond these, there actually are 8 different things that previous guests have actually left behind. Cries for help penned hastily down on parchments left in cloaks, sodden mattresses smelling of feces, a shredded, bloody sock left in a bin – some neat discoveries here!

 

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 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.

 

Creighton Broadhurst’s take on a Traveller’s Inn is one of the strongest entries in the series – the dressing is diverse, inspiring and smart. It’s down to earth and easy to use, jumpstarts your imagination and the PCs *will* want to investigate quite a few of these! This is all one could ask of such a dressing-pdf; as such, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

 

You can get this cool dressing file here on OBS!

 

You can directly support Raging Swan Press here on patreon!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Oct 112018
 

Club Anyone: An Interface Zero Novel

And now for something completely different!

 

Club Anyone is a novel that clocks in at a total of 308 pages of content, with visual representations of the setting helping to envision the setting, TRIC city, on Mars.

 

This review was requested by one of my readers. I have received a print copy of the book for the purpose of an unbiased review.

 

It should be noted that this book contains well-written descriptions of sex, substance abuse and the like – these are not gratuitous, and they are written in a concise and well-presented manner, but I felt the need to state this for your convenience. While I try to be as SPOILER-free as possible in my discussion below, I do SPOIL some structural surprises that the book has to offer. I only do so in an abstract manner, but I do so nonetheless in my discussion below; if you like the notion of cyberpunk/scifi-noir, then check this out sans reading further; if you’re skeptical regarding the genre, then you may want to continue reading.

 

So, let me preface this review with a couple of observations: This book takes place in Gun Metal Games’ Interface Zero setting, which means that it can draw upon a wide variety of different concepts and established lore – at least in theory.

 

This is, at once, a potential boon for the book, and, if one takes a look at the books released for other roleplaying games settings, a potentially huge issue. Don’t get me wrong: I have devoured a ton of Dragonlance, Forgotten realms, etc. novels in my day…but at one point, they all started to bore me to some degree. A central issue of books based on roleplaying systems is the question of system-adherence and structure: Roleplaying settings, system-immanently, expect not a single protagonist, but rather a whole party of them, and in my experience, there’s a pretty good chance that one or more characters end up as annoying – and the more such protagonists there are, the more disjointed is the sense of immersion, the less room you have to develop the characters in question. We can add to that the huge issue of the adherence to the system, which represents a gigantic Catch 22-scenario: If you deviate from the system’s realities, you end up disappointing the expectations of those wishing for a faithful depiction of the realities of the setting. If you adhere to them, you’re often left with issues regarding the story that you actually want to tell – the rules don’t always lend themselves to helping make the experience of telling a novel’s story exciting.

 

The second issue pertains lore-depth: You can’t assume every reader to be intensely familiar with obscure setting-details, but explaining them all in detail can result in huge, and potentially boring exposition dumps. This is an issue that we can observe with many comic books nowadays, where the interconnectedness and background canon has reached a ridiculous depth that makes them less accessible than they once were.

 

Thirdly, there is the issue of the type of story: Many books falter due to trying to tell a pen-and-paper-RPG-story in the guise of a linear book; perhaps one with only 2 – 3 players, but nonetheless. Combined with the above, this makes for quite a burden for the author, even before taking the need to be canonical into account.

 

Let it be known that “Club Anyone” manages to navigate these pitfalls admirably; to the point where the book made me intensely curious to read more from the setting. It does so in a pretty smart manner: Instead of jamming exposition dumps into the narrative where they wouldn’t fit, the book introduces a precious few concepts that all characters would be familiar with (and thus not talk about) in the beginning of a few of the chapters, in the guise of Encyclopedia Brasilia entries or a delightfully amusing advertisement for a piece of tech. Note that I experimented with skipping these, and the story and plotline STILL work without a hitch; they just serve to bring you up to speed with the setting.

 

The more important decision, and what really ultimately made this book work, is the protagonist Derek Tobbit. He is not a superhero, an outlaw, a chosen one. He is just a regular megacorp programmer, one who specializes in bioroids – think of these basically as lobotomized, programmable clone/machine hybrids. In the first chapter, the prologue if you will, we witness Derek become a hero of sorts on his first day at work on Mars after migrating there for the job…only to have him plunged into a personal catastrophe that spirals out of control on a personal and more global scale.

 

This approach manages to achieve something rather impressive, namely that it, by letting us share in the protagonist’s triumph, immediately generate sympathy for the man, which is then further developed upon. We have a relatable main character from the get-go. This is so important, because the novel could be described as a scifi-noir-thriller: We do have a very human and fragile individual here, not an iron-clad superman, but the cynicism that is so prevalent in noir aesthetics, is, at least in the beginning, absent.

 

Aforementioned personal tragedy and struggle then proceed to have this average Joe become pretty much steeped in the vortex of grime and twilight that we associate with noir aesthetics; in this, the early section of the book, the writing becomes pretty bleak, cynical and suffused with a rather potent sense of pessimism, one constantly enhanced by the dystopian corporate control, the omnipresence of augmented reality. It is here that, at least for me, some of the most remarkable (and wise) sentences throughout the book exist. The interaction with the severely limited cab-service AI Aygee, which poignantly remarks “Sorrow exists, Derek Tobbit,” serves as one example of this notion, and also as a kind of leitmotif. It should be noted though, that the book remains more personal and never reaches the sense of cosmic bleakness and nihilism that e.g. suffuses the “Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch” or similar books by Dick et al. We remain deeply entrenched in the noir-aesthetics, and indeed, the book, without putting too fine a point on it, manages to retain the human dimension that is so crucial for noir-aesthetics. In a way, the Augmented Reality angle that is so important throughout the book represents a subtextual transgression of the boundaries of how reality is read by the characters, and proves to be the catalyst for the most potent narrative forces, both benign and malignant.

 

Indeed, one could argue that “Club Anyone” is exceedingly successfully and engrossing in the way it manages to encapsulate the tropes of the noir genre, and then proceeds to slowly subvert them; yes, there are plenty of examples regarding the tropes you’d expect within, but they are, on an intrinsic level, subverted in their tone and outcome. In a way, the book, like the leitmotifs of augmented reality and corporate control, controls them on a structural level, but transforms them in a rather benign and surprising manner; at one point, the narrative ceases to revel in the grime of Blade Runner-esque darkness, and transforms into a page-turner, a high-octane conspiracy high-scifi page-turner.

 

It is this bait and switch that represents one of the strongest points of the novel, and one of its weaknesses, depending on how you read it: On the one hand, there is careful deliberation in the motif of rebirth, which is also applied to genre that you’d associate this book with. On the other hand, I’d lie if I said that I didn’t get a kind of thematic whiplash during this turning point. Once it has passed, things happen quickly and ferociously, and the plot speeds up significantly. At least for me personally, this second part of the book felt like it could have used a couple of extra pages. There are a lot of unique and captivating ideas and set-pieces briefly touched upon, but ultimately, this section rushes to the inevitable conclusion in a more sped up manner than I would have liked; with 50 – 100 extra pages fully developing the transition in genres and character growths during it, the book would have ranked as one of my all-time favorite scifi novels.

 

As written, the almost post-modern playfulness with genres and expectations does not realize its full potential in this second half of the book. However, that is not to say I did not enjoy myself – quite the contrary! While this second half loses a bit of the gravitas of the first half, it did, even in its imho weaker sections, provide more entertainment than the entirety of the sluggish blandfest of oh-so-critically-acclaimed “2312”; it’s also smarter and, in my opinion, more successful in its world-building/setting-utilization than that book.

 

In short: “Club Anyone” is a surprisingly fun and intelligent novel; it sports interesting and well-written characters you can relate to; its plot and tweaks actually managed to entertain and often, even surprise ole’ me. It’s also the least bleak noir-story that can still be called “noir” I have ever read, and for that alone, deserves accolades. Whether you consider the very condensed narrative a plus or minus depends on your perspective; personally, I could have seen this cover a full trilogy of books – easily! That being said, in spite of not being 100% enamored with the second half of the book, I have rarely found myself this profoundly touched by a science-fiction novel, as in the first half of this book. Considering that this is Lou Agresta’s first published novel, it represents an impressive achievement in more than one area: The characters are relatable and interesting, the pacing had me turn page after page; the prose is oftentimes profound without being artificially obtuse, and the deviations from genre-conventions make the book stand out. Similes and metaphors, both cleverly tweaked and original ones, provide an optional cosmos of associations for the well-read that adds a surprising level of associative depth to the proceedings.

 

Club Anyone is a really captivating proof of a very promising talent, one that has me excited for future offerings. Taking the freshman bonus into account, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval. Even if you absolutely loathe noir storylines, this is worth checking out.

 

Sorrow exists, yes…but so does happiness.

 

You can get this fascinating novel here on OBS!

 

Want print? You can find that here on amazon!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Oct 112018
 

Everyman Minis: Magus Arcana

This installment of the Everyman Minis-series clocks in at 7 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page introduction, 2.5 pages of SRD, leaving us with 1.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

This supplement contains a total of 15 new magus arcana, so let’s take a look!

 

-Abundant Metamagic: This arcana needs another arcana that adds metamagic effects to a magus spell with daily uses, and allows for the payment of arcana points to not expend the limited uses of such metamagic enhancer arcanas. Nice. Should probably specify requiring such an arcana as a prerequisite, though.

 

-Augmented Aspergillum: Upgrades the damage of the holy water in a battle aspergillum wielded in conjunction with spellstrike. Damn cool!! Love it!

 

-Blunt Strike: When dealing nonlethal weapon damage, the magus may choose to make the spell delivered via spellstriek nonlethal as well. Nice one!

 

-Combat Trapper: Another winner, this one allows for mancatcher magus use, as well as the channeling of spells into said catcher. Super iconic – picture the elite squad, subduing dangerous folks that way…Two thumbs up!

 

-Concealed Strike: Renders opponent flat-footed versus Conceal Spell-enhanced spellstrikes. Ouch!

 

-Consume Spells: Nets consume spells for magus arcane pool points instead. Not a fan, as it delimits the resource. It also doesn’t work RAW: The arcana specifies items as source, not magus spells, which generates a ton of questions regarding if they go dormant, if items wielded by enemies can be targeted etc.

 

-Dweomer Brace: Brace/spell combo. Nice!

 

-Ethereal Strike: Pay arcana when using spellstrike with ghost touch to bypass incorporeal traits with the spell. (Has a min. level cap that holds it in check.)

 

-Hypnotizing Strike: Use hypnotist’s lockets or nunchakus to add Reach Spell to touch attack spells, but these do allow, thankfully, for a save.

 

-Magus Exploit: Replace an arcana with an arcanist exploit. Not a fan.

 

-Polearm Sweep: Cool one: Modify a cone-spell to instead affect all squares threatened with polearm, min 6th level.

 

-Sand Spray: Use poisoned sand tubes to deliver touch spells as part of a ranged attack, changing delivery method and allowing for a unique, cone-shaped variant with a short-range and tight rules. That being said, the arcana should specify that the three spells that can be imbued at once in the poisoned sand should have a limitation regarding casting time. That being said, impressive to see the spell recall synergy here done right.

 

-Shining Limelight: liming weapon property added, plus unique debuff added, though that one should have a duration stated.

 

-Spell bash: Shield Bash-dispel combo. Nice!

 

-Swift Augmentation: Spend arcane pool points to enhance the weapon s part of expending a swift action to trigger a magus class feature.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level, with not much to complain about. Layout adheres to Everyman gaming’s two-column full-color standard, and the pdf sports a neat artwork. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

 

Jen McTeague is an author who needs more work. So far, I have been impressed by everything she has penned, and this is no different. At this point in time, it is remarkable that a class as well-supported as the magus has still so many blind spots, and many arcana within actually allow for thoroughly exciting and unique combinations. I do consider a few of them to be slightly problematic, but similarly, there are more than I expected that I really ended up loving, that managed to inspire me. And, as always, I prefer daring design and complex tricks over bland and safe perfection. This humble pdf had more arcana inside that made me come up with character ideas than almost every such file I have previously read. As a reviewer, though, I have to take these minor flaws into account, which is why I can’t rate this higher than 4 stars.

 

You can get this cool supplement here on OBS!

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Oct 102018
 

Call to Arms: Deck of Cards

This installment of the Call to Arms-series of item-sourcebooks/compilations clocks in at 54 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with a massive 50 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?

 

As has become the tradition with this series, we begin the supplement with a recap of the history of the subject matter at hand, though this time, not only the playing cards as used in real life, but also of the cards employed in the iconic deck of many things. After this brief and informative history lesson, we receive descriptions and modifications for mundane playing cards, as well as more esoteric decks – with gold values provided, of course. The discussion, much to my pleasant surprise, does also mention the Thoth tarot deck, and, to my even bigger surprise, codifies the hanafuda deck.

 

Okay, so now you have decks – congratulations, but how do they interact with the primarily dice-based games we play? The pdf thus proceeds to provide basic rules for skills and their interaction with the in-game act of playing cards; want to look nasty so folks let you win? The pdf does take that into account. A couple of different ways to cheat are also expounded upon before the pdf proceeds to present 4 feats: one would be the Deadly Dealer feat introduced in the Harrow Handbook. There are three feats that build on this: Double Dealer allows you to basically flurry with Deadly Dealer cards; interestingly, it also allows you to potentially activate multiple effects of playing cards fired thus. Now, it should be noted that this explicitly allows for the ignoring of the traditional limits imposed here, which makes the feat potentially a bit troubling. As an aside, it should also be noted that card-magic based classes are not necessarily assumed to work in conjunction with this. Three Card Monte builds on that for a 3rd throw (and does not capitalize a skill-reference correctly), and Mulligan lets you use Sleight of Hand to attempt to mitigate unfavorable draws…but if you do, you may never use that particular deck again! Interesting one! It should also be noted that the pdf later proceeds to mention rules for blending of magical decks for Deadly Dealer purposes.

 

There are three class options included in the pdf, with the deck-touched sorcerer bloodline being first. This one modifies the random outcome of items like the good ole’ rod of wonders with its bloodline arcana, and the bloodline powers similarly are inspired by cards from the deck of many things and feature temporary alignment changes via touch. The rules-integrity here is solid, if not perfect – particularly from a formatting point of view, with stuff not capitalized that should be and vice versa, and sequence of DC formulae and presentation being nonstandard. However, unless you’re nitpicky, it should be noted that the function of the options per se is not impeded. The second option within would be the card reader focused arcane school based on divination, which replaces diviner’s fortune and scrying adept with the ability to use a deck of cards as a material component substitution for material components below 100 gp value and the option to engage in a 1/day 1-hour card reading for you and up to 6 folks, providing benefits depending on the suit of cards drawn. The pdf also presents the gambling subdomain of luck, which replaces good fortune with a Bluff-based means to reroll random outcome item/spell rolls.

 

The pdf also presents a means to use cards as die substitution for attack rolls – handy here: the pdf does explain the math behind this approach. Interesting alternative. As an aside – in case you do not have a deck of cards ready, the pdf also mentions a dice-based substitution for drawing cards –nice!

Using the infamous deck of many things in conjunction with Deadly Dealer is btw. also discussed – and yes, it is risky. The pdf then proceeds to compile various types of magical decks, namely the deck of illusions and of silvering fate, with the section devoting most of its space to magical decks I haven’t seen before. The deck of deals is a means to generate binding agreements; the deck of imprisonment can contain targets – you get the idea. Really cool for quite a few of these, including the deck of illusions: These decks tend to come with massive tables that note e.g. a playing card or Tarot-equivalent and then the corresponding effect; the deck of curses can curse targets with becoming leering and creepy, for example. Another example would be the deck of reincarnation, which provides an interesting tweak on the whole reincarnation angle. The fate-reader’s lenses have been reprinted here, and we also receive three decks of enchanted hanafuda cards (though one is a lesser version of another). I also enjoyed the weaponized prismatic deck, the chaotic deck of useful items…and it should come as no surprise that the grand-daddy, the deck of many things…actually gets its own chapter!

 

Beyond handy equivalency tables to simulate the drawing experience, the chapter also provides a cursed variant and optional rules for making card-orientation matter; there is also a kind of greater version – the full deck of many things, which exceeds in its power even its more commonly known regular variant! Card to card conversion notes are presented, and much to my joy, Ultimat Campaign synergy for e.g. drawing The Ruler is provided. The harrow deck of many things is reprinted for the sake of completion, though, oddly, the table rendered the text of the table for all readers I tried it on bolded. In the fine tradition of the series, we also get an intelligent item variant of the deck, The Hustler, who has a rather important agenda – to escape the Void. As such, playing a game with this one can be rather dangerous for those involved. Finally, if even the full deck wasn’t enough…what about a frickin’ mythic variation? And you thought the regular effects were massive…

 

Conclusion:

Editing per se can be considered to be very good; the rules-language is functional in the supplement. On a formatting perspective, the series has done somewhat better in the past: there are quite a few instances where sequence of presentation isn’t standard, and I noticed a couple of instances of feats and skills not properly capitalized. Layout adheres to the nice two-column full-color standard of the series, and the pdf comes with extensive, nested bookmarks for your convenience.

 

This is, unless I am sorely mistaken, the first pdf by Jessie Staffler I have read, and it does show a couple of beginner’s mistakes in the finer rules-formatting aspects; however, it also shows ample promise: there is a sense of unbound creativity beyond what I expected to find. The card-equivalency tables alone bespeak an honest passion, and the variant resolution mechanics included did show this willingness of the better installments of this series to go one step beyond. This feels like a passion project, and like one that consciously went much further beyond compiling existing material, instead opting to present a healthy dose of delightfully quirky high-impact deck-shenanigans. All in all, this may have a couple of rough edges, but it is a pdf that shows effort, heart, and potential. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4 stars.

 

You can get this fun supplement for a healthy dose of card-based chaos here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

Oct 102018
 

Advanced Adventures: The Conqueror Worm (OSR)

This installment of the Advanced Adventures-series clocks in at 21 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 17 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

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

 

As always for this series, the default rules-system is OSRIC, and the presentation is perfectly in line with the nostalgic 1e style, down to the font. This is an old-school adventure, and as such, you should not expect much read-aloud text beyond the introduction. The cartography included within is functional, but does not include player-friendly maps. Cartography is serviceable. This module is, nominally, intended for 60 levels of PCs, so for PCs level 10 – 14. Officially. Unfortunately, much like the author’s last offering, this very much showcases that this module has not been playtested. This is an adventure more suitable for characters nearing or already at the apex of their power, and even then it is a meat-grinder with a boss that will make some of the deities as statted up in the classics weep.

 

Thematically, this goes as similar route as “The Lost pyramid of Imhotep”, and while I personally could derive some joy from said super-deadly meat-grinder of a module, this one does lack the angle of precise research acting as a contextualization.

 

But to discuss this further, I need to go into SPOILER territory. Players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great, so the White Worm is basically spreading winter from its icy fortress, the PCs should slay it, and on the way there, there’s a tomb where they can find a sword that will help with this endeavor. The premise is simple and offers some interesting angles; for example, the tomb that contains the legendary sword is the tomb/testing ground of one Harald Hardada[sic!], echoing obviously King Harald III of Norway, Harald Hardrada. In the iteration presented within, said mythical being was actually a frost giant, with all that entails. Indeed, while PAINFULLY linear, I can suspend my agenda for the purpose of the testing ground angle that the cairn of said being, and first, completely optional, dungeon operates under.

 

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The trek towards the fortress of the white worm is handled with a mini-hexcrawl, and the longer the PCs take, the more spellcasting prowess their already super-potent enemy will have accumulated. The random encounters provided for the short trip are solid, if not particularly remarkable – yetis, winterwolves, frost giants, white dragons. Pretty much classic ice monsters. Without magic aid, the frigid cold will cause HP loss, which is a nice angle. The PCs will have to fight their way through a gated pass, and hopefully, they will check out the optional dungeon.

 

Why? Because Harald Hardada[sic!]’s dungeon is one where the author plays to his strengths: There is a logic to the challenges, deadly though they may be, and making a mythic hero a literal giant is a creative tweak that allows for some interesting changes to the logic of riddles and the like. When these work, then they do so with the same enjoyable effects as in e.g. “The Lost Pyramid of Imhotep”; when they don’t, however, then they come off as deliberate and nasty screwjobs. This is not only a super-linear dungeon in the way in which the rooms are aligned, it is also super-linear regarding solutions. Open the false door (no clues available) and you’ll be prismatic spray’d. In one room, failure to have a fire-based spell ready prevents getting further. All of these traps and the like are per se creative and interesting, if a bit sadistic. However, here’s the issue: There is pretty much no way for even mythologically-versed players to navigate these. Player skill does not really matter that much, and since the angle combines the myth of Harald (which does not help navigating the dungeon, fyi), Norse lore and frost giants, players are reduced to educated guesses in quite a few of these instances. I never thought I’d write this, but “The Lost Pyramid of Imhotep” feels positively fair in comparison.

 

And then there would be the main dungeon, a citadel carved into an iceberg, where the white worm lairs. Amazing set-up, right? Well, alas, it kinda lacks a distinct identity. Fire and ice, one could say, due to e.g. hell hounds, red dragons and the ice monsters you’d anticipate, but that’s about it. There are demons. The obligatory and tired mirror of life-trapping. The room where no less than 6 magic users wait to unload on the group. The traps and general sense of identity here feel distinctly magical, but not in the most interesting sense, and, as mentioned before, the final boss is basically on a deity’s level: AC -2, 6d8 damage (plus paralysis), breath weapon, constriction and both cleric and magic-user spell array. And over 200 hp. If there has ever been a boss where even killer-GM ole’ me has said “That’s overkill”, this would be it. If someone, ANYONE out there has killed this thing sans GM-fiat or ridiculous custom damage magic items that deal a crapton of bonus damage, let me know. Unless, by some miraculous event, my math skills have taken a serious nosedive, the chance to defeat this thing, even f the PCs and players do everything right, are next to nil. And before you ask: That super-sword, the dungeon of which probably has cost at least one or two PCs their lies? It’s actually pretty underwhelming regarding its abilities to best this monstrosity.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard with nice b/w-artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and the cartography is functional, but does not include player-friendly versions.

 

Alphonso Warden’s modules so far have been a mixed bag for me; on the one hand, there is a definite fascination that “The Lost Pyramid of Imhotep” managed to evoke, and I do like some of the creative traps. However, this does not change that, this module, alas, more so than the last, is frickin’ unfair in a bad way. Player agenda and skill do not matter that much, and the linearity of how this is supposed to work and solved, while not as pronounced as in previous adventures, lacks, much like the traps, a context that at least makes it possible for the players to deduce how this is supposed to be solved. More often than not, this comes down to luck and the roll of the dice, not to being clever.

 

And then there is the horribly out of whack difficulty. I’m not a GM who wants “level-appropriate challenges”; I throw dragons at 1st level PCs and expect them to run like crazy, grovel, etc. I have no problem TPKing my groups. But that type of thing must be EARNED and not subject to Gm fiat, to an adventure allowing only the author’s logic to persist. Unlike the lost pyramid, this lacks the mythology as a guiding principle, as an extensive, externalized hint-catalogue, and thus becomes, much as it pains me to say, an exercise in frustration. I so hope that the author would bring the same level of expertise and creativity regarding puzzles etc. to Norse myth in this one; instead, we unfortunately get a woefully unfair adventure that I would not inflict on any group. It’s not as bad as the atrociously-boring “The Prison of Meneptah”, but it’s close. My final verdict will be 1.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

 

You can get this adventure here on OBS.

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Oct 092018
 

Thunderscape: Iron Guard Field Guide

This class expansion for Thunderscape’s classes clocks in at 38 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 33 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Now, first things first: This is an expansion for the Golemoid and Thunder Scout classes – as such, I assume familiarity with both classes in this review. If in doubt, consult the campaign setting to freshen up regarding their mechanics.

 

After a well-written piece of introductory fiction, but there is more to this: As the name implies, there are intrinsic connections to the setting’s flavor here: The class options are tied, flavor-wise, to the Iron Guard of Urbana, and as such, the content does not simply exist in a vacuum: The supplement does talk about the roles of golemoids and thunder scouts in the context of the setting. These blend rules-relevant components and history, in a way: We learn, for example, that specific golemoids excel as damage dealers, while others can act as blockers. Beyond, as noted, a history of the golemoid, we also learn about their role and public perception throughout Aden…and about, for example the black marketeers that may be able to salvage golemoid components, making them rather nasty repo men…should you decide that these exist in your game, that is. The interaction of golemoids and rust-causing beasts and effects is fyi also noted.

 

The golemoid manite implant array is significantly expanded by this book, though it should be noted that other characters with manite implant capacity do qualify for these. The minor implants include using an immediate action and expanding a steam point to use feather fall (not properly italicized), using a move action to create subsonic vibrations (subtle ones!) that penalize Perception and Sense Motive, expending a steam point to reroll initiative (only once per roll and you must take the reroll, thankfully!), using a standard action to make a touch attack that sickens the target on a failed save…some interesting ones here. Mechanically, I’m particularly partial to using Fearvun Ocular Implants to extend the range of precision damage and Point Blank Shot, making one of the most maligned feats ever more suitable. I’d definitely want a fire-starter digit IRL (you can make objects catch fire, and I really like the notion of an integrated grapnel launcher. (RAW, it can reel in stuff as a swift action and may not be used for at-range maneuvers, just fyi!) There are some formatting glitches, though – endure elements, for example, is capitalized and not italicized. If these sound underwhelming, fyi, bear in mind that manite implants are extraordinary, so the elemental enduring would be nonmagical! Auto-stablizing and similar tricks complement a solid, fun section here, one often benefitting from cool flavor: The auto-stabilizing option? It’s called “Phoenix Stabilizer”, which does sound pretty badass. And yes, there are upgrades and more potent versions there.

 

The basic implants do include some interesting and unique tricks – including a steam point based option to generate a thin sheet of steam that filters out harmful particles from the air. Nice one! Steam point based, limited condition curing with a self-only target, charging unarmed attacks etc. with a stunning charge, an integrated lie detector (sans 100% accuracy, thankfully), a bonus to atk versus undead, retractable claws and the like may be found. The latter btw. come with tightly codified damage types, but no notes on the type of natural attack, requiring defaulting in a minor comfort detriment. Also interesting: The ability to hold a spell of up to 3rd level, usable as a wand.

 

The section also includes 7 advanced manite implants that include becoming immune to effects specifically targeting metal creatures, the option to extend spells with a duration other than instantaneous or permanent via steam point expenditure and the like. The latter *can* be problematic for spells with different, specific effects by rounds and would probably have benefited from having a caveat that only applies to spells with a casting time contingent on caster levels, as measured in rounds, minutes, hours or similar increments. Weird: Hypnotic eyes lets you cast suggestion as a SP, which somewhat makes the interaction wonky: “Duplicate the effects of a suggestion spell…” would have been more feasible here, considering the per se default extraordinary nature of these tricks. Delayed phoenix raise dead via previous, significant steam point investment is interesting and gaining additional ring sockets is also a unique trick. There also are three superior implants, one of which nets a 30 ft. cone of electricity. Cosmetic nitpick: There is no such thing as electric damage – the correct term is “electricity damage.”

 

The pdf also includes two new golemoid specializations: The steamshadow gets steam point based disguise self, courtesy of the integrated illusion matrix and Dexterity to damage when attacking with a single, chosen one-handed or light weapon. This should probably specify that Strength is not added in such cases, though at least two-handed wielding interaction is covered. The improved specialization provides a variant of Hide in Plain Sight, better Stealth and squeezing. Nice: The pdf accounts for the issue that 1st level characters should gain access to the skills granted by this one, contingent on the fact that they take the steamshadow specialization. The level 17 ability nets an automatic critical threat when hitting a flat-footed target and they get steam point-based mislead. The harrier specialization nets better Acrobatics and may choose to trail steam and generate steam clouds – cool soft terrain control angle. The high level options further emphasize this, allowing for two unique tricks: Swift action movement and a multi-target trip/move make for cool tricks. The pdf also features quite an extensive array of new steamreaver weapons. These include aci-drills, cyclone maces and the like – they all come with passive and steam-based tricks, and they are surprisingly cool and unique regarding their benefits. Big plus here!

 

The pdf also includes one new golemoid archetype, the modular, who replaces basic combat specialization with +1 basic and minor implant at 2nd level and +2 steam points. Whenever they gain access to a new implant level, they also get +1 implant. They are locked into Extra Steam or Manite Implant for bonus feat choices at 3rd, 11th and 19th level (the feats are not properly capitalized) and instead of interchangeable parts, the archetype can, as a full-round action, spend steam to change one of their implants to another of the same implant level, with costs depending on the implant level. 13th decreases the activation action to standard, and 18th level allows for the change of multiple implants at once. Instead of the improved combat specialization, the golemoid gains a bonus swift action at 9th level, but one that may ONLY be used to activate manite implantsm steam mastery effects or steam feats. At 17th level, the modular regains 1 steam point at the end of the round, whenever they spend more than 3 points of steam in a round. This may just be an engine tweak, but it is one that radically changes how the class plays. Nice one. The pdf also provides 9 different, new steam feats, contingent on both old and new specializations and choices: With Aci-Deluge, aci-drill specialists can spray acid; there is a feat that allows for the limited regaining of steam (and no, it can’t be cheesed!), one that nets you temporary hit points…and here, I whip out my trusty bag of badly mistreated kittens. Unfortunately, the duration of these temporary hit points is an hour, and the ability explicitly notes that it stacks with itself. As long as you have kittens to slaughter, you can generate a massive shield of temporary hit points. That is just bad design, and utterly uncharacteristic for the otherwise tight rules within this book.

 

We also get two sample golemoids: Hesh Dargoh, a ferran predator (tiger) steamreaver, who, as a cyborg-anthro-tiger is probably one of the most badass iconics I’ve seen. Stats for level 1, 6 and 12 are provided. The second sample NPC would be Satsobek, a rapacian steamshadow, who also gets stats for these levels.

 

The second class covered in this book would be, as mentioned before, the thunder scouts, and in the flavorful write-up section here, we learn about the crude secret language of thunder runes (and who is liable to know them!), public reception, etc. 14 different scout techniques are introduced, allowing for limited mechamage spell-poaching, + class level to Acrobatics to avoid AoOs, increased vehicle jumps, better vehicle or regular movement charge damage, and there is a 1/day option to use a swift action to gain a move action limited to movement – basically a built-in quickrunner’s shirt. Sharing favored terrain bonuses with allies is also solid, and zig-zag charging, running etc. can also be found. The class also gets a variety of new class exclusive spells that interact with the signature vehicle: Hazard zone nets the vehicle a threat range that can inflict collision damage at half speed, while Jerome’s Command is a cantrip for signature vehicle actions. There are a variety of retrofit spells, which allow for quick changing of bonus features, including notes on sidecars and even vehicle type change for the true version of the spell at 4th level. Rubber ride allows for vehicle squeezing (heck yes!) and did I mention the option to create shadow vehicles? Yeah, amazing!

 

We also get two new fully statted basic vehicles – the Mekanus Loader, an exo suit, and the high-speed arctic snow hare. Love them! There also are three new advanced vehicles, the first of which is the wagon of wonders, a wagon that may upright itself, is lieghtly fortified and an all-terrain Huge vehicle with air generator etc. Really cool! Speaking of which: What about dirigibles? And yeah, these can be made nonflammable. Finally, subterrane mole machines are damn cool – if these feature prominently in your game, playing Gaming Paper’s classic “Citadel of Pain” adventure may be a good idea… 😉 And yes, we get a unique feature here as well. The vehicle also provides a crucial bit of clarification: Co-piloted signature vessels retain their status while the thunder scout is manning the pilot station. The pdf also includes the Tsunami superior vehicle, an ironclad marvel of naval warfare, a deadly gunboat…Oh, and prices for signature vehicles are provided! Less daily maintenance, jump pistons, parachutes and ultra-light frames are included among the new vehicle features included within. The pdf also provides rules for the Jump vehicle maneuver.

 

There also are two thunder scout archetypes: The iron scout replaces spellcasting with limited golemoid tricks with Int mod + ½ class level steam points, using Intelligence rather than Constitution as governing attribute, with Igniter provided for free, but usable only to power mechamagical engines. Instead of the bonus feats, the archetype allows for the use of steam points to operate signature vehicles sans using their hands, with increasing power. Lone Rider, the second archetype, loses additional vehicles, and instead nets a bonus HD and feature at the levels when these would be otherwise gained. Bland.

 

There is one archetype for other classes: the metalheart bard: Instead of spells, cantrip and bardic knowledge, the metalheart gets ½ class level + Charisma modifier steampoints, using Charisma as governing modifier for them and manite implants as a golemoid. They can double the range of bardic performances for a round by spending steam points, and 5th level nets combat specialization, with 13th level netting the improved combat specialization, but must take the one chosen at “level 6” – that should be level 5. Higher level options include using bardic performance for greater dispel magic (not italicized) and steam point/performance synergy. Interesting hybrid archetype. The thunder scout class also gets two different sample NPCs – a half-elven thunder scout (lone rider) named Lucius “Finder” DeNiels (once more, level 1, 6 and 12) and the dwarven Isolde Waldorf (ditto regarding levels). Both of these characters get signature vehicle stats for all their levels.

 

The pdf also sports a couple of mundane equipment choices for better climbing, baskets that halve the weight of ferrous objects carried, parachutes and the like. There are three weapon special abilities, one of which allows for automated vehicle gunner tripods, one for sonic damage and one for reduced penalties for attacks with speeding vehicles. A rod that can clamp down on vehicles (think of these as a magical tire clamp), one that unfolds a vehicle…some cool ones here. A painful and unstable elixir that temporarily grants manite implants, reduced collision damage, jet boosters, a draught that replenishes steam points, a good luck charm for pilots…pretty cool. The pdf also notes a couple of traits from the background category. A minor issue here: While these are well-designed and interesting, one of them gets the bonus type wrong. Really cool: The pdf ends with a section that provides role-playing tips for the options within, as well as 2 tables with 10 entries, each of which sports different origin stories. Cool!

 

Conclusion:

Editing is excellent on a formal level, and the rules language editing is similarly very good – however, formatting is not as good. There are a ton of missed italicizations and wrong formatting choices, as well as a couple of issues in finer rules-formatting. These are few and far in.between, but ina book of this quality, they do show. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard that manages to fit a TON of content on each page – this book could have been twice the size. You get quite a lot of content for your bucks. Artworks deserve special mention: Full-color, original and style-wise consistent with campaign setting and cover art, this is a beautiful book. Annoying: The pdf does not have any bookmarks, which is a huge comfort detriment for a book of this size. I can’t comment on the virtues or lack thereof of the print version, since I do not own it.

 

Rich Wulf, Christopher Koch, Matthew Tyler and Michael Lawrence provide an amazing expansion for the golemoid and thunder scout classes – while I like the new manite implants very much, I was mostly enamored with the vast potential of the thunder scout tricks. That class is inspiring, and this books made me think of many amazing encounter, adventure and campaign ideas. The blending of unobtrusive flavor and crunch makes for a great supplement of high-quality crunch. That being said, the minor hiccups in the details and formatting do accumulate, and the lack of bookmarks is utterly puzzling. These aspects do tarnish slightly what would otherwise be an excellent book. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

 

You can get this cool class expansion here on OBS!

 

Missed Thunderscape? You can find it here!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Oct 082018
 

Pathfinder Playtest I – Ancestries

All right, so by now, I have digested all the changes and rules of Pathfinder Playtest, and I feel that I owe the folks that donated for this series an apology – the books arrived one month late, courtesy of the amazon shipping snafu, and this threw my schedule in for a massive loop, with real life in September being incredibly busy. This series of posts was made possible by the generous contributions of the following folks:

 

-Jason Nelson

-BJ Hensley

-Chad Middleton

-Randy Price

-Christen Sowards

-Rick Hershey

-Chris Meacham

-Paco Garcia Jaen

-Justin Andrew Mason

-Stephen Rowe

-Jonathan Figliomeni

-Paul Fields

-Lucus Palosaari

-Anonymous

 

Before we dive into the nit and grit of the system, let me first clearly state where I’m coming from: I did not expect Pathfinder Playtest to be a continuation of Pathfinder as far as complexity is concerned; indeed, that would be a fallacy, as the game, system-immanently can’t yet sport the same level of depth that Pathfinder 1 offered. If you stop for a second and think about it, Pathfinder 1 began as pretty much a tweak of 3.5, and only with the Advanced Player’s Guide and later releases such as Ultimate Campaign or Occult Adventures did the game reach the level of complexity and thematic diversity that we nowadays associate with it.

 

Having read the entirety of the Pathfinder Playtest rules, I can clearly state that it is NOT, contrary to what some folks have claimed, a riff on D&D 5e; while there are design-paradigms that feature in both games, there are plenty of distinctions, and Pathfinder Playtest, at least to me, does NOT feel like D&D 5e. If anything, I actually was surprised by how much it feels like Pathinder.

 

As a whole, I have to state that, while I am not particularly fond of every single design-decision (though I do love plenty of them!), I found myself understanding the rationale for all choices made; I wasn’t baffled by any of them, and, from a design-perspective, understand them. If I had to summarize my impression of PF Playtest, it’s that the game tries to allow for the same level of customization potential as PF 1, while at the same time reducing the ability to min-max the game to a point where the math falls completely apart. If your group sports folks that are capable min-maxers, you’ll definitely have noticed the issues of PF 1 that can spring from skill-boosting etc., particularly in combination with attack-substitution, to just name one prominent example.

 

Now, this design paradigm can be observed in the ability score rules, to note one example: The cap at 18 at level 1 does, from the get-go, prevent the most potent ancestry/class combinations and keeps that aspect in check. The acknowledging of voluntary flaws makes for an interesting side-note – and an obvious means to present flaws that actually *do* provide bonuses in the future. While these should, obviously, be handled with utmost care, it’s still a design-space I did enjoy seeing here, and one that I hope will be expanded one day.

 

Ability score improvement is handled via boosts – these translate to a +2 bonus, and ancestries tend to provide 2, as well as a flaw, which translates to a -2 penalty. That being said, all races have a free ability boost that can be assigned to any score, which means that, should you choose to, you can negate the penalty. This free boost may not be applied to an ability score that has already been boosted by another ability boost. In order to combat the need to use boring ability score-enhancer items, the game has changed how ability scores improve: 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter provide no less than 4 ability boosts to ability scores. These have to be applied to different ability scores, so you can’t jam all of them into a single score.

 

The consequences here are interesting: The levels that present ability boosts thus also represent a significant power-increase for the characters, a change in playstyle, if you will. A level 5 character will be stronger than a level 4 character – and by quite a bit! These later ability boost increases, by the way, do allow for the increase of the ability score beyond the 18-cap. I do think that this can be a great chance for the game; a means to let a story-milestone coincide with a level up, with the progression from a rookie to a veteran; you know, like “Upon becoming a herald for the Baron…, upon becoming initiated into the guild…”; I think that this type of progression does offer for a nice way to make the rules coincide with narrative milestones.

 

The obvious downside here would be that the boost of a total of no less than 8 net points of ability score points; personally, I have always had an issue with “I got a level up” between combats, requiring as a house rule that my PCs get some time to train to represent the growth, making it happen in downtime after extensive training. Depending on campaign structure, these growth spurts *may* stretch my sense of disbelief, but that is a minor sidenote. From a structural point of view, these ability score boost spurts do mean that progression is less linear – if you prefer a slower growth dispersed throughout the levels, this is something to watch out for. That being said, Pathfinder Playtest did not choose these thresholds, if you will, by accident: The increases and the power they convey do seem to coincide with threshold level-caps for e.g. ancestry feats, where level 5 is the requirement for some of the more potent options.

 

Speaking of ancestries, let’s take a look at what they offer, chassis-wise:

  • Dwarf: 10 HP, 20 ft. movement, though the dwarves ignore 5 ft. of movement speed reduction due to armor or encumbrance, courtesy of the unburdened ability, 1 bonus language (dwarf), darkvision
  • Elf: 6 HP, 20 ft. movement, 1 bonus language (elven), low-light vision
  • Gnome: 8 HP, 20 ft. movement, 2 bonus languages (gnomish + sylvan), low-light vision
  • Goblin: 6 HP, 25 ft. movement, 1 bonus language (goblin), darkvision
  • Halfling: 6 HP, 25 ft. movement, 1 bonus language (halfling)
  • Human: 8 HP, 25 ft. movement, 1 bonus languages (free choice)

All ancestries get a bonus language with Int 14+, with the list depending on the ancestry chosen. This base array does deserve some scrutiny.

 

The base default movement rate is now 25 ft. – for international players that think in the metric system, that’s 7.62 meters, compared to 30 feet being 9.144 meters; for the sake of rounding and playability, let’s say 7,50 m, akin to how previous editions handled that. That is still uneven and, in contrast to 9 meters, not something that you have a precise grip of, size-wise. Personally, I am not the biggest fan here, though square-based movement still, obviously, works: In that case, we’d have 5 squares versus 6. From a tactical perspective, this does not impede tactical combat in a flip-map or grid for international customers, but for mind’s eye theater events, like e.g. an abstract chase, it could be somewhat more clunky and may be an aspect that could be worth reconsidering.

 

There is another aspect that bears mentioning: Darkvision and how it has changed. The ability no longer has a hard limit on its range. This does mean that ranged combat in the lightless depths of the dungeons and subterranean realms has become a whole lot more reliable; it also will have significant impact on how potent ranged combatants are in the realms below – including spellcasters. This also means that darkvision is now, apart from being b/w, is now significantly better than low-light vision in every circumstance.

 

Now, bearing that in mind, take a look at the above again. Do you notice something? Yeah, in a way, the game has taken one aspect from PF 1 that I wasn’t the biggest fan of, and retained it: The ancestries, as presented, do not offer baked in special abilities (excluding the dwarf’s “unburdened” ability as an odd man out), but like n PF 1, they don’t exactly line up on a fair power-scale.

 

Don’t believe me? Okay, let’s take a cue from a book I hated back in the day for its inconsistencies, and assign points to racial ability, shall we? We’ll do the following: Every 5 ft. movement beyond 20 feet nets 1 point. Every base hit point increase-increment beyond 6 nets 1 point. Low-light vision nets a point, darkvision 2 – since it’s now better in every way. A bonus language nets 1 point; a freely assignable bonus language sans limitations nets, and that is generous, 2 points. The additional freely available ability boost of humans nets 1 point for flexibility. All other races arrive at 3 +2s to ability scores, and one -2, for a net gain of +4, same as humans, so 1 point seems fair.

Doing a quick tally, we arrive at the following:

  • Dwarf: 10 HP (2 points) + bonus language (1 point) + darkvision (2 points) + unburdened (let’s say, 1 point) =6
  • Elf: Speed 30 ft. (2 points) + bonus language (1 point) + low-light vision (1 point) = 4 points
  • Gnome: 8 HP (1 point) + bonus languages (2 points) + low-light vision (1 point) = 4 points
  • Goblin: Speed 25 ft. (1 point) + bonus language (1 point) + darkvision (2 points) = 4 points
  • Halfling: Speed 25 ft.(1 point) + bonus language (1 point) = 2 points
  • Human 8 HP (1 point) + Speed 25 ft. (1 point) + bonus language (1 point) + second freely chosen ability boost (1 point) = 4 points.

Now, granted, this breakdown is not perfect. The values are arbitrary and you can choose other metrics to count points; no matter which system you choose, though, you’ll be left with an uneven power-distribution. The system above also does highlight something that worries me regarding future-proofing: There is no room here to do much in the way of design – apart from the dwarven “unburdened” as an odd man out, the base chassis of each ancestry does not offer much in the way of customizing options. Now, the obvious rebuttal to this thesis, and one that is certainly understandable, would be that I have not taken the ancestry feats into account. These, with one gained at 1st level, and one every 4 levels thereafter, represent the customization options, right?

 

Well, yeah, they do; but they don’t really address the discrepancy in power-levels between different races and, one could argue, don’t align internally either. The gnome’s Illusion Sense is significantly more broadly applicable than Animal Speaker, for example. When we compare the flexibility of the elven Ancestral Longevity (which lets you become trained in one skill when you prepare) versus the gnome’s becoming trained in a Lore skill (which upgrades at later levels), the difference is also noticeable.

 

This also ties in with the half-breed options – half-elves and half-orcs further limit the flexibility of the options available for those choosing that path: Becoming one of these requires that a human takes them as ancestry feat, and while this unlocks a whole slew of options, the base benefits you can choose from is pretty potent in comparison: Half-elves can choose +5 ft. speed, for example, while half-orcs can choose +2 Hit Points, which both trump speaking elven and orcish, respectively. Having ancestry feats noted in the class table strikes me as an odd choice, considering how the system is otherwise divorced from individual class progression, but that may just be me.

 

The ancestry rules, as presented, allow for creative design in the respective ancestry feat sections, but as a whole, they do feel restrictive to me. This is, on one hand, a good thing to maintain at least a semblance of balance between races and would, in theory, do balancing via the feat array; however, the ancestry feats don’t account for the discrepancies of base racial option power levels presented by the chassis. As provided, dwarven racial options should be worse than those of halflings, for example. They’re not. Similarly, I do think that elves get pretty potent tricks – while their value comes out as 4 as presented by my arbitrarily chosen metric above, one could argue that the double speed increase renders them more powerful, and their ancestry feats are pretty tough as well, allowing for a further +5 ft. speed-increase, for example.

 

The ancestry section also has a couple of consequences that have me worried to a degree: As noted above, half-breeds suffer somewhat regarding the customization options available, and that will, unless it is changed, also apply to quite a few different ancestries to come, like the inevitable aasimar/tiefling/plane-touched cadre. I am not a fan of making at least the more mundane hybrids require a feat to take them, as it hampers the customization options at character generation.

 

An assortment of concerns would furthermore be as follows:

 

I am not sure about the implications of goblins as a default player race available from the core rules. I get why they’re here. They’re a mascot; they are popular, they are cool. I love them. I love the “We Be Goblins” modules, and they were a reason I stuck with Pathfinder since issue #1 back in the day. However, making them available as a core races does imply a wide-spread goblin population, and a significant amount of goblins in said population that do stray from the destructive and sociopathic tendencies of their kin in order to make them compatible with the default kinda-good-adventuring group morality.

 

This does remind me somewhat of a certain, scimitar-wielding drow and the flood or good renegade drow, as well as the dilution of what made the race stand out. As a person, I enjoyed the goblin-modules BECAUSE they embraced the amoral wackiness of goblins, but I’m not sure how this translates to providing a prominent space in every adventuring group. This also implies a vastly-increased tolerance within the setting, and so far, I have a hard time picturing folks in e.g. Sandpoint that had to witness goblins kill parents or children accept a goblin population in the vicinity from which one can draw adventurers.

 

Secondly, and more mechanically relevant and less a matter of aesthetics, would be that the above chassis for ancestry design does have constraints that will be hard to navigate for certain PF 1 races. Where previously, there were a lot of knobs to pull to account for racial tricks, we are now significantly more limited, particularly when it comes to nonhuman biology. Some of my favorite races fall into this category: Vishkanya toxic blood for example. Or, well, what about gripplis? No one will ever call the likable frog-folk overpowered, but they do have a climb speed.

 

As written, the ancestry-system will have a hard time accounting for the more outré races out there, and this is, in parts, due to the limited design space in the base chassis of the ancestries.

 

Now, don’t get me wrong: I do applaud making many tricks optional via the ancestry feats; I *like* that. However, there is next to nothing that sets the races apart from a biology standpoint. Heritage feats, which may only be chosen at first level, do partially account for the concept we’d expect here, with e.g. elven Keen Hearing or the goblin’s Razor Jaw fitting the bill; however, if you do have one such trick, this does also mean that you don’t have the other ancestry feats available at 1st level. In short, the game does not differentiate between what you’re literally born with, and aspects of your ancestry that may be considered to be more of a question of nurture, rather than nature. “Watching your friends age and die fills you with moroseness that girds you against harmful effects” to me, is not something I’d place on the same level as having been born with exceptional hearing.

 

It’s a subtle tonal disjoint, but one that irks me to no end on a flavor side of things. On a rules-side of things, these may well be in line with one another, power-wise, but ultimately add a hard limitation that implies being born with gifts being detrimental to your development otherwise. I am not the biggest fan of this notion.

 

Speaking of which: I am somewhat appalled that halflings and humans RAW can no longer (as in PF 1 via Fleet of Foot) run as fast as elves; they have always been as quick as the big folk, and it’s a pretty central part of the concept; halfling rogues in an elven city are particularly unlucky – up to 10 feet of movement discrepancy, with no feat for the halflings to offset that?

 

Now, from the linearity of the half-breed experience at 1st level to the aforementioned problems, there are simple ways to offset this issue:

 

  • Integrate a base racial trait, such as the dwarven unburdened (which is already here…), the Lucky Halfling feat or similar choices into the base chassis of the race. This would furthermore allow for a more nuanced design space.
  • Be more consequent regarding ancestry feats: Grant each ancestry two feats at 1st level: One that needs to be a heritage feat, one that needs to be a regular ancestry feat. Significantly expand heritage feats available. The former would be the biological variations, the second would represent the variations that stem more from the cultural context, such as being Plucky of Forlorn. This does not change the limited design space in the base racial array, mind you, but it does increase option breadth.
  • Combine the two. This would, indeed, be my preferred solution: Let the halflings be lucky to account for their sucky base chassis, let the goblins have their Flame Heart to make them less flammable as an evolution of their species…and then let them choose a heritage feat and an ancestry feat to customize their biology and upbringing. This would leave both base chassis and the feats, as a totality, as a design space.

 

Either way, I do hope that Paizo will add some tweaks to the system here – I do like the notion presented here, but for future-proofing, I certainly hope that tweaks akin to those I proposed are implemented. Otherwise, I can see e.g. kitsune and similar races feel very samey at low levels.

 

All right, thank you for reading! Next up, I’ll tackle backgrounds as well as skills and feats!

 

If you enjoy my articles and want to support what I’m doing, please consider supporting my patreon – it directly influences how much time I can devote to reviewing. You can find it here!

 

Endzeitgeist out.