Dec 122018
 

Aberrant Codex: Aberrant Allies

The freshman offering of Cobalt Sages Creations clocks in at 34 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 5 pages of SRD, leaving us with 26 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?

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

We begin this supplement with a brief categorization of types of aberration – not in the mechanical context, mind you, but in the context of what constitutes a classification as “aberration” – alien biology, reality-warping and artificially (or oddly- created) creatures are identified as leitmotifs present here.

Now, aberrations are much-beloved as antagonists for obvious reasons, but this book is thoroughly devoted to aberrations as allies, a venue only rarely explored beyond the realms of evil or insane PCs, and as such, represents an interesting deviation from the expectations and preconceptions inherent in the type.

The most obvious forms of aberrations as companions would, of course, be animal companions and familiars – and a quick glance at the aberration type should yield the fact that these creatures usually are intelligent, and that they have darkvision. Other than that, the type itself does not necessarily provide any game-breaking components to be weary of. However, intelligent companions do change the game in a rather distinct way. The pdf, cleverly, I might add, notes that just because an aberration could theoretically wield a dagger, does not mean that it is actually biologically capable of doing so. Similarly, intelligence also means that a creature can choose to not learn a feat, wear armor, etc. The pdf discusses the ramifications of this level of intelligence in a commendable manner:

Aberrant companions with Intelligence greater than 2 receive +3 tricks per point of Intelligence above 2, but thankfully still require training. Sentient companions can generally, as noted, execute more complex tasks, and they learn to understand a language, but not speak it. Recommendations for armor and feats, and for Use Magic Item as a trick, which allows for the activation of one specific magic item, provided anatomy and activation allow for it, are discussed. Familiars are an easier choice, and have the Improved Familiar feat (not properly capitalized) as a prerequisite. Speaking of which – the feat is obviously reproduced here, noting the prerequisite levels for the respective aberrations.

Speaking of which: Aberrant Animal Companions end up as balanced, thanks to the Aberrant Animal Companion feat introduced within, which serves as a feat tax, while also noting minimum level requirements for the respective aberrations. The feat also nets you unnatural aura, which, particularly at low levels, can be both boon and bane. As a whole, the decision to take an aberrant companion ultimately means that you get a more unique and versatile companion that is, particularly in the ROLEplaying context, rather cool. Beyond these basic gate-way feats, there is a new feat type introduced within this pdf – (Deep Bonding) feats. These feats are associated with specific aberrant companions, and as such, I will discuss them alongside the respective companion creatures. One note regarding the deep bonding feats: When the companion falls, you replace one deep bonding feat with Broken Bond, which nets you +1 to Will saves, +2 to Sense Motive versus creatures of the same type as the companion or familiar, and +2 on Charisma checks made versus creatures of the same type as your familiar/companion…and you count as that creature type for the purpose of prerequisites and effects. This can be rather interesting, as it is NOT limited to aberrations, and basically overrides RAW your creature type, which does allow a degree of fortification versus humanoids-targeting spells, but also potentially can be a bane due to specialized effects. This can have pretty serious implications, but it also can represent a nice roleplaying angle – thus, while I do advise caution regarding the intricate interaction options this can unlock, I also consider it to be rather rewarding.

Now, as for the creatures: We get a total of 8 of these critters, plus two variations of sorts. In an impressive manner I did not expect to see in this pdf, we actually do get really impressive full-color artworks for all critters featured herein – and no, I haven’t seen them before! Aesthetically, this is pretty damn impressive. The first of these would also be the highest CR creature featured within – the Argoschwere – a floating mollusk that looks a bit like a beetle with tentacles dangling from it. If your German is up to snuff, you might have guessed the leitmotif here: the creature’s “Schwere” (=heaviness) translates to some control over gravity: In a cool twist, their strikes can force foes to levitate, which can make for an interesting debuff. For a more straightforward attack option, reversal of gravity for the target is possible, and the third option allows for a perfect fly speed. Beyond these gravity-based tricks, the argoschwere is a lightning rod – they are healed by electricity damage, and, in fact, gain an additional move action for 1 minute after being hit by electricity…but they also do not gain any saves versus electricity effects, which is a cool Achilles’ heel to exploit…for the monster.

Here, the pdf is clever: The fully and properly presented companion stats extract the abilities that would be OP, namely the gravity reversal and the lightning-based healing cheese. Even the flight speed, considering its perfect maneuverability, is properly balanced in the advancement provided. And they do retain the abilities that made them unique, namely the forced levitation – so yeah, these fellows will be pretty good controllers. The decision to omit the electricity healing, but also the no-save caveat means that the companions ultimately are player-friendly, more fun to play, and fun. They also get a couple of notes on how their shells may be treated their behavior in the wild, etc.

The deep bonding feats associated with the Argoschwere would be Gravity Assist, which allows the argoschwere to use the master as a kind of point of gravity for pounce-like charges with increased speed – and a massive penalty to AC. The feat, in spite of its complexity, is actually crafted in a rather impressive manner. There are a few typos here, though: “You suffers[sic!]..”, “the you gain” etc. These do not compromise rules-integrity, but proved slightly irritating. The second feat for the argoschwere represents the resurfacing of a concept from the end of the 3.X days of old, namely the (Tactical) feat, which provides a series of situational, but interesting tricks. In the context of this pdf, we have the ability to float trinkets in the air (scaling maximum weight and duration), the option to enhance withdraws slightly and to reverse the gravity on small objects.

Fauchmaws, at CR 4, ostensibly originate from the dream realms, and are predators of dreamers that can breathe 30 ft- cones of mist. (Minor complaint: Gust of wind reference not italicized in the ability’s verbiage), and these guys can dimension door within a vast range, but only step out of the mist. It’s also self-only, so no riding cheeses. Cool: We get an in-character prose excerpt adding a bit of color to the critter, and the fog breath instead functions as a radius centered on the fauchmaw at low levels; similarly, range for the mist-jump is limited appropriately until the 7th level advancement: You get the signature abilities from the get-go, but their full utility is expanded later – love this design paradigm. Coincidentally, you can explain this rather neatly by explaining advancement bestowing more control. Like it! The deep bonding feats are pretty cool as well: Bloody Mist adds 1d4 bleed damage to the mist, (only 1/round damage), and magical healing has a harder time stopping the bleeding. Minor complaint: To differentiate the low-level mistbreath and the 7th level+ breath version, the latter is called fog breath by the creature entry. Alas, the feat only references mistbreath, which means that it RAW would cease functioning at 7th level. This is obviously not intended and should not yield issues at the table, but it bears mentioning. Mistsight does pretty much what it says on the tin, and is much more useful when you have a Fauchmaw companion…

Next up would be the CR ½ Ferrovore: A Fine rust monster-like critter that can attach to targets stealthily, thanks to numbing agents, and slowly drains the blood of those it latches on to. They can also “filter” impurities from liquefied metals and make, obviously, for familiar choices. They come with a CR 3 ferrovore nymph swarm as a bonus critter of sorts – this one, though, is a more straightforward bleed-inflicting swarm. Casters with a ferrovore familiar and the Acid Armor deep bonding feat can, up to 2/day as an immediate action when casting an acid spell or taking 5+ acid damage, generate a sheet of alchemical metal that nets +2 to AC, stacks with itself, and lasts 4 hours. Really cool representation of the ferrovore’s unique metabolism! The Mercury-Fed deep bonding feat is taken by the familiar, and allows the critter to purify food and drink (spell reference not italicized), and the antennae can help willing or helpless creatures stave off diseases. (This feat may be swapped with a familiar’s existing feats.) Another winner here!

The CR ¼ Inkblood is another familiar-candidate, which clocks in at CR ¼. Artificially-created, these Tiny fellows can, as a full-round action, assimilate 2 pages of writing or images, reproducing the content of the folded membranes of the critter. Magical writing is automatically consumed (excluding items and illusory script et al.), but, to nitpick, the spell-references here are once more not concisely italicized. The inkblood can also fire quills (of course – kudos for the pun!) once per round. As for visuals: Think of something between a centipede or necrophidius, save that the ribs/legs are stretched out, holding membranes – my association was that it looks like a moth/ray/snake hybrid. This creature also comes with a CR 5 version, the Large, ancient inkblood, who can flash confusing pulses and constrict targets. The potential adventuring potential of these creatures and their narrative impact can be vast, and it is great to see that the pdf acknowledges this and notes some ideas for combining spell pages to create/collect spells. As a personal advice for GMs: if you have a slightly more potent or oddball spell, these creatures make for a great reason why not every caster has said spell – it just, you know, kinda came together! As far as deep bonding is concerned, we have the option to take Aberrant Symbol, which is a familiar feat that lets the inkblood fascinate adjacent targets. Page Eater enhances your Linguistics and language-dependent spells by eating pages. Love the visuals here!

The Perdentate Sarcoid clocks in at CR 5, and is something for all players that love to creep out NPCs: An undifferentiated mass of raw flesh studded with teeth on pseudopods, these guys made me flash back to Dalvehr-Nahr. Indeed, the signature ability of this fellow makes integration of that piece of obscure in-game lore easy: When they strike a foe, they absorb teeth, which is represented by Constitution damage that caps at 5. Creatures suffering from teeth extraction has a harder time enunciating the precise syllables required for verbal spellcasting, and the creatures can combine this ability with coup de graces for visuals that are nightmare fodder. The companion stats scale the critter in two steps, providing 4th and 7th level advancement notes, and also provide scaling for this ability. Reactive Denticles as a deep bonding feat may require a bit of clarification: It states: “Whenever you take damage, you can make an attack of opportunity against the source of the damage if it’s within reach.“ This could be read as either applying on all attacks (delimiting AoOs per round) or to mean that the the perdentate sarcoid can use the AoO (or array thereof via e.g. Combat Reflexes, if available) when attacked – it depends on how you read the sentence, and where you put your emphasis. I think the latter reading is intended here. Tooth Eater lets you swallow up to 4 specially prepared teeth, which correlate to types and subtypes, which net you a bonus to Knowledge checks. More interesting: Bones of that creature type/subtype glow, which opens venues for interesting investigations – and yes, the pdf properly codifies the rules of said glow.

Ruin drakes look like Medium drakes, sporting crystalline growths They are not actually dragons, though – instead, they are basically a dragon’s remains, a husk, controlled by the pox aberrantia (which are properly codified) – think of these as an intelligent, non-suicidal form of cordyceps – and as such, they are infectious, carrying this lethal parasite! The companion advancement is more linear here. With Aggressive Parasites, companions with Con 13+ can exhibit this as a short-range aura that inflicts damage. The master, on the other hand, may opt to become a Pox Aberrantia Carrier, which makes you immune against it and allows you to lace the parasites into your natural attack. Minor complaint: Unarmed strikes should probably also qualify as means to deliver the disease. Parasite-spreading mystic monks, perhaps with an agenda to purge dragonkind from the face of the planet? Come on, that’s cool!

The skyscourge, at CR 6, represents a flying arachnid with membranous wings…and tentacles. These tentacles can grasp targets and lift the grappled sods…and combine that with Flyby trickery. Oh, and not just one tentacle, mind you – all of them. If the critter maintains a grapple, its feasting causes Dex damage! The base companion advancement does not get these unique tricks, instead providing just the standard grab. The deep bonding feats provided are Assist Grapple, which lets the master assist by expending an AoO. Deranged Feeding nets the skyscourge frightful presence when feeding.

At CR 1, the deminiutive sonophage, at CR 1, eats sound. It dampens sound in an area around it (and the master is immune to this ability). In melee, these winged, mottled blots can cause sonic damage and mute targets temporarily on a failed save. They also are healed by sonic damage (again, at the cost of not getting saves). This critter is easily one of the most outré and cool ones within this book. Delayed Auditory Feedback can affect a target within 90 feet and hamper their ability to cast verbal spells; The deep-bonding feat for the master also doubles as a metamagic feat: Muting Spells use a spell slot two levels higher and, bingo, mute targets affected by the spell. The verbiage gets AoE interaction etc. done right. There is a second artwork beyond the creature artwork –a classic piece, with them inserted – it made me smile. It’s a use of stock art that is creative and shows this extra commitment to making the book more fun, also on a visual level.

Finally, there would be the Springroot: At CR 5: It looks a bit puya-plant like, utterly alien, and moves by compressing. Its needles have eye-like organs that it can reveal to grappled targets that flood the victim with alien sensations and impulses, stunning them. These critters can fire their needles sans AoOs…and their needles carry a poison that generates pleasant visions that do not impede the functionality of the target…but that do render the Springroot invisible to the affected creature! I can so see this as the core-aspect of a truly disturbing utopian cult… The companion stats provide a solid progression here. The deep bonding feats allow the master to be part of the poison-induced phantasm (spell reference not italicized), and Twin Gaze lets you coordinate your gaze with that of the springroot, enhancing the psychedelic stunning effect.

Conclusion:

Editing is generally very good on a rules-language level. On a formal level, there are a few typos that could have been caught. Formatting did not see the same attention to detail as the rest of the pdf: There are plenty of instances where spells have not been properly italicized. Layout is impressive: A nice and painless pastel-blue, supported by plenty of original full-color artworks make the interior of the book more impressive than the cover. This looks very professional and aesthetically-pleasing. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, though oddly, the Ferrovore and all subsequent critters are nestled in the fauchmaw bookmarks, which is itself nestled in the Argoschwere bookmark. They’re here, though, and that counts!

Jeff “The Green” Collins, Hal Kenette, Jennifer R. Povey, Maria Smolina and Amber Underwood deliver an impressive freshman offering for the company. And I don’t say that lightly. Not a single one of the creatures within this book is boring or mediocre – there is something cool about all of them, and they all attempt to do something conceptually and mechanics-wise interesting. That deserves to be applauded!

Moreover, a sense of fantastic plausibility suffuses these pages – in a way, all of these creatures make sense, feel like they belong, like they’re not simply a collection of stats. As you could glean from the review-text above, pretty much all of them kickstarted my imagination in some form or another. They have implications, they have niches that make you actually want to implement them. Even on the basis of just the merit of the monsters, this book should be applauded.

My ventures into the OSR-circles and into DCC; Legendary Games’ mythic monsters – they showed me something: Namely, that creatures, to be captivating, to be engaging, should be more than their stats. The critters within this book achieve just that.

This is even more important due to the fact that they are intended as player-options. Sure, it’s nice to have a couple of weirdo-creatures that don’t all want to kill off the PCs, but here, the emphasis placed on giving players some truly distinct, unique and fantastic companions is amazing. Playing the master of a fauchmaw will be more rewarding for experienced players than choosing a standard animal. And, in a sneaky manner, the unique quirks and kinks of the creatures will make them matter more – both mechanically, and within the stories you tell. This has both mechanical and narrative impact. Inkbloods could jumpstart whole campaign ideas and present a means to make magic feel more magical; Argoschwere are just delightful in their sheer weirdness, and pox aberrantia is basically an adventure hook/campaign seed waiting to happen…and a great reason for hostile dragons to go into full-blown Dalek-style “EXTERMINATE!”-mode! The critters are potent and the feat tax alleviates that; the deep bonding feats are a cool idea and deserve further expansion.

Now, granted, there are a few instances herein where minor aspects of the rules could be a bit more precise…and the number of formatting snafus, particularly among spell-references, is utterly avoidable. But know what? Reading and reviewing this book was significantly more engaging and compelling, dare I say, inspiring, than I ever expected or dared to hope it’d be. I’d rather take this supplement with its few formal flaws over a book of bland, clinical and soulless stats any day of the week. This oozes passion. It shows that the authors, all of them, genuinely cared about their contributions. You can feel it, see it in the small design-tweaks, in the instances where they could have said “that’ll do” – and didn’t.

The aberrant codex may not be perfect, but it’s an inspiring reading experience, with creatures that manage to encapsulate high-concept designs that you very rarely see in concise rules.

In short, this is one amazing little supplement. Were it not for the editing and formatting snafus, this’d be a clear 5 stars + seal of approval supplement. Considering their presence, I have to detract a star from my final verdict. However, freshman offerings always get a little bonus, and this is one such file. As such, the final verdict will be 4.5 stars, which will be rounded up due to in dubio pro reo. Oh, and since I really adored all of the creatures herein due to one facet or another, this also gets my seal of approval. If you’re bored by standard companions or just want some weird critters, this delivers in spades.

If this level of quality and cool designs is what we can expect from the Cobalt Sages, keep your eyes peeled for more!

You can get this inspired supplement here on OBS – you know you want cooler pets, don’t you?!

You can directly support the Cobalt Sages here on patreon!

Endzeitgeist out.

Dec 122018
 

The Genius Guide to Vampire Magic

This little supplement clocks in at 7 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

The supplement begins with 9 different magic items for vampires: Biteless bite is a glass bottle that contains liquid distilled from vampire blood, which nets a +4 bonus to Dex and Str, darkvision, and blood drain, but also a vampires susceptibility to holy symbols, which may hold the characters at bay, and they are dazzled and sickened by direct sunlight. However, after 24 hours, blood thirst kicks in, requiring a save – the DC increases by +2 for every 24 hours thereafter, and on a failure, the character goes berserk. Having fed, the character becomes a vampire under the control of the vampire that made this elixir. Slaying the creator dispels the effect. Claws of the lycanthrope are gloves that net claw attacks (differentiating between Small and Medium size), and they are properly codified regarding natural attack type – kudos. The wearer gets Multiattack and living humanoids donning them risk becoming temporarily werebats under the control of the creator. The wearer may end up with these acting as cursed items.

Cloaks of the daywalker do pretty much what you’d expect, and the greater variant can turn itself invisible, which can be a pretty cool option to bluff vampire hunters. False smile occupies the face slot and grants the vampire massive boosts to Disguise themselves as undead…and the item can block detect undead. Life leech is basically a leech that can hold blood and keep it fresh. Progenitor tracker is a bowl that lets you track the general distance of a progenitor. Thrall charm lets you 1/day as a standard action dominate a creature already under the control of another vampire. Cool: addle-minded template notes. Unholy aegis protects against holy water, and provides basically an evasion-like effect versus spells and abilities that deal damage sourced from the divine, like holy smite, provided these do allow for a save for half damage. Confusingly, this damage is lumped in with channel energy, which makes it hard to properly determine where the effect should apply and where it shouldn’t.

The pdf also includes a new artifact, the Remains of the First, a relic of either a bloodline’s source or otherwise epic, ancient vampire. This eliminates all vampire weaknesses while worn or swallowed. The DR is upgraded to DR 10/- and stakes can’t kill the vampire. Finally, there is a new occult ritual, the level 6 canopic relocation, which represents the vampire removing their heart and placing it in a jar, providing immunity to being staked.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting re very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard, and the artworks within are stock. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Jeff Lee’s items for vampires are an interesting little supplement. The items per se cover the classic tricks and tropes and should be enjoyable for GMs and players alike – particularly if e.g. potentially combined with rite Publishing’s “In the Company of Vampires” and similar supplements. All in all, an enjoyable offering. My final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.

You can get this supplement here on OBS!

Want playable vampires? You’ve got two excellent options:

For more Vampire: The Masquerade-like vampires that can fit within more gritty/down to earth games, check out Rite Publishing’s “In the Company of Vampires” here!

If you prefer more high-powered vamps, you should check out Dreamscarred Press’ “Lords of the Night” right here – particularly if you’re using Dreamscarred Press’ subsystems!

Endzeitgeist out.

Dec 072018
 

Advanced Skill Guide (SFRPG)

This massive supplement clocks in at 151 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 4 pages of handy index, 1 page KS-thanks, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 140 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

…who am I kidding, I’d have moved this one up in my queue, even if it hadn’t been for that request.

Why? Because this is the book that translates easily my favorite PFRPG-crunch book EVER to SFRPG. I am, of course, talking about the winner of my Top Ten of 2017, the “Skill Challenge Handbook”.

You know, the book that, like no other before or since, should have been part of the core rules.

Yeah, if you’re like me, you probably have started smiling just a bit right then and there.

However, and this must be made abundantly clear by even a cursory glance at the page-count, this is obviously not all there is to it. We do not have a simple translation of a book to another system here – oh no. This book begins with a chapter on Leadership. Yep, you guessed it. This also is the Starfinder-equivalent of Ultimate Charisma, yet another masterpiece of a book.

But, once more, there is more to it, so let’s take a look at the nit and grit, shall we? After a brief piece of introductory prose, we begin with a glossary of terms: In case you’re not familiar with the terms “cohort” and “follower”, the pdf clearly and concisely defines them. Same goes for the basic mechanics: A Leadership check is a d20 roll, to which total level and Charisma modifier are added, and Leadership checks are treated as either Diplomacy or Intimidate, depending on the style of leadership employed. Leadership modifiers are determined by the GM, and are the result of your playstyle.

There also would be the Leadership score, which is the sum of character level + Charisma modifier, + a bonus to indicate fame. Further modifiers can apply, and concise tables provide sample check DCs by difficulty, as well as a selection of suggested modifiers. If you need a representation of a group effort, there would be PLS – Party Leadership Score, which is calculated and explained in similar and easy to comprehend terms.

Things become a bit more detailed when we take a look at cohort creation – here, the book deviates strongly from previous iteration, in that it employs (gainfully, I might add), the Alien Archive’s NPC-creation guidelines with minor tweaks to allow for an overall very smooth and painless creature creation. Different methods of cohort creation, from promotion to recruitment (including costs to hire) are presented and the book does present different degrees of simulation depth for cohort progression: If you, for example, don’t have the inclination of tracking cohort XP in the traditional sense, you can check out the option presented for one-roll adventuring abstraction, which does not bog down the game. (Of course, you could play cohort-only sidetrek adventures as well…) If that is still too intrusive, you can resort to the autoleveling guidelines, and if that sounds like a hassle – rest assured that tips for players and GMs alike are included to make the process of adding cohorts to the game simple and smooth.

Followers, then, are more akin to redshirts with names and personalities – once your players have a massive space ship with a huge crew, you may well want to have example followers – and indeed, the pdf provides; once more, in an organic manner: The concept of good and master skills is used in abbreviated form for the different roles these fellows may have, once more allowing for a super smooth integration that distinctly can be identified as a Starfinder-centric solution.

The book goes further. In the next chapter, we take a gander at reputation. Fame is a representation of how well you’re liked and known within an organization or region. On the flipside, there would be infamy, of course. These two are collectively known as reputation. “Deeds” would be the term assigned for things you are famous or infamous for, and as a whole, the rules use Starfinder’s “significant threat” rule and transpose it to organizations – in short, reputation only matters and should come into play with significant organizations. I am not kidding when I am, time and again, emphasizing how Starfinder-centric these concepts have been realigned: The reputation section, for example, takes theme-choices into account.

While reputation, as a whole, is a more narrative system, it is not one that leaves the GM or player hanging or in doubt regarding precise implementation. Instead, we receive detailed and precise guidance pertaining reputation shifts, sample fame rewards for certain thresholds…and favor. Favor goes hand in hand with fame and represents basically your ability to call in favors, a kind of social currency. Both favor purchases and deeds, just fyi, have been supplemented with handy tables that provide amply guidelines to run the system or smoothly expand upon it.

But perhaps you and your group are less interested in empire-building and the grand game, and rather would develop the way in which the PCs interact with NPCs and one another? Fret not, for if you’ve been dissatisfied with “I roll once and change the attitude” type of scenarios, if you enjoy the more personal takes and exploration of bonds, whether they be among rivals and enemies, families or lovers, then you’ll very much enjoy the next chapter, for here we take a look at relationships. For simplicity’s sake, they are grouped in 4 rough categories: Animosity, familial, peer and friendship. All of these are tightly defined. The relationships themselves may be roughly categorized in the healthy and dysfunctional departments, somewhat akin to the dichotomy used for the reputation system, and while this is a bit of a simplification, there is a difference here: The system tracks not an objective value of good/evil, but rather the intensity of the relationship! This is VERY cool and a smart choice. It eliminates the “love”-threshold. You know, “reach this many points to get love.” Instead, each character will have different preferences, reactions and the like, and relationships are dynamic. You can actually switch from a familial relationship to animosity to friendship, for example. And yes, you can fake relationships. You can, of course, roleplay all of this, but in case your group tends to favor quicker resolutions, they are provided once more. And yes, they have been designed to allow for quick and painless resolutions. They will not slow down your game – unless you and your group choose to explore them.

The next section also can tie in with that – it pertains alternate and secret identities, and it is one chapter that I wish had been slightly more Starfinderized: The default assumption here would be that a series of Disguise checks is sufficient to establish a secret identity, which, while quick and painless, struck me as a bit…easy, at least in the long run. For brief covert identities and the like, sure, but for long-term identity change, some notes on the use of Computers to delete electronic trails and the like would have made sense to me. (But then again, I’ll return to that aspect down below – and why I don’t consider it to be an issue here.) the subchapter does talk about different means of compromising your identity, and how secret identities and shifts can influence reputation and relationships. And guess what: Having your cover blown is not a pleasant experience. Juggling multiple secret identities is btw. also noted.

Now, the pounding heart of this book, obviously, would be the skill challenges. If you’re familiar with the “Skill Challenges Handbook”, you’ll notice some overlap here and will be already familiar with the central concept.

Basically, a skill challenge represents an encounter-situation that can range from a group dealing with a super-computer’s complex self-defense system,a s it’s steering the vessel into a black hole, in the mainframe to a game of chess. Skill Challenges may be undertaken between teams (representing contests), and can span different increments of time: From long trips across the surface of a blasted planet under a dead sun, to a high-speed chase, the engine can cover pretty much anything. Running a skill challenge may seem daunting at first, but once you’ve read the rules, turns out to be exceedingly simple: You determine awareness first, so yeah, there can be a surprise round. Then, you determine initiative order and proceed to run it akin to a combat, save that it is not a combat, but a collective task.

“Winning” a skill challenge is referred to as “clearing” it, and, depending on the skill challenge, you have several methods: Some skill challenges may require an accumulation. Drawing that moon rover from the ditch, for example? Accumulation. When working against an opposing team, points can be used. Movement-related ones track squares, and for straight win/lose situations with a less pronounced focus on grades of success, “successes” are the tracked method makes most sense. It should be noted that there are actions noted for PCs to in-game interact with the respective skill challenge – obscuring trails, for example, is relevant when embarking on a skill challenge that is based on squares as clearance method.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. How do you beat an accumulation skill challenge? Well, let’s say your researching who the replicant-serial killer is, all right? You research, and roll a relevant skill, as determined by the GM. You have a success, and then take a look at the progress rating. For example, 22. Since you succeeded at the task, you accumulate value of by 1d4 + the ability score modifier associated with that check. Once you’ve beaten the progress, you’ve cleared the skill challenge. Being particularly good grants you bonuses, and may move you up in the dice-chain. Class skill? You roll one die size larger. High enough insight bonus? Ditto. To keep things interesting, these skill challenges generally have thresholds noted, where things happen, complications can occur, etc. Let’s say you’ve repaired a part of the mainframe of a desolate space station as you cleared threshold value 8 – electricity is suddenly restored…and the cargo doors open as part of the booting system, freeing whatever was locked inside…

This is perhaps one of the most potent and remarkable aspects of this system – while it can work on pretty much any timeframe, it similarly can slot in seamlessly with combat…and back out of it. What Do I mean by that? Well, you can easily slot skill challenge into skill challenge, Matroishka- or Inception-style.

Let’s say the planet the PCs are currently on is blowing up, and they are escaping the interstellar tyrants that have their homebase on the planet. The PCs embark on a grand skill challenge tracking abstract squares, as they hustle across the planet towards the dilapidated orbital elevators: Atop those, there is a ring of space stations surrounding the planet. (Yes, unrepentant Gundam fanboy here…) As they arrive at the elevators, the planet starts breaking apart…but the damn bullet train is old and needs to be fixed and maintained. Unfortunately, an alien species feeds on the thing, eating it while the PCs try to get it to start – enter a contest. As they finally get the thing running, the kill-squad sent from the tyrants has infiltrated the train – as the PCs make a desperate race for the top, trying to accumulate enough resources, combat breaks out….and even if they succeed, they’ll still need to get out of the system…

That is but one example of interwoven skill challenges, and once you get how these work, space’s the limit. Scratch that, not even that! To infinity and beyond! (Sorry, will punch myself later for that one…) The system may look daunting at first, but one glance at a statblock for such a challenge should tell you a lot about it…and once you understand it, you’ll realize how elegantly this one skill challenge statblock codifies a complex series of circumstances. In use, the system is so smooth, you basically don’t even need to make a statblock. You can run this spontaneously. The precision of all the definitions for increments, time pressure etc. are ultimately there to adhere to the conventions of the game, but in person, I can explain this whole system in under a minute. Heck, I actually implemented it without telling anyone, and it works. A quick-thinking GM can assign PC actions to the general actions within the respective skill challenge.

Basically, what the rules here do, is to allow you to structure how you think about the mechanic presentation of the challenges within. No GM really needs stated that some skill challenges can only allow for a certain amount of failures. Still, the rules are presented within, in order to allow you to write a quick and concise challenge. Similarly, backlash by hazards, traps and attacks, demerits (losing progress) – all there. Beyond thresholds, there also are obstacles – exemplified with the sample task of steering a vessel through an asteroid field. Chases would, obviously, be another example, and one that gets its own coverage – in detail.

If you need further means to modify these skill challenges and want an even tighter array of subrules, you’ll have a whole chapter of special qualities to modify them with: Obstacles, and, as noted, opposition, are covered. When you’re bodyguards for the ambassador’s daughter, whose word may save the galaxy, if you can only convince her… then you’ll want to take a look at the section on influence challenges. If you’re familiar with the way in which Ultimate Intrigue etc. structured social situations and cross that with skill challenges, then you’ll have an idea of how the system works: We basically get a “social” variant of a statblock that focuses more on personality and background, noting biases and strengths as well as weaknesses.

If you instead plan to talk in front of the board of directors of an interstellar megacorp, then you’ll want to check out the section on verbal duels. From allegory to mockery, this is indeed the first of these subsystems/skill challenges that I’d categorize as a mini-game of sorts. Knowledge of associated strategies and how they interact is important…but know what? It actually puts an end to the endless discussions that go nowhere, and it can make social interaction exciting for tables that usually prefer the tactical aspects of combat over storytelling.

For all of these, samples are provided, though, and let me make that abundantly clear: This is not a plug-and-play book of ready encounters. Instead, this teaches you how to use the system and make it your own. Extra design advice, a table of suggested sample DCs by difficulty rating and CR, suggested accumulation, square and success values by CR – ultimately, this is a ginormous guide that aims to teach you an easy system that can make literally everything, from treks across blasted desert planets to researching galactic archives, potentially exciting and interesting. It’s a system that inserts player agenda into what usually amounts to boring, singular pass/fail die-rolls and cutscenes, instead emphasizing the collective experience.

Okay, but we’re still not done. There is another massive chapter – and it’s called combat maneuvers. This chapter introduces an alternative means of resolving, bingo, combat maneuvers. Design-wise, the alternate maneuver system mirrors the way in which Starfinder treats AC: The Maneuver Defense (MD) value is subdivided into PMD (Physical Maneuver Defense) and MMD (Mental Maneuver Defense). The values are calculated as follows: 10 + ½ BAB + Strength modifier (PMD) or Charisma modifier (MMD). All combat maneuvers, and the feint and demoralize skill uses, as well as the Antagonize feat, target these now. Yes. Non-feat taxed antagonize is back. Honestly, it was one aspect of SFRPG that puzzled me as much as in PFRPG. Why lock insulting an enemy, arguably something pretty much anyone can do, behind a feat, while feinting, something I IRL would suck at, is available via skills? But I digress. Maneuvers are listed alphabetically, and are listed with action to activate, skills that can be used, and effects. Descriptors, if any, are noted as well. You basically check the skill against the respective MD. Crushing foes, scaling them…simple. Less simple would be the act of determining these values fro critters. Thankfully, a massive table lists suggested values by CR and array. (As an aside: The array is called spellcaster, not mystic…) Don’t like that? There is a means to use the system in conjunction with the standard KAC +8 solution.

What’s the effect of implementing it? Well, PCs are more likely to succeed at combat maneuvers…but so are enemies. If you are dissatisfied with how hard combat maneuvers are to execute in Starfinder, then this will yield approximately a 25% increase in chance to execute them, which can, particularly in more melee-centric situations, make them game more versatile and nuanced. The new “humiliated” condition is also introduced herein – and, in case you were wondering, there is a whole, massive array of feats that allow you to further customize your characters to make maximum use of this new system. In a rather embarrassing slip-up, the feats refer to the Improved Combat Maneuver feat – which has been rebranded as Improved Maneuver to avoid confusion with the Starfinder core feat. Unfortunately, the references of the feat in the section’s prerequisite lines have not been adjusted that way. It’s a cosmetic glitch, but still a pretty nasty one. Particularly since the Improved Maneuver feat’s special line even erroneously references itself as Improved Combat Maneuver… Also in this section would be the Unlock Skill feat.

Which ties in with…the Skill Unlocks. These can be gained by feats, themes or awarded freely, depending on your preferred playstyle, and include several that interact with other components of the book. At Fame 20, you can, for example, be Aloof without taking a penalty to Leadership score. With Blood Kin, you have a better rapport with your relatives, with Accomplished Climber, you gain a climb speed. Tehre are more unlocks here than I can conceivably cover without ruining the functionality of this review – suffice to say, a handy table organizes them by area of interest – looking for reputation unlocks? All collected in one section. If this notion was not indicator enough: One of the interesting and impressive components of this book would be the fact that all of these can be combined. The pdf does, for example, provide guidance and notes that skill unlocks can make for great relationship rewards…

Of course, considering the new combat options, we also receive a couple of new tricks for character classes: 4 new envoy improvisations, and an expertise talent, as well as tricks, for mechanics, soldiers and operatives may be found. The pdf then closes with 4 solid themes: Contender, scion, fixer and vigilante, before providing a handy glossary. Slightly hilarious: The vigilante gets the “Duel Identity” class feature. No, he is not particularly adept at dueling. That’s a typo.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting on a rules-language level, as a whole, are very good. However, on a formal level, the pdf does suffer a bit and is not 100% up to level we usually get to see from Everyman Gaming. Particularly in the few instances where a typo can make a rule slightly harder to understand, I couldn’t help but cringe slightly. Don’t get me wrong; this is still a tightly-presented book. Layout adheres to the two-column full-color standard of the Star Log.EM-series, adapted to the big book, and the pdf sports a ton of Jacob Blackmon artworks, many of which are brand new and pretty massive. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. My physical copy hasn’t yet arrived as per the writing of this review.

Alexander Augunas and Matt Morris deliver what can be considered to be a crown jewel among SFRPG supplements; we get a book with a sheer impact and coolness, a mighty toolkit that usually only sees the light of day in this extent towards the end of a system’s lifecycle. Having this near the beginning of Starfinder’s lifecycle is amazing. Simple as that. It is no secret that I consider many of the concepts within this book, the whole notion of skill challenges, to be pretty much a stroke of sheer genius. Having them coupled with some of my favorite tricks, as inheritors of Ultimate Charisma’s legacy, puts just icing on the cake. I applaud the degree in which the systems herein have been modified to represents Starfinder’s peculiarities, and once more, I am left to say, clearly and explicitly, that the very concept herein should have found its way into the core rules.

Now, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have some potential complaints to field: The editing, as noted, could have been tighter. I also would have loved to see more space combat-y things and peculiarities – sure, you can easily simply adjust what’s here to the space context, and the skill challenges present actually do just that…but some exclusives would have been nice. But that is not a fair complaint to field. You see, at first glance, there are a lot of similarities between this and the original PFRPG files; if you own the original files, you will constantly feel the casual familiarity that you expected to find…but once you take a more in-depth look, you will get to see the work that went into this tome…and the achievement that codifying the skill challenges this way, ultimately is. Regardless of system. This book was branded as the tome that will bring skill challenges to SFRPG – and more.

And, editing snafus be damned, it succeeds admirably. At this point, this is the most rewarding toolkit for SFRPG I am aware of. It will literally enhance any game it’s used in, and a GM who understands how this operates gets some of the mightiest narrative tools for a d20-game you can fathom on their hands. The concept itself may no longer be novel in all but its implementation into the system, but it doesn’t have to be. What you see on the cover, the exciting teamwork challenge? That can be yours.

Skill challenges have enriched my games like no other crunch supplement. If you play Starfinder and are not yet familiar with the notion, or if you don’t want to do the math and all those little tweaks…well then gets this ASAP! It is a mind-blowing experience. Now, if I were to rate this solely on its formal properties and disregard the content and its vast impact, I’d frankly have to rate this down to 4.5 stars, rounded down, due to the editing glitches. However, even if I were to divorce skill challenges from all the other components, which elegantly entwine, yet remain optional, they’d suffice to make the editing snafus as but trivial.

To state this in an abundantly clear manner: This book can radically improve pretty much every aspect of your game, of your GMing, of your playing experience. You don’t have to read everything. You don’t have to implement what you don’t want to – you can just cherry-pick what’s right for your and your group. Once you’ve understood this, you can implement its components on the fly, you can tell exciting stories that you couldn’t before. In short: This is, formal snafus or none, still a milestone and a masterpiece. I consider this to be perhaps the most important Starfinder supplement currently released by a 3pp. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval. This also gets my EZG Essentials-tag for Starfinder. And had its predecessor not won last year’s Top Ten, and thus disqualified this one from being a candidate for my Top Ten of 2018, you could find it there as well. This is, by all accounts, a must-own supplement for Starfinder.

…now, can we have a sequel book with more skill challenges, tricks and tweaks?

You can get this inspired tome here on OBS!

Endzeitgeist out.

Dec 072018
 
Dear readers!
‘Tis to season to be jolly…and super-busy, it seems! The last weeks have flown by, and between the approaching holidays and the hustle and bustle of the season, I genuinely hope that you’re having some time to breathe! This is not my official, final post before the holidays – there will be one more post before then.
For now, you know the drill: If you’re one of my patreons and eligible to a prioritized review, please tell me as soon as possible what you’d like me to cover! Even if you are not, please do tell me what you’d like to see!
As far as my own plans are concerned, I do have a couple of cool gems for you before the year comes to a close!
 
As for last month, I have covered the following:
Kort’thalis Publishing – La Bas Chartreuse (OSR/system neutral)
Dungeon Age Adventures – Dungeon Age: Saving Saxham (5e)
Evil Robot Games – Galaxy Pirates: Ships – Eldred Interceptor (SFRPG)
Evil Robot Games – Galaxy Pirates: Ships – Eldred Intermediate Cruiser (SFRPG)
Steve Bean Games – Null Singularity (DCC)
Raging Swan Press – 20 Things: Orc Village (system neutral)
Evil Robot Games – Galaxy Pirates: Ships – Pirate Fighter (SFRPG)
AAW Games – Future’s Past I: Edge Station (SFRPG)
Drop Dead Studios – The Conjurer’s Handbook
AAW Games – Future’s Past II: Paying Forward (SFRPG)
Expeditious Retreat Press – Advanced Adventures: White Dragon Run (OSR)
Rogue Genius Games – Monster Menageries: Draconis Arcanus
Expeditious Retreat Press – Advanced Adventures: White Dragon Run II (OSR)
EN Publishing – Tip of the Tongue
AAW Games – Star System Set: Salutian (Full Set) (SFRPG)
Paizo – Pathfinder Playtest Analysis III – Classes (PF2)
Everyman Gaming – Everyman Minis: Wild Shape Variants
Raging Swan Press – 20 Things: Blue Dragon’s Lair (system neutral)
Drop Dead Studios – Champions of the Spheres
Purple Duck Games – Lands of Adventure (Porphyra RPG)
Everyman Gaming – Star Log.EM: Mythos Mystic Connection (SFRPG)
Fat Goblin Games – 5th Edition Horror (5e)
Cloudstepping Media – Mystic Pangolin ‘zine #2 (OSR)
Raging Swan Press – City Backdrop: Languard (5e)
Raging Swan Press – City Backdrop: Languard (system neutral)
Raging Swan Press – City Backdrop: Languard
Raging Swan Press – Languard Locations: Low City (system neutral)
Raging Swan Press – Languard Locations: Low City (5e)
Raging Swan Press – Languard Locations: Low City
Necrotic Gnome Productions – B/X Essentials: Monsters (OSR)
Everyman Gaming – Star Log.EM: Solarian Zenith Revelations (SFRPG)
Everyman Gaming – Star Log.EM: Boarding Rules (SFRPG)
Everyman Gaming – Star Log.EM: Skittermander Options (SFRPG)
Kort’thalis Publishing – Alien Ass, Hydrogen Gas or Cosmic Grass…No One Warps for Free! (OSR)
Everyman Gaming – Star Log.EM: Lorefinder (SFRPG)
Raging Swan Press – Languard Locations: The Shambles (system neutral)
Raging Swan Press – Languard Locations: The Shambles (5e)
Raging Swan Press – Languard Locations: The Shambles
Goodman Games – The Corpse That Love Built (DCC)
Lost Spheres Publishing – Lost Spells of Canthar: 10 Necromancies
Everyman Gaming – Star Log.EM: Spells of Furor (SFRPG)
Raging Swan Press – Languard Locations: High City (system neutral)
Raging Swan Press – Languard Locations: High City (5e)
Raging Swan Press – Languard Locations: High City
Drop Dead Studios – Jaws of the Jhambizaur
Lost Spheres Publishing – Lost Spells of Canthar: 10 Conjurations
AAW Games – The Secret Weapons Project (SFRPG)
Raging Swan Press – Languard Locations: Beyond the Walls (system neutral)
Raging Swan Press – Languard Locations: Beyond the Walls (5e)
Raging Swan Press – Languard Locations: Beyond the Walls
Expeditious Retreat Press – Advanced Adventures: Stonesky Delve (OSR)
Goodman Games – The People of the Pit (DCC)
Drop Dead Studios – Metafeats: Embracing the Fourth Wall
Paizo – Pathfinder Playtest Analysis IV: On Magic (PF2)
Gamer Printshop – The Haunted Dive (SFRPG)
False Machine Publishing – A Night at the Golden Duck (OSR)
 
You know, this time of the year always makes me contemplative about a myriad of topics, so, with 2019 approaching fast, I once more wanted to thank all of my patreons, who collectively help to keep this lights on. This list right there? It’s the achievement of my supporters as much as it’s mine. I know that I have said that time and again, but in a world where so much is just white noise, it’s something I truly I mean, something I wholeheartedly believe in.
 
To all my patreons: Thank you.
Endzeitgeist out.
Dec 052018
 

A Night at the Golden Duck (OSR)

And now for something completely different! This little ‘zine can, per the writing of this review, only be purchased in print and, at first glance, seems to be 7 pages long – however, this supplement can be unfolded into a massive poster that is littered with the maps of the place featured, with adventure hooks, and stats – The stats note AC (ascending), HP, attacks + damage and brief special features like “climbs easily.” Skills are noted as “X in 6.” Thus, as far as rules are concerned, this pretty much can be considered to be easy to implement in most games. No level-range is provided, though I’d situate this somewhere along the level 5-7 range in most games.

 

Apart from the cover, every little space available herein (beyond the cover) is crammed with information. But what is this? It is, essentially, a location with curious NPCs (all illustrated  in Scrap Princess’ unique style) that you insert PCs into. The adventuring will happen organically, but you should not expect a pre-fabricated adventure, as much of how this turns out is contingent on how you and your players interact with and present the characters.

 

Genre-wise, I’d consider this to be, in essence, a macabre and somewhat hilarious dark comedy of manners – something you only rarely get to see in RPGs.

 

This was moved up in my reviewing queue do to a patreon supporter who requested that I cover this one.

 

I am going to THOROUGHLY SPOIL this in the following discussion, so potential players should definitely jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around?

 

To illustrate how the fold out version looks:

 

Well, the Golden Duck is basically an Inn unlike any your adventurers have visited. The place is run by Miss Tricks (lol), a bug-creature. A really friendly bug creature with the personality of a granny. Miss Tricks gets flustered easily and to calm her down, one has to stroke her head and say “Now now Miss Tricks, now now.” She also likes telling tales of criminal children, who inevitably end up in jail – and not showing sympathy may result in here becoming upset. Oh, and she has a corpse in the closet. Only, it’s not a corpse – it’s one of her own shed shells.

The guests include Arm-Long Armstrong, a thief taker who REALLY doesn’t want to take in thieves. Why? Because his one arm grows longer when thieves are caught. The other one is crippled and small – it would grow if innocents are set free. He also has a penchant for one-upping any stories with more nihilistic equivalents, and several such tweaks are included. Chaffinch the thief seems to be a nice fellow – they are honey-tongued and sympathetic, and a kleptomaniac, but state so in advance. Unfortunately, the discovery of major treasure can trigger a fugue-state breakdown of most violent proportions. Doctor Roaaak is a superb doctor, but a super-crappy psychologist – unfortunately, he does insist on poking folks, proverbially and metaphysically, when treating them. He also carries a suspicious fiddle around, is paranoid…and, alas, does have a secret that can be rather malignant. Oh, and he’s basically a massive raven in a doublet. And then, there’d be “Pierre Pierre Pierre” – who looks like an ape, has a strong French accent and does NOT speak French. He’s also a loyalist and tries to recruit the PCs into counter-revolutionary forces.

 

So, the NPCs alone are hilarious and brilliant – but to help you make this work as a module, we also get a chronology of suggested events. During the serving of dinner, the GM can paraphrase or just read the most direct hook – The Golden Duck, which is presented as part of a legend concerning the marriage of the princess of birds and Boreas. Oh, and guess what? The fabulous duck is supposed to still be here. It is. It can actually be found by clever players, courtesy of…a pun. A perfect resolution here!

 

The wealth of angles and how PC interaction with them will ultimately trigger how they behave is brilliant. This could end in anything from a memorable and wonky evening to a true massacre.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting re hard to judge due to the collage-style and the puntastic nature and presentation. I was not taken out of this supplement while reading it. Layout is interesting and very artistic, evoking, as noted, a sense of looking at collages. The fold-up angle is cool, though I do worry slightly that it will, in the long run, hurt the longevity of the supplement slightly.

 

And longevity and replay value this indeed does have galore, courtesy of the unique and amazing NPCs. The humor is dark and absolutely fantastic as well. If you like Scrap Princess’ style, then you’ll love this on an aesthetic level. (Personally, I very much enjoy the collage-style look!) Patrick Stuart delivers an amazing, fun and truly enjoyable ‘zine here – I hope that it’ll be the first of many. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

 

You can buy this cool ‘zine exclusively here!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Dec 052018
 

The Haunted Dive (SFRPG)

This adventure clocks in at 91 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page introduction, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 85 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Okay, so first thing you should know, is that this module uses the rules from the Starship, Stations and Salvage Guide. It has a ton of supplemental rules included, but does not reproduce these. It is possible to run the adventure without owning said book, just to make that clear.

The module spends a lot of pages on rules, so let’s take a look at them first:

 

The supplement comes with 3 new expansion bays, which do focus on a leitmotif of the adventure (see SPOILER-section below) and includes stats for luxury escape pods. This also ties in with the new ship defenses. There is a computer augmentation that clocks in at level 10, which allows the user to add Intelligence bonus to other functions in the ship, which can be pretty excessive. There is a nice, new ship hazard. The pdf also includes equipment rules for back packs that allow for battery combination, which is per se cool – and yes, it may be rigged to detonate. There also is an odd one: Emergency Survival Boosters ”Adds an additional tier of level to any clothing or armor that its[sic!] attached to…” – and no, I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean. There is a gauntlet that does not properly denote the damage type it causes, and the generators noted also suffer a bit from wonky verbiage.

 

There is a cybernetics section that does not properly denote the system into which they’re implanted. There is a lens that grants you infrared vision…which does not exist in SFRPG. One glance at the core manual will show you that infrared sensors translate to darkvision in SFRPG. Low light vision does NOT have a range. There is a section on using VR in conjunction with the Computer rules, but it doesn’t properly codify all of them as per subset of computer features. The new armors are solid, and there are some armor upgrades included.

 

The pdf contains two variant classes – a VR-based version of the mechanic, and a mystic variant.

…there is no nice way to put it, so here goes: They deviate in a TON of ways from proper presentation and rules-language standards. It begins by the tables being internally inconsistent (one class lists full save names, one abbreviates Fortitude to Fort, but doesn’t abbreviate the others; saves are listed first before the BAB, for maximum confusion…particularly in the second class, which also hasn’t properly aligned columns…) and goes on from there. Even when an ability like bypass provides a clear example to follow, the classes somehow get that wrong and put it in an awkward way. Stamina and Hit Point correlation are dissolved in one instance, which may be a typo. There is so much wrong with these, I frankly don’t know where to start. To give you an excerpt from one of the mystic spells: “This counts as a DR5 vs force and kinetic attacks. This replaces the Major version of Force Shield.“ This is not how DR works. The spells don’t list spell levels in their descriptions spell (you need to default to the list for that!), and this weird “replaces” makes no sense – the old spells are not lost! These classes are trainwrecks and don’t contribute anything of significance to the pdf.

 

The pdf contains VR-Rules, which list the following: “A Diver begins with a Virtual Hit Point

equal to his base HP. When this reaches 0 they are automatically removed…” Okay, does this include Stamina? If not, why? If it goes directly to HP, there is a whole array of questions left. You have a virtual AC (VAC) of “10 plus their intelligence per level.” No, I am not making that up. If you want to use these rules, you better do some serious fixing first, for RAW, they simply are not operational.

 

The pdf also includes a new race (see Spoilers) – that is more min maxy than SFRPG races should be, with +4 to an attribute, -4 to another. The race has a fly speed, but doesn’t denote maneuverability or type of fly speed, and labors under the misconception that there is a blanket energy resistance as a rules term. There is not. These glitches tend to also find their way into the bestiary. The presentation of statblocks is not unified, and the critters presented are off in pretty much every conceivable way. Effects that should be noted as critical aren’t, type is off, damage values are pitiful. Damage types are not noted correctly. Skills are off. Plusses are missing. Formatting is wrong. A CR 20 critter is noted as 6000 XP. Statblocks are oddly aligned in some instances. To give you an idea:

 

“Init +3 Senses Low-Light Vision as per

normal vision Perception 12

HP 72 EAC 20 KAC 15 Fort 6 Ref

11 Will 8

Offensive/Defensive Abilities

Universal Expression, Quick Inspiring

Boost, Focus, Heads Up, Desperate

Defense, Expert Attack

Speed 30ft“

 

The bestiary section is a bit better…but the NPC section and the new race and related statblocks? Oh boy. Also: There are plenty of lines that read “Will Immune” That is not correct. The section has some guidelines regarding VR creatures and haunts, which is per se cool, but is also contingent on the VR-rules. Which are not operational. And I haven’t even touched upon the fact that formatting is wrong and inconsistent. Skills are not properly capitalized, rules-language is off, things that shouldn’t be capitalized, are…the list goes on.

 

Okay, that was not what I was hoping for.

 

Let’s see how the adventure section holds up, shall we? It should be noted that the module does contain proper and player-friendly maps of the vessel, as well as a long section of introductory prose and notable questions that PCs may ask – as far as that aspect is concerned, the adventure presents a neat level of guidance for the GM. The following contains SPOILERS. Potential player should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

Okay, only GMs around? Great!

So, as the introduction noted, the inspiration for this adventure was “Ghost Ship” – and while I’d argue that the movie is not an efficient horror movie, I do concur with the statement that the Final Destination-ish mass death scene was indeed well-executed. It also does something interesting, in that it features two distinct tags for descriptions: “Before” and “After”, which means you could conceivably play the adventure as things are happening, or as explorers that happen upon the vessel after the disaster. Another option would be to play its “Before” state with one-shot characters. So yeah, the set-up reminded me of one of my favorite OSR-adventures (review forthcoming), so that’s a good thing.

 

The Vestige Voyage, the ship, is properly statted and lists its amenities and the like in a concise manner. A brief table allows for random encounters/creepy things happening. The story, alas, is not presented as clearly. Basically, a technomancer has found a new type of creature, quantum fey. (These also would be the new race mentioned earlier.) That idea is amazing. Alas, the synopsis refers to two different characters as “The technomancer”, which can be confusing. Plot-wise, a queen of the quantum fey was imprisoned and driven mad; when freed, she lashed out, and the dying good technomancer uploaded her mind – now struggling with the mad queen for supremacy, she triumphs, but is cursed with undeath. This happens as a gala is held, much akin to aforementioned movie.

 

Yep, you’ve probably pieced it together by now: Basically, the module uses holograms and VR to account for haunt-like effects, creatures, etc. The adventure itself is presented in a classic way, in that the pdf describes the locations of the “Vestige Voyage.” There is an overview section for the exploration, presented for the GM. Self-destruction of the vessel is a distinct possibility, just fyi. The information-presentation is rough, though. It helps that “Before” and “After” are bolded in the text, but the other pieces of information need to be puzzled together, and enemies are noted in the text sans highlight or stats. The constant issues in rules-language and presentation further hurt this: “Any Engineering 30 and computer check 30 will override the bridge lockouts.” Even casual familiarity with Starfinder ought to tell you that this is not how the like is worded and formatted.

 

…and, honestly, it sinks the module. Not on its own, mind you…but in conjunction with the rules that are supposed to provide a unique angle, the rules that don’t work? Yeah. It does.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are bad on a formal and rules language level. There are copious amounts of typos, and worse, there are a TON of issues in pretty much every aspect of the rules language. Layout adheres to a solid two-column full-color standard, and the maps presented for the vessel are nice and full-color. They are, hands down, the strongest component of this adventure. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

This module was shocking for me. Edward Moyer’s rules language tended to sport some inconsistencies and issues here and there, but this module is a whole new level. Basic things that have been staples since the inception of 3.0, things that I haven’t seen done wrong in a while, are simply not functional. The rules for the VR-gimmick, on which much of the module hinges, simply don’t work.

Gosh, this was frustrating. When reviewing adventures, I tend to focus on the story, on how it plays. I am a bit less picky than when I’m reviewing books intended to primarily serve as crunch resources. Up to a point. Here, the editing (or lack thereof) actually sinks the entire module. The rules are nowhere near operational. As a developer, I’d send this back to the author and tell them to read up on the rules and how they’re formatted, rewrite the entirety, and then get back to me. I looked at the rules, and even casual observation provided so many issues that I frankly didn’t know where to start when complaining about them.

 

And, you know, usually, I’d try to see this as something like “Okay, rules are bad, but if you look at just the adventure section…” – but that doesn’t work here. This tries to be a highly technical adventure, with a ton of entwined rules, a whole system for VR with its own intricacies – perhaps because the base adventure section is neither creepy, nor particularly original. Some concepts are really cool, but they are mired in the execution, like dinosaurs, conserved in a tar pit. The main issue, though, is that this simply doesn’t work. The adventure is utterly reliant on these new rules, and when they fail to work, so does, by extension, the adventure.

 

I so wanted to like this. I adore scifi horror. But unlike “Rogue ‘s Run”, you have no chance of ignoring the broken aspects here. There are no two ways around this – this does not work. And this is so frustrating, because the adventure does have a great angle, a great twist on a classic trope. It has creative ideas, but the execution of said ideas is, at best, in a pre-alpha stage. There is potential here, and had this been presented in a tight manner, it could have scored as high as 5 stars + seal of approval. If you invest a LOT of time, you can make this an interesting and creative module, but expect more than a few hours.

 

But what we get here, alas, comes nowhere close to that. My final verdict can’t exceed 2 stars.

 

You can get this adventure here on OBS.

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Dec 042018
 

Pathfinder Playtest Analysis IV – On Magic

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

 

So, magic.

 

The topic that differentiates fantasy from other genres, conceivably the most important component of the fantasy genre – what do I think about its implementation in PF Playtest?

 

Well, first of all, the sorcerer obviously needs something more as provided right now; but we’re not here to discuss classes, though the subject matter is entwined with them. To properly contextualize magic in PF Playtest, and how it has arguably been nerfed, let’s take a look at the game, the tone it evokes and its history. Please bear with me, this is going somewhere.

 

For the sake of simplicity, let us take a look at what magic can do in PF 1:

  • Single-target Damage
  • Area of Effect Damage
  • Utility
  • Defense
  • Terrain Control (soft/hard)
  • Crowd Control (soft/hard)

You get the idea – there is a whole lot magic can do, and historically, within the context and development of the games we play, this makes sense.

If you started playing before D&D 3.X, you’ll know why there weren’t many magic-users implicit in most settings, at least when compared to all other classes. (Excluding paladins, courtesy of their ridiculous minimum attributes required.) Living to the point of being able to cast 3rd level spells, arguably where the often-quoted quadratic growth of spellcasters kicks into full gear, was a SERIOUS achievement that required luck, skill, and potent allies. Up until then, spellcasters tended to be PITIFUL. As in: A housecat could kill you, and you probably won’t be soloing even a single wolf. Having a spellcaster *live* to tell the tale was an achievement – and being able to blast whole groups to smithereens with fireballs was a reward of the perseverance of both players and PCs.

 

Even then, the chassis of the spellcasting classes was so comparatively sucky, that ultimately, spellcasters remained horribly, painfully fragile. All those defense spells? They were all but required to survive the rigors of adventuring. Divine casters, in comparison, had weaker spells and limitations imposed on them. Remember, before channel energy, there was turn undead, which, for the most part, bordered on uselessness and was rather situational in its effectiveness.

 

Fast forward to 3.X, and we have still a comparably sucky chassis underlying the class, but we also have retained the harsh power of the old spells. So, what happened? A couple of things. First of all, 3.X and its follow-ups moved away from theater of the mind playstyle, towards a more tactical playstyle for many of its components. The characters also started growing in toughness beyond a certain level. (Yep, young ‘uns – at one point, you were basically almost stuck with your level 9 HP – and only got +2 per level after that!) While the new, continuous growth was more rewarding for players achieving new, higher levels, this also meant that the inherent fragility of characters ultimately was reduced. Seriously. Once you’ve first had your 500+ HP barbarian shrug off a Breath Weapon Admixture’d breath attack of a dragon, you’ll know what I mean.

 

Still, it’s not only the hit points and numbers that fostered the feeling of magic being OP.

The time-honored and most important limitation of any meaningful magic in games that cleave close to the tradition of D&D, whether it’s old-school or Pathfinder, would be the fact that it is limited by the tradition of vancian casting. At one point, you had to decide on whether to focus on maintaining defenses that very quite literally crucial to your survival, and damage/utility.

This *was* a meaningful decision, because random encounters were a thing. Resting was NOT a safe bet – not by a long shot. However, random encounters take up time; time many adult groups don’t have. When you’re in college or university, you can perhaps easily run 3 – 5 games a week, and random encounters, with the tactics and time it takes to run Pathfinder’s more complex dynamics, are definitely fun…but also time-consuming. If life catches up, and family, job, etc. demand ever-increasing shares of your valuable free time, though, a random encounter will suddenly feel…well, like filler, like grind.

 

As such, the slow and deliberate move away from random encounters, ultimately, is a matter of demographics growing up, in combination with the intrinsic focus of the system. A random encounter in an OSR game is much easier and faster to resolve – this is system-immanent. This move away from random encounters towards a more story-driven experience ultimately also changed how groups behaved, but its departure, its decreased focus on attrition, also stripped vancian magic of one of its most crucial checks and balances, the risk to rest. (Coincidentally, that’s also why we often see time-limits in modules – to demand urgency, to prevent the 5-minute adventuring day, but that’s another topic.) As a further aside, random encounters also eat up page-count, and considering the size of statblocks, their inclusion or lack thereof is also a consideration of cost-benefit-ratio being potentially off for more complex games.

 

Now, in the absence of the limitations imposed by the abundance of random encounters, players and GMs realized quickly that there needs to be a means to free up valuable slots to account for the demands of time limits (or the presence of random encounters, where they still exist) – and this brings me to one factor that was emphasized by design time and again, and probably one of the least liked components of PF1. At least I’ve never seen someone exclaim that these are what they really loved: Spells-in-a-can.

 

Whether they’re scrolls, wands or other items, there is a ridiculous amount of items that basically delimit magic utterly and completely. The option to exchange magic items for gold is one that actually is a rather radical departure from the assumptions of old, when crafting did have VERY strict limitations imposed upon it, when making a magic item was an achievement. Compare that to how many wands of cure X wounds, scrolls and similar throwaway spells your average level 10+ adventuring group will be hauling around to free up the precious spellslots of their clerics and wizards. The problem here is, that this delimited magic does ultimately trivialize the specializations of fellow adventurers.

 

Why bother with a rogue when you can cast quasi unlimited knock, detect secret doors and the like, when a combination of invisibility, silence and negate aroma will make your group god-like infiltrators?

 

Utility is often fielded as one of the most jarring examples of the power of magic – and the criticism is both justified and unjustified. You see, magic should be able to render you invisible, to allow you to climb that cliff, etc. It’s magic, after all!

It certainly should fortify you against scorching heat and the like, right? Depending on the type of game-style you prefer, the response will probably be a clear, kneejerk “No” or “Yes”, depending on aesthetics favored, when it probably should be a “Yes, but…”

 

On the plus-side, the sheer, vast utility of spells means that you don’t have to do as much preparing when venturing into dangerous areas. At the same time, it utterly trivializes terrain hazards and presents an issue for designers. Do you write module to assume that the whole group has access to fly speeds? If so, do you also assume that the group actually runs Fly as written? You ultimately can’t, at least not in most stories – and thus we get long and per se cool descriptions of hazardous terrain and unique challenges in high level modules, while only doing one thing: Bleeding one of a gazillion charges from a spell in a can item. These hazards once bled the powerful resource of spellcasters dry. Nowadays, they serve as inconveniences at best, but can’t be simply left by the wayside, because you can’t assume that a given group has access to them.

 

The other day, I was playing Witcher 3. There was this one scene, where space rips open, and temperature drops to lethal degrees. Your wizard ally generates a field wherein you don’t freeze, while monsters assault you. You defend the wizard, move towards the rifts, and slay monsters while the wizard tries closing the rifts. There is concentration involved, obviously, and it’s an instance of an encounter I could see translated to PF…in theory. De facto, the coolness of that encounter would be utterly negated by readily-available spell-in-a-can items – the system’s peculiarities get in the way of what would be an amazing encounter set-up.

 

So, how to resolve this issue?

 

In fact, PF Playtest already does this – half way: Rituals. If one thing in PF Playtest needs more “screentime”, needs to be expanded, it’s rituals. Trading time and easy access for the magic power – rituals are a time-honored tradition to generate magical effects beyond the capabilities of spells.  Thulsa Doom could wreck whole continents, but he needed massive preparation. But how balance rituals to avoid exploitation there? A couple of options come to mind, first of which would be a corruption/favor mechanic, akin to what DCC uses. The downside here is that this would not fit PF2’s tone, which is traditionally high fantasy, and not sword & sorcery. It can be gritty and grimy, sure, but the unreliable and corrupting magic effects would radically alter the paradigm by which Golarian operates. As such, this would be out of the question. Gritty Golarian is still closer to Greyhawk than to Conan.

 

By imposing too steep a resource cost regarding time required to cast, we’d arrive once more at the 5-minute-adventuring day. By imposing too steep a cost in commonly available materials (like gold), we’d have a form of attrition that doesn’t reward a single character’s resource management, and instead targets the entirety of the group’s resources to power a single character’s escapades. Everyone who ever played a gunslinger in a gritty setting, where gold is scarce, will realize that it’s not fun having to beg for gold to use core class features.

 

The answer, to me, is pretty obvious: Fragility. Fragility in either or both the casting and effects. Sure, a mage can conjure forth a funny floating elevator to get down the vast chasm – but if his concentration ceases, everyone will fall. Are you sure you don’t want to send the climber down with the rope, have the fellow secure a path? This solution, as a whole, would allow for choice – in some instances, the magical solution would be the more viable one, but it would not overshadow the mundane ways to resolve problems. That is, obviously, just an example, and all such effects would require their own fixes. Want to limit personal flight to high levels and make the existence of flying mounts more viable – and all of that without eliminating flying? Okay, then establish a maximum distance the character can be from the ground, a height cap. Want to nerf invisibility? Make the target briefly disoriented after becoming visible…or perhaps, being invisible in bright light or darkness is very much obvious?

 

I’m obviously just providing examples here, but the essence is that magic should remain fun…but it also should adhere to rules that do not invalidate the mundane means to achieve goals.

 

Which brings me to the crux of the matter: Items. Ultimately, Resonance alone does not suffice as a solution regarding spells-in-a-can, as it only once more potentially generates 5-minute-adventuring days in this context. Instead, spells-in-a-can need to be severely limited in both availability and the means to use them, as well as which spells can be cast thus. Being potentially able to cast the spell is an easy modification, a first step, for example, that, in combination with Resonance, would allow archmages to still fling around spells through staves etc., while the “ritualization” of utility spells and limitations imposed on availability of the respective items can be translated to groups not drowning in spells-in-a-can items.

 

As soon as you get a handle on utility no longer being so ridiculously good and easy to abuse via spells-in-a-can items, you need to choose – and indeed, this brings me to another issue regarding potency.

 

Personally, I think it was high time that magic got hit with the nerf bat regarding its damage output. I am all in favor of that. However, as written, I think it may have gone a step too far. Magic, in a battle context, is artillery: It’s there to hit weaknesses regarding damage types and create Area of Effect damage, eliminating foes swiftly- It’s a limited resource for that reason. Fighters and similar martials will be better as dismantling single, tough foes, but magic is the ultimate mook/minion-sweeper, and is basically a shortcut through a long slog, while the potent enemies hit hard. Battle magic allows for a consolidation of forces and attacks. It offered, previously, both breadth and depth. Martials, on the other hand, at least when competently build, can go into depth – you don’t even want to know how much damage I’ve seen a single martial character dish out in PF1 last week-end. (Clue: 4 figures. In one round.)

 

(As an aside: This, obviously, is only possible…via magic. The buffing structure has been streamlined in PF Playtest, so I don’t expect the same level of ridiculous escalation in PF2.)

 

The discrepancy and notion that casters are OP is mostly based on trivializing non-combat options AND on being capable of dishing out AoE-attacks sans limits, or with very lax limits imposed. See, once more, the item issue. The problem, thus, has to be resolved in two ways to be truly satisfactory: Mages should retain their ability to cause mayhem in areas, control terrain, etc. – but they should be less reliable, much like artillery, than a proper martial. Conversely, the aforementioned changes to magic would automatically make martials matter more, but to truly be perfect, a broadened focus of options for mundane characters would help further even out the battlefield, and make them feel different. That’s the goal – difference, not necessarily discrepancy…though the fact that spells are a limited resource needs to be taken into account. Emphasis on *LIMITED*, for this is a main point here. The second, to make that abundantly clear, is that martials need fun stuff to do. The revamped skill system does help there, but giving them a few unique tricks, enhancing their breadth, would imho not hurt either.

 

Mages, however, also are sniper rifles. They, at least in PF 1, have a gazillion of save-or-suck tricks, and these, once more, can be easily tweaked. Damage-output, saves, means to more reliably shake them off in subsequent rounds – all screws that you can use to balance them. I honestly believe that, from rock-paper-scissors in monster vulnerabilities/immunities to all those means, PF Playtest and PF2 can achieve the goal of making magic still feel MAGICAL, while also creating a magical (hehe – sorry, couldn’t resist…) balance that can make the game stand out.

 

One of my readers, Delurm, commented as follows:

“1e had a funny thing to balance that magic though – segment casting time. Spells didn’t ‘go off’ on your init. You would subtract the level of the spell from your init and ‘start casting’ on your init – and the spell would go off at the later count. This gave enemies time to hit you (and disrupt the spell).

This makes low level spells valuable for damage due to speed – and keeps them from being used as ‘utility in a can’ – wands (as any spell 1-3) need to go away – potions – same, make specific spells available as consumables and put emphasis on scrolls being damaged via contact with water – bam magic back into balance without huge nerfs to spells.”

 

My response was as follows:

“You know, you’ve provided a really thought-provoking comment here! Thank you! It’s funny – we all enjoyed the tactics of segmented spells back in the day in my group, but when it went away, we kinda forgot about the whole notion of it. Particularly considering the tactical nature of PF Playtest et al, it’s actually puzzling that segmented spells haven’t made a resurgence, big time! It would also automatically change the relatively static initiative order and allow for some interesting coordination tricks!

Scrolls are a bit difficult, in that there are plenty of cultures where paper isn’t the preferred medium to carry spells, so that may warrant some further thought and probably wouldn’t be simply solved, as a concept, by water…but yeah, I whole heartedly agree that a resurgence of segmented spellcasting would help deal with the issue of low level damage becoming useless, while also helping reign in the utility aspect!”

 

So yeah, the introduction of segmented spellcasting would be an elegant way to keep low level damage spells relevant AND also help reduce the tendency to replace all low level spells with utility options.

 

Personally, I do think that a mage battlespell should be able to exceed martial damage output, as, unlike martial attacks, it’s limited, but it should similarly have clear instances where it’s simply not the best choice. It should, however, not thoroughly outclass martials.

 

Magic traditions and occult rules could be another flavorful means to balance magic. (“You can only ever cast a single spell 7 times per day. Metamagic feats, spells and effects that modify the spell, as well as spell-trigger and spell-completion items, as well as spells that are variations of one another at higher levels (such as summon monster VI and IX all count towards this maximum.” is, for example, a stipulation, a rule I imposed on a certain rune-based tradition in Golarion.) It’s a small thing, but considering all the rules imposed on the esoteric traditions in our world, it makes sense and renders magic more unique. As an aside: I would have very much loved to see rules akin to those presented in the Alchemy Manual Player’s Companion for the alchemist base class and was slightly disappointed to still see the kinda-abstract alchemy. But that may be the Witcher-fanboy in me.

 

What do you think? Do you think magic should be nerfed further? Do you think I’m missing something? Do you hate that magic seems to not be as omnipotent as before?

 

If you want to help keep the lights on and ensure I’ll be able to continue providing reviews, please considering joining my patreon here. Every little bit helps to keep the lights on!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Dec 042018
 

Remedial Tinkering: Artificial Intelligence

This expansion for the Tinker class clocks in at 6 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 4 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

First things first – the expansion does not necessarily require any other tinker expansion to work, and for a reason: It is, in a way, the expansion that focuses most on providing lower level tools, though the content does remain very much relevant at higher levels. As such, the only expansion that has a bit of overlap here would be Happy Little Automatons, which is fyi a really nice one.

 

This notwithstanding, the pdf does properly explain the different invention subtypes introduced so far in a concise manner. It also presents a couple of rulings that are very much relevant to the content within: BP values assigned represent the blueprints, and as such, once deployed, BP limits are no longer relevant. This is relevant due to one of the new innovations within, Brain Surgeon, which allows you to add a variety of inventions to the automaton INSTEAD of giving a directive upon deploying it.

 

While we’re on the subject of new innovations: Limited Autonomy lets 3/day an automaton activate an invention of up to half invention level the tinker can learn without being given the directive to do so. The automaton may only target itself or the target of a directive it is given. This allows for some interesting low-level combo-play. Logic Study lets you choose a 1st level invention that requires a directed action to activate. Said invention no longer requires a directive to activate, but when thus activated sans directive, it may, as before, only target the automaton or the target of the directive. These do help make the very tight action economy allow for easier comboing, particularly at lower levels.

 

Secondly, the pdf does state explicitly that multiple directives can be executed in a given round. One of the new inventions within, big red button, does tie into this ruling. The invention costs 2 BP and the automaton gets 3 fat, red buttons, which it may be directed to push as an immediate action. Each button may be pressed once per day, and they all have an interesting angle: +4 shield bonus to AC, minor self-healing (plus temporary hit points) and a weak shield that inflicts fire and electricity damage on those attacking it can be found. As you’ve seen, the immediate action activation is pretty novel and an explicit deviation from the standard. I like it.

 

As far as first level inventions are concerned, we can also find the amplification array, which is pretty cool: It fires a burst of motes that per se do not harm the target, but which enhance the next source of acid, fire or electricity damage taken before the start of the next turn. You can, undoubtedly, see the first combo forming already by now. Amplified amplification builds on that and is the 3rd level upgraded version. Minor complaint: There seems to be an error here, as the invention states that it improves the previous invention’s damage output by +2d4. The base damage increase bestowed was +2d4, though, which would result in +4d4, not +5d4, as stated. The second upgrade for the abase invention (doesn’t require the amplified amplification invention) here is flexible amplification and adds force and sonic. And yes, omission of cold is intentional. Thirdly, there would be another upgrade for the base invention that allows for a swift action activation.

 

Bandwagon simulator is super useful 2nd level invention, and lets an automaton use a move action to make friendly, idle automatons attack the same target. Buddy system scripting is another helpful one: If commanded to defend/support an idle automaton, doing so will cause the idle automaton to reciprocate. Why I oughta…subroutine is useful AND potentially hilarious, as the automaton taking damage is given an attack directive versus the source. “What is it doing?” “Evaporating those iron thistles…” Vending machine is another gem, as it bestows the arms invention to all automatons within 30 ft. (See, and that is why I explained the rulings above…)

 

There also is a massive invention tree that is founded on Heat vent, which allows the automatons to act as soft terrain control dealing minor fire damage to creatures adjacent to them, contingent on the movement of the automaton. Heat vent turbines adds minor electricity damage here; lingering heat vent lights targets on fire, and empower heat vent increases the maximum damage dealt by the base invention.

 

Slow and steady substructure is a 4th level (Design) invention that makes the automaton only take orders from the master of the alpha, and it may not execute directed actions granted by effects other than being issued directly by said targets. However, in exchange, all limited per day activation inventions slotted on such an automaton can be used +1/day. Also at 4th level, there would be the Hello World subroutine, which may be activated as a directed swift action, and it may only b activated as part of deploying the automaton. The invention grants basically advantage on all d20 rolls made by the automaton – until either one fails or until 1 minute passes. (The ability does state explicitly that it’s not smart to use this with long-term automatons, which is helpful for less experienced players.) The highest level and most costly invention within would be the invention logic tree, which clocks in at 3 BP and as a 5th level invention. This one lets you choose a directed action activated invention, which then no longer requires…you get it. It’s basically the built-in version of the innovation.

 

Now, in the beginning, I noted an invention that ties in with the combo-tastic Happy Little Automatons-pdf. That would be paint prism, a 2 BP level 1 invention that may be activated as a directed swift action. At the beginning of the automatons next turn, it selects an applied paint invention and starts shedding light of that color. All friendly automatons and the tinker, provided, he has the chromatic study innovation, within 3o ft. gain the benefits of the paint invention until the start of their next turn. This effect persists even if the automaton loses the paint invention (as you can combo with paints…and indeed, it does reward paint cycling! You see, the effect persists and changes the color if the automaton has paint changed next round. The effect only ends when the automaton would repeat a color! Really cool!

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language, as expected. Layout adheres to the 2-column b/w-standard of the small Interjection Games-pdfs, and the pdf uses stock art and has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

 

Of all the tinker expansions Bradley Crouch has written, this may well be one of the most crucial and rewarding ones. The inventions and innovations within allow for cool combos galore and add very much super helpful options here…to the point where I’d honestly contemplate potentially granting a few of these as hard-baked abilities in games where the power-level tends to gravitate to the higher end of the spectrum. Apart from the one die-pool size inconsistency, there are no complaints for me to field against this humble and exceedingly cool expansion. Considering the sheer utility and low price point, my final verdict will still clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval. Must-own purchase for fans of the tinker!

 

You can get this neat Tinker-expansion here on OBS for just $1.50!

 

You can get the massive tinker-bundle here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Dec 042018
 

Metafeats: Embracing the Fourth Wall

This pdf clocks in at 5 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, leaving us with 3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Okay, so first things first: Metafeats are NOT gained by the characters. They are gained by the players. The pdf suggests to award one per 5 sessions of game, which is a bit problematic; more detailed guidelines for different character XP-progressions and playstyles would have been neat to see. These feats, as they’re held by players and not PCs, transcend characters. The metafeats are as follows:

 

-But I LIKED my Character…: Basically gives you an extra life. Can be used once; but you may take it again.

 

-Dutiful Scribe: Rewards the records keeper by reducing Intimidate and Diplomacy check DCs in settlements where the character’s exploits are known by character level.

 

-Feed the Beast: Rewards player that brings food for everyone; 1/session swift action bite for 1d3 damage (not typed or clarified as per (natural) attack type), with a +20 luck bonus.

 

-Knowledge is Power: Player brings 1+ reference books to share. 1/session use out of game knowledge to identify a creature, obstacle, plot element, etc.

 

-Miniature Monstrosity: Bring an unopened box of minis. During the session, open it and have the mini join the fray as a NPC on the PC’s side. May only be used once, but you may take it again.

 

-Needed Intermission: Player volunteers to run game instead of regular GM. As a thanks, once per campaign, the player can designate a safe rest sans random monsters, etc.

 

-Oath to Play Well: The GM selects rules (like no electronic devices, ruling for now, etc.), and adherence to these rules provides a massive, usually on HDs, based bonus. I think these bonuses are overkill as presented, though I do like the sentiment behind that feat. It’s part of the concept of the social contracts of roleplaying that I champion.

 

-Well-Equipped: Players with props or objects. Nets bonuses or additional uses of consumables.

 

-What IF…?: Player describes action differently, things happen that way. May be used once, and only once.

 

Battlecry metafeats require that you shout a catchphrase, battlecry, etc. – “Blood, Death and Vengeance!”, for example. 😉 Only one battlecry may be in effect at a given time.

 

-Cooperative Harassment: When a PC fails a combat maneuver, one ally that also threatens the target may attempt the same maneuver as an immediate action. Cool!

 

-Group Gangpile: All allies gain the character’s teamwork feat. No range, no maximum limit of allies. Broken.

 

-It Has to Hit: Once per character per combat, each ally may add a +1d6 surge to atk if it misses, potentially rendering a miss into a hit. This is a massive upgrade.

 

-Magic is Might: Once every other round, the PC may cast a spell as a swift action, provided it has a casting time of 1 round or less, and that the character has not used their standard action to cast another spell. Other actions are game. Do I need to say anything?

 

-The Power of Friendship: All allies within 60 ft. gain character level temporary hit points, which last for 1 minute. No limit. -.-

 

-NOOOOOOOOO!: Wounded ally immediately stabilizes and gains character level temporary hit points; also make a single attack at highest BAB against the target that struck you down. You may dra a weapon and throw it to do so.

 

-Wabba Wabba: Character generates a rod of wonders effect.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting re very good on a formal level. Layout adheres to a two-column full color standard, and the pdf has no artworks or bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

 

Joshua Hennington’s metafeats are a really tough nut to review. Perhaps I’m spoiled by my players and their commitment, but I do tend to think that many of the positive behaviors that these try to help you enforce should be a self-evident component of the social contract that is roleplaying. The goal of these metafeats then, would be to basically educate players to be good players…but personally, I think that the at times massive bonuses granted here are a) overkill and b) generate a sense of entitlement that can be rather grating. In short: Before you resort to the methods of using metafeats, just talking to your players may be the wiser move – after all, you’re all trying to have fun together.

This is a personal opinion, though.

 

As far as my reviewer’s perspective is concerned, I have an issue with the precision of a few of these feats; I don’t like that we don’t get more nuanced guidelines for the awarding of metafeats, and the internal balancing of these feats is all over the place. A 1d3 true strike’d bite 1/session? Versus infinite temporary hit points? There is no guiding principle regarding the power levels of these metafeats, making them all feel like the thing they truly are: House rules.

 

These are feats in name only; they are not really adjusted and unified regarding power levels of benefits bestowed. And honestly, none of them are really that unique. Their concepts are an idea worth exploring, but some of the benefits are frankly broken and would have required more precision. I expected more. And it’s not that I don’t like 4th-wall breaking stuff once in a while – Rite Publishing’s Metadventurer, for example, is a great example of how you can make that work. This supplement, though, will, in spite of the great idea, languish within the depths of my HD – it’s just not refined and well-balanced enough to warrant inclusion. My final verdict will clock in at 2.5 stars, rounded down.

 

You can get this pdf here on OBS.

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Dec 032018
 

The People of the Pit (DCC)

This DCC-adventure clocks in at 36 (!!) pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 32 pages, which are, as always for Goodman games, chock-full with content, so let’s take a look!

 

This review was requested by a supporter of my patreon.

 

This is an adventure for DCC – a classic, in fact. Most DCC-groups will have played this already. So why bother reviewing it? Well, for one, I’ve been gifted a couple of DCC adventures by one of my readers, to be reviewed at my convenience. Well, and I’m somewhat OCD. So there you go – consider this an indirectly sponsored review of this adventure. Secondly, and as important as far as I’m concerned: This module is imho interesting beyond the confines of its rules-system. It should be noted that this adventure contains a TON of truly evocative read-aloud text that really helps create a tight and intriguing

 

This adventure is intended for level 1 characters; it is pretty dangerous, but how dangerous it is ultimately depends on how capable your PLAYERS are. Sure, bad rolls of the dice can kill you, but as a whole, the module focuses much more on the skill of PLAYERS as opposed to characters. Your wits are more important than how potent your build is. I strongly suggest that you play this with one or more PCs that can cast spells to make use of the two new spells within. I will mention these below.

 

You see, there is a town. Some degenerate chaos cultists crawl out of a pit, tentacles, yadda-yadda, evil dudes abduct women. Go save them.

At this point, you probably ask yourself why I even bothered, right? Well, to explain that, we have to go into SPOILER-territory. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

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All right, only judges around? We join the PCs as they are greeted by scratch-marks speaking of horrid sacrifices in a blasted landscape, and indeed, venturing down the mist-shrouded steps into the vast, eponymous pit, will establish the theme perfectly. You see, the cultists, handily, denote their hierarchies by the color of their robes…and seeing them for the first time will be the time when the PCs may well turn tail and run. Their faces are blank, rubbery masses, reminiscent of tentacles, and vestigial tentacles grow from their abdomens, twitching. There is nothing human about these things, and indeed, the inhuman nature of these beings is emphasized in perfect environmental storytelling that makes sense – they can, for example, navigate crawlspace-sized environments with ease. And yes, such claustrophobic places are included. Worse, these vestigial tentacles are so-called octo-masses that burst forth from cultists slain.

 

Once the horror of these beings has been experienced, clever PCs may make use of a couple of observations: Controlling when to kill targets can help, and indeed, there is another aspect that makes this stand out: The Chaos-Beast quasi-deity of the monstrous cultists. You see, they have beast-men, so-called Toans. Sure.

 

But the true horror and one of the coolest aspects of this module? The Chaos-Beast is basically a buried, kaiju-plus-sized mass of maws and tentacles, an idiot-god of sorts – and the cultists can, in groups, call forth and attempt to control Chaos-Beast tentacles! And yes, you can learn the spells! Shadowy tentacles and control of present tentacles! This means that a spellcaster can potentially turn the monstrous thing against its own creatures – and once the module is done, there is a good reason why those spells don’t work! The sooner the PCs realize this and the propensity for minimum-numbers of cultists required to call these tentacles, the higher their survival chances will be!

 

The partially living dungeon, the caverns and complexes suffused with these tentacles, is not simply window dressing – there are “tentacle elevators”, wherein the PCs climb down/ride tentacles to levels below! The strangeness of the cultists implies a unique life-cycle that the PCs will get to find out as they go. Much like the robe-colors, these experiences are not subtle, but incredibly remarkable – and indeed, they are enhanced by the bonus level that has been added in the current printing of the adventure. The three-page bonus dungeon adds another lifecycle and arm to the cult – the assassins of the cult, octo-masses that have outgrown their hosts, and that can duplicate the faces of adversaries as really creepy faceless men. Moreover, the bonus level is better integrated into the module than e.g. the one featured in the excellent “Doom of Savage King” – the entry is actually hidden on the first level, and considering how the assassins work, it makes sense to use them to potentially lure PCs that would miss the place there. An easy means would be to introduce them as a kind of counter-measure.

 

Beyond that, the module is actually not just a brainless hack and slash with some mechanic specialties and unique hazards/monsters. Far from it! There, for example, are meditative labyrinth paths – you know, the ones on the floor? These act as delightfully MAGIC teleporters – and yes, the PLAYERS have to solve these. There are handouts for the paths (and a convenient solution for the judge) – and indeed, this is a fantastic example of how sword & sorcery, dark fantasy and lovecraftian aesthetics can form a cohesive whole. You see, the cult is not simply alien in its physiology and life cycle. Oh no! From strange pods to powders and liquids with odd effects, curious PCs can find out quite a lot about how these…things…operate. Whether this is technology, magic, a blend of both…it all depends on how you interpret it. It shows, and does not necessarily explain. It is an example of how you can efficiently convey lore, piece by piece, and it is so successful at this, it may well make your players want to explore the entirety of the module, just due to how incredibly well indirect storytelling is handled within.

 

There is not a single room or encounter within this 4-level (5 with the bonus level!) dungeon that I considered to be boring; there is not a single trap or hazard that is not deserved; this makes sense in its twisted way – and this commitment to a kind of plausibility only serves to enhance the atmosphere of this place. Oh, and the finale? It is classic Conan, as the PCs arrive just as folks are being sacrificed to the massive Chaos Beast – and indeed, the main honcho may be eaten by their deity! To one-up this, the module actually also presents a super-impressive one-page handout that depicts the scene. If your player’s jaws don’t hit the table, if you hear no audible *gulp* when showing them this…then you have the most jaded players ever. Anyways, there was one point of criticism I had with the original module – one that has been rectified by the inclusion of the bonus level. You see, the PCs, originally, never got to actually walk directly on the chaos beast. Well, now they do, and the rules presented allow the judge to extrapolate hazard-like dangers for PCs unlucky enough to land on this titanic entity.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch on a formal and rules-language level – I noticed no issues. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard with plenty of fantastic, b/w-artworks. Particularly the handouts add a second, super-impressive level to this pdf. The cartography is absolutely gorgeous, but we get no player-friendly version, which is a bit unfortunate for VTT play etc. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Joseph Goodman’s “The People of the Pit” is a frickin’ masterpiece. (And yes, I got the obvious Appendix N reference of the title.) At this point, I am utterly bored by most modules that feature an evil cult, particularly if it’s yet another mythos-deity of the week related thing they worship. This module, though? Damn, it is absolutely glorious and a perfect rebuttal to the internal conviction that the whole cult + tentacles angle needs to be boring. In fact, this module pretty shows everyone how it’s done. The dungeon is hard, brutal even, but fair. The adversaries are brilliant, creepy and unique. The dungeon has a ton of unique features that PCs can partake in. The focus on player-skill over character-skill is amazing. The prose is crisp and concise. The production values are great. Oh, and all my nitpicks about the potential of this set-up? Daniel J. Bishop’s bonus level stripped me of them. The consistence of the quality here is impressive.

 

In short: This is my benchmark of what any module with an evil cult should be able to offer, theme-wise. Fair warning: This can and will spoil hackneyed, lovelessly cobbled-together run-of-the-mill creepy cult modules forever for you. It’s that good. Ever since I first read this, I found myself comparing adventures with only remotely related themes to this one. If you’re playing DCC, you probably already have this. If not, then get this now!

 

Even if you have no idea of what DCC is, though, even if you have no plans to play using the system, even in such a case, this is worth the fair asking price twice over. Whether for idea mining of straight conversion, this module is so damn good it frankly should be canonized as an adventure that people should have played; as a rite of passage, if you will. This module will live on to become a true classic, mark my words. I mean, even jaded ole’ me gets this hyped about it. That ought to say everything.

 

My final verdict will be an unsurprising 5 stars + seal of approval. If you even remotely are interested in the themes, get this asap!!

 

You can get this amazing adventure here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.