Feb 282019
 

Creature Compendium (OSR)

This massive book clocks in at 94 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page Foreward (which is a typo or a pun – I opt for the latter), 1 page alphabetic ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 88 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Why am I reviewing this? Well, Gavin Norman’s B/X Essentials-line up of new and refined takes on the classic and much beloved B/X-rules made me look for monsters, and this is one of the books I found. As noted in the “foreward”, the mission of this book, and I quote, is “The memories of that original tome inspire this one—a book that is just as fun to peruse as use, a book that strives to challenge and surprise, and a book that attempts to rekindle that “first time” gaming table joy.”

This is, in essence, a blurb that is as generic as it can be; I’ve found variations of exactly this sentiment in a plethora of books – to the point where I skimmed past it, not thinking much more about it. But we shall come back to this sentiment, as it informs the whole of the design paradigm that went into this.

First things first: This supplement, as far as rules are concerned, is a dual-stat book: We get 0e/1e stats for the monsters within, as well as B/X stats – this means HD-ratings and descending AC are standards, fyi.

However, there is something to note that differentiates this supplement from comparable offerings. That would be the fact that it is very much cognizant of an issue in OSR gaming. While the different OSR-rulesets like Labyrinth Lord (LL), OSRIC and Swords & Wizardry (S&W), to name a few of the big ones, are all transparent regarding the structure of their rules at first glance, detailed scrutiny offers some serious differences, and I don’t mean e.g. the wholly different focus of e.g. LotFP (Lamentations of the Flame Princess). In the latter game, Strength modifiers are not added to damage. More commonly known examples include saving throw differences, presence or absence of roll-under checks, ascending and descending AC. Ultimately, when you try to run things by the book, you’ll be surprised at the intricacies and differences of these systems. Just take a look at B/X’s cure spells, to note one example. Level caps, race classes – the list goes on. And yet, there is a celebration of hacking the games, which, while a good thing for the community and for the selection available for the games, also can give rise to frankly sloppy design.

This is most commonly encountered when games like LotFP that have no reliable means of magic nuking hordes of enemies are faced with high-level wizards…or when said games myriad of “I wreck the world”-options are faced with a high density of magic-users. The transparency only goes so far, and requires, more often than not, some deliberation on part of the referee/GM. It does make a difference if you require a specific spell to get rid of things like paralysis, or if that’s another function of a given, commonly used spell. Power-levels also fluctuate between systems…but I digress.

As far as monsters are concerned, an annoying stumbling stone for referees that run monsters and the game by the book, is certainly Treasure Types. Well, guess what? We get an appendix with treasure types by edition, providing rules for 0e, 1e, HB, and B/X. Moreover, we do get an index of customized experience point award for 0e, S&W, B/X/BECMI, LL and OSRIC! For all critters! That is really epic, a ton of work, and it makes the book immediately more compelling and easier to use. So, that’s the formal component here.

Beyond this component, this book contains no less than 200 critters. Yep, that many. Taking a look at the page-count, this makes a couple of things immediately clear: there will be multiple monsters per page, and these monsters won’t have detailed notes on ecology and society/habitat; instead, we’ll get a rough average of two paragraphs of text that will feature, rules language and flavor information, with the ratio of these components depending on the critter in question.

For example, the write-up of the Heikegani, one of my favorite monsters within, devotes two of the three paragraphs devoted to it, dealing with their unique rules – they can see most invisible creatures, have two attack routine (stabby legs and pincers), and are gifted with premonitions. If you have a decent grasp of Japanese, you’ll know that heikegani, or 平家蟹, are a species of crab in Japan that bears a pattern reminiscent of a human face- this has been taken by the pdf and extrapolated into a fantastic context: In the game, they are giant crabs, inhabited by the spirits of warrior that died a dishonorable death. This is a piece of real world lore that is slightly odd, and one-ups it for the context of the game, which is a surprisingly effective example of how inspiring tidbits can inform design without necessarily requiring the paraphrasing of established mythology.

Another example for this pattern would be the Kala, which I assume to be inspired by the Sanskrit term that doubles as “dark” and “fate/death”, also being used as a Yama-reference. These beings of pure disease and decay. They target creatures with higher life expectancy, and they have poison, a coma-inducing paralytic effect, a rotting disease, AND hits, even if your HD fortify you against most of these, still leave festering boils! These are so virulent, so neat an impersonation of decay, they made me smile. They are genuinely creepy. Not all of the critters are as mechanically interesting as these fellows, though – there is, for example a blood-drinking undead somewhere between a vampire and a ghoul, that latches on a target on a 19 or 20, draining blood. Okay, mayhaps using threat range can be considered to be brave in classic contexts, but considering that this is a base component of the rules-chassis of more than one game, these left me somewhat unimpressed. There is a Jersey devil-ish draconic horse, and speaking of Americana, there is also an iteration of the mothman within these pages.

While there are a few instances of monsters based on slightly more obscure components of mythology, like the forest-dwelling Leshii, these tend to be weaker than the interesting monsters within. The take on the redcap is also exceedingly lame, and while I’m at the topic: There are a couple of *insert element name”-walkers – basically lame, humanoid elemental dudes that kinda walk around and sometimes perhaps help adventurers. These have no real identity and are the textbook definition of filler.

Now, an issue in pre-template games is that there are plenty of filler monsters in older games, and frankly, many of them, though by now part of the canon of gaming and thus beloved by virtue of nostalgia, aren’t particularly exciting with the nostalgia goggles taken off. While this book does contain a couple of critters that I’d consider to be palette-swaps/templates by another name, these are few. Some offenders would be stone giants that can phase through walls – which is, however, more interesting than regular stone giants at least. As an aside: Say what you want and grognard-rage about Paizo all you want, but their take on Easter Island-ish looking stone giants and their ties to the ancient Thassilonian empire actually, for the first time, provided a proper cultural identity for these…but I digress. On the positive side of things that would be templates in more complex rule-sets, would be e.g. the Kam Warrior, and here, I really enjoy what this provides: The creature is basically a supernatural warrior that splits, ooze-style, into two upon being slain, with both split creatures having half HD – until you reduce them to 1 HD. This only works relatively smoothly here because of the structure of old-school games basing the attack capabilities on HD, and would be a vastly more complex operation in more rules-heavy systems, but it works here, and I really enjoy this. “Templated” creatures that are less compelling, would for example be canine flesh golems, which really made me think that just establishing some templates for B/X and the like would have made sense. It’s not like that framework would be mathematically hard to design. If the multi-armed gorillas known as girallons (themselves inspired by Appendix N classics) always struck a chord with you, you’ll be happy to note that they do get an iteration herein, including a valid take on the rending mechanics that set them apart in more complex systems. On the less interesting side: There is a forest version of the yeti, the hibagon. No, it’s not interesting in any way.

There are some creatures that live by virtue of the flavor more than by virtue of the generally exceedingly precise rules language – the jelly death, for example: These would be roughly humanoid, paralytic oozes that flow over their victims to absorb them…but they are jealous and attack other jelly deaths for their food! So, if a thief scouting ahead was paralyzed, there actually is a chance, without being merciful/fudging dice, that PCs saving the thief may be warranted! This is a small tidbit, a brief behavioral peculiarity, but it’s one I immensely enjoyed.

On the downside, there are a couple of pretty lame ones: Half human/lower half horse-ish dude with two legs? Okay, not excited. Glowing, drifting things that can detonate? There was this spore cloud thing, right? Now, I don’t object to one-note or “useless” monsters – there is, for example, a statblock for flying skulls herein. Which are exactly what you’d picture them to be….so if you’re planning on using Goodman Games’ “The Emerald Enchanter” with OSR-rules, this will be useful to you. Conceptually less interesting, but mechanically distinct would e.g. be the possessors – beings from the negative energy plane, who move into targets and take them over – and yes, their rules properly frame the pretty complex interactions and ramifications of this. On the conceptual side of things, there is a critter herein that will make many a fan smile: There is a being herin that is basically a squig by another name. Love that!

On the somewhat lame side, we get skinwalkers, a couple of skeleton variants (templated monsters, basically), and stats for a giant two-headed snake. See what I mean with “OSR games would benefit from a template engine for monsters?” – a couple of these frankly don’t necessarily warrant their own statblocks. There are some, that may not seem like it, but that definitely do. White elephants, for example: These beings are magical, you know, and as such, they do grant benefits to their owners if cared for properly – but ONLY when not directly asked for it! And after generations of care, when they die, they may actually grant a wish upon dying…if they’re not asked directly, of course! This has “amazing questline/intrigue” written all over it and really inspired me.

But let me return to one of my initial points, namely that this attempts to recreate the themes of the original monsters, and it brings me to a slight tangent: I have been championing, for quite a bunch of years, a return to the practice of providing actual context for critters. One of the strengths of the 3pp circuit for both PFRPG and 5e would be that, in contrast to official supplements, we now often get some notes on how a critter interacts with its environments…you know, context. This was one part of the reasons I more fondly remember the bestiaries of old. Don’t get me wrong – I disliked filler critters back then as much as I do now, and if I had a dime for every lame “it’s an incorporeal undead that smothers/chokes and/or possesses you” old-school critter in my bestiaries and manuals, I’d have a bunch of money. It’s good that advances in design got mostly rid of these and used rules complexity to further differentiate critters. And this pdf (as well as many more current OSR-offerings) does a good job at providing mechanically distinct effects within a more rules lite framework. However, I have to make a statement here that may prove to be controversial: The advances in design also made us lose one aspect that made these old-school bestiaries so charming in the first place, and this also can be seen in many newer old-school bestiaries. We expect more, cooler, distinct stuff. And we have lost a whole creature type that has, paradoxically, done A LOT to establish the identity of D&D-based games.

I am talking about the misfit monsters. Think about it. The flumph. The owlbear. The wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing. These critters are rites of passage. And they have been made “cool” in some contemporary books. When that’s not necessarily the point. They are, in a way, somewhat goofy, but plausible.  This book’s main point of differentiation for me, would be that it can be taken as a love letter to the lost art of making a misfit monster, but with the caveat that the monsters still benefit from the more mechanically advanced expectations we nowadays have, even in the context of our old-school games. Take the skunkbear, who is pretty much self-explanatory in what it does. It’s goofy, but oddly plausible when thinking about the fact that armadillos, platypodes and potoos exist IRL. Add magic and these oddballs make sense. All the design paradigms and smart decisions noted before are employed for these as well.

There is, for example, an otter/dog-ish mammal that has a taste for human flesh. Why? Because. It’s a weird critter; it’s not magical, it’s not mechanically exceptional, but it managed to inspire me. There are magical creatures with a lion’s body and the head of an elephant…and there is a snake that ends in a hand…and that loves stealing stuff! This is WEIRD, not in the way of weird fiction, but in that pre-corporate ID-runs-rampant sense; these critters don’t feel calculated, and when you read about the vulture/bat hybrid, you’ll smile. I know I did. Also: Giant woodpecker. Cactus cat. These sound odd; these should, by all accounts, end with me rambling about how ludicrous they are, how this isn’t design-wise too interesting…but they work. Perhaps it’s the pretty impressive rules-precision of the special tricks; perhaps it’s because the hybrids and misfits are not simply concepts that have been jammed together willy-nilly. There is deliberation here, and an honest love of this odd magical ecology of outrageous things that set our pen and paper games apart from corporate videogame worlds that feature the standard orc/goblin/ogre/dragon-etc. cadre. Did I mention the bugs that, mind-flayer style, want to eat your brain? In short – in spire of my aforementioned criticism of some component critters herein, this book made me smile, time and again.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch on a formal and rules-language level, which is rather impressive for a book of this size. It’s also nice to see proper precision in more complex abilities – writing for old-school games is no excuse for sloppy rules, and this pdf represents one of the examples that precision can really elevate a book. Layout adheres to a 2-column b/w-standard, and much to my surprise and shock, every creature herein gets its own artwork. The author Richard J. LeBlanc Jr. has actually also drawn all the b/w-artwork, and frankly, while not all artworks are winners, I can list a ton of offerings and b/w-artworks that look much worse. There are some gems in the artwork here, and while style varies, it’s impressive to note. Less impressive and a huge comfort detriment: the pdf has no bookmarks, which is a huge no-go at this length. Navigation of the pdf is a chore, and I strongly suggest printing this or getting print. I can’t comment on the print version as per the writing of this review, as I don’t have that version available to me.

That being said, there is a factor that does feature herein, and it’s one I usually don’t highlight: The price-point. This massive bestiary, all original artwork, more than 200 new critters…costs a grand total of $3.00. Or at least it did when I got this – right now, this massive tome is available for PWYW!! And you a) really should check this out and b) seriously reward the author for all the love and heart’s blood that obviously went into the creation of this book.

To contextualize the original and already ridiculous original price: You can’t even get a cup a joe for 3 bucks around here. This is insane, and further testament of what this pdf pretty much oozes: Passion. At this point, I have read and reviewed so many roleplaying game supplements, that I have become pretty good at noticing when someone phones in designs. And this, even in the instances where a monster is conceptually or rules-wise not that cool, does have these small flourishes, these tidbits that show that someone cared. The jealousy of the jelly deaths, the giant cat-dragon-thing…and then there would be the amazing magical animals, like birds that only can be seen by some particularly smart folks, like a burrowing mantis shrimpy-cricket thing…and did I mention the yak-men? Well, now I did.

There is charm herein; there is passion – and there is genuine love for a design paradigm, for a slightly tongue-in-cheek innocence I creature design, that I had feared to be lost to the refinements of the market. This book is a charming offering that made me smile with critters I ought to hate or consider to be lame – and instead ended up loving. Believe me – when I first flicked through this, I furrowed my brown at the creature concepts, and it took reading and analyzing this, in spite of my first knee-jerk reaction, to start loving what’s inside. So if my tangents and rambling just made you think “Those sound lame, skipping this” – please reconsider. Have a heart for critters that don’t give a damn for the rule of cool, that don’t try to be cool, or creepy, or gonzo, or over the top. That are just plain, old-school fantastic strangeness and wonder. They are definitely worth checking out. While the lack of bookmarks and the very few monsters that missed the mark herein do prevent me from rating this as highly as some critters would deserve, the superb bang-for-buck ratio does offset some of this book’s minor shortcomings. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up  for the purpose of this platform.

You can get this cool bestiary here for PWYW!

You can get it in print here on lulu!


Endzeitgeist out.

Feb 282019
 

Monstrous Lair: Gnolls’ Camp (system neutral)

This installment of the Monstrous Lairs-pdfs clocks in at 8 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, leaving us with 2 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Sometimes, you just need a bit of dressing for a wayside encounter – or something specific to a monster type. Finding appropriate entries can be rough, and so, this series attempts to remedy this shortcoming on 2 pages, with a total of 7 d10-tables.

Outside of a gnoll encampment, one can find large buffalo corpses, bushes stinking of ammonia and the yipping of encaged creatures, fearful of the fate looming for them, as a few examples of the varied approaches features. As for what’s going on, we can find gnolls carefully stripping sinew from bone, crushing berries into a paste that helps style manes and the like into patterns, or defending meals from hungry pet hyenas, which scamper off – I was surprised in a positive manner to see how “gnoll-y” these feel. As for notable features, we can find the corpses of dwarves impaled to the trees, iron chains speaking of slave trade and vast effigy towers. As far as minor features are concerned, we can find stretched antelope hides, spiked logs awaiting future use or walls of thorny brambles. Once more, a diverse array.

As far as gnoll appearances are concerned, we have gnolls meditatively gnawing on human ones, specimen with dyed fur, gnolls with massive hyaenodon skins or armors with bison horns – cool. The treasures include frayed leather whips, shields with horse trails and fangs, its fittings of pure gold, hide coats embellished in the style of lion’s manes and more. The trinket table, finally, include hippopotamus tusks, pestles and mortars that contain crushed bones, but which oddly emits a pleasant smell, batons with still-a-(u)nlive-ghoul-hands attached – some gems here!

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious hiccups. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant two-column b/w-standard, and we get a nice piece of b/w-artwork. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, in spite of its brevity (kudos!) and is included in two versions – one optimized for screen-use, and one for the printer.

Steve Hood did a great job on gnoll dressing here. The entries are distinct, diverse and establish a cultural identity. The tables make the gnolls stand out from other humanoids and, as a whole, this should be considered to be a definite winner. 5 stars + seal of approval.

You can get this inexpensive dressing file here on OBS.

You can directly support Raging Swan Press here on patreon!

Endzeitgeist out.

Feb 272019
 

Everyman Minis: Gculcilite

This installment of the Everyman Minis-series clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 4 pages of SRD, 2 pages blank, leaving us with 3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So, what is the Gculcilite, apart from one of the hardest to fluidly and correctly type monsters I’ve ever reviewed?

We, the creature is the critter seen on the cover, a chaotic neutral diminutive fey with the shapechanger subtype that clocks in at CR 7. The swift creatures are capable of perfect flight, and have an array of both spell-like abilities and sorcerer spell-casting prowess. They can assume the shape of objects and get ½ HD to discern the abilities of natural  creatures capable of reproducing, and the fey may engage in a 1-minute ceremony that establishes a parental bond that is both mentally and physically younger than adult, being capable of maintaining up to Charisma modifier such bonds.

This does not end until the target becomes an adult or dies or the gculcilite ends the bond. Children thus bonded to the creature get share spells, empathic link and deliver touch spell familiar abilities, and target: “You” spells may be cast on bonded kids; items may be shrunk, and the fey may assume a parental shape via their polymorphing ability to assume parental shape. The gculcilite can, as a standard action, conjure and sprinkle a dust on a creature as a melee or ranged touch attack with a range of 10 feet. On a failed save, the creature’s physical age is regressed, depending (and this is damn cool!) on the vital statistics of the respective race! The target returns to normal age slowly, aging 1 year per day – but here’s the thing – the fey is a genius cook. They can create gourmet fare…but if targets consume this food, they delay shaking off the regressive dust effect…and eating it enough times, well…that may require growing up the old-fashioned way once more…

The pdf also includes a new unchained bard bardic masterpiece, the Nostalgic Lullaby, which is basically a twist on the gculcilite’s age regression trick, though one that thankfully caps at 2 age categories, though that does increase at higher levels if you have accompaniment, and maintenance of performances etc. is codified tightly.

The monster also comes with advice on how to use it, as well as some cool notes on how they behave etc.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting re very good on a formal and rules-language level, I noticed no serious hiccups. Layout adheres to the two-column full-color standard of the series, and Jacob Blackmon’s artwork rocks. The pdf has a single bookmark that points to the end of the SRD, but it needs none at this length.

Alexander Augunas’ Gculcilite is AWESOME. This creature oozes adventuring potential and may be a kickass benefactor, a puzzling foe, a fey that represents a ticking clock to save kids from, a non-evil and downright odd being, a means to change the gears of a campaign, an option to unlock Childhood Adventures in an ongoing campaign – and more. this is an excellent, cool critter, and well worth 5 stars + seal of approval.

You can get this cool critter here on OBS!

Missed the unchained bard? You can find it here on OBS!

The excellent Childhood Adventures can be found here!


Endzeitgeist out.

Feb 272019
 

Vs. Stranger Stuff: The Mad Gasser (VsM Engine)

This adventure for Vs. Stranger Stuff Season 1 (fully compatible with season 2!) clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

I’ve been asked by one of my patreon supporters to move this up in my reviewing queue.

It should be noted that this adventure is also fully compatible with Vs. Ghosts.

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

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All right, only GMs around? Great! So, there is a case of “mass hysteria” making the rounds, as there seems to be a prowler on the loose, who anesthetizes people. The people seem to be paralyzed, which may sound like sleep paralysis or the like – or be similarly explained away. So far, these attacks have not see the people affected injured, but yeah…when Jessica, a smart, cute and popular girl fails to show up at school, the PCs will bring her homework and look after her – she is rattled and tired, and while her dad maintains that nothing happened on a spade, the PCs probably will want to investigate.

Investigating her house will notice old boxes at the back of the house, marks in the garden, and really diligent PCs may remember something on the WWII-era Mad Gasser – though research at the library will be really helpful – and show that only families descendant from the original victims are hit by these visitations…and that the culprit was never found. Staking out the place will put the PCs in conflict with the Mad Gasser – who gets stats for both Vs. Stranger Stuff and Vs. Ghosts, being quite tough in both systems.

Here’s a big plus: The pdf does not prescribe a solution. Instead, from not explaining the phenomenon to government R&D, madmen, a cryptid, a nazi ghost – all possible. And better yet, the different solutions regarding the entity actually matter on a mechanical level, for both systems! Cool, btw.: The gasser cannot just paralyze everyone – this is no “save or suck”-style scenario.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard with thematically-fitting b/w-artworks. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Ben Dowell’s brief little yarn is a short encounter-series and a pretty basic investigation, elevated by the versatile villain and the variations provided here. It’s not a gamechanger, but it is a fun little module. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

You can get this brief module here on OBS!

Wanna check out Vs. Ghosts? You can find it here!

The excellent Vs. Stranger Stuff Season 2 can be found here!

Endzeitgeist out.

Feb 272019
 

Everyman Minis: Centaur Options

This installment of the Everyman Minis-series clocks in at 7 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

On the introductory page, we have a list of racial traits for centaurs. To recap: +2 Strength and Wisdom, -2 Charisma; centaurs are Large monstrous humanoids, have a base speed of 40 ft., darkvision 60 ft., a +2 racial bonus to Survival checks, undersized weapons and proficiency with longbows and composite longbows, bolas and nets.

The pdf includes 4 alternate racial traits: The Survival bonus may be exchanged for a banded, zebra-like coat, which doubles penalties to Perception due to distance in checks where the centaur attempts to hide. Cool. The weapon familiarity may be traded in for Endurance or Fleet. Both the skill boost and the weapon proficiencies may be traded in for being a stargazer, touched by the heavens, which translates to a +2 racial bonus to Knowledge (geography), and if the centaur is an oracle with Heavens or Nature as a mystery, the class level is treated as +1 for the purpose of bonus spells and the use of revelations. Similarly, destined or starsouled sorcerers applies an analogue increase to bloodline powers.

The pdf includes a new cavalier archetype, the tauric knight, who replaces mount with the ability to one-hand lances of the size of the centaur, as well as inflicting double damage when charging with a lance. This counts as Mounted Combat for prerequisite purposes. Expert trainer is replaced with +1/2 class level as a bonus to Acrobatics made to jump, and you always have a running start. Solid engine tweak.

The pdf also sports 5 new feats: Drunken Confidence lets you consume alcohol as a standard action that doesn’t provoke AoOs, granting you a +2 morale bonus to Will saves vs. charm, compulsion, and fear effects, and +2 to the DC to demoralize you. The verbiage here is slightly rough, but fully functional. This boost lasts for 3 + Con mod minutes, and Con mod also serves as the cap how often you can use it sans drawbacks; after that, it’s Fort-saves that become higher, nauseating you on a failed save. This resets after 8 hours. Improved Shot On The Run requires BAB +9 as well as Nimble Moves, Dodge, Mobility, etc., and allows you to use Shot On The Run at BAB-5 and target two targets to attack, though these need to be different targets. The Greater Shot On The Run feat allows for a third attack, with the second at -5, the third at -10. Same restrictions as for the Improved feat apply.

Grappling Abduction requires Improved Unarmed Strike and Grapple as well as Mobility, and allows you to drag targets grappled along, managing the difficult rules language right. Trampling Trot nets you trample at unarmed strike +1.5 times Strength modifier. Furthermore, the Dc increases for overrun related feats. Neato.

The pdf concludes with 4 spells, all of which are variants of the same concept: quadrupedal transformation I-IV start at spell level 3, with the classes that gain it being alchemist, bloodrager, magus, sorc/wiz. This spell nets you the lower part of a quadrupedal animal or vermin, increasing size to Large, which higher level versions allowing for progressively better options regarding supplemental abilities like grab, pounce, swim speed, etc. and spell number III unlocking magical beasts. Minor nitpick: I’m pretty positive that the bloodrager has been left off the list for the quadrupedal transformation III spell, since all other spells list the class.

And since this is tradition for tauric reviews by now: No, this does not address the ladder-conundrum, though I didn’t expect it to and won’t penalize the pdf for that.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules language level. Layout adheres to Everyman gaming’s two-column full-color standard, and the artwork is nice. The pdf has no bookmarks, but doesn’t require any at this length.

Matt Morris provides a solid array of centaur options, with the feats being the most compelling component. All in all, this is a solid offering, though one that is somewhat bereft of particularly amazing aspects. My final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up.

You can get this centaur-supplement here on OBS!

Endzeitgeist out.

Feb 272019
 

Vs. Stranger Stuff: Creepy Clowns (VsM Engine)

This adventure for Vs. Stranger Stuff Season 1 (compatible with Season 2, just fyi) clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

I’ve been asked by one of my patreon supporters to move this up in my reviewing queue, so there we go!

It should be noted that this adventure is included in “Vs. Stranger Stuff: Send in the Clowns“, which also provides rules and additional adventures. If you want to dip your toes into Coulrophobia, this pdf is the way to go; if you really want to embrace darkened clown-tales, get the big book – it has more stuff and revamped and refined layout etc.!

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

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All right, only GMs around? Great! So, fall is approaching and, in a time-honored tradition, older kids, bullies and pricks have decided that it’s fun to do the horror clown and frighten the young ones – so that’s the backdrop.

The module then proceeds to do something structurally interesting: Taking a cue from RPG-classics like the original Ravenloft module, the adventure has a randomization effect: The module has the players draw cards in the beginning – the suits then determine the structure of certain aspects of the game, hooks, etc..

We begin with an encounter with a clown-painted bully, and after that, the Kids will, after school, notice absurdly large footprints – following them, they may well witness a clown goon, recruiting one of these bullies, transforming them! Beyond the combat, there may well be an epidemic if the kids don’t stop it! And indeed, the local carnival may well be the source, with no less than 4 radically different scenarios, including 3 different boss stats, waiting for them!

Really cool little adventure. Huge plus for the replay value! This makes for an excellent convention game that doesn’t become boring for the GM after running it twice. The module also comes with a nice good gimmick as a reward.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard, and while not as refined as in the big book, it’s a nice pdf to look at. The pdf sports some rather creepy full-color artworks and has a single bookmark that points towards the start of the module.

I really enjoyed this module by Ben Dowell – the randomization enhances the replay value significantly, and the adventure per se is fun, diverse and intriguing. 5 stars, with the caveat that I strongly encourage you to get the big “Vs. Stranger Stuff: Send in the Clowns”-book instead, as linked below on my homepage.

You can get this neat module here on OBS!

You can get the big Send in the Clowns-book (also in print!) here on OBS!

Missed the excellent Vs. Stranger Stuff Season 2? You can find it here on OBS!

Endzeitgeist out.

Feb 272019
 

Cult of the Sleeping God (3.X)

This brief pdf clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 9 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This little pdf provides the sketches of the village of Belfry Hollow, characterized by the eponymous belfry atop a massive hill within the darkened woods. The village comes with a nice, hand-drawn full-color map that includes scale and squares for reference, but which is only presented in a half-page size, which makes printing it out slightly less convenient than it should be.

The material is intended to work as a kind of 1-session mini-module for 4 level 1 characters, though DCs and the like are sparse. While two brief tables for gathering information are provided, the remainder of the module is remarkably bereft of DCs regarding environmental factors. The pdf wastes a bit of space on a 10-level NPC poisoner class, which is not particularly well-designed or interesting – or functional, as the key ability, making poisonous concoctions, is wholly bereft of any guidance regarding DCs and the like. I strongly suggest replacing this one.

The module per se is a pretty straight-forward cult-investigation, with a solid b/w-dungeon map added; unfortunately, maps for said complex once more only come in pretty “small” versions, which makes VTT or printout-use difficult. Speaking of which: The lack of keyed locales, while something I applaud for player-friendly maps, also means that the GM will have to do some improvising. While the structure of the simple investigation is surprisingly sound, the complex, bereft of environmental features and dangers/hazards etc. thus means that you’ll have to do some serious work. Suffice to say, there is no read-aloud text included.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are okay on a formal level, less impressive on a rules language level. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard with golden headers, and the hand-drawn b/w-artworks are charming; same goes for the maps, though their direct usefulness in the pdf is somewhat compromised by how they have been jammed onto half pages. The pdf has no bookmarks.

I don’t want to bash on James Eck’s little adventure sketch here. This is not bad, and for a PWYW-file, certainly something you can take a look at. However, I don’t think it does a particularly good job at its intended angle, particularly when compared to raging Swan press’ absolutely phenomenal “Against the Cult of the Bat God”, which is the superior take on the trope in every conceivable way. This may not be bad, but I am also left in a state where I genuinely can’t picture any scenario wherein this would be something I’d run. It lacks a distinct angle, has an inconvenient amount of fleshing out left for the GM to do, and I can improvise more complex investigations on the fly. As such, my final verdict can’t exceed 2.5 stars, rounded down.

You can get this pdf here for PWYW on OBS.

You can get Raging Swan Press’ vastly superior take on the concept here on OBS!

Endzeitgeist out.

Feb 262019
 

THOT Audit (OSR)

This scenario for Alpha Blue clocks in at 16 pages, minus 1 page front cover and 1 page editorial, leaving us with 14 pages of content. The pdf comes with a .PNG map of a cargo freighter, which comes in four versions – a full-color version with background, a full-color version without a background, and a b/w-version, and no as well a version that is fully player-friendly and unlabeled. I really applaud that!

All right, as always, this is an Alpha Blue supplement – in case you didn’t know, the game is based on 70s scifi-porn parodies, and is firmly rooted in the aesthetics of these movies. As such, this supplement obviously does contain drawn/CGI’d nudity in the artworks. If themes of sex or sexuality make you uncomfortable, then this obviously is not for you. Rules-wise, Alpha Blue is a very rules-lite game that uses Venger’s VSd6-engine of d6 dice pools. I’ve reviewed all supplements for the game so far. If this type of thing is not for you, then this module won’t change that, but if your main gripe with the game so far, like me, were the incomplete-feeling adventure-vignettes that make up a bulk of Alpha Blue’s content so far, then please, do continue reading.

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

..

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All right, only BDSMs (Bold Dungeon Space Masters) around? Great! So, the module begins with the federation cracking down on sex workers, not just to end “exploitation”, but also to make them pay the draconian taxes the corrupt government imposes on its citizens. Thus, Alpha Blue’s girls are called to audit…and instead of complying, they are calling for a full-scale revolution! Until yesterday, Beeblebox Prime was a neutral territory, a safe zone for sexworkers – and today, it’s at a tipping point. Half in favor of the Federation, half in favor of the boiling anti-Federation resentiment – the government is calling it Breastix, and the cities are filled with yellow-vested citizens. Yeah, you don’t have to be a rocket-scientist to note that, funnily enough, the visuals employed here take basically the visuals of the alt-right in Europe and beyond and flips them to the other side of the political spectrum, which I considered to be kinda funny, really.

We begin this module with a 6-entry background story of how your PC may have been affected by the THOT audit. (THOT, btw. – acronym for “That Ho Over There.”) The introductory read-aloud text paints the picture how the PCs got into the kerfuffle at the start of the module: They tried to get out of Beeblebrox Prime, saw a freighter, and then, the ship was targeted by surface-o-air missiles…only avoiding atomization due to it containing Blue Sky (lol for Breaking Bad allusion), the purest form of crystal ultra-amphetamine in the galaxy. Federation hailed: Prepare to be boarded. A Federation ship got past the photon torpedoes, and now, the PCs have to stay alive until their buddies show up – two hours, and it’s kill or be killed! Note that, the PCs don’t know what else is on the ship, courtesy of trying to get off Beeblebrox Prime ASAP.

Thus, they may not have noticed the utterly stoned galaxy hitchhikers – on a mission from Templar Oz, they should warn the local planetary bishops of the audit, for the clergy uses internet girls to remain celibate. *snicker* The audit may, ironically, ruin the church. In the mess hall, a decadent THOT investor banquet’s going on, and a random table allows for different strategies to use in face of the audit. The ship also contains a premium sex-chat with a d12 table for sets and fetishes. There just may be an undercover agent waiting here, fyi.

Folks swallowing “Pills from the Red Planet” (like Princess Meridian, the girl on the cover) get advantage on combat situations for an hour…but disadvantage for an equal amount of time after that. The pills come with proper costs noted and don’t require MeowMeowBeenz to purchase, just fyi. This is further complicated by a pleasure-replicant on her trail. Said replicant ma ybe met at the ship’s glory hole, just fyi – and yeah, 6 random entries there.

Magenta-hued ladies are somewhere on the ship, and so is a Virtual Reality Amplifier mohawk’d punk turned real attempting to take control of the ship with his crew (would have been nice to know how many members of his crew there are). Fully stated klyngons make fun of the first episodes of the latest grimdark (and oftentimes, nonsensical) Star Trek series, and there is an anthropomorphic watermelon with a giraffe-like neck, who also happens to be a telepath. (Douglas Adams reference included.)

Ladies stuck in engineering, preparations for a clone-orgy, lobotomized drones piloting the ship (now there things turned grim quickly…), but more funnily, there are two fully stated folks in the disco longue, a notorious gambler, and a lady that can stun targets by showing off her Haley Joel Osmond tattoos.

The Federation troopers, the main antagonists, can be easily slotted in whatever place the PCs are exploring and they actually have names and individualized statblocks (one of them having vorpal caltrops!), which was a pleasant surprise to see.  The pdf also comes with a default nameless NPC statblock (nice – though that would have made sense in the core book), and the appendix contains a table of d12 different, color-coded alerts. The module also covers a d6 table for when you’ve had sex with an alien that’s not your species…and the module expands the powers of female PCS. Basically, you get a random table that represents how well you prep your looks, etc. – and how you can use that to make folks do whatever you want. This ties in with Battle Star: Trek Wars’ table that lets you determine how pussy-whipped you can make a target, just fyi. I generally like this, though, again, if there’s a revised version of Alpha Blue at one point, this should probably be in the core rules.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a very nice two-column full-color standard, and the pdf has no bookmarks, which is borderline, but still something that may be stomached at this length. The pdf does come with a printer-friendly version that features white backgrounds, but leaves the artworks in color – kudos for the inclusion of that version. The cartography is rather nice and the inclusion of a proper player-friendly map for VTTs and guys like yours truly, who suck at drawing, is a big plus.

Okay, so here’s the thing: This is Zoltar Khan Delgado/Venger As’Nas Satanis by far best Alpha Blue scenario to date. It does have the beer and pretzels style gameplay, but it’s no mere vignette – is has the stats and represents a fun, sandboxy environment, and one that dares tell a longer story – or at least, I hope that we’ll see the whole audit angle develop further. It is vastly better structured than previous modules released for Alpha Blue, and it can be pretty much run as is without requiring that you fill in a ton of stuff. This represents an overdue evolution I’ve been waiting to see, and the inclusion of abilities for the ladies made this a supplement that renders playing them in Alpha Blue more interesting. So yeah, this easily is the best scenario penned for the game so far. This is impressive and hopefully a shape of the things to come. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars +seal of approval.

You can get this cool little module here on OBS!

Endzeitgeist out.

Feb 262019
 

Thunderscape Vistas: Academy of Mechamagic

This supplement clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page back cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, so, after a brief piece of nice introductory flavor text, we begin this supplement with a background section that explains the advent of mechamagic in the world of Aden, and then move on to the sample environment, the Kixue Academy. Ina  way, this supplement presents a ready to slot in locale for your (Thunderscape) game and does so in an interesting manner: We get a full-color map of the complex, which is keyed per se. Much to my joy, I noticed that the pdf also comes with a one-page version that labels the map with proper names instead of immersion-breaking numbers: You can hand out the map and have the players immediately know where scrapyard, eating area, amphitheater etc. are located – nice! This map does come with a grid as well as notes on scale. Kudos for that!

Now, the map represents a general mechamagic academy, and thus, the descriptions featured for the rooms also highlight this general notion. But what if you want details, if you want a sample academy? Well, you’re in luck, as each of the keyed locales features a section wherein the particular versions of the sample Kixue Academy are explained. In short: You’re covered whether you use this as a general sourcebook or as one for a simple drop in of the Academy. The respective rooms have no read-aloud text, but I do not consider that to be a detriment here. Beyond this nice glimpse into the workings of this place of learning, the supplement also features rules-relevant material:

There are two traits for adventurers associated with Kixue Academy, though it should be noted that one of them does not specify that it grants a trait bonus. Botha re obviously intended to be background traits, which can be gleaned from context. The pdf also features two item creation feats: Mystic Scribe lets you create multiple scrolls per day and reduces cost by 10%, but thankfully still has a daily cap based on GP-value. Mystic Scholar requires 5th level and the previous feat, and is VERY brutal and something usually more limited/harder to obtain – it lets you use your own stats to determine the spell effects of a spell cast from a scroll. This is extremely potent and not something I’d allow in my game.

The academy obviously caters to a couple of professions, and as such, we do get a sample statblock for low level mechamages, steamwrights and universalist wizards. Odd: The latter lacks sample spells, which limits immediate usefulness. The pdf also contains level 3 mechamage stats to represent average faculty members, but these also lack sample spells, once more requiring that you take care of one of the most grating aspects of spellcaster design, particularly at low levels where they’re prone to die fast. The supplement also features two named NPC statblocks: Baltus Aizen, the ferran sneak (raccoon) steamwright 7, who acts as the academy’s shop arden, and Dacius Quintus, the elven mechamage headmaster of Kixue academy, who does come with his rock golem companion fully statted. The statblock of Baltus is lacking the text for his attacks/damage, which it incorrectly notes in a bit of a mess in the equipment section, and it should also be noted that there are a couple of bolding glitches. Spells have also not been properly italicized.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are okay, but not as tight as they should be in some instances; this, alas, does also affect the rules-language level. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard, and the pdf has no interior artwork. The cartography provided is in full color, and, as noted, the inclusion of the player-friendly version of the map is a highlight there. The pdf has no bookmarks, which is a slight comfort detriment, but still okay at this brevity.

Shawn Carman and Rob Drake provide a per se solid little supplement here – the academy’s map is a big plus, and the text covering both your needs for a specific and generic academy represents a big plus here. However, I couldn’t help but notice aforementioned glitches, which detract from what would otherwise be a nice supplement. As such, my final verdict can’t exceed 3 stars.

You can get this supplement here on OBS.

Endzeitgeist out.

Feb 262019
 

Monstrous Lair: Pirates’ Cove (system neutral)

This installment of the Monstrous Lairs-pdfs clocks in at 8 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, leaving us with 2 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Sometimes, you just need a bit of dressing for a wayside encounter – or something specific to a monster type. Finding appropriate entries can be rough, and so, this series attempts to remedy this shortcoming on 2 pages, with a total of 7 d10-tables.

Outside of the cove, one may find the words “Keep OWT!” painted on planks of scavenged driftwood, skeletal remnants of trading ships, sections of rigging repurposed as makeshift nets, and, really creative, a massive ship’s wheel, set up as a trap to be catapulted at those approaching. As for the daily routine that PCs are likely to interrupt, we have the obvious drunken folks, preparations to whip slaves, horrible smell of fish stew and harpoon-throwing exercises. The notable features of the cove may include a plethora of wooden crates, massive captain#s tables repurposed as cover, hovels using rowboats as roofs, rigging providing access to higher levels and the like. Minor features may include parrots, decking of rotten planks on the floor, rotten fish bucket traps, feral ship cats and the like – nothing too fantastic or weird.

As far as pirate appearances are concerned, we have an anchor-wielder brute, chins stained with red tobacco, tribal paint used to give the impression of a skull, elves with hundreds of ritual scars…etc. –some nice surprises here, including an Amazonian woman with the scalps of male enemies! Treasures feature a barrel of grog that never empties until every one had their share,a hook with an emerald eyed seahorse-design, lustrous pearls topping swordfish-shaped rapiers and the like…and what of a wooden leg made of bonded shark’s spine and driftwood, embedded with sharp teeth? Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about! The trinket table includes coral used as paper-weights, tankards with embossed maritime patterns, wooden dolphin charms, sandals from knotted palm-fronds…nice.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious hiccups. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant two-column b/w-standard, and we get a nice piece of b/w-artwork. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, in spite of its brevity (kudos!) and is included in two versions – one optimized for screen-use, and one for the printer.

Steve Hood’s pirate cove was a pleasant surprise to me; while the cove-angle was subdued, the creativity that went into the tables made up for that. While a couple of classics can be found herein, there is no lame “Wears an eye-patch./Has a wooden leg/Has a parrot”-standard BS herein, instead focusing on some rather cool visuals. My final verdict will be 5 stars, just short of my seal of approval.

You can get this cool dressing file here on OBS!

You can support Raging Swan Press here on patreon!

Endzeitgeist out.