Mar 292019
 

Imperiums Campaign Guide: Plight of the Tuatha (5e)

Okay, so this massive supplement clocks in at 292 pages of content, not taking the editorial, etc. into account. I’ve had this book for a while, and it is, to make that clear from the get-go, an incredibly dense book – I have rewritten this review twice now, because I never was totally happy with how the review turned out; it either bloated or remained too superficial, so here goes – hope this iteration does provide the guidance you require.

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue due to me receiving this book in print in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

So, first thing first – this book’s title isn’t exactly precise, so how would one define it? Well, while it is intended for use with the inspiring, but rather late “Plight of the Tuatha” adventure arc (still excited to see the final module!), but it is NOT a player’s guide for the arc, nor is it a GM Guide in the traditional sense. If I were to define this, it’d be to call this a mostly spoiler-free campaign setting book, with a monster appendix for GMs. This does have an array of different player options, but it also sports a ton of what I’d call successful myth-weaving, and that is how the book starts. What follows is a MASSIVE tangent, but please bear with me – this is going somewhere.

To elaborate on the term “myth-weaving”: Know how some myths of mankind tend to resonate with us in real life? Some of you may be touched upon first reading about the Aztec or Norse myths, others upon first reading the Diné Banahe; some may experience this deep resonance of concepts and ethics when confronted with the details of the traditional Abrahamic religions – it’s the language and tales that convey a model of the world that may not be scientific, but which rings nonetheless “true”. Not because it describes what we can see and perceive (I am very much a subscriber to a thoroughly scientific worldview), but because it provides a metaphoric context for components of our shared conditio humana. Whether it’s rules for culture and ethics, whether it’s an explanation of the central experiences – Isaak, Jobe, Loki and Baldr, Mahadeva Shiva – different mythologies form baselines that resonate on an emotional value, and that make life bearable, that fortify the social glue that defines our experiences. If you have a less positive outlook on life, the words uttered to Seven Flower to “suffer and endure” may ring true to you. This function of myths, while prevalent among religions, also extends to fiction. There is a reason why Lovecraft’s outlook of a bleak and uncaring, indifferent universe struck a chord with me, and one could argue that anything, form Star Trek to Star Wars, does engage in mythweaving, in perpetuating a model of varying complexity by which we make sense of the world.

It is, then, actually pretty interesting to note that few campaign settings manage to evoke a sense of cohesion; let’s take the Star Wars example, shall we? Like the universe or not, it is very much informed by a dichotomous world-view that differentiates clearly between good and evil, and as such, underscores the method by which most adherents of Abrahamic religions perceive the world. This makes it easily digestible for many folks, easy to accept and get into, but it’s also why none of the new movies will ever live up to the classic trilogy, why there was such a big backlash against midi-chlorians etc.. The myth of Star Wars needed to expand to account for an increased diversification in our perceptions, to account for the rise in complexity that digitization and the rise of the internet brought. (As an aside: The “good” Jedi always struck me as “evil” and inimical to life in a more subtle way than the Sith, but that’s a whole other topic.) Roleplaying settings tend to suffer from a similar issue, which is, all too often, founded in the adherence to the simplification that is represented by alignments, whether you subscribe to the two-axis or one-axis paradigm. When something is measurably “good” or “chaotic”, it’s hard to argue nuances when the hard rules state just that one action is good, the other evil. This also informs cosmology in most settings, and while I love my Planescape and Great Wheel cosmology based on alignments as much as the next guy, it is due to the lore, and NOT due to the planes being founded upon the basis of alignments. It’s a game. It’s simple to grasp the implications of alignment and the interaction with creatures and characters.

Here’s the thing: While most roleplaying games assume a quasi Early-modern period that actually represents the values we have in the present in many ways (zealotry is evil, slavery is evil, etc.), those concepts wouldn’t have held up back in the periods that the games we play usually mirror. On a superficial level, most settings “look” medieval, but actually aren’t in the values they eschew. For a reason – many folks would consider the like shocking and simply less fun. To give you an example that most folks will get nowadays: The persecution, racism towards nonhumans and darkness in “Witcher 3: Wild Hunt”, the depiction of that world’s social mores? They’d probably be considered decadent and liberal in a late medieval context. (Early medieval context and the life of burgher’s is another matter… for example, racism wasn’t as important as faith, but I digress.)

Comparing these, you’ll notice that it’s hard to identify with alignment-based cosmologies and myths; chances are you never thought: “Heck yeah, I can totally get behind the ideology/world-view of, say, of one of the Forgotten Realms’ pantheons, of a pantheon of Golarion, etc.” And yet, all the myths we tell in real life tend to have at least some resonance, right? If you’ve read the Gilgamesh myth, for example, it’s hard to not read themes like loyalty, friendship, etc. from its stanzas; if you’ve read about Egill Skallagrímsson, you’d be hard-pressed to not at least feel a semblance of empathy during your first reading of Sonatorrek. The latter is not even a traditional first-degree myth, but a hero’s saga, but yeah. Perhaps, you’ve read Thomas Hardy’s “Jude the Obscure” and had to put down the book to compose yourself when Jude read Little Father Time’s missive. I know I had to. Those are elaborations on the myths underlying all – and they resonate because they expand, because they update and annotate the implicit ideology formed by the grand myths; In the context of RPGs, these are the stories we might be telling with our characters, within a world that is informed by myths different from our own. It’s easier to tell such stories when the myths of a setting align with ours, when they quote and put a spin on classics. Norse, Greek and Arthurian myths are particularly popular baselines.

In a way, Imperiums does something interesting in its myth-weaving: First of all, the campaign setting knows no alignments, which already strips it of one of the biggest hamstrings it could have; The cosmology then takes a general notion akin to that of Norse mythology, establishing an array of worlds, with the world of Æliode acting as the equivalent of Midgard, as the realm of mortal men. However, the setting does borrow generously from various mythologies across the globe, and infuses them with magical concepts, accounting for the presence of dragons and similar entities, and thus moving somewhat away from a solely humanocentric point of view. Some concepts would be, for example, the sky being the carcass of a deity, the stars glimmering scales. Beyond the worlds, there is the Expanse – if you are familiar with Lacanian psychosemiotics, think of it as the Real beyond our Symbolic order; if you’ve seen Matrix, think of it as reality. Building upon that comparison, belief is more than a kind of currency for outsiders, fiends, etc. – it is literally the code that maintains the structure of the world. Placing a pilgrimage site somewhere, a saint’s bones at the right place, may literally benefit the fabric of the order in which the PCs operate. This in and of itself opens up a complex tapestry of narrative possibilities, one thoroughly supplemented by the language employed.

If the above seemed complex, fret not – Imperiums is smart in that it takes just enough from established lore and mythology to make it functional. It does not offer a simplistic good-evil story, sure – in its place are virtues and vices as sets of diametrically opposed notions that are easy to grasp, though their values per se interact in interesting ways with the development of characters, and said values tend to be informed by the eponymous Imperiums of the setting; “Mercy” may be a virtue for some, but not for others. Similarly, the strategy of using components of mythologies from our world and infusing them with the realities of a magical world has several intriguing repercussions – it makes grasping the concepts familiar and generates a basic resonance, for we, as players, are informed by them.

This is important, for, try to picture e.g. the world of the Witcher without the real-world analogues from fairy tales and myths. It’d be an abstract, hard to grasp place, right? Well, Imperiums engages in a similar strategy, but provides an actual annotated creation myth in the beginning. The author’s academic background also shows in another strategy that really helps maintain this illusion of a world that is somewhat alien, yet familiar, in spite of its complexities – and that would be language. Scandinavians will smile when reading about a curse of a dwelling designated as “Uhygg”, and if you’re familiar with Norse and Gaelic myths and nomenclature, the concise and consistent use of languages to underline the plausibility of the setting may be subtle. Most folks won’t even notice it. But it is incredible efficient. This notion also extends to the details of the cultures and lineages presented – Yōkai, for example, come with a ton of artworks depicting different Noh-masks.

In short: The baseline mythology is familiar, yet different and primal; it does a great job at establishing the means to explore more nuanced narratives than most D&D cosmologies can dream of, and thus presents a great foundation for writing you own, second tier mythologies at the table, to write Egill Skallagrímsson, Arthurian, or similar tales.

This establishes a leitmotif, if this book can be construed to have one, for the whole of the writing and design paradigm – and that would be choice, informed by cultural context. Not all classes are suitable for all empires, a notion that may be disregarded by individual groups, obviously, but it does lend further identity to the nations of Æliode; same goes for the discussions on how those classes are received. While this, at first glance, may seem restrictive (and it certainly is to a degree), it informs the cultural context of the lands presented within, and it is offset by a vast increase in choice pertaining another aspect that usually represents a fire and forget component of the character design process: This would be the notion of lineage.

You see, the races of Æliode, and there are quite a few of them, do have unique twists – the small folk equivalent, (dwarves et al), the weorg and weorg-kin, for example get a twist on darkvision that is stone-centric, changing a basic and interesting dynamic. 9 such lineages (with a ton of sub-lineages) are provided, and this is, alas, where I need to address a component of this book that left me less than impressed: Formatting. There are PLENTY of instances, where an ability header is not properly bolded and italicized, and ended by a colon instead of a full stop. There are A LOT of missed spell reference italicizations among the rules, and names of actions, for example, are consistently not italicized, when usually, only legendary actions and the like lack the italicization of the ability headers. So yeah, if you’re like me and peculiar about those things, this WILL annoy you.

On the plus side, the choice in nomenclature regarding the “races”, the designation of lineages, heralds another concept of the book, and that is the “emergence.” If you’ve been following the Pathfinder iterations of Imperiums, you’ll know what these are: Emergences are basically special abilities that you can earn in game via your actions. Completed a ritual to seal a portal? That may have rules-relevant consequences. Manages to roll a lucky critical hit, preventing a TPK? That may have rules-repercussions. By GM vote and party consensus, actions will have consequences, and this allows for the rewarding of PCs with abilities that are not contingent on carrying around a treasure trove of magic items. Emergences, in short, are awesome. You can have 1 at first level, and every even level thereafter, the maximum number of emergences your character can have increases by one. The consequence is that your Imperiums character will be much more mutable, more personal. Emergences also have loss conditions that may strip you of them – if you draw strength from an oath of fealty to a fey lord and break the oath, there goes your emergence. If a curse slowly corrupts you, but also lets you breathe underwater, breaking the curse may replace the emergence with another.

This is the classic concept. The 5e-oteration and expansion of Æliode’s lore takes this concept and goes all out with it. Emergences may be tied to your lineage – for example, if you’re aligned with the dragons, you may see yourself become more draconic, gaining basically that emergent lineage, at the cost of emergence slots. A similar angle is btw. illustrated via an emergent class – think of those as a combination of archetypes and prestige classes of sorts, save that they are also tied to emergences, using this concept as a resource. The result is amazing and something many a 5e-group will cherish: You suddenly have dynamic choices and consequences, far beyond what 5e’s relatively rigid progression system usually allows for, particularly at lower levels increasing your differentiation options significantly. You see, you could well start transforming into another race like the Magos, mystic power coalesced into humanoid form; a weorg-kin may well slowly change, etc. The concept is simplicity itself, but the ramifications are vast, and I really love this aspect of Imperiums. A ton of sample emergences are provided, btw.: The list for them alone covers two whole pages! This concept is also mirrored in “Evolutionary” feats – said feats change as you adventure. Battle Bound starts with “Mate” and may evolve to “Married” or “Widowed”, for example, all with unique benefits. (Odd: No “Divorced” option… This would also be the time to note that the rules aren’t always clear: It’s “death saving throw”, not “death check.” In quite a few instances, this book does show that multiple authors with different degrees in rules language proficiency have taken the reigns.

Now, the book does offer plenty of cleric domains (7, to be precise) and differentiates between types of divinity gods may have; it mentions the vast, kaiju-sized offspring of deities, not meant to be slain by mortal hands, mainly affecting mortals through unique effects that accompany their wake, etc. – in aesthetics, Æliode seemed closer to e.g. surviving an almost awakening of Jörmundgandr than fighting it; this also cements the playstyle that seems to be informed more by mythology, and less by super-human antics.

So, that would be one of the benefits of the Imperiums-book. The pdf introduces two new, Wisdom-based skills: Commune, which allows for the communion with daemons (basically spirits, minus the undead-previously-mortal-angle), and Practical magic, which is easily one of my least favorite aspects here: It is an ill-defined catch-all term for mundane magics that, puzzlingly, can’t be affected by dispel magic. It is not nearly precise enough to make sense of GM properly, and to me, looks like a bad “anything goes” bullshit-angle that is just a total, nonfunctional MESS. I hate it. With a fiery passion. Also, since its effects arguably poach in the territory of cantrips, and the book fails to address how it works, what its limits are – anything you’d want, nay, require, is absent. This is capital letters BAD. On a more positive side, we do get 16 well-wrought and interesting backgrounds – kudos for those.

As far as items are concerned, almost 2 pages of weapons are provided, and the book does contain notes on different armor qualities, which is something I enjoy seeing: Having a really well-wrought armor can increase your AC by up to +3, all sans magic – kudos there. Oddly, having poor armor…has no repercussions whatsoever. No penalties to AC. That seems…odd, and like something has fallen by the wayside here. The book also features solid rules for using an offhand weapon, which, while potent, made sense to me and doesn’t break the math.

The second aspect that deserves mentioning, indubitably, would be the “Wielding Influence” chapter: This codifies social “combat”, like discussion, court cases and temptations. This system is explained pretty concisely: First, the contestants declare their intent; then you tally up Resolve Points: A character has Resolve equal to all three mental ability scores, halved. Both sides also have Wit points equal to twice their proficiency bonus. Wit points may be spent to add +1d4 to an attack or defense roll per point spent. In phase three, contestants choose tactics, and then unveil and roleplay these tactics. Each tactic has a skill used associated with it; in order to successfully use the tactic, you add the opponent’s indicated ability modifier to a base of 8 and the defense bonus. Each tactic gives roleplaying pointers and notes how much damage to Resolve the tactic causes. This engine is employed to resolve discourse, iaijutsu, duels and possession, with individual tactics (a page each) being provided. I really enjoyed these, but couldn’t help but feel like e.g. possession and discourse could have used more tactics. Still, once you’ve grasped how it works, it is a cool system!

I’m less blown away by e.g. the variant rules for critical hits and defenses: Critical hits are on a 20, and roll base damage twice, then add modifiers. Okay. How does this interact with bonus damage? Critical defense nets you a defense token for natural 1s on attacks; this lasts until the next round, and lets you spend it to impose disadvantage on an attack. Another section I enjoyed would be the overland travel section – seeing how the Expanse will bleed into the world, straying from civilization becomes progressively more dangerous, and the book offers for a means to streamline that experience: Basically, areas get a safety rating, and failing to make that DC with Wisdom (survival) will cause loss of Hit Points or spell slots – you may pay off the cost (equal to the safety rating) in a combination thereof. This may be combined with expanse failure chances that may hamper long rests. I also really like that Imperiums has a reputation value – this would be renown, and it differentiates between empires. It’s simple, helpful and rewards PCs for spending gold to forge reputations. This rating does influence access to some areas, of which several are provided for your convenience.

On the “okay, but doesn’t contribute much” side of things, there is an option to make rites to temporarily gain a cleric spell from a deity beseeched, and there are a couple of new spells. Apart from these spells (none of which are designated for warlocks) and aforementioned domains, the book doesn’t feature new primal paths or the like, though.

The final section of this tome depicts a variety of different monsters and some key NPCs of the setting, including flycatcher wyrmlings, spider-like dimensional weavers, and the like. The book closes with a step-by-step character creation cheat-sheet, and the book features a massive index.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are sometimes very good, concise and cool – and sometimes, well, less refined or unrefined and less impressive; both on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard with plenty of neat full-color artworks. The cartography of the world is stunning and full color, and the softcover is a pretty mighty tome indeed. The pdf-version comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

William Moomaw’s Æliode is a fantastic setting, one that oozes not only passion, but which is actually a fun experience to read. There s a ton to love about this setting; from the influence mechanics to the emergences, these concepts alone will sell the book on quite a few folks out there, and deservedly so. If you’ve been playing 5e for a while, and want more agenda, more choice, then this delivers in spades. This is a mature setting, not in the sense that it features gritty stuff, but in the sense that it treats its audience with respect, refraining from simplifications and catering towards an audience who wants nuanced, complex storytelling. The additional design by Dan Dillon, Rich Howard, Mario Podeschi, Brandes Stoddard and Mike Wilhelm (was that Mike Welham? If so, he is miscredited…) does show the expertise of a couple of these folks: The book contains plenty of rules I absolutely adore, that are genuinely great and that, regardless of setting, I’ll be using in my games. Emergences, for example, have been a staple in my games since the Imperiums supplements for Pathfinder introduced this concept. At the same time, this reminded me, and not in a good way, of Rhûne – another absolutely brilliant campaign setting, which also, more often than not, offers creative and well-wrought rules, but which is similarly hampered by editing and formatting.

In this book the juxtaposition of creative rules and precise material with obvious formatting glitches and inconsistencies that should have been caught is really jarring. This, on one hand, is incredibly refined and showcases the talent of its designers and writers very well; at the same time, the guide does have these sudden dips, these sudden slips crop up. Take the per se brilliant “Wielding Influence”-rules: They work; and work well. I had to read the rules twice to get how they work. I am pretty confident that this means that something, didactically, isn’t exactly perfect there. Answer: The sequence isn’t perfect; explaining the terms first, then going through step by step would have made more sense. If you don’t mind the like, then get this ASAP – this book is inspired and creative in all the right ways, and the emergence-engine? It’s gold.

My criticism and minor frustration with this book needs to be understood in context – with a bit of further polish, this could have managed to attain true greatness. Time and again, I found myself smiling from ear to ear, and frankly, I thought more than once that this is Top Ten of 2018 material. But at the same time, there are components where I could dismantle a couple of components of this book; and when I did a tally of the glitches…well, there are too many to justify 5 stars anymore.  So here I am; a reviewer who wrote a vast, rambling tangent on how amazing this setting can be, who adores many of the innovations herein to bits…and who is beholden to the standards established by his own metrics. To quote ole’ Faust “Zwei Seelen wohnen, ach! in meiner Brust” (Lit.: “Two souls inhabit, alas, my breast”, often rather badly translated as “two hearts are beating, alas, in my breast”) – I genuinely love this book, but it also frustrates me.

Ultimately, this guide is a creative and inspired book; but it also is one that is slightly more clunky, slightly less refined than it could have been. While it doesn’t reach the excellence that it very much deserved to attain, this still is a book that provides a metric ton of awesome concepts, evocative lore and great ideas. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform – but this is one of the instances, where the book still gets my seal of approval. If the concepts I touched upon intrigue you even in the slightest, then check this out. You won’t regret it.

You can get this inspired, massive toolkit/campaign setting for 5e here on OBS!

Endzeitgeist out.

Mar 292019
 

Galaxy Pirates: Ships – Eldred Pirate Cruiser (SFRPG)

This installment of the ship-supplements released under the Galaxy Pirates brand clocks in at 7 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, so the light cruiser is a tier 6 Large destroyer with average maneuverability and turn 2, using an Arcus Max power core and sporting a signal basic drift engine. With mk 4 armor and defenses, we get AC and TL 19, and weaponry-wise, we get fire-linked heavy laser cannons and light torpedo launchers forward, a gyrolaser on the port-side and starboard-side, a coilgun turret and no weaponry on the aft. The ship has a proper array of expansion bays, with this one sporting a gym, but only one escape pods compared to the 2 of the regular light cruiser. As far as crew is concerned, the best ones are the Pilot and Captain. The pirate cruiser was originally modeled after the intermediate cruiser, and as always, the ship does come with a Computers table that allows PCs to deduce facts about the ship model, and the pdf does feature a brief elaboration on the ship’s details.

The supplement also comes with an AMAZING full-color map of the ship, which explains all components of the ship, from airlocks to the placement of the weaponry. (Very minor nitpick: The map references a rail cannon and plasma cannons, instead of the fire-linked heavy cannons; it’d have been nice to see the map reference the weapons of the ship directly, but those are details.)The map deserves another shoutout: Other publishers would have tweaked the basics of the light cruiser map, and this did not go this route. Instead, we have a truly distinct map: The ship accounts for gym, and e.g. torpedoes and engines are placed differently. This creates a unified Eldred ship aesthetic, while still differentiating between the different ships. We also get a great, handout style one-page version of the ship’s artwork, and a full page of paper stand-in minis you can print out, and the ship comes with a full, already filled-in ship sheet for your convenience. Huge plus!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious snafus on a formal or rules-language level. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard, and the pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length. The artwork of the ship and the cartography are both full color and amazing.

The pirate cruiser is a cool vessel – it has these little touches that make it feel more optimized than the regular models, a bit rawer (less escape pods!) and the map going one step beyond is a great thing. All in all, a well-crafted ship, well worth a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded up.

You can get this cruiser here on OBS!

Endzeitgeist out.

Mar 292019
 

Attack of the Frawgs (DCC)

This module clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 20 pages of content, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), so let’s take a look!

Okay, formally, this is a funnel that is probably closest to what you’d consider to be a linear wilderness trek – you move from wilderness encounter to encounter towards the finale, so if that irks you, then, that’s something to be aware of. This is intended for 8 – 14 level 0 characters, and playtest of the module left between 3 to 4 survivors for parties that explored all locations. This mirrors my observations, though it should be noted that this being mostly an adventure that takes place in the wilderness, the PCs do have the choice to avoid some encounters. Judge’s discretion is advised there. While nominally tied to the “Princes of Kaimai”-series, that sequence of adventures and their rough metaplot seems to have been abandoned in the meantime. Thankfully, this does not negatively impact the module’s integrity or story in the slightest, with references being relegated to the judge’s side of things. The module sports well-written read-aloud text.

I do maintain that this represents an interesting way to kick off a new DCC campaign, particularly for players new to the system. Why? Well, in order to discuss that, I will need to go into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

The paltry 0-level characters grew up around Fulthon Mountains, and begin play in the tavern, when two veteran gicastor trappers burst in, saying that they have been attacked. Speculation quickly rises – have the mongrelmen returned? Was the Black Corruption to the South responsible? It’s time to grab your trusty peasant’s tools and check it out! The trail leads to a tree platform that PCs may scale to get some foreshadowing, and then brings the PCs to the local brewery, which is fully mapped (alas, no player-friendly version) and infested with beer rats (who cause disorientation and bad judgment with their bites); this place also includes a crazed man, obviously drugged with something worse than the beer rats’ bites, and if the PCs can subdue him, they will get some further, unpleasant foreshadowing. Most of the module from there on out has the PCs circle a massive lake; the module, unfortunately, remains silent regarding the approach of trying to cross the water and e.g. take a closer look at the shapes noted; this represents the most pronounced downside regarding the structure of this one.

The trail leads the PCs towards gicastor traps – and if you’re a smart judge, you haven’t spilled the beans on what a gicastor is when the PCs arrive at the lodge: Gicastors are pretty deadly and savage, massive beavers. Yep, death by beaver is very likely (and there is a pretty neat b/w-artwork!), and the PCs can free a gicastor from a trap, allowing the judge to save the skins of the players via that angle, should they choose to. Oh yeah, insert all Zombeaver-jokes you can remember. 🙂 Moving onwards, the PCs will find a dead tracker and a strange totem of Truloq, a chaotic deity of the sea that may have the PCs become selected by the entity, for a patron – and indeed, if the PC refused, they may well die…only to be revived and recruited by the deity’s brother.

Anyhow, the trail, ultimately, leads to the base of a waterfall – and in the cave behind that, the eponymous frawgs attack – first the regular croakers (depicted on the cover, coming with a deafening croak), and then the hoppers and spawner. The latter is a massive, bloated monster in the process of deposing eggs from its skin into the water! This thing is also responsible for the hallucinogenic rage of the aforementioned crazed fellow in the brewery. The disgusting creature must be stopped, and fast! Oh, and it comes with a full-page b/w-artwork that makes for a cool handout! (As an aside: Merciful judges could rule that a gicastor freed takes care of some of the eggs that may slip past the PCs…)

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard, and the interior b/w-illustrations by Reba Pyron deserve special mention: They are frantic, detailed and kickass b/w-pieces. There may only be 2, but both rock. The cartography does its job and offers squares, but, as a nitpick both mapped encounters don’t have a scale noted. More important for me would be lamentable absence of player-friendly maps. The pdf version comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. I can’t comment on the print version, since I do not own it.

Stephen Newton’s “Attack of the Frawgs” is a nice, if linear funnel. It is structurally nothing mind-blowing, but the finale does amp up the strangeness in a great manner. You see, I believe that there are two basic strategies to introduce DCC’s aesthetics to new players: The first would be exemplified for example by Purple Duck games’ excellent “Death Slaves of Eternity.” It is throwing in PCs at the deep end, have them meet gods, destroy artifacts, etc. – and then reach first level. I know, this is basically a catch-phrase for DCC I’ve seen on shirts. There is one downside to this, though, and that is that, if you throw all you’ve got, maximum weirdness, from the get-go, said strangeness can become stale fast. How do you one-up this?

You don’t. You do different stuff, but yeah.

It’s one of the reasons why the contributions of the some authors after Roy Thomas left the “Chronicles of Conan”-series back in the day sucked so badly; they threw high fantasy weirdness at the barbarian, without grounding the proceedings in some sort of reality.

DCC, in the hands of a careless judge, can go that route as well. This module, in contrast, allows the judge to start the campaign in a pretty down to earth way; one could say, it begins almost in a mundane manner.

The gicastors are a first hint at what’s to come, but the finale amps up the WTF-factor and should have most folks realize that DCC is not your standard D&D-based RPG. It allows you to slowly build towards the aesthetic that’s so crucial for DCC, and particularly for folks that are mostly familiar with 5e or d20-based adventures, this can be a pretty eye-opening finale that ought to make them palpably excited for more, while leaving a LOT of wiggle room for the judge to amp up the strange. Following this with, for example, “People of the Pit”? That’ll have jaws drop. Trust me.

So yeah, this isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, but it does provide a nice start for a new campaign. My final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, upgraded to 4 due to the freshman bonus and in dubio pro reo.

You can get this neat little module here on OBS!

Endzeitgeist out.

Mar 282019
 

Star Log.EM: InsaneCorp’s Sinisterly Superb Cybernetics (SFRPG)

This installment of the Star Log.EM 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!

*sound of static, white noise, a screech as if a thousand blades scarping on metal as space and time tear*

Check, check. Is this guy on? Huh, didn’t think that’d actually work. Guess he wasn’t kidding with all his stupid review-robot jokes. Where was I?

Oh yes! Greetings Hoomanz of the backwater planet Earth! This is none other than Doctor Malifaord Hudson Insano speaking, president of the  glorious conglomerate InsaneCorp Industries, situated in the Xa-Osoro system! It has come to my attention that you all have started playing this charmingly-primitive pen and paper game called “Starsearcher” or somesuch, and that due to a mishap in one of our psychic relay stations, a cadre of authors has been receiving transmissions of our Star Log-encyclopedia – and that these are peddled to the masses to much joy! I guess you won’t have the tech to properly steal my inventions for another couple of centuries, so please excuse me while I hijack this reviewer-git and tell you about some of our fabulous products! They have really made a dent in the Xa-Osoro system’s markets. No, really. Literally. A few have had a couple of malfunctions and created some serious dents in the forcefields, but that shouldn’t concern you! The good news is that you won’t have to sign the 470 legal documents required for our products, you can just marvel at my genius from afar and use it for your games! Awesome, right?

Ähem, so…how do I put this in words that a primitive backwater species understands. Just a moment, need to read up on this tome of a book you use.

Okay, so the first product I’d like to introduce to you, would be the android frame adaptor, which comes in 4 versions, ranging in item levels from 1 – 12. As the name implies, you can only install this one, if you’re an android. Hmm, wonder if the reviewer-git I psychically bio-hacked would qualify? Ah now, you need an unoccupied armor upgrade slot. Damn. What does he have there? Oh, interesting. Anyhow, mk I nets you the chosen race’s subtype and a +4 racial bonus to Disguise your android nature as the race in question. You use the lower bonus HP between 4 and the race emulated, and movement speeds are replaced with those gained from racial traits. So yeah, you’re just one tiny surgery away from swimming with the star dolphins or singing “I believe I can fly” – and the latter would actually be true. Mk II lets you reassign ability scores from the chosen race, using them instead of the android’s; Mk III nets you a racial trait like the ysoki’s charming cheek pouches and Mk IV lets you choose Large races as well. You, as well, can become, how did that fable put it “become a real boy.” Did I use that correctly? Pardon, I’m not that well-versed in your obscure mythology.

But perhaps you tend to be a bit challenged in the valor-department. Your nerves get you down? Fret not, for we can install our patented blood chiller in your circulatory system. Oh, wait. You’d have to be a vesk. Wrong planet, sorry. But hey, perhaps your character’s one? Well, if you are, you can, whenever you’re targeted by a fear effect, spend 1 Resolve Point to get heroism  instead of the fear effect’s conditions. After that, you may be a bit exhausted…oh, one thing: Don’t overdue it. It kinda is a bit detrimental to your health if you overuse this one.

Are you tired of typing and using boring, old interface devices? No longer – with the new cybernetic interface hand, you can hack computers simply by touching them! Counting as a hacking kit and a personal comm unit, this’ll save you at least half the time with your Computers operations. Okay, it may be a bit harder, but yeah. The tier of the augmentation’s computer is equal to the model, fyi. If you’re a mechanic with a custom rig, you can even tweak this one and replace the personal comm. unit with the custom rig, provided the augmentation’s item level is high enough. Suffice to say, tinkering with our responsible and totally stable products voids the warranty. You’d have a totally of 700 xatrib-days warranty. How long that is in earth time? Öhm, well…about 17.543 seconds. Never mind the numbers, that is just confusing.

Take a look at the extend arms! You can extend them! Yeah, I know, right? Awesome. Okay, you do pay with a penalty to attacks and Dexterity and Strength-based checks while they’re extended…but that is a system-immanent issue. You can extend or retract them as a move action in your game, fyi, and you can drag yourself around in a fly-ish way, provided you have stuff to hold on to. You’re not convinced? Well, you may want to look into my hypnotic retinas! Yep, sign here, here, and here. There you go! Fascinating, right? This effect is btw. the one command  you get per fascination, and the duration is contingency on your Diplomacy. You can only affect a target once per 24 hours, but the target will retain no memories of this. So yeah, you’ll forget having signed this in 3, 2, 1.

Where was I? You seem to have spaced out (haha!) there for a second, friend! You could install a nanofiltering mouthgard to keep those pesky allergens and toxins of your primitive combustion engines out. My research also shows that half of your species is obsessed with enhancing your tails! I’ve got you covered! With the neurosynth tail enhancer, you can use your tail to manipulate objects, and if you already have a prehensile tail, you’ll be BETTER at it and may even use it to perform maneuvers in conflict! I’ve got one more for you before the broadcast’s battery will make my connection to this reviewer-git’s brain timeout: Ysokii Launch-pouches! They are installed in cheek pouches (which you really should have – they’re ALL the fashion right now!), and allows you to become the life of the party! Make an explosive impact! You get a miniaturized grenade launcher that fires grenades you can store in your pouches! Yeah, just picture spitting grenades at that bastard that dared to bring pecan pie to your luau! 😀 And yeah, having a grenade launcher in your face is totally safe! But right now – just look at the tables that lists all those fine augmentations for your convenience!

Conclusion:

So, I dictated these items to Alexander Augunas, and he managed to get formatting and editing and the like done in a professional and precise matter. Layout adheres to the 2-column full-colored standard, and the pdf sports and interesting attempt of depicting me; Jacob Blackmon did a good job there. Our conversation was brief and confidential, so no need for bookmarks.

Before I leave this reviewer’s brain, let me just state that we’ll talk again soon – we also have weaponry, you know? I am an entity of the utmost integrity, so I’ll let the reviewer’s final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval stand without question. Pleasure talking to you, Hoomanz! We’ll talk again soon. That paper? Never mind…

*strange, screeching sound*

Huh. I seem to have written a review, but it’s all blurry when I look at it; can’t seem to read it. Oh well, something tells me all’s well and that this is a great offering indeed!

You can get this cool array of augmentations here on OBS!

Endzeitgeist out.

Mar 282019
 

Spheres Apocrypha: Nature Talents – Spirit

This installment of the Spheres Apocrypha-series clocks in at 4 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 2 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

All right, we begin with 3 new basic talents – Spiritlord nets you concealment while concentrating on a (spirit) talent; you may also spend a spell point (blank space missing) to get total concealment instead. Odd deviation – unlike other –lord talents in the series, this doesn’t have the (spirit)-tag, but I assume that to be intentional to account for its potency. The other two talents are both tagged as (spirit), and one allows you to speak with vermin, and the other allows you to render vermin temporarily friendly, and call them towards the caster, if so desired.

The pdf does include 3 different feats: Group Spirit  lets you spend spell points to affect more targets with Grant Spirit. Natural Enhancement is a (Dual Sphere) feat, and allows you to add a (spirit) talent to enhancing a creature, and maintain concentration on both at the same time. Spirit Form is also a (Dual Sphere) feat and does pretty much the same for shapeshifting.

The pdf features a new general drawback, good ole’ terrain casting, which drains the life from the soil and surrounding area – if you know Dark Sun’s defilers, you know what to expect here.

The pdf also contains (Drawback) feats that build on this, with Terrain Defiler building on the Terrain Casting drawback, which allows you to increase the radius of drained terrain to reduce spell point cost. Terrain Focus is the other drawback feat, and lets you choose a terrain – you get +2 to CL with the Nature sphere in that terrain. The two drawback feats are btw. mutually exclusive.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal, very good on a rules-language level. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard, and the pdf sports a nice piece of full-color artwork. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Derfael Oliveira’s expansion for the Nature sphere’s spirit aspect is a nice pdf – the terrain casting angle is cool, and vermin friends will enjoy the new talents. All in all, a nice little offering that may not be mind-blowing, but certainly worthwhile. My final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.

You can get this inexpensive pdf here on OBS!

You can directly support Drop Dead Studios making Spheres fo Power content here on patreon!

You can also check out the current kickstarter for an epic-sized Ultimate Spheres of Power tome here!


Endzeitgeist out.

Mar 282019
 

Vs. Moon Men: Santa Claus is Coming to Anytown (VsM Engine)

This adventure for Vs. Moon men clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 6 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 patreon supporters.

This is an adventure review, so the following does contain SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

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All right, only Moon Masters around? Great! So, it’s been 5 months since the moonie invasion, and for quite a bunch of years, Frank, the kindly old veteran, has been the town’s Santa Claus. While life has returned mostly to normalcy, with a collaborator local government, there is a curfew in place; a PC gets to argue why they would have a job in town that warrants a card to get past curfew, and Hearts nets you one, while Spade nets you a Demerit; townsfolk with two Demerits are sent off to “re-education;” Frank had such a card, granted on a secular basis, but when the pastor (named Kringle) also applied for one, Franks’ card was cancelled. Frank is not going to give up. Frank is not amused, and is raising a ruckus in town. A special Christmas Parade just before curfew has been allowed, but now, is suddenly canceled. The PCs can see a moon man next to the councilman announcing this, and may realize that the councilman’s speech pattern is off. Frank in full attire (think off classic Coca Cola Santa Claus, just with military dufflebag) and some folks will cause a scene, so de-escalation may be in order – unless they want to see a flying saucer’s power in action…

Depending on how the previous scene ends, the PCs will find themselves in some way at church, and Pastor Kringle, wracked with guilt, is trying to help Frank organize his rounds, enlisting the PCs for some runs. These include easy runs, but the PCs will nonetheless have to contend with deputizes lunie (local parlance for the invaders) supporters. In case combat breaks out, the PCs will have to be quick – it won’t take long before the alien cavalry comes and hopelessly outclasses them. Ofd course, sufficiently pissing off the Moon Men may result in PCs being re-educated, vaporized, and/or Christmas being canceled…but how this plays out is pretty much up to the PCs. The pdf closes with a good gimmick that you can earn, which nets you one redraw per session after a failure.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the nice two-column full-color standard of vs. Moon Men, and the pdf comes with the nice photography-ish artworks that made the main book work. The pdf comes bookmarked, in spite of its brevity, which is nice to see.

Lucus Palosaari’s module here is pretty cool in its premise; it has an occupied nation/Christmas miracle vibe that encapsulates the Christmas spirit angle rather well. At the same time, it really does feel like a vignette, a sketch; the scenes and how they can play out would usually point towards diverging paths, and I genuinely believe that you can get a lot of playtime out of this, if you expand it. Indeed, it does feel like it could have carried a more diverse and nuanced narrative. As presented, the adventure is pretty brief and doesn’t have too much meat on its bones – it pretty much is as brief as most VsM-based scenarios, and this time around, the scope feels like it would have deserved more. This isn’t bad, mind you; in fact, I really enjoyed it – and for a paltry $1.50, it sure as heck is worth checking out. But I couldn’t help but wish this had the ambition of being a bigger scenario instead of a vignette. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up due to the low price point.

You can get this inexpensive, short adventure-vignette here on OBS!

Endzeitgeist out.

Mar 282019
 

The Festival of the Migrant (5e)

This set-piece/encounter-area clocks in at 14 pages, 1 page front cover, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

The festival of the migrant is an elven celebration, which is held at the border of elven lands to celebrate the migration of animals, being held for 3 weeks in the spring. A total of 9 sample NPCs are provided for the festival, all of which come in a fluff-only presentation. The nomenclature for them refers plants and plant-like things, with Princess Everbough being probably the least impressive example here. 3 hooks are provided.

The pdf then proceeds to provide a variety of minigames, the first of which is collecting butterflies in a butterfly tent. Unfortunately, the rules here are a bit odd, as butterflies are “tagged”, and e.g. the innermost ring having 5d6b3….B3, btw.? That means “best 3.” Odd here: Butterfly AC can scale up to a pretty massive AC 22, but yeah, success-determination could be clearer here.

The second event, “pluck or be plucked” has the PCs face off against a giant goose, with the goal to remove false, colored feathers from the goose’s tail. The giant goose comes with stats that sport quite a few glitches: Incorrect HD and attack values, which is a pity, since their ability to emit e.g. a frightening honk, and the ability to fling targets into the air, is pretty cool. The latter should have imho a means to resist via Strength saves as well as the default Dex-save, but I digress.

The Last frost has the contestants in flower costumes, collecting water from the mists via their outstretched leaves; there are checks to guess the next onset of the cold snap, for said snap will freeze anyone who has the arms outstretched; a Dexterity save allows for the quick closing of arms.

After this, we also have a caribou race spanning 10 miles, cross country. This may be the mechanically most complex of the mini-games, as it’s supported by 6 (!!) sample feats that can provide benefits for certain stretches of the races. One of them Noble Equestarian, gets wrong how 5e usually handles key ability score substitution – it’s not per se unsuable, but it’s not elegant either. All in all, these feats are very specific and not something that PCs are likely to want to take. They are, essentially, included to allow for customization of the challenge 1 caribou rider statblocks, which, alas, does have a few rough spots as well. (Same goes for the caribou stats, just fyi.) On the plus side, we do get names, stat-adjustments, races and feats noted for the contestants, including popularity ratings and their odds for victory. This mini-game would be much more interesting, if it did a better job listing the miles and respective challenges – as written, it is a cool baseline, but requires some GM-work to make for fun player-participation.

The final game herein would be Stone Path. The game is usually played with 4 players, each of whom receives 40 stones, in sets of 10 of a color, marked with the numbers 1 – 10. The stones are mixed, face down. Players take turns looking at the stones in secret, one per turn, and decide on whether to put it back or keep it. Kept stones are hidden from sight. The first stone of a given color taken is put on that player’s path, touching the screen that shields their kept stones from sight. Subsequent stones of that color, if kept, must count up or down monotonically. For example, if you draw a yellow 5, and then a yellow 7, any future yellow stones you unearth must be greater than 7. Stones that cannot be added may be kept, but are added to the dump pile and count as negative points, which is a nice way to make have hindering others have a cost. Paths of more than two stones yield points equal to their length; one-or-two-stone paths do net negative points. The game is further complicated by two special markers: Having a couple of butterflies is a risk, as they can enhance bonuses or penalties; there are stones with three-looped elven knots, which, when shown to the other players, allow you to draw an additional stone. A handy table helps scoring, and the final page contains the sample stones as an easy print out.

The pdf also contains prize support, which ranks from the mundane to the magical, sporting 18 magic wondrous items: There would be a wand that creates heatless sparkles, a wand to dry folks instantly (how does it affect liquid creatures?), and item that makes ice, a key finder…you get the idea. Basically, many of the magic items here duplicate in some way the functionality of modern-day tech, which is something you may or may not enjoy. The blinder shield is definitely OP and should probably have recharges of uses based on rest intervals; it’s definitely not on common scarcity level. (DC 15 Dex save of be blinded for one minute, with massive range, no subsequent saves to shake off blindness.) On a more nitpicky side of things, spell-references are not properly italicized, skill references not properly formatted. All in all, not a fan of these items.

The pdf concludes with stats for the goose-rider NPC guards of the festival. You guessed it, their statblocks sport glitches. It should be noted, though, that a nice, hand-drawn map in full-color, with scale, is provided.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are okay on a formal level. On a rules-language level, there are quite a few hiccups that negatively impact the integrity of a couple of the rules within. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard with golden headers. The full-color artworks presented are…there. The pdf has no bookmarks, but the handout-stones and the inclusion of the full-color festival map are a nice plus.

I liked James Eck’s migrant festival. It has a benevolent, family-friendly touch, is creative and offers some cool ideas for mini-games. At the same time, the rules-chassis provided for a couple of the entries would have benefited from first establishing how success is measured, increased precision in stats and an easier to grasp presentation overall. While this will probably not overexert anyone’s mental faculties to understand how it all works, it still is a bit clunky in its didactics and presentation. All in all, I consider this to be a flawed offering that you can mine some fun from, but considering that this is pay what you want, my final verdict will still clock in at 3 stars.

You can get these minigames here on OBS for PWYW!


Endzeitgeist out.

Mar 272019
 

Bastion Ein Sof ZERO (OSR)

This tiny booklet consists of 25 pages of content, not accounting for editorial, etc. – why do I call it “Tiny booklet”? Because it is basically a means to gage interest in an alternative setting for Chris McDowall’s much-beloved rules-lite “Into The Odd”-game; as such, it can be run with the rules presented for Bastion (the regular game) or for Electric Bastionland, and it could be considered to be a weird sort of fantastic post-apocalypse. As far as other OSR-games are concerned, conversion will take some effort, as Into the Odd employs a 3 attribute-based system etc. – for a detailed discussion on the system, please consult my review of “Into the Odd.”

As for the dimensions of the booklet: If you’re reading this review on my homepage, you can see the direct comparison to a 6’’ by 9’’ (A5)-zine; if that means nothing to you, think of the Bastion Ein Sof booklet as slightly taller than a CD-booklet, but also slightly less broad.

Booklet size for comparison

I do assume familiarity with “Into the Odd” in this review, so that might explain if something seems puzzling.

All righty, that out of the way, let us dive in! The booklet has a few minor tweaks as far as rules are concerned: We have, as before, three distinct attributes, for which you roll 3d6 at the start of the game: Strength, Dexterity and Charm. Your HP (Hit Protection) is equal to the difference between the lowest and highest ability score rolled, and thus should range between 0 and 15; the booklet does note that it ranged from 1 – 15 (accounting for 3 equal scores), but as a whole, this does generate a broader variance between better and worse characters than the usual table of Into the Odd-based games. Considering the limitations of space in the booklet, that is to be expected, though. Saves are based on a simple roll under attribute mechanic; 1 is always a success, 20 always a failure.

Weapons inflict 1d6 damage, two-handed weapons 1d6 +2 damage, and ranged weapons are two-handed, and inflict 1d6 damage. Another oversight or omission due to a lack of room would pertain one-handed ranged weapons, such as pistols, which are mentioned, but don’t per se have a rules-representation in the booklet. On the plus-side, items, ranging from acid to alchemist’s fire, do come with proper “stats”, which are annotated in a column on the side. The text there is slightly smaller, so if you do have an impediment to your sight, that’s something to bear in mind. A d66-table of items can be found, and e.g. the use of canaries, mules, ferrets, etc. is noted in clear and precise ways fitting for the rules-lite system.

A d66-table of careers can also be found within the booklet, with each career featuring a question for the character to contemplate. These are rather intriguing and help building the setting, for it does come as a kind of quantum setting: The booklet begins by providing statements and posing questions, such as: “Everything is lost. (What have we found?).” This reminded me, in a good way, of the way in which e.g. Black Sun Deathcrawl’s doom-laden pronouncements operate´; minus the notion of everything being bleak, obviously, but yeah. The currency has names – copper buckles, silver glaives, etc. and is based on a silver standard, but no name is given for gold coins, even though e.g. the treasure section does reference gold. Anyhow, it should be noted that you can’t just shop – you spend 8 copper buckles and then roll on the d66-table. If we ever get to see a proper setting book for this, I do recommend expanding the goods for sale.

Now, the quantum setting that is slowly unveiled by PCs and GMs as one plays is great and all, but there is plenty to go around without that, and oh boy, is it interesting: Bastion has fallen, was destroyed – and in a way, so was the world. The Angels, the Bene Elohim, have come, and purged the world, so now, the scattered remnants of humanity survive only in the shadows of the giants. These are not really perceptible, though a halo-like glare may be seen. There are, probably, around 10 giants remaining, with each of their shadows, standing in silent vigil, housing a metropolis of approximately a million. 2 sample giants are provided (and the end of the booklet does offer names for angels and giants, as well as associated concepts); these include Rhea, who often moves her limbs, which means that many structures in the associated metropolis, looking over a wasteland of rust and wrecks, are impermanent. Epimetheus, on the other hand, is calmer, but rarely ceases to talk – which means that the local populace knows esoteric knowledge whispered to them in their sleep, such as the precise number of cells in their bodies, or the thoughts of the last whale as it went extinct. This is narrative gold and inspiring.

Angels are inextricably linked with the concept of Daemons – “Daemons” is a turn that is slightly inaccurate; it does refer to Into the Odd’s arcana, but casts them in a brilliant, new light: You see, angels may not be slain, but whenever they are critically hit (would have been nice to at least briefly recap what this means), they change form. When they are killed, this also happens. A sample table sports ideas that range from viruses to twin objects in mirroring spaces, and the daemons, all magic items, if you will, thus are extremely risky – breaking one or having it “burn” out may reshape it into an Angel, for a Daemon is, ultimately, just that – an Angel shaped in the guise of an item. This adds a stigma and danger to everything that is pretty brilliant. Two sample angel stats are provided. Oh, and there is another thing: The PCs are hunters, expendable or honored enough to venture forth into the blasted world from the safe shadow of giants (which daemons may enter, but angels may not) to gather the giant’s tithe – this would be the equivalent of 7 silver glaives, but it may be paid for in blood, body-parts, etc. This is known as “The Giant’s Debt”, and at the end of each session (adventure would make more sense…) the PCs must pass the “Gates of Heaven” and pay their due; inability to pay it, or a refusal to do so, can have catastrophic repercussions – 2d6 are rolled. On a 7+, all of mankind suffers from the giant’s displeasure!

The booklet also contains a brief, unmapped sample mini-adventure; what follows are minor SPOILERS for it. If you want to go into it sans any prior knowledge, please jump ahead to the conclusion.

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“Illustrious Hod”, in which the PCs venture forth across reddened ice to find the ship “Illustrious”, which has been infected by an angel; from creatures in a state of perpetual freezing and thawing to leech-men and the like, this module, brief and unmapped though it may be, oozes atmosphere, and provides a surprising amount of means to resolve it – or not. Sure, it will require some fleshing out, but it is really smart and makes great use of the unique angel-concept. And no, I won’t explain more regarding that.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level, slightly less refined on a rules-language level, but that may also be due to the space-constraints of this booklet. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard, with a pretty large margin on the side that is used to cram more, often rules-relevant text into the booklet. While not ideal, it does its job, but is something I’d contemplate solving differently in a final iteration. The booklet is stitch-bound, and uses public domain artworks in b/w with surprising panache – I am a big proponent of the use of public domain art for certain books, and here, it works perfectly.

Joe Banner’s “Bastion Ein Sof” was something I ultimately purchased on a whim, and I’m glad I did. The sheer strangeness of the setting oozes imaginative potential, and I found myself trying to close-read the booklet time and again, trying to squeeze out as much as possible from it. Something about the setting resonates with me on a deep level: The eternal nature of angels, the giant’s silent vigil, the concept of civilization in the shadow of these entities: There is something profoundly lyrical and captivating about this whole setting, something that makes me absolutely adore what has been done here. This is inspiring in all the right ways, and I found myself genuinely frustrated that, as of the writing of this review, there hasn’t yet been a full setting book released. This strange and fantastical fantasy-post apocalypse of angels that, in weirdness, eclipse those of Neon Genesis Evangelion, has managed to strike its claws into my mind. I couldn’t help but wanting to run this setting after reading the booklet – and that is something I rarely experience anymore. The concepts just won’t leave me, and I genuinely want more.

That this seems to be print-only for now is a tragedy, and made me recall the “Pernicious Albion”-teaser by Lost Pages, which has, to this day, seen me sift periodically through the ether, looking for a campaign book. On the plus-side, in contrast to that booklet, there are still a few copies of “Bastion Ein Sof” available, and whether you want to play this by the rules, or just want some inspiration for a truly different and strange alternate world or plane, this delivers in spades.

As a reviewer, I do have to take the minor limitations of the booklet into account, and thus, I can’t grant this the full 5 stars. Particularly the meta-end-of-session tithe can be rather annoying when run RAW; thus, I will round down from my final verdict of 4.5 stars, but still bestow my seal of approval on this. For the low asking price, you get an inspired and tantalizing glimpse at a truly unique setting, one that I really, really want to see more of.

You can get this exclusively (at least to my knowledge) here on Melsonian Arts Council’s shop!

Missed the rules lite Into the Odd-game? You can find it here!

Endzeitgeist out.

Mar 272019
 

Spheres Apocrypha: Nature Talents – Earth

This Spheres Apocrypha-installment clocks in at 4 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, leaving us with 2 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

We begin this pdf with 5 new basic talents: Earthlord enhances the radius of earth geomancing abilities by 5 ft. per (earth) talent you possess. (Fyi: All talents herein have that tag!) Also designated as (spirit), Foundation requires dirt, sand or stone and nets you a deflection bonus to AC and CMD equal to 2, +1 per 5 CL when concentrating on earth geomancing. You can spend a spell point as a standard action to make that buff last, but you need to be standing on proper material. Cool one! Granulation is the first of 3 (geomancing) talents, and lets you create sand or loose dirt as an instantaneous effect (remember, geomancing has a default action economy cost of a standard action), and the cost may be reduced by breaking up rock; additionally, this may be used in conjunction with other geomancing abilities (cool!) and can be sued to  create weakened areas and collapse structures. Two thumbs up!

Sandstone gets its own table and lets you transform sand into stone, or sheathe dirt or sand in stone, and yes, you may encase targets, who get a proper save. The talent also accounts for size categories, codifies escape methods properly, etc. – in short, this is the cool, and complex rules-operation I enjoy seeing in files like this. Two thumbs up! Unearth, finally, is a great means to combat burrowing or earth gliding targets.

The pdf also features 5 spellcrafted spells (all clocking in at 2 spell points): Bless/Corrupt Earth is a curse that lets you enrich the soil and fortify plants – or cripple harvests etc. – and yep, for years. This requires Forge Earth and the Fate sphere, which seems appropriate. Earth Surfing requires telekinesis, and allows you to ride the earth, gaining a significantly improved, scaling speed. – or the spell can move the caster, even while immobilized. Mudslide also has the water tag and works better in conjunction with Create Water, and is a nice AoE trick that causes bludgeoning damage and employs the Buy rules. Sand barrier needs the Protection sphere, and, bingo, is pretty much what it says on the tin – the interaction with AoE effects is nice. (Nitpick: Formatting not perfect.)  Stalagmite needs the Destruction sphere with crystal blast and acts as a dust storm, and as a swift action, make the dust form piercing damage-dealing stalagmites that also impale targets. The pdf also features the rules for cave-ins and collapses.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good to very good on a formal and rules-language level, respectively. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the pdf has no artwork or bookmarks, but needs none at this length.


Derfael Oliveira’s expansion for the earth sphere rocks. … I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist the bad pun.

Kidding aside, the material is complex, interesting and offers some evocative tricks. Less basic than e.g. the file for fire, this presents a couple of intriguing and creative options that I very much consider to be worthwhile for pretty much every fan of earth-themed abilities. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

You can get this inexpensive expansion here on OBS!

You can directly support the creation of more Spheres of Power content here on patreon!

You can support the creation of Ultimate Spheres of Power here on kickstarter!

Endzeitgeist out.

Mar 272019
 

Spheres Apocrypha: Nature Talents – Fire

This installment of the Spheres Apocrypha-series clocks in at 4 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 2 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

We begin this one with 7 different basic talents, all of which have the fire tag:

Dragonlung nets you a 30.-ft-cone or 60 ft.-line breath weapon that deals 1d8 fire damage per two caster levels, Reflex halves. The talent has no prerequisite and no minimum level, and thus could be useless at first level. Additionally, the breath weapon has only a 1d4 round cooldown, but no spell point cost associated. Yeah, not gonna happen anywhere near my game.

Firelord enhances CL for the purpose of magical fire size creation – and yes, there is an expansion of the fire size-table included, accounting for Colossal+ to Colossal+++ – cool! Reflash lets you relight nonmagical fires in the vicinity as an immediate action in a 15.-ft.-burst. This may reignite targets. Ride the Flames (also tagged with spirit) nets you a clumsy fly speed that basically duplicates rocket jumps plus gliding down. Smokewalk (also tagged with spirit) lets you walk on fire and byproducts, and sink in them – and you get a bit of fire resistance and may see through the like. Wreath of Flames (also tagged with spirit) allows you to use your immediate action to hit a target within your reach that hits you with an attack or combat maneuver take CL fire damage, Reflex save halves. Personally, I think that should specify that reach weapons don’t extend the wreath, but your mileage may vary. Trail Blaze (tagged as geomancing) allows you to clear a path through difficult terrain AND make critters in the area when cleared exhausted on a failed save. Neat!

We get two advanced talents: Phoenix Resurgence (fire, spirit) lets you blow up when disabled or dying as an immediate action that costs 3 spell points, returning battered, but with temporary hit points. Cool! Wildfire offers for an expensive (3 spell points), vast (1000 ft. + 100 ft. per CL) blast circle of flame.

The pdf sports 3 feats: Heat Absorption builds on Feed on Fire, and improves the healing and now nets temporary hit points over the maximum. (Can’t be cheesed, base ability costs spell points); Phoenix Flight makes the aforementioned jetpack-like flight of Ride the Flames to hover etc. Nice. Luminous Flames is a dual sphere feat that makes create fire geomancing also double as a glow. (this is not properly formatted).

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules language level. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the pdf sports a nice artwork of an azer. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Derfael Oliveira’s fire expansion is a solid offering; while Dragonlung should imho be relegated to the realm of advanced talents (being OP for a lower-powered game), it is, as a whole, a solid offering. My final verdict will hence clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

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Endzeitgeist out.