Mar 222019
 

Preview: Winter’s Daughter (5e/OSR)

NOTE: This is not a review in the traditional sense – it is a developer’s commentary, a preview of sorts. I try to be as SPOILER-free as possible below, but I do mention some themes and design paradigms employed.

So, I worked on the latest Dolmenwood adventure, “Winter’s Daughter“ – an adventure, originally penned for the B/X-rules by Gavin Norman. In the original iteration, it clocks in at 24 pages, and I converted it to 5e, which extended the page-count to 36 pages. Why the page-count discrepancy? Well, let me explain!

First of all, “Winter’s Daughter” is an introductory adventure for Dolmenwood, and as such, it does introduce players to several of the leitmotifs of the allcaps STRANGE Ur-forest setting.

As such, the themes featured are fairy-tales and an old-world vibe, sure – but these are generously spiced with a distinct touch of the STRANGE. Not as in tentacle-studded weird fiction, but as in that they manage to evoke a jamais-vu, a je-ne-sais-quoi sense of reading something novel.

If you’re a fan of Kobold Press’ much-beloved Midgard setting (and who isn’t?), think of Dolmenwood as the weird brother of the Margreve – come to think of it, those two forests would make for a marvelous mix…after all, Midgard also has a rather impressive fey-theme and module array, and I can definitely see this module work in sequence with classics like “Wrath of the River King” or “Courts of the Shadow Fey.”

One of the ways in which the original module and Dolmenwood in general convey a sense of the fantastic and unique would be the tendency to use novel and unique creatures and NPCs, and I stuck to that formula. That is, the only NPCs and monsters herein that do not get custom stats, would be commoners.

Heck. Scratch that, come to think of it, I actually *DID* write custom features for commoners of a fairy race! When I am truly excited about something, I also like going a bit overboard – for example, this module features an encounter with animated objects. Well, each of them has a unique attack operation to differentiate itself from its brethren, and each of them may be defeated in special ways, sans drawing a single weapon. So yeah, that is part of the reason why my 5e-version got a bit…ähem…bigger than the B/X-version. They do have the same content!

Which brings me to another aspect I stayed true to: Winter’s Daughter is an old-school adventure in the sense that it doesn’t challenge-scale the world for the PCs, and this holds true in my 5e-conversion as well. Old-school modules sometimes get a bad rep for being overtly lethal, and while this module’s 5e-version can be tough as well, that difficulty will be the consequence of the player’s actions.

I did my utmost to make all non-random encounters behave in a way that allows clever players to bypass them with clever roleplaying and playing – the emphasis is clearly on player over character skill, and while you can hack and slash through this, you could also theoretically solve the adventure without any bloodshed!

Of course, you can choose your battles wisely, and that’ll affect the outcome as well…

This module can be, theme-wise, played as a bittersweet or tragic love story of star-crossed lovers, but it can similarly turn into a happy end – the choice is all up to the players and GM/referee.

If you’re peculiar about the information design and organization of the material, rest assured that all you need for an encounter, to see what’s going on, is right where you need it. Writing is terse and concise, and you won’t be bored with inconsequential trivia.

Oh, and as for formal properties? The pdfs are done – heck, I currently have them on my HD, so there will be no delays. Additionally, this will use quality offset printing you usually only get to see from kickstarter books, crème-tinted paper, etc. The physical book will also be a lovingly hand-numbered limited edition, and hey, if you ever see me, I’d be glad to sign this one. I’m super proud of my work here! (Fulfillment in the US of the print books will be by Exalted Funeral, directly by Necrotic Gnome Productions for other regions.)

So yeah, excuse me from blowing my own horn for once, but if you want to support an indie publisher, you can preorder the books here on Necrotic Gnome’s storefront until March 25th.

If you do and get to play “Winter’s Daughter”, particularly the 5e-version, please do let me know how it went! 😀

Thank you for indulging me!

Oh, damn, did I mention the magical pouch of magical mushrooms with their strange properties? 😉

Endzeitgeist out.

Mar 222019
 

Pop Culture Catalog: Wellness Services (SFRPG)

This installment of the Pop Culture Catalog-series clocks in at 15 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 11 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

All right, in case this is your first Pop Culture Catalog-installment, the first page recaps the elegant fandom rules the series employs; since I’ve explained those a couple of times now, please consult my reviews for the older installments in the series.

All righty, the first section of this Pop Culture Catalog installment features 8 different wellness service providers: As before, these do offer a price modifier, denote the locations where they can be found, and notes services provided, as well as individual fandom perks. But what can characters do to relax? Well, you could for example go for an aroma therapy by Aromatic Innovations, in their Scentsory Park. (Two bonus points for that pun!) From Trihive Fusion to raspberry Delight and Lady of the Night, the scents do sound delicious, and the company purportedly has been testing robotic massage chairs with aromatic fragrance dispensers. The perk is actually pretty cool – it nets you +2 to scent-based Perception checks and even nets you blindsense (scent) with a 5 ft.-range.

Chalbarez Springs Spa was originally created by the messianic tengu figure imijol River – the story has it, that a natural material on the planet, vergonium carbonate, while not detrimental to tengus, does cause vertigo in most races, and that Imijol’s meditation pointed towards a spring that cleansed the dust from the air, making this place a publicly-available, medicinal place constructed for the people – though more privacy can be bought. Fans of the place may benefit from a bonus to saves vs. the sickened condition and diseases. The E.Z. Exfoliation Services was originally made by a mechanoi as the most efficient way to clean swiftly indeed, making them efficient for workaholics. Speaking of which…I’d totally be a customer! Anyhow, the focus on robotics of this chain’s establishments means that you either gain an insight bonus to Computers and Engineering, or an enhancement bonus to saves vs. technological items and creatures with that subtype.

Re: Nufriend Massage is a homely massage therapy chain founded by a retired skittermander baseball star (which makes so much sense! Oh yeah, and SKITTERMANDERS SHOULD BE CORE.), and the manypalm massage style, plus helpful guidance really helps…staff is encouraged to go for degrees. Yep, this is an actually good company. Can we have those IRL, please? Being a fan of the place does make you harder to demoralize, and provides a bonus to saves vs. emotion and fear effects. Sarvatova’s Seven is obviously tied to the resort introduced in the third Pop Culture Catalog – it’s a luxury spa based on the seven mythical springs. While the magical springs are only made available to the public in a diluted manner. Being a fan here allows you to reroll a save (you must state that in advance) and you can only do so again after spending Resolve to regain Stamina in a 10-minute rest.

The Stellar Vortex River Bath-House consists actually of a network of single bath house that employ hundreds of miles of force fields to transport millions of gallons of water along sight-seeing tracks, making this indeed a decadent and truly wondrous locale. The fandom helps Piloting in the region. Uramesh Ever After caters almost exclusively to…UNDEAD! Hey, just because you’re dead doesn’t mean that you can’t look after yourself, right? From maggot-bathing to similar, strange techniques, this one is pretty cool and macabre – and yep, I’d try that. Also, exposure helps fortify vs. death effects and the abilities of undead creatures, including a reroll. Wild Side Hygienics is all about wellness for less human-like species, offering services like grooming, feather preening, etc., and as such, being a fan helps you interact with species like kitsune, ysoki, etc., and you get one bonus language.

The pdf also defines types of wellness services (bath house, onsen, sauna and spa) and then goes into details regarding the actual services: Acutherapy services like acupressure and acupuncture are explained, and different forms of aroma therapy can be explained. What about controlled acid baths in oozes? Flame baths for those inured to fire, necromantic baths – this section is inspiring. And fyi: This book does offer rules to reward PCs for taking care of hygiene. Ultrasonic baths, body peels, nanodentistry – from the humble classics to choice deeply infused with the aesthetics of Starfinder, this is a great read.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches on a formal or rules-language level. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the pdf comes with a great array of full-color artworks in Jacob Blackmon’s signature style. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Alexander Augunas’ Pop Culture Catalog-series is quickly graduating to one of my favorite Starfinder-series: Oozing cool ideas, we focus on some much-needed good times for characters, all while still offering a plethora of creative and cool ideas that retain their value beyond the confines of the system. This one is a great continuation of that tradition, and works perfectly in conjunction with the cruises/resort-installment. 5 stars + seal of approval.

You can get this cool supplement here on OBS!

Missed the cruises & resort installment? You can get it here on OBS!

Endzeitgeist out.

Mar 222019
 

Whisper & Venom Compendium (OSR/PFRPG)

This massive hardcover compendium of Whisper & Venom clocks in at 99 pages if you take away the editorial SRD, etc. for the OSR-version; for this version, I have consulted the hardcover, which a generous patreon supporter has sent my way as a present; while the person in question told me not to worry about a review, I figured it’s time to cover this.

I also have the PFRPG-version of this book, but I have that version only as a pdf. It clocks in at 142 pages, 3 pages of SRD, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover, 1 page ToC, 5 pages editorial/dedications, leaving us with 131 pages of that iteration.

To sum it up: I have the hardcopy of the OSR-version, and the pdf-version for PFRPG; I assume that the hardcover version of the PFRPG-iteration is akin to the OSR hardcover, that the OSR-pdf is akin to the PFRPG pdf, but I don’t have the means to check that.

It should be noted that the pdfs’ additional pages that account for the increased page-count are something awesome – they contain all the monster/NPC/environment artworks as full-page handouts, greatly enriching that aspect of the module. Additionally, there are 4 pages of reference tables to render the experience easier to run for the GM. This makes getting the pdf as well a good idea.

As far as the OSR-version is concerned, it adheres to the Swords & Wizardry ruleset, and conversion to other systems is easy enough. The module part of this massive compendium is intended for levels 3 – 5 (or 4 – 6), though it should be noted that this *is* an old-school adventure. Careless PCs can and will die if they don’t act carefully and think they can slaughter everything. As a genre, one can call this a blend of an old-school sandbox and a more straight plotted adventure, and it blends these two rather well.

Originally, Whisper and Venom was a massive boxed set with various booklets, all of which have been compiled in a single hardcover tome here. In the print version of the OSR-iteration of the book, the book at times refers to guides and page-numbers that have been integrated into this tome, which is a bit unfortunate. On the plus-side, the digital version does have a TON of internal hyperlinking, allowing you to seamlessly navigate the massive pdf.

The first 36 pages (for PFRPG)/ 19 for the OSR-version, details the regional setting guide – basically a gazetteer of the Whisper Vale (which btw. comes with a gorgeous isometric full-color overview map, which, though, doesn’t feature a scale) and a detailed and similarly impressive full-color map of the environments of Whisper itself – though this one is top-down. While the pdf version is layered, it is, alas, not possible to turn off the labels and keys from the other maps included. Said other maps are btw. rendered in b/w, but also are rather impressive in quality. They have a grid where needed, but note no scale – but then again, the book does a good job of making the environments plausible.

The first thing you’ll note here would be level of density and detail presented here: The Whisper Vale sports a couple of very evocatively written natural wonders – the gelidstream, the strange tundra, the massive wall in the north, a natural, steep incline. Beyond that, the settlements provided include Whisper, a bucolic place famous for its alcoholic beverages, and, less commonly known and less universally celebrated – a temperance union of anti-alcohol wives. Beyond the thorp of Whisper, we can find Cleft, a dwarven settlement where the younger generation ceased working, thanks to an ingenious machine that simulates the sounds of working, pawning off the legacy of their forebears while no one’s the wiser. Finally, the goblin settlement of Swindle is known for its rotgut – immensely popular, its super strong alcohol has been made thanks to the still, though it has recently seen competition from the L’uort goblins that have since taken an old monastery as homebase. Then again, that is probably not that bad – Swindle is not a nice place; the goblins have an indentured class of enslaved and horribly mistreated pixies working for them.

Said pixies are kept enslaved due to the magical, addictive watersource they were supposed to guard having been traded to the goblins by Thopas – the malignant and thoroughly wicked gnome represents the mightiest spellcaster in the vale, and he is, indeed, a most deadly foe that the PCs should think twice about before they challenge him. The flavor here is surprisingly distinct: The prose is suffused with an unobtrusive, wry humor, and the fluff-only NPC-write-ups for the important personalities made me think of Charles Dickens of all – in the best of ways. The section also sports quite an array of unique and pretty fun hooks and angles – miscellanea and angles, if you will…for example about a clockmaker whose clocks always seemed to be running 69.3 second later every 30 days, and about the root of the conflict between two locals. These write-ups, and indeed, the whole section, breathe a type of universal compassion for the diverse cast of characters that inhabit the Vale.

So yeah, this gazetteer does provide a pretty great start for the supplement, and has an interesting leitmotif, namely how alcohol and similar substances can act as social glue – or as something destructive. This could have easily turned into a finger-pointing exercise, but the depiction of this complex topic via the various settlements and themes is surprisingly well-rounded. In an age where opinionated writing tends to easily fall on one side of very aggressive dichotomous disputes, it has been a boon to see how differentiated and compassionate the adventure depicts its chosen subject matter.

The mega-adventure section, then, would deal with 5 different adventure locations – these are fully mapped and illustrated, connected, and embedded into the context of aforementioned settlement and character-dynamics. They can be run in a linear manner (and indeed, some doe require to be in sequence), but you don’t exactly have to do that – you could relatively easily take apart this adventure into a couple of constituent mini-adventures. The respective keyed locations do get excellent read-aloud prose. Prose btw. is generally amazing, but has a few instances where it slightly dips in quality and sentence-structure complexity – this wouldn’t be as readily apparent in another supplement, but considering how great the prose here is overall, these few instances do stand out.

The book contains 4 random encounter tables of creatures, and a pretty massive bestiary. This bestiary section include apex predator flightless birds, the Rhacos, as well as quite a few other beings: Stats for the two types of goblin to be found in the Whisper Vale, are included, alongside stats for animals, etc.

Murkbeasts are strange crustacean/lamprey-like ambush predators, and crabs that conceal themselves beneath rubbish collected; there are monster beetles, and two types of creatures more crucial for the plot of the adventure itself. Undead, in an interesting twist, have been recast to have a kind of cycle, which is an interesting notion I’d enjoy to see developed further. The rules component of these stats is solid in both iterations – from a design perspective, the PFRPG iteration doesn’t always have the most exiting abilities (in OSR-games, these work a bit better), and there are a few minor hiccups in e.g. damage-types not correctly noted. An acid spray that doesn’t specify it deals acid damage, for example. These minor imperfections notwithstanding, the rules components are genuinely better than I expected them to be for an inaugural, freshman offering – no matter how ambitious it may be. This also extends to the magic items provided in this tome.

The book also sports two creatures that are more integral to the plot per se – but in order to discuss those, and the primary narratives underlying this place, I will need to go directly into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only referees around? Great!

So, this module is primarily concerned with the abandoned monastery that has been occupied by the L’uort tribe of goblins. The massive monastery grounds comes fully depicted and does differentiate between daytimes in some instances – goblins may be partying or sleeping off their handover, for example. Similarly, the whole region feels pretty organic: One of those aforementioned rhacos birds, a male with a massive plume on its head, is hunting in one region. The goblins try to appease it, and the chief wants the plume – any GM half worth their salt can make this a potentially interesting encounter, and this sense of plausible connection, of detail, suffuses the whole adventure, making the world feel lived in. This is not a place where the enemies are just waiting around for PCs to slaughter them – they have responses, and stealth may be smart and advisable. A full-blown assault will quickly show the PCs how tough these goblins, strangely, are. A Murkbeast may be hiding in a fountain; etc. Now, it should be noted that the L’uort are NOT nice guys. They are evil SOBs, and e.g. the desecrated altars and mutilated dead will drive that home.

Beyond the monastery, the mega-adventure does feature a horror-themed sublevel with the, as of yet, unplundered catacombs, where both treasures, but also dangerous undead loom. While the L’uort may not be dominant there, they do have a lair, and within their holdings, as the PCs make their way through the remnants of the monastery, they will realize that this goblin tribe has strange elixirs, which hint at the truth: You see, the L’uort are part of the leitmotif of consumption – they have a potent elixir that enhances them, but which is also highly addictive. It has been brewed from the venom of attoral. An attoral is the strange quasi-reptilian thing that you can see on the cover, and these do have a queen of sorts. The attorals are nothing new to Whisper Vale, but they seem to have changed – their venom now can cause a variety of different effects that may be beneficial or detrimental – including e.g. maximum hit point reduction/increase for a while. It is said strange poison that the L’uort are using to brew their potent elixirs. Once more, we have a theme of exploitation in the service to generating the drug – but there is more to this.

Beyond the trapped attorals, the module does have two underdark levels of sorts – the Subterrene, and beyond that, the Precipice. It is in these depths that strange magical critters skitter around, and that the truth behind the attoral’s strange change can be found: A cavern, where a gigantic, medusa-face-ish, fiendish thing looms – a living gate, from which strange baubles have been ejected. Baubles that turn out to be a vanguard of sorts for outsiders called Nexids. Slaying these and the arriving, very powerful nexid soldier, will end this strange incursion. In these and the attoral venom

Effects, the relative inexperience with PFRPG does show in that iteration, for these guys are much less impressive in PFRPG than they are in the OSR-iteration of this book. While the statblocks are generally on par for PFRPG, there are a few glitches in the statblocks as well.

On a thematic side, this corruption and strangeness underlying the addiction angle for the L’uort makes for a fantastic conclusion of the increasingly fantastic and weird implementations of the mega-adventure’s string leitmotif. It should also be noted that the adventure does a rather impressive job at strewing in small tidbits, treasure, etc. and reward player-curiosity. On the GM’s side of things, the adventure does provide some guidelines for the GM to run the more complex encounters – a handy encounter-mechanics appendix makes running the slightly more challenging encounters easy on the GM. Kudos for that!

There also is one true strength, that, at the same time, is a bit of a weakness: The aftermath of the strange gate, the epilogue, has the vale’s inhabitants stumped – and thus, the PCs will find Thopas, the nasty, vile gnome – his conclusion, is a stark one: “You got it all wrong. This is not an invasion. This is an exodus.” These words sent a shiver down my spine – and unfortunately, never find a form of conclusion or resolution, as “Death & Taxes” (Yep, review forthcoming) did not elaborate on that angle. This is a brilliant “OH SH**!”-level of revelation – I mean, what can make evil outsiders like the Nexid flee? OUCH! That’s epic foreshadowing…it makes the whole mega-adventure feel like a brilliant set-up of the things to come, and by that strength, does diminish it somewhat. The exodus/invasion angle never happened to arrive. It’s a small thing, but it, to me, colored the whole adventure in a distinct tone, hyped me up, and then never delivered on a sequel. It’s easy enough to ignore, sure. It doesn’t make the module weaker. But I still couldn’t help but feel that it would have been a furious, awesome kickoff point for a sequel.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting on a rules language level tend to be good in both iterations. While there are deviations from formatting standards in both, these tend to be consistent. On a formal level, the book also manages to be good – surprisingly good, particularly for a freshman offering of this size. Interior artwork ranges from solid b/w-artworks to a couple of truly phenomenal full-color mood pieces for some levels – the illustrations of the catacombs and final region in particular rock. The cartography is generally excellent in full color, and in b/w, though I wished the latter actually came with unlabeled versions as well. The pdf comes with a ton of bookmarks, and the hardcover is full color and sports a solid paper quality.

Zach Glazar and John Hammerle deliver an impressive mega-adventure here. While the book slightly suffers from having its constituent books collected in one tome, Whisper & Venom still remains an impressive achievement as far as I’m concerned. The writing of the vast majority of the book is excellent, and the challenges presented tend to be fair, enjoyable and well-crafted. Jeffrey Tadlock and Damon Palyka did a solid job with the Pathfinder conversion as well. All in all, Whisper and Venom is an intelligent region-sourcebook/mega-adventure with a very strong leitmotif that has been executed with a charming sense of subdued humor. At times funny, at times horrifying, this ultimately is a charming and flavorful book, and one well worth checking out. The one issue I have with this adventure would be that it, even before the epilogue, felt like Act I of a larger saga; it feels less self-contained than similar adventures, and a GM will want to/need to elaborate on some loose ends this sports. A series of interconnected sidequests between the different villages would have been nice as well – the illustrious cast of characters has them basically written into their write-ups, so a few bullet point-ish ones on a page would have added some value to the vale of Whisper. (Though e.g. the stand-alone “Birds of a Feather”-adventure does cover that partially; review forthcoming.)

All in all, I consider this to be a neat mega-adventure, which, particularly if you enjoy writing that manages to depict plausible critters and believable NPCs, if you enjoy plenty of small details, will be well worth the asking price. My final verdict, hence, will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

You can get this massive mega-adventure for Pathfinder here on OBS!

(The hardcover can be found here on amazon!)

You can get the OSR-version of this mega-adventure here on OBS!

(The hardcover version can be found here on amazon!)

Endzeitgeist out.

Mar 212019
 

So, the legendary Rise of the Drow saga finally comes to 5e, and it’ll also be PoD for PF.

It now takes the Underworld Races & Classes hardcover I co-wrote, and my Occult Secrets of the Underworld into account; beyond that, it’ll have new material penned by yours truly and offers means to get those books as part of the campaign. It has almost broken $200.000 in funding. That ought to tell you something!

4 hours to go. Don’t miss out!

You can check it out here!

Endzeitgeist out.

Mar 212019
 

Legendary Cavaliers

This installment of Legendary Games‘ class rewrites clocks in at 42 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of introduction, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 32 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

We start this supplement with the break-down of the cavalier rewrite, and oh boy, does the class need one, so what does the Legendary Cavalier bring to the table? Well, chassis-wise, the class gets d10 HD, 4 + Int skills per modifier, proficiency with simple and martial weapons and all types or armor as well as shields, minus tower shields, and full BAB plus good Fort- and Will-saves. The class begins play with mount, which gets Light Armor Proficiency – but in an important caveat, it does treat Light Armor Proficiency as share spells, which will allow for plenty of companion modifications. It’s a small line, but an excellent one. Another small, but important caveat: The legendary cavalier’s mount, should the old one die, does gain the full ability array and is not basically nigh-useless until the next level attained, so yeah, the base mount ability has been improved. Additionally, the cavalier gets noble steed at first level, which translates to a +1 morale bonus on attack rolls with natural attacks at 1st level, which improves by another +1 at 5th level and every 4 levels thereafter. I like the higher level improvements, but I don’t think the 1st level bonus was required, considering how deadly the mount can already be at first level, but I digress. At 4th level, the mount may ignore difficult terrain while charging and being ridden and 10th level makes this always on while being ridden, not just when charging.

At 6th level, we get the means to treat the mount as smaller, making it more dungeon exploration-friendly (though ladders etc. still remain a problem). Still, kudos! 7th level nets DR 2/- to the mount while riding, which increases by 1 at 11th level and every 4 levels thereafter. Also at this level, we get a crucial ability: “Risky Lunge” – this allows for a move action to only be 5 ft. and count as a charge, but at -2 AC for cavalier and mount. This allows for some seriously wicked reach trickery and unlocks a whole new array of tactical builds that don’t require straight charging into the fray. 13th level makes the mount count as one size category larger for the purpose of natural weapon attacks, and this increase thankfully doesn’t scale with others. At 9th level, as long as the legendary cavalier is within 60 ft. of it and the mount is above 0 hit points, the cavalier gets Diehard and Deathless Initiate, regardless of prerequisites, which upgrades at 17th level to apply even if the cavalier would be dead! And yes, this allows for healing back up. Pretty awesome. Cavalier’s charge, mighty charge and supreme charge are retained, though the latter is moved down one level to 19th level.

12th level nets steed’s parry, which allows the cavalier to expend 2 rounds of commander’s aura as an immediate action to make a Ride check against the incoming attack roll, halving damage and applying it to the mount instead on a success. I usually cringe whenever I read “parry” in class abilities, as most mechanics are plain broken – this one works really well. What is the commander’s aura? I’m glad you asked!

The most obvious change of pace would be the commander’s aura, which may be maintained for 4 + Charisma modifier rounds per day, activated as a move action and maintained as a free action. Every level beyond 1st adds +2 rounds to the aura’s daily allotment. It has 9 different benefits, extends 60 feet (+20 feet at 5th level and every 4 levels thereafter) and is correctly codified regarding the types of effect it is treated as. The effects include scaling DR, fast healing, temporary hit points, AC and weapon damage boosts, energy resistance (sonic is an option!), CMB, movement and save bonuses. I LOVE this. Meaningful tactics and round-by-round agenda every single time. Plus, the cavalier is rewarded for not dumpstatting Charisma. (Oh and yeah, benefits may be switched as a swift action, starting at 7th as an immediate action.) This improvement alone makes the Legendary Cavalier already infinitely better than its regular iteration. This is further enhanced at 4th level, where the cavalier gets commander’s shout – this ability allows the cavalier to spend 4 rounds of the ability to grant an ally an additional move action on their turn, but an ally may only benefit from the like once per day, even from different legendary cavaliers (VERY important catch! Kudos!). 10th level nets the option to grant an additional standard action instead, though this can’t be used for spellcasting or SPs – until 16th level. 20th level nets a move and standard action that may be combined into a full-round action. Love it!

That’s not all! At 8th level, the cavalier gets chivalry’s call – a swift action shout that costs 3 rounds of the aura and affects a target in its range, allowing said target to reroll their Will-save, using the cavalier’s Will-save bonus if it’s higher. 10th level unlocks two of the aura benefits at once (no additional cost in rounds). 15th level allows the cavalier to select an ally to move up to their speed or make an attack when they reduce a target to 0 hp or below. And yes, this is bag of kittens proofed. At 18th level, the cavalier may spend 4 rounds of the aura while making an attack to prompt the target to require to save or be stunned for 1 round; additionally, thereafter, for Charisma modifier rounds, the target needs to save to continue attacking the cavalier.

Ähem, where was I? 1st level also nets order, but the engine has been revamped there as well – I’ll get to orders below. Banner is gained at 2nd level, and its improvements have been tweaked to apply on 10th and 18th level instead. Greater banner, at 14th level, has been tweaked – its primary save boost is retained, but instead of a reroll, we have Diehard for allies in range, which fits imho better. At 2nd level, the cavalier gets +1/2 class level to Diplomacy, and 5th level nets the skill unlock for Diplomacy. I know, right? It suddenly feels like you’re looking at a knight, not an armored and mounted murder-hobo! 3rd level nets renown, 8th level great renown and 14th level incredible renown. Minor nitpick – these are social talents, not vigilante talents. 5th level nets a social talent (erroneously called vigilante talent twice) from a list, and 11th and 17th level net another. The capstone, btw. – renown in massive, huge metropolis! (In addition to aforementioned abilities with a more combat-centric application.)

Pertaining orders: The pdf presents 11 orders, and they all have a signature skill. Every cavalier level, the cavalier gets a bonus skill rank and treat said skill as a class skill, with 8th level providing the skill unlock for the signature skill. Oh, and guess what? There is an option for being orderless! And another, important thing: Each order not only comes with a brief flavor text, it also provides a unique application of commander’s aura! The order of the beyond allows, for example, to treat all allied weapons as aligned! Ouch! Temporary skill grants, scaling DR-bypassing, quick and better Survival and Stealth, cavaliers taking ½ damage of allies, and what about allies preventing 5-foot steps and withdraw on a failed save? Better Stealth and demoralizing, etc. also can be found here. In short: The orders have been properly rewired to account for the vastly improved base class engine. Additionally, we get no less than 6 different favored class options for all races, allowing for +1 round, more mount hp, increased movement rate, darkvision, etc.. Liked these!

The class customization is not done! We can also choose two variant proficiency loadouts – one nets you, for example, tower shield proficiency in exchange for ranged martial proficiency, and another allows for exotic weapon use at 1st level. The dual aura ability may be exchanged with challenge if you really want that one back. Instead of the auras and dual aura, you can have weapon training – loss of these doesn’t render the ability useless, due to the follow up abilities. Reduced commander’s aura is also presented here (oddly, thrice – it’s literally the same text, three times. Weird cut copy paste glitch, but doesn’t hurt anyone.) Favored enemy is an option as well. Banner and greater banner may be exchanged for wild empathy, fast movement or fast rider. The renown/court angle may be exchanged for rogue talents, favored terrain or maneuver training; rider’s bond may be replaced with stalwart (not a fan) or uncanny dodge. The charge abilities (beyond the basics) may be exchanged for combat style or martial flexibility. So yeah, you can play brawling hedgeknight, criminal deserters, etc.

The pdf also comes with 11 archetypes: Draconic avenger nets you a drake companion mount (not to be used with Legendary Games’ Wyrmtouched without the feat-chain – kudos for accounting for that!), and the archetype loses the charge/risky lunge array. Dreadnaughts are pretty cool – the class loses the mount, but gets oversized weapons – two-handed weaponry one-handed at first level, intercepting movement, body checks and crashing into targets. This archetype makes you feel like a big, bad colossus dude – basically, the defensive tricks and the like of the mount are integrated into this guy. Really, really cool one, and a resounding success as far as I’m concerned. Firearm soldiers are a straight engine tweak – charges are replaced with a bit of firearm tricks. More interesting would be the houndsmaster, who gets a pair of dogs or wolfdogs that can share a space or “split”, basically tweaking the base companion engine to behave like a conglomerate “lite” version, a splittable entity. I love this. The hounds act as a mount stand-in and allow for some soft crowd control and tactics beyond the regular means that companions offer, and e.g. Combat Reflexes and similar tricks further emphasize this massive engine tweak in a compelling manner, which is particularly suited for darker fantasy games, as the hounds at higher levels can sever limbs when attacking in conjunction – and yep, we get a half-page table that notes the consequences. Minor nitpick: These rules should state loss of ring-benefits, for example, for arms lost, but that is evident from context.

The iron general would be a monk/brawler-like hybrid archetype for unarmed cavaliers. The jungle rider gets a modified proficiency list, can make crooked charges and delays the mount to 4th level, where he gets a more exotic array of creatures to choose from. Masked travelers are a tweak that emphasizes the vigilante-ish angle, losing banner etc. and locking the target into being order-less. Marrow lancers are basically the death knight angle – undead companion (more resilient, less agile), and a fully modified commander’s aura feature that focuses on debuffs, and a more nasty Intimidate focus make this one a great choice for anti-heroes and villains.

Mounted champions presented an interesting thing I seriously did not expect to see: Spheres of Might-synergy! Yep, Legendary Games and Drop Dead Studios synergy? Awesome! This fellow employs the Beastmastery and Warleader spheres, allowing for full Spheres of Might synergy. Nice! (Minor nitpick: The header for Mount (Ex) is not bolded.) The pegasus knight is straightforward, and nets you a neutral winged animal version of Pegasus. The steppe rider gets the chance to fire through wind walls, more mobile mounts (while in full movement), shots that hamper targets, Perception skill unlocks, severing arrows at higher levels – basically, think of these guys as the equivalent of the mighty Mongolian cavalry.

The pdf also includes a 6-level PrC, the lancer, who requires +5 BAB, Mounted Combat and Weapon Focus (lance), 2 skills at 5 ranks to take; the PrC gains ½ Fort-save progression, full BAB-progression, d10 HD, 2 + Int skills per level. Ultimately, this PrC represents a different take on the cavalier concept – namely that of the lance-wielding knight who gets elevated to his position. Renown and several cavalier-ish tricks are gained, emphasizing the journey to knighthood, if you will.

We also are introduced to 7 new feats: Aura Study nets you one additional aura you’d usually lose to reduced commander’s aura. Wait. What? Yep, this ties in, obviously, with the tripled reduced commander’s aura – it is evident that a variant that should provide less auras was intended to be one of the reduction options and got somewhat shafted by the glitch. If you really want a base order’s challenge, you can gain the like via a feat, and e.g. houndmaster can choose wolves. There also is a feat to gain an order’s aura, etc. The magic items section includes a banner enhancer, and weapon property that enhances the aura. Really cool: There is a gem that can be attuned to a companion allows you to bring an attuned companion back from the dead. A bridle that makes targets behave as combat trained can be found, and a saddle allows a critter to use the rider’s Will-save vs. mind-affecting effects. The shared pain saddle, finally, allows for 1/round transferral of pain to the mount, with HD as a cool scaling mechanism.

The book concludes with Arsa Verain, a CR 3 sample Legendary Cavalier, who comes with a detailed background story as well as his mount’s stats. His questing has a personal take – Arsa had feelings for a man called Jerome, who, alas, before Arsa could confess, was seemingly taken away by a mysterious woman – and so he looks for a lost love that may be not even reciprocal. He does come with full boon-notes. (I noticed a missing “l” at one point in the prose there.)

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are still very good as a whole; the book generally tackles complex concepts with pinpoint precision, avoiding the usual oversights we’ve come to dread. Anti-abuse caveats, smart notes on statting, ability classification – this gets almost all right…excluding the odd tripling glitch, which does negatively impact in a minor way one of the feats and some intended customization options. It’s not hard to salvage this, mind you, but it’s a bit of a downside. There are also slightly more typos/aesthetic formatting glitches here than usual for Legendary Games, though these still number less than in the vast majority of comparable publications. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the pdf features a variety of new and classic full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Sooo…the legendary cavalier’s base engine is a resounding frickin’ success of epic proportions. There. I said it. Sure, a couple of the archetypes are the obligatory engine tweaks, but we also get several intriguing and well-wrought complex options. The lancer realizes an alternate take on the concept, suitable for more historic/medieval-themed settings…but seriously, for me, the base class is the unmitigated star.

The vanilla cavalier had an identity crisis, was boring to play, did not have much customization options or agenda in combat. The Legendary cavalier is not the most customizable class ever – you can still hand this to a novice without much issue. However, the awesome aura-engine means that you have viable, interesting combat options. The departure from the challenge focus means that you don’t have to rest all the damn time for that one class feature…and I could go on. Is this formally perfect? Nope, and I do have to account for that.

More important, though: Does this finally do the cavalier justice? Make him a non-magic knight that is badass and cool to play? That does something else than charge every damn turn?

Heck yeah. N. Jolly, Dave Nelson, Jason Nelson, Hal Kenette and Blake Morton rocked this class hardcore. I don’t even have to think for a second – this guy replaces all cavaliers in my games, and should be considered to be an EZG Essential for all games that feature the cavalier class.

It’s a straight, vast improvement that finally makes the cavalier feel like it should be. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 (because the few glitches are excusable), and this gets my seal of approval. Make your cavaliers actually matter and be fun. Get this one!

You can get this inspired, creative rebuild of the cavalier here on OBS!

Endzeitgeist out.

Mar 212019
 

In the Prison of the Squid Sorcerer (DCC)

This collection of sidetreks, encounters and meta-scenarios clocks in at 46 pages, 1 page front cover,1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 41 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Sometimes, passion can help overcome even a nasty failure – this was a failed IndieGoGo, but it honestly doesn’t show. It’s readily apparent that the creators believed in their book and poured their own money into this supplement, because they believed in it. It’s also a freshman offering – the first thing the company has put out, so let’s take a look at how this turned out, shall we?

This is a collection of side treks, encounters and connective gaming tissue – i.e. small metaplots you can insert between adventures. The respective encounters and adventures do come with flavorful read-aloud text and mimic, in font and presentation, the official Goodman Games supplements. The maps, if featured, are isometric and pretty damn solid, particularly considering the genesis of this supplement. On the downside, some of the maps, particularly those depicting natural environments, tend to lack a square grid, which makes determining positions and dimensions not always as easy as it should be.

I will thoroughly spoil the content of all of the material herein in my discussion below, so if you plan on playing these as a player, stop reading NOW.

From here on out, the SPOILERS rule!

..

.

All right, only judges around? Great!

-“In the Prison of the Squid Sorcerer” by Ken Jelink: Intended for low levels (1st level), this encounter for low levels kicks off with a bang, as a superior hydra of pure water attacks the PC’s seafaring vessel. Rescued by pirates of dubious repute, the PCs are roped into researching a Cthulhu-cultist/wizard imprisoned…said cultist is related to the local lord, and the prison is a brief mini-dungeon, where coral oubliettes and a brutish mauler loom – and betrayal is afoot. I liked the premise here, and the execution isn’t bad either, but this one would have worked much better as a full-length module that allows the mythos components and the unique backdrop of the dungeon to shine.

-“Mermaids from Yuggoth” by Daniel J. Bishop: Also intended for low levels (level 2 – 3, though), this one is really interesting in that it’s one of the meta-narrative encounter collections within; it is based on the PCs assuming control of an ostensibly haunted and abandoned manor. As they get to know the local populace and their home, slowly but surely the weird and unsettling is settling in, spanning, ideally, multiple adventures and weeks in the meantime between escalations. Add to that the unique monster (and the lavish and utterly alien b/w-illustration), and we have a true winner that is more efficient in conveying the feeling of a traditional mythos-story than many CoC adventures. Two thumbs up!

-“Shadows of Malagok”, penned by Jon Wilson, is intended for mid-level characters (5th level is suggested), and represents a slightly expanded swamp wilderness encounter that have the PCs find a shrine of Malagok and face the eponymous shadow as well as the servants. Okay, if not outstanding.

-“Swindled at the Laughing Harpy” by Paul Wolfe can theoretically be run for any levels, though low level PCs will probably have to run at one point. This encounter focuses on grafters attempting to swindle the PCs – where once they did so out of greed, they have now been enslaved by an insidious artifact tied to the horrid entity known as “The Painted Woman.” This is a fun little encounter that sets the PCs well up to “Quest for It”, as any judge worth their salt can craft a unique angle from the aftermath.

-“Slaves of the Visitants” by John Humphrey comes with a nice isometric map of the escape room-like basement, in which the encounter takes place. It is also a puzzle-counter, though one that requires a bit of work to translate to other languages, in case you’re not running this one in English. I’d consider this to be a solid encounter, though one that that could have used a tad bit more depth and complications.

-“Sails Aflame!” by Jon Wilson is as straight-forward a low-to mid-level encounter  as can be: The PCs are on a ship, when basically a ginormous burning beetle that makes a nest out of flotsam attacks the vessel! It’s a great way to wreck a ship, a unique critter and a truly deadly adversary for low level PCs, intentionally beyond their easy means to defeat. Unique, fun, to the point – and all on a single page! Two thumbs up.

-“Caves of the Ice Mistress” by Ken Jelinek is crafted for level 5 characters, and is a fun little 3-room ice-themed mini-dungeon, with an Appendix N-style ice spider theme. Per se nice, the third room of the isometric dungeon map is a bit hard to grasp, a fact exacerbated by aforementioned lack of a grid on the maps.

-“The Long Sleep” by Ken Jelinek is a pretty straight-forward mini-dungeon funnel, wherein the undertaker has gone missing, requiring stouthearted folks to investigate. They are bound to find more than they bargained for. This one is nice, particularly if you want to start a bit more low key to have room to build up material in the future.

-Paul Wolfe’s up next, with “The Cult of the Flickering Sign”, intended for level 3 characters, is pretty cool – aforementioned sign is reproduced in the book, and while happening upon the cult and wrecking their party’s pretty simple, it’s a great way for the judge to kick off a longer adventure by lacing in the storyline of the sign. Efficient, neat, like it.

-“Another Man’s Treasure”, intended for low level characters, can be somewhat fatal for 0-level characters, and focuses on an interesting, cursed magical item. Big kudos: Via logic and observation, the PCs actually can deduce the parameters of how it works. Like it!

-“The Nazhghad’s Invocation” by Paul Wolfe is basically about the PCs stumbling into a spell duel between two factions of equally vile entities and their servants. Solid if you need to establish a conflict between factions, but otherwise not an encounter that grabbed my attention. A round by round breakdown of the spell duel is nice to see, though.

-“Icon of the Blood Goddess” can be started as soon as level 0 or level 1, but the main draw will probably require at least level 3 for the finale. It is penned by Daniel J. Bishop, and is the second of the linked meta-encounters that can provide a narrative framework between modules. The PCs pass an alley, where they can see a gaunt statue – over the course of multiple adventures, the believers in the statue and the offerings left will increase, as the malign blood goddess, growing ever more monstrous in appearance, draws in more and more adherents, escalating the danger…that can only be stopped by entering her realm, where a deadly puzzle combat, including unique spellcasting side-effect table and spellburn side effects are included. This one is a resounding success and is well worth my seal of approval when judged on its own!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level – I noticed a couple of minor glitches, but not enough to sink this supplement. Layout adheres to the classic two-column b/w-standard you know from Goodman Games’ offerings, down to the font. The b/w-artworks similarly mirror Goodman Games’ aesthetics, and while the isometric maps don’t always live up to that exceedingly high standard, they still exceed what you’d expect from this project. The pdf comes fully bookmarked, with one bookmark for each encounter.

This collection of encounters penned by Paul Wolfe, Ken Jelinek, Daniel J. Bishop, Jon Wilson and John Humphrey feels like a passion project, in the good way. It is a nice means for the judge to bridge “big” adventures, and while some of the encounters left me rather less impressed, many actually go beyond the call of duty. In particular the two meta-encounters that span multiple sessions penned by Daniel J. Bishop represent glorious additions, and frankly, I’d love to see more of those, regardless of system. You know, little sidestories that you can easily and painlessly weave into ongoing campaigns. These two, at least for me, warrant the fair asking price on their own, and both should be considered to be pretty much 5 star + seal material.

I do have to judge the collection on its own, though, and it does have a few rough spots here and there, which is why my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, though with a definite rounding up here; this is worth getting, and represents a fun and handy kit to have.

You can get this collection of encounters/side-quests here on OBS!

Endzeitgeist out.

Mar 212019
 

Monstrous Lair: Roper’s Cave (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.

All righty, this time around, we check out the approach to a roper’s cavern – being ambush predators, what can we find? Well, wide marks on the floor, their trails, for example. Craggy rocks with many niches…or a rotting piece of strand, cut off in a struggle. A dwarven graffiti may warn folks away…but yeah, by necessity, nothing to peculiar. (As an aside: Easily discernible tracks are not something I’ve seen any book dealing with ropers feature – that may provide a lore-conflict, so beware with that entry!) When the PCs happen upon the roper, he may be sleeping. Or Shamming sleep. (How does an ambush predator fake being asleep? Snoring gives it kinda away…) More interesting would be the entry that sees the roper scratch sigils into the walls, but from scratching against the walls to eating/lording over vanquished foes, not much going on here.

Major lair features include chasms with rubbish and detritus, high escarpments, ledges, unsafe entrance ceilings or stalactites prepped to fall. Quite a few of these focus on giving the roper an advantage, which is a good thing here. Minor features consist of e.g. swarms of blind bats, cool breezes, phosphorescent lichen and the like – here, the pdf is once more pretty noncommittal. The roper’s appearance may include tendrils with mottled patterns, splintered fangs, odd dimensions, being obviously sick…or weirdly-shaped, there are some nice ones here. The treasure-table includes severed hands still grasping swords, deformed lumps of platinum, rusting lanterns with yet enduring magical light and more. The final table includes skeletons of mules and owners, hollows hiding tangled messes of bones and rubbish, splintered shards of once sturdy shields or upturned boots hanging from a tall stalagmite.

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.

Robert Manson didn’t have an easy job here – as ambush predators, ropers are hard, and they are not exactly a creature that brims with lore written about it. That being said, I consider this to be an okay dressing file; the trails are a bit weird, and a couple of the appearances wreck camouflage attempts, which is somewhat strange. All in all, this is an okay, offering, and as such, my final verdict will be 3 stars.

You can get this dressing file here on OBS!

You can directly support Raging Swan Press here on patreon!

Endzeitgeist out.

Mar 202019
 

The Auspician’s Handbook

This installment of the Spheres of Power-expansion books clocks in at 40 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 4 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 32 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So, the Fate-sphere expansion – what does it offer? First of all, it should be noted that the GM advice chapter provides some advice on material that is supposed to have the curse descriptor. If you wish to add alignment descriptors to your Spheres of Power game, and advice on removing alignment, can be found. While Spheres of Power is thankfully (a huge plus, imho) less alignment-heavy than the base game, this does have a couple of more notes. Similarly, the pdf does cover hero points and their interaction with spheres of power, with the supplement offering a few feats to interact with these and the content within – the most interesting one herein blends words and hero points – more on that later.

The pdf contains 4 archetypes. The grim disciple mageknight replaces the first level talent and 2nd level mystic combat with the Fate Sphere and a bonus curse talent, as well as the neutrality drawback, which may not be bought off. Stalwart and mystic defense are replaced with the option to spend a spell point to reduce the casting duration of a curse by one step, to a minimum of swift action; this improves to allowing for the use of 2 spell points for the reduction of casting time by two steps at 11th level. Instead of marked, we get casting ability modifier as a bonus to attack and damage rolls versus cursed targets.

The second archetype would be the lucky bastard unchained rogue, who gains kismet instead of evasion. This ability is measured in Charisma modifier (minimum 1) points that may be regained on natural 1s on saves, attack rolls, and has the interesting notion to make an attack a gamble – this adds a d3 to the attack roll: On a 1 of the d3, the attack deals minimum damage, on a 2 normal damage, and on a 3, the lucky bastard regains 1 kismet point. The latter ability btw. THANKFULLY has a caveat that prevents abuse via cuddly kittens. Kismet may also not be cheesed prior to combat, as it caps at Charisma modifier. The archetype gets a selection of deeds, which include a custom deed at 2nd level that can negate AoOs, allowing for skirmishing. 4th level further expands that angle, and the risk/reward theme is also exemplified by a standard action strike vs. flat-footed AC that has the chance to deal extra damage, but at the cost of potentially being disarmed. This one is a bit ill-conceived, as it doesn’t specify whether the bonus damage is multiplied on crits. That being said, kudos for catching that e.g. locked gauntlets don’t help – if you can’t drop the weapon, you instead become staggered. Higher levels provide further deeds for use with the kismet engine. All in all, an interesting one.

The ordained hunter inquisitor is a mid-caster using Wisdom, with class level + Wisdom modifier spell points and 1 magic talent per caster level attained. The archetype gets the Fate sphere instead of detect alignment and discern lies, and track is gained at first level and slightly modified. Monster lore and the judgments are replaced with a Wisdom-based variant of the kismet engine noted above, which instead ties in with the Fate sphere for the purposes of gambling for regained points. (And yes, this also has an anti-cheese caveat.) While the engine at the base of this one is thus familiar, the execution is not, for the archetype receives more than a page worth of customary deeds for use with kismet, which include superior defenses against traps, an SR that fluctuates slightly based on kismet pool points, the option to spend kismet to temporarily gain pounce (behind an appropriate level cap), and e.g. high level teleportation tracking. The archetype also comes with a cool high-level replacement for slayer, which helps pinpoint even the most elusive of quarries, and the capstone also does its job. This is a really cool and encapsulates the concept it portrays really well.

The paladin may choose to become a Parzivalian Knight, who is a low caster using Charisma, but with full level + Charisma modifier spell points. Class level is treated as caster level for consecrations and motifs from the Fate Sphere, and the class may Charisma modifier times per day ignore a general drawback when using a consecration – or employ uses of this ability to maintain or create consecrations. This gets rid of lay on hands, though. Similarly, the auras of the base class are modified to instead behave akin to consecrations, which is something I enjoy – more agenda and tactics. Instead of mercies, we have the means to activate some consecrations chosen (more unlocked at higher levels, provided they don’t have a spell point cost to create) 1/round as a free action. The archetype also gets a wildcard motif talent with a cost reduced for self-target use, and the engine actually manages to blend consecration auras and motifs really well. Surprisingly fun archetype!

There is a new arsenal trick for new special weapon qualities (not italicized properly) and class options for investigator, rogue, slayer and unchained rogue to take chance feats. There is also a mystic combat that nets you a cù-sìth black dog.

All right, I’ve already been talking about motifs– so, what are these? Talents with the (motif) tag are cast as a standard action unless otherwise noted, and usually have a range of touch. Will save is the default means to resist them, and they have a default duration of 1 hour per level, but they may be discharged as an immediate action to gain a short-term effect. Motifs don’t stack with themselves. Motifs are based on Tarot cards in style (cool!), but as a nice boon, groups preferring the Harrow deck actually get notes that provide the equivalent cards. Cool! All righty, that out of the way, let us take a look at the talent section herein, shall we? As far as words are concerned, 12 talents are provided – these allow for the use of objects as holy symbols (or to align weapons – kudos for getting the rules right here!!), and there is an interesting one that allows you to reroll, but at the cost of then being haunted by bad luck in the roll’s category. Hand me my trusty bad of kittens – this needed a threat caveat. There also is a nice forced reroll for foes that offers a buff after such a reroll. There is a word forcing targets to classify themselves, and a risky conjunction of fates that allows you to tie stats together, but at the risk of the participants. A debuff word of enmity is solid, but personally, I liked the one that allows for the cloaking of alignment. There is also a really potent one that allows you to place a curse on a weapon, which makes the attack hit automatically. A word that allows for the use of smite etc. versus targets that would usually not be eligible for such abilities is brutal.

The pdf also provides talents that affect the meta-engine, like applying two motifs at once, ranged word use, or make a consecration remain in place, or centered on an object. There also are 5 consecrations, with an aura that can grant healing (spell point cost to make the aura selective). Sounds basically like infinite healing…or does it? Nope, thankfully, the author was smart – it caps at the amount of damage taken since the last turn AND since the creation of the consecration. This is really clever as far as anti-cheese caveats go – two thumbs up! Plainly visible alignment reveals, auras that debuff targets opposed to your alignment, etc. – some fun options here!

The majority of talents are, as noted, based on Tarot cards, and these do have some interesting tricks, like granting a floating pool of insight bonus-y pool points; we have means to gain a boost to a save at the expense of the other saves, better means to work alone, and the option to discharge these for unique benefits adds another level of depth to them. These rank among my favorites here – including for example the trick to discharge the judgment motif to pinpoint all invisible creatures in close range! Or, what about preventing death by empathic transfer to allies (can’t be cheesed?) – there are a lot of neat ones here, and the motif talents are indeed a great addition to this book and the sphere.

The advanced talents are 8 this time around: Long-term consecrations, bind possessing spirits, fortify a target versus a specific death – these really tie well into concepts like preordained destinies, wyrd, etc. when focusing on flavor, and to offer potent options when not doing so. I considered all of these well-placed in the advanced options array. The book also contains two mighty level 9 incantation – petition the fates, which allows you to even prevent natural disasters from wrecking the landscape (cool!), and a brutal, if ill-labeled Ragnarok. The latter is a one-mile kill stuff burst that also calls forth demons. Yeah, don’t see the mythological resonance either. The pdf also includes the new detect divinity ritual.

Beyond these, the book has a pretty neat feat chapter, which introduces, as hinted before, the new (Chance) feats – these feats net you a kismet pool, subject to the limitations as noted before in the archetype section. Doubling healing via kismet (Affecting you as well as the target), channel/kismet synergy…some pretty cool ones, though I’m not the biggest fan of the feat that nets you an additional attack after a critical hit. If it hits, the crit threat range is increased by 1, which explicitly stacks with other critical threat range increases. On the plus side, we get a cool Admixture feat for Fate/Destruction synergy that allows you to replace a second blast with a word, and the Battle dual sphere feat is pretty badass. The book also provides two nice traits, a new casting tradition (cartomancy) and 4 sphere-specific drawbacks.

The book also features a CR 10 Cù-Sìth and the ridiculously potent Mau (mummified cat/master of fate), which clocks in at CR 20!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good for the most part on both formal and rules language levels, with precious few minor nitpicks to complain about. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the artworks provided are nice and a blend of stock art and new pieces. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Jeff Collins’ take on the Fate sphere makes for a fun and interesting expansion for the Spheres of Power-system. The motifs are great and fun, and the options presented herein often allow for meaningful, fun options – which is particularly impressive when considering how the Fate sphere is certainly one of the tougher spheres to get right. As a whole, I can recommend this to fans of the system, particularly those that want to see divine/fate-themed angles realized in unique spheres-related ways. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.

You can get this cool handbook here on OBS!

You can directly support Drop Dead Studios making more of these handbooks here on patreon!

There is currently a kickstarter running that will collect and revise a ton of the Spheres of Power material – you can check out Ultimate Spheres of Power here!


Endzeitgeist out.

Mar 202019
 

GM’s Miscellany: Monstrous Lairs I (system neutral)

This compilation of the Monstrous Lair-series clocks in at 52 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial, 1 page foreword, 1 page ToC and how to use the book, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 44 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

At this point, I do believe that you’re familiar with the series – each entry includes 7 d10-tables, which feature approaches to the respective locale; the second table depicts what’s currently happening as the PCs stumble into the lair; we get two dressing tables – one for major, and one for minor features, and similarly, a table for sample valuables, and one for trinkets. Finally, there is a table that allows you to customize how the respective creature looks.

As far as scope is concerned, this compilation organizes the following supplements in an alphabetic order: Aboleth’s sunken cavern, bandit camp, bugbear lair, dark creeper village, ghoul nest, giant spider web, gnoll camp, goblin raiding camp, harpy nest, kobold warren, lizardfolk village, medusa lair, minotaur den, mummy crypt, ogre cave, owlbear nest, pirate cove, sahuagin sunken cave, troll caves, witch hovels, thief hideouts and wight barrows.

Now, I have written reviews for each and every one of these, so if you want my individual take on the constituent dressing files, please check out these; as far as I’m concerned, the main draw of this supplement would be its compilation nature.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good. Layout adheres to raging Swan Press’ elegant two-column b/w-standard, and the book features quite a nice array of b/w-artwork. The pdf version comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, and the file comes in two iterations – one optimized for the printer, and one for screen-use, which imho should btw. be industry-standard, but I digress.

Creighton Broadhurst, Simon Butler, Jeff Gomez, Steve Hood and Mike Welham know how to write amazing dressing – at least most of the time. While a few of the constituent Monstrous Lair-installments fell slightly flat for me, the fact remains that the majority of the material within these pages represents a rather helpful tool for GMs. In particularly entries like the ones on gnolls, bandits or pirates, ones that should have had me yawn, actually managed to inspire, to elicit excitement, and the fact that this book compiles and presents the series in a format that’s more convenient to use at the table than an individual print-out/pdfs makes this worthwhile for folks like yours truly that already have a ton of printouts flying around the table. If you are primarily interested in a few of the files, you may want t consider cherry-picking, but otherwise, this does represent the best way to enjoy these lairs. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

You can get this compilation here on OBS!

You can directly support Raging Swan Press here on patreon!


Endzeitgeist out.

Mar 192019
 

THOT Police (OSR)

This Alpha Blue-module clocks in at 21 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, leaving us with 19 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

As always, this is an Alpha Blue adventure. Alpha Blue is a sleazy scifi-game in the vein of 70s/early 80s scifi porn parodies that uses the dice-pool based VSd6-engine, and as such, the pdf contains a couple of suggestive images and sexual themes. As far as Alpha Blue is concerned, these are pretty tame, though – there is not a single exposed beast to be seen inside. Impressive, btw. – we get an array of cosplay-ish photography to serve as interior art, with one of the pieces being somewhat suggestive. These pictures are all high-quality, and in case you’ve got something against the depiction of drawn nipples, rest assured that not a single nipple or form of nudity is included within. I know several pop videos that are more lewd than the pictures. That being said, if sexuality is a hot button topic for you, then you probably won’t want to play Alpha Blue in the first place.

All right, so, as always: This is an adventure-review. As such, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players will want to jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only BDSMs (Bold Dungeon Space Masters) around? Great!

So, if you did expect a straight sequel to THOT Audit, you won’t get that here. The pdf starts with the premise that the PCs, as opportunists, have joined the THOT police as bounty hunters – but there are 6 different reasons for why they may be late to the party regarding assignments. The adventure takes place during Space Christmas, and police captain Harass and the others seem to be congratulating one Zammy Zathwell on his draw – he got an assignment to a very well-paying job on a New Martian citadel. The citadel is btw. called Nakatomi. Hence the Christmas-theme.  Thing is, the PCs probably want in on that job, but their ship will end up being stolen – and it’ll be parked in an area studded with laser mines – and botching here may well wipe out the whole party, so better be careful!

The ship will be found at a refueling station, which’ll allow for a confrontation of the fully statted thief. After that, the PCs will have to get past the Mars blockade, of the Federation, and doing so will be risky. The checkpoint will be risky (one of the officers can telekinetically squeeze the balls of males…), and Karlsbad, the guy in charge, thankfully, can be bribed…or, well, the PCs may use an attempt of a space corvette to sneak past to their advantage… (And yes, we do get stats for the officers and Karlsbad.) Said corvette-driver, by the way? He’s more important than it looks – he is a relic smuggler (fully statted) names Souda, who, as a being of pure energy, can help allies…and is totally invulnerable to lasers! He’s also carrying The Bad Luck Eye Of The Little Crimson God, stolen from the Crimson Da’awn syndicate! It is worth a fortune and may be used to create a doomsday weapon – and yep, he’ll conveniently crash near Nakatomi Citadel if left to the federation…

Speaking of the Crimson Da’awn: The syndicate is planning a hostile take-over of Nakatomi Citadel in order to steal the bare-naked bonds stored there, with the grand plan of opening Alpha Blue-themed restaurants. Think of that as space-hooters, just more lewd. The hostile takeover announcement is btw. represented by a bit of read-aloud text. The leader of this strike-force, Maddek Skwa, has a pretty powerful ability that’ll make others bow and comply, and he and his cutthroats are properly statted. He also carries a magical portable gloryhole, with random effects.

But I’m getting ahead of myself – the takeover attempt is a floating encounter that will probably take place after the PCs have entered the place – provided they figure out a way to get past the leech-covered concierge…who, once more, has unique abilities! This is something that really deserves mentioning: Even regular guardsmen tend to get unique descriptions AND abilities – the guard Thwib (who looks like a turtle except for a Nietzsche moustache and a giraffe’s neck), for example, has a chance of incapacitating targets on double sixes due to a summer spent in ninja bootcamp. The gift shop contains snowglobes (12 provided; including an easter egg for Kort’thalis fans) – I liked those, but the lamprey-faced ballerina that may be hostile or nice? It’d have been neat to get stats for her.

In the bar, the PCs can meet the powerful Federation office Ja’an Maclem, who always has a hidden weapon somewhere. (In case the Die Hard references so far were to subtle…) The museum would allow the PCs to get the Shroud of Tu’uran, which makes for a very potent, if sacrilegious defensive item. The different ladies that would qualify as to-be-taxed THOTs btw. also get their proper stats; my favorite there would be one whose eyes show you a destiny you may have.  The lady working at the lingerie shop can daze hostile males and is particularly dangerous in combat when near poles, and makes for a cool potential ally. Less cool: There is a guy who has a rape whistle. Blowing it has a chance of tentacles spontaneously manifesting and…you get the idea. Not a fan of that inclusion. Two reasons: 1) I really don’t like random things and abilities humiliating PCs, unless they earned it. 2) It may be me, but I really don’t think that references to rape, even tentacle rape, should feature in a happy-go-lucky beer-and-pretzels-style game about fun and casual sex. Still, this is a personal opinion and as such will not feature in my final rating; it’s just as easy to picture folks that don’t mind its inclusion – heck, and ex-girlfriend of mine was really into those types of hentai…and it’s not my place to judge anyone’s kinks. Still, figured I’d mention it, and before you ask – it’s literally a throwaway line in one item. Redacting it is a 0-effort job for the BDSM.

A fully-statted parody of Jean-Paul Sartre can also be found (in Space Starbucks); there is a tanning salon in which a female is masturbating, a lawyer’s office (fully statted lawyer); there is a security guard (whose name’s missing an “a” in one instance); the PCs can engage in a slave auction ( 4 different statted slaves provided), and in the art-gallery, there is a hint to Cha’alt. Beyond an insectoid drug-dealer in a Subways (Where’s the BDSM sub-pun there? Missed chance…), we also have a really depraved massage parlor that includes a nice alien…and there is a pretty unfair, sucky room, wherein the PCs have a 2-in-4-chance of dying; 1-in-4-chance of backstabbing the PCs. That is…not fun. It’s just random, and not in a good way. I highly suggest at least providing some way for PCs to evade this random insta-gib.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the impressive two-column full-color standard of the latest Alpha Blue-modules, and text is white, to set it apart from the background. I’m prone to migraines, but this one didn’t trigger that, so yeah. Artworks inside constitute of nice full-color photography, as noted before, and is pretty cool. The citadel comes with a properly keyed, full-color map that may not have a scale, but needs none, considering how Alpha Blue operates. Big plus: We get a VTT-friendly, unlabeled version of the map that can bused as a handout, and all versions of the map are provided as .jpgs as well. The pdf does not have any bookmarks, which constitutes an unnecessary comfort detriment.

Zoltar Khan Delgado’s/Venger As’Nas Satanis’ new direction for Alpha Blue is great to see. The direction taken in THOT Audit, to provide proper adventures instead of vignettes, is a boon for folks that actually play Alpha Blue, particularly since they feature his trademark weirdness without compromising the overall usability. This module depicts a nice sandbox with a floating “oh damn, shit got real”-moment, leaving how everything plays out to the PCs and the interactions with NPCs – which is a big plus as far as I’m concerned. That being said, the Trap Room mentioned is just dumb, frustrating and random, and not in a good way. Similarly, the lack of bookmarks is a comfort detriment in an otherwise nice adventure. On the plus-side, the creativity that went into the NPCs does salvage a high score for this – the author went above and beyond regarding unique effects, tricks, gear, etc. – the stats provided are creative, and we get quite a lot of them. Considering that and the low price point, my final verdict will round up from 4.5 stars.

You can get this module here on OBS!


Endzeitgeist out.