Nov 092018
 

Future’s Past II – Paying Forward (SFRPG)

The second part of the Future’s Past AP clocks in at 21 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page advertisement (somewhat to my annoyance in the middle of the module), 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 16 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

It should be noted that, as before, the module does come with expertly crafted monsters with glyphs denoting their general role. The module starts pretty much immediately where Part #1 left off, and, as before, has proper stats for pretty much everything, read-aloud text where you’d expect it to be, etc..

 

The following contains MASSIVE SPOILERS for the end of the first module in the series, as well as for the entirety of this adventure. As such, I STRONGLY urge anyone wo wants to play this adventure to skip ahead to the conclusion.

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All right, only GMs around? Great! So, things look pretty hopeless for the PCs: They are stranded on Edge Station in Druune space, probably infected by Druune cells that will probably mutate them into disturbing Necromorph-like monstrosities enslaved by the Druune, and their powerful Central AI has deserted them. The final orders of the AI were to destroy the prototype timemachine the Druune developed – and it’s up to the PCs to decide on whether to follow this suicidal command and martyr themselves, or attempt to use it.

 

Indeed, an extremely dangerous mission has just become outright suicidal, as the PCs are bereft of Central AI’s exceedingly potent guidance – but in its stead, something else has taken the place of a global effect: You see, across infinite realities, the PCs have perished, failed, died. Again and again and again…until one of them got through, sending a part of the PC’s consciousness back through time, allowing the PC to have limited control over the time-stream via visions, ideas, etc. Set against the backdrop of Druune-cells subverting the consciousness of PCs, this should not simply be a form of fate favoring the PCs (and a means for the GM to help out, if they get stuck), but also represent a constant source of paranoia. This is incredibly clever from a narrative point of view. I adore it! Better yet: If the PCs figure out what’s going on, they can use this to a somewhat chaotic, but utterly unique effect – thematically, it’s a great continuation and escalation of both in-game and meta-game practices of module #1…and I could well spend another page extolling the virtues of how much sense this makes. Suffice to say, I love it. And yes, Druune infection is ALSO part of the atmospheric themes going on here.

 

The most sensible reaction for most PCs will probably be attempting to simply take their space ship and get the hell out – but Central Ai has hacked the docking station’s module and sent their craft hurtling into space. Worse, the outside of the station is covered in Druune remnant swarms, one of the new monsters within.

 

Whether they want to heed Central AI’s suicidal commands or use the time-machine, the PCs will have to dive deeper into Edge Station, and indeed, the pdf does note information that the PCs can glean by doing their legwork here. Leaving the lab-section, the PCs get to deal with the offices of the now Druune-enslaved populace – full of hazards and a dark theme reminiscent, once more – at least from a player’s perspective, of the fantastic space horror that the first Dead Space game managed to evoke. (You know, before EA made the franchise a sucky action-game that no one wanted…) Genuinely creepy whispers from victims in various stages of Druune transformation, a rudimentary and imperfectly-sealed hole that may suck PCs into vacuum…and yes, the Druune infection can be transmitted by some of the traps found within. Horrid gestalt things, a technogolem spreading Druune-infection…the atmosphere is pretty much pitch-perfect.

 

Clever PCs can find experimental Druune weapons, a 3d-copy machine…and yes, copies of creatures may be made…with potentially…öhem…interesting consequences. It is in the depths of the complex, past all of that, where things take a turn for another one of the games that really blew me away: SOMA. You see, the Druune have found a way to transfer consciousness between beings (yes, PCs could use that to, e.g., lose their Druune-infection-ridden bodies…but it’d trap the consciousness in that body…so yeah, anyone up for doing some nasty things to the duplicates you may have made?

 

Oh, and ultimately, the PCs will reach the Druune, see the PC that made it – the one that helped them get so far, that proceeded to kill himself to avoid assimilation by the Druune, and thus presented the chance the PCs took: A vision takes a hold of the time traveler PC, one that explains a lot, one that actually sent shivers down my spine. I am not exaggerating. This reveal, which I deliberately did not spoil in my review of module #1, is just brilliant. After this, we get the final boss fight, including unique temporal distortion effects, – and then, a travel back through time. To another body, as the PCs can only project their consciousness back through time. It’s 3 days before first contact with the Druune. Time’s ticking.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard, and the pdf sports a bunch of truly amazing, original full-color artworks. The cartography is in full-color as well, and comes with player-friendly versions, ensuring that you can use them as handouts and VTT-functionality. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

And here I was, thinking that Stephen Rowe, a masterclass designer and storyteller, had delivered an excellent adventure in #1 of this AP. It’s baffling. It really is. After a module that was exceedingly hard to follow up on, this actually manages to surpass the first module. The craftsmanship and artistry is just as amazing as before, but it’s the extremely efficient use of paranoia, with distinct science-fiction themes, that is frankly, a class of its own. I am not engaging in hyperbole when I’m saying that this module, in its pages, manages to tackle more exciting themes than many whole campaigns. Blending questions of transhumanism and what constitutes identity with time-travel, adding a complex and truly intelligent plot, and topping it off with a reveal that WILL leave your players slack-jawed and truly stunned/mind-blown? This module does it all, and is a perfect example of quality over quantity. This is master-class storytelling and adventure design. 5 stars + seal of approval, and this is a candidate for my Top Ten of 2018. It’s this good. If the AP can retain this level of brilliant writing, then we’re looking at a masterpiece for the ages.

 

You can get this brilliant adventure here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Nov 092018
 

The Conjurer’s Handbook

This expansion for Spheres of Power clocks in at 39 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 34 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

The supplement begins with the by now traditional flavor-centric introduction before diving into the crunch. This time around, we begin with something rather interesting: Upon gaining a Conjuration sphere companion, you may now choose an archetype for the companion, which follow the usual restrictions. I.e. you can have as many as you’d like, provided they don’t change or modify the same features. 8 different such archetypes are provided and allow you to get an aquatic companion, for example. A companion with a bestial intellect (who does get a free (form) talent) and requires Handle Animal, a familiar-style one, and we get one that makes your companion a kind of mage-lite. Mindless or puppet-style companions are also included, and bipedal companions may become basically warriors. Much to my joy, there also is the Martial Companion option, which allows for synergy with the fantastic Spheres of Might book. All in all, this section is an all but required modification and broadening of options.

 

Now, this does not mean that the pdf doesn’t offer archetypes – for example, there would be the alter ego vigilante: Instead of a vigilante identity, the alter ego trades places with an extraplanar allay until it’s time to resume social activity. Instead of assuming the identity via the vigilante’s usual rules, the archetype instead makes use of the Conjuration sphere, using class level as caster level, stacking with other CL-sources. The companion can’t have an Int of below 3, and the combined archetypes applied may not have an increased spell point cost. Basic awareness is shared between them, and Link/Greater Link apply, despite planar boundaries. Alter egos begin play with a single bonus (form) talent, and conditions/effects are not shared – when switched out, they run their course, so no poison-cheesing etc. However, once switched out, the other part of the team is otherwise safe. Vigilante talents only apply to the alter ego companion, and social talents may only be used by the character, not the companion. This replaces seamless guise and vigilante specialization and modifies dual identity and vigilante talents, but archetypes that alter the latter may explicitly be combined with this archetype. The companion may cast by taking Con-damage to use Call of the Departed, if any – this is not ideal. Speaking of which: The vigilante appearance-ability sequence leaves me puzzled in conjunction with this archetype – does the alter ego gain the benefits, the companion, or both? I have no idea. Since we now have two entities, these would require clarification to make the archetype work RAW.

 

The second archetype is the awakener armiger, who requires the use of Spheres of Might. This one receives only 2 customized weapons at 1st level. When customizing weapons, these guys also forge a connection to a spirit. As a full-round action, the awakener can make the spirit manifest, which acts a s a Conjuration sphere companion with the martial companion archetype applied and a CL equal to the class level of the awakener. Thankfully, only one such weapon spirit per awakener may be kept in play, and once summoned, they can’t be called again for 1 hour, preventing abuse by spirit-cycling. The ability also tightly codifies dismissal. Weapon spirits get an additional (form) talent at 3rd level and every 4 levels thereafter. Additional customized weapons are gained at 11th and 19th level. Instead of rapid assault, the awakener may expend martial focus as an immediate action upon successfully damaging a creature or executing a successful combat maneuver. Unfortunately, this *does* allow the awakener to ignore the 1-hour cooldown, which ultimately means that I need my bag of kittens to beat up…As at least a minor drawback, this does render the awakener staggered for a round, but still. On the plus side, action economy of a spirit thus called is properly codified. At 10th level, 1/round when dealing damage to a creature with a customized weapon, the hit creature draws an AoO from the weapon spirit. At 15th level, the weapon spirit may instead execute an attack action against the target, which allows for fearsome martial combos! Cool! 20th level renders the duration permanent until dismissed or another spirit is called, and lightning assault no longer requires martial focus expenditure. There also are 3 unique prowesses provided for better weapon spirit flexibility and mental links or sharing a spirit’s knowledge. Apart from the slightly wonky cycling issue that should imho have a longer cooldown, a cool archetype.

 

The knight-summoner mageknight replaces resist magic and the 1st level talent with the ability to summon a pala/cavalier-ish mount, as codified by the Conjuration sphere. Mystic combat is replaced with a (form) talent for the mount, which may be exchanged as a kind of wild-card trick. At 11th level, this may be used quicker, with spell points as a means to even use it as a free action. Mystic combat’s benefits aren’t wholly lost, though – instead, marked is replaced at 7th level, allowing for the sharing of mystic combat benefits between mount and rider. 2 archetype-specific mystic combat options are also included. The pact master thaumaturge does not gain the casting class feature, nor magic talents from class levels, though his class levels do count as casting class levels for Counterspell etc. Instead, the pact master forms a pact in an 8-hour ritual, granting a pact companion, which may then be called forth with a 1-hour ritual This functions as a companion with CL equal to class level, with CL not stacking with other sources. The pact companion remains for 24 hours and gets a bonus (form) or (type) talent at 2nd level and every 4 levels thereafter, though a companion still can only have one type. (It should be noted that Undead Creature has been retroactively declared a (type) talent. While within Medium range of the companion, the pact master gains a CL equal to class level, and a magic talent, plus another one at 2nd level and every 2 levels thereafter. A pact master may retain up to three pacts, and it is suggested that talents granted should correlate to the nature of the companion. This replaces occult knowledge and basically makes the class behave more like a witch/warlock from folklore, one that draws strength from the proximity of otherworldly allies. Extensive adveice for building pact companions is provided, and instead of forbidden lore, the companions can channel energy into the thaumaturge, boosting CL. Cool: Instead of the percentile mechanic, this causes the companion to take Constitution burn – a more elegant mechanic than that employed by e.g. the awakener. The archetype does come with pact invocations to redirect damage to them, share forms, etc. – rather extensive and interesting archetype!

 

The twinsoul elementalist modifies the elementalist class (D’uhh) and replaces weave energy with Conjuration and Destruction access. The interaction with pre-existing spheres is properly noted, and the companion is known as elemental conduit, who gets the mage archetype and the destruction sphere locked into the chassis. Instead of 2nd level’s combat feat, we get the destructive capacitor ability, which is pretty cool: The twinsoul elementalist can charge the conduit, who then receives temporary spell points and more powerful blasts. Neat one! Favored element is replaced with bonus damage from such charged shots. Cool, meaningful engine tweak. The void wielder armorist replaces summon equipment with a special weapon, the void blade, which may retain the essence of up to two creatures – whenever a creature is slain with it, a fragment of their essence remains in the hungering blade. The void blade may meditate an hour on such an essence, calling forth a duplicate of such a slain being, which behaves as a companion, with CL stacking with other sources. This companion only remains for 1 round per HD of the original creature sans concentration; for 1 spell point, it’s one minute per HD instead. Minor nitpick: Should have a “minimum 1 round/minute”-clause. Other than that, I do consider this to be a flavorful one, as such duplicates can impersonate the original creature rather well…3 signature arsenal tricks allow for further customization, for example for an additional essence stored, harder raising of those you’ve slain, etc. Nice ones!

 

Beyond these archetypes, we get an arsenal trick to have summoned or bound equipment appear in the hands of a Conjuration companion, and we have a mystic combat for banishing strikes.

 

The most important aspect of the book, though will probably be, at least for a significant amount of folks, the new base forms. Huge plus: The avian form does not break the low-level flight assumptions! Ooze and orb form are also interesting – particularly since the latter has a distinct and different means of preventing low-level flight exploits. Huge kudos for going the extra mile there and making these feel distinct and different. Finally, there also would be a vermin base form added. We do get a total of almost 30 new talents for the Conjuration sphere, which provide a diverse array of customization options many a player had wanted: There is one that lets you spend an additional spell point to choose another base form for the companion when calling it. There is a means to re-summon vanquished companions with negative levels. Camouflaged companions, granting feats…pretty nice. In a pretty obvious glitch, the Climbing Companion (form) talent does not have its name properly formatted. You can have your companion explode upon being defeated; you can have constructed companions, ones that have adapted to extreme environments. You can have companions with diseases, Mounts (as could be gleaned from the archetype), companions with ki points and monk-y tricks, ooze companions, planar and plant creatures, companions with minor rage, you can bestow swallow whole, increase companion Int, have blood-related companions, companions that act as spell conduits…what about ones with SR or those that come with magical quarterstaffs? Superior senses? You get the idea – this greatly enhances companion versatility. Furthermore, the pdf expands the companion progression table to the lofty heights of 40th caster level!! I know quite a few folks who enjoy super-hero-esque/gestalt-y gameplay that will love this extension.

 

A total of 8 advanced magic talents can be found as well, with size changes to Fine or Colossal potentially possible, for earth creatures with earth glide, better companion fast healing, summing more companions, having ones that regenerate, and, much to my joy – swarm and troop companions! That being said, these talents are well-placed in the advanced section, in a good example that shows awareness of the different playtsyles and power-levels that the spheres of power system attempts to cater to.

 

To my further joy, we do get a cool summoning diagram incantation, as well as the summon extraplanar being incantation, both of which certainly retain their usefulness beyond the scope of this book. The pdf also includes, of course, a rather extensive array of feats – Advanced Circles builds on the Diagram advanced talent to quicker diagram creation. (As an aside: Here we can find one of the, alas, couple of instances where formatting isn’t perfect – in this case, a skill-reference is lower case’d.) Very potent and reminiscent of some of the more interesting psionics tricks would be the feat that allows you to pass concentration on to a companion. Destruction specialists may modify their exploding companions with blasts (now this does make for some messed up villain ideas…) and e.g. quicker manifesting for shadow creatures, substituting casting ability score for Cha when determining outsider DCs and haggling with them, companions with poisonous blood or better poison DCs…some cool stuff here! The sphere-specific drawbacks are also rather cool: Not gaining the summon ability, being locked into companion archetypes, requiring concentration for companion presence to be maintained – these allow for some specific and really cool flavors and sharing HD, for example, is another one I really enjoyed. These are fun and evocative – cool enough to make players choosing them for how they fit the themes. The pdf also includes two solid traits and a page of alternate racial traits for the planetouched races, kobolds and snake-blooded races (nagaji vishkanya, etc.). – nice. The equipment section provides a new item class, foldable circles, which do pretty much what you’d expect them to.

 

Kudos: Since conjuration is one of the notoriously trickier aspects to GM, the pdf does provide some GM advice…and for your convenience, an appendix reprints the more complex and often lesser known swarm and troop subtypes.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level. I noticed a couple of hiccups regarding formatting and the like, and a few of the components could have used minor tweaks to make them a bit more precise. Not to the point where things stop working, mind you, but yeah. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard and the artworks within are mainly color-artworks by Rick Hershey – if you have the Close Encounters: Hyperspace Fiends supplement, you’ll be familiar with the majority of them. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Andrew Stoeckle’s take on the Conjuration sphere is one that leaves me torn at a very high level; one the one hand, I consider this pretty much to be an essential expansion for the Conjuration sphere. On the other hand, there are a few hiccups in the admittedly high complexity of the design here, and companions/pets can become rather potent, rather fast. That being said, the engine tweaks presented often do rather interesting things; the drawbacks are intriguing, and there is plenty to love here. If anything, this book had to provide a rather significant amount of material that one would have expected from the base sphere, but couldn’t get due to page-count concerns. As such, the book, as a whole, provided for the most part what I expected to see, and provided the means and flexibility I expected to find. As a whole, I ended up enjoying this pdf, and it may not be mind-blowing, but it is very much a book that Spheres of Power-games using more than basic Conjuration will all but require in the long run. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

 

You can get this supplement here on OBS!

 

You can directly support Drop Dead Studios here on patreon!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

Nov 082018
 

Future’s Past I – Edge Station (SFRPG)

The first part of the Future’s Past AP clocks in at 22 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 17 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

First things first: In a rather helpful notion, the pdf does feature icons to designate the type of NPC/monster faced with helpful glyphs – a neat plus. As often, the module works best for a well-rounded group, and as far as implicit setting is concerned, the module does assume the presence of a galactic coalition of some sort. This component is vague enough to make integration into the ongoing game simple – you can run this AP in pretty much any scifi-context.

 

This module begins with the PCs tasked to embark on a reconnaissance mission to the eponymous Edge Station, a facility studying rifts in space-time, deep in enemy territory, where the disturbing Druune exist, carrying a potent boon with them: Hybrid items called nodes, which contain a fraction of the potent Central Artificial Intelligence. Each node specializes in two skill checks, which the node enhances. The ship bringing the PCs to the setting of the adventure is fully statted as well. The adventure features read-aloud text for all keyed locales and key moments.

 

A HUGE plus would be that the adventure does clearly state the rules under which the time travel assumptions that are an integral part of the plotline operate

 

And this is far as I can explain what happens without going into SPOILERS. Potential players will want to skip ahead to the conclusion.

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All right, only GMs around? Great! During the travel to Edge Station, the PCs experience strange phenomena like a closed loop, random ship system disassembly and the like – these establish tone and help the PCs get accustomed to their fellows, and research/information to be unearthed about the station is also presented…oh, and the Druune? They store information on a cellular level instead of in a central nervous system, are capable of rewriting DNA, and are practically immortal. They can infect targets for horrid consequences, and indeed, Druune infection, a disease with its own custom track, is a serious danger the PCs will encounter. But thankfully, Central AI is a potent ally: 1/round or 1/out of combat minute, the AI can give a PC perfectly-timed advice that allows for the reroll of a d20 roll. It’s just odd that sometimes, a weird déjà-vu event accompanies this whole thing – but then, that’s a great tool for the GM to show the PCs a brief vision of how they would have encountered catastrophic failure.

 

Anyhow, the approach to Edge Station can be as varied as gaming groups – from force to Disguising the ship to Stealth, there are quite a few cool means of entering Druune space. As an aside – the artworks within this book are stunning, depicting Druune-tech in an almost Giger-esque blending of tech and organic components that shows that they are beyond the Coalition – but their general scavengers and druune-enslaved footsoldiers should not prove to be too much of a hindrance for the PCs. Indeed, the one association you will have nonstop, is that of Dead Space’s Necromorphs – the artworks presented for the Druune-forces are as disturbing as they are inspired.

 

This is not to say that Edge Station is not one cool environment to explore, mind you: The station, you see, stretches across multiple dimensions, and as such, the PCs will be traversing multiple dimensional rifts, which can have a pretty wide variety of effects, with a table offering 10 different effects, all with meaningful mechanical consequences. Note that these are the effects of *traversing* the rifts – the respective labs make good use of this cool premise by employing a variety of planar traits and unique options to keep things fresh. It also bears mentioning that the station feels alive, in as much as going on High Alert will make things tougher for the PCs. Similarly, the complex does have cool traps that can be disabled via a variety of means, that have the proper EAC/KAC/HP-values, that can be destroyed and bypassed…neural nets and the like make for fitting obstacles, considering how smart the Druune actually are.

 

From the PC’s perspective, though, Edge Station will be a horror show; humanoids turned into oozes in the attempts of the Druune to elevate the, from their collective intelligence-perspective, horribly stupid humanoids, resulting in clones and the nightmare-fuel-style servants…this will work perfectly as a space-horror adventure. Add planar traits like subjective time to the fray, and we get one damn cool adventure….that can potentially end with a bang. The node realizes that the druune defied Central AI’s predictions – a prototype temporal consciousness teleportation device is in the facility. The node comments that it must deliver this data to Central AI. Then it states that there is a non-zero chance that the PCs are infected with druune-cells. It tells them that they cannot be allowed to leave and forbids investigation of the druune tech, issuing a final task, to destroy the prototype, before going dark.

 

The Central AI abandoned them. The PCs may be infected, slowly turning into Druune slaves. The node is initiating its self-destruct sequence…and they are stranded in a Druune facility. Now if that’s not an amazing cliffhanger, what is??

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no issues on a formal or rules-language level. Layout adheres to a really nice two-column full-color standard and the pdf sport a lot of absolutely amazing original full-color artwork. The pdf is fully bookmarked for your convenience. Cartography deserves special mention: The PC’s ship and the Druune ships they encounter are fully mapped in full color, and the complex they explore similarly comes with a neat full-color maps. Better yet, we get unlabeled, player-friendly versions of these maps, making the module really VTT-friendly and allowing for the use of maps as handouts et al.

 

Okay, I did not tell you, not even in the SPOILER-section, what made me cackle with glee. For the GM, who will get one crucial piece of information in the beginning, this module takes on a whole different dimension that makes it much smarter than it would seem from my above elaboration of its plot. From a player’s perspective, this is one utterly creepy, amazing dark scifi module that really drives home how alien the Druune are, how strange – it oozes Dead Space-y themes and atmosphere, condensing the best of said franchise down in a surprisingly efficient manner. In spite of the seeming brevity, this module has quite a lot of content to offer, and NEVER, not even once, presents a standard encounter or boring design-piece. Here, you can see why Stephen Rowe may well be one of the best designers currently working in the d20-realm: Beyond being a gifted author, he also is an exceedingly talented designer, and it shows here – the blending of mechanics and flavor is seamless, organic, perfect. This is as amazing an introductory scenario as you could expect from an AP and represents a phenomenal kick-off for the series. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval, given sans hesitation.

 

You can get this inspired kick-off for a new campaign here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Nov 082018
 

Galaxy Pirates – Ships: Pirate Fighter (SFRPG)

This installment of the Ship-centric Galaxy Pirates supplements for Starfinder clocks in at 5 pages, 1 page front cover, leaving us with 4 pages of content – for the pdf that sports “demo” at the end. You see, this actually comes with a second version that I consider to be the true iteration of the pdf – that one clocks in at no less than 15 pages, of which 1 page is taken up by the front cover, 1 by the SRD.

 

So, how come? Well, the pdf is somewhat akin to the ship-pdfs by Evil Robot Games that I’ve covered so far: We get a fantastic artwork of the ship in question, presented as a damn cool 1-page artwork/handout. We also get a page of paper-mini-style small artwork versions of these.

 

HOWEVER, the pdf does also represent an evolution in several crucial components: The first, and most important evolution would be that the pdf does not simply present a single ship. Instead, there are no less than 7 (!!) ships, with full stats included. All of these are pirate fighters – the base version comes with a micron light power core, a gyrolaser and mk 3 armor and defenses, clocking in at a tier 1/3 interceptor with 30 BP. Like all the ships herein, we get proper crew modifiers for the pilot, and a little table of Computer Check DCs to glean information for it.

 

That would be the basic, stock pirate fighter – the pdf then proceeds to present an advanced gun-fighter, which, at 40 BP and tier ½ is powered by a micron heavy power core and comes with a coilgun – and a MK1 mononode computer! But perhaps you prefer raw power over mk 4 armor and defenses and a better computer? Well also at tier ½, there would be a variant that comes equipped with a micron light power core and a chain cannon instead – though, obviously, this means that compromises had to be made regarding defenses. On the other side of the spectrum, the heavy armored fighter would be a variant that has a gyrolaser and with mk 5 armor and mk 6 defenses certainly is…well, better defended! You get to choose! Really cool!

 

However, unlike in previous pdfs, there are variants provided – the ace pirate fighter, at tier 2 and 75 build points, for example, comes with a signal basic drift engine, a pulse black power core and forward-facing weaponry that includes a coilgun and a light torpedo launcher…oh, and aft? Actually defended in contrast to most fighters – a light laser canon is waiting for fools. With an MK 2 monode computer, as well as better armor and defenses, it certainly makes for a significantly more impressive vessel, as befitting of an ace pilot!

 

On the other side of things, you know how it can be. You’re stranded in some sucky desert cantina, with barely a credit to your name, and you know you need to get around? Well, sometimes beggars can‘t be choosers and for these instances, we get tier ¼ ships with a paltry 25 BP – the degenerate gun-fighter and the degenerate laser-fighter. The former comes with a flak thrower, the latter with a gyrolaser and a light laser at the aft. Big plus!

 

Anyhow, there is more to these: You see, in contrast to other pdfs, the respective ships do come with notes on famous units: For the tier ¼ vessel, we for example learn about how…certain…ahem… temperaments of pilots favor it; we learn about ace pilots and how Errad’s Roughriders favor the armored vessels – these little bits of flavor enhance immersion.

 

Now, here is the reason this pdf is so much larger than the previous ones – we get fully filled-in ship-sheets for ALL of these variants – you just need to print them out, and bam, you’re set to go. That is pure awesome, particularly considering how aesthetically-pleasing these sheets are.

 

There is one more aspect in this pdf that put a HUGE smile on my face, that sent my mind to the stars. It’s about 2/3 of a page long, and it has the rather unremarkable header “procedures.” It adds more to the sense of reality, to being plausible, than I imagined, and it made me very aware of how much I missed that type of information from Starfinder’s Core book. First of all, the external visual inspection section can provide some cool roleplaying cues and even adventure hooks for players and GMs alike.

 

Even cooler, and put a big smile on my face, though, were the detailed “Prepare for takeoff” instructions – they really let you visualize how it is to pilot them. It adds actual soul and detail to getting into your fighter, it makes the whole thing…more real, less of an abstraction. This may well have spoiled me for any scifi-RPG; it’ll now be something I’ll be looking for everywhere – and yes, “Takeoff Procedure” also is explained. You don’t see how amazing that can be? Okay, perhaps this is the otaku in me talking, but I still get goosebumps when my favorite heroes get in their fighters, are sent towards launch pads, hit the ignition switch and announce over intercom their names and that of their fighters, how they’re ready for takeoff. Perhaps it’s just me being a huge Gundam fanboy, but this section…oh boy, did it made me smile! It’s a small thing, but to me, it vastly enhances the pdf.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch on a formal and rules-language level, I noticed no issues. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard, and, as before, the artwork presented for the fighter is amazing. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length. While we do not get a map of the one-pilot interceptors, this is offset by the sheer amount of content we get.

 

Paul Fields and Jim Milligan deliver a pdf here that is insane. The amazing artwork alone is worth the asking price, of, get ready…a paltry BUCK. Yep. $0.99. You can’t buy ANYTHING even halfway significant for that nowadays (not sure how much a snicker bars is today in the US), but I know that you can’t even get a cup of joe for a buck! The artwork alone is worth the asking price; and then, you not only get a whole bunch of ships, ready for insertion into your game, you also get them already filled into ship-sheets…AND you get flavor galore! For a buck! This is one of the pdfs that really made me scratch my head regarding how it can…well, exist– honest passion is the only explanation feasible.

It really is. The evolution of the already impressive base of the series in this way further shows a willingness to listen to fans…oh, and that humble procedure section? It’s not something you’ll whip out all the time, obviously. But it adds an immense amount of soul, of plausibility, to the proceedings, and it helps reduce the disjoint between playmodes – it makes piloting feel less like “We hit the space combat mini-game”, and more like “I go into *MY* fighter. I start the sequence. *I* go out.” – this humble bit of fluff makes entering space combat feel like it’s a continuation of the game, not a hard-cut-abstraction, as modes shift.

Beyond roleplaying potential (My lucky safety harness…pictures of holiday planet xyz, etc.), this is so obvious now that I see it, it’s puzzling that I never realized how much I missed it before.

This is one little stroke of genius indeed, and I sincerely hope that SFRPG publishers take heed- this is how it’s done regarding ships. I am genuinely and thoroughly impressed by this offering, and if you even remotely have use for a couple of space pirate fighters (seriously, who hasn’t?), then get this ASAP. If you purchase this and end up genuinely thinking that this wasn’t worth the single buck of its asking price, then contact me. I’ll refund you. And no, I’m not affiliated with Evil Robot Games in any shape, way or form. I just believe this much in this humble, amazing little pdf. Final verdict? 5 stars + seal of approval. If these guys ever kickstart a big book of ships, get on board. Seriously – if this is the shape of things to come from the company, then consider me a fan!

 

You can get this pdf for, let me once more point that out, a single, paltry buck, right here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Nov 082018
 

20 Things: Orc Village (system neutral)

This installment of the #20 Things-series clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Orc villages, suffice to say, are living, breathing places, and as such, the pdf begins with different sights and sounds, depending on whether the green-skins have been made aware of the presence of intruders. From ongoing torture of non-orcs, to orc mums carrying water and slapping kids, the atmosphere of evil, of violence, is palpable, with a feeling of aggression simmering right below the boiling point making this a rather compelling table. The alerted sights and sounds, then, represent the eruption of said violence…and when armed, homicidal orc kids try to prove themselves as proper human-slayers, even hardened adventurers may balk at using deadly force…

 

The series makes good use of its structural improvements on the next page, providing 12 entries for dressing of the village proper, with dejected, abused cows and rubbish strewn around establishing a sense of squalor and misery, while the 8 entries for dressing in orc huts show a proclivity for violent means of decorating things as well as the obvious lack of knowledge/talent regarding architecture. Smartly hidden treasures may also be found by perceptive PCs, but as a whole, the achievement here is the maintenance of the aggression-leitmotif suffusing these as well.

 

The next section provides fluff-only entries for notable sample orcs, noting alignment in brackets), but otherwise remaining system neutral; 6 warriors, champions and chiefs, 4 rank and file orcs, 4 shamans and 4 orc kids with personality are included – and yes, they all are CE. Don’t like that? Well, you can make a case for the impact of good nurturing right? Provided the PCs don’t murder-hobo through everyone, of course.

 

We conclude this supplement with a table of 20 sample orcish treasures and trinkets, which includes a prized, hallucinogenic toad, voodoo dolls, the revered skull of an orcish king, perhaps and badly-stitched together hide armors complement this section.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to an elegant, minimalist 2-column b/w-standard, and the pdf sports a couple of really nice b/w-artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, and the pdf comes in two different versions, one of which is optimized for screen-use, and one is optimized for printing it out.

 

Creighton Broadhurst and Bart Wynants succeed in creating a fine and thematically-concise dressing file for the orcish village; at no point does it feel like a generic goblinoid village; instead, the simmering savagery and violence of orc culture is emphasized in a wide variety of different examples for successful indirect story-telling. My final verdict is 5 stars + seal of approval, a great little dressing file.

 

You can get this cool dressing-file here on OBS!

 

You can directly support Raging Swan Press here on patreon!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Nov 072018
 

Null Singularity (DCC)

This supplement/one-shot/setting-ish book clocks in at 56 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 52 pages of content (laid out in 6’’ by 9’’(A5), in a landscape orientation), so let’s take a look!

 

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

 

I can review this book in one sentence: Black Sun Deathcrawl, Scifi-edition.

…I jest, of course. Partially. I assume familiarity with my review of Black Sun Deathcrawl in the discussion below. If you haven’t, please take a look at it. You can find it here.

 

You see, Null Singularity does note on its cover that it’s inspired by Black Sun Deathcrawl, and the author has actually asked Black Sun Deathcrawl’s (I’ll shorten that to BSD below) creator for his blessing – a brief interview can be found in the back of the book, spanning two pages.

 

And indeed, in a way, Null Singularity does imitate BSD in several obvious key components: The ominous flavor-text used to establish tone and setting? Check. The slightly obscure, doom-laden introductory scripture that invites individualized exegesis to fill out details? Check. The unstoppable, all-encompassing threat, coupled with a theme of futility and nihilism? Check. You get the idea – there are a lot of similarities, quite intentionally so.

 

However, there also are plenty of differences that mirror the science-fiction context and that influence, rather significantly, the tone and experience of playing this game. In a way, it is nigh impossible to discuss Null Singularity without spoiling some parts of it – before I get into the “story”-related components presented within, I will add another spoiler-warning, but in order to discuss it and how it diverges from BSD, I have to explain a couple of things, so if you want to go into this as a blank-slate experience for maximum efficiency, stop reading NOW and skip ahead to the conclusion.

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Okay, only judges around? Okay, so a key difference of this supplement and BSD would be focus. BSD is very much a game of savagery, one wherein struggle for survival is often brutal on a physical and emotional level. Null Singularity is similar in that it gets rid of classes and races – there only are the Voidants (character sheet provided in the back). The Null-Singularity is basically consuming everything, a thing beyond even the Singularity as an event, something beyond the infinite, crushing in its endless inevitability – it is, to quote the pdf, “EveryWhere and EveryWhen.” Voidants, life, learned F/Utility aboard their VoidArks. There is just the mission. It has no parameters.

 

Voidants roll 3d6 for ability scores, get 1d6 +1d4 +2 for Stamina modifier hit points, and one ability is raised to the lowest score that improves its modifier. Voidants act, functionally as thieves, substituting the thief skill that works best for using a scifi item/accomplishing a task: Find Trap to diagnose malfunctions, etc. Alignment is randomly rolled, and each PC begins play with a Void Zoot, Oh-Too Well, Squawk Box, VoidZeal, HydraCycler, HeatPak, Battery and Ration (Ize-Kreem Brik and Or’nge-Flave Powder). You get a d12 roll for additional equipment, and you roll 1d4-1 to determine how many pieces of equipment are malfunctioning; then, a d12 to determine the extent of the malfunction. Every 30 minutes real time, every piece of equipment with failure imminent will be destroyed/shut down. Also, every PC rolls a d6. On a natural 1, one piece of survival gear will malfunction – for every additional 30 minutes passing, you ADD another d6. If you roll all sixes, you find a salvageable piece of gear.

 

There is no Luck score, only Resource Fullness. Resource Fullness may be burned, but PCs don’t get a luck die and do not recover burned points. A PC at 0 Resource Fullness is taken by the Void.

 

Resource Fullness is also on a timer: Every 20 minutes real time, all players mark off half a box of Oh-Too, H2O and Battery Pak (for heat). In any round that a PC has zero Oh-Too, H2O or Battery, or a malfunctioning Void Zoot or HeatPak, the PC MUST burn one point of Resource Fullness.

 

PCs may steal Resource Fullness from other PCs and monsters.

 

Okay, this is the basic rules-chassis, and it is radically different from BSD. It isn’t focused on exploring the dynamics between PCs and Hope, about what it’ll take for them to give up. This is not, like BSD, an attempt to depict the experience of depression or other such metaphysical experience. Instead, from language to rules, it is focused on one thing “F/Utility.” The duality encompassed in this term is stark and reverberates through the entirety of the supplement: For one, Voidants being thieves in functionality places a greater emphasis on trickery and adds options to their array, at least when compared with BSD’s Cursed.

 

The language, as you could glean from the equipment names above, depicts a clever evolution of terms, which adds a distinct feeling of both estrangement and familiarity – like many contemporary scifi books, it thus manages to enhance immersion. From the rules, you will have noticed one thing: The voidants are horribly fragile, and unlike the Cursed, they can, and will die without their consent mattering in the least. That there is the central and most important distinction: Beyond the scifi-theme, which, by font, language, etc., evokes a stark and harsh sense of clinical detachment, the central theme and goal of this game is radically different from BSD: This is a game of survival and doing whatever it takes; it is indebted to BSD, yes; it is similar in many components, yes. It’s a wholly different playing experience nonetheless.

 

Since the launch of the VoidArks, XenoData has been collected, which is represented by stats for the XenoPhases encountered so far – these include GravSpectra, malevolent fields of gravity; silicate, maggot-like things that leech heat and fungal masses that consume Otoo. Quantum fluctuations caused by the Null Singularity represent hazards based on spell effects, and among these, there also would be StarkReal – basically, the madness engine of the system. And, there would be XenoHorrors. In a way, this feels like a better realized mini-bestiary/hazard array to complicate matters…but this is also where Null Singularity drastically diverts from the course of BSD.

 

The following is slightly more SPOILER-laden that before. I strongly suggest that players jump ahead to the conclusion.

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Only judges around? Great!

 

Know how I basically told you that the encounters in BSD, with one exception, pretty much sucked and probably should be ignored? Yeah, well Null Singularity goes a different route. The second half of the book is devoted to basically the adventure – we have massive read-aloud texts and a sequence of challenges that a judge could expand/develop further, if desired. It is here, where you can choose to play Null Singularity not as a customizable campaign template, but as a linear one-shot module, and honestly, it’s a pretty amazing series of encounters that we get here. The descriptive text really drives home the atmosphere of F/Utility suffusing the game, of the nightmarish existence depicted within. To quote from the introductory read-aloud text: “You were brought into being aboard Alektryon and you’ve spent 99.1968% of your life inside It. LifeDatum: you spend most of your time in SomniStays-Iz to help conserve resources. You hate it. In SomniStays-Iz you dream endlessly about the Null Singularity. Occasionally, you Re/Sur/Vive. And then, it happens. The VoidArk is experiencing catastrophic PlanetFall.”

 

I am not going to explain the entirety of the plot here, but the F/Utility angle reaches its culmination in the end, when the book basically closes a loop, one that may not restract, but actually become worse. True to the focus on Survival, it is thus theoretically possible to replay this scenario over and over – to survive it. Null Singularity, within its bleak parameters, may be “won.”

 

The pdf does btw. offer an appendix for inspiring media.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a landscape, one-column b/w-standard, with the pdf using plenty of thematically fitting stock-art to enhance the stark atmosphere of the experience. Much to my chagrin, the pdf-version has no bookmarks, which makes navigating the pdf a colossal pain – a serious comfort detriment. I strongly suggest printing this or getting a print copy. I can’t comment on the merits or lack thereof of the print version, as I do not own it.

 

Steve Bean’s “Null Singularity” is more than Black Sun Deathcrawl in space – and that is quite a feat, considering the shared themes and obvious homage to the latter. In theme, this feels like someone took the black metal band Darkspace and wrote a game as bleak and uncompromising as their devastatingly bleak sound. The suggested bands in the appendix (Pink Floyd, Husker Du and Philip Glass) or acts like Mare Cognitum, imho, do not capture the mood half as well. The stark science-fiction backdrop is uncompromising in its vision, and the threats, the constant experience of malfunctions – they render this one brutally-tough game with a singular, most efficient vision.

 

And this brings me to the point that differentiates this most from Black Sun Deathcrawl, at least for me: While the trappings are similar, the function couldn’t be more different. Where Black Sun Deathcrawl, arguably, is more artwork than game, more experience than RPG, Null Singularity is, very clearly and distinctively, a game – a game of resource-management that shares themes and bleakness-levels with BSD, but a game that may be won – in a manner of speaking. Kind of. As a piece of game design, it is clearly superior in that its plot and playing experience is, by design, more differentiated. This, however, also means that it can’t duplicate the sledgehammer-like impact, the psychological intensity, of Black Sun Deathcrawl. I don’t think that this would trigger most folks, for example. So yeah, whichever of the two you prefer is ultimately up to what you want from the experience – or, as one of my players remarked, of “…how much of an RPG-hipster you are.”

 

Black Sun Deathcrawl manages, like e.g. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice did for psychosis, to depict, in a gaming context, how it can feel to live with depression.

 

Null Singularity does not attempt the like. Instead, its thesis could be summed up as follows: “Look, this is how you can make an experience like Black Sun Deathcrawl behave more like a game without losing the emergent storytelling from a super-bleak setting.” In a way, it re-gamifies the aesthetics of Black Sun Deathcrawl and creates something that is truly and wholly distinct from its parent. Beyond the different setting, Null Singularity is probably more fun for groups that like to see if they can “beat” or “endure” or “survive” something. It is more fun than Black Sun Deathcrawl, courtesy of the frantic resource consumption mechanics. On one hand, this makes it the better game; on the other, this means that it can’t, at least for me, reach the level of impact that Black Sun Deathcrawl had.

 

But what does it mean? Well, ultimately, in the face of the Null Singularity…nothing, of course. Only you can decide what meaning is, as a concept, to you and yours, only you can ascribe meaning, quantify and qualify your priorities and that of your group – whether you prefer this or Black Sun Deathcrawl is a matter of aesthetics and what you’re looking for.

 

As a reviewer, I consider Null Singularity a resounding success – it could have just been a lame clone of Black Sun Deathcrawl and instead created something wholly and radically distinct. While the lack of bookmarks hurts the book and makes it lose half a star, I still arrive at a final verdict of 4.5 stars, which I will round up for the purpose of this platform. This also deserves my seal of approval.

 

You can get this unique game/one-shot here on OBS!

 

Want this in print? You can find the contact information to order it here!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Nov 072018
 

Galaxy Pirates – Ships: Eldred Intermediate Cruiser (SFRPG)

This installment of the ship-centric Galaxy Pirates-supplements 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!

 

On page numero uno, we get the stats for the intermediate cruiser of the Eldred, which clocks in as a tier 4 vessel with the suggested 115 BP. As far as frame is concerned, the intermediate cruiser uses the large destroyer and an arcus heavy power core. Interesting: It is pretty solidly armed with a light particle beam and a torpedo launcher as well as light laser cannons and a signal basic drift engine, but its energy consumption can theoretically exceed output (theoretically – it’s more a flavor thing, to emphasize that once more), showing its status as a bridging model intended to test new designs. The ship comes with basic shields and slightly above average HP, at 170. Crew modifiers are provided for captain, engineer, gunners, pilot and science officer, and we do get a small table for Computers check DCs to know details about the ship. A brief flavor-text further contextualizes the ship, and the page containing these pieces of information sports a rather nice full-color artwork of a cockpit.

 

Amazing: We get a full, top-down map of the ship in full color, with every component explained…so if your PCs get one of these charming ships, they’ll know exactly where what is. The detailed labels really bring this ship to life and are super helpful. HOWEVER, it would have been amazing if the pdf had also featured an unlabeled version, for the instance where the PCs enter it without having a clue where they are. The ship encompasses three decks, btw. Also a huge comfort-plus: the pdf comes with an impressive one-page full-color artwork of the cruiser, perfectly-suitable as a handout. A whole page of paper-mini-style stand-ins is included as well, and if that weren’t enough, we get a surprisingly neat, lovingly crafted ship-sheet, already filled out for your convenience – now that is consumer-friendly!!

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard with a surprising amount of high-quality artworks. The cartography is very impressive and in full-color – add an unlabeled version and I’ll be in heaven; even at this point, though, this is beyond what I expected to fin. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

 

Paul Fields and Jim Milligan honestly surprised me with this humble pdf – we get a ship with character here – a slightly overburdened one with its intentional flaws, but personally, as a fan of series like Firefly et al., this makes the intermediate cruiser actually more charming to me. The quality of the artwork and cartography, the added filled-in sheet, the paper mini-versions, the handout versions – these people have really put some thought into this supplement. The attention to detail and care must be applauded, and indeed, here’s the even better thing: This fellow is actually available for PWYW! Seriously, this is one cool, unpretentious premium-ship for any price you’re willing to pay! What’s not to love?? So yeah, I highly recommend checking this out and leaving a proper tip for it. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars!

 

You can get this stunning cruiser here on OBS – and for PWYW to boot!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Nov 072018
 

Galaxy Pirates – Ships: Eldred Interceptor (SFRPG)

This installment of the Galaxy Pirates supplements that focus on ships clocks in at 6 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 4 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

On the first page of this supplement, we get the stats for the eponymous interceptor, which clocks in as a Tiny tier ½ machine – which obviously has but one crew-member, namely the pilot. As far as defenses are concerned, we have basic 10 shields, mk 4 armor and defenses and a micron heavy power core fueling these. EDIT: Here, my review text may have been misleading for folks who don’t know that gyrolasers can fire in broad arcs. I tried to state that the interceptor has only weapons facing the front firing arc. The interceptor has 2 fire linked gyrolasers, and gyrolasers have broad arc, which allows them to fire at -2 to an adjacent firing arc. The ship comes with a brief table of Computer check DCs to know something about the vessel and a VERY brief description of the craft, but not much about its story, design, etc – instead, about ½ of the first page is blank. Some additional fluff would have improved this little fellow and made it stand out.

 

On the second page, we get a massive, one-page artwork version of the interceptor, which is really neat; we follow this with a page of smaller versions suitable for e.g. paper-mini-construction, and we close the pdf with an aesthetically-pleasing ship-sheet that ahs the interceptor’s details already filled out for you.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a full-color two-column standard with a white background, and, as noted, the artworks provided for the interceptor are great and compelling, and the handout-version, the mini-version and the filled-out sheet show that he authors thought about immediate usefulness at the table – a big plus. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length. However, unlike the larger ships, we don’t get a map of the insides of the interceptor, one of the things that really blew me away about e.g. the intermediate cruiser the Eldred manufactured.

 

Paul Fields and Jim Milligan deliver an interceptor with amazing artworks, ready to use at the table, and for the low price of just a buck, you indeed get your money’s worth. A map would have been sweet, but I don’t hold that against the pdf at this price point, particularly considering the quality of the artwork. That being said, I do hold against it that the interceptor is a bit pale – it could have really used some additional descriptive text to make it stand out more – on the first page, there is ample blank space that could have been used to make this vessel more interesting. As a whole, I consider this to be a solid offering, though personally, it didn’t excite me to the same extent the intermediate cruiser did. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

 

You can get this little ship here on OBS!

Endzeitgest out.

 

 

Nov 062018
 

Dungeon Age: Saving Saxham (5e)

This module clocks in at 18 pages of content , 1 page of which is the SRD, leaving us with 17 pages of content.

 

This review was moved up in my reviewing-queue due to me receiving a printed copy of the adventure.

 

All righty, this is an adventure for characters level 1 – 3, with well-rounded groups being the preferable target demographic, as often the case. This is a one-man operation, with the maps and artworks provided by the author as well. The cartography in b/w is solid, but does not provide a grid/scale or player-friendly, unlabeled version per se – however, it is cleverly constructed in a way which allows the GM to print it out and cut out the map section sans the labels, making the maps functionally player-friendly.

 

Let it be known that this book looks very professional from the get-go: Read-aloud text (which is flavorful) is clearly set apart from the text and color-coded, and important key words are bolded – whenever they point towards a locale, an item, etc. that has its own description/section, we have the information in brackets. This may sound like a small thing, but from an information-design perspective, this renders running the module surprisingly easy for the GM.

 

Indeed, in spite of being basically an investigative sandbox, this adventure can be run with minimum prep time, courtesy of its smart presentation. That’s definitely more forethought than I expected from a freshman offering. This is even more evident when it comes to room/locale descriptions – below the read-aloud texts we actually get helpful bullet-points that list items of interest/interaction points, rules-relevant information, etc.

 

The pdf also provides quite a few helpful minor magic items – for example a helmet that provides advantage on saving throws versus being stunned. Here, I need to nitpick their formatting a bit – no item scarcity is noted and “Attunement.” is bolded, when it should be both italicized and noted in the line for item scarcity. That would be a cosmetic hiccup, though. There is, alas, one aspect of the pdf that may well be a deal-breaker for some of you, namely those that tend to run 5e by the book. That would be the monster-presentation. Please do continue reading, though – it’s worth it!

 

Monsters have their name and XP-value noted in their own header – and below that, we get, to directly quote one such “statblock”, the following: “

18HP ▪ 16AC ▪ 30ft ▪ +5 ATT ▪ 1d6+3 slashing”. That’s the entirety of stats you’ll get for each of the critters and NPCs featured herein, and it is puzzling to me. 5e’s mechanics like passive Perception and saving throws based on all attributes make getting full proper stats nonoptional, and the amount of folks that write for it who fail to provide proper stats is simply jarring.

 

So yeah, I can see these super-rudimentary stats being a dealbreaker for some. Unlike generic OSR-compatible modules, there is no plethora of minor tweaks of 5e – 5e is 5e, and as such and considering the demands of the system, I very much hope that future modules will provide the proper statblocks. This is in so far puzzling, as even e.g. a goblin gets some personality, his own agenda and responses to news and the like – the narrative aspect and presentation-design is so good that this decision struck me as even more puzzling: We get dialogue options, guidance and this super-neat presentation; heck, even mundane, interesting items such as letters get detailed descriptions – in the fluff department, this totally excels.

 

But to properly explain what’s sets this module apart, I need to go into SPOILERS. Players REALLY should skip ahead to the conclusion. Seriously. Reading on will thoroughly SPOIL the adventure, and you don’t want that.

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Okay, are only GMs left? Are you sure? One more time: I will spoil this thing! Big time! So, “Saving Saxham” begins as generic as it can be – there is a small village called Saxham, established by the wealthy Sax family, courtesy of the grist mill. As the adventurers arrive in the town, they will be puzzled indeed – a curse seems to have taken a hold of Saxham – houses are dilapidated an overgrown, weeds are all over the fields, and, as a boy tells the PCs en route, monsters are in the woods. All of these observations, save one, are correct – in the woods, there indeed are monsters – and as the local elves have come to investigate, there is a similar problem – the forest seems to be suffering a mysterious blight. Strange variant zombies, so-called clayskins (things of clay) and woodwalkers (basically woodzombies with green berries for eyes) lumber through the forest, with the former evolving into the more deadly, second form over time.

 

If this sounds like something that could have been taken straight from a Witcher-game, then you’d be right – the premise does not disappoint: There is no gizmo responsible. There is no evil necromancer with the cliché shadow boss. There is no standard evil humanoid tribe responsible. Nope, the solution is actually much more amazing. The surrounding area, NPCs and small dungeon, all detailed in intriguing ways, does hold a secret most delightful in its implications: You see, the buildings and fields aren’t cursed. Neither are the villagers. 30 years ago, the plague struck Saxham and wiped it out, making it a ghost town – and now, the ghost of the town cleric has risen, and in her despair, raises the villagers, successfully, I might add, from the dead. Okay, they need to shamble a bit around as beings of grave clay…and then as dangerous wooden monsters…but after that, they’ll come to their senses, stumble naked back into town, and have no recollection of what happened. The life-source required is drawn by the undead from the flora of the region. Bound to the cemetery, the ghost requires its minions to dig tunnels – and she is draining trees from below. If the adventurers don’t interfere, the blight will spread, but a town that has died will be repopulated…though, obviously, the elves wouldn’t stand for such a perversion of the natural order…

 

This is a fantastic and clever conundrum, a great twist, and frankly renders this one of the coolest first level modules I’ve read in a long while. I absolutely love it!

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, on a formal level, are excellent; as far as rules-integrity is concerned, we have formatting deviations and the glaring, only semi-useful statblocks as the one true flaw of this supplement. The pdf comes laid out in a two-column full-color standard with b/w-artworks and cartography, and a low-res version as well. The pdf does not have bookmarks, which constitutes a comfort-detriment – I strongly encourage you to print this out when running it.

 

Joseph Robert Lewis’ “Saving Saxham” was a HUGE surprise for me. First, I enjoyed the presentation and clever way in which the scenario handles information. Then, my spirits sank as I saw the statblock issue – and then, I read it. Oh boy. “Saving Saxham” is a fantastic, slightly weird fantasy-ish/dark fantasy module that provides a truly tricky moral conundrum, a clever story and evocative prose. This feels like a module I’d run in my home-game; it is clever, smart, and yes, fun. It has a very distinct narrative voice and is more creative than a TON of modules I’ve read. This is a true winner, and as a person, I LOVE it. If you have similar tastes, then do yourself a favor and check this out!! However, as a reviewer, I have to penalize the adventure for its less than perfect stats, no matter how much I, as a person, genuinely adored this adventure. Even considering that, I can’t bring myself to penalize this more than by subtracting 1 star. While usually, freshman offerings get a bit of leeway, the statblock issue and lack of bookmarks do add up and make it impossible for me to round up from my final verdict of 4.5 stars. HOWEVER, since I genuinely loved this module and want to read more from the author’s pen, I will add my seal of approval here. Considering that this was the first Dungeon Age foray, we have one author/publisher to watch here!

 

You can get this amazing little module for PWYW here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Nov 062018
 

La Bas Chartreuse (OSR)

This supplement intended for Venger Satanis‘ „The Outer Presence“-game clocks in at 11 pages, with half a page front cover, 1 page devoted to the editorial and 1 page devoted to the big Kort’thalis glyph, leaving us with 9.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Now, first things first – while the name implies as such, do not expect a homage to Là-bas by Joris-Karl Huysmans – instead, this brief supplement represents basically a plug-and-play weirdness that could theoretically be inserted easily into an ongoing game. Theme-wise, this is, unsurprisingly for The Outer Presence, lovecraftian and heavily indebted to the aesthetics of the Cthulhu mythos. That being said, structure is not traditionally the strength of Kort’thalis Publishing offerings, so be aware of the need to read this, in its entirety, before attempting to use it.

 

The following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

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Only GM’s around? Great!

The pdf begins, after a brief introduction, with its longest section, which is written, well, I might add, as an in-character narrative of an explorer happening upon the demonic stairway and the horrible consequences thereof. That being said, the dimensions of the stairway are actually are found on the last page – it’s 700 steps long. There is a brief table of wandering encounters: Guerilla fighters, natives, cartel thugs, cultists and an expedition, as well as a tentacle dripping lurker can be found here and contextualize this with the implicit south-east Asian jungle. A table of 4 entries allow the GM to establish who surprises who, if any. None of these random encounters get any stats.

 

Now, the stairs ostensibly lead to hell, but within 30 ft. of the entrance to it, there is the monolith, covered in vagina-like mouths dripping slime. This monolith also acts as a gateway to an alien universe, with 6 entries in a table of things that happen to you (hint: you won’t like them) and 6 entries noting some kinds of silver lining for the experience.

 

Speaking of “lack of structure”: We get a table for the amount of blood around the monolith after a d20 table of properties for alien metal. Guess what does not show up in this supplement?

Bingo. Alien metal.

The table is per se cool, but it applies more to Dead God Excavation, and feels like it eats up page-count here that the set-up could have really used, for there are 3 one-page artworks, which, while all really neat b/w-pieces, further cut down the page count describing the phenomenon itself. If we take the alien table and artwork tables away, we arrive at 4.5 pages remaining…and I couldn’t help but feel that we could have used more space to actually develop the concept. A table of 6 entries in the table “Thy Destiny Awaits” allows for the creation of consequences of the trip down these infernal stairs.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level. Due to the absence of any rules-relevant components, there are no chances to screw that up – this is basically system neutral. Layout adheres to a GORGEOUS two-column standard with a sickly green tint, runes and different splotches of blood on each page – this is a gorgeous pdf. The pdf also comes with a more printer-friendly version. The pdfs also come fully bookmarked for your convenience – kudos indeed!

 

Venger Satanis is a talented author – he can actually succeed at evoking the, admittedly, clichéd aesthetics of the Cthulhu Mythos in a way that is visceral and effective. Surprisingly so. And I like the *idea* of La Bas Chartreuse! A hellish stairway that could be easily plugged into your game? Heck yeah!

 

The execution, though, suffers from a couple of flaws: Even for the most rules-lite of Venger’s VSd6-engine based games, this is very flimsy as far as gaming content is concerned. The structure, while portraying atmosphere in an excellent manner, makes the GM slowly piece together what the hell is actually going on, and the insertion of the alien metal table in the middle doesn’t really help navigate this somewhat confusing sequence. This is pretty much as GM-unfriendly in its presentation and structure as it can be – it’s a solid reading experience, its presentation is beautiful, but it’s not a well-presented or -structured supplement.

 

It also needlessly hamstrings itself by being super peculiar in some aspects, vague in others – the reader should not have to search through the entirety of the pdf to discern how the location looks, and its close association with the implicit Sri-Lankan angle is intriguing, but also limits the use of this stairway unduly. Think about it: Make this a “wandering” staircase; have a table of omens for its arrival, for its door, and make it recurring…and suddenly, you have one nasty place. Egress from the stair may well put the PCs out of space or time, etc. – there is potential here, but none of these intriguing angles are actually developed or mentioned within. Instead, as presented, we have a somewhat cthulhoid staircase that leads to hell. The monolith, the second big feature herein, alas suffers from having to stand up to LotFP’s “Monolith from Beyond Space and Time” and its supremely creative effects, and falls short in every conceivable way.

 

In short: This is a surprisingly weak offering for Venger, perhaps the weakest supplement I have seen him produce. Now, the low price point does salvage this supplement to an extent, but ultimately, I’d consider this only interesting for fans of Venger that are completists. My final verdict will clock in at 2 stars due to the low asking price.

 

You can get this inexpensive…supplement (??) here on OBS.

Endzeitgeist out.