Jul 052019
 

Death is the New Pink (OSR)

This game clocks in at 94 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page dedication, 4 pages blank, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 85 pages of content, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5) so let’s take a look!

 

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of one of my patreon supporters.

 

Okay, so what is this? On a mechanical level, this is basically a post-apocalyptic hack of “Into the Odd”; in themes, this is very much inspired by Borderlands, Tank Girl, etc. – which you can also confirm in the Appendix N, which also lists Dredd and the music of KMFDM. The latter got, obviously, some serious cheers from me! So, to make this abundantly clear from the start – this is NOT a generic post-apocalypse toolkit. If you want something like The Walking Dead, The Road or a similar down-to-earth, somber game, this is not what you’re looking for. Its themes and terms employed for levels, characters, etc. clashes with these premises, and it does not have e.g. Vs. The Wasteland’s enormous customizing potential. If you’re looking for gonzo post-apocalypse? Well, then you’ve come to the right place! “Into the Odd” as a chassis means that the rules are pretty different from most retro-clones, using three attributes instead of 6, and electing for an even more rules-lite approach, just fyi.

 

Anyhow, this review is based on both the PoD-version and the pdf. While the pink, which is used as a third-color throughout, is really vibrant, the PoD version uses a more subdued tone of pink. Personally, I do prefer the pdf’s almost neon color, but that’s a matter of personal taste. It should be noted that, if the cover wasn’t ample clue, this is very much a game for a grimy post-apocalypse: Player characters are called meat bags, and there is plenty of cursing to be found within. If you are sensitive to that type of thing, then consider this to be your warning.

 

Anyhow, how does the game work? You roll 3d6 thrice, once for each Ability (score), and you can switch two of them. The abilities are Badassery (BAD), which denotes fighting. Fortitude, intimidation, etc.; Dodging Some Shit (DSS), which includes athletics, acrobatics, etc. and Moxy (MOXY), which is the catch-all ability for confidence, psychic powers, discipline and charisma. Additionally, you roll 1d6 for your Hit Points. Then, like in Into the Odd, you consult a massive table for starter packages. This will net you a weapon, an item, a characteristic, and either a Muscle UP! or a Doodad. Every character gets a flashlight, camping equipment, matches, a flare and rations, as well as 2d100+25 GB (gold bits).

 

Starter packages constitute one of the things that really impressed me about “Into the Odd” – the higher your ability scores and Hit Points, the worse were the tools you got; while this game follows a similar paradigm, I don’t think the balance is as tight as in “Into the Odd” here – having e.g. a deathwish is pretty much hard-coded into the game; throughout the book, you find a ton of references that basically state that existential ennui is one of the driving factors for meat bags to go adventuring – seeking a badass end. So yeah, while the game works well, the starter package table isn’t as cleverly constructed as in “into the Odd.”

 

Weaponry comes in 4 categories for melee and ranged weapons: Hand weapons deal 1d6 damage; two-handed and well-crafted one-handed weapons deal 1d8 damage, and badass melee weapons (like motorized saw-knives) deal 1d10. For firearms, we have 1d6 damage for light firearms, 1d8 for heavy firearms, 1d10 for heavy firearms like machine guns and sniper rifles, and 1d12 for badass firearms like handcannons, gatling guns, etc. The more damage  a ranged weapon deals, the more GBs its ammo will cost. Ammo lasts for one adventure; if not used, it’ll carry over – no individual tracking of rounds, thankfully. Armor reduces damage; shields absorb a limited number of damage incurred (after armor) before becoming useless.

 

Values for miscellaneous items and hirelings can be found. The game knows 6 different levels – you gain level ups when you complete a number of trips to the wasteland, with 3rd and 5th level providing a Muscle UP! ability. 4th level nets you a cohort, a sniveling meatbag. Muscle UP!s fyi include damage increases, the ability to keep attacking after killing a target (old-school fighter, anyone?), the ability to actually understand machines and the like. Each level  also lets the meat bag roll 1d6 and add it to their Hit Points, and roll 1d20 for each ability score: If the d20-roll is higher than the ability score, it increases by 1. As noted before, MOXY governs psychic powers, and if you gain psychic powers, you can generate fields of silence, use telekinesis, etc.

 

Exposure to weird stuff in the wastes can result in mutations, with the GM deciding whether they have a game benefit or not; each mutation reduces MOXY by 1d4, and at 0 MOXY, you become mindless.

 

Mechanically, the game is superior in one crucial aspect that immediately jumped out to me in comparison to “into the Odd” – we do actually get proper initiative rules, which are based on a simple DSS-test. A test is btw. a d20-roll under, with a 1 an automatic success, a 20 an automatic failure. On each of your turns, you get to move and perform an action such as attack. Difficult tasks/actions require a save: Roll under the associated ability score. Simple, elegant, easy to grasp.

 

As far as damage is concerned, damage is first subtracted from Hit Points, then from BAD. Upon BAD reaching 0, you die. If you take BAD damage, you have to make a BAD-save or take critical damage; if no one comes to help the meat bag, they die in one hour. DSS reduced to 0 equals being paralyzed. If a meat bag dies, the next character gets a Luck point, which may be used to change a failed save into a successful one. Reaction tolls are based on the instigating character’s MOXY, and morale tests similarly are based on MOXY.

 

Sometimes, luck is all there is to it – 4-6 on a d6 mean that the players are favored, 1-3 that the opposition (which is collectively known as “nefarios” in the game’s parlance) is favored. Doodads are grouped in two classes – regular and powerful doodads, and they basically represent pre-cataclysm tech and weird/powerful items – they are basically the equivalent of “Into the Odd”’s  Arcana, but generally tend to be a bit more subdued due to their nonmagical nature. These include bombs that make targets vomit forth ridiculous amounts of acidic sludge, spiked collars that let you enslave targets, etc.

 

The pdf does include 5 different radiation levels, vehicle rules and hazards that include “melting face sludge”, auto-turrets and the like.

 

The book also contains a bestiary that is rather enjoyable – monsters are properly statted, come with some inspiring flavor, and a DRIVE, which is intended to represent, bingo, their main driving force to do what they’re doing. Here, the butcher may be found alongside bombing slugs (which approach and explode) and the chicken bear; there is a nasty quasi-undead psychic emaciated lady, 4-armed gorilla-things (yep, girallons), so-called “Fuck You Worms” obviously inspired by Tremors, and old-school Fallout fans will realize that “Mother Puss Bucket” is an obvious homage to good ole’ isometric Fallout. Mutants, killer robots and killer cows can be found alongside xam xams. Those would be fist-sized acid-spitting flies. EW.

 

The sample background setting Scratchtown is a pretty grimy place, with sample tables  for 2d12 sample people and a quick, basic quest-generator providing some immediate use. Beneath Scratchtown, there lie the catacombs, and beyond the wastes, the book also mentions things far away, like the “Oshan” – whatever that’s supposed to be. 😉

 

The final section of the book deals with two sample adventures, the first of which represents a trip through the catacombs; structurally, this is basically a point-crawl that employs terse, brief notes for the general theme of the keyed locales, followed by an italicized description. Hazards and the like are underlines – as a whole, this renders the module pretty easy to run, and the adventure does come with an abstract map, though no player-friendly version. It is not possible to discern room dimensions from the map, so if you prefer to provide the like in VTT or other playing experiences, that’s something to bear in mind – this is strictly theater of the mind. Over all, I wasn’t too impressed by this one – it’s easy to run, but it feels like pretty much the “vanilla” experience for what this game and its far-out theme offers.

 

The second adventure is more of a regional overview of the area surrounding Scratchtown, with random encounter tables and some ideas to further develop. I enjoyed this one.

 

Conclusion:

 

Editing and formatting are very good on both a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres, for the most part, to a one-column b/w-standard, which, like the artworks, uses pink as a highlight. The cartography operates under the same premise. The pdf, gratingly, does not have bookmarks, making navigation a colossal pain. For that, you should detract at least half a star from the pdf-version.

 

Mike Evans’ twist on the “Into the Odd”-rules is elegant, well-executed, and sports this interesting “no fucks given”-attitude; while, personally, I could have done with a bit less swearing in favor of more efficient swearing, this book manages to evoke a “life is cheap”-aesthetic of quick and fun beer and pretzels gaming. Clearly intended for fast and simple fun, this book represents, on a design-level, for the most part an improvement in precision and detail over the original game. At the same time, both starter packages and sample adventure did not hold up as perfectly as the components in “Into the Odd.” That being said, from a purely mechanical perspective, this is the superior game. If you’re looking for an easy to grasp, very grimy type of post-apocalyptic game that doesn’t focus on survival, but more on punk/industrial/metal aesthetics, then give this a try! My final verdict for the softcover print version, which btw. does have the title on the spine, will be 5 stars; for the electronic version, detract a star for the lack of bookmarks; this is the core-game; it should be easy to navigate.

 

You can get this rules-lite metal post-apocalypse here on OBS!

 

Missed Into the Odd? You can find it here!

 

Want another rules-lite take on post-apocalypse that can account for more playstyles? You can find the excellent Vs. The Wasteland here!

 

Do you enjoy my reviews? If you do, please consider leaving a direct donation or supporting my patreon here!


Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jul 052019
 

Star Log.EM: Hacker Options (SFRPG)

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

 

All right, as often with the series, we begin with some notes on the ever-expanding lore of the Xa-Osoro system before we dive into the new mechanics – these would be three mechanic tricks, the first of which would be the 2nd level trick Glitch Item.  As a standard action, you can upload a virus into a touched item, requiring a Computers check (DC based on 15 + 1.5 times the item’s level); carried items require a touch attack versus EAC. If you have wireless hack, you can do so at short range; on a success, the item gains the glitched condition for 1d4 rounds, +1 round for every point by which you exceeded the Computers check. Thankfully, there is a caveat that makes an item immune for 24 hours to the condition after targeting, preventing lockdown exploits. At 6th level, you can spend 1 Resolve Point to bypass this, attempting to target the item again.

 

But wait, was is that “glitched” condition? Items that are glitched don’t work properly. An item may make a Fortitude save at the start of each round to shake off the condition, using either its item level or the wearer/wielder’s Fortitude save, whichever is higher. On a failure, the item takes a penalty governed by item type, and an Engineering check can determine whether an item is glitching. Armor increases its armor check penalty and decreases maximum Dexterity bonus, while also imposing a negative speed adjustment. Augmentations can’t be activated or provide no benefits and same goes for computers or technological items. Vehicles lose access to special systems and become uncontrolled, though a pilot may attempt to counteract that with Piloting. Weapons take a -4 penalty to atk, save DCs of critical effects and special properties, if any. Interesting: This penalty doubles on natural 20s to determine critical hits – analog weapons are immune – nice catch! Tiny nitpick of a purely cosmetic nature – while it is apparent from context, archaic weapons should be exempt here as well; while most archaic weapons implicitly are analog as well, this RAW does not necessarily have to be the case. There is another component here that GMs should be aware of, namely that RAW, the combination of wireless hack and augmentations etc. allows for the targeting of potentially vital systems to maintain the life of targets – since wireless hack does not require line of sight, this may be relevant. Personally, I actually like this component for once, as it simply makes sense to me, and there is still a save. Still, it’s something to potentially bear in mind as a component that needs to be observed closely.

 

The pdf also features two 8th level mechanic tricks, both of which require the glitch item trick as a prerequisite. The first allows you to substitute inflicting the glitched condition for your regular critical effect, and the second is unique: When glitching weapons and exceeding the DC by 5 or more, you may cause the weapon if it misses by 5 or more to ricochet into a nearby creature instead. This accounts for the differences between melee and ranged weapons, and even AoE weapon effects properly, and as a reaction, you can spend 1 Resolve Point when using glitch item to improve the effects as per this trick. Interesting!

 

The rest of the pdf is taken up by the magelock spell, though one should probably instead call it “spells” – it is available for technomancers at spell levels 1 – 6, and lock out special abilities behind mental firewalls. This spell-group is very interesting, in that it allows you to prevent the use of anything from racial features to themes to spells or SPs. The unique component here would be that the pdf, for one, does account for class features that have a representation in the game world (such as drones), makes the level-based scaling matter, etc. – it also RAW does not eliminate prerequisite-used features or feats – the respective ability is locked down, but RAW, the follow-up abilities are not. While the respective and pretty detailed spell level notes seem feasible, a kneejerk reaction to this spell would be to consider it OP, but the option affected is random, UNLESS you have previously identified an ability of the target. In short: The power of this spell is utterly contingent on the PC’s roleplaying and how well they do their leg-work – and that is a design-paradigm I can get behind!

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules language level, apart from a who’s/whose glitch, I noticed no hiccups. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the pdf has a nice artwork, penned in Jacob Blackmon’s signature style. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

 

Alexander Augunas and Sasha Hall provide a surprisingly fun and impactful Star log.EM this time around; if there is one thing to complain about here, then that would be that the concept and condition would have deserved a Star Log.DELUXE-sized installment to realize their full potential. As provided, this is a tantalizing glimpse of a cool mechanic, one that, while potent, is tied in a way I absolutely love to the notion of rewarding good roleplay, as opposed to simply providing numerical boosts. The fact that every very potent use herein is, to a degree, linked to doing the right investigative things is a big plus for me. As such, this does receive a final verdict of 5 stars. Can I haz moar?

 

You can get this Star Log here on OBS!

 

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Endzeitgeist out.

Jul 032019
 

There are few books that have managed to open up entire new avenues of play for a given system, and fewer yet that have constantly managed to do that than Legendary Games’ exceedingly impressive Kingdom-building line.

 

Now, for the first time, they’ll be collected in one gigantic hardcover for your convenience – with brand new materials added as well. Oh,  and there are only 16 hours left for the kickstarter!

 

So yeah, this book is certainly one that I 100% can get behind – the components have made my Top ten time and again. This is an outstanding tome!!

 

You can check out the KS here!

 

All right, that’s it from yours truly!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

Jul 032019
 

Legendary Races: Wyrmtouched

This supplement clocks in at 46 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page introduction, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 28 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

So, what are wyrmtouched? As you could glean from the structure of the denoting compound, wyrmtouched are essentially a novel take on the draconic-heritage race; instead of assuming a singular cultural heritage, the race adheres to a similar origin paradigm as planetouched races, resulting in wyrmtouched being born to parents of different races, provided they have the requisite traces of draconic blood in their ancestry. The write-up thus assumes parental races for the physical vital characteristics, and then presents to provide the notes on alignment, adventuring, etc.

 

Racial stat-wise, the wyrmtouched have +2 Strength and Wisdom, -2 Dexterity, are Medium and are humanoids with the dragonkin subtype (properly codified, just fyi). They get a +2 racial bonus to Perception, and a properly codified primary bite attack for 1d6 damage. They have both darkvision and low-light vision, and a +2 racial bonus on saves vs. magical sleep effects and paralysis, and regarding creature type, they are treated as dragons. They also receive resistance 5 against the damage type of their supernatural breath weapon. This is chosen from among the 4 core energy types, and is either a 15-foot cone or a 30-foot line that may be used Constitution modifier times per day, minimum 1, inflicting 1d6 + Constitution modifier damage of the chosen energy type. 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter increase the damage output of the breath weapon by +1d6. All in all, a potent race, but one that I#d allow in all my games. Kudos!

 

A total of 17 different alternate racial traits are provided, and include natural armor instead of resistance, a powerful tail (properly codified) instead of resistance and low-light vision, and instead of breath and resistance, you can be Large. You could have vast lifespans, or get +1 HP per level at the cost of reduced speed and the loss of draconic resistance. You could also be Small, and application of these traits to generate sub-races is provided. This section deserves applause, in that it shows a very keen awareness of the power of all racial abilities and their respective payoffs. There is one alternate trait that may require a bit of oversight for some games – wyrm wings nets you flight from level 1 onwards, but only at a clumsy maneuverability and 30 ft., with higher levels later increasing that. While this does cost breath weapon, I personally prefer the “needs to end movement on solid earth or fall”-angle for the levels up to 5th, but then again, I tend to be pretty conservative when it comes to unassisted PC flight at low levels. The race does come with its own vital statistics, just fyi.

Want a wyrmtouched that is sourced from a specific dragon-class? Well, fret not – the supplement provides 8 (!!) different variant wyrmtouched, each with their own ability score modifiers, and they replace the racial Perception skill boost with another skill. Huge kudos: None of the options here are lopsided or jeopardize the intricate balance of the base race.

 

The supplement also provides a total of 12 different traits, all of which are properly grouped in trait categories. They allow for e.g. the sue of Wisdom instead of Constitution as governing ability score for wyrmtouched racial abilities, enhanced maneuverability with wings, increased DCs, etc. – the traits per se are in line with the proper power-level for them, and remain viable options that alter the experience of playing a wyrmtouched in a meaningful way – in short, they are really nice examples of what you can do with them.  The race also features a massive list of well-crafted favored class options for all Paizo classes (excluding ninja + samurai) – yes, this includes the ones from ACG and OA, as well as the vigilante and shifter. As a nice piece of service for folks like yours truly, the latter one’s write-up does provide an option to tweak it for the imho superior Legendary Shifter.

 

So, that would be the racial base-line, but we’re not even close to covering the amount of material featured within this book: The authors have obviously understood that, particularly for a race with an eclectic background like the wyrmtouched, there is a necessity to not just present them and let them stand as is; instead, the book realizes that a race ought to be more than just a write-up of a rules, that there is more to them. As such, the book explains the psychology and physiology of the wyrmtouched in commendable detail, as well as their culture. Note that this is not simply a section of background material – oh no! We do get notes on breath artistry duels (including the rules to supplement them!), a great narrative tool that makes sense on so many levels. I love it! From fashion to the relationship with magic to funerary customs, the book manages to present a truly encompassing and plausible, captivating portrayal of the race, with a sample community and even advice on adapting the race to your campaign provided! I was positively surprised in many ways by how well this whole section was presented.

 

The pdf includes a single race-exclusive archetype, the breath savant brawler, who needs to both have a breath weapon and a bite attack to select the archetype. In place of unarmed strike, these fellows increase the damage output of the breath weapon, as per its own table. EDIT: So, I read as a glitch what was intended design paradigm – the breath savant increases the base damage die of the breath weapon, and said increase may include multiple dice that function as a singular base damage die. This changes the tone of the archetype drastically and makes it solely suitable for higher-powered games – for my games, this’d be labeled over-powered and banned. HOWEVER, my initial reading that mistook base damage die increases of the breath weapon increase as the total actually makes for a super-easy way to retain the archetype even in lower-powered games without requiring design work by the GM.

The breath savant may decide to change damage type inflicted by the breath weapon via martial flexibility, and treats [breath] feats as combat feats for the purpose of the ability. Instead of brawler’s flurry, we have Unbound Breath Weapon (which allows you to use your breath weapon every other round and should have, imho, a minimum level such as 3rd or so – the archetype ignores prerequisites, so it’s weird that it gets the feat later, and unlimited breath with just one round of cooldown can be pretty potent) and Combat Breath Weapon (which lets you use the breath weapon as either part of an attack action, or as part of casting a spell with a casting time of 1 standard action, with the latter requiring the expenditure of a swift action; this feat has a 5th-level prerequisite, so here, the prerequisite ignoring makes sense) as bonus feats at 2nd level, with 6th level and every 6 levels thereafter allowing for the addition of an additional melee attack at cumulative -3 penalties when taking the attack action. 4th level replaces maneuver training with Flowing Breath – this feat eliminates Unbound Breath Weapon’s one-round cooldown and is situated at 3rd level prerequisites; note that, since the base breath weapon has the one-minute cooldown as well, this applies to both Unbound and non-unbound weaponry, in the former case unlocking unlimited breath weapons as soon as 3rd level. The AC bonus is replaced with +1 natural armor that increases further at 9th, 13th and 18th level. Knockout is replaced with torrent breath, 1/day maximizing breath weapon and increasing DCs by +2, with an additional daily use gained at 9th level and every 5 levels thereafter.  5th, 9th, 12th and 17th level make the natural attacks count as specific materials (scaling makes sense) for the purpose of overcoming DRs, replacing brawler’s strike. Instead of close weapon mastery, we have a bite attack damage increase based on breath weapon. While I’m not happy with unlimited AoE-attacks here, the archetype is pretty neat and probably won’t break the game of groups that do not adhere to a low and very conservative power-level.

 

The pdf also contains 4 other archetypes that may be taken by any race, but are particularly suited for wyrmtouched. One of these is the dragon touched, originally intended for the Legendary Shifter – the pdf notes that it may be rather strong for the regular shifter, and I concur with the assessment, adding just my 2 cents: You should be using the superior and more fun Legendary Shifter anyways. ;P Kidding aside, this guy is pretty much what it says on the tin – a shifter archetype that focuses on assuming draconic forms, using complex variations of form of the dragon  as a baseline.

 

The dragon champion vigilante modifies dual identity (retaining archetype compatibility) to instead have a draconic identity, with the archetype sporting a significant amount of different, exclusive vigilante talents that include a bite attack enhancer (which stacks with keen et al. – not a fan), an anti-dragon attack that works in conjunction with options from Asian Archetypes: Martial and Legendary Villains: Vigilantes, a Dazzling Display variant, a breath weapon (and another one for an upgrade), and wings (locked behind an appropriate minimum level). All in all, a nice one.

 

The scaled scion is a magus archetype, who gains an arcanist’s spellcasting, governed by Charisma (making it work in conjunction with the Legendary Magus), and the armor proficiency abilities are replaced with natural armor bonus and resistance, as governed by energy resistance. The final archetype would be the wyrm researcher alchemist, who alters mutagen to instead provide natural armor and energy resistance corresponding to the character’s associated dragon bloodline; the character has a reduced bomb damage, and instead of 2nd level’s discovery, we get claws, with 6th level gaining wings sans duration while under the mutagen. Minor nitpick: Here is an erroneous reference to feral mutagen instead of wyrm heart. 8th level provides the means to choose two unique discoveries (for bomb/breath admixture), and poison immunity is replaced with wing attacks and 18th level nets immunity to the chosen element instead of poison.

 

The pdf provides a rather massive feat chapter, with aforementioned [Breath] feats allowing for various modifications of the base engine, often at the cost of base damage die of breath weapons – we can find e.g. the addition of negative conditions of breath weapons. Cool: One of the alternate racial traits nets you blindsense 5 ft. – with a feat, you can close your eyes and extend that range. It’s so simple, but I love the visuals. Breath Weapon Admixture is obvious in what it does; Breath Weapon Artisan allows the character to modify the breath weapon to change the area of effect of the breath weapon. Lacing weapons with breath weapon energy, excluding spaces from it, gaining minor DR, a climb speed, no longer requiring a free hand for spell combat – quite a lot of options here. Particularly notable: Drake Style not only has 2 feats based on it, but 5!  The base Drake Style allows for wall-running (awesome) with a variant of attacking during the movement. The follow-up feats allow for the use of Drake Style in conjunction with living creatures, and you can catapult off of objects to further increase heights; higher levels allow for the addition of penalized attacks, etc. – Cool style!!

 

The chapter also includes a Vital Strike/bite synergy, for example – but there is more: The book has a whole sub-chapter devoted to legendary drakes – basically a companion engine for drakes. These guys only have head, headband, eyes, shoulder, neck, body, chest and 2 ring slots and do NOT count as animal companions. If they die, you do NOT gain a replacement. It takes years to gain a drake’s trust, thus making this a companion you do not want to throw into the meatgrinder.

 

The legendary drake companion requires a two-feat investment, with the first being a lame skill-enhancer that nets you a language and a better starting attitude for draconic beings. Their power is further capped by requiring additional feats to progress towards certain HD-caps. Legendary drakes have ¾ HD-progression (capped by the feat-based limits), ¾ BAB-progression, all saves progress to +9 over the 20 levels, and the companion has d12 HD. Skill ranks start as 3, and increase to 60 at 20th level. The companion begins with a feat and gains up to 8 feats over the course of the companion progression.

 

The drake companion begins play with darkvision and low-light vision, as well as immunity to sleep and paralysis effects. The drake increases natural AC by +2 at 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter, and ability score increases happen at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter. 6th, 13th and 20th level net a size increase. At 1st level and every 4 levels thereafter, the legendary drake gets to choose a drake power from a massive list. Here, we can find aligned damage, breathing in water, breath weaponry and further power-upgrades thereof, swim speed, climb speed, etc. The selection also features a variety of asterisk’d powers that modify the bite attack of the drake. Only one of these may be applied per bite, and yes, there is a feat that lets the drake choose an extra drake power. There are variant rules provided for agile drakes, better armored ones, and construct and undead drakes, with the latter two thankfully taking some serious hits regarding their base stats to account for the immunities and powers bestowed by their states. Serving as a mount does btw. require a drake power, and the pdf does include, aptly, a magic saddle for drake riders. The reduction harness is an all but required item, as it allows you to take your drake, you know, actually with you into that dungeon? Considering the steep penalty for losing a drake, a kind of drake extra life, the drake heart is certainly an item you should purchase/craft, and finally, there would be two iterations of drake’s crests which grant access to drake powers.

 

The pdf closes with Ti’ri Karn, a wyrmtouched brawler (breath savant) 5, who is unique – a wyrmtouched in her prime, living with humans has taught her the fragility of life and made her almost feels like a benevolent grandparent, a funny and pretty cool contrast to artwork and racial stereotypes. Her boon also highlights this, as she provides long-term care for friends and their animals alike.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are as a whole, very good on a formal and rules-language level. While there are a few minor components that can be construed to be hiccups, none really hampered the integrity of the rules provided. Layout adheres to legendary Games’ two-column full-color standard, with a blend of new and classic artworks provided for your edification. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Okay, to be honest, I didn’t really want to review this book. I’ve covered so many pseudo-draconic PC-races over the years, the concept quite frankly exhausts me and has lost pretty much all of its intrinsic appeal. I am happy to report that Loren Sieg, N. Jolly, Amber Underwood and Siobhan Bjorknas managed to actually put a new and creative spin on the concept. The notion of spontaneous exhibiting of draconic traits may be simple, but it’s actually one that provides a fresh take that colors the race in different shades. While the archetypes this time around did not exactly blow me away, and while some feats may require a bit of oversight for more conservative games, in its entirety, this is a surprising little triumph of a racial supplement. The flawless execution of the base race and its variants in particular in conjunction with the fact that the book devotes the time and space to make them actually feel like a race, like more than a combination of stats, must be applauded. In spite of my preconceptions and fatigue with the notion, I found myself actually charmed by the material within. The legendary drake companion, obviously intended for high fantasy, is a powerful, but not overbearing option for regular games, though one that, with its feat tax and steep danger making for a compelling angle.

 

Now, would I allow everything herein in all my campaigns? No. Particularly the stacking threat-range expanding is something that generally just needs to die a fiery death – and, obviously, this is not necessarily a supplement that I’d be using in a down-low and gritty dark fantasy game. But here’s the thing: The notion of draconic PCs and drake companions, to me, is inexorably linked with high fantasy; that’s clearly what the cadre of authors was going for, and that’s how I’ll rate this. And in this context? Heck yes, this is a resounding success. 5 stars + seal of approval.

 

You can get this well-crafted, flavorful race here on OBS!

 

Reviewing takes a lot of time and effort, and if you want to show your appreciation for it, please consider leaving a tip via direct donation, or by supporting my patreon. Every little bit helps!

Endzeitgeist out.

Jul 032019
 

20 Things: White Dragon’s Lair (system neutral)

This installment of Raging Swan Press‘ much-beloved dressing-series clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Okay, we begin the first page with 12 sample features for a white dragon’s lair – these include fields of ice stalactites that generate strange shadows, ice bridges over vast chasms, and the like. Odd: Entry number #2 starts with “As #3 above…”, when it should reference #2 instead. Anyhow, a snow-based cave-in with razor-sharp ice-shards or a frozen clump of dragon meals may be found here as well. The pdf also provides 8 sample dragon names for male and female dragons.

 

The second page contains 12 minor features for the dragon’s lair: These include frozen, disemboweled sods in the walls, frozen pools of incredibly slippery water, large snowdrifts and the like. 8 distinguishing marks for the dragons themselves are provided, ranging from livid scars to missing talons and impressive crests. Heterochromatic eyes or mottled scales may also be found here.

 

A list of 12 sample sights and sounds may be added to enhance the atmosphere of the dragon’s lair – from sudden gusts of howling wind to ice suddenly ripped loose to the grisly fate of a horribly mauled frost giant child crawling into view, these dressings are pretty grisly and emphasize the animalistic nature of white dragons. The page also provides a series of 8 suggestions for activities the dragon might be engaged in, as the PCs happen upon it. These range from admiring treasure to pretending to sleep or being away, hunting.  Only a few of these actually reference white dragon-specific activities – a tighter focus on white dragons would have been nice to see here.

 

More interesting would be the pretty massive 20-entry treasure and trinket selection, which includes beautiful battle-axes covered in frozen blood (metal!), diamonds hidden among ice crystals and the like – most of the entries here are great, though e.g. a generic unholy symbol would be the exception to the rule. 8 worn trinkets that the dragon actually brandishes have been included here, with golden rings on talon tips, a necklace wrought from a ton of smaller ones – and what about the box containing a lich’s phylactery? Yeah, these are cool.

 

The final page is devoted to a total of 20 entries of hoard dressing, which, for the most part, focuses admirably on the white dragon angle, with frozen yeti-corpses, frozen eagle feathers atop staves backpacks with snowshoes and the like putting a concise and well-executed emphasis on the snow and ice angle.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good. Layout adheres to Raging Swan press’ elegant two-column b/w-standard, with solid b/w-artworks included. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, and, as always, the supplement features two versions – one intended to be printed out, and one for screen-use.

 

Creighton Broadhurst’s dressing for white dragons is neat – we get an interesting array of options to flesh out draconic lairs, and while a tighter focus on white dragon specific entries would have been appreciated, as a whole, this is a neat dressing pdf well worth getting. My final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.

 

You can get this pdf here on OBS!

 

You can directly support Raging Swan Press here on patreon!

 

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Endzeitgeist out.

Jun 282019
 

Wormskin #8 (OSR)

The eight installment of the Wormskin-zine depicting the strange Ur-forests of Dolmenwood clocks in at 36 pages of pure content (laid out in 6’’ by 9’’/A5), not counting editorial, etc. As always, my review is both based on the print and pdf iterations of the ‘zine.

 

The OSR-ruleset employed within this book would be B/X (or Labyrinth Lord), but the rules can be pretty easily tweaked to work for other systems.

 

All right, so the first thing you’ll notice, is that the ‘zine, in its slumber has obviously received an aesthetic upgrade: Leafing through the pages, I was surprised to see full-color, original artworks for all of the monsters featured within, which this time around, would be 5 different fungus-themed foes, particularly suited for the lower end of the level-range. Artist Emma Lazauski did a pretty fantastic job here – you see, fungi creep me out. Seriously. And the fungi herein manage to both be creepy (at least to me) AND actually look…cute? This juxtaposition is  hard to achieve, and it elevated that section for me rather significantly. The monster-entries, as before, do come with sample traits that help the referee to differentiate between different individuals of the species and make them feel less run-of-the-mill. As since number #7, we no longer get the encounter and lair-sections for monsters in Wormskin, but in contrast to #7, I found I minded less here, courtesy of the installment focusing on unique creatures as opposed to NPCs.

 

That, and the artworks are a great replacement. Anyhow, what kind of fungi do we get? Well, there would be brainconks, semi-sentient bracket fungi that may be mewing and enjoy dropping on targets…to eat their BRAINS!! Beyond these, we have ambulatory fungi that can emit strobing pulses of light, and small pook morels that can emit horrific psychic impressions as a defensive measure. Massive ochre slime-moldy hulks can also be found,  but my favorite would be the wronguncle. These fungi have grown from the dead, fusing a psychic remnant with the fungus: This makes them think that they are the deceased person, and they just look for home, won’t you help? Well, you think twice, for they will slaughter everyone, going completely bonkers upon returning. These are thoroughly horrific, and with the sample home table to supplement this one, the wronguncle is one of my all-time favorite Dolmenwood critters. Strange, potentially funny and at the same time, horrific. Two thumbs up!

 

The installment also includes campaign rules. Yes, seriously. And oh boy, these are smart. They are a great example of Gavin Norman’s precise and refined writing, which marries the simplicity we expect from OSR-rules with pinpoint precision. Finding a camp site, the influence of weather and characters, setting the camp, fetching water, getting the fire going (yes/no?) and concisely codified evening abilities that can be resolved super-quickly: The camp rules have it all; they have mechanically-relevant rules for sleeping, watch (including rules for falling asleep), etc. – and there even are 30 different campsites with potentially mechanically relevant features.

 

These rules are brilliant: They allow for the resolution of the setting up camp section in mere minutes of playing time, facilitate adventure hooks insertion, reward capable PCs, etc. – in short, they are amazing. They are so elegant, I frankly will adapt them for more complex games as well. A capable referee could even slot them into games like 5e, Pathfinder, etc. This is easily my favorite rules-centric offering in the whole run of Wormskin so far!! It is seriously worth getting the ‘zine all on its own.

 

Beyond that, we also once more have a massive table that deals with the strange, magical waters that may be found within Dolmenwood’s glades and clearings. This table is a classic d30-table, covers 3.5 pages, and nets quite an array of different, intriguing effects – and yeah, there obviously is synergy with the camp rules, right.

 

For the fans of Dolmenwood, there is also another massive section that unveils another grand mystery of Dolmenwood, namely the “Sisters of the Chalice and the Moon”, the sisterhood of witches that pretty much represents the second massive cabal of magic-users you can find in Dolmenwood. And yes, this is a take on witches; it, at first glance, uses all the tropes you’d associate with a variety of witch tropes, does twist them in a genuinely interesting way that renders them, and dealing with them, rather…STRANGE. As it should be in Dolmenwood!

 

The massive article does contain notes on the occult symbolism of these witches, and the write-up does note schemes and goals, their relationships with other mighty factions of Dolmenwood. Beyond rumors, symbolism and the like, becoming a member of the sisterhood is covered – and yes, there is some intriguing material herein, and how the gender-theme is depicted, is rather cool. If you liked the write-up of the Drunes, you’ll also adore this one – and yes, I do love it. I will not spoil the truths of the sisterhood, as these are denoted as deep lore – secrets to be unearthed by the players while enjoying the game.


Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a one-column b/w-standard that uses neat touches of color to make the book more aesthetically-pleasing. Artworks are a blend of b/w-pieces in the pdf, and the supplement features amazing full-color artworks for the monsters. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, and the PoD, while briefer than previous Wormskin installments, is the version I’d recommend getting.

 

Gavin Norman penned everything herein, and he really upped his game. Meticulously precise, inspired and varied, the content herein is literally all-killer, no filler, making this installment not only my benchmark for the Wormskin magazine, but for all kinds of OSR-‘zines. This is a brilliant booklet that is inspiring in all the right ways. 5 stars + seal of approval, and this is a candidate for my Top Ten of 2018.

 

You can get this brilliant little ‘zine here on OBS!

 

If you have a dime to spare, I’d appreciate any support via direct donation, or by supporting my patreon. Thank you.


Endzeitgeist out.

Jun 282019
 

Occult Skill Guide: Restorative Ritual (SFRPG)

This Occult Skill Guide installment clocks in at 19 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 15 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

All right, as you could glean from the title, we have another great ritual to employ in SFRPG here, one that uses the rock-solid ritual-engine featured in the ritual-centric installments of this series previously. It should be noted that this is a stand-alone pdf – this means that all rules for the ritual base-engine have been included within, and that justifications of why rituals work and similar advice to implement them in your game also features within. (With the success of Grimmerspace, it should also be noted that implementation of the ritual engine seems like a perfect fit for that setting, but that just as an aside.)

 

Anyhow, I’ve already talked in length about the potent ritual engine in previous reviews of the series, so if you need guidance there, please do take a look at my reviews of the other ritual files – I’d rather take an in-depth look at the new material than repeat myself here. Okay, so first thing you’ll notice, is that the ritual doesn’t exist in a vacuum: Instead, it features two new technological items, the first of which is something I couldn’t believe wasn’t part of the core book – the handheld biometric scanner, which is a level 2 item. It requires the target to wear a hospital gown or the like, and allows you to make Medicine or Life Science checks to determine whether the target suffers from afflictions (and if so, which ones), and also determine whether the target suffers from corruptions. This takes a minute, so plenty of time to start thinking about means to fool the scan. A big plus here would be the smart way in which the DC to discern the nature of an affliction or corruption scales – only the presence of something odd has a fixed DC. I like that, as it does not hamper with narrative angles, while still providing information and progress. Kudos for this smart design decision.

 

The second item is actually really inexpensive for its level 4 item-level, but this is explained by its massive unwieldiness – a stasis unit, with 200 bulk, isn’t something you’ll be carrying around. It can hold a single creature of size Large or Smaller in suspended animation, and the process of awakening or being placed in stasis takes 1 hour. For the target, one day passes per 10 standard years. While they prevent mental atrophy, muscular atrophy is an issue – oh, and guess what? There actually is a properly statted “disease” that requires a victim to engage in a therapy regimen to be allowed to save. I like this – it once more puts the story in charge and makes the rules seamlessly support narrative angles. It should also be noted that the mere presence of stasis-units allows you to potentially really emphasize the vastness of space. If you e.g. love the good old classic “The Forever War” and always considered things like drift engines and the like to be detrimental for your conception of how a scifi/space opera game should behave, well, there you go – one item and all the stories about the ginormous nature of this vast space you could craft from it.

 

The ritual (categorized as belonging to the mageologic ritual school) featured within this installment would be the level 3 Restore the Broken Body, which requires 3 hours to execute – for the components, we need a biometric scanner, a stasis unit and a tier 3 computer; as a reagent, we require scrap computer components, nourishment agar, a break enchantment, a remove affliction and a 4th-level mystic cure spell chip. To qualify for being restored, the target creature must either be alive, or have died no more than 6 hours prior to the ritual’s start – this rather strict time-line obviously has quite a lot of potential for emergent play, as PCs hustle to try to get their fallen comrade back to their ship/base in time. The backlash for this ritual is pretty lenient – it only sickens and exhausts the targets; the ceremony itself is also comparably simple: The target is first stripped of equipment except biotech and personal augmentations that are essential for survival. The target is then thoroughly sterilized via Medicine or Life Science. After that, a pint of blood is drained from the body and provided to the scanner hooked up to the computer. The target is then placed in the chamber holding the nourishment agar, which, as a whole, requires three checks, including one for Computers/Engineering. After that, the computer scans the restoration chamber, determines nature and extent of damage sustained, and uses an overlay of an extrapolated genetic blueprint and biometric reconstruction drones (BRDs – as a German, that made me lol; around here, that stands for “Bundesrepublik Deutschland”) perfectly reconstruct the target.

 

Their capabilities properly codify their available medicinal level and Medicine bonus, and the ritual entails a brilliantly codified if/then system for additional effects – as noted before, the ritual can restore the dead back to life, heal poisons and diseases or break curses etc.; it can also heal ability drain and restore missing systems/body parts – the latter actually provides a concise sequence of how the ritual prioritizes them. Really cool! Finally, there also is the means to reduce corruption point total, allowing for interaction with the amazing corruption engine, also featured in this series. This, however, is NOT what made me smile most about this book – it’s impressive, sure – but guess what? The failure effect this time around is frickin’ brilliant. Each ritualist, on a failure, has a 50% chance of being subjected to flesh to stone, and additionally, the BRDs (*chuckles*) have a 50% malfunction chance that will cause the target Hit Point damage and actually worsen diseases or poisons, and they cause ability drain and ruin systems in sequence instead. My one complaint here would be that it would have been smart to codify the BRDs as either tangible or nanites – leaving that up to the GM is smart, but could result in a brief bout of confusion. Under the pretense that they are nanite-like, we have a pretty cool scenario, wherein PCs wake up from e.g. a TPK on board of a ship, surrounded by petrified folks, only to start suffering from mysterious ailments – finding out what happens makes for a great angle tinted with body horror.

 

The ritual is supplemented with a brief legend and two sample encounter-implementations. As before, we receive copious advice regarding the creation of our own rituals, which is amazing.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules language level – apart from a typo and the BRD-component, I noticed no hiccups. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the artworks provided by Jacob Blackmon are nice and lend a cohesive visual identity to the supplement. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Alexander Augunas is on a spree of knockout, awesome supplements with this series. I absolutely adore the Occult Skill Guides and what they represent. Not only do they emphasize the magical aspects of SFRPG, they do so in a manner that genuinely feels like magic that could exist in a space opera/scifi setting. Whether benevolent or horrific, this ritual allows for whole new angles, and allows a group to continue playing after suffering a TPK, which is always a plus. (So yeah, obviously a Mass Effect 2 plot-twist is very much in the cards with this!) All in all, I consider this and its vast potential to be well worth the low and fair asking price. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval. (Seriously, if you even remotely like the idea of a more magical setting, or if you are as excited for Grimmerspace as I am, do yourself a favor and buy the whole product line now. It’s worth every cent.)

 

You can get this amazing ritual here on OBS!

 

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Endzeitgeist out.

Jun 272019
 

Galaxy Pirates: Ships – Katar Gunship (SFRPG)

This Ship-supplement clocks in at 8 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

All right, first things first: We actually get two ships herein: They are represented by the same artwork, which is represented in both paper-mini-versions and as a massive one-page artwork, and we get filled-out spaceship-sheets for both of them.

 

The regular Katar gunship is a tier ½ Small shuttle with common crew quarters, a basic computer and budget short-range sensors. Powered by an arcus light power core and equipped with basic 10 shields, the vessel is armed with a gyrolaser and surprisingly neat mk 4 armor and defenses. Expansion bay-wise, we have cargo holds.

 

The heavy gunship also has common crew quarters, a basic computer and budget short-range sensors, and it is powered by an arcus light power core. At tier 1, it does have better shields (basic 20), and the same mk 4 armor and defenses as the base model. The main difference is within the offensive capabilities, with a light torpedo launcher on port and starboard side joining the forward facing gyrolaser.

 

Both ships get their own, proper Computers-table that helps your PCs determine how much they know about the ships in question. Both ships each get their own brief flavor text that notes how many troops/cargo may be transported, including e.g. how many folks in powered armor (erroneously referred to as “power armor” in one of the most common hiccups in SFRPG) – nice, and cool to see this going the extra mile!

 

Speaking of which: In spite of the vessels’ relatively small sizes, we do get a rather detailed full-color map of the ship-type, which really made me smile. The map is really great – you can see the details on the pilot’s nav-screen!

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level – both ships check out mechanically, in case you were wondering. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length. Getting a full-color artwork, handout and full-color map? Awesome.

 

Paul Fields and Jim Milligan provide a neat little pdf here – one that goes one step beyond. Convenient, well-wrought, and fun, this is well worth 5 stars + seal of approval.

 

You can get this cool supplement here on OBS!

 

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Endzeitgeist out.

Jun 272019
 

Wormskin #7 (OSR)

The seventh installment of the Wormskin-zine clocks in at 70 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 64 pages of content – a massive bunch, so let’s dive in!

 

As always, the OSR-rules employed within this supplement are intended for use with B/X or Labyrinth Lord, but are easy enough to translate to other settings.

 

All righty, we begin this installment of Dolmenwood with a massive table-assortment penned by Gavin Norman, Brian Richmond and Greg Gorgonmilk, one that features a significant assortment of common names to be found in Dolmenwood: D30 human male and female names as well as surnames can be found; a similar array of elven names is provided for males and females, using colorful epithets akin to those employed by the fairy (like: “Betrothed to the Blood Sun”); beyond those,w e get 30 moss dwarf and woodgrue names, and then grimalkin names and surnames. The latter are ridiculously funny, using cutesy drivel either sincerely or ironically – no one can be sure. Beyond that, we get cleric names in Liturgic and honorifics, and similar titles/nick-names are presented for fighters, thieves and magic-users as well.

 

The second article, penned by Mr. Norman in conjunction with Brian Richmond, deals with henchmen in Dolmenwood. The methods are simple – go to a civilized location, roll 2d6 (akin to reaction) and add Charisma modifier; this’ll be compared to a brief table, and you’ll have applicants. Further modifiers may apply. After this, you roll 1d100, 1d6 and 1d4 to determine character class, age, and sex. Then you roll 1d30 to determine equipment and spells, if applicable. The d30 table differentiates between classes and non-combatants properly, and yep, the classed folks get tables. Add a few more d30s: Personality, motivation and ambition. There you go – instantly useful and cool – really like this generator.

 

The book does change the depiction of monsters in Wormskin a bit, and many of these changes make sense: Some monsters could e.g. have (S) as a shorthand descriptor next to their name; this would indicate that the creature is only harmed by silver or magic weapons. A few such annotations are provided, and they make sense; they make the game run smoother. The second choice made here is something that makes the critters more in line with standard presentation – the book gets rid of the lair and encounter-sections. While it thankfully retains the Traits-section to customize individuals of the respective critter, this still takes a bit of the drop and play adventure hook characteristics of the critters away; now, I don’t miss that stuff for e.g. the Audrune, Drunewife, moss dwarf, witch or woodgrue (this one crafted with Greg Gorgonmilk) stats, as these are basically NPCs; I also don’t need this stuff for the new goatman subtype, the crookhorn (think diseases Chaos beastmen – basically the savage and really nasty goatmen), but for e.g. the stranger and more far out creatures, the like always served to jumpstart my imagination. Beyond the NPC-stats I mentioned above, the book offers two variants of giant snails – rapacious and psionic ones, but my favorite is the stag-skulled antler wraith, which, while not mechanically that novel, just has a great concept…and no, they’re not undead. Still, I wasn’t as blown away by this monster section, probably due to the focus on NPC stats.

 

Now, this installment of Dolmenwood is more focused than most, in that it does contain a vast amount of Hex-descriptions – thrice the amount as usual: 21 hexes of Dolmenwood are depicted in this installment.

 

It should be noted that I will comment on a couple of the hexes below; I will not go through all of them, endeavoring to provide an overview. That notwithstanding, the following will contain SPOILERS; if you want the best experience playing Dolmenwood, please jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

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All right, only referees around? Great! So, the first section covers the area surrounding Drigbolton (which is further detailed in the “The Weird that Befell Drigbolton” module), and features the hall of the Fomorian (one of two entries in that section that has been penned by Greg Gorgonmilk) – a blue-skinned, immortal 18 ft. giant, with a grim hell of black iron, an odd smudge-like thing as a cyclopean eye, a beard of wriggling, earthworm-like things hanging from his face; this titan is awaiting a man named Jack, who will be entrusted stewardship of the emerald tablets…for good or ill…There is a cottage, where ghosts meet nightly to share secrets…and there would be the mysterious and rather strange ruins of Midgewarrow, where an immaculately clean and obviously magical tower contains a sleeping beauty…alas, placed in stasis because she still carries the plague that wiped out the town, awaiting the return of someone to cure her. Love how this twists the classic concept. A lady can also be found here, and from the avernal lake to the toll bridge held by crookhorn goatmen (and their nasty local leader), the material is pretty cool.

 

The second array of hexes would be the area east of Prigwort, where barrow bogs haunted by bog zombies; A lonely stretch of the wild also contains the home of the mighty Stag Lord. Granted. He’s been decapitated and stumbles around, looking for his skull…but nobody’s perfect, right? And hey, that may well eb a nice angle. The refuge of St. Keye represents the final remnant of the once mighty abbey of St. Clewd’s influence – now, it is basically a pilgrimage site/waystation inn. Inspired and weird: The hexes include the moss dwarf village of Orbswallow, where strange trees grow breast-like fruits, while other trees deliver fruit depending on the phase of the moon. This also contains a rumor section – and the material is pretty awesome. Portals to the domain of the Earl in Yellow may be found in the fairy-favored Golden Wood. A gate formed of living trunks and branches forming a tunnel, decorated with thousands of carvings and love notes, may be passed, and strange, face-like components in the trees address those passing – a great introduction to the strangeness of Dolmenwood. Of course, there are mysterious monuments and stone with properties most magical to be found as well.

 

The final hex-array covers the area stretching from Lankshorn to Dreg – here, we can also find ancient stones guarded by an Audrune, and the gloriously illustrated hut of Shub’s Nanna, waited on by silver-skinned goblins, oozes wonder in a cool twist of the witch/hag-angle. A buried titan’s skull may be found – and the hexes include a great inn that turns out to be safe, but haunted, making for a potentially creepy, if intriguing night. The sacrifice site of Antler Wraiths is creepy indeed, and we get first glimpses at Dreg and Shantywood Isle. Another favorite of mine: There is a nice tent, where PCs can get healing and a pleasant tea – but the tent isn’t actually real, being just an illusion wrought by  a dreaming psionic snail.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard with colored highlights, and the b/w-artworks included are really neat. The pdf version comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The PoD-softcover that I own features the name on the spine and is something I can recommend.

 

Gavin Norman, with additional material by Greg Gorgonmilk and Brian Richmond, provides ample bang for your buck. The hexes are imaginative and intriguing, and the henchman generator is super useful. The name generator is also rather intriguing, making this, as a whole, a great installment. The monster section, while very good, is the only aspect of this installments that didn’t utterly blow me away, courtesy of the NPC-focus. Still, a highly recommended supplement, well worth a final verdict of 5 stars.

 

You can get this cool ‘zine here on OBS!

 

If you’re enjoying my reviews, please consider leaving a direct donation or supporting my patreon here – every little bit helps!

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jun 262019
 

Bloodlines & Black Magic

This massive campaign setting/supplement clocks in at 258 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page KS-thanks, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 252 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Okay, so first of all, it’s pretty evident that, with a book of this size, a detailed analysis of every piece of mechanical content within would bloat this review beyond any utility (and probably drive me stark, raving bonkers), so please be aware that I’m interested in the big picture regarding this game/supplement.

 

So, Bloodlines & Black Magic isn’t simply a campaign setting for PFPRG – it is, in the parlance of old-school games, a so-called “hack”; i.e. a heavy modification of the base engine and its assumptions. The requirement of these heavy modifications is predicated on the setting, which assumes our own modern world, as seen through a glass darkly. Setting and rules are entwined in this game/setting to a degree that is rarely seen, and no concept encompasses this notion more than the underlying “O7”, Occult 7 assumption. Bloodlines and Black Magic assumes a maximum character level for the PCs of 7th, building on the tradition of E6-based games that began to spring up during the heyday of the d20-era.

 

This obviously has a couple of mechanic repercussions; for one, it means that the game takes place exclusively within the frame of what most people consider to be the “sweet spot” of PFRPG, i.e. where the math and rules work best. Important to note, though, would be the fact that this cap does not apply to adversaries and supernatural beings, which means that the playing experience remains one of danger throughout. The emphasis of the game is centered more on a narrative angle, and on the use of brains over brawn. This change of focus is also represented in a variety of different assumptions regarding the game itself – for example, the book explicitly states that the vast majority of humans in the world only are 1st level commoners or experts, establishing a generally low power-level. Similarly, the game focuses not on grinding for XP – every encounter is supposed to have meaningful repercussions, and in a world, where many of us are time-starved, I most certainly can get behind this general notion. This also means that prep-time for the GM remains pretty manageable – and if you’re like me and had to redesign a whole AP’s monsters time and again to make them challenging for your players and PCs, you’ll most assuredly appreciate this.

 

Rules-wise, there is progression beyond 7th level – when you’d attain the 8th level, you’d get a bonus feat or the option to a class feature, though such features must be taken in sequential order that you’d usually gain them. These changes of durability obviously require some knowledge from the GM, but thankfully, the book does contain an assortment of different pieces of advice regarding the implementation of the rules within, which e.g. also extend to how magic items are handled, feasible caps for gold and CRs and the like. With “only” 7 levels of play, level 1 – 2 are called “novice”, 3-4 expert, 5-6 “veteran” and level 7…? Well, these are legends.

 

Character base power-level assumes either 4d6, rolled 6 times, dropping the lowest result, or point-buy, which ranges from 10m to 14 and 21. Ability scores cap at 19 at the start of the game, and at 21 later – this is the maximum your character can attain. Ability score increases are awarded at 3rd and 7th level.

 

So that would be the mechanical foundation – but you’re probably asking yourself at this point where the whole “occult” angle comes into play. Well, let me get to that: You see, the assumption of the setting is pretty classic, in that it assumes a hidden, magical reality. Our perceived subjective reality is deemed to be an illusion, one crafted by the so-called Archons – who are basically the supernatural masters of the world. These individuals are NOT kind, they are NOT caring, and they have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. They rule via essentially institutionalized and culturally perpetuated control mechanisms, and as such, a selection of global elites act as potential agents for the agenda of Archons, willing or ignorant. The notion of elites controlling the world is very much real herein. The Archons have instigated the current order in part as a response to the Goetic Spirits from Christian mythology, which, while mostly banished from the civilized and established order of the Archon’s society, these spirits still retain their power, and haunt the natural world, allowing you to potentially explore the notions of civilization vs. nature on a supernatural level. These entities are also not benevolent, in case you were wondering.

 

The inability of most humans to perceive the truth is based on the “Veil” – if that reminded you of Pelgrane Press’ excellent Ocean Game settings, you’d be partially correct. The Veil establishes a combination of mundane and supernatural membrane of sorts; the combination of talent and cultural conditioning in association with very real power simply makes a majority of supernatural occurrences not something that may be properly processed – at least not without being deemed as insane by the current cultural paradigm. In a way, this makes Bloodlines and Black magic more plausible to me than Ocean Game, for the setting’s core tenets do assume that, you know, the majority of people and their world-view shape what is deemed to be “truth” regarding a world, its laws and what may or may not happen. With magic potentially eliminating the cold and hard facts of reliable empirical evidence, the notion of the supernatural becomes essentially impossible to prove or disprove, and even the notion of its existence becomes fraught with peril.

 

This is a leitmotif of sorts, for while most characters receive the Pierce the Veil feat at 1st level, which allows them to see this world’s equivalent of the Real, or at least a higher-level symbolic order in terms of Lacanian psychosemiotics, this is not a trait shared by the common populace – and as such, the explanation of the maintenance of ignorance and Veil is ultimately very plausible without requiring elaborate conspiracies to maintain: There is no competence required by a shadowy cabal, as the conventionalized and preconceived notions of reality act as a control mechanism in and of themselves. This is, as far as I’m concerned, an incredibly clever way of dealing with the very concept underlying the book…and, in a clever further take, this, as most scholars will know, is also something that pretty much represents the notions of pretty much every occult world-view perpetuated throughout the ages: the hidden world, and how it is closer to a divine “truth” that helps transcending the limits of mortality and our day to day condition humana.

 

Those would be central leitmotifs, and at this point, you probably do get what this book is about; to dive more into the respective details:

 

Bloodlines and Black Magic has a smart trait system, with each trait representing the type of awakening to the truth of the world, and each of them has been associated with one of the tarot deck’s arcana, once more tying mechanics to in-and out-game practice – you can literally “draw” your trait, if you’re so inclined. These also are studded with actual flavor that serves to further underline the depth and integrity of the subject matter. “What is the smell of the number 7, or the taste of the color orange, or the wisdom in the hummingbird’s song? You saw some sliver of this enlightenment…” to quote one of the different flavor-texts. Much to my pleasure, the rules-integrity of these traits is pretty impressive, using untyped bonuses only in instances where highly circumstantial applications make stacking very much intentional, and otherwise, with pinpoint precision, choosing bonus types rather well. Okay, there is one instance of a capitalized “Dodge” in a “dodge bonus”, but other than that, this is a pretty impressive engine tweak that serves to cohesively highlight the distinct nature of the game.

 

The game also knows a threshold score – a value that reflects how well the PC can cope with supernatural weirdness. If the Cr or spell level is equal to or less than your level, you can seamlessly process it as part of your reality; anything higher requires a so-called Paradigm check, a Will save vs. DC 10 + level or CR + situational modifiers. Failing this check sees a paradigm shift in the world-view of the character, and this is more than just a type of sanity; since the “sane” world is an arbitrarily-defined and contextualized concept, perception or reality and indeed, how the world interacts with the character, may be influenced. This is, in short, a kind of Entfremdung (estrangement) from the natural order that may manifest in a plethora of different and exciting ways that can range from the paranoia-inducing to the wondrous, but weird. The fact that the book chooses to go this way is exceedingly smart, as it sets the game apart from all other sanity-based systems, instead proposing a world-view once more in line with several Gnostic models. A failure in a Paradigm check also nets you Paradigm Points. Resting 8 hours lets you reduce these by up to character level, and whenever Paradigm points reach a total of threshold times 5,m the maximum threshold increases by 1, resets to 0 and at every odd threshold score, you gain an oddity – a semi-supernatural effect that represents one of the positive results stemming from estrangement from the perceived and conventionalized reality – like being loved by birds, having tattoos seemingly move once in a while and the like. In a way, this score could be seen as a dual representation of how far you may see beyond the conventionalized reality, but also as a means to determine how estranged from the lived in world of a majority of the populace you have become. In short: It is very clever.

 

In the absence of fantastic races, the eponymous bloodlines take the place of what we usually would associate with racial features. 7 such bloodlines are provided, and they adheres to the usual +2/+2 to an ability score paradigm. While there are instances here where bloodlines tend to be e.g. more suitable for certain classes (due to e.g. a focus on two boosts to ability scores), the changed paradigms resulting from O7-gameplay and the lack of escalation regarding stats actually mean that these lopsided racial traits matter less and thus are exempt, for once, from my usual derision regarding such a focus. The book also does not present a unified race for each bloodline, instead opting to provide a BP-budget (7, of course!) that you can spend for individualized racial abilities granted by your magical bloodline. It should also be noted that trauma, saving a life and the like may all result, in a way, in you exhibiting a bloodline or activating your latent powers.  It should also be noted that this section mentions magical diseases that affect said bloodlines…

 

But how does that work with weirdos curing wounds left and right? It doesn’t. Bloodlines and Black Magic does something I’m a huge fan of – it limits the available character classes to prevent a sense of suspension of disbelief-breaking assumptions implicit in many classes. The 7 classes available for play are brawler, investigator, mesmerist, occultist, psychic, slayer and spiritualist. These choices, to me, are smart, and modified class tables for the classes are provided, with all the relevant features – you don’t need e.g. ACG or Occult Adventures to make use of this game. Skills have also been expanded and adapted, with Computers, Craft (chemicals) (which includes rules to make drugs, explosives and poisons and the like),l Craft (electronics) or Craft (mechanical) tightly codified. Street replaces Knowledge (local) and Knowledge skills have been tightly redefined. Drive, obviously, also is included.

 

A crucial difference in Bloodlines and Black Magic would btw. be that e.g. learning about how guns are used actually reduces your nonproficiency penalty – the system allows for the learning of skills and character growth via roleplaying as a hard-coded components of its intrinsic assumptions – something I wholeheartedly applaud. Beyond the race and class, a character in Bloodlines and Black Magic has a career, distinguishing between 6 general career groups, and denoting salary by one of 4 tiers within the respective career – PCs are assumed to range in the 1 – 3 tier region, but the table does note the tier 4 information as well. These come with monthly income modifiers, associated skill groups and a selection of talents grouped by tier, which represent a meaningful second array of character features – almost like you had gestalted lite. Each career also has associated ability score modifiers, in case you were wondering. There also are non-path careers, which are more suitable for NPCs or as secondary careers – these only have 1 tier.

 

The chapter that deals with feats not only presents a massive amount, it also clearly places the control in the hands of the GM, but also provides guidelines for the players, emphasizing once more conceptual and setting integrity over the sheer mechanical aspects of the game. Some feats, like Improved Dodge, just list their modified prerequisites. And you’ll love your dodge bonuses, for Bloodlines and Black Magic does not assume there to be a wide availability and use of armors, instead focusing on what we would consider a more “!realistic” approach. Drawbacks and flaws are also ingrained within the system, and the book champions something I very much enjoyed, namely degrees of proficiency with regards to language – it takes 3 ranks to truly master a language, getting rid of one of the most aggravating aspects of core PFRPG.

 

Of course, a modern context also requires a proper gear-chapter, which include covering fire, burst fire, automatic fire, spray and pray attacks, aiming and easy to implement recoil mechanics. While guns are great and all…they once more interact with the core assumptions of the game in unique ways: If you can Pierce the Veil, you also become known to the respective entities, and gunsmoke-blessed creatures, which are immune to firearms, may well be attracted to characters under the delusion of being Rambo or Ahnooold. This is not a game of mowing down legions of mooks.

 

Armor, in case you were wondering, does btw. have a DR and a damage total they can absorb before requiring repair/replacement – this is clever, in that it helps well-equipped teams to prepare – it emphasizes brains over brawn, preparation and smarts and legwork over murder-hoboing.

 

Magic btw. is influenced by potent sites and holy days, and in-game, there are 7 occult schools (with traditional spell schools noted in brackets) – and magic must be handled carefully. The base assumption is that, normal people just snap when confronted with irrefutable proof of magic. Lobbing that fireball in the crowd? It’ll seriously frenzy the targets, as their worldview can’t cope properly, making your situation much more dire. Once more, the application of magic isn’t nerfed explicitly, it instead uses implicit restrictions that reward engaging with the setting within the internal logic it presents, while punishing behavior that would contradict the internal assumptions. It does so in a way, though, that is very much not punitive, but rather an extension of risk-.reward ratio calculations that PCs and NPCs both need to be aware of. Spells include means to broadcast visions, glitch mechanical or technological items, and with sing the tenfold song of essential names, the target is forced to sing the names of their ancestors, in the process revealing their true name…  Speak with the soul of the city allows you to contact the genius loci of a city and ask it questions, and rituals are handled with the much-beloved incantation-engine, which folks will know from Kobold Press, zombie Sky Press, Storm Bunny Studios, Drop Dead Studios, etc..  A couple of cantrips for pseudo-awakened commoners are also included.

 

Annie Oakley’s Silver, Cortana, the shortsword of Ogier the Dane, the cards of Crowley – the book contextualizes magic items and implements and the like in a way that makes them feel more relevant. As an aside – yes, the book does have a planar model: The ethereal world represents the ghost world, the astral is the realm of ideas, and both celestial and infernal planes are places you really don’t want to end up. Trust me. To facilitate integration of PFRPG content, there is a magical currency introduced, one called “dosh”, and the book presents a surprisingly concise array of pieces of advice that allow the Gm to better implement the game’s assumptions and craft plots. NPC classes, notes on the Archons and their suspected abilities…oh and did I mention the secret societies? They not only come with flavorful write-ups, they also provide feat unlocks, and several signature abilities. From the order of St. Cyprian to Umbra Dei to the Omeag Association, there are plenty of unique and fun ones here – and it is pretty obvious what the real life inspirations for many of them are. Why not use the proper names? Well, if you’re even remotely familiar with the occult community(ies), you’ll know that some of these lodges and orders don’t take kindly to having them made more public – or to have their names used in certain contexts, so it’s also a means to avoid litigation.  The book also provides a serious array of brief fluff-only sample personalities, several templates, and the final chapter is devoted to powerful sovereigns – agents of higher power, who come with full stats. This chapter also provides stats for a Goetic Spirit, which makes it pretty evident that it’s a bad, bad idea for PCs to attempt to tackle these guys sans a serious plan.

 

It should also be noted that the book contains a very unique character sheet that is aesthetically-pleasing, pretty round, and while book (smartly) devotes a couple of pages to explain how to use it, it actually works rather well.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a rules language level, good on a formal level – I noticed e.g. one of the NPCs missing half a sentence among the section talking about associates and similar minor hiccups, but less of them than in previous Storm Bunny Studios books. Layout adheres to a surprisingly elegant 2-column b/w-standard, and the game comes with a unified aesthetic regarding its copious original b/w-artworks. This is an aesthetically-pleasing book, with, paradoxically, the cover being one of my least favorite pieces within. The book comes fully bookmarked with a plethora of nested bookmarks, making navigation simple. I unfortunately can’t comment on the virtues or lack thereof of the print version, since I do not own it. I really wish I did.

 

Okay, so first things first: This book did not get the attention it deserved during its kickstarter phase, and how it managed to come out this way, with such a shoestring budget, it seriously beyond me. In contrast to many such projects, the creators believed and continue to believe in the game, and continue to put out content – which I am btw. sure to cover. Seriously, though: It’s perhaps due to the pitch. O7 modern sounds pretty niche, when it really isn’t, at least once you grasp the appeal.

 

This is not yet another half-baked attempt to jam d20-based rules into a modern context not made for it; instead, Bloodlines and Black Magic ultimately represents a serious deviation from pathfinder’s core assumptions in playstyle, structure, power-level and underlying assumptions regarding power – all while retaining full compatibility with the system. This is a pretty impressive feat and means that you get to play a radically different game without learning new rules.

 

Clinton Boomer, Jaye Sonia, with development and design by Matt Banach, Stephen M. DiPesa, Erik Frankhouse, Tim Hitchcock, Ben McFarland, Justin Sluder, Brian Suskind, Bri A., and Mark R. Lesniewski, have created a book that knows one thing: “The Devil is in the Details” – both regarding what makes sense, and what can bring down a book; the previous weaknesses of Storm Bunny’s exciting settings often could be chalked up to small stumbling stones, and in this book, it is my pleasure to report that, while there are editing glitches herein, while not all feats may be exciting, the entirety of the book works in a way that no other modern d20-based game has for me.

 

It is detail-oriented in the right way; the focus away from super-heroic antics to the occult is smart; the implementation of the concept of the Veil and its repercussions on the world, from how the classes and their restrictions interact, from the gear to the magic, this entire book is very deliberately constructed by a cadre of inspired authors who obviously knew what they were doing. This works so well, because it doesn’t try to divorce setting from system, because it makes the correct incisions and expansions, and because all those design decisions are ultimately informed by one central demand, one core paradigm, namely the requirement to make the game feel concise and unique. In short: This game (and I consciously call it “game” and not “campaign setting”) is ultimately an impressive achievement that showcases how true passion can transcend limitations. How good is this? Well, it genuinely made me regret not being more excited about this before.

 

And here lies the crux – even with all my ruminations herein, you’ll only have touched upon the collective of small and concise design decisions that ultimately make up the collective appeal of this book, something that vastly transcends the sum of its parts, courtesy of a focused and smart vision that knows exactly what it wants to be and executes its vision without compromise. This may not have a “sexy” elevator pitch, but if modern dark fantasy or horror, if the occult or modern gaming even hold the remotest appeal for you, then please check out this book. This may genuinely be the best thing Storm Bunny Studios has released so far, a compelling vision like no other. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval, and this also receives a nomination as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2018.

 

You can get this inspired campaign setting/rules-tweak here on OBS!

 

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Endzeitgeist out.