The Top Ten of 2014 (Only about 5 months late!!)
As every year, the following selection is very much a reflection of my personal tastes, less one of objective quality (how can one compare a crunch-book to a module, a 40-page module vs. a 300+page mega-adventure?), though only superb products can be found on this list. One more thing – this year saw some glorious KS-books released, but also quite a few that were funded sans KS.
The biggest surprise to me were the “small” new publishers. Both Mór Games and SagaRPG came out of the blue to deliver some truly glorious modules.
I’m very much excited where these will go!
Finally, I only recently received the Thunderscape books by Kyoudai games, missing the cut-off date – these will not fall through, but rather become eligible for inclusion in my Top Ten of 2015. The same holds true for the Liber Influxus Communis by Amora Game and Sword of Air by Frog God Games.
First, let me provide my honorable mentions:
These 3 candidates have since their release been updated and expanded into the upcoming Strange Magic compilation. That is the only reason they’re not on this list. Suffice to say, Strange Magic will be a hot contender for my no 1 of 2015!
Laying Waste: The Guide to Critical Combat by TPK Games
I always preferred more complex critical systems over the bland bonus damage that is the default. The hit/fumble-decks by Paizo were not enough for me, so this immediately saw fervent use at my table and continues to be beloved for the grittiness it provides. However, at the same time, it does not cover magical/alchemical crits, which are scheduled to be covered in a sequel-book. Since said, as of yet unreleased sequel could ruin the whole system, unlikely though that may be, this beloved book only receives an honorable mention.
Rise of the Drow by AAW Games:
This glorious, massive campaign is the best drow-centric campaign I’ve ever run. It is evocative, brilliant and in any other year, it would have made the list. I urge all fans of drow to check it out…but for me, in spite of its brilliance, it was a tad bit more conservative than the modules that have made the list.
Dunes of Desolation by Frog God Games:
I got ready to loathe this book immediately – how dare it quote one of my favorite boxed sets of all time? I was utterly wrong. This environmental book is not only a superb sourcebook, it is also a collection of stellar adventures. The only reason this absolutely awesome book isn’t on the list is the player-centric crunch, which, while not bad, isn’t 100% up to the awesomeness of the rest of the book. Still, an absolute must-have!
Without further ado, here are the superb books that made the list!
Number 10: Ultimate War by Legendary Games
In the air, above and below the waves and on land, this book by Legendary Games makes warfare and mass combat work infinitely more fluid, more complex and ultimately, fun. Pun intended.
Number 9: Obsidian Apocalypse by LPJr Design
This campaign template to bring various apocalyptic endgames to one’s campaign resonates with me on a very fundamental level – if my nickname wasn’t ample clue, I enjoy the truly dark scenarios and this provides a DM with a huge toolbox to scavenge from, allowing you to ignore the few not so great pieces herein – which remain the only reason this isn’t higher on the list. An awesome box of delightfully nasty options!
Number 8: Age of Electrotech by Radiance House Publishing
I love myself some super-science in my game – from technology to steampunk to stormpunk and whatever floats your boat, this campaign template/surcebook allows you to insert one of the best classes currently available as well as iconic concepts/items galore into your game – whether you’re playing Iron Gods, Rhûne, Pure Steam or anything else.
Number 7: Twin Crossing by AAW Games:
Didn’t expect to see that one here, hmm? Well, a module that does SO MANY innovative things in one book, that dares to be radically different in so many ways, from the lack of a BBEG, to partying PCs and a focus on commerce just deserves the accolades. This constitutes a prime example of AAW Games’ changed quality-over-quantity-premise that so positively reflected on so many of their latest releases.
Number 6: Psychological Combat by Everyman Gaming:
“I try to draw it’s ire!” “All right, roll…what again?” This humble pdf fixes one of the most glaring holes in PFRPG’s rules. It’s concise and is used in literally every PFRPG-game I play. A must-have for a ridiculously low price.
Number 5: Cyclopean Deeps Vol. I by Frog God Games:
There are two underdarks for me – and both have received the best incarnations in modules I’ve ever read this year – modules that truly GET what the underdark ought to be about. While AAW Games’ Rise of the Drow has covered the underdark’s more civilized upper regions, where relatively humanoid-centric civilizations rule, Cyclopean Deeps goes further below – to the place where uncanny valley, sword & sorcery and spelunking mix, to the depths where no mortal returns from. Steeped in a blend of science and lovecraftiana, suffused with old-school style and obviously ample reading of the classic 2nd edition dungeoneer’s guide, this book is the only one I could mention that manages to evoke a form of indirect story-telling akin to the Demon/Dark Souls games in such a degree of mastery.
Number 4: The Secrets of the Masquerade Reveler by Rite Publishing:
What more can I say that I haven’t said in my review? This is the balanced tier 1 martial. The fluff-rich god-archetype to squash all archetypes. The imho best archetype currently available for PFRPG. A masterpiece in design and execution, a perfect example of all that is awesome about Mark Seifter’s design and Rite Publishing’s mastery of high-concept books. Oh, and it reads better than quite a few novels I’ve read.
Richard Develyn is currently my favorite adventure author. With an unbroken string of 5 modules that made this list (with last year’s modules making No. 1!), his record is bound to last quite a while – and there’s a reason for that. Each of Richard’s modules is ART. Yes, capital letters art. They read well, they play even better. And then there’s this one thing that sets him apart.
Most authors have a distinct style and excel in it – take Richard Pett or Nicholas Logue – masters of horror. Greg A Vaughan – next to no one can make fantastic vistas come to life this well. Wolfgang Baur – a master of evoking the mythological, the fantastical and evoking true magic. Richard Develyn does something different – like a chameleon, he alters his style with every module he writes. If I didn’t know better, I’d assume them to be from different authors. Each module is vastly different in style and execution, but all have in common that they are utterly SUPERB, still retain an unifying voice and demonstrate an almost effortless-seeming level of mastery in their respective fields. My players constantly bug me for new modules. They ask to replay them. (!!!) And sometimes, I quite frankly oblige. Add to that the fact that they’re just 4 bucks each and you should realize how good this year’s offerings were to move these superb modules to the bronze-position.
Number 2: Zeitgeist Act One: The investigation Begins by EN Publishing
Speaking of record holders – where Richard Develyn’s 4-Dollar-Dungeons hold the record regarding unbroken series of nominations by one author, the Zeitgeist AP holds the record for unbroken 5 star+ seal of approval ratings in one series. The one reason this massive tome managed to score higher would be its boundless ambition and complexity. This AP is dauntingly, triumphantly even, a return to the assumption that RPG-fans have an above-average intelligence, that we can retain and process complex and layered narratives and that we can, more than that, enjoy ROLEplaying as well as rollplaying. It is a valiant appeal to our brains to dive into one of the most exciting narratives I’ve ever read in any supplement – and it plays that great as well! The Zeitgeist AP is a monument and I am still baffled it exists – the analogue would by Hollywood making a movie like Primer with a triple A budget. Even on its own, this first third of this massive saga is a monument, a campaign that surpasses most APs in its constant changing of gears that inevitably grind on toward the climax – only to move on to further heights. The only reason this has not made number 1 would be the awfully reductive, cringeworthy naval combat system employed herein – do yourself a favor and replace it with Frog God Games’ Fire as She Bears.
This is MY list. But it is, ultimately, also my player’s list. Our beloved hobby is cooperative and if it’s fun for only one side, it just does not feel right. So let me state this loud and clear:
These books have improved my game in ways I couldn’t ever have fathomed.
The level of detail and believability and compelling world-building has soared with the introduction of these two books. I use them in every game I DM – PFRPG, DCC, 13th Age – no matter.
Much like some old classics like the dungeoneer’s guide in 2nd edition, these books will be used for decades to come. That is not all, though – it is the almost uncanny perfection in organization of the content that renders these books so far beyond, they’re almost a class of their own. These books have earned each cent of their asking price ten-fold. And now remember – I run my games in German.
I translate these on the fly and though I’m pretty adept at this task, the use of these books, mainly due to their superb organization, works so flawlessly that they facilitate this task and thus enhance EVERY single adventure I run. To the point where my players no longer can distinguish side-treks/random encounters from those that are plot-relevant. These books belong into every DM’s library, regardless of system. They were also, hands down, my easiest choice for a number 1 spot ever. If you or your DM don’t own these, do your game a favor and buy them ASAP – I guarantee that your game will be vastly enhanced by them.
2015 is bound to be terribly exciting after such an awesome array of books – numerous classics (The Blight, Northlands Saga, Questhaven…) loom on the horizon, huge books await and we are seeing more talented designers, both for modules and crunch, than EVER before. Similarly, the amount of books I had to rate low has been relatively low and I hope, this trend endures. The average level of quality is staggering – to the point where I’m using less Paizo-material (apart from modules/APs/monster/setting-books) than 3pp-material. With crunch-masters like Alexander Augunas, Bradley Crouch, Owen K.C. Stephens and Steven D. Russell, we are bound to see much more coolness, especially with e.g. Morgan Boehringer, Michael Allen, Michael Sayre and many, many more adding their talents to PFRPG.
Here’s to the future!