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Strange Stars
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/09/2017 05:13:33

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This setting book clocks in at 32 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 29 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?

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

Old Earth isn’t even a legend anymore, even its location lost to the ravages and vastness of space and time. An undetermined time after humanity spread to the stars, the Archaics rose in their floating, crystalline cities, constructing a hyperspace travel network and engaged in planetary-scaled engineering; theirs was an age where a noble may rule a whole world – but, as Hari Seldon may have noted, all empires must end. The Great Collapse, which may have been as long as 1000 years past, took place, kickstarting a Dark Age of dissolution, where mysterious cultures rose and fell in what once was core human space: The mysterious Zurr, seemingly primitive, yet spread across planets, and the faceless ones, research-sadists, who replaced their faces with incredibly potent sensory apparatuses. When the long night ended, it was the radiant polity that rose, claiming stewardship of paleo-mankind and mastery over hyperspace travel: “We civilize; we do not govern. We end war; we do not wage it. We guard; we do not control. Our thoughts look always to the future.” – This is their creed and it reminded me in a positive manner of Rome’s excellent tripartite album “Die Aesthetik der Herrschaftsfreiheit” on the concept of anarchy as a philosophical world-view, but that as an aside.

The default setting of this space opera setting would be the Modern Age ushered in by the polity’s radiant lords. The book classifies the sentient beings as sophonts – biologics contain humans, Star Folk bioships, etc. Moravecs are sentient, self-replicating robots and infosophonts are basically AIs, digital minds and other entities sans physical form that choose to live in the noosphere. As you may have noted, the books makes admirable use of linguistic terms to classify and categorize the campaign setting’s reality. And no, the book never devolves into a garbled mess, though, as often in good fiction, it takes a bit to get into the terminology of the setting. Really cool: Sample artworks explain e.g. clothes worn, weaponry, etc. in a concise manner that manages to squeeze a surprising amount of information on each page – a picture of a space captain, the afro-wearing, badass lady Stella Starlight, for example, feature sidebars on salvage and the lost ancient starships.

The book also showcases the hyperspace gates and their connections between regions of space – which would be as well a place as any other to note how this pdf is laid out, for the layout is brilliant: The artworks and bits of information are depicted in a manner not unlike the Star Trek/Star Wars almanacs – artwork, explanations, trivia, graphics – the similarity even extends to the advertisement mentioned before, which included an “action figure” in the artwork.

Anyways, we continue from the big picture to the more detailed observations of the regions of hyperspace – from the Outer Rim, where the vaguely feline Djägga live and places of interest include Fortuna IV, a gambler’s planet, Gogmagog, the planet of giant robot battles (!!) and Boreas, an ice-covered moon, where boreal sea life was weaponized, including bacteria that reanimate the dead. Yes, amazing. There also would be the Alliance (think of a smaller Federation), the Instrumentality of Aom, a theocracy founded on cold practicality (with Illuminatus!-easter-egg-nod), the Coreward Reach…have I mentioned phantasists selling mass-produced neural dreams and oneiric experiences? There is also the Vokun Empire, once fearsome conquerors in decline, who even have a slave-race of humanoid computers….and we even take a look at a cantina (Star Wars association obviously intended), with several NPCs noted, each of which featuring his/her/their own angle for adventuring.

Nomadic clades (the name for race employed herein) sans homeworld are also covered and so are pirates and other criminals – the sample artwork for the latter looking like a cross between a yeti and a tarsier. A list of most wanted, notes on the pharesmid syndicate – there is a ton of adventuring potential here. Where there are species and more or less peaceful societies, there are bound to be those outside – hostile species generally considered to be bad news. These include the Kssa, oviparous humanoids with reptilian characteristics, ruled by the Cold Eggs, the Ssraad (coincidentally somewhat similar to the classic, closed IP Slaadi) and we also talk a bit about psi and psionics and their roles in the galaxy.

The book also sports notes on terminology, a pronunciation guideline and concludes with 5 basic operation guidelines, each of which coming in 8 variations – these are one-sentence hooks to develop.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. The layout by Lester B. Portlyis FANTASTIC: With the extremely high full-color artwork density (there is an original piece on almost EVERY page) and the cool structures reminiscent of classic scifi almanacs, the pdf is a beauty to behold. The pdf sports no bookmarks, which constitutes a serious comfort detriment – if you can afford it, I’d strongly suggest getting the PoD-version. The book is worth it, production value-wise.

Trey Causey’s Strange Stars is frankly inspiring in the best of ways. When I saw the page-count for the book, I did not expect much, particularly considering the density of artwork herein. It is BAFFLING how much flavor and information the author managed to cram into the pages – there are a ton of inspiring tidbits herein, enough to inspire campaigns galore. While I really wished this book was a really huge campaign setting, I have seen a ton of books with 3 or 4 times the pagecount deliver less – this is a great supplement if you’re looking for some inspiring nomenclature, ideas, etc.

As an aside: The astute reader may have noticed some serious potential for crossover regarding the history of Strange Stars and Starfinder – the ideas contained herein can be added to Starfinder pretty easily…and yes, the same holds obviously true for Traveller, Stars Without Number, etc.

How to rate this, then? Well, the lack of bookmarks for the electronic version costs that version a half a star (4.5 stars, rounded down), but the print-version I’d consider to be 5 stars + seal of approval. As mentioned, I’d suggest getting the PoD-version.

Endzeittgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Strange Stars
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Strange Stars OSR Rule Book
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/09/2017 05:11:16

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The OSR rules-book for Strange Stars clocks in at 37 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 34 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was move up in my review-queue as a non-prioritized review at the request of my patreons.

Now, this is the rules-companion book for the system neutral Strange Stars-book – and as far as OSR-rules goes, it employs my favorite rules-set for space adventures, namely Sine Nomine Publishing’s excellent and deservedly acclaimed Stars Without Number. As you can glean, provided you’re familiar with SWN, the task of converting the rules material to another OSR-system is relatively simple, though some peculiarities are potentially lost in translation, as a system-immanent procedure of translation.

Anyway, we begin with a brief recap of the nomenclature of the setting, explaining terms like clade (referring to a group of organism derived from the same ancestor or template – relevant distinction in a setting where sentient robots are a thing), the definition of intelligent and self-aware being (sophont) etc. - it is with these that we begin:

Strange Stars knows the following types of sophonts: Biologics are either humans or aliens; it should be noted that Mandate Archive: Transhuman Tech’s body-swapping rules are more commonly used in Strange Stars. (Which should also provide a nice example how well this is ingrained in SWN’s possibilities.) Bioroids are artificially-created biological beings that are worn by a mind – whether it’s an infosophont (bodyless AI) or a Ghost, Ghost in the Shell-style – full-blown transhumanist options here. Finally, Moravecs constitute self-replicating, sentient machines.

From here, we move to the specific clades: More than 20 (!!!) are provided: From domed-skull humanoids capable of cataloging language to the insectoid Blesh, the feline Djägga, the engineer isopods (with a dditional limbs and body-swapping), gnomes, the bone-clawed hwuru, avian humanoids, humanoid computers…and yes, emerald-skinned humanoids…there is a wide array of races with concisely defined abilities here. Each race gets a brief note on physical and psychological characteristics and class preferences/restrictions, backgrounds available and attribute requirements, if any. The pdf also classifies the clades by hyperspace region, which is helpful. Now, there is a downside to the variety of races presented herein – that is that they very much are reliant on the GM/referee to properly account for differences in raw power: There are several races that obviously eclipse the others in sheer power, which means that some discretion and skill is advised here.

On a more positive aside, the pdf does contain a wide variety of backgrounds to expand the background system featured in SWN – from bureaucrat to business sophont, psytech or data prospector, there are several provided, with some allowing for choices within a skill’s arrays – other than that, we have the 4 skills per background you’d expect – with some backgrounds allwowing for one freely chosen skill. The backgrounds thus can be considered to be well-crafted – no complaints.

Chapter 2 deals with tedchnology in the context of Strange Stars, beginning with the metascape, the augmented reality that most people experience – and yes, it may be hacked. The Noosphere is the cyberspace of the far future, where disembodied AIs live, for example. Implanted cyberware and brain-computer interfaces are very common, which allows for some interesting uses of the Computer skill, obviously. Strange Stars also features Fabbers – matter compilers. These act as hyper-advanced 3D-printers, while programmable matter is…well, just what it says on the tin. That these technologies have a serious impact on economy should be pretty evident. Alien and archaic tech are also mentioned.

But how does space travel work? Well, per default, it uses the Hyperspace Network erected by the Archaic Oikumene prior to the dark age and Great Collapse. Think of these as somewhat akin to Mass Effect’s acceleration nodes. The tech is partially psionic, poorly understood and travel time depends an is color-coded: Travel time equals the color modifier (ranging from 18 to 6750) time the distance modifier (ranging from 1 – 5) in kiloseconds. This is for the range of the network, mind you – space is unfathomably huge. SWN fans will note that the FTL travel is very much different from Strange Stars’ node-based system. It should be noted, though, that these need not exclude one another: It is pretty easy to drop Strange Stars within the vast universe of Stars Without Number – FTL beyond the nodes, node-only in the Strange Stars-clusters. That as an aside.

Starships are discussed as well – gravity generators and inertial suppressors would be crucial pieces of tech. The rare and sought-after drive-boxes, hyperintelligent, but not self-aware AIs crafted by the Archaic also makes for an interesting aspect of piloting spaceshifts…with potential for adventuring galore.

Beyond these, we take a look at setting assumptions (with the Great Catastrophe accounting for vast differences in tech-levels) – and these include semi-hard scifi (as a fan of hard scifi, I wholly applaud the setting’s commitment to plausibility – it sets this space opera setting apart from others) as well as the fact that intersystem travel is fast, intrasystem travel slow, thanks to the mysterious hyperspace nodes. Post-internet and transhumanism and the evolution of fiath in the vastness of space similarly represent concise components of Strange Stars. As a whole, a complex of leitmotifs I thoroughly enjoy. GMs will also cherish a brief list of the hyperspace regions introduced in the setting book: Each comes with a brief one-sentence run-down, a note on what type of story it’s best suited for and some very much appreciated inspiration books for further reading: Mini Appendix N-sections, if you will – and yes, often quoting media beyond the scifi/space opera genres.

We also get a brief adventure base-line generator: 6 basic adventures are presented: The challenge, the heist, the hunt, the gauntlet, the rescue, the unexpected. Each sports at least 2 different d8 tables you can use to generate the adventure, with 3 featuring 3 tables instead.

Next up would be a massive bestiary/NPC-codex section, with SWN’s descending AC, atk bonus, etc. all concisely codified. The entries are brief and while each critter gets at least a short fluff-pragraph, it should be noted that we do not get artworks for these. Big plus as far as I’m concerned: The nice fraction-rules from SWN are properly supported with 7 factions and we also take a look at the worlds noted in the great campaign book: We codify these with world tags (some of which are new, some changed) – there is, for example, no perimeter agency in Strange Stars, and much forbidden tech is considered to be common instead; hence, the tag’s meaning is pretty much inverted and denotes an overly restrictive world. 6 new tags, from luddite worlds to banking centers, can be found and the pdf also sports a really cool habitat generator: Habitat shapes, population…from spheres to rings or Knights of Sidonia-style cylinders and classic asteroids, the pdf covers a lot of cool aspects, including a table of natural bioclimes.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no serious hiccups. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard. Artwork partially reuses some assets from the campaign book in b/w, but also sports a couple of new pieces in b/w. The lack of bookmarks in the electronic version is galling – particularly considering that this is a rule-book you’ll consult more often. The electronic version hence should be considered to lose one star over the PoD-version.

Trey Causey’s OSR-rules for Strange Stars are surprisingly concise – no, really. They can definitely be considered to rank among the better OSR-rules out there, managing to implement the tight rules-language of Stars Without Numbers. Speaking of which: It is very much evident that the author is very familiar with SWN, using some of the more amazing aspects of the system in a concise manner. That is a big plus, as far as I’m concerned – too often, relatively rules-lite systems are used as an excuse for sloppy rules-language. This is thankfully not the case here: The material is concise and well-made. That being said, without the amazing flavor of the system-neutral setting book, this obviously loses a lot of its appeal. If I rated this on its own, I’d complain about it being sketch-like – but that’s pretty much the point here – the book is intended to supplement the setting book and I’ll rate it as such.

Now, as much as I love the vast majority of the content herein and the care which was taken to ensure SWN-compatibility, there are a couple of aspects I enjoy less: One would be that the races diverge in power – there is not a good baseline here and some species depicted here are simply, rules-wise superior. Whether you care about that or not depends on your game, but personally, I would have loved to see more advice on handling the more potent races regarding stigmas, flaws, etc. Secondly, the lack of bookmarks represents a serious detriment for the electronic version. For the print version, I think I’d rate this 4.5 stars; the electronic version loses half a star for the lack of bookmarks…and usually, I’d round up, but I feel that this is closer to the 4 for me. Hence, I will round down for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Strange Stars OSR Rule Book
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Weird Adventures
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/29/2017 10:39:51

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive sourcebook clocks in at 165 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page ToC, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 161 pages of content, so let's take a look!

So, what is this? Well, picture a setting, the Strange New World, that puts fantasy tropes in an era reminiscent of the interim between the two World Wars, as seen through the lens of the classic pulp magazines of old. The history of the world is thus somewhat akin to what you'd expect, though it should be noted than nice, poster-style artworks provide cliff-notes versions of what once was. It should be noted, though, that the focus of this book lies exclusively on the New World - which sees enough problems of its own with drought, etc., spiraling the country towards a great depression. The pdf provides notes on days and months, holidays, etc.

Race-wise, the Ancients brought the Black Folk to the new world before the arrival of the Ealderish, the Europe-stand-in, if you'd like. Natives and Yianese also make for obvious substitutions and feature twists that set them slightly apart from real world equivalents. A similar approach is taken for religion - old-time religions would be those based on variations of the montheistic writings; Oecumenical hierarchate practices religion more stringently and adds saints and the like for a ore Catholicism-like version. Beyond that, eikones exist - i.e. personifications of concepts and yes, pagan gods do exist. It is interesting to observe that this book does talk about the ramifications of the possibility of journeys to hell and heaven, respectively!

Magic follows roughly two different paths: thaumaturgy, which denotes basically the scientific/academic form of magic, while mysticism is more intuitive - somewhat akin to the divide between prepared and spontaneous casters, though rules-wise, there is no difference here apart from the extensively elaborated upon different social ramifications. The continent, just fyi, is fully mapped in color and from here, we embark on the gazetteer-section of the book, which provides an interesting look at the nations, sometimes with a wink and a smile: The US-equivalent would be the "United Territories of Freedonia", for example, while Zingaro, the great Meso-American stand-in, mentions e.g. Sainted Mother Death and the like - we have magically icy winds in the north and little bits and pieces with crunch as well as plot-seeds galore. Have I mentioned the settlement Cuijatepec, where interred bodies mummify and walk the land (complete with a b/w-picture of a badass mummy mariachi gunslinger), deadly jungles, 10 sample ways to die in the deep - this chapter provides a nice "big picture"-view of the Americas in this setting.

From the big picture, we move inwards towards a tad bit more details, with the chapter "On the Weird Road" (nice Kerouac-nod there!), a chapter which goes into the details of the Union, including its currency (with fitting nicknames), explanations of the government and interesting twists - when e.g. monster-hunting paladins of great families inherit their father's swords to their offspring. Arkham, including a famous asylum, can be found...and then there is the City, whose hegemony extends beyond the holdings of the Five Baronies - the City is vast and its constituents include an alien city with an unstable topography that may or may not exist at any given time, the gambling paradise (or hell) of Faro City, a New Orleans equivalent...and the smaragdine mountains...have I mentioned the rules for magical bootleg alcohol, a dwarven city, an infernal mafia or the dustlands, haunted by wrathful elementals? The monster-haunted Grand Cany...eh, Chasm, rushes for the Black Gold and the center of the entertainment industry, Heliotrope, home of the legendary gunslinger hero Big Jim Trane, who is sometimes riding a giant prehistoric cat. Occult feminism, cigarette-"ads" for djinn cigarettes - it is nice touches like this that manage to lend a sense of authenticity to the proceedings.

From this, we move on to the City proper, which, as mentioned before, is roughly separated into 5 baronies. It should be noted that the map here is functional, but pretty barebones, with the exception of the fully depicted Empire Island, which contains the Central park equivalent as well as TON of highly detailed locales and hooks: From the slums of Hardluck to the financial district, we run a wide array of themes and tropes, supplemented by random encounters (fluff-only). Inevitables haunt those that would resist the taxation or wish harm on the Municipal Building (fitting!), while being an exterminator in such a setting, obvious, is a rather dangerous profession. Also cool: Little Carcosa. Just figured I'd mention that one. ;) Grimalkin village, ziggurats topped with Tesla coils, loan sharks and the race of barrow men ( CON and CHA +1, +2 to saves vs. poison, disease and contagion, can horrify targets with a variant of fascinate, penalizing saves), ghoulish undertown...have I mentioned the Lady of Amaranth Park, the airship dock contained in Grand Terminus, Dwergentown or the mysterious Mr. Nick Scratch? Or the degenerate, human-slaughtering eikomne? The charities that lord over the circus district?

Here, you can find phantom automats, meet gentlemen mentalists, realize that vampires are pretty much very dangerous addicts, go to "Sal's Paradise, Jump!", listen to magical jazz...and have I mentioned the area that now is straight out of The Magical Monarch of Mu (guess what that one is the analogue of...) or the theft of an elephantine colossus by notorious lich Hieronymus Gaunt?

The pdf also provides a variety of different monsters: These come with both ascending and descending AC-values, HD, number encountered and a general idea of movement rates ("fast flyer", for example), allowing for relatively easy integration into a given specific rules-set. These include black blizzards, undead, illithid-like brain-invaders, crabmen, hitfiends (hilarious!), gatormen, living ghost-towns, hill-billy giants, living totems, lounge lizards, murder ballads that conceal themselves in songs, pink elephants (!!!), the Reds (agents of the underground civilization!)...and much more.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are excellent, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard and the pdf has color maps that are decent and an amazing full-color artwork on the inside of the front cover. The interior-artwork is original and b/w and really nice. It should be noted that "advertisements" in the style of the 20s and 30s are littered throughout the book, adding a sense of authenticity to the file. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks. I can't comment on the physical versions, since I only own the pdf-version.

Trey Causey's Weird Adventures did not have an easy standing with me. You see, I love the pulp genre and I love the fantasy genre. Thing is, I don't think they mix well. At all. Similarly, I have read so many allotopias and near-earth settings, they tend to end up boring my socks off. In short: This is one book I would have never bought or read, were it not for my reviewer status.

Guess what? I'm honestly glad I did read this! You see, this pdf actually manages to properly blend the fantastic and the pulp genre without getting bogged down in Tolkienesque tropes. It draws from a vast wealth of knowledge and obviously careful research and its ideas go beyond winking "add fantasy" variants of real world phenomena, creating a world that is at the same time radically different and thoroughly grounded in our cultures....while changing them rather drastically. In short, this actually manages the nigh-impossible task of blending the two genres with panache aplomb. Now personally, I do not necessarily love this - but I am absolutely impressed by the depth of imagination and by the obvious love that went into this book. This is obviously a labor of passion and it shows on pretty much every page. It is very rules-lite, which makes conversion to pretty much any system really easy as well - and what more can you ask for? My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars. If the ideas even remotely sound like they could interest you, check this out!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Weird Adventures
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Hill Cantons Compendium II
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/08/2017 08:10:24

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 21 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 17 pages of content, so let's take a look!

Now, I assume that you've read my review of the Hill Cantons Cosmology, for there, I explained the general make-up of this rather intriguing fantasy setting. It should be noted that, while this pdf explains the concept of corelands, borderlands and weird, I still maintain that it's smart to read up on the former pdf before reading the two flavor pages that kick off this book: In these, both the city of Kezmarok and Marlinko, both with brief notes on surrounding areas and the like, are presented and brief one-sentence notes on the weird similarly can be found here, providing a nice overview to build upon...and acting as a smart teaser for the Hill Cantons modules, obviously. ;)

The first massive section of this pfg, however, would be devoted to a massive array of classes/races that represent the slightly gonzo/weird theme of the Hill Cantons, so let's take a look, shall we?

The first of these would be the Black Hobbit, called so because of the color of their souls. These guys are not nice and need Dex and Con 9, get d6 HD and cap at level 8 (134K XP). At second level, they get Agitation, which increases their Cha to 18 1/day when inciting others to mischief. They gain an additional daily use at 4th and 8th level. At 3rd level, they may manufacture bombs - one per week (2/week at 6th level) and 30 gp. These deal 1d8+1 in a 10-foot radius. Sooo. for how much do they sell? Can others use them or does only the black hobbit know how to use them?

Chaos monks may not be eligible for the monk class and sport either Int or Wis below 10. They have 1d3 HD and no maximum level - which contradicts their table, which caps at 8th level. at 80,001 XP. After 5th level, they need to defeat lower level chaos monks to advance. They get Dex to AC and a further +1 for each 2 levels and may only use bo and jo sticks, nun-chucks [sic!] (yes, the sic erat scriptum is part of the pdf and intentional!), clubs, man-catchers, bowie knives, sais, metal claws and throwing stars. "Chaos monks are rarely surprised (a 1 on a d8) and then only if spoken to by a member of the opposite gender." That made me laugh, yes - but it has no place in rules-language. So, can a medusa surprise them? At 2nd level, they may perform kicks for d5 damage, +1 per level attained. 3rd level, they can speak with fungi. At 4th level, they can flip over the back of their opponents while making a high-pitched scream. Okay, funny. What does that do? The ability also allows for the use of samurai swords...and now notes that chaos monks risk self-injury when using swords at lower levels - something that the weapon rules above failed to specify. Also: Do sais or bowie knives count as swords? Because RAW, they can't even use swords at those levels. At 6th level, chaos monks can cast Confusion once a day "not just on themselves but others." So, does that mean that the chaos monk is affected as well? Or not? No idea. 8th level yields the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique. "It is unclear whether this has any real mechanical effect however." Is this funny? Hell yes. Does it hold up as rules-language or actually have a proper use at the table? NOPE.

Feral Dwarves need Con 9, have Str as prime requisite, d8 HD and cap at level 12 (660,001 XP). They can detect by concentration slopes, shifting walls, etc, may only wear armor up to chain and use feral weapons (spears etc. - all properly codified). They also gain, hilariously, +1 to hit versus deodands, due to racial animosity. They may also throw small boulders in combat, with +1 to hit and damage, 1d4 base damage and Str modifier added. Throws from a higher latitude (again, properly codified), gain a +2 bonus instead. Some feral dwarves use polished flint mallets for 1d4+1. These render targets unconscious on a natural 20 for 1d6 rounds. They also begin play with a 30% chance to forage food, +3% per level gained and may start fires in any environment 9th level feral dwarves attract followers. The race comes with an alternate starting package and fight and save on the same table as robo dwarves...though these don't have such a table either. I assume defaulting to dwarves as a standard there.

Robo-dwarves need Con 9 and use Con as prime requisite. They have d8 HD and cap at level 12 and 750,001 XP. With a silvery skin, they have an AC of 8 if not wearing other armor and don't eat or drink - though milk has intoxicating effects. Regular food is toxic to them and they need to consume lamp oil as well as gravel and bits of rock. They may not wear armor made mostly of organic material, can see in the dark up to 60 ft. and have a 2 in 6 chance to spot weak spots, subtle slopes, traps, hidden doors, etc, but need to commune with the stone by placing a hand on it.

Half-ogres need Str and Con of 14+, Cha or less than 9, have Str as prime requisite and d10 HD. They cap at level 9 (294,000 XP). They can carry more gear than comparable races and may see in the dark up to 60 feet and fight/save as fighters of the same level. The pantsless barbarian needs Con 11, which also doubles as prime requisite, gets d10 HD and caps at 12th level at 660,001 XP. These guys and gals believe that their privates need to be close to the sun and thus may not use armor better than chain and takes a -1 penalty to AC. They do get +1 to hit with the preferred tribal weapon and every other level, they can take +1 to a "LotFP-like d6 skill in either Tracking or Wilderness Survival." That...is kinda problematic, as it suddenly assumes that the referee uses LotFP's skills per the game, when the rest of the pdf made no such assumptions.

The mountebank would be a variant thief who needs Int, Dex and Cha 13, has Cha as prime requisite and 1d4 HD. The class goes the full 20 levels, capping out at 1,300,001 XP. They may use disguises like an assassin and gain the Sleight of Hand skill at pick pocket + 15% to switch out/manipulate objects and may only use thief magic items until 9th level, where they may also use illusionist items. Also at this level, the mountebank attracts 2d6 followers.

From levels 1 - 10, they get new con-man style abilities that rely on language and being understood: At first level, Flim Flam temporarily raises Cha to 18, while at 5th level, he can manufacture flash powder for 150 gp. While these have durations, we have a collation of item and class feature once again here and the flash powder's blindness has no duration. Quite a few referees I know will also be somewhat appalled by the lack of a daily cap of uses here: At third level, the mountebank gains charm person, at 4th hypnotism, etc. - and these have no daily cap. In theory, you could RAW run around and charm everything.

The war bear (yes, you read right!) needs Str 13 and Con 14, has Con as prime requisite, d10 HD and caps at level 8 and 147, 200 XP. War bears wear no armor and instead determine AC by level, starting at 6 and decreasing that to 3 at level 8. Dex bonus, if available, can be added. War bears gain +1 to hit and damage when using polearms and they are REALLY obsessive about the weapons, losing Wisdom if separated too long from a polearm. At 6th level, they can invent and name a polearm, which hits and damages at +2 in his paws and may injure creatures only affected by magical weapons. At level 8, provided he has a sufficient underground complex, he attracts a band of war bears. These guys save as dwarves and fight like fighters of their levels.

Finally, there would be White Wizards, who need Int and Wis 12, use Wis as prime requisite and get 1d4 HD. They cap at level 21 and 1, 696,001 XP and learn spells of up to 7th level. They save as magic-users and need spellbooks. They may only use simple non-edged weapons and may not wear armor, but may cast spells from cleric and druid spell lists, but these spells are treated as arcane, not divine. They may use druid and cleric as well as magic-user magic items, but may not use magic items that directly inflict damage. The pdf sports an optional rule that allows them to create cleric scrolls at 75 gp times spell level, taking 1 week per spell level to complete.

So, that would be the first half of the pdf. The second half presents an alternate and pretty amazing character creation system - and these tables represent one of the most extensive ones I have seen so far: You roll for birth order, parent occupation (which net an attribute die and starting gear)...and then, you roll again: Nobility, merchants, clergy - all have their own subtables. Then, you roll for significant events during childhood and adolescence, which once again nets attribute dice and further rolls for relatives, crimes, guardians, etc. Military service, virtues and vices, religious experiences, magical occurrences - there is a TON of tables here and the system actually yields a great background. Extra dice are added to the default 3d6 rolled for attributes in character creation - this obviously generates more potent characters than the default roll 3d6 method, but is tweaked easily enough - even as fluff-only, this is really amazing and holds up. That being said, I think the pdf should specify that the usual caps still apply - otherwise, you can end theoretically up with characters that have ludicrous attributes.

The pdf also has a page devoted to starting equipment generation, though, while okay, it is a bit rudimentary for my tastes. The pdf also provides a page of funnel (0-level) rules and the final page is devoted to attribute checks -roll under attribute, with the default task being 3d6. Decent, I guess, but not something that blew me away.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are pretty good on a formal level. On a rules-language level, the supplement could be more precise. Layout adheres to a 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf features a nice b/w-artwork beyond the cool full-color cover. The pdf has no bookmarks, which constitutes a comfort detriment. I got the softcover booklet, which btw. adheres to the standard letterpack/A4-size.

I love Chris Kutalik's humor and this is actually a nice read. However, as a rules-supplement, the humor gets in the way and makes the content needlessly opaque in several cases - as a rules-supplement, I do not consider this a success. I can hear the hissing and booing, but know what all good OSR-systems have in common? They may be rules-lite, but they are PRECISE. This is not precise, not even close. It suddenly talks about sub-systems in a class/race, lacks durations etc. and while it is imaginative, creative and hilarious, it is simply not a good rules-supplement, no matter how you try to spin it The first half of this pdf did nothing for me, apart from the admittedly amazing concepts. This booklet, for me, is remedied by its second half: While these tables and rules may not universally appeal to me, I adore the character creation tables and here, suddenly, the rules are significantly more precise. In fact, even before, the precision oscillates.

Now, would I get this in print again? Honestly...no. But it is worth checking out, considering the PWYW-nature of the pdf. This may not be for everyone, but chances are you can at least mine some nice ideas from the pdf. My final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up only due to the PWYW-status of the pdf.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Hill Cantons Compendium II
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Mortzengersturm, The Mad Manticore of the Prismatic Peak
by Matthew W. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/05/2017 10:26:39

Hey Folks, we’re putting together another one of our mystery box series. Today we’re looking at an adventure from RPGnow, created by an independent publisher . This adventure, written by Trey Causey and published by The Hydra Cooperative, features a wonderful departure from the norm and has such a wonderfully different style. There’s a mansion in need of visiting, and the hijinks are just getting started as we explore Mortzengersturm the Mad Manticore of Prismatic Peak.

Setup

The Adventure is written for characters around level 3-4. It uses the standard rules for experience gain. Party size is of less concern than ingenuity, as some of the encounters are not appropriate for characters of this level, but can be avoided with quick thinking and smart decision making. This is an adventure that believes in the motto of “There are alternatives to fighting.”

There are a couple of hooks in this adventure depending on how you are planning on using it. The writers have a very different way of approaching setting and adventure design, and if you’re used to a more typical (or more serious) fantasy setting, this may put you off a little. I would encourage you to embrace the fun and give it a try.

The Adventure

This adventure is actually fairly straightforward and only 13 encounter areas deep. What it lacks in depth it more than makes up for it in flavor and complexity. By hook or by crook, the characters have to gain access to the Whim-Wham Stone (I kid you not), and either return it, or a sample of its energy to their employer. The Stone is currently in the possession of a wizard named Mortzengersturm, and his remote mansion is the location that the characters will have to travel to in order to secure access to the Stone. Once the characters arrive at the Mansion, something is terribly wrong, and the characters will have to figure out how to complete their mission and survive their expedition to the Mansion.

The Aftermath

The characters will have to successfully find the Stone or its energies and escape the Mansion with their lives. Depending on how they resolve the adventure, there are plenty of follow ups, including getting the Stone back to their employer, exploring the area around the Mansion, finding the potential victims of the Evil wizard, and possibly having to come back at a later time to put the Wizard down for good. As an introduction to this world, this is a wonderful starting point to get your feet wet and explore the world. I want to see more of this setting, and this adventure gives you a lot of ways to get into the larger region.

What I like about this adventure

The author has put together a wonderfully complex adventure that is short enough that you could play it in an evening, but it doesn’t feel rushed. There’s a certain pacing required to put something like this together, and the author has done a great job of putting together a different style of adventure. It still plays like dungeons and dragons, but it’s got a healthy dose of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and other equally absurd ideas. It’s odd, but it’s a good odd.

The other thing that’s very helpful for this adventure is that it includes pre generated characters. It’s perfect for a one shot (i’m not sure i would use this is an introduction to Dungeons and Dragons unless i was dealing with experienced players) and is a delight to work with. The other thing that i really like about this is that it includes a sidebar on each page that gives the DM the important things that he or she needs to know about each area. That’s a really handy tool for a new DM, and i like that the adventure has the sidebar bulletpoints to help the DM keep focused around the descriptive text. This adventure is just a different way of looking at how you can put together a Dungeons and Dragons adventure, and i am a fan of this style. It’s quirky and it’s a little off center, but it’s enjoyable without being over the top levels of whimsy. (Your mileage may vary and you may have a different tolerance for whimsy than i do)

Issues with the adventure

The only major concern i have with this adventure is that it’s greatest strength (the whimsical nature of how it’s put together) can be a detriment. If your players are straightforward concrete thinkers, this adventure may cause some trouble for them. It’s full of wordplay and puns, and it may cause problems for some players. This adventure encourages creative thinking and different approaches to handling problems. If your players aren’t the type that want to explore and try alternative solutions, this adventure may not be the thing for that group. I think it’s an absolute delight as a one shot (and use the pre-generated characters). The one critique i have is that there aren’t any text boxes to provide descriptions of rooms and encounter areas to the players, and the map is not set to a scale, so the DM is going to have to puzzle out how big things are.

Conclusions

Mortzengersturm the Mad Manticore of Prismatic Peak is a very different feel from a typical Dungeons and Dragons adventure and it’s wonderful. Encouraging creative thinking, and a mind for mischief, this adventure is a delightful romp that can give the characters an interesting change of pace. It can also be used to kick off a hell of a groovy campaign for a remarkable breath of fresh air. You aren’t likely to find anything else like it, and that’s a delightful change of pace to stave off campaign fatigue. I give this adventure 5 stars, and i enjoy Mr. Causey’s work. I am interested in perusing more of his work and i will likely be spending more time on Drivethru RPG checking him out. That’s our review of Mortzengersturm the Mad Manticore of Prismatic Peak, from Trey Causey.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mortzengersturm, The Mad Manticore of the Prismatic Peak
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The Hill Cantons Cosmology
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/25/2017 10:56:57

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This brief cosmology clocks in at 8 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let's take a look!

So, this pdf is exactly what is says on the tin - a description of the cosmology of the Hill Cantons, which serve as a backdrop for several of the modules put out by the Hydra Collective. But it is frankly more than that.

The world described here would be called Zěm, and after the header, which explains how the world came to be, we begin with a dialog-like frame-narrative that is hilariously irreverent. In the beginning, there was void (or has world-matter existed before?) and all Void was divided in 3 parts - the space of demons, the transitional zone haunted by the Uquitani and the sector inhabited by the mortals, the "Insufferable Void."

A somewhat doofy Overgod toiled...and then created drink, in order to stop caring. He got horrible drunk, danced upon a gas giant shouted (with a curse) and slipped from it, sleeping for aeons. His spilled drink would become the oceans and when he awoke, he watched. Before inventing Drink. Again. And so he languishes in drunken stupor, while petty demons and gods rage and fight, and below that, the mortals toil.

The world itself has a strong law-chaos leitmotif, realized in a rather intriuing manner: The world is separated in roughly three regions: The corelands, which are akin to our medieval age; no magic, rigid structure, no weird stuff. Contrasted with that would be the Weird, basically pure chaos and your excuse as a GM to throw anything at players. Planar instabilities? Temporal rifts? Every creature you can dream off, from the heaves to the realms of fey....it can just stumble out of the highly magical Weird.

Between the realms of Gonzo weirdness exemplified by the Weird and the rigid Corelands, there lie the Borderlands, where the fantastic exists, but is still beholden to at least some natural laws; it is in this hazy, dream-like in-between-realm that the Hill Cantons and the vast amount of adventure they offer, can be found.

Have I mentioned that this pdf actually managed to make me laugh? Let me quote from the section "On Alignment": "In his famous treatise Annals of the Fold-Fold Path, Gaxx the Jerk-King teaches us that five-fold alignment (LG, CG, N, LE, CE) is humanity's limited, warped, half-right theoretical view (or ontology, if you want to get really high-falutin') of how Zěm's cosmos works."

Regarding religion, we have Solarity (Praise the sun!...Dark Souls fans got a chuckle out of that...) and the ancient space gods. Gods are not beholden to mortal alignments and and the pdf goes on to explain various solarist sects, including the "official" one. We are told about the orders that serve the church and the other deities - Hebeka, the Celestial Lady, Ha-Vul the antagonist and also the Old Gods of Pahr.

Similarly, the first beasts, quasi-deific beings created by the grand god - these include the Regimental Goat Koza and Vlenosh, the angry sloth...and beyond these entities, there are the atrophied gods, for all things must wane and perish, even the deities. Finally, the silent god exists, enigmatically, a divine wildcard, whose endgame is yet to be understood.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, though a few typo-level glitches can be found, most notably that the "cosmology"-header on each pages reads "cosnology"[sic!]. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly 2-column b/w-standard with solid stock art. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Chris Kutalik's cosmology is an irreverent, fun short pdf that made me smile more than once. It is creative, weird and at times even funny. The cosmology presented features several components I consider to be rather enticing and helps illustrate a creative and intriguing world. In short: This is a very fun read. Now, this also is PWYW, which should be considered to be an excellent reason to get this gem right now. It is fun,a good read and even inspiring - whether for scavenging purposes, as a mythology or to add further facets to Hill Canton-modules, this is very much worth getting and leaving a tip for. 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Hill Cantons Cosmology
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Strange Stars Fate Rule Book
by Dillard R. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/18/2017 23:04:34

Splendid. In the review of the Setting Book I stated that Art took precedence over content. Way more art in the first book than in this one. This book however is chock full of content. Everything is fully explained in Fate Core rules.

The first section of the book is taken up with how Strange Stars differs from regular Fate (not much). You could even run a game without the Fate Core rules if you wanted (but why since you can get the Fate Core rules for free on this site?).

The remaining sections cover character creation. You have High Concept, Trouble and Stangeness as your first three Aspects. Strangeness should add some weirdness to the mix. Life in the Strange Stars is going to leave you affected--maybe you have an unusual gadget, or ethos, what have you.

Clade templates--Each clade is referenced with page number in the Setting Book. There are aliens galore in the Strange Stars and most of them are "human". Every clade mentioned in the Setting book is here and encouragement abounds to make your own.

Adventures and campaigns. If you are used to Fate Core the lightness of this section will not daunt you. There are enough ideas here to get your juices flowing.

Threats. A plethora of threats to use, but not enough to fill a universe. Just enough to figure out how to create your own to match your weird universe.

Worlds and Cluster creation I'll lump together. If you have played Diaspora (for sale on this site) you will understand how this works. Several differences bear mentioning. You are not tied to just the worlds of a cluster. Hyper Gates connect to at least one other of the areas in the Setting book. Higher technology is sought after not feared.

Finally, Factions are given several pages and a reason for existence. Many Fate Core books mention factions but this is the first time I remember any one discussing how they impact the PCs during roleplay.

Overall this is a very good addition to the Fate Core products that exist out there. It will take a bit of work to create your universe, but that is unlikely to deter anyone used to many of the Fate products out there.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Strange Stars Fate Rule Book
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Strange Stars
by Dillard R. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/16/2017 10:04:18

A bit expensive for just 32 pages...if you want your books to be jam packed with writing. If you go with the author's "bottom up" method of universe creation it won't be such a problem. And if you like evocative art to get your juices flowing then this is right up your alley.

If you were to cross Guardians of the Galaxy with the Heavy Metal movie and toss in a dash of MST3K you are begining to get the idea of what this setting can be. However, since this is a Player driven creation you could really use whatever comparisons you want.

This would be a great framework for any group that wants to explore/create their setting as they go, because it has enough info to get your creative juices flowing without putting you in a strait-jacket.

There is a Fate Core add on that you can purchase separately, because this is a system agnostic product.

I didn't give it 5 stars because I wanted more. However the concept is intriguing and well executed.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Strange Stars
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Strange Stars OSR Rule Book
by Eric F. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/10/2017 00:02:28

Sometimes you get to see an artifact from another alternative time period, a strange 'what if' book that ports itself into your hands. Unfortunately this sort of thing isn't real but Trey Causey has finally released his Strange Stars OSR Rule Book and its aimed straight at the heart of the Stars Without Numbers rpg system rule book as an alternative setting. "It’s the far future, Old Earth is lost and shrouded in legend, and the children of paleo-humanity have long ago populated the stars, branching into new forms and strange cultures. Adventure is measured in light-years!" This is a zipped down, stripped down, Stars Without Number setting book spun through the blender of Trey Causey's warped imagination. This book reads like a combination of a late 70's classic era Marvel space opera comic book setting with a completely different take down of the Stars Without Number setting on its own terms. So is this a good thing or a bad thing? Well, in many respects its a good thing, this book has actual playable OSR alien races that make you want to play them. There is a an entire boat load of worlds, materials,and adventure hooks sewing through out the setting book. This book is an exercise in compactness and interstellar utility. The layout is smooth, easy to read, & gives not only a gist of the interstellar setting but an entire setting straight out of the box. Here's a sample of the type of quality material that your going to get. Is it a complete setting? Yes and no, yes its perfectly suitable for running adventures in the Strange Stars universe mixed along side the Stars Without Number universe & system. But is it worth it if you already own the Strange Stars setting & resource book? Well that's going to depend if you want to convert the whole setting, plus races, material, etc. into Stars Without Number or into your favorite space OSR clone such as Hulks & Horrors, White Star, etc. This book covers all of the bases but making the buyer go for another purchase all over again is a bit of a pain in the ass for the consumer. So it loses points for that. But I get the reason why multiple versions of Strange Stars have been done. Trey is trying to get his hands into the gaming public's hands for sheer love of his setting & in a word its worth it. Especially for the Stars Without Number game universe because in many ways Strange Stars fulfills the retro gaming promise of SWN without all of that OSR system's setting baggage. I've DMed lots & lots of Stars Without Numbers over the years & in some respects there's way too many books, settings, etc. for SWN. In thirty seven pages you get factions, alien races,NPC's, adventure hooks, etc. ready too go for that group of player's that coming in fifteen minutes. This is a great setting book for Stars without Number because its ideal suited to take the PC's to the stars and beyond for months or years of old school play. Much of the Strange Stars setting echoes both SWN and its own internal 70's space opera groove. Could this work with other OSR gaming systems? Yes, in fact it would be an excellent fit with Venger Satanis's sleazy Alpha Blue rpg system. But without the adult sex & sleaze bits. Instead you get some very fine quality material that can literally generate months of 70's space opera play at the usual author's quality and output. There's some really fine pieces of artwork in here as well. Could Strange Stars OSR be used with other OSR retroclone systems such as White Star or Swords & Wizardry? In a word quite easily, not only the author's other work setting Weird Adventures the crunch is done in such a way to make porting over into your favorite game system quite easy & somewhat painless. This piece by Jason Sholtis, is especially evocative of the Seventies comic space opera. There is idea after idea here with homages to classic 70's films such as Logan's Run, Star Wars, Star Crash, etc. But Trey has free reign to let his imagination run wild. It does indeed lead into some weird & dark corners of his universe but that's half the fun here. What about using Strange Stars OSR with say the White Star rpg? Well after doing a bit of looking I found that Trey pointed me in the right direct it seems that friend already has done exactly this; " Mike aka Wrathofzombie has run some sessions of Strange Stars in White Star with some adaptation of the setting book of his on devising. Here are some races/classes: https://wrathofzombie.wordpress.com/2015/05/17/playable-alien-races-from-strange-stars-for-white-star/

Looking at what he did there, I don't think it would be very hard to convert over, as White Star looks even "rules lighter" than SWN, but with a similar OSR chassis. " This begs the question could Strange Stars be used with OD&D or say Swords & Wizardry? Well judging by the research I've done with it. I'd say definitely & because, "the children of paleo-humanity have long ago populated the stars" it would not be hard to take your favorite campaign setting or old school fantasy world & make it a back water planet in the Strange Stars universe. There are also lots of PC racial options from Atozan librarians to armored thrax warriors which can add new dimensions to character racial development.This is especially true for retroclones such as Swords & Wizardry or for other favorite OSR system. Could Strange Stars be used with Traveler, Star Frontiers ( the loving homage of the cover is a dead giveaway), or even Labyrinth Lord, Mutant Future, or Star Ships & Space Men Second Edition? In a word, yes. But where I think that Strange Stars OSR loses some points is in the fact that if you bought the first Strange Stars book, this is a companion piece & while I totally understand the reasons why. Now the reason why this pdf costs five dollars & fifty five cents is because its full of some really nice artwork, a solid layout,editing, & more all of this costs time, money, & high quality costs. Even though the page count is only thirty seven pages, this pdf is so chalk full of great OSR retro sci fi ideas that its well worth your time & money. The fact that its geared for Stars Without Numbers only adds to the value. My recommendation is to grab this one and start playing among Strange Stars. Five out of five in my book for solid OSR space opera for your old school campaign settings.

Eric Fabiaschi Swords & Stitchery blog Want to see more reviews, support for this & other OSR rpg systems plus original content? Subscribe to http://swordsandstitchery.blogspot.com



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Strange Stars OSR Rule Book
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Ruins & Ronin
by Thomas R. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/15/2016 16:44:35

I found myself pretty dissapointed with Ruins & Ronin. The level of content is pretty much limited to giving you permission to change the names of your character classes. Anyone with the ability to just look at their games and ask themselves 'how can I make this more japanese' has nothing to gain from this product.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Ruins & Ronin
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The Hill Cantons Cosmology
by Ray W. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/23/2016 17:35:09

Not only is this book packed with great ideas, but the writing is absolutely hilarious. As GM, it's up to you whether you want to pass these jokes on to your players, or keep them to yourself. You might be tempted to do the latter, because you don't want your players missing all the great ideas amidst all the great jokes. I'd quote from the PDF, but it's cheap and short so just go get it.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Hill Cantons Cosmology
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Slumbering Ursine Dunes
by Anders N. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/31/2016 02:17:17

A fantastic and inspiring adventure, just the right size for a few sessions of gaming and for giving your players a taste of the surreal Hill Cantons. Highly recommended!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Slumbering Ursine Dunes
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Weird Adventures
by Customer Name Withheld [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/30/2016 15:43:58

This is seriously one of my all-time favorite settings. Sure, there are a few big-name games with settings I enjoy, but Weird Adventures literally had me running for a notebook to scribble ideas in every page or two. I cannot WAIT to read more about this setting!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Weird Adventures
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Fever-Dreaming Marlinko
by Customer Name Withheld [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/30/2016 13:25:41

This isn't really a traditional city supplement. Rather, it's a set of adventure locations and a ready-made web of intrigues to plug into more or less any fantasy campaign (though it dovetails most clearly with Hydra's other campaign setting books, such as Slumbering Ursine Dunes).

It's possible to run it completely straight, but there's a lot of dry humour and the sensibility is strongly coloured by Vance's Dying Earth books. Essentially, if you like Vance's sardonic innkeepers and eloquent ne'erdowells, you'll probably like Marlinko.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fever-Dreaming Marlinko
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Hill Cantons Compendium II
by Jim G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/30/2016 10:05:14

Handy and useful compendium of material from the excellent Hillside Cantons blog. The new rules, classes, etc. presented herein are well thought out, nicely presented and fairly easy to adapt or adopt as you see fit.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Hill Cantons Compendium II
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