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FAITH: Core Book
Publisher: Burning Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/24/2018 07:34:26

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive RPG clocks in at 433 pages minus the covers etc.; once you take credits and the detailed, general index away, you’re left with 426 pages, not including the 4 pregens and 3 general sheets included for your convenience.

This review was moved up in my reviewing-queue due to me receiving a print copy of the book in exchange for a fair and unbiased review. The review is based on the massive full-color hardcover.

All right, I am going to deviate somewhat from my usual reviewing style while tackling this beast and separate the review in 3 sections, namely formal qualities, game engine and setting.

The first thing you’ll notice upon laying eyes on the book, is that the cover image evokes a sense of advanced Cyberpunk-ish aesthetics. There is a reason for that, an Altered Carbon flashbacks you may have are entirely justified, as the game does not necessarily lend itself to Shadowrun-ish cyberpunk, but works rather well in more extreme versions for the genre. That being said, make no mistake: FAITH is very much a sci-fi game in aesthetics and its ambition, and not one of the many space-opera-ish games out there. But we’ll get back to that later. The second thing you’ll notice upon opening the book, would be layout and artwork. From color-coded riders on the side to boxed texts, the layout of the book is engineered to make its use simple: Advanced rules have their own, shaded boxes, as do examples of play/rules in action. This provides clear visual cues for the use of the game.

And then there would be the aesthetic component. FAITH is easily one of the most beautiful RPG books I have ever laid my eyes upon. I am not kidding. See that cover? I’d actually argue that it’s one of the weakest artworks in the book. We get panoramic vistas of alien cityscapes and planets, drop-dead gorgeous depictions of the races, and the quality of the artwork throughout is on par with expensive video-game artwork books. I am not kidding when I’m saying that many a conceptual artwork unlocked in current triple A-videogame titles pales before the sheer aesthetic joy evoked by many of the artworks within. Even better, the book actually has a distinct and unified art style, which is 100% coherent and concise. Now, it should be noted that the artworks for the races include nude renditions of the alien and human races, so if any depiction of a non-sexualized human body offends you due to some irrational taboo, then that’s something to look out for. Then again, if that’s the case, you probably wouldn’t get anything out of this book in such a case, as it is a book that focuses on big questions in a plethora of ways.

As stunning and gorgeous the book is on a visual level, I’m afraid I can’t say the same thing for the editing. While the vast majority of the book is presented in a level of precision and care you’d expect from such a big core book, and thus remains very much a precise, well-crafted book, there are sections interspersed throughout the book where concentration seems to have wavered, one of which, unfortunately, is the introductory section, where e.g. a doubled paragraph and more formal glitches can be found than you’d expect from a book that showcases such stunning visuals. The somewhat uneven editing remains one of the most obvious imperfections of the book.

Now, I have seen some reviews accusing FAITH of being a hybrid between a card/board-game and a RPG. I’d frankly argue that this is a folly. FAITH employs cards as randomizers, yes, but the book does not require any special cards, miniatures, etc.. You can purchase the FAITH-specific decks, sure, but the game works just as well with regular decks of cards. It should be noted that e.g. items all come with their gorgeous artworks, and while these can be had as cards, the book also features them, including their gorgeous artworks. As a card-based game, the game spends some time advising on how many card decks you should have. Personally, I’d strongly advise in favor of each player and GM having their own decks. The value of an ace is 1, jack 11, queen 12, king 13. That’s pretty much all you need to know, value-wise, to play FAITH with regular cards. Now, the FAITH deck (which I do not own and haven’t used) knows 4 suits: Wilderness, Urban, Space and OS – all of these suits have their own icon and correspond to one of the suits of the classic poker deck. Jokers are special: They can only be played in specific circumstances: After declaring successes and failures, you may play a joker to improve the level of success of one success, or decrease the success of an enemy by one step. So yeah, no one should feel that tracking these basics overexerts their mental faculties.

It should be noted that a key concept of FAITH is that each player has 7 cards (humans may have up to 8), and may not look into deck or discard pile. Players may not share the values of the cards in their hands, not show them o other players, but they can provide general hints of how well they’re doing. When do you draw again? Well, that is one of the most intriguing aspects of the FAITH game: It grants the GM pretty much perfect control over the difficulty setting, if you will, of any given sequence. FAITH divides the game into scenes, and at the beginning of a scene, everyone draws up to their maximum hand-size of cards – usually 7. The hand-size is a general indicator of physical and mental fatigue. Characters are assumed to succeed in most regular actions, unless contested. Initiative is governed by its own Skill, and turn are taken according to set value. However, a character may choose to Rush, by discarding one card and adding its value to their initiative score, but only at the start of a round. There are two statuses a PC can have each round: Ready and Spent. If the character is Ready, he can perform an action or wait – if the character is Spent, he can’t do something and must wait for the next round – this is important, as the PCs can attempt counteractions, which, obviously, means that they use their action. This basic framework allows for surprisingly dynamic engagements.

At the end of the round, there is the so-called maintenance phase, where each character that is not traumatized currently and hasn’t taken neural damage that round, regains a point of neural health. After that, the next round starts. Maintenance phases can happen in non-combat situations as well. As noted before, FAITH assumes actions to be successful and knows three degrees of success: Regular, decisive and critical – decisive successes are successes by 5+, critical ones by 10+. Simple. If an action is difficult to perform due to time constraints, or the opposition of environment, characters, etc., then we enter a “Confrontation.” The triggering character determines the action, with related skill and attribute used, using up to one Activated and one Sustained effect. The GM declares the number of cards to be played. Any affected characters aware of the action declare counteractions. Interesting here: Counteractions, unlike the action triggering the confrontation, may only affect the triggering individual. Played values of cards are compared and if the counteraction surpasses the value of the triggering action, it cancels the triggering action. It is only successful versus targets with a lower value. For example, if you throw a grenade into a room with two targets, and one declares to jump out of the room’s window, while the other attempts to run away, and the former is successful, but the latter isn’t, you still blow up the guy that attempted to run, while the guy jumping through the window got away. If the first guy had chosen to kick the grenade back, you’d have been in trouble…

Whenever a character performs an action, he uses a skill. If a skill value is 0, the character suffers a disadvantage. Skill values are decreased by 1 for each damage point (physical and neural) suffered, to a minimum of 0. Neural damage suffered from Activated or Sustained actions occurs as the action resolves, and hence does not penalize the action. Advantage and disadvantages are represented by plus and minus-symbols and add/subtract 5 from the value, respectively.

Now, I’ve already mentioned attributes: The respective attribute determines how many cards you can play per round to add to the values set by the skill. When a player plays a card whose value is equal or less than the Skill, he may draw another card. When the environment in which a card is played corresponds to the suit of the card, the player may also draw a card. This is called ambience. A character also have an affinity with a suit: When playing a card that corresponds to the affinity and in the proper ambience, the player instead draws two cards, one of them in hand, the other must be either be placed on top of the deck or discarded. In case you were wondering: There are only 12 skills, and to state explicitly what I implicitly mentioned before. At character creation, you assign fixed values to them: one 5, one 4, two 3s, two 2s, 3 1s and 3 of your skills will be 0s. You also get 60 points to assign to the 6 attributes (Agility, Constitution, Dexterity, Faith, Link and Mind) and skills, allowing for further customization. Now, it should be noted that Skills and Attributes do not necessarily have a fixed connection. Athletic skill, for example, can be used with Constitution or Agility. Attributes also have maximum limits, depending on the race chosen and the traits of that race – those would be basically a combination of racial and cultural components; planetside and spaceborn characters have different traits, for example.

The game knows both physical and neural health as hit point-like resource, with physical health being twice Constitution, neural health being equal to twice the Mind value. = neural health knocks you out, 0 physical health means you’re bleeding out. The game knows an additional damage that does not apply to characters directly, ACS, adaptive circuit severance, usually inflicted by hacking and neural assaults. Repairing and recovering health via Medicine and Surgery are btw. not something you’ll do instantly, so damage does matter. And that’s already pretty much the whole basic system.

If that sounded somewhat hard to grasp, then that’s not due to the system being complex, but due to the fact that the game system plays rather differently from most RPGs. Miniature play is supported, should you choose, but unlike most d20-based games, it is by no means required to get the most out of it, you can play FAITH in full theatre of the mind-mode sans any issues. All rules, including play examples etc., fit comfortably on 113 pages, with the basic core rules only taking up 25 pages. FAITH is easier to grasp if you approach it without preconceptions from other games.

Now, once you compare the total page-count with the amount of pages taken up by the rules themselves, you’ll end up with 300 pages unaccounted for. Indeed, the book presents these BEFORE the rules of the game. The vast majority of this book is devoted to the setting, and there are two different aspects that set this massive setting apart.

The first of these aspects would be the importance of “Religion” – now, I am putting this term in quotation marks, as, while the game is called FAITH, I’d argue in favor of the game actually lacking faith in the traditional sense. Faith, as a term, denotes belief in something without empirical evidence, often in spite of it. In fact, as an atheist, this aspect had me very concerned. Science-fiction often makes sense due to the lack of supernatural elements, and once you introduce too much magical aspects, it’s progressively harder to maintain your suspension of disbelief without the game becoming space opera-ish. Now, I have commented on the like before, but while I like space opera-style gameplay, I expect more from any game that designates itself as sci-fi; I expect an internal cohesion, that things make sense. Faith, per definition, lacks sense, lacks the empirical foundation that lies at the heart of good science-fiction. So how does FAITH handle this aspect, how does it sell you on the concepts of deities in an otherwise rational universe?

Well, I’d argue that the gods are not really gods in the way that we think about them. Instead, they should be seen as a combination of a Weltanschauung, Zeitgeist and general, value-based ideology; 5 such deities have been identified, with their true names collated from thousands of different representations across different cultures. These concepts/beings are Ergon (cooperation, empathy, teamwork, social concerns), Hexia (intuition, vision, learning, self-improvement), Kaliva (competition, action, adaptability, strength and struggle), Vexal (change, freedom, passion, movement and hope) and Ledger (opposition to all dogma and rules, the trickster/adversary that seeks to undo the work of the other gods). So, while the gods exist undoubtedly, they are basically distilled powers of philosophies, extremes of moral and rational values, and each has a vision of sorts for the universe, each represents the core principals for a plethora of different factions. Now, why do I think that there is no faith in FAITH? (Again, a good thing, in my book!) Well, because the gods are ideas manifest that exist. There’s empiric proof that they exist, and people embodying the ideals of their gods have divine powers of significant proportions. Each god has a diverse set of commandments, and since adhering to these grants powers, as soulbenders can twist reality in accordance with the doctrines of the deity.

Ultimately, there is no question that requires faith; there is no REQUIREMENT to believe in something uncertain with a lack of evidence. “Belief”, arguably, does not enter the picture at all. After all, the gods are a fact, they are ideals made manifest, and as such, are subject to scientific inquiry within the context of the setting; not pseudo-science à la creationism etc., mind you. In the universe of FAITH, philosophy and, indeed, faith itself, is as tangible a force as intelligence, education, etc. is in our world. This focus on the empirical realities also extends to the fact that there is no afterlife myth for any of the gods – irrational notions of heaven or hell have been abandoned when the gods were proven to actually exist in the tangible, material universe. This way of integrating gods into a sci-fi context did a remarkably good job at conveying not only the wonders, but also the horrors that spring forth from the philosophies represented by the deities. So yes, this is an intelligent, creative and genius way to establish general philosophical baselines that transcend the conditions of existence of vastly different species.

Speaking of which: Know how many games that take place in space, how many universes/franchises spam you with differently-colored humans? FAITH does no such thing. There are 4 races to play, with a lot of variance within the races to account for different environments and cultures. Here, the book does something genius: You see, we as human readers are presented the realities of the setting, but considering how universal translation has pretty much gotten rid of language barriers, the alien races are linguistically coded – one, for example, employs Inuit nomenclature, while another uses Chinese terminology. Considering the very dominant role of English and associated nomenclature in RPGs, this adds a linguistically based marker for alterity. There is a reason for these choices hard-coded into the setting as well.

There is another component that sets this game apart from e.g. Star Trek and similar franchises; somewhat akin to e.g. Mass Effect, humans are relative newcomers to the universe. You see, mankind manages to bomb itself back to post-apocalypse and wrecked earth. For a not clearly defined timeframe, we have basically lived on a constant downhill slope. Meanwhile, a rather nasty alien species of conquerors saw its empire fall, a former slave race rise to the status of empire, and another take to the stars. We, as a species, only enter the stage of FAITH’s universe as second-class citizens, for, as it turns out, humans may suck at adapting to space, but we’re actually physically really powerful in comparison and we make formidable soldiers. Thus, a majority of humans in FAITH are sterilized second-class citizens and feared soldiers that fight the battles for the two major competing empires, with post-apocalyptic gameplay being still very much possible in the ruins of earth.

Anyways, the second race that acts in a similar manner would be the Raag, who have marsupial-like pouches and are the only race to be physically more potent than humans. The Raag have a matriarchal system, with males being more impulse-driven and violent than females, and it should come as no surprise that they are somewhat connotated as spacefaring nomads/soldiers, with a rigid clan-structure (where adoption into a clan is a significant step) and serious differences between the clans regarding their outlook on life. The Raag serve as an example for something that the book does PHENOMENALLY well. This would be the depiction not only of biological realities of the species within, but also of the cultures that sprang forth due to their collective experiences. The way in which the races are depicted is, without engaging in hyperbole, pure genius and a triumph of fantastic prose-writing and world-building. The cultures and traditions depicted are absolutely stunning in how alien they are to the human reader, and in how believable they still remain at the same time. There is a staggering amount of detail and internal cohesion and logical interconnectedness that renders all of the different cultures presented more alive than 99.99% of alien cultures depicted in science-fiction media, regardless of whether in roleplaying context or beyond that; if more sci-fi novels had this compelling and engrossing prose, I’d be reading more in the genre.

The interconnectedness of lore also extends, unsurprisingly, to the influence of the deities, which tie in with churches, factions, groups, etc., so yes, the world-building is absolutely mind-blowing and compelling – to the point where I had a hard time putting the book down.

This is, at least for me, even more true regarding the two massive empires, the Iz’kal and the Corvo. The Corvo are the guys that “found” humans, and their vast empire, the Corvosphere, represents pretty much the default made of play assumed by FAITH, with the vast Dyson Ring (yes, gravity works properly!) of Tiantang being probably the default starting area for most groups. Now, the Corvo are somewhat insectoid, but remain actually kinda sympathetic…in a, for humans, utterly horrifying manner. You see, Corvo psychology has basically taken Keansian economic ideology and upped it. The Corvo have developed a truly uncompromising hyper-capitalist meritocracy that may be well read as a scathing satire on Western, first-world culture and Chinese economies, but what would be just a satire is further enhanced by the vast differences in the way that Corvo psychology works. Sans the human need to cling to ideals and certain societal structures, the rampant, one would say virulent, growth of the Corvo made them superbly adaptable and cutting-edge; there is a sense of backstabbing and uncompromising harshness ingrained in them, but logically, a society this advanced would have issues, right? Automation, after all, already is problematic for us, much less an even more advanced culture! The Corvo, with a wise taboo on AI, are primitive in one way that makes their culture work: They have developed a direct-to-brain-interface, and a vast amount of the poorer populace must lease out the processing power of their minds for hours and days on end, powering the complex calculations required by the advanced society. This is a stringent and poignant way to depict the fact that we, ultimately, sell the time of our lives in every form of work, job, etc. – it’s the one finite resource, and being required to cease being conscious, to lose sovereignty over your mind and body for the time, can be a thoroughly twisted concept from a human perspective. This, combined with the vast Corvo megacorps that de facto rule the race, means that the Corvosphere can easily provide all the Cyberpunk and Transhumanist context you might require. All the themes of exploitation of the individual, all the struggles versus corporate greed and intrigue – all this is firmly at home in an empire that, ultimately, is familiar to human readers, yet absolutely, distinctly radical and uncompromising. Alien. Uncanny. I love it.

After the phenomenal prose depicting the Corvo empire, of how wondrous and at the same time, horrifying, it turned out to be, I couldn’t fathom how the empire of the Iz’kal could hold a candle to it. Well, if you thought the Corvo are strange, you’ll be blown away by the Iz’kal. This race ‘s most defining characteristic is undoubtedly them being empaths; their physiology allows them to commune with each other, and their society is build on their premise. It’s also bereft of currency. Yes, you read right. Neither is there trade per se. In a lesser book, in the hands of lesser writers, the Iz’kal would have become a utopian counterproposal to the Corvo, but they, ultimately, are just as frightening. Birth rates are controlled, and your aptitude is judged by the state, which then proceeds to assign careers to you. If you need a piano, you’ll get one, but if you don’t use it, it’ll be withdrawn and assigned to another being. In short, the Iz’kal society is one that is characterized by submission of any form of personal agency to the collective will of the state and society. The in-character prose, pieces of which are interspersed throughout the whole book, drives that home just as well, as the fall of a Corvo paragon did in the previous chapter: The Iz’kal are NOT humans with a thin alien-coating; they are radically different in their psychology and the way in which their society is depicted made me truly SHUDDER. As someone who generally did not identify with the status quo, with the dominant opinions and cultural streams from a young age, I was truly horrified by this seemingly utopian, willful loss of individual agency, assumed by a whole species.

Think about it. You like singing. You’re good at it. The state determines that, genetically, you’re better suited to become an engineer, a task that brings you no joy. You’ll be an engineer, no discussion. In a way, we have a Kantian utopia that goes to the logical conclusion, that loses what we consider a very basic right. A human right. The Iz’kal are not human, and it becomes ever more apparent as you read, as you learn that the compromised self-determination even extends to the integrity of their own DNA, with genetic adaption being another aspect that the state exerts influence over. Those that lose the empathic/telepathic organ or have it damaged, become something…else. Indeed, the society of the Iz’kal is predicated on this physiological peculiarity, and as such, is much less welcoming than that of the Corvo. Now, there are movements, there is diversity here – but it is one that is rooted in a mindset that is utterly different from anything you usually get to see. In a way, this chapter can be read as just as scathing a satire as the chapter on the Corvo, but once more, reducing the Iz’kal to that would do a disservice to the superb writing.

While I have depicted both of these empires and cultures as somewhat horrifying, they, at the same time, are beautiful in a way; in gleefully vapid, prejudice-free consumerism that accepts beyond social status, race, etc.; in a harmony that seems utterly impossible to achieve. I knew after finishing reading about these 4 races, that I’d fail the book. Indeed, I rewrote this whole section more than once, and every time, I ended up disliking what I wrote; every time, I felt like I failed to encapsulate the vast complexity, the logical connections, that make these cultures and races feel so alive. As such, please take my word for it: What I wrote here barely scratches the surface of the races and their cultures, as each chapter introduces a vast array of factions and organizations, as well as a ton of adventure hooks and sample NPCs, which include a ton of movers and shakers. If you’re not inspired to run whole campaigns after each chapter, I don’t know what will do the trick. The writing here is frankly one of the best I have ever had the pleasure to read in a RPG-book.

So, is everything amazing regarding the world-building? Well…no. There is one aspect that feels, at least to me, like a foreign body in an otherwise inspired setting. That would be the Ravagers. These fellows are basically the xenomorphs/Tyranids/boogiemen that made Iz’kal and Corvo enter a truce of sorts. The Ravagers are a species that assimilate biomatter, reproduce it and basically can duplicate anything they absorbed. This allows for doppelgängers, we have vast, planet-sized queens, collective intelligence – it’s basically the swarm. Now, the prose in the chapter, in the form of scientific logs, feels aptly apocalyptic and horrifying, and the choice in favor of black backgrounds here emphasizes the level of threat these seek to evoke, but as the big, bad race, the Ravagers lack the same super-inspiring complexity of ideologies and cultures that the playable races offered, and their angle, while somewhat distinct from the aforementioned frame-of-reference aliens from various franchises, never reaches the same level of pure creativity of the playable races. In short, they are just good/very good, in a massive section that provides pure, intellectually-exhilarating excellence.

Conclusion:

Formatting is very good, while editing, as mentioned before, is slightly inconsistent and represents the one formally not perfect aspect of the book. The layout and particularly, the artworks employed throughout are amazing. The artwork is particularly impressive and the interior artwork is actually even better than the cover artwork! The massive hardcover employs thick, glossy, high-quality paper and the production value of the massive book are impressive.

Okay, so I’m not sure regarding who did what in this book, so I’ll list the authors in their noted roles: As producers, we have Jon Egia and Helio de Grado listed; game designers would be Carlos Gómez Quintana, Mauricio Gómez Alonso and Helio de Grado, while writer credits go to J. C. Alvarez and Carlos Gómez “Quntana” (I assume a missing “I” here), with E.G. Quinzel as a guest-writer.

Now, as far as game design is concerned, I felt like the sequence of the rules-presentation could have been slightly streamlined; since playing FAITH is pretty different from your regular RPG, reading the rules required some close attention on my part. That being said, if you do not have a ton of experience with RPGs, that aspect will actually be easier. The system puts control firmly where in belongs, into the hands of the GM. Rules-wise, this s an interesting change of pace that is easy to grasp and master once you’ve managed to understand the basic premises. So yes, FAITH is a good game.

That being said, I firmly believe that, even if you have no interest WHATSOEVER in the system FAITH uses, in the game aspect of this book, even then, you will probably love this tome.

I cannot overstate how excellent the world-building is. I cannot overstate how logical, how clever, how intellectually-stimulating this book is. This book provided the most compelling example of world-building I have read in a long, long time. In fact, all of the different societies are so compelling that you really want to play in these environments. The attention to detail given to the Corvo and Iz’kal makes them and their cultures feel alien, and freed of the constraints of hegemonic storytelling traditions. This really manages to feel like you’re a human reading, through a universal translation about societies and people that are utterly different from anything you usually experience in either real life, or fictional media. There is an attention to detail, to narrative options, that, from the take on the gods, to the societies and factions, suffused all levels, from the global to the personal. This is distinctly a science-fiction book; it is intelligent and tackles the big questions of morality, identity, nurture vs. nature, consciousness, etc. - you name it, FAITH provides. Heck, you can alternate between more cyberpunkish sessions, exploration of the wormhole-labyrinth/final frontier, operations vs. the ravagers, post-apocalyptic survival, diplomacy, infiltration…the game engine is robust, but the campaign setting, the utterly GLORIOUS setting, is what makes you stay. Heck, even if you prefer another game-system, it is my fervent belief that you’ll find a huge treasure trove of pure, amazing excellence in this tome. While not as refined as I’d like it to be regarding the copy editing and sequence of rules-presentation, this book hence still constitutes a masterpiece as far as I’m concerned. The game represents a great change of pace, and the world- and culture-building is inspired on a nigh-unprecedented level. This book is definitely worth 5 stars + seal of approval, and is a candidate for my Top Ten of 2017.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
FAITH: Core Book
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Intrigue Archetypes
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/24/2018 07:29:43

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This collection of archetypes, nominally associated with the Curse of the Crimson Throne plug-ins, clocks in at 41 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages introduction/how to use, 2 pages ToC/explanation of references, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 30 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

We first begin this supplement with a total of 10 different archetypes, the first of which would be the Cityscape hierophant, a druid who receives a modified class skill list (losing nature skills, but gaining social skills, Knowledge (nobility) etc.) and similarly, proficiencies are modified: The archetype gets access to clubs, crossbows (all), dagger, dart, quarterstaff, sap and one-handed firearms as well as light armors and bucklers. The cityscape hierophant does not gain Sylvan as a bonus language, instead communicating with a weird sort of bastardized Druidic via e.g. graffiti. This is translated to arcane mark at-will as well as the glyph of warding spells being added to the spell-list. Instead of nature sense and wild empathy, we get a variant of detect undead that applies to undead, fey, outsiders as well as astral, ethereal and incorporeal creatures – spirit sense. The druid gets a concisely codified summoning tweak, with elementals and urban creatures, which, at the GM’s discretion, can include low leveled mooks based on NPC Codex stats. The archetype does not gain an animal companion, instead gaining a domain chosen from a limited list, which represents the changed focus of the archetype, allowing for the choice of Community, Nobility, etc. This also ties in with spontaneous casting, which is instead tied to domain spells instead of the usual summon nature’s ally conversions. The archetype replaces woodland stride and trackless step with favored terrain for urban terrain, scaling up to a +8 bonus at 17th level. Resist nature’s lure is replaced with +4 to saves vs. diseases, poison and alcohol and drugs. A thousand faces is gained at 6th level and wild shape is delayed until 8th level, usable at class level -4 and a limited animal familiarity restricted to city-bound animals. However, at 9th level, the basic, nerfed wildshape gets another use: As a swift or immediate action, the archetype may expend one use of wildshape to gain one of 5 different benefits for one hour per druid level. These include adaptable sight (first low-light vision, the darkvision after 1d4 rounds), waterbreathing after submersion, etc. – this is really cool. Camouflage, better jumping (+feather fall), evading detection…it makes you a badass urban druid that is superb in disappearing. Really cool. The archetype pays for this with venom immunity and timeless body. All in all, a great archetype and one of the best reasons to get this.

The next archetype would be an engine-tweak: The inquisitive detective may not take the inspired vigilante talent, gaining an investigator’s inspiration, governed by Charisma, and may take investigator talents instead of social talents, paying for the added flexibility with 3rd and 11th level’s social talents. The archetype does not gain free uses of inspiration on trained Knowledge etc. checks unless taking the inspired intelligence talent. It gets interaction with potentially problematic components right. Not a huge fan here, but the tweak at least prevents alchemist discoveries to be gained thus. Still, not that blown away here.

The mastermind psychic is another engine tweak. The archetype replaces one of the 1st level discipline psychic powers with Conceal Spell, with the explicit note that you can use social skills or Sense Motive in conjunction with this feat, The mastermind may undercast all spells with the ruse-descriptor, which seems simple, but is actually pretty complex. 5th level nets Brilliant Planner, replacing 5th level’s discipline power.

The scheming priest cleric must be non-good and uses Charisma as governing spellcasting attribute, gaining a couple of spells as added cleric spells, including glibness and, later, mage’s private sanctum at 5th spell level and mind blank at 8th spell level. The archetype only gets one domain and loses spontaneous casting, but gains a mesmerist’s hypnotic stare. Instead of channel energy, we get bold stare at 3rd level, and 9th level nets mask alignment, which does what it says on the tin. A hybrid-y engine tweak I really enjoyed. The next one would be the shapeshifting hunter, who replaces Handle Animal with Disguise and Sense Motive, class skill-wise. The character is treated as having a dead animal companion and adds detect and seek thoughts to the spellcasting. Instances of bonus tricks and hunter tactics are replaced with favored terrain at 3rd level. 4th level nets wild shape at full progression, with 6th, 8th, 10th, 12th and 16th level providing progressions, unlocking Huge and diminutive monstrous humanoid forms and using both monstrous physique and giant form as basis for the improvements, This replaces the companion and the links etc. – nice, complex shift of focus for the class.

Spell hacker wizards replace arcane bond with an arcanist exploit chosen from a list, treating her class level as arcanist level -3, minimum 1. This choice may be changed once per day. Instead of 5th level’s bonus feat, we get the option to 1 + 1 per 5 wizard levels prepare spells as if modified by one of multiple metamagic feats. The subtle gunslinger is a rather complex engine-tweak: The class gets psychic spells as a medium -3, but uses Wisdom as governing spellcasting attribute and has a custom spell-list. This replaces pistol whip and utility shot as well as all higher level deeds. This is per se interesting, though it does not address the most frustrating aspects of the gunslinger class.

The talented tactician vigilante gets all knowledge skills and Spellcraft as class skills, but loses Acrobatics, Escape Artist, Disable Device and Survival. Similarly, their skills per level are reduced to 4 + Intelligence modifier. The archetype loses proficiency with two-handed martial weapons and medium armor, but may cast spells, governed by Intelligence, and otherwise using the bard’s engine, and doe so freely when wearing light armor etc. This replaces 5 of the potent vigilante talents. Spellcasting is also hard-coded to be associated with a bonded object spellbook. Instead of vigilante specialization, we get tactical analysis, which is a move action that targets a foe within 60 ft., using a Knowledge check as though identifying them. This nets all allies a circumstance bonus to atk and damage for Intelligence modifier +1/2 level rounds. The ability codified Knowledge skill used by creature type. Instead of vigilante talents, the archetype may choose arcanist exploits and qualifies for the Extra feat. Additionally, the archetype may choose from a list of a variety of unique talents. These include unlocking arcane reservoir and consume spells, damage increase, a magus’ spell combat, spellstrike, infinite pages in the spellbook, a familiar, adding Int-mod to atk with one-handed and light weapons. Better scroll casting and multi-target analysis as well as some limited spell-poaching can be found here. At 5th level, we get additional benefits for analysis, including knowing precise hit points of foes, ignoring Int mod DR, an AC-buff, etc. At 11th and 17th level, another such benefit is chosen. This replaces the appearance ability-tree. Instead of vengeance strike, we have basically imposed disadvantage for saves analyzed foes attempt versus the tactician’s spells. While this is an interesting, complex tactician tweak for the vigilante, I prefer other executions of the tactician trope, as blending of magus, arcanist and analysis and vigilante feel like a bit all over the place as far as I’m concerned.

The second vigilante archetype is the trickshot sniper, who loses martial melee weapon proficiency in favor of bows, chakrams, crossbows, firearms, slings, sling staves and shuriken. They must choose a specific weapon category among the ranged ones (or throws weapons) as a specialty, and these weapons may be reloaded as a free action, provided they do not take longer than a full-round action to reload. Good catch there! Bow/sling users etc. instead halve range penalties. Regardless of selected weapon, the character can designate a thrown weapon or ammo as part of using it as special, which translates to a scaling atk bonus. These may also be altered by ammo talents. 2 pieces of ammo may be designated per 5 minutes, +1 per such interval at 6th level and every 4 levels thereafter and only one may be designated thus per round. This replaces vigilante specialization. The reference to ammo talents has probably cued you in: The archetype gets its own array of signature talents – not a few, mind you: We get more than 3 (!!) pages of signature talents, some of which are designated as ammo talents. We get reduced misfire rates adding energy damage, scatter shots, etc. – basically, if you wanted Green Arrow or Hawkeye as an archetype, then this fellow delivers. The archetype loses unshakeable in favor of sniping, and the appearance-ability-sequence is replaced with Shot on the Run and improving Shot on the Run for less penalties and more shots. The archetype also gets a modified capstone for full attack Stealth sniping.

The final archetype would be the Wild Card swashbuckler, who loses proficiency with martial weapons and gets Throw Anything as a bonus feat as well as Quarterstaff Master, with an obvious focus on applying the benefits of the swashbuckler’s usual features to the staff itself. The archetype loses out on one use of charmed life at 10th level, and 3rd level provides a means to quickly stand up via quarterstaff and improve jumping, sans AoO or with bonus to Acrobatics via panache expenditure. The 3rd level also nets the option to generate prestidigitation cards that act as shuriken, sans AoO while you have at least 1 panache. Yeah, you’ll probably have realized it by now – this archetype is basically the means to play Gambit from X-men. Infusing cards to be magical, and having them detonate at higher levels is damn cool. Similarly, using panache for charm person. Swashbuckler weapon training is delayed to 9th level, and instead of bleeding wound, we get the means to use panache to influence luck-based challenges and mitigate natural 1s with surges. 12th level nets Tripping Twirl instead of the bonus feat. All in all, this guy and the trick sniper are my favorites herein. It should be noted that the trickshot sniper also comes with a quiver that can duplicate magic ammo/thrown weapons with short-lived duplicates produced.

The pdf also contains a couple of class options: Arcanist exploits include two options: Layered Spell lets you hide a spell in another, with the cost in points contingent on spell level. The exploit is pretty potent, somewhat kept in check by limiting the applicable spells for the dual cast at 2 spell levels lower than the maximum you can cast. The second exploit is Spontaneous Ruse, which allows you to spontaneously change a ruse spell to its non-ruse version, even if you don’t have it. The exploit also lets you expend points to cast the ruse, even if not prepared. There are 4 different magus arcana; three for 1/day free metamagic for certain fats, and one that lets you expend an arcane pool point for + class level bonus to Str or Dex-based skill checks next round. There are three new vigilante talents. One that lets you scavenge amid the ammo talents of the trickshot sniper; one for more damage with crossbows etc. and one for quicker reloading with wrist launchers, crossbows, etc.

The feat chapter provides several tweaks for the vigilante, like one that nets you vigilante talents if you have a casting vigilante archetype that costs you this precious resource; there is a feat for better talented tactician analysis, one for Wisdom or Intelligence-using vigilantes…you get the idea. The chapter also contains a ton of feats that show the very distinct penmanship of Clinton Boomer: I.e., there are feats herein that are very much things to build characters towards, with seriously high complexity in several cases. For example, only urban druids of cityscape hierophants may take Aegis of Brick and Glass. This not only expands your spell-list, it makes the spells use local masonry etc. to duplicate the architectural style, providing a means of hiding and blending with your surroundings; furthermore, for example, stone shape in urban environment can affect glass, bricks and tiles, etc. This is incredibly cool and flavorful and a design aesthetic that suffuses the vast majority of these feats. Black Magick Gumshoe is a cityscape hierophant/detective multiclass feat, while Deductive Intellect provides synergy between Cityscape Hierophant, detective (bard and investigator (rogue) are blended, with Deduction Points representing the potent deductions. Blending touch of corruption and Deduction points. Pitiless Economies allows you to decrease the cost-of-living benefits of targets, cursing them…and yes, this may maintain your life. This is twisted and really dangerous. Not a fan of the auto-confirmed crits versus destitute targets, but yeah. Cool one! It should be noted that the majority of these complex feats are for the cityscape hierophant druid, so if that archetype already resounded with you, then this chapter will make you love it.

The pdf also provides a new PrC that spans 10 levels. The Coinmage gets d6 HD, 6 + Intelligence modifier skills, no new proficiencies, ½ BAB- and Ref- and Will-save progression and no new armor/weapon proficiency. In order to qualify for the PrC, you need 5 ranks of Sleight of Hand, you must be capable of casting 1st level arcane spells and prestidigitation as well as either sneak attack or hidden strike. The class gets progression at 1st level, 3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th, 9th and 10th level – either gain sneak attack/hidden strike or spellcasting progression. Problematic: The 4th level notes progression twice in the class table – one of these may be simply misplaced and intended for 5th level, but I’m not sure. The class manipulates coins, measuring the ability to influence them by numismatic capacity, using highest spell known or sneak attack/hidden strike dice to determine it. The value also increases at certain levels, but may not exceed 7, unless expanded with numismatic specialty – more on that later. Coin effects can encompass multiple flights of coins and may be influenced as a standard action at 1st level. Later, attentions are gained, and upon gaining an attention, the previous effects will be optionally reduced. Range may be upgraded, and so may speed. The class provides fixed access to the copper, silver and gold ability suites. Class levels 6th and every level thereafter yield access to an advanced metal regarding the abilities. Now, these flights of coins per se offer interesting options, with line of sight blocking, missile coins, etc. The abilities even have a fatigue engine that decreases CL on failed concentration checks after the flights had been animated. And the capstone allows you to tweak the flights of clouds. This PrC is weird. I read it multiple times until I finally understood how it works – it is somewhat obtuse and hard to grasp, with e.g. “Choice Upgrade” and the sequence of its presentation being confusing and unfortunately named. This sense of not being as refined as the rest of the pdf extends to the effecs themselves, save-reference not capitalized…and the engine and notes ultimately make this feel like it spiraled somewhat out of control, like it could have been a good class tweak/alternate class, but as provided, this is really hard to understand. It’s not necessarily bad, mind you, it just feels less refined, with no maximum damage cap for iron coins apart from the flight-coin limit. This is also enforced by e.g. one and the same type of save formula, “15 + your coinmage level” coming once with “plus” and once with “+” on the same page. This feels like a late addition that could have used a dev-pass to make its per se interesting framework more refined. The concept would have deserved as much.

The pdf closes with a really cool, kickass half-elf vigilante trickshot sniper, Nitha Rathi, who gets a cool background and a neat boon for PCs befriending her, ending the pdf on a high note.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, for the most part, are top notch on both a formal and rules-language level. There are some aspects, where the book suddenly becomes slightly less refined, though. Layout adheres to a really beautiful 2-column full-color standard, with nice full-color artworks, though fans of legendary games will be familiar with quite a few of them. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

More so than most such archetype books, this book by N. Jolly, Jason Nelson, Clinton J. Boomer, Jonathan H. Keith, Julian Neale and David N. Ross is one that turned out to be a bit of a rollercoaster ride for me. I really liked the scheming priest, but the main winners here are antipaladins/evil guys (feat chapter!), and druid and vigilante players. The cityscape hierophant archetype is a joy to read and made me recall China Miéville’s vast sprawls and Perdido Street Station in particular. The vigilante’s two class tweaks were hit and miss for me: Tactician-wise, there imho are better base classes out there, and the blend of magus and arcanist tricks grafted to its chassis didn’t gel with me well on a personal level – probably, because I consider the arcanist class to be perhaps one of the most problematic ones in vanilla PFRPG, or because it felt too thinly-spread. It also has a metagame-component, which I don’t really like that much. On the other hand, the trickshot sniper is amazing and oozes flavor.

The other classes get somewhat less material herein, but frankly, the trickshot sniper and cityscape hierophant warrant getting this on their own, the latter particularly courtesy to the massive feat-expansions later. If either one interests you, get this! The PrC could have been a shining star of the pdf, but instead ends up being a rather hard to grasp component that feels less refined than usual for Legendary Games. Compared to the asian archetypes-pdfs by Legendary Games, this one feels more focused in its usefulness, less universally appealing. That being said, I still consider this to be very much worth getting, but I feel I cannot round up from my final verdict of 4.5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Intrigue Archetypes
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The Manor, Issue #8
Publisher: GM Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/24/2018 07:28:36

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The 8th installment of the Manor-zine clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 23 pages of content. The pages are laid out as 6’’ by 9’’, which means you can fit up to 4 pages on a sheet of paper when printing this.

All right, so this installment of the Manor takes a distinctly different focus – this time around, we focus on crunchy components. The first article, penned by Douglas Cole and Peter V. Dell’Orto, deals with old-school grappling presenting two alternative systems to handle the rather infamous issue. We first take a look at the shortcomings of the grapple options available for S&W, with clear design goals stated. I really like this, as it not only makes my reviewer’s job easier (haha!), but also because it makes it apparent for the GM what to expect, and why. Now, as a graft-on system, the book thankfully codifies in a simple way how to add it to your preferred OSR-system. In short, grappling uses AC, HD and damage, three common things that can be found throughout OSR-systems. A grapple is handled as an attack, using 1d20 + the Strength-based to hit modifier; multiple attacks and fighting defensively are taken into account, and if you employ an attack bonus instead, that bonus is added instead. Cleave-like systems are also noted, if that type of old-school is how you roll.

Now, in the spirit of OSR-simplicity, you simply roll damage if you hit – but instead of damaging the foe, you get CP – control points. These are recovered IMMEDIATELY once the target is let go, with humans etc. dealing 1d6 + Str-mod control points damage. Up to half the defender’s HP, up to the defender’s HP and more than the defender’s CURRENT HP are the thresholds for effects. To hit penalty for grappled targets begins at -4, -8 and then prevents attacks altogether. Similarly, damage and AC as well as movement is reduced by being subjected to a grapple. The system presented is clean and concise and can be resolved very quickly in actual play. CP can be converted into damage, btw.

Now, this base system is smooth and elegant, and optional rules can be added to modify it – armor and grappling, for example; Control points that convert to dice…and even cooler, we get something for folks like yours truly that enjoy finer grained options, with a higher resolution distinction of 5 quality levels as an alternative. Certain thresholds may allow for takedowns or stunning throws, which are yet more fun additions. This system provides perfect mechanical symmetry, but the pdf does not stop there.

There is a second system that provides an alternative to the “I win” or “I suck” duality of the base system, with a condition-based second approach, which differentiates between grappled, restrained, pinned, incapacitated and prone conditions of inconvenience. This also represents a well-crafted alternative.

This article is gold. It warrants the asking price on its own, and is easily the best piece of crunch that the whole Manor-run so far featured.

The second article would be a guest article penned by Trey Causey, for his amazing Strange Stars space opera setting released by Hydra Cooperative, providing a playable humanoid clade Ibglibdishpan. The clade needs at least 14 Intelligence, Charisma and Strength may no exceed 10. They get +1 to skill checks based on Intelligence and 1/session, the race may ask the GM a question, gaining a useful fact based on available data. However, this focus on Intelligence comes with a risk. When the clade has to make an Intelligence based skill check and roles a natural 11 or 13, or makes use of the aforementioned hypercognition ability, the character must make a save vs. mental effects. On a failure, you get a selection of 6 nasty effects that range from catatonia to seizures, Stendhal Syndrome, etc. Solid, if somewhat brief write-up.

The next article, penned by Tim Shorts, provides quick rules to determine number of hirelings available by settlement size, costs for 5 occupations and a d20 table with 14 entries that provides a couple of unique, brief benefits and skills/knacks the hireling may have. 6 sample hirelings, with stats, are provided as well. Helpful little article. Master Shorts also penned the last article, which is devoted to the humble torchbearer! And I like a lot here! We get, for example, 8 different special torches, which include waxes torches that float, reinforced ones, flare torches that burn brighter…I love this per se…but in an odd twist, none of the torch-modifications come with a suggested price or weight-increase, unnecessarily limiting the appeal here. There also are 5 suggested skills/Special abilities for torchbearers, which are great ideas: Battle torchbearers can hit a target, imposing -4 to hit for one round. Scavengers can scrounge together an improvised torch. However, precision-wise, the article does leave a bit to be desired. “Scavenged torches don’t last as long and are not as bright.” Why don’t we get precise notes here? It’s not like e.g. the flare torch in the same article doesn’t provide the like. The article is cool, but it feels like it could have used a bit more meat/internal consistency regarding the level of detail it provides.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting can be considered to be good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a no-frills one-column standard and the pdf sports nice, comic-y b/w-artwork (with the exception of the artwork for the new clade, which is really detailed and nice). The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Now, up until this installment, I was never impressed by any piece of crunch in the Manor-zine. I liked a lot of the flavor and mini-modules, but rules-wise, not so much. While this pdf, partially, also falls short of its potential for excellence, it does represent the best installment regarding crunch. The grappling rules in particular are worth the low asking-price on its own. My final verdict clocks in at 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Manor, Issue #8
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Everyman Minis: Family Options
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/17/2018 12:14:52

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Everyman Minis-series clocks in at 6 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1.5 pages of SRD, leaving us with 2.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This pdf focuses on an underutilized component of character development – families should matter. All too often, there are no tangible benefits apart from kidnapping or tragic deaths for a character to have an extensive family. This is a huge component of untapped potential. There is no AP that lets the players play a family-chronicle/enterprise, and we have very few options that interact with familial ties, apart from hereditary curses. This pdf seeks to somewhat change that. On the first page, we get a new spell that takes ACG and OA-classes into account, and this single spell is a game changer. It is a level 3/4 spell that is called blood bond, which may only be cast upon blood relatives and lets you target such a relative with personal spells. This makes e.g. brothers, where one is a spellcaster, the other a rogue or fighter, suddenly much more potent. It is a limited resource, but I love it to bits.

The pdf also provides two new feats: Bound by Blood builds on Psychic Sensitivity or the ability to cast psychic spells. You can choose up to your highest mental ability score allies, using the psychic magic universal monster rule, to cast message, mindlink, sending and status, with PE-values noted. You have 5 + character level PE. If an ally has the teamwork feat, you reduce PE costs to cast the spell for that ally, and on a new level, you can swap a character. This is narrative gold and provides easy access to basic psychic tricks. Love it. Synchronized Assault is a combat teamwork feat, which nets you a circumstance bonus equal to the number of allies within 30 ft. that also possesses the feat when you readied an attack that is triggered. If the allies with the feat also have readied an attack, they may immediately trigger the readied actions after your attack is resolved. Now, I think that the bonus should have a level-based cap instead of just number of allies, but yeah, other than that, I like it.

The pdf also features 4 precisely codified traits, and these deserve special mention, as they are meaningful regarding their benefits, and also have a teamwork component: We get a bonus to saves versus magical effects that works better if an ally also activates it. We get better aid another, a special, jumbled childhood language that is impossible to magically decipher (AMAZING!) and the option to fortify allies affected by mind-affecting effects via your faith. Excellent traits.

The pdf also contains two magic items: The clock of whereabouts is a helicopter parent’s (or mastermind’s) wish come true: 12 hands can be attached, and when an individual puts the name on a hand, the clock will spin to show the preset occupation (like “At work”, “late”, “lost”, etc.) of the character. The second item is the adoption ring: Parents and child to be adopted prick their fingers, having a drop of blood congeal into a gemstone. The adopted kid may then use the change shape universal monster ability to assume the shape of the parents’ race. The benefits of this Disguise are properly codified, though there is a spell-reference not italicized. Interesting: Incompatible parents of different races and shapechanging parents are noted as well. I love this item and all the storytelling potential it has.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level, with only a missed italicization as a complaint here. Layout adheres to the 2-column b/w-standard and the artwork is nice. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Matt Morris’ family options are genuinely amazing. The new spell is amazing and both feats are interesting and complex. The traits matter beyond numerical bonuses and offer player-agenda, and the magic items are interesting. This is a great pdf, and my only regret here is that it could have been longer. The topic, as mentioned, is one that hasn’t been addressed extensively. Anyways, this is a great little pdf, easily worth 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Everyman Minis: Family Options
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Player's Handbook Like A Fucking Boss
Publisher: Kort'thalis Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/17/2018 12:12:02

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement clocks in at 33 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page Kort’thalis glyph, 1 page editorial, leaving 30 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So, the eagle-eyed reader will have spotted, at this point, that this Player’s Handbook is a system neutral book. This may seem counter-intuitive at first glance, considering how PHBs are mostly splatbooks, but bear with me for a while. First of all, while system neutral, the book does offer some crunchy bits – in d20/D&D-based games, these should be represented by a +2 bonus, for d6 dice pool-based games, +1d6 instead. Similarly, the pdf assumes that you know what advantage and disadvantage are. So, while mostly system neutral, the pdf does offer some options to make the content matter mechanically.

Anyways, as we’ve come to expect from Kort’thalis Publishing, the book does contain quite a few random tables: We begin with 30 fantasy-sounding names, before providing 8 different fantasy signs/allocated to months. For example, Iar’tan, the sign of the serpent’s foe, is associated with the color green and nets advantage when fighting serpentine, demonic, etc. creatures. Unique here: The months have variable durations, which can be rather interesting when implemented into your game. The table is interesting and flavorful.

From there on, we get a massive d100 table of oddities you may start your adventuring life with – a 6’ long piece of unbreakable string, a weird, purple wizard’s hat made of velvet, an eternal candy cane, a test tube that makes anything poured inside acidic…you get the idea. We have a lot of delightfully odd bits and pieces here, all of which provide some sort of unique angle, a roleplaying hook or simply something weird. The table is one of the finer ones in Kort’thalis’ oeuvre, and considering the amount of tables Venger has written so far, that’s saying something. It should be noted that this table is just as meaningful and helpful for the GM – something that btw. can be said regarding the whole supplement.

Now, in particularly rules lite systems and minigames tend to gravitate towards serious lethality, which is intended, yes, but once in a while, it may be nice to introduce the “Second Chance”-table: 1d4; dead on 1, unconscious on 2, reduced damage on 3 and totally negating damage on 4. Considering the system neutral nature of this pdf, this is surprisingly nice. The pdf also provides an easy to implement honor/infamy system: The system tracks your deeds, associates and reputation as well as your bonds, a term that encompasses deities worshiped, allegiances, etc. For each honorable or dishonorable deed, 1 point is gained. You roll under your honor value with a d20 in your home turf, d30 in borderlands, and d100 in underworld –on a success, you’re well-known and respected, usually providing advantage for different social skills etc. Both honor and dishonor provide 6 suggested, different degrees of fame/infamy.

Need a name for a named item? A handy table lets you roll prefix, root, suffix, each with a d12, resulting in fantastic names:”Vokfenz’mo”? Sounds like something magical! 20 English names/titles for items are also included. I know that I’d like to wield “Evisceration Complete.” The next page provides a d30-table (updated and expanded from a previous pdf) for abilities for legendary weapons – from creating silence-areas to being poisonous, the list contains a lot of suggested abilities. The verbiage is precise, but this table may be most useful for e.g. Crimson Dragon Slayer and similar VSD6-based games, as there is overlap in benefits with regards to other, more rules-heavy games.

More universally applicable would be the d6 “Did you bring it?”-table. It’s basically a quick and dirty means to determine whether a PC has the given item; if you’re preferring a non-simulationalist item-management in your game, this does the trick. I really like the notion of the influence of personal growth: The section codifies a philosophy or weltanschauung of a character in a 4-step progression linked to levels. The respective developments can each provide a one time static/dice pool bonus to one check. This notion is simple, but one that I enjoy and that is pretty easy to implement for even really rules-heavy systems without breaking the games. A d30-table of core values and belief systems can help you decide some of these for yourself – this is certainly a table that could be expanded further.

Inspired by the parody product “50 Shades of Vorpal”, we get a d30-table. Once per combat, a warrior may roll on the table instead of making the usual attack. This has a couple of issues. One, “per combat” makes no sense in game – a combat can last for anything between a day and a round. You kick in the door, kill a goblin. Combat ends. Door opens, reinformcements arrive. Combat resumes. You get to vorpal in each combat, RAW, If you hadn’t killed the goblin quick enough, you’d have just one roll in the same timeframe. Per combat is a flawed metric to determine ability availability in a logical manner in game. The table includes chances to vorpal allies and yourself…or everything. This table, in short, makes most sense for games that don’t take character mortality or the like very seriously. There is a second d30 table for casters as well. This section was my least favorite part in the book.

If you think that bards suck in your game, there is a list of 12 bullet points that bards may use, at advantage. These are, in a way, mostly social tricks. There is also such a selection for clerics. If you’re playing Crimson Dragon Slayer, this section is absolutely REQUIRED for your game, as it finally provides context for healing. You see, beyond the “big” houserules/tables/etc., the pdf also has crunchy bits/suggestions. On this page, one such boxed text codifies cleric healing (1d8 + level); on a result of 1 rolled, the character can’s be supernaturally healed until after 8 hours have passed. This is an interesting way to limit healing-availability without bogging the game down. Personally, I’d have the no-healing-chance escalate with each healing, but that is just my preference and the tweak is easy enough to implement.

The pdf also contains a massive table, where strange physical characteristics can be found. While nominally a d30-table, the respective entries sport different variables as well, 2 or more, in fact. The pdf also has a rather complex and extensive d30-table that spans multiple pages, with each entry providing a defining moment for the development of your character; from new servants that attempted to murder you to foolish marriage, staggering family debt, etc., there are a lot of diverse angles for taking up adventuring.

Next up is another house-rule, end boss battle bonuses. Each may be cashed in once, and only in fight with the final boss. This adds a component of resource-management based on roleplaying for the boss fight; tragic backstory, catchphrases, etc. can yield bonuses. Particularly rules lite systems will benefit from this, as the variant rules make it easier for the GM to create more potent foes, while maintaining a chance for the PCs to win.

Reflecting upon your life can yield advantage or heal 1d6/level, once per session. The pdf then proceeds to provide a quick and dirty rules to determine the outcome of combats versus swarms etc. – for convention games, this can act as a means to skip past the filler etc. when time’s running out.

The pdf ends with one of my favorite aspects of the book, the “Play Like a Boss”-checklist, if you will. This basically gamifies the act of roleplaying your character! If your phone goes off sans emergency, you lose two points. Attuning new magic items nets 2 points, wiping out factions and settlements, inventing quirks/mannerisms/etc. – all with point values added. This is a really great idea and it actually rewards failing saves etc. – in short, the checklist encourages playing your character in a way that is more fun for everyone. This is amazing, and frankly, I wished it’d be even longer! At 3 pages, it is detailed, but the universal applicability of the section makes it really cool.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious glitches on a rules-language or formal level. Layout is, as always in Kort’thalis Publishing books, gorgeous and adheres to a 2-column full-color standard with red veins in the background. The pdf sports a ton of really nice, original b/w-artworks, including a couple of full-page artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience, and there is a second, printer-friendly version of the pdf included in the deal.

Venger Satanis’ Player’s Handbook works much better than a system neutral Player’s Handbook would lead you to expect. Now, if there is one weakness to the book, then that would be that there is no truly distinct separation between the more house rules-y components and the dressing/flavor-centric and truly system neutral components. That being said, this pdf should be considered to be worthwhile for a wide variety of groups.

If you’re playing in a VSD6-based game, then consider this to be THE must-have expansion that you definitely want to have. From healing to the optional means to make the combat engine a bit more nuanced and interesting, this must be considered to be a must-own book for such games.

If you’re not playing these games, the book will still have a lot of inspiring ideas for your games: The dressing is high-quality and helpful, and the checklist at the end is genius. Now, not all aspects herein will be sensible or helpful for every group, and you will not use all materials herein, but as a whole, this pdf is worth owning. Now, yes, I maintain that sticking to a system would have potentially increased the use for a single group, but it also would have diminished the overall appeal of the book. This notwithstanding, you get a lot of nice dressing and houserules for a fair price here – my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Player's Handbook Like A Fucking Boss
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Hybrid Class: Godsend
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/17/2018 12:10:53

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This hybrid class clocks in at 18 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1.5 pages of SRD, leaving us with 14.5 pages of content, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’, which means you can fit up to 4 pages on a sheet of paper.

This hybrid class is a blend of paladin and porphyran assassin, which remains one of my favorite PFRPG-takes on the assassin. As a righteous killer, they must be good and get d8 HD, 6 + Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons plus hand crossbow, rapier, sap, shortbow and short sword as well as light armor. They get an aura of good and may use detect evil at will. They also get full BAB-progression. The class is intended to have good Reflex saves, but the column in the table NOTES THE WRONG VALUES. Unless 18th level is supposed to nerf Ref-save from +10 to +2, the high levels are wrong for the column – an oversight that even a cursory glance should have caught. 4th level yields paladin spellcasting, governed by Charisma.

The class gets a sneak attack variant dubbed secret smite, which applies when a target is denied Dexterity bonus to AC or when flanking a target. This starts as +1d6, and increases by 1d6 every 2 godsend levels thereafter. Sloppy: “If the target of secret smite is an outsider with the evil subtype, an evil-aligned dragon, or an undead creature, the bonus to dam­age on the first successful attack increases to 2 points of damage per level the godsend possesses.” I kid you not. That’s a downgrade. The godsend is actually WORSE at killing evil things. Also: reference to first attack is weird. OH, and secret smiting good creatures by accident wrecks your spellcasting and supernatural abilities for the day, killing a creature thus does it permanently. 2nd level yields lay on hands and quiet death (Stealth check when killing a creature in the surprise round to prevent notice). 3rd level nets immunity to fear and 4th level provides death attack, governed by Int. Sloppiness continues – we have references to sneak attack that should refer to secret smite.

As an aside: Secret smite is NOT a smite. It is not active. It’s always on. The name’s misleading and the ability just eats wordcount. Make it sneak attack and add a second ability that increases sneak damage versus smite targets. Anyway, 4th level also yields uncanny dodge and 6th level nets divine bond, for a weapon as well as the first mercies; 10th, 14th and 18th level expand the list of mercies available. 8th level nets improved uncanny dodge and an ability that lets you prep a corpse to make the target die once more if returned to life. A spell reference here has not been italicized. 9th level yields immunity to charm spells and SPs, but not effects. 12th level makes weapons behave as though good as well as the option to make a death attack after only one round of study. Detect evil can be sued as a swift action starting at 14th level and 15th level nets + Cha-bonus to secret smite damage versus evil targets and ignores all damage reduction. 18th level provides 1/week atonement. The capstone provides maximum healing as well as “sneak attack the godsend inflicts counts as a death attack, with no study required and regardless of the target’s suspicions.” Which RAW does nothing, since the godsend does not have sneak attack.

The pdf includes a brief code of conduct and 4 feats: One nets limited access to rook-spells. Hold Disguise nets 1/day use of lay on hands for disguise self. Yeah, wouldn’t waste a feat on that either. There’s another one that nets 1/day use of lay on hands as misdirection. Left-Handed Blade nets +2 to Bluff checks made to feint as well as swift action feints. The pdf closes with a HUGE list of favored class options for the vast amount of Porphyran races.

The one good thing here: The Colossus of Dhu, a CR 22 colossal, lion-headed construct that clocks in at CR 22 and makes for a really cool bonus pdf! The monster penned by Mark Gedak and Perry Fehr gets two thumbs up.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are not good on a formal and rules-language level. Secret smite, the signature ability of the class, has not even been properly CCP’d. Layout adheres to a 1-page standard that is b/w and sports purple highlights. The pdf has no artwork apart from the cover and comes fully bookmarked.

Urgh. I don’t get it. The idea of the sacred killer is amazing and evocative. The godsend, though, is the least interesting incarnation of it. Its basic abilities are not interesting and lose what made the porphyran assassins cool. The class is super-linear and bland, lacking any distinct identity. The rules-language is not good either. I don’t get it, I really don’t. Aaron Hollingsworth can do so much better. He has done so much better. This, though, feels phoned in, uninspired and really, really bland. I can’t recommend this pdf. Unless you want the bonus file. The bonus critter is cool. My final verdict will clock in at 2 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Hybrid Class: Godsend
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13 Fighter Talents and Maneuvers (13th Age Compatible)
Publisher: Jon Brazer Enterprises
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/16/2018 05:46:47

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This little expansion-pdf for 13th Age fighters clocks in at 9 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested as a prioritized review by one of my patreons.

The pdf begins with a brief introduction, which takes up the first page. After that, we are introduced to the 4 new talents herein, the first of which would be Bravado, which lets you once per battle, as a quick action (free for adventurer feat, +usable 2/battle, but only 1/day) roll 1d20 + Charisma vs. MD; on a success, AC and PD are lowered against your attacks by the escalation die value for the remainder of the combat. Mooks targeted extend this penalty to the whole mob. For the champion feat, this also reduces the target’s attack and damage rolls, and the epic feat adds hampered to the target once it’s staggered, with a save to briefly negate the condition.

First to Arms lets you spend a recovery to go first at the start of battle; if more than one character uses this, you go by Dexterity modifier, rolling d20 to break ties. At adventurer tier, we add the higher of Dex or Wis-mod to AC until the escalation die is equal to or greater than your level…which is pretty potent, considering the damage 13th Age characters can dish out. I’d have halved that. At champion tier, the feat also extends this bonus to PD and the epic feat lets you spend a full turn before everyone else does and still roll initiative normally after that, at the cost of a recovery. Okay can this be stacked with the base benefit?

Resist & Endure lets you 1/battle spend a recovery as a quick action to immediately reroll a save with a bonus equal to the escalation die. The adventurer feat improves that to free action, +1/day lets you sue it twice in a battle. The champion feat makes this an auto-success, sans need to roll. Not the biggest fan there. The epic tier feat makes a use of the talent free, but only the first after a quick rest/full heal-up. The final talent would be Taunt, which lets you roll 1d20 + Charisma + level vs. a nearby target’s MD. On a success, all allies gain resistance 12+ vs. the target’s attacks and power until the start of the next turn. However, the target’s crit range increases by 2 regarding attacks made against you for the same duration. Mooks taunted apply the penalties to the whole mob, and a target can only be currently taunted by one character. The adventurer feat causes the target to take your Charisma modifier in psychic damage when it attacks an ally. This damage scales to doubled and tripled at 5th and 8th level. The higher tier feats improve the resistance to 16+ and 18+, respectively. Nice: As 13th Age generally does not differentiate between types regarding the effect of psychological tricks like Taunt, the pdf does spend a bit of time explaining how to best handle the like.

Next up would be the maneuvers, two of which are first level maneuvers: Pommel bash triggers on odd misses and may daze a target for 1 turn on a failed normal save, with adventurer feat adding Strength modifier to miss damage. Champion feat modifies the effects and confuses the target for 1 turn before dazing him – no save for either condition. Compared to shield bash, particularly the latter seems a bit too strong. Cunning Feint triggers on natural odd misses and applies the higher or Int or Wis-mod to the next damage roll versus the target. The adventurer feat lets you convey that to a nearby ally instead. Both champion and epic feat sport formatting deviations from the standard – INT and WIS are not used in class feature text, instead using the full word. Effect-wise, we add the higher of the two plus escalation die/twice escalation die, respectively.

The pdf sports 3 different 3rd level maneuvers. Get Clear triggers on a natural, odd hit, allowing an ally to pop free from being engaged with the target as well as move to a nearby location. The adventurer feat adds escalation die to AC and PD for the ally vs. opportunity attacks, as well as to any disengage checks. The champion feat upgrades ally movement to a far away location, but at the cost of the ally’s next move action. Left You An Opening triggers on natural even misses while escalation die is 2+. You forego miss damage, but double the escalation bonus of an ally for their next attack versus that foe. The adventurer feat renders the target vulnerable to the next attack of the ally, while the champion feat adds an extra WEAPON die. I’m not 100% sold on the vulnerable benefit for adventurer, as most abilities that grant this are relegated to champion tier. Wounding shot triggers on a natural 16+ and you deal half normal base damage, but the target suffers ongoing damage equal to the higher of your Wisdom or Intelligence modifier, triple that at 8th level. The champion feat allows you to trigger it with a natural even hit, and ending the ongoing damage is a hard save.

There are also two 5th level maneuvers, the first of which would be Impaling Shot, which triggers on a natural odd hit. The maneuver potentially pins targets to terrain features, rendering it stuck. The target may expend a move action to attempt to free themselves with a normal save, taking ½ basic damage upon success. So, upon failure, no damage? I assume so, but this component could be a bit clearer. The maneuver has a Champion feat associated, which lets you target PD and increases the save to hard. Skullrattler triggers on a natural odd hit. The maneuver deals half damage, but hampers the foe for Strength modifier turns, with a normal save to end. Champion increases the save difficulty to hard, and the epic feat lets you inflict full damage.

Finally, the pdf has two 7th level maneuvers. Rain of Missiles is triggered on a natural even hit on escalation die 2+. You deal half damage, but also to all enemies who are engaged with the same creature as your target, with a maximum of Dexterity modifier. The epic feat extends range of the rain of missile to nearby the target. The final maneuver is Heroic Sacrifice, which triggers on a natural even hit, but requires that you’re staggered. The attack deals double damage, but you suffer half of it as well. Allies engaged with the target may pop free. The epic feat renders the target stuck unless it makes a hard save, but you also become stuck and vulnerable to the attacks and powers of the target.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Apart from aesthetics, I saw no issues. The pdf sports surprisingly great full-color artwork, including a 1-page piece. The pdf has no real bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Richard Moore’s fighter maneuvers and talents are interesting in that they reward fighters with decent attributes in the mental range – there is a reason to have a solid Wisdom score here, and this swashbuckl-y options are something I certainly enjoyed. The maneuvers can be considered to be a bit on the strong side of things, but offer some interesting teamwork and tactics. And there is the price-point. This pdf is really inexpensive. Considering the more than fair price point, I consider this to be worth getting – an interesting pdf that is worth 4.5 stars, and while I’d usually round down, the low price point and interesting design decisions make me round up instead.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
13 Fighter Talents and Maneuvers (13th Age Compatible)
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Star Log.EM-011: Arcane Artillerist
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/16/2018 05:42:31

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Star Log.EM-series clocks in at 6 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1.5 pages of SRD, leaving us with 2.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

After a brief introduction, including the by now standard and enjoyable “Query”-dialogue that simulates logging onto a database, we begin this pdf with SFRPG’s take on one of the most trouble-laden concepts of the 3.X history, the arcane archer…erhhh, I mean “arcane artillerist.”

For Starfinder, the concept has been envisioned as an archetype here, with alternate class features gained at 4th, 6th, 9th and 18th level. Artillerist’s Seal lets you create a unique fusion seal chosen from the list: Called, dispelling, glamered, illuminating, merciful, seeking. Odd: “Called” and “Seeking” are not properly italicized. The seal works only for the arcane artillerist, and you may change weapon fusions after an 8-hour rest, or by resting 10 minutes and spending an additional Resolve Point. Daily use limitations can’t be cheesed and the ability notes the conditions to replace a seal. Minor complaint: The example illustrating the limitation uses a fusion that becomes available at 6th level, instead of one of the base ones; as a purely cosmetic observation “(such as blasting, gained at 6th level)” would be slightly easier to grasp than “(such as blasting).” No, I won’t penalize the pdf for that.

At 6th level, this seal is improved, adding blasting, ghost killer, hybridized, spellthrower, torrent or trailblazer to the list. Additionally, the weapon with the affixed seal gets the durable fusion for free, as if it were a 0-level fusion. Finally, you can place up to two weapon fusions into the seal, but their combined level may not exceed half your level. Minor nitpick: I assume, since fusions in the corebook don’t sport 0-level fusions, that the durable fusion is not part of the two weapon fusions that you can combine.

Now, the eagle-eyed reader may have noted that the torrent fusion is new. It is, indeed, one of 3 different new fusions. Torrent clocks in at level 2. This nets a 1/day automatic attack as a full action, with a range of half the weapon’s range increment. Thankfully, automatic, explode, line or thrown weapons are excluded, as are weapons that don’t require an attack roll. The other two new weapon fusions clock both in at level 9, when their corresponding ability unlocks them for the archetype’s seal. The first would be phasing, which translates to a single attack ignoring nonmagical physical barriers, excluding armor, 1/day as a full action. You may choose whether to resolve it versus KAC or EAC and it ignores concealment and cover, but magical barriers (spell references not italicized) automatically stop it. Automatic, explode or line weapons can’t be enhanced with this fusion, and neither can those that don’t require attack rolls. Imbued also clocks in at 9th level, and 1/day lets a spellcaster place an area of effect spell as a full action. When a single attack is made as a full action, the spell’s area is centered where the attack strikes, ignoring e.g. restrictions that would require it to be centered on the caster. Only spells with a casting time of a standard action or less can be imbued thus, and the projectile is fired as part of the action and suffers from -4 to atk. A miss wastes spell and ammo Explode or line weapons may not carry spells, and neither may those that don’t require attack rolls.

You see, the classic shots, re-imagined as weapon fusions. Interesting. As hinted at before, 9th level further expands the list of available fusions for the seal, including the energy and alignment-based ones as well as the new ones mentioned before. For 2 Resolve points and a move action, you can change the seal’s fusions. Additionally, fusions with daily uses may be recharged for 1 Resolve Point – note: The latter ability does not state an activation action; to me, it’d have made sense to make that a move action.

Finally, 18th level delimits the seal: You can place any number of fusions in the seal, up to a maximum of your character level. The pdf closes with a nice piece of flavor text regarding these fellows in the Xa-Osoro system.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting as a whole are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the colorful 2-column standard of the series and the artwork featured is nice. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Alexander Augunas’ take on the arcane sniper is indeed one of the better ones out there. Building on fusions is a smart choice, and the fact that most potent ones will burn through Resolve like a child’s birthday through candy means that you won’t be spamming the deadly ones. Similarly, the restrictions imposed on these ones keep the cheesing potential at bay. Now, personally, I’d strongly suggest keeping the new fusions archetype exclusive, but that may be me being paranoid. This is a good take on the concept, and hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars. Worth getting!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Star Log.EM-011: Arcane Artillerist
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Transcendent 10 - Feats of the Lost - Figures Forlorn
Publisher: Lost Spheres Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/16/2018 05:41:29

An Endzeitgeist.com review

So, Lost Spheres Publishing, back in the day, began with the Transcendent 10-series. While these represent the early works of the company, the company flew under my radar for a long while, so it’s high time we took a look at the series, right? It should be noted that the company has evolved since then – reviews of more current books will hit sites soon as well. But how do these early works hold up against the test of time? Let’s find out!

One thing I really enjoy about this series would be the designer’s commentary that is provided for each respective piece of design – they help a GM and player to properly contextualize the content, which is particularly helpful for folks who don’t have a veteran’s level of system mastery. The pdf predates the ACG and OA, and as such, I will not complain about a lack of representation of the classes from these books in the spell-lists.

Anyways, this pdf is 8 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1.5 pages of SRD, leaving us with 3.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Now, in Feats of Synergy – Heartbound Heroes, we introduced the Heartbound descriptor to denote a special bond between characters. However, the pdf was remarkably silent regarding the effects of the loss of one’s love. Well, this pdf is what addresses this component. While not exclusively for characters with heartbound feats, such characters may exchange them for Forlorn feats upon losing their partner. Forlorn feats represent an extreme trauma of grief, and as such should not be taken lightly. The forlorn feats are as follows:

-Alone, So Alone: After losing your loved partner, you no longer can benefit from Aid Another, instead gaining a penalty. However, you get to choose Constitution or Wisdom, and may use that attribute modifier times per day a swift action to grant yourself a +1 circumstance modifier to any d20, with the bonus increasing by +1 at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter. This imho shouldn’t apply to saves, but your mileage may vary here.

-Aura of Despair: This is a psionic feat For each forlorn feat you have, you may take a -1 penalty to morale bonuses to all d20s rolls; while you have your focus and thus suffer from the profound loss, creatures within 30 ft. also take this penalty, sans save. This should be classified as a mind-affecting emotion effect. Other than that, one of my favorite Aura-feats released in the series.

-Burn It All Down: For each forlorn feat you have, you may incur a -2 penalty to morale bonuses to hit; for each such penalty incurred you add +2 to damage, +4 to damage vs. objects. This should specify that it only applies to weapon damage, as the penalty is insignificant for some spells etc..

-Embers of the Fallen: Choose one spell per spell level that is not on your class list, but which was on the lost partner’s spell list. These spells may now be learned as spells of your character’s class, at the spell levels of the fallen love. Each spell cast this way imposes a penalty equal to the spell’s level to all saving throws and lasts for spell level rounds. Rules-verbiage is a bit rough here. Also problematic: While the verbiage prevents duplicating spells (once at 2nd or 3rd level due to different classes, for example), the new spells and their interaction with crafting becomes rough. Still, I like the notion of this feat, if not the precise implementation.

-Faces of the Forlorn: Bluff (not capitalized properly) at the start of combat to appear flat-footed, when you are not. The sequence is not 100% clear here; I assume this check to happen prior to initiative being rolled, but then, it can actually provide some issues with how surprise rounds are handled.

-Forlorn Spell (Metamagic): Unlike the heartbound equivalent, this one does have the Forlorn-descriptor. At 1 spell level higher, this is design-wise exciting: It tracks the stats of the creature affected. If it failed the save to the spell modified, it takes a penalty to all stats, skills, ability scores, attack rolls, etc. that isn’t 0 or a positive morale bonus. I like this idea. Problematic here would be that the feat fails to specify how it behaves regarding the penalties of dependent complexes. If both a skill and its governing attribute are penalized, does this translate to twice the penalty? Technically, it’s not the stacking of an effect with itself, but of two different effects of the same spell. This needs a bit of clarification, but represents an interesting “insult to injury” type of debuff.

-Heart of Winter and Spring: Lets you take both heartbound and forlorn feats and count them as each other for the purpose of benefits. Polyamorous may be exchanged for this one upon losing a heartbound partner.

-Sorrow’s Song: Basically inverts the benefits you’d usually grant to your allies via bardic performance and applies them as penalties to the same number of enemies. This is the type of verbiage that works well in houserules, but not in a finalized product, as debuffs should note range, effect type, saves, etc. and just flipping bonus to penalty can become really problematic really fast. I like what this attempts, but the execution is rough.

-Stilled Heart; Select Constitution or Wisdom; the chosen attribute times per day, as an immediate action, you may choose to ignore an effect that would result in a negative condition other than death on a failed Fort- or Will-save, postponing the effect for the chosen attribute modifier rounds. Nice.

-Wordless Pain: Communicate simple concepts sans language or the use of Diplomacy etc.

The pdf also sports a bonus psionic power, absolute loss, which is a mind-affecting telepathy of 4th level for dread, tactician and telepath. The power targets one creature in Medium range, with a Will save to negate. On a failed save, the target gets a Fort-save; if it succeeds this one, it takes untyped (boo!) damage and a penalty to all d20 rolls. On a failure of the second save, it falls to -1 hp and starts dying. The power may be augmented for more (+1d6) damage and penalties (one more) for one power point, or for 2 power points affect an additional target within 30 ft. of the first. This should definitely be a death effect, and is, for the chance of hit point ignoring mega-damage, too powerful. Would not allow it, in spite of the two different saves providing a decent chance to mitigate it.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are solid, if not perfect. There are some minor deviations in rules-verbiage and a few hiccups, but as a whole, I have considerably enjoyed this. Layout adheres to a 2-column standard with read highlights and a subdued border. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Christen N. Sowards’ feats are NOT boring. That is a pretty big plus in and of itself. While he has grown as a designer in leaps and bounds since the release of this supplement, there already is potential and ambition evident here. Indeed, this pdf is a good way to showcase the series’ pros and cons: The GM advice and designer’s commentary is useful and renders the pdf more user-friendly than it would otherwise be. Additionally, the very concept of the feats ties in with roleplaying, as opposed to just providing some crunch. This is a design-paradigm I’d very much love to see more often. Forlorn and heartbound feats, as a duality, are a compelling concept and one, which, while rough around the edges, can be a neat cornerstone of a character concept. Indeed, the concept itself is so prevalent in media, that it may well be worth contemplating revisiting at one point.

That being said, as much as I enjoy the ideas featured in the series, this pdf does feature some aspects where the lack of experience back then shows, regarding verbiage and some finer details of balancing the feats etc. As such, this must be considered to be a somewhat mixed bag that a GM should explain and modify prior to giving it carte blanche. With the material slightly less intriguing/refined than the heartbound file, my final verdict cannot exceed 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Transcendent 10 - Feats of the Lost - Figures Forlorn
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Star Log.EM-010: Operative Specializations
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/15/2018 05:37:29

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Star Log.EM-series clocks in at 6 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1.5 pages of SRD, leaving us with 2.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

After a brief introduction, including the by now standard and enjoyable “Query”-dialogue that simulates logging onto a database, we begin with 4 new operative specializations.

Since the operative specializations make use of new exploits, we should talk about those first. 4 are provided, and they all are unlocked for the general operative public that doesn’t have the proper specializations, at 10th level. Fast poisoner lets you once per round poison a slashing/piercing melee weapon or load a poison into an injection weapon as part of the attack. Frightful trick can render the target of debilitating trick shaken instead of flat-footed or off-target. Foes immune to fear can’t be affected. Spell Steal allows you to attempt to steal a benevolent magical effect from a target via debilitating trick, using the targeted version of dispel magic (not italicized), using operative level as class level. On a success, the target gets a Will save – on a failure, you hijack the remaining duration. Cool! The exploit is btw. balanced by requiring 10 minutes of rest a Resolve Point to use it again. Finally, unconventional skill lets you choose one class skill, adding that skill to the specialization’s associated skills. Previously invested ranks in a skill chosen are refunded, and e.g. Skill Synergy et al may also be reassigned.

The first of the operative specializations is Crackerjacks may choose two skills from the operative’s class skills or have been added via racial traits of theme powers. These skills may be used to make a trick attack, and if the chosen skill is not Dexterity-based, you get +4 on the skill check to do so. The exploit would be unconventional skill and the specialization’s 11th level ability lets you choose a skill for which you have less than half total character level ranks at the start of the day. When you make a skill check with that skill, you are treated as though you had +1/2 character level ranks invested, up to the usual maximum. This does allow you explicitly to use previously untrained skills with the +3 for being trained, and the skill thus chosen may be reassigned “rest, by taking a 10-minute rest to regain Stamina Points and spending 1 Resolve Points instead of the usual 1 Resolve Point “ – while it’s pretty clear what’s meant here, this is a bit confusing. This should probably read “and spending an additional Resolve Point…” Alternatively, you may reassign the skill as a move action by spending 5 Resolve. I really like this, as it rewards NOT specializing and min-maxing core competence skills.

The second specialization is poisoner, which has Medicine and Sleight of Hand as associated skills. When making a trick attack with Medicine with a weapon with an injection weapon that deals slashing or piercing damage, loaded with poison, you get +4 to the check, unless the target is immune to poison. The exploit is fast poisoner. At 11th level, we get the trick poisoner ability, which lets you increase the save DC of poisons used with debilitating trick, and additionally, you can make lethal poisons stop one step before death. The scaremonger would be the fear specialist, with Bluff and Intimidate as associated skills, and +4 to Bluff and Intimidate checks to make trick attacks if the target isn’t immune versus mind-affecting effects. 11th level basically combines frightful trick’s benefits with the standard benefits of trick attacks, allowing you to add shaken to one of the standard conditions, rather than to replace it.

Finally, spellstealer gets Mysticism and Sleight of Hand as associated skills. When using Mysticism for trick attacks, you get +4 and treat it as magic for purpose of overcoming DR and affecting incorporeal critters. The exploit gained would be Spell steal, obviously. 11th level is cool_ If you hit with debilitating trick, you cause the target to lose a spell slot of 3rd level or lower, higher level slots first, with every three levels thereafter increasing the maximum spell slot level affected.

The pdf concludes with a brief series of notes on operatives in the Xa-Osoro system. Nice.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting as a whole are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the colorful 2-column standard of the series and the artwork featured is nice. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Alexander Augunas’ operative specializations present classics regarding the themes they cover, but this does not mean that the design-work here was simple. Spell theft is a notorious tough one, and the crackerjack’s take on a rewarding dilettante with eclectic interests also managed to walk that precise line, that makes it worthwhile, without being OP. In short, this is, in spite of the hiccup noted, represents a very much worthwhile supplement. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4.5 stars, and considering the degree of complexity and difficulty of the material presented, I will round up.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Star Log.EM-010: Operative Specializations
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vs. Stranger Stuff Adventure: Love vs. Hate
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/15/2018 05:34:23

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page char-sheets, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 5 pages of content, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’, so let’s take a look!

Now, it should be noted that this review was requested by my patreons. Also, the module was designed for the first and less refined season of Vs. Stranger Stuff – it is fully compatible with the significantly-improved second season and in the context of that game, it works a an easy-mode scenario regarding difficulty.

All right, got that? Great!

This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, so the premise of this one is simple: There’s a Valentine’s Day dance, and if we know our 80s-nostalgia, that’s a big deal. It becomes even more relevant: You see, two GODS, namely Ares and Aphrodite, have put on a private wager: Aphrodite’s chocolates provide “Love”, while Ares’ punch nets “hate” – the former is associated with brains as an attribute, the latter with muscles. Drawing the right cards may see you invited to dance…or turn hostile.

Things become more complicated, once Ares conjures forth a Kobalos, who attempts to tip the scales in his favor, and who represents the one potential monster to defeat herein. And that’s already pretty much it, though it should be noted that, whatever’s the result, the surviving characters will get permanent attribute boosts.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are okay, I noticed a few minor typo-ish level of glitches. Layout adheres to a one-column full-color standard and the pdf has no interior artwork, but needs none at this length. The pdf has no bookmarks, you don’t need those either at this brevity.

Ben Dowell’s “Love vs Hate” is a very basic set-up for the GM. The two gods feel somewhat out of place, and the kids don’t have a good way to deduce what’s actually going on, or to resolve the influence of the meddling gods – apart from playing their game. From a narrative perspective, this is very barebones, though the mechanics to govern and develop the evening are rather neat and dynamic and deserve applaud. The adventure/encounter itself pretty much requires that it’s run as part of a longer campaign. Without paradigm-shifts in NPC-relationships (and the usual drama that comes from them!), this loses its raison d’être. In short, this requires, to properly work, that you have established characters, NPC-associates, etc. Without this, things will become dull and lack the gravity of “Stephanie no longer talks to me!” “Did you see who Jack danced with?” – the dance can be a great catalyst for roleplaying and changed social dynamics, but it is contingent on the GM to make it shine as such. However, at the same time, this humble pdf comes as PWYW, and for that, is most assuredly is worth checking out! As noted, the drawing mechanics employed for resolution are interesting. All in all, this is a very brief ad rather rudimentary, but generally interesting set-piece. My final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, and while I’d usually round down, considering its PWYW-nature, I can justify rounding up here.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
vs. Stranger Stuff Adventure: Love vs. Hate
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Transcendent 10 - Feats of Synergy - Heartbound Heroes
Publisher: Lost Spheres Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/15/2018 05:33:33

An Endzeitgeist.com review

So, Lost Spheres Publishing, back in the day, began with the Transcendent 10-series. While these represent the early works of the company, the company flew under my radar for a long while, so it’s high time we took a look at the series, right? It should be noted that the company has evolved since then – reviews of more current books will hit sites soon as well. But how do these early works hold up against the test of time? Let’s find out!

One thing I really enjoy about this series would be the designer’s commentary that is provided for each respective piece of design – they help a GM and player to properly contextualize the content, which is particularly helpful for folks who don’t have a veteran’s level of system mastery. The pdf predates the ACG and OA, and as such, I will not complain about a lack of representation of the classes from these books in the spell-lists.

Anyways, this pdf is 8 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, ½ a page blank, leaving us with 3.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This installment of the series introduces a new feat-descriptor, with the eponymous (Heartbound) feats. Heartbound feats are akin to teamwork feats in that they require another character to work, but there is a crucial difference: The feats do NOT need to be the same. However, you do designate a Heartbound partner upon taking the feat, and said partner becomes important when it comes to triggering the effects of the feat.

All of the following feats are Heartbound feats, and as noted before, they come with design notes, elaborating the respective design decisions.

-All’s Fair: When you see your love harmed, which is defined as taking damage, ability damage (oddly, not drain) or incur a negative condition as part of the actions of an enemy, your attacks may target the foe as though he was flatfooted in the following round. This oversight regarding drain btw. extends to all feats that adhere to this formula of harm. The sneak attack prerequisite is nice, and I enjoy where this feat attempts to go. There are a few rough spots here, though: “The following round” is a weird duration for the trigger; “until the end of your next turn” would make more sense. Additionally, I think that the feat would make more sense when the “being treated as flatfooted” would only work in the context of sneak attacks to avoid cheesing. Other than that, this, idea-wise, represents a good idea to render sneak attack more feasible and enhance teamwork.

-Heart’s Vengeance: Upon seeing your love harmed, you increase (not gain – important distinction) morale bonuses to atk and damage by +1, which increases to +2 at 11th level. Compared to the first feat, this may well be a bit weak, as its utility partially depends on how you read the “increase” component. That being said, it is pretty evident that gaining the bonus if you don’t currently have a morale bonus, is what’s intended here, and the GM advice does clear up this minor ambiguity. Still, I’d have preferred that to be explicitly stated in the rules-text.

-Inspiring Glance: Aid another the partner as a swift action with a range of 30 ft., usable up to Cha-mod times per day. Here, the benefit should be increased to account for Pathfinder’s increased power-level since the release of the pdf.

-Love’s Resolve: This one is inspired. When witnessing your love come to harm and prevented from acting due to an ongoing effect from a failed save, you get an immediate action rereoll. Con be used Con- or Wis-mod times per day. This is so iconic, so present in media etc., that it frankly baffles me why it hasn’t been a more central part of the game. Definite winner here!

-Magic Entwined: Beneficial spell effects you cast on the partner are resolved at +4 CL. Potent, but cool. Other creatures get the regular spell effects.

-Polyamorous: May be taken more than once; lets you select +1 heartbound partner.

-Songs of the Heart: Morale bonuses you grant your partner are increased by +1 and last for 1 round longer, but only for the partner. Cool.

-Surge of Passion: Choose either Charisma or Constitution. That ability score modifier times per day, as an immediate action, you can grant yourself 4 temporary hit points er heartbound feat you possess, including this one.

-Wordless Bond: Nets you basically telepathy with your partner, with a range of 10 ft. per heartbound feat you have. Nice.

There is one feat herein, which is not a heartbound feat:

-Heartbinding Spell (Metamagic): Creatures affected by a mind-influencing spell with this feat added are considered to be Heartbound partners; cost +1 spell level. This one is really cool regarding its ramifications, etc..

The pdf also sports a new spell as bonus content: Heartbound call is a 1st level immediate action spell that lasts for days and conveys a general sense of direction for your partner to find you, as well as a bonus to Diplomacy, Sense Motive and Survival to find you. We also receive a new psionic power, call partner, which is basically the psionic version of the spell, with 2 augments, one for increased bonuses, and one for a 4 power point correspond.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are solid, if not perfect. There are some minor deviations in rules-verbiage and a few hiccups, but as a whole, I have considerably enjoyed this. Layout adheres to a 2-column standard with read highlights and a subdued border. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Christen N. Sowards’ heartbound feats are an enjoyable concept. The line of sight requirement is interesting, and the benefits are, in a couple of cases, significant enough to warrant taking these feats. Taking them also represents a roleplaying opportunity, and such blending of flavor and mechanics is something I generally really enjoy. Now, not all feats are gold or have aged too well, but the pdf still offers plenty of inspiring material that allows you to depict the behavior of power-couples throughout fantasy media at the table. This may not be a perfect offering, but if the concept intrigues you, it’s worth checking out. My final verdict will hence clock in at 3.5 stars, a mixed bag on the positive side of things, but I can’t round up for it.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Transcendent 10 - Feats of Synergy - Heartbound Heroes
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Spellbooks of Porphyra
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/14/2018 06:27:12

An Endzeitgeist.com review

And now for something completely different! This installment of the “…of Porphyra”-series clocks in at 38 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with a massive 34 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

After a brief introduction, we take a look at different spellbook styles, a section that, on its own, should already be considered required reading for many GMs. After all, why should all spellbooks be profane paper or vellum? Instead, this section talks about birch bark, jewelry, tiles, runesticks and magic itself acting as the medium to record magic. It may just be a page, but it is a page that can really jumpstart the creation process. Icons and talismans are similarly mentioned, and an important, often overlooked note is provided: Unless specifically enchanted and modified, spellbooks are per se not magical! That is important for hiding them in plain sight, etc. Spellbooks are categorized in 5 general categories: Formula books, spellbooks, occult books, meditation books and prayer books. Meditation books are used by spontaneous arcane casters, occult books by psychic casters and divine books by divine casters. Using another type of book than the intended one requires UMD and, if this differentiation makes no sense to you, an optional rule to ignore that is provided. I would not suggest doing so, though, as it can upset the careful balancing between spell types. Calculating value and the conditions to get the respective preparation ritual’s benefits are covered next, with writing and ritual costs collated in a handy little table.

And then, we begin the massive, main meat of this supplement. Spellbooks. Formula books. Prayer books. A metric, frickin’ ton of them. The respective entries feature a read-aloud description of the respective books, the values notes, price with and without preparation ritual, and the spells, of course. They also note the class and level of the author. Class-wise, all Paizo-classes, including antipaladin and bloodrager are covered, with rook and primordial mystic also getting their entries. The Wizard chapter is divided into sub-chapters for specialist wizards, with a universalist chapter as well. As hinted at before, ACG and Occult Adventures classes are included in the deal.

The nature of these texts varies wildly – Research Report MCMIII, for example, allows you to expend the boon as part of a thrown weapon attack the increase the range increment of the thrown weapon by 5 ft. per highest level “elixir” (should be “extract” – but at least, the glitch is consequent) in the book that you can cast – apart from the minor terminology snafu, a cool scaling mechanism. Pondering an investigation by testing a hypothesis, increasing a poison save DC, increase polymorph duration at an increased counter-vulnerability for the effect…really cool tricks here. The more well-read of GMs will also find quite a few unobtrusive easter-eggs here: The antipaladin prayer-book “Geranine, or the Misfortunes of Sin”, obviously represents a now to the writings of Marquis de Sade. Gnomic proverbs, which encompasses Wisdom such as “what you see is not what you get” made me chuckle. Some of these are really subtle: “Abyssmal,” according to the descriptive text, praises the abyss, and is very confused about what it is, noting devils, angels and armies of elemental siege engines. If you’re like me, you probably couldn’t help but smirk, for, in parts, the title was indeed my response to some chapters of “Paradise Lost”, the book this undoubtedly parodies – the preparation ritual’s boon, planar defiance, fits well with that theme.

There are also books about the world tree, collections of remedies, a heretical text that attempts to unify two faiths..what about collected posters from the walls of temple-inns? Divine records? A truly boredom-inducing snorefest that hides truly potent powers? Lore literally recorded on leaves? An inquisitor tome called “Watchers on the Wall”? (It refers to the Wall of Sleep in Porphyra, fyi) The Hexenhammer can be found, and mediums, with the right book, may ask famous Mr. Blaine, main character of a series of occult books. (In fact, several other books for other classes also reference Mr. Blaine…which was something I rather enjoyed.)

Did I mention the “Fall of the House of Strat” (XD) or the fact that psychics will really like finding the “Horrors of Old Dunmark”? And guess what? Witches will certainly want the account of “Dreams of the House-Witch”, which allows you to anchor an area when preparing spells, becoming nigh impossible to pin down. A clever twist, represented in rules as well. At the highest power levels, we can find the option to make some conjurations last 24 hours…and “Advancement by Fireball” is certainly a book that sounds like fun reading. (It can also enhance your damaging spells.) The illusionist tome “Selling Out” also got a chuckle out of me. The pdf is suffused with great ideas for the respective tomes, varying themes and focuses as well as boons constantly.

The pdf comes with a bonus file, depicting the CR 3 apiary devil, poisonous drones with a hive mind that can construct room of black foam in bewildering speed. I liked this critter, as it provides a rather neat excuse for the Gm to suddenly generate an alien and horrific environment.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on both a formal and rules-language level, bordering in both cases on true excellence. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly two-column standard that is mostly b/w with purple highlights. The pdf does not sport much artworks, just one previously used one – yes, this means that it is absolutely CHOCK-FULL with content. The pdf also comes with detailed, nested bookmarks for your convenience, making navigation as easy as can be.

Every GM has their pet-peeves regarding the prepping of the game. For me, the one aspect of the game I loathe with a fiery passion, is making spellbooks. I just don’t consider it to be enjoyable. Other folks will hate adding templates to monsters, but for me, it’s the much easier and quicker task of making concise spellbooks.

Because I want them to have a theme. An identity. And I seethe internally, whenever my players miss them, after I have puzzled together so many fitting spells, after I came up with a cool preparation ritual/boon. I talked about this in quite a few reviews; it’s one reason I tend to use more spontaneous casters than prepared ones.

And it’s, honestly, a damn pity. With all my books and pdfs, I can name surprisingly few that provide a decent accumulation of spellbooks with character, and these cases tend to gravitate towards the grimoires/high-powered end of things, where the books almost become their own characters. Now, don’t get me wrong: The most treasured possession of my current gaming group may well be “The Inverse Calculus of Unseen Refraction” by Legendary Games, but you can throw books of this power at the PCs all the time. You need moe subdued, yet relevant books, preferably ones with character.

Enter this pdf. Carl Cramér has done what I wouldn’t be able to do without rage-quitting at least 100 times. This book contains more than 100 (!!!) spellbooks, ready to use. Had-crafted. With unique benefits and character. This humble, unpretentious pdf managed to make reading through this vast amount of spellbooks actually INTERESTING. Heck, its allusions are so subtle and unobtrusive that you may not even get them all and still have a blast with this. And that’s how it’s supposed to be. The book retains its serious angle and concise in-game aesthetics without compromising its raw, undiluted utility.

In a surprising coup, this humble book represents honest, unpretentious design-WORK. Capital letters. This took a ton of effort, and it shows – it’s not something you can put together in a day or two. At the same time, this pdf very clearly emits a sense of playfulness and joy, which is remarkable, considering the very limited space that it has to operate within; each book does not have that much room to make it unique, and it should be seen as testament to the author’s passion that they don’t start to become redundant after half the book.

In short, this is a supplement that oozes passion and care, that genuinely feels like a supplement that was not only made to make the lives of GMs easier, but also to inspire, to spread some joy. This could have been an excellent example of “solid workmanship”, but it doesn’t settle for it, instead adding those little artistic flourishes that elevate a good book to a truly great one. Considering the type of book this is, the success in this endeavor should be considered to be even more impressive.

In short: Do yourself a favor, cut down your prep-time and get this pdf. Heck, even if you like making your own spellbooks, this may well be worth checking out, based on the strengths of the concepts this contains, based on the versatility of the books featured. This is an excellent, super-useful book, and receives 5 stars + my seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Spellbooks of Porphyra
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Thornroot Hill
Publisher: Stuffer Shack Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/14/2018 06:21:20

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This FREE mini-adventure clocks in at 16 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 3 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 10 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Now, this adventure was created to highlight the companion-pdf for this little module, the “Truly Terrifying vampires”-pdf. It should be noted that you do not need this pdf for the module to work properly.

As a system neutral adventure, the module lacks any stats, information regarding general difficulty or the like…at least not for the most part, for the adventure does need to reference a couple of rules, courtesy of its plot. More on that later. The adventure features copious amount of well-written, and somewhat grisly read-aloud text. On a formal level, the way in which read-aloud text is presented isn’t too convenient: We have a bolded statement to read or paraphrase the text, followed by the read-aloud text. When a character speaks, as opposed to the GM, the text is additionally italicized. Just making the read-aloud text boxed text would have made the distinction of what is and isn’t read aloud text slightly clearer.

Thornroot Hill, as such, is a small, xenophobic hamlet, and the module begins with bandits accosting the PCs. Anything beyond that, and I’m going into serious SPOILER-territory. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

Only GMs around? Great, so this small adventure hinges on a gimmick. The PCs will meet a man named Buckley Topper, and his servant Lorne Westwood, as they’re invited for a little feast, before the NPCs go to bed. Here’s the thing: The PCs have been drugged. That’s the first thing you need to pull off, and it’s not that easy, considering the amount of magical and alchemical detection options available to PCs in many games, much less their paranoia. I know that not all of my players would have partaken in the meal…or that they’d have stuck to their own rations.

Anyhow, the module interrupts the sequence of events with a fragmented retelling of the last victims of the pair of murderers, for the PCs have unwittingly eaten their flesh during the meal, generating a conduct of sorts with the deceased. The module simulates these pseudo-characters with a 2 1d10 rolls, one for a descriptor, and one for a profession. While the idea of living through the final moments of these unfortunates is certainly spine-.chilling and well-presented, it is, in effect, an extended cut-scene, a gigantic monologue wherein any regular player agenda is utterly and thoroughly suspended. Nothing they do here, nothing they RP, has any consequence.

As the proper PCs awake after these horrid visions, they will have ample reason to attempt to put the killers to justice, but at this point, the system-neutral component of the adventure becomes even more problematic. The PCs witnessing the visions is already predicated on two decisions: One, they have to eat, and two, they have to succumb to the drug/poison. Considering that quite a few classes and races and characters have resistances or immunities to the like, this may be problematic. I mentioned before that rules would be required: The resistance to poison kicks in with the tactic of the delayed poison save – call for it, when its effects would kick in; here, after the visions. Thing is, the visions could already be construed to be effects. The precise effects…need to be determined by the GM. There is another issue here: If your game contains divine casters with strict requirements regarding moral fortitude, paladins and the like, then partaking in human flesh, no matter if that was intentional or not, may see them stripped of their powers.

In short: the adventure hinges on the PCs NOT being paranoid, without providing failsafes for the GM to fall back on; and, indeed, the module penalizes the PCs for not being paranoid. I know that I’ve seen this gambit pulled off more than once, and a railroad that leaves PCs in peril is one of the most overused and loathed horror narrative devices. Players need to be able to get their PCs into trouble on their own, out of their own accord. Anyhow, this very, very linear structure is exacerbated by the massive de-facto-monologue that characterizes the middle of the adventure, where the players are basically stripped of any meaningful agenda.

Now, while design-wise, I consider this to be structurally a failure, the prose and general creepiness of the adversaries somewhat makes up for that.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, apart from the formatting that could have been tighter, I have no serious complaints. Layout adhere sto a 2-column full-color standard with stock photography and artwork. The pdf comes bookmarked in spite of its brevity, which is a plus.

Chris Stevens can write good horror – that much is apparent. The flavor, in spite of the lack of maps and the like, is tight, and the atmosphere evoked is grisly and interesting. At the same time, the module really suffers from its attempt at being system neutral, which undercuts the sequence of events regarding rolls required, etc. It also is needlessly railroady in its middle part and significantly undermines the ability of players to choose the fate of their PCs, with the very kick-off requiring some serious GM-mojo to pull off if the players are not total newbies. There is, as written, a very high chance that the module will simply not work as presented. That being said, the adventure is FREE, and as a free supplement, it may be worth checking out for the nice prose. That being said, my final verdict cannot exceed 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Thornroot Hill
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Truly Terrifying Vampires
Publisher: Stuffer Shack Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/14/2018 06:19:30

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This system neutral pdf clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 2 pages of advertisements, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 21 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So, in a nutshell, this pdf represents a kind of brainstorming tool for the GM, one specifically geared to helping you with making vampires. We thus begin with a brief discussion of how most vampires have become laughable and trope-ridden in media representation, and endeavors to find way to make them fearsome once again.

The pdf then proceeds to isolate three important components that represent aspects of what can be used to make vampires interesting once more: The first would be the Fear of the Unknown, which is something that cannot be overstated in its importance: Varied abilities, bloodlines and weaknesses can do a lot to help you customize different threats without them going stale. That standard vampire statblock from your Bestiary or Monster Manual? Never, ever use it. Vampires shouldn’t be just another thing to beat down.

The fear of catalepsy and disease, rampant in the Victorian age, which saw the rise to infamy of the vampire motif in popular fiction, is another aspect that can easily be adjusted and modified for the game. The notion of plague-bringing and consumption, which tied in with the erroneous medical “knowledge” of humors, added to the symbolically-charged blood drain, though the pdf does not give this historical context.

Thirdly, the fear of the unholy would be next. Now, these three core fears are nice first angles, and the pdf does note implementation strategies for the game itself, but I found myself puzzled to see the obvious left out.

Vampires are creepy because of their psycho-sexual connotations. Fear of blood and fear of the flesh are inextricably entwined on a metaphysical level, and Stoker’s novel was this scandalous due to the pronounced upheaval and contrast to the social strata and, in particular the horribly limited means of sexual expression available to Victorian women. There is a reason early vampire novels are often read as a form of criticism in Feminism. Indeed, there are plenty of progressions we can see to this date in that regard: While Dracula was originally anything but appealing, aesthetically, the allure of taboo-less, violent and aggressive sexual conduct is a leitmotif to this date, at least with proper depictions of vampires. Twilight et al. serve a different semantic and fantasy, but the “dark and handsome stranger”, the “vamp” indeed is alive and well today. And can be utterly terrifying and horrific…but I digress. I assume this component was cut out in order to avoid any mention of sexuality, since the subject matter is taboo in the US. At the same time, this is a horror-supplement and as such, is aimed at a mature audience…so yeah. It strikes me as odd.

The second part provides basically a DIY-generator for vampires. You roll once to determine whether a vampire is alive or undead. Then, you roll a d6 for living vampires, a d8 for undead ones, to determine how they became vampires. These are…underwhelming. “Forced into cannibalism by starvation,” “cursed by a witch”, “killed savagely”, “committed suicide”…perhaps that’s me being a jaded prick, but I didn’t need those. They’re kinda boring. Run of the mill.

Next up, you roll 1d4 to determine who they are – we get a table for living and undead vampires, each. Living ones could be hermits, a local family, an inmate in prison, for example. Undead have three means to leave their grave – clawing through the coffin, lifting it or turning to smoke, bypassing all. These…don’t tell me anything about who they are. Just how they rise. The 4th entry doesn’t have the vampire rise at all, and while it doesn’t tell me anything about the vampire, chewing their lips, tongue and shroud, thus generating diseases in the area, is interesting and an angle I can see worth pursuing. There are tables for living and undead vampires to determine the frequency of their hunts, with living vampires getting 4, undead vampires 6 entries. These are okay. We get 4 sample goals for living vampires, 8 for undead vampires. Stealing the soul of the ritualistically consumed, hunting only to drink blood, feeding via dreams, an Alp-like feeding over the sleeping. There are a few very basic entries here, but also some that quote more rarely seen concepts. A d8 table for living vampires and one with 12 entries for undead ones provides an answer to how they “look” like. The table for living vampires include preternaturally young-looking folks in 3 of the entries (somewhat redundant) and entries like “especially attractive/muscular” are…there, I guess. Open sores and a bad small are two tells also noted here. The undead vampire dressing includes having hair fallen out, being stark white…and one entry is “Their skin looks normal.” Come on. We don’t need an entry for that!

The next page is only half full and sports a d10 table for living vampire abilities like “exceptionally fast/strong/dexterous”, being able to befriend folks or disorient them with the voice. There also are 10 undead vampire abilities noted, which includes shifting into mists etc., massive leaps, causing roots to grow or targets to suffocate, etc. This section would have been more immediately useful if the book had committed to a system…and then, it could have been a bit more extensive, for most of the abilities sported on the page are hard-coded in the vampires of most systems anyways, making it, as a whole, not too helpful.

Okay, the next table is a real winner: Vampire derangements! 20 of them, to be precise. Taking a long time to respond, lecherous looks, becoming very touchy/feely, being unable to walk (dragging yourself with the arms, paranoia, constantly picking scabs…this table is gold and the best in the pdf so far. I’m gonna skip ahead for a bit to another one page table of 8 entries that provide classic means of repelling a vampire. While moderately detailed, there are new things here for veterans. Mirrors, garlic, grotesqueries, hawthorn…the latter two may be new for novices of vampire lore, but not for anyone who has taken a closer look. The pdf then proceeds to name 4 ways of preventing a living vampire from rising as undead, 3 to end an undead vampire’s haunting and 4 to defeat them once and for all. Nothing new here. Drown them. Kill them. Burn them. Stuff the mouth. Stake them. We’ve seen that all before.

The next section is another one that really, REALLY suffers from being system neutral. The pdf sports two pages that are devoted to the tricks of vampires – having vampire blood spatter on you can provide bonuses, but also carries a temptation and curse. Means to resist, vampires being high level and hard to kill – design aesthetic-wise, I can get behind all notions expressed here. At the same time, the immediate usefulness of the material is hobbled by the insistence of not adhering to a system. To give you an idea: “After the encounter, make some sort of Willpower

save (average difficulty).“ Yeah, sure, I can translate that to every single game I play. Problem is that the boon of the tempted condition does not translate. Average difficulty determining can also be problematic, as there are plenty of games where this does not exist. This section feels like templates or 5e-monster features, diluted down to this state. And yes, the pdf does quote specific rules: Being cursed by a vampire can result in a 25% of rising as one – something that can only be broken via wish, in direct violation of pretty much every rule regarding curses in any game that sports the wish spell I know. In short: This section is faux-system neutral. Instead of championing ideas, the pdf seeks to sort-of-half-way present rules, but not really. That doesn’t help anyone.

The pdf comes with a non-form-fillable work-sheet (why isn’t this fillable?) as well as two sample, filled versions. The pdf concludes with 14 different plot seeds/adventure hooks. There are a few solid ideas here.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are pretty good, I noticed no undue accumulation of glitches. Layout adheres to a solid two-column full-color standard. The artwork within is stock art and photography on the cheesier side of things. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Chris Stevens’ “Truly Terrifying Vampires” started off as a well-intentioned book; the observations in the beginning, while not exhaustive in their discussion, are sensible and generally present a well-founded reasoning. The underlying sentiment is valiant indeed and something I certainly can get behind.

That being said, after this section, the pdf comes somewhat apart. The pdf is advertized as a book that is intended to help you make vampires horrific, and it spectacularly fails at that job. After remarking how trope-ladden and done the concept of vampires is, the pdf fails to provide anything beyond the plainest of vanilla vampires. Flip open and Vampire: The Masquerade or WoD-book, and you’ll find better inspiration. Similarly, scouring the old AD&D Ravenloft MMs, Warhammer’s Vampire-armybook or a dozen of other supplements will yield infinitely more compelling material.

Did we really need a table to tell us that holy symbols or garlic or mirrors were bad news for some vampires? Really? Each of the playmodes of Night’s Black Agents is more interesting than this…and does the angles for disease, a focus of this pdf with its “blood spatter-equals tempted/cursed”-mechanics better.

The only metric by which this makes an improvement for vampires, is the one where you only know the glittering kind. But then again, you’re bound to have found other supplements, with concise rules, that provide a more captivating diversification here.

In short: The system neutral dressing generator, which was supposed to provide the jamais-vu, the creative, the idea that transcends systems, that makes it worth adapting to your game of choice…is remarkably bereft of unique ideas. The abilities and ideas presented are almost universally already hard-coded into the stats for vampires for most games.

The brief “rules”-section, on the other hand, shows some promise; it feels like it once was a guideline, a template of sorts to make vampires for one system more deadly, less wimpy…but systems have different assumptions, different rules…and that also includes the representation of aforementioned dressing. Where the dressing section, where system neutral components and details should have kicked the varieties and strangeness wide open, and instead opted for vanilla vampires, this section would offer actually nice rules-tweaks, if it adhered to a system properly.

This, to me, feels like a generator written for a system and its vanilla Monster Manual/Bestiary vampires. With, at one point, perhaps some ideas for codified powers, taken out of the context of the original presentation, applied into a generator. Then, alas, the rules were thrown out, made abstract, and we’re left with a boring, uninspired generator and rules that are not worth the hassle of translating to a system.

And don’t get me wrong! I wanted to like this! There are traditions of vampiric monsters in pretty much every culture on this planet, all with unique angles…but we don’t get any here. Neither do we get something weird or far out. This is paint by the numbers, standard vampires. And I don’t understand it. At all.

After the per se well-reasoned introduction, how could this pdf fall into exactly that been there, done that, no longer scary pitfall it so harshly criticized in the first place??

I can’t begin to tell you how much I wanted this to succeed. Where is the vampire with the mosquito-proboscis? The one that drinks your shadow? The living snow-storm? The thing that lives in light and travels through mirrors? There are PLENTY of supremely creative, uncommon and exciting twists on the vampire out there, but this has none of them. The pdf both fails regarding its mission statement, its generator, and its rules don’t warrant the hassle of translation. The 5 introductory pages are a decent reading experience, though.

Unless you are utterly new to anything vampire-related, unless you have never played Vampire, never read Dracula, seen Nosferatu or heard about Bathory, in short, unless you barely know what a vampire actually is supposed to be, this will have nothing for you. I really try hard to find the good in a product and shine a light on it, but I am hard pressed to do so here.

I guess, if you’re really that innocent regarding vampires, if you have no idea regarding lore, etc., then this may have some value. I don’t know. It’s not an expensive pdf, but frankly, I can’t rate this higher than 1.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Truly Terrifying Vampires
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