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Blood Vaults of Sister Alkava for 5th Edition
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/12/2018 08:41:31

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This side-trek adventure clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2/3 page SRD, leaving us with 10 1/3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This module is intended for the standard 4 – 6 characters of levels 5-6. The module provides detailed, well-written read-aloud text, so if you have issues with spontaneous generation of flavorful text, the pdf has you covered. The book does make use of the monsters from Tome of Beasts – if you don’t have the tome, you’ll need to substitute a couple of them. The following review will contain several SPOILERS. Potential players should skip ahead to the conclusion.

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All right, only GMs around? Great! Sp, Alkava is one of the feared priestesses of the Red Goddess, and she is a real go-getter, who has not only devised a means to keep blood fresh longer, she also has found a way t draw power from the Blood Cauldrons she employs to store the precious red. As art of the Festival of the Verdant Tower, Alkava has collected the tribute in blood from the village of Karvolia…but unlike in previous years, the donors have not returned. Worse, Alkava has just told the village elders that another tribute is required. The elders are afraid of the Red Goddess and the vampiric shroud-eaters, but another cadre of promising young folk lost? A call to adventurers was discreetly sent out…but as the PCs arrive, they are too late: The latest donors have been sent to the blood vaults!

The pdf begins with a variety of different adventure hooks that the GM can employ to have the PCs start the module and the first scene represents the PCs meeting the elders. During the briefing, the PCs can learns some truths and speculation about Valka and her allies. En route, the PCs will have to best an ogre zombie. Arriving at the vaults, the PCs need to pick the lock to the entrance: Minor complaint: The Dexterity check fails to note “(thieves’ tools)”, which is kinda important. The lock is trapped. This would be a good place to note that e.g. the stats of the trap have not been highlighted in the text, so if you’re looking for go-play, this may annoy you; there also is no color-coded sub-header à la the ones for treasure or bolding to set this apart. I am just mentioning this since my readers have asked me to point out the like.

The complex per se begins with a welcoming committee of skeletons (including a nice full-color artwork, though the skeleton’s stance is a bit derpy); after that, things become eerie: Considering the mythology, this is basically a mortal-blood-draining facility, with donor pens and everything, a vampiric cattle-farm under the guise of a religious rite. This nature of the complex is perhaps the creepiest aspect of it. Specters of the fallen, a domovoi and a fellforged and vampire spawn complement the adversaries herein; beyond these, the PCs also get a chance to test their mettle against a blood pudding, which can drain brutal amounts of blood. Blood zombies are another new critter herein, though both have in common that their attack value is odd: The blood pudding, at challenge 5 and Str 16 should e.g. attack at +6, while the blood zombie should inflict +3 damage, not +2. The PCs hopefully save the unwilling blood donors before it’s too late. The best part of the module, though, would be the boss battle with Sister Alkava: There are blood cauldrons that fortify her greatly; there are minions. Alkava, as long as the cauldrons exist, has no less than 4 (!!!) additional actions PER ROUND, at initiative 20, 15, 10 and 5. Alkava, if played right, will mess the PCs up, big time. So yeah, the boss battle is brutal and great.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect. I noticed a couple of minor glitches. Layout adheres to a really nice two-column full-color standard. The interior artwork is pretty neat, in particularly the artwork of Alkava on the cover is neat. The cartography of the complex is solid and full-color, but we don’t get a player-friendly version of the map, alas. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Bill Slavicsek’s trip to Alkava’s blood vaults is a nice module, particularly suitable for convention circuits – the module isn’t particularly long and may be completed in a single session. The atmosphere of the dungeon is pretty impressive, though that is not necessarily due to the module per se, but due to the background of Midgardian lore, which suffuses this module; when removed from Midgard or a similar place where some undead etc. can exert dominance over a cowed populace, this loses much of its impact. I very much enjoyed the atmosphere evoked by the backdrop and the foes can be rather challenging, with the final battle being a suitably brutal conclusion, but as a whole, this module still felt a bit weird to me; while intended only as a sidetrek, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this would have worked better with a couple of pages more, more details for the complex and more room to let its cool concept breathe. As provided, this is worth checking out, yes, but it is probably not a module that’ll blow you away. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars – fans of Midgard should round up, while others may wish to round down. My final verdict will reflect the former due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Blood Vaults of Sister Alkava for 5th Edition
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Albion's Ransom: Little Girl Lost
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/12/2018 08:38:40

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive first part of the two-part Albion’s Ransom adventure clocks in at 105 pages, 101 pages of content if you take away editorial, ToC, etc. This review is mostly based on the softcover print version; the pdf version does not sport bookmarks, which makes navigation annoying.

So, this adventure is set in the UK, and as such, it comes with a well-written and interesting appendix that notes the use of abilities in conjunction with the local regions and explains peculiarities of UK English, as well as giving a cursory overview of the different regions of England. A whole page of slang-terms and an explanation of pub culture can also be found here. From there, we move on to explain regional rivalries, how religion is treated, notes on travelers, crime, eco-activism…and, obviously, esoterrorism activity. Beyond that, we receive notes on Manchester, including gang activities, etc. – in short, we get a surprisingly detailed gazetteer here. The section btw. takes cultural differences between UK and US into account and explains them in a concise manner – so if you haven’t actually studied/visited the UK, chances are that you’ll get something out of this. Really nice!

It should also be noted that the adventure features a pretty extensive 2-page summary of drugs and their use in Esoterrorists, providing a wide array of effects that once more can be considered to be impressive in its details.

This attention to detail is btw. also a component that extends to the adventure-proper, but in order to talk about this aspect of the adventure, I will have to dive into SPOILER-territory. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

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All right, only GMs around? The 18-year old student at Manchester University Catriona Van Rijn has gone missing. Her father, Frank, is a truly valuable asset for the OV and thus, the PCs are sent in to find the girl – note for Americans: No big guns, this is the UK we’re talking about. The PCs are briefed twice and hopefully are aware that time is of the essence: While it is not explicitly spelled out, the PCs are very much on the clock and should meticulously plan where to go when, how to spend their time, etc.

That being said, investigating Catriona’s flat, her room-mates and associates is perhaps one of the best-written investigations I have ever read. Not only are the diverse students depicted as well-rounded characters; they manage to feel alive. You see, Catriona is not just really smart, she also goes through developments that are similar to those many folks go through when studying: She not only has obviously grown into a sexually active lady and is experimenting with what you’d expect, while also developing an idealistic, moral compass that is grounded in eco-activism. This tendency is supported further by a blossoming interest in the occult, something that should generate some serious red flags for the OV-agents. It is hard to describe just how good and detailed the characterizations here are – from flatmates to associates, the students feel alive and interesting…oh, and there’ll be perhaps one of the most skillfully executed red herrings ever in this investigation: When a flat explodes, the PCs may assume esoterrorist influence – but ultimately, what happened had nothing to do with the dark forces behind Catriona’s disappearance, and everything with an unhealthy drug-habit and experimentation with ether. The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, OTOM…and more – beyond the students and their quirks, the PCs have to reconstruct the complex dynamics of Catriona’s life, which, among other things, is complicated by her having spent the night with her lecturer.

Let me make that abundantly clear: Once more, the characterization of the eco-goth-intellectual is hilarious. In the interest for Blake and the occult, this character felt, in a great way, like an evil caricature of myself. (Just for the record: Nope, never slept with one of my students, don’t plan on doing so.) In fact, the depiction of the British subcultures in academia and beyond is probably one of the most amazing I have ever seen: In spite of the themes of Esoterrorists, which may be considered to be inherently conservative by design, the depictions of all the NPCs makes them come alive in a manner I have never seen beyond the pages of this book. While esoterrists codes those interested in the occult as potentially evil, the characters herein do not feel like that at all – they are complex, multi-faceted and while some folks may seem despicable or misguided, you can’t help but feel that the depictions of these groups steams from a deep-seated sympathy.

But I digress. You know, the big, big issue for the PCs in this investigation is, first and foremost, the vast amount of details and information that can be unearthed. This module is ridiculously detailed in the information provided around all key persons and sports multiple ways to reach the conclusion. We have a truly amazing web of intrigue here – and one that thankfully does not rely on throwing OD-entities at the PCs all the time. Tension is slowly, steadily, ramped up as the timer ticks. This is not full-blown in your face horror, instead following the design-paradigm that less is more, as not only the complexity of the case, but also the detailed reactions and behavior patterns of the NPCs make it hard for the OV-agents to get to the core of things. As an aside: I think that a flow-chart summary would have been really helpful for the GM – as written, you’ll want to take copious notes to properly run this.

Ultimately, the trail leads to the 9 ladies, a Neolithic monument scheduled to be quarried, and the protest camp there. Unfortunately for the agents, the camp will be seeded with esoterrorists…and if they don’t take care, they may well end up drugged, potentially added to the planned mass sacrifice…for much is at stake. The esoteric underground cell Isa Kenaz is preparing to unleash the Fimbulwinter upon Britain, and this sacrifice, a perverted Ewemeolc rite (in a hilarious glitch, it’s noted to take place on February 31st – that should be January 31st/February 1st, unless I am sorely mistaken regarding my knowledge of pagan holidays), may well be the trigger that does it. Worse, there is a decent chance that Catriona’s been driven insane and/or converted to being an Esoterrorist…and, you know…every HOUR may actually count – time is incredibly critical and any group that manages to reach her while she’s not yet been brainwashed should pat themselves on the back. The OV-agents will need to infiltrate the camp and find the girl in a mine-shaft, which represents one weakness of the adventure.

You see, the finale works imho best when the OV-agents actually get drugged, but don’t succumb to the effects; attempting to stop the ceremony, rescuing Catriona, not being slain by psycho-Esoterrorists, all through the haze of drugs, makes for an absolutely glorious scene. That being said, we don’t get a map of the camp, which makes infiltration and the whole final scene feel rather opaque. The camp is hard to picture and, particularly considering the moving parts in play here, it would have made sense to provide a proper map – this is also the only truly potentially horrific scene herein; the adventure plays very much like a mystery module and builds tension in a smart and amazing manner.

As you may notice, there’s a lot to love here. However, here is the thing: If your OV-agents are really good, if they can piece together a couple of the more complex components, they may well stumble over the plot of Isa Kenaz, or at least parts of it. In an ironic twist, this is a bad thing – the timeframe the PCs have to secure Catriona is very, very tight and deviations like that may well cost them the time they need. So, ultimately, while the book does not explicitly state it, the PCs are supposed to “lose” this adventure in some form. While it is theoretically possible to utterly “win” the adventure, expose Isa Kenaz and save Catriona, it is extremely unlikely.

There is one aspect that literally made me throw the book through the room. It cheats in the most cheap of ways. Know how Isa Kenaz is one step ahead, how the OV-agents face a disturbingly well-prepared opposition? The book breaks a central tenet of Esoterrorist-gaming, one that can result in permanent damage to an ongoing game. Mister Verity is actually an esoterrorist. Urgh. A central tenet of the game, what sets it thematically apart from a vast number of other settings, is that the OV is good; that it is competent, and while it does lose agents to madness etc., the rigorous vetting, examinations, etc. should engender a sense of trust. By making the PC’s contact a traitor, the module breaks a central tenet of the setting that is even explicitly spelled out in the game’s book: The OV is competent and its agents are the good guys. It’s a basic premise of the game, and once it is subverted, there is literally no way to fix it. It’s also needlessly cheap and unfair: PCs are told, time and again, to trust the OV; by undermining this, the module manages to all but ensure the outcome projected for book #2.

In short, the adventure cheats. Unless PCs realize just how urgent their search is, unless they focus on doing the right things, fail to report things in; unless they don’t attempt to be meticulous (takes too much time); unless they focus on the right priorities, split up, etc., they will be faced with a big downer of an ending. Difficulty of the investigation is not my issue here – it’s this utterly unnecessary subversion of a central tenet of the game, a needless, unfair kick in the shins of even the most capable of agents, one that frankly almost wrecked this adventure for me. It is hard for me to properly enunciate the level of outrage this decision engendered, mainly because, apart from the somewhat opaque finale, this is one amazing, glorious investigation. This is, and let me make that abundantly clear, a challenging, inspired adventure, one that didn’t need this cheapshot. In another game, perhaps in Faer Itself or Trail of Cthulhu, the betrayal would be less important – but in Esoterrorists it undermines a pillar of what sets it apart.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good, though not as refined as in most Pelgrane Press offerings. I noticed a couple of typo-level glitches etc. Layout adheres to a really nice two-column b/w-standard and the adventure sports some neat b/w-artworks. The lack of cartography for many locales is a downside from a presentation perspective. The softcover book is solid, sports the title on the spine, etc. The pdf, as mentioned before, lacks bookmarks, which is a HUGE comfort detriment for an adventure of this size and complexity.

Ian Sturrock’s prose is absolutely glorious; the author manages to write a fantastic module and his characterizations of the NPCs herein is compassionate, kind and simply superb. The little details, from hidden means of identification in e-mail addresses etc. to the more overt aspects, are absolutely inspiring. The gazetteer helps you add a sense of authenticity to the proceedings and the investigation per se is absolutely wonderful. The module manages to evoke a great form of tension, does not rely on shock horror, and must be considered to be an inspired, intriguing offering.

That being said, the module has several serious weaknesses that drag it down from the high recommendation and lavish praise I’d otherwise heap on it. The finale is, as mentioned, somewhat opaque; but more insulting would be the absolutely horrendous cheap-shot regarding the primary antagonist. The fact that this can actually subvert a central tenet of Esoterrorist campaigns makes it problematic. Finally, on a structural level, the organization of the complex investigation could have been more comfortable for the GM. Due to the lack of flow-charts or easy summaries, you’ll probably need to make copious notes, annotations, etc. – this requires serious prep work.

That being said, if you can eliminate these glitches and work around them, you’ll have probably one of the most rewarding investigation scenarios out there. I can absolutely imagine this being classified as a masterpiece, and were it not for the shortcomings mentioned above, this would be a 5 stars + seal of approval book. However, all strikes against this adventure do accumulate and particularly the fact that the module, to a degree, cheats, is something that soured what I’d otherwise consider to be an inspiring adventure. As a reviewer, I need to review this for what it is, not for what you can modify it into. Thus, while I do consider this module to be very much worth picking up, while I consider it to be amazing in atmosphere, characters, etc., all worthy of the highest praise, I also have to take these seriously unpleasant aspects into account. Ultimately, they make it impossible for me to rate this higher than 3.5 stars. Whether to round up or down is a hard decision – my impulse, as a person, would be to round up, but when I tally up, neutrally, my gripes against the adventure, I ultimately can’t do that.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Albion's Ransom: Little Girl Lost
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Unfettered Dreams: Malefex
Publisher: Dreamscarred Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/09/2018 08:44:50

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first installment in Dreamscarred Press‘ Unfettered Dreams-series clocks in at 19 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page introduction/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 14 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

The Malefex class gains d8 HD, 6 + Int skills per level, ¾ BAB-progression, good Ref- and Will-saves and proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as light armor; the class also begins play with trapfinding, More important, though, would be the malefactions, the signature curses and jinxes of the class. They may be used as a swift action; at 8th level, a malefex may trigger two malefactions at once with the same swift action. These are supernatural abilities that target a single creature or object, with a medium range (100 ft. + 10 ft. per class level – the pdf also lists that for your convenience!) and require a clear verbalization of a curse against the target. Kudos: Telepathy can be substituted, if available. It should be noted that the class qualifies for skill unlocks, so if you're playing with them, that's another plus. I tested the class without them in a more gritty context as well, and rest assured that it works perfectly in games without them as well.

Malefactions do not provoke attacks of opportunity and they require either line of sight or at least an idea where precisely the target is. At any given time a malefex may have up to 3 + ½ Wisdom bonus malefactions in effect, and only one in effect per specific malefaction – kudos for the anti-spam-caveat here! Dismissing a malefaction is a free action and they last indefinitely, provided the malefex has some way of perceiving the target – once out of the malefex’ awareness, the target has to endure 1 minute before the malefactions cease to operate. The malefex begins play with two malefactions, which increases to up to 17 known at 20th level. At 12th level, the malefex may affect all opponents in close range (as per spell range) with a malefaction invoked, but may not invoke that malefaction again until all creatures affected by it no longer are under its effects. This does count as 3 malefactions for the purpose of determining how many malefactions a malefex may simultaneously maintain, though.

Malefactions are grouped by power: At 1st level, only least malefactions can be learned; 6th level unlocks lesser malefactions, 11th level unlocks greater malefactions, 16th level grim malefactions and 20th level provides the apex: The malediction. The save DC of malefactions is equal t 10 + ½ class level + Wisdom-modifier. Malefactions that require Fort-saves can affect objects and beings sans Con-score and they are categorized as curse effects. This is important for a number of reasons, one of them being that the class has the wrack class feature, which translates to +1 to atk against cursed creatures, which further increases by +1 at 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter. Additionally, attacks executed versus such creatures add the malefex’ Wisdom modifier to damage. “But curses are mid-to high-level options!” Yep, but it should be noted that the class makes use of the cursed condition, which is properly defined here: Basically, any creature currently affected by a curse is considered to be cursed; hexes do not qualify, only abilities and spells with the curse-descriptor. (Minor nitpick: Spell-reference not italicized.) The condition doesn’t do anything on its own and persists for as long as the target is subject to at least one curse – it represents basically a set-up for combos/follow-up tricks. I’ll return to the precise effects of malefactions in a bit, but let’s first establish the base chassis of the class, all right?

At 2nd level, the malefex adds Wisdom modifier, if positive, to Fortitude and Reflex saves; at 4th level, flanked creatures suffer a -2 penalty to saves versus malefactions, even if the malefex is not the flanker. Beginning at 5th level, we get Back-Alley Bargains, which translates to a +2 insight bonus to Appraise. Really cool: The malefex may concentrate as a move action on a type of item (like poison, magic weapons, etc.) and sense the direction and distance of the closest of such shops within one mile. This is really handy and ties in with the back alley street-life/black market connections vibe. At 7th level, the malefex gets the most German form of humor, Schadenfreude. At 7th level, the malefex gets 5 temporary hit points whenever a creature in close range (as per spell ranges) fails a saving throw versus a maneuver, spell or SP with the curse descriptor. This increases to class level temporary hit points at 14th level. These do stack with themselves, up to a total equal to ½ the malefex’s maximum hit points, and last for 1 minute. Also at 14th level, the malefex may expend as a move action, up to 4 such temporary hit points per class level, healing 1 hit point for every 4 temporary hit points thus expended. Okay, unsurprisingly, I have a problem here: Since malefactions have no daily limit, we do have, essentially an infinite healing exploit here. Granted, a slow and pretty ineffective infinite healing exploit, but an infinite healing exploit nonetheless. Now, I absolutely maintain that, from a design-perspective, this is not justified: A simple caveat could have prevented any ability to cheese this. However, from a practical point of view, at 14th level, the effectiveness of this strategy is so limited, even if you carry around bags of kittens to curse, that it is, ultimately, just sad. I can picture a wounded high-level malefex lying in the hard-boiled, noir gutter, cursing, time and again kittens, down on her luck, as her blood mingles with debris. Perhaps it’s the flavor of the class, but that image does have a certain appeal to me. Do I consider this, design-wise, an unnecessary shortcoming? Yes. Do I think it breaks the class? No, and for once I may actually not remedy it, because this picture, of a malefex cursing her kitten, with tears in her eyes, kinda suck with me. For abuse, the exploit’s too slow and action-intense. Still, for certain groups, this should be borne in mind.

At 10th level, we get the Cool Under Fire ability: Select up to Wisdom modifier skills – the malefex may take 10 when using these skills, even if usually prevented from this by circumstances. 13th level yields break enchantment 2/day as a SP. At 13th level, the malefex may teleport her land speed as a move action, but only to a place to which she has line of sight. At 16th level, we get “A Dark and Stormy Night”, tapping into the clichés of a cursed place: Basically, the malefex can generate a 30-ft.-aura reminiscent of a haunted/cursed place as a standard action, which nets the malefex’s allies +2 to Intimidate and also yields concealment; foes take -2 to saves and the penalty is doubled versus fear effects. This is codified properly as an illusion (shadow) effect. 17th level lets the malefex, 4/day as a free action, force a reroll of a save versus a malefaction, which must be declared after the save rolled, but before results are made known. A single save may only be rerolled once. At 19th level, the malefex may teleport adjacent to a creature suffering currently from a malefaction as a move action, regardless of distance, eliminating the need for line of sight or effect, gaining a brief glimpse of the 10 ft.-area prior to teleporting to safely choose destination squares.

Okay, so those would be the linear abilities: The class also begins play with the school of hard knocks class feature: They begin play with one knock and gain an additional one at 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter. These are really flavorful and basically constitute the talents of the class: Bad penny, for example, allows the malefex to ritually designate an item as the penny, which may then called into possession of the malefex, even across planar boundaries, which can be a godsend for infiltrations, etc. Gaining both Improved and Greater Unarmed Strike, using Wisdom modifier for attack rolls (but not damage) allows the class to have some brawling competence from the get-go. While I am generally not a big fan of e.g. + Wisdom modifier to Disable Device checks, the ability also allows for saves versus effects like explosive runes (“explosive” not italicized), which is a neat angle I enjoy. At 6th level, malefexes may choose to gain AoOs when a creature targets an ally, even with ranged weapons, but only within the first range increment. This is very potent, but a 1/round caveat keeps it from being OP – it is an aspect of the skirmishing angle of the class. Speaking of which: Also locked (rightly so) behind 6th level, Gang Up allows for flanking bonuses, regardless of positioning of malefex and ally. This, once more, is pretty potent, but ensures that e.g. rogue-malefex-teams can be pretty amazing tag-teams.

Gaining Ability Focus for Malefactions, bonus feats or substituting Wisdom for Knowledge can also be found. Catch Off-Guard and Throw Anything make sense, but in a cool twist, the ability that grants these feats has a synergy effect with bad penny. It is also one of a few knocks that may be selected an additional time, increasing the benefits. Another nice ability allows the malefex to treat lower-grade equipment as better, even with the ability to be selected a second time, adding a special ability for armors or weaponry. Kudos: The usual +10 limit may not be exceeded. Gaining a Bloodforge Heritage feat. We may also gain a variant renown that nets identities – and yes, this may be upgraded and the pdf reprints the talents for your convenience. These may be further built upon with another knock and social talents. Rogue talents, psychic reading as a SP and 1/day teamwork sharing as well as quicker Disable Device to gain access to places complement this section. I really liked the very strong, thematic leitmotif of the hard-knocks character, the supernatural anti-hero detective, etc. – the knocks are thematic and flavorful.

Now, I already mentioned the malefactions and at this point, you want to know what they do, right? So, their presentation is pretty much akin to maneuvers or spells – they are governed by type and alphabetically within that type; we begin with least malefactions and move up to the most potent ones. They note targets, saves and descriptors – all are curses and a few are mind-affecting or fear-based. Okay, so, what do they do? For example, Baleful Glare nets -2 to CL/ML and concentration checks, saves and skill checks- Face Stealer imposes a -2 penalty to Charisma and disguises the malefex as the target. If the target is slain while under this effect, his corpse’s face becomes utterly featureless! Now this is flavorful and has adventure-ideas baked right into the effects. Glued Boots is really cool from a tactics point of view: No more 5-foot steps or withdrawal and halved movement…oh, and you become faster. This is a theme, btw.: Steal Stamina, for example, nets you +2 to Dex and Str, and fatigues the target. Penalties versus steal and disarm can also be found and items may lose hardness or become broken due to Sands of time. Tongue Tie can net spell failure chance and penalize social skills…no complaints here.

Among the lesser malefactions, we have an option to steal fast healing and regeneration AND make the target ignore a scaling amount of healing. Nice! Confiscate: Blood nets you temporary hit points when targets bleeds. There are more of those “Confiscate:”-malefactions and they follow similar design paradigms. As an aside, I can see that being really fun to play at the table. Decree: Anteros lets you designate a target, to which the character becomes hostile. Embargo: Alacrity is a really potent and cool debuff: Swift action maneuvers, SPs, psi-like abilities etc. are reduced to a move action. Forbiddance: Flight’s effects are self-explanatory and no, may not be abused to kill off flyers en masse. Interdiction: Sorcery punishes attempts to cast spells, manifest powers etc. with untyped damage (which is not so much as to render that broken); subverting fear-immunity or causing targets to become shaken if they don’t focus on you. Nice! (As an aside: If you use Horror Adventure’s alternate fear-progression, the ability is worded in a way that allows for the use of that system!) No complaints here either.

With greater malefactions, things start to become really potent: Chink in the Armor strips the target of all DR and hardness and bestows -2 to saves. Ouch! Now personally, I would have made ignored DR based on type and implemented a scaling here, but at 11th level, I consider this to be okay. Delusion is interesting: Regardless of whether a save is made, it’s -4 to atk and Perception – on a failed save, the poor sod also suffers from 40% miss chance. Suppressing ongoing powers or spells (including the option to hijack benefits!) makes for a cool trick. Really cool: Make an item broken; on a failed save, the target takes magic piercing damage from the shards. Reducing immunity/resistance also can be really nasty. Dragon malefex team-up just got very scary. Just sayin’. Once more, I have no serious complaints against the options presented here; while potent, they are in line with analogue benefits granted by other classes and class options.

The most potent regular malefactions, the grim malefactions, are appropriately brutal: Blood for blood causes the target to suffer half the damage it inflicts on you; if you’re dropped to 0 hit points, the target may be stunned for 1 round on a failed save. This is an interesting Mexican-Stand-Off-type of ability; it tracks only actual damage taken and may not be cheesed. Circe’s word is a temporary baleful polymorph. Decree of Exile has a limited duration and strands the target temporarily in a demiplane. Stagger + gaining haste is strong, but neat…but it does have an issue. You see, I consider it quite feasible to reduce the number of malefactions I can place by 1 for e.g. perma-haste. Just carry a kitten with you and there you go – courtesy of the lack of durations per se, the buff may be thus maintained infinitely, at the cost of a slightly reduced debuffing capacity in combat. This is, yes, cheesing the buffing aspect here. Yes, it should be no problem for the GM to forbid such actions. The puzzling thing to me is that malefactions usually have effects localized on the target or grant less potent benefits. So yeah, I consider that to be an aspect that could use a limiter.

Mystic isolation nets the target SR, but only for benevolent and harmless effects…which is devious and cool. Dimensional anchor is per se is useful…but the malefaction Witch’s Prison adds a cool idea to that: If you move too far away, the target instead teleports to you, in spite of the effect. A more penalizing rage, individual silence, negative levels via the black spot-growth whenever you hit them…neat.

Finally, there are the maledictions, the capstone abilities. Word of doom kills basically every defensive quality the target may have: Resistances, DR, fast healing, hardness, immunities…etc. Brutal. Word of Horror Unending nets a negative level and 3 attribute damage to all scores per round, with each round offering a save to negate. The Waerloch’s Word is cool: You can only use it 1/week…but if you do, you make an item intelligent. Permanently. Worse, the item wants to kill its wielder. Ever felt like your kitchen/elevator/etc. was out to get you? ;)

Okay, so, as a whole, I really loved the malefactions. With a few minor aspects, I consider them to be worthwhile, engine-wise interesting and unique. I particularly enjoy how, in spite of them not sporting any flavor-text, they often manage to evoke a concise theme via their names alone.

Supplemental material-wise, we get favored class options for the core races as well as aasimar, changeling, dhampir, hexbreather, merg, kitsune and shabti. These interact in some cases with racial abilities, allow for limited hex access, etc. No complaints here. The class gets 8 different feats: The aforementioned Ability Focus is included for your convenience; if you have two or more malefactions, you can take another one – up to 3 times. Talented Jinxer increases the maximum number of active malefactions at any given time by 2. Street Lessons nets you +1 knock. Wrack and Ruin adds Wisdom modifier bleed damage to cursed creatures hit via the wrack ability. Spreading Misery lets the malefex move a malefaction from a foe reduced to 0 hp to another target within 100 ft.; time spent, if applicable, does not reset upon being transferred and the new target gets a save. Grudgebearer lets you choose a creature type (or type/subtype) available from favored enemies; the type takes a -2 penalty to saves versus malefactions. (This may obviously be chosen multiple times, applying its benefits to different types.) Honed Maliciousness lets you bypass curse immunity – and yes, prerequisites are sensible.

Rogue, slayer and vigilante may choose a malefex knock as a rogue/slayer/vigilante talent. Rogues and slayers may not choose evasion, rogue talent or combat feat (avoiding redundancy) and use Intelligence as governing attribute instead of Wisdom. The vigilante does consequently not have these limitations and uses Charisma as governing attribute. Rogue and slayer may choose curse adept as a talent, gaining a single least malefaction, usable 1/3 class level + Int-mod times, with 4th level as a prerequisite. Once more, intelligence is the governing attribute here. As advanced talents for slayer and rogue, the classes can gain a least or lesser malefaction, with the same restrictions as the previous talent. The vigilante gains a variant: Least or lesser may be chosen (with lesser malefactions requiring 10th level) and Charisma is the governing attribute. Since vigilante talents are worth slightly more, the malefactions thus gained may be used ½ class level + Cha-mod times per day. All such options allow the classes to treat their class levels as malefex levels to determine malefaction effects.

Finally, there also is an archetype included in the deal, the rustpicker. These fellows replace the malefaction gained at 1st level with the ability to have all weaponry treated as cold iron, using the better values for hardness and hit points. Instead of the knocks gained at 1st, 6th, 9th and 15th level, the rustpicker gains Brilliant Planner as a bonus feat and does not need to replenish the brilliant plan fund after procuring 20+ pounds of objects, only the invested gold is taken into account when it needs replenishing. Objects and services below 1 sp in cost are treated as 1 sp, preventing cheesing there. 3rd level enhances Brilliant Planner, allowing for the replenishment of 100 gp per character level and this takes only 4 hours. 6th level lets the character designate a container as her rucksack. While this item is worn, a brilliant plan no longer increases weight. Additionally, the brilliant plan fund may be replenished by placing an item inside and meditating – upon completion, the item vanishes, its value added to the fund, up to the usual maximum. Nice: Cursed items and artifacts may explicitly not be removed from play thus. Starting at 9th level, the rustpicker may enact the brilliant plan to withdraw an item (not a service) as if drawing it from her person, which usually means a move action, though the rules specify potentially quicker draw options. 12th level makes the rucksack behave as a handy haversack sans monetary value. 1/day, mage’s magnificent mansion as an SP is also gained. AT 15th level, brilliant plan funds may be replenished anywhere and objects or services may be procured regardless of place, provided they are available on the plane of existence. Starting at 7th, victims of malefactions take + class level damage when receiving damage from a source other than the malefaction. At 14th level, this also imposes a massive -6 penalty to Dexterity. This replaces schadenfreude and its upgrade. Instead of break enchantment, the archetype nets 2/day banishment as an SP at 13th level.

Now, the pdf does sport a page that I really wished more classes would feature – a page that deals with how to integrate malefexes into an ongoing campaign, ideas of what malefactions actually are, etc. – the pdf mentions psychic potential, bad memories, half-remembered curses, myths, songs taught by weird grannies and plain ole’ grudges may explain that. The notion of a neighborhood guardian or covert malefex, protecting (or terrorizing) a community similarly are touched upon; the leitmotifs of a person hardened by a tough life, of killer-instincts, etc. are very much evident in nomenclature etc., but this page further emphasizes the feeling that the class is designed to evoke – and what you could do with it in your campaign.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good – while I noticed a few minor formatting guffaws, none of them compromised the rules-language integrity. Rules-language is as precise as we’ve come to expect from Dreamscarred Press and while the minor kitten-exploits imho are not necessary, even they remain within the paradigm of what most groups will complain about. Layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press’ nice two-column full-color standard and the full color-artworks are nice. We get a second, more printer-friendly version and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Jade Ripley, with additional content by Forrest Heck and N. Jolly, delivers basically the class that was attempted in varying degrees of success before: The 5th-man debuffer. Where hexblade imho failed and similar options went a more spell-centric route, the malefex stands singularly, as a one-of-a-kind class. There are two reasons for this. One, the class, unsurprisingly, considering the authors, sports a unique engine that provides a distinct playstyle – the malefex plays differently from comparable classes, which is a very big plus as far as I’m concerned. Secondly, and to me, that is just as important, it has a strong, distinct sense of identity, one that is not prescriptive via a overdetailed description of flavor, but one that suffuses the class in ability-names, in how its pieces gel together. With minimal word-count, the class manages to use names and effects to generate a distinct identity.

That is a huge plus. Just as important for me is that the class follows a design-aesthetic that reminds me of the Occult Classes – and indeed, I’d classify the Malefex as such in its design-aesthetics. You see, the class not only sports combat-relevant options and tricks to escalate numbers and combat output; yes, there are some potent tricks here, but the class focuses on being a versatile class that can contribute in meaningful ways to the game beyond its combat capabilities. Secondly, the abilities of the malefex, surprisingly, in spite of their very much crunch-centric presentation, manage to have story-seeds and ideas woven into them. You can read the class and have an adventure- or encounter-idea based on a malefaction etc. In short, this is a class that is a meaningful contributor to the roleplaying experience beyond combat performance.

That does not mean that the malefex can’t hold her own in battle, mind you: The class manages to provide a potent, valid skirmisher/rogue-y stand-in with a nice supernatural angle. While the class is pretty potent, it never strays into territory that I’d consider to be OP or broken for the levels at which an ability is unlocked; the malefex should provide no issues in even lower-powered or 15-point-buy games. In very conservative games, a couple of the ignore DR/reduce immunity/etc. tricks may require finetuning, but as a whole, I consider the malefex to be a universally appealing class.

The interesting crazy-prepared archetype and the solid supplemental material, as well as the overall package ultimately conspire to make this my favorite design by Jade Ripley so far. The malefex is truly intriguing, oozes flavor and its detailed guidelines for flavor etc. add icing on an awesome cake. This class is interesting, inspiring and well-made, and it is only the 2 minor kitten-exploits that cost this pdf the nomination as a candidate of my Top Ten of 2017. Don’t let that deter you, though: The malefex is a cool, flavorful and worthwhile addition to the game, a great representation of the debuffer/skirmisher-role. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Unfettered Dreams: Malefex
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The Accursed
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/09/2018 08:43:49

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This base class clocks in at 17 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 13 pages of content. These pages are laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ for digest-size, allowing you to fit up to 4 pages on a given sheet of paper if your eye-sight’s good enough. This review is based on V.2 of the class.

The accursed class gains d8 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons (and no shields/armor), ¾ BAB-progression and good Fort- and Will-saves. They add Charisma bonus to AC and CMD while unarmored and also gain +1 o AC and CMD at 4th level, + 1 for every 4 levels thereafter. These bonuses even apply while the accursed is flat-footed and applies to touch AC and even while the character is helpless.

The accursed gains a 0-level SP, usable at-will at 1st level, as well as a 1st-level SP, usable 3/day. At 2nd level and every additional level thereafter, the accursed gains another SP, with twice the accursed’s class level being the limit of SPs. 0-level SPs may be used at-will; 1st – 3rd level spells can be used 3/day, 4th – 6th level spells may be used 2/day and higher level SPs only 1/day. A given spell may be chosen up to thrice; each time, you add the same uses per day to it. The accursed uses his class level as caster level for these and they are governed by Charisma.The revised edition now sports a caveat versus costly SP-abuse – 5 gp is the maximum value a material component may have of a chosen SP. Which spell-list is used? That depends on the mark of the accursed – more on that later.

As a standard action that does not provoke attacks of opportunity, the accursed may use touch of ruin – this touch attack may not be used in conjunction with other touch-based attack-forms, can be used as part of a full attack (and multiple times, should you choose), and begins at 1d4 piercing, slashing and bludgeoning damage – here, a choice and action-based switch would have been significantly more elegant regarding ability-interactions. The damage inflicted scales up to 2d8 at 20th level. These touch attacks may delivered, atk-wise, via Dex instead of Str, if desired. Touch of ruin crits on a natural 20, with x2 multiplier, and when used against objects, ignores up to ½ class levels of hardness. The accursed may channel touch of ruin through melee attacks, but loses the Charisma bonus damage and the effects of ruinations when doing so. On crits, the touch of ruin’s bonus damage is doubled, regardless of critical multipliers of weaponry etc. This ability, in short, means that the accursed can hit pretty hard from the get-go. Touch of ruin may be used as a 10 ft. ranged touch attack instead, adding +5 ft. range per every 3 accursed class levels attained.

This touch also leaves behind an arcane mark analogue – which, somewhat lame, only persists until the damage is healed. At 2nd level and every even level thereafter, the accursed gets to choose a ruination. These are modifications of the touch of ruin that add further effects, mostly conditions, with a save of 10 + ½ class level + Cha-mod to calculate the saving throw DC. Only one ruination that inflicts a negative condition can be used per touch of ruin.

The ruinations have been completely overhauled. In the original iteration, they were a broken mess. In the revised version, we get bonus energy damage, with more potent energies locked behind minimum levels. So yeah, huge step up. Annoying: Many use a nonsense per-combat mechanic. Insert here my rant on how per-combat mechanics make no sense in the logic of the game world. Yes, they are functional, but still. Why not just use a time—based cooldown? The ruination that nets you a skeleton for those slain is perhaps the most interesting of these. Still, as a whole, a huge step up.

Also at first level, the accursed gains meant to endure, +1 luck bonus to all saves while unarmored, increasing by +1 at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter. 9th level yields immunity to being targeted with divination spells and effects – and in the revised version, the accursed can actually activate or deactivate the ability, thankfully. At 19th level, the accursed is no longer considered to be part of her race for the purpose of spells, effects, etc.and loses the negative ability score modifiers of a race, if any. The capstone yields at-will bestow curse as an SP. Additionally, the class becomes immune to ability damage, drain and all curse-spells…which is WEIRD.

Now, as hinted at, 1st level requires the most important choice of the class, namely the mark – these marks govern the spell-list used by the afflicted to determine SPs available and provide abilities at 3rd, 7th, 13th and 17th damage. Here, we can find, for example condition immunities and touch abilities. Take the afflicted: These fellows get a touch of ruin-upgrade that inflicts 4 points of Con damage, now thankfully with a save and more daily uses. In contrast to the original, ability-interaction now works. The mark in question allows for the carrying of diseases, provides condition immunities to fatigued and exhausted at 13th level and proceeds to net poison and swarm damage immunity. Sin-touched nets Wisdom-damage according to a similar paradigm and provides negative/positive damage resistance that scales up to immunity, etc. The mindscarred can cause Int-damage and gets scaling DR/magic (upgraded to magic and silver later) and gains finally true seeing – here, there’s a minor layout glitch: The italicization (i) wasn’t properly closed, remaining as a remnant. Spellburnt accursed gain energy resistances, limited quickened SPs and SR for hostile spells only. The witchmarked represents a deviation from this formula, instead providing claws that upgrade in damage, crit-mod, etc. Once more, a remnant (i) is there.

The pdf has archetypes: Guarded accursed exchange the curse powers of the marks with an animal companion, though the animal gains +2 Wis, -2 Cha (min 1), +2 to saves at 7th level, Improved Natural Attack at 13th and immunity to mind-affecting effects at 17th level Yeah…that’s pretty much better than the mark abilities. Problem: Guess who doesn’t have Handle Animal as a class skill to train animal companions? Bingo, the accursed. The archetype should grant that.

The Sealed are locked in their armor, which is an AMAZING idea. While the archetype could do more with it, the revised version actually makes it work, so kudos. Yes, you can sleep in it. There is a “one/once”-typo, but that’s cosmetic.

The supplemental feats alas, still sport the strange seesawing tendency: 1/day, you can render a target staggered via Intimidate – PERMANENTLY. Sure, Will-save to negate, but I have no idea what the save DC/governing attribute is. It can also be upgraded to 3-day paralysis and even death, but none of these uses has been properly codified regarding effect types. DR/cold iron. A couple of sucky SPs and minor skill boosts can be found alongside minor speed increase while fleeing in fear (can become useless if you become immune…just sayin’)…and then there is the feat which lets you choose from lists other than your mark’s, which is vastly stronger than the above. Formatting has improved, though, and a 1/day evade death trick that makes you a very convincing “corpse” at -1 HP is an interesting continuation of the survivor-angle.

The pdf concludes with a massive favored class option benefit array that sports some decent, if repetitive options for a wide variety of races – big plus: The benefits have the races to which they apply in brackets – much better than an endless list with repeating entries. Sure, individual entries would have been nice, but yeah.

The pdf comes with a bonus-pdf containing the gorgeous Porphyrite Drake, penned by Mark Gedak and Perry Fehr – the critter clocks in at CR 11, can pass porphyrite borders, bypasses all DRs but DR/- and they can 3/day grant themselves speed-bursts. Oh, and know what? They are shredders in melee. And have a breath that teleports the subjected targets to locations of their choice. Oh yes. Dragon with portals. When played right, this critter is devious gold.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting have been significantly improved. While the original was almost non-functional, this one may have a couple of minor glitches and verbiage-deviations, but works as written. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly 1-column standard with nice full-color pieces. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

First of all: Huge props to Cascade Chain and Von Krieger. Their suggestions have obviously helped Aaron Hollingsworth’s accursed a great deal. As written, the class is now basically a very hard-hitting, yet pretty fragile guy who’ll get a lot of immunities, courtesy of the survivor-angle and vibe the class aims for. The concept of the class is strong and I very much like cursed fighters like the direlock, hellion, malefactor, malefex, etc. – the accursed fills the cursed witch/monk-niche and the ideas that can be glimpsed at in a couple of the fluffy components, are promising. The execution of the idea, while now significantly better than before, could have been more interesting, though. The class is very much melee/close combat-centric, but doesn’t really allow for good defenses or a sustained presence there. The mark and how it is conveyed via the touch of ruin, as well as the ruination-options, are, while now functional, not exactly breath-taking. They are the usual suspects, upgrade-wise, and don’t really offer for a truly distinct playing experience. Particularly in comparison with direlock and malefex, this feels like less than it could have been.

That being said, if you’re looking for an easy to grasp class in that vein, this may well be worth taking a look at. I’ve been sitting on the original version’s review for a while (it was a 1.5 star-debacle) and the revised edition has really improved the class; it is now playable. Internal balancing is much tighter, though the supplemental material like archetypes and feats still…well, is not exactly perfect.

So yeah, not a mindblowing class, but a vast improvement over its beginnings – kudos for the effort of making it work. My final verdict will clock in at 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
The Accursed
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The Gobber: A Thanksgiving Tale
Publisher: Zenith Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/09/2018 08:41:15

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, so one of these pages is devoted to a new race, the awakened turkey, who receives +2 Con and Cha, -2 Int, is Small and a magical beast with the augmented animal subtype. Turkeys has a base speed of 20 ft. and are natural gliders, taking no damage from falls and allowing them to glide 60 ft. per 1 foot they fall. They also get +2 to natural AC due to feathers…but any fire damage cancels that bonus until the turkey is fully healed. These guys also get a 1d3 bite attack (damage-type not noted, requiring the player to default to standard), which is properly codified with regards to primary/secondary. Kudos. They also get +4 to Handle Animal checks and always treat it as a class skill. The bonus should probably be racial. They also get Toughness as a bonus feat. There is an issue, though: Awakened turkeys are delicious. Animals attacking them get a +2 morale bonus to atk and damage rolls with bite attacks, as well as a +2 morale bonus to grapple or pin them…or to swallow them whole. Cool!

Now, it should be noted that this adventure is intended for 3-5 characters level 2 – 4. As with the other Zenith Games mini-modules, we do not get read-aloud text, though sections of the pdf can qualify as such. It would have been nice to see them highlighted/shaded to set them apart, but oh well. Rules-relevant components are not explicitly highlighted in the text. The pdf sports a map, which is player-friendly, b/w and rudimentary, but completely sufficient to run this adventure – what I like to call “functional.”

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

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All right, only GMs around? Great! The small town of Pilgrim’s Rest has basically the equivalent of Thanksgiving; Giblet farms and slaughterhouse is the institution in charge of providing the most succulent turkey for the celebration, but time after time, year after year, something goes wrong, costing the enterprise profits. Vandals wreck his enterprise. Thus, the PCs are hired by owner Gunther Giblet. The PCs, waiting for their appointment, bear witness to the aftermath of a verbal altercation with a lady before getting to talk to the Halfling – turns out, the lady has the name “Drumstick” and is, ironically, vegetarian and obviously the child of Gunther.

Drumstick would be a prime suspect, obviously, but Gunther dismisses any such claims, adding an off-hand remark about the Gobbler – he tells a sordid tale of a worker who fell into the machinery, being summarily executed by the machinery. Now, this may, depending on your type of campaign, be a bit of an anachronism, as industrial slaughterhouse were a product of a later age, so that may be something to bear in mind. (And yes, you can explain that away with clockwork or steampunk-y elements, but not every group will be happy with such a solution, so I figured I’d mention it.)

The PCs get a chance to take a look at the “farm” – basically a warehouse with cubbyholes and the machinery to slaughter the turkeys. Waiting here doesn’t yield much news, as the turkeys fall asleep: 11 PM, the door busts open to a warning of an elderly half-elven night-janitor, who tells the PCs that the previous years saw the slaughter of the predecessors of the PCs…and in a delightfully weird blending of tropes, he promises that the PCs will be visited by the Ghosts of Turkeys Past, Present and Future...and then, should they survive, the Gobbler will come to butcher them.

Things begin in a rather grisly manner once the old elf takes off, as a mighty turkey ooze forms from entrails and the waste components of the turkey; should the PCs prevail here, they’ll have to contend with deafening gobbling, as all cages burst open to have a swarm of turkeys assault them next. Once the swarm has been defeated, all cages are locked, the turkeys safe inside. Finally, a blinding flash of light will see a turkey knight, fighter and sorcerer manifest, pitting the PCs against basically futuristic sentient turkey adventurers. (Minor complaint: Spells not italicized.) Should the PCs emerge victorious once more, the gobbler will enter. Turns out, it’s Gunther. He has become afflicted with the curse of the dread wereturkey! Whether the PCs manage to subdue or kill him, the adventure ends with the defeat of the Halfling…though, yes, the PCs may actually be afflicted with the curse themselves…

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are generally pretty good, no truly grievous complaints there. Layout adheres to a no-frills two-column standard with brown-ish headers; the pdf is pretty printer-friendly. Artworks are public domain pieces in b/w and the map of the farm is,as noted, functional. Not aesthetically pleasing, but it does its job for the low asking price. The pdf does not sport any bookmarks, a minor comfort detriment, though, at this length, not one I’m going to penalize the pdf for.

Jeff Gomez’ Gobbler is a delightfully bonkers yarn. The module begins with a lead-in that makes you assume a heavy-handed morality fable, and it can be read as such; however, by quoting Christmas Carol and the increasingly surreal challenges, the pdf actually subverts this component, allowing the player/GM to draw his/her own conclusions. It is also this weirdness that makes the somewhat anachronistic components work in context, though a pretty far-developed larger city makes imho for a more sensible backdrop. As a whole, I ended up enjoying this adventure more than I thought I would. The matter of fact remains, though, that beyond being a sequence of combats, there is nothing going on here, and the terrain could have been more relevant to the proceedings as well. For the low asking price, this may well be worth checking out, though. My final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, though I feel I have to round down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
The Gobber: A Thanksgiving Tale
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Slumbering Ursine Dunes
Publisher: Hydra Cooperative
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/08/2018 03:28:32

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure/location-supplement clocks in at 68 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 63 pages of content. It should be noted that the Cave Dwarf race/class and War Bear race/class take up 3.5 of these pages (including a nice war bear marching song) – both are also featured in the PWYW Hill Cantons Compendiums and I have covered them in my reviews of these files.

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue as requested by my patreons.

This module/location is written for the Labyrinth Lord rules and takes place in the world of Zĕm, which is inspired by Slavic folk tales and full-blown weirdness…at least partially. You see, a leitmotif here is that civilization and the Law it engenders is anathema to magic, while magic and the chaotic forces create strange areas in constant flux – it is in the frontier between these two forces that the Hill Cantons can be found – a proper and interesting area for adventurers to explore, as its stable enough, yet wondrous and suffused with magic. These dichotomous forces and their influence on the lands are responsible for a rather unique feeling: On one side, the influence of Law and vivilizations is reflected in a social structure and general underlying theme that seems closer to medieval times than the early modern period usually assumed by adventures; on the other hand, the influence of chaos and wonder is responsible for a pronounced and irreverent, creative and almost psychedelic punk aesthetic that prevents. The former prevents the latter from becoming too random; the latter prevents the former from being boring. It is in this interesting tension that we’re introduced.

If that sounded too theoretical for you, never mind – that is just my analysis and how I explained the appeal of the setting for myself. Sooo, what is this? Structure-wise, this adventure represents a so-called point-crawl, or, alternatively, a location-based adventure. We have a stretch of wilderness that is explored by the PCs, as they travel from hotspot to hotspot. The geography of the eponymous dunes creates organic pathways and while notes are presented for PCs to scale them, this is tiresome, to say the least. Beyond this aspect, the adventure also sports two different dungeons that may be found and explored. Officially, this is a level 2 – 4 adventure, and let me tell you, it is not for the faint of heart – so yeah, PCs can die, but when they do, it is not due to arbitrary decisions, but due to PC actions. In short: I consider this to be a hard, but fair adventure.

Theme-wise, this represents what I’d call, analogue to the term coined in literary studies, a weird geography. We have gigantic, majestic, red dunes rising from the landscape, including a hilariously irreverent origin myth for them. Unlike the more abstract weird geographies that can be found in e.g. the writings of China Miéville, the slumbering ursine dunes remain pretty down-to-earth, though: There is no complex academic concept of spatial overlapping or representation-congruence here, which, in less academic terms, means that old-school veterans who consider some of the newer books in the OSR movement to be too experimental, should have no issue with this…unless you have issues with Planescape etc. This is very much usable as written and can make for a weird place that could exist in most campaign worlds. While Zĕm-specific lore and “godlings” are contained herein, their power and specialized portfolio ultimately means that this can be plugged into most worlds sans any issues. Particularly DCC-judges will probably enjoy the blend of weird and grit featured here.

All right, so, structure-wise, we do get a random encounter table for the dunes and the respective dungeons; we get a 20-entry-strong rumor table as well as tables for 10 men-at-arms for hier and 12 other hirelings. Two new spells are included: Kazimir’s resplendent couture makes your dressing all the talk of the area, while summon and bind minor sandestin nets you a semi-permanent, if lazy and potentially hilarious variant of unseen servant. The module also sports an extensive bestiary section, which notes the rank-and-file soldiers of the factions of the dunes, two-headed vultures, weresharks as well as stats for vodniks or were-ocelots…and weirder creatures, thugh I will mention there in the spoiler-section below.

There is also a really nice randomization element that emphasizes player-agenda beyond what you get to see in most adventures, one that ties into the overall theme of the Hill Cantons – that tool would be the Chaos Index. The actions of the PCs have consequences: While there is fluctuation f the chaos rating, certain actions of the PCs, the elimination of certain NPCs, etc. all can raise or lower the chaos-index: The higher it rises, the more volatile the dunes becomes…and vice versa. As soon as players realize this, they can use it…to a degree. It also is a great tool for the referee to slowly amp up the pressure as the PCs explore the dunes. It should also be noted that the book does note and provide example of how the respective major characters talk and sports even a handy pronunciation guideline.

All right, this is as far as I can go regarding the formal criteria and supplemental material without going into MAJOR SPOILERS. If you plan to play in this module, stop reading now and skip ahead to the conclusion. Believe me, you don’t want this one spoiled.

..

.

All right, only referees around? Great!, So, beyond the PCs, there are multiple factions vying for control over the dunes to one degree or another, and these faction can be considered to be a great way to further structure the exploration. There would be Jaromir, the Old Smith – a surprisingly ambitionless and high-level retired hero come smith, who may be a nice trump-card if the PCs colossally botch everything; he and his place right before the dunes also makes for a nice base camp. Within the dunes, there is Medved the Master, ostensibly the godling of war bears, werebears, etc., the benignly neglectful master of the dunes. On the more dangerous side of things, there would be the Eld. The eld are basically extra-planar, lawful evil space-elves with a thing for David Bowie/80s-aesthetics and an unhealthy obsession with biomancy. (As an aside: If you run a game with the eld, get Necrotic Gnome Production’s stellar Complete Vivimancer right now!) Finally, there would be the disgusting wereshark-lord Ondrj the Reaver –he has not only collected a band of nasty folks and enjoys his symbiotic remora-“lovers” (they hang on his chest in the fantastic b/w-artwork), he is also on the cusp of achieving some sort of divinity, being related to Medved and all. While overtly somewhat civilized, he is a horrid brute, violence simmering beneath the surface. Oh, and he and his corsairs really hate the pirate-clichés. All of these factions have goals and notes on how they relate to the other factions, but they are far from all that can be found within the dunes.

Unless the PCs explore after the burned forest before the dunes and find the “local folks entry”, they’ll run afoul of local centaurs, collecting a tourist-like toll for admission to the place, which, on its own, felt so surreal and weird, I couldn’t help but smile. Beyond the small tribe of these local centaurs, the dunes hide for example the remnant of a gigantic iron statue, inhabited by a probably mad ascetic; rainbow sandstone, grues, a petrified grove and a bearling holy site can be found. More lethal would be the magic rye field inhabited by bloodthirsty poleviks (once again, rendered beautifully in b/w) and the other,d eadly fey creatures from Slavic lore that can be found. If the PCs find a cairn and interrupt it, they’ll be in for a brutal battle that will have them both sweat for the lives of their characters and laugh: Sealed beneath is the dread…Slothrog! Yep. A Balrog-y sloth. The idea is glorious. Have I mentioned the damn, faithfully maintained by giant beaver engineers? This region is both wondrous and funny, but feels, surprisingly, pretty concise and plausible if you can accept the premise of its weirdness. The fact that it manages to work sans copious pop-culture references is also a huge plus, as it strengthens the unique flavor of the region. Another monster that made me smile from ear to ear: Zombastodon. Come on. That is all kinds of cool!

Now, I mentioned two dungeons: Much like the dunes themselves, they are fully mapped in b/w, but, alas, we do not get player-friendly, key-less versions of any of the maps herein, which constitutes a comfort detriment. The first of the dungeons would be the Golden Barge, basically a plane/dimension-jumping, crashed ship of the eld that they try to salvage…which is btw. also why they try to tear asunder the fabric of reality here…basically, they try to “widen the road” for an equivalent of a tow truck. The casual disregard for life in the dunes ties in perfectly with that.

Anyway, the Golden Barge, while mostly deserted, is anything but simple to clear: For one, there is a powerful eld commander still here. The vessel also, being somewhat “alive” n the broadest application of the term, also creates a sort of antibody – Ghuls. These creatures have nearly translucent flesh and, instead of knowing of their actual fuction, they believe themselves to be practitioners of the Illuminated Doctrine of the Septuagint Anthropophagite. Women are beyond salvation, but by consuming the flesh of demi-humans and humans, they believe to make the environment spiritually more uplifting, which you can play up for maximum fun, make disturbing or anything in between. It’s a great way to illustrate the non-intrusive aspects of the module that can be played straight or with a comical bent. Have I mentioned the 4-armed, white ape-monstrosity throwing barrels? And yes, PCs can theoretically assume control of the barge. Granted, the device will drill a hole in their heads, potentially killing them. Granted, they need to be really clever and wise to have a chance…but the chance is there. No risk, no gain, right? Right?? So yeah, an amazing dungeon. Oh, but be careful when handling those weirdly warm (radiated) pieces of treasure…

The second dungeon would be the glittering tower, seat of Medved. It is, structurally, the weakest segment of the adventure, as Medved only controls one level of the tower: The upper floors have been taken over by the eld, while the lower, dungeon-floor is the domain of Ondrj – the godling is pretty evasive when it comes to why he doesn’t deal with these threats himself, but oh well. Both explorations make for pretty challenging undertakings and generally are interesting; in another adventure, these would be the highlights, but compared to barge and overall dune experience, these sections feel a bit more common and down to earth.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no serious accumulation of formal or aesthetic hiccups – spells are properly italicized, rules-relevant components are bolded, etc. Layout adheres to a nice and easy to read 1.column b/w-standard without any major frills. The b/w-artworks used throughout the module by David Lewis Johnson adhere to a uniform style (same one you see on the cover), lending a sense of aesthetic integrity to the supplement/adventure. The map for the dunes is nice, with those of the dungeon falling closer to the side of functional than aesthetically-pleasing. The lack of player-friendly maps is a comfort-detriment for referees like yours truly that really hate drawing maps. Key-less maps can be printed, cut-up and handed out to the players, speeding exploration along, so yeah – pity we don’t get those. In an utterly puzzling move, the pdf version lacks any bookmarks, making it annoying as heck to run the module in its electronic version. I strongly suggest you get the PoD softcover instead. While it does not note its name on the spine (in spite of sufficient space), it’s an adventure worth owning.

Chris Kutalik’s “Slumbering Ursine Dunes” is one of those very, very rare adventures. You see, when you have read and continue to read as many modules and supplements as I do, a sense of fatigue, of “been there, done that” often creeps in and smothers excitement. The palate becomes more refined, if you will. This adventure managed to scratch that itch for wonder; that desire to once more explore, wild-eyed, a strange and fabulous place where you don’t know that a skeleton has x HD, that ghouls cause paralysis and attack with claws and bite. Even the creatures from mythology, which serve as a grounding agent of sorts, are creative and belong to the lesser quoted beings. The exploration of fantastic, titanic red dunes makes for a great backdrop, even before the unique denizens and locales of the dunes enter the fray. Design-wise, the chaos-index adds a sense of further dynamics to the exploration. In short: This is not only a thoroughly captivating, inspiring reading experience; it does not forget that it’s supposed to be a gaming supplement and is a joy to play.

How much do I like this module? I honestly believe that, even if you do not play in an OSR-system, this is worth every cent of its asking price as well as the time conversion to your system of choice, whatever that may be, may take – this is worth converting to 5e, PFRPG, DCC, 13th Age, etc.pp. Yes, even worth converting for systems that literally drown in excellent modules. Why? Because this is playful and strange without being too whacked out; because it is unique and littered with creative jamais-vu-events. In short: Because it is inspiring. Apart from the slightly less impressive final dungeon, this blew me away. The print version has a permanent place among my RPG-books and should be considered a little masterpiece at 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of most platforms + seal of approval. That being said, the absence of player-friendly maps in both versions is annoying; more jarringly, the lack of bookmarks for the pdf, is pretty much an insult that severely compromises the usefulness of the pdf. For the electronic version, you should detract both my seal of approval and a whole star. At this length, we need bookmarks. In short: Get this, get it in print, read it, and smile, as you once more feel a sense of wonder and elation suffuse your imagination.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Slumbering Ursine Dunes
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Village Backdrop: Tigley (SNE)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/08/2018 03:26:30

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of RSP's Village Backdrop-series is 11 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let's take a look at the settlement

All right, just in case you're not familiar with Raging Swan Press excellent series of villages - here's the deal: Each village backdrop showcases one particular village and so much more: We get information on magic items for sale in the place, key NPC-information, notes on local nomenclature and lore that can be unearthed (depending, as befitting of old-school gaming, on the referee and roleplaying) as well as 6 local rumors and sample events - the latter of which should be considered to be adventure hooks the GM can develop into full-blown adventures or just use to add local color to the supplement. We also get notes on dressing customs as well as nomenclature, providing some local color. Unlike the 5e-version, the system neutral version does not sport the remnant settlement statblock information. Depending on your personal gaming aesthetics, you should be aware of the fact that the marketplace sells a +1 leather armor and a +1 dagger, which may be a bit much, depending on your tastes. Further plus of the system neutral version: We get old-school gaming stats for werebats: Descending AC, HD value, damage, defense and movement rate are noted. Solid, though a unique ability would have been nice – you know, a sonic scream or the like.

The village of Tigley is situated cliffside atop a massive canyon through which a stream flows, jutting from a spire, towering over a massive swamp; the little settlement has only recently managed to recuperate from a massive earthquake. Tigley itself is a peculiar settlement - sporting, for example, a dry well from which swarms of bats emerge in regular intervals or an old codger who asks for a "Lazy Toll" to cross the nearby rope-bridge. The village also features an interesting custom: With the local cemetery falling down during the earthquake, it has become custom to bury the dead in the nearby lake, the sink.

In a smart take on a concise supplement, the significant amount of bats and demands of certain spells like fireball mean that bat guano farming is a pretty industry here alongside paper press and hemp. The local orphanage is a constant reminder of the recent cataclysm the village has endured, in spite of the relatively few kids living there and, surprisingly, there is a werebat herein - one that has sworn off the bloodthirsty ways of his kin. There would also be local troublemakers like a gifted stone-mason who also happens to be a rather nasty bully.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. Layout adheres to RSP's smooth, printer-friendly two-column standard and the pdf comes with full bookmarks as well as a gorgeous map, of which you can, as always, download high-res jpegs if you join RSP's patreon. The pdf comes in two versions, with one being optimized for screen-use and one to be printed out.

Steve Hood's Tigley is a nice little village - its industry and population feel organic and concise; the local color is superb and the quirks and traditions mentioned conspire to make the village feel organic and alive. There is also an array of rather interesting material the enterprising GM can utilize to craft adventures from - though, ultimately, in that regard, Tigley falls a bit short of the best installments in the series.

While there are several unique and compelling ideas herein, just throwing your PCs into the village will not write adventures in itself; unlike the best of the Village Backdrops, you'll need to prod a bit more, help craft a bit more investment and trouble, for Tigley could have used more pronounced conflicts that tie-in with its great local color - as provided, some minor disputes and a bully are the most prominent issues. In any other series, Tigley would be considered to be absolutely glorious, but considering the superb quality of the series as a whole, it does fall slightly short of the best in the series. The system neutral version is a good conversion, though the werebat stats could be a bit more interesting; I do own more interesting old-school stats for that critter from the AD&D-days of yore. Still, as a whole, this is a solid conversion, well worth a final verdict of 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Tigley (SNE)
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Creator Reply:
Thank you for this review, End. I'm sorry the System Neutral Edition version of Tigley wasn't a total success for you, but I'm jolly grateful for the time you spent on your review.
Village Backdrop: Tigley (5e)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/08/2018 03:24:20

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of RSP's Village Backdrop-series is 11 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let's take a look at the settlement

All right, just in case you're not familiar with Raging Swan Press excellent series of villages - here's the deal: Each village backdrop showcases one particular village: We get information on magic items for sale in the place, key NPC-information, notes on local nomenclature and lore that can be unearthed via mental attribute-based skill-checks as well as 6 local rumors and sample events - the latter of which should be considered to be adventure hooks the GM can develop into full-blown adventures or just use to add local color to the supplement. We also get noted on local dressing habits and nomenclature for more local color. In the 5e-version, we have a pretty glaring remnant from the PFRPG-origins of this pdf, though: The settlement statblock notes, which mean nothing in 5e, are still here.

The village of Tigley is situated cliffside atop a massive canyon through which a stream flows, jutting from a spire, towering over a massive swamp; the little settlement has only recently managed to recuperate from a massive earthquake. Tigley itself is a peculiar settlement - sporting, for example, a dry well from which swarms of bats emerge in regular intervals or an old codger who asks for a "Lazy Toll" to cross the nearby rope-bridge. The village also features an interesting custom: With the local cemetery falling down during the earthquake, it has become custom to bury the dead in the nearby lake, the sink.

In a smart take on a concise supplement, the significant amount of bats and demands of certain spells (like fireball) mean that bat guano farming is a pretty industry here alongside paper press and hemp. The local orphanage is a constant reminder of the recent cataclysm the village has endured, in spite of the relatively few kids living there and, surprisingly, there is a werebat herein - one that has sworn off the bloodthirsty ways of his kin. There would also be local troublemakers like a gifted stone-mason who also happens to be a rather nasty bully. The pdf does sports a brief sidebar that provides quick and dirty rules for werebats that left me singularly unimpressed. Other than that, references to 5e-default stats have been concisely implemented.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good for the most part, I didn't notice any glitches apart from the aforementioned PFRPG-relic. Layout adheres to RSP's smooth, printer-friendly two-column standard and the pdf comes with full bookmarks as well as a gorgeous map, of which you can, as always, download high-res jpegs if you join RSP's patreon. The pdf comes in two versions, with one being optimized for screen-use and one to be printed out.

Steve Hood's Tigley is a nice little village - its industry and population feel organic and concise; the local color is superb and the quirks and traditions mentioned conspire to make the village feel organic and alive. There is also an array of rather interesting material the enterprising GM can utilize to craft adventures from - though, ultimately, in that regard, Tigley falls a bit short of the best installments in the series.

While there are several unique and compelling ideas herein, just throwing your PCs into the village will not write adventures in itself; unlike the best of the Village Backdrops, you'll need to prod a bit more, help craft a bit more investment and trouble, for Tigley could have used more pronounced conflicts that tie-in with its great local color - as provided, some minor disputes and a bully are the most prominent issues. In any other series, Tigley would be considered to be absolutely glorious, but considering the superb quality of the series as a whole, it does fall slightly short of the best in the series. Additionally, the werebat rules provided are pretty weak and the conversion relic isn’t impressive either – my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars…and frankly, I don’t feel like I can round up for this one.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Tigley (5e)
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Creator Reply:
Thank you for this review, End. I'm sorry the 5e version of Tigley--particularly the crunch--wasn't a total success for you, but I'm jolly grateful for the time you spent on your review.
Deck the Halls: A Christmas Tale
Publisher: Zenith Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/08/2018 03:22:57

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 9 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This is an adventure for 3-5 characters of levels 2 – 4. The module does not sport read-aloud text, if you’re looking for the like. Since my readers requested that I point out comfort aspects, you should note that e.g. rules-relevant components are not bolded etc. in the text. As a consequence, I recommend reading the module in its entirety before attempting to run it. Since holiday modules are popular for family-entertainment, it should be noted that I don’t consider this module to be suitable for kids. You’ll see why soon. The adventure sports basic maps, which, while not particularly aesthetically-pleasing, get the job done. One of them has the position of adversaries noted on it and no player-friendly version without them is provided.

All right, this being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, in the snow-swept town of Ivanheim, there exists the legend of the mad elf Santa Claus, who ostensibly watches over kids, nabbing them for his workshop. Then, one year, a couple of kids build a snowman Santa Claus and unfortunately, used the town sage’s magical top hat. The snow-elf disappeared…and soon after, so did kids. First, the town bully…then, progressively more innocent kids, with only a lump of coal remaining as a sort of mocking payment.

For 7 years, this has gone on. Parents have attempted to protect their kids, ending up horribly massacred, guts hanging between holly and mistletoe. The night of this grim harvest is named after the first kid to go missing: Chrismiss. (Clever!) This year, the few remaining kids have all been barricaded in the smokehall, with the town hiring mercenaries to guard them. That would be the PCs. Outside, a blizzard rages, concealing horrors. A single boy drums against the fear and paranoia, lifting the spirits while he lives; as the night progresses, the PCs will hear bells jingling; a knock on the door…and if the PCs have barricaded it, soon after, an explosion: Through the shrapnel, diabolical reindeer rush into the smokehall in waves, with Rudolf and his blinding nose entering last. Minor complaints here: The blinding nose does not specify its area of effect: I assume a radius/burst, but a cone would make sense as well. In a purely aesthetic peculiarity, damage notion deviates in a few, but not all statblocks from the standard: Values are noted as e.g. “d4+2” instead of “1d4+2”, but that is a cosmetic hiccup.

After the PCs have slaughtered the reindeer, a clockwork tin soldier leads nutcrackers into the fray. The latter nauseates male characters on a critical hit. Yes, I consider that to be somewhat funny.

When the PCs vanquish these foes, Santa will retreat through a portal – and the PCs hopefully will follow in hot pursuit. On the other side, they’ll b in a nightmarish workshop of rust and smoke, where undead children (!!) shuffle coal on conveyor belts. The PCs will have to kill the evil fey (who may well pummel the PCs to death with a bag of coal…) and butcher the undead children. Really weird: We get conveyor belts…but they do, RAW, nothing – no terrain features or peculiarities there.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are generally rather good, though not always perfect. Layout adheres to a 0-frills two-column standard – basically text, headers and statblocks, with headers in green. The artworks are public domain art and the cartography, as mentioned, is functional. The pdf has no bookmarks, but doesn’t necessarily need them at this length.

Jeff Gomez’ “Deck the Halls”…is surprisingly grim and dark. I did not expect such a horror module here. While a sense of dark humor suffuses the module, the undead kids sans means of saving them, makes this a pretty bleak adventure. In should also be noted that this is pretty convention-module-like; there isn’t much roleplaying, skill-use, etc. – this is a series of combats, and one an experienced group can potentially finish in less than 1 or 2 hours. Now, personally, I would have loved to see more diverse challenges; I would have enjoyed to see the conveyor belts in the final module actually matter.

While this is an inexpensive, brief module, it falls short of e.g. Zzarchov Kowolski’s only seasonally available and pretty modular “Down in Yon Forest” or Everyman Gaming’s epic Christmas mega-adventure “Yuletide Terror”, which in spite of sporting “terror” in its name, is actually family-friendly and significantly less bleak than this one. I can see this module work, but ultimately, I wasn’t too impressed with this one – too one-sided and one-note. My final verdict will clock in at 2.5 stars, rounded up due to the low price point.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Deck the Halls: A Christmas Tale
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Unchained Summoner Codex
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/07/2018 04:27:37

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement clocks in at 33 pages, 1 page front cover, 3 pages of SRD, leaving us with a massive 29 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

After a few nice bits of prose, we learn about how summoners work within the patchwork planet of Porphyra: This section may be brief, but it adds a significant amount of flavor to the class. To give you an example: “The “soul companions” that summoners supervise, called ‘eidolons’ in the magica lexica of the Colleges of Magic…“ – there are multiple aspects here that rock: By calling the relationship “supervising”, we establish a hierarchy and all its components; the mention of the magica lexica contextualizes the uncommon word eidolon; there are colleges of magic and by tying eidolons to the soul of the summoner, we can assume a place within the context of planar geography. It’s a small sentence and one that can easily be ignored, but at the same time, it may easily be employed to inspire the GM. As you know by now, a crucial conflict of Porphyra would be the one between the Deists that serve the NewGods and the followers of the elemental lords. As such, we get a new faith trait for +1 to hit (should probably be a trait bonus) against summoners and eidolons of the opposing faction. The trait can obviously be pretty easily extrapolated to instead apply to other organizations, should you choose to go that route.

In case the title wasn’t ample clue, this book is all about a massive array of unchained summoner stats, including the respective eidolons. If you’re like me and just don’t have the time to crunch the numbers of a ton of such characters, well, there you go. But are they any good, or are they just throwaway stats? Well, first of all, the range covered is pretty massive: We gets stats ranging from level 1 to level 20 (CR ½ to CR 19); It should also be noted that the builds employ the diverse and unique races that can be found on Porphyra, but you do not necessarily need access to the respective races – the statblocks are functional without them. It should also be noted that, and this is a plus, the respective characters get brief fluff-texts that range from a brief paragraph to almost a page. So if you need a CHARACTER instead of just a statblock, this book has you covered. If you also enjoy Porphyra, you’ll be happy to note that the statblocks mention the homeland of a character as well as their faith. It’s just a little line and something you can ignore in other settings, but I really enjoyed this component.

All right, let’s begin, shall we? The first character would be Q’kar, a zendiqi (think xenophobic ultra-hardliner servants of the elemental lords…one of my favorite ethnicities available for PFRPG, just as an aside); while his CR is only ½, he is a bit of a romantic, dubbing his eidolon “The Sands of Vengeance”, which may be played for laughs, should the GM choose to do so: The creature is a pile of smoking, sandy dirt…but from humble origins, prophets and leaders may be born…so yeah, nice. Minor complaint: The fluff-text sports a layout remnant: An italicization wasn’t properly closed, with only the (i) open before a term, but that’s a cosmetic hiccup.

Hailing from the war-torn lotus blossom steppes, Xioudhra is next, and the lady doe have a fitting, serpentine eidolon. Why “fitting”?, Well, she is a half-medusa, only recently exiled for dabbling in necromancy, and while she currently is selling her services and that of her demon-worm eidolon, her ambitions do reach much higher. Fheldind the nange is a member of the “Robot Patrol Legion”, an ultra-lawful “more law-abiding than thou” hassle…and, well, in a unique twist, he is actually in love with Parrs, his eidolon – a sentiment that may be mutual. Some interesting roleplaying potential here!

Eedrilar, at CR 3, would be a killer-for-hire; the karza-drow is a male and as such, he is not deemed fit for military duty, but his daemon-arachnid eidolon does make for a powerful adversary. Arozarza is a nice example that not all builds here are evil or straightforward: the feykissed lady has the fey caller archetype and is accompanied by the golden-furred fox-lady Serene; with a benevolent trickster-bent, the two make for really neat allies for the PCs. Anydene would be a saurian and her eidolon has been dubbed “green devil”, for the two behave as pretty tyrannical bullies. This is btw. as good a place as any to note that the respective characters do sport extensive noted on behavior before and during combat, as well as on morale. Whle these may be small components, it makes running the NPCs easier and adds further character to them.

Ashub is a very powerful foe: The strix and his eidolon Diassos are the lone guards of a remote pass, but considering their aerial supremacy, they make a formidable pair of assailants. Giram Bazamgun, at CR 7, is an anpur and, mechanics-wise had the unwavering conduit archetype applied. He and his silvery eidolon, which emulates an empyreal lord, are stalwart guardians of their city of tombs – a position that is equally likely to put them into conflict with the PCs or make them a potent ally. Vieletta would be an enigmon, seeking the means to heal her sundered homeland. Her eidolon is usually only called upon in combat. Okay, at CR 9, we have an ogrillon blood god disciple, a potent lady called Ibal, who is btw. not evil: She is a recruiter for the gladiatorial arenas, with her eidolon being serpentine – in fluff, it assumes the shape of a thick, wildly mutable rope (!!), adept at transporting recruits and targets: Whether you want to run this pair as pressganging or as hunters of escaped convicts etc. remains up to your needs as a GM.

Ridis the lizardfolk is the heir of the tradition of island-keeper, tasked with guarding the ecosystem within the Rainbow Islands, and as such, sports the naturalist archetype. His eidolon takes the shape of an electric blue seal with articulated limbs. Yeah, awesome! I mean, come on: The idea of a lizardfolk nature protector isn’t new…but the lizard guy with the fast and deadly, blue seal-thing? Heck yeah, the PCs will remember this fellow! It’s just a few words, but they elevate the statblock and make the difference between fire-and-forget and remarkable.

Buma would be a muse, living in the futuristic ruins of Faldon town, her angelic eidolon guarding her sky-tower. She is also intensely disliked by the muse-leaders of nearby goblin and kobold factions. One paragraph – all it takes for an interesting adventure set-up. Talvius would be an eventual that has the evolutionist archetype. He is also an important guardian: In the oceans of Porphyra, there is a neutral ground, a meeting place for the gods, where even dreaded Mâl (typo here: “M^al”) respects the sanctity of the place. This island, masked from the most potent of magics, is where Talvius roams, with his potent eidolon guarding the place: A perfect, bronze warrior, this being is Talos. Yeah, you would be correct in assuming that this is a deliberate nod towards real-world mythology, one that is, btw., also explained in detail, should you not be familiar with it.

Okay, so, this goes above and beyond – next would be the goblin Milnun,a broodmaster – who comes not with one, but two distinct eidolons: The quadruped Cornerstone and the serpentine Slurry: This fellow comes with a fully depicted folk-lay of the Great Green. To give you an excerpt:

The Elemental Lords are gone,

banished, so is true-

That doesn’t stop the screams of pain

when Milnun comes for you…

His pets are fierce, their eyes they flash,

there’s none like them to view-

When Cornerstone and Slurry call,

they call, my friend, for you…

Come on, that is damn cool! I can actually hear this as a song/creepy ditty to foreshadow his arrival. An agent provocateur of sorts, he definitely makes for a cool and fearsome foe. (As an aside: Kudos for going the high road here: More often than not, archetypes that require more statblocks are not covered at all in such compilations, much less so at the higher levels where the stats require serious work…)

The orca-like humanoids called Orcam are one interesting race; the CR 14 summoner Mogarz sports an aquatic eidolon that is actually an agathion, whom she refers to as Endren, her water-spirit-self, adding a tint of the mystical to her take on her abilities. In a nice bonus, her ability to summon swarms is complemented by the fully statted samuqi swarm (CR 2), which may be called with the spell: A chubby fish that is actually quite tasty and may manifest as a rolling wave of silver and blue scales, teeth a-gleaming. Nice. The erkunae called Grunglei is a powerful CR 15 spirit summoner, who received her gifts as a result of blundering into a facility attempting to split dimensions, artificially bestowing her powers – the Advent Imperiax, the region where that happened, did not take kindly to this and thus, she had to flee home to Erkusaa, where she inherited Yrlyk’s ref ring of paragons, which allows the wielder to apply the elder beast template to summoned creatures (with a limit) and add nature spirits to the list of beings that may be called. Additionally, the powerful ring does allow for the 1/day summoning of a Medium (not capitalized) nature spirit as an SP…and the ring allows for something special: Once, and only once, the wearer can summon a frickin’ animal lord. The entity will demand the ring as payment, but oh boy. I really like this ring, but frankly, I think it is badly underpriced at 16K; I’d strongly suggest to make it a unique item that cannot be crafted or duplicated. Anyway, Grunglei’s eidolon behaves as a psychopomp, as befitting her ties to the spirit world. Once more, an intriguing character.

Thoning is a polkan. A really evil one. She will mess you up. Probably in melee. Wait, what? At AC 29, wielding a frickin’ impact greatsword with Improved Critical, she and her eidolon Crongy worship Ul’Ul, the Mad Maiden; There is a cult (members are known as “oolies” for licking raw Uliun ore) and she is a potent member…and a perfect example for another dimension, in which this pdf goes beyond what you’d require or expect: As you can glean from the uncommon build employed here, the book does a damn fine job of alternating builds and themes. There is no “this guy has the same build, just at a higher level”-case in this book; the respective summoners are all distinct, often radically so. This distinction is represented, in case you haven’t noticed, in both fluff and crunch. The character also comes with the spell uliun spray, which is imho a bit too strong for second level, spraying the drug-like substance, causing the targets to gain 1d4 Charisma while the drug’s effects persist, but also take 1d4 Wisdom damage. That being said, I do like the idea here and considering the flavor of the cult and the presentation, limiting access to the spell is very much intended, which kinda makes it okay.

At mighty CR 17, Irnu is a satyrine shadow caller and one of the most potent beings of her race. The mighty captain of the Shadowmask (whose full vehicle stats are included!!!) would probably be more prestigious, were it not for her worship of Lyvalia, anathema to her race. With a troubled past, her eidolon Yulalon is a manifestation of the kytons and adds a powerful ally to her already formidable capabilities. General Lairona is a level 19 master summoner of the fetchling race. She hails from the nation of Hesteria, which sports the planar anomaly called “The Wall of Sleep”; it is General Lairona that is the chief administrator of the wall, tasked with preventing it from disgorging unimaginable nightmares upon the land. Muted and effacing, one would not consider her to be part of the ruling council – though her potent angelic eidolon, her mirror-image, in a way, should make that very much clear. A true hero of a character and a great patron for the most potent of PCs.

The final character herein would be Guriel, a mighty dragonblooded unchained summoner, whose background speaks of the mighty Red King and other legends that are born on a regular basis; he is assumed to be no less than a cousin of the dreaded Red King, and his eidolon is often mistaken for a demon lord. Taking at look at its stats, I can understand why.

The pdf does come with a bonus file penned by Purple Duck mastermind Mark Gedak. The new creature herein sports one of the cutest artworks ever: Atop the critter, we can see a tiny faerie warrior riding it into battle. We are, of course, talking about the drum roll Cr ½ battle corgi!! And yes, beyond combat training, these cute doggies are particularly resilient against fear and despair, courtesy of their optimism special ability. Minor complaint: I would have loved to see animal companion stats for them.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, on a formal level, can be situated between good and very good. While there are a few instances of minor hiccups, as a whole, this aspect is well-done. Regarding rules-language, the pdf is rather precise. Here and there, I disagree with minor components of the supplemental material, but the statblocks per se are impressive. While I did not attempt to reverse-engineer all of them, the ones I took apart are solid. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports a couple of neat full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

I’ll make this short. Buy this book. Now. Okay, you really want to know, in detail, why? All right, all right.

Justin P. Sluder knows his NPC-builds; the man that brought you the amazing stats of many of Rite Publishing’s complex and cool adversaries has a ridiculous talent when it comes to creating truly distinct and cool builds; Perry Fehr knows Porphyra like no other (with the exception of Mark Gedak himself) and is an immensely talented weaver of lore. The synergy between these two authors is inspiring to witness. This pdf goes one step beyond in pretty much every way possible: Not content with simple slapping some stats together, the book is steeped in truly amazing lore that would honestly make this worth getting on its own. This book acts as a formidable pitch of the Porphyra-setting; while the statblocks per se can be used in any game, the respective fluff is utterly inspiring, taking us on a grand tour through the patch-work planet…and, in the tradition of Purple Duck Games, the components can be scavenged really easily. From strange place to wondrous islands, even if you don’t play in Porphyra, you could easily just pick concepts and regions out of this book.

So, that’s how the pdf goes one step beyond in the fluff-department: We get an impressive array of inspiring material here. In the crunch-department, I was pleasantly surprised by the sheer diversity of the characters herein: We don’t get sequential builds that obviously are just higher-level continuations of previous stats, instead opting for wholly unique characters and builds. These builds run the gamut from the more classical to the utterly unexpected and often are utterly inspiring and fantastic. The unique races of the setting are employed efficiently and the pdf does not shirk away from more work-intense archetypes either. Heck, we even get a proper ship-statblock for the ship of one of the characters!

This is one of Purple Duck games’ patreon-releases, and it is glorious. It shows care, oozes passion. This is one of the rare NPC Codices that is actually a joy to read. Yes. You heard me. In spite of the massive statblock density, I had a blast reading this book. We all know how much work summoner statblocks can be. This book takes that burden from your shoulders and goes not one, but two extra miles. It provides thoroughly unique and captivating villains and allies, many of which could become recurring characters or even carry whole adventures or even campaigns. Heck, if this does not get your creative juices flowing, I don’t know what will. So, beyond being inspiring, this is also extremely handy and useful to have. Whether you only care about the stats, or only about the lore/character ideas, this pdf is worth getting. Suffice to say, I assume that you’ll care for both…and in such a case, you will beam with glee and wonder. My final verdict, in spite of a few glitches here and there, will be 5 stars + seal of approval. This is amazing.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Unchained Summoner Codex
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The Robot Summoner
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/07/2018 04:25:48

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of explanation of how to use this, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 14 pages of content, though it should be noted that, as always with Legendary Games, we get a lot of content per page.

First of all: No, your class does not have the lame “Robot Summoner”-name – that is only for the purpose of, you know, making sure you know what you get. The class is called “Steel Soul”, which sounds damn metal to me. The steel soul is a variant of the unchained summoner and sports ¾ BAB-progresion, good Will-saves d8 HD, 2 + Int skills per level and proficiency with simple weapons and light armor. The steel soul does not suffer from arcane spell failure chance when casting spells in light armor. Spellcasting is spontaneous and governed by Charisma, with 5th level and every 3 levels thereafter providing the option to lose a spell in favor of a new one. Spellcasting goes up to 6th level and sports its own spell list: The list is detailed, with more uncommon spells hyperlinked. The list makes use of UM, UC, ACG, and, of course, the Technology Guide.

A key feature that is available to the class from the get-go would be the nanite link, which allows for the robot to apply the steel soul’s Charisma modifier to the save DC of the robot’s abilities. As a standard action (extraordinary, fyi) that does not provoke AoOs, the steel soul may use nanite surge, healing a robot touched by 1d6 points of damage, which increases by +1d6 at 3rd level and every odd level thereafter. The robot summoner may use this ability 3 + Charisma modifier times per day.

Of course, the class does get a robot companion. The robot gains ¾ BAB-progression, 1/4th save-progression and begins play with 2 skills, which increases to up to 30 at 20th level. Robots with high Intelligence modify this accordingly. They per se have no class skills, unless an upgrade explicitly grants them – more on that later. They begin play with one feat and increase that to up to 8. 2nd level yields a Str/Dex-bonus of +1, which increases to up to +8 at 20th level. A first level robot has a maximum number of 3 attacks, which increases to a maximum of 7 at 19th level. At 2nd level, the robot gains +2 to AC, half that amount (+1) to hardness, which scales up to +16/+8, respectively. Robots may not wear armor, so this is a pretty crucial defense component. Robots begin play with low-light vision and darkvision 60 ft. as well as share spells. As robots, they are immune to ability drain and damage, bleed, death effects, disease, energy drain, exhaustion, fatigue, mind-affecting effects, necromancy effects, nonlethal damage, paralysis, poison, sleep effects and stun.

An important balancing tool between robot and steel soul would be that they share magic item slots: If the robot wears a ring, the steel soul may not wear more than one ring, for example. This alone would not suffice to make the robot okay, though: The list of immunities is pretty massive, after all. The Achilles’ heel of the robot would be critical hits: Whenever the robot takes damage from a crit, it must succeed a DC 15 Fort-save (remember: Sucky, sucky saves…) or be stunned for a round; on a success, the robot is still staggered. The robot retains immunity against other sources of the stun condition (nice catch!). Additionally, robots are vulnerable to electricity damage. 2nd level yields evasion and 15th level improved evasion. At 9th level, we either get Multiattack, or, if the robot does not have 3+ natural attacks, a second attack with one natural weapon at -5 to BAB; basically, an iterative attack. Also at 9th level, the robot gains integrated weapon, allowing the robot to treat a technological weapon as a natural weapon, which includes proficiency as well as the option to fire in melee sans incurring AoOs.

Robots may be quadruped, biped or serpentine regarding their base forms, with upgrades, stats and movement rates etc. between them being rather well-balanced. The evolution-equivalent would be upgrades. These may be changed whenever the steel soul gains a new level, and the robot begins with one upgrade point, increasing that up to 15 at 20th level for a ¾ progression analogue to BAB. Weapon upgrades may not be disarmed and a few are base form exclusives or have minimum levels as prerequisites. There are upgrades with a point-value ranging from 1 to 4, presented by point value first and within each category, alphabetically. Among the 1-point upgrades, we can find, for example, advanced programming for a skill for +8 to it; similarly, weapon proficiency can be found, with climb speed, bite, reach, increased damage die for a natural attack, etc. We can also get a tail (and a tail slap), a tentacle or pincers or a dart gun that can deliver poison or acid. Push and pull can also be found and e.g. minor save boosts or increased natural armor may be found as well as an AC-upgrade versus beams and rays. Oh, and yes, the robot, if large enough, can become a mount!

The 2-point upgrades include increased ability scores (with a level cap for multiple uses to prevent abuse) as well as increased skill points or proficiencies. Temporary flight via booster jets, adding electricity damage to attacks or gaining a chainsaw or a laser torch can be found here. Grab and constrict as well as poison and pounce or trample can be found here. Additionally, additional arms can be found and a net-gun is offered as well. There also are wheels, which tie in with the number of legs the robot has. Among the 3-point upgrades, we can find blindsense, energy immunity or the ability to see invisible creatures. Integrated pistols can include arc pistol, laser pistol, sonic pistol and zero pistol. There also is a slow self-healing option here and the upgrade for a charged weapon that can end up stunning targets on crits. The 4-point upgrades include blindsight, chameleon circuitry (Hide in plain sight variant), upgrade to Large size (or Huge for +6 points, yes, with minimum level requirements, obviously), fast healing (with a proper minimum level) and several rifles can be found: Arc, laser, sonic and zero rifles may be equipped. Finally, the robot can have a force field of temporary hit points – while in effect, this also protects against critical hits.

These robots may be summoned by the respective steel soul in 1 minute from a 1-way underground vault and dismissing it is a standard action. I like this tech-y notion of an underground robot factory with gating etc. rather well – the 2nd level summon robot spell presented here also employs this.

2nd level yields Craft Construct for the steel soul, but until 5th level, he may only use this to repair his robot as per the rules to build and modify constructs. At 5th level, constructs created cost half as much, but the steel soul may only create mostly metal constructs, and the constructs thus created are robots, but they lack a proper long-term power-source, only lasting for 1 level per class level, with recharges costing ½ the cost to craft. Nice way to allow for multiple robots without breaking the game. Starting at 4th level, the steel soul gains +2 to AC and saves (bonus types correct – kudos!) while in reach of the robot, but only while the robot is not grappled, etc. 12th level doubles this bonus and makes the benefits also apply to allies. At 18th level, these bonuses further increase by +2 and the robot may also share the benefits of a variety of different, defensive upgrades.

At 6th level, the steel soul can dimension door the robot to his side 1/day, +1/day for every 4 levels thereafter. At 8th level, the steel soul may use two uses of the nanite healing ability to use it at close range instead. 10th level allows for the expenditure of 2 charges to temporarily grant the robot fast healing 2 for 1 minute, which increases by +1 at 12th level, 4 at 16th and 5 at 20th level. This may explicitly e used in conjunction with the robot’s fast healing. At 16th level, the nanite healing ability may be activated as a swift action instead. The capstone is instant restoration, which lets the steel soul 1/day use all nanite healing charges as an immediate action (min 1 required) to instantly restore the robot to full functionality and hit points.

The class does not come with any favored class options, supplemental feats or archetypes.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are as tight and good as we’ve come to expect from Legendary Games – the class works smoothly as presented. Layout adheres to the nice two-column full-color standard of the Iron Gods-plug-ins. The pdf comes with a second, more printer-friendly version. Artworks are full color and nice, though fans of Legendary Games will be familiar with most of them. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Jeff Lee’s steel soul class is a really good take on the trope of the robot summoner. The modified spell list and eidolon chassis make this variant class feel surprisingly distinct and are executed well. The class is 100% functional for the table and should provide no issues. While 14th level at first glance looks like a dead level, we get +1 maximum number of attacks and an upgrade for the robot, so I’m fine with the steel soul only getting new slots. Craftsmanship-wise, I have nothing to complain about regarding what’s here. I do have a bit of an issue with what’s not here, though: The lack of favored class options, archetypes, sample NPC or supplemental feats is a bit sad to see. I also couldn’t shake the feeling that, engine-wise, this fellow could have carried more. As written, the steel soul is pretty much the healing battery for the robot, which, while not bad, undersells the concept a bit. The nanite angle could have yielded something really cool: You know, short-term boosts for the robot that upgrade the upgrades granted. Bursts of plasma; pummeling fields…the flashy stuff. An engine based on such interaction would have felt a tad bit more unique than this fellow.

So yeah, as a whole, I enjoyed the steel soul. It is a distinct class that feels like a variant, but also has its unique identity. While it undersells its premise a bit, as a whole, I consider this to be worth checking out, though it does fall a bit short of the greatness it could have been. My final verdict will be 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Robot Summoner
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Everyman Minis: Unchained Monk Options
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/07/2018 04:24:19

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

As per the title, this book provides new options for the unchained monk, focusing primarily on style strikes. As such, the pdf recaps the ability before diving into the nit and grit of the respective options. The pdf provides a total of 5 different style strikes: Arm Wrench and Fake Out allow for free disarm/feint-checks; the former sans AoO. The latter is interesting: The monk gets + Wisdom-bonus to the check, and on a success, may designate an ally threatening the target, who then receives an AoO against the feinted target. The monk may not use this to grant herself an attack. Gut Blow requires 13th level and nauseates the target on a failed Fort-save for 1 round. Head Smash is pretty much the same, but instead uses confusion as the condition inflicted. Finally, outmaneuver allows the monk to make an Acrobatics check to move through the target’s space, ending up in any space adjacent to the target. This movement does not count towards movement totals and on a failed check, the monk may be pummeled by the target, but still – cool ability regarding the dealing with big baddies.

Next up would be style techniques: Whenever a monk would gain a style strike, she may learn a style technique instead, provided she has the Style feat associated with the respective style technique. Style techniques have the same use restrictions as regular style strikes, but also require that the monk is in the respective style. Using a style technique requires that the monk foregoes ALL style strikes to designate the flurry of blows a technique strike. During such a technique strike, you make any bonus attacks based on monk levels first. If the first of these hit, you gain the technique’s first hit ability; each subsequent such hit during a flurry adds another subsequent benefit. As soon as you reach 15th level, the first and second strike of a style technique are further enhanced with the so-called advanced benefit, noted for each style technique. Saving throw DCs, if any, are 10 +1/2 class level + Wisdom-modifier. A total of 8 such techniques are covered.

Crane imposes penalties to AC, with the advanced benefit allowing the monk to knock the target prone; Dragon increases the save bonus and may even grant temporary immunity to sleep, paralysis and stunning at high escalations, with the advanced benefit allowing for the swift action use of Dragon’s Roar for 1 ki point – each target that fails its save is treated as though it had been hit for the purpose of determining the effects of the subsequent hits of this technique. The Mantis technique nets a bonus to attack versus the first target of the hits, with subsequent hits also providing bonus precision damage. The advanced technique can render the target of the first hit flat-footed against the monk until the start of the next round. The Monkey technique lets the monk may move herself or the target by 5 ft. (Will thankfully negates, but still, a bit weird – this is usually tied to CMD); subsequent hits allow for additional movement and the advanced benefit yields flanking benefits, regardless of ally positions.

Panther technique lets the monk forego up to 3 attacks on a successful hit: For each such foregone attack, the monk may use Panther Style for a retaliatory attack as a free action instead; if the monk has Panther Claw, even when it’s not her turn. Unfortunately, this does not work as written. Style techniques require the use of flurry of blows, a full-attack action. Panther Style nets you a retaliatory AoO as a swift action against a target, but only if you provoke an attack of opportunity from the target by moving through a threatened square. Full attacks usually mean that you won’t move through threatened squares, unless via 5-foot-steps, which normally do not provoke AoOs. Now yes, I can create a build-constellation where the benefits become possible to trigger, but that would be a hyper-specialized case. I think something went awry with the action economy here – perhaps the technique was supposed to allow for some other sort of foregoing attacks, but I honestly can’t determine how this was supposed to work. And that is before the complicating factor of Panther Claw. Weird.

Snake technique allows you to forego attacks as well; for each attack thus not executed, you may apply the massive benefits of the activation of Snake Style’s benefits (basically, Skill as AC, which is problematic and pretty min-maxy, but not the issue of the pdf, but the feat) to 1 + the number of attacks foregone. The problem of the technique once more lies in the interaction of technique and Style-feat benefits: The technique reads “For each attack he foregoes…” and then proceeds to note the benefits mentioned above. RAW, if you forewent 3 attacks, you could gain the benefits of Snake Style for 3 (number of attacks foregone) x 4 (1+ number of foregone attacks) attacks; this makes no sense, for Snake Style requires an immediate action for this benefit, and the duration these can be held is only until your next round – the doubled benefit is obviously a relic of former rules-language, resulting in this weird doubling that doesn’t work as presented. This makes sense once the advanced benefit is unlocked, which nets you 1/round free action use of Snake Style even if its not your turn, but yeah…all in all, weird and surprisingly unrefined for the author.

Snapping Turtle technique boosts shield bonus as well as yields bonuses to grapple attempts via Snapping turtle Clutch. The advanced technique just provides further +1. The Tiger technique provides a 19-20 threat range, 17 – 20 with Improved Critical, but only on the first hit. Subsequent hits deal +1 bleed damage to the bleed damage dealt by Tiger Style, i.e. the 1d4 inflicted by the first attack’s critical hit’s bleed damage. Okay, here we have an instance where the ability MUST explicitly note its obviously intended deviation from default rules: RAW, bleed does not stack, much less with itself, unless specifically noted. Here, the subsequent attacks obviously are intended to stack bleed damage not only with themselves, but also with de facto another source of bleed damage. This increase, while not entirely unheard of, needs to be spelled out to make this work. The advanced technique increases bleed duration from 2 to 3 rounds.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good of a formal level; I noticed e.g. a slightly confusing superfluous “that”; more importantly, though, the rules-integrity of quite a few of the more involved and complex techniques herein is compromised, not in presentation, but interaction. Layout adheres to Everyman Gaming’s two-column b/w-standard with nice full-color art. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none.

Luis Loza usually does much better. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy the concept of style techniques – they are interesting and I can see myself using most of them. As a nice bonus, hardcore WuXia-campaigns may consider to bake them into the style feats, should they choose to grant more flexibility to the unchained monk. I want to love this. However, there are a couple of pretty problematic issues herein, particularly considering the brevity of the pdf. While two of the issues, bad enough, compromise the formal rules-integrity, they can be solved by a competent GM. The same can’t be said about Panther technique, which even left me puzzled as to how it was supposed to work. The concept deserves further exploration and I like it, but as presented, I cannot rate this higher than 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Everyman Minis: Unchained Monk Options
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D66 Compendium 2
Publisher: Mongoose
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/06/2018 05:17:20

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The second of the massive D66-Compendiums clocks in at 89 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 86 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested as a prioritized review and moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreons.

So, since someone asked: Yes, the presence of this review means that you’ll see more Traveller-reviews in the future! It should be noted that, much like e.g. Raging Swan Press’ dressing books, this massive compilation of d66-tables is almost system neutral. While the book is obviously intended for the Traveller-system, it can easily provide a lot of flavor to pretty much all scifi/space opera games.

We begin this massive compilation with an easy to grasp summary of how to use the book and the d66-tables; the book explains its organization paradigm rather well and begins with tables relevant for character creation. The first d66-table lets you determine the background: If you’re coming from an alien world, for example, you’ll speak multiple languages, are multicultural and more respectful of others. If you hail from a war zone, you’ll be constantly aware of surroundings, are a light sleeper and have seen death up close. You get the idea – pretty neat! The second table provides background events with a bit of crunch thrown in: “Communicated with aliens” means that you enjoyed tinkering with the radio, talking to anyone who listened. This nets you Electronics 0 or Language 0. Such choices can be found in each of the entries – we basically have a bit of crunch and a bit of fluff. Nice!

Particularly helpful in espionage-themed contexts would be the agent events: These may net you bad intel, bombs, have your cover story blown…or net you, for example, a new language, some martial arts training, etc. Interesting would be that these events can also be used by a GM to generate some scenarios: Roll a couple of times and you’ll have some complications to write your yarn around. These are not the only such events we can find in the book, mind you: We also get such an event table for the army, marines, navy, citizens, drifters, merchants, nobles, prisoners, and entertainers, as well as for psions, rogues, scholars and scouts. In short: We get a HUGE amount of handy events that can be easily combined beyond the intended use as a nice generator for adventures – while not intended as such, I personally really liked that this section is versatile enough to allow for such use.

Beyond these profession/organization-type tables, we also get a table on life events that include children as well as a table for main uses of a contact. Nice!

The next section of the pdf deals with crime and the law: Here, we get biometric security devices – which range from the classic to the hilarious. Want an example? “Nose Hair Pattern Algorithm.” This had me laugh so hard and actually inspired me. I mean, what type of alien would make the like? Scent as the primary sense? There is serious potential here. A table of gambling events includes Zero G-jousting. More detailed would be the sample criminal hideouts. Need to reference a famous battle? We get a table of them. “I served at Daumier III” will come to mean something, and to complement this, we get a table of interstellar war names. We also receive a table of military base names and main purposes you can assign to such bases. Speaking of bases: pirate bases names or those for scout bases can be found; we also receive a table of prison facility names and prison nicknames for characters.

Narcotics and recreational drugs are covered in their own table and we get a neat little table of random things that may be unapproved on a given planet, ranging from synthetic tanning chemicals to scuffed shoes and the like.

The book moves on to deal with environments and the complications there: A table of atmosphere taints and another of corrosive, inflammable and “insdeous[sic!]” (should be insidious) atmospheres can be found before we move on to evocative names for deserts and large bodies of water. Names for strange native fruits and weird diseases are next and provide both joys and hardship for explorers. I know I don’t want my character to catch the Zhodani spots… Reasons for planets being dead complement the section with some pretty cool ideas.

After this, we move on to the ship-chapter, which provides sample names for cargo ships, criminal ships, generational ships, medical ships, personal spacecrafts, pirate ships, warships…and we get two different research ship-tables. A table provides different angles for why a ship has crashed.

The next chapter deals with the traveller life, and sports some truly inspiring components: Escalations of a panicked crowd has, for example, an entry that sees 2D-people run towards the problem or another that has a child spontaneously develop telepathy. There are also some rules-relevant components here. A table of mine names and sample pieces of gossip about an authority figure makes for nice pieces of dressing. Names for planetary bureaucracies and spaceport city names are nice…and while you#re at a spaceport, the event-table for the locale should net you enough inspiration to do all kinds of new adventuring. New a reason for an Amber or Red Travel Zone? You can find a full table for each of them here. Need a reason why the PC’s favorite starport’s closed? Another table provides ample justification in that department.

Speaking of which: Know this? Your PCs have cool contacts, but they’d break your plot? Well, a handy table why an ally can’t help you right now provides some nice excuses for the GM. Need a more permanent solution, probably because the PCs botched something? There is a table that notes why the contact was killed. The section also sports a table of medical equipment and local fashion. Weird things stuck in the water refueling also get their own table. There also is a table on shops in spaceports, though I think that one would have made more sense, organization.wise, next to the other spaceport tables.

The concept of pets gets a table for both common and uncommon pets; dog and cat breeds may be found next to bird breeds and the chapter closes with sample names for sports teams.

The Terra System is up next – here, we get a table of American warships and colony names (Bushtopia, Freedom City, Roanoke…); French colony names and warship names are next and we get a table of Chinese warship names (with pronunciation guide) and a table of luna city names, a table of Mars cities and places and one that notes the names of outer system bases and places.

The final chapter handles dressing for the Imprerium, providing a table of names for Aslans (pronounced, one for male and female), one for Darrians (ditto, though we also note the chosen names for each gender in its own table as wella s last names for a total of 6 tables); Droyne get two tables, as do K’Kree and Vargr. The Vilani get three tables and the same holds true for the Zhodani.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious accumulation of problematic entries. Layout adheres to a 1-/2-/3-column standard, depending on the demands of the tables. The pdf has a white background, making it printer-friendly, with small tech-style borders in full-color. The interior artwork ranges from decent to amazing: The chapter-header-illustrations are really impressive and nice. The pdf comes with detailed, nested bookmarks, making orientation rather comfortable. Kudos!

Dale C. McCoy Jr., with additional writing by Albert “GamerDude” Beddow Jr. provides a great compendium of dressing. In contrast to the first such compendium, we get more crunchy options herein without compromising the appeal of the tome beyond the confines of the Traveller-system. The entries remain, as a whole, as brief and concise as possible, but manage to evoke a surprising diversity of themes that should satisfy pretty much any GM out there. The organization of the material deserves special mention: I really enjoyed the sequence of the content, with only precious few tables that, to me, would have made more sense on another page, which also constitutes pretty much my only truly significant gripe with this handy compendium. This book is certain to see some use in scifi-games I run, particularly considering how the massive amount of events basically can be used as an impromptu adventure-structure generator as a nice little bonus. As a whole, I consider this very much worth getting. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
D66 Compendium 2
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Into the Breach: The Kineticist
Publisher: Flying Pincushion Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/06/2018 05:12:37

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the „Into the Breach“-series clocks in at 40 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 35 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing-queue as a prioritized review by my patreons.

All right, as always, we begin with new archetypes, the first of which would be the aetheric marksman, who is locked into aether a first level and gains proficiency with longbow and shortbow. The signature ability of the archetype allows for the use of an arrow as part of a kinetic blast, to be more precise, a modified version of telekinetic blast, which has a base damage of 1d8 +1 + Constitution modifier, which increases by 1d8+1 at 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter, with a range increment of 60 ft., a critical range of 20 and a critical multiplier of x3. Weapon Focus (kinetic blast) and Deadly Aim may be applied to such blasts, but thankfully, multi-attack feats à la Multishot may not be. The modified blast applies the bonuses of enchanted ammunition, if applicable, as are special materials etc. While the available infusions to modify this one are restricted, I am not the biggest fan of the escalation of numbers this entails – it’s not bad, mind you, but as a base modification, I wasn’t blown away. 5th level yields imbuement: As a move action, the character may imbue class level arrows with a variety of ammunition special properties, with 8th level unlocking more. The marksman must accept burn equal to the enhancement value granted and lasts for 1 minute. Only one such property may be granted at a given time. Nice catch: The ammunition does not require a +1 enhancement bonus to qualify for modification. The properties inflict +1 damage per d6 if the property matches the expanded element. Minor complaint: flaming burst reference not properly italicized. This replaces 5th level’s infusion.

At 8th level, we get shrapnel arrow, which is problematic, rules-aesthetics wise: For +1 burn accepted, the arrow can split into lethal shrapnel upon impact, generating a 10-ft.-burst. The primary target gets a Ref-save to halve its damage, which is REALLY weird – that usually is not possible upon being hit – the character has already been hit!! Interaction with evasion et al. becomes really strange. Worse, the targets in the area of the burst take half as much damage and don’t get a save. Yeah. The guy skewered by the arrow could end up sans damage, while everything around him dies. Makes no sense. The way the ability is phrased also makes me think that this was supposed to inflict additional damage or something, but I’m not sure. The ability deviates from how such mechanics are used in PFRPG, and not in a good way. The no-save damage must die. On the plus-side, targeting 5-foot-squares and ammo interaction are noted. This replaces 8th level’s utility wild talent. At 13th level, the marksman may accept +2 burn to inflict additional bleed damage to the primary target, with bleed equal to the number of damage dice of the telekinetic blast, a Fort-save to negate. After that, a second target in the same line of effect, within 30 ft. of the first target, compares AC to the attack’s attack bonus: On a hit, the target takes the telekinetic blast’s damage -2d8, but is not subject to bleed. This replaces 13th level’s infusion.

The 16th level ability, burrowing arrow, allows for the acceptance of +2 points of burn. On a failed Ref-save (weird, why not Fort?), the arrow embeds itself in the target, inflicting minimum blast damage on a subsequent round until it is removed via a successful save or Heal check. This replaces 16th level’s utility wild talent and needs some nerfing/retooling: For a lot of characters and monsters, being hit with a single such arrow may well be a death a sentence.

On a nitpicky level regarding the rules-integrity, e.g. burrowing arrow does not, in contrast to e.g. piercing arrow, note that it can be used as part of another action. I get how this is supposed to work, but as a whole, I wasn’t too excited by the archetype.

The second archetype herein would be the hellfire kineticist, who replaces Knowledge (nature) with Knowledge (religion). The hellfire kineticist is locked into fire as primary element. “All infusions granted by the archetype deal half fire damage and half unholy damage.” sigh There is no such thing as unholy damage in Pathfinder.

Instead of 1st level’s infusion, we get the ability to sicken a target within 30 ft. that takes full damage from the blast, for Con mod rounds, with a Fort-save to negate.. On a critical hit, we’re looking at nausea instead. Minor complaint here: This behaves like an infusion, but isn’t formatted like one. Instead of the elemental defense and the utility wild talents at 6th level and every 6 levels thereafter, we get the Devil Inside ability at 2nd level. The character is treated as an evil outsider for the purpose of spells and effects and gains +2 bonus to saves versus fire and poison; at 6th level, this upgrades to +4 and fire resistance 5; 12th level upgrades this to +6 and fire resistance 10, while 18th level provides immunity to both. 4th level provides sin sense, which can wreck pretty much a ton of plots: While within 30 ft., the character becomes automatically aware of sinful thoughts targets hold at the moment or committed within 1 hour. Direct contact yields detect thoughts, as though the character had concentrated for 3 rounds. This can wreck a lot on in-game assumptions: If e.g. Cheliax had access to such a potent ability, which can’t be prevented RAW, we’d have a perfect, Orwellian survival state, thoughtcrimes etc..Even if sinful acts are up to GM-interpretation, this ability needs some nerfing/further clarification. This replaces 4th level’s utility wild talent.

8th level yields an imp familiar at full class level instead of the utility wild talent. At 11th level, instead of the infusion, we get Condemnation, which is treated as a 5th level substance infusion that costs 3 points of burn to use: If the character calls out a target’s sins, as detected via detect sins, the target takes double elemental overflow’s damage. I am not 100% positive whether the ability is supposed to require a hit of the target with a blast or not – the infusion would suggest as much, but verbiage makes it seem like there is no attack roll required. The capstone replacing omnikinesis would yield outsider apotheosis as well as 2/day plane shift, but only to Hell and back.

The third archetype would be the wind whistler, who replaces Intimidate with Perform (wind) and is locked into air as primary element. Attacking with air blasts does not add Constitution modifier to damage and instead, the character makes a Perform (wind) check that adds +1 to damage for every “5 points rolled on the skill check”, which isn’t smooth as far as wording is concerned. Okay, Adding skills to atk or damage is usually a HUGE issue: There is no component of the game that is this easy to game. That being said, the significant exchange rate keeps this slightly in check, though, on average, this does represent a damage upgrade in the hands of even a moderately capable player, so balance-conscious GMs may want to eliminate this part of the ability. As a suggestion to retain the flavor of this modification: Make the bonus thus granted to damage cap based on a formula that is based on class level.

Instead of all infusions, the character gains bardic performance, beginning play with countersong and inspire courage, using kineticist levels as bard levels.. Higher levels net dirge of doom, inspire greatness, soothing performance, frightening tune and inspire heroics, but none of the other bardic performances. Performance upgrades of bardic performances work as though the character was a bard. In addition to these, 3rd level yields tune twister, which allows the character to accept 1 burn when initiating the performance. One ally that can see and hear the wind whistler gains enveloping wind’s benefits as well as sonic resistance 1 per 5 points of the Perform check’s result. Contagious tune is gained at 6th level and allows for a multi-target buff versus mind-affecting effects, but in an interesting twist, also penalizes atk and concentration slightly. Metakinesis works differently: 5th level lets the wind whistler accept 1 point of burn to alter kinetic blasts as though affected by Disruptive Spell. Problem: The Feat’s DCs are partially contingent on spell level and the ability fails to specify how the blast is treated for these purposes. 9th level allows for the addition of Thundering Spell for the cost of 2 burn.

At 5th level, the wind whistler may accept 1 point of burn to increase the bard levels for the purpose of determining bardic performances as +4 levels higher for 3 rounds; at 8th level, 2 burn may be accepted for +6 levels for 2 rounds instead. Not a fan here; 11th level allows for the acceptance of 3 burn to add Lingering Performance; if the character has the feat, its benefits are extended to 4 rounds instead – nice. This replaces infusion specialization.

At 7th level, the character is locked into expanding air, but does not gain the usual benefits, instead gaining a Performance (wind) based bardic masterpiece sans spell/feat-prerequisites, with 12th and 17th level allowing for the replacement of the masterpiece. At 16th level, the character may accept 2 points of burn to double the skill-check governed bonus damage – as noted before, the base ability is problematic and this exacerbates the issue. The capstone allows for the expenditure of 5 rounds of bardic performance to create a 10-ft.-tall cyclone, a summoned large air elemental that acts as a shadowbard. Interesting final ability.

We also receive two new 5-level prestige classes, the first of which would be the aetheric assailant, who gets d10 HD, 2 + Int skills per level (I really wished non-Int-based classes would just get more; 2+Int skills, when Int is likely to be 0 or 1, just isn’t fun for anyone), full BAB-progression and medium Fort-and Ref-save progression. Requirement-wise, we need a couple of hit-hard feats (like Cleave), BAB +5 and Elemental Focus (aether) as well as kinetic blade.

The PrC begins play with Clarity, which allows for the use of kinetic blast while under the effects of rage – which is a bit weird, considering that barbarian levels etc. are not necessarily required. Kinetic wielding lets you use kinetic blade in conjunction with weapons for which you have the Weapon Focus feat, adding weapon damage, enhancement bonuses etc. to the kinetic blade’s damage dealt, but makes any such attack otherwise targeting touch AC instead target regular AC. Here’s the issue: This may be used in conjunction with full attacks, but requires the acceptance of 1 point of burn per iterative attack, which also stacks: The third attack would hence cost 2 points. OUCH. I get the reason for this, but considering the limited usefulness of iterative attacks in the first place, rewarding a replacement of them may have constituted a more elegant trick. The PrC is intended to have its levels be treated as full kineticist levels, as well as class levels for martial classes. Here’s a nitpick: “martial classes” is not official rules-language; while often used as a catch-all term across boards, as far as rules-text is concerned, we really need that spelled out. Do inquisitors qualify? Bloodragers? Soulknives? You get the problem.

2nd level nets aether shrouded shield, which lets you use blasts to temporarily infuse resistances or miss chances into a wielded shield, which scale based on damage dice. This buff lasts 1 round; for 1 accepted burn, instead for Con-mod rounds. I like the idea, but the implementation is pretty weak. Also: “Lightning” is the damage type in 5e; it’s “electricity” in PFRPG. This level also allows for Kinetic Blade/cleave synergy, which later may be used with kinetic whip, though once more, +1 burn per target beyond first will make you hit the hard burn cap really fast.

At 3rd level, the kinetic wielding of weaponry allows for the 30-ft. at-range kinetic blast/weapon-combo attack, but once more costs 1 point of burn per round in which it’s maintained – per weapon, so while you may TWF this, it becomes pretty costly fast and, weirdly, there is not much reason to do so: You can’t deal blast damage when controlling more than one weapon thus. Additionally, reach and the like is somewhat opaque for this ability. At 4th level, the character can infuse the armor with aether blasts, self-granting DR/magic (lol) based on blast damage. At this level, a lot will have DR and, well, while there is burn-based duration-extension, I’m not blown away here. The 5th level ability increases the cap of burn acceptable per round by 1 and yields a free trip after crits with the telekinetically-wielded weaponry. Weird. The PrC,a s a whole, feels unfocused and doesn’t really have anything that makes me excited about it; the uses of burn are not particularly exciting.

The second PrC, the Cerulean Star Disciple must be non-evil, has d8 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, ½ BAb-progression and medium Fort- and Ref-save progression. The prerequisites are easy to meet and have a story-requirement, basically requiring that the target suffered from a nasty undead-effect à la mummy rot, level drain, etc. – I really like such instances. The PrC is obviously tied in to some extent, flavor-wise, with Desna (with serial numbers filed off), gaining starknife-proficiency. The PrC gains the cerulean fire blast, which acts as blue flame blast, but inflicts +1 damage to undead per die and such targets take a -2 penalty to atk and saves for class level rounds on a failed save. Additionally, the PrC gains kinetic healer as a utility wild talent sans requiring aether or water as elemental focus. PrC levels stack with kineticist levels for the purpose of maximum burn per round and infusion + wild talent qualification. 2nd level nets cleansing flames, which allows the character to increase burn cost of the kinetic healer variant by 1 or 2 to remove an array of negative conditions. 3rd level nets ½ holy damage (which does not exist in PFRPG) with cerulean fire blasts. Additionally, targets may be set ablaze, with the continuous damage being holy (again, does not exist). At 5th level, the damage is wholly transformed to the make-belief holy type and is treated as undead bane.

3rd level allows for the line, cone or sphere shaping of cerulean fire, all at the cost of 1 burn per 10 ft. the blast shape takes up, which is pretty restrictive. Thankfully, Ref applies for half damage for such AoE-blasts. 4th level nets a cerulean fire shield variant for 1 point of burn, lasting Con-mod rounds. At 5th level, the PrC also reduces burn cost of cerulean fire-based blasts by 1 to a minimum of 0 and gains +4 to saves versus undead special abilities. (Should be codified.) The character can regain burn when destroying undead, thankfully with a daily cap that prevents abuse.

All righty, after these, we get an array of new elements. All of the elements get their own saturation (Nice!). Since this review is already pretty long, I will not go through each and every wild talent o infusion. The first would be bone, which is different than what I expected: We get dual-physical damage type blasts and the basic tricks allow for the upgrade of unarmed attacks, for example. The tricks this provides often duplicate spells, e.g. ice spears, with damage changed to negative energy. While the majority of tricks here did not blow me away, I enjoyed the corpse explosion and the means to temporarily grant vulnerability to bludgeoning damage or eliminate a target’s skeletal defenses. Not a bad element, but one that could imho have used a couple more tricks that no other element can pull off.

The second element would be chaos…and, well, it’s chaotic: Immediate action rerolls, but on a second failure, the target is staggered for one round. The blast replaces 3d6s with 1d20, 2d6s with 1d12, making the base damage more swingy. Also: Free bane versus lawful targets. This would be less of an issue, but the blast is untyped, which I d not think is a good call here. (Untyped damage must be handled very carefully…) Problematic would, for example, be a barrier that auto-disintegrates missiles and even thrown weapons. Yeah, that plus +5 thing? It’s gone. No save. WTF. Horrid mutation, a 2 burn level 2 substance infusion is also a really versatile potential save or suck and should probably by at least qualified as a polymorph effect. We also have 0 burn utility subjective gravity for free wall walking etc. Note that this element isn’t necessarily bad, but it feels weird in some of its design decisions, as it’s hard to get either the evil or whimsical chaos angle properly here.

Crystal feels a bit like a brother of bone and earth, allowing for some caltrop-ing, a bit of terrain control and otherwise feeling kinda similar to earth; personally, I probably would have made this an extension of earth, as the light/refraction-angle associated with crystals isn’t really represented here. It’s not a bad element, but it could use a couple of more unique tricks.

Dream is very versatile, allowing you to mimic elemental blasts; however, the blasts are only partially real, meaning that a successful Will-save can greatly decrease their efficiency and the blast is mind-affecting to boot. Speaking with the sleeping, tracking in the realm of dreams and a ton of spell-duplicates can be found here. I like the focus of this one, as a whole, though it does require a bit of flexibility from the GM. I wouldn’t allow it in all campaigns, but if you have a dream-theme, it’s really neat- As a secondary element in particular, this one can be neat. As a whole, in spite of the spell-duplicates, one of my favorites herein.

The final new element would be time, and I’m going to spare you the sordid details, but this one is broken as all hell. It thinks that “supernatural aging” is a damage type (it’s not!) and sports options to advance targets on the age category for 2 blasts. Lol, that is fatal very quickly. We have a per-encounter ability (ironic, considering that encounters have nothing to do with time…and yes, insert my “per-encounter abilities make no sense*-rant right here!) Restore youth allows you to cheat age. WTF. Why are there liches? And Stop Time…is a clear case of “What were they thinking???” – it’s a level 9 utility wild talent, 1 burn…that vastly outclasses frickin’ time stop. Yeah, you heard me. Also: 5th level perma-aging. WTF.

We also get notes on spark of life and draining infusion and use with the new elements. There are 3 new utility wild talents: Kinetic blade/fist charge with a trail of energy, an elemental aura and an elemental body SP duplicator. Bolster Kinetic Defense can be pretty potent in some combos: It makes elemental defense be treated as though you had spent 1 burn on it and may be taken multiple times. Elemental Ambassador is weak-sauce: It nets you a bonus on Cha-based skill checks and an elemental language. Kinetic Crafting allows for minor crafting, but oddly does not cover all elements herein. Kinetic Synergy is a spellcasting/kineticist-combo feat that allows you to accept burn for more spell-damage or DCs. Yeah, not a fan. Spells don’t need more power. Kinetic Understanding allows for the limited use of spell-trigger and spell-completion items. Signature Infusion lets you choose an infusion and reduce burn cost by 1. Again, not 100% happy. Then again, Merciful Blast is glorious and, coincidentally, I wrote an analogue ability half a year ago: It allows the kineticist to blast at a lower power-level and for nonlethal blasts.

We also get 6 new magic items: Athame Ignus is a blade for fire specialists; condensed elemental energy is a category of item that is highly problematic: It’s basically a throwaway item that can take burn for you. While it’s priced pretty highly and grouped by level, it’s still something I would not allow. Then again, if you enjoy all-day casting and have no problem with pearl of power abuse in your game, then this won’t bother you either. Focus gauntlets enhance attacks with blasts. Nexus aloe oil is a burn remover, but repeated use causes the sickened condition – should imho have a caveat that it can’t be applied when the character is sickened already. Third eyes of elemental accuracy are yet another item to enhance the chance to hit. Whistling arrows are adamantine, have a slightly wonky rules-verbiage, and are intended for use with the archetype. The pdf closes with an array of mundane items that represent different stones: The proper kineticist-specialist in possession of such an item gains a minor insight bonus. I liked these.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, on a formal level, are very good. On a rules-language level, there are a couple of issues in the details, but as a whole, this is relatively tight, which is impressive considering the difficulty of the kineticist’s rules-chassis. Layout adheres mostly to a two-column full-color standard, with a couple of pages instead using a 1 –column standard. The pdf sports really nice full-color artworks, which, while public domain, are NOT ones I’ve seen time and again. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Andrew Hoskins, David S. McCrae and Jeff Harris did not have an easy task here: The kineticist is probably one of Paizo’s most difficult classes to design for: It requires serious understanding of both rules-language and math. Considering that, the pdf, for the most part, does a decent job. While there are issues here and there, particularly regarding the value of damage types, a crucial balancing tool for the kineticist, the pdf gets a lot right. But it has a big issue. You see, almost all kineticist-supplements released by 3rd party publishers have been done by N. Jolly and the members of his team KOP. And…well, they are amazing. The Kineticists of Porphyra-series and Legendary Kineticists (can’t say anything about Part II as per the writing of this review) are amazing; in particular, KOP III’s dimensional ripper is just pure amazing. There also is a kind of aesthetic going on here: As a non-vancian class, kineticists shine most when they don’t require spell-references, when they can do unique things.

The kineticist options in this book, while not bad, did simply not blow me away and left me ambivalent; add to that the minor hiccups and the appeal drops. Another problem I see here pertains that a LOT of the small design parts here add to the min-maxing game; we get escalation of numbers in depth, when the kineticist’s main issue is that it needs more versatility. The craftsmanship of this book is, as a whole, pretty solid, but there are relatively few aspects herein that I’d consider to be really neat. The pdf also sports, here and there, aspects that are frankly broken and should be kept out of the hands of min-maxers. As a whole, I am sorry to say this, but I was pretty underwhelmed by this pdf. If you’re a GM who is confident regarding the refining and scavenging of rules, then this may well be worth checking out, but it should receive careful monitoring. My final verdict cannot exceed 2.5 stars, though I will round up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Into the Breach: The Kineticist
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vs. Dragons
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/05/2018 11:51:34

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This game based on the VsM-engine clocks in at 66 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page character sheet, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 59 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

Okay, so this system can be used as a gateway to roleplaying games; the rules-lite chassis of the VsM-Engine is well-positioned to act as a “first” RPG-system, also courtesy of the presentation: We first get a brief explanation of how RPGs work, a very short list of what you need to play (cards, this book, that’s it) and a brief list of Appendix N-like inspirations in both literature and movies. The artworks herein are classic b/w-pieces that capture a sense of old-school aesthetics rather well – it should be noted that the layout here is pretty impressive: How the artworks are integrated into the three-column landscape, tablet-friendly presentation is pretty neat.

Okay, if you’re familiar with other VsM-games, you probably won’t be surprised by the basic set-up: The game knows two attributes, namely Brains and Muscles. There are 3 basic configurations for attributes: Smart heroes have 5 brains and 3 muscles, strong heroes have 3 brains and 5 muscles and well-balanced heroes have 4 brains and muscles. This value determines the amount of cards you draw when the hero faces a challenge.

Unlike e.g. Vs. Stranger Things, this game also knows a total of 3 different classes: Fighters get to choose either ranged or melee weapons: When making an attack with the chosen weapon type, they draw an additional card. Magic-users get to cast magic – more on that later. Thieves get to draw an additional card when using Brains or Muscles to pick locks, pockets, moving silently, hiding, performing sleight of hand, contortions, tumbling, etc. Now, after deciding on the class, the player gets to pick a Good and a Bad Gimmick: These can include the raising of an attribute by one point, having connections to powerful NPCs, a danger sense, etc. on the good side, while on the bad side, we have addictions, allergies, being klutzy, etc. – so yeah, within the framework of the game, you could end up with an attribute ratio of 2 to 6, should you choose. A character has 10 Toughness – these are basically the hit points of the character. Good and Bad Gimmicks can modify this value to 8 and 12, respectively.

As far as starting equipment goes, you start play with an adventurer’s kit, but otherwise, the game isn’t really about gear, so if micro-managing the like annoys you, that’s a plus; on the other hand, if you enjoy the simulationalist aspects, then this will be less fun for you. In order to get an item beyond the standard, you consult the GM and may draw a card: If the card exceeds the EV (Equipment Value), you get it. You may only procure up to Brains items per session – basically, this is a minor crazy-prepared trope: You realize you had purchased the item. Getting matching items not usually sold in sets is covered as well. Failure to meet the EV means that you can’t secure the item in this game session…better improvise! The money system allows for another way to deal with this: When drawing for equipment, you can send the difference between the value of the drawn card and EV to purchase the item. The hero is assumed to be perfectly capable of using items, which means that there is no proficiency-system or the like to worry about.

Living amenities are codified. Clothing and armor is similarly codified: Armor reduces damage incurred: Light armor by 1, medium by 2 and heavy armor by 4. After a session, regardless of whether it was hit, etc., the armor needs to be repaired – which may or may not require the aid of a blacksmith. I am not 100% happy with the mechanics here: It is RAW possible to not be hit and still requires that the PC has the armor repaired. Similarly, armor breaking mid-dungeon-exploration for now reason is weird. Here, less would probably have been more: The GM already pretty much controls the variables here, so why not grant full control of when it requires repairs? Armor btw. reduces your movement.

Shields take hits in your stead: For each hit, make a simple draw (that is drawing one card): Hearts deflects the blow completely; Diamonds and clubs reduce damage by 1 for a small shield, 2 for a large shield. On a spade draw, the damage is reduced, but the shield is damaged…if it was a melee attack. Ranged attacks only damage the shield if the spade card was a face card. Damaged shields break on the next successful strike against it, or upon making the next attack with it. In short: Shields are pretty damn good. That is, as a whole, a plus – I really dislike how sucky shields are in most fantasy RPGs.

Weaponry is classified in 4 categories: Basic attacks inflict 1 damage, simple weapons 2, improved weapons 3 and advanced weapons 4 damage. A brief table classifies weapon types and is mostly concerned about the group, like “staffs”; Weapons may be 2-handed, have a chance to break, be concealable or have a reach, which may, however, also hamper their use in cramped conditions. Ranged weaponry is similarly codified. Ranged weapons with penetration reduce an armor’s damage reduction. Weapons like bastard swords that can be handled in one or two hands are covered as well. That out the way, a brief table that lists other equipment can also be found and then, we just have to determine the traits – basically, the fluff of the hero, the non-mechanical aspects.

An extensive appendix lets you btw. determine components by chance, should you so choose: The appendix lets you determine place of birth and childhood environment. The latter btw. assumes a couple of less nice environments – after all, well-adjusted folks usually don’t become heroes, right? Thus, we get really detailed 1-page tables for the respective environments: Runaway, bastard and orphan are covered…oh, and there is the “worse” table…which, you know…is worse. After these, we get to determine an adolescence event, a family history, the background of the caretaker, the misfortune that has beset the caretaker, the status of siblings and how they relate to you. You also get to determine a curse you may be suffering from, draw twice on the friends and enemies table and your relationship status can similarly be determined by the luck of the draw. In short: All details you probably require to create a unique hero. This section is helpful, and, of course, you can ignore components of it…or everything.

All in all, character creation is quick, simple and painless.

Conflict resolution is similarly simple: You draw your Brains or Muscles value of cards and compare it to the TV (Target Value) of the task at hand; as long as one card can beat the TV. Opposed challenges are just that: Compare draws, higher wins. Teamwork is potent – the character with the highest attribute draws, plus one card per assisting character. Simple. Characters can always draw at least one card, unless a task is deemed impossible by the GM or unless the reduction is due to Pain.

As in other VsM-games, suits have general associations: The red suites are generally positive, the black suites generally negative. Hearts are better than diamonds, spades are worse than clubs.

Okay, so how does combat work? Initiative is based on player seating, starting left to the GM. Combats are measured in turns, whose length are determined by the GM on a fluid basis. Movement is either handled via abstract categories OR allow you to track the movement: 1 square per Muscles-value movement. Brains may also be used to e.g. determine the correct spot to walk to, etc. – basically, this is pretty. In order to hit a target, the PC has to exceed the target’s DV – Defense Value. That works pretty much like a TV. Ranged attacks are compared to the RV – Range Value. A target uses the higher of the two values chosen from DV and RV.

As long as a character has 6+ toughness, he is fine; at toughness 5, the character is in minor pain, which translates to -1 to both attributes. 2 is the threshold for moderate pain, equal to -2 to both attributes. 0 toughness means extreme pain, i.e. -3 to the two attributes. Dropping below 0 toughness knocks the character out; -2 equals death. The threshold values for monsters are quick and easy to determine. Resting an hour regains 1 toughness; full 8 hours of sleep net you 10 toughness. Resting for 10 minutes reduces the current pain level by one step. Quick aid has a TV of 10, and drawing a spade means you used up all healing supplies. There is also an optional rule for fantasy logic and instantaneous healing, should you prefer the like.

The book also covers rules for attacking objects and structures, fire, and general hazards. There are no hard rules for determining falling damage, but e.g. water as a hazard is covered. A GM can also rely on a variety of monsters, readily statted for you: We get undead apparitions, boggles (frog folk), cockatrices, a general stat for cosmic horrors, stats for crossroads demons, warmonger demons or demon lords. Weird eyelings, the eponymous dragons, faeries, giants, goblins – basically, we get a selection of the classics of fantasy.

Now, magic. How does magic work? Well, there are basically holy symbols (talismans of true faith), spellbooks, grimoires – you get the idea for these basic items. Unbreakable shields/armor, penetrating weapons – we have a couple of basic magic modifications regarding items. Magic wands and staves can hold magic and act as basically magical batteries, but can potentially explode if overcharged.

Okay, so how does spellcasting work? The character must spend a turn and channel the power of the location; the GM draws a card, which represents the value available to the hero; the hero only knows this value if the GM draws a heart-suite card. 2- 8 mean “little power was gathered”, while 9+ means that a decent amount could be gathered – and this is usually what the PC knows. Once the pool is depleted, the character can attempt to draw power again, but this halves the values. Magic of a location replenishes after 24 hours. When a hero attempts to cast a spell, he must expend spell points, even if the target value is not met. If the hero doesn’t have enough power, it automatically fails. This system makes magic feel pretty chaotic and unreliable. Magic is categorized in 4 types: Folk Magic is assigned to Hearts, Divine Magic to Diamonds, Witchcraft to Clubs and Black magic to Spade. Healing via e.g. black magic is possible, but may take a less savory form – you get the idea. Sample TVs are provided for the GM, with e.g. wish-granting requiring King, resurrections and gateways assigned to Jack, etc. A smattering of sample spells are included for the GM’s convenience, including some ideas for e.g. damage spells etc. Unsurprisingly, Brains determines the number of cards drawn for spellcasting.

The next chapter provides basic advice for GMs – the structuring of adventures, possible rewards (and how to gain both Bad and Good Gimmicks. We also get a couple of brief summaries of a couple of settlements (each about 2 – 3 short sentences long) and 6 sample adventure locations that might act as hooks.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on both a formal and rules-language level – I noticed no serious issues. Layout adheres to a really nice 3-column standard (11’’ by 8.5’’) and is pretty impressive: The use of b/w-artworks and public domain art to generate a concise, old-school aesthetics is pretty neat. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, but only with bookmarks for the chapter-headers. Two bookmarks seem to be superfluous and point towards somewhat weird places, but this is an aesthetic complaint.

Rick Hershey, with additional content by Lucus Palosaari, has created an interesting modification of the VsM-engine, one that is based on extensive modifications of the rather impressive Vs. Stranger Stuff Season 2. The modifications are smooth and interesting and switching games is pretty simple; if you know how to run Vs. Stranger Stuff, you’ll know how to run this. The game is interesting and play smoothly; it is easy to grasp and, potentially, run. That being said, I kinda found myself wishing there was more in the class and magic section: While detailed enough to not qualify as fully freeform, I personally prefer particularly the magic component to be more concisely defined. That being said, since even the most potent magics can theoretically be accomplished from the get-go, this may not necessarily be feasible. Still, the magic items and classes introduced here represent perhaps the one lost chance of the system. You see, while the games based on the VsM-engine allow for quick and smooth one-shot scenarios or shorter campaigns, the weakness of the system pertains to longer campaigns; there is simply not that much going on regarding character progression and advancement. Both magic and classes could have easily added, perhaps as optional components, means of advancing the characters in a concise manner; they can act as such as presented here, but ultimately, we could have gone one step further here, truly evolving the game.

In short: This is a well-made fantasy game based on cards; it is particularly suitable for those looking for an easy way to introduce players to RPGs or for quick, rules-lite gaming. It is not as detailed as Vs. Stranger Stuff Season 2 in its supplemental material, but still, the system does that aspect rather well. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
vs. Dragons
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