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Publisher: Neoplastic Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/23/2016 13:03:00

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive book clocks in at 103 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial,3 pages of ToC - leaving us with 98 pages of content. The pages themselves are designed for an A5 (6'' by 9'')-standard and if you print it out, you can easily fit 4 pages on a given page.

So, this is one of those books that you don't think you need - but sooner or later do. It is, in short, a massive GM-inspiration/dressing book, but unlike most: Where usually, you get pretty generic dressing to generate details, this book deals with questions and their answers: Basically, you look at one question, roll 1d20 and there you go. Or, well, you just read all and choose, you know?

The questions generally range from the generic to the specific: If you ask "What's in the treasure chest?", you may find prophetic poems, written in blood, profane copper, starving blood ants, Vecna's OTHER hand, Pan's Flute...you get the idea. Other questions herein pertain, for example what else may be required for a certain potion; what the orc chieftain is wielding, etc.

Now here is the catch: This book is not solely devoted to the fantasy genre, in spite of the impression elicited by the front cover: In fact, this is not only system-neutral, it also covers a lot of bases: Beyond the first chapter, devoted to fantasy, we have one for superhero RPGs that provides replies to the burning question where the villain's secret lair might lie or what apparently-useless-her-powers may do.

Aficionados of science-fiction similarly may enjoy a whole chapter, wherein starship passengers, malfunctioning equipment and the like are covered. Personally, I am very much partial to horror, so the table containing cryptic anagram clues alone made this well worth getting: Fans of CoC: How long do you need to solve "I've misery: red mists"? Great and useful: Reasons why you (or someone else) can't see the horrible entity. The horror-chapter is pretty extensive and this, for me, is great news.

But perhaps your tastes are more aligned with modern gameplay - so if you need some notes for modern gameplay, rest assured that this pdf delivers those as well: What's in that duffle bag? What is that sentry babbling about? What's that bottled liquid? From the mundane to the majestic, the pdf delivers a broad spectrum of notes...and you obviously may, at any time, simply only print out the genre of choice you need.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a no-frills b/w-1-column-standard and the pdf comes with excessive bookmarks - each question gets one, which means that using the pdf via an electronic device if comfortable and dead simple - a must for a book like this.

Adam Burke, Rafael Chandler, Mason Deming, Matt King, Jim McCann, Gary Bowerbank, Bill Collins, Keith Keffer, ASH LAW, Tony Love, C. W. Marshall, Brianna Sheldon, Stuart Templeton and Graham Walmsley deliver one amazing, useful GM tool. Oh, and two things: It's completely open-source and it is PWYW. You can pay whatever you can afford for this neat book and frankly, it is worth getting; it is worth leaving a tip for this nice toolkit and I encourage you to download it and see for yourself; more often than not, the entries can actually inspire their own narratives and plots. All in all, a fun pdf, well worth getting - 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Roll XX
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Hypercorps 2099
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/22/2016 04:42:49

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive book clocks in at 206 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page backer list, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 3 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 197 pages of content, so let's take a look!

In 1876, the first time traveler managed to slip back 200 years back in time; this introduced ripples and other types of rifts to our world, bringing elves, halflings, etc. to our world as emissaries of magic. Ever since, the world has not been the same - Hypercorps 2099 is an allotopia, where time travel super soldiers and the like have influenced our history; where a dark elf assassin started WW I, where hippies discovered vancian casting and AI has developed - it is 2099 and the world is a radically different blend of cyberpunk aesthetics, fantasy and superhero aesthetics. The currency is bytecoins and, as a whole, it is interesting to note the highly unconventional theme of the setting: Unlike pretty much every cyberpunk game I know, Hypercorps 2099 feels less gritty, more light-hearted. To get a good idea of how it feels: Picture yourself as a child; you and your friends have just read Neuromancer for the first time, eaten a metric ton of sugar and discussed the ups and downs of various superhero comics and the LotR-movies; put these things in a blender and there you go. Alternatively, think of a less grim Shadowrun, with a massive sprinkling of M&M thrown into the mix.

As has become the traditions with Mike Myler's campaign settings, the book presented here falls on the high-concept end of things; Hypercorps 2099 does not concern itself with the minutiae of the particulars, instead focusing on the big picture of high concept adventuring. This focus also means that the advised gameplay does not begin at 1st level - instead, the book recommends starting with the 2nd or 3rd level and a hyper score of 1 (more on that aspect later); while gameplay before is possible, the engine of materials used herein makes it less the focus.

This focus, for example, also is represented in the way in which the book focuses on the urban environment: The land between the sprawls is generally a corporate-owned place and due to easy transportation and virtual reality, there is considerable less need for traditional forms of contact. From this general perspective, we move fluidly into an example environment, namely what has become of Cleveland: From gangs to the never-ending tram to the hypermax penitentiary and the tainted waters of lake Erie and its water gangs (containing aquatic weirdness alongside wererats), we receive an interesting sketch for a campaign region to develop.

This depiction, then, proceeds to introduce us to Murderball: Think of that as basketball with a non-bouncy ball and a goal...as well as the explicit goal of kicking your foe's behinds and potentially, killing them. Players require a hand and no vehicles or explosives are allowed and there are quite a few different score fields, from deflector fields to those that have a tendency to phase out. It is quite nice to see the different score fields using different formulae to calculate their AC, though the actual gameplay rules for catching and intercepting are a bit simplistic, boiling down to relatively simple checks. What makes the game as a mini-game interesting would be the weird effects that the murderball stadium may feature - from neuralshocks to magic-impeding tricks, the effects per se are pretty nice, though purists may scoff at one of the precise wordings here; similarly, e.g. a hazard-level lightning effect sports no average damage value. These are not crucial hiccups, though this would be as well a place as any to comment on the depth of the setting material presented: If you're like me and read the murderball-passage, you may very well smile at the idea; at the same time, though, the execution could have carries so much more: Unique fields, more and different balls, etc. - this is not intended as a disparaging comment, just as a n observation that the highlight-reel-style nature of the book does not have the space to develop all components to their full potential: Murderball as such could carry its own supplement and certainly can be developed by an enterprising GM into the primary focus of a whole campaign - but what's here, ultimately, remains a basic framework. Whether you like that or not, ultimately remains up to your personal sensibilities. That being said, unlike in the 5e-version, the sanctioned items for different positions and high emphasis of PFRPG on item-choice, the game presented here actually works better than in the 5e-iteration and can, as a whole, be considered to be a more reliable experience due to the throwing rules employed here.

Pretty much every cyberpunk game has its take on virtual reality and the same holds true for the hypernet that the year 2099 features: Creatures entering the place generally can do so via a variety of means; the place, as a whole, is presented pretty much as a plane, with highly morphic properties and several unique aspects. An important component that accompanies this would be the fact that you use your mental attributes instead of physical ones when in the hypernet - which obviously means that the big, bad bullies will probably be pretty weak around here. While time-honored mechanics-wise (the same mechanics have been used since the days of old for the realm of dreams or similar excursions), this also means that fighters and similarly physical characters won't have that much fun in the hypernet. In the PFRPG version of this massive book, novel planar traits and a somewhat more forgiving take on the use robots etc. in the hypernet render the place a novel, fun and extremely creative environment, full of vast narrative potential and mind-boggling wonders...

That being said, with "Jarrikol", an unbound AI and a quasi-devil/deity of the hypernet, various environments like e.g. Veranthea, Mike's first campaign setting as a kind of game server, the hypernet remains a very dangerous, but also evocative and unique place that features some excellent ideas to scavenge and develop. The section also provides some nice traps/haunts that represent dangers of the hypernet their mechanical representation is significantly smoother than in the 5e-iteration. As before with murderball, we focus on the grand picture here, though the servers, somewhat like sub-planes, do have their own rules. Have I mentioned that the darknet is controlled by demons and devils? Yeah...tread carefully.

After our trip to the technology side of things, the next section of the book deals with magical Kathmandu, where sacred creatures (CR +2) and dimension-hopping are part of the expected fare; street elementals roam the streets and the tunnels of sand can have truly unpleasant consequences. Similarly, the zodiac defenders, champions established and named after the signs, are mentioned. The alternate timeline provided for Latin America similarly is a detailed, varied section - where e.g. the saber of Bolivar is a powerful CL 20 artifact and both PMCs and continental threats loom. Yes, including the fourth reich.

Beyond the confines of Latin America, the flying city of Lucrum, under the command of the hypercorporates, makes for a mobile flying fortress and quasi-autonomous zone; from the direct context of the brief history, one could picture this place as somewhat akin to MGS' Outer Heaven under a corporate leadership, with a heavy dash of hypercapitalist Orwellianism. The deadly and powerful RAUs, the rapid assembly units, may make for feasible targets to deal with the threat...at least theoretically.

If you are looking for more of a classic cyberpunk experience, you may want to look towards Neo York, where we receive rules for rogue automated vehicles as well as brief dossiers on how the old crime syndicates have reacted to the changed realities and options of 2099; corporate politics also congeal here, with a vast array of hypercorporations and their agents playing the grand game here. Wallachia has, in Hypercorps, become a force of its own, as Vlad himself has returned to claim his throne., creating a haven for the undead, with respective statutes governing daily life. The Blood Magic tradition, represented as 3 feats: Unlike the 1 5e-feat, these 3 provide a complex and precise take on the concept of blood-powered metamagic that also prevents abuse. Kudos!

But let's move on to organizations, from anonymous to the church of cthulhu, derklitz, a synthpop-celebrity worshipped as divine, to the hypercorporations (including necromanagement, known for undead slave labor), the respective brief entries are nice, though one, Xypher Media Institute, is oddly missing the alignment note.

After this, we dive into the critters/NPCs...which are BUTAL regarding both damage output and defenses; DM-1, for example, has a nasty mechwarrior suit; the dog-faced Sergeant K-9 (groan-worthy pun worthy of yours truly there -well-played), powerful Rabbit, Deadpool lookalike Big Cheez, super-ganger Deathslide...there are a lot of unique champions herein on both sides of the spectrum; Aurora, infused with positive energy and sworn to hunt down Vlad Dracul (CR 33), for example...or what about BioSpecs CEO, who may be under the influence of the suit she created. Archangel stand-ins like Deathwing, former Cthulhu-cultists turned hero, Edgar Allen Poe (a very powerful psychic, obviously), an elven temple champion that looks like an angel, a good undead gunslinger...oh, and the author has played the first season of the gloriously insane Sam & Max Telltale games - Roy G. Biv can be found reincarnated as King Lunar here. A bear-anthro called Kodyax may be a nice nod towards the member of the roleplaying community, the less-known superhero...or something else. Devil-blooded legendary netjackers, the legendary invisible assassin Nevidimy, the Native American spin on Captain America and the construct S.H.E.R.L.O.C.K. with the superb agent of the highest rank...well, you get the idea. The dramatis personae herein could be taken from the pages of golden and silver age comic books, a theme further underscored by them having their own fonts/logos for their names. And nope, I have not covered all of them.

The hyper bestiary begins with 5 templates (CR +1 to +2) to enhance creatures encountered before providing the stats for genetically engineered 4th Reich soldiers, the gigantic dakai, various drones, hyper lycanthropes/vampires, the nigh unstoppable Kawsay Sach'aqa plant monster (CR 27), robo T-Rex and dragons...there are quite a few of interesting critters here.

All right, so by now you'll have an idea how the setting feels and works regarding its aesthetics and motifs, so let's get into the nit and grit: Athletics collates Swim and Climb, while Perception is replaced by Awareness. Search is used instead of Perception to find secret doors etc. and there also is Knowledge (technology) and Use Technology. Vehicular Control is based on Dex. All skills come with notes for which classes they are available and, if required, sample DC-tables. Whether you like the split of Perception remains a matter of taste.

The higher power of both PCs and adversaries means that the game as presented here, ultimately is more lethal and the book does provides notes on how to handle this. Both XP-progression and the use of hero points are strongly encouraged and GMs can look forward to skyscrapers used as dungeons (see the recent, horribly underappreciated Judge Dredd movie for inspiration there!) and there also are several security systems depicted. Unlike the 5e-version, which oddly put the attributes in the back, this one's organization is a bit better, following the basic skill-collation up with info of aforementioned new attributes: The book also introduces two new attributes, namely luck and reputation. Luck is 10 + 2 x hyper score; Reputation is 10 + 2 x hyper score + Charisma modifier. PCs get contacts equal to the reputation modifier. These scores, however, have hard limits: PCs can only use luck equal to the attribute modifier times per day and reputation only once per modifier per week and they need to request those checks. While seemingly odd, this little operation can actually be pretty helpful for creative games that feature an experienced GM. While testing this, a player invoking luck had e.g. an elevator containing a hostile team stuck for precious few rounds to make an escape. A group shares one wealth score, which is equal to all luck and reputation scores added together, divided by the number of characters. The pdf does provide an easy formula for covering one's tracks. GMs also receive various security systems.

The GM-section similarly sports one-page templates for steam-punky pseudo-Victorian gameplay, WW-era and the contemporary age - while these are appreciated, I think that full-blown books for them would have probably been the wiser choice here; at basically one template each and a couple basic pieces of information, they don't cover the basics.

That being said, the book does feature several archetypes to fit within the context of the game: The Ballistics Brawler monk archetype, who gains flurry with guns and may use ki instead of grit at -3 levels, the Cyber Ninja, who gets less sneak progression, but drones (Heja MGS!), the Cyber Samurai samurai archetype, who gets cybertech instead of mounts and features the order of the street. Netjackers may elect to become mechwarriors - which basically completely rewire a large part of said new class. The netjacker The netjacker base class receives d6, 2+Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB-progression, good Ref and Will-saves and proficiency with simple weapons and one exotic weapon of their choice. They also are proficient with light and medium armors and 1st level netjacker begin play with an installed hyperjack and digiboard.

Netjackers are all about controlling robots - when in combat while controlling robots, they take a -3 penalty to AC, which is reduced by 1 at 6th level and every 6 levels thereafter. At the beginning of a day, a netjacker chooses either a proxy or drones, both of which are collectively known as robots.

Robots progress with a 3/4 BAB-progression, d10, 6+Int skills per HD, only bad saves, AC-bonuses that scale from +0 to +16, Str/Dex-bonuses that scale up to +6 and scaling upgrade pools and bonus HP for proxies and drones. Proxy upgrade pools scale up from 3 to 26, bonus hp from 2 to 46. Upgrade pools for drones scale up from 1 to 9 and bonus hp from 1 to 24. Proxies act upon your initiative -3, drones at initiative -6. Sharing senses can be accomplished as a standard action -proxies can furthermore act as if properly possessed. Drones, obviously, as less powerful robots, can instead offer more than one active at any given time- 1st level netjacker can have 2 active, +1 at 8th and 16th level and possess these drones as well Netjacker receives scaling bonuses to Technology-related skills and at 2nd level and every 2 levels thereafter, the netjacker receives a hacking talent. Some sample proxie base forms (3) and two sample drone base forms (2) are provided.

These talents allow for the sabotage of armor, equipment, etc. - personally, I'm not a big fan opposed level checks used - especially since the wording could be read as a fixed value or as an opposing roll - not sure which it is: "The netjacker makes a Use Technology check opposed by a level check (her target's hit dice +1 per 2000bt of the item's value)." - Granted, this is a minor glitch and more a matter of taste, so no biggie. Better hoverboarding, becoming invisible to tech - some nice options.

At higher levels, coordinated attacks allow the netjacker to expend actions of robots to grant himself a hyper bonus and further scaling hyper bonuses are interesting. 10th level expands the list of available talents to provide advanced talents, 17th level nets +1 standard action in the hypernet and at the capstone, the class gets dual initiative a limited amount of times per day- once in the hypernet, once in the real world.

The Veloces, chassis-wise, does look a bit like a bland monk-reskin at first sight; however, unlike in the pretty disappointing 5e-iteration, the class can stand on its own: Basically, it is a take on the Flash, Quicksilver and similar speedster characters. Yes, if you're fast enough, you'll run on walls, punch foes with incredible potency, etc. Self-haste and similar tricks help make this variant a fun addition to the roster, with a ton of talent-customizations and proper player agenda.

A crucial component of any cyberpunk game lies in the customization of pretty much everything cybertech related, gun-or similar equipment-related. Opposed to the 5e-version, the engine allows for several unique tweaks: Including DR-granting armor, a significant array of firearms that feature takes on automatic and semi-automatic fire. They, unsurprisingly, also deal serious damage. Autofire generates lines of fire, semi auto guns allow for Rapid Reload like shots. The pdf also features proper stats for various vehicles, including hoverboards. While smoother executed than the 5e-iteration, this may be the one aspect where I sincerely feel that this book falls short of its own ambition - perhaps I'm spoiled by years of Cyberpunk 2020 and Shadowrun, but equipment-wise, Hypercorps 2099 simply doesn't have that much to offer - the modifications are nice, but nowhere near fulfill the needs of my group.

Now, so far, the most crucial rules-difference has not yet been covered - that would be going hyper, becoming basically a superhero. This is represented by gaining a hyper score. Hyper score allow you to gain access to hyper bonuses, which stack with every bonus, even other hyper bonuses. They do not, however, allow you to stack two identical effects. The hyper score is a 10-level progression, somewhat akin to mythic tiers and hyper bonus scales up to +5 over this progression. Hyper score also determines the maximum amount of hero points you can hold and provides up to 5 hyper feats, but also 2 hyper flaws over its progression. Hyper bonuses thus gained pretty much apply to almost anything and thus, the table features a handy CR-increase for your convenience. Oh, the table also nets you more hit points and ability score increases. Hero points work in different, more potent ways for hyper characters, allowing for brief scene-control, for example. Hyper characters also gain more attacks, heal quicker, grant themselves a kind of advantage or benefit, a limited number of times from FF's Life III, becoming very hard to kill.

A lot of customization options happen via the respective hyper feats, which allow you to scavenge progressively better monster qualities, implant more cybertech, (de-)activate technological devices at range, etc. Better planar adaption to magic within the unreliable hypernet, a proper secret identity (into which you can change at Superman-in-phone-booth-speed) or hyper vehicles - the selections provided here are versatile and fun. Hyper flaws would be the unique Achilles heels you'd associate with superheroes and villains - from requiring an object to tiring exertions, these flaws represent a fun, identity-constituting element.

Beyond the basic hyper score and its consequences, the pdf assumes a type of 5 different hyper routes: The Abbernaut is basically the guy that receives monstrous abilities; the meganaut is the regular super who enhances hyper attributes; the hypernaut is the guy who gains the hyper powers; the parallel is the gestalt-spellcaster and the savant is the non-magical gestalt who gains more non-magical tricks; depending on the route chosen, you gain different arrays of hyper flaws.

Hyper powers are grouped by 3 tiers and their general rules are presented in a concise and easy to grasp manner; some may be taken multiple times and they do NOT screw around. What about time stop for two rounds or any villain's favorite gambit, cloned simulacra? Talking to the city (breaks into "The Spirit"-impression) or fabulous wealth...some seriously cool stuff here. Now I mentioned hyper attribute traits - these would basically be abilities grouped by attribute which allow you to perform those heroic acts: Ignoring conditions, throwing huge things, being ridiculously likable, auto-skill check successes...basically, these would be the tricks that make you more of an incarnation of the things you'd do with the respective attributes.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are pretty good; while I noticed a couple of minor hiccups here and there, as a whole, the book is very readable and the majority of the rules language is similarly precise. The most prominent glitches are minor typesetting hiccups. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard and manages to cram a TON of text into the pages of this book, making it look somewhat busy, but also getting you maximum bang for your buck per page. The pdf sports a ton of artwork, which ranges from often used stock to original pieces; most of them adhere to the comic-style flair that fits well with the theme, even though personally, I'm not the biggest fan of the style, I appreciate the very high art-density of the book. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Mike Myler, Savannah Broadway, Luis Loza and Michael McCarthy deliver a book that deserves being called unique; I have literally never before seen a take on cyberpunk that emphasizes the at times cheesy superhero-esque components that e.g. high-powered Shadowrun etc. tend to feature. The flavor of the setting is unique and it has this gleeful over-the-topness that makes you smile - we don't get sharks with lasers, we get dragons with lasers. This would perhaps be the best way to look at this toolkit/campaign setting. If you expect copious information on the minutiae of daily life, an exploration of social dynamics and the more subdued aspects of cyberpunk, including what "humanity" means...then this is probably not for you. If you, however, want to blow up skyscrapers, crash-land flying cities into legions of genetically-engineered nazi-drones or test your superhuman strength against a ginormous plant-monstrosity with your pal Edgar Allen Poe riding a hoverboard...then this will be just what the doctor ordered. This setting polarizes. Chances are that you already know whether this is for you or not at this point.

To state this loud and clearly: The PFRPG-iteration of the book is better than its 5e-version; we get more artistry; variant classes instead of short archetypes, a more pronounced compatibility with established material, etc. Even the structure of how rules are presented is more concise in the PFRPG-version. Anyways, like the 5e-version, players who expect a ton of customization and tweaking options will be disappointed to see the scope of both equipment and cybertech; the chapters do their basic job, but not much beyond that. On the plus-side, the PFRPG hyper-score rules are more elegant and versatile and allow for more options and their rules are presented in a pretty simple and easy to grasp manner; the escalation of deadliness of both PCs and adversaries generates an interesting playing experience. The hyper routes cover the vast majority of common superhero tropes in a basic system that you can learn within 5 minutes...and while you get the basics, I really hoped to see more powers here...though access to SPs of PFRPGs vast array of spells means that you'll have more options with this iteration.

In short: The hyper score engine could have used expansions. On the other side, it does already allow for an impressive array of modifications and options. Pretty much every aspect of this book can be seen as either a feature of as a bug; I frankly could wax poetically about the sheer density of amazing over the top action for pages on end...or, I could complain for the same length about aspects that could have used further fleshing out, in both mechanical engines and environments. Ultimately, to me at least, this book feels a bit like it tries to do a bit too much at once; a focus on either campaign setting or cyberpunk/superhero-rules would have allowed the campaign setting, which is pretty intriguing, more space to shine and provide enough room for the equipment and super-aspects to grow. To my own sensibilities, the compromise of packing both into one book ended up making them both good, no doubt about that...but also made them fall short of their own, significant potential. Less so than in the 5e-version...but still. The short non-2099-era sketches of e.g. the WW-age in the GM-section would be the culmination of this aspect of the book: Well-intentioned though they are, they are too short to be of significant use to pretty much anyone.

The aspects where I definitely cannot complain in any way would be the powerful NPCs and the creatures: Exceedingly powerful, these beings unanimously have this glorious sense of irreverent humor, this sense of anything goes. Extra brownie points if you get why Poe needs to eat a pomegranate every day to retain his powers, for example. These are also the aspect of the book where, no matter how you look at it, it delivers: Bosses with SERIOUS staying power abound, in spite of the increased power-level - so if you're looking for epic boss fights and a somewhat video-gamey-sensibility to accompany the flavor, well, here are foes that can take the punishment. The adversaries in the book are very, very nasty; Vlad-y boy will wreck you. Even among the unnamed NPCs like security officers etc., you will not find entries with low hit points.

These NPCs and creatures also represent perhaps the best litmus-test on whether you'd like this: If you can smile at Sergeant K-9 or at some of the other beings here, then chances are you'll find a place in your heart for this book. If the gritty day to day survival aspect of cyberpunk and the transhumanist questions are what brought you to the genre, you will probably be less excited about what you find herein. In short: This may not deliver in grit or detail, but it represents a delightfully gonzo, over the top experience. It is more superhero with a cyberpunk aesthetic, not vice versa.

It is very hard for me to rate this; as a reviewer, I can complain about the few formal hiccups I noticed - but as a whole, the PFRPG-version is better. Apart from that as a formal complaint, the vast majority of gripes I could potentially field can be mitigated by simply stating that the intent of the book, the focus, is different. The more action-oriented among my players really liked testing this; the detail-oriented planners were significantly less taken and impressed...which also eliminates this means of determining a rating for this book.

Personally, I am torn to an extent beyond what most books manage to elicit - I adore several aspects and the vast imagination, but also bemoan the scope of the equipment aspects and power-options, both of which combined could probably fill a book of this size on their own regarding the amount of material you could make for them. On the one hand, I could argue for a 4 star rating; sober me complaining about the hiccups, the fact that the book's all over the place and that almost all aspects could have used more coverage. On the other hand, though, I could also start gushing and rambling about the awesome concepts, the glorious critters and the sheer glee that oozes from these concepts and proclaim this a 5-star masterpiece with a uniquely fun and gonzo aesthetic. Additionally, the PFRPG version provides a bit more care, feels a bit more streamlined and routed in the aesthetics of the system than the 5e-iteration.

The truth for you, my readers, will quite probably fall on either one of these two ratings; either you'll really like it and disregard what could be construed as shortcomings or the shortcomings weigh more heavily for you than the boons this offers. As a reviewer, I can understand both positions and thus urge you to select yours. I, however, cannot rate this as both and thus will settle on a final verdict in the middle, at 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 due to in dubio pro reo. If you have the luxury of choosing your system, I'd suggest the PFRPG iteration.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Hypercorps 2099
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Hypercorps 2099 (5E)
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/22/2016 04:39:32

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive campaign setting/toolkit clocks in at 190 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page backer thanks, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 4 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 181 pages of content, so let's take a look!

In 1876, the first time traveler managed to slip back 200 years back in time; this introduced ripples and other types of rifts to our world, bringing elves, halflings, etc. to our world as emissaries of magic. Ever since, the world has not been the same - Hypercorps 2099 is an allotopia, where time travel super soldiers and the like have influenced our history; where a dark elf assassin started WW I, where hippies discovered vancian casting and AI has developed - it is 2099 and the world is a radically different blend of cyberpunk aesthetics, fantasy and superhero aesthetics. The currency is bytecoins and, as a whole, it is interesting to note the highly unconventional theme of the setting: Unlike pretty much every cyberpunk game I know, Hypercorps 2099 feels less gritty, more light-hearted. To get a good idea of how it feels: Picture yourself as a child; you and your friends have just read Neuromancer for the first time, eaten a metric ton of sugar and discussed the ups and downs of various superhero comics and the LotR-movies; put these things in a blender and there you go. Alternatively, think of a less grim Shadowrun, with a massive sprinkling of M&M thrown into the mix.

As has become the traditions with Mike Myler's campaign settings, the book presented here falls on the high-concept end of things; Hypercorps 2099 does not concern itself with the minutiae of the particulars, instead focusing on the big picture of high concept adventuring. This focus also means that the advised gameplay does not begin at 1st level - instead, the book recommends starting with the 2nd or 3rd level and a hyper score of 1 (more on that aspect later); while gameplay before is possible, the engine of materials used herein makes it less the focus.

This focus, for example, also is represented in the way in which the book focuses on the urban environment: The land between the sprawls is generally a corporate-owned place and due to easy transportation and virtual reality, there is considerable less need for traditional forms of contact. From this general perspective, we move fluidly into an example environment, namely what has become of Cleveland: From gangs to the never-ending tram to the hypermax penitentiary and the tainted waters of lake Erie and its water gangs (containing kuo-toa alongside wererats), we receive an interesting sketch for a campaign region to develop.

This depiction, then, proceeds to introduce us to Murderball: Think of that as basketball with a non-bouncy ball and a goal...as well as the explicit goal of kicking your foe's behinds and potentially, killing them. Players require a hand and no vehicles or explosives are allowed and there are quite a few different score fields, from deflector fields to those that have a tendency to phase out. It is quite nice to see the different score fields using different formulae to calculate their AC, though the actual gameplay rules for catching and intercepting are a bit simplistic, boiling down to Strength (athletics)-checks. What makes the game as a mini-game interesting would be the weird effects that the murderball stadium may feature - from neuralshocks to magic-impeding tricks, the effects per se are pretty nice, though purists may scoff at one of the precise wordings here; similarly, e.g. a hazard-level lightning effect sports no average damage value. These are not crucial hiccups, though this would be as well a place as any to comment on the depth of the setting material presented: If you're like me and read the murderball-passage, you may very well smile at the idea; at the same time, though, the execution could have carries so much more: Unique fields, more and different skill uses, etc. - this is not intended as a disparaging comment, just as a n observation that the highlight-reel-style nature of the book does not have the space to develop all components to their full potential: Murderball as such could carry its own supplement and certainly can be developed by an enterprising GM into the primary focus of a whole campaign - but what's here, ultimately, remains a basic framework. Whether you like that or not, ultimately remains up to your personal sensibilities.

Pretty much every cyberpunk game has its take on virtual reality and the same holds true for the hypernet that the year 2099 features: Creatures entering the place generally can do so via a variety of means; the place, as a whole, is presented pretty much as a plane, with highly morphic properties and several unique aspects. An important component that accompanies this would be the fact that you use your mental attributes instead of physical ones when in the hypernet - which obviously means that the big, bad bullies will probably be pretty weak around here. While time-honored mechanics-wise (the same mechanics have been used since the days of old for the realm of dreams or similar excursions), this also means that fighters and similarly physical characters won't have that much fun in the hypernet. It also makes spellcasting unreliable, unless you have the Scientific Wizardry feat, which, among other things, makes your spells bypass resistances and immunities of the spells of anyone who does not have this feat...which is a pretty OP thing that imposes a further feat-tax on defensive/buff casters, which, considering 5e's prevalence of concentration-durations and less intricate stacking mechanics, isn't necessarily something I think that the engine needed. Purists of 5e may also notice that the traps for the hypernet do feature attribute damage, something pretty rare in 5e, and wording-wise a component phrased slightly differently - personally, I don't object to these components, being used to them, but it is still something to bear in mind if you are particularly purist in your sensibilities.

That being said, with "Jarrikol", an unbound AI and a quasi-devil/deity of the hypernet, various environments and e.g. Veranthea, Mike's first campaign setting as a kind of game server, the hypernet still remains a very evocative and unique place that features some excellent ideas to scavenge and develop; as before with murderball, we focus on the grand picture here, though the servers, somewhat like sub-planes, do have their own rules.

After our trip to the technology side of things, the next section of the book deals with magical Kathmandu, where sacred creatures and dimension-hopping are part of the expected fare; street elementals roam the streets and the tunnels of sand can have truly unpleasant consequences. Similarly, the zodiac defenders, champions established and named after the signs, are mentioned. The alternate timeline provided for Latin America similarly is a detailed, varied section - where e.g. the saber of Bolivar is a legendary item, ready to be wielded by those pure of heart, and both PMCs and continental threats loom. Yes, including the fourth reich.

Beyond the confines of Latin America, the flying city of Lucrum, under the command of the hypercorporates, makes for a mobile flying fortress and quasi-autonomous zone; from the direct context of the brief history, one could picture this place as somewhat akin to MGS' Outer Heaven under a corporate leadership, with a heavy dash of hypercapitalist Orwellianism. The deadly and powerful RAUs, the rapid assembly units, may make for feasible targets to deal with the threat...at least theoretically.

If you are looking for more of a classic cyberpunk experience, you may want to look towards Neo York, where we receive rules for rogue automated vehicles as well as brief dossiers on how the old crime syndicates have reacted to the changed realities and options of 2099; corporate politics also congeal here, with a vast array of hypercorporations and their agents playing the grand game here. Wallachia has, in Hypercorps, become a force of its own, as Vlad himself has returned to claim his throne., creating a haven for the undead, with respective statutes governing daily life. The Blood Magic tradition, represented as a feat found herein can be taken as one of the crunchy tidbits suffusing the book that is evocative, but could use some increased precision: It allows you to increase spell levels by inflicting damage to yourself. Does this require a Constitution save? While the maximum increase is capped by both proficiency bonus and exhaustion gained, RAW the feat may be read as to allow for the casting of spells increased beyond one's theoretical knowledge.

But let's move on to organizations, from anonymous to the church of cthulhu, derklitz, a synthpop-celebrity worshipped as divine, to the hypercorporations (including necromanagement, known for undead slave labor), the respective brief entries are nice, though one, Xypher Media Institute, is oddly missing the alignment note.

After this, we dive into the critters/NPCs...which are BUTAL regarding both damage output and defenses, though there also are some odd aspects: DM-1, for example, is vulnerable to critical hits; dog-faced Sergeant K-9 (groan-worthy pun worthy of yours truly there -well-played), powerful Rabbit, Deadpool lookalike Big Cheez, super-ganger Deathslide...there are a lot of unique champions herein on both sides of the spectrum; Aurora, infused with positive energy and sworn to hunt down Vlad Dracul, for example...or what about BioSpecs CEO, who may be under the influence of the suit she created. Archangel stand-ins like Deathwing, former Cthulhu-cultists turned hero, Edgar Allen Poe, an artificial angel, a good undead gunslinger...oh, and the author has played the first season of the gloriously insane Sam & Max Telltale games - Roy G. Biv can be found reincarnated as King Lunar here. A bear-anthro called Kodyax may be a nice nod towards the member of the roleplaying community, the less-known superhero...or something else. Devil-blooded legendary netjackers, the legendary invisible assassin Nevidimy, the Native American spin on Captain America and the construct S.H.E.R.L.O.C.K. with the superb agent of the highest rank...well, you get the idea. The dramatis personae herein could be taken from the pages of golden and silver age comic books, a theme further underscored by them having their own fonts/logos for their names. And nope, I have not covered all of them.

The hyper bestiary begins with 6 templates to enhance creatures encountered before providing the stats for genetically engineered 4th Reich soldiers, the gigantic dakai, drones, hyper lycanthropes/vampires, the nigh unstoppable Kawsay Sach'aqa plant monster, robo T-Rex and dragons...there are quite a few of interesting critters here.

All right, so by now you'll have an idea how the setting feels and works regarding its aesthetics and motifs, so let's get into the nit and grit: The book introduces two new skills, both of which are based on Intelligence, these being Law and Technology. 6 new kits represent the respective tools for hyper gameplay. The high-strung super-hero-esque stories at the center of hypercorps assume for the chance of success in even relatively strange circumstances and allow for collective checks that allow for the addition of their bonuses; as such, team maneuvers can be significantly higher, DC-wise. The higher power of both PCs and adversaries means that the game as presented here, ultimately is more lethal and the book does provides notes on how to handle this. Both XP-progression and the use of hero points (see DMG) are strongly encouraged and GMs can look forward to skyscrapers used as dungeons (see the recent, horribly underappreciated Judge Dredd movie for inspiration there!) and there also are several security systems depicted. The GM-section similarly sports one-page templates for steam-punky pseudo-Victorian gameplay, WW-era, contemporary age - while these are appreciated, I think that full-blown books for them would have probably been the wiser choice here; at basically one template each and a couple basic pieces of information, they don't cover the basics.

That being said, the book does feature several archetypes to fit within the context of the game: The Ballistics Brawler monk tradition, the Cyber Ninja Rogue (Heja MGS!), the Cyber Samurai martial archetype, the mechwarrior sorcerous origin - these pretty much are self-explanatory representations of their respective tropes. The netjacker rogue archetype would be basically the combo rigger/decker and the veloces is basically a speed-themed monk. These, while generally good renditions of the core aspects of the respective roles, ultimately felt a bit less inspired to me - the Netjacker, in PFRPG its own class, is only a vanilla rogue until 3rd level, which can be pretty disheartening, for example. I think that more than one of these options could have carried its own alternate class. We also receive 5 backgrounds, though these lack goals, etc. - they only cover the proficiencies and features as well as a random aspect.

A crucial component of any cyberpunk game lies in the customization of pretty much everything cybertech related, gun-or similar equipment-related. Weapons and armor come with 4 upgrades each and we get 11 cybertech enhancements as well as some serious equipment - with hoverboards, C4 and all in between, including drugs, covered. Firearms require a bonus action to aim to add the proficiency bonus to atk and otherwise act as crossbows for feat-etc. purposes. They also deal serious damage. Autofire guns can instead use the bonus action to fire a second shot at disadvantage, while bullet sprayers may target cubes; damage-type switchers and stun-guns...the rules are pretty concise and yes, vessels are also featured. Still, this may be the one aspect where I sincerely feel that this book falls short of its own ambition - perhaps I'm spoiled by years of Cyberpunk 2020 and Shadowrun, but equipment-wise, Hypercorps 2099 simply doesn't have that much to offer. As a minor nitpick, RAW, the ammo can be scavenged after firing guns, which makes no sense.

Now, so far, the most crucial rules-difference has not yet been covered - that would be going hyper, becoming basically a superhero. This is represented by gaining a hyper score and an associated template; if you're a veteran, think of that as a gestalt; if you're new to the subject matter, think of it as getting more bonuses - a total of 3 feats, up to +5 proficiency and hero points - the hyper score determines the total of hero points you can have at any given time. From an aesthetic point of view, the table has a type-setting glitch that should have been caught. Hero points are more potent in the game, allowing for example for a roll to be treated as a natural 20. The hyperscore also allows for ability score increases beyond 20, add attacks, gain more hit dice as well as better initiative. To work in conjunction with the super hero theme, going hyper may also entail gaining one serious hyper flaw - from weaknesses to addictions and the like. Hyper feats allow you to gain monster qualities, hyper items, better cybertech...you get the idea. These hyper feats (and attribute traits) are generally grouped in 4 routes of being hyper: The Abbernaut is basically the guy that receives monstrous abilities; the meganaut is the regular super; the parallel is the gestalt-spellcaster and the savant is the non-magical gestalt who gains more non-magical tricks; depending on the route chosen, you gain different arrays of hyper flaws.

Now I mentioned hyper abilities; you can choose up to ability modifier such traits for a given attribute - a character with Dexterity 18 could have, for example, up to 4 of these with the right hyper route. These allow you to add bonus damage to attack, provide advantage on associated saves, provide sage advice as a reaction - but generally, they allow for the more efficient use of the respective engine; think of these as enhancers; you get more reliably good at using the attribute in question. In short: The book advances this aspect in depth, not in breadth.

The book also introduces two new attributes, namely luck and reputation. Luck is 10 + 2 x hyper score; Reputation is 10 + 2 x hyper score + Charisma modifier. PCs get contacts equal to the reputation modifier. These scores, however, have hard limits: PCs can only use luck equal to the attribute modifier times per day and reputation only once per modifier per week and they need to request those checks. While seemingly odd, this little operation can actually be pretty helpful for creative games that feature an experienced GM. While testing this, a player invoking luck had e.g. an elevator containing a hostile team stuck for precious few rounds to make an escape. A group shares one wealth score, which is equal to all luck and reputation scores added together, divided by the number of characters. When trying to get temporary goods and the like (most of which are illicit, obviously), the GM can roll 1d20 + wealth ability modifier; the result times 100 bytecoins is the cap; said sudden influx of non-permanent equipment, obviously vanishes again. This is a simple abstraction, but one that streamlines getting gear and arguing over who pays for what.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are pretty good; while I noticed a couple of minor hiccups here and there, as a whole, the book is very readable and the majority of the rules language is similarly precise. The most prominent glitches are minor typesetting hiccups. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard and manages to cram a TON of text into the pages of this book, making it look somewhat busy, but also getting you maximum bang for your buck per page. The pdf sports a ton of artwork, which ranges from often used stock to original pieces; most of them adhere to the comic-style flair that fits well with the theme, even though personally, I'm not the biggest fan of the style, I appreciate the very high art-density of the book. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Mike Myler and Rich Howard deliver a book that deserves being called unique; I have literally never before seen a take on cyberpunk that emphasizes the at times cheesy superhero-esque components that e.g. high-powered Shadowrun etc. tend to feature. The flavor of the setting is unique and it has this gleeful over-the-topness that makes you smile - we don't get sharks with lasers, we get dragons with lasers. This would perhaps be the best way to look at this toolkit/campaign setting. If you expect copious information on the minutiae of daily life, an exploration of social dynamics and the more subdued aspects of cyberpunk, including what "humanity" means...then this is probably not for you. If you, however, want to blow up skyscrapers, crash-land flying cities into legions of genetically-engineered nazi-drones or test your superhuman strength against a ginormous plant-monstrosity with your pal Edgar Allen Poe riding a hoverboard...then this will be just what the doctor ordered. This setting polarizes. Chances are that you already know whether this is for you or not at this point.

Still, to reiterate the strengths and weaknesses of this book: On the downside, we have a few minor instances of imprecision here and there and the organization; hyper scores and pretty much all relevant game-play mechanics in the end and the sequence of their presentation make the rules-chapters in the end feel a bit less easy to grasp than they could be; Usually, you begin at the bottom, with abilities and here, hyperscores, and then move into the particulars. Anyways, apart from this didactic gripe, players who expect a ton of customization and tweaking options will be disappointed to see the scope of both equipment and cybertech; the chapters do their basic job, but not much beyond that. On the plus-side, the rules presented are pretty simple and easy to grasp; the escalation of deadliness of both PCs and adversaries generates an interesting playing experience, with e.g. damage threshold rules being applied to some critters etc. The hyper routes cover the vast majority of common superhero tropes in a basic system that you can learn within 5 minutes...but they also, once again, are just that - the basics. If you wanted to play Magneto, for example, you'll strike out.

In short: The hyper score engine, while solid, could have used expansions. On the other side, it does already allow for an impressive array of modifications and options. In short, pretty much every aspect of this book can be seen as either a feature of as a bug; I frankly could wax poetically about the sheer density of amazing over the top actions for pages on end...or, I could complain for the same length about aspects that could have used further fleshing out, in both mechanical engines and environments. Ultimately, to me at least, this book feels a bit like it tries to do a bit too much at once; a focus on either campaign setting or cyberpunk/superhero-rules would have allowed the campaign setting, which is pretty intriguing, more space to shine and provided enough room for the equipment and super-aspects to grow. To my own sensibilities, the compromise of packing both into one book ended up making them both good, no doubt about that...but also made them fall short of their own potential. The short non-2099-era sketches of e.g. the WW-age in the GM-section would be the culmination of this aspect of the book: Well-intentioned though they are, they are too short to be of significant use to pretty much anyone.

The aspects where I definitely cannot complain in any way would be the powerful NPCs and the creatures: Exceedingly powerful, these beings unanimously have this glorious sense of irreverent humor, this sense of anything goes. Extra brownie points if you get why Poe needs to eat a pomegranate every day to retain his powers, for example. These are also the aspect of the book where, no matter how you look at it, it delivers: Bosses with SERIOUS staying power abound, in spite of the increased power-level - so if you're looking for epic boss fights and a somewhat video-gamey-sensibility to accompany the flavor, well, here are foes that can take the punishment. You will find precious few of the legendary NPCs featured with less than 100 hp; Vlad-y boy actually has more than 400. Even among the unnamed NPCs like security officers etc., you will not find an entry below 30 hit points.

These NPCs and creatures also represent perhaps the best litmus-test on whether you'd like this: If you can smile at Sergeant K-9 or at some of the other beings here, then chances are you'll find a place in your heart for this book. If the gritty day to day survival aspect of cyberpunk and the transhumanist questions are what brought you to the genre, you will probably be less excited about what you find herein. In short: This may not deliver in grit or detail, but it represents a delightfully gonzo, over the top experience.

It is very hard for me to rate this; as a reviewer, I can complain about the few formal hiccups I noticed ("proficiency modifier" instead of "proficiency bonus", nonstandard sequence of that in save-DC lists) - but they tend to, for the most part, not reach the levels where they'd negatively influence rules. Apart from that as a formal complaint, the vast majority of gripes I could potentially field can be mitigated by simply stating that the intent of the book, the focus, is different. The more action-oriented among my players really liked testing this; the detail-oriented planners were significantly less taken and impressed...which also eliminates this means of determining a rating for this book.

Personally, I am torn to an extent beyond what most books manage to elicit - I adore several aspects and the vast imagination, but also bemoan the scope of the equipment aspects and power-options, both of which combined could probably fill a book of this size on their own regarding the amount of material you could make for them. On the one hand, I could argue for a 3 star rating; sober me complaining about the hiccups, the fact that the book's all over the place and that almost all aspects could have used more coverage. On the other hand, though, I could also start gushing and rambling about the awesome concepts, the glorious critters and the sheer glee that oozes from these concepts and proclaim this a 5-star masterpiece with a uniquely fun and gonzo aesthetic.

The truth for you, my readers, will quite probably fall on either one of these two ratings; either you'll really like it and disregard what could be construed as shortcomings or the shortcomings weigh more heavily for you than the boons this offers. As a reviewer, I can understand both positions and thus urge you to select yours. I, however, cannot rate this as both and thus will settle on a final verdict in the middle, at 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 due to in dubio pro reo. If you have the luxury of choosing your system, I'd suggest the PFRPG iteration.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Hypercorps 2099 (5E)
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Places of Power: Monastery of the Marble Palm
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/22/2016 04:37:48

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Places of Power-series clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let's take a look!

On the ocean's shore, crafted from alien blue marble found nowhere in the vicinity, rises a titanic hand from the landscape, as if grasping towards the sky. The strange structure is impervious to magic and only enchanted weapons have ever managed to mar its facade. Known as Alrakkham's Glory, some ancient time ago, living quarters have been carved from the structure and those that spend time here tell of strange phenomena, with the marble's veins pulsing oddly at night and damage incurred due to the common earthquakes in the area mysteriously repairing themselves...

It is here that a tiny enclave of monks is studying their arts and local lore can yield more information for the PCs to unearth about this evocative set-piece. As always, the location is further enhanced by 6 sample events and 6 whispers/rumors - the former do feature rival monk sects, tensions between the two students reaching a boiling point and similarly interesting occurrences. Beyond notes of the lavishly mapped hand-like fortress and its individual rooms, the pdf also features common gossip (Hint: Alrakkham may be Bigby by another name...)...

The monk tradition featured in the monastery actually has mechanical representations here: Monks that study the way of the marble palm replace slow fall with the ability to spend 1 ki as an immediate action to increase the reach of their unarmed attack by 5 feet. - I assume for 1 round, but I'm not sure there. Starting at 5th level, monks that study this way of fighting gain DR 1/- while they have at least 1 ki, increasing that every 3 levels by 1, replacing purity of body. At 13th level, instead of diamond soul, they gain +2 dodge bonus to AC and CMD when facing more than one opponent. Slightly odd: The explicit mention of CMD here. Does that mean they get +4 to CMD? Dodge bonuses, as a default, apply to CMD. The ability increases in potency to +3 at 17th level. Instead of quivering palm, 15th level provides the option to generate grasping hand as a move action supernatural ability. The variant uses the wielder's Strength +10 (no idea what the 31 in brackets is supposed to mean) and may inflict 1d8 +10 damage when grappling - the damage doesn't note its type and it's odd that it's damage bonus is fixed, considering the variation's base on the monk's Strength score. Utterly OP; btw.: This can be done as many times as you like, provided you have at least 1 ki left. Alas, the archetype this represents is pretty flawed and requires some serious GM work to properly work; the rules-language isn't as precise as it should be.

The CR 14 master of the monastery gets a full statblock, which is neat indeed, and the two pupils currently there also are covered, though fluff only and not in as much detail as usual for Raging Swan Press.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are generally top-notch, with the exception of the monk tradition being not up to par regarding its rules-language. Layout adheres to RSP's elegant 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf features some nice b/w-artworks. The pdf comes in two iterations, one optimized for screen-use and one made for the printer - kudos there! The fantastic cartography by Simon Butler and Dyson Logos is excellent. I think by joining Raging Swan Press' patreon, you can actually get the high-res map for the evocative place, but I am not 100% sure. The map provided is cool, but sports keyed rooms.

Anthony Jennings' monastery is per se a great, evocative place - and I really, really enjoy the intention behind the monk archetype featured herein...but, alas, in that aspect, the pdf falters. If the archetype worked properly, this would be one excellent installment of the series; as provided, it unfortunately drags down the offering to a final verdict of "only" 3.5 stars - though, if you're looking for a great little monastery, it's certainly worth getting for the low asking price. Hence, I will round up for this pdf.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Places of Power: Monastery of the Marble Palm
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Places of Power: The Mudded Manse
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/21/2016 10:18:47

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Places of Power-series clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let's take a look!

Deep in the midst of the dreaded Salt Mire, near Thornhill, there is a manse at the top of a foreboding cliff, in the midst of the murky swamp. It is rumored to be haunted...WAIT. Wait, I tell you. Seriously, this is going somewhere you did not expect. Serious research via the high lore DCs can provide the information that one Vississ Leeai cleared out the place a couple of years ago and that it stands where once a powerful earth elemental existed. Sounds ominous, right?

Well, guess what: When your players actually get there, past the no-nonsense half-orc ranger 8CR 9, full stats provided) that guards the place they'll be greeted by a cheerful, immaculately clean staff. While local druids do exist and some strange, creepy even, circumstances can happen around here, the mudded manse, ultimately, remains one of the best-guarded secrets of the elite: You see, the sylph Vississi (fully statted at CR 10) has determined that the local mud can help against nigh incurable conditions and diseases. Yep, you heard right - this is basically a high-class, magical spa disguised as a haunted manor! And yes, this is not an operation of purely benevolent beings, but it certainly is a unique place to get massages and wind down from the horrible rigors of adventuring while also making some nice connections with notable folks who'd otherwise have no reason talking to the PCs. Obviously, as always, we actually get local dressing and mannerisms as well as rumors and sample events to add spice to the trip. As a nice aside, this place makes for a great way to plug in one of the various "going on vacation"-CoC-modules into your campaign without breaking a sweat. Just sayin'.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch. Layout adheres to RSP's elegant 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf features some nice b/w-artworks. The pdf comes in two iterations, one optimized for screen-use and one made for the printer - kudos there! The cartography by Simon Butler and Dyson Logos is excellent. I think by joining Raging Swan Press' patreon, you can actually get the high-res map for the evocative place, but I am not 100% sure. The map provided is cool, but sports keyed rooms.

Mike Welham rarely fails to deliver. When I read the title "Mudded Manse", I was yawning internally. When I started reading this, I realized the downright genius idea and its seamless integration into a fantastic context and knew I was hooked. Evocative, useful, unique - this has it all, and for a ridiculously fair price to boot. 5 stars + seal of approval, given sans hesitation. Get this and provide a bit of relaxation for your PCs. As a nice note: I actually had a local the PCs to deal with the "haunting" - imagine their surprise when they arrived, armed to the teeth...Yeah, that was something I don't get to see too often anymore...

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Places of Power: The Mudded Manse
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Letters from the Flaming Crab: Inspired by Heraldry
Publisher: Flaming Crab Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/21/2016 10:16:20

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Letters from the Flaming Crab-series clocks in at 19 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 15 pages of content, so let's take a look!

We begin this pdf, as always in the series, with the well-written correspondence from the planes-hopping UCS Flaming Crab - this time in the guise of a rather personal letter that mentions the strength a coat of arms brought to a member of the crew...and indeed, thus established is the leitmotif for this one's installment, which first begins with a small bestiary-section of creatures influenced by coats of arms, and yes, they come with a gorgeous b/w-artwork depicting them. So, what do we get? Well, at CR 1 the spitting and stubborn allocamelus (smaller, camel-like creature with a donkey-ish head), the CR 8 biscione with its barbed scales and coiled jumps - basically draconic serpents. The enfield, at CR 2, would be a wolf with a fox's head and front paws of talons can sense allegiances and at the same CR, the lepus hostili would be a killer bunny that can deliver kicking trips and wield Medium weapons. Yeah, pretty cool! The monster-hunting, loyal talbot hound (CR 1/2) and the CR 4 goat/antelope-hybrid Yale, with its rotating horns, complement this cool mini-bestiary.

Beyond the bestiary, we are introduced to heraldic feats - and these are intriguing: They are mutually exclusive, so you can only get one suite of these feats, which is important to keep in mind. These can obviously be easily rebranded for noble families as well (If Birthright/GoT or gothic horror is your theme of choice, then particularly cool!) and there are rules that enhance Diplomacy among those that have the crest feats. They also come in sequences of 3, somewhat akin to Style-feats: The first is called "Coat", the second "Crest" and the third "Achievement." A total of 17 such feat-sequences are provided, totaling 51 feats. And yes, visual representations of the respective feats are provided. So, are they any good?

Well, one thing you need to be aware of is that there are per-encounter feats; The Allocamelus lets you reroll saves vs. mind-affecting effects, with the sequel adding a +1 untyped bonus to atk and damage versus a creature that tried to affect you for the duration of the encounter. At this point, you all know my rant regarding how an encounter is not a proper duration. There is a reason Dreamscarred press codified per-encounter durations with an encounter-exceeding cooldown/duration in proper time. That being said, this is a hiccup that may not necessarily be something you consider to be problematic, but some of you out there have the same tendencies as I do, so yeah. Not all such feats are using such mechanics, btw. Thematically, sometimes the leitmotif could be a bit more pronounced: Basilisk Coat, for example, unlocks both Stealth and Perception as class skills and the feat also nets a skill bonus to both. The sequel feats, then, instead of further emphasizing these, enhance fascinate and provide an SP of a single-target hypnotism. The bear-feats, for example, enhance Intimidate and saves vs. feat, but then proceed to enhance saves vs. poisons/disease and then grant DR 2/piercing. So yeah, the leitmotifs generally kinda make sense, but do not build upon each other, which constitutes a crucial difference in comparison to most feat-chains I've seen.

Similarly, reflexive damage your biscione scales can cause to those that attack you to suffer are cool, but as the second feat, arguably better that gaining at-will detect chaos with the added caveat of being able to deduce if a target has willingly broken a law. As a minor nitpick, the scales in question do not specify their damage type. On the plus-side, e.g. gained natural attacks do come with properly codified type and size-based damage-dice, so that's a precision plus. On a nitpicky side, there also is e.g. a reference to element that should read "energy" and the like. Don't get me wrong, I don't consider these feats bad per se - but in some of them, the comparative power-level fluctuates between mini-trees and these small hiccups do accumulate. On the plus-side, e.g. the Improved Unarmed Strike-Fighter-enhancing Lepus feats that let you trip kick foes and handle oversized weaponry with Weapon Specialization are pretty cool. There are also some instances that made me wonder: Manticore, for example. Sure, there are plenty of mythological references to poison - but in our game, the critter is NOT poisonous, which made the poison-emphasis of the feats puzzling and illogical from an in-game perspective. It's like having a dolphin as a heraldic animal and gaining climb powers. Maybe I'm overthinking things.

The pdf concludes with the heraldic knight alternate class, basically a variant of the cavalier, who retains d10, good Fort-save and BAB-progression, proficiency etc., mount...you get the deal. Instead of an order, the heraldic knight chooses a coat of arms at first level - said coat of arms is associated with a virtue, nets a class skill and a bonus feat and also determines the selection of vigilante talents he can take. Wait, what? Yep, these guys are basically talented, gaining heraldic talents at 2nd level and every other level thereafter: These generally are social talents, with the exception of those mentioned before. Hidden strike talents instead affect melee, which is pretty strong, and the heraldic knight is always using his social identity. They retain challenge, banner, better charging and higher levels also net bonuses to the skill associated with the crest and, as a capstone, they get a kind of superior Leadership...and seriously are an example of a simple, yet effective hybrid class design: The class basically takes the cavalier, inserts copious amounts of player agenda and still retains a focus on the concept of the knight: The vigilante-options utilized mean that this guy will be better in social circumstances than e.g. the cavalier, which fits well with the whole knight-theme. Surprisingly elegant, efficient design!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, it osciallates a bit and ranges from top-notch t pretty good. Layout adheres to Flaming Crab Games' 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with nice b/w and full-color artwork. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Anthony Toretti, Neal Litherland, Jeff Lee and Michael McCarthy deliver an interesting Letter-installment here: The pdf begins with an all killer array of cool critters that feel creative and fresh and ends with one of the better hybrid classes I've read so far. The middle-section, the feat-array, though, feels less refined to me: Both the respective leitmotifs and the balance of the respective feats felt like it was oscillating a bit too much for my personal tastes. That does not make this pdf bad, mind you, but, as a whole, it feels less unified in voice and quality than usual for the series. As a whole, this is worth getting for the low and fair price point, but it didn't rock my world as hard as some other installments of the series. While I don't see myself using the feats herein, I do believe that both heraldic knight and the creative critters have a place in my games. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars - a good offering.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Letters from the Flaming Crab: Inspired by Heraldry
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Fat Goblin Travel Guide To Hell
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/21/2016 10:12:51

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive book clocks in at 58 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page ToC, 1 page back cover, 1 page of advertisement, leaving us with 52 pages of content, so let's take a look!

So, what is this? Well, a travel guide - after a one-page frame narrative that acts as a fluffy red thread suffusing the pdf, we begin with the conception of hell...and it is not like what you'd expect. Instead of envisioning hell as a traditional plane that is separate from the world it is tied to, this pdf envisions a concept of hell closer akin to AAW Games' HEL in their Aventyr-setting. Hell, as presented in this guide, lies within the respective planet, rotating against the rotation of the planet, hovering within the core of the planet. Inside of hell, there (probably?) is its own gravity or somesuch...but alas, if you are looking for planar traits for the layers of hell (7 of which can be found, just fyi), you won't find them. However, the write-ups (each about 1/2 a page) generally are pretty evocative, so the book has that going for it...and there actually are some unique features for hell: Blood for water, mysterious floating eyes, flesh pits - the concepts are very evocative, but they could use some actual mechanical effects.

The number 7 should make the reader hearken - and yes, the conception of hell is modeled after the feudal sins and the pdf does provide full information on the respective archdukes of hell - and, once again, the prose for these is well-crafted - in fact, I found myself enjoying these quite a bit. However, at the same time, the mechanical components of the archduke write-ups do not feature subdomains, unique boons or similar options - only title, domain, favored weapon and unholy symbol are depicted. Whether you care about that or not ultimately depends on your own expectations from such a book. Less detailed, but also with this level of crunch-coverage, 3 lesser nobles are included, before we dive into the crunchy section of the book, which begins with a take on the heavier, devilish black iron as a material with increased damage output (increased weight, counts as increased size). This alone would be strong; however, the material becomes utterly ridiculous when applied to a piercing or slashing weapon - on a critical hit versus a foe with armor (NOT on a sunder attempt), it renders the armor broken; a second crit destroys the armor. Disregard hit points, sunder rules, anything. Granted, it only works on a natural 20 crit, but that's still better than many sundering options. Oh, and it counts as adamantine. Sure, it is even more expensive than adamantine, but still...ouch...that could have been done slightly more elegantly.

The Omen of Vengeance item lets you send forth a slightly more powerful fiendish raven (with slightly wonky, but functional wording) to harry your foes. The eye of sin is pretty OP: Occupying a headband slot, this third eye not only can be opened for the see in darkness ability, it can also, as a standard action, fire hellfire beams (5d6, 60 ft. range, touch attack) that deal half fire, half hellish damage that cannot be negated (not a big fan of that in any context). The eye can be opened for 5 minutes a day, which need to be spend in 1-minute increments and...and has no other factor to reign in the power of the eye beam. No cool-down, nothing. Fire away. No, this is not getting near my game. The mirror of the black gate is basically a simulacrum in a can, though one that will try to kill those it mimics. The pdf also features two artifact-class items - the forbidden fruit of belecor and the angelbone aegis, both of which feature an interesting array of visuals and make for nice objects - particularly the fruit, whose pit may replace a heart, further enhancing [blood]-magic...but more on that later.

The pdf does feature a selection of feats for your perusal and they are rather interesting - Runic Scars allows you to inflict piercing or slashing damage (I assume, you need to have a free hand or an appropriate weapon) to yourself to gain 11 + HD SR for Con-mod rounds and the feat allows for the lowering of the SR and lasts only for Con-mod rounds and has a hard, daily cap balancing it. In spite of the minor clarification this can use, I actually really like it. Red Nectar allows you to drink blood to gain temporary hit points based on creature HD - not kittenable...can live with it. Gaining a Fiendish Legacy is nice, but there is also skill-boost filler material or a variant of nonlethal damage dealing joined with temporary hit points. Firebrand has an issue - it nets you fire resistance that scales up to immunity at level 15 (nice) and features an explosion when you're reduced to 0 hp...the DC is "con-based", but does not specify the DC. I assume 10 + 1/2 HD + Con-mod, but considering that there are alternatives, spelling it out would have been nice. Somewhat OP: Diabolist's Bond nets you +2 Cha and Con, +1 natural AC when you have a Devil summoned via the spell(s) - on its own not too bad, but I know a couple of tricks to keep this up all day. Still, not too bad. Utterly OP: Touc of Profanity: At-will touch to regain hit points and cause the sickened condition. Get one bag of celestial kittens or similar disposable do-gooders. Not a fan.

The pdf also covers an array of spells, which include the aforementioned [Blood] descriptor - such spells require the caster to deal 1 (or more, as noted in the respective spell) point of slashing or piercing damage to himself as part of the somatic component. This, unlike the aforementioned scarification feat, btw. covers the "needs utensil to inflict damage"-caveat. Similarly, the descriptor's rules manage to account for vampires, undead sans blood and similar critters. Here's the deal, though: spells with this descriptor ALSO render the target shaken on a failed save for the spell's duration and save-less spells still have a duration for the effect. The pdf also codifies previously released Paizo-spells as blood magic, which is a nice touch. I do have one nitpick, though: Does the self-inflicted damage require a concentration check to complete the spell or not? This is a potentially pretty important balancing component...so yeah, I'm in a bit of a cinch here and have a hard time properly judging whether the blood spells are appropriate for their respective levels.

The pdf offers spells that feature auras of pain, lidless laser-eyes and a pretty powerful spell that conjures forth a black twin that duplicates non-spell attacks at - 3 that mirror the damage caused at 1/2 potency and increases the DC of any ability that requires a save from the original attack by 2 if the attack is successful. This presents a bit of an issue - usually, attacks are resolved one after the other, with this happening at the same time, which can mess badly with the finer components of action economy. There are some visuals here that I've come to enjoy from the lesser known Blood Magic and BoVD-books I used in 3.X, though they are not just cut copy pasted and instead rebuilt within the context of the blood magic championed herein. The pdf does have some aesthetic hiccups here, though: There would be blood spells that deal basically fire and acid damage, while others feature the untyped damage/fire damage duality. The latter particularly, imho overshoot their intended powerlevel. An example: Sanguine cannon requires a full-round action to cast and requires a ranged touch attack...but deals 1d6 untyped damage /2 levels (NOT caster levels) and half as much fire damage...oh, and on a failed Fort-save, the target is sickened AND knocked prone. No CMD interaction, no maximum damage cap as usual for a 2nd level sorc/wiz/summoner spell (or 1st level bloodrager/antipala). The spells aren't bad per se, but they do feature minor hiccups like this throughout and GMs should be aware of their increased power.

Beyond these spells, we are introduced to new class options, the first of which would be the contractor, who receives temporary hit points equal to the total Hit Dice of devils he has summoned. Öhm, wut?? Oh, and 1/day standard action summon monster (which one?, not properly formatted...) as a standard action...which opens the old "How many actions/can the called critters act"-conundrum. The other options allow for an Imp familiar who ALSO gains the fiendish template and at higher levels, binding mortals with hellish contracts makes sense...but still...nope. The wizard most certainly did not require the extremely exploitable power-upgrade this archetype represents. Next.

The Dark Chanter cleric pays with diminished spellcasting with black benediction, usable 4 + Cha-mod rounds per day, +2 rounds per level - basically, a kind of bardic ability that allows for scaling bonuses...though the archetype fails to codify the bonus types thus gained. I like the visuals, but the execution falls behind the interesting concept. The halo hunter ranger would be, surprise, an anti-angel specialist is pretty much what you'd expect: Locked into favored enemy, any weapons treated as good outsider bane and later features the unholy property as well - which is not properly italicized herein. At high-levels, we get temporary hit points when confirming a crit versus good outsiders. An infernal companion replaces hunter's bond (OUCH!) and similarly, the class replaces the summon nature's ally spells with the superior summon monster spells, ultimately making the archetype stronger than the base ranger, even when pitted against foes that are not the chosen killing field - read that as: Slightly too strong. The black rider cavalier gets both Mounted Combat and Archery at 1st level and a steed that increasingly becomes more fiendish. The archetype also receives bonus feats instead of the tactician chain and a debuffing banner. He is locked into one of two new orders, one more focused on offense, one more focused on defense. A supernatural command is a nice idea, but needs a CL for suppression-interaction. The archetype may be a bit much for players, but still works; the orders similarly aren't perfect, but they work and do offer some nice ideas.

The fiendlash magus can manifest a fire lash that may, via arcane pool points, ignore armor and shield bonuses (O.O) - partial unholy power can bypass fire resistance and higher levels allow for scaling blasts and deafening critical hits. While the rules-language has some deviations from the standard, they aren't too bad. I can see this guy work, though, again, the omni-bypass of untyped damage and ignoring bonuses is nasty. The tongue of sin archetype would be the charm-specialist bard and the infernal chemist alchemist receives an alternate, fiend-themed mutagen. Not a fan of the fast healing gained at 5th level for obvious reason. Pit Warden druids would be, well infernal druids with diminished spellcasting and giant-summoning...actually, petty interesting one and the reduced spellcasting pays well for the increased power for the companions. Nemesis inquisitors must be female and may place marks on foes that increase the damage the target takes...and honestly, I kinda like it - it's got an unique idea and theme and runs well with it. Odd, though - why use "he" when the archetype is female-only? Looks like a cut-copy-paste hiccup...

The next archetype would be the armiger summoner (unfortunately non-unchained, but hey...), who calls forth a ghostly standard that can be moved by the character and confer bonuses and a variety of effects to those within its range, making it basically a cool, variable buff-aura, replacing eidolon thus. At higher levels, this standard may surge with power quicker, armigers may have more standards and these spectral banners will heal and at higher levels, allies may take damage for the banner. I really like this one! The focus is radically different and taking the eidolon away kills several balance-issues of the non-unchained summoner and makes for an overall neat play experience. This one, I will actually use sooner rather than later! Kudos to the author! The sanguine soceror bloodline can damage herself to increase CLs and at higher levels, they heal when damaging foes with blood spells or utter oaths of vengeance. I can't really judge this one's balance due to the issue with blood-spells.

The final piece of content herein would be the Blood Knight PrC, who gains full BAB-progression, 7/10th spellcasting progression, 1/2 Fort-save progression, d12 HD and 2 + Int skills per level. The PrC needs to be able to cast 1st level divine spells and have +5 BAB. At first level, the class receives Blood Strike, which can be activated as a swift action, remaining active for 1 minute. This can be activated 1/day at 1st level, +1/day at 4th level, 7th level and 10th level. The ability nets +2 Str-bonus (Strength not capitalized) and deals + 1d6 damage (damage type not specified); at 5th level, this increases to +4/+2d6, at 10th to +6/+3d6...but whenever the blood knight makes an attack while this is in effect, he loses 10 hit points...oh, and he can't benefit from healing while the ability is in effect, with one exception: 5th level blood knights regain creature's HD + 1/2 it's Constitution score, rounded down when a creature is defeated while in blood strike modus.

2nd level nets DR equal to class level and the levels provide bonuses to atk and damage with 2-handed weapons, bonus feats from a unique list and 4th and 9th level provide more hit points. 6th level provides a rend-like effect to blood strikes. At 7th level, these guys receive fast healing when below 50% or 25% maximum hit points - I assume, that this ends upon reaching 50% or 25%, respectively - some minor clarification would be neat and I'm not the biggest fan of such thresholds, but can live with them. As a capstone, the PrC receives truly devastating super strikes. I do like this PrC, but the blood strike, honestly, is too weak - the anti-healing caveat is mega-nasty and the very strictly limited daily uses mean that the PrC can't really use its unique tricks too often. More uses and a bit of dev and rewiring can make this a neat gem; as written, it needs a bit of polish to shine, but much like the armiger archetype, it has serious potential.

We end this book as we began it - with a nice piece of prose that wraps the content up.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are okay - there are numerous instances where things aren't properly formatted and while the rules-language is generally in a shape that makes it work, it sports several nonstandard wordings and minor hiccups in the details - sometimes to the point where the integrity of the rules is influenced. Layout adheres to a pretty gorgeous, unique and hell-themed two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports thematically-fitting stock artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience with nested bookmarks.

Justice Mora's travel guide shows a lot of potential: I really like the flavor and ideas contained herein, the alternate take on hell's cosmology and structure makes sense and the ideas contained within in that regard are nice...but the pdf fails to follow-up he structural innovations with the rules: Planar traits, etc. - NOPE. How does hell being on earth influence planar borders? Outsiders? Can hell's borders be expanded? The plane suddenly is finite due to existing in the material plane, so there's a lot of cool storytelling potential - with the proper GM-tools, that section could have been amazing.

The character options feels somewhat disparate: There is an oscillation between slightly too strong and slightly too weak and similarly, editing and rules-precision are not 100% consistent. More than that, the one central gripe I have with this pdf is that it was a sequence of déjà-vus for me. While the content has been modified to fit within the paradigm of the book's contents, most options in this book felt...like I had seen them before. This is particularly unpleasant as far as I'm concerned since the first chapters with the new take on hell provided a refreshing read. Ultimately, I only considered one of the archetypes, the buff-standard summoner (and the cavalier orders) to be sufficiently distinct apart from "let's make class xyz infernal-themed." The [blood]-spells are problematic, but the PrC has potential...though it does need a capable editor/dev to make it a more universally rewarding experience.

Which leaves me in a conundrum - there are quite a few things I like in this book, but the majority of the crunch feels either problematic or less inspired than the concepts deserve. You may not run into the same problem, but if you've read as many blood-magic takes or infernal books as I have, you will feel a distinct "been there, done that"-vibe quite a lot. This still has some value, but it falls quite short of the sourcebook it wants to be. One more thing: If the title made you expect a full-blown gazetteer or something like that, you will not be satisfied by this book. How to rate this, then? Honestly, I want to go 3 stars for this, since there are some things I really like in the book. But at the same time, the somewhat lukewarm archetype-array and half-realized chances can't be rescued by glimpses of brilliance. I can't go higher than 2.5 stars, rounded down to 2 for this one for me as a person. As a reviewer, though, I have to take into account that if you're less experienced with hell-themed d20-books and willing to invest some time in dev-work, you'll get some serious mileage out of this one. Due to this fact and in dubio pro reo, I will round up with my official verdict for this one. It should also be noted that, as per the writing of this review, you can get that book for a measly buck - not sure if that reduction is permanent, but it certainly is worth this very low asking price.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Fat Goblin Travel Guide To Hell
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Eldritch Archeologist, Hybrid Class
Publisher: Wayward Rogues Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/21/2016 10:09:38

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This hybrid class clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let's take a look!

This review is based on the revised iteration of the class.

The eldritch archeologist, chassis-wise, receives d10 HD, 4 + Int skills per levels, proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as with all firearms and light armors. The class receives full BAB-progression as well as good Fort-saves.

The eldritch archeologist adds 1/2 class level to all Knowledge skill checks and may, at first level, use a swift action to grant himself a +1 luck bonus to atk, saves, skill checks and weapon damage. Mainintaining thsi bonus is a free action and it can be maintaining for 4 + Cha-mod rounds per day. Interesting: It is treated as bardic performance and thus does not overlap with it. The bonus increases by +1 at 5th level and ever 6 levels thereafter. Unlike a gunslinger, these guys do not start off with a firearm, but may purchase them at only 50% cost later on. They also begin with the ability to sell non-magical objets d'art via Appraise at an increased value - nice: if playing with factions or affiliates, you may instead increase your standing as an optional reward.

The class also gets a passive secret-door-style sense that detects valuables, allowing for unprompted Perception-checks. It should be noted that the skill is not properly capitalized here. The class begins with grit, which is governed by Wisdom...and, unless you have a firearm, non-recharging, which makes the deeds also gained at first level less reliable. Speaking of deeds: Formatting is highly inconsistent here: First, we get them in an italicized manner and then, they suddenly are bolded. The deed-selection is a blending of different basic and archetype-deeds: The pistolero's "Up Close and Deadly" replaces Deadeye at 1st level; 3rd level deeds are standard gunslinger-fare; 7th nets deadeye, dead shot and startling shot as well as targeting...which is a bit weird, considering the default convention of 3 deeds per level. Similarly, 11th level nets Bleeding Wound, Expert Loading, Lighting Reload and the pistolero's Twin Shot Knockdown. 15th level nets only slinger's luck (odd: Other deeds have been renamed to e.g. "Archeologist's Initiative" - why not this one? And the class has a luck-mechanic...why not use it for a more unique twist on the deed?) and 19th level nets the 3 default deeds.

2nd level provides uncanny dodge and nimble (yawn), 1/2 class level to Disable Device and Perception, with 6th level unlocking the option to take 10 for these, even if under duress. The level also provides a +1 dodge bonus to AC while wearing light or no armor, which increases by +1 every 4 levels thereafter. The example is incorrect: The bonus caps at 18th level at +5, not at 20th level. 3rd level nets trap sense.

4th level, the class tries to do something unique and fails to grasp the ramifications: AoE spells and effects no longer affect any objects these guys are carrying and objects they carry can no longer be the target or spells or effects. No caster level check, no scaling, nothing. Flat-out no dice. See, the whole Mt. Doom thing would have been so easy...Frodo just should have taken 4 levels in that class.

5th level nets Lore Master (10 on Knowledge checks, 1/day take 20 as a standard action, +1 per every 6 levels to a maximum of 3/day), 6th level provides evasion, 10th jack of all trades, 16th improved uncanny dodge and 20th level, as a fitting (and cool) capstone, these guys may freely handle artifacts, automatically fulfilling their requirements and even have the chance to know how to destroy them!

The pdf closes with a sample level 7 character - as a nitpick: It's Cha, not "Chr".

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are okay - I noticed a couple of minor hiccups, but, as a whole, this is still okay. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports two nice full-color artworks. The pdf has no bookmarks, which constitutes a comfort-detriment.

Robert Gresham's Eldritch Archeologist is a decent variant gunslinger that wants to be basically Indiana Jones- the class. The good news first: It kinda achieves that goal. Kinda. It does not grant the whip-feats you'd expect. It doesn't net you gunslinging. Its story-abilities, with the imho OP flat-out immunity at 4th level, which just asks to break some adventure plots doa good job at depicting the gunslinging archeologist. Kind of. The absence of gunsmith and the lack of a gun at first level...kinda sucks. It inherits the issues of a full BAB-class...and while its ample skill bonuses mean that you can be a pretty decent sage, the one flexible ability is based on Cha, making the class very MAD (multiple attribute dependant) - without making the components really come together. The luck-mechanic at first level could easily tie in with deeds for a more interesting gameplay; deeds could actually be unique and offer some item-interaction...but no. Apart from a precious few exceptions, you'll notice that pretty much all rules-relevant components have been done before.

This is not a complex hybrid, a savage, a deadeye hexer or a bloodrager type class - it is a hybrid that took different parts and smashed them together. It's not bad per se...but it's literally design-work most GMs could do. It's also a class that feels a bit all over the place: To excel at the mental pursuits, you need Int high; for luck Cha...for ranged combat Dex...and Con would be nice as well. MAD classes like this need some synergy, some rewards for different focuses and I can't see this one delivering that. I don't really see the bardic aspect and the luck doubling as a performance leads to all kinds of weird questions regarding masterpieces, feats with the prereq, etc., as bardic performance potentially affects multiple targets.

The archeologist's ability never specifies what or whom it precisely affects "giving him" implies single target, though, which generates aforementioned weirdness. Anyways, the class is better than the parapsychologist...but frankly not by much. I can see some value in this for inexperienced GMs who have a player who wants to play Indy. Experienced GMs and designers, though, can quite possibly do a better job with the concept. My final verdict will clock in at 2.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Eldritch Archeologist, Hybrid Class
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Publisher Reply:
I'm sorry this one missed the mark for you. The feedback is extremely helpful and will definitely be considered during revision. Thank you for your review!
Treasury of Winter
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/20/2016 11:18:03

An Endzeitgeist.com review of teh revised version

This collection of magic items, intended (though not exclusively!) for use with the Reign of Winter AP clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page ToC, 1 page introduction, 3 pages of advertisements, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 15 pages of content, so let's take a look at what we can find here!

We begin this collection with a handy list of items by price, covering the span between 1400 gp and massive 110,308 gp before going into the items by category; within each category, the items are organized alphabetically, just fyi.

We begin this pdf thus with armors, the first of which would be the glitterfrost buckler: When confronted with foes that feature gaze attacks, you can peer through it and thus gain a bonus to saves: Pretty cool: You can expend uses of its blinding property to reflect gazes back at attackers as an immediate action, though a target has to be within 20 feet to be affected thus. Still, pretty neat concept and execution. The next armor, the gorynych scale has its properties not italicized in the text. Really cool in its visuals, it allows you to not only gain all-around vision via its 3-headed dragon-designs, you can also command the pauldrons and helm that resemble dragons to emit cones of flame...and yes, even combine the blasts, now with properly codified activation actions. Winterbark Warding allows creatures wearing it to gain woodland stride and protects them from cold climates as well as granting DR 5/- versus attacks executed by plants or via wooden weapons and the DR also applies against plant-themed spells like spike growth et al. The pdf goes for weaponry next - a total of 5 are provided. The first of these, the Bogatyr Blade...is uncharacteristically opaque for Legendary Games: "When attacked by a creature using a rage effect, including magical effects as well as exceptional abilities..." What are exceptional abilities? Does bloodrage count? Isn't that supposed to be extraordinary? Anyway, the blade provides minor morale bonuses versus such targets as well as against swarms and troops. Pretty cool: You may change its shape as a standard action - into other weapons...or even a pebble. I really like that idea. The Diamondice Dagger can suppress cold resistance/immunity on critical hits and dispel such defenses granted by magic. Multiple critical hits in a given round actually render this ability more potent, which is a pretty cool (haha) catch. Really amazing: weapons with the frost or icy burst abilities can be sharpened by using this dagger as a whetstone as a full-round action, granting them keen edge for 1 minute. Even cooler: You may jam the dagger into snowy or frosty terrain, duplicating spike growth or spike stones respectively...and if you leave the dagger planted, the AoE increases...I love that concept-wise.

The Scythian Saber is intended for cavalry and lets you, on critical hits, perform a swift overrun, with the chance of adding an attack by the mount. Pretty nice. The Snowball Sling is less efficient in warmer climates, but the snowballs it creates may burst on critical hits in potentially dazzling and fatiguing splashes...which is an idea I can totally get behind. The Tiger's Fang may switch sizes between being a +1 keen returning shortspear and a dagger and is particularly unpleasant versus feline or partially feline creatures, gaining bane's effects versus these as well as minor defensive bonuses versus foes damaged before during the day.

Next up would be a single ring, the Unseelie Solitaire, which can duplicate frigid/calcific touch, but only versus living creatures with blood, but with the potential of rendering the victims into solid blocks of ice! Fey wearing it also gain a massive bonus to Disguise to look like winter-touched fey, which can be incredibly useful, particularly since it gets the spell-interaction right. Two rods are up next: The Phosgene Flail, which can duplicate nasty cloud-based spells (you know, like acid fog, cloudkill...) 1/day and congeal these into a special weapon (+1 brilliant energy corrosive) that may sicken foes, then nauseate and finally suffocate them! I love this rod. The second rod would be the Snowstone Scepter which lets you see through cold-based weather, increases cold spell potency and even lets you see through solid sheets of ice and snow, x-ray style. Really cool: The wielder may cloud items in obscuring rime and 2/day transmute stone to snow and vice versa or even harden them. Oh, and it has spells. I love this one.

Unless I have miscounted, the pdf also sports 26 wondrous items: A bearskin cape enhances your combat maneuvers and nets scent as well as limited wild shaping; there is a blizzard in a bottle that may absorb cold spells and then be thrown or opened to unleash the winter's force it has collected. Damn cool (and with a really nice artwork)! Rapping on a calf bone properly enchanted can bring forth a Calfbone Man, who is basically a modified, more potent servant with extremely cool taboos...absolutely glorious and suffuses with folklore. The Candle Crown generates warmth, decreases nearby wind severity and actually produces goodberries that also help to ward off hypothermia and frostbite.

The Dancing Reed Flute can force others to dance, while the Diamond of Everwinter protects and sustains its wielder from the elements and even absorb damage incurred. Mythic wearers may also increase the potency and options available via this one and new tiers gained actually provide new abilities - cool! The entrenching spade is amazing, allowing the wielder to excavate holes fast...and even leave trenches behind as they move. Love it! I also like the visuals of the Feyfrost Brush, which lets you paint with frost, generating pictures, marks and exert a bit of terrain control, though the mechanics here are a bit opaque - the mention of skill checks implies that its effects are skill-based, when they actually aren't....if they're supposed to be skill-based, then the DCs would be missing. Not sure either way. Feed that grants animals flight (yup, including dragged vehicles) and the Foxfire Stole, dimly sentient and capable of animating as a fire elemental, are two winners, though the latter lacks its weight. Glass Skates similarly are very cool and may leave behind ice floes. I absolutely adore Hill Seeds, which may cause the land to rise. Halters that bestow the cold subtype on animals, while the Icon of Timeless Faith can duplicate various spell-effects for divine casters, with unique modifications for e.g. the spiritual ally. Very cool: mediums and spiritualists get alternate benefits! The invader's bugle is a nasty military horn that can generate freezing sludge and animate the dead...you were asking for a proper trench nightmare? There you go!

Bracers that duplicate iron body and make weapons count as metal and a minor buff/debuff-producing censer are solid. The Pelisse of the Light Brigade lacks its weight and is particularly effective versus ranged attacks and is more efficient for users with mounted Combat. A Servant Samovar can conjure forth friendly house spirits, while another helps versus possession. The Shawl of the Snowbird is pretty great, helping you pass off as birds when polymorphed and also featuring the option of a hypnotic dance and limited, reflexive discorporation into a swirling mass of feathers 1/day. I LOVE the visuals! The sledge of the bear needs to be commanded in the language of bears (i.e. via speak with animals), but may enhance its harnessed creature and change its shape. So cool! Using a matryoshka to safeguard a soul from negative energy, possession etc. similarly is very, very neat. The Toy Soldier's Ushanka is diminutive, but lets the wearer transform into such a tiny form...oh, and while in this form, you may project your being into other nearby toy soldiers. This is basically an instant-puzzle-boss waiting to happen. Love it. The Threefold Crown nets threefold aspect at will, with hexes granted depending on aspect chosen...and lacks weight. The wire tangler, finally, would basically be instant-barbed wire.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are, on a rules-language level very good and now, in the revised version, the formal glitches have been eliminated with extreme prejudice. Layout adheres to the nice, aesthetically-pleasing two-column full-color standard for Reign of Winter plug-ins. The pdf sports a couple of nice full-color artworks and comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Jason Nelson and Victoria Jaczko deliver my favorite treasury in LG's whole catalog here. I absolutely LOVE the vast majority of the items and adore how they use tropes of folklore, unique twists and generate an incredibly flavorful collection of items. While the original iteration sported several unpleasant hiccups due to something, somewhere, going wrong, the revised iteration is absolutely glorious. Bereft of any serious hiccups, my final verdict for the revised edition will be upgraded to the 5 stars + seal of approval. Get these items!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Treasury of Winter
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A Green Jewel They Must Possess
Publisher: Kort'thalis Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/20/2016 11:09:13

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first stand-alone module for the rules-light Outer Presence role-playing game clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, leaving us with 9 pages of content, so let's take a look!

Before we dive into the meat and grit of the module, we are introduced with a 20-entry strong table of character subplots for PCs - whether en route towards a bad drug-habit, PTSD getting worse or having been diagnosed with terminal cancer, there is a stressor back in the PC's mind. It is autumn in Chicago, sometime during the 1970s and the second concept to determine would be how the PCs are aligned with Ezra Jackson, their employer in this adventure.

It is him they'll meet in a seedy restaurant...and it is here that I will need to get into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

...

..

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Only GMs left? Great! Ina recent excavation in what would become Syria, a strange sphere of unknown material was unearthed; the archaeologists died due to strange circumstances and the sphere was shipped to America. Ezra opens a musty tome, Intrusions from the Outside and notes that the object may have been a present to the high priest of the Outer Gods, one Azran at-Ra. Now here's where the PCs come in - Ezra wants them to help him liberate the sphere from the Chicago Museum of Antiquities...and if the PCs seem hesitant, he'll note that another group may want the sphere...and who knows what these guys may want to do with it, right?

Now, which is pretty nice in spite of the brevity of the module, we actually get some nice information the PCs unearth via investigation and the heist. The opposition of the players would be Theta Chartreuse, a splinter group of a certain paramilitary anti-mythos organization (cough Delta Green /cough) who serves the dark; said foes may try to employ sorcery to steal it if mundane means fail. Ezra may well be killed or kidnapped, but the trail still remains and adept investigators may find out about Ezra's dark secret past...but ultimately, the trail leads to an occult bookshop, where a sorceror called Arnold Strangle may or may not remain amid the living - but the main task will be to keep the indestructible sphere out of the master of Theta Chartreuse, one nasty sorceror named Von Zos....but that leaves the issue of the dread (and lethal) sphere...so how to contain it? Well, the PCs will have to find out how themselves... have I mentioned the paintings that may generate sudden, emotional shifts? Well, there are some nice little vignettes here.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to an aesthetically-pleasing two-column standard that is pretty printer-friendly and pleasing to the eye - the slight green and blood-splotch-like stains are neat! The pdf comes with several, nice and original b/w-artworks. The pdf comes with excessive bookmarks for your convenience.

Venger As'Nas Satanis' module here builds upon the pulpy atmosphere established in "The Outer Presence" and is, actually in my book, the better module - it is more structured in its themes and narrative and tells its story well. It makes for a nice, fast-play pulp module with dark themes. Much like "The Outer Presence", it is not horror in my book, but rather a fun, pulp module that employs classic horror tropes - it's not scary, but it makes for a fun game. The module does well what it sets out to do and generates a solid atmosphere.

At the same time, the module does not do anything radically novel or beyond its usual genre tropes - it is a good module, a nice genre-piece, but do not expect to be totally blown away. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 for the purpose of the platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
A Green Jewel They Must Possess
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The Ferryport Adventures - The Dead Gulch
Publisher: Lone Wanderer Entertainment
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/20/2016 11:06:24

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This is the second part of the "Return of the Fey"-AP set in the world of Dark Return (previously known by the elven name, Uteria) and clocks in at 99 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 94 pages of content, so let's take a look!

It should be noted, though, that not all parts of this book are module-material; the final 26 pages are devoted to the "Tome of the Arts" - a guide to magic in the setting. If you are not interesting in that, please skip below to the review.

Since this aspect is pretty much bereft of spoilers, I will begin here: After several well-written in character letters, we are introduced to different groups of casters and a general history. Magic has only recently returned to the lands, and as such, it is considered to be rare. Spells are not cast via a vancian method; instead, spellcasters have a mana pool that increases at every level, depending on the spellcaster's caster level. The system also assumes that you can choose the respective spellcasting attribute. You take a look at the second table, which codifies bonus mana by governing attribute and add that to the caster level base. Simple, right? Nope. Unfortunately, the pdf fails to talk, in any way, about how feats and abilities that influence CL interact with this subsystem. It also fails to take multiclassing into account. There are plenty of options to gain full CL when multiclassing; in the instance where you take away the spell slot mechanics, this full upgrade suddenly nets you a ton of mana. At least RAW, there is nothing to prevent that.

Spells do not need to be prepared in advance and mana is regained after resting. The Dark Return is an E8, gritty world and as such, spell levels cap at level 4, character advancement at level 8. Spell levels have a base mana cost: Cantrips cost 0 mana, 1st level spells 1; every additional spell level increases this cost by +2. However, the system behaves somewhat like psionics in that it rewires spells to behave only at minimum efficiency if they are dealing some sort of damage. (The wording here is awkward.) Damage-dealing spells can be powered by spending additional mana: Each point spent increases the CL, but only for the purpose of dealing damage, not other parameters. Unfortunate wording issue: The rules-language notes "increase" and "damage dice" in the same sentence to refer to such escalations; unfortunately, this usually refers to e.g. d6s becoming d8s, rendering this aspect of the book a bit obtuse. Your level doubles as the cap of the maximum amount of mana you can pump into a spell.

The pdf covers metamagic and also basically takes a cue from Dark Sun by having the "focusing and ravaging" - mechanic: If you run out of mana, you have these two options. Focusing requires that you succeed a concentration check versus DC 15 + spell cost; on a failure, you take Mental fatigue damage. On a 1, you accidentally ravage instead - which should account for ample of mistrust towards basically any caster. It should be noted than 10 ranks in Spellcraft supposedly help and end the chance, but the rules seem to not be presented in too concise a manner here.

Mental Fatigue behaves pretty much like nonlethal damage, with the notable exception that it cannot be healed by magical means. For as long as you have at least one point of Mental fatigue, you're fatigued. Resting eliminates all Mental Fatigue, but, alas the precise way in which this works still is too opaque and pretty clunky: Are separate totals tracked for regular nonlethal damage and Mental Fatigue? No idea. If not, how do they interact? Is Mental Fatigue permanent or does it regenerate like regular nonlethal damage? What if you already are fatigued? Do you become exhausted? So yeah, unfortunately, that aspect, as far as I'm concerned, is non-operational.

Ravagers, much like Dark Sun's defilers, instead draw magical energy from living beings in the vicinity. When they cast a spell via ravaging, either a) all living creatures within 10 feet take the spell's mana cost as "physical damage". (Does that mean bludgeoning? Piercing? Slashing?) or b) all creatures with spell's cost times 10 feet take 1 "damage" - again, not properly typed. If said damage is supposed to be "physical", does it count as magic for the purpose of overcoming DR? Ravaging does not require concentration, but you still roll a d20: On a 1, you cause damage to yourself equal to the mana-cost of "the failed spell" - which seems to indicate that a 1 means failure here. Again, from a didactic point of view, that needs to be clearer. Ravaging is an evil act and, as an optional rule, you start suffering from some nasty physical changes of a cosmetic nature when engaging in the practice. It should be noted that RAW, the ravager takes damage when ravaging - clearly not intentional, but that would open another bag of worms regarding spellcasting. Again, alas, the ravaging system's not operational.

The pdf recognizes two spellcasting classes: Wylders and Luminars. Wylders receive 3/4 BAB-progression, d8 HD, good Fort- and Will-saves as well as proficiency with simple weapons, light armor, medium armor and shields, except tower shields. They still suffer from spell failure chance when wearing armor and shield, though. Odd: The description noted dropping shields to avoid spell failure, which implies that the act of dropping the shield can end it for armor as well: RAI is clear, but RAW...not so much. Interesting: They have no spell book and instead learn spells by committing them to their memory, allowing for the learning of spells on sight. They also get the option to generate wild bursts of magic. The rules-language here, alas, violates pretty much all tenets and conventions: "You must succeed a ranged touch attack +2. It causes 1d4+1 points of damage, doubling in power every 2 levels. It is a force effect." That is part of the ability's "Rules"-language. All right, I'll play. Ranged touch attack +2 - is that fixed? Does it substitute the ranged attack's attack bonus with +2? What type of bonus? What does "doubling in power" mean? Is the progression 1d4 +1 -> 2d4+2 -> 4d4+4 or does "doubling" here follow PFRPG's usual rules for doubling, which only ever comes up in threat ranges? Broken mess. The damage, for a force effect, is supposed to be force damage, not untyped. Have I mentioned the other ability that suddenly talks about ice, water and wind damage, none of which exist in PFRPG? Does not work as written.

The Luminar gets 1/2 BAB-progression, a non-standard Fort-progression, good Will-saves and proficiency with club, dagger, heavy + light crossbow as well as quarterstaff. Their HD are based on a training path - and guess what? The training paths fail to specify that. The class is supposed to e a catch-all for wizards, druids and clerics, but frankly, I am not going to dignify it with a full taking apart of the mechanics. They are not up to par.

Speaking of which: Advancement for legacy weapons, armor, etc. is provided...and there is frankly NO REASON to screw up that aspect. Both Purple Duck Games and Rite Publishing have fully functional systems for such weapons that exceed in precision and usability the sloppy basics we get here, which fail to articulate what type the respective benefits supposedly are and just presents a linear, boring conglomerate of brief tables that provide no variance or versatility. The chapter concludes with a list of spells available in Uteria.

Alack and alas, the spellcasting system is pretty much STILL a total and unmitigated mess.

All right, let's take a look if the adventure-section of the book fares better, shall we? The following is the adventure-review part, so from here on out, the SPOILERS reign. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

...

..

.

All right, still here? Great! The PCs have been doing some odd jobs in the aftermath of module #1 (which also depicts Ferryport -without access to said module, the backdrop of this one is a bit more opaque) and we begin with the PCs taking a couple of bandits in custody - preferably alive. After this, we immediately kick off with a job offer: The PC's contact Garamond has recommended them to a druid-ally, who asks them to ascertain the whereabouts of the missing Lord Resly, last seen in the vicinity of the circus that has come to town. Investigating the manor of Resly can yield some hints, as can further inquiring in town, but sooner or later, the PCs are expected to check out the circus. A nice note: Traveling to and fro from the circus can yield an easy encounter on the road, which GMs can use to steer the PCs towards the next phase of the module.

The circus itself, however, is pretty much the star here: In the hands of a capable GM, this whole section's NPCs can pretty much present a great panorama of interactions in this free-form section of the module. Some fixed encounters and some optional ones provide a structure, but it is the cadre of NPCs, with excessive background information, adventure hooks, hang-outs, rumors and clues they can divulge that render this part of the module interesting to play. The NPCs are certainly the stars here, for while they do not come with stats of the like (which will make Sense Motive etc. awkward), their ample characterizations go above and beyond what you can usually find in a d20-based module and certainly represent one of the highlights of the book. Indeed, one could argue that they ultimately make for great dressing-scavenging. That being said, this may be as good a place as any to note that, annoyingly, skill-references generally are not properly capitalized herein.

Ultimately, the hints gathered should point the PCs toward the local cemetery and the eponymous dead gulch, where the tomb of the Resly family sports a simple trap-puzzle (with a visual representation) and a brief dungeon, wherein boggards await as well as Resly - who has brought a siren (or sirin? the book's inconsistent there) back, while unsuccessfully trying to resurrect his wife. Maddened by grief, his devotion is absolute - but no matter how the PCs deal with the subject at hand, his fate is sealed - he seems to have had an accomplice among the folk of the circus and indeed, Rosaga similarly seems to have wanted to bring back her love...foiling her plans and ritual will be a challenging task as well...

...and frankly, with the storm and tensions rising, the PCs may have to calm down a mob. However, the spirit form of sirin is nigh-indestructible and to defeat her, the PCs will have to encircle her body with salt and then pierce her heart with a silver weapon. Which is an amazing type of potential encounter and frankly something I've been using, a lot, in various games of mine. To get to her, the PCs will have to brave a challenging dungeon that includes several disturbing vermin-things, boggards and worse, rendering them pretty spent when they encounter the dread entity. That being said, the lack of rules for actually generating the circle of salt and the like, while feasible in a home-brew, make for a less compelling case in a published module. A GM basically has to take note on how to handle that specific aspect.

The pdf also provides 7 pregens for levels 2 and 3 each, all of which come with notes on background, etc. as well as ideas for further adventuring. Finally, we do get a nice glossary.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, on a formal level, are very good. On a rules-level, they are unsatisfactory. Layout adheres to a nice, two-column full-color standard. The artworks deserve special mention here: They are gorgeous, often coming with full-page, hand-out-style drawings that really make them shine. Cartography is pretty CGI-y and is the one detracting factor from an aesthetic point of view: While the remainder of the book adheres to this lavish, old-school vibe with its gorgeous art, copious read-aloud texts and visual elements, these feel a bit off. That wouldn't be an issue per se, but the lack of player-friendly, key-less versions is a comfort detriment as far as I'm concerned. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Users of electronic devices should note that this is a pretty big file, at over 90 MBs.

The Dead Gulch, Michael Bielaczyc, Shonn Everett and Cameron Tomele's investigation with circus-theme, is ultimately one of the modules that does not make my job easy. You see, this book, for me as a person, hits pretty much all the right notes: A ton of lovingly crafted multi-facetted characters you want to interact with, some nice, seriously free-form interaction/investigation, a bit of puzzles, a challenging dungeon - this hits all the right notes and pretty much feels like a module I'd craft/run in my main campaign. In short, it hits all my personal preferences and aesthetics dead center. I like the module depicted here and for the low price point, it IS a steal, even if you only scavenge the dressing.

That being said, while this book gets the artistry of adventure crafting down, it fails in the craftsmanship aspect. The statblocks of even CR 1/2 and similar simple critters sport glitches. We don't get stats for those amazingly detailed characters, formatting-conventions are flaunted left and right and the less said about the spellcasting system in the back, the better.

In short: This desperately needed an editor or developer who knows the system and its semantic and syntax. Time and again, the wonky rules get in the way; time and again even the most basic of rules-language components are mishandled. This against the backdrop of what otherwise would be a most compelling, evocative and artful investigation, to me is jarring. This is, in short, an excellent module that could have made the 5 stars + seal easily, but it is hamstrung by its own, wholly avoidable shortcomings. As per the writing of this review, this module is ridiculously inexpensive and as such, definitely worth checking out, particularly if you're a semi-experienced GM who knows how to run an investigative sandbox. Let me reiterate: I can literally fix this module's issues while playing it...but I can't rate it based on what I can do. I have to rate this as presented, and as presented, it is, unfortunately found wanting from the craftsmanship perspective. Even when ignoring the horrid spellcasting-system-appendix, the module still fails to realize its potential for excellence. I like it. As a person.

As a person, I value and cherish the complex cadre of circus-characters, the art and the ideas herein.

But as a reviewer, I cannot turn a blind eye towards the pronounced flaws this has. If mechanical perfection and copious crunch or precise and correct builds are what you expect, I'd steer clear here; the mechanical aspects of this module are in the 1 - 2-star-range.

At the same time, the non-mechanical aspects of the module very much are evocative and enticing and the extremely fair price point also makes this a valid scavenging ground. hence, ultimately, my final verdict will clock in at 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
The Ferryport Adventures - The Dead Gulch
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Crawthorne's Catalog of Creatures: Ioun Eater
Publisher: Misfit Studios
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/20/2016 11:04:17

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Crawthorne's Catalog of Creatures series clocks in at 5 pages - the front cover contains the header, creature artwork and the social media icons/homepage of misfit studios as well as some introductory text. The SRD takes up 1 1/3 pages and the editorial is in a sidebar - to get all the material you thus have to print out the cover with the icons and part of the SRD as well.

Diminutive goat-headed constructs, these creatures want to eat ioun stones - once they have one, they can eat it as a standard action, gaining its benefits. They can sense ioun stones, can be repaired (and self-repair when ingesting the proper stone) and spit them at foes, shattering them on impact, inflicting bleeding wounds. Their spiked skin also nets them a defensive, retributive skin that deals damage to those that hit it unarmed or via natural weapons. They come with construction requirements.

It is pretty cool to see that these guys gain size via abilities...but, alas, we get not statblocks for such advanced ion eaters and have to do the math ourselves.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good on both a formal and rules-language level - though the flavor text has a typo, confusing "green" with "greed" and e.g. a plural glitch or two. Layout adheres to the 2-column full-color standard of the series and while I'm not big on the social icons and dispersal of non-gaming parts through the pdf, from an aesthetic point of view, there is not much to complain about. The pdf comes with the classic Crawthorne-artwork as well as the solid ioun eater artwork. The pdf comes with a second, more printer-friendly iteration, which is nice to see. The book has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

I like the idea of these guys. In practice, though, Spike Y Jones' critters would all starve (they're constructs, so they wouldn't die) and still go extinct faster than you can say: "Natural selection would screw these guys over." Why? Look at the rules for diminutive creatures. Think of maximum heights when jumping. Guess what? These guys can't jump very high if you remember that and use it still. Otherwise, they can jump like fleas. They also can't climb. And no, the flavor text notwithstanding, they cannot fly. Even if no predators kill them, they just, RAW, have a VERY hard time getting anywhere near their food-source, which is wont to orbiting the heads of the titans called humanoids. This renders them a nuisance at best and a badly designed critter at worst that is hampered by one of the rougher sections of how small sizes and moving into hostile squares works. In short, even if your reading of the rules ignores the convention of maximum sizes for high jumps, they still will get whacked.

Thankfully, I don't have to elaborate on this particular clusterf*** of rules regarding AoOs, Acrobatics, etc. - and simply point out the fact that, no matter how you interpret the whole complex, the poor Ioun Eater still can't reach his nom. A good idea, flawed in execution, I can't go higher than 2 stars on this one.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Crawthorne's Catalog of Creatures: Ioun Eater
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Castle Falkenstein
Publisher: R. Talsorian Games Inc.
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/19/2016 09:27:03

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive RPG clocks in at 226 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 2 pages of editorial/ToC, leaving us with 221 pages of content, so let's take a look!

So, what is Castle Falkenstein? In short, it is one diceless pioneer of the pioneers of both Neo-Victorianism and steampunk-aesthetics. The year if 1870 in an allotopia of our own world and it, unlike the literary genres, does not necessarily take a grim or even dark approach to the era: Instead, it very much embraces a fantastic glorification of the good, high life or the upstanding, virtuous epitome of the age of enlightenment before the cynicism and disillusion of fin de siècle and modernism set in.

Castle Falkenstein's take on a fantastic, steampunk world does assume the existence of dragons, faerie lords and an enlightened New Europa with an economy driven by steam and magic. PCs are called dramatic characters and the game, being diceless, is a relatively narrative-driven experience. Instead of dice, Castle Falkenstein employs cards. The system, as a whole, is very concise to the minutest detail - why no dice? Gentlemen and ladies use cards, not proletarian dice, obviously! So, if you expect to play the plight of the common man, then this will not necessarily deliver; instead, the focus of this system lies in depicting the gentleman scholar; the daring lady, the fey lord, where swords and weaponry clash in the name of high romance, a fantastic iteration of Jane Austen, as seen through Midsummer Night's Dream.

This emphasis of clean cut heroes and villains is represented in the book, for you are asked during character creation if you're good or evil. No neutrality, no shades of gray; this is about absolutes. Character sheets are small notebooks, intended to be filled out by the characters as they explore the fantastic world and a generous list of questions allows you to further and more clearly define the character you are creating.

Castel Falkenstein, as a stand-alone, features a total of 20 abilities - you choose skills that have ratings; one of these will be "Great", four will be "Good" and one "Poor" - all other skills remain at the rating "Average". These ratings basically double as a kind of bonus. To determine success of an action, you draw a card from a standard deck (you only need two of those to play) and add your rating. Simple, right?

Well, let's talk a second about the deck: The suite determines the type of challenge the card can be used for: Spades cover social challenges, also those pertaining to status; Hearts deals with emotional challenges (so basically empathy, sanity, relating, etc.); Diamonds are used for intellectual/scientific challenges and Clubs are used for physical challenges. Playing an appropriate card allows you to add the face card value to the respective challenge. When using a wrong suite for the task, you only add 1. If you e.g. tried to understand a complex engine about to blow and played a hearts-card, you'd only add +1. If you played a 6 of diamonds, you'd add +6 instead! So make sure you play your cards right!

As an aside, this system results in players, quite naturally, oscillating between the various types of skills: You will not find the traditional class-skill-dispersal in the game: Soldiers will use social skills, ladies will engage in physical pursuits, etc. - as an aside here: The lamentable sexism and unpleasant stance towards the fair sex in our historical Victorian age does not extend to the reality of Castle Falkenstein, explaining a more enlightened stance towards women as the logical result of fey ladies et al.

Back to cards: Face cards also have values assigned: Jacks clock in at 11 and every step beyond that adds +1 to the value, with aces trumping kings at 14 points and jokers delivering a whopping 15 points. Castel Falkenstein recognizes 5 levels of skill success: Fumbles happen when you have half or less of the required number; failures denote less than the required number. Partial success means you beat the number; full success when you exceed the target number by half or more and high successes exceed the target number required by double. Each player only holds 4 cards and the same holds true for the Host, the term employed for the GM...and all draw from the same deck.

Sorcery is working in a similar fashion and makes use of the second deck, but the suite in question here determines the type of magical effect the cards resonate with. Drawing more cards takes time to gather up energy and playing a wrong type of card can "taint" the respective final manifestation of the effect in question.

If that sounds opaque, let's take a look at an example, shall we?

All sorcerers belong to a Sorcerous Order. You have access to the Lore of that order. Unlike many fantasy systems, you don't have set spells that you memorize and then cast. Spells involve research and the cost is highly variable depending on a varied array of parameters, and you can only start gathering energy to cast a spell once you've determined these parameters.

Let's say you are part of the Illuminated Brotherhood and wish to use their Lore Simple Geas to exert control over someone. It has a base Thaumic Energy Requirement of 4. You would need to work out your Definitions, so Duration - how long do you want them to be under your control, the Range you'd need, how many people you'd want to affect, how well you know them, etc. In other words, with the same Lore, you could craft a spell that would enspell your significant other for a few seconds to engage in some nasty household chore, or one that would let you exert a massive amount of control over a vast array of strangers, forming them into a temporary army - but they would have wildly different Energy requirements. With the first of those, let's say you want it to last for 5 minutes, that adds 2; simple adds 1; touch adds 1; single subject affected adds 1; subject is mortal adds 1; know subject well adds 1. This results in a total of 11, from which we'd subtract your Good sorcery of 6 to bring us back down to 5. After determining this value, you'd begin drawing cards from the sorcery deck. The Aspect of this spell is Hearts. Any heart card you draw adds its value, any other CAN add 1 point of "unaligned energy", but using unaligned energy will add harmonic effects. You could also "release" an unaligned card (rules-language for returning it to the deck) and redraw, so if you are prepared to take more time, you can gather purely aligned energy - but if you are in a hurry, you might have to a take a risk with harmonics and the taint they add to the manifestation.

Combat resolution, ultimately, is working in a similar manner, with the amount of damage dealt being based on the weapon as well as the level of success of the respective attack; If you expect to take more than 3-4 good hits, then this will not be perfect for you; this is very much an allotopia, which means that characters, ultimately, are fragile. However, at the same time, there probably won't be too much PC-death: Much like the romanticized novels and literature, killing blows need to be declared. This, btw., also brings me to the subject of gender: If you're not playing a heroic woman and rather a lady, you'll rather be disabled by swooning, intense social confrontation, etc. - some of my female friends enjoyed this, while others...well, didn't, though these still had the chance to play other characters.

Anyways, there also would be the duel-engine, which works radically different from regular combat: The two characters have a hand of six cards: Two black, two red, two faces. Faces represent rests, black cards defense and red card offense, with the Fencing skill determining how often a character must rest after an exchange. A defense card automatically negates an offense card; an offense card unopposed by a defense card results in a hit. The pdf provides concise rules for the dueling experience, including weapons-changes, movements, etc. - interesting: When you trick foes into defending while you are resting, you have feinted them. While it may look cumbersome to have special dueling rules and while that means that other PCs will be waiting, it is an interesting fact that you can pretty easily live action simulate a duel fought via the card system, which can make for a truly interesting experience.

Speaking of which: The experience of reading and playing Castle Falkenstein are pretty different from what you usually receive. For one, the book's narrative framework follows Tom Olam, a computer game designer who was magickally abducted to the reality of Castle Falkenstein; as such, we read about how DaVinci's devices changed the worlds, how accords with the fey were made (you can actually play fey and there is a TON of fey influence here!), how King Ludwig did not lose the battle of Königgrätz and how that affects e.g. the way in which Bismarck is seen.

The latter aspects are particularly hilarious to me: I live about 2.5 hours from Schloss Neuschwanstein, grew up with tales of the mad king and in history classes, we learned, in detail, how Bismarck pretty much was a voice of pragmatic reason in an insane German political landscape. The attention to detail given to this magical, steampunk alternative to our own world is frankly impressive: From proper ways of addressing people of different social orders to dressing the part and even proper nomenclature, the book provides a level of detail and logical cohesion that is amazing to just soak up: When e.g. dashing Marianne first opens her corset when getting ready to duel, you can almost see the lighter, more fantastic pre-Penny Dreadful steampunk age of enlightenment and sophistication come to light. It's like reading Ford Madox Ford's "The Good Soldier" minus all the cynicism and breakdowns and the inevitable all turning sour. Castle Falkenstein is fantastic in the truest sense, with Bayern fielding its own aeronavy, uniforms with their own designs and the influence of the dwarven people being just as pronounced as that of the fey.

It should also be noted that a short 3-page introduction scenario is included, set in, where else, Vienna. It is very hard to properly encapsulate the experience of reading Castle Falkenstein within the confines of a review, mainly because the less tangible components of this game are what makes it shine - the attention to detail, the imagination and love that went into the details of this book.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout is interesting: The first half of the book, the novel-section depicting the escapades of Tom Olan, is depicted in full-color, with artworks that make use of the aesthetics of period-piece artworks. The second half of the book is in b/w, contains the rules-information and is more aesthetically conservative. The electronic version of the book has a HUGE downside: The lack of bookmarks makes it basically impossible to efficiently use at the table: Get a print copy or print the pdf, otherwise you'll be in for a world of pain, particularly regarding the sorcery rules, at least in the beginning.

Michael Alyn Pondsmith's Castle Falkenstein is considered to be a classic of the steampunk genre and there is ample reason for that status. Unlike 90% of steampunk books and supplements I've read, it is not a loveless pastiche. It is not a book based on the futile attempts of making the reader feel clever for remembering some vague, hazy aspect of college-level history in another context. Instead, it is an exercise in expert world-crafting, where the very rules-system enforces, rather than detracts, from the immersion. The focus on high romance and the fantastic lend an angle of innocence to the whole proceedings that is downright refreshing: Instead of the grimdark sense of cataclysms we know from the fin-de-siècle and the 1920s, the emphasis here, unlike any gaslight-era setting I know of, lies on an impossible age of magical realism and chivalry in a very believable context. This does not mean that this is necessarily "unrealistic" or too b/w, mind you - instead, picture it a bit like the Victorian age equivalent of Prince Valiant comics (as an aside: The guy's called "Eisenherz" - literally "Ironheart" in German...much cooler!): I.e. you have a very resonant historic/mythological resonance, suffused with alternate concepts, but still very much and deeply rooted within the realities and possibilities of our own world.

In short: Castle Falkenstein is a phenomenal, captivating campaign setting and one that can depict e.g. comedies of manners just as easily as flying ship combats. This is, one of the very best steampunk settings/worlds I have ever read, regardless of whether you look at RPGs or at literature. Well, perhaps, you'd have to take away the "punk" aspect. Castle Falkenstein is neither gritty, nor grimy - it is a game of sophistication, manners, and as such, an exquisite delight - so steamsophistication would make for an more adept, if perhaps less catchy description.

That being said, the book, as amazing as it is, does have a couple of rough spots that a new edition, should we ever get to see one (which I ardently hope!), should clean up. The worst of the offenders being, frankly, organization. Castle Falkenstein, when you first open it, is a daunting proposal, intimidating even. Unlike e.g. Lords of Gossamer & Shadow and other diceless games I have played, the presentation of the rules frankly feels at times a bit obtuse: When you try to find out about e.g. rules for duels and first get an explanation of how everything works in a social context and in-game reality, that generally helps the sense of immersion, but locating the actual rules governing something can still be an exercise in frustration. Much like the often meandering prose of the age, Castle Falkenstein sometimes gets bogged down in evocative and captivating tidbits that inspire, yes, but that also detract from the playability of the game, in particular in the beginning.

My first session with the game was pretty problematic and, considering the high standards I have as a GM/Host, for my own ambitions, an unmitigated failure. This was mainly due to my own shortcomings, though: In order to play this game properly, I'd strongly suggest to have every player read this book. And make notes. It does not suffice to simply read it and guide the players through the process of character creation, particularly when sorcery's involved. In short: If your whole group is not prepared properly, the game can come to a grinding halt. So yes, rules-presentation is somewhat obtuse.

At the same time, once you DO have learned the rules (and they're not that hard...), the game offers an absolutely delightful playing experience that lends itself perfectly for dressing up, speaking in character and using all those hundreds of tidbits and knowledge you have gained from literature and history: Whether it's small facts from the lives of aristocracy, customs, or the tales of Jules Verne (yep, all historic personalities...did you know that Moriarty is sometimes in cahoots with Phileas Fogg?), from high adventure to comedies of manners and all in between, Castle Falkenstein delivers in a manner that is both heartwarming and amazing.

It is not the easiest game to learn; its lack of bookmarks sucks big time; but still, I can't help but love this world. It has so much heart and is so bereft of cynicism, so wondrous, that it makes for a fantastic experience to play. If you're lucky enough to have players that wholeheartedly embrace the aspect of ROLEplaying, that have the notion, knowledge and inclination of making evocative characters, doing their research, etc., then this is phenomenal. At the same time, Castle Falkenstein's appeal, more so than many an RPG's, is in my opinion based on the willingness and capability of immersing yourself and the group within its setting: If you have one player who just can't stay in character, who continuously blurts forth references to modern day life, who just can't get the appellations etc. right, you can make him a character from our world, stranded here...sure. But at least as far as I'm concerned, that somewhat detracts from the appeal of the world. Perhaps I am too elitist, but I can't picture anything more jarring. That is not to say you can't play like this, mind you: Frankly, you could go full-blown Bill & Ted with this, though personally, I think that would detract from the lovingly-crafted blending of historicity and fabulation.

How to rate this? Well, if you want to use the electronic version on a device...don't. 3.5 stars, at best. A core book sans bookmarks? Unacceptable and only good for being printed out. If you DO print it out, it becomes a whole different beast, though: Once you get past the somewhat rough start, once everyone has learned the rules and read the whole book (seriously recommended here!), then the game is absolutely amazing, evocative, captivating...a pure joy. On a formal level, the needlessly meandering and somewhat obtuse presentation of the rules is a big hurdle for the book, one that makes it suitable primarily for groups with some roleplaying experience already under their belt.

In the end, it is due to these structural hiccups and the lack of bookmarks that I cannot rate this book as highly as I'd like to - one of the two could be forgiven, but both, in conjunction, generate an overall unnecessary bump when learning the system. That being said, while my review cannot exceed a rating of 4 stars for this reason, Castle Falkenstein proves to be an exceedingly rewarding reading and playing experience that rewards those who manage to bypass the initial bump...and as such, it does receive my seal of approval. If you are looking for high adventure and chivalry and want a roleplaying system with a sensibility that rewards honor, virtue, etc. - this is exactly what you've been looking for!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Castle Falkenstein
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Psionics Augmented: Soulknives III
Publisher: Dreamscarred Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/19/2016 09:22:20

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The third expansion-pdf for the soulknife class clocks in at 14 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1/2 page blank, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 9.5 pages, though these pages are chock-full with text - and this time around, we look at a ton of PrCs...so what do we get?

After the obligatory introduction page, including the high-power-advice sidebar we know from the predecessors, we are introduced to the first of the PrCs, the Marvel. All PrCs herein cover the full 10 standard levels of PrCs.

The marvel, chassis-wise, receives d12 HD and receives 4 + Int skills per level as well as 9/10th manifester level progression, full BAB and 1/2 Fort-save progression. To qualify, you need to have the enhanced mind blade class feature as well as telekinetic athleticism, 2 psionic feats, one of which must be Psionic Body, the other an offense enhancer and the PrC also needs 5 ranks in two skills, 4 in a third, so qualification-wise, it is not too easy, nor too default to get into this one. The marvel, from level 1 out, continues to improve blade skills et al. as well as psychic warrior path abilities and trances. The PrC also adds Wisdom Modifier to Strength for the purpose of determining carrying capacity etc. and may throw rocks and objects that exceed the size limitations of the character. At 2nd level, while focused, the marvel receives a scaling bonus to natural AC and 3rd and 9th level provide psychic strike progression. 4th level nets fly speed 60 ft. with good maneuverability while psionically focused, up to class level + Wis-mod minutes per day. This limit is eliminated at 8th level, just fyi. 5th level nets DR 5/adamantine and 6th level a new blade skill. 7th level lets the character automatically overcome ANY DR while psionically focused (not a fan here). Tenth level increases DR to 10/-. and outsider apotheosis...and the marvel doesn't need to maintain psionic focus any more.

I like the marvel - it is a cool rendition of the psionic/telekinetic superhero-type of character and while the DR-ignoring is something I'll tweak, I have no complaints pertaining the balance of this one. Kudos!

The second PrC herein would be the primarch, who needs to be able to generate a +3 mind blade enhancement, must be capable of throwing the mind blade and has a few skill, skill skill and feat prereqs - like the marvel, not to easy and not too hard to qualify for. The PrC gets d10 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, full BAB-progression, 1/2 Fort-save progression and psychic strike progression at both 3rd and 8th level. The PrC treats its level as soulknife levels for the purpose of blade skills etc. and the PrC and gifted blade support is included, if you're going for the high-psionics route. Interesting: The defining first level psychic epiphany class feature is defined by the blade skill used to qualify for the PrC: When qualifying via e.g. Ice Blade, your soulknife receives the frost weapon enhancement. The PrC may also, once per encounter as an immediate action, trade a blade skill for another one, a total of 3 + Wis-mod times. 4th level lets him trade out 2, 7th 3 and at 10th level, he gets a wildcard slot to be filled at the start of any given encounter. The trade lasts for 1 minute. One question: 4th and 7th level's additional trades: Are they included in the immediate action activation or not? As written, the ability sports no caveat that precludes you from using the ability multiple times in consecutive rounds, which makes the whole sequence a bit ambiguous.

2nd and 6th level provide new blade skills and 4th level further upgrades the power of the soulknife, following up on the 1st level ability; if you e.g. got the aforementioned frost improvement, you now increase damage and also get a related psi-like ability. Starting at 5th level, the primarch receives energy resistance or DR, depending on the element chosen, while retaining psionic focus and 10th level, further upgrades the sequence of blade-abilities with a cool capstone: For expenditure of both psychic strike and psionic focus, you can unleash some devastating psi-like abilities...or cause nasty Whirlwind bleeds. Neat!

The third PrC herein would be the Strategos, whose qualifying criteria require manifester level 5th as well as telepathy; it similarly is pretty easy to qualify for. The PrC gets d8 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB-progression, 1/2 Will-save progression, 9/10 manifester level progression. The PrC receives uncanny dodge at 4th level, improved uncanny dodge at 8th level and begin at 1st level with a collective. When using the metapsionic knife feat (which was one of the feats from PA: Soulknives II imho, power-level-wise, would be closer to a class feature than a feat...), the PrC may expend psychic strike in lieu psionic focus to deliver power effects through the mindblade. The PrC retains mind blade and blade skill efficiency progression of the soul knife and manifesting progression draws power from the tactician power list when choosing powers. 2nd level nets an insight bonus equal to the primary manifesting attribute modifier, capping at class level, versus foes in range of telepathy, but only versus foes whose surface thoughts he can read. Unique: The PrC may lend mind blades to allies (reducing the enhancement bonus of the blade) and he may also treat an ally's position as his own, using blade skills to attack through allies, which makes for a very interesting playing experience.

Starting at 3rd level, the PrC gains a collective skill, with every odd level thereafter granting an additional collective skill. These allow for the lending of mind armors or shields, swapping places with allies and charge the collective with his psychic strike, allowing allies to use the psychic strike charge as part of a free action. Interesting: Allies with psychic strike may also recharge a collective they're part of...which may be a bit strong if your players are wont to feature cohorts and the like. The maximum of 1 charge per collective, however, does retain balance for the ability. Beyond offensive and defensive buffs, the ability to add your own AoO to that of an ally can be pretty nasty, but also tactical. While it lets you combo hard, it can be considered to be still in line. The improved blade collective ability has some sort of ccp hiccup: "He is may now grant his mind blade to an ally without reducing his mind blade’s enhancement bonus. Mind blades gifted to allies have reduce their enhancement bonus reduced by 1, but do not reduce the bonuses of any other mind blades." I am pretty sure that something went wrong here. Sharing balde skills with allies is cool and 6th level increases telepathy save DCs by +2 as well as saves against the discipline by +2. The capstone is amazing: You vanish and make one attack per ally contained in the collective!

The strategos is strong, but the relatively fragile framework makes for a nice balance for the concepts...and rules- and playing-experience-wise, these guys are frickin' glorious!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, but not as good as usual for Dreamscarred Press - there are a few hiccups. Layout adheres to the 2-column full-color standard and the book has the neat full-color artwork of the cover. The pdf comes with a second, more printer-friendly version and is fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Chris Bennett's third expansion for the soulknife class provides 3 concise, fun PrCs. The Marvel and in particular, the strategos, are absolutely amazing. The primarch, while nice, didn't capture my imagination to the same extent, but that is a personal issue and not something I'd fault the pdf for. Where the second installment sported some options that I considered to be problematic, the ones herein work in the context of both relatively gritty and high-powered gameplay. While the PrCs are pretty strong, it is only in conjunction with previous installments that issues can show up for grittier games, so as long as you take care regarding the combo potential, you're fine with these. The strategos' playing experience as a center at the storm unleashed by his collective is intriguing and fun. How to rate this, then? Well, this may not be perfect, but it is a fun supplement that sports some design-wise intriguing options - hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up fo the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Psionics Augmented: Soulknives III
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Legendary Hybrids: Deadeye Hexer
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/19/2016 09:20:19

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first of Legendary Games' hybrid classes clocks in at 28 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of introduction, 1 page SRD, 4 pages of advertisement, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 14 pages of content, so let's take a look!

Hybrid classes - they can be amazing, but at the same time, they can be disparate entities sans unique mechanics...so what is the deadeye hexer? Well, first of all, he is basically a hybrid of the gunslinger and witch classes and gains, chassis-wise, d8 HD, 4 + Int skills per level and 3/4 BAB-progression, which is SMART: Firearms don't need the gunslinger's full BAB-progression. The class also receives good Reflex and Will-saves as well as Intelligence-based prepared spellcasting draw from the witch's list, scaling up to 6th level. Weapon and armor proficiency-wise, they gain simple weapon and firearm proficiency as well as proficiency with light armors, which do not impede their spellcasting. As a minor layout complaint of an aesthetic nature, one sentence of the proficiency-write-up partially overlaps with the class table.

Somewhat akin to my own etherslinger, the deadeye hexer's gun acts as a catalyst for his magical powers, doubling as a kind of familiar. Huge issue: The firearm familiar's rules are supposedly found in Appendix A...which does not exist. The firearm familiar rules do exist, but yeah. Anyways, the firearm familiar receives scaling Intelligence, beginning at 6 and improving to 15 and similarly, its enhancement bonus becomes +1, increasing up to +5 at 1th level. 2nd level nets Quickdraw of the familiar, 7th improved empathic link and 13th the option to scry the familiar.

The deadeye hexer begins play with gunsmithing as well as a patron (9 of which are provided) as well as with a bullet hex. He gains an additional bullet hex at 3rd level and every 2 levels thereafter. Unless otherwise noted, using them is a standard action, they have scaling save DCs governed by Int and offensive ones need to hit the target. Missed bullet hexes do not count against the daily uses of the respective hex. 4 witch hexes are available (including slumber, with the cool tweak of inflicting nonlethal damage), but apart from that, we get only 6 such hexes for a total of 10...though thankfully, later levels also unlock major and grand bullet hexes, providing sufficient diversity and choice.

But what do the hexes do? Well, what about animate object via a bullet that hits a target? (Yep, only 1 in use at any give time.) Ranged bull rush via bullets? Yeah, pretty cool! As a full-round action, 15 ft.- shrapnel rain is pretty powerful, but action economy-wise somewhat justified...though I'd still include a minimum level for this one. At level 1, that is extremely strong. Concealment-granting clouds or whispering messages to bullets to warn others is pretty cool: In the latter case, you whisper up to 25 words to the bullet, fire in the air and its hits the ground near the creature, who may then proceed to read your message in the cracks formed by the bullet's impact. Come on, that is very, very neat.

Major bullet hexes are unlocked at 11th level, with 5 being provided: Here, we have an upgrade of aforementioned AoE-attack, immediate action + class level dodge bonus to an attack 1/24 hours when shot at, bullets that burrow further into the foe or Freischütz-like bullets that may hit multiple foes at progressively worse +atk make for some neat choices. 5 witch hexes may also be chosen here. Grand hex-wise, 4 of the witch's arsenal and 3 new ones are provided, with the ability being unlocked at 17th level. These include class level times d6 energy damage-causing bullets or hellfire bullets, which deal even more fire damage and linger, but only can affect a target once per day...or petrify foes.

Instead of grit, the deadeye hexer receives Mana at 2nd level, which acts in pretty much the same way and is governed by Intelligence and has full compatibility regarding grit, panache, etc. Deadeye hexers also receive, obviously, deeds at this level and may replace a deed with a gunslinger deed gained at a lower level. He gains 3 such deeds at 2nd level: One lets you cast a spell from the familiar sans preparing it, rerolling concealment miss chances and spending 1 mana to summon an unattended firearm as an immediate action to his hand, provided it is within 5 ft. per class level. 3 new deeds are gained every 4 levels thereafter: 6th level, for example, allows for concealment ignoring, potentially calling attended firearms and potentially using another hexer's firearm with said characters permission...or even force the gun to cooperate. 10th level lets you auto-confirm a threat via mana expenditure (no mana-regain, though) as well as swift action reload and scatter shots. 14th level unlocks mana-expenditure to add + Int-mod to saves, free action reload and acting during a surprise round. 18th level nets a killing shot powered by mana, preventing a misfire as long as he has at least 1 mana and always acting during a surprise round - as you may see, these mainly represent linear improvements of the respective abilities.

4th level nets nimble, which also doubles as the exceedingly unsatisfying capstone of the class. You get Nimble +5 and one 6th level spell more. Hooray.

The pdf has 3 feats: The obligatory extra bullet hex, +2 mana and a feat that lets you target a creature with a bullet hex that can affect it 1/day only a second time.

The pdf also contains 2 archetypes for the class, the first of which would be the eldritch musketeer, who must choose either musket or blunderbuss as firearm familiar and any ray, cone, line or ranged touch attack cast through the familiar adds the gun's enhancement bonus to the save DC as well as increasing the critical modifier of the spell, if any to x3!!! However, on a misfire or the target making a saving throw with a natural 20 (cool idea!), the gun first gains the broken condition, then detonates, though immediate action mana expenditure can prevent that in both cases - at 1 and 2 mana cost, respectively. This powerful ability replaces bullet hex. 3rd level allows for the sacrifice of spell slots to double critical threat ranges of the gun; one double for 2 spell level...or increase the critical multiplier by one. So yeah, you can sacrifice a level 6 spell as a swift action to upgrade critical multiplier to x7. URGH. Worse, I assume that casting spells through the gun that require an attack roll count as attacks for the purpose of this upgrade; at least the archetype does not explicitly forbid it. Do I really need to spell out how this exacerbates the issue of insane gunslinger crits and extends it to spells? Oh joy. The one thing the class or anything built upon the firearm chassis was a higher critical multiplier. Suffice to say, the hard spell limit does help, but still - this archetype will get nowhere near my game.

The second archetype, the hexslinger, modifies his proficiency to only cover one-handed firearms and must select a pistol as a fire arm familiar. Instead of deeds at 2nd level, he gets spell combat via the firearm, which is nice. Odd: The hexslinger still RAW gains Mana, which does exactly nothing until the higher level deeds are gained. 3rd level unlocks spellshot, allowing for the delivery of touch-spells via the firearm. 10th level replaces the deeds gained with greater spell combat.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are pretty good, though, as mentioned before, there are minor type-setting hiccups. From an RAW-nitpicky perspective, the functionality of bullet hexes should be a bit more precise - RAW the 1/day caveat of hexes could have used clean spelling out, as one could argue either way. Layout adheres to Legendary Games' two-column full-color standard and manages to cram a lot of content in the pdf's pages. The artworks are a mixture of previously used and a new full-color piece - they generally are neat. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Jeff Lee's Deadeye Hexer does a lot of things right: the 3/4 BAB-chassis for the magical gunman is smart and makes the class work smoother regarding its math. The base class, apart from minor complaints mentioned, is well-executed. Personally, I would have loved to see more interaction between the hexes and mana, but that is primarily me and a matter of taste and as such will not influence the verdict. While I would have liked to see something unique for the hexslinger, the musketeer...is broken. Unless you really want a crit-fishing build from beyond hell, I'd strongly suggest disallowing it. Particularly irksome in the archetype is that both powerful options could be clearer in how they interact...or not interact, so even if x7 crit multipliers or tripled threat ranges before enchantments sound like a good idea to you (there are games out there that enjoy this type of thing, after all!), the archetype's precision is lacking.

In short: I like the base class, but the archetypes feel like afterthoughts and drag down the pdf. My final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars. This has all the makings of a 5-star class and if you only want the base class, you should consider this 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 instead...but with the inclusion of the utterly OP eldritch musketeer, I can no longer recommend this unanimously. The lack of a rewarding capstone sucks. Still, the class does not deserve rounding down, but to have, of all things, bullet hexes not explicitly stating that they work with the same daily limitations as witch hexes is a big issue that actually led to a prolonged discussion in my playtest, so you should be aware of this component. My final verdict will still round up, if only by the teeny-tiniest of margins and because the class actually is not a hybrid that just smashes stuff together; the deadeye hexer has a distinct identity and playstyle I enjoy.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Legendary Hybrids: Deadeye Hexer
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