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Cults of the Sundered Kingdoms Pathfinder Edition
Publisher: Frog God Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/11/2016 09:30:55

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This HUGE AP/setting-supplement clocks in at a massive 437 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 3 pages of ToC, 3 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with pretty ridiculous 428 pages of content, so let's take a look!


All right, we begin this huge book by basically taking a glimpse at the region of the Sundered Kingdoms - wait, that's not the right way to describe it: The war-and calamity-torn Sunderlands receive a massive, stunningly detailed and well-written gazetteer that clocks in at 32 pages - from discussions on the local technology-level to area by area breakdowns of settlements and the like, we get a tremendous amount of detail here, including write ups for INNS as well as caravansarais...and it should be noted that this does not include the colossal 12-page, detailed history on this region in its afore-mentioned page-count. The level of captivating prose exhibited in these pages hearkens back to a time where immersion by means of detailed lore were more important: When e.g. the fully depicted, brief fable of a cat seeking a wife not only is mentioned, but in fact reproduced, that does enhance the believability of the area a great deal...and yes, settlements do get proper settlement statblocks.


But beyond these, the book is one about the eponymous cults - which not only provide stats for athames as well as some new domains for the respective cultist patrons - from classic Orcus and Tsathogga to Hastur, the entities of chaos and destruction and their dread obelisks of chaos that litter the landscape as dark monuments, as foci for the dread cults of darkness, come in a surprisingly detailed write-up that depicts a world teeter-tottering unknowingly on the very edge of annihilation by the forces of chaos, with twisted, evil versions of the Diplomacy-concept as a domain and the like adding a bit of crunch to the fray, though yet another shadow domain, for example, imho wasn't necessary.


The third chapter, then, would be the bestiary section and comes supplemented with both new hazards and common...and less common adversaries, including two spawns of demon lords and bone dragons, Similarly, the magic item chapter (including a cursed cowbell!) sports artifacts and wondrous objects galore, with aforementioned obelisk-powered items of chaos and unique items featuring prominently, already hinting at the things to come.


But you want o know about the adventures, right? All righty, so before we dive in, you should know that the previously released modules herein have been integrated into basically a cohesive storyline, a kind of meta-narrative not unlike those featured in Paizo-APs, making this not a collection of different adventures (though they can be played as such), but more of an arc connected by theme, if not by the necessity of sequential playing... Basically, you can play these modules as stand-alones or as connected pieces - they do not lose appeal by being separated from the overarcing structure.


Know, dear reader, that from this point forward, the SPOILERS abound! Potential players should jump to the conclusion.


...


..


.


We begin this tome's adventure section with Greg A. Vaughan's "Beasts Among Us", intended for 3rd level characters - uncomplicated, but savage, this module confronts the PCs with a massacred caravan and a trail leading towards a dread cult of bandits in the wilderness, happily butchering survivors - by stopping these brigands, the PCs can rescue one Kandrel, who was en route to the city of Endhome (of Lost City of Barakus)-fame and acts as a potential liaison for the powerful shipping magnate Lord Beval...provided the PCs can save him from the brutal fangs of the werewolf master of the brigands.


The second adventure, potentially to gather further influence, would be Patrick Lawinger's classic "Morrick Mansion" (level 3 - 5), which to this day remains one of my favorite 3.X modules released by Necromancer Games back in the day. Why? Because the module twists the traditional haunted mansion trope, detailed grounds and all, by making the primary antagonist of the module not simply a creature to be defeated - instead, as a kind of precursor to how haunts work nowadays, the adventure focuses on actually finding out how the calamities befell Morrick Mansion and breaking the mutation and insanity-causing chaotic curse that twists and changes the mansion grounds. From Grollek's Grove to finding out the truth behind the curse, the adventure is in probably its best iteration in this book. Kudos for saving this glorious classic for a new generation of gamers.


The third adventure is a new one and would once again be penned by none other than Greg A. Vaughan - "Shades of Yellow" (for levels 5 - 6). In the service of lord Beval, the PCs are sent forth to find Sir Bartol, a knight of esteem and renown, whose trail leads through hostile wilderness to the moor-bound village of Billockburne, where the PCs can unearth the truth about a seemingly-benign cult and hopefully save the knight's squire at least from an inglorious and horrific fate...but to truly stop the cult and put one and one together, the PCs will have to also stop a colossal, brutal nameless thing and clear the lethal chapel in the moors, where one of the dreaded obelisks has been partially excavated...Among the papers of Bartol, replicated as a handout that can be unearthed from these dread cultists, the PCs can heed a request for assistance in the Moon Fog Hills, where the next adventure looms...


...and that would be the legendary classic "Aberrations" (level 6 - 9) by Casey W. Christofferson. It ranks, by far, as one of the most underappreciated modules Necromancer Games released back in the day - a disturbing yarn of horror and weird, dark fantasy, this module has it all: Deformed giants, savage caverns, legacies of insanity and murder, a brutal meat-grinder of a mansion and the chance to duke it out with the spawn of a demon lord - this adventure has it all and, frankly, I can't really do it enough justice: If you enjoy DCC-style dark fantasy and challenging modules, this one will do the trick. Seriously, this is a true classic that only gains impact by its ties to the unobtrusive metaplot of this saga.


The next adventure, once again penned by Greg A. Vaughan, would be "Vengenace in the Hollow Hills", for characters level 8-9, and is a deviation from in theme and style from classic dungeon-crawling, instead focusing on the hexploration of the eponymous hollow hills with elven allies, trying to stop the tainted wildmen harrying travelers and military alike - all seemingly entwined with the horrors witnessed in the previous adventure. If the PCs are to stop this threat, once and for all, they will have to take the fort of the wildmen...easier said than done, though. The Tsathogga-worshipping foes will make the taking of Fort Rannick from the classic RotRL-AP look like a friggin' cakewalk in comparison. Dumb PCs will die horribly...so let's hope that PCs smart and lucky enough to have lived so far will have learned to act smart...


And then, there would be "The Crystal Skull" by Dave Brohman- one of the most obscure and rare Necromancer Games modules (which I gladly own), this is a massive mini-campaign in itself, ranging levels from 9th - 12th...though the challenges posed in this one are SIGNIFICANT. Smart PCs may have followed multiple clues throughout this saga, pointing them towards the massive city of Penmorgh and invited to the home of one wizard named Pearsey, who beseeches the PCs to undergo a complex series of investigations into the dark things going on within the city - every year at Midsummer, 3 girls go missing, their bodies to later be found horribly mutilated....he wants the PCs to stop whatever horrific ritual is going on...and the PCs, following the trail, will have put themselves in the crosshair of deadly assassins and unearth the secrets behind two eminent guilds of the city...thereby, probably, inadvertently freeing dread Mhaazoul, 666th son of Orcus and nascent demon lord - to stop the dread entity, the PCs will have to track it overland through different settlements, survive the machinations of the lethal minions of the demon... to the Tower of Bone. Which is impenetrable for them...to enter the tower and stop dread Mhaazoul, the PCs will have to pass the ruined, subterranean dwarven city of Durandel, successfully navigate its claustrophobic confines and finally infiltrate and beat the dread tower and its master. Oh, and if that is not enough: The previously unreleased secret levels-bonus dungeon for this one is also included in the deal.


A total of 11 pages of handouts and 40 pages of maps are provided in this book as well - though, if you're like me and expected player-friendly maps sans legends or the like, I'll have to disappoint you - this time around, the book features none of these.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, in particular for a book of this massive size. Layout adheres to Frog God Games' two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes with detailed, nested bookmarks. The physical book, as with all FGG-books,. is a superb, stitch-bound hardcover made to last. Interior artwork is generally high-quality, though a precious few pieces taken from crystal skull didn't blow me away then and still don't. Cartography is a bit less consistent than usual - while some maps are drop-dead gorgeous or at least functional, there are also some maps re-used from a time when the 3.X bubble had burst and funds were tight -and it shows. Compared to the other maps, these look a bit less impressive and I really wish they had been redone. Similarly, I would have wished for player-friendly maps.


Frog God Games, at this point, is an institution - when they announced this book, I was honestly puzzled who they'd tie the respective modules I already knew together in a meaningful way...and they did. While the metaplot isn't too pronounced when compared to singular mega-adventures, the themes and leitmotifs can be found throughout, lending a sense of cohesion to the whole. Indeed, the respective adventures (with the first, as a setting of the stage and thus, being relatively simple) feel surprisingly in line regarding their themes and content - a feat, considering their patchwork origins.


At the same time, though, there is a bit of thematic whiplash regarding the finale - while I really like "The Crystal Skull", it is also the most traditional of the modules herein - where the adventures before focused on a delightfully old-school dark fantasy with ample of weirdness, the final mini-campaign feels grim, yes. Dark, yes. But also more traditional in its structure, plot and locales presented. Personally, the middle trinity of Morrick Mansion, Shades of Yellow and the superb Aberrations, represents the sweet-spot of this saga and, chalk it up to my excessive collection of NG-material, but personally, I probably would have used the likewise classic and pretty obscure "Vindication" rather than "Crystal Skull" as a culmination of this arc...but yeah. I'm complaining at a very high level here. And I can see why CS was chosen - it has the fitting leitmotifs and is a very good, diverse adventure that features socializing, investigation and plenty of chances to swing one's sword at evil.


The matter of the fact is that this massive book contains a load of brilliant adventures, with some true classics. The build-upgrades for the NPCs are more versatile and utilize some builds that go beyond the standard. The organization is excellent and the only true complaint I can truly voice pertains to the lack of player-friendly maps and parts of the cartography.


How to rate this, then? Well, since this has ample of tie-ins with Endhome and Bard's Gate, GMs wishing to run either can and should definitely take a look; similarly, fans of the Lost lands will consider this a must-have purchase anyways. If you already own the three previously released modules and have played them, things get a bit more complicated - while the two new full-length modules are superb (excluding the intro-module here), only you can decide whether they may the tome as a whole worth it for you. If, however, you haven't played the classic modules, then this turns into an almost immediate no-brainer, for the history and context provided in this tome render the iterations of the modules superior to their classic 3.X versions.


In the end, I will rate this 5 stars + seal of approval as an official rating for those among us who haven't played the classics. For guys like yours truly, this still is a very good book, though perhaps one that should be closer to 4.5 stars. In the end, my official verdict will obviously be the former - this is, in a nut-shell, a collection of great material for those among us who like our fantasy dark without diving off into the grimdark spectrum.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cults of the Sundered Kingdoms Pathfinder Edition
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#30 Haunts for Battlefields (PFRPG)
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/11/2016 09:27:11

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of Rite Publishing's #30-series clocks in at 16 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 12 pages of content, so let's take a look!


We begin this little pdf with a summary of the nature of haunts and how they operate, making the use of this pdf as painless and book-flipping-less as possible. After this brief explanation, persistent and minor haunts are explained and then we're right in the subject matter - haunts for battlefields.


This book pretty much offers exactly what it says on the tin, with haunts in the pages ranging in CR from CR 1 to CR 12. The effects of the haunts themselves, are diverse: From an overwhelming sense of battle-weariness to visions of burning barracks that may boil your blood to the haunting choir of prisoners sacrificed or executed, there is a lot to be found in this pdf.


The selection of haunt covers both the common (e.g. ear-piercing screams) to remnants of contagion that can be abated by planting a red spider-lily (all Japanese culture buffs out there, rejoice!). From the unsettling experience of watching dead birds emit unnerving cackles to the very earth growing acidic, detonating pustules, the pdf strikes a lot of tones - and it does so well: Both the somber aftermath and experience between the fighting and the pure chaos of warfare have their haunted representations amid these offerings, with destruction often pointing to and underlining the respective truth beyond the creation of the haunt.


In fact, the variance between modes and themes of haunts can be easily evoked by using haunts as transitionary elements - there are some that feature the dins of battle, which could conceivably used as great out- and in-game audio-cues to signify a transition from the somber to the chaotic and lethal aspect of warfare. The very earth grasping for the living, being carried away against one's will by a phantom horde, carpenter's tools used creatively by a torturer, the nascent greed of traumatic pillaging echoing through an area, phantoms of the dying projectile-vomiting acidic blood, rapid decomposition of the fallen and the very earth's mouth trying to swallow those whole that thread upon it - the diversity of the haunts herein is more than sufficient, and they may actually all be stringed together to form a truly nightmarish hell-hole of a battleground, often with means of combining the haunts already included:


When two haunts refer to barracks burning and work potentially well together, the GM simply has his work cut out for himself...


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing's classic two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with a blend of full-color art I haven't seen before. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


It feels almost like another life since I last reviewed a haunt book by T.H. Gulliver. The haunts books for the #30-series, universally remain my go-to default address for haunts: Precise, deadly, evocative and yet easy to plug into a given context, the books are classics...and so is this one. For a more than fair price, you get an evocative array of fun haunts that enriches the game...or an adventure. I firmly believe that a good GM can string these together as a great adventure locale or even as a mid-level adventure that requires exactly no combat encounters...just this eerie, forlorn battlefield, where the earth itself keens and loathes those that have savaged it. A great and evocative pdf, this is well worth 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
#30 Haunts for Battlefields (PFRPG)
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Tides of War: Volley Teamwork Feats
Publisher: Flying Pincushion Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/08/2016 09:53:24

An Endzeitgeist.com review of the revised version


The revised version of Flying Pincushion Games' Tides of War-book clocks in at 6 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 3 pages of content, so let's take a look!


This pdf begins with a brief introduction to the subject matter, before presenting several feats. These are based on Group Fire, a combat/teamwork feat that, as a full-round action, allows you to make a single ranged attack while calling to allies within 15 feet that have this feat. The allies may spend an immediate action to also fire on the target you are attacking, with each participant granting +1 to atk and damage, including the initiator. However, allies that perform this attack are staggered on their next turn. Okay, this is a HUGE step up from the first iteration of the pdf, let's see whether the feats that build on this are now similarly solid!


-Arcing Fire: Reduce cover-bonus to AC by half when firing in an arc; requires suficient space, obviously. Solid.


-Call the Firing Line: When you call for a group fire, all participants get your Cha-mod as a morale bonus to attack, but you can do this only a number of times per day equal to your ranks in Profession (soldier). NICE restriction-element here for the powerful bonus!


-Clustering Volley: Add total damage of group shots together before applying DR. Solid.


-Dodge this!: Each participant targets a 5-foot-squares instead, with scaling Ref-saves to negate the attack. Now this one is genius for hitting high AC targets, but damage is calculated only via base damage die. Nice and in line with similar damaging mechanisms.


-Dynamic Duo: When only using Group Fire with two members, both get a free Intimidate-check using the higher result +5. Actually useful for small units, like adventuring groups - kudos!


-Flying Pincushion: Penalize flying creatures with scaling benefits.


-Gauging Shot: Forego any benefits, but grant +2 to atk and damage rolls for your participating fellows.


-Improved Group Fire: Call out for Group Fire as part of a full attack.


-Greater Group Fire: Allies that participate can use their lowest BAB-attack when using Group Fire - if they do, they are not staggered, but may not be part of a Group Fire attack on their next turn.


-Throw Everything: Use group fire with bombs, kinetic blasts, bloodline/domain power-based attacks, etc. and even held spells. This can thankfully not be combined with Clustering Volley.


Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Flying Pincushion Games' two-column full-color standard and the pdf needs no bookmarks at this length.


Frank Gori, with help from David S. McCrae and Jeff Harris has thoroughly revised the original, subpar iteration and created a thing of beauty here - for a low price, you can make creatures (and PCs!) actually fear the power of volleys...and the pdf also expands the usefulness of the feats for purposes of the adventuring groups. With completely cleaned up material, this is pretty much the antithesis to the previous offering: Creative, powerful and sensible, this covers its niche perfectly. 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Tides of War: Volley Teamwork Feats
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Letters from the Flaming Crab: Haunted Places
Publisher: Flaming Crab Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/08/2016 09:43:35

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of the Letters from the Flaming Crab-series clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2.5 pages of SRD, leaving us with 7.5 pages of content, though one of these would be the gorgeous cover in an un-swished-version - kudos for the great artwork there!


After the by now traditional letter from the planes-hopping ship Flaming Crab, we dive right in and begin with the chimney coffin (lavishly rendered in b/w!), providing a cool CR 6 suffocation-based haunt. Two thumbs up for this fellow!


Thereafter, we get a new spirit to channel for the Medium-class, the Child. You apply the spirit bonus to Bluff, Climb, Escape Artist, Perception and Stealth as well as Reflex-saves, which is, power-wise, in line with established spirits. As a seance boon, you get +1 to AC and favored locations would be orphanages, parks, playgrounds and schools, obviously. The influence penalty the spirit inflicts is equal to the spirit bonus as penalty to Int and Str based skill and ability checks, excluding Climb as well as attack rolls. Taboos include refusing to eat healthy food, taking any opportunity to play, an inability to stay up beyond bedtime, throwing tantrums and compulsory pranking -it's your choice and, as a whole, I like them. The lesser ability increases the bonuses for being aided by your fellows, the intermediate nets you basically improved evasion by another name (and sans restrictions) and the greater effect lets you let the spirit gain 1 point of influence "to make an immediate save against any mind-affecting effect." with a bonus equal to 1/2 your medium level. Okay, so "immediate" may not be the best wording here - it implies immediate action. Secondly, is the DC of the effect equal to the original DC? What about the few, but existing mind-influencing effects that do not allow for a save? Minor clarifications are in order here. As a supreme ability, this spirit offers a supernatural, component-less limited wish upon seeing the evening's first star...which is cool, but since it is supernatural, the ability should state the action required for activation.


The shifter's stone, a CR 6 boon loci, utilizes the myth of the norns and blends it with druidism, offering beast shape III as well as a great, general artwork. More interesting that that would be the fact that it comes with a second, corrupted CR 8 version that may transform you into harmless animals. This duality is well-executed here.


The Primal Spirit spiritualist archetype, who adds Handle Animal and Survival to the class skills instead of Bluff, also replacing the summon monster spells with summon nature's allies. The primal aspect at 1st level can be activated as a swift action, gaining an animal aspect chosen from the hunter's animal foci and while it is applied at full level, it does not also cover any companions and does not stack with the ability, though levels stack for purposes of foci's power. Also at 1st level, the archetype receives the option to grow ghostly claws as a free action, dealing 1d4 per claw, 1d3 if Small. The ability does not specify them to be primary natural weapons, though I assume they are. 7th level nets Eldritch Claws and increases the damage die by one step, thus replacing etheric tether. 2nd level nets wild empathy and 3rd level at-will detect undead and 5th level provides a constant hide from undead. This replaces the 3rd level bonded manifestation. 4th level nets a +2 insight bonus to AC and all saves, increasing by +2 at 12th and 20th level, replacing spiritual interference and its greater brethren. 6th level nets Wild shape at -2 level, with 8th level unlocking air walk, 12th level providing an ectoplasmic creature's phase lurch and 18th level the horrifying ooze ability. Elemental forms may not be assumed, but plant forms may. This, obviously, replaces spirit bond and its follow-up abilities. 13th level, finally, provides a secondary primal aspect.


The next haunt, once again lavishly rendered, would be the CR 4 stable of despair, which has some creepy imagery (think: Undead horse appearing and speaking to you...) indeed and the archetype here would be the rider of the undead paladin, who gains a skeletal mount, with touch of corruption powering simultaneous uses of channel energy and Command Undead. All in all, an okay archetype, but not one that blew me away.


The final haunt would be the unfinished painting (Anyone played Layers of Fear?), again at CR 4 - and it is the most complex of the haunts herein - arguably one that could power a whole low-level adventure. Similarly in line with this theme would be the mad painter mesmerist replaces consummate liar with +1/2 class level to all Artisan (painting) (???), Craft (painting) and Profession (painting) checks. That should probably be Performance...The mad painter can conjure forth a mystical brush with which he draws hypnotic patterns into thin air, either distracting or fascinating targets, usable 3 + Cha-mod times per day, with 7th level decreasing the activation action to move and 13th allowing for the activation as a swift action as well - this ability is known as mystic strokes. Interesting variant of hypnotic stare. To implant tricks, the painter has to draw on the recipient's eyelids. At 1st level, the archetype ay expend spell slots to store spells in a given painting, making it a kind of "art"-bomb - the first subject within 20 ft. carefully examining the painting is affected, with -2 to the save. The painting can store spells for 1 hour per class level and can be enhanced with a password, allowing safe examination...and if that is not enough regarding great set-ups, I don't know what is!


3rd level and every 4 levels thereafter, the mad painter may choose another "stroke of insanity" to modify his mystic strokes with - whether it's affecting the mindless or instilling sluggishness in the targets, decreasing their movement rate. These modifications are all pretty cool and scale at 8th level. Starting at 6th level, the mad painter can use suggestions on targets affected by his strokes sans breaking the primary effect of the strokes-ability, an ability that increases to encompass the mass version of the spell, though that one was not italicized.


As a capstone, the mad painter can create paintings that kill a specific chosen creature looking at it. All in all, this is my favorite archetype by Flaming Crab Games so far - complex modifications, glorious theme, precise execution...and it is narrative gold, an adventure (or more) just waiting to happen.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect - I noticed a couple of minor hiccups. Layout adheres to Flaming Crab Games' two-column full-color standard and the pdf features several gorgeous pieces of b/w-artwork as well as stunning full-color variations of the cover - all of which I really dug. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


June Bordas, J Gray, Mike McKeown and Michael Ritter provide a great little pdf here - while I wasn't too impressed by the generally solid antipaladin archetype, the other material did impress me more than a bit; the mad painter, in particular, is a stroke of genius. ... Sorry for that bad pun right there, I'll hit myself later for it. Anyways, I really enjoyed the haunts as well - their descriptions are cool and evocative and they generally make sense.


While the pdf isn't as refined as the installment on culinary magic and while I would have loved to see even more haunts, this still remains a great, fun little pdf for a more than fair price point, with the artworks provided for the haunts making cool micro-handouts (they are, alas, a bit small). Still, showing them to players can work rather well!


All in all, this is a good book, with some minor blemishes, but also some gems and thus receives a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 for the purpose of this platform.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Letters from the Flaming Crab: Haunted Places
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Four Horsemen Present: Mature Character Options
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/08/2016 09:41:50

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of the Four Horsemen Present series clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 9 pages of content, so let's take a look!


The first thing you'll notice herein is that this is not simply an accumulation of rules - we begin in a rather pleasant manner, we begin by highlighting several components of the ROLEplaying aspect of our game that can prove to be interesting for both players and GMs alike - mature themes. No, this does not mean that this book is gory or the like - it means that it highlights the effects of an enmity grown over long years of one's life, the transition of faith strengthening or weakening, the effects of notoriety and parentage, romance and tragedy and their potential effects on the respective character and his outlook on life. Each of these themes does come with one trait - though, annoyingly, while the traits themselves are solid, one does not use a trait-bonus, which is uncommon, and they do not list their sub-type of trait, which can be a bit problematic: Other than that, longer smites, the option to aid via pep talks and similar options are neat.


Then again, this is a Four Horsemen-product and as such, surprise, it does have some meaty crunch. The first archetype we find herein is the drifter gunslinger, who may use his Intimidate skill to set the DC of attempts to use social skills on him. Instead of the startling shot deed, he receives practiced reflexes, which allows him to execute AoOs versus creature trying to hide from him, potentially dispelling all but natural or greater invisibility in concealment methods and rendering the target apparent, failing its Stealth-check. Instead of expert loading, at 11th level, the class gets the recovering fire deed, which lets him counter crits, sneak attacks et al. with immediate action AoOs with loaded firearms. This does not provoke an attack of opportunity (on a nitpick; the pdf reads "draw" an attack of opportunity) and if the drifter hits, he halves the damage taken. Interesting, cool deed!


The generian alchemist becomes ever more resistant to magical aging as well as three discoveries to make aging bombs (temporary aging, mind you!) with increasing debuff effects. Solid.


The idealist medium does not channel other spirits - he channels a subjective notion of either his own past or the ideal he strives to be in a perceived future and also has a modified spell-list. Allies cannot participate in this self-channeling. Shared seance is replaced with the option to use the channeled ideal self to modify one's own saves, switching which save is strong and which weak progression-wise, allowing the medium to swap the strong Will-save for Fortitude, for example. Instead of haunt channeler, the archetype can select an attribute and meditate on it, gaining +1 to ability and skill-checks pertaining that attribute for the day, +2 at 10th level. 18th level nets timeless body. Concept-wise, I liked this one, but I wished the execution was slightly more dynamic.


Fighters may elect to become veterans: These guys only have a 3/4 BAB-progression, but gain 4 skills per level as well as good Fort and Will-saves and add Diplomacy, Perception, Sense Motive and Stealth to their class skills. Starting at 2nd level, they get an aura that decreases the penalties of fear and emotion-based effects in the area of the aura and 2nd level, he may, as part of rolling initiative share a teamwork feat with an ally, who is considered to have it for the remainder of the combat, with 10th level adding +1 teamwork feat to thus share. This basically sports the per-encounter-mechanic, which I loathe (and have ranted on long and hard against - arbitrarily defined timeframe sans cohesive in-game representation)...but that's just one issue. A more important one would be that the aura locks these guys out of Bravery feats by replacing that one. Additionally, the combat-commander option has been done in more mechanically interesting and viable terms in various classes...so no, not too blown away here.


On a more positive side, the pdf does sport 5 story-feats, which, story-wise, are pretty cool: Ecumenical represents finding moderation in faith, Lost Sibling poses the challenge of finding the sibling; Polymath a second favored class and Wasted Years eliminates the penalties for old age - all in all, the feats themselves are gold from a narrative point of view. From a mechanical point of view...less so.


Ecumenical nets you +2 to Diplomacy, Sense Motive and Knowledge (Religion) when dealing with a specific religion and the believers, which is pretty lame...but the completion benefit, which doubles the bonuses and nets you a second alignment as which you can count, is pretty cool. Sharing "you" spells with a lost sibling is similarly a pretty nice completion benefit...and it better be, with only +2 Diplomacy to gather information, +4 when it pertains your family as the base benefit. Conversely, a 1/day 1d6 immediate action bonus to attack roll, ability-check and saving throw via Mentor sounds pretty cool...but, as a completion benefit, it has Leadership. Sans prereq. While I am firmly in the "Leadership for all"-camp and use the expanded rules crafted by Alexander Augunas, not everyone is and this one lets you cheese Leadership's level prereq if your GM is snoring... All in all a section that left me with mixed feelings - if you can live with minor hiccups, the completion benefits make these worthwhile.


The pdf also provides the mortality sub-domain for death, which lets you use Wis-mod when channeling negative energy to cause damage and adds Wis-mod to channel damage caused. The other side would be the vigor subdomain of strength, which increases the Strength-based damage output of your weapons 3+ Cha-mod times for 1 minute, with the precise enhancement depending on the weapon-group you use - kudos for getting that one's rules-language right.


The pdf closes with 5 new spells, the first of which would be acrogeria, in both the level 6 regular and the level 9 mass version, which temporarily causes aging and related attribute damage, though the damage can be healed via the usual means. The 8th (6th level for alchemists) spell Athanasia renders the target immune to aging magic and the rigors of old age, but does not prolong life -which is cool and all, but what about attacks that age, but are not caused by "magic" -attacks of certain creatures, for example? Not really sure, but I think they still apply... Greenhorn penalizes skill-checks and may even make certain skills untrained for the duration, if the penalty exceeds the ranks, with penalty being based on level...now this spell is creative and unique! Finally, respect for elders grants age-category-scaling bonuses on mental attribute-dependent ability and skill-checks, with, rather cool, dragons, outsiders etc. also getting scaling info.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. The blending of full-color and b/w-artworks, none of which I had seen before, is neat as well. The pdf comes cully bookmarked for your convenience.


Steven T. Helt's take on mature character options is generally rather nice - the themes evoked and the ideas in the respective pieces of crunch are fun, but the precise execution of the archetypes and options herein fell a bit flat for me. The highlight, beyond the very cool greenhorn-spell, at least to me, would be the story feats and their built-in story-arcs as well as the traits, but in these, there are some minor blemishes to be found. Personally, I am not a big fan of the archetypes apart from the drifter, either and the pdf feels, as a whole, somewhat less inspired and creative than what I've come to expect from the horsemen. While by no means bad, this pdf did leave me with a sense of being okay, if not 100% perfect in execution, but also with the sense of lacking a true "blow-me-away"-moment. In the end, this is a good example of a solid product with minor rough edges. hence, I will settle on a final verdict of 3.5 stars. Due to in dubio pro reo policy, I'll round up for my official verdict, though, admittedly, as a person, this is closer to 3 for me.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Four Horsemen Present: Mature Character Options
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New Paths 8: the Trickster (Pathfinder RPG)
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/04/2016 10:19:53

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This revised installment of the New Paths-series clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let's take a look!


The trickster class presented herein receives d8 HD, a now reduced 4+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons plus rapier, longsword, sap, short sword, shortbow, whip light armor and shields (excluding tower shields) and may freely cast spells while only wearing light armor and/or using a shield. The class receives 3/4 BAB-progression as well as good Ref- and Will-saves and gains spellcasting.


Spellcasting of the trickster is slightly more tricky (I'll punch myself later for that one) than you'd expect: The trickster's spellcasting is governed by Intelligence and thus is prepared according to convention. However, spells prepared are not expended upon being cast - instead, the spell slot of the appropriate level is expended. Metamagic is handled as for sorcerors and similar spontaneous casting classes. High Intelligence influences the number of spells a trickster can cast, but not the amount of spell-slots he has - this is pretty important for balance, so bear that in mind. So, in summary, we have an actually working blend of prepared and spontaneous casting here for a surprisingly unique take on the old vancian system. And yes, concise rules for cantrips gained (often overlooked) and spellbooks (ditto!) are part of the deal here. This section is rather elegant - kudos here! Tricksters begin play with 4 cantrips known and 2 1st level spells and increase that up to 6 for each spell level, barring 5th and 6th, which cap at 5. 5 is also the maximum spells per day limit. Akin to the alchemist and similar classes, spellcasting caps at spell level 6.


The trickster also receives access to sneak attack and begins play with +1d6, increasing this by +1d6 at 4th level and every 3 levels thereafter. Similarly, at first level, the trickster gains trapfinding. So far, so rogue-y, right?


Well, second level becomes a bit more unique, as the trickster gains a forte on which to focus, of which 4 are provided. Structure-wise, the fortes provide immediate benefits and unlock new abilities at 5th and 9th level. The first would be Acrobat, which not only provides skill-bonuses to movement-related skills and eliminates the need for running starts to get the associated bonus. Additional movement while not carrying heavy load or the like and no armor check penalty for Dex-based skills can also be found here. At 5th level, the trickster gains a scaling bonus to AC and CMD and may also act as though under freedom of movement for trickster level round per day, but only for movement purposes. The 9th level ability has been similarly redesigned - provided the trickster has at least 10 ft., he can dimension door as part of the move action expended, but, in a unique twist, the total distance he can thus travel is limited and capped with a daily max.


The second forte is arcane accomplice, which nets a familiar, though the familiar receives Disable Device and Sleight of Hand as class skills and can deal sneak attack as long as it's within 30 ft. of the trickster - and yes, this means you can basically double-team on your own, greatly increasing the validity of sneak attack, though, for balance's sake, a familiar's sneak attack uses d4s, which proved mathematically feasible in my tests. 5th level goes one step further and nets the familiar all teamwork feats of the trickster as well as AC +2, while 9th level provides basically spring attack for the familiar, but only with regards to delivering harmless touch attacks - and yes, this is more versatile than you'd think.


The third forte is Beguile and provides +1 to DCs and +1 to rolls to overcome SR, scaling by +1 at 5th and 9th level - but only when targeting creatures that would be denied their Dexterity-modifier or that are helpless. At 5th level, when successfully feinting, the target would be denied his Dex-mod to AC for the next melee attack or spell targeting by the trickster, but only when performed on or before his next turn. 9th level decreases the required action to feint to a move action, a swift action if the trickster has Improved Feint.


The fourth forte is Spell Pilfer, which is easily the most unique of the fortes: As an immediate action, the trickster can make a Spellcraft check (DC 15 + spell level) to identify the spell and, if successful, the trickster may attempt to pilfer the spell. The caster receives a Will-save versus 10 + 1/2 trickster class level + Int-mod to negate the attempt. If the caster fails, he loses access to the spell known or prepared spell, while the trickster temporarily (1/2 class levels, minimum 1) adds the spell to his list of spells known. While the spell is pilfered, the original caster may not cast it, but the trickster may, provided he has an available spell slot. Only one spell (again, VERY important for balance) can be pilfered at a given time - pilfering a second spell, the previous spell immediately reverts to the owner. This ability can be used 3 + Intelligence mod times per day. It should be noted that tricksters can only pilfer spells they can cast, another VERY important limitation. Now you may have noted that Will-saves are pretty easy for most casters - thus, at 5th level, the trickster's Wisdom modifier is also added to the DC to resist the pilfer attempt. I am usually fiercely opposed to dual attribute-mods to anything, but considering that Wis is NOT a trickster's crucial stat in any way, in practice, this is not problematic. 9th level allows the trickster to pilfer spells above his casting capacity, but thankfully with the caveat that the trickster can't cast such spells - so no abuse possible. This is a very impressive ability in my book, since it makes spell theft work sans holes in the wording, sans abuse. Love it!


The new, fifth forte would be shadow, which nets a +2 insight bonus on Stealth checks in dim light or less and it also nets low-light vision and darkvision 30 ft. (Or +30 ft., if the trickster already has darkvision.) They also get +2 to saves (untyped) versus spells with the shadow subschool or darkness descriptor. 5th level nets Hide in Plain Sight while within 10 ft. of a shadow is pretty powerful; usually, one assumes 6th or 7th level as the soonest at which this one should be available. Shadow and darkness spells are cast at CL +1. At 9th level, the trickster SR equal to 12 + class level versus these spells. When I heard about this new forte, I was pretty excited. I admit to being less excited by now - the shadow forte isn't that interesting. It isn't bad by any means and the free bonus content is nice to have...but I'm not that blown away by it.


Starting at 3rd level the trickster adds +1 competence bonus to Bluff, Disguise, Escape Artist, Sleight of Hand or Stealth, increasing the bonus by +1 every third level, though the new bonuses gained may be freely distributed among aforementioned spells. 3rd level also nets evasion and 6th, 12th and 18th level provides bonus feats from a limited list. 8th level provides uncanny dodge, 11th improved uncanny dodge.


At the level, as a standard action, the trickster can cast a spell with a range of touch and deliver it as part of a melee attack, with the restriction of only working in conjunction with spells that have a casting time of 1 standard action or less. If the trickster hits, he also deals sneak attack damage in conjunction with the touch spell. Important: Misses mean the spell is lost, not held! This, combined with 3/4 BAB, is an important balancing mechanism...At least until high levels, for at 17th level, it is no longer lost - as a minor nitpick, while it is clear from the wording, it would have been nice to see the class explicitly specify that the trickster can hold only one sneakspell charge to avoid stacking them up.


Spells thus delivered may also not be enhanced by metamagic and, have a crit mod of x2. 9th level provides ranged legerdemain, though the ability is thankfully MORE precise than that of the arcane trickster PrC, specifying how far you can propel stolen objects and increasing the required skill ranks to 5. At 14th level, the trickster receives Filch Spell, which allows the trickster to hijack spells requiring direction (flaming spheres etc.) as a move action 3+Inttelligence modifier times per day. 15th level provides Surprise spells - but unlike the imprecise original take on the ability, this one clarifies from the get-go how it works with magic missiles or AoE-spells. As a capstone, the trickster treats all sneak attack damage 1s and 2s as 3s and automatically confirms all crits when using sneak attack. Additionally, the trickster may add metamagic to sneakspells sans increasing the casting time.


It should be noted that the trickster, still exceedingly powerful, now has a suggestion to decrease the power of the class: The suggestion is to eliminate necromancy and evocation from the spells they can cast. While this may be a sound idea and a quick and dirty elimination of the blasting capabilities of the trickster, it only marginally addresses the issue of power - an alternate, more conservative spell-progression would have been a more prudent solution in my book and maintained the universality of character concepts one can realize - instead of restricting the options, reducing the resources available, especially considering the strong framework of the class, would have made sense to me.


The pdf now also contains the dual forte trickster archetype: Instead of the bonus feats at 6th, 12th and 18th level, these guys can select a second forte at -4 class level at 6th level. And yes, this is pretty much broken. Individual effects of one forte's three benefits usually exceed that of a comparative feat gained - for three feats, you basically get the effects of three class abilities that all exceed the individual potency of a comparable feat. Instead of improved uncanny dodge and filch spell, 11th level and 14th level net this archetype further enhancements of their respective primary forte...and they are...basically the best-of regarding class abilities you can ask for. Acrobat? + sneak damage when you move at least 10 ft. At 20th level, the archetype gets both fortes at full potency. I...consider this archetype broken. What it exchanges for the significant flexibility and power gain does not add up. Not getting near my game.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch and precise, I noticed but one minor fringe case; other than that - all around precise and well done in both formal and rules-language departments. Layout adheres to Kobold Press' gorgeous two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports multiple gorgeous pieces of original art. The pdf comes with bookmarks in spite of its brevity - nice.


Marc Radle's trickster is interesting - it is a testament to how much we love the concept of a rogue-y character that the by now pretty broken (as in: too weak) base class continues to see truly excellent takes on the trope. Regarding customization options, both the talented rogue and in particularly, Legendary Games' absolutely brilliant Legendary Rogues-book provided options for the "mundane" rogue that retain their viability in the system. Why "retain"? Well, simple: You see, the rogue has been pretty much a casualty to changing design-paradigms in PFRPG - when the core-rules were releases, the value of a rogue talent was obviously set to about a feat or less, while later classes have increased the value of class-specific options - compare alchemist discoveries and rogue talents if you need proof of that...or look at the ninja's framework and unique tricks and you'll notice the paradigm-shift.


The trickster, however, is not a simple rogue redesign - it could be summed up as a magus/rogue-hybrid, but that does not do the class justice: Instead of cobbling together two classes, the trickster is a completely unique class. Let me sum up the unique benefits here: The trickster streamlines problematic arcane trickster class features, has a unique spellcasting-blend that plays different from standard classes while being easy to understand and it provides a balanced, strong means to represent the sneak attack double team as well as, most importantly, creating the AWESOME spell pilfer mechanic.


Where am I going with this history lesson/comparison? Well, the trickster is stronger than the vanilla rogue - no doubt. It frankly SHOULD be - there are three classes that need versatility/power-upgrades: Rogue, monk and (versatility-wise/unique class feature-wise) fighter. The trickster is stronger than the rogue can deliver solid damage - much like a magus, this class is a glass cannon, though one that also is a rather good face/skill-monkey. Personally, I very much welcome the decrease in skills per level, though this in no way decreases the potency of the class.


So...generally, I'm a bit torn on the revision. You see, when Marc sent me the revised file, I really dug the changes as a list. The revised Acrobatics forte is unique, magical and has cool mechanics that I really, really like - and I thought this would be what I wouldn't like. In contrast, I expected to like the shadow forte and was pretty underwhelmed by it. It has no ability that stands out as unique, it's just a selection of specialist tricks and some shadow-dancery material thrown in. Basically, the previously lamest forte is now pure awesome...and we get a new one, that is now, in comparison to all others, pretty lame....but then again, I may just have the trope done in too many, often more captivating ways.


Still, I had the highest hopes for the alternate balancing...and am not sold on it, as mentioned above. The alternate balancing doesn't do much, apart from restricting the damage output and if you get creative, you can still rock out damage via the other spell schools. Perhaps not as much...but it feels like a band-aid for a bullet wound to me. The trickster, even with that limitation, does not lose much in its potency apart from direct damage-dealing capacity via spells. Still, the care would usually warrant an upgrade in rating...


And then, there would be the archetype. And it's even stronger than the base trickster. Significantly so. I consider it broken. The exchange-value of fortes for feats and the other abilities are all off. Not going to get anywhere near my game.


How to rate this, then? I'm somewhat loathe to say it, but, as a person, I ended up liking this, as a whole, less than the previous iteration. While the 6+Int skill-issue and the slightly weaker Acrobatics-forte were not perfect, the pdf had no big issues. The dual forte archetype, to me, is a big issue - it's significantly stronger than anything the original pdf contained and an archetype I'd disallow in even my high-powered games.


You know, I feel like a total prick...this is a free addition, more content...but ultimately, in spite of the now superior acrobatics forte, the archetype really drags this down for me. Usually, I'd actually rate this down for that one. However, due to the fact that this is a free revision, I will maintain a rating of 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 for this revision, with an explicit note to be very careful with the dual forte archetype. It may suit your game, it won't come anyway close to my table unless I'm playtesting something with Path of War-powerlevel.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
New Paths 8: the Trickster (Pathfinder RPG)
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Path of War Expanded
Publisher: Dreamscarred Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/04/2016 09:33:55

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The massive expansion to Dreamscarred Press's Path of War-series clocks in at 181 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page ToC, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with a massive 176 pages of content, so let's take a look!


But wait, before we do, let me make one thing abundantly clear: I am aware that Path of War as a system is a divisive topic. I am very conflicted regarding the core book for it, a tendency I expressed in my review back then. I stand by ALL of these criticisms and have defended them, time and again, so let's get this out of the way first: If something fails the kitten-test, I consider that a needless flaw in the design; I consider infinite healing not to be a part of the core of the game, since only a few combos allow for it, often due to these combos being based on at least one badly designed piece of crunch. I will complain about that. Similarly, I will complain about Skills-for-attack-substitutions, since skills are MUCH easier to blast through the roof via spells, items, etc. I consider all of these problematic. You are entitled to have a different opinion. I don't tell you how to play, that a certain type of game-style is the "wrong" way or any such nonsense. I just depict what my subjective experience is regarding the material.


Before we dive into the analysis of this pdf, let me first make some things clear -I am not going to judge this pdf as per the power-level of the base game and instead take a look at it in the context of Path of War and its increased power-level -anything different would be rather ridiculous regarding an expansion to said system, after all. Conversely, this is not going to be a rehash of all my different takes on individual rules-decisions of Path of War that ultimately, to me, are unnecessary design-relics. If you're not familiar with the gripes I have with the base-system (and the opinions which diverged from mine on that, after all, I do not consider my reviews to be the only valid opinion!), you can read up on them in the extensive discussion on my site and certain boards. Hence, I will try to limit my complaining about these old gripes to a minimum, should I encounter them. Please, please read the above again, carefully - I'm not here to prescribe an opinion, I'm here to give my honest assessment.


All right, that out of the way, let's begin with the latest iteration of my favorite previously-released Path of War class, now revised...so what does the Harbinger do? Chassis-wise, the Harbinger, who gets d8, 4+Int skills, 3/4 BAB-progression, good fort- and will-saves and proficiency with simple and martial melee weapons, light armor and shields. The harbinger begins play with 5 maneuvers known, 3 of which can be readied and 1 stance, increasing this to 16 known, 10 readied and 7 stances at 20th level. Maneuvers may be chosen from Cursed Razor, Riven Hourglass, Scarlet Throne, Shattered Mirror and Veiled Moon. For my issues with the old disciplines, please check my reviews of those. I'll return to the new disciplines later. Harbingers can be considered the brooding anti-heroes, the dark bringers of woe and as such, contemplating10 minutes of negativity allows the harbinger to ready other maneuvers. In order to regain spent maneuvers in combat, Dark Claim is used - as a swift action, the harbinger can claim a creature in close range she can see - this lasts for a number of rounds equal to 1/2 her class level and a number of creatures equal to class level can be claimed at a given time. Whenever a creature claimed is reduced to 0 hit points, the harbinger recovers initiation modifier expended maneuvers, and when he claims a target, he also gets 1 expended maneuver back. It should be noted that a harbinger is aware of the precise location of a creature claimed, though not being able to see the creature still nets total concealment.


Now if you've been expecting an anti-kitten-test rant here, I have to disappoint you - maneuvers are not a limited resource and as such I'm perfectly fine with the option of a harbinger carrying around bags of kittens to claim and kill...why? Well, because they can also regain a maneuver as a standard action, which renders the whole shenanigans moot. If played smartly, a harbinger will not want for maneuvers, though they can run out of them, requiring the expenditure of actions.


First level harbingers add 1/2 their Int-mod to attack rolls, 10th level harbingers also add full Int-mod to damage rolls, offsetting their 3/4 BAB. I am NOT a fan of dual stats to any roll, but that is documented by now, alongside the obvious means to min-max the s*** out of such a set up, right? They also get +10 ft. competence bonus to movement rate, increasing this by a further +10 ft at 10th level and this bonus is applied before any other modifications due to load et al.


At 2nd level, the class gets Dark Focus - a kind of specialization on one discipline, which nets a +1 competence bonus to atk and damage, increasing these bonuses by a further +1 at 5th level and every 4 levels thereafter. The focus'd discipline's save DCs are also increased by +1, though this bonus does no longer increase, eliminating one of my two main complaints about the first iteration of the class.


6th level nets wither Advanced Study or Discipline Focus as a bonus feat; 10th level nets a second discipline and 14th level provides the option to spontaneously expend a maneuver readied to spontaneously perform a maneuver known from the Dark Focus'd discipline, though it has to have a level equal to or lower than the expended maneuver. Finally, 20th level makes all maneuvers known of the chosen disciplines count as readied in addition to the ones readied regularly.


At 3rd level, harbingers may 1/encounter (thankfully now defined in in-game time in Path of War, so no more complaints regarding that!) move up to her speed as a swift action, increasing this by +1/encounter at 9th and 15th level; however, at these very same levels, harbingers can also opt for fly speed, swim speed plus immunity to inhaled toxins, climb speed with bonuses to disarm and grapple OR the ability to teleport up to her speed as a move action - while the latter sounds like it is the most powerful of these, that would be a flawed assumption - the action economy versatility does somewhat balance these out, though teleport and flight remain clearly the stronger options. On a nitpicky side, though, I do believe that this short-range teleport ability does need to specify that it is a conjuration [teleport]-effect. Why? To maintain balance with existing mechanics that block teleportation-effects. Still, not a grievous oversight here.


At 4th level, the harbinger may initiate a readied strike as an immediate action once per encounter whenever she reduces a foe to 0 Hp or below, with the strike being required to have an initiation action of one standard action, +1/encounter use at 10th and 16th level. IT should also be noted that the target needs to be adjacent, which is an important restriction in my book. The limit helps to keep this in line and makes it a good resort when a harbinger needs an extra oomph. Now granted, this ability, while not looking like much on paper, is actually very powerful - seeing how, in many games, the GMs are not as adept at drawing out combats, these abilities may be considered very painful for a continuous micro-novaing through "small" encounters.


5th level provides a +2 bonus to AC and Ref when moving more than 10 ft. in a given round, rewarding alacrity - as does the 11th level ability, which allows for the movement of 1/2 movement as an immediate action 1/encounter. I like this ability per se, but does it have the capacity to waste e.g. attacks or spells executed against the harbinger? I assume no. This messing with the movement economy is not bad, but some clarification would be nice.


7th level nets magic aura at will, though, in a minor complaint, the SP's not italicized. At 8th level, creatures flanked by the harbinger and his allies take a -2 penalty to saves and skill-checks. 12th level adds no-save shaken to a creature claimed and 13th level provides something pretty cool as well: The harbinger provokes no more AoOs for movement from claimed foes. 17th level allows a harbinger, as a full-round action, to move up to his speed and initiate a strike at any given point of the movement, while 18th level lets them initiate strikes as an AoO (OUCH! - and yes, has a restriction regarding activation action of the strike!). 19th level...is imho OP. All maneuvers initiated by a harbinger ignore ALL immunities possessed by the targets. Still...notice something? The thematically unfitting ability that let you stand around as opposed to skirmish is gone!


I consider the harbinger to be the best Path of War-class and I really like it; minor gripes aside, it is a great base line even if you dislike Path of War to create your own skirmishing class.


Archetype-wise, the harbinger gets 3 options, the first of which would be the crimson countess. The Crimson Countess deals damage to creatures claimed - 1d4 at first, then 2d4 at 6th level, +1d4 every 4 levels thereafter. The ability per se is rather cool, though I have an issue with the damage being untyped - the lack of a means to negate the damage renders the character extremely potent against any threat that is short on HP and great on alternate damage-negation. This, theoretically, allows for very easy high-DR construct-slaying, for example. Applying a proper damage type would help here. At 2nd level, the crimson countess receives a pool of vitae points equal o the number of claimed targets, with a max storage capacity equal to the class level of the countess. The pool drops to 0 after 1 minute out of combat and the countess receives +1/2 vitae points as morale bonus to atk and damage rolls made via maneuvers, +2 when executed against claimed creatures. The ability also scales with levels, providing additional means of utilizing vitae, with further untyped damage equal to her class level to all claimed creatures as a move action, additionally potentially providing 1d6 hp per creature claimed - the healing may be none too much, but it still makes me think that my countesses would carry bags of kittens around for handy claim-kills and infinite personal healing. sigh


On the plus-side, the ability does provide an expansion of the recovery options (4 vitae for one counter or boost) available, with higher levels netting 8 vitae points forced teleportation (which should specify that the effect is a conjuration [teleport]-effect for the purpose of interaction with base rules) and a 6 vitae option to shove off half damage (or ability damage) to a target claimed creature - the latter can be extremely powerful, though the archetype actually prevents the worst of the ability's potential for OP abuse. The capstone provides a lethal 10 vitae save or die; make it and take damage ability.


On the awesome side, the class receives the powerful ability to turn into a big pool of blood and reform at 9th level, getting a bunch of unique benefits while in said form. This archetype, in a nutshell, replaces agility with reliable damage-output - though swift action movement is still here. I love the fluff of this glorious beast. The Crimson Countess actually will see some use in my game (ONLY as an NPC-class) with very minor tweaks and imho, this archetype plays radically different, with the minimum of vitae points putting player agenda and planning higher on the agenda than I would have expected. This is not a cookie-cutter archetype and it is fun - some minor tweaks can make it work even within my conservative preferred power frame, though the infinite healing and untyped damage represent two needless glitches in this one's frame.


The second archetype, the Ravenlord, receives a bird-exclusive animal companion with the harbinger's Int that shares in several class abilities; slaying it deals Constitution-damage to the harbinger and it acts upon his initiative and does not gain bonus tricks or share spells, but it does share dark focus, but not the benefits of the bonus feat granted at 6th level. Now the unique thing is that the ravenlord may have the companion execute maneuvers: At 3rd level, the raven can initiate strikes and counters, though only one of the pair may initiate a strike in a given round. The interesting component here would be that they also generate a small area of debuffing gloom whenever the OTHER executes a strike, allowing for a fluid (and EXCEEDINGLY fun) switching between roles and benefits. Also: They actually can be defended against by being designated in proper rules-terms - good, since the penalties are massive. At 13th level, the gloom lasts longer and eliminates insight and morale bonuses. I really like this archetype!


The third archetype for the harby would be the previously unreleased omen rider, who gains Medium Armor Proficiency as well as mounted Combat at 1st level and may replace a discipline with Piercing Thunder. Also at first level, he gains a spectral steed that can be called to his side 3 +initiation modifier times per day, dismiss it as a move action. The steed has 1/2 the rider's HP, the same AC and shares miss chances, immunities and resistances with the omen rider. What's a bit overkill in my book: "The spectral steed is not affected by effects that target an area, nor is it vulnerable to effects that do not deal hit point damage." - So no fireballing them? Meh. I get the design rationale behind the idea, as the steed is pretty fragile, but still. The steed has a 40 feet land speed, +10 ft every 2 levels to a maximum of 100 feet and can bear the rider's weight + 50 lbs. +10 lbs per omen rider level. It also learns to traverse swampy, sandy etc. terrain unimpeded at 3rd level, at 6th level it can walk on liquids as though they were firm ground; 9th level nets fly speed equal to land speed (and initiator level bonus on Fly checks) and 12th level lets the rider call his steed and have it arrive with him already mounted as an immediate action. The steed can make the movement for the omen rider for maneuvers requiring it and benefits gained are extended to both. At 5th level, the steed nets +2 to AC and Ref to itself and the rider, 20% miss chance when it has moved at least 20 feet and 10th level provides infinite running, with prolonged sprints ignoring fatigue..."Denn es reiten die Toten so schnell..." 8th level nets the omen rider or his steed the option to gain 2x HD temporary hit points when he reduces a claimed creature to 0 HP instead of recovering maneuvers. All in all, an interesting, unique mounted harby with great visuals.


The second class herein would be the mystic, who receives chassis-wise d8, 4+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as light armors and shields, 3/4 BAB-progression, good Will-saves and begins play with 7 maneuvers known (which scale up to 21) as well as one stance, scaling up to 7. Mystics can have 5 maneuvers readied at 1st level and increase that to up to 12...however, here, things become interesting: Much like To9S's Crusader, the Mystic does not have 100% reliable access to her maneuvers: The Mystic, before her first turn, determines 2 maneuvers, which are immediately accessible to her; thereafter, at the end of each of her turns, she gains one randomly determined maneuver from those of her readied maneuvers, unlocking this one for the remainder of the combat. If using the Lightning Recovery or Victorious Recovery feats, the mystic can immediately unlock such maneuvers, providing an option for players that are not 100% fine with the random nature of this mechanic. If, during a combat, the mystic would have no withheld maneuver to unlock left, she instead receives all readied maneuvers back and may choose 2 new ones to be immediately unlocked. The number of maneuvers granted at the beginning of combat increases by +1 at 3rd level, 6th, 9th, 12th, 15th and 18th level by one maneuver, but unlike the base chosen two, these are randomly determined as well. Discipline-wise, the mystic can get Elemental Flux, Mithral Current, Riven Hourglass, Shattered Mirror, Solar Wind and Veiled Moon.


The Mystic key-ability is btw. Wis and the class also receives a so-called animus - this means that mystics count as class level arcane spellcaster levels for the purpose of prerequisites and stacks mystic levels with caster levels for the purpose of item creation etc. At the start of her first turn, the mystic receives 1 + Wis-mod animus pool; this pool increases by +1 every subsequent round and lasts for 1 minute out of combat. Whenever the mystic initiates a maneuver, she adds an additional +1 animus to her pool. Animus may be spent as part of a maneuver initiation action for e.g. a cumulative +2 insight bonus to d20 rolls (atk, CMB, skills) associated with that maneuver, up to a maximum of 3 animus spent for a +6 bonus, increase the DC by +1 per point of animus spent. 4th level unlocks 2 animus spent per maneuver for +1/2 class level damage. Alternatively, animus can be used to ignore 10 points energy resistance or 5 points of damage reduction. The latter is a bit problematic: DR is not a unified concept: DR/adamantine or DR/epic is significantly more powerful than DR/magic - a finer and more precise scaling here via animus spent would have made the ability significantly fairer and more streamlined.


At 9th level, mystics can target foes up to her base speed with a melee maneuver or move up to movement rate as a teleportation-effect as part of the initiation - nice to see the acknowledgement of it being a teleportation and the line of sight caveat. Also for 2 animus points, mystics may target creatures within 30 feet with melee strikes. 13th level and 19th level unlock up to 4 and 5 animus spent per maneuver, but do not unlock additional options.


Animus is important in other ways, though: Mystics are attuned to the elements and when they ready maneuvers, they select an active element and associated energy type. Whenever the mystic initiates a maneuver that deals damage, the mystic may spend one animus to change the damage type to the respective active element. As a standard action (or as a free action upon assuming a new stance) she can change the active element. If the character is psionic, her active element and active energy type are the same and if the mystic has the Elemental Flux discipline, she treats the active element as the active element for Elemental flux.


It should be noted that the class also has a reset for readied maneuvers, namely blade meditation: As a full-round action, a mystic can spend 1 animus to immediately receive and EXPEND (NOT initiate!) the maneuvers readied, the mystic receives a new set of maneuvers as per the default rules of the mystic's ready-mechanic. Being slightly more vulnerable during this period, foes attacking the mystic still have to contend with the raging elemental maelstrom unleashed: Until the start of the next round, foes attacking the mystic receive 1d6 points of active element damage, +1d6 per point remaining in the mystic's animus pool. The class also receives bonus feats at 2nd, 12th and 17th level, being able to choose from Item Creation and Combat feats. The mystic also receives solid chances of emulating unknown spells when crafting at 4th level.


2nd level provides a +1 insight bonus to AC versus psionics and spells (and psi-like and spell-like abilities), increasing by +1 at 6th level, 11th, 16th and 20th level by +1. At 3rd level, mystics may, as a move action, spend 1 animus to affect up to Wis-mod allies within line of sight with her elemental glyph, lasting 1 + Wis-mod rounds and new glyphs supersede glyphs already affecting a target. Glyphs are supernatural abilities and add new effects at 3rd, 8th, 13th and 19th level. Beyond the elements, metal, darkness and illumination provide associated buffing options - air e.g. is about movement, darkness concealment etc. At 5th level, the class gets an interesting ability: When targeted by spells/psionic powers or spell/psi-like effects that have a Fort or Ref-save partial, she may substitute a Will-save AND is unaffected on a successful save. If she fails, she receives 1 point of animus, but this ability only works while unencumbered and in light armor. The ability is very powerful, yes, but its limitations mean that it works actually pretty well in the Path of War-context.


At 6th level, the mystic may 1/day as a free action swap a readied maneuver with another one the mystic knows, +1/day at every 4 levels thereafter. At 9th level, the mystic may, as a standard action, utilize animus to suppress identified magical/psionic effects for Wis-mod rounds. Somewhat odd: The ability seems to contradict itself "In order to use this ability, the mystic must have identified an ongoing spell or power through a Spellcraft check or other method." and "This ability can only be used on effects within 30 feet, although the mystic does not need to identify the effect while it is within that range..." seem contradictory...I think this means to say that the requirement for identification is void while within 30 feet....which is somewhat odd, regarding the range...as written, you can't suppress effects farther away...


15th level allows for the expenditure of a move action to gain 1d6+Wis-mod animus points...which can be used outside of combat and lasts 1 minute. As a capstone, the mystic may create a glyph with the effects of two glyphs at the same time - brutal.


Archetype-wise, we get 3 for the mystic as well, with the knight-chandler being the first: The Knight Chandler on the other hand is a pretty detailed, complex archetype: The archetype needs to be non-evil and, at 1st level, receives a soul candle, a fist-sized mote of light that sheds illumination in a radius depending on the knight chandler's illumination pool. Once per round, the knight-chandler may will, as a free action, to move the candle up to her speed, ignoring difficult terrain, but being unable to pass through solid objects. If the candle is within the knight-chandler's space, she can have the candle move with her. Additionally, as a swift action, the knight-chandler may summon the soul candle to her square. Allies within 15 ft. of the candle gain resistance to the active element, equal to the number of illumination points in the knight-chandler's pool and the candle is only weakened in magic-dead zones, not suppressed.


Outside of combat, the knight-chandler has 1 point of illumination in her pool; upon entering combat, she adds +1 illumination point per round. She may also use a swift action to gain 2 illumination points and receives one whenever she initiates a boost. She also gains Tap Animus, which means that she does have animus in addition to her illumination pool. It should also be noted that levels stack with arcane spellcasting levels for spells known and purposes of feat-prereqs. Their attacks may add faerie fire and inflict bonus damage equal to initiator level at 4th level. At 9th level, 1/round, the knight-chandler may, as part of a strike, end an outlining effect via aforementioned faerie fire to heal 1/2 damage inflicted...which, once again, is infinite healing, can be kitten'd...you know the spiel by now. Not a fan. At 17th level, the candle can act as the chandler's position for line of sight and may teleport to the candle...which is honestly pretty cool and it has the teleportation effect caveat.


Starting at 3rd level, knight chandlers can utilize candle magic, beginning with votive effects and unlocking lantern effects at 8th level and bonfire effects at 15th level. The effects projected may be changed as a swift action and the ability has been refined - only one effect of a given type may be active at any time. The relatively close limitation of the soul candle's light is what makes these work, for the effects are rather brutal: More five-foot-steps, teleport, as a lantern effect flat-out immunity to death effects...and then, there would be the bonfire effects, which provide AoE fast healing for infinite healing for the whole group and even ability score damage healing for initiators and a life 3-style option to reduce the pool to 1, but also receive immediate healing for 1/2 maximum hit point total plus an end to just about all negative conditions. I consider the latter to be pretty problematic, since it basically flat-out prevents death negating any damage that would bring the character below 0 Hp when used. Then again, this one is draining and can only be used 1/encounter, which now prevents the total abuse of the ability.


Also, seeing the ridiculous amounts of damage initiators can dish out, abilities like this may be actually needed in the long run. This does not change the fact that the archetype once more provides basically infinite healing, meaning the archetype will limited in its usefulness for some tables - as much as I like the archetype's mechanical frame, it won't get anywhere near my table. At higher levels, knight-chandlers may share boosts or counters readied with allies and as a capstone, the archetype gets an apotheosis alongside an increased illumination pool minimum.


Another archetype would be the Aurora Soul, which gets a modified list of proficiencies and disciplines: These fellows get Broken Blade, Elemental Flux, Riven Hourglass, Steel Serpent, Thrashing Dragon and Veiled Moon as well as Heal as a class skill. Instead of the usual bonus feats, the archetype receives the monk-y bonus feats like Improved Unarmed Strike at 1st level and its Greater brother at 3rd level. 7th level adds initiation modifier to unarmed strike-damage and treats them as magic; 12th adds the modifier to CMB and CMD and 17th to unarmed confirmation rolls. At 2nd level, they get a defensive aura that is active whenever they have at least one animus, adding initiation modifier to AC, even to Touch or flat-footed AC, but not against attacks that hit her before her first turn.


The third archetype would be the gunsmoke mystic, who gains access to Elemental Flux, Rivn Hourglass, Shattered Moon, Solar Wind, Tempest gale and Veiled Moon as well as Sleight of Hand as a class skill. Additionally, they obviously are proficient with firearms and gains Gunsmithing at first level, with the option to upgrade the battered starting gun to masterwork quality for the usual costs. The issue of costly bullets is reduced by the option to make animus-based bullets, which also reduce the misfire value, not unlike the etherbullet mechanic I used in my own etherslinger. The archetype also has the option to use animus to clear the gun and may gun-fu firearms in melee. At 3rd level, they may spend animus to add initiation modifier to damage rolls with firearms and at 7th level, the archetype may spend a move action to increase a gun's range. 12th level provides a ricochet shot-combo with ranged strikes and 17th level nets free animus reload when initiating maneuvers. 1st level also nets Rapid Reload and higher levels quicker reloads for bigger guns. All in all, a solid take on the gun-wielding initiator that addresses many of the issues of the base firearm rules.


The book also sports a previously unreleased base class, the zealot, who gets d10, 4+Int skills per day, full BAB-progression as well as good Fort- and Will-saves. The class begins play with 5 maneuvers known (scaling up to 16), 3 readied (scaling up to 10), 1 stance (scaling up to 7) and 1 power point per day, scaling up to 70 at 20th level. The zealot has proficiency in simple and martial weapons as well as with all armors and shields, but not tower shields and receives access to teh Eternal Guardian, Golden Lion, Piercing Thunder, Sleeping Goddess and Solar Wind disciplines. The initiation modifier of the zealot is based on Charisma. Zealots begin combat with all maneuvers readied and may recover maneuvers via their zeal ability, which nets a +1 bonus and increases by a further +1 at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter. This bonus is applied to him and all allies within his collective when he hits a foe with a strike maneuver and also when he uses the aid another action.. When using aid another this way, it is a move action and lets him recover initiation modifier, minimum 2, maneuvers. However, this does not allow the zealot to recover maneuvers expended in the round the aid another attempt was activated and alternate uses of aid another do not allow for the cheesing of this restriction.


I already mentioned the collective and the presence of power points makes abundantly clear that this class has some psionic tricks: As a standard action, the zealot can generate a collective, with a maximum range of medium (limitless at 15th level, plane-border-transcending at 19th level), consisting of initiation modifier or 1/2 class level individuals, whichever is higher. Members who have their Wisdom score lowered to 1 are automatically removed. A zealot can initiate maneuvers with one of more willing targets (or harmless effects ) and a range greater than personal on a member of the collective. This extends to powers and spells as well, which imho overshoots the target, though, oddly, powers seem to require the [Network] descriptor. A zealot may also aid himself and at 2nd level, uses Cha instead of Wis for the purpose of psionic feat prerequisites.


Additionally, 2nd level nets the zealot a conviction (+1 every 4 levels thereafter), which lets him gain bonus feats, the option to spend power points to expend the duration of zeal, extend his zeal benefits to mindless creatures, get a Cha-based version of Combat Reflexes as well as 1/round move action granting...which can be exceedingly powerful. Additionally, fortification-like boosts, Psicrystal Affinity and similar options can be found here. Also at 2nd level, the class gets martyrdom, which allows the zealot to redirect 5 points of damage per zealot level from his collective's members to himself - but, rather cool, it does not contain a means to cheese this via resistances or immunities. The cool idea here is, btw., that zealots may spend power points to negate damage incurred thus on a 3:1-ratio (5:1 at 12th, 10: 1 at 17th) and, at 7th level, he may also affect ability damage thus, with power point expenditure as a means to offsetting the effect. This is actually a very cool ability, particularly in the very damage-happy Path of War-framework.


3rd level unlocks aid another at range through the collective as well as telepathic communication within it. Starting at 4th level, he may transfer maneuvers of a level lower than his highest with power point expenditure equal to the maneuver's level to allies in the collective. At 11th level, he may lend an additional one...and before you ask: When he recovers the maneuver, the ally loses it, so not collective death strikes. At 4th level, the zealot chooses one of three missions, basically means of using power points for effects, coupled with passive benefits; if applicable; the more powerful, active effects are learned at 8th level. He can spend a maximum of 1 power point + 1 for every 4 levels per round to power these. Creation provides the option to still save a creature killed via hit point damage in the round after and the zealot can spend power points to heal within the collective. Additionally, he may spend power points to generate walls of ectoplasm or suppress negative conditions. Destruction as a mission would be more offensive, ignoring up to 2 x zeal's bonus of hardness or DR (once again, does not distinguish between power levels of different DRs...), add bonus damage to strikes or extend maneuvers to affect 15-foot cone or 20-foot lines. Finally, Protection increases reach...and has a pretty OP, but perhaps in Path of War, required ability: At the expenditure of the psionic focus (which btw. is the determining factor for the passive benefits of missions), the zealot can halve the damage of an ally. Compared to that, the DR these guys can grant and power point based free counters, while powerful, feel less brutal.


5th level nets Diehard and more staying power, 9th level automatically lets him save versus the negative repercussions of the death of a follower of the collective, 13th level nets stalwart and at 16th level, the souls of his collective's departed are kept within it, allowing for easier resurrection. At 10t level, his collective may transcend death, allowing him to continue to operate in a limited capability while his physical form is destroyed.


Archetype-wise, the zealot receives two archetypes, the first of which would be the Discordant Crusader, who may use both good and evil desciptor'd maneuvers, regardless of his own alignment - he loses Piercing thunder, but gains Silver Crane and Black Seraph. He may switch profane and sacred damage via the expenditure of his psionic focus - which is only useful in a rather limited manner, considering that both damage types have been introduced by Path of War and that there are no creatures resilient to either...which remains, just fyi, a huge gripe I have with both disciplines. The theme of moral ambiguity is continued regarding weapons at 5th level and the inability to detect his alignment. Duality of Discipline Focus and different augments gained via mission, instead pertaining the two disciplines, as well as a dual-stance activation as a swift action complement this one.


The second archetype would be the void prophet, who replaces Golden Lion and Solar Wind with Cursed Razor and Riven Hourglass. Pretty cool: He has an alternate means of recovery, as he can add unwilling targets to his collective and debuff creatures affected thus. Beyond this, higher levels allow this fellow to reduce insight and morale bonuses and power-point-based, relegate countered attacks to collective members, with higher levels allowing the unwilling addition to the collective via strikes. Very interesting twist on the base frame!


Beyond the archetypes for the new classes, this also offers material for the classes introduced in Path of War: Brutal Slayer stalkers replace Thrashing Dragon with Black Serapth and Primal Fury. When this guy uses a full-round action, he recovers initiation modifier (minimum 2) maneuvers and gains 2 x level temporary hit points as well as DR equal to his initiation modifier, while also adding his initiation modifier as bleed damage to the next strike. The benefits last 1 round and temporary hit points stack with already existing ones. Whenever a brutal slayer crits, he increases his Strength for initiation modifier rounds instead of gaining deadly strikes ( first +4; +6 at 8th level, +8 at 16th). 4 new stralker arts are provided: Using ki to get brutal strike benefits versus targets, applying them to flat-footed targets, increased Str-bonus and the option to reduce damage to sicken the foe can be found. Instead of a dodge bonus, they gain a scaling natural armor and they add 1/2 Str-mod to AC and Ref instead of Dex, with 6th level providing full bonus instead - and yes, maximum Dex-mod of armors still caps that.


The second stalker archetype, somewhat unfortunately named vigilante, replaces Solar Wind and Veiled Moon with Primal Fury, Scarlet Throne and Tempest Gale and uses Int instead of Wis as initiation modifier. To recover maneuvers, he expends afull-round action for +4 to AC as well as the regaining of initiation modifier maneuvers, minimum 2. He can also move up to his speed and the next attack adds sneak attack damage. Alternatively, he can recover one maneuver as a standard action. The vigilante has an inspiration pool equal to 1/2 class level + initiation modifier, allowing for the expenditure of such points to add a +1d6 surge to the respective skill or ability check, with Knowledge, perception and Sense Motive requiring no such expenditure. For two points, this can be applied to atk and saves and applying it to saves is an immediate action. These guys also get trapfinding and full sneak attack progression instead of deadly strikes. They may select investigator talents instead of stalker arts and the capstone allows for free +1d6 to all attack rolls as well as the option to enhance DCs with the inspiration mechanic. It may sound odd, but this may actually be the first time I liked something as a private person about the crit-fishing stalker class...I pretty much enjoy this one on a personal level.


The Warder may elect to choose the fiendbound marauder archetype, which replaces Golden lion and Iron Tortoise with Black Seraph, Cursed Razor and Eternal Guardian. These guys manifest a fiend's grip - a spectral claw that has the reach and grapple properties and is based on the gauntlet the archetype wears and attacks with it are treated as though they have grab. They add the cursed condition to those marked and generally can be pictured as pretty adapt grappling specialists. The ordained defender gets either Eternal Guardian, Black Seraph or Silver Crane, depending on alignment and uses Wisdom as initiation modifier. They have an aura and gain limited access to inquisitions or war-priest blessings at level -2, with minor powers unlocked at 3rd, major powers at 13th level. Warlords may elect to become Desperados, who, bingo, would be gunslinging warlords: With Tempest Gale added and a gun as starting equipment, 2nd, 5th and 9th level for quicker reloads as well as access to grit and deeds and, at 5th level, scaling bonus damage when using guns with Solar Wind or Tempest Gale. Okay take on the subject matter, though personally, I consider the mystic archetype to be a bit more interesting.


There are also a lot of archetypes for non Path of War-classes. These begin play with 3 maneuvers known, 3 readied and 1 stance, scaling up to 15 known, 7 readied and 5 stances and unlocking up to 6th level maneuvers. From aegis customizations for maneuver access to barbarian primal disciples (yes, skills for maneuvers can be used in rage) to rubato bards that utilize a tempo pool to nightmare dreads, deadlier marksmen and myrmidon fighters (that have a very wide array of disciplines available!) as well as grit and deeds and finally offer a discipline-based fighter...) to monks of the silver fist, knight errant paladins, ambush hunter rangers and hidden blade rogues, this chapter is pretty impressive and useful. Why? Because it offers means to make the non-Path of War classes still valid in a game that utilizes the increased potency of the Path of War-system. Two thumbs up for this!


Beyond the massive selection of archetypes, the pdf also offers so-called class templates - these would basically be archetypes that can be applied to multiple classes, much like the general archetypes pioneered back in the day by Rogue Genius Games, with individual replacements for the eligible classes. Here, the Bushi, who regains maneuvers when sheathing a weapon, the mounted hussar, the alchemist/investigator polymath or the privateer can be found Inquisitors and Warpriests may elect to become warpath followers.


The pdf also sports three prestige classes, the first of which would be the 5-level animus adept, who needs to have animus healing as well as at least 5th level. Basically, these guys can be considered to be the PrC-based mystic-light-version, with basic, advanced and master glyphs allowing the character to partake in a variant of the mystic's glyph-system. The 10-level Landsknecht PrC, at full BAB-progression and medium Fort-and Ref-saves and is absically the mithral current/scarlet throne specialist reach-fighter, including a unique strike and stance that may either be counted as scarlet throne or mithral current. The third prestige class herein would be the phoenix champion, whose chassis is similar to that of the landsknecht, but, as you may have guessed, these guys would be the ranged combat specialists. The book also contains pages upon pages of feats and going into the details for each would bloat this review even further. Animus-based healing per encounter, 1/encounter combining a riven hourglass stance with a free counter from the discipline, blending of psionics and martial arts, extra x-feats, adding penalties to those claimed - there is a metric ton of crunch here and while I'm not a fan of all components, going into each and every one...well...this is already at the 12-page marker right now.


Pretty cool: We get favored class options for the path of War classes as well as new options for old classes -from new stalker arts to new gambits; some archetyes and previously released material also has now expanded options.


OKAY, so next up would be the disciplines. Now you are, of course, interested in the two new disciplines herein, right? Well, the first would be Cursed Razor. This discipline is associated with heavy and light blades and spears, with Spellcraft being the key skill. Spreading curses inside your aura, using brands to disrupt abilities - the discipline as such provides an intriguing array of options. The maneuvers also allow for paralysis - which is problematic since the maneuver in question ignores immunity to the save-or-suck effect. That being said, long-range teleporting foes into adjacent non-difficult terrain, attack with bonus damage? Cool! Plus: It gets the descriptor-thingy right! High-level stealing of abilities is also evil and fun. This is, no hyperbole, my favorite discipline so far -strategic, bereft of legacy-rules and logic bugs and focused on nasty debuffs and unique tricks, it is powerful - at low levels, perhaps a bit too much. But still - over all, the most PFRPG-feeling discipline I've read so far.


Elemental Flux, associated with Spellcraft and available for monk, thrown weapons and light blades. Elemental Flux requires elemental damage of some maneuvers to be determined in advance, but may choose this as a standard action. Furthermore, quite a few of the maneuvers in the discipline can be augmented via the expenditure of animus points. It should come as no surprise to the reader, then, that we're dealing with highly flexible offense/defense options here - unlike other disciplines, the significant flexibility of elemental flux is pretty hard to counter when combined by the resource-management of the mystic. For future-proofing purposes, this bears mention. As provided, though, the discipline is also highly interesting, with more than one maneuver offering wildly diverging in effects beyond just switching the respective energy damage types - and ultimately, I found myself enjoying this component most about elemental flux: While thematically, I did not consider the discipline too captivating, its flexibility is what ultimately makes me enjoy it. It should also be noted that the respective elemental benefits are pretty well-balanced among themselves. So yes, I was positively surprised here!


Eternal Guardian, a previously unreleased discipline in this book, is associated with Intimidate and represents the total conviction to an oath or task; favored by bodyguards around the world, its weapon groups are hammers, heavy blades and polearms. Cursing targets that strike you to save or become unable to move, allowing allies to not provoke AoOs while moving in your threatened spaces...concept-wise, I found myself enjoying this one. Similarly, intimidating an opponent to fail with an attack as a fear-based counter does make sense in a way. Teleporting between strikes, retributive tricks...all in all, I found myself enjoying this discipline as one of the better ones in the overall balancing.


Mithral Current, associated with Perform (dance) and the weapon-groups light blades, heavy blades and polearms, is up next. The discipline also has a unique flair and mechanical component: Being pretty much about Iaijutsu-style quick drawing, the discipline codifies a type of requirement for certain maneuvers that requires the wielder to properly draw a weapon immediately prior to utilizing the respective maneuver. The concise definition here is pretty much glorious and it should be noted that it does make basically for an optional component that can add additional effects to the respective maneuvers. It should also be noted that some maneuvers and stances here do allow for free sheathing of weapons as part of their usual effects. The discipline also does sport numerous rather interesting defensive tricks - alas, unlike some other more recent Path of War-installments, we once again have a more pronounced emphasis on skill-checks as substitutes for more valuable numeric options like AC etc., adding in the swinging effect more than in e.g. the harbinger's designs and making the content presented here feel less streamlined...and, again, more prone to being gamed. On the plus-side, the actual gaming flow of calm turning to brutal counter-assault and visuals of mithral current are fun.


The Piercing Thunder discipline, based on Acrobatics and with polearms and spears as weapon groups, is all about charging and defending against such assaults as well as reach-trickery. It should be noted that the Twin Thunder Stance lets you dual-wield weapons that would otherwise not be eligible. The strikes, counters and boosts also obviously had some dragoon-inspiration, with repositioning leaps and the capstone allowing for a massive, devastating line-AoE-charge.


The third discipline covered herein would be the Riven Hourglass, with the associated skill being Autohypnosis and the weapons being light blades, flails and hammers. It is this discipline I dreaded most...you may recall my indignation at some of these strikes right? Well guess what: E.g. the previously broken strike the hourglass level 1 strike now has a save to negate and a cleaned up wording. KUDOS!!!


That being said, granting an ally your move, standard or full-round action, to be taken immediately as though they had readied it, is still horribly broken in my book. It allows you to break any semblance of action economy and is chock-full with abuse the system to smithereens combos. While at least swift and immediate actions are precluded from this due to the boost's activation, the combo potential with other classes is vast. Riven Hourglass should be, as a discipline, carefully analyzed by a GM before allowing it - it may be the, group-dynamics wise, strongest discipline in all of Path of War...and that's saying something.


Shattered Mirror, the second discipline, focuses on heavy and light blades and close weapons and uses Craft (glassmaking, painting, sculpture or sketching. Shattered Mirror offers stances to curse temporarily foes hit by you and strikes that add nasty spell failure chances (also to divine casters!) - nice! There also would be a pretty interesting counter, one where I actually drum roll LIKE the fact that it's powered by a skill-roll. Why? Because it's a magical counter and it requires the target to be cursed - this requires set-up and provides a grounding of the odd mechanics within the context of the gameworld. Oh, and it helps that the effect is not one that vastly benefits from maxing the hell out of the skill. The Shattered Mirror lets you do something interesting - utilize, for example, the atk of the last attack of the foe, dealing nasty damage to the target. Know another thing? The Skill/attack-material here is intriguing - using a skill IN ADDITION to attack rolls to add benefits to strikes? Now that a) makes sense to me and b) is elegant and avoids the easy stacking of bonuses on skills - kudos! A very powerful maneuver would be Equivocate - choose a target: When said target is subject to a power, psi-like ability, spell or spell-like ability, you also receive the benefits - and vice versa. While VERY powerful, this also allows for a vast array of exciting tactics. I'm not a fan of using a craft-check in lieu of a save, but that one will not break the game. Doubling strikes and setting the range at close is powerful - as is a strike that curses a target to receive damage equal to what it inflicts - thankfully of the same type. Still - nasty and also open for abuse, though to a lesser extent. Imho, such a maneuver should have a caveat that precludes AoE-damage from being reflected multiple times. The capstone covers a save-or-suck strike that imprisons the target's soul - yeah, ouch. Cool imagery, though. Shattered Mirror is an odd discipline in that it imposes, much like Blue Mage/Mimic-style-classes, a task on the GM - namely one that should be very aware of the potential of NPC/Monster abilities being hijacked. This does not need to be an issue, but it could be one since that type of foresight usually is not required - and yes, I can see a GM walk face first into a brick wall here.


Sleeping Goddess associated skill is Autohypnosis, the weapon groups being flails, heavy flails, monk and spears as well as any mind blades or similar abilities. Sleeping Goddess adepts gain power points equal to the highest level maneuver they know, +1 per additional maneuver known, including stances. You also gain the psionic subtype. In a unique twist, several of the maneuvers of this discipline have a means of being augmented by the expenditure of power points, with a maximum of 1 power point + 1 per 4 initiator levels as the cap. The way in which these are used in pretty unique and also interacts with psionic focus - more often than not, the augmentation options offer varying, scaling means of increasing the potency, also using psionic focus as one of the resources you can use: A basic strike that debuffs, for example, can be divested of its save by psionic focus expenditure. While, in many cases, these seem to be justified, a strike that locks Sus, SPs, spells and powers is nasty when divested of the save...and there I am, getting ready to write a rambling diatribe...and there we have it: Duration reduced to 1 round. While this is still, nasty...I kinda like it, actually. At least in the ridiculously high-powered Path fo War context, it certainly makes sense! Blending false sensory input with strikes is also cool. I'm not a fan of the overpowering optimism boost - as a swift action, it instantly recovers your psionic focus AND, for 3 rounds, you pay no power points to augment...which, basically wrecks the whole limited-resource-aspect of them once you get this 6th level maneuver.


Tempest Gale would be the final discipline covered herein, with Sleight of Hand as the associated skill and weapon groups bows, crossbows, firearms and thrown weapons as associated weapon groups. This discipline also features a unique option, namely the fact that you may execute ranged combat maneuvers, which are treated much like melee combat maneuvers, with the exception that they do not provoke attacks of opportunity and that they apply range penalties, if applicable. From the classic disarming shot to negating cover to using Sleight of Hand as a ranged Disarm-attempt to negate attacks, the discipline feels very much like the classic wild-west-trick shooting option. In other rules-contexts, I'd probably complain rather hard about the power of ranged combat maneuvers, but within Path of War, it feels pretty much grounded when compared to the options some other disciplines offer. In fact, the rules utilized in this one may rank as some of the more easily scavenging materials for games that do not utilize Path of War. As a whole, I enjoyed this discipline and its flavor.


...Come on, can a guy get some applause, I have almost not complained about skill-rolls as substitutions for harder to buff rolls in teh whole discipline section! ;P


Kidding aside, we have one more section to go: Martial Traditions. No less than 14 fully depicted martial traditions await the reader, from the Acolytes of the Arrow to the Cirque de la Fumée, I really enjoyed this fluffy sendoff after the ridiculous amount of crunch this book smashed in my face, though the allegiance with such organizations does provide tangible benefits. An oath is required (and depicted!) for the respective traditions and common tasks and available services further help integrate the disciplines within the context of a world. If anything, I really wished this chapter was a bit longer - the write-ups were evocative, the read-aloud oaths nice...and it makes Path of War's options feel...well, less focused on crunch, more like something you can easily and organically introduce into a setting. The traditions also, obviously, help justifying why certain folks have access to these powerful maneuvers, while others don't.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good - while I noticed minor hiccups like missing italicizations or bolding instead of italicization, for the most part, this book excels in these disciplines. Layout adheres to a nice, two-column full-color standard and the artwork within is a mixture of unique, new artworks and stock art. The book comes with a second, more printer-friendly version and the pdfs are fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience.


Chris Bennett, Jade Ripley, Sabrina Bennett, Anthony S. Altovilla, Andreas Rönnqvist, Luke Williams - these would be the folks wrote this colossus of a crunch book. The question burning on your lips may well be: Should I get this?


Well, that kinda depends. If you didn't like Path of War and shared my trepidations regarding many of its design decisions, then, surprise, you won't like this either. What you may find, though, is more material to scavenge that in the first book: There are quite a few bits of content herein, more so than in the first Path of War, that make for great scavenging material.


That being said, this still represents a higher powerlevel than I usually use for my base-line of comparisons and, much like the first book, this is not for everyone. At the same time, this book does A LOT of things better than book I: The integration of now Path of War classes via a rich array of archetypes that sport the power-level of the system help making the content feel less like an intrusion. Similarly, the new classes are unanimously better than those in the base book. The harbinger is inspired and my favorite Path of War class - a great skirmisher, that, with some nerfs of the disciplines, may even work in less powerful games. The fact that the designers have listened and further improved this fellow is simply great, making this the star of the book, at least for me.


The zealot may well be the class that Path of War needed - with the massive defensive/damage reassigning/mitigation effects it has, it allows a group (and foes) to withstand the tremendous amounts of punishment the system allows you to dish out. As such, I consider it to be pretty much the most crucial class a Path of War group can have on its side.


I'm still not a fan of the mystic, though - I consider it to be the weakest of the new classes in terms of focus: It feels like a crusader-like chaotic maneuver-specialists that constantly apologizes to its player via options to exert control, when the unique selling point, to a degree, is the lack thereof. That being said, the animus-system here and the knight-chandler archetype in particular do unique, fun things with their complex rules - and, in direct comparison to the classes in Path of War 1, I still consider this one to be more interesting.


To cut a long ramble short: This is, as a book, better in every way than the first one. The classes are more creative, the adaptation of non-martial classes to the system goes a long way; heck, I consider the disciplines herein unanimously more interesting than those featured in the first book. And yes, I still grit my teeth whenever I read skill-checks versus X...but, and this may well be a subjective impression, I do have the impression that, via descriptors and counter-options, the totality in that regard is a bit more sound. Then again, with Veiled Moon already being the prime example of skill-abuse, there simply were not many possibilities to exceed that. On a more positive side, the fluffy traditions in the back, while perhaps the least flashy of the bits of content herein, definitely rank among my favorites - they ground these rules in the reality of a given world.


Before I ramble on even longer: If you play with path of War and like the system, then this will blow your mind. Seriously. It pretty much is as big a step forward as the APG was over the PFRPG Core rules. If you like Path of War, then you absolutely need to get this book. Right now. If your trepidations regarding the system sprang from a lack of support for regular classes, then this book also remedies that.


There are two specific warnings I'd wish to utter to fans of Path of War and GMs in particular: GMs, take a careful look at both Shattered Mirror and Riven Hourglass. Both disciplines can be extremely powerful. Similarly, this book pretty much plays loose with action economy, providing multiple means of trading actions among characters and getting more - which, as a comparison base-line, is usually capstone-levels of power. So that definitely warrants some careful probing for some games using the rules.


How to rate this, then? Well, I rated the original book according to my standard balance-base-line. I stand by that. Compared to most crunch, its power-level is off the charts. Same here...but this is the expansion. It's the book that builds upon the implicit playstyle enforced by Path of War and as such I can't well complain about that or have it influence the final verdict. if you have an issue with immunity ignoring, a ton of damage and the like...then this may not be for you. If you want to play a superhero level anime-like game with plenty of unique attacks and defenses, then this is just what the doctor ordered.


Damn, this is hard...you see, as a person, I love a lot in this book in style, flavor and execution. Similarly, as a person, I absolutely loathe a bunch of the design-decisions, needlessly failed kitten-tests, infinite healing as a base feature and similar gripes...but. And here comes the big BUT: As a reviewer, these already were present in the base book. They are established components of the exceedingly high power-level of the Path of War system. Thus, as a reviewer, I can't complain about that here. I can advise caution regarding the action-economy-switcheroos, but in the frame of the system, particularly with its already significant powerlevel, they are less jarring and broken then they would be in vanilla pathfinder.


How to rate this?


Well, for fans of Path of War, this will be the 5 stars+ seal-level of awesomeness best book of the year, simple as that.


Similarly, if you hated book 1, you'll hate this as well, perhaps even more so.


For those skeptical of the system, well...it's better than its predecessor in every way...but it's still containing all those gripes I (and plenty of other people) had against the previous book. If you were torn on the previous book and considered it, like I did, a 3-star-book, then this should be considered between 0.5 and 1 stars higher for you, depending on how badly cheesable skill-rolls versus x, kitten-tests, infinite healing etc. annoy you.


As a reviewer, my official verdict, ultimately, will be smack in the middle - at 4.5 stars. While personally, I'll round down regarding my own tastes...but as a reviewer, it frankly wouldn't be fair to rate this based on such a decision. I also have a policy of in dubio pro reo. Which means my official verdict rounds up to 5.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Path of War Expanded
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Knowledge Check: Codes & Cyphers
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/02/2016 11:53:28

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of Fat Goblin Games' Knowledge Check-series clocks in at a massive 34 pages, 1 page front cover,1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 28 pages of content, so let's take a look!


After a brief section of introductory prose, we delve right into the subject matter: The age-old problem of how to convey a message to a target without any other being realizing it or being capable of understanding it. In order to understand the content herein, we first need to define a couple of basic cryptology terms; the book differentiates between the following: A code is a system that uses letters and symbols as stand-ins for other concepts- thus, for example, "Ash" may be a stand-in for lord. Real life medieval arcane texts tend to be written in such analogues, often drawing upon mythology, most famously likening e.g. Jesus Christ with the unicorn or pelican.


Cyphers would be more delicate, using symbols, numbers or other letters as stand-ins for certain numbers or symbols - e.g. the word "Reviewer", when run through a cypher I used in my games, looks like this: "Zalxacaz". The original, unchanged text is defined as "plain text," the process used is known as "encryption" and getting to the real message is known as "decryption." Cryptography is the study of making such codes; cryptanalysis is the study of how to break encrypted texts and cryptology is the hyperonym, encompassing both disciplines.


We begin this supplement with a brief history of the nature of cryptology in real life; from Mesopotamia to ancient Egypt, we get a brief history of codes and cyphers within our history, spiced up with some adventure hooks and already pointing towards potential problems. Interesting, btw. - any form of literacy, to a certain extent, from the FuÞark to Latin or more arcane scripts, language and the written word have, for a long time, been used to convey meaning only to the initiated. Two sample, lesser known such scripts are highlighted as exemplary ones - Ogham and Enochian, which are pretty nice...and you can find fonts with a brief internet search, should you care to write texts in them.


Beyond that, we are introduced to the difference between encoding the message to be encrypted (steganography) and the means to encrypt the meaning of it, which is generally known as encryption. Beyond the historical means, the obvious means of concealing messages via shrink item is mentioned. Short texts can be easily concealed with transposition, with letters arranged to be read as a spiral as a sample. Depending on the size of the text, you can make pretty awesome hand-outs via this one - I used this once as a means of making a vortex-like message, concealed in the insane scribbling of an asylum inmate. The Spartan scrytale is mentioned as a similarly simple means of employing this type of concealing messages. The most common means of generating a hidden code employed by roleplaying games would be the substitution, where letters are listed and either inversed regarding their position in the alphabet (with c corresponding to x, for example) or similar changes. While frequency analysis can crack such codes, it nonetheless should provide an easy means for PCs to potentially decipher. The Vigenere Cypher would be even more famous and thus, the book also covers this one - and correctly identifies Ultimate Equipment's cypher book's source, misnamed though it may be, as an item that probably was supposed to confer to the variation of the substitution cypher known as Bablington Plot. The, at this point, pretty well-known One Time Code, a pretty much randomly determined number-based code. From the alchemical alphabet to the witch's alphabet (again -one google away from getting the fonts), we get two more, unique secret writing styles.


The second chapter sports secret rules and basically goes through a few of the more common classes (excluding those introduced in the ACG and OA), to then provide a new archetype, Courier Rogue, who is particularly adept at Bluffing and Sleight of Hand pertaining secret messages. Courier's Pockets, at 10th level, allows for a container to conceal messages as though it were magical, which is a nice modification. Linguistics as a skill receives a minor expansion in its uses to pertain to encryption/decryption. The pdf also sports a collection of 3 different feats, the first renders formulae less expensive for alchemists due to using the script, while Cypher Magic increases the CL of casting from scrolls. Cypher Script is similarly less expensive and makes spell transcription quicker.


Absolutely awesome: The book sports two new teams for the rules presented in Ultimate Campaign, the cryptologists and the espionage cell, including events that range from double agents to coups and shadow wars -awesome! Both aforementioned scytale and a cypher book for one-time codes can be found among the mundane items and we get three simple codes as samples - keyword substitution codes, keyword substitution and the classic straddling draughtsboard are used as samples to what you can do with properly used cryptography.


The third chapter of the book sports two new magic items and two new spells - with a monocle that allows you to read languages and lenses that scramble texts by passing them through protean souls (!!!), we get some pretty cool, high-concept items herein. The spells arcane cypher and discern encryption are somewhat less flashy by necessity, but they are well-placed regarding their level-range and provide neat options regarding their placement within the spells available. The pdf then concludes with a smattering of sample NPCs - the prismatic chamber, a small organization of code-breakers containing a total of 4 fully stated NPCs, running the gamut from investigators and rogues to a disguised axiomite. The characters generally are nice, though, in a somewhat annoying formatting peculiarity, the statblocks, while using italicization perfectly, don't seem to spot the bolding for some words that usually are standard and help read the statblocks - minor formatting glitches, sure - but glitches nonetheless.


Conclusion:


Editing is top-notch and marks this as a product of the newer direction of Fat Goblin Games, of the age where the company began excelling and publishing with care. Formatting does sport some hiccups on a cosmetic level, but none that really would break the game for you. Layout adheres to a drop-dead gorgeous two-column full-color standard with a mixture of thematically fitting full-color stock art and public domain pieces. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Richard D. Bennett's knowledge check regarding Cyphers and Codes can be deemed an success - the book provides an easy to grasp, concise introduction to codes and cyphers for the uninitiated; if I had had this book 20 years ago, it would have blown me away and greatly enhanced my game. For GMs who already are using codes and cyphers in their game, chances are they'll find some new material herein...unless they have already spent time researching the subject matter on their own.


My personal highlights herein would be actually the additions to the Ultimate Campaign-systems provided in this book, with the rest of the crunch ranging from awesome (items + spells) to okay (archetypes + feats). Personally, I think it would have been quite a coup to get the fonts of the languages cited herein included in the deal, but I get why that wasn't done. What I don't get, though, is the obvious lack of alchemical writing and material based cryptology. Using e.g. silk worms to eat the true letters in a given missive, written with invisible, but edible ink? What about a chemistry-based alchemical subsystem for making diverse arrays of invisible ink or the like? I'm aware that this belongs to the field of steganography, but I still felt that this book could have used a section providing more details here.


In short: For novices, this is a great introduction to the subject matter; it's well-researched and concisely presented. Pros, though, may derive slightly less use from this pdf. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Knowledge Check: Codes & Cyphers
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Crawthorne's Catalog of Creatures: Werespider
Publisher: Misfit Studios
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/02/2016 11:51:17

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This pdf clocks in at 5 pages, with the front cover sporting the beautiful full-color artwork of the werespider as well as the social media icons and misfit studios-logo and the editorial on the second page; the SRD covers almost 2 pages, with the second page offering about 1/5 of rules-texts from the builds - overall, I am not a big fan of this presentation, since printing out the pdf does mean you have to waste ink on the SRD-page and the front cover material. On the plus-side, there is actually some flavor text on the first page.


The eponymous monster hunter Crawthorne does get to have a say on werespiders as presented here. A big plus: Werespiders gain swap sense, a new ability, in lieu of the woefulyl generalist default lycanthrope template, which is neat indeed. The pdf also sports 3 feats - Potent Poison allows you to improve poison created as Ex or Sus (good job for catching both!), increasing the DC to 10 + HD + Con-mod. The other two feats increase the DC to escape webs and make them stronger and harder to destroy (Hp= 2 your HD, DR 5/-), which makes the webs an actual threat - nice job here!


Beyond three solid adventure hooks, we also get the CR 2 werespider, with a monk 2 as a base creature, statblock provided in both human and hybrid form - kudos! Also nice: The pdf does provide a mini-variety - hunting werespiders replace their web-ability with +8 to Acrobatics checks...though, to nitpick, that should be "racial bonus", not "racial modifier".


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard and the original artwork provided is nice at this low price-point. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length - however, it does come with a printer-friendly version, which is neat indeed for guys like yours truly that print out books - that version has no backgrounds and is b/w apart from those jarring social media icons on the first page- kudos!


Steven Trustrum's Werespiders are a nice, solid addition to the canon of lycanthropic threats. While personally, I wished this had a bit more space to shine and some further things that set werespiders apart from other lycanthropes, the book still provides a solid creature for a buck. With not much to complain about, I consider this a solid addition to the series and thus rate this 4 stars - a good offering for the price-point, though not one that revolutionizes the critter.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Crawthorne's Catalog of Creatures: Werespider
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GM's Miscellany: 20 Things Volume I
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/30/2016 08:29:09

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The first collection of the 20-things blogposts clocks in at 68 pages, 1 page front cover, 3 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page author bios/foreword, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 59 pages of content, so let's take a look!


So, before we start - you can get the content in this book on Raging Swan Press' blog - Creighton publishes new small tables in regular intervals there, so if money's tight, that may be an option. At the same time, though, you'd miss out on an extremely handy book. Let me reiterate: If you've been following my reviews for a while, it won't be a surprise to you that I consider Raging Swan Press' Dungeon and Wilderness Dressing books to be simply revolutionary. They are, frankly, the two books that have increased the quality of my games more so than any GM's guide, any other book. No matter the system you prefer, if you even remotely are into fantasy roleplaying, I guarantee that these two books will rank among your most often used books ever. There is a reason they made my number 1 Top Ten spots. I am literally a better GM with them, in spite of having to translate the entries on the fly to German. Yes, these books are that good. They will be used for decades to come.


This book, then, would be pretty much the little brother of these tomes, providing a vast array of smaller tables to use in your games that seamlessly interact with the dressings sported in the two legendary tomes. The book is organized by environment, with the first chapter depicting tables that help you flesh out dungeons: From effects affecting evil altars to pieces of cavern dressing and notable cavern features, the details are copious and abundant also sport cool effects that have an actual effect on gameplay: Unstable floor, with falls broken by ice-cold water, remnants of platinum ore in the walls...there are some pretty awesome things to discover. Strange things that can be found in abandoned mines, alchemist's laboratories, dusty crypts or the sanctums of dread necromancers - no matter the system you play, there is pure evocative gold to mine here. Tables of guardrooms, odd chests, unique triggers for secret doors - this book basically is the magnifying lens to add to the clarity already provided by the big books, the collection that sports the small details to the general renditions and particularly GMs weak on the improvisational side will adore this book for it.


What about a generator that can make up to 8000 pieces of graffiti to find on dungeon walls? But it's not just dungeons that get their due: Strange traditions you can encounter in towns and build upon, different kinds of noxious stench (associated, perhaps, with the objects you can find in slums?), creepy happenstances you can stumble upon in haunted houses - a lot can be found herein. And yes, there is a table of sights for the iconic seedy tavern as well.


Beyond the confines of civilization lurks the wilderness eternally, and from sea voyages and coastal caves to complications for journeys through swamps and marshes or forests to flotsam washed upon the shore, these tables in no way remain behind the superb quality of the rest of this book.


For newer fans of Raging Swan Press, you may have already thought that this leaves out the relative newcomer to the dressing-fold , but no - this book also expands the concept of the "I loot the body"-series and extends it - beyond a general table, one for rogues and wizards, we also get more unique ones: I particularly enjoyed the tables for things to be found in purple worm stomachs, in owlbear's lairs or within the very body of the gelatinous cube.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are, as I've come to expect from Raging Swan Press, top-notch. I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to RSP's elegant two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Artwork is nice b/w and the pdf comes in two versions - one optimized for screen-use and one for the printer.


Creighton Broadhurst's collection of tables...is stunning. You know, I actually lurk regularly on his blog and read what he has to say. I honestly wouldn't need to buy this book...but, as with the big books, this is a false conclusion. Why? Because this book is a superb example for the importance of structure and organization: Much like its big brothers, this book excels by virtue of its absolutely superb organization.


You take the book, flip it open and booyah, awesome. It may just be me, but I frankly can't derive the same sense of satisfaction from searching for a particular page; when I'm playing and I spontaneously need such a dressing-table, I don't want to search - I want to flip open my book. This installment of the GM's Miscellany-series is frankly no less inspired than its big brethren: If the big dressing books are the macrocosm, this provides the microcosm. As such, it has less entries for the more niche components, but to make up for that, the entries themselves are longer and more detailed, which is just what the doctor ordered as far as I'm concerned.


In short: I consider having this as either pdf or print just as vast an improvement for the game as the big books, though, by virtue of its size, obviously on a smaller scale. This does nothing whatsoever to diminish the superb quality of this offering, though. Hence, this book receives a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval and is a candidate for my Top Ten of 2016. Get this great book!


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
GM's Miscellany: 20 Things Volume I
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In The Company of Treants (PFRPG)
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/29/2016 09:02:54

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The latest installment of Rite Publishing's massive "In the Company"-series for playable monster races clocks in at a massive 48 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 43 (!!!) pages of content, so let's take a look!


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


Unlike most of these books, we do not begin with the in-character prose that guides us through the book itself - instead, we start with author Jonathan McAnulty noting taking us a long on a short trip through his mind and past, explaining why this book exists in the first place - and personally, I like that. It makes the book feel...well, more direct and establishes a context and theme against which one may process the following information.


After this, we dive right into what has by now become a crucial part of the identity of this series, namely the fact that it reads very well: The introduction to the playable treants featured in this book is narrated by a member of the race, structured alongside a song of the treants, as the narrator explains the mythology, the role of shepherds of trees and then proceeds to detail the life-cycles of treants, misconceptions of other races, the unique society, ethics and relationships with other races. This whole section is provided in stunning, captivating prose and extends its level of detail to nomenclature to the finer details as well, resulting in a truly captivating experience as far as reading material is concerned.


Now, an important component of the treant as depicted here is that the treants are plants, yes...but the plant traits, very powerful as a default, have been modified for balance's sake, which is a pretty big (and smart) decision right then and there. Unlike previous installments of the series, the treants provided herein actually are not simply one race: There are multiple options to choose from, the first of which would be the birchwalker.


Birchwalkers gain immunity to humanoid-targeting effects, paralysis, stunning and sleep effects as well as +1 + 1/2 HD to saves versus charms, compulsions, morale effects, patterns, phantasms and polymorph effects - these would be the modified plant traits mentioned above. They get +2 Con and Cha, -2 Wis, low-light vision and are always awake, though their spell preparation etc. work via a meditation, though this does not include penalties to Perception for sleeping. Birchwalkers gain +2 natural armor and are resilient versus starvation, suffocation etc. - they get +4 to Con-checks to avoid the like and gain +2 to Diplomacy, Appraise and Craft. (Here, a cosmetic formatting glitch has crept in, with the artisan racial trait not beginning in a new line; cosmetic, though and not a reason to harp on the pdf. Birchwalkers get +4 to Knowledge (Nature) pertaining trees and armor made for them costs twice as much. They also take +50% fire damage. Alternate racial trait-wise, they can have a slightly faster speed (and minor bonuses versus trip and bull-rush), +2 to Knowledge (nature), +4 to Diplomacy and Knowledge (local) or +4 to Profession (orcharist), increasing a region's plant productivity 1/year via plant growth-y tricks.


The second version of treant we get is the oakheart, who gets the same modified plant traits as well as +2 Str and Wis, -2 Dex, only 20 ft. movement rate (that is never diminished), cannot run, is always awake, gains low-light vision, +2 natural armor, the same photosynthesis-bonus versus starvation/suffocation/etc. (and yes, they still require sustenance!), speak with plants at will, +2 to saves versus spells, SPs and poisons, +2 to CMD vs. bull-rush and trip and the same Knowledge (nature) bonus to deal with trees. They also share the requirements for more expensive armor and being flammable. Alternate racial trait-wise, they can get +2 to Diplomacy and Knowledge (local), 1/day wood shape, +2 to saves versus electricity, cold and heat-based saves or an increased natural AC at the cost of further reducing movement rate, down to 15 ft.


Pretty cool and a nice showcase of 3pp-camraderie - instead of simply replicating another author's work or generating redundancy, there is also the seedlings included. First written by Marie Small and then published by Jon Brazer Enterprises, these characters would be the option to use if you wanted less powerful base race stats and are the version you'll take for the low-fantasy campaigns. While seedling-material is obviously included herein, the original book is by no means redundant and can be pictured as a nice companion-pdf to this book. It's great to see Rite Publishing giving credit where credit is due.


That's still not all, though - there is a FOURTH race of treants in this book, the Willowkin. These fellows also get the modified plant-traits, +2 Dex and Int, -2 Con, darkvision 30 ft, low-light vision, +1 natural armor, photosynthesis, they can speak with plants at will, gain +2 to CMB when making trips and +1 initiative, +2 to Spellcraft checks as well as +1 DC when casting SPs and enchantment spells (not that big a fan of the SP-caveat since I know a couple of classes that cast exclusively SPs...) and 3/day daze, I assume as an SP - the trait doesn't specify, which makes figuring out the DC slightly more opaque than it should be. They also suffer from the more expensive armor and flammable drawbacks like their brethren. While their write-up, like those before, sports some of the cosmetic glitches, I noticed no formal ones. Alternate trait wise, they can get keen senses, +2 to Acrobatics (which should be capitalized, not lower-case) at the cost of natural armor, tremorsense 5 ft. instead of darkvision and 1/day healing by putting his feet/roots into water - which is a damn cool image.


The pdf provides a significant array of favored class options, but class-specific ones and general ones and then proceeds to provide racial archetypes, the first of which would be the Primal Forest Guardian, a treant barbarian that gets a modified skill-list and proficiency-list. Instead of uncanny dodge, improved uncanny dodge and DR, the archetype gains +1 natural AC per level and +1 DR/- per 2 levels, but also pays for this enhanced defense with reduced numbers of rage per day. Instead of fast movement, they become particularly adept at hurling boulders, trees, etc, increasing the damage output of these at higher levels and they begin play with a slam attack that scales in base damage. Pretty cool: At 11th level, the guardian can elect to forego iterative attacks in favor of an additional slam attack at full BAB, which improves the flow of combat. They do, however, gain less rage powers. Unique: The barbarian actually grows in size, up to Gargantuan at 20th level, with minor attribute bonuses and a single Dex-loss accompanying this feature. Bonus damage versus inanimate objects is nice, but more interesting would be that prolonged rages may animate trees in the vicinity of the primal guardian.


If you've read the above, you may have begun already contemplating how treant growth and multiclassing work - for you'd be correct in the assumption that all the archetypes herein indeed do sport such options. Their interaction is handled with a rather nice, explanatory sidebox that provides concise and succinct guidelines for the GM and players. Kudos!


The verdant healer would be the treant cleric and, like the barbarian, the archetype receives a modified list of skills and proficiencies and is locked into the healing domain as well as one domain of the player's choice from a brief list. Verdant Healers cannot channel positive energy to harm undead and gain 1/2 their class level to Heal-checks. They gain a scaling slam attack as well as natural armor bonuses that increase every 2 levels, with high levels also providing a bit of DR. At 3rd level, the archetype gains the option to use channel energy as a touch instead, which heals slightly above the median of rolls for regular beings, 6s for plants and allows the healer to even treat attribute damage and at the highest levels, raise dead. Think of this as a channel powered alternate lay-on-hands/mercy-ish option. They also are experts at brewing potions and gain, as mentioned above, growth, though size-wise, they cap out at Huge at level 20.


The tree master druid takes the tree animation one step further in a bonded forest and would probably be the incarnation of the treant character concept you think of first. This ability is powered by the quickening point pool, here equal to 2 + Charisma modifier, +2 per class level gained. This concept, just fyi, can be found in quite a few of the archetypes herein, with information on pool-behavior when multiclassing being provided as well. Obviously, wild shape is focused on plant shape iterations for a tonal consistency. The fighter archetype provided herein focuses on a combination of tanking akin to the barbarian brother and a focus on hurling devastating stones. The earthborn kineticist is locked into earth (geokinesis) as primary element and gains basic geokinesis as a wild talent and burn gets an interesting modification: Earth-related burn is reduced by 1 to a minimum of 1, while fire-related burn is increased by 1. Burn can also be accepted in order to temporarily increase the kineticist's defensive capabilities and they may infuse the power of earth in their slams.


The serene master would be atreant monk (which is a pretty powerful option, considering the fact that the armor-restriction is null and void for those guys) - and the combo of modified monk-AC-rules and AC-scaling means, ultimately, that these guys end up with better capabilities to survive the rigors of adventuring. While they do not gain stunning fist (thus locking them out of quite a few archetypes and tricks that use Stunning Fist as a resource), their damage-output is increased. Now here is an interesting option: At 4th level, they can deliver attacks by proxy via trees, allowing them to be supremely lethal combatants in forests. I was pretty skeptical about this one, but it ended up being rather cool, so kudos! (And yes, ki-powered, but balanced regeneration is included, though the ability lacks an activation action.) At higher levels, these guys can also swap places with trees. Prophets of the Glades oracles gain the new deep woods mystery, which sports among its revelations true strike-ish benefits alongside rock throwing as well as establishing an effect that lets your survey a tree and share damage with it...which certainly is powerful, but also evocative and in line with the treant mythology established in fiction. As a minor cosmetic nitpick, that one's name isn't italicized. Pretty cool would also be the second mystery, the weather mystery, which grants you bonuses depending on the current weather! You know...I actually really like this idea! Windy day? Your bonus applies to Dex. Cloudy? Wisdom. I think there's a class concept here. Three sample curses for treant oracles, from being hollow to being fire-scarred or stunted can be found as well.


More classic and in line with what you'd expect is the Woodland Stalker, a pretty straightforward ranger with treant-y abilities. The wald walker rogue is interesting in that it may, among other options, flank with trees a limited amount of times per day and has quite an array of nice, unique talents. The skald archetype provided similarly uses the treant-y tricks like slam attacks and hurling stones, but supplements them with unique performances. The arcane classes aren't left out either: Sorcerors can gain two new bloodlines, the ley line and fey woods bloodlines; the first featuring healing capabilities for the sorceror and the second being more closely aligned with classic tricks, including a vanilla quickening directed tree attack. Finally, the verdant scholar wizard gets a bonded tree that can aid him when making magic items and divide damage between him and the tree. Additionally, a selection of unique arcane discoveries are provided for the archetye. This one surprised me. Why? Because the bonded tree is narrative GOLD. "Look, the leaves of our protector's tree are falling...a great calamity is approaching" or "Defend the sacred tree of our guardian!"...damn cool and made me come up with multiple, cool ideas.


The pdf, as has become the tradition with this series, features a racial paragon class, the tree shepherd. Tree shepherds get d8 HD, 4+Int skills, 3/4 BAB-progression, good Fort-saves, proficiency with clubs, great clubs, spears, stones and slings. They begin play with the option to supernaturally animate trees with a range of 50 ft + 10 ft. per level, powered by 4 + Cha-mod quickening points, which are expanded by +3 per level thereafter. The animation takes one full round for the tree to uproot itself, though somewhat annoyingly, the ability does not specifically call that it requires the tree shepherd to expend this action, which means that the activation-action component of the ability could be clearer. The number of trees simultaneously animated and their power increases at higher levels. If a tree is left beyond the radius, it roots itself, but you do not need to spend quickening points again to reanimate it while the original duration persists. Charisma governs the number of trees a shepherd can have activated at a given time. The class also features forest stealth (+class level) while in forests as well as the scaling AC and DR-bonuses some archetypes featured as well. Obviously, the iconic slams and stone hurling can be found as well and tree shepherds get the powerful savage growth of treant barbarians, which means they cap out at Gargantuan size at 20th level.


At 1st level and every 2 levels thereafter, the paragon class gains a forest gift, which would be the talent-selection within this build: The talents themselves run a broad gamut of tricks: Moving a whole forest via quickening expenditure at high levels? Yup. Summoning elementals (maximum power based on shepherd size and point expenditure) may be nice, but personally, I really like the option to call forth mist in a 1-mile radius. Sure, only 60 feet visibility...but I know my players will LOVE this one....and visibility can be further reduced via additional points. Now get a character with mist sight and you have a great setup for a brutal infiltration. Conjuring forth an exhaustion-mitigating spring that also heals, gaining greensight or benefits depending on the season (YES!) render this class, alongside the numerous attribute bonuses, versatile and strong, but fitting for just about every campaign. In fact, I'd probably recommend it more for a lower magic environment that emphasizes magic as something mystical rather than as something common.


That's not even close to what this book has to offer, though: Beyond detailed age. height and weight tables, we get information on treant food and unique mundane and magical items: From fire extinguishing chalky powder to living chests or treant brew rations, there is a lot of cultural uniqueness to be found here.


Speaking of which: The new feat-section, featuring the options to animate vines and bushes, increase your photosynthesis as well as multiple styles render this section rather neat. Beyond the significant array of feats, rules for crafting vine traps alongside 8 sample plant traps (CRs range from 1 to 5) complement the well-ingrained ideas we have on treants. Bowls of light that enhance nearby plants, clubs that can be animated via quickening points or enchanted, returning rocks - the magic items are similarly uncommon and fitting. The pdf goes one step beyond, though, and provides a 20-level NPC class at full BAB-progression, good Fort-save, d8 and 2+Int skills for NPC-treants - which reduces the tricky bits of the previous archetypes to the base and may be a nice option for low-powered campaigns that want a manageable, straightforward treant-PC.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are good; on a formal level and regarding rules-language, there isn't much to complain apart from a few hiccups. Formatting-wise, the pdf similarly sports a couple of minor issues, with in particular line breaks between abilities not being always clear - one more pass in those two disciplines would have made the book a bit more streamlined. Layout adheres to a nice, two-column full-color standard with branchy-graphic elements based on public domain art in the margin, providing a nice, fitting aesthetics here. The full-color artworks in the book seem to be not only original, they also are rather beautiful. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Oh boy, this was work. But also a rather joyous occasion, at least for me. Why? Because I'm honestly glad Jonathan McAnulty has once again written a big, whopping book. Then, I started thinking about treants and started shuddering. I mean, seriously? How can you maintain their power and evocative tricks and retain a sense of balance? It seems like a losing game, no matter what you do: Get rid of the plant traits and the high-power games while whine; don't get rid of them and the low-powered games will start yelling "unabalnced!". How does this book solve this conundrum? Simple. In the best way possible. It's all in here. Want a high-powered treant? Go for birchwalker. If you're like me and like races to have powers and drawbacks and a unique flair, go for the oakheart. Want a more agile one? Willowkin. Something in line with the core races? Seedling. Better yet, the racial paragon class and archetypes generally sport the "treant"-feeling. They are not simply general archetypes with a racial coat - they feel and play distinctly unique, they are fitting for the races. The cornucopia of supplement information and fluff further enhance this book and render it, as far as player-agenda, table-variation and the pure imaginative potential is concerned, one of my favorites. The mile-mist...the moving of trees...beyond mathfinder abilities (which are there, fret not, my fellow crunchers!), this pdf offers great storytelling devices that may actually be useful above and beyond the limitations of the system. This book codifies what we know of treants from literature and our cultural unconsciousness and provides the definite book on playing the masters of the woods and, personally, my favorite in the whole line alongside the rakshasa-book. That being said, there are a couple of glitches herein, some of which pertain to ability activation and thus, the rules-language. While one can usually glean what they are supposed to be, that does remain as a minor drawback- Mind you, these glitches are few...but they're there.


So...let me reiterate that: As a person, I absolutely adore this book, particularly the extensive means to customize treants to make them viable for just about any campaign. As a reviewer, however, I can't let the glitches that are here slide...and thus, I'd arrive at a final verdict of 4.5 stars. I do know, however, that quite a few of you out there tend to share my opinions and prefer evocative, unique options that emphasize a cohesive theme over formal perfection of bland content. Hence, I will round up for the purpose of all the platforms - this pdf has its heart at the right spot and is a fun, great read that will make you want to call forth the shambling, ponderous masters of the forests deep.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
In The Company of Treants (PFRPG)
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Mini-Dungeon #029: Heart of the Sacred Dawn
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/29/2016 08:59:53

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map (alas, sans player-friendly version) and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM.


Since this product line's goal is providing short diversions, side-quest dungeons etc., I will not expect mind-shattering revelations, massive plots or particularly smart or detailed depictions, instead tackling the line for what it is. Got that? Great!


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


...


..


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Still here?


All right!


In ages long gone, the lord of dragons Tenebrash was vanquished by the order of sacred dawn with the help of an ancient relic, the lucespel. Now, evil has returned to the lands of mortals and it is up to the heroes to find and secure the lucespel within the confines of the now ruined temple-keep of the order of sacred dawn. The deity once in command of the artifact remains purposefully obscure and can be considered to be a great placeholder for deities from Saranrae to Latander or Arden. Within these sacred halls, only the mightiest of heroes have a chance to prove their mettle - to do so, they must defeat exceedingly powerful knights turned to spirit of adoration. The ruins also sport a riddle that requires the PCs to collect certain words, which prove to be the answer to a simple riddle. When solved a templated great black wyrm dread ghost still stands between the PCs and triumph...oh, and that one downright sadistic trap...that, RAW, is even triggered when the correct key has been taken, which may be an oversight. 3 x Power Word: Kill at CL 20 is nasty and probably should not be triggered when the correct key is used. Similarly, that should be a trap or at least a haunt; the pdf has a tough option for legendary rogues to bypass the boss fight, but not to find and disarm the killer-magic...which could result in some complaining. Beyond these secured portals, the artifact beckons - though its exact powers are left for the GM to decide.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes sans bookmarks, but needs none at this length. Cartography is full color and surprisingly good for such an inexpensive pdf, but there is no key-less version of the map to print out and hand to your players. The pdf does sport one nice piece of original full-color art - kudos!


Justin Andrew Mason's Heart of the Sacred Dawn is a mini-dungeon we can really use. Why? Simple: We don't have a lot of quality high-level material. The added requirements of high-level gameplay are tough to master and conversely, this pdf doesn't have the space to provide elaborate notes on the certainty of teleportation et al. That being said, the challenges are flavorful and diverse, with the kill-trap's trigger in either case being my one true structural gripe beyond wishing that the exploration required some more uses of high-level tricks and abilities. Apart from the combat challenges and overkill-kinda-trap, the module could be handled by lower level PCs as well.


How to rate this? Well, while not perfect, this constitutes a fun diversion for high-level PCs and in the hand of a good GM, this can be a pretty cool insertion. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 for the purpose of this platform.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Mini-Dungeon #029: Heart of the Sacred Dawn
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Swords and Wizardry Complete Rule Book
Publisher: Frog God Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/28/2016 10:55:44

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This massive rule-book clocks in at 144 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page list of tables (important!), 6 pages of supporter-thanks, 1 page legal appendix, 1 page note-space, 2 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 130 pages of content, so let's take a look!


Ähem. I feel old. ;) This is my birthday-review, my present from myself to myself, so please bear with me regarding the obvious deviation from my usual standard regarding reviewing. Kidding aside regarding age and the like...when I started playing, believe it or not, you young 'uns, the game didn't have that much to do with math. Sure, we needed it. But in contrast to taking hours upon hours to properly calculate the statblock of high-level foe xyz, those were simpler times. Heck, for the first 6+ years of my playing career, I didn't use any kind of battlemap...go wrap your head around this!


Why am I telling you this? Well, because this book basically represents the game I grew into gaming with; this is the old-school simple and distilled version of gaming. No looking up feats, no looking up complex interactions, no optimization. Different level-up caps for different classes. Fixed saving throws determined by level...next to no means to power-game and a lot of house-rules that continuously grew.


Okay, so what does this provide? Well, we already have the 6 classic attributes. Strength determines chances to kick open doors and modify carrying capacity, with melee to hit and damage modifiers ranging from -2 to +2 and -1 to +3, respectively. Fighters can use Strength for ranged weapons...if you follow the original rules. Constitution determines your chance to survive being raised from the dead...and nets you anything from -1 to +1 hit points per HD. High Charisma and Wisdom net you bonus XP (wrap your head around that!) and Dex, obviously, is important for all the thief tricks. Thief? Yup, once upon a time, it was thief, not rogue, ladies and gentlemen.


The classes provided herein cover the assassin, cleric, druid, fighter, magic-user, monk, paladin, ranger and thief...and yes, astute reader: Some of these are simply better than others. Why? Because back in the day, you needed damn good stats to qualify for some of them - which is still represented in optional rules. (Yep, that's where the "paladins are rare and all good-looking"-trope came from; Cha 17+ minimum. 18, btw., is the maximum you'll get with your 3d6...


Similarly, dual-classing and multiclassing are two different experiences, with dual-class characters requiring much more XP...but I digress. Non-human races often have an advancement cap for classes, but once again, alternate rules for this less beloved feature are presented. Oh, know what's also tricky: All classes cap HP at one point; depending on your class, you'll thereafter only get a single hit point per level.


While this may sound annoying, it's not - it keep the dreaded high-number mathematical breakdown all contemporary systems suffer from at bay. Oh, and alignment? Law, Neutrality, Chaos. That's it.


Okay, so item-purchases and equipment work pretty much as expected...but what about AC? There are two ways and two camps on how to handle the concept: Ascending and Descending AC. When you use descending armor as a rule, each character gets an unarmed AC of 9, with the lower results being better - a plate would net you -6 AC, for example. Ascending is pretty much the opposite and works like just about all contemporary systems in the d20-arena: 10 + value. Such stats are provided in brackets. So, whether you prefer one of the other, this book has you covered. Movement rate is similarly simple on ground and overland movement.


Swords and Wizardry, however, is NOT a simple reproduction - it streamlines and takes away some of the needlessly clunky components: Saves and XP, for example, both of which, frankly, have been sources of endless consternations among my players. ("Why is that a save versus spells and not deathrays?") So no, this is not simply an exercise in nostalgia. The round and its breakdown, swift and quick, is also presented in a concise manner - with multiple alternatives for specific tables. That being said, I really think a flat Attack-bonus would have been the simpler choice regarding attack rolls. Why? Because you have to consult massive tables dependant on the class to determine whether you hit or not. Sure, it's not rocket science...but it's a component I do not use in my OSR-games...boo and hiss, I use an atk-bonus. ;)


Still, do not take this is criticism on a formal level - it is just me stating a preference. Before I go on a further tangent or you stop reading - when using ascending AC, an imho easier to grasp table and one that does work well, and does the job admirably. Similarly, my games do have neutral clerics - an eventuality btw. also covered in alternate rules/referee-suggestions. Sample stronholds and information on hirelings complement this section...and then, there are SPELLS. A metric ton of SPELLS. They have a name. A range. A level. A duration. That's it. Simple and to the point.


This is where the referee section begins and it is this section alone that may be worth the download. Why? Because, beyond general and sound advice for GMs, the section actually sports multiple, nice dungeon-maps as well as tables upon tables you can use to generate creatures. Similarly, wilderness encounters and movement rates are covered...oh. And yes. Mass combat and siege combat. And unlike pathfinder's impotent, sucky siege engines (I house-ruled those so that PCs actually fear them), they friggin' kill you. Trebuchet hits you? You're DEAD. No, seriously. Game over, man. Game over. Call me a bastard GM...but I like that. Even Aerial Combat gets its section and is handled simply via maximum course alterations and minimum space between alterations - that's it. And while this may sound simple, it actually is a pretty ingenious system to make compelling dogfights.


And yes, before you ask, naval combat is here as well. These are the complete rules, so this book also sports an array of monster stats and advice on creating them - and if there is one thing that is a weakness of this book...well, alas, it's this section. You see, sans the massive math-laden statblocks, old-school games did tend to prosper in the fluff departments; where monsters had ecologies, societies, tactics etc. all spelled out in lavish detail, often inspiring the referee. You won't find that here. You only get the hard, cold and brief statblocks. That's it. The magic item-section on handing out treasure and the appropriate tables (yes, including cursed items) follow a similarly minimalistic approach - one suitable for the core book, yes...but also perhaps the one aspect where the book does not excel as much as in the previous sections.


The pdf, obviously, does feature a char-sheet, btw....and an impressive, very detailed index that makes using this book very easy.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Frog God Games' two-column b/w-standard with a ton of new b/w-artworks that breathe the tradition of the classic - including ample wizards in pointy hats. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and yes, ladies and gentlemen...the Erol Otus cover alone may be worth downloading this. Unfortunately, I don't have the print version of this book...but I do own a ton of Frog God Games-material and they ALWAYS are great books.


Dennis Sustare, Marv Breig, Jason Cone, Allan T. Grohe Jr., Jerry Mapes, Bill Webb and Matthew Finch have created perhaps the best OSR-version for classic, fantasy roleplaying...and beyond simply being a highly customizable, easy to learn system, it affords for a great change of pace when you find yourself tired out by too many statblocks to crunch. This very much is not only a blast from the past, it is a great system to teach roleplaying...because it's simple. It's simple and elegant in its design without being restrictive. The "referee has the last call" rule trumps all and there frankly isn't much wiggle-room to power-game. This is delightfully easy to grasp and master and in presentation and quality a superb offering.


Oh, and it's FREE. As in: Doesn't cost a single damn dime. As in FREE. It takes the disparate classic rules and streamlines them without eliminating their wealth of options. Swords & Wizardry is, for traditional fantasy, my go-to OSR-rules-system and I wholeheartedly encourage you to check this out...who knows, perhaps you'll have an eureka effect as well; either because you haven't played a system this rules-light...or perhaps because you forgot how much FUN it actually can be. It's a different type of fun, when compared to the new systems, sure. But it is one I never want to miss, a type of game I'll always gladly return to. Get this. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Swords and Wizardry Complete Rule Book
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Lands of Porphyra Campaign Setting (PFRPG)
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/28/2016 10:53:58

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This massive campaign setting clocks in at 214 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with a massive 219 pages of content, so let's take a look!


Porphyra...Purple Duck Games' in-house setting is massive, it's regional (and extremely crunchy) player's guide clocking in regularly at 60+ pages...and unlike most campaign settings, this world was not crowdfunded...it just slowly, steadily, came to be...which is an impressive feat in my book. Anyways, Porphyra's details and unique components are many and have been suffusing Purple Duck Games-supplements for years: Whether it's the unique mini-game arabakmpsi, the lovecraft gaming toolkit or other offerings - never obtrusive, but the hints, the nods were there. More so than the player-option-centric "...of Porphyra"-series, both the great Purple Mountain dungeon-crawl-AP and books on deities and elemental lords, all open content, mind you, have already shown a vast potential.


Then again, such a wide variety of different environments and ideas could be jarring, right? Well...no. You see, there is a reason Porphyra is called the patchwork-planet...and it's more pronounced than in similar settings. Let me elaborate: When TSR generated some of the grand classics we all have come to know and love, from Planescape to Ravenloft, they split their customer-base...which was one among many factors that led inevitably to the end of the company. (And yes, I am aware of the other countless number of issues...but that would go beyond the scope of this review.) The lesson that most RPG-companies took from this was simple: Focus on a core world, but allow for maximum customization within that world. Most famously and successfully, we can see that approach in Golarion: There is Ravenloft-country, science-fantasy country, magic metropolis, pirate-country, Greyhawk-ish borderland/bandit kingdom-ish regions...you get the idea. Golarion, while certainly not perfect, ended up being a truly astonishing, fascinating setting that maintains a level of consistency in spite of this tonal patchwork. Not the best consistency, sure - but that's a system-immanent issue; one can't have the cake and eat it, too. What I'm trying to say here is, that I like Golarion. It's a patchwork, but a nice one. Which brings me back to Porphyra...which is also a patchwork...so what's the unique selling proposition of Porphyra versus Golarion?


The answer to that question is more complex than one would expect it to be. In order to answer it, I'll have to go a bit into the history of Porphyra, so bear with me while I give you the woefully oversimplified cliff notes-version of the setting's history, all right? The history of Porphyra features a dominance of the faith in elemental lords in the past as well as a successful effort to smash the invading forces of the Great Old Ones - from these wars and the faith in the forces of the elements, the Zendiqi erected an empire that dominated the small planet...until a coalition of orcs and elves spoke THE WORD to fight the oppressors. THE WORD beckoned and sundered dimensional barriers, issuing the so-called "Calling" throughout the multiverse, speaking to deities and calling them to Porphyra - for the first time, the gods had come to the world and the elemental lords were no longer uncontested masters of all they oversaw...for the deities did not arrive alone. The gods from worlds far and wide brought with them a plethora of lands, forever changing the nature of Porphyra itself, tacking them on with the eponymous mystical mineral porphyrite...purple glowing borders, seams now were part of the daily reality...and a religious and cultural clash of heretofore unseen proportions shook Porphyra to its very core, as the NewGod War raged and the armies of genies and elementals fought the deists and their outsiders. The war was brutal, bloody and its effects can be seen to this date, more than 800 hundred years later, in the lands of Porphyra.


It is due to the porphyrite borders that arctic environments can exist alongside simmering deserts...and, GM's willingness provided, the borders can limit e.g. bacteria or similar micro-organisms as well, allowing for potentially interesting explanations on why and how a given place managed to stand the test of time with superior, hostile forces nearby. Basically, this is a twist on domain-borders taken to its logical extreme in a high-fantasy context...and it works. Instead of trying to hide the discrepancy between lands and their themes, Porphyra embraces them, highlights them in a big, purple marker and makes them part of the storyline...which is a big, big difference in comparison to Golarion.


Similarly, the time-scale of the settings is different: Porphyra's current equilibrium does not change the fact that it has, per default, not a ton of fallen empires written into it. It's, as far as a campaign setting is concerned, a pretty young world. But isn't it missing out on something? Well...no. The patchwork nature of the world allows GMs to pretty seamlessly integrate e.g. different serpentfolk empires. "Yuan-ti? But I thought Serpentfolk were the Valossians?" - "Well, they are...in that landed territory over there. Here, on this side of the porphyrite border, we fought the yuan-ti..." The very nature of the setting makes plug-and-playing even relatively lore-heavy modules a relatively simple endeavors. And yes, I'm one of the GMs that takes longer for the fluff-conversion of modules than for the conversion of their crunch...I'm that picky in this regard and I know that at least some of you out there are as well...so yeah. Porphyra does this very well. Passing such a border, just fyi, can be accomplished by a 1st-level spell...usually.


The second component that sets Porphyra apart, and more so that the aforementioned patchwork-component, would be the direct consequence of the nature of its form: With all those deities and their lands, we also obviously have introduced races to Porphyra. Beyond the new races featured in the respective regional player's guides, the setting has its own racial hardcover, Fehr's Ethnology, which actually does feature a couple of my favorite PC-races alongside some less interesting ones. Speaking of races: Erkunae? Yup. Included here. And the sciene-fantasy component I mentioned? Well, there is the Advent Imperiax, born from the crash of a powerful space-ship, but I'll go into more details regarding that region in my upcoming review of that area's Player's Guide. The plethora of origin myths and stories thus mean that the setting, from the get-go, assumes an organic, pretty concise baseline to make the vast array of races and cultures work in an oddly sensible way. Know hoe obscure new half dhampir/half construct race XYZ never popped up before in your campaign, but how a new book introduced it? Well, in Porphyra, the sudden appearance of such individuals and new races can be rationalized much easier than in most settings.


From the blistering Siwathi desert to the classic and less weird Middle Kingdoms or the Birdman Mountains, the respective regions of Porphyra are depicted with sample intrigues (adventure/campaign hooks) to make use of them - from the empire of the dead to the swampy Fenian Triarchy, Freeport, the Hinterlands of Kesh and the Frozen North, Porphyra has a place to stick basically any module or supplement, any type of module but those reliant on geopolitical struggles without any hassle. (And frankly, even these are relatively easy to insert...and you could always judge parts of the world to have been ripped to Porphyra...) While the massive map of the world has btw. not been included (but can be found for PWYW here), the book sports an ample array of full-color maps of the respective regions and current events for the regions paint a picture of a world in flux.


There is another thing that makes Porphyra interesting in my book: Know how Dreamscarred pPress' campaign setting and Third Dawn AP is stalling and taking a long time to finish? Well...Porphyra has psionics integrated into its framework from the get-go. You can ignore it, sure...but seriously, Ultimate Psionics is one of the best books you can get in the crunch-departments..so personally, I'd suggest running Porphyra as intended, with full psionics support. Similarly, animal-headed anumi and the other remarkable races by Alluria Publishing are actually part of the Porphyra-canon. With so many races, a summary of races by region (with distinctions of landed and native). Rules-wise, the pdf also provides the Pantheist cleric, who gets more domains (3) and favored weapons, but at the cost of spells per day. The book also sports brief sketches of the deities (though, for more information, you should really check out the gods-book!) alongside their holy symbols. These religions also come with numerous new faith traits - none of which sported any significant issues, though different authors become very much apparent here - some lacked the proper trait bonus type, while others had it, showing a discrepancy in rules-language handling skills.


The time on Porphyra, the days, trade and the basic value of spells cast provide components you can easily scavenge for other games, with alternate currency ideas, unique flora and fauna and detailed information on the languages spoken lending a level of credibility to the setting as a whole, despite of its patchwork premise. Holidays, including rules-relevant effects and weather phenomena, from hurricanes to glass seas, are similarly covered, and moon-based magic, chaos magic, rune magic, covenant magic, word magic - you name it, it's probably here. Beyond an array of domains and subdomains, basic advice on psionics and several organizations complement the vast panorama depicted in this book: From the Brothers of the Blue Star to the Cordionic Knights-Errant or the Illuminates of Chaos, there are quite a few organizations in this book; something all too often neglected in campaign settings.


Beyond 3 PrCs (think tanky deist quasi paladin-knight that only needs to be lawful; juju-gunslingers and self-destructive fanatic, zendiqi), the pdf sports a vast array of traits and campaign traits (with similar minor hiccups as mentioned before). Beyond these, sketches of personalities to interact with, including items of note, notes on what the NPC is famous for and mini-hooks.


As many a campaign setting, this one also features a brief introductory module, for 1st level characters. The module is set in the Middle Kingdoms, perhaps the most traditional region of the world. Similarly, the module as such is pretty traditional in its structure: By exploring the eponymous ruins of Greencastle, the PCs may manage to unearth the truth of how the fortress fell and a rather dire secret I am not going to spoil here. The enemy-choices are my highlights here, giving some seldom-seen foes a chance to shine, though I should mention that, in general, this is a pretty straightforward, solidly challenging dungeon-crawl. Not more, but also not less. The full-color maps are nice, though player-friendly maps would have been appreciated.


The pdf also provides a list of Porphyra-related books, explanations on porphyran nomenclature, elemental and protean lords as well as a massive, detailed index - which is incredibly important for a book of this size and information density.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are good, bordering on very good. While I noticed a couple of typos and minor hiccups here and there, the book generally proved to be an enjoyable read that was not marred unduly by glitches. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games' printer-friendly two-column full-color standard with a lot of full-color artworks and cartography being part of the deal. The very user-friendly standard means you can easily print out this tome, which is a big plus for me. Fans of 3pps may by now know quite a few of these artworks from other publications, since Purple Duck games sells art, but generally, the artwork herein can be considered neat indeed...particularly when considering that this is NOT crowdfunded! The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Okay, so these authors made Porphyra a reality: Project lead was Perry Fehr; Contributions from: Ken Austin, Thomas Baumbach, Carl Cramér, Daniel Denehy, Perry Fehr, Mark Gedak, August Hahn, Noble Hays, John Hazen, Sam Hing, Sean Holland, N. Jolly, Chrstopher Kaiser, James H. Lewis, Chris Longhurst, Liz Mackie, Josh McCrowell, Christopher Mennell, Scott Messer, Angel "ARMR" Miranda, Julian Neale, Daniel M Perez, David Pryzbyla, Marc Radle, David N. Ross, Treyson Sanders, Justin Sluder, Todd Stewart, Stefen Styrsky, Mike Welham, Jeremy Whelan, Patricia Willenborg.


Porphyra is a massive setting; a setting that breathes a spirit of eclectic high fantasy, with a metric ton of things to enjoy and do. Porphyra is inspired in that it consciously inorganic - like its namesake. Instead of trying to put a layer of consistency over the hodgepodge nature that campaigns become when one allows a ton of material, it embraces the theme and makes it internally consistent; Porphyra's central achievement lies in the sheer guts of managing to properly depict a world that is rooted in a can-do attitude, in a design philosophy that embraces the diversity of tastes and themes. The restrictions imposed still allow for tonal consistency, while basically inserting a semi-permeable membrane. Porphyra is an exercise in cultural osmosis within our hobby; it is a world that operates in line with many a campaign - diffusion of ideas through a semi-permeable membrane; in this, it mimics how a GM's brain is working, by making the exclusion/inclusion decision a part of its very design.


Don't get me wrong - Porphyra is not perfect; it may not be for everyone. But personally, I am certain I'll gladly return time and again to this patchwork planet...whether to scavenge ideas and cultures, items, crunch from the player's guides or to actually play there. Porphyra is, in short, a fun, evoctiave campaign setting that particularly time-starved GMs tired of BSing a reason why cultural context xyz doesn't work, will come to love for its plug-and-play nature - it is, in short, the USB-port of campaign settings. My final verdict, alas, also has to take the glitches that are here into account and thus will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5...and since I really like the premise and have come to appreciate Porphyra's diversity, this also receives my seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Lands of Porphyra Campaign Setting (PFRPG)
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ASA:AIW Chasing the White Rabbit 5E
Publisher: Playground Adventures
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/24/2016 11:42:57

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The first After School Adventure with an Alice in Wonderland-theme clocks in at 15 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let's take a look!


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


First of all - this is the first of a series of 5 adventures that bring new players up to level 5; as written, it is intended to get PCs halfway to level 2. However, since the module as such is basically defined by its nature as a kind of minigame, this book can easily be inserted into most longer modules - including the superb Pixies on Parade, for which inclusion notes are part of the deal.


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


...


..


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All right, still here? The module begins with the famous white rabbit popping up and who ever needed a chance to chase after the guy? Right! So, the PCs follow the fully statted, planeshifting and constantly teleporting white rabbit (whose statblock had a minor glitch that has since been rectified) into the dark green wood and here is where the module becomes its own minigame - you see, the map of the chase is basically a whole boardgame-style playing field. Each round, a character can move 6 squares, 4 if small on this playing fields. . (Alternatively, you can roll the dice for movement, which I'd actually recommend!)


The board has multiple challenge squares - stopping in one with a challenge helps you speed the process along. Magic challenges let you teleport to the next magic challenge field on a successful Spellcraft check, with failure sending them one square back. Save challenges are based on attribute-based saving throws, while shortcut and skill challenges are based on skill check rolls like Wisdom (Perception) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) etc. The first character at the final clearing receives a treasure, but also has to face the boss, the tangleme tree (challenge 1/2) alone for a whole turn before the other PCs catch up - in the tree's embrace, the rabbit awaited - and a cake that should be eaten later already hints at the next adventure to come. On an aside - the tangleme tree's build is actually more interesting than in the PFRPG-version, so kudos there!


If you want, btw., you can also enjoy the map of the chase in a 6-page blown-up version that you can assemble and use minis with, for example. Should you be picky about the like - the lowest bottom parts of the map sport a relatively unobtrusive advertisement, but one you can easily cut off. In my test, none of the kiddos minded it, though.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The full-color artwork is gorgeous and appropriate for even the smallest of kids.


J Gray's first trip to Wonderland was very interesting for me. Why? Because, frankly, I wouldn't have used the Alice-mythology. Having read so many treatises and twists on the subject matter, it's hard for me to see the material with the same wide-eyed wonder I did as a child. Among all those gritty and dark revamps, taking the tropes and making them innocent is something I appreciated more than I thought I would. At the same time, you have to be aware that this module is neither particularly complex or unique in its mechanics - by design.


Why? Well, this is pretty much intended for players who have never played and RPG before. The challenges are pretty much simple "learn to roll X"-types of challenges that teach the basics pretty fast. The combat at the end etc. also are solid and fun, though perhaps not suitable challenges for kids that already have amassed some serious RPG-experience: If your kids have e.g. already completed a toned down AP made more child-friendly...then this won't challenge them. If, however, you're looking for a great gateway module that doesn't demand too much and that, by virtue of its design, looks much like a familiar board-game, then this will do the trick better than any other module I've reviewed so far.


Even experienced groups can get something out of this, though; namely the fact that you can scavenge the chase and chase-board and increase the challenge. Personally, I think that makes it rather worthwhile. As for a final verdict: For me and my players, this was a good experience; not a stellar one, but a nice one. Unlike the first After School Adventure, it focused more on teaching playing mechanics rather than teaching; how you react to that pretty much depends on what you've been looking for. In the end, though, such a verdict would not be fair - this module tries to teach the truly young ones the game and does so in an appropriately non-threatening, fun manner with nary a chance for failure possible.


While this does not suit every table, particularly for bringing new kids into the game, this does a great job - and this is what its intention ultimately is. Hence, I will rate this according to its intended goal, which it achieves. For kids ages 4 -6, this is a neat introduction, in particular for the more sensitive ones that don't already want to be Red Sonja or a similarly uncommon character due to their parents or elder siblings - for this, its intended audience, this certainly is a 5-star module. Older players and groups should take aforementioned caveats into account when getting this, but nonetheless, I'm looking forward to seeing how this mini-AP continues!


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
ASA:AIW Chasing the White Rabbit 5E
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