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5E Mini-Dungeon #077: Maw of the Dark Tide
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/13/2018 05:23:29

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a 5E-mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM. Oh, and the series now comes in an archive that also contains...drumroll a .jpg-version of the map, in both GM and player-friendly versions!

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, a helpful tool in the GM’s arsenal. Got that? Great!

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

...

..

.

Still here?

All right!

Strange, tattooed cultists assault a monastery, bring destruction and once more retreat to their floating isle, surrounded by a moat of negative energy containing slime. The slime causes “negative energy damage”, which does not exist in 5e. The temple of the dark monks btw. contains two truly magic items, making the attack on the fortress more hazardous than the hazards and lethal foes would make it.

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 nice. Huge plus: We get a GM AND a Player-version of the area in which this takes place, providing full VTT-friendly compatibility.

The PFRPG-version of this adventure is pretty epic, requiring some serious work. In the 5e-version, the conversion team of Kyle Crider and Chris Harris has elected to go a more mid-level approach, level 6 - 8, to be precise. Unfortunately, this does mean that the module loses the over-the-topness that made the original high-level module amazing. In 5e, it is more subdued, and frankly, significantly less interesting. My final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
5E Mini-Dungeon #077: Maw of the Dark Tide
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Mini-Dungeon #077: Maw of the Dark Tide
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/13/2018 05:21:48

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 and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM. Oh, and the series now comes in an archive that also contains...drumroll a .jpg-version of the map! Yeah, that's pretty amazing! Better yet: GM-friendly version of the jpg's included as well!

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.

...

..

.

Still here?

All right!

Strange, tattooed cultists assault a monastery, bring destruction and once more retreat to their floating isle, surrounded by a moat of negative energy containing slime. A mighty awakened instrument of the gods twelve-headed hydra mythic hydra leads them (minor complaint – the short-hand should read Cha, not Chr). The temple of the dark monks btw. contains two truly deadly artifacts, making the attack on the fortress even more hazardous than the unique hazards and lethal foes would make it!

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. The .jpg version included here, which you can easily cut up and hand out to the players as they progress is a huge bonus -and even better: A KEY-LESS VERSION sans the annoying letters/numbers is included as well for full VTT-compatibility!!!. The pdf does sport one nice piece of original full-color art - kudos!

Justin Andrew Mason’s “Maw of the Dark Tide” requires a bit of templating work, but oh boy is it worth it! The floating fortress is unique, the artifacts are cool and the super-boss is BRUTAL when built according to specifications. While the work requires is somewhat annoying, it’s worth it and warranted by the pay-off. 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mini-Dungeon #077: Maw of the Dark Tide
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5E Mini-Dungeon #076: The Great Library
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/13/2018 05:19:35

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a 5E-mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM. Oh, and the series now comes in an archive that also contains...drumroll a .jpg-version of the map, in both GM and player-friendly versions!

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, a helpful tool in the GM’s arsenal. Got that? Great!

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

...

..

.

Still here?

All right!

The spirit naga Kazzak has managed to locate an ancient library, which also happens to contain heretical scripture that the PCs may need to find. Thus, he awaits with his dominated followers, including a cloaker, clay golem and a monolith champion (from Tome of Beasts, hyperlink provided) and worse, defending the place that has become his lair.

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 nice. Huge plus: We get a GM AND a Player-version of the area in which this takes place, providing full VTT-friendly compatibility.

This dungeon by Jonathan Ely sports some really nasty critters that, when played right, can make for some dangerous foes. The module is solid and the room descriptions are nice, but as a whole, it feels…kinda unremarkable? I expected a stronger emphasis on the whole library-aspect. The 5e-conversion is solid. All in all, a solid adventure, well worth of a final verdict of 3.5 stars, though I feel I have to round down for this one.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
5E Mini-Dungeon #076: The Great Library
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Mini-Dungeon #076: The Great Library
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/13/2018 05:18:06

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 and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM. Oh, and the series now comes in an archive that also contains...drumroll a .jpg-version of the map! Yeah, that's pretty amazing! Better yet: GM-friendly version of the jpg's included as well!

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.

...

..

.

Still here?

All right!

The dark naga Kazzak has managed to locate an ancient library, which also happens to contain heretical scripture that the PCs may need to find. Thus, he awaits with his dominated followers, including an invisible stalker and a greater barghest and worse, defending the place that has become his lair.

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. The .jpg version included here, which you can easily cut up and hand out to the players as they progress is a huge bonus -and even better: A KEY-LESS VERSION sans the annoying letters/numbers is included as well for full VTT-compatibility!!!. The pdf does sport one nice piece of original full-color art - kudos!

This dungeon by Jonathan Ely sports some really nasty critters that, when played right, can make for some dangerous foes. The module is solid and the room descriptions are nice, but as a whole, it feels…kinda unremarkable? I expected a stronger emphasis on the whole library-aspect. All in all, a solid adventure, well worth of a final verdict of 3.5 stars, though I feel I have to round down for this one.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Mini-Dungeon #076: The Great Library
Click to show product description

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Deep Magic: Dragon Magic for 5th Edition
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/12/2018 05:48:17

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of Kobold Press‘ Deep Magic-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 9 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, without much fanfare we begin with a new arcane tradition, namely the Dragon Mage, who is defined by invoking dragon aspects. Dragon aspects are gained in a linear manner and provide a set array of abilities when invoked. You can see a dragon aspect in play on the cover – the translucent lines with draconic mien? That’s an aspect. Manifesting an aspect requires the expenditure of spell slots and further spell slots may be expended for more abilities once the aspect has been invoked. The dragon aspect is treated as a spell of the level of the spell slot used to power it for the purpose of interactions with dispelling options etc. Ending or switching from aspect to aspect is a bonus action and requires spell slot expenditure to power the new aspect, even if the previous one still has a duration left. Durations vary from aspect to aspect and usually last until the elapse or you become incapacitated or replace it with another dragon aspect. Dragon aspects do not require concentration to maintain.

Okay, got that? 2nd level nets Dragon Mask, which nets Int-bonus to AC (minimum 1) as well as advantage on Wisdom (Perception) and Charisma (intimidation) skills. The aspect also nets you a 1d8 piercing damage bite attack that counts as magical. You may enhance this bite attack as a bonus action by expending a spell slot – your next attack with the bite is made at advantage and inflicts +1d8 piercing damage per level of the spell slot expended. However, while the aspect is in effect, your ranged and melee spell attacks are made at disadvantage and targets have advantage on saves versus your spells. The aspect lasts 3 times the expended spell slot’s level.

Starting at 6th level, we can invoke the dragon heart, which has the same duration as the first aspect and nets a bonus to Wisdom and Charisma saves equal to your Intelligence modifier, minimum 1. It also nets twice wizard level in temporary hit points. The active ability is a line of energy 30 ft. long, 5 ft. wide, with the 4 basic energy types available. You choose one and the ability is then always that energy type until you manifest a new dragon heart. The aspect allows for the expenditure of spell slots to boost the range of the breath weapon as well as the damage inflicted. Action-types are noted properly. Minor complaint: The pdf could be slightly clearer that the Dexterity save negates damages – it’s evident from the wording, but one could assume half as much.

10th level nets the dragon wings aspect, which lasts for twice the expended spell slot’s level rounds. These increase speed by 10 feet and net you a flying speed equal to land speed. It also nets resistance to all three physical damage types and provides advantage on melee and ranged spell attacks. You can expend spell slots to increase fly speed until the start of your next turn and determine one target, which then suffers from disadvantage against your saves when it is within 10 ft. of you. And here I was getting ready to complain about “that you can see” not being part of the wording – the range justifies omitting this caveat sans breaking balance.

14th level lets you invoke dragon’s tail, which lasts for 1 round per level of the spell slot expended and is 15th long. This aspect nets immunity to the grappled condition as well as proficiency on Strength and Dexterity saves and Strength checks. It also allows you to substitute your Intelligence modifier for saves and skill checks based on these attributes. As a reaction to a creature approaching within 15 ft., you can make a tail slap, which inflicts 3d10 + Int-mod bludgeoning damage and pushes the target 10 ft. away. I am not 100% clear of the sequence in which this is resolved: If you enter the range, the reaction can trigger the attack. It is resolved, the target is shoved away. Does that end the movement? I assume it does, but I am not 100% clear. One could make a case for either. Before you ask – yes, the attack counts as magical. The bonus action upgrade trick allows you to increase the damage output of the next tail slap you execute before your next turn and also replenishes 3 x spell slot level hit points, which is potent, but considering the contingency on spell slots, something I’m good with.

The pdf sports quite an array of feats, many of which tie into this subsystem: Careful Dragon Mask eliminates the drawbacks of the dragon mask aspect. Dual Dragon Aspect does what it says on the tin and allows for the maintenance of two – when you switch, you have 1 round where the aspects overlap and you get both benefits. Neat. Fearsome Dragon Mask adds a chance to frighten targets you hit with the bite attack. Radiant Dragon Heart unlocks, bingo, radiant damage. However, the verbiage here is weird: “In addition to the damage type done by your dragon heart’s breath attack, the damage is also considered radiant.” – that is problematic. How does that interact with resistances/immunities to one of the energy types? It would have been more prudent to make it another option available for the breath weapon.

Not related to the tradition would be Find the Titan’s Weakness, which nets +1 Wisdom and lets you spend an action to analyze a Large or bigger target you can see: The next attack against that creature is made at advantage and scores a crit on natural 18 – 20. Fortifying Healer renders targets healed by your spells becomes temporarily (spell level rounds) immune to the frightened condition. One ally gains inspiration (I assume as the bardic ability), but only once per rest-interval. Not a fan of this one. Dragonsmith lets you make items from dead dragons at 10 times the cost; weapons inflict +1d6 energy damage and armor/shields provide resistance versus the damage type of the dragon’s energy. Dragonrider allows you to enter the space of a larger creature via a contest. The creature’s attacks against you are made at disadvantage if you manage to thus climb atop it and “ride” it. Interesting, if basic one, though I maintain the subject matter deserves its own, more detailed book – you know, with unwilling creatures attempting to death roll, crash against walls, etc. Unthreatening, finally, increases Charisma by +1 (and yes, the feats maintain the 20-cap). It allows you to spend a reaction when attacked by a big foe to force it to redirect the attack. No, it can’t be cheesed, it may only be used once per rest interval – and that’s a good thing.

All right, let’s move on to the new spells! As a new cantrip, we have dragon roar, which is a bit of an overkill for a cantrip – it inflicts scaling psychic damage and makes the target frightened until the start of your next turn. I think this should be thunder damage, considering the value of psychic damage. At 1st level, we have draconic smite, which adds cold damage to the next melee attack and and also targets additional creatures within 30 ft. of the target with cold damage. Interesting. Converse with dragons nets you limited telepathy with dragons. Kobold’s fury nets advantage on the target’s melee weapon attacks and adds bonus damage to the first attack. The verbiage would be slightly better if it specified that the damage was of the weapon’s type, but that is a nitpick.

Lair sense is a wizard ritual at 2nd level that provides awareness of an area being intruded by Tiny or larger targets, rousing the caster from slumber. Nice justification for the inevitable dragon-awakening. Detect dragons does what it says on the tin. Enhance greed detects nearby precious metals and gems. Shade is a buff that fortifies against blindness and light-based penalties incurred from daylight etc. The 3rd level Phantom dragon can make an ally seem like a frightening dragon, potentially frightening targets. Catch the breath is a reaction spell to being targeted by a dragon’s breath weapon, netting you advantage on the save. If you succeed, you take no damage. Whether or not you succeed, you absorb a part of the energy, allowing you to make a ranged spell attack against a target within 60 ft., inflicting 3d10 force damage, which may be increased at higher levels. At 4th level, we have raid the lair that is interesting in that it is a potent buff versus lair actions. Cool one! Scale rot affects creatures with natural armor and provides advantage on attacks and prevents hit point regains, but thankfully has an option to shake it off on subsequent rounds.

At 5th level, we get the mandatory dragon’s breath spell (guess what it does…), with the breath recharging on 5 and 6 on a d6 while the spell remains in effect. Claws of the earth dragon is a bludgeoning ray that slams targets to the ground, particularly efficient versus flyers. At 7th level, we get one spell: Legend killer. You tap into the power of a creature capable of performing legendary actions. If the target botches the save, it loses the ability to perform legendary actions and legendary resistance cannot be used to auto-win this save. Subsequent rounds and saves allow for the slow regaining of legendary actions. Finally, there is one 8th level spell, namely deadly sting, which nets you a potent stinger that inflicts piercing damage, serious poison damage, and which can render the targets it hits vulnerable to poison damage.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level – apart from very minor nitpicks and the imho slightly OP cantrip, I did not have anything to complain. Layout adheres to Kobold Press’ two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Interior artwork is full color and really neat.

Shawn Merwin’s dragon magic is damn cool. The aspect engine is tight, concise in its presentation and evocative. Its benefits are pronounced, but paid for by spell slots and actions and as such, makes for a rewarding mode-based gameplay. The supplemental feats are nice, even though they are the weakest part of the pdf. The spells similarly are fun offerings that did not leave me with much to complain about. All in all, this is certainly worth getting. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Deep Magic: Dragon Magic for 5th Edition
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The Manor Issue #4
Publisher: GM Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/12/2018 05:44:51

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The fourth installment of the Manor-zine clocks in at 39 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page introduction, 2 pages of advertisements, leaving us with 34 pages of content, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’, meaning you can fit up to 4 pages on a sheet of paper when printing this out.

All right, this installment of the Manor comes with two distinct chapters: The first of these would be an adventure/environment to explore, and the second would be a mini-bestiary of sorts, one that contains no less than 9 new creatures, illustrated by Jason Sholtis and Mike Varhola. Each of the monsters comes with a full-page b/w-illustration, an original piece, mind you. These are much better than what you’d expect to see for the low price point, so kudos! Rules-wise, they note HD, ascending as well as descending AC values, special features and movement rate/alignment and challenge level/XP. Saves are not classified by type.

At challenge level 9, penned by Jason Sholtis, we have the 1-3-headed basitrice, a horrid thing that is a magic-user’s experimentation gone horribly wrong. Two of the most loathed low-XP save-or-suck creatures of OSR-gaming, basilisk and cockatrice, rolled up into one amalgam of deadliness! As such, they come with d6 base body plans, 6 different heads and 7 different, highly lethal gaze effects that range from petrification to instantly aging 1000 years or turning to salt. Yeah, players should better have some mirrors…

Rob Conley provides two creatures here, the first of which would be the boglings, a take on the abyssally-tainted frog folk that can immobilize targets with their tongues. Unfortunately, these tongues lack a range for how long they are. The temple guardian, also penned by Mr. Conley, is a floating ram’s head that can be created by a cleric with a new 5th level spell. It can only fly up or down and fire both lightning and fire. The more resources are expended via the spellcasting ritual, the more potent the guardian will be. Boric G introduces the lesser and greater sneachta kin: The lesser one would appear as a swirling mass of acidic snowflakes that in actuality are tiny beings. Interesting! The greater variant becomes basically a sentient ice missile. Unfortunately, the rules are somewhat opaque here – the statblock notes infection, but the text provides no rules for this; similarly, the special, defensive qualities noted in the text are not represented in the statblock.

Ken Harrison provides two delightfully weird critters: The linen golem is a nice, low-level golem made of clothes and with access to limited cleric spells. The beer ooze is awesome in that it, bingo, inebriates the PCs. The rules here are much tighter and instead of a wall of text, we get bolded headers for the abilities of both creatures – presentation-and concept-wise, two winners. This pretty tight presentation also extends to the second of Tm Shorts’ contributions to this section, which consists of the molten spiders. Weirdly, the corpse flies, which have a really cool artwork and a rather amazing write-up do not sport this type of formatting and do not classify their infestation ability.

The other half of this issue is taken up by the Incident at Butcher’s Creek, a module for characters level 5 – 7, penned for S&W. It is classified as difficult and rated Teen and should have a good mix of PCs for the group to be successful. In order to discuss this adventure, I have to go into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, still here? Great! So, this adventure actually comes with a fully mapped hamlet, namely Low Ridge. This place is amazing. It contains some dangerous individuals of the retired adventure type and honestly, represents the best thing to come out of the Manor so far – the village is amazing and each of the individuals has its own hooks and little plots; there is the mandrake farm, where the rather abusive farmer Henry has become rather docile; there are obtuse pig farmers; there is a cabin of a magic-user/painter; there is a viz miner…it’s a small place, but all of the NPCs, many of whom come with stats, feel alive and sensible.

Now, the basic premise is pretty simple – the PCs are tasked to hunt down shadow panthers, a new creature that can be pictured as a variant of the displacer beast; i.e., they are deadly cats with tentacles, but they can cause Strength drain and teleport through the shadows. Exploring the caves that hide them and getting rid of the menace is just the start, though. You see, there is one home that has recently collapsed, and under it, there lairs the Or’Drog, a malicious, demonic entity that is responsible for the paranoia and behavior of the villagers – and defeating this deadly threat in its own complex below the village actually is the main meat of the module. Really cool bait-and-switch. And yes, I am aware that this does not sound particularly cool or special, but it’s the details here: The place feels more alive than most places I’ve read about and has a distinct, nice, gritty old-school Greyhawk-ish, dark vibe I love.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting have vastly improved in this issue – the proofreaders did a good job on a formal level. On a rules-level, a few inconsistencies have crept into the book. Layout adheres to a no-frills 1-column b/w-standard and the pdf’s artworks are impressive, particularly for the low and fair price point. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The adventure gets nice b/w-maps, but, alas, no player-friendly, key-less versions.

Tim Shorts, Jason Sholtis, Ken Harrison, Rob Conley and Boric G deliver a fine Manor-installment here – this basically represents the step towards professionalism for the ‘zine. You see, while this still has its old DIY-charm, it feels much more refined and is better in its presentation and the quality of the content. The adventure is amazing (worth getting the pdf for!) and the monsters are generally interesting, though the inconsistent quality of their rules does drag this down a bit. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Manor Issue #4
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Straight Classes
Publisher: Straight Path Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/12/2018 05:39:43

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement clocks in at 25 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC/intro, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 21 pages of content. The pdf comes with a second version, optimized for screen-use with e-readers. It employs a landscape layout and clocks in at 34 pages and is content-wise identical to the letter version to be printed out.

So, what is this? In short, this represents a quick and dirty rulebook for quicker character generation, condensing PFRPG’s classes down to 16. The book classifies characters in 3 rough categories: Martial characters, skilled characters and spellcasters. The focus of the book is to provide quick NPC-creation rules as well as an option for new players to learn the system. The books does that by first classifying abilities: “Always” abilities are, bingo, always on. “Anytime” abilities can be used as often as you’d like. Occasional abilities can be used once per minute (10 rounds) – this is perhaps one of my least favorite decisions made here, as it makes abilities work cooldown-based, which is pretty rare in PFRPG. Abilities classified as “With Preparation” can only be performed after a good night’s rest and once – spells are classified as “with preparation” abilities. These ability types are italicized when they show up in rules-text. While we’re on the subject of formatting: Abilities end with a full-stop, not with a colon here, which made me think of 5e more than PFRPG. That’s just cosmetic, though.

The system modifies how iterative attacks work: You can either make one attack with a bonus damage that is contingent on how many iterative attacks you forego, or you make the iterative attacks, which, however, ALL take a penalty. Executing two attacks clocks in at -4, executing 3 attacks makes them hit at -6, etc. The bonus damage is 5 for 1 foregone iterative attack, +10 for 2 and +20 for 3 foregone iterative attacks. This is a nitpick, but the pdf should explicitly point out that the attack penalty for multiple attacks applies to all of them.

Gaining a feat or increasing an ability score by 1 is covered and we have synergy with Straight Skills as well, in case you’re using that pdf. Spellcasters prepare their spellslots ahead of time.

Okay, so martial characters have 4 skills, d10 HD, proficiency with simple and martial weapons and gain a feat at 1st level and every odd levels thereafter, ability score increases at 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter. Additional attacks are gained at 6th level and every 6 levels thereafter. These characters have full BAB and good Fort-saves.

Skilled characters have 8 skills, d8 HD, get a feat at every odd level, ability score increases at 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter. Second and third attacks are gained at 7th and 15th level, respectively and we get ¾ BAB-progression as well as good Ref-saves. Skilled spellcasters prepare their spells and get spells of up to 6th level.

Spellcasters have 4 skills, d6 HD and get a feat at every odd level. (They are erroneously referred to as “martial characters” here. Slightly unwise: These characters are referred to as “Casters” in the rules-text, when their proper moniker is “spellcaster”, which should not provide issues per se, but is somewhat counterintuitive. Spellcasters obviously get spells of up to 9th level and get ½ BAB-progression, good Will-saves.

Now, based on these core chassis types, we take a look at the respective classes – Barbarian, Cavalier, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Bard, Hunter, Inquisitor, Magus, Ranger, Rogue, Wizards, Sorcerers, Oracles, Druids and Clerics are covered. One highlight here would be the humorous tag-lines all of the classes get: The Ranger is, for example, noted as the “original murder-hobo”; barbarians note “anger-management not required.” It’s a small touch, but it makes reading the crunch-heavy pdf more fun.

Now, if you take a look at the classes, you’ll notice that they indeed are simpler: A barbarian’s berserker fury, for example, adds class level to atk and damage and gain DR of the same amount, but rage penalizes AC and Reflex saves by -4. Now, the abilities themselves are sometimes rather interesting – like getting twice the AC bonus from light armor. Mounts have ½ the rider’s hit points and share saves and AC, for example. Notice something? Yeah, this basically makes the classes, in a way, behave more like their 5e counterparts.

Now, the best way to think about this would be to picture it as an OSR-style hack for PFRPG; it still requires that you understand PFRPG. The pdf does not explain spellcasting and DCs, saves or rules-terminology like that – instead, it focuses on being a handy tool for quick and dirty gameplay. This does change quite a lot regarding the base assumptions: Bonus types, for example. Damage types are not really codified – the bonus damage for foregone iterative attacks is not specified, while a magus channeling energy into arcane strikes does distinguish between energy types. Sorcerer bloodline nets spells that can be cast anytime. (Chosen from what? The bloodline’s list? That of the sorcerer?) As you can glean from that, we have a different experience here – which grafted onto PFRPG’s rules, there is an instance of infinite casting here, consequently, also infinite healing, which e.g. the oracle can yield occasionally. Provided, the spell was chosen for the mystery. Odd: Proficiencies are a bit weird: magi, for example explicitly get medium and heavy armor proficiency, while the other simple classes don’t specify the like.

The pdf also provides very brief notes on NPC-classes, with warrior, expert and adept fitting on one page with their tables, and commoners acting as fixed low-HP mooks. The animal companion of the druid, for example, is based, stat-wise, on the adept.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are okay, I guess – there are a few minor hiccups on a formal leve, but the issue I have is with the rules-language. Layout adheres to a 2-column standard with yellowish tables and high-lights. The pdf has no interior artwork. The pdf is fully bookmarked for your convenience, though oddly martial and skilled characters get nested bookmarks and spellcasters don’t, which can be slightly confusing at first.

Michael McCarthy’s “Straight Classes” are a great idea per se. Simplifying class options is a smart move per se and can potentially be really handy for the GM and for newer players. Potentially. You see, they are contingent on knowing how a lot of PFRPG works, as the pdf’s classifying of abilities doesn’t really manage to denote the myriad of concepts that the draw upon. That means that you need at least an experienced GM to make proper use of them.

The pdf has another issue, namely that it attempts to divorce classes and their mechanics from the remainder of the game, which only works partially. Considering the intricately entwined rules of PFRPG, that should come as no surprise, but the interaction of the simplified options herein with the non-simplified ones is weird. Spellcasting, for example, requires that you know about action economy. At the same time, the iterative attack modification seems to be mostly divorced from it. The interactions between this pdf and PFRPG’s core rules generate a lot of issues and change in some instances the basic premises implied by the game – infinite spellcasting, to name but one.

Beyond this pretty big problem, we have issues in internal consistency – when DRs can diverge and energy types can, we’d need to distinguish between physical damage types as well, to name but one.

In short: This pdf doesn’t work because it labors under the misconception that the classes can be simplified as something divorced from the system as a whole, when, in truth, the modifications herein would require a discussion of action economy and a rewriting of spells, feats, etc. as well. Now, granted, this is billed as “quick and dirty,” but my contention is that it does not succeed at its goal. The interactions are so problematic that they make the gameplay rather opaque; to the point where I thought that I’d be better served with 5e or one of the OSR-games, who offer simplicity with precision.

Now, I consider a simplified Pathfinder and class-options like this a good idea; at the same time, this does not manage to blend its simplified rules well with PFRPG’s options. It can be used, yes, but it does generate a ton of rough patches regarding the more intricate components of the rules. As such, my final verdict cannot exceed 2 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Straight Classes
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Shadows over Vathak: Hauntlings - Enhanced Racial Guide
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/11/2018 05:19:56

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The second enhanced racial guide for the Shadows Over Vathak setting clocks in at 40 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 34 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

All right, hauntlings are easily one of my favorite races of Shadows Over Vathak, and after a brief introductory text, we get information on the race in general, then regarding races and their take on religion, nomenclature, etc. – in case you did not know, these fellows are basically those touched by spirits. And yes, we get an age, height and weight table. Hauntlings get +2 to an ability score of their choice and are Medium creatures with normal speed. Hauntlings are half-undead and thus gain darkvision 60 ft. as well as a +2 racial bonus to saves versus diseases and mind-affecting effects. They take no penalties from energy drain, but can be killed by it. They shrug such negative levels off automatically after 24 hours, though. They are harmed by positive and healed by negative energy as a strong drawback for this, though. They have memories of past lives and thus may choose two Knowledge skills, treating them as class skills and gaining a +2 bonus in them. They also add +1 to the DC of spells of the phantasm subschool they cast and hauntlings with Charisma 11+ gain ghost sound, pass without trace and ventriloquism as SPs.

There is a metric ton of alternate racial traits that sport an actually narrative-wise relevant tie in regarding the unique flavor of the race: A hauntling with faint memories of dying in a fire, for example, may mean you replace the phantasm DC-increase and SPs with burning hands and spark 1/day. Similarly, accidental deaths may result in hauntlings with different SPs. Instead of the Knowledge buffs, hauntlings can perhaps really impersonate a previous identity exceedingly well, and there is an option to 1/day, as an immediate action, treat positive energy and negative energy as usual for 1 minute. Having been drowned may result in a swim speed and the ghostly magic may be replaced for a frightening 1/day rictus grin that is properly codified, with DC scaling. What about generating a mist that can obscure even darkvision or auto-stabilizing after dropping to 0 hp? Remembering weapon training? Or a potent trick to become incorporeal for brief stints? Yeah, these alternate racial traits are not only precise and tight, they are AMAZING and flavorful.

We also get full-blown, distinct racial variants that are more than just a combination of alternate racial traits: Caoineadhs, for example, get +2 Dec and Cha, -2 Con and can emit a frightening howl once per day, with a full-round action and a scaling. They also get their own SPs. Cha-governed save DC. Gan Ceans get +2 to one ability score of their choice and are…HEADLESS. I kid you not. You can attach e.g. a skull of the like. The original head does exist, btw., and makes for a unique adventuring option, for retrieving it can result into a transformation. They also get their own SPs. Shadowlings get +2 Dex and Wis, -2 Strength and treat Stealth as a class kill, gaining a +2 racial bonus in it. They also get two neat SPs and enhance shadow-spells. Wraithlings get +2 Con and Cha, -2 Wisdom and have a 1/day Con-draining touch, with a Con-based scaling save to negate. Once more, unique SPs provided. I have no balance-concerns with any of these.

The favored class option array is MASSIVE and provides flavor as well as benefits for them, contextualizing what they represent in-game. Really cool. These include all Paizo-classes minus the ninja and samurai, but including ACG & OA classes and even the vigilante. No issues here and even fortune teller and reanimator are included.

The pdf also includes 4 racial archetype: The dirge caller bard replaces fascinate with an ennui-inducing debuff and expanded necromancy spells instead of inspire competence. Soothing tune is replaces with a bardic performance-powered phantasmal killer. Loremaster is replaces with an improved speak with dead. Nice archetype! The ghostly gunner gunslinger swaps out the quick clear, startling shot and expert loading deeds in favor of having ghostly firearms float around her. How cool is that?? The archetype lets you move these and fire unattended guns, even if they’re not loaded! The archetype can increase the number of floating firearms by +1 instead of taking a bonus feat. This archetype is mechanically deceptively simple, but in fact precise and awesome. The section also sports two different slayer-archetypes, the first of which would be ghost hunter slayer, who is a specialist in slaying incorporeal targets. They can only apply studied target against incorporeal creatures and their weapons are considered to be ghost touch (not italicized properly). They also get automatic Perception checks to notice targets and become experts at quickly and efficiently using holy water. At higher levels, they can bestow final death to spirits and trap them in containers. The archetype comes with a list of suggested slayer talents. The second slayer archetype are the grim harvesters, harvesters and grim judges that can see death, attune a bonded weapon and, at higher levels, generate a circle of death. The capstone lets them pronounce a dire fate for a target which will then come to pass. The archetype btw. rewards choices of weapons like scythes, without penalizing other choices. Flavorful and cool!

The pdf also includes 8 different feats: Floating Presence nets you a balanced floating option; Phantasms and Major Phantasm nets silent images and worse, which exist only for one target – perfect gaslighting/horror device. They can also be made to render yourself invisible to the target via Selective Apparition. Steal Memory lets you claim the skills of those you’ve slain (amazing), and yes, it is limited and restricted properly. Better social skills vs. ghosts and the option to affect more targets with Phantasms and make them spread – I adore these feats here. Full of roleplaying potential for smart players, the feats are precise and unique. Now, I absolutely ADORE the notion of Vathak’s Lineage feats: Unlike corruptions, they allow the PC to properly play the descent into becoming a monster while retaining balance and without being overly punitive. As such, I was ecstatic to see the concept explained here once more (should you have missed SoV’s Lineage-concept so far) and get a proper Spirit Lineage, with no less than 9 options to choose from and 3 general levels of taint. These are potent and amazing. Love them.

The pdf also includes a TON of race traits. These are superb examples of what traits should be: Mechanical effects are correctly codified and types AND we get actually narratively-relevant ones! For example, there is one that nets you the following: “Once per day, you can clear your mind and know where the most recently deceased humanoid creature is and where the largest graveyard is. Both have a range of one mile.“ Come on, that trait offers a variety of cool character concepts on its own! How often can you say that about a frickin’ TRAIT? What about having a ghostly phantom limb? It does not really exist, having no slots, but it can affect spirits! This is amazing! It lets you play bad-ass disabled person, something we only very, very rarely get to do!

Beynd these damn cool traits, we also get mundane equipment: Holy ash. Cremation ash that can open your eyes to spirits. Salt to make your armor apply versus incorporeal targets…Really cool, and yes, comes with Craft DCs. There also are 5 new weapons, including a flail that can generate an eerie sound, a disguised rhompia and war scythes. The pdf also provides the new corpse hair material, tapping into classic myth and providing a wide variety of applications for the material. Ghost glass and spirit coal are also presented, making this chapter a winner!

There are 4 magic items, which include dead man’s tongues, which can animate the dead and fortify the half-undead. Funerary shrouds conceal the target from mindless undead and can absorb one energy drain. Funerary urns let you entrap the slain, preventing their return. Tombstone hammers are just what they sound like. Come on, you want to smash the undead while wielding a tombstone hammer! You know you do! Particularly since the names of your foes may show up on the stone…which is not good for morale… There are 7 new spells included as well: Cold spot is a thematically fitting low-level soft terrain control that also makes the unseen visible; ghostly light is an upgrade of light that also detects spirits. Murder of crows generates a damaging area that also can blind targets and that may be moved. Release from pain rots slowly away the flesh of the living, turning them into skeletons under your control. Tear the void creates a negative energy vortex that can be moved. Through the eyes of the dead lets you imbue a skull to watch through it. Tolling bell destroys weak, mindless undead. Minor complaint: There is no such thing as holy damage in PFRPG Dear lord, I love these spells! Their levels and classes make sense. They are evocative and relevant for their levels. The pdf also includes a new occult ritual, namely Last Chance. This nets you a safety net as an undead on a success and makes for a cool and potent ritual.

The pdf closes with an amazing dressing table of random hauntling features.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are superb on a formal level and almost perfect on a rules-language level. I noticed only a very minor hiccup: Lucus Palosaari and Landon Winkler did a phenomenal job here. Layout adheres to a drop-dead gorgeous two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports fantastic full-color artwork, original pieces, mind you. The pdf is fully bookmarked, but the first chapter’s bookmarks are a bit wonky.

John Bennett’s development of Rick Hershey’s original hauntling concept is one of the single most inspiring racial guides available for PFRPG. The options are meticulously balanced to work in both more high-powered and grittier games. More importantly, we get no feature bloat and instead opt to focus on story-telling. Heck, even usually bland, min-maxy rules-components like traits and favored class options are inspiring and matter! Favored class options have flavor. You can play HEADLESS FOLKS. You can gaslight folks with selective illusions. This is phenomenal.

This is a truly fantastic, glorious racial guide that makes the hauntlings one of my favorite races in all of PFRPG! I mean, you can play balanced, headless folks! You can have a good reason to play a one-armed character! From items to options to feats, this breathes care, passion and love - this supplement is inspiring in all the right ways. This is a perfect example of what a racial guide should be. 5 stars + seal of approval. Oh, and since I really love this one, it is hereby nominated as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2017.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadows over Vathak: Hauntlings - Enhanced Racial Guide
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5E Mini-Dungeon #075: The Garden of Death
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/11/2018 05:17:00

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a 5E-mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM. Oh, and the series now comes in an archive that also contains...drumroll a .jpg-version of the map, in both GM and player-friendly versions!

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, a helpful tool in the GM’s arsenal. Got that? Great!

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

...

..

.

Still here?

All right!

This actually is a mini-investigation! The mini-dungeon takes the PCs into a subterranean club for rich folks, where they are to discreetly find the culprit for the recent attacks on Lord Fen Drustan’s caravans. Unfortunately, as the PCs try to report after initial exploration, they’ll find that their sponsor has been killed! From here on, it’s a who-dunnit that can easily be complicated by the GM, should that be desired.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches apart from a missing bolding. 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 nice. Huge plus: We get a GM AND a Player-version of the area in which this takes place, providing full VTT-friendly compatibility.

Michael O. Holland’s little investigation is fun and represents a neat little adventure, set against a unique backdrop. The conversion holds up – Kyle Crider and Chris Harris did a good job translating the mini-dungeon to 5e. 5 stars + seal of approval. Well done!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
5E Mini-Dungeon #075: The Garden of Death
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Mini-Dungeon #075: The Garden of Death
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/11/2018 05:16:02

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 and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM. Oh, and the series now comes in an archive that also contains...drumroll a .jpg-version of the map! Yeah, that's pretty amazing! Better yet: GM-friendly version of the jpg's included as well!

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.

...

..

.

Still here?

All right!

This actually is a mini-investigation! The mini-dungeon takes the PCs into a subterranean club for rich folks, where they are to discreetly find the culprit for the recent attacks on Lord Fen Drustan’s caravans. Unfortunately, as the PCs try to report after initial exploration, they’ll find that their sponsor has been killed! From here on, it’s a who-dunnit that can easily be complicated by the GM, should that be desired.

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. The .jpg version included here, which you can easily cut up and hand out to the players as they progress is a huge bonus -and even better: A KEY-LESS VERSION sans the annoying letters/numbers is included as well for full VTT-compatibility!!!. The pdf does sport one nice piece of original full-color art - kudos!

Michael O. Holland’s little investigation is fun and represents a neat little adventure, set against a unique backdrop. 5 stars +seal of approval. Well done!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mini-Dungeon #075: The Garden of Death
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5E Mini-Dungeon #073: True Lovers Run Into Strange Capers
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/11/2018 05:13:49

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a 5E-mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM. Oh, and the series now comes in an archive that also contains...drumroll a .jpg-version of the map, in both GM and player-friendly versions!

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, a helpful tool in the GM’s arsenal. Got that? Great!

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

...

..

.

Still here?

All right!

Immortality can wear down even the most strange of beings – and when the renegade rakshasa met an ice devil, they finally found what had eluded them. Love. Becoming a truly deadly power-couple, they now inhabit their own demiplane, which includes some foes from the Tome of Beasts (properly hyperlinked – you don’t need the book)…and woe to any intruders that dare disturb their bliss. Oh, and yes, that includes the PCs!

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 nice. Huge plus: We get a GM AND a Player-version of the area in which this takes place, providing full VTT-friendly compatibility.

The conversion team of Chris Harris and Kyle Crider did a good job at converting Stephen Yeardley’s mini-dungeon, though the 5e-version does not reach the amazing level of creativity regarding the adversaries – a few more tweaks to the monsters would have been the icing on the cake. As provided, this is a very good module, just short of my seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
5E Mini-Dungeon #073: True Lovers Run Into Strange Capers
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Mini-Dungeon #073: True Lovers Run Into Strange Capers
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/11/2018 05:12:43

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 and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM. Oh, and the series now comes in an archive that also contains...drumroll a .jpg-version of the map! Yeah, that's pretty amazing! Better yet: GM-friendly version of the jpg's included as well!

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.

...

..

.

Still here?

All right!

Immortality can wear down even the most strange of beings – and when the renegade tataka rakshasa met an ankou fey, they finally found what had eluded them. Love. Becoming a truly deadly power-couple, they now inhabit their own demiplane, which includes some truly strange critters (clockwork sleep-gas breathing infiltrator dragon – just sayin’!) and woe to any intruders that dare disturb their bliss. Oh, and yes, that includes the PCs!

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. The .jpg version included here, which you can easily cut up and hand out to the players as they progress is a huge bonus -and even better: A KEY-LESS VERSION sans the annoying letters/numbers is included as well for full VTT-compatibility!!!. The pdf does sport one nice piece of original full-color art - kudos!

Stephen Yeardley’s yarn of an immortal love of the darkest type is BRUTAL. The enemy-choices are as smart as we expect them to be and the backdrop is unique and truly creative. Engine-tweaks employed are interesting. No complaints. 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mini-Dungeon #073: True Lovers Run Into Strange Capers
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5E Mini-Dungeon #074: Temple of the Secret Power
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/11/2018 05:09:42

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a 5E-mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM. Oh, and the series now comes in an archive that also contains...drumroll a .jpg-version of the map, in both GM and player-friendly versions!

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, a helpful tool in the GM’s arsenal. Got that? Great!

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

...

..

.

Still here?

All right!

There are forces out there that few truly understand – one such item would be the omnihedron, an artifact with a snide intelligence that is capable of temporarily imbuing items with magic, which is used to some effect to upgrade the ravenfolk cultists that worship at this place. (And yes, I like how the conversion-team chooses the proper monsters from Tome of Beasts here, with hyperlinks provided.) Still, the temporary items can be somewhat of a killjoy for the PCs when the magic items their opposition wields lose the magic. The artifact doesn’t get stats per se once liberated, and may or may not enhance the weapons of the PCs. There is a puzzle, but it amounts to being very rudimentary.

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 nice. Huge plus: We get a GM AND a Player-version of the area in which this takes place, providing full VTT-friendly compatibility.

Michael McCarthy’s “Temple of Secret Power” is a bit weaker than usual for the author. The mini-dungeon’s artifact-conceit is a bit frustrating for players and the lack of definition for the artifact’s precise powers render this more opaque than it imho should be. The conversion by Chris Harris and Kyle Crider is solid and neither stronger, nor weaker than the PFRPG-iteration – personally, I like the change from ratfolk to ravenfolk. Still, I can’t go higher than 3.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
5E Mini-Dungeon #074: Temple of the Secret Power
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Mini-Dungeon #074: Temple of the Secret Power
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/11/2018 05:08:42

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 and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM. Oh, and the series now comes in an archive that also contains...drumroll a .jpg-version of the map! Yeah, that's pretty amazing! Better yet: GM-friendly version of the jpg's included as well!

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.

...

..

.

Still here?

All right!

There are forces out there that few truly understand – one such item would be the omnihedron, an artifact with a snide intelligence that is capable of temporarily imbuing items with magic, which is used to some effect to upgrade the ratfolk cultists that worship at this place. This can be somewhat of a killjoy for the PCs when the magic items their opposition wields loses the bonuses. The artifact doesn’t get stats per se once liberated, and may or may not enhance the weapons of the PCs. There is a puzzle, but it amounts to being very rudimentary.

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. The .jpg version included here, which you can easily cut up and hand out to the players as they progress is a huge bonus -and even better: A KEY-LESS VERSION sans the annoying letters/numbers is included as well for full VTT-compatibility!!!. The pdf does sport one nice piece of original full-color art - kudos!

Michael McCarthy’s “Temple of the Secret Power” is a bit weaker than usual for the author. The mini-dungeon’s artifact-conceit is a bit frustrating for players and the lack of definition for the artifact’s precise powers render this more opaque than it imho should be. As such, I can’t go higher than 3.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Mini-Dungeon #074: Temple of the Secret Power
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The Monolith from beyond Space and Time
Publisher: Lamentations of the Flame Princess
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/10/2018 04:41:45

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure clocks in at 52 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover,2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of back-list, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 43 pages of content, laid out for 6’’ by 9’’.

My review is primarily based on the print softcover version I received from one of my patreons, who requested a review of it at my convenience. I have also consulted the pdf-version to ascertain electronic features etc.

That being said, I would have reviewed this module either way. Why? Because it is one of the worst-reviewed Lamentations of the Flame Princess books, one that I only got for completion’s sake. I had the pdf-version for a while before this was requested by my patreons and only then started reading it. Now, usually, I steer clear of other reviews in order to avoid coloring my point of view. Here, I never expected to write a review when I got the book, and as such, was very cognizant of the backlash this generated.

Now, I am not saying that most reviews get it wrong – while there are some negative ratings and reviews that stem from being offended by a horror product, there are more eloquent ones out there that frankly made this sound like an unmitigated mess. To make that abundantly clear: I do not share this point of view, but I think I know where these notions come from. Hence, I will try to explain why this book did elicit these responses.

Let’s begin with a clarification of terminology; I promise to be brief: This is a lovecraftian adventure. The “n” here is important – this does NOT deal with Lovecraftiana or the Cthulhu mythos in the traditional sense. In fact, nowadays, we can make a claim that the mythos has actually ceased to have any notion of being “lovecraftian.” In stark contrast to most depictions of the Cthulhu mythos in media, the term “lovecraftian” usually denotes a sense of cosmic nihilism and futility oozing into our world; a sense of cosmic insignificance and unknowable forces. The sheer amount of material collected on Cthulhu et al. undermines this notion rather vividly and once the brave PCs/investigators have fired tank shells at ole’ Shubby, any sense of dread beyond that which a sword-wielding murder-hobo might feel in front of a dragon, has been thoroughly lost. In short: The mythos has been codified and elaborated upon to the point where, paradoxically, while obviously a crucial part of Lovecraftiana, it is no longer lovecraftian in the strictest sense of the word. Similarly, it does not attempt to depict the lovecraftian as seen through the lens of psychology, but more as the unfiltered, played glimpse at a harsh, Lacanian real.

The second unfair claim I have seen voiced against this module, is that it has “unfair” components. I’d frankly beg to differ. Yes, this is a very difficult module, but it is NOT difficult because of badly designed save-or-die mechanics. It does not just randomly punish PCs – all they experience is ultimately their own doing.

It is difficult because it actually works as a module for ANY levels. In fact, it may work better from mid- to high-level characters. How does it achieve that? Well, more than ANY OSR-module (and most RPG-modules, regardless of system), success in it is utterly and thoroughly contingent on PLAYER-skill. NO matter how optimized your character is, no matter how OP your items are, this module can and will destroy you if you are not up to your A-game. If you and your group usually just want to murder-hobo through a dungeon, then this will ANNIHILATE you. It should be noted that players with copious horror-gaming experience will be MUCH more likely to succeed here. This requires very methodical and smart PLAYERS.

There is no pattern on a global scale to the monolith’s effects – and there’s a reason for that – it is not sentient, and there is no global, guiding intelligence. It just IS. It is indifferent and weird. While the phenomena can be analyzed and exploited/bested, they cannot be made sense of. They cannot be explained away. This is actually very deliberate and smart here – because, y’ know, when does the horror-movie start to suck? When does the book start to fall apart? Bingo, when the authors explain too much and provide human motivations to beings/things that are more akin to forces of nature, inscrutable and unknowable. You can’t reason with the weather, but you can witness the tempest blaring or a tsunami, and you can observe patterns in these individual manifestations of it. There is serious fun in that, in finding the tricks for survival.

Even in this context, this remains a horror-module. Bad things will happen to PCs and a palpable doom hangs over everything. There is no true victory, but also no true defeat here. This is a difference in mentality that anyone with horror-experience, from CoC, to GUMSHOE or Ravenloft, will be familiar with – the fun in these horrific things is to roll with the curveballs they represent, not to complain about them.

It is actually pretty likely that the PCs will survive, but it is also very likely that the module will have serious repercussions that can change the course of whole campaigns.

The module is not only demanding on the players, though: This is a lovecraftian adventure and as such, it can include some seriously mind-bending components that require that a referee is capable of conveying somewhat mind-bending dissolutions of space and time in eloquent speech. It is my firm belief that quite a few folks who experienced this as less than fulfilling did so because the referee did not manage to convey the concepts, because the group did not approach this with the required, deliberate care. Granted, one weakness here is that the module does have a bit of James Edward Raggi IV’s sarcasm shining through, when one description comments “Good luck describing that to your players!” – that can feel like an insult to a referee who already did struggle with understanding the notion in question. It may be another reason why some considered this to be problematic. (In the Spoiler-section, I quote the passage in question, so you can see for yourself why this indeed requires some serious referee-mojo…but it’s definitely not impossible!)

To cut a long ramble short: If you like horror-gaming (and I’m not talking about some dark fantasy, slightly gritty hack and slash, but about HORROR; if your players are veterans and like challenges; if your group loves having their brains challenged; if you are an experienced referee, capable of conveying complex concepts in vivid descriptions, then this may well be a true masterpiece for you.

As an aside: This adventure can also double as a great scavenging toolbox – the encounters and weird effects basically demand being used, and a great degree of variance allows for a rather high replay value.

Now, to go into more details, I need to venture into SPOILER-territory. Folks who wish to actually play this module should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

Somewhere in the world, a wooden valley has appeared. Mist-shrouded and uncivilized, in its midst, there is a strange monolith, a weird thing somewhere between rock and rotted flesh. It is into this valley that the PCs set foot. This, alone, may well be enough to doom them. No, I am not kidding you. You see, the distance to the monolith can be feet, yards, hundreds of yards, miles…or astronomical units. You roll once for dice-size/number, and one for the unit of measurement. You can, theoretically, end up with 1000 astronomical units of distance. See, that’s why I mentioned that smart and methodical PLAYERS are required – distance is recalculated every time the valley is entered. Failing to grasp the spatial distortion can essentially strand the PCs in a nigh-infinite valley. There is another complication that is utterly glorious: The monolith effects. Beyond the distance, there are 10 complex, global effects, one of which kicks in whenever the PCs enter the valley.

These include the “Doom of Hierarchy” – all members of the party roll a d20, rerolling ties. Everyone must obey the letter (if not the spirit) of an order issues by a member of the party with a higher roll. Slowed lifeforms. Oh, and if you really think your Referee-mojo is top-notch, try for “Light defeats Distance.” To give you a quote: “This condition prevents characters from traveling across space during the day, no matter how far they travel. Whatever destination the player characters have in mind, when they travel, they will appear to cross distances (and intervening terrain), but they will never get any closer to their destination and in fact will have not moved at all. They have effectively been walking in place the entire time. Thrown or discarded objects (or spells!) will be observed as traveling to their destination, but will never arrive. If something is tossed (or shot) from one person to another, the one throwing/shooting will perceive the object as reaching its target, while the character on the receiving end will perceive the object as having been wildly misdirected. The object will not be found again. Items can be physically passed from person to person normally.[…]”

Told you that this one would be a challenge, right? Can you see how some groups will be utterly flabbergasted and frustrated by this? I can. I can, however, also see how incredibly AMAZING this effect can be in the hands of a capable referee! Can you see the PLAYERS figure that one out and how to get past its effects? Oh yes. The mutation effect sports btw. no less than 20 different entries in a subtable. Impossible weather, distorted time flow…and what if the monolith makes things the PCs and players wish for come true? These effects alone had me grin my most malicious of GM-grins – and indeed, they are relevant beyond the confines of the rules-system for which they were written.

This emphasis on PLAYER-skill over PC-skill btw. continues throughout the whole module. There are exactly two possible encounters en route to the monolith that are more classic: The first is an encounter with a nudist colony of pacifists, supernaturally ageless and fertile, the colony subsisting on its own children. Yes, this is disturbing. Yes, that would be the shock-value encounter to piss off folks. It didn’t do much for me, but neither was I offended. The second deals with basically a mutated, ginormous angler-fish monstrosity, which would be a perfect place to note that Aeron Alfrey’s illustrations throughout the module are PHENOMENAL. Weird, disturbing, glorious art. Love them.

Anyways, the more interesting encounter would be the contribution by none other than Kenneth Hite, who wrote “The Owl’s Service.” The PCs happen upon strange statues ringing a clearing, a corpse, which may have a possession that is starkly like one held by the PCs – and in the aftermath, the PCs may well find their SPELLSLOTS infested by owls after disturbing dreams. The infestation may well spread…and the head of that corpse was bashed in…perhaps to let out the owls? There is no explanation here; no easy remedy. Just a plainly weird and encroaching doom that any campaign can handle as befitting of its own paradigms and dynamics. It could be just a curse to remove, but it similarly could be a world-threatening magical disease that spreads from caster to caster…

Arriving at the monolith has its own hazards and, indeed, represents another potential fallout during/after the adventure – seeing the monolith has the PCs invaded by microscopic invaders, whose civilizations in them rise and fall, becoming even more hyper-advanced. Unfortunately, this also hijacks the PCs when they are asleep, making them invincible killing machines with a pretty extensive kill-boundary. Once more, this is provided as a problem that can have dire consequences for the PCs, but when handled properly, it can make for a truly horrific revelation at the table…and solving the problem can be amazing. Unlike the owls-issue, closing the monolith can deal with this one, rendering them dormant…but yeah. I can see how these invaders can really irk folks only used to “I’m good, therefore I kill evil stuff.”

The monolith also has a guardian, who is a rather dangerous entity…and once more, represents something the PCs can’t bash apart. See a theme there? As noted above, this is not a module you can rollplay to win.

The inside of the monolith continues this almost psychedelic nightmare – there is only the way in which the character is facing. Closing eyes also ends the way, entrapping the character, unable to move until the eyes are once more opened to The Way. The tunnel is always in front of the character, a single line. Distance does not truly exist, and an example of how this works is given – within the monolith, the PCs have basically already reached the treasure-chamber…if the players understand how to get to it! The monolith allows access to other worlds and times, contains strange healing pods – and attempts to find the “control room” or the like will actually have the PCs within the brain of the respective PC who voiced that wish. And yes, destroying stuff there may not be wise. Weaponry-wise, the PCs can find a slime/ooze-drinking worm-symbiote…and the head of Carter Holmes. This is actually the main “treasure” of the adventure, and it is twisted. The man is a thoroughly vile magic-user. Pardon. Was. He’s just a head now. Literally confined to this place for all eternity. He wants to die. And tells the PCs about the kewl loot they can get – they just need to eat his brain. Yes. The disembodied head offers for his brain to be eaten.

If your players think that eating the brain of a thoroughly wicked magic-user in a weird dimension-warping monolith is a good idea, then they totally deserve what they get – for better and worse, for Carter’s brain can convey 6 unique spells, all of which are comparably very potent; similarly, PCs may gain agelessness (at a potentially dire cost…), faster reflexes or the option to move between the lines…but he was a loathsome, despicable psycho. As such, the PCs may also have their minds tainted by his horrible insights, which double as serious insanities. It’s all about the luck here – and if they complain, you seriously just have to point out that they ATE A BRAIN to get power.

How can the monolith be banished? How can the PCs win in this nightmare? You can hold the door shut. From the inside. For an eternity. Yes, there is no easy solution. There is no cop out.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are topnotch on a formal and rules-language level. I noticed no serious hiccups. Layout adheres to a 2-column b/w-standard and the artworks, as mentioned above, are b/w and Gigeresque in their amazing weirdness. The softcover has the letters on the spine and is solid. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and s layered, so if you want to save ink/toner, you can turn off background etc. – huge kudos there! The module sports no cartography, but needs none.

Now, I have only touched on some highlights featured herein – James Edward Raggi IV’s module actually contains more than I mentioned. I also tried to remain as opaque as possible, mainly because the emphasis on player-skill/encountering the horror as the central tenet and focus of the adventure.

If you’re looking for an easy-to-run, low-impact, generic hex-crawl with a bit of weirdness and tentacles, then look elsewhere. This is not what you’re looking for.

Similarly, if you’re relatively new to GMing, or if your players have no experience with horror-gaming, with problems that can’t be solved by rolling high enough, then you may want to ease them into horror-gaming with other modules.

If, however, you’re an experienced referee and if your players are experienced and smart as well, if they enjoy weirdness and strange problems that can’t be solved by waving a metal stick at them, then this is a psychedelic masterpiece of a nightmarescape. A good litmus-test may be whether you and yours enjoy purist-Cthulhu-modules: Do you like the weirdness, the fact that only your wits stand between you and death/gibbering insanity? Can you live with strange and dire effects? Do you like roleplaying the solving of complex and bafflingly weird phenomena that highlight the uncaring and hostile nature of the cosmos? Then, oh boy, will you love this one!

To make that abundantly clear – I am not trying to disparage other reviewers and folks who did not like this; I can see this crash and burn horribly for newbies, for folks that need a focused leitmotif/mystery to solve, for groups that have only ever played fantasy, etc.. Unlike Death Frost Doom, for example, this is not even dark fantasy. This is cosmic horror, pure and simple. Its premises are different, its focus is different and its challenges are different – there is no overwhelming force, no super-strong foe, no easy solution – just the uncaring, insentient, almost divine obelisk.

So yeah, many, though not all, points of criticism voiced against this module can be considered to be valid to a degree.

At the same time, I’d argue that these bemoaned points are actually features, not bugs. They are very deliberate design-decisions rooted in an aesthetic that differs radically from traditional D&D-esque adventure-design. They are not made to screw over PCs, but to present truly horrifying challenges to the players. How you navigate and solve them is another thing, but to me, this module is more successful in its attempted and clearly-stated design-goals than 90% of CoC-modules I’ve read. Considering the very clear mission statement, I cannot help but think of this as a resounding success. I am probably going to get some blowback for this, but personally, I prefer this over pretty much all of the early LotFP-modules.

Why? Because it dares to be radically, defiantly DIFFERENT. Because it, in spite of being downright brutal, this adventure is actually inspiring. As an aside: Most of the global effects and challenges herein translate rather well to more complex systems or more rules-lite systems, courtesy of their focus on player-capabilities over those of PCs.

This adventure is weird. It is challenging. And I am 100% positive that no player that went through it will ever forget it. It absolutely DEMANDS a truly experienced referee and similarly skilled players, but it delivers for them, in spades.

My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval. If you’re a fan of horror-adventures and feel like the above has resounded like something you’d enjoy, then consider this to be a must-own purchase, regardless of system you’re playing in.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Monolith from beyond Space and Time
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