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13 True Ways
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/23/2015 03:31:29
An Endzeitgeist.com review

Disclaimer: I received the hardcover of this book for the purposes of an unbiased, critical review, which I hereby provide. This review is based on the 256-page hardcover and not on the pdf –hence, I can’t judge electronic qualities etc. The material herein underwent playtsting for the purposes of this review.



13 True Ways, much like the 13th Age Core-rule-book, is a combination of crunch-book and setting material, though this one is focused slightly more on the setting aspect. I have already discussed in length and depth my stance on just about all rules-decisions of 13th Age in my review of the core book, so this review will NOT focus on those; Instead, I will analyze this book for what it brings to the table and assume you are already familiar and have an opinion on whether you like basic decisions of the system or not.



Without further ado, let’s begin! In my review of the core book, I mentioned that both monk and druid would be in this book and indeed, there was much ado about their absence in the base book. The druid especially is a rather interesting class, mainly, because its design-tenets, more so than the base key-attribute switching in e.g. the bard-class, provides deeper customization options than the core-classes. The class differs in that is chooses whether it gains many abilities at initiate-level or less at adept level, changing just about all base assumptions you may have and allowing for wildly diverging focuses. Animal companions for initiates cannot participate in every combat, which provides a nice source of basic, very limited resource-management, for example. Adepts can still have their companion around all the time. Death for companions is ridiculously lenient – one combat -1 level, then back to full strength, no repercussions. Disarm the trap, Fifi! Sarcasm aside, the plus-side here is that the companions get used more and less carefully. Once again, we’re at a matter of opinions whether this is a bug or a feature. The class itself can be pretty much pictured as a druid with a significant array of archetypes rolled into it – elemental casting, wildshape, terrain casting – all here, with the nod towards the vast Koru Behemoths being one of my favorite crunch/fluff-cross-over glimpses into the fascinating world. The most elegant rules-decision here would be the scout form, which allows the druid to assume the shape of a harmless animal, which, while distinctly unearthly, makes scouting via wildshape less broken – and it also provides pretty easy to grasp repercussions that limit the utility without crippling it. All in all, a very nice and modular class.



Now almost every group has this one player that just loves the rod of wonders – and anything like it. For these players, allegedly, the Chaos Mage was made. With the options to wilder in other spell-lists, defensive high weirdness effects and icon-specific tricks, the chaos mage is an unreliable caster, yes. A fun, unreliable caster. But also one that is not *that* chaotic – with e.g. less than 50 high weirdness effects, the class falls somewhat short of what I’d expect from the concept -but then again, perhaps I’m just spoiled by having read too many takes on the chaos magic concept. It’s not a bad class, mind you – just a tad bit too predictable for the concept. Commanders are very much physical fighters that can help allies via interrupt actions with the flexible resource of command points. I do enjoy that said resource is tied to their own performance in combat, thus requiring active participation in order to enhance their allies. Tactics would be the second resource, and these would be active and non-interrupt based. All in all, the commander is a solid alternative to e.g. the bard’s capabilities. I’ve read a lot of takes on the trope and this definitely is one of the better ones.



Monks in their 13th Age iteration utilize quite a few of my favorite concepts – they know three types of unarmed attacks with different effects, which I really like, as anyone who has read my review of Little Red Goblin Games’ Dragon Tiger Ox knows. Monks attack with so-called forms – they could be likened to styles, but instead of breaking up a style over various feats, each form sports an opening attack, a flow attack and a finishing attack. Some of you may recall my constant gushing for Dreadfox Games’ Swordmaster with its opener/sequitur/finisher mechanics, so it should come as no surprise that I like this choice – especially since you can switch freely between forms you know, only having to adhere to the opener/flow/finisher-sequence, not the sequence of the respective flow. Basic class features à la flurry of blows (here reimagined as one of the basic Seven Deadly Secrets) and talents further complement this pretty modular class well alongside a nice ki-based resource-management – the monk is one of the most fun melee-centric classes herein, though also one that most suffers from 13th Age’s issues with Acrobatics and skill-use.



Now apart from the druid’s summoning, there is another class herein that requires the use of the concise and pretty conservative summoning rules introduced in the very beginning of the book. That second class would be the Necromancer. And the necromancer is a pretty great example of designs I enjoy within 13th Age – the class has a built-in mechanic for being frail, yet incredibly hard to kill, for having weird and skewed alliances and the spells and minions do support that – one of my favorite crunch-pieces herein! The final new class would be THE Occultist. Yes, THE. As in iconic. As in “there is only one” – and generally, this concept is pretty much awesome – a class all of your own, now if that does not say “epic” from the get-go, what does? The Occultist is very much a caster with a focus on destiny, karma and truly odd options – like The Occultist’s shadow jumping forth to absorb the attacks of foes. Mechanically, the interesting component would be a focus, somewhat akin to what one knows as the psionic focus, which usually is expended upon casting the reality-warping spells of The Occultist. It should be noted, though, that the class does sport options that work only while unfocused. The relative ease with which you can deal psychic damage can also be noted here. On the downside, much like other casters, there is not that much to choose from regarding spells…and the class, while sporting some of the most awesome spells I’ve seen in 13th Age, does feel like its mechanics do not necessarily require it to be THE ONE. While easily remedied, this would be an example where the seemingly implied importance of being the one occultist is subsumed under the need for balance…and for once, ladies and gentlemen, mark this on your calendar, I would have loved the class to be less balanced. Yeah, bet you that you never thought I’d say, right?



Now after these new classes, we delve into the multiclassing rules. These essentially treat multiclassing not as advancement in two distinct classes, but rather as an amalgam, at least at 1st level. The general rules do allow for later multiclassing, but if you do use that, the generally pretty streamlined options tend to become a bit messy and work. That being said, a handy table of key ability-modifier interaction and class-by-class multiclassing advice that also sports new feats to help mitigate the implied power-loss. Now I do *get* why 13th Age utilizes this approach to multiclassing as opposed to the “take a level here, take a level there”-approach – the base system, with its HP-calculations etc. simply would not work with the stacking web of crunch that is the base assumption of 13th Age character advancement. Still, this did feel somewhat like a return to 2nd edition multiclass characters, which may or may not be to your liking. Rest assured, though, that this analogue only extends to the concept and the dreaded efficiency-loss in said classic edition has not found its way into 13th Age – multiclassing does not cripple the character and very much renders the character much more flexible.



This concludes the crunchy bits of the book – and over all, they are more varied and imho, cooler than the options provided in the core book – I know that quite a few of players tended to concur. The crunch herein is more varied and fun and should be considered a must-own supplement for that alone – on the level of e.g. the APG. That is – a must-own book for any 13th Age table.



But that is NOT where this book ends. Instead, we delve into the chapter on cities and courts – from Axis to the Elven Queen’s Court of Stars to the Three’s Drakkenhall and The Archmage’s Horizon or the Priestess’s Santa Cora, the chapter can be considered as an inspired gazetteer for these centers of power – with massive two-page spread artworks/maps, various iconic relationships and 13 rumors for most (though e.g. not for Santa Cora), these provide inspiring glimpses at a world that should have its own, massive, rules-agnostic setting-book, mainly because they manage to evoke beautiful imagery and inspired ideas in my mind.



The book also does sport a massive section of new monsters – which includes dire animals and quite an assortment of deadly adversaries. Among them, there are quite a few that stand out – for example the illithid-inspired soul flensers or the class of flowers of unlife, which managed to really creep me out – so yeah, neat chapter, though once again, only a specific array of creatures receive full-color artworks – those that do receive artworks, though, rock. This chapter also ties in with hands down my favorite chapter in the whole book, one I maintain that can be of extreme use even to games that do not use 13th Age rules – the chapter on a beloved creature type conspicuously absent from the original book – devils.



Now the chapter on devils is not simply a lame assortment of traits, feats etc. – instead, we essentially receive whole hierarchies and original stories for devils – each of which can easily carry a whole campaign…or more. Know what’s even better? Each is thematically tied to one of the iconics – whether the devils are the agents of the cosmic machinery, loathe the elf queen’s beauty, have been freed by the Dwarf King – each take on devils can essentially be considered its own glorious origin myth, an inspiring mini-ecology that breathes the very awesomeness that good fluff can evoke. Reading this chapter made me come up with so many ideas, it is absolutely stunning and once again validates my claim that we need more fluff for this cool world – especially if the fluff can maintain this specific peculiarity while not becoming prescriptive.



After the downright glorious reading experience of the former chapter, we dive into the GM’s chapter, wherein artifacts like the feathered crown or the First Wrought of Blood await – and yes, they increase in potency with tiers. Beyond these, the DM also receives e.g. 13 flying realms, 13 taverns and inns, 13 dungeons and ruins etc. – though all of these tend to come as a pretty short fluff-only blurb, so expect a short inspiring hook here rather than a fully-depicted adventure locale. There also are guidelines for magic item creation by chakra and 3 fluff-only monastic tournaments (just as brief) follow up.



On the completely opposite side, detail-wise, 4 characters are provided in lavish detail with extensive background stories and 13 hooks (!!) EACH as well as guideline for diverging uses of the characters as allies or antagonists. But that is not where the book ends- instead, we get what amounts to two campaign seeds, each with various extremely evocative suggestions that should be considered downright inspiring: One deals with the advent of the underkrakens, burrowing/planar shifting mountain-sized krakens that invade – perhaps as living dungeons or siege weapons, perhaps as the instrument of destruction engineered by the dread soul flensers. The second is no less inspired, focusing on an inverted, flying ziggurat spawning nigh-unkillable undead/mutated flowers of utter corruption. Yeah. Awesome. I wish that one were a mega-adventure with fully detailed maps etc.



Beyond this high note, we also get an index/glossary.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful, easy to read two-column full color standard. The artworks are gorgeous and the book per se comes with high-quality, glossy paper.



Rob Heinsoo, Jonathan Tweet and Robin D. Laws have created what amounts to the absolutely required APG of 13th Age – beyond the inspired classes, which indeed can be considered superior in the playing experience, not in power, to the core classes, it is the second half of the book that just made my day. The fluff, the inspired ideas herein, even beyond the mechanical rules, must be considered absolutely top-notch and inspired – and they constitute the one gripe I have with this book – I wish it were two distinct books, one for crunch and one for fluff.

The NPCs herein show a glimpse of the awesomeness that can be made with this setting and quite frankly, while reading just about any section, I was left wanting more – I wanted the full-blown underkraken campaign; I wanted a fully mapped Drakkenhall, with all details. I wanted Santa Cora in all its details, with hundreds of festivals and taboos. The material herein managed to do what the fluff in the core-book failed to achieve – thoroughly captivate my imagination. While my criticisms still remain, this is exactly what 13th Age needs to prosper – a detailed, awesome, evocative world that is tailor-made to support the high-fantasy, high-impact playstyle suggested by 13th Age’s rules.



So yes, this is an inspired book that provided quite an array of cool ideas I will most definitely use, including using one of the devil myths in my current campaign. For 13th Age-groups, this is a glorious supplement, a must-have purchase and even if you only are remotely interested in the world or the concepts I mentioned, this may very well be worth it for the idea-scavenging alone. I really wished it were two books, with more support for each class and the core classes in one, more fluff/campaign setting info – but that remains my only true gripe with this book. If you like the system, you need to have it – it one-ups the core book with imho more interesting classes and glorious fluff. It won’t convert you if you don’t like the system, but even f you loathe it, you may still draw tons of inspiration from these pages. My final verdict will hence clock in at a full 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
13 True Ways
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Into The Breach: The Cavalier
Publisher: Flying Pincushion Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/22/2015 02:43:42
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This latest installment of the Into the Breach-series clocks in at 31 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with a massive 26 pages of content, so let's take a look!



This review was moved up on my list of queued products at the request of my patreons.



As always, we kick off with archetypes galore, the first of which replaces tactician and its follow-ups and mount...with an airborne mount. If you expect me to start complaining now - I won't. Assisted flight is possible via the base rules, though primarily for small druids, so yes, I am okay with that. Hippogriff, giant wasp, pegasus, pteranodon, roc and wyvern are provided as mount-choices with stat-modifications and advancement (all 4th level but the wyvern, which has to wait until 7th level until it gains poison) provided. As a base-line, they are treated as animal companions with class level as effective druid level. As a friendly suggestion - if you go with this archetype, invest the bucks into the STELLAR Companions of the Firmament-book. Why? Because it is the ultimate assisted flying-book and covers all the rules, provides alternatives, etc.. Did you for example know that flying mounts need to be able to carry their riders without transcending light load? So yeah, the archetype works well, even better with this book and there is no overlap here. Kudos!



The second archetype would be a more complex one, the Briar Knight - which is quite frankly a reason this took relatively long to get done. So, the concept is far-out and awesome: You get a crawling vine plant companion with full class level as effective druid level. This companion, however, can act as an armor - it begins play granting a +5 bonus to AC when acting as armor and increases this by +2 every three levels - now if that sounds massive, bear in mind that you cannot enchant this armor - and you can damage it as armor while worn, as a creature while it's separate. The armor may execute a single attack or disarm/grapple-maneuver, with the latter separating it from the briar knight. The ability even covers the instance if the armor is slain while being worn. I do see an issue here, though - the ability does not specify the action-economy for transforming from armor to creature and vice versa. Becoming a creature can obviously happen as part of initiating a grapple, but I have no idea how long "donning" the armor takes. Since the vine acts as a companion, does it require handling/tricks to be told to let itself be donned? Granted, these are relatively minor oversights, but they deserve addressing - the armor is very powerful, so tying the maneuvers and donning to such checks may provide for a delightfully uncommon balancing mechanism. At 3rd level, Briar Knights may, as a standard action, emit 15 ft.-tendrils for low-range disarm or trip combat maneuvers, increasing his CMB for this special attack by his armor's AC-bonus - which is excessive. I'd suggest a significantly more conservative bonus-scaling here. 4th level not only nets the vine constrict, it also allows the briar knight to generate a detonation of thorns in a 10-ft burst, dealing 1d6 piercing damage per 2 briar knight levels, with a scaling save. COOL! At higher levels, Briar Knights can be sustained by photosynthesis and receive fast healing while in daylight. I would have appreciated a note whether the spell of the same name does qualify for triggering photosynthesis or not - I think magical daylight should not trigger fast healing. At 11th level, briar knights can root themselves in the floor for class level minutes, slightly reducing speed, but granting tremorsense as well as providing significant defenses versus several combat maneuvers. The capstone provides a plat apotheosis. The Briar Knight, as you can see above, has some issues to address - but it also tackles a highly complex concept and manages to get this mostly right - as provided, the archetype is functional with some DM-calls. More than anything else, it is absolutely awesome - this archetype can easily be reskinned as Spiderman's Venom, the archetype and the basic framework is neat indeed. The massive AC-bonus may be nasty, yes, but I do not consider it in itself an issue. Tanglevine strike does require a heavy whack with the nerf-bat, though. Conceptually absolutely awesome, I sincerely hope this archetype gets some minor polish to make it live up to its absolutely awesome premise.



The Charioteer gets a chariot and light horse at first level and replaces mount with driving stunts, with one new stunt granted every level. All right, I'm going to come clear here - I adore vehicle combat. While I have reduced the excessive DCs of driving checks in my home game, that's about it -other than that, my players have loved vehicle combat ever since. And these driving stunts - well, they add a massive, cool dimension to this: Flinging allies from the chariot, better ramming maneuvers. As a nitpick - a stunt that should allow for limited, quicker acceleration/braking forgot to include the braking option obviously intended by the ability's name in the wording. 1/day 1d4 HP repairs to the chariot do feel a bit...minor - especially since 4th level nets a superior chariot repairs. Some scaling mechanism for more daily uses for the minor repairs would be in order here. Oh, have I mentioned the option to get a flying (or swimming!) chariot if you have flying mounts? Yes, awesome. Using driving checks to negate incoming attacks is also part of the deal. While there are some minor rough edges and while this one is pretty dependant on the campaign, it is awesome in my book. Why? Because the stunts also add the one thing to the charioteer the cavalier class lacks - player agenda. The stunts provide meaningful choices every level, so yeah - overall, a well-crafted archetype.



Next up would be the clockwork knight. Instead of a mount, this one can repair clockwork constructs via his Craft (clockwork) and a mount is only gained at 4th level, at druid level equal to class level -3. This mount is pretty loud and gains DR 5/adamantine. Does not sound too impressive so far? You would be right - at low levels, this archetype does not sport too many impressive tricks. At 6th level and every 6 levels thereafter, the knight may upgrade his mount with a selection of upgrades that is continuously increased - at 12th and 18th level, the choices essentially increase significantly. Now the archetype does not explicitly state that the mount receives the traits of the clockwork-subtype, which can be kind of irritating since e.g. getting rid of vulnerability to electricity constitutes one of the possible upgrades, so a more explicit stating of this component would have rendered the archetype slightly more user-friendly. On the plus-side, the upgrades do provide some utterly awesome options - from size-increase to a new movement mode, adding injectors to the mount (for delivering poison or acid or the like) to yes, a friggin turret, the options are interesting -especially seeing how the archetype receives siege engine proficiency and can mount ballistae or catapults on huge mounts. This per se is awesome, though I wished the catapults sported proper interaction with minimum crew-size - as written, the non-light-ballista siege-weapons would require a larger crew of 2 for light catapults, for example. While yes, this does not render the siege weapon inoperable, I think that an increased action economy would have helped this cool option. As a cool design decision, several of the upgrades add further benefits if other upgrades are present - mithral bodies can e.g. increase maneuverability for flying mounts. At the same time, interaction between these upgrades is not always perfect: Take Darkwood body and mithral body: Darkwood body can be taken at 6th level and increases DR to DR 10/adamantine and replaces vulnerability to electricity with vulnerability to fire. At 12th level, mithril bodies would increase DR to 15/adamantine, add +10 movement rate and make the natural attacks of the mount count as silver. So what if you choose darkwood first, mithral second? The only net benefit from darkwood would be the changed vulnerability. Including a mini-tree of required prior choices or the like would have probably helped here. This btw. extends to a couple of other upgrades wherein the higher-level choices invalidate the lower level ones. The archetype is okay, I guess, but falls flat of its concept.



Crudus Domitor would be an archetype for the evil - with Dazzling Display and Demoralizing Lash as bonus feats, though the latter is modified to work with non-whip weapons. These guys can also smell fear and get a Blood Pact Mount, which does not gain animal companion benefits, but instead receives upgrades in the form of templates at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter. Whenever the archetype causes fear for the first time in a target creature, he temporarily adds a bonus to Str and the ominous weapon quality to his weapon. Trampling and improved speed when trying to run down foes are nice and I also like the imagery of using freshly slain foes of sufficient power (non kitten-able, btw.!) to increase the AC of the crudus domitor. At higher levels, worsened fear-effects and panic-inducing criticals are solid. Overall, no problems here. Solid, evil archetype.



The Formation Rider, alas, has some issues: The base ability, formation, simply does not work. "At 1st level, the formation rider knows how to lead formations of mounted soldiers. When the formation rider and his allies are riding in a line the formation rider can use a full-round action to lead a charge. He and all allies in the line may immediately move and attack as if with a standard charge and then move again (continuing the straight line of the charge). The total movement for the charge can’t exceed double their mounted speed. The formation rider, his mount, and his allies do not provoke an attack of opportunity from the opponent that they attack. Each ally may choose to attack the same target as the formation rider or a different one but everyone must end their charge in a line with all allies in the formation. The formation rider can use this ability once per day." For one, does this change initiative? What if mounts have different movement rates/modes? What is "a line" in game terms? How many allies can be affected? How can they attack the same target as the formation rider, even though they do not need to be within range regarding their weapons? The upgrades further improve that and while I like the concept, the execution, as provided, does not work.



The Lord (or Lady) in Burlap constitutes a folk hero archetype that can fight particularly well with farm tools and can make weapons stuck that they have disarmed. Unseating mounted foes and similar, thematically-fitting options round out a conceptually awesome, befittingly humble archetype I thoroughly enjoyed. The Mounted Brigand would constitute a cavalier/rogue crossover that gets sneak attack, but has less stringent requirements for his order and delays order ability gains. Interesting would be the fact that these guys can execute terrible charges that also deal sneak attack damage. All in all, a lethal, solid archetype.



The Oath-bound Protector swears to protect a single, living creature, granting AC-bonuses when adjacent to said ward at the cost of their own defense. Now where this archetype becomes awesome is with the modified order abilities: Each of the orders gets a modified version, including ronins/knight errants. Damn cool ones, in fact. While not all are perfect in their wording, they are functional - so all in all, a solid option! The next archetype is right up my alley - the shieldmaiden. With Cha-mod times Deathwatch, counter shield bashes, making the shield count as a banner and similar shield-themed benefits, we have another solid archetype here, though one I wished that delved deeper into the obviously nordic source-material.

Spirit Riders get an ethereal mount that cannot make attacks or be attacked - yes, this is a significant deviation from how etherealness works, but in campaigns with bastard DMs like yours truly that slay mounts, this archetype makes more than a bit of sense. At 5th level, spirit riders can cha-mod times per day grant their weapons the ghost touch ability, with higher levels granting scaling bonuses as well as a limited array of weapon special abilities. Once again,a solid archetype.



The Steadfast Challenger replaces tactician-tricks with several abilities that allow for better movement around the battlefield and the more relentless pursuit of adversaries, with better movement and means to mitigate escape regarding the targets of their challenges. Once again, a nice archetype.



The alternate class provided in this book would be the Sword-sworn troubadour, with d10, full BAB-progression, good ref- and will-saves, 4+Int skills per level and proficiency with simple and martial weapons and light armor.1st level troubadours not only get an instrument they can play while wielding a weapon (with an audible range of 100 ft.), they can also make a perform check versus a target's will-save - if the troubadour wins, the target creature is flat-footed for 1 round. This is a pretty powerful option and it uses opposing rolls as opposed to PFRPG's standard of d20-roll vs. fixed value. Flat-foot-locking is thankfully not possible, though. 1/day, a troubadour can sing a battle hymn, +1/day use at 3rd level and every 2 levels thereafter. Initiating a battle hymn is a full-round action and the duration depends on the hymn in question, but often clocks in at 3 rounds, 1 minute. Hymns can be deciphered with Linguistics, which makes it possible for opponents to also benefit from the hymn - that's a nasty drawback! That being said, some of the battle hymns are NASTY: Double the range of any spell cast by an allied spellcaster within 100 ft. for double the casting time is problematic not only regarding balancing, but also regarding how concentration for spellcasters works in such a context. Relaying message to all allies in a one-mile radius would be another option, though one significantly weaker than the others. While not bad per se, the overall array of battle hymns could have imho used a tighter balancing or level-scaling among themselves. Bonus feats are granted at 2nd level and every 4 levels thereafter, teamwork feats are granted at 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter. The capstone allows for two battle hymns to be in effect at the same time. All in all, a solid, if not perfect alternate class.



The first PrC herein would be the Feywarden, who gets d8, 4+Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB-progression, 1/2 fort- and will-save progressions, full animal companion-progression, 9/10 spellcasting progression. Requiring non-lawful alignment, 2nd level divine spellcasting etc., the PrC also gets access to the unique order of the fey - which is a bit odd in that it is presented as part of the PrC, but obviously refers to total character levels - with nature's fury referring to 15th level, I am not sure whether the order abilities for 2nd and 8th level are referring to character levels or PrC-levels and the table, alas, does not help here either. Clarification would be appreciated. The PrC getting an order also makes me wonder whether/how that would interact with the cavalier base-class and rders gained from that class. The PrC also has the option to conjure forth armors and gets cha-mod defensive capabilities as well as DR/Cold iron and even butterfly wings, culminating in a fey apotheosis.



The second PrC is the Obsidian Knight gets full BAB-progression, medium fort-and will-saves, 7/10th spellcasting progression, d10, 2+Int skills per level and require both 2nd level divine spellcasting and a cavalier's order as prerequisites. They do not gain any weapon or armor proficiencies. Obsidian knights receive elemental channel as a bonus feat, affecting all types of elementals, usable 3+Cha-mod times per day. If you already have channel energy, instead add +3 uses of channel energy instead. The PrC also can use this to generate an aura that increases the weight of metal armor etc. to make the targets suffer heavy encumbrance for Cha-mod rounds. The obsidian knight can also use this to conjure forth thin walls of earth that work as stationary tower shields and his weapons can receive obsidian-based benefits to weapon enhancement as well as the ability to react to being hit by elemental spells by adding the appropriate weapon quality temporarily. Bull rushes in a straight line, very lethal caltropy shard-fields and a potentially ray-deflecting shield complement this PrC further. Guess what - I really, really like this earth-related PrC. Kudos!



The Rime Reaver gets d10, 2+Int skills, no new proficiencies, full BAB-progression, 1/2 fort and will-save progression, 7/10th spellcasting progression. At 2nd level, the rime reaver gets cold resistance 5, which increases by +5 every two levels thereafter, stacking with the bloodline power. Jup, this is intended to work as a conjunction of sorceror and cavalier. The PrC replaces the companion with a polar bear and stacks class levels with sorc levels for purposes of bloodline powers. 3rd level nets a weapon of ice that is treated as adamantine, dealing half damage as cold damage and as a capstone, the companion becomes mythic. Once again, a solid PrC with some cool imagery.



The pdf also provides a new order for cavaliers, the order of the bow. members of this order may apply challenge benefits to ranged attacks when mounted and attacking someone within 30 ft. and obviously, is a ranged specialist. At high levels, they may shoot targets of charges of allies as immediate actions. A nice order.



The pdf also sports a +2 equivalent enchantment that enhances trip and disarm and adds free trip to crits. The pdf also provides stats for jousting lance tips, better tethers and an alchemical goo that frightens mounts. Resting saddles and standing saddle stirrups also provide for nice items.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, though I noticed some instances of minor flaws in punctuation and missing spell-italicization. Layout adheres to Flying Pincushion Games' two-column full-color standard and the pdf provides some solid full-color artworks, ranging from neat to stock. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.



The cavalier has a troubled history in my games - while I love the concept of the class, there is no other base-class that has this bad a ratio for player agenda - you choose mount and order and that's about it. Not particularly compelling as a chassis to work from. That being said, this pdf manages to provide some form of flexibility with several of the options provided herein and enhance the base-class with several distinctly fun and high-concept archetypes and class options, widening the limited scope of the base class.



Frank Gori, Jeff Harris, Taylor Hubbler, Jason Linker, Andrew Hoskins, Kiel Howell, Jacob Michaels, Richard Litzkow, Mikko Kallio, Mark Nordheim - congratulations! Why? Because this is one review I very much enjoyed writing. The "Into the Breach"-series took a bad beating from yours truly with some of the installments, but this here is a huge step forward. Where before, even simple rules-language sported issues here and there, this one feels infinitely more refined. Indeed, if there are glitches to be found herein, they often can be mitigated by a capable DM and/or stem from daring to tackle some rather complex options. Now, as you can glean from the above, this pdf is certainly not perfect, but it works much, much better than any book in the series I've read so far. To the point where both charioteer and briar knight (though the letter with nerfed tanglevine strike and some finetuning) will make appearances in my campaign. The majority of the content herein is solid and there are glimmers of brilliance here and there that make me confident in Flying Pincushion Games further improving to become truly awesome. While not perfect, I value the high concepts higher than the problems and consider this pdf a fun addition to one's games and thus will settle on a final verdict of 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Into The Breach: The Cavalier
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Adventure Path Iconics: Lords of Undeath (PFRPG)
Publisher: LPJ Design
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/22/2015 02:41:43
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page combat & initiative tracker, 1 page mini-sheets, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let's take a look!



What do we get herein? Well, essentially - pregens. Pregens using the unique character options that have been introduced in Obsidian Apocalypse's more recent offerings. The pregens are provided as 20-point-buy characters, with information on increase and decrease to the established 15- and 25-point standard. Each character comes with a per se well-written background story and advice on level progressions.



The first character would be Alberdeen, an uzamati (not uztamati, as the pdf one time puts it)magus who is suffering from seeing the state the world is now after the apocalypse. He is pretty much a standard magus, set apart only by the race - longsword? Check. Shocking Grasp? Check. Not much to say about him.



The second character would be Joa, a flesh promethean barbarian that could have come directly from a Tim Burton movie - were it not for the great and rather nightmarish story - for the body in which Joa was re-created is that of a patchwork woman, while the spirit within identifies as male. Bravo for tackling this taboo topic.



Mixer, the clockwork promethean alchemist provided herein, is, unsurprisingly, asexual, being a brain in a jar on a clockwork body - more interestingly here would be the awesome, chilling narrative on HOW the amoral being of mixer came to life - and no, I am not going to spoil how, just that shoving fragments of vials into eyes and a self-lobotomy are involved. And yes, this constitutes my favorite background story. The clockwork promethean's (overly) powerful traits are somewhat offset by an uncommon focus on melee.



The final character herein would be Siriah, a raijin cavalier and powerful force of vengeance created from tragedy. Siriah is by far the most powerful of the characters herein, btw. - with greatsword, lance and raijin abilities, she surpasses the other characters.



Conclusion:
editing and formatting are okay - the pdf does sport a bunch of glitches, though - from not being able to decide on how many Rs there are in Siriah to bolding errors and cut-cop-paste glitches in the point-buy boxes, this pdf could have used a closer glimpse. Layout adheres to Obsidian Apocalypse's two-column standard with a gorgeous full-color artwork for each character. The pdf has one bookmark per character.



Alexander Augunas' pregens here are varied and this pdf does sport my favorite pregen background story EVER, so that would be something going for this pdf. Now that being said, this pdf does suffer from the base-races used to make the content here not being perfectly balanced among one another. The difference in power-level of the characters themselves is exacerbated by the difference in racial power-levels, so take these with a grain of warning.

I am also not particularly excited about this pdf not working as stand-alone - the cool builds utilize rules of the non-standard races, that's the premise. But without the proper book, one has an issue playing e.g. the raijin - or the other characters. The immunities granted by subtypes and races could have used a brief explanation -that way, this pdf could have served as a kind of teaser for the proper racial books while being self-contained. As provided, this is one of the weaker API-installments, with editing glitches etc. rendering this less compelling for me than I expected. If you already have the OA-books and want pregens, you should be aware of the different power-levels and assign pregens accordingly to player capabilities.



In the end, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3 since, the +0.5 stems primarily from me really loving the prose.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Adventure Path Iconics: Lords of Undeath (PFRPG)
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Remedial Tinkering: Happy Little Automatons
Publisher: Interjection Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/19/2015 03:24:09
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This expansion for the Tinker base-class clocks in at 6 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 4 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?



What do most of the *really* cool Tinker-expansions have in common? Jup, quite a few of them come into play in mid and high levels. So this pdf is geared for 1st-level usefulness, though admittedly, it will retain its usefulness far beyond the low level range. The pdf also handily points out that this and the excellent grafter PrC as well as the Tinkering 301-pdf provide some pretty interesting synergies.



Better than this, this may well be the most concise tinker-supplement to read so far: We get an explanation of the alpha and design-descriptors as well as some of the BP-tricks one could execute with the copious supplements for the class. A short explanation on interaction with the grafter also helps here. Among the basic explanation, one can also find the rationale for the unobtrusive Bob Ross-jokes herein, the new paint-descriptor. Essentially, inventions with this subtype provide a coat of paint for a target automaton and, per default, only one paint-job can be applied to one automaton - still, this is Bradley Crouch we're talking about here, so yes, there are means to break this rule.



A total of 6 innovations are provided to modify and play with this pretty interesting concept: When, for example, an alpha would lose an invention with both design and paint subtypes, the alpha retains the bonuses for class level rounds. Further innovations allow you to apply paint to yourself and relatively spontaneous reassignment of paint jobs to grafted creatures and adjacent automatons can also be executed. This quick, spray-based paint job may also be utilized as a makeshift flamethrower and yes, you can potentially change the coats of more than one target at once via spray nozzles. A greater innovation allows for "happy little accidents" for quicker paint jobs and expand the inventions used in conjunction with soem of your innovations. Where things become VERY tactical is with the means of doubling kamikaze-directives with paint-dispersal. And yes, if you think about this one, you can set up absolutely awesome "See what I did here"-combos! A thing of beauty indeed!



Okay, let's take a look at those inventions, all right? The base one would be the primer coat, which renders an automaton eligible for becoming a target for the painter's station. This invention, usually only applicable to Alphas, allows the automaton to change the paint-coats of deployed automatons 1/day; additionally, automatons deployed with the primer coat invention can have their coats changed after being deployed, thus bringing aforementioned BP-limit-shenanigans into play. Oh, and yes, whirlwind splashing of colors is possible. Need to get rid of primer coats in another way? An automaton with the Homogenization Enforcement Protocols can be deployed to eliminate primer coats and replace them with any paint invention part of its BP. Oh, have I mentioned the invention that allows for two paint coats at once? The combo-potential of this system is VAST! It is utterly beautiful!

Automatons with paint-jobs targeted by fire may elect to burn the paint to burst into flames or lose their paint to get DR 5/- versus an attack...or lose their paint to net additional uses of low level inventions with a limited number of uses. The combo-potential keep stacking up - but you're probably wondering whether the basic paint coats are worth anything. Short answer: YEAH! Long answer: What about a paint coat that nets temporary hit points (with anti-abuse caveat), dazzling added to kamikaze, increased base speed, DR 1/-, save-bonuses, better feinting or a reroll, though at -2? Yes, you may note that some of these benefits look slightly stronger than the others - well, they come balanced via a once per 24 hour-caveat. I also like the paint that nets your automaton + 1 fire damage by day, +1 cold damage by night - cool!



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to Interjection Games' printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes sans bookmarks, but needs none for this length.



Beyond the awesome imagery evoked, Bradley Crouch delivers perhaps the most awesome base-system-expansion I've seen for one of his classes so far. The paint-jobs with their massive combo-potential and versatility exponentially expand the options at your disposal in so cool, diverse ways, I can't wait to see even more of these great tricks. More so than even the previous installments, this expansion does not simply roll with one high-concept image - it gives you a stellar toolkit to play with, one that has changed how tinkers, all tinkers, work in my game.



This is perhaps THE must-have expansion for the class, provided with a superb quality that makes the fair price-point an utter steal. It is also the single best example for the fact that the tinker's concepts are not yet depleted - the combo-system provided herein renders the class more fun and can easily be further expanded. No other tinker-expansion made me this excited, made me want more this much - this humble pdf enhances the class in absolutely stunning ways. Everyone using this great class NEEDS this pdf. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval and nomination as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2015.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Remedial Tinkering: Happy Little Automatons
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Gossamer Worlds: Dragonhearth (Diceless)
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/19/2015 03:22:10
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the evocative Gossamer Worlds-series clocks in at 17 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, leaving us with 15 pages of content, so let’s take a look!



So what is dragonhearth? Well, if the name wasn't ample clue for you, let me fill you in: It is a world of DRAGONS...yeah, I'm proud of my astute observation as well. kidding aside, everything on this world is draconic to some extent - from serpentine waves of light to myriad forms of draconic life, there are a lot of supreme serpents inhabiting this place. So attuned to the very notion of dragons is this world, that even plants and most predatory animals share some component of lethal grace with the serpentine masters...oh, and paltry little squishy creatures from other realities, i.e. neither dragons nor the two draconic humanoid races, tend to suffer from a disease as the reality of the very world wastes them away - unless they enter a dragonbond. This can be pictured as an abstract relationship of friendship, love or simple subjugation - various strengths exist, some of which can transcend even the boundaries of gossamer realities. And yes, they have rules-relevant repercussions.



Now so far, so common - at this point, dragonhearth may not seem too impressive -I mean, apart from the continent-sized dracoliches and the system of reincarnation that governs life. Wait, what? Yes, concise rules for dracoliches are provided and hoards etc. are rationalized by a metaphysical reality that acts as a ruthless karmic meritocracy - which is cool on its own - but the whole thing becomes interesting with the existence of the golden wyrm Khemezatron (fully statted, btw.), a dragon awakened to the existence of the Grand Stairs and recently returned. beyond a gorgeous illustration, Khemezatron also introduced a nanite-based psychoactive virus to dragonhearth, courtesy of some highly-developed world she visited. Styling herself as a benevolent messiah, she infects draconic life, severing dragonbonds and rendering those subject to her dread disease thralls to her will, bonded to her technological assault on the very metaphysical powerstructures that govern life on Dragonhearth...for now, unopposed, but sooner or later, the world itself will take out the big, big guns and we have adventure potential galore.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s beautiful 2-column full-color standard for LoGaS and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Artwork consists of glorious full-color pieces that are absolutely gorgeous to behold.



Matt Banach provides a setting that could theoretically be reduced to dragonsploitation - with draconic themes everywhere, I can well imagine a certain fatigue setting in sooner or later, so for my part, I'm not that blown away by the basic premise, no matter how good it is executed. However, the introduction of the alternate bond and the obvious theme of changing times that echoes the central conflict of umbra vs. eidolon makes this a rather unique and awesome set-up: If not for a whole campaign, then at least for a sojourn of one or more adventures - Khemezatron is a damn cool villain that provides a truly unique imagery. My final verdict, hence, will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Gossamer Worlds: Dragonhearth (Diceless)
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Village Backdrop: Red Talon
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/19/2015 03:19:38
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of RSP's Village Backdrop-series is 10 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let's take a look at the settlement



Red Talon is not a subtle village. Nestled in a sheltered cove that is separated from main-land entrance by massive cliffs, it could be pretty much a paradise. Let's get that out of the way if the name was not ample clue: It's not. Founded by a bloodthirsty orc captain listening to the colorful moniker of Hagruk Stormrider, the village still sports a lot of orcs and half-orcs and would be a pretty deplorable pirate's nest, had the life of Haagruk went a conventional career in pillaging and plundering. Alas, during his exploits, he and his crew took to the worship of the cannibalistic Ukre'kon'ala, engaging in acts most depraved.



And, as often, the most vile of beings do not rest easy in death's embrace - while his Red Talon, his ship and the inspiration for the settlement's name, has sunk years ago and while he and his crew perished, he yet remains - transformed into a terrible undead and leading his cult from the shadows, the village has since then provided a steady supply of the nourishment the now undead villains crave.



As always in the series, we not only receive a nice piece of cartography detailing the settlement, we also receive ample information of clothes worn, names, customs, a market place etc. The dread Hagruk gets full stats and the vile deity also receives a short write-up, though you should not expect any surprises here - it's pretty much a generic "Mad eat-em-all-deity"...and a missed chance. The pdf does sport rumors and events alongside settlements statblock and information on the village's "law and order" - yeah, right.



Conclusion:

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



Richard Green paints in vivid strokes a rather nasty pirate village of the worst kind, the kind of place that makes Freeport or Port Shaw look cosmopolitan or welcoming. As such, Red Talon is a nice way-station for adventurers, a powder-kegs ready to explode in face of the fire that the PCs represent. At the same time, however, I felt honestly not that blown away here - the set-up in itself is certainly not novel, but the execution also falls a bit behind. So we get *yet another* pirate-y environment with an evil cannibal cult? Not sure how many of those I've been, but there are quite a few out there - and with the brevity of the format, not much can be done to push the boundaries or develop a unique take on the trope. That would be gripe #1. Beyond that, I also feel like this supplement has somewhat failed its own potential - with Hagruk's treasure to be found out there and adventurers being lured in, this village could have worked well as a true trap, a cunning set-up, perhaps even one with a brimming pseudo-treasure-hunters industry. Instead, the pdf opts for a more conservative take, which, while not bad in any way, shape or form, imho renders the place somewhat less compelling than it could have been. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Red Talon
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Bite Me! Skindancers
Publisher: Misfit Studios
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/18/2015 03:42:15
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Bite Me-series clocks in at 21 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 16 pages of content, so what exactly do we get here?



Well, on the basic level, the reply would be that we receive a race - which gets +2 Dex and Con, -2 Wis, gearing it towards the physical pursuits. Not a fan of that, as I prefer races to be balanced between mental and physical attributes. Skindancers are humanoids with the shapechanger subtype and one subtype of the player's choice and count as both for purposes of vulnerabilities to targeted effects. Skindancers are medium, have low-light vision and may use Diplomacy to influence the attitude of animals related to their chosen form, receiving a penalty to Diplomacy against other creatures with the animal type - not that you'd usually use this skill often on animals. They receive +2 to Perception and Bluff and the supernatural ability "Form of the Wild" - this allows the skindancer to assume the form of an animal eligible as a druid animal companion. Changing form is a standard action that provokes AoOs and is considered to by a supernatural polymorph effects. A skindancer can maintain said form for character level hours per day, which must be spent in 1-hour increments



Now the alternate form does deviate in some key aspects from a regular polymorph-effect - while it grants the appearance, movement modes and speed as well as natural attacks size, extraordinary and special qualities, it goes further. Unlike regular polymorphs, the change also nets the skinchanger the chosen animal's physical attribute scores, allowing for some seriously massive min-maxing potential. Additionally, the form increases in potency as if it were an animal companion, with 4th and 7th level being the most obvious candidates for improvement for most such forms. The animal form is unique to the skinchanger and thus does not allow to disguise as another creature - alas, the pdf ought to specify whether a polymorph effect's usual +10 disguise to appear as the creature into which you morph is still gained. The alternate form also does not properly specify the interaction of equipment with the basic form - while I assume the default of equipment melding into the new form, I do think that the cool concept would have warranted a unique balancing mechanism here to offset the ridiculously powerful min-maxing possible via the alternate form - as provided, a skindancer should be a caster, since for these, the animal companion-form essentially amounts to almost free gestalting: Dump-stat physical attributes, choose an animal with good ones, get natural spell - done. Spellcasting animal of death. This is unfair towards the other players, but just the type of mindset these rules encourage.



The race does sport 6 alternate racial traits that help with minor skill-bonus exchanges and provide a means for skindancers to be small. More importantly, the traits link nicely with one gruesome origin myth of the race - basically, there have been people who skinned lycanthropes alive to infiltrate their communities. If that reminds you of George R. R. Martin's "The Skin Trade", your association would be the same as mine, and yes, the overall prose here can be considered evocative, with anti-Skinning skindancer racial traits that are particularly adept as scourging the practitioners of this vile rite being the example of my favorite trait herein, at least concept-wise. On the downside, this one is based on alignment, thus either imposing a bigger book-keeping on the DM or acting as a free detect alignment by means of bonus/penalty-metagaming. It should be noted that the Embrace constitutes a second origin myth for the race, providing an inherent duality as a theme, which is rather nice to see and works well with the race's basic concept. The race also sports 3 sample builds for general concepts. The pdf sports favored class options for the classes released prior to the pdf's release, which means it covers the APG-classes and those introduced in Ultimate Magic and Combat. The bonuses here would be okay.



We also get racial archetypes, the first of which would be the dark hunter inquisitor - instead of monster lore, the inquisitor may add Int-mod to Perception and receives a scaling AC-and save-bonus versus shapechangers, culminating in an AoE-capstone that is cool, but also very late to the party - the unique benefit here would be that allies with at least one rank in Knowledge (nature) may aid as a swift action, which would have been more interesting as an earlier ability-gain. Same goes for a unique bane gained at 14th level. Tracking shapechangers superbly via observation that doubles as magic is also part of the deal. An okay, if somewhat uninspired archetype.



The community infiltrator rogue can fool magical means of detecting the truth instead of trapfinding and gets better social skills. Okay, but nothing to write home about. Skindancer shaman oracles have their own bonus spells that replace the ones gained by their mystery. The archetype also locks you into a revelation at 3d and 11th level: The 3rd level one grants you a shield of spectral animals that 1/day nets allies either an AC-bonus or an option to heal, as decided by the ally (and sporting minor scaling) - which is awesome regarding the imagery, but kind of underwhelming regarding the potency. A slight increase in healing power or more uses per day for such a cool signature ability would have been in order - +3 AC or +3d6+cha-mod healing at 14th level are not that impressive, even with the flexibility of choice for your allies. The second revelation provides +4 Str and Con and natural armor, full BAB and free Improved Critical with a weapon/natural attack of your choice. The ability can be used for 1 round per 2 class-levels, to be spent in 1-round-increments and is pretty powerful, but also kind of limited.



Blinding bone dust and mating scent can be found among the alchemical equipment introduced herein. The new feats herein are kind of a mixed bag in my book - why? Because e.g. gaining magic AND aligned claws at the price of one feat is pretty nasty. Using Dex instead of Str for Climb and Swim is okay. On the awesome side, what about an extraordinary effect that penalizes intelligent foes for attacking you for as long as you do not initiate hostilities yourself? I like this diplomacy-style trickery. At the same time, increasing the animal form's size by +1 is nasty when you recall all those options like reach etc. that come along with it. On the formal side, Double Bluff may allow for a second bluff-check at -5 once your firs has failed, but I have no idea whether this amounts to an immediate action or not an action - the wording does not specify an action-type and utilizes the word "immediate", so some clarification would be in order. Nasty creatures practicing the Skinning-ritual can benefit from the Dark Dancer-mini-feat-chain, allowing for superb infiltration via the absorbed skins of your victims - including their memories in the improved versions - and yes, the capstone even allows for the access of class abilities and the like, while losing your own - this is EXTREMELY powerful and obviously belongs into the hands on NPCs, not into those of players.



3 sample magic items allow for the fooling of bane-effects, dispelling illusions and alternate forms (covering SUs via concise mechanics) and a ring that provides a general sense of pack empathy. The pdf also provides 4 new spells - one reduces a target to animal-like behavior, one has a curse that makes animals harass the target and one for faster tracking and one that improves starting attitude of humanoids. The iconic rituals provided as an origin myth, i.e. the Embrace and the Skinning, are also covered.



The pdf closes with a fully-illustrated 2 skindancers, one at level 11 and one at level 4 - both are pretty cool and come with an interesting write-up.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, both on a formal and a rules-language level, are very good. Layout adheres to a beautiful two-column full-color standard and the artworks provided are original and high-quality. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.



Robert H. Hudson Jr.'s Skindancers are very much a matter of taste and group - I can see them going either way. On the one side, the fluff of the race and its execution is pretty cool and delivers just what you'd expect and render a shapechanging race a more than viable option. On the other hand, my players would have a field-day breaking the shapechanging - the alternate form amounts to more than just a pet-like alternate form and instead provides an almost gestalt-y level of additional tricks. Especially for low-level casters made with a modicum of capability, this allows for some very nasty combos that are bound to provide some nasty tricks, especially at low levels. The basic issue I identified herein would be that skindancers try to be what amounts to 2 different types of character - at the one side, they try to be a conservative race that happens to be a shapechanger. On the other, the morally-ambiguous tricks associated with the Skinning are so powerful, they should be banned for players - allowing the latter set of abilities for PCs will end up creating problems galore.



The supplemental content provided ultimately remained a mixed bag for me - while not bad per se, I saw most concepts herein provided in other executions before - perhaps that's the bane of the reviewer talking; perhaps I've seen too much, but I caught myself thinking rather often that e.g. some feats would have worked better as archetype options due to their power, whereas some archetype options ultimately left me uninspired or unimpressed. The abilities, in part, are awesome and cool, but limited use and not particularly pronounced tie-ins with the race itself did not capture my imagination.



While this does sound negative, you should make no mistake - if your campaign sports powerful races anyway and min-maxy system-mastery is less of an issue at your table, the skindancers may just be what the doctor ordered. The deviations from standard wording are few and far in-between and this pdf can provide some fun for your group. The concepts are high, with especially the evil Dark Dancer-feat-tree being inspired. In the end, the supplemental content and minor balance concerns I have mitigate some of the awesomeness herein and render this book a highly situational offering, edging slightly towards the good over the problematic. My final verdict will hence clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3 mostly due to the balance-concerns I have and the power-level of some options herein feeling off.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Bite Me! Skindancers
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Dwellers Amid Bones Collector's Edition
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/16/2015 02:46:28
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This collector's edition of Dweller Amid Bones clocks in at 35 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages advertisement, 2 pages editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page ToC, 1 page of advice for reading statblocks, 1 page advice for running the module, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 25 pages of pure content, so let's take a look, shall we?



This being a collector's edition of a previously-released, short module, Dweller Amid Bones receives a massive upgrade herein - from the get-go, detailed sample hooks allow DMs to easily kick off the module and then, much like Gibbous Moon, we get an astonishing, massive section of new content - essentially what boils down to a full-blown village backdrop - and in this case, the village would be Arcwood.



Arcwood as a settlement has its origins steeped in conflict - it is the place where the hero Therald Arcmoor fell, commemorating the final battle between the civilized races and the orcs of the severed ear - 300 ft. away from the feared tuskwood. With a majority population of halflings, the settlement obviously comes with a massive array of supplemental information: We receive information on the village's demographics, whispers and rumors, a settlement statblock, nomenclature and clothing habits as well as local lore and marketplace-information.



As always, the map provided is glorious and represents the privacy the local populace cherishes with the village being relatively dispersed - one can even see where halflings and humans live. The village also provides 3 full-blow statblocks of NPCs one can encounter here. Beyond that, the village, being close to the ancient battlefield, has drawn a less than nice person living in the village, one with a strange agenda. Beyond that, a moaning haunt provides an additional nice piece of dressing.



All right, from the village and the hooks, one can easily send the PCs towards the proper module - which takes place in the cairn devoted to the fallen orcs. Located in the Tuskwood (which also comes with a map), we get an awesome wilderness section, complete with locales, natural hazards and yes, random encounters that provide, among others, sprite swarms. This wilderness trek adds a further dimension to the base module I really enjoy.

From here on out, this review will contain SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

...

..

.

All right, still here? Great! As hinted before, Dwellers Amid Bones has the PCs explore an orcish burial cairn to put an end to the various raids conducted by a mated pair of green draconic beings - only forest drakes, thankfully, but deadly nevertheless! The cairn and its details are up to the standard set in Raging Swan modules - general features and details to add to even unkeyed areas make exploring the cairn interesting and atmospheric.



Now from the very beginning, we get a cool twist: Gork Shattershield, undead orcish wight, manifests behind the PCs to demand they purge the drakes (which have time and time again destroyed the stubborn undead orc, only to see him rejuvenate) - thus the adventure begins with an uncommon social interaction before turning ugly - fast!



The drakes lurk in relative proximity and once roused, both attack with their noxious clouds, fight, and when damaged too hard...retreat via speed surge underwater! FANFARE! GLORY TO WHATEVER DEITY OR FORCE MADE CREIGHTON WRITE THIS! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is finally one of the scarce, rare instances of draconic foes fighting NOT like complete morons! Hallelujah! Take heed, authors, take heed! Of course, we also get details like wall carvings etc. - but the running battle of the drakes through water-filled maze-like tunnels should pump up the adrenaline for your players - and make the satisfaction of finally confronting the pair in their lair much sweeter! Note: These are drakes. I want to see intelligent dragons in future adventures: With layered magical defenses, terrain used properly, breath weapon cheap shots and traps galore. Oh, and an escape route - dragons fighting inside where they can't take to air always strikes me as superbly stupid on the reptile's side. /ramble.



Of course, the defeat of the dragons does not mean it's over - the problem with the undead orc between PCs and exit remains and plunderers better be smart...



It should also be noted that DMs get a massive array of further adventures and an appendix is downright awesome: The appendix is essentially a glorious DM-cheat-sheet for fighting in water etc., with tables and the like providing handy lists of modifiers that make running the module essentially go-play easy and possible after one casual read-through - kudos!



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a crisp 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes with awesome b/w-artwork and even better maps. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and the pdf comes in two versions, one optimized for screen-use and one optimized for the printer.



Creighton Broadhurst and Fabian Fehrs deliver a glorious module here - where the original module sported a truly smart, challenging, detailed mini-dungeon crawl, this collector's edition takes things one step beyond, providing a massive array of supplemental content that anchors what was before a tactically-interesting module and provides a backdrop that renders the whole presentation more organic and unique. The supplemental content not only diversifies what is there, the sheer level of detail also can add a whole other dimension to the follow-ups; Complications for the module can be easily added via, for example, one less than scrupulous villagers may be a nice potential additional foil for the PCs.



My final verdict for this intelligent module will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval - an awesome, superior take on a great module!

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dwellers Amid Bones Collector's Edition
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Mini-Dungeon #015: Torment at Torni Tower
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/16/2015 02:44:47
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 to d20pfsrd.com's shop and thus, absent from the pdf.



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!



Somervel has not been treated kindly by the seasons - its pale forts, somewhat akin to beaver lodges, earthen mounds on islands in the marshlands, have been isolated for quite a while - most of the complex is below ground, with one tower jutting forth from the mound. Torni's tower has fallen to the seasons and when he PCs are sent to investigate the place, they are greeted by a haggard female - but that's just the beginning of the trouble. Turns out the female is a disguised annis hag who not only single-handedly (or better clawedly) took the fortress and slaughtered its inhabitants, she also makes off to rouse her ogre minions, some of which in states of drunkenness (which is accounted for by the mini-dungeon!) and prepare her detailed and rather awesome tactics - she for example collects stirges in a bag to throw at the PCs. What about speaking tubes? Yeah, smart! So, the presentation provides the roster of inhabitants, the rooms and the tactics of the annis hag - all in all, providing a surprisingly awesome and best of all, organic mini-dungeon against foes with unique tactics and in a distinct backdrop.



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 provides a nice piece of full-color artwork.



Stephen Yeardley does it again - this mini-dungeon is inspired, cool and does everything right: From an awesome, unique locale to smart adversaries and a surprising amount of fluff crammed into the scant few pages, this mini-dungeon is concise, logical ad downright awesome - no complaints and one of the high points of the series - well worth 5 stars + seal of approval!

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mini-Dungeon #015: Torment at Torni Tower
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13th Age Core Book
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/15/2015 04:23:17
An Endzeitgeist.com review

Disclaimer: I received the hardcover for 13th Age for the purposes of writing an unbiased, critical review. This following review reflects my endeavor to do so. The review is based on the hardcover of the 320 page book – I do not own the Pdf, so I can’t comment on that format. In order to review this book, I have playtested this system, though I did so with the expansion 13 True Ways as well – when appropriate, I will comment on that and yes, said book’s review is coming soon as well.



Without further ado – this is a d20-based system and as such, you will see a lot of familiar AND unfamiliar ground. The basics of a character are the 6 attributes we all know and their modifiers are still calculated by subtracting 10 and then dividing the resulting number by 2. The similarities continue with the action types – standard and move actions, free actions – those retain their nomenclature. Quick actions correspond to swift actions and certain classes can use 1 interrupt action per round, even when it’s not their turn – a better nomenclature and more streamlined take for immediate actions, essentially. Action substitution is more transparent than in comparable systems – standard actions can be downgraded to move/quick actions etc. We basically have free downgrading substitution as a design principle regarding action economy. So far, so similar, right? Well, this is about the time the similarities end.



First of all, levels are grouped in 10s, not 20s (or 30s). The levels have a somewhat unnecessary-seeming tier-nomenclature sticking to them as a 4th edition remnant, with champion-tier occupying levels 5-7, epic tier constituting levels 8 -10 and adventurer-tier spanning the lower levels. Tiers are used essentially as a base-line for the upgrading of e.g. feats, racial powers etc. – in higher tiers, the benefits become more pronounced. I wrote “seeming” here, since the tier essentially acts a prerequisite, but more on that later.



Levels are gained as per the requirements of the story, not as per XP, and as a party – whether this is according to your tastes depends on your group, but personally, I enjoy the move away from XP-values – the CR/etc.-systems never worked well in the first place, anyways, so kudos! On the basic mechanics, we receive fixed HP-values, which are modified by con-mod and then multiplied by a fixed value. The base HP-value etc. is governed by the class you belong to. This has two consequences – One, you do not have unlucky (or lucky!) PCs with fewer (or more!) HP than their companions. Two: You pretty much can guess a level and the average toughness of an adversary, since there is no basic variation in the base HP – whether you like or dislike this pretty much boils down to a matter of taste and preference. On the one hand, it does provide a more mathematically secure base-line for balancing, on the other, it makes things a tad more predictable and potentially, a bit more boring.



Races cover the default races we know and expect from a d20-based game, but also provide unconventional races à la aasimar, tiefling, drow, etc. – each race is characterized by a choice of one of 2 attribute bonuses (or more) of +2 and a racial power, which can be used once per battle. The racial powers themselves are pretty unique and drive home the flair of the races. Here, I go on a little tangent – one design decision that is not per se bad, but which I intensely loathe is the concept of ANY power/ability/spell per battle. Since battles constitute a non-defined time-frame, the system demands to be gamed - “Quick, kill the kobold before reinforcements arrive!” I’ve been vocal and ranty about this in the past and I still stand behind this –for me, this breaks immersion in a nasty way, though the issue in 13th Age is less pronounced than in any comparable game, to the point where I consider it tolerable...NOT good - for me as a person, this is a jarring and constant thorn in my side and makes me cringe, but as a reviewer, it's not that bad. Why? Well, for once, the whole system is streamlined more towards constant performance and away from bleeding resources dry. Abilities tend to be grouped in at-will, once/combat and once/day and thus, resource-management à la 3.X or PFRPG is severely de-emphasized.



This is also reflected in two design-decisions – one, there are healing surges, here called recovery. While based on your level and class (thus ranging from d6 to d10), they are limited. You usually begin with 8 recoveries and can execute a so-called rally as a standard action – this allows the character to rally his/her reserves and receive the recovery/healing. On an 11+, the character can rally again in that combat. Oh yeah, haven’t mentioned that before – quite a few limited abilities can be executed more often per battle if luck is on the player’s side. The save required for tasks like this is an unmodified d20. While this makes battles more dynamic, it also provides an avenue for lady luck that is pretty hefty. The strategic decisions and action gained from this should not be underestimated – each recovery can literally be your last. If you’re like me and belong into the camp of people who do NOT consider hit points a representation of fighting spirit, the book does suggest as an alternative to drop recovery/rallies – and yes, this is theoretically possible, but only theoretically. Why? Because healing potions and numerous other mechanics also tap into recoveries as a resource and influence it. In my games, though, experimenting with stripping rally/recoveries away did provide somewhat of an issue – but I’ll get back to that.



Before I went on the recovery-tangent, I mentioned two factors that make the per-battle-mechanics imho work slightly better – the second one would be “healing up” – separated from the traditional 8 hours of rest, recovery of most class-related tricks is no longer tied to a fixed time-frame, but rather to the DM’s judgment. While the suggested array of combats before leveling and healing up respectively felt pretty paltry to me, no one stops the DM from making the game more difficult. I absolutely applaud this countermeasure against the 4.5-encounter/8-minute adventuring-day, but I wished the book had been a tad bit more precise in the base guidelines of when to allow for healing up for groups with different capabilities, if only to avoid conflicting expectations between the DM and players. Not a bad thing, mind you – just a nitpick.



Now where there’s healing, there are defenses – three, in this case. Beyond AC, we also receive MD and PD – mental and physical defense. Each class has a value for these, modified by one value – the AC-modifier, PD modifier and MD modifier, respectively. To determine these, you take a look at 3 of your attributes (Con, Dex and Wis for AC, for example) and ignore the highest and lowest of the three attribute modifiers – the middle one, you add to the value. The values increase by +1 every level. Initiative is still governed only by Dex and also receives further bonuses with the levels gained. I *really* like this concise and easy-to-grasp distinction between different defenses. Especially, since the stacking system is pretty much a no-brainer in its simplicity.



What do I mean by that? Well, essentially, only the highest bonus applies. Same goes for negative conditions. Worst one supersedes other penalties. Ongoing damage stacks – you can burn a little or burn much, be poisoned a little or be poisoned like crazy – these components should elicit grins from every DM who had to witness high-level PCs actually creating full-blown buff-suites (with crazy performance-increases) to speed up game-play – my last 3.X-campaign before switching to PFRPG had one particular insane one that required a spread-sheet. Now while my players love this kind of complexity and engine-tinkering, the simplicity and elegance of the mechanics herein deserve accolades and are absolutely something I wholeheartedly endorse, especially for groups that derive no joy from engine-mastery.



A elegant similar simplicity also can be applied to the damage-types, which cover elemental damage types, negative energy, etc. Resistance and vulnerability also work differently – vulnerability renders the target more prone to being crited, whereas resistance equals half damage, unless the natural d20 roll was higher than e.g. 12+ or even 18+. So yeah, elegant simplicity here as well, not much chances to use tricks and scale up elemental nigh invulnerabilities – which is both a blessing for some and a curse for others. This brings me to the notion of damage as such – weapon damage, for example, has no descriptor – the system does not differentiate between the damage caused by a massive hammer or by an arrow. Whether you like that or not, once again, is up to your personal tastes - I get the rationale, but I really dislike it as a person. Damage calculation is pretty simple and one of the reasons martials and casters are pretty balanced in 13th Age. Damage rolls add an ability modifier and usually see a multiplication – the base weapon damage is multiplied at higher levels. A 1st level fighter wielding a longsword may e.g. deal 1d8 + Str-mod. However, a 4th level fighter would instead deal 4d8+ Str-mod damage with the same weapon. The modifiers are also increased – upon reaching champion-tier, the characters add twice the modifier, thrice upon reaching epic tier. It should be noted that the progression of e.g. weapon-damage is very much class-specific and even weapon damage dice and properties lose some importance – you require less capability/rules-oomph from the weapon if most comes from your PC anyway. The awesome result of this would be a de-emphasis on equipment and a diminished Christmas-tree-syndrome - two thumbs up for that!



Another design-tenet that is reflected and deserves accolades in my book is the notion of “failing forward” – while this is mirrored in how quite a few mechanics are run and in the assumptions regarding the reactions of the DM, one can see it particularly well with melee miss damage. Whereas ranged attacks tend to just miss, melee attacks can deal damage in spite of missing – though considerably less. This can be considered a rather interesting way of balancing the two against another – the increased risk of melee is balanced against a more reliable damage output. Where’s damage, there is bound to be death and indeed, death exists in 13th Age, though only in the most subdued of notions – for one, 7th Sea’s rule of death-only-by-named-NPCs is suggested. (And yes, I uttered an “URGH” while reading that…)



You’re down at 0 Hp, you die upon reaching negative HP equal to half maximum HP. When down, you make death saves (16+) to use recoveries – however, upon the 4th failed death save in a single battle, you die. While the playtest did show that this remains a distinct possibility, it also provides quite a few chances to cheat the reaper. Save-or-suck abilities also offer ONE 16+ save to avoid becoming helpless – upon failing that, a character is restricted to making more of these saves and once again, 4 failed saves mean that whatever unfortunate condition befell you, now hits full force – whether that be paralysis, petrification etc. On the one hand, this does mean that save-or-suck is less of an issue, since statistically, you ought to make one of those saves. On the other hand, this makes abilities like that pretty much less frightening, the game less dangerous. Whether one enjoys this or not, ultimately is up to the respective group, though tinkering with this system is pretty easy and less saves etc. for a more lethal game can easily be implemented. A popular low level save-or-suck-trick, fear, is now based on the hp of the target to be frightened – which makes sense to me. Speaking of “making sense to me” – resurrection and death are things NOT to be trifled with. Each character capable of the feat can resurrect exactly 5 times, with progressively worse repercussions for the caster and the target and final death for the caster looming beyond he last cast. This renders death meaningful and makes casters of that particular miracle a much-sought commodity- story-threads and narrative potential abound. I love it!



Over all, the total impression, which proved to be true, is that combat with this system is somewhat more predictable than with similar d20-based systems – which, of course makes balancing easier. Another rule that rigs the game in favor of the PCs would be the escalation die – in the second round of combat, the die is turned to the 1 – and all PCs receive +1 to attack rolls. This increases by +1 every round, up to +6. Monsters usually do not utilize the escalation die and special attacks and circumstances may decrease the die. Other abilities require a minimum number on the escalation die, while certain spells and effects require an even number on it. Why is the escalation die important? Well, because an attack is executed via d20+level+ability bonus+ magic item. And remember, only 10 levels. This means that either magic item bonuses become exceedingly important, or that AC/PD/MD cap at pretty low levels. And indeed – Balors clock in at AC 29, Red Dragons at 28, with the latter also sporting an MD of 23 and a PD of 27. Notice something? You don’t have to be a genius to realize that hitting these guys is not that hard, even sans the escalation die.



What does this mean? Well, much like comparable d20-based systems, we have an emphasis on relatively short, burst-like battles – attack capacity usually outclasses defensive capacity. Before I forget that later, I feel obliged to mention another factoid that DMs might want to be aware of – the way monsters work. Much like in the CR-system, we are provided with a mechanic to judge how to balance encounters, but this time around, the monster type influences how that works. No, I’m not talking about their race, but rather a grouping into e.g. mooks etc. - not a fan of that, but again, a personal preference, nothing I’d fault the game for. The damage monsters deal is not a regular throw of the dice – rather than that, they deal fixed values of damage with attacks and abilities. This cruise-control DMing considerably speeds up gameplay, yes. On the other hand, much like in other current systems, I was missing something as a DM. I enjoy the elation of the dice, the dread of players seeing me lift a hand full of dice to represent a dragon’s breath about to hit them. I’m aware that my insistence on rolling for monsters slows the game, but it is also a significant source of joy (and excitement) for me and to a lesser extent, my players. 13th Age streamlines that away and makes running the encounters faster, and in my opinion, significantly less exciting for the DM and also more predictable. And yeah, some monsters receive additional attacks/tricks based on the number you rolled on hits and misses – don't get me wrong, there is excitement to be had here as well. But personally, running the combats on the DM’s side felt less exciting to me. But also significantly faster. Which you prefer, once again, boils down to a matter of taste.



A remnant of 4th edition I particularly LOATHED was the bloodied condition – which now also exists as the staggered condition. However, like many other components I do not enjoy that much from the design elements of 4th edition, it has been improved - it is now subservient to the needs of the story. We no longer have a fixed, semi-arbitrarily defined value, but rather a general recommendation on when to consider a creature staggered. There is one particular notion I did really enjoy and feel I should emphasize– the “nastier” specials. These can be considered optional tricks for the monsters to unleash upon the PCs; they are additional, more lethal signature abilities. They are great. First, they let you easily set elites apart. Secondly, they help setting creatures further apart from another by providing signature tricks. And third, much like applying mythic rules to your bosses, they can be considered a kind of “hard(er) mode” for the monsters, one you can tackle on the fly. Nice! While not all creatures receive nastier-tricks, the very notion is something near and dear to me.



I’ve often mentioned the words “4th edition” in this review and for a reason. My intense dislike for 4th edition is no secret. I hate just about all of its design-decisions. However, surprisingly, I found myself almost unanimously less (or not at all!) annoyed by 13th Age’s adaptations of these concepts, mainly due to the changed focus towards a roleplaying game, away from the miniature focus. This is particularly well-represented in what may be one of things I love most about this book. Combat, distances etc. are no longer tier to a particular grid, a particular range, but rather handled in an abstract relation from one another, which still provides concise terminology for what amounts to AoOs, engagement etc. – essentially, you do not need a battlemap for this game and it dauntingly, courageously ignores the tendency for miniature-style tactical movement etc. While, in the long run, this does reduce the amount of options and tactics one can employ, it is also a step towards a focus that is more centered on the narrative potential of a storyline. Even if you do not like the overall of 13th Age-rules, this particular section can easily be pilfered for just about any d20-game. I know I’ll be prone to use it when I don’t have the time to draw complex arenas spanning multiple battlemaps… So yeah, triumphant and damn cool, especially if you do not like the complex AoO/melee/(dis-) engagement rules of similar d20-based systems.



The skill-system, on the other hand, is the ONE component where I absolutely and positively LOATHE 13th Age and can’t bring myself to saying anything positive about it– you receive 8 points upon character generation and more can be gained by certain classes. You assign these points towards backgrounds (like “Imperial Assassin”, “Cat Burglar”, etc.) and roll d20+attribute+ranks versus the environmental DC required, while explaining how your training in xyz helped you with that. URGH. First, there is not much growth potential here. Secondly, this smells of FATE’s issues. Don’t get me wrong, I *like* highly narrative rules that put an emphasis on collective story-telling, where backgrounds and capabilities aren’t carved in stone – I adore Lords of Gossamer and Shadow, for example. However, whenever an RPG-system essentially tells me that a whole, central mechanic is based on BSing the DM in how a particular, phrased (as ambiguous as possible) background/character trait/whatever applies to a given situation, I’m prone to rage-quitting. This already applies in tighter skill systems – this one is BASED on it. And yes, I know the counter-arguments and the samples make it look enticing. In practice, it sooner or later boils down to “Can I BS the DM?” vs. “Should I let the players BS me like this?” – and that is not good game-design in my book. You are, of course, free to have an opposing opinion, but this is pretty much the reason I don't like FATE and I hate its implementation on a smaller scale herein as well. (As a footnote, the further de-emphasis on languages etc., while still represented in the rules, also kind of rubs me the wrong way, but that pales before aforementioned issue.) So yeah, I really, really dislike the skill-"system". To the point where it is the one component of the whole system I just can't get myself to draw any kind of fun from. The one positive thing I can say about the skill system is that its default assumption is that a failure can have negative repercussions, while still yielding results – nowhere near as sophisticated as in the GUMSHOE-system, of course, but still. Here, the design-tenet of forward failure somewhat works.



Feats have also been streamlined in a rather interesting way – you’ll only find a hand full of general feats – the majority is class-specific. Furthermore, there’s a feat every level…and the prerequisites boil down to class + tier and the d’unh-level pereq that you need to have a particular talent/power to modify it with a feat. Champion tier feats require champion level, epic tier feats epic levels. One feat is gained per level. Simple, concise, no dead levels. A handy table lists the feats and class feats can be found in the entry of the class – simple and elegant…though future expansions should be weary of retaining this ordered structure to avoid the feat-look-up-halt. The feats themselves provide a pretty awesome simplicity that is rather elegant – take reach trick. If you wield a weapon with reach, you can make a reach stunt, with a save of 6+. That’s it. Halberd for pole-jumping? Swiping foes off their feat? Impaling foes? One mechanic, easily modified by the DM. Depending on your own preferences, this design may elicit screams of joy or groans, especially if, as a DM, you’re not confident with complex rules-decisions. While this streamlines the rules required, it also places a burden on the DM to remember past judgments regarding stunts for fairness' sake. As much as I hate the skill-system, the feats per se and how they’re gained feels pretty nice and fluid to me – in game, the constant progression ensured that each level felt sufficiently different.



Now speaking of classes – usually, I’d give you a break-down of how each class works. However, in the case of this particular review, that would bloat it even more, so in order to maintain at least a semblance of cohesion, I’ll only be touching upon certain things. First – yes, all the classes you’d expect can be found herein, with the exception of monk and druid, which can be found in the imho required 13 True Ways-expansion. Speaking of which – said expansion also revises/expands the slightly problematic base animal companion rules provided herein, so rangers in particular should definitely check out the druid-entry in said book. I’d encourage DMs to apply the limitations and clarifications introduced therein for the ranger as well. Retraining class components is an option that is generally pretty easy to accomplish via these rules. Base Hp range from 6 – 8, base AC from 10 -16 and base physical and mental defense range from 10 – 12. Recovery dice, as mentioned before, range from d6 –d10 per level. The classes themselves require different levels of player-skill, mainly since they play radically different, but overall, none of them should overexert any veteran of 3.X, PFRPG or similar, complex systems. It should also be noted that classes also entail attribute bonuses and e.g. selecting whether melee is governed by Str or Dex and similar choices all have been streamlined into the classes themselves.



Now where the classes, much like those of 4th edition, succeed admirably, is with the general balancing among themselves – not only do they play differently, they do sport numerous, different mechanics – rogues, for example, require a resource called momentum, which they build up and expend over the course of combat. Said resource rewards movement, tactical, surgical strikes etc. – and just is fun. Alas, there is a downside to this balancing, namely that the classes, on their own, do not sport that many choices – talents and the like are anything but copious and you’ll soon stumble across yet another member of class xyz that has exactly the same tricks up his/her sleeve. I may be spoiled by PFRPG, but that rubs me the wrong way and is another reason I'd wholeheartedly endorse you getting as many expansions as possible. Still, once again, while this is a flaw for me, for you it could be a feature.



There are some class features I’m not a fan of – the sorcerer, for example, can spend actions to gather power for minor buffs, unleashing the full spell slower, but more powerful later. This feels to MMORPG-y to me. The ability acknowledges that, apart from the situations where you need a quick spell, it almost universally means that gathering power (and being bored) for one round is the smarter decision. The book flat out states this, but tries to mitigate it via aforementioned argument – which is not valid in my book. When essentially doing nothing/ damage on a level that can be neglected to staggered foes only constitutes a smart move for a class, the goal of “doing something cool/useful/etc.” is not reached. My players got immensely frustrated with the mechanic. On the other side, the wizard-class has one damn stroke of sheer genius – Vance’s polysyllabic verbalizations. Step 1: Invent unique, verbose names for your spells. Step 2: Slightly prolong casting time and proudly declare your magic’s name. Step 3: The spell happens with a non-defined, circumstantial, unpredictable new effect determined by you and the DM. This is an utterly awesome narrative idea and perhaps the coolest rendition of the concept of Spell Thematics I’ve seen so far (in any system that’s not Ars Magica) – and I’m SO stealing it for my games! The relatively easy to grasp and concise magic item rules that do not succumb to the Christmas tree syndrome and does sport suggestions and rules for magic item-death/destruction should also be considered one of the definite plusses of the system.



That being said, if you expect hundreds of pages of spells and choices upon choices, I’ll have to disappoint you – the classes and spell-lists are just as restrictive as the choices of talents. Personally, I also am not a big fan of magic’s neutering in the name of balance – for short durations and the export of longer powers to the wibbly-wobbly concept of out-of-combat rituals make magic feel NOT like the force of unbridled creativity, but rather like a narrowly codified field – again, much like one can see in MMORPGs - which is odd, considering how stunts and cool martial arts-tricks have been so widely opened.



Which brings me to the example, where the at times slightly schizoid duality of 13th Age’s rules becomes readily apparent. And no, I’m not talking about the opinionated differences between the authors and the constant addressing of the reader via them. On the one hand, 13th Age very much enforces the idea of story-telling, of creativity trumping rules. Of easier and streamlined gameplay. And it succeeds in that regard. At the same time, though, stunts with weapons and acrobatics and the like remain relatively ill-defined and leave you hanging in the air without much clues. Similarly, it neuters magic down to a power-source, which, in the narrative frame, can do just about anything – unless it’s in the hands of any character/actual gameplay, when it suddenly adheres to the restrictive array provided for the respective classes.



In no other component is this duality as pronounced as in the Icons. The Icons represent both a central mechanic and a unique selling point of the implicit setting. Instead of named divinities or movers and shakers like Tar-Baphon, Strahd or Elminster, we have these titles – the icons represent essentially very dualistic demigod-level movers and shakers, which keep the world in a kind of equilibrium. Liked Dancer from the Malazan Book of the Fallen? Well, there’s The Prince of Shadows for you. There is The Lich-King. The Diabolist. The Dwarf-King. The Queen of Elves. The Priestess. You get the idea. These all but archetypical beings govern pretty much the fate of the world and your PCs receive relationship points with them. These points represent a dice each and are rolled at the beginning of a session or its end, influencing what happens in a positive way on a 6 on a d6, in one that has a downside on a 5. This requires some serious improvisation-skills on parts of the DM, but also ties the players to the world and its powerful beings – perhaps via the one unique thing you chose at character creation that sets you apart. (A good idea, imho, though the examples partially had me cringe…)



So what’s my beef with these archetypes (term used in the traditional, non-3.X/PFRPG-way)? Generally, I love their concepts – the Archmage that tries to domesticate the nature of the WORLD with magic and his weather-control-towers, arcano-science par excellence, versus e.g. the High Druid's rise of the wild and savage - that can make for great narrative twists. The way in which they influence the setting can also be considered genius: How cool is the notion of an entire OCEAN being mad at anything remotely resembling civilization? What about the rather nasty Crusader, who seeks to close hellholes and erect strongholds there – everyone is glad he battles the demonic incursions and prays he doesn’t turn his ambition elsewhere. These icons are firmly tied in with the world – which makes transporting them to another setting problematic. Furthermore, they at once want to facilitate story-telling by being opaque, while also having pretty clear agendas – and I get why. But, even when taking the setting-information( with its partially downright inspired world-building) into account, they, as characters, remain bland cardboard cutouts. They are tropes. The empire, whose health reflects the emperor? Warhammer 40K minus grit, anyone?

As much as I loved the small tidbits interspersed through the setting-information, the icons left me terribly bored. They don’t know whether they want to be story-facilitators or actual characters. No names, no history, no tradition. This, to my knowledge, ought to be the rule-book with a short gazetteer on the implied word, but the interconnections between the fluff and crunch here can provide a significant detriment towards the storytelling should choose to not utilize the default setting. What if I wanted to use 13th Age-rules with Dark Sun? Ravenloft? Midgard? Golarion? I’d have to find substitutes, refurbish them and, bafflingly, there is no advice for that here.



The setting, the world, does sport several glorious tidbits – like dwarven coins being stackable and quadratic and similar absolutely awesome ideas that had me grin from ear to ear. At the same time, box upon box tells me that xyz (for example, issues with language interaction) is not fun or can be neglected. And quite often, at least in the fluff-department, I caught myself thinking “NO, that is NOT something that can be neglected!”. You may not mind, I did. This does not make the book bad, but it also points towards one thing I’ll further elaborate in the conclusion.



The book does feature an excellent glossary and index and a starter module – and said module is by far, no matter where you stand on each individual rules-decision, the weakest part of the book.



SPOILERS

PCs arrive at Archmage’s control tower (not mapped), interact with people (no read-aloud boxes), go forth, kill a bunch of goblins, find a massacre, realize there’s a traitor in the tower, get back and KILL A WOUNDED DRAGON. At level 1. Urgh. I’m aware that this is a personal gripe, but I hate, hate, hate level 1-dragonkilling. Even if the dragon is wounded. It just feels terribly wrong to me and takes away what should be a climactic moment and waters it down. "Oh yeah, dragon killing? Pf, did that at first level..." Traitor may or may not escape. That’s it. Nigh no meaningful choices to be made, no cool twist, interesting combat-influences or fluxes and it contributes to the disposable dragon syndrome. Boring and bland – apart from the backdrop of the tower, nothing good here. My players were terribly bored with this as well.

/SPOILERS



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the book comes on nice, glossy paper with great artworks. Alas, the monsters in the monster-section do not receive fluff or proper visual representations apart from some glyph-like representations and a couple of mugshots for demons. The organization of the rules is pretty concise and the cartography is glorious.



Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet are both talented designers that have created a highly functional game here. 13th Age is imho the game 4th edition tried to be and superior to it. However, at least in my opinion, it is not the end-all super-system it’s hyped up to be. Beyond personal preferences, the system as such suffers from the issues with its adaptability and versatility, at least in direct comparison. In 3.X or PFRPG I can easily rip bits and pieces out of context, scavenge parts. In 13th Age, this is significantly harder and while it generates the impression that it is as customizable, it’s not. The book behaves as if taking away recoveries were a valid choice, when playtest pretty much showed that this is not the case – these is too much highly likely/unavoidable damage to take the component out and the numerous connections make scavenging hard – which becomes problematic with the icons. Yes, they can be extracted, changed, etc., but if you take their impact on the world away, you have to change their agendas and the same goes for the establishment of new icons. And this reflects the rules-aesthetic of a lot of rules herein. Change one part, change a lot.



The icons also have another impact – they, along the shorter level-progression, point you towards a particular playstyle. One with significant consequences from the get-go. While I’m not saying that this is bad, I can’t really picture the rules of 13th Age properly supporting more subdued gameplay, darker and grittier narratives or truly long campaigns or ones that take the PCs from sucker to super-hero. The quicker escalation of character development via relationship rules, fast level-up suggestions etc. all point towards the system being geared primarily for short, intense and distinctly high-magic campaigns. That’s not bad, mind you – the system does its own style of campaign very well. But in other contexts, it is not that smooth.



What do I mean by this? I’m going to say something that contradicts just about every review of 13th Age I’ve read: I think this system is simple.

It is not an “advanced” system – it is very easy to grasp and, had the rule-book included a tighter introduction for new players, more basic explanations for concepts, I’d praise this as a great beginner’s d20-RPG. It is really a pretty simple game, as far as anything d20-based is concerned.

The rules are easy, the math simple, there is not much to be overwhelmed by. The danger the PCs face is subdued as well – I’ve scarcely seen a d20-game with some many failsafes that ensure a precious PC doesn’t bite the dust, in spite of the limit on resurrection. This is a very player-friendly RPG – if CoC is Dark Souls, 13th Age is more like WoW. This is NOT meant as a barb, but rather as an observation. If impending doom, omnipresent threats, old-school level gameplay, harsh, unrelenting difficulty and overcoming the odds is what you’re looking for, then 13th Age may not be for you – this game is pretty much rigged in favor of your PCs. If you want a vast plethora of selections at your disposal, significant variety within each class and rewards for optimization, then there are better systems out there - though that changes with the addition of more supplements.



13th Age excels in its chosen field, though – for short-burst, combat-centric high-fantasy campaigns in the very much captivating setting with its neat ideas, it provided more fun in my playtests than 4th edition ever accomplished. Research et al. is something better left to GUMSHOE, as are most skill-based interactions, so yes, the central issue of the rules is and remains the implied playstyle the book enforces. The step towards a narrative focus is great, but it is kept from reaching its full realization by aforementioned choices of, paradoxically, not emphasizing the rules required for complex non-combat scenarios.



Now, I feel obliged to mention one more bit – this book is interspersed with designer’s comments and suggestions. More often than not, they oscillate between extremes and I do like the option for every DM to choose from a design philosophy/opinion and adhere to it. However, at least partially, I considered these segments (said, often casual, voice(s) also can be found in the rules-text where they do *not* belong) belittling and sometimes, grating. Most of the time, I didn’t mind, but one of my players was extremely annoyed by this tendency to the point where he (usually one of my rules-savvy guys who truly enjoys reading the rules) told the table to give him the quick run-down, since it annoyed him to the extent where he didn’t want to read on. One man’s bug is another man’s feature, I guess. Personally, I would have enjoyed less opinion, more options here - and especially, less judging. What one person may not consider fun, another does and I honestly was annoyed at some boxes stating that some fixtures in my tables were "not fun."



In the end, 13th Age is a very player-friendly roleplaying game with some hints of greatness and cool ideas, but also one that is bound to polarize. Would I exchange PFRPG’s complexity and class-power-asymmetry for 13th Age’s quick and streamlined cruise-control DMing and balance? No. Because I *like* a lot of the things this book changes and dismisses as “not fun”– I like fragile first level PCs and casters. I like extremely complex high-level encounters. I like rolling monster-dice. I prefer my movers and shakers named and well-defined, my skills set in stone. I love optimization-tricks, a nigh-infinite array of options for each character. The bugs this book eliminates, in one sentence, are, alas, often my features, the things I look for in a roleplaying game. Now, before you loyal 13th Age fans out there get the pitchforks ready – I still consider this a good and more importantly, FUN, game and one that does A LOT right -from the quick engagement rules to the balancing of martials and ranged vs. melee, this has a plethora of cool food for thought for any DM of a d20-based system, whether one elects to use 13th Age as a system or not. While, as a person, it hits many of the notes of game-design I do NOT necessarily look for (I love e.g. Dark Souls, dislike just about every “easy” RPG, including MMORPGs), as a reviewer and aesthete, I really could appreciate the streamlined elegance of a lot of the choices that went into this system and for certain types of games, I will use this.



Furthermore, let me make that very explicit, there are quiet a bunch of rules I love and will scavenge and retool for my own games and as a system; for what it tries to do, 13th Age tends to succeed at. Had this been 4th edition, I probably wouldn’t have looked for PFRPG in the first place. Its elegance, streamlined and fast gameplay, the very undemanding, easy, low-preparation DMing, the concise rules – all that are signs of a good game and you may very well consider that fixed HP-values, less fluctuations in power and no-damage-rolling on the DM’s side glorious and I get why. This game system is a good system. It just isn’t as versatile as I prefer it to be and not 100% made for the playstyle I prefer.



Still, I will, once in a while, crank out this system and use it. But I can’t consider this book, as a stand-alone publication, more than good, can’t bring myself to consider it great. There are too many things I can’t do with the basic rules, there is not enough variety within the base classes and magic to keep my interest long-term without significant expansion. Note that all of this pertains to the Core-book as an isolated entity - I do not compare this to an established system with x books, but only to the variety it offers as a stand-alone book when compared to similar systems.



One more thing some reviewers have observed, would be a so-called HP-bloat. This is bogus. Since the damage PCs inflict scales up quite massively (and more reliably than in 3.X and PFRPG), my own playtest experience was that most combats did not pass the 3rd or 4th round. I only reached the 6th round once in the playtests I ran (with a rigged encounter specifically designed to last long) and my math supports this impression. So in that regard, 13th Age is absolved in my book. Indeed, in my experience, monsters tended to fall pretty swiftly to the PC’s onslaught.



How to rate this, then? As mentioned above, grognards and fans of brutally hard roleplaying and hardcore rules-fetishists and complexity-advocates may want to steer clear; conversely, newcomers with a veteran who can help explain the rules, people fed up with extreme optimization, groups that loathe frequent PC-death, people hoping for a streamlined D&D 4.75, people looking for symmetrical class balancing and 4th edition fans who wish for a return to a more character-story-driven gameplay should definitely consider picking up 13th Age. For you all, this game was made and I think, you will not rue getting it and draw a lot of joy from these pages.



Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars – a good roleplaying system for what it tries to do and its target demographic.



P.s.: And yes, the PFRPG Core-rules wouldn’t score higher – invert most of my criticisms of 13th Age and you have what I’d have to say about that book as an isolated entity. ;)

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
13th Age Core Book
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The Ironclad - A Tinker Archetype
Publisher: Interjection Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/15/2015 04:21:48
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 6 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 4 pages of content, so let's take a look!



The Ironclad archetype gets 3/4 BAB-progression, invention levels that scale up to 6th and a dual blueprint budget, with primary and secondary blueprints being tracked separately, the former beginning with 1 point and scaling up to 20 budget, the latter beginning with 1 point that scales up to 5, 2 known scaling up to 8.



Primary? Yes, this would be a blueprint with a schematic that contains class level (if you haven't gleaned that from the above) BP. Secondary blueprints are limited in that the number of inventions it can contain is equal to or less than 2, with said limit increasing by +1 at 3rd levels and every 3 levels thereafter. Not that hard, right?



1st level also sees the Suit up ability - essentially, this is the Ironman-archetype for the tinker - suiting up and exiting the suit are full-round actions that provoke AoOs, though only the ironclad can suit up and reentering a suit is not possible. Suiting up nets you 2 x class level temporary hit points. The suit can have any combination of primary and secondary blueprints, which means that the primary blueprints provide the basic array for the suit, with the secondary ones providing modification-suites.



An ironclad may suit up once at 1st level +1/day at 2nd level +1/day every 3 levels thereafter. Since the suit is physical only, skill rank-granting or class skill-granting inventions have no effect. Non-design-inventions that grant untyped bonuses instead grant enhancement bonuses, making synergy with magic items work properly and prevent abuse. Inventions that repair damage instead grant half the benefit as temporary hit points to the ironclad's hit points.



Cockpits and its follow-ups don't work, but saddle can be applied to an Ironclad's suit, allowing other creatures to hitch a ride. Inventions that net proficiencies do not provide weapons - unlike automata, though, the suit allows for the wearing of magical items, though not ones that require line of sight to the target of the magic item to work: Obviously, a ring can't emit a blast of fire, when a sheet of metal is in the way. Conversely, no delicate manipulations can be made to activate the like.



If an ironclad has a feat an invention grants, then the ironclad may prepare suit blueprints as though that invention were already present, thus allowing you to save on BP-cost, with similarly a suit granting such a feat can be considered sufficient for the purposes of feats and similar prereqs, though sans the suit, the ironclad obviously can't utilize a feat based on one the suit grants. Conversely, such a ruling applies to equipment and physiology. Obviously, an ironlcad does not need to give directives to his suit, instead counting as though the invention use were an alpha, with the exception of counting as a tinker for purposes of reloading inventions with compartments. Additional deploy automata-grants instead apply to additional suit-uses. The ironclade pay for this with his regular automata, but not with his alpha.



Innovations and their greater ilk do not modify standard automata or blueprints and instead modify the ironclad while within the suit or the suit blueprints, respectively - but since he needs no directives, an ironclad obviously cannot learn more of them and he obviously cannot learn to deploy new kinds of automata or directives. HD of the suit are not modified by choosing innovations that modify the HD of regular automata, instead gaining twice that many temporary hit points.



*takes a deep breath* So that would be the primary set-up of this archetype; now if you end up slightly confused by the set-up provided here and its interaction with primary/secondary blueprints, you should take a look at the array of new innovations provided - here, we have interactions with the secondary blueprints influencing the capabilities of the ironclad - for example in the guise of extra ammunition. beyond those, boosted reflexes, more HP etc. make sense. On a nitpicky side, the innovation that nets DR 3/- should specify that the DR is only granted when receiving temporary hit points from the suit, not "Whenever you have temporary hit points." The innovations allow for a painful overheating (akin to kamikaze with no save for the ironclad, but no instant-death) and also alternate acid blasts - and you may activate an ejector seat at higher levels. Alas, I'm not sure how much damage a hurled ironclad deals to targets subjected to such an ejected ironclad.



At higher levels, ironclad can include inventions with the Alpha-descriptor in this suit and the greater innovations allow for a means to burn suit uses to refresh suit HP to prevent having to execute suit-changes mid-battle. Retrieval of items when inside the suit, weapon mount attacks as off-hand additions to full attacks with ranged weapons can also be executed - interesting, though quite situational, would be the option o send ray that exactly hit your armor back at the original source of the ray.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, though not as tight as in most Interjection Games-releases - beyond the above, I noticed a bolding glitch, for example. Layout adheres to IG's crisp two-column b/w-standard and the pdf has no bookmarks, but does not require them at this length. The pdf does not sport artworks.



Bradley Crouch's Tinker Expansions are a ridiculous amount of work for such short pdfs. No, seriously - it takes me longer to review these cool, complex expansions than to analyze pdfs with 10 times the pages. The concepts are complex, the options unique and awesome - and this is no different. Now, I do think the ironclad can benefit from some streamlining - while the exceedingly complex suit works well in practice and actually manages to completely rewire the tinker's rules-corset (in an exceedingly impressive feat, design-wise!) to work in a completely different way, the presentation could be slightly more concise: beyond the aforementioned hiccups, I think the primary/secondary blueprints and the cap for the suit could have benefited from a more explicit explanation.



Playtest also did show that the HP-increase of the suit could have used some extended defensive capacity to make up for the action economy loss due to no regular automatons and, more importantly, the more focused heat the tinker thus necessarily receives. The HP-increasing should be available for multiple, increasing iterations, be stacking or have some upgrades - remember, the suit is essentially like an automaton and as such, pretty fragile. That being said, this has, at least as far as my tests went, provided a huge bunch of interesting options and the customization of suits is glorious, especially with the massive expansions out there. This is probably as close to being a full-blown, playable ironman you'll get with PFRPG. In the end, my final verdict will clock in at a solid 4 stars - a good, interesting and versatile archetype with some minor rough edges that do not significantly detract from the awesomeness of the concept.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Ironclad - A Tinker Archetype
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Warrior Prestige Archetype: Nature Warden
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/15/2015 04:18:29
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf of the Warrior Prestige Archetype-series clocks in at 16 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/introduction (explaining the base concept of the series), 1 page SRD, leaving us with a massive 13 pages of content, so let's take a look!



What are Prestige Archetypes? Well, I reviewed the whole first series, so here's the tl;dr-version: They are prestige classes blended with one (or more) base-class(es) to result in a new, 20-level-class - much like you had modified the base class with an archetype. Get it? Yeah, not a hard concept to grasp, is it? Now personally, I use Prestige Classes with an emphasis on the PRESTIGE-component, archetypes more like a career path, but this differs wildly from how PrCs are handled in most cases. Hence, e.g. the PA: Assassin from the first subscription was pretty much a godsend for my party. But can this one stand up to or surpass its first series?



This time around, we take a look at the Nature Warden, who gets d10, full BAB-progression, good fort- and ref-saves, 6+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple and martial weapons and light and medium armor as well as shields. They do have a prohibition against wearing metal armor and non-wooden shields. At 4th level, they receive Wis-based prepared divine spellcasting drawn from the druid or ranger lists. On the nitpicky side, I would have enjoyed a note here that specifies whether a nature warden uses the higher or lower spell-level if a spell is e.g. spell level druid 2/ranger 1 - I'm aware of the convention using the lower, but since there are exceptions, I still would have appreciated a note here.



Nature Wardens, as based on the ranger-chassis, obviously receive full favored enemy progression. 3rd level and every 5 levels thereafter receives favored terrain choices. The nature warden receives an animal companion that shares these two from the get-go and at the full potency of the druid, as opposed to the ranger's hunter' bond class feature. At 3rd level, the favored terrain bonus is added to AC as an insight bonus.



Natural empathy is also among the class features the nature warden begins play with. 2nd level nature wardens receive at will speak with animals while in favored terrain, 1/day outside it - here, the rules could have been slightly more elegant, seeing hw favored terrain is only gained at 3rd level, rendering the ability limited to 1/day at 2nd level - but this is a pretty much irrelevant design aesthetic complaint. Speak with Plants is gained at 15th level with a similar mechanic based on terrain. On the plus-side, wild stride, a non-plant-based woodland stride in favored terrain provides a nice option and at 7th level, aptly put into the class's progression.



The animal companion treats attacks as silver at 6th level, a benefit that also extends to all creatures summoned via summon nature's ally-spells. The cold-iron-based variant, Ironpaw, is relegated to 18th level, which is pretty far down the line. Survivalist, which allows for the examination of tools to treat them as masterwork, comes at 9th level alongside evasion. Almost classically by now, we get quarry at 11th level and camouflage at 12th. In an interesting decision, both guarded lands and woodforging come at the same level, 14th to be precise.



The higher levels provide improved evasion, hide in plain sight, improved quarry and companion soul as a capstone.



The class comes with favored class options for the core-races, most of which focus on the animal companion. The pdf also sports sample builds at 1st, 5th, 10th and 15th level - here, a cool layout decision has been implemented -arrows conveniently show when a new statblock begins - relevant, since the sample stats come with animal companions. It should also be mentioned that the pdf's sample NPC comes with excessive prose, which does feature some nice turns of phrases that had me chuckle - "pure-bred half-orc"? Yeah, kind of funny!



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games' printer-friendly two-column standard and has seen some streamlining - from font use to markers, the layout has been improved, so kudos! The pdf comes fully bookmarked and sans art apart from the cover.



Carl Cramér's nature warden can be pretty much considered to be a variant ranger with a focus on the animal as opposed to combat style - more of an animal handler, essentially. Now I consider the base PrC on which this is based pretty much rubbish - the abilities are all over the place and are gained at points where their usefulness is limited and/or gone. The good news, then, would be that this WPA does some things right in the dispersal of abilities over the levels. Now full BAB + full companion means that, at 1st level, nature wardens with their companions will be pretty damn strong, but this levels out at later stages in game - when the class, at least in my opinion, could have used one thing more than anything other - new abilities.



Yes, I am aware that this is not the design-goal of this series, but hear me out: The nature warden as a PrC lacks a distinct identity beyond the terrain-options. The closest it arguably gets to it would be with the DR/silver and cold iron tricks. Now, much like the PrC, the PA oddly seems to value the latter as much more valuable, when both are considered equal for purposes of objective value in monster design. The high-level abilities of the nature warden feel like they come a bit late to the party, when earlier gains would have put player agenda higher on the table. If this PA is an example of one thing, then that would be that this PrC is in desperate need of more unique tricks. Conversely, first level feels a bit cluttered, with lowest levels being where the nature warden shines most - not to the point of being broken, mind you, but still - the nagging feeling never left me that this PA could have easily reached apex-levels, had it dared to add more unique options for the class presented - move the mid/high-level utility tricks down, slightly stretch the numerical escalation and sprinkle in more signature abilities et voilà - excellence.



As crafted, the PA remains solid, true, but also, at least to me, somewhat underwhelming. Still, as a reviewer, I have to take the design-intent into account - which remains the only reason I will round up from my final verdict of 3.5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Warrior Prestige Archetype: Nature Warden
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Psionics Unleashed Revised
Publisher: Dreamscarred Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/12/2015 03:01:45
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This Core-psionics-system clocks in at 236 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 232 pages of content, so let's take a look!



First of all: What is this book?

There are multiple answers to this question, the first of which would simply be:

The properly tidied-up, pretty version of the original Psionics Unleashed-book, with some added material.



To be more precise - this book contains the two new races of Forgeborn and Norals introduced in Psionics Augmented Vol. I. It also fully implements the talent-system introduced in Psionics Expanded (think of that book as the APG for psionics - just as good and just as distinct), thus fully integrating the one "patch" of the base rules that wasn't 100% elegant.



This review will be a bit different from my usual in-depth analysis shtick, mainly since I have already tackled the classes and content in detail in previous reviews - and repetition is boring. As a general assessment, the 10 races provided can be considered rather well-balanced and diverse and provide fitting substitutes for the closed-IP-losses of some races from 3.X. It should be noted, though, that the races as provided herein do not sport favored class options, which are present in Ultimate Psionics - personally, I think that including those for the classes herein would have made sense.



The main focus of the book, and where it imho excels, though, would be the presentation of the base system of psionics as a point-based spellcasting system and, more importantly, the way in which this book makes what once (in 3.X) were boring, linear one-trick-pony-classes work properly - whether it is the wilder, soulknife or psychic warrior, the respective individual takes on the base classes greatly increase the diversity of builds available and overall, are easy to understand and execute - if you're read the Paizo CORE-rules and the APG, none of these should provide a daunting task to understand.



Indeed, one can argue that the same holds true for the copious PrCs provided, which, while more linear than the base classes, arguably do mostly not suck - something I wouldn't say about the PrCs provided for the CORE system. If you need advice on what to steer clear off: The Pyrokineticist still is very much unfocused and none-too-awesome and the telepathy-enslavement-specialist thrallherd can be broken by an experienced player; other than those two, the PrCs all have something unique and fun going for them.



Since you're reading this review, I assume you're not particularly familiar with the system, so let me give you a run-down: Psionics work pretty similar to spellcasting. You have your levels, governing attributes etc. Where things are different is with the resource. Psionic characters can be likened to spontaneous casters in that they need not prepare powers (that's the name of the psionic "spells") - unlike spontaneous casters, though, they draw their casts from ONE resource, the power points, which regenerate after resting. This is a numerical value that increases over the levels - to manifest a power ("Manifesting" being the term for psionic "spellcasting"), you need to expend power points. These are streamlined by level - level 1 powers cost 1 PP, level 3 powers cost 5 PP, etc. However, unlike regular spellcasting, quite a few psionic powers do not get automatic scaling - putting player-agenda higher on the radar, there is an augment-option for quite a few powers, allowing you to increase their potency in one way or another. To avoid abuse, a firm cap is placed on the amount of points you can spend on a given power. Know all those rants about psionics and nova-problems? Most of them boil down to not understanding this cap.



Psionic powers do not sport somatic or verbal components, instead providing displays - from odd smells to eerie lights, this component of the system deserves special mention because almost all reviewers tend to overlook it, when it makes imho for a cool, constant and subtle differentiation from regular spellcasting.



Psionics is not just spellcasting with a different flavor, though - it also extends to enabling people to do things beyond the providence of non-psionic creatures. Whether via helping to avoid death by poison via the new autohypnosis-skill or via one of the myriad ways in which one can use the psionic focus. This can be considered an infinite, yet limited resource: Basically, you can expend actions to gain your psionic focus and then expend it at a later time to fuel some thoroughly unique tricks. However, expending it always may not be wise either, for there are quite a few passive abilities that require you being focused. It's simple, concise and fun.



It should be noted that this pdf does an excellent job at explaining the various different concepts in a very concise and easy to grasp manner - basically, if you understand basic PFRPG, you'll get how this works and a handy glossary at the end makes looking up terminology very easy.



One crucial difference from the Ultimate Psionics-book would be the inclusion of a base array of psionic monsters to harass your players with -while obviously not reaching the level of depth the and breadth the Psionic Bestiary does, it does provide a solid first glance and some nice drag-and-drop adversaries. Whether you prefer monsters in a book that will be used by players or whether you prefer them in their own book depends on taste, but I personally prefer them separate and thus consider the Ultimate Psionics/Psionic Bestiary-combo superior.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The copious amounts of gorgeous full-color art render this a beautiful pdf indeed - and a huge step up from the admittedly pretty ugly original Psionics Unleashed.



Andreas Rönnqvist and Jeremy Smith (with additional design by Philip J. Leco II) are considered the fathers of PFRPG psionics - and for a good reason. Not only did they vastly enrich my 3.X games back in the day, their psionics for PFRPG are as close to a cross-publisher industry-standard as one can get with a subsystem. There is a reason for that.



Psionics RULE. I love them. I love the system. I love the flair. I love psionics. There's a reason Ultimate Psionics is on my EZG Essentials-list as one book ALL of my campaigns use. Conversely, Ultimate Psionics, as massive a tome as it is, probably makes for a significant investment and, since it covers Psionics Expanded and the advanced options from that book, can seem overbearing. Think about a book that sports the mechanics of both the CORE-rules and the APG for a fitting analogy of what Ultimate Psionics does - beyond providing a huge amount of material to digest, the complexity of the rules utilized vary between material from Psionics Unleashed and Psionics Expanded - the latter, obviously, imho sporting the more interesting classes and options, but also requiring more system-mastery that can be daunting for players new to psionics.



This is where this book's raison d'être can be discerned: This is essentially the CORE-book sans frills: The fancy, complex material is left for the other books and we get an inexpensive way to take a look at the basic system and material and dip one's toes into psionic waters.



Basically, this is "My first psionics sourcebook," an easy, all-encompassing way of taking a look at psionics and integrating its basic classes, races, items, etc. and ideas into your game with needing to buy the glorious, massive Ultimate Psionics and the Psionic Bestiary. Yes, you don't get the favored class options and the more complex classes from Psionics Expanded, etc. in this book, but you get all you need and the presentation and layout make grasping the rules pretty simple.



While my firm recommendation for players and DM with some experience under their belts would still be to get the combo of Ultimate Psionics + Bestiary, in case you're looking for an easy one-book-and-go way of using psionics, this should make for a great way of judging whether you like the system or not. (Note: If you want more complexity, the other books do provide that!) Especially groups and players with less experience regarding subsystems and the like can consider this book a nice way of getting to know how psionics work. Conversely, groups that already have Ultimate Psionics have no reason apart from the copious artworks to get this book.



How to rate this, then? I consider this to be a good introduction/core book for psionics, one specifically targeted at an audience who is not yet that familiar with psionics - as such a book, it accomplishes its task in a formidable manner and deserves a final verdict of 5 stars. Why no seal of approval? Because I'm a sucker for complexity and still croon over Ultimate Psionics when no one's looking. ;P Kidding aside, I do believe that the aforementioned PrCs could have used the chance at streamlining and inclusion of favored class options would also have made sense to me. Still, consider this a testament to how good Ultimate Psionics is - and if you like this book, you'll love its bigger sister!

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Psionics Unleashed Revised
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Demon Cults 5: Servants of the White Ape
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/12/2015 02:57:36
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of Kobold Press' Demon Cults-series clocks in at 14 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 10 pages of content, so let's take a look!



The fifth Demon Cult introduced by Kobold Press' series details what could be considered the most pulpy tale in the series yet - when a disenfranchised aristocrat had to escape into the jungles and stumbled upon a hidden, ruined city, Josef Kortz would have not dreamed that the carnivorous white apes haunting the ruins would one day bow to him - and bow they do, for he is the summoner that commands the Great White Ape, his eidolon being akin to their tribal deity. Over years of study and careful planning, the mad master, now known as the New Father, has commanded the white apes in combat, subjugating all that dare oppose him and his simian slaves. Kortz and his powerful eidolon receive statblocks and so do his simian warriors, but that's not all - the awakened apes spread a dread condition, the spellscourge, which not only renders those infected into primal, degenerate and evil undead savages, but also allows them to devour magic. Yes, this pretty much could have been drawn from the pen of Rider Haggard or similar authors and yes, we get a sample couatl.



Now on the anal-retentive/nitpicky side, the template does sport a minor terminology hiccup, but none that would impede functionality. As always in the series, we do receive copious hooks to organize, potentially, a whole campaign with multiple choices for each general array of APL-groups and, as has become the tradition, the quality of these hooks is superb and diverse, providing narrative potential galore. Midgard-specific sideboxes help fans of the setting use the cult. The two new magic items, the unique staff of the father (okay, could have used some unique abilities...) as well as hides made from the white gorillas both are cool and diverse... the latter also allowing for the spreading of the dread disease.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to a modification of Kobold Press' beautiful 2-column full-color standard, with the borders evoking the theme of the gorgeous front cover..of installment #4, which feels like an odd oversight. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.



All right, I'll come right out and say it - I'm biased regarding this pdf. My childhood heroes were Conan and Solomon Kane; where other kids liked He-man, I was a fan of the tales of sunken Lemuria and Red Sonja remains one of my favorite heroines. I adore the pulpy feeling this evokes, the sense of ancient gravitas this evokes, the theme of disease and degeneration spread by the isolated apes - all of that sends my facial muscles smiling in a major way. I can't help it, I'm sorry, but for me, this hits all the right notes - this feels savage, brutal and inspired to me and captures my interest infinitely more than yet another bunch of hooded sops worshiping abyssal prince 386-b. This resounds with the themes I adore in fantasy, with a threat that is not one of a simplified morality, but one that attacks civilization and what we consider the foundation of society itself - and then adds the threat of losing magic for yet another nasty spike, merging themes of classic literature and amplifying them via the collective mythmaking we engage in while partaking in a roleplaying game session.



Now if the above left you cold and sent you shrugging away, I can understand that - I've seen the set-up before as well; however, the execution is significantly better than in most variants of the theme I've seen and personally, I absolutely adore this installment of the series. Yes, the supplemental material is slightly less pronounced than in the previous ones, but I can't help myself - I love this pdf. It showcases well the strengths of Kobold Press as a publisher - the narrative potential, the evocative dressing. Jeff Lee, delivers here and my final verdict, in spite of e.g. the layout-hiccup, clocks in at 5 stars +seal of approval; however, be aware that this is predicated upon my own personal preferences - if the basic idea does not appeal to you, detract a star.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Demon Cults 5: Servants of the White Ape
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Assassins of Porphyra
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/11/2015 02:38:57
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 15 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 3/4 of a page SRD, leaving us with 12 1/4 pages of content, so let's take a look!



We begin this supplement with something I did not expect to see in here: A surprisingly well-crafted array of small introductions to assassin-traditions -from the Clockwork Society to the Rajuki Sancers and the Fire Splinters, the traditions provided deliver a captivating glimpse at the unique societies of Porphyra and should provide inspiration enough for a capable DM to further develop these tidbits into full-blown societies.



The Assassin as crafted here must be non-good, receives a good ref-save and 3/4 BAB-progression, d8, proficiency with crossbows, blowguns, daggers, darts, rapiers, short bows, saps, short swords and shields and receive a massive 8+ Int skills per level. They also receive sneak attack, progressing up to +10d6. Second level nets poison use and 3rd and every 3 levels thereafter increase the bonus thus granted by +1, up to a maximum of +6. Poison mastery is gained at 16th level.



Now very interesting would be quiet death - if an assassin kills a creature during the surprise round, he can make a Stealth check versus all relevant, present Perception-checks to prevent the other targets from noticing the kill. This ability, gained SOON, is pretty much one of the components that have been missing from the assassin-concept all along. Kudos! Death attack is gained at 4th level, with 12th level reducing the study-time down to 1 round, and 4th level also provides uncanny dodge, which thankfully scales with the ability gained from other classes; at 8th level, the improved version of the latter is gained.



8th level nets a pretty interesting option, namely lingering death, which does not prevent resurrection or the like - nope, it works and then kills the creature again - sans save. Yes, this is gleefully sadistic and yes, the ability has a means of being avoided. The class also receives a dual capstone - for once, souls slain must succeed a will-save to return; otherwise, a planar quest is required. Secondly, all sneak attacks become death attacks. Now, as you may have noticed, this chassis is pretty much a more streamlined version of the Prestige Archetype for the assassin - yes, you would be right, however, I have purposefully omitted the defining characteristic of this whole class: Assassin Secrets.



Essentially, these can be likened to a kind of bloodline-like tradition of killing styles. Each secret is associated with a modified list of class skills and provides a linear progression of thematically-fitting tricks, with arcane and divine spellcasting (magus/inqui-lists) of up to 4th level being the exception to this rule, as spellcasting's high flexibility obviously did not require more power in this regard. Assassin secrets are pretty much exactly what I wanted - a modular way to easily customize an assassin that puts player-agenda high on the priority list. Oh, and know what? They're pretty much awesome. Death Slayers? Can use death attacks and poisons versus undead, get ghost touch and can bypass DR and even immunities...oh, and the class can copy means of escape. Damn cool! Now you're probably familiar with the origin of the assassin-word, which may derive from Arabic Hashshashin - may? Yup, for, as any cultural scientist worth half his salt would tell you, the implied literal meaning of "hashish-consumers" may have been something ultimately brought about by a serious misunderstanding in translation - still, the imagery of Hassan-I-Sabbah's iconic order has become a staple in our collective consciousness and as such, the inclusion of assassins who not only use a drug, but derive some powerful means of coercion via its application. Yes, this can be considered the enchantment-style assassin.



Would you prefer something more far-out? What about the dusk assassins, trained in the shadow of Morah'Silvanath, looking to finally take down the great tree and reclaim their holdings? What's odd about them? They acquire a symbiotic fungus (!!) and can breathe spores. Oh, and they can eat poison to make the spores poisonous. This is awesome imagery right here and had me grinning from ear to ear. Prefer psychos who make a spectacle out of killing? Covered. Elemental assassins? Covered. Glass (!!!)-using assassins? Yup, in here. Soul-binding, anti-resurrection assassin (akin to the vanilla PA: Assassin)? Yup, here. Shadow-stepping master of stealth, including shadow pool and silent images - covered. Prefer rogue talents for a more diverse skill-set? Possible. Two feats allow you to make glass as durable as the materials it mimics (which is a damn cool flavor-feat) and to wilder among other secrets - HOWEVER, not in spellcasting. This feat in itself is a beauty in its perfect alignment of prereq skills and level-relevant secret gained - very elegant and smooth scaling.



The pdf comes with favored class options for the core-races - but does not stop here. We also receive new skill-uses, some of which have been a staple in my game for years: Salvaging poison from creatures via concise and well-written rules? Yes. Crafting glass-weapons? Nice. Using Heal to torture? Nasty - and makes sense. Finally, hiding spellcasting via Sleight of Hand is an interesting option, with concise mechanics, yes, but I have ran with a similar solution for quite a while and since skills scale pretty easily, I think the DC is too low; personally, I have added a concentration-check to stealthy spellcasting. I'm torn on this one - it may work perfectly for you, or it may end up utterly OP when combined with invisibility et al. - so be aware of this option's significant impact on your campaign.



The pdf closes with a level 1 sample character, whose statblock is missing the class + level-line.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, while not perfect, are very good - I noticed nothing beyond the nitpick level on both formal and rules-language levels. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games' printer-friendly two-column standard. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.



Okay, let me ramble a bit: My last main-campaign spanned 7 years and utilized no less than 3 base classes and 5 different PrCs to depict different assassin-traditions. Against a backdrop of conflict between the two dominant religions of the setting, I wove a tapestry of shadow wars. I am pretty much familiar with a significant array of assassin-class builds and takes on the concept. If I had Carl Cramér's Porphyran Assassin back then, things would have been so much simpler: Just add more traditions and there you go! Highly modular, with ample options for customization, a solid framework and player-agenda high on the priority-list, this pdf constitutes the single best take on the concept I've read so far and will replace all those options in my home-game.

This is the best "...of Porphyra"-class book released so far and the, hands down, best design Carl Cramér has pulled off so far. This inexpensive pdf is simply fun and delivers ample awesomeness for a more than fair price and makes me hope for more chances for the author to tinker with concepts beyond prestige archetype-complexity. I absolutely adore this pdf and its iconic imagery - whether you want the odd, the fantastical or the gritty low-fantasy iteration of the assassin, this delivers. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval - absolutely awesome and at the low price-point, a must-buy-category-pdf!

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Assassins of Porphyra
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