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GM's Miscellany: Village Backdrops III
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/22/2016 05:34:37

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of Raging Swan Press' groundbreaking, critically acclaimed GM's Miscellany-series clocks in at 101 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of ToC (including statblocks by CR-table), 1 page author-bios (which, frankly, more books should feature!), 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a massive 93 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?


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


If you don't know at this point what the Village Backdrops-series is, let me enlighten you: Village backdrops are small pdfs, each detailing a fully mapped village (in this book's case, crafted by Simon Butler, Matt Morrow and none other than Tommi Salama)....but they are so much more. Know that one adventure that sports non-descript fantasy village XYZ? Know how e.g. your PCs got attached to Sandpoint, but not to such bland default-fare villages? Well, basically, this series is all about providing the ultimate antidote for bland villages - with a healthy selection of these up your sleeve, you'll not only have truly awesome villages at your disposal, your players will care.


Beyond simply depicting a village, it is the sheer amount of detail crammed into each and every one of these settlements that ultimately make the village backdrops so exciting: Beyond the concise settlement statblocks featured, it is via the local customs, nomenclature and information on clothing habits that the places come to life. The supplements also feature whispers and rumors, magical items for sale and sample events - in the best of cases, they actually work as adventures of their own. One village contained herein, John Bennett's Kennutcat, particularly made the heart of this Ravenloft-fanboy skip a beat. You know, I got this when I simply had no time to prepare anything and I simply dropped my PCs there - by virtue of the interaction with the place, an adventure developed organically, all on its own - my players couldn't believe this was no module, but simply a settlement set-up.


There is another peculiarity you have to be aware of: Most of the respective settlements feature NPCs, monsters, haunts and similar hazards...and the series is actually a record-holder. No other series has managed to accumulate so many seal s of approval. No matter how ridiculously high I set my standards, this series does not disappoint, surpassing itself time and again.


This compilation does sport btw. some of the most awesome books in the whole run of the series. In case you're curious, this book covers Aubade, Arrowhill, Aldwater, Coldwater, Denhearth, Edgewood, Fulhurst Moon, Hopespyre, Idyll, Kennutcat, Red Talon, Sea Bitch, Starspun Hollow, St. Fiacre and Wellswood. All of these installments have in common that I have covered them in my respective reviews for them - and since I hate repeating myself unduly (and wasting your time), I'd simply advise clicking on the Village Backdrop-tab on my homepage endzeitgeist.com for a handy list of all of the reviews.


And, well, yeah - that's about what I can say about this compilation - it collects thoroughly awesome material, presents it in an easy-to read and use manner and overall makes for a great purchase, particularly if you're like me and simply prefer print.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press' two-column b/w-standard and the book comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The pdf comes in two versions, one for the printer and one optimized for screen use. If you want key-less, high-res versions of the map, you can get them by signing up for Raging Swan Press' patreon. Artworks featured herein are high-quality b/w and a particular shout-out should be extended to the brilliant cartographers that make each village feel distinct and unique.


Oh, but don't take my word for it - take a look at the authors: John Bennett, Creighton Broadhurst, Richard Green, Mike Kimmel, Jacob W. Michaels, Jacob Trier, Mike Welham. Notice something? Yes, this is a veritable who is who of some of the most talented mood-crafters among the authors currently active in the 3pp-circuit - it should come as no surprise, then, that one village herein actually has managed to achieve nomination as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2015 - an honor I need to extend to this book alongside 5 stars + seal of approval, mainly because its array of thematic excellence and diversity makes it an even better deal than the individual pdfs were. If you already have them, though, then there's admittedly not that much of a reason to get this, unless, as mentioned before, you want a nice, easy to sue print version of this.


If you haven't yet seen how good this series is, well, then this is the perfect way to check it out!


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
GM's Miscellany: Village Backdrops III
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Everyman Unchained: Unchained Cunning
Publisher: Everyman Gaming, LLC
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/22/2016 05:32:08

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of Everyman Gaming's Pathfinder Unchained-support-series clocks in at 16 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?


After a brief summary that aptly explains the design-paradigm applied to the unchained ninja presented herein, we begin with the base-class: The unchained ninja receives 8+Int skills per level, d8 HD, proficiency with simple weapons, kama, katana, kusarigama, nunchaku, sai, shortbow, shuriken, siangham and wakizashi as well as light armor. BAB adheres to a 3/4-progression and Ref-saves are the strong saves. Sneak attack progression happens at every odd level and the unchained ninja begins play with Weapon Finesse (which, at 3rd level, allows Dex to damage to a chosen weapon - which still is pretty evil when used with shurikens...) and Poison Use. 2nd level retains ki pool and no trace-progression also remains unchanged.


At 4th level, the unchained ninja receives uncanny dodge, 8th nets improved uncanny dodge. As usual, every even level provides a ninja trick for the unchained ninja - but there are some expansions here: For example, light step lets you, Ninja Gaiden-style, run across caltrops, water, lava and the like, for example - which is AWESOME. Another innovation would be the 4th level dispatchment, which grants the ninja bonuses to attacks versus foes denied their Dexterity modifier, which btw. scales with levels. Also exceedingly interesting: At 5th level, the unchained ninja receives a style strike, +1 every 5 levels thereafter. Similarly to the style strike poaching, master tricks allow for the unchained ninja to gain ki powers and the unchained ninja may also take rogue's edges as master tricks and use ki to duplicate fog clouds.


Alright, overall, this may not seem like a too complex modification, but the matter of the fact is that the rogue/monk-synergy-tricks are pretty interesting from a design-perspective. Like this!


The poor under-appreciated ninja also receives several new archetypes herein - also, thankfully, providing a helpful sidebox regarding the lack of transparency regarding rogue talents and ninja tricks, prerequisite-wise. The first archetype is the Goto, who replaces No Trace with a Slight of Hand and anti-trap bonus as well as the Combat Swipe talent. Solid. The Hoka-han can actually properly wield torches as efficient weapons and even make them deadly - transferring sneak attack damage to fire damage is pretty unique and, rather cool, the archetype can get basic pyrokinesis and fire blast wild talents for occult adventures-support, including options to properly use ki to enhance fireblasts, but at the cost of losing some of the usual uses of ki. At 2nd level, the archetype receives an infusion instead of a talent and later levels provide free sight through fire and smoke and 10th level plus allows for substance infusions to be added to the blast- pretty cool ninja/kineticist-crossover archetype. The Kishu is interesting in that it is a demoralize-specialist (with stern gaze etc.) and deals more damage versus foes subject to a fear-based condition. The Kohan is an archetype that made me smile, for it utilizes rules from the milestone-level awesomeness that is Ultimate Charisma (seriously, get this one asap if you haven't already!) and makes the class a powerful psychological combat specialist - like it! The Oniwaban on the other side, is a secret agent-style archetype, a master of Diplomacy and Disguising - overall, an okay one. Finally, the Star Master gets Quick Draw and may use shuriken as melee weapons and does not provoke attacks when using thrown weapons versus foes that are denied their Dex-bonus to AC. 4th level provides a Feinting melee throwing ability, which is rather neat.


Rogues also see some support, here in the guise of 3 archetypes, the first of which would be the arcane charlatan, a specialist in the magic-dabbling rogue talents and the sneak attacks actually make the target more susceptible to magic - via penalized saves etc. Beyond that, 5th level makes the magic-dabbling talents a bit wild-card-y and, at higher levels, the class can choose finesse training and a better magic dampening ability. The Bruiser-archetype adds Str-mod to Fort-saves and gains some thug-themed bonus-feats. Okay, I guess. The Contender replaces finesse training with Improved unarmed Strike and unarmed damage-progression akin to a monk at -3 levels - solid unarmed archetype.


The pdf also provides multiple different talents to gain - 3 investigator talents, 13 slayer talents and a TON of rogue talents - which btw. include a take on Chink in the Armor, which nets sneak bonus damage after sundering armor, a Dex-based throwing talent and temporarily negating the ability channel energy via sneak attack (NICE!) as well as better poisoning. More transparency between these Dex-based classes is also championed here alongside rather expansive pieces of advice for the GM to adapt rogue talents and whether or not they are appropriate for e.g. slayer etc. Speaking of the slayer: While it is no secret that I'm not a big fan of the ACG as a person, as a reviewer, I thoroughly applaud e.g. the non-lethal coup-de-grâce options for slayers as well as neat Ultimate Charisma/Psychological Combat-support here.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Everyman gaming's two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports 3 nice full color artworks, two of which I've seen before in Everyman Gaming supplements, while the third is new. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience.


Alexander Augunas' Unchained Cunning sports his trademark precision regarding the handling of pretty complex rules-interactions as well as his rather pronounced ability to make precise, easy to grasp crunch. The unchained ninja is solid and so are most of the archetypes. Personally, I really enjoyed seeing further Ultimate Charisma-support herein and the talents, and archetypes are pretty neat - however, while sorely needed for the archetype-starved ninja, the archetypes herein ultimately are very much about the function and didn't particularly wow me; they are not bad in any way, mind you - but they adhere, more often than not to the "exchange class a's ability I for that of class b's ability II"-paradigm, often on a rather basic level...with two exceptions: Both the arcane charlatan and the kineticist-crossover archetype are absolutely brilliant, cool and have a very pronounced and distinct feeling - these two do show what the author is capable of of.


Ultimately, Unchained Cunning is a precise, well-crafted book with some true stars herein, though they do not blaze as brightly as with some of Alex's other works. In the end, I consider this a very good file that missed excellence just by a margin - hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 for the purpose of this platform.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Everyman Unchained: Unchained Cunning
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Village Backdrop: Wellswood
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/21/2016 05:20:12

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


In this installment of Raging Swan Press' by now legendary series, we travel to the village of Wellswood - which is aptly-named: Situated in the midst of a gorgeous forest, the settlement sports numerous wells - both natural ones and those crafted by dwarven hands, for the settlement sports a significant dwarven population, who faithfully serves the local dour and somewhat greedy, but none too unpleasant lord Ilmari Issakainen.


The uncommon occurrence of a forest-bound dwarven clan also results in a surprising amount of fortified stone buildings jutting forth from the massive forest. While secure, the rather significant taxes imposed are not to be trifled with, though merchants and travelers won't have too much of a problem paying them. No less than three inns (all coming with information on accommodation-prices and food) are detailed within these pages, as befitting of a village under the auspice of a church of travelers - which btw. includes a brief deity-write-up. Industry-wise, the local lake with its fishing (requiring permission of the lord...which is, again, taxed) is based mostly on the massive influx of travelers passing through.


Oh, but I've failed to mention the interesting component here: You see, aforementioned lake, much like the hold of the dwarven clan, is subterranean and heavily regulated - though that does not mean that there are no means of getting down there sans the lord knowing...if you know whom to ask. Yes, the subterranean lake actually writes adventures of itself, considering the plethora of potential dangers there and the mere presence of it makes a potentially cataclysmic earthquake all the more dangerous - so yes, plenty of development options are provided here, from the local color (the village sports notes on nomenclature, clothing, magic items for sale etc.) to more massive storylines - after all, there is a reason the dwarves are here - but to know that, you'll have to travel to Wellswood yourself!


Conclusion:


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


Creighton Broadhurst's Wellswood is a compelling settlement that manages to strike a precarious balance: On the one hand, it is a pretty pleasant place that, in itself, is not yet an adventure and the lack of a central conflict means that you don't have a streamlined narrative cut out for you. However, unlike many a supplement with such a broad focus, Wellswood still manages to retain a sense of holistic integrity, a feeling of concise options, ready to be explored at any time. From politics to potential threats, whether as just a waystation or as a new home for the PCs, the village manages to support and accommodate threats both significant and trivial. While the supplement does not achieve the highest echelons of the series, it remains an excellent book that does offer a significant, tight array of interesting options for GMs and players to explore and, more important, a tight and unique place to visit - hence, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Wellswood
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Feats of Legend: 20 Infernal Feats
Publisher: Total Party Kill Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/21/2016 05:18:49

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of the Feats of Legend-series clocks in at 8 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 3/4 of a page blank, leaving us with 4 1/4 pages of content, so let's take a look!


After a handy table that lists the feats along prereqs, we dive right in:


-Blasphemous Tongue:Bonus to intimidate, demoralize demonic/infernal creatures by ignoring their immunity, if any, +1 DC for fear-descriptor-spells, affect potentially demonic/infernal creatures immune to fear- Now this is how you open a feat-book! Neat!


-Call the Damned: Add imp and gaav to summon monster I and III list; 1/day spontaneously add fiendish template to summon. One of the prereqs is italicized that shouldn't be, but that's a cosmetic glitch.


-Chains of Perdition: +2 shield bonus when wielding a spiked chain two-handed. Solid!


-Improved Chains of Perdition: Increase bonus granted to +4.


-Dark Channel: Roll d8s to hurt the living via channel negative energy instead of d6s. Ouch, but mechanically feasible and okay.


-Devil's Advocate: +2 Diplomacy and Bluff, +4 at 10th level; double bonuses versus demons and devils.


-Fiendish Codex: +2 to checks to identify fiends, gain +1 piece of info. Nice.


-Fire and Brimstone (Grit): +1d6 fire damage for 1 grit; solid, though I would have preferred scaling here. Also is erroneously called "deed" once, but oh well - functional.


-Improved Fire and Brimstone (Grit): Your bullets count as evil and magical; spend 1 grit to reroll any attack modified by Fire and Brimstone on a misfire. At +5 BAB-prereq maybe a tad bit soon for alignment-bullets.


-Improved Protection of the Pit: Increase profane armor bonus to +2; gain negative energy resistance 5, +3 and 10 in unhallowed areas.


-Protection of the Pit: Gain profane +1 bonus to AC, +2 in unhallowed areas. Pretty weak...but worth it for the end of the feat-chain.


-Greater Protection of the Pit: Gain DR 5/good, DR 10/good while on an unhallowed site. Solid and the prereqs make sense!


-Hellfire Initiate: Ignore up to 5 point Fire resistance with spells and SPs.


-Hellfire Acolyte: : Ignore up to 10 fire resistance with spells/SPs, also gain fire resistance 5. Prereq possible via Edlritch heritage. Nice.


-Hellfire Master: Ignore ALL fire resistance of a target with spells and SPs; targets usually immune still take 1/2 damage.


-Inured to the Infernal: +4 to saves versus spells and SPs of tieflings, devils, etc.


-Luck of the Devil: +2 luck bonus to one save chosen, may be taken thrice, once per save.


-Pledged to Darkness: You have an evil birthmark that helps intimidate folk...and which acts as an unholy symbol for the devil in question. Kinda cool!


-Speak of the Devil: Increase DC of planar binding-called devil to escape and gain bonus to convince devils to do your bidding, double the bonus in conjunction with Devil's Advocate.


-Tongue of the Pit: Spellcasting in Infernal, which reduces infernal creature's SR by 5 for the purpose of your spell. Has planar binding-synergy.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting aren't perfect, but what glitches are here do not hamper the feats contained herein. Layout adheres to an easy-to-read two-column full-color standard and the pdf has some nice b/w-stock art that fits neatly. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Neal Litherland's infernal feats may not all be winners - but they all have their niche, their thematic raison d'être - their justification. This humble book contains some truly cool tools that make sense by virtue of their narrative potential and that's not something I get to see too often. The lack of overpowered or broken feats herein also means that even a really low-fantasy/dark fantasy campaign can easily utilize the content herein, making this an inexpensive, welcome addition and one of the better feat-books I've read in a while. While not perfect in all regards, this still is a good, neat little book, well worth a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 for the purpose of this platform.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Feats of Legend: 20 Infernal Feats
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Four Horsemen Present: Gruesome Constructs
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/20/2016 03:46:13

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The fourth Gruesome monsters-supplement (for a handy list, use the Gruesome-tag on my homepage) clocks in at 14 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, leaving us with 12 pages of content, so let's take a look!


So what are gruesome monsters? The simple explanation is that they're monsters that had a template added, which represents a type of design I personally absolutely adore: Basically, the templates have a goal and that is to reward smart players. Taking a cue from the best of dark fantasy and horror gaming, the templates provided here make the creatures not only more lethal, they also add a psychological component via the Shock Value to them, representing the potential for PCs being intimidated/frightened by the sheer wrongness of the creatures presented.


Furthermore, the templates may be lethal, yes, but they also come with an Achilles heel that rewards PCs acting smart and doing their legwork (meaning that knowledge DC-modifiers can glean crucial information - the modifiers and knowledge are part of the template) - mind you, you can ignore these components of the templates, sure...but why would you? The rewarding expression on player faces when they deal with such a foe courtesy of their smarts is priceless and represents one of the most cherished aspects in roleplaying gaming...at least in my opinion. It should also be noted that each such template comes with a sample creature that already has the template applied for your convenience.


We begin the collection of templates and creatures herein with the Abandoned construct template, which clocks in at CR+2. And this one's disturbing. What happens if a shield guardian fails its master? Well, one response would be that a semblance of sentience fuses with the now abandoned construct, making it a twisted inversion of its prior self: A curse is woven into the amulet and we get basically an inversion of the master/servant dynamic: The construct goes on to enslave the living, who obviously quickly burn out in service to their dread construct masters. Thoroughly intriguing and a cool story just waiting to happen!


As always, we also receive a mythic template, this time around the Insane Intelligence at CR +1/2 mythic ranks...and it puts new meaning to supra-genius intelligence. These constructs can read anything; hide suggestions in writing; drive you insane by merely talking to you and picking apart yourself. They can almost perfectly predict the outcome of any battle and, worse, are on a direct route to godhood, gaining mythic ranks as time goes by...so yes, the template pretty much represents perfectly anything from Ultron to Skynet to A.M., up to 11. LOVE it! I'm so going to use this template in my conversion of Liberation of the Demon Slayer's 6th level!


Next up would be the Unbound (CR+1) template - which is nothing really new to me, alas. In 2nd edition's brilliant Van Richten's Guide to the Created, the Ravenloft supplement perfectly described the inherently problematic ramifications of binding an elemental (or spirit of the dead...) to a physical shell and basically, this one represents an elemental-themed representation of this trope. Okay, I guess, but ultimately neither regarding narrative, nor mechanics particularly novel.


We close this book with the CR+2 Vivisector template...which actually gains a Con-score, while retaining all immunities, being a dread amalgam of flesh and inorganic material. This also makes them great infiltrators and creatures that can graft pieces of the dead to themselves, spontaneously animate objects and rip organs and limbs straight from the living to maintain its ever-decaying form. Flesh-golem serial killer? Heck yeah, why not!


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Rogue Genius Games' beautiful grimoire-style full-color two-column standard and the pdf sports thematically-fitting stock-art. The pdf comes fully bookmarked.


Stephen Rowe's gruesome constructs represent a great collection of templates and in any other series, I'd be probably significantly more impressed by the content herein. Seeing the absolute brilliance exhibited in the last two installments, though, makes me ultimately consider this one to be a bit less awesome. While the Insane Intelligence is basically a brilliant module waiting to happen and while I love the shield guardian-inversion, both vivisector and unbound felt a bit less intriguing to me. On the plus-side, the vivisector's mechanics are unique enough to render the templates take on the trope interesting...but the Unbound, try as I might, feels like bland filler to me - both in concept and execution. It is only due to the brilliance of the other pieces herein that I'm still going to round up from my final verdict of 4.5 stars.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Four Horsemen Present: Gruesome Constructs
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Call to Arms: Powders and Dusts
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/20/2016 03:44:37

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of the Call to Arms-series clocks in at 30 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 24 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?


We begin, as has become the tradition with the Call to Arms-series, this supplement with a brief piece of in-character prose as well as a well-researched piece on the history of warfare regarding the particular instrument of destruction at hand - this time prefacing the whole book with the best-known quote of one of the most influential and, in my opinion, best epic poems of all time, T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" - for which I btw. encourage the scholars among you to get the Norton Critical Edition...but that just as an aside.


The interesting component here is that the pdf talks about uses of mundane, non-lethal powders in battle, namely the practice of blinding opponents via e.g. the Dirty Trick maneuver, recapping the whole process in a concise and well-presented manner before diving into new alchemical means of dispersing powdery death, beginning with something that may well become a trademark trait for books crafted or developed, at least partially, by Lucus Palosaari - the moment where you say "Why hasn't this been done before?" This time, said moment came to me via the concise rules for dust explosions (historically btw. a reason for the strict policies and location-guidelines assigned to the craft of Baker in the middle ages). Seriously, I've used and hand-waved the like for ages and seeing actually, proper and well-crafted rules for this component made me grin from ear to ear. Flash Powders as employed by ninjas, stink bombs (here called ghast retch flasks), itching and sneezing powders and bamboo-tubes to disperse poison-laced sands in short-range cones complement an interesting introductory field to the matter at hand, thankfully including the respective alchemy-DCs.


There also are 6 powdered poisons herein, from the known Ungol Dust and Dark Reaver Powder to new ones like the calcifying powder or the confusion AND feather fall-inducing faerie dust (which is, uncommonly, resisted via Will, not Fort) that can be sued offensively and defensively, the powder-based toxins are interesting and I appreciate the reprints for the sake of completion of the already established powder-based toxins. This practice also extends to non-offensive powders like Foaming Powder or Casting Plaster, just fyi since I will no longer explicitly note their presence herein.


So these would be the straight and offensive powders - but things, at least for me, become truly interesting once you take a look at the utility-based alchemical and mundane powders like alchemical cement, an anti-hangover draught or the lock/traps-corroding rusting powder that provides a significant bonus, but at the expense of potentially triggering traps/ruining locks. Climb and Escape Artist-enhancing talcum powder also can be counted among the more interesting goods to be found herein...and yes, there are rules for thermite and weapon blanching powders, of which the adamantine one, at 100 GP, imho is severely underpriced and requires a higher cost.


Also rather interesting: The notion of creating so-called dustbound weapons - weapons crafted from powders, sands and the like at 1/10th of their price...but which also fall apart on the first critical miss. And yes, ammunition and similar one-use weaponry cannot be fashioned from dust, preventing the obvious abuse I'd have expected such an item type to produce. Dust-themed magic weapon abilities are also introduced, with the handy table at the beginning falsely calling Sand Spray weapons blinding in a minor typo that is nevertheless annoying. These weapons btw. add bonus slashing damage on critical hits and also have a chance to blind adversaries - though the chance to blind foes is bought with a reduction of bonus damage die-size from flaming/corrosive/etc. burst's d10 to d8 - which seems okay to me, considering the low DC for the blinding effect. Similarly, the dust-cloud ability that can "on command" make a piercing or slashing weapon deal bludgeoning damage instead is cool - but the activation action would still be appreciated here.


The natural armor destroying abrasive quality that reduces natural armor on critical hits may not look like much at first glance, but in the hands of the right character, it can be truly devastating - not sure whether I like that one and its implications for dealing with dragons et al., but that may just be me. Pretty interesting: A scimitar that sprays sand with each swipe, but which can use this sand to 3/day extend reach to 20 ft - pretty awesome imagery...though the item fails to specify an activation action. Similarly problematic - the Dustform Dagger, which dissolves into dust and can be conjured forth from dust as a move action. "All enemies are flat-footed to the next attack made with the dagger that turn." - so...does that mean the wielder needs a free hand? Does the wielder have to draw the dust to generate the dagger? Usually, if a foe has fallen prey to this trick once, similar items grant a span of immunity to prevent spamming of such a trick...I like the idea of the item, but, alas, the execution is pretty flawed.


It should be noted that the issues pertaining these specific magic weapons do not extend to the well-crafted specific dust armors also presented within these pages. Obviously, though, the best-known dust-type would be the wondrous dust, of which some new ones - including e.g. dust that subjects plants affected to rapid growth. In this section a Bedouin's veil that helps promote the saves versus the respective dusts, sands, poisons can also be found, including an invisibility-AoE-escape dust and pouches that can be used to conjure forth blasts of sand and the like are also part of the deal - thankfully with precise rules-language.


The book also sports multiple interesting cursed items and some rather interesting ones: To give you an example: Yes, there is actually intelligent dust (formerly a powerful vampire) and there are two mythic dusts to be found within these pages as well. At the highest power-level, there are two different artifacts, both of which are pretty neat. The pdf contains a ki-based blinding bomb ninja-trick alongside 3 different new feats pertaining, including a means of creating dust-based versions of spells (where the rules-language, frankly, needs to be much more precise to actually work) as well as the option to enhance dirty tricks and imbuing sands with touch spells.


The pdf then closes with three rather cool dust-based diseases, though one has some minor formatting glitches, that, however, do not impede the ability to understand the respective file.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are good, though there are quite a few minor glitches contained herein. Layout adheres to Fat Goblin Games' beautiful two-column standard with some neat artworks interspersed with nice artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Author Jeff Gomez has crafted a more than solid installment of the Call to Arms-series in Fat Goblin Games' oeuvre and while it falls short of the more refined recent installments penned by some other authors, Jeff, with editorial help from Lucus Palosaari, has ultimately crafted a fun equipment book, of which I will take quite a bunch and introduce it to my campaigns - the new material is neat indeed and, while I honestly wished this was longer, I found quite a few pieces of great material herein and actually appreciate the intention of providing the definite dust/powder-weapon-tome. At the same time, the rules-language in some cases is less precise than what I'm accustomed to, with some items not sporting the correct activation actions. While there are relatively few such issues, they are here nonetheless - and, quite frankly, would weigh heavier on the final verdict of the book, were it not for some truly brilliant gems herein that made me smile from ear to ear, inspiring stories and encounters even while I was reading this book. Particularly alchemy-heavy low-magic/rare-magic campaigns will undoubtedly consider this book a treasure-trove of pretty awesome material! Hence, in spite of its flaws, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Call to Arms: Powders and Dusts
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Character Options: Witches
Publisher: Rusted Iron Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/20/2016 03:42:13

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This pdf clocks in at 7 pages, 1 page front cover, 1/2 a page editorial/SRD, leaving us with 5 1/2 pages of content, so let's take a look!


We begin this little pdf of witch-options with new witch patrons, 10 to be precise, though you quickly realize that the respective patrons differ from what you'd expect in a witch's patron - or at least, did so for me. This is particularly apparent in 4 patrons, the Celestial, Fiend, Chaotic and Orderly patrons - in case you're not immediately aware of that by the names, they represent one extreme of the two alignment axes, smething that, flavor-wise, was up until now rather the providence of sorcerors, wizards and divine casters. On a plus-side, the respective patrons can be considered to be rather well-crafted, with a fitting spell-dispersal for the respective levels, though personally, I couldn't shake the feeling of them being "un-witchy" - then again, that's my own issue and will not feature in the verdict of this book. Beyond these two, there are two more that fall into such a general theme: Nature and Divine. Where nature provides basically a druid-y patron spell list, the Divine patron actually is a deity and thus provides Domain spells - both being interesting concepts that actually make sense in a lot of ways. While personally, I'm not a fan of the draconic patron, I know that some of you will like it - ultimately, it's, again, a personal preference and not something I'd fault the pdf for. On the plus-side, there are a couple of patrons I really liked: Beauty and Sin in particular feel very witch-themed to me and have a solid array of fitting spells at their disposal.


The pdf then goes on to provide 1 exclusive patron hex for each of the new patrons provided herein. Aberrant witches may cause a nauseating touch (at level 10+ with an accelerated slimy doom) to annoy their foes. The Beauty patron has a concept-wise cool hex: A fascination-causing gaze attacks, which can be used for level minutes (which is frankly, rather long) that can be activated as a swift action (though the wording here is a bit rough). At higher levels, the witch can utilize suggestion and mass-suggestion in conjunction with this ability, but alas, the hex does not specify the type of action both are, nor their CL - imho, these should be SPs, not the base SU of the ability. Celestial and Fiendish are mirror images of one another and grant scaling DR and bonus damage versus outsiders of the opposing alignment to the creature touched, lasting for 3+Int-mod rounds, usable 1/day per creature. Similarly, nature provides a touch that temporarily grants natural AC and fast healing to the target.


The orderly patron's hex is pretty overpowered, allowing a witch to eliminate an increasing array of negative conditions at touch - sans limits. One level 8 witch alone could, as written, end a pandemic since she could just touch all afflicted, ending diseases before they even start. This needs a daily cap. On the plus-side, chaotic is no mirror of orderly and instead conjures forth a spectral tentacle that auto-grapples foes in close range, later also constricting. While generally rather solid in craftsmanship, this is basically the "you lose"-button for nearby spellcasters - auto-grapple is nasty...so why not go for a scaling CMB akin to black tentacles instead? The Divine patron hex has an issue - it conjures forth a spectral weapon with scaling damage that strikes a target within 60 ft., but it does not specify whether the witch needs to direct the weapon or not - I assume she does not have to expend actions to direct the weapon, but I'm not sure since there are precedence-cases for either. Draconic nets darkvision with scaling range and later blindsense, though the latter has a daily cap...and lacks an activation action that distinguishes it from always on darkvision. The Sin patron's hex makes it possible to nauseate and render targets shaken- nice, though the logic behind SIn patrons causing remorse is a bit strange.


The pdf also provides 3 new archetypes, the first of which would be the devoted witch, who receives a modified skill-list and must choose the divine patron. Additionally, she gets the first and second domain power instead of hexes at 2,d and 8th level. The Green Witch must choose a nature-themed patron (or a divine patron with a nature-themed domain) and gain woodland stride at second level instead of a hex. Similarly, at 6th level, she gains a wild shape-like ability that scales and replaces the hexes gained at 6th, 10th and 14th level. The final archetype, the storyteller, once again receives a modified skill-list and uses Charisma instead of Intelligence as the key-attribute for class abilities and spellcasting, though, oddly, she still has to prepare spells in advance. Instead of the hexes gained at 2nd, 8th and 16th level, the witch receives limited bardic performances and 4th level and higher storytellers add the bard spell-list to their arsenals at the cost of but one hex - which seems a bit lenient.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level. On a rules-level, there are some wordings herein that feel a bit cumbersome and clunky, though barring minor issues, the content is functional. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports a damn nice piece of artwork. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, which is neat.


Russ Brown's witch-options proved harder for me to review than anticipated. Why? Because I have pretty specific ideas about the witch-class. You see, I think of the witch as the scalpel to the sorc/wiz's hammer - the subtle caster, the rebel with the uncommon themes. This pdf makes many more streamlined themes (cleric/druid-stuff, for example), work for the witch - so, as a reviewer, I had to swallow my own preferences and try to judge this book on its own merits. Now the respective hexes may not be precisely my cup of coffee, but for the most part, they are solid - though some can use minor clarification/whacks with the nerf-bat. Similarly, the archetypes, while crafted solidly, will not particularly rock your world - they adhere very much to the "exchange class ability x of class 1 with y of class 2"-scheme and do so in a pretty solid manner - though one that e.g. does not provide patron/domain-specific benefits.


Even when separated from personal taste, though, this pdf does have some flaws that weigh rather heavily...but also some neat options I thoroughly enjoyed. How to rate this, then? Well, the issues can't be ignored, but the low price makes me round up from a final verdict of 2.5 stars for a solid mixed bag with some flaws.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Character Options: Witches
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Shattered Heart Adventure Path #2: The Temple of Jewels and Mirrors
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/19/2016 03:15:48

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The second installment of Michael Allen's saga about the fight over the soul of the halfling people of Piccolo clocks in at 48 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 42 pages of content, so let's take a look!


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


...


..


.


All right, still here? After re-consecrating the subaqueous temple of the Goddess and potentially brokering a peace between the folk of Pembroke and the Vikmordere (or killing the intruders), there may be an angle for the repair of the next temple: Agents have reported to Carlyetta of some strange Cyclopean ruins (some of which the PCs may have seen in module #1) that may actually contain a weird type of glyph magic which may strengthen the bond of elemental magics with the Goddess. But in order to further research these runes, Caryetta's (and the PC's) next step on the journey is the dwarven enclave of Stoneroot - after all, it was the dwarves that did craft the alchemical mirrors that provided sunlight to the subterranean holy tree that is the goal of this module's quest -and the PCs will need the information regarding the means by which this restoration can be achieved.


Thus, we begin this module with a social ROLEplaying-heavy sandboxing scenario wherein the PCs walk the streets of Stoneroot, dealing with backdealings, missing people and more - most importantly, though, capable investigation is required to make heads or tails of the different theories concerning the cyclopean ruins...and the decidedly smart manipulations of the PC's shadowy adversary. Indeed, smart players will be required to notice the subtle clues that slowly accumulate - from enchantments to forged documents, there are some smart moves on behalf of the adversaries here -and for a reason. The runes, while clearly powerful, will prove to be dangerous indeed...but, in tune with the first module, we're still talking about consequences and choices: Once again, the defining feature of the saga remains the means by which PCs shape the destiny of the very heart and soul of Piccolo's halflings. Community points are gathered and lost and e.g. the choices on how to deal with disgruntled dwarves and the like remain important - particularly when strife is unleashed and the poor bosun of the Autumn Leaves becomes assimilated by a dread intellect devourer, further shaking Carlyetta and making her susceptible to the notion of requiring power - fast.


On the journey to the temple, with copious supplies and the like, the PCs will encounter truly lavishly-rendered new monsters: The Zagnatti, spawned from the insane mind of a fragmented god can be first encountered - from the empathic-shielding of blood pustules to the powerful queens, these somewhat mantis shrimp-like creatures rank among the most interesting insectoid adversaries I've seen in quite a while - oh, and each of their artworks just rocks and drives home their power: Think of Alien meets colorful mantis shrimps. And yes, once again, the PCs can save lives here...and gain even more support. (By the way - each of the respective encounters herein does have its own, neat full-color artwork!)


Now, the eponymous temple of jewels and mirrors is one of the most wondrous dungeons I've seen in quite a while - not only does the map of the dungeon look like a tree, it is ultimately a dungeon that is unique in that its rot has driven its guardian insane, while trolls and worse roam its place - the PC's task, then, is not only to repair the mirrors used to funnel sunlight through the tunnels towards the tree, they also have to contend with the dungeon's unique inhabitants, traps...and the sacred tree at the temple's center itself, which lashes out against those foolish enough to step into its presence. The writing and imagery of this dungeon is downright awesome and sports a truly diverse array of challenges - and, once the PCs are victorious, the module is not yet done - the sanctification of the temple, with or without the runes, will be the crucial finale of the module and, once again, the PCs will reap what they have sown regarding trust, kindness and their own investigative prowess.


As with the first module, we get a community point tracker-sheet and player-friendly maps as well.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful two-column full-color standard with copious amounts of gorgeous, original pieces of full-color artwork and AAW Games' usual, high-quality cartography - and yes, player-friendly versions of all maps are part of the deal. The pdf is fully bookmarked and, like the predecessor module, I urge you to get the premium print version - it's glorious and the module is well worth it.


Why? Well, Michael Allen delivers a more conservative module in its genre here - but at the same time, he does something right that almost all adventure-series, whether they be APs or adventure arcs, get wrong. What do I mean by this? Well, know how e.g. in the original RotRL, sin-tracking was deemed a thing...only to then not really matter? How some seemingly important consequences are glossed over in later books? This is pretty much the antithesis to this practice: From small side-character's deaths to PC behavior, literally everything the PCs do, everything that happens, matters in some way - and the decisions and performance in module #1 carries over perfectly to this one, providing an incredibly concise narrative, a feeling of organic growth, also regarding the interactions with the NPCs...and, once again, there are several choices, several outcomes to the conundrums posed. That and the new monsters are awesome.


Shattered Heart #2 actually manages to maintain the incredibly high quality established by its predecessor and continues to captivate and astonish with fantastic vistas, the rewarding of smart player choices and nail-biting action - and, if this series manages to maintain this level of quality, we'll have a truly astounding experience once it has been concluded. I remain with a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval + nomination as a candidate for the Top Ten of 2015 - if Michael Allen continues to deliver this level of quality, we'll be looking at an author who'll rank among my all-time favorites alongside illustrious names such as Richard Develyn, Matthew Finch, Bill Webb and similar titans of their craft.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shattered Heart Adventure Path #2: The Temple of Jewels and Mirrors
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Icons of Parsantium
Publisher: Ondine Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/19/2016 03:13:23

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This massive pdf clocks in at 47 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 42 (!!!) pages of content, so let's take a look!


Richard Green's Byzantine-analogue fantasy city of Parsantium is easily one of the most unique settings I've read all year: While mostly setting-agnostic, the city's unique backdrop and flair rendered Parsantium a wonderful breath of fresh air among all too many redundant concepts. This year, I also saw a broadening of my focus, extending my reviews to covering 13th Age, among other systems, amid my portfolio.


If you've read my reviews of 13th Age core supplements, you may have noticed that I love the system and certain components of the Dragon Empire setting - but the icons are not one of the components I like. The default icons pretty much are archetypes in the traditional sense and only in recent supplements and some tidbits, the icons slowly are getting a kind of identity that transcends bland fantasy fare. If you're planning on using 13th Age properly with a given campaign setting, you'll need to determine unique icons for the setting - and this supplement does just that.


After a neat b/w-map of the surrounding country as well as foreword by none other than one of 13th Age's creators, Rob Heinsoo, we immediately introduced to the respective icon-write-ups and their level of detail is significant: The write-ups sport a sample quote, notes on the usual location where the icon can be found, detailed common knowledge as well as advice for handling adventurers and their relationship with the icon. Champions and followers, allies and adversaries, enemies, the icon's history - all covered...including "The True Danger" - so yes, everything you'd expect is here...and more.


The pdf also covers two racial write-ups for use as PCs: Gnolls and Vanara. Gnolls get +2 Con or Dex and a racial power that makes piling on foes more lethal. Vanara receive +2 Dex or Wis and get a racial power that allows them to disengage 1/battle as a free action - annoyingly called "pop free from an enemy" in the rules-language. sigh


Oh well, you're here for the icons, right? So what are they? Well, first we'd have the Archbishop, His Radiance Arcadius, head of Helion's church, a devout and pious scion of civilization who is as strong as his faith...rendering him susceptible to some nasty ploys, but also extremely powerful. The Basileus Corandias XVIII the Lionlooded would be the city's sovereign, the emperor-analogue, if you will. Of course, the underworld has a similar ruler, The Boss of All Bosses, the informal fourth tribune of the city ultimately makes for a compelling character that diverges enough from the Prince of Shadows to be interesting. There also would be the Great Caliph Faisal al-Aqil: Scholar, astronomer and conqueror of Parsantium - which, if you're not yet familiar with the city, should make one thing clear: The power-dynamics of Parsantium are much more unique, less monolithic and thus more rife for adventure than those of the default icons.


Parsantium, however, is also home to a Dragon, a bronze who, in times of need, has risen to defend the city - but for which ultimate agenda, no one knows as the dragon walks the streets well-disguised, while hunted by the agents of darkness. The Emperor of the Jade Throne further complicates the net of allegiances of the political landscape of the icons here - obviously an Eastern-inspired ruler who has significant interests in the city...and a dire feud versus the Gnoll Khan, for it is the gnolls that stand in for the nomadic, raiding hordes of the Mongols in real world history, being led by the Grand Khan of the Gnolls.


Arcanists obviously also are represented - here, by the Grand Master of the Blue Lotus, who not only is the foremost wizard of his massive esoteric order. In a twist on the classic trope, the vanara is actually a champion of the downtrodden and common people! Haven't seen that one before - kudos! The Lady of Summer Kingdoms, as alluring as she is dangerous, would be obviously a Fey Queen - and one that may, with her capricious whims, bring e.g. the Archbishop to his kneed. The Maharani, a half-deity, rules over the analogue of India and her massive realms. Similarly, but in a more sinister way, the legendary mummy of Queen Merytnofru is gathering hordes to recreate her massive erstwhile kingdom.


The paladins of the Platinum Knights would be a force for order and civilization from the predations of the green-skins, adding an implicit angle of interesting prejudice to the mix. That's not all, though: The dread Rajah of Rakshasas is also playing his game in the city and the Water Lords, elected rulers of Loranto, could be considered to be pseudo-Venetian schemers united in the goal of securing maritime supremacy...and then, there is, finally, the legendary witch of Flotsam - a mysterious crone, black market dealer...and apothecary.


Do you notice something? Even in my admittedly brief summaries of these icons, you'll notice ambiguity: Even the more villainous icons have angels that make them appropriate for heroes...and vice versa. The collection of these icons inspires, provides the potential for not one, but a vast array of potential story-lines...and the book does not end there.


For your convenience, each icon sports positive and negative 5 + 6 entries for the icon's respective relationship dice - and yes, these entries are intriguing and helpful indeed...and then there would be the handy glossary and the secret information provided, which contains some truly intriguing hooks to develop...and no, I'm not going to spoil them here.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly 2-column b/w-standard. Interior art is a blending of the color art you see on the cover and b/w-artwork - it does its job, though I wished each icon had its own artwork. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Richard Green's Icons of Parsantium are absolutely STUNNING: They walk a tight line and manage to keep the balance...between what? Well, you see, if the icons diverged too much from 13th Age's core icons, we would have an issue regarding adventure-conversion. If they remained too close to the default icons, they'd be unnecessary. Quite the contrary is the case, but let me elaborate: 13th Age, as presented in the core book-line, is pretty much a system with a certain intended playstyle that extends to the stories told: Full-blown, in your face high fantasy. The thing is, the system would support more playstyles, but the global scale and relatively one-dimensional icons of the base setting do not lend themselves particularly well to shades of gray moralities, politics or less global campaigns...which I always considered a pity.


Enter this book. Sure, you can consider and use the icons herein very much the same way as 13th Age's default icons - but they have more depth and diversity to them: The icons herein are very much tangible; they are characters with names, histories etc....and yes, they may die and fail and struggle. What we have here are proper characters with ambiguous, versatile uses...that lose none of the icon's required gravitas. Even if you're not interested in Parsantium (why?), I pretty much can guarantee that, if you're even remotely interested in a more down-to-earth or sword and sorcery-esque version of 13th Age, the icons here will provide inspiration galore for your own designs...or make for great scavenging material. I have no significant gripes whatsoever I can field against this great book and indeed, will probably revisit Parsantium with 13th Age-rules, just to sue these icons more. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Icons of Parsantium
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Village Backdrop: Idyll
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/19/2016 03:11:05

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


As always with Raging Swan Press' critically-acclaimed Village Backdrop-series, we are introduced to a sample town herein, complete with settlements statblock, local nomenclature, market place-information on magic items for sale, some sample lore to be unearthed via Knowledge-checks and, obviously, some rumors and adventure hooks.


A brief glimpse at the village map shows that the settlement is close to a little stream - and, frankly, if "idyll" as a name evokes pastoral scenes and romantic notions of a farmer' life...you'd kind of be right. Export-wise, Idyll is pretty much defined by the tasty meats the village produces. At the same time, there are numerous interesting components that set the village apart, first of which would be the propensity for ancient artifacts littering the nearby landscape and the fact that 4 odd monoliths, one in each cardinal direction, seem to guard the place. The constantly optimal weather conditions may also spark the paranoia of the characters... and indeed, rather oddly, the village is governed by an odd council that seems to encompass the worst discrepancies of the alignment spectrum, thus rendering it rather impotent.


Magical characters may also notice a curious phenomenon, namely, that neither alignment-detection, nor proper scrying seem to work within the confines of this village and the fact that people of such vastly diverging ideologies seem to peacefully coexist also hints at the true nature of this unique settlement - a nature I am not going to divulge in this review, instead leaving you with the information that I haven't seen the idea executed thus anywhere before - and love it! While I briefly considered spoiling the truth here, I believe that this is indeed for the best - you'll see once you read about this unique village yourself.


Conclusion:


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


Mike Welham's Idyll once again is a perfect reminder why he ranks among the authors who continue to score seals of approval - Idyll is an inspired, intriguing settlement that begins with a mystery and offers a great answer to it, one that makes sense on multiple levels. The potential for uncanny valley-esque creepy-factors is here, as is the option for players to later utilize the village's unique properties for their own agendas - if they dare and manage to come to an agreement with the village's masters, that is. So, how to rate this, then? Well, while the village is less versatile on its own than the best in the series, it does sport a truly awesome concept that I have never seen before - a concept that is so cool and chock-full of narrative potential, I am practically forced to rate this 5 stars + seal of approval - yes, that good.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Idyll
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Alterkine: Player's Handbook
Publisher: HermaDolph
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/18/2016 05:04:40

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This huge tome clocks in at 382 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page ToC, 1 page "thank you," a massive 10-page index (which helps navigation immensely) and 1 page back cover, leaving us with a gigantic 365 pages of content, so let's take a look!


So what is Alterkine? The simple tl;dr-answer for those of you particularly time-starved individuals would be that Alterkine represents basically a riff/expansion on d20 modern/future-rules.


If you require more precise guidance, let me enlighten you: Intended as a core-book, this massive book is pretty newbie-friendly, providing explanation on multiplication handling, dice-notation and the like in the beginning. Progress levels, swearing allegiance to entities, organizations and the like is covered and, unlike quite a few variants of d20-based games, the pdf provides an occupation-system, which generally modifies the skill-selection and provides in some cases bonus feats. At the same time, occupations sport modifications on the wealth and reputation-ratings of the character...which is generally a pretty cool thing. However, both GMs and players should well be aware of the fact that the respective occupations are NOT properly balanced among themselves: Being a student, for example, is significantly less useful than being a celebrity or being an academic prodigy, with powers ranging quite significantly between the less powerful and more powerful occupations - while this is only realistic, the discrepancy between power-levels still is something I'm not a fan of; particularly since no clear guidelines for the ramifications of changing occupations is provided.


As mentioned, there are fame/infamy-based reputation rules, which pretty much are solid and simple modifiers for relevant Cha-based d20-checks, whether skill-based or pure reputation. Wealth is not handled by direct currency, but rather via the abstract wealth-modifiers. Starting Wealth bonus equal 2d4 and can never drop below 0 - purchasing things can be achieved via wealth-checks, which are d20s plus the wealth rating. Wealth decreases whenever the character purchases an object with a rating beyond the character's wealth rating. Instead of traditional AC, Alterkine has a defense rating of 10 + Dex mod +class bonus + equipment bonus + size modifiers. 3.X's action points are also a part of the system, retaining the +1d6-modification, though some class features also sport this as a kind of resource.


Alterkine retains the classic injury and death-rules regarding fixed negative hit point-thresholds (-10 = death) and massive damage. Conditions, temporary hit points and environmental hazards, from poisons to diseases, lava, drowning, etc. all are explained in relatively simple and easy to grasp terms. Alterkine sporst several races, though going through them in detail would bloat the review unduly, so I'll instead provide basics, all right? The first would be the small, slightly pineapple-shape-headed Aasliy - premium entertainers that also sport a strict emphasis on trust. The setting also supports anthropomorphic animals, though inner-racial balancing is odd, with 1st level flight (sans maneuverability-rating) is part of the deal for some. The salamander-like Faluth may seem honest and guileless, but their +2 to all physical attributes makes them surprisingly powerful - and yes, if you've been following my reviews, you'll note something: The races herein pretty much hit all my pet-peeves: 1st level flight? Check. Lopsided attribute-dispersal? Check. Too strong minmax-gearing towards specific classes with +4s to attributes? Check. Similarly, the orc-like, large Ghasmorgh are very powerful and sexually dimorphic, with females being LA+1, males LA+2 - and again, I was never a big fan of LA, though your mileage may obviously vary. The slightly feline Kidaana-ahe gain predator/wanderer-themed bonus-feats and scent, but at the cost of LA+1 and cybernetic restrictions. Pure Strain Humans get +2 Int, Cha and Con, increase HD by one step, while sentient plants can receive quite a few variants. The races all sport height and weight tables and while they hit several of my pet-peeves, I guess that, with some minor exceptions, they work pretty solidly in conjunction with one another and cover the central tropes you probably want covered - bruiser, carefree guy, weird race, etc. - most bases are covered.


The pdf sports a total of 5 base-class, all of which feature the default ten-level progression of d20 modern/future, sporting good, medium and bad save-progressions, the usual BAB-progressions and scaling progressions of defense-bonuses and reputation-bonuses. The class tend to come with so-called talent-trees, which provide either a kind of internal choice or provide a linear ability progression. The set-up and presentation of the respective talents and classes remains pretty well-crafted, though, particularly should you be used to PFRPG's or a similar d20-games' level of choices, you may consider them, from tech to mystic and scav, perhaps a bit restrictive. That being said, on the plus-side, the classes sport no dead levels.


Alterkine is more advanced than the classic d20-systems, though - the skill-selection provided adheres pretty much to standards closer to PFRPG than D&D 3.X - from Athletics to Analytics to a Culture-skill and Deception, the more versatile skills provided for Alterkine work well and are concisely-presented...and yes, Demolitions Drive are part of the deal alongside e.g. Intrigue and the like. Concentration is also a skill here, though with a decreased emphasis regarding magic, it no longer acts as a stringent non-optional skill-tax on casters.


Now obviously, in such a system, one requires feats - and, no surprise, this book provides a huge array of them - and they are interesting in some cases, utilizing e.g. the new mechanics and materials introduced, though, much like in 3.X's design-paradigm, you need feats for several things that imho should not require them - suppression fire, for example. For each great example that blends a new item's possibilities with relatively neat mechanics, there, alas, are instances where I just had to shake my head: Take the Thunderhawk and Thunderbird Styles - mechanically, they are pretty much identical and don't require one another. The Thunderbird Style has slightly less penalties when combined with another style and less potency (1d2 rounds of stun) and 1 BAB less prerequisite...and that's it. Design like this is textbook filler cookie-cutting in my book and simply wasted space. But that may just be me being a spoiled prick.


The equipment-section of this book, containing gadgets, restriction-rules and weapons from flamethrowers to chain saws and even paint ball guns is extremely detailed - a level of detail also extending to armors...oh, and before I forget about it: Yes, this book sports a huge ton of options to customize the respective equipment pieces, both armors and weapons, in a rather versatile manner. It should also be noted that the pdf is rather concise regarding the presentation of the respective equipment types, for they are grouped by progress level: Playing in a rather regular, modern version? Equipment all grouped in one space; contemporary earth invaded by foes with superior technological knowledge? No biggie. I did not expect the respective sections to adhere to such a smart and well-thought out presentation, so kudos where kudos are due!


The book also provides a diverse array of advanced classes - which would be basically prestige classes by any other name (in case you're not familiar with the concept d20 modern/future uses), ranging level-wise from level 5 to 10 - so yes, combined with the 10-level base-class progression, this makes no attempts pretending that the advanced classes are what you want to get: From Psi-soldiers to road warriors and genetic chameleons, the diversity provided among the significant array of PrCs here is pretty neat and certainly shows off some of the better aspects of 3.X's design-philosophy.


In case you haven't noticed: Beyond the PrCs and significant equipment choices and modifications, customization is the name of the game, which includes, in chapter six, a rather significant array of rules regarding mutations: From carapaces to bird feet and webbed digits, this chapter provides some neat tricks and also represents a rather solid scavenging potential - particularly since, from the rules-relevant to the more exotic or cosmetic, this book sports a huge amount of mutations, many of which I really enjoyed. The balancing is interesting in itself here, at least in concept: Mutations have an MP-cost, which must be paid for in drawbacks taken. At the same time the system thus does lend itself to some serious power-gaming, though thankfully, this is offset somewhat by a GM-control caveat, though, I still do think that some of the new rules could have used a more precise wording: The trunk mutation, for example, nets you "an incredibly strong nose like that of an elephant, with a Strength equal to half your Strength." - So, can the trunk manipulate objects? Wield weapons? Execute slam attacks? No idea. While not the rule, there are quite an array of such minor hiccups and they alas do accumulate. Telekinesis would be another example of a needlessly opaque mutation, failing to specify whether the damage is caused to the moved object, to the target of the telekinesis, to targets in the path of the moved object...while it is pretty clear what the mutation intends to achieve, it is in such instances that this book shows its status as a freshman offering, lacking the precision I expect from rules.


While the massive chapter of psionic talents sports a similarly expansive array of unique and evocative tricks, there is no way arguing past the lack of individual ranges and the precision of some of these simply not being up to par: "Once per week, you are able to compress time around yourself and others, causing it to speed up at a speed of 4 times the normal rate." Okay, congrats, so what are the precise mechanical ramifications of this? When e.g. poisoned? 4 rolls in one round? Can the subjected targets act 4 times per round? I have literally no idea what this is supposed to do. Alas, it's not the only one with such issues. Where's the mechanical difference to the one that allows for the slowing down of time? No idea.


On a more positive note, the chapter of flaws, similarly extremely detailed and comprehensive, sports less blatant issues like this and can, as a whole be considered to be rather well-crafted. Now obviously, cybernetics are yet another crucial factor in the presentation of any setting with even remote scifi-leaning. A given character can have up to 1+Con-mod cybernetic attachments, with every exceeding attachment providing a negative level that also results in the loss of a highest level mutation or psionic power. Cybernetic fall in two self-explanatory categories: Replacements and enhancements. From bladed arms to cryogenic generators, we get yet another vast array of customization options - which, while covering a HUGE amount of ground, ultimately suffers from a similar syndrome as the feats - there are frankly some options that exceed others in potency and there is a bit of filler to be found. Similarly, there are e.g. force fields and the like that cause damage, but do not explicitly state activation actions or feature a save to halve or negate. Still, overall, a very interesting chapter.


The next step, would obviously YET ANOTHER huge chapter, this time dealing with bioware - i.e. biological tweaks of your body as opposed to technical ones. Once again, we are treated to a huge array of such modifications - though, unlike cybernetics, bioware, as presented herein, does NOT feature a restriction - you can, as long as you can afford it, load up on bioware until your purse gives out. From flesh-pockets to tendrils and even undead-servants creating lifedrains, there are some far-out and very powerful options here - and not much guidelines regarding pricing and balance, a practice that, alas, extends to gene therapy. Gene therapy allows for the acquisition of powers, mutations and the like via per se pretty concise short-term-treatment rules that fail to specify how long the application takes to apply. Gene-therapy even allows characters to gain acquired templates...which are powerful, but their acquisition is a pain: Number One: The pdf fails to specify a given cost for gene therapy, leaving me scratching my head. Secondly, each therapy for a template requires something along the lines of 25 successful Fortitude saves versus DC 20 - each failure nets you 2 points of Con-damage (I think, but I'm not sure) . similarly, I'm not sure whether a failure resets the counter; whether the process can be suspended and then, after healing, be taken up again. Neither does the book feature balancing advice for characters with gene therapy versus those without - basically, these look like level adjustment-powerful benefits and we're pretty much left in the dark as to their value.


The pdf then concludes with 4 post-apocalyptic-themed character backgrounds that modify attributes, skills, etc.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting, on a formal level, are top-notch and truly impressive - for a book of this size, the writing is pretty precise on a formal level. Layout adheres to an easy-to-read two-column b/w-standard with copious, nice b/w-artworks I haven't seen before and some neat full color artworks of weaponry etc. EDIT: as per the latest update, the book now has bookmarks!


Jeff Becker's Alterkine seems to have a bit of an identity-crisis as to what kind of book it wants to be. On the one hand, the book begins with the very basics of d20-based systems and seems to have the goal of collecting some rules from d20 modern/future in a big book, preventing the requirement of swapping books. However, were I to judge the book on this premise, I'd have to, unfortunately, say that in this regard the Alterkine Player's Guide doesn't do its job - the lack of activation actions and basic rules for bioware etc. mean that this, in spite of its hand-holding approach in the beginning, becomes pretty much a book that requires some serious rules-knowledge once you get to the huge amount of crunchy nit and grit. At the same time, reprinting material from d20 future supplements mean that groups already having these rules will, once again, resort to book-swapping - so yes, I'm a bit torn as to how to rate this. If taken on its own, Alterkine will certainly result in some seriously raised eyebrows regarding how some of these rules ought to work - I found myself dusting off my d20 modern/future supplements quite a lot in order to make use of the rules herein.


This ultimately also extends to activation and action economy in particular - if one thing irked me to know end during this review, it was the requirement to switch back books to re-establish the basic rules for the vast array of crunch herein and, with the added bookmarks, this can be sued more easily - which nets the book +0.5 stars.


Similarly, while there are A LOT, a TON of options presented within this book, both new and old, the matter of fact remains that some of the pieces of crunch are not up to snuff, filler or simply problematic regarding balancing guidelines and precise functionality - particularly the mutation or the bioware could have damn well used a more precise presentation, especially when the cybernetics chapter does indeed provide basic rules.


Now, all of this may sound overly negative and frankly, it shouldn't be: The new base-classes and advanced classes are well-crafted and diverse and while the book, as a whole, inherits several issues from the base books it utilizes, I have to note one crucial thing: The Alterkine Player's Guide is the biggest, most expansive upgrade for d20 modern/future I've read so far. This book sports a HUGE array of cool material - from the uncommon races to the advanced classes to the vast array of equipment and cybernetics, there are a lot of gems herein and the general rules-language of the "big components" tends to be surprisingly concise and fun; as far as 3.X design-paradigms go, this supplement does a good job indeed. At the same time, however, there are quite a lot of small rules-interactions that do not properly work out, that require clarification. Still, for one, this is a freshman offering - and the book is actually the work of two people: Author Jeff Becker and edited by Max Becker. Against this backdrop, one to truly congratulate the authors - this is a huge accomplishment for such a small team and the fact remains that, in spite of its flaws, you'll be very hard-pressed to find a supplement of this ambition and scope for d20 modern/future, one that oozes so much obvious passion for the system. Particularly, if you're comfortable with making rules-decisions, if you're a GM who has serious experience with it, well, then you will certainly want to check out this vast tome - provided you can get past the exceedingly annoying lack of bookmarks, that is.


As a freshman offering, this certainly is impressive (though the later Alterkine books, which I'll cover as well, are more refined), though its flaws weigh heavily upon the book; still, due to the huge scope, the gems that ARE in this tome and due to being the freshman book by HermaDolph and the lack of a good alternative as far as d20 modern/future-books are concerned, I will settle on a final verdict of 3.5 stars, still rounded down, though.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Alterkine: Player's Handbook
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Spheres of Power: Expanded Options
Publisher: Drop Dead Studios
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/18/2016 04:54:35

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This expansion for Drop Dead Studios' Spheres of Power system clock in at 29 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 25 pages of content, so let's take a look!


One rules component I failed to address in its omission in the original spheres of power-book, consciously so, mind you, would be favored class options: While the rules by now have become a staple for PFRPG-games, not all groups I know play with them and considering the sheer amount of material covered, I was not surprised to them relegated to the expansion material this way. Beyond brief conversion advice for the conversion of spells-known type favored class options, we not only cover the core races, but also aasimar, goblins, merfolk, orcs and tieflings - still leaving some room for further expansion, sure, but when you take a look at the favored class options, they are actually rather interesting from extended concentration-duration effects for incanters to +1/4 bound nexus and increased movement speeds, the favored class options herein struck me a reasonably balanced, did not contain blatant power creep and over all, can be considered to rank among the better such collections I've seen - kudos!


Now one very vocal requirement that most fans wanted pertained the conversion of the non-core classes to the spheres of power-system and this pdf happily obliges: Not only the Advanced Player's Guide (plus Magus!), but also the Advanced Class Guide is covered. (Though not sphere-based alchemy, should you have been looking for that...) Of particular interest for me here was the magus: His Spell Combat and spellstrikes have been expertly translated into the new system and expanded magic now nets you a base sphere/magic talent wild-card that duplicates in a rather neat manner the flexibility of the replaced knowledge pool, scaling up later, btw. More impressive, at least to me, was the elegant redesign of the orcale's bonus spell-granting curses and the redesign of the summoner: The latter codifies a companion as the eidolon; while still potentially problematic, the foundation of sphere-casting is ultimately more solid than that of the base class. The arcanist's interaction between spellpoints and the arcane reservoir is also rather well-crafted and quite a few exploits have been properly codified anew.


Obviously, there also are archetypes for the new Spheres of Power-centric classes: The Armorist Warleader replaces bound equipment with a full-scaling mount and gains Tactician at 5th level and improved versions at later levels. An okay take on the concept of a tactician-y armorist, though I maintain that there are better options for the latter component. Symbiotic Knights get a symbiote they can summon, which then acts as their armor - one that spontaneously upon summoning may change its properties, though at the cost of only being able to properly use the symbiote him/herself. Elementalists may elect to become elemental-themed warriors (all solid, all representing concepts I'm bored to death with by now), though I still cringe at "frost resistance" - the proper rules-language is "cold resistance," darn it! Geomancers are specialists in the nature sphere. Eliciters may opt to become IDs, who receive more emotions, or hynotists, who gain an investigator's inspiration pool at 1/2 class level + Int-mod with different skills improved as well as limited investigator talents. Both valid.


Fey Disciples can become Seelie Disciples that replace darkvision with versatile performance and high-level fascinate/suggestion. Unseelie Disciples instead gain Sneak Attack and rogue talents. Hedgewitches can elect to become dragonblooded mortals, gaining natural attacks...with a cool-down breath weapon...which per se is mechanically a damn cool option. At the same time, the damage-output here is too much: Level times d6 with decreasing cool-down is truly nasty, particularly considering that the whole archetype only costs one tradition. The Triple Goddess archetype taps into the iconic notion of the norns, fates, etc., gaining per se damn cool fate/life/death abilities - though, on a formal level, you usually do not "pass" a save...but that gripe remains cosmetic.


The Incanter can become a warlock or reincarnated master - warlocks gaining a possession-form of okay buffs, while reincarnated masters work particularly well for exceedingly high lethality games/Dark Souls type of gameplay, including auto-reincarnation at 6th level. Warriors of Holy Light are a bit paladin-y mageknights, complete with good alignment-restriction and lay on hands...which imho is a missed chance: We see "cold, hard light"-type of evil options far too rarely. Conversely, the Underdark Champion unnecessarily locks the character into evil alignment with darkness-based smites and the like. Dragoons don't get FF IV's iconic jump, but at least receive a mount. Divine Lariats are the first archetype I really enjoyed: These guys are basically Wonder Woman, the class - sans the gender restrictions...and they make the lasso badass as a weapon. Kudos!


The Beastmind Shifter hones his mind, while the pack master gets animal companions...potentially more than one. Okay, I guess. Soul Weaver Lichlings duplicate some lich-y abilities like negative energy affinity and a touch of corruption. Dual Channelers replace bound nexus with better channeling...of both positive and negative energy and they also gain both access to blessings and blights...and overall, the archetype made me fear that it'd be OP in the hands of a halfway decent player...which it is. Wildcard-channel-energy-based feat additions (ignoring prereqs!) and the like just pile on to the already very strong archetype, rendering it imho BROKEN.


The Symbiat Snypase is a teleport-specialist and the Telekinetic Warrior is, surprise, also about telekinesis. Finally, Thaumaturge devourers get slightly higher forbidden lore backlash when not dropping foes below 0 hp...could be kitten'd...but honestly not worth the trouble. This one is pretty much the definition of a filler archetype. The Pactmage enters one pact of 3 provided and then gains celestial, infernal or aberrant blessings - which would be infinitely more compelling, had the book taken a cue from Covenant Magic or Pact Magic and either integrated them or devoted a similar amount of space to the concepts - as provided, this remains a bit barebones for the concept.


Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no glaring issues. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and layout adheres to a nice 2-column full-color standard with some new artworks and some stock art you know from older publications blended.


The good things first: Adam Meyers, J Gray, James Mars, Michael Sayre and Douglas Schaub have crafted what I'd consider a must-have expansion for Spheres of Power - overall, the rules-language is sound and the favored class options plus conversion archetypes alone make this probably a no-brainer for any campaign using spheres of power. At the same time, this book disappointed me on a pretty high level with its archetypes. I get that some cookie-cutter-type engine tweaks regarding the archetypes may be required; the archetypes aren't bad.


But if I had to name one weakness of Spheres of Power, then that to me, the classes do not feel that distinct; their individual identities and class features, when divorced from the superb system, just are not that interesting. They are not bad, mind you - quite the contrary! But you won't see me convert any of them to a non-SoP-game, they just don't have enough unique tricks when separated from their system. The archetypes had a chance to change that and didn't...but, as a reviewer, I will not penalize this book for that - to do otherwise would be bad form.


I am, however, going to penalize it for the few instances of blatantly OP content and for the uninspired, utterly bland "I get a mount"-dragoon, the very definition of cookie-cutter-design. Thankfully, these do not represent the overall quality of an otherwise must-have book.


It is only due to these issues, not the lost chance mentioned above, that I arrive at a final verdict of 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 for the purpose of this platform.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Spheres of Power: Expanded Options
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Legendary Rogues
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/15/2016 06:29:17

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The second of Legendary Games class-centric Ultimate-plug-ins clocks in at 48 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of introductions (with a comical CCP-glitch, reading "What you will find in Legendary Paladins..."), 1 page SRD, 4 pages of advertisement, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 34 pages of raw content, so let's take a look, shall we?


So, what is the first thing you think of when the term "rogue" is thrown around regarding the core competences of the class? If you've dealt with any amount of optimization, that will probably be "skills." Let's face it, as written, the rogue class is pretty much an underpowered mess that has been nerfed down from even its 3.X roots to the point where it almost hurts - me particularly. You know, I REALLY like rogues and so do my players...concept-wise, that is. But until the advent of Drop Dead Studios' Rogue Glory book, nary a player wanted to play the class...because, let's face it, it's one of the weakest classes for PFRPG in terms of combat utility. Now our rogues still were awesome characters, but I did feel that they lost their central competence along the way - being the suave agents, the acrobatic masters, the thieves and scoundrels, the brokers. This pdf acknowledges, thankfully, that the rogue chassis and some of its design-assumptions are in dire need of an overhaul to be competitive and allow the player to efficiently play the character they want to play.


The first selection of abilities, then, would be an assortment of skill specialties - basically alternatives to the trapfinding class feature that have comparable usefulness: Beyond a basic skill bonus, these allow e.g. expert acrobats to fall less when failing; Stealth specialists increase miss-chances. Specialization in information brokering can yield knowledge on whether an information is reliable as well as rerolls. Investigation specialists gain Perception and Sense Motive-bonuses and may see past illusions and Escape Artist-specialists may make creatures actually waste their AoOs. I wholeheartedly endorse the array of diverse options featured in this section - the additional benefits are plentiful and intriguing and I can see my characters taking any of them.


But what about the unchained rogue? Well, guess what? The book provides full synergy with the unchained rogue and codifies these skill specialties also according to the framework of said class, even going so far as to provide a skill unlock/signature skill-rework of the rogues in question when used in conjunction with this system. Kudos for going the extra mile!


The next customization option provided herein basically takes trap sense and makes it just as versatile and player-agenda-driven as you'd want it to be: Basically, you can e.g. get better AC when fighting defensively or against ranged attacks: The bonus stacks with itself and allows for a rogue to e.g. specialize in one such avoidance...or get multiple ones at lesser bonuses. Instead of Trap Sense+3, you can e.g. get a +1 bonus to ranged attacks and +2 to saves versus fear and mid-influencing effects. This takes a boring, static ability and makes players choose - which is awesome...and yes, the upgrade regarding danger sense in the Unchained version is covered as well.


The next type of ability codified herein would be instincts - these are the powerful, instinctual evasion effects that render the rogue powerful in a defensive manner. The pdf codifies evasion, uncanny dodge, improved uncanny dodge and 10th level improved evasion as instincts - thus, gaining these is codified as happening at 2nd level, 4th and every 4 levels thereafter - and yes, there are means to use immediate actions for 5-foot steps, proper acting in surprise rounds and multiple initiative-rolls, helping the general power-level of particularly high-level rogues.


Now obviously, rogue talents are an odd bunch: PFRPG began with the general assumption of a talent being equivalent to about 1/2 a feat, an assumption that didn't even work with all rogue talents back then. With classes like alchemists and ninjas out there, it should come as no surprise that something odd is happening here: Unlike other comparable class features, rogue talents only sport a general 2-step distinction between power-levels. Hence, this pdf provides almost 100 rogue talents, including a significant array of rather well-conceived level-prereqs that allow for a more synergistic scaling. The truly interesting component here, though, pertains the feasibility of quite a few talents: Both regarding rerolls and fast stealth, which pales even before the sucky Skill Focus (Stealth) at 10th level - the authors actually did the math here and recodified former trap options into a more powerful variant. The care that obviously went into these is truly interesting and extends to power-comparisons between e.g. rogue talents and alchemist discoveries, bridging the gap between the two. Obviously, I can't cover all of the talents...but know this: I consider them basically canon at this point.


There also is a new codification of talents that focus on last second saves for the rogues called desperation talents - from defensive roll to 1/day (+1/day at 15th and 20th level) negating attacks that would bring the rogue below 0 Hp with movement to gaining temporary hit points to avoid dying - and yes, all of these talents now can be found in a nice, big table. Once again, implementation for both core rogues and unchained rogues is covered rather well.


The fixing of the rogue goes even further - with saving throw-fixes (below that of specialists, but better than e.g. wizards) and the pdf also offers an ability to fix the BAB-discrepancy versus e.g. slayer...and also sports an optional alternate rule for attacks versus flanked targets, should you wish for a less distinct solution. Better yet: The damage-consistency and supreme array of sneak immune/negating creatures is also addressed via a plethora of different class features -and yes, this also includes a mechanically feasible take on streamlining the damage-output of APG and PFU's Powerful and Deadly Sneak - coincidentally a mathematical discrepancy I noted in my own designs...so kudos indeed! The issue of sneak attack and critical damage is also, just fyi, taken care of in a concise and mathematically relevant, yet conservative manner that should not unbalance any game...and yes, nonlethal sneak FINALLY is no longer restricted.


Know how high level rogues in fiction tend to favor singular, deadly attacks and hit and run tactics? Well, the mid-to-high-level attack option of focused sneak attacks actually makes agile movement and skirmishing tactics more relevant for the rogue, allowing the class to contribute without full-attack-blow-trading. What if a rogue can't sneak? Well, then telling blows, a 3rd level ability might offer what you want: Basically, they are short-range debuff attacks.


If all of that seemed too much for you - fret not: The Legendary Rogue class featured herein is just what you've been looking for. Nice to see the concise summary alongside the cherry-pick option...and yes, a significant plethora of short-mechanic centric archetypes that have been rebalanced or retooled are in here as well - from Acrobat to Poisoner to Trapsmith, this book delivers - and the same can be said about the two pages of new feats herein.


Finally, the pdf closes with the 10-level Master Thief PrC - at d8, 8+Int skills, 1/2 Fort-save progression (slightly odd) and 3/4 BAB-progression, we finally have a representation of Thief's Garrett here - casing a joint, combining steal with trip, fast withdraws, downtime-synergy (and kingdom building...) as well as true avoidance of magic, grapples and the like, this damn cool little PrC absolutely ROCKS - it's an iconic concept, well-implemented in a concise and feasible manner.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting, for the most part of this pdf, are top-notch, I noticed no rules-relevant glitches. Layout adheres to legendary Games' two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The original artworks provided herein are high-quality and nice.


Matt Goodall and Jason Nelson's Legendary Rogue, at first glance, looked like it was too good to be true; and since most books like this are just that, I went on to test the living hell out of this book. Okay, let me make this abundantly clear: No matter the power-level of your campaign, no matter how much you may like the Unchained Rogue, the Glory Rogue or the like - YOU NEED THIS. I didn't realize how much I needed this book until I actually read it. Beyond taking care and fixing several trap options and retaining their feasibility over the levels, beyond a power-upgrade that was sorely required, the legendary rogue as presented herein is still as rogue-y as it can be - and so much more!


The rogue-class' radical redesign herein puts player-agenda at the very highest priority slot and, at the same time, actually manages to retain a sense of cohesion that still allows for the implementation of other 3pp-material within its framework. Additionally, this book cleans up the design-aesthetic and power-level mess that unfortunately took hold of the rogue class and makes the class competitive without losing its soul.


Let me state this loudly and clearly: The Legendary Rogue is the class the Unchained Rogue should imho have been. It is now my default rogue class, particularly since it cleaned up those annoying trap options, ability discrepancies etc. - this is a labor of love, where, with a fine-toothed comb and deliberate care, mechanics were streamlined to actually play better with PFRPG's official other classes. Oh, and if you dislike any component of this book, its supreme versatility does allow you to cherry-pick your preferred option to customize the respective tricks. Now, and this is where the book goes the extra, second extra mile, it also does something only very few crunch books do: It explains its design-rationales in easy to grasp ways for the respective GMs and players perusing this book - so if a particular issue addressed is not one for you, you'll have the pros and cons weighed and listed so you can decide for yourself. Modularity-wise, this is up there with Spheres of Power or the Martial Arts Guidebook in the ways in which its respective options can be used or discarded - and it may even surpass them.


This book, in short, provides the player-driven, versatile rogue I've always been wanting since the inception of 3.0, the class I always longed for, but never got. Legendary Rogue is, without any hyperbole, a truly astonishing, downright brilliant piece of work and will be the standard by which I henceforth measure class-fix-style pdfs. It is simply ridiculously good and a shining example of what a crunch can do; it thus receives 5 stars + seal of approval, nomination for my Top Ten of 2015 and the EZG Essential tag - if it also covered trap-rules and a fix for the Stealth-skill, it would completely replace my previously favorite rogue fix, Rogue Glory, completely; as it stands, Legendary Rogues is a true must-own book for anyone who likes playing rogues and felt that the class fell flat of what it should be able to do, for everyone who wants more customization, options, flair - this is for you and worth every cent of its asking price a hundredfold.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Legendary Rogues
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The Kingpin
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/15/2016 06:28:00

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This class-supplement clocks in at 16 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page of SRD, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let's take a look!


The kingpin base-class comes with d8, 8+Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB-progression, good Ref- and Will-saves and proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as light and medium armor and shields, obviously excluding tower shields. 1st level kingpins receive kingpin's cunning, a pool equal to his Intelligence modifier (minimum 1) and counting as grit/panache for the purpose of feat-prereqs and the like. The interesting and darn cool component here would lie in the regaining of cunning - not dependent on luck, at least exclusively - the kingpin receives two points back whenever he and his party avoid combat situations via smarts - be it via Diplomacy, Stealth or the like. He also receives 1 point back for stunts and good roleplaiyng, emphasizing brains over brawn - which is awesome. On the downside, rolling natural 20s, even on mundane skill-checks, also restores cunning, which begs for abuse and would ensure me going on a 2-paragraph-rant regarding the regaining of cunning thusly, but the pdf is smart enough to mitigate this abuse by including a GM-control-clause. Personally, I'd limit this to potentially lethal situations, but that's just my playtesting experience - so far, no true complaints.


Where there's a mechanic like grit or cunning, there obviously is a need to invest such an ability's points for benefits and thus, it should come as no surprise that the class receives deeds, the most defining of them probably being gang, an extraordinary ability. For as long as the kingpin has at least 1 point of cunning in his pool, all allies within 20 ft. (scaling up to 70 over the 20 levels) receive a scaling morale bonus to skill checks. Allies must be aware of the kingpin, but do not need to see him and all terrain that does not block line of effect, corners and the like, talking etc. all are featured in this ability's write-up - resulting in an ability that surprisingly, despite its complexity, works. Interesting here: Quite a few of abilities thus passively extend to the gang - basically, we get a bunch of always on buffs that scale, including being able to act in the surprise round, using skills untrained if the kingpin knows them and nasty flanking/teamwork tricks - and yes, collective Stealth and actually useful teamwork-feat dispersal is part of the deal.


Okay, where things become "ALERT LEVEL 11" is with the 7th level deed, coax self - the kingpin can take a standard action as an immediate action...which is pretty damn brutal. While the high minimum level means that dipping access doesn't work and while the sidebar talks about spellcasting restriction and while the ability's costs cannot be mitigated by any means - action economy-tricks tend to end up very strong. At 11th level, the kingpin can coax an ally as a standard action for 2 points of cunning, allowing said ally to take a standard action as an immediate action - the swift/immediate duality may prevent in cases like this that the ally can spam quickened spells, but the power of these abilities is still significant and warranted playtesting...more on that later. EDIT: Here either I misread something in my original review or read an old file; not sure. Thankfully, the problem was only a nitpick that did not influence the final verdict. Still, in the spirit of full disclosure of my botches, these lines acknowledging my oversight will remain.


Sharing skills, free charging through occupied squares and a true mastery of skills complete the array of deeds alongside double rolls on skills and the like. 1st, 5th and 13th level provide teamwork feats, 2nd, 9th and 17th bonus feats...and here, I should mention something: The kingpin also gets skill tricks at second level and every 2 levels thereafter, covering a diverse array, usually up to 2 per skill. When the bonus feats are used to take teamwork feats, the kingpin gets a bonus skill trick - nice way to reward the player for playing the character in the intent of its chassis.


The class comes with favored class options of a varied and diverse (and balanced) spectrum for the core races and a significant array of the cool races of Porphyra. The pdf also provides multiple archetypes for the kingpin, the first of which would be the Innovator, the magic item/crafter kingpin - who is, alas, very problematic: The archetype can utilize cunning to prevent the expenditure of charges or one-use-items like scrolls. While the archetype has a caveat for items beyond his power (which require a difficult skill check), the problem is that the easily recharged cunning cna be used to power basically a nigh-infinite source of healing and similar limited items, rendering the ability problematic in the long run regarding WBL-assumptions. Granted, this is not something that will break all campaigns and it can be handled...but it can result in some awkwardness. Other than that, I enjoyed this one.


The second archetype would be the Mascot, who utilizes Charisma for his cunning pool and receives the option to use comedy for distraction, generating a fascination-effect. The mascot also gets better defenses when unencumbered and not wearing armor and may, at higher levels, have allies reroll botched saves - pretty neat! The final archetype would be the Weisenheimer, who can similarly smart-aleck gullible fools with endless discussions of circular logic - though said ability should probably be language-based. At 7th level, these guys can utter dire mutterings that result in targets being "Scared" - which is not a proper condition. Panicked? Cowering? Frightened? What is it? Similarly, the fluff-wise cool rumor of doom, which sabotages efficient work requires a properly codified rules-repercussion to supplement its cool fluff and narrative potential. A cool archetype, but one that work only on a story-basis, which is a pity.


The pdf also provides a new magic item to grant a skill trick and 3 good feat-choices for kingpins as well as Gretta Schwartzhund (CR 10), Billy Kitbasher (CR 6), Kaptin Big-Snout Chrika (CR 4) and Qofyr Eirnan (CR 8) - sample NPC-builds with races ranging from Urisk to kobold and half-elf, covering the archetypes.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good, both on a formal and a rules-level - though, among the archetypes, there is somewhat of a dip to be noticed from a previously top-notch presentation of the base class. The pdf adheres to Purple Duck Games' printer-friendly two-column full-color standard and sports unobtrusive hyperlinks and comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


The Kingpin was an honest surprise for me - I did not expect too much from a pdf from author Angel R. Miranda, never having had to review one before....though developer Carl Cramér certainly has had quite a lot of his works covered. Suffice to say, I am positively surprised - the kingpin can basically be summed up as a class that does exactly what its name implies - coordinate others, being smart. The rewards for cunning and the emphasis on rewarding smart roleplay over direct combat optimization are truly interesting and a design-paradigm I very much enjoy. Furthermore, the ease in which teamwork-feats etc. can be granted to allies and the always on buffs mean that this class works pretty well for new players or those who don't want to read hundreds of books to make an efficient character. Finally, the significant array of last-second-save abilities for allies and the coaxing of options can make some frightening combos in the hands of smart players.


I said, I'd come back to that. Basically, coaxing actions set off ALL my alarm-bells in overdrive mode; Testing the class, their unmitigated costs (the second coax lack the no-reduction-caveat) actually render the class drumroll balanced in just about every context...as long as you bear one crucial thing in mind: Control those cunning points. If you do dish them out for natural 20s on skill-checks in every situation, these ones will be abused to hell; if you heed my advice and only sparingly use them...well, then, let's make that clear, then the kingpin is pretty much an awesome, rewarding class.


So much so, that, were it not for the hiccups in the archetypes and aforementioned no-restriction-clause missing...I'd quite frankly slap 5 stars + seal of approval on this book, mainly because it captures pretty well the playing experience of a kingpin mastermind and does so with a bit of rules-innovation to boot...sans breaking the balance. In spite of its minor flaws, I will hence settle on a final verdict of 4 stars and a recommendation to check this out at the low asking price - good job, everyone!


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Kingpin
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Hunter Archetypes
Publisher: Flaming Crab Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/15/2016 06:24:56

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This little pdf clocks in at 9 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 3 pages of SRD, leaving us with 4 pages of content, so let's take a look!


Sans much fanfare, we are introduced right away to the first archetype for the hunter class, the Big Game Hunter: Instead of precise companion, these guys get a scaling AC-and Ref-save bonus versus creatures one or more size categories bigger. Instead of teamwork feats at 3rd, 9th and 15th level, the archetype receives bonus damage (first +1d6, later +1d6 per step in aforementioned progression) versus creatures two or more size categories larger. Starting at 8th level, the hunter can grow the animal companion to huge size, lasting 1 minute per level; if the companion is dead, the hunter can become huge. This is problematic in various ways: A) Enlarge Person usually has a limit for a reason - growing to huge is pretty much insane. Progression of natural attack damage and the like to this size is pretty uncommon, so a little chart and help would be appreciated - while my group can handle the like on the fly, I guarantee that less-experienced groups have the game grind to a halt here. Now the companion is ultimately still a pretty limited being, so matter how good it is - but the hunter's self-grow-trick...is insane and begs to be abused like crazy. On a nitpicky side, the spell mentioned is not properly italicized. 10th level nets evasion and bonuses while close to one another. Odd archetype that begins cool and then gets a game-changer/issue-hoard.


Harmony Enforcers need to be true neutral and may detect alignment. They replace wild empathy and teamwork feats gained at 6th, 12th and 18th levels with the option to smite creatures that have no neutral in their alignment-axis - i.e. chaotic good and evil and lawful good and evil. At 10th level, the companion gets the counterpoised template instead of raise animal companion and at 17th level, the archetype may immediately reincarnate foes slain via the smite, shifting the creature one step towards neutrality. This may only be used once a week and lacks a CL-information, should be SP, not SU, lacks italicization of the spell and has no duration - reincarnate usually takes 10 minutes and costly materials to cast, with the formed body taking 1 hour to form - yet the ability says "choose to immediately reincarnate his victim as the reincarnate spell." - does this mean instantaneously? I'm a bit confused here. Other than this guffaw, a long overdue champion of neutrality-type of archetype I liked.


The Nature Herald's second column is 2/3rds blank space, which is a bit annoying regarding paper-management if you're like me and print these out. The archetype receives Cha-based spellcasting and replaces teamwork feats with 3+ Cha-mod Summon Nature's Allies as SPs, scaling logically and well-balanced with the levels and even sporting an anti-creature-SPAM-caveat - kudos here! Animal focus is modified to apply at half potency to allies via a chant and may be maintained for 3+Cha-mod rounds, +1 at 2nd level and every level thereafter, counting as a surrogate bardic performance for prereq-purposes, managing to include the audible component - and no, does not require a shared language...obviously. While this one is powerful, it is also a pretty unique take on a kind-of-bardic hunter I do enjoy.


The Poacher, then, would be the less scrupulous hunter, gaining a massive, well-balanced alternate array of animal foci, poison use and ranger traps in lieu of precise companion and teamwork feats, later learning to quickly lay these traps AND lace them with poison. Nice one - complex, difficult to craft and tinker with focus-list - no complaints!


Finally, the Tandem Raptor gets an avian companion and thus, obviously, a wide array of avian foci, once again providing a diverse and detailed array of options that run the gamut from skill-bonuses to dodge-bonuses to AC and attribute-enhancers, once again showing a solid grasp for values. Instead of swift tracker, dealing damage to a foe makes the target easier to hit for the avian companion and as a capstone, this is escalated to counting as flat-footed for a pretty neat hawker-style archetype.


Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are pretty good - at this point Flaming Crab Games's first experiences obviously did bear fruit - there are less problematic components, though the lack of italicization bother me. The 2-column layout sports a brown border and some archetypes sport unnecessary blank spaces at their end - not a fan of that. I do like the bookmarks provided in spite of the brevity, though.


C.J. Withers' Hunter Archetypes are a solid offering with some minor hiccups - but that should not necessarily deter one: The work-intense foci-lists and some truly nice concepts render this, if not a perfect, then at least a worthwhile little pdf - translating to a final verdict of 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Hunter Archetypes
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