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The Stealth Scale
Publisher: Straight Path Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/15/2018 05:35:30

An Endzeitgeist.com review of the revised edition

This optional subsystem clocks in at 9 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page company logo, leaving us with 5 pages of content. The screen-version optimized for tablets instead clocks in at 15 pages, laid out in landscape format, and sports the same content.

This review is based on the revised and improved version of the pdf.

All right, so what is the Stealth Scale? If you’re like me and adore infiltration scenarios, you’ll have noted that Stealth can become pretty rolling-intense; The Stealth Scale proposes the following: Each character being stealthy tracks the position of the foes on the Stealth Scale – all of them, at once, with one token.

When using the Stealth Scale, it is assumed that creatures use two dominant senses to track creatures: Sight and hearing. These are the Basic Senses.

Keen Senses include darkvision, greensight, mistsight, low-light vision and see in darkness as well as spells like see invisibility.

Advanced Senses include blindsight, blindsense, lifesense, tremorsense, scent, thoughtsense and x-ray vision.

A huge improvement of the engine is the introduction of the masked conditions –basically, impaired creatures no longer necessarily drag down their groups and instead are treated as masked until the condition has been resolved. More on that later, but it is a game-changer of an improvement. Masks may pertain to either hearing, sight or other senses.

The Stealth Scale knows a total of 5 different states, which are summarized on a handy cheat-sheet that can now be found on the final page – now actually also listing mechanical benefits! This makes the cheat-sheet actually useful to have, so yeah, kudos.

Full awareness of a creature is called “Paying attention”; then comes “Aware”, which increases the Stealth DC by 5. “Alert” creatures are on guard; Cautious creatures decrease the Stealth DC by 5 and do not add Dex-bonus to AC against the Stealth-using character(s). Finally, Off Guard critters decrease Stealth DC by 10 and don’t add Dex-mod to AC or initiative.

With the Stealth Scale, other creatures are situated at a distinct point between Awareness and Stealth, which constitute, like on a scale, opposite sides of the same value. Increasing one decreases the other. A Stealth check is rolled versus 10 + highest Perception modifier from the observing group + number of creatures in the group + 5 per advanced sense in the group; Alternatively, 5 + CR can be used to calculate DCs; once more, significant improvement, as it makes the DC less metagamey.

The pdf proceeds to explain the most common actions and how they interact movement on the Stealth Scale – the rules are tighter and giving signals and creating distractions (and using them!) now actually are covered: Basically, distractions create temporary masks, which is really elegant.

What are masks? Means to prevent detection. They only apply if they can fool all targets in the opposing group; a character may only benefit from one mask per sense; for each mask successfully used, the maximum level of awareness that may be reached on the Stealth Scale decreases by 1. Temporary masks are more fragile: Whenever the character using them would increase Awareness, the character must make a new skill check against the DC or the temporary mask is lost. Cover and concealment grant temporary masks.

Group Stealth is still handled by designating a Point Man – this character makes the Stealth check on behalf of the group. All other characters are designated as operatives and increase the DC of Stealth checks made by the point man by 2. Actions by all characters may increase Awareness, but only the Point Man may increase Stealth. Rejoining groups that temporarily split is btw. covered as well.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting have been significantly improved. Layout adheres to the two-column standard with a few subdued colors. The pdf has no interior artwork, but comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Michael McCarthy proves not only that he cares; his improved version of the Stealth Scale now actually succeeds where the previous iteration failed miserably:

The system is elegant, quick and easy to grasp and the introduction of the mask-concept also nets the GM some tight controls and easy customization angles beyond what is contained herein – specialized masks can theoretically be created to suit individual requirements. Big kudos!

Gone are the hiccups in interaction with Occult Adventures and the cheat-sheet is actually useful as presented. To add a further bonus, the system is less metagamey without compromising the ease with which it can be used. Like day and night, a vast improvement over the original iteration!

I consider this an excellent alternative for the use of Stealth, easy to grasp, less rolling intense…what’s not to like? All things you can still complain about theoretically are direct results of the system-immanent complexity-decrease, and would as such not be fair.

Add to that the low and fair price point and we have a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval for the revised version of the Stealth Scale. Kudos indeed!!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Stealth Scale
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Everyman Minis: Cleric Options
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/15/2018 05:33:44

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Everyman Minis-series clocks in at 9 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 2.5 pages of SRD, leaving us with 3.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

In a sidebar on the introductory page, we are introduced to the feat Domain Flexibility (minor complain: Benefits and Prerequisites sub-headers are not bolded properly). This feat allows you to choose to gain the powers of a subdomain of your chosen domain, or the domain powers associated with your chosen subdomain when preparing spells: You can basically switch them, depending on your needs, but only within one domain/subdomain micro-tree – so no switching between subdomains granted by different domains. Similarly, the feat has a caveat that prevents the switching out of locked domain powers. Kudos. A bit of flexibility, but not so much that it’d become problematic. Also: Kudos for not stumbling in the rules-language here!

The main meat of the supplement is devoted to a total of three new cleric archetypes, the first of which would be the Bloodseeker. These fellows are locked into the War domain or Blood subdomain and deities worshiped must grant access to the War domain. They get diminished spellcasting for non-domain spells and may use the War domain’s battle rage on herself; this nets the bloodseeker a +2 untyped bonus on atk-rolls and +1/2 cleric level, minimum 1, as a bonus to weapon damage rolls, but only with the deity’s favored weapon. Bonuses are properly classified as sacred/profane, depending on alignment. This rage lasts for 1 + Cha-mod rounds and replaces the first channel energy.

At 3rd level, 5th level and every 2 levels thereafter, the bloodseeker gains a rage power, which may only be used while under the effects of the battle rage. Before you ask: No, you can’t cheese this: Barbarian rage powers and those granted by the archetype may not be used interchangeably. Totem rage powers must correspond thematically to the domains available to the deity, which provides a helpful thematic consistency. This ability replaces later channel energy gains. At 4th level, the archetype can Quick Draw the deity’s favored weapon and gains a +2 bonus to critical hit confirmation rolls with it. Additionally, the archetype is treated as fighter levels for the purpose of feat-prerequisites. At 8th level, when dealing damage to a target with the deity’s favored weapon, the character may, as a swift action, sacrifice a prepared cleric spell of 1st level or higher, choosing one so-called injury, which lasts for a number of rounds equal to the spell’s level. These injuries basically represent debuffs: Penalty to AC or atk that are more severe versus the bloodseeker, bleed damage based on spell level, etc. Cool: Interaction with mundane and magical healing is properly covered.

The second archetype herein would be the Flame Warden, who gains proficiency with light armor and simple weapons and the deity’s favored weapon instead of the standard list. They also only get one domain, which must be the Fire domain, not its subdomains. These fellows channel fire via Elemental Channel (fire) and may only heal creatures of the fire subtype; channeling to harm may actually be used to either deal fire damage to all creatures without the subtype, or harm creatures with it. At 4th level, the archetype can shape the channeled energy into 30 ft.-cones or 120 ft.-lines. Cool: Ability mentions the effects of holy vindicator’s versatile channel and the synergy of abilities. At 8th level, the flame warden may expend 2 uses to make half that damage directly divine damage (analogue to e.g. flame strike); the ability may be used in conjunction with Quick Channel for 3 uses of the ability instead.

Additionally, first level nets the fire bolt ability, which may be used in melee as a touch attack or as a ranged attack with a range of 30 ft. It inflicts 1d6 + Cha-mod fire damage, +1 1 for every 4 cleric levels you possess. They are treated as one-handed, light weapons and may be dual wielded. Weapon Focus (ray) doesn’t apply, but fire bolts qualify on their own as a candidate for Weapon Focus, applying the benefits of the feat to both melee and ranged use. Basically, we have a massive tweak of the default ability here. Additionally, flame wardens may choose to lose prepared spells to spontaneously cast fire elementalist spells as divine spells.

The third archetype would be the Spellkeeper, who is proficient with simple weapons and light armor as well as the deity’s favored weapon. The archetype suffers from arcane spell failure when wearing armor or shields not covered by these proficiencies. The spellkeeper is locked into the Magic domain and gains arcane bond at 1st level, though she may not choose familiar as an option and, if weapon is chosen, must choose the favored weapon of her deity. The archetype gains the arcanist’s arcane reservoir, with levels stacking with other arcane reservoir-granting classes, if any. The archetype may lose prepared spells other than orisons to cast spontaneously any spell both on sorcerer/wizard list and cleric list (which may require a bit of list-making); this includes domain spells and replaces spontaneous casting.

At 3rd level and every 2 levels thereafter, the spellkeeper gains an arcane gift, which can be arcanist exploits, prerequisite-less Arcane Strike for use in conjunction with her spells, the option to also spontaneously convert prepared spells into spells on sorc/wiz-list, but NOT on the cleric list (which eliminates the one restriction there) – but thankfully, the spell must at least be one level lower than the lost spell and requires Spell Focus with the spell’s chosen school, preventing full-blown abuse there. Mystic recall and spellstrike may also be found here. This archetype is really potent - basically a graft of magus and arcanist atop the cleric-chassis…and it does work, even though it probably is only suitable for the more high-powered campaigns, courtesy of the extreme flexibility granted by the wildcard-y spell-selection.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no rules-relevant problems in spite of the complexity of the material offered. Layout adheres to Everyman Gaming’s two-column b/w-standard and the full-color artwork is nice. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Alexander Augunas’ cleric options are executed with the precision we have come to expect from him; the focus here lies on the tweaking of the cleric’s engine to account for options reminiscent of hybrids, but without full-blown escalation. The three archetypes are per se well-crafted and fit pretty precise niches, with the bloodseeker perhaps having the most universal appeal; the flame warden is pretty specific and the spellkeeper is rather strong for my tastes, courtesy of its massive flexibility. That being said, the material is well-executed and worth taking a look at. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Everyman Minis: Cleric Options
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The Manor, Issue #3
Publisher: GM Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/15/2018 05:32:28

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The third installment of the OSR-zine „The Manor“ clocks in at 32 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page back cover/advertisement, leaving us with 29 pages, which are laid out for an A5 (6’’ by 9’’)-standard, which means you may be able to fit up to 4 pages on a sheet of paper when printing this one out.

The pdf is an evolution in comparison to the previous installments of the magazine, in that it subscribes to specific systems.

First of all, the pdf does contain a new class for Blood and Treasure, the Monster Hunter devoted to Adzeer, God of the Hunt. The class has requirements of Strength and Wisdom of 13 or higher and use the multi-class experience table. The class is allowed to use both all weapons and armor. Skill-wise, we get Climb, Hide, Move Silently, Survival, Tracking, Riding, Decipher Script, and the class gets d8 HD (11th and 12th level yield +3 hp instead) as well as ¾ atk-progression; Fort and Will-saves scale from 13 to 7 and Ref-saves from 15 to 10. The class gets spellcasting progression of up to 7th level, gaining access to BOTH magic-user and cleric spell-lists. The class is a prepared spellcaster until reaching 10th level, at which point the class may cast spells spontaneously. We get a proper spell-list for our convenience.

The class must complete 3 trials: Trial number 1 must be undertaken at 3rd level to progress to 4th: The character’s Perceptor designates a hunting target; upon slaying the beast, the monster hunter must spend 250 gp to enter the 2nd circle. Completion nets a unique armor or weapon that will increase in strength as the character does. Okay, how?

In order to reach 7th level, the monster hunter must choose a target creature and then collect a hunting party (do adventuring companions qualify? How much does it have to be?) and hunt a creature – this is not further defined, which is a bit weird. Also weird: The hunter gets to choose the target creature. The second boon is that the character gets to choose a ranger’s sworn enemy, inflicting double damage against the chosen creature type as well as gaining +3 to atk.

The third trial must be undertaken at the end of 9th level: The character must convert 3d4 targets to Adzeer’s worship (do adventuring companions qualify?) and establish a new temple at 10K sp cost – the benefit here is that the character gets to either become a teacher or continue adventuring…which is kinda lame.

The final ability of the class would be stun monster: A stunning attempt can be made instead of an attack or casting a spell and works akin to turn undead etc. – we get a table. However, all creatures within line of sight of the holy symbol are stunned. The stun lasts a whopping 3d6 rounds and targets drop items or weaponry held and the hunter gains tactical advantage against the targets. Stun Monster works against aberrations, dragons, giants, magical beasts, monstrous humanoids, outsiders and undead. The monster hunter may use this 1/day per level attained. Soooo, potentially really long-range AoE stun. That is really potent, and yes, auto-succeed and destruction are possible at higher levels.

All in all, the class is pretty damn potent in comparison with similar old-school classes; the stun-locking can be rather nova-like and I’m not the biggest fan of the execution here.

Beyond this class, we also are introduced to another installment of the vendor-depicting series of the e-zine, and this time around, we get to know Pog-Nog the goblin, and his cart. The goblin is the survivor/exile of his tribe, one known for omens…and when he pronounced doom for his fellows, he was exiled, becoming a sort of peddling Cassandra – after all, who’d listen to a goblin? The fact that he’s a goblin makes him a good candidate for an in-dungeon vendor, and his foresight as well as the fact that he attempts to prevent some catastrophes can make him for a great ally/recurring character. The entry is system-agnostic and doesn’t provide stats, but we do get some nice adventure-hooks.

The lion’s share of the magazine, though, is taken up by the module “Mine of Rot and Disease”, intended for low level (level 1 -3) characters. The adventure employs the Swords & Wizardry rules and takes place in the village of Aberton. The map for the primary adventure locale, the eponymous mines, is provided in nice b/w, though we do not get a player-friendly version of the map. A huge improvement over the previous installments of the magazine would be that the characters herein come with REALLY detailed write-ups: You see, the local NPCs, with their own dynamics, come as basically one-page characters with everything notes, including spells and items, though formatting of both deviates from the conventions. The characters range in levels from 1 to 3 and they can act as stand-in pregens, should you choose to run the module as a one-shot.

The pdf does include a Black Dragon-themed Haiku. Nice!

All right, this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around. Things turned sour when the villagers of Aberton noticed straggling figures – defeating them, they noticed that undead had risen…and when they tracked the living dead to their source, that was the old coal mine. Opting for the ole’ “Rocks fall”-trick, Obadiah, the village elder decided to collapse the mine. A few days later, Dowser Creek started to turn icky; it turned yellow and any exposed to it were struck by the Sickness. Folks had sent for help from Ambrose Abbey, but neither it, nor the messengers returned – thus, it’ll be up to the PCs to venture into the mine and fix the tainted river…if they don’t, the village will lose the harvest and face starvation.

An array of adventure hooks have been provided and so are random encounter-suggestions. In order to enter the mine, the PCs will have to survive the nearby undead – and then dig free the entrance. It is then that the weirdest design-decision can be found, one that can wrack the fun of the otherwise nice module. You see, the mine REEKS. As in save or barf, reeking and penalty. EW. However, on a really botched save, at failure of 5 or more, means that the PC can’t enter the mine. I’m totally in favor of degrees of success or failure as a design paradigm, but locking out a character of entry? That just sucks. Statistically, it’s likely that one of the PCs is locked out of the mine for a day before getting the chance to retry – and the module has a timer, with harvest impending, so it’d make sense for the PCs to enter with the character who failed the save sitting outside, twiddling his/her thumbs. That is not cool.

The mine itself is pretty interesting, providing flavorful locations, undead and a desperate goblin tribe, dwindled in numbers from being caught inside the mine with the undead….and they actually are potentially (if no PC is a dwarf or gnome) willing to negotiate their release. Beyond that, the PCs will soon find the culprit, a priest to a dark god who stuffed an otyugh carcass into the water. In order to save the village, the PCs will have to best the undead, the dark cleric (whoc comes with an evil, magic lantern), and then clear the disgusting filth from the disease-ridden spring. The pdf sports, btw., nice b/w-artworks, hand-drawn.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are significantly improved: The proofreaders did a good job on a formal level. Rules-formatting could be a bit tighter. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly 1-column standard and the pdf comes with hand-drawn artworks in the same style as the cover, which catches the old-school vibe. The map is surprisingly nice, but we don’t get a player-friendly version. The pdf does not have any bookmarks, which constitutes a comfort-detriment.

Tim Shorts knows how to write great characters and he gets the old-school vibe; I very much welcome the focus on actually adhering to proper rules-sets, as this renders the material more precise. The presentation of the villagers in detail is really neat and the hooks are similarly pretty fun. That being said, the new class did not blow me away and the puzzling decision in the module that may see the PCs stalled before the dungeon for days on end if one of the PCs is unlucky….really sucks. It’s not enough to sink the detailed and fun set-up, but it is a detriment to the strongest aspect of the pdf. That being said, the low price does make this worth checking out if you’re looking for an unpretentious old-school module/sidetrek. If a well-executed take on the classic low-level undead-themed dungeon does not seem interesting to you, you may want to skip this one, but if that’s what you’re looking for, then take a look. When all’s said and done, I consider this to be a mixed bag, slightly on the positive side. While the editing and formatting re a definite improvement and while the quality is more consistent herein than in #2, the module is slightly less amazing than Hugo’s in #2. Hence, while overall a stronger issue, I still feel I can’t go higher than 3.5 stars for this one, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
The Manor, Issue #3
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Village Backdrop: Needlebriar
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/14/2018 05:24:23

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of Raging Swan Press‘ Village Backdrop-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Needlebriar is an isolated community, situated in a remote region of a duchy; it is also, in a nice change of pace, a Halfling community. The village takes its name from the rows upon rows of thorny hedgerows that can be found in and around the place, providing a natural series of borders. The red flowers of the hedgerow, as some claim, bloom in this vibrant a color due to the local custom of folks burying their dead beneath them. This rumor, though, is incorrect – like a full half of the rumors circulating around, for a veil of secrecy suffuses the place: The climate is warm and humid, with most Halflings walking through the settlement in heavy cloaks, which may raise a few eyebrows.

The supplement, as always, does sport the classic components we’ve come to expect from Village Backdrops – i.e., we get notes on the nomenclature of the locals, their dressing habits, etc. As always, we get rewards for PCs that do the legwork: Village lore may be unearthed and, as noted before, we do get a couple of whispers and rumors. However, in this pdf, we can see the fruits of Raging Swan Press’ patreon support in a rather impressive manner: For one, we do get write-ups for no less than 6 different NPCs. The write-ups do contain e.g. notes on gender and the suggested class levels for the characters; the write-ups are fluff-centric and as well-crafted as we’d expect from John Bennett.

Now, the PFRPG-version of the village obviously comes with notes for a settlement statblock, but a glimpse at where usually we’d expect the marketplace-section, we instead get an evolution of the formula: We still have the general marketplace section, but move one step beyond. You see, while it’s not new to see sample notes for costs of taverns and food/etc. to be included in village backdrops, we now have the individual locations sport the notes for specific services and items. This is surprisingly convenient: Instead of a more or less abstract marketplace, the services and goods are allocated to the places where they can actually be purchased. However, there is more going on: John Bennett, back in the day, introduced a serious array of dressing to a couple of his older settlements, vastly increasing the flavor or the places. Needlebriar does sport a pretty impressive list: A table of no less than 20 entries can be used by the GM to really amp up the tension and unique flavor of the place.

Unusually humid days may see dogs panting loudly…and some of these dressing/entry-sections can be used as events to jumpstart the action…there is, for example, one entry where a badly mauled, bloodied man is running down the streets…so yeah, there is a sinister angle to the village, but I am NOT going to spoil it…or the reason for the strange twitches that seem to plague a lot of folks from the local population. Beyond these, we get a great b/w-picture of the settlement and notes on the surrounding area, allowing the GM to better situate the village within the individual campaign setting. Another improvement over the classic formula of the Village Backdrop formula would pertain the respective entries for the locations of interest: Instead of having a single 6-entry event table, we have individualized event tables for the respective locations (under the “What’s going on?”-headers), which adds a further level of customization to the settlement. Beyond these specialized events, there is a further level of convenience added to the pdf. The respective entries have adventure/sub-quest-hooks added: For example, on Thorn Island, we have a druidic lore angle that may be very important if you choose it to be – for the strange proceedings in the place have something to do with Hunger Devours Moon. What is that? What is truly going on in Needlebriar and its weird Halflings? Well, I could spoil the angle, but frankly, that’d be a disservice to the great supplement. It was actually a hard decision on whether or not to mention the name, but frankly, it is too good an example for the quality of the inspiring prose herein. And better yet, the respective events can actually sport rules-relevant components.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no serious hiccups. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant two-column b/w-standard. The original b/w-artworks are impressive and the cartography of the place is excellent and in b/w. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. As always, we get the pdf in two versions: One optimized for screen-use and one optimized for the printer.

John Bennett is an impressive author. I have yet to be disappointed by his supplements, and Needblebriar is no different: The changes to the formula of the Village Backdrop-series are great and actually further improve it, enhancing the immediate usefulness for the GM. Beyond the excellent prose, the village excels at immediate usability: Simply dropping the PCs into the village will be enough to provide adventuring opportunities for at least a session or two.

The individualized events and dressing-tables allow you to use this village as a go-play supplement. This works perfect without any kind of preparation: You can conceivably just whip this out and read the read-aloud text for the individual locations and the pdf itself as you go and have a great time. The central angle of the village is interesting and the extensive dressing, events and hooks make this basically a free-form sandbox in disguise.

Yes, you can use this as a backdrop, but it is strong enough to work as an adventure on its own as well. While the leitmotif is not necessarily new, the prose elevates it in its evocative execution; the added convenience and focus on usefulness at the table further add to the value of this pdf. Needlebriar is a phenomenal supplement, even in the context of the Village Backdrop-series and the insane quality-level the series has established. A fantastic village, well worth 5 stars + seal of approval – if you’re looking for a great environment to explore, this delivers in spades.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Needlebriar
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Creator Reply:
Thank you, End! I'm delighted you enjoyed Needlebriar so much!
Village Backdrop: Needlebriar (SNE)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/14/2018 05:22:23

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of Raging Swan Press‘ Village Backdrop-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Needlebriar is an isolated community, situated in a remote region of a duchy; it is also, in a nice change of pace, a Halfling community. The village takes its name from the rows upon rows of thorny hedgerows that can be found in and around the place, providing a natural series of borders. The red flowers of the hedgerow, as some claim, bloom in this vibrant a color due to the local custom of folks burying their dead beneath them. This rumor, though, is incorrect – like a full half of the rumors circulating around, for a veil of secrecy suffuses the place: The climate is warm and humid, with most Halflings walking through the settlement in heavy cloaks, which may raise a few eyebrows.

The supplement, as always, does sport the classic components we’ve come to expect from Village Backdrops – i.e., we get notes on the nomenclature of the locals, their dressing habits, etc. As always, we get rewards for PCs that do the legwork: Village lore may be unearthed and, as noted before, we do get a couple of whispers and rumors. However, in this pdf, we can see the fruits of Raging Swan Press’ patreon support in a rather impressive manner: For one, we do get write-ups for no less than 6 different NPCs. The write-ups do contain e.g. notes on gender and the suggested class levels for the characters; the write-ups are fluff-centric and as well-crafted as we’d expect from John Bennett.

Now, the system neutral version of the village obviously puts much of the research in the hands of the referee, but a glimpse at where usually we’d expect the marketplace-section, we instead get an evolution of the formula: You see, while it’s not new to see sample notes for costs of taverns and food/etc. to be included in village backdrops, we now have the individual locations sport the notes for specific services and items. This is surprisingly convenient: Instead of a more or less abstract marketplace, the services and goods are allocated to the places where they can actually be purchased. The items have been properly adjusted to refer to old-school classics. References to classes note thieves, but, since some of my readers want to know the like, the pdf refers to wizards and druids, not magic-users.

However, there is more going on: John Bennett, back in the day, introduced a serious array of dressing to a couple of his older settlements, vastly increasing the flavor or the places. Needlebriar does sport a pretty impressive list: A table of no less than 20 entries can be used by the GM to really amp up the tension and unique flavor of the place.

Unusually humid days may see dogs panting loudly…and some of these dressing/entry-sections can be used as events to jumpstart the action…there is, for example, one entry where a badly mauled, bloodied man is running down the streets…so yeah, there is a sinister angle to the village, but I am NOT going to spoil it…or the reason for the strange twitches that seem to plague a lot of folks from the local population. Beyond these, we get a great b/w-picture of the settlement and notes on the surrounding area, allowing the GM to better situate the village within the individual campaign setting. Another improvement over the classic formula of the Village Backdrop formula would pertain the respective entries for the locations of interest: Instead of having a single 6-entry event table, we have individualized event tables for the respective locations (under the “What’s going on?”-headers), which adds a further level of customization to the settlement. Like the 5e-version, the system neutral version unfortunately sports a minor conversion-relic from PFRPG in one of the entries, where the save and condition should be modified.

Beyond these specialized events, there is a further level of convenience added to the pdf. The respective entries have adventure/sub-quest-hooks added: For example, on Thorn Island, we have a druidic lore angle that may be very important if you choose it to be – for the strange proceedings in the place have something to do with Hunger Devours Moon. What is that? What is truly going on in Needlebriar and its weird Halflings? Well, I could spoil the angle, but frankly, that’d be a disservice to the great supplement. It was actually a hard decision on whether or not to mention the name, but frankly, it is too good an example for the quality of the inspiring prose herein.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no serious hiccups apart from the conversion relic. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant two-column b/w-standard. The original b/w-artworks are impressive and the cartography of the place is excellent and in b/w. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. As always, we get the pdf in two versions: One optimized for screen-use and one optimized for the printer.

John Bennett is an impressive author. I have yet to be disappointed by his supplements, and Needblebriar is no different: The changes to the formula of the Village Backdrop-series are great and actually further improve it, enhancing the immediate usefulness for the referee. Beyond the excellent prose, the village excels at immediate usability: Simply dropping the PCs into the village will be enough to provide adventuring opportunities for at least a session or two.

The individualized events and dressing-tables allow you to use this village as a go-play supplement. This works perfect without any kind of preparation: You can conceivably just whip this out and read the read-aloud text for the individual locations and the pdf itself as you go and have a great time. The central angle of the village is interesting and the extensive dressing, events and hooks make this basically a free-form sandbox in disguise.

Yes, you can use this as a backdrop, but it is strong enough to work as an adventure on its own as well. While the leitmotif is not necessarily new, the prose elevates it in its evocative execution; the added convenience and focus on usefulness at the table further add to the value of this pdf. Needlebriar is a phenomenal supplement, even in the context of the Village Backdrop-series and the insane quality-level the series has established. In spite of the minor conversion relic, this is simply a fantastic village, well worth 5 stars + seal of approval – if you’re looking for a great environment to explore, this delivers in spades.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Needlebriar (SNE)
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Village Backdrop: Needlebriar (5e)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/14/2018 05:19:32

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of Raging Swan Press‘ Village Backdrop-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Needlebriar is an isolated community, situated in a remote region of a duchy; it is also, in a nice change of pace, a Halfling community. The village takes its name from the rows upon rows of thorny hedgerows that can be found in and around the place, providing a natural series of borders. The red flowers of the hedgerow, as some claim, bloom in this vibrant a color due to the local custom of folks burying their dead beneath them. This rumor, though, is incorrect – like a full half of the rumors circulating around, for a veil of secrecy suffuses the place: The climate is warm and humid, with most Halflings walking through the settlement in heavy cloaks, which may raise a few eyebrows.

The supplement, as always, does sport the classic components we’ve come to expect from Village Backdrops – i.e., we get notes on the nomenclature of the locals, their dressing habits, etc. As always, we get rewards for PCs that do the legwork: Village lore may be unearthed and, as noted before, we do get a couple of whispers and rumors. However, in this pdf, we can see the fruits of Raging Swan Press’ patreon support in a rather impressive manner: For one, we do get write-ups for no less than 6 different NPCs, which have btw. been properly assigned 5e-stats from the default NPC-roster, where applicable. The write-ups do contain e.g. notes on gender and the suggested class levels for the characters; the write-ups are fluff-centric and as well-crafted as we’d expect from John Bennett.

Now, where we’d expect the marketplace-section, we instead get an evolution of the formula: We still have the general marketplace section, but move one step beyond. You see, while it’s not new to see sample notes for costs of taverns and food/etc. to be included in village backdrops, we now have the individual locations sport the notes for specific services and items, which have been properly converted to 5e. This is surprisingly convenient: Instead of a more or less abstract marketplace, the services and goods are allocated to the places where they can actually be purchased. However, there is more going on: John Bennett, back in the day, introduced a serious array of dressing to a couple of his older settlements, vastly increasing the flavor or the places. Needlebriar does sport a pretty impressive list: A table of no less than 20 entries can be used by the GM to really amp up the tension and unique flavor of the place.

Unusually humid days may see dogs panting loudly…and some of these dressing/entry-sections can be used as events to jumpstart the action…there is, for example, one entry where a badly mauled, bloodied man is running down the streets…so yeah, there is a sinister angle to the village, but I am NOT going to spoil it…or the reason for the strange twitches that seem to plague a lot of folks from the local population. Beyond these, we get a great b/w-picture of the settlement and notes on the surrounding area, allowing the GM to better situate the village within the individual campaign setting. Another improvement over the classic formula of the Village Backdrop formula would pertain the respective entries for the locations of interest: Instead of having a single 6-entry event table, we have individualized event tables for the respective locations (under the “What’s going on?”-headers), which adds a further level of customization to the settlement. As a minor note of complaint: One of the entries for local events still refers to the PFRPG-save – that should be Constitution and the condition should have been changed. So yeah, the respective events can actually sport rules-relevant components.

Beyond these specialized events, there is a further level of convenience added to the pdf. The respective entries have adventure/sub-quest-hooks added: For example, on Thorn Island, we have a druidic lore angle that may be very important if you choose it to be – for the strange proceedings in the place have something to do with Hunger Devours Moon. What is that? What is truly going on in Needlebriar and its weird Halflings? Well, I could spoil the angle, but frankly, that’d be a disservice to the great supplement. It was actually a hard decision on whether or not to mention the name, but frankly, it is too good an example for the quality of the inspiring prose herein.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no serious hiccups apart from the save-conversion-relic. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant two-column b/w-standard. The original b/w-artworks are impressive and the cartography of the place is excellent and in b/w. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. As always, we get the pdf in two versions: One optimized for screen-use and one optimized for the printer.

John Bennett is an impressive author. I have yet to be disappointed by his supplements, and Needblebriar is no different: The changes to the formula of the Village Backdrop-series are great and actually further improve it, enhancing the immediate usefulness for the GM. Beyond the excellent prose, the village excels at immediate usability: Simply dropping the PCs into the village will be enough to provide adventuring opportunities for at least a session or two.

The individualized events and dressing-tables allow you to use this village as a go-play supplement. This works perfect without any kind of preparation: You can conceivably just whip this out and read the read-aloud text for the individual locations and the pdf itself as you go and have a great time. The central angle of the village is interesting and the extensive dressing, events and hooks make this basically a free-form sandbox in disguise.

Yes, you can use this as a backdrop, but it is strong enough to work as an adventure on its own as well. While the leitmotif is not necessarily new, the prose elevates it in its evocative execution; the added convenience and focus on usefulness at the table further add to the value of this pdf. Needlebriar is a phenomenal supplement, even in the context of the Village Backdrop-series and the insane quality-level the series has established. While the conversion relic is slightly annoying, it is not enough to drag down what must be considered to be a great supplement. All in all, this is fantastic village, well worth 5 stars + seal of approval – if you’re looking for a great environment to explore, this delivers in spades.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Needlebriar (5e)
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Creator Reply:
Thank you, End! I'm delighted you enjoyed Needlebriar so much!
Thank you, End! I'm delighted you enjoyed Needlebriar so much!
Mystical: Kingdom of Monsters (Pathfinder)
Publisher: Northwinter Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/14/2018 05:14:58

An Endzeitgeist.com review of the revised edition

This revised edition of Mystical: Kingdom of Monsters clocks in at 206 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 3 pages of ToC, 1 page advertisement, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page credits, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 196 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review is based on the version 11-01, which is the most current one – NOT the one that reads “finished” at the end.

So what is this book? In one sentence: Pokémon for Pathfinder. As such, the book begins with a pretty concise introduction to be then supplemented by easy to grasp fast-play rules. These include the notion of “heart” – which represents a benefit to the monster’s stats based on CR faced. This captures, to an extent, how power-levels of characters in Anime tend to fluctuate with the challenges faced. The result of this rule is that lower level creatures have a higher chance of being capable of contributing in fights against more potent adversaries. Whether you like that or not depends ultimately on your own vision.

Anyways, the main meat, the nexus of this book if you will, would be the new Monster Trainer base class, and it was what provided a lot of the issues of the original version of the book. These guys can see the aura of a monster, which allows them to determine whether they can capture a given monster – this is concisely-presented: The creature can’t have class level, may not be summoned/captured or gained through feat or class ability; the monster’s CR must be equal or less than the monster trainer’s level – that should probably be class level. Creatures sans Intelligence score must btw. be awakened prior to capture.

Mechanics-wise, the monster trainer gets d8 HD, 6+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons, all bows and the whip as well as light armor and they may cast trainer spells while wearing light armor sans spell failure chance. Spells? Yes, and this would be one of the mechanically most interesting features of the class: While monster trainers cast Cha-based arcane spells like a sorceror, of up to 9th spell level. They can only cast spells granted by their active monster and only if the trainer is high enough a level to cast the spell and uses the active monster as a channel of sorts – it is the origin of line of effect and sight. The latter is a bit weird, since RAW, the monster hunter still needs to cast the spell himself and line of sight of monster hunter and active monster are bound to be different.

The class also gets 3/4 BAB-progression and good Ref- and Will-saves. Additionally, each monster trainer may cast the capture monster spell at will and begins play with one monster already caught. This spell is crucial for the functionality of the class, so let me give you the details: It has a casting time of 1 standard action, a close range and targets one monster. The cantrip can be resisted via a Will-save, which is modified in the following manner: Monsters above 1/2 of their hit points receive a +5 bonus, +2 when above one quarter of the monster's hit points and SR, if applicable, applies. AT 9th level, the DC increases by +2 and the monster trainer gains Heightened Spell, but only for use with this cantrip. Weird: What if the monster trainer has the feat? Does the class ability override universal usability of the feat? This needs a bit of clarification. At 13th level, spellcasting is further modified: When resting, the trainer can choose a monster and may cast a spell of the monster from each of the spell levels available as granted by the monster, regardless of active monster. At 17th level, the monster hunter may catch a monster sans saves, SR, etc. – RAW, exactly ONCE. Not once per day or the like, ONCE. Additional levels beyond 17th allow for another use of the ability, but predicated on the release of a previous target.

Starting at 2nd level and every even level thereafter, the monster trainer gets to choose a spell that may now be cast regardless of active monster.

Monsters already captured cannot be captured again (no monster theft) and, as mentioned before, monsters with a CR higher than the monster trainer's class level cannot be caught against their will, though higher CR adversaries may be willingly caught – this is known as accepting a monster into her essence and the duration for the process takes time governed by CR. This works like copying spells, but does not take materials – so, does that include costs? I assume so, but I’m not 100% sure.

From the get-go, this makes me question what the in-game rationale for monsters with class levels not being able to be captured? I'd really need a reason, for if indentured slavery BEYOND DEATH to those pesky humanoids is all they can look forward to, I couldn't imagine a single intelligent monster NOT going for a class level (or, well, suicide if in a pitch…) as soon as possible. Big plus, on the other hand: A sidebar now mentions more powerful creatures (since the CR-system is more precise than HDs, but still not perfect) and templates in particular and explains why the captured monsters do lose templates while captured.

Deploying monsters in combat is, rules-wise, inspired by drawing weapons - you need a move action to call a monster, but do not require the BAB +1 prerequisite to do so. Monsters may be sheathed as a move action; a trainer cannot call upon a monster with a higher CR than monster trainer class levels in combat. This still makes no sense, for combats are a fluid, non-defined time-frame in-game; there ought to be a more salient way of explaining this…and there is. I mean…think of Pokémon and Ash’s issues when attempting to control critters with too high CRs. Why this is not represented here as a limit, I don’t know.

A monster trainer may only control one monster at a given time. A monster does not gain its own actions in combat, instead being directed by the trainer – this uses a telepathic bond with a medium range as the means of conveying orders. Recalling a monster immediately heals it fully and transfers the damage to the monster trainer – though this damage cannot kill the monster trainer, only reduce him to -1 hit points. The action economy of the 0 hp-threshold is covered, which is nice…but this still opens up a problematic question: What prevents monster cycling and infinite healing siphoning exploits? RAW, nothing. Since the monsters that are recalled are fully healed upon being recalled, the monster can soak damage, which is then transferred to the trainer. Trainer keels over. Healer buddy whips out that cure light wounds wand and there we go. The next monster can once more soak damage or have HP transferred to allies; then recall, keel over – presto, we have just upgraded cure light wounds to a better version of frickin’ heal. And yes, with a bit of creativity, you can make this an infinite healing exploit. As soon as level one. Yeah, the class desperately needs a limit regarding the healing of monsters here. This is broken. At 15th level, the monster trainer may recall and redeploy a monster as the same action and may instead assign damage to the new monster, exacerbating the issue.

On the plus-side, the commanding process of the monster per se now works better than it did before. It is important to note that improvement via monster growth has been hard-wired into the progression of the class – much like e.g. Pikachu in the series, favorite monsters thus retain their significance at higher levels.

First level yields Eschew Materials and the aura of a trainer is harder to discern. 2nd level yields favored enemy +2 against all monster types she has captured…which is unnecessarily gameable and favors diversified trainers over specialists. Why not make the number of types to which the bonus applies contingent on class level, with higher levels unlocking new ones and player agenda to select the switch? This is particularly relevant, since 3rd level unlocks empathy, which means that creatures that qualify for favored enemy also increase their starting attitude, with influence as a 1d20 + class level + Charisma modifier check that takes one minute. RAW, this stacks with the hard cap of Diplomacy, though that may or may not be intended.

Yes, 5th level grants the ability to share some senses between monster and trainer – the ability has been cleaned up. At 10th level, the trainer gets 3 + Cha-mod uses of charm monster as a SP, but only while no active monster is in play. The capstone nets 3/day shapechange into a fully grown monster – RAW, it’s Su, when SP would make a bit more sense here.

4th level unlocks the talents of the class, trainer perks. The ability RAW does not state when additional perks are unlocked – you’ll have to consult the class table for that. These include making a monster gain the benefits of animal companion at -3 levels; swift action boosts for the monster, having monsters manifest within 30 ft., natural armor sharing, etc. and the class can choose both evasion and its improved benefit and, at higher levels, stalwart. While the perks sport a few cosmetic hiccups, the list is significantly improved.

Speaking of improvements: While capture monster still does not note interaction with temporary hit points, we actually can catch monsters in downtime now, which is a definite plus. As a whole, I consider the monster trainer to be still stronger than most Pathfinder-classes, but the revision at least makes the base chassis work. The class can potentially be cheesed in some ways, but the improvement is significant and palpable.

A total of 6 archetypes are provided - the monster auror cannot channel spells through his monsters.

is broken as hell: When subject to a spell by a monster, he automatically learns it and even when not, he can learn a creature's spell, even ones that are not on his list – sure, usable only 3 + Cha-mod times per day, but…boy. And he may even learn spells that don’t directly target the auror on a proper Spellcraft check. It suffers from similar issues as the trainer, only exacerbated since it does not nearly pay enough for this power.

Monster Breeder replace spell familiarity and channel monster with either an animal companion or familiar, which do not count as monsters for the purpose of the active monster cap. The archetype also provides significant atk bonuses (and less significant ones to damage and AC) to monsters below his CR - yes, this means he's pretty much glass-cannoning via his pets.

Monster Gamblers or their active monsters can take up to -5 to a single d20-roll as a free action and grant it as a bonus to the other or use it themselves to the next attempt to perform such an action – and now, this is tied to action and target, which means you can no longer abuse the living hell out of it. The archetype also gets sneak attack and a 1/day reroll.

Monster Performers get limited spells (only up to 6th level) and bardic performance that can be maintained by the creature. Monster researchers get no proficiencies and d6, but better skill-checks and channel monster. Oh, and they get bonus feats like Augment Summoning, which builds on summon-themed perks.

Monster scouts would be the d10 martial monster trainers with 4 levels of spells and Monster Companion as a bonus feat at first level, while also gaining smite monster at 2nd level or the option to upgrade favored enemy analogue to the ranger. Ironic here: Since the archetype nets the favored enemy of the ranger, it actually RAW loses flexibility granted by the base class.

Next, we have a massive list of trainer spells by level as well as new ones - like Battlefield Adept, which grants you Dodge, Mobility and Spring Attack for while it lasts and it has this cryptic note: "If you can cast Battlefield Adept without preparing it first, you can learn feats with Dodge, Mobility, or Spring Attack as a prerequisite. Those feats can only be used while the spell lasts." Note something? Yes, any further prerequisites are ignored, meaning that any feat that has any of these in the prereqs suddenly turned wildcard. And yes, I understand how this is supposed to work, providing a spell-centric alternate and limited prereq-option. Still not a fan.

The level 1 blind-lock spell has been cleaned up, thankfully. We can also temporarily disrupt links.

The pdf does sport a toolkit for making regular monsters into monstorin as a race, i.e. Pokémon-like creatures. While certainly not perfect, it does do its job surprisingly well and provides such stats, handily, for each of the monsters - and yes, this book is chock-full with them. The race also comes with extensive favored class options for the race, with all Paizo-classes minus vigilante covered. The vast array of the critters and their available spells granted to monster trainers is interesting and while some monstorin end up as slightly lopsided on the physical or mental attribute side, the respective entries do sport some nice ideas and a vast array of downright cuddly Pokémon-style artworks that help visualize the creatures featured. It should also be noted that the guidelines here try to mitigate issues. We also get a racial archetype for a monstorin trainer – think Mewto, essentially. How much monsters are here? More than 122 pages. While the first section of the book, in the original, was a mess, the following, massive write-up of these creatures has been pretty nice and remains so.

The third chapter then provides more supplemental material regarding monster training: For example, there are feats that allow you to cast spells through allies at +2 level increase; granting a limited evolution pool to a monster is interesting and minor monster trainer tricks for non-trainers may be found. When making a monster attack as a full-round action, you can execute an attack as a free action, basically in a split flurry at -2 to atk. This stacks with the swift command trainer perk, which has a similar benefit – both of these have one issue, though: You get to rack up extra attacks rather quickly and the respective write-ups imho should prevent stacking with haste et al. The feat is also pretty much a no-brainer must-get level of powerful…it would make more sense as a class feature, particularly since it may be taken multiple times. Semi-autonomous monsters out of combat, etc. – there are some interesting tweaks here. Monstrous Cohort also deserves mention, it’s now broken in a different manner: "If your cohort is a monstorin or a monster that could grant spells to a monster trainer, you can direct it to cast those spells using your spell slots, as the monster training class feature. Doing so uses your actions, not the cohort’s, and your cohort can still act normally on its turn." LOL. Srsly? You don’t even have to strain to realize the issue here, right? I mean, your ally can suddenly double-cast? Put a cadre of folks with the feat behind casters and have them yelled at, suddenly double-casts?? sigh (And yes, this actually is an improvement in rules-integrity over what the feat did previously…)

The items provided here don’t all live up to the precision of rules-language required. Take this 140K item: “An orb of the master trainer is a consumable item that allows a monster trainer to capture a single monster without fail. The monster must still be one the trainer is able to capture.” Okay, how? Activation? Is a roll required? Does it not grant a save? That’s a non-entity of rules-language.

We also get alternate summon-lists, an amorphous eidolon base form and a few new evolutions.

The final section of the book, which provides an all too brief glimpse at the eponymous kingdom of monsters, alongside random monster tables for respective environments is interesting- and the writing here is really nice. The level of passion that went into this is also mirrored by the copious indices: Monsters by CR, by spell granted and even those not covered in the book (up to Bestiary 4) provide page upon page of handy information. Kudos!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting have significantly improved on a formal and rules-language level – where previously, the book was unusable RAW, it now works – though there are still quite a few issues in the more complex aspects of design-aesthetics and balancing. Layout adheres to a per se nice two-column full-color standard that remains pretty printer-friendly and the child-friendly Pokémon-style artworks of the monsters are neat and inspiring if you enjoy the aesthetics - I certainly liked them. There are a lot of them in the book, so yeah…aesthetically pleasing. The book comes with excessive bookmarks for your convenience.

You see, while I never was too much into Pokémon, I am huge fanboy of the Shin Megami Tensei franchise and the superb Lucifer's Call game in particular. In short, I've been waiting for a good "recruit foes"-class for ages. Good news first: The monster trainer as presented herein now mostly works. While there are still hiccups to be found and while it still remains a very, very potent class that will make balance-conscious GMs gnash their teeth, I can see a trainer-campaign work, for example.

The latest revision has significantly improved the book. While it is still apparent in some details that the author Kevin Glusing is not familiar with all tenets of the balancing-process of classes, at least now the base framework works, even if said framework is not exactly what I’d allow in any of my games. The material works, but internal balance and that with existing class options out there is somewhat dubious – beyond purely monster trainer-based campaigns, a power-level as assumed by Path of War, for example, may be the best way to think about this supplement.

At the same time, though, the indices and monsters provided are pretty awesome and something that bespeaks the passion that went into this…and similarly, the campaign setting information, brief though it may be, is nice.

So, how to rate this? See, that's difficult: The monster-section is pretty cool and takes up the majority of the book and thus should have a more pronounced influence on the rating...but its usefulness as intended is based on a rules-foundation that, while significantly improved, is not yet 100% up to the level I demand to see from other supplements. My impulse is to round up from my final verdict, mainly since I absolutely love the extent of the improvements that were made. Similarly, I wholeheartedly applaud a lot of the design-decisions made to streamline the class and the playing experience. However, it would be unfair to the other books I review, many of which have been rated down a whole star for a single problematic/broken design-decision…and this book does sport a few of them. Then again, this is a massive book, and the racial options for the monstorin and the stats for the critters themselves are surprisingly well-made…and make up the vast majority of the book, so I can’t well compare it with a 7-page pdf that has a similar glitch.

As a summary: This revision of the book has made the engine work, but the flourishes and details could have used further polishing, particularly regarding functionality in conjunction with other classes. While there are components herein that require GM-oversight to prevent being gamed, the book also sports a lot of components that one can love. Ultimately, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars – and while I can see this work as a 4-star book for many a group out there, the fact remains that it requires some GM-oversight, has some decisions in its crunch that I consider to be problematic; the chassis works now, but the blemishes in the details are still here. Hence, I have to round down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Mystical: Kingdom of Monsters (Pathfinder)
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Cave of Seiljua
Publisher: GM Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/14/2018 05:13:15

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This is a one-page-dungeon; as such, the dungeon and all text literally fit on, well, one page. There are no stats here, with monster-names bolded instead; the map is hand-drawn, in full-color, and surprisingly well-done – while a player-friendly, key-less version on a second page would have been appreciated, I still was positively surprised by the map.

As per usual, I don’t expect a pdf of this brevity to provide earth-shaking stories or the like. The adventure assumes a gold standard. Spells and magic items are not perfectly formatted.

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

..

.

Okay, only GMs around? Great!

The adventure assumes a loosely Nordic backdrop; Skorri, a huscarl, wants his name cleared of an accusation made by Ragnar…who promptly failed to appear before the Thing (or, originally, þing – the proto-parliament/court/etc.). The jarl of the huscarl, Fridgeir, wants the PCs to retrieve Ragnar – alive. (And we even get a bit of flavorful read-aloud text as justification why.)

Fridgeir assumes that Ragnar has hidden in the Caves of Seiluja – minor know-it-all nitpick: “Soul” in Norse translates to “sál”, not “seiljua”…but anyways, the cavern complex is actually pretty flavorful, particularly given the limitations of this humble adventure: Strange pictures on the wall, piles of bones and nasty trolls; we even get brief descriptive flourishes to set the individuals apart, which is neat indeed. Ragnar, btw., is grievously harmed and pummeled – which is particularly relevant if the PCs play this as an infiltration of sorts…his broken leg will slow them down…

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, while not perfect, are okay. I noticed a couple of minor hiccups. Layout adheres to a two-column landscape-ish presentation, with the map as a third, smaller column. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length. Tim Shorts provides a nice little sidetrek here: Whether you’re playing in some sort of quasi-Scandinavia, Storm Bunny’s stormpunk-setting Rhûne or Frog God Games’ superb Northlands Saga, this makes for a neat diversion. Heck, even in another context, it only takes minor reskinning to make this work in other climates, though the module would lose a bit of its charm. This may not be a world-shaker, but know what? It’s FREE. As in: “Costs nothing.” Taking that into account, I definitely suggest taking a look at this. My final verdict will be 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Cave of Seiljua
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vs. Stranger Stuff Adventure: Lucky's Curse
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/14/2018 05:10:04

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This short module for the vs. Stranger Stuff-game clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page character sheets, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 6 pages of content. The pages are laid out in digest style (6’’ by 9’’/A5), allowing you to theoretically print up to 4 pages on a sheet of paper, if you’re conscious about your use of paper/ink/toner.

Now, this review is focused on taking a look at how well this module works within the context of season 2 of the vs. Stranger Stuff-game. The adventure has originally been released for the first season of the RPG, and as such should be retroactively be declared “easy mode.”

Anyway, what may not be immediately apparent for you would be that this is basically a holiday module of sorts – this is a module centered around St. Patrick’s Day, and as such, players that show up in all green get either Good Stuff Lucky or an extra use of the ability. Once per encounter, this lets you redraw cards. Okay, and here we have an excellent illustration of how the game matured; I don’t have the original first season of the game, but one glance of the rules for the Good Stuff should make progress evident: The rules-text in the adventure is a bit confusing – per encounter/per session are two very different things and it is not clear how the extra use interacts here. The ability also does not state how many cards may be redrawn.

Contrast this to vs. Stranger Stuff’s Season 2 rule-book, and we get a precise and concise definition of this ability. The difference is significant.

What I’m trying to say is this: If in doubt, use the rules from the second season.

All right, this being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! We join the PCs as they are in Lucky’s, a family-friendly restaurant with a small pub attached to it, owned by Brian MacNally. As the PCs are waiting to get seated, a small man dressed in green runs into the place, to the shout of “Leprechaun!”, which should get their attention. Anyways, the fellow proceeds to serve food and beverages and is, indeed, just a short man. The usual available pub games are represented as Muscles or Brain challenges, with the highest draw winning the round – a solid, if minimalist representation within the confines of the system.

As the PCs are enjoying themselves, they will notice the strangers – dressed in long, ragged coats down to their knees, with fur draped around their shoulders and leather boots. These guys may well start shouting and there is a chance for a minor altercation here. This is also a good place to (re-)introduce characters from other adventures; as a stand-alone, making one of the kid’s parents stand in for Brian may be another tweak to get the PCs involved.

If they’re smart, they’ll notice that the strangers are looking for something. Of course, things escalate, and the strangers drop their guise, as mist flows around them, eyes glow and Brian gets knocked out – the strangers are actually ghost pirates, looking for Brian’s heirloom, one of the coins of St. Patrick, which is responsible for the MacNally family’s good luck…but also what these fellows want. Their telekinesis is pretty potent and we get alternate stats for vs. Ghosts – in that system, they are division III, just so you know. Minor complaint: There’s an aesthetic formatting hiccup in the stats here.

…and that’s about it. The adventure does mention potential consequences for the strangers absconding with the coin or for the PCs defeating them…but ultimately, this is a WEIRD one. The module basically acts as a creature feature; there is no investigation going on and weirdness happens in plain sight of everyone, which may not gel well with all games. If you hearken closer to Stranger Things’ aesthetics, this may well be a bit overkill regarding exposure. The combat in a jam-packed tavern also is…abstract. Why don’t the NPCs help? How does this play out? Panic? The adventure does not manage to convey even the slightest bit of the chaos of a tavern brawl, let alone a supernatural brawl. The lack of a map for Lucky’s also makes the proceedings somewhat abstract, and not in a good way.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are okay; while I did not note truly serious issues, I did notice a few aesthetic issues. Layout adheres to a nice 1-column full-color standard. The full-color artwork is okay. The pdf does not sport any bookmarks, but doesn’t necessarily need them at this length.

Ben Dowell’s “Lucky’s Curse” is intended as a brief adventure for a rules-lite game, but even within this paradigm, it feels oddly minimalist, and not in a good way; the pdf can potentially provide full-blown exposure of the supernatural for a game, which is not what everyone will want to go for. It also is less of a module and more of an initial encounter: Basically, this module’s entirety is spent on what would be the first encounter in most modules. Instead, the first encounter is the last and ultimately, there’s nothing relevant going apart from that. Brevity is no excuse here either, as the author has shown in his other works that he is perfectly capable of telling a rewarding, short story in less words. This is not horrendous, mind you, but it fell seriously short of what I hoped to see within these pages, both on a narrative and structural level. My final verdict will clock in at 2 stars due to the fair price point.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
vs. Stranger Stuff Adventure: Lucky's Curse
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Grimalkin for 5th Edition
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/13/2018 03:48:18

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement clocks in at 34 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 29 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So, the first thing you should know is that this module is set in the amazing, evocative city of Per-Bastet, within Midgard’s Southlands. If you haven’t checked out the amazing setting, you should do so. Secondly, this can be run as a sequel to “Cat & Mouse” or as a stand-alone adventure. Now, this module works best when used in conjunction with Tome of Beasts; there are several creatures like the Anubian or the Temple Cat that refer to the Southlands Bestiary. This book, to my knowledge, is exclusively available as a PFRPG-supplement – but before you boo and hiss: All creatures mentioned by the pdf can be found in Tome of Beasts – only the reference is incorrect. Still, I strongly suggest getting the excellent Tome of Beasts prior to running this; the adventure loses some of its appeal without the unique critters.

Regarding formal criteria, the pdf sports detailed read-aloud text for you; organization-wise, important NPC names tend to be bolded and, for the most part, the more important skills etc. are highlighted, though here and there, the regular text does note skill uses and DCs. As such, I strongly suggest reading the module in its entirety before attempting to run it. The adventure sports several really nice full-color maps, but alas, we don’t get any player-friendly versions sans secret doors and keys, and not all of them take up a whole page. The maps may require a bit of tinkering if you attempt to run this via VTTs etc. and honestly, I don’t get why we can’t get keyless versions.

All right, so that’s what this is about, structure-wise…but we know that this is a module…and in order to properly discuss it, I will now go into serious SPOILER-territory. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, remember that weird Grimalkin Eye from Cat & Mouse? How its ability to control cats made it a rather potent and dangerous object in Per-Bastet? Well, where there’s an eye…there usually is a body, right? She may be a gnoll, but that does not mean that “Princess” Karima Gamilla is dumb…and thus, she sent out her feelers. The gnoll princess turns out to be a rather sophisticated individual, and she sports two different entry vectors to secure the services of the PCs – she really wants to talk to the body of a deceased man to help her ascertain the truth of the current, shadowy situation. While she has no lack of lovesick cronies at her disposal, she does have a preference for less foolish individuals, for professionals – in short, for the PCs. Kudos here: Beyond the two angles to convince the PCs, the module does sport a nice sidebar for troubleshooting particularly suspicious or undiplomatic PCs.

Anyhow, the PCs will have to venture to the local charnel house that holds the body, preferably before it…vanishes. What? Well, you see, the house may be mapped, yes, but turns out to be the home turf of Sultan Shuk’re Nill Mo Chatoor…and he and his gnolls are known for a rather dark hunger. Perceptive PCs may well spot vegetables and spices in the place…these fellows plan on actually consuming the body, and the gnoll very much attempts to make the PCs scamper off on an errand to get a verification of their status as relations, etc. – all in order so he and his allies can have a nice, uninterrupted feast. And yes, he does have an Anbuian and a manabane swarm as well…and his name-dropping is not all bluster…and things are bound to become more complicated, when a “mourner” arrives, Sweet Hasna, with pallbearers…agent of none other than Abdul-Haqq, who also wants the body. There is a solid chance that the whole situation escalates into a massive, free-for-all brawl…

In the aftermath, the PCs will have to navigate the field of tensions between these factions…for it turns out that the deceased scholar had the first part of a rhyming key in ancient Nurian. Things become more complicated still, as undead creatures are tracking a particular feline statue – the calling cat Smart PCs may use this beacon of sorts as a weapon, for Abdul-Haqq does have the second part of the rhyme that the PCs will want. And yes, he is not a pushover. Turns out that he is actually a were-crocodile…and, well…and unpleasant being. His HQ is once more fully mapped, though I did wish we actually got a player-friendly version of the full-color map.

This free-form chapter obviously also means that it can go a lot of different ways, depending on the behavior of the PCs and whom they trust or don’t trust. Huge plus: The rhyming key’s translation has actually been included in the pdf and makes for a cool piece that the PCs can recite…and the key actually also holds the truth of the location of the growling sanctuary…which also is sanctified to a rather grisly heresy of Bastet’s teachings. And yes, PCs with only one part of the riddle/rhyme will well find a false entrance… Anyway, the finale has the PCs explore a unique locale dungeon, with the river of sand growling and unique individuals and creatures attempting to defend the sanctuary…which also contains the mighty Grimalkin idol – if the PCs can secure it, they may have the tools to ingratiate themselves to the authorities…or all manner of unsavory beings looking for a means to grab for power. It should be noted that the dungeon makes good use of global effects – undead are bolstered, the raging river of sand is loud – all in all, a great little dungeon….and the aftermath of the adventure sports a TON of different options for the GM to further develop. As a final, nice bonus, the module suggests an alternate final boss battle for particularly potent PCs. Kudos!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting as a whole, are very good –apart from the erroneous references, I noticed no undue accumulation of hiccups. Layout is gorgeous, full-color, and adheres to a 2-column standard. The full-color artworks are great and really high-quality, though fans of Kobold Press may be familiar with a few of them. The cartography is full-color and gorgeous, though I wished we actually got player-friendly versions of the maps; having keyless version to print out and use as handouts or for VTT-uses would have added further to the adventure. The module comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Richard Pett and Greg Marks provide an impressive sequel to the atmospheric and fun “Cat & Mouse” – the module breathes the spirit of 1001 nights, with the unique atmosphere of Midgard’s evocative Southlands spliced in. In short: This adventure is extremely atmospheric and further develops the inspiring metropolis of Per-Bastet; I honestly would love to see a further sequel to this series, and I wholeheartedly believe that this city could carry a whole campaign worthy of adventures. Grimalkin, in short, is a nice adventure full of quirky and intriguing characters and adversaries; the focus on intrigue and player-agenda make it versatile and interesting – also for the GM. There are quite a few aspects that can run in rather different ways, making this a well-crafted scenario with above average replay-value – all due to the emphasis of player-choice and roleplaying throughout the majority of the adventure.

Grimalkin, in a nutshell, is a well-crafted, really fun adventure. The minor hiccups regarding creature-references and the lack of player-friendly maps are the only blemishes on a fun module. My final verdict will hence clock in at 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Grimalkin for 5th Edition
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Macchiato Monsters ZERO
Publisher: Lost Pages
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/13/2018 03:45:59

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This OSR-game clocks in at 34 pages, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD; two pages are devoted to the introduction and the game comes with a bunch of additional pdfs – I’ll get to those later. This review is based on V.1.1. of the system/book; V.1.0. is still included in the download as well. The pages are presented in a 1-column standard, suitable to be printed out in 6’’ by 9’’, though the bonus-pdfs, e.g. the die-drop-tables, should probably be considered to be standard size/A4 instead.

This review was sponsored and requested by one of my patreons.

Okay, so, the pdf freely acknowledges being basically a blend of the Whitehack and The Black Hack and clearly designates from which sources inspiration was taken; I do not assume familiarity with the two in the review. The system is a living beta and as such, feedback is appreciated by the author, with means of contacting provided.

Okay, so the basic mechanics are as follows: When you attempt something risky or dangerous, you roll 1d20 and attempt to roll under the respective ability score. 1s (critical successes) or 20s (critical fumbles) double the effects and may yield additional consequences. The system also employs disadvantage and advantage from 5e as mechanics, using the best or worst results, respectively. Dice-notation knows the concept of Risk-dice, or “dR” – a dR12 would, for example be a 1d12 risk die. This mechanic should be familiar to users of The Black Hack, but the implementation is pretty severe here: Basically, dRs decrease in die-size on a 1 – 3; if I rolled a 2 on a 1dR10, for example, further uses of the die would have the size decreased to 1dR8. 1s are worse than 2s, 2s worse than 3s for the purpose of interpreting the result. If a 1dR4 is reduced further, then you’ll notice in the specific rule how things become unpleasant.

Character generation is quick and painless – roll 3d6 in order for the traditional 6 ability scores, with the option to swamp two. You get to choose two of the following (the same option may be chosen twice; 0-level characters don’t get o choose): +1d4 to a stat that’s less than 10, an additional trait, an additional hit die. Alternatively, magic training yields you two spells. Combat training increases your hit die by one step (maximum d10) and specialist training nets you a 1/day ability. What’s a trait? Well, it is a form of customization drawn in aesthetics from the Whitehack, but more on that later.

Hit die is recorded: A d6. The maximum armor or damage die you can have is equal to the hit die type. Referees retain control on how damage dice interact with foes hit – whether the require more of them to be assigned or whether results are added together, etc.

The aforementioned trait-system basically define what the character is, does, belongs to and comes from; this nets you advantage or disadvantage on relevant non-combat situations. Characters with specialist training get a unique trick that mortals usually can’t attempt, which is also the only safe way to get advantage in combat; advantage may be traded by characters with specialist training for double damage. Starting languages are determined by checking all 3 mental ability scores – on a success, you get +1 language.

Each level, the character gets 2 of the following: +1 stat to a maximum of 18; You may gain one hit die, then reroll hit points; if you fail to exceed your prior hit points, you can spend 1 point of Constitution to reroll. You also may choose to learn a new spell, gain a mêlée or missile attack or a new ability (1/day) or increase an ability’s daily uses by +1/day. Levels 4, 7 and 10 also yield you another trait or training. Level gain is determined by the referee and players succeeding at goals.

Spellcasting is not easy on the characters: While there is a free-form aspect going on, it does have limitations: To cast a spell, you pay a hit points cost and roll a d20 under the mental attribute that best fits your concept of the spellcasting tradition the character adheres to. On a critical success, you don’t lose hot points. The cost may not exceed your current hit points and attempting to cast a spell with a cost greater than the level of the character in hit points imposes disadvantage on the check. Specialists can avoid disadvantage here with their abilities, but at the cost of disadvantage on other checks pertaining other aspects of magic. This basic system allows you to relatively easily take spells from other games and assign costs depending on hit points, allowing the referee pretty free control and guidance, if full-blown freeform is something you don’t relish.

Magic is also unstable, as represented by the chaos risk die. If you fail the spell check, but want something to happen, you roll it and check the results on a table. It should be noted that we have a dR here, usually one starting at 1dR12. This surge can similarly be modified rather easily, with the environments determining its size. Foci and components act as magic batteries (used instead of hit points) and similarly use risk dice to determine when they burn out.

The system provides a very much appreciated table for referees to determine suitable point-costs for spells, with decreased casting time, greater effects and imprecise wording etc. all adding to the costs. 3 sample spells also further elucidate on what is suitable and what isn’t. The rules for magical items are similarly painless, but bring me to another aspect of the game, one that may not necessarily be to everyone’s liking: While I can see precious few GMs complaining about the easy to develop and expand spellcasting engine (seriously, kudos for the guidance!), the system also uses the risk die mechanics to track mundane items and e.g. coin. The huge plus-point for groups that are annoyed by tracking the minutiae of equipment etc., is obviously that you don’t need to track the amount of an item you carry around. The system is simple here: You get to carry either up to Str or Con items; characters carrying Str+Con are encumbered (disadvantage) and halve traveling speed. Money is tracked in bags of coin, with lower-grade bags allowing for the upgrade to higher level bags – 1dR12 silver could be upgraded to 1dR4 gold, for example. You need the right coin to buy items, mind you. Anyway, this system is elegant and quick for games looking for that, but personally, it breaks my suspension of disbelief and annoys me. (No, that will not influence the final verdict.)

Why? Well, you basically have an indeterminate amount of money and this extends to supplies, torches, etc. This may be statistically elegant and make sure that PCs need to alternate strategies, but it also takes away the reward for properly preparing for an adventure; unlucky PCs may run out of e.g. ropes when traversing the Dungeon of Chasms, etc. Whether you like that or not depends, obviously, on your personal aesthetics, but as a person, I consider this to be intensely frustrating. That being said, the equipment section does offer a pretty wide array of sample guidelines there. For chaotic magic, the dR-mechanic makes sense; for mundane items? Less so. Basically, characters are constantly uncertain regarding how long supplies will last. You probably will either love or hate this; I place myself firmly in the latter category, but it’s a matter of aesthetics and what you’re looking for in a game.

Combat is unbureaucratic: You basically get one die-roll; no grid. How far can you move? Referee’s call. Strength governs mêlée, Dexterity ranged combat, etc. A central component of combat would be a tactical risk: You roll and on a success, you gain advantage on the next turn of whatever you attempted to set up; on a failure, you instead suffer from disadvantage and potentially other consequences. The section also mentions quick and dirty mass combat rules, just fyi – and yes, they are based on assigning risk dice to units.

Armor has a risk die as well: When first hit in a fight, you roll it: That’s how much damage the armor will soak in the fight. Shields help versus e.g. javelins and may be sacrificed to avoid e.g. dragon’s fire. At 0 hit points, you’re unconscious and bleeding; a successful Constitution checks makes that 1 hit point instead – but you also sustain a grievous wound, which mean you lose a level and thus two level-dependent advances. Whether and how to recover these is once more up to the referee. Yes, this means that combat is very, very deadly and can basically drop a single character several levels. The requirement to reduce benefits gained from levels is surprisingly clumsy as far as I’m concerned – you basically have to track the respective level-gain abilities and while the player has control over what’s lost (doesn’t have to be last level’s gains), this mechanic means that the PCs will probably not increase significantly in power. It also means that single PCs can be crippled far below the combat capabilities of their allies, which can potentially be somewhat frustrating, particularly for characters that enjoy diving into the fray.

Monster-creation guidelines are simple and assume a default d8 hit die, with fragile or tough monsters increasing that; the use of the risk die for dungeon-encounters, for example, is really nice and volatile, with 2s and 3s denoting monsters in the vicinity and 1s immediate encounters; risk dice below 1d4 denote dungeon events like alarm bells, etc. The effects of reactions and morale employ similarly the risk die mechanic; monsters in a frenzy may inflict, for example, double damage.

Overland movement assumes 10-kilometre hexes, with 4 hexes per day of travelling. Bad weather, forced marches etc. may modify that – and once more, the encounter mechanic is elegant. Anyways, PCs can btw. regain hit points via food, which makes sense to me. Followers and hirelings are also covered, just fyi.

Beyond these aspects, referees will certainly appreciate a smattering of 50 sample creatures (deliberately kept generic and easy to modify) as well as the handy conversion of fixed gold values to the coin risk die mechanic – makes running prewritten adventures easier. Variant rules for stamina and sanity are included as well, and the primary file closes with two handy worksheets.

We also get extra-files with the system: These include character sheets in English and French; the sandbox worksheet; another pdf contains 3 pregens that also explain how they were made in detail, acting as a nice way to illustrate the game’s character creation progress. The deal also comes with a 1-page city crawl rules-page, which sports crime and community risk die tables. The most massive of the different supplemental pdfs, however, would be the die-drop tables: Each of them covers 2 tables, with one presented for townspeople, one for plots, one for factions, one for adventure locales and one fo creatures. While the frame-work for the treasure/item-table is provided, this aspect is WIP and has not yet been filled.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no undue accumulation of former glitches or verbiage in the rules-language that felt weird. Layout adheres to a 1-column standard. The pdf sports interesting b/w-artworks, with a uniform style that makes them look like silhouettes, often with coffee. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience. The supplemental pdfs are similarly bookmarked, though the die-drop table-pdf has them labeled a bit oddly.

Eric Nieudan’s Macchiato Monsters Zero is an elegant system that has a lot going for it; if you’re looking for a variant of low-complexity gameplay à la Black Hack, it certainly fits the bill. The use of the risk die as a central mechanic means that it provides a volatile and potentially rather fun experience. The simple and easy to grasp rules can be explained in less than 5 minutes, which is a huge plus for such games. The game does not sport the same customization detail of Whitehack and the trait system, while acting as a stand-in of sorts, could probably use a couple of examples to illustrate some ideas there. While I am not a fan of the use of the risk die for mundane equipment, this remains a matter of taste. As a whole, MM: Zero is pretty volatile and lethal – I am not sure I’d use the game for longer campaigns or adventures, considering how relatively easily you can lose levels and benefits incurred – adventurer careers are likely to be relatively short and brief, which makes the game suitable and efficient for one-shots, convention games and brief campaigns, but as a whole, less rewarding for long-term campaigns. That being said, the low price point and overall concise and solid presentation make this worth checking out if the mechanics intrigue you. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Macchiato Monsters ZERO
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Mythic Monsters #44: Elementals
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/12/2018 08:44:26

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Mythic Monsters-series clocks in at 34 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial,1 page SRD, 1 page ToC, 2 pages introduction/hot to use, 3 pages advertisement, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 22 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?

As always, we begin with supplemental material: This time around, that includes two feats: Elemental Expert provides a bonus to Knowledge checks pertaining the elemental planes and increases the maximum HD and decreases the Charisma score of outsiders of the elemental subtype when using planar ally etc. to negotiate with the entities. The mythic version of the feat increases the bonus granted and allows for mythic power expenditure for SP detect elementals. Additionally, summoning elementals via summon monster/Nature’s ally is treated as +1 spell level. Vengeful Summons is an amazing feat for outsiders: After having been called, the outsider may remain for some time, trying to hunt down the summoner….which should be easy, courtesy of a mental link. The mythic version adds quarry to the fray. Glorious feat! The pdf then proceeds to depict 5 conjure elemental spells, the aforementioned detect elemental, as well as mythic versions for both spells, the former of which comes with a 6th tier augment for mythic simple templates added. The book then proceeds to portray a new template, the fission elemental at CR +1, once more, with a mythic upgrade: The template is pure amazing: Basically, the template allows an elemental to collapse into swarm form and reconstitute itself into a fused form. Really damn cool! The mythic version even sports the ability to use mythic power when changing forms for elemental eruptions. Pretty damn cool!

All right, but you’re here for the new mythic critters, right? So, the first would be the CR 13/MR 5 aerial savant: Evasion while far enough from the floor, the option to carry off targets and death attacks should make clear that the mythic upgrade of these fellows is a brutal foe; The build makes use of the mythic Step Up and Step Up and Strike feats for superb skirmishing, with both feats reprinted here for your convenience. Know what’s beautiful, deadly and two pages long? The CR 22/MR 9 mythic anemos: Dispelling winds are cool…but for mythic power-expenditure, these fellows can emit brutal blasts of searing hot or freezing cold wind, heal or cause nonlethal damage to foes. They also can direct the wind to carry messages and e.g. overhear a ton of conversations….and yes, bestowing the blessing of winds and a defensive aura complement this majestic monstrosity. Really cool!

On the other end of CR and elemental spectrum, the Crysmal at CR 4/MR 1, gains the ability to heal via the consumption of jewels as well as a more powerful spiked defense. In a cosmetic cut-copy-paste glitch, the former ability incorrectly refers to the grootslang instead of the crysmal. The classic scanderig, first introduced in the PF AP #4, can also be found: The ore-eating foregfiend clocks in at CR 13/MR 5: We get bonus damage with attacks and a cool upgrade for the searing spew, which makes the metal stack to foes…and as perhaps my favorite ability, they can turn themselves into living wrecking balls. Heck yeah!

Regarding the forces of earth, we also get the CR 8/MR 3 earth veela. Like the other two veelas at the same CR/MR, these receive a beckoning dance that may cause targets to dance with them, which may well be lethal for mere mortals… earth vela can also animate nearby plants, interacting further with the beckoning dance. As a full-round action, the earth veela can cause silence as well as AoE staggering powered by mythic power. Fire veelas are temperamental, gaining the option to fire bolts of flame, which may ignore resistance/immunity – and woe to anyone who spurns them; they don’t take well to being resisted! The water vela receives a captivating song and may hide within the reflections of water. Cool! Edit: Here, I originally wondered about the lack of the air veela - Turns out, I forgot that it had been already released in Mythic Monsters: Slavic. Mea culpa!

While we’re on the subject of water: The mythic tojanida clocks in at CR 6/MR 2 and may fire brine jets and tear apart armor – nice! The Magmin clocks in at CR 3/MR 1 and may use mythic power to superheat its body…and they may eat flames, healing themselves. On the low-level end, the pdf also nets notes for mythic mephitis, at CR 4/MR 1 – a total of 9 variant mephitis are provided, each of which gains a unique breath weapon, as well as a defensive ability that ranges from salt armor to ooze bodies. Minor complaint: The Ice Mephit subheader was not properly formatted, looking like plain text.

At CR 13/MR 5, we also gain a total of 4 different elementals of less common compositions: The ice elemental can conjure forth blizzards and heal itself with ice, and its cold is numbing and staggers foes. The lightning elemental can fire arcs of electricity, transform into lightning and crash through foes, move through metal and use mythic power to create potent, magnetic bursts or charge itself with energy that makes attacking it unwise. The magma elemental can glide through earth and erupt in powerful bursts, lob globs of magma and it may reduce most substances to slag and it may vomit forth a puddle of lava. The mud elemental can use mythic power to drown those entrapped in mud; it can alter its form via polymorph and when it is hit it may use mythic power to attempt to suck weapons into itself…or hold fast unarmed/natural attacks. The build of this fellow is supplemented by the mythic Awesome Blow and Quick Awesome Blow feats.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are excellent on a rules-language level. On a formal level, I noticed a few minor hiccups, though none of them compromise rules-integrity. Layout adheres to legendary Games’ neat 2-column full-color standard and the pdf sports some really nice full-color artworks. Fans of LG may be familiar with some of them. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Jason Nelson and Steven T. Helt (or Alex Riggs, Jason Nelson and Victoria Jaczko – the supplement has two author-lines in a weird glitch) deliver an amazing series of mythic upgrades for the often maligned elementals. In d20-based systems, elementals often fall rather short of how cool they actually should be. Where in other games, elemental spirits have a ton of creative abilities, in PFRPG, they instead often feel like the dumb grunts of the outsiders, the things that you summon if calling upon djinn or demons/devils/angels/etc. is too risky. This book helps change that: The elemental creatures within get a ton of cool, diverse options that allow them to do things beyond just bashing foes and casting the usual suspects of SPs. So yeah, design-wise, I love this…particularly the fission template. Its effects should imho be standard for elemental creatures. They consist of an element, so a degree of control over shape etc. makes sense and is something you can observe in many other games. The dual forms also add a level of tactics to them that makes them more interesting for the GM to run. So yeah, really, really cool.

Apart from the minor hiccups mentioned, I enjoyed this very much. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform. Seriously, fission elemental benefits should be the standard and makes owning this worthwhile on its own.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mythic Monsters #44: Elementals
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Blood Vaults of Sister Alkava for 5th Edition
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/12/2018 08:41:31

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This side-trek adventure clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2/3 page SRD, leaving us with 10 1/3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This module is intended for the standard 4 – 6 characters of levels 5-6. The module provides detailed, well-written read-aloud text, so if you have issues with spontaneous generation of flavorful text, the pdf has you covered. The book does make use of the monsters from Tome of Beasts – if you don’t have the tome, you’ll need to substitute a couple of them. The following review will contain several SPOILERS. Potential players should skip ahead to the conclusion.

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All right, only GMs around? Great! Sp, Alkava is one of the feared priestesses of the Red Goddess, and she is a real go-getter, who has not only devised a means to keep blood fresh longer, she also has found a way t draw power from the Blood Cauldrons she employs to store the precious red. As art of the Festival of the Verdant Tower, Alkava has collected the tribute in blood from the village of Karvolia…but unlike in previous years, the donors have not returned. Worse, Alkava has just told the village elders that another tribute is required. The elders are afraid of the Red Goddess and the vampiric shroud-eaters, but another cadre of promising young folk lost? A call to adventurers was discreetly sent out…but as the PCs arrive, they are too late: The latest donors have been sent to the blood vaults!

The pdf begins with a variety of different adventure hooks that the GM can employ to have the PCs start the module and the first scene represents the PCs meeting the elders. During the briefing, the PCs can learns some truths and speculation about Valka and her allies. En route, the PCs will have to best an ogre zombie. Arriving at the vaults, the PCs need to pick the lock to the entrance: Minor complaint: The Dexterity check fails to note “(thieves’ tools)”, which is kinda important. The lock is trapped. This would be a good place to note that e.g. the stats of the trap have not been highlighted in the text, so if you’re looking for go-play, this may annoy you; there also is no color-coded sub-header à la the ones for treasure or bolding to set this apart. I am just mentioning this since my readers have asked me to point out the like.

The complex per se begins with a welcoming committee of skeletons (including a nice full-color artwork, though the skeleton’s stance is a bit derpy); after that, things become eerie: Considering the mythology, this is basically a mortal-blood-draining facility, with donor pens and everything, a vampiric cattle-farm under the guise of a religious rite. This nature of the complex is perhaps the creepiest aspect of it. Specters of the fallen, a domovoi and a fellforged and vampire spawn complement the adversaries herein; beyond these, the PCs also get a chance to test their mettle against a blood pudding, which can drain brutal amounts of blood. Blood zombies are another new critter herein, though both have in common that their attack value is odd: The blood pudding, at challenge 5 and Str 16 should e.g. attack at +6, while the blood zombie should inflict +3 damage, not +2. The PCs hopefully save the unwilling blood donors before it’s too late. The best part of the module, though, would be the boss battle with Sister Alkava: There are blood cauldrons that fortify her greatly; there are minions. Alkava, as long as the cauldrons exist, has no less than 4 (!!!) additional actions PER ROUND, at initiative 20, 15, 10 and 5. Alkava, if played right, will mess the PCs up, big time. So yeah, the boss battle is brutal and great.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect. I noticed a couple of minor glitches. Layout adheres to a really nice two-column full-color standard. The interior artwork is pretty neat, in particularly the artwork of Alkava on the cover is neat. The cartography of the complex is solid and full-color, but we don’t get a player-friendly version of the map, alas. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Bill Slavicsek’s trip to Alkava’s blood vaults is a nice module, particularly suitable for convention circuits – the module isn’t particularly long and may be completed in a single session. The atmosphere of the dungeon is pretty impressive, though that is not necessarily due to the module per se, but due to the background of Midgardian lore, which suffuses this module; when removed from Midgard or a similar place where some undead etc. can exert dominance over a cowed populace, this loses much of its impact. I very much enjoyed the atmosphere evoked by the backdrop and the foes can be rather challenging, with the final battle being a suitably brutal conclusion, but as a whole, this module still felt a bit weird to me; while intended only as a sidetrek, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this would have worked better with a couple of pages more, more details for the complex and more room to let its cool concept breathe. As provided, this is worth checking out, yes, but it is probably not a module that’ll blow you away. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars – fans of Midgard should round up, while others may wish to round down. My final verdict will reflect the former due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Blood Vaults of Sister Alkava for 5th Edition
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Albion's Ransom: Little Girl Lost
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/12/2018 08:38:40

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive first part of the two-part Albion’s Ransom adventure clocks in at 105 pages, 101 pages of content if you take away editorial, ToC, etc. This review is mostly based on the softcover print version; the pdf version does not sport bookmarks, which makes navigation annoying.

So, this adventure is set in the UK, and as such, it comes with a well-written and interesting appendix that notes the use of abilities in conjunction with the local regions and explains peculiarities of UK English, as well as giving a cursory overview of the different regions of England. A whole page of slang-terms and an explanation of pub culture can also be found here. From there, we move on to explain regional rivalries, how religion is treated, notes on travelers, crime, eco-activism…and, obviously, esoterrorism activity. Beyond that, we receive notes on Manchester, including gang activities, etc. – in short, we get a surprisingly detailed gazetteer here. The section btw. takes cultural differences between UK and US into account and explains them in a concise manner – so if you haven’t actually studied/visited the UK, chances are that you’ll get something out of this. Really nice!

It should also be noted that the adventure features a pretty extensive 2-page summary of drugs and their use in Esoterrorists, providing a wide array of effects that once more can be considered to be impressive in its details.

This attention to detail is btw. also a component that extends to the adventure-proper, but in order to talk about this aspect of the adventure, I will have to dive into SPOILER-territory. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? The 18-year old student at Manchester University Catriona Van Rijn has gone missing. Her father, Frank, is a truly valuable asset for the OV and thus, the PCs are sent in to find the girl – note for Americans: No big guns, this is the UK we’re talking about. The PCs are briefed twice and hopefully are aware that time is of the essence: While it is not explicitly spelled out, the PCs are very much on the clock and should meticulously plan where to go when, how to spend their time, etc.

That being said, investigating Catriona’s flat, her room-mates and associates is perhaps one of the best-written investigations I have ever read. Not only are the diverse students depicted as well-rounded characters; they manage to feel alive. You see, Catriona is not just really smart, she also goes through developments that are similar to those many folks go through when studying: She not only has obviously grown into a sexually active lady and is experimenting with what you’d expect, while also developing an idealistic, moral compass that is grounded in eco-activism. This tendency is supported further by a blossoming interest in the occult, something that should generate some serious red flags for the OV-agents. It is hard to describe just how good and detailed the characterizations here are – from flatmates to associates, the students feel alive and interesting…oh, and there’ll be perhaps one of the most skillfully executed red herrings ever in this investigation: When a flat explodes, the PCs may assume esoterrorist influence – but ultimately, what happened had nothing to do with the dark forces behind Catriona’s disappearance, and everything with an unhealthy drug-habit and experimentation with ether. The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, OTOM…and more – beyond the students and their quirks, the PCs have to reconstruct the complex dynamics of Catriona’s life, which, among other things, is complicated by her having spent the night with her lecturer.

Let me make that abundantly clear: Once more, the characterization of the eco-goth-intellectual is hilarious. In the interest for Blake and the occult, this character felt, in a great way, like an evil caricature of myself. (Just for the record: Nope, never slept with one of my students, don’t plan on doing so.) In fact, the depiction of the British subcultures in academia and beyond is probably one of the most amazing I have ever seen: In spite of the themes of Esoterrorists, which may be considered to be inherently conservative by design, the depictions of all the NPCs makes them come alive in a manner I have never seen beyond the pages of this book. While esoterrists codes those interested in the occult as potentially evil, the characters herein do not feel like that at all – they are complex, multi-faceted and while some folks may seem despicable or misguided, you can’t help but feel that the depictions of these groups steams from a deep-seated sympathy.

But I digress. You know, the big, big issue for the PCs in this investigation is, first and foremost, the vast amount of details and information that can be unearthed. This module is ridiculously detailed in the information provided around all key persons and sports multiple ways to reach the conclusion. We have a truly amazing web of intrigue here – and one that thankfully does not rely on throwing OD-entities at the PCs all the time. Tension is slowly, steadily, ramped up as the timer ticks. This is not full-blown in your face horror, instead following the design-paradigm that less is more, as not only the complexity of the case, but also the detailed reactions and behavior patterns of the NPCs make it hard for the OV-agents to get to the core of things. As an aside: I think that a flow-chart summary would have been really helpful for the GM – as written, you’ll want to take copious notes to properly run this.

Ultimately, the trail leads to the 9 ladies, a Neolithic monument scheduled to be quarried, and the protest camp there. Unfortunately for the agents, the camp will be seeded with esoterrorists…and if they don’t take care, they may well end up drugged, potentially added to the planned mass sacrifice…for much is at stake. The esoteric underground cell Isa Kenaz is preparing to unleash the Fimbulwinter upon Britain, and this sacrifice, a perverted Ewemeolc rite (in a hilarious glitch, it’s noted to take place on February 31st – that should be January 31st/February 1st, unless I am sorely mistaken regarding my knowledge of pagan holidays), may well be the trigger that does it. Worse, there is a decent chance that Catriona’s been driven insane and/or converted to being an Esoterrorist…and, you know…every HOUR may actually count – time is incredibly critical and any group that manages to reach her while she’s not yet been brainwashed should pat themselves on the back. The OV-agents will need to infiltrate the camp and find the girl in a mine-shaft, which represents one weakness of the adventure.

You see, the finale works imho best when the OV-agents actually get drugged, but don’t succumb to the effects; attempting to stop the ceremony, rescuing Catriona, not being slain by psycho-Esoterrorists, all through the haze of drugs, makes for an absolutely glorious scene. That being said, we don’t get a map of the camp, which makes infiltration and the whole final scene feel rather opaque. The camp is hard to picture and, particularly considering the moving parts in play here, it would have made sense to provide a proper map – this is also the only truly potentially horrific scene herein; the adventure plays very much like a mystery module and builds tension in a smart and amazing manner.

As you may notice, there’s a lot to love here. However, here is the thing: If your OV-agents are really good, if they can piece together a couple of the more complex components, they may well stumble over the plot of Isa Kenaz, or at least parts of it. In an ironic twist, this is a bad thing – the timeframe the PCs have to secure Catriona is very, very tight and deviations like that may well cost them the time they need. So, ultimately, while the book does not explicitly state it, the PCs are supposed to “lose” this adventure in some form. While it is theoretically possible to utterly “win” the adventure, expose Isa Kenaz and save Catriona, it is extremely unlikely.

There is one aspect that literally made me throw the book through the room. It cheats in the most cheap of ways. Know how Isa Kenaz is one step ahead, how the OV-agents face a disturbingly well-prepared opposition? The book breaks a central tenet of Esoterrorist-gaming, one that can result in permanent damage to an ongoing game. Mister Verity is actually an esoterrorist. Urgh. A central tenet of the game, what sets it thematically apart from a vast number of other settings, is that the OV is good; that it is competent, and while it does lose agents to madness etc., the rigorous vetting, examinations, etc. should engender a sense of trust. By making the PC’s contact a traitor, the module breaks a central tenet of the setting that is even explicitly spelled out in the game’s book: The OV is competent and its agents are the good guys. It’s a basic premise of the game, and once it is subverted, there is literally no way to fix it. It’s also needlessly cheap and unfair: PCs are told, time and again, to trust the OV; by undermining this, the module manages to all but ensure the outcome projected for book #2.

In short, the adventure cheats. Unless PCs realize just how urgent their search is, unless they focus on doing the right things, fail to report things in; unless they don’t attempt to be meticulous (takes too much time); unless they focus on the right priorities, split up, etc., they will be faced with a big downer of an ending. Difficulty of the investigation is not my issue here – it’s this utterly unnecessary subversion of a central tenet of the game, a needless, unfair kick in the shins of even the most capable of agents, one that frankly almost wrecked this adventure for me. It is hard for me to properly enunciate the level of outrage this decision engendered, mainly because, apart from the somewhat opaque finale, this is one amazing, glorious investigation. This is, and let me make that abundantly clear, a challenging, inspired adventure, one that didn’t need this cheapshot. In another game, perhaps in Faer Itself or Trail of Cthulhu, the betrayal would be less important – but in Esoterrorists it undermines a pillar of what sets it apart.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good, though not as refined as in most Pelgrane Press offerings. I noticed a couple of typo-level glitches etc. Layout adheres to a really nice two-column b/w-standard and the adventure sports some neat b/w-artworks. The lack of cartography for many locales is a downside from a presentation perspective. The softcover book is solid, sports the title on the spine, etc. The pdf, as mentioned before, lacks bookmarks, which is a HUGE comfort detriment for an adventure of this size and complexity.

Ian Sturrock’s prose is absolutely glorious; the author manages to write a fantastic module and his characterizations of the NPCs herein is compassionate, kind and simply superb. The little details, from hidden means of identification in e-mail addresses etc. to the more overt aspects, are absolutely inspiring. The gazetteer helps you add a sense of authenticity to the proceedings and the investigation per se is absolutely wonderful. The module manages to evoke a great form of tension, does not rely on shock horror, and must be considered to be an inspired, intriguing offering.

That being said, the module has several serious weaknesses that drag it down from the high recommendation and lavish praise I’d otherwise heap on it. The finale is, as mentioned, somewhat opaque; but more insulting would be the absolutely horrendous cheap-shot regarding the primary antagonist. The fact that this can actually subvert a central tenet of Esoterrorist campaigns makes it problematic. Finally, on a structural level, the organization of the complex investigation could have been more comfortable for the GM. Due to the lack of flow-charts or easy summaries, you’ll probably need to make copious notes, annotations, etc. – this requires serious prep work.

That being said, if you can eliminate these glitches and work around them, you’ll have probably one of the most rewarding investigation scenarios out there. I can absolutely imagine this being classified as a masterpiece, and were it not for the shortcomings mentioned above, this would be a 5 stars + seal of approval book. However, all strikes against this adventure do accumulate and particularly the fact that the module, to a degree, cheats, is something that soured what I’d otherwise consider to be an inspiring adventure. As a reviewer, I need to review this for what it is, not for what you can modify it into. Thus, while I do consider this module to be very much worth picking up, while I consider it to be amazing in atmosphere, characters, etc., all worthy of the highest praise, I also have to take these seriously unpleasant aspects into account. Ultimately, they make it impossible for me to rate this higher than 3.5 stars. Whether to round up or down is a hard decision – my impulse, as a person, would be to round up, but when I tally up, neutrally, my gripes against the adventure, I ultimately can’t do that.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Albion's Ransom: Little Girl Lost
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Unfettered Dreams: Malefex
Publisher: Dreamscarred Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/09/2018 08:44:50

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first installment in Dreamscarred Press‘ Unfettered Dreams-series clocks in at 19 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page introduction/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 14 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

The Malefex class gains d8 HD, 6 + Int skills per level, ¾ BAB-progression, good Ref- and Will-saves and proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as light armor; the class also begins play with trapfinding, More important, though, would be the malefactions, the signature curses and jinxes of the class. They may be used as a swift action; at 8th level, a malefex may trigger two malefactions at once with the same swift action. These are supernatural abilities that target a single creature or object, with a medium range (100 ft. + 10 ft. per class level – the pdf also lists that for your convenience!) and require a clear verbalization of a curse against the target. Kudos: Telepathy can be substituted, if available. It should be noted that the class qualifies for skill unlocks, so if you're playing with them, that's another plus. I tested the class without them in a more gritty context as well, and rest assured that it works perfectly in games without them as well.

Malefactions do not provoke attacks of opportunity and they require either line of sight or at least an idea where precisely the target is. At any given time a malefex may have up to 3 + ½ Wisdom bonus malefactions in effect, and only one in effect per specific malefaction – kudos for the anti-spam-caveat here! Dismissing a malefaction is a free action and they last indefinitely, provided the malefex has some way of perceiving the target – once out of the malefex’ awareness, the target has to endure 1 minute before the malefactions cease to operate. The malefex begins play with two malefactions, which increases to up to 17 known at 20th level. At 12th level, the malefex may affect all opponents in close range (as per spell range) with a malefaction invoked, but may not invoke that malefaction again until all creatures affected by it no longer are under its effects. This does count as 3 malefactions for the purpose of determining how many malefactions a malefex may simultaneously maintain, though.

Malefactions are grouped by power: At 1st level, only least malefactions can be learned; 6th level unlocks lesser malefactions, 11th level unlocks greater malefactions, 16th level grim malefactions and 20th level provides the apex: The malediction. The save DC of malefactions is equal t 10 + ½ class level + Wisdom-modifier. Malefactions that require Fort-saves can affect objects and beings sans Con-score and they are categorized as curse effects. This is important for a number of reasons, one of them being that the class has the wrack class feature, which translates to +1 to atk against cursed creatures, which further increases by +1 at 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter. Additionally, attacks executed versus such creatures add the malefex’ Wisdom modifier to damage. “But curses are mid-to high-level options!” Yep, but it should be noted that the class makes use of the cursed condition, which is properly defined here: Basically, any creature currently affected by a curse is considered to be cursed; hexes do not qualify, only abilities and spells with the curse-descriptor. (Minor nitpick: Spell-reference not italicized.) The condition doesn’t do anything on its own and persists for as long as the target is subject to at least one curse – it represents basically a set-up for combos/follow-up tricks. I’ll return to the precise effects of malefactions in a bit, but let’s first establish the base chassis of the class, all right?

At 2nd level, the malefex adds Wisdom modifier, if positive, to Fortitude and Reflex saves; at 4th level, flanked creatures suffer a -2 penalty to saves versus malefactions, even if the malefex is not the flanker. Beginning at 5th level, we get Back-Alley Bargains, which translates to a +2 insight bonus to Appraise. Really cool: The malefex may concentrate as a move action on a type of item (like poison, magic weapons, etc.) and sense the direction and distance of the closest of such shops within one mile. This is really handy and ties in with the back alley street-life/black market connections vibe. At 7th level, the malefex gets the most German form of humor, Schadenfreude. At 7th level, the malefex gets 5 temporary hit points whenever a creature in close range (as per spell ranges) fails a saving throw versus a maneuver, spell or SP with the curse descriptor. This increases to class level temporary hit points at 14th level. These do stack with themselves, up to a total equal to ½ the malefex’s maximum hit points, and last for 1 minute. Also at 14th level, the malefex may expend as a move action, up to 4 such temporary hit points per class level, healing 1 hit point for every 4 temporary hit points thus expended. Okay, unsurprisingly, I have a problem here: Since malefactions have no daily limit, we do have, essentially an infinite healing exploit here. Granted, a slow and pretty ineffective infinite healing exploit, but an infinite healing exploit nonetheless. Now, I absolutely maintain that, from a design-perspective, this is not justified: A simple caveat could have prevented any ability to cheese this. However, from a practical point of view, at 14th level, the effectiveness of this strategy is so limited, even if you carry around bags of kittens to curse, that it is, ultimately, just sad. I can picture a wounded high-level malefex lying in the hard-boiled, noir gutter, cursing, time and again kittens, down on her luck, as her blood mingles with debris. Perhaps it’s the flavor of the class, but that image does have a certain appeal to me. Do I consider this, design-wise, an unnecessary shortcoming? Yes. Do I think it breaks the class? No, and for once I may actually not remedy it, because this picture, of a malefex cursing her kitten, with tears in her eyes, kinda suck with me. For abuse, the exploit’s too slow and action-intense. Still, for certain groups, this should be borne in mind.

At 10th level, we get the Cool Under Fire ability: Select up to Wisdom modifier skills – the malefex may take 10 when using these skills, even if usually prevented from this by circumstances. 13th level yields break enchantment 2/day as a SP. At 13th level, the malefex may teleport her land speed as a move action, but only to a place to which she has line of sight. At 16th level, we get “A Dark and Stormy Night”, tapping into the clichés of a cursed place: Basically, the malefex can generate a 30-ft.-aura reminiscent of a haunted/cursed place as a standard action, which nets the malefex’s allies +2 to Intimidate and also yields concealment; foes take -2 to saves and the penalty is doubled versus fear effects. This is codified properly as an illusion (shadow) effect. 17th level lets the malefex, 4/day as a free action, force a reroll of a save versus a malefaction, which must be declared after the save rolled, but before results are made known. A single save may only be rerolled once. At 19th level, the malefex may teleport adjacent to a creature suffering currently from a malefaction as a move action, regardless of distance, eliminating the need for line of sight or effect, gaining a brief glimpse of the 10 ft.-area prior to teleporting to safely choose destination squares.

Okay, so those would be the linear abilities: The class also begins play with the school of hard knocks class feature: They begin play with one knock and gain an additional one at 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter. These are really flavorful and basically constitute the talents of the class: Bad penny, for example, allows the malefex to ritually designate an item as the penny, which may then called into possession of the malefex, even across planar boundaries, which can be a godsend for infiltrations, etc. Gaining both Improved and Greater Unarmed Strike, using Wisdom modifier for attack rolls (but not damage) allows the class to have some brawling competence from the get-go. While I am generally not a big fan of e.g. + Wisdom modifier to Disable Device checks, the ability also allows for saves versus effects like explosive runes (“explosive” not italicized), which is a neat angle I enjoy. At 6th level, malefexes may choose to gain AoOs when a creature targets an ally, even with ranged weapons, but only within the first range increment. This is very potent, but a 1/round caveat keeps it from being OP – it is an aspect of the skirmishing angle of the class. Speaking of which: Also locked (rightly so) behind 6th level, Gang Up allows for flanking bonuses, regardless of positioning of malefex and ally. This, once more, is pretty potent, but ensures that e.g. rogue-malefex-teams can be pretty amazing tag-teams.

Gaining Ability Focus for Malefactions, bonus feats or substituting Wisdom for Knowledge can also be found. Catch Off-Guard and Throw Anything make sense, but in a cool twist, the ability that grants these feats has a synergy effect with bad penny. It is also one of a few knocks that may be selected an additional time, increasing the benefits. Another nice ability allows the malefex to treat lower-grade equipment as better, even with the ability to be selected a second time, adding a special ability for armors or weaponry. Kudos: The usual +10 limit may not be exceeded. Gaining a Bloodforge Heritage feat. We may also gain a variant renown that nets identities – and yes, this may be upgraded and the pdf reprints the talents for your convenience. These may be further built upon with another knock and social talents. Rogue talents, psychic reading as a SP and 1/day teamwork sharing as well as quicker Disable Device to gain access to places complement this section. I really liked the very strong, thematic leitmotif of the hard-knocks character, the supernatural anti-hero detective, etc. – the knocks are thematic and flavorful.

Now, I already mentioned the malefactions and at this point, you want to know what they do, right? So, their presentation is pretty much akin to maneuvers or spells – they are governed by type and alphabetically within that type; we begin with least malefactions and move up to the most potent ones. They note targets, saves and descriptors – all are curses and a few are mind-affecting or fear-based. Okay, so, what do they do? For example, Baleful Glare nets -2 to CL/ML and concentration checks, saves and skill checks- Face Stealer imposes a -2 penalty to Charisma and disguises the malefex as the target. If the target is slain while under this effect, his corpse’s face becomes utterly featureless! Now this is flavorful and has adventure-ideas baked right into the effects. Glued Boots is really cool from a tactics point of view: No more 5-foot steps or withdrawal and halved movement…oh, and you become faster. This is a theme, btw.: Steal Stamina, for example, nets you +2 to Dex and Str, and fatigues the target. Penalties versus steal and disarm can also be found and items may lose hardness or become broken due to Sands of time. Tongue Tie can net spell failure chance and penalize social skills…no complaints here.

Among the lesser malefactions, we have an option to steal fast healing and regeneration AND make the target ignore a scaling amount of healing. Nice! Confiscate: Blood nets you temporary hit points when targets bleeds. There are more of those “Confiscate:”-malefactions and they follow similar design paradigms. As an aside, I can see that being really fun to play at the table. Decree: Anteros lets you designate a target, to which the character becomes hostile. Embargo: Alacrity is a really potent and cool debuff: Swift action maneuvers, SPs, psi-like abilities etc. are reduced to a move action. Forbiddance: Flight’s effects are self-explanatory and no, may not be abused to kill off flyers en masse. Interdiction: Sorcery punishes attempts to cast spells, manifest powers etc. with untyped damage (which is not so much as to render that broken); subverting fear-immunity or causing targets to become shaken if they don’t focus on you. Nice! (As an aside: If you use Horror Adventure’s alternate fear-progression, the ability is worded in a way that allows for the use of that system!) No complaints here either.

With greater malefactions, things start to become really potent: Chink in the Armor strips the target of all DR and hardness and bestows -2 to saves. Ouch! Now personally, I would have made ignored DR based on type and implemented a scaling here, but at 11th level, I consider this to be okay. Delusion is interesting: Regardless of whether a save is made, it’s -4 to atk and Perception – on a failed save, the poor sod also suffers from 40% miss chance. Suppressing ongoing powers or spells (including the option to hijack benefits!) makes for a cool trick. Really cool: Make an item broken; on a failed save, the target takes magic piercing damage from the shards. Reducing immunity/resistance also can be really nasty. Dragon malefex team-up just got very scary. Just sayin’. Once more, I have no serious complaints against the options presented here; while potent, they are in line with analogue benefits granted by other classes and class options.

The most potent regular malefactions, the grim malefactions, are appropriately brutal: Blood for blood causes the target to suffer half the damage it inflicts on you; if you’re dropped to 0 hit points, the target may be stunned for 1 round on a failed save. This is an interesting Mexican-Stand-Off-type of ability; it tracks only actual damage taken and may not be cheesed. Circe’s word is a temporary baleful polymorph. Decree of Exile has a limited duration and strands the target temporarily in a demiplane. Stagger + gaining haste is strong, but neat…but it does have an issue. You see, I consider it quite feasible to reduce the number of malefactions I can place by 1 for e.g. perma-haste. Just carry a kitten with you and there you go – courtesy of the lack of durations per se, the buff may be thus maintained infinitely, at the cost of a slightly reduced debuffing capacity in combat. This is, yes, cheesing the buffing aspect here. Yes, it should be no problem for the GM to forbid such actions. The puzzling thing to me is that malefactions usually have effects localized on the target or grant less potent benefits. So yeah, I consider that to be an aspect that could use a limiter.

Mystic isolation nets the target SR, but only for benevolent and harmless effects…which is devious and cool. Dimensional anchor is per se is useful…but the malefaction Witch’s Prison adds a cool idea to that: If you move too far away, the target instead teleports to you, in spite of the effect. A more penalizing rage, individual silence, negative levels via the black spot-growth whenever you hit them…neat.

Finally, there are the maledictions, the capstone abilities. Word of doom kills basically every defensive quality the target may have: Resistances, DR, fast healing, hardness, immunities…etc. Brutal. Word of Horror Unending nets a negative level and 3 attribute damage to all scores per round, with each round offering a save to negate. The Waerloch’s Word is cool: You can only use it 1/week…but if you do, you make an item intelligent. Permanently. Worse, the item wants to kill its wielder. Ever felt like your kitchen/elevator/etc. was out to get you? ;)

Okay, so, as a whole, I really loved the malefactions. With a few minor aspects, I consider them to be worthwhile, engine-wise interesting and unique. I particularly enjoy how, in spite of them not sporting any flavor-text, they often manage to evoke a concise theme via their names alone.

Supplemental material-wise, we get favored class options for the core races as well as aasimar, changeling, dhampir, hexbreather, merg, kitsune and shabti. These interact in some cases with racial abilities, allow for limited hex access, etc. No complaints here. The class gets 8 different feats: The aforementioned Ability Focus is included for your convenience; if you have two or more malefactions, you can take another one – up to 3 times. Talented Jinxer increases the maximum number of active malefactions at any given time by 2. Street Lessons nets you +1 knock. Wrack and Ruin adds Wisdom modifier bleed damage to cursed creatures hit via the wrack ability. Spreading Misery lets the malefex move a malefaction from a foe reduced to 0 hp to another target within 100 ft.; time spent, if applicable, does not reset upon being transferred and the new target gets a save. Grudgebearer lets you choose a creature type (or type/subtype) available from favored enemies; the type takes a -2 penalty to saves versus malefactions. (This may obviously be chosen multiple times, applying its benefits to different types.) Honed Maliciousness lets you bypass curse immunity – and yes, prerequisites are sensible.

Rogue, slayer and vigilante may choose a malefex knock as a rogue/slayer/vigilante talent. Rogues and slayers may not choose evasion, rogue talent or combat feat (avoiding redundancy) and use Intelligence as governing attribute instead of Wisdom. The vigilante does consequently not have these limitations and uses Charisma as governing attribute. Rogue and slayer may choose curse adept as a talent, gaining a single least malefaction, usable 1/3 class level + Int-mod times, with 4th level as a prerequisite. Once more, intelligence is the governing attribute here. As advanced talents for slayer and rogue, the classes can gain a least or lesser malefaction, with the same restrictions as the previous talent. The vigilante gains a variant: Least or lesser may be chosen (with lesser malefactions requiring 10th level) and Charisma is the governing attribute. Since vigilante talents are worth slightly more, the malefactions thus gained may be used ½ class level + Cha-mod times per day. All such options allow the classes to treat their class levels as malefex levels to determine malefaction effects.

Finally, there also is an archetype included in the deal, the rustpicker. These fellows replace the malefaction gained at 1st level with the ability to have all weaponry treated as cold iron, using the better values for hardness and hit points. Instead of the knocks gained at 1st, 6th, 9th and 15th level, the rustpicker gains Brilliant Planner as a bonus feat and does not need to replenish the brilliant plan fund after procuring 20+ pounds of objects, only the invested gold is taken into account when it needs replenishing. Objects and services below 1 sp in cost are treated as 1 sp, preventing cheesing there. 3rd level enhances Brilliant Planner, allowing for the replenishment of 100 gp per character level and this takes only 4 hours. 6th level lets the character designate a container as her rucksack. While this item is worn, a brilliant plan no longer increases weight. Additionally, the brilliant plan fund may be replenished by placing an item inside and meditating – upon completion, the item vanishes, its value added to the fund, up to the usual maximum. Nice: Cursed items and artifacts may explicitly not be removed from play thus. Starting at 9th level, the rustpicker may enact the brilliant plan to withdraw an item (not a service) as if drawing it from her person, which usually means a move action, though the rules specify potentially quicker draw options. 12th level makes the rucksack behave as a handy haversack sans monetary value. 1/day, mage’s magnificent mansion as an SP is also gained. AT 15th level, brilliant plan funds may be replenished anywhere and objects or services may be procured regardless of place, provided they are available on the plane of existence. Starting at 7th, victims of malefactions take + class level damage when receiving damage from a source other than the malefaction. At 14th level, this also imposes a massive -6 penalty to Dexterity. This replaces schadenfreude and its upgrade. Instead of break enchantment, the archetype nets 2/day banishment as an SP at 13th level.

Now, the pdf does sport a page that I really wished more classes would feature – a page that deals with how to integrate malefexes into an ongoing campaign, ideas of what malefactions actually are, etc. – the pdf mentions psychic potential, bad memories, half-remembered curses, myths, songs taught by weird grannies and plain ole’ grudges may explain that. The notion of a neighborhood guardian or covert malefex, protecting (or terrorizing) a community similarly are touched upon; the leitmotifs of a person hardened by a tough life, of killer-instincts, etc. are very much evident in nomenclature etc., but this page further emphasizes the feeling that the class is designed to evoke – and what you could do with it in your campaign.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good – while I noticed a few minor formatting guffaws, none of them compromised the rules-language integrity. Rules-language is as precise as we’ve come to expect from Dreamscarred Press and while the minor kitten-exploits imho are not necessary, even they remain within the paradigm of what most groups will complain about. Layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press’ nice two-column full-color standard and the full color-artworks are nice. We get a second, more printer-friendly version and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Jade Ripley, with additional content by Forrest Heck and N. Jolly, delivers basically the class that was attempted in varying degrees of success before: The 5th-man debuffer. Where hexblade imho failed and similar options went a more spell-centric route, the malefex stands singularly, as a one-of-a-kind class. There are two reasons for this. One, the class, unsurprisingly, considering the authors, sports a unique engine that provides a distinct playstyle – the malefex plays differently from comparable classes, which is a very big plus as far as I’m concerned. Secondly, and to me, that is just as important, it has a strong, distinct sense of identity, one that is not prescriptive via a overdetailed description of flavor, but one that suffuses the class in ability-names, in how its pieces gel together. With minimal word-count, the class manages to use names and effects to generate a distinct identity.

That is a huge plus. Just as important for me is that the class follows a design-aesthetic that reminds me of the Occult Classes – and indeed, I’d classify the Malefex as such in its design-aesthetics. You see, the class not only sports combat-relevant options and tricks to escalate numbers and combat output; yes, there are some potent tricks here, but the class focuses on being a versatile class that can contribute in meaningful ways to the game beyond its combat capabilities. Secondly, the abilities of the malefex, surprisingly, in spite of their very much crunch-centric presentation, manage to have story-seeds and ideas woven into them. You can read the class and have an adventure- or encounter-idea based on a malefaction etc. In short, this is a class that is a meaningful contributor to the roleplaying experience beyond combat performance.

That does not mean that the malefex can’t hold her own in battle, mind you: The class manages to provide a potent, valid skirmisher/rogue-y stand-in with a nice supernatural angle. While the class is pretty potent, it never strays into territory that I’d consider to be OP or broken for the levels at which an ability is unlocked; the malefex should provide no issues in even lower-powered or 15-point-buy games. In very conservative games, a couple of the ignore DR/reduce immunity/etc. tricks may require finetuning, but as a whole, I consider the malefex to be a universally appealing class.

The interesting crazy-prepared archetype and the solid supplemental material, as well as the overall package ultimately conspire to make this my favorite design by Jade Ripley so far. The malefex is truly intriguing, oozes flavor and its detailed guidelines for flavor etc. add icing on an awesome cake. This class is interesting, inspiring and well-made, and it is only the 2 minor kitten-exploits that cost this pdf the nomination as a candidate of my Top Ten of 2017. Don’t let that deter you, though: The malefex is a cool, flavorful and worthwhile addition to the game, a great representation of the debuffer/skirmisher-role. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Unfettered Dreams: Malefex
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