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5E Mini-Dungeon #032: Howling Halls
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/14/2017 04:22:02

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM. Unlike most 5E Mini-Dungeons, this one does not come with VTT-maps or player-friendly iterations, which is a bit of a bummer.

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

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

...

..

.

Still here?

All right!

The Howling Halls can easily be inserted into the context of a grander dungeon and generally represents a hauntingly cold crypt-complex, which makes neat use of the environmental rules. Beyond a couple of nice traps, the theme, obviously, would be undead regarding the enemies contained herein and the exploration yields keys with script that can be used to open the central rooms of the crypts and battle the progressively harder guardians of this place - finally wresting a magical key labeled "peace" from the final crypt - but for what purpose remains up to the GM to decide. The big plusses here would be Kyle Crider managing to translate the material really well to 5E - including a rather potentially deadly cold that haunts these halls and tactically interesting monster-choices.

Conclusion:

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

Jonathan Ely's Howling Halls is a nice insert into a bigger dungeon complex. With two tower-like structures, the howling halls can easily be used by an enterprising GM as a kind of suture to connect two unrelated dungeon-levels and the challenges per se are nice, the content solid. The dungeon, in short, does what it's supposed to do and provides a fun, cool diversion and leaves an interesting hook for the GM in the player's hands. At the same time, it is just that - it does what it sets out to do well. For what it tries to be, this is a solid hub/sidetrek and it actually works better in the 5E-version, as far as I'm concerned - the halls are a bit more interesting, a bit more deadly. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
5E Mini-Dungeon #032: Howling Halls
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Death Frost Doom
Publisher: Lamentations of the Flame Princess
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/11/2017 11:09:37

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 66 pages (obviously!), 1 page front cover, 1 page logo, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page dead sign, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 60 pages, so let's take a look!

This review was sponsored by one of my generous patreons, who supplied the means to acquire this book for a review at my leisure. My review is mostly based on the hardcover-version of the module, though I have also consulted the pdf and checked its functionality. The review is based on the fourth printing of the module, annotated and expanded by Zak S..

First things first: This is a very dark module. If you can't handle dark fantasy or really grim prospects, then this may not be for you. It is not a module I'd play with kids. (As if that needed to be said- the book's called "Death Frost Doom", for crying out loud...) There are two more things you should be aware of before we go into SPOILER-territory.

One, this module will probably create a significant array of fallout in your game and steer the plot well beyond the confines of its pages. PCs can spend a whole campaign dealing with the fallout...if they survive. This is deadly.

Two, if you're a metalhead who enjoys the darker aspects of metal, then this module has its own soundtrack! I am not kidding. E.g. upon entering one of the rooms, the module tells you to put on Samael's "Baphomet's Throne." Now, this is not gimmicky, mind you - you won't find the like for every room...but personally, I enjoyed it. This, coincidentally, also serves as a Litmus test of sorts: The aesthetics of this module are very much indebted to black metal; the cold, screeching type. It's basic premise could be summed up as: "What if an evil organization was actually effective and, aesthetics-wise, really, really EVIL and misanthropic and spiteful?"

That's ultimately what the PCs will be up against. There is a reason "YOU ARE DOOMED" is written in big, fat letters on the back cover. The dungeon herein is a true hell-hole. PCs will quite probably die horribly unless they are really up to their A-game. This one is for the pros. Not for the "Advanced" gamer. Pros. Hardcore RPG enthusiasts looking for a brutal challenge.

Okay, so this is as far as I can conceivably go without diving into SPOILERS. If you're a player, then may the gods have mercy on your PC. From here on out, only referees should read on!

...

..

.

All right, only referees around? Great!

There is a frost-covered mountain, and at its top, there is a cabin and a mausoleum. Death awaits. Even as the PCs approach the foreboding top, things may get nasty: Straying off the path can be a bad idea in these rugged climates...and as the PCs make their way to the top of the mountain, they encounter the axe-wielding hermit Ezekiel "Zeke" Duncaster - a truly eccentric and creepy fellow. The attention to detail here and throughout the book is btw. massive: Multiple options for using Zeke are provided for the referee. We get a table to determine his whereabouts and beyond brief stats, the referee gets guidance on likely venues of conversation. Zeke tells the PCs to go home, trying to restrain them via non-lethal means...but PCs being PCs, the chance is high that they'll kill him or lie to him - after all, there are so many graves up there and Zeke spends all his days carving the names of the dead...so many.

At this point, some sensible groups may decide to go straight back where they came from. These groups, in my experience, are few and far in between. I mean, how bad could it be?

...

Worse. As the PCs approach the foreboding peak, they will realize that speak with dead is a bad, bad idea...possession is possible. Sleep offers only unreliable solace. The old hanging tree, while rooted, is possessed of a horrid, impotent malevolence. The frozen body of a mountain-climber can be found, his equipment being potentially crucial... Even the well is cursed...oh, and there is the cabin. The cabin that hides the entrance to the dungeon...and the place where the PCs can get a very good idea of HOW FRICKIN unhallowed this ground is. Crossing threshold? Notes for GM. Pretty much every object in the cabin has interaction notes for the GM. It is here that the book "That Which Was Given" can be found - and it contains the names of the fallen, oh so many...and notes on the true extent of the influence of the evil organization responsible for this vile fleck of frozen hell, the dreaded Duvan'Ku.

How evil are the Duvan'Ku? In the trophies of the cabin, the eyes of glass are actually souls in frozen time, left there to forever writhe in maddening torment. And it becomes worse in the dungeon under the cabin. Here, we get walls (depicted in hand-out style one-page artworks - much like many places herein!) of screaming faces...and then there is the grand, malevolent scheme: Upon entering the chapel of the complex, 12 skulls of ice, hanging from the ceiling, will slowly, inexorably, fall and shatter, counting down in intervals of 10 before the big, campaign-changing event takes place.

You see, the complex is lavishly detailed (playing different tunes on an organ can have dire consequences for players who think they are clever: Music pieces can provide significant edges when found, but pretty much all chimes and sound-sequences you can find in the module (even that of the cookoo-clock) have been covered...and meta-jokes (because we know players will try...) also have effects. Hint: Playing "In a Gadda da Vida" makes for a pretty...ehem...memorable result. Speaking of memorable: This also holds true for the plethora of deadly traps and cursed items - though it should be noted that the "dickish insta-kill"-quota is pretty low - if PCs are finished off, it generally is the result of doing something less than wise.

But let's get back to the aforementioned cataclysmic event - in order to enter the deepest recesses of the dungeon, the PCs will have to bypass (or kill) the sacred parasite, a combination of undifferentiated ectoplasm, unholy ice and liquid time as well as an unfortunate, whose fate at the hands of the Duvan'Ku was even worse than that of their plentiful other victims. (And yes, reading up on that in the cult's books can make you stark, raving mad...) - slaying this unfortunate THING exposes the pit - and in the original version, this is where things got a bit haphazard and deadly, envisioning, among the choices, the parasite as part of the nose mucus of an impossibly large giant, who'd awake upon intrusion - and waking this titan would instantly kill everyone. The revised option offers more suggestions here, but going down is still a bad idea...particularly considering that the death of the parasite's death will cause the souls suspended in it to break free, animating the dead...for the dungeon, ultimately, is a mass-grave, horrid testament to the Duvan'KU's vile deeds - and thousands (literally!) of undead will spew forth.

And then there would be the matter at hand that is the aforementioned sanctum beyond the parasite, where disturbingly rendered greater repugnances roam - the erstwhile leaders of the Duvan'Ku, vile and horrid undead monstrosities that provide a deadly array of potential bosses, which partially should be considered to be puzzle combats: Limited omniscience, a foe that demands an oath each round (and not keeping them sends you straight to hell...) and an inquisitor, whose questions can cause damage to those replying - these horrid beings make for twisted and disturbing foes - and ultimately, the mighty Praetor-Pontifex awaits to lead his legions into battle once more. Hint: No, chances are that your PCs will not stand a chance against the tide of the living dead and this powerful undead...so yes, they may have to strike a devil's bargain...or flee in horror.

On particular aspect of the module is btw. interesting: It makes great use of the blending of in- and out-game behavior: If PCs and players read aloud certain chants and promises, they will be in for a rude awakening. It should also be noted that the hand-out maps that the PCs can find actually have been reproduced here. the attention to detail goes so far as to provide a massive 100-entry-table of effects for a magical drug...and, enjoyably, the book ends with a nice little retrospective, including artworks and cover artworks of previous iterations.

Conclusions:

Editing and formatting are very good - apart from some minor typo-level glitches, I encountered no problems. Layout adheres to a nice and elegant 2-column b/w-standard and, like most OSR-books, the file is intended for 6'' by 9'' books. The artworks and cartography in b/w by Jez Gordon are really neat - while no player-maps have been provided, that's because they can't really find them, apart from the handout, which ticks off that box as far as I'm concerned. The cover art by Yannick Bouchard perfectly encapsulates the flair of the module.

James Edward Raggi IV's "Death Frost Doom", with the options and additions by Zak Sabbath, makes for a rather amazing module. If you like dark fantasy and really challenging, brutal dungeons, then this will be a revelation for you. The amount of details, GM-guidance and the glorious tone of the adventure render it a true joy to run. This is a very deadly campaign-changer of a module, yes, but it is also one that drives home how dangerous and yes, nightmarish the job of being an adventurer can be. The bosses herein are glorious and so are several pieces of dressing, traps, etc. - in short, this is one impressive beast of an adventure.

It should be noted that, when playing e.g. Paizo- or WotC-material, you ever felt like "This is too dark", then this may not be for you. Similarly, if you can't take a character dying, this will not be for you. This is steeped in the aesthetics of Scandinavian, cold and misanthropic black metal and the sheer existence of the Duvan'Ku will make your campaign feel darker than it once was. But then again, light shines brightest when contrasted with pure, pitch-black darkness, right?

In the end, I absolutely adored this module. I understand what some people dislike about it, but personally, I consider it a dark fantasy milestone. My final verdict is 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Death Frost Doom
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Mythic Minis 100: Horror Feats C-E
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/11/2017 10:37:16

An Endzeitgeist.com review

All right, you know the deal by now, right? 3 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD/editorial, 1 page content, so let's go!

-Clarity of Pain: Adds a bonus on your second roll equal to the amount of damage inflicted. Via mythic power, the damage can be increased to 3d6.

-Consume Essence: Add temp HP to the threshold the swallowed creature when you inflict a negative level. There is no limit on how many you can accrue this way, which is a bit problematic. Also, as a standard action, you can expend mythic power to impose 1d4 temporary negative levels in addition to the other save for being swallowed.

-Contagious Spell: Spell spreads on any failure to remove it, not just significant failures. You may also expend mythic power, based on 1/2 spell level, including adjustment, to make it spontaneously spread. Alternatively, you can expend mythic power to spontaneously make a spell contagious. Cool!

-Deadhand Style: When using ki to empower unarmed strikes, you may also expend mythic power; if you do, increase condition severity to frightened.

-Deadhand Initiate: Allows you to reflect fear-effects back on targets when you succeed the save.

-Deadhand Master: Lets you expend mythic power to make the negative levels inflicted potentially permanent. Partially affects targets that save and nets temporary hit points when inflicting 1 or more negative levels.

-Disconcerting Knowledge: Affect any base CR. Also add Knowledge to identify a creature as a second roll when using Intimidate to demoralize, use the higher value and if both succeed, you treat that result used for both checks as 5 higher. Decent, I guess.

-Disrupting Fist: You need only 1 channel energy to destroy undead via the feat. As a swift action, you can expend mythic power to wreathe your body in energy for 1 minute, adding +1d6 untyped damage (should be positive energy, right?) versus undead.

-Enemy Cult: Additional uses of the detect spell granted. Upon gaining the completion benefit, you also gain the corresponding protection from as an SP 3/day and may use mythic power to use the appropriate magic circle as a SP as a standard action. That's a cool one!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant hiccups. Layout adheres to Legendary Games' two column full-color standard and it features the artwork on the cover; that's it - the one page content is solely devoted to crunch. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Alex Riggs second array of mythic versions of horror feats is a nice collection; it sports some cool and creative ideas and while it doesn't reach the apex of the series (woohoo - #100, btw.!), it ranks as a good installment, well worth a final verdict of 4.5 stars, though I do feel I have to round down for it.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Mythic Minis 100: Horror Feats C-E
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Mythic Minis 99: Horror Feats A-B
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/11/2017 10:35:17

An Endzeitgeist.com review

All right, you know the deal by now, right? 3 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD/editorial, 1 page content, so let's go!

-Absorb Spirit: Bonus on Will-saves and Constitution checks made for the feat. Additionally, harboring spirits/haunts is less stressful, allowing for the longer-term harboring of spirits...and you may absorb undead sans rejuvenation.

-Aura Flare: Lets you use it more often; first additional use costs one mythic power and every additional use increases the mythic power cost. Additionally, depending on the alignment, you affect the appropriate alignments. If your aura is strong, you exhaust targets instead of fatiguing them. Nice.

-Blood Feast: Pure numerical escalation: On a basic level and even more via mythic power expenditure, including threat range and multiplier expansion, which I consider problematic.

-Blood Spurt: Spray in a 15-ft.-cone, 30-ft. for mythic power expenditure. Also, ranged attacks can trigger it. You may also inflict 1d6 points of damage instead of 1 bleed when triggering it yourself. Cool!

-Brutal Coup de Grace: Frighten foes, rather than just make them shaken. Killing mythic targets via the feat nets you mythic power, up to tier extra power per day. So no, you can't abuse it with mythic kittens. ;)

-Brutal Style: +1d6 damage when attacking prone foes while in the style.

-Brutal Stomp: Increase crit range for additional attacks made with the feat.

-Brute Assault: Increase the Str-damage to 1d8+1, 1d3 on a successful save. Also lets you cripple foes temporarily via mythic power expenditure while in Brutal Style, requiring Str or Acrobatics to stand up properly.

-Bully Breed: First time you and your companion damage a creature in a full attack, you can expend your mythic power to have the animal make a demoralize check as a swift action. On all other checks, the companion gains a bonus. The companion can also grant you a better aid another.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant hiccups. Layout adheres to Legendary Games' two column full-color standard and it features the artwork on the cover; that's it - the one page content is solely devoted to crunch. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Alex Riggs' horror feats are an interesting blend. There is a bit more of escalating numbers here than I personally like, but this is certainly not bad. The craftsmanship is solid and the pdf thus can be considered to be good - my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Mythic Minis 99: Horror Feats A-B
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Deadly Gardens Player Companion: Forest Shadows
Publisher: Rusted Iron Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/11/2017 10:32:10

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the player-centric Deadly Gardens-pdfs clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1/2 page SRD, leaving us with 8.5 pages of content, so let's take a look!

So, what are forest shadows? In a nutshell, they are humanoid flying squirrels. Racial traits would be as follows: Forest shadows get +2 Dex and Cha, -2 Str, are Small fey with the gnome subtype, have a slow speed, low-light vision, +4 to Stealth in forests and +2 to Acrobatics to balance and Fly checks. Beyond that, they have antlers that grant them a primary gore attack for 1d4. They increases their miss chances due to concealment or total concealment by 5% and gain DR 5/cold iron. They also have gliding wings, making the race as a whole pretty strong, though not to the extent that the race would exceed or outshine the power of the more potent of races.

As far as alternate racial traits are concerned, the forest shadow can exchange their antlers for 20 ft. climbing speed. The miss-chance-increase can be replaced with a +2 to Handle Animals that is increased to +6 when dealing with squirrels. The DR can be replaced with electricity resistance 10. Some forest shadows can btw. be Tiny, but lose antlers and fey resistance. This can be pretty nasty with the right build, very detrimental in the hands of someone not as capable of minmaxing. Stealth bonuses for forests may be exchanged for urban areas.

Forest shadows are omnivores and tend to live in small family units and the race generally, culture-wise, should be easy to introduce to any setting. The race does btw. come with age, height and weight tables and the race features FCOs for alchemists, druids, investigators, rangers, rogues, slayers and sorceror. There are two archetypes included in the supplement, the first of these being the aerial daredevil swashbuckler, who gets a modified class skill list. The deed-list of the archetype's modified: Swoop replaces kip up and nets a potent assault option. 7th level replaces swashbuckler's grace with darting flight: As a swift action, the daredevil can expend 1 panache to "make a 5-foot adjustment to avoid an attack by succeeding a Fly check with a DC of 25 or the attack roll, whichever is greater." A) "5-foot adjustment" is no rules-language. Does that count as a 5-foot step? What about AoE attacks? B) This ability does not work RAW. The action should be immediate. 11th level nets the option to use panache to help flying a vehicle instead of bleeding wounds, which is pretty situational and very late in the class progression. 15th level nets the option to take 10 for Acrobatics and Fly, take 20 for panache expenditure, replacing swashbuckler's edge. It should be noted that the deeds are not formatted as such, which can be a bit annoying. Instead of charmed life, the 2nd level 3/day as an immediate action, they can add Cha-mod to Acrobatics and Fly, +1/day at 5th level and every 3 levels thereafter. Instead of nimble, the 3rd level yields scaling dodge bonuses and the bonus feat list is slightly modified. All in all, not impressed by this one.

The second archetype would be the unfettered sneak rogue. The archetype gets a bonus to CMD against grapples and to Escape Artist checks, replacing trapfinding. At 3rd level, they get +1 to saves versus mind-affecting effects, which increases at later levels, replacing trap/danger sense. 5th level locks the class into the Escape Artist skill unlock - not sure whether this holds true for the non-unchained rogue, though. The pdf does contain 6 different rogue talents exclusively available for the forest shadow race. Quicker crawls are nice, as are better squeezing defenses and attacks, but that one should probably reference replacing the regular squeezing rules. RAW it could be read as added penalties. Greater slippery mind, swift action Escape Artist and a CMD bonus to resist grapples + immunity versus being entangled.

The pdf does come with 3 pieces of equipment: Ailerons are basically feather-piercings that help gliding, while antler spikes add bleeding effects. Shadow pouches can conceal items, helping with Sleight of Hand. The pdf has 5 feats for the race: Between the Ribs nets +Dex mod instead of Str when doing precision damage. Situational and not too cool. Diving Attack. When using Flyby Attack, you don't provoke AoOs from the target of the attack, provided you end the attack at least 10 ft. from the target. Duck and Roll lets you 3/day, but only once per creature, attempt a Ref-save, Acrobatics or Escape Artist check to halve damage incurred from a melee attack, with a save equal to the attack roll and crits adding +5. This has synergy with evasion. Multipoint Antlers increase antler-damage to 1d6 and 1/day allows you to break off a bit of antlers to cause bleed damage. The feat may be taken a second time for further increase of power. Sugar Rush nets the option to 1/day, within 1 hour of eating gain the benefits of haste (not properly italicized) for 3 rounds as a nonmagic effect. At the end of the rush, the forest shadow is exhausted and is treated as though he hasn't eaten for 2 days; eating food removes these effects,. The feat may be taken additional times for additional daily uses or longer duration.

The pdf contains two magic items - dreams of the bough lets you teleport 3/day to the top of natural rocks or trees attuned to it, with a maximum height. Re-attunement is similarly simple. Feasting acorns can 3/day produce a duplicate acorn that acts as a full meal. Breaking the item is also possible, duplicating the effects of hero's feast for up to 11 beings. 3 new spells are included: Sweeten can make food more palpable and is particularly nice for forest shadows with Sugar Rush. Swirl of Leaves generates an obscuring cyclone you may move around. Updraft is pretty self-explanatory. The pdf concludes with a sample forest shadow hunter and his dire weasel companion.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level, but only good on a rules-language level: As a whole, the bonus-types etc. are nice, but rules-language isn't always perfect. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard. The artworks are originals and in full-color -and really nice, perhaps my favorite aspect of the pdf - kudos to Liz Courts and Jacob Blackmon. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Mike Welham's forest shadows are a very cool race, concept-wise - come on, antlered flying squirrels? Basically a cool wolpertinger-race? Damn cool! Unfortunately, the supplemental material provided for the race isn't as unique as the concept of the race. The archetypes left me less than impressed, with the swashbuckler being unfocused and the rogue's non-unchained sections feeling like an afterthought. The other supplemental material similarly did not blow me away either. Don't get me wrong - this is not bad, but neither will it redefine races or utterly blow you away. In the end, this is a solid mixed bag, slightly on the positive side, but not to the extent that I'd feel I could round up from my final verdict of 3.5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Deadly Gardens Player Companion: Forest Shadows
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Veranthea Codex: Radical Pantheon 2.0
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/08/2017 19:25:02

An Endzeitgeist.com review

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The revised edition of the massive first expansion for Veranthea clocks in at a whopping 123 pages (for this price-point!), 1 page front cover,1 page editorial/ToC, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 117 pages of content - quite a lot, so let's get to it!

Veranthea Codex is a truly massive book - and still, there are a lot of components that simply, by virtue of their unique ideas, deserved more coverage. Well, this would be the first book doing just that. If you require a brief one-sentence summary - think of this as the setting's Inner Sea Gods...though, admittedly, the focus is somewhat different.

In the first chapter, we get information on the respective deities - from ever sleeping Verahnus to Death and the Nightmare Gods - and, much like Inner Sea Gods, we receive information on the priest's role in the respective society, aphorisms, holy texts, holidays, etc. - basically, we get the full fluff-write-ups, though, considering the comparably somewhat lesser page-count, obviously the entries are not as extensive as in Inner Sea Gods - still, what is here can be considered fun and sports information on (anti-)paladins for the respective deities. And yes, this includes paladins with an anti-chaos focus instead of the anti-evil focus, for example. Here, you'll also encounter one of the major improvements of this revised edition: The book now actually contains obediences for each and every deity herein.

If you're looking for full-blown redesigns of aforementioned classes though, you won't find them here. As a nice nod towards the game's traditions, we have a couple of Easter eggs here that should certainly put smiles on the faces of quite a few GMs: Death's holy text, for example, would obviously be the Libris Mortis.

The flavor of these deities is excellent - I will e.g. never stop chuckling when reading about the deity of capitalism that puts a smiling face to the world, purporting to be LG when he's actually LE. (And no, for your info - I am NOT anti-capitalist. Quite the contrary, actually.) Cool regarding new ideas: Wanna sell your soul for random mythic templates? Yup, possible.

The chapter is also suffused by pieces of crunch - nath, as a material, has a low chance of generating wild magic, for example. Another material, Kenta, temporarily becomes harder when it's hit (cool mechanics!) and also increases AC etc. - that being said, for the copious benefits the material provides, it is underpriced. Streas, as a material, is also nice: It converts energy types, though it does confuse "Fire" with "Flame" in a minor hiccup. Wealb is slightly problematic - the material nets you a bonus to damage after being critically hit; while you can kitten the bonus, it is an ineffective strategy...but yeah, I think that could have used a slightly smoother design. There also is an interesting dust that allows for the substitution of Str for the key ability modifier of spellcasting - while I'm not a big fan here, the costs keep this in check. The pdf, while cleaned up in comparison to the first iteration, still features "page @@"-glitches here and there. Both Aleana and Andrletha now receive dedicated paladin-tenets for their knights.

On the plus-side: Studying some of the dread holy texts of Nightmare Gods can cause (conveniently hyperlinked) insanities - but also convey significant bonuses. The pdf now has a note on the recent emergence of psychic magic in Veranthea and a feat that allows cultists to infiltrate other churches and society at large...nice. Worshiping the dread Nightmare Gods can cause serious insanities and mutations for those foolish (or self-destructive) enough to heed their calling. 3 new occult rituals with slightly modified rules have been added for your gibbering delight, causing unpleasant insanities for your adversaries.

The pdf also sports a vast array of player options for the devout, beginning with Religion-traits. These traits generally are pretty powerful, but not in a way that would render then overpowered; as a cosmetic complaint, they should be denoted as subtype (Faith), but its trait subtype is evident, so yeah. For example, gaining +10 to Perception while asleep is interesting. Similarly, extending your darkvision (or getting it) a limited amount of times per day is cool.

The pdf also sports a selection of spells, and they are interesting in some of their concepts: Arcodivinity takes a whole round to cast and emulates an arcane spell of 4th level or lower from the magus or sorc/wiz-spell lists or a divine spell from the cleric/druid-list of 4th level or lower when cast by an arcane caster. This is generally a cool idea, but it should be noted that this has system-immanent hiccups the more spells you allow in your game, allowing for a very strong wild-card spell that may be balanced by the increased spell-level for all but ranger and paladin and the 1 round casting duration, but still - GMs should probably impose some limitations on spell-selection here. The revised edition now has a GM-caveat to acknowledge that, but still - not the biggest fan. In my game, with a ton of options, this will not show up.

Not all spells fall into this high-concept category - blazing insight, for example, allows for an immediate action reroll of Int- or Wis-based skill or attribute checks made in the last round and allows for rolling twice on the reroll. Other spells are pretty intriguing - divinely intoxicated is interesting: Double your spellcasting attribute modifier's time, the target has to roll twice any d20 - and then use the results in the following sequence: Better result, better result, worse result. Capital Capitalist lets you haggle exceedingly well - but the reduced price may result in the merchant decreasing his starting attitude towards you. Forcing targets to reroll damage just caused may be okay, but more interesting would be Gift of Undeath - which provides continuous healing for a couple of minutes...and then slays the imbiber and resurrects him as an undead. Ouch, but it can't be force-fed to unwitting dupes, thankfully...a damn flavorful for fanatic death-cultists! As a very minor complain, making the target "one WILLING living creature would be a bit more elegant for that caveat. Touch of the Alien has been properly balanced and is no longer a broken mess.

The pdf also contains an array of magic items, including a magical lantern and a theurgist's mace - basically a mace that grants you the option to smite 1/day; if the character is a caster, he may smite 2/day spellcasters opposed to your tradition (i.e. arcane casters get smite versus divine casters and vice versa). If a character can cast both types of spells, the character may use the smite 4/day...but here, the update is a bit inconsistent: How does psychic magic interact here? Not 100% sure. This smite penalizes saves versus the wielder's spells and SPs. Still, there are damn cool ideas here - an artifact-level blowgun flute? Yes! A coin that acts as a shuriken and lets you convert metal coins while also enhancing your Sleight of Hand? Yep, pretty awesome. Dreksler's Unending Tap is pretty fun and allows for the conversion of fluid to magical beer. A whip that may petrify foes if they fail the low-DC-save...pretty neat.

The pdf also sports some archetypes - the divine drunkard brawler, for example. When these guys consume alcohol, they accumulate drunk points, which they then can expend to duplicate one of 3 randomly determined effects. The effects are interesting and generally make for a chaotic experience well in tune with Dreksler's nature. The Holy Innovator gunslinger basically is a gunslinger who can utilize contraptions from the Veranthea Codex base book - nice. The paladin-archetype merchanteer is reprinted in this book, complete with tithed healing, magnetic channel and transformation to antipaladin. The Tian Ti-Ang Agent bard can be considered to be the heralds of the mythic vampire lords and as such receive an assortment of interesting vampire-abilities.

Then, however, one of the coolest chapters in the book begins - after the chosen template (CR +1), we get heralds for the gods - all of them! From an impossible slug swarm to more traditional executors of the will of the respective deities, these unique and powerful beings (clocking usually in at around CR 15) make for a truly inspired, interesting chapter and feature appropriate and cool unique tricks as well as information on planar allies available. The 3 immortal demigods of Urethiel, Boris and his entourage are covered/reprinted and we also get the CR 25/MR 10 Sciemaat the shattered, who seeks to repair the shield that once kept the nightmare gods at bay. Similarly, the last irrational Carambal can be found here. H'gal, the grand lich of Proxima Alterra (CR 17/MR 7), on the other hand, was a rather interesting penultimate critter herein. Oh, and the revised version now has full stats for Yawvil, master wizard of Vernathea: CR 37/MR 10. No, that is not a type. He is built with hypercorps rules and a hyperscore of 10, meganaut 2/hypernaut 2 - though you can run him as printed, this means that he does not use the default mythic rules.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting have improved since the original iteration of Radical Pantheon, but still are not perfect - I noticed a few glitches and relics here and there. Layout adheres to Veranthea's two-column full-color standard and the book sports a vast amount of full-color artworks, with new pieces added in. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Mike Myler, with contributions from Luis Loza, Michael McCarthy and Nicholas J. Giebel, has written a massive expansion here - and while there is some overlap with the content already featured in the Veranthea Codex, there still is ample material herein to justify the very low asking price for this amount of content. The revised edition of radical pantheon sports more information for all the deities, which means, ultimately, that everything feels a bit more concise, that the respective, previously somewhat neglected entities now also shine. So yes, radical pantheon's revised edition is superior to the original iteration. At the same time, however, some of the new pieces of content, while thematically neat, can prove to be a bit problematic. In the end, the book has improved and thus warrants a final verdict of 4.5 stars...but I cannot round up for it.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Veranthea Codex: Radical Pantheon 2.0
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Bastille Day
Publisher: R. Talsorian Games Inc.
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/08/2017 04:48:15

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure/sourcebook for the Cybergeneration 2027 game clocks in at 50 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 46 pages of content, so let's take a look!

Well, at least, let's try. You see, the scan this time around is not particularly good, which makes the letters come out a bit pale and gray/blurry, which proved to be a considerate hassle while reading this as a pdf. Perhaps it's me being sensitive to the like, but I considered this to be somewhat exhausting for the eyes. Anyways, this is a module, but it also features two new yogangs, so I'll start with those, all right?

Oh yeah, before I forget: This was moved up in my review-queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons.

The yogangs are presented in the same style as those in other Cybergeneration-supplements, with a write-up, slang, etc. The first of these yogangs would be the moshers, the party hard crew - as heirs to punks, metal heads and the like, the yogang is something I can relate with: Using music as a vehicle to navigate the harsh realities of life makes sense to me. The yogang skill they get is pretty powerful - more so than I'*m comfortable with: It's called Mosh (BODY) and does not mean going into a pogo or doing some headbanging - it's whenever you do something reckless. It contains some martial arts uses, halving impact damage, staying awake - in short, it is a very wide open skill, one that may be considered to be OP, depending on how you read it.

The second yogang presented herein would be the trogs, somewhat akin to subterranean ArcoRunners - basically, trogs are the sewer/cavern-dweller, the guys and gals that creep out of maintenance shafts - think of them as Nosferatu, minus vampirism and curse-based disfigurement. Their yogang skill, Spelunking (INT), is pretty potent as well, though more situational: It lets you determine airborne toxins, nets you a spidey sense for nearby threats and the option to stare down some deadly critters. Basically, think of these guys and gals as subterranean rangers or guerillas.

Unlike other yogangs presented throughout the Cybergeneration-supplements, we don't get new tools or pieces of equipment for these guys, though, which makes them slightly less well-rounded in that regard.

Anyways, this is pretty much as far as I can go without going into SPOILERS. The following discussion of the adventure-section contains these in spades, so if you're planning on playing this module, please skip ahead to the conclusion NOW.

...

..

.

All righty, only GMs around? Great! So, legends Rache Batmoss, Spider Murphy and Dog have their hands full: California has recently lost its sovereignty , and thus, the BuReloc (Federal Bureau of Relocation and Housing Security Services) activity is spiking. During a run on a CorpSec server, Spider Murphy, strangely, seems to have vanished/jacked out. Unfortunately, Spider has been captured, as she was running from the perceived anonymity of a secured, rundown locale - and has midrun, alongside a ton of others, been captured for reeducation. Thankfully, BuReloc and CorpSec don't like each other very much - and while CorpSec knows that BuReloc has Spider, they don't know who she is...and thus, they have sent a spy in deep cover to the facility - which, thankfully, has not yet been completed, using the captured undesirables as forced labor to build their own camp.

The task, for the kids, will be, obviously, to infiltrate this camp and the set-up provided for this is pretty modular. If you want to, you can include Dog as a chaperone for the PCs to make the module easier- but after the detailed and extended briefing, the book presents the full freedom of choice: Even getting to Spider's apartment to have an initial angle to start their investigation is already rather modular: Depending on the route chosen, different, fully-depicted encounters await and at Spider's place - which is now under the control of BuReloc - so the PCs will have some interesting time on their hands trying to infiltrate the fully mapped complex.

Having slipped, hopefully, through the nets of BuReloc, the PCs will have a trail to pursue - though, alas, Nomad Santiago is also MIA, potentially injured...The legwork is rather detailed as well - and once the PCs have exhausted their options, they can begin with the BuReloc camp infiltration - the camp is once again fully mapped and the supplement does take a lot of details into account - including e.g. the potential for wizards to use their gifts to reprogram the addictive indoctrination booths. Indeed, the module feels very much like an early adventure, sine the book contains a lot of tricks for the creative use of the special abilities of the kids...however, this very much shows that it is an early supplement - it doesn't use Cybergeneration on its own, often referencing Cyberpunk books and the aforementioned, unique tricks don't always come with rules to back them up. Take the mentioned, intriguing reprogramming example as one instance of this - no clue is provided on how difficult that would be.

While the CorpSec spy makes for an interesting complication, the other4 people mentioned only remain pale, with one sentence provided for them - a table of fluff-only characteristics for the NPCs would have been nice, if to make it harder to differentiate important from unimportant NPCs.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good - I noticed a couple of minor glitches and hiccups regarding rules-coverage, but as a whole, not too many jarring instances. Layout adheres to Cybergeneration's 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes with nice, original b/w-artworks. The scanning quality isn't too good, though, and the lack of bookmarks represents a serious comfort detriment.

Edward Bolme's Bastille Day is by far the weakest Cybergeneration supplement I have read so far. The new yogangs feel like afterthoughts that are tacked on and don't really have a good reason to be in the book. More importantly, the adventure feels weird to me: The kids act as help for the "big guys" and I never managed to shake the impression that they're not the heroes, but rather the b-team of sidekicks. You know, like in many a cartoon-series, when the hero's captured and the annoying sidekick gets the spotlight to save them, often to "prove their value" - I always hated that in kid's shows. (No, we didn't want to be Robin - we still wanted to be Batman. And most of the time, we still considered the sidekicks to be annoying after that...)

The name is also WEIRD. When I read "Bastille Day", I think of something more important, monumental, of something actually important, when this module presents a pretty run of the mill jailbreak scenario. The BuReloc-camp is depicted in lavish detail and I really enjoy the sandboxy nature of the module, but it is pretty much a standard extraction for Cybergeneration - it doesn't have anything cool or unique to set it apart. It does this standard-trope well, all right - I'll give it that. But any halfway decent GM who's played a couple of Cyberpunk or Shadowrun adventures can basically improvise such a scenario. I know that, particularly in comparison with the "-front"-books and modules therein, this felt rather bland.

Not bad, but similarly, not mind-blowing. Add to that the serious issues of scan-quality and lack of bookmarks and we have a supplement I really can't recommend. I love Cybergeneration and its ideas and books, but unless you're a completionist, I'd recommend to skip this. My final verdict will clock in at 2.5 stars, and I can't find it in me to round up.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Bastille Day
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Deep Magic: Angelic Seals
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/08/2017 04:45:39

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of Kobold Press' 5e-series of magic traditions clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let's take a look!

All right, so, as always, we get feats to interact with the spellcasting tradition - here, the first would be Heavenly Scribe, which nets the Celestial language and an angelic seal of the character's choice, with Int as governing attribute for the saving throw DC. Heaven's Chosen, the second feat, nets you a second saving throw when you fail one - this one is rolled with a single d20, regardless of advantage or disadvantage, with the ability recharging upon completing a long rest.

As in previous installments, it is pretty much recommended that characters don't get universal access to the respective material herein - beyond the feat granting limited dabbling access, we have the Angelic Scribe arcane tradition, which halves time and gold spent on copying these spells in the spellbook and allows for one of the 2 spells to be gained on a level-up to be an angelic spell. 2nd level yields also the Celestial language and the ability to scribe the eponymous angelic seals, which may be scribed on paper, canvas, stone or other tokens that may be carried or displayed -this takes 10 minutes. Alternatively, 8 hours may be spent to create a permanent seal with artisan's tools on a harder surface. Activation of a seal in an action.

However, before you ask - no, you cannot cheese this. You have a hard cap of a maximum of one seal active at any given time, which increases by +1 active seal at 6th, 10th and 14th level. At these levels, you also gain an additional seal and may replace an old one with a new seal. Deactivating a seal can be done as a bonus action. Broken or defaced seals similarly immediately deactivate. A given creature can only benefit from one seal at any given time and concentration on a spell or similar effect suppresses the seal temporarily, thus preventing stacking. And yep, suppressed seals are still treated as activated, so no cheesing there either.

Starting at 6th level, you gain Warding Seals, which must be attached to the floor or a similarly solid surface - as a touch, you can activate it and generate a spherical barrier that requires concentration to maintain - aberrations, fey, fiends and undead cannot physically cross the threshold, unless they succeed a Charisma save versus your spell save DC, and yes, they may retry, though they get disadvantage when being able to see the seal. Say it all with me: "YOU SHALL NOT PASS!" ...sorry. I know. It's old. Hope that still got a chuckle out of someone out there. Additionally, creatures carrying an angelic seal you can see while maintaining the warding seal can benefit from your powers: You may impose disadvantage as a reaction on an attack against a creature thus protected.

Starting at 10th level, the tradition gains greater seal, which lets you spend an action to activate the greater seal benefit for an angelic seal for 1 minute, replacing the seal's default benefit. If you instead choose a warding seal, it instead inflicts 6d6 radiant damage to creatures failing the save to breach them for 1 hour. The ability may be used twice, and is recharged upon completing a short or long rest. 14th level yields Angelic Wrath, adding conjure celestial to the spellbook. As a bonus action, usable once per short or long rest interval, you can grant all targets with active angelic seals a bonus of +1d8 radiant damage to their weapon attacks. This should make archers really happy.

Okay, but what do the seals do? Well, first of all, 10 seals are provided, which also sport really nice visual representations of the respective seal - kudos there, it adds a sense of occult legitimacy to the material. This is also underlined by an angel's name showing up behind the seal - "In the name of Chamule, I invoke judgment!" It's a small thing, but for me, it adds seriously to the appeal of the pdf. Anyways, we have retries for failed attempts to improve attitudes and the greater use of charming a creature on a failed Wisdom saving throw. Spell save DC is btw. usually the DC employed. Another seal adds 1/2 Intelligence modifier to Wisdom (insight) and Wisdom (Perception), with the greater seal providing blindsight 10 feet.

Using the reaction to boost AC against an attack and gaining resistance to nonmagical physical damage types in the greater seal, the abilities are pretty cool. That being said, e.g. Glory can be kitten'd somewhat - it yields Int-mod temporary hit points upon killing an enemy. Hand me that kitten to slaughter between encounters, please... Yeah, not very angelic or glorious. It can be argued that "enemy" does not include these and it's not a significant boost, but still. On the plus-side, automatically passing the first death saving throw (requires a rest to recharge) does feel angelic, though. While, as a person, I am not a big fan of any ability that adds more than one attribute modifier to a given roll, 5e is less prone to attribute minmaxing than PFRPG, making that concern mostly aesthetic. As a whole, these should not provide problems for games in which they are used, though.

The pdf also contains 10 new spells, one for each level - from cantrip to 9th level, these would be:

Benediction, which lets a creature you concentrate upon deduct 1d4 from its next damage received. Angelic Guardian, which nets +2 AC and may be ended to roll a failed Dexterity save. Blessed Halo sheds light, nets advantage on Cha checks interacting with good creatures within the light, dispels low level darkness and also provides 10 points of healing, which you may use as an action to heal allies within the range of the light, with higher levels increasing the healing and darkness-dispelling capacities. Blades of Wrath creates a sword of pure white fire that deals 2d8 fire and 2d8 radiant damage, with aberrations, fey, fiends, undead having to succeed a Wisdom save to avoid the frightened condition. Higher levels yield increased damage output, allowing you to choose which energy type you'll upgrade.

Deva's Wings grant a flying speed of 60 ft. (hover) - the wings can be used as a melee weapon with 10 ft. reach, potentially knocking targets prone. Blazing Chariot is a classic and star - you conjure a blazing chariot, with magical animals that can fly and you may direct its movement instead of your own and may direct it to Dash, Disengage and Dodge as a bonus action. with actions allowing for overruns - amazing. Heavenly Crown makes you the heavenly commander: As a bonus action, make an ally capable of hearing you use its reaction to make one melee attack and move 1/2 movement rate, or vice versa. Very potent and cool. Seal of Sanctuary is basically a more powerful warding seal with more damage output, 24 hour duration and seriously wicked drawbacks for those capable of crossing into it. At 8th level, Quintessence nets an AC fixed at a minimum of 20 as well as immunity to being frightened and necrotic damage. Worse for hostiles: On a failed save while within 120 ft. of you, they are restrained by fright...though it thankfully may repeat the save and becomes immune upon shaking the effect off. Finally, the Greater Seal of Sanctuary is basically the apex of the warding seal theme - crossing into this will be like stepping into a heavenly blender for most critters.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant issue in rules-language or formal criteria. Layout adheres to Kobold Press' beautiful 2-column full-color standard, with artworks being a mix of awesome new and previously used art. The pdf comes fully bookmarked, in spite of its brevity -kudos!

You see, I really like Dan Dillon's angelic supplement. The seals feel "lawful", methodical, like tools of the angels. the touch activation if cool and has been popularized by plentiful forms of media (like Supernatural) and the respective options fit - the potent defensive tricks make pretty clear how the angelic host can withstand the assault of the abyssal hordes. The seals and how they work makes sense to me, in spite of the brevity of their presentation.

Which brings me to my primary and only real gripe with the material herein: Honestly, I wished this had a bit of fluff. Not much, just a paragraph or two for the seals. I know, I know - this is a crunch book, retain wide open nature, etc. - but the seals very much feel like they belong to a flavorful tradition and getting some more knowledge about them and the angels would have been the icing on the cake. Similarly, I would have loved to see special seals requiring certain materials or set-ups...the engine can carry a whole lot more than what it does, but that may very well show up in a sequel. Hopefully. Anyways, this should not dissuade you from checking out this pdf - we have a winner on our hands here, well worth a final verdict of 5 stars, just short of my seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Deep Magic: Angelic Seals
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The Shapeshifter's Handbook
Publisher: Drop Dead Studios
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/08/2017 04:43:51

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Spheres of Power-expansion handbooks clocks in at 42 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 37 pages of content, so let's take a look!

After a brief introduction to the matter at hand, we begin with a new Monk archetype (compatible with unchained monks as well), the Beastsoul Monk, who gains Transformation instead of the usual level 1 bonus feat. (This would btw. be a feat that nets you access to a no-spell point cost alternate form). Starting at 2nd level, Hybrid Transformation and Improved Transformation are added to the bonus feats available. Transformation may be chosen multiple times, with each feat granting a new form. The archetype may employ natural attacks while flurrying, gaining Str-mod to damage with them while flurrying, but the monk loses the increased unarmed strike damage. The archetype may choose from a number of monk abilities and instead gain the Alteration sphere - to nitpick: The reference to the standard monk refers to these as ki powers, which is inaccurate. Unchained monks lose all ki powers in favor of the sphere. The archetype is a low caster, using ki instead of spell points and CLs don't stack with Advanced Magical Training (not properly capitalized).

The second archetype would be the experimentalist thaumaturge, who gains the ability to generate casting attribute modifier vials, so-called alchemical boosts, which may be drawn and consumed as a standard action, granting temporary boosts to sphere-based casting, with the bonus scaling over the levels., but each time the boost is used, the character has a percentile chance of being nauseated. Additionally, such a boost nets the benefits of an Alteration sphere trait known, which are increased in increments of 5 levels. This allows for synergy with shapeshift and the benefits may thankfully not be stacked. This replaces forbidden lore. 2nd level yields the option to preserve and consume the remnants of dead creatures, allowing for either the disguise as the creature or mimicking of its abilities - by choosing an appropriate sphere talent. This is pretty much wide open and would really have needed imho a table of sample correlations between critters and sphere talents - could e.g. a creature with lunge grant the thaumaturge pounce? Am I missing something? Both are options of Bestial Reflexes, after all...The maximum cap of samples that may be preserved is increased at 6th level and every 4 thereafter and a handy sidebar allows for alternate dressing for anyone not comfortable with the potentially cannibalistic implications of the option. The archetype, unsurprisingly, gets the Alteration sphere with either Lycanthropic or Fleshwarper as drawback and 3rd level and every 4 levels thereafter net alchemist discoveries instead of invocations. Instead of bonus feats, they gain the option to choose sneak attack instead of an alchemist discovery.

The protean shifter gains the Alteration sphere and the Beast Soul drawback with Anarchic Transformation, which is gained as normal. This modifies shapeshifter and the archetype gains breadth of form, which lets you, as a standard action, grant yourself an Alteration sphere talent you did not have, provided you meet the prerequisites. This lasts only temporarily and thankfully has a hard daily cap of 3 + 1/2 class level uses per day. Multiple uses do not stack and 5th level yields 2 talents, or the option to select one as a move action. The action economy improves throughout the levels, at 9th and 17th level, with 13th level increasing this all to 3 talents. Instead of endurance, 3rd level nets quick transformation. This is pretty wide-open and potent - not an option I'd allow in a gritty game, but suitable for most.

The second shifter archetype herein would be the warshifter, who gains the Lycanthropic drawback in conjunction with the Alteration sphere. They add Acrobatics to their class skills gain access to 3 maneuvers from Broken Blade, Primal Fury and Thrashing Dragon and has 3 maneuvers readied at first level, 1 stance and increases that to 15 maneuvers known, 7 readied, up to 5 stances and maximum maneuver-level of 6th. This replaces the transformation-tree of abilities and bestial traits. Yes, you read right - this is a Path of War/Spheres of Power-crossover archetype. Personally, I think the systems don't blend too well and the archetype uses two of my least favorite disciplines, but your mileage may vary.

The Resizer mageknight archetype loses medium armor proficiency (which is not bolded properly) and gains Size Change of the Alteration sphere, treating class level as CL, lasting for 2 rounds + 1 per level - and the resizer may choose to reduce the number of traits gained from shapeshift to retain use of the ability while subjected to it. This replaces 1st level's magic talent. At 11th level, this may be used as a swift action sans paying spell points and may be used at the cost of one spell point as an immediate action, replacing mystic defense.

2nd level lets the character ignore size penalties when changing sizes and is treated as mystic combat, but replaces it. 7th level nets permanent size changes. 15th level nets further size increases, allowing the character, with the right talent, to become gargantuan, with the right advanced talent even Fine or Colossal, replacing draw power. The mystic combat options net you grab and allow you to beat foes to pulp with their buddies, which is pretty cool and generally concisely-presented. I am not sold on this one: Size increases can be incredibly potent and the lack of costs at high levels and ridiculous sizes can be pretty problematic in some games, particularly sans the penalties. Not in all games, mind you, and I can see this work well for some campaigns, but it is an archetype that requires some serious GM-oversight and player mastery.

We do gain 3 arsenal tricks that tie in with the new wild fang property, summon morphic weapons as Grafted ones, and add wild (see SoP) to summoned armor and shields. 8 bestial traits cover temperature adaption, better spider climbing, grab, grafted weapons, better jumping...and Leaping Attack,. which is OP: Jump as part of a charge - if you clear the target's height (which is NO issue, considering how far you can boost such checks...), you treat it as flat-footed and increase threat range - worse, the threat-range increase stacks, which is a violation of how such things usually happen. I'd strongly suggest banning this. Shaping limbs into weapons and growing spines are neat tricks.

Graft Weapon is also available as a Mystic Combat option and we get better grappling, silvered weapons (and spell point auto-crit confirming versus polymorphed creatures, which BEGS to be abused to smithereens...) as well as the option to cancel out shapechanging via spell point empowered attacks.

The third chapter is massive and includes a ton of really versatile Alteration sphere talents - Aberrant Body, for example, unlocks acid spit, flanking immunity, an aboleth's mucus cloud (airborne, potentially choking foes - though thankfully, that can be offset by cleaning the mucus!) and roper strands. Aerial Agility unlocks Hovering, improved maneuverability and wingover as options. Agile Transformation nets +2 dodge bonus (Notes stacking with other dodge bonuses - which is redundant; dodge bonuses stack with each other.), Evasion (not italicized, which it should be in this context), +4 initiative (ouch) and uncanny dodge (improved if you already have it). That's, again, one talent. We can go through the whole chapter this way - we get aquatic tricks, ooze tricks, etc. and even find swarm transformations here. Now, the base SoP's Alteration sphere justifiably is considered to be one brutal array of options and this further enhances that - if you're looking to make a deadly shifting character, this one will yield enough material with the versatile traits available for each of the talents. Comparable spheres will certainly look with unmitigated envy at the potent options here and a player with sufficient system mastery can make some truly frightening builds here.

The advanced talents chapter allows these options to be further enhanced - diffused swarm forms, energy immunities and vulnerabilities, fusing two creatures into an amalgam, regeneration, the Size Mastery talent that allows for further size control or Star-spawn Transformation allow for potent tricks. All in all, a nice chapter for the more high-powered campaigns.

The pdf also sports 3 incantations - one to permanently fuse two creatures, one to make shapechangers and one to reconfigure the flesh of a target. Big plus: The Adaptation-section provides guidance for generating your own content within the confines of the Sphere, using the platypus as an example. The feat chapter sports aligned attacks as soon as 5th level (which is too soon), free counterspells when initiating a grapple (cool: Gets interaction with anti-grapple effects right), feats that help with Fusion tricks, Cursed shapeshifts, high-level grapple/swallow whole synergy, reflexive disarming transformations, Disguise shifts and retaining some tricks while under Transformation. A tree for Two-Head-enhancements can be found and we do get the option to spit venom, reflexive poison ichors...pretty extensive array here.

The pdf does sport 3 nice drawbacks as well as 4 traits and 14 alternate racial traits for a variety of races beyond the core. The equipment section contains a lycanthrope hunter's kit, oil that helps against shifters, an iteration of the transformative wolf pelt and a stabilizing vest. The 7th chapter provides advice on handling shapeshifting in game (kudos for the inclusion!) as well as handy tables that correlate creature types and form talents as well as form talents and casting abilities.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal, rather impressive on a rules-language level - while I noticed a couple of formatting glitches and hiccups, more than usual for the series, the complex rules-language and operations required have been handled rather well as a whole. Layout adheres to the two-column full-color standard of the series and the pdf uses a blend of nice original pieces and stock art. The supplement comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Andrew Stoeckle's take on shifters should put a smile on the faces of players, particularly those who enjoy tinkering and optimizing the material: The already extremely impressive array of options of the base sphere has been significantly expanded by this book, adding a serious array of versatility to the arsenal of options herein. This should be considered to be a must-buy for any fan of the Alteration-sphere, though GMs should talk with their players about some of the combos herein: The sheer versatility of options allow you to make truly fearsome shapechangers, to the point where they may be a bit overbearing for more conservative campaigns.

That being said, this pdf should most certainly be considered to be a required purchase for fans of the spherecasting engine - as such, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Shapeshifter's Handbook
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Westbound
Publisher: ICOSA Entertainment
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/07/2017 05:45:30

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive expansion book for the Pure Steam steampunk toolkit/setting clocks in at 165 pages,1 page front cover, 1 page editorial,1 page ToC, 4 pages of SRD, 1 page KS-thanks, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 156 pages of content, so let's take a look!

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

Beyond the confines of the Federated States, there exist two general "peoples", nations if you will - or rather, cultural entities - the first of these would be the Mesocine, who are distinguished between Manrik lizardfolk and Zaurto kobolds. The former get +2 Str and Con, -2 Int, a primary bite attack that deals 1d4 piercing damage (kudos for codifying this properly beyond the basics!), hold breath, a swim speed of 15 ft., two primary claw attacks at 1d4 slashing and 1/day, when taking damage, they can fly into a frenzy, doubling their racial attribute bonuses, but also suffer -2 to AC while frenzying. Whenever one of their readied actions is triggered, they can move up to half their speed as a free action, which is a rather potent ability. As a bit of a drawback, they take a -4 penalty to saves vs. cold spells and effects and upon failing a save, they are staggered, making for a viable Achilles heel. However, they can survive 4 times as long as a human before beginning to starve. Additionally, poisons have their onset time doubled and duration halved, with poisons sans onset times gaining an onset time of 1 round.

There are 4 alternate racial traits, one of which replaces the readying and frenzy with a lame +2 to Ride and Handle Animal (bonus type's correct, though!), a climb speed of 20 ft. in exchange for the swimming and holding breath. Instead of frenzy and being cold-blooded, some can have ferocity. Finally, there is the option to share pain instead of frenzy, allowing for the limited sharing of damage as non-lethal damage with willing nearby allies. This is problematic, considering that more damage can be shared when more of these guys are around - the damage shared is converted to nonlethal, which can potentially be exploited with some combos - it's not an easy scenario to set up, though.

The zaurto kobolds get +2 Dex and Int, -4 Str, are Small, have a movement rate of 30 ft., low-light vision, +2 to Craft (traps), Knowledge (dungeoneering) and Perception and both Craft (traps) and Stealth are always class skills. They get resistance 5 to an energy type corresponding to their draconic ancestry. Zaurto with a Charisma of 11 or higher can cast charm animal 1/day as a SP, but may only affect reptilian creatures. They can trade low-light vision for darkvision 60 ft. and light sensitivity. the skill-bonuses for a detachable tail that can be used to force a crit confirmation roll to be rerolled (and which takes a few days to regrow, depending on Constitution) or for gliding wings.

The second group/cultural entity wold be the rageaic, which is the catch-all for goblinoids. Bugbears gain +4 Str, -2 Dex and Int, making them very lopsided in that department. They are slow and steady, have darkvision 60 ft., +1 to saves versus poison, spells and SPs, +1 natural armor (and are immune to exposure from cold climates - which is pretty strong in some campaigns) and they gain a +4 bonus to Constitution checks and Fortitude saves to avoid fatigue and exhaustion. They also get +4 to Intimidate and +1 to attack rolls versus orcs and dwarves. 1/day, when reduced below 0 hit points but not killed, they can continue fighting for 1 round - in order to avoid exploits there, the ability has a 1/day caveat. Alternate racial traits focus on +2 to Ride/Climb and CMD vs. bull rush and trip, +2 to break objects and sunder or a bite attack.

The rageaic goblin is similarly lopsided, with +4 Dex, -2 Str and Cha. They are Small, have a 30 ft. movement rate, +1 to saves versus poison, spells and SPs, +2 to saves versus fear effects and they ignore the size penalty to Intimidate. They can eat a lot and get +4 to Survival rolls to scavenge food and to saves to resist the nauseated and sickened conditions. Gaining two favored classes is also part of the deal. Among the alternate racial traits, we gain a +3 to Craft (alchemy) and Knowledge (engineering) option; +1 to disarm and trip (and whip proficiency); +2 to Survival and saves versus diseases or, finally +2 to Acrobatics and always falling on your feet, rather than prone.

The rageaic hobgoblin gets +2 Con and Cha, darkvision 60 ft., +2 to saves versus poison, spells and SPs, +2 to Diplomacy and Bluff (and they don't worsen attitudes when failing Diplomacy), +2 to combat maneuver rolls with light or heavy blades and they are all proficient with longswords, rapiers, short swords and treat bastard swords as martial weapons. As alternate traits, they can choose +4 Intimidate; +2 to Appraise, Craft and Profession regarding metals (and the knowledge to make wootz steel), +1 to DCs for spells and SPs of enchantment effects (and 1/day charm person as an SP 1/day, if their Cha is 15 or higher). Finally, the last trait nets a martial weapon proficiency and imposes a -2 penalty to resist Cha-based skills for 24 hours after the hobgoblin has successfully used Diplomacy.

None of these races comes with their own age, height and weight table or FCOs, btw. - you'll have to refer to the standards here and the new classes herein or in Pure Steam get no support in that regard either. Now, I mentioned Wootz steel - it's a new material that, weirdly, is located here instead of the equipment section. A weapon forged from this material ignored half of an item's hardness, provided the hardness of the object is lower than that of the wootz steel. These weapons are also more resilient to being sundered, just fyi. While somewhat costly, the material is pretty OP - all magical enhancements to it have their costs reduced by 25% the first time it's enchanted. still, considering te moderate price, this makes the material universally better (and cheaper) for all but the most inexpensive of magical items...OP.

The first new class featured in the book would be the marshal, who must be lawful, gets 4 + Int skills per levels, good Fort- and Will-saves, full BAB-progression and proficiency with simple weapons and firearms as well as longsword, rapier, sap, short sword and whip as well as light and medium armor and shields, excluding tower shields. They begin play with a badge that can be replaced as a masterwork tool and nets +2 to Diplomacy and Intimidate as well as a firearm. They can purchase mundane firearms and ammo at 10% (!!) of the regular cost and the official channels may reduce the cost of enhancement by 25%, but extend the time the process takes. This ability makes the excessively expensive firearms more affordable at lower levels. 2nd level nets the ability to use Perception to follow tracks and adds +1/2 class level to follow tracks. At 2nd level, the marshal may also pronounce, as a move action, a legal warrant upon a humanoid creature he can see. If the marshal has sufficient evidence, the marshal gains a +2 bonus to a wide variety of skills, the DC of his round-up ability used against the target and this extends to atk and damage. These bonuses btw. scale at 6th, 11th and 16th level and, starting at 10th level, the marshal may pronounce a warrant on a whole group or organization.

At 3rd level, the marshal chooses a nation, in which he is acknowledged as legal authority and thus gains further social skill bonuses as well as a variety of special actions that represent his status as a representative of the law: he may imprison targets, enter places and requisition ever increasing resources: First gear and later even personnel or land. I really liked the class codifying stringently these privileges. Now, I already mentioned round up: Starting at 4th level, the marshal can elect to deal nonlethal damage without the regular penalties, adding bonus damage when choosing to do so, as well as reducing the target's speed by half on a failed save. At 8th level and every 4 levels thereafter, the bonus damage increases and the marshal gets a condition to temporarily apply to the target in lieu of the reduced movement rate. 6th level allows for the limited sharing of the warrant's bonus with allies and 10th level provides the ability to take 10 in movement-rated skills while pursuing a target. 14th level nets quarry. At 20th level, a warrant's attacks versus the marshal inflict minimum damage and the marshal gets basically advantage when rolling against the target and auto-confirms crits.

The class also features player agenda, in case you were wondering: The marshal begins play with a marshal acumen, gaining another one every 2 levels thereafter. This include Amateur Gunslinger, with iterative taking of the acumen providing more benefits. Diehard (and not being staggered while in combat with a warrant), combat feats and gun training can be found here. Similarly, there is a means to track faster, an option to use marshal class features against monstrous humanoids, reducing concealment benefits, etc. The array also includes TWFing and combat maneuver enhancers. For the most part, like in the racial section, the book is very precise in its rules-language, though a few minor hiccups like "1-round-action" instead of "full-round action" can be found. Similarly, there are some instances that don't sit too well with me - e.g. the application of two ability score modifiers to a skill is yet another means to needlessly escalate skills. The class does btw. mention the code of conduct and addresses traveling with problematic companions, but, much like the second class herein, it does not come with favored class options.

The second class within this book would be the tech savant, who gets d6 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, good Will-save progression, 1/2 BAB-progression and proficiency in light armors, firearms, simple weapons, double crossbow, hand crossbow, heavy and light repeating crossbow as well as any weapon they personally craft. They employ science via contraptions, using the gearhead/constructor list and using Charisma as governing attribute. The class may use Charisma instead of Intelligence to govern the techy/crafty skills and may use them untrained, with higher levels yielding take 20s once per week and then, day (6th and 11th level, respectively), and is treated as engineering for the purpose of archetype etc. interaction.

The contraptions, in case the class chassis didn't make that clear, scale up all the way to 9th level. Contraptions, fyi, need to be prepared in advance and they may learn new schematics, unlike many Cha-based "casters" - I think the absence of a spellbook equivalent is supposed to signify that the class can only retain a certain amount of known schematics in memory, but RAW, there is no caveat that explicitly states that he cannot learn more. Beyond the already impressive contraption array, the class gets a Cha-governed pool. One of these can be used to enhance a contraption DC by +1; more points can be used in conjunction with a given spell, but only when used with knacks. At 1st level and every 2 levels thereafter, the tech savant gets a so-called savant knack - basically the equivalent of the class to the arcanist's exploits, after which it was obviously fashioned. These knacks interact with the contraption engine, allowing for points to be expended e.g. upon preparation to treat effect schematics as known schematics. Adding calibrations without affecting activation time, decreasing the final adjusted level, gaining an inspiration pool and some investigator tricks as well as some obviously based on exploits can be found.

2nd level nets jury-rigging via Field Repair and the option to salvage items. 4th and 18th level yield quicker crafting and reduced maintenance periods and the capstone provides the means to use the pool to pay for activation costs of contraptions. I am honestly not sold on this class. The tech savant is, much like the arcanist among the casters, more potent than previous pure steam options (even when limiting contraptions known) and the wonky bits in its engine make this the first class in the series to not really work for me.

The book also contains a metric ton of class options - and I cannot cover them all in the full level of detail without bloating this review beyond belief and utility, so, in a quicker overview: Alchemists gain new discoveries, including catalyst discoveries - these basically can be considered to be metamagic-like effects for bombs, snake oils, extracts, etc., adding e.g. sickened/shaken-suppressing to conjuration (healing). Only one such discovery may be added per base, thankfully. It should be noted, though, that a discovery can yield the bombs lost by the huckster archetype, who is a snake oil specialist alchemist, capable of bluffing and gathering crowds (snake oils replace bombs). On the barbarian side, an option to gain uncanny dodge while in rage (if you lose it) - like the Brave archetype, who gats war paint, a war cry and trophies collected. Decent, if unremarkable, from a mechanical point of view. Maverick bards get diminished spellcasting and a kind of alternate bardic performance called gunplay with 6th level providing a flurry-like additional attack when gunplaying (the haste referenced is not italicized properly, as a minor hiccup). Other than that, we have basically gunslinger abilities, using bardic performance instead as a resource...which is a bit problematic, considering how much more rounds of bardic performance the class has - this makes, basically, a nova-y variant bard/gunslinger hybrid.

Cavaliers get a cool new order, the lone star, and archetype-wise, a cavalier who gets a cool bike that can be modified in a variety of interesting ways - rather cool one! Chaplains get three new organizations, the first of which would be the mendicants. The mendicants have 4 vows that define them and allow for further specialization: The vow of the pure fortifies the chaplain's body; the vow of the ally can cause targets to surrender and is pretty much the good guy/shepherd-like type; the vow of the unfettered represents basically anti-tech luddites and finally, the geirbound may only use magic from his own class, not any other sources, focusing on countering such magics. The network nets some rogue tricks and skill tricks. The Ulleran Trade Council chaplains are well-funded, gaining a stipend and connections.

Gearheads can gain innovations to add contraptions to weapons or make them work akin to traps and 4 new specialties: Chronikers get perfect timekeeping skills and may gain clockwork appendages or a clockwork familiar. Cryogenicists and Pyrotechnicians are pretty self-explanatory. The arsenalist significantly increases the damage of the 0-level effect-schematics and focuses on weaponized contraptions. The gunslinger may elect to become a desperado, who gets some Perform-bonuses, charmed life and a couple of unique deeds and uses Cha as governing attribute for grit. More interesting would be the gaucho, a knife-specialist gunslinger that should be welcome not only in terms of flavor, but also for campaigns/cultures that do not favor guns. It also gets a bit ranger tricks.

In spite of diminished spellcasting, the arcane gun magus archetype is extremely powerful, getting full gun/spellcombat/spellstrike tricks, exacerbating the glass cannon tricks of the magus with firearms. On the plus-side, ranged spellstrike carries a chance of spell backfire, which serves as at least a bit of balancing, though deed access at -3 levels and the whole package render this one too strong. The monk gun devotee is, bingo, yet another monk/gunslinger-combo with gun katas - i.e. flurry with guns. It is impressive to note that the archetype gets the interaction of reloading with flurries and the melee/ranged use of guns in flurries right. Quicker reloads via ki, using Wis instead of Dex, temporary darkvision via muzzle flashes...all in all, I generally considered this to be one of the better takes on the often-represented trope. The flurry is pretty potent, but considering the issues of the monk class, I get why the power-increase is here. Rangers may choose from 3 solid new combat styles and the wrangler archetype, bingo, representing a cowboy-ish ranger, makes for a fun option.

Cool: Rogues may elect to become hobos, who understand the hobo code and employ improvised tricks. The new witch hexes include options to increase misfires, grit/panache costs and the like. Doubling threat ranges for increased misfire rates is interesting and thankfully prevents stacking abuse. Similarly, hexes that influence contraptions make sense in the context of the rules provided herein and the base Pure Steam tome.

The book also includes basic, brief (and not too interesting, alas) rules for formal gun dueling or showdowns. The book also sports a ton of different feats - including calibration feats, which are interesting: Instead of just being somewhat akin to metamagic, they offer two strategic options: If applied during contraption preparation, all activations benefit from it; both uses require a higher level activation charge, but if spontaneously, the numerical effects are not adjusted to represent the increased level. Spontaneous addition also renders the contraption broken and takes longer, so while it offers flexibility, this is not something you'll be doing a lot. The feats have some cool tricks: Aiming by mirrors, a nice feat-tree for lasso-combat, some contraption scavenging...and particularly dragging foes with lassos while mounted and the like are interesting. The feat section is interesting and fun and comes with optional variant rules for tackling targets.

The equipment section mentions variant currencies, bladed revolvers, harmonica pistols, rotary guns, bola bullets, hollow-point ammo, extinguishing grenades, dynamite sticks, liquid nitroglycerine - the classics of the Western genre. Weird: nitroglycerine deals force damage, which affects incorporeal creatures. Usually, explosions are bludgeoning and/or fire damage. Copper cable, alchemical fuel additives, chakram hats (Mr. Bond's calling...) and services, from document retrieval to funeral services are all covered here. The magical equipment also has some stars - dusty equipment that can generate choking clouds, motocross equipment, de/consecrated bullets, double-action pepperboxes...what about boomsticks, magic shotguns that can be loaded with thunderstones to generate sonic bursts.

The artworks here deserve special note: The b/w-artworks for the special guns are absolutely amazing: The dead iron, made seemingly from a backbone, almost organic-looking, the hydra pistol with its dragon-themed design-elements - these are beautiful. As a minor formatting quibble, the text of the items does not italicize the special weapon properties in the text consistently. Cutting edge technology, from dowsing rods to metal detectors, are cool. However, not all are perfect: Healing crystals, for example, increase healing by 1d4 +1, whether natural or magical. All healing. Fast healing 1. Orisons. Not cool. Worse, the crystal does not specify how often it can convey these benefits, so I figure all the time. It also does not note whether it occupies a slot (which it definitely should). We also get some cool vehicles - coal cycles, rail layers, olmechs, gyro skiffs and ornithopters...and yep, handcars. The book also contains rules/clarifications for motorcycle combat and how it differs from Mounted Combat.

The next chapter depicts the Mazan pantheon and the Brelon archangels - with the write-ups being solid, but the deities lack subdomains, obediences and the like - by now standards for the game. There also is a decent, if unremarkable dream domain. Beyond all of these, the book also is a massive sourcebook of the West of Ullera, with settlement statistics and qualities summed up for your convenience before the massive sourcebook-y section begins - including a handy glossary. These sections also contain a ton of sample NPC personalities, often using rules presented earlier in the rules section. With the taan ocdrul draconic haunts, the disputed lands and their extreme weather patterns (hail fire storms, for example!), there is a serious wildwest of steam-vibe going on here and it is here, mostly, where the previous elements start coming together to form an atmosphere that diverges from the standard. Flashpoints, winged mavericks, the kingdom of Rausch, indebted to the highest ideals (funny for me, since in German, it is the word for being in an intoxicated state), halflings in steam-driven wheelchairs - there is a metric ton of great ideas.

Beyond these, the book also sport new factions, from the elite secret-ops airship Jormungandr to the desert wolf raiders, the Triple R motorcycle gang, these are also pretty interesting. The final section of the book is devoted to the bestiary, which covers creatures like the jackalope and giant armadillo or the sandtroll, ranging in CR from 1 to 6. The section has lists by terrain, CR and alphabetically and, with dire armadillos that can do the cannonball, the dread clockwork plague (which progresses in 3 stages), the evil cactus spirits khoyans, bull and loch satyrs - some solid critters here.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting shows some serious care: On a formal level, I noticed surprisingly few glitches. Similarly, on a rules-language level, the book is surprisingly precise and crisp, with only very few issues regarding the clarity of the material, even in the more complex rules-interactions. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard and the books sports a lot of gorgeous, unique b/w art of a consistent style, delivered by Mates Laurentiu, Alejandro lee and Rebekah Crowmer. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience with nested bookmarks, but sports no index, which is a bit of a comfort-detriment for a book of this size. I cannot comment on the virtues or lack thereof of the physical version of this book, since I do not own it.

Adam Crockett, Brennan Ashby, David Perry and L. James Wright have delivered a massive steampunk-wildwest-toolkit here. While there are a couple of pieces of crunch that I consider problematic, balance-wise, these remain in the minority - for the most part, this represents an impressive achievement and a must have addition to the game for fans of Pure Steam. I do bemoan that this book was obviously completed before Occult Adventures hit sites - the occult rules and Wild West feel very much like they belong together and I often felt myself wishing that some of the concepts could have benefited from synergy there. Similarly, the lack of subdomains or obediences for the deities and FCOs felt a bit jarring to me. The new races also oscillate a bit in their power-levels, ranging from very strong to core race standards.

This book has me a bit torn: When it embraces its Wild West tropes, it really excels most of the time, but some of the options also felt, at least to me, less inspired than their concepts: The desperado, for example, has been done much better based on the vigilante-chassis, for example. It should be noted, however, that all of these are, ultimately, small imperfections. The book, in many of its rules, is more conservative than many of the options I've seen in my reviewing. When the rules are innovative, they hit a pitch-perfect tone, but the book does not maintain this level of brilliance throughout; personally, I wasn't absolutely blown away by the respective materials -they all are nice, but don't have these brilliant stand-out options. Don't get me wrong - the crunch never becomes bad. This is a really nice book and brims with creativity...but, much like a ride through the magnificent West, it also has its lulls, where the landscape is less interesting.

Don't let that keep you away from this book, though: If the idea of a Wild West suffused with steampunk aesthetics even remotely intrigues you, then this should be considered to be a must-own tome. If you enjoyed Pure Steam, then chances are that you will adore this book as well - this may not represent perfection, but it is a professionally-made, high-quality tome. It alleviates the dearth of choice for chaplains and gearheads and the new notes on nations and places are evocative and fun indeed. The book is roughly 1/2 crunch and 1/2 setting information and both are intriguing and should be considered to be inspiring.

Still, as a whole, the book left me smiling, but also feeling like its Wild West themes could have used a bit more emphasis. To me, this book's flaws lie less in what is inside the book and more in what isn't, when the new races don't bring anything remarkable to the table and with a couple of filler archetypes, I really wished the space had been used for something more far-out. Perhaps that's just me being the mythology-nerd, but I kinda hoped for a blend of themes and tropes from Native American myths and a bit more frontier-Western, if you will. Or perhaps kingdom-building rules for steampunky frontier development...something like that. There are so many cool things that could be done with the amazing base-line. Again: This is a very good book, but also one that left me slightly dissatisfied: The Wild West theme can definitely yield enough for a Westbound II. Again, this is me being nitpicky - this is well worth getting if the themes interest you even slightly.

My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Westbound
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Into the Breach: The Bard
Publisher: Flying Pincushion Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/05/2017 14:30:03

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the "Into the Breach"-series clocks in at 41 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 36 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?

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

We begin, as often, with a variety of new archetypes, the first of which would be the chronicler of blades, who gains a modified proficiency list that includes all the dueling weapons and at 1st level, they get Weapon Focus in their choice of short sword, longsword or rapier - which is a bit odd: Why include exotic weapons in the proficiency-array and then don't allow for their choice via this class ability? 2nd level yields Dazzling Display and every 4 levels thereafter yield a bonus feat, chosen from a generally well-selected array, and uses class level as BAB for the prerequisite purposes. At first level, he similarly uses class level instead of his BAB when making an attack or combat maneuver attempt with a sword for which the archetype has Weapon Focus while wearing light armor and no shield heavier than a buckler. You have guessed where this goes by now, right? Yep, this guy is basically a spell-less bard. Instead of well-versed, the archetype gets +4 (untyped) to learn or remember features of blades, which is pretty circumstantial. Instead of versatile performance, the archetype receives venerable gambit, which is usable 1/day, +1/day at 6th level and every 4 levels thereafter. A venerable gambit is a Knowledge (history, nobility or local) check - 1/2 the result is added as a competence bonus to atk or CMB when using a sword. The definition could be a bit clearer here and while the skill-check can be boosted very high, the daily limit keeps this in check - combined with the lack of spellcasting, I can see this work. All in all, a martial bard, most suitable for lower powered games (or even magic-less ones!).

The courtless marvel replaces inspire courage with summon nature's ally, increasing the spell that's duplicated iteration by +1 at 3rd level and every 2 levels thereafter - 5th level would allow for summon nature's ally III, for example. Speaking of which - at 5th level, several fey are added to the potentially called creatures, replacing lore master. And yes, the ability does have a caveat that prevents spamming it or stacking it via dismissing - no performance/summon-cycling and maintaining the creatures requires maintaining the performance. This is pretty interesting and even takes the item interaction into account. Instead of inspire greatness, 9th level provides the option to grant an ally the speed of a quickling, +1 ally affected for every 4 levels thereafter. Rules-wise, this increases all movements speeds and provides concealment.

No complaints. 12th level provides a stunning glance performance, including a caveat that prevents spamming it and a proper range and codification. At 15th level, inspire heroics is replaced with dance of fate: Choose an ally and a hostile creature within 60 ft of each other - if one is affected, so is the other. This is strategically interesting and pretty potent. Versatile performance is replaced with the fey theme, granting at 2nd and every 4 levels after that a spell known from the druid or ranger list. While the ranger-list is potent, it's the only thing I'd consider a bit wonky here. Well-versed is replaced by wild empathy at full level at 2nd level and 10th level provides a massive DC-improvement (1/4 class level, rounded down) to enchantment spells, but also makes the character more susceptible to the tricks of the fey. I really like this one. It has a strong theme, is pretty creative and while it is possible to poke small holes in some aspects of it, these won't usually come up in most games and are more something to be aware for the rules-savvy crowd. Still, really like this!

The fabulist employs Wisdom as the governing spellcasting attribute and gains an arcane bond with an animal as well as a domain from a limited list - and yes, they're cast as arcane spells, but loses countersong and well-versed. The "darker" performances are replaced with new ones - unfortunately, e.g. morsel of Wisdom is pretty nasty, allowing the fabulist to make an ally use his Wisdom modifier for all saves, ability checks and skill checks. while the performance is maintained...but the balance here would be that the performance cannot be started quickly and the fabulist can only grant one such bonus per performance, thus requiring cycling and a lot of action economy investment, rendering the power more moderate. Higher levels yield a performance-based planar ally and a capstone atonement, which is relatively fitting. Something that felt a bit weird: The archetype RAW gets a domain, but only specifies getting domain spells, which makes me think that the other crunchy bits are not gained...but I'm not sure there. The ability could be read either way.

The grotesque gets diminished spellcasting and replaces inspire courage with a powerful debuff. Dirge of doom can additionally be used as a variant that causes the sickened condition, rather than the shaken one, and similarly, 14th level yields a variant of frightening tune that can nauseate. The true unique selling point of the archetype, however, would be the disturbing acts - one is gained at 1st level and another one at 5th level and every 5 thereafter, excluding 20th, replacing bardic knowledge and well-versed. These take basically the classic Freakshow tropes and represent them as rules - and they are pretty potent: DR for being pierced by knives is solid, but the more intriguing ones would be the option to eat objects and regurgitate them, being able to initiate bardic performances as a free action after being hurt (and choosing to bleed profusely), the tricks are cool. Not all are perfect or equally potent or well-codified. The bite attack, I assume, would be primary as per default. Fire-spitting lacks a range and compared to it, the option to switch between multiple rings is much more potent. Similarly, the rules-language oscillates a bit, stumbling at basics, while getting, surprisingly, the option to be able to wear swarms and have them as unreliable quasi-pets pretty well done. I have a soft spot for the outcasts and this resonated very much with me - while not perfect, its blemishes can be easily fixed by a competent GM.

The jester is basically an Antagonize specialist who can use Perform (Dance) instead of Acrobatics for movement-related tricks and he also gets sneak attack and the evasions at higher levels instead of spellcasting. The option to use japes to render targets flat-footed on a failed save for multiple rounds needs some nerfing and an activation action, though. The lifeweaver, if the name was not ample indicator, would be the healing bard, who adds some condition-healing spells to his arsenal, while also gaining Lingering Performance (with a cap). The performances the archetype gains center on granting healing tricks to the performances -as well as the option to evenly divide damage among limited allies - which is very potent, but also cool. While the rules-language is very precise, it lies in the nature of this type of ability that it may present some issues to some groups...but at the same, it can make for a great "united we stand"-feeling among PCs and players, but also vastly enhances the value of DR and resistances. Pure amazing for some groups, broken for others...I'm divided on this one. Compared to that. the resistance-granting is less precise and fails to clarify the energies that qualify - does force count? Sonic? Channel energy at 1/2 class level can also be found. I like this archetype, but wish it was slightly more polished.

The matchmaker is really cool: He can choose and coach clients, use serenades to cause infatuation and use bardic performance to maintain matches between unlike beings. Very interesting and flavorful choice! The prop comic can only use Perform (comedy)-based masterpieces and gets diminished spellcasting...but at higher levels, he can designate targets as "lovely assistants", making them the butt of the joke (i.e. the one on the receiving end). At 2nd level and 5th, as well as every 3 levels thereafter, the archetype gets a schtick, which use Perform (Comedy) instead of CMB and have their saves governed by Cha ( 10 + 1/2 class level + Cha-mod), if applicable. Props need to be crafted, have a cost and a limited number of uses. They use bardic performance as a resource and are REALLY COOL. Use Battle Flatus, to force enemies to use immediate actions to move away from the fart-noise, interrupting combos. Use big-wig cigars to cloud yourself in smoke...or stick it in a foe's mouth and have it explode, using dirty tricks. These are creative, cool and really fun - and they include forcing pious characters to attack irreverent symbols. I love these. I seriously do. As an avid Joker-fan, I really want to see MORE of these. For me, this may well be the best archetype the Flying Pincushion crew has crafted so far. Complex, unique, cool. Seriously, one amazing archetype.

The rookery master gains a familiar (thrush or raven) which shares the performance round pool with the character - basically a pet-performance archetype. Simple, yet elegant. The Skirling Adept can use bardic performance to inflict low-range sonic damage via lethal whistles, gaining a familiar as well as the option to use totem spears more effectively and later shatter things or call lightning/wind wall - the archetype may not be as mechanically interesting, but its strong theme makes it a fun and flavorful option. The song bow is a sling specialist who can use slings as wind instruments, bows as fiddles. He can imbue sonic damage in his ammunition and may also fire ammo at empty squares and use it as origin of his performance. Big plus: The rules-language of the complex concept hits home. Sorry, I'll punch myself for that lame joke later...) At higher levels, allies share bonuses against targets hit by rallying shots and higher level options, we have sonic AoE-blasts - and yes, all of this is balanced and the archetype gets some custom spells added. Powerful, but damn cool option. The Squad Leader, finally, would be one of the more complex archetypes - he gets a tactician-like network of allies, the bound squad, and may use his urgent commands to allow for bonuses, teamwork feat sharing, grant additional AoOs - basically, this fellow represents a battle lord-ish commander. Potent and solid.

Now each of the Into the Breach-books has a PrC that aims to make a subpar class-combo worthwhile - this time around, the 5-level Holy Rhapsodist, with d8 HD, 4 + Int skills per level 3/4 BAB-progression and good Fort- and Ref-Progression as well as 5/5th spellcasting progression does just that for the paladin and bard classes. The class enhances sonic damage of weapons wielded and smite may be turned into sonic damage that is more potent against evil targets. The PrC counts as paladin levels and bard levels for the purpose of lay on hands/mercy and bardic performance-progressions. These guys may expend lay on hands while performing to AoE heal and later even apply mercies and add buffs to allies. The 4th level ability should refer to character level, not class level, though - it's clear from context, but still a bit confusing. Oh, and woe to those that are on the receiving end of the smite of these guys...allies also get a damage boost...Powerful and interesting hybrid fusion PrC.

The mime is an alternate bard class that must be humanoid or a native outsider. The mime gets d8 HD, 6 + Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB-progression, good Ref- and Will-saves. They do not get weapon proficiencies, but don't take penalties from using improvised weaponry. Their spellcasting is governed by Cha and something special...much like the whole class. Remember Final Fantasy 5 and 6? You see, the basic bardic performance of this class deals with just that: Copying the tricks of nearby allies. Attacks. Defense. Feints....a LOT of tricks can be used this way and the class manages to codify the tricks rather well. I do have a couple of questions here, though: The copycat performance is a standard action, but can be used on e.g. an ally full-attacking a foe - does this also grant a full attack to the mimic? If so, does it have to be executed against the same target as the copied action, if any? Apart from this ambiguity, the class feature is clear, which is pretty impressive. Beyond this copying of targets, the class gets a limited resource 3/day, +1/day at 3rd level and every 2 levels beyond 3rd. These allow for the emulation of class features, feats and even limited item use!! Interesting from an RPG point of view: Mimes have a vow of silence that can be a detriment and roleplaying challenge, but that also has its perks - mimic'd spells are Silent sans spell-level increase, for example. While not perfect (it also has e.g. a non-capitalized skill-reference), the mime is still by far the coolest and most creative alternate class the FPG-crew has made - I really like it. Unique, interesting and well worth making the GM-call regarding copycat.

The pdf then introduces us to fairy plays -these are basically single-use scrolls...but in awesome and fun. Each play has a variety of roles. Within 10 minutes, all roles (each of which must be filled by a different character) must try their task (usually, one has a high DC, the others lower DCs) - the fairy play then takes effect, depending on the number of successes. And yes, these make traveling troupes of even low-level actors potentially a threat. They have a tactical dimension and the more successes you can garner, the better the effects...or, well, actually, the effects differ in creative ways: 1 success: Rain of frogs (poisonous); 2: Make the frog's croaking hypnotic. 3: Veil the performers. Glowing, creepy pumpkins that can float and duplicate dancing lights (not italicized), an alarm-version (they shout "BEWARE!") and the option to detonate them in blinding bursts make this one rather interesting. While guidelines for more are provided, I wish we got more than the 3 provided - somewhere between quirky magic item and skill challenge, these are fun for the group and feel very much magical. I like them!

The pdf concludes with 7 magic items - the flying lion gong can accompany the character and rewards readied strikes for coordinated attacks. Hell's hurdy-gurdy brings out the debauchery in devils, while a mask can fortify against fear while using bardic performance, as long as the character incorporates buffoonish fear in the performance. Moonlight strings heal, while peddler's charumeras can instill hunger or thirst and sylph slippers enhance dances and may carry the dancer across pressure plates and even water. the star here, though, would be the siege carillon. Think Skaven bell. Think war organ. Smack in the middle between instrument and magical siege engine, this apocalyptic device can vastly enhance the power of the bard, his range and durations, charm targets and emit devastating bursts of apocalyptic sonic damage after tolling no less than 23 bells - 1 or 2 may be sounded per round as a move action. This is basically an amazing fight and had me come up with numerous scenarios on how I'll use this monster. It's basically a bardic fantasy tank!! Come on! How cool is that??

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting have significantly improved over earlier installments in the series - they're now what I#d call good, bordering on very good. While some unfortunate hiccups and omissions can be found herein, the most significant improvement pertains rules-language, which now tackles significantly more complex concepts than ever before in the series, with greater precision than ever before in the series. Whatever the Flying Pincushion crew did here, I hope they'll continue to do it! Layout adheres to a nice 2-column full-color standard with really nice, well-chosen pictures, which I have not seen previously in other supplements. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

I couldn't have asked for a more rewarding review to write after my real life-related, brief hiatus. Benjamin Wilkins, Frank Gori, Kris Newton, Jeff Harris (who also acted as editor) and David S. McCrae (who acted as lead developer as well) are back as well and finally make true on what I have always said in these reviews: There is potential here.

While this book began less than spectacular, slowly but surely the gems among the archetypes accumulated; while some have minor hiccups and require a GM-call, they are worth making that call. Instead of going for easy or simple routes, we have complex archetypes here - even the multi-class-y ones sport their unique playstyles and engines and many of them left me wanting more! Moreover, I have never seen an accumulation of this many cool variants for the bard before. The PrC is valid and potent, the alternate class amazing (if you do clarify copycat) - and when there are issues, they are cosmetic or stem from the archetypes aiming for the stars, for the high echelons, regarding their themes, ideas and leitmotifs. There is not a single option herein that I'd consider lame, redundant or filler.

Not all archetypes herein will be for every campaign, sure - but whether you prefer gritty low fantasy, high-powered hijinxs, whether you're looking for an option for a cleric-less game...the pdf offers a lot of really cool material. Oh, and then there are the no-filler, evocative magic items and the woefully short, few fairy plays, blending all-party kinda skill challenges with magic item use, while explaining how those traveling troupes not get eaten after the first bend in that nasty, monster-infested wilderness -so whip out that Skill Challenge Handbook (you do have that, right?), blend them and make more of them ASAP! (And yes, they work sans that book, but I like to unify my systems...)

In short: This is the first "Into the Breach"-review that will not feature a big "but" - this book has heart, passion and made me smile from ear to ear. As a person, I love this and consider it to be one of the best bard-supplements I've read. If you're confident in being able to make some rules-calls and judging which archetypes work for your game, then this is gold. However, as a reviewer, I have to remain fair, my own excitement none withstanding. There are a couple of instances where the ambitious, complex concepts could have used that one sentence to make them perfect, where the abilities needed a teeny bit more, where ranger spells should be available at higher levels, where skills are not capitalized. This is not perfect. That being said, I have always preferred slightly flawed, ambitious and cool concepts over lame cookie-cutters that are perfect. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4.5 stars. If you want a perfect go-play book, round down; if you're looking for an inspiring toolkit full of joy and style, then round up. I can't award this my seal, but only due to its imperfections. Still, rounding down would be a disservice to the obvious passion, care and heart's blood that went into this. Did I mention the apocalyptic bardic battle tank?? Seriously, if you haven't checked out the Flying Pincushion's work, give this a shot. Now excuse me, I need to plan on which of my villains I'll put on that tank...

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Into the Breach: The Bard
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Deadly Gardens: Star Blossom
Publisher: Rusted Iron Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/05/2017 14:27:58

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Deadly Gardens-series clocks in at 5 pages, 1 page front cover, 2/3 of a page SRD, leaving us with 3 1/3 pages of content, so let's take a look!

The pdf, as always, includes a couple of magic items -the ambusher's cape sports a colony of chameleon-style lichen and increases miss chance for its wearers - pretty cool! The second item would be the urchin star -a morningstar made of driftwood and an alchemically-hardened sea urchin that can poison targets! Really cool visuals here!!

The pdf also contains 6 natural items: Achiaierai oil can be burned to generate noxious fumes, while behir horn powder can add some serious electricity to bombs. Decapus tentacles can be used for black tentacles to make weirder effects. Arrows with harpy feather fletching can temporarily fascinate targets, while seugathi skin gloves can help with UMD. Star blossom pendants can egnerate a limited amount of SR...all cool this time around!

The creature featured herein, the star blossom, clocks in at CR 9 and absorbs arcane and divine magic in separate pools: Divine magic can power negative energy bursts or healing, while arcane pool energy can generate dimension doors (not properly italicized) or add force damage to the plant's assaults. Oh, and if you are grappled by it and die, you liquefy, healing the plant. Worse: Failure to penetrate the plant's SR makes it grow in potency. Really, really cool critter - though I wished it'd specify what happens with psychic magic, though I wager it makes most sense to treat it as arcane magic.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level. Rules-language-wise, it is similarly very good, but not perfect. Layout adheres to Rusted Iron Games' 2-column's two-column standard and the pdf comes with a really nice full color-artwork. Really cool: The pdf is fully bookmarked, in spite of its brevity.

Mike Welham, Andrew Umphrey and Joe Kondrak deliver a really cool installment here: I really like the items and I adore the creature - it is creepy and cool in all the right ways and all my complaints are superficial. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Deadly Gardens: Star Blossom
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Librarian Hybrid Class
Publisher: Wayward Rogues Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/05/2017 14:26:11

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This hybrid class clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let's take a look!

The librarian is a hybrid class of bard and occultist and, chassis-wise, receives d6 HD, 6 + Int skills per level and proficiency with light armor and bucklers as well as light weapons. Librarians incur no spell failure chance when using light armors and bucklers and cast arcane spells governed by Intelligence. Spells are drawn from exotic books called "libri (singular: "Libris") - for each libris learned, he can add one spell for each spell level available, from that libri's school list to his list of spells known. A libris may be chosen multiple times, adding a new spell at every level. Spells do not need to be prepared in advance and casting a spell sans the libris containing it consumes an additional spell of that spell level's array. The class gets 1/2 BAB-progression and good Will-saves and, as the parent class, spellcasting of up to 6th level.

At 1st level and every 3rd level thereafter, the class can attune an additional libris and once it and its school has been chosen, it cannot be changed. Kudos: The ability gets interaction of spells contained on both bard and occultist spell-lists right. A libris also has a power, but more on that later.

"Athenaeums" (or "Athaneas", as the table calls it) allows the librarian to use a Knowledge skill check (should be capitalized in the text) or transcription of material in half the time while in a library, sans cost of ink (Does this eliminate scroll cost completely? Probably not, but the ability could be clearer.) Additionally, he may make Knowledge checks untrained. A librarian may invest 1 spell slot of a level he can cast into an athenaeum to add +1 to the DC of a chosen spell. While generally understandable, that part of the rules-language should imho mention choosing a spell beforehand.

Librarians begin play with knacks, determined by libris and they may, with just a minute of uninterrupted study, replace a spell known with another from the libris studied, with the new spell remaining in memory for up to 1 hour per class level, before the original spell returns. The spells have to be of the same level. 2nd level provides the ability to activate a spell completion item after 10 minutes of study - only the knowledge of activating one such item may be kept in mind.

3rd level yields bestow knowledge, usable 3 + Cha-mod times per day - this grants allies a +2 circumstance bonus at atk, damage, CL or saves versus the chosen creature, with the bonus increasing by +1 at 6th level and every 3 levels thereafter. It lasts for 1 round "per intelligence modifier" - that should have a minimum 1-clause and the ability lacks an activation action.

Upon reaching 5th level, the class gains a pool of memory points that may be used for one of 8 effects. Problem: The pdf fails to specify HOW MANY. I assume the number in the class table may represent that...or it represents how many such abilities he gets to choose. I have no idea. This core feature of the class does not work RAW. It is also really annoying to note that the respective abilities, even if you houserule them to work, don't all specify an activation action. So yeah, does not work as written.

At 8th level, he may consume Bestow Knowledge uses to add a d6-surge-like bonus to the skill check - weird: Supplementing other characters this way does not consume the use, which can be pretty weird in game. I also think the benefit of the ability should be a typed bonus, but that as an aside.

Starting at 14th level, the librarian may cast any spell in a libris on hand, provided he consumes 2 spell slots of the required spell level instead. Scrolls may be studied as a move action and may be cast without consuming them by expending a spell slot instead.

A total of 8 libris are provided, all of which come with their own spell-lists and abilities and there are some serious gems here: Recitation for energy resistance, marking targets, reading omens...the tricks here are certainly flavorful. Alas, the rules here do also sport some hiccups: "lightning" instead of "electricity" as an energy type, suddenly using Wisdom as governing attribute and non-capitalized attributes...you get the idea.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are the things that tear down this class. On a formal level, this isn't that bad, but rules-language and consistency have issues. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard with really nice full-color pieces. The pdf has no bookmarks, which acts as a comfort detriment, and annoyingly, does not allow for the copying of text - you actually have to copy the text by HAND if you want to use this. Big comfort detriment.

Jarrett Sigler, with additional writing by Robert Gresham, ALMOST gets this right. I was so happy when I started analyzing this class. After slogging through previous hybrids, I so hoped that this would finally deliver...and it seemed like it did. The class catches a lot of the more complex issues and ALMOST works as intended. Almost.

I really like the focus, chassis, balancing of the class - it looks like a well-made hybrid class with a distinct identity...and then, one of its central class features doesn't work. It's frustrating, to say the least. So yes, beyond cosmetic hiccups, this does require, once again, cleaning up of the rules. But really, not much. An hour, tops, and you have a nice class. In fact, I really hope this gets cleaned up - the librarian certainly deserves shining properly. I do enjoy the class a s a whole, but with its flaws and hiccups, I can't go higher than 3 stars; once/if it gets fixed/if you're willing to work a bit with it, consider this 4 stars instead.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Librarian Hybrid Class
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Skill Challenge Handbook
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/17/2017 11:23:30

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This handbook clocks in at 79 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 3 pages of advertisements, leaving us with 71 pages of content, so let's check this out!

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

It is no secret that I never liked D&D 4th edition. I tried the game and I'm not trying to discredit it or its playstyle - it just wasn't what I considered to be enjoyable and in contrast to PFRPG and 5e, it didn't let me tell the stories I wanted to tell. That is not to say that I think it's a bad system. I get why people like it and it has its definite merits. One such merit outshines, at least for me, pretty much all others, and that would be the concept of the skill challenge. In short, this represents a cooperative, dangerous endeavor undertaken by the group, based mostly on skill use - preventing a raft from going down the waterfalls, stopping a trap-room slowly filling with sand, chases - there is a vast plethora of different applications of the original system. However, at the same time, its implementation wasn't always as smooth as it could have been...but that's a topic for another rant.

Ultimately, skill challenges addressed an issue with skills that has been with us for quite a while, namely that, for such an integral component of the game, skills tend to...not be as fun as they should be. When 101 New Skill Uses hit sites back in the day, I was ecstatic. Similarly, the idea of rank-based Skill Unlocks was one I cherished and thankfully, more and more modules differentiate between degrees of success and failure when it comes to skills. All of these, however, do not necessarily change the structure in which skill-use works. To take perhaps one of the most maligned and disliked components of the game, namely traps: Mechanically, they're usually 2 - 3 rolls: Perception to see them, Disable Device to disarm them. Or an attack roll by the trap. Or a saving throw. It took a while, and then publishers like Raging Swan Press etc. realized that this was not necessarily the most fun incarnation of such challenges and thus began crafting more interesting traps that involved the whole group. Similarly, whether via conversion (e.g. in the Zeitgeist AP) or even via the big dog Paizo, which has, by other names, used similar mechanics in chases and the like - a complex series of tasks that would be resolved, a series of tasks that does not hinge on just one roll, but multiples and that engages the whole group, as opposed to just one characters. You know, emphasizing the cooperative aspect that makes roleplaying awesome.

The downside and caveat that ultimately comes with these tasks would be that, at least right now, they have not had a proper engine to run on; their mechanics had to be clarified, which cost words...you get the idea. This is where this book comes in. The Skill Challenge Handbook's goal, hence, would be to codify rules that allow you to set up any type of cooperative, non-combat task as a group-based endeavor.

The mechanics for this are interesting, to say the least: We begin with the so-called "Skill Challenge Cycle", which behaves basically like a combat round: You roll initiative and retain it throughout; you get your turn and may even begin with a surprise cycle and you may be flat-footed until you act. Here's the thing that sets it apart: While you can easily assign a cycle of 1 round and run a skill challenge even during a combat encounter, there is no requirement for doing the like: You can run skill challenges in pretty much any temporal interval you'd like: Want to depict a grueling, weeks- or even months-spanning overland trek/escape from a hostile army? Well, you can simply define the cycle as hours, days, months...or conversely have two brilliant strategists try to outthink one another in a manner of seconds! While the default cycle-lengths, called frequency, are defined tighter, as a whole, there is nothing keeping you from expanding these - the system retains its modularity.

Similarly, the spatial factor can diverge wildly - squares of movement, from the local to the global, are covered - in theory, you could play skill challenges with kingdom or settlement stats with a minimum of fuss! More important for most groups, however, would be that both targeting, riding and vehicles, all those dicey types of movement, are covered within the frame of this modular base that sits at the heart of this book.

A skill challenge has, obviously, per definitionem, an inherent chance of failing it, but the completion of the challenge may be just as modular - in fact, multiple parties, characters or otherwise active participants may have wildly different success conditions! Beating a skill challenge is called "Completion" and is achieved, ultimately, by making "progress." Progress is made y using the applicable primary or secondary skills associated with the skill challenge - secondary skills decrease the die-size used to roll progress by one step. Wait, what? Yep, if you have a lot of ranks (based on hard ranks, thankfully!), Skill Focus or class skills used here, you'll roll a larger die than those who have less expertise in the field, allowing you to actually become better in the way you succeed. And before all those munchkins start complaining: Your carefully minmaxed skills still yield bonus progress if you beat the DC by 5 or more. Oh, and 20s may become crits when confirmed, while 1s are always failures - akin to combat.

Speaking of which: The book takes class abilities, ability checks, feats and spells into account, covering and codifying in concise terms the way in which such abilities are used in the context of the skill challenge system. So, how does it work? Actions are defined as pertaining the cycle, differentiating between cycle and half-cycle actions - this allows for the easy integration of all action types of PFRPG easily and yes, swift/immediate actions are codified properly as well. Beyond these, there are some special actions: Aiding others, creating an advantage in a movement-based skill challenge...oh, and an important aspect: How do players or PCs know what they can do in a given challenge? A concise system for actually realizing how such a challenge works has been included: Relevant Knowledge versus a DC that scales with the CR of the skill challenge at hand.

The skill challenges as a base system can easily be modified by optional elements - from languages to skill bonuses, time pressure, backlash for failures, demerits (deteriorating benefits the longer it lasts) to failure tolerance - the modifications are all concisely defined and present perfectly defined key elements to customize the base system. These are further expanded with optional SQs that allow for critical fumbles, individual completion, limited completion or perhaps the challenge takes place in a magically imbued area - all of these frameworks are defined in the clear and precise manner we have come to expect from Everyman Gaming. Beyond these, an engine for obstacle creation for movement-based challenges can be found - including unavoidable or magical obstacles! Oh, and I should mention thresholds - with this system, you could create multi-step rituals the PCs must complete, with escalating and different conditions and tasks in each of the steps, separated by thresholds.

All of this sounds highly theoretical, but if you prefer examples, from babysitting to powering up runestones, making a meal for a dragon, cracking encoded spellbooks to gaining an audience with the king or staying the course in a brutal storm - the system's applications are, without any hyperbole ENDLESS. But perhaps you're a GM who does not like to bother with the nit and grit of math and all that stuff? Well, in that case, you'll ADORE the massive, massive tables of sample skill DCs by CR, the progresses, obstacles etc. - basically, if you don't want to bother with a variety of customizations, you can simply take one of these rows from the table and run them as is.

Okay, so this would be the base engine - it is titanic in its vast potential...and it becomes more awesome from here on out. You see, from here on out, we move to the subchapter that take a look at specific implementations (and modifications) of the system: The first of these would be the chase challenge, which includes rules for forced marches, tracking quarries and obfuscating trails. You're the couriers, trying to warn the kingdom of the impending invasions, with killers and soldiers at your heels? There you go - here are the rules to depict your heart-pounding escape! Whether chased or chaser, the system works. The second system covers something I have been waiting for: Contests. From Poker to Chess to pretty much any athletic of other form of competition is covered: Grapple contests, momentum contests, those featuring nets/walls, competitive recollections and stochastic/strategy contests -all are concisely and precisely defined - subcategories and point-based completion...all included. The actions, from blocks to fake outs, catches, passes, pushing self etc. are provided. Want to play Fantasy Soccer or Football or Bloodbowl (yep, dogpiling rules...) or Quidditch in PFRPG? There you go - the rules are here! If you once again encounter the challenge of playing chess in-game, you won't have to whip out the board and bore your players or resolve it as a banal series of roles - you can actually make it INTERSTING and EXCITING. The sample challenges include, fyi, baseball, chess, horseshoes, poker, rope-skipping (!!!) or trivia contests...the options are as infinite as our tradition as a species to make games. Heck, you could go meta and have your PFRPG-characters play a simplified RPG in-game...

Now, all of this is cool, but personally, I gravitate to complex plots - as such, influence challenges of e.g. diplomatic tasks during banquets, backroom dealings, courtly intrigues, hashing out deals with merchant consortiums - all of these and infinitely more can be realized with the chapter focusing on them, adding a vast array of playability to any intrigue scenario - I certainly know I'll use the hell out of that in a certain, upcoming Taldan AP...and speaking of which: Verbal Duels tie in perfectly with the former, acting not only as a stand-alone chapter, but also as a kind of extension: From an influence to a verbal duel and back, you can stack these upon another in a variety of genius ways - since discovering a bias, seeding audiences and gaining edges are all provided, you can basically run a whole campaign focused on senates, hearings and the like if you so choose! Various strategies and the like can be found, with skills being assigned to tactics...and yes, before you're asking, countering a tactic with the same tactic, repeating one over and over and the like all come with repercussions! And yes, this retains, obviously, full compatibility with Ultimate Intrigue.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Everyman Gaming's two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience. The full-color artworks throughout are full-color and well-made, provided by Brett Neufeld and Jacob Blackmon. The softcover print copy is nice, though it does not sport the name on the spine, which is a bit of a pity.

Alexander Augunas' Skill Challenge Handbook is an extremely versatile...oh who am I kidding? Let me spell it out clearly:

THIS IS PERHAPS THE MOST IMPORTANT RULEBOOK I HAVE READ IN YEARS. Perhaps, it is even the most important 3pp-PFRPG book - period. Are you playing Pathfinder? Do you want to do more than killing things? Then this is a MUST-HAVE PURCHASE. Scratch that, even if you just want to kill things, this'll make the combats more exciting!

I am not kidding, nor engaging in the slightest kind of hyperbole when I'm saying that:

-This should have been Core. Seriously. If I had to choose one 3pp-book to add to PFRPG's core-rules, this would be it.

-This book makes EVERY single PFRPG campaign better for using it.

-This is a MILESTONE and vastly improves the game.

-I have NEVER seen a supplement, regardless of rules system, enhance the number of stories I can tell to this extent.

The skill challenge handbook is, even among Alexander Augunas' impressive cadre of amazing books, a shining example, a paragon of its kind. Didactically-concise, well-presented and easy to grasp, yet incredibly modular, the system presented herein unlocks innumerable, nay, infinite options to tell fantastic, engaging stories. Heck, I even used it for stuff it was never intended to do - like portraying conflicts between settlements! The system is so incredibly modular and versatile, it can literally depict anything in an exciting manner.

Nail-biting in-game chess-duels for the souls of fellow adventurers? Check! Backstabbing courtly intrigue? Check. Over the top fantasy bloodsports? Check. Venturing into the depths of the earth? Check. Scaling a giant beanstalk? Check. Flying a ship through the deathstar's/SIN's defenses? Check. Navigating the Eye of Abendengo? Check. Leading the Chain of Dogs through the desert? Check. Playing Quidditch? Check. Making traps that engage the whole group? Check. Diffusing a magical reactor? Check. Finishing a ritual to banish a demon lord while he tries to eat you? Check. Catching enemy spies? Check. Running down couriers? Check. Ben Hur-style chariot races/combats? Check. Doing the Cicero in Senate? Check. Going fantasy Ace Attorney? Check. Ride an Avalanche? Check. Scaling a Kaiju? Check. Riding the gigantic tsunami-wave of crystallized shards from the heavens? Check. Deciphering a grimoire before the THINGS get you and your comrades? Check. Negotiating with the cannibals about to eat you and yours? Check. Navigating the dragon's hoard sans waking the wyrm? Check. Depicting guild warfare? Check.

...I could literally go on all day long and just add to this list. I am not kidding when I'm saying that this is the single most important 3pp PFRPG-rule-book I know and own. I cannot stress enough how incredibly, incredibly inspiring this book is. The base engine is deceptively simple-looking and elegant and can be tweaked by even the most novice of GMs to deliver pure, unadulterated awesomeness. All those situations that some players sat out, all those high tension scenes that deflated by being reduced to a single, bland roll now extend to the whole group - and by virtue of the structure of the system, they engage all players and deliver the high tension of comparable scenes from other forms of media.

There is no other book out there that delivers a similar increase in quality and versatility for the game. If you are a GM, BUY THIS ASAP and never look back. If you're a player, buy it as well. Keep a copy and gift one to your GM. No matter how good your GM is, chances are that your game will be better with this book in your life.

In fact, even if you do not play PFRPG and thus can't sue the math aspects of the game, as long as you have actions you take in combat and some sort of skill system, you can use a big portion of this system with some modifications!

If the sequence of superlatives was no clear indication: This belongs on the shelves and HDs of literally EVERY PFRPG GM. No exception. This book is fantastic, a one-of-a-kind masterpiece that is supreme, no matter the scale you apply: If I had 10 stars, this would be 10 out of 10 and I'd complain about not being able to award it 11. This book is an apex-level toolkit of raw potential and excitement, 5 stars + seal of approval, is a candidate for my Top Ten of 2017 (who am I kidding - this has a very high chance of getting the number 1-spot!) and also gets my designation as an EZG Essential, as one of the books I'd consider to be absolutely required reading.

Do yourself a favor and get this dazzling, resplendent gem of a book today.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Skill Challenge Handbook
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LG BK Classics #1: Blue Scales, Red Secrets
Publisher: Casey Brown
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/17/2017 10:32:30

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 29 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 25 pages of content, so let's take a look!

This review was moved up in my review-queue due to me receiving a print copy of the book.

So, before we start, a little history: The Living Greyhawk campaign back in 3.X was a campaign I would very much have enjoyed playing in; I always liked Greyhawk's relatively down to earth and classic tone. In particularly the region of the bandit kingdoms would have tickled my fancy, for the Bandit Kingdom summary-book I read really made its shades of gray mentality and pretty gritty feeling sound like something I'd appreciate. Alas, the general public doesn't have a way to play these modules now - they're lost...or rather, they had been lost. You see, this module would be the conversion of one such module to PFRPG, with the serial numbers filed off, if you want. I sincerely hope that we'll get to see more of the bandit kingdoms...but does the module hold up?

The module is designed for a party of APL 6, with characters ranging from levels 4 - 7, but also contains notes on how to increase the challenge posed by this module up to APL 8. A handout and maps for the combat-encounters have been provided - the maps are in color in the pdf, b/w in the print version.

It should be noted that the bandit kingdoms are slightly darker in tone than standard fantasy and feature slightly more explicit themes. While still firmly PG 13, squeamish players and kids may require a slight alteration of some text - though, big kudos, the pdf does note such instances! Kudos!

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

...

..

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All right, only GMs around? Great! The pdf assumes that the PCs are accompanying a man named Yulkin on an errand, acting as guards of sorts. The module features copious read-aloud texts, including some local color that ties into the Riverton-backdrop, but that as an aside. The way taken skirts the so-called Scar - the domain of none other than Morginstaler, the mighty red dragon. The terrain and environments provided for the areas, for the landscape, etc. btw. has mechanically-relevant repercussions - the lack of plant-life, for example, makes certain spells not work. The fact that the pdf mentions tidbits like this should be taken as testament to the attention to detail exhibited here.

Speaking of detail - this attention to detail also extends to the first encounter. Where Morginstaler swoops down and threatens to eat the PCs and their charge, unless they provide a bit of a service for him: A weird group of kobolds has intruded upon is domain and he is a bit perplexed - the kobolds did not grovel or run in panic and hence, he wants some intel on them. Best of all, he'll graciously not kill them all. The interaction with Morginstaler sports A LOT of troubleshooting, read-aloud text, etc. - and yes, Morginstaler is a bit of a Casanova, so charismatic female PCs may actually start a romance with the dragon. He's quite a charmer and, player-consent provided (the pdf notes this in bold all-caps!), the lady may actually become pregnant...though, if you consider these topics icky, you can simply ignore them - it's just one of the possibilities. The potential issues paladins may face here are similarly touched upon.

Ultimately, the group will probably consent to the dragon's request and thus travel into the badlands of the Scar - only to feel watchful eyes upon them...the PCs don't know yet, but dusk kamadans are stalking them right now -and yes, there are full stats for these monsters, which bring me to one thing I honestly LOVE about this pdf. The stats of both NPCs and monsters herein are lavishly-detailed and hand-crafted, using creative templates, 3pp-classes and even some unique tricks - like a scaling Spell Mastery variant and a feat for move action spellcasting. The latter represents one of the few issues I have herein: It is included for the sake of the build of the NPC the PCs meet in the Scar, the Indiana Jones-like archaeologist/wizard Mumford Ravine, who, with his griffon-figurine and ties to some of the local humanoids, can provide some advice and social interaction for the PCs. While the feat works in context with his stats, I'd strongly suggest never allowing it anywhere close to PCs.

The encounter with Mumford, just fyi, also offers the chance to trade spells - told you, this was detailed! Oh, and once the dusk kamadans do strike, the pdf mentions how their pelts can be used for magic item creation! Yes, this is exhaustive regarding the GM-guidance and details provided and I mean that as a compliment!

Sooner or later, the PCs will find the location where Morginstaler has slaughtered the irreverent kobolds - only that since then, slime crawlers have begun taking a shine to the delicious corpses...oh, and there is an optional complication in the guise of a VERY potent kobold magister who survived the massacre - once again, a potent and custom-made threat. It should, at this point, come as no surprise that speaking with the dead and similar options of information gathering are covered. The PCs can find a prayer to the new "deity" of the kobolds here...ostensibly, a powerful blue dragon...oh, and they can find out that there are many, many more kobolds. Whether or not they try to discern the location of the massive kobold settlement, the PCs should have some information for Morginstaler....who has amused himself in the meantime by playing with Yulkin...who hence lies unconscious at the dragon's feet.

The interrogation of the returned PCs once again sports serious detail...and once the dragon knows enough, he'll "reward" the PCs - by slamming his tail on the floor to call forth basically his half-draconic umberhulk children. Since umberhulks are closed IP, the book has instead used ankhegs with multiple templates to retain the abilities and flavor - big kudos!

The showdown, while Morginstaler laughs, seems like a cruel game of cat and mouse - after all, the mighty dragon could kill them any time...but sooner or later, he will have to retreat - in his absence, Mumford has triggered a hoard defense of the dragon, calling him back to his cherished treasure...and thus allowing the PCs to hopefully escape with their lives. (And yes, the module even accounts for how Morginstaler evades the confusing gaze of these critters...)

The pdf concludes with possible XP awards and boons the PCs may have achieved during this module.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are excellent, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to a no-frills two-column standard with thematically-fitting b/w interior artworks taken from the public domain. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The softcover is a nice one to have - being old-school, I prefer that version. Cartography is decent and player-friendly, though I certainly wished we got blown-up versions of the battlemap-style maps to print out at the proper size.

Casey Brown's little module is much better than I can probably convey here. You see, I've read and run my fair share of organized play modules; more often than not, they boil down to a lot of fights and a flimsy story without much roleplaying involved. This, while similar in scope due to its heritage, is not such a module. While there is plenty of challenging combat to be had, against utterly unique threats no less, the star of this module is frickin' Morginstaler. For the first time in a long, long, LONG while, the depiction of a dragon in a module actually nails what dragons should be, at least to me: Arrogant, smart, capricious and incredibly dangerous. This module NAILS how a dragon works and doesn't treat him as a throw-away encounter. The amazing final battle is another big plus. The attention to detail provided is a sheer joy to behold - from mechanically-relevant terrain to atmosphere, read-aloud text and more, this leaves nothing to be desired.

My only two complaints with this glorious module are that I would have really liked to see high-res versions of the maps for printing/VTT and the one feat used in an NPC build, which should seriously never fall into player hands. Apart from these two minor hiccups, the module delivers by the buckets and makes for an amazing experience, well worth of a final verdict of 5 stars, just short of my seal. If you enjoy Greyhawk or want to see a dragon done right...or if you just some actually well-made, complex statblocks, then take a look at this little gem, for it's well worth checking out!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
LG BK Classics #1: Blue Scales, Red Secrets
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