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Orcam of Porphyra
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/19/2016 08:47:40

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of Purple Duck Games' "...of Porphyra"-series clocks in at 25 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with a massive 31 pages of content, so let's take a look!


After a brief piece of introductory fluff, we are introduced to the Orcam's racial stats: The race receives +2 Con and Cha, -2 Int, are medium, have a land speed of 30 ft, a swim speed of 40 ft, low-light vision, cold resistance 5, gain hold breath, are proficient with spears, tridents and nets, gain a +2 racial bonus to Ride checks when riding whales/dolphins and underwater, they may, as a move action, emit an echolocation pulse to locate objects and creatures within 30 ft. - this one can be suppressed by silence. Okay, from the base set-up, we get a powerful race approximately on par with aasimar etc., but one whose benefits are pretty circumstantial - in aquatic campaigns, they obviously excel, whereas on primarily landbased campaigns, the race works pretty well with less powerful races. The race has a unique thing going for it and gets formatting completely right, something pretty rare.


Next up, we take a look at society, alignment, adventuring, etc. - and in the cultural department, the race does have several unique components as well, first of which would be their nomenclature: The race features a "Deep Name", to be pronounced underwater, as well as a airbound name - and this makes sense to me. It may seem negligible, but it is these little tidbits that good roleplayer latch on to and generate whole angles out of. The race features a proper array of age, height and weight tables to supplement it and comes with 7 race traits for your perusal: From slightly better initiative to bulky frames and improved flanking, the traits are relevant, appropriate for their power-level and get the bonus type right.


For more customization options, the race features a total of 9 alternate race traits: These include a primary natural bite attack (which actually is properly codified in every way!), self-only blood rage 1/day, tremorsense while in contact with water and only pertaining creatures also in contact with the body of water, darkvision and light sensitivity, better social skills, better aiding others, Small orcam, natural armor instead of cold resistance or +2 Str and Wis, -2 Cha as alternate racial traits. The array of alternate racial traits is well-balanced against the abilities they replace, the rules-language is precise...and once again, I am left with no complaints.


The pdf also offers 7 racial feats - and here, I can finally complain properly about something! Yeah! The Dorsal Fin feat that increases swim speed...lacks the "ft." after the increase. ... Yeah, sorry. The feat also allows for direction changes underwater, just fyi. Longer range echolocation under water (and 20 ft. on land), gaining a gore attack, speak with animals with aquatic creatures, minor DR and bonus to Escape Artist...intriguing. Orcam rangers (or those characters with favored terrain) can take a feat starting at 5th level to change favored terrain and there is a feat that allows for the better wielding of weapons underwater. The race also gets a racial combat style, the Shark Style - the base feat generates bleed damage when you score multiple hits and helps when fighting underwater; the follow-up feats allow for rend bonus damage versus bleeding foes and free demoralize attempts versus foes bleeding - even if you're not interested in the Orcam AT ALL, fans of sahuagin may very well get this pdf for this chain alone...it's pretty damn awesome! There is also an okay teamwork feat that slightly increases damage output when flanking with allies and adds demoralize to crits. The metamagic feat, at +1 spell level, adds splash damage to AoE-spells, which is a nice concept. In a minor nitpick: The feat only mentions minimum damage - which could be read as applying to attribute damage and becomes problematic when combined with fixed damage spells (or maximized ones) - a good GM can easily read the feat as intended, but a tad bit more precision here would have been nice.


The pdf also provides the overdue greatspear as well as the gut razor, which is particularly potent when used in coup-de-grâces as well as the glove-less scaly mail variant of scale mail. Magic item-wise, there is an enchantment for composite bows that allows the wielder to change Str-bonuses - for an applied use of it, a lethal bow can be found here. The ambergris amulet has defensive properties and denotes you as a healer among the orcam. We do get the at this point obligatory electric eel armor, though admittedly, the execution isn't bad. An Octopus shield that can flail its tentacles and fire ink is pretty cool and a water-themed staff complements the section - all in all, a precise, well-crafted array of items.


The spell section is interesting - blood rage grants stacking bonuses to Str and penalties to AC for damage incurred (with a cap, thankfully), variants of scent-masking and a octopus-inkjet-style variant of expeditious retreat is cool. The 4th level spell Land Shark lets you go bulette! Cool!


The pdf also features racial archetypes/class options, 3 to be more precise. The first of these would be the order of naumachy cavalier order: These guys can't issue a challenge against a good or neutral target - which brings me to an issue: What if they do? Is the challenge attempt wasted? What about action economy? Not sure. The challenge bestows a +1 dodge bonus to AC and +1 insight to saves, which increases by +1 for every 4 levels. They may also only issue challenges while wearing light armor and carrying no more than light load - all in all, a very restrictive challenge. 2nd level provides a paladin's detect evil and 10th level 1/day smite evil at 1/2 levels. 8th level lets the order choose a terrain from a limited list and shout orders as a swift action to grant allies within 50 ft. bonuses and 15th level nets the mount the aqueous simple template, which is a bit late.


The Deep Sea Patroller hunter archetype gains an aquatic companion and, instead of animal focus, nets the companion several toughness-related bonus feats and, at 8th and 15th level, the powerful stalwart ability and its improved cousin, respectively.3rd level offers amphibious for hunter and companion, with higher levels providing darkvision. 6th level provides a life bond that allows for limited saving roll rerolls and the means to take excess damage when a companion would be reduced to below 0 hp, instead reducing it only to 1 hp. Instead of woodland stride, the archetype can pass easily through corals, sea weed etc. - though I'd be interested in whether this also applies to damaging terrain. 12th level nets a +3 favored terrain and 15th level provides a continuous freedom of movement for the pair.


The next archetype would be the Searager bloodrager - and here, we have something odd: Tidal Wave Blitz reads "This works as bloodrage, but when a searager charges an opponent he counts as one size category larger for when making a bull rush or overrun attempt." I am pretty sure something went wrong here - does this benefit only apply while bloodraging? I also am pretty sure that there's an excess "for" here. The archetype also gains the woodland stride variant - the same question as above applies. 6th level unlocks cure spells, though the pdf fails to italicize them properly. At 7th level, these guys can conjure forth shields of water as immediate actions.


The pdf thereafter continues to tell us about the orcam's take on respective adventuring classes, including occult classes and those introduced by Purple Duck Games - I like this section, as it provides a better feeling for the culture of the race. This section is btw. also supplemented with a significant array of favored class options, which include the ACG and OA-classes as well as Infinyte, Illuminatus and the like. The section generally is solid. The pdf concludes with a sample level 1 orcam barbarian.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting, for the most part, are excellent in both formal and rules-language departments: The bonus types are clear, the rules-language precise. While there are a few hiccups, these tend to be minor ones. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games' 1-column layout standard that results in A5-sized (9'' by 6'') books - something to bear in mind regarding the page-count. The pdf sports glorious, original full-color artworks of male and female orcam and comes with bookmarks for each section, making navigation pretty comfortable.


Derek Blakely's Orcam are a cool race - they have a unique trick, are generally balanced as one of the stronger races and are diverse enough. Their culture is intriguing and, unless you're playing a nautical campaign with a lot of water where all other PCs are landlubbers, the race shouldn't unbalance a given group. So yeah, only GMs going for a "airbreathers on the sea/underwater"-style of campaign may want to be a bit careful here - these guys are good in the water! (Then again, if you're using Cerulean Seas' more powerful aquatic races as well, this will fit in just perfectly.


For the most part, the pdf is absolutely meticulously crafted with an eye towards cool options and balance at the same time - the race-section, the items, the fluff - all feels like a project of passion and it shows and translates to that. At the same time, the class options are the weakest part of the pdf: The cavalier order is very restrictive and the other two archetypes have evocative tricks, but also don't reach the level of precision the other content features. They also, conspicuously, are less precise in the formatting-department.


Now that being said, the damn cool Shark Style, the evocative race itself and the nice cultural tidbits included do make this race a welcome addition to environments both aquatic and non-aquatic: Due to the lack of requirement to actually stay wet etc., the orcam make for a viable, nice race to include among the PC-approved roster. One more interesting coincidence: While their culture does not necessarily point towards this and while their nomenclature obviously stems from "orcas", that's only one letter away from orc - so if you're bored by the old green-skins and want something unique and different...why not use these? I certainly have ideas on how to introduce these fellows in my game!


Ah, the verdict. Well, try as I might, I really like these guys and the author shows care and a precise grasp of rules only rarely seen..but considering the minor hiccups, I can't go with an apex-level rating; for that, the jaw-dropping archetype/class option/whatever is missing. For the more than fair price point, this does remain a very good, if not 100% perfect purchase, though. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Orcam of Porphyra
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The Genius Guide to More Bard Talents
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/19/2016 08:45:09

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This expansion for the Talented bard clocks in at 18 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page ToC, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let's take a look!


We begin with 3 edges in this one: Enrapturing performance focuses the effects of bardic performance on a single target, increasing the potency against said target - said performance cannot be maintained at the same time as a regular performance. Unfortunately, the ability is pretty imprecise: The ability talks about emulating certain performances with the ability at greater effect, implying that it can use these...which would not be an issue with a vanilla bard, but talented bards do not necessarily get these, so there is some unnecessary ambiguity here. Limited replacement of bard spells with ranger/druid spells and a familiar would be the other two edges.


The pdf also features new talents - and unlike some of the "More"-series of expansions, this one does go into some archetypes not featured in the base product, with hoaxer, silver balladeer, thundercaller, negotiator, etc. having their talents and edges codified according to the talented system, with divas, duettists etc. being covered. NOw, as a metalhead, I couldn't help but smile at Headbasher's Ball - while performing, allies within 30 ft. may use the bard's Perform instead of Bluff or Intimidate to feint or demoralize...which is pretty damn cool. Powerful, yes, but come on! Balanced bardic healing can be found in here as well. Another note that should be relevant to the interests of some of you out there: This book actually does cover the skald's raging songs and unlocks them for the talented bard - from incite rage to song of the fallen.


That being said, organization is not as precise as usual for these books - there is the distinction pertaining advanced talents, which are unlocked at 10th level and usually collect the talents that have a prerequisite of 10th level or beyond - song of the fallen, for example, should be in this category, yet it is listed among the regular talents. While this remains the exception, it was still odd to see. Thankfully, the wall of text organization by theme-box is included in the deal. Fans of OA will be glad to hear that the Phronologist's tricks are included in this deal as well.


The capstones contain the end of the savant's avatars of legend ability as well as immunity to aging and drugs (+ superstar performance) and a pantomime equivalent of imprisonment.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good - while not always perfect in formal criteria, there are no significant botches to be found here. Layout adheres to Rogue Genius Games' two-column full-color standard with okay stock art and the greyish background with pronounced borders, ut pretty high text density. The pdf comes fully bookmarked, but not with individual bookmarks for the respective talents/edges.


This is the first book by J. Michael Matkin I've read and it is precise, well-crafted and generally a more than welcome expansion for the talented bard. While, personally, I would have preferred an individual installment for the skald for a slightly more nuanced take on the options of the class, I can live with this iteration of the concepts. In fact, I probably would adore this pdf significantly more, had Stephen Rowe not stepped up the whole game in the "More Witches Talents"-book, which simply ranks among the most inspired witch-supplements ever penned. Compared to that one, this book represents some solid craftsmanship and welcome expansions and it does show some cool, unique ideas...but it does not reach the level of mind-boggling awesomeness.


So yes, fans of the skald, phrenologist and similar archetypes left out of the core talented bard that wanted them integrated into the talented line should consider this as a must buy. As a whole, it is a good expansion, but one that delivers more in the craft and less in the artistry department. I thought long and hard and ultimately, I consider it to be a good file, bordering on very good. Personally, I value artistry more, so, as a person, I'd round this down. As a reviewer, though, I do have an in dubio pro reo policy and tend to be slightly more lenient on the first book of an author I get to analyze...so yeah, my official verdict will round up from 4.5 stars. You'll like this if you're not spoiled rotten like I am from the witch-installment. ;)


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Genius Guide to More Bard Talents
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Occult Character Codex: Kineticists
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/19/2016 08:41:38

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The (for now) final installment of the Occult Character Codex-series clocks in at 32 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of how-to-use/introduction, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page blank, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 24 pages of content, so let's take a look!


The general introduction of how the series works kicks this off - the characters featured herein utilize the NPC automatic progression championed by Pathfinder Unchained, which makes the NPCs used herein more suitable challenges for the PCs - a decision I wholeheartedly applaud. As always, we do receive a blending of common and less common races in the array of creatures featured in the book, with e.g. merfolk being featured among the less common races and there even is a stone giant, a leprechaun and a fearsome hobgoblin featured.


Somewhat odd - the explanation on how to use does mention regular spellcasting in a book on kineticists...a glitch that is even more jarring when one looks at the tactics-section, where hints for the medium are provided. That being said, the section is still pretty useful, with a helpful table of optimum burn helping in running kineticists - kudos for providing such guidelines for the GM. The respective statblocks, just fyi, do feature an "If at optimal burn"-section in the tactics, which is pretty neat to see.


The kineticist, as a class, prior to 3pp-additions, has been pretty challenged pertaining evocative archetypes, so it should come as no surprise that, in this discipline, there isn't that much variety in this book. A few characters sport a fighter level; there are the uncommon races, but base-class wise, this book is pretty much straight kineticists. The pdf covers the CRs from 1/2 to 19, as always. On a feat-perspective, the book does offer a surprising diversity regarding the feats chosen, considering how few of them make sense for the kineticist, so yeah, kudos there.


Regarding utility wild talent selection and infusion selection, the builds also utilize a sufficient breadth of options. That being said, I did notice a couple of minor glitches in the builds herein - I noticed e.g. minor hiccups regarding the internal rules-language of the kineticist employed in the tactics section - it's "accepting burn", not "gaining burn." Generally, when I could reverse-engineer hiccups, they did tend to be not crucial.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are good, though e.g. the cut copy paste hiccups regarding the medium are unnecessary. Similarly, the minor wording hiccups and glitches may not be bad per se, but they do show up. Layout adheres to Legendary Games' two-column full-color standard for the series, with a nice array of original full color pieces. The pdf comes fully bookmarked, though oddly the bookmarks are double - there are WIP-bookmarks and the finished ones. Both are functional, though.


Julian Neale's kineticists are an interesting bunch - while their builds provide a relatively broad scope regarding the feats and race-combos employed, the pdf ultimately did feel a bit less refined than the best in the series do. At the same time, the support provided by the book makes running the characters themselves somewhat easier than one would assume, which is a plus in my book. All in all, this is a nice, solid collection of NPCs, though one that is less refined than usual for the series. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up by a margin and in dubio pro reo.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Occult Character Codex: Kineticists
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Master of Forms Expanded - Shadow and Darkness
Publisher: Interjection Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/18/2016 04:22:00

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This expansion for the absolutely AWESOME Master of Forms base class clocks in at 16 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 14 pages of content, so let's take a look!


The master of forms class is a genius elemental martial arts system that provides diverging tricks, with each element playing differently...so, how does the new element shadow fare? Well, for one, the master of forms in the shadow stance immediately enters an element's stance when performing a non-shadow form, allowing for the flexible transition from shadow to another element. The pdf contains two secret arts associated with shadow: All-encompassing shadows lets him choose three wild card forms for which he meets prerequisites and perform them as though he knew them. Withdrawing shadows lets the master steal the shadow of a creature within 60 feet, requiring Will-saves to perform supernatural abilities or cast spells - on a failure, the target loses its action! Damn cool!


Beyond that, obviously, the pdf does feature a selection of shadow forms: Blinding dust to be used in lieu of attacks, tentacles of cold-damage dealing shadows that entangle creatures attacking you in melee... pretty interesting. Cobra Strike, as 0 focus required, +1 focus change, is interesting, allowing you to perform an attack that only deals base weapon damage as a swift action, but prevents you from otherwise attacking the target. Form of the Spider enables you to work more efficiently when flanking a foe, but penalizes your attacks against foes you do not flank...and, you may expend focus to perform an attack against a flanked creature as a free action. There also are forms that allow you to copy other forms (at -4 focus change for the bigger one, at +1 for the smaller form, but with a more limited scope, obviously). A form that grants benefits when studying a foe before striking is nice...and there would be a cool gambit form, which makes the next AoO against you automatically hit, but grants you DR equal to half your class level against it...and allows you to retaliate with an AoO if you do take damage...and it does this while increasing focus by +1.


Balanced, short-range teleportation (but only into flanking position!) and freeing your shadow to set up flanking position with you would be another interesting combo move and there is a -1/0 focus change form that allows you to flank a target even if you aren't - it costs 0 focus, obviously, when you're already flanking, but does allow for focus maintenance in such cases. Kudos for getting this one! There also would be a -4 focus change ability that lets you set-up a short-range teleport that automatically causes an attack to miss. this one is pretty complex, but cool and works well indeed. Also interesting in that I have not seen it done before: Repeating an attack that previously missed with all previous modifiers and buffs...which is gold for the instances where you have to hit...and then rolled that stupid natural 1.


The pdf also does provide archetypes, the first of which would be the drifting one: When he performs two consecutive forms of the same element within 1 minute, he loses 1 point of focus, but when he does perform 3 of them within the time frame, his maximum focus increases by +1, with universal forms being treated as their own element. He does pay for this flexibility with stances, though. At 5th level, he may expend 2 focus to gain the benefits of an elemental stance for 1 round, though...and no, he can't be in more than one at a given time. 9th level is truly interesting, allowing the drifting one to change a form's element for 1 focus, replacing the secret art gained there. 13th level nets improved evasion, while 17th level unlocks an element's secret arts while the maximum focus is increased and 20th level provides 1 focus regeneration at the beginning of his turn whenever the archetype's focus is 0. This archetype plays surprisingly different when compared to the base class. Cool!


Elemental Partisans can also be, via a special caveat, be unbalanced masters and chooses an element at first level - though shadow is excluded from the list due to being the unopposed, connecting factor. Elemental partisans may not learn forms or secret arts of the element opposing his own element chosen...but for the exclusion of this one element, they do gain access to a selection of 3 special forms per element: Earth lets you instantly grow a tree (!!), get barkskin or leave entangling brambles in your wake.Fire lets you damage adjacent creatures to your target with fire damage (including a means to bypass resistance for focus expenditure), leave a comet-like trail of blazing fire that damages those nearby or add free 5-foot movements to all your focus expenditure, mimicking the chaotic dance of the wildfire.


Ice lets you name a spell or supernatural ability and hamper a target trying to employ it, end all ice forms in a burst of cold...and the final one is pretty cool: Ice needs a bit of set-up, but when it does hit, it gets brutal: Cause bonus damage on successful saves and render those that critically save shaken? Yeah, that feels like ice, all right. Lightning lets you enhance your defense and generate static electricity...and it gets the awesome grounded ability: Designate a square within 120 ft. as the "ground" - when you move towards it, your base land speed doubles, but upon reaching it, you can't move from it until the beginning of your next turn. Volatile, fast and risky - cool! And yes, you can fire a blast of electricity. Wind, finally, lets you fire unarmed attacks at range, AoE-trip foes via cyclonic air...and there is a form that lets you expand the reach of non-AoO-unarmed attacks by +20 feet.


Now, I already mentioned the unbalanced master: These guys can only learn forms with a focus change of -4 of their primary element, which is chosen at 1st level and all forms with a focus change of +1 of an element other than the designated primary element are treated as though they only had a focus change of 0. However, depending on the primary element chosen, these guys do get a pool dependant on the chosen element and they contain a number of points equal to the class level of the unbalanced master. These points have vastly diverging uses that fit with the themes of the element - earth can, for example, substitute these points for focus points when dealing with -2, -3 or -4 focus change earth forms, but only when below 1/2 maximum health. Fire can utilize the points to pay for secondary effects of forms, etc. - basically, these are modifications of the resource management of the class that depend on the respective element. Very cool!


Walkers in darkness would be up next and while there is a slight formatting glitch with one ability not properly bolded, the archetype is very intriguing. Walkers in darkness are vessels for so-called observers from Elsewhere and these entities tend to change the character - at 2nd level and every 5 levels thereafter, the walker gains a gift from elsewhere, basically one type of new talent the archetype receives - these can range from extraordinary to supernatural and cover both active and passive abilities. Among the passive ones, increase base land speed, rerolls when confused and the like can be found, while the active ones are somewhat different. The walker in darkness begins play with an escalation pool equal to his class level and whenever the walker performs a darkness form that can escalate, the form's escalation score may be paid from this pool. In a unique twist, the pool may be increased: A walker can choose, upon replenishing the pool via resting, to accept a -1 penalty to one saving throw; for each penalty thus accepted (maximum equal to 1/4 class level, minimum 1) he gains a temporary darkness point that stacks and is added to the pool. This replaces stances and stance savant. These points, just fyi, also represent the fuel for some of the active abilities the archetype has, including a damaging gaze...and yes the gifts can also be used to increase pool-size and 17 of them are included in the deal.


Here's the thing, though - this is no mere simple standard archetype - instead, this one comes with a whole array of specific forms exclusive to the walker. For example, the guys can vomit forth acidic darkness with a save to negate...or to halve, when the escalation cost is paid. Basically, the escalation cost is somewhat akin to psionic augments or at higher levels-options in 5e in that they provide further flexibility to the respective forms, which pretty much...well, awesome. What about a form that makes any attack that is successful against you provoke an AoO? Entering a foe's square for +10 bonus to atk in a desperate offense, adding scaling bleed damage to combat maneuvers, staggering foes (with minor, untyped damage) and a save to negate the stagger, temporary hit points, bursts of energy that strike secondary targets...nasty. Have I mentioned gouging a creature's eyes out? Complete with a "takes more uses versus creatures with more eyes"-caveat? Yeah, pretty visceral. Okay, and then there is Mutually Assured Destruction. Not a death effect...but if a creature kills you...well, it is shunted to the nastiest part of elsewhere, obliterated from existence. Oh, and guess what? If you pay escalation and the creature doesn't have enough hp...it doesn't even get a save, but if you do pay this cost, you're erased as well. That's pretty awesome for both villains and anti-heroes. Claws of darkness that slowly degrade are also possible...with escalation, they may even detonate! Corrupting items...what about attacking versus touch AC or getting SR? Yeah, pretty damn cool and flavorful!


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are excellent on both a rules and formal level, with one bolding oversight as a cosmetic glitch being my only true complaint. Layout adheres to Interjection Games' clean and easy to read, printer-friendly b/w-standard and the pdf has no bookmarks, which constitutes a comfort detriment...then again, I'd suggest printing this out anyways. The book, beyond abstract swirly-like graphics, also features several flavorful b/w-artworks I haven't seen before - nice!


Bradley Crouch's Master of Forms is one of my favorite classes. It's appropriate for any type of game, from high to low fantasy; its elements play differently, with each having a unique feeling, a unique experience and their combinations and customizations make the class extremely rewarding to play. Well, this book not only introduces a very skirmish-y ninja-ish style of gameplay that is very unique, even in the well-trodden arena of shadow-themed classes, it also enhances the customization options of the base class via unique and intriguing archetypes that radically change the manner in which the master of forms plays; better yet, the damn cool walker's escalation system addition may have covered a LOT of ground with the significant amount of cool forms provided, but it's nowhere near tapped out yet and once again, plays differently from a regular master of forms. What you do and don't do, what your forms allow you to pull off, here as much as in the base class, define very much the playing experience; with cool combos, unique stunts and a general feeling of...well, being awesome, suffusing this pdf as much as its parent book.


I am very happy for this book to have seen the light of day, for the system is rewarding and the cool system of the class with its focus-changes, planning and combo-tricks very much feels like playing a balanced version of friggin' Mortal Kombat: Supernatural martial arts that still feel believable in the context of a fantasy world, that have, in spite of being fantastic, a certain grounding. (Meta-pun re grounding form! I'll punch myself later...) Suffice to say, if anything, this book is a shining example of how great such an expansion can be. I absolutely adore it. My final verdict will, unsurprisingly, clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval and this one gets a nomination for my Top Ten of 2016...excuse me, I have to plan a walker villain for my next game...


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Master of Forms Expanded - Shadow and Darkness
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The Genius Guide to the Talented Bard
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/18/2016 04:19:46

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of Rogue Genius Games' Talented class-series clocks in at 38 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page ToC, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 33 pages of content, so let's take a look!


In case you're new to the concept: Talented classes basically dismantle archetype abilities and base class abilities and codify them according to two categories: Edges for major abilities, talents for less powerful abilities. This does mean that you can cherry-pick exactly the type of class you want, but it also means that you need to be more proficient at creating classes.


The talented bard class, chassis-wise, gets d8 HD, 6 + Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB-progression and proficiency with simple weapons plus longsword, sap, short sword, shortbow and either scimitar or rapier. They are proficient with light armor and shields and may cast bard spells while wearing light armor and shields sans spell failure chance.


Regarding progression, the talented bard begins play with 2 bard edges and 4 bard talents. An additional bard edge is gained at 4th level and every 3 levels thereafter. Each level that does not grant a bard edge nets a bard talent, with 10th level netting one in spite of also granting an edge - probably since it unlocks advanced talents. 2nd, 6th, 14th and 18th level provide two bard talents instead and 20th level provides the choice of the capstone grand talent.


In an uncommon change from the standard established, there is one ability beyond edges and talents hardwired into the very class, namely bardic performance, with 4 + Cha-mod rounds, +2 per level beyond first. Starting a performance is a standard action, move action at 7th, swift action at 13th level. The talented bard begins play with the distraction performance, allowing for the substitution of the Perform check result for saves versus pattern and figment illusions.


Spellcasting is gained via an edge: The first time it is gained, it grants 2 1st level bard spells (Cha being the default attribute to govern spellcasting). In order to advance spellcasting, the talented bard must expend additional edges, with 4th level, 7th level, 10th level, 13th level and 16th level thereafter allowing for the access of new bard spell levels. Somewhat odd: Cantrips are their own edge and are not a prerequisite for 1st level spellcasting. Expanded spell lists can be gained via e.g. the arcane investigation edge of the detective. Learning a masterpiece also is an edge and similarly, the dervish dancer's battle dance is also an edge. Similarly, taking edges from other classes at -3 levels is an interesting synergy edge, but one you pay for dearly.


Thankfully, the pdf continues to sport the by now classic "Save vs. wall of text"-table that classifies the vast array of talents according to general themes, helping you choose talents.


Now you may notice one thing from the above - if you compare the talented bard with the regular bard + archetype, spellcasting is more costly for the talented bard: For a proper, full progression in this discipline, the class loses almost all of the respective edges. That being said, I do believe that this is very much intentional: Why? Because, let's face it, most archetypes feature some unique performances that double as the primary reasons to take them - this pdf does not take the same route as the talented cavalier - the respective performances do not retain linear sequences and instead opt for minimum level requirements to retain balance, allowing for more freedom in choices when directly compared to archetypes of the base class.


After tinkering for a while with the engine, I do believe that, to a certain degree, this flexibility to cherry pick powerful performances (and accumulate more performances than you otherwise could) is balanced against the spellcasting progression being more costly. In short - I'm fine with it.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Rogue Genius Games' two-column full-color standard with a grey background and pretty broad borders, but also small text - so yes, there is a ton of content in here. Slightly odd: There are some sections of text that look like they are slightly bolder than others. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, but does not have individual bookmarks for the edges/talents, which means you'll do some scrolling. The pdf sports numerous full-color artworks, which mainly are stock and do not adhere to a unified aesthetic...but, oh well.


Mark Gedak, master of Purple Duck Games, doesn't write that many books any more - which is honestly a pity. Actually taking the time and effort required to make a talented book...is still something I admire. There is so much work going into these books and honestly, I wouldn't want to design one - in my mind, they are WORK and while I can picture some designers enjoying this...personally, I wouldn't. The Talented Bard as depicted herein was a pretty neat surprise for me, as it actually does feature some interesting balance-mechanisms for the added flexibility: If you'd only go for one archetype, the core bard and the old archetype may actually be better for you due to the spellcasting balancing; at the same time, if you do want to cherry pick via talents, you'll lose a bit in the edge-based department.


Now there is one thing that I'm not 100% sold on here: Masterpieces as edges. Bardic masterpieces are notoriously swingy regarding their power and accessibility; while some may justify an edge, others don't. Their cost hasn't been properly translated to the talented system, which is a pretty big deal to me. The ideal solution would have probably been dismantling them and translating them into talents and edges, but I guess you can't have everything. In the end, the talented bard is a purchase that certainly is worth the asking price, though it falls slightly short of the perfection it could have been. My final verdict hence clocks in at 4 stars.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Genius Guide to the Talented Bard
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Village Backdrop: Thornhill System Neutral Edition
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/18/2016 04:16:32

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment in Raging Swan's Village backdrop-series is 11 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages advertisement, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a total of 5 pages of content for the village of Thornhill, so let's take a look!


The village of Thornhill is situated at the border of a vast marsh, to be more precise on an island encircled by deep, sluggish waters and surrounded by an ancient, yet formidable stockade of old timbers - the only access point to the village being one bridge. At least without access to boats!


We get 8 short entries of notable folks, describing the dramatis personae of the village before we're introduced to 10 notable locations in the village. It should be noted that a lizardfolk cleric living at a nearby island is considered to be a part of the village as well as a guardian of what the lizardfolk consider to be a holy site. A general note on features of the village, its worn wooden causeways and palisades can also be found in the book


To add further color to the dreary place, we also get a table of 6 rumors, a general primer on how the people look like (including nomenclature) and some pieces of local lore on the village before we are introduced to more detailed descriptions of the 10 notable locations of the village. A locally brewed paste that helps keep some of the less nice inhabitants of the swamp at bay has been included in the deal and information on the surrounding areas, like the red fern barrows, complement the pdf.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch and up to the almost flawless track-record RSP has set for itself. Layout adheres to the crisp b/w-2-column presentation we're by now accustomed to and the pdf comes with two versions - one for printing and one for screen-use. Both pdfs are fully bookmarked. Cartography, as always, is excellent and b/w.


All right, first of all, I feel obliged to note that this is a perfect example of concise writing - with just a couple of sentences, the village's descriptions manage to evoke a sense of backwardness, desolation, decrepitude and forlornness. Thornhill is a harsh place and one that may erode the minds of those unwilling or incapable of bearing the hard life there. The subtle winks and nods towards the ever-present threats of the nearby swamp, via lizardfolk etc., could be easily used by a halfway-decent GM to create a delightfully dreary, slightly xenophobic settlement.


One of the downsides of this particular village would be that the map has been featured in some other books, so if you've used it already...well. At the same time, the writing is excellent. So, is this worth the low asking price? Yes. Yes, it is. Thornhill remains an evocative, fun settlement in its system-neutral iteration and while it may not be the apex of the series, it is worth a final verdict of 5 stars - if you already have used the map in another context, detract a star.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Thornhill System Neutral Edition
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Beneath the Festered Sun
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/16/2016 08:10:06

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This plug-in for the Mummy's Mask adventure path clocks in at 42 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page introduction, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 35 pages of content, so let's take a look!


The module is a sandbox investigation that can be inserted before the final act of the first installment of the Mummy's Mask AP, which is a sound decision - one of the criticism voiced against said module is its unbroken sequence of dungeon crawls. But can this module really bring the desired change o pace?


This being an adventure review, the following text contains SPOILERS. Potential players will want to skip to the conclusion.


...


..


.


All right, still here? Great! Groomed from an early childhood to serve as priestess of the goddess of death, the individual called Kapanek developed her own profound beliefs, a variation, a heresy of the doctrine followed by the majority of people in ancient times - unfortunately for her, her own talent would prove to be her undoing, as a being that looked somewhat akin to a skeletal herald of Anubis manifested - her eidolon, mistaken for a divine herald. Her heresy continued, she gained influence via a prestigious marriage...but then, a dread plague struck and was all her foes required to take her down and slaughter her family. Her death curse unfulfilled, the world has turned...but her eidolon has schemed for a long time to fulfill the vengeance of its mistress.


As the PCs return to delve once again into the dungeons, they are notified of the ruins being closed since civil unrest and the rare astrological event "Festered Sun" is happening. From the get-go, the module offers a significant assortment of options to gather information, with higher checks providing more knowledge. The PCs (and other parties) have a vested interest in resolving the unrest, since a local inquisitor is quick to point his finger at the tomb-raiding groups as a possible source for the issues. In order to find the truth behind the strangely powerful curse - Ruja, the man in charge, offers 3 venues to start the investigation. For one, the Anubian sects that follows lost and forgotten Kapanek's doctrines needs to be inspected; secondly, the astronomer Gyep tried to warn the city, but was laughed at - so checking him out may help. Finally, the is an odd mirage surrounding Mafiris Estate that should most definitely be investigated. Choosing their entry vector, the PCs receive a court order exempting them from the curfew.


Stepping outside and looking up at the festered sun can cause blindness, as a strangely compelling curse seems to affect the very city and exposure to daylight may similarly cause burns via another curse (yep, that is a preview of the curses that will feature in Mummy's Mask #3) - in a rarely seen level of detail, the precise wording of the curses uttered has been reproduced, which is pretty awesome, at least in my book. In the camp of the Anubians spawned from Kapanek's teachings and the PCs are generally welcomed to the camp of the heresy, though in the shadow pavilion, the metal globe with the silhouetted shapes of ancient gods (see cover) is interesting...and the leader of the sects, one brother Thute, seems to be less than pleased with the meddling PCs. As the investigation winds down here, a shadow will assault the PCs - which is taken by the locals to be an unfettered aspect of the soul (the 5 aspects of the soul as defined by Kapanek's teachings are explained in detail) -it is also said belief that may put an end to the dread curses...but so far, the PCs don't yet know that.


The PCs may actually witness an abandoned cistern defended by rather aggressive crowds of people that guard a woman of blood: Partaking from her blood seems to eliminate the curses...but drinking human blood from the strange apparition does have its own risks - the PCs will have to take a close look at the abandoned cistern's insides and deal with whatever lurks in its tainted depths.


The temple of Pharasma, which hands out alms and bread, may well be a source of the issues - and indeed, stealthy gremlins have been switching breads, spreading dread contamination among the inhabitants of the city.


The astronomer Gyep in the astronomer's lodge is in dire circumstances, as a deadly mummy is guarding the gnome and represents a powerful, lethal adversary the PCs will need to dispatch to rescue the gnomish Cassandra. Gyep can answer a lot of questions the PCs may have and less improvisation-skilled GMs will enjoy the significant array of read-aloud text for questions, providing guidance and exposition. Gyep actually confirms that the festered sun actually is just the trigger for a curse...but not the source. Said mummy and blood golems may point the PCs towards the house of one Yaro-comatose and basically unresponsive, his abode has been rigged...and he was the man to create the mummy and blood golem.


Slowly, the pieces start falling in place and the mirage-covered Mafiris estate may be the most lethal of the respective areas -inside this planar bubble, the PCs can actually meet Kapanek's tainted, reincarnated form...and whether they can get some information out of her or not, in order to save an old woman who does know more, the PCs will probably have to deal with the lethal creature that once was Kapanek.


At this point, the pieces will probably have fallen into place and the PCs will have dealt with the fragments of Kapanek's soul...all but one. In the end, the powerful unfettered eidolon Kerux, which also doubles as the unique and challenging boss of this module - with its fall, the legacy of death and dread curse will end.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant issues pertaining rules-language or formal criteria. Layout adheres to Legendary Games' two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with copious pieces of artwork, all in full color. Legendary Games fans may know some of them from other books, but not all.


Pedro Coelho's "Beneath the Festered Sun" is a fantastic addition to Mummy's Mask. This module represents a great change of pace from the constant dungeon delving, adds social interaction and some non-linear sleuthing to the AP and, beyond that, sports a truly evocative array of visuals: From the curses to the places visited, this very much breathes this ephemeral spirit of Swords and Sorcery; this module would work well in the Hyborian Age, Gygax's Khemit or similar environments - the overall aesthetics and themes utilized are captivating, unique and fun. The mythology evoked resonates well with concepts of our very own ancient cultures...and I should not fail to mention that the author also seems to be a truly superb cartographer: Absolutely gorgeous full-color pieces, both with keys and key-less versions, are provided for GM and players. The quality of the cartography is glorious and fits, theme-wise, perfectly into the context of Mummy's Mask.


So, to recap: This should be considered to be a must own addition to Mummy's Mask, as it provides a great change of pace; the production values are glorious, the writing is precise, the supplemental information copious. I read this but once and ran it without any hassle and the guidance for GMs less accustomed to prolonged social interactions between PCs and NPCs further helps in establishing this as a great, evocative module. In the end, the AP is significantly better with this module included; this ranks as one of the finest plug-in modules LG has put out so far. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Beneath the Festered Sun
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Village Backdrop: Feyhall
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/16/2016 08:08:31

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of RSP's Village Backdrop-series is 11 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let's take a look at the settlement


Close to the village of Vaagwol, we get something completely different - Feyhall is pretty literally, the halls of fey, long abandoned - in a kind of refugee camp below the surface, Feyhall is little more than a bandit camp driven by desperation, lorded over by dread bandit lord Stig. Parasitic and dangerous (danger value +43 !!!), the camp does suffer - for the small complex is haunted by the Hunger, a flesh-eating zombie disease supplemented by a CR +1 template.


The pdf does feature 7 fluff-only notable NPCs and a total of 8 notable places within the abandoned halls of the sylvan court. The local populace does contain an infected person, a goblin who has infiltrated the place, the boss, a ranger trying to keep the dread Hunger at bay. Refugees can be found here as well and the Witchelyte, a CR 3 tiny undead, may well rise from the dead The pdf, as always, contains DCs for village lore as well as 6 whispers and rumors and 6 sample events. Oh, and there is this one locked down hallway that may prevent the aforementioned undead from entering the complex...the key is around Stig's throat...so yeah, the triggers for feyhall's downfall are basically already written into the very structure.


At the same point, one issue one can field against the pdf is that it does not have the same unique and distinct identity as some of the other villages in this series.


Conclusion:


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


Greg Marks' Feyhall is a welcome change of pace, a village that is more a dungeon camp organized by the right of the strong; it is also a place that is very much defined by the threats it faces and its status as a collection of outcasts and misfits. The settlement works best when used in conjunction with Vaagwol, obviously and can be considered to be the externalized, darker underbelly of the area.


Is Feyhall particularly novel or unique? Honestly...no. But it is a nice little settlement that features some fun dynamics for the GM to throw the PCs in. Drop them in and watch things unravel as they go. So yeah, this is not a bad installment, but it is also not a settlement I'd immediately consider a must buy. My final verdict will hence clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Feyhall
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Fearsome Foes: Smiling Bastard
Publisher: Rusted Iron Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/16/2016 08:04:19

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The second installment of the Fearsome Foes-series clocks in at 7 pages, 1 page front cover, ~1/2 a page SRD/editorial, leaving us with 5 1/2 pages of content, so let's take a look!


After a brief introduction, we learn about the Knights of the Wall, an ~500 members-strong order of knights that is supposed to defend civilization and the colossal wall that guards it. These beings may be members of a new cavalier order, the order of the wall, sworn to protect civilization from the agents of barbarism. Challenge-wise, the cavalier and all allies flanking the target of a challenge gain +1 morale bonus to AC, which increases by +1 for every 4 levels the cavalier possesses. The order adds Knowledge (local) and (history) to his class skills and gains 1/2 class levels to Knowledge (local) checks pertaining laws, customs, etc. At 2nd level, the order grants +1 teamwork feat they can grant to allies with the tactician ability. On a nitpicky side - does this ability work if the cavalier trades in the tactician ability? I assume it does, regarding the wording, but I'm not 100% sure. Starting at 8th level, when an ally within 30 ft. of the banner fails a save, the cavalier may spend an immediate action to allow the ally to reroll. This can be used 1/day, +1/day at 12th level and every 4 levels thereafter. At 15th level, as a move action, the cavalier can wave his banner, allowing all allies that can see the banner to move up to their speed towards the banner and take a standard action. This can be used 1/day, +1/day at 18th level. I assume that this does not change initiative order.


The pdf also covers a sample cavalier 2 and his warhorse...and then, there would be the eponymous Smiling Bastard, Sir Barthold Highchurch - a despicable con-man, who, build-wise, is a daring champion/low templar and clocks in at CR 9 - rather nice, just fyi: The fellow actually has fall-back plans and the means to potentially escape fights that do not turn out as planned and, as a whole, I can see him work as a recurring villain. He does have a right-hand man, Black Winston, a fighter (cad) level 8. His build is more straightforward, but still nice.


The pdf also sports 4 different, solid adventure-hooks that deal with the smiling bastard's dastardly schemes: Dressing ruffians up as orcs to force the local populace to sell their homes, for example. Yeah, he deservedly got his name. The pdf closes with 5 encounter combos to use the bastard and his fellows - these are just lists of creatures preconfigured for certain CRs.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant hiccups that would impede functionality. Layout adheres to Rusted Iron Games' two-column full-color standard and is relatively printer-friendly. The pdf sports an original artwork for the bastard, which is nice to see for a book this small. The pdf comes with excessive, nested bookmarks for your convenience.


Russ Brown's Smiling Bastard is a solid character; much like a villainous anti-Jon-Snow, he makes for a solid, fun adversary and his second-in-command/cohort makes for a good additional threat. The builds themselves are neat. All in all, the smiling bastard is a cool NPC for a more than fair price. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Fearsome Foes: Smiling Bastard
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The Destroyer's Handbook
Publisher: Drop Dead Studios
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/15/2016 10:41:00

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of Drop Dead Studios' Spheres of Power-expansions clocks in at 40 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page of back cover, leaving us with 35 pages of content, so let's take a look!


After the introductory prose, we dive right into the archetype-section of the book, with the first being the Admixture Savant elementalist, who gets a modified skill-list, casts via Int and gains an admixture pool instead of evasion and the dodge bonus at 2nd level. These points may be expended to either remove the increase of casting time of the Admixture talent or reduce the spell point expenditure of metamagic feats by 1 point per admixture point spent. Instead of combat feats, these guys gain metamagic feats and 3rd level allows them to target adversaries with destructive blasts, gaining +1/2 level as a bonus to damage, with 9th and 15th level increasing that further, though at the cost of favored element. 11th level provides a wild card destruction sphere talent and as a capstone, we have a spell point cost reduction for blasts modified with metamagic.


The blaster armorist gets an arm cannon bound weapon, which attacks touch AC and has a base damage of 1d6, +1d6 at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter, with no range penalties and a maximum range of close, being treated as both a destructive blast AND a ranged weapon. Destruction is granted as a bonus talent (with replacements, should you have it already) and unique arsenal tricks being provided as well: With buckler as a secondary function for the cannon, charging your shots, gaining an intelligent cannon or adding blast shapes to the cannon, the archetype has some seriously cool tricks - and yes, this can be considered to be the megaman-archetype. Kudos!


The doomblade mageknight, can, as a swift action, form his blast into a blade-like shape that lasts for casting ability modifier rounds - cool. And yes, takes blast shape etc. into account. Elemental Scion shifters cast via Cha, get a modified skill list and gain the Alteration sphere as well as Elemental Transformation, but also beast soul as a drawback sans associated granted talent and, should the character already have the like, proper wording for these cases. The class may use a lesser Elemental Transformation sans ability increase, fly speed, earth glide etc. (but also sans spell point cost!) and, at higher levels, reduced costs for elemental transformation when using the talent self-only. When in the shape of a given elemental, the scion increases the potency of associated destructive blasts.


The entropic sage hedgewitch loses traditions and a modified proficiency list as well as the Destruction sphere and Energy Blade talent at 1st level, but also Focused Shape as a drawback, with monk-like AC and CMD bonuses as well as Improved Unarmed Strike at first level; higher levels unlock more monk-style benefits...and, in case you were wondering, the archetype is compatible with PFU's unchained monk, allowing for the learning of ki powers as well as style feats. Interesting one!


The kinetic scourge mageknight has a modified proficiency list and gains both Destruction sphere and the Energy Tether talent as well as the focused shape drawback, with only move actions required for concentration of these tethers. The archetype focuses of ranged combat maneuvers via Energy Tether and e.g. anchoring flying foes via Tether Adept. The Soulfire Master Thaumaturge suffers no backlash when using forbidden lore, instead taking ability burn - Constitution, to be exact, which is regenerated after 8 hours of resting,but to offset this power-increase, backlash chance is increased to 50%, with 4th level unlocking Soulfire and burning lore sans risk of backlash and higher levels allowing for the passing off of Con-burn via channel punishment.


The wandslinger gunslinger would be, yup, another take on the wand-blasting gunslinger, complete with modified skill list, with the grit-determining attribute being treated as casting ability modifier. Interesting: grit can be used to prevent wand spell point expenditure for destructive lasts and aiming that increases range as well as Dex-mod to damage with destructive blasts from wands and Gather Energy when firing wands. 11th level provides dual-wand activation. Solid.


The second chapter herein covers basic magic, grouping blast type groups as well as providing blast shapes -from chain blasts to energy bombs and auras to using your destructive blasts to propel you forward, to gaining a satellite that you can discharge upon nearby foes as an immediate action to aforementioned energy tethers, the options are neat. Blast type talents are similarly diverse: Want alkali blasts that send foes to the floor? Done. Bull rushing stone hails? Temporary Fort-debuffs? Tripping nonlethal blasts? Temporary hit points for allies, balanced within SoP's frame? Shrapnel or concentration/mental skill-check hampering blasts? The pdf obliges.


Other talents, including the aforementioned admixture, are provided as well - which deserves special mention, as it takes the discrepancy between blast die-sizes into account, providing concise guidance here. Cascading penalties, immunity to your own blasts...very helpful. Since SoP talents usually lack the descriptor tags (but they're nice and pretty helpful to have) the pdf provides a short summary here as well - kudos.


Chapter 4 provides a smattering of advanced talents for your perusal, with an upgrade of Crystal Blasts to encase foes in cocoons of crystal. Extreme range energy sniping is cool: 1000 ft. + 100 ft. per CL (OUCH!) range, but it can only target squares or large objects, making it basically SoP-siege blasts. Personally, I'm not a big fan of sacred and profane damage featuring here, but since the primary source of conflict regarding these damage types are spells that are absent in SoP, I can live with them making a return here. Causing radiation sickness via your blasts in 4 radiation severities is similarly covered. Here's the section, though, that will make this pdf a must-own buy for pretty much every SoP-using group: The chapter covers adaptation of new blasts: Basically, it codifies detrimental effects codified via blasts in an easy to grasp system, allowing you to create your very own custom blasts via an easy to grasp system. Two thumbs up!


The pdf also features two rituals as well 5 fully detailed incantations - that allow you to call forth spheres of annihilation, perform the dance of ruin, call forth omnimental or make willing/helpless targets walking bombs - this section is pure awesome.


The book also sports a wide array of new feats, with Arcing Strike blasts, higher crit-range, blasts that snake onward (combo-potential = awesome) or adding effects to specific types of destructive blasts. combo-sphere talents, feats to increase e.g. Energy Leap or better tethering - basically, the array here allows you to specialize in a wide variety of manners. The pdf also provides the shape focus drawback, 5 traits (with the proper trait-type) as well as tricks for the arsenal and incanter specialization. Fans of DSP's races will certainly enjoy the alternate racial traits for Forgeborn and Dromites that are featured among those for more common races herein - if you're like me and gravitate towards combining SoP and Psionics, you'll certainly enjoy it!


The pdf also features new weapon properties and specific items that can be utilized to add weapon properties to blasts or imbuing weapons with them; massive disintegrating but unstable cannons, bullets of entangling crystal - pretty cool selection here and the cost/strength-ratio of the items generally seems to be neat as well - kudos!


Chapter 7, then, provides the bestiary, which contains the CR 7 crystal golem alongside 6 types of omnimentals (ranging from CR 2 to 12), adapting the classic creature concept well to the SoP-destruction sphere context. The pdf also features several templates, from destructive elementals to walking bombs and creatures attuned to elemental rifts. Finally, the last page provides a couple of tips and tactics for playing destructive blast specialists.


Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good on both a formal and a rules-language level. No complaints here. Layout adheres to Drop Dead Studios' two-column full-color standard for these books, with a mix of stock and original full-color artwork. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Andrew Stoeckle's Destroyer's Handbook had the potential to wreck the whole SoP system. It is my pleasure to tell you that it doesn't. Instead of going a power-creep route, this focuses on options galore, with evocative concepts, unique tricks and a wide, wide arsenal of cool tricks to employ. But we've come to expect the like from these books. Where this one truly captured my heart and what elevates it from very good to excellence, though, at least to me, would be the DIY-build-your-own-blast section. Extremely useful and a perfect representation of the "Say Yes!"-enabling spirit of the Spheres of Power rules. My final verdict will hence clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Destroyer's Handbook
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Unarmored and Dangerous (PFRPG)
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/12/2016 10:06:02

An Endzeitgeist.com


This massive sourcebook clocks in at 86 pages, 1 page of front cover, 1 page of editorial, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page of advertisement, leaving us with...yes. 82 pages of content. That's a lot of ground to cover, so let's take a look!


This book, just fyi, is not a collection of classes in the traditional sense - instead, the goal of this book is to provide a unified set of traditions to codify martial arts in Pathfinder. The pdf does this by introducing martial "ways" - like the Way of the Void, which adds Wisdom-modifier to AC and CMD, even when flat-footed and to touch AC. The Way of Life does the same for Charisma, but loses the bonuses when becoming flat-footed. Both work only when unarmored and unencumbered.


The Way of the Mind adds 1 point of Int-mod per class level as a dodge bonus to AC and CMD, but only while armed with a melee weapon and not denied Dex-mod and the martial arts style works with regular (non-large) shields and when wearing light armor. Way of the Body get their Constitution modifier as a circumstance bonus to AC and may stack their bonus with natural armor and enhancements thereof as well as with shields, but the AC does not enhance for CMD or touch AC. Way of Force assumes that the character has some means of erecting force armor. Finally, Way of Armor is considered to be the armor-wearing option for the characters. So that would be the classification of (already existing!) defense options that can be gained via classes, archetypes et al.


Next would be martial strikes, with a handy table that breaks down base damage for Small, Medium and Large sizes by BAB (and includes non-martial artists) - martial artists using an unarmed strike get Improved Unarmed Strike and thus, the monk-y damage types are covered here. After a brief discussion of weapon groups, we dive into archetypes for the respective classes that allow you to basically add martial arts to existing classes, grouped for your convenience by the Way the archetypes adhere to - and yes, this is the reason why I bothered to explain the respective way-classifications in detail. They are useful to bear in mind for designers, sure - but beyond that, understanding them once allows you to basically create your own archetypes pretty easily.


Now, as for the Way of the Void, we have 3 archetypes - the Iron Inquisitor, the Path of Spirit Cleric and the Void Fighter. All of these have in common that they gain not only the Wis-modifier to AC, they also gain scaling further bonuses to AC at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter, following the guidelines as presented above in the brief discussion on the way of the void. The respective archetypes also feature a proper unarmed fighting damage progression, that increases the damage-die size at BAB +4, +8 and +12, respectively. While this is a minor deviation from usual rules-language, which tends to codify the like in levels instead, it is a functionally sound one. Obviously, the exchanged abilities differ from class to class, with the loss of proficiencies in the armor department being a unifying theme. The inquisitor also loses track and domain, the cleric domain powers, spells and spell-slots, though the cleric does get a modified skill-list including Acrobatics etc. to make up for this. The fighter, finally, would be the most complex of the modifications, gaining a modified skill-list (but, alas, no upgrade to skills per level - poor sap is still stuck with 2 + Int mod...) as well as a +1 bonus to Reflex saves that increases by +1 every four levels beyond second, replacing thus bravery. Armor training is lost in favor of 3rd level evasion and 19th level nets DR 5/- instead of armor mastery, with the capstone replacing weapon mastery with gaining an auto-confirm for one type of weapon (and a multiplier increased by 1); if unarmed strikes are chosen, the character gains 18-20/x3. Additionally, the character can no longer be disarmed when wielding this weapon. Nice one! This would be as good a place as any to note that each archetype presented herein comes with a sample character, drawing upon the rich variety of races available in the Porphyra-setting.


The Way of Life, the Charisma-governed array of archetypes, provides a total of 4 such archetypes, though their balancing is a tad bit more complex, with none of them providing a straight and narrow concept applied. The Child of Wild Ranger, for example, does receive his bonus to touch attacks in a conscious deviation from the established base-line and gains uncanny dodge at 2nmd level instead of the combat style feat. (It should be noted that, as far as I read this, the choice for combat styles still must be made here, to ensure the integrity of follow-up abilities in the class progression - only the feat is lost, not combat style per se as a class feature. This is something to bear in mind and may be an oversight or not - I assume competence here due to the rather deliberate wording, but still felt that prospective readers might want to be aware of this peculiarity.


The Noble Savage Barbarian (EZG flashes back to "Introduction to Cultural Studies" and the tropes of the noble savage...) may enter a disciplined rage - basically, the archetype can burn 2 rounds of rage per round instead of one, allowing the character to utilize rage powers, but not benefit from other benefits of rage. The character can freely switch between regular and disciplined rage and duration stacks with regular rage benefits for fatigue cool-down, unless it is the only rage employed, where the character no longer takes the fatigued condition. Starting at 5th level, 1 minute of disciplined rage translates to 1 round of rage burned, with 9th and 13th level increasing the ratio to 10 minutes and an hour, respectively and 19th level unlocking the option to always use rage powers...which is very strong. Uncanny dodge is gained at 3rd level and its improved brethren at 7th and indomitable will being unlocked at 15th.


The archetype pay for these powers with trap sense as well as DR and also gets an expanded skill-list. Overall, I may be weary of powerful barbarian archetypes - the general notion that barbarians rank among the most powerful melee classes is something I'd immediately sign, having experienced the brutal annihilation that 3 power-gamer barbarians with vastly diverging builds have brought upon foes at my table. This archetype, as a whole, does not lose any crucial features and takes a limited resource, namely rage powers, balanced by their limited availability, and amplifies their availability by factor 10, then factor 10 again and then factor 60. Do the math. The system of the class is not made for this and it simply begs to be abused to all hell. Another issue would pertain rage-cycling tricks - if e.g. 10 minutes of disciplined rage count as 1 round of rage and the barbarian ends it after 2 minutes, does that allow for yet another use upon restarting the disciplined rage? If so, does it resume at the 2 minute mark? I assume no, but I am not sure, since the archetype does manage to cover interaction between rage and disciplined rage, but not within it.


The Oracle of the Way goes a different route, beginning play with Improved Unarmed Strike and, when unarmored and unencumbered, adds Cha-mod to her dodge bonus to AC and CMD, applying it against touch attacks as well and losing them when encumbered or deprived of Dexterity mod to AC, replacing armor proficiencies and the oracle's curse. The martial strikes damage-die progression can be gained via the selection of one of the archetype-exclusive revelations, which also includes significant bonuses to Acrobatics, Evasion, Fast Movement, Stunning Fist and Uncanny Dodge - the basics of martial arts. However, the oracle may never select a revelation that grants an armor bonus.


Finally, the uncanny monk gets uncanny dodge at 3rd level, its improved brother at 7thand pays for that with Still Mind, otherwise being a pretty straight conversion of the monk to the Cha-based way of martial arts.


Next up would be the archetypes for the Way of the Mind, with the Magus getting two of them, the Canny Magus and the Magus of the Mind. The canny magus replaces medium and heavy armor proficiency with canny defense and moves improved spell recall to 13th level. Straight and simple. The Magus of the Mind has no armor proficiency and proficiencies with monk/oriental weapons and also gets canny defense, replacing the armor proficiencies, but also gets the martial strike damage die scaling and moves Improved Spell Recall down to 10th level - this would be the more monk-y variant, basically. Canny Rangers are proficient with light armors and shields only, get a modified skill list, fast movement at 4th level, uncanny dodge at 7th and improved uncanny dodge at 13th. 10th level makes all jumps long and provides full speed while balancing/climbing. All in all, a solid take on the concept. The Canny Rogue is basic, replacing trapfinding with canny defense. The Canny Summoner loses armor and shield proficiency in favor of Canny Defense. Quicksilver Alchemists, finally, get a modified proficiency list, canny defense replacing swift and instant alchemy and the option to generate quicksilver oils, which modify the extracts-list. This modification, though, also means that the alchemist loses basically the own-body-transformation extracts.


The Way of the Body provides 5 archetypes, the first of which would be the Animal Adoptee, who gets a modified skill-list as well as an extension of prohibited armors, but also the Constitution-based Way of the Body - and no, it does not stack with wild shape's natural armor bonuses. The Brave Barbarian exchanges armor proficiencies with Way of the Body, noting that rage does not increase the AC gained thus. The Grizzled Ranger adds Acrobatics to his list of class skills and exchanges armor proficiency with Way of the Body. The Iron Man Fighter does not gain a suit - quite the contrary; he gets a modified skill-list as well as Way of the Body, but pay for that with armor training. Armor mastery is instead applied to being unarmored. The Scarred Alchemist similarly exchanges his armor and shield proficiencies with Way of the Body. All in all, more linear, basic archetypes here, maintaining thus more multi-archetype potential.


The final way, the Way of the Force, covers 10 archetypes: The Dandy Bard gets a modified proficiency list, losing out on, among other things, armor, but gains mage armor at 4th level as a 1st level bard spell and may stack its bonus with bracers. The Force Knight cavalier loses all armor and shield proficiencies, but starts play with the option to generate a +7 armor of force that can be enhanced with spells etc.; but such enhancements do not stack with 4th level's ability to stack bracers of armor on it. The bonus granted by this armor is +7, which is pretty hardcore at 1st level, particularly since the armor comes with a matching shield of force. 4th level unlocks 1/day mage armor that can only affect the mount and 6th level allows for the creation of force weapons that get the ghost touch property...and may be enchanted. Question, though: They are generally not considered magical as in getting +1 bonus, only for affecting creatures, so how do you calculate further enhancing force weapons? Alas, no idea. I'm generally weary of this archetype - with an indestructible armor at 1st level, the archetype is too dip-prone for my tastes, with only expert trainer and the 6th level feat-gain paying for these powerful tools.


The Ghost Hunter Rogue gets the mage armor/bracers-combo, with the SP for mage armor starting off at 2/day, +1 at 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter. At 3rd level, the rogue gains at-will disrupt undead, which can be used in conjunction with full attacks and sneak attacks. Additionally, he inflicts full damage versus incorporeal foes and may inflict sneak attack damage on them. Additionally, the SP may be used in melee and increases in potency and range, with high levels allowing for other creature types to be affected. This does replace trapfinding and trap sense, though, requiring the expenditure of a rogue talent to be able to disarm magical traps. Ghost Knight cavaliers get s a modified proficiency list and begin play with a destiny that powers the SPs and SUs of the knight as a narrative device. These knights get the ghostly armors and shields of the force knight, with the same trepidations applying, but this one also helping with Disguise-checks...+10. OUCH. 2nd level replaces the order ability with perma ghost touch on weapons wielded as well as SP mage armor for the mount. The mount is replaced with the third level ability to gain a phantom steed (1/day; at-will at 6th level; 9th level: As a swift action; 12th level: As an immediate action; 15th level: Steed becomes incorporeal), basically eliminating the need for mount-y cool-downs after it perishes. 4th level replaces expert trainer with an extra-dimensional weapons cache (!!) and 8th level replaces the order ability gained there with 1/day ethereal jaunt. The final order ability at 15th level is replaced with an extension of ghost touch to all allies within 60 ft. I like this one's fluff, though I consider it slightly too powerful for what it takes - see above for the dip-issue and adding the steed and cache...makes for a cool archetype, yes...but also one that is imho a tad bit too good.


The Guard Maid Paladin gets the force aura/bracer combo as well as the force shield, but pays for it with armor and shield proficiency. The archetype also receives the Body-guard-Ward theme, replacing aura of good and may smite threats to the target, greatly enhancing smite's versatility. Lay on hands may only be used on herself and her ward and instead of detect evil, scaling bonuses to Profession 8servant), which may be used as a replacement for Perception, are gained at 2nd level. 4th level nets the extra-dimensional weapon cache and spells that usually affect only evil creatures apply their benefits versus threats to her ward - OUCH! Divine bond must be a weapon. 14th level makes all attacks within 10 feet count as lawful and 17th level provides DR 5/- and immunity to compulsion spells and SPs, with allies gaining a save-boost instead. As a capstone, the archetype increases DR and adds banishment to smite. I like the theme of this archetype, though the force-trickery PLUS the significantly improves smite and spells render this one too strong in my book -at least while the smite lasts. Once the daily array is done, the archetype loses quite a bit of power, making the playing experience a bit swingy.


The Protégé Bard gains a familiar at first level and the usual mage armor/bracers-synergy of the Way of Force, including loss of armor proficiencies. At 1st level, the protégé gains a patron audience - a powerful entity that may gate in the bard, thus allowing for a great rationale for absentee players to vanish. Furthermore, high levels provide more interaction options here and limited control for the bard - a VERY cool ability that is basically narrative gold if handled correctly. Just FYI, it replaces deadly performance and the familiar kills off countersong and distraction. Instead of bardic knowledge and jack of all trades, these bards also add patron spells to their bard spells known and 10th level nets commune at-will. Easily one of my favorite archetypes herein.


The Robe Magus is once again a simple one - replace the medium and heavy armor proficiencies with the mage armor-trick, but also add scaling bonuses at higher levels to retain its viability. The Robed Summoner similarly loses the armor and shield proficiencies, but may stack mage armor and bracers and also gets 6 force-themed spells. The Shield Maiden Paladin would be the light-version archetype herein, with modified skill lists, no armor proficiency and a force armor akin to that of the ghost knight, including the Disguise bonus. Her shields are ghost touch and her divine bond is modified to apply to her shield instead. 8th level nets SP fly on herself (and mount) +1/day at 8th level and every 2 levels thereafter, with 11th level granting overland flight as an alternative and 17th level making the ability at will, replacing aura of righteousness thus. No complaints about this one. The Shining Cleric get the force armor (only at +5 AC, though) and replace channel energy with basically the sacerdote's untyped ray (see my review of Legendary Classes: Sacerdote for this one) and the shield as well. Shining inquisitors lose proficiency with shields and armor and gain the same sacred aura as their cleric brothers as also gets the force shield.


All right, the pdf has even more to offer, though; it also features a total of 5 new base classes, with each exemplifying one of the martial arts codified herein. The first of these would be the Boxer, who gains full BAB-progression, d12 HD, 2 +Int skills per level , proficiency with simple and close weapon group weapons as well as with shields. Boxers may not wear armor or use shields or carry something in two hands and gain, obviously, Improved Unarmed Strike. Boxers add class level to damage, +1/2 class level with two weapons or shields. He gets the canny Int per level to AC and CMD and adds Con-mod as natural AC. At 2nd level, the boxer gets the Block class feature, which lets him perform a competing attack roll against an incoming attack - on a success, he blocks it, with every 5 levels thereafter allowing for +1 block per round. After such a block, however, the boxer is staggered for 1 round, which cannot be mitigated. I assume this to also offset immunity to being staggered and it's the reason why I'm not rattling off my usual disdain-for-swingyness of competing rolls rant right now. Higher levels provide more bonuses to atk and damage, resistance versus certain conditions, more AoOs and 3rd level (+ 6th, 11th, 16th and 20th) allow for the progression of the chosen boxing style, which can be likened to orders or similar linear ability-suites. 3 boxing styles are provided, with haymakers allowing for his weapons/unarmed attacks to count as two-handed, 6th level dazing blows...generally nice. At 16th level, the style lets you perform one attack as a full-round action. If you hit, it's automatically a critical threat and damage multiplier is enhanced to x3. Ouch, particularly considering the significant damage bonuses of the class. 20th level provides crippling criticals here, with reduced speed, attribute damage, etc..


Stylists are defensive and agile, allowing them to follow up blocks with AoOs. Swarmers would be the TWF-specalists here, with high levels allowing for a 10 ft-step instead of a 5 ft-step or a 5 ft-step in difficult terrain.


The second class would be the fencer, who gains full BAB-progression, good Fort- and Ref-saves, d10 HD, 4+Int skills per level and proficiency with all simple and martial weapons as well as light armors and shields. They get canny defense, Weapon finesse, add fencer level to damage in melee when one-handing a weapon (+1/2 level when employing a buckler) as well as parry, riposte and the like - this is basically a twist on the duelist as a base class (with all that entails - I'll spare you my usual rant here), though one that also features an order/bloodline-akin set of fencing schools, somewhat analogue to the boxing styles mentioned before...oh, and there are 13 of these and they modify much, much more: Agrippa, Bonetti, Capo Ferro, Carranza, Firentine, Ghisliero, Grazzi, Hard Knocks, Hayd’n, Melane, Military, Tibault and Yeoman can be selected. These schools have requirements (Agrippa can only be used with Weapon Finesse weapons and may not be sued in conjunction with off-hand weapons or shields, but off-hand ranged weapons such as throwing daggers are permitted.) and grant abilities at 2nd, 3rd, 6th, 11th, 16th and 20th level. And guess what...in spite of not being a big fan of the parry mechanic...I consider this class to be pretty much the most faithful and coolest take on the fencer; personally, I actually prefer it over the swashbuckler, since tricks like Weapon Bind and the ability array as such generally maintains the flair of the historic inspirations for the styles...this would be my default fencer class in a magic-less swashbuckling game. Granted, I'll make the class more modular and convert swashbuckler options to more customization options to enhance player agenda...but still: Kudos!


The Lin-Kuei gets 3/4 BAB-progression, all good saves, d8 HD, 6+Int skills per level, the monk AC-bonus, fast movement, proficiency with a smattering of oriental weapons and lethal sneak attack, which increases to up to 7d6, but does not apply when flanking a foe...oh, and guess what: The class has a minimum damage-caveat to avoid shuriken-sneak attack exploits! KUDOS! And yes, via so-called secret techniques,basically the talents of the class, these guys can get lethal flanking, use shuriken to flat-foot foes, poach among ninja tricks and render targets charged flat-footed against the character. With 4th level ki pool, evasion and uncanny dodge etc. and basically a significant array of monk tricks, these guys can be pictured as a powerful (never thought I'd write that in the monk context!) hybrid of monk and ninja...and boy, me likes. While pretty potent and definitely better than rogue and monk, these guys make for pretty much a perfect class for the quick-footed martial artist and prove to be a more than cool addition to the fray! Another winner here!


The Mystic Dancer gets 3/4 BAB-progression, good Ref- and Will-saves, ingrained unarmed strike progression, d8 HD and 6+Int skills per level as well as a modified proficiency list (barring armors) and Cha-governed spontaneous spellcasting, drawn from the bard list. They may not apply Still spell to any spells, but may apply Silent Spell to them. They use Way of Life (i.e. the Charisma-based martial art) and can best be pictured as a monk/bard-hybrid. Now this is a personal preference, but I consider the full bardic spellcasting and skill upgrade a bit much here...though, admittedly, the class should probably not completely outclass the bard, since by now the class has a lot of unique material to utilize. Still, in comparison to a core-only bard, the mystic dancer will probably win...if not restricted, for the performance they use is dependent on movement, which may well be the most deceptively cool balancing mechanism in the finer details I've seen in quite a while. In play, this relatively simple restriction proved to be a rather intriguing tactical component...so yeah...another interesting one here and one I'd allow in my games!


The final class herein would be the Swordmage, who gets full BAB-progression, d10 HD, 2+Int skills per level, good Fort- and Will-saves and no armor proficiency. They can cast a limited array of spells (up to 4th level) from the magus spell-list and must prepare their Int-governed spells in advance. They treat all magus and sorc/wiz spells as on their list for spell-trigger purposes, with 3rd level allowing them to use sorc/wiz spells for crafting purposes. They get Scribe Scroll at 2nd level and begin play with the full +7 AC-bonus force armor and the capacity to use a force shield. At 4th level, the swordmage can cast spells with somatic components with his weapon hand and 5th level nets an arcane pool, which, among basic enchantments, allows at 9th level for the swordmage to cast spells ritualistically from the sorc/wiz spell list, provided he has the scroll - combat utility here is almost zero, mind you: Beyond a level-restriction, it also takes at least 1 minute to do so, which maintains a sense of balance here. Spellstrike is gained at 8th level and higher levels allow for the expenditure of arcane pool points to move as a swift action, Quicken magus spells and line of sight/effect-dependent short-range teleport...alas, lacking the declaration as conjuration [teleportation]-effect...but at 17th level, that's probably not that important anymore anyways. This one is easily my least favorite of the classes introduced herein, it being basically a full BAB-twist on the magus, a kind of arcane paladin. It's not a bad take on the concept, mind you. In fact, it's one of the better takes on it...but it also is not too unique in how it plays, with the somatic component being probably the most defining feature of its playing style.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level - Purple Duck Games has really taken care to make sure that the formatting is precise and functional here. On a rules-language level, there are quite a few deviations here and there - most notably a lower-case attribute here, a "Constitution bonus" instead of modifier there when it should be modifier...for the most part, these do not hamper the rules themselves, but they can be a bit annoying if you're as anal-retentive about things like this as I am. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard that still is very printer-friendly. Artwork deserves special mention here: The book has A LOT of artworks for the unique characters featured herein, with many gorgeous 1-page artworks...kudos! The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, with nested bookmarks pointing to each class, archetype, way...the book is easy to navigate.


Carl Cramér, Julian Neale and August Hahn deliver in this book...something completely different than what I expected. This is not a WuXia-toolkit like Dragon Tiger Ox; neither is it Path of War or the Martial Arts Guidebook - this book, in a way, is much more down to earth and compatible with your average Pathfinder group. Why? Because it basically codifies the already existing martial defenses that stand in for armor and defines them as entities. After that, it proceeds to apply said defenses as ready toolkits to existing classes, showing you the easy modifications you need to make. Extrapolating a relative value for them and applying them further is rather easy at this point - and it may be the coolest thing about the archetype-section. I won't lie - that section of the book did not wow me from a creativity stand-point...but it incited an understanding for the mindset behind applying the respective martial arts to base-classes...and if I'm not sorely mistaken, that's ultimately the idea of this book.


This is further enforced by the base classes introduced here - for while not all of them did blow me away, a couple actually did...to the point where I want to use them, play them even. That's a pretty big deal, considering the limited space allotted to them. And yes, they lack favored class options. However, while certainly not perfect, the central achievement of this book, to me, lies in its didactic component. A halfway crunch-savvy GM can take the ideas herein and run with them, making a whole array of unique martial arts-y classes that end up being more artsy (haha -sorry...will punch myself later for that) than the didactically-used archetypes herein. To me, this book teaches by showing and evaluating and it does so in a surprisingly concise manner, in spite of hiccups here and there.


How to rate this, then? Well, here, things become a bit difficult - you see, for me as a person and designer, I liked this book much more than I would have imagined...mainly because I wasn't consciously aware, not thinking of these defenses as codified "ways", but rather as yet another set of class abilities. This book did generate an awareness for me I value rather highly. Beyond that, the book actually sports no less than three classes I can see myself using and enjoying...in spite of all of them being relatively simple and me gravitating usually towards the complexity-monsters. So, once again, this book has some serious plusses. At the same time, I consider a couple of botches in the rules-language, rare though they are, unnecessary and some of the balance-decisions to be a bit off, particularly regarding the force armors and shields.


The fact remains, though, that this is basically the easiest-to-apply unarmored-martial-arts-y-toolkit for Pathfinder I know of; no new system to learn, no complex modifications - choose a base class or an archetype (most of which retain compatibility with as many archetypes as possible) and there you go. This book probably won't blow you out of the water, but its achievement lies in its gentle, unobtrusive teaching, in its simple-to-add options to the game. I can't rate this 5 stars, even though I want to...but I will rate it 4 stars. And, at least for me and from a designer/homebrewing-perspective, this very much is a superb scavenging ground that slowly but steadily grows on you and provides quite a hefty dose of food for thought and basic chassis to embellish and build upon. Hence, I will also add my seal of approval to it, with the caveat that for simple plug and play, this does somewhat lose a bit of its appeal. If you do not plan to tinker with it, consider this a 3.5 - 4 stars-file instead.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Unarmored and Dangerous (PFRPG)
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Fun & Facts: For the Hive!
Publisher: Playground Adventures
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/01/2016 06:08:39

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This module clocks in at 30 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page introduction, 1 page back cover, 1/2 page advertisement, leaving us with 24 1/2 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.


Well, before we dive into the nit and grit - this is not simply a regular module; it also is a means to convey information and teach facts to the players without making it feel like just jamming information down their throats. And every gamer can attest to the power of gaming regarding the acquisition of information - whether it's sheer vocabulary or other components, RPGs are "brainy" hobby that teaches without feeling like teaching. It is thus pretty much a given that the combination of teaching and gaming makes sense. Playground Adventures's modules tend to be aimed at a younger audience, with this one targeting kids from ages 4+ - a valid projection in my book; smaller kids may need a bit more handholding; youths that start hitting puberty may require slightly more edginess (the module has scenes that can work that way), but as a whole, this module works for ages 4 up rather well; at least it did in my playtest.


It should also be mentioned that this module takes place in the fairy tale village of Glavost, first featured in Pixies on Parade and then expanded with its own little supplement, so if you're looking for a bit of internal consistency, there you have it -and yes, there is a nod to "A Friend in Need" as well.


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


...


..


.


Most of us know how crucial bees are for plants and ultimately, even us as a species. In a magical world, it is only fair to assume that magical bees similarly exist. Owen, apprentice to the wizard/librarian of Glavost (and pen-pal of the gifted origami-magic savant Azumi from "A Friend in Need") is contacted by the bee sprite Bzzercup...and since adults curiously seem to be incapable of perceiving the fantastical suffusing Glavost, it falls to the PCs to help the bee sprite. You see, Owen botched big time. He began making paper wasps per Azumi's instructions and they failed to animate...however, they did have enough lingering magic and thus, were stolen by a particularly nasty gremlin named Chuft.


Animating the paper constructs, he has taken control over a magical bee hive by capturing the queen and forcing the bees to do his bidding. The only chance to save the hive sans wrecking it, is to find the "Be the Bug"-elixir left by the former apprentice...but, alas, the bottles are unlabeled. Thankfully, though, a letter provides clues and a nice puzzle for the kids to figure out: Basically, the former apprentice, Owen's sister, has provided a classic exclusion/deduction logic puzzle for the kids to solve, with the proper guideline for the GM as well...and yes, you can simply skill check brute force it, but at least all tables I play with prefer beating the puzzle. Even cooler than just brute-forcing is that the pdf does have a replacement puzzle that is easier, based on bottle shapes.


Drinking the elixir shrinks the PCs immediately down to the size of bees, an, whether with or without origami swords, the PCs get the sealed mission briefing. Throughout the module, Bzzercup "accompanies" the PCs as a GM proxy that can be used to convey a LOT of information pertaining bees and their impact on the world. This works via buzz lines, basically a kind of magical headset. Now usually, shrinking does entail a number of complex rules operations - for a summary of these for groups that wish for a more rules-conform switch (or more modular size-increase/decrease operations), I'll heartily recommend the superb Microsized Adventures by Everyman Gaming. For the purpose of this module, no complex changes are required, since the combats take place within the size frame of the shrunken PCs: While crossing the backyard in the shrunken state (a wilderness crawl most unusual), the PCs will, for example, deal with a praying mantis that seems rather gigantic for them -a great way to talk about predators of honey bees, for example.


After the PCs have made their way past the backyard, they will have to infiltrate the hive itself, where the paper wasps make for their primary antagonists - and, rather importantly, they will have a means to engage in constructive tasks: Feeding the larvae, for example. The unique terrain is similarly utilized well - spending too much time in the pollen cells isn't healthy, for example. In the end, the PCs will have to defeat Chuft after climbing through the hive and free the queen.


Now, this module being educational, the pdf has a list of further reading, should you wish to increase this component. Beyond that, a CR 3 variant of paper wasps as a swarm, suitable for Medium adventurers. beyond that, instructions to make paper wasps (in 3 difficulty-levels!) are provided via links, allowing you to create paper models to use in conjunction with the module. Beyond that, the maps of backyard and the hive are provided in both GM and player-friendly versions...oh, and the pdf does draw attention to the threats our own honey bees face in these days -with CCD causing ever more colonies to collapse, we should indeed take care of the bees.


Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a gorgeous, custom 2-column full-color standard with bee-themed borders. Combined with the full-color artwork, this does make the module a beautiful one. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, and as mentioned before, the cartography is excellent.


J Gray's "For the Hive" is a truly unique module - I have never read a module like it; It's creative, interesting, provides a blending of wilderness and dungeon, is educational, offers multiple solutions for challenges and a blending of different things to do; There is combat, there is room for being smart; there is room for being kind...and all the while, the pdf conveys useful information in a manner, teaches while playing. Even adults may have a blast with this one; granted, most will know a lot of the bee-related facts, but the module that remains beyond the educational component can very well stand on its own.


As a whole, this module can be considered an excellent addition to one's table and, from just reading it and analyzing it on paper, I would have went with a final verdict of 5 stars. However, the playtests of this one pretty much have been met with total acclaim and excitement by the kid-group, who loved the sense of consistency and truly enjoyed it, made me reconsider. Even those of my players who usually fall on the somewhat darker spectrum regarding their tastes enjoyed this, in spite of its lightheartedness. Hence, this does get my seal of approval as well.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fun & Facts: For the Hive!
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The Lost Temple of Forgotten Evil (5th Edition Fantasy- OSR)
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/01/2016 05:10:24

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The freshman offering of Dark Naga Adventures clocks in at a classic 32 pages, with one page editorial and 1 page SRD, leaving 30 pages of content - and no, this does not include the front and back cover, since this book very much does not only hearken back to the classic era in tone - it is saddle-stitched and has a detachable color cover that sports maps on the inside - of course in the classic blue/white!


This module was moved up in my review-queue due to me receiving a print copy. The review is based on this print copy of the kickstarter premium print edition.


Okay, before we dive into the nit and grit of this book's actual plot, let's talk a bit about the dual-system format of it, shall we? The module itself does feature the OSR stats in the respective entries and the module does not assuming an additive AC - i.e., you'll see THAC0s and the like. As for combat purposes, the final 3 pages feature the statblocks for OSR and 5e as well as the 2 magic items and special effects introduced herein. One of the magic items is basically a plot-device evil grimoire for the GM to utilize as she sees fit; the second would be a mace+2 that mentions disadvantage, but at the same time lacks the scarcity-entry of 5e's magic item statblocks...as well as whether it requires attunement or not. In the OSR-version, it is but a single line in the wielder's statblock that casts blindness on each hit.


Hiccups like this, unfortunately, do extend to the builds provided for the 5e stats, with e.g. the town drunk noting "STR", but no score. Similarly, if you expect from the 5e stats more than the basics, like unique abilities or straight class progressions, you won't necessarily find that - what's here suffices to run the module, but nothing beyond that. The statblocks also have glitches like a magic bonus from aforementioned mace not featured in atk. So, if you do have the luxury of choosing with which system to play the module, I'd suggest OSR over 5e for this one...though, at least for the weapon, you should probably at least read the 5e-section. The adversaries in the module tend to have an ancient ability called "linking" - in 5e, this allows a character to use their reaction to give an ally they can see +2 to atk, spell DCs and saves...which can be extremely brutal when played smart by the GM. As a nitpick, reactions usually require a specific trigger. In OSR, they can grant +2 attack, defense and a 2 point bonus to saves "and all party saving throws have a 2 point penalty" - at least in the OSR-systems I'm familiar with, I'm not aware of party saving throws. I assume that should refer to the saves of PCs targeted by the linked creatures.


In short: On a formal rules-language level, this is not the most precise of books. That being said, this adventure does have its merits and plays significantly better than it reads. Let me elaborate: For one, the cartography of three villages provided by none other than Alyssa Faden is excellent and player-friendly for these components; similarly, the regional map of the Boldon region in which this module takes place is nice as well. The region as such is lavishly detailed - it can easily be plugged into just about every fantasy gaming world and the relative lack of elves etc. means that the module works pretty well even in human-centric settings. 4 settlements (Boldon, Ponto, Maria, Sumer), all with maps, will be visited by the PCs and the module actually takes heed of consequences...


...and this is pretty much as far as I can go sans SPOILERS. From here on out, the SPOILERS reign, so potential players should jump to the conclusion.


...


..


.


All right, still here? Great! It starts, as often, with a tavern and a tale - on a full page, the local drunk and erstwhile productive member of the community, Fredu, has a tale to tell for sufficient alcohol - a tale of a temple forgotten from a bygone age, when evil reigned. The tale itself is a massive, 1-page read-aloud text in a module that otherwise requires the improvisation of the like. The drunkard, plagued by visions and blackouts, has stumbled upon a place dedicated to none other than Hastur and ever since, he has tried to quench the nightmares...saving him from certain death at the bottom of a glass is but one potential action the PCs may take. However, he also mentions having told more people about it - a retired wizard, for example...and then there is that fletcher, who is fashioning a map.


Beyond the tale, the module is very much a free-form sandbox, as the PCs follow the leads of Fredu's tale and try to find the hidden complex...which isn't that hidden, after all: The servants of Hastur have taken residence and the timer ticks: The dread statue contained within is fed continues sacrifices and its cultist-enhancing aura extends further and further. On an organization note, the aura's effects should have been noted in the overarcing chapter and depiction of its progression, not only in the room where it actually stands...considering the SERIOUS power it conveys to the cultists. That is a nitpick, though - there are a lot of things I absolutely adored in this module: For one, the old-school design-aesthetic. In an age where practically every puzzle and obstacle can be "rolled away", notes on how PCs have to be extremely lucky, regardless of level or doors that require you to find their combination due to the gazillion possible combinations feel very much refreshing.


Similarly, a highlight of the module, as strange as it sounds, may well be the legwork - PCs can be heroes and save old apothecaries from angry peasants, duke it out with loud-mouthed cultists and end on the wrong side of the law - whether due to their own actions or due to corrupt officers standing in their way, the module manages to evoke a sense of consistency and a feeling of being alive that you only rarely see. Similarly, the fact that there are A LOT of beautiful b/w-artworks, all with the same style (AND quality!) as the cover, lends a sense of consistency and continuity to the proceedings and makes for great hand-outs for the players to enjoy.


The sandboxy section here is pretty "realistic" in that it manages to convey exceedingly well and illusion of a group of mercenaries planning an excursion to a forgotten temple, while dark forces stir and try to stop them. Similarly detailed, notes on air quality, illumination and the like can be found for the complex itself. The intriguing component about this temple itself would once again not necessarily be the set-up - that's as classic as it gets; it's the focus on cultists and a dynamic environment, with entries on what cultists are doing when featuring in the respective rooms helping to keep things flowing. Regarding terrains and traps, this module is a bit on the weak side in this section, though. Ultimately, the temple is a pretty straightforward attack on the hide-out of a well-organized cult...and it is extremely deadly. Not kidding, if the PCs are dumb, they will die HORRIBLY in this complex. On a nitpick: The unique demons featured in the book could have used a detailed description - as provided, they remain a bit opaque. The cultists receive significant benefits here, particularly within the sphere of influence of their idol, and should not be underestimated - saves at disadvantage, cultist attacks at advantage. And no, this does not have an OSR-equivalent; familiarity with this component of 5e- terminology is assumed for that aspect of the module.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are good on a formal level; on a rules-level, it does have a couple of hiccups. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column b/w-standard. As mentioned above, both the copious number of artworks by Rick Hershey and the great cartography render this module rather beautiful and contribute a lot to its atmosphere. The print copy I have is certainly a module I am glad to have. I can't comment on the electronic version.


Kevin Watson's first part of the "Haunting of Hastur"-series is a module that is honestly significantly better than I expected it to be. You see, the set-up of the module isn't the most evocative and I tend to be a bit weary of dual-system books. That being said, whatever system you end up using, you won't have paid for a lot of content you won't use; the emphasis of this book is pretty much on the roleplaying aspect and the expert-level atmosphere this one manages to evoke. Were it just for the atmosphere, this undoubtedly would score higher, but the fact is that the dual-system approach doesn't always work too well in the book; OSR gaming seems to be the default assumption and then, suddenly, 5e-terminology seems to be featured in the default assumptions. It is my honest belief that the module would have fared better with one carefully crafted OSR-version and one for 5e, instead of this blending, but that may just be me. If you do not mind this, however, you pretty much get a module where you can mix and mash the two.


Sooo...do I recommend this? It ultimately depends. If you're looking for a challenging, atmospheric module with an old-school aesthetic in design and presentation, then yes, this may be a nice addition to your library. If you expect more new school handholding, preset DCs for actions and a bit more guidance, then you may end up disappointed. Similarly, this module should best be run by experienced GMs, since there is, beyond the beginning, no read-aloud text: You need to improvise that/know what's where and while e.g. conversations with NPCs provide an astounding depth of guidance via bullet-points and consequences of PC-actions, there is still quite a bit left up to the GM. How to rate this, then? Well, here things get a bit tough for me: You see, I really liked this module, but it does show a bunch of the freshman offering-hiccups that can tank the game for less experienced GMs.


In the end, for OSR, I consider this to be a 4 star module; for 5e, I'd rather consider this 3 stars, since the system's skills, proficiencies and similar components could have used more direct consequences within the module. Since this is a freshman offering, this gets the benefit of the doubt and hence, I will round up from my final verdict of 3.5 stars for the purpose of this platform.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Lost Temple of Forgotten Evil (5th Edition Fantasy- OSR)
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Psionics Augmented: Soulknives
Publisher: Dreamscarred Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/01/2016 05:06:57

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of the Psionics Augmented-series clocks in at 18 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1/2 page blank, leaving us with 13 1/2 pages of content, so let's take a look!


We begin this pdf with a selection of new blade skills for the soulknife to use: 34, to be precise - several of which, just fyi, are archetype-exclusives. In these cases, they sport the archetype's name in brackets, acting as an additional prerequisite to the ones pertaining other blade skills. To give you an example: Animal Senses nets you low-light vision and scent as well as +2 to Perception, but is only available for the Feral heart and requires the form claws class feature to take, basically adding the sensory aspect to the claw-theme. Blade Rush is pretty brutal - it allows for the swift action expenditure of the psionic focus to move up to the soulknife's speed as a swift action...which is strong. Where the blade skill does overshoot the target a bit is with the caveat that the soulknife provokes no attacks of opportunity with this movement. No "from adjacent targets" caveat - just flat-out no AoOs. At the same time, minimum 6th level does alleviate this a bit...but still, for less high-powered games, this is a very potent option and should probably be nerfed. Its follow-up allows the soulknife to move up to her movement speed as a full-round action (no AoOs!) and make a single melee attack at highest BAB -2 against each target she is adjacent to. The "adjacent" caveat is the only thing that keeps me from engaging in a full-blown diatribe here. Still, this is arguably MUCH better than any form of full-round attack you can usually perform, unless you're only fighting against one adversary (when action economy outclasses the foe against the average adventuring party anyways). The one balancing feature would be the psionic focus expenditure, which prevents you from spamming this move. The minimum level? 8th. Not any high-level trickery. 8th. This one completely outclasses similar one-use abilities granted at high levels, has only a resource determined by action economy and is rather overpowered for its minimum level.


That being said, as much as I consider this one problematic, the pdf also has some absolute gems that work for pretty much every game - Caltrop Spray, for example, where you break your own mind blade to create more potent psychic caltrops that can tell friend from foe for cool soft terrain control. Starting at 10th level, these guys can also expend their psionic focus to fold space as a standard action (move action at 16th level+), allowing for a level-wise great take on the phasing soulknife. And yes, there is actually a BALANCED low-level phasing trick for the soulknife as well - at 4th level, via Ghost Step, which has strict action economy/focus requirements and played rather neat in my games. Knife to the Soul enhancers, psionic focus-based dispels etc. can be found and combining the soulbolt's empowered strikes with unarmed attack/natural attacks is cool as well. As a minor nitpick "Deadly Fis" is missing its "t" in the end - but that's a typo. Similarly, empowering natural weapons. Manyshot mindbolts, better deadly shields and mind armaments. I am somewhat weary of improved psychokientic discharge, which lets the soulknife perform empowered strike full-attacks at range.


On the plus-side, a whip-shaped mindblade that can cause 1-round dazes on failed saves is cool, though the daze should probably specify that it's a pain-effect, at least judging from the fluff of the ability that justifies it via "intense levels of pain." Very cool for multi-limbed creatures: There is now a blade skill for more than 2 soulknives at once! Kudos for stitching that hole! Increasing power points, psychic grappling hooks (!!!)...pretty cool. Have I mentioned the platform they can now make? It can be slick, elastic...whatever the soulknife desires and has the concise rules to support it. Yeah - this is UTILITY beyond combat, ladies and gentlemen! Gaining psychic strike if it had been traded away, firing psychic strikes as blasts (or 10-foot splash bombs), gain mind armaments (see below) and there is a unique one: Speed of Thought + Mental Leap, with psychic strike's charge as an alternate means of paying for the expenditure required by the secondary abilities. Cool! Soulbolts can now also learn to form melee mind blades. I am not a fan of foregoing psychic strike charge to ignore all hardness or DR at 4th level - the lack of scaling regarding both render the blade skills problematic for some tables - I know I'll ban that one in my games or at least introduces a scaling mechanism that allows for the continuous progression of the ability instead of full-blown DR ignoring. Oh, and we have an infinite healing crap-ability. Deal only 1/2 psychic strike damage to heal this amount. Can someone hand me the bag of kittens and a HP-to-ally-transferring ability, please? Then we'll have infinite healing not only for the soulknife, but for the whole group. Blergh. A simple minimum-HD-caveat that scales with soulknife-levels would eliminate the issue, as almost all similar designs do by now. You may not consider it an issue, but I do - to me, such an exploit represents sloppy design and the low point of this supplement.


Okay, next up are the archetypes and one word of warning - they are COMPLEX. As in: They modify A LOT and certainly are not cookie cutters - we get really big ones here, with the Augmented Blade being the first. This archetype is basically THE option for all those rounds and games where the idea of a ghostly/energy-style soulknife didn't work with the feeling of the campaign: Instead of a mindblade, the augmented blade archetype gains a psicrystal, which is then attached to weapons to e.g. coat them in crystal or sport similar means of visual customization. Beyond that, the psicrystal can be attached to a variety of items, augmenting them in unique ways - and this works on a rather fluid basis, allowing for quick slotting and a lot of variables you can change on the fly - and yes, this renders the archetype rather fun to play, particularly considering the fact that the archetype learns to split the psicrystal AND has Metaforge/Aegis multiclass information. Absolutely GLORIOUS archetype that basically "unlocks" the soulknife for settings where it would not work, replacing basically the core class mechanics with new ones...and it thus plays differently, too! A prime example for a great archetype!


The second one would be the brutality blade, who uses Charisma as governing attribute for the soulknife class features and may manifest rage blades, which may not be thrown, must be single blades and they increase the enhancement bonus of the mind blade by +1, allowing the brutality blade (always hear Mortal Kombat's theme music when I write this, but that just as an aside), with 7th and 13th level increasing the bonus by a further +1. The rage blade can be maintained for 4 + Constitution modifier rounds per day, +2 per class level beyond 1st. Upon dismissing the blade, though, the brutality blade loses psionic focus and is fatigued for 1d4 +1 round, during which he may not regain psionic focus. Additionally, the brutality blade has a 10% chance to suffer psychic enervation when manifesting this godblade style mindblade on steroids, risking 2 times class level damage. So, as you see, the archetype basically functions as a barbarian-y soulknife on steroids with a sprinkling of wilder as for its base functionality. This becomes more apparent with 4th level, when the brutality blade gains the raging surge that adds +4 to Str while the blade's out, +2 to Con at 8th level, further +2 to both at 12th, Strength increases to +6 at 16th and both to +6 at 20th level. 5th level unlocks free action rage blade manifestation...but the archetype also gains unique wrath augments, basically specialized blade skills. For example, when using a rage blade, the brutality blade may, as a full-round action, expend psionic focus to jam the blade into the ground to duplicate Whirlwind Attack as soon as 4th level, balanced by the rage blade requirement. Growing in size as per expansion with claws of crude knives, expending psionic focus to reroll Fort- or Will-saves as immediate actions (again: Better balanced than mettle!), causing bleeding wounds and gaining a raging euphoria that can be shared with allies or a focus-based rend...the options are powerful, but well-placed regarding minimum-levels and feature glorious visuals. As a capstone, the archetype can maintain his blade even in null psionics fields sans issues and no longer suffers from a chance of psychic enervation. This archetype is superb - and its mechanical possibilities are not even close to being covered here - the enervation, rage blade and unique mechanics practically beg to be further expanded. The archetype plays like a completely different class and does so gloriously - it is one of the coolest godblade-style archetype/classes I've seen in quite a while and generally can be considered to be a cool, well-balanced addition to the game.


Thirdly, the psychic armory can be seen on the cover - with a panoply of blades circling her, she begins play with 1 + Wisdom modifier light and one-handed such blades, 2nd level unlocking an additional 1 + Wisdom modifier two-handed blades. These blades may not be used to attack in melee and are only quasi-real, until hurled psychokinetically at foes - and yes, they can be used to perform AoOs in melee range with proper rules-language covering all the bases. Expended blades replenish upon the armory's next turn. This panoply of weapons may not be used in conjunction with wielded weapons or off-hand/natural attacks, but the base damage-types employed may be changed for each weapon group used in the panoply of blades. Special abilities still require extensive meditation and may not be fluidly switched. I already mentioned psychokinetic throws, which basically translates to using Wisdom instead of Dexterity to determine ranged atk with the panoply and also adds Wisdom to damage, with regular light weapons duplicated having a range increment of 20 ft. and 1-handed ones a range-increment of 15 ft. 2nd level also unlocks throwing 2-handed weapons from her array with a range increment of 10 ft. Here's the unique thing, though: The armory may, as a standard action, direct the panoply to a place within medium range and have it explode in a 20-ft.-burst, using all her blades for the round in favor of 1d6 damage per class level + enhancement bonus, Ref-save halves, with the rules actually covering the blending of damage types and their substitution. 3rd level allows for the panoply to apply soulknife mind blade enhancements by weapon group and 5th level lets the armory call forth her panoply as a swift action. As a capstone, the archetype can maintain his blade even in null psionics fields sans issues.


Oh, and the archetype comes with more than one page of unique blade skills that allow for the panoply to gather into a temporary mind blade of a more traditional bent, increase the reach of the threatened area by +5 ft., increase the range, flurry with the panoply a limited amount of times per day at range (here, the pricing with minimum level 14th is appropriate) or use an opposed attack roll to counter another as an immediate action. While personally, I dislike the mechanic due to d20 vs. d20 being rather swingy, your mileage may vary here. Making the panoply lines, expand to becoming difficult terrain (and threatened area!) or form a barrier - the options are truly evocative. Oh, psychic armory...how torn am I regarding you. You see, this one is obviously in flair and style something more suitable for high-psionics/magic campaigns and for these it works OH SO WELL. My personal disdain for the d20 vs. d20 blade skill notwithstanding, the archetype is just so beautiful. Its three assortments of preconfigured mindblades are very powerful and, honestly, may be a tad bit too powerful. Similarly, unlimited 20 ft--burst long-range attacks that deal class level x 1d6 + enhancement bonus physical damage outclass A LOT of builds and classes out there. Alchemists can take their bombs and go home, sobbing, for example - at least until iterative attacks allow for outclassing of these blasts....but then again, the panoply's blast of blades is ALWAYS a standard action. You fire this burst...and then you're standing around with not even a weapon in your hands. You threaten nobody. If you get outmaneuvered using this ability, you're basically screwed very hard until your next turn, bereft of all the cool tricks you have. This makes the archetype play in a very unique manner - you need a bit of tactics here. The panoply also has another...potentially pretty nasty component - it can have multiple weapons in the panoply bearing psychic charges, which is a pretty big deal. Then again, can you see the class charging its blades and firing them? This is basically one of my favorite video game bosses of all times, the archetype (extra brownie points if you can guess which one I'm referring to!). The psychic armory can deal a lot of damage, is flexible, consolidates Dex and Str into Wis for her attacks...and honestly, I should be screaming OP by now. It...kinda is. For low-powered, conservative campaigns, this one should probably be reserved to powerful puzzle-bosses. In high-powered high fantasy/psionics-campaigns, though? OMG. While personally, I'll nerf this gal a bit, I absolutely ADORE this archetype. Sure, I wished it was a bit more conservative...but she plays just so beautifully!


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level and impressively good on a rules-level - this book may have a some minor typo-level hiccups, but it engages in very complex rules-operations and manages to do so very well. Layout-wise, the pdf adheres to Dreamscarred Press' two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with a second, more printer-friendly version. The pdfs come fully bookmarked for your convenience. The pdfs also sport nice, full-color artworks.


Chris Bennett has delivered a solid, massive piece of capital letters CRUNCH here. The pdf contains A LOT of material on its pages, with a very satisfying crunch-per-page ratio. Furthermore, the quality of the crunch, generally, is top-notch. You will not find any bland cookie-cutter designs herein and, while sufficiently mathfindery and combo-heavy to make the optimizers happy, this pdf excels in its concepts.


Yes, I consider the skirmishing blade skill to be underpriced. Yes, I consider the failed kitten-test to be simply unnecessarily sloppy in an otherwise extremely precise and evocative book. Yes, the psychic armory is not for every campaign. So, this is my warning: Conservative groups using psionics for less high-powered games should carefully run each component by the GM.


And this is as far as the grouchy, complaining part of my personality gets with this one. As you probably have gleaned from the above, my complaints rang this loud within the review because I absolutely adore more than 95% of this book. As in squee-level adoration. As a person, I couldn't care less that the psychic armory is too powerful for the default, non-high-powered campaign; I adore it. The brutality blade and the augmented blade are absolutely awesome for less high-powered tables and all three archetypes have in common that they damn well rock my world. They are basically what archetypes should be like. In fact, lesser designers would have probably sold them as full-blown friggin' base classes. Not only do they sport completely different visuals, they actually play radically differently, with the new array of blade skills filling holes in the rules that needed filling and providing cool, new options.


Yes, I may have complained about a few pieces herein...but the significant majority of content herein is just BEAUTIFUL. As in crunch-masterclass-level awesomeness. This is basically a book that put the middle-finger to all bland +1/+X abilities and modifications and cookie cutter archetypes. Its totality may not be for everyone; but I can guarantee that every single table out there that uses a soulknife will find something in this pdf they fall in love with. High-psionics campaigns NEED the armory in them. Low-powered games or those that dislike the laser-y flair need the augmented blade. Seriously. No exceptions for either. I'd also like to emphasize the sheer density of this volume - no broad borders, no filler - this pdf may look brief, but it really isn't, with very tightly formatted rules-text, you get a lot of bang for your buck here.


What I try to express with my inane rambling here is simple: I love this book. In spite of its flaws and hitting some serious pet-peeves of mine. I took about 5 minutes to modify (as in: Change min-level, add cool-down, the like.) a couple of pieces of crunch for my table and that's it - I have pretty much a truly superb book in my hands, one that is allowed in my main campaign, mind you. Even before these minor modifications, the book must be considered a must own addition for psionics-using tables; not one that should just be flat-out allowed for all, but definitely one that enriches all games it touches. And that, dear readers, is more important that nitpicking, my own pet-peeves or disagreements pertaining power-levels and pricing of a scant few abilities. While I don't consider this to be mechanically perfect, I thus will still rate this 5 stars + seal of approval - considering the complexity of the material, the amount of greatness and the unique playing experiences this offers, penalizing it for its minor flaws would be a disservice to the file. Yes, it's that evocative. Were it not for the minor hiccups, this would be a top ten candidate.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Psionics Augmented: Soulknives
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Fifth Edition Options
Publisher: Total Party Kill Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/01/2016 05:04:36

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This massive book clocks in at 79 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page of SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 75 pages of content, so let's take a look!


So, what is this? Basically, this is a huge selection of variant rules for 5e that you can drag and drop in your game. We begin with alternate methods of ability score generation, with grid, dice pool, point-buy that goes up to 18 from the get-go and alternate ability arrays. Rolling 4d6, dropping the lowest and having the GM do the same and then dealing with the devil behind the screen is also mentioned. There is also a option by which class choice and backgrounds influence the attributes, with e.g. Warlocks gaining +1 to Int and Cha and those with a soldier background gaining either +1 Str or Con. The idea of racial maximum stats (here, 18) can be found, though with this system, dwarves get suckerpunched - they're the only race that has two capped attributes.


The pdf also provides rules for Small and Large characters, with Strength and Constitution being capped differently and minor modifications. The balance here, though, is off: Large creatures cap Str and Con at 22, gaina dvantage on saves against being pushed, tripped, etc. and have double the capacity of their Medium brethren. Downsides? None. Small characters cap Con at 18, Str at 16, get +1 AC and have only half the carrying capacity of Medium creatures. Yeah...that wasn't really thought through.


2d6 rolls to determine handedness, ability score proficiencies, feats at 1st level with various means of balancing the power-increase this represents - the book has a couple of rather nice customization considerations here. Similarly, the pdf introduces flaws, which can be rather flavorful, though GMs should take heed that the character who takes a flaw gets one befitting of the class: Foes gaining advantage on the first attack roll in melee is nasty, as it should be, but if the character keeps running from melee/ is a caster/etc., it loses some of its oomph. Still, I do enjoy these generally and their effects are generally potent enough.


As a whole, I enjoyed this chapter, though a bit more guidance pertaining the ramifications of the respective power-increases and caps would probably have been beneficent to the less experienced GMs out there. The pdf also provides means for the old-school gamer to play double or triple classes via a stunted XP-progression; basically think of this as the grognard's gestalting before there was gestalting. The pdf also offer variant XP-progressions (basically slow and fast track) as well as ability score increases by level instead of class, which becomes, obviously, relevant when employing the multiclass rules. The pdf also features starting wealth suggestions for higher level characters. If you wish for less lethal saves, adding +1/2 proficiency bonus is suggested for nonproficient saves...though I'm not the biggest fan here.


The second, massive chapter is all about skills: It suggests skill advancement at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter, stat-like increases to skills or the altogether elimination of them as optional rules. Alternate skill lists are presented alongside an interesting take on expertise, which suggests using advantage instead, making you more reliable, but capping the maximum you can reach - this one makes A LOT of sense to me and generally can be considered to be one of the rules I'll certainly take from this book. Now the next section will either be useless or a godsend to you, depending on your perspective. 5e's skills are deliberately fast and loose to speed up gameplay; at the same time, one quick google will show you a lot of reddit-questions pertaining which skill to use when etc. - this chapter, thus, provides sample DCs for different tasks for the respective skills - in particular the vastly expanded animal handling DCs should prove to be helpful. While this may not be for every GM, I know that this section will be a rather significant boon for many a table.


Now, as long-time readers may note, one of the few components I liked about 4th edition was the introduction of skill challenges and this book does provide a 5e-twist on them with complex skill checks that require multiple successes that build upon another. The system introduced here is rather smooth and goes through the skills, skill by skill, providing some general guidance and examples for single skill complex checks, though these obviously can be combined. Similarly, complex skill-checks based on tools get a mention here.


Chapter 3 provides more detailed crafting rules that retain the straightforwardness of 5e design. Rules for simpler ammo-handling, impossible rest in armors, better crossbows and firearms that penalize armor, rules for masterwork equipment and new equipment options to enrich the game: From double weapons to those that can be folded or those that are oversized, the book sports quite a few of those, though e.g. doubled damage dice for the big ones with just the note that they "requrie training" and that characters aren't proficient in them can be deemed to be somewhat problematic. Come on, even Guts in Berserk can't swing his dragonslayer as fast as a regular sword. Want to distill poisons? Yup, rules for that in here.


The third chapter deals with combat - there is an alternate rule for rolling two smaller dice to make the hit point roll less swingy. Personally, I absolutely LOVED the slower healing, limited HD-expenditure and fatiguing injuries rules herein: D&D 5e already makes for a surprisingly good dark/low fantasy system and these alternate rules for grittier gameplay really add to that effect. On the other hand, if you dislike the element of chance when recovering, a fixing amount system can be found here as well. Similarly, if you liked the vitality and wounds systems, you'll have a 5e-iteration of the system here...including an ultra-gritty variant.


The pdf goes on with conditions - while 5e has a couple of them, older systems had more - if you're missing some of these, well - here's the list to cherry pick those you want back. The pdf also sports variant initiative systems: Rolling each round, while dynamic, slows down gameplay and round table initiative is simple, but also not that rewarding for all but the player who rolled highest - personally, I prefer that one for beer-and-pretzels-style games. Your mileage may vary, of course!


Minor tweaks like inadvertently hitting allies when firing into melee (default house-rule in my game) and tougher rising from the prone condition makes sense - default 5e is pretty lenient on that one, considering the effects of the prone condition.


Okay, the next section will be rather divisive, I wager. We get combat maneuvers. Including the whole Pathfinder array not covered by 5e as well as Power Attack, leaping on larger creatures etc. Myself, I am torn - Power Attack, for example, provides twice the penalty taken to atk as a bonus to damage, which I am not a fan of in the context of 5e. Then again, and this is a pretty big thing, the maneuvers remain worse than the comparative abilities of the Battle Master...at least as long as you don't add the loathsome feats introduced in the companion book to this one.


The pdf also has a variant rule for stacking advantages and disadvantages, more opportunity attacks, variant crits, inherent class defense bonuses, armor as DR (not a fan for 5e)...a lot of material. Rules for sniffing out magic items, for identifying them etc., while not necessarily the thing I look for in 5e-games, may well be welcome in some other tables. Similarly, feat-based better attunement may work for higher fantasy games. Personally, I'm a pretty big fan of the variant counterspelling for higher magic games, since it actually does allow for pretty quick and easy mage duels. Groups that wish to abolish the hard limit on spells in effect via concentration have a means to do so via this book and if you're missing bonus spells for high spellcasting ability scores, well, here's the table. Special conditions for simpler spell recovery, resurrection that permanently decreases attributes...quite a few nice tricks here.


The pdf also provides a simple fear-system for horror-games (based on Wis-saves) that does its job, but is pretty barebones. Doom, as an opposite of inspiration (somewhat akin to the Conan-RPG) is mentioned and extended inspiration mechanics are covered alongside a simplified XPsystem based on tokens. Alternate alignments based on convictions (very welcome in my game) with circumstantial advantage on certain checks based on the characters conviction are pretty neat, though the mechanical balance of them isn't always perfect. The pdf also provides three appropriately weak, barebones NPC-base classes and concludes with campaign templates, where a selection of rules are compiled for your convenience. Kudos!


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are pretty good on both a formal and rules-language level. layout adheres to a parchment-style two-color full-color standard with solid stock artwork. In a minor nitpick, sometimes single letters in headers do look a bit larger than their brethren - might be a cosmetic font hiccup, but yeah. Artworks ranged from b/w-pieces I haven't seen before to full-color; it's generally nice, but not the reason you would get this book. The pdf comes with full, nested bookmarks for your convenience.


Brian Berg and Jason Sonia's 5th edition options...were a total surprise to me. After the horrendous book on feats, I honestly didn't expect to like this book. Well, guess what? I really like this book. No group will ever use all of the variant rules herein. Roleplaying games veterans will be familiar with the concepts. However, they actually have been updated to 5e rules with...care and precision. Total Party Kill Games delivers a complete 180; If I didn't know better, I'd refuse to believe that this book was crafted by the same company as the feat book.


This book utilizes proper rules; it takes complex variant systems and adjusts them for use with 5e. Wounds and vitality? Check. Crafting? Check. It provides basically the vast majority of alternate rules you can find out there, with only a complex crit/fumble-system à la Laying Waste or a complex Sanity system à la ToC/CoC missing. Apart from these two (which could be, scope-wise, books of their own), this pdf offers options. A LOT of options. Not all options will be great for all groups; not all rules will be utilized by any group out there. But whether you want a higher fantasy closer to Pathfinder, or a simpler, grittier lower fantasy closer to the darker OSR-options, this has the customization tools.


While here and there, I would have liked to see a bit more guidance for the respective GMs regarding the consequences of the respective rules-implementations to help them choose, the book as such does a great job in collecting a TON of alternate rules and ideas to customize the very tone of the campaign. Make no mistake - this is a toolkit. A big one and one that probably will have something for almost every 5e-game out there. While the required broadness of the scope also means that some further elaborations would have helped and that no group will ever use the totality of this book, I do consider this to be a fair and good buy, particularly for GMs hesitant (or too time-starved) to change the rules themselves. How to rate this, then? Well, you see, this is where it becomes difficult for me, since testing all combinations of rules herein is a sheer impossibility. I can see some conflicts/minor issues crop up - but generally, this is indeed a great toolkit. If anything, the main weakness of this kit lies in the fact that it does not have the one killer-variant-rule-system. It has, though, several small ones that can coalesce into cool templates to use.


In the end, this book will not elicit universal cheers on every page, but just about each group will find some nice material to scavenge within these pages. hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.


Endzeitgeist out.



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