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Village Backdrop: Byrnfort (SNE)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/30/2018 05:56:53

An Endzeitgeist.com review

Huh. When I posted the latest Village Backdrop-review in my attempt to catch up with the series, I noticed that, while I had access to this village’s files, I never actually downloaded them or wrote a review. Weird. Anyways, since I am a completionist and pretty OCD regarding the like, here we go!

Byrnfort’s pdf clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Byrnfort is situated in the ancient Barainwood, and its frontier-status in a hostile wilderness becomes immediately apparent to anyone who sees it: With thick walls of timber and sharp stakes encircling the village (lavishly mapped by Maciej Zagorski), it is obvious that this place, hunched and somewhat claustrophobic, is a refuge from the horrors out there – but not necessarily one that can withstand all that is out there. More a fortification that a village in the traditional sense, the local dressing habits and “industry” mirror this reality, and so do the community leaders, who hearken to the nature-themed side of things. Important for purists – the classes referenced by the NPCs include thief and wizard, so if you’re one of the folks firmly in the magic-user section, this may be a very minor aesthetic gripe.

The system neutral version, alas, does not gain a marketplace section, which is a minor bummer. and, As always, village lore for smart PCs to unearth as well as 6 sample whispers and rumors can be found. The local inn, the Stout Draught gets its own little notes on the price of food and accommodation. Cool: There is a charhouse, which fabricates specialized alchemical coals, three of which are provided. These include one that potentially helps with poison at the cost of being sickened, which can mean different things, depending on your system – just stating “can’t act” or “halves movement” or something like that would have been more elegant here.

Still, I really like how flavor and mechanics are married here. The events do hint at something more going on here, and indeed, there is a secret society of sorts, the Green men – who have a pact with a rather deadly fey ghost. As such, they are obligated to conduct strange rites, of which 6 are provided, adding further flavor.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant 2-column b/w-standard and the cartography, as always, is excellent. The pdf comes in two versions, one optimized for screen use and one for the printer. They are both fully bookmarked for your convenience.

My apologies to author Amber Underwood for missing this nice village previously; Byrnfort has a cool, almost Twin Peaks-y vibe going on, and the emphasis on coal and the like is a seldom seen or developed aspect in villages, which adds a sense of authenticity to the village. The rites are really cool and further add local color to the place. The absence of the marketplace section and not 100% perfect conversion of the alchemical coal represent very minor detriments for this version of the pdf, but not enough to cost it the well-deserved 5 stars for a rather cool little settlement.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Byrnfort (SNE)
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Epic! I'm delighted you enjoyed this village so much. Thank you for the review!
Village Backdrop: Byrnfort (5e)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/30/2018 05:54:55

An Endzeitgeist.com review

Huh. When I posted the latest Village Backdrop-review in my attempt to catch up with the series, I noticed that, while I had access to this village’s files, I never actually downloaded them or wrote a review. Weird. Anyways, since I am a completionist and pretty OCD regarding the like, here we go!

Byrnfort’s pdf clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Byrnfort is situated in the ancient Barainwood, and its frontier-status in a hostile wilderness becomes immediately apparent to anyone who sees it: With thick walls of timber and sharp stakes encircling the village (lavishly mapped by Maciej Zagorski), it is obvious that this place, hunched and somewhat claustrophobic, is a refuge from the horrors out there – but not necessarily one that can withstand all that is out there. More a fortification that a village in the traditional sense, the local dressing habits and “industry” mirror this reality, and so do the community leaders, who hearken to the nature-themed side of things. The 5e-version refers the default NPC-stats where appropriate.

There is no marketplace section in the 5e-version, which is a bit of a bummer. As always, village lore for smart PCs to unearth as well as 6 sample whispers and rumors can be found. The local inn, the Stout Draught gets its own little notes on the price of food and accommodation. Cool: There is a charhouse, which fabricates specialized alchemical coals, three of which are provided. These include one that potentially helps with poison at the cost of a temporary exhaustion level. I really like how flavor and mechanics are married here, and while there is a typo here (one instance where “poison” should read “poisoned”), I applaud that the items have been converted to 5e. The events do hint at something more going on here, and indeed, there is a secret society of sorts, the Green men – who have a pact with a rather deadly fey ghost. As such, they are obligated to conduct strange rites, of which 6 are provided, adding further flavor.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant 2-column b/w-standard and the cartography, as always, is excellent. The pdf comes in two versions, one optimized for screen use and one for the printer. They are both fully bookmarked for your convenience.

My apologies to author Amber Underwood for missing this nice village previously; Byrnfort has a cool, almost Twin Peaks-y vibe going on, and the emphasis on coal and the like is a seldom seen or developed aspect in villages, which adds a sense of authenticity to the village. The 5e-conversion is nice, though the absence of the marketplace was a bit of a bummer. The rites are really cool and further add local color to the place. So yeah, all in all, I found myself really loving this one! My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars for this version.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Byrnfort (5e)
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Epic! I'm delighted you enjoyed this village so much. Thank you for the review!
Alterkine: Planetary Survey
Publisher: HermaDolph
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/30/2018 05:52:47

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive supplement clocks in at 138 pages, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page ToC, 2 pages blank, 3 pages index/KS-thanks, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 129 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So, this massive book is basically exactly what it says on the tin – a ginormous collection of different planets and their inhabitants.

There are basically three sections for each of the entries of planets here: Astronomical, Environmental and Xenological.

In the first section of each planet, we classify the star or stars – for example,.Dwerradar has a binary star, Myrwyn and Aru. Now, if you’re a bit of a scifi-nerd, you’ll love these, for each star gets a star-statblock of sorts: The type is noted (e.g. Companion MV 7 V Red Dwarf), and we get distances in kilometers and AUs, radius in kilometers and Sol, mass in kg and Sol, temperature in K and luminosity in W and Sol. I really love this attention to detail, and it extends to the other system bodies, who are classified by type, with orbital radius (again, in Km and AU), period (hours and earth years) and gravity in m/s² (once more, with relation to earth noted as alternate values). Terrestrial worlds note the respective composition and special features like indigenous races and moons.

Indeed, habitable worlds get massively expanded data, noting their rotation, escape velocity, mass, land areas, hydrosphere, atmosphere, climate (in °F), populations, a brief overview of economy and installations as well as affiliations and foreign relations.

The environmental sections for each planet provide notes on aquatic, terrestrial and atmospheric peculiarities as well as places of interest, if any. It should also be noted that we actually get really nice full-color artworks for inhabited planets, which is a huge plus; indeed, the book manages to be really, really impressive regarding all its details and how the respective star systems deviate from one another. The data provided really helps to create a cohesive sense of immersion if you, like me, enjoy the added sense of plausibility this adds. So yeah. Kudos indeed.

This would also be a nice place to note that the book has an appendix that lists monster traits, creature types and vital statistics of age. The index mentioned before is really detailed and useful, providing orientation by place of interest, by planet, race and system. Organization of the book is neat.

Thirdly, there would be the xenological section, and it is here that we are introduced to the respective races living on the inhabited planets. Here, we can find 4-armed, red goblins, bone-ridged, badass equine creatures, the Tiny, subterranean Adaevia, basically Wookies, savage lizard people, utterly strange species that descended from tubeworms (!!), living constructs and more. We can find a race of excellent healers, which, when it dies, spreads a horrid plague; we can find sentient plants (bushes, fungi, etc. – and yes, there is an artwork with a badass fungus-person wielding an MP), a race of basically space wolpertingers, spiritual newt people, massive, Large, smelly space orcs, a race of Jekyll/Hide-y aberrations, bird- and otter-folk, 6-armed humanoid arachnids, actually nice lumps of tentacles, dog-like trees, vulture people…and I haven’t even begun listing them all. We get brief notes on the respective society and culture of the races. Really cool: We get a .ppt-file included in the deal to make basic paper-stand-minis for the races! Big kudos there!

…and it is here, that we have the crux of the book. The races. Now, up onto this point, Alterkine supplement were made for d20 Modern.

This one is different. It is billed as PFRPG-compatible.

That is patently WRONG.

There is no nice way to say this, but this is about as PFRPG-compatible as 5e. If there is something to be done wrong regarding racial presentation and rules-design, the pdf will do it wrong. Each language section, for example, notes a “Free Culture Skill” – whatever that is supposed to mean. Ability score enhancements are min-maxy and don’t follow PFRPG’s paradigms. We get uneven score-bonuses (like +1 and +3); we get +4 bonuses and penalties to ability scores in a variety of cases. A Large race gets +8 (!!) to Strength, not accounting for its size. The same race’s females get btw. “+ Intelligence” – the actual modifier is missing. Natural weapons are not properly classified in some cases, whereas in others, they are. Racial abilities sometimes sport fixed save DCs instead of scaling ones.

For f***’s sake, the book gets NATURAL ARMOR wrong, talking about “+3 bonus to Defense.” PFRPG has over 20 bonus types, accounting for BAB, etc. – and the book manages to get that wrong as well, conjuring up some make-belief bonus types that are utterly redundant. There is no “species bonus” in PFRPG – it’s called racial bonus, for crying out loud. Never mind that the concepts of CMB/CMD obviously are not something taken into account for any rules operation that is more than a size reference. The pdf talks about skills that don’t exist in PFRPG, like Athletics. Bonuses that should be racial or insight are untyped. The pdf grossly undervalues e.g. additional appendages. When a DC is scaling, its sequence is wrong, noting first the ability score, then HD. The pdf doesn’t get how pulling targets works in PFRPG. “Infiltration checks” may be used to break free of webbing. Darkvision ranges are incorrect. A “Staggering gaze” causes the stun condition. Abilities do not sport the correct ability types – you won’t find EX or SU/SP-classifications here. The pdf does not understand how Linguistics works in PFRPG. There are glaring errors and huge issues in every single damn race herein.

Oh, wanna know what made me head crash on the table? Level adjustments. I kid you not. Level adjustments. In PFRPG. W-T-F. Oh, and, this should be obvious by now: We do not get race traits. We do not get racial archetypes. We do not get favored class options. We do not get racial feats. We get no supplemental material for these races whatsoever.

Then again, frankly, I’m glad we don’t. I have never seen basic race design go this horribly awry. It is evident that the author has no clue about PFRPG and doesn’t play it. The level of ignorance that the glitches point out, is staggering. Frankly, I wished that this book had stayed with its d20 Modern roots.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, on a formal level, are mostly rather impressive. On a rules-language level, this is an unmitigated train wreck. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with a significant array of really nice full-color artworks for planets and races. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and the addition of paper stand-minis is neat.

This breaks my heart, it really does – on one hand, we have a book oozing creativity and passion, and a knowledge on how to make unique and compelling racial concepts. I loved all the data provided for systems, and the ideas herein are glorious! They really are! If you want a dressing book with brief dossiers on a variety of races and systems, this may well be worth checking out for that purpose! Whether you play Traveller or Starfinder or Stars Without Number, there are a lot of cool ideas in this book.

Unfortunately, this is no system neutral dressing book.

Unfortunately, this book suffers from the delusion of being a PFRPG-race book. In this category, this book, alas, is a resounding, colossal failure. Rules-integrity and both basic overt and detailed covert design paradigms are flaunted left and right and the book fails to grasp even basics like the skill system, much less anything more detailed. I could literally spend multiple pages listing what is wrong with each single race. The crunch is horrible and a sloppy conversion from a system into PFRPG, without the knowledge or care that such work requires.

As a crunch-book, this is a failure of epic proportions.

Now, if you explicitly do NOT want any rules to go along with the planets and racial CONCEPTS, then this may be worth checking out. Some of the ideas herein are pretty damn cool, though none of the races, courtesy of the brevity of the entries, gets a really detailed write-up. This is the only viable use for the book I could discern.

Whether you play Starjammer, Aethera or another scifi/space opera game in PFRPG, this one fails you, big time. It obviously doesn’t fare better, rules-wise, regarding Starfinder. In that discipline, the book is an unmitigated mess I cannot recommend. My final verdict will clock in at 1.5 stars, and frankly, I can’t round up for it. The fluff is too sparse for that.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Alterkine: Planetary Survey
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CE 9 - Both Foul and Deep
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/29/2018 09:45:43

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This DCC-toolkit clocks in at 53 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages SRD, leaving us with a massive 50 pages of content, though these are formatted for 6’’ by 9’’ digest size (A5), which means you can fit multiple pages on one sheet of paper.

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreons.

So, first things first, in case you’re new to the series: The Campaign Elements-series is basically a collection of set-pieces supplemented with rules, intended to be dropped as is into an ongoing campaign…or to be used as a scavenging ground. As such, this sits squarely on the line between modules and setting supplements – while it can be used as written, it is just as useful as a file to supplement other modules; take e.g. “The Jeweler that dealt in Stardust” – the module assumes that the smartest way for the PCs to enter the locale would be via the sewers, but there isn’t much going on there. This is where an enterprising judge can employ this supplement, as we get a ton of material for sewers.

Wait. I know. Sewer levels/environments have a bad reputation. I can name, at the top of my head, a ton of modules that take place in sewers. Among these, 10%, at most, are worthwhile. But what if you want/need to run such a module? Well, this pdf pretty much helps dealing with that issue. We begin with a summary of different hooks to get the PCs down into the sewers. From there, we move on to general terrain features, the first thing a lot of modules in sewers fail to properly take into account. So yes, falling into sewage is a BAD idea – 6 different diseases can be found herein, ranging from mites and parasitic worms and scarlet rash. The second component many sewer-scenarios get wrong is that they depict, ironically, I might add, sewers as a mechanically sterile environment – this pdf does help here quite a bit: We get a d30 random encounter table, which brings me to one of the main components of this pdf.

You see, we not only get the usual people of the sewers (including secret taverns, cultists, etc.), but also a bunch of components we usually don’t see: Filthlarks, for example, the scavengers of the filthy places, gentlemen clubbers going to a clandestine meeting…and there are resurrection men; basically grave robbers in the name of science. Beyond those, we also get what amounts to a pretty massive bestiary section: We get albino alligators, aliens rats from another world, blood slugs, centipedes that seek to burrow into your flesh, carrion moths that spread hallucinogenic powder via their wings…even cooler: What about the cessceada? These swarming insects can cause the skin of those infected to slough off. There are beetles that can be sold to the dyer’s guild for profit, particularly agile drain runner foes, disgusting oozes, filth elementals… Have I mentioned the globlins that split by fission? Hellspore fungi and lamprey swarms are cool, and in the dark recesses, there also is the terrifying loathly one; there are phantom gentlemen…and more. This bestiary section is really cool, with each of the entries breathing some form of truly intriguing and captivating idea, in spite of the sometimes down to earth theme.

The pdf also provides the patron Squallas, mistress of the night soil rivers, but we only get the invoke patron table here – no custom spells, patron taint or spellburn, but all right. This would btw. be as well a place as any, there are quite a few really nice full-color illustrations throughout the pdf – particularly the sewer troll image is nice.

At this point, it should be noted that judges with an extensive library of books may find some nice easter eggs here and there – in the case of the troll, for example, a nod to the upcoming, Angels, Daemons and Beings Between II by Shinobi 27 Press. These nods are unobtrusive enough to not impede your enjoyment of the content, but certainly should be fun for quite a few judges…and they provide obscure and potentially easily ignored links you can further develop…but I digress.

Now, so far, I have mainly commented on the toolbox-y aspects of this pdf, but it is also an adventure locale. We get a solid b/w-map of the sewer-area depicted AND a player-friendly iteration, which is a huge plus, as far as I’m concerned. Now, the keyed encounter areas provided for the judge come with well-written read-aloud text (we have come to expect nothing less from Daniel J. Bishop!), but also feature unique hazards and creatures beyond the ones already mentioned – some are obviously intended as plot-threads for the judge to further develop, while others are just amazing; the image of a massive spider that carries its brood on its back is great, and just let it be known that just because corpses move doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily undead…which can result in a rather cool scene. Oh, and the line from the core book? Yes, there is a means to learn a spell from the mouth of a dead man…and how that phrase is twisted is really cool. I could explain all of the 9 keyed encounters here, but I’d frankly do the book a disservice.

You see, the series has traditionally a “squeezing it dry”-section, wherein you can find further suggestions to get the maximum amount of mileage out of the book – considering how strongly the toolbox/bestiary aspect is emphasized here, I can most definitely see judges employ this pdf’s contents far beyond the exploration of the sewers presented here.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting re very good, I noticed no serious glitches. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard that is pretty printer-friendly. The full-color artworks are captivating, cool and deserve a big shout-out. The cartography featuring a player-friendly map is really cool. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with detailed, nested bookmarks, making navigation comfortable.

Daniel J. Bishop’s name on a book is, for the most part, a great indicator that it will rock – in fact, even if you do not play DCC, both new school and old school games can get something out of his offerings. There is a crisp quality to his prose, an overarching vision that not only gets the peculiarities of DCC, but, more importantly, really understands the tone and what makes it stand out. There is always an aspect of the weird here, one that feels like it was drawn straight from the greats. In fact, much like Leiber or Howard, he is adept at using precious few words to inspire; his fantasy, infused with a little dose of gonzo and the soul of sword & sorcery, has a distinct tone that is both grounded and wondrous, that retains this strange, captivating sense of plausibility. This booklet brings this aesthetic to sewers, perhaps the most maligned of adventuring locales, and elevates them. In short, this little booklet is one of the very few supplements/modules dealing with sewers that I’d consider superb – the monsters are so cool and interesting that quite a few may well warrant conversion. DCC judges, the primary audience of this book, should consider this a must-purchase anyway. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
CE 9 - Both Foul and Deep
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Village Backdrop: Masquerade
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/29/2018 05:04:28

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

Okay, so first things first: This is NOT your everyday village. Much like in every village backdrop, we do get notes on local nomenclature and dressing habits, as well as village lore and 3 rumors (instead of the standard 6)…but that is pretty much where the similarities with the regular installments of the series end.

Masquerade is not a fixed locale. Instead, it is a rickety conglomerate of three barges forming a floating village-theatre of sorts, with the performers masked and in costume at most times, at least while outsiders can witness them. This is Richard Pett, though, and as such, there is a theme of the grotesque, of underlying decay and grime suffusing the village – this case, represented by the bane of the village, the unifying factor that ties together this community: Masquerade is a colony of lepers, masking their affliction behind the gaiety they bring.

Tragedy and comedy entwine with one another in an intricate manner, for Masquerade’s founder, the enigmatic Silent Queen and absentee captain Absinthe Morell (take a look at that name and the connotations it automatically causes!) created this place as an exile and trap of sorts…but in a twist on trope, the place has become something more for her, a family of outcasts of sorts…and thus, she has taken on an oath that requires nigh-unparalleled willpower to maintain…but whether she can maintain it and for how long…only the GM decides.

Indeed, while Richard Pett has a knack for writing great locales, the extended cadre of characters herein deserves special mention – no less than 9 sample NPCs with potentially complex motivations can act as a foil or allies for the PCs and include some intriguing angles, with the theme of the masquerade itself obviously acting as a good reason to not provide read-aloud texts for their looks.

We do get such texts for the respective locations on the ships, though, and, as in all the new village backdrops, the respective points of interest come with services that can be purchased. Now, as you can glean from the set-up here, masquerade is very much depending on retaining its secrecy, which is upheld by the magical talents of the crew…but PCs may well pierce the veil, which can provide truly intriguing moral conundrums. Should they out the leper-troupe and their dangerous mistress?

An alternate angle for adventuring would be the fact that the troupe does regularly try to cure its members via magic when funds allow for it, but this also, to a degree, represents a parting of sorts, adding a bittersweet flair to the whole proceedings, something that ultimately suffuses the whole cast of characters – this place’s inhabitants are as multi-faceted as the masks and gowns they wear are outlandish and colorful. Indeed, none of the characters on the ship are evil, and while they may come into conflict with the PCs, this is ultimately not a location intended to be solely murderhobo’d through. I can easily picture compassionate PCs becoming very attached to the troupe, perhaps using it to cross borders or infiltrate enemy lands…but that may be me.

Indeed, one can obviously use this village just as well as a take on the trope of normals vs. “freaks”; one could run it in a vast plethora of ways, and indeed, we do get some suggestions on how to adventure in masquerade. Oh lord, I just made a formatting-based joke. Sorry, that’s a new low for me. Anyways, it should also be noted that, yes, we do get a list of 20 entries of village dressing and events, and the PFRPG-version comes with the usual settlement statblock as well as, rather cool, a nice little global effect pertaining magic in Masquerade.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant, printer-friendly b/w-two-column standard and the pdf sports some nice b/w artworks, though I have seen one of them used before. The b/w-cartography by Maciej Zagorski is really nice, though it is GM-only, noting secret doors and the like. High-res versions player-friendly were made available, at least to my knowledge, to Raging Swan Press’ patreons. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and comes in two versions, one optimized for screen-use and one optimized for the printer.

Richard Pett is perhaps the undisputed master of the tragically or comically horrific, or the grotesquely touching. His adventures and supplements (and his novel Crooked) show not only a capacity for great world-and location-building; there is always something deep and resonant in his prose. He can evoke the visceral and dark, and yet it never truly devolves into grimdark bleakness, instead settling in a more oscillating and thus, efficient manner. His spooky supplements work because they are relatable and this is no different. Masquerade will surely be considered dark by some, but ultimately, it represents a tale of hope and will overcoming the odds, depicts a company of uncommon outcasts that have been forced into the roles they now play. The duality of themes, of the eponymous masquerade, is mirrored in every little component of the pdf, bespeaking a careful and precise use of the evocative prose featured herein.

This book is very much an act of deliberate craftsmanship and wordsmithing, and thus manages to stand apart from favorites of mine and benchmarks, be that Ravenloft’s Carnival, the phenomenal Blood Bayou, or Nick Logue’s grisly fey carnival. Masquerade, in spite of having chosen perhaps one area in RPGs where absolutely superb supplements abound, manages to carve out its niche as a truly remarkable place; indeed, it almost feels like a village that could carry a whole series of novels…or, well. Adventures. The characters and general location are immensely captivating, rendering this a masterpiece, even within the context of the extremely high level of the Village Backdrop-series, rivaled only by some of John Bennett's and Mike Welham’s legendary contributions. Even in master Pett’s impressive catalogue, this stands out in its achievement of this level of depth so in so few pages.

This humble supplement set my mind ablaze with ideas and managed to really touch my heart…and considering that it’s only 7 pages long, that means something. This pdf thus gets 5 stars + seal of approval and actually qualifies as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2018.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Masquerade
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Thank you for this review! You'll not be surprise to learn I'm delighted you liked Masquerade so much!
Village Backdrop: Masquerade (SNE)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/29/2018 05:00:11

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

Okay, so first things first: This is NOT your everyday village. Much like in every village backdrop, we do get notes on local nomenclature and dressing habits, as well as village lore and 3 rumors (instead of the standard 6)…but that is pretty much where the similarities with the regular installments of the series end.

Masquerade is not a fixed locale. Instead, it is a rickety conglomerate of three barges forming a floating village-theatre of sorts, with the performers masked and in costume at most times, at least while outsiders can witness them. This is Richard Pett, though, and as such, there is a theme of the grotesque, of underlying decay and grime suffusing the village – this case, represented by the bane of the village, the unifying factor that ties together this community: Masquerade is a colony of lepers, masking their affliction behind the gaiety they bring.

Tragedy and comedy entwine with one another in an intricate manner, for Masquerade’s founder, the enigmatic Silent Queen and absentee captain Absinthe Morell (take a look at that name and the connotations it automatically causes!) created this place as an exile and trap of sorts…but in a twist on trope, the place has become something more for her, a family of outcasts of sorts…and thus, she has taken on an oath that requires nigh-unparalleled willpower to maintain…but whether she can maintain it and for how long…only the referee decides.

Indeed, while Richard Pett has a knack for writing great locales, the extended cadre of characters herein deserves special mention – no less than 9 sample NPCs with potentially complex motivations can act as a foil or allies for the PCs and include some intriguing angles, with the theme of the masquerade itself obviously acting as a good reason to not provide read-aloud texts for their looks. In system neutral version, their references obviously have been changed appropriately to the respective old-school monikers and classes.

We do get such texts for the respective locations on the ships, though, and, as in all the new village backdrops, the respective points of interest come with services that can be purchased. Now, as you can glean from the set-up here, masquerade is very much depending on retaining its secrecy, which is upheld by the magical talents of the crew…but PCs may well pierce the veil, which can provide truly intriguing moral conundrums. Should they out the leper-troupe and their dangerous mistress?

An alternate angle for adventuring would be the fact that the troupe does regularly try to cure its members via magic when funds allow for it, but this also, to a degree, represents a parting of sorts, adding a bittersweet flair to the whole proceedings, something that ultimately suffuses the whole cast of characters – this place’s inhabitants are as multi-faceted as the masks and gowns they wear are outlandish and colorful. Big kudos: The magical healing of the afflicted has been converted to refer to the proper old-school spell.

Indeed, none of the characters on the ship are evil, and while they may come into conflict with the PCs, this is ultimately not a location intended to be solely murderhobo’d through. I can easily picture compassionate PCs becoming very attached to the troupe, perhaps using it to cross borders or infiltrate enemy lands…but that may be me.

Indeed, one can obviously use this village just as well as a take on the trope of normals vs. “freaks”; one could run it in a vast plethora of ways, and indeed, we do get some suggestions on how to adventure in masquerade. Oh lord, I just made a formatting-based joke. Sorry, that’s a new low for me. Anyways, it should also be noted that, yes, we do get a list of 20 entries of village dressing and events, and the system neutral version has been modified regarding prices of goods etc. to reflect the different realities of the system; however, there is one minor complaint here: The settlement has a global effect regarding its effects on magic, which is pretty minor in PFRPG; in the old-school system neutral version, I personally would have gone a step beyond. It’s a matter of aesthetics in this version, though, and not a complaint versus the integrity of the effect.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant, printer-friendly b/w-two-column standard and the pdf sports some nice b/w artworks, though I have seen one of them used before. The b/w-cartography by Maciej Zagorski is really nice, though it is GM-only, noting secret doors and the like. High-res versions player-friendly were made available, at least to my knowledge, to Raging Swan Press’ patreons. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and comes in two versions, one optimized for screen-use and one optimized for the printer.

Richard Pett is perhaps the undisputed master of the tragically or comically horrific, or the grotesquely touching. His adventures and supplements (and his novel Crooked) show not only a capacity for great world-and location-building; there is always something deep and resonant in his prose. He can evoke the visceral and dark, and yet it never truly devolves into grimdark bleakness, instead settling in a more oscillating and thus, efficient manner. His spooky supplements work because they are relatable and this is no different. Masquerade will surely be considered dark by some, but ultimately, it represents a tale of hope and will overcoming the odds, depicts a company of uncommon outcasts that have been forced into the roles they now play. The duality of themes, of the eponymous masquerade, is mirrored in every little component of the pdf, bespeaking a careful and precise use of the evocative prose featured herein.

This book is very much an act of deliberate craftsmanship and wordsmithing, and thus manages to stand apart from favorites of mine and benchmarks, be that Ravenloft’s Carnival, the phenomenal Blood Bayou, or Nick Logue’s grisly fey carnival. Masquerade, in spite of having chosen perhaps one area in RPGs where absolutely superb supplements abound, manages to carve out its niche as a truly remarkable place; indeed, it almost feels like a village that could carry a whole series of novels…or, well. Adventures. The characters and general location are immensely captivating, rendering this a masterpiece, even within the context of the extremely high level of the Village Backdrop-series, rivaled only by some of John Bennett and Mike Welham’s legendary contributions. Even in master Pett’s impressive catalogue, this stands out in its achievement of this level of depth so in so few pages.

This humble supplement set my mind ablaze with ideas and managed to really touch my heart…and considering that it’s only 7 pages long, that means something. This pdf thus gets 5 stars + seal of approval. The system neutral version is just as strong as the PFRPG-version in its overall themes and execution, and thus shares its nomination for my Top Ten of 2018.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Masquerade (SNE)
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Village Backdrop: Masquerade (5e)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/29/2018 04:58:15

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

Okay, so first things first: This is NOT your everyday village. Much like in every village backdrop, we do get notes on local nomenclature and dressing habits, as well as village lore and 3 rumors (instead of the standard 6)…but that is pretty much where the similarities with the regular installments of the series end.

Masquerade is not a fixed locale. Instead, it is a rickety conglomerate of three barges forming a floating village-theatre of sorts, with the performers masked and in costume at most times, at least while outsiders can witness them. This is Richard Pett, though, and as such, there is a theme of the grotesque, of underlying decay and grime suffusing the village – this case, represented by the bane of the village, the unifying factor that ties together this community: Masquerade is a colony of lepers, masking their affliction behind the gaiety they bring.

Tragedy and comedy entwine with one another in an intricate manner, for Masquerade’s founder, the enigmatic Silent Queen and absentee captain Absinthe Morell (take a look at that name and the connotations it automatically causes!) created this place as an exile and trap of sorts…but in a twist on trope, the place has become something more for her, a family of outcasts of sorts…and thus, she has taken on an oath that requires nigh-unparalleled willpower to maintain…but whether she can maintain it and for how long…only the GM decides.

Indeed, while Richard Pett has a knack for writing great locales, the extended cadre of characters herein deserves special mention – no less than 9 sample NPCs with potentially complex motivations can act as a foil or allies for the PCs and include some intriguing angles, with the theme of the masquerade itself obviously acting as a good reason to not provide read-aloud texts for their looks. In 5e, their references obviously have been changed appropriately

We do get such texts for the respective locations on the ships, though, and, as in all the new village backdrops, the respective points of interest come with services that can be purchased. Now, as you can glean from the set-up here, masquerade is very much depending on retaining its secrecy, which is upheld by the magical talents of the crew…but PCs may well pierce the veil, which can provide truly intriguing moral conundrums. Should they out the leper-troupe and their dangerous mistress?

An alternate angle for adventuring would be the fact that the troupe does regularly try to cure its members via magic when funds allow for it, but this also, to a degree, represents a parting of sorts, adding a bittersweet flair to the whole proceedings, something that ultimately suffuses the whole cast of characters – this place’s inhabitants are as multi-faceted as the masks and gowns they wear are outlandish and colorful. Big kudos: The magical healing of the afflicted has been converted to refer to the proper spell in 5e.

Indeed, none of the characters on the ship are evil, and while they may come into conflict with the PCs, this is ultimately not a location intended to be solely murderhobo’d through. I can easily picture compassionate PCs becoming very attached to the troupe, perhaps using it to cross borders or infiltrate enemy lands…but that may be me.

Indeed, one can obviously use this village just as well as a take on the trope of normals vs. “freaks”; one could run it in a vast plethora of ways, and indeed, we do get some suggestions on how to adventure in masquerade. Oh lord, I just made a formatting-based joke. Sorry, that’s a new low for me. Anyways, it should also be noted that, yes, we do get a list of 20 entries of village dressing and events, and the 5e version has been modified regarding prices of goods etc. to reflect the different realities of the system; however, there is one minor complaint here: The settlement has a global effect regarding its effects on magic, which has not been properly translated into 5e, as it assumes the existence of a caster level; this should instead employ the “At Higher Levels”-mechanics imho. Similarly, a -1 penalty to saves versus some effects is not very 5e-y; I’d actually escalate that to disadvantage.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant, printer-friendly b/w-two-column standard and the pdf sports some nice b/w artworks, though I have seen one of them used before. The b/w-cartography by Maciej Zagorski is really nice, though it is GM-only, noting secret doors and the like. High-res versions player-friendly were made available, at least to my knowledge, to Raging Swan Press’ patreons. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and comes in two versions, one optimized for screen-use and one optimized for the printer.

Richard Pett is perhaps the undisputed master of the tragically or comically horrific, or the grotesquely touching. His adventures and supplements (and his novel Crooked) show not only a capacity for great world-and location-building; there is always something deep and resonant in his prose. He can evoke the visceral and dark, and yet it never truly devolves into grimdark bleakness, instead settling in a more oscillating and thus, efficient manner. His spooky supplements work because they are relatable and this is no different. Masquerade will surely be considered dark by some, but ultimately, it represents a tale of hope and will overcoming the odds, depicts a company of uncommon outcasts that have been forced into the roles they now play. The duality of themes, of the eponymous masquerade, is mirrored in every little component of the pdf, bespeaking a careful and precise use of the evocative prose featured herein.

This book is very much an act of deliberate craftsmanship and wordsmithing, and thus manages to stand apart from favorites of mine and benchmarks, be that Ravenloft’s Carnival, the phenomenal Blood Bayou, or Nick Logue’s grisly fey carnival. Masquerade, in spite of having chosen perhaps one area in RPGs where absolutely superb supplements abound, manages to carve out its niche as a truly remarkable place; indeed, it almost feels like a village that could carry a whole series of novels…or, well. Adventures. The characters and general location are immensely captivating, rendering this a masterpiece, even within the context of the extremely high level of the Village Backdrop-series, rivaled only by some of John Bennett's and Mike Welham’s legendary contributions. Even in master Pett’s impressive catalogue, this stands out in its achievement of this level of depth so in so few pages.

This humble supplement set my mind ablaze with ideas and managed to really touch my heart…and considering that it’s only 7 pages long, that means something. This pdf thus gets 5 stars + seal of approval. However, when contrasted with the PFRPG-version, I was a bit disappointed to see the global effects on Masquerade not adequately translated to 5e, which is why this version loses the nomination for my Top Ten of 2018. That should not deter you from checking this out, though – the prose remains phenomenal and a capable GM can easily fix the global effect snafu!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Masquerade (5e)
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Advanced Adventures #2: The Red Mausoleum
Publisher: Expeditious Retreat Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/29/2018 04:54:54

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 17 pages, 1 page front and back cover, 1 page editorial, 2/3 of a page SRD, leaving us with 14 1/3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by one of my patreons, who graciously bought the module and told me to finish it at my convenience.

Now, this is the second of the Advanced Adventures-modules released by Expeditious Retreat Press, and as such, it is not the latest offering of the author – James C. Boney moved on to create other adventures, which will be covered in due time. As with the first module and all in the series, the default rules system employed herein would be OSRIC. Also, like the first module, this chooses to deviate from formatting conventions, bolding magic items and spells, for example.This is not employed with 100% consistency, though.

The module introduces a new material, a kind of magical fabric that is as tough as metal, and it features three creatures: The illustrated Gehzin are basically telekinesis-using extraplanar frog folks with nasty diseases; harbingers are slain fallen paladins that have not atoned for their sins, revived by the forces of the abyss, and finally, shadowcaps are more of a hazard than a creature – the shrooms are my favorite critter here, as their spores render your incorporeal! Yeah, damn cool and something I’ll be using in games, regardless of system.

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

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! The premise of this adventure is rather simple: There have been undead excursions coming from the swamp and the PCs are sent in to fix this issue. After a trek through 15 miles of non-mapped swampland, the PCs arrive at the eponymous red mausoleum, ostensibly the source of the living dead roaming the land. The brief wilderness trek does come with a random encounter table, which is appreciated and feels “right”, in that it does not clutter the desolation of the swamp with humanoids, instead focusing on animals and vermin...including brain moles! This is smart, for it makes for a sharper contrast when the PCs actually find the complex.

They’ll notice that they’re in the right vicinity by redness oozing from the stones, coloring everything, which makes for some really neat visuals.

Now, the mausoleum was erected by a long gone civilization obsessed with blood and unlife, and as such, is not a nice place. A big plus here would be that the module doesn’t waste x pages depicting this civilization, instead opting for an indirect narration; the PCs get to piece together some aspects of how this society worked as they explore the complex. Provided they even get in.

You see, this very much is a module that not only is written for high level PCs, it also assumes appropriate player-capabilities, all without the GM having to constantly improvise. The complex does not hobble the PCs by artificially limiting their options, which is a huge plus. In fact, the module assumes that PCs and players have amassed a degree of competence during their adventures. So, if by any chance you managed to reach these lofty levels by just murder-hobo-ing your way through everything, you’ll suffer. What do I mean by this? Well, one of the best aspects of this adventure would be that, from the antechamber of the dungeon to a lot of bottlenecks of sorts, you’ll need to deal with puzzles. Not in the annoying way, mind you. The mausoleum has an array of defenses and these are often tied to obscure command words etc. – in short, you’ll finally get some use out of those divination spells. The module assumes that you’re using the like, and while there are ways for PCs to brute force these instances, we ultimately have a module here that asks the PCs to use their considerable resources. That’s a good thing and something high level modules often get wrong.

Better yet, the GM actually gets the command words spelled out, which may be a small thing, but it adds to the sense of the immersion when the players have to recite the pass phrase. The demands on well-rounded groups are also mirrored in the way in which dungeon progress is made: You see, the connections between levels are magical and require the understanding and use of some remnants of these days gone by; not true understanding, mind you, but rather a general concept – this is an altar, with this and that move, we can bypass it…

As a whole, this creates an interesting overall feeling that manages to evoke the sense of properly delving into an old complex. Anyways, these magical connections…they actually don’t last that long. If the PCs dawdle, they may well find themselves caught in the complex, forced to delve deeper. And yes, smart groups will have means to offset that, but I still considered it to be smart from a design-perspective.

Now, as far as random encounters go, the dungeon is very much a themed dungeon, in that the PCs will fight undead, undead, and, for a change, undead. In hordes. This is reflected both in the bosses and in the random encounters, which are btw. replenished pretty quickly…and there’s a reason for that built into the module as well, which is a big plus for me. The living dead don’t just pop up, after all. Anyways, the most remarkable non-undead encounter on the 3 dungeon levels that this adventure encompasses would be a tomb of honored knights, which, in a somewhat random move, houses a ton of creatures in stasis, which are consequently released in waves once the grave-robbers…her, I mean “adventurers” venture into the area. I am not a fan of the lay of stasis angle and the critters actually may end up fighting each other, which can make this a nice free-for-all. That being said, I wasn’t too keen on this encounter, as opposed to the exploration of the complex and the implicitly conveyed lore of the place. Which may also be a reason why I wasn’t too blown away by the presence of crypt things. The creature always seemed gimmicky to me and I have very rarely seen it used well. (TPK Games’ Caragthax the Reaver would be such an example.) Anyhow, these criticisms notwithstanding, the first dungeon level can be considered to be a success – it is flavorful and challenging.

Level 2, alas, is a slog/labyrinth. Level 2 is basically winding, claustrophobic catacombs with some spaces, where blocks react to the presence of good alignment creatures passing, sliding in place. Much to my surprise and in some form of minor inconsistency, the architects of the complex don’t use this feature to the full extent, imprisoning PCs etc. – instead of deadly, it just ends up as disorienting, which is probably the intent. The level is also crawling with undead and has precious few keyed encounters. It is, in essence, a level that exists solely as a war of attrition on PC-resources, which, per se, is a smart move for high level games. However, I really wished it had more going on. After the atmospheric first level, this one felt a bit more generic.

Level 3, then, would be the heart of the complex and a flooded passage may actually allow for escape, should the PCs find themselves in over their head. It is also here that we have the module’s most devious trap, which includes demons and a pocket dimension in a false crypt. And yes, potential for eternal imprisonment included. Combat-wise, this does sport the most memorable fight in the adventure: There is a ritualistic area, where a massive mandala on a raised pedestal channels negative energy, summoning hordes of the living dead to crawl from a pit, with a metal dome to keep its powers in check currently raised atop it. Lowering the dome can make the constant stream abate. This is very cool, and while harbingers and Gatheris, a level 21 cleric/level 19 magic-user lich have their abodes in the vicinity, I found myself wondering why they don’t join the fray here – it’d make more sense and be more climactic. Also, RAW, the lich may come with a buff-suite of sorts, but still deigns to fight the PCs more or less on his own, which, even in the lesser power-levels of OSR-gameplay, tends to be a bad idea for high level casters. Reliance on summoned aid doesn’t help as much and a caster in melee with a good fighter can be a pretty bad idea. Then again, perhaps this was intended, as resting in the complex is tough and the 2nd level’s war of attrition on the PCs can really drain their resources. Still, I think combat in the mandala-room would have been more remarkable and interesting.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level. I noticed no glaring issues. Layout adheres to an elegant, old-school two-column b/w-standard. The pdf sports a few solid pieces of b/w-artworks and comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The complex comes with okay b/w-maps, but no player-friendly version is included, which constitutes a comfort detriment for GMs like yours truly who hate drawing maps and enjoy handing out cut-up map-segments to the PCs.

James C. Boney’s “The Red Mausoleum” does a lot right. It is obvious that the author knows the capabilities of high-level PCs first-hand and has experience handling such groups, which is a huge plus: The design of the complex doesn’t just nerf or hobble them, instead working WITH the vast options the PCs have. That is good indeed. From the antechamber throughout most of level 1, I was pretty hooked: The stark visuals of the red complex and the clever “archaeology” of sorts that is needed to progress managed to elicit a sense of wonder that I enjoyed very much. Alas, after level 1, the complex feels like the lack of wordcount left for the subsequent levels necessitated a less interesting take on the remainder of the mausoleum. A good GM can make level 2 feel really claustrophobic and dangerous and level 3’s mandala-room is amazing, but in contrast to how the first level felt, they are less of a unique complex, and feel more like a standard evil-necro-lair type of complex.

The unique tidbits take a back-seat to defeating undead, undead…and then, even more undead. I don’t object to that necessarily, but it is evident in the writing of level 1 and in the glimmers where these become more unique, that they could have been more. I really enjoyed how this module started, but not so much how it progresses. That being said, design-wise, the subsequent levels aren’t bad and work in the context of the complex, they just aren’t as remarkable. I do NOT want the civilization explained, mind you; but some effects for the seeping red, some global tricks, perhaps blood locks or the like…the visuals and theme of the complex imho deserved more in the lower levels. This has the makings of something remarkable, and then settles for a solid, if conservative complex. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform. If you’re willing to tinker with the complex a bit, you’ll certainly find some cool ways to expand it.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #2: The Red Mausoleum
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Transcendent 10 - Spells of Synergy - Magical Interactions
Publisher: Lost Spheres Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/29/2018 04:52:55

An Endzeitgeist.com review

So, Lost Spheres Publishing, back in the day, began with the Transcendent 10-series. While these represent the early works of the company, the company flew under my radar for a long while, so it’s high time we took a look at the series, right? It should be noted that the company has evolved since then – reviews of more current books will hit sites soon as well. But how do these early works hold up against the test of time? Let’s find out!

One thing I really enjoy about this series would be the designer’s commentary that is provided for each respective piece of design – they help a GM and player to properly contextualize the content, which is particularly helpful for folks who don’t have a veteran’s level of system mastery. The pdf predates the ACG and OA, and as such, I will not complain about a lack of representation of the classes from these books in the spell-lists.

Anyways, this pdf is 7 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 /2 page blank, leaving us with 3.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, we begin with a couple of rules-addendums for the purpose of this pdf regarding spellcasting. The book introduces a so-called “Source” – this is basically the type of magic and may include divine, arcane, etc.; The pdf mentions other sources as well, a few of which I haven’t seen so far. Not sure we needed that term. “Flow” denotes whether a spellcaster’s casting is spontaneous or prepared. Considering the evolution of the game, this dichotomy may not hold up so well in all circumstances. It also begs the question where e.g. spontaneous conversion and the like fit in here. This can be somewhat problematic once we evolve to the concept of “counterflow” – this denotes sharing a source, but not a flow: E.g. spontaneous vs. prepared arcane spellcasters.

The pdf then goes on to introduce the [Dual-Souled] subtype, which denotes a acreature bound to the life-force of another creature. This nets a +2 racial bonus to saves versus necromancy spells (but RAW, not versus such effects) and the creature may be considered its original type and that of the bound soul’s form. All right, that is fine and dandy…but how does this interact with spells and effects that have different benefits, based on type? Let’s say Xailaius the elf is dual-souled with an orc and ventures into a desolate battlefield of yore that buffs orcs and debuffs elves, what happens? The better result, the worse, both? This needs some clarification. When failing a save versus a death effect, dual-souled creatures can opt to lose the subtype instead of dying, acting as a failsafe extra life of sorts.

Okay, we’ll begin with three bond of magic spells. The lesser one has a Close range and ties two allied spellcasters together; it is cast as a swift action and clocks in at level 1. Both caster and ally may only cast with the permission of the other character, but gain +1 to CL checks. If a partner expends a standard action, the ally instead gains +2 to CL-checks and +1 to the DC of spells cast that round. The greater version targets 1 + 1/per 3 caster levels targets instead and clocks in at 5th level. Also at 5th level, we get the parasitic bond of magic, which only targets one creature, but lets the caster compel the target to grant this boost. Such a compelled boost does allow for a second save, though. I have a few issues with these spells. They should imho only be able to target allies. Otherwise, it’s save or suck for enemy casters – and mutual lockdown isn’t fun for the player of the caster either. The parasitic bond makes for a cool take on the master/apprentice-concept regarding black arts, but the compelling of boost should be classified as an enchantment (compulsion) effect to properly account for immunities/interactions. This would be as well a place as any to note that, strangely, none of the spells herein are available for the witch.

Counterflow negation targets another caster with the other spellcasting tradition and has a Close range, a Will save to negate and clocks in at 3rd level. It results in a mutual lockdown of casters. Inverse consumption clocks in at 5th level and is a 10-minute ritual that is permanent and targets 2 counterflow spellcasters, one of which must be disabled or dying. (Considering the casting time, dying is unlikely.) Upon completion, the disabled or dying caster perishes (and may not be brought back by any means) and the survivor gets the dual-souled subtype. The survivor also gets spells added from the deceased caster, but the rules-language here is slightly wonky – functional, mind you, but yeah. Interesting: Casting this multiple times is an evil act, as stuffing too many souls into you is really bad news for all souls. I am a bit confused whether this means that you could become triple-souled, or whether the benefits of subsequent castings only apply to spells gained. While the spell is permanent, I am also not sure if losing the Dual-Souled subtype ends the spell or not. If so, are the spells retained? Can the character cast it again without it being evil?

Mystic rebirth clocks in at 5th level for druids, 6th for inquis and oracles and also has a 10 minutes casting time. It can only be cast once on a creature and basically is an instant retrain from prepared to spontaneous caster and vice-versa – wizards become sorcerers, clerics become oracles, etc. Now I get the intent here, but the spell does not allow for attribute re-assignment, which means that the new class will probably suck. It also reduces these classes to spellcasting, which can be an issue. Where do you get a bloodline from? Oracles don’t have to have their deity’s alignment, having the option to be unwilling prophets, etc. Not a fan.

There also are two Zenith surge spells, with the lesser clocking in at level 5. This one targets a prepared spellcaster and allows them to change a prepared spell of 4th level or lower to cast a known spell of the same level or lower from the spell-list. The greater version is, oddly, available for oracle and sorcerer 8 as well as bard 8. Did I miss something there? ;) Anyways, it pretty much works like the lesser version, but goes up to spell level 7. I do like the exclusivity of these spells for sorcs and oracles, but as a whole, I don’t think prepared casters needed the flexibility these offer.

Finally, there would be the lesser and greater inverse versions of these, for prepared casters only, he 5th and 8th level Zenith web spells. These allow spontaneous casters to mimic spells successfully observed via Spellcraft (not capitalized properly), provided they show up on their spell list, by expending an appropriate spell slot. Thresholds are 4th and 7th spell-level, respectively.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting on a formal level are okay; on a rules-language level, the pdf manages to depict complex concepts, but suffers from the base chassis not being perfect. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard and the pdf has no interior artwork apart from the cover. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Christen N. Sowards’ Transcendent 10-series had surprised me with how well it held up to the test of time; this can, alas, not be said about this pdf. The base concepts used by the spells are per se interesting, but can become problematic with the spellcasting modifications that have been released since the pdf’s release. Additionally, the spells, while not bad per se, have a few rough edges that make them less appealing, with quite a few of them boiling down to cheesy mutual casting lockdowns. Unlike the other T10-files I’ve covered so far, I did not find myself liking any of the spells herein particularly. There is some potential here, but the implementation of the spells requires more work than what I’d expect. My final verdict will clock in at 2.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Transcendent 10 - Spells of Synergy - Magical Interactions
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Book of Heroic Races: Occult Intrigue in the Wilderness (PFRPG)
Publisher: Jon Brazer Enterprises
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/28/2018 06:45:32

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement clocks in at 45 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page introduction, 2 pages of advertisement, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 37 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

So, if the title wasn’t enough of an indicator, this book provides material for the occult classes, the Ultimate Intrigue & Wilderness books – namely, for the Heroic Races introduced in Jon Brazer Enterprise’s Book of Heroic Races: Advanced Compendium. The races covered herein are androids, changelings, catfolk, dhampir, elan, lizardfolk, merfolk, samsarans, sashahar, skinwalkers, tengus, umbral kobolds, wyrwoods and wyvarans. Each of the entries for the races comes with favored class options for the new classes in the aforementioned Paizo-hardcovers, and we get class options, racial feats and otherwise unique options for each of the races herein.

Androids get two new racial archetypes, the first of which would be the living archive medium, who loses shared séance, haunt channeler and astral journey. This would be a good place to note that I like the formatting here: Each of the archetypes and more complex options note the associated class and race as well as the replaced and modified abilities in the beginning – this makes it easier to determine whether the archetype is for the build you have in mind. So yeah, I like this decision. Living archives use Charisma as governing sepllcasting ability and 2nd level nets spirit esoteric: One spirit is chosen as the specialty spirit, which means that the medium gains the chosen spirit’s spirit bonus even when not channeling it. When channeling another spirit, this bonus may supersede that usually granted by the spirit. 3rd level allows the living archive to perform a séance to channel this chosen spirit in places other than the favored location. 14th level provides SP legend lore, but requires that the target of the SP is “at hand.” I am not a big fan of this being at-will; on a formal level “at hand” does not constitute particularly precise rules-language – this should be within reach/require touching/etc. – some sort of tighter wording. And yes, I am aware that the storyteller medium archetype, for example, handles this wording construct thus. Doesn’t make it better.

The second archetype would be the splintered mind psychic, who loses detect thoughts, telepathic bond and telepathy. The archetype modifies discipline, who gains both the lore and self-perfection disciplines . Whenever the psychic gets a discipline spell or power, she chooses one from these two or a lower-level discipline power or spell chosen from the two. Wisdom remains the phrenic pool-governing ability score. 2nd level allows the splintered mind to use 1 phrenic pool point to use the nanite surge racial ability, even if she has already expended it for the day. 9th level allows the character to use nanite surge after failing a save versus an enchantment spell or effect to attempt a second save on the next round, with a bonus as if she had nanite surge’d it. Now, I assume that this still requires the expenditure of nanite surge’s immediate action activation, but the ability does not specify that and RAW could be used without an action. Or, you could make a case for standard action activation, which would make no sense, though. The ability would be slightly cleaner if it mentioned the activation action here. 17th level nets a failsafe spell: Spend 10 minutes of meditation and expend twice the spell’s level in phrenic pool point cost to get a contingency-style spell that is triggered as long as she has at least one nanite surge left. This, while functional, is a bit awkward: RAW, the base ability of the archetype does not grant new nanite surges – instead, it allows for the use of nanite surges via phrenic pool point expenditure when there are no uses left. I am pretty positive that the ability, in the context of overall archetype use, would be more elegant if the exchange was based on daily uses instead.

The race gets 3 new feats: Nanite Firewall lets you expend a daily use of nanite surge to mitigate influence; Nanite Maintenance lets you expend a daily use of nanite surge to reduce influence by 1d3 (minimum 1). Nanite Stabilization upgrades Logical Spell to not require higher spell slots while you have at least 1 nanite surge remaining. Psychic repair dispels ongoing effects that reduce the mental ability scores (does NOT cure damage, drain or burn!) and with a nanite surge to boost it, it can eliminate a charm or compulsion effect targeting the caster – the spell is personal, fyi. Solid.

The catfolk get the new feline interloper archetype, which replaces unshakeable. The archetype gets proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as shuriken, bola and whip and adds Handle Animal and Knowledge (dungeoneering) and (engineering) to the class skills. The archetype is locked into the stalker specialization and at 3rd level, gets + class level to Bluff checks made to feint. The archetype gets two social talents, one that acts as wild empathy with 1 + Cha-mod charm animal as a SP on top, which upgrades to charm monster at 7th level. Sounds OP? Well, it can only affect feline/felid creatures, so I’m good with it. The second talent nets better gathering of renown when stealing particularly valuable objects from a target. A new vigilante talent nets Improved Unarmed Strike and flurry of blows at unchained monk -3 levels. The second new vigilante talent allows for limited style strike poaching from the unchained monk. There are new mesmerist tricks here, including one that makes the subject emanate a dazzle-variant based on sound that can hamper spellcasting on the subject. The second trick can deny a target that moves adjacent to the subject their Dex-bonus versus the next attack executed by the subject, which is per se cool. However, the enemy gets an immediate action Sense Motive to negate this, which is interesting. There is a masterful trick upgrade of this one that should specify that it requires the base trick to take it, which it RAW doesn’t.

Changelings get the malformed eye mesmerist archetype, which loses consummate liar, hypnotice stare and painful stare. Instead, the archetype gets a witch’s patron and the evil eye hex, which allows for the addition of bold stare improvements as if it were hypnotic gaze. Okay, while the evil eye retains the hex-caveat and activation action drawback, I am not sold here – bold stare improvements are based on them being useful only as the focus of the hypnotic stare and RAW, the hex does not require the maintenance of stare and can be used to spam the penalties thus caused. Not sold. The archetype may also use forbid action as an free action, 1/round at-will SP, but the target may still sue the action. When doing so, the target takes scaling, untyped damage. This can only be triggered once per round, though. I like the flavor of this one, but I’m not sold on the archetype grafting rules-components on top of the stare-engine that are not intended to work as such. The race also gets a new medium spirit, the crone,, who applies spirit bonus to concentration, Int-based checks and Will-saves. The séance boon increases the CL of all non-instantaneous spells by 3 for the purpose of determining duration. Influence penalty applies to AC, atk, non-spell damage rolls and Ref-saves. The taboos are interesting. The lesser ability nets you use the mesmerists’s spells per day and expands your spell-list with witch spells. The intermediate power nets a non-stacking CL-increase for a school. The greater ability lets you accept influence to further boost per-round—duration spell durations. The supreme ability lets you 1/day use this in a better manner, and sans influence. The shifter gets the black cat aspect. Minor form nets you a minor luck bonus to AC as well as a penalty to nearby foes at 8th level, with higher levels increasing range of the penalty and the bonus. Minor complaint – penalties are untyped. The major form lets you assume a Tiny black cat shape, including a luck bonus to atk. Minor complaints here: Size categories are capitalized and the claw attacks don’t specify their damage dealt or damage types. Higher levels also grant Black Cat and extend the bonus to saves and makes the feat usable 3/day at 15th level. The favored class options here deserve special mention, as they are pretty complex and interesting.

Dhampirs get two new racial archetypes, the first of which would be the blood scion mesmerist, who loses touch treatment, mental potency and glib lie. Instead, 3rd level allows the dhampir to use a standard action to lock gazes with the subject of a hypnotic stare as a standard action, acting as charm person while under the dhampir’s stare. Interesting – the target loses the memory of being affected thus. Limited and rather potent, but also iconic for the vampire-theme. It is balanced by a hex-like caveat, so yeah -I actually really like it! 5th level allows for the summon nature’s ally-based SP of calling children of the night, with 10th, 15th and 20th level improving that. Huge problem: No daily uses. This is, RAW, usable as often as the character wants! 14th level adds the advanced creature template to the creatures called. 11th level allows for a better version of the archetype’s base ability, duplicating dominate person. Add a daily cap to the archetype and we have a really cool tweak here.

The second archetype is the grim warder occultist, who loses magic circles and outside contact. They are locked into adjuration and conjuration as first two implement schools, but casts spells from them at CL+2; however, necromancy implement school spells are cast at -2 CL and similarly, the level to qualify for focus powers of the school is reduced by 2. The archetype is also locked into these favored schools for implement mastery. 8th level nets warding circles, which are undead-only magic circles against evil that may be enhanced with death ward via mental focus expenditure, even suppressing, though not removing, penalties from negative levels incurred by creatures prior to entering it. 12th level provides an undead-only binding circle powered by mental focus and fast circle applies to these specialized circles. As much as I liked the first archetype, this one left me somewhat cold – a pretty vanilla anti-undead option. The race also gets the Hypnotic Charmer feat, which lets you take 20 or 10 when using Cha-based skills on targets of your hypnotic stare.

Elands are up next, and we get a new medium archetype, the generation channeler, who replaces shared séance. These fellows may spend 2 power points to increase the die-size of the spirit surge die. I assume only for one surge. Instead of a shared séance’s usual benefits, we get +2 to saves versus enchantment and mind-affecting effects. The archetype may also expend power points to ask additional questions to haunts channeled. Weird: The ability states that it costs 2 power points, but then goes on to note that we get an additional question for every 3 power points spent – which is it? Can the character expend more power points than 2? RAW, no, but the ability indicates it, even providing a cap. Looks like something got lost/mixed up in a revision here. The pdf also includes a new aether composite blast, at Burn 2 – the elan force thrust, which adds a bull rush t the blast and causes force damage. There is a new mesmerist trick that nets catapsi when targeted with a psionic power or psi-like ability, though it only affects the subject. There are new phrenic amplifications, the first of which is somewhat problematic: Use 2 power points for one phrenic pool point? OUCH. This really delimits phrenic pool points for primarily psions. The second amplification lets you expend power points to cast standard action divinations as swift actions or increase the DC of scrying or mind-affecting divinations. Elan vigilantes can get Ch-mod/day demoralize as a psi-like power plus class level power points; alternatively, another talent makes all vigilante melee attacks ghost touch and, later also adds a bonus of +2 to atk versus incorporeal targets, undead, mediums channeling spirits and spiritualist phantoms. Neat ones!

We also get a new medium spirit, the elan elder, whose spirit bonus applies to concentration checks and Intelligence checks and Int-based skill checks. The séance boon nets +2 to Will saves versus mind-affecting spells and powers . The influence penalty applies to Dex checks and Dex-based skill checks as well as Perception checks, but not on any saves. The taboos makes sense. The lesser ability lets you spend power points for capped bonuses when using psychic skill unlocks; the intermediate power lets the medium accept 1 point of influence for +4 DC for a medium spell’s or psionic power’s DC, which is pretty damn brutal. The greater ability requires to let the spirit gain 1 point of influence. If you do, you may manifest ANY psion/wilder power as if you were a psion/wilder of the same level. You expend a spell slot of a level to manifest ANY psion/wilder power of the level of the slot you expended. Metapsionics may not be added, but you can augment the power via power points. This is pretty brutal, but kept in check by the medium’s spell levels...or is it? The “of the same level” pertaining to class levels, or character levels, is odd and interacts weirdly with the slot-expenditure required, making this a bit wonky. The supreme ability lets you 1/day use the greater power sans spell slot requirements or influence gained – which makes me think that there is a bit of cut-copy-paste confusion going on here…or a version change or something.

The lizardfolk race gets a new shifter archetype that loses sharp claws, defensive instinct and trackless step as well as the shifter claw increases. 1st level nets scaling studied target and 2nd level a scaling, Wisdom-governed AC/CMD bonus, which is halved when wearing nonmetal shields/armor instead, otherwise akin to the way in which monk-AC bonuses work. 3rd level nets fast movement and 5th level extra precision damage when moving, which scales. The main meat of class options here would be shifter aspects, 5 of which are provided: Alligator/crocodile, gecko, chameleon, pteranodon and snapping turtle. The first nets better aquatic Stealth and a 1/minute boost to base speed at 8th level while in minor form; Kudos: The major form correctly codifies the natural bite attack granted and the abilities gained make sense. Chameleon also enhances Stealth in minor form, but less so and regardless of environment. It provides standard and move action in surprise rounds at 8th level, and the major form is cool, with high levels netting your sticky tongue bludgeoning damage based on racial claws or shifter’s claws. Gecko enhances climbing and initiative and the major form provides some true climbing superiority and bite enhancers. Pteranodon nets a bonus to AC and initiative in minor form, while major form nets you clumsy fly speed, which improves in speed and maneuverability later and also nets you Flyby Attack et al at 15th level. Snapping turtle is interesting, in that it nets an AC bonus that increases when the character doesn’t move or attack. All in all, I enjoyed these shifter aspects.

Merfolk get two new water blasts: Siren’s song is a burn 0 sonic simple blast at reduced die size of d4 to account for the rare damage type; the composite blast Shrieking Song clocks in at 2 burn and provides composite sonic with the same reduction. There also are two utility wild talents, the first of which is siren’s kiss. For 1 burn, the DC increases by 2 and the talent nets you unnatural lust, save it requires concentration to maintain. Siren’s call duplicates nixie’s lure, requires concentration and has a 100-ft.-range. Not a fan: If you accept 1 burn, you don’t need to maintain concentration and the effect is prolonged until you next recover burn. Merfolk mediums may gain two new legendary spirits – Charybdis and Scylla, based on marshal and trickster, respectively. Charybdis’ séance boon nets you +2 to grapple checks and the influence penalty applies to Int- and Int-based checks as well as CL for the purpose of determining duration and range, which is BRUTAL. You also can’t benefit from CL-enhancing effects. I assume that this does not include feats, but I’m not 100% sure. The spirit gets an intermediate ability: When an enemy targets the medium with a direct assault or counters or negates a medium’s action, the medium may allow the spirit to gain 1 influence to have the opponent suffer from crushing despair for a number of rounds equal to the medium’s highest spell-level known. Durations stack. Okay, a few issues: 1) This should probably have an activation action. 2) What constitutes “counters or negates the medium’s action”? Does not falling to a combat maneuver qualify? Making a save? This is woefully opaque and needs clarification.

Scylla, based on the trickster, applies the spirit boon to Dexterity checks, skill checks (yes, RAW, all of them) and Ref-saves. The séance boon nets a +1 bonus on one skill, which is also treated as a class skill. The influence penalty makes you not count as an ally for effects and also makes you not count as a willing recipient of spells. You must even be hit by touch spells, but you’re not forced to save versus beneficial spells. The unique ability here is classified as greater and is called…”Triumph of the Will.” … sigh I’ll just pretend that this unfortunate name was an accident and move on. The ability allows the medium to allow Scylla to gain 1 influence to either reroll a d20 or force an enemy to reroll; an enemy forced to reroll takes a penalty to the reroll equal to how much they’re outnumbered, minimum 0. OH BOY. Srsly? Okay, one: Range. What’s the range? Two: This is broken: Take an army of fluffy allied kittens with you. Have an ally cast any super-lethal/save-or-suck effect. Force a reroll. Marvel at how your army of hundreds of kittens makes the save DC impossible to beat.

We also get two mesmerist tricks: The first can be triggered on entering light, granting the target temporary hit points. The second grants darkvision upon entering darkness. Shifters gain a new shark aspect, which focuses on sensory improvements. The major form nets later a better bite. Minor and purely aesthetic wording quibble in the FCOs: “When gaining a taboo, the medium can use spirit surge without incurring influence one additional +1/4 time per day.” The final part of that sentence could be a bit cleaner.

Samsarans get a new occultist implement school, the eternal implements. The resonant power nets +1 competence bonus to Intelligence-based skill and ability-checks for every 2 points of mental focus invested, capping at 1 + 1 for every 4 class levels. The base focus power is touch of antiquity, which allows you to expend 1 point of mental focus to cause an object to age, inflicting 1d4 +1d4 for every 2 occultist levels untyped damage to an object and also cause it to be broken. Constructs may alternatively be targeted with a melee touch attack and a base damage die of 1d6, scaling the same way as the damage to objects. We get a total of 6 focus powers: One grants a combat feat, which must not have feat prerequisites, but otherwise, the target needs not fulfill the prerequisites. The power lasts for 1 minute and another feat is granted every 6 class levels thereafter and the feats may build upon each other, offsetting the no-feat-prerequisite caveat. Now this one is INTERESTING and well-executed...with one quibble: It fails to note that it requires mental focus expenditure, which it probably should have – the other focus powers get that right. Collective calm lets you choose multiple skills and take 10 in them, even under duress. Mantle of antiquity nets you a 20% miss chance and the option to automatically succeed a save, ending the mantle’s effects. To nitpick here: It should probably specify that the decision must be made before rolling. Personally, I also would have preferred a massive bonus over an auto-success. RAW, this would allow an occultist to even survive a deity’s assault. Reincarnation’s guise is a combo’d disguise self and +4 ability score boost. Restore grandeur is the inverse of the base focus power, restoring items and constructs. Living targets may also be healed thus, but only 1/day. Wisdom of the ages, finally, nets legend lore, but once more requires that the person or thing you learn about must be “at hand”, which still isn’t particularly precise rules-language. The implement school comes with its own spell-list – no complaints there. Samsarans also get two new racial feats, Empathic Healer, which lets you heal ability score damage via mental focus or phrenic pool points when using Life’s Blood, taking the damage yourself. Reincarnated Hero nets you a bonus on Cha-based checks in vigilante identity and helps renown when you gain it. While not perfect, style-wise one of my favorite chapters within! (And I don’t even particularly like the samsarans…)

The sashahar get a new legendary spirit with Sessinakka (based on Guardian), complete with taboos and gaining favor covered. The ability gained is intermediate and provides an extended spell-list and the option to use spirit surge to boost concentration and CL-checks when casting these spells. We also get a new implement school here, the sentinel implements. The resonant power here is applied to saves “against extraplanar creatures”. (Could be a bit tighter.) The base focus power is a swift action 20 ft.-burst that deals 2 points of untyped damage per class level, no save. Not a fan. We get 6 focus powers and a custom spell-list. Negating flanking benefits for one round per class level, a boost to CMD and saves versus attempts to move you and fighting on when almost killed by an extraplanar creature are three of the benefits. At 11th level, you can get a rather cool summoning-suppression-field, which I really liked per se. However, the field also suppresses medium spirits and spiritualist phantoms, which is somewhat sucky, as it doesn’t grant a save or the like and these are central class features. There should be some sort of mechanic for these two at least. Weird: RAW, eidolons are not impeded – and for them, the impeding would actually make more sense. Planar ward debuffs foreigners to your plane and nets a boost versus their tricks. I also really liked the high-level teleportation scrambler. We also get a new psychic discipline, the gate guardian, who uses Wisdoma s governing attribute. The first discipline power nets you temporary access to defense-themed monster abilities like fast healing, ferocity or light fortification and these improve at higher levels, also adding DR and AC-boosts and resistances to the mix. 5th level nets a scaling save bonus to either Fort- or Ref-saves, your choice. 13th lets you negate 1 critical hit confirmation per day, 2/day at 18th level. Nice one. There is a vigilante talent that nets the planar weapon quality and upgrades to +2 to atk versus creatures with the extraplanar subtype. Okay, so the weapon quality should be italicized and the bonus should probably apply to non-native outsiders as well, right? This is slightly unclear regarding the whole section, btw.

Skinwalkers get a pretty nice medium archetype that tweaks all of the standard spirits. The lunar spirits include: Witchbeast (archmage): Reckless and dislikes casting on allies, uses witch spell list. Ruler of Fangs (champion) nets better natural weapon base damage and martial weapon proficiency. Furred Warden (guardian) nets spirit bonus to AC and heavy armor proficiency as a lesser ability. The greater ability is wonky, though: When you or an ally in reach is grappled, you get a counter grapple fortified by spirit surge. Okay, this has a few problems: Spirit surge is a bonus applied to a roll and only applies to rolls modified by the spirit bonus: RAW, CMD is neither a roll, not a static value to which the guardian’s spirit bonus applies. Since using the spirit surge is not even an action, this allows for non-action counter-grapples. This should probably have an immediate action prerequisite.

Moonwatcher (hierophant) has the archmage arcana spirit power, using druid/shaman lists instead as a lesser power. The intermediate ability is pretty specific – it duplicates energy font, but instead causes all skinwalkers to change shape instantaneously. Overflowing moonlight builds on grace and the previous ability, modifying it accordingly. The Grinning Beast (marshal) gets only the basics modified, not the powers, and the same goes for the Sewer Grandmaster (trickster). All of the spirits have séance boons that grant bestial features according to the nature of the spirits. I really liked this one and wished it had more room to shine: The tying of bestial features with séances is smart, the taboos etc. are cool and I like the custom spirit array. This is worth returning to and expanding to full-blown class tweak, imho.

Skinwalkers also get a new vigilante archetype, the moonlight lurker, whose vigilante identity must incorporate the animalistic features of change shape. The archetype can shift identities as a full-round action, as a standard action in moonlight, using the change shape racial ability in conjunction with it. The lurker gets two bestial traits when usng change shape, which improves by +1 at 5th and 9th level. 13th level also nets a potent ability like fly, pounce etc. 17th level nets a second one from this list and 20th level provides regeneration 5, suppressed by silver. This does come with a price, though: No social talent at first level and, more painfully, no vigilante specialization. There are two lycanthrope-themed vigilante-talents, one for scaling attribute bonuses and one for scaling DR/silver.

The moonshifter loses chimeric aspect and its greater brother as well as final aspect. Shifter claw benefits are applied to two natural weapons gained via change shape and it may be activated as a swift action. 9th level provides a hybrid form when in minor aspect; this improved at 14th level and the capstone nets change shape/wild shape transparency as well as DR 10/silver.

Tengus are up next, beginning with the vinculum corrupter occultist, who loses magic item skill and aura sight. Additionally, he only gets ½ class level + Int-mod mental focus. However, he does get ½ level (I assume minimum 1) of vinculum focus. This behaves as a regular mental focus, but enhances the CL when targeting the owner’s type/subtype. Owner? Yep, for these points may only be invested in implements that rightfully belong to another, which is interesting. 2nd level yields +1/2 class level to Sleight of Hand and 5th level lets the archetype locate creature implement owners. The swaggering avenger vigilante loses the appearance-ability tree and the 2nd level vigilante talent. They are locked into the avenger specialization and gain Dazzling Display, usable sans weapon as a standard action, at 2nd level. +2 to atk versus foes demoralized thus. There is a talent that lets you make a creature hit itself via grapple or disarm – odd and makes no sense: This bypasses any DR but universal DR, which is WEIRD. 5th level nets Performance Combatant and a performance feat. 11th level nets temporary hit points with successful performance combat checks and 17th level lets you add damage as though you had hit an additional time when reducing an enemy to 0 hp. Oh boy. Does this include vital strike? Any modifications to BAB etc.? Not functional RAW. There is a complex phrenic amplification that allows you to steal mental energy, like focuses, mesmerist tricks etc. via spells, which is interesting and, more importantly, really smoothly designed: It can’t be cheesed with kittens, the save-interaction is tight and neat. The target is also temporarily staggered, and no, no stagger-locking the target. Impressive one! The shifter, finally, gets the crow aspect (doesn’t specify natural attack type, requires defaulting), but otherwise, solid. The favored class options here are interesting, though the occultist bonus requires a legacy weapon, making it only relevant for the transmutation implement school.

The umbral kobolds are up next, starting with the shadowpsychic, who gets more phrenic pool – but whenever he uses 2 or more points, the linked spell becomes a shadow spell. To make up for that, he gets telempathic shadow barrage and shadow targeting. The first lets you add debuffs to the telepathic bond via phrenic pool points. Shadow targeting is OP as F***. For 2 phrenic pool points, you ignore range, provided the target of the linked spell is in shadows or touching them. Range must be touch or greater, but still. OUCH. The race also gets the aether-based shadow blast simple blast, which adds +2 damage per die and makes damage nonlethal. At burn 0, that is a bit overkill, imho. At 15th level, composite blasts may also be enhanced thus, at the cost of 1 Burn. I think this would have made more sense as a utility wild talent. We also get a new medium spirit, Kurgog the Guardian. I assume this fellow replaces the regular guardian. The séance boon is applied to CMD and influence penalty nets you +2 to atk, but -4 AC “during the first attack or full attack of any combat”. The penalty should probably last for a round after executing it. Also: It’s called PENALTY. Not buff. The influence penalty should not provide an attack buff. The lesser spirit power nets Dodge, which also encompasses uncanny dodge at 10th level. The intermediate ability lets you, as a swift action, “expend 1 point of mental focus…” WAIT. WUT? Yep, we have a glaring cut copy paste error here that also extends to the greater ability. It’s okay to make another class’s ability available for a spirit, but it has to be MODIFIED to reflect the realities of the new class. Sloppy and non-functional as presented.

The wyrwoods get two new archetypes, the first of which would be the equinox infiltrator vigilante, who loses vigilante specialization, a ton of vigilante talents, dual identity and two social talents. They also share the druid’s prohibition versus wearing metal armor. They have 3 identities and change requires 1 minute of meditation. The archetype has one social and two infiltrator identities. Each of the infiltrator identities is associated with one domain chosen from the 4 base elemental domains and they may only use the domain powers while in the corresponding identity. They gain an additional such identity at 7th and 15th level and they get the hunter’s spellcasting, using druid spell list and domains exclusively. There are two feats to upgrade this fellow: Solstice Identity nets+ 1 identity with an extended domain choice. Specialized Equinox nets subdomain access for the equinox identity and the domain chosen.

The second archetype would be the phantasmagorist spiritualist, who replaces the phantom with a memorandum construct that does not have an emotional focus or ethereal form. Instead of an emotional focus, we get a sorcerer bloodline at 3/4th class level (minimum 1 caveat missing). Each bonus spell granted by this bloodline may be cast 1/day as a SP. LOL: While the memorandum is in the spiritualist’s subconscious, the character gains ALL teamwork feats of ALL allies within 30 ft. Yeah, not gonna happen in my game. Analogue abilities have restrictions for a reason. 3rd level’s bonded manifestation-tweak instead provides access to the bloodline-related powers. This is a bit wonky.

The final race would be the wyvarans. Here, we get 6 form infusions that represent cones and line-shaped blasts for any element, in three steps. Weird: The wyrmling’s minimum level is higher than the comparable fire form infusion, cost the same; (the cost should be higher to account for increased flexibility); the mature version has the same burn cost and level requirements and its water specialized spray – straight power-creep. And no, they don’t need the previous ones. The section also has a utility wild talent, the draconic mantle, which nets all creatures within 5 ft. energy damage equal to the number of burn you have. Energy types may be any energy blast you have. Dragonshifters lose the animal aspect gained at 1st level in favor of dragon aspect, which nets you a 1d4 rounds cool-down 15.-foot cone scaling breath weapon in minor form. Yes, at level 1. And there we go, disqualified at my table. Major form nets basically dragon boosts. This aspect is better than all shifter aspects. The archetype needs to lose more for the power gain.

The second archetype is the treasure hoarded occultist, who loses 14th and 18th level’s implements and outside contact. He suffers from diminished spellcasting and uses Cha as governing attribute for class features and spellcasting. He begins play with 2 implements, +1 at 2nd level and every even level thereafter, capping at 7 at 10th level. Öhm, wut? Add to that that 7th level makes all implements acts as having +1 focus invested in them, +2 at 20th level. Oh, and 14th, 16th and 18th level net another focus power. Yeah, that one fewer spell per day per spell level really doesn’t cut it there, needs nerfing. We also get a psychic discipline, the vishapakar, whose phrenic pool is governed by Intelligence. It nets at-will identify and the dowse occult skill unlock for ley lines and magic items even if untrained in Survival. We also get quicker ley line attunement and limited phrenic pool point recovery when doing so. Important here: Spellcasting is governed by Wisdom. The 5th level discipline power isn’t functioning as intended. It sports free, at-will short-range dimension door, with the caveat to break it into shorter ranges making me think that it’s supposed to have either a range-based cap or, you know, that it’s supposed to have a hard cap, like similar discipline powers. Only weak and passive 5th level discipline powers are always on. 13th level provides standard action attunement, provided you can touch a Large or larger carved stone touching a ley line. We also get two racial feats: Hoard Aura makes divinations fail to reveal worn and carried items unless the caster makes a CL-check. Also applies to a living area. Cool feat! Hoard Guard makes you keen eyed regarding items and provides AoOs when a foe attacks or seizes an object from you.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting on a formal level are good; on a rules-language level, there are a couple of issues to be found here and there. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with nice full-color artworks that will be familiar to fans of JBE. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks.

Quite a few authors worked on this: Joel Flank, Sasha Hall, Richard Moore, Kevin Morris, David N. Ross, Rachel Ventura and George “Loki” Williams. Alas, this diversity does show a bit here and there – some authors tend to be a bit more precise than others and what, rules-wise, works in one section may be slightly less precise in another. While analyzing this book, I realized pretty quickly that a few of the concepts herein could have used a bit more room to breathe – archetype-wise, we focus, with varying degrees of success, on engine-tweaks. The supplemental material, as a whole, sports a couple of interesting components, but also quite a few issues in the finer details of the rules. Occult classes are tricky to design for, and here and there, I found myself wishing that the material had been vetted/developed more carefully. This also holds true for the power-level of options, which oscillates a bit more than I’d have liked from author to author.

There are quite a few issues in the finer details of the rules, and while, for the most part, the material runs smoothly, this cannot be said about the entirety of the book. I attempted to be ultra-detailed in my coverage of this incredibly dense book – both so you should have a good idea of whether or not this book is for you or not, and to do the cadre of authors justice.

In the end, for me, this is pretty much the definition of a mixed bag. I liked a couple of components and disliked others; I was impressed by some rules-operations and flabbergasted by a few of the botches. In the end, my final verdict will hence clock in at 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Book of Heroic Races: Occult Intrigue in the Wilderness (PFRPG)
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Everyman Minis: Mysteries of Autumn
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/28/2018 06:42:44

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This Everyman mini clocks in at 6 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages fo SRD, leaving us with two pages of content, so let’s take a look!

One the introductory page, we also receive a new spell, namely hibernate, which clocks in at 6th level for druid, shaman and psychic, 4th level for mesmerists. It is a magical sleep effect that causes the touched target to go into hibernation. Nice: The target may be awoken with repeated, vigorous aid another actions or by the passing of seasons.

Now, the main meat of this mini, obviously, is devoted to the new autumn mystery featured within. This mystery adds Fly, Knowledge (nature), Stealth and Survival to the list of class skills. The bonus spells granted by the mystery begin with obscuring mist and gust of wind and proceed with diminish plants, blight and call lightning storm. Interesting: The high level spells are classic negative energy-based spells, but we also get a representation of the feasts that take place in the spell selection. So yeah, these were wisely-chosen.

Now, let us take a look at the revelations, shall we? We begin with aging touch, usable 1/day, +1/day for every 5 levels. Versus objects. It is a sunder maneuver; against living targets, it deals 1 point of Strength damage per 2 class levels, 1d6 damage (untyped) per oracle level versus constructs or objects. Armor of fallen leaves may be activated as a standard action and nets you a scaling deflection bonus to AC as well as the benefits of entropic shield. The ability may be maintained for 1 hour per class level, with hours being also the increment you must spend the ability in. Fire damage caused to the armor temporarily grants the benefits of a warm fire shield starting at 7th level, and at 13th level, the miss chance granted by the entropic shield effect increases to 50%. NICE one! Autumnal repose fortifies you against exhaustion-based effects as well as poisons, curses etc- or those that bestow ability score penalties, with 7th level extending the bonus to saves to negative energy based effects and death effects and 20th level providing immunity to all of them, which may be a bit of overkill – that amounts to a second capstone worth of immunities.

Equinox lets you increase or decrease the illumination level within 30 ft. of you, for 1 minute per level, with later levels increasing the ability to modify illumination levels. Some minor complaints – since the ability can increase or decrease the illumination level, it probably should not always behave as daylight –while it properly codifies its use as a light/darkness-effect respectively, a darkness.-based daylight can be a bit weird. Also, the spell-reference here is not italicized properly, which also extends to the Hibernate revelation, which duplicates the spell of that name discussed above. The options also include the witch’s slumber hex, substituting Cha as governing attribute. There is also a scaling, low-range 1/day (more daily uses granted later) life leech that deals damage and grants temporary hit points, and which should probably be codified as negative energy damage, not as untyped. The thunder burst revelation, which causes half sonic/half bludgeoning damage and adds the deafened condition on a failed save, is nice.

Festival of the damned manifests a procession of spirits around you in a 20-foot spread, providing and interesting variant of either call spirit or haunted mist. Liked this one, even though the “scare”-reference wasn’t perfect rules-language. Still, functional and the only-at-night caveat this has is interesting. Lethargy is a bit of an odd one: As a standard action, you cause all creatures (including allies) within 30 ft. to become staggered for 1 round. Avoiding the gaze is possible and the ability can be used 3 + Cha-mod times per day. Now, I am not a fan of such lock-down abilities sans save, but its indiscriminate application is interesting. It should be noted that any option that renders immune versus the staggered condition can make this an absolutely brutal debuff, so some care may be required.

The final revelation of the mystery provides immunity to critical hits, ability damage and drain. Additionally, 1/year, you can touch a deceased creature, having it turn into a seed which will then grow if tended, sprouting into a Youth of the creature in question, otherwise acting as reincarnate. I assume that the transformation process works action-economy-wise as the spell, but clarification would have been nice, particularly since you can, as an immediate action, do that to yourself when dying. I love the visuals here.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting on a formal level are pretty good, and same goes for the rules-language level. There are no glaring issues here. Layout adheres to Everyman Gaming’s two-column b/w-standard for the series. The artwork is nice and the pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Margherita Tramontano knows what she’s doing – the mystery manages to convey the plurality of the concept of autumn in an admirable manner. While not 100% perfect, the pdf does sport some fun and unique tricks, and as such, should be considered to be a nice offering, well worth a final verdict of 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Everyman Minis: Mysteries of Autumn
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5E Mini-Dungeon #068: Awakening the Elder
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/28/2018 06:41:02

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a 5E-mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM. Oh, and the series now comes in an archive that also contains...drumroll a .jpg-version of the map, in both GM and player-friendly versions!

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

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

...

..

.

Still here?

All right!

The temple of Treania, goddess of waters, and her 4 divine children, has been raided by a madman and his cultists, attempting to call forth a kraken, who ostensibly should consume the temple’s essence to become a god. Here, we have a problem with the premise: For one, it’s pretty easy to slot a sea-goddess into the campaign – but her AND 4 divine offspring? That’ll require some justification. Furthermore, in pretty much all campaigns I know, divine ascendance is more difficult than just defiling a temple. Now, in contrast to PFRPG, the creature actually has tentacles this time around, so that’s a plus. Still, this’ll take more effort to slot into the game than usual. A significant part of the complex is wading through ruins of a religion you’ll probably not use again, so yeah, that aspect’s not so cool.

The main draw of this module, ultimately, is stumbling into the ritual, where mad cultists are being squashed as the elder deep one is called. Here is a bit of an issue: The idea here is awesome: Defeat the cultists, while tentacles flail around. Neat, right? And indeed, the 5e-version works MUCH better, opting to use the tentacle of the kraken as a discorporate hazard of sorts. Monster-wise, we get 3 different deep one statblocks taken from Kobold Press’ Tome of Beasts as a supplement for the kraken. The BBEG is not such a wimp as a consequence, which significantly improves the module.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes sans bookmarks, but needs none at this length. Cartography is full color and nice. Huge plus: We get a GM AND a Player-version of the area in which this takes place, providing full VTT-friendly compatibility.

The PFRPG-version of this module had SERIOUS logic-bugs and the final encounter was choppy at best; Chris Harris’ conversion of Michael O. Holland’s module works much better than the original. While the kraken makes for a less sensible choice of a being that can only enter through the portal, and while divine ascendance and the temple itself feel still like overkill, this works significantly better. If you can look past these mainly flavor-issues, then round up from my final verdict. As a person, I can’t do that, but as a reviewer, I have an in dubio pro reo policy and thus will round up from my final verdict of 3.5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
5E Mini-Dungeon #068: Awakening the Elder
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Mini-Dungeon #068: Awakening the Elder
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/28/2018 06:40:08

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM. Oh, and the series now comes in an archive that also contains...drumroll a .jpg-version of the map! Yeah, that's pretty amazing! Better yet: GM-friendly version of the jpg's included as well!

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

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

...

..

.

Still here?

All right!

The temple of Treania, goddess of waters, and her 4 divine children, has been raided by a madman and his cultists, attempting to call forth an elder deep one, who ostensibly should consume the temple’s essence to become a god. Here, we have a problem with the premise: For one, it’s pretty easy to slot a sea-goddess into the campaign – but her AND 4 divine offspring? That’ll require some justification. Furthermore, in pretty much all campaigns I know, divine ascendance is more difficult than just defiling a temple. Add to that the fact that many campaigns consider mythos-related beings to be somewhat beyond the usual divine cosmology and the fact that these things already have the deific quality and I’m a bit torn there. So yeah, this’ll take more effort to slot into the game than usual. Now, a significant part of the complex is just wading through ruins – then, the PCs get to defeat blood golems made from sacrificed priests.

The main draw of this module, ultimately, is stumbling into the ritual, where mad cultists are being squashed as the elder deep one is called. Here is a bit of an issue: The idea here is awesome: Defeat the cultists, while tentacles flail around. Neat, right? Well, the elder deep one has a staggering aura that may, if things go bad, mean game over pretty quickly. The write-up also seems to be confused regarding WHAT an elder deep one is, mentioning tentacles in the flavor text that the creature simply does not have. Another aside: The BBEG…has a total of 45 hit points. Yeah, at level 9, even coughing at the dude will wreck the ritual. If the PCs have a moderately competent archer cohort, he’ll suffice to take out the boss in one round.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes sans bookmarks, but needs none at this length. Cartography is full color and surprisingly good for such an inexpensive pdf. The .jpg version included here, which you can easily cut up and hand out to the players as they progress is a huge bonus -and even better: A KEY-LESS VERSION sans the annoying letters/numbers is included as well for full VTT-compatibility!!!. The pdf does sport one nice piece of original full-color art - kudos!

Michael O. Holland’s awakening the elder is, premise-wise, amazing. That does not change that the module uses the wrong mythos-creature, choosing one of the few that are not balls of tentacles. The module would have been well-served by making the entity behave more like a hazard. Using the creature makes for some awkward interactions. The needless wordcount expended for a deity you won’t care about is also a drawback. All in all, not really bad, but also not good. My final verdict will clock in at 2.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Mini-Dungeon #068: Awakening the Elder
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5E Mini-Dungeon #067: What Canst Work i’ th’ Earth So Fast?
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/28/2018 06:37:09

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a 5E-mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM. Oh, and the series now comes in an archive that also contains...drumroll a .jpg-version of the map, in both GM and player-friendly versions!

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

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

...

..

.

Still here?

All right!

Deep beneath a mine, the PCs have ventured into a cavernous grotto steeped in ancient magics, a place throbbing with pulses of indigo energy. Magical energy moves rocks of its own accord in a potentially lethal flurry and the local fauna is deadly. To complicate matters, a duergar mining caravan is currently harvesting raw materials here, providing further challenges for the PCs. Now, unlike in the PFRPG-version, the monster selection can obviously not draw from the same wealth of critters, which does somewhat detract from the appeal of the module. In a nice move, the AAW Games crew has countered this system-immanent shortcoming somewhat with the inclusion of the monster stats of both adult void dragon and smaragdine golem from Kobold Press’ fantastic Tome of Beasts. Alas, we do lose the nice little random encounter table the PFRPG-version offered and the space the creatures take up does mean that the individual entries for the keyed encounters are somewhat shrunk down – 3. and 4., for example, have been collated into one.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes sans bookmarks, but needs none at this length. Cartography is full color and nice. Huge plus: We get a GM AND a Player-version of the area in which this takes place, providing full VTT-friendly compatibility.

We have a return to form here for Stephen Yeardley. In just a few words, he manages to evoke a tight atmosphere, chooses smart adversaries and sports a couple of unique tidbits. Now, the module loses a bit of its appeal, courtesy of the decreased creature array 5e offers when compared to PFRPG. While the pdf does manage to partially offset this in Chris Harris’ conversion, the mini-dungeon doesn’t wholly manage to reach the level of coolness of the PFRPG version. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
5E Mini-Dungeon #067: What Canst Work i’ th’ Earth So Fast?
Click to show product description

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Mini-Dungeon #067: What Canst Work i’ th’ Earth So Fast?
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/28/2018 06:34:28

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM. Oh, and the series now comes in an archive that also contains...drumroll a .jpg-version of the map! Yeah, that's pretty amazing! Better yet: GM-friendly version of the jpg's included as well!

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

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

...

..

.

Still here?

All right!

Deep beneath a mine, the PCs have ventured into a cavernous grotto steeped in ancient magics, a place throbbing with pulses of indigo energy. Magical energy moves rocks of its own accord in a potentially lethal flurry and the local fauna is deadly, including bulettes and myrmecoleons. A soulbound shell awaits and, to complicate matters, a duergar mining caravan is currently harvesting raw materials here, providing further challenges for the PCs. We also get a nice 5-entry random encounter table. Cool, btw.: Some creatures have been modified by the magical energies, gaining unique tricks!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes sans bookmarks, but needs none at this length. Cartography is full color and surprisingly good for such an inexpensive pdf. The .jpg version included here, which you can easily cut up and hand out to the players as they progress is a huge bonus -and even better: A KEY-LESS VERSION sans the annoying letters/numbers is included as well for full VTT-compatibility!!!. The pdf does sport one nice piece of original full-color art - kudos!

We have a return to form here for Stephen Yeardley. In just a few words, he manages to evoke a tight atmosphere, chooses smart adversaries and sports a couple of unique tidbits. All in all, a great little mini-dungeon that makes for a fun, flavorful sidetrek. No complaints. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars +seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mini-Dungeon #067: What Canst Work i’ th’ Earth So Fast?
Click to show product description

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