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A25: Flute of the Four Winds
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/31/2018 06:10:19

An Endzeitgeist.com review

All righty, this adventure for levels 4 – 5 clocks in at 52 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 47 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

All right, so this is an installment of AAW Games’ A-series of adventures, which means that they are set in the world of Aventyr. It also means that they are pretty much canon and thus, they usually are penned by the most seasoned veteran writers of the AAW Games crew. The series as a whole is very evocative and interesting, so let’s see if this module holds up!

As you know, this is an adventure review. As such, from here on out, there will be a ton of SPOILERS. Players who wish to play this module should skip ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, the seasons and control of the weather has been a theme of sorts for the A-series, which makes sense, considering the shamanistic leanings of the unique Vikmordere-culture; the seasons are incredibly important and, in fact, the weather also plays an important part here. We once more visit the frontier village of Rybalka, outpost of the mighty Klavekian empire in the Vikmordere valley. It is this outpost that is once more ravaged by the brunt of the elements and worse, as a tragedy that has turned into history bears fruit.

The local Vikmordere tribe, the Snoqua, know of a mighty tree, imbued with the primal, elemental forces of the seasons; during the Klavekian incursion, the council of druids, elders, etc. decided that they would need to do something about the mighty magical tree. The invaders showed no care for custom or lands as their mining operations cut swaths into the majestic forests – thus, a plan was devised, one that would lead to the creation of the eponymous Flute of the Four Winds – a branch of the tree, one that, by law of sympathetic magic, would carry its power. The magic power removed, the invaders never grasped the significance of the once sacred site.

Unfortunately for the Vikmordere group designated as guardians of the mighty relic, the Klavekian soldiers littered the landscape, forcing them to take shelter in a cave system…one that was inhabited by lizards with a strange hive-mind. Beset on two fronts, the shaman and wife of the flute’s guardians, Shertayli, fell in battle. This tragedy tainted the mind of the leader of the guardians of the flute, on Manahzo, who beseeched the council to allow him vengeance against the invading forces. Being denied, he and his disgruntled band of Snoqua Vikmordere left tribe and area behind, to wander into the mists of legend and time.

As is wont to be the case in such cases, alas, the wrath of Manahzo and his band of renegades was not quenched by the years and instead festered – it is this wrath that is unleashed upon Rybalka as the PCs are enjoying a beverage in the Thirsty Serpent tavern while Mayor Igor Leonid is tipsily singing a Klavekian folk song: Rogue Snoqua and their animals may attack under the cover of a massive storm; if the mayor is in dire straits, a mighty totem golem may animate to defend the village, adding to the mystical themes that suffuse the module. (It should be noted that the module contains copious amounts of read-aloud text, which helps portray the proper atmosphere.)

After the attack, the somber task of assessing damage is up next: The PCs are part of the emergency meeting, where sage Yuri Statel plants the seed of dissent: He suggests vengeance against the Snoqua tribe, a people that already have a tenuous peace with the mostly Klavekian denizens of Rybalka – in fact, the extremely smart man may have planted suggestions (not italicized in the text) prior to the meeting, so yeah, it won’t be simple to dissuade the Rybalkans from the course of retribution, at least not sans proof. Thankfully, it falls to the PCs to undertake the scouting assignment – and after the meeting, Sulwotik, a former Vikmordere, contacts the PCs to fill them in on the very likely innocence of the Snoqua. In fact, perceptive PCs may have noted that it was he that controlled the mighty totem golems. He also fills the PCs in regarding the flute of the four winds as well as Manahzo’s exile – this section is particularly important when not playing this with players already familiar with Rybalka and thus maintains a broader appeal.

The next task for the PCs would then be to walk into the wilderness (random encounter table included) and find the Snoqua tribe; curiously, beyond the dangers of the wilderness, there is a significant likelihood that Statel will be crying them, adding a layer of potential paranoia to the proceedings that are pretty much guaranteed to be tense when the PCs are surrounded by the Snoqua’s warriors. Thankfully, Sulwotik’s name carries weight with the tribe, and thus the PCs get to participate in a mystical ceremony; in the aftermath, the location of Manahzo is revealed – he is actually on a high ridge atop Rybalka itself! Here is the problem: In order to reach the ridge, the PCs will have to brave the notorious Dark Wood, a place where infernal powers have corrupted the natural order of things. It is here that the PCs will be attacked by Arakel, the demonic wolf and her pack, ally to Manahzo and his Dark spirit. When the wolves have been vanquished, the PCs will see the massive storm resuming – and as the PCs venture nearer, the mighty Vikmordere prepares his last stand…and as the PCs are obviously to formidable a match for him, he jumps to his death.

This ends the module, right? Wrong. This is basically act one. Rybalka resumes a state of vigilant calm in the aftermath of Manahzo’s death, and while the local populace treats them well, Statel is not so easily deceived and, as an agent of the Klavekian crown, suspects complicity. The flute broke in the fall, becoming mundane and bereft of magic, so, as far as all are concerned, this seems to be the end of Manhzo’s misguided revenge. That is, until 3 days pass. Suddenly, non-Vikmordere people of Rybalka are targeted by a rather deadly phenomenon: They hear the sound of a flute playing, right before being buffeted by air geysers or even struck by lightning! It’s not over yet, and thus, Sulwotik counsels that the PCs once more travel to the Snoqua to deal with the issue….hopefully in a diplomatic manner, for they were expected to return the flute, now broken.

The Vikmordere have an idea on how to put the horrific haunt that is threatening to annihilate Rybalka to rest: They know that Manhzo was never able to reclaim the body of his lost love Shertayli. Thus, the PCs will have to travel to the gloomy coal mine (which belongs to the guy Yuri manipulated in the meeting, just fyi) where she has met her fate. The mine is a pretty amazing dungeon: For one, it is extensively mapped: A vertical mineshaft, with the tracks descending in a spiral pattern, for example, features a full-blown and proper side-view map. A total of 5 full-color maps are provided for the mine, including grid-less versions and ones with grid, for full player-friendly action. The maps are also very detailed, sporting spider-webs, tracks, etc. – depending on your own drawing skills, the cartography alone may be worth the price of admission here!

Things become even coaler…her…cooler here, though: There is a vast amount of coal dust in the air, which makes the proposition of handling fire pretty dangerous. A handy table lists the percentile chance to ignite a 10-ft.-cube at the source of flame, as well as at longer ranges. I LOVE dungeons that sport such unique, global mechanics and the table and principle is one that is convenient and easy to both scavenge and adapt to your needs. The workers in the upper reaches of the mine are not exactly friendly folks, but they can also warn the PCs of the spider infestation in the lower reaches, where “The Dark Lady” awaits, a giant black widow. There is danger beyond her lurking in the depths, though: An agent of Yuri has prepared an ambush and may require that the PCs deal with him…oh, and the guy is no saint: A murder victim of his may be found, the spirit of the dead miner put to rest, provided the PCs care enough.

Ultimately, the PCs will have to venture into abandoned sections of the mine, where the PCs can find wondrous “flowers” – really anglers, weird, subterranean predators. Oh, and the tunnel horrors and their queen await beyond a mushroom garden, making for a nice boss battle. Securing Shertayli’s remains, the PCs may return to the Vikmordere, have them consecrated, and thus end Manahzo’s thirst for revenge. Yuri, meanwhile, bides his time – he’s not one to argue with results, and as long as the PCs seem to be interested in keeping Rybalka safe and under Klavekian rule, he will spare them further machinations…at least for now.

It should be noted that the massive combat stat appendix not only covers the creatures, but also random encounter stats, etc.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no issues worth complaining too loudly about. Layout adheres to AAW Games’ aesthetically-pleasing two-column full-color standard. The interior artworks are high-quality full-color pieces, with only a few that I’ve seen before. The full-color cartography by Michael Allen is amazing in its detail; the fact that we get not one, but two arrays of player-friendly maps is a HUGE boon for guys like me, who can’t draw. In this case, the fact that the maps are this detailed for regions in the mine where no combat is expected also means that it’s very easy to create tension as the PCs explore the place…and if you’re like me, you’ll probably plan a follow-up return to the complex.

Only few authors get to play in AAW Games’ A-series, particularly in the Rybalka region,and for good reason: The main draw of the series is the ability to evoke an incredibly concise and flavorful atmosphere unlike any you get from other publishers. There is a distinct complex of themes that constitutes Rybalkan adventures, one that is hard to pin down, as it happens almost imperceptibly. There is a touch of the wonder of fairy tales, of frontier’s spirit in these modules; there is a sense of wonder that is hard to describe, harder to capture. This is distinctly fantasy, sure – but it feels different from other adventures; it sports distinct themes.

It is impressive that Maksim Kotelnikov (with additional content by Michael Smith) has managed to capture the essence of what makes AAW Games’ A-series stand apart. From a structural point of view, the emphasis on the clash of cultures is a great backdrop; the subtle intrigues are smart, and I particularly enjoyed how it bucks the clichéd structure of a revenge-plot and makes it about closure, about how it deviates from the “slay guy, done”-paradigm. This conscious deviation from expected structures also pertains the encounter-design in the mine – just because you would expect an encounter in an area that is truly remarkable doesn’t mean that there has to be one. You may not notice it consciously, but unconsciously, playing experience does carry with it such expectations – and when these are not met, it enhances the feeling of encountering something fresh.

What could have been one-dimensional instead feels like a compassionate tale. Additionally, unlike many module or supplement centered around a clash of cultures, neither the Klavekians, nor the Vikmordere are truly bad guys – they are just different cultures, with both good and bad people. As a whole, this creates an atmosphere that is enjoyable to read and that leaves the reader with a satisfied, warm feeling. So yeah, I did enjoy this module, much more than I imagined I would, considering that this is, to my knowledge, Maksim Kotelnikov’s first published module.

This is not a world-shaker of a module and it doesn’t e.g. sport the brilliance of Jonathan Nelson’s A24, but it is a damn fine adventure, particularly for veterans of the game. It also acts as a nice alternate means of introducing the power-dynamics of Rybalka and the Vikmordere, if your players have left the first couple of levels behind already, as this establishes the key themes and leitmotifs of the series rather well. So yeah, all in all, this is a thoroughly enjoyable adventure and an impressive beast, particularly for a newcomer. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars, with my seal of approval added for being a freshman offering.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
A25: Flute of the Four Winds
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Village Backdrop: Quey's Glade
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/31/2018 06:07:36

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Village Backdrops-series clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Quey’s Glade is an idyllic village, situated in the deep woods. Mighty trees contain lookouts, and as befitting of such a place, there is a garden, curated by druids, where rare plants may be found. The mighty oak Bastionbark rises in the vicinity, and indeed, creatures of fey origin, like pixies, treants and nymphs are among the inhabitants of this wondrous place. And yes, there is a really nice isometric artwork of the village to complement the neat map.

As always, the dressing habits of villagers and notes on village lore can be found for PCs of a more scholarly bent; for PCs seeking to socialize, there are 6 different whispers and rumors to encounter. It should also be noted that we get a fully fleshed out market-place section, and, suffice to say, a proper settlement statblock for this strange place.

What’s strange about Quey’s Glade? Well, it’s a haven of sorts. Enchanted by powerful magicians of the fearie, the settlement seems to actually be mobile; at least that would be one explanation. You see, when you’re hunted by monsters through the forest, when intense, negative emotions coalesce, then you may well find yourself transported to the haven that is Quey’s Glade. Here, folks age as they wish, time flows strangely and the magics of the First World suffuse the land…but there is a downside to the potent forces that enchant this place (responsible for the danger rating of 20…): The negative emotions that trigger the magics of the transportations have also attracted quite a few potent and deadly creatures , making the surrounding woods anything but safe. And yes, Quey’s Glade indeed does wander…allowing for the relatively painless transition from region to region and use as a hub.

There is another aspect to this sanctuary: As progress marches on and fell entities are deprived of their prey, the places where Quey’s Glade may draw upon are slowly diminished, one by one. Then again, this place in wondrous in the best of ways: Have I mentioned the awakened porcupine fighter?

As far as law and order are provided, fey, being more dangerous, have their own part of the settlement, feyhome, and industry-wise, the druidic savoir-faire of the place is responsible for e.g. trade with rare plants and similar goods. Since the village is particularly partial to saving escaping kids, there is plenty of adventuring potential inherent in the place, with unintentional “kidnapping”; as a hub where time and space mean less and as a bridge with the realms of the fey, this furthermore sports quite an array of excellent adventure possibilities. If you do need to jumpstart the adventure aspects, you can, as always, rely on the 6 events provided for your convenience.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant and printer-friendly 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with an amazing map by Maciey Zagorski. The artwork, also in parts by Mr. Zagorski, as well as William McAusland, similarly is really neat and evocative. As always, we get two different versions – one optimized for the printer, one optimized for screen-use – kudos!

Mike Welham is an insanely talented writer; beyond his ability to write neat crunchy components, he is also capable of creating truly intriguing locales, characters, etc. Even better, he is not easily categorized: Each of his pdfs sports a distinct and unique identity, making him one of the most versatile designers I know – which is particularly interesting, considering that he manages to excel at almost every aspect he attempts. His designs also tend to be rather unique, which is a particularly prevalent notion here.

Frankly, my first response was “Why hasn’t this been done before?” The trope of the magical village that “saves” the kids from the horrible fate they were destined to meet…it’s a classic trope, and one that was executed with panache aplomb here. The presence of the quirky characters adds a fresh sense of the magical as well. (And can provide a superb angle to Oleander’s Sanctuary, penned by yours truly, but that as an aside.)

While this is amazing for all systems, in particularly for rules-dense pathfinder, this also sports an additional, really cool role: Know how the passage of time is subjective here? Well, this is a GREAT way to justify e.g. higher-level characters using Everyman Gaming’s Childhood Adventures-rules…or, you know, a way to make kid-characters, whose players have outgrown them, catch up with their real-life players, become adults – all without requiring that the GM retool impending dooms, invasions or similar, time-relevant components. In short, this can literally be a linchpin to hang a truly transformative event upon!

Even in the ridiculously amazing Village Backdrop-series, this is an outstanding offering. My final verdict will be 5 stars + seal of approval, given sans hesitation.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Quey's Glade
Click to show product description

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Creator Reply:
Thank you so much for this review, End. I'm delighted you enjoyed Quey's Glade so much!
Village Backdrop: Quey's Glade (SNE)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/31/2018 06:06:15

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Village Backdrops-series clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Quey’s Glade is an idyllic village, situated in the deep woods. Mighty trees contain lookouts, and as befitting of such a place, there is a garden, curated by druids, where rare plants may be found. The mighty oak Bastionbark rises in the vicinity, and indeed, creatures of fey origin, like pixies, treants and nymphs are among the inhabitants of this wondrous place. And yes, there is a really nice isometric artwork of the village to complement the neat map.

As always, the dressing habits of villagers and notes on village lore can be found for PCs of a more scholarly bent; for PCs seeking to socialize, there are 6 different whispers and rumors to encounter. It should also be noted that we get a fully fleshed out market-place section, properly adjusted to OSR-style systems.

What’s strange about Quey’s Glade? Well, it’s a haven of sorts. Enchanted by powerful magicians of the fearie, the settlement seems to actually be mobile; at least that would be one explanation. You see, when you’re hunted by monsters through the forest, when intense, negative emotions coalesce, then you may well find yourself transported to the haven that is Quey’s Glade. Here, folks age as they wish, time flows strangely and the magics of the First World suffuse the land…but there is a downside to the potent forces that enchant this place (responsible for the danger rating of 20…): The negative emotions that trigger the magics of the transportations have also attracted quite a few potent and deadly creatures , making the surrounding woods anything but safe. And yes, Quey’s Glade indeed does wander…allowing for the relatively painless transition from region to region and use as a hub.

There is another aspect to this sanctuary: As progress marches on and fell entities are deprived of their prey, the places where Quey’s Glade may draw upon are slowly diminished, one by one. Then again, this place in wondrous in the best of ways: Have I mentioned the sentient porcupine fighter? Nice plus for fans of older games: Rogue has been properly adjusted to instead pertain to the thief class, etc. – nomenclature is concise.

As far as law and order are provided, fey, being more dangerous, have their own part of the settlement, feyhome, and industry-wise, the druidic savoir-faire of the place is responsible for e.g. trade with rare plants and similar goods. Since the village is particularly partial to saving escaping kids, there is plenty of adventuring potential inherent in the place, with unintentional “kidnapping”; as a hub where time and space mean less and as a bridge with the realms of the fey, this furthermore sports quite an array of excellent adventure possibilities. If you do need to jumpstart the adventure aspects, you can, as always, rely on the 6 events provided for your convenience.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant and printer-friendly 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with an amazing map by Maciey Zagorski. The artwork, also in parts by Mr. Zagorski, as well as William McAusland, similarly is really neat and evocative. As always, we get two different versions – one optimized for the printer, one optimized for screen-use – kudos!

Mike Welham is an insanely talented writer; beyond his ability to write neat crunchy components, he is also capable of creating truly intriguing locales, characters, etc. Even better, he is not easily categorized: Each of his pdfs sports a distinct and unique identity, making him one of the most versatile designers I know – which is particularly interesting, considering that he manages to excel at almost every aspect he attempts. His designs also tend to be rather unique, which is a particularly prevalent notion here.

Frankly, my first response was “Why hasn’t this been done before?” The trope of the magical village that “saves” the kids from the horrible fate they were destined to meet…it’s a classic trope, and one that was executed with panache aplomb here. The presence of the quirky characters adds a fresh sense of the magical as well. (And can provide a superb angle to Oleander’s Sanctuary, penned by yours truly, but that as an aside.)

While the system neutral version obviously lacks the massive rules-synergy that e.g. Pathfinder offers, it does have its appeal – namely, that it taps into the OSR’s tradition of weird geographies, of strange places, and acts as a relatively low-impact hub to connect all manner of strange places.

Even in the ridiculously amazing Village Backdrop-series, this is an outstanding offering, one that loses nothing in its system-neutral version. My final verdict will be 5 stars + seal of approval, given sans hesitation.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Quey's Glade (SNE)
Click to show product description

Add to DriveThruRPG.com Order

Creator Reply:
Thank you so much for this review, End. I'm delighted you enjoyed Quey's Glade so much!
Village Backdrop: Quey's Glade (5e)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/31/2018 06:03:28

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Village Backdrops-series clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Quey’s Glade is an idyllic village, situated in the deep woods. Mighty trees contain lookouts, and as befitting of such a place, there is a garden, curated by druids, where rare plants may be found. The mighty oak Bastionbark rises in the vicinity, and indeed, creatures of fey origin, like pixies, treants and nymphs are among the inhabitants of this wondrous place. And yes, there is a really nice isometric artwork of the village to complement the neat map.

As always, the dressing habits of villagers and notes on village lore can be found for PCs of a more scholarly bent; for PCs seeking to socialize, there are 6 different whispers and rumors to encounter. It should also be noted that we get a fully fleshed out market-place section, one that has been properly adjusted to 5e’s rules and aesthetics.

What’s strange about Quey’s Glade? Well, it’s a haven of sorts. Enchanted by powerful magicians of the fearie, the settlement seems to actually be mobile; at least that would be one explanation. You see, when you’re hunted by monsters through the forest, when intense, negative emotions coalesce, then you may well find yourself transported to the haven that is Quey’s Glade. Here, folks age as they wish, time flows strangely and the magics of the First World suffuse the land…but there is a downside to the potent forces that enchant this place (responsible for the danger rating of 20…): The negative emotions that trigger the magics of the transportations have also attracted quite a few potent and deadly creatures , making the surrounding woods anything but safe. And yes, Quey’s Glade indeed does wander…allowing for the relatively painless transition from region to region and use as a hub.

There is another aspect to this sanctuary: As progress marches on and fell entities are deprived of their prey, the places where Quey’s Glade may draw upon are slowly diminished, one by one. Then again, this place in wondrous in the best of ways: Have I mentioned the awakened porcupine fighter? And yes, the NPCs noted herein mention the 5e-NPC stats upon which they are based.

As far as law and order are provided, fey, being more dangerous, have their own part of the settlement, feyhome, and industry-wise, the druidic savoir-faire of the place is responsible for e.g. trade with rare plants and similar goods. Since the village is particularly partial to saving escaping kids, there is plenty of adventuring potential inherent in the place, with unintentional “kidnapping”; as a hub where time and space mean less and as a bridge with the realms of the fey, this furthermore sports quite an array of excellent adventure possibilities. If you do need to jumpstart the adventure aspects, you can, as always, rely on the 6 events provided for your convenience.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant and printer-friendly 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with an amazing map by Maciey Zagorski. The artwork, also in parts by Mr. Zagorski, as well as William McAusland, similarly is really neat and evocative. As always, we get two different versions – one optimized for the printer, one optimized for screen-use – kudos!

Mike Welham is an insanely talented writer; beyond his ability to write neat crunchy components, he is also capable of creating truly intriguing locales, characters, etc. Even better, he is not easily categorized: Each of his pdfs sports a distinct and unique identity, making him one of the most versatile designers I know – which is particularly interesting, considering that he manages to excel at almost every aspect he attempts. His designs also tend to be rather unique, which is a particularly prevalent notion here.

Frankly, my first response was “Why hasn’t this been done before?” The trope of the magical village that “saves” the kids from the horrible fate they were destined to meet…it’s a classic trope, and one that was executed with panache aplomb here. The presence of the quirky characters adds a fresh sense of the magical as well. (And can provide a superb angle to Oleander’s Sanctuary, penned by yours truly, but that as an aside.)

The 5e-version of this settlement is very intriguing, in that it manages to retain the wonder associated with the other versions; while the book does not have the same sort of rules-synergy of PFRPG or the same wealth of strange laces to connect as the system neutral iteration, this one does have different, intriguing synergy effects, namely the connection with e.g. the intriguing 5e-fey-themed adventures out there.

Even in the ridiculously amazing Village Backdrop-series, this is an outstanding offering. While this one, so far, offers imho the least amount of synergy beyond the confines of its pages, that is due to the relative youth of 5e and what’s out there for the system, not on any shortcoming of this pdf. My final verdict will be 5 stars + seal of approval, given sans hesitation.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Quey's Glade (5e)
Click to show product description

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Creator Reply:
Thank you so much for this review, End. I'm delighted you enjoyed Quey's Glade so much!
Battle For The Purple Islands
Publisher: Kort'thalis Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/29/2018 07:10:33

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page Kort’thalis glyph, 1 page editorial, leaving us with 21 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Well, as you may have deduced from my reviews, to this day, I consider Venger’s “Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence” perhaps the best of his adventures; it is certainly my favorite, for the combination of Carcosa-style weirdness without the constant doom and gloom (though there is plenty of bad stuff waiting to happen to everyone…), infused with healthy doses of gonzo and humor, created something that really resonated with me.

Suffice to say, I was rather excited when Venger suddenly sprang a return to these unique locales, haunted by basically a Great Old One, with all the “fun” ramifications for the locals that ensues. Now, this adventure, like all of Venger’s adventures, doesn’t really sport a synopsis, though this time around, this is well justified: In a sense, this is a scenario into which PCs are plunged. How it develops and what exactly happens remains a mostly player-driven thing.

It should be noted that I STRONGLY suggest getting the “Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence” before running this one; without its unique backdrop, the putrescence itself, etc., this loses a bit of its flavor. Also, much like Venger’s other modules, this is not something you can pick up and play – you definitely have to read the module in its entirety, preferably while taking notes, but since the preferred way to run this, is one situated within the islands, you will want to modify it anyways. It’s just important to note if you expect the level of convenience provided by quite a few of current modules.

That being said, the pdf is significantly more convenient than usual for Venger’s adventures, in that it explicitly provides three different entry vectors for the scenario: One for newcomers to the purple islands, one for veterans of the place, and, since the tie with Alpha Blue has been established (in fact, Alpha Blue was, to my knowledge, first mentioned in the Islands-supplement!), we also get an entry-vector for Alpha Blue. A big plus would also be that Venger actually included stats for the creatures encountered here: If it’s likely to attempt combat, you’ll get stats.

This isn’t all, though! We do get a massive 100-entry strong table for roll-as-you-go hexcrawling: From clearing to metallic sphinxes, possessed pythons etc., the table is pretty neat and a welcome addition to the GM’s arsenal. We also get a table to randomly determine the reaction of locals to lovecraftian entities, which cover abject terror, worshiping the entity, trying to defeat it – you get the idea. An 8-entry weather table allows the GM to further enhance this aspect – though I do suggest you check out the Islands-book, for purple rain there…well. You’ll see.

Beyond all of these, we have further help for the GM: A total of 8 different motivations can be used to further entice either players, or act as a fill in for an NPC-motivation that you just didn’t think of. There is an additional global rule on the islands for the context of this adventure, one that I rather enjoy: The Purple Destiny. The table depicting those is 20 entries strong, and the implementation is simple: Basically, when a character acts in accordance with the predestined fate, he gains advantage, but not more often than once per battle. (Note: This does not impose anything on the character – it’s just another angle to develop: predestined does not mean that the character is locked into this destiny!)

Now, I should mention that the fully-developed entry vectors do add an in medias res angle that can dramatically change the circumstances of meeting the person that kicks off the action…but to tell you more, I need to go deep into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMS around? Great! So, perhaps the PCs are half-delirious and hanging, captured by cannibals over a pit of sewage, as he is thrown into their cage; or, they encounter an ape-men-patrol hunting for the fellow, but things begin when the PCs meet this man from the Guild of Purple Prose, one Stenz B’wca – this purple-spandex-wearing fellow is on a crucial mission, namely to save the universe. He must find none other than H.P. Lovecraft and convince him to write his tales. You see, Lovecraft, dejected by refusals to be published, lives the life of a hermit on these islands, as he managed to venture here via the Dreamlands. Oh, know what? He’s guarded by shadow shoggoths. Yeah, it won’t be easy to get to him.

Anyways, the middle section of the module beyond the entry vector is, as you can glean from the different starting positions, very much is a dynamic field that oscillates between the actions of and interactions with the factions herein: Each of them comes with stats for rank and file members as well as for the leader, if applicable. Here, we embrace Venger’s gonzo Sword & Sorcery to the full extent: We have the cannibal tribe of the Uba-Tuba, with notes on typical behavior and a 12-.entry table for strange customs of such cannibal tribes; when the crescent moon is in the sky, one of the last snake-men named H’ssan, with deadly apparitions, comes down from the mountains to procure sacrifices; there would be the ape-men and we can encounter the deadly Brotherhood of the Unquiet Void – a cult of the old ones, inspired by their profane messengers, who has instructed them to create the Purple Missile: A missile that is bound to spread extreme, sanity-destroying mutation-causing radiation over the islands…there is just one component missing. An indigo crystal. A Crystal that also contains the hologram that Stenz is supposed to show Lovecraft…yeah, this directly puts the PCs at odds with the powerful brotherhood.

The crystal’s hologram does have a surprise: It’s Lovecraft, 20 years down the line, talking to himself, giving words of encouragement and pointing him towards an old art museum, situated at the bottom of a deep crevasse. Entering the weird museum, the PCs can find all sorts of strange things…and accompany Lovecraft to see the movie. Well, smart PCs will wait outside. The movie will do its job really well, but characters may well become permanently-changed by attempting to see the film.

How does Lovecraft leave the islands? Well, obviously, dream journeys are an option, but the GM can easily make the evacuation of the author yet another adventure…

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant hiccups. Layout adheres to the neat 2-column full-color standard of Kort’thalis Publishing, with splotches of dried blood, purple veins etc. making the pdf aesthetically-pleasing. The pdf sports a ton of really nice b/w-artworks, all original pieces that highlight the weirdness of the islands. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and sports a second, more printer-friendly version.

This is Venger at his best, simple as that. We get a glorious mix of pulp, sword & sorcery, horror and some subdued meta-references (without relying completely on them) and even a bit of humor. The blending of these aesthetics and themes works to the module’s advantage, making it feel more unique than his trinity-modules, for example. While the organization isn’t perfect, and while there are modules out there that are easier to use, this is a huge leap in the right direction and frankly, considering what this is, I am perfectly fine with how this is presented; this is a sandbox/toolkit, pure and simple.

While I tend to really enjoy Venger’s adventures, this is the first in a while where my rating doesn’t come with a caveat; the increased number of stats, the improved structure – this is a really cool set-up for another trip to those thrice-damned purple islands, where all manner of horrors lurk and almost everything is possible. While it would be nice to have names bolded, a synopsis, etc. for easier go-and-play use, this is pretty much my only valid complaint against this, and frankly, considering what this is and tries to be, it doesn’t feel fair. This is a brief set-up for a frame-narrative and a series of strange factions that coalesce into the plot and sequence you create; it has to retain this open structure to maintain compatibility with the diverse iterations of the Purple Islands out there (which, as you know, can go a LOT of different ways…), so as far as I’m concerned, the wide open nature is a here a feature, not a bug.

In short: This left me more excited about future modules by Venger than any of the Trinity-modules. Get the Purple Islands-book, then get this one. Marvel at the glorious, combined madness. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Battle For The Purple Islands
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Goody White's Book of Folk Magic
Publisher: Sean K Reynolds Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/29/2018 07:07:05

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement clocks in at 64 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/KS-thanks, 1 page ToC, ¼ page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 59 ¾ pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So, sometimes, books just fall off my radar. I try to avoid such instances, but between priority reviews, the vast amount of books I cover and the huge number of books I receive, it simply happens. This is one such case…but well, better late than never, as they say, right?

This book is the adaptation of the work of Goodwife Elizabeth White, born 1640 and thus represents a take on classic themes of white folk magic, applied to the game. As the book notes, this does necessarily include spells that deal with serious topics – the introduction makes this clear and shows the utmost respect and restraint, kudos! The pdf explains the basics of hexes and design-aesthetic there, as well as establishing a special terminology, namely CAM, which is shorthand for casting ability modifier – undoubtedly to make the content a bit more future-proof for non-witch classes and hexes.

The pdf also introduces a new hex category, so-called perpetual hexes: They are somewhat alike to the permanent hexes that exist, yet different: They are bestowed upon targets. But thereafter require no concentration to maintain and persist until the witch dismisses the hex or until the recipient removes it. Unless otherwise noted, a witch can maintain a number of perpetual hexes equal to her Intelligence bonus and dismiss one as a move action. This dismissal does not have a maximum range and even transcends planar boundaries. Perpetual hexes have limits determined by the maximum number, with uses consuming a different number, preventing the spamming of them. Learning a spell contained herein also provides access to the reverse spell sans requiring double transcription.

The rituals contained herein require concentration as though casting a spell, unless otherwise stated, the equivalent of a 1st-level spell. Spellcasting level is taken over from the highest spellcasting class or ½ character level, if you don’t have any spellcasting levels. Rituals, as presented, are unreliable and only have a chance of success modified by CAM and whether you have a familiar. Rituals take twice as long to learn as to cast them and until you have successfully finished it, success chances are halved – in short: Unlike e.g. Incantations as a ritual-engine, they are not likely to kill you off, but they are quite likely to fail.

Okay, so that out of the way, how is the folk magic presented? Well, we begin with tame animals: We get a spell, a hex and a ritual…and beyond these three different mechanical representations of the concept, we also get basically a direct description of how to e.g. make a Taming Charm – if you’re like me and interested in occult lore and real world magic theories (nota bene: I’m an atheist and my interest is very much academic! I don’t believe in magic.), this is pretty glorious…oh, and we even get a sample chant. This very flavorful and lore-centric depiction is btw. something that can be found throughout the book. Want an example? As you wish!

“This evening we shall become one.

With the good spirits as my witness

I ask thee to bind the (man or woman) and beast

Through body and mind.

Let their bonding never part

Obedience and caring, everlasting art.”

Now, not all spells get such a neat chant, but yeah – it adds a level of plausibility to the pdf. Create Poppet is pretty amazing – it is low-level, but the poppet-benefits are pretty massive: The save-penalty of a target of the poppet is pretty significant, yet still beatable. Big kudos for this representation of sympathetic magic.

The pdf also notes ways to treat small burns (some of which work for small burns, though it should be noted, as the book states, it is not a medical advice booklet!). It also allows for a healing of heat dangers etc. and makes for a great tool in low-magic campaigns that rules that healing spells usually don’t apply to strains thus encountered. And yes, the hex is abuse-proof. Speaking of low-magic games and those that enjoy a somewhat grittier one: Remove cataracts is not only a cool little spell/hex/ritual – it also introduces the partially blinded condition, one that most assuredly will be used by yours truly. There are more medicinal hexes/spells/rituals: Dealing with warts, treating bruises and pain, staunching bleeding, curing sickness in animals, healing the lame, soothing bowels, fixing teeth, gaining/losing weight, calming vermin (like bees) and treating fits complement this section…often with the reversals, for less benevolent witches.

One of the classics associated with benign folk magic, the blessing of crops, can be found within this pdf…and we know that many a midwife, with knowledge of herbs and medicine was burned at the stake. Well, their most well-known task is also represented here: Ease birth…and, somewhat interestingly, someone who has benefited from e.g. the hex, thereafter becomes more susceptible to the witch’s influence…which makes sense. While we’re on the topic of a bit more…risqué topics: The book also covers a rather important topic (at least when considering historic beliefs regarding witchcraft): The treatment of impotence is represented by the spells restore/remove potency and the hex/ritual based on them. These options alone can carry pretty much whole campaigns and the countless stories of noble families etc. out there provide plenty of ideas there. Obstruct/Enhance Fertility can also be found – including a feasible section on human fertility. Speaking of pregnancy: Concealing/False Pregnancy breathe the spirit of what we associate with witchcraft. And yes, there is an option to cool or rekindle passions.

On the more magical side of things, we have the curse ward, spells to instill good or bad luck, an option to send warning visions…have I mentioned spirit letters as a cool low-level divination? There is a means to curse thieves and a ward to repel the living dead. Alternate options to find familiar and the option to talk with fey also are represented within these pages. Projecting your spirit is also a practice that is represented within, and yes, we do get options to expel spirits at low level – which may decrease the threat of possession, but which fits better the real world lore, where minor forms of possession can be found more often in the context of witchcraft. The identification of enemies is also interesting: Instead of blanket reveal, the magic operates with chances and suspicions you may have, which makes it much more useful from a narrative point of view. Shrouding targets from sight is another important concept covered.

We also get the chance to make witch bottles, which contain a focus and can act as a help against the supernatural creatures. On the subject of bottles: Of course, magical potions are part of the subject matter covered, e.g. sleeping potions in two severity-levels. A balm for confidence and love potions can also be found within, representing classic tropes of witchcraft. There also is room devoted to making food palatable (or cursing targets so all food tastes horrible) or the power to send pleasant or disturbing dreams. Loss and growth of hair can also be found, as can be means to enhance your chances when hunting targets. Assuming the shape of a Diminutive or Tiny animal can also be found. A limited form of appearance alteration (but it’s no illusion!) makes for an interesting alternative to the classic disguise self. There is a representation of the dowsing concept and a spell to conjure a household elemental with its own resistances and SPs…but unlike e.g. unseen servant, these are free-willed beings and thus require bartering. One of my favorites within would be the representation of the sator-square palindrome ward...nice, versatile and unique. On the evil side of things, there would be the creation of living zombies, which actually takes into account whether the target thinks it has died – neat! Quite a massive and cool array of tricks to make witches feel, well, more witch-like.

Speaking of witches: We do get a couple of witches throughout the book: A level 12 hedge witch, Tavra Ironbound, Jessica of the West (CR 6,Oz-reference, obviously), Larina Nix (CR 8), Acrimor (CR 11), an alchemist (chirurgeon/vivisectionist) CR 7 and a CR 10 fellow. Now, there is one annoying thing about these nice NPCs – they are spread out throughout the pdf without much rhyme or reason; this means that players reading the book will stumble over NPC-stats that imho belong in the back, in a GM-appendix, away from prying eyes. For those of you also into the Cypher-system, these beings also get cipher-stats in the back, all collated…which makes the decision to spread the PFRPG-stats throughout the book even more puzzling from an organizational point of view.

Okay, so, as you may have noted, the options herein are more “realistic” and often, more limited than what one would assume from PFRPG-options – they are very much suitable for grittier games and those favoring a lower power-level, which is all fine by me…but what if you want to use such concepts in your regular power-level campaign? Well, the book sports a MASSIVE mythic appendix that makes sure that these options remain viable threats. We get mythic versions of pretty much all spells. Now, design-paradigm-wise, these do not offer new options, following mostly the escalation of numbers, but in the context of this book, this is strangely fitting. Mythic hexes can be gained 3 for a 1st tier universal ability or tier hexes for a single feat, and mythic versions of the hexes can be found as well…but here is a big issue: This refers to “mythic points” – whatever THAT is supposed to be. I assume, it refers to mythic power, but frankly, it could refer to mythic surges as well. All in all, this section feels rushed and falls short of the main meat of the book. Similarly, it can be considered to be rather confusing that, without a header of anything, we switch systems when talking about tier 1 abilities – it took me a bit to realize that these do not refer to mythic tier abilities.

The appendix closes the pdf with a couple of nice notes, diarrhea as an affliction and a ritual for love, spirit expulsion and weight manipulation.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, for the most part, are top-notch on both a formal and rules-language level; in the mythic section, the book has some serious issues, though, and the formal editing quality does diverge between the two versions of the book. Layout is gorgeous and adheres to an elegant, nice two-column full-color standard with fitting full-color artworks here and there and b/w-portraits of the sample NPCs. Now, there are two versions of the pdf as per the writing of this review: The one I am referencing here and a briefer one; the version with the mythic appendix unfortunately does not any bookmarks, which is somewhat baffling, considering that the shorter version does actually sport them.

Now, here’s the thing: The shorter version is actually the one with “final” in the title, so while the version with the problematic mythic material and Cypher-addendum can be found, I assume it to be something of a WIP version, left online due to its additional content. Strangely, though, the sample NPCs can also be found exclusively in the longer version, which makes it somewhat difficult for me to determine which version to rate. As such, even though I have covered the longer version in this review, I will take both into account.

So, here’s the thing: Sean K Reynolds is an amazing designer who knows what he’s doing and this book oozes “passion-project” from all of its pores. While I could rattle off a number of supplements that deal with household magic in the context of a high-magic society, this is literally the only PFRPG book I know that focuses on representations of magic taken from real world beliefs. The presentation that allows each of the individual options the necessary room to breathe and develop its flair. The easy to implement ritual-engine is similarly something that fits really well into a context of a more subdued, low-magic world where witchraft is unreliable.

In short: I’d consider this, flavorwise, pretty much a masterpiece, as this sports a ton of options I’d be willing to use, even beyond the confines of the PFRPG-rules-set. At the same time, the big version of the file, more so than the smaller one (which also e.g. sports remnants like “[NOTABLE WITCH BACKER XX]”), feels a bit rushed. The mythic section is uncharacteristically problematic and feels like what it undoubtedly was, an afterthought – compared to what Legendary Games has recently been doing with mythic magic, this falls woefully short of being adequate in that department. Similarly, the Cypher-components, while nice, would have made more sense properly integrated into its own version of the book.

My second gripe against this tome would pertain its organization – more so in the larger version. Having NPC stats in the middle of sections that players may read is not exactly perfect; I am also somewhat baffled by the appendix: I could name chapters for each of the rituals and materials in it where the respective information would be more convenient to find – diarrhea in the bowel-section, etc. They feel like they have been either forgotten or added at the last minute; no matter what happened, that does detract a bit from the immediate usability and handling of the book. (Particularly evident when using the big, bookmark-less version.)

In short, this book is somewhat diminished by obviously having been completed at one point…and when it was done, more was added, or removed…at a time, when it was either already mostly done and/or the designer had already moved on.

How to rate this, then? Well, were I to rate this solely on the merits of the core material presented, I’d be able to praise it rather highly…but I can’t. The rough edges do detract from the overall appeal of an otherwise inspiring read…but I hope that, rating notwithstanding, this review will make some of you fine folks check this out. This deserves being read and checked out, particularly if you’re looking for magic that feels more steeped in folklore or when looking for options that fit a more down to earth aesthetic. For the right people, this can definitely be a 5 star + seal of approval-level of awesome file, but as a reviewer, I need to rate the total package, and here, I can’t go higher than 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Goody White's Book of Folk Magic
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How Do I Use Magic Items
Publisher: Straight Path Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/29/2018 07:04:59

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the „How do I...“-series clocks in at 9 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 6 pages of content. As always with Straight Path games-supplements, we do get a second version optimized for use with tablets. This version clocks in at a total of 14 pages laid out in landscape format, but content-wise remains identical to the other version. All righty, let’s take a look!

We begin with a reiteration of categories of magic items – this list is great, particularly for newer players. There are a couple of notes I’d like to add here: While the pdf is correct in stating that unarmed attacks are usually enhanced by amulets, this is by now not the only way to affect them. It should also be noted that two spell-references in the explanation of potions have not been italicized – though the pdf correctly points out an NPC Codex issue. It should also be noted that references to precise magic items throughout the pdf have not been italicized. As another minor addition, while the pdf correctly states that staves can usually act as quarterstaffs, there are a few exotic exceptions, so a “usually” qualifier would be nice here. The pdf also lists the various forms of wondrous items and then mentions cursed items, intelligent items and artifacts, though sans elaborating on the mechanics of ego etc.

After we have established the categories , we take a look at activation types, starting with use activated items, noting potions as special and then lists the peculiarities of command word items and spell trigger and spell completion items. It should be noted that use activated magic items that require an extra action to activate, as correctly stated, do not per default provoke an attack of opportunity, unless the action undertaken to activate the item would provoke an attack of opportunity. On the plus-side: The pdf takes the notes of spell completion items and scrolls and blends them into a concise whole that is easier to grasp for new players.

Finally, the pdf mentions the Use Magic Device skill’s basics.

Conclusion:

Editing is tight and well-done; formatting is problematic, failing to italicize pretty much all spell and magic item references. Layout adheres to a 2-column standard with a touch of color, but remains pretty printer-friendly. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Michael McCarthy’s summary of how magic items work represents a really handy little pdf; while I could list all the odd exceptions to the rules presented, as a whole, this represents a concise and precise summary that can easily be handed to a new player, helping them grasp the basics of the game. As a PWYW game-aid of sorts, this is worth checking out if you’re not need a quick explanation of the basics here. All exceptions and deviations I noticed are the more obscure components that go beyond the basics – and as such, they are not necessarily required for such a pdf. While the formatting oversights are annoying, the PWYW-status of the pdf makes it a fair offering. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
How Do I Use Magic Items
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What Is Incorporeal
Publisher: Straight Path Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/29/2018 07:02:52

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This little pdf clocks in at 5 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 2 pages of content – at least for the print version. There is a tablet-version with a landscape layout that is a total of 9 pages long instead, but content-wise remains identical.

So, you don’t have to be a developer to notice that some components of Pathfinder’s rules are more clear than others; any GM will sooner or later bump into the roadblock of being incorporeality, and it is, historically, not one that grew over night. In fact, if you’re reading old-school supplements on a regular basis, you’ll notice that not having a body has been a somewhat wobbly state as far as rules are concerned for quite some time. This pdf seeks to shed some light on this rules-aspect and help you thus avoid needless grief.

The pdf first states one of the major sources of confusion: Being incorporeal does not equal being incorporeal: There is the subtype, the defensive quality and there is the condition. It should also be noted that there are a lot of individual exceptions for creatures that are incorporeal. These, obviously, exacerbate the confusion of players, and often, GMs. The pdf does thus list a variety of different misconceptions pertaining being incorporeal.

The pdf does list 3 general traits that apply to all incorporeal creatures, which generally are well-defined...but they are not necessarily complete in their effects listed. For example, holy water is NOT, RAW, a magical attack, but still may affect incorporeal undead, presenting an exception to the rule of nonmagical attacks not affecting incorporeal creatures. While the pdf correctly states that incorporeal creatures take half damage from bodily sources (and does NOT sport a miss chance!); however, unlike the condition, the defensive ability and subtype doe have something that probably is the source of this common misconception: Supernatural or spell-based effects that do not employ [force] and originate from a bodily source that do not cause damage have only a 50% chance of affecting an incorporeal creature. It is my conviction that the pdf should state this. It’s pretty important.

Unfortunately, the notes on the effect of the defensive quality also are not exhaustive: The list fails to mention, for example, that deflection bonuses apply; the pdf correctly states that armor, natural armor, shields etc. are ignored, but lists, with force-effects, only one of the exceptions here. The list of the defensive qualities also, irritatingly, fails to state that such creatures moving through physical objects are penalized when attacking creatures outside the object; since cover, total cover and concealment in such a case are pretty important, that should be mentioned.

The pdf also fails to state a crucial component of the incorporeal subtype: Creatrues with the incorporeal subtype are not only immune to precision damage; more importantly, they also are immune to critical hits!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, per se, is very good. Layout adheres to a 2-column standard in both versions and is color, but remains pretty printer-friendly. The two versions of the pdf are nice and even come with bookmarks, despite their brevity.

I like what Michael McCarthy attempts to do here, for this is a component that should be explained. That being said, the explanation remains pretty rudimentary. Its structure is nice, but ultimately, it fails to mention a couple of crucial components, which severely detracts from the overall usefulness of the pdf. That being said, this is PWYW, and as such, a fair offering. Still, as provided, I’d personally consider it to be more feasible to just flip open the definitions of the three states and compare them. There is still value in the list that clears up the misconceptions, and it’s nice that such a book exists. My final verdict clocks in at 2.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
What Is Incorporeal
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More Whispering Homunculus
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/26/2018 05:44:37

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive booklet clocks in at 146 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page introduction, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 140 pages of content, though it should be noted that they’re laid out for digest-size (6’’ by 9’’/A5), which means that you can fit up to 4 pages on a given sheet of paper when printing this out, provided your eyes are good enough, obviously.

Okay, so if you’re new to the Whispering Homunculus – it’s basically a semi-regular column of the Kobold Press site, penned by none other than Richard Pett. While nominally associated with Pathfinder, for the most part, the material is system-agnostic and should prove to be useful for your game system of choice – whether that’s one of the OSR-rules-systems, DCC, 5e or something else.

The book, as a whole, is basically one of the extremely useful books that I internally refer to as “GM miscellanea” – tables and dressing that help get the creative juices flowing, that add a dash of excitement to the game, or that act as a catalyst for adventures…or that get the creative juices flowing. Basically, if your adventures are the proper dish, then this would act as exotic seasoning.

Each of the respective entries features often delightful introductory text pertaining the homunculus and interaction with the master, improving the overall reading experience and flow of the book.

All right, so, we begin with 50 different treasures of the Pharaoh – basically, treasure suitable for any Egyptian-style campaign; one entry refers to rules-relevant components, while others contain e.g. a papyrus showing a disemboweling rite, figurines of fish-tailed goats, human-headed mummified owls with alligator teeth in the beak…as you can see, we have a nice blend of the more mundane and fantastical aspects here.

The next entry presents the concept of least guardian angels – with 12 benefits, 12 forms and 12 durations. If you’re particularly strict regarding the rules, fret not, for the pdf does mention how to define these entities in the context of a game that sports diverse means to influence different types of outsiders, invisibility and the like – things you obviously can use or ignore at your leisure.

After this, we take a look at 100 peculiar relationships. Think of these as basically quirks to add character to the master/servant-dichotomy that is implicit in e.g. familiars, companions, etc. Perhaps the creature stands beside sleeping characters, watching them..and not necessarily just the master. Perhaps the creature can’t help but gawk at redheads or collects spoons, of all things. Being terrified of thunder, lurking in rafters, referring to itself by the third person….or what about a creatures that belches whenever the master has eaten? Perhaps the being has its own pet spider named Horatio or is obsessively clean? Some companions may collect shells, depositing excess parts of the collection in pockets, backpacks, etc. – the quirks are delightful and pretty damn neat.

The next section contains no less than 12 d12 tables and deals with gear – to be precise, it deals with details regarding gear; the armor table, for example, mentions battered armor, armor decorated with crow feathers, decorative notches for enemies defeated, etc. The baggage/holder table features belts made from old prayer flags, a pouch made out of an elephant’s ear, a choker-face pouch – hilarious, weird, cool! And yes, lower clothing, body art can be found…and I am partial to the grotesque-entry, which featured, for example, rings made of pig tails wrapped in wire – here, we can see Pett’s delightfully wicked mind at work. The whole section is inspiring and cool in the best sense and most assuredly is something I’d hand to my players as well. Have I mentioned the “Just Plain Weird” table here? It features a false nose of troll-flesh, a gnoll-bone corset…fun! On the super nitpicky formal side – we have troll flesh and trollflesh in the same table, but minimum hassle hiccups like this do not influence my final verdict.

The next table continues the inspiring trend of the former section, presenting for your edification no less than 100 strange pets, beginning with aardvark and continuing to rag owls, string mice, a barking pig…or what about a hand-sized pygmygator? Or an owlferret? An arm-sized furry caterpillar? Or tackler’s wronganimals – like the wrongmouse, which is very fat, hat six legs and the most cuddly of tentacles. Oh, and two words: Zombie toucan. IF you’re like me, you’re celebrating the glorious weirdness of this table, big time.

After this, we get 100 spots for wilderness overnight sleeping – 50 for succeeded checks, 50 for failed checks; the successes include ruined churches, molding gypsy caravans, sheep pens, caves, cairns – quite a few of these could make for pretty neat locales to further develop. The failures are also interesting: Particularly windy hillocks; a glade that runs with spring water at night, an old hay barn infested with spiders, a loch infamous for midges…yeah, the PCs won’t have a pleasant stay there.

Now, as you all know, I enjoy murderhobo-ing througha dungeon as much as the next fellow, but I am also one of the guys who needs regular changes of pace to not be bored. As such, investigations, particularly complex ones, are a favorite of mine and something I usually have to design myself. There is an issue inherent there, and that would be that capable players will want to do their legwork, gather all information possible, etc. Well, the next section contains no less than 100 gloriously-paranoia-inducing conversation snippets that the PCs may pick up – whether by chance, as a red herring, or as an actual plot point, these make for a cool and fun form of additionatal information – I’d be really surprised if a player’s intrigue wasn’t piqued by an account of a purple worm exploding, for example.

Now, there is something inherently cool and creepy about timepieces; perhaps its their inevitability; perhaps it’s the visualization of our own finite existence, but the blend of memento mori and inevitable march of time is something I consider to be intriguing per definition. Thus, the 50 strange timepieces depicted in the next section have an inherent appeal to me and once more run a gamut of interesting tricks: Take e.g. a 33 ft. tower with a water clock powered by elementals. A chamber that has elephants as a meansof powering a bell. A fey-bone and elf-tooth-based sundial; a zombie cockerel that crows at dusk and dawn. An animated object tat screams every hour. With precious few words, the author manages to generate a sense of delight and wonder, often suffused with the trademark blend of macabre and funny.

One of the things that EVERY GM is sooner or later likely to run afoul of would be the issue of talking to animals via magic; per definition, animals don’t suddenly become intelligent when subjected to such magics…and as such, it is somewhat baffling that I know of no other table that actually deals with the singleminded and, potentially quite literally, pigheaded responses of the creatures of the animal kingdom. From hunger to “How do I know that you’re talking?” or “Darktime bad” to others, this table is really helpful, cool and once more, a welcome addition to my arsenal.

After these tables, we get a brief essay on the fine art of the recurring villain – something significantly harder in pen & paper RPGs than in computer games or movies: After all, our players aren’t dumb. They’ll chop the head off, burn the remains and scatter the ashes to the 4 winds. Okay, well, at least my players are wont to do that. While the article obvious refers to several specific spells etc., the advice per se is sound regardless of system. A nice article.

Speaking of villains? If you’re like me, you may consider it to be weird that all those villains dealing with demons, devils, forces from beyond space and time…you know, the fellows that sell their soul…get such “pleasant” ends, that PCs get to console themselves that their foe gets their due in the afterlife? Well, we get no less than 20 entries of descriptive texts that describe truly horrific ends for all those evildoers, ends that should make the PCs very much contemplate whether going darkside is such a good idea..

…you know, whenever I contemplate how diverse we human beings are, I feel a sense of awe. Each one of us has skills and trades that others may consider obscure, strange or utterly baffling. Now picture what would happen if we applied that type of diversity to a magical fantasy world. We’d get specialists for the most obscure of tasks, right? Well, the next table sports no less than 100 utterly obscure professions, ranging from carriage lamp-fitters to gelatinous cube merchants, hippogriff trainers, paste gem makers, leech collectors…okay, there are a couple of less uncommon professions here, but these, ultimately, are required to maintain a sense of grounding amidst all this weird. Noseflute carver extraordinaire. Just sayin’.

More detailed than regular entries would be the 12 osessive and weird collectors of strangeness. What do I mena by this? Well, can you imagine a gorgeous, but demented lady, capable of smothering statues in admiration? What about a butterfly collector that has even gloomwings and a mothman as part of the collection? Yeah, these are really neat as well. 8 seasonal scares with delightful twists on holiday classics are presented next (did anyone say poisoned glaze and twisted snowmen?) and in such an instance, it’s also time to think of the less fortunate, read: Kobolds.

We get a rules-relevant representation of kobolds throwing exploding fire snowballs, death throes and several interesting and fun ideas that can be developed into full-blown adventures; nice section. The book also contains 20 new village idiots (referring to proper class-combos, but otherwise being system-neutral fluff-entries. In the table, there are ghoul rogues, paladins in covert OP-mode or the gnomish chicken woman – inspired entries that can add a cool dimension to a settlement, add a complication or, well, just some cool ideas. A total of 6 low-cost augmentations for homunculi can be grafted to the creatures…like Trebb’s discreet extended poison bladder. Yeah, neat. As you probably know by now, I enjoy notes on coinage – 3 distinct and weird coinages are provided in detail here; including e.g. the crudely cut, triangular Line of Fharr. Is your bard a bit of a poser? Well a total of 6 named and detailed tasks separate the wheat from the chaff: Hard to get right and only something for true masters in their field.

But know what? Kobold-in-chief Wolfgang Baur also contributes to this book: The master of of the kobolds provides “The Joy of Explosions”, an article that begins with 3 apprentices and then moves on to present a total of 23 strange jars, glassware, etc., including fireprood crucible capable of storing phlogiston, etc., distillation equipment, etc. Oh, and there are 12 variant explosions! Blue flames! Dragonfire! Sick burn! Completely silent blasts – yes, some of these have rules-relevant modifications. Yes, I really enjoyed this article.

Miranda Horner proves that she can deliver as well: Big time, in fact: her article is pretty occult in theme, providing 12 dreadful sites and the things that haunt them. Wisp killers…and a man cursed for having had the perfect day. 12 areas of spiritual activity and 12 possessed items can also be found.

After this one, we get an assortment of d12-charts: For heroes named Thedge, for improbably NPC deaths, NPC moments, obscure pantomime costumes, one-eyed gamekeepers, quirky tavern names…or what about rare and obscure owlbear variants, strange opening lines of dark tales…and much, much more.

The undiscovered bestiary: Ochre jelly, presents a variety of easy to implement variations of the slime, with CR-modifications provided for your convenience.

The final section of the pdf is taken up by “Situation Vacant”, an adventure for 4 1st level characters. An adventure unlike any you have ever played. You see, the PCs are all homunculi, each with unique abilities, each pretty ugly and capable of causing some telepathic static to the others. Oh, and there can be only one. The rather sadistic master wants his monocle retrieved and thus, the PCs have to brave the dread UNDERPLUMBING beneath the master’s lab. This is perhaps one of the most hilarious modules I have ever read. Seriously. The master observes and comments the PCs, allowing the GM to add meta-commentary. The challenges, heck, even some of the area names are hilarious. While we don’t get player-friendly versions of the b/w-maps, that does nothing to detract seriously from this glorious end of the supplement.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no undue accumulation of typos or glitches. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly one-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Interior art is b/w and stock and the b/w-cartography for the module is neat, though the lack of player-friendly versions is a bit of a detriment.

Richard Pett, with support from Wolfgang Baur and Miranda Horner, delivers a truly superb collection of details and miscellanea. This book breathes his signature, dark humor, his vast, unbridled imagination. More so than the first book even, this contains so many inspirational components, it’s baffling. The tables are inspiring and delightful and more than one made me grin savagely, made me chuckle and got those creative juices flowing. The absolutely hilarious module is just the icing on the cake of one awesome little book. This is great, inspiring and very much worth owning. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Into the Wintery Gale: Ancestral Appellations
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/26/2018 05:41:50

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement clocks in at 49 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 45 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Now, the first thing you should know is that the information depicting the basics of Vikmordere culture and valley from the FREE Vikmordere Player’s Primer can also be found herein; the list of names has been moved to its own chapter, though, and there is some reorganization done – after all, this supplement is basically the crunchy GM-book on the subject matter, which also means that it contains pieces of information not intended for the players. I will attempt to remain as SPOILER-free as possible, at least until we get to the discussion of the mini-adventures contained in the book. As always, I will preface the discussion of the adventures with a spoiler-warning. A well-rounded group is generally suggested for attempting the modules.

All right, that component out of the way, we are introduced to the cultural production of the Vikmordere, here in the guise of new magic items, namely ones that make sense in the context of the society: Home stones are attuned to a settlement – even if it moves due to a semi-nomadic lifestyle, the stone allows the bearer to find it once more. Suffice to say, this is helpful for kids lost…and a potential quest waiting to happen, as they’d allow enemies of the settlement to track it. As an aside, they also act as a cool stand-in explanation for being great navigators at sea, as the pdf aptly mentions. AAW Games does the fairy-tale like really well; in a crossover of themes, the eerie loom represents a loom that weaves autonomously…an item that, if its construction is ever unveiled to more industrialized societies, could well shake the economy of nations to the core. Once more, we have a cool, simple item with a ton of adventure-possibility built into it. Clement cups heat beverages and can be helpful when de-icing surfaces…but also interact with the neat hypothermia-rules from the “Into the Wintery Gale” mega-adventure. Totem amulets, usable 1/day, can duplicate summon nature’s ally I. Prismatic vestments enhance the Stealth of the wearer, adjusting chameleon-style to the surroundings.

We also get an array of low-level spells that are available, RAW, exclusively for shamans: Showing snow makes tracks made in 24 hours in the affected area reappear from the snow. Complaint here: The range is incorrect: Long spell range is 400 ft., +40 ft./level, not 500 ft. + 50 ft./level. These deviations regarding ranges also can be found in subsequent spells, which may indicate that there’s intent here; still, as presented, I do not necessarily think that this is the best way to handle balancing these, considering that the existing spell-range defaults already provide a pretty solid selection. Anyway, the level 2 icebloom spell generates a beautiful flower of sharp ice from existing ice, but considering its relatively low damage output and terrain-based use-restrictions, I found myself wishing it had some sort of scaling mechanism – as written, damage remains static. Hunter’s companion is a cool idea: You touch a felled creature and it then follows you, lifted and animated by an invisible force to follow – great for bringing home prey. Not so great: RAW, it can’t affect anything in PFRPG. You see, it affects only “beasts” – and that’s 5e-terminology. Is it supposed to affect magical beasts? Yes? No? No idea. I assume it should only affect animals…but yeah. Avoidable glitch there. Detect Wellsprings detects hot springs; cast scent has another 5e-ism, though a cosmetic one, with a target of “Self” instead of “You”…and as a cantrip, it is pretty OP and lets you basically rid yourself of your scent and attach it to another being, making scent…rather useless. Not a big fan here.

Okay, so next up are rules for Vikmordere battle chants – these are combat feats. Formatting is a bit odd – the feat type is usually put in brackets after the name, not below it – as presented, these would be (Battle Chant Mastery) feats. Okay, so, these chants can only be learned by the Vikmordere, and we get 5: One for each of the saves, one for attack rolls and one for AC. All of them provide a +1 bonus that is applied to the character and all allies that can hear the chant (OUCH! – a scaling maximum number would have been more elegant…).

Okay, so I like this concept per se. At the same time, the 5 chants, even though they stack with themselves up to +3, provide a bit of a conundrum: They fail to denote what action, if any, is required to start and maintain them, making them RAW unusable. Secondly, from a design-perspective, they simple aren’t interesting. No matter how cool the concept, granting minor bonuses to self and allies is just so utterly anticlimactic. If their range wasn’t as wide open, they could grant something cool…or, well, let the Vikmordere do something unique. As presented, they#re a great idea, mired in an execution that is just an escalation of numbers.

Next up, we learn about the Northern Fury Council and the book thankfully regains its composure: A total of 12 one-page write-ups of the clans tell us about their settlements (yes, with settlement statblocks) and customs, as well as their totems, leaders, etc. – it is here that the full-blown wonder once more suffuses the pages – and we even get teeny-tiny full-color maps of the respective settlements…though, alas, we do not get one-page versions, so yeah…a GM can only use these to get an idea of the layout, not use them as proper handouts. Missed chance there.

All right, this concludes the setting supplement section of the pdf; from here, we move to the adventures. The 3 adventures follow a format somewhat akin to mini-dungeons, in that they depict small environments/dungeons suitable for one session of gameplay. Unlike most mini-dungeons, we have less constraints regarding page/word-count, which is why the respective entries for rooms etc. sport read-aloud text for your convenience, so that’s a deviation in presentation you should be aware of. Each of the full-color maps is btw. included in a proper 1-page, player-friendly version – big kudos there.

Since we’ll be looking at adventures now, the following will contain SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

..

.

Okay, only GMs around? Great! The first adventure, “Eye of the Ice King”, is intended for PCs level 5 – 6 and begins in Horasheimur, a Vikmordere village that suddenly found its populace to be susceptible to even mild temperatures…something potentially rather fatal in these environments. Thankfully, the village shaman suspects the culprit: The clan once defeated the mighty Ice King, his soul bound to a wretched golem and in the time since, they have, alas, been less than perfect at tending the site…the shaman suspects that this evil once more stirs. Hence, the PCs travel to the symmetrical tomb, where they have to explore a place that is suffused with, you guessed it, ice-themed adversaries. Drakes, elementals and spirits/undead…and, the fears of the shaman hold true…but to defeat the ice-king, the PCs will have to be smart and first unlock the seal. A carving helps provide a hint here which of the items is the correct key, requiring a bit of thought without feeling hamfisted. The boss-fight is also neat, with infinite, spawning minions complicating the combat. All in all, a solid adventure.

The second adventure “Caves of Cursed Ice” for level 7 – 8 PCs, brings the PCs to the caverns in defense of Therinholm, which is experiencing escalating raids by ice trolls. The adventure begins with the PCs helping to repel an ice troll raid and, provided they accept, gaining tools to survive the task at hand. The PCs exploring these caves will soon note a rather interesting feature: The ice trolls seem to be infected with growths of dark ice…and indeed, the tribe has been taken over by Grenda…a blighted hamadryad. Yeah. That’s CR 17 and pretty much an assured TPK if she’s played even to half her capabilities. Sure, she pretty much doesn’t care about the PCs slaughtering her troll slaves, but she’s the big bad here…and she can’t be realistically bested at this level. She also seems strangely bereft of agenda and just de facto spares the PCs or wipes them out; either feels like fiat.

Neither she, nor the troll chief get stats and the latter is an “advanced icy troll ripper CR 10”, which is actually an interesting way to use pregenerated monsters…but considering that the book doesn’t have the usual limitations of Mini-Dungeons, I still think we should have gotten stats for these fellows at least. On a weird side: The fey’s pet is a hound of Tindalos, which is completely out of left field as far as I’m concerned. Also rather weird: While the complex sports a couple of nice terrain features, it does not capitalize, at all, on the ice-cavern angle. Shoes? Equipment? Irrelevant. Apart froma slope and hard to scale walls, the place seems to favor safe footing. Final complaint: A readaloud-text sports a CR-reference in an obvious search-and-insert hiccup. All in all: A rather weak adventure, consider the oeuvre of both author and company.

The final adventure would be “The Tomb of the Crooked”, for PCs level 11 – 12. Rand the Crooked was the only non-Vikmordere to ever rise to the title of Jarl…oh, and he was a minotaur. Yeah, that is pretty badass. Alas, the shaman of the tribe wasn’t too thrilled, but Rand was a good Jarl and mighty leader; he led a great life and his newformed tribe, the tribe of the bull, prospered. On his death-bed, alas, when he received the final rites, the Vikmordere Ancestor spirits refused him…enraged for being ostracized after a lifetime of faithful service and rulership, the minotaur died, a tragic figure, with a curse on his lips. His tribe did not survive his demise for long. Ages have passed, and now, the PCs have been hired as treasure hunters by a wealthy Klavekian, one Sigmund Torvan, to make their way through the haunted Black Pine Forest (random encounter table included), to find the ruins of the minotaur’s erstwhile settlement and his tomb. This is, by far, the best of the three modules: The traps employed are brutal and breathe an old-school aesthetic; the threat of undead is constant and the final boss fight against the dread wight-ified Rand is a fitting finale…though, again, stats would have been appropriate – this is no mini-dungeon!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, on a formal level, are pretty good; on a rules-language level, we have a couple of unpleasant inconsistencies here, some of which influence rules-integrity. Layout adheres to the gorgeous two-column full-color standard AAW Games employs for the “Into the Wintery Gale”-supplements. The full-color artworks are fantastic, though fans of AAW Games will be familiar with most. The cartography is nice and in full-color, with the player-maps for the modules being a nice plus; on the downside, not getting properly-sized settlement maps sucks a bit. It should be noted that the FREE Vikmordere Player’s Primer is included in the DL, so you don’t have to get it separately. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Justin Andrew Mason and Jonathan G. Nelson provide something of a mixed bag here; on the one hand, I utterly adore the Vikmordere. The player#s primer-section is amazing and the everyday magic items ooze flavor; similarly, I loved the oh-so-brief (1 page each) clan-write-ups of the 12 clans.

BUT…and, alas, it’s deserves its allcaps, this book feels rushed. The spells sport needless deviations from standards; the battle-chants, an amazing idea a) don’t work and b) are executed in probably the least interesting way possible. And then there are the adventures. They are the second-most puzzling aspect here. AAW games know how to make superb adventures; the main author has penned quite a few of them. However, they feel…rushed? Tacked on? They obviously once were Mini-Dungeons that have been slightly expanded…which is nothing bad per se, but for a full adventure, I expect at least multi-templated creatures done for me. One template? Okay, if I have to. Once I have to apply two for a single creature, the workload gets somewhat annoying.

Module #1 is solid, if unremarkable compared to “Into the Wintery Gale”’s ice-themed dungeons (~3.5 stars); module #2 is just…weak. (2 stars) Module #3 oozes flavor… but, much like its predecessors, it suffers from the artificial limitations imposed by the presentation.(~4.5 stars) Why can’t we have a full-blown haunted forest exploration? A ruined village to explore? Where are the global ice cavern complications and the means to outsmart the superior boss in #2? I would have loved to see one of these modules done properly and fully detailed…but as presented, they feel as though they restrict themselves in ways that simply are not required by the format. They also eat up a ton of real-estate, word-count-wise.

You know, space that could have been devoted to more information on…Vikmordere Culture and Society, as noted in the title? Religious rites? Holidays? Food, drink, daily life? Developing them further? Or, well, the “ancestral appellations”? Where are the benefits for calling upon heroes? Where is the cool archetype that gets to channel named heroes with unique abilities and background stories? Heck, you know, you could just provide flavor-modifications à la “Vikmordere mediums call spirit xyz by the name of Ghost Serpent; channeling the spirit…”; there could be real POWER in the ancestral names…you know, traits, feats…it’s a wide open field and one that would thematically have been a perfect fit.

Okay, my disappointment of the lack of the like aside, the real estate devoted to the adventures could have been used to further elaborate the differences between the clans! The final, baffling decision herein would pertain the respective clan’s settlements. We get these teeny-tiny maps for them…even if the maps wouldn’t have been that great, it would have been useful to get them in a proper size. Some ready-to-use maps are almost always better than none and they obviously exist…so where are the full-sized versions?

Honestly, this supplement is somewhat baffling to me. It sports superb prose and cool ideas and contrasts them with problems. The good sections are fantastic, but the less impressive sections…well, are significantly less impressive. Now, I do love the good parts, but when all is said and done, I can’t go higher than 3 stars for this one.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Into the Wintery Gale: Ancestral Appellations
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Bandits of Calhaven
Publisher: Gorgon Breath Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/26/2018 05:40:17

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure clocks in at 22 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 19 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So, there are a few setting assumptions here that should be mentioned: The book assumes a Dark Age, following the collapse of a magical empire, torn apart by the strife between orcs and dwarves, splitting the continent among racial lines; the economic depression following the collapse was quick and severe and, well, “Chaos reigns!” (If you got that reference, props to you!) Anyways, the eponymous city of Calhaven was once a jewel of a place, but nowadays, it lies in ruins, occupied by various clans of lawless bandits; in the aftermath of its sacking and decline, the nearby village of Blackhorse, forced to function without the aid of the empire, has managed to assume a role as a small center of commerce. We begin this adventure with the PCs exploring Blackhorse, where you can find the usual places, but also a farmer’s market and a lodge of individuals seeking to reconnect with the empire. The village comes with a really nice b/w-artwork depicting it, but honestly, I wished we got a proper map instead. There is another component to be aware of: Blackhorse has a printing press AND a local newspaper. While I am not opposed to this concept per se, it does somewhat clash with my conceptions of a fantasy Dark Age, as, well, printing presses are an instrument for enlightenment. A printing press is one thing to explain away, but the presence of a local newspaper is slightly harder to stomach; it assumes general literacy, the resources available, the infrastructure to pay for it, etc. – in the aftermath of a society’s collapse, that stretches my imagination hard, even when I give the module the benefit of the doubt.

Structure-wise, the module sports 3 random encounter tables and the NPC/monster-appendix in the back is pretty massive, providing stats for named characters, including for the non-combatants. There are a couple of glitches in the statblocks, though, both regarding attack bonuses and formatting. Italicizations have not been implemented at all and the headers for actions/reactions are missing, which makes it harder than it should be to differentiate between active and passive abilities and read the statblocks. Considering that quite a few are taken from the MM, this is rather odd. If you’re one of the GMs who has trouble improvising read-aloud text, then you should be aware that this module does not offer the like.

Anyways, this is as far as I can go without going into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! After the PCs had a bit of time to familiarize themselves with Blackhorse, they are contacted by the local innkeeper Saul. His son Toby seems to have gone missing. Following the tracks through farmland to the forest, the PCs will encounter a brownbear, the boy’s blade lodged into the creature. There is no way presented in the module to not kill the bear. In the aftermath of the struggle, the PCs will note that there are signs of struggle, of course thus pointing to the eponymous bandits of Calhaven as culprits.

Reaching the city’s massive walls, the PCs can find a shantytown (once more depicted with a really nice b/w-artwork)…which is empty, with murdered bandits all around. Their weapons are gone, though a few gold pieces may be secured by looting the bodies. Similarly, the gate is not manned by bandits…which does not bode well. There is an option to scale the walls as well. Walking through the ruins of the once grand city, the PCs will have to deal with a few random encounters before catching a conflict between bandits and skeletons + zombies. A peculiarity in presentation would be that monsters in a room are not bolded, highlighted r mentioned separately, requiring that you read the flavor-text to determine their number. This may not be problematic for most GMs, but it represents a comfort-detriment and makes it harder to run on the fly. It’s a needless downside.

Here would be as well a place as any to mention that the module sometimes alternates between the third and second person, and numbers are similarly somewhat inconsistent. It should also be noted that there is no map for the city’s ruins.

Presumably, the PCs save the bandits and are thus led to the base of the bandit Kendra – who turns out to be the mother of the errant Inn keeper’s boy; turns out that his dad had a hidden bandit past. The young fellow wants to stay with his mother, his bravado against the growing undead threat a façade. Kendra asks the PCs to assault the imperial center, the apparent source of the relentless undead that have begun plaguing the city. A nice, hand-drawn b/w map of the complex is provided, though, annoyingly, we don’t get a player-friendly, key-less version. The map also sports no grid, but at least has a scale included.

It is here that we change gears towards a more traditional “dungeon” exploration, as the PCs sift through the ruins of old. The couple of rooms are pretty solid and relatively interesting, with e.g. a magical, recycling toilet as an interesting component. That being said, there are a couple of unnecessary hiccups in the details – multiple instances of untyped damage that should be e.g. poison damage, Arcana misspelled as Arcane…you get the idea. The glitches are cosmetic, but they do accumulate.

Ultimately, the PCs find a remnant of a Gate-network, one that was activated: On the other side, a massive army of undead, lead by a lich, is preparing to march through, so they should close the gate, pronto. Somewhat weird: The closing process requires “full concentration”, which isn’t really a rules term in 5e; concentration. It should also be noted that the character in question attempting to close the gate must remain on the dias, which makes the task less easy than you’d think. Slightly odd to me would be that the gate doesn’t have a damage threshold. The pdf notes on how to proceed with the consequences of the gate network, though, imho, that aspect should have been noted from the start. Even a partially functional gate network is a pretty damn big deal and while the GM can explain that away, it’s still something that not everyone wants in their games.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are okay; I noticed more minor glitches than I expected at this brevity, several of which pertain minor aspects of the rules-language. A few of them can be ignored, but here, we have too many. The issues with the formatting are annoying – non-italicized spells, the lack of subheaders in the statblocks, creatures not bolded in the text, etc. make this module significantly less convenient than it should be. Layout adheres to a no-frills two-column b/w-standard. The highlight of the book would be the b/w-artworks of the environments; the one full-color artwork of an evil knight before a horde of the dead felt cheesy to me. The map of the dungeon is solid, but the lack of a player-friendly map is annoying. The lack of maps for the settlements also makes them more opaque than they should be. The pdf does not have any bookmarks, another strike against the module.

Marshall Lemon’s “Bandits of Calhaven” is per se a decent adventure. The setting hinted at here and there is interesting.

Yeah, sorry, that’s about the only thing I liked about this adventure. The monsters are painfully standard fare and bland; the module per se constitutes a series of combat encounters that didn’t do anything for me, courtesy of the lack of interesting terrain features, maps or unique tricks at the beck and call of the critters. While the adventure has a few scenes where it manages to generate a bit of atmosphere, even that is not really used well: Exploring the shantytown with all the dead, exploring the ruins, should be scenes where tension is vamped up, where paranoia is generated. Here, they just flow. Nothing really exciting happens. The finale is also pretty anticlimactic – if the GM plays the foes smart and the PCs are unlucky, they may well be wiped out, courtesy of a single PC’s botched concentration rolls, all while the rest of the party slogs through the foes emerging. The behavior of the opponents makes also no sense in that encounter. Why not send a properly powerful commander through first?

Anyways, even if I take all of that into account, you could argue that the module is at least decent. However, this adventure is incredibly inconvenient; more so than Geoffrey McKinney’s self-published wall-of-text AD&D-hexcrawls. The formatting deviations are inconvenient and the lack of maps and bookmarks add further strikes against the module.

Which leaves me with precious few positive things to comment on. While the publisher is relatively new, there are plenty of publishers that manage to get all of these things right…and more. Even if I only compare this to other 5e-modules, it falls flat of the formal standards and it's simply not interesting enough to make up for these shortcomings.

There is one positive aspect to this module, namely that, as per the writing of this review, it is available for a single buck. That is fair for the nice b/w-artworks…but then again, I know a ton of better, free adventures. I try hard to find the positives about an adventure, but here, I don’t have much to praise. Considering the vast amount of superior offerings out there, I can’t go higher than 1.5 stars…and honestly, I can’t find it in me to round up.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Bandits of Calhaven
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The Nyctomancer's Handbook
Publisher: Drop Dead Studios
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/25/2018 02:06:24

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Spheres of Power-expansions clocks in at 34 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 29 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, as always, we begin with a nice piece of prose before we get a summary of how to use this expansion for the Dark sphere – perhaps one of the “less sexy” spheres and one of the more difficult to write and expand upon, so how this fares is rather interesting to me.

The first chapter starts off with the new archetypes, the first of which would be the darkshaper, who gets a modified skill list, 4 + Int skills per level and proficiency in both simple weapons and light armor. The archetype uses Charisma as governing casting ability modifier. The archetype is primarily defined by the shadow limb ability, which replaces bound equipment, summon armor and bind staff. What does it do? As a move action, the darkshaper may animate his shadow as an extra limb. This limb has a 5 ft.-reach and a primary natural attack that inflicts 1d4 piercing and slashing damage (1d3 for Small darkshapers – minor complaints: “Small” not capitalized; dual damage types can be a bit wonky in interaction – that aspect would have been more elegant with options to switch. The darkshaper employs Charisma instead of Strength for atk and damage with the limb as well as on CMB checks. At 15th level, activation can be alternatively done as a swift action, and at 20th level, the darkshaper may do so as a free action.

The limb may be used for delicate manipulations and can wield weaponry, activate spell completion/trigger items etc., but not wear armor. At 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter, the shadow’s reach increases by +5 ft. Dismissing the shadow limb is a free action and it gains a +1 enhancement bonus at every odd armorist level beyond 1st. Kudos: +5 limit remains intact and the wording covers special weapon ability gains properly, noting which ones wouldn’t work. The darkshaper may manifest an additional shadow limb at 6th level and every 6 levels thereafter and multiple shadow limbs may be manifested with the same action. The limbs all share their enhancement bonuses and qualities, thankfully, for the qualities may be changed each time the limbs are manifested. Additionally, this counts as Animated Shadow for the purposes of prerequisites and simultaneous use is not possible. Additionally, a darkshaper that hits a target with a shadow limb attack may use a swift action to cast a (shadow) talent at the usual spell point cost on the target.

All in all, an interesting archetype with cool visuals – enjoyed it! Next up would be the invidian symbiat, who gains both the Mind and Dark sphere as bonus talents at first level, replacing mental powers. The archetype also begins play with Step Through Darkness as a bonus talent, being constantly under its effects sans requiring spell points to activate it. 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter increase the range of the talent by +10 ft..

Unlike regular symbiats, these folks draw from their inner demons to generate effects, replacing the symbiat’s psionics, but counting as such. This ability would be the blackened psyche, and its save DCs are governed by Intelligence. The abilities include 60 ft.-range concealment for one round as an immediate action, with the miss chance scaling. 6th level nets the ability to render targets within 60 ft. flat-footed, as they jump at shadows, with 9th level and every 3 levels thereafter yielding an additional target; instead of an additional target, this effect may instead be applied to additional attacks versus the target…your rogue buddy will love you for it. This one replaces telekinetic edge. At 11th level, targets within 60 ft. become shaken on a failed save, replacing psionic fortress. 16th level provides a brutal debuff, allowing the invidian to render targets briefly staggered as well as getting -6 to Str and Dex.

The shifter class is next, with the Nocturnal Predator, who begins play with both the Alteration and Dark spheres as bonus talents, but at the cost of the Photophobic Casting and Lycanthropic drawbacks. As usual, if you have a sphere already, you do not gain the drawbacks. The drawbacks are each linked to one of the spheres. Within an area of dim light or less, the archetype may employ the Alteration sphere’s shapeshift to herself as a move action, and maintaining it only requires a move action to maintain concentration while in areas of dim light or less. This replaces and counts as quick transformation. The archetype also receives +1/2 class level to Stealth as well as Nightvision and a bonus Bestial trait. 10th level unlocks using Stealth while observed. Also at this level, while near/within an area of dim light or less, the archetype may hide sans cover or concealment. Kudos: Own shadow does not qualify. Nice catch! This replaces wild empathy, steal language, boundless communication and endless communication. 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter provide sneak attack, but only with natural attacks, replacing enhance and enhanced physicality.

Next up would be an archetype for the unchained monk, namely the shadow boxer, who gains a slightly modified class skill list and uses Charisma as governing attribute for monk abilities instead of Wisdom. The shadow boxer’s shadow has a reach of 5 ft. an may be assumed and dismissed as a free action, functioning as a means to deliver attacks and touch attacks and modify, analogue to the darkshaper, complex tasks. They do lose stunning fist and fast movement for this. It should be mentioned that the shadow’s attacks count as unarmed strikes for the purpose of monk damage scaling and use in conjunction with flurry. The shadow does not grant extra attacks or additional magic item slots. Instead of the 1st and 2nd level bonus feats, the archetype gains Basic Magical Training, but is locked into the Dark sphere. Extra Magical Talent is treated as an eligible monk bonus feat for the archetype. Instead of using spell points, the modified dark ki points are used to pay for point costs and talents from the Dark sphere may be used instead of ki powers. The pool is btw. also governed by Charisma. Nice one.

The skulk fey adept replaces fey magic with the Dark sphere as a bonus magic talent. A Dark sphere talent not maintained through concentration (or one that no longer is maintained) retains in effect for ½ class level rounds before disappearing. This replaces master illusionist. Instead of create reality, 6th level yields siphon shadow. The skulk may use the fey adept’s shadow point reserve to attempt to siphon away a creature’s shadow as a melee touch attach. On a success, the target must succeed a Will-save to avoid having the shadow stolen. The skulk gains 1 temporary spell point for every 2 dice (should be plural in the book) of shadowmark damage when successfully stealing a shadow. These do not stack with others or other points gained by this ability and only last for 1 round per caster level. Oh, and the skulk may NOT gain more spell points than the target has HD! Elegant caveat that prevents exploits by tormenting bags full of kittens. Kudos! A target whose shadow is stolen is immune against effects that manipulate the shadow. Items hidden in e.g. shadow stash remain inaccessible while a shadow is stolen. A single target can only be subjected to the ability once in 24 hours. But wait, you can still abuse this via summons etc., right? WRONG! Thankfully, the ability has another caveat that prevents abuse versus 0-Int or summoned creatures. Impressive!!

When a skulk has stolen shadow, she gains insight into the target’s available spells, SPs and talents and may spend a shadow point to temporarily duplicate a sphere and a number of talents possessed by the target. The number is governed by level: 1 talent at 6th, +1 every 4 levels thereafter. These arcane forgeries remain for caster level rounds and must be paid for with the skulk’s spell points. Alternatively, instead of a talent, a single-use SP or spell may be chosen; once more, the complex rules-language holds fast. Kudos: No material component or focus cheesing. 20th level lets the skulk ignore advanced talent prerequisites of arcane forgery’d talents and copy a second sphere. This archetype is AMAZING. It entwines the base class options in a complex, well-constructed manner with the archetype AND manages to get a truly complex, massive rules-operation done right. Well done!!

The talent thief would be an archetype for the unchained rogue. The archetype nets a modified skill-list. Instead of rogues’ edge, talent thieves are Low Casters using Intelligence as casting modifiers, with a spell pool equal to class level + casting ability modifier, min 1. They may select magic talents from the Dark sphere instead of a rogue talent. Minor complaint: While evident from the context, the archetype should probably be locked into the Dark sphere. At 4th level, debilitating injury is replaced with shadow theft. Critical hit confirmations with melee attacks that qualify for sneak attack damage get the option to forego all sneak attack damage to gain temporary spell points for each sneak attack die foregone. The limitations of shadow theft noted above apply here as well, though willing targets may have their shadow stolen sans damage. Weird: The ability mentions that such targets don’t get an AoO…but RAW, the ability does not trigger an AoO…looks like some sort of hiccup. 10th level provides basically another variant of the aforementioned temporary talent stealing, though this time around, number is tied to sneak attack damage dice forgone. Beyond that modification, the archetype may also steal feats, though prerequisites still have to be met.

The void gazer thaumaturge begins play with Dark sphere and the clouded vision oracle curse, with class levels as oracle levels for the purpose of determining effects, with other classes counting as 172 level. Maximum vision increase beyond the curse is expressly prohibited. As part of the action of activating a spell or sphere, the CL can be increased by 2, +1 at 5th level and every 4 levels thereafter; however, there is a chance of 15% to suffer occult backlash. When this occurs, vision, including e.g. blindsense/sight is reduced to 5 ft until the character rests to regain spell points. Occulted vision in conjunction with the Dark sphere and its talents only has a 5% chance of backlash. Honestly…I consider the CL-increase, in spite of the potentially brutal penalty, to be overkill. That’s up to +6 at 17th level! Halving these would still make for a powerful option, The void gazer only gains ½ casting ability modifier uses of invocations per day, but may choose to suffer occulted vision’s backlash for an additional use of eldritch invocations. The new invocations available to the class allow for the addition of confusion for a round, adding the Stygian Immersion meld to one target (3rd level), all targets in range at 11th level; at 7th level, when suffering backlash, he can blind a nearby target temporarily; 15th level adds confusion to those within a blot or darkness as a result of Stygian Immersion. It should be noted that these invocations and their mechanics are interesting in that they are tied to the activation of occulted vision and Dark sphere.

There also are 3 new arsenal tricks: Add shadow-themed qualities to summoned weapons/armor, or gaining Shadow Stash, even if you don’t have the Dark sphere – interesting, though the shadow-themed tricks are not uniform in their formatting. While we’re at that subject: 3 special weapon qualities and 2 for armors can be found; shade-hexed weapons get better in shadow, worse in light; tenebrous weapons may be stashed in your shadow. Umbral edge weapons can be used to trigger shadow theft on critical threats, as opposed to confirming them. The shaded armor quality nets Shadowed Mien, sans temporary hit points. Shadow warded armor grants full AC to touch AC versus attacks by a shadow.

Okay, you probably had some question marks when I referenced blot talents, right? These are darkness-effects on two-dimensional surfaces, basically splotches of dark that do not influence the level of lighting. Dark talents with the (blot) tag can be added to an area of darkness to cause additional effects, but only one such effect may be added, though different instances modified may overlap. They do not stack with themselves or other blot or darkness effects. In order to be affected by a blot, a creature must be in contact with it. They are treated as darkness for meld-purposes as well as interaction with the Light sphere.

These are interesting, allowing the nyctomancer to conceal terrain, stagger targets in a darkness or blot (thankfully with follow-up saves and immunity against that specific casting upon making the save to balance the AoE), causing Wisdom or Dexterity damage…and there is basically a blot-based portable hole! Really cool! Speaking of which: A status/direction-knowing trick based on darkness, blot or shadow is really cool for investigations. What about manipulating darkness or blots for thievery or creating a slick darkness? Some really neat options here.

(Shadow) talents manipulate the target’s shadow sans requiring a manifestation of darkness, unless otherwise noted, at Medium range with a standard action to activate. Once again, one per target, with Will-save to negate. They are not suppressed by glows and Light caster need to surpass the MSD of the shadow-effect’s caster to apply the Light effect; otherwise, the Light effect is suppressed. These include rendering a target blind via their shadow, splitting a shadow off as a shadow lurk that acts as a kind of modified unseen servant and aforementioned Shadowed Mien, which grants a social skills-enhancing shadowy aura, optionally with added temporary hit points. Shadow Stash, which I mentioned before, is a pretty self-explanatory option to stash stuff in your shadow – gold for infiltrations.

New basic talents sans these tags include the sickening Black Lungs, particularly nasty for Verbal Casting folks (and you can take it twice to add poison as insult to injury). Centering darkness or blots on targets and items rather than areas is a HUGE gain of flexibility that the sphere really needed; making darkness only block light from one vantage point is glorious regarding the tactical applications. Extinguishing nonmagical light rather than suppress is will probably be a boon to dark/ice-themed characters and you may use the darkness to dispel magical flame sources. Making darkness flow like liquid is also really cool. A counter versus divine, gaze into the abyss, also had me smile – I know what the criminals and less savory sphere users will consider to be mandatory… There is btw. also nice interaction of Obfuscation with the potent tricks introduced in the Diviner’s Handbook. Applying melds to more targets via additional spell point expenditure is another trick the sphere needed. Applying more shadow talents based on CL, making darkness or blot traps…really cool. The Stygian Immersion I mentioned before would btw. be a meld that makes a blot behave as a pool of water. Really cool! Clearsight, Disorienting Darkness and Step Through Darkness also gain augmented options for investing an additional talent in them, with the new tricks interacting well with the engine-extensions herein.

In the category of advanced talents, we can find the self-explanatory Animated Shadow, darkness, shadows or blots that render alignments NULL (cool!), upgrading Shadowed Mien to protect from daylight etc. – neat! As a formatting complaint that should definitely have been caught; Melt into Shadows’ title has not properly been depicted as a sub-header. The talent is damn cool, though: It makes you a blot , with climb speed and modifications and all. One with the Void does the same for darkness. Shadow Double, finally, is just what you’d think it is – basically the spherecasting version of the shadow clone trope. Really neat: We also get a new incantation assigned to Death and Dark spheres, the Rite of the Revenant Shade, which calls forth just that: A creature that was slain has its shadow seek out the killer to exact horrid vengeance.

The feat-chapter spans a total of 15 feats, which interact well with the material herein: Aura of Mystery makes your Obfuscation a constant effect; we have several shadow lurk upgrades; follow-ups for Step Through Darkness…and there are sphere-spanning feats for e.g. Dark/Warp-synergy, making targets more susceptible to Mind effects, etc. The new types of talents are also gainfully used, with Imbue Shadow allowing you to choose (darkness) or (blot) talents to make them behave as (shadow) talents. 3 solid traits are included (e.g. darkvision for your own darkness – cool!) and a new general drawback represents performance anxiety when observed. 4 Dark and one Light-sphere-specific drawbacks complement this section. Fetchlings, Tieflings and Wayang also receive alternate racial traits and there is even a familiar archetype here. Wanted a shadow familiar? Well, now you can have one.

In the equipment section, we have contrast spectacles that help identify Dark sphere effects by clearly outlining boundaries – now I really want a truly DARK dungeon (think Dark Souls’ 4 Kings-boss area, just with traps and corridors…) – this one is interesting! The soot-stained bell known as obdurate douter can snuff fire and light; obsidian keys allow those donning them to benefit from Clearsight and Darkvision with regards to the attuned Dark user. Shadow-dipping gloves allow enterprising thieves to pick items from Shadow Stashes. There even is a minor artifact, the Spike of Affixion that represents the classic trope of nailing a creature’s shadow to the floor, thus restricting it. Nice!

The bestiary section sports the CR +2 (less than 9 HD)/+3 (9 or more HD) darkened creature template for full-blown stealth action; The CR 8 devouring hole (nice picture included!) is basically a sentient , really dark portable hole construct…cool idea! And yes, construction notes included.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are, for the most part, very good; rules-language, with very few exceptions, is precise and concise, and becomes problematic in none of the cases where it’s slightly glitchy. Most boil down to aesthetics or formatting-consistency. Layout adheres to Drop Dead Studios’ two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports a blend of stock art I’ve seen before and some new interior art; particular the new pieces are interesting. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Steven Loftus did not have an easy task here – the Dark sphere is, arguably, one of the less sexy and more specialized spheres. Unless I am sorely mistaken, I have never encountered a book penned by him before, so this does get the freshman bonus – and it is one promising start!!

That being said, what he has done with the material herein must be commended. The added flexibility the new talents provide is a boon indeed; the new options are balanced, interesting, employ cool visuals and, as a whole, make this an amazing addition to the series. Some folks may complain that eh complex engines in the archetypes have some overlap, but that only proves true on a cursory glance: The individual modifications are well-made and math-wise sound.

In spite of my expectations for this book, or rather, lack thereof, this managed to put, time and again, a smile on my face, courtesy of the highly complex and rewarding operations performed herein…and due to the fact that it makes the Dark sphere as cool as it should be – all without just copying and palette-swapping the Light sphere…and all that, while maintaining compatibility with the other books in the series.

Well done, sir!

There are precious few complaints I can field against this; as mentioned before, I consider the thaumaturge CL-escalation a bit too much; the editing could have been tighter. But those drawbacks are mitigated by the cool concepts herein. It is only due to these minor gripes that this misses my seal of approval; my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Nyctomancer's Handbook
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Hark! A Wizard!
Publisher: Zzarchov Kowolski
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/25/2018 02:04:26

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement clocks in at 28 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 25 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Now, first things first: Unlike most books by Zzarchov Kowolski, this is NOT a dual-stat book. This toolkit is intended for NGR (Neoclassical Geek Revival); while there is some value to be found within this for other rules-systems, but in the end, the majority of this books contents NGR-material. I assume familiarity with NGR in this review.

So, what is this about? Well, I think that pretty much any GM has encountered the random wizard issue before. Unlike sorcerers and similar spontaneous casters, the wizard sports a big issue for the referee: The reward-to-work-ratio for making wizards for random encounters and anything other than BBEG often just isn’t right. Making spellbooks and selecting spells is a chore…and with some bad luck, your cool, detailed wizard will be crited to smithereens after one spell…or perhaps before that.

Things get worse when books note “choose xyz spells” or “1d6 random spells” – it honestly infuriates me. Anyways, this book is intended to remedy this issue to a degree in NGR. The first20-entry table contains general grimoire names for wizards to hold on to; after that, we get 8 different tables, 8 entries strong each, with different themes like hedge magic, wizard schools, quasi-religious tomes, etc. – you get the idea.

After these basic titles, we get more in-depth entries for the grimoires: Each of these sport the title, a piece of read-aloud text and mentions the spells contained within. The read-aloud text is often inspired, and it also sports the subtle and hilarious humor of the author here and there: The Book of Aarrrgh… for example is so named due to the supernatural entity bound within, conveniently unleashed upon reading the book… The Rot on the Roots of Yggdrasil talks about the dread MiGo, here envisioned as a demon-god…or is that a misunderstanding? The referee will ultimately decide. Little handbooks, strange astrological tomes on constellations on the Western pole…you get it. Really nice diversity here!

The pdf then provides a brief and succinct write-up pertaining the use of Sage to reverse-engineer the abilities of strange creatures as spells. It’s a third of a page and works perfectly in conjunction with NGR.

The remainder and lion’s share of the book, though, would be taken up by a massive selection of different spells for NGR. They note their respective templates to difficulty, cost, range and complexity and add some further depth to the engine. Take A Master of Constellations, which allows you to set a condition to a spell to activate or deactivate, tying magic to astrological or astronomical conditions, explaining a metric ton of unique complex properties and things you see in many a module…and, obviously, letting players for once use this type of thing can be really rewarding! And yes, toggling on/off can also be done with this one. Generating illusions in a limited square, DR, enhancing items by inscribing earth runes, concealing yourself in starlight…the spells have a subtle aesthetic that hearkens closer to actual real-world beliefs regarding magic, less to the flashy magic-laser-beams…which ultimately makes the chapter feel more alive and evocative. That being said, there are damaging spells – like a conical bee swarm blast (or, well, use Beelzebub’s hellish flies); gaining influence via BFF or, well, there is a spell, where you can conjure forth vents, inflicting nasty disease that may cause the target to return from death as an undead, making great use of NGR’s engine.

Speaking of spells that evoke themes we are familiar with and ties it into the game-mechanics: What about drinking blood under moonlight to replenish mana. Carrion’s Debt Foreclosed can generate undead from carrion eaters and there is a representation of containing spells in bubbling broth or potion, though its power will decrease over the course of time – so yeah, no stockpiling…and power-loss once more ties in perfectly with NGR’s spellcasting engine. Now, a couple of them…well, are intended for mature audiences. Like Congress of Yig – to quote a part of the text: “The spell draws in magical energy from the act of sexual congress with a serpent. Ew.“ Yeah, I couldn’t have said it better, but it does add power…and a level of being despicable/morally transgressive to all those serpent cults that haunt our games.

Mechanically interesting would also be cooled passions, which allows for the indefinite increase of a spell’s duration at the cost of not being able to cast the spell again; alternatively, the spell can be linked to a trigger spell, which can act as a means to end that binding. Thoroughly creepy: Cordyceps Mammalia does the “Last of Us”-move and animates the dead via cordyceps fungi, potentially with free-willed consequences. Yes, I am freaked out by this one. Drawing mana from the plants (Defiler-style), making shadows flicker, delayed force orbs...what about eliminating undead with dust to dust?

Siphoning magic from eggs is also really cool; there would be a spell that helps eliminating mutations at the cost of stress…which may actually hasten the transformation of deep one to hybrid, for example. Funny and interesting: Fireworks of Happyland, which only deal damage on a 1 or 6, with 6s adding more dice for potentially brutal consequences, otherwise focusing on blinding foes temporarily. Temporarily gaining dhampir-fangs and the ability to regain mana via drinking blood is nice.

The Grand Idol of Bhaal allows for the caster to bind demons, djinn, etc. in idols, once more codifying a classic trope within the context of the game. What about Happily ever after, a spell that acts as a trigger based on e.g. a prince’s kiss. Or Influence-based hypnotic gaze, appeals that damage supernatural targets or a spell to remove texts, images, etc. via lost to the ages? On the necromancy-side, we get a spell to animate a target you have personally drained as a vampire…and, really macabre (and some might argue, tasteless), one that animates a stillborn child as an undead. Yeah…personally, I could have done without the existence of this one. On the plus-side, strange spores, calling miniature comets and tapping into the power of e.g. eclipses makes sense and works well.

There is also an advanced locking spell…and Schmetterling (German for Butterfly, just fyi): A flight spell that only allows the target to be attacked in melee by non-fliers as an interrupt. There is a spell to create a portal in the shadow of objects…and one that lets you emit a horrid blast of static, white noise-like shrieking. Oh, and what about locking supernatural targets into the skulls of targets? Yes, they may be alive. Yes, those voices may either be insanity…or dread magic…Calling a hart to the caster, dripping acid…and, well, you get 3 guesses what Toad! does…

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious glitches on either formal or rules-language levels. Layout adheres to a nice two-column b/w-standard and the pdf sports a couple of nice, original b/w-artworks inside. The pdf comes with full, nested bookmarks, making the use of the pdf pretty handy and comfortable.

Sooo, I really liked Zzarchov Kowolski’s “Hark! A Wizard!” – but I kinda did not get what it says on the tin.

The official description reads: “Hark! A Wizard! Is a generator to give NPC wizards a cohesive set of spells in just a few seconds. It is a useful tool for further lowering the prep required with a game of Neoclassical Geek Revival.” This is not what I got. Not at all.

Did I love the cool modifications and options presented in all those spells? Yeah! There are some gems here. Not all are perfect, but there are some amazing gems here. Similarly, I really, really liked the sample read-aloud texts and diverse ideas for grimoires, making spellbooks feel, well, interesting and creative. The subtle, dark humor of the author makes reading this rules-book actually enjoyable.

But know what? I got this pdf because I expected a generator to make wizards quickly. Are the modifications herein capable of making the NGR-magic rules more versatile and smart? Yeah! They are! They are great. They help you make spells more unique, modify them, etc. Pretty much everything here is really cool…

…but it’s not a way to give NPC wizards a cohesive set of spells in a few seconds/minutes. It’s an expansion of the magic-engine. That rocks. It sports great spellbook dressing. Which once more rocks. However, as a generator to make quick wizards for NGR? Honestly, I don’t even get where that aspect is coming from. It does not really offer that. Beyond the grimoires, it does not expedite the process of making a wizard in the slightest.

As a reviewer, that leaves me in a weird place. Frankly, I should rate this down. Were I to rate this on its merits as a generator, I’d have to pronounce this a failure, at best as a mixed bag. Then again, if I rated this as a spellcaster’s expansion for NGR that adds depth and fun to the already impressive magic system, then this would be a 5 star + seal of approval recommended masterpiece.

The matter of fact remains, though: Not what it was advertised as. While I consider this to be a must-won expansion for fans of NGR, I have to take that into account as a reviewer.

As a generator, I’d consider this to be a 2-star file. As a magic-expansion for NGR, I’d consider it to be 5 stars + seal. In the end, my final verdict will fall in between these, at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Hark! A Wizard!
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Monster Menagerie: The Swarminomicon
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/24/2018 02:41:47

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This deluxe-sized installment of the Monster Menagerie-series clocks in at 56 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page introduction, 3 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 49 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Unlike many similar supplements, this book offers some supplemental material employed in the builds, so it makes sense to mention them before getting into the details of the monsters herein. We have a total of 8 different feats: Dispersing Evasion provides the option to fully negate area spell or effect tricks, but requires a full-round action to reassemble on the following round. Swarming Flyby Attack is pretty self-explanatory. Swarming Vital Strike is interesting, as you may determine a single target, doubling swarm attack damage versus the target, not including bonus energy damage etc. The Improved version upgrades that to triple, the Greater version to quadruple; Prerequisites make sense. Swarm Crusher lets you inflict 75% of damage when attacking swarms of Tiny creatures with slashing or piercing weapons; 25% if smaller. The Improved follow-up feat upgrades that to 100% for Tiny creature swarms, 50% versus swarms of Diminutive creatures, 25% versus swarms of Fine creatures. Swarm Spread, finally, lets a swarm use a swift action to expand reach, at the cost of a temporary swarm damage and DC reduction.

The pdf also contains spells pertaining swarms – summon swarm I is a 2nd level spell, with the upgrades going up to VII. Compress swarm makes the swarm fill the space between creatures, decreasing space, but providing increased damage and DC. Swarm malady adds poison to swarms and swarm wall, well, makes a wall of a swarm. Cool!

Now, as many of you know, I love swarms – swarms and troops are something you’d encounter in pretty much any PF-campaign I’m running. The tactics they require and the concepts are something I enjoy. The swarms herein range from CR ¼ to CR 20, which means that pretty much any group is likely to find some material here…but does it hold up? Well, we begin with the Assassin Swarm (CR 18), who gets massive sneak attack versus targets…and yes, these assassin bugs, specifically bred as killers by nasty druids, do get killing attacks…ouch! Know what happens when you attempt to create a male penanggalen? Something delightfully icky…the CR 7 bowel swarm that can attempt to replace the organs of its victims. See, in a lesser book, this would just be a necromancer’s experiment, but here, the contextualization adds another dimension – surprising what you can do with a bit of flavor. This is not the only creepy swarm herein, mind you: The CR 9 ghost swarm can proclaim utterances of doom and ride along within hapless victims; the Cr 6 gibberings warm makes for a cool idea for a phase two form of a mouther –based boss. Really spooky at CR 12: The shapechanging morphic swarm is an excellent hunter and utterly weird. At CR 20, pestilence swarms are things that herald the end of the world if they’re not stopped…good luck with that. Minor complaint here: The swarm employs unholy damage, which RAW does not exist in PFRPG. What about phalanges (CR 14), swarms of hands, still cognizant of arcane energies, now focus on spells…yeah, that should be a nasty wake-up call when the PCs expect wimpy crawling claws and get hit by hand-spells… The Cr 4 gloom swarm, with its light-dimming, can make for a surprisingly nasty foe in conjunction with the undead.

Beyond these, we get the CR 5 caltrop swarm – and, much like all construct-swarms herein, we get creation notes for the swarm. It should also be noted that such construct-like swarms include the innocuous ability, which allows such swarms to remain inconspicuous. It should also be noted that both caltrop swarm and chainlink swarm (CR 6) come with variants for further customization, something that btw. also applies to the CR 7 wire swarm and the shard swarm at the same CR. Sans variant, but no less cool, would be the filament swarm, result of an attempt to create monofilament weapons with magic. Also somewhat in line with potentially science-fantasy aesthetics would be the gravitic swarm (CR 11) that can exert control over gravity for potentially really nasty surprises for PCs…and players! The CR 13 glyph swarm would be a more far-out magical construct – susceptible to erase, capable of cannibalizing symbols and capable of using them quickly and in a deadly manner. Really cool one! What about sentient and usually lawful ki swarms, which sprang to life from ki-infused training materials, roaming the land in search for worthy adversaries? Yeah, that is damn cool. Players will hate the metal-consuming CR 13 adamantine mote swarm. Have I mentioned the CR 14 portal swarm that can teleport parts of you away, thus ignoring DR etc.? Of course, the regimented swarm at CR 12, creature of law and chosen foe of chaos, makes for another cool critter. We can also encounter good or evil toy soldier swarms (CR 5). The CR 8 spikeleaf swarm is a nice plant creature, though, in direct comparison to some of the creatures from the Deadly Gardens-series, it is a bit straightforward. Same goes, to an extent, for the tangelweed swarm at CR 3, though the low CR does make this one interesting and a valuable addition to the GM’s arsenal.

Are you looking for something more down to earth? What about the CR 2 electric eel swarm? The CR ½ firefly swarm? Or the incredibly adorable CR ¼ puppy swarm? Yeah, the “Adorable” is an actual thing here! Scum swarms would be aquatic, plant-based sludge and there is a CR 2 resin swarm that can attempt to encase targets in amber, entangling them first and then trying to suffocate them. There obviously also are creatures herein that can be classified as distinctly magical, steeped in the creature-contexts of the system. Take e.g. the CR 6 wisp swarm, air elemental wisps that can 1/day stun targets or choke its victims. Or what about the symbiotic ferromites (CR 5) that can inhabit rust monsters? Yeah, that is one damn cool idea! The CR 9 grifter imp swarm can steal a ton of items at once; At Cr 8 ice crystal swarms generate a biting cold and may even erect ice walls. The creatures on the cover? That would be the protoyughs, adding a cool component to the life-cycle of the otyugh. Some creatures that die spawn vengeance swarms (CR 15) instead of channeling their spite into becoming undead, a strategy that also is a favorite of hags, just fyi. There also would be a CR 11 flesh-dissolving ooze swarm…and what about the CR 12 entropy swarm, which has potent defenses (non-illusion 50% miss chance), starflight and may dissolve limbs? Oh YEAH! On the lower end of the CR-spectrum, the fatigue swarm (CR 4) can make for a great accomplice for sleep/dream-themed foes and represents an uncommon undead.

On the more whimsical (but no less deadly) side, we also sport fey, like the chordic swarm – music notes turned sentient, with discordant abilities to hamper foes and the ability to buff allies. At CR, the needle drake swarm, with its persistent cloud of stingers, is an intriguing twist on the concept of dragons and a light-based scintillating sprite swarm finally covers all basics you could want. My two favorites herein, though, would be the CR 14 swarmic infiltrator, the evolved form of the morphic swarm, a deadly, intelligent foe that can coalesce into humanoid shapes...and an utterly frightening monster. The temporal swarm, out of sync with time and studded with uncommon abilities would finally be another gem I will definitely use.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level: While I noticed minor hiccups in both departments (missing blank spaces, etc.), they are relatively few and far in-between. Layout adheres to the Grimoire-style 2-column full-color standard of Rogue Genius Games more recent books, making the pdf aesthetically pleasing, but also not particularly printer-friendly. The pdf sports several nice full-color artworks in Jacob Blackmon’s signature style. If you absolutely want an artwork for every creature, you may be slightly disappointed – most of the swarms come sans artwork. The pdf comes with non-nested, but very detailed bookmarks to the individual creatures.

Mike Welham is one of the authors who only very rarely disappoints me; his name on any given supplement is usually a very good indicator that I’ll enjoy what’s inside and this hold true here as well. The critters herein sport a variety of unique signature abilities that set them apart, many of which doe mechanically interesting things, often in creative ways I haven’t seen before. So yeah, the mechanics skill is there. While I did not reverse-engineer all critters herein, I did pick apart some and noticed no glaring issues in that department.

Beyond that, the skills of the seasoned monster author do show: Animal swarms feel like animals; constructs are geared towards functionality when intended as such; leitmotifs are maintained and in the brief paragraphs of flavor text for the creatures, we often add an imaginative and creative context for the creature, placing it in the fantasy worlds we explore. These may be small components, but they do serve to enhance the critters beyond what they would have been in the hands of a lesser author. These subtle extra flourishes are what makes you come up with ideas on how to use and place these monsters, in the cases where a dry statblock alone wouldn’t have sufficed.

In short: After the excellent installment on troops, the series’ deluxe-sized swarm-tome delivers big time. It may not be 100% perfect, but it is a very, very strong book, one very much worth getting, as the amazing components vastly outshine in both quality and quantity the few minor glitches. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Monster Menagerie: The Swarminomicon
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The Battlemage's Handbook
Publisher: Drop Dead Studios
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/24/2018 02:39:12

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This expansion-book for the Spheres of Power-system clocks in at 45 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 40 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

After a nice bit of introductory prose and some notes on how to use this book, we begin with the new class options presented, the first of which would be the combat engineer alchemist, who replaces alchemy with being an Int-based Mid-Caster and a spell pool of his level + int-mod, with each level granting a magic talent and War sphere as a bonus sphere at first level. The archetype gains alchemical engineering, which focuses on creating so-called devices, which are single-use alchemical items used to enhance sphere talents, working per default only with totems, though that may be rectified. Using a device expends a use of the bombs class feature, but unlike bombs, devices do not need to be created beforehand and are used as part of the action activating the talent. Devices that enhance sphere abilities that are attaches to targets necessitate a touch attack with the device to do so. When the engineer uses a device, he can add 1 modification, + another one for every 4 class levels thereafter, culminating at 5. (It should be noted that some modifications count as multiple modifications.) At total of 12 such modifications are provided and include having to save twice, making the sphere ability conveyed as though a bomb. For 4 modifications, the device may even create sphere abilities the engineer doesn’t know – he still has to meet the prerequisites. Better MSD and fuses complement an interesting array, and we also get very shorthand-style discoveries that list, somewhat oddly, their prerequisites in the discovery-names, which also are bolded. Needless deviation here, but ultimately cosmetic. The discoveries are cool and tie in with other spheres as well as including a reduction of multiple-modification-costing device costs.

Next up would be the Dark Presence eliciter, who gains the War sphere and treats his CL as class level and increases the save DC of the sphere by +2 (same bonus applies to the three social skills), which also increase at 6th level and every 6 levels thereafter by +1. This replaces persuasive. 3rd level nets Soul-Piercing Gaze. The archetype gains custom hypnotisms, the first of which makes the target lose Dex-mod to AC for one round on a failed save. 4th, 10th, 16th and 19th level provide confusion, non-lethal damage, nauseating (sickened on a successful save!) and hopelessness, replacing the inspire greatness/heroism, liberate and reverence abilities. The capstone allows for the expenditure of multiple hypnotism uses to affect multiple enemies within a totem’s area – cool one, though I wished that sort of interaction came sooner. The divine heretic warpriest is a Cha-governed Mid-Caster, with class level + Cha-mod spell pool and a magic talent each level. He gains Steadfast Personality at 1st level, using Cha as the feat’s governing attribute and two spheres as domain spheres, one of which must be War. He also gains Totemic Aura as a bonus talent and the Personal Conflict drawback, no drawback if he already has the War sphere; if both are already possessed, he instead may choose a War bonus talent. The second sphere is freely chosen and domain spheres employ class level as CL. Fervor is modified to allow, as a swift action, expend a use of a sphere ability with a casting time of 1 round or shorter, and the ability thus enhanced may only affect the divine heretic and his equipment and effects that move with the character work as well. Ongoing effects are extended by Charisma modifier rounds. This replaces fervor and, in essence, makes abilities that target others or multiple targets personal instead – system-immanently, this is an ability I’d keep a very close eye on, as it is pretty wide open; not broken per se, but definitely an ability that should receive some GM oversight.

Instead of channel energy, 10th level yields domain mastery: Expend 2 fervor to add a magic talent for a single sphere use, with the talent chosen from domain spheres. When used in conjunction with fervent casting, this costs no additional fervor. The capstone nets a 1/day swift action ability to use an unlimited number of self-targeting sphere abilities to target himself or equipment, but spell-costs are retained.

Next up would be the ghost sovereign soul weaver archetype, who replaces Heal with Knowledge (nobility). 2nd level nets a linear ability progression of royal commands that can influence ensouled creatures. The basic buff sports a layout relic, a blank box, as an aesthetic aside.. Higher levels let you cause critters to attacks others; causing others to move, buff bonus upgrade…nice. The 18th level ability to use a standard action to execute a “full-round attack” –this may be further expanded by also allowing for movement by also expending a move action – per se interesting, but also very strong…and potentially bring for the player. This replaces blessings and blights., 4th level nets the option to call forth twilight courtiers, undead designed per Conjuration + undead Creature. 8th level provides totem/mandate-less rally and requires, like calling courtiers, soul expenditure. The capstone allows the character to be whisked away temporarily to the afterlife and to auto-resurrect with negative levels. These sovereigns also have their own twilight kingdom, made with Create Demiplane – interesting!

The Iron mage hedgewitch adds Intimidate, Knowledge (history) and knowledge (nobility) and 4 + Int skills per level. The archetype has good Fort- and Will-saves, poor Ref-saves and loses one tradition. He does gain the War sphere, at class level equal CL with it and a bonus feat with a limited choice-array. The archetype gains casting ability modifier authority points per day, which also represents the maximum cap for them – they behave somewhat like grit, but also take allies into account. Thankfully, they cannot be kitten-cheesed. Iron mages may use a command 1/round; use of a command when it’s not the iron mage’s turn instead consume next round’s command. It would not do the archetype justice to just make it out to be grit-like, though: You see, the ally caveat allows for more reliable regaining of points, and the commands, which are gained in a linear manner, interact in interesting ways with both totem and mandate. Minor complaint: E.g. answer the call lacks the italicization of rally. Plus-side: Moving totems, moving allies, temporary momentum points…damn cool (and more on that later. The archetype also provides an array of tradition secrets, which interact in similarly interesting ways with the base engine of the class – my favorite archetype herein so far: Interesting, unique and meaningfully different playing experience.

The war hero fighter also gets a kind of fleeting resource – greatness, which may, interestingly, be also replenished with breaking shields, succeeding saves, etc. Cool here: Anti-kitten-abuse caveat included! Here’s the interesting component: While not becoming a spellcaster per se, the war hero can, whenever he achieves greatness, trigger an aura, which may duplicate spell point cost-less talents or Totem of War, with higher levels granting totems, multi-aura activations, etc. – nice representation of the gloryseeker and certainly more interesting than the base. The wardmage mage knight is basically a bodyguard-style archetype that may intercept attacks on warded creatures, replacing 1st level’s talent. Resist magic is replaced with a variety of virtues – these are interesting, but sometimes a bit weird: Dedication costs a standard action, for example, and allows the character to make an unlimited amount of such intercepting attacks, which can become ridiculous pretty fast; just picture how war would look between these fellows. It would have been more feasible to us a hard, scaling cap of additional intercepting attacks here. Still, there are some cool tricks here, including ones that reward having specific spheres. 7th level provides another interesting angle here, allowing the target of an attack to be marked, treating any creature the target attacks as warded. This replaces marked and mystic defense is replaced with scaling DR versus enemies intercepted.

The final archetype would be the warmonger symbiat, who replaces Fly with Bluff as class skill and gains a variant proficiency list. He gains War Sphere and Totemic Presence and the Personal Conflict drawback; as usual, already having access to the sphere cancels out the drawback and alternate choices for those that already have the gained options are included. CL is equal to class level; totems have a 60 ft.-radius and allies within the radius may expend momentum from the archetype’s pool. Instead of trap sense, we get a scaling initiative boost, and he gets the option to change weapon damage of allies…which is interesting. Highly problematic: Doubling a successful attack of an ally as an immediate action. So, god-strike, crit-fisher ally and you = double ridiculous damage. Not getting anywhere near my game, particularly considering that the already very potent second attack doesn’t even require line of sight or a roll, which is a bit puzzling, considering that the higher level abilities are potent, but weaker.

The pdf then sports an array of new class features: We get 3 new armorist arsenal tricks, which include substituting casting ability modifier for Strength or Dexterity when wielding a bound/summoned weapon, for example, as well as new special weapon qualities – which are not properly formatted. Eliciters can now choose two new emotions loyalty and resolve; the former is cooperation-focused, while the latter focuses on buffing allies. 10 new mageknight mystic combats include spell point based enhancement of attacks as though using sacred weapons, sharing a mandate versus marked targets or potent swift action assaults can be found: Full BAB-attack with class level as bonus versus marked targets are pretty strong.

Anyways, we also get 3 new rogue talents (once again, oddly formatted), which may sound not like much, but they’re all killer: Not only do they sport interesting interactions with mandate and (rally) talents, they also have an option to be treated as ally for the purpose of a spell, SP or sphere ability – which is pretty amazing. However, this does not cancel being treated as an enemy, which can result in some really wonky interactions. Similarly, limited amount of target abilities and the talent, how do they interact? Can the rogue hijack another’s place? No clue. I really like where this is going, but RAW, it could have used some further gestating.

Then, we begin with the heart and soul of this pdf, namely the magic-section: The War sphere’s talents are codified in various categories that are defined properly; totems (distinguishing between totemic aura and fixed totems), rallies (immediate action ally buffs for targets in totem-range or affected by a mandate), mandates that exist between two characters and there are (momentum) talents, which may be used as a standard action by spending a spell point, granting a momentum pool for 1 hour per CL, holding caster level + key ability modifier points that may be employed by allies within 30 ft. – easily my favorite component of the sphere’s mechanics, btw. – neither activating the pool, nor using it generally provokes an AoO, btw., making this party-driven resource really cool. Momentum, per se, is amazing, let me state that loud and clearly – and the talents offer e.g. the option to use swift actions and 3 momentum to grant yourself another attack at the highest BAB – which brings me to a peculiarity of the book: The bonus-attack-granters, exceedingly potent, universally stack with haste, an interaction that should not work according to PFs regular paradigm. It doesn’t have to break your game, but in the hands of a skilled powergamer, these options become pretty shredder-prone. Particularly since aforementioned momentum talent does not have a minimum level or similar limiter.

Don’t take that the wrong way, though: While I do consider these components to be problematic, there are also a lot of really cool tricks that made me smile: Fast healing/regeneration-suppression via totems, using momentum to demoralize, counterattacks after misses – there is a lot here to love, even before adding benefits to rallies. Minor complaint: I did notice, for example, a reference to the Escape Artist skill not capitalized properly. Also weird: Half of page 23 is blank, making it look like there’s an artwork missing and some text cut off – it’s not, but it generates a somewhat unpolished look there. On the massive plus-side, subverting charms and compulsions, quicker totem movement, buffing negative energy…there are MANY really cool tricks here that made me think of quite a few fun character concepts, like sharing movement, etc. The advanced magic section is rather brief and focuses on attaching totems to vessels or buildings; here, just fyi, the italicization is also not consistent.

The pdf also contains more than 50 (!!!) feats/drawbacks. These include bonuses to Intimidate (not properly capitalized in the pdf) after using a War sphere ability, forbidden lore/totem.crossover, several Dual Sphere talents (like rally allies in wards or dismissing an aegis to reduce the spell point cost of a rally), using Combat Stamina as a spell-point substitute for basic (rally) talents, to be precise, for rallying yourself – which is the only thing that saves this from being OP –Stamina as a replenishing resource acts as a delimiter, so care should be taken if/when building on this. Using spell points as part of a full-attack to replace the first attack with a sphere or supernatural attack is an impressive feat, and one that manages to get its high-complexity verbiage done properly. Synergy between banner and totems, regaining points spent on a self-rally, and a whole array of feats that build on Squadron Commander, which basically establish a collective (the squadron), allows the PCs to gain increased benefits from totems and do so cool stunts…what about e.g. a high-level totem-upgrade that makes foes fade and become less real, treating others as incorporeal? Yeah, that is pretty damn cool.

Beyond the huge feat-array, we also get 6 nice, meaningful traits, 3 generic drawbacks and 4 sphere-specific ones. The pdf also sports new magic equipment – one of these would be the selfless armor quality, which can be used to inflict nonlethal damage to the wearer to grant buffs, which is really cool, since only a full night’s rest helps recover it, making for a per se glorious set-up – unfortunately, the item lacks the caveat that it should not work for creatures immune to nonlethal damage. A shield for amateur interception and 4 different war staff properties can be found. We get banners imbued with totems and there are rally-items – to avoid cheesing, you can only use one of them per 24 hours: Kudos!! And yes, there are stone spheres, which, bingo, serve as mandate items.

The bestiary section sports the blood brothers template (CR +2), which sports a couple of tricks – weird: There are no blank spaces between words in any of the trick-names, which makes sense for some, of them, but not all. Still, throwing your ally, making a miss into a feint for the ally…cool. As a balancing mechanism, these may btw. only be used once per combat – people don’t fall for them twice…usually. (Insert my rant against “per-combat” making no sense in-game here…)

The pdf closes with a page of Player’s advice – which, oddly seems, to reference material that has since been renamed (or not yet released), making the page a bit weird.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, on both a formal level and rules-language level, are not as tight as usual for Drop Dead Studios. There are more formatting issues and minor hiccups than usual, but at the same time, rules-integrity manages to juggle highly complex concepts. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard and the pdf employs solid stock art, as well as quite a few artworks that are probably original, since I haven’t seen them before. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Andrew J Gibson’s battlemage’s handbook has me more torn than any previous Spheres of power-expansion. On one hand, this book does a phenomenal job of providing amazing engines for the War sphere, an upgrade it certainly required. On the other hand, the pdf, more so than usual, feels like it could have used some additional editing and development. The options here, while cool, often feel a bit weird in internal and external balancing. Spheres of Power is already a wide-open system and the couple of unlimited use-tricks and the synergy tricks need careful monitoring. The explicit stacking of swift action full BAB-attacks with other options and haste also represents an escalation that I don’t consider to be necessary…and potentially unpleasant. Considering that Spheres has a built-in options to differentiate between lower-key and more high-powered gameplay, this component in particularly feels like it could have been handled more elegantly.

In short: While the War sphere needed a power upgrade, this handbook imho overshoots the target-line and comparing power-levels of some options, it looks a bit like some minimum-level-requirements etc. were lost or not implemented. The book, in short, ends up closest to the shapeshifter’s handbook in power-level, a development I consider somewhat troubling for the series, considering that Spheres of Power’s original selling point was to feature more toned down, non-vancian casting.

That criticism out of the way, from a mechanical perspective, I absolutely ADORE the engines employed herein, even if I disagree with some details of the respective implementations. While I wholeheartedly disagree with several balancing-decisions herein, there are plenty of solutions that I like. Similarly, evocative combos, cool tricks, flavorful, high-difficulty crunch – you can find all of that in here. In short: If this had been a bit more streamlined in the dev-department, it would have been my favorite Spheres-expansion so far, bar none, perhaps even Top Ten candidate-level. However, the rough patches and editing/formatting hiccups that make this feel a bit less polished, do drag it down from the level of excellence that this would otherwise represent. In short: This is a very good file, but one with rough patches that a GM should be aware of; my final verdict is 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Battlemage's Handbook
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