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BDKR1: The Unofficial Living Greyhawk Bandit Kingdoms Summary
Publisher: Casey Brown
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/13/2016 08:51:52

An Endzeitgeist.com review


And now for something completely different - this book clocks in at 92 pages. While I do own the electronic versions, I'd suggest getting the print version if you can - mainly since I'm old-school and have based this review on the print copy.


This book was moved up in my review queue due to me receiving a print copy of the book in exchange for a critical, unbiased review.


Okay, so what is this? It is, at least to me as a German, a piece of gaming arcana: Back in the 3.X days of old, there was a Living campaign of organized play called Living Greyhawk, shaping the classic world, with different regions sporting different adventures. During the impressive 8-year run of Living Greyhawk, the region Bandit Kingdoms produced more than 130 unique modules. These modules, to my knowledge, have never been published in a concise form, which renders a part of this region's turbulent history...opaque.


Well, no longer. The bandit kingdoms in their diversity are laid open in this book's summaries and depictions. Okay, but why should you care? Well, let me elaborate for a second my own personal stance towards Greyhawk. I know this is tantamount to blasphemy, but here goes: I was never the biggest fan of the setting. Sure, I was pretty excited to get to know the place Mordenkainen called home, where Vecna and Kas feuded...but ultimately, the 3 settings I truly loved from the classic TSR/WotC-IPs will always be Ravenloft, Planescape and Dark Sun. Perhaps it's my own predilection for darker fantasy and horror and the weird fiction in general, perhaps it's just a resonance of the disillusion that accompanied many a book and gaming-supplement for 3.X's FRs and the mounting feeling that this world needed no heroes. I'm not sure. But at the end of the 3.X era, I had the feeling that the realms had devolved into a mess, where every hamlet had a level 16 blacksmith. It's subjective. I still like the realms...but from afar. It should hence come as no surprise that I never went truly deep inside the Greyhawk's canon's evolution during these times.


Turns out that that was a colossal mistake. The flair and old-school vibe of a world close to the brink, with mature shades of grey mentalities and ideologies, the sense of threats I enjoy in offerings by Raging Swan Press, Frog God Games or TPK Games can be found within these pages - as the introduction aptly puts it "I had to save the bad guys from the other PCs." In the Iuz-dominated and war-torn bandit kingdoms, royals are forged by tourneys of madness, taking the crown may spell your doom and heroism has still its place, although it's tinted with a healthy dose of survivalism and realpolitik. From 591 - 598, this book chronicles the adventures that were undertaken by countless players, shaping the destiny of the bandit kingdoms in struggles that deviate from the tired challenge-rating-appropriate-formula in quite a few instances, breathing a sense of old-school danger that has been absent in far too many publications. A handy index sums up the respective scenarios by year for your convenience and we also get a glimpse behind the screen, wherein author Casey Brown, one of the meta-organization coordinators, discusses the respective issues with scenario designs and encounter design problems that resulted from some...well, let's say less than well-conceived design decisions that were imposed on the respective authors.


Now here is the interesting component - this massive book provides a comprehensive list of extensive summaries for all those aforementioned modules. The respective modules come with their own designation, the name of the author and list the AP they are associated with - with AP here denoting the sequence of modules that form a cohesive story, not the "whole campaign"-meaning the term has lately taken as its primary meaning. Each of the respective modules comes with a synopsis of the plot as well as a commentary.


Here would be as good a place as any to talk about Casey Brown's obvious experience in academia: From informative and properly placed footnotes to an easy to read, compelling style, what should by all accounts have been a pretty dry read actually became rather engrossing and kept me awake at night while digesting all the information contained herein - also from a mechanical standpoint, for e.g. calling out the Spell compendium (still hurts to type that book's very name). And yes, these tangents are brief, but their very existence is something I truly appreciate. Additionally, if that sound tiring or bland to you, the respective entries often feature extensive commentary that satisfy another craving of the conditio humana we experience: The human element. When e.g. a knight has won a crown as part of his retirement and steps down in favor of his competitor, only to have said competitor be soultrapped by the vile opposition, you can practically see the tables upon tables of players staring in utter disbelief. When an arrogant player's letter results in him becoming part of the metaplot, when a dwarf's famous last stand becomes a symbol for heroism in a region known for cut-throat politics, betrayal and dishonor - then the knowing roleplaying veteran nods and realizes that there are some stories that are only written in our medium, at least in the extent and impact they have on lives and collective ideologies shifting.


The compelling and intelligently-crafted political landscape of the bandit kingdoms, slowly unraveling before my eyes, complete with a powerful (almost) undefeated dragon, a kind of elder evil and Iuz' nigh-unstoppable forces ultimately provides a truly compelling insight into a whole campaign's worth of material, with a massive list of adventures by associated AP and a timeline that chronicles the events by year from CY 576 onward, this book offers a fascinating insight into the rich landscape of this region.


Beyond that, the pdf also offers intriguing miscellanea: Including favorite quotes...and they are hilarious: "You say medusa, I say artist." DM: "You hear a bloodcurdling scream from down the hallway." Player of a rogue: " I Take 10 searching the square in front of me." "We have two kinds of heroes: dead ones and...we have one kind of hero, actually." This book ends with a list of those who served as triad and Iuz circle members.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are excellent, I noticed no glitches of hiccups. The book's layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard with thematically-fitting stock art. One thing that may annoy you is the tendency to have a blank page at the end of a chapter, but that's about it regarding complaints in formal criteria. The electronic version comes in three formats: Pdf, EPUB and MOBI and the print and the classic cover style, with the book sporting the 8 x 02 x 10 inch-dimensions. The pdf, in a minor complaint, is not bookmarked, which is a bit jarring. The paper used in the print does its job regarding its thickness and consistency.


Okay, so why should you care about a by now non-existent, discontinued living campaign? The obvious reason would be nostalgia on part of the participants...but that alone does not do the job. More important, for me as a reviewer is that this book made me actually want to participate in organized play. Pretty much for the first time. I'm not a fan of formulaic or necessarily "Balanced" or "fair" modules - I want a compelling, evolving world and this is a truly astounding glimpse right into such a world. I am neither a big fan of Arcanis, nor of the Pathfinder Society or Greyhawk, as a setting for that matter. But damn, I want to play this. Had I lived in Texas and Oklahoma during this campaign's run, I probably wouldn't have missed a single adventure. The picture painted vividly in this chronicle is that of a campaign that is mature, compelling and dynamic. Beyond the knowledge on the formal aspects conveyed herein, this can be considered to be one of the most compelling takes on roleplaying history I have ever read - and it is an inspiring book. I put this book down and started scribbling scenario-ideas and campaign seeds right of the bat - so even if you are not at all interested in Greyhawk, bandit kingdoms or anything like that, you still get a lot of mileage out of this book.


Casey Brown, Britt Frey and Austin "Theo" Judd have crafted a thoroughly unique document that has its special place of honor on my bookshelf - whether for the Lost Lands, the anarchic regions of Golarion or any other campaign setting, really - this book has a ton to offer for people who don't care about Greyhawk at all. An inspired chronicle that got me excited, a book that is testament to the fact that major story-changes by players can and should happen in living campaigns, a book that does show that there is fun to be had in darker settings and dangerous challenges - what more can you want? This is an inexpensive, awesome book and well worth a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
BDKR1: The Unofficial Living Greyhawk Bandit Kingdoms Summary
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Everyman Unchained: Eidolons
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/13/2016 08:50:15

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of Everyman Unchained clocks in at a massive 50 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 4 pages of SRD and 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 43 (!!!) pages of content, so let's take a look!


Or rather, well, before we do, let me state that this book was a ton (no, really!) of work, but also one I truly appreciated. When i began reviewing the Everyman Unchained-series, I had to cover basically everything...and compare the individual builds with Purple Duck Games' takes on the same concepts. Which turned reviewing these into a comparative nightmare. Worse, from a reviewer's point of view, the two approaches taken diverged significantly. Wherein Alexander Augunas stuck close to the original archetypes and options when designing and thus managed to attain a close proximity to the non-unchained material, Carl Cramér took the opposite approach and provided free-form designs, tinkered with core mechanics of archetypes beyond what was necessary, etc. As a reviewer, perhaps even worse, both authors actually did really good jobs and arrived at completely different results -and in the end, I loved some of Alex' designs more in some cases, while preferring some crafted by Carl in other instances.


So I did what I am wont to do when I review something that is simply brutal, dry comparative reading and analysis - I bitched and moaned...and the authors heard me. This book, thus, can be summed up as these two designers joining forces to take a look at the eidolon of the unchained summoner - granted, a creature that received a rather overdue nerf, but also an extremely restrictive narrowing of its possible applications. It is thus that this pdf seeks to expand the options available for unchained eidolons and maintain the established balance of the base forms of Pathfinder Unchained. A total of 8 such new base forms are provided: Aquatic, Avian, Cactus, Conifer, Horror, Mushroom, Tauric and Tree. The base-forms, generally, are well-crafted and on par with the power-levels of the three defaults established in PFU.


The pdf, obviously, does not stop with the customization options for eidolons at a few new base forms - instead, this pdf provides a HUGE, and I mean HUGE assortment of eidolon evolutions. But how do you maintain balancing with such an expansion of options while also staying true to the general mission of making this more variable? Well, you tie certain evolutions to eidolon subtypes - more so than in the defaults in PFU: Limited fey magic, construct materials (accompanying tables with material -> associated Craft skill), advanced alchemical golem effects, speed surges for draconic sept eidolons ad feasible minimum level requirements render eidolons so much more than they honestly were before: With options to gain bloodgolems or carrion golems (or any other material - from ice to clockwork to junk) to diseases, capsizing vessels or getting a tiny eidolon to 12th level-prereq'd strangle and even multi-headed breath weapons, the array of options herein is staggering, up to the point where the general presentation reaches a level of customization that is pretty hard to do within the confines of the non-unchained version...without falling prey to its cheesing tricks.


The subtypes of outsider available for eidolons as depicted in PFU may have covered a lot - but it was by far at no point an extensive coverage. This pdf remedies that by going into the details - whether it's the mephit, oni, kami, aeon, qlippoth or manasaputra, the respective types can be considered not only to be thematically appropriate - they are also balanced against one another while maintaining distinct thematic identities. This devotion to customization also extends to the aberration-themed eidolons - from lurking rays and gibberers to mutants and aliens, these feel different enough from the previous ones to really make you salivate. Animal-themed eidolons, from elemental-infused animals to shadow beings and constrcuted ones, from golem and animated objects and robots to draconic eidolons, this pdf covers a huge and extensive breadth of options...and yes, the latter does sport dragonoids, imperial dragons, primal dragons. Fey sport a broader categorization between beautiful, fearsome and trickster-themes, while taking a giant eidolon, one molded after dark folk or trolls, bandersnatch-themed ones or ones shaped after hydras also becomes well within the realm of possibility with these.


The classic ooze-commander also is covered in various ways and includeds puddings, gelatinous eidolons or even fledgling shoggoths, while Thriae and Doppelgängers wait in the wings only a few pages away. Beyond those gaining plant-based fungoid eidolons (creepy!) or making them from the dismembered dead, i.e. the creepy life-death-axis, is covered as well. Via base form, alignment and generally well-placed ability progressions that oscillate between evolution pool-modifications and a metric ton of unique options, the balance of the respective forms, surprisingly for a book of this size, works rather impressively well, with type skill-list and similar general rules providing additional means for control, and, if required in a given setting, GM-adjustments.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant or glaring hiccups herein - apart from one: The kyton subtype is missing the 8th level ability - credit where credit is due: While I did go through the whole book looking for missing abilities etc., it was Eric Hinkle who first brought this one to my attention. Layout adheres to Everyman Gaming's two-column full-color standard with a blend of classic and new full-color artwork. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Alexander Augunas and Carl Cramér joining forces has worked actually exceedingly well in this book: The complex concept, all about the balance of the mechanics, sports Alex's trademark care, while also featuring Carl's often slightly more expansive modification tricks. The balancing of these options is certainly smoother than those of the non-unchained summoner's eidolon ever were. This does have another achievement it can tout, though.


One that is more important, at least to me - by virtue of its extensive types and options, it redefines the notion of what an eidolon should be. Instead of a wobbly, fluid and strange being, this pdf offers a staggering array of thematic and rules-identities that can inspire the reader by virtue of their sheer presence. That Jack the Ripper style serial killer? Perhaps he is just collecting parts for his dismembered eidolon! Even in low magic or gritty (or very lighthearted) contexts that made eidolons feel a bit odd before, they can now work - they are embedded in the respective world rather than an odd class-feature-afterthought, making the very notion of having such an eidolon infinitely more compelling, at least for me.


Beyond the sheer expansion of option, this book reevaluates the identity of the eidolon and presents a thoroughly compelling take on the subject matter with flair and panache, while also retaining a sense of the DIY-aspect that proved to be one of the most compelling components of the original class. In other words - this is pretty much the best summoner book I know of for PFRPG, a must-own book. How good? Well, my players were pretty disillusioned with the unchained summoner's restrictiveness. Since I presented this book, they actually want to play the class. I know that I could have gone into the nit and grit of the respective types - but ultimately, I think that would have done this pdf no justice. unlike the previous class-focused Everyman Unchained-books, this one simply is no "pick yours, forget rest"-offering that happens to contain your archetype, now working for PFU.


This should be considered to be the most concise eidolon-toolkit written for PFRPG so far...and frankly, this book is an excellent reason to rebuild your classic summoner with the unchained rules. With excellence like that, who would I be to complain about this book? My final verdict clocks in at a well-deserved 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Everyman Unchained: Eidolons
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Starfall
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/10/2016 11:08:12

An Endzeitgeist.com review


Okay, this plug-in for Iron Gods...wait. Scratch that. This is basically no plug-in, it's a damn huge expansion. Starfall clocks in at 76 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of introduction, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 69 pages of content, so let's take a look!


This module is intended for 13th level characters, who should, in the process of this module, gain about 1.5 levels worth of XP. The pdf provides two technological items, the photon pistol (with stun and kill-settings) and the radiation suit and sports, creature-wise, the toadhemoth, which would be a CR 14 variant of the froghemoth. A mythic creature, the Qomok, first featured in Mythic Monsters: Aliens is also featured in this module with its full and deadly stats. The numerous maps in full color are also featured in player-friendly versions that lack tell-tale keys and legends, which is great indeed to so.


So, that's basically the gist of the basics - in order to go into more detail, I will have to, obviously, go into SPOILER-territory. Potential players should jump to the conclusion to avoid having their experience soured.


...


..


.


All right, only GMs still around? Excellent! The adventure begins inconspicuous enough when the PCs happen upon Kreth, who hails them in order to ask for their assistance: His tribe, the Shadow Crow nomads, have fallen victim to raiding giants that came upon them with a strange, crab-like entity. The expedition to reclaim the kidnapped individuals has, alas, been a total failure and resulted in the deaths of many capable members of the tribe - and this is where the PCs come in, as they track the brutes, deal with a behir in the wings and stumble upon a lethal ambush-site, where the crab-thing has prepared an ambush most lethal, for it is no mind-less brute, but actually one of the dreaded neh-thalggu. The fight is on...and then, something unprecedented happens - a strange silvery egg appears...and the brain collector seems to actually be terrified of it!


The weird apparatus emits a massive blast that paralyzes those hit and then proceeds to accelerate the PCs and the neh-thalggu into orbit, protecting them from the deadly journey...and then the fight ostensibly resumes encased by strange glass walls, as the residents of Ardent Hope observe the strange savages (the PCs) fighting. The Dzjaeri, pale, live-skinned humanoids observe this curious result of the malfunctioning AI within the strange silvery egg. After hostilities are resolved, the strange observes open communications, informing the PCs of the need to sterilize them before flooding the chamber with a strange, sickening hazard before opening the secured arrival rooms...and beginning negotiations. One of the Dzjaeri apologies for the inconvenience imposed upon the PCs (though they are held at gun-point for now) and explains their situation: It seems like the probe that brought the PCs to the Ardent Hope has been destroyed...which sees them stranded in orbit. Yay.


Things are even better - you see, the Ardent Hope is basically toast at this point: The Dzjaeri can't colonize and move down to Golarion since a bacterium that exists there triggers lethal brain aneurysms in their kind - and the neh-thalggu's collected brains seem to offer a means or at least a lead on how to fix this issue...for it's only a matter of time before the ship ceases to function. A previous malfunction has already compromised the Terrestial Enclosure and tainted it with the bacterium and, what's worse, neh-thalggus have actually escaped. 8 of them. The reactor has went offline as well and the air and nutrient processors went offline with it. Thousands of their people, still in cryogenic sleep, await a grim end indeed.


The deal offered by the Dzjaeri Jathis is simple: Eliminate the escaped neh-thalggus, secure the brains and reactivate the failed systems and he'll awaken an engineer and have him prepare an escape pod for the PCs. Sounds like a cake-walk, right? Well...no. The Ardent Hope, depicted in lavish detail, has visited quite a few worlds before it started to fall apart to this extent and thus, the terrestal enclave now houses some rather interesting creatures, like aforementioned toadhemoth, lethal flora or plant-elk herds. Aurumvoraxes and lukwatas complement the trip through jungles most alien and the hidden control room now sports an assortment of the dreaded brain-collectors.


Interesting, btw. - repairing the service lift etc. - all of that is not the finale. Not even close to it. A) The PCs won't find the neh-thalggu...at least not all of them. B) the qomok I mentioned before? Well. Now awake. And suddenly the timer starts ticking, mercilessly towards extinction, as the stardrive's self-destruct sequence has been initiated. You know, the drive that keep the huge asteroid-space-station afloat in orbit? Yes, this is a problem - a huge one. Worse yet, the countdown means that the PCs, from now on, must hurry - and the cat-and-mouse game has now been extended to also including a transdimensonal entity that basically is a take on Carpenter's "Thing" or dead Space's dread Necromorphs - the entity tries to assimilate basically anything it can get in its dread clutches. It is powerful (mythic even). It's smart and deadly - but for now, the PCs will have to brave hull breaches and tackle varied technologies in order to prevent the Ardent Hope from plunging drive-less into Golarion.


Whether you integrate the qomok hunt (and their gambit to make landfall and spread on Golarion...) into this frantic series of events or restructure it to do the action first and then the bug hunt, the module does accommodate for that. Speaking of which: Realize how my own review so far assumes, at least to some extent, cooperation with the Dzjaeri? Well, while this may be the default assumption of the module, it is by far not the only playstyle covered. My own players are far too mistrusting (and have, imho correctly, deduced that the Dzjaeri may well pose a threat to Golarion in the long run...brains and stuff...) and promptly turned upon them. The interesting component here may well be that a couple of unique robots and stats for the NPCs, security nodes etc. can also make this module work as a free for all, though this playstyle requires a slightly more experienced GM. Why does this work? Well, because the Ardent Hope actually sports A LOT of material regarding its environments, unique challenges and hazards and entities . you are not reduced to following the proposed script here, though this still feels very much like a story-driven module.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no grating accumulations of glitches. Layout adheres to legendary Games' beautiful two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports numerous artworks in full color, all of which are excellent, though fans of LG may know some of them from previous publications. The cartography is extensive and neat in its attention to detail, though not as impressive as the artwork. Still - the player-friendly maps are a huge boon and make for neat handouts!


What happens when Tom Philips and Mike Welham join forces? Awesome, that's what. Starfall is a massive module with potentially apocalyptic consequences, should the PCs fail. While the beginning is a classic, lackluster-looking bait-and-switch, that is by design and interesting. The new race/culture depicted herein is equal parts interesting and disturbing and would make for a great cast of allies...or villains. The use of the powerful entities, the switching of tempos from exploration to frantic hustling for one's life and the different themes evoked throughout the module nonetheless coalesce into a concise whole that makes for a long, fun module that not only works within Iron Gods, but makes for a pretty seamless insertion into most campaigns - though, obviously, characters even halfway capable regarding technology should be assumed. Then again, PCs that do not try to eradicate the Dzjaeri always have these guys to fall back on, which means that not even this is a requirement.


All in all, this module is fun, diverse, has some unique challenges and plenty of potential to be customized for various vastly diverging playstyles. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Starfall
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Royal Class
Publisher: Playground Adventures
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/10/2016 11:06:14

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This class-supplement clocks in at 18 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 15 pages of content, so let's take a look!


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


Wait, before we do, let's make one thing perfectly clear: This class was specifically designed with kids and new players in mind, which means that it won't have the astounding customization depth of e.g. one of the offerings of Bradley Crouch or Alexander Augunas - it's intended to work as a simple option and thus, I won't fault it for its design, though I will comment on it if I should deem it appropriate.


The royal base class as presented herein gets d8 HD, 3/4 BAB-progression, good Will-saves, 6+Int skills per level and proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as with light and medium armor and shields, but, as almost always, not with tower shields. Royals spontaneously cast divine spells of up to 6th level drawn from the cleric's spell-list via Charisma as the governing attribute and do not require a divine focus to do so. Their spells are modified at 1st level with a crucial choice - of whether to be a blessed or cursed royal. Blessed royals add cure spells to their list of spells known, whereas cursed royals instead add the inflict spells. Additionally, and this is perhaps one of the most interesting features of this divide, blessed royals can cast good spells sans being good and cursed royals can cast evil spells - both without any repercussions to their alignment. You could e.g. pit an evil spells-casting cursed LG royal against a healing, despicable blessed oracle. This has some nice narrative potential.


Blessed oracles gain the Disney-Snow-White version of wild empathy and can influence non-carnivores or predators, while cursed royals can instead influence vermin and predatory animals and both may use the ability to influence magical beasts of alignments corresponding to their destiny (cursed or blessed) at a -4 penalty. They also gain channel energy at second level, increasing potency every even level thereafter, with the type of channel being, obviously, determined by the blessed or cursed destiny.


2nd level makes it easy to recognize the royal as a royal and nets the character +1/2 class level to Diplomacy and Intimidate and they treat settlements of primarily their type as +1 size for purposes of items etc. available. At 11th level, the class becomes immune to fear and at 17th, this immunity becomes an aura that extends to 10 ft. - interesting: As a standard action, the royal can extend this aura to 60 ft.


If the above did look as though there was something missing from the chassis of the class, you'd be right: The destiny chosen, whether it's cursed or blessed, directly influences the royal and provides a somewhat order-like linear structure of abilities. For advanced kids and players or for those looking for more customization, the pdf does offer a suggestion for royals that get choices, which is a nice touch. The abilities thus gained are generally categorized as boons, with the blessed royal gaining the ability to support nearby allies with scaling bonuses to atk, AC, saves or skill checks, with higher levels allowing the royal to affect more allies and at greater range. 3rd level nets them +Cha-mod to Ref-saves, 9th a better starting attitude and faster Diplomacy and at 19th level, they can charm monster permanently those who are friendly to them...oh, I can see that being a chassis for a nasty villain...


Cursed villains may instead inflict penalties on adversaries, gain Cha-mod to Fort-saves, gain a fast Intimidate and count as larger for purposes of size and when they demoralize does at 19th level, the creature forevermore must save to avoid being shaken by his presence.


The pdf offers a couple of archetypes - the befriended replaces channel energy with an animal companion, using her royal level as her druid level, with the usual abilities gained at generally sensible levels. The Commander can expend move actions to grant himself bonuses to atk, AC and saves, with the bonus scaling and may grant this benefit to allies at higher levels, with 13th decreasing the activation action to swift...at least that's what he gains if blessed. As a cursed royal, he gains the debuff equivalent. Additionally, they may elect to gain combat or teamwork feats instead of increasing their channel energy dice. Basically, this is a more martially competent character of a more tactician-y bent. The educated royal uses Int instead of Cha for casting and save DCs, gains 1/2 class level to Knowledge-checks instead of wild empathy and gains Int-mod to saves versus the extraordinary abilities of monsters correctly identified. 9th level provides the option to take 10 on Int-based skill-checks the royal has ranks in as well as 1/day take 20 as a standard action. 19th level provides eidetic memory via vision...sans fatigue.


The gifted royal replaces bonus spells from destiny with a bound object, gains Craft Wondrous Item at 2nd level (and 1/2 class level to Craft checks), with the royals gaining less costly crafting, while cursed royals can add curses to magic items crafted - instead of the linear progression of less costly crafting, the cursed royal gets something I actually haven't seen before - an array of curse-themed abilities that allow them to actually craft and employ the less expensive cursed items in pretty unique ways, allowing a crafty group to work around the significantly less expensive cursed items.


The pdf also sports alternate destinies that do not fall into the good-blessed/evil-cursed dichotomy, though these alternate destinies do affect more than boons - they can basically be thought of as archetypes blended with destinies. Arcane royals obviously lose a bit on the proficiency-side, but they can cast spells in light armor sans incurring spell failure. Spell failure? Yep, they draw their spells from the sorc/wiz-list instead, with a select array of spells added depending on whether she is blessed or cursed. They also get +4 to saves against arcane spells at 11th level and extend this an aura as per the defaults of the base destinies. Boon-wise, they may, as an immediate action, reroll saves versus spells up to Cha-mod times per day, auto-identifies (!!!) spells at 9th level and may at 19th level, add metamagic feats to her spells sans increasing casting time and gets permanent greater arcane sight as an Ex. In play, this guy behaves pretty much like a magus-y-character with healing capacity and better spell selection.


The bewitched alternate destiny would be a twist on this, instead opting for the witch spell-list, once again modified bonus spells and later level immunity to charm spells and effects, with the aura, once again, extending this to allies. Similarly, the royal gains bonuses versus effects associated with witchcraft -curses and polymorph. 9th level provides a single hex, 19th a single major hex. I am a bit less impressed by this one - honestly, I think that more hexes would have made this one a bit more distinct - but this is just my own opinion and thus will not influence the final verdict.


The Elemental royal gets 4 suits of spells, depending on element chosen...and they should get a means to avoid toasting allies, for their channel energy instead channels elemental energy, which can wipe groups sans means to exclude targets. They get empathy with creatures of the corresponding elemental subtype and elemental immunity at higher levels that can be expanded with the aura. Boon-wise, stacking resistance, increased movement and calling forth elementals complement this one. The final alternate destiny would be faerie, which draws upon the druid spell list, with the high-level immunities being granted against spells and abilities of fey or that use plants and similarly, the boons provide bonuses to enchantment and illusion-saves, polymorph and finally, the class may inflict the blessed or cursed ability permanently - but for as long as this persists, the ability is locked for the royal...so choose wisely!


To help new players, the final page is devoted to a sample feat and spell array for blessed and cursed royals, ranging from level 1 - 20: Kudos for this!


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good - apart from one copy-paste remnant that read oracle instead of royal, I noticed no glitches. Layout is beautiful - with page borders and the space above and below in purple and gold, the pdf has a unique aesthetic identity that works well with the theme, one supplemented by the child-friendly illustrations in full color. The downside of this beauty, however, is that this drains quite a bit of ink/toner with its golden-purple boxes. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Stephen Rowe's royal class is interesting - on the one hand, the base set-up for the class is very beginner-friendly and accomplishes its goal rather well. So kudos for that!


On the second glance, the more complex alternate destinies are interesting and juggle some complex and rarely seen options - particularly the curse-item-crafting of the gifted archetype is rather ingenious and something almost never seen in mechanics, so kudos for that! Is this class something for you? Well, as a whole, I can attest that it does work rather well and in a generally balanced manner. Some caveats: If you're playing a fey-heavy campaign, the faerie's destiny becomes pretty OP and can wreck havoc with that. This is a situational issue, though, and does not necessarily apply to all campaigns.


Similarly, if you have expected Ultimate Campaign-support or kingdom-building tricks, you'll be left out. The royal as presented herein is basically a take on the Prince Charming/Belle-style royal sans the burdens of lordship and its boons. So yes, this does manage to capture this component. Granted, the class does bill itself as the royal as featured in fairy tales - basically, as the heir apparent and not as a simulation of how royalty would work in a more realistic context, but I still think it to be rather necessary to emphasize this. Why? Because the class very much feels like a royal...and doesn't. Reviewing this class pretty much felt weird to me: I consider this a perfect match for the royal - that royal we know from the Disney movies; at the same time, the class, to me, does not feel like a royal, since, with one ability as an exception, it does not really draw on royal tropes - lands; status; regalia; increased starting money; monthly gold-influx...if these things are what you're looking for...then you won't find them herein.


Okay, but how to rate this? The royal class itself is interesting, easy to grasp and not too hard to use...but frankly, I wished it had focused a bit more on doing something novel, even within the fairy-tale-royal context. Where is the beast form (as in Beauty and the Beast) for the cursed royal? The ability to break curses via kisses? Personally, I would have loved to see the class embrace the clichés we all grew up with, go full-blown into the tropes instead of using the channel mechanic. That being said, while the class does not hit this component at maximum efficiency, it still is a nice class that makes for a great offering for new players, with some unique and fun modifications for more seasoned players. Ultimately, I consider this a worthwhile addition to the class roster and well worth of a final verdict of 4 stars, with an explicit recommendation for groups looking for an "easy" class to use by less experienced players.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Royal Class
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Mythic Monsters #35: Demons Too
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/09/2016 05:53:43

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of the Mythic Monsters-series clocks in at 32 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of introduction, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 21 pages of content, so let's take a look!


This time around, we begin this installment with a nice piece of introductory prose before diving right into the creatures, the first of which would be the CR 4/MR 1 Abrikandilu, whose theme of vanity/destruction has been amplified to being able to twist reflections of targets and mutilate those hapless creatures seeking to do battle with this spawn of the abyss - great low CR/MR-demon!


The CR 6/MR 2 Brimorak's smoke breath can now choke its victims and its general modifications are solid as well - particularly since its smoke vision means that it is not hampered by its own tricks. At CR 3/MR 1, the mythic iteration of the cambion gets sinfrenzy - with each deadly sin aligned with a class, granting appropriate bonuses. Similarly, the sin-theme extends to a trick that lets the cambion destabilize persons and make their ID run rampant. This take on the cambion is absolutely superb and fun - two thumbs up!! Similarly cool at the same CR/MR: dretches now can instill sloth in creatures and may use miserable pity/unadulterated loathing - once again, great way to upgrade classics!


The mythic coloxus at CR 15/MR 6 gets a death attack, a Cha-drain-causing bite, can mesmerize targets with his drone and perform a particularly powerful possession -and yes, this is a great, flavorful upgrade. The CR 12/MR 5 Derakni may only get one new ability, but that one is awesome - a detachable vescavor swarm aura! Yes, damn cool! The CR 23/MR 9 Gallu increase teamwork feat efficiency for demons and provide bonuses...and their total statblock + abilities cover 2 pages. With [good] and[lawful]-inhibiting aura, mythic power-based resurrection of demonic allies and storms of blood and eruptions of wounds, these commanders of the abyss are fearsome beasts to behold!


The disgusting Gibrileth can enhance SPs to become mythic and generate tumor familiars and make them die for himself...and use them as clones. Oh, and acidic flesh-eating tumors. EW. (And I mean that as a true compliment!) The Kithangian clocks in at CR 11/MR 4 and is glorious - with adamantine chitin and touch-based tongue-attacks that draw forth the target's bestial impulses, this is, once again, a great upgrade for the base creature. (FYI: Combat-capabilities are enhanced as well, thanks to two mythic feats reprinted here - Crippling Grip and Savage Grip.)


The CR 5/MR 2 Schir can steal style or teamwork feats, causes healing-resistant wound and moves unimpeded through difficult terrain, upgrading the pretty soulless base creature into a cool and valid threat. At CR 18/MR 7, the Seraptis draws healing from bleeding damage, has a powerful means of controlling foes and a gaze attack that instills suicidal urges...and yes, while here we have more of an upgrade instead of a reinvention, it is a feasible and cool upgrade. The CR 20/MR 8 iteration of the mythic shemhazian, on the other hand, is finally more than just a shredder - with an apex predator's power, retribution for critical hits (take that, crit-fisher builds!) and the option to mirror rages and similar effects, this demon now finally has a proper, unique identity. And yes, the brutal melee capacity of the beast has been enhanced as well Two thumbs up!


The pdf, of course, also features a new demon: The CR 9/MR 3 Skrekalga, which looks a bit like a mutated aardvark-humanoid/osyluth hybrid with a stinger-like protusion instead of a mouth -I'm not sure whether I consider these demons goofy or disturbing - but focus and puckered fingers probably will make the latter - for these creature fuel the darkest of obsessions with their auras, contagious compulsions and the option to telepathically instill seeds of darkest desires. These demons can conceivably turn nations against one another and are, ultimately, disturbing and dangerous foes and a welcome addition to the roster of the abyssal hordes.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no grievous glitches. Layout adheres to Legendary Games two-column full color standard. The original of full color art provided are high-quality and awesome, though fans of Legendary Games will know quite a few of them from previous publications. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Jason Nelson, Alistair Rigg, Steven T. Helt, Todd Stewart, Jim Groves, Nicolas Logue - these gentlemen have crafted a selection of demons that mops the floor with its predecessor - which, back what seems like ages ago, was the first Mythic Monsters-selection. Particularly in the instances where bland, identity-less cannon-fodder or simple "I kill you"-creatures have been taken and made into something unique and evocative, this pdf shines. A lot of the mythic demons herein lend sorely needed identities and unique tricks to the creatures, making them worthy of scorn and hatred...and making them feel more demonic. These are not kind "I kill you"-demons - these guys feel more like the darkness of the Warhammer universe, like things you should FEAR. I LOVE this pdf for that!


There is another reason I love this pdf: The collective theme and style of the demons herein - it may be coincidence or intention...but know what this pdf is? It's the "Make WotR not suck anymore"-toolkit. Take this and Path of Villains and bolster the sorely outclassed demonic hordes of the worldwound and actually make the PCs struggle. Seriously...any WotR-GM should consider this a must-buy book.


How to rate this? Well, while I wasn't too impressed by the introductory fiction this time around, that is more than made up for by the sheer awesomeness of practically all builds in this book. 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mythic Monsters #35: Demons Too
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I Loot the Cleric's Body System Neutral Edition
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/09/2016 05:51:27

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of Raging Swan Press' "I Loot the Body"-series clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let's take a look!


This installment of the I loot the body-series begins with a 100-entry strong table of diverse outfits for clerics: From unusually large powdered wigs to strange brimmed hats, undershirts embroidered to look like ribs and bones (hey, I have one of those!) to thick cloaks of wool covered in angelic feathers and pauldrons denoting church hierarchy - there is an appropriately varied selection of unique vestments here.


The second table, also 100-entry-strong, covers religious objects - and these are just as varied: Clay prayer beads stained with blood, curved knives and jars of leeches, wooden hand drums with painted stars on them, carved knucklebones or fingernails torn from heretics and servants of other deities - no matter the clergy, there is something in here for your clerics.


Finally, as has become the tradition for ILB-files detailing spellcasters, we get a 100-entry-long table of pouch components - and here, the pdf becomes rather creative - scribbled warnings to not trust the owls, sketchbooks containing drawings of locals, leather stripes with defiled holy symbols, copper cases with wax impressions that are shaped like a key - in the tradition of the best of these dressing-files, the entries in this table can inspire further adventures...why did the cleric carry around 3 glass eyeballs?


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, as we've come to expect from Raging Swan Press. Layout adheres to the crisp and printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. It should also be noted that the pdf comes in two versions - one optimized for the printer and one optimized for screen-use - kudos for the extra-mile there!


Taylor Hubler's take on looting clerics is a fun, diverse little file, with a significant diversity of unique fun tables - and none of them becoming redundant or boring. While not yet on par with e.g. Mike Welham's brilliance, the pdf still can be considered an excellent entry in the series, which means I will arrive at a final verdict of 5 stars.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
I Loot the Cleric's Body System Neutral Edition
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I Loot the Cleric's Body
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/09/2016 05:50:37

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of Raging Swan Press' "I Loot the Body"-series clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let's take a look!


This installment of the I loot the body-series begins with a 100-entry strong table of diverse outfits for clerics: From unusually large powdered wigs to strange brimmed hats, undershirts embroidered to look like ribs and bones (hey, I have one of those!) to thick cloaks of wool covered in angelic feathers and pauldrons denoting church hierarchy - there is an appropriately varied selection of unique vestments here.


The second table, also 100-entry-strong, covers religious objects - and these are just as varied: Clay prayer beads stained with blood, curved knives and jars of leeches, wooden hand drums with painted stars on them, carved knucklebones or fingernails torn from heretics and servants of other deities - no matter the clergy, there is something in here for your clerics.


Finally, as has become the tradition for ILB-files detailing spellcasters, we get a 100-entry-long table of pouch components - and here, the pdf becomes rather creative - scribbled warnings to not trust the owls, sketchbooks containing drawings of locals, leather stripes with defiled holy symbols, copper cases with wax impressions that are shaped like a key - in the tradition of the best of these dressing-files, the entries in this table can inspire further adventures...why did the cleric carry around 3 glass eyeballs?


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, as we've come to expect from Raging Swan Press. Layout adheres to the crisp and printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. It should also be noted that the pdf comes in two versions - one optimized for the printer and one optimized for screen-use - kudos for the extra-mile there!


Taylor Hubler's take on looting clerics is a fun, diverse little file, with a significant diversity of unique fun tables - and none of them becoming redundant or boring. While not yet on par with e.g. Mike Welham's brilliance, the pdf still can be considered an excellent entry in the series, which means I will arrive at a final verdict of 5 stars.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
I Loot the Cleric's Body
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Astonishing Races: Dog-Faced Kobold
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/08/2016 03:52:27

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The second installment of the Astonishing Races-series clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving su with 19 pages of content, so let's take a look!


As in the installment on gripplis, we begin this supplement with an extensive amount of fluff that properly sets up the race - and yes, this basic set-up divorces kobolds from the dragon-angle, so if that is what you've been looking for, it's a nice alternative. Takes on alignment, nomenclature etc. are covered.


Racial stat-wise, dog-faced kobolds get +2 Dex and Wis, -2 Int, are Small goblinoids witha base speed of 30 ft. and gain darkvision 60 ft., scent and the swarming ability, meaning that two can occupy the same square. They also get +1 to Stealth and Survival and may use said skills sans penalty while moving 20 ft. Overall, this makes them a pretty solid race on par with core and not a penalized issue like the default 5-RP-kobold. (though playing such a character has its charm!) Age, height and weight tables are included and do not deviate from those of the standard kobolds.


The pdf also includes a significant array of alternate racial traits for your perusal - hatred versus gnomes, Beast Trainer, a 1d3 bite (As a cosmetic complaint: This one's not noting damage type, but gets, and that's more important, primary/secondary classification right!), a rash-inducing skin, better initiative or tripping...some cool customizations here. Similarly, better darkvision at the cost of being automatically dazzled in bright light can be found. And no, I did not list all of those.


"Wait", you'll be asking, "where's the dog-faced aspect coming in?" Well, that would be via the racial heritages. These basically constitute alternate racial feature-packages: Golden Champions get +2 Dex and Cha, -2 Int and +1 to AC and Ref versus larger foes instead of swarming. Flat-faced kobolds get +2 Con and Wis, -2 Int and +2 to select skill as well as Craft (traps) and Stealth as class skills instead of ambusher. Seaborne kobolds get Str and Wis +2, Int -2 and a reduced speed of 20 ft, but +1 Profession (Sailor) and 10 ft. swim speed instead of ambusher. The house kobold, finally, gets Dex and Int +2 and Wis -2 as well as proficiency with snare poles and nets instead of swarming. These packages universally are balanced, solid and I see no issues with them.


The pdf, as the first one, also contains a TON of favored class options: And unlike in most publications, you actually want to read them for more than the mechanical benefits, as they have some nice fluff that grounds the class in the context of the race. The favored class options, just fyi, are VERY extensive and cover the ACG and Occult Adventures classes as well as the classics. Mechanics-wise, there also are some uncommon choices: More channel damage to creatures caught sans Dex-mod, for example. Interesting and fitting. Slightly weird, though: The format is slightly inconsistent: Usually in these Astonishing Races-books, you get the flavor in plain text, the mechanical benefits in italics. The bard lacks the italicization and Shaman and Slayer lack the flavor-text, which is something that should probably have been caught - their absence is apparent at a single glance, the rules-text there, obviously, not italicized. I'm not complaining hard here, mind you - just stating that this inconsistency wasn't necessary.


The pdf also provides racial archetypes, the first of which would be the Guerrilla Leader (Brawler), who gets proficiency with simple weapons and thrown weapon fighter group weapons and light armors. They may use Brawler's Flurry with spears and thrown weapons, but not monk weapons or those from the close group. This ability does NOT grant Quick Draw (erroneously called "Quickdraw" here), which means that, for full functionality, we have a feat tax in the ability. It should be noted that pretty much all follow-up abilities of the archetype build on the concept of swarming, so that racial trait is locked in as well. The unique shtick of the archetype, just fyi, is entering the space of a creature as a quasi-combat maneuver, thus causing both the brawler and the creature to receive the entangled condition. Later, they can drag allies into the same space, which is pretty funny in my mind. This is kinda cool in theory, but in practice less useful, considering the archetype pay for the scaling improvement with maneuver training and the awesome blow abilities. Additionally, it leaves me with the question whether e.g. single-target effects that move one target in the square now move all three or not - since moving through squares occupied by hostiles is problematic. Basically, this is a cool idea, but needs some clarification - as written, it is a can of worms waiting to be opened. Using martial flexibility for teamwork feats is interesting, though.


The second archetype, the trapster rogue, is, you guessed it, a trap specialist - relatively nice: The archetype has a couple of rogue talents with which he can steal portable traps and even add the effects of select rogue talents to traps and add additional triggers. Not bad, but neither too novel - and some sample weights for traps that are carried around would have been useful for the GM.


The pdf also sports a selection of mundane items - from bird netting and feed to territory markers in 2 variants, trapped cages and whistle traps, the selection here is solid.


The pdf also sports 5 racial feats: Expert Trainer allows for the quicker training of animals (and is named like a Paizo feat that does something completely different), False Trail lets you put down, you guessed it, a false trail. Hidden Ambusher is a sniping feat for moving from concealment to concealment, while Swarming Expert and Swarming Sacrifice provide means to exempt kobolds from AoOs of foes and 1/day force a foe to roll twice, take the lower result and hit your ally. The feats range from useful to should have been a feat-use to, in the latter case, should scale regarding daily uses - 1/day reroll when having a kobold share a square with you may be cool...but on its own, it's not worth a feat.


The pdf also sports 4 magic items: Scepters of Subject Summoning allow you to whisper into them to have minions, cohorts or followers hear your message. Pricey, but an item that, due to lack of range limitations, can be very useful...or at least flavorful for the villain. Incense of Creature Location lets you determine the distance and direction of creatures or subtypes. Swarm Collars net animal companions the swarming ability and allow them and their master to be considered flanking when attacking the same foe from the same square. Wild Growth Grit can make difficult terrain...or even impassable terrain; it can also be thrown to ineffectively entangle targets. As a nitpick: Imho there should be a work-intense way of clearing impassable terrain - I can't see overgrowth withstanding a meteor swarm and retaining its impassable nature...then again, at 10 K and with only 10 applications, this is a costly means of delaying pursuers and one mostly appropriate for campaigns with a somewhat fairy tale style bent.


The pdf closes with a massive dressing table of 50 random dog-faced kobold features: From loving the moon and sometimes howling at it to considering oneself to be a miniature worg, hiding from everyone...or worshiping the squirrel lord, this table had me smile, drips with humor and roleplaying potential and ends the pdf on a high note.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect - there are some hiccups among the finer rules-interactions and, as mentioned above, some minor formatting inconsistencies and typos - not much, mind you. But they can be found. Layout adheres to Fat Goblin Games' beautiful 2-column full-color standard for this series and the pdf comes with bookmarks. Artworks are nice and full color, as we've come to expect from master Hershey's company.


Taylor Hubler's dog-faced kobolds are a nice alternative for the default kobold-PC-race: While generally, one could conceivably blend the two and not lose too much, it's nice to see a 10+ RP variant of the kobold. The alternate racial traits are varied and fun and the subtypes similarly make sense, with none being overpowering -the base race material herein is suitable for even low fantasy campaigns - which is a good thing in my book. As in the first Astonishing Race-pdf I reviewed, I was positively surprised by the favored class options in this book.


A more mixed bag would be the archetypes and feats - both vary in potency a bit and while I like the swarming-trick as such, it also opens up a couple of issues in the math and rules-interactions: Special size modifiers, really big foes, interaction with movement forcing effects...While these instances are rare and the rules that are here are concise, I still consider that component problematic. On a plus-side, the alchemical and mundane items are flavorful and the dressing table at the end is gold.


How to rate this, then? That depends - if you're in it for the feats and archetypes, you probably will be a bit disappointed. Similarly, if you wanted a more thorough emphasis on the dog-aspect or more variety there, you may end up wanting more diverse heritages and/or more "doggy" traits and tricks. This pdf will also not blow you away with crunch innovation...but that isn't its goal in the first place.


If you were looking for a balanced take on the kobold on par with core races and a slightly different, generic, yet sufficiently distinct fluff that still feels "koboldy", then this may well be for you. All in all, I can see purchasers either considering this a 3 star or 4 star-file, depending on what they're looking for and how one weighs components. Since I really can't decide, I will settle on a verdict in the middle - 3.5 stars...and will round up due to my policy of in dubio pro reo. I can see people enjoying this book and considering it good, even though, personally, the crunch didn't blow me away.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Astonishing Races: Dog-Faced Kobold
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Playable Monsters for 5th Edition
Publisher: Quasar Knight Enterprises
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/08/2016 03:51:04

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The 5e-version of Quasar Knight Enterprises' take on playable monsters clocks in at 40 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page of artist contacts, 1 page of writer info, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 33 pages of content, so let's take a look!


So, after some general discussions on how to handle monstrous PCs and parties, we dive pretty much straight into the respective races, which cover a brief physical description, some minor information on society, relations with other races and alignment/religion preferences as well as how the race interacts with adventurers before diving into the respective racial traits - on a nitpicky formatting side, the pdf does not feature the full-stops at the end of the respective headers and here and there, a colon has snuck in, courtesy of the original PFRPG-version of the file. Similarly, it's Ability Score Increases, not the singular. HOWEVER, before you dismiss this - the monster races presented herein, in other regards, very much exhibit adherence to D&D 5e's formatting standards - from switches between "The insert race name" to "you", the general transition works pretty well. Similarly, the races generally sport rather balanced attribute increase dispersal. Similarly, Speed ratings and other rules-language tends to be rather solid. As something that annoyed me, though, I should mention that the pdf fails to provide weights for the respective races.


The races provided in this pdf are the boggards, centaurs, chokers, dark folk, derro, doppelganger, dryad, true giants, gnolls, harpies, lizardfolk, medusae, naga, pixies, sahuagins and vampires. Now, one thing I feel obliged to mention is the following: I gave the PFRPG-version of this pdf a thorough thrashing since it fails in many, many regards. The 5e-version of this book, in contrast, is significantly more refined - perhaps it's due to the relative simplicity of the rules in direct comparison, but generally, the races come off as rather balanced: Boggards, for example, are superb jumpers and swimmers, gaining advantage on both uses of Strength (Athletics) checks...though oddly, the Natural Jumper trait is listed twice. Still, that would generally constitute a massive improvement. Similarly, in contrast t PFRPG, there is, as of yet, no assumption of favored class options or alternate racial traits and similar supplemental material, making the bare-bones approach herein easier to stomach - still, if you expect extended pieces of flavor like in the PHB for the races, you'll probably be disappointed by the relatively brief depiction herein.


On the downside, though, e.g. sometimes spells are not properly italicized, though SPs at least mention the governing spellcasting attribute and gaining of racial abilities at later levels is pretty smoothly handled as a whole. On the downside, there are some instances when ability formatting could be clearer - when e.g. an ability nets you advantage on the bonus attack while two-weapon fighting, mentioning that it requires your intent to do so before mentioning that it recharges on a rest would have made it a tad bit clearer - though, this time around, I'm admittedly nitpicking. Not nitpicking would be the missing DC of a dark folk subrace's curse. And yes, there are a few, though not many, races herein that sport subraces. Somewhat odd - derro as a new dwarven subrace get a bonus action to attack with a net when fighting with a short sword and net...does that stack with two weapon fighting? No idea.


On both a plus-side and point of minor criticism - harpies no longer have an OP 1st level fly speed, instead gaining the option to glide, with 7th level providing proper flight. While the flight is magical in nature (and thus problematic), it can be envisioned as a jury-rig. Not complaining, mind you - just observing. That being said, I'm not a big fan of inventing a glide speed.


While overall, the races generally turn out to be relatively well-balanced, there are some examples that are slightly stronger than others...but there are some issues in the fine-print: E.g. a medusa's gaze of stone's damage lacks a damage type -which is a pity, for the ability is actually well-balanced in one smart way: The gaze only petrifies the target if it reduces the victim to incapacitated...which is pretty cool...but also takes a bit of the utility away. Why not simply go with a combined degrees of failure + multiple saves approach as the gazes of some creatures in the monster manual do? Also problematic - what about averting one's gaze? Gazes usually allow that option, though this one does not...which I get, but it basically turns the gaze into an ability that is a gaze in name only.


As a personal nitpick, neither centaur, nor naga tackle the ladder-conundrum - players and GMs will have to resolve that on their own. On a positive side, the vampire race herein is pretty playable and balanced, though its children of the night ability could use an action...still, both sunlight and running water weaknesses are pretty solidly depicted. On a downside - the write-up mentions a "resting place" - but no mechanics for it. Or for a weakness of being staked. It's basically the ultra-bare-bones approach to the subject matter. On a nitpicky part - vampire weaknesses already have established names in the Monster Manual - which interact with other rules...so I can't, for the life of me, find any valid reason why the vampires herein don't use that nomenclature as well. This is particularly odd, since one of the 4 feats herein is devoted to getting rid of just that (these racial feats btw. all lack prerequisite-lines). One feat grants you, among other benefits, the means to fluidly switch your domains...which is imho a bit much for a feat and will continue to grow in power the more domains are released. On the plus-side, see invisibility plus a cool ability that nets you advantage versus specific foes (elemental, fiends and fey, but strangely not celestials, for example) if you know their true names. The pdf sports two nice mundane items, one for breathing underwater and an item that temporarily helps versus light blindness, but oddly not sunlight sensitivity.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are okay; while there are several formatting glitches and minor deviations from the standard, for the most part, these do not cripple the pdf. Layout adheres to an okay 1-column full-color standard with a blend of full-color and b/w-artworks - they are okay, but nothing to write home about. The pdf, annoyingly, has no bookmarks, which renders navigation annoying.


Ray Chapel's second shot at the races herein fares better than the first; while the fluff-component of the racial depiction very much still follows the formatting of the PFRPG-version, the 5e-crunch ends up being better than the PFRPG version's crunch. Due to 5e's relative youth, there simply aren't that many alternative rules and the like to take into account and the balancing of the races generally feels more sound. Unfortunately, at the same time, this pdf does stumble quite a few times regarding the finer details of 5e's chassis with needless deviations from already existing abilities and similar hiccups. That being said, as a whole, this still remains pretty functional and should be considered an okay, if not mind-boggling purchase. If the concept strikes your fancy, you may get some mileage out of this, though sticklers for the details may be upset at some of the aesthetic glitches. Similarly, like in the PFRPG-version, if you expect racial fluff, compelling cultures or the like, you won't find that here. Still, in comparison to the original, this represents a significant step up. My final verdict will clock in at 2.5 stars, rounded up to 3 due to in dubio pro reo.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Playable Monsters for 5th Edition
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Mythic Monsters #34: Egypt
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/07/2016 03:37:28

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of the Mythic Monsters-series clocks in at 34 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of introduction, 3 pages of advertisement, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 22 pages of content, so let's take a look!


We begin this pdf, as has become the tradition, with supplemental material - which, this time around, would actually be mythic upgrades for two class options: The first would a mythic modification of the archaeologist bard archetype - though, to nitpick, the wording of some class feature could be a bit of streamlining - one ability, for example, notes that the bonus granted caps at +5 at 22nd and +6 at 27th level - since the latter obviously is the intended maximum, the previous assertion that the 22nd level is the maximum makes less sense. A relic regarding precise pages can also be found, with "XXX" denoting a placeholder that awaits the reference in the mythic hero's handbook. Other than these gripes, the mythic adaptation of the archetype is solid. Secondly, there would be a take on the living monolith that significantly expands its flavor - not only are the SPs codified in a tight, mythic upgraded manner, even classics like stability and the Ka/ib-stone abilities gain upgrades and calling forth mythic sphinxes is pretty cool as well. No complaints about this one!


But, ultimately, we're here for the creatures, right? Well, we begin this book with the Ahkhat at CR 5/MR 2 - these beings have no true body, instead deriving its form from the structure inhabited, which also provides them with a means to perform devastating hit and run attacks. Their slams can turn victims into bas-reliefs through which the entity can observe its victims. Sheer brilliance - they can assume trap-forms and also sport cool prose via their keystones - a superb boss/puzzle creature to face in the best old-school tradition.


At CR 12/MR 5, the crocodile skull-headed cursed king, lavishly rendered in a gorgeous full-page artwork is no less awesome - with a nasty dying curse, an aura that can dominate the weak-willed and means of crippling the healing options of a party via channel energy, they are glorious - particularly since worshipping these false prophets can increase their power.


The Werecrocodile comes in two iterations - a CR 4/MR 1 base form and the CR 11/MR 4 brawler 9 that further increases the potency of these dread adversaries. While mythic lycanthropy has been covered in its own mythic mini and the mythic monster manual, the required rules for MR 4 lycanthropes are duplicated herein for your convenience. These rules are great, though personally, I still maintain that separate bloodlines/ability-arrays for lycanthropes of different breeds would have been a cooler way than Paizo's relatively bland streamlining of lycanthropy. Then again, I can't fault this pdf for this conviction, but still am left with the feeling that mythic upgrades would have been a cool way to further customize werecrocodile and set them even further apart.


The CR 7/MR 3 mythic maftet gets the proper, full-blown upgrade we've come to love from this series - beyond upgrades of signature tricks, storing spells in its tattoos, mythic power-based additional options for the raptor dive and the option to steal hearts (!!!) from creatures render these guys as awesome as their mythological contemporaries and make this the definite incarnation of the creature for me.


At CR 14/MR 5, the pharaonic guardian can be bound to structures exceeding its limit, gains an immediate action curse, proper magical equipment and it can intrude upon thoughts of trespassers. Better, they can animate the objects they were supposed to guard and fire lines of negative levels-bestowing blasts.


The scarab beetle swarm at CR 4/MR 1 is a great example of good mythic vermin/animal design - function-oriented, yet deadly: attuned to the taint of the tomb, these scarabs are particularly deadly. The CR 5/MR 2 mythic version of the Sha not only gains a gefuddling gaze, its sandstorm also is more deadly and suffused with electricity...and yes, the disease gets an upgrade. Nice, if a bit conservative upgrade of the base creature. Then again, at +2 CR/+1 MR a sacred variant is provided that can smite unbelievers - including a mythic variant of the Step Up feat.


Obviously, no Egyptian-themed monster-collection would be complete without sphinxes - at CR 11/MR 4, the androsphinx gets no less than three unique riddle-based abilities that allow for control over fate, pose a riddle pertaining spells, which unanswered, allows them to duplicate them (AWESOME blending of metagame and game) or basically use a rock-paper-scissors-like ability - really a huge fan of this one - it's unique and the blending of riddles with game-mechanics makes the sphinx stand out as simply awesome. And yes, the unique roar of the androsphinx receives a mythic upgrade as well.


At CR 9/MR 4, the criosphinx gets a similarly superb upgrade - playing bowling with the victims of its gore, consuming wealth - very cool. The old flavor of them being susceptible to the wiles of leonine creatures also receives the much overdue mechanical representation here, returning the creature to the unique identity it once had. The CR 6/MR 2 Hieracosphinx fall a bit by the wayside in comparison to these two brilliant sphinxes, though the mythic power based shriek-enhancer and the option to make its shadow a tool for rendering foes shaken is cool. At the same CR/MR, the uraeus is always an oracle and gains all-around vision and is practically impossible to pin down.


The final creature herein would be the CR 17/MR 7 Ammut - an unsettling, powerful magical beast blended between lion, crocodile and hippopotamus that not only has a conical cone of fear, it can tear out the hearts of the living, shed its fluid skin and generate a blend of a powerful heartbeat and roar that causes devastating damage. Instruments of divine judgment, these creatures are immune to abilities based on alignment or creature type, can send curses back to their originators and blend quarry with the inflicting of negative levels - a true beauty of a deadly adversary!


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no grievous glitches. Layout adheres to Legendary Games two-column full color standard. The original pieces of full color art provided are high-quality and awesome. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Jason Nelson, Mike Welham, Alex Riggs and Jen Page have crafted an overall awesome collection of mythic adversaries. While the supplemental material this time is not as awesome as in some installments and while I wasn't blown away by all critters, there are ample herein that truly rank among the best in the whole series - the androsphinxes and their riddle mechanics, for one, are absolutely brilliant and creatures like the cursed king and the ahkhat or ammut alone justify getting this one. When it shines, it shines very, very brightly - hence, in spite of some minor flaws, I still feel justified in rating this 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5, with the genius of some creatures herein being responsible for the seal of approval the book would have otherwise lost.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mythic Monsters #34: Egypt
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I Loot the Druid's Body System Neutral Edition
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/07/2016 03:35:48

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of Raging Swan Press' "I Loot the Body"-series clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let's take a look!


We begin this dressing-file once again with a massive 100-entry table of outfits for the deceased druids - from silken robes made from exotic purple moth-silk to leafy branches that are alive, nature itself provides, appropriately, a diverse array of cool entries. Beyond these, vinegar-like smelling rags, boy scout-style achievement studded robes, 101-Dalmation-robes or capes that buzz liek dragonfly wings - this table is not just good...it's superb and breathes more imagination than multiple tables combined.


The second 100-entry table covers natural accoutrements - spellcasting aids or symbols aligned with their domain over the natural world. And oh boy - from jade ourobos to classic sprigs of mistletoe, from staves bleeding sap to ear muffs of crow feathers - this is absolutely inspired! Interwoven strands of hair, willow fishing poles...awesome.


The third 100-entry-strong table covers the contents of a druid's pouch - from fluttering death's head moths to spoiled, rotten clumps of eggs, twitching frog-legs, skunk puppets, jars containing bull's testicles...absolutely glorious. Have I mentioned the small potted plant that turns to face you? Two packets of identical mushrooms, one of which labeled as "deadly poison", while the other is "delicious"? This table, like the first two, breathes pure imaginative excellence.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, as we've come to expect from Raging Swan Press. Layout adheres to the crisp and printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. It should also be noted that the pdf comes in two versions - one optimized for the printer and one optimized fro screen-use - kudos for the extra-mile there!


Well...basically, at this point, all you have to know is that Mike Welham wrote this. He consistently delivers some of the most awesome, inspiring, diverse dressing-files - from the mundane to the magical, from the classic to the weird, from the hilarious to the uncanny, Mike's dressing show a level of diversity that is basically unreached - and this is no different. Each and every table in this book is pure awesomeness and inspires even the most burnt-out GM. This is what these files should be like. Excellence. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
I Loot the Druid's Body System Neutral Edition
Click to show product description

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I Loot the Druid's Body
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/07/2016 03:35:13

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of Raging Swan Press' "I Loot the Body"-series clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let's take a look!


We begin this dressing-file once again with a massive 100-entry table of outfits for the deceased druids - from silken robes made from exotic purple moth-silk to leafy branches that are alive, nature itself provides, appropriately, a diverse array of cool entries. Beyond these, vinegar-like smelling rags, boy scout-style achievement studded robes, 101-Dalmation-robes or capes that buzz liek dragonfly wings - this table is not just good...it's superb and breathes more imagination than multiple tables combined.


The second 100-entry table covers natural accoutrements - spellcasting aids or symbols aligned with their domain over the natural world. And oh boy - from jade ourobos to classic sprigs of mistletoe, from staves bleeding sap to ear muffs of crow feathers - this is absolutely inspired! Interwoven strands of hair, willow fishing poles...awesome.


The third 100-entry-strong table covers the contents of a druid's pouch - from fluttering death's head moths to spoiled, rotten clumps of eggs, twitching frog-legs, skunk puppets, jars containing bull's testicles...absolutely glorious. Have I mentioned the small potted plant that turns to face you? Two packets of identical mushrooms, one of which labeled as "deadly poison", while the other is "delicious"? This table, like the first two, breathes pure imaginative excellence.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, as we've come to expect from Raging Swan Press. Layout adheres to the crisp and printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. It should also be noted that the pdf comes in two versions - one optimized for the printer and one optimized fro screen-use - kudos for the extra-mile there!


Well...basically, at this point, all you have to know is that Mike Welham wrote this. He consistently delivers some of the most awesome, inspiring, diverse dressing-files - from the mundane to the magical, from the classic to the weird, from the hilarious to the uncanny, Mike's dressing show a level of diversity that is basically unreached - and this is no different. Each and every table in this book is pure awesomeness and inspires even the most burnt-out GM. This is what these files should be like. Excellence. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
I Loot the Druid's Body
Click to show product description

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The Dracula Dossier: Director's Handbook
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/06/2016 04:18:34

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This massive hardcover clocks in at 372 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 2 pages of editorial/backer-lists, 4 pages detailed ToC, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 362 (!!!) pages of raw content, so let's take a look!


This book was moved up in my review-queue due to me receiving a print copy in exchange for a critical, unbiased review.


So, what is this book? Well, first of all, this is the companion tome to the Dracula Unredacted-tome, which is perhaps the most detailed, massive handout ever crafted for a roleplaying game. I'd like to urge you to read my review of this book first before taking a gander at this review here, if only so we're all on the same page. I'll wait here.


whistles badly


tries to look inconspicuous


Okay, back? I know I'd be a sucky agent. Anyways, this is, in a nut-shell, the Director's book for the campaign. Surprise. If you were btw. thinking how you, as a GM, can keep tabs of the intentional inconsistencies, vaguenesses and hooks contained in the glorious tome called Dracula Unredacted...well, remember me mentioning the numbers in the review of Dracula Unredacted? You have an index of those here, one that supplement the massive index provided for this book and helps you stay one step ahead of the players. Properly depicted workname-lists and checklists further enhance the options of running this campaign.


Still, structure-wise, this book very much differs from the classic mega-adventure/AP/what-have-you-not. Why? Well, this campaign understands itself as an improvisational campaign -which, I can see, already has some of you roll your eyes. Well, wait a second - basically, this book can be considered to be the single most massively free-form campaign I have ever read...but it doesn't feel like it - at all.


What do I mean by this? Well, the book is meticulously structured. At this point, we are already familiar with the structuring elements of the Conspyramid and Vampyramid as established structuring elements in Night's Black Agents-games - but the level of detail that has been provided herein is...well, staggering. If you take one of these and the respective levels inside, you'll notice detailed, crunch-supported responses to what is happening. From basic information-gathering to burning agents, the response/assault structure of the adversaries in this book, ultimately, is exceedingly, stunningly detailed and sensible - and yes, the stakes are high. Wait, stakes...good note: The book does offer advice on different playstyles - from stakes to burn and dust and mirror, different takes on the subject matter and advice for thematic modifications can be found in this tome.


Another simple reason why this does not feel like a typical free-form-GM-does-all-the-work-campaign is simply the staggering level of detail that has been provided in order to make running this massive campaign easier on the GM: Over 60 location, over 60 NPCs, almost30 strange objects - basically, even if you are not interested AT ALL in running a Dracula-themed campaign, this still remains a superb toolkit for your perusal.


But all those details don't sound very improvisational, right? Well, here a genius element of this book comes into play. Everything, and I mean friggin' everything, is utterly and completely customizable. The NPCs? They represent, in many cases, archetypes - but they also are characters: The Icelandic Diplomat, for example, is a fully developed character, with quirky mannerisms, history, ideology - true. But there are alternate names and looks, for one. Secondly, the entries focus on different options - generally, you get at least 3 options out of each character depicted - as an innocent, as a member of the conspiracy and as a direct minion of Dracula - and no, these are not the same, but more on that in the SPOILER-section, Similarly, from photos to jeweled daggers or Báthory's journals, the artifacts and objects have multiple iterations - they can be major items, often with rules-relevant repercussions upon being used, less important items, fraudulent -and all has been carefully laid out for the director's perusal.


Players stumble over item xyz too early? Okay, so you change it on the fly to a different iteration of its own, thus retaining control over this part of the campaign. This attention to detail btw. also extends to organizations and locales - from the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels to the Echipa Mortii or the al-Qaeda in Rûm, the respective organizations can have wildly different roles from campaign to campaign and this vast arsenal of different interpretations, ultimately, also lets you maintain control - and easily switch-bait one iteration into another: "While these guys have been made to look like Dracula's minions, your painstakingly gathered intel now shows..." Similarly, the Rumanian government's branches have undergone a treatment just as detailed - which, alongside the locations themselves, does show one thing: Authors Kenneth Hite and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan are history buffs and not only excel at the research of literature and its conventions as depicted in the Dracula Unredacted book - they also did their research here. Admirably so.


Know how impressed I was about Dracula Unredacted making use of the Icelandic Jack the Ripper-note? Well guess what? Their meticulously researched take on the locations and organization and history suffuses this book. I feel obliged to explicitly comment on this due to several facts: For one, a large part of Night's Black Agent's appeal lies in the realism of the setting, of it being "our" world. Particularly in research-heavy scenarios with historical figures, there is nothing that demotivates extremely involved players that do research in their spare time more than botching facts, dates, knowing nothing about structure xyz -it breaks the suspension of disbelief and is highly destructive and unpleasant when encountered. You'll find no such instance herein - the respective locations, with handy maps of both dilapidated oil platforms (that may be prisons or not), cities and castles is precise and steeped deeply in real world lore - both historic and fantastic. Living a short drive away from Munich, I know about quite a few locales; similarly, as someone who had the chance to visit a lot of Rumanian castles, London and Iceland, I can verify that the depiction of these locations is downright uncanny in its presentation. I grossly, grossly underestimated the amount of work the Dracula Dossier would require for a fair assessment - I did research. A lot of it.


And the intriguing component is this: These real-life locations, organizations, etc. - they are fictional...and they are not. While the horrific threat obviously suffuses these places, they also remain grounded in reality - it's almost to the point at which I'd consider this book's depiction of places a form of augmented reality. If history is a grand narrative, a conventionalized consensus, then the accomplishment of this book lies in being almost too feasible, like an unredacted version of the things that could be, were vampires real. I may be too cerebral, I don't know - but to me, this vastly enhanced the overall fear and tension while playing this book - and it enhances the sense of immersion of the players.


More important, should you not care (or care less) about accuracy, will be that, even in this level of detail, the game-play elements are never lost - each entry and locale, everything is simply chockfull with things to do, stability to lose, traps, responses and, ultimately, fun. Have I btw. mentioned that this modularity also extends to the very identity of Dracula and his castle? There are multiple, thoroughly compelling candidates - which you can actually research. Yep. Lunch-break, thinking about the week-end's campaign? Interested in who the hell this one guy was? Research...and bam, you have meta-game and game generate a cohesive whole. Oh, have I mentioned maps for them? There is a second customization option for Dracula I consider very interesting -but that is, frankly, SPOILER-material and will feature in that section of the review.


But perhaps, just perhaps, all of these tools, all of these details, in spite of the thorough indexing and massive amount of ideas, still feels like it's not enough to you. Perhaps, you want to have a bit more handholding, a skeleton to put your plot-meat on, if you will? Well, fret notes - beyond the spines depicting how to craft a scenario from Dracula Unredacted annotations, the book also offers alternate ends, campaign frames (think of them as massive templates for the campaign) and an exceedingly-detailed looking glass chapter on Bucharest....but this is where I'm at an end regarding the SPOILER-free territory - I'll now go into the nit and grit of this tome.


Highly classified! Agents reading further will get BURNED and lose all stability! Agents should, at any cost, refrain from reading on and instead jump to the conclusion. Only Directors are classified to read further. CLASSIFIED. SPOILERS ABOUND.


...


..


.


Okay, so you're a director and know how to handle this precarious information. Good. What I intentionally failed to mention above pertains to the nature of Dracula. You may not like the idea of supernatural, classic vampires, satanic adversaries of the like - the full book contains a massive selection of items and story-hooks that are based on a scientific interpretation of vampirism, tying Dracula to tellurgic energies, electromagnetism and thus manages to add a new and evocative potential twist to the subject matter - yes, including potentially an experimental rifle with a LONG recharge duration. More importantly, though, this does allow you to mix and match the classic and the unconventional ideas to create your own, unique take on Dracula and his spawn.


The book also has a vast selection of supernatural threats that brim with creativity and, combined with Drac's stats, make this worth it for the stats alone. But what do we get exactly? Well, beyond the obvious Báthory (who is a capital threat in her own right) to Lilith (an ancient vampire posing as the goddess...) we also cover more exotic characters: - from Abhartach, the blood-drinking dwarf of Irish myth to the Chinese Jin-Gui to Orlok, Jack the Ripper (in a classic, interesting take) and various national vampire programs, we also get some truly exotic beings: Alraune, a plant-like Übermensch-experiment gone rogue or Queen Tera, the supernatural cast of optional characters is glorious. Similarly, EDOM's forces and the cast of the novel and their descendants in different epochs are covered.


EDOM? Yep, for now things get VERY spoilery - basically, the central focus of the campaign can be summed up as that this branch of MI6, which is btw. also the "conspiracy" beyond Dracula's own, seeks to recruit vampires for Britain as super-agents. This nefarious cabal operates in the shadows beyond even mainstream espionage and conspiracies and thus is a lethal foe indeed - and reading the unredacted file...well, puts the agents in danger by this force and Dracula - pincered between two truly lethal forces. More intriguing, by the way - the organization's handlers, potential for double-agents among the player, organization-responses and facilities - all of these can be found within the superbly detailed pages contained herein. Similarly, the cast of characters of Stoker's novel and their descendants may still be around, may be working for EDOM, Dracula, both or neither - the possibilities, literally, are almost endless and up to the creativity of the director and the responses of the players.


Now I mentioned alternate capstones, right? The expected one, no surprise there, is the showdown with nigh-demi-god Dracula in his own castle. But the alternatives are no less compelling: Whether Dracula's endgame is becoming a god by ferreting out Zalmoxis, hijacking Russia by subduing Vladimir Putin or a showdown in the remote caverns beyond the inhospitable, exceedingly lethal wilderness beyond the Dracula's Mill-water fall or bringing final death at his unique, original tomb - the capstones, once again, can be mixed and matched to suit your individual campaign and resonate with diverse, unique ideas and leitmotifs as well as metaphorical charges. And yes, with ample unique challenges and even new characters, these are no mere sketches - they are distinct and lend a unique flair to the respective finales.


I did mention campaign frames, right? Well, the first of these allows you to run a Mythos-version of the whole campaign, completely compatible with Trail of Cthulhu, including a wide array of potential servants, threats and similar mythos-themed notions - AWESOME...and yes, this means that this should be in the library of any self-respecting ToC-keeper, complete with star-spawn and black monoliths. The second frame would be a stakes-frame, wherein a third faction enters the game - the Fourth Reich. Basically, here we have a less realistic blend of Nazi-super-science, pulpy aesthetics and the Dracula myth - including underground cities, powerful super-Nazi-bosses and the like...and yes, emphasis on the occult or the scientific both are possible in equal measure. Finally, the "Onto the Fourth Generation"-frame takes the generation-spanning plot and begins with 1894, then proceeds to 1940, then 1977 and then to the present day, weaving an epic yarn that begins with players directly involved in the incident that actually generated the Dracula-novel in the first place. These alternatives, obviously, can be extensively scavenged by the director to create a thoroughly unique vision of an individual campaign.


There is one more fact: The Dracula Dossier's Director's Handbook is not simply a free-form espionage campaign. It also has tie-ins. Particularly novice directors that are a bit out of their league with the free-form structure of this campaign will certainly appreciate that the book ties in with the superb Zalozhniy Quartet campaign and, obviously, The EDOM files. Though, unfortunately, I do not own the latter adventure-collection, I have tried the transition from the former to the Dossier and it worked seamlessly smooth.


It should also be noted that a list of recommend reading has been included for your convenience!


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch - I only noticed a handful of glitches in a book of this impressive size, making this one of the most refined books you can find. Layout adheres to Pelgrane Press' superb 3-column full-color standard for Night's Black Agents and the book is chockfull with awesome full-color artwork - if there is an NPC, he or she will have a great artwork. Add to that great establishing shots and a high art-density in general and we have a gorgeous book. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks, while the print copy (which you should get) is a high-quality hardcover with glossy, thick paper - a book made to last. My copy also featured a gorgeous cardboard 1-page-sized rendition of the glorious artwork of a potential castle of Dracula.


Kenneth Hite and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, with support from Heather Albano, Paul Baldowski, Kennon Bauman, Walt Ciechenowski, Justin Farquhar, Elsa S. Henry, Carol Johnson, Marissa Kelly, Shoshana Kessock, Shawn Merwin, James Palmer, Nathan Paoletta, Will Plant, Wes Schneider, Christopher Sniezak and Paul Veccione have created a book that can only be described as a master-piece...and then, it still doesn't doe the experience of the Dracula Dossier justice.


If you read my reviews of Esoterrorists, Eyes of the Stone Thief or similar books, you'll notice a tendency: Pelgrane Press is actually becoming rapidly one of my favorite publishers. Much like these absolutely superb tomes, the Dracula Dossier can be considered to be a book that pushes the envelope by means of its depth, customization options and the vast, ridiculous array of unique options herein. Suffused by truly unique ideas and historic accuracy, a humbling amount of unique details and more material than you can shake a stick at, the Dracula Dossier as a whole is an experience that not only ranks among my favorites in my whole reviewer-career, it is also simply superb in just about every way. Its careful research and level of detail, its interaction with Dracula Unredacted - both conspire to basically render this book a nigh unprecedented experience: The fact that Dracula Unredacted generates a real-world experience supported by research undertaken by players enhances the immersion in unprecedented ways. Better yet, this colossal tome's genius organization renders actually running the campaign a feasible task, even for directors that are new to the GUMSHOE-rules-set: The tie-ins with the Zalozhniy Quartet allow for easier, more structured beginnings to get used to the themes of the game, while also planting the seeds for the highly modular campaign-smörgåsbord contained within these pages.


This book cannot only be considered to be excellence in game-design, it is also educational and pretty much the pinnacle of careful, deliberate and capable research. I honestly sat down with my own copy of Dracula and compared texts. I did research...and ended up being more impressed rather than less by the attention to detail and care that went into this book. Note that most texts, whether academic or otherwise, tend to elicit the opposite response from me.


This is, pretty much, a system-seller experience unlike any other you may have encountered during your experiences with investigative RPGs. It's, in one sentence, a milestone for our hobby as a whole. Obviously, my rating cannot be anything but a full 5 stars + seal of approval for this masterpiece. And yes, this is obviously a candidate for my Top Ten of this year; in fact, it is a hot contender for the number 1 spot! Seriously - even if you aren't interested in Night's Black Agent's - at least get the Dracula Unredacted book...though, if my prediction holds up, that book will make you get this Director's Handbook as well. They are simply too good to pass up. And yes, I hope I'll be able to review more of these absolutely superb GUMSHOE-books in the future!


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Dracula Dossier: Director's Handbook
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The Dracula Dossier: Dracula Unredacted
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/06/2016 04:15:28

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This massive hardcover clocks in at 476 pages (489 in pdf form, with cover etc. being counted among the pages), so let's take a look!


This book was moved up in my review-queue due to me receiving a print copy in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.


In a nut-shell, this is a twist of the original Dracula-novel as penned by Bram Stoker, with annotations. "I don't need to read that, I know Dracula's story already!" - I can see this impulse in at least some readers out there. You'd be wrong, for the text actually has been expanded by roughly 1/5 - 1/4 of its size, with characters like Kate Reed introduced to the fray, providing additional depth and perspectives. This only in the beginning to keep you reading - this is not vanilla-Dracula: The premise is that the unredacted Dracula is an after-action field report that has been censored and changed in the published version. So, please, indulge me and follow me on a little excursion - I guarantee that the following analysis may actually make you reconsider.


Blood. It is impossible to talk about Dracula without first going on a brief tangent pertaining this most fascinating of bodily fluids. No other fluid alarms us to its extent - we are hard-wired to instinctually consider red an attention-catching color because of it: The blue or green blood of other species does not alarm us in the slightest, but red blood...there is something primal in its look, smell and taste and throughout recorded human history, blood has been a central component of our mythology - it is the gradient of life and the currency of death itself for our kind. We "spill blood" when we kill, the implication of casual shedding of it conjuring up an excess, a transgression against the "civilized" code of conduct we based our societies on. Perhaps most famously in recent TV-history, Dexter the serial killer ultimately is what? Bingo - a blood-spatter analyst, signifying his killer-nature - he reads, in blood. He divines with it, though he does so at the altar of science.


Altar? Yes, for at the same time, blood has always held more meaning - the sacral component is prevalent to this date: While we may have, for the most part, abolished the notion of offering blood to deities and spirits, sacrificial practices have been an integral part of religions all around the globe and indeed, continues to be. Before you shake your head and point towards your enlightened Christianity or other religion, please consider symbolism like "partaking in the blood of Christ" or similar practices. To paraphrase Sir James Frazer: We have moved up in our level of abstraction, but the thematic core remains; the original religion fades, but the icon remains and takes on a new mantle and guise. The haruspex of our day and age is the blood-spatter analyst.


Where there is the sacred, however, there also is the profane and nary a thing that exists in our world has as significant a powerful symbolic charge as blood - we associate its transgressive excess with connotations of evil, of the vile and debauchery. There is spectacle in fascination in blood, the grimy lair of an insane butcher that reverberates with the middle ages' social stigma of the meat-processing professions. A sense of revulsion, in this day and age more than ever, is associated with slaughter and death of animals - mainly due to the spilling of blood - for do we not all bleed red?


Bleeding red...it evokes an instinctual sympathetic response, triggering flight or the notion to help in most human beings...and here we have yet another intriguing component: This sympathetic response can obviously rise: For as long as there was fiction of blood, there also was a connotation of the sexual inherent in its appearance. From the bodily fluid of the female menstruation to the child-birth, the connotations of a triumphant hunt or battle - in no other symbolically charged part of our bodies has there ever been more of a blending, more of a fusion of Eros and Thanatos than in the blood that courses through our veins. Beyond the obvious requirement of blood flow for intercourse, the red lipstick, rouge on the cheeks, the red, sweaty lips set against a dark beard - all of these and infinitely more signify the passion of blood. We blush due to it. Our blood pump, commonly known as heart, accelerates when we are aroused. It does not require a fetish of blood drinking or any sort of kink to appreciate the powerful imagery and functionality that is associated with blood.


While the history of the non-folklore-vampire is a relatively brief one, our mythologies are stuffed to the brim with creatures feasting upon the blood of the mortals, prolonging their life and that often in sexually charged ways, coupling a thirst for blood with a thirst for a deviantly-coded sexuality free of the fetters of concern and empathy: The excess of spilled blood collocated into sexuality, blending the adrenaline-charged association of triumphantly dancing on the verge of death with the ample linguistically implied associations with La petite mort.


This is an intriguing turn of phrase, mind you: It originally pointed towards not our commonly used synonym for orgasm, but simply denoted a loss of consciousness and control. Consciousness and control - two factors that we value as a species, that we need to survive...and that, ultimately are NOT associated with any of the nigh-indefinite connotations we have with blood when we take a look at the above. Blood is excess, passion and ID running rampant - it is NOT control.


Against this backdrop, it should come as no surprise that there frankly is no tale in horror as well-known; none that has been adapted in this staggering amount of guises. The themes, ultimately remain - but they change. Oh, how do they change. Ask any person on the street whether they know what "Dracula" is and they'll know. Only...they don't. You see, we all have probably encountered the count in one of his hundreds of incarnations in various media and forms of art and when we haven't encountered him, we have encountered mythology derived from the original tale of the bloodsucking vampire, charged with eroticism. Take a look at any given array of vampire novels, from the infamous Twilight-books to the Shadow Chronicles or similar works of fiction and you'll find a plethora of narratives sporting a female (or male - this is 2016, after all!) heroine/hero who has to tame the dark and brooding vampire, come to terms with the associations and implicit violence and thus, ultimately, transcend death itself. It's basically a twist on the beauty and the beast-narrative, a tale, literally as old as time.


This, however, was not always so - the folkloristic origins of Dracula and many a bloodsucking mythological creature often were that of...well. Corpses. Decaying, foul corpses rising from the grave to kill their families. The sexual connotation only has been a relatively recent invention, with the eponymous novel Dracula by Bram Stoker being one of the first to exemplify just this. And while we all know the plot of Dracula, supposedly, precious few of us actually do. I mean...we all have heard about Van Helsing, Harker, Mina and the Count himself, obviously. Perhaps we have since then, via one of the countless vampire anime or adaptations heard about Renfield as a servant of Dracula and nebulously picture a kind of vampiric Igor or dashing, subservient underling who homoerotically serves his dominant master. We all know how Dracula and vampires in general have to return to their coffins at dawn, how they are destroyed by the purging rays of light unless they are daywalker-dhampir-half-breeds...you know, one of the most prolific angsty-teen-power-fantasies ever devised in the last generation? Well, if your conceptions of Dracula contained any of these tropes, if you thought by yourself "I don't need to read this, I know it already!" - then you'd be wrong. All of the above is not necessarily so in Bram Stoker's original novel. Come on, if you haven't read this one, then I did blow your mind there, at least a little, right?


And see, that is the point I wanted to make...or at least, it is the first point I wanted to make. Nary an iconic figure has so thoroughly underwent the transformative progress and process of popular culture like Dracula: We know Frankenstein's Monster, Jekyll/Hyde, we have werewolf-lore galore and still, none of these classic creatures of anthropomorphized IDs of the dark romanticism have had quite this impact; much less changed to quite this extent. In Bram Stoker's Dracula, there is, no kidding, a scene wherein the count walks the daylit streets of London with a straw hat on his head. Let that sink in.


How did this come to pass that we know so little about the Dracula we all ostensibly know? Well, to point to the above - the icon remains. Dracula is a symbolic vessel for our anxieties and agendas of a given day and age. When Bram Stoker's original novel gave voice to Mina Harker as a capable, female protagonist whose moral fiber outclassed that of their male brethren throughout most of the novel, later interpretations of the material had different foci: While Mrs. Harker, in the original, ultimately was re-absorbed into the norms and ideas of mainstream society in a lackluster addendum written to appease moral guardians or Stoker's own sensibilities, there can still be no doubt that she already exemplifies a new breed of female character, one beholden neither to the ever more normative feminist movement of her day and age, nor to the patriarchal structures of established mainstream British society- the transgressive element lies not simply in her actions, but also in her skill-set and when she chillingly remarks Dracula as her approaching husband, she is performing two subversions at the same time: On the one hand, this state, sprung from her spoiling through Dracula's blood has explicit connotations with rape and the breaking of one's spirit. In the context of Victorian and fin-de-siècle England, this can be seen as a scathing, sympathy-inducing attack on the angel in the house-ideal of the demure, passion-less woman. At the same time, however, it is also an equalization - for one devotion is replaced with another, with Dracula, according to previous observations, being obviously highly sexualized in his coded depiction.


In later adaptations of Dracula, a subtext of a less obvious nature suddenly sprang to life - namely the matter of fact that he is also a nostalgic relic. A book written in the fin-de-siècle-era obviously needs to contend and address a changing of values and the fears associated with the new world order, the anticipation of upheavals the like of which our species had heretofore never chronicled. English society, at this point, was suffused with a slowly shaking foundation - the 3 grand psychological malaises cast their shadow, as a mankind devoted to science and reason has to come to terms with neither being the center of the universe, nor a creator's chosen master creation, nor master of one's own faculties.


The rise of fascist ideology as an international phenomenon and the anxiety a devolution or degeneration of mankind could bring can perhaps be quoted as one of the reasons why Dracula's original at that time did not elicit the same manner of controversy as The Island of Dr. Moreau. Dracula's theme, though, proved to be the more stable one: For in the Count's nobility, in his origin deep within the Carpathians, he pointed for his contemporary audience towards a literally darker, but also nostalgic time, where science, something the characters in Dracula constantly, obsessively use, was of no importance. Indeed, Dracula requires a return to sacral rites of Catholicism of all religions (quite scandalous in Britain) and folklore; the light of enlightenment, metaphorically and physically, can't seem to touch him. This association with ages past, with "simpler" times is a universal human notion - it was then and still is today. Dracula, in many a rendition in media, is a nostalgic atavism for us as a society, but he is, at the same time the exact opposite.


Above anything else, Dracula is transgression. When a given incarnation depicts him as beholden to the mast, it is to a potentially more romantic past; even if historically this was not true, he still remains sexually charged, emotionally vibrant; he still has all the trappings of the Beauty and the Beast-romantic. Even the number of his brides and his flaunting of conventionalized relationship-paradigms is ultimately transgressive. And when the present is mired in tradition, cluttered by an antique aesthetic, then it's Dracula's task to counteract exactly this with radical modernism and a violation of the aesthetics that have brought him forth - where once, Dracula rose and crept from the shadows, he'll later look down upon humans in the depth. And so, in time, I believe that Dracula will once again walk in sunlight.


Ultimately, the Dracula-characters throughout history remain a grand projection of empowerment...and interestingly, one for both males and females. He is the way out of normative patriarchal structures and suffocating, abuse relationships and familial structures, he is the easy hand to grasp, the male ID fulfilled. He is nostalgia and exactly the character a given generation wants - whether romantic and non-phallic, dominant and suave or bestial and brutal - Dracula has been coded in a myriad of ways in a plethora of movies, books, screen-plays...and games. Obviously. There is a reason why Vampire: The Masquerade had such a huge appeal - it was a fin-de-siècle fantasy for the 21st century, resonating with all of the aforementioned tropes and so much more, without the perceived clutter of the "old" structures and sentences.


You see, having read pretty much all of the classic pieces of dark romantic literature, I can, without a doubt say, that many of them, to our day and age's sensibilities, are somewhat plodding. Conditioned to enjoy short-lived and to the point entertainment and immediate gratification, I have witnessed, though never quite understood, the frustration with this literature. Until I had to read it all during my MA. Oh boy. Confession-time: I'll never, ever touch Dickens out of my own volition again. And "Wieland", the first American gothic novel actually made me fall asleep while reading it - a feat only a select few tomes have accomplished. I'm not the biggest fan of this kind of prose, preferring more the engaging and challenging works of Modernism and Post-Modernism. HOWEVER, I also encountered a lot of gems - I won't have to tell you that Poe holds up to this date. You know it. And while e.g. "The String of Pearls", the basis for the recently adapted Sweeny Todd-story was a chore to read, other books weren't. Cue in Bram Stoker's Dracula. While less frantic than most contemporary novels, this book remains, to this date, a page-turner. The constantly changing perspectives of narrators and their letters, diary entries etc. keep you engaged as you try to puzzle together the components. And the book actually wastes no time for the "big reveal" - you don't lose anything by knowing that Dracula is a vampire, nay, THE vampire. The book, pretty much from the get-go, makes this clear and then is all about struggling with this threat. And, from a gamer's perspective, the characters actually behave pretty much like a roleplaying group in CoC, ToC, or Night's Black Agents - you see different attributes and skills if you closely look; you see the drives of the characters. One could almost ostensibly assume it was a work penned about a certain horror campaign in Night's Black Agents Stoker personally played...


Which brings me full circle to this book - this is literature, yes. This is the original Dracula...but it is more. The premise of this book is deceptively simple: Dracula is real, there was a conspiracy, things went horribly wrong. Now the original file has fallen into your hands - with annotations by no less than three generations of agents fighting the vampiric conspiracy...or are they? Dracula has always existed in the fringes, in the haze; the demarcation line between light and day, passion and control, norms and rebellion - and now, once again, his narrative is put into the context of a new age, a new medium that is, much like Dracula, at the same time an old medium: This is a gaming supplement and it is literature. It is a fusion of the old and new, of nostalgia framed by no less than 3 meta-narratives - whose intrusion into the text is handled surprisingly smart. In color-coded hand-written notes and annotations, they tend to ultimately crop up in the filler-scenes, remark upon small, seemingly unremarkable details...and add whole new meaning and ultimately, terror to the book. When one can see the inevitable happy end approaching, one knows that it's, in fact, not the end - and we get to know why.


One of the achievements of the annotations and new content is that they take the small bits and pieces and point them out to the readers; Kenneth Hite and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan did their research: Did you know that the first, Icelandic edition (Makt Myrkranna - Sagan af Drakúla greifa) of this book has a preface that mentions Jack the Ripper? Well, I did, but only because I studied both Icelandic and English literature extensively. Well, this book is full of such interesting tidbits...and the sheer fact that the original Dracula and his behaviors have become alien to our sensibilities, that he, indeed at this point is different from our expectations of what Dracula is, makes reading this book intriguing to say the least. But what about the clash of narrative voices? I actually indulged in a little experiment and handed this book to a friend of mine who had not read the original Dracula - and guess what? She was flabbergasted when she realized that this was not all penned by Mr. Stoker - Kenneth Hite and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan have mastered the peculiarities of Stoker's style and vocabulary to the dot and, as a whole, this rendered "re-reading" Dracula actually a fulfilling experience, in spite of my excellent memory..


How good is my memory? Well, unless I have to look up a particular wording, I do not read any books twice. I can still recall the plots of movies, books, comics...the whole shebang I have consumed. My memory, at least for the purpose of retaining this type of information, seems to be quite pronounced. This means I basically remembered the whole original book. I still had more than just a bit of fun - the 3 meta-narratives and their epochs that are reflected in verbiage and in how they interact, lend a whole new dimension to an already inspired, intriguing book and the new bits and pieces integrate so seamlessly into the overarcing structure, they actually enhance the plot rather than just stretching it - this is, in fact, a better piece of literature than the original.


We are gamers. We are roleplayers. This is literature and, at the same time, the most massive hand-out I have ever held in my hands. So go out there, get this book, preferably in print - and when your investigators or agents or simply bibliophile players find a strange unredacted file, just hand them this book. It's perhaps the most awesome set-up for a campaign you can wish for, a huge, immersive facilitator of play, a book that they can analyze, engage and pick apart - this is a gaming supplement, exceedingly educational for players and GMs alike and a glorious supplement beyond the confines of Night's Black Agents, though, obviously playing The Dracula Dossier will amplify the experience beyond belief. By the way - those strange notes spread throughout the text? Those numbers? They are here for a reason, but since that reason is relevant to the gaming aspect and not necessarily required for the enjoyment of this book, I'll cover them in the second part of this review - the one on the game mechanics book, the Director's Handbook.


For now, let me express my gratitude for reading my rambling analysis of this wonderful supplement...and then go. Get this.


I'm old-school, I'd suggest the bound hardcover I used when writing this. But the pdf has also its glorious charm: Why? Because it's a glorious handout as well - you can tease this book...perhaps the PCs find some pages with one annotation type...and others that have another: You see, the pdf is layered and allows you to turn on and off the annotations of the respective agents and even the text. Hand them a white paper with only some cryptic annotations and watch agents trying to find the obscure means of making the text reappear. Yes - this is awesome from both an in-game and out-game point of view, exceedingly ambitious and a sheer joy to read and digest - a Dracula for our age. Now go ahead and weave your story with this, read a tale both old and new, literature that is a game in its experience and in its nature as a supplement. You won't regret it.


My final verdict, obviously, will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval and though this was released last year, I only managed to read an analyze it now - hence it is nominated as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2016. Get this and read Dracula like you've never read or experienced the yarn before.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Dracula Dossier: Dracula Unredacted
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New Fighter Maneuvers & Talents (13th Age Compatible)
Publisher: Quasar Knight Enterprises
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/06/2016 04:13:28

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This expansion for the fighter-class clocks in at 31 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page artist contacts, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 25 pages of content, so let's take a look!


The 13th Age fighter, as this pdf aptly observes, is a significant step up in usefulness and player enjoyment over most iterations in any d20-based gaming system, but there are some holes in the fighter's arsenal: In the introduction, the author aptly observes the odd lack of flexible attack triggers on odd results (haha...sorry, I'll punch myself later for that one) and the relative dearth of ranged attack compatible maneuvers. This pdf, thus, introduces the concept of martial schools that can be pictured as a fluffy umbrella for new feats and maneuvers, with the core book's array being treated as unaligned or basic tricks - this fluffy diversification tactic is not necessarily a bad idea, since it allows a GM to create local differences in martial traditions and control access to certain combinations of tricks.


The first of the martial traditions herein would be the Glimmering Cloak, which sports 3 talents and 10 maneuvers, many of which can be upgraded via feats. A thing you'll notice if you are a purist for formatting is that the presentation of the feat-component of the respective pieces of crunch, while formally in line with 13th Age, does not sport the respective "boxes" - while this will not influence the final verdict, I felt obliged to mention it nonetheless. So, what can we do? Well, via En Guarde!, we can declare duels that penalize first nearby enemy, with feat-support also targets that are further away. The targeted creature suffers penalties while trying to attack creatures that are not you, with higher tier feats allowing crit-range increases and increased penalties - and no, you can't abuse this since it only works once per battle - still, nice way of drawing aggro from foes.


Panache is somewhat of a pet-peeve of mine, particularly when using 13th Age's multiclassing rules - it lets you use Cha instead of Str (and instead of Dex for ranged attacks via the Adventurer-feat)...but is balanced by only allowing that for basic melee attacks. A bit odd: "Additionally, once per battle, you may add your Charisma modifier to the die roll of a save ends the effect."[sic!] - I'm pretty sure, a part of the sentence is missing. Pretty cool - the higher tier feats allow you to temporarily add 1/2 escalation die to MD and later PD as well for a limited amount of time. Via the parkour talent, you gain 5 free background points to assign to appropriate backgrounds like acrobat, cat burglar, etc., while also unlocking an escalation die-tied Flowing Movement. This tie can be eliminated via the champion feat, but at epic tier, you can use haste as a wizard of equivalent level...which feels odd to me, since haste targets yourself or an ally - and I can't really see this technique grant it to an ally. That may just be me, though.


Distracting Swish is intriguing in that it allows, on odd hits, to have allies disengage - pretty cool. Now Impressive Flourish lets you add Dex or Cha, whichever is higher, to damage, with higher levels providing 2x/3x that amount. The feats decrease the triggering roll required and ties it to the escalation die. MD-enhancing Buffs, penalizing foes you miss, switching places with engaged allies (limited to 1/round), allowing allies to spend a recovery - all in all, an interesting array of maneuvers, some of which allow you to turn really sucky luck into wins - natural 1-reroll, plus, potentially rendering the foe vulnerable. The editing, however, is a bit flawed in some of these - enemy instead of enemies for the 9th level maneuver, for example. That being said, while glitches like this are jarring, they generally do not negatively influence the respective functionality of the crunch in this pdf.


The second martial arts-school in this pdf would be Heaven's Eye, with 2 talents and 9 maneuvers, which provides solid options for ranged fighters - which include extended aiming capacity and acid arrow as well as the option to call forth supernatural storms that can deal different types of damage to foes moving closer towards you- some more guidance would have been nice here, since the pdf does mention different types of damage available, but not any suggestions for when to choose which. This still is, obviously, mostly a cosmetic complaint, though. Ricochet Shots, hails of arrows, sniping and allowing allies to disengage - all in all, a great selection of tricks for ranged fighters, with particularly the option to perform regular attacks as interrupt actions being pretty intriguing.


The Iron Hand tradition would be an unarmed - and focused on Wisdom. Now, as you probably know, unarmed strikes, RAW, are pretty subpar...which is why this pdf has a bit of an oddly phrased suggestion: "While one could reflavor unarmed strikes as heavy or martial one-handed weapons, by extension all Iron Hand talents and maneuvers should be reflavored this way as a default." This sentence is odd - I think it means that the Iron Hand talents and maneuvers are assuming this change, but I'm not sure. Cleaned up wording would certainly help here. This type of glitch is even more odd, considering that the pdf generally manages to get the interesting crunchy bits often right: E.g. ranged blast ki attacks, options to charge them, ki-based miss damage to nearby targets and critical stuns...all in all a fun martial tradition.


Reaper's Field would be the martial tradition focused on heavy weapons like greatswords and polearms. The practitioners of this style can cause damage even while disengaging. Decreasing enemy PD for one turn upon any even hit or miss - basically, this tradition exemplifies hitting hard and manages to get the feeling right rather well - hitting so hard that, when you have a natural even miss, the enemy loses his next move action, for example...is pretty dang cool. And striking with a 9th level maneuver so hard the ground quakes and causes nearby foes miss damage...yeah, this is cool - mainly because it feels like the guy with the big weapon hitting hard.


Sanguineous Rack would be the "evil" fighting style - with fear-instilling in enemies, negative energy damage, harming yourself to enhance your strikes, rerolling villainous relationship dice and even gaining options to reduce MD. Ongoing damage, with feat-upgrades allowing for the increase of the save from default 11+ to 16+...envenomed blades that can also cause the vulnerable, shadow-jumper-style short range teleportation - a cool, dark-themed and pretty trick/debuff-heavy tradition.


The final one would be the Second Soul - said to be either guarded by ancient spirits or perhaps even possessed, these fighters can draw upon a limited array of cantrips, petition the aid of spirits in combat and are, unsurprisingly, particularly adept at hunting the undead, gaining background points via one of the talents. With spirits mirroring your even hits at escalation die 1+, ranged attacks that allow you to teleport to the target, attack of opportunity-causing poltergeist allies...all in all, a cool take on the benevolent, if slightly creepy "heir to greatness"/spirit-themed fighter.


Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are ODD in this one. Whyß Because, on a rules-language level, for the most part, this pdf is exceedingly precise and well-crafted. At the same time, there are more than a few typo-level hiccups, punctuation issues and some wonky and confusing sentence-structures in here...which is particularly baffling since Ray Chapel's writing is generally precise and to the point in that regard. So yeah, another editing pass would have done this pdf good. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard, with each tradition gaining a neat full-color stock art that fits well with the respective theme. Annoyingly, the pdf has no bookmarks - but at least an internally linked ToC. Still, navigation is a bit annoying here.


You know, this pdf made me pretty happy - this is Ray Chapel's first 13th Age supplement, at least to my knowledge, and he exhibits a detailed and well-versed grasp on the rule-set and its peculiarities. More important than that, the fighting styles/traditions introduced herein lend a sense of more unique identity to the fighter class in the 13th Age rules, making the actual playing experience for practitioners of different traditions completely different. Personally, I'm not a big fan of the attribute-substitution-tricks since they produce a bit of unnecessary optimization cheeses with the multiclassing options...but even in that context, they still work. Also important, at least to me, would be that the styles generally seem to be pretty much on par with one another. They feature solid tricks and are sufficiently distinct to play almost like sub-classes of fighter. Now, there is a reason for these traditions to be thus structured and I urge groups out there to retain this structure - cherry-picking options herein can lead to some pretty powerful builds, so unless that's the focus of your group anyways, I'd suggest retaining the suggested tradition structure.


But how to rate this? Well, as mentioned, I actually really like the crunch and tricks this lets you pull. At the same time, lack of bookmarks, somewhat inconsistent editing and a select few minor hiccups do result in this falling slightly short of its own potential. However, what's here most certainly is worth getting for the fair price-point. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars. I certainly hope to see more such pdfs!


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
New Fighter Maneuvers & Talents (13th Age Compatible)
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