This pdf is 40 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD and 2 pages advertisement, leaving us with 34 pages of content, so let's check this out!
This pdf seeks to provide us with aims in encounters that go beyond destroying enemy resistance and after a short introduction to the subject matter at hand, we delve right into general categories that help you design objectives like the ones featured in this book yourself. For example, achieve encounters are based on skill checks and things PCs want to do, potentially interlaced with multiple steps to final success. Escape is also covered and rather interesting: Some sample skill-DCs being included alongside different scenario suggestions and a variant of making a breach. Holding areas (for example for a ritual or a similar ticking clock scenario) against an unending horde of foes are just as much covered as obtaining objects as an encounter's primary goal. Getting the balance of hard, but not too hard to get objects and even protect/prevent scenarios right, how much time to assign to tasks and advice on combining these alternate objectives are covered as well.
A DM has to think a bit more when designing encounters that go beyond "Smash XYZ" and thus we also get a comprehensive, easy-to-grasp step-by-step guide to help you create advanced objectives. Is failure at such an encounter fatal or just important? Are the expectations for what the PCs are supposed to achieve clear? Do you want to integrate content from the stellar Terrain Toolbox (you should!) and what about skill DCs? Non-combatants? Fans of Zombie Sky Press' stellar, awesome incantations should also note that they are also mentioned and discussed, including advice on dark priests failing at rituals when they shouldn't etc. - nice synergy between 3pps here!
Now that we're well-armed with a plethora of pieces of information to design our very own alternate encounters, we also get some ready-made sample encounters: The first being the task to steal a necklace from a noble lady incognito, while evading capture from her guards. The NPCs are fully statted and alternate hooks/motivations for the PCs are also provided. The tavern is fully mapped (as, indeed all sample encounters) in a player-friendly b/w-map and complications like town guards etc. are also mentioned. The second sample encounter has the PCs escape from a collapsing cavern of ice while being beseiged by ice elementals and there is also a different scenario on the other elemental side of the scales, there also is a burning warehouse-encounter included, of course with rules for spreading the fire and extinguishing flames. Protecting a prince from a cadre of elite assassins is also one of the more challenging sample encounters and if you're playing the classic boxed set by Necromancer Games or the Legacy of Fire AP, you'll also have an escape scenario fleeing from the city of brass provided herein. The final encounter works best when the PCs have met a once pure individual, in the sample that being a planetar: The aim is to convince the fallen angel to seek redemption for his past transgressions and help the PCs against the small infernal host he now leads. This encounter feels slightly odd in that, while it provides a bunch of statblocks, it fails to provide complications, account for PC strategies etc. and essentially boils down to a series of bland skill-checks that remain mostly un-developed and for the DM to judge by fiat. Per se not too bad, but when contrasted to the first encounter e.g. accounting for distracting performances, barfights etc., this encounter fell a bit flat for me.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any significant glitches or ones that would have impeded my enjoyment of the pdf. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly b/w-2-column standard and the pdf features nice b/w-interior artwork to go along with the cover. The pdf is also extensively bookmarked with nested bookmarks.
As you already might know from my review of the Terrain Toolbox, I supported the kickstarter that gave birth to both books, but was otherwise not involved in the creation of the content. The Terrain Toolbox was ennie-nominated for a reason, being one of the finest pieces of DM-help and crunchy goodness to enhance your game I've read in a while. Alternate Objectives is another fine installment in the same tradition, though, at least in my opinion, slightly less polished, but let me elaborate: The strength of the Terrain Toolbox was the sheer imaginative potential of general guidelines and vast variety of terrain hazards that DMs could utilize and make their own. It is a well-spring of awesome ideas. Alternate Objective starts off generally the same way, but e.g. lacks a table of sample skill-DCs, a table of mechanical severities and damages to inflict etc..
The content of the alternate objectives presented is awesome and their writing concise, but there is no bare bones basic guideline as in the toolbox. Furthermore, the complications and considerations could have used some more space to shine - perhaps at the expense of the sample encounters, which end up taking up half the space in the book. Being level-specific due to statblocks, they can be used on the fly, but remain only useful for a limited range of play as provided. I really think this particular pdf would have vastly benefited from something I'm usually an enemy of: Statblock-omission. Seriously, the statblocks clog up so much page-count it's not funny - page-count that could easily have been used for more encounters, complications, scenarios, DM-advice etc. - i.e. content that would have truly enriched the offerings of this otherwise neat pdf instead of stats that actually limit the usefulness of the sample encounters.
Alternate Objectives, as presented, is still a very good offering that should come as an eye-opener for novice-DMs and serve as an inspiration for veterans, who can surely get a trick or two out of the pages of this rather cheap pdf. My problem is, though, that it could have been easily as good as the stellar toolbox and perhaps even surpass it. It doesn't and remains "only" a good book that falls slightly short of its own vast potential, something I hope will be realized in a sequel. nudge-nudge For this, though, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.