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Purple Duck Storeroom: Magic Pants!
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/30/2015 04:09:42
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 15 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 11 pages of content, so let's take a look!



This statement by grandmaster crunch Owen K.C. Stephens could have come from a review of yours truly as well: "Know your item slots. Don't just invent them. Best to avoid magic pants.", to briefly paraphrase the comment that spawned this supplement - so yes, here, we tread in the glorious tradition of the Baldur's Gate-saga's easter-egg and get magical pants, though admittedly more balanced ones than the ridiculously OP item we got via the pantalon-transmuter.



So, this pdf introduces the leg-slot, where one may wear leggings, kilts, skirts, stockings and the like - a decision I actually like because I NEVER understood the lack of battle-kilts, stockings of seduction and similar items in the presence of belts, amulets etc. That being said, this does not mean that the items themselves universally lack a certain winking, unobtrusive sense of humor: Take the Clam Diggers of Harvest - they allow you to be considered proficient with monk's shovels (and treat all shovels as such), confer a +2 bonus to atk and damage versus crab and clam-vermin and let you treat shallow water and mud flats as normal terrain instead of as difficult terrain. This is at once hilarious to me and makes sense - in a world where giant crabs and deadly clams exist, why wouldn't there be specialized magical equipment to deal with them?



On the high-level David Bowie-fanboy side of things, the legendary Codpiece of the Goblin King increases your illusion and enchantment DCs by +2 while also increasing your sorceror level by no less than +5 for the purpose of determining which bloodline powers they possess. Here, I do think the item overshoots its target; unlocking new bloodline powers 5 levels early (in the face of no caveat that abilities are not gained early) seems excessive. That being said, this can be nerfed easily. And it's the codpiece of the goblin king - dance, baby, dance!



Also pretty interesting - Grown-up Pants - +4 to saves versus fear effects and 1/day swift action enlarge person for 8 minutes. Pretty hilarious! The very costly and powerful Happy Pants increase any beneficial morale bonuses by +1, while also providing immunity to spells of the emotion and mind-affecting descriptors. On the low-level end, 3/day message and +4 to Heal checks as well as no requirement for a healer's kit are interesting options. It should be noted, that not all of these items imho are well-priced - the Jodhpurs of the Mounted Guard provide no less than +5 to Ride checks AND the Mounted Combat and Spirited Charge-feats AND makes all mounts be treated as combat-trained- for a paltry 7500 GP. There are also some glitches to be found herein - the Kilt of the Tyrant, for example, has only a CL of 5th, which, for an item that costs 59000 GP - while I get this rationale for the spell-like ability it confers and seeing how the headband of alluring charisma has a CL of 8th.



Fans of magical girl anime may enjoy the new magical miniskirt, whereas fans of classic comedy will almost certainly get a chuckle out of parachute pants. Skald's kilts provide btw. benefits for the ACG-class, so yes, there is some support for that one herein as well - and yes, swashbucklers et al. also get there. I also very much got a smile out of magical traveling pants that lose their enchantment if not passed to new wearers regularly...



More fun still - what about cursed pants that compel you to brag about your own awesomeness? Pants that conjure forth swarms of ants...inside? Pants that set themselves ablaze whenever the wearer utters a lie? Yeah, fun!



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect - I noticed a couple of minor issues, though nothing too jarring. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly 1-column standard, which means you can print this one out in digest-format. The pdf provides one original piece of full-color artwork. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.



Mark Gedak, Perry Fehr, Sean O'Connor and Jacob Trier have crafted some pretty awesome and fun material - the pants herein are ridiculous and often, downright fun. And no, I do not expect magical pants, an item-class that adds a new slot (resulting in more stacking options etc.) to be perfectly balanced. Alas, in some cases, there obviously are some issues herein, with CLs not lining 100% perfect up and power-levels of some pants being quite frankly beyond what I'm comfortable with. If you utilize some caution and nerfing, this *WILL* be a very inexpensive, exceedingly fun product, but without it, it does sport some rough patches in balance and minor hiccups in rules-syntax/semantics. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Purple Duck Storeroom: Magic Pants!
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Faces of the Tarnished Souk: An NPC Collection (PFRPG)
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/29/2015 04:35:48
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive book clocks in at no less than 323 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of ToC, 4 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 314 pages of content, so let's take a look!



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



Well, first of all, I will deviate from my usual take on detailed analysis of the individual pieces of content herein -why? Because that would take AGES and bloat this review beyond the page-count where this would have any semblance of help for anyone of my readers. Beyond that, there is another factor - I have written detailed reviews for each and every NPC (apart from the new one) sported in this massive compilation - combining them would result in more than 30 pages, so there you go. If you're interested in one particular NPC, you can have a detailed analysis of said build in my individual review of the respective pdfs. If you have read them, here's a general summation of what sets the NPCs apart.



Fluff-wise, the Tarnished Souk can be considered an interplanar nexus situated on the plane of dreams, right outside the legendary Coliseum Morpheuon, where the most powerful mortals and immortals duke it out under the auspice of the khan of nightmares, all hoping to gain the cusp of desires. Oh, and yes, the tarrasque is actually part of the competition's challenges, to give you an inkling of the level of expertise required in this competition. Dreams are a vaulable currency in Coliseum Morpheuon and thus, they actually carry relevance beyond the story's basic requirements for the characters in question. As such, they may actually be found by PCs and provide a level of background information one regularly does not expect. Dreams are more, though - they are power. While dreamburning rules from Coliseum Morpheuon are not required for this book, it does add a nice further dimension and honestly, Coliseum Morpheuon is the best high-level module available for Pathfinder, so you definitely should have that beast anyways.



So what is special about the NPCs herein? Well, regarding crunch they are special to me because they don't suck. There. I said it. Pathfinder's high-level gameplay and the general experience of many a DM that high-level gameplay comes apart, at least partially, is due to just about all published books simply having an impossible job at their hands: The directive is to create adversaries that a casual gaming group can vanquish and the more the levels pile up, the bigger the discrepancy becomes between people that exhibit a high degree of system mastery and those who don't. At high levels, this ultimately leads to whining I've seen on boards about ACs of 36 in high level-ranges where that is not an insurmountable defense. At the same time, posts complain about 1-round curb-stomping BBeGs, a problem exacerbated by the mythic rules, famously being quoted by Alexander Augunas as the Rocket-launcher-standoff.



In my main campaign, I run next to no unmodified published modules - why? Because, if I took Karzoug against half my group, they'd mop the floor with him. Yes, I'm talking about the enhanced Anniversary Edition. Playtesting published modules only VERY rarely results in any PC deaths at my table, even in Frog God Games killer beasts. And I'm not alone in this issue. While my group may be an extreme example, it is a trend that is exacerbated with each new release, with each slight power-creep. In 3.X that resulted in me wearing down my Advanced Bestiary and templating EVERYTHING. In PFRPG, I follow a similar modus operandi, though one supplemented with many, many base classes, archetypes etc. So that would be problem No.1.



Problem number 2 is a more pleasant one to have - ultimately, there are MANY awesome 3pp-products out there -glorious base-classes, exceedingly fun subsystems etc. - and yes, I'm using more 3pp material than Paizo material at this point. Alack and alas, there is no big 3pp NPC Codex and that means making A LOT of NPCs and monsters from scratch. Faces of the Tarnished Souk did something rather unique - it provides a vast array of templates,. both original and from the best of sources and combines them with unique classes - taskshapers and time thieves, malefactors - whatever your heart desires, there is a good chance you'll find some of the unmitigated stars within these pages. Add to that unique, custom-tailored magic items and you get an array of NPCs that is ACTUALLY CHALLENGING.



Now that would be awesome in and of itself, but it becomes even better when you take into account the vast imaginative potential that lies at the roots of the characters provided herein - you won't find "Human Paladin 20" herein - instead, you'll find, for example, Nameless Nil, the Beggar of Self. An imaginary friend turned killer turned beggar, whose wonderful class/template line reads "Bloody Maw Half-construct horrifically overpowered hungry nightmare unfettered eidolon savant 10." This is, as the back cover proudly proclaims, NOT your pappy's NPC book. Nameless Nil's prose and background story ranks among the best pieces of character writing I have seen in ANY roleplaying product, btw. - this guy is my favorite NPC for Pathfinder. Yes, I'm talking about all-out number 1 spot. Oh, and have I mentioned that, for example the legendary bulwark Ahnkar-Kosh has an AC of 64? This should put an end to the smirk on your level 20 min-maxers face...



But wait, before you put away this review - no, not all NPCs in this book exist only in the CR ~20-range - instead, each of the NPCs herein comes with a build for low levels, mid levels and high levels, allowing you to introduce the NPCs at any level you like and depict their progression to greatness- or utilize the statblocks of the lower iterations for servants, creatures or whatever you like. Another issue you may expect to face would lie in the aforementioned presence of a lot of 3pp-content utilized in the truly beautiful builds created herein. Well, approximately the last 100 pages of the book are used to provide all rules used in the builds of this massive cadre of glorious CHARACTERS. For, thanks to the interplay of glorious prose and superb crunch, the NPCs become more than the sum of their respective parts.



If you are not inspired by the glorious write-ups of the respective NPCs, many of which can spawn multiple adventures (or even campaigns!), boxes with pieces of advice further help using the NPCs and integrating them into the mythos of your campaign. Have I btw. mentioned Smiles-Under-teh-Bed, the legendary Cheshire cat that is pretty much a psychotic, playful killer that clocks in at CR 19 in its most powerful iteration? The eidolon that is the summoner that wants to be mortal? The goblin time thief convinced that things between the seconds are gearing up to tear time and reality asunder? If you have ANY joy contemplating high-stakes games, personal tragedies, captivating NPCs and a level of imagination I have not seen since the heyday of Planescape, and there only in its better products, then this compilation should be considered a ridiculously glorious must-buy.



How can this be further enhanced? well, the original pdfs sported some artwork which has since been used by other supplements as well - this has been expanded by new pieces that seamlessly fit with the respective character portrayals, with Juan Diego Dianderas and Kamil Jadczak delivering great pieces in the fitting b/w-standard this book offers and adding to the talents of illustrators that not only include master of the creepy Mark Hyzer, but also Tamás Baranya and Hugo Solis and many, many more. How can this be made better on a content-level, you ask? Well, what about adding a brand new NPC by none other than legendary, Ennie-award-winning design Ben McFarland? This would be Strai Tkossirk, the whispered word of dream. This would be, in his highest CR-iteration, a psychic (telekinetic) vrock oracle (aetherurgist) - and the level of imaginative potential of this NPC in no way falls back behind the ridiculously high standard of the series, utilizing for example a magical drug-addiction in the mid-level version. And yes, as per the tradition with this series, vivid prose, GM-advice and tactics combine to create a creature that is more than the sum of its myriad parts. On a nitpicky side - I think it would have made more sense to include him in the NPC-roster instead of in the appendix, but that is ultimately one design in a huge book....and remains the only true gripe I can muster against this tome.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, especially for a massive tome of this size. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard with elegant borders and the artworks provided, as mentioned above, are thematically fitting and, in many cases, awesome. The book comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.



I have all individual pdfs printed out. I want this book in dead-tree. This is not "an" NPC collection - to me, this is THE NPC collection. Faces of the Tarnished Souk epitomizes what made me a fan of Rite Publishing in the first place: The combination of awesome prose and imaginative fluff that goes one step further. I guarantee that the vast majority of characters herein, once encountered, will remain the talk of your gaming groups for years to come. Beyond the cool mechanics, this series has pretty much defined what I consider apex-level NPC-crafting and remains my point of reference for any such book. It should be noted that exactly ONE pdf can claim to adhere to this level of awesomeness beyond the series - LPJr Design's Cyrix. That's pretty much it.

When anyone asks me for challenging or simply evocative NPC builds, this book immediately comes to mind. When someone asks me for the spirit of truly uncommon fantasy, this book is what I think about. Whether as antagonists, allies or both, the characters herein pretty much define my campaigns in subtle ways - by the legends they have crafted, by the guidance they provide, by the growth my PCs can witness. Matt Banach, Justin Sluder, Steven D. Russell and Ben McFarland have quite simply created THE NPC collection for the discerning game-master, the remedy for players bored with standard builds and, via the builds herein, a great toolkit for GMs to use themselves.



Even if you never plan to run any of the characters herein and are not interested in Coliseum Morpheuon, this book provides so many iconic characters that it remains my honest belief that this book can serve as an inspiration for other settings as well. If my gushing diatribe before was not ample clue, I consider this quite frankly the best NPC collection out there, one distinguished by excellence in the beautiful statblocks AND the prose that draws vivid pictures of truly unique characters that deserve the moniker while epitomizing the key strengths of Rite Publishing as a publisher. This book, unsurprisingly, receives a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval as well as being a candidate for my Top Ten of 2015.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Faces of the Tarnished Souk: An NPC Collection (PFRPG)
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ZEITGEIST #9: The Last Starry Sky (Pathfinder RPG)
Publisher: EN Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/26/2015 07:38:29
An Endzeitgeist.com review

The ninth installment of the superb Zeitgeist AP clocks in at a whopping 105 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 100 (!!) pages of content - that's more than some self-proclaimed mega-adventures out there...



This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. As such, players wishing to play this intelligent and exceedingly ambitious AP should jump to the conclusion.

...

..

.

All right, still here?

We rejoin our loyal constables of the RHC in the realm of the Dreaming, the lands of the fey, where they were dumped after facing off against Nicodemus, the immortal head of the Ob's conspiracy. Now if you have any degree of familiarity with roleplaying, you'll probably know that the combination of "Stranded" and "Fey" in any combination in one sentence do not bode well and indeed, if the PCs were expecting whimsy, they'll get that - of the lethal sort, for there is war brewing in the realms of the fey. Let me elaborate - two courts have been in a state of cold war for quite some time - until Rock Rackus, troublemaker and celebrity bard, entered the fray - remember this loud-mouth from the campaign's beginning? Well, turned out that his claims have had some truth - he indeed slept with the Queen of the Fey...who also is the king, as the mirrored face of said lord projects the subconscious of any who look upon the entity. Worse, his inclination of "sticking it to the man" made him a pawn of the machinations of the second court as well and thus, a valid linchpin to destabilize the whole realm.

The fey/elder evil-combination the players know from adventure #3, the Voice of Rot, has had an agent abduct Rock and "murder" a false body instead, inciting hostilities between the courts - a conflict the PCs will have to resolve to return home. That is if they manage to maneuver through the politics and oddities of the fey courts - worse, returning home is not as simple as one would deem, nor is finding Rock, who has been safely sealed away in a pocket/prison dimension-ish place called the absurdist web. It should be noted that unearthing the truth may not *necessarily* be the interest of the PCs - allying with the mastermind behind the abduction may well be a smart move...for now. Then again, choosing the new sovereign of the fey and duking it out with a potential candidate or the majesty ought to be considerable fun. Still, the investigation here is just as modular, odd and challenging as you'd expect it to be. My only gripe here would be the lack of a proper planar-trait synopsis as established in PFRPG's standard, though that admittedly is a gripe I can classify as a nitpick in view of the overall interesting plot here - including a rather phenomenal potential for a face-off against a fey-titan that is truly ridiculously huge...and deadly.



Time, alas, waits for no one, not even PCs stranded in the realms of the fey, and meanwhile, the world is succumbing to the vision of the Ob, with Risur a beacon of hope and resistance, thanks in no small parts to the PCs warning the king and thus ensuring the united spirit of his people (as established via the concept of Rites of Rulership) to remain intact - for now, for when the PCs arrive at a wedding he oversees, the OB's plan kicks in and they use wayfarer lanterns to draw the vfery palace into the Bleak Gate. The PCs have exactly 5 minutes to thwart this transition before they and everyone is fully manifest in the Bleak Gate and faces essentially unbeatable odds. Oh, not that the constant barrage of elite assassination teams and Ob-forces defending the lanterns would make for an easy time - quite the contrary. The Ob have failsafe upon failsafe and defeating one team is by far not enough - essentially, this is a constant stream of highly lethal attacks on the king, with success being rather likely unless the PCs are up to the a-game. The Ob are smart - let's hope the player's minds have been sharpened as well by the constant tangling with their foes.



Whether the king lives or dies - there is more to be done, namely interrupting the ritual of Stanfield - only issue being having to attack the best-defended lighthouse in the world - simple, right? An epic naval battle ensues, one that comes, as always, with my firm advice to utilize the naval combat rules of Fire as She Bears instead. Other than that, the dramatics and set-up here are pretty much awesome - as would be the final assault on Stanfield's fortress, where the mighty oracle fights the PCs with all his prior incarnations. But once he falls, so does the sky, evaporating his lighthouse and saving Risur...for now - but as the PCs scramble from the rubble, they realize that their magic is gone (a notion covered and explained alongside the rules of the New World Order in a sidebox that makes infinitely more sense than the ill-conceived 30-cap in #8) and there may or may not be one final battle to brave...in any way, as the night-sky changes, the nebulae of the heavens form the shape of titanic gears - the New World Order has dawned and the PCs may have witnessed indeed the last starry sky...



The pdf also deals with the rather likely death of the king and the notion of PCs becoming monarchs, appendices with stats for both creatures, NPCs, ships, etc., magic and training and handy maps that e.g. make the overlaps of the lanterns during the assassination apparent, etc. - as always, the quality of the full-color maps is superb, though I wished the layered pdf had a way to make them player-friendly (i.e. no legend/keys).



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Zeitgeist's beautiful, layered two-column full-color standard and thus allows for significant customization. Artworks range from gorgeous to stock and are copious. The cartography is excellent, as always.



Ryan Nock's #9 of the AP sees a return to form for me - while I am not yet sold on whether the new abilities imposed by the finale of the module will receive proper rules-translation in future installments, I can safely say that this installment of the series, apart from pretty much negligible details, can be considered one of the most creative. Much like in WotBS, this one could be deemed the oddball, feyish, planar interlude and as such would make perhaps one of the easiest modules to rip out of the context of the whole AP - the first Act, the assassination etc. could be relatively easily scavenged for other purposes beyond this AP. That being said, the main star of this module, let's be honest, is the cinematographic dramaturgy exhibited by the scenes - the stakes are impossibly high at this point and one can see that from the get-go. The challenges also reflect this more than just on a cursory way and yes, when played right, this module can be a delight, but also exceedingly lethal. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval, though I am somewhat skeptical about the new magic rules for the world and whether they will work properly in future installments. One more nitpick, perhaps - the rules, at least as hinted here, seem to not take #7 into account, which imho is a lost chance for the meta-plot to make the PC's decisions matter - an oversight I hope to see rectified in the compilation of the second act.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
ZEITGEIST #9: The Last Starry Sky (Pathfinder RPG)
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Compendium Arcanum Vol. 3: 2nd-Level Spells (PFRPG)
Publisher: d20pfsrd.com
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/25/2015 08:58:39
UPDATE to reflect the added errata:
The big design-guffaws I've mentioned have been cleaned up by the errata and the installment benefits quite a bit from that. At the same time, not all have been cleaned up -there are quite a few still remaining and, once again, the base system's issues regarding the interaction and balance with other components of spellcasting is not addressed. Hence, my verdict will remain.

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Compendium Arcanum-series clocks in at 121 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 117 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?



So what is this series about? In a nutshell, the compendium arcanum-series takes the concept of 3.X's Arcana Evolved for the option of heightening/diminishing spells and translates that to PFRPG. This means a spell can be cast as one level higher or as one level lower. The series covers all spells from the core-book, APG, UM and Ultimate Combat. If a class has no level lower (i.e. no cantrip slots), you can't cast the diminished spell and the heightened effects require you to be able to cast the heightened spell level - obviously preventing classes from casting a heightened spell that would e.g. be 10th level for a full caster or 5th level, for a paladin, to give you two examples.



After the unfortunate cantrip-debacle of the second installment of the series, we here do not have the issue with potential infinite casts, remaining with only a significant increase in flexibility. At first glance, one can see a nice little improvement in layout -diminished and heightened effects are now denoted by small, neat arrow-icons, making the actual use of this pdf more comfortable - nice! On the downside, at this point I feel obliged to mention two significant gaps in the system that were simply not relevant in the first installment and paled behind the vast issues the 1st level-installment had. Number 1 would be that the pdf does not specify how e.g. light/darkness-counterspells work - can e.g. a diminished light counterspell a heightened darkness? The pdfs remain silent on this. Secondly - what about spell-like abilities? How do they work within in the frame of this system? No idea.



Now what kind of balancing mechanisms do we get? Well, among others, the obvious ones would include modified durations as well as changed range/target-lines - limiting a spell from touch to personal, for example, makes sense, as does the upgrade from e.g. +2 to +4 bonuses. However, not all spell-scaling effects can be considered well-crafted - the by themselves powerful "massive bonus spells" like acute senses - the diminished version nets only a +5 bonus, scaling up to +10. The heightened effect, however, increases duration by factor ten for 10 min/level. Alas, there are glitches herein- take the diminished effects of alchemical allocation: "If the spell contained in the potion or elixir has variable, numeric effects, they are decreased by half, including bonuses to those dice rolls. If the spell contained in the potion or elixir has variable, numeric effects, then instead its duration is decreased by half. " Sooo...what is it? I don't get how this is supposed to work. Something obviously went pretty wrong here.



Now on the plus-side, adding cure light wounds to allfood's heightened effects would be a pretty cool idea, going into breadth, rather than depth (though the former spell is not italicized) and animal aspect's diverse heightened effects (one for each animal chosen) make for a cool idea. Arcane Lock's heightened effect allows you to specify a password to temporarily bypass the lock - which makes more than just a bit sense and can be used for plenty a cool narrative - it is in instances like this where Timothy Wallace's talent definitely shines. On the downside, there simply are quite a few guffaws herein - blur's heightened effects e.g., among others, changes target to "creature touched" - which the spell already has - instead, it should clarify the number of creatures to be touched. Why? In another issue, the spell's heightened effects allow you to freely assign the duration in 1-minute intervals among creatures touched - which renders the spell effectively a kind-of-(communal) spell, so why not simply utilize that terminology?



Chameleon Stride would be an example of a diminished effect gone horribly wrong, with the diminished version providing " You gain a +10 bonus on Stealth checks, but are not granted any concealment. The bonus increases to +20 at caster level 5th, and to +30 (the maximum) at caster level 9th." -no concealment, yes, but a bonus that may be on par (and as untyped, stacking) with invisibility. Remember, that would be for a level one spell. The heightened version provides concealment for all attacks further than 5 feet away. This renders reach weapons rather useless and also eliminates any possibility to target creatures with spells and effects that require line of sight. For a level 3 spell, that's pretty sick.



On the plus-side - using a heightened command undead without needing to speak the commands, instead going for the telepathic route once again can be considered a stroke of genius - undead ninjas with a necromancer-commander? Why not? Nice! Lesser Confusion/Confusion have been merged into a nice combined version and a similar merger has been made for continual flame and light: Makes sense, as does the combination of pit trap/spiked pit. Instant revelation of all information via detect thought's heightened effect once again feel a bit problematic in my book.



On the plus-side, integration of all relevant and required information for e.g. catching on fire is a pretty neat added convenience. Moving flaming spheres to execute ranged combat maneuvers with a concentration-check may be a bit too much, though - ranged maneuvers at what amounts to a full BAB-class bonus, plus trait/feat-trickery is very strong, especially considering the additional damage/AoE-upgrade. Stinking Cloud has been delegated to being the heightened version of fog cloud, which may be a bit too weak for 3rd level.



Extending the effects of grace to creatures touched would constitute another gripe I have here - the base spell is OP enough, allowing it to be extended to other characters makes it ridiculously powerful, even for 3rd level. Share Memory's diminished effects allow you to share memories only for a limited time, allowing for significantly more complex narrative frames - so yeah - this one is pretty brilliant. Silk to Steel's heightened effect is pretty awesome, allowing you to use it either for defense or as a scorpion whip. Here one might nitpick that the spell does not confer proficiency, but it doesn't need to - the wording specified "as if" - and in dubio pro reo, so this one's safe from my nagging. Heightened Touch injection sans chance to poison yourself, even without poison use, also makes sense - at least for non-alchemists. Spitting poisons transmuted from potions makes for another interesting option and the option to make undetectable alignment kind of communal via the heightened version also is pretty cool. Adding minor energy resistance of your choice to a web shelter also is a rather awesome decision.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting is pretty solid on a formal level - on the rules-level, the book could have used a close look by a solid developer. Layout adheres to the easy-to-read, well-presented 2-column standard and is pretty printer-friendly. The added icons make reading the pdf easier - kudos. The pdf comes bookmarked for your convenience - one for each spell! Kudos! The pdf also comes in two versions, with one sporting extensive hyperlinks to d20pfsrd.com's shop and the other being free of them, should you prefer it that way.



Timothy Wallace, generally, knows what he is doing. However, this is longer than 120 pages and thus, I wasn't surprised to see some hiccups here - some of the new options presented here are quite frankly not appropriate for the spell-level to which they adhere - at least in my book. Now usually, I'd be slightly more lenient in that regard, but as anyone who has ever run a game with compendium arcanum-rules can attest, these modifications significantly enhance the flexibility of all casters, thus making the required balancing all the more peculiar. The series is notoriously quiet on its rather significant effects on balancing - personally, I'd suggest taking a very close look at whether your game is up for the increased caster-power provided here. Especially prepared casters imho simply do not require the additional flexibility. But that won't influence my verdict - what will, though, are the glitches that can be found and the at times very problematic, even broken effects. HOWEVER, at the same time, the (communal)-tricks, the spell-mergers...there is a lot of cool material to be found herein, some of it downright inspired. So while the balance-concerns within the system would usually have me round down, I'll instead settle for a verdict that reflects this as a quintessential mixed bag, for a final verdict of 2.5 stars, rounded up to 3 stars for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Compendium Arcanum Vol. 3: 2nd-Level Spells (PFRPG)
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Psionics Augmented: Mythic Psionics
Publisher: Dreamscarred Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/24/2015 03:38:29
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive book clocks in at 75 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 71 pages of content, so let's take a look!



This supplement was moved up in my queue as a prioritized review by my patreons.



So there we have it - the massive sourcebook that brings the much beloved psionics system up to mythic proportions, but can it whether the test of numerical escalation while also providing some iconic tricks? We'll see.



First of all, the pdf does something smart - it covers terminology. Why is that smart? Well psionic powers tend to have an Augment-option, whereas mythic spellcasting has established an "Augmented" line - making the difference clear is pretty vital, with a similar potential confusion regarding psychic warrior paths and mythic paths being another topic that is clarified from the get-go. This deserves special mention because it renders nomenclature precise from the get-go and renders the potential for ambiguity issues minimal - kudos!



We begin this supplement's huge array of crunchy options with a psionic-exclusive mythic path, the path of the overmind. Covering the whole ten tiers, with each tier netting 3 bonus hit points, this path begins with a psionic secret. these include the option to expend one use of mythic power to manifest any one psionic power without expending power points, with augmenting being treated as if augmented to the manifester level of the character, if applicable. The power thus manifested cannot be improved via metapsionic feats and requires non-mythic creatures to save twice and take the worse result - so yes, this is kind of a modified wild surge that is different from the regular wilder ability in some unique ways - and yes, having both actually yields different results in their customizations, so mythic wilders may still get something out of this - and the two abilities can work in tandem, though there are more efficient uses of either. Another option allows for the expenditure of one mythic power as a swift action to execute an attack that bypasses all DR and adds +tier to damage, but does not allow bonus damage from e.g. weapon special abilities still are subject to resistances and immunities.

Surging psionics allow you to expend a use of mythic power as a standard action to treat your manifester level as two higher for level-dependent effects, with the power being treated as if augmented to your manifester level, should it provide augmenting. You can apply metapsionic feats to this power, but still need to expend your psionic focus and still have to pay for the power, which may not exceed your manifester level and still count versus psionic augmenting. On a nitpicky side, I do consider this wording to be somewhat less precise than it could be, as the wording does not specify whether the surge-enhanced modified manifester level or the base manifester-level applies for purposes of augments - I assume the modified level, though. Where things become somewhat complex is once you apply this power to powers enhanced by wild surges - the stacking of manifester levels can potentially be rather nasty here, with potential ML-increases of up to +8 being rather significant. Via one path ability, one may even expend one use of mythic power to increase ML by 1/2 tier, which translates to a potential +11 ML for wilders. Both leave me HIGHLY uncomfortable.

A more important change of pace these mythic path abilities provide would not be apparent at first - since the reduction of manifesting time down to 1 standard action is pretty massive, astral caravans/travelers, augured answers etc. pretty significant changes in the utility of such powers -checking through Ultimate Psionics, the powers for which such a decrease proved relevant turned out to be mostly information-based/utility/healing-centric, so not that bad - just something to bear in mind regarding the future-proofing of mythic psionics. This also deviates somewhat from Paizo's standard of tackling similar abilities - in the base array, the intent is to expend a swift action for mythic power to ENABLE the better casting of the respective spell. While the prominence of swift/immediate actions among powers would render this less effective, just locking psionic powers into standard actions overrides their manifesting time and thus can result in problems. Additionally, this changes action economy in a second, significant way - it allows you to break the 1 swift/immediate action limit per round by fixing the mythic augmented manifesting time at the standard action-level. While per se presenting a concise way to handle the general system, I am at this point not 100% convinced this system is airtight - while psionics makes excessive use of swift/immediate actions on its own, the combination with other classes and sub-systems may be used to execute some truly nasty combos otherwise prevented by the hard action-type-limit. While this is less of an issue with mythic rules in general, I can see issues arising from this and wished the manifesting time modification had a slightly more limited flexibility. I really wished this mechanic did not lock manifestation times as standard actions.



1st tier and every tier thereafter net the overmind an overmind path ability or, of course, an universal path ability, with the capstone netting 15 +highest manifester level PR, forcing non-mythic targets to roll twice for any save and take the worse result. Additionally, once per round when subjected to a power manifested by a mythic foe that fails to penetrate your PR, you regain a use of mythic power. Here, I got ready to complain hard, but the pdf at least specifies that the foe needs to be an enemy, thus preventing an easy infinite mythic power-exploit. Nice job! As with all paths, tier abilities come in 3 general categories: 1st, 3rd and 6th-tier abilities. The abilities here all have in common that they do something rather significant: Psions may, for example, unlock additional discipline abilities of a second discipline and a scaling force-field that provides a 3+tier AC-bonus that works essentially on an unlimited basis as well as aforementioned surge-improvement all have in common that they change the way in which a psion of mythic proportions works. Getting power points from the collective and using mythic power to manifest powers of a member of the collective also can be considered unique benefits, with thankfully tier being utilized as a means of limitation.



Bypass mental defenses also deserves special mention - the ability allows you to affect a creature immune to mind-affecting effects with a class feature or psionic power for the price of one use of mythic power. While this pretty much can translate into an "I win"-button versus certain enemies, the caveat that this does not work versus mindless foes renders the whole trick actually valid without marginalizing constructs and similar adversaries, so kudos here. Better crafting can be found herein alongside significant increases to ML for the purposes of discipline abilities, thankfully sans netting earlier access to them and one favorite of mine allows for the free distribution of dice between two active energy types, thankfully applying the bonus to either to all dice and attack rolls - more impressively, the ability does provide a wording that prevents confusion with e.g. the Elemental Blast feat, being limited to powers. Gaining resistance to energy you manifest and access to discipline-exclusive powers can also be found herein and adding an augment to a personal healing power is also covered, thus allowing for an interesting interaction with vitalists in particular. Numerical escalation of class ability-granted insight bonuses and more efficient methods and warrior's path abilities can be found alongside having a focus active while being asleep, unconscious, etc. Using mythic power to ignore any and all energy resistance and immunity does not gel well with me - usually, the default mode would be to differentiate between non-mythic and mythic adversaries and flat-out ignoring of all instead of a scaling formula does feel a bit off to me. Reflexive blasts when being crited as well as better and faster astral construct generation may be awesome, though e.g. expending mythic power to swap one of your psionic powers with another one on your class list of equivalent level feels VERY powerful.



Among the higher-level abilities, using metapsionic feats that do not increase the PP-cost of a power sans expending the psionic focus via the expenditure of mythic power can be considered an interesting option. Psychic Tsunami is pretty iconic in its imagery: For one use of mythic power, you generate a 30-ft.-aura that damages all non-magical objects in range for 5 x tier force damage that ignores hardness for tier rounds, with psionic focus allowing you to exempt structures, creatures and objects at your leisure. Additionally, the vortex makes the area difficult terrain. An aura of scaling fire is also among the cool options one can take here. Ravaging Time, as an ability, imho needs a tighter wording: "When you are affected by time stop or similar effects that alter your time relative to the manifester’s, you can expend one use of mythic power to take a standard action during the effect." So, as per this definition, what constitutes an eligible effect? Can an allied spellcaster cast haste on you and thus unlock an option to expend 1 use of mythic power for + standard action? Or does this only apply when being targeted by a detrimental effect? I get what this ability tries to do, but as written, it remains less precise than what I'm accustomed to by Dreamscarred Press. The 6th tier abilities allow for mythic power-based immunity to mind-affecting effects for 1 round and AoE telekinetic bull rushes also work rather well - as do the creature-enslavement-enhancer tricks. Sample builds for overmind are provided.



Beyond the path of the overmind, we also receive expanded path ability lists for the other mythic paths, with a storm of AoE-mindblades for champions, significantly increased DR for astral suits and grapple-based cages for guardians. personally, I'm not a fan of the parrying mechanic used here, but that is a personal preference - the rules-language is precise enough and the immediate action-requirement prevents abuse. Marshals may choose to use any marshal mythic power on any creature in their collective. As a 1st tier ability. This is powerful. Fitting, yes, but it specifically makes powers you could only target on yourself available at bigger ranges, so that's definitely something to be wary of. Extending the collective to all creatures within 100 feet at a 6th tier ability also is something that may be pretty nasty.



A glitch has crept in among the trickster abilities - "You can expend your psionic focus to add your mythic tier to your altered defense value for one round." - is that supposed to be AC or is it supposed to apply to the cryptic's altered defense class feature as implied by the prereq? If so, the wording is not 100% in line with how such things are usually phrased. In any case, the wording could be *slightly* more concise in its reference towards the correct class feature. And yes, I'm aware this is nitpicking - I certainly won't rate down the pdf for this hiccup, just wanted to provide this as an example. Project Impossible Location is, on the other hand, a trickster ability that is worth its weight in gold: As an immediate action, you can expend a mythic power to make a 5-foot-step, making the attack miss. If a creature fails a will-save, further attacks may miss as well. The ability manages to get the 5-ft-step limit covered as well, so kudos!



The universal path abilities can mostly be summed up by "numerical escalation" -better disrupt pattern, more astral suit customization options, expanded collective, better devastating touch, breaking the mind blade's +10 limit - you get the idea. Interaction with select core mythic rules pertaining spellcasting is also covered.



The next chapter covers a literal ton of mythic psionic feats - enough so that the feat-table spans no less than 2 full pages. Perhaps most interesting would be Ascendant Power - this metapsionic feat requires the expenditure of your psionic focus and increases the power point cost by a whopping +8 - for this, the power instead uses its mythic version, but still does not count as a mythic power for the purpose of effects interacting with it. The thus improved power cannot benefit from mythic augmentation and does not allow for the utilization of effects that require the expenditure of mythic power. What this feat essentially does is unlocking mythic psionics for non-mythic manifesters. It also allows for a significant increase in flexibility beyond the feat-tax that Mythic Powers Known imposes, which clocks in at 1 power per tier. Mythic Psionic Attack is interesting, allowing for all attacks in a given round to benefit from the expenditure of your psionic focus - I say "interesting" because it decreases the focus on singular, exceedingly powerful attacks towards a support of multiple ones, rendering characters with many attacks instantly superior to those with just one. This changes basically how Psionic Fist/Weapon-builds work and puts the whole thing on its head. While not a bad choice, imho, this could have required a more fluid balancing - as written, it just inverts the build, thus greatly decreasing the comparative efficiency of single-hit-builds. A great idea, though one I wished had more complex mechanics for a more fluid experience.



The other feats herein represent mythic versions of the numerous feats and they can, like most mythic feats, be grouped into various types: For one, we can find numerical escalations, which, while fitting, tend to not exactly blow me away - essentially, I am of the conviction that mythic gameplay already is escalated enough in that regard. The second and in my opinion, more interesting array of feats allow for an increased array of tactical options - going into breadth and flexibility over numerical depth, if you will. Here, the feats and their benefits range from the solid to the exciting: Using mythic power and a swift action to change the alignment component utilized by Aligned Strike, for example, would constitute such an increase in flexibility.



Body Fuel would also be interesting in that it only requires one attribute to suffer the ability burn of the base feat, mitigating one drawback of the original feat and increasing its potency. Rendering astral constructs mythic for the purpose of interaction with other creatures and increasing their DR is impressive, though rendering the DR as bypassed only by epic weapons makes them pretty strong in certain campaigns - personally, I would have preferred a DR-bypass that scales with the levels of power or manifesters. Burrowing Power's mythic version also should be noted in that it no longer requires line of sight - a powerful and fun option generally, though I wished the wording were a tad bit more specific regarding the failure criteria: "If no creature is in that space, the power fails." - from an aesthetic position, I would have preferred this to reference the target/area of effect of the power itself. Now note that this does not render the feat bad or problematic, it only constitutes a minor nitpick that will not influence my final verdict. Deep Impact's mythic version may be a bit nasty, allowing for the expenditure of mythic power to treat all your attacks as touch attacks for the remainder of the round. Efficient Aid not only increases the efficiency of healing requested by +50%, it also allows for the expenditure of mythic power to allow for the healing of attribute damage.



Of course, mythic upgrades of the +x class ability-type feats can be found in this chapter. Nomads fast stepping as a swift or immediate action are interesting - though, alas, the immediate action trick opens up an issue that was not part of the original Fast Step - the teleport can now be used reflexively, though the feat does not specify whether using it as a response to an attack negates said attack, makes it miss or lets the attacker decide in which way to utilize he attack that would have been directed at the psion phasing away. While this is no something a DM can easily fix, it still remains a minor blemish. I am also not a fan of utilizing mythic power to make a skill-check count as if a natural 20, as some feats utilize in their mechanics. Adding a tier-based or scaling bonus would probably have yielded a bit more flexible results.



The next chapter provides us with a massive, huge list of mythic powers - again, we begin the chapter with a rock-solid explanation of functionality and terminology of mythic powers, how to get them and how they work, including nice options to make them spontaneously more potent or more resilient towards being dispelled. This section can be considered a very well-written piece that provides the functionality and examples required to make the blending of psionics and mythic rules work. All in all, one can assert that basic modification via these choices and the aforementioned options as well as the non-mythic augment-options render the powers themselves more flexible than comparable spells, thus making up for the decreased flexibility from power selection itself. Kudos! The power-lists come organized by class and level.



The powers provided do sport some instances of numerical escalation and, of course, augmented-options dependant on tier in some cases, with just about all tiers being featured. Yes, this includes 10th tier: The augmented option for temporal acceleration allows for the use of 3 uses of mythic power to increase the duration of the now multi-target power to 1 hour per level. Yes, this is essentially permanent, mass crush-em-all and broken as all hell, but at tier 10, that's exactly the capstone-level of brutal destructive potential I like to see. Telekinetic force's now longer duration should also be considered to be interesting in that it enhances the move option and provides a more powerful throw option (that also expends it) - a nice example for numerical escalation that in fact is no escalation, but rather an expansion into breadth rather than depth.



I also enjoy the option to selectively exclude some targets from swarms of crystals and while slumber nets a linear increase of hit dice affected by the power, its true benefit imho would be the control exerted over which creatures are affected. Now the 8th tier augmented option is AWESOME: Affect all living creatures with 8 HD or less within a mile of you - for days on end! Yes, 3 uses of mythic power are steep, but this is narrative gold. Love it! Schism's second augmented option also deserves special mention, as it provides a swift action to the second mind you create. If that does not sound like much, then you've never had a psion with this power as a combo-enabler in your game. Personally, love the engine-tweak here! As a nice note, even basic powers that did not provide this much strategy like the energy-based powers do benefit from an extension in breadth - energy push foes straight upwards? Yup, this can be pretty awesome. Over all, this chapter did impress me most among the pieces of content provided so far - it is relatively imaginative, provides a significant array of tactical depth and goes beyond basic formula for the powers - it very much feels like something lovingly handcrafted.



The final chapter of this book provides 9 mythic versions of monsters introduced in the Psionic Bestiary, from the deranged trepanner to the puppeteer and phrenic scourge, they range from CR 16/MR 6 to CR 2/MR 1. They provide some interesting, added signature abilities and enhancements for their respective mythic powers - generally, a solid array...so when do we get the full mythic psionic bestiary? ;)



Conclusion:



Editing and formatting generally are very good - I noticed no serious, formal hiccups, though here and there a minor rules-glitch has entered the fray. Layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press' beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf provides an array of nice full-color artworks, some original, some I have seen before. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and with a second, more printer-friendly version - very considerate!



Jeremy Smith, Andreas Rönnqvist, Eric Hindley, Guillermo Daniel Ordoñez - gentlemen, you have my respect. Psionics and mythic are not that easy to blend - I've been experimenting with it myself and there is a LOT to take into account. Psionics has more connected, moving parts than regular spellcasting and as such, the task of upgrading this system to mythic rules is not something I'd consider easy by any means of the word.



That good news is, my nitpicky complaining-tirades none withstanding, this is pretty much the functional, neat upgrade to mythic rules fans of psionics have been clamoring for. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by the relative diversity of options provided herein, many of which go above and beyond what one would expect to see in such a massive supplement. More often than not, the authors have opted to provide unique perspectives and tactical options rather than succumbing to the numerical nuking less inspired mythic design is prone to.



On the other side, it would be remiss to mention that the complex interaction of mythic and psionic rules with all the moving parts inherent in either system does result in some sand grinding in the well-oiled engines of both systems. While some of the gripes boil down to nitpicks, minor inconsistencies and similar issues that can easily be handled by a capable DM, this pdf also does sport some combos that leave me shuddering and which are, ultimately in my book, in need of a nerfing. Even in the context of mythic rules, there quite frankly are some combos herein that are a tad bit too good to be considered okay in my book. Especially the fixed reduction of manifesting time to one standard action is not only a component that deviates from how the spellcasting-analogue works (which is required, as powers adhere to a different manifesting action economy), but also changes in a somewhat wonky way how the systems interact with one another. The new mythic path provided does sport some of these components. However, at the same time, the path does not sport boring or pseudo-feat-abilities, instead opting for utterly unique tricks - kudos for getting that right!



If you've read this massive review, you will have noticed quite a few instances where I picked apart some components and mechanics - however, at the same time, this pdf does provide a staggering amount of content, much of which can be called downright inspired. Finally, and there are no two ways to look at this, this is the all but required supplement for use of psionics with the mythic rules. How do I rate this brute, then? I've been honestly struggling with finding a verdict here. On the one side, this supplement works perfectly (for the most time) in game and has some awesome, inspired components. On the other hand, it does have some rough edges that can be abused and/or grind the game to a halt - essentially, there are also some design-aesthetic deviations from how Paizo and Legendary Games have structured mythic augments etc.



In the end, I could have settled on a review in the middle range of my rating system, but that would have been a disservice to the content provided herein. While obviously, this pdf is not perfect, chances are that you'll find some truly exciting and interesting options within these pages and for mythic campaigns, there are no two ways around this, this book remains a must-buy option. My final verdict, hence, will clock in at 4 stars, with the caveat that DMs using this book should have some serious experience with psionics under their belts to prevent some of the combos this enables from overwhelming them and to be in a position to say no to some of the combinations.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Psionics Augmented: Mythic Psionics
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13 True Ways
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/23/2015 03:31:29
An Endzeitgeist.com review

Disclaimer: I received the hardcover of this book for the purposes of an unbiased, critical review, which I hereby provide. This review is based on the 256-page hardcover and not on the pdf –hence, I can’t judge electronic qualities etc. The material herein underwent playtsting for the purposes of this review.



13 True Ways, much like the 13th Age Core-rule-book, is a combination of crunch-book and setting material, though this one is focused slightly more on the setting aspect. I have already discussed in length and depth my stance on just about all rules-decisions of 13th Age in my review of the core book, so this review will NOT focus on those; Instead, I will analyze this book for what it brings to the table and assume you are already familiar and have an opinion on whether you like basic decisions of the system or not.



Without further ado, let’s begin! In my review of the core book, I mentioned that both monk and druid would be in this book and indeed, there was much ado about their absence in the base book. The druid especially is a rather interesting class, mainly, because its design-tenets, more so than the base key-attribute switching in e.g. the bard-class, provides deeper customization options than the core-classes. The class differs in that is chooses whether it gains many abilities at initiate-level or less at adept level, changing just about all base assumptions you may have and allowing for wildly diverging focuses. Animal companions for initiates cannot participate in every combat, which provides a nice source of basic, very limited resource-management, for example. Adepts can still have their companion around all the time. Death for companions is ridiculously lenient – one combat -1 level, then back to full strength, no repercussions. Disarm the trap, Fifi! Sarcasm aside, the plus-side here is that the companions get used more and less carefully. Once again, we’re at a matter of opinions whether this is a bug or a feature. The class itself can be pretty much pictured as a druid with a significant array of archetypes rolled into it – elemental casting, wildshape, terrain casting – all here, with the nod towards the vast Koru Behemoths being one of my favorite crunch/fluff-cross-over glimpses into the fascinating world. The most elegant rules-decision here would be the scout form, which allows the druid to assume the shape of a harmless animal, which, while distinctly unearthly, makes scouting via wildshape less broken – and it also provides pretty easy to grasp repercussions that limit the utility without crippling it. All in all, a very nice and modular class.



Now almost every group has this one player that just loves the rod of wonders – and anything like it. For these players, allegedly, the Chaos Mage was made. With the options to wilder in other spell-lists, defensive high weirdness effects and icon-specific tricks, the chaos mage is an unreliable caster, yes. A fun, unreliable caster. But also one that is not *that* chaotic – with e.g. less than 50 high weirdness effects, the class falls somewhat short of what I’d expect from the concept -but then again, perhaps I’m just spoiled by having read too many takes on the chaos magic concept. It’s not a bad class, mind you – just a tad bit too predictable for the concept. Commanders are very much physical fighters that can help allies via interrupt actions with the flexible resource of command points. I do enjoy that said resource is tied to their own performance in combat, thus requiring active participation in order to enhance their allies. Tactics would be the second resource, and these would be active and non-interrupt based. All in all, the commander is a solid alternative to e.g. the bard’s capabilities. I’ve read a lot of takes on the trope and this definitely is one of the better ones.



Monks in their 13th Age iteration utilize quite a few of my favorite concepts – they know three types of unarmed attacks with different effects, which I really like, as anyone who has read my review of Little Red Goblin Games’ Dragon Tiger Ox knows. Monks attack with so-called forms – they could be likened to styles, but instead of breaking up a style over various feats, each form sports an opening attack, a flow attack and a finishing attack. Some of you may recall my constant gushing for Dreadfox Games’ Swordmaster with its opener/sequitur/finisher mechanics, so it should come as no surprise that I like this choice – especially since you can switch freely between forms you know, only having to adhere to the opener/flow/finisher-sequence, not the sequence of the respective flow. Basic class features à la flurry of blows (here reimagined as one of the basic Seven Deadly Secrets) and talents further complement this pretty modular class well alongside a nice ki-based resource-management – the monk is one of the most fun melee-centric classes herein, though also one that most suffers from 13th Age’s issues with Acrobatics and skill-use.



Now apart from the druid’s summoning, there is another class herein that requires the use of the concise and pretty conservative summoning rules introduced in the very beginning of the book. That second class would be the Necromancer. And the necromancer is a pretty great example of designs I enjoy within 13th Age – the class has a built-in mechanic for being frail, yet incredibly hard to kill, for having weird and skewed alliances and the spells and minions do support that – one of my favorite crunch-pieces herein! The final new class would be THE Occultist. Yes, THE. As in iconic. As in “there is only one” – and generally, this concept is pretty much awesome – a class all of your own, now if that does not say “epic” from the get-go, what does? The Occultist is very much a caster with a focus on destiny, karma and truly odd options – like The Occultist’s shadow jumping forth to absorb the attacks of foes. Mechanically, the interesting component would be a focus, somewhat akin to what one knows as the psionic focus, which usually is expended upon casting the reality-warping spells of The Occultist. It should be noted, though, that the class does sport options that work only while unfocused. The relative ease with which you can deal psychic damage can also be noted here. On the downside, much like other casters, there is not that much to choose from regarding spells…and the class, while sporting some of the most awesome spells I’ve seen in 13th Age, does feel like its mechanics do not necessarily require it to be THE ONE. While easily remedied, this would be an example where the seemingly implied importance of being the one occultist is subsumed under the need for balance…and for once, ladies and gentlemen, mark this on your calendar, I would have loved the class to be less balanced. Yeah, bet you that you never thought I’d say, right?



Now after these new classes, we delve into the multiclassing rules. These essentially treat multiclassing not as advancement in two distinct classes, but rather as an amalgam, at least at 1st level. The general rules do allow for later multiclassing, but if you do use that, the generally pretty streamlined options tend to become a bit messy and work. That being said, a handy table of key ability-modifier interaction and class-by-class multiclassing advice that also sports new feats to help mitigate the implied power-loss. Now I do *get* why 13th Age utilizes this approach to multiclassing as opposed to the “take a level here, take a level there”-approach – the base system, with its HP-calculations etc. simply would not work with the stacking web of crunch that is the base assumption of 13th Age character advancement. Still, this did feel somewhat like a return to 2nd edition multiclass characters, which may or may not be to your liking. Rest assured, though, that this analogue only extends to the concept and the dreaded efficiency-loss in said classic edition has not found its way into 13th Age – multiclassing does not cripple the character and very much renders the character much more flexible.



This concludes the crunchy bits of the book – and over all, they are more varied and imho, cooler than the options provided in the core book – I know that quite a few of players tended to concur. The crunch herein is more varied and fun and should be considered a must-own supplement for that alone – on the level of e.g. the APG. That is – a must-own book for any 13th Age table.



But that is NOT where this book ends. Instead, we delve into the chapter on cities and courts – from Axis to the Elven Queen’s Court of Stars to the Three’s Drakkenhall and The Archmage’s Horizon or the Priestess’s Santa Cora, the chapter can be considered as an inspired gazetteer for these centers of power – with massive two-page spread artworks/maps, various iconic relationships and 13 rumors for most (though e.g. not for Santa Cora), these provide inspiring glimpses at a world that should have its own, massive, rules-agnostic setting-book, mainly because they manage to evoke beautiful imagery and inspired ideas in my mind.



The book also does sport a massive section of new monsters – which includes dire animals and quite an assortment of deadly adversaries. Among them, there are quite a few that stand out – for example the illithid-inspired soul flensers or the class of flowers of unlife, which managed to really creep me out – so yeah, neat chapter, though once again, only a specific array of creatures receive full-color artworks – those that do receive artworks, though, rock. This chapter also ties in with hands down my favorite chapter in the whole book, one I maintain that can be of extreme use even to games that do not use 13th Age rules – the chapter on a beloved creature type conspicuously absent from the original book – devils.



Now the chapter on devils is not simply a lame assortment of traits, feats etc. – instead, we essentially receive whole hierarchies and original stories for devils – each of which can easily carry a whole campaign…or more. Know what’s even better? Each is thematically tied to one of the iconics – whether the devils are the agents of the cosmic machinery, loathe the elf queen’s beauty, have been freed by the Dwarf King – each take on devils can essentially be considered its own glorious origin myth, an inspiring mini-ecology that breathes the very awesomeness that good fluff can evoke. Reading this chapter made me come up with so many ideas, it is absolutely stunning and once again validates my claim that we need more fluff for this cool world – especially if the fluff can maintain this specific peculiarity while not becoming prescriptive.



After the downright glorious reading experience of the former chapter, we dive into the GM’s chapter, wherein artifacts like the feathered crown or the First Wrought of Blood await – and yes, they increase in potency with tiers. Beyond these, the DM also receives e.g. 13 flying realms, 13 taverns and inns, 13 dungeons and ruins etc. – though all of these tend to come as a pretty short fluff-only blurb, so expect a short inspiring hook here rather than a fully-depicted adventure locale. There also are guidelines for magic item creation by chakra and 3 fluff-only monastic tournaments (just as brief) follow up.



On the completely opposite side, detail-wise, 4 characters are provided in lavish detail with extensive background stories and 13 hooks (!!) EACH as well as guideline for diverging uses of the characters as allies or antagonists. But that is not where the book ends- instead, we get what amounts to two campaign seeds, each with various extremely evocative suggestions that should be considered downright inspiring: One deals with the advent of the underkrakens, burrowing/planar shifting mountain-sized krakens that invade – perhaps as living dungeons or siege weapons, perhaps as the instrument of destruction engineered by the dread soul flensers. The second is no less inspired, focusing on an inverted, flying ziggurat spawning nigh-unkillable undead/mutated flowers of utter corruption. Yeah. Awesome. I wish that one were a mega-adventure with fully detailed maps etc.



Beyond this high note, we also get an index/glossary.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful, easy to read two-column full color standard. The artworks are gorgeous and the book per se comes with high-quality, glossy paper.



Rob Heinsoo, Jonathan Tweet and Robin D. Laws have created what amounts to the absolutely required APG of 13th Age – beyond the inspired classes, which indeed can be considered superior in the playing experience, not in power, to the core classes, it is the second half of the book that just made my day. The fluff, the inspired ideas herein, even beyond the mechanical rules, must be considered absolutely top-notch and inspired – and they constitute the one gripe I have with this book – I wish it were two distinct books, one for crunch and one for fluff.

The NPCs herein show a glimpse of the awesomeness that can be made with this setting and quite frankly, while reading just about any section, I was left wanting more – I wanted the full-blown underkraken campaign; I wanted a fully mapped Drakkenhall, with all details. I wanted Santa Cora in all its details, with hundreds of festivals and taboos. The material herein managed to do what the fluff in the core-book failed to achieve – thoroughly captivate my imagination. While my criticisms still remain, this is exactly what 13th Age needs to prosper – a detailed, awesome, evocative world that is tailor-made to support the high-fantasy, high-impact playstyle suggested by 13th Age’s rules.



So yes, this is an inspired book that provided quite an array of cool ideas I will most definitely use, including using one of the devil myths in my current campaign. For 13th Age-groups, this is a glorious supplement, a must-have purchase and even if you only are remotely interested in the world or the concepts I mentioned, this may very well be worth it for the idea-scavenging alone. I really wished it were two books, with more support for each class and the core classes in one, more fluff/campaign setting info – but that remains my only true gripe with this book. If you like the system, you need to have it – it one-ups the core book with imho more interesting classes and glorious fluff. It won’t convert you if you don’t like the system, but even f you loathe it, you may still draw tons of inspiration from these pages. My final verdict will hence clock in at a full 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
13 True Ways
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Into The Breach: The Cavalier
Publisher: Flying Pincushion Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/22/2015 02:43:42
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This latest installment of the Into the Breach-series clocks in at 31 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with a massive 26 pages of content, so let's take a look!



This review was moved up on my list of queued products at the request of my patreons.



As always, we kick off with archetypes galore, the first of which replaces tactician and its follow-ups and mount...with an airborne mount. If you expect me to start complaining now - I won't. Assisted flight is possible via the base rules, though primarily for small druids, so yes, I am okay with that. Hippogriff, giant wasp, pegasus, pteranodon, roc and wyvern are provided as mount-choices with stat-modifications and advancement (all 4th level but the wyvern, which has to wait until 7th level until it gains poison) provided. As a base-line, they are treated as animal companions with class level as effective druid level. As a friendly suggestion - if you go with this archetype, invest the bucks into the STELLAR Companions of the Firmament-book. Why? Because it is the ultimate assisted flying-book and covers all the rules, provides alternatives, etc.. Did you for example know that flying mounts need to be able to carry their riders without transcending light load? So yeah, the archetype works well, even better with this book and there is no overlap here. Kudos!



The second archetype would be a more complex one, the Briar Knight - which is quite frankly a reason this took relatively long to get done. So, the concept is far-out and awesome: You get a crawling vine plant companion with full class level as effective druid level. This companion, however, can act as an armor - it begins play granting a +5 bonus to AC when acting as armor and increases this by +2 every three levels - now if that sounds massive, bear in mind that you cannot enchant this armor - and you can damage it as armor while worn, as a creature while it's separate. The armor may execute a single attack or disarm/grapple-maneuver, with the latter separating it from the briar knight. The ability even covers the instance if the armor is slain while being worn. I do see an issue here, though - the ability does not specify the action-economy for transforming from armor to creature and vice versa. Becoming a creature can obviously happen as part of initiating a grapple, but I have no idea how long "donning" the armor takes. Since the vine acts as a companion, does it require handling/tricks to be told to let itself be donned? Granted, these are relatively minor oversights, but they deserve addressing - the armor is very powerful, so tying the maneuvers and donning to such checks may provide for a delightfully uncommon balancing mechanism. At 3rd level, Briar Knights may, as a standard action, emit 15 ft.-tendrils for low-range disarm or trip combat maneuvers, increasing his CMB for this special attack by his armor's AC-bonus - which is excessive. I'd suggest a significantly more conservative bonus-scaling here. 4th level not only nets the vine constrict, it also allows the briar knight to generate a detonation of thorns in a 10-ft burst, dealing 1d6 piercing damage per 2 briar knight levels, with a scaling save. COOL! At higher levels, Briar Knights can be sustained by photosynthesis and receive fast healing while in daylight. I would have appreciated a note whether the spell of the same name does qualify for triggering photosynthesis or not - I think magical daylight should not trigger fast healing. At 11th level, briar knights can root themselves in the floor for class level minutes, slightly reducing speed, but granting tremorsense as well as providing significant defenses versus several combat maneuvers. The capstone provides a plat apotheosis. The Briar Knight, as you can see above, has some issues to address - but it also tackles a highly complex concept and manages to get this mostly right - as provided, the archetype is functional with some DM-calls. More than anything else, it is absolutely awesome - this archetype can easily be reskinned as Spiderman's Venom, the archetype and the basic framework is neat indeed. The massive AC-bonus may be nasty, yes, but I do not consider it in itself an issue. Tanglevine strike does require a heavy whack with the nerf-bat, though. Conceptually absolutely awesome, I sincerely hope this archetype gets some minor polish to make it live up to its absolutely awesome premise.



The Charioteer gets a chariot and light horse at first level and replaces mount with driving stunts, with one new stunt granted every level. All right, I'm going to come clear here - I adore vehicle combat. While I have reduced the excessive DCs of driving checks in my home game, that's about it -other than that, my players have loved vehicle combat ever since. And these driving stunts - well, they add a massive, cool dimension to this: Flinging allies from the chariot, better ramming maneuvers. As a nitpick - a stunt that should allow for limited, quicker acceleration/braking forgot to include the braking option obviously intended by the ability's name in the wording. 1/day 1d4 HP repairs to the chariot do feel a bit...minor - especially since 4th level nets a superior chariot repairs. Some scaling mechanism for more daily uses for the minor repairs would be in order here. Oh, have I mentioned the option to get a flying (or swimming!) chariot if you have flying mounts? Yes, awesome. Using driving checks to negate incoming attacks is also part of the deal. While there are some minor rough edges and while this one is pretty dependant on the campaign, it is awesome in my book. Why? Because the stunts also add the one thing to the charioteer the cavalier class lacks - player agenda. The stunts provide meaningful choices every level, so yeah - overall, a well-crafted archetype.



Next up would be the clockwork knight. Instead of a mount, this one can repair clockwork constructs via his Craft (clockwork) and a mount is only gained at 4th level, at druid level equal to class level -3. This mount is pretty loud and gains DR 5/adamantine. Does not sound too impressive so far? You would be right - at low levels, this archetype does not sport too many impressive tricks. At 6th level and every 6 levels thereafter, the knight may upgrade his mount with a selection of upgrades that is continuously increased - at 12th and 18th level, the choices essentially increase significantly. Now the archetype does not explicitly state that the mount receives the traits of the clockwork-subtype, which can be kind of irritating since e.g. getting rid of vulnerability to electricity constitutes one of the possible upgrades, so a more explicit stating of this component would have rendered the archetype slightly more user-friendly. On the plus-side, the upgrades do provide some utterly awesome options - from size-increase to a new movement mode, adding injectors to the mount (for delivering poison or acid or the like) to yes, a friggin turret, the options are interesting -especially seeing how the archetype receives siege engine proficiency and can mount ballistae or catapults on huge mounts. This per se is awesome, though I wished the catapults sported proper interaction with minimum crew-size - as written, the non-light-ballista siege-weapons would require a larger crew of 2 for light catapults, for example. While yes, this does not render the siege weapon inoperable, I think that an increased action economy would have helped this cool option. As a cool design decision, several of the upgrades add further benefits if other upgrades are present - mithral bodies can e.g. increase maneuverability for flying mounts. At the same time, interaction between these upgrades is not always perfect: Take Darkwood body and mithral body: Darkwood body can be taken at 6th level and increases DR to DR 10/adamantine and replaces vulnerability to electricity with vulnerability to fire. At 12th level, mithril bodies would increase DR to 15/adamantine, add +10 movement rate and make the natural attacks of the mount count as silver. So what if you choose darkwood first, mithral second? The only net benefit from darkwood would be the changed vulnerability. Including a mini-tree of required prior choices or the like would have probably helped here. This btw. extends to a couple of other upgrades wherein the higher-level choices invalidate the lower level ones. The archetype is okay, I guess, but falls flat of its concept.



Crudus Domitor would be an archetype for the evil - with Dazzling Display and Demoralizing Lash as bonus feats, though the latter is modified to work with non-whip weapons. These guys can also smell fear and get a Blood Pact Mount, which does not gain animal companion benefits, but instead receives upgrades in the form of templates at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter. Whenever the archetype causes fear for the first time in a target creature, he temporarily adds a bonus to Str and the ominous weapon quality to his weapon. Trampling and improved speed when trying to run down foes are nice and I also like the imagery of using freshly slain foes of sufficient power (non kitten-able, btw.!) to increase the AC of the crudus domitor. At higher levels, worsened fear-effects and panic-inducing criticals are solid. Overall, no problems here. Solid, evil archetype.



The Formation Rider, alas, has some issues: The base ability, formation, simply does not work. "At 1st level, the formation rider knows how to lead formations of mounted soldiers. When the formation rider and his allies are riding in a line the formation rider can use a full-round action to lead a charge. He and all allies in the line may immediately move and attack as if with a standard charge and then move again (continuing the straight line of the charge). The total movement for the charge can’t exceed double their mounted speed. The formation rider, his mount, and his allies do not provoke an attack of opportunity from the opponent that they attack. Each ally may choose to attack the same target as the formation rider or a different one but everyone must end their charge in a line with all allies in the formation. The formation rider can use this ability once per day." For one, does this change initiative? What if mounts have different movement rates/modes? What is "a line" in game terms? How many allies can be affected? How can they attack the same target as the formation rider, even though they do not need to be within range regarding their weapons? The upgrades further improve that and while I like the concept, the execution, as provided, does not work.



The Lord (or Lady) in Burlap constitutes a folk hero archetype that can fight particularly well with farm tools and can make weapons stuck that they have disarmed. Unseating mounted foes and similar, thematically-fitting options round out a conceptually awesome, befittingly humble archetype I thoroughly enjoyed. The Mounted Brigand would constitute a cavalier/rogue crossover that gets sneak attack, but has less stringent requirements for his order and delays order ability gains. Interesting would be the fact that these guys can execute terrible charges that also deal sneak attack damage. All in all, a lethal, solid archetype.



The Oath-bound Protector swears to protect a single, living creature, granting AC-bonuses when adjacent to said ward at the cost of their own defense. Now where this archetype becomes awesome is with the modified order abilities: Each of the orders gets a modified version, including ronins/knight errants. Damn cool ones, in fact. While not all are perfect in their wording, they are functional - so all in all, a solid option! The next archetype is right up my alley - the shieldmaiden. With Cha-mod times Deathwatch, counter shield bashes, making the shield count as a banner and similar shield-themed benefits, we have another solid archetype here, though one I wished that delved deeper into the obviously nordic source-material.

Spirit Riders get an ethereal mount that cannot make attacks or be attacked - yes, this is a significant deviation from how etherealness works, but in campaigns with bastard DMs like yours truly that slay mounts, this archetype makes more than a bit of sense. At 5th level, spirit riders can cha-mod times per day grant their weapons the ghost touch ability, with higher levels granting scaling bonuses as well as a limited array of weapon special abilities. Once again,a solid archetype.



The Steadfast Challenger replaces tactician-tricks with several abilities that allow for better movement around the battlefield and the more relentless pursuit of adversaries, with better movement and means to mitigate escape regarding the targets of their challenges. Once again, a nice archetype.



The alternate class provided in this book would be the Sword-sworn troubadour, with d10, full BAB-progression, good ref- and will-saves, 4+Int skills per level and proficiency with simple and martial weapons and light armor.1st level troubadours not only get an instrument they can play while wielding a weapon (with an audible range of 100 ft.), they can also make a perform check versus a target's will-save - if the troubadour wins, the target creature is flat-footed for 1 round. This is a pretty powerful option and it uses opposing rolls as opposed to PFRPG's standard of d20-roll vs. fixed value. Flat-foot-locking is thankfully not possible, though. 1/day, a troubadour can sing a battle hymn, +1/day use at 3rd level and every 2 levels thereafter. Initiating a battle hymn is a full-round action and the duration depends on the hymn in question, but often clocks in at 3 rounds, 1 minute. Hymns can be deciphered with Linguistics, which makes it possible for opponents to also benefit from the hymn - that's a nasty drawback! That being said, some of the battle hymns are NASTY: Double the range of any spell cast by an allied spellcaster within 100 ft. for double the casting time is problematic not only regarding balancing, but also regarding how concentration for spellcasters works in such a context. Relaying message to all allies in a one-mile radius would be another option, though one significantly weaker than the others. While not bad per se, the overall array of battle hymns could have imho used a tighter balancing or level-scaling among themselves. Bonus feats are granted at 2nd level and every 4 levels thereafter, teamwork feats are granted at 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter. The capstone allows for two battle hymns to be in effect at the same time. All in all, a solid, if not perfect alternate class.



The first PrC herein would be the Feywarden, who gets d8, 4+Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB-progression, 1/2 fort- and will-save progressions, full animal companion-progression, 9/10 spellcasting progression. Requiring non-lawful alignment, 2nd level divine spellcasting etc., the PrC also gets access to the unique order of the fey - which is a bit odd in that it is presented as part of the PrC, but obviously refers to total character levels - with nature's fury referring to 15th level, I am not sure whether the order abilities for 2nd and 8th level are referring to character levels or PrC-levels and the table, alas, does not help here either. Clarification would be appreciated. The PrC getting an order also makes me wonder whether/how that would interact with the cavalier base-class and rders gained from that class. The PrC also has the option to conjure forth armors and gets cha-mod defensive capabilities as well as DR/Cold iron and even butterfly wings, culminating in a fey apotheosis.



The second PrC is the Obsidian Knight gets full BAB-progression, medium fort-and will-saves, 7/10th spellcasting progression, d10, 2+Int skills per level and require both 2nd level divine spellcasting and a cavalier's order as prerequisites. They do not gain any weapon or armor proficiencies. Obsidian knights receive elemental channel as a bonus feat, affecting all types of elementals, usable 3+Cha-mod times per day. If you already have channel energy, instead add +3 uses of channel energy instead. The PrC also can use this to generate an aura that increases the weight of metal armor etc. to make the targets suffer heavy encumbrance for Cha-mod rounds. The obsidian knight can also use this to conjure forth thin walls of earth that work as stationary tower shields and his weapons can receive obsidian-based benefits to weapon enhancement as well as the ability to react to being hit by elemental spells by adding the appropriate weapon quality temporarily. Bull rushes in a straight line, very lethal caltropy shard-fields and a potentially ray-deflecting shield complement this PrC further. Guess what - I really, really like this earth-related PrC. Kudos!



The Rime Reaver gets d10, 2+Int skills, no new proficiencies, full BAB-progression, 1/2 fort and will-save progression, 7/10th spellcasting progression. At 2nd level, the rime reaver gets cold resistance 5, which increases by +5 every two levels thereafter, stacking with the bloodline power. Jup, this is intended to work as a conjunction of sorceror and cavalier. The PrC replaces the companion with a polar bear and stacks class levels with sorc levels for purposes of bloodline powers. 3rd level nets a weapon of ice that is treated as adamantine, dealing half damage as cold damage and as a capstone, the companion becomes mythic. Once again, a solid PrC with some cool imagery.



The pdf also provides a new order for cavaliers, the order of the bow. members of this order may apply challenge benefits to ranged attacks when mounted and attacking someone within 30 ft. and obviously, is a ranged specialist. At high levels, they may shoot targets of charges of allies as immediate actions. A nice order.



The pdf also sports a +2 equivalent enchantment that enhances trip and disarm and adds free trip to crits. The pdf also provides stats for jousting lance tips, better tethers and an alchemical goo that frightens mounts. Resting saddles and standing saddle stirrups also provide for nice items.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, though I noticed some instances of minor flaws in punctuation and missing spell-italicization. Layout adheres to Flying Pincushion Games' two-column full-color standard and the pdf provides some solid full-color artworks, ranging from neat to stock. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.



The cavalier has a troubled history in my games - while I love the concept of the class, there is no other base-class that has this bad a ratio for player agenda - you choose mount and order and that's about it. Not particularly compelling as a chassis to work from. That being said, this pdf manages to provide some form of flexibility with several of the options provided herein and enhance the base-class with several distinctly fun and high-concept archetypes and class options, widening the limited scope of the base class.



Frank Gori, Jeff Harris, Taylor Hubbler, Jason Linker, Andrew Hoskins, Kiel Howell, Jacob Michaels, Richard Litzkow, Mikko Kallio, Mark Nordheim - congratulations! Why? Because this is one review I very much enjoyed writing. The "Into the Breach"-series took a bad beating from yours truly with some of the installments, but this here is a huge step forward. Where before, even simple rules-language sported issues here and there, this one feels infinitely more refined. Indeed, if there are glitches to be found herein, they often can be mitigated by a capable DM and/or stem from daring to tackle some rather complex options. Now, as you can glean from the above, this pdf is certainly not perfect, but it works much, much better than any book in the series I've read so far. To the point where both charioteer and briar knight (though the letter with nerfed tanglevine strike and some finetuning) will make appearances in my campaign. The majority of the content herein is solid and there are glimmers of brilliance here and there that make me confident in Flying Pincushion Games further improving to become truly awesome. While not perfect, I value the high concepts higher than the problems and consider this pdf a fun addition to one's games and thus will settle on a final verdict of 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Into The Breach: The Cavalier
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Adventure Path Iconics: Lords of Undeath (PFRPG)
Publisher: LPJ Design
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/22/2015 02:41:43
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page combat & initiative tracker, 1 page mini-sheets, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let's take a look!



What do we get herein? Well, essentially - pregens. Pregens using the unique character options that have been introduced in Obsidian Apocalypse's more recent offerings. The pregens are provided as 20-point-buy characters, with information on increase and decrease to the established 15- and 25-point standard. Each character comes with a per se well-written background story and advice on level progressions.



The first character would be Alberdeen, an uzamati (not uztamati, as the pdf one time puts it)magus who is suffering from seeing the state the world is now after the apocalypse. He is pretty much a standard magus, set apart only by the race - longsword? Check. Shocking Grasp? Check. Not much to say about him.



The second character would be Joa, a flesh promethean barbarian that could have come directly from a Tim Burton movie - were it not for the great and rather nightmarish story - for the body in which Joa was re-created is that of a patchwork woman, while the spirit within identifies as male. Bravo for tackling this taboo topic.



Mixer, the clockwork promethean alchemist provided herein, is, unsurprisingly, asexual, being a brain in a jar on a clockwork body - more interestingly here would be the awesome, chilling narrative on HOW the amoral being of mixer came to life - and no, I am not going to spoil how, just that shoving fragments of vials into eyes and a self-lobotomy are involved. And yes, this constitutes my favorite background story. The clockwork promethean's (overly) powerful traits are somewhat offset by an uncommon focus on melee.



The final character herein would be Siriah, a raijin cavalier and powerful force of vengeance created from tragedy. Siriah is by far the most powerful of the characters herein, btw. - with greatsword, lance and raijin abilities, she surpasses the other characters.



Conclusion:
editing and formatting are okay - the pdf does sport a bunch of glitches, though - from not being able to decide on how many Rs there are in Siriah to bolding errors and cut-cop-paste glitches in the point-buy boxes, this pdf could have used a closer glimpse. Layout adheres to Obsidian Apocalypse's two-column standard with a gorgeous full-color artwork for each character. The pdf has one bookmark per character.



Alexander Augunas' pregens here are varied and this pdf does sport my favorite pregen background story EVER, so that would be something going for this pdf. Now that being said, this pdf does suffer from the base-races used to make the content here not being perfectly balanced among one another. The difference in power-level of the characters themselves is exacerbated by the difference in racial power-levels, so take these with a grain of warning.

I am also not particularly excited about this pdf not working as stand-alone - the cool builds utilize rules of the non-standard races, that's the premise. But without the proper book, one has an issue playing e.g. the raijin - or the other characters. The immunities granted by subtypes and races could have used a brief explanation -that way, this pdf could have served as a kind of teaser for the proper racial books while being self-contained. As provided, this is one of the weaker API-installments, with editing glitches etc. rendering this less compelling for me than I expected. If you already have the OA-books and want pregens, you should be aware of the different power-levels and assign pregens accordingly to player capabilities.



In the end, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3 since, the +0.5 stems primarily from me really loving the prose.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Adventure Path Iconics: Lords of Undeath (PFRPG)
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Remedial Tinkering: Happy Little Automatons
Publisher: Interjection Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/19/2015 03:24:09
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This expansion for the Tinker base-class clocks in at 6 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 4 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?



What do most of the *really* cool Tinker-expansions have in common? Jup, quite a few of them come into play in mid and high levels. So this pdf is geared for 1st-level usefulness, though admittedly, it will retain its usefulness far beyond the low level range. The pdf also handily points out that this and the excellent grafter PrC as well as the Tinkering 301-pdf provide some pretty interesting synergies.



Better than this, this may well be the most concise tinker-supplement to read so far: We get an explanation of the alpha and design-descriptors as well as some of the BP-tricks one could execute with the copious supplements for the class. A short explanation on interaction with the grafter also helps here. Among the basic explanation, one can also find the rationale for the unobtrusive Bob Ross-jokes herein, the new paint-descriptor. Essentially, inventions with this subtype provide a coat of paint for a target automaton and, per default, only one paint-job can be applied to one automaton - still, this is Bradley Crouch we're talking about here, so yes, there are means to break this rule.



A total of 6 innovations are provided to modify and play with this pretty interesting concept: When, for example, an alpha would lose an invention with both design and paint subtypes, the alpha retains the bonuses for class level rounds. Further innovations allow you to apply paint to yourself and relatively spontaneous reassignment of paint jobs to grafted creatures and adjacent automatons can also be executed. This quick, spray-based paint job may also be utilized as a makeshift flamethrower and yes, you can potentially change the coats of more than one target at once via spray nozzles. A greater innovation allows for "happy little accidents" for quicker paint jobs and expand the inventions used in conjunction with soem of your innovations. Where things become VERY tactical is with the means of doubling kamikaze-directives with paint-dispersal. And yes, if you think about this one, you can set up absolutely awesome "See what I did here"-combos! A thing of beauty indeed!



Okay, let's take a look at those inventions, all right? The base one would be the primer coat, which renders an automaton eligible for becoming a target for the painter's station. This invention, usually only applicable to Alphas, allows the automaton to change the paint-coats of deployed automatons 1/day; additionally, automatons deployed with the primer coat invention can have their coats changed after being deployed, thus bringing aforementioned BP-limit-shenanigans into play. Oh, and yes, whirlwind splashing of colors is possible. Need to get rid of primer coats in another way? An automaton with the Homogenization Enforcement Protocols can be deployed to eliminate primer coats and replace them with any paint invention part of its BP. Oh, have I mentioned the invention that allows for two paint coats at once? The combo-potential of this system is VAST! It is utterly beautiful!

Automatons with paint-jobs targeted by fire may elect to burn the paint to burst into flames or lose their paint to get DR 5/- versus an attack...or lose their paint to net additional uses of low level inventions with a limited number of uses. The combo-potential keep stacking up - but you're probably wondering whether the basic paint coats are worth anything. Short answer: YEAH! Long answer: What about a paint coat that nets temporary hit points (with anti-abuse caveat), dazzling added to kamikaze, increased base speed, DR 1/-, save-bonuses, better feinting or a reroll, though at -2? Yes, you may note that some of these benefits look slightly stronger than the others - well, they come balanced via a once per 24 hour-caveat. I also like the paint that nets your automaton + 1 fire damage by day, +1 cold damage by night - cool!



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to Interjection Games' printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes sans bookmarks, but needs none for this length.



Beyond the awesome imagery evoked, Bradley Crouch delivers perhaps the most awesome base-system-expansion I've seen for one of his classes so far. The paint-jobs with their massive combo-potential and versatility exponentially expand the options at your disposal in so cool, diverse ways, I can't wait to see even more of these great tricks. More so than even the previous installments, this expansion does not simply roll with one high-concept image - it gives you a stellar toolkit to play with, one that has changed how tinkers, all tinkers, work in my game.



This is perhaps THE must-have expansion for the class, provided with a superb quality that makes the fair price-point an utter steal. It is also the single best example for the fact that the tinker's concepts are not yet depleted - the combo-system provided herein renders the class more fun and can easily be further expanded. No other tinker-expansion made me this excited, made me want more this much - this humble pdf enhances the class in absolutely stunning ways. Everyone using this great class NEEDS this pdf. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval and nomination as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2015.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Remedial Tinkering: Happy Little Automatons
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Gossamer Worlds: Dragonhearth (Diceless)
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/19/2015 03:22:10
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the evocative Gossamer Worlds-series clocks in at 17 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, leaving us with 15 pages of content, so let’s take a look!



So what is dragonhearth? Well, if the name wasn't ample clue for you, let me fill you in: It is a world of DRAGONS...yeah, I'm proud of my astute observation as well. kidding aside, everything on this world is draconic to some extent - from serpentine waves of light to myriad forms of draconic life, there are a lot of supreme serpents inhabiting this place. So attuned to the very notion of dragons is this world, that even plants and most predatory animals share some component of lethal grace with the serpentine masters...oh, and paltry little squishy creatures from other realities, i.e. neither dragons nor the two draconic humanoid races, tend to suffer from a disease as the reality of the very world wastes them away - unless they enter a dragonbond. This can be pictured as an abstract relationship of friendship, love or simple subjugation - various strengths exist, some of which can transcend even the boundaries of gossamer realities. And yes, they have rules-relevant repercussions.



Now so far, so common - at this point, dragonhearth may not seem too impressive -I mean, apart from the continent-sized dracoliches and the system of reincarnation that governs life. Wait, what? Yes, concise rules for dracoliches are provided and hoards etc. are rationalized by a metaphysical reality that acts as a ruthless karmic meritocracy - which is cool on its own - but the whole thing becomes interesting with the existence of the golden wyrm Khemezatron (fully statted, btw.), a dragon awakened to the existence of the Grand Stairs and recently returned. beyond a gorgeous illustration, Khemezatron also introduced a nanite-based psychoactive virus to dragonhearth, courtesy of some highly-developed world she visited. Styling herself as a benevolent messiah, she infects draconic life, severing dragonbonds and rendering those subject to her dread disease thralls to her will, bonded to her technological assault on the very metaphysical powerstructures that govern life on Dragonhearth...for now, unopposed, but sooner or later, the world itself will take out the big, big guns and we have adventure potential galore.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s beautiful 2-column full-color standard for LoGaS and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Artwork consists of glorious full-color pieces that are absolutely gorgeous to behold.



Matt Banach provides a setting that could theoretically be reduced to dragonsploitation - with draconic themes everywhere, I can well imagine a certain fatigue setting in sooner or later, so for my part, I'm not that blown away by the basic premise, no matter how good it is executed. However, the introduction of the alternate bond and the obvious theme of changing times that echoes the central conflict of umbra vs. eidolon makes this a rather unique and awesome set-up: If not for a whole campaign, then at least for a sojourn of one or more adventures - Khemezatron is a damn cool villain that provides a truly unique imagery. My final verdict, hence, will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Gossamer Worlds: Dragonhearth (Diceless)
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Village Backdrop: Red Talon
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/19/2015 03:19:38
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of RSP's Village Backdrop-series is 10 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let's take a look at the settlement



Red Talon is not a subtle village. Nestled in a sheltered cove that is separated from main-land entrance by massive cliffs, it could be pretty much a paradise. Let's get that out of the way if the name was not ample clue: It's not. Founded by a bloodthirsty orc captain listening to the colorful moniker of Hagruk Stormrider, the village still sports a lot of orcs and half-orcs and would be a pretty deplorable pirate's nest, had the life of Haagruk went a conventional career in pillaging and plundering. Alas, during his exploits, he and his crew took to the worship of the cannibalistic Ukre'kon'ala, engaging in acts most depraved.



And, as often, the most vile of beings do not rest easy in death's embrace - while his Red Talon, his ship and the inspiration for the settlement's name, has sunk years ago and while he and his crew perished, he yet remains - transformed into a terrible undead and leading his cult from the shadows, the village has since then provided a steady supply of the nourishment the now undead villains crave.



As always in the series, we not only receive a nice piece of cartography detailing the settlement, we also receive ample information of clothes worn, names, customs, a market place etc. The dread Hagruk gets full stats and the vile deity also receives a short write-up, though you should not expect any surprises here - it's pretty much a generic "Mad eat-em-all-deity"...and a missed chance. The pdf does sport rumors and events alongside settlements statblock and information on the village's "law and order" - yeah, right.



Conclusion:

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



Richard Green paints in vivid strokes a rather nasty pirate village of the worst kind, the kind of place that makes Freeport or Port Shaw look cosmopolitan or welcoming. As such, Red Talon is a nice way-station for adventurers, a powder-kegs ready to explode in face of the fire that the PCs represent. At the same time, however, I felt honestly not that blown away here - the set-up in itself is certainly not novel, but the execution also falls a bit behind. So we get *yet another* pirate-y environment with an evil cannibal cult? Not sure how many of those I've been, but there are quite a few out there - and with the brevity of the format, not much can be done to push the boundaries or develop a unique take on the trope. That would be gripe #1. Beyond that, I also feel like this supplement has somewhat failed its own potential - with Hagruk's treasure to be found out there and adventurers being lured in, this village could have worked well as a true trap, a cunning set-up, perhaps even one with a brimming pseudo-treasure-hunters industry. Instead, the pdf opts for a more conservative take, which, while not bad in any way, shape or form, imho renders the place somewhat less compelling than it could have been. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Red Talon
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Bite Me! Skindancers
Publisher: Misfit Studios
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/18/2015 03:42:15
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Bite Me-series clocks in at 21 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 16 pages of content, so what exactly do we get here?



Well, on the basic level, the reply would be that we receive a race - which gets +2 Dex and Con, -2 Wis, gearing it towards the physical pursuits. Not a fan of that, as I prefer races to be balanced between mental and physical attributes. Skindancers are humanoids with the shapechanger subtype and one subtype of the player's choice and count as both for purposes of vulnerabilities to targeted effects. Skindancers are medium, have low-light vision and may use Diplomacy to influence the attitude of animals related to their chosen form, receiving a penalty to Diplomacy against other creatures with the animal type - not that you'd usually use this skill often on animals. They receive +2 to Perception and Bluff and the supernatural ability "Form of the Wild" - this allows the skindancer to assume the form of an animal eligible as a druid animal companion. Changing form is a standard action that provokes AoOs and is considered to by a supernatural polymorph effects. A skindancer can maintain said form for character level hours per day, which must be spent in 1-hour increments



Now the alternate form does deviate in some key aspects from a regular polymorph-effect - while it grants the appearance, movement modes and speed as well as natural attacks size, extraordinary and special qualities, it goes further. Unlike regular polymorphs, the change also nets the skinchanger the chosen animal's physical attribute scores, allowing for some seriously massive min-maxing potential. Additionally, the form increases in potency as if it were an animal companion, with 4th and 7th level being the most obvious candidates for improvement for most such forms. The animal form is unique to the skinchanger and thus does not allow to disguise as another creature - alas, the pdf ought to specify whether a polymorph effect's usual +10 disguise to appear as the creature into which you morph is still gained. The alternate form also does not properly specify the interaction of equipment with the basic form - while I assume the default of equipment melding into the new form, I do think that the cool concept would have warranted a unique balancing mechanism here to offset the ridiculously powerful min-maxing possible via the alternate form - as provided, a skindancer should be a caster, since for these, the animal companion-form essentially amounts to almost free gestalting: Dump-stat physical attributes, choose an animal with good ones, get natural spell - done. Spellcasting animal of death. This is unfair towards the other players, but just the type of mindset these rules encourage.



The race does sport 6 alternate racial traits that help with minor skill-bonus exchanges and provide a means for skindancers to be small. More importantly, the traits link nicely with one gruesome origin myth of the race - basically, there have been people who skinned lycanthropes alive to infiltrate their communities. If that reminds you of George R. R. Martin's "The Skin Trade", your association would be the same as mine, and yes, the overall prose here can be considered evocative, with anti-Skinning skindancer racial traits that are particularly adept as scourging the practitioners of this vile rite being the example of my favorite trait herein, at least concept-wise. On the downside, this one is based on alignment, thus either imposing a bigger book-keeping on the DM or acting as a free detect alignment by means of bonus/penalty-metagaming. It should be noted that the Embrace constitutes a second origin myth for the race, providing an inherent duality as a theme, which is rather nice to see and works well with the race's basic concept. The race also sports 3 sample builds for general concepts. The pdf sports favored class options for the classes released prior to the pdf's release, which means it covers the APG-classes and those introduced in Ultimate Magic and Combat. The bonuses here would be okay.



We also get racial archetypes, the first of which would be the dark hunter inquisitor - instead of monster lore, the inquisitor may add Int-mod to Perception and receives a scaling AC-and save-bonus versus shapechangers, culminating in an AoE-capstone that is cool, but also very late to the party - the unique benefit here would be that allies with at least one rank in Knowledge (nature) may aid as a swift action, which would have been more interesting as an earlier ability-gain. Same goes for a unique bane gained at 14th level. Tracking shapechangers superbly via observation that doubles as magic is also part of the deal. An okay, if somewhat uninspired archetype.



The community infiltrator rogue can fool magical means of detecting the truth instead of trapfinding and gets better social skills. Okay, but nothing to write home about. Skindancer shaman oracles have their own bonus spells that replace the ones gained by their mystery. The archetype also locks you into a revelation at 3d and 11th level: The 3rd level one grants you a shield of spectral animals that 1/day nets allies either an AC-bonus or an option to heal, as decided by the ally (and sporting minor scaling) - which is awesome regarding the imagery, but kind of underwhelming regarding the potency. A slight increase in healing power or more uses per day for such a cool signature ability would have been in order - +3 AC or +3d6+cha-mod healing at 14th level are not that impressive, even with the flexibility of choice for your allies. The second revelation provides +4 Str and Con and natural armor, full BAB and free Improved Critical with a weapon/natural attack of your choice. The ability can be used for 1 round per 2 class-levels, to be spent in 1-round-increments and is pretty powerful, but also kind of limited.



Blinding bone dust and mating scent can be found among the alchemical equipment introduced herein. The new feats herein are kind of a mixed bag in my book - why? Because e.g. gaining magic AND aligned claws at the price of one feat is pretty nasty. Using Dex instead of Str for Climb and Swim is okay. On the awesome side, what about an extraordinary effect that penalizes intelligent foes for attacking you for as long as you do not initiate hostilities yourself? I like this diplomacy-style trickery. At the same time, increasing the animal form's size by +1 is nasty when you recall all those options like reach etc. that come along with it. On the formal side, Double Bluff may allow for a second bluff-check at -5 once your firs has failed, but I have no idea whether this amounts to an immediate action or not an action - the wording does not specify an action-type and utilizes the word "immediate", so some clarification would be in order. Nasty creatures practicing the Skinning-ritual can benefit from the Dark Dancer-mini-feat-chain, allowing for superb infiltration via the absorbed skins of your victims - including their memories in the improved versions - and yes, the capstone even allows for the access of class abilities and the like, while losing your own - this is EXTREMELY powerful and obviously belongs into the hands on NPCs, not into those of players.



3 sample magic items allow for the fooling of bane-effects, dispelling illusions and alternate forms (covering SUs via concise mechanics) and a ring that provides a general sense of pack empathy. The pdf also provides 4 new spells - one reduces a target to animal-like behavior, one has a curse that makes animals harass the target and one for faster tracking and one that improves starting attitude of humanoids. The iconic rituals provided as an origin myth, i.e. the Embrace and the Skinning, are also covered.



The pdf closes with a fully-illustrated 2 skindancers, one at level 11 and one at level 4 - both are pretty cool and come with an interesting write-up.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, both on a formal and a rules-language level, are very good. Layout adheres to a beautiful two-column full-color standard and the artworks provided are original and high-quality. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.



Robert H. Hudson Jr.'s Skindancers are very much a matter of taste and group - I can see them going either way. On the one side, the fluff of the race and its execution is pretty cool and delivers just what you'd expect and render a shapechanging race a more than viable option. On the other hand, my players would have a field-day breaking the shapechanging - the alternate form amounts to more than just a pet-like alternate form and instead provides an almost gestalt-y level of additional tricks. Especially for low-level casters made with a modicum of capability, this allows for some very nasty combos that are bound to provide some nasty tricks, especially at low levels. The basic issue I identified herein would be that skindancers try to be what amounts to 2 different types of character - at the one side, they try to be a conservative race that happens to be a shapechanger. On the other, the morally-ambiguous tricks associated with the Skinning are so powerful, they should be banned for players - allowing the latter set of abilities for PCs will end up creating problems galore.



The supplemental content provided ultimately remained a mixed bag for me - while not bad per se, I saw most concepts herein provided in other executions before - perhaps that's the bane of the reviewer talking; perhaps I've seen too much, but I caught myself thinking rather often that e.g. some feats would have worked better as archetype options due to their power, whereas some archetype options ultimately left me uninspired or unimpressed. The abilities, in part, are awesome and cool, but limited use and not particularly pronounced tie-ins with the race itself did not capture my imagination.



While this does sound negative, you should make no mistake - if your campaign sports powerful races anyway and min-maxy system-mastery is less of an issue at your table, the skindancers may just be what the doctor ordered. The deviations from standard wording are few and far in-between and this pdf can provide some fun for your group. The concepts are high, with especially the evil Dark Dancer-feat-tree being inspired. In the end, the supplemental content and minor balance concerns I have mitigate some of the awesomeness herein and render this book a highly situational offering, edging slightly towards the good over the problematic. My final verdict will hence clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3 mostly due to the balance-concerns I have and the power-level of some options herein feeling off.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Bite Me! Skindancers
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Dwellers Amid Bones Collector's Edition
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/16/2015 02:46:28
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This collector's edition of Dweller Amid Bones clocks in at 35 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages advertisement, 2 pages editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page ToC, 1 page of advice for reading statblocks, 1 page advice for running the module, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 25 pages of pure content, so let's take a look, shall we?



This being a collector's edition of a previously-released, short module, Dweller Amid Bones receives a massive upgrade herein - from the get-go, detailed sample hooks allow DMs to easily kick off the module and then, much like Gibbous Moon, we get an astonishing, massive section of new content - essentially what boils down to a full-blown village backdrop - and in this case, the village would be Arcwood.



Arcwood as a settlement has its origins steeped in conflict - it is the place where the hero Therald Arcmoor fell, commemorating the final battle between the civilized races and the orcs of the severed ear - 300 ft. away from the feared tuskwood. With a majority population of halflings, the settlement obviously comes with a massive array of supplemental information: We receive information on the village's demographics, whispers and rumors, a settlement statblock, nomenclature and clothing habits as well as local lore and marketplace-information.



As always, the map provided is glorious and represents the privacy the local populace cherishes with the village being relatively dispersed - one can even see where halflings and humans live. The village also provides 3 full-blow statblocks of NPCs one can encounter here. Beyond that, the village, being close to the ancient battlefield, has drawn a less than nice person living in the village, one with a strange agenda. Beyond that, a moaning haunt provides an additional nice piece of dressing.



All right, from the village and the hooks, one can easily send the PCs towards the proper module - which takes place in the cairn devoted to the fallen orcs. Located in the Tuskwood (which also comes with a map), we get an awesome wilderness section, complete with locales, natural hazards and yes, random encounters that provide, among others, sprite swarms. This wilderness trek adds a further dimension to the base module I really enjoy.

From here on out, this review will contain SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

...

..

.

All right, still here? Great! As hinted before, Dwellers Amid Bones has the PCs explore an orcish burial cairn to put an end to the various raids conducted by a mated pair of green draconic beings - only forest drakes, thankfully, but deadly nevertheless! The cairn and its details are up to the standard set in Raging Swan modules - general features and details to add to even unkeyed areas make exploring the cairn interesting and atmospheric.



Now from the very beginning, we get a cool twist: Gork Shattershield, undead orcish wight, manifests behind the PCs to demand they purge the drakes (which have time and time again destroyed the stubborn undead orc, only to see him rejuvenate) - thus the adventure begins with an uncommon social interaction before turning ugly - fast!



The drakes lurk in relative proximity and once roused, both attack with their noxious clouds, fight, and when damaged too hard...retreat via speed surge underwater! FANFARE! GLORY TO WHATEVER DEITY OR FORCE MADE CREIGHTON WRITE THIS! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is finally one of the scarce, rare instances of draconic foes fighting NOT like complete morons! Hallelujah! Take heed, authors, take heed! Of course, we also get details like wall carvings etc. - but the running battle of the drakes through water-filled maze-like tunnels should pump up the adrenaline for your players - and make the satisfaction of finally confronting the pair in their lair much sweeter! Note: These are drakes. I want to see intelligent dragons in future adventures: With layered magical defenses, terrain used properly, breath weapon cheap shots and traps galore. Oh, and an escape route - dragons fighting inside where they can't take to air always strikes me as superbly stupid on the reptile's side. /ramble.



Of course, the defeat of the dragons does not mean it's over - the problem with the undead orc between PCs and exit remains and plunderers better be smart...



It should also be noted that DMs get a massive array of further adventures and an appendix is downright awesome: The appendix is essentially a glorious DM-cheat-sheet for fighting in water etc., with tables and the like providing handy lists of modifiers that make running the module essentially go-play easy and possible after one casual read-through - kudos!



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a crisp 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes with awesome b/w-artwork and even better maps. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and the pdf comes in two versions, one optimized for screen-use and one optimized for the printer.



Creighton Broadhurst and Fabian Fehrs deliver a glorious module here - where the original module sported a truly smart, challenging, detailed mini-dungeon crawl, this collector's edition takes things one step beyond, providing a massive array of supplemental content that anchors what was before a tactically-interesting module and provides a backdrop that renders the whole presentation more organic and unique. The supplemental content not only diversifies what is there, the sheer level of detail also can add a whole other dimension to the follow-ups; Complications for the module can be easily added via, for example, one less than scrupulous villagers may be a nice potential additional foil for the PCs.



My final verdict for this intelligent module will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval - an awesome, superior take on a great module!

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dwellers Amid Bones Collector's Edition
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Mini-Dungeon #015: Torment at Torni Tower
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/16/2015 02:44:47
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map (alas, sans player-friendly version) and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked to d20pfsrd.com's shop and thus, absent from the pdf.



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



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



Still here?

All right!



Somervel has not been treated kindly by the seasons - its pale forts, somewhat akin to beaver lodges, earthen mounds on islands in the marshlands, have been isolated for quite a while - most of the complex is below ground, with one tower jutting forth from the mound. Torni's tower has fallen to the seasons and when he PCs are sent to investigate the place, they are greeted by a haggard female - but that's just the beginning of the trouble. Turns out the female is a disguised annis hag who not only single-handedly (or better clawedly) took the fortress and slaughtered its inhabitants, she also makes off to rouse her ogre minions, some of which in states of drunkenness (which is accounted for by the mini-dungeon!) and prepare her detailed and rather awesome tactics - she for example collects stirges in a bag to throw at the PCs. What about speaking tubes? Yeah, smart! So, the presentation provides the roster of inhabitants, the rooms and the tactics of the annis hag - all in all, providing a surprisingly awesome and best of all, organic mini-dungeon against foes with unique tactics and in a distinct backdrop.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes sans bookmarks, but needs none at this length. Cartography is full color and surprisingly good for such an inexpensive pdf, but there is no key-less version of the map to print out and hand to your players. The pdf provides a nice piece of full-color artwork.



Stephen Yeardley does it again - this mini-dungeon is inspired, cool and does everything right: From an awesome, unique locale to smart adversaries and a surprising amount of fluff crammed into the scant few pages, this mini-dungeon is concise, logical ad downright awesome - no complaints and one of the high points of the series - well worth 5 stars + seal of approval!

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mini-Dungeon #015: Torment at Torni Tower
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13th Age Core Book
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/15/2015 04:23:17
An Endzeitgeist.com review

Disclaimer: I received the hardcover for 13th Age for the purposes of writing an unbiased, critical review. This following review reflects my endeavor to do so. The review is based on the hardcover of the 320 page book – I do not own the Pdf, so I can’t comment on that format. In order to review this book, I have playtested this system, though I did so with the expansion 13 True Ways as well – when appropriate, I will comment on that and yes, said book’s review is coming soon as well.



Without further ado – this is a d20-based system and as such, you will see a lot of familiar AND unfamiliar ground. The basics of a character are the 6 attributes we all know and their modifiers are still calculated by subtracting 10 and then dividing the resulting number by 2. The similarities continue with the action types – standard and move actions, free actions – those retain their nomenclature. Quick actions correspond to swift actions and certain classes can use 1 interrupt action per round, even when it’s not their turn – a better nomenclature and more streamlined take for immediate actions, essentially. Action substitution is more transparent than in comparable systems – standard actions can be downgraded to move/quick actions etc. We basically have free downgrading substitution as a design principle regarding action economy. So far, so similar, right? Well, this is about the time the similarities end.



First of all, levels are grouped in 10s, not 20s (or 30s). The levels have a somewhat unnecessary-seeming tier-nomenclature sticking to them as a 4th edition remnant, with champion-tier occupying levels 5-7, epic tier constituting levels 8 -10 and adventurer-tier spanning the lower levels. Tiers are used essentially as a base-line for the upgrading of e.g. feats, racial powers etc. – in higher tiers, the benefits become more pronounced. I wrote “seeming” here, since the tier essentially acts a prerequisite, but more on that later.



Levels are gained as per the requirements of the story, not as per XP, and as a party – whether this is according to your tastes depends on your group, but personally, I enjoy the move away from XP-values – the CR/etc.-systems never worked well in the first place, anyways, so kudos! On the basic mechanics, we receive fixed HP-values, which are modified by con-mod and then multiplied by a fixed value. The base HP-value etc. is governed by the class you belong to. This has two consequences – One, you do not have unlucky (or lucky!) PCs with fewer (or more!) HP than their companions. Two: You pretty much can guess a level and the average toughness of an adversary, since there is no basic variation in the base HP – whether you like or dislike this pretty much boils down to a matter of taste and preference. On the one hand, it does provide a more mathematically secure base-line for balancing, on the other, it makes things a tad more predictable and potentially, a bit more boring.



Races cover the default races we know and expect from a d20-based game, but also provide unconventional races à la aasimar, tiefling, drow, etc. – each race is characterized by a choice of one of 2 attribute bonuses (or more) of +2 and a racial power, which can be used once per battle. The racial powers themselves are pretty unique and drive home the flair of the races. Here, I go on a little tangent – one design decision that is not per se bad, but which I intensely loathe is the concept of ANY power/ability/spell per battle. Since battles constitute a non-defined time-frame, the system demands to be gamed - “Quick, kill the kobold before reinforcements arrive!” I’ve been vocal and ranty about this in the past and I still stand behind this –for me, this breaks immersion in a nasty way, though the issue in 13th Age is less pronounced than in any comparable game, to the point where I consider it tolerable...NOT good - for me as a person, this is a jarring and constant thorn in my side and makes me cringe, but as a reviewer, it's not that bad. Why? Well, for once, the whole system is streamlined more towards constant performance and away from bleeding resources dry. Abilities tend to be grouped in at-will, once/combat and once/day and thus, resource-management à la 3.X or PFRPG is severely de-emphasized.



This is also reflected in two design-decisions – one, there are healing surges, here called recovery. While based on your level and class (thus ranging from d6 to d10), they are limited. You usually begin with 8 recoveries and can execute a so-called rally as a standard action – this allows the character to rally his/her reserves and receive the recovery/healing. On an 11+, the character can rally again in that combat. Oh yeah, haven’t mentioned that before – quite a few limited abilities can be executed more often per battle if luck is on the player’s side. The save required for tasks like this is an unmodified d20. While this makes battles more dynamic, it also provides an avenue for lady luck that is pretty hefty. The strategic decisions and action gained from this should not be underestimated – each recovery can literally be your last. If you’re like me and belong into the camp of people who do NOT consider hit points a representation of fighting spirit, the book does suggest as an alternative to drop recovery/rallies – and yes, this is theoretically possible, but only theoretically. Why? Because healing potions and numerous other mechanics also tap into recoveries as a resource and influence it. In my games, though, experimenting with stripping rally/recoveries away did provide somewhat of an issue – but I’ll get back to that.



Before I went on the recovery-tangent, I mentioned two factors that make the per-battle-mechanics imho work slightly better – the second one would be “healing up” – separated from the traditional 8 hours of rest, recovery of most class-related tricks is no longer tied to a fixed time-frame, but rather to the DM’s judgment. While the suggested array of combats before leveling and healing up respectively felt pretty paltry to me, no one stops the DM from making the game more difficult. I absolutely applaud this countermeasure against the 4.5-encounter/8-minute adventuring-day, but I wished the book had been a tad bit more precise in the base guidelines of when to allow for healing up for groups with different capabilities, if only to avoid conflicting expectations between the DM and players. Not a bad thing, mind you – just a nitpick.



Now where there’s healing, there are defenses – three, in this case. Beyond AC, we also receive MD and PD – mental and physical defense. Each class has a value for these, modified by one value – the AC-modifier, PD modifier and MD modifier, respectively. To determine these, you take a look at 3 of your attributes (Con, Dex and Wis for AC, for example) and ignore the highest and lowest of the three attribute modifiers – the middle one, you add to the value. The values increase by +1 every level. Initiative is still governed only by Dex and also receives further bonuses with the levels gained. I *really* like this concise and easy-to-grasp distinction between different defenses. Especially, since the stacking system is pretty much a no-brainer in its simplicity.



What do I mean by that? Well, essentially, only the highest bonus applies. Same goes for negative conditions. Worst one supersedes other penalties. Ongoing damage stacks – you can burn a little or burn much, be poisoned a little or be poisoned like crazy – these components should elicit grins from every DM who had to witness high-level PCs actually creating full-blown buff-suites (with crazy performance-increases) to speed up game-play – my last 3.X-campaign before switching to PFRPG had one particular insane one that required a spread-sheet. Now while my players love this kind of complexity and engine-tinkering, the simplicity and elegance of the mechanics herein deserve accolades and are absolutely something I wholeheartedly endorse, especially for groups that derive no joy from engine-mastery.



A elegant similar simplicity also can be applied to the damage-types, which cover elemental damage types, negative energy, etc. Resistance and vulnerability also work differently – vulnerability renders the target more prone to being crited, whereas resistance equals half damage, unless the natural d20 roll was higher than e.g. 12+ or even 18+. So yeah, elegant simplicity here as well, not much chances to use tricks and scale up elemental nigh invulnerabilities – which is both a blessing for some and a curse for others. This brings me to the notion of damage as such – weapon damage, for example, has no descriptor – the system does not differentiate between the damage caused by a massive hammer or by an arrow. Whether you like that or not, once again, is up to your personal tastes - I get the rationale, but I really dislike it as a person. Damage calculation is pretty simple and one of the reasons martials and casters are pretty balanced in 13th Age. Damage rolls add an ability modifier and usually see a multiplication – the base weapon damage is multiplied at higher levels. A 1st level fighter wielding a longsword may e.g. deal 1d8 + Str-mod. However, a 4th level fighter would instead deal 4d8+ Str-mod damage with the same weapon. The modifiers are also increased – upon reaching champion-tier, the characters add twice the modifier, thrice upon reaching epic tier. It should be noted that the progression of e.g. weapon-damage is very much class-specific and even weapon damage dice and properties lose some importance – you require less capability/rules-oomph from the weapon if most comes from your PC anyway. The awesome result of this would be a de-emphasis on equipment and a diminished Christmas-tree-syndrome - two thumbs up for that!



Another design-tenet that is reflected and deserves accolades in my book is the notion of “failing forward” – while this is mirrored in how quite a few mechanics are run and in the assumptions regarding the reactions of the DM, one can see it particularly well with melee miss damage. Whereas ranged attacks tend to just miss, melee attacks can deal damage in spite of missing – though considerably less. This can be considered a rather interesting way of balancing the two against another – the increased risk of melee is balanced against a more reliable damage output. Where’s damage, there is bound to be death and indeed, death exists in 13th Age, though only in the most subdued of notions – for one, 7th Sea’s rule of death-only-by-named-NPCs is suggested. (And yes, I uttered an “URGH” while reading that…)



You’re down at 0 Hp, you die upon reaching negative HP equal to half maximum HP. When down, you make death saves (16+) to use recoveries – however, upon the 4th failed death save in a single battle, you die. While the playtest did show that this remains a distinct possibility, it also provides quite a few chances to cheat the reaper. Save-or-suck abilities also offer ONE 16+ save to avoid becoming helpless – upon failing that, a character is restricted to making more of these saves and once again, 4 failed saves mean that whatever unfortunate condition befell you, now hits full force – whether that be paralysis, petrification etc. On the one hand, this does mean that save-or-suck is less of an issue, since statistically, you ought to make one of those saves. On the other hand, this makes abilities like that pretty much less frightening, the game less dangerous. Whether one enjoys this or not, ultimately is up to the respective group, though tinkering with this system is pretty easy and less saves etc. for a more lethal game can easily be implemented. A popular low level save-or-suck-trick, fear, is now based on the hp of the target to be frightened – which makes sense to me. Speaking of “making sense to me” – resurrection and death are things NOT to be trifled with. Each character capable of the feat can resurrect exactly 5 times, with progressively worse repercussions for the caster and the target and final death for the caster looming beyond he last cast. This renders death meaningful and makes casters of that particular miracle a much-sought commodity- story-threads and narrative potential abound. I love it!



Over all, the total impression, which proved to be true, is that combat with this system is somewhat more predictable than with similar d20-based systems – which, of course makes balancing easier. Another rule that rigs the game in favor of the PCs would be the escalation die – in the second round of combat, the die is turned to the 1 – and all PCs receive +1 to attack rolls. This increases by +1 every round, up to +6. Monsters usually do not utilize the escalation die and special attacks and circumstances may decrease the die. Other abilities require a minimum number on the escalation die, while certain spells and effects require an even number on it. Why is the escalation die important? Well, because an attack is executed via d20+level+ability bonus+ magic item. And remember, only 10 levels. This means that either magic item bonuses become exceedingly important, or that AC/PD/MD cap at pretty low levels. And indeed – Balors clock in at AC 29, Red Dragons at 28, with the latter also sporting an MD of 23 and a PD of 27. Notice something? You don’t have to be a genius to realize that hitting these guys is not that hard, even sans the escalation die.



What does this mean? Well, much like comparable d20-based systems, we have an emphasis on relatively short, burst-like battles – attack capacity usually outclasses defensive capacity. Before I forget that later, I feel obliged to mention another factoid that DMs might want to be aware of – the way monsters work. Much like in the CR-system, we are provided with a mechanic to judge how to balance encounters, but this time around, the monster type influences how that works. No, I’m not talking about their race, but rather a grouping into e.g. mooks etc. - not a fan of that, but again, a personal preference, nothing I’d fault the game for. The damage monsters deal is not a regular throw of the dice – rather than that, they deal fixed values of damage with attacks and abilities. This cruise-control DMing considerably speeds up gameplay, yes. On the other hand, much like in other current systems, I was missing something as a DM. I enjoy the elation of the dice, the dread of players seeing me lift a hand full of dice to represent a dragon’s breath about to hit them. I’m aware that my insistence on rolling for monsters slows the game, but it is also a significant source of joy (and excitement) for me and to a lesser extent, my players. 13th Age streamlines that away and makes running the encounters faster, and in my opinion, significantly less exciting for the DM and also more predictable. And yeah, some monsters receive additional attacks/tricks based on the number you rolled on hits and misses – don't get me wrong, there is excitement to be had here as well. But personally, running the combats on the DM’s side felt less exciting to me. But also significantly faster. Which you prefer, once again, boils down to a matter of taste.



A remnant of 4th edition I particularly LOATHED was the bloodied condition – which now also exists as the staggered condition. However, like many other components I do not enjoy that much from the design elements of 4th edition, it has been improved - it is now subservient to the needs of the story. We no longer have a fixed, semi-arbitrarily defined value, but rather a general recommendation on when to consider a creature staggered. There is one particular notion I did really enjoy and feel I should emphasize– the “nastier” specials. These can be considered optional tricks for the monsters to unleash upon the PCs; they are additional, more lethal signature abilities. They are great. First, they let you easily set elites apart. Secondly, they help setting creatures further apart from another by providing signature tricks. And third, much like applying mythic rules to your bosses, they can be considered a kind of “hard(er) mode” for the monsters, one you can tackle on the fly. Nice! While not all creatures receive nastier-tricks, the very notion is something near and dear to me.



I’ve often mentioned the words “4th edition” in this review and for a reason. My intense dislike for 4th edition is no secret. I hate just about all of its design-decisions. However, surprisingly, I found myself almost unanimously less (or not at all!) annoyed by 13th Age’s adaptations of these concepts, mainly due to the changed focus towards a roleplaying game, away from the miniature focus. This is particularly well-represented in what may be one of things I love most about this book. Combat, distances etc. are no longer tier to a particular grid, a particular range, but rather handled in an abstract relation from one another, which still provides concise terminology for what amounts to AoOs, engagement etc. – essentially, you do not need a battlemap for this game and it dauntingly, courageously ignores the tendency for miniature-style tactical movement etc. While, in the long run, this does reduce the amount of options and tactics one can employ, it is also a step towards a focus that is more centered on the narrative potential of a storyline. Even if you do not like the overall of 13th Age-rules, this particular section can easily be pilfered for just about any d20-game. I know I’ll be prone to use it when I don’t have the time to draw complex arenas spanning multiple battlemaps… So yeah, triumphant and damn cool, especially if you do not like the complex AoO/melee/(dis-) engagement rules of similar d20-based systems.



The skill-system, on the other hand, is the ONE component where I absolutely and positively LOATHE 13th Age and can’t bring myself to saying anything positive about it– you receive 8 points upon character generation and more can be gained by certain classes. You assign these points towards backgrounds (like “Imperial Assassin”, “Cat Burglar”, etc.) and roll d20+attribute+ranks versus the environmental DC required, while explaining how your training in xyz helped you with that. URGH. First, there is not much growth potential here. Secondly, this smells of FATE’s issues. Don’t get me wrong, I *like* highly narrative rules that put an emphasis on collective story-telling, where backgrounds and capabilities aren’t carved in stone – I adore Lords of Gossamer and Shadow, for example. However, whenever an RPG-system essentially tells me that a whole, central mechanic is based on BSing the DM in how a particular, phrased (as ambiguous as possible) background/character trait/whatever applies to a given situation, I’m prone to rage-quitting. This already applies in tighter skill systems – this one is BASED on it. And yes, I know the counter-arguments and the samples make it look enticing. In practice, it sooner or later boils down to “Can I BS the DM?” vs. “Should I let the players BS me like this?” – and that is not good game-design in my book. You are, of course, free to have an opposing opinion, but this is pretty much the reason I don't like FATE and I hate its implementation on a smaller scale herein as well. (As a footnote, the further de-emphasis on languages etc., while still represented in the rules, also kind of rubs me the wrong way, but that pales before aforementioned issue.) So yeah, I really, really dislike the skill-"system". To the point where it is the one component of the whole system I just can't get myself to draw any kind of fun from. The one positive thing I can say about the skill system is that its default assumption is that a failure can have negative repercussions, while still yielding results – nowhere near as sophisticated as in the GUMSHOE-system, of course, but still. Here, the design-tenet of forward failure somewhat works.



Feats have also been streamlined in a rather interesting way – you’ll only find a hand full of general feats – the majority is class-specific. Furthermore, there’s a feat every level…and the prerequisites boil down to class + tier and the d’unh-level pereq that you need to have a particular talent/power to modify it with a feat. Champion tier feats require champion level, epic tier feats epic levels. One feat is gained per level. Simple, concise, no dead levels. A handy table lists the feats and class feats can be found in the entry of the class – simple and elegant…though future expansions should be weary of retaining this ordered structure to avoid the feat-look-up-halt. The feats themselves provide a pretty awesome simplicity that is rather elegant – take reach trick. If you wield a weapon with reach, you can make a reach stunt, with a save of 6+. That’s it. Halberd for pole-jumping? Swiping foes off their feat? Impaling foes? One mechanic, easily modified by the DM. Depending on your own preferences, this design may elicit screams of joy or groans, especially if, as a DM, you’re not confident with complex rules-decisions. While this streamlines the rules required, it also places a burden on the DM to remember past judgments regarding stunts for fairness' sake. As much as I hate the skill-system, the feats per se and how they’re gained feels pretty nice and fluid to me – in game, the constant progression ensured that each level felt sufficiently different.



Now speaking of classes – usually, I’d give you a break-down of how each class works. However, in the case of this particular review, that would bloat it even more, so in order to maintain at least a semblance of cohesion, I’ll only be touching upon certain things. First – yes, all the classes you’d expect can be found herein, with the exception of monk and druid, which can be found in the imho required 13 True Ways-expansion. Speaking of which – said expansion also revises/expands the slightly problematic base animal companion rules provided herein, so rangers in particular should definitely check out the druid-entry in said book. I’d encourage DMs to apply the limitations and clarifications introduced therein for the ranger as well. Retraining class components is an option that is generally pretty easy to accomplish via these rules. Base Hp range from 6 – 8, base AC from 10 -16 and base physical and mental defense range from 10 – 12. Recovery dice, as mentioned before, range from d6 –d10 per level. The classes themselves require different levels of player-skill, mainly since they play radically different, but overall, none of them should overexert any veteran of 3.X, PFRPG or similar, complex systems. It should also be noted that classes also entail attribute bonuses and e.g. selecting whether melee is governed by Str or Dex and similar choices all have been streamlined into the classes themselves.



Now where the classes, much like those of 4th edition, succeed admirably, is with the general balancing among themselves – not only do they play differently, they do sport numerous, different mechanics – rogues, for example, require a resource called momentum, which they build up and expend over the course of combat. Said resource rewards movement, tactical, surgical strikes etc. – and just is fun. Alas, there is a downside to this balancing, namely that the classes, on their own, do not sport that many choices – talents and the like are anything but copious and you’ll soon stumble across yet another member of class xyz that has exactly the same tricks up his/her sleeve. I may be spoiled by PFRPG, but that rubs me the wrong way and is another reason I'd wholeheartedly endorse you getting as many expansions as possible. Still, once again, while this is a flaw for me, for you it could be a feature.



There are some class features I’m not a fan of – the sorcerer, for example, can spend actions to gather power for minor buffs, unleashing the full spell slower, but more powerful later. This feels to MMORPG-y to me. The ability acknowledges that, apart from the situations where you need a quick spell, it almost universally means that gathering power (and being bored) for one round is the smarter decision. The book flat out states this, but tries to mitigate it via aforementioned argument – which is not valid in my book. When essentially doing nothing/ damage on a level that can be neglected to staggered foes only constitutes a smart move for a class, the goal of “doing something cool/useful/etc.” is not reached. My players got immensely frustrated with the mechanic. On the other side, the wizard-class has one damn stroke of sheer genius – Vance’s polysyllabic verbalizations. Step 1: Invent unique, verbose names for your spells. Step 2: Slightly prolong casting time and proudly declare your magic’s name. Step 3: The spell happens with a non-defined, circumstantial, unpredictable new effect determined by you and the DM. This is an utterly awesome narrative idea and perhaps the coolest rendition of the concept of Spell Thematics I’ve seen so far (in any system that’s not Ars Magica) – and I’m SO stealing it for my games! The relatively easy to grasp and concise magic item rules that do not succumb to the Christmas tree syndrome and does sport suggestions and rules for magic item-death/destruction should also be considered one of the definite plusses of the system.



That being said, if you expect hundreds of pages of spells and choices upon choices, I’ll have to disappoint you – the classes and spell-lists are just as restrictive as the choices of talents. Personally, I also am not a big fan of magic’s neutering in the name of balance – for short durations and the export of longer powers to the wibbly-wobbly concept of out-of-combat rituals make magic feel NOT like the force of unbridled creativity, but rather like a narrowly codified field – again, much like one can see in MMORPGs - which is odd, considering how stunts and cool martial arts-tricks have been so widely opened.



Which brings me to the example, where the at times slightly schizoid duality of 13th Age’s rules becomes readily apparent. And no, I’m not talking about the opinionated differences between the authors and the constant addressing of the reader via them. On the one hand, 13th Age very much enforces the idea of story-telling, of creativity trumping rules. Of easier and streamlined gameplay. And it succeeds in that regard. At the same time, though, stunts with weapons and acrobatics and the like remain relatively ill-defined and leave you hanging in the air without much clues. Similarly, it neuters magic down to a power-source, which, in the narrative frame, can do just about anything – unless it’s in the hands of any character/actual gameplay, when it suddenly adheres to the restrictive array provided for the respective classes.



In no other component is this duality as pronounced as in the Icons. The Icons represent both a central mechanic and a unique selling point of the implicit setting. Instead of named divinities or movers and shakers like Tar-Baphon, Strahd or Elminster, we have these titles – the icons represent essentially very dualistic demigod-level movers and shakers, which keep the world in a kind of equilibrium. Liked Dancer from the Malazan Book of the Fallen? Well, there’s The Prince of Shadows for you. There is The Lich-King. The Diabolist. The Dwarf-King. The Queen of Elves. The Priestess. You get the idea. These all but archetypical beings govern pretty much the fate of the world and your PCs receive relationship points with them. These points represent a dice each and are rolled at the beginning of a session or its end, influencing what happens in a positive way on a 6 on a d6, in one that has a downside on a 5. This requires some serious improvisation-skills on parts of the DM, but also ties the players to the world and its powerful beings – perhaps via the one unique thing you chose at character creation that sets you apart. (A good idea, imho, though the examples partially had me cringe…)



So what’s my beef with these archetypes (term used in the traditional, non-3.X/PFRPG-way)? Generally, I love their concepts – the Archmage that tries to domesticate the nature of the WORLD with magic and his weather-control-towers, arcano-science par excellence, versus e.g. the High Druid's rise of the wild and savage - that can make for great narrative twists. The way in which they influence the setting can also be considered genius: How cool is the notion of an entire OCEAN being mad at anything remotely resembling civilization? What about the rather nasty Crusader, who seeks to close hellholes and erect strongholds there – everyone is glad he battles the demonic incursions and prays he doesn’t turn his ambition elsewhere. These icons are firmly tied in with the world – which makes transporting them to another setting problematic. Furthermore, they at once want to facilitate story-telling by being opaque, while also having pretty clear agendas – and I get why. But, even when taking the setting-information( with its partially downright inspired world-building) into account, they, as characters, remain bland cardboard cutouts. They are tropes. The empire, whose health reflects the emperor? Warhammer 40K minus grit, anyone?

As much as I loved the small tidbits interspersed through the setting-information, the icons left me terribly bored. They don’t know whether they want to be story-facilitators or actual characters. No names, no history, no tradition. This, to my knowledge, ought to be the rule-book with a short gazetteer on the implied word, but the interconnections between the fluff and crunch here can provide a significant detriment towards the storytelling should choose to not utilize the default setting. What if I wanted to use 13th Age-rules with Dark Sun? Ravenloft? Midgard? Golarion? I’d have to find substitutes, refurbish them and, bafflingly, there is no advice for that here.



The setting, the world, does sport several glorious tidbits – like dwarven coins being stackable and quadratic and similar absolutely awesome ideas that had me grin from ear to ear. At the same time, box upon box tells me that xyz (for example, issues with language interaction) is not fun or can be neglected. And quite often, at least in the fluff-department, I caught myself thinking “NO, that is NOT something that can be neglected!”. You may not mind, I did. This does not make the book bad, but it also points towards one thing I’ll further elaborate in the conclusion.



The book does feature an excellent glossary and index and a starter module – and said module is by far, no matter where you stand on each individual rules-decision, the weakest part of the book.



SPOILERS

PCs arrive at Archmage’s control tower (not mapped), interact with people (no read-aloud boxes), go forth, kill a bunch of goblins, find a massacre, realize there’s a traitor in the tower, get back and KILL A WOUNDED DRAGON. At level 1. Urgh. I’m aware that this is a personal gripe, but I hate, hate, hate level 1-dragonkilling. Even if the dragon is wounded. It just feels terribly wrong to me and takes away what should be a climactic moment and waters it down. "Oh yeah, dragon killing? Pf, did that at first level..." Traitor may or may not escape. That’s it. Nigh no meaningful choices to be made, no cool twist, interesting combat-influences or fluxes and it contributes to the disposable dragon syndrome. Boring and bland – apart from the backdrop of the tower, nothing good here. My players were terribly bored with this as well.

/SPOILERS



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the book comes on nice, glossy paper with great artworks. Alas, the monsters in the monster-section do not receive fluff or proper visual representations apart from some glyph-like representations and a couple of mugshots for demons. The organization of the rules is pretty concise and the cartography is glorious.



Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet are both talented designers that have created a highly functional game here. 13th Age is imho the game 4th edition tried to be and superior to it. However, at least in my opinion, it is not the end-all super-system it’s hyped up to be. Beyond personal preferences, the system as such suffers from the issues with its adaptability and versatility, at least in direct comparison. In 3.X or PFRPG I can easily rip bits and pieces out of context, scavenge parts. In 13th Age, this is significantly harder and while it generates the impression that it is as customizable, it’s not. The book behaves as if taking away recoveries were a valid choice, when playtest pretty much showed that this is not the case – these is too much highly likely/unavoidable damage to take the component out and the numerous connections make scavenging hard – which becomes problematic with the icons. Yes, they can be extracted, changed, etc., but if you take their impact on the world away, you have to change their agendas and the same goes for the establishment of new icons. And this reflects the rules-aesthetic of a lot of rules herein. Change one part, change a lot.



The icons also have another impact – they, along the shorter level-progression, point you towards a particular playstyle. One with significant consequences from the get-go. While I’m not saying that this is bad, I can’t really picture the rules of 13th Age properly supporting more subdued gameplay, darker and grittier narratives or truly long campaigns or ones that take the PCs from sucker to super-hero. The quicker escalation of character development via relationship rules, fast level-up suggestions etc. all point towards the system being geared primarily for short, intense and distinctly high-magic campaigns. That’s not bad, mind you – the system does its own style of campaign very well. But in other contexts, it is not that smooth.



What do I mean by this? I’m going to say something that contradicts just about every review of 13th Age I’ve read: I think this system is simple.

It is not an “advanced” system – it is very easy to grasp and, had the rule-book included a tighter introduction for new players, more basic explanations for concepts, I’d praise this as a great beginner’s d20-RPG. It is really a pretty simple game, as far as anything d20-based is concerned.

The rules are easy, the math simple, there is not much to be overwhelmed by. The danger the PCs face is subdued as well – I’ve scarcely seen a d20-game with some many failsafes that ensure a precious PC doesn’t bite the dust, in spite of the limit on resurrection. This is a very player-friendly RPG – if CoC is Dark Souls, 13th Age is more like WoW. This is NOT meant as a barb, but rather as an observation. If impending doom, omnipresent threats, old-school level gameplay, harsh, unrelenting difficulty and overcoming the odds is what you’re looking for, then 13th Age may not be for you – this game is pretty much rigged in favor of your PCs. If you want a vast plethora of selections at your disposal, significant variety within each class and rewards for optimization, then there are better systems out there - though that changes with the addition of more supplements.



13th Age excels in its chosen field, though – for short-burst, combat-centric high-fantasy campaigns in the very much captivating setting with its neat ideas, it provided more fun in my playtests than 4th edition ever accomplished. Research et al. is something better left to GUMSHOE, as are most skill-based interactions, so yes, the central issue of the rules is and remains the implied playstyle the book enforces. The step towards a narrative focus is great, but it is kept from reaching its full realization by aforementioned choices of, paradoxically, not emphasizing the rules required for complex non-combat scenarios.



Now, I feel obliged to mention one more bit – this book is interspersed with designer’s comments and suggestions. More often than not, they oscillate between extremes and I do like the option for every DM to choose from a design philosophy/opinion and adhere to it. However, at least partially, I considered these segments (said, often casual, voice(s) also can be found in the rules-text where they do *not* belong) belittling and sometimes, grating. Most of the time, I didn’t mind, but one of my players was extremely annoyed by this tendency to the point where he (usually one of my rules-savvy guys who truly enjoys reading the rules) told the table to give him the quick run-down, since it annoyed him to the extent where he didn’t want to read on. One man’s bug is another man’s feature, I guess. Personally, I would have enjoyed less opinion, more options here - and especially, less judging. What one person may not consider fun, another does and I honestly was annoyed at some boxes stating that some fixtures in my tables were "not fun."



In the end, 13th Age is a very player-friendly roleplaying game with some hints of greatness and cool ideas, but also one that is bound to polarize. Would I exchange PFRPG’s complexity and class-power-asymmetry for 13th Age’s quick and streamlined cruise-control DMing and balance? No. Because I *like* a lot of the things this book changes and dismisses as “not fun”– I like fragile first level PCs and casters. I like extremely complex high-level encounters. I like rolling monster-dice. I prefer my movers and shakers named and well-defined, my skills set in stone. I love optimization-tricks, a nigh-infinite array of options for each character. The bugs this book eliminates, in one sentence, are, alas, often my features, the things I look for in a roleplaying game. Now, before you loyal 13th Age fans out there get the pitchforks ready – I still consider this a good and more importantly, FUN, game and one that does A LOT right -from the quick engagement rules to the balancing of martials and ranged vs. melee, this has a plethora of cool food for thought for any DM of a d20-based system, whether one elects to use 13th Age as a system or not. While, as a person, it hits many of the notes of game-design I do NOT necessarily look for (I love e.g. Dark Souls, dislike just about every “easy” RPG, including MMORPGs), as a reviewer and aesthete, I really could appreciate the streamlined elegance of a lot of the choices that went into this system and for certain types of games, I will use this.



Furthermore, let me make that very explicit, there are quiet a bunch of rules I love and will scavenge and retool for my own games and as a system; for what it tries to do, 13th Age tends to succeed at. Had this been 4th edition, I probably wouldn’t have looked for PFRPG in the first place. Its elegance, streamlined and fast gameplay, the very undemanding, easy, low-preparation DMing, the concise rules – all that are signs of a good game and you may very well consider that fixed HP-values, less fluctuations in power and no-damage-rolling on the DM’s side glorious and I get why. This game system is a good system. It just isn’t as versatile as I prefer it to be and not 100% made for the playstyle I prefer.



Still, I will, once in a while, crank out this system and use it. But I can’t consider this book, as a stand-alone publication, more than good, can’t bring myself to consider it great. There are too many things I can’t do with the basic rules, there is not enough variety within the base classes and magic to keep my interest long-term without significant expansion. Note that all of this pertains to the Core-book as an isolated entity - I do not compare this to an established system with x books, but only to the variety it offers as a stand-alone book when compared to similar systems.



One more thing some reviewers have observed, would be a so-called HP-bloat. This is bogus. Since the damage PCs inflict scales up quite massively (and more reliably than in 3.X and PFRPG), my own playtest experience was that most combats did not pass the 3rd or 4th round. I only reached the 6th round once in the playtests I ran (with a rigged encounter specifically designed to last long) and my math supports this impression. So in that regard, 13th Age is absolved in my book. Indeed, in my experience, monsters tended to fall pretty swiftly to the PC’s onslaught.



How to rate this, then? As mentioned above, grognards and fans of brutally hard roleplaying and hardcore rules-fetishists and complexity-advocates may want to steer clear; conversely, newcomers with a veteran who can help explain the rules, people fed up with extreme optimization, groups that loathe frequent PC-death, people hoping for a streamlined D&D 4.75, people looking for symmetrical class balancing and 4th edition fans who wish for a return to a more character-story-driven gameplay should definitely consider picking up 13th Age. For you all, this game was made and I think, you will not rue getting it and draw a lot of joy from these pages.



Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars – a good roleplaying system for what it tries to do and its target demographic.



P.s.: And yes, the PFRPG Core-rules wouldn’t score higher – invert most of my criticisms of 13th Age and you have what I’d have to say about that book as an isolated entity. ;)

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
13th Age Core Book
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