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Mini-Dungeon #059: With a Candlestick
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/04/2017 09:10:24

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM.

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!

And now for something completely different! Lord and Lady Scarlet are wealthy, well-connected and even pretty popular - the nobles have established a national embassy. When the PCs arrive, however, they come at a rather bad time. Mere minutes before, lord Scarlet was found murdered. There are a couple of guests here...and we have a powerful mastermind, doppelgangers and intrigue...as well as a gorgeously mapped massive mansion. Any GM halfway worth his/her salt can further complicate the scenario with a variety of NPCs, making this an amazing set-up...but if the PCs don't take care, that'll end up bad for them...very bad.

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. This time around, we get not jpgs or player-friendly versions, which is a down-side, particularly considering how good this map is.

Michael McCarthy delivers an a nice mini-murder-mystery; the map if great, the details surprisingly pronounced for the length, the whole set-up surprisingly well done, considering the limitations of the wordcount. this deserves respect and is really neat. If you're willing to add a bit of detail, consider this 5 stars; if you want go-play, 4 instead. My official verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mini-Dungeon #059: With a Candlestick
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Cultures of Celmae: Udaeus
Publisher: Wayward Rogues Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/04/2017 09:08:27

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Cultures of Celmae-series clocks in at 18 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let's take a look!

Long before the Shattering tore the world of Celmae asunder, it is said that the hero Saint Thero battled Leviathan at the Pool of Making, the Creator's wellspring, with the help of the Spear of Fate and Aegis, the god-shield. Wounded, the triumphant hero partook from the pool and the dragon's blood and flesh - advised by the goddess Amaura, he scattered the remains of the great beast, which would inexorably rise again, but from the fangs, it is said, the first humans formed.

On Cythea, the big tribes rose to dominance and a thousand years of bloodshed began, one that only ended when the canny Udaoi ultimately proved to be victorious. Mirroring the Roman empire ina esthetics and style, the following centuries would be kind on their people - until the Grim return, when degenerate humanoids would rise to sack their capital. And yes, the text does mention a unit of 300 fending off a second sacking, allowing the udaoi to drive the monstrosities back below Mt. Elo - ever since then, the udaoi have been fighting these morlocks, unsettled by the similarities of skin and other properties between their own race and the degenerate monsters from below...and then, the world was fated to shatter. While the udaoi managed to divert the worst of the cataclysm with their potent magics - and thus, many udaoi saw the catastrophe as a confirmation of their divine right to rule, as providence.

The re-emergence of dragonkind was met with warfare and in these campaigns, an alliance with griffons was woven - though Saint Thero's clergy, in the aftermath of the cataclysm, began a holy war of annihilation against the non-humans that had allowed to taint of the world prison to roam free. As the years of endless war stretched on, so did the udaoi become more warlike, more blood-thirsty, as decadence is slowly putting its perfumed claws into the mighty empire. Only the inability of the udaoi engineers to master the navigation of Celmae's turbulent seas has held back further expansions in the following centuries - and when the majeed arrived, the nations clashed for almost one hundred years - ending in a stalemate: Unable to best the majeed at sea, the udaoi conceded dominion over the oceans, while the majeed acknowledged udaoi superiority over the Cythea.

1621 after the shattering, Ekos the Wise, priest to Saint Theros, found a horrid artifact - wealthy and corrupted, his crimes went unpunished, though he was excommunicated. When he managed to raise dead kings to life and send them on a rampage, the udaoi were shocked - and even when he was slain, he returned to life as a lich - the defeats he wrought upon the udaoi broke the illusion of udaoi superiority, fostering hope and unrest among the Cytheans - it is here that we rejoin the mythology presented by other installments of the series, as the heroes Bryn and Gran united the tribes and bested, ultimately, the lich. Instead of ascending to udaeoi, the twins elected to remain behind, pronouncing themselves king and queen. The aftermath of this saw yet another long campaign, but once again, not one the udaoi would win.

As you may have noticed, the society herein is one divided by race - non-udaoi Cytheans are slaves to their masters. An Udeaeus character is "usually defined by their racial levels and most advance to 4 racial Hit Dice before taking class levels." WTF is that supposed to mean? Is there a racial class that got cut from the book? What racial HD do they get? No idea. Really puzzling and confusing sentence there. Racial traits-wise, these guys get +2 Str and Wis, -2 Cha, low-light vision, proficiency with simple and martial weapons and all armors and shields - something that doesn't really have a place in a race, as far as I'm concerned. So juveniles already can wear all heavy armors and wield all weapons? They also gain a +1 natural armor bonus and have resistance 5 to one energy type (only the 4 base types), which may be changed via a one-day ritual. An udaeus "counts its racial Hit Dice as fighter levels for the purpose of qualifying for feats." Urgh. I quote the official rules here: "Monster PCs should only advance through classes." Giving everyone in a race basically full fighter tricks is not a smart decision regarding balance. Any weapon an udaeus wields and all armor and shields worn is treated as a masterwork weapon and improvised weapons are treated as normal weapons, making this better than comparable abilities as well.

We get favored class options for the core and APG-classes as well as brawler, investigator, arcanist, slayer, swashbuckler, warpriest, kineticist, but not the witch. Weird: The racial paragon class herein, the Udaeus Paragon, does not get an FCO.

This class gets d8 HD, 2 + Int skills per levels, full BAB-progressiona nd good Fort-saves...and the proficiencies the race already gains as a racial trait. See, that's just one reason you don't grant those to a race as a whole. The class begins with Infuse Arms and Armor - basically, this ability makes the udaeus paragon's weapons and armor more potent; +1 weapons are treated as +2, masterwork weapons as +1 and the same holds true for armor etc.. I'm not really a fan here - 1st level magic weapons and armor is not something that's usually done, but this does not constitute my main gripe with the ability. It reads: "As the udaeus paragon increases its Racial Hit Dice, this inherent ability becomes more potent, gaining its full strength after 4 Hit Dice are gained." - I get what this means, for the ability increases in potency at 4th level, but that is NOT how rules-language works for the like. As an aesthetic aside: The maximum bonus is first +4, at 4th level +6, breaking the hard cap of +5 regarding enhancement bonuses in Pathfinder. I don't consider this to be a holy cow, but 4th level is too soon to theoretically break that cap.

The class also gains basically favored enemy: dragons at first level, increasing its potency at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter. The class also gets true strike as a 1/day SP, 2/day at 5th level. The ability is not properly formatted in the class table - like all SPs here. Second level increases the energy resistance to 10, with 3rd level and 4th level increasing that by a further +10. 3rd level yields barksin as an SP 1/day, +1/day at 7th level. 5th level yields haste 1/day, 2/day at 9th level. It should be noted that Cha is the default attribute for SPs, so the mention of Cha as governing attribute for these is kinda redundant - it doesn't hurt either, but the haste SP lacks this sentence, which makes the pdf look inconsistent with itself. Same goes for stoneskin, gained 1/day at 7th level, +1/day at 11th level. 9th level yields aspect of saint thero 1/day, 2/day at 13th level. 11th level provides 1/day battlemind link (not properly italicized), with 15th level providing the second daily use and 20th level upgrading that to the mythic version of the spell. Battlemind link, last time I checked, was btw. not a new spell, like the pdf claims - it was originally released in Ultimate Magic, with the mythic upgrade featured in Mythic Adventures. That just as an aside.

Let's talk about these spells for a second: Weird, considering the history of the race, aspect of saint thero is a [good] spell...and is horribly, horribly OP. 1/minute per level as a duration, it grants you darkvision 60[sic!] - ft. missing, resistance to acid and cold 10 and DR 5/evil. Oh, and wings for unassisted flight at 30 ft. with average maneuverability. Oh, and guess what? Weapons wielded are treated as good! I am not even going to dignify this mess with an enumeration of why it does NOT WORK AS A 2ND LEVEL SPELL. Know what's also a 2nd level spell? Darkvision. WTF. How this could get past any even remote grasp of balance, I have no idea. It also looks familiar to me, I had a rage-déjà-vu while reading it - I'm pretty sure I've raged against this spell before at one point in my life.

5th level, 12th level and every 4 levels thereafter increase the natural AC of the udaeus. 8th level yields Iron Will, 9th level evasion (weird, considering their heavy armor theme!) and 16th level provides improved evasion. 17th level provides energy immunity to one energy type, which may be changed via a day-long ritual among the 4 basic energy types. I assume that this is in addition to the resistance, but placement in the class makes me think that it's supposed to be the continuation of the energy ability-suite. Anyways, in dubio pro reo, so won't take that against the pdf and consider this to be an intended second energy. 6th level yields the spear and shield combat style, which makes use of a couple of the "new" feats herein. New combat style bonus feats are gained every 4 levels thereafter.

What do I mean by "new"? Well, Drive Weapon, for example, is just Drive Blade, renamed and taken from 4 Winds Fantasy Gaming's Strategists & Tacticians. It also inherits the original feat's issue that it RAW applies to ranged weapons as well, when that's clearly not the intent of the feat. Bashing Critical is just a variant of Bashing Finish and otherwise is worse than Bashing Finish, as it only works with one-handed or light weapons and requires a swift action. Shaft and Shield was copied from Kobold Press' Advanced Feats: Cavalier's Creed - and should have been at the very least updated to reflect weapon-group terminology. Shield Check is basically an upgrade of Stand Still, which adds Shield Bash damage to the target stopped - while it looks familiar, I can't place it - credit where credit is due, though: I like that one. Shielded Maneuvers nets you +2 to CMB for bull rush, disarm, overrun and trip, but only when wearing a shield and wielding a 1-handed or light melee weapon. Boring.

3rd level yields fast healing 1 per round, +1 at 7th level and every 4 levels thereafter. 4th level yields Endurance. At 4th level, the udaeus paragon gains a mythic rank in the champion mythic path. 14th and 20th level provide further built-in increases of mythic tier. Sooo, that's a problem. How does this interact with characters having other mythic paths? I assume that the sentence "If the character already possesses the mythic tier to be gained, he instead gains a bonus mythic feat." is supposed to take care of that. The paragon gains mythic power and surge, hard to kill, Extra Mythic Power as a bonus feat and the champion's fleet charge. Upon reaching the second tier, the paragon also gains an increase of 2 to an attribute of his choice. At 2nd tier, he also gains Amazing Initiative and may use mythic power to double the anti-dragon bonuses, mythic endurance and precision - which is a 3rd tier champion ability, not one available at 2nd tier. 3rd tier nets recuperation.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are better on a formal and rules-language level than in many earlier Wayward Rogues Publishing books; there are some glitches in formatting, but less than in other pdfs. Layout adheres to a nice 2-column full-color standard and the pdf sports some really nice full-color artworks. The pdf has no bookmarks, which is annoying. Worse: text selection and copying is disabled for the pdf, which is ironic, considering the amount of text taken from other sources and designated as "new".

Robert Gresham's Udaeus-culture begins with the best flavor of the whole series: There are less hiccups here and the prose really draws you in, courtesy of drawing ample inspiration from pop culture and history, creating a unique and fantastic vista. I was really celebrating the race and totally stoked for it. What does transformation into an udaeus mean, for example? Is it a meritocracy based on magic ascendance? That sounded so cool! I was STOKED to read the rules supporting that. Insert the waap-waap-waaaaoooo sound here. You won't find the like in this book. The most positive things I can say about the crunch would be that they don't suck as hard as that sections of previous Cultures of Celmae-hybrid classes.

The race is a mess, gaining the whole fighter basics as just another racial traits, significantly exceeding the tricks of other races in the setting and invalidating, ironically, a central draw of the fighter class for a culture that ostensibly is supposed to cherish it. I get that this tried to basically make 300-fantasy-Spartans, but such proficiencies are not something you're born with - they're the result of training. See how non-human races handle that: You get a few proficiencies, sure...but not ALL of them! I like the resistance-switching - in fact, I wrote a similar engine back in the day. And then there would be the paragon class. While I'm not a big fan of all those SPs, they at least have a theme. Where I have a big issue would be that mythic tiers are hard-wired into the class, which violates the GM-control aspect that mythic rules usually sport. Similarly, the interaction becomes weird and the lack of other classes sporting similar mechanics make this wonky and clunky. Now, credit where credit is due, the mythic powers gained are not nearly as broken as you'd expect for a regular class gaining access to them. Why? Because the other class features are the incarnation of boring. Iron Will. Endurance. You get the idea.

I do not object to the notion of having mythic tiers baked into a base class per se, problematic though that is - I do have an issue when this decision does not provide a sufficient pay-off, though. Literally no class feature granted by the class could not have been realized sans mythic options. The class is also, feat-choices aside, completely bereft of choice. One of these guys will be pretty much the same as another - there is no player agenda to be found, one at all. Finally, another issue I have with the class is that it has no unique tricks. Not a single one. Apart from the ham-fistedly jammed in mythic mechanics that generate more issues than contribute, the class has no unique selling points apart from "tough martial character." No unique attacks, class features, choices - nothing - it's a Frankenstein entity of stitched together parts that could conceivably be represented via a bunch of other classes. The energy resistance upgrades also come too soon and should be dispersed better over the levels.

Then, there'd be the supplemental material. You see, I have no issue with books using OGL-material - in fact, I love that about PFRPG etc.! It's a big strength of the game and drawing on well-made material by other authors is a good thing as far as I'm concerned. Heck, I tend to actually like well-made compilations of material! However, as soon as you just rebrand a feat, copy a spell and then claim it's "new" and your own, we have to call this plagiarism, even within the OGL. Yes, it has been done time and again, but that doesn't make it right and here, I don't really get why e.g. those asterisks denoting the material as explicitly new have been included, when e.g. a spell was drawn from as obvious a source as a Paizo core hardcover. That's just weird to me. It also is very evident from the quality of crunch of the different materials. I would be more lenient there, if the material had been streamlined, improved, balanced. Regardless of whether or not these are original, both race and class sport serious issues.

As a whole, this ultimately puts a sour taste in my mouth. It also makes me sad, for the race deserves better. The udaeus as a concept is amazing, the prose is cool - but, to paraphrase Arrow, this crunch has failed the concept. My final verdict will clock in at 1.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform by virtue of the strength of the prose and the fact that, if you're looking for a one-stop-shop Spartan-class, this may be what you wanted...though the hiccups, hard-coded mythic aspects and rules-deviations are jarring.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Cultures of Celmae: Udaeus
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Deep Magic: Void Magic
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/03/2017 09:02:16

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Deep Magic-series clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let's take a look!

The heart of void magic is Void Speech - the spoken word, the glyphs of this strange language, exist in a paradoxical state, in that they degrade physical reality around them - though never to the point of dissolution: Inscribed Void Speech corrupts and degrades, but does not annihilate its own matter.

Void magic is the tradition of tapping into the horrid magics of the Great Old Ones and the role of the tradition in Midgard is elaborated upon. It should be noted that these spells cannot be learned via spells gained via level-progression - these magics need to be learned from a practitioner or a proper spell-book, retaining GM-control in that regard. Void magic fundamentally behaves like arcane magic, just fyi.

There are two feats introduced that make use of the unsettling nature of Void Speech - the first would be Void Channeler, which lets you, as an action, utter a phrase in its horrid cadence. A creature within 10 ft. of your choice must succeed a Wisdom saving throw (Save DC scales properly) or suffer from the frightened condition, while other beings nearby suffer from somewhat unsettling, cosmetic effects. Additional uses before completing a short or long rest inflict increasing amounts of necrotic damage to the character. The second feat, Void Scribe, lets you use writing utensils as an action to inscribe a glyph on an object - this object then continues to take 1d6 necrotic damage per turn and in order to retain the glyph's structure, you have to maintain concentration AND succeed a DC 10 Constitution save each round. This is a pretty cool idea, though it also is one that could have carried a bit more than item destruction - two spells presented herein require papers with the glyphs as material component and that's it. Oh well, perhaps in a sequel book?

The pdf also provides an arcane tradition, namely the void speaker. Starting at 2nd level, time and gold required to write void spells in the spellbook is halved and when gaining a level, 1 of the spells learned may be a void spell, allowing for relatively reliable access to the strange magic. Also at second level, as a bonus action before casting a spell of 1st level or higher, which disorients a creature chosen from those affected by your spell, imposing disadvantage on the next attack roll or ability check the creature makes before your next turn.

Starting at 6th level, when damaged by a creature within 60 feet, you can use your reaction to cause 1/2 wizard level + Int mod necrotic damage to the creature, usable Intelligence modifier times before requiring a long rest to regain uses. Starting at 10th level, void magic spells with one target may target two creatures instead and you gain advantage on Con-saves made to maintain concentration on void spells. Finally, at 14th level, you can use your action to utter a phrase in void speech - this lets you choose a point within 60 feet, dimming the light in a 20-foot radius around that point for 1 minute. Creatures hostile to you suffer from disadvantage on Wisdom checks and vulnerability to necrotic damage. Additionally, such creatures (Allies are fine!) starting their turn or entering the area for the first time take 3d6 necrotic damage, half as much on a successful Con save. The ability recharges on a completed short or long rest. It should be noted that these abilities, being reliant on vocalizations, can't be used when unable to speak, which is a nice thematic catch.

The pdf also features a total of 13 void magic spells: conjure minor voidborn (at 5th level) and its 7th level brother, conjure voidborn let you call forth fiends or aberrations in a nice summoning variant. Why nice? The nasty creatures can't attack you and yours, but they can, oopsie-daisy, affect allies via secondary effects - you have to tread lightly there, which fits perfectly with the flavor of the magic. There are two void magic cantrips: Crushing Curse nets you a reliable means of dealing 1d6 psychic damage to a creature within 60 feet, also deafening that creature. The damage increases over the levels...and here, I'd usually complain about psychic damage being one of the strongest damage types in 5e, but the balancing of the cantrip is actually really clever and immaculate: You see, it can only affect creatures that can hear you, so as soon as you fail the save, you won't be affected! And yes, creatures can try again each round to end the deafness. Kudos indeed! The second cantrip would be ward of misfortune, which targets a creature nearby and imposes a d4 as penalty to the creature's next save. Protection from the Void nets a willing creature resistance to necrotic and psychic damage as well as advantage on the saves versus void magic...draw that elder sign...

At 2nd level, we can find destructive resonance, a 15-foot cone which inflicts 4d6 psychic damage (more with higher spell slots) and prevents creatures damaged from taking reactions. Usually, I'd say that the "no reactions" aspect should be negated on a successful save, but the low range and inherent danger of the spell serve as balancing mechanics there. Maddening Whispers can render a target incapacitated with 0 speed on a failed Cha-save, but only has a range of 30 feet and demands your action to maintain its effects, which renders it a tactical option, but not one that will break the game.

At 3rd level, we find Void Strike, the option to fire 5d8 necrotic ranged spell attacks that also frighten the target until your next turn. The no-save frightened-effect is something I'd not particularly keen on, but I do like that the spell ties in with the terrain - you gain advantage on attack rolls versus those within dim light or darkness. There's a cool Darkest Dungeon reference in discussing this mechanic, but I can't enunciate it right now. At 4th level, nether weapon is cool: Touched weapon is treated as magic, inflicts a bonus 2d6 necrotic damage...and the creature hit by it can't be healed until the start of your next turn. NICE. Living Shadows at 5th level lets you conjure forth a 15-ft-radius spread of restraining shadows (resisted by Strength save). Creatures that start their turn restrained gain one level of exhaustion. Restrained creatures can use their choice of Str or Dex check to free themselves. I am not perfectly happy with this one -considering that even one level of exhaustion imposes disadvantage on ability checks, escape becomes less likely. Sure, the spell is one spell-level higher than evard's black tentacles, and has 5 foot affected area less than it, but it also does not require concentration, unlike EBS. Personally, I'd have kept concentration as a limiting factor here, mainly since my 5e games tend to place a high value on exhaustion/resource management...and it remains a 6-step killer. I do get the rationale behind the design, though, given how void magic is a locked discipline for most casters.

At 6th level, we can find Life Drain, which lets you determine one point within 90 ft. - those within a 15 feet of the point take 10d6 necrotic damage, half as much on a successful Constitution save. For each target damaged, you can choose one creature in range and have it heal half the amount of necrotic damage you rolled. I have a minor, aesthetic quibble here: I think it should be damage actually inflicted, not rolled. While using a bag of kittens and this spell to heal is a colossally dumb idea, something within me still twitches here a bit. That being said, I get the rationale for the verbiage as provided - basing the heal on damage inflicted versus damage rolled would have complicated the wording of the spell. (Plus, this is something that's pretty easy for the GM to house-rule .)

The 8th and 9th level spells, btw., would be the void magic spells I mentioned that actually require an inscribed void glyph as part of their material components: 8th level's glimpse of the void has a range of 120 feet and all targets within a 30-foot cube must succeed an Int-save, rendering the targets insane on a failed save and placing movement under GM control. The 9th level spell, void rift, generates a 10-foot radius tear in reality, which is then surrounded by 40 feet of difficult terrain. Creatures within the area must succeed Strength saves or be pulled towards the rift and those in contact with it take necrotic damage and are blinded and deafened. Very cool - though the spell takes its toll on the caster, inflicting necrotic damage each round it is maintained.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to Kobold Press' gorgeous two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports several fantastic full-color artworks I haven't seen before. Big kudos in the aesthetics-department. The pdf comes with bookmarks, but not for the individual spells. Considering the length of the pdf, that's okay.

Dan Dillon of the four horsemen delivers once again here. Void magic feels potent, alien, risky and still easy to grasp. The astute reader may have noticed that all my complaints (the few that I managed to dig up) boil down to nitpicks in details and aesthetics that can be reduced to "slightly different opinions" - the design here is pretty much immaculate and often rather inspiring. I am particularly enamored with the balancing mechanic employed for the psychic damage-causing cantrip and similar subtle, elegant design decisions. Now personally, I understand why both feats and their effects are not more intricately tied to the spells - a decision made in order to retain the broader appeal of the type of magic. Still, I couldn't help but feel like both feats almost demand being tied to spellcasting. To cut a long ramble short: I'd love to see the engine of void magic expanded. It can carry more than it does. What more can you ask of such a humble little pdf? It actually left me wanting more! So here's to hoping we get Void Magic II at one point. I forgot my verdict? 5 stars...given sans hesitation, since all my quibbles boil down to aesthetic and very minor differences in design opinions! The only reason this does not get my seal would be the brevity - the concept can carry so much more and could have used a couple more pages to develop its mind-shattering impact beyond the presented options.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Deep Magic: Void Magic
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Caster Prestige Archetype: Ren Monolith
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/03/2017 09:00:02

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Caster Prestige Archetype-series clocks in at 8 pages, 1 page front cover, 2.25 pages of SRD, leaving us with about 4.75 pages of content, so let's take a look!

So, what are these? In case you are not familiar with the concept, a prestige archetype represents a way to not have to take a prestige class; after 3.X's flood, many players and GMs were justifiably tired of the concept...something that is also represented within the design of some PrCs out there. Worse in my opinion, the 3.X flood killed the "prestige"-aspect - the PrCs felt more like kits that could only be taken later, to use a 2nd edition analogue. PFRPG has partially inherited this issue - while there now are significantly more PrCs that emphasize "prestige", we still have ample of concepts that do not have to be represented by a PrC. The massive amount of excellent assassin-fixes out there would be just one example that not all PrCs should be PrCs. Enter this series.

Prestige Archetypes translate Prestige Classes and all their unique tricks into basically an archetype and combine that with a base class, moving everything around. The result, hence, is closer to a hybrid class than you'd expect and it has to be - after all, minimum PrC-level-requirements mean that PrC-options not necessarily cover all levels or are appropriate for every level. Thus, in each such pdf, we get basically a class that makes it possible to pursue a PrC from level 1, all the way to 20th level.

Something new for this series as opposed to the earlier ones: We begin with a massive list of alternate favored class options that cover the core races, advanced races, featured races and also extend to several of the unique and evocative Porphyran races like the Zendiqi. These alternate favored class options are generic in that they are not tied to a specific class, but that is not to say that they are boring - they tie in very well with the respective races, featuring, among other options, increased limited daily use racial abilities and the like. So yes, these can be considered to be a fun, balanced array that manages to tie in well with the racial concepts.

The ren monolith presented here is based on the living monolith PrC and the wizard's chassis. As such, the prestige archetype receives d6 HD, 2+ Int skills per level, proficiency with club, dagger, dart, light mace, sling and quarterstaff. The class gets 1/2 BAB-progression and good Will-saves as well as the obvious full spellcasting progression, governed as per the base class by Int.

Speaking of build class: In a pretty unique and cool little pieces of flavor, these guys can meld their spellbooks with their forms! The ren monolith is implanted a stone scarab that provides a +2 bonus to saves versus mind-affecting effects, death effects and versus negative levels or those effects generating these. Additionally, 1/day, the ren monolith may cast any spell that can be found on their spell list, provided they'd be capable of casting the spell level-wise. They don't have to know this spell, which is pretty potent from the get-go and may be problematic for some groups. Also at first level, these guys gain Scribe Scroll.

2nd level provides a + 4 AC bonus - and no, it's NOT natural armor. Nice catch there! 3rd level yields "DR 1" (should be DR 1/-.) and "10 % immunity to critical hits and sneak attacks (as if wearing fortification armor)." While functional, this is uncharacteristically clumsy regarding rules-language and sans the example, could be misread. Anyhow, 7th level and every 4 levels thereafter increase DR by +1 and the fortification effect by +10%. To nitpick a theory-craft that's unlikely to happen in actual play: Does the latter stack with fortification armor etc.? (No, this does not affect my verdict...)

Really cool: At 4th level, the ren monolith may 3/day as a standard action reduce person his size, masquerading as a figurine. 5th level yields at-will deathwatch and detect undead while the monolith concentrates (VERY cool: The player gets infinite use, but only when actually using it - nice for the GM!) 6th level yields auto-stabilization when in negative hit points and immunity to continuous bleed damage (wounding not properly italicized). 8th level provides stability and 9th level meld into stone at will. 10th level provides immunity to disease, including magical ones. 12th level provides +4 to Diplomacy when influencing sphinxes and 1/day planar ally to call a sphinx, which is upgraded to its greater brethren at 16th level.

14th level provides tremorsense 30 ft and 1/day stone tell. AT 16th level, the class gets immunity to petrification, as well as statue as a range personal-only spell-like ability - once again, the formatting here is a bit clumsy. While in statue form, any durations of spells or abilities do not elapse, which can be used by smart players to devastating effect. 17th level provides the option to 1/day either speak with dead or mark of justice that activates when listening to the ren monolith for 10 minutes. I am not 100% sure how that works with speak with dead, though 18th level yields contact other plane and 20th level provides immunity to energy drain and death effects and functional immortality.

The prestige archetype comes with notes for the use of the arcanist, psychic, sacerdote, sorceror and witch classes. Beyond specific favored class bonuses for the core races as well as anpur, dhampir eventuals, oread, xesa and zendiqi are covered regarding class-specific FCOs.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no glaring glitches apart from minor, non-rules-relevant inconsistencies in presentations. Rules-language is less refined than in other installments of the series - while functional and thankfully not plagued by bad ambiguities, it feels a bit rushed. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard with PDG's signature purple highlights and is pretty printer-friendly. Huge kudos: The pdf comes, in spite of its brevity, with full, nested bookmarks, making navigation extremely user-friendly!

Carl Cramér's Ren Monolith is cool: Flavorful, strong, with a distinct leitmotif, I love e.g. the figurine trick etc. It is a surprisingly flavorful option. That being said, its rules-language feels a bit more rushed than what I've come to expect from the author - the prestige archetype remains functional, but from a rules-aesthetic perspective, it is slightly weaker than other installments of the series. Still, the strong concept does carry it pretty well. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Caster Prestige Archetype: Ren Monolith
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Mini-Dungeon #058: The Palace of Ahmad Sahir
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/03/2017 08:57:06

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM.

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!

Ahmad Sahir was once a great wizard, devotee of the three goddesses or divination and oases, goddesses whom he rescued from a scrupulous sultan - and as such, the fantastic map (alas, not with a player-friendly version) depicts the palace of this man at the palm-covered shore of such an oasis. Cursed by the sultan, madness has consumed poor Sahir and now, he has himself enslaved the minor deities, using the blood of his servants as a means to bind them to his bidding.

Ultimately, the PCs will have to explore his exotic compound and deal with the maddened mage, braving guards mundane and magical.

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. This time around, we get not jpgs or player-friendly versions, which is a down-side.

Michael Holland provides a story from 1001 nights; a high-concept fantasy, a unique environment - in short, a great little mini-dungeon. It's a pity we don't get player-friendly jpgs for the map - it's so nice, I'd consider the key-less map worth the price alone. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mini-Dungeon #058: The Palace of Ahmad Sahir
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Subterranean Enclave: Flenheim
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/02/2017 03:19:52

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of Raging Swan Press seriously underrated Subterranean Enclaves-series clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 6 pages of content, depicting this subterranean settlement, so what do we get here?

Well, in short, a nightmare for most. Flenheim is the home of derro, to be more precise, a tradition of derro fleshcrafters and as such, also the center of a growing slave market: The Collector's Lodge and Shadow Market beckon with their wares - the former with captives, the latter with exotic goods. The lore that knowledgeable PCs can rely upon is certainly helpful, but does not exactly create any notion of an enjoyable stay...and there is a reason for this.

Law and order, for example, are "maintained" by a Byzanthine schedule that alternates between able-bodied derro - who are not known for their sanity in the first place. The central authority of the settlement, an ancient derro, is basically impotent when compared to the factions that truly hold sway here...and here, things get dark...and wise PCs better listen to the 6 whispers and rumors to avoid being caught in the struggles of this settlement.

You see, beyond the worship of The Pure Form, a cult that is just as vile as the official religion here (worship of the tortured form, as opposed to the divinity creating it), there is more unrest fermenting within this flayed-looking enclave. (Yep, the derro take pride in applying slick substances to houses to make them look bloody....)

You see, from an abandoned dwarven fortress which may have a new master to a paladin looking for a captured lady, there is quite a bit going on behind the scenes, most notably a continuing vie for power between the "Improvers", the fleshcrafting guild of the derro magicians, and the Flenning academy that provides the name to the settlement.

"What's flenning?", you ask? Well, it's the "art" of generating melodies from the tortured screams of the derro's victims to create symphonies of macabre horror. It's basically more hardcore than black metal and the most vile and dissonant musical tradition you can imagine. (As an aside: Bands like Xasthur and other black metal bands that follow the "moans from beyond"-aesthetic may make for rather evocative background tracks when visiting Flenheim...just sayin'...) This tradition is ever-present within Flenheim - for the academy's network of brass and iron tubes reach even the remotest of locales herein, allowing master flenser Herath Syngler to affect derro throughout the settlement with his dread performances...an angle savvy PCs potentially can use...or suffer horribly from, depending on the needs of the GM...

As always, we get proper settlement stats, a magic marketplace, local nomenclature and appearance as well as 6 sample events to kick adventuring into a higher gear. The pdf also provides a sample statblock for the rotating derro guard at CR 3.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no hiccups. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press' printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes in two iterations, one of which is optimized for screen use and one that's refined for being printed out. The pdf has fitting b/w-artworks and the cartography of the enclave is done in excellent b/w by the esteemed Maciej Zagorski. I am pretty positive that backers of Raging Swan Press' patreon can get a high-res version of the settlement.

Brian Wiborg Mønster's Flenheim is nightmare fuel in the best of ways - a village of thoroughly vile and evil beings, indebted to a Silent Hill Otherworld-like/Hellraiser-esque aesthetic, which manages to create a horrific atmosphere without diving into territories that are too explicit: While horrific to look upon, the dark themes here never reach the level where they should cause problems at the gaming table. It also basically has a reason for an atmospheric, yet disturbing soundtrack built right into its very design - when handled properly by the GM, this can actually provide a big, big plus in atmosphere that's justified by the unique properties of the enclave. (Better yet, if the PCs can manage to gain control, the results can be HILARIOUS.) In short: This is a fantastic settlement with a ton of adventuring potential. Easily worth the more than fair asking price and a final verdict of 5 stars plus seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Subterranean Enclave: Flenheim
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Divergent Paths: Medic
Publisher: Dreamscarred Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/02/2017 03:16:08

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of Dreamscarred Press' Divergent Paths-series, which provides new options for the Path of War subsystem, clocks in at 14 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 11 pages of content, so let's take a look!

As always regarding Path of War supplements, please understand this review as written with the caveat that this represents a serious power-upgrade over regular Pathfinder gaming, championing a playstyle that is distinctly high-fantasy and geared towards a higher level of PC power. As such, I will not try to judge this for its balance with core Pathfinder, but for its interaction with the Path of War rules. In case you're new to the series: This series is not made for gritty, old-school play-styles.

Okay, that out of the way, let's look at the class! The medic uses Wisdom as the governing key-attribute for their maneuvers and receives d8 HD as well as 4 + Int skills per level. The class gains proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as light and medium armor and shields, excluding tower shields. The class has a 3/4 BAB-progression and good Fort- and Will-saves. Maneuver-wise, we begin with 5 known maneuvers, increasing that up to 16 are 20th level; 3 can be readied at 1st level, increasing up to 10 and finally, we begin with one stance known and increase that up to 7 at 20th level. Regarding disciplines available, the medic may choose Broken Blade, Iron Tortoise, Golden Lion, Steel Serpent and Tempest Gale - all in all, a fitting selection, when bearing the role of the class in mind.

Medics begin combat with all readied maneuvers unexpended. In order to recover maneuvers, the medic expends a full-round action to reassure allies of her presence - this lets her regain medic initiation modifier (minimum 2) expended maneuvers and also grants all allies within 30 feet, including the medic 3 times the medic's initiator level as temporary hit points as well as a bonus equal to her initiator level to Fortitude saves - the latter for one round, the former last for 1 minute. It should be noted that these temporary hit points stack with those gained from other sources, but not with themselves. Alternatively, the medic may extend a standard action to regain one maneuver.

The medic may, as a free action, assess the health of all allies present once per round, including poisons and diseases etc. and may, with a Heal check based on 10 + CR, also assess the health of every single foe present to do the same there. A crucial aspect of the class and perhaps the signature ability would be triage. At 1st level, this can be used as a swift action. Triage lets the medic move up to her movement speed, as long as she ends her movement adjacent to an ally. Said ally is healed by 3 times the medic's initiator level hit points. This increases to 4 times her initiator level at 7th level, 5 times initiator level at 14th level. This ability can be used 3/encounter (remember Path of War has defined that as a concise time-frame), plus an additional time per encounter at 4th level and every 3 levels thereafter. Alternatively, triage can be used as a full-round action, expending two of its uses: When the medic does so, she may move up to twice her speed, the movement ignores difficult terrain (also damaging terrain?) and provokes no attacks of opportunity. Any ally that is adjacent to the medic at any point during that movement is healed for the medic's triage's amount. The swift use of triage allows the medic to add one medic's expertise to the healed character, the full-round version allows for the addition of up to class level expertises to each ally healed. However, each ally can only benefit once per use from a given triage. Additionally, it should be mentioned that full-round maneuver regaining also nets you an additional use of triage if you have none left. (As a nitpick, a "see page X" can be found in the ability text.)

So, what are these medic's expertises? Well, they are basically talents, many of which modify the triage class feature - these are denoted by asterisks for your convenience. The medic begins play with 2 of them at 1st level and gains another one at every even-numbered level thereafter. Unless I have miscounted, a total of 21 are included in the deal. These run the gamut you'd expect them to, considering the theme of the class and the wording of triage - one lets you negate automatically one AoO made against her during triage; one adds a free aid another as part of triage. (Another one increases the bonus granted.)

Healing herself as part of full-round triage can be found, as can be the option to neutralize poisons and gaining poison and nonmagical disease immunity - both of which are locked behind 8th level. Starting at 10th level, medics can use long term care to reapply severed limbs. One option also nets combat feats (and can be taken multiple times). Poison use (with the option to delay the onset of those affected by triage) can also be found. Increased movement when using triage is very potent, as is the option to end adverse conditions (first fatigued, sickened, staggered and shaken, then, with the follow-up expertise that is unlocked at 6th level, also blinded, dazed, deafened, exhausted, frightened, nauseated, paralyzed and stunned). I think "without moving" would have been a good addition here: "When the medic successfully hits with a strike, she may spend a triage as a swift action to heal an ally within 30 feet. This use of triage only heals 1/2 the normal amount of damage." - it also makes the extraordinary triage ability feel more supernatural, as far as I'm concerned, but yeah. An interesting and potent 10th level expertise lets the medic move up to her speed when using triage on herself, all sans provoking AoOs. Alternatively, the right expertise lets the medic heal up to initiation modifier attribute damage instead of hit point damage. Removing curses and diseases can also be unlocked (as a nitpick - both spell references have not been italicized) and there is a damage boost to follow up on triages.

Starting at 2nd level, the medic's treat deadly wounds recovers hit points and attribute damage as though the subject had rested for a full day and the medic doesn't need a healer's kit to do so. Starting at 6th level, the medic can treat deadly wounds or provide long-term care for up to initiation modifier creatures at once Additionally, creatures treated for deadly wounds regain hit points as though the had rested a full day with long-term care. At 11th level, creatures thus treated regain hit points and ability damage as if they had rested 3 days.

At 3rd level, the class gains Cura Te Ipsum - when they initiate a strike, they gain +1 to Ref- and Will-saves until the next turn, which increases by a further +1 at 7th level and every 4 levels thereafter.

5th level allows the medic to add to medic's expertises to any Triage, with 10th and 15th level increasing that by a further +1. At 6th level, the medic may 1/day initiate a counter as a free action, but it must be used to protect an ally within 30 feet, who is then treated as though they had initiated the counter in question, using the medic's stats for variables. The ability may be used an additional time per day at 12th and 18th level, but not more often than once per round. Starting at 9th level, the medic gains a breath of life-like use of triage, allowing them to stabilize/return fallen comrades from death, provided they have perished within one round. Starting at 14th level, we get 1/week raise dead and 17th level yields a 1/month true resurrection. The capstone allows for the addition of any number of expertises to the triage ability.

The pdf also provides favored class options for the core races, dhampir, hobgoblin, orc, tiefling, half-giant, maenad, ophiduan, alicorn, dreige and wulfkin races. Archetype-wise, we start with the ambu-lancer, who gains ride as a class skill and replaces Tempest gale with Piercing Thunder. Instead of the medic's first level expertise, the archetype gains a mount as an animal companion and the second expertise is exchanged for Mounted Combat. Instead of the mount's share spells feature, the mount may, from 1st level on, supply the movement component required by some maneuvers. Similarly, the mount may supply the movement for triage. At 4th level, the ambu-lancer generates an light-shedding siren that emits an ear-piercing screech while mounted. The effect may be suppressed, but while it's active, she gains Improved Overrun when using triage and creatures avoiding her may not execute AoOs against her. Hilarious visuals there. This replaces 4th level's additional triage use. At 6th level, the ambu-lancer may pull allies affected by triage atop the mount, also potentially shielding them via Mounted Combat. This replaces that level's additional triage use.

The angel of mercy loses Broken Blade in favor of Silver Crane and replaces one first level medic's expertises with resistance to acid and cold 5. At 8th level, fire and electricity resistance 5 is gained. Instead of 6th level's expertise, the angel emits a continuous 20-ft.-radius protection from evil (not italicized properly). At 10th level, whenever the angel initiates a strike that heals damage, all allies within 30 ft. gain the medic's initiator level as temporary hit points. This replaces improved triage. St 12th level, the angel can grown wings for 1 minute per class level with good maneuverability, replacing that level's expertise.

Next up would be the Sanguinist, who replaces one expertise at 1st level with Improved Unarmed Strike and its Greater brother at 3rd level, using medic level instead of BAB to calculate base damage. 1st level provides blood transfusion - whenever the sanguinist deals lethal damage with unarmed or natural attacks, they inflict an additional initiation modifier damage, gaining an equal amount of points for the blood reservoir. It should be noted that the archetype has a REALLY nice kitten-caveat. Now, this blood reserve is used as the resource from which healing for allies is drawn - instead of a fixed amount, any number of hit points from the pool may be healed. Instead of Cura Te Ipsum, +1 to atk and damage with natural or unarmed attacks are gained, with a similar increase in potency. Instead of the 4th level's expertise, the archetype becomes immune to all poisons and diseases and may absorb them via triage and then store these in the blood reserve. These stored afflictions may then be inflicted upon foes via triage or blood infusion. A total of initiation modifier such poisons and diseases may be stored. 20th level increases the drained hit points from target of unarmed strikes by +50%.

The final archetype would be the witch doctor, who gains Spellcraft and UMD as class skills and uses Wisdom as key ability modifier for both. The archetype loses triage and instead begins play with a level 1 wand of cure light wounds that has similar restriction s a gunslinger's starting gun. Similar to triage, the archetype may move up to her movement 3/encounter as a swift action, ending movement adjacent to an ally ad use a spell completion or spell trigger item with the healing descriptor (or from her spell list) on the ally. Use on self prohibits movement. Additional uses per encounter are gained at 4th level and every 3 levels thereafter. Instead of the two medic's expertises, the archetype gains Scribe Scroll at 1st level, and Craft Wand at 5th level, using initiator level as a substitute caster level. The witch doctor is considered to have her own spell-list, which encompasses all spells with the healing descriptor as well as a small list for the purpose of item manufacture. This replaces 8 expertises as well as the returning-from-death-ability-suite. Starting at 6th level, the archetype treats the CL of spells from said list via wands etc. as being equal to the initiator level as well as the benefits of a free Empower Spell. As a capstone, the benefits of a free Maximize Spell are added as well.

The pdf also contains 9 new feats: These include an extra guardian of life ability use per day, an extra expertise and more: One feat nets you a free action shield don and, while in Mithral Current, a free 5-foot step when shield bashing or using a shield-reliant counter. First Aid Training net a creature benefiting from your Heal check your Wisdom modifier + Heal ranks as temporary hit points. Gugnir Technique is pretty cool, relying on Piercing Thunder and Silver Crane: When in a Silver Crane stance, you may use a polearm as though it was a ghost touch weapon and may target possessing entities sans affecting the possessed creature. There are more such discipline-crossover feats for penalized foes or temporary DR. Healer's Mercy lets you substitute Heal checks for coup-de-graces and also suppress regeneration for the duration. Plague Doctor provides bonuses to those treated against subsequent infections.

The pdf closes with 4 magic items: incense of convalescence lets the user inhale it in doses of 2, ignoring 2, 4 or 6 points of attribute damage, drain or penalties for up to 24 hours - cost: 750 gp. The plaster of recuperation is basically the same for physical attribute damage. Refinement charms can be added to e.g. a necklace of many charms (see Steelforge Book I) for +2 on Heal checks to treat poison or diseases or for +1 hit point healed via long term care use of the Heal skill. For 2K, power charms can also be added to such an item, but take up three of its slots. These include +1 hit point healed per medic initiator level, +1 guardian of life ability use per day, increasing Cura Te Ipsum's save bonus by +1 or + 1 effective CL or ML for effects that return dead creatures to life.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are excellent on a rules-level; on a formal level, there are a few minor hiccups like missed italicizations and the like. Layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press' two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports some nice full-color artworks. The pdf comes with a second, more printer-friendly iteration. Both are fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Anthony S. Altovilla provides the logical continuation of the Path of War system and design aesthetic. After delimiting AoE damage, magical effects and the like, the medic now does the same for similar means of attrition, allowing for infinite healing (though it is slower than that based on limited resources) of several negative conditions and afflictions, so if you used these methods to keep your Path of War characters "in check", then you may want to think twice about this. This is pretty much intended for the groups that employ the system in the playstyle heavily implied by the design, not for those groups that use the system with "buts" or "howevers." In short - this won't end any of the criticisms towards the system and retains its divisive nature; perhaps, for some it may be the escalation, while for others, it will be hailed as the fulfillment.

That being said, if you've read this review until this point, chances are you may be a fan of Path of War and if you are, then rejoice, for this book, in a way, completes the aesthetics of the system, catapulting the healing aspects, mostly limited up to this point, to a level more in line with the system. The ignoring of difficult terrain of the medic and the swift action triage mean that you'll be healing "on the fly" while still executing kick-ass martial moves, which makes the medic play like a powerful support martial artist and not like a heal bot. The class works as intended and rather smoothly. You'll be dishing out damage and healing all at once and the class, as such, works well in conjunction with the other Path of War classes. The magic items also emphasize this non-stop action aspect, blowing the effects of lesser restoration out of the water with an increased utility and potency geared more towards the constant action of Path of War's playstyle.

The decision's easy at this point: Do you like Path of War and how its power-level plays at your table? Then chances are very high that you'll also love the medic - the class and its supplemental material is professionally designed for this play-style. Now personally, at this point, there is one thing I'd like to see from DSP: A full, dedicated AP that is specifically designed to provide a challenge for Path of War characters. The roster is complete, so only the modules are missing, as far as I'm concerned, but that just as an aside.

How to rate this, then? Well, as mentioned before in my reviews for the system and its expansions, if you're into gritty or low-powered playstyles and resource-management, then don't touch this with a 10-foot pole. If you enjoy the play-style and love the powerful PCs it generates, then consider this to be a must-own continuation of the direction of the design. Since it makes absolutely zero sense to try to rate this according to non-Path of War aesthetics, my final verdict will reflect this file's usefulness for the system and those of you who enjoy it - and you'll love this. For you, this is a 5 stars file.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Divergent Paths: Medic
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Mini-Dungeon #057: Last Stand of the Forgotten Pirate
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/02/2017 03:14:44

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM.

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

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

...

..

.

Still here?

All right!

The PCs are asked by an druid to check up on a former orc pirate, old Gnarltooth, who has been pretty evasive about some obligations, consumed by his obsession with "The Beast", an awakened elasmosaurus, which is lurking nearby, as he has had the beast magically bound. The pdf depicts his little island home - the orc is obviously afraid to face-down the creature. The mundane nature of the orc's life is depicted and provides quite a few options to engage in meaningful roleplaying...but ultimately, the PCs will have to enforce, finally, a confrontation...but they'll need to help...or the battle will be rather short...

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. This time around, we get not jpgs or player-friendly versions, which is a down-side.

Michael McCarthy's little character study/variant of the Moby Dick trope is a compelling, fun sidetrek that can provide some interesting questions to ponder, an intriguing ally to potentially recruit. In short: This is well worth the fair asking price and also presents a nice, idyllic potential home for the PCs...at least for a while. 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mini-Dungeon #057: Last Stand of the Forgotten Pirate
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The Lost Lands: Bard's Gate for Pathfinder
Publisher: Frog God Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/01/2017 15:11:07

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This colossal TOME clocks in at 535 pages of content, 1 page front cover, 2 pages editorial/introduction, 1 page advertisement/product checklist, 3 pages of ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page obituaries, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 524 pages of content.

Yeah, I know. You expected Northlands Saga first. Well, while I was digging through THAT massive tome, I was asked by several people to cover this monster first. So I listened, put Northlands Saga on the back-burner (its review should hit site early 2017) and instead started devouring this massive tome. So consider seeing this first to be basically me listening to the vox populi.

Ahem. Let that page-count sink in. To call this book "enormous" or by any other name than "TOME" in allcaps, does not do it justice.

All right, but frankly, there are enough big city sourcebooks that simply weren't that good. Is Bard's Gate different? Well, we begin with one component often ignored in city sourcebooks, namely the fact that they do not end at the city's wall. Thus, bard's gate, as presented here, does not exist in a vacuum - the valley of the lyre, situated in Frog God Games' Lost Lands, is where we first turn our gaze upon opening this vast book: Within this context, we are introduced to Bard's Gate's suzerainty before getting a recap of technology levels found in the Lost Lands. Beyond the copious amounts of information pertaining unique places and adventuring potential, the book follows the precedence of the Borderland Provinces and the legendary Sword of Air in that it provides a vast array of random encounter tables by area and goes beyond that.

In stunning full color, we receive the local map, both as part of the over-arcing region and in a more detailed, iteration - from the valley of shrines and the region first featured in the by now legendary Tom of Abysthor (available for PFRPG in the Stoneheart Valley-book) we move towards the mining operations of the vast metropolis, learn about entrances to the underworld, abandoned villages now held by gnolls and barrows containing unique undead barbarians. Forests that are haunted by undead treants, the fully mapped citadel of griffons (and yes, other citadels have different maps) - there is ample of adventure to be found beyond the confines of the city.

It is only natural, then, to assume that the place obviously features more than a few individuals to defend its interests. From the lyreguard (Harpers, anyone?) to more mundane agents of law enforcement, navy, etc. to the various guilds, the book proceeds to acquaint us with the power players of the region: From coopers and shipwrights to solicitors and barristers and wheelwrights, the attention to detail provided is impressive; more impressive than the level of detail, though, at least for me, would be the fact that even these seemingly mundane organizations maintain a density of adventuring potential and story hooks that adds perfectly to the general notion of a world wherein the downfall of society's structures may be one adventuring group failing away. In the time-honored words: "Evil watches, evil waits. Goodness stumbles, evil takes."

This is not supposed to mean that this is a grimdark supplement; quite the contrary. It just means that there is enough for adventurers of all level to do. If you, for example, have been intrigued by the underguild, first featured in "Vampires & Liches" and updated to contemporary systems in "Quests of Doom I", then you'd be in the right place.

It should also be noted that this book, in spite of its copious level of detail, is very much cognizant of recent developments in the game: We can find, for example kinteicists or similar classes among the numerous NPC-builds. Similarly, from masked guilds of assassins to an order of female paladins, plenty of beings with whom to interact.

Now, as you may have noted if you've been following my reviews for some time, you'll notice a certain proclivity for details, for politics and intrigue: Well, rest assured that notes on the latter components indeed are provided and should keep groups busy for pretty much any time-frame you wish. More important in an age wherein kingdom building, downtime rules and the like exist, would be the fact that the pdf actually provides property values and taxes by district - including costs of upkeep! I absolutely adore this often-neglected component that no other city sourcebook, at least none I have recently read, covered in this way.

Speaking of aspects that made the simulationalist GM in me smile from ear to ear and jump up i my chair: Know how I commented on The Lost Lands in the Borderland Provinces books as a region that felt more plausible, more believable than in pretty much any other setting I had encountered in a while? Well, there was one aspect so far only Midgard got right (though it could have been emphasized more) - in earlier ages, social class was significantly more important than even today. Well, this book acknowledges a great catalyst of both adventuring and roleplaying and provides DETAILED rules for determining social class and wealth: Beyond class, race and ethnicity as determinants, rules for gossip, drops for in- and decreases in social status make for an amazing section, also since starting attitudes are determined by class - so yes, in this book and the Lost Lands in general, there may actually be a good reason to send the rogue to deal with the homeless, the paladin to deal with royalty. This may not sound like much, but I've been playing with my own homebrew social class rules and they have been a superb catalyst for roleplaying.

But this is a city sourcebook, in spite of the copious coverage of material beyond the city: As such, it should be noted that each and every district of the city can be found within these pages: From the tent city and stable row to the market district, each of the districts not only provides statblocks for local beings and notes on remarkable places alongside detailed maps of the respective environments, we also receive notes on local characteristics.

Beyond the glorious full-color artworks of the respective chapters depicting the districts, it ultimately would be the people that populate the city of Bard's Gate that render it evocative: From strange mages to notorious doppelgangers, the city presents a strange amalgam of mythological resonance and the fantastic established within the canon of the world: From the pied piper myth to the shapeshifting Grandfather; numerous fully mapped temples (including bacchae) , vampire hunters on the run...there are so many fully statted NPCs and hooks within this tome that even attempting to list them all would frankly be an exercise in futility. Just rest assured that, no matter your preferred themes, chances are you'll find their representation within the pages of this book.

The city, though, is something else: It can be read, provided you know where to look, as Frog God Games' love letter to the amazing community that supports the company, that supports the hobby: If you know where to look, you'll not only find the names of publishers and authors herein; you'll also find Tenkar's Tavern, the amazing old-school site's representation here. And yes, a humble medium that, coincidentally shares some traits with yours truly, can also be found within these pages. I won't lie - reading that entry was indeed humbling. To be immortalized in a book of this caliber is indeed amazing. (So yes, if you ever wanted to kill me by proxy in your game - there you go!)

More than 20 pages of NPCs, from the general to the specific, are featured in the first of the appendices, only to be followed by exceedingly detailed random encounter charts (including charts to determine attitudes of drunken folks!). New magic items galore as well as the spider domain and its associated spells add further material for those of us craving crunch. Speaking of which: Beggar NPC-class, baby! Oh, and a killer PrC, the disciple of orcus archetye and two racial variants can be found herein: The street dwarf and the wood elf. Both races are well-crafted, though the absence of age, height and weight tables for them constitutes one of the few gripes I could field against this book.

Even after all of that, we have barely reached page 387 - so what do we get beyond that? Well, adventures, obviously! And I'm not talking about the usual half-assed back-of-a-setting-book modules...after all, this is Frog God Games we're talking about. We're also not talking about 1 module...we're talking about 7.

All right, since to cover these, I need to go into SPOILER-territory, from here on out, I'd ask potential players to jump to the conclusion.

...

..

.

All right, the first one would be Crommlen's Ghosts, intended for characters level 1 - 3 and is about a mysterious group of raiders harassing the tent city district of the city, doubling basically as a means of introducing the PCs to the region. Via various rumors and interaction and, ultimately, their brawn, the PCs will have to deal with these dread raiders in an old salt mine...and in the course of events unearth the leitmotif of "all evil needs to triumph is ignorance/a lack of empathy."

A matter of faith, intended for characters level 3 - 6, puts the PCs on a trail of missing kids from the poorer sections of town, and in the process of the investigation, confronts them with the vast evil of a horrid child-slave-ring that needs to be purged...but how to go about said business? The schism between factions of an otherwise good church can potentially lead to a whole campaign worth of follow-up material. Have I mentioned that Dropsy the clown makes one of the most disturbing villains I've seen in a while or the cool gondola chase?

"The Over and the Under" would be a change of pace from politics and social issues. Intended for 5th to 7th level PCs, the adventure is basically a heist that is surprisingly well-structured regarding its preparation options; think of this basically as Ocean's 11 in a fantasy casino. Yes, I liked that...and, if you want to, you can make that also a nice module to send the PCs off to riches beyond belief (read: untimely deaths) in Rappan Athuk.

At the same level-range, we receive a cat-and-mouse themed module that centers around retrieving a magic item and sewer/tunnel-crawling as well as rescuing a captured priest of Bast...which coincidentally means that it would also fit pretty much perfectly within the Southlands-context, but that as an aside.

A fully-depicted black market basement would be up next (it doubles as basically a mini-module, if you choose to run it as such), before the level 8 Gnoll Fortress follows up on the gnoll raiding party featured in "The Stoneheart Valley" and gives them their proper due: And do NOT believe that these threats will be easy to eliminate: A lot of individuals sport class levels and with ettins etc. included in the mix, dealing with this constant threat to the region is most assuredly a task that will not come easy to the PCs.

"The Hidden Huscarl", for characters level 8 - 10, would be an amazing bridge from the city of Bard's Gate to the frigid regions of the Northlands Saga. The module focuses on finding a missing Northlander captain, who has crossed a powerful crime lord of the city...promptly dropping the man in his personal oubliette, a dungeon wherein not only ossuary golems, but also a vampire torturer need to be bested to win the freedom of the missing captain. (Which, coincidentally, also puts them on decent terms with a powerful jarl...)

"Slip-Gallows Abbey", intended for 10th+ level characters, deals with the exploration of the eponymous place: The result, among other things of the hubris of mortals believing they'd be capable of screwing over the dread entities of the city of brass, it is a highly-lethal dungeon-crawl through the cursed and shadow themed place.

Now the maps of this book deserve special mention: Full-color and gorgeous, they come with regular and key-less, player-friendly iterations of both the massive city, its environments, AND the locales featured in the city's write-up and the modules, providing maximum usefulness to the city and its environments.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are truly impressive for a book of this size - there is neither an accumulation of typos or the like, not an excess of rules/formatting hiccups to be found here. The book is precisely crafted. Layout adheres to a neat 2column full-color standard that manages to cram a metric ton of text upon each page: This book, in a less efficient layout, could have doubled in size. So yeah, there is A LOT in this book. The artworks provided for the tome are gorgeous and full-color...and yes, they are original pieces. While a few are used more than once herein, I am certainly not going to complain in the aesthetics department, particularly considering the HUGE amount of absolutely stunning full-color maps. Speaking of which: While I couldn't afford backing this massive beast of a book, I do believe that the colossal map of the city in print out to be something to look forward to. I wouldn't comment on the print copy since I do not have it in the case of any other publisher. However, Frog God Games have, at this point established that their massive hardcovers stand the test of time by virtue of their quality. So yeah...if in doubt, I'd try to go for that version.

Casey Christofferson, Matthew J. Finch, Skeeter Green and Greg A. Vaughan, with additional material by James M. Spahn, deliver something that exceeded my expectations by a long haul. Let me elaborate:

3.X was, among many unpleasant things, also the golden age of amazing city source-books: With particularly the scarred lands delivering some of my favorite places ever and with the Iron Kingdoms Great City, Ptolus and Freeport adding to the fray, I still count quite a few of the cities from that age among my favorites. Paizo has equally done an amazing job of crafting evocative, unique settlements since. However...as much as I love Necromancer Games, the original 3.X Bard's Gate will never be a book I fondly remember. It should have been a milestone and featured the worst editing of the NG-era, felt disparate and confused and lacked a cohesive, unique identity. It is a book I buried deep within the confines of my collection and never looked fondly upon.

This obviously meant that I could have been more excited to t review this book. To be quite honest, it is only my faith in Frog God Games that made me give this a go in the first place. After showing with the excellent Borderland Provinces books that the cadre of authors and designers can craft superb sourcebooks, I felt a glimmer of hope for this supposed lynchpin of the Lost Lands, hoped that it would finally bring justice to this massive city. The sheer scope of this book is frankly daunting; the fact that it actually manages to be that lynchpin, however, is what makes it amazing: This is the central puzzle piece around which the other aspects, all the extensive canon, is situated around...and it FEELS like it: From the humble small modules to the classics, from the old to the new, Bard's Gate manages, with almost encyclopedic aplomb, to connect a vast network of narrative threads and weave them into a cohesive whole that doubles as a compelling, meticulously planned city.

More importantly, it is now actually a place the PCs will want to protect: There is everything to be found and gained within bard's gate, everything to be lost as well. It can be a glorious place and a hell-hole at the same time and ultimately feels like an organic, breathing entity of a city you could wander through, managing to bring an attention to detail and a diversity of scopes from the mundane to the epic to the table that makes it a milestone of a city. Bard's Gate isn't a weird city, though it features such themes; it is not a grim city, though it can be. It is both decidedly fantastic and down to earth at the same time and manages to convey a sense of historicity you won't find in most fantastic metropolises. In short: This book's existence makes the previous iteration of the book as obsolete as humanly possible and doubles as one of the most compelling city sourcebooks I have read for PFRPG. The only other city sourcebook which has, by virtue of page-count, even the remotest chance of standing up to this juggernaut would be Freeport and I don't have that book since its first PFRPG-foray back in the day disappointed me.

In short: Bard's Gate stands very much as a class of its own, with in particular the acknowledgment of social classes being one of my favorite aspects within. Add to that the great prose, the winking love letters to the community and the creative, challenging modules and we have a book that oozes passion and heart's blood from every page. It should come as no surprise, then, that I consider this to be one fantastic tome, well worth of 5 stars + seal of approval as well as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2016.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Lost Lands: Bard's Gate for Pathfinder
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The Northlands Series 1: Winter's Teeth Pathfinder Edition
Publisher: Frog God Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/01/2017 04:25:15

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The series "The Long Night of Winter" was conceived as supplemental material/optional tie-ins for the massive Northlands Saga, but each of the modules can be run as a stand-alone module as well. I backed the kickstarter for Northlands Saga back in the day, but otherwise was not involved in this project.

This module is intended for levels 6- 8 and is set in the eponymous Northlands of Frog God Games' Lost Lands campaign setting. It does translate well to other fantasy campaign settings, though. Minus editorial etc., we are left with 13 pages here, just fyi.

This being an adventure-module, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

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..

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All right, still here? Great! So, the PCs, on an epic binge, have inadvertently accepted the hospitality of Jarl Anbjorn Olefson, who has invited them to stay a couple of nights - thus the PCs have sailed towards the isolated homestead of the jarl into the bay that holds his meager holdings. It should be noted that the read-aloud text provided in this module manages to perfectly encapsulate the atmosphere of the North - as does the text. It's small things, really, but an easily decipherable kenning here and there really helps drive home the flavor.

Now, if you expected an intrigue/standard module, then you'd be wrong - in fact, this module would perfectly work in our very own world when used e.g. with LotFP or similar old-school rules. Why? Because, in a nut-shell, this module is viking survival horror.

...see, if I had read that in a review, I would have clicked "buy" so fast, my keyboard would be smoldering. Want to know more? All right, all right...So, remember in my review of the Player's Guide, where I commented on the fact that the guide explained the realities of life pretty well? The settlement of the jarl once exemplified this reality - very rural, secluded, with a couple of farms...and now all is ruins. Trails of gruesome carnage can be found as the PCs investigate the jarl's holdings and surrounding area: Signs of cowardice can be unearthed and the gruesome massacre and hints about the nature of the doom that befell his lands are slowly, but surely unearthed as the PCs gather the survivors, all of which come with detailed information and background regarding the attacks.

You see, the jarl's bearsarker has succumbed to the dread curse of the slåtten, consumed by the power that granted him his strength - now, an inhuman monstrosity bent on total destruction of the survivors, only a precious few have managed to survive - but e.g. a small girl may once, so wyrd wills it, become a fearsome champion...provided the PCs can defeat the monstrosity. In order to do so, they'll be hard-pressed: Even an optimized group will, provided the 15-pt-buy suggestion of northlands is heeded, will need the added strength and help the NPC-survivors can provide. Furthermore, careful observation may clue the PCs in on crucial weaknesses of the monster they can exploit to even the playing field - from a specific moss to a certain...respect towards specific beings, these angles can provided the crucial help they'll need...for the monster clocks in at a mighty CR 12! (And yes, this may well entail making friends with yetis that have suffered at teh hands of the monster!)

(And no, I am not spoiling what those are - suffice to say, this module runs pretty much like how I tend to write such scenarios - it rewards brains over brawns and is lethal.)

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a nice two-column b/w-standard and the softcover I have has the glossy cover and high production values I expect from Frog God Games. The interior b/w-artwork is phenomenal, original and deserves the highest praise. Really cool: We not only get b/w-maps, we actually also get player-friendly versions!! Big plus there!

I know, I know. I tend to gravitate towards complex modules with a lot of plots, stuff to do, detail, etc. I tend to like material that is on the high-complexity side of things. Kenneth Spencer's "Winter's Teeth" is pretty much the opposite - it is really, really simple. And it is GORGEOUS. The atmosphere the prose evokes is incredible; the execution of the per se simple plot is precise, to the point and amazing. Heck, you could run this in LotFP, dark ages CoC or similar environments and it'd still work. This is very much an "atomic" scenario in that it highlights that you don't need something structurally fancy all the time - all you need is a sharp pen, a gift for story-telling and there you go. In spite of my own preferences, I found myself completely engrossed in this module; in spite of it mirroring pretty much my own adventure-crafting style on a base level, I found myself incapable of putting it away. Its writing is simply that good.

Oh, and it plays better than it reads, at least if your PCs are smart. If not...well, then start prepping those obituaries... In short: Winter's Teeth is a superb example of what you can do with a small module. It is inspired, evocative and well worth a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Northlands Series 1: Winter's Teeth Pathfinder Edition
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Deadly Gardens: Hungry Pit
Publisher: Rusted Iron Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/01/2017 04:23:02

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Deadly Gardens-series clocks in at 5 pages, 1 page front cover, 1/2 page SRD, leaving us with 3.5 pages of content, so let's take a look!

As always, we begin with two new magic items, the first would be the garland of sweet scents decreases nauseated as a condition to sickened by virtue of sweet bulbs erupting, taking the brunt of the smell/effect. As a move action, the garland's user can cause all bulbs to bloom, which ends the usual protection, but for 1 minute negates sickened and nauseated penalties of the wearer and all creatures within 10 ft. Cool! Pungent Onions are sickening and smelly - when consumed, the user emits an even worse, horrid smell for some time. Nice!

The pdf also contains also 7 new natural items: Adherer tendrils can make the manufacture of sovereign glue easier. The great cyclops eye can increase the CL, act as a focus or as a means to lower the cost of making a crystal ball. (It also has a cosmetic typo: "a lso") Giant slug tongue can make a more nasty masterwork longspear with a crit-range of 19-20/x3. Hieracosphinx dewclaws can be used as variant daggers and hippogriff feathers can be fashioned into a talisman that enhances Fly. Hungry pit nectar doubles as a sticky acid and the stats for the hungry pit's toxin are also provided - it renders unconscious, btw.

Speaking of which - what exactly does the creature do? At CR 6, the hungry pit does not move- it is an ambush predator that looks like a plant with leafy fronds that is well-camouflaged. It uses feeder tentacles to grab those nearby and draw them into its insides. It also has a nasty stinger that can render those hit unconscious...oh, and inside it has acid. OUCH. Cool ambush-predator, illustrated rather well by Jeremy Corff.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to the two-column full-color standard and is still rather printer-friendly. The pdf comes fully bookmarked in spite of its brevity. The b/w-artwork of the creature is pretty cool as well.

Russ Brown, Kim Frandsen and Joe Kondrak provide one of the better installments of the series. Granted, the ambush predator angle is not necessarily new, but the execution here is pretty cool and well done. Oh, and the pdf is more than inexpensive - less than a buck is truly fair. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars - well worth getting!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Deadly Gardens: Hungry Pit
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Mini-Dungeon #056: The Siren's Lament
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/01/2017 04:21:10

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM.

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.

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..

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Still here?

All right!

Sirens rarely find true love and when they do, it rarely ends well; such was the case here. The lover of the siren was a wealthy captain, drowned by the wrath of the Sea King, the siren's father...which broke the siren's heart and drove her to suicide - this complex with its winding passages would be his monument to his rage and remorse. Within this complex remain the remnants of the once proud ship of the captain, guarded by haunts, animated galleon figures. From ghostly tunes to the storms unleashed and a memory child, the PCs can actually find out about this tragedy in both direct and indirect storytelling...but upon witnessing the finale, the complex will flood...with a great white shark...so good luck to the players.

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. This time around, we get not jpgs or player-friendly versions, which is a down-side.

Colin Stricklin delivers big time in this amazing mini-dungeon; the checks make sense, the story is surprisingly strong. The flavor of this dungeon is fantastic and somber, true fantasy and resonates with strong leitmotifs. In short: An amazing mini-dungeon well worth 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mini-Dungeon #056: The Siren's Lament
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Mini-Dungeon #055: Chrome Devils of the Swamp
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/01/2017 04:18:40

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM.

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!

A fiery comet has fallen into the nearby swamp and rumors abound regarding the strange devils that have ventured forth from its insides. Indeed, within the swamp, the dungeon is composed of a strange alloy, sports an eerie glow...yep, this very much would be a crashed space-ship, with several kind of robots serving as the opposition to be faced by the PCs. Here is something cool: Doors improperly forced open, droids destroyed - all matter, for the analyst AI that is the BB"E"G can result in enemies coming close. The set-up is amazing, though the "Alert check" that the pdf mentions looks like something is missing there...DCs? At least the AIs I know of don't have that feature/as part of rules-language. Similarly, I'm not sure why a grid of potentially deadly light is based on Dex-checks, instead of Ref-saves...worse, one deals plasma damage (which is nonstandard - usually, that means half fire/electricity, but that should be specified in the pdf)...and it's a Fort-save to halve, which makes no sense to me, but all right.

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 solid, but not up to the best in the series. This time around, we get not jpgs or player-friendly versions, which is a down-side.

Stefanos "The Netlich" Patelis's science-fantasy crawl has all the makings of 5 star + seal of approval: A great backdrop, a cool, consistent leitmotif, some evocative terrain features, etc. - at the same time, a couple of choices are weird - when something should obviously feature a tech-use, UMD or Escape Artist, when saves feel strange...then we unfortunately have a mini-dungeon that is a mixed bag from a reviewer's perspective. Don't get me wrong - a moderately experienced GM can run this as something truly amazing, but I can't rate that. As written, I can't go higher than 3.5 stars for this one, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Mini-Dungeon #055: Chrome Devils of the Swamp
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Dark Obelisk 1: Berinncorte: Adventure Book (Pathfinder)
Publisher: Infinium Game Studios
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/28/2017 07:53:07

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive first installment of the ambitious Dark Obelisk AP clocks in at a thoroughly impressive 497 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 5 pages of ToC, 4 pages blank, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 483 pages of content, so let's take a look!

This was move up in my review-queue as a prioritized review and I received a print copy, further moving this up in my review queue.

Now, at this point, I have already talked about several of the unique properties of this AP - reward stars, quadded statblocks and attitude trackers. I explained those in the reviews of the books where they are most relevant. As a brief refresher regarding the helpful layout:

The book explains its unique presentation: Taking a cue from AAW Games' playbook and similarly well-presented adventures, we get handy, color-coded boxes: Obstacles are e.g. in an orange/yellowish box; loot can be found in blue boxes and icons clearly denote the respective components for what they are. When a random roll is required from the GM, a handy dice-symbol denotes the action as such.

As you can glean from my review of the Dramatis Personae and Bestiary book, the quadded statblocks are not in the adventure book, nor are the highly detailed fluff notes for the vast amount of NPCs in this book. These can be found in the Dramatis Personae-book. That being said, this adventure does contain statblocks - though they a) are rudimentary and b) violate PFRPG-formatting conventions left and right. Honestly, that's one of the most serious complaints I have regarding this mega-adventure/first part of the Dark Obelisk AP. I cringe whenever I see one of these nonstandard statblocks. And yes, alas, these have hiccups, so no change from the crunchier books for Dark Obelisk.

It should also be noted that the superbly-written prose for the NPCs and complex attitude-tracker-system from the Dramatis Personae-book SIGNIFICANTLY enhances the experience of running this book. I strongly urge any GM waning to run this to use them in conjunction with one another.

However, there is another innovation in this book, an interesting peculiarity I have not yet discussed in the other Dark Obelisk reviews, mainly because it did not come up: The concept of attitude trackers, which I explained in the Dramatis Personae book, is applied globally in a unique twist on the sandbox trope. You see, a lavishly-detailed sandbox like this all too often gets bogged down in the details - something particularly likely to happen in a book that has the lofty ambitions of this tome, namely to create a wholly immersive and dynamic environment. Hence, the module introduces a so-called catalyst tracker. The first thing a GM should do, hence, is to decide what the catalyst for Act 2 would be - 4 sample ideas are given, but any halfway decent GM can generate variants thereof.

Once that primary catalyst is determined, we have three values we can potentially track; Law and Chaos (mirroring the theme of the religious conflict between the lawful church of Zugul mainly worshiped by the upper class and the fatalistic, more chaotic church of Sheergath worshiped by the less fortunate majority) and Love - the latter determining more the heartbreak and sheer emotional charge, positive or negative, generated by the acts of the adventurers. Starting values are included, but there are definitely enough catalyst impacts in the literally hundreds of quests herein to start them off with 0, if you prefer slower-paced games. Once the catalyst has met the respective value, sh** gets real. This, in conjunction with the various FlexTables for random encounters, lavish detail for NPCs (when used in conjunction with the Dramatis Personae book) and sheer amount of detail for every single locale mean that no two experiences of this adventure will be alike. Additionally, some quests are particularly suited to act as a story-trigger, as yet another alternative. Oh, and the module does come with railroady tracks, if such a wide-open sandbox seems to daunting for you.

If the sheer amount of NPCs and locales and quests seem daunting to track, note that codes (like BC-1) for places and sub-locations make finding the proper places easy. Quests denote the exact page in the case they require information found elsewhere.

But to go into the details of how the adventure plays out, I need to go into the SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

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..

.

All right, only GMs around here? Great! So, I could sum up the plot of this module in one sentence. No, I am not kidding you. If I did that, though, I'd be doing this module a disservice.

You see, the first Act of this massive adventure would consist of the PCs familiarizing themselves with the town of Berinncorte. This is a massive sandbox, where the PCs can meet the tough Lady that acts as a major and may be a bit overzealous regarding law; they can butt heads (and blades, if they choose to) with a local tough guy; they can get to know the local churches and their doctrines. They can find mundane books in the library, which actually enhance skills. They can investigate missing folks and just generally have a nice time. The whole of act one, in short, consists of small, personal quests, local color and tiny favors. These quests are not necessarily world-shattering; they are almost painfully mundane and idyllic. This is done intentionally. You see, for one, as mentioned before, these all represent ways to increase the catalyst tracker. Even if your players don't know it yet, even via these mundane quests, they're advancing the plot. The quests also generate a sense of the mundane, the almost-realistic, basically the fantasy equivalent of a small town-villanelle.

That being said, there are aspects of the fantastic to be found here, even within this relative calm that precedes the storm that inexorably will tear at the town: Go down the right cellar for a less than legit meeting and you may find yourself looking at the river, held in check by a semi-permeable membrane that allows folks to potentially fish by simple stretching out their hands! Similarly, a dastardly villain/serial killer is slowly feeling the need to escalate his cycle, so catching that person may make for a rewarding quest for PCs and players looking for a more heroic task. Still, I'd actually encourage the GM and players to engage with the "normal" folks and their tasks - the more of these folks and their daily struggles you can introduce and endear to the PCs, the more effective the second part of the module will be. This is also why I'd strongly suggest getting the Dramatis Personae companion book - the more detailed the NPCs are, the easier it'll be to endear the town to the players and the excessive amount of detail provided makes the settlement come to life much more organically.

At one point, whether by catching that serial killer, finding out about the forbidden love of a cleric or by a vast array of other scenarios, powered by the catalyst tracker, the second act will begin. One more thing: Just ignoring quests won't help either - NOT taking a quest is also a decision...and similarly, influences the tracker! Anyways, act 2 begins...literally, with a bang.

You see, this module, in essence, is a catastrophe movie or event book disguised as a massive sandbox. Once your individualized tracker has hit the threshold (or once your PCs have tired of the place), the market place will erupt and the disturbing, purplish-black, light-corrupting eponymous Dark Obelisk will break forth in an epic explosion, killing most folk in the market square and plunging the town into chaos - literally, for, from the invincible monolith and the bottomless chasm that has spawned it, a horde of undead, demons and worse creep forth. Acidic pools of goo litter the streets and the encounters suddenly become a fight for survival.

Here, the FlexTale random encounter-mechanic becomes important - if you're escorting maddened folks spouting eschatological ramblings to safety, you'll face more powerful foes more often. And yes, folks will die - including the powerful mayor, who'll give her sword with her dying breath to the PCs. Not everyone can be saved...but many folks can. The more the PCs like a given person, the more likely it is that they survive, if the GM chooses to employ fate rather than his own decisions to make that choice.

Basically, where act one was the "everything's all right"-version of the town, act 3 would be he hell on earth iteration: Walls are crumbled, temples invaded; the dead litter the street; grieving women search for their lovers. Sanctuaries need to be defended against lethal waves of enemies with the help of the militia...only to notice that, ultimately, the price in lives is too high. Indeed, the GM is encourages to use "villainous" and "unstoppable" monsters to make abundantly clear that the PCs won't defeat this monolith right now - no one knows anything about the invulnerable monument to chaos and death and even these "bosses" may well be beyond the PC's capabilities to deal with, requiring flight and the smart use of the completely mapped city to avoid.

In fact, in the hands of the correct GM, this can be a very Dark Souls-like experience in tone and the way the PCs have to slowly and deliberately choose their actions. Pretty much every character also has a quest (or multiple ones) in this chaos - escort-missions, securing items left behind, rescue missions, searches - there is a ton of stuff to be done here as well. Where before, these small quests were integrated in favor of establishing a homebase, a sympathetic town, the third act's quests are more combat-centric and more like walking through a warzone or a Walking Dead outbreak chaos scenario: You see small destinies all over the place and narrative threads from act 1 are continued and developed. When handled properly, this will make act 3 feel frantic, somber, frightening and apocalyptic, but all of that hinges on how well act 1 went. Again, this is why I consider the detailed NPC-prose from the dramatis personae book to be this incredibly important. If the players don't care enough, then the impact of this act is lost, so make use of those attitudes, those excessive fluff-notes.

Whether just a day or a whole week, sooner or later, the PCs will have to concede that talking down the elite gate guards and escaping the town, for now, is the only chance they and the besieged survivors have...and once that has been accomplished, once the town has been cleared/abandoned, the module ends....leaving me honestly wondering how that whole sequence will proceed.

While the VTT-jpgs etc. are included in the premium atlas and the GM-maps where they're needed in the module, the book does come with all the player-friendly, well-made and properly redacted maps in the appendices, so if you want the player maps, you don't need to get the atlas. Speaking of indices: Factions, quests, catalyst impacts, items, dead NPCs and maps all are covered in their own indices, which makes navigating this module significantly easier than you'd expect from such a tome. The three-letter codes etc. also help: Search the code, there you are. Big kudos!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are impressive for a freshman offering AND a one-man-outfit. While I noticed a few instances of a sentence missing, that never pertained rules-relevant material and instead was in a designer's commentary, etc. The one component where this module makes me cringe is with the rudimentary statblocks and their nonstandard formatting. They are enough to run the module, yes, but why not include the properly formatted ones?? Quite a few GMs won't care there, but similarly, that may be really glaring for others. Layout adheres to a nice, two-column full-color standard with a parchment-like background. The pdf comes with a second, backgroundless version. While originally, the electronic versions were missing their bookmarks, a properly bookmarked version has been uploaded to my knowledge. The full-color hardcover I have is a massive tome of a book - in conjunction with the dramatis personae book, they exceed Slumbering Tsar in page count. The inclusion of player-friendly maps herein is a big plus, as far as I'm concerned. Big, big kudos - particularly for redacting secret tunnels etc. on the maps.

J. Evans Payne's "Dark Obelisk I: Berinncorte" is AMBITIOUS. Some may say "insane", but what's more important to me, at least, is that it tries to do something NEW. I have literally never played a module like this. The staggering detail of the coverage of the sandbox that is the town of Berinncorte is impressive. The fact that it does not read like a gigantic snorefest, in spite of act one's pretty mundane and harmonic atmosphere, should be considered to be a testament to the quality of the author's prose, particularly in conjunction with the companion book's NPC-write-ups. Now, I can't speak about how this would fare sans its companion tome - I can only speculate, and frankly, I think it's possible, but harder for the GM to make the players care about the locals without this amount of detailed prose on ALL of them.

This stands and falls with PCs and players caring. A good GM can make this an incredibly memorable module, but, in spite of the details, NPCs, maps, etc. stacking the deck in the GM's favor, this requires a bit of skill to pull off. Roleplaying heavy groups will gravitate to the personal tales of the NPCs; combat-focused ones to the carnage in act 3...and most, probably, will gravitate to both. The impressive achievement here would lie in the massive flexibility of the plot and the attention to detail. In this module, the "small quests"-angle worked perfectly, and I am interested in seeing how this will progress beyond the confines of this installment of the AP: After all, there needs to be a plot and the trackers most certainly can be used in more ways to render future modules just as dynamic. How that'll work with a more pronounced plot will be intriguing to see.

Now, I know, that all sounds a bit strange. here's the thing: Due to the book being so entwined with its companion and due to the sheer scope, it's hard to properly describe the book. In fact, this adventure is one of those that plays much better than it reads. There's a reason I try to play as much as I can. All that preparation, all that consideration in advance? All those quests? here is the biggest plus of this book: You can basically run it with next to no prep time.

"Okay, endy has gone off the deep end." No, I actually haven't. The searchable codes help. And the level of detail. Throw PCs in, they go to location xyz - you have read-aloud text. You have NPCs. You have quests. Instantaneously. Everywhere. This can be a pretty big thing for some of us. I mentioned in my reviews of this series how obsessively detailed my campaign is, right? I noted how other GMs I know also like that approach, right? Heck, perhaps you had such a campaign, perhaps while in college or university. You know, a campaign with ridiculous details, hundreds of quests? And then, at one point, you didn't have the time or drive or creativity to provide this level of information. We've all been there. I've been using a metric ton of modules, since I have a pretty darn good memory and only have to read a module once to run it, even years later. But, well, perhaps you went another road. Perhaps you went to APs and similar new-school modules. And they do a great job telling their story. I love them and collect them religiously. But players used to sandboxing don't take kindly to railroads and at one point, you'll be craving this wide-openness, this level of detail. You can go rules-lite for quicker details and material generation, but the crunchy guys and gals will miss the combat options. That's where this book comes in, at least for me.

I'm not a nostalgic man and the sentiment is alien to me; however, I do believe that this book scratches exactly that itch. That craving for a world that feels fully realized, that feels like a concise, deliberate vision. The GM's task, to a certain degree, is to generate the illusion of a believable world beyond the perception of the players, a world with all the details, that has "always been there" - pay no heed to the man behind the curtain...äh...screen. When PCs go off the rails, that illusion suffers and, in such hyper-detailed environments, chances are that this did not happen.

Because you had it all planed out. This book and its dramatis personae companion tome, used in conjunction, simulate that level of preparation - successfully, I might add.

That is a big unique selling proposition as far as modules go. Now, the module is not perfect. As mentioned before in the atlas-review, I consider the overview map to be not up to the quality of the other maps herein. The non-standard statblocks are slightly annoying and, as mentioned in the review of the dramatis personae book, there are some aspects of the formulae used in the creation of these books that need refinement. However, in this review, I'm judging the adventure, not the rest. I do feel the need to explicitly state that, sans the dramatis personae companion book, flawed though that may be, this book loses some of its appeal. I strongly suggest using them in conjunction.

I can see this working exceedingly well, perfectly in fact, for some groups, and I can see this being a dud for others. If you want an elaborate, highly complex metaplot, then this may be not for you. If atmosphere and immersion, if urban sandboxing and an epic payoff is what you're looking for, however, then this delivers. In the end, my final verdict for this adventure, taking all into account, will be 4 stars. With the caveat, however, that you need to be able to see past the copious flaws in statblocks etc. - if that stuff irks you, then you may want to carefully consider this one... Part II of the saga will have a tough act to follow here, for the trick used herein only works once. If you're looking for something completely different regarding design-philosophy, this is definitely worth checking out.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dark Obelisk 1: Berinncorte: Adventure Book (Pathfinder)
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Dark Obelisk 1: Berinncorte: Dramatis Personae & Bestiary (Pathfinder)
Publisher: Infinium Game Studios
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/28/2017 07:51:50

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive TOME of a book clocks in at 487 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page mission statement, 2 pages of editorial, 2 pages of ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page blank, leaving us with 478 pages of material, so let's take a look!

Well, before we do, let us pause for a second and recap the unique aspects of Infinium Game Studios-releases that we've covered so far, all right? In my review of the Player's Guide and the pregens, I talked briefly about the alternate character progression system via reward stars. (It can be easily ignored in favor of XP, just fyi.) In the pregen-book, I noted the quadded statblocks. Basically, we get 4 iterations of every NPC and creature featured in these tomes, which, in conjunction with quadded challenge blocks generally means that you could run the adventure Berinncorte for higher level groups. I'd strongly advise against that, since not all challenges are quadded and due to the tone of the first half of the module - but more on that in my review of the Berinncorte adventure book.

It should also be noted that this was moved up in my review-queue as a prioritized review and further moved up due to me receiving a print copy of the book.

So, first of all, what is this? This is basically the crunchy expansion, not entirely required, but definitely recommended, for the Berinncorte adventure. Which has redefined "overdelivering" on a KS. 128 pages promised. The end-result is a 1K+ page moloch. If you put adventure and this book back to back, they're bigger than frickin' Slumbering Tsar. So yes, there is a LOT of material in this book.

Now this book introduces another innovation for the game, namely FlexTale. FlexTale, alongside catalysts and attitude trackers, represents the means by which this tome tries to simulate a dynamic, vibrant environment and, as far as I'm concerned, these aspects on the GM side of things are resounding successes. Let me digress a bit.

I'm a pretty obsessive GM regarding world building, consistency and lore. My own campaigns have their own private BOARD, where I post updates during downtime, NPC-vignettes ("Meanwhile in...") for allies and cohorts, summaries and meticulously track creatures and NPCs encountered in a massive compendium. My farmers tend to have names, even if I made them up on the fly or took them from a dressing book - and thereafter, the farmer will always be known by that name. He'll have relatives, etc. I know a couple of GMs who take that approach or at least took it at one point. The downside here is that you have to track all those NPCs...and not even I am obsessive enough to stat all those non-combat relevant folks. This massive tome tries to do exactly that - give a name to pretty much everyone. Seamstress? Named. Butcher? Named. And all have their own agenda, daily lives and the like.

In this vast flood of information, it may seem daunting, borderline impossible to keep track of all those NPCs. The aforementioned aspects, though, help immensely with this and are one of the reasons I consider this companion tome to be pretty non-optional. Let's take a step back and return to the FlexTable - these tables have multiple columns - sometimes, these columns are based on the attitude to PCs, sometimes on outside circumstances. When escorting an obnoxious, loud drunk through hostile territory, you'll e.g. roll on the nastier columns for random encounters than when you're being relatively covert. Makes sense, right? Similarly, NPCs with a good relationship to the PCs are less likely to die off-screen, as the PCs and players have invested in them. This, as a whole, creates a dynamic and slightly random element that sounds capricious at first glance, but actually keeps the playing experience rather interesting for the GM as well.

In case you haven't deduced that by now: Berinncorte is a massive urban sandbox, so expect no railroading here. In fact, in that way, it's closest to how I run my main campaign: I have a metric ton of adventures and my players always have the choice to play or ignore a given module, go elsewhere, etc. Similarly, none of the quests in this book have to be completed per se.

Now, the true reason I consider this book to be utterly non-optional when running Berinncorte would be the attitude trackers. Think of these as a band of numbers, ranging from 1 - 29. Each NPC herein has his or her own attitude tracker. A value of 1 - 6 denotes a starting attitude of "hostile", 7 - 12 "unfriendly" etc. - in short: This allows for a surprisingly easy and nuanced depiction of NPC attitudes towards the PCs and provides a more nuanced and rewarding way to reward roleplaying interaction: Engaging in conversation with a grieving person and lifting heir spirits could result in +4 on the attitude tracker; some folks have prejudices and as such, they may react less (or more!) favorable towards certain races or groups that contain certain professions. The system is elegant, easy to grasp and the one I ended up using all the time. I'm a big, big fan of this one.

Now, this tome has two basic chapters, denoted by the color-coded fore-edge: One for the NPCs and one for the creatures. Once again, we have characters using PFU's Artistry skill in their builds.

All right, let's get the unpleasantness out of the way first.: Much like in the pregens, we have errors in the statblocks - spellcasting DCs, for one. There are hiccups here. Then again, these are NPCs and as such, these are slightly less jarring than in statblocks for PCs. PC and NPC classes are used in the builds.

On the big plus-side, the builds use weapon and armor qualities in the higher level iterations and generally are...better made than the statblocks in the Pregen-book. We even get multi-class characters this time around. While there are a few typos and the like "bullrish", for example), they show that more care went into them. I may be mistaken, but I have pretty sensitive antennae when it comes to the like and the builds look and feel more like there was personal attention devoted to them to make sure they make at least some sense.

Now, that would, as a whole, still leave the massive NPC-section as a mixed bag, but this is also where the attitude tracker aspect once again comes in: You see, each NPC comes with a MASSIVE (and I mean ~1 page per NPC-massive!) summary of how you can improve attitudes via actions, conversations, etc. Arrested PCs, failed bribes, racial familiarity, certain confrontational aspects, purchases made at vendors - all of that can influence the attitude. (And yes, if that's too much tracking for your liking, you can always ignore some - though simple marking the current attitude on the respective tracker with a pencil worked well for me.) The big plus here is that this, much like conversations in video games etc., simulates an organic growth of relationships in a rather impressive and organic manner.

"But endy", you're saying, "I don't care about that!" Well, there is another aspect to these NPCs that is a reason I consider this book to be highly recommended for Berinncorte. And that would be the fluff. Each NPC herein comes with a rather long section describing them and their personality; after that, a similarly long one depicting the appearance of the character in question. Combat tactics are also covered and finally, faction-allegiance, if any, is elaborated upon. However, this is not where the obsessive attention to detail stops - in fact, we've just started. Beyond these, lists of known spells for spellcasters and the like, we get notes on logistics - when and where the character can usually be found. Further background notes are also part of the deal.

Now, at one point, a calamity will befall Berinncorte - each NPC gets information on how that calamity is experienced, how it affects the character, etc. Oh, and beyond even that, we get read-aloud text for conversations with the respective NPC on likely topics like the strife between two churches, the rule, the profession...etc. These also include skill check notes to determine lies, further information or to engage, for example, in an informed discussion. The amount of detail provided for each NPC allows the GM to easily, on the fly even, bring the respective characters to life, further emphasizing the intention of creating a plausible and dynamic environment for the PCs to explore.

While the basics of these NPCs are included in the adventure book, these detailed notes and attitude modifications add significant value to the experience of running/playing Berinncorte. Beyond a vast array of named NPCs, unnamed ones gain the same treatment - clerical staff, militia, common thieves, hired goons...etc. The militia receives its own attitude tracker, as does clergy staff and the mayor's guards or common townsfolk, though other unnamed ones don't get that. While the named NPCs get a handy indexing table, the unnamed PCs and bestiary seems to be missing its index - where it should be, there's only [...] on an otherwise mostly blank page.

The bestiary section once again features the quadded statblocks, but alas, the statblocks suffer from the same issues the others suffered from - we oddly get a line for "class" of a critter, reading e.g. "Undead 10" - which is NOT how creatures are formatted. There is no "undead" class. We have typos (sometimes hilarious ones - like "Neuter" instead of "neutral") and, once again, while the base statblocks tend to generally be more functional, in the upgrades to higher levels, we have serious, serious glitches - like AC not checking out and the like. The particularly powerful boss monsters get their own sub-chapter, once again missing the index. On the plus-side, the monsters herein often diverge from their standard PFRPG iterations - the lowest CR babau herein, for example, has better initiative, different feats, etc. - so no, this book did not take the easy way out there.

We end this book with a final section that covers animals...and, oddly, base skeletons, which should probably be in the regular bestiary section.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are at the same time impressively good...and seriously flawed. On a formal level, it is impressive to note how precise this book was crafted; there are significantly fewer formal glitches in this tome than I expected. This does not change, however, that the missing sub-indices and glitches hamper the overall usefulness of the book. It's an impressive feat for a one-man outfit, sure - but I wished this had a dedicated second set of eyes for the stats. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard for text, with a parchment-like background. Quadded statblocks and attitude trackers are all color-coded, making their use rather intuitive. The pdf comes with a second, backgroundless and thus, more printer-friendly version. The book sports a couple of nice, well-made b/w-artworks for some of the key-NPCs. The hardcover is massive and icons + text on the spine make it easily stand out on the shelf. I'd strongly suggest getting the hardcover over the electronic version. Why? Because the pdf has no bookmarks, which is a SERIOUS comfort detriment when using such a tome. Additionally, the option to scribble on the attitude trackers is surprisingly helpful, so the physical version is definitely the way to go.

J. Evans Payne's Berinncorte is extremely ambitious. This book and its companion are pretty much inseparable as far as I'm concerned and what we have here is an attempt to reach for the stars, something I wholeheartedly applaud. We have enough boring "kill gobbos, ogre boss at the end"-scenarios. We need books like this. The fact that this, apart from the artwork, is the work of one man, is stunning and truly impressive to me. In fact, all my complaints nonewithstanding, the book is significantly better than I expected it to be, some may say, than it has any right to be.

Reviewing this, alas, is HARD. You see, this book is the companion to the adventure and hard to analyze on its own. If you take away that connection, you're not doing the book justice. At the same time, even in conjunction with the adventure, it left me torn.

One side of me is gleefully taking stock of all those details, of the lovingly-crafted dressing, of the trackers and the like. At the same time, this book leaves a part of me disgruntled. Why? The justification of this book's existence lies in two factors: 1) The incredibly detailed attitude tracking system, read-aloud text etc. - the attention to detail for the respective NPCs. 2) The quadded statblocks, providing a wealth of crunch for GMs to pursue, far beyond what the adventure book could offer.

And herein lies the crux: You see, in the adventure book, we get only rudimentary stats. Heck, they don't even adhere to proper PFRPG-statblock formatting conventions. They make me cringe whenever I look at them. So, if we want the proper stats, we need to get this book. I'd usually say that the quadded statblocks provide a significantly increased value for the GM regarding the sheer material this offers, but, while better than the pregen-book, but therein lies the problem: If they'd be precise, creative and to the point, I'd praise this book to the high heavens. And there are some builds in this tome that certainly show some care. But, as a whole, I also noticed a lot of the higher level statblocks with issues. And we're not talking about "one skill too much", but about wrong AC and the like. Don't get me wrong, I don't expect super-duper stats with x templates - we have series for such NPCs out there. But I expect the base functionality to be there and that cannot be claimed for all of them, particularly for those beyond the levels in which you'd usually play the adventure.

This, thus, leaves the quadded statblock concept, amazing as it is (big fan - seriously!), requiring some serious refinement in future offerings. And it generates this disjoint. Because, you know, we want the base stats and the lavish detail for each NPC...but we also get 3 iterations of stats we won't be using - not even for reskinned characters and critters. This makes quadded statblocks, as presented here, as much a feature as a bug. Personally, I couldn't help but wish that attitude tracker and awesome, detailed fluff for the NPCs has been included in the adventure book, alongside the proper, low-level stats.

Thing is, I only found myself contemplating this due to the rough edges of the quadded statblock implementation. If this concept worked as intended, it would add a TREMENDOUS amount of value to this book and totally justify the adventure book's rudimentary stats. But...it kinda does not.

Which eliminates at least a significant part of one of the big arguments for this book. It doesn't help me much regarding a verdict, though. Why? As flawed as the execution may be, this book still features a ton of material and a lot of detail. I adore the attitude tracker system and the hand-crafted prose for the NPCs, their interactions and information VASTLY enhances the adventure. In fact, you could well pull that out of the context of the adventure entirely. Still, as a stand-alone book, I'd consider this a mixed bag. Whether you find value in this tome depends on two aspects: Do you want the obsessive, amazing detail for the NPCs, the simulationalist, highly nuanced tapestry of NPCs? Or are you in primarily for the crunch? If your group is focused primarily on combat, considers interaction with NPCs boring, then this may not be for you. If, however, you're looking to run Berinncorte and your players love talking with NPCs, getting immersed in the environments, if they enjoy lavish details and the feeling of having fallen into a world that is as detailed as can be, then the NPC fluff and read-aloud text, the attitude trackers and peculiarities of the folks will make this very much worthwhile.

In short, I can see people really loving this as well as people considering it a waste of time. I could find reasons to smash this down to 2 stars for its flaws, and I could argue in favor of its virtues and arrive at 4 stars and both would be viable; in fact, depending on the priorities I set for myself, on what I look for, I can understand both. If I were to rate this one its own, as separate from the adventure book, I'd probably arrive closer to the former; in conjunction with the adventure book, I'd arrive closer to the latter verdict.

There is a ton of neat content in this book and it is intended as the companion to the adventure book, though - which is how I will rate it. As a stand-alone, it does seriously lose some of its appeal, so beware in that regard.

In the end, I can't rate this as high as some of its aspects deserve, but neither can I bash it as thoroughly for its flaws as a part of me would like to. Because, in the end, in such tough cases, I revert to my own rule zero for reviewing: Did this provide fun and joy for me and my table? Yes, it did. In spite of the pronounced flaws, the wealth of roleplaying information within made this worthwhile for me.

It is also part of the author's freshman offering, so it does get a bit of a leeway there. Still, I can't go higher than 3.5 stars for this book, rounded up by the tiniest of margins - because it does significantly enhance its companion adventure and holds within its pages one of the most rewarding aspects of the Berinncorte adventure. It should be noted that this verdict ONLY is viable in conjunction with the adventure.

Those looking for immersion, roleplaying information for the adventure and the like should definitely round up, provided you can stomach the imperfections. If you want precise stats, a pure crunch book, however, look elsewhere - in that discipline, the book would barely make 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dark Obelisk 1: Berinncorte: Dramatis Personae & Bestiary (Pathfinder)
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