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Into the Breach: The Bard
Publisher: Flying Pincushion Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/05/2017 14:30:03

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the "Into the Breach"-series clocks in at 41 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 36 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?

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

We begin, as often, with a variety of new archetypes, the first of which would be the chronicler of blades, who gains a modified proficiency list that includes all the dueling weapons and at 1st level, they get Weapon Focus in their choice of short sword, longsword or rapier - which is a bit odd: Why include exotic weapons in the proficiency-array and then don't allow for their choice via this class ability? 2nd level yields Dazzling Display and every 4 levels thereafter yield a bonus feat, chosen from a generally well-selected array, and uses class level as BAB for the prerequisite purposes. At first level, he similarly uses class level instead of his BAB when making an attack or combat maneuver attempt with a sword for which the archetype has Weapon Focus while wearing light armor and no shield heavier than a buckler. You have guessed where this goes by now, right? Yep, this guy is basically a spell-less bard. Instead of well-versed, the archetype gets +4 (untyped) to learn or remember features of blades, which is pretty circumstantial. Instead of versatile performance, the archetype receives venerable gambit, which is usable 1/day, +1/day at 6th level and every 4 levels thereafter. A venerable gambit is a Knowledge (history, nobility or local) check - 1/2 the result is added as a competence bonus to atk or CMB when using a sword. The definition could be a bit clearer here and while the skill-check can be boosted very high, the daily limit keeps this in check - combined with the lack of spellcasting, I can see this work. All in all, a martial bard, most suitable for lower powered games (or even magic-less ones!).

The courtless marvel replaces inspire courage with summon nature's ally, increasing the spell that's duplicated iteration by +1 at 3rd level and every 2 levels thereafter - 5th level would allow for summon nature's ally III, for example. Speaking of which - at 5th level, several fey are added to the potentially called creatures, replacing lore master. And yes, the ability does have a caveat that prevents spamming it or stacking it via dismissing - no performance/summon-cycling and maintaining the creatures requires maintaining the performance. This is pretty interesting and even takes the item interaction into account. Instead of inspire greatness, 9th level provides the option to grant an ally the speed of a quickling, +1 ally affected for every 4 levels thereafter. Rules-wise, this increases all movements speeds and provides concealment.

No complaints. 12th level provides a stunning glance performance, including a caveat that prevents spamming it and a proper range and codification. At 15th level, inspire heroics is replaced with dance of fate: Choose an ally and a hostile creature within 60 ft of each other - if one is affected, so is the other. This is strategically interesting and pretty potent. Versatile performance is replaced with the fey theme, granting at 2nd and every 4 levels after that a spell known from the druid or ranger list. While the ranger-list is potent, it's the only thing I'd consider a bit wonky here. Well-versed is replaced by wild empathy at full level at 2nd level and 10th level provides a massive DC-improvement (1/4 class level, rounded down) to enchantment spells, but also makes the character more susceptible to the tricks of the fey. I really like this one. It has a strong theme, is pretty creative and while it is possible to poke small holes in some aspects of it, these won't usually come up in most games and are more something to be aware for the rules-savvy crowd. Still, really like this!

The fabulist employs Wisdom as the governing spellcasting attribute and gains an arcane bond with an animal as well as a domain from a limited list - and yes, they're cast as arcane spells, but loses countersong and well-versed. The "darker" performances are replaced with new ones - unfortunately, e.g. morsel of Wisdom is pretty nasty, allowing the fabulist to make an ally use his Wisdom modifier for all saves, ability checks and skill checks. while the performance is maintained...but the balance here would be that the performance cannot be started quickly and the fabulist can only grant one such bonus per performance, thus requiring cycling and a lot of action economy investment, rendering the power more moderate. Higher levels yield a performance-based planar ally and a capstone atonement, which is relatively fitting. Something that felt a bit weird: The archetype RAW gets a domain, but only specifies getting domain spells, which makes me think that the other crunchy bits are not gained...but I'm not sure there. The ability could be read either way.

The grotesque gets diminished spellcasting and replaces inspire courage with a powerful debuff. Dirge of doom can additionally be used as a variant that causes the sickened condition, rather than the shaken one, and similarly, 14th level yields a variant of frightening tune that can nauseate. The true unique selling point of the archetype, however, would be the disturbing acts - one is gained at 1st level and another one at 5th level and every 5 thereafter, excluding 20th, replacing bardic knowledge and well-versed. These take basically the classic Freakshow tropes and represent them as rules - and they are pretty potent: DR for being pierced by knives is solid, but the more intriguing ones would be the option to eat objects and regurgitate them, being able to initiate bardic performances as a free action after being hurt (and choosing to bleed profusely), the tricks are cool. Not all are perfect or equally potent or well-codified. The bite attack, I assume, would be primary as per default. Fire-spitting lacks a range and compared to it, the option to switch between multiple rings is much more potent. Similarly, the rules-language oscillates a bit, stumbling at basics, while getting, surprisingly, the option to be able to wear swarms and have them as unreliable quasi-pets pretty well done. I have a soft spot for the outcasts and this resonated very much with me - while not perfect, its blemishes can be easily fixed by a competent GM.

The jester is basically an Antagonize specialist who can use Perform (Dance) instead of Acrobatics for movement-related tricks and he also gets sneak attack and the evasions at higher levels instead of spellcasting. The option to use japes to render targets flat-footed on a failed save for multiple rounds needs some nerfing and an activation action, though. The lifeweaver, if the name was not ample indicator, would be the healing bard, who adds some condition-healing spells to his arsenal, while also gaining Lingering Performance (with a cap). The performances the archetype gains center on granting healing tricks to the performances -as well as the option to evenly divide damage among limited allies - which is very potent, but also cool. While the rules-language is very precise, it lies in the nature of this type of ability that it may present some issues to some groups...but at the same, it can make for a great "united we stand"-feeling among PCs and players, but also vastly enhances the value of DR and resistances. Pure amazing for some groups, broken for others...I'm divided on this one. Compared to that. the resistance-granting is less precise and fails to clarify the energies that qualify - does force count? Sonic? Channel energy at 1/2 class level can also be found. I like this archetype, but wish it was slightly more polished.

The matchmaker is really cool: He can choose and coach clients, use serenades to cause infatuation and use bardic performance to maintain matches between unlike beings. Very interesting and flavorful choice! The prop comic can only use Perform (comedy)-based masterpieces and gets diminished spellcasting...but at higher levels, he can designate targets as "lovely assistants", making them the butt of the joke (i.e. the one on the receiving end). At 2nd level and 5th, as well as every 3 levels thereafter, the archetype gets a schtick, which use Perform (Comedy) instead of CMB and have their saves governed by Cha ( 10 + 1/2 class level + Cha-mod), if applicable. Props need to be crafted, have a cost and a limited number of uses. They use bardic performance as a resource and are REALLY COOL. Use Battle Flatus, to force enemies to use immediate actions to move away from the fart-noise, interrupting combos. Use big-wig cigars to cloud yourself in smoke...or stick it in a foe's mouth and have it explode, using dirty tricks. These are creative, cool and really fun - and they include forcing pious characters to attack irreverent symbols. I love these. I seriously do. As an avid Joker-fan, I really want to see MORE of these. For me, this may well be the best archetype the Flying Pincushion crew has crafted so far. Complex, unique, cool. Seriously, one amazing archetype.

The rookery master gains a familiar (thrush or raven) which shares the performance round pool with the character - basically a pet-performance archetype. Simple, yet elegant. The Skirling Adept can use bardic performance to inflict low-range sonic damage via lethal whistles, gaining a familiar as well as the option to use totem spears more effectively and later shatter things or call lightning/wind wall - the archetype may not be as mechanically interesting, but its strong theme makes it a fun and flavorful option. The song bow is a sling specialist who can use slings as wind instruments, bows as fiddles. He can imbue sonic damage in his ammunition and may also fire ammo at empty squares and use it as origin of his performance. Big plus: The rules-language of the complex concept hits home. Sorry, I'll punch myself for that lame joke later...) At higher levels, allies share bonuses against targets hit by rallying shots and higher level options, we have sonic AoE-blasts - and yes, all of this is balanced and the archetype gets some custom spells added. Powerful, but damn cool option. The Squad Leader, finally, would be one of the more complex archetypes - he gets a tactician-like network of allies, the bound squad, and may use his urgent commands to allow for bonuses, teamwork feat sharing, grant additional AoOs - basically, this fellow represents a battle lord-ish commander. Potent and solid.

Now each of the Into the Breach-books has a PrC that aims to make a subpar class-combo worthwhile - this time around, the 5-level Holy Rhapsodist, with d8 HD, 4 + Int skills per level 3/4 BAB-progression and good Fort- and Ref-Progression as well as 5/5th spellcasting progression does just that for the paladin and bard classes. The class enhances sonic damage of weapons wielded and smite may be turned into sonic damage that is more potent against evil targets. The PrC counts as paladin levels and bard levels for the purpose of lay on hands/mercy and bardic performance-progressions. These guys may expend lay on hands while performing to AoE heal and later even apply mercies and add buffs to allies. The 4th level ability should refer to character level, not class level, though - it's clear from context, but still a bit confusing. Oh, and woe to those that are on the receiving end of the smite of these guys...allies also get a damage boost...Powerful and interesting hybrid fusion PrC.

The mime is an alternate bard class that must be humanoid or a native outsider. The mime gets d8 HD, 6 + Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB-progression, good Ref- and Will-saves. They do not get weapon proficiencies, but don't take penalties from using improvised weaponry. Their spellcasting is governed by Cha and something special...much like the whole class. Remember Final Fantasy 5 and 6? You see, the basic bardic performance of this class deals with just that: Copying the tricks of nearby allies. Attacks. Defense. Feints....a LOT of tricks can be used this way and the class manages to codify the tricks rather well. I do have a couple of questions here, though: The copycat performance is a standard action, but can be used on e.g. an ally full-attacking a foe - does this also grant a full attack to the mimic? If so, does it have to be executed against the same target as the copied action, if any? Apart from this ambiguity, the class feature is clear, which is pretty impressive. Beyond this copying of targets, the class gets a limited resource 3/day, +1/day at 3rd level and every 2 levels beyond 3rd. These allow for the emulation of class features, feats and even limited item use!! Interesting from an RPG point of view: Mimes have a vow of silence that can be a detriment and roleplaying challenge, but that also has its perks - mimic'd spells are Silent sans spell-level increase, for example. While not perfect (it also has e.g. a non-capitalized skill-reference), the mime is still by far the coolest and most creative alternate class the FPG-crew has made - I really like it. Unique, interesting and well worth making the GM-call regarding copycat.

The pdf then introduces us to fairy plays -these are basically single-use scrolls...but in awesome and fun. Each play has a variety of roles. Within 10 minutes, all roles (each of which must be filled by a different character) must try their task (usually, one has a high DC, the others lower DCs) - the fairy play then takes effect, depending on the number of successes. And yes, these make traveling troupes of even low-level actors potentially a threat. They have a tactical dimension and the more successes you can garner, the better the effects...or, well, actually, the effects differ in creative ways: 1 success: Rain of frogs (poisonous); 2: Make the frog's croaking hypnotic. 3: Veil the performers. Glowing, creepy pumpkins that can float and duplicate dancing lights (not italicized), an alarm-version (they shout "BEWARE!") and the option to detonate them in blinding bursts make this one rather interesting. While guidelines for more are provided, I wish we got more than the 3 provided - somewhere between quirky magic item and skill challenge, these are fun for the group and feel very much magical. I like them!

The pdf concludes with 7 magic items - the flying lion gong can accompany the character and rewards readied strikes for coordinated attacks. Hell's hurdy-gurdy brings out the debauchery in devils, while a mask can fortify against fear while using bardic performance, as long as the character incorporates buffoonish fear in the performance. Moonlight strings heal, while peddler's charumeras can instill hunger or thirst and sylph slippers enhance dances and may carry the dancer across pressure plates and even water. the star here, though, would be the siege carillon. Think Skaven bell. Think war organ. Smack in the middle between instrument and magical siege engine, this apocalyptic device can vastly enhance the power of the bard, his range and durations, charm targets and emit devastating bursts of apocalyptic sonic damage after tolling no less than 23 bells - 1 or 2 may be sounded per round as a move action. This is basically an amazing fight and had me come up with numerous scenarios on how I'll use this monster. It's basically a bardic fantasy tank!! Come on! How cool is that??

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting have significantly improved over earlier installments in the series - they're now what I#d call good, bordering on very good. While some unfortunate hiccups and omissions can be found herein, the most significant improvement pertains rules-language, which now tackles significantly more complex concepts than ever before in the series, with greater precision than ever before in the series. Whatever the Flying Pincushion crew did here, I hope they'll continue to do it! Layout adheres to a nice 2-column full-color standard with really nice, well-chosen pictures, which I have not seen previously in other supplements. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

I couldn't have asked for a more rewarding review to write after my real life-related, brief hiatus. Benjamin Wilkins, Frank Gori, Kris Newton, Jeff Harris (who also acted as editor) and David S. McCrae (who acted as lead developer as well) are back as well and finally make true on what I have always said in these reviews: There is potential here.

While this book began less than spectacular, slowly but surely the gems among the archetypes accumulated; while some have minor hiccups and require a GM-call, they are worth making that call. Instead of going for easy or simple routes, we have complex archetypes here - even the multi-class-y ones sport their unique playstyles and engines and many of them left me wanting more! Moreover, I have never seen an accumulation of this many cool variants for the bard before. The PrC is valid and potent, the alternate class amazing (if you do clarify copycat) - and when there are issues, they are cosmetic or stem from the archetypes aiming for the stars, for the high echelons, regarding their themes, ideas and leitmotifs. There is not a single option herein that I'd consider lame, redundant or filler.

Not all archetypes herein will be for every campaign, sure - but whether you prefer gritty low fantasy, high-powered hijinxs, whether you're looking for an option for a cleric-less game...the pdf offers a lot of really cool material. Oh, and then there are the no-filler, evocative magic items and the woefully short, few fairy plays, blending all-party kinda skill challenges with magic item use, while explaining how those traveling troupes not get eaten after the first bend in that nasty, monster-infested wilderness -so whip out that Skill Challenge Handbook (you do have that, right?), blend them and make more of them ASAP! (And yes, they work sans that book, but I like to unify my systems...)

In short: This is the first "Into the Breach"-review that will not feature a big "but" - this book has heart, passion and made me smile from ear to ear. As a person, I love this and consider it to be one of the best bard-supplements I've read. If you're confident in being able to make some rules-calls and judging which archetypes work for your game, then this is gold. However, as a reviewer, I have to remain fair, my own excitement none withstanding. There are a couple of instances where the ambitious, complex concepts could have used that one sentence to make them perfect, where the abilities needed a teeny bit more, where ranger spells should be available at higher levels, where skills are not capitalized. This is not perfect. That being said, I have always preferred slightly flawed, ambitious and cool concepts over lame cookie-cutters that are perfect. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4.5 stars. If you want a perfect go-play book, round down; if you're looking for an inspiring toolkit full of joy and style, then round up. I can't award this my seal, but only due to its imperfections. Still, rounding down would be a disservice to the obvious passion, care and heart's blood that went into this. Did I mention the apocalyptic bardic battle tank?? Seriously, if you haven't checked out the Flying Pincushion's work, give this a shot. Now excuse me, I need to plan on which of my villains I'll put on that tank...

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Into the Breach: The Bard
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Deadly Gardens: Star Blossom
Publisher: Rusted Iron Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/05/2017 14:27:58

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Deadly Gardens-series clocks in at 5 pages, 1 page front cover, 2/3 of a page SRD, leaving us with 3 1/3 pages of content, so let's take a look!

The pdf, as always, includes a couple of magic items -the ambusher's cape sports a colony of chameleon-style lichen and increases miss chance for its wearers - pretty cool! The second item would be the urchin star -a morningstar made of driftwood and an alchemically-hardened sea urchin that can poison targets! Really cool visuals here!!

The pdf also contains 6 natural items: Achiaierai oil can be burned to generate noxious fumes, while behir horn powder can add some serious electricity to bombs. Decapus tentacles can be used for black tentacles to make weirder effects. Arrows with harpy feather fletching can temporarily fascinate targets, while seugathi skin gloves can help with UMD. Star blossom pendants can egnerate a limited amount of SR...all cool this time around!

The creature featured herein, the star blossom, clocks in at CR 9 and absorbs arcane and divine magic in separate pools: Divine magic can power negative energy bursts or healing, while arcane pool energy can generate dimension doors (not properly italicized) or add force damage to the plant's assaults. Oh, and if you are grappled by it and die, you liquefy, healing the plant. Worse: Failure to penetrate the plant's SR makes it grow in potency. Really, really cool critter - though I wished it'd specify what happens with psychic magic, though I wager it makes most sense to treat it as arcane magic.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level. Rules-language-wise, it is similarly very good, but not perfect. Layout adheres to Rusted Iron Games' 2-column's two-column standard and the pdf comes with a really nice full color-artwork. Really cool: The pdf is fully bookmarked, in spite of its brevity.

Mike Welham, Andrew Umphrey and Joe Kondrak deliver a really cool installment here: I really like the items and I adore the creature - it is creepy and cool in all the right ways and all my complaints are superficial. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Deadly Gardens: Star Blossom
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Librarian Hybrid Class
Publisher: Wayward Rogues Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/05/2017 14:26:11

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This hybrid class clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let's take a look!

The librarian is a hybrid class of bard and occultist and, chassis-wise, receives d6 HD, 6 + Int skills per level and proficiency with light armor and bucklers as well as light weapons. Librarians incur no spell failure chance when using light armors and bucklers and cast arcane spells governed by Intelligence. Spells are drawn from exotic books called "libri (singular: "Libris") - for each libris learned, he can add one spell for each spell level available, from that libri's school list to his list of spells known. A libris may be chosen multiple times, adding a new spell at every level. Spells do not need to be prepared in advance and casting a spell sans the libris containing it consumes an additional spell of that spell level's array. The class gets 1/2 BAB-progression and good Will-saves and, as the parent class, spellcasting of up to 6th level.

At 1st level and every 3rd level thereafter, the class can attune an additional libris and once it and its school has been chosen, it cannot be changed. Kudos: The ability gets interaction of spells contained on both bard and occultist spell-lists right. A libris also has a power, but more on that later.

"Athenaeums" (or "Athaneas", as the table calls it) allows the librarian to use a Knowledge skill check (should be capitalized in the text) or transcription of material in half the time while in a library, sans cost of ink (Does this eliminate scroll cost completely? Probably not, but the ability could be clearer.) Additionally, he may make Knowledge checks untrained. A librarian may invest 1 spell slot of a level he can cast into an athenaeum to add +1 to the DC of a chosen spell. While generally understandable, that part of the rules-language should imho mention choosing a spell beforehand.

Librarians begin play with knacks, determined by libris and they may, with just a minute of uninterrupted study, replace a spell known with another from the libris studied, with the new spell remaining in memory for up to 1 hour per class level, before the original spell returns. The spells have to be of the same level. 2nd level provides the ability to activate a spell completion item after 10 minutes of study - only the knowledge of activating one such item may be kept in mind.

3rd level yields bestow knowledge, usable 3 + Cha-mod times per day - this grants allies a +2 circumstance bonus at atk, damage, CL or saves versus the chosen creature, with the bonus increasing by +1 at 6th level and every 3 levels thereafter. It lasts for 1 round "per intelligence modifier" - that should have a minimum 1-clause and the ability lacks an activation action.

Upon reaching 5th level, the class gains a pool of memory points that may be used for one of 8 effects. Problem: The pdf fails to specify HOW MANY. I assume the number in the class table may represent that...or it represents how many such abilities he gets to choose. I have no idea. This core feature of the class does not work RAW. It is also really annoying to note that the respective abilities, even if you houserule them to work, don't all specify an activation action. So yeah, does not work as written.

At 8th level, he may consume Bestow Knowledge uses to add a d6-surge-like bonus to the skill check - weird: Supplementing other characters this way does not consume the use, which can be pretty weird in game. I also think the benefit of the ability should be a typed bonus, but that as an aside.

Starting at 14th level, the librarian may cast any spell in a libris on hand, provided he consumes 2 spell slots of the required spell level instead. Scrolls may be studied as a move action and may be cast without consuming them by expending a spell slot instead.

A total of 8 libris are provided, all of which come with their own spell-lists and abilities and there are some serious gems here: Recitation for energy resistance, marking targets, reading omens...the tricks here are certainly flavorful. Alas, the rules here do also sport some hiccups: "lightning" instead of "electricity" as an energy type, suddenly using Wisdom as governing attribute and non-capitalized attributes...you get the idea.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are the things that tear down this class. On a formal level, this isn't that bad, but rules-language and consistency have issues. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard with really nice full-color pieces. The pdf has no bookmarks, which acts as a comfort detriment, and annoyingly, does not allow for the copying of text - you actually have to copy the text by HAND if you want to use this. Big comfort detriment.

Jarrett Sigler, with additional writing by Robert Gresham, ALMOST gets this right. I was so happy when I started analyzing this class. After slogging through previous hybrids, I so hoped that this would finally deliver...and it seemed like it did. The class catches a lot of the more complex issues and ALMOST works as intended. Almost.

I really like the focus, chassis, balancing of the class - it looks like a well-made hybrid class with a distinct identity...and then, one of its central class features doesn't work. It's frustrating, to say the least. So yes, beyond cosmetic hiccups, this does require, once again, cleaning up of the rules. But really, not much. An hour, tops, and you have a nice class. In fact, I really hope this gets cleaned up - the librarian certainly deserves shining properly. I do enjoy the class a s a whole, but with its flaws and hiccups, I can't go higher than 3 stars; once/if it gets fixed/if you're willing to work a bit with it, consider this 4 stars instead.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Librarian Hybrid Class
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Skill Challenge Handbook
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/17/2017 11:23:30

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This handbook clocks in at 79 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 3 pages of advertisements, leaving us with 71 pages of content, so let's check this out!

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

It is no secret that I never liked D&D 4th edition. I tried the game and I'm not trying to discredit it or its playstyle - it just wasn't what I considered to be enjoyable and in contrast to PFRPG and 5e, it didn't let me tell the stories I wanted to tell. That is not to say that I think it's a bad system. I get why people like it and it has its definite merits. One such merit outshines, at least for me, pretty much all others, and that would be the concept of the skill challenge. In short, this represents a cooperative, dangerous endeavor undertaken by the group, based mostly on skill use - preventing a raft from going down the waterfalls, stopping a trap-room slowly filling with sand, chases - there is a vast plethora of different applications of the original system. However, at the same time, its implementation wasn't always as smooth as it could have been...but that's a topic for another rant.

Ultimately, skill challenges addressed an issue with skills that has been with us for quite a while, namely that, for such an integral component of the game, skills tend to...not be as fun as they should be. When 101 New Skill Uses hit sites back in the day, I was ecstatic. Similarly, the idea of rank-based Skill Unlocks was one I cherished and thankfully, more and more modules differentiate between degrees of success and failure when it comes to skills. All of these, however, do not necessarily change the structure in which skill-use works. To take perhaps one of the most maligned and disliked components of the game, namely traps: Mechanically, they're usually 2 - 3 rolls: Perception to see them, Disable Device to disarm them. Or an attack roll by the trap. Or a saving throw. It took a while, and then publishers like Raging Swan Press etc. realized that this was not necessarily the most fun incarnation of such challenges and thus began crafting more interesting traps that involved the whole group. Similarly, whether via conversion (e.g. in the Zeitgeist AP) or even via the big dog Paizo, which has, by other names, used similar mechanics in chases and the like - a complex series of tasks that would be resolved, a series of tasks that does not hinge on just one roll, but multiples and that engages the whole group, as opposed to just one characters. You know, emphasizing the cooperative aspect that makes roleplaying awesome.

The downside and caveat that ultimately comes with these tasks would be that, at least right now, they have not had a proper engine to run on; their mechanics had to be clarified, which cost words...you get the idea. This is where this book comes in. The Skill Challenge Handbook's goal, hence, would be to codify rules that allow you to set up any type of cooperative, non-combat task as a group-based endeavor.

The mechanics for this are interesting, to say the least: We begin with the so-called "Skill Challenge Cycle", which behaves basically like a combat round: You roll initiative and retain it throughout; you get your turn and may even begin with a surprise cycle and you may be flat-footed until you act. Here's the thing that sets it apart: While you can easily assign a cycle of 1 round and run a skill challenge even during a combat encounter, there is no requirement for doing the like: You can run skill challenges in pretty much any temporal interval you'd like: Want to depict a grueling, weeks- or even months-spanning overland trek/escape from a hostile army? Well, you can simply define the cycle as hours, days, months...or conversely have two brilliant strategists try to outthink one another in a manner of seconds! While the default cycle-lengths, called frequency, are defined tighter, as a whole, there is nothing keeping you from expanding these - the system retains its modularity.

Similarly, the spatial factor can diverge wildly - squares of movement, from the local to the global, are covered - in theory, you could play skill challenges with kingdom or settlement stats with a minimum of fuss! More important for most groups, however, would be that both targeting, riding and vehicles, all those dicey types of movement, are covered within the frame of this modular base that sits at the heart of this book.

A skill challenge has, obviously, per definitionem, an inherent chance of failing it, but the completion of the challenge may be just as modular - in fact, multiple parties, characters or otherwise active participants may have wildly different success conditions! Beating a skill challenge is called "Completion" and is achieved, ultimately, by making "progress." Progress is made y using the applicable primary or secondary skills associated with the skill challenge - secondary skills decrease the die-size used to roll progress by one step. Wait, what? Yep, if you have a lot of ranks (based on hard ranks, thankfully!), Skill Focus or class skills used here, you'll roll a larger die than those who have less expertise in the field, allowing you to actually become better in the way you succeed. And before all those munchkins start complaining: Your carefully minmaxed skills still yield bonus progress if you beat the DC by 5 or more. Oh, and 20s may become crits when confirmed, while 1s are always failures - akin to combat.

Speaking of which: The book takes class abilities, ability checks, feats and spells into account, covering and codifying in concise terms the way in which such abilities are used in the context of the skill challenge system. So, how does it work? Actions are defined as pertaining the cycle, differentiating between cycle and half-cycle actions - this allows for the easy integration of all action types of PFRPG easily and yes, swift/immediate actions are codified properly as well. Beyond these, there are some special actions: Aiding others, creating an advantage in a movement-based skill challenge...oh, and an important aspect: How do players or PCs know what they can do in a given challenge? A concise system for actually realizing how such a challenge works has been included: Relevant Knowledge versus a DC that scales with the CR of the skill challenge at hand.

The skill challenges as a base system can easily be modified by optional elements - from languages to skill bonuses, time pressure, backlash for failures, demerits (deteriorating benefits the longer it lasts) to failure tolerance - the modifications are all concisely defined and present perfectly defined key elements to customize the base system. These are further expanded with optional SQs that allow for critical fumbles, individual completion, limited completion or perhaps the challenge takes place in a magically imbued area - all of these frameworks are defined in the clear and precise manner we have come to expect from Everyman Gaming. Beyond these, an engine for obstacle creation for movement-based challenges can be found - including unavoidable or magical obstacles! Oh, and I should mention thresholds - with this system, you could create multi-step rituals the PCs must complete, with escalating and different conditions and tasks in each of the steps, separated by thresholds.

All of this sounds highly theoretical, but if you prefer examples, from babysitting to powering up runestones, making a meal for a dragon, cracking encoded spellbooks to gaining an audience with the king or staying the course in a brutal storm - the system's applications are, without any hyperbole ENDLESS. But perhaps you're a GM who does not like to bother with the nit and grit of math and all that stuff? Well, in that case, you'll ADORE the massive, massive tables of sample skill DCs by CR, the progresses, obstacles etc. - basically, if you don't want to bother with a variety of customizations, you can simply take one of these rows from the table and run them as is.

Okay, so this would be the base engine - it is titanic in its vast potential...and it becomes more awesome from here on out. You see, from here on out, we move to the subchapter that take a look at specific implementations (and modifications) of the system: The first of these would be the chase challenge, which includes rules for forced marches, tracking quarries and obfuscating trails. You're the couriers, trying to warn the kingdom of the impending invasions, with killers and soldiers at your heels? There you go - here are the rules to depict your heart-pounding escape! Whether chased or chaser, the system works. The second system covers something I have been waiting for: Contests. From Poker to Chess to pretty much any athletic of other form of competition is covered: Grapple contests, momentum contests, those featuring nets/walls, competitive recollections and stochastic/strategy contests -all are concisely and precisely defined - subcategories and point-based completion...all included. The actions, from blocks to fake outs, catches, passes, pushing self etc. are provided. Want to play Fantasy Soccer or Football or Bloodbowl (yep, dogpiling rules...) or Quidditch in PFRPG? There you go - the rules are here! If you once again encounter the challenge of playing chess in-game, you won't have to whip out the board and bore your players or resolve it as a banal series of roles - you can actually make it INTERSTING and EXCITING. The sample challenges include, fyi, baseball, chess, horseshoes, poker, rope-skipping (!!!) or trivia contests...the options are as infinite as our tradition as a species to make games. Heck, you could go meta and have your PFRPG-characters play a simplified RPG in-game...

Now, all of this is cool, but personally, I gravitate to complex plots - as such, influence challenges of e.g. diplomatic tasks during banquets, backroom dealings, courtly intrigues, hashing out deals with merchant consortiums - all of these and infinitely more can be realized with the chapter focusing on them, adding a vast array of playability to any intrigue scenario - I certainly know I'll use the hell out of that in a certain, upcoming Taldan AP...and speaking of which: Verbal Duels tie in perfectly with the former, acting not only as a stand-alone chapter, but also as a kind of extension: From an influence to a verbal duel and back, you can stack these upon another in a variety of genius ways - since discovering a bias, seeding audiences and gaining edges are all provided, you can basically run a whole campaign focused on senates, hearings and the like if you so choose! Various strategies and the like can be found, with skills being assigned to tactics...and yes, before you're asking, countering a tactic with the same tactic, repeating one over and over and the like all come with repercussions! And yes, this retains, obviously, full compatibility with Ultimate Intrigue.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Everyman Gaming's two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience. The full-color artworks throughout are full-color and well-made, provided by Brett Neufeld and Jacob Blackmon. The softcover print copy is nice, though it does not sport the name on the spine, which is a bit of a pity.

Alexander Augunas' Skill Challenge Handbook is an extremely versatile...oh who am I kidding? Let me spell it out clearly:

THIS IS PERHAPS THE MOST IMPORTANT RULEBOOK I HAVE READ IN YEARS. Perhaps, it is even the most important 3pp-PFRPG book - period. Are you playing Pathfinder? Do you want to do more than killing things? Then this is a MUST-HAVE PURCHASE. Scratch that, even if you just want to kill things, this'll make the combats more exciting!

I am not kidding, nor engaging in the slightest kind of hyperbole when I'm saying that:

-This should have been Core. Seriously. If I had to choose one 3pp-book to add to PFRPG's core-rules, this would be it.

-This book makes EVERY single PFRPG campaign better for using it.

-This is a MILESTONE and vastly improves the game.

-I have NEVER seen a supplement, regardless of rules system, enhance the number of stories I can tell to this extent.

The skill challenge handbook is, even among Alexander Augunas' impressive cadre of amazing books, a shining example, a paragon of its kind. Didactically-concise, well-presented and easy to grasp, yet incredibly modular, the system presented herein unlocks innumerable, nay, infinite options to tell fantastic, engaging stories. Heck, I even used it for stuff it was never intended to do - like portraying conflicts between settlements! The system is so incredibly modular and versatile, it can literally depict anything in an exciting manner.

Nail-biting in-game chess-duels for the souls of fellow adventurers? Check! Backstabbing courtly intrigue? Check. Over the top fantasy bloodsports? Check. Venturing into the depths of the earth? Check. Scaling a giant beanstalk? Check. Flying a ship through the deathstar's/SIN's defenses? Check. Navigating the Eye of Abendengo? Check. Leading the Chain of Dogs through the desert? Check. Playing Quidditch? Check. Making traps that engage the whole group? Check. Diffusing a magical reactor? Check. Finishing a ritual to banish a demon lord while he tries to eat you? Check. Catching enemy spies? Check. Running down couriers? Check. Ben Hur-style chariot races/combats? Check. Doing the Cicero in Senate? Check. Going fantasy Ace Attorney? Check. Ride an Avalanche? Check. Scaling a Kaiju? Check. Riding the gigantic tsunami-wave of crystallized shards from the heavens? Check. Deciphering a grimoire before the THINGS get you and your comrades? Check. Negotiating with the cannibals about to eat you and yours? Check. Navigating the dragon's hoard sans waking the wyrm? Check. Depicting guild warfare? Check.

...I could literally go on all day long and just add to this list. I am not kidding when I'm saying that this is the single most important 3pp PFRPG-rule-book I know and own. I cannot stress enough how incredibly, incredibly inspiring this book is. The base engine is deceptively simple-looking and elegant and can be tweaked by even the most novice of GMs to deliver pure, unadulterated awesomeness. All those situations that some players sat out, all those high tension scenes that deflated by being reduced to a single, bland roll now extend to the whole group - and by virtue of the structure of the system, they engage all players and deliver the high tension of comparable scenes from other forms of media.

There is no other book out there that delivers a similar increase in quality and versatility for the game. If you are a GM, BUY THIS ASAP and never look back. If you're a player, buy it as well. Keep a copy and gift one to your GM. No matter how good your GM is, chances are that your game will be better with this book in your life.

In fact, even if you do not play PFRPG and thus can't sue the math aspects of the game, as long as you have actions you take in combat and some sort of skill system, you can use a big portion of this system with some modifications!

If the sequence of superlatives was no clear indication: This belongs on the shelves and HDs of literally EVERY PFRPG GM. No exception. This book is fantastic, a one-of-a-kind masterpiece that is supreme, no matter the scale you apply: If I had 10 stars, this would be 10 out of 10 and I'd complain about not being able to award it 11. This book is an apex-level toolkit of raw potential and excitement, 5 stars + seal of approval, is a candidate for my Top Ten of 2017 (who am I kidding - this has a very high chance of getting the number 1-spot!) and also gets my designation as an EZG Essential, as one of the books I'd consider to be absolutely required reading.

Do yourself a favor and get this dazzling, resplendent gem of a book today.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Skill Challenge Handbook
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LG BK Classics #1: Blue Scales, Red Secrets
Publisher: Casey Brown
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/17/2017 10:32:30

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 29 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 25 pages of content, so let's take a look!

This review was moved up in my review-queue due to me receiving a print copy of the book.

So, before we start, a little history: The Living Greyhawk campaign back in 3.X was a campaign I would very much have enjoyed playing in; I always liked Greyhawk's relatively down to earth and classic tone. In particularly the region of the bandit kingdoms would have tickled my fancy, for the Bandit Kingdom summary-book I read really made its shades of gray mentality and pretty gritty feeling sound like something I'd appreciate. Alas, the general public doesn't have a way to play these modules now - they're lost...or rather, they had been lost. You see, this module would be the conversion of one such module to PFRPG, with the serial numbers filed off, if you want. I sincerely hope that we'll get to see more of the bandit kingdoms...but does the module hold up?

The module is designed for a party of APL 6, with characters ranging from levels 4 - 7, but also contains notes on how to increase the challenge posed by this module up to APL 8. A handout and maps for the combat-encounters have been provided - the maps are in color in the pdf, b/w in the print version.

It should be noted that the bandit kingdoms are slightly darker in tone than standard fantasy and feature slightly more explicit themes. While still firmly PG 13, squeamish players and kids may require a slight alteration of some text - though, big kudos, the pdf does note such instances! Kudos!

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

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All right, only GMs around? Great! The pdf assumes that the PCs are accompanying a man named Yulkin on an errand, acting as guards of sorts. The module features copious read-aloud texts, including some local color that ties into the Riverton-backdrop, but that as an aside. The way taken skirts the so-called Scar - the domain of none other than Morginstaler, the mighty red dragon. The terrain and environments provided for the areas, for the landscape, etc. btw. has mechanically-relevant repercussions - the lack of plant-life, for example, makes certain spells not work. The fact that the pdf mentions tidbits like this should be taken as testament to the attention to detail exhibited here.

Speaking of detail - this attention to detail also extends to the first encounter. Where Morginstaler swoops down and threatens to eat the PCs and their charge, unless they provide a bit of a service for him: A weird group of kobolds has intruded upon is domain and he is a bit perplexed - the kobolds did not grovel or run in panic and hence, he wants some intel on them. Best of all, he'll graciously not kill them all. The interaction with Morginstaler sports A LOT of troubleshooting, read-aloud text, etc. - and yes, Morginstaler is a bit of a Casanova, so charismatic female PCs may actually start a romance with the dragon. He's quite a charmer and, player-consent provided (the pdf notes this in bold all-caps!), the lady may actually become pregnant...though, if you consider these topics icky, you can simply ignore them - it's just one of the possibilities. The potential issues paladins may face here are similarly touched upon.

Ultimately, the group will probably consent to the dragon's request and thus travel into the badlands of the Scar - only to feel watchful eyes upon them...the PCs don't know yet, but dusk kamadans are stalking them right now -and yes, there are full stats for these monsters, which bring me to one thing I honestly LOVE about this pdf. The stats of both NPCs and monsters herein are lavishly-detailed and hand-crafted, using creative templates, 3pp-classes and even some unique tricks - like a scaling Spell Mastery variant and a feat for move action spellcasting. The latter represents one of the few issues I have herein: It is included for the sake of the build of the NPC the PCs meet in the Scar, the Indiana Jones-like archaeologist/wizard Mumford Ravine, who, with his griffon-figurine and ties to some of the local humanoids, can provide some advice and social interaction for the PCs. While the feat works in context with his stats, I'd strongly suggest never allowing it anywhere close to PCs.

The encounter with Mumford, just fyi, also offers the chance to trade spells - told you, this was detailed! Oh, and once the dusk kamadans do strike, the pdf mentions how their pelts can be used for magic item creation! Yes, this is exhaustive regarding the GM-guidance and details provided and I mean that as a compliment!

Sooner or later, the PCs will find the location where Morginstaler has slaughtered the irreverent kobolds - only that since then, slime crawlers have begun taking a shine to the delicious corpses...oh, and there is an optional complication in the guise of a VERY potent kobold magister who survived the massacre - once again, a potent and custom-made threat. It should, at this point, come as no surprise that speaking with the dead and similar options of information gathering are covered. The PCs can find a prayer to the new "deity" of the kobolds here...ostensibly, a powerful blue dragon...oh, and they can find out that there are many, many more kobolds. Whether or not they try to discern the location of the massive kobold settlement, the PCs should have some information for Morginstaler....who has amused himself in the meantime by playing with Yulkin...who hence lies unconscious at the dragon's feet.

The interrogation of the returned PCs once again sports serious detail...and once the dragon knows enough, he'll "reward" the PCs - by slamming his tail on the floor to call forth basically his half-draconic umberhulk children. Since umberhulks are closed IP, the book has instead used ankhegs with multiple templates to retain the abilities and flavor - big kudos!

The showdown, while Morginstaler laughs, seems like a cruel game of cat and mouse - after all, the mighty dragon could kill them any time...but sooner or later, he will have to retreat - in his absence, Mumford has triggered a hoard defense of the dragon, calling him back to his cherished treasure...and thus allowing the PCs to hopefully escape with their lives. (And yes, the module even accounts for how Morginstaler evades the confusing gaze of these critters...)

The pdf concludes with possible XP awards and boons the PCs may have achieved during this module.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are excellent, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to a no-frills two-column standard with thematically-fitting b/w interior artworks taken from the public domain. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The softcover is a nice one to have - being old-school, I prefer that version. Cartography is decent and player-friendly, though I certainly wished we got blown-up versions of the battlemap-style maps to print out at the proper size.

Casey Brown's little module is much better than I can probably convey here. You see, I've read and run my fair share of organized play modules; more often than not, they boil down to a lot of fights and a flimsy story without much roleplaying involved. This, while similar in scope due to its heritage, is not such a module. While there is plenty of challenging combat to be had, against utterly unique threats no less, the star of this module is frickin' Morginstaler. For the first time in a long, long, LONG while, the depiction of a dragon in a module actually nails what dragons should be, at least to me: Arrogant, smart, capricious and incredibly dangerous. This module NAILS how a dragon works and doesn't treat him as a throw-away encounter. The amazing final battle is another big plus. The attention to detail provided is a sheer joy to behold - from mechanically-relevant terrain to atmosphere, read-aloud text and more, this leaves nothing to be desired.

My only two complaints with this glorious module are that I would have really liked to see high-res versions of the maps for printing/VTT and the one feat used in an NPC build, which should seriously never fall into player hands. Apart from these two minor hiccups, the module delivers by the buckets and makes for an amazing experience, well worth of a final verdict of 5 stars, just short of my seal. If you enjoy Greyhawk or want to see a dragon done right...or if you just some actually well-made, complex statblocks, then take a look at this little gem, for it's well worth checking out!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
LG BK Classics #1: Blue Scales, Red Secrets
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Esoterrorists: The Love of Money
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/17/2017 10:30:57

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive adventure for The Esoterrorists clocks in at 111 pages, 107 if you take away editorial, etc.

This review is based on the print copy of the module. I do not have access to the electronic version.

Okay, so the first thing you have to know about this massive adventure would be that it is pretty hard to integrate into an ongoing campaign, working best if you have a couple of months to set up the proceedings. Otherwise, it may make sense to play this as a one-shot with the supplied pregenerated characters - 6 of these are provided, with detailed motivations and notes for the players to establish their relationship to their team-mates and the NPCs featured herein, in particular a specific one, but more on that later.

For the GM's convenience, we actually get a handy table that sums up team-skills by category, providing all you need to know on one page - really comfortable and nice to have! It should also be noted that this module is really great when it comes to hand-outs - no less than 12 have been provided, ranging from photographs to strange scribbling, puzzle clues and images of ODEs, I was positively surprised by the amount of neat supplemental material featured here - including brief suspect profiles etc.

Speaking of ODEs - the module does feature a new ODE, the so-called spectrosite and provides a full write-up with stats, limitations, theories, etc. Genre-wise, its hould be noted that this is an adventure for SMART players - it has two rather unforgiving bottlenecks and if you're new to investigative roleplaying, you may want to elect for something easier. That being said, this is a nice challenge for those of us who enjoy challenging modules that require some brainpower to solve. It should be noted that this module is not particularly gory or combat-centric, being more about psychological horror and personal tragedy.

All right, and this is about as far as I can go without going into serious SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

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All right. Psychological breakdowns are responsible for most OV-agents being retired. When John Sheldon and his sister were recruited into the OV, things went well for a while - John was brilliant and he championed the operation that gives this module its name: Operation 610, after Timothy 6: 10 - "For the Love of Money is the Root of All Evil." - he figured he had found a way to deal a crippling blow to Esoterrorism by destroying their financially backing, but it hinged on using a lone operative, him - something the OV generally does not condone, for good reasons. Frustration built up.

Then, one winter's night, his obsession rising, his sister and wife wanted to take his mind off things - all drinking. Caroline took her brother's car keys and drove home, being the most sober of the 3...and then, in the rear-view mirror, the spectrosite, an ODE hiding in reflective surfaces like mirrors, showed itself - just long enough to make the car crash. John was inconsolable and severed all ties with his sister (who is btw. one of the pregens - see what I meant with "hard to integrate into an ongoing campaign?"). He had nothing left to lose. He initiated his plans for T610.

Traveling to Europe, he managed to infiltrate Métallon Incorporated, which is led by industrial giant Johan van der Hulst, who has been an Esoterrorist for most of his life, guided by his invisible play mate Nicholaus (who shows up in mirrors...) into the murder of, among others, his parents. He is deeply convinced of his twisted cause - and he has been gathering Rhodium, for Nicholaus has told him about a means of tearing the membrane temporarily.

It should come as no surprise that Hulst knew of Sheldon's plan. Nicholaus poses as Mary in the mirror, twisting Sheldon's already strained psyche further, convincing him that she's trapped in the Outer Dark, that he must free her - and that Hulst would know how. Hulst has a device, but it does require a willing sacrifice - it would not end Sheldon, but it would "reunite" him with his wife...but to bring both him and her back, someone else would need to take their place in the Outer Dark...and it only took a bit of gaslighting to convince the embittered operative to blame the OV.

Sheldon allowed himself to be ritually slaughtered, fusing his heart with the Rhodium-device crafted by Hulst. He is waiting the right circumstances.

Meanwhile, the PCs have all been considered to be potentially compromised by Sheldon dropping off the grid and are thus sent to Amsterdam to investigate the proceedings, fitted with heart-monitors and surveyed by psychiatric metrics...and an SSF team may well be waiting in the wings...The briefing is btw- fully detailed and a nice flow-chart of potential adventure scenarios and sequences of scenes has been provided. The PCs thus travel to Amsterdam to not only get to the bottom of the matter, but also to clear their name: And they will have to contend with a rather grisly scene, namely that of Sheldon's demise, carefully orchestrated to draw the agents ever closer into the proceedings - Veil Out of a potential witness's gruesome death at the hands of the spectrosite, right in the police station, will require some serious creativity and quick thinking.

Indeed, things become even more complicated pretty fast: Beyond the professional killers and snipers under Hulst's command, a rival Esoterrorist and former subordinate of Hulst tries to eliminate the PCs - with methods that are not exactly subtle. However, at the same time, this involvement may actually put stumped PCs on the right track! You see, there is a component that explains WHY Sheldon's murder was staged this publicly - the heart, extracted from his body, needs to be activated...and for that, it requires bloodshed by his enemies, the OV.

This adds a great moral dimension to the proceedings, as the agents may be required to race the SSF...if they are not duped by "Mary" as well and survive potential encounters with the spectrosite...and it emphasizes that the OV agents are supposed to be the good guys. That being said, in one way or another, the heart will probably be activated...but Verity's order remains: Get the head of the conspiracy. Hulst has the device on an oil rig, which is represented, image-wise, with a nice hand-out, yes, but it (and pretty much all of the action-oriented scenes) imho suffer from a lack of maps - in the case of the rig and the scenario, where the Esoterrorists try to dupe the PCs and the SSF to spill their blood in particular - these scenes could have really used some proper maps.

The approach to the oil-rig, btw., features the most brutal of bottlenecks in the scenario: If the PCs have botched their investigation, they may be shot out of the air by the surface-to-air-missiles installed on it via Hulst's fortune and black market connections...unless they have found the proper coded MP3 to call off the automated attack, this may well be "Game Over". The running gun battle through the rig feels like an afterthought, when set against the possible outcomes of the scenario - and while partial success is at least somewhat likely, stopping Sheldon's tormented soul and succeeding at the veil out without a horrid, horrid gaze at the abyss of the Outer Dark will be only something truly smart (and compassionate) players will succeed in.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, but not as good as usual for Pelgrane Press - my copy did sport quite a bunch of hiccups and glitches on the typo-level. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard and the b/w-artworks/photographs are nice and well-made. The big weakness of the module, ultimately, is that its action-scenes don't have sufficient information to render them compelling - cartography, at least basic one, would have helped here. I can't comment on bookmarks or the like.

Matthew Sanderson's "For the Love of Money" is, in almost all disciplines, a glorious module: The Esoterrorist plot is challenging, smart and hard to foil and grasp, all while remaining fair. The antagonist reactions, detailed NPC-reactions, copious information for PC-actions and massive supplemental material really help. The investigation part of this module is really, really amazing. Unfortunately, the module does fall flat pretty much almost always (exception would be the cool visuals of the potential showdowns with the ODE) - they feel like afterthoughts. They don't sport the same attention to detail, aren't nearly as interesting and compelling as the rest of the module.

It is within the nature of the plot that integration into ongoing campaigns is hard, so I won't penalize the module for that. However, the none-too-compelling action-scenes and lack of proper cartography drag down this otherwise great module. If you're looking for a glorious investigation and don't mind working on those bits, then this is a very clear recommendation. Otherwise, it remains a module for fans of investigation who don't care much about the action-aspects of the game. When all is said and done, this gets the tone and feeling of Esoterrorists rather well and provides a compelling adventure, though one that falls slightly short of the excellence it could have easily achieved. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Esoterrorists: The Love of Money
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Echelon Reference Series: Barbarians (3pp+PRD)
Publisher: Echelon Game Design
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/17/2017 05:49:13

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive book comes in two versions: One that focuses on PRD-options only, and one that also features 3pp-content. My review is based on the latter option, since it also encompasses the former. For completion's sake, the PRD-only version clocks in at 180 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page blank, 4 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, for a total of 171 pages of content. The PRD + 3pp-version clocks in at a MIGHTY 352 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page blank, 10 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a massive 337 pages of content, so let's take a look!

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

So, let us talk a bit about Pathfinder for a second: PFRPG is a damn long-running RPG at this point, proving that stories told matter more than just splatbooks. That being said, PFRPG has an intimidating, impressive array of options available for the game, including a huge wealth of 3pp material. I should know, I read the majority of it. But while the naysayers have been complaining about bloat for a while, I observe a different tendency: Instead, we have covered the basics. The type of supplements that come out for every edition. The obligatory bestiary I, the obligatory class expansions, the obligatory generic Asian-fantasy option - you get the idea. Instead, if anything, I have observed a general tendency to ramp up the quality of the books released in favor of some truly innovative systems, classes and options that transcend anything previously released.

The downside of this wealth, this staggering amount of content, would obviously be that it's hard to keep track of. Where was this one talent again? Where did I find that feat? Unless you're good at record-keeping, that can be rather problematic. This is exactly where this series comes in. Keith Davies, the compiler of this massive reference tome, works in big data and has used his expertise to compile a staggering wealth of class-related options. This is, thus a compilation - a reference, compiled for your perusal, a one-stop-shop file, if you will.

This was the first of these massive reference tomes and was, as per the writing of this review, last updated on February 12th, 2015, including a huge wealth of varied options. Now while I very well could reference (get it?) my vast wealth of pdfs and books to compile and paste together the takes on all those barbarian options herein, that would be really annoying for me and it similarly would not provide any value for the prospective reader. So instead of focusing on the content itself, let us talk about the organization.

We begin with a break-down of the class and then move on to the archetypes - the file does note the respective sourcebook used for the archetype below its header, and, for one's convenience, the next chapter contains a variety of archetypes, already applied to the barbarian class, with class-tables and all. While not all have been thus represented, it is a comfortable way of getting the respective archetype already applied. From the original (pre stand-alone release) masquerade reveler to material from Rogue Genius Games' series of class options, the book sports a variety of such options from a wide assortment of sources. Big plus for those classes with applied archetypes: A handyclass summary bubble that notes the quality of the saves, skills, HD, BAB-progression etc. at a single glance...much like I do in my reviews, basically, but more focused on "choose this or not"-aspects: Proficiencies, skills, etc. - all at one glance. That's really useful.

The pdf then moves on to provide the respective class features - so yeah, these components and their respective contents have been organized alphabetically. The class feature-names are provided in a brown bubble with the respective type above the class feature, denoting whether an ability is "Ex", "Su" or "Sp" and the respective level in a second bubble. This provides the necessary information at one glance. Beyond this, we have something I very much enjoy: When an ability influences others, the respective options provide something I REALLY loved to see - namely flow-charts for the respective abilities, with the bubbles involved also featuring the level-bubbles, allowing for an easy at-one-glance-overview each. This becomes particularly interesting for the separate chapter of rage powers, and the often complex trees there. From animal companions to the barbarian bloodline and its variants, this section is extremely tight, concise and well-presented.

From here, we move on to the feat-options available - no less than 52 pages of the pdf are devoted to the array of feats - which, yes, include their respective sources and, where applicable, bubble-flow-charts akin to those of the class features. Now, here is a cool aspect of the book: The vast majority of these flow-charts, feats and class features are internally hyperlinked: You click on one of them and, tada, you're there. This makes use of what otherwise would require copious text searches very comfortable - or at least as comfortable as navigating such a massive book can conceivably be. Speaking of which: A massive index, including a diagram index, further complement this aspect of the pdf - it is impressive to see how much care has went into making this colossus of a tome actually easy to handle. This is all about utility - as it should be.

Beyond all of these, we also receive no less than 50 pages of sample statblocks, running the gamut from CR 1/2 to CR 20, collecting stats from both NPC Codex and some other 3pp-files. A nice addition, I guess, but yeah, wasn't entirely stoked here.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are excellent. I went through this looking for formatting glitches and the like and was pretty impressed to note that the material has been presented in an extremely detailed and concise manner. Layout adheres to a 2-column standard, which uses bubbles with brown backgrounds as headers and different bubble-types in the respective flow-charts. As a whole, it is pretty printer-friendly and bereft of interior artwork. While not necessarily gorgeous, the no-frills style layout enhances and enforces the central selling point of this pdf: Utility. It should come as no surprise that, beyond the excessive internal hyperlinking, we also receive a ridiculous amount of nested bookmarks to help making navigation and handling as comfortable as possible. A minor downside: Brown bubbles with white text are a bit mroe of a drain on the printer, but considering the electronic features of the pdf, I'm honestly not sure if I'd print out this colossus anyways.

I have the UTMOST respect for books like this and Keith Davies investing this much time in making them. I mean it. I am glad that people are different, for honestly, I couldn't imagine a more mind-numbing task than compiling and hyperlinking a book of this size. It's amazing to see someone making these and ostensibly enjoying the task.

This pdf is the result of SERIOUS work. It is a really useful compilation that focuses on utility above everything. While it is a system-immanent component that not all content for each option is organized by theme, the organizational tools, from the hyperlinking to the extensive indices, makes using this pdf as simple and comfortable as possible and the flow-chart-style components similarly help plotting character advancements and ability selections. In short: This is a great, well-made reference file. While it is due for a sequel at this point, the usefulness of this file cannot be disputed.

Now, I wouldn't be me if I had no complaints, so here goes: As a system-immanent limitation, e.g. the reveler's eidolon evolutions are not within this book - since they're class features of another class. If I were to dream, I'd also love to see general evaluations for the respective options, but that would go far beyond the goal of this massive file and its mission statement, which is why I won't complain there. At its given task, namely acting as a massive reference file, this pdf most assuredly succeeds. While it has aged a bit, it makes for a great stepping stone for fans of the barbarian to get a ton of material, concisely-presented, all in one place. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Echelon Reference Series: Barbarians (3pp+PRD)
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Deadly Gardens: Dream Weed
Publisher: Rusted Iron Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/17/2017 05:46:10

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Deadly Gardens-series clocks in at 5 pages, 1 page front cover, 2/3 of a page SRD, leaving us with 3 1/3 pages of content, so let's take a look!

The pdf, as always, includes a couple of magic items - the first of these would be the low-cost accursed thorns - really cool magical caltrops that temporarily affect the unfortunates with a deforming curse, halving their land speed. The second item would be the silvered apple, which detects nearby lycanthropes and may be eaten to temporarily silver the unarmed and natural attacks of the person consuming it. Nice!

Also included in the deal would be 6 natural items, including tatzlwyrm glands that provide a bonus versus paralysis and sleep after consuming it. Shadow mastiff eyes can be flung to the ground (as a thrown weapon or slingstone), shattering and dimming the environment. Gecko glue, gar scale armors, disenchanter trunks that can sometimes recharge items (though it imho should have limited uses), sound-range doubling androsphinx-voice-boxes...some cool ones here. The dream weed snuff can help creating things in psychic duels.

Speaking of dream weed - the plant is a CR 10 creature: Upon being hit by these, they implant a psychic seed, instigating a psychic duel and creating a thoughtform to battle the unfortunate...and worse, defeating the thoughtform may not be the end: There is a chance the thing reconstitutes itself! Really nasty and cool...and know how these spawn? From those that fall to e.g. a xtabay's victims, incapable of rising from the visions...yeah, creepy.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level. Rules-language-wise, it is similarly very good, but not perfect. Layout adheres to Rusted Iron Games' 2-column's two-column standard and the pdf comes with a nice b/w-artwork. Really cool: The pdf is fully bookmarked, in spite of its brevity.

Jacob W. Michaels, Joe Kondrak and Kim Frandsen deliver a rather cool installment here - the critter is cool and so are the items, though not all of the natural items are perfect. For the low asking price, this is very much worth getting. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Deadly Gardens: Dream Weed
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Larius Firetongue's School of Sorcery
Publisher: Quasar Knight Enterprises
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/17/2017 05:44:37

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive toolkit clocks in at 100 pages, 1 page of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page artist contacts (nice), 1 page writer's contacts, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 93 pages of content, though it should be noted that the pdf comes with 3 hex-crawl-y jpgs - one with icons and labels, one with icons sans labels and one that only notes the starting position. Nice!

Before you're asking - the ruleset this is based on would be Swords & Wizardry, so if you're familiar with the various OSR-rulesets, you'll know what to expect here in that regard. After a brief introduction by the author and a similarly brief background story, we take a look at the first chapter, which deals with character creation for an all-caster party; the first suggestion we have here would be rolling 2d6 + 6 for an array of characters who are less prone to having devastating Achilles heels.

After that, we talk about lifting racial class restrictions - which makes sense, considering the goal of the chapter - but, as you know, this does interfere with the balancing mechanisms of OSR-gaming - level caps and class restrictions were employed to keep the magical races from outshining humans. The proposition here is to a) cap save-bonuses granted by race/class-combos at +4 and b) grant humans two +1 ability score bonuses they can freely assign, capping at 18. Since S&W does not use the d%-differentiation of the Strength-score of 18, I do not have a problem here, though, if you do, this is something to bear in mind and I'd suggest going for 18/01 as a default.

Very helpful, btw.: Since old-school games tend to have a strong race/class protection regarding the tasks available for the classes, the pdf lists several worthwhile publishers and publications you can check out to diversify your roster of options. Okay, this basic contemplations out of the way, you will realize that, to some degree, this pdf champions an opening of options available for the PCs. Personally, I am good with that, but it is something to be aware of. While the book does suggest e.g. potentially giving illusionists some thief tricks, I do lament that the per se pretty cool suggestion is not supplemented by a class-modifying toolkit...but that may just be the crunch-loving bastard in me.

Next up would be 10 new races, ready to be inserted in your game, which are here to provide a more diversified student roster. On a plus-side, these races do come with nice full-color artworks, but the inclusion of the artwork in the file, layout-wise, leaves a bit to be desired - white boxes on a colored background make very clear where the artwork begins and ends.

Now, the races presented herein have a few things in common: They represent iconic concepts and classic tropes...and their power-level exceeds those available in a vanilla S&W-game. Beastfolk, for example, gain a 1d4 unarmed attack, +10% Hide in Shadows, +15% Move Silently, 15 base movement, ability to breathe underwater (!!!) and swim movement 12, natural armor 7 (12 if you're playing with ascending AC) and free Climb Walls as a Thief of their level as well as a ranger's tracking as though they were a ranger of their level. Drow get bonuses to all thief skills ( +5% to 10%) and the assassin's poison use as well as darkvision 120 feet and +4 to saves versus spells. Gnomes, goblins, kobolds, nagas, pixies, tieflings and vampires are included here...and yep, the latter is a nerfed down version, more akin to dhampirs, really. The races generally have in common that they gain several thief skill bonuses, a couple of immunities (vampire), save-bonuses - in short, they are all pretty potent. Some, like kobold and naga, also have intriguing tricks, like setting up impromptu traps or being able to ascertain features of divine or magical areas. The races generally tend to be on a roughly even playing field among themselves, though they outshine the standard S&W-races, though a single kobold, could, provided he has enough days of preparation, generate vast trap-gauntlets and the beastfolk's swimming speed is imho a bit too potent.

The pdf also features three new classes: The bard (requirements Dex, Int and Cha 12), the mage-knight (Str 14 and Int 12) and the Unseen (Dex and Int 15, Wis 12). Bards gain d6 HD, a spellbook, use the magic-user, assassin and thief attack tables, receive +2 to saves versus mind-influencing and sound-based effects, need music to cast and start their saves at 15, using the druid's XP-track. They learn more languages, can fascinate folks (depending on HD) and at 9th level, they get to establish a bardic college. The class has its own spell-list (going up to 6th level), which is not presented in the usual manner: Formatting sticklers like yours truly can be a bit annoyed by this, for, while S&W does not italicize spells in spell-lists, these usually are presented differently - in the way we see it herein, italicization would have made sense...but that is purely aesthetic and will not influence the final verdict.

The Mage-knight gets the paladin's XP-track, d8 HD, fighter/pala/ranger attack tables, +2 to saves versus spells and gets a runic weapon at 1st level - this weapon can absorb spells and then unleash the absorbed energy upon hitting foes, inflicting +1d6 bonus damage per spell level. That...is kinda hardcore, as far as I'm concerned. Sure, it's just one hit, but it still will make the other melee dudes look with envy at the class. Starting at 2nd level, they can cast spells drawn from their own spell-list (capping at 4th level) as long as they're in chain mail or less and have a free hand. There is a problem regarding the interaction of mage-knight and magic-user spellbooks: RAW, the magic-user can transcribe spells from the mage-knight's spell-list, if the spell is on his spell-list...however, for the mage-knight, e.g. disintegrate is a 4th level spell - and RAW, magic-users could thus transcribe the spell as a 4th level spell. It's an obvious cheese and not something a referee can't handle, sure - but it constitutes, from a design-perspective, a minor flaw. At higher levels, mage-knights learn to redirect hostile spells towards them and even rebound them to their casters, which is pretty damn cool.

The Unseen represents a conversion to Sword & Wizardry from "Theorems & Dark Pacts", a book that is waiting for me to cover it as well; hence, in all brevity: 1d4 HD, attack table as thief, magic-user, assassin, no armors etc., spellcasting drawn from custom list of up to 6th level, thief ability-progression at -2 levels and a custom XP-progression track, capping at 2, 120, 000 at 20th level. At 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter, the class gets to choose a special ability that represents the magical sneak trope. (As an aside - I would have loved for the classes to feature the +x XP note for level 21+ gameplay, since that is significantly less problematic in OSR gaming than in most more math-intense games...but that may just be me.)

Okay, so this represents the basic expansion of rules for the player-side of things - next up would be the section that handles arcane school gameplay from a referee's side, introducing arcane lore as a meta-currency: Scribblings, journals, strange items and the like are codified in various classes with values/cost assigned - these, for facility's sake, btw. translate from gold on a 1: 1 ratio. They may be spent exclusively for the purpose of gaining levels, making magic items, scribing spells, etc. - I LOVE this. It's somewhat akin to what LotFP does and what I do in my own campaigns - ascribe value to small things, champion knowledge and making magic thus feel less like a regular commodity. In fact, I'd strongly suggest making this the only way to get magic...but that may be me.

The next section is something pretty much anyone familiar with OSR-gaming has probably seen: A minimalist skill system, which boils down to rolling under the attribute. The pdf also suggests a free-form rewarding of backgrounds. Since hirelings are an integral part of gaming for many campaigns, the pdf does introduce the concept of loyal bonds - basically a story-reward for the PCs, one that is influenced by Charisma etc. as usual, but yeah.

After this, we have a massive chapter of new spells - as the pdf properly acknowledges (Kudos for that , btw. - the book always gives credit where credit is due!!), they partially represent conversions from various sources - classics like PFRPG's blood biography or tongues can be found here, converted to S&W. Now, I am a bit torn on this chapter - the rules-language is precise and to the point, but more so than previous chapters, it changes how the game feels in some important aspects: The reliable detect poison in a pretty large radius, for example, changes how that aspect works in game and is reminiscent of systems that provide more in the range of utility. It is also interesting to note that clerics do not, RAW, gain access to it - it is a Mage-knight and Unseen spell here. Basically, this chapter represents an upgrade in versatility, with spells like tongues e.g. eliminating language-barriers. Whether you like that or not, ultimately remains a matter of taste, but it is something to be aware of.

Following the leitmotif of power lying in knowledge, we continue with treasured tomes: A character who spends at least 30 minutes a day consulting such a tome receives a substantial bonus - from medical textbooks to those containing cyphers, this section is one of my favorites in the whole book and I really wished it was a bit longer - the concept is pure gold. regarding layout, this would be as well a place as any to note that end-of-chapter text tends to result in a bit of blank space on some pages. You may not mind, but, yeah, it's worth mentioning.

All right, this concludes pretty much the rules-section of this massive tome and we progress with a selection of various NPCs, both named and unnamed, that inhabit the school of sorcery. We get stats for all of them and brief write-ups. More importantly, their respective fields of interest and roles provide a variety of different unique abilities and tricks that make them stand out. Where applicable, loyalty bonds have been included with their respective information. Once we have covered this cast of characters, we move on to the locales within the academy, which include its own dungeon as well as a massive, primitive printing press. various spires and a magic, creepy out-of-order restroom...that provides visions for a price, but also may have some sinister purpose. A list of 20 brief random encounter set-ups and a simple generator for people and cliques as well as one for McGuffins can be found. Need to quickly generate a teacher and a potential mishap/complication for your PCs? No problem, there's a generator for that as well. Clubs and extra-curricular activities similarly get their own tables.

Now, this is billed as a combo toolkit/sourcebook/hex-crawl, and indeed, the last 30+ pages of content are devoted to a basic outline of the surrounding lands of Frelundia - here, a desert looms where a mighty serpent-god once feel down and a city of titans long gone awaits exploration. The mysterious collector lives in the direblack swamp and the evil nation of Tyranor borders these lands. A plain of sunflowers contains the astral rock, which may unleash...things, a village of people who disavow the divine providence of rulership and legitimacy of nobles and the PCs may explore the resonating representation of a collective subconsciousness from the plane of dreams. The hex-crawl-section, in general, is pretty evocative, managing to create an overall sense of high-magic wonder, as you may have gleaned from the examples I chose. However, much like similar offerings, it remains sketch-like - you have to develop these wondrous locales yourself.

That being said, a level 1 haunted house (which is really vanilla and not too interesting) as well as level 3 ruins can be found - and the latter actually represents a solid sidetrek adventure. Unfortunately, the solid b/w-maps do not come with player-friendly, key-less versions, which constitutes a comfort-detriment as far as I'm concerned.

The pdf also features a proper, full-length adventure for 2nd level characters - basically a potentially lethal test, as the PCs explore the dangerous dungeon below the school, seeking to find 4 tokens to join the prestigious ranks of the Golden Claw elite students. Interesting here would be not necessarily the complex itself, but the fact that this represents a competitive environment - as such, a rival group of adventurers can make foils and a sequence of their progress is included in the pdf. Once again, there is no player-friendly version of the map.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, but not perfect: On a formal level, I noticed a couple of typo-level glitches like "pendent" and the like. The rules-language, for the most part, is similarly crisp - most referees should not run into issues, though sticklers like yours truly will encounter a few instances where a bit more precision would have been warranted. Layout adheres to a nice 1-column full-color standard with a greenish background...and represents one of the weaknesses of the pdf: The artworks embedded in the file show their borders, which can be a bit aesthetically jarring. The pdf sports a wide variety of full-color artworks, though, if you're like me, you'll have seen quite a lot of them before. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience. The full-color hex-maps as jpgs are nice and serviceable, though the lack of player-friendly versions of the adventure-location maps in the book represents a bit of a comfort detriment for me.

Ray Chapel's school of sorcery, as presented herein, is an interesting book: As a toolkit, it succeeds at its task and allows you to play characters and campaigns based on magical schools. I am not a fan of the new races and their increased power sans limitations on levels. On the other side, the tome and arcane lore rules and ideas like that really make this shine. I am similarly ambivalent about the adventuring portion of the book: While I adore the high-concept hex-crawl locations and their inspiring ideas, the detailed modules didn't do much for me: The haunted house is a bit lackluster and the proving ground adventure's trope of the controlled dungeon has been done better by Rite Publishing's Ruins Perilous-series, serialized in their Adventure Quarterly magazine.

The ruins are nice, though - also courtesy to the tendency of providing cool and unique abilities for monsters and NPCs, something I thoroughly applaud. I also, surprisingly, found myself enjoying the notes on the school more than I figured I would - but ultimately, I found myself wishing we actually got a map or more details for it. As written, the daily life, structure etc. of how it works needs to be pieced together from the information throughout the book, which can be a bit jarring for referees looking for something more than a baseline to develop their ideas.

As a whole, I'd consider this a worthwhile purchase if you're looking for a high-fantasy toolkit for OSR-gaming with more potent races. The pdf does have some nice, hackable aspects and features more than one idea that is guaranteed to spark one's imagination. There is a lot to love here, but at the same time, I wished it was a bit more focused - the adventures contained herein eat precious word-count and pages that would have imho been better served to depict the school, suggest structures and the like - as written, we have a pretty free-form customization tool, but one that does require a little bit more work by the referee than I expected. Why? Because unlike e.g. Carcosa and similar huge-region hexcrawls, this oscillates between the big picture and the local one and the latter is not nearly represented as well as the amazing global ideas. Combined with the hiccups and minor layout glitches, I can't rate this higher than 4 stars - though it definitely deserves these 4 stars. If what you read even remotely intrigues you, take a look!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Larius Firetongue's School of Sorcery
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Veranthea Codex: Adventurer's Handbook
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/17/2017 05:39:57

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive compilation of player-centric material for Veranthea clocks in at 197 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial,1 page ToC, 1 page of SRD, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 190 pages of content, so let's take a look!

Okay, so we begin this book with a brief timeline and introduction to the setting of Veranthea and its distinct continents, with detailed (and really nice!) 1-page maps of the continents in question. The pdf explains the continents and leitmotifs in a concise and player-friendly manner, including the information on the Forever Dark, the collector cabal and a basic outline of the tesseract called the Veil - though here at least the main thing going on, metaplot-wise, is clearly spelled out for PCs, which is NOT something I would have wanted in a player-book. Pretty big SPOILERS there...

From here on, we revisit the various gods of Veranthea - you have at this moment seen those guys in the campaign setting, radical pantheon, etc., so I'm not going to reiterate the information once again. The section also contains various special materials for items, which can generally be called creative, though a few of them could use some minor finetuning - a material that absorbs energy, for example, and converts it to reflexive damage for the attacker, inflicts untyped damage that should probably be typed according to energy absorbed. Another material increases the damage output of weapons after being critically hit. Additionally, we can find dust that allows for the substitution of Strength as a spell's governing attribute. It should btw. be noted that the occult rituals depicted in e.g. the Forever Dark book, have been included here. The gods come with obediences etc.

The pdf then goes on to recap the global rules Veranthea employs - the firearm recoil, the tweaks to psionics, the magic attunement rules, the rules for mirror weapons and fractal armor, the wild magic outcome-table, the rules for the scarring that defines the abilities of those born in Urethiel and the magic styles used there. Notes for playing monstrous parties, the Pilot skill, vehicles...you get the idea.

The player-section collates all the races of the setting, mentioning and explaining the distinction between people types, the divergent stats goblins and strix have in the setting and then going on to provide the racial stats of the Alterrans from "Into the Veil" (including all supplemental material like FCOs, equipment, etc.) and a stat-less mentioning of dread H'gal. Pantako, mongrelmen and leugho have been reproduced here with their associated material, while the previously only sketch-like feylves now get a proper racial presentation, with names, nomenclature, racial traits and associated material - they btw. get +4 Dex and +2 Int and Cha, -2 Str & Con, -4 Wis, making them pretty lopsided for certain builds. They are Small, have low-light vision, get +2 to CL-checks to overcome SR and +2 to Spellcraft to identify magic items as well as 1/day glitterdust and +2 to Perception. They also get quite a bunch of supplemental material, like new pieces of equipment and a racial archetype, the glitterbomber, who decreases bomb damage but blinds targets of direct bomb hits, with bombs that glitterdust foes and higher levels yielding immunity to being dazzled and several glitter-themed spells that they can cast by expending bomb-uses. They also inflict more damage versus targets subject to negative conditions associated with glitter-stuff: Blinded, dazzled or dazed characters, that is. Limited personal flight is locked beyond racial feats and enhancing drakones (animal companion and monster stats included!) they ride etc. make, as a whole, for a fabulous option.

The dengu and pengu variants of the tengu-race have been similarly expanded, though their racial trait modifications could have used highlighting - they are buried in a pretty long text at the beginning, but that remains an aesthetic formatting complaint. The half-doppelganger race is a but lopsided, gaining +4 to one attribute, -2 to another, darkvision, light blindness, immunity to the effects of the trekth's architecture and free alter self with dynamic forms, which can be VERY potent in the hands of the right player. Flesh pockets, armor that is absorbed when changing forms and the like can be found as complimentary material here. A minor complaint: A feat that morphs your hand in a natural weapon of your choice does not take sizes into account and does not specify whether the weapon formed is primary or secondary - and considering the feat's flexibility, there is no default to fall back on. This is a bit puzzling, considering a magic item that nets you bone claws gets the type classification right. The other options here, though, are pretty damn cool and include sound imitation and limited, food-powered fast healing that cannot be cheesed, though the Dexterity-check to negate AoOs when eating in combat can be considered to be a bit clunky.

The strange shokusei notoku halflings also get a proper, full depiction, at +2 Wis, -2 Str, Small size, low-light vision, keen senses DR 2/ slashing or bludgeoning as well as immunity to paralysis, poison, polymorph and sleep effects as well as stunning. They also get +8 to Stealth to hide in vegetation. All in all, pretty powerful. The god tear artifacts, their language, etc. are provided and the racial feats emphasize grappling via unarmed strikes, something that taps in their unarmed ranger archetype and its unique combat style options. They also get a variant, vine-based grappling hook, not unlike that used by the leugho, magic ropes and whips and the spells are interesting, allowing for the assuming of pod-forms, etc. The sun-gryphons have also been included. However, none of the races get an age, height and weight table, which is a bit sucky.

The pdf then reprints the conduit base class, first presented in Amora Game's excellent Liber Influxus Communis, and the Betzekorps Attack on Titan-style PrC as well as the Dragonminded psionic PrC. Entr entrapper, green avenger and lycanthropic icon have been collected here. Similarly, the archetypes collected herein sport the academy trainee, the adversarial armorist, the bird rider, the conexcron investigator, the drunk brawler, the gobchopper skirmisher, the goblin pistolero, the iron fury, the merchanteer, the monstrous minstrel, the nightmare assassin, the nightmare prognosticator, the oni sworn, as well as qinggong ninja, scientific innovator, swarm minder, the tian-ti ang agent, wild mage and wild scholar. The nightmare assassin, just fyi, is a tweak of the blood candle mechanics of the gitwerc, using the candles fashioned from the dead to enhance death attacks.

Alchemist discoveries, general feats and tech like chain swords have been collected here as well, alongside tech items (Veranthea has its own tech-rules, btw.) and the stats of snow orms. The pdf also presents a selection of Veranthean traits and collects the spells associated with the various deities in one handy chapter. After the spells and sans header or the like, we immediately move on to a collection of magic items associated with the deities of the radical pantheon.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level - I noticed no significant accumulation of hiccups. On a formal level, the rules-language is concise, if not always perfect - it should, over all, not generate undue problems, though e.g. when I read something like "class bonus" or "reaction" to denote an action, I cringe a bit. Layout adheres to Veranthea's busy 2-column/1-column standard, depending on the content on the page, and crams a ton of information on each page - this is a dense book. Artworks are a blend of full-color original pieces, stock-art, etc. - fans of Veranthea will be familiar with the pieces used. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience.

Mike Myler, with contributions from Michael Allen, Jacob Blackmon, Larry Dixon, Nicholas J. Giebel, Jeffrey Hersh, Luis Loza and Michael McCarthy, has collected a metric ton of player-material here, which is a good thing, as far as I'm concerned: I hate handing out campaign settings and all their juicy GM-specific secrets to players and this book helps in that regard, big time. At the same time, it represents a great way for those of you who are not interested in the setting and more intrigued by the crunch - while deeply situated in the context of the setting, this still represents a great way to get exactly that.

That being said, if you don't want this as a player handout book or as a stand-alone, divorced from the setting, then this will do significantly less for you - for the most part, you will be familiar with the material herein if you own the other Veranthea books. To me, the book does represent a bit of a missed chance - hiccups in the original iterations of options are still herein, though e.g. the page-numbers are correct.

If you get this book for its own virtues, be aware that Veranthea is a pretty high-powered world and as such, this is not made for gritty games; there are a couple of options that are pretty potent, though still, as a whole, within the realms of the classic paradigms. As a whole, this is worth getting if you don't have the other Veranthea material. From an organization-perspective, I think the special materials, mirrored weapons etc. should have all been collected in their own sub-chapter, mainly since looking for them in the deity write-ups can be somewhat hard to keep in mind. I also consider some notes presented here to be slightly SPOLER-y, with e.g. the nature of a certain god and the metaplot of the Veil being examples for information that should have been redacted. As such, this is not perfect, but neither is it anywhere close to mediocrity - my final verdict will hence clock in at 4 stars -a good offering and a nice way to get Veranthea's crunchier bits to players.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Veranthea Codex: Adventurer's Handbook
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Arms of Myth & Legend
Publisher: Dungeon Masters Guild
by Thilo G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/17/2017 05:37:29

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 27 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, leaving us with 25 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?

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

All right, so crafting in 5e is rudimentary at best - considering the time it takes to craft mundane items and the fact that magic items require infinitely more time, the system puts magic item creation, even that born out of epic moments and spontaneous infusions of power, firmly out of the grasp of adventuring characters - a single legendary item would require the majority of a human's life to fashion. This pdf is designed to allow the PCs to "make", in a way, their own legendary item - a magic weapon/armor/etc. that may be improved over the course of the adventuring life.

The system remains pretty simple and elegant: 1st level (or whatever is deemed to be appropriate by the GM) provides the basic item, which is considered to be common regarding rarity. The rarity determines the maximum number of abilities available for the respective item, starting with 1 ability, and increasing the number by +1 ability for every item scarcity category upgrade. Items with charges may hold double that amount of abilities - may, mind you. So no, just because you have a sword that has charges does not mean you'll drown in abilities. The item in question can be improved in this manner at 3rd, 6th, 11th, 17th and 20th level, with the capstone making it a legendary artifact. The items entail gaining features and a proper means of destruction, concisely defined here - and it should be noted that, no, the highest level results are not equal to the iconic artifacts.

Now, while a gold value that needs to be provided for the upgrade is given, it should be noted that the engine does not necessarily require the value to be paid for - instead, it actively encourages the GM and player to come up with means of paying for this increase - whether it's acquiring e.g. adamantine, destroying evil items or the like - the value is a necessary guideline, yes, but not one that necessarily needs to be paid for in gold. There is another requirement for advancement, namely an increasing number of so-called pivotal moments that the item must be involved in. These provide a kind of GM control device as well as a means of determining the nature of the item involved. A blade used to slay fiends all the time will sooner or later thus gain thematically-fitting abilities. This would btw. be as good a place as any to note that the pdf sports a couple of minor, typo-level glitches: Missing full stops, blank spaces where none should be. While the exception, it should be noted that some of these could have been caught.

The system being relatively free-form, the book provides some much required guidelines for the GM. These would be as follows: Only one item per character; items must be fitting for the character; the item advanced in the way the character advances; item advancement is a collaboration of GM and player and it should be iconic, hard to lose and very hard to destroy. All sensible and pretty easy to maintain guidelines. Beyond this, an in-play example is provided and we move on to no less than 10 fully detailed such legacy items. Pivotal moments in the item's history have been properly bolded in the respective write-ups and the abilities gained are organized by scarcity. The items run a rather diverse gamut, beginning with an enchanted alembic that has, at higher levels, a chance to properly identify the composition of compound liquids and retain remnants of potions consumed from it or at the highest levels, even generate random potions.

The pdf also contains the anvil of kings, which has a small change of infusing items with magic, nets Blacksmith's Tool's proficiency and the higher levels can allow for the addition of e.g. the properties of flametongue or adamantine properties...but here, we encounter a bit of an issue: The item seems to base its effects in a significant way on treating item enchantments as modular, which they not necessarily are - while it is easy for the GM to extract such properties, RAW, this is a bit wobbly, though the issue is, ultimately, a system-immanent one.

A black blade of razor-sharp glass that can generate temporary clones of itself, a crystal globe that shrouds the user in chaotic thoughts and that, alter can be inserted as a quasi-eye into the wielder, a buoyant staff aligned with the forces of frost and water. It should be noted that the amazing blade hellrazor, that ostensibly willed itself into existence, for example is very precise...but at the same time, some items do not precisely state the type of the bonus damage they inflict at higher levels; the type may be evident from context, but it represents a minor flaw worth mentioning. Similarly, e.g. the sanguine shield does not specify whether it's a bonus action or action to activate its charge-based abilities -similarly, its recharge ability, being "fed" blood, is not really precise in how it works and left my puzzled. Silver sorrow, a blade entwined with the tale of a silver dragon, makes for a powerful tool for the causes of goodness, while the runehammer is a dwarven weapon with potent abilities pertaining dwarven scripture, the fight against the goblins, etc. The will of the one, finally, is a helm that was used breaking free from the control of the dreaded illithids - and while pretty potent, it makes sense...though the high-level duplicate generating option of the item lacks the necessary precision and left me with quite a lot of question marks regarding how it works.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are uncharacteristically weak for a pdf penned by Micah Watt: From missed italicizations to punctuation hiccups to inconsistencies and issues in the interaction of more complex abilities, there are quite a lot of hiccups here. Layout adheres to the nice 2-column full-color standard used by Pyromaniac Pres books and each item gets an AMAZING full-color artwork - none of which I have seen before. In short: This is aesthetically-pleasing. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Micah Watt's system left me torn. On one hand, I really enjoyed the lore of pretty much all items herein. Similarly, I found myself enjoying many of the creative abilities. At the same time, the formal criteria and rules-design of the items does have a selection of issues that could have been caught by a capable editor.

The system presented for 5e-legacy/legendary items is really cool...but ultimately, it is only a sketchy "here are guidelines"-type of system. The pdf does not actually deliver on the promise of crafting legacy items.

I couldn't help but feel that, having a selection of common, uncommon, rare, etc. abilities to provide a modular toolkit for the GM would have seriously improved the value of this pdf. As written, you can try to extrapolate from the example items presented, sure, but it still requires the GM to do the heavy lifting - more so than a modular ability-array would have provided.

Now, this is not a bad pdf, though it sports some serious formal hiccups and falls short of its lofty goal...but there is one more thing to bear in mind: This pdf is ridiculously cheap - it only costs a single buck and it is worth getting for that low price, no doubt about that. I'd be rather surprised if you got this and didn't get something cool out of it - the prose for the items, for example, is rather intriguing and the base system is promising as well. Still, with the glitches, I can't go higher than 3 stars, even taking the low price point into account.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Arms of Myth & Legend
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Maximum Xcrawl: Powered by Pathfinder
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/16/2017 07:33:27

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive hardcover clocks in at 155 pages, 151 if you take away editorial, ToC, etc. This review is based on the hardcover of the book, namely the Swimsuit Edition 2014, which comes with a nice wrap-around variant cover. This book was moved up in my review-queue due to me receiving a print version of this book.

All righty, so first things first: What is Xcrawl? If you haven't seen this unique setting/playstyle, then let me enlighten you: On one hand, the proceedings take place in an allotopia, an alternate world akin to ours, though it also borrows from near-future/cyberpunk as well as fantasy. What do I mean by this? Well, the setting itself is one wherein dwarves, elves etc. all live with us on the planet, and one where magic is real. The focus, for the purpose of this book, lies on the United States, or rather, the North America Empire, the analogue within the realms of Xcrawl. The world itself is not one suffused with a plethora of high-tech, but the cyberpunk influences can be seen in the tropes: The gulf between poor and rich has widened even further and the chances to rise on the social ladder are diminishing constantly. The empire is rotten and corrupt to the core - and it is in this dreary, somewhat dystopian vision, that Xcrawl takes place.

If the world itself sounds drab in its construction, then that is by design: You see, much like in movies like "Running Man" and similar cult classics, the empire has taken at least the "Circenses" of "panem et circenses" rather seriously: Thanks to modern technology and magic, the media have discovered perhaps the ultimate adrenaline kick, the piece of color and excitement in a grey daily life, a bloodsport at once complex and simple: Dungeoncrawling, as a spectator sport! Xcrawl has become so popular, it is a singular force, a means to escape ones' limitations - whether if you're an elf rebelling against your house, a half.orc trying to make it out of poverty, a halfling who has broken with organized crime - the Xcrawl environment provides the means to transcend the social strata in an increasingly rigid environment.

Now, I have touched upon races - the classic core races are all covered, though it should be noted that the book reprints these and expands the races slightly: Each race gets bonus skills: These do not allow the character to transcend max ranks, but they represent skills from previous, non-X-crawl environments. These are ranks and as such, they are gained over the levels - this may sound weird at first, but it should be noted that, while rules cover lower levels as well, the suggested starting level for Xcrawls is 3rd. It should be noted that all of the races receive interesting angles and that compatibility to mainstream PFRPG is retained throughout the write-up for the races and the respective races receive some sensible and interesting background information.

Now, while absolutely nothing prevents you from using the content herein with all the PFRPG-classes out there, the main crunch-meat of the book would be no less than 6 base classes that allow you to basically play the game with just this book. If you're curious, yes, these are kinda in line with the traditional roles. Training between levels can be used as an alternate rule and as a thematic leitmotif, Greco-Roman pantheon and aesthetics can be found. So let us take a look at the classes, shall we? Due to the density of the classes and the sheer ground to cover, I will remain relatively brief.

All right, the first class would be the athlete, who gains 3/4 BAB-progression, good Fort- and Ref-saves, fast movement progression from +5 ft. to +40 ft., proficiency with simple weapons, light armor and shields (except tower shields) and don't treat sport-equipment as improvised weaponry. They are grappling specialists and gain Improved Grapple from the get-go, with SERIOUS damage-scaling for grappling - from 1d8 to 9d8 base damage. Somewhat strange: Small athletes only get d4s, which is a pretty serious downgrade - why go two dice-steps here, when Small characters already are handicapped regarding grappling. The athletes also receive the training ability - basically, they get a floating bonus to a physical attribute score - this scales to up to +8 and may be freely divided among the physical attributes, representing the training regimes of the athlete and allowing for some preparation to specific events - whether it's becoming more agile, improving damage output - you get the idea. Second level and every even level thereafter yield so-called special abilities. Quite a few of these tie into the aforementioned training and have requirements, being only available for the athlete while the sufficient training bonus is invested. The respective abilities do sport prerequisites in some cases, and, while they generally are precisely formatted, there are instances of italicizations that have not been perfectly implemented...but that as a cosmetic aside.

Several of the abilities obviously tie in with grappling here, while e.g. pole vaulting and the like can be found, there also are leaping attacks and the like. The rules-language, for the most part, is rather precise, but at the same time, we can find some issues in the finer details of rules aesthetics, like a selection of untyped bonuses that are typed in comparable abilities. Similarly, an attack that should be tied to CMD being tied to Fort-saves. At higher levels, the class does gain the option to temporarily ignore a series of conditions and even gains scaling immunities.

The other classes include the blaster, who gains d6 HD, 1/2 BAB-progression, good Will-saves, 4 + Int skills per level and proficiency with simple weapons and another light melee weapon, which gains "an attack bonus" that scales with the level - it's small issues with the rules-language like this that can be seen The blaster also is an arcane spellcaster, who gains spellslots according to a unique table, which goes up to 8th level. The governing attribute is Charisma, though the spellcasting is prepared and based on a spellbook. The unique part of the class would be that it has the option to convert spells into blasts of raw eldritch might, dealing 2d6 untyped damage per spell level. As a minor hiccup, while the ability does note the ability is supernatural, the header lacks the (Su) that should be here. They also get an ability to make analyzing their spells harder to understand and thus counter. The class once against sports a selection of techniques to modify the respective blasts etc. - with advanced (11th) and supreme techniques (20th) being unlocked at later levels. The untyped damage is pretty nasty, and so is the significant spell arsenal - the class is the one in the arsenal that hasn't aged well - the kineticist or the ethermancer represent better, more balanced options for the blaster trope.

The third class would be the brawler, the fighter-equivalent, who gets Improved Unarmed Combat at 1st level, full BAB-progression, d10 HD, 2 + Int skills per level, a bonus feat at 1st level and every even level thereafter as well as proficiency with all simple and martial weapons, all armors and shields (except tower shields) and no firearm proficiency. They gaina combat pool equal to 2 points +1 for every 2 levels thereafter, which can each round be assigned to attack rolls, weapon damage rolls, AC, and Will-saves "Willpower saves" here) - this is a simple, but fun ability. Speaking of minor hiccups - the Knowledge (Xcrawl)-skill in the class skills here lacks the (Int) that's supposed to be after it - again, cosmetic, but there are quite a few glitches like this.

The jammer is proficient with simple weapons, as well as light and medium armor, shields and a weapon of their choice as well as 3/4 BAB-progression, 6 + Int skills per level and good Ref- and Will-save progression. The jammer is, among all the classes here, by far my favorite class: Think of these guys as artists/rock/pop-stars with a variety of combat music and the option to follow these up with somewhat sneak attack-y bonus damage assaults against the affected individuals. Add to that a ki pool governed by Charisma for better defense and we get an interesting, fun class - I honestly wished we got a lot more options for this guy!!

The messenger gets d8 HD, 2 + Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB-progression as well as good Fort- and Will-saves, proficiency with the deity's favored weapon, simple weapons, all armors and shields (except tower shields) and 2 domains and prepared spellcasting based on Wisdom. Messengers are directly descendant from the divine and their blood can act as a holy symbol. Basically, this represents a variant cleric who does not gain channel energy and instead gets an array of abilities at 1st, 9th and 13th level. This would btw. be as good a place as any to note that formatting of attributes is inconsistent - I noticed quite a lot of lower case attributes like "wisdom" and the book is inconsistent in whether it uses the full-length attributes or the three-letter abbreviations. The class write up also features a table of domains etc. for the Olympian pantheon, some of which have abilities that made me seriously question how they got past playtesting. The ability "On my signal", in the Strategy domain, for example, allows for the no-action (not even an immediate action!!) activation at the start of a combat round: Wisdom bonus + 1/2 class level allies can act on the highest initiative count among the allies (not sure if the "ally" has to be part of the chosen group). I assume that the action is instead of the action usually available at this round. Still, this allows for the old rocket-tag game; bonuses to initiative are very potent and this collective boost, usable 3 + Wisdom modifier times per day, can provide devastating initial assaults.

The final class herein would be the specialist, who gains d8 HD, 8 + Int skills per level, 1/2 sneak attack progression, 3/4 BAB-progression, good Ref-saves, proficiency with simple weapons and 3 martial weapons as well as light armor. They have special abilities, which are akin to talents, separated in two tiers, with the second tier unlocked at 10th level. Okay rogue-variant.

The book also features new skills, obviously: Drive, Grandstanding and Tactics - two are self-explanatory, but grandstanding takes the whole spectator-sport aspect into account - the crowd is important, after all! Where there are so many new classes, there obviously also will be a ton of new feats tying into the new options - expansions for the combat pool etc. - you get the idea. They also gain fame feats over the levels, which tie into the cool narrative framework - and yes, being Face or Heel can be found here! These feats are rather interesting and often feature fun concepts!

NPC-classes and a massive array of equipment, from skinmesh, electroshock weapons and the like all can be found - including real estate and the like, so yeah, the equipment section is really neat. However, as much as I'm not a big fan of the majority of the class section, I do love the Mojo pool: You can NEVER ask for mojo pools - only have them assigned to you by your teammates and an Xcrawl begins with 1d6 + the highest Charisma modifier in the pool; if only one character remains standing, he gets 3 mojo: minimum mojo is 0, maximum is 12: Natural 20s in combat net bonuses, rooms won and exceptional actions all yield mojo, but botches, party infighting and disqualifications decrease the pool. Rolls involving mojo that score natural 1s or 20s can yield escalated benefits or penalties. This small system is brilliant: It promotes teamplay, racks up the tension and makes the game cooler - big, big plus. Fame is btw. tracked from 1 to 20, representing the status of the character - temporary and permanent fame, modifiers and instant recognition all are covered in a well-crafted, intriguing chapter that also allows you to use fame to purchase e.g. access to crawls, manipulate media, etc. - there are a variety of ways to use these points to further the campaign and progress of the team.

The GMing of Xcrawl is depicted in an in-depth chapter as well: First of all, you make DJs - Dungeon jockeys, the guys and gals in charge of the dungeons, stars themselves and larger than life entities - and no, these should not be GM-stand-ins - and obviously, there are various types of campaigns: You can just focus on the Xcrawls themselves, but you can similarly run full Xcrawl campaigns, including the frame narratives, rises to fame, advertisement deals etc. - and from military to the different leagues, there is a grand variety of themes you can draw on. The goals of the Xcrawl and its highlight-reel-like structure, advertisements breaks, DJ-commentary - you can enter some serious 4th wall type of fun. Similarly, the constructed, artificial nature of the Xcrawls mean that you can go full-blown grotesque and absurd - the dungeon doesn't have to make any sense and neither do the monsters - it's unmitigated rule of cool dungeon-design, justified and supported by the very framework. This may sound weird, but particularly for one-shots, convention games or as a change of pace, these Xcrawls make for ridiculously fun, amazing scenarios - there is a reason I've been loving Xcrawl for so long.

The details of how the Xcrawl works, from non-combative badges (noncoms) to nogo doors, refs and PCs surrendering, breakrooms and the like are all included in the discussion of the Xcrawl games; advice on designing Xcrawls, the official imperial rules of the setting, structures of the time leading up to the crawl and a codified reward system make sense. Similarly, magic items and tools can be regulated for the crawl - depending on the Xcrawl, you have the options to custom-rig what works and what doesn't. Stone-Age theme? No problem. Equipment-sponsorship deals, contracts and salaries, rules for personal appearances - the book is incredibly detailed in a variety of way and sports some really fine details.

The book also contains a massive index and a proper character sheet for Xcrawl characters.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, on a formal level, are very good. On a rules-language level, the book doesn't hold up to this quality, though: Rules-formatting is inconsistent in a variety of ways - while their integrity is generally there, I still consider this part to be very much the weakest aspect of the book - a strict rules-developer giving this a pass would have potentially made this shine. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard and the book sports really cool b/w-artworks, all originals. The insides of the covers yield a glorious full-color piece.

The hardcover is amazing - well-constructed, great sleeves, thick paper - one of the production value-wise really impressive tomes and worth the price.

Brendan J. LaSalle, with additional design by Duane Waldrop and Jeff Erwin, has penned one of my all-time favorite non-fantasy settings. The unmitigated wildness of Xcrawl is inspiring and extremely fun; it lets you create wholly different dungeons, tell distinct stories that usually are not represented in other settings. The massive background information, the glorious ideas and the Xcrawl-related tricks are really nice and flavorful and make this a fun book - a glorious book, even; I could make an argument for this being really top of the line in that regard.

At the same time, not all of the classes and player-options hold up well and sport some unfortunate hiccups - to the point, where, if I rated this as a crunch-book alone, it would not fare well. At the same time, systems like the glorious mojo pool or the cool fame engine represent fun subsystems that are extremely hackable. The majority of the classes were honestly not to my liking and crunch-wise, I'd consider this to be a mixed bag. However, the setting and the idea, the concept, make this at the same time a book I'd love to praise to the high heavens. Xcrawl is pretty amazing if you get it, if you take it in the spirit it is intended; if you're looking mostly for crunchy bits, then this probably won't hold up as well, as that aspect is simply not as refined.

I am really torn here - between wanting to complain hard and praising this book, it's hard to find an official verdict. Ultimately, I'd love to rate this 3 stars for the issues in rules-language and formatting...and I'd love to rate this 5 stars + seal of approval for being simply one glorious setting, with great supplemental material. In the end, my official verdict will clock in at 4 stars - if you're looking for the setting, if the idea intrigues you and if you cherish ideas more than precision in the details, then get this ASAP - Xcrawl is unique, fun and thoroughly inspiring.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Maximum Xcrawl: Powered by Pathfinder
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Crimson Heroes: Pregenerated Characters
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/16/2017 07:30:55

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This collection of pregens for the classic Curse of the Crimson Throne AP clocks in at 34 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of introduction, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 26 pages of content, so let's take a look!

All right, so first things first: The characters herein have been created with a 20-pt.-buy method, but for GMs and groups enjoying the added challenge, scaling notes for 15-pt.-buy characters can be found - nice! The presentation follows the by now tried and tested (and really nice) way of the pregen-books released by Legendary Games: We have a gorgeous full-color artwork for each of the characters, alongside a quote that represents the respective characters. It should also be noted that fold-up paper minis for all characters can be found herein.

Now, let's take a look at the characters and start with Ardimaius Trente - and a brief glimpse at the character will tell you that this martial master and compassionate soldier has a built-in reason to engage in the AP; here, an addicted friend. These tie-ins double as a kind of trait, mind you - and this ties into the very modules of CotCT. So yes, the pdf provides deeply-immersed tie-ins of character and module, but it does not stop there: In the tradition of these pdfs, we also have ties between the characters - love-interests, rivalries and the like...and yes, we have notes on character advancement as well as roleplaying advice for the respective characters.

The Varisian rogue (rake) Eugeni Yozifari grew up on the streets - and at one point, he had an affair with another one of the pregens...and he barely managed to survive an encounter with a rather dastardly crimelord...and now has more than one axe to grind with the old sod...The Shoanti cleric of Pharasma (It should be noted that closed IP race-names have been slightly altered, but you still get what the respective ethnicities are) Istas Wraithscar is stricken by poverty and had an addiction to an exotic, strange drug at one point, the second death induced by the drug bringing her once again in line with the goddess...

Khostur Khyle, half-orc urban ranger, is a tragic one: He is almost human...and his wife was brutally murdered...and while he can't yet retrieve the ring from a pawnshop, he has found out who was responsible for him being all alone. He will not be denied retrieving the wedding ring....or making his foe pay. Lianna Ieduri, a half Varisian, half Vudrani tattooed sorceress is a sorceress with a heart of gold - and as a reformed criminal, she knows something about module #1's first BBEG's operation...and btw., she does come with stats for her viper familiar!

Portia Cromathis can hear the spirits of the dead whispering to her - and thus she tries to honor dead and living alike, donning the identity of the Silversheen Ghost -the stalker specialization vigilante with her hauntingly beautiful artwork is most assuredly one of my favorites in the pdf...but then, no surprise there, right? ;P Oh, and she is looking for her missing nephew, once again providing a powerful motivator for adventuring, as well as some romance potential with a fellow pregen.

Runyar Locklin, dwarven warpriest of Abaddar, has a rather powerful motivator as well - the man wants to restore the honor of his family...and with a history of connections and a tendency to not be 100% truthful regarding item-value, he makes for a slightly mischievous twist on the trope of what you'd expect from an otherwise classic character/class combination. Finally, there would be Virsaner Tayne, a half-elven dropout of Korvosa's academia, victim of a smear-campaign paid for by a rival student, executed by, bingo, the boss of module #1, the conjurer with his raven familiar makes for an unkempt, if kind being who represents more of a down-to-earth guy, when compared to the glamorous, slightly femme fatale-ish Lianna.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful two-column full-color standard and the artworks for the pregens are really amazing. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Power-level wise and rules-wise, the pregens are all effective, on roughly the same power-level and they all manage to feel like organic characters.

Neil Spicer's pregens are amazing: Not only are they interwoven along one another, they sport intriguing personalities and come with strong motivations to become involved with the plot of the CotCT-saga. The diverse ethnicities and personalities collected herein fit well within the context of Korvosa and render this collection a great purchase for groups who want to pick up the AP and just play. Add the scaling and roleplaying advice and we have a great file that leaves nothing to be desired. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Crimson Heroes: Pregenerated Characters
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5E Mini-Dungeon #031: Dwarven Dread
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/16/2017 07:29:52

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. Unlike most 5E Mini-Dungeons, this one does not come with VTT-maps or player-friendly iterations, which is a bit of a bummer.

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!

It can always get worse. This simple premise is represented in many an experience, many a module - and here, it is represented by the duergar.

Evil and loathsome though they may be, they generally at least are sane. Well, Argyle the Betrayer has gone off the deep end after encounter the mage Angree, who turned the cave wizard into a kind of mad savior of a duergar cult - it is up to the PCs to stamp out the cult and stop the madness from spreading. As a minor note, the pdf does sport a whole line where the blank spaces are missing.

The dungeon presented here provides a sufficient diversity regarding its challenges, with a small, nice random encounter table adding dynamics, read-aloud rune-inscriptions adding fluff and environmental challenges adding an additional dimension to the encounters. The hyperlinks in the conversion work as intended and the pdf offers some nice traps, with the respective NPCs and elementals making for solid adversary choices. The big loot here is btw. a stone of controlling earth elementals.

Conclusion:

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

Michael Smith's "Dwarven Dread" is a solid addition to the Mini-dungeon line. While it is not as creative as the best of them, it provides an easy to insert dwarven-themed side-trek that features sufficient diversity in the challenges provided to make this a solid, fun romp. The conversion penned by Kyle Crider is solid and while I wished it featured a short-hand adding some unique properties to the BBEG (mage in 5E as opposed to a derro), I do like how the new monster selection still retains a general leitmotif. 3.5 stars, rounded up.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
5E Mini-Dungeon #031: Dwarven Dread
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5E Mini-Dungeon #030: The Burning Tree of Coilltean Grove
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/15/2017 14:13:05

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. Unlike most 5E Mini-Dungeons, this one does not come with VTT-maps or player-friendly iterations, which is a bit of a bummer.

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!

While travelling inside a large forest, the PCs happen upon a sight most peculiar - Coilltean Grove. While this grove of the dryad Flùràlainn would be a most intriguing find in the dullest of times, right now, it is the place of a rarely seen phenomena: The tree is ablaze, the dryad in panic - and beyond that, two tribes of sprites are engaging in all-out warfare, fighting with uncharacteristic ferocity. In order to quell the bloodshed among the fey, the PCs will have to help the dryad, deduce the culprit and source beyond the apparent insanity of the fey and put an end to said threat, for an all out great encounter/module. Kudos, btw.: Kyle Crider went all out in this conversion, with tactics for the BBEG!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes sans bookmarks, but needs none at this length. Cartography is full color and surprisingly good for such an inexpensive pdf, but there is no key-less version of the map to print out and hand to your players. The pdf does sport one nice piece of original full-color art - kudos! The map of this one deserves special mention - it is surprisingly high-quality and evocative for the format - though GMs should not show it to the players, since the map contains a SPOILER pertaining what's going on.

Justin Andrew Mason's mini-dungeon here is simply awesome - beyond the obvious roleplaying potential for roleplaying and the unique, cool backdrop of what happens here, the mini-dungeon can have intriguing repercussions indeed. The set-up is intriguing, the map great - there is simply not much beyond nitpickery to complain about. Kyle Crider has managed to convert it really well to 5E, losing nothing of its appeal - though, to nitpick, massive penalties or bonuses to Charisma (Persuasion) when interacting with sprites in the aftermath of the module feel a bit un-5e-y o me, but that is a purely aesthetic complaint.

This is a great use of the format and well worth a final verdict of 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
5E Mini-Dungeon #030: The Burning Tree of Coilltean Grove
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