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Village Backdrop: Cahill Abbey
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/13/2016 06:51:03

An Endzeitgeist.com review


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


The eponymous abbey of this village may have been long-since abandoned, but the village that sprung up to support it sure as heck still exists and it sports a lavishly rendered map that depicts a sleepy, nice little place...though one that sports something that does not feel idyllic at all: The numerous tents you can see on the map are there for a reason: You see, the village sports a significant array of soldier's of the realm - for the king's soothsayer has prophesied that the savior of the kingdom (perhaps your PC?) will come through this place - thus, the tranquil, peaceful town obviously needs guarding...which, paradoxically, makes it significantly less tranquil and peaceful...and indeed, the influx of people may actually result in terrible evil being unleashed...


Ain't it a b.... how those damn prophecies tend to have means to ensure that they come true, how they perpetuate themselves? Of course, as always, this pdf does sport the trademark attention to detail you expect by now from Raging Swan press' acclaimed series: This means you'll see nomenclature, sample events, rumors, a full village-statblock and more detailed information on key locations here. Beyond that, we get two sample statblocks (one for a 4th level fighter and one for a multiclass rogue/shadowdancer) as well as information on the evil rising and the prophecy - taking a cue from the best of supplements in the series, both remain their vagueness and modularity to allows for precise, DM-specific customization.


Conclusion:


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


Jacob W. Michaels' Cahill Abbey is a concept so obvious, I quite frankly am astonished it has not been covered before in the series: The "friendly" state of occupation, where "good" people have come to ensure the safety of the local populace - you can read some scathing commentary into this pdf, should you elect to choose so, or just take it as is. The addition of a smart example for the trope of the self-fulfilling prophecy adds yet another facet to a versatile, well-written settlement well worth 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Cahill Abbey
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Worlds of Power
Publisher: Drop Dead Studios
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/13/2016 06:48:40

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This supplement of options/sketches of campaign settings for Spheres of Power clocks in at 45 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 41 pages of content, so let's take a look!


We begin with the chapter "Grimorie", which depicts the world of Athanasia...no, it does not have anything to do with Samsas Traum's by now legendary underground song. The world as depicted is a young one - semi-divine beings only known as "strangers" nowadays entered the world and proceeded to guide evolution by virtue of transfiguration via the Alteration sphere. Animals tough this power sought to model themselves somewhat after the strangers, becoming anthropomorphic in many a case (or taking on at least partially qualities of the imitated species). The most successful were to become the dominant humans. A cataclysm happened and ripped part of the world from its body, creating the massive eye of the world and also provided access to the magic-absorbing Pirium: When cold-forged, this rare metal can be used to hamper spell-point based casters and it also stores light which it can then give off when in dark - sans impeding light-blind/sensitive creatures.


The rules for the setting provide a very generic and not very helpful general array of considerations and a chapter-based level-advancement-system - which is based on chapters: Basically, you decide in advance on how much levels you'll play, take 20, divide it by the decided upon chapter number and thus get level increment; after a given chapter, you multiply the # of chapters completed with LI to get the new level, which basically lets you skip levels. This system is, as much as I'm loathe to say it, pretty much overly complicated and basically useless, unless you want chapters that all have the same length - but even when that's your goal, why not just say "You level up to level X" and use the less complicated "level up when the story calls for it"-approach? Which also allows you to adjust chapter length to fit your campaign. I can't think of a single scenario when this one would be superior to a simpler story-based progression...or its opposite, the XP-tracking default.


On the positive side, the pdf does discuss which spheres are stigmatized/limited and which races favor which spherecasting. Technology level for humans is assumed to be iron age, potentially more primitive for other races. Race-wise, the mole people Bóreans are duergar with burrow speed 20 ft instead of SPs (pretty strong), Córeans get fly speed 60 ft. (average) and exchange the tengu's Swordtrained and Skill Bonus (Stealth) for Hatred versus the Seraphim race. Draconians are lizardfolk that lose Swim and gain Vestigial Wings, Breath Weapon and Terrain Stride. Fenrir are werewolves minus lycanthropy and see humans as blights upon the world - think old WoD's Werewolf-extremists. They use kitsune base stats and replace them with +2 Str and Wis, -2 Cha and gain Fast Shifter instead of Kitsune magic. Leonians are catfolk, rules-wise. Merrows and Sirens use merfolk stats. Rania use grippli stats. The seraphim use the stats of strix and change hatred from humans to córeans as well as gaining light sensitivity - they also are batfolk.


There also are the feyfolk: Dwarves lose defensive training and become fey; elves are tiny and lose elven magic. Fairies use gathlain stats and are tiny; gnomes use svirfneblin rules. Goblins and hobgoblins are not fey like the other fey races here and hobgoblins are small. The race-selection here is a total mess regarding internal balancing - from powerful fly speed at 1st level or burrow speed at level 1, there are huge discrepancies in relative race strength and the introduction of tiny characters exacerbates this. Gripplis are less than 10 RP; contrast that with the strix. And that is before taking into account the unmitigated mess that is ARPG's RP-balancing. Whether gnomes use favored class options of gnomes or svirfneblin - no idea. This chapter was utterly useless to me, also due to none of the races truly receiving anything interesting pertaining culture or the like.


The world of grimoire assumes 5 alternate classes for the basic spherecasting classes, the first of which would be the Mage, based on the Incanter. The Mage needs to cast with Int and requires a grimoire to consult to use sphere talents and abilities - it must be held in one hand and "can become tiresome if the mage is wearing anything heavier than light armor." - a needlessly confusing way to refer to the somatic casting and focus casting drawbacks - "tiresome" usually refers to something different and implies that you CAN cast it, but it may incur fatigue. Yes, it's just fluff, but it irked me still. All mages get the Metamagic Expert boon. Mages are locked into Counterspell at 1st level. The mage gets a bonus sphere at 1st level at +1 CL bonus and between 2nd and 14th level, instead of a bonus feat, the mage may elect to undergo guild training, which is identical to specialization abilities of the incanter- these are codified as minor, less, greater and master by sphere.


The Wunderkind is an alternate fey adept whose table lacks the plusses in front of saves and BAB in a jarring formatting oversight. The alternate class has a good Will-save and 1/2 BAB-progression, full CL-progression and full talent-progression. They get d8, 4+Int skills and simple weapon/light armor proficiency. Wunderkinder use Cha as casting ability modifier and start play with Wild Magic and Magical Signs as drawbacks, but get the Easy Focus boon. They are considered to be high casters and gain class level + Charisma modifier spell points. At character creation, a wunderkind chooses one emotion: Serenity, Courage, Enmity, Fear, Grief, Joy, Love or Rage. Whenever a wunderkind spends a spellpoint, there is a 10% chance to have wild magic manifest - this takes the fey aura and adds effects depending on the emotion chosen, which apply before a given effect of the spent spell point begins. Save versus these effects s based on 10+1/2 class level+ Cha mod. Potency of the respective wild magic effects vary greatly - +/- of attitude can be rather weak...while e.g. AoE stuns and staggers can pretty much end a combat in one round...for better or worse. Illusions created by the wunderkind remain in effect for 1/2 class level round after ceasing concentration on it and they are pretty good at resisting the effects of the Mind-sphere.


3rd level provides a reality pool of 1/2 class level + Cha-mod, which can be used to utilize the progressing array of eliciter emotion powers - including means to extend reach, which can be rather brutal, but each time this class feature is gained, the character also further increases the chance of wild magic. The class also receives a very powerful sight-ability to pierce magics and may expend reality points in conjunction with Illusion talents to use the Create Reality fey adept ability. High-levels provide Extradimensional Room, DR and free choice of emotion/wild magic at 19th level and e.g. a permanent illusion at 20th level.


The shaman, an alternate soulweaver, uses Wis instead of Cha as casting ability modifier and e.g. channel-basis and get Skilled Casting and Painful magic drawbacks as well as Deathful magic as a boon. Profession (medicine) (never saw THAT one before...) or Craft or Perform must be chosen as governing skills. These guys can use summon spirit bound to call NPCs with the ghost template and increasing amounts of randomly determined class levels...which is rather work-intense- you have to generate basically a whole roster of random ghost creatures to summon, which takes a lot of work. Additionally, the ability fails to specify whether the shaman has any control over the specific CR-based ghost abilities his called ghosts have or not.


Dendrites are hedgewitches with a druidic flair - they use Con as casting ability modifier and gain the fortified casting boon, but also the draining casting drawback. They get the Green magic and Herbology traditions, but are limited in their secret- and grand secret-selection, both of which sport +1 new option that pertains looking into the past - basically meditating to reroll Knowledge-checks, gain a bonus on them etc. - okay, I guess.


The Exemplar is an alternate incanter with d6 HD, 2+Int skills, simple weapon proficiency and is a high caster, with min 2 drawbacks as determined by either patron or chosen in cases where not 2 are predetermined. Exemplars gain class level + casting ability modifier (may be any mental attribute) spell points and gain a bonus feat at 4th level and every 4 thereafter up to 16th to gain an extra magic talent or casting-prerequisite bonus feat. I mentioned eldritch patrons before here - this choice defines casting ability class skills, bonus sphere, domain and bloodline gained and requires an oath - breaking this oath has dire consequences. The section closes with fluff-only, brief paragraphs on a couple of NPCs.


The second world herein would be Erda -a grim world, where a nigh-god prophet has used undead armies to crush basically all resistance...or rather, is in the process of annihilating what's left: Only the broodmother's orc-realm provides succor and arms itself for the final fight against the mad prophet of Truth. The world is ravaged by war and "wealth should be linearized by level" - whatever that's supposed to mean. Guidelines would have been appreciated here. The world sports next to no magic items bar those PCs craft themselves - no capes, no belts +X, etc. - but as a defining characteristic, there are paragons - these individuals are the only ones that can progress beyond 5th level. Paragons receive ability score increases at fixed levels, bonus feats on every odd level and at 6th level (+1 every 3 thereafter), they gain +1 to atk, damage rolls, armor class (including flat-footed and touch), CMB and CMD as well as saves.


Now here's the interesting part: Three skills, Craft (Armament), Craft (Alchemy) and Craft (Occult) are used to make just about all those items you need - from alchemist's bombs to potions that can restore limited resource class mechanics like ki or rage rounds - these items are based on AP (alchemical power), augmentation levels or the like - the system basically breaks down class features and codifies them via these progressing sections, including using paragon bonuses as limiting factors that prevent cheesing via feat min-maxing. Considering the rarity of magic items implied, this worked rather surprisingly well in my playtests and may be a valid system for darker/rare magic-settings - kudos! Similarly, the classic races features here (including different racial ability modifiers for male and female orcs) are generally well-balanced, though male orcs are lopsided on the physical end of the spectrum. The pdf provides 4 solid traditions: Latent Magic can be gained via either two feats (Lycanthrope or Shadow Dancer) or ki powers intended for the unchained monk - on a nitpicky side, the prereqs sport a formatting glitch and don't properly bold the prerequisite-line. The chapter closes with 4 sample NPCs - and left me wanting to know more about the world.


The final world would be Irhardt, a world wherein humans have begun slaughtering divinities, with now a stalemate between the divinity dragon guarded Atonia (I did cringe here a bit) and the conquering Zethian empire of god-slayers providing a tension-filled status-quo. in Atonia, each person seems to develop an elemental affinity over time - air, land, fire, water, light or darkness, with an opposing element. Affinities extend to creatures, items and stretches of land, providing minor bonuses or penalties accordingly. "Divinities" pertain mythic rules - even the least of them has 10 HD and 1 mythic rank. Creatures that die turn to the associated element pretty quickly, making burial highly uncommon. Affinity also determines spheres available. The affinity also provides resistance to the element that scales with character level and, at higher level, you may forego resistance as an immediate action to instead gain immunity to the associated element. Additionally, the element may be imbued at higher levels into weapons. The destruction sphere is re-codified to apply to the affinity element as well - which misses the chance to make it as one of the few slightly problematic spheres more balanced, but oh well. Instead, it allows for the Cl-based spell-point damage-increase. Somewhat annoying from a rules-language perspective - the write up continuously mentions "elemental damage" for the associated affinity element - which is not clearly defined. While one can certainly assume e.g. lightning for air, things become more complex regarding land, which now can e.g. cause piercing damage as well. The interaction, while not broken per se, RAW does require further clarification to make it less ambiguous. Tradition-wise, the world sports Verbal Casting and Magical Signs as well as Overcharge and channel energy is element-based instead, with light and dark providing the heal all/harm all options.


Kudos regarding the racial section here - the Ailerai get the gliding wing -> feats to gain flight progression right, while grimori use the rules of Rite Publishing's tanimin from "In the Company of Dragons"; merfolk and Zethian androids, while the Ama draw upon Little Red Goblin Games' "Racial Guide 4: Nontraditional Races." Infused are an interesting take on the planetouched, codifying aasimar, tieflings etc. as citizens of the Zethian empire. Finally, Zethian kobolds have no light sensitivity and get a prehensile tail. Overall, this array of races is sound and looks pretty well-rounded regarding power-levels. The section ends with notes on restrictions of races/options by region. The setting assumes a removal of alignment and substituting affinity, which partially works...but only partially. If you plan on pulling that off, you'll need a lot of work...but less than with a non Spheres-of-Power-setting, granted. Still, this does leave quite a few questions open.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are good, though by far not perfect - I noticed a couple of formal glitches as well as some that extend to the rules-language. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard and the pdf sports an okay world-map of the first world. Artwork-wise, this is mostly stock-art which you may have seen before; in an odd choice, some of the pieces are blown up to a whole page, which seems odd, considering that they are not that nice and get slightly pixelated at that size.


Okay, so before we go into the respective realms contained herein: All of them suffer from the brevity of their respective entries. I don't expect a full-blown gazetteer of a world, but as presented, they, by requirement, are somewhat sketchy, not full-blown worlds.


As for the worlds...well, they kinda fluctuate in their appeal to me: I can't really find anything compelling to say about Wm Jay Carter III's Grimoire - racial balancing is all over the place, some class features of alternate classes are somewhat problematic and the bit of fluff we get...isn't that interesting. Anthropomorphic races as a draw don't work that well for me either, since Eric Morton's Animal Races-series provides better balanced options there.


Richard Cramer's Erda is very much up my alley and the codification of magic items and DIY-approach combined with the idea of exceptionalism provide an interesting setting I wished had more space to shine.


Finally, I expected to hate Alexander Corrin's Irhardt, but in the end considered it more interesting than its basic set-up (which looks like evil science vs. good magic/somewhat avatar-like) would have made me believe: Overall balancing is solid and while there are some components that RAW could be more refined, I can see this one working.


In the end, all three settings could have simply used more space to shine - they are examples that highlight what you can do with Spheres of Power and have some nifty ideas to scavenge, but ultimately don't provide enough to work as full-blown settings. There is something to take from these pages for most groups, but I wager that only a rare few groups will elect to play in the sketches as provided. Grimoire, as mentioned, fell flat for me, with Irhardt being good, but with brevity-induced issues and Erda being perhaps the most compelling7unique of the rules/worlds herein - considering these, I will ultimately settle on a final verdict of 2.5 stars, rounded up to 3 - a mixed bag that does suffer from its self-imposed limitations.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Worlds of Power
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April Augmented
Publisher: Dreamscarred Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/12/2016 03:10:46

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This Pay What You Want April's Fool-release clocks in at 15 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 11 pages of content, so let's take a look!


The first new archetype herein would be for the currently-in-playtest discipline-using class, Medi...and it's called Ambu-Lancer. These guys get Ride as a class skill and a mount with light armor proficiency at first level. When riding said mount, the ambu-lancer takes no armor check penalty to Ride skills and killed mounts can be replaced sans cost after just 1 week, analogue to the cavalier. Medic's expertise is replaced with Mounted Combat and in an interesting twist, maneuvers that have a movement component may be used with the mount's movement instead of the ambu-lancer's - basically, it replaces the animal companion's usual share spells with discipline-related movement sharing. Similarly, the triage ability may be used in conjunction with the mount's movement.


Absolutely hilarious: At 4th level, instead of +1 triage use, the archetype gets a Stealth-WRECKING minus 30 Stealth when activated siren that grants Improved Overrun when attempting to move somewhere to use triage - MEDIC!!! XD Instead of 5th level's medic's expertise, the archetype may drag allies healed atop the mount! Pretty cool archetype...and hilarious.


The Edge Lord harbinger had me laugh so hard, I had to stop and go outside for a second - the archetype gets proficiency with simple and martial weapons and the katana, but not with any armor or shield. Discipline-wise, they replace Riven hourglass and Scarlet Throne with Unquiet Grave and Mithral Current. At 1st level, the archetype gets Quick Draw and dons a leather coat of black or red leather that provides Int-bonus to AC (+1 dodge bonus at 3rd level and every 5 levels thereafter) - this ability replaces accursed will and is called..."Become So Numb." Starting at 4th level, the edge-lord may teleport a limited amount of times per encounter before or after initiating a strike. This is called "One Step Closer." Come on, now you've got it, right? It's friggin' Linkin Park-the-class. XD Instead of elusive shadow, the archetype gets immunity to emotion effects and replaces sorcerous deception with Mixed Combat and Weapon Focus - X-Ecutioner Style. If you didn't grow up with these, you may not consider this as funny as I do...but boy...I could throw myself away right now...Increased crit range via Papercuts and the option to teleport crited foes unwillingly complement this very well - basically, if you ever wanted to play Dante or Vergil from Devil may Cry...yeah, that's a pretty good way to do that. Two thumbs up!


The Madman monk may not use class features with monk weapons, only with unarmed strikes. This archetype...is basically an exercise in how M-A-D you can make an archetype - all saves are governed by two attributes: Str and Con for Fort, Dex and Int for Ref, Wis and Cha for Will. For the lulz, his unarmed strike attacks use Int and Str to atk, but Con and Cha to damage rolls. And no, this cannot be changed. They deal bludgeoning, piercing and slashing damage at once via unarmed attacks. Dex-based skills are enhanced by Str. Cha-based skills are enhanced by Wis. The MADman may substitute psychoses for attacks in his flurry, with save DC being equal to 10 + 1/2 class level + highest attribute modifier + lowest attribute modifier. In case you haven't got that yet - no, you can't choose anywhere and yes, negative modifier decrease the efficiency. So what's a psychoses? Well, it's basically the talent array of these fellows. They get one new psychosis at each odd level, with later levels unlocking new ones. Now here's the mechanically interesting component: The more successful psychoses (success/failure-conditions provided individually), attack and maneuvers the madman has performed before in a given flurry, the more potent becomes the specific effect. And yes, these include reality-bending stunts like flying (for as long as the flurry persists...). Also interesting - high level psychoses have powerful effects - when executed AFTER 5 successful prior attacks...otherwise, they have no effects. And yes, the archetype does have multiple capstones to choose from. This whole archetype is basically a meta-joke on the monk...and it still kinda works. While perhaps the least serious-feeling component herein, the archetype sports several impressive and cool ideas. with the psychoses and flurry-combo-idea in particular being worthy of closer examination.


Next up would be the Daring Hero 10-level PrC, which sports Elan's (The OotS-character, not the race) Razor Wit as a prerequisite bonus feat. The PrC grants d10 HD, 6+Int skills per level, 1/2 Ref- and Will-save progression and full BAB-progression. Every even level, the PrC provides +1 maneuver known, chosen from Mithral Current, Scarlet Throne and two previously available disciplines, chosen upon taking the PrC. PrC-levels count as full initiator levels and 3rd level and every 3 thereafter add +1 readied maneuver. 4th, 6th and 10th level provide +1 stance. The PrC allows the character to substitute Charisma as initiation modifier for all mental attribute modifiers for all class features and maneuvers - which is pretty OP. Additionally, this enhances Razor Wit and provides benefits for soulknives. Dramatic Entries, better starting reputation...okay. Using counters sans expending immediate actions 1/encounter at 3rd level, +1/encounter every 3 levels thereafter, is pretty powerful. At higher levels, the plot armor stance can be used and these guys get gold for the fanfiction written about the. As a capstone, the hero can't die anymore...unless it's fittingly climactic.


Next up would be the Drowmedary-race,a combination of drow and gamla - these folks get a full age, height and weight-table (with a minor grey-line-formatting glitch) and are humanoids with the elf and akashic subtypes. They have normal speed, +2 Con and Cha, -2 Dex, get +1 bonus essence and get poison spit that scales with the levels - usable 1/minute, range 10 ft. The spit can stagger foes and even knock them unconscious and essence can be invested in it as though the ability were a veil - essence invested increases reach and DC. Personally, I think the DC-increase is a bit excessive here - in my game, I'd rather increase the reach-increase from 5 ft. per essence invested to +10 ft. Also, since the alternate, difficult-terrain-causing class feature that spits webs instead is rather outclassed by this one. Drowmedary also get a teamwork bonus feat they can share for Cha-mod rounds with all allied drowmedaries within 60 ft.. See, this is one of the abilities that looks fine in a general adventuring group - but when all players play the race, it gets ridiculous fast. I'd strongly advise in favor of a daily limit or similar factor to prevent this getting out of hand. Instead of this, they can also get climb speed via spidery legs.


The pdf has one more thing to offer, namely the gelatinous cube monster class - HD d8, -4 Dex, +4 Con; Ooze type, speed 15 ft., acid immunity. The cube is considered intelligent, blind, has blindsight, can't be tripped and gets 2+Int skills per level. They get a slam attack and transparency at 1st level. Their class spans 4 levels, has all bad saves, 3/4 BAB-prgression and nets +4 Con on every level but the 1st, but also -2 Dex per level. Paralysis potency increases every level, 3rd provides +1d6 acid damage and 4th level nets size-increase to large as well as engulf. The write-up also sports two racial feats - one that nets you a pseudopod and a second feats allows the cube to assume humanoid form. If you really want to go cubey, I'd also suggest checking out Rite Publishing's "In the Company of Gelatinous Cubes", their April-product last year.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are good on a formal level, very good on a rules level - the wordings are generally tight, though some minor glitches can be seen here and there. Layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press' full-color two-column standard and the pdf has no artworks. It does, however, have bookmarks and it comes with a second, more printer-friendly version.


Anthony S. Altovilla, Forrest Heck, Jacob Karpel, Jade Ripley, Jeffrey Swank and Kevin Ryan provide some hilarious options here - with a wink, sure...but functional nonetheless! While I am not sold on each and every design decision, I do love a lot of the components herein - the Edge Lord made me laugh so hard and the drowmedary are similarly fun. (2 cents if you play one dual-wielding scimitars...) Yeah, yeah, endy has to complain about blabla... but guess what? I don't want to. This is a pay what you want product that offers significantly more great ideas than many commercial releases. Sure, I don't consider all perfect - but you can literally take a look and then tip the authors...and seriously, you should. The material is worth it, particularly for Path of War-fans, for whom the majority of content herein is intended. This may not be perfect in formal criteria or balance-wise, but it's fun and there is no component herein that will truly break anyone's game. Taking that and the PWYW-aspect into account, I arrive at a final verdict of 5 stars.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
April Augmented
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Occult Character Codex: Mesmerists
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/12/2016 02:59:06

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of the Occult Character Codex-series clocks in at 28 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page how-to-use, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 20 pages of content, so let's take a look!


I like Occult Adventures - a lot. It's one of my favorite Paizo-books out there and the classes rekindled my faith in Paizo's class design, even though the book has some rough edges here and there. Suffice to say, the rather complex classes are cool - but making characters with them takes obviously a bit longer than for less involved classes...and we're all time-starved anyways, right? This is where this series comes in - basically, we have a collection of characters herein, spanning the CRs from 1 - 20, all ready and set for your perusal.


So how were they made? Well, for one, the builds use Pathfinder Unchained's automatic bonus progression, which means that the characters have a better chance to stand against the PCs sans flooding the campaign with magic items - a decision I very much welcome. The builds are not made to be sheer exercises in powergaming superiority that exist in a vacuum, instead championing the approach of making viable characters, complete with a brief personality sketch, though that component is less pronounced than in Purple Duck Games' codices. Options and buffs are included in the statblocks, though handy pre-buff sections provide the information sans them, should your PCs be able to catch the character unaware.


Beyond that, advice on using the characters in combat and class-specific peculiarities are covered as well. The design philosophy, in spite of the relatively brief fluff texts for the characters, is that you have living characters, not an exercise in min-maxing - while efficient at their given tasks and roles, the NPCs in this book ultimately are supposed to feel like they are more than an engine of fine-tuned destruction, sporting e.g. skills that can be used in contexts beyond combat. Long-duration spells are included in the respective statblock, though they also feature lines that provide the stats sans buff-suites. It should be noted that the tactics-section before and during combat is pretty detailed in this book, making the spontaneous handling of the mesmerists in this book slightly easier. A brief guideline regarding the handling of mesmerists is part of the deal before we dive right into the statblocks themselves.


So, we have a massive book of mesmerists spanning the whole range of levels - from level 1 - 20. As far as archetypes are concerned, we get Cult Leaders and Spirit Walkers (the latter in one of the builds multiclassed with 1 fighter level), but no Toxiticians or Vexing Daredevils. (And no, Occult realms' Umbral Mesmerist neither...) On the plus-side, the racial selection this time around is interesting, to say the least: The wonderfully fitting nagaji and kitsune races are represented herein alongside changelings and yes, doppelgängers - the three doppelgänger statblocks are assumed to be part of a doppelgänger conspiracy and represent leaders at different stages of their cabal. Interesting here: While they share some spells in common as a kind of leitmotif, the lists still are diverse and exhibit different foci, a practice that also extend to feat selection -while at first glance, doppelgänger mesmerists wielding greatswords of various potency look similar, even a casual glimpse at the respective feats shows that they employ different tactics and play differently as adversaries. Similarly, spell-lists of the characters that may seem familiar have been tweaked in a lot of subtle nuances that end up creating remarkably different experiences.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful, two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports several beautiful pieces of full-color artwork, some old, some new. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Julian Neale's collection of mesmerists is diverse, interesting and sports quite an array of truly distinct, unique builds. While, like in the first book, the flavor-text is pretty minimalistic, the builds themselves are varied and interesting. Granted, I would have loved to see the other archetypes covered as well, but that is me being a spoiled bastard reviewer from hell. In the end, these mesmerists are solid, fun and work well - the statblocks I took apart sported no glitches, which is also a feat worth mentioning. In the end, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Occult Character Codex: Mesmerists
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Paranormal Adventures
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/11/2016 04:49:39

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This massive book clocks in at 70 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 5 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 61 pages of content, so let's take a look!


Okay, after a brief introduction to the matter at hand (and an artwork that obviously details Sam and Dean Winchester from Supernatural as medieval iterations of themselves, setting a kind-of theme for the book), we dive into the first class, which would be the shapeshifter. The shapeshifter base class receives d10, 4+Int skills per level, proficiency with club, dagger, darts, quarterstaff, shortspear, sling and spear as well as all natural attacks and light armor. They gain a full BAB-progression and good Fort- and Ref-saves.


So that's it chassis-wise. At 1st level, they gain the ability to...wait for it: Change shape. Blew your mind there, didn't I? ;P Kidding aside, the shapechanger gets the subtype of the same name, and in a perfect example of Alexander Augunas' holistic design philosophy, he also gain a bonus animal provided he does gain the ability to change into a respective animal via racial traits and applies the Disguise bonus to both the racial animal form and the other abilities of the assumed form. At 1st level, the shapeshifter gains the ability to assume a number of animal shapes drawn from the list of animal kingdoms (more on that later) and may, as a supernatural polymorph effect as a standard action assume the form of the animal shape. However, the animal form assumed does not grant Disguise-bonuses (as opposed to the humanoid shapechange, for example) and items do NOT meld into the new form.


When assuming a larger form, the shapechanger breaks his equipment and may be entangled unless he makes a Reflex-save based on size-bonuses to CMB granted by the larger form. If the form is significantly larger, he may even destroy his equipment! And yes, item-types and magic is taken into account. A shapechanger begins play knowing two animal shapes, +1 if his race already has the shapechanger subtype, with each level providing +1 shape. When such a form is chosen, the shapechanger needs to specify the animal kingdom, the specific creature and size of the animal shape. Initially, only sizes tiny, small and medium are available for animal shapes, with 5th level unlocking Diminutive and Large creatures, 9th level providing access to Fine and Huge ones, 13th providing access to Gargantuan and 17th to Colossal animal shapes. Animal shapes can be maintained indefinitely and when applicable any save-DCs granted by an animal are equal to 10 + 1/2 class level + Con modifier.


While in animal form, the shapechanger gains a bonus to damage depending on how far away from the largest size category available he is - e.g. if the shapechanger has access to Large shapes, he gains a +2 bonus to damage when assuming a Small shape, +1 when assuming a Medium shape, +3 when assuming a Tiny shape, etc. And yes, a handy table explains this in detail. Additionally, starting at 1st level, 3rd level and every 4 levels thereafter, the shapechanger receives one adaptation - basically the talent array of the class - and OH BOY are there many! From gaining one ability score from the chosen animal when in its shape to skill-bonuses, scaling fast healing (that is balanced by being negated by silver weapons and a daily limit, retaining compatibility with ALL, even the most gritty of campaigns!), faster movement, limited item melding, hybrid shapes, altering size categories (for e.g. diminutive wolves...), proper blending as a creature - there is a TON of material here. Particularly impressive: Several templates are available (you must choose, alas) that can be applied a limited amount of minutes to shapechanged forms for a boost and yes, swarm shapes. Need I say more?


This is, however, not where the customization ends: Starting at 2nd level and every 2 levels thereafter, the shapechanger gets one instinct - these would be the second type of talents of the class - and yes, once again we have an impressive array available: Burrowing Charges (at 8th level prereq balanced), distracting harassment in small shapes, empathy with one's kingdom, natural weapon flurry, high-level hide in plain sight, better charges with stingers, bites and gores, evasion and uncanny dodge and their improved brothers, animal shape combat maneuvers, hardness reduction, attack-prevention from one's kingdom's members, moving through thorns etc. sans taking damage at 4th level...pretty impressive. While I've gone on the record with my loathing of the stalwart ability, at 6th level and considering the issues of the class with equipment and the restrictions imposed on it, my playtest actually determined, somewhat to my admitted chagrin, that the ability works nicely here. grumbles Oh yes, Toss and Throat-Rip are part of the deal...and if you're like me and an utter fanboy of Alex's superb Ultimate Charisma - well, there's an option to make better use of psychological combat as well. (Mind you, even if you don't have that book, there are about a gazillion of options to choose from...)


At 3rd level, the class gains Savage Spirit a scaling bonus to atk, damage and AC, with bonus type being modified by animal shape (clever!) and said bonus is also added to additional parameters depending on which attribute-association the chosen animal shape has: Strength-based animals add it to CMB, Wisdom-based ones to Will-saves and Perception (and gain an increase of special senses, if applicable) - one again, a tactical, fun and complex rules-operation that manages to seemingly effortlessly provide strategic depth and get an ability right that would be a trainwreck in a lesser authors hands. Starting at 5th level, natural weapons are counted as magic, with further DR-mitigating properties being unlocked at appropriate levels. As a capstone, the shapeshifter may treat every animal form as though it were associated with every ability score, gaining a brutal omni-buff as well as free shapeshifting - even while in the process of executing a full-attack: Basically, become a morphing shredder of death 1/day. Awesome.


Now I noted animal kingdoms, which play a significant roles in the codification of the respective forms. Each kingdom has a base shape that determines forms, modifications to speed, sight, presence of hands, types of natural attacks, etc. Each is associated with two different attributes and provides increases in potency at 2nd, 8th and 15th level, including bonus feats, improved movement rates, etc. - 15 are provided and they include dinosaurs and humanoids! And yes, they span multiple pages. As a minor nitpick - the bear's 15th level ability obviously should not refer to the Diehard feats and instead apply the ferocity quality, as it references a feat not necessarily there - the special quality would circumvent this issue and is what the 2nd level ability grants. Apart from this one, I noticed no glitches in this massive chapter.


The second class could be summed up as "Castiel-or-any-demons/angels from Supernatural"-the class. Vessels get d8 HD, 4+Int skills per level, a cleric's alignment aura corresponding to the passenger, proficiency with simple weapons, light armor and shields, 3/4 BAB-progression and full Will-save progression. Vessels cast psychic spells drawn from the cleric-list, governed by Charisma as key attribute, which affects spells per day and DCs, but NOT spells known. They are spontaneous casters and learn to cast spells of up to 6th level. Their 0-level spells are known as knacks. A vessel can't cast spells of an opposed alignment.


Vessels choose a passenger at 1st level - an outsider that must be within one alignment step of the vessel. This influences a couple of the class's abilities. It should be noted that mental control and possession immunity, unless practiced by a +4 levels more powerful individual are side-effects, which makes these guys pretty much the nightmare of all enchanters - not the biggest fan there. At 1st level, the class also gets the grace ability: A vessel accepts grace into his body using invocations - each such invocation allows the vessel to accept 1 point of grace into his body as a move action. An invocation remains in effect for 1 minute per class level or until a given combat ends. No, this cannot be cheesed A vessel can hold up to 3+Con-mod grace at a given time and may not use an invocation when his grace is full. Invocations provide bonuses depending on the type of invocations used and the bonuses stack over the levels - the closest analogue here would probably be judgments. Okay, so back to the grace ability: For each point of grace he accepts, the vessel either takes character level nonlethal damage or loses 1/2 vessel level spell slots, minimum 1. Now here's the interesting thing: The nonlethal damage incurred by this ability does NOT regenerate and can ONLY be healed via a full night's sleep - so no spamming and the precise wording prevents ANY attempts to cheese these mechanics I could come up with - watertight indeed.


Starting at 2nd level and every three levels thereafter, the vessel may choose an omen - these special powers are powered by grace expended and their DCs, if applicable are based on the 10+1/2 class level + Charisma modifier-based formula. The breadth and depth of these options is exceedingly impressive - whether we're talking about planar adaptation instead of receiving the benefits of the invocation, altering detect spells, selecting cruelties or mercies or synergy with the destructive invocation...or domains...or touch with effects governed by alignment of the touched creature in relation to that of the vessel's passenger, telekinesis...the amount of options and their internal class synergy and how they work is surprisingly unique. At 2nd level, he gains 1/2 class level to all caster level checks , skill checks and Int-checks pertaining occult rituals. 3rd level provides the grace overfloweth ability - whenever he accepts grace, he manifests a sign of his passenger's presence and gains grace boons based upon subtype of the passenger and vessel level. The first boon is gained at 3rd level, with an additional one unlocked every 3 levels thereafter. Grace manifestation may be suppressed as a full-round action, but this also suppresses all grace boons.


Starting at 4th level, a vessel begins the day with 1 grace that does not deal damage, +1 at 10th and 16th level, with maximum grace also increasing by this amount, though it should be noted that these do not activate aforementioned grace overfloweth abilities. At 6th level, a vessel can benefit from two invocations at once as separate actions or use one action to accept 2 points of grace, but these must be paid for in nonlethal damage and can't be negated via burning spells. A similar ability gained at 15th level does pretty much the same for 3 invocations instead. 7th level provides teleportation-related tricks powered by grace, which extend in potency and options at 10th level and every 3 levels thereafter, unlocking progressively better abilities at higher grace-costs Starting at 20th level, 1/day, they can accept 10 points of perfect grace - these can be used to activate any ability as though they were points of grace, count as minimum grace required and do not count against the limit of total number of points of grace. These points last for 1 minute and do not cause nonlethal damage.


Okay, so what about those passengers? Each belongs to a class of outsiders and has an alignment, associated domains, DR, different grace manifestations and a linear boon progression from 3rd level to 15th - somewhat akin to a more complex order or bloodline. Covered are Aeons, Agathions, Angels, Archons, Azata, Daemons (alas, lacking the 12th level ability), Demons, Devils, Div, Inevitables, Kami, Proteans and Psychoomps - so yes, there is a LOT to choose from and a lot of potential for expansion. The ability-dispersion along the levels when taken in combination with the respective domains and DRs generally result in an impressive internal balancing - overall, I considered none of the passenger ability-suites stronger than the others. Want an example for the abilities? All right! Psychopomp-passenger geta scaling body-upgrade at 3rd level and sights; 5th level allows for grace-expenditure for ghost-sight; Psychopomp's 9th level ability allows for the expenditure of grace to avoid auto-detection via e.g. blindsight etc., with 12th level granting spirit sense, 15th permanent tongues and 18th level apotheosis-style tricks...including rays powered by grace that may permanently slay/destroy the living and undead alike - which brings me to an interesting component: The kinda-apotheosis-like abilities of the vessel are surprisingly not boring - after having seen so many of these types of abilities, it's pretty hard to do something interesting for me in that regard and these passengers manage just that - kudos!


All right, so that would be the new classes, now let's take a look at the archetypes and class options contained herein! We begin with a firearm ranger combat style and then get the Monster Hunter Ranger archetype - yep, that would be the Winchester-archetype. These guys get an extended class skill list that includes the Knowledge-skills and they add 1/2 ranger level and Wisdom modifier to them when trying to identify creature abilities and weaknesses instead of wild empathy. I'm generally not a big fan of adding two attribute modifiers to a given skill check, though MAD at least partially mitigates this concern here. Instead of favored enemy, monster hunters receives bonuses when correctly identifying creature abilities and weaknesses. This ability has a sensible, level-based scaling mechanism. Starting at 4th level, monster slayers can apply aforementioned bonus always, for up to class level monster types or subtypes and higher levels provide means to reallocate these slaying specializations.


The shapeshifter has significantly more to offer than its already impressive basic class - namely an array of animal subkingdoms -a total of 10 of them, to be precise - whether we're talking about ant, tyrannosaur, triceratop, cheetah or gecko - each of them provides a rather complex modification of the base kingdom: Porcupine shapechangers have e.g. retributive quills that can also be implanted with tail slaps, with high level shapeshifter even combining quills with dirty trick maneuvers -so yes, the rules-operations are unique and complex and each subkingdom has at least one replacement abilities, while most have 3...and yes, venomous snakes and wasps can be found here as well. Personally, I consider the wasp subkingdom's 1st level flight at 30 ft, average maneuverability potentially problematic, since unassisted unlimited flight is usually relegated to higher levels, so that can be problematic, depending on your campaign. Beyond these subkingdoms, two different archetypes are provided. The mimicker needs direct contact to properly change in a specific creature, but does gain the ability to properly mimic the creature to not look like an odd version of the animal shaped mimicked, with higher levels providing more animal shapes and basically a "stored" shape after contact - a small archetype, but one with a truly distinct playstyle.


The second archetype provided would be the selfshaper, who is always treated as though it assumed the animal form associated with the shapeshifter kingdom that matches her true form, but sans gaining the shapeshifter kingdom's abilities and may not select adaptations or instincts requiring one or more animal shapes. This replaces shapechanger, while 1st level also allows the option to alter size or reach (at 7th level: both; with later levels further increasing the options) as a standard action, with a level-based progression of available options somewhat similar to that of the base class, obviously modified to account for the options of the archetype. Stretching body and grasp exclusive instincts, among others, make this one interesting.


Vessels can replace the 2nd level omen with an expanded spell-list and replace a limited amount of omens with oracle revelations from limited mystery-lists when choosing to take the fatespinner archetype. The Messiah archetype receives the psychic spells of the psychic class modified by the sorc/wiz necromancy (aging) and transmutation spells (the subschool can be found in the highly anticipated Grimoire of Lost Souls) and the archetype also gains the native outsider type in addition to his original type. 2nd level provides a phrenic amplification and 1/2 level phrenic points, while 6th level provides the option to use grace to cast spells not known from his spell-list, replacing the 8th level omen. I get the balancing here, but I do think gaining an ability at 8th level would have been nice - as written, 8th level becomes pretty much dead for the archetype - +1 spell at 3rd level, that's it.


The planar scribe replaces the omens gained at 2nd, 8th and 20th level with bardic performance and associated omens - these allow the scribe to e.g. learn masterpieces and unlock progressively better bardic music abilities, including options to use grace to enhance the DC of abilities gained - an interesting hybrid archetype. The witch class also sports two archetypes - the bookbonded replaces a witch's familiar and the 1st level hex with a spellbook as the wizards uses, which, at 3rd level, will double as an implement, with additional schools being unlocked at 8th level and every 6 levels thereafter. The chosen school of the implement can be reassigned daily; this ability also nets the base focus power and 1/2 class level mental focus., replacing 2nd level's hex. 4th level allows for the learning of focus powers instead of hexes and 10th level provides the means to make the book count as acting for two implement schools at once. The song-hexer receives a fixed list of bonus spells in lieu of patron spells and basically can be considered to be a witch/bard-crossover archetype that pay for the bardic tricks with hexes - all in all, a nice one.


The two new classes also sport a ridiculously detailed list of favored class options - beyond core races and the usual "sexy" races à la aasimar, drow, tiefling, etc., from vanara to undine to gathlain, we extend the options to dragons(!!) and even ghorans, kasatha, lashunta or traxians and even androids are covered - kudos for going the truly extra mile here! Better yet, the favored class options ALSO provide the highly intriguing and modular everyman class options-selections for vessel and shapeshifter - kudos!


The feat-section provides the usual extra x/class- and archetype-enhancer feats, though better synergy with family-members via a teamwork feat and means to stay conscious when nonlethal damage exceeds your current hit points, the section does sport some rather cool tricks - two well-crafted traits can be found here as well.


Monster-wise, there are two templates that allow creatures to gain shapeshifter and vessel tricks (Cr +1 or +2, depending on HD) and there are new creatures herein - to be more precise, a new subtype, and it is absolutely GLORIOUS: Born from the rotten blood of the elder deity Leviathan, the Levialogoi are unique in various ways - namely that the subtype makes them actually capable of standing before even mythic adversaries sans immediately evaporating in sprays of foul blood: Beyond massive resistances, DR and Regeneration, they can assume shapes, have an affinity for templates, SR and lethal natural attacks - basically, these beings made my jaded players scream "WHY WON'T IT DIE??"...and yes, they actually died for once! Don't get me wrong, these monsters are balanced and unique...but the impressive component is frankly that they have defenses that make them viable, lethal foes against even high-level parties - the wonderfully disturbing artworks for them (3, btw.) emphasize this...oh, and the sample creatures provided clock in at CR 20 and CR 25. I absolutely ADORE them and hope we'll see more of these delightfully brutal foes!


Now if you're a fan of Supernatural, the occult rituals will make you smile: Drawing a glyph to banaish specific outsiders? Check. Message by blood? Check. Crossroads-devil summoning? Check. Outsider blood as psychic power? Check. Finding objects/persons via a ritual on a map? Check. Also awesome: Shrinking foes down (Microsized Adventures-synergy), swapping minds, absorbing memory in quicksilver solutions, permanent creature transformation and a twisted ritual to extend one's life or cheat death by consuming souls are awesome and allow for recreation of the often inspiring imagery used in the series - and even if you dislike it, rest assured that these work in every campaign.


The book closes with a small 2-page chapter, primarily useful for less experienced GMs, detailing how to set up a basic paranormal investigation adventure. The advice provided is sound.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, if not perfect - there are a few of minor cut copy paste hiccups, as mentioned above. Layout adheres to Everyman Gaming's 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Artwork-wise, Jacob Blackmon delivers some of the best pieces I've seen him draw, with particularly the Levialogoi being downright...creepy. The constant presence of the quasi-Winchesters as drawn characters herein is nice as well if you're familiar with the series; if not, they'll still be neat pieces, with big chapter-introduction artworks standing out particularly.


Alexander Augunas' Paranormal Adventures is a thoroughly impressive book - if you need a good reason why there are precious few crunch-authors out there that show up often on my top-ten-lists, here's a very apt example: Quite frankly, few sport the same level of mastery regarding the construction of highly complex systems with a rules-language this PRECISE. better yet, he has a firm grasp on balance and tends towards more complex and novel mechanisms - much like Bradley Crouch, Alexander Augunas pushes the boundaries - from a mechanical stand-point, the shapeshifter presented herein is a thoroughly impressive feat regarding the operation of rules-syntax and semantics...and in unique balancing mechanisms, for the item-based balancing of the class, while problematic-looking on paper, is frankly brilliant. This is perhaps the most versatile, unique shapeshifter of the "morph into full-blown animals"-type I know. (Bradley Crouch's Animist works alongside this one, since its focus is Wolpertinger-style-morphing.)


Similarly, the Vessel sports a unique playstyle, with the HP-powered abilities actually working - exceedingly well, if I may add! I tend to be extremely wary of these types of mechanics, but here, they work perfectly - the vessel class also is now allowed in my games and both classes should work sans modifications in a very wide array of games, from gritty rare magic to high fantasy. While the feats provide pretty much what you'd expect, the archetypes once again run a relatively broad array of options and sport not a single boring or filler-type - each radically changes the options available. And then there would be the massive, unprecedented favored class options, the supremely awesome Levialogoi and the cool rituals...which simply rock, no matter how you look at them - even if you hate Supernatural, these will work rather perfect in your games and deliver a truly unique flair to the proceedings.


Yes, there are a precious few minor hiccups in this book (I commented on all that truly galled me...so yeah...emphasis on "few"), though if Alexander's track record is any indicator, these should be purged sooner than later...but know what? They pale beyond the sheer awesomeness contained herein. Beyond the complexity and challenge to design this material, the book oozes practically the passion and heart's blood that went into it. If you're a Supernatural fan, you absolutely NEED this book...and even if you dislike the series (or consider it by now more of a guilty pleasure), this book's rules, aptly-written prose and overall package is simply exceedingly impressive. Considering the top-layer difficulty of crafting these rules and balancing them, the sheer number of flawless components and the comparably almost non-existent glitches, this book still receives my highest accolades - as mentioned time and again: I'd rather read a complex, daring, novel book with one or two hiccups than reward retreading conservative and bland designs. Paranormal Adventures contains some of the most impressive crunch-designs I've seen all year and is well worth a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval and the status as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2015.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Paranormal Adventures
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Shattered Heart Adventure Path #4: Crucible of Faith
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/11/2016 04:46:20

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The (for now) final installment of the superb Shattered Heart-saga clocks in at 48 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 43 pages of content, so let's take a look and answer the question whether this installment managed to retain the ridiculously high quality of the first three parts of the series!


This being an adventure-review, the following text contains MASSIVE SPOILERS. Potential players should not read ahead and jump to the conclusion instead.


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..


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Still here? Only GMs around? Great! So the worst is done, right? I mean, this powerful paladin has been establishing an outpost on the wild, jungle-island with its volcano, what can possibly go wrong? Everything. The PCs are on trek to the burning isle...and it's not looking good. Upon arriving at the newly established colony, they are not welcomed as saviors - for the few people that do exist still on this accursed land lack the strength to do so. Diseases run rampant throughout the settlement - from bubonic plague to slimy doom and worse, all are afflicted...including the paladin Faerilon. Provided the PCs can care for the weakened populace, they'll notice a couple of disquieting developments - when an ashen giant with a rather dark sense of humor arrived, people were all too happy to have the massive brute help with construction - even though his tree-slingshot-like means of transporting proved perilous for the smaller population...but when people started disappearing, getting sick...well, who if not that leprous brute to blame? Under pressure, the poor sap of a paladin ventured forth to slay the giant - who happily obliged in combat, but ultimately proved to be no match for the holy warrior...who had, in fear and ignorance just slain a creature based on prejudice...and promptly fell. This is when a grotesque, equine-skull-headed monstrosity took the paladin...and did things to him. From there on, it only took a dead cleric to make the local situation escalate at a horrid pace - welcome PCs, enjoy your all-expenses not paid trip to killer plague island incorporated!


Kidding aside, the module goes into ample depth regarding the fighting of the various plagues and caring for the populace and, much like in the installments before, the PC's actions do matter - the community point score (handy tracker included) determines the ultimate outcome of this module. Whether or not the PCs manage to save the populace or not, the module can be pictured as pretty much a sandboxy exploration of a rather hostile wilderness environment: Strange ape-men (kech) are hiding in the jungle alongside their disease-carrying ape companions and if the PCs don't intervene, even reaching the final temple, much less restoring it, will prove to be nigh impossible. In the forests, multiple fully mapped encounters await and grisly talismans lead deeper and deeper into kech territory. A particularly grisly find awaits the PCs upon finding the remains of the slain ash giant - entombed in mud and focus of dread magics, the mud-baked carcass rises as the new monster herein - lavishly illustrated the dread yercindere with its tentacles and diseases makes for a dread agent of the mastermind behind the kech's aggressions - in case you haven't figured that out by now: A leukodaemon stalks the jungles and he and his allies make for brutal foes and deadly ambushes - but unless the PCs stop these dread beings, there's probably be no colony left to return to...


Making their way past the hellish jungle (potentially infected with a disease/poison-combo that is a truly nasty affliction), the PCs will have to make their way in the direction of the badlands, where steam geysers and vaporized flesh provide icky hazards and fallen gobbets of leprous flesh bespeak a horrid sense of humor on the side of the remaining, though not necessarily hostile ash giant, who btw. takes the news of his brother's death with a cynic pun...and provides directions, when prompted - to either the "big" trouble of the "little" one. Hint: Both are truly nasty territories titan centipedes or HUGE amounts of army ants - the PCs will unknowingly pick their poison, while hopefully not falling prey to the roaming belkers. Btw.: The ant-combat may be actually the more lethal of the two - one careless application of fire and the PCs face off against a nasty grass fire - full, detailed hazard rules provided.


And yes, in the end, the PCs will have to scale the mountain - these climbing challenges take magic into account...and if you're like me, you may actually want to flesh out that section a bit: Call to Arms: Ropes by Fat Goblin Games imho makes with its pioneering a nice supplement to enrich the trip through the jungle further. Well, suffice to say, the climbing PCs may well draw the attention of multiple flame drakes. The crater itself sports a unique type of magical flora, firefrost moss, which can provide an interesting edge - for, within the crater, a massive tree of obsidian looms, as lava trickles in streams from it - the PCs have to brave magma oozes and elementals crazed by the desecration of the tree in a furious and truly intriguing combat - with streams of lava and the tree standing at the very edge of the volcano, the PCs can meet rather grisly demise due to the smart selection of foes. Attaching the proper, healthy branch may see the tree come back to health and the PCs return home to live happily ever after...right?


...


Wrong. Instead of a hero's welcome, the PCs are greeted by emissaries from the eldermoot and a newly reinstated paladin, with papers that show Carlyetta (and them!) to have been deemed guilty of heresy - uncommon harshness for the eldermoot, for sure. However, neither the inevitable waiting in the wings, nor the paladin or the halflings seem to care much...let's hope that astute PCs realize that one of the envoys is indeed their asura foe in disguise, which can potentially make the finale easier...but still challenging. Should the PCs prevail, it's once more time to tally up the community points and see how Carlyetta's mission has went - how much communal spirit and openness is within the hearts of halflings very much depends on them...and whether Carlyetta has to rejoin the fallen leaves among the clergy. Their foe may be defeated...but the corruption at the heart of the eldermoot and the accusation of heresy surely provide ample means for further adventuring...and hopefully epilogue modules in the future...


As always, the pdf does contain player-friendly versions of the gorgeous maps, with and without grids.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to AAW Games' two-column full-color standard for the series and the book sports multiple awesome full-color artworks. Cartography is absolutely superb and quality-wise excellent. The pdf-version comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and the PoD-premium dead tree version sports a neat glossy cover, thick paper and vibrant colors.


Michael Allen's final installment depicting the re-consecration of the holy tree-shrines of Piccolo is perhaps the most conventional of the modules - compared to the mind-bogglingly evocative third installment, the overall set-up is less complex, less fantastic...and needs to be played to truly work its magic. The combination of elemental themes and pervading sense of decay suffusing the environments herein work in more subtle ways, but they do work - where the previous installments required quick thinking and focused on a wide diversity of tasks, the structure of this module very much mimics the flame and fire of its element: It begins with a slow burn, ignites and then continues to increase the heat. Unlike the previous modules, this one's focus is less on investigation and more on pure wilderness survival against a cadre of lethal adversaries and challenges. This does not, by any means, make the module bad, mind you - the modular, somewhat sandboxy depiction of the island and its perils fits the theme and provides a welcome change of pace, with "burning" - both physically and metaphorically (fear, faith, rage, disease, etc.), constituting an apt leitmotif for the module. While my personal favorite remains the third of these modules, ultimately all of them, this included, can be considered to be masterpieces; to what extent depends on your taste, but their quality as such cannot be doubted.


My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval and, yes, nomination as a candidate for my top ten of 2015.


Since this seems, for now, to be the last of the Shattered Heart-adventures, let me with some observations regarding the whole adventure arc (APs are whole campaigns in my book that span at least two thirds of PC-levels...):


Shattered Heart is one of the smartest and most rewarding linked series of adventures I've read. The saga constantly takes note and the community point gauge for moral behavior works well, though the farther the modules progress, the easier it becomes to maintain a good chunk of them. The tactics of the primary antagonist are a joy and befitting of a creature sporting this intellect and agenda. Maps that feature illusions as handouts remain one of my favorite things to see in a given module and going the extra mile in that regard is fantastic. The awareness of modularity and fact that this series assumes smart players is refreshing - players are rewarded constantly for using their brain and showing compassion.


The critical achievement of the series, to me, lies in the fact that it takes basically one of the blandest plotline-structures (Re-consecrate elemental temples? Oh, haven't seen that one before...) and blows you away with it - both thanks to the unique cultures and downright awesome environments you explore, this series manages to make the old trope of elemental temples actually work with a narrative vibrancy that invigorates one's inspiration. The problem for all authors out there, though, is that from now on, any elemental-themed module will automatically be compared with this series...and beating it will be exceedingly difficult. The end of the saga if open and deservedly so - the Shattered Heart-series presented herein very much inspired me as a GM...and it certainly could use two or three follow-up modules...perhaps the "Sickened Heart"? The curious amount of two rather rare outsiders, time and again, do point towards further threats to Piccolo...and I sure as hell want to see the PCs trying to clear Carlyetta's name, engage in the shadow politics and backdealing of the society here...heck, should this ever be made into a hardcover, rest assured that both setting and expanded adventure-possibilities exist in abundance. The fact that each module plays differently, but manages to retain the same exceedingly high quality standard is impressive - most series sooner or later falter, at least a bit. This does not. Shattered Heart, as a collective, is a gem that establishes Michael Allen as one of my favorite adventure authors. Get these modules - they're worth every single penny.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shattered Heart Adventure Path #4: Crucible of Faith
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Frozen Gardens Winter Special
Publisher: Rusted Iron Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/11/2016 04:43:47

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The second of Rusted Iron Games' extra-long specials in the Deadly Gardens-series clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, ~1/2 a page editorial + SRD, leaving us with ~11.5 pages of content, so let's take a look!


Okay, so this pdf begins somewhat different than one would expect, introducing us first to the realm of eternal winter, a demi-plane of eternal ice...and otherwise sans unique planar traits, which is a bit of a missed chance there. The pdf provides two magic items - the first is the Cask of Ancient Winters, which, when opened, spreads lethal cold and enhances associated magic, while the second is Winter's Edge, a frosty short sword that, as a swift action, may turn into a longsword or dagger while also providing endure elements. Rather interesting: The wielder can 1/day perform a melee cone-attack of cold and piercing damage, based on regular attack damage, with creatures beyond the primary target receiving a Ref-save to halve - but this leaves the blade gone...which is no big deal, since it can be regrown as a move action. Same goes for when it's broken. Unique, evocative and cool in both flavor and crunch-departments, both of these items are killer and awesome.


Now, even better than that, we get 7 terrain types for finer graded depths of snow or adventuring on glaciers and 6 entries of winter weather. Beyond these, 6 specific hazards, both supernatural and mundane, await - including crevasses and frost wheat patches. And yes, fields of seracs and how to navigate them...covered. Awesome!


The first creature herein, the Prickly Cold Pine at CR 12 can cause coniferous trees to emit auras of needles, create clouds of them that hamper vision, swing branches or utilize the classic grasping roots - nasty! Oh, and the killer trees can thrown spiked pinecones at foes. The full-color artwork looks a bit goofy, but honestly, who cares - the creature is pretty awesome and a versatile lethal foe - adventurers may well not realize what hit them! Two thumbs up!


The second creature herein is the CR 6 Shivervine, which sports an aura of cold and a nasty death throes-ability. beyond that, they can fire petal spines and perform slam attacks...oh, and the tendrils prevent those grappled from casting spells...ouch! And yes, the slams have the grab quality. On a nitpicky side, while the flavor text specified this, it took me a bit of time to get which of the attacks cause blood drain - it's obviously the melee. Apart from this hiccup, a well-crafted ice-flower of the more lethal kind with a gorgeous b/w-artwork.


This is not where we end, though: The next creature would basically be a killer snowman, the CR 6 Snow Goon, which is a sentient, evil construct that comes complete with crafting information and fatigue-inducing criticals. If that's not your CR-range, well, there also is an upgraded CR 12 version herein that can throw lethal snow-boulders and has nastier SPs. (Yes, again, including crafting-info...) Someone was traumatized by the 5th Battletoads level it seems... ;)


The pdf also contains 6 natural items - the yeti pelt helps you keep warm, while frost wheat can be brewed into perpetually cool beer...yes, I can see that spawning caravans and modules: Escort the beer from the frigid north to the desert kingdoms! Living snowboulders and snowballs and a whip made from shivervine tendrils as well as the spiked prickly cone pine pinecones complement this section - and yes, we do receive well-crafted power-component entries for living snowballs and spiked pinecones.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good - apart from the minor hiccup and one artwork being VERY close to the text, I noticed no issues and these are, honestly, negligible. Layout adheres to a two-column color standard and artworks range from color to b/w, though the shivervine's b/w-artwork herein is by far my favorite. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Russ Brown, Jesse Winter, Ismael Alvarez and Jan Wilheln van den Brink have crafted a great little pdf: Granted, I was not blown away by the killer snowmen or the demiplane, but everything else is awesome - the magic items are evocative and feel magical and the two plants are both superbly twisted beasts. Add to that the cool mundane natural items and power components and we have a well-crafted book for a more than fair price-point. My final verdict will hence clock in at 5 stars.


Endzeitgest out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Frozen Gardens Winter Special
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Alpha Blue
Publisher: Kort'thalis Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/08/2016 07:41:32

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This massive sourcebook clocks in at 114 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 3 pages of ToC, 4 pages of note-space, 1 page blank, 1 page Kort'thalis-glyph, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 100 pages of content, so let's take a peek!


This book was moved ahead in my review-queue due to me receiving a complimentary print copy.


Okay, before we start: This is a satire, a spoof of 70s and 80s cheesy, low budget exploitation-scifi-flicks and aesthetics. Alpha Blue is a space station, where sex addicts were sent to experience experimental treatment techniques - what began as an institution devolved into a space brothel/casino; think of Las Vegas with a thick coating of disco-aesthetics and, obviously, sex. So yes, this supplement will offend some people, while others may be uncomfortable with the tone. If you want to know whether this may be for you, I'd suggest pondering the following: Do you take sex serious or can you laugh about the subject? In the latter case, you'll probably like it. Do you consider the cover illustration offensive? If you do, then this will probably be not for you. Do you enjoy the balls to the wall crazy aesthetics of Heavy Metal F.A.K.K. or do you consider the like problematic? Ahhh, let's cut to the chase: This supplement is named after the legendary Scifi-porn movie "The Satisfiers of Alpha Blue." (In case you're interested: Think dystopian 1984-style scifi after World War III, where sex is very much a caste-system and means of oppression and even love as a way out may not be the way, scarce though it is. Sure, it's a porn-movie, but as far as these go, it is one of the most intelligent ones and elicited a complex array of emotions and can be considered a surprisingly interesting piece of social commentary.


If you have a hard time dealing with sex or being confronted by it in a given medium or taking it with a grain of salt and a wink, you may not enjoy this; however, if you can laugh about sex and all it entails, if you enjoy cheesy scifi...well, then this may very well be for you. Regarding the explicity of the content, this is btw. relatively tame, at least to my sensibilities - there are a few pictures of breasts and one instance of drawn nudity...and that's pretty much it. This still can be considered NSFW, obviously, but yeah...pretty obvious, right?


...okay, I guess that those readers that might be offended have stopped reading right now, so let's get on with the book! After a brief introduction of fluff, we get a dead simple rules-system: A combat round is 20 seconds. Task-resolution works via dice pool: At a disadvantage, you roll 1d6, at an advantage, you roll 3d6 and most normal tasks are resolved via 2d6. You only count the highest number rolled. There are some exceptions where 4d6 or 5d6 are rolled, but these fall in the category of overkill. When you roll a 1, you have a critical failure, 2 is a failure, 3 is a partial failure, 4 a partial success, 5 a success and 6 a critical success. In combat, damage is determined by numbers rolled as well - 1 is a critical fail, 2 and 3 misses and 4 provides 1d6 damage; +1d6 for every number above. Double sixes, triple sixes, etc. increase damage by +1d6 (so triple sixes would cause 5d6 damage). 6 critical. A six-entry critical fail table provides different degrees of unpleasantness for failure. Initiative is handled via first come, first serve...or by order of seating. Armor acts as damage reduction. At level 1, the character has 25 Health, +5 for every level. Characters can survive up to their level into negative HP - at 4th level, a character would die at -5 health. Interesting - in case you lose parts of your body, several types of replacement body parts, including chances for rejection, are provided - so yeah, getting that alien/robotic arm of death may look promising, but should be contemplated thoroughly. Saving throws are dice pools as well - 1 may see another character killed as well, while 6 can actually provide immunity to the given effect for 24 hours. 1/per session, a character may double his dice pool...but 1/session, a GM may do the same. (Just for completion's sake - the proper term in Alpha Blue is SDM - Space Dungeon Master...which is one letter and a switch short of a certain acronym.) Interesting, btw. OSR-conversion is provided in the book - so if you do elect to use this system, you can import pretty easily OSR-content from most variants: HD influences attack dice, attribute bonuses translate to rerolls when the task is associated with the attribute - simple and can be done on the fly. Kudos!


Character creation follows a similar minimalistic style: You choose two rolls - these can be undertaken either to determine a scoundrel or legal occupation - 8 are available each and you can choose to roll two legit ones, two criminal ones, etc.. Scoundrel professions net more money (2d6 x100, as opposed to 1d6 x 100), but also carry a risk - per scoundrel profession, you roll a d4 to determine how far on your trail the authorities are. Characters can have "something special" - be psionic, a zedi, a noble or just be lucky. A massive d100 table of mutations is next: You roll thrice on it - and it is very useful: From mundane issues like cancer to radioactive/freezing touch to flesh that dissolves when in contact with water. There is a chance that your dreams come to life, to get astral projection...or...well... a detachable penis.


A 30-entry table of alien forms also is part of the deal - so yeah, maybe you're playing an alien made of geometric forms. There is a d10 table for sizes and a HUGE table of 100 cultural quirks - these are roleplaying gold: Whether it's seeing personal property as theft, being compelled to do worse than others to make them feel better, adapting fetishes...or what about the conviction that robots need to be liberated via "freedom phrases"? Need some idea what your character did? Roll a d6, d8 and d12, combine the entries and consult the tables. You get something like: "Visiting the spacer academy, a mysterious portal of swirling energy opened up, transporting you to a strange spaceship, where a dying, penis-headed alien taught you to use the artillery on his spaceship." This one would net you advantage with space weaponry...and yes, there are chances you may die...in character creation. While this sounds odd, it actually got some serious laughs at my table. Weird fashion generators and 20 weapons of choice and several things to buy further complement this section. If you believe in astrological signs (a meta-joke if there ever was one in a scifi-context), personality traits based on them can be found here as well.


30 sample associates can be rolled and 20 possible relationships with said associates allow for pretty quick, on the fly ally-creation. Of course, robots are by now recycled: thus, a table provides previous "careers" -whether it's gumball machine or 8-track player... Now seriously - this is supposed to be a bit sleazy, right? Well, 30 options to determine fetishes are provided. If you can't decide which part of a woman you like best, well, there's a table...and for women and gay dudes, fret not: Males are objectified as well: There's a table for the type of males as well. PCs can start with more money...but then they'll have to roll on the 3 debt-tables...including the consequences when they fail repaying your debt. Tables to secure jobs for/as assassins/bounty hunters and tables for their results can be found alongside a 40-entry table of male/female names...so that's pretty much the character creation-section.


Next up would be a general overview of the campaign setting's backdrop - While earth has started the Federation, only the Micro McDonald Disney Walmart Cola corporation keeps earth from being dumped from the federation. There are the draconians,, the reptilian Krylons ad a caliphate of insane space extremists - upon deaths, they believe they'll get 72 cyber virgins. Brain bugs from Starship troopers and space clerics as well as universal phenomena are explained - from hyperspace to the eldritch black hole of S'rrah. And yes, if you ever wanted to know why there are so many humans in the universe...this explains it...sort of. Reasons for interspecies breeding, odd crystals and tech-generators...including effects of strange radiation can be found. Random sensor scanning results, star-quakes and random persons to fall out of time-warps, randomly generated derelict space ships (including tables to determine people aboard and what can be salvaged), a 30-entry table to determine what hides inside an asteroid is handy as well.


Campaign setting information-wise, the book introduces us to the crime syndicate Terra Nostra, the militant unification advocates (who want to unite all people...no matter the price) and the mining vessel crimson dwarf, an obvious, thinly veiled allusion to the scifi cult-series Red Dwarf. Now, obviously, Alpha Blue being what it is, the legendary space hookers (the proper name being "Satisfiers") and rates for rooms are explained - and yes, there is no guarantee you get what you want. Currency is pretty simple and law-wise, Alpha Blue is not only a tax haven - it's also a place where frontier law rules supreme...so expect no help...but also no consequences for killing that bastard over there...Alpha Blue's central computer JCN (aka "Jason") can only be accessed by the captain , the computer expert Dragz Logan or the commander of security, Razor Hash. And yeah, the captain's position fluctuates - one day, Nicholas Cage could be in the seat, while a week from now you might meet Jabba. Oh, and the computer's feelings are subject to rapid change - consult the table.


Alpha Blue also sports a strange type of device - orgasmatrons, which either come in big versions or private use ones - these open a rift to Meteblis 3 1/3, the radiation and blue light (What does it do? It shines blue!) of which heighten all senses to the n-th degree. And yes, they may be hallucinations...but they very much are real. Since these machines penetrate one's mind, applying a mind condom would be prudent. Blue dreamers, aka space viagra, personal hookahs and 12 sample drugs can be consumed - from wizard weed to L-S-triple-D and Pink Floyd, all tastes are catered to. Those who don't practice safe sex may find themselves in a nasty position - 12 unpleasant venereal space diseases can be contracted: From actual crabs living in your pants to sun-shaped solar syphilis, the effects are unpleasant. 10 sample hooks for actually being on Alpha Blue can be found...but pale next to the 12-entry table to "heavy metal it up to 11" - whether your next attack hits an artery, dread Cthulhu suddenly manifests or someone left his keys in the space Lamborghini...or perhaps a woman so gorgeous enters the room that everyone has to save to avoid being dazed. This table very much encompasses the spirit of this whole book - weird, diverse and interesting.


The first thing you see upon arrival, overarching plots and complications, spontaneous alien generator...even what's on the TV (Can't miss the latest episode of The Walking Space Dead or V: The Very Last Conclusive Battle at the End), robot quirks (the header of the section being "Do Robots use Electronic Tampons?"), unique party favors, a 30-entry strong table for walking in on people (With entries like "Crouching penis, hidden vagina")...and so much more can be found. Regarding permanent residency...one of the entries is actually Charlie Sheen and you can witness surreal overindulgence: This guy over there attacking the robot, screaming "bacon"? Yeah, no idea what he used... Similarly, tables of weird cocktails, matrix malfunctions, and 8-ball style inefficient therapy robots - table-wise, this book is chock-full and fully staffed indeed.


The description of the respective sections of Alpha Blue is similarly detailed: From superb smoothies to arena games and a casino lit by an artificial sun - you name the decadent pleasure and you'll probably find it in this place - and yes, among the inhabitants the Knights in White Satin wage and the Knights in Black Satin are conflicting factions...with rogue Knights in Alpha Blue Satin being the space Casanovas. A Snow-White-like princess in cryostasis, various teleportation mishaps, the penis-shaped and fully mapped Blue Flamingo ships and space poker - name your vice and there's a good chance you may be able to indulge in it.


If the location and huge amount of tables provided do not spark your imagination on their own, well, then fret not, for there are numerous proposed scenario seeds: Whether sentient minerals don't want to be mined or more complex scenarios...there is a lot of ideas here, often suffused with meta-humor: When e.g. the PCs are mistaken for ambassadors to an Utopian society and come upon a guy who swindled them via a kickstarter and then ran, the glorious vengeance unleashed may transform the tranquil planet into a full-blown war-zone or stopping Lovecraftian deities - the ideas run the full gamut of themes. What if e.g. a member of the Blue Humanoid Group was an assassin? And what about that interstellar women's prison, or nods towards the world of Torth...and what about helping space Muslims to crack the heads of those aforementioned extremists? Quite a lot to do! 3 sample, fluff-only NPCs and a refugee from the Purple Islands (with full stats) are provided as well. Paralyzing wands and dangerous dildo-weapons can be found and when demon-worshiping madmen bring an demonically-possessed penetration-device on board, we know what need to be stopped, right?


Stats for mooks and tyrannosaurus-crocodile-hybrids complement the book alongside some basic advice for running the setting. There also are personality archetypes, a quick table to determine why a couple stays together and the map of Alpha Blue actually spans 4 full pages. The pdf provides full color and b/w-char sheets, while the print version sports both in b/w.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch - in spite of the book's length, I encountered no significant issues with this book in formal or rules-language departments - the system presented is simple, concise and pretty refined. Layout adheres to an aesthetically pleasing 2-column b/w-standard and deserves special mention - it is clean, organized and generally pleasing. The pdf sports a lot of beautiful, original b/w-artworks: While most of them are pretty tame, there are instances of nudity here...alongside e.g. an awesome rendition of the Doctor being puzzled/stupefied by the advances of two ladies. Artworks and text are suffused with pop-culture nods and winks. The pdf version is fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks, though considering the low asking price, I'd suggest getting the print version.


Venger As' Nas Satanis' Alpha Blue is a different book than I expected, honestly - this is very much a setting book - whether as a stand-alone or as part of another campaign, the station of Alpha Blue can be inserted sans much fuss and the OSR-conversion-notes are useful. The system presented is clear and concise and exceedingly simple to grasp. In fact, this book's appeal if broader than I anticipated - we get a metric ton of tables that generally provide a ton of customization options that can be scavenged for just about any system...which is a plus and a minus, depending on where you're standing. Personally, I would have enjoyed a bit more detail regarding the respective locations on Alpha Blue, though e.g. notes on music playing at a given place and similar details had me grin time and again. (That being said, Girls Gone Rogue, the expansion, will get its review in due course and may remedy that...)


Now that we've gone through the whole book and you had an impression regarding the humor herein, you'll obviously note that this book doesn't take itself too serious - which is a good thing. Alpha Blue, as presented, is actually a very light-hearted and rather sex-positive supplement...but if you're looking for straight porn, you won't find that here. Perhaps the best analogue I could find was the following: Picture basically a blending of the old Leisure Suit Larry and Space Quest-games in tone and explicitness. So if you enjoyed Leisure Suit Larry...you will probably like Alpha Blue's setting as well: The humor oscillates between clever meta-jokes, obvious and obscure references and blunt-in-your-face-juvenile jokes - which made the reading experience, at least for me, rather lighthearted and enjoyable. (Btw.: Those strange glyphs littered throughout the book? They're actually coded sentences, so if you enjoy that kind of undertaking, decoding them is a pretty fun and quick mental exercise...yes, the sentences unearthed feature planetary-sized dildos.)


How to rate this, then? Well, this is a wide-open sandbox/dressing-kit/adventure-location kit and it delivers in all of these regards, though each of the components could have arguably filled a whole book. So if you're looking for an extremely detailed location, you may be disappointed. If, however, you're looking for an enjoyable, minimalist RPG you can pick up and play sans any hassle, dressing or prefer working with a setting, developing it and fleshing up the fiddly small bits...well, then this will probably be right up your alley. Even if you're looking for means to enhance the weirdness/raunchy-factor of your space opera game...well, this'll do the job. In the end, I consider Alpha Blue a successful experiment that manages to portray a setting unlike anyone I've seen before. If you hate the premise, you'll probably hate the book; if not, though, you'll certainly find some hilarious ideas within these pages. It is a sleazy satire, is unapologetic about it and in play, actually was ample fun at my table - the minimalist rules and awesome tables engender an atmosphere of levity and fun...which was sure as heck a welcome diversion from my usual, rather serious games -a diversion to which we'll return. In the end, my only gripe pertains the somewhat divided focus of the book, which may well be a personal preference; hence, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars, just short of my seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Alpha Blue
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Purple Duck Storeroom: More Magic Pants!
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/08/2016 07:37:48

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of Purple Duck games' short, inexpensive experimental pdfs clocks in at 15 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let's take a look!


In case you missed my review on the first magic pants supplement: Yes, these pdfs invent a leg-slot. Yes, they are cognizant of this. Yes, the authors probably have collected the 3 unique leggings in the Baldur's Gate saga....and yes, I consider the idea well worth it. So here are more pants!


The first of the pants is the bell-bottoms allows the wielder to perform secondary kick attacks that have the thundering quality and 1/day duplicate shout...though unfortunately, I have no idea as what action - standard or free?


Awesome: The Black Widow's Garter - it contains an extradimensional space where you can put poisoned weapons, which then have their potency enhanced. And yes, the item gets it right -you can't just store a crapton of poisoned weapons inside. AC-enhancing boxer shorts that can 1/day convert lethal damage to nonlethal damage also are pretty awesome, while kaber kilts help throwing oversized weapons.


In a hilariously bad pun, cargo pants sport limited bags of holding in their pockets and obviously, camo pants enhance your Stealth. Daisy Dukes help Diplomacy and allow you to 1/day fascinate a target, while high-water pants let you...bingo! Water Walk.


Hot pants protect versus the cold...and can be activated to engulf the wearer in a flaming aura - and yes, the activation action is properly codified. And it's hilarious. Leggings of coiling plants can create massive undergrowth and the loincloth of the jungle helps with Tarzan-like stunts - though activation of the spell included here is not perfectly clear - I assume the default standard action of use activation/spell-trigger and spell, but still...would have been nice.


More interesting - what about leggings that 1/day allow your legs o elongate to 20 feet? The benefits regarding obstacles, terrain etc. are concisely covered, the imagery is awesome and the usefulness undisputed. Damn cool! In an homage to Rogue genius Games, I assume, bright red pantaloons allow for a temporary increase of mental faculties - somewhat akin to a mental attribute-based version of a barbarian's rage - nice. Also rather cool - the focus on the mental similarly mirrors the effect in an inability to engage in physically stressful situations while in the throes of the pants. Unlike a rage, though, the wearer is left energized by the pants - pretty cool overall design.


The Pants of the Hammer Master allow the wielder to command foes to stop..and be bashed with a hammer. Yep. Hammer Time. XD Rage-enhancing purple pants of fury, rebellious longstockings that allow you to ignore confinement like Pippilotta Viktualia Rullgardina Krumsnyta Efraimsdotter Långstrump and yes, if the wearer has a horse or monkey as animal companions/mounts, they can learn more tricks. Roadrunner pants allow you to air walk and move faster while running. Smelly pants allow the wielder to be...well...smelly and unleash stinking clouds.


With Perform (Dance) and sparkle pants, you may AoE dazzle foes (hey, that rhymed!), not all pants are benevolent - there are a bunch of cursed ones inside as well - for example swimming pants that attract aquatic predators, pants that make you bossy or crabby and britches that make you sassy...and particularly loathed by vendors...oh, and what about fear-the-dark scaredy pants? Yeah, nice!


Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are top-notch this time around - I noticed no significant formal glitches. Rules-language-wise, there are some minor instances where activation actions of spells-in-a-can could have been clearer. The pdf's layout adheres to Purple Duck games' no-frills 1-column standard for the series and the pdf has no artworks, but comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Jeffrey Swank and Jacob Trier's array of magical pants made me laugh very hard - but rest assured that this is anything but a joke product - in fact, there are several benefits and mechanical operations in the crunch here that can be considered to be rather complex. While not always perfect, I still can't bring myself to rate this down - for the low asking price, you do get a rather cool array of magical pants - well worth a final verdict of 4.5 stars...and since the crunch itself sports some unique ideas and particular mechanical executions, I'll round up for the purpose of this platform.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Purple Duck Storeroom: More Magic Pants!
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The Demon Shaman Base Class
Publisher: Flaming Crab Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/08/2016 07:32:38

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This base class clocks in at 14 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 10 pages of content, so let's take a look!


Demon shamans as a class need to be non-lawful, non-good and get d8, 3/4 BAB-progression, good Fort- and Will-saves, 4+Int skills per level and proficiency with simple weapons, but not with any armor - they are subject to spell failure chances when wearing armor. Demon Shamans gain spontaneous spellcasting of up to 6th level, but learn all spells from their very limited spell-list, which focuses on anti-good-alignment, chaos-based trickery and summoning. The class begins play with Eschew materials as a bonus feat and 2nd level provides DR 1/cold iron, which increases by +1 every 4 levels thereafter. Similarly, 5th level provides +1 natural armor, which increases by +1 every 3 levels thereafter.


At 8th level, he can, as a full-round action, call forth dretches that remain for 1 hour/level or until dismissed, +1/day every 5 levels thereafter...though the pdf botches the wording there: It states "Every 5 levels" instead of "Every 5 levels thereafter" - still, you hopefully know what's meant. 9th level provides a babau cohort at -8 levels and 17th level allows the shaman to temporarily gain the babau's resistances, SR, immunities and slime - though it fails to specify activation action and whether the cohort needs to be currently alive. The capstone is a demon apotheosis with wings that fails to specify maneuverability.


The class does have a selection of talents, so-called demonic morphs, the first of which is gained at 3rd level, +1 every 3 levels thereafter. Unfortunately, we have a slight issue here: The ability specifies all of them to be Ex, when several clearly aren't. Extra spell-slot? All right. Claws? Got ya. 1/day charm as an SP...well, that contradicts the Ex, though it at least specifies the SP. Where things get problematic is via the per se well codified, scaling teleport - 5 ft. per level, requires line of sight, counts as movement...all right. I assume the teleportation does not take difficult terrain into account for this purpose, but what irks me here is that is, as written, is EX. Not SP or SU, Ex. It's not even a conjuration [teleportation]-effect. This means it can't be hampered in any way, which is pretty nasty.


The class does sport favored class options for the core races as well as dhampirs, gnolls, kitsune and tieflings. The pdf also sports no less than 10 archetypes for the class: Babau Masters trade DR for better social skills and get a slightly improved cohort at the cost of the dretches and may elect to instead to grant the morphs to the babau. Doomed Shamans get favored enemy instead of DR, replace soul bind and dretches with dimensional anchor and get a paladin's divine bond weapon instead of the cohort, with the apotheosis sporting a good theme. The spell-list is also modified. The plague shaman gets plague-themed spells and displays outward signs of disease sans the consequences. He also gets a rat-face morph and a fly-like apotheosis (which states maneuverability, oddly). Servants of the Rakshasa Lord are subtle charmers that receive Charisma-increases instead of DR and natural AC and get a rakshasa-themed apotheosis.


Shamans of the Apocalypse can get bisected lower arms - at the cost of three demonic morphs, these can be made fully functional...which is problematic: 4 arms...so can he cast two spells? I assume no. What about main hand/off hand? This needs clarification. A second morph grants a tentacle secondary attack. Instead of a babau, the archetype gets a shoggti qlippoth cohort and appropriate ability-sharing - though, once again, I don't know the activation action or whether the demon needs to be alive, adjacent, anything, really. The apotheosis also manages to get the maneuverability right. The shaman of Baphomet is locked into horn morph "at 1st level" - which is impossible, since 1st level does not offer a demonic morph. The morph increases base damage by one die-step. The archetype also gets a minotaur cohort and an appropriate soul bind...which, again, does not work as written.


The Shaman of the Nine-tailed Fox is locked into manifesting fiery fox tails as the 6th level morph and gets a fire elemental cohort at -7 levels. The soul bind still doesn't work for the archetype and the capstone refers to a bite attack that the shaman doesn't necessarily have unless he's taken the morph - which is jarring. The Shaman of Orcus gets, obviously, access to animate dead and a morph that increases Con by +4, decreases Dex by 2 and halves land speed. This one works. The Shaman of the Ravager gets access to haste and receives a lower body of a worm as the 6th level morph...as always, any repercussions regarding jumping, ladders etc.? This nets also constrict. Cohort-wise, he gets a death worm at -7 levels and the soul bind still doesn't work. The apotheosis provides the worm-that-walks-template. Neat!


The final one would be the shaman of vampiric blood, who is locked into fangs at 3rd level and may conjure forth bat swarms instead of dretches. 9th level provides an Su-variant of dominate person instead of the cohort, which is pretty neat. 17th level provides beast shape II (dire-bat only) and gaseous form as atw-ill SPs, the latter of which is not properly italicized. It should also be noted, that much like other components of this pdf, the ability-class SP is not featured after the name of the ability, but only in the text, which, while it does not impede the functionality, is a deviation from presentation standards. The final vampiric apotheosis is okay, though the benefits, at this level, are frankly negligible.


The pdf also provides 9 feats: A high level feat requiring 5 morphs grants acid, fire and electricity resistance 10, for example. Somewhat OP if DR matters in your game, as it does in most: Natural chaotic weapons, available at level 1. +2 Str, -2 Wis, +5 ft. movement rate is interesting and darkvision 60 ft. as well as rolling twice to perceive invisible foes is okay. The obligatory extra morph is there as well. A means of enhancing soul bind is here, though, as the base ability doesn't work...well. Adding a poison to demon morphs is interesting and increasing the damage of the tail isn't bad either. Scaling Diplomacy bonuses tied to morphs are also okay, if pretty weak.


The pdf closes with two sample characters with brief background stories - one at CR 7 and one at CR 15, the latter of which has the plague shaman archetype and full stats for his babau companion. The pdf closes with the absolutely stunning, single one-page artwork of the pdf - and it's glorious.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are good on the formal side, but rules-language and particularly ability-formatting is pretty flawed, to the point where the latter unfortunately bleeds into the text of the class and the ability to play it sans ambiguity. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard and, as mentioned before, the artwork is glorious. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Isaiah Burt and Alex Abel have crafted a per se cool class - the demon shaman is an interesting mix of the natural armor-gaining beast, support spellcaster and pet class. The content herein isn't bad, even though a bunch of the archetypes basically are filler and could have used more unique tricks instead of very minor modifications. Worse is that this almost could have been a class I can praise - most components are balanced quite nicely and playtest did show that the class and its options can be considered balanced. However, at the same time, the pdf is, pardon my French, sloppy in some cases: Missing maneuverability here, missing activation action in a key class feature there...the precise, final refinement is missing...which is particularly galling since the class features themselves are rather simple and do not require difficult wording or innovations regarding rules-language. The errors herein are craftsmanship errors a good GM can iron out - but the designers should have done that. The class works in play and can be fun - but it does require GM-calls and sports some blemishes...and I can't ignore them. My final verdict hence will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3...at least until the easily fixed glitches are gone. if you don't mind such problems, round up instead.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
The Demon Shaman Base Class
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Shattered Heart Adventure Path #3: The Breath of the Goddess
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/07/2016 04:06:52

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The third installment of the so far truly superb Shattered Heart-saga clocks in at 63 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a massive 57 pages of content, so let's take a look!


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


...


..


.


All right, still here? Great! When the continent-sized Dracoprime fell, the halflings of the idyllic island archipelago suffered; abandoned by their erstwhile allies, the culture that developed twists familiar tropes: Medium-sized humanoids, indentured workers (slaves by another name) became one of the few contacts to other races and xenophobia thrived. When the redeemed cleric Carlyetta recruited the PCs to re-establish the tree-temples of the great mother, the PCs were in for quite a culture shock as they learned about the eldermoot, social structures and the culture of the archipelago. However, as often, dark forces scheme and plan and the quest to restore the temples is fraught with perils - as the PCs embark to the third of these temples, they get a great first glance look at the cataclysmic, almost imaginable proportions that haunted the halflings.


The temple of air is perhaps one of the most unique structures to ever grace the pages of a module: Picture 4 titanic arcs rising from the sea, arcs that channel raging winds into a massive, miles-high tree-shaped titanic structure of clouds. Now picture one of these arcs broken, smashed by continent-sized bones of the legendary Dracoprime, with ancient bone-protrusions emerging from the rugged waves - it is this vista that graces the PCs and re-establishing the temple properly will not be easy.


Each of the arcs sports means of anchoring, sure - provided they can prevent their vessel from crashing while docking, but it is one in particular the PCs will have to explore - and it is here they'll be greeted by a sight most ominous, as pickled corpses dangle in the wind and screeching screams emit from the eternal storm. This is the handiwork of a well-meaning, but utterly insane bard and as the PCs explore the complex, they'll find scenes of grisly butchering and stumble over multiple sepia snake sigils placed to halt the progress of explorers. With a deranged stalker, the PCs bear witness to a tale of woe, as the last days of the halfling clergy is conveyed via ample amounts of journals, as they try hard to piece together the use of strange artifacts. Beyond the stalking adversary and lethal outsiders awaiting in the complex, this whole section can be considered one gigantic puzzle - not a puzzle in the traditional way, but in the act of exploration - as the PCs explore the complex, more and more pieces of information are gathered in the all but abandoned halls and from these, alongside their own knowledge, may they deduce how to restore the temple to former glory...if they are not wasted away by the scouring, maddening winds that begin to drive them insane the moment they arrived. It should be noted that the insane bard can be saved - and smart PCs better should do so.


Why? Well, for one, like the previous books, the community point tracker is always there in the background, tracking transgressions and kindness as a kind of meter for how, by action, they can influence not only Carlyetta, but the very soul of the halfling people of Piccolo. The insane bard knows - he knows about the fall of the last cleric, who has buried himself upstairs in the arc after cannibalizing his brethren - and it is due to this foe that the poor man pickled the corpses, tried to make them unpalatable for the ravenous undead...who awaits upstairs, buried alive by his own hand. (And yes, there are alternate ways to learn about him.) Now I mentioned outsiders...well, there is a brutal and glorious encounter: You see, these fellows have illusions...and the pdf actually provides a map for the illusion into which the PCs stumble! Map-wise, the presence of the like goes above and beyond - kudos indeed, this is what I always wanted to see!


Now the tainted, perverted undead does have a mob of undead (rules all too seldom used) and does look a bit like a "boss" for the module...and he is. However, the true challenge lies, ultimately, in research of the arch, in putting the pieces together - like Indiana Jones exploring an ancient ruin, the strange archeology that is the leitmotif here is absolutely unique and hearkens back to the wild-eyed exploration of ruins in old-school modules...only that now, we have degrees of skill-check-failures to determine functionality, various means of upgrading skills via learned knowledge...etc. Sure, your maxed out scholar character has a chance to know on his own how to use components required to repair the temple...but if you lack such a character, you'll still have a lot of information to uncover and, like e.g. The Witcher's approach to knowledge, the more you learn, the higher are your chances for success. Of course, all of this would be much easier without a volatile madman and winds that literally undermine your sanity...but the PCs are adventurers for a reason, right?


Now, there is another issue waiting in the wings: If you've followed my reviews so far, you'll know that a particularly nasty asura plots the downfall of the whole project...or rather, it's perversion via enigmatic cyclopean runes. Now, at this point, your players have had chances to uncover the Byzanthine plot, sure - but considering the brains and smart approach of the adversary, they required their investigative A-game to do so...and manage to work within the confines of the social structure of the halflings while doing so. The chance for success is slim, but it should be noted that this book actually devotes almost a full page to the chance that the PCs want to follow up on these leads prior to even engaging the module - yes, this has basically an inversion-sandbox option. Now that is truly awesome. Where am I going with this? Well, as the PCs manage to piece together the means to restore the temple, they'll be sooner or later greeted by a sight most peculiar, as a raft of dødelig arrive, drawn by the no longer madness inducing winds. In case you're not familiar with these beings: Think "non-evil petrified-bones-undead halflings with a love for life and Dia de los Muertos-aesthetic" who were the result of the most powerful lich's final spell. The macabre entourage is hassled by psychopomps seeking to destroy them and hopefully, the PCs intervene and are not suckered in by the outsiders - you see, the dødelig need help. Living in one vertebra of the massive fallen skeleton, the undead beseech the PCs to follow them through the spine of the fallen Dracoprime, where tons of water are kept at bay by the inherent magic of the titanic skeleton.


Thus, the PCs travel through a location most mysterious and the journey will be perilous - with yaoguai, crysmals and karkinoi, we have an uncommon, cool array of adversaries befitting of the unique terrain - and yes, the encounters have individual maps. Once the PCs have made the perilous journey to the dødelig's home, they'll see perhaps one of the weirdest settlements ever - beyond being inside the friggin' Dracoprime and VERY far below the sea, huts of fishbone and ancient folkmusic tunes complement an overall thoroughly weird locale - from the village in the spinal cavity of the titanic skeleton, they'll have to delve deeper to confront the insane dødelig sorceror who can btw. merge with his kin via the dødeligation-spell into a powerful amalgam. Still, this is not how it ends, for he falls, and as he does, the false god worshipped by him awaits - the dreaded drakalfryda, a twisted amalgam of flesh made from halfling corpses that can regenerate its torso...think of it as a lavishly-illustrated inverse-hydra...and yeah, it is as disgusting as it sounds. It is in these depths, however, that not only the freedom of the dødelig can be won - guarded by the powerful Tiberolith guardian, ruins can be found...and deciphered. Cyclopean ruins that make rather clear that the runes used above are anything but benevolent and could be used to bring the whole clergy of the mother goddess under control!


It is here that the asura's game is thwarted, theme-wise by the very leitmotif of community, as the bridge between dødelig and living halfings provides a subtle symbolic resonance regarding the theme of the books - by connecting with the past and one's ancestors, betrayal in the present can be unmasked, thwarted. To wax less poetical: If you know the past, you can learn from it - particularly if your past can actually talk to you! Thus, the finale of the module is devoted to the showdown against the unmasked asura, as the PCs return to the arc...and his tactics are smart. Even if the PCs are clever regarding their actions, the adversary does have a rather interesting array of tactics to which he can resort. Then, he seems to fall...and only one temple is left...but the paladin Faerilon Hayweather has surely secured that one, right? There are no big problems to expect, right? ...guess what? No. And yes, things went harder downhill than you can imagine...


(And yes, the community-tracker-sheet is included...)


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no glaring mistakes or problems in that regard. Layout adheres to the beautiful 2-column full-color standard of the series and the book sports several absolutely stunning full-color artworks. Cartography, while not as gorgeous as in other installments of the series more than makes up for it by the sheer amount: Extra player-friendly map of an illusion-encounter? Graphical representations for the spine? Versions with and without grid? All here. 15 (!!!) pages of maps. 15. Seriously, I take this amount of maps over a single beautiful one every day. The pdf is fully bookmarked. I do own the premium paper print copy of this module...and it's beautiful.


Okay, so two excellent modules in a row in an AP are already a rarity; two that manage to be exceedingly smart in a row...are even rarer. Two that manage to qualify as candidates for my Top Ten? Even rarer. Guess what? Michael Allen does it again. I am utterly, completely blown away by this module - come-on: A miles-high tree of clouds, maddening winds, gigantic arches? This is FANTASY. This is imagination. This is the in-your-face one-inch-knock-out punch for all those boring, lazy dungeons out there. Beyond the VERY smart and uncommon adversary-choices and the enemies that actually act according to their brainpower and capabilities, it is the truly marvelous location that sets this apart - and in particular the brainy first part: Only very rarely have I been so engrossed in the exploration of a fantastic place, so bewildered, astounded, baffled. The description and unearthing of clues here is so vivid, I actually dreamed about visiting this place. I'm not kidding. And after the challenging first part, the more combat-focused second part delivers in all the right ways as well. This module is absolutely astounding in every single regard - from terrain to the moving parts to the option to sandbox its VERY PLACE in the series.


Michael Allen deserves my deepest respect - apart from 4 Dollar Dungeon's Richard Develyn (if you haven't read my reviews about them and buy one. Seriously. You won't regret it!), no other adventure author has managed to get a streak of this many modules that deserve a final rating of 5 stars, seal of approval and a nomination as a candidate for my Top Ten of the respective year, this time around 2015. Yes, it's THAT good. This is a prime example of the art of adventure craft and another excellent reminder of how damn good AAW Games have become. Now here's to hoping that #4 can maintain this brilliance...


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shattered Heart Adventure Path #3: The Breath of the Goddess
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Call to Arms: Ropes
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/07/2016 04:04:15

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This colossal installment of Fat Goblin Games' Call to Arms-series clocks in at 68 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page advertisement, 3 pages of SRD, leaving us with 60 (!!!) pages of content, so let's take a look!


After a brief page of flavor text, we dive into a brief history of ropes and how they're used - the first thing you'll notice when thinking about ropes and their use is that, much like fire, the PFRPG-system isn't that precise regarding the peculiarities of the respective ropes - when applicable, the pdf reprints rules, clarifies them and expands them...so the first thing you'll notice is a huge selection of different masterwork ropes - from cave fisher cords to bloodvine ropes to hemp and cord lisse ropes, a massive table alongside various entries provide material that made me grin from ear to ear - beyond varied prices, the table provides effective rope strengths and maximum loads for rope types (including yarns and vines and the like), hardness-ratings and HP alongside weight in one massive, handy table - a glorious GM-cheat-sheet and a portent of the things to come - now you know whether the cave fisher cord can keep that fully armored dwarf from falling...and yes, somewhat elastic ropes can also be found in this section. Oh, and yes, improvised ropes in various qualities complement this array. How useful this is only becomes apparent in game: You have the answers to questions à la "Can I secure XYZ, can I rip door W with a rope from the wall?" suddenly without any hassle.


Beyond that, the pdf provides rope accessories -from balancing poles to bell nets, butterfly nets to climber's kits and pears up to double ring descenders, foaming nuts...and pulleys. Instead of the default block and tackle system, a short and simple, yet effective block and tackle system utilizing these is part of the deal. Soldier's belts and bracelets that can be taken apart and spider sacs can be found in this book and we also receive 4 types of mundane rope armor as well as notes on rope-based weapons like the aklys, bolas, monkey hammers etc. - all collected here for your convenience...and yes, including rope gauntlets and throwing arrow cords. A total of 10 balanced traits helps you portray characters that know what they're doing, who have experience with the subject matter before being roped into the adventuring profession. ...sorry for that one, couldn't help myself. And yes, that pun was bad, even for me.


Feat-wise, an option to use two-handed weapons while climbing and a vastly improved, a more versatile Equipment Trick (Rope) that includes an option for an improvised flying blade-type weapon (think: rope + horseshoe...) among the many options provided. Several feats that makes Lassos more viable as well as reprints of the Net-enhancer-feats complement a neat section here. Have I mentioned the jury-rigging feat here?


Archetype-wise, the pdf reprints the buccaneer and we also get the improvising engineer rogue, who gets a chaotic, scaling bonus when using juryrigging to provide tools for the job at hand alongside better pioneering. (More on that later!) Interesting! The Escape Artist bard gets several Houdini-style low-level tricks. I also was rather happy to see the Trapper ranger redesigned - traps at 1st level instead of 5th and expanding special tricks to modify them make the archetype more interesting (and different from level 1 onwards) as opposed to the default. Kudos! The Vaquero cavalier order would be the lasso specialist - and no, haven't seen that one before.


Skill-wise, we also get an expansion to the rope-rules - from capture and torture to belaying or combat rappelling, we get quite a bunch of neat expansions; even ropeburns are covered! Code-knitting? Covered. Knots and nooses? Covered. Pioneering? Poi? Basically medieval bungee jumping? All covered. Want rules for lethal rope-skipping for that nightmare sequence? Just add blades to the rope-skipping rules herein. Or want to tightrope walk? Rules provided. Zip-lines? Covered. This section is gold - not necessarily as a collective, but there is so much customizable material here, it makes utilizing ropes significantly more compelling...for all kinds of activities.


Spell-wise, improved, more powerful versions of animate rope are provided alongside the classic spell; a nasty spell that stitches the lips of the target together is evocative and making a simulacrum-style double from twine is similarly intriguing. The pdf also, obviously, provides a collection of magical ropes, both new and old - but the truly intriguing component, at least to me, is the array of rope special qualities that can be added to your magical weapons - whether a rope staff or an uncuttable rope is what you desire, this toolkit makes sure that magical ropes can be customized in a wide variety of options. Specific magic item-wise, thread can be used in embalming to increase the potency of flesh golem or zombie DRs, while fans of Sam and Max may finally crush foes below giant balls of expanding twine. Beyond cursed ropes, the intelligent and malign hangman's noose lasso and a golden wonder woman-style lariat of honesty complement this section. Mythic item-wise, the potentially death-cheating thread of fate and the deity-attuned heavenly rope are solid. Artifact-wise, we get two this time around: None other than friggin' Gleipner and the String of Theseus - and yes, gleipner can only be used once...but its effects have no weasel out clause.


The pdf also covers rope hazards and reprints e.g. rope golems and sports the rope-mimicking twisted strangler aberration as well as concise rules for crafting ropes, including unbraiding, fiber artistry and the like. The pdf goes one step further in the appendices, though: We are introduced to perhaps the crown achievement of awesomeness here: Pioneering projects: These allow characters to use ropes and other materials (noted in the respective entries) to create tables, treehouses and similar improvised structures - glorious and absolutely awesome for wilderness campaigns! Stranded on an island? Use these ropes. Survival in the wilderness? Use these rules. Want to trailblaze and establish a new settlement, beginning with rickety basics before getting people to join you - bingo.


Finally, no less than 6 rope-based traps complete this massive, huge book.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good - I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to fat Goblin Games' two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports a nice combination of fitting stock art and some original pieces. The pdf comes bookmarked with a massive array of nested bookmarks for your convenience.


I've read quite a few of J Gray's supplements so far and, in my opinion, none have so far reached this level of quality: On par with line-developer/editor Lucus Palosaari's best in the series, this book is a true blessing and joy to read.


The rope variants and vastly expanded options allow the enterprising GM and group to play completely new types of adventures - whether underworld explorations down bottomless chasms or hardcore wilderness survival in hostile terrain, the pulley and pioneering rules in particular are a boon for campaigns that seek something different. Heck, the pioneering rules can arguably be used to play a whole campaign or at least low-level sequence of modules. I certainly know I'd run e.g. Kingmaker sans settlement, just with characters with these tricks and NPCs to teach them to.


This book made me want to write an adventure based on climbing down a vast chasm/scaling a mountain, of running a truly pioneer-style campaign with goals like lassoing fantastic beasts and similar objectives. Want to play a wild-west-ish campaign? Get this. Want to properly play a DIY-pioneer or rope-based circus artist? Get this. This is one of the books you don't realize that you need it...until you read it. Particularly simulationalist groups and GMs that emphasize resources and a sense of realism will absolutely adore this book. The one gripe I can vocalize against this pdf is a didactic one - putting the pioneer/block and tackle rules in the appendices at the end rather than before e.g. an archetype mentions a bonus pertaining them is a bit counter-intuitive. Yeah, that pretty much is it.


I really love this book and the options it provides, the means by which it expands ropes as items both mundane and magical. This is a great addition to one's game and well worth a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval...and guess what? The sheer added options regarding rope-based structures and wilderness survival are very near and dear to my heart...which is why I also nominate this as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2015. Congratulations!


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Call to Arms: Ropes
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Purple Duck Storeroom: Heraldric Devices
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/07/2016 04:01:42

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of Purple Duck games' inexpensive series of experimental mini-pdfs clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let's take a look!


So, what are heraldric devices? Well, basically, they are add-ons to your shield. They are activated via command word and as a standard action unless otherwise noted. At a GM's discretion, they can be added to heavy armor as well. Item Creation-wise, they are wondrous items and have no effect on their own when not attached to a shield. Cursed heraldric devices exist and cannot be simply removed from the shield.


So what do they do? Well, let me give you an example: The Bat-device nets you blindsight 40 ft for 10 rounds, usable 3/day. A cursed device may bite you and centaur-devices allow you to expand your movement rate a limited amount of times per day. Petrification added to shield bashes, spell-in-a-can effects, energy protection and 1/day fear or 1/day insanity...or what about unerring hydra-heads of force? Grappling tentacles? Hungry pits beyond the maws of purple worm-devices? Yeah, the effects are awesome.


It should be noted though, that the rules-language often deviates from the proper phrasing - when I read "as if the wielder had the Improved Uncanny Dodge ability (at the 8th level of skill.)" [Sic!] something in me cringes...hard.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are good on a formal level; on the rules-language side, it is functional - you get what the text means and the respective wordings don't sport problematic ambiguities...but if it can deviate from how rules syntax and semantics work, it does. So yeah, I did cringe a couple of times...but at the same time, I can't really complain about any significant issues springing from said deviations. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games' printer-friendly no-frills 1-column standard for the series and the pdf sports a nice piece of full-color artwork. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Okay...this is an odd one. Sam Hing's published work usually has a more precise rules-language. Still, know what? I actually really like the item-class introduced herein. The heraldric devices are unique enough and make sense...and they make shields more interesting to have around. In spite of the deviations from rules-language conventions, I couldn't really help myself - I like this little pdf and I sure hope we'll see more devices! Is this perfect? Nope, and I can't rate it as highly as I'd want to - but for the fair price, I can still recommend to check this out. My final verdict hence will clock in at 4 stars.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Purple Duck Storeroom: Heraldric Devices
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Southlands Bestiary
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/06/2016 03:44:04

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This massive bestiary for use with the Southlands campaign setting (but not limited to it) clocks in at 122 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of backer-lists, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 2 3/4 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 112 1/4 pages of content, so let's take a look!


I was a backer of the Southlands kickstarter, but am otherwise not involved with this book. My review is primarily based on the softcover print version of this book, though I consulted the electronic version to verify e.g. presence of bookmarks and similar components.


This book is pretty much a sans frills experience - the brief version of this review would be as follows: After an introduction by Jeff Grubb, we dive into a ton of monsters; in the end, there is a table of monsters by CR; they span the breadth from humble CR 1/2 to massive CR 26.


...


Yeah, I know, not very fulfilling now, is it? Let's try to do this more justice: We have, at this point, seen more than one book (or chapter) on creatures of the deserts - there usually are a couple of undead, some ambush predators, a killer scarab, the like. We know the tropes and this book very much is aware of this - instead of simply resorting to trying to re-invent the wheel, it pretty much says: "So yeah, you do - but guess what? You haven't seen THIS done!" What do I mean by this? Well, for one, the massive book has something unique going on for every creature - there is no boring rehash of old tricks in this book. That tentacley ambush-predator cactus you've seen done before? Well, it can generate a lethal aura of spikes by shooting them all at once in a pinch. That undead, doomed to wander the desert? Let's just say that it can be used in Ravenloft sans modification, since it requires brains to defeat it.


The second component that sets this apart is that, much like the Southlands-book, it borrows heavily on real world mythology and adds a unique spin to it - Mechuitl and Camazotz, for example, are statted as full-blown demon lords - including e.g. information on Camazotz in the underworld... Similarly, monster tropes are combined with great panache with Midgard flavor - Clockwork Shabti and Ushabti, for example tie in perfectly with the gearforged concept, while the types of tosculi and their master, dread Arbeyach, prince of swarms also get their due.


Speaking of resonance with real world myth - if you're familiar with Prester John's myth, you'll be like me and grin from ear to ear upon seeing the Blemmyes statted. The lightning-infused swarm "Bolt of Ekwanes" similarly resounds with a deep pulse of the familiar and yet unique. Fans of ancient mythologies will also cheer at the rendition of noble Buraqs, while drought swallows threaten the land and well-being of those foolish enough to attract their attention. Salt-devils scour the lands and demonic idolic deities await to be unearthed, while owl-headed harpies prey on the travelers.


Intelligent ambush predator spiders called J'ba Fobi or the smoke-lions mngwas, carnivorousnandi bears or an ooze camouflaging as whole oasis - the breadth and depth of adversaries and creatures covered herein is wide indeed. Perhaps you want a pygmy trumpeteer elephant companion? Heck, even the tired old desert worm gets a new twist, with Sathaq worms sporting a pain-inducing aura and a hunting style based on dragging foes beneath the sands. Even the classic hybrids that in earlier days sometimes ended up being less than interesting have great representations herein - the lethal serpopard (serpent-leopard-hybrid) is a brutal foe, while an orangutan-choker hybrid should, by all accounts, end up on a ridiculous monster-list...but it does work! Insectoid Xhkarsh can afflict their victims with oracle curses and creatures mentioned in the great setting book, from the twisted vine lords to the arcane wasting-bearing intelligent white apes resound with themes of our collective cultural consciousness.


The mythic Southlands titans do sport notes on words of power (and an optional, non WoP-array of SPs) while the wakane, a feathered pterosaur, is particularly feared for sinking boats - have I mentioned the huge, burrowing pitcher plants masquerading as an oasis, commanding whole swarms of its rootlets to defeat resilient prey? There is a lot of downright inspired material to be found herein and not one of the creatures in this book felt lazy or bland.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch - while e.g. MR is not capitalized in a statblock and while I noticed some small hiccups, overall, the book is solid. The statblocks I checked sported no glaring glitches. Layout adheres to a gorgeous two-column full-color standard and the pdf is fully bookmarked. The book has a huge selling point: The artwork is absolutely fantastic. original and truly evocative, full-color artworks for all creatures are provided and they are downright baffling, eclipsing even most 1st party bestiaries. Some of the artworks are so beautiful, they make you immediately want to use the creature they represent - and this holds true for just about all of them. Look at the cover: This is the level of awesomeness you get throughout the whole book.


Here's the awesome thing, though: As a long-time supporter of Kobold Press, I have, time and again, bemoaned the fact that some of the truly astounding full color pdfs were translated "only" into b/w-print copies. Not so here: The Southlands Bestiary's print version is a truly gorgeous full color softcover that features thick, glossy paper and thus is a joy to simply flip open - if you can, get the print edition.


Okay, so here is the list of designers:


Kristian Ahonen, Eric Anderson, Anonymous, Joshua Banks, Wolfgang Baur, dpb, Clinton Boomer, Marina de Santiago Buey, Angelica Burns, Jarrod Camiré, Aaron Cheung, Jim Davis, Lee DeBoer, Dan Dillon, John Doh, Chris Doyle, Harold Farmer, John Foster, Erik Freund, Leonard Grand, Amanda Hamon Kunz, Andrew Harshman, Jacob Haywood, Steven T. Helt, Jeffrey Hersh, Andrew Hind, Richard Iversen, Alex Kanous, Henry S. Kurtz, Richard Lawson, Jeff Lee, Chris Lockey, Ari Marmell, Ben McFarland, Jesse McGatha, Brett A. McLean, Brian Wiborg Mønster, Matt Morrissette, Robert H. Nichols, Stacy Nichols, Kalervo Oikarinen, Gunnar Ólafsson, Richard Rossi, Stephen Rowe, Adam Roy, Wendall Roy, Matt Rupprecht, Allen F. Schell, Brian Suskind, Troy Taylor, James Thomas, John Tolios, James Whittaker, Clarence Wisdom, Henry Wong - in spite of the established names among these ladies and gentlemen, one would expect quality to fluctuate. At least as far as I could tell (or where it would become jarring or problematic for the GM), I could not observe any tendency like that - Ben McFarland, Justin Riddler, Alistair Rigg, Brian Suskind, Jason Nelson and Amanda Hamon Kunz have done a glorious job reviewing, editing and developing these creatures - and the effort show. This is a superb bestiary, perhaps one of the most compelling ones I've read all year.


Even if you're not interested in Midgard or Southlands, I very much recommend you get this gorgeous tome - this is a glorious bestiary and well worth 5 stars + seal of approval as well as nomination as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2015.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Southlands Bestiary
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Animal Races: Dawn of the Cerapod
Publisher: Eric Morton Presents
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/06/2016 03:40:16

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of the Animal Races-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let's take a look!


Where the carnosaurians were the rulers and warriors of the perished empire of lizards, the cerapods were the artisans and farmers, humble and domestic - but they fell alongside their empire...


This does not mean, however, that you can't play them! The pdf provides information on various subtypes, from bird-feet to bone-heads and horn-heads and beyond, including the professions they were most likely to follow and, as always, provides full age. height and weight tables for your convenience. Similarly, the pdf provides detailed information on religion and the like.


Base-stat-wise, cerapods are medium reptilians with low-light vision and 5 ft.-scent that upgrades to 30 ft. at 6th level and they begin play with +1 natural armor that increases to +2 at 10th level. They also begin play with a 1d4 natural weapon determined by clan, 1d6 if the character gets a size-increase to large. 4 racial heritages can be chosen: Bird-feet receive a tail attack and +2 Str and Int, -2 Cha and may choose the racial heritage feat Bird-Footed as a combat style feat.


Bone-heads get a slam attack and +2 Str and Wis, -2 Int and may take their racial heritage feat Bone-Headed instead of a rage power. Horn-Heads get a gore attack and +2 to Str and Wis, -2 Dex and may take the Armor-Plated and Horn-headed feats as fighter bonus feats. Finally, Shield-Bearers get a tail attack, +2 Str and Cha, -2 Dex and may take the Armor-Plated and Shield-Born feats instead of an oracle's revelation.


So, let's take a look at those feats: Armor-Plated is interesting - the feat grants you basically a built-in scale armor, but also makes you slow and steady (as the dwarven racial trait). Taking the feat a second time allows you to wear an armor above your built-in scales, using the biggest AC-bonus and stacking special armor properties of both armors. Yes, you can enchant your built-in scale armor and yes, the trait sports concise rules for what happens if your built-in armor is broken.


Bird-footed is more traditional in its effects - you choose from fast movement or trample; once you have both, you may choose improved trample or primeval mind. (Bear in mind the traditional 1/ 2 levels you may take this feat, so primeval mind's charm immunity hits 6th level at the very soonest.)


Bone-Headed works similarly: Choose fast movement or improved slam, thereafter primeval mind and clobbering charge are unlocked. The latter allows you to add a bull rush to a slam attack executed at the end of a charge, with a chance to stagger the target on a crit.


The Horn-headed may choose improved gore, powerful charge, stability or trample and, once these have been taken,primeval mind...or large and stout, which upgrades your size to Large!


The Shield-Born lets you select improved tail, trample or tripping tail, unlocking primeval mind thereafter. Tripping Tail, just fyi, lets you add trips to tail attacks, no AoO, no chance to be tripped back.


As before, we receive interesting information on the genealogy of these saurians and, as has become the tradition with this series, folklore-information, which, this time around is particularly detailed - and the pdf is better for that: The saurians are tied to a wide array of monsters, which makes them feel like an organic part of a campaign world from the get-go. The deity provided here is unique: Kouros was LITERALLY the soul of the empire, a kind of collective consciousness or imperial zeitgeist, if you will. I can, obviously, relate. ;) The pdf also provides interesting hooks and angles for saurians surviving the fall of the empire - whether planar exile, newly developed cerapods or resurrected creatures - the angles are interesting. Like the companion book, though, we do not gain the usual cool heraldry-based traits.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to the series' elegant, printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard with thematically-fitting full-color and b/w-art. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for you convenience.


Eric Morton's cerapods are distinct, versatile and generally well-balanced - the stacking of armors is interesting and powerful, but the feat-tax does offset the power...and the armor still requires the gold...so yeah. Flavor-wise, this is intelligent, smart and fun - there is frankly nothing to complain about apart from the lack of the cool heraldry-traits, but I won't hold that against this pdf. This pdf has nice, fun options and offers an excellent bang-for-buck ratio, exceeding the carnosaurus-pdf in versatility. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Animal Races: Dawn of the Cerapod
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