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Vivisectionist Hybrid Class
Publisher: Wayward Rogues Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/08/2017 09:36:35

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This hybrid class clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 9 pages of content, so let's take a look!

Vivisectionists are locked into an evil alignment and receive d8 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons, bombs and light armor and the class receives a 3/4 BAB-progression as well as good Fort- and Will-saves. The class begins play with alchemy and Brew Potion and receives extract-spellcasting akin to the alchemist. The class draws its extracts from its own list of available formulae and the governing attribute here would be Intelligence. While the vivisectionist receives the bomb class feature, it is used in a different way and more in line with a very soft crowd-control, as the only level in which the ability is increased would be 13th. It should be no surprise that vivisectionists thus begin play with Throw Anything as well. Sounds much like an alchemist? Well, 1st level also yields channel necromantic energy, usable 3 + Cha-mod times per day. This special channeled energy does not cause damage, but can be used to command and heal undead - those affected by it may fall under the sway of the vivisectionist on a failed Will-save.

Starting at 2nd level, the vivisectionist receives DR 2/bludgeoning and magic, increasing this by +2 at 6th level, 11th level and 15th level. As a minor nitpick, the formatting of the DR in the class table lacks the slashes. 2nd level and every even level thereafter yield a discovery, but more on those later. Starting at 3rd level, a vivisectionist may 1/day emit a 5-ft-burst of negative energy that inflicts 1d4 damage per class level, half on a successful Will-save. As a minor formatting nitpick, it should be "+ Charisma modifier", not "+Cha modifier". This ability can be used an additional time per day at 8th, 12th and 18th level and it heals undead. Additionally, their channel can be used to further activate the ability more often. I assume the default standard action for activation of this Su, but would have still appreciated an activation action - and, pretty important, a note on whether this provokes an AoO. I assume no as a default, analogue to channel energy.

3rd level yields swift alchemy, which contradicts the table that puts the ability at 4th level. 5th level yields the eponymous vivisection, which allows the character to, as a free action, inject specially-charged brain matter, granting a +1d6 surge-like bonus on one skill check within 1 minute, even those requiring the taking of 10 or 20, with the choice being required after the check is rolled, but before results are made known. The interaction with taking 10 and 20 are a bit weird here, but retain their functionality, so this gets a pass. This can be used "1 + Cha modifier" (again, should be "Charisma" -I'll stop commenting on this type of formatting hiccup now) times per day, +1/day at 7th level and every other level thereafter. Alternatively, as a move action, the vivisectionist may gain the benefits of a combat feat for the duration, but has to meet all prerequisites, with 7th level decreasing action economy for this type of activation to a swift action.

The vivisectionist may only have one such wild-card feat at any given time...at least until 9th level, where the ability can also unlock general feats and may benefit from multiple such feats at any given time. The interaction here can be a bit wonky: The vivisectionist still has to meet the prerequisites of such feats, but can subsequent uses of the ability grant feat trees? Iron Will and Improved Iron Will, for example, if the vivisectionist uses three vivisection uses? Does he lose access to e.g. Improved Iron Will, once the vivisection duration for the granted Iron Will feat elapses? Does the multiple-use-caveat for the stacking of granted feats via vivisection also apply to combat feats, or are these still locked at a maximum of 1 wild-card feat? The ability has some hiccups in these finer details. Starting at 15th level, the vivisectionist may use the ability to gain a non-spellcasting 1st-level ability of a core class, but is locked into it until the duration elapses. Also at 5th level, the vivisectionist receives a 5-ft.-radius fear aura with a hex "Immune after successful save for 24 hours caveat."

Starting at 7th level, the vivisectionist may 1/round deliver a melee touch attack that inflicts 1d8 untyped damage, +1 per 4 class levels. This also heals undead creatures, which can be a problem if you're playing with an undead PC-race, as it means infinite healing. The attack may also be delivered via spectral hand - the spell is, just fyi, not properly formatted here. Starting at 12th level, the vivisectionist learns two alternate uses of this ability: On any given day, she may bestow a total of up to 1/2 her class level negative levels, with a maximum of 2 per touch. Alternatively, she may paralyze foes for 1/2 class level rounds, with both cases allowing a cha-governed save to resist. I assume the save to be Fort, but the ability does not clarify that. In order to use either paralyze effect or negative level, the vivisectionist must spend a swift action charging her hand. If the at-will paralyze seems OP, then because it is (RAW, it can be used infinite times per day), but the upgrade at 17th level makes clear that the intent was for paralyzing to have some sort of cap: Suddenly, negative levels and paralyze cap at class level levels/rounds per day. sigh

8th level adds +4 to Str and Dex and +2 hp per HD to all undead created by the vivisectionist and allows her to control 4 + Cha-mod undead HD per vivisectionist level, with 2x class level doubling as the cap for those controlled by channel necromantic energy. The wording here could be a bit more precise and elaborate. 9th level yields +4 to saves to resist negative energy, some ability drain, level drain and inflict spells. As a capstone, we have an undead-apotheosis as well as a grand discovery.

Speaking of which: The pdf contains, unless I have miscounted, a total of 13 class-exclusive discoveries and 4 exclusive grand discoveries. Grand scale corruption of wells and even larger bodies of water, a discovery that lets you rig an alchemist lab to make it generate undead-animating vapors, making a nasty weapon from a unicorn-horn...Know what? In all Wayward Rogues Publishing-pdfs I've covered so far, these are not only the most precise pieces of crunch, they also are inspiring and evocative. A lot of the discoveries basically ask to be made into the central plot-device of a given module. Preparing alcoholic beverages to hamper saves? That just sounds like step one of a delightfully dastardly plan, and disguise self and alter self as formulae, with the option to use a deceased person's blood to take their appearance, makes for a delightful package that just screams "Make me a cool villain in your next game! - even when the spell-references are not properly italicized. Cooler than that: Flashes of memory can be added to the impersonation! There is also a discovery-tree called graveflesh, which provides camouflage and protection from mindless undead, a black thumb that kills off vegetation (unfortunately without stating the effect on plant creatures) or some bonus spells - the abilities which grant those, just fyi, are perfectly formatted - italicized spells and all.

The grand discoveries allow for the assumption of permanent control over mindless undead, extended command and control limits, act as a living shrine to an evil deity (which also includes desecrate -bingo, not italicized) and provides auto-undeadification for those that die within your desecration range and finally, you can spontaneously call forth large amounts of weak undead. Per se nice options, though their power ranges a bit.

The pdf closes with 4 spells, one that allows you to damage foes based on your wounds, a low-level undead-only sanctuary-variant, a variant geas that animates the target upon death to continue his quest and a variant spying spectral eye. The spells sport some minor formatting hiccups, but generally remain viable. Weird: Though they are on the vivisectionist formulae list, their spell statblocks don't mention the class.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, particularly the latter, are the bane of this pdf. While significantly improved from earlier offerings by Wayward Rogues Publishing, this still has a lot of hiccups, some of which influence the functionality of the class. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard and the pdf sports a GORGEOUS artwork of the class. The pdf has no bookmarks, which constitutes an unnecessary comfort detriment, particularly when combined with the fact that you can't highlight or copy any text in the pdf.

Robert Gresham, Wojciech Gruchala and Angel "ARMR" Miranda's vivisectionist is, let me state that clearly, a nice hybrid class. It has unique tricks, a distinct playing style, sufficient player-agenda, a concise identity and even some seriously inspiring discoveries. This class, in short, would receives 4 or 5 stars, easily. Unlike earlier hybrid classes by Wayward Rogues Publishing, it is one worth getting...if you're willing to spend a little time to work on it. As written, there are a lot of formatting hiccups and some ambiguities within the framework of the class that drag it down a notch from the praise I'd otherwise bestow upon it. The fact that some core abilities require further clarification is a nasty strike against the pdf and while I still can endorse this to GMs willing to work with the crunch, the editing and formatting deficiencies leave me unfortunately no choice but to rate this down to 3.5 stars, missing the rounding up by a tiny margin. I do hope this'll get a revision at some point - the cool ideas herein deserve the chance to properly shine.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Vivisectionist Hybrid Class
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ZEITGEIST #13: Avatar of Revolution (Pathfinder)
Publisher: EN Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/07/2017 09:33:36

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This is it. The finale of the Zeitgeist AP clocks in at 89 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 84 pages of content, so let's take a look!

This being the FINALE of the Zeitgeist AP, the following, unsurprisingly, will contain copious amounts of SERIOUS SPOILERS. Potential players should definitely jump to the conclusion.

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Only GMs around? Okay, when the PCs were in Av, the world of dreams and fey, a massive blast left reflections back in the gyre and sent the PCs back into reality - but due to mutable time in Av, months have gone by in the real world and Obscurati control has been more than solidified. Few beings still resist the all powerful New World order, one of them being none other than Benedict Pemberton. If his daughter did not survive #6, he'll be a shaky ally at best, but in the rich tradition of reaping what you have sown. When the PCs awake from the shock of Av's destruction, Pemberton will bring them up to speed - just in time before a powerful killer-commando of the obscurati, with Nicodemus hijacking one member, offer a final chance to come to his side (He has cookies! ... Sorry, old goth joke...)...and the PCs will find out the hard way that the Ob now have the metaphysical power of their strengthened godmind behind them....it is also here that the eye of rot and a chance for the PCs to find out means to subvert hivemind control happen...they'll need every bit of strategy and power they can muster.

Pemberton also has a subject, Pardo the gnoll - which is good, for in order to subvert the sacrament, the PCs will have to actually wrestle people from the hivemind control of the Obscurati...which is very much required. Why? Because Nicodemus sees the big picture. He sees the PCs for the demigod-power threats they are...and he is willing to torch every single city on the planet, kill millions, if the PCs continue to thwart his plans. After all, who will care once utopia's reached? Who will mind in a thousand years? This is where Pemberton comes into play: He is convinced that, if the PCs can deal with Harkover Lee, who lords over Risur, that he can jury-rig his duplicant-magics to allow the PCs to enact a ritual in several cities at once, simultaneously breaking the hold of the Ob and foiling Nicodemus' scorched earth protocol.

However, at this point, we return to adventure #12.

Speaking of which and the dragon formerly known as Harkover Lee: Scorched earth here is to be taken literally. The gas lines are ready to erupt with elemental fire directly sapped from the plane, as the heroes with their attempts of freeing folk from obscurati mind-control, witness firsthand the fruits of Nicodemus' age of reason. Foiling literally scorched earth is one thing...but the dragon still needs to be dealt with - and the dragon tyrant is not a foe to be trifled with - CR 23, all death. Oh, and you know all those other metropolises, all those other characters the PCs interacted with, from snipers to shamans? this is where pretty much everyone becomes important, for, within a scant few minutes, the scorched earth protocol must be stopped EVERYWHERE. While the pdf acknowledges that players tend to care less when their PC's not "on stage", it should still be noted that the duplicants and their control can make for an amazing "simultaneous" run, if your GM-mojo is really strong. Then again, you have run one of the most challenging APs ever written to the final chapters, so I think you should be able to handle that!

One final task. The Axis Seal ritual. Nicodemus and his colossus Borne. All forces of the Obscurati. The PCs now truly reap what they have sown. They need to gather their forces and allies, deal with the Obscurati armies and the aforementioned entities. The goals can diverge: Stop Nicodemus. Complete the ritual themselves. Redeem William Miller and thus allow them to redeem, to an extent, Nicodemus and put him to rest...or reject the divinity and new world by utterly destroying the half-completed ritual set-up. Nicodemus is basically the god of this world by now - empowered by all minds who want him to complete the ritual, hampering his ability to do so may make him vulnerable.

Know how #12 had these cool tracking sheets? Well, the axis ritual (full color map included) and the massive energy tendrils involved here make for a final combat that cannot conceivably be solved by brute force - it is, at once, a massive puzzle to reconfigure the pillars with icons to determine the new world's form...and better yet, we actually get sample taunts and even a proper grandstanding monologue for Nicodemus...and a GM checklist for the encounter. You know, usually, I'd follow that up with "but a good Gm can handle that"-blabla...but frankly, this encounter is so complex and cool at the same time that the inclusion is very much appreciated!

In fact, PCs can actually get a cool series of handouts that helps them grapple with the axis seal's ritual, for each manipulation actually changed the rules of the world! Nice: You can duplex print two pages and print them out as cards, if you want. And yes, if the players wish to engage in the sacrament of apotheosis, that is similarly covered in a handout.

Indeed, the ends are complex and reward attention: Destruction of Nicodemus...amounts to genocide. Completion of the ritual...just delays him and makes the world, changed, basically a partial success for him. Making Miller take control can subvert Nicodemus and allow for his destruction...and finally, rejection of any form of change, of a realignment of the world, can similarly sever his quasi-deific link...and allow the PCs to end him. Oh, and guess what? The campaign ends in style, with a proper denouement for each character theme.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I only noticed a couple of minor hiccups. Layout adheres to Zeitgeist's two-column full-color standard and the pdf has full-color artworks. The pdf is layered, allowing you to customize it for printing out. The pdf is also fully bookmarked for your convenience. Cartography is in full-color and nice.

Ryan Nock's finale to the Zeitgeist AP is one I see with a laughing and a crying eye: I am honestly glad that this book was made, that this glorious AP managed to reach its end. I am also exceedingly happy to report that the saga managed to maintain its exceedingly high standard, its high concepts, its courage to expect smart players. It is a fitting end for one of the best villains I have ever encountered in any roleplaying game, a conclusion of epic proportions that may not reach the far-out OMG-level of #12, but instead brings things full circle - where #12 was about averting destruction, this book is about creation and what we're willing to risk for it; it is a question of how we'd act when confronted with absolute power. It takes the various decisions and consequences of the AP into account and represents the most challenging, rewarding final encounter I have ever read in a published AP. Zeitgeist ends with a bang quality-wise, though failure on the PC's side may indeed make it an in-game whimper for them. In short: This is a masterful conclusion to the AP, though one that absolutely REQUIRES being run in conjunction with #12. The final verdict will, unsurprisingly, clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

I should talk a bit about the AP as a whole. PFRPG, D&D (whether 4th or 5th edition is irrelevant), 13th Age and similar rules-heavy systems have a bit of a bad reputation in some gaming circles. One complaint is that the rules get in the way of invested storytelling, often pointing towards rules-lite games and their investigation scenarios and then towards the fun, but mindless dungeon-crawling that is often the default modus operandi for these systems. The Zeitgeist AP is, in one sentence, the furious and definite rebuttal that the systems can't carry complex, amazing and intellectually engaging plots. Don't get me wrong - I enjoy mindless dungeon-crawling as much as the next guy. I don't need highly complex plots in every module. In fact, please spare me - more often than not, complex plotlines end up being a colossal mess. Particularly if you insert metaphysics, philosophy and the like - most modules fail hard at being smart and just end up being referential - which is NOT the same. (Brief tangent: That's why current comedy is often not funny to me. References to 80s, 90s etc. are not funny or clever in and of themselves.)

Well, guess what? Zeitgeist handles one of the most complex and rewarding plot-lines I have ever witnessed in any medium. It also accomplishes two additional milestones as far as I'm concerned: 1) The AP features one of the most compelling and relatable villains ever put to print. 2) For perhaps the very first time in a published sequence of modules or mega-adventures, I did not find myself rationalizing some dumb flaw in the plan of the opposition. You see, nothing irks me more than, as a GM, having to play a supposedly almost all-powerful conspiracy of hyper-smart folks and failing due to transparent fiat. The opposition in Zeitgeist is exceedingly clever, potent, acts in a concise and well-reasoned manner and feels internally consistent. There is no "a wizard did it/he's mad/he's arrogant/etc." lame justification here - the plans are clever, the responses are similarly smart and the AP expects not only GMs, but also players to be smart, involved and clever.

In short, if your group consists of intelligent people (as most of us are, knowing roleplayers!), if you ever had to insert x plot-fixes to account for players punching holes in plots, if you ever had to insert a ton of complications (or blend multiple modules into one) to challenge your players and provide a sufficiently engaging storyline, then it's time to take the plunge and give this a try. If you're burned out on the xth dungeon crawl against a villain with a lame, flimsy motivation or a dumb guild...then it's time to look at this. This AP is indeed an action-packed AP that very much stays true to its tenets of being smart and being an investigative/espionage-saga. This AP is a monument as far as I'm concerned, one that should be on pretty much every self-respecting GM's shelf.

The AP is not perfect, though. The main issue I see lies in the horrid naval combat rules, which I'd strongly suggest to ditch and replace with those of Fire as She Bears/Ships of Skybourne. While the latter book is hard to get at first, it is the perfect toolkit to making this AP's naval combat less reliant on the basics. The AP also has, here and there, some minor hiccups that stick out like sore thumbs in the rules-department of minor components like hazards etc. - these are never many, but they do show up, which means that you'll here and there need to make some minor modifications. That being said, the absolutely fantastic storyline, the sheer level of involvement, the visuals - pretty much everything about this saga makes this work more than justified. In the hands of a capable GM and an experienced group of smart players, this may well be one of the best complete campaigns ever penned, regardless of system.

Now the campaign can also be found in massive books. While I have reviewed and own Act I, as per the writing of this review, I have not yet had a chance to read the Act III-compilation. It'll grace my shelves, though - and frankly, you should give this series a shot. Act II and III's compilations, in time, will get their own briefer reviews in which I will comment on the compilation and less on the plot and respective single modules, mind you.

Smart, glorious and very cinematic, this saga is phenomenal and frankly leaves me puzzled how EN Publishing ever wants to top it. Again: Monument. Get it. If you've been disillusioned by published modules and their bugs or just the relative simplicity of many a plotline, this is the ultimate panacea for your roleplayer-weltschmerz.

Endzeitgeist out.

P.s.: Since someone asked: I'm not affiliated in any way with the AP or EN Publishing; I had my nick long before the first zeitgeist-installment hit shelves.

P.P.S.: If someone playing this module makes an endzeitgeist, drop me a line. ;)

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
ZEITGEIST #13: Avatar of Revolution (Pathfinder)
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ZEITGEIST #12: The Grinding Gears of Heaven (Pathfinder)
Publisher: EN Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/07/2017 09:31:35

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The 12th installment of the massive Zeitgeist-AP clocks in at 92 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC,1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 87 pages of content, so let's take a look!

This being an adventure-review, the following will contain SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion. It should also be noted that I may reference other installments of the AP, so you HAVE been warned. From here on out, the SPOILERS reign.

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Okay, only GMs left around? Great! So, in my best impression of one of my players' catch-phrase: "My friends, the stakes have never been higher!" The massive conspiracy, the Obscurati, have tinkered with the world. Their powerful ritual, intended to reshape reality, was foiled by the PCs. In the epic aftermath of the sundering of the world from other planes, the brave constables of the RHS have fought collective intelligences, saved nations and defeated Kaiju-sized monstrosities. They have established free will as a paradigm and foiled the masterplan of immortal Nicodemus. And now, the world is spinning towards the gyre in an evocation of the classic "Second Coming" - the center cannot hold; massive gears in space, where creation annihilates dying worlds, grind them into the raw stardust of creation. Nothing short of world-wide annihilation and the dread end-game of the Voice of Rot need to be foiled. The PCs are leaders of their world (hopefully - there is a pretty high chance that they botched at some time, with every failure putting more control into the Obscurati's hands), known across the globe...but what does that matter when planar flight's impossible and the world is spinning into the multiverse's gyre?

The PCs will begin their deliberations to be contacted by Rock Rackus, celebrity adventurer, who is possessing a medium to tell them that a weird golden airship is attacking Av, the plane of dreams - it is thus that considerations of dealing with the Obscurati-controlled Danor need to rest for a bit, as the PCs try to use the planar rift of cauldron hill to arrive at the Bleak gate. Here legions reminiscent of those of Egal the Shimmering have been attacking - oh, and the plane is also spinning towards the gyre; depending on the fey in charge (which was influenced by the PCs), they will have different ruler to save- though saving said ruler from the world mote Egalitrix will be tough.

And yes, worlds will be shattering, falling into the gyre, which brings me to a weird peculiarity - a cinematic explosion that may smash a PC into an endless vortex of flame has terrain mechanics like: "+33 vs. Fortitude"....which makes no sense. Fortitude denotes a bonus, not a value. Doubly weird: The text before that mentions a correct solution, a Ref-save and a DC. This may be a small hiccup in the presentation, yes, but things like this feel jarring in light of the quality the module otherwise presents. We have troops of ghosts, taking control of airships...and the overarcing metaplot of making planar icons from the planes that are plunging into the gyre, for without these icons, the Axis Seal ritual is impossible to complete.

When the world of dreams is collapsing, torn asunder by the gyre, a shockwave sends the PCs unconscious....and doubles as the reason why you see this and #13's review back to back.

Again, this is a MAJOR SPOILER.

You have been warned.

So, the world's collapse sends the PCs into unconsciousness - which is an interesting narrative device. You see, the true PCs are back at home and a dream echo is what'll be the protagonist for the remainder of the module...which makes sense, considering that nothing can leave the gyre. The knowledge gained by these echoes can, in the end, be projected back to the proper PCs, as they try to stop Nicodemus in #13. So basically, this and #13 happen at pretty much the same time, which makes for a more interesting climax than back in WotBS (War of the Burning Skies), which had 3 potential climaxes that could be run in any sequence...or just pick one. In the end, that was one structural weakness of the otherwise neat WotBS-AP and it's nice to see EN Publishing not repeating it.

I digress. So, the PCs are in the gyre, where worlds are churned asunder and they need to generate planar icons to tether their world in the ritual - but which to choose? Well, that would be the next chapter and it is here we dive into a time-tested favorite of mine, genre-wise: Hex-crawling. Yeah, you heard me. We're hex-crawling through world motes plunging into total annihilation. We're fighting mandala beasts and in the best of hexcrawling and planeshopping/spelljamming traditions, we find pirate strongholds, tombs of dwarven all-kings...and finally, on Ascetia, the hidden jungle (yeah, the symbolism sometimes hits you over the head), the PCs meet...Nicodemus? Yep, William Miller would be proper, though, for he is Nicodemus' reflection, much like the PCs are reflections...and it is here that #13 should be started. Sure, you can finish #12, but from a narrative point of view and a structure/pacing perspective, this switching is amazing.

So yeah. Please switch towards #13. I'll be waiting here for you to read up on #13's inflection point switch back here.

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All right, so, William Miller's as different from Nicodemus as possible - he shares the same soul, but centuries of detachment, a lack of massive magical power and a thoroughly different perspective mean that the PCs may actually pull William Miller to their side, providing a very powerful means to finally defeat Nicodemus in adventure #13 - provided they play their cards right and realize the guilt-impulse that is so crucial to character motivation. It should be taken as the highest accolades that the BBEG of this campaign is indeed interesting enough to warrant such closer examination. It is also here that the PCs can meditate upon the grave of Kavarina's daughter and learn about Srasama, the eldarin goddess who remains in the gyre, courtesy of teh aftermath of the great malice. The deity, if destroyed by the gyre, has one final act she can perform - whether it'll be vengeance or the resurrection of those fallen to the Malice will determine to an extent the ultimate outcome of the saga.

In the southern part of the gyre (hexcrawlin'!), the PCs will have a chance to visit a graveyard world in the throes of a deadly magical, seemingly incurable plague; as the Pcs collect planar traits and visit strange and metaphysically relevant places, the PCs will still have to deal with Egalitrix, a powerful flying fortress manned by infernal troops. Yeah, they act smart, are deadly...and as pretty much any time when the AP insists to employ its horrible ship-combat options, I'd strongly suggest a proper redesign with the Fire as She Bears/Ships of Skybourne-rules. (The latter book, while harder to grasp at first, EXACTLY has rules that can deliver flying fortresses like this!)

And then, the PCs arrive at Reida, the broken arc of history, which is within the very coils of the Voice of Rot - and indeed, the famous "rough beast" of the famous poem. And it is one for the ages. The Voice is LITERALLY destroying the metaphysical embodiment of the PC's home's history, as its gargantuan bulk (Suggestion: Serpent skull + 30 coins...this thing is BIG) slithers over the arc, constantly moving, constantly tearing away...oh and it has 2 thresholds, where is becomes ever more dangerous, calling forth all the dead of history and even wrecking the PC's maximum HP. This titan is also where you can let loose like crazy - it's incredibly lethal and the PCs being reflections, it can kill off them sans impunity...after all, in the end, the only thing left to do will be to fall into the gyre, rejoin with the proper body...provided they have someone left with an emotional connection to. Fun fact: I actually pulled exactly that emotional anchor transition in my very first campaign's climax. That just as an aside.

The reflections of the PCs are ground to stardust. They may or may not take a goddess and more with them. They have the tools to undo the damage Nicodemus has done and prevent him from permanently solidifying the new world order. One final task. The fight for the very soul of the new world, the chance to create one's utopia, to form design the zeitgeist. It's now.

...to be concluded in #13.

The pdf concludes with a full-color map of the hexcrawl (several full-color tactical maps are included as well), a massive bestiary of the high-CR beings encountered, a handy GM cheat sheet of planes with associated energies and traits, a similarly handy list of gyre planes and dying worlds, a handy list of color-coded planes by type, sample combinations that could result in e.g. technocracies, pastorals, etc., a sheet to track bonding with energies, as well as player's sheet for tracking gyre-exploration and, finally, a player's version of the gyre-map.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good. I noticed a couple of minor typos and small hiccups as that mentioned before. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard and sports a blend of full-color original and stock art. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Cartography of both hex-map and tactical maps is in full-color and nice, though the tactical maps don't come in the usual, blown-up-to-one-page standard, which is slightly annoying. The pdf is layered, which can render the file pretty printer-friendly to print out.

Ryan Nock's grinding gears of heaven is perhaps the most far-out module I have read since Coliseum Morpheuon. It's also the highest-level hex crawl I have ever seen...and makes full use of being high-level. The module throws pretty much a huge sandbox that will make fans of Planescape and Spelljammer cackle with glee at the PCs and represents one of the most poachable scenarios in the AP - you could conceivably ignore the whole saga and just run this as a climax for your weird planes-hopping campaign. It would lose some of its emotional impact, obviously, but yeah.

That being said, this is very much a part of the saga: A thoroughly unconventional one that has one of the most epic boss fights I have ever seen. Oh, and if that wasn't enough - if you're a well-read person or consider yourself to be a scholar, then this book's continuous barrage of subtle allusions to literature and tropes will make you smile from ear to ear. Indeed, while the intrigue aspect is less pronounced here than in the rest of the AP, the very real scope, the massive array of what's at stake render this one of the most epic-feeling modules I have ever read. How often do you get to adventure to puzzle together your world's ideology? That's basically a more player-agenda driven Shin Megami Tensei's Lucifer's Call...but you don't have one planet...you have a ton of them. Much like all installments of Zeitgeist, the ship-combat imho needs replacing...badly. And much like every installment of the AP, it needs a capable GM and involved, proactive players that can juggle the concepts...but for any group that wants to play something SMART, this is absolutely amazing. My final verdict will obviously be 5 stars + seal of approval, in spite of the minor hiccups...so let's see whether the finale can hold up this level of quality...see you in #13's review.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
ZEITGEIST #12: The Grinding Gears of Heaven (Pathfinder)
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The Rhune: Dawn of Twilight Campaign Guide
Publisher: Storm Bunny Studios
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/06/2017 10:39:39

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive campaign guide clocks in at 356 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page dedication, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page backer list, 3 pages of ToC, 1 page session sheet (also included as a separate pdf), 2 pages of char sheet (similarly included and form-fillable), 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with343 pages of content, so let's take a look!

Urgh. This took forever. What you're reading is my 5th attempt at writing this review. No, I am not kidding. 4 times I wrote this and ended up not being happy with the tone, the focus. This is a hard book to review, so please bear with me - I have to digress a bit to properly explain this book. I actually bought the limited print run hardcover version of the book and while I do have the pdf, the hardcover is ultimately what this review is mostly based on.

First, let me take you on a brief trip through history. Back in the day when I was pretty much a nobody, the esteemed and absolutely amazing Paco Garcia Jaen "took me in" as a reviewer for GMS magazine. I obviously wanted to know what kind of people I was working with and so I listened to a lot of the cool interviews he conducted. (Seriously, check out GMS magazine!) So, it was there that I stumbled over this small indie RPG publisher who had a brief, approximately 16-page, FREE pdf for a setting called "Rhûne." I opened it...and my jaw DROPPED. Not only did it have Paizo-level artwork, it also had a massive map by none other than cartography god Jonathan Roberts. Oh, and the writing was simply amazing...the setting was unique in tone and focus.

Let me be perfectly honest: I did not expect it to go anywhere. It was amazing and just the creative impulse I love; radically different and creative...and it was the setting of a small, tiny publisher. One man's vision. I did not believe that we'd ever see this book. When small pdfs began slowly trickling in, I was cautiously optimistic. When the KS for this book blew up like it did, I was positively pleased by my fellow gamers obviously craving something different, by them lending their trust to a small outfit like Storm Bunny Studios. I would have supported it back then, but alas, my precarious situation left me completely broke while the KS ran. When the book actually came, I knew I had to have it and, as providence had seen to, had at this moment the funds to allow me to purchase it. Then the book got stuck in customs big time and was almost sent back...but I digress. What I'm trying to say is that this is exactly what KS is supposed to do: Make visions come true that otherwise would never have seen the light of day in this form. To all backers of this book, I take a bow before you. The book languished on my shelf for a while due to my reviewing duties for my patreons...and then I began reading it, slowly, in increments.

So, the first thing you have to know about me in order to understand where I'm coming from, would be that I am enamored with Norse lore and culture; I lived in Norway for quite a while, I speak all Nordic languages, my translations from Icelandic have been published and I have read pretty much a significant portion of the literary canon of all Scandinavian lands. I am proficient in Norse and Old English as well and read the extensive catalogue of sǫgur (plural of sagas, just fyi). I'm the prick who'll correct assumptions about culture, the guy who complains about translations failing big time to convey the tone of the originals properly, the guy who'll chew your ear off about the "errors" in the Vikings TV series. My passion for the topic makes me pretty hard to please. Rhûne is not a straight adaptation of the material, but it heavily quotes the themes and leitmotifs of Scandinavian mythology and reappropriates them.

Reappropriation would in this context be the process, by which a culturally distinct text (this can include visuals and any form of media), originally distinct for a certain culture, modified and included within the cultural context of mainstream reception - examples would include subculture music aesthetics gaining traction - whether it'd be rock or rap or something more far out. In this process, often wrongly negatively connotated, the respective medium is taken and modified to appeal to a wider demographic, changing, but also evolving at an amplified pace: Without broader acceptance of rock, there would have never been punk...metal...etc. It is a perpetual broadening of focus. Similarly, Rhûne appropriates Norse concepts and employs them in the context of roleplaying games, but unlike many reappropriated forms of media, it stays in the tone and leitmotifs featured, remarkable true to the source material, while at the same time radically mutating it.

The key notion here would be "stormpunk", the term coined for the genre featured in the setting. The analogues of the word to steampunk are pretty evident from the get-go (2 letters difference...), but ultimately, the resulting concept is radically different than any comparable "-punk"-suffix'd setting. In order to properly enunciate why and how, I have to dive a bit into the exact nature of the setting, for, even though I can only talk about the concepts herein in a linear manner, they all are interconnected.

As pretty much everyone knows, there is an inherent fatalism, an, pardon the pun, "endzeitgeist" (Zeitgeist of the end-times) inherent in Nordic myth: We all have at least heard about Níðǫggr chewing at Yggdrasill, about Naglfar, the ship of nails, about Ragnarök and the Fimbulvetr; there is a fatalism of acceptance and a promise of, perhaps, a renewal or an inevitable end that suffuses the myths. This concept is inextricably interwoven with Rhûne's stormpunk aspect. So, what is this stormpunk? Well, the closest analogue would perhaps be to look at the ostensible works of Nicola Tesla and picture what would have happened, if his concept of a freely accessible, immensely powerful electrical energy would have been applied to a Norse cultural context. Instead of explaining an allotopic, quasi-Victorian or Edwardian history wherein steam and coal are king, Rhûne is at the same time feeling more progressive and more archaic, more savage and more advanced. The existence of the stormtech, ultimately, makes the setting closer to our own world (as I'm using copious amounts of electricity to write this review and you're doing the same, reading it!), but at the same time, Rhûne's whole theme is actually more fantastic than comparable "-punk"-settings, at least to our eyes.

The reason for this lies in Rhûne understanding, in spite of PFRPG's alignment system (which I, as you know by now, LOATHE), that a crucial component of Norse life and fascination with literature lies in its unique (from our perspective) morality: We all are conditioned, from an early point in our lives, to read the world in dichotomies, courtesy, among other factors, of the influence of our book-religions. We believe in good and evil, righteous and vile causes, in defined absolutes, in spite of our life experiences often contradicting this. And indeed, if you take a look at the "heroes" (protagonists would perhaps be a better word...) of the classic sǫgur, you'll see a distinct lack of traditionally heroically coded behavior: Gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, the might of the strong and popular - these aspects are counteracted with a surprisingly progressive mindset that is closer to us and our world than we'd usually believe...in fact, reading the old sǫgur, you'll be reminded more of the writings of relatively modern authors than medieval literature. This duality of the archaic and modern is expertly interwoven with the concept of stormtech and generates a panorama both familiar and alien, sitting, quite literally front and center among the setting's leitmotifs.

You see, instead of the predetermination of traditional myth, it is the mythos of science that represents a central focus for the book: The nations of the world, in order to access the Æssinyr (the deities), in their quest for truth, have created these technological wonders suffusing the world - but they also set the Ragnarök clock in motion. The responses of nations and races towards the scientific advancements ring familiar in many a way: The ælves, original architects of the clockwork gates and immortal while close to their homelands, have resorted to a radical philosophy of luddite proportions, eschewing the technological advancements made, while those ælves that walked alongside their lady Y'Draah to discover the whereabouts of the Æssinyr turned into the forsaken, the clockwork elves, who would then proceed, bereft of their immortality and shunned by nature, to create the race of the automata, sentient constructs that only lately have gained what you'd call free will. The ælves believe, fervently, that progress, stormtech and all those boons it brought to the city states of Vallinor, is responsible for the doomsday approaching and that only by shunning progress, they can hope to halt the inexorably approaching end. On the other side, dwarves, for example believe that only in further technological advancements can lie a form of salvation for the world.

One does not have to be a scientist to realize that this mirrors very much our own stances towards technology, though it, like any good fantasy, exacerbates the theme and cloaks it in expertly woven mythology: Instead of the fear of nuclear annihilation, what we see herein is the conscious knowledge of precisely WHEN the world will end - there are only 99 years left and on the timer of the Ragnarök clock and time is running out. Speaking of themes clad in the fantastic that resonate herein: Much like "A Song of Ice and Fire", this setting very much cloaks modern anxieties and themes in an easily digestible format: In the frigid North, the Fel Horde under the auspice of the Thrall lords amasses to destroy the South - you would not be wrong in realizing the analogue to the White Walkers, but the setting does not simply quote the material here; instead, the mythological resonance of the Fimbulvetr is superimposed on "A Song of Ice and Fire"'s themes of nuclear anxiety as a means of annihilation: The Northern entropy of a nuclear winter is counteracted by man having the weapon of mass destruction that is the dragons, incarnation of uncontrollable nuclear fire. In fact, I'd argue that Rhûne paints a more diversified picture here by including some notions you would not expect from a fantasy setting, no matter how far out.

The thoroughly constructed nature of automata (as opposed to Midgard's gearforged housing the souls of erstwhile mortals) and their free will, their relation with their creators, ultimately means that the setting also allows for the exploration of classic transhumanist ideas, of the question of free will, of the question of the existence of a soul...and much more. In this aspect, Rhûne is similarly significantly more progressive and open, dare I say "modern" than pretty much all comparable settings I have read. That being said, this modernity is always tinted in a thoroughly compelling manner with the archaic: Raiding, slaving and trading, the whole traditional viking-experience, if you will, is a strong leitmotif for the whole setting - but one that, much like many aspects of the modern and archaic mingling, is not simply accepted: The change of social structure that electrical access brought, the themes of a variant industrial revolution and the social upheavals it engendered are counteracted by the decidedly Old Norse way of life and generate a fusion that is wholly and utterly unique in its repercussions and the detail its ramifications generate.

Rhûne exists very much in a wide variety of thematic and ideological areas of tension and as such, it is, more so than any other campaign setting I have read in a long, long time its very own world. Indeed, one can argue that Rhûne, while using PFRPG as a base-line, is not vanilla Pathfinder. This notion of a very defined and concise identity is enforced by the book from the get-go. Instead of taking the anything-goes route, Rhûne instead begins with character creation and talks about what is acceptable for the setting's tone and why; the world very much makes the generation of characters and themes to be explored a group effort - and I applaud this decision. In a world with so many conflicts and tensions flaring, an internal consistency of an adventuring party is of tantamount importance and personally, I applaud this book for having the guts to say no to the entitlement of universal availability of everything. Indeed, in a setting where the genesis of a race like the jötunfolk has eliminated whole generations with the Burðr Morðvíg in the aftermath of the fall of jötunstones, where ælves tend to view the automata as abominations at best, this is VERY important to retain the consistency of the lavishly crafted and beautifully woven lore of the book.

Having a character in Rhûne means picking sides. Both racial and class decisions matter more than in any other d20-based campaign setting I have ever read - and I have read pretty much all (or at least almost all) of them. The book does not simply state this, but instead guides the group through the process in a detailed and unique manner that I really wished more settings employed. For the aficionados of Norse themes, it should also be noted that the FuÞark matters - everyone is born under a rune and that provides intrinsic benefits to the character in question. In a world where the conflict of good vs. evil takes a backseat, one indebted to the morality of the old sǫgur, it is similarly important to note the vast impact of honor, the insertion of which is supplemented with various different ways of tackling it in different complexities: Whether you just want to use it to determine starting attitudes, whether you tie it to areas, whether you include racial tensions - the choice, in spite of the structuring themes of the setting, is ultimately yours and can range from hand-waving to simulationalist level of detail - and yes, if you're using Ultimate Campaign, there are some differences which are explained in sidebars, allowing you to decide on your own.

One of the, at least in my opinions, best aspects of Rhûne from an engine point of view, would be how it treats the determinism that suffuses Norse myth and flips it: The concept used for this purpose is wyrd and it ties in with destinies, governed by, bingo, runes. So, as you may know, the Norse mythology and its concept of fate is very determinist, norns and all. At the same time, this obviously clashes with the more progressive aspects of the Rhûne setting. The solution is interesting, to say the least.

While fate does play a roll, a significant one as both a roleplaying catalyst and from a crunch perspective, the existence of the spider-themed shapechangers aryandai and the goddess Velluna-Akka adds a very distinct spin on the concept. More important still would be the tremendous influence of wyrd upon actual gameplay. Each character begins play with 1d3 wyrd points and some feats and special tricks (weavings) can later be learned and used to further manipulate fate. Wyrd points act basically as hero points on speed, with significantly enhanced options on how and when they can be used - including defying death, rolling a d20 twice and helping allies. This is relevant because wyrd is actually an extremely important balancing mechanism: If you're familiar with my coverage of Rhûne supplements, you may recall me bashing the automata race as overpowered for most settings. You will also recall me complaining about models (subtypes of the race) being made for specific purposes. Within the context of Rhûne, this surprisingly works. For one, the purpose of the respective builds opens interesting venues for the exploration of concepts of free will: I am built that way, do I have to be that way? Secondly, and more importantly, automata are balanced by the mistrust they encounter, their place in the social hierarchy and the fact that they do not get access to wyrd. At all.

This should be taken as just one aspect that makes the min-maxier components of the races featured herein work for me; the races are so deeply entrenched within the narrative context of the world and its dichotomous ideologies and areas of tension that, by being pretty ingenious entwined in everything, result in the playing of such a race in Rhûne actually working without breaking the game. I need to reiterate this: Rhûne is not vanilla-Pathfinder. This is also represented in the copious amounts of crunch that supplement this tome, which range from traits to feats and more. Some of these are powerful, some of them are aligned with factions...and all are in service of the greater picture. Damage increases to bows make sense when guns and the like are wide-spread.

The massive campaign setting also contains several hybrid classes: The blood skald (bard + magus), the clockwork adept (cleric + wizard), the gjallarhorn (summoner + bard), the gun-priest (previously released as a stand-alone), the juggernaut of blind fury, a barbarian/antipaladin crossover, and the antipala/alchemist plague bringer. These have in common that they generally are high concept and feel distinct; they are more than just a smashing together of mechanics, though, universally, they also have in common that they could have used some further differentiation as far as I'm concerned. And yes, the anti-pala guys represent servants of the thrall lords, so if you don't want to go into the morality question too deep, well, then this ought to provide enough of a good vs. evil angle.

Now, the world of Midgard, the prime material plane of Rhûne, is depicted in absolutely exquisite detail , with names for the phases of the moon by month, holidays galore, languages all receiving their due (and rules for regional dialects if you're like me and have the kneejerk reflex to roll your eyes at common...). If you#re looking for information on trade, you'll find it here; if you and your group consider that aspect tedious, you can ignore it: One of the central plusses of the setting is that it knows which rules to use for balancing and world-building and which to render optional. Beyond a massive chronology of the world (as the clock's counting down) to the respective city states and realms, which feature their own crests, statblocks and more, the whole section is amazing and oozes flavor from every sentence: From fertility festivals to adventure hooks and story seeds, this chapter can't leave even the most burnt-out of GMs uninspired. Speaking of story seeds: Throughout the book, there is a metric ton of those, allowing GMs and players alike to take up the threads left so tantalizingly dangling. Oh, and yes, Rhûne does not feature a heliocentric cosmology - instead, it is basically a massive cylinder, the trunk of the world tree; a blending of the immediacy of Ragnarok, superstition and the knowledge of planar peculiarities thus makes the world partially unexplored (after all, you don't want to fall off the world's edge, right?) - still, this allows an enterprising GM to add her own continents and geography to the setting, while still maintaining Rhûne's very precise focus. Planar travel is rare and special and as such, the respective planes depicted also differ from the standard, putting, as we've come to expect by now, a unique spin on Norse mythology. Here, additional, planar races like the ice æleves of Niflæheim or the Hárálfr, infused with the power of old gods, allow for further diversification if a given group is not content with the base races.

Now, I could go through the respective write-ups here, but this review already is very long, so let's return to the stormpunk aspect. Which is, from a designer's perspective, more difficult than it first seems. After all, we all know electricity. We learn how it works in school. It is the very motor of our world...so how do you introduce it into a fantasy setting sans breaking immersion left and right, sans killing a gazillion of premises of prepackaged adventures? Simple. There is no alternating current, which means that its copious boons are basically limited to the vicinity of dragon towers, which generate an ambient field that powers the devices and allows for charging. This is genius on a meta-point, for it taps into our fantasies of Tesla's wirelessly transported energy, while at the same time eliminating the real discovery of alternating current, making the whole system at once plausible and thoroughly fantastic. As an aside, it also taps into the leitmotifs of the archaic versus the modern, of civilization versus barbarism (hence the Howard quote earlier in the review). The storm shepherd cleric archetype would be a badass Tesla-style cleric, a caste of guardians of these towers. From prosthetic limbs to abomination hybrids of technology and magic, the leitmotifs of progress vs. nature, of science vs. the ways of old, tie in perfectly with this conceptualization of a world...and points of light gameplay makes sense as well: Beyond the reach of comfortable electricity, the wild, the savage, still looms. Firearms that can be charged or deliver blast shots, special ammunitions, grenades, munitions carved from the dreaded jötunstone...the sense of plausible fantasy realism applied to every component of this book makes it feel perfectly unified, like this exceedingly intricate and beautiful clockwork.

Indeed, the glorious incantation mechanics first introduced way back by Zombie Sky Press also sees use here among numerous new spells, a metric ton of equipment, bloodlines, mysteries, the aforementioned weavings...and the rune-engine. This system is amazing and I've covered it before, so I won't bore you with repeating it. The system's consistency is to be truly applauded, for whenever I found a big logic bug, some sidebar, some explanation, shows up that makes SENSE. Ina book this familiar, yet alien, this attention to detail and mastery in world-building is a truly phenomenal feat to behold. Now, if you expected a cut-copy-paste of the Norse gods and their myths...you'll be surprised to hear that Rhûne has its very own pantheon, depicted in lavish prose completely with core aphorisms and all. It should be noted that these beings do employ the themes of the Norse mythology, but also, much like the setting, put a creative and enticing spin on the subject matter, one I can't really hope to properly convey here. Beyond these obviously divine allegiances, a whole chapter is devoted to the diverse and creative factions that shape and govern the politics of Rhûne, drawing further lines in sand and snow, both proverbially and figuratively, adding even more potential, even more narrative potential to the whole array.

The emphasis on thematic consistency is not lost even within the bestiary, which not only provides a wide array of unique creatures, all of which have AT LEAST one unique ability to set them apart, but also in the guidance a GM can expect regarding the roles of creatures in the setting. Oh, and yes, the critters ALL have absolutely gorgeous artworks.

Conclusion:

Rhûne adheres to a two-column full-color standard, Layout-wise, and is so beautiful it almost hurts. The book is littered with a metric ton of absolutely phenomenal, original pieces of artwork, rivaling the density of Kobold Press' huge books. This can stand side by side with Paizo and WotC-offerings regarding its sheer beauty. It is one of the aesthetically most pleasing 3pp-books I have ever read. The pdf comes with copious, nested bookmarks for easy navigation and the hardcover...oh DAMN. Get it, if you can. It's a beauty.

And here, my seemingly never-ending praise screeches to a grinding halt. There is the reason why I have deleted and rewrote this review so often. Editing and formatting. Oh boy. I'm sorry, but I can't call them "okay" anymore. There are formatting hiccups and inconsistencies. There are missing verbs, smack in the middle of paragraphs that carried me right into Rhûne, only to have me crash back to earth as I tried to find out what the hell was missing from that sentence. The very header of the jötunfolk misspells them as jotünfolk. There are whole sections which get bonus types right, only to have an ability lack it. There are, in short, a lot of glitches. Now, granted, they usually do not tarnish the mechanics too much, but they extend to all aspects. Close reading this book was an exercise in reviewer-frustration for me.

It is, quite frankly my opinion that, if this had been penned by anything short of its cadre of veteran authors (Jaye Sonia, Cltin Boomer, Will Cooper, Adam Daigle, Stephen Michael DiPesa, Joshua Kitchens, Ben McFarland, Mike Myler), this would have turned into a full-blown train wreck. The skill and experience of the authors thankfully means that, for the most part, this whirs smoothly like the gears of the Ragnarök clock. At the same time, the glitches hurt me more than in any other book of my reviewer career BECAUSE the book and world are that cool.

I am more torn than ever before in my life on a final verdict and after reading my rambling praise of this book, you'll only have the slightest inkling of an idea why. You see, if I were to rate this on the merit of its crunch alone, including the glitches etc., this would probably receive a 3 star-rating at best. In fact, that's what the cold, hard review-bot in me would gravitate to. He keeps shouting from the back of my mind that the hybrid classes don't live up their potential, that component xyz needs streamlining.

However, I am, like you, of flesh and blood. I can feel passion and get excited...and this book is NOT a crunch-book in the traditional sense. It is a campaign setting - a depiction of a world that is so internally consistent in its vision, so fantastic and, dare I say it, innovative, I can't help but absolutely adore it with every hot-blooded fiber of my being. Yes, Rhûne ticks off pretty much all of my no-go-boxes regarding races...but still somehow makes them work for me. This book oozes the passion of some of the industries finest minds and it shows in every chapter, as a cornucopia of creativity is present, nay, immediately evident on every single page. You can flip open the book at pretty much every single page that is not a 2-color chapter-intro-spread of art and find one thing, at least, that is cool and inspiring. Would I play those hybrid classes in another setting? No. Would I play them in Rhûne...yes, I actually might. Because they signify more than just the collective of their abilities. They mean something; their very existence puts them in the context of the world and its beautiful tapestry of agendas and strife, of heroism and dastardly deeds.

Rhûne reads, most of the time, like the best of world-building novels; Rhûne manages to make me like content I'd otherwise...well, wouldn't - all by virtue of its phenomenal vision and the extraordinary precision and care that obviously went into this book. I love this book. I really, really do. Rhûne is one of my favorite settings OF ALL TIME. There, I said it. Where exactly in my hierarchy it'll end depends on the future support released for it...but yes. This is a true campaign setting in the best of ways. That being said, even if you de-emphasize the importance of crunch and choose to focus on the task of the campaign setting to make a world shine, the matter of fact remains that editing and formatting of this book simply does not do it justice.

If this did not have all of its hiccups (or at least, significantly less), you'd be looking at perhaps my number 1 for the Top Ten of 2016 here. I love this book that much. However, with the copious glitches that haunt this book, I have to put that in perspective. As far as I'm concerned, this is a masterpiece; an amazing feat by authors and publisher; but it is a masterpiece with flaws. If you go into this book for the crunch alone, or to scavenge material, chances are, you'll leave disappointed. Unlike e.g. Thunderscape (which works perfectly for that purpose), Rhûne is a work of art that does not reveal its beauty by looking at parts. The only way to appreciate this truly is to look at the big picture, at the totality of material, which is, for once, infinitely greater than the sum of its parts.

I could make a case against this book. I could tear it a new derrière and I can see that, for some out there, this will do absolutely nothing. At the same time, if you're like me, you can work with the book; replace some components with bits from your own library; curse at the hiccups, yes, but every time, unavoidably, you'll take the book back up and continue reading.

Because Rhûne is a wonderful world.

Because it dares to be different.

Because it dares to make sense.

And because it is greater than any words I could use to describe it. Review-bot Endy hates this. As a person, I love it. As a crunch-book alone, you may want to steer clear...but if you really are interested in a unique, creative campaign setting that truly feels different, if you want to support a truly fantastic and innovative book, if you want to send a sign that we want choice and more than the umpteenth variation of classic fantasy, that we deserve unique themes and consistency...then this is for you and will set your mind ablaze as it has mine.

The flaws weigh heavily on this one...and frankly, even with the above mindset, I should rate this 4 stars...but I don't want to. I can't. The dilemma is that the book does not deserve to be rated as only good. But technically, it also doesn't deserve being praised this much. I can't rate this in a way that will satisfy me and everyone out there. It's just not possible. In the end, there is only one rating that, after much deliberation, I can really live with. This rating would be 4.5 stars (Rated as a campaign setting, taken the flaws into account, representing that it is not perfect), but rounded up (since "good" does not begin to express how much I like this), with my seal of approval added for good measure. And since my top ten of any given year is a deeply personal opinion-thing, it'll feature as a candidate as well...though it has lost the chance of scoring highly on that list.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Rhune: Dawn of Twilight Campaign Guide
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Thank you for the review Endzeitgeist!
The Sinking: Doom Golem Rising
Publisher: 0one Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/06/2017 10:37:33

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The full-sized finale to the Sinking adventure series clocks in at 41 pages,1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 34 pages of content, so let's take a look!

This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS...and since this discusses the finale for the whole saga, there may be SPOILERS for the series here. Players who want to potentially play this should jump to the conclusion.

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All right, only GMs around? Great! After successfully navigating the magical seals and locks, the PCs have finally managed to reach the fabled Darkgate, which ostensibly allows for access of the Panopticon...and a chance to foil the nefarious plans of the Trypus Academy. We begin thus were the previous module left off - with the exploration of the Panopticon, a fully depicted dungeon, wherein not only sink beasts, but also degenerate skulk agents of the Malchort Cabal can be found...and, interestingly, make for "enemy of my enemy" type adversaries. Alien and strange war machines can be found within the complex...and there is, theoretically, an access point towards the thoroughly alien city of the Malchorts...though astute PCs that do not start killing everything should realize pretty soon that combat may not be the only option as they're exploring this complex.

Oh, and guess what? The PCs may even find a stray agent and extract some serious information on their Trypus foes...but that, admittedly, pales beyond the true and exceedingly cool aspect that comes next: You see, the Trypus Academy has hijacked Doom Golems from the Malchort arsenal...and so the PCs get to fight fire with fire!

Yep. Mecha battle! The Doom Golem head houses 5 seats and an individual can be hooked to it via a Spellcraft check. Mental ability score are determined by the average of the pilots. There also is a converter box, which may channel item charges and effects and allocate them to blasters, shield or weapons of the war machine. Attack controls allows for the attack improvement of the golem; spellcasters strapped to the blaster position can channel spells to make devastating attack, with the precise effect depending on the magic school converted into blast energy. Similarly, the effect of shields of a doom golem hinge upon the specific spell school used to power the shield. Motion control takes special qualities like evasion and feats like Dodge of the pilot into account, while weapon enhancers can be improved via spellcasting. And yes, the respective positions have unmanned information as well, so if your group is smaller, you can still ride the golem into battle! Indeed, I was really impressed by the doom golem rules - they are easy to grasp, concisely presented and make sense. Gasses can seep in and affect operators and similarly, environmental effects are relevant. In short: A great little engine.

That being said, it lies in the nature of the matter at hand that piloting such an engine of destruction ultimately requires some getting used to - and the module acknowledges this, offering the way to the surface as an easy means of getting to know the engine...and save a dethroned and captured rock troll king, while also gaining crystals that have special effects when used in conjunction with the golem!

And yep, battling rock trolls with light and golem make for one epic encounter indeed, as the PCs make their way to emerge from the sinkhole...which nets the epic fight of the Academy's doom golem and the one piloted by the PCs. Epic mecha battle ensues. And I mean allcaps EPIC. In the aftermath of this glorious fight, things are not yet resolved: Lord Atregan realizes the threat of the Trypus Academy and wants to PCs to find senator Vulgrax (who may thus receive an amnesty...as may the PCs) and provide proof that the Trypus Academy is behind the whole issue. And in a nice callback, as the PCs ponder their next step, the niece of Gintz Ophelian provides a clue that this crucial guy has vanished...and left a letter with some weird typos in it. The letter is reproduced as a handout and contains an easily hidden cry for help....and thus, the PCs can find the warehouse of Bally Grum and there,, after besting the powerful conspirators there, find the iced and dismembered body of Gintz...and he has recorded information via a clockwork spy, allowing the PCs to get off the hook...at least for now.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top notch on both a formal and rules-language level - Rone Barton did a good job editing this one. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard and the pdf sports great b/w-artworks. The b/w-cartography is, as we expect from 0onegames, amazing, though I wished a key-less version was included. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

So, I was dreading this module. Season 2 suddenly became pretty short and I was really dreading the X-files syndrome - an inability to properly tie up the story-threads. This pdf not only one-ups the whole story in dimension, consequences and sheer scope, it also provides a satisfying end to the main story-angles, while leaving enough open components to allow the GM to take back up the story-threads. This is, in short, an amazing and worthy conclusion to the second season of the sinking, one that features impressive mecha-rules as a fine and fun mini-game. Granted, I have expected no less from horseman Tim Hitchcock and Savannah Broadway, but the easy to grasp and modify mecha-engine may warrant getting this gem even if you're not at all interested in running the series. So yeah, this is an amazing module. 5 stars + seal of approval for this high-octane action-filled finale...that still have sufficient stuff to do for faces and players looking to use their brains. This is how it's done.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Sinking: Doom Golem Rising
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Egyptian Heroes
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/06/2017 10:35:22

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

So, the pdf begins by explaining the methodology of how these characters were created - as has become the tradition with these supplements, the characters have been created with a 20 pt.-buy method and includes, thankfully, downscaling to 15-pt. buy for each character, for those of us who like their fantasy a bit grittier, who like more challenge in their games.

Structure-wise, the pdf thankfully does not change the winning formula of the pregen-supplements by Legendary Games - this means you get a fantastic full-color one-page depiction of the respective character, which includes a sample quote for the character in question. After each such gorgeous artwork, we get not only stats, but also the storyline of the respective character, including copious information on story and motivation as well as suggestions for character advancement.

The first character featured within the book would be Asep Arukhet, a charismatic sorceror with the imperious bloodline and the conviction of being a rightful pharaoh, born into wealth, the charismatic Asep makes for a great leader...and ladies (and some gents) will certainly appreciate his tasteful, yet beefcake-y image.

The next pregen would be Dorian Massud, a grave warden slayer, aloof and stoic, instilled with a serious hatred and skill battling the undead with his deadly falcata. This would also be a great place to note that quite a few of these pregens have their nice stories tied together - Dorian is pretty weary of some of his travelling companions...

Kephennes Enterra, an ecclesitheurge cleric of Nethys is a dangerously curious man who has returned from the dead after succumbing to an arcane curse - a wonder that has greatly changed his outlook, his mission...and romantically inclined PC-entanglements can make for a really cool RP-angle here, particularly for those with death in their blood.

Like Merradine Feist, the gorgeous redhead who looks like my type of lady - she is a gorgeous, charismatic dhampir archeologist bard and similarly makes for a great leader...though having been raised among vampires has changed her outlook and provides a unique angle for roleplaying her. And no, she is thankfully no angsty dhampir girly. Nice!

The half-elven school savant arcanist Namala Ikenwe, has always been fascinated by the sphinxes and their riddles and with her air supremacy and ancestral arms, she makes good use of gravity bow and her lightning flashes, making for an intriguing character whose guarded optimism makes for a nice counteract to the gravity of some of her companions.

Want some more exotic character? Parvanah Lisay, the lynx-eared catfolk features one of the best artworks of a catfolk I have ever seen and, as a cat burglar with climbing speed and her devotion to the old gods, the lucky lady makes for an interesting foil to Dorian's stoicism and a great explorer/scout.

Valdeseer Harringer, also known as Val, would be another excellent potential leader: The blond-haired holy gun paladin is on a mission here...but from afar, the intrigues of his sibling may yet find him, even in faraway Osirion.

Finally, we are introduced to Ziyadi Sahrebe, the dual-cursed oracle with the haunted and wasting curses, the curse of a mummy haunting his bloodline, the masked oracle's positive and upbeat demeanor conceal a melancholy that is only understandable - he has outlived his children and may be the last of his lineage, the only chance for the curse to end.

The pdf, as always, provides nice paper minis for all characters.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no issues. Layout adheres to the beautiful two-column full-color standard of the Mummy Mask-plug-ins. The artworks deserve special mention here: They are absolutely phenomenal and rank as some of my favorites in the whole of LG's pregen-cadre. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Neil Spicer delivers once again in this excellent collection of pregens - the characters are versatile and have built-in story-lines, RP-angles and are tied in interesting ways to both each other and the storyline of Mummy's Mask. In short: They do just what they should. Power-level-wise, the characters are also on one level, sporting builds that make them believable as characters, not just minmaxy-numbers, and their respective power-levels are pretty much in line. Bereft of anything to properly complain about, I will settle on a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval. Excellent work!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Egyptian Heroes
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Advantageous Abilities: Savage Abilities (5e)
Publisher: Dire Rugrat Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/03/2017 06:55:50

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf of NPC-abilities clocks in at 8 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 3 pages of content, so let's take a look!

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

So, this pdf begins with a handy and easy to comprehend "How to Use" - basically, these abilities may increase the CR of the respective adversary to which they are added and creatures with CRs of less than 1/2 similarly halve their impact on the respective critter's modification. If in doubt, a save is based on DC = 8 + proficiency bonus + relevant Ability modifier. The abilities themselves are categorized in 3 groups - passive abilities, active abilities and reactions. Easy, right?

Well, let's look at the passive abilities, shall we? These range from CR +0 to CR +2 and a total of 10 are included. At CR 0, we have, for example, the temper tantrum, which imposes disadvantage on all Charisma checks made to reason with the creature while it's under the effects of rage. Gaining temporary hit points equal to the damage dealt with bites would be a CR +1 example. There is also an option to crit in particularly bloody manner; on a failed Con-save, allies of the victim nearby must save or be poisoned and take minor psychic damage. The combo of psychic + poisoned is slightly odd to me, but honestly, I'm nitpicking here. The CR +2 modification allows for vorpal slashes - and actually has two different mechanics: One old-school and unforgiving, one that is kinder on the players. Kudos for featuring both!

A total of 8 active abilities are included; these range in CR modification from CR +1/2 to CR +2, with some having fitting refresh conditions - e.g. the temporary hit points granting and disadvantage imposing battle cry. Minor complaint here: The battle cry should have a proper range. An ability to rip out and eat the heart of recently deceased foes is similarly nice and is prevented from being cheesed by the opponents (so why didn't he carry a bag of kittens around?) by actually having a nice caveat to prevent such a logic book. Big kudos! Somewhat weird due to its nomenclature: The legbreaker-ability allows the creature using it to force a saving throw when hitting foes with a bludgeoning weapon, reducing movement to 0 on a failed save...but this handicap can be overcome on subsequent rounds...which does not sound like breaking to me. Similarly, I think that having flying or swimming speeds should probably still allow for movement. Yes, I am nitpicking here, though these are a bit more serious. Bonus damage in exchange for suffering attacks with advantage on subsequent rounds can be an interesting boss-fight engine tweak.

The pdf also features two reactions at CR +1/2 and CR +1, with a frightened-inducing reactive stare and the option to add proficiency bonus to a non-proficient save if below 1/2 maximum hit points.

Big plus: The pdf is considerate and reproduces the Proficiency bonus by CR and XP by Cr tables on its last page. Nice one.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level, good, bordering on very good on a rules-language level. Layout adheres to a two-column standard and is pretty printer-friendly, with a nice stock image in full color thrown in for good measure. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Kelly & Ken Pawlik's latest collection of advantageous abilities is a welcome, inexpensive little customization toolkit for GMs looking to add some unique tricks to their adversaries. The abilities generally are solid and can make for some nasty surprises. What more can you ask of such a little pdf? Well, there are a few hiccups in the intricate details here, but none are truly glaring. Hence, I feel completely justified in rounding up from my final verdict of 4.5 stars. For the more than fair price, this is definitely worth getting.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Advantageous Abilities: Savage Abilities (5e)
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Psychic Disciplines of Porphyra
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/03/2017 06:52:21

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the "of Porphyra"-series clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 7 pages of content, though they're formatted for A5 (6'' by 9'' size), which means you can fit 4 of these pages on one sheet of paper if you're printing this out.

All right, so let's take a look at these psychic disciplines!

The first discipline herein would be the aura discipline, with phrenic pool governed by Wisdom. A slight complaint here - it would have been nice to have the bonus spells with superscript indicators of their sourcebooks, but oh well. The discipline allows the psychic to glow at-will, using phrenic pool to intensify the potency of the glow to dispel/counter darkness. Manifesting the aura doubles as a practitioner of the way of the force (which was introduced in Unarmed and Dangerous), with all relevant rules provided - namely that this acts as mage armor. Nice: The ability takes into account the interaction with the read aura skill unlock! 5th level lets bracers or armor stack with your mage armor and 13th level , you can expend one phrenic pool point for judgment light, with a second judgment available for +2 points.

Cathexis would be next - the process of investing psychic or emotional energy in an object, place or the like to bring an effect into being, in case you did not know. The attribute governing the pool would once again be Wisdom, and the discipline adds Summon Good/Neutral/Evil Monster as bonus feats and when summoning a creature with the appropriate template, you have control over the precise alignment regarding the law-chaos-axis of the beings you call forth. When calling forth a creature whose alignment matches your own, you can either decrease casting time to a standard action or increase the duration to 1 minute per level, with a limit of one such summoning active at a given time - thankfully. 5th level yields Augment Summoning and allows you to undercast summon monster spells, allowing you to replace discipline bonus spells. Interesting idea there. At 13th level, when you conjure forth a being further removed than one step on the alignment axis, you can enhance the duration or reduce the casting time analogue to the lower level ability, representing you calling forth the beasts from your Id.

Duelists also employ Wisdom as governing attribute for the phrenic pool and may cast intellect fortress, mental barrier, thought shield and tower of iron will even when flat-footed or prevented from taking a standard action. Interesting: If you cast one of these spells in the previous round, you may cast a spell of this list of a lower level without expending a spell slot, allowing for combos. At 5th level, undercasting ego whip, id insinuation, mindthrust or psychic crush adds Heighten Spell and makes the spell clock in at its maximum potency, which is pretty damn strong. 13th level, finally, lets you cast one of the defensive spells from the previous list 1/round as a free action, even if it's not your turn. (Nice catch regarding free actions!)

The kata discipline is governed by Charisma, offering true strike, spiritual weapon and later blade barrier and even mass defending sword. The discipline yields proficiency with a weapon of your choice (with unarmed strikes being a viable option, granting Improved Unarmed Strike). You gain Weapon Focus in the chosen weapon when choosing a simple or martial weapon. When you inflict damage with this weapon, you regain phrenic pool points - which brings me to an oversight that renders this broken: A) Lack of a kitten-proof caveat. B) All comparable phrenic pool replenishing discipline abilities have a daily total cap that is absent from this one in a very unpleasant oversight.

The discipline modifies spiritual weapons etc. to duplicate your kata weapon, also allowing for proper interaction with Weapon Focus, provided you have it. 5th level lets you replace a thought component with a somatic component and may use the weapon-wielding kata hand for the like. 13th level provides auto-success when casting psychic spells defensively...which is pretty OP. Why not instead grant a massive bonus?

The psychic surgeon discipline is similarly governed by Charisma and gains several healing-themed spells added to the list of spells known in addition to the bonus spells. Problematic: You regain phrenic pool points for using cure spells to revive creatures from unconsciousness. I'll pull out the bag o' kittens...and yes, the spells still limit this, but that limit exceeds that of comparable phrenic regeneration and can be cheesed easily. Not gonna get near my game. 5th level unlocks the inversions of the healing spells as well and 13th level makes healing have a range of close instead.

The final discipline would be yoga, which is governed by Wisdom and nets Escape Artist as a class skill and adds class level to such skill checks. Thought or emotion components of spells can be replaced with somatic components, but at the cost of being susceptible to arcane spell failure if you do. 5th level doubles self-targeting only spell durations. At 13th level, both thought and emotion components may be replaced in favor of somatic components.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting is very good on a formal level, though the rules-level has some balance issues. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly 1-column standard and the pdf has no artworks beyond the cover. Nice: The pdf is fully bookmarked, in spite of its brevity.

Carl Cramér delivers some interesting psychic disciplines herein, though a few of the options herein lack crucial balancing caveats included in comparable disciplines. That being said, the low price does help here and the pdf, while not perfect, can make for an interesting addition to the game, making it pretty much a mixed bag, slightly on the positive side. My final verdict will hence clock in at 3.5 stars, though I can't round up for it.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Psychic Disciplines of Porphyra
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Shaman Class (5E)
Publisher: Tribality Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/03/2017 06:51:15

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This base class clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 11 pages of content, so let's take a look!

After one page of introductory prose, we dive into the nice, flavorful lead-ins that characterize 5e-classes - this time around, we hear of sacred animals, living spirits and a properly animistic duality of an existence between the world of spirituality and the natural world. In case you were wondering: Yes, this class very much is indebted to the various real world mythologies and the shamanistic traditions. Shamans have their own spell-list, included herein, with spellcasting governed by Wisdom. Shamans begin play with 2 cantrips known and increase that to 5. Their first spell is gained at 3rd level and they learn up to 15. Finally, they cast via slot: At 3rd level, they begin play with two slots and gain an additional slot at 11th and 17th level. They cast by expending these slots and the slot levels increase from 1st level up to 5th. This means that e.g. a 5th level shaman has 2 slots and spells cast are cast as second level spells, regardless of spell level. Spells learned at level up may be of any spell level available for the slots and shamans may cast spells as rituals. Totems as a spellcasting focus are required and may be replaced upon completing a long rest in the shaman's favored terrain.

Chassis-wise, the class gains d8 HD, proficiency in light armor, shields, simple weapons, herbalism kit, Strength and Wisdom and two skills of your choice, chosen from Arcana, Animal Handling, Athletics, Insight, Investigation, Intimidation, Nature, Perception and Survival. At character creation, you choose a flavorful totem spirit from bear, buffalo, coyote, crow, eagle, elk, fox, hawk, owl, snake and wolf - unless you follow a certain path, these remain flavor-options, though. Unexpected: Shamans are actually pretty good tanks with the proper build: At 1st level, they gain an AC of 10 + Wisdom modifier + Constitution modifier while unarmored - and yes, you can add a shield to that. 1st level also yields the natural explorer feature, which allows you to choose one terrain type as favored terrain. When making and Intelligence or Wisdom check pertaining this terrain, you double your proficiency bonus in skills you are proficient. Additionally, overland travel for the group in the terrain is not hampered, you can't be lost except by magic, you remain alert to danger and may stealthily scout ahead. You also are better at foraging and may track creatures more precisely.

Starting at 2nd level, you gain spirit sight, which translates to advantage on Dexterity saves versus threats you can see, including traps and spells - but you do lose this if you're blinded, deafened or incapacitated. Curious that being restrained does not hamper this. Oh well. Ability score improvements are gained at 4th level and every level thereafter as well as at 19th level. 5th level yields primal protector, which lets you use your action to make all beasts within 30 feet indifferent to you and yours on a failed Wisdom save, potentially charming them. Problem here: The pdf does not specify the save DC. Analogue to e.g. the wizard's school of enchantment, this should probably be the spell save DC. The shaman may use this twice per short or long rest. 7th level yields an aura that grants you and your allies within 10 ft. advantage on Constitution and Wisdom saves. 9th level grants something pretty damn strong: When you hit a creature, you gain temporary hit points equal to the damage caused, but "only" once per round. This is problematic. If you take a look at the PHB, you'll notice that temporary hit points are usually granted by limited resources and are generally not something that is available in indefinite quantities.

Let me demonstrate why this is broken beyond the math and can seriously wreck immersion (readers familiar with my PFRPG-reviews know where this is going): Take a bag full of fluffy, cute kittens. Before combat, whenever you have a spare minute, you take one out of the bag and MASSACRE it, preferably with a really big, nasty weapon or similar means. You gain temporary hit points that have no duration. The feature does not even have the "hostile creature" caveat (granted, you can cheese that by starving kittens prior to slaughtering them...), much less a duration or a challenge-CR that posits a minimum creature power to gain the benefit, meaning that it'll last until depleted or a long rest. This ability needs a rewrite.

At 11th, 13th, 15th and 17th level, you gain spiritual whispers - these would be a 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th level druid spell respectively, that you can each cast once per long rest interval sans expending spell slots. 18th level decelerates your aging to make only 1 year of your lifespan pass for every 10 you live. As a capstone, you increase Wisdom by 4 and treat 24 as the new maximum score.

The class also features the shaman path class feature noted before, with 3rd level (surprise) providing the choice and 6th, 10th and 14th level featuring the respective path abilities. A total of 4 such shaman paths are provided, with the first being the corruptor, who gains several necromancy-themed spells added to the spell list. As a formal complaint, the spells are not properly italicized. 6th level attracts a foul spirit that imposes disadvantage on concentration checks, but also curses those that attack you, once per turn imposing disadvantage on the attackers next attack, saving throw or skill check. 10th level is nasty: As an action, you can touch others and, on a failed save versus the spell save DC, the target receives one level of exhaustion! Finally, 14th level nets a 30 ft. aura that may be amplified towards one creature, causing it to become frightened and forcing it to Dash away until it's out of sight or beyond 60 ft. away. Slight complaint here: The ability does not specify the action the focus of the dread-inducing aura requires. It could very well be a bonus action or reaction...

The second path would be the path of the elements, which nets resistance to fire damage at 3rd level. Additionally, it allows you to attack with an elemental blast of flame as a bonus action, inflicting 1d8 + Wisdom modifier fire damage. Okay, so is the shaman proficient in this? Is it a spell attack? Is it a melee attack? Elemental blasts of fire sound like ranged weaponry to me, but the feature does not clarify that. 6th level yields resistance to acid and the ability to breathe both air and water as well as immunity to poison damage (WUT? Poison immunity, ALONE, is the 10th level monk feature!) AND a swim speed at full movement rate. 10th level yields a flying speed at full movement rate and 14th level lets you cast conjure elemental (not properly italicized) 1/day without using spell slots or components. Somewhat weird to see 1/day here, since pretty much everything in the class is tied to rest intervals.

The path of the spirit nets the shaman an invisible spirit guide that provides advantage on initiative rolls, prevents being surprised while conscious and negates creatures gaining advantage on attack rolls when being hidden from you. At 6th level, any weapon wielded deals damage versus incorporeal targets, regardless of resistances to the weapon's damage type...which sabotages the rock-paper-scissors-component I so enjoy in 5e...so not a fan. The shaman also gains resistance versus the attacks of incorporeal creatures. Soooo, does this extend to creatures rendered incorporeal by magical means? Could I e.g. theoretically render a golem incorporeal and then pick it apart with a dagger? Starting at 10th level, the shaman can have the spirit guide take care of concentration for him, but may not cheese the spells-in-effect-limit thus - nice one! At 14th level, the shaman can turn incorporeal as an action and takes damage if he ends his turn in an object. He also "does not invoke attacks of opportunity" while incorporeal. I sure would hope so! Who'd want to invoke those? Kidding aside, "attacks of opportunity" is Pathfinder rules-language, not 5e. And becoming flat-out immune to opportunity attacks is OP; after all, being incorporeal has no cap, no limit and is extremely strong on its own.

The final path would be the path of the wild and comes with a massive table that lists totems alongside characteristics and the respective features gained. A total of 17 such are included here. These range from the flavorful (basically blindsight) to gaining pseudo monk tricks that culminate for one totem in the option to execute two unarmed attacks with an Attack action that cause your choice of 1d6 physical damage type and is considered magical, limited flight, etc. There are a couple of minor formatting hiccups here as well.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are okay, if not as precise as usual for Tribality Publishing - I noticed both typo-level glitches and quite a few rules-language issues. Layout adheres to the characteristic, nice two-column full-color standard with photography-style artworks. The pdf has no bookmarks, which constitutes a comfort detriment.

Michael Long's shaman is an odd one: I expected to see a lame druid rip-off...and the good news first: The shaman is very much its own entity and has a unique playstyle, with spells being more of an afterthought here.

The thing is, as much as I love the often very flavorful options, the class gave me serious thematic whiplash. I mean, what do you think when you hear "shaman", class- and competence-wise?

If it's anything but "best tank base class", you'll experience the same flavor disjoint here. The shaman receives a n impressive amount of resistances, immunities and tanking options that make it better as a melee tank than you'd expect from a d8 HD class. In fact, the tanking support fighter is pretty much the core competence of the class...which is really odd...and somewhat at odds with the flavor of the class. Indeed, the closest analogue to the core classes would, surprisingly, be the monk, with a bit of spellcasting added for good measure. So yeah, felt the definite need to note the weird focus of the abilities of the class.

Which brings me to the elephant in the room: The class has some downright broken features that require revision and generally is very strong. It makes for an expert outdoorsman/utility guy that gains more resistances and immunities than any other class I have encountered for 5e. And honestly, that's not "shaman" to me. That being said: The class is not bad per se, just flawed. If the hiccups are ironed out, I'll shrug and accept the shaman as a tanky monk-style class, but the flaws are here.

That being said, the class is not expensive - for 2 bucks, it is something you can check out, though most groups will require some design work to make this class operate at full functionality. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Shaman Class (5E)
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The World of Synnibarr 3rd Edition: The Ultimate Adventurers Guide I 3.06
Publisher: Synnibarr
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/02/2017 07:52:33

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive pdf clocks in at 172 pages, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page foreword, 2 pages of backer-thanks, 1 page ToC, leaving us with 166 pages of content. Two of these pages are devoted to char-sheets. One page contains basically a GM cheat-sheet and the pdf comes with a massive index of 10 pages, which actually helps navigating the massive book.

This review was commissioned by my patreons as a prioritized review.

So, Synnibarr. Yeah. I know. We all have read the reviews of the previous editions, know it to be an incredibly crunch-dense and somewhat obtuse system. So how does this edition fare? Well, first of all, this is the first book, which means that there are some instances where the pdf points towards book II, which has not yet been released. This, in general, does not seriously impact the functionality of this book, though.

If you're new to the party, let me give you the brief run-down: The eponymous Worldship Synnibar was fashioned by the avatar of Aridius and humanity from Mars, which was hollowed out to contain earth. The worldship is inhabitable inside and out and has been traveling the stars for millennia, ever trying to outrun intergalactic slavers, while only currently recuperating from an intellect-wiping plague of Spanish Flu-like proportions. The genre, if you'd want to establish one, would hence best be considered to be science-fantasy. The PCs, created as defenders by the avatar, are beings of myth, empowered to be living legends.

As the pdf states, it is crafted with new players in mind and written from a perspective of someone who has not yet played roleplaying games: As such, the pdf establishes a glossary and basics first: You need 5 constitution tokens, 2 willpower tokens and apart from that, the usual dice and, preferably, a mini. Nomenclature is established as well FDA is the Force Damage Adjustment, PF denotes Protection Factors, BPF denotes bypassing these and TN denotes a target number. Primarily, the system is based on opposing dice rolls, which means that it is pretty swingy. The primary formula introduced is Constitution times Merit equaling Cogency. This denotes the power of abilities, spells, skills, etc. - and may allow you to forego rolling dice altogether.

Every player begins with 50 Merit, which is split between 3 combat stats, up to a starting maximum of 20 Merit per stat. The three physical attributes would be Force, which denotes the damage boost added to the weapon (or FDA - force damage adjustment); Shot denotes the general attack roll. Fate describes the characters defense, dodging, blocking, etc. The latter is a mindbogglingly dumb decision from a nomenclature point of view. Why? Because the GM in Synnibarr...is also called Fate! This adds a thoroughly unnecessary level of confusion to the proceedings. It's like replacing Strength in D&D with GM (Great Muscles). This is literally common sense and game design 101 - when establishing a terminology ANYWHERE, you do not use the same word for two wildly different concepts.

Anyways. Every round of combat is separated in 3 seconds. Actions denote how often a character can act in one second. Damage is fixed - Base value + FDA = damage inflicted. The Advantage value denotes initiative. Combat knows three dice rolls and is rolled each round, the higher, the better. The winner of this roll receives a free action on what is called "Starting segment" - what is the starting segment? Well, each second is further divided in action segments. 2 actions = 2 action segments. I can follow that reasoning. Then, the pdf notes that the starting segment in a round with 2 action segments would be 2. Which...does not say anything and leaves me confused as all hell. The further elaboration that calls the highest numbered segment starting segment does help a bit, but concise rules-presentation this is not.

The second roll would be the shot roll: Percentile die + bonuses = score; this must exceed 40 to hit, which means that defense...well, is pretty inconsequential. Instead, you roll Fate, a percentile die. If you match the Shot score or roll above it, you evade the attack. This makes combat, as you will have realized by now, extremely swingy. (On an aside: The pdf professes to be written for new players, but doesn't deign to actually explain how to roll a d%...)

This is only the base engine, however. There are Constitution and willpower, as noted before. 5 Constitution and 2 Willpower represents the maximum of these resources, the, confusingly named Constitution Gate. Okay, here things get truly arcane (and not in an in-game meaning): "Players power up for each second of combat, replacing any burned Constitution, until the 20 Constitution points are exhausted." 20 ??? Where does the 20 come from??? WTF. So, now it begins. Without burning Con, you only add 1/2 Force score. 1 Con allows for double Force, 3 triples Force, etc. - with each applying only to a single hit. And you thought Mythic high-level PFRPG boiled down to rocket launcher tag... Con can also net +1/2 on an advantage roll. Rounded up or down? No idea. The book later tells us to not round advantage...which does not help alleviate my question. 1 Con can also add 5 to any Shot, Fate or percentile die roll. Oh, and 5 Con can be used to add an additional action per second for the turn. Does this include the bonus action for winning advantage?? No frickin' clue. 1 Willpower counts as 5 Con and may be spent at any time. It also allows a character to exceed the Constitution Gate (so it's not part of it, but rather an external thing.

...Yes, I knew this. Please apologize this little feat of deception. What the above represents is very much an experience of how it feels to read this book. You have these big question marks and then, suddenly, bam, another rules that seemingly contradicts what you read before. On the plus-side, the excessive combat examples.

Okay, so combat is obtuse, but frankly could be worse. Speaking of which: Merit. Merit is WEIRD. It kinda sorta seems to behave like skill ranks of XP spent, denoting a kind of pool point, but at the same time, it is a play statistic. So merit is basically a point-buy resource that can be applied to increase skills, abilities, etc. However, this seems (as far as I've guessed - and yes, I had to guess, with the character sheet layout (!!!) being my main source here...) to not decrease merit itself, only allocate it...which is somewhat confusing. Why not simply establish distinct terms: Total Merit Earned, Free Merit and Merit Allocated? There, solved the terminology issue in the approximately 2 seconds it took to type this. Oh, and 10% of the total Merit of the character is called Cogency Mass. This acts as a kind of threshold for non-damaging effects - think of it as a saving throw sans throw; on a success, the score is reduced by 1; once there is no cogency mass left, the non-damaging effect affects the character. Know what? I actually like this. You'll certainly stone me for this, but, if you get past the somewhat obtuse verbiage, this is actually a pretty elegant mechanic.

Cogency is defined significantly clearer: You take Merit allocated, multiply it with Constitution burned and receive the cogency of the respective skill use. Simple. Combat/brief actions apply the Con Gate, longer cogency tests do not....which could be misread. Oh, and for the roleplaying aspect, a player can narrate a flashback story about a skill to make a narrow hit miss or vice versa. Personally, I don't like this. Smells of the competitive bullshitting that is FATE. (Yep, I hate FATE. With a fiery passion. I don't judge, but it's the one system I will not touch ever again, not even with a ten-foot-pole.)

The pdf then goes on to a step-by-step character generation section, which includes race, cybernetics, etc. Merit cost for race selection ranges from 0 (human) to 100 (beravan) and there are a ton of them available: From flymen to giants and everything in between...like sentient dreams of the worldship, the selection is pretty interesting, though the internal balance of the race choices and their bonuses is not perfect. Guild and organization membership of characters can similarly be purchased. Astrological signs, religion - all of these influence the skills and abilities of the character, which means lots of tables and lots of choices. Some organizations are obviously racially exclusive.

Higher cogency scores in competing abilities or skills always wins out, though certain pieces of equipment and environmental effects can block out cogency. This sounds simple, but the explanation is confusing: "1 point of Cogency removes 1of a subject's life points." 1 point of Cogency removes 1 point of the target's Cogency mass." Sentences like that in a section of "How to determine Cogency" create confusing which requires extrapolation of what the author actually tries to understand. Cogency also determines the amount/mass that can be influenced. What happens on a tie? No idea. Which brings me to the main issue of this book: The didactics of this system are horrible. I will say something controversial first: I think I have managed to play this as written. No, really. It's very much possible. It requires close reading of a metric TON of dry rules-text, but it is very much possible! The prime issue of this book boils down not to rules-language either, but to didactics. I'll return to that in the conclusion.

You see, we have only scratched the tip of the ice-berg. So far, we have taken a look at the very basic, vanilla skeleton of the system. With the "protomantic dominions", which represent basically skills, magic, equipment and...general options, the rabbit hole becomes really, really deep. Defense augmentations alter the "effects of a defensive event." Guess what has not been codified or explained so far? Bingo. What the heck is a defensive event? No idea! It never comes up in the whole book! Several dominions influence intelligent agents, but without actually bothering to define them in the first place. Which is systematic of a crucial and perhaps the crucial, central flaw of this book.

You see, the book contains a ton of creatures, adventuring ideas and locales, etc. - this is a very crunchy and detailed book, whose setting remains very unobtrusive and anything-goes in its potential - if you can conceive of a story, you'll probably be capable of making it work with this rules-frame...if you manage to actually understand it.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, on a formal perspective, are decent. There are a couple of formal glitches. On a rules-language level, the book manages the exceedingly rare feat of being at the same time very precise and horribly obtuse - more on that later. The pdf adheres to a 2-column b/w-layout with decent b/w-artwork. It's nothing to look at, though - don't expect to be wowed by the artwork. The pdf has no bookmarks, which is an unforgivable comfort detriment for a book of this size - much less for a crunch-book of this size.

Raven c.s. McCracken's Synnibarr is pretty notorious...but frankly, it's nowhere near as horrible in this version as you'd probably expect. If you can manage to slog through this dry hyper-detailed book of rules, you can actually play a game, which, while more math intense than Pathfinder or 3.X, can actually be played. The engine allows for the playing of pretty much everything...which brings me to the somewhat schizoid nature of the book: You see, this bills itself as a book for novice roleplayers, but such groups will just drop the book in frustration at one point, for its complexity is certainly aimed at veterans. Sounds like a dream come true for min-maxers and crunch-masters? Well, there is an issue here as well, for the flashback mechanic and some components herein instead seem to cater to ROLEplayers - as does the wide open world that allows for pretty much any narrative. That being said, these guys will...well, be annoyed by the complexity of the crunch.

The main issue of this system can be boiled down to two aspects: The lack of a rules-savvy editor/developer who can whip these mechanics into proper shape and eliminate the inconsistencies that haunt this pdf. More importantly, the book's central shortcoming is that it, more so than any other game I have reviewed, is perhaps one of the didactically worst presented books I have ever read. You know the old saying about requiring a PhD to understand some games? Well, here it certainly helps. I'm pretty positive that, without my time in academia, years of close reading of obscure texts, ill-conceived papers etc., etc., I would have thrown in the towel at one point and just added my voice to the condemning reviews of earlier editions. The book half explains a rule, then later adds stuff on that that seemingly contradicts of what you thought you had figured out - the structure and actual teaching of the game is catastrophic as far as I'm concerned.

And here's the big surprise: To a certain degree, that's a pity. You see, while I blatantly dislike a ton of stuff about this pdf; while the lack of bookmarks is unforgivable, there is actually an interesting game buried here. The racial diversity is vast; the setting has promise galore and in the jumbled mess that is the rules-presentation, there is actually some serious potential. There are several aspects that are interesting from a mathematics point of view; there are some neat ideas. Okay, combat takes A LOT of time and with the number of actions per second, you'll have a hard time explaining the proceedings and integrating them in a context or timeline beyond combat, but there are some interesting aspects to be found here. This game, in short, is superior to the 2nd edition in every way, except for getting angry. This system is far from unsalvageable and frankly, if I'd really set my mind to it, I'm positive I could streamline this into a well-presented RPG I can hand out to players and make them play.

That being said, Synnibarr sits at this odd spot between old and new school, between emphasis on math and storytelling. It almost artfully manages to miss crucial aspects for all playstyles. This is not, I repeat: NOT funny bad, unless you consider structural issues and obtuse nomenclature funny. That being said, this is almost a game I'd consider playing, which is more than you could say about any of the previous editions. In fact, 4th edition, if it ever comes, could actually be an interesting game.

Should you get this? NO. Unless you want an intellectual exercise in trying to grasp bad rules-presentation. Hey, scratch that: You know, designers can actually benefit from trying to understand the rules herein. This is an excellent example for how important the proper didactic structure, rules-syntax etc. is; how important it is to stick to a concisely defined and meticulously defined terminology. Is this as bad as you expected? No, no it's not. It is the most obtuse and deliberately arcane and nigh-incomprehensible system I have ever analyzed, though. It has some innovative and fun ideas from a designer's perspective and the sheer diversity of character options is great, though they're stuck in...well, these rules. Now, I'd actually like to rate this 2 stars, because it is not that tremendously bad that you couldn't, with A LOT OF WORK AND A KEEN MIND play with these rules. At the same time, I have established a pretty rigorous quality standard for what I expect from books and a rating like this would be a disservice to the flawed 2-star-books I have covered. Hence, in spite of liking some aspects of this book, I can't rate this higher than 1.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
The World of Synnibarr 3rd Edition: The Ultimate Adventurers Guide I 3.06
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Ancient Curses
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/02/2017 07:51:31

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of introduction, 1 page advertisement, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 16 pages of content, so let's take a look!

We begin this pdf with a nice, historic recap of Egypt and the ostensible curse of pharaohs, which may obviously take on a completely different dimension in the context of fantasy gaming. After that, we are introduced to the somewhat unfortunately-named Cursologist Occultist, who loses medium armor and shield proficiency (except bucklers) and gains Cursed Item Detection as a bonus feat. Instead of magic item skill, these fellows get +1/2 class level to Knowledge (history) and to both Appraise and Knowledge (engineering) when examining structures at least a 10 years old. 5th level yields Craft Wondrous Item, but any skill checks pertaining their creation receive a -5 penalty unless creating cursed items. 8th level and every 3 levels thereafter let the archetype replace the feat with another item creation feat. This replaces aura sight. Instead of 5th level's focus power, the archetype may use a cursed item worn as an implement, expending focus power to temporarily suppress the curse. When using curse descriptor spells with the implement, the cursologist increases their potency and curses may be selected as implement spells at certain levels.

8th level provides the option to expend 1 point of mental focus as part of a 1 minute ceremony to duplicate remove curse, with higher levels instead providing break enchantment's benefits. Cool: By using a proper skill-check, he may determine special items that help the chances of success of this ceremony. Nice built-in adventuring trick, which is quickened to a full-round action at 16th level. This replaces magic circles, 8th level replaces outside contact with the option to activate an oracle curse for up to class level minutes, with oracle levels equal to occultist levels -3. Oracle's burden is added to the spell list and 12th level and every 4 levels thereafter net an additional curse to choose from, with 16th level allowing for the activation of two curses at once. 12th level lets the cursologist spend 1 point of mental focus for a reroll of a save, with affected allies instead gaining a bonus to saves.

The second archetype herein would be the Priest of the Old Ways, a cleric archetype that is actually interesting: You see, these guys don't channel energy in the traditional sense, but instead apply it via physical contact (with examples including spitting etc.) via melee touch attacks. To make up for this decreased AoE, the channeled energy's potency is increased to 1d10 base dice and the loss of the holy symbol requirement for applying energy thus. Spellcasting is similarly modified in an interesting manner: As the archetype draws upon oral tradition, the spells cast have no somatic components, but universally require verbal components. These spells may not be used in conjunction with Silent Spell and spell failure incurred due to e.g. the deafened condition are doubled as a trade-off, though. Also interesting would be that these guys treat spells that have an alignment-descriptor as though it didn't have an alignment descriptor. 6th level has a glorious little ability: By expending apply energy uses, you can erect barriers that block magic as though it was a solid barrier...very cool and allows for some seriously amazing strategies. 12th level allow for the option to spend 8 hours sculpting a clay vessel customized with a name and a bit of the target, acting as a vessel for delivering curses beyond their regular range. This is balanced by apply energy's daily uses being reduced while this remains in existence.

The pdf then goes on to collate and recap cursed item rules, covering the cost of crafting cursed items, with several options included to reduce the costs of making such items. Interesting would be the concept of a rider curse, providing proper rules-terminology for curses that do not influence the functionality of an item, but accompany it nonetheless. The pdf also provides, obviously, curses - like an ostensible increase of an item's worth, a curse that makes a creature really want to use it, an item that displaces items worn in its stead, charms that eliminate specific memories...pretty cool, though two of these have their whole text italicized in a formatting glitch that should have been caught. Indeed, there are a couple of instances here where the italicization of a spell was obviously not properly ended, continuing with italicized text. Annoying, in particular when cropping up in the cool vicinity of a curse that even prevents you from THINKING the item's creator. Very cool idea.

Now, the pdf does not end right there, but instead dives into the particulars of how cursed locations work: Basically, the engine presented is a variation of how haunts work, with detection, destruction, effect and release clauses all concisely presented. Big, big plus: The pdf does allow for location-based curse-creation with handy CR-modifiers. The engine is cool. The pdf contains a total of 9 such location-based curses (CRs range from 1 to 17), which result from basic ill ease to horrid healing-impeding curses, with unique and flavorful means of negating them: Some curses may actually be susceptible to fire, for example. Formatting, alas, isn't perfect here either, as spells that should be italicized lack the proper formatting.

The final section of the pdf contains a total of 7 pretty complex and interesting curses: There would, for example, be a curse that actually fortifies your CMB and CMD as well as providing fast healing, but which also curses damage to you when you cease being in contact with earth. What about an aging curse that affects you when you try to cast spells? Raistlin's by now legendary hourglass eyes are also part of the deal, as is the option to make people outcasts, forcing a creature to leave sandy footprints wherever they tread. What about strange wrappings manifesting whenever the target sleeps, haunting his dreams, pinning him? Yeah, anyone who ever suffered from sleep paralysis will know how creepy that can be. Finally, sunbane renders you extremely susceptible to...bingo, the sun - in 5 ever increasing steps of severity. Ouch!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, but not as good as I've come to expect from Legendary Games - there are quite a few avoidable, obvious hiccups herein. Layout adheres to the neat two-column full-color standard for Mummy's Mask-plug-ins and the pdf sports several nice full color artworks, though fans of Legendary Games will recall them from other publications. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Jason Nelson, Alex Riggs and Jen Page deliver a per se pretty cool supplement here: While the occultist didn't blow me away, the cleric archetype is pure gold and ranks among the best I've seen in a while - I can see this being the functional standard cleric in e.g. a Mesopotamia-style game or a more grim Sword & Sorcery-themed game. Damn cool.

The various curse subtypes and their codified rules are great - I like the way in which location-based curses are presented and the curses for items are similarly solid. The final array of curses also offers some pretty nice options. That being said, I wish the curses covered some slightly more unique options. While I appreciate the nostalgia-goggles that several of the curses employ, I found myself wishing for more curses that felt less familiar - so no, this does not push Rite Publishing's Legendary Curses-supplement off the throne. This is me complaining at a high level, though. The one flaw the pdf no doubt has beyond being pretty conservative in the depicted curses would lie in the not always perfect formatting. Thus, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Ancient Curses
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Monstrous Bloodlines for Sorcerers V
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/02/2017 07:44:50

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 15 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 3 pages of SRD, leaving us with 10 pages of content, though it should be noted that these are formatted for booklet-size (A5, or 6'' by 9''), which allows you to fit comfortably 4 pages on one sheet of A4 paper, if your eyesight's good enough.

All right, bloodlines...so what do we get? The first bloodline herein would be "animal", which receives Handel Animal as class skill, beast shapes and aspects etc. as bonus spells, quicker casting of spells that summon animals. Additionally, the sorceror gets scaling claws (which, while not specifically noting their category, are otherwise precise), increased speed, more summoned critters, +2 natural AC as well as scent and, as a capstone, shapechanger apotheosis with at-will beast shape III.

The second bloodline would be artifice, which nets Disable Device as class skill and focuses on animating objects, repairing and at high levels sports grasping hand and iron body. Bloodline arcana-wise, we see that this sorceror uses Intelligence as governing attribute for spell-casting and get trapfinding, a construct familiar, a snare and another ranger trap at 9th level, +1 ranger trap at 10th level and every level thereafter, with 15th level doubling their damage output. Also at this level, the soceror may expend two uses of the trap ability to remote-trigger a trap within 60 ft. The capstone is a construct apotheosis.

The decay bloodline's next and gains Heal as a class skill. The bonus spells contain acid, slime and, obviously, decay-themed options that range from touch of slime to horrid wilting, with e.g. echolocation thrown in for good measure. The sound-sub-theme is also reflected in the bonus spells, where obvious choices à la Contagious Spell or Diehard exist alongside Echoing Spell. The bloodline may affect oozes and plants with enchantments. Bloodline powers include short-range acid spit, an untyped damage-causing touch attack that is particularly effective versus created objects and structures, a bonus to saves versus mind-affecting effects...and something really cool at 15th level: Decomposed body nets you +20 to Escape Artist as well as better squeezing and a 50% variant of fortification. Damn cool! As a capstone, you get an extraordinary immunity to mind-affecting effects and may at-will plant shape II into a shambling mound.

The divine bloodline nets Knowledge (religion) and the bonus spells of a chosen domain at level 3, +1 for every 2 levels after third. The chosen domain's domain power is gained at 1st level, with 9th level unlocking the second domain power - and yes, they're governed by Charisma instead of Wisdom. As bloodline arcana, you get channel energy, with 15th level reducing the activation action to swift and 20th level providing outsider apotheosis as well as resistance 10 to two energy types of your choice from the traditional 5.

The giant bloodline nets Knowledge (history) as well as the usual suspects of enlarge person, giant form I + II, and finally, clashing rocks, with Reach Spell, Heighten Spell etc. allowing for "big" magic. Summoned giants or creatures affected by your size-increase spells gain an additional +4 Strength (ouch) and 1st level unlocks boulder hurling: You conjure forth boulders and increase their damage over the levels. While something in me cringed when I read that they "do 4d6." and while I'm missing boulder damage type, I like the idea. Higher levels yield reach, natural armor, low-light vision giant subtype and at-will SPs, immunities and better camouflage/throwing, depending on giant type chosen. Finally, 20th level nets at-will frightful aspect, which also works in conjunction with other polymorph effects.

The insect bloodline provides Handle Animal and lets you affect vermin with mind-affecting spells, with the bonus feats including Fast Healer, Brisk Spell, Toxic Spell, etc. The bonus spells granted include ant haul, barkskin, greater prying eyes, swarm skin, etc. If the skill was not ample clue, the bloodline lets you use Handle Animal with vermin. 3rd level nets mandibles that fail to specify both damage type inflicted and the type of natural weapon they qualify as - there are cases of both primary and secondary mandible-bites, so yeah. 9th level yields +4 to saves versus mind-affecting effects and 15th +2 to natural armor, climb speed and +10 to Acrobatics alongside being always treated as having a running start. 20th level nets immunity to mind-affecting effects and 60 ft. perfect fly speed.

Nature's Wrath provides the Survival skill and spells that range from magic fang to tar pool and tsunami. The bonus feats include making spells more bombastic (Widen + Reach Spell) and enhancing the sorceror's survival-chances. 1st level nets you a druid orison and at 3rd level, you gain both low-light vision and a druid spell, +1 every 2 levels thereafter. The bloodline also gets an animal companion at 1st level, who may deliver touch spells at 9th level. At 15th level, +2 to overcome SR is unlocked and, as a capstone, we get the ability for both sorc and companion to ignore difficult terrain and wind effects...and immunity to damage from spells you cast. Nice capstone.

The final bloodline would be the shapeshifter, who receives Knowledge (nature) as a class skill. Bonus spell-wise, we get savage maw at 3rd level, alter self at 5th and the first iterations of elemental body, form of the dragon and giant shape, concluding in shapechange at 19th level. The bonus feats include Arcane Strike, Fleeting Spell and Spontaneous Metafocus for some unconventional choices. Transformation (polymorph) spells with a duration of 1 minute per level are extended to 10 minutes per level and when in the shape of a creature that gains a racial skill bonus, you get that skill bonus...which is intriguing, though I'm not sure how that interacts with alternate racial traits...are they included in the available selection or not? Cool: At 3rd level, you can use Silent and Still Spell without increasing the spell level while polymorphed. 9th level lets you prolong the effects of a polymorph spell indefinitely, though at the cost of potentially losing your identity if you remain in the shape in question too long. 15th level nets communication while polymorphed, helping to maintain the charade. As a capstone, the bloodline nets an apotheosis to shapechanger, the option to be under the effects of multiple polymorphs and pretty free shapeshifting.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-level. While tehre are a couple of non-standard verbiage choices and some interactions that could be slightly cleaner, as a whole, this pdf should not generate issues when using it. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games' 1-column, printer-friendly standard with purple highlights. The pdf has no artworks apart from the cover, but comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Carl Cramér's monstrous bloodlines are solid options that provide the means to play a cleric-y, druid-y etc. sorceror. The general array of options presented is power-wise in line and should not yield significant issues at any table. There are some abilities herein I very much enjoyed and that is, frankly, more than I expected. You see, I'm jaded. I have read and analyzed more bloodlines than I care to count and Interjection Games' Big Book of Bloodlines has set an increasingly high standard, with bloodlines that feature unique subsystems etc. This humble pdf is less ambitious and, while not perfect, it does provide an inexpensive, nice little array of options with hiccups being mostly cosmetic and in the "fineprint" of the rules. As such, I feel justified in rating this as 3.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform.

EDIT: Oh, I failed to mention this: A bonus pdf with a nice CR 5 critter, the Chingatrüll, is included in the deal - very cool!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Monstrous Bloodlines for Sorcerers V
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Four Horsemen Present: Heralds of the Apocalypse
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/01/2017 05:39:11

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive pdf clocks in at 45 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 42 pages of content - quite a lot, so let's take a look!

So, what exactly is this? In short, this constitutes a massive toolkit that deals with evil campaigns. Everyone who has ran an evil campaign can attest to the special considerations such a campaign demands of the GM, particularly if you do not restrict the chosen options to Lawful Evil only. (And yes, I have ran multiple evil campaigns...though all started as the PCs being good guys...says something. I guess...)

Anyways, there are quite a few things to consider when running a game for an evil party of PCs, so this pdf takes a step back and helps as an orientation guide in the beginning: By discussing the ramifications of various evil alignments in game, for example. The pdf goes beyond alignments, though: As it notes, evil is not a universal catch-all term, and instead encompasses a wide array of diverse notions of moral shortcomings. At least in the part of the world that has morals inspired by Judeo-Christian book-religions, an easy and central focus would be the seven deadly sins and what they actually mean in the contextualization of evil PCs (and NPCs, obviously) - each is discussed alongside angles that can be employed for interesting narrative elements and twists, thankfully with an explicit note to the GM and players that shapes a consciousness for finding a common ground. Speaking of which: The pdf also explicitly tells the group in question to maintain teamwork ethics - without them, a game sooner, rather than later, collapses.

Beyond that, there are several means of properly integrating evil characters and giving them a reason to cooperate: From the manipulation angle to the necessary good to having no choice, the book sports an interesting assortment of angles to pursue, which also features ideas on evil backgrounds and results, as a whole, in a well-written and truly helpful array of considerations that both players and GMs should contemplate when making their evil PC or party. This is, obviously, supported by various bits of crunchy rules, the first of which would be an assortment of various traits. These generally represent some truly amazing ideas, like the ability to compartmentalize evil deeds by having an almost split personality-style second alignment. Similarly cool would be to option to Bluff to keep your aura from being read. At the same time, these do not specify their trait subtype, which is a bit annoying. The leg-breaker trait is also pretty OP, granting you +4 to Intimidate versus an opponent you have successfully damaged (damage must exceed target's HD) within the last minute: Considering the relatively pronounced bonus and the demoralize-options out there, +4 seems like overkill. On the more humorous side, I am pretty sure that one trait should read "loan-shark", not "lone-shark".

The pdf also sports a serious array of diverse feats, 14 unless I have miscounted. It is here that the horsemen-theme comes around the proverbial corner, with Death, Famine, War and Pestilence constituting leitmotifs among the feats. These btw. contains several pretty amazing ideas: Like 1/day evading what otherwise would be certain death, but requiring you to kill another creature, making it basically take your place -and yes, this has a caveat that prevents abuse via kittens. Negating flanking and aid another or several immunities for following pestilence...there are some very powerful and flavorful options here. Unfortunately, there also are some options here that are pretty broken: In spite of requiring BAB +9 and Critical Focus, Acute Critical would be one such candidate: It lets you add any source of precision damage you may have, like e.g. sneak attack etc. to all crits you score. Considering how many options there are for critical enhancing and getting them more often, that can be really nasty. Substituting costly material components with blood sacrifice of killed creatures by HD is for example a cool trick. So, as a whole, this section is nice, but not perfect.

After that, we are introduced to an array of new archetypes for evil characters, with the first being the ascendant lich for the wizard class, who begins play with a special bonded phylactery and replaces Scribe Scroll with a gradual transformation that provides scaling AC-bonuses as well as resistances, though the splintering of the soul the process requires does ultimately decrease the social competences of the archetype. 5th level yields a damaging lich touch with scaling damage output that can also be used to heal the undead, thankfully featuring a daily cap, with 15th level adding the paralysis effect and 10th level providing the fear aura. Oh, and obviously, the capstone would provide the signature rejuvenation trick.

Really unique and twisted would be the choir macabre bard, who, when dealing damage equal to or greater than twice his class level, may play with the pain of the victims, which means they don't need to expend rounds of bardic performances in such a round. Twisted and cool idea that is balanced by only 2 + Cha-mod rounds of performance, +1 per subsequent level! The archetype also receives several unique bardic performances that include a debuff, short-ranged damage (which should be sonic, not untyped - it is classified as a sonic effect, but RAW deals untyped damage), worsening of ailments and high level dispels of buffs/immunities makes for a compelling archetype.

Next up would be the Daemon Knight, a neutral evil paladin archetype that has a built-in self-atonement option which is pretty amazing and helpful - as is the modified code of conduct that makes the archetype actually playable. The archetype receives immunity to aging penalties, but only gets 1/2 Cha-mod to saves. 5th level provides btw. the boon of a chosen horseman, all of which scale: We have auto-raise from the dead, raging capabilities, scaling diseases or bite attacks that get grab and swallow whole added...flavorful and fun archetype. Fleshsmith alchemists receive a flexible mutagen they can forcefeed to others, warping their bodies and charming them (why hasn't that done before? Seriously!) - which is seriously cool storytelling material right there. The archetype also offers some new discoveries that include fleshwarped cohorts, tighter control over the creatures affected by his mutagen, extended range of creatures that can be affected, and even learning to lace the mutagen to bombs! Amazing idea, with my only regret being that its concept could have carried a full-blown hybrid class.

The order of the Broken is not, as you may first believe, a new cavalier order: Instead it represents a massive archetype that represents, to a degree, an antipaladin-lite version, as these once proud crusaders were twisted beyond comparison. While the archetype does not get to choose another order, having that hardbaked into the archetype, it offers more flexibility than the regular cavalier class ever did, allowing at several levels for the choice of a corruption from an impressive list of diverse mutations, dark boons and deadly tricks. I love this archetype. It rewires the whole cavalier-chassis and adds some serious player-agenda to the fray, while at the same time providing antipaladin-like gameplay sans the ridiculously restrictive base class codes of conduct.

The peerless brawler can use Sense Motive to temporarily learn a number of feats as a swift action, drawing upon the opponent's tricks. While Sense Motive can be cheesed, the DC required is based on the opponent's BAB and Wis-modifier and thus, to some extent, manages to be kept in check. Not a big fan, but yeah. Instead of martial flexibility, the peerless brawler learns to deny his foes access to some of their feats by adjusting his fighting style, which can make for some interesting melee control options and foiling of highly specialized builds, with higher levels potentially denying ever more feats. This archetype is interesting: While I'm not a big fan of the skill-based mechanic, the feat-denial makes them actually excel most when pitted against other martial characters, which works well from a dramatic and flavor point of view. So yeah. Nice! Ravenous Soul druids replace wild shape with a bite attack that increases in power based on player choices: At 6th level and every 2 levels thereafter, you can customize the bite with several nice options, making this a pretty nasty famine/cannibalism/predator option. The emphasis of choice is certainly appreciated!

The riven witch takes a cue from the oracle in that she begins play with a torment: Whether controlled by an entity or cultist, damned, terrorized or mad, the archetype receives basically a variant curse that nets bonuses at 5th, 10th and 15th level. She also does not gain a patron, drawing her strength from the trauma she endures, thus gaining spontaneous spellcasting and a bonus spell-list determined by her torment, with the exclusive hexes tapping into the torment as a means to let others feel her pain well as offering some debuffs. The warlord barbarian is adept at intimidation and may select trophies instead of rage powers, potentially gaining items, banners, bones etc. with benefits ranging from AC-bonus to enhanced saves, etc. Solid.

The pdf also contains several magic items, 9 to be more precise: From the potent apocalypse staff to the others, there are some nice, thematic tricks here: What about a ring, which makes you retain functionality when dying and also increases the negative damage threshold, but prevents returning to life...and makes you dread wraithify upon death? There would be various rods, a flail that makes those nearby nauseated on a failed save, a robe that allows you to add insult to the injury of bleeding, dying, energy drained, etc. foes, ushering them further towards death, the AoO miss-chance granting shawl of vermin and the mutable weapon of war. I have no pricing or power-concerns in this section. Kudos!!

Next up would be an assortment of new spells, 10, to be more precise. Blackbolt fires dark rays that can inflict negative levels, balancing the relatively low level with a max cap of negative levels inflicted via the spell. Adding diseases to bite and claw attacks, massive swarms of locusts, a level 9 spell that crushes its victims with pure misery, a spell that can generate the illusion of having violated one's code, cursing soldiers to rise again after death and shriveling a target's limbs...the spells are nasty and nice, their respective levels making sense from a balance point of view. No complaints. Speaking of no complaints: The new famine and pestilence domains actually are pretty cool and represent the first domains I've read in a while that I consider mechanically interesting, with the latter offering the option to counter attacks with a defensive disease, while famine actually adds crippling hunger pangs to necromancy spells cast...pretty nice - kudos for both!

Now this is called "Heralds of the Apocalypse", so it is only fitting that the pdf closes with an assortment of apocalyptic plots, supplemented by rules. (If you need more: LPJ Design's Obsidian Apocalypse is a nice toolkit for the like!) Each of the plots contained herein also have angles for each of the various horsemen regarding their potential thematic involvement. The first of these would be the classic evolved bubonic plague; thereafter, we have parasites that enhance physical scores, but render those affected mindless and raging - interesting angle I have used in my own game when I ran my version of RotRL in conjunction with 3.X's Elder Evils. Similarly frightening: Soul Rot. It's a curse and disease...that actually destroys the soul of those affected. Worse, it affects powerful outsiders quicker! The meek shall inherit the earth...this can potentially destroy deities and make for a great reset/radical change for your setting! A highly potent, more flexible variant of ghoul fever that can turn you even into devourers or banshees and the like completes the array of devastating plagues/curses in style. Oh, and know what's cool here: The higher the HD...the higher the save! Loved this chapter!!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, though not perfect. I noticed a couple of minor hiccups. Layout adheres to Rogue Genius Games' two-column full-color standard and while I have seen a few images herein before, the selection of artworks is excellent and cool. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

The four horsemen (Dan Dillon, Steven T. Helt, Tim Hitchcock and Stephen Rowe) are pretty much a guarantee that something doesn't suck; this is no different: This massive collection of options contains some amazing engine tweaks clad in intriguing archetypes, juggling highly complex rules-operations. There are several archetypes herein that bring much needed player agenda to classes (cough cavalier /cough) and the guide regarding evil campaigns should be considered a must-read for GMs and players alike to ensure a smoothly proceeding gaming experience. There are a couple f instances where I consider some components within this book problematic, but that certainly should not keep you from getting this. The plagues in the back made me wish we got more such cool events/hazards for apocalyptic story-arcs - hopefully we'll see more of those in the future.

The placement of spells regarding spell-levels is precise and so is the pricing of magic items, which is something that's pretty hard to get right as well, showing the massive expertise of the team. In short: This is a great pdf, though one that misses my seal of approval by a tiny margin. Still, this very much deserves its final verdict of 5 stars and should be considered a must-read for any group attempting WotW, Hell's Vengeance or a similar campaign focusing on evil PCs.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Four Horsemen Present: Heralds of the Apocalypse
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GM's Miscellany: Village Backdrops IV
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/01/2017 05:35:21

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The fourth installment of the amazing Village Backdrop-series clocks in at 92 pages, 1 page front cover, 3 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC (including statblocks by CR), 2 pages of author bios (wish all books included that - author name recognition is important!), 1 page advice on reading statblocks for novice GMs, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a total of 81 pages of content, so let's take a look!

This book contains the villages of Cahill Abbey, Feigrvidr, Feyhall, Greystone, Macrimei, Ossoka Draconsha, Revenge, Shroudhaven, Silver Bluff, Tigley, Umelas, Vaagwol and Y'taris. These villages all have in common that I have actually reviewed the respective Village Backdrops for them, so if you require in-depth guidance pertaining them, please take a look at my respective reviews. (On my site, just click on the village backdrop-tag at the bottom of the review for a handy list, if you don't want to search them by hand.)

Now, the respective entries here range from pretty good to phenomenal, with several entries compiled herein ranking as definite highlights even within the high-quality series. Unfortunately, the respective entries don't seem to have received an additional editing pass, with some obvious minor glitches that have haunted the original files having found their way into this compilation as well. The weaker installments like Y'taris have similarly not received an overhaul, which is all that keeps me from not erupting into lavish praises.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, but not perfect - the book takes the base files and compiles them. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press' two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The pdf comes in two iterations, one of which is optimized for screen-use, one intended to be printed out. The cartography for the villages is phenomenal and amazing - Raging Swan Press' patreon has, unlike I am sorely mistaken, the option to get separate versions of the glorious maps.

John Bennett, Creighton Broadhurst, Jeff Gomez, Richard Green, Steve Hood, Greg Marks, Jacob W. Michaels, Stephen Radney-MacFarland and Mike Welham have crafted a glorious compilation that contains some of my favorites in the whole product lines, some villages that shine like stars even in this series. At the same time, there are also a couple of slightly weaker installments included herein, which does help to even the gems out a bit. As a whole, this is a great compilation if you want the respective villages in print and if you don't have them already. If you do already own them, then this provides nothing new apart from a few really nice b/w-pieces of art I can't recall having seen in the respective installments. If you want all (or most) included villages, get this. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
GM's Miscellany: Village Backdrops IV
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Village Backdrop: Greystone
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/01/2017 05:32:59

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of RSP's Village Backdrop-series is 12 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let's take a look at the settlement!

Sharp-inclined hills huddle together in the deepened shadows of the Mottled Spire, where, once upon a time, settlers from nearby Languard founded a fishing village and outpost for a watchtower/lighthouse. Linked by steep and narrow, inhospitable inclines, the village that was here may once have housed up to 200 people...but nowadays, greystone is a shadow of its former self, with not even 70 souls remaining...and whether they'd constitute humans ultimately depends on your definition of the term, for there is a reason the almost palpable shadow of fear clings to this settlement, seemingly clouded in the spire's looming shadow in perpetuity.

Astute fans of the series will notice that no settlement statblock in the traditional sense is included here as a concession (probably) to the transition to multi-system support the series has undergone, though frankly, I am missing it. That being said, the settlement does come with the traditional notes of villager nomenclature and dressing as well as local lore...which does make for an amazing warning, as the houses are supposed to contain tunnels, shielded from the light of day, tunnels that allow the degenerate inhabitants to move from place to place unseen by the light of days. Some murmur about the massacre that once took place here, when the strange antediluvian structures were found beneath the manor that belonged to none other than dread Dagon, who gets a basic deity write-up here.

I already mentioned the deformities, which are represented by a 12-entry strong table accompanying a template. The template also sports 12 cosmetic deformities (erroneously headed by a d20 instead of a d12 in a cosmetic hiccup). Beyond Tommi Salama's superb cartography of the village, the pdf comes with a second gorgeous map drawn by the Finnish master of cartography, which depicts the labyrinthine caves below the hills, allowing for easy two-step functionality here. In short: This is basically a great set-up for a truly creepy village, with the closest analogue I can think of being a blending of the village in Darkest Dungeon and a backwoods horror movie flick à la Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Strange carvings, mostly rendered unintelligible, weirdly mixed architectural styles and two tables to depict minor details for the caverns or add in small events can be found here as well, though the die to roll is d12, not d% as noted here. These cosmetic glitches, however, should not be taken as an indicator that this pdf contains anything but the most impressive of prose, which generates an atmosphere so thick you can almost cut it.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I didn't notice any significant 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.

Creighton Broadhurst, master of Raging Swan Press, is an absolute master at depicting desolate places, decrepitude and a general sense of a world that has moved on, to paraphrase the classic King-sentiment. Indeed, even among the offerings he has penned, this stands out. Seen from a neutral point of view, I should not be half as impressed by this as I am - from a rules-perspective, the template didn't blow me away and the lack of a statblock for the village is a minor detriment...though frankly, here it is less relevant.

Why? Because this is, in short, an adventure in disguise: Throw the PCs in and have fun. Haven't prepared anything? Whoop out this pdf, read it (5 minutes, tops), make a few notes...and bingo, you'll have an adventure on your hand. Just watch the PCs interact with what they find. The atmosphere is amazing and in my mind, I can almost hear the voice of Darkest Dungeon's ancestor say "Ruin has come to our noble village..." In short: This is an installment that lives by virtue of its phenomenal prose. In fact, were it not for these minor complaints, I'd consider this on par with the very best of all offerings in the series, as the atmosphere evoked is perhaps only rivaled by the brilliant Kennutcat. Still, there are a couple of uncharacteristic minor hiccups herein and, while the prose is pure amazing, the crunch supplementing it feels slightly less inspired. Hence, I will rate this at 5 stars, with an explicit recommendation for anyone looking for a truly atmospheric settlement.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Greystone
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