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The Genius Guide to Variant Multiclassing Rules
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/23/2015 03:21:12

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This massive Genius Guide clocks in at 44 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page ToC, 1 page editorial/SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 39 pages of content, so let's take a look!


Basically, each character in this system can choose a secondary class at 1st level and train in said class throughout the character's career without giving up levels. Instead of the feats gained at 3rd, 7th, 11th, 15th and 19th level, the respective character gains class features from the secondary class. If used in conjunction with regular multiclassing, the character may not multiclass into this secondary class.


All right, in order to make this quicker than usual, I'll break down what each secondary class offers by level - the first ability gained is linked to 3rd level, the second to 7th, and so on. This avoids me feeling like a redundant idiot and decreases the review's bloat factor. Got that? Great, so here are the secondary classes!


Barbarian: This fellow gets rage, then uncanny dodge and then a single rage power (for purposes of which you can choose, you are treated as 1/2 level barbarian, for purposes of effects full); 15th level nets DR 3/- and 19th greater rage. Bardic characters get bardic knowledge, then bardic performance (inspire courage & competence) at -4 character levels, versatile performance, then lore master as a 5th level bard and finally, dirge of doom and inspire greatness. Clerics need to choose a deity (with all associated restrictions) and get the cleric's spontaneous casting - but here, we have an issue: A cleric can "use [this] with any prepared casting classes that have the appropriate spells on their spell lists. I assume this refers to cleric spells being on their spell-lists, but I'm not sure; additionally, when spells on another class's spell-list are a higher level than on the cleric's spell-list, does the conversion of them into healing equivalents pertain in potency to the spell's spell level on the cleric's spell-list or to the spell level on the other class's spell list? 3rd level nets a domain (including 1st level domain power; then, we get channel energy at -6 levels for 1+Cha-mod times per day (which improves to level - 4 and -2 respectively at 11th and 19th level) and 15th level nets the additional domain power.


Druids get druidic as a language and must abide by the code, then get wild empathy, at 7th level a companion at level -4 (11th level: full level), 15th level nets wild shape and 19th level extends the wild shape's options to 6th level druid options. The latter could be phrased more precisely, since the base wild shape is not as precise, but that's a nitpick. Can companions stacked upon another?


Fighters get the ultimate short end of the stick here - bravery and then armor and weapons training. Oh, yes, let me give up half of my feats for that. Monks get unarmed strike at -2 levels, evasion, then ki pool at -2 levels with 1/2 level points, then +3 AC and improved evasion. Paladins must abide by their code, then get detect evil and thereafter, lay on hands, 1/2 level times per day, at level -4. 11th level nets Smite Evil, then we get one mercy and finally, divine bond at level - 3. Antipaladins work, fyi, like the inverse...and don't get a Cruelty but a mercy in a slightly confusing glitch. Rangers get track, then favored enemy, then favored terrain; both woodland stride and swift tracker at 15th level and at 19th level quarry; Woodland stride and swift tracker are gained pretty late here, though I get why. Rogues get trapfinding, then sneak attack (scales every 4 levels), then evasion, at 15th level uncanny dodge (Yay?) and then improved uncanny dodge. Sorcs begin play with a chosen bloodline, but no effects - the first bloodline power is gained at 3rd level, the second at 7th. 11th level nets Eschew Material or a bloodline feat and the last bloodline powers are gained thereafter. Wizards choose a school and then gets a familiar; the chosen school power is gained at 7th level (sans capstone bonus at 20th level), 11th level provides cantrips and 15th level an arcane discovery; 19th level nets the 8th level school power. All sounds familiar? You'll see why in the conclusion...


So, that would be the core-classes and they probably have provided a good inkling of what to expect from this pdf - so from here on out, I'll provide a kind of highlight reel for the rest of the classes, which include the APG; UM, UC and the ACG. Cavaliers get the tactician class feature at 11th level, which seems like a pretty solid place for the ability - similarly, solo tactics fo the inqui is pretty well-placed. Gunslingers lack the grit to actually use the one deed they get, unless they choose a passive one - something btw. extending to the swashbuckler. Oracles are a bit restricted - their revelations have to be drawn from a limited list, which is problematic regarding future-proofing and campaigns using many resources. It's also odd that orisons are gained after revelations. The summoner's eidolon is gained at 7th level. Ninjas are identical to rogues, with the exception that they get poison sue instead of trapfinding - sooner than the alchemist, btw. Samurai get the very powerful resolve-ability at 11th level, which may be too soon. On the plus-side, the investigator's ability-dispersal here is pretty solid. Shamans get their spirit animals pretty soon.


Beyond the base-classes, the pdf also covers prestige classes. At 5th level, you may choose and thus lose the feats gained at 5th, 9th, 13th and 17th level, effectively locking you out of using variant prestige classes and dedicated variant multiclassing (see below) at the same time. EDIT: I'm always for transparency - one keen eye of a fellow Paizonian spotted me botching the previous sentence, with an annoying omission. This has been rectified. Mea Culpa and thanks for the catch!!


Conversely, these prestige variants still have (changed) prerequisites. Alas, things get confusing when spellcasting is thrown in, let's for example take the Eldritch Knight: "At 5th level, he gains new spells per day as if he had also gained a level in an arcane spellcasting class he belonged to before adding the prestige class." Why do I consider this confusing? Well, it makes perfect sense in the base PrC...hwoever, in this system, the character allegedly still belongs to the base class and gets the prestige components IN ADDITION, thus blurring the line between what class he belongs to regarding the gained level. This is further exacerbated by 13th level granting +2 levels of casting progression, which wrecks havoc with how the system works - the variant eldritch knight does not have the level penalty that would necessitate this ability in the first place. Similarly, shadowdancers can get Hide in Plain Sight as soon as 5th level, which is one level sooner than usual. The shadowdancer's darkvision also fails to specify its range - I assume the default, but there are some deviations from it, so yeah.


Okay, where things get pretty tight regarding the mental gymnastics you need to perform is with the dedicated multiclass character advancement - mainly because the explanation of what this system does is extremely lacking: "With this system, characters can give up additional feats to further advance in their secondary class. This system must be used with the variant multiclassing system. Many of the dedicated multiclass options grant the ability to cast spells as spell-like abilities a limited number of times per day. These spells must be selected when the ability is changed, but one spell can be swapped out (losing the ability to cast an existing spell and replacing it with a new spell of the same level) at every odd character level. The character’s caster level is equal to his total level/hit dice." Ohm, so what about classes that do not have more feats? What about those that have more, do they give up all of them? I have riddled my brain for 2 days now regarding how to interpret this and the table, which alternates "Secondary class feature" and "Dedicated secondary class feature" - I think I know how this works: Basically, you give up all feats, but get more class features of the class in question. Why the table notes them as separate entities sans explaining that is a bit beyond me. Think about it as the big brother to the previous system - you give up all feats, but also get more class abilities of the secondary class...though not necessarily sooner, with spell-casting usually working, as per the above, as SPs. Fighters add Weapon Specilization, Disruptive and Greater Weapon Specialization, but still maintain the sequence, when the base variant multiclass's abilities are gained. While the table's alternation is still unnecessarily confusing, the results are pretty decent, though the dedicated options obviously inherit some minor weaknesses from their non-dedicated counterparts - the poor gunslinger still doesn't get grit, for example.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are good, but not up to Rogue Genius Games' usual high standard - I noticed more glitches in here and in a book of this complexity, that hurts. The pdf adheres to RGG's no-frills two-column full-color layout (not the more beautiful, but also more ink/toner-consuming grimoire-style employed by other releases) and the pdf sports a couple of solid full-color artworks - which are beautiful. However, if you're fan of Legendary Games, you'll have seen almost all of the before in various books. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience.


I'll address the elephant in the room first: Yes, I am aware that this is essentially a variant and expansion of Pathfinder Unchained's variant multiclassing. While I'm not a fan of PFU's take on the subject matter, the deviations made in this book do feel justified - and the expansions are, for the most part, welcome. At the same time, I really wished this went one step beyond and balanced the respective variant multiclassing options better than in PFU. While there are some minor improvements in the wording of abilities and details, there are also some unnecessary cut-copy-paste errors here; and I really wished the pdf deviated significantly from the very flawed variant multiclass balancing of the material introduced in Pathfinder Unchained. Fighter and Rogue, for example, once again get the short end of the stick and the monk's benefits also are simply not that pronounced. What we have here, basically is erected on a flawed foundation. Granted, not one with crucial or crippling flaws, but still a foundation that could have used tweaks. What about e.g. archetype qualification via these rules?


I went into this book consciously NOT with PFU open right at my table and started picking this apart as per the my usual guidelines and what you see here is the result. This is by no means a bad book, mind you; in spite of its flaws, I consider it superior to Pathfinder Unchained's basic version and it does cover a broader spectrum, so it has that going for it. At the same time, this book left me feeling like it had squandered a chance to truly streamline and improve the system - a more precise balancing between classes and a slightly tighter explanation of how the dedicated system works would have made this a truly legendary tome. As written, it is a solid system that Jenny Jarzabski has crafted, but also a flawed one. My final verdict will hence clock in at 3 stars.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
The Genius Guide to Variant Multiclassing Rules
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A24: Return to Crypt of the Sun Lord
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/20/2015 03:39:17

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This module clocks in at 41 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 37 pages of content, so let's take a look!


It feels like yesterday when I first reviewed a module that was flawed, but had promise: A1: Crypt of the Sun Lord. The short level 1-dungeon crawl introduced to PCs to a nice little complex and provided some pretty easy challenges...but it also introduced us to the fascinating frontier's village Rybalka, saw some improvement, and, more than that, it already exhibited what I consider the most crucial strength of AAW Games' modules: A mix of action and brain-teasers and, more importantly, an admirable ability to depict cultures that feel "real" - yes, they feel alien and fantastic, but a sense of realism and detail suffuses the best of AAW Games' works that can't help but draw one into the diverse world of Aventyr....though, back then, the world had no official name yet. ;)


Since then, the company has grown by leaps and bounds, so let's revisit the crypt of the sun lord and see what now can be found in the place where the PCs first hands on the mystical blade of the sun lord. It should btw. be noted that the blade of the sun lord, even when you have not played A01, will be found and gets full stats. Before you ask: Yes, this module works even better with groups that have run through A01, now to return here, though this is no requirement. But you may have already guessed that...


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


...


..


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All right, still here? Great! The previously explored upper floor (with a graphically enhanced map) has seen better days - beyond bandits, a sense of dilapidation haunts these halls and thus, the PCs venture forth - and may find that a stair is not what it is supposed to be: The wards that keep a mimic in stair-form suspended in time are about to fall, thus adding a level of danger and eureka-effect to the exploration of groups that have braved A01 back in the day. In Ka'Teek's final resting place, the PCs can now unearth a secret door that leads from the muck-filled, crumbling tomb to the halls below - and here, you'll be blown away. No, really. The lower level not only sports one glorious full-color map, it also has a lavishly-detailed isometric version of the already beautiful map. And yes, the isometric map is full color and drop-dead-gorgeous. I'm talking about as detailed as back in Ravenloft, only in color! A key-less version of this one is provided as well, though I'd only hand out the respective rooms after the PCs have explored them - e.g. traps and the like can still be found on the isometric version's key-less one. Still, this map is gorgeous and greatly enhances the sense of immersion - not that the module required that, mind you.


What do I mean by this? Well, first of all, the exploration of the temple of the sun, hidden here in these depths, does sport bulettes that have dug into the temple...but the temple also has an ingenious intrusion-countermeasure: The very doors of the complex. You see, the exploration itself is an interesting puzzle, with doors preventing the opening of others while open: Some doors can only be opened while others are open and some can only be opened when others are closed. While the puzzle can potentially be brute-forced by capable PCs willing to spend time and resources, exploration with it intact proved to be much more rewarding. I mentioned, in the beginning, the strength, as a company, to create a blending of the fantastic and realistic and indeed: From paralytic flees to spikes of searing light, this oscillation is well-represented in the hazards of this complex. On a cultural note, a fountain of balance that provides boons, but also dishes out pain to those dishonest - and yes, there is a clear and interesting logic to this test of a creature's honesty, one that can be gleaned from experience and one that constitutes a great example of unobtrusive storytelling.


The temple also houses iron-pyrite clad guardian warriors and indeed, the interest of PCs and players and the understanding of the dynamics of the temple may prove to be helpful - for the challenges faced inside are nothing to scoff at: The respective combat encounters are interesting and dangerous with not a single boring one among them. PCs will thus be motivated to actually unearth the methodology of the temple's beliefs - if they understand it, they are rewarded.


Things become, at least in my opinion, even more interesting once the PCs manage to bypass the crysmals and breach the sanctuary - for here, the runes of the ancient people are provided as inscriptions that the players can decipher. I really liked this section, particularly since I can fluently read runes and since we have a pretty simple letter-substitution, so no, your players won't be flustered for a long time, even if they have no idea regarding the meaning of runes. Within the depths of the complex, a secret altar awaits, providing not only a glimpse into ages long past, but also offering perhaps one of the coolest boss fights I've read in a while: The blade of the sun lord can be used to conjure forth the spirit of Ka'Teek - when have you last fought an honorable LG spirit of an ancient priest-king with a blinding aura that also may yield you a better blade? Oh, and this is NOT the end - You see, the temple also hides Ka'Teek's suit, which is the only way to handle the true treasure herein: The Sliver of the Sun. Unprotected exposure to this artifact can lead to many very dangerous effects - and the table of these effects also constitutes a great scavenging ground for more lethal exposure to radiation and the like.


What does the sliver do? Well, it friggin' CHANGES THE CLIMATE. This may break a particularly nasty winter or make a summer truly devastating...and its weaponized use can carry whole campaigns on its own - the potential outcomes presented certainly suggest different ones and can be used by any GM worth his craft to make plentiful follow-up modules. In fact, this could easily be the story for a whole campaign, should you wish to go that route... And yes, if you don't want such a game-changer in your campaign, you can easily destroy the item in a cataclysmic blast...which coincidentally, with minor modification, would make for a compelling adventure in the plane of shadows...


Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no problematic segments. Layout adheres to a beautiful two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience. The book offers a significant amount of gorgeous artwork and the cartography by Tommi Salama and Justin Andrew Mason deserve special mention: The maps are GORGEOUS. The inclusion of an isometric map (including a key-less version of it) render the map-material of this book, at least in my opinion, absolute top-tier; not only regarding 3pps, mind you.


But, know what? All of that wouldn't be enough, were it not for the crucial part - the writing. Jonathan G. Nelson & Stephen Yeardley have surpassed themselves here: The core-authors of AAW Games deliver a perfect culmination of the development of the company in this module: With formal quality turned up to eleven, the duo has retained the unique feeling or realism blended with the fantastic, the fascination for these cultures that makes the module feel like exciting, fantastic and strange archeology. The inclusion of material to occupy one's mind via several unobtrusive puzzles also improves the module's feeling of diversity beyond the varied encounters and hazards. However, the true accomplishment here is, much like in Stephen Yeardley's superb C07: The Sussurus Tomb, the fact that the players are rewarded for engaging in the indirect storytelling the complex offers.


If the above was not ample clue: I LOVE this module! It feels like a great culmination, at least up until now, of the development process of AAW Games as a company and the authors: While retaining the key-strengths of the captivating cultures depicted, the diverse challenges herein are much more streamlined than in previous modules. Better yet, the rewarding of players engaging the indirect storytelling as well as the inspiring end of the module render this one exceedingly well-rounded dungeon, perhaps one of the best in this size out there. My final verdict with clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval and a nomination as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2015 - a wonderful tribute to Cliff "CJ" Jones, to whom this module is dedicated.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
A24: Return to Crypt of the Sun Lord
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Everyman Archetypes: Skald
Publisher: Everyman Gaming, LLC
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/20/2015 03:37:46

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of the Everyman Archetypes-series clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let's take a look!


This book begins with clearly stated explanations of the design-intent, ultimately helping not only the reviewer, but also, and more importantly, the reader - and soon afterwards, we dive into the archetypes. The first of these would be the Blood Skald, who replaces Scribe Scroll with Blood Vigor. More importantly, at 9th level, the archetype gains the ability to spend rounds of raging song in favor of temporary regeneration equal to the blood skald's Str-mod. The intriguing component here, if that does not sound impressive, would lie in the additional benefits regeneration offers over fast healing and similar healing options. Furthermore, action-economy-wise, starting this as a move action (at 14th level: swift action; 19th: immediate action and spend 2 rounds for double effect) renders it a valid set-up that can be used quickly. This ability replaces DR. An interesting alternative - not something flavor-wise awesome, but the mechanics are interesting and change the way the class plays in an adequate manner.


The Chivalric Harbinger gets an order, but must necessarily adhere to the order's tenets. On the rather cool (but also borderline "too powerful for some games") level would be the fact that the skald gets order's song, which lets him not only share teamwork feats via the song (provided he has Tactician), it also extends the order's challenge benefit to the respective allies. While fitting in a high-powered game without cavaliers, this does somewhat cheapen the cavalier's signature challenge's effects, so please beware when using this guy - I know my players would be annoyed by having their unique tricks being made available easily to other characters. Additionally, 5th level and every 6 levels thereafter nets an order ability instead of spell kenning. All in all, a per se cool archetype that may be overshooting the target by a bit, also since being a bit front heavy.


The Jarl Extoller is interesting in that we get two variants of the archetype - one for the base skald and one for the cool unchained version introduced in Everyman Unchained: Unchained Rage. Instead of Scribe Scroll, both get a better aid another. At 4th level, the jarl extoller gets extolling song, which may duplicate inspired rage, controlled inspired rage and song of the fallen, but this special song is limited to one target - the song cannot be maintained at the same time as a regular raging song and draws on the same resource. Activation will scale from standard action to swift action, though inspired rage provides +2 Str and Con in addition to the regular effects when used thus: Basically, you focus on one target and increase the potency of your song. This ability, then, obviously is also one of the abilities that changes appropriately in the unchained version, instead pertaining to temporary hit points and melee attack bonus. Similarly, the 8th level nets an improved controlled inspired rage for the class, including appropriate scaling mechanisms depending on the chassis used. These abilities are paid for with (improved) uncanny dodge. All in all, a nice one - no complaints on my part, added flexibility - I like it!


The Rage Baiter gets Perform (Comedy) and can use it via versatile performance. At 6th level, the archetype may use raging song to antagonize enemies unwilling to be subject to the song's benefits -while not required per se to use this archetype (this works on its own), I love the rules-aesthetic synergy with the stellar psychological combat-rules first premiered in its own pdf, now expanded and collected in Ultimate Charisma. This type of holistic design is really appreciated.


The showboat skald emphasizes acting and comedy over instruments via the modified skill-list and may extend the benefits of the Performing Combatant-feat to allies subjected to the inspired rage raging song. The showboat thus also gets a variation of versatile performance and performance combat feats that can be woven into the effects of the respective raging songs, also enhancing the checks by Str-mod at higher levels. I love this archetype - it's inspired and absolutely flavorful in both style and execution.


The Unarmored Canter may add a scaling, Cha-mod-based (but also tied to the level regarding its scaling) bonus to AC (and CMD), gets no armor proficiencies, fast movement and better drumming/marching song. A cool one in theme and I like the archetype's elegant scaling, but I still wished it had a bit more unique active tricks.


This out of the way, things get truly interesting -the final two pages of the pdf are devoted to equipment tricks for bells, drums, horns and general music instruments: From lucky bells to drumming on shields or the still-attached skulls of your fallen foes to detecting burrowing creatures via your drumming skills, these two pages are where the book truly shines: Not only are these tricks AWESOME, they increase the versatility of not only the skald. What about e.g. infusing a horn with a splash weapon? Yeah, this section is pure gold! The book also provides two solid traits.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good, as I've come to expect from Everyman Gaming. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard and the piece of artwork by Jacob Blackmon is nice - and this time, I'm positive the guys's not a kitsune! (Or at least, he's incognito...) ;) The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Alexander Augunas and Justin Whitley deliver herein what I'd call function-archetypes - basically, we get archetypes that are less defined by a cool flavor or intricate web of new abilities, instead focusing on significant, but pretty much self-contained tweaks of the skald-class's mechanics. This is not a bad thing in itself and the archetypes herein can be combined with others for that effect. The content provided in this book is solid and does its job well - and some of the mechanics are downright awesome to see. At the same time, they did not blow me away to the same extent some of Alex's designs manage and I'm a bit weary of some choices made. This, however, is offset by the excellent equipment tricks-section; in fact, I liked the new tricks here so much, I'd consider them worth the very fair and low price of admission alone. So yeah, if you want to put more emphasis on the instrument, these two pages alone will more than justify this book for you. If, on the other hand, you are less interested in them, you'll lose perhaps the coolest part herein, one of which I admittedly would have loved to see more of. In the end, I will settle on a rating of 4 stars.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Everyman Archetypes: Skald
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U02: Murder in Stoneholme
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/19/2015 03:13:24

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The second module set in the subterranean dwarven city of Stoneholme clocks in at 36 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 32 pages of content, so let's take a look!


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


...


..


.


All right, only GMs left? Great! The waves of supernatural darkness sweeping the city's streets have ebbed away (either as a background info or due to the PCs playing this module's predecessor "Dark Days in Stoneholme), but the dwarven city gets no rest - 3 dwarves have been found cruelly murdered. Now whether the PCs begin the module with a mapped encounter of a perpetrator or by being contacted again by advisor Deppenkhut depends on whether you've played the former module. Both set-ups are solid. In both cases, though, the PCs get some nice tools for the task at hand, a promise of pay and are sent off towards the scenes of the crimes.


In the cellar of the bakery Golden Scone (fully mapped), the PCs can investigate the murder of Hylda Guldbrot; in a small "stonegarden" shared by two families, the PCs can take a look at the remnants of poor Tavis Stonekauter and, in an alleyway, that of Eklya Hearthfall - it is this murder that the PCs have perhaps interrupted in the alternate beginning. During the assembling of these clues, strange things happen, as clouds of shadow appear and e.g. pit the PCs against a shadow drake (with class levels!). They may also meet a bard and relation to Deppenkhut, receive a business-proposal and thus be notified that Deppenkhut's PR-machinery already extols the virtues of the PCs and their involvement - so much for incognito! And indeed, this hasty move may see demonic assassins targeting the PCs! During a progress-meeting in the city's finest restaurant, the PCs will also have a chance to thwart an attack on Deppenkhut, which may cast some doubt on their benefactor's true intents, as his power strikes an assailing foe immediately dead.


Further assassination attempts via caustic spider swarms leave not much time to think, though, and soon, with all the clues collected, the PCs are properly deputized to use secret tunnels to enter the manor of the Flintblade dwarves and catch them in the act, so to speak. Unholy skeletons. Abyssal larvae. Abyssal, shade-touched shadows with class levels. Yes, the tunnels are no cake-walk, but they pale before the fully mapped, quadratic Flintblade manor: Most Flintblades clock in at 4 levels, but that's certainly not the pinnacle here: A small living wall; a powerful thaumaturge, a demon-possessed dwarf (the killer) and a lethal alchemist make for powerful foes - the PCs better used the cramped environments to their advantage, for the manor can be very dangerous - and with the copious demon-worshipping evidence gathered from the manor, the clan can be shut down, thus ending the threats to Stoneholme...right? Right?? (The answer is "No", but that's a story for another module...)


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches or grounds for complaints. The pdf adheres to a beautiful two-column full-color standard and sports several neat pieces of full-color artwork. The book's cartography is, as almost always in AAW Games-modules, great - though I wished the dwarven manor and tunnels had a player-friendly version sans keys. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


After the somewhat weaker previous installment, this second trip to Stoneholme by the pen of Jonathan McAnulty is once again a return to the author's usually pretty impeccable form: From the tunnels to the locales, a lot of underworld/dwarven flavor can be found herein and while you could arguably still run this on the surface world, it would lose a bit of its unique flair. The read-aloud text this time around is clearly and easily distinguishable from the rest of the text, making this one easier to run.


The important thing here, though, is that the module is simply more interesting and capitalizes well on the developments kicked off in the first module, which I strongly advise you to play before this one. Why? While working as a stand-alone, this has an added edge of gravitas and impact when combined with the previous module. The investigation provided is solid and, while not breath-taking in itself, sufficiently detailed for a short module to be fun. The optional encounters provided allow the GM to enliven the fact-gathering with unobtrusive metaplot developments and maintain the desired pace, so modularity-wise, this is neat indeed.


The true shine of this book, though, comes from the challenges posed: Much like its predecessor, this is not a module for the faint of heart - while not unfair or a meat-grinder, the adversaries and their templated, class'd builds mean that you will have quite a fight on your hands. Particularly in the final parts of the module, players should be well aware of the fact that they should act smart - here, dwarven architecture proved to be the star in my game: The cramped, uncommon set-up required some nice tactics from the PCs to prevail. Advanced players will definitely appreciate the challenge and even pros will find some interesting set-ups here. How to rate this, then? While I liked the increased emphasis on underworld-ish components, I couldn't help but feel that player-friendly maps and a slightly expanded investigation (as in: more diverse skill uses than just Diplomacy and Perception...) would have made this even better.


As provided, it is just short of a very good module, clocking in at 4.5 stars, rounded down by a margin to 4. All in all, I'm excited to see the next module and, more importantly, whether it increases in flair and panache like this did over the first one!


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
U02: Murder in Stoneholme
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Chronicle of the Gatekeepers Sidetrek: To Not Serve Man (PFRPG)
Publisher: LPJ Design
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/19/2015 03:11:00

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of the chronicle of the gatekeepers campaign serial clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, 1/2 page advertisement, leaving us with 6.5 pages of content, so let's take a look!


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


...


..


.


Among the races of NeoExodus, few have as bad a reputation as the ominously-named Calibans - the white-skinned creatures can consume their foes to take their strength into them and as such, do not have a particularly nice reputation. Civilization does what civilization does, though - ultimately, it is superior to less developed societies and as such, by now a significant array of these humanoids have become more enlightened, more civilized. These beings are known as the kalisan and the module begins with one of these people arriving in Teryth with dire news: Branded an outcast and expelled from the caliban tribe to which she once belonged, a caliban named Koorka, now turned kalisan, brings news of a vast amount of calibans preparing to raze Teryth to the ground. Unfortunately for her, she lands in prison for her troubles and it'll be up to the PCs to make the populace see - the caliban hunters and their hounds on the heels of Koorka lend further credence to the veracity of her claims.


In any way, time is of the essence: Getting the mayor on their side, the support of the church and springing free Koorka are all valid actions, all with their own consequences - and ultimately, the number of casualties the assault will have depends on the PCs - they will have to stand their ground against the assault of the calibans. After driving back the attack, Koorka is free to go and leaves with warnings of the Vespans... The pdf comes with full stats of calibans and their dogs, a magical, bite-attack-granting item and stats of the caliban bola.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good. Layout adheres to LPJ Design's elegant 2-column full-color standard for the series and the module comes fully bookmarked and in a second, slightly more printer and mobile phone-friendly version.


Michael McCarthy and Louis Porter Jr.'s "Not to Serve Man" has a somewhat interesting twist regarding its name. Over all, I enjoyed the simple basic set-up of this sidetrek and its climax is sure interesting. At the same time, this module is slightly more conventional than most siege scenarios I know: The PCs stand their ground against the waves of the foes and that's basically it - casualties depend on their actions, sure, but unlike other installments in the series, there is less distinction regarding the rewards gained than in other sidetreks and during the siege, there is not much variety in the tasks - just kill the foes, done. No infiltration, no sudden eruptions from underground, no disgusting, plagued meat flinging catapults... Ultimately, this is a good, fun sidetrek, but one that falls slightly short of the best installments of the series. My final verdict will thus clock in at 4 stars.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Chronicle of the Gatekeepers Sidetrek: To Not Serve Man (PFRPG)
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Fear Itself
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/18/2015 04:09:34

An Endzeitgeist.com review


Fear Itself clocks in at 91 pages, 1 page front cover, 3 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, leaving us with 86 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?


This book was moved forward on my review-queue due to me receiving a physical copy in exchange for an unbiased and critical review.


We begin this variant of the GUMSHOE system with a disclaimer that kind of makes me sad for its necessity: Fear Itself is, more so than ToC, Esoterrorists or Night's Black Agents a hardcore horror-game. PCs will die. Uncomfortable topics will be mentioned and explored. The fact that players and GMs buying a horror game have to be notified that horror can be horrific...well, I get why, but still am kind of shocked that we've become this cuddled and unaccustomed to hardship and failure. For those out there that are sensitive to such topics - you have been warned.


Fear Itself takes places in the same world as Esoterrorists, which means that the AWESOME creatures of the Outer Dark, the superb, disturbing aesthetics of the creatures and their themes, remains intact - but the focus is a different one: Where Esoterrorists centered on professionals bringing the fight to the adversaries, Fear Itself's inspiration is clearly the vast plethora of horror movies out there: From slasher movies to psychological dramas to current movies like "It Follows" - and it revels in this inspiration: You see, the premise centers on the PCs playing characters associated with archetypes of the genre - "The Jock," "The Nerd," "The Authority Figure," "The Sexy Girl" - you get the idea.


Now if you've been to any amount of horror movies, you will have noticed certain traits being used to guarantee a character's downfall: This is the best component of this book from a rules-perspective and something that all GUMSHOE games I run feature. I'm talking about Risk factors. Risk factors are traits that may be deemed character flaws - whether it's an unbridled libido, greed, a desire for vengeance or curiosity: Each character has a risk factor, but is, surprisingly, not required to heed it's dictates. There are hard and soft risk factors - and not heeding them incurs a stability loss. This system is VERY smart and works exceedingly well in game - it rewards players for not meta-gaming and still maintains control over the character's urges as opposed to the player trying to ensure that the PC survives. On a nitpicky side: Risk factors are presented at the very beginning, when the respective rules-repercussions of them can be found on page 48 - 4 pages after the begin of the stability rules, so why not directly point towards that rules-information?


PCs also are supposed to have a dark secret - basically, the worst thing the character did...which is kind of realistic. After all, the longer we live, the more likely it is that we fail our own moral compasses. As always, we get points depending on the number of players to invest in investigative abilities. The interesting thing here is that the abilities may be capped: The combat/investigative expert of the group pretty much determined how good other players can be - precisely half as good. If e.g. the police cadet has 8 in shooting, the rest of the PCs can only have a shooting value of 4. If the combat/investigative expert increases the shooting value, the other PCs may increase the value until they reach the half-way point. And yes, rounded down, though explicitly mentioning this wouldn't have hurt. Your second highest rating must be at least half your highest rating. There is another special type of restricted character of which there can only be one per group: The psychic. These characters have special skills like aura reading, being a medium or having strange messengers or premonitions - these abilities, unanimously, are narrative gold and I strongly advise the GM to properly make use of psychic's cool powers. Take Synchronicity: Happy circumstances, unlikely happenstances - this can be used to massive effect. However, psychic powers leave the psychic open to the influence of the outer dark - each time you use a psychic power per session, you increase the difficulty numbers of stability rolls by the number of times you have drawn on your psychic powers. The character also suffers from a flat-out +1 increase to stability difficulty numbers, though I believe that explicitly mentioning whether this stacks or not would have made the rules here more concise.


If you're coming to Fear Itself from another GUMSHOE-game, you'll note something: The severely limited selection of investigative abilities. With characters being flawed everyday guys and gals, it should come as no surprise that even on this basic level, they will have a harder time dealing with the horrible threats they face. This is also emphasized by perhaps the single most important ability in the arsenal of Fear Itself characters: Fleeing. Fleeing can be used to substitute for Athletics when escaping, but not when pursuing...and it is the balancing mechanism for the combat/investigative expert and psychic's additional tricks: All characters but those two get 2 rating points per point invested. Yes, much like in horror movies, the capable characters will have a harder time escaping the horrors.


Now, if the prior emphasis on stability was not ample clue: Yes, Fear Itself does sport "Sources of Stability"-rules and a personal goal you should determine - both not only tie your character to others and places in the world and the guidance for affinities and enmities between PCs helps establish hierarchies and social dynamics: We e.g. all know the following set-up: The jock is together with the sexy girl, but is in love with the good girl. The nerd is in love with the sexy girl, who, however, dislikes the nerd. The good girl, though, has a secret crush on the nerd... Yeah, this may sound simple and is entirely optional, but it does work and can be seen as a fluffy precursor and less complex version of Night's Black Agents betrayal mechanics. The other rules regarding abilities pretty much follow the system you're already familiar with - however, dealing damage in scuffling is pretty hard: Sans proper weaponry, the PCs will be pretty ill-equipped to deal with the horrors they face.


As always in GUMSHOE books, the special requirements on handling clues and structuring the story are well-explained for the GM, alongside simple rules for combat, death, injury - you know the deal by know. More interesting for the GM would be the creatures introduced in this book. For one, we once again get absolutely stunning b/w-artworks for them. Secondly, if you've read my review of Esoterrorists, you'll have an inkling of how friggin' awesome these beings can be. All right, the first creature herein already shows a significant difference in comparison to the adversaries faced in Esoterrorist-games: The Mystery Man. What does this guy do? Well, think Phantasm's Tall Man...or Q with a personality that would make Pinhead blush with indignation: This godlike adversary has practically infinite powers and one grand motivation: Ocean Game, i.e. driving mortals insane for his own sickening pleasure (and the thinning of the membrane)... The second creature featured herein, the Ovvashi, is no less disturbing, but better suited as a short-term adversary than the BBEG-mystery man: The Ovvashi would be a deadly, unpleasant demon that has a face of all mouth - no eyes, no nose, just a thing clad in rags...and the thing is recruiting beggars, making the unfortunate into its beholden minions and servitors. And it smokes your soul. Literally. It can SMOKE YOUR SOUL. That's so disturbing... This creature is awesome and, if this and Esoterrorists are any indicator of the monster quality, the adversary book must indeed be superb.


As in other GUMSHOE-books, we do get advice for players and GMs, but it is provided after the monsters - which is something I noticed here: Compared to the other GUMSHOE-games I've been playing, Fear Itself's organization feels less intuitive and, sometimes, a tad bit confusing. For example, shouldn't the stability rules and explanations of the mechanics be found sooner? A concept is fine, sure, but as presented, you begin with fluff, then choose mechanics, then the next chapter explains the rules of the system like damage, stability, etc. - over all, this makes the presentation feel more fragmented and less intuitive than in similar GUMSHOE titles. And yes, I understand that this is in line with other GUMSHOE-game rules presentations, but in this book, I had the distinct feeling that, if you're not familiar with the rules yes, you may end up being somewhat confused. The general GUMSHOE-rules chapter also blends rules for PCs and GMs - again, understandable; but the advice for clue structure etc. imho belongs to the GM chapter, not in the player-section. Then, the awesome monsters come and THEN, we get GM and player-advice? Structure-wise, this is extremely unfortunate, since players should NOT read the entries of the monsters and their interesting weaknesses. So yes, presentation-wise, this one does feel a bit more confused than its brethren.


However, there is one point wherein Fear Itself manages to reach the perfect level of drool-worthy awesomeness of Esoterrorists: The sample scenario. I am not engaging in hyperbole when I'm saying that the sample scenario is by far the best I've ever read in a given campaign setting. No, really. It is not the perfect sandbox-set-up of Esoterrorist's Station Duty, but the module is brilliant in many ways.


You do NOT want to spoil this scenario, so if you ever want to participate in it, PLEASE jump to the conclusion.


...


..


.


Only GMs left? Sure you want to SPOIL yourself? Really sure? All right.


So, the sample module provided herein begins with the PCs in a van, en route to a game-changer of an event. You see, CEO-wunderkind Cory Sluman, brilliant financial wizard and eccentric nerd, has established an array of interconnected setups to make his latest vision come true: He wants to establish LARP as a competitive sport and the PCs have an invitation to the inaugural event - for one reason or another, they need the money prize - they need to win. The set-up is as smart as you can possibly be: The PCs are all nerds, played by nerds: All those roleplaying jokes, Monty Python references...they make sense in game. This also immediately generates a connection between players and PCs as they banter, establish character-relations etc. - and then, suddenly, a van comes careening towards them, almost crashing into them. In the aftermath of the accident, the crew of the other van perishes and, as the PCs try to save them and the aftermath with the authorities is resolved, they may note a strange figure in the distance, cat-like fluorescing eyes staring.


But the game must go on - and the PCs arrive late, are almost disqualified...and meet a group that contains all the people you and your players love to hate in real world contexts. These rivals add a further human dimension to the happenstances that are about to unfold: For the LARP escalates horribly: As the PCs try to roleplay their characters (LOVE this meta-level!) in the context of Sluman's fantasy world, psyches start breaking apart and violence continuously escalates. Worse, all but the PCs seem to be oblivious to any results of the violence they participate in. Oh, and the PCs have foam swords. And LARP-pew-pew spells. Congratulations, this will be truly nasty... But whether the PCs blow the whistle or not, the event will end at some point...and if you're playing at a convention, this is where the adventure ends.


If not, though, then insanity has just started. You see, the strange occurrences do not end and the mysterious figure is still haunting them...and things become more sinister: The people that perished en route to the event? Well, investigation into their backgrounds reveals no easy connection: Different characters, social circles, no shared hobbies - only by researching those left behind in lavishly-detailed sections, the PCs can determine the unifying factors: For one, a change in personality and growing paranoia; and, more subtly, a theme of dogs...which leads towards the "Kozy Kennel", property of one Alex Ibragimbekov - while he tries to bullshit the PCs, he confesses soon: The practically unstoppable entity that goes by the moniker Hungerwood which has plaguing the PC's predecessors and now them, has been tormenting the poor man ever since he was a child.


The entity only changes targets when it can find a sufficiently dark spot on the souls of his victims to be (remember the dark secret?)... Oh, and he thinks he has found a way with the help of the deceased to stop Hungerwood or at least drive him away - for this insane purpose, he is torturing dogs to create the "Silent Howl," a ritual supported by a sound file of high-frequency howls that may at least temporarily stop Hungerwood - but are the PCs willing and desperate enough to capitalize on something so undoubtedly vile and disturbing? Probably, at this point - and so, the ritual commences in an unique, intriguing climax...that comes with a nasty aftertaste, as Alex is found dead...and Hungerwood's defeat proves to be short-lived or just another part of his macabre game...


The book concludes with a character sheet, a handy sheet called matrix of misery that lets the GM keep tabs on PCs and a detailed index.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column b/w-standard and the book sports numerous, gorgeous b/w-artworks of the highest caliber. The book's print edition is a nice softcover with glossy covers and high-quality paper. The pdf-version is something I would recommend only to a lesser extent: The lack of bookmarks the electronic version sports constitutes a significant comfort detriment, particularly considering the more spread-out presentation of the rules.


Robin D. Laws' Fear Itself is, and let me state that loud and clear, an EXCELLENT game. At the same time, the GUMSHOE system as depicted herein also represents the most disjointed of the presentations when compared to the other books I've covered and minor rules-ambiguities can be found here and there. While this does not cripple the book, it does detract a bit from its user-friendliness for novices to the system - which is a pity. Why? Because the Fear Itself, as a system, lends itself, like the horror movies it emulates, works best for brief campaigns and one-shots: The lethality of this iteration of GUMSHOE and the scope of the system is geared towards this...or towards prologue/first chapter-style gameplay.


The perfect way to use this book, at least in my opinion, is to lead into a longer campaign: The hapless PCs witness the horrible things about to happen and there we go: After several encounters, they are recruited into the OV, properly trained and now use Esoterrorist-rules, supplemented by some from this book. (And yes, in this instance, I'd slowly unlock the more action-packed spy-rules from Night's Black Agents as the PCs become more and more professional threats to the creatures of the Outer Dark and the vampiric conspiracy...)


Beyond even this use, one can also look at Fear Itself as the ultra-gritty version of GUMSHOE: Want to play a truly low-powered Esoterrorists-game or a Dustier-than-dust-mode Night's Black Agents-game? Scavenge the fleeing rules and the power-level. Even beyond such a model, the psychic powers may be a great addition to your game and the sources of stability/risk factor-mechanics offer A LOT of inspiring material that works just as well in more pulpy contexts. So while the presentation of the rules may not be as refined, the actual rules themselves are inspired in all the right ways.


The 2 monsters, the implied and extremely compelling Esoterrorists-world and the SUPERB scenario included herein also constitute excellent reasons to get this book. Fear Itself is a thoroughly compelling, excellent book, though one that is slightly more flawed than its brethren. Still, I wouldn't ever want to miss this book and its contents among my library and can whole-heartedly recommend it. While incapable of being able to rate this the full 5 stars due to the slightly confused presentation and the electronic version's lack of bookmarks, I can still rate this 4.5 stars + seal of approval, rounded up...However, only for the print version. The electronic version's lack of bookmarks exacerbates the aforementioned issues and should be considered only 4 stars and loses the seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fear Itself
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U01: Dark Days in Stoneholme
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/18/2015 04:04:37

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This underworld introductory adventure clocks in at 30 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 26 pages of content, so let's take a look!


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


...


..


.


All right, still here? Great!


So, we begin in the subterranean dwarven city of Stoneholme (which comes with a schematic map), generally a pretty hospitable place as far as the underworld is concerned, though here, as well, the forces of evil just wait for goodness to stumble: A sect of Dispater-worshipping devil-cultists has put into place a series of machinations to bring the city wholly under Dispater's control. And, as befitting of master-schemers of infernal patronage, the basic plan does not directly involve them - instead, the PCs are brought together by circumstance, as they witness one particular version of the strange phenomena that have haunted Stoneholme - this would be waves of supernatural darkness that even clouds darkvision - the PCs meet at the intersection (fully mapped) of two minor streets -as suddenly, a wave of darkness sweeps the terrain. Children scream, afraid. And suddenly, as the darkness lifts, fiendish shadow-rats and a fiendish lesser shadow make for a demanding first encounter - with abilities to temporarily become incorporeal, the NPC carrying holy water should make for a welcome addition to the party's efforts. If the PCs do not immediately jump at the chance to investigate this strange phenomenon, the subsequent 3 minor combat encounters will do that...


Anyways, the morning after the initial combat, the PCs receive an invitation to dinner with one influential individual - Shtawn Deppenkhut, advisor to the king. (Slightly ironic for Germans - "Depp" means "idiot" in German...) - he does offer them compensation and points them towards an abandoned glassworks, where, purportedly, darkness is lasting, rather than just a wave. He gives them a pendant, holy water and send the PCs towards the dilapidated glassworks, where the PCs can find a darkness-maintaining gem and test their mettle against more shadowy creatures as well as a shadowy dretch - it seems like the forces of the abyss are involved.


Indeed, with the help of advisor Deppenkhut, the gem and demonic influence point towards the Sandstone Warrens, where a particular tribe of goblins is allegedly known to have created such gems - in order to reach the warrens, the PCs will have to scale a massive wall of razor-sharp slag, brave earth-infused spiders, not get eaten by vampiric mist and finally, clear the Felltooth goblin's temple - a fortified, relatively dangerous environment with dark-infused adversaries as well as a templated human wererat high priest. The dungeon is solid, though I do not get why we don't get a player-friendly map of the warren as usual. It is here, the PCs can find nuggets of solid, supernatural darkness and hints that point towards the involvement of the Flintblade dwarves... How all of that turns out, though, is another story.


The pdf also sports the new CR+1 dark-blessed template.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches, though the read-aloud text is not as clearly ffset as in most AAW Games-modules, requiring closer scrutiny of the non-boxed text. Not a detriment, mind you, just something to be aware of. The pdf's layout adheres to a gorgeous two-column standard and the book sports nice artworks (though you may know some from Rise of the Drow, since that book also features Stoneholme as a sidetrek). The pdf's cartography is great, though I'm a bit saddened by the dungeon's map not coming with a player-friendly version.


Jonathan McAnulty can write. Seriously, when I read the premise for this module, you couldn't have imagined me more blasé about it. So, shadowy-foes, gobbos, a sprinkling of outsiders? Oh, haven't heard that one before. /sarcasm I was pretty surprised by several things: One, this module dares to challenge the PCs. The shadowy foes are not just the obligatory boss - they're the main antagonists. While the goblins and their creatures remained okay, the boss of the module is BRUTAL. Seriously, this module may sound all cutesy from the premise and it isn't long. It's much harder than it looks at first glance.


And it plays much better than you'd imagine. While the subterranean backdrop could have imho had significantly more influence on the story (you could run this on the surface sans major modifications...), it is ultimately Jonathan McAnulty's skill at adventure-crafting that saves this book from being only average - it plays much better than anticipated and in fact has me excited for more. At the same time, you have to be aware that the unique darkness-wave-effects could have been used more extensively and in ways that further increase the dynamics of the combat, when herein, they fall slightly short of their own potential. My final verdict, hence, will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 due to in dubio pro reo.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
U01: Dark Days in Stoneholme
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Knowledge Check: Thieves' Cant Dictionary
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/18/2015 04:02:20

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of the Knowledge Check-series clocks in at 14 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 9 pages of content, so let's take a look!


So, this is something different. As you all may know, I'm a bit obsessed with languages and sociolects - I've been pretty vocal in my love of the inclusion of slang in Fat Goblin Games' PWYW Carnival of Sinners. This inexpensive book provides essentially a number of words you can use to make your underworld feel more unique. While some of the words are pretty obvious ("bene" meaning "good", for example), there are quite a few intriguing slang words herein: A "Holy Lamb" is, for example, a thoroughly despicable villain; "Jibber the Kibber" is the practice of using a horse and a lantern to make ships run aground. Oh, and "lacing" something means to beat someone.


While some words herein are simply that, others inspire regarding the practice to which they refer: "leggers" e.g. sell low-quality goods, purportedly smuggled goods, and thus avoid repercussions for the bad quality of their merchandise. Knowing about "Hangman's Wages" may also prove useful within the consistency of your game-world.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to an easy-to-read, beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Artwork is sparse, but fitting.


Richard D. Bennett provides a damn cool little dictionary here - the practices and words herein can inspire and certainly help you make your depictions of the seedy underbelly of your campaign more exciting. What's here, is certainly awesome, particularly for the low price point. At the same time, I really wished this was longer and that it had some invented, new fluff to account for the different reality of most fantasy settings - words for halflings, goblins, magic and sorcerous pursuits would have been much appreciated, at least by me. What we do get here is a nice glimpse at real world thieves' cant for a low price and as such, this is a nice book - my final verdict hence will clock in at 4 stars.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Knowledge Check: Thieves' Cant Dictionary
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Deadly Gardens Volume 2: Blood Rose Swarm
Publisher: Rusted Iron Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/17/2015 11:16:56

An Endzeitgeist.com review of the revised edition


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


We begin this supplement with supplemental alchemical items, the first of which renders plant creatures dormant for a time - nice one!


Clearwater Drops can be used to purify water - I like those. I have gone on record time and again, stating that DR is overvalued in PFRPG - thus, the 40 gp Tough-skin Oil, which nets you DR 2/slashing for 10 minutes for 40 gp may be a powerful item which I'd personally price at twice or thrice that, depending on your campaign's power-level, is still a nice notion - underpriced though it may be in my book. Finally, we get a fertilizer that nets a plant creature fast healing 2 for 10 minutes. On a nitpicky side, the wording here implies that it takes a different action to apply the Vita Grow fertilizer if you're applying it not to yourself, but that's just nitpicking - much like the fact that I would have enjoyed a guideline for what intelligence is required for plants to apply items to themselves - per default, I assume the trick-guidelines for Handle Animal, but a slight clarification would still have been nice.


The Blood Rose Swarm itself comes with an impressive, hand-drawn b/w-artwork and clocks in as a CR 2 plant swarm. Blood Roses emit an alluring scent that can fascinate targets and their attacks carry with them a poisonous blood thinner. The swarm is also naturally camouflaged and may move faster through vegetation, offsetting the usual problem plant creatures have regarding mobility. It should be noted that the toxin is also depicted as a refined poison for your convenience.


Now hereafter is easily my favorite section in this pdf - as much as I enjoyed the critter -we get rules for low level sinkholes and rockslides as hazards and no less than 5 different terrain types - from scree to kudzu and dense thickets, these can neatly enhance many an encounter beyond the scope of this pdf - neat!


The final page covers two magical items, the first of which would be the Cloak of Fallen Leaves - made from autumnal leaves, it grants the wearer concealment versus AoOs incurred by movement, while Quickgrow Beans generate easily scalable beanstalks 40 ft. high - the spell duplicated by this Jack-inspired item has not been italicized.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting, while not perfect, can still be considered good. Layout adheres to Rusted Iron Games' two-column full-color standard and the piece of original artwork is sweet indeed for such an inexpensive pdf. The pdf now even has bookmarks!


Russ Brown's second Deadly Garden is in many ways more experimental than the first - the creature is more complex and the items are a bit more far out. While personally, I bemoan the lack of power components herein, the hazards and terrain-types provided can be considered absolutely worthwhile - as far as supplemental material goes, this delivers more than its asking price. Indeed, at this point, I find myself intrigued regarding more installments in the series: There is quite some potential here, particularly for fans of the Witcher games and those of us that prefer a more down-to-earth, organic, low-magic type of gameplay. My final verdict, in spite of the minor rough edges, will, again, clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval - definitely a well-invested buck here!


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Deadly Gardens Volume 2: Blood Rose Swarm
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Deadly Gardens Volume 1: Phoenix Lily
Publisher: Rusted Iron Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/17/2015 11:13:17

An Endzeitgeist.com review of the revised edition


The first supplement released by Rusted Iron Games clocks in at 5 pages, 1 page front cover, 1/2 page of SRD, leaving us with 3.5 pages of content, so let's take a look!


The Deadly Gardens-series obviously depicts uncommon plant creatures at an affordable price - the creature herein being the Phoenix Lily - but before we dive into that one, I should mention the two magic items provided in the beginning, the first of which elicited a "D'OH, why didn't I think of it?"-response - the Specimen Jar allows you to collect sample, which then remain fresh - whether it's volatile, fast decaying material of the foes you research, seeds of odd plants or something different. Nice one! The second one, the Fecund Totem, greatly increases plant-growth and even enhances plant-creatures - the presence of such an item may provide an interesting tactical component to a given fight - or act as a quest item to combat a particularly nasty blight.


The creature - well, Phoenix Lilys clock in at CR 4 - and generally, are interesting: The plants can emit devastating scorching rays and have an inherent resistance to fire, one, which, when surpassed, may result in the plant exploding. The creature is nice, fun and comes with a gorgeous b/w-pencil-drawn artwork I did not expect from such an inexpensive, short pdf.


The supplement does not end here, though -instead, we get a short primer on harvesting natural items - including, obviously, the phoenix lily's volatile blossoms as well as fire beetle glands, basilisk blood and shambler wafers. I thoroughly enjoy this take on harvesting monsters etc. - I've been basing my main campaign's whole crafting system around the harvesting of the like - so yeah, awesome, particularly now that the presentation has been further streamlined. Even cooler, the pdf takes Basilisk's Blood and Phoenix Blossoms and codifies them as power components - with different effects for various spells, whether if used as focus or material component - a phoenix blossom used with burning hands, for example, renders the spell's area of effect a 20-ft.-line. This is intriguing and supplements the notion of the magical world well - kudos!


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to a nice, printer-friendly two-column full-color-standard and the pdf now is fully bookmarked. The pdf's artwork is gorgeous and deserving of praise, especially considering the low price point.


Russ Brown's first offering is a pretty impressive one - this small pdf provides an interesting adversary, some nice botany-themed option and goes a step beyond what would be required regarding the immersion-enhancing aspects of rooting (haha) a creature within the world by tying it into items, magic, etc. For the low asking price, this is a fun, neat supplement that makes me look forward to the next supplements. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Deadly Gardens Volume 1: Phoenix Lily
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Fearsome Foes: The Ravenous
Publisher: Rusted Iron Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/17/2015 11:06:52

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The first installment of Rusted Iron Games' fearsome foes-series clocks in at 5 pages, 1 page front cover, 1/2 page SRD, leaving us with .5 pages of content, so let's take a look!


This pdf's premise is pretty straight-forward - to deliver monster codex-style statblocks of creatures - this time featuring two ogres from the eponymous, roving horde of straightforward ogre-marauders. The first of these creatures would be the ogre depicted on the cover, one Kurhn Bonecrusher - a CR 13 brute that has, built-wise, had his HD increased and the barbarian creature template applied.


The second ogre would be Urusk the Iron turtle, named thus for the preference of heavy armor - and his discipline, for the ogre has 5 fighter levels.


Supplementing these two characters would be two magic items, the first being the merciless maiden, a magical greatclub made from a marble statue of a woman (COOL!) that allows for a 90°-variant of whirlwind attack by foregoing all attacks. (If one were to nitpick this, one could state that foregoing all attacks could use further clarification, but the intent is clear and so this gets a pass.) The other item is a truly nasty rattle - this one can change cure spells in the proximity into inflict spells 3/day. I really love this concept, but in practice, this is kind of problematic - while powered as an immediate action and action-wise, the item is pretty solid. EDIT: The item has been cleaned up and now works well.


The unfortunate layout-choice in teh previous version has been taken care of. On the plus-side, beyond these solid hooks, the pdf also sports 5 different sample encounters that utilize creatures from the Monster Codex alongside statblocks provided herein.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are pretty good, I noticed no relevant glitches. Layout adheres to a pretty printer-friendly two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports a cool, original b/w-artwork of Kurhn -especially nice in such an inexpensive pdf. The pdf comes fully bookmarked.


Russ Brown's first fearsome foes provide decent builds - personally, I think class-levels would have suited Kurhn a tad bit better, but that may just be me. It should be noted that the statblock does contain the base stats, assuming raging as default. Personally, I would have preferred a slightly higher degree of optimization, but that's just me being a prick. I do like the supplemental items, though the wording, while not bad in any way, is still not as precise as I'd like it to be. The insertion of the statblocks, which cuts the adventure hook-section in two, also felt jarring to me.


All in all, this is a good pdf for the low asking price - the fixing of the skull rattle nets this +0.5 stars, for a final verdict of full 4 stars.


Endzietgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Fearsome Foes: The Ravenous
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101 Shadow and Darkness Spells (PFRPG)
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/17/2015 04:30:51

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The fourth installment of Dave Paul's thematic spell-collections clocks in at 47 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 42 pages of content, so let's take a look!


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


We begin this supplement with a piece of information that makes you appreciate the things to come - namely, a list of diverse lighting conditions - 8, to be precise. Does this terminology seem overly complicated to you? It's actually not - it simply codifies what's already out there in proper terms. The darkness you can only see through with magical aid? Jep, that one has no its own concise terminology. Spells affecting the shadows of targets also offer an issue - where is the shadow? How long is it? An easy default-ruling plus GM-empowerment-statement result in a basic framework that is more solid than what I expected going into this book.


After the massive array of spell-lists (including, obviously, the ACG-classes), we dive into the respective spells - and fret not, there are quite a few spells and effects herein that deal with light as well: E.g. better sight in good light conditions that can be expended for a bonus to saves vs. blindness etc. Taking a cue from the Dark Souls-game-series, Cloud of Fire and Shadow (erroneously called Cloud of Shadow and Flame below the gorgeous artwork depicting it) provides a nasty, powerful terrain control that not only sets up shadowy terrain, it also can deal negative levels and fire damage and even move the cloud around - OUCH. Absolutely awesome - contrast orbs that allow you to modify lightning condition, move it around and utilize the orb to generate contrasts to the lightning conditions caused. It also provides a significant array of catch-terminology for all kind of movement and cases that would have generated gaping rules-holes in the hands of a less capable designer.


It should be noted that this attention to detail, which ultimately renders the spells very precise and versatile, also extends to the spells utilized to creating light and shadows. Want your own shadow plane pocket dimension? The spell is in this book. Want to go nova and blast foes with dazzling rays emitting from your body? There's a spell for that - one that may be chosen as a sun domain spell. Want to condemn a target to emit supernatural darkness, which not even darkvision can penetrate? Yes, the spell is in this pdf. Speaking of curses: Cursed to Walk in Shadow is narrative platinum, nay, mithril. You curse a target- whenever the creature walks in bright light for too long, there is a chance the creature slips into an eerie duplicate of the surroundings, shifting to the shadow plane. If you need any guidance why that's creepy, may I point towards the Silent Hill games...only the duration is shorter for each trip. Still, this spell is incredibly awesome and could carry a whole campaign. Absolutely glorious and perhaps one of the most intriguing spells from a narrative point of view.


Of course, more combat-relevant spells for quicker movement in shadows (can I get a "Nice!" from the Dishonored-fans out there?) to magic-impeding darkness, these spells offer a vast array of tactical and narrative options.


What about the long overdue darkness-based mirror of daylight powerlessness? Indeed, the spell is in this book and the quality it bestows should be scavenged for monster-creation rules...and it should have been part of the base rules from the get-go. Granted, though - not all spells reach this abject level of awesomeness - there are some variants like shadow-centric dispels I consider to be slightly less compelling and more like variants. Immediate action steps into the shadow plane for 1 round can also be considered rather intriguing, opening a new array of tactical options for the characters employing these spells. Want to glamer your shadow or assume the form of a darkmantle? There are spells for this around here...


Among the most powerful spells herein - what about making a target carry, literally a piece of the night sky with him alongside the darkness - which makes this both a curse and a blessing, the latter primarily for the undead... Supernaturally clear sight is powerful - but at higher level, it gets awesome: What about a spell that conceivably allows you to grant such a power to vast amounts of allies, allowing e.g. armies to combat invisible foes? Communal spells and a shadow-based blinking effects (with unique rules), shadow or light-based force-explosions or stripping a target of its shadow provide unique benefits that resonate well with the tropes we all know and love. What about gazing to the stars to detect creatures, as the lines between stars, silvery and shining, guide your intuition? Fantastic visuals.


Speaking of which: If your shadow touches a creature, you can switch places with it via shadow transposition...and if you can't see the vast tactical potential here, I can't help you. Speaking of which - there is a high-level spell to pit a vast area into perpetual darkness...which is an apt and awesome final spell for this book.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches of significance. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing's classic full-color 2-column standard with a purple-ish tint and the book comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. the book sports numerous gorgeous full-color artworks.


This book is more than a return to form for author Dave Paul...though that may be the wrong way to put it. Basically, the first two books are pretty much my reference-level of what an awesome spell-book should be. The third fell slightly short of this echelon-level of awesomeness. This one, quite frankly, surpasses them. Yes, there are some minor hiccups here. Yes, some of the variants are not that awesome.


But I am not engaging in hyperbole when I'm saying that no other spell-book has inspired me to the extent this pdf managed. There are spells herein that not only will be a vast boon to each light/darkness-themed character, the book also sports concise terminology and several spells that conspire to allow you to create effects for campaigns: Whether you want a vampiric domain of eternal dark, a narrative of Silent hill-style cursed characters, Plane of Shadows-related awesomeness - this pdf delivers.


To an extent, where I actually think it transcends the limitations of its own focus, of its genre. This book can conceivably be read not only as a cool expansion to e.g. the arsenal of Ascension Games' "Path of Shadows" or as a mechanical scavenging ground to get inspiration for more material for Interjection Games' Antipodism-designs; this book actually could conceivably be considered a selection of spells that allow you to depict creatures of shadow, whether they be shadow fey, dark creepers or shadar-kain, as thoroughly unique. Beyond even that, I maintain that the spells herein can carry whole modules, perhaps even whole campaigns. This is one of the few spell-books out there that can be considered to be so inspired it may be worth the effort to change modules and perhaps even plotlines to utilize it - it's that good. This is the most inspiring spell-book I've laid my eyes on in quite a while - and well worth a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval. It is also a candidate for my Top Ten of 2015. If you like the theme in any shape, way or form, then this is a must-have, inspired book.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
101 Shadow and Darkness Spells (PFRPG)
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Chronicle of the Gatekeepers Sidetrek: In His Bad Books (PFRPG)
Publisher: LPJ Design
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/17/2015 04:27:05

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of the chronicle of the gatekeepers campaign serial clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, 1/2 page advertisement, leaving us with 7.5 pages of content, so let's take a look!


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


...


..


.


All right, only GMs around? Great! Just because you're a creepy, poisonous scorpion-person doesn't mean you don't have feelings, right? Large-Biter, the sassori-contact of the PCs as they investigate the incursion of the Vesparans into NeoExodus, has a past - and this time around, it's a delicate matter. You see, the sassori's former adventuring companions split after he confessed his love to the Cynean (crystal-person, for NeoExodus-newbies) conjuror of his group. Yep, the cynean is a man, so we have a queer romance backdrop here - personally, that is something I enjoy to see. And no, this is not something particularly dominant or the central theme here, but still - nice to see some diversity here.


Anyways, the Cynean Raxe has his own issues, as will become readily apparent upon the PCs finding his cottage, built around a dormant Nexus Gateway: There is a stone pedestal outside, and in it, you can see A BARBED DEVIL. Yep, CR 11. No, the PCs should NOT try to kill him...or...well, they kind of should. You see, when the Nexus Gateway flared to life, Raxe summoned the creature, but had it locked in the circle. Unfortunately for him, he lost the book containing the means to dispel the devil to clumsiness and the machinations of a nasty imp and has been locked inside his safe room ever since. (Which btw. is the only component along the access tunnel to it not mapped.)


The PC's task is clear - Stop the annoying imp and get the formula book...or find the well-hidden dispel-roll buried in the garden (taking anti-detection spells into account - kudos!!) and get rid of the devil. Sure, they could also haggle with it OR destroy it from afar with the proper strategy (it's what my PCs did), but at this level, all such options are potentially dangerous. Raxe is thankful for being freed from this predicament and has a nice ritual to open Nexus Gateways to share alongside a warning (and yes, if they elect to kill him instead, there is an alternative to get the info), thus leaving this sidetrek with a crucial piece of information and some interesting insight into their employer's past. A new magic item is also included.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good, though at one time, the GM-only part of the text refers to the devil as a demon...yeah, I know, nitpickery...Layout adheres to LPJ Design's elegant 2-column full-color standard for the series and the module comes fully bookmarked and in a second, slightly more printer and mobile phone-friendly version. Tommi Salama's map of the cottage is glorious and the added inclusion of a player-friendly map is much appreciated.


Set-up-wise, this is probably the most boring of the CotGK-sidetreks I've read so far, but it played as the most interesting: First of all, we have CHOICE and player-agenda: This is a mini-sidebox that very much leaves how to handle it up to the players. There are ample choices to deal with the threat in various ways and variations of the two major approaches to handle the issue. It's also a good module in that it emphasizes a sense of caution and shows the PCs that not every threat can be defeated by brawns alone. Yes, the backdrop may not be particularly exciting, but the playing-quality of this one is high - it's basically a big puzzle-encounter that can be solved in various ways - and for that, I really like it! My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Chronicle of the Gatekeepers Sidetrek: In His Bad Books (PFRPG)
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The Assimilation Strain (Pathfinder)
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/16/2015 12:34:52

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This was moved up on my queue at the request of my players.


The prologue-adventure for Legendary Games' Sword and Planet-AP clocks in at 42 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, 1 page editorial introduction leaving us with 32 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?


While this module is designed to act as a prequel for the massive Legendary Planet AP, it also easily works on its own. The following being a review of an adventure, the following does contain SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.


...


..


.


All right, still here? Whether to reclaim family property, at the behest of a seer or due to some other hook, the PCs find that their first journey has brought them to the otherwise pretty unremarkable village of Holver's Ferry (fully mapped, btw.) - but even at the ferry leading into the town, across a swift river leading into lake Shimmermere - alas, the drunken ferryman has no good fate in store: While he tried to quarantine the village, he failed - and he is about to pay the price, as psychotic villagers hack him apart. Oh yes, enter the PCs. Unresponsive and clearly driven mad, the PCs have to defeat the bloodthirsty villagers in a thematic callback that made me remember Resident Evil 4 - in all the right ways. Crossing the river one way or another, the impression that Holver's Ferry has been hit by some tragedy pretty much becomes apparent.


A sense of apocalyptic dread, piece by piece, encounter by encounter, will slowly seep into the consciousness of PCs and players alike, as a depressed widow endeavors to commit suicide, as they explore abandoned houses that look like their inhabitants have simply evaporated - something is odd. Hanged people dangle from the town's sacred oak and child survivors hide from anyone out there. The local inn shows signs of struggle, of desperate defense - and a man who had locked himself in, now just as bloodthirsty and dangerous as the first farmers encounetred. Things have become so bad that even goblinoids have entered the village. The priest is insane and burning undead can be found among the village's houses - a sense of grim doom has come to Holver's Ferry, and as the PCs find the halfling berserker (berserker Zimm - boy did I laugh when reading that one!), the gnome apothecary who retained his wits or draw the conclusions due to the hints left in the sheriff's office - the dread mystery needs to be solved.


This sandboxy horror section is well-presented and offer multiple means to draw the PCs further into the topics, whereafter the trail leads towards the Orphanage of mother Oddle. You see, what has happened here is an unlikely and far-out scenario: An invader from another world has engineered a mind-reprogramming bio weapon, the eponymous assimilation strain. Alas, the targeted viral strain's first iteration proved to yield a temporary, highly infectious burn-out rate and chaotic, terrible symptoms - the ones the PCs have witnessed firsthand in the horror at the town. The dread invader, a vanguard of the planned invasion, has since perfected a better strain of the virus and infected one powerful lumberjack, Silam Oddle - controlled by a disgusting, black tumor-like lump at the back of his neck, the PCs can save him, yes - but perhaps they have to take the poor man down. Beyond that, have I mentioned that his mother's mummified remains still remain in her room? Yes, creepy.


Rexel, the gnome alchemist, in the meanwhile, has probably gone missing, abducted by an adherer made from the remains of the town's erstwhile, missing sheriff. The trail leads towards Arvarenhode Manor's ruins, where the catacombs await under the rubble - provided the PCs can best the deadly creatures inhabiting the upper part of the ruins. In the catacombs, the PCs may save Rexel, battle the adherer and navigate a complex inhabited by a cool, uncommon selection of adversaries, with thematically-awesome descriptions and rooms. Finally, defeating the xoraphond creature behind the dread conflict ends the jagladine empire's invasion plan, while also providing a first taste of the things to come. The pdf concludes with alien technology (Technology Guide-compatible) and the new creature and two templates provided.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch - the book has been further streamlined from its original inception. Layout adheres to a beautiful two-column standard that is still pretty printer-friendly, with copious amounts of full-color high-quality artworks for each major player in the storyline. It should also be noted that the layout does not try to generate more pages by wide margins - there is a lot of information on each page, making the module more detailed and longer than you'd expect from most modules of this page-count - in my playtest, it took my exceedingly fast group 2 sessions to clear this module. About 90% of 32-page modules tend to be finished in 1 session, so yeah - quite a bunch of content. Cartography is beautiful and plentiful - and a massive art and map folio constitutes a huge array of handouts and options to directly show your players the maps or cut them up and use them as handouts. I hate being a complaining whiner, but one thing does become obvious with this art and map folio, though: A tad bit higher resolutions would have been appreciated for the maps etc. - you can see some pixels. The adventure comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Tom Phillips has, slowly but surely, become one of my go-to authors regarding any scenario that provides horror, challenge and mystery - he knows his craft. Add Neil Spicer and the duo has created one awesome, damn cool low-level module that is challenging, potentially a bit disturbing and interesting. With a diverse, uncommon array of enemies that never falls into the bland 1st level routines, a mix of sandbox and dungeon-exploration, this module provides quite a bunch of cool ideas. The best component of this module, to me, is a more ephemeral one, though: The pacing of this module is impeccable. Horror and mystery, both as genres, hinge on timing and means of creating suspense, of build-ups and gradual escalation -and this module gets this component perfectly.


As a GM, you can obviously just spoon-feed the information to your PCs via various proxies, but not only are there multiple ways of unearthing the truth, there are several red herrings - and in my playtest, I kept as much information as possible opaque, making my players draw the conclusions themselves. Now if the players get stumped, you still have several means of putting them on track within the logic of the module. Furthermore, the module has ample instances wherein heroes can be heroes and actually save lives - an approach I always welcome in modules.


I honestly did not expect the prologue to Legendary Planet to be a mystery, much less one that is this good; whether played for weirdness or downright horror, this module makes clear from the get-go that it's not your standard fantasy fare. But only in hindsight. As a piece of advice: Don't tell your players necessarily that this will be a sword & planet module. There are several themes that make for delightful red herrings in the hands of a capable GM, making the realization of what is truly going on have even more of an impact.


The assimilation strain is an excellent module and a furious first in the series, one that makes me very happy I've been able to back the kickstarter. With great production values and content that must be considered awesome, this module is a great way to kick off the AP, one that has me stoked to see what's in store for us. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Assimilation Strain (Pathfinder)
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The Lost City of Barakus--Pathfinder
Publisher: Frog God Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/16/2015 02:53:55

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This massive mega-adventure clocks in at 176 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 170 pages of adventure, so let's take a look!


This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should instead read the Player's Guide and/or jump to the conclusion.


...


..


.


All right, so in case you're wondering: This is the update of the classic, Ennie-award winning campaign supplement/mega-adventure. The basics are as follows: We have a massive city, Endhome; we have a vast stretch of wilderness surrounding it. The players are here. Go. This is pretty much the textbook definition of a massive, wide-open sandbox - something that renders this massive module a huge playground: From the exceedingly-detailed city of Endhome (including city statblocks, btw.!) to its environments, there is a lot of grounds to cover.


What do I mean by "exceedingly detailed?" Well, beyond the environments coming with a key-less, player-friendly hex-map, the city itself sports more maps that you'd imagine feasible for a book of this size: How many cities out there, for example, do you know that actually do have full maps for the canalization they sport? Indeed, even hexed ones so you can, theoretically, hex-crawl through the network of tunnels? Better yet, how many do you know that actually sport multiple mini-dungeons inside? But this level of detail not only is provided for below the streets - indeed, the fully-mapped temples of local deities and a whole mansion can also be explored...for there are whispers of death cults and even vampires having their home within the very walls of Endhome...


Now granted, there are other hyperdetailed city-sandboxes out there, but few that also manage this lavish level of detail beyond the confines of the city walls - there is a lot to find and explore outside of the walls of Endhome. Whether to stop the notorious bandits that have taken to harassing the roads, dealing with the stupid giant shambling through the hills or braving the small, but still deadly dragon that scours the lands, there is a lot to do; perhaps, the PCs are intrigued by the door-less wizard's tower they heard about in the player's guide and want to scale and explore it...or perhaps they stumble over a sinkhole and wan to lower themselves down, past the deadly mold growing down there, to explore the caverns below? The fountain of Freya is supposed to be somewhere in the woods and ghouls and worse room the wilderness, with a shrine to dread Tsathogga being once again a mechanical highlight, as a dire boar turns out to be a were-boar cleric! Mysterious crypts, haunted hovels and hidden treasure all await intrepid adventurers stumbling over secrets ancient and old. What about the friendly alchemist out there - is he all he seems to be? No trip beyond the walls of Endhome will be boring - that, I can guarantee!


In fact, this mega-adventure does sport a very prevalent leitmotif that has since then become one for the Lost Lands-setting: A feeling of a world that has moved on; once, there may have been empires, a structure, a geopolitical struggle - but now, the world is on the verge of becoming all wilderness. Civilization seems to be in decline and every rock and hovel seems to be hiding a piece of an age long gone, a piece of the puzzle, a sense of antiquity. Obvious danger may lurk outside, yes, but even beneath the veneer of civilization, where still maintained, there is no rest - you will never lose the feeling of something sinister brewing beneath the surface, of a calamity just being a step away. This brooding melancholy suffuses the whole writing, providing a sense of thematic identity far beyond anything you'd consider evident or obvious; the effect is subtle, but utilized in an extremely smart manner, for the caverns of the massive dungeon that hide Barakus and the ruined city itself further amplify this theme.


Let me reiterate: Barakus once was a radiant city - until one of its numerous wizards, Devron, turned lich. The city was unified in its struggle against the lich and crafted a sword to bring him low. Not one to wait for his demise, Devron crafted a helm to regain, eventually, his power and, from the prison into which he was banaished, expended a significant portion of his power. Before the sworn champion could destroy him, the stone of madness thus conjured crashed into the city, turning its denizens against themselves and destroying the once proud city-state. Thus, the legendary sword was lost in its own sanctuary, to never be used; thus the shield never was found; and thus, the ruins of the erstwhile city still hold not only the well-sealed prison of the (temporarily weakened) lich, but also the sword of kell, the means to reinvigorate it and the dread stone of madness - all while Devron still hungers for his power, for the helm to restore him, for freedom - it is this that can be considered to be the main quest of this massive adventure, though, frankly, it is as much the main-quest as some others herein. The brilliant component about this one, though, is the fact that the dungeon that now contains the city's remnants is diverse and huge - several levels, some parallel to one another, some sporting maps that cover 2 pages, render this dungeon a significant challenge - better yet, the whole complex manages something only rarely seen.


The indirect story-telling one associates with game like Dark Souls: When ephemeral voices ask you about Devron to enter his domain, when lethal puzzles loom, when strange devices can be collected to illuminate the city's "flames" to bring full power back to the sword, when the deciphered warrior's prayer actually has an effect beyond flavorful fluff - it is then you'll note the extent of this book's atmosphere. Add to that a significant array of terrain hazards and unique adversaries and you will literally have excellent content to last you a couple of months, perhaps even a year. Oh, and one thing: The player's guide immensely facilitates the process of running this one, allowing the GM to avoid the necessity for hours of exposition and establishing shots - it literally does that for the GM and renders running this even more smoothly than in its 3.X iteration.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Frog God Games' elegant 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The book sports numerous pieces of awesome b/w-artwork and the maps the PCs can conceivably get are printer-friendly. As a nitpick, I would have loved to see player-friendly maps for all areas, since I (and a lot of GMs I know) like cutting them up and then handing out the respective areas as the PCs explore the place, but you can't have everything, I guess. The hardcover is a beautiful book with FGG's excellent binding and high-quality paper - this is a book made to last.


W.D.B. Kenower and Bill Webb's Lost City of Barakus is perhaps one of Necromancer Games' classics that is closest to the quality and style the current Lost Lands adhere to. I may be mistaken, but when I look at this mega-adventure, I can see how Slumbering Tsar, Dunes of Desolation and similar tomes among FGG's superb catalogue drew upon established flair and further expanded it. Endhome and its surrounding area are, hands down, the most detailed low-level sandbox I currently know of: Massive in scope and ambition, there are literally hundreds of hours of awesome gameplay herein. But that was true before. The PFRPG-conversion ranks among the better ones as well - with alchemists and several classes and builds getting more than just the required face-lift. The dungeon and its organization is also slightly clearer and thanks to the superb player's guide, you spend much less time with exposition and have more time for proper adventuring.


So is this better than its previous iteration? Yes, in my opinion, it is - the frog god crew has done a great job transporting this to PFRPG. This is an absolutely stellar sandbox and one of the low level modules that should be considered to be a rite of passage, a great first glimpse at the Lost Lands and what makes the setting awesome. In fact, were this 3.X, I'd still be gushing on and on about how awesome this book is - the only reason I'm not, lies in the lack of player-friendly maps for every environment and, more importantly, one book: Sword of Air. While higher level, Sword of Air has pretty much raised the bar so high, it is very hard to not acknowledge its influence. That being said, guess which sandbox I'd recommend to lead towards this legendary module? Yes, you're reading the review of it. My final verdict will hence clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval. If you have not yet played this gem, check it out - it is one glorious beast.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Lost City of Barakus--Pathfinder
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