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101 Urban Spells (PFRPG)
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/26/2016 03:24:37

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The latest, massive book of Dave Paul's terrain-centric spell-collections clocks in at a whopping 50 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with a massive 47 pages of content, so let's take a look!


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


Okay, so at this point, I have to quite frankly admit to being giddy like a school-girl whenever one of these terrain-centric spell-books by Rite Publishing hits my review-pile. At a point where I honestly considered the topic of spells to be done and covered, these spells have, time and again, blow me away by their precision and unique concepts - and similarly, this one begins with a rather exciting mechanical innovation: We take a look at settlement-sizes and their size-modifiers, which range from -4 to +4 - it is said size modifiers and settlement sizes that directly influence how the spells contained herein work. Additionally, some of the spells contained herein are designed to appeal explicitly to uncommon caster classes and combinations - like arcane tricksters et al.


The pdf codifies spells by class and level before diving into the main meat of the product - the spells. And from the get-go, I'm smiling: Acrophobia instills fear of heights; Alight the Holy Terrace duplicates Word of Recall, but saves only you and dumps you at the stairs of a church, later even inside - we've all read comics where the hero, battered and bruised, escapes and crashes in front of a church, to be found in the middle of the night. So yeah, sold! The third spell herein increases your chances of finding extraordinary treasure - and this is more exciting in practice than in theory...how did the item get here? Why is it for sale in the first place? This is a means for the GM to give the players what they want sans breaking the rules AND facilitates introducing new plot-lines. Gold.


The second level spell Ameliorate Disease is a bit of an odd duck - on one hand, it is a clear power-creep that allows for easier, sooner disease-control. At the same time, it applies the settlement modifier and does not prevent re-infection and costs gold. This may actually, for more grim settings, be a better default spell than the regular magical means of dealing with disease. (and yes, tehre is a poison-variant of this one in here as well...)


Blasphemous Aura is a game-changer of a spell - at 3rd level, this one allows for the hampering of divine magic and channel energy, both of which now have a chance of failure while inside the emanation. The spell sports a warning sidebox - though personally, I don't consider it problematic: You see, for one, fiction sports ample instances where proximity to a particularly viable creature, be it a servant of the elder gods or a powerful undead, hampers spellcasting for divine characters. Secondly, the conservative AoE ultimately results in the spell being of an appropriate power-level for 3rd level spells. Thirdly, as any GM who has faced a channel-centric character (like a divine channeler) in the hands of a power-gamer can attest, the lack of a decent countering mechanic for the Su is a rather obvious hole in the rules-context. So yeah, as far as I'm concerned, I'll be adding this spell to the arsenal of quite a few of my adversaries. If you're still somewhat hesitant - my Scion of Discordia-class in Interjection Games' Strange Magic was playtested for months and features similar lock-down abilities, so no - this does not break your game, though admittedly, it may make bastions of churches and casters less secure...but at least in my book, from a narrative point of view, that's a good thing.


Speaking of specific spells that really make a GM's job easier - Can't Leave Town is the spell-representation of the delightful horror-trope, where you try to leave a settlement, only to re-enter it. Similarly, versatile Columns of Smoke can make it rather easy to escape...and notify allies/send signals. Of course, there would also be spells herein to conjure forth constructs of filth and loathsome debris to squash your adversaries (and even merge them in the case of more powerful variants). There would also be a spell that allows you to place a ring on the finger of a target to compel the target to only deal nonlethal damage - this makes so much sense for the punishment options of a society wherein magic exists. Similarly, nonlethal force-based means of dispersing crowds make sense as magical riot-control.


Calling forth dogs or summoning cockroach swarms can be found here - as can be a cantrip to dry clothes. There also is a rather nasty one that allows you to fear on the fear of crowds, consuming it and converting it into personal power - a neat magical representation of instigators feeding on fear. There is also a particularly interesting spell called Fortune Teller's Curse - this one nets you insight into past, present and limited prescience and is VERY powerful - but it also represents a way of burdening a PC and adding unique means of enhancing investigations...at a price that will make the PC want to get rid of it. I'd consider this one problematic, were it not for the warning. Rather interesting from a story-telling perspective: Gleaning information from graffiti! Making mirrors Narcissus-traps or traveling by them. Illusion-based misdirecting vapors or becoming Nondescript is interesting - and what about a spell called Persistently Unconvinced that installs a conviction in the mind of the adversary that he's not really in danger - this does look wrong, right? A kind of illusion, surely? In the hands of a halfway decent illusionist, this makes for a lethal smoke and mirrors game!


Better roof running, scrying via mirrors in various iterations or conjuring clothes from the stuff of shadow. Gold for any storyteller and a seed for unique culture - there is a spell that allows you to transfer diseases and poison from the living to the undead. This little spell makes for a viable reason why undead are kept around; it allows for a "benevolent" undead overlord to heal his subjects for just a small price; it provides a justification for people to actually serve undead or tolerate necromancers. I love this. Teleporting through crowds and conjuring weasels forth to steal keys for you...oh, and there actually are multiple spells that deal with structures - from collapsing roofs to crews of vexgit wreckers. Oh, and I really like the curse that makes the target verbose when trying to deceive...


Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing's two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with multiple awesome, gorgeous full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Dave Paul has singlehandedly reignited my excitement for new spells. After more than 2000 spells read, I was, quite frankly, bored by most such books. When Dave Paul came along and began crafting not only exceedingly precise and complex spells, but actually started innovating within the frame work of what spells usually do - and he expanded his game. So far, not a single one of these books is anything short of pure excellence - and this is no different. Using settlement size modifiers here and there is pretty interesting and, for the most part, the magic herein is MAGICAL. It feels like magic.


You won't find bland "deal x damage" spells herein. If you're looking for those, open just about any pdf out there and look for the spell-section.


What you'll find is themes, flair, complex options and spells that inspire whole modules, perhaps even campaigns - this book practically demands being inserted into any urban campaign - from Road to Revolution to Curse of the Crimson Throne to Council of Thieves and beyond, this pdf enhances the game, innovates mechanically and provides precise, complex spells that get their wording right. Where something can be problematic in contexts, the pdf warns you, even in cases like the anti-channeling where I'd issue no such warning myself. All in all, this continues Dave Paul's streak of absolutely stellar spell-books, cementing the series further as the unquestionable benchmark for what good spellbooks can and should do. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval, given without any hesitation. Stellar!


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
101 Urban Spells (PFRPG)
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Bosco's Spell Compendium: Cantrips and Orisons
Publisher: Flaming Crab Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/26/2016 03:22:31

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This little FREE pdf clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2.5 pages of SRD, 1 page odd drawing, 1 page variant cover, leaving us with 3.5 pages of content, so let's take a look!


Beyond the obligatory spell-list by class (including Shaman), Bosco's spells have a peculiarity: The spells herein can be used for spell failure equivalents - each spell herein has the base spell in parentheses. If the spell has a target, there is a 33% chance it targets the caster, 34% - 66% targets a random creature, 67%-100% means the original target is subjected to the effect. The pdf suggests a 50% chance for casting the Bosco variant accidentally when failing via concentration, UMD, etc..


Acid Splash receives a cosmetic reskin - an acidic moustache you fire at the opponent. If you botch Create Water, you find yourself instead casting Berate Water - to which water elementals may take offense. There is also the Disrupt Dead spell, which deals damage to neither the living, nor the undead - only the dead, which thereafter also get the severely dead "condition". This one made me laugh so hard... Throwing frozen filets at foes is pretty hilarious, though the half bludgeoning/cold damage doesn't work that well with 1d3 - what if you roll a 1? Gaining a Diplomacy-bonus for a 10 GP-bribe.


Okay, what really made me laugh was Most Sound: It allows you to create...bingo, most sounds. But if you cast the spell, you must roll a d4 - the result determining what sound you can't make. So if you needed a tap-dancing walrus, a hummingbird humming the word "bird", a goat imitating an elven noble or the sound of an ice-skating dragon, you may well be out of luck. What about instantly forgetting where North is from your current position? There also is a spell that can only target characters with 0 or less HP, fixing their eyes and stopping them temporarily from squirming.


Similarly hilarious: Suspect Poison. My players have this spell due to years of traumas at my sadistic GM-style: You begin to suspect that a creature, object or area is poisonous. You can guess the type of poison, but it may or may not be accurate. A touch that may intrigue inebriated creatures that would be attracted to your type. You can also make good guys feel bad for themselves or cause very short-lived bursts of guilt.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Flaming Crab Games' two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Alex Abel's Bosco-Compendium is not only free, it's hilarious. There are not that many funny RPG-books out there and the spells herein are well-balanced, fun and with the exception of some minor hiccups, awesome. This pdf actually made me laugh out loud at my table and is an inspired, awesome, little book. Better yet, it's FREE!!! So yeah, there is absolutely no reason not to download this fun, awesome little supplement - final verdict? 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Bosco's Spell Compendium: Cantrips and Orisons
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Mini-Dungeon #023: The Aura of Profit
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/26/2016 03:20:28

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map (alas, sans player-friendly version) and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked to d20pfsrd.com's shop and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM.


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


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


...


..


.


Still here?


All right!


So, in the poor section of town, Fritz has an underground alchemist's laboratory - so why would the PCs try to stop Fitz? Well, his alchemist laboratory creates waste that makes people more susceptible to alcohol, which directly influences the profits of innkeepers all around. So, the PCs will have to stop Fritz - if only to prevent alcoholism skyrocketing. The dungeon as presented is surprisingly varied - we have an engineer-wizard, minor constructs (short-hand statblocks included) and some neat traps, some of which are obviously nonlethal. Oh, and know what's kinda cool? Fritz is not a bad guy - he can actually be convinced to make modifications that negate the detrimental effects of his alchemical refuse.


Conclusion:


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


This makes me happy, it really does - Rory Toma delivers a captivating, fun mini-dungeon herein - with things to do beyond killing everything, a mix of traps and roleplaying and an interesting "adversary." The topical background story also makes sense and opens potential for further adventuring - what if an evil character gets wind of Fritz' mixture? Seriously, what more can you ask for from a small, humble 2-page module? My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars plus seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mini-Dungeon #023: The Aura of Profit
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Mystic Marketplaces: The Brass Drake
Publisher: Flying Pincushion Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/25/2016 11:13:15

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This pdf clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 10 pages of content, so let's take a look!


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


So, what is the Brass Drake? Well, the simple response would be that it's an adventurer's shop/tavern crossover. The more accurate sentiment would point out the owner Maurice's unique position - you see, the Brass Drake does not exist in a stable timeline - while visitors do not need to fear falling by the wayside of the time-stream - thus, you can benefit from some rather unique options in the Brass Drake. Similarly, Maurice has his own gold limit, which means that if you're taking careful tabs on the like, this is something to be aware of. As a collector of memorabilia related to time, sample items and their gold value to Maurice is provided.


However, the pdf also introduces two particular subsystems: Number one would be the patronage system. Unless otherwise noted by the shop in question, buying or selling an item nets you 1 point of patronage per visit and the more you have, the better the prices and perks you receive will be: Selling/Buying bargain tables based on percentile values. Additionally, unique benefits can be gained for patrons with a high patronage - like free meals or the option to get a magic item now that you'd find later, capitalizing on the unique nature of the Brass Drake's time-distortion. The pdf also provides a bartering system based on Appraise and Knowledge (local) - these items can be used as currency, but with a limit of one item per transaction. The systems both work relatively well and are not too complicated - which is particularly important for the bartering system. the patronage system imho should have a shop-based minimum-value caveat for patronage point gain, to avoid PCs selling paltry items all the time and then expecting patronage gains - which RAW works. Still, the pdf at least acknowledges that some shops have limits, minimum values.


Now back to the Brass Drake itself - conveniently, we get a short selection of magical goods for sale (though no menus or lists of beverages) and the place also unlocks a unique magic item for its most faithful patrons - a doorknob-like amulet that allows you to create a door to the Brass Drake in any alley or teleport to the original door. The most compelling aspects of this shop, though, lie in the small details - there are some basic shop-tasks that specialized adventurers can fulfill to gain further patronage points and additionally, no less than 5 sample quests provide for interesting hooks - Maurice, for example, asks the PCs to check in with his supplier of ogre moonshine...


Finally, the pdf also features a more detailed encounter, basically either the end of the Brass Drake's storyline or the beginning of a larger quest - in this encounter/adventure, the shop's unique nature draws the attention of dread hounds of Tindalos - defending Maurice from them can also earn patronage, 1 - 5, depending on how hurt Maurice is during teh fight. Still, more precise guidelines here would have been nice, though the encounter, on the plus-side, comes with scaling advice to increase the CR to 12, 17 or decrease it to 7. The pdf also provides the stats of Maurice - capable, yet old and fragile, he is a Knife Master/Scout 10.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are rather good, I noticed no glaring mistakes, though organization could have been smarter - putting the rules for the new systems at the end of the pdf creates some initial confusion and makes the content seem a bit opaque in the beginning. Similarly, the wording of them could be a tad bit more nuanced and precise. Layout adheres to a full-color 1-column standard with a nice selection of fitting stock art. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Taylor Hubler's and Dylan Brooks' Brass Drake is a nifty place to shop and hang out with: The patronage system and its unique perks have potential galore and the Brass Drake's unique concept is captivating and evocative -fluff-wise, this is great, though it perhaps could have used a bit more descriptive text to shine...particularly since the place sports no map. This is perhaps my biggest gripe with this book - while interesting and concept-wise awesome, the lack of description on what the store truly looks like, its layout etc. made it more opaque to me than it should have been. Granted, this may be by design, but at least a general array of features and/or dressing would have catapulted this up in the rating scale. My second gripe with this book is that I really would have liked to see a sample menu, a more detailed list of goods available...or at least goods pertaining more to the topic of time.


If that sounds overly negative, then rest assured, it shouldn't be - the Brass Drake offers an evocative place for a fair price-point. It can be considered an interesting first offering in the series, one that I hope will spawn future installments. My final verdict for it will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 for the purpose of this platform.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Mystic Marketplaces: The Brass Drake
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Mythic Monsters #30: Heavenly Host
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/25/2016 04:06:52

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of the mythic monsters-series clocks in at 32 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of introduction, 3 pages of advertisement, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 18 pages of raw content, so let's take a look!


All right, as always, we begin this installment of the mythic monsters-series with supplemental material, which this time around, would be an array of 9 mythic feats - the first of which would be Sanctified Servant, a feat that denotes you as a servant to the forces of the high heavens, which serves as a gateway-feat that allows the character to from then on take (Sacred)-feats, including means for increasing healing, halos, using channel energy/lay on hands to add Purify Spell to item-based spell effects - which btw. translates to making the spell [good] and changing energy to 1/2 untyped, with evil targets having a harder time resisting this. At only +1 level cost, this one would be too strong sans the gateway-feat, so nice job there. Better SR versus evil effects and better sneak attack versus evil foes are solid, but overall, I wasn't too blown away by these - they are nice and balanced, though.


We begin this supplement's monsters with agathions, the CR 11/MR 4 avorals being the first - and from the get-go, you'll notice something: They play differently than their non-mythic versions - radically so. As skirmishers, they can quickly disengage adversaries and withdraw with adversaries in tow, if need be!) and fire Toppling salvos of magic missiles...oh, and yes, dual attacks after moving. This makes the avoral actually excel at its target role - kudos!


The CR 18/MR 7 Cetceals may grant their regneration to others and create truly devastating fields of encroaching ice and unleash devastating spear-attacks that bypass immunities...ouch! Speaking of ouch - you thought that was brutal? The Cr 25/MR 10 draconal's very presence erodes the personality of evil daring to rear its head in their presence. Lying similarly is nigh-impossible under the auspice of a draconal and their brutal claws can add vast amounts of damage to evil creatures. Fluid increase of SR and rebounding of magic upon the vile originators make this creature a true champion of the light. BRUTAL! (And you thought WotW's regular final scenario was hard? Use these guys and see the evil PCs SQUIRM...oh, and yes, they can strip you of immunities...)


The CR 15/MR 6 leonal has a similar bonus damage array to melee attacks versus evil-doers, but is more focused on melee and teamwork, as befitting the nature of these leonine champions of goodness. Rendered in a surprisingly creepy full-color artwork at CR 3/MR 1, the Silvanshee is subject to a continuous nine lives and makes for a superb familiar for good spellcasters, including a gaseous form that retains the creature's defensive properties. The CR 7/MR 3 vulpinal is all about bardic prowess, freedom and calming emotions - champions of the downtrodden and enslaved, these creatures may grant metamagic via mythic powers to allies.


Obviously, this book also contains angels and the astral deva (CR 17/MR 7) not only receives access to the powerful litany-spells, they may actually end challenges, judgments and the like and render the damage caused nonlethal...speaking of judgment: A scroll allows them to pronounce judgments. Pretty awesome build! The CR 3/MR 1 Cassisian receives a defensive aura and may use its powers to support allies, allowing them to roll two Will-saves and combine mythic surges with that. They also get a nice artwork.


At CR 15/MR 6, the monadic deva may use mythic power to unleash an anti-elemental/evil-creature burst and purge elementals and chain devastating morningstar attacks together. The CR 12/MR 5 movanic deva has an always-on bane and their purifying greatswords can unleash daylight via mythic power and sever the enslavement of animals, plants and undead. The CR 20/MR 8 Planetar can unleash flurries of razor-sharp feathers and actually unleash lethal wing buffets with all 4 wings and as celestial master strategists, these creatures may share teamwork feats among their allies. Oh, and their very flesh of emerald ice is anathema to evil. Awesome! Speaking of which: Arguably one of the most lethal creatures out there is the solar and the CR 28/MR 10 mythic version is so lethal, I can see theory-craft threads springing up on how to take them down. AC 56. Regen 15. Almost 500 Hp. DR 20/- (applies even against SPELLS, smites, etc!); exceedingly high SR, deadly SLs and spells, no-save dazzle aura (blind on failed saves), miss chances, immunities...oh, and spontaneous negation of negative levels, ability damage and mythic power-based negation of conditions...and know what? Offense is just as brutal. This may actually be one of the most deadly builds to have ever been printed for PFRPG - love it! These guys WILL put up a brutal fight against even the best of PCs!


Now, as always, we receive a new creature herein, which, this time around would be the CR 8/MR 3 Rhampholeal agathion - small bipedal chameleon-humanoids that not only look cute, but also kind of badass - and yes, they are superb infiltrators and foes of demon-kind and their abilities sport trickster path abilities. Nice to see stealthy scouts enter the ranks of the heavenly host, particularly with such a nice visual.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Legendary Games' two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The artworks provided are nice as well.


Jason Nelson, Jonathan H. Keith and Sean K Reynolds deliver in this installment: Much like devils, angels and agathions are determined by their hierarchies as well as by their alignment-axis: They need to excel at their respective areas of expertise and provide accordingly well-crafted, precise and lethal builds - and oh boy does this deliver!


The forces of goodness need to be fearsome and the creatures herein deliver in spades. Better yet, where some base creatures were mostly defined by their SPs, they now have their distinct, unique tricks that render them an integral part of heaven's armed forces. No admittedly, compared to some creatures in the series, the new critter herein didn't blow me away, but the builds overall can be considered to be truly astounding and even this nitpick regarding the execution does not rattle the awesomeness of the idea of a celestial chameleon humanoid. Come on - that's truly cool! All in all, this is an inspired addition to the series, well worth 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mythic Monsters #30: Heavenly Host
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Cyclopean Deeps Volume 2 Pathfinder
Publisher: Frog God Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/24/2016 07:26:02

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The second tome of Matt Finch's massive subterranean sandbox clocks in at 250 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a massive 244 pages of content, so let's take a look!


Well, before we do, let me reiterate for a second what this is and what it means: Well, on the obvious side, this is the second part of the massive Cyclopean Deeps-mega-adventure-sandbox, which, per default, is situated even below the dungeon of Rappan Athuk in the Lost Lands campaign setting - but, quite frankly, there is no place in any given campaign setting you conceivably couldn't plug this into without any hassle whatsoever. Why? Simple: Cyclopean Deeps takes place in an area almost never explored in any given setting: In the unfathomable, lightless depths beyond even the civilizations of drow, duergar, etc.


You know, the place perpetually hinted at, where surface-dwellers are but intruders into a world so strange and different in morality, their minds might fracture; the place, where tentacled horrors abound and odd deities rest in uneasy slumber; a place so weird, it makes some outer planes look cozy and familiar by direct comparison. Here, demon lords and the forces of abyss and hell rank among the beings that still may be considered understandable...normal even. Beyond this deep horizon lies an endless cascade of the deadly and weird, one that rendered the first book in this two-part-saga a worthy part of my Top Ten of 2014...but can this remain on par with its predecessor?


Before we answer this question, let me explain something: While Part I could conceivably stand on its own, it did sport the city of Ques Querax, odd and wondrous beyond belief - and this book with its plots, quests and content does make ample note of said place. While the individual components of this book can be scavenged and taken apart, to properly get the full experience, you should definitely own the first Cyclopean Deeps book and run them in conjunction.


All right, finally, it should be noted, that this is a massive sandbox, complete with really big maps, hex-crawling through the dark and chapters upon chapters of wholly distinct environments that would make good individual mini-dungeons, should you prefer running this in bite-sized chunks as opposed to as a massive sandbox.


All right, and this is exactly as far as I can go into this adventure-review sans SPOILERS. So, please beware that from here on out, SPOILERS reign. Players should definitely jump to the conclusion.


...


..


.


All right, still here? Great! After we have established basic power-dynamics within and around Ques Querax, we now delve into the respective, unique environments and take a look at the more complex and possible endgame scenarios for excursions throughout the Cyclopean Deeps - but before I go into the details, let me emphasize something: The Cyclopean Deeps may be weird, but they are concise in an almost uncanny manner. Much like the best offerings of the Lost Lands, the Cyclopean Deeps breathe a sense of antiquity, with empires upon empires fallen by the wayside, ruins reappropriated throughout time...and not even the inhuman cyclopean deeps are exempt from the eternal waltz of revolution, war and rebirth - but unlike in quite a few modules with storied backgrounds (like a significant array of society scenarios...), there is no requirement for either captain exposition to throw a wall of text at the players, nor is there a strict requirement for the PCs to know it all - instead, much like in the exemplar Sword of Air mega-adventure, what we have here is, ultimately, indirect narrative.


If you're like me, you will, for example, shudder as the PCs explore the narrows of Braath and find the remnants of a strange aberrant culture whose mantid servitors, created to embalm their master, took a disturbingly logical step towards "improving" the holiness of their masters - by cutting out unimportant things like living and turning their erstwhile gods into a species bred for death by embalming, fulfilling their task in the most gruesomely efficient manner imaginable - and yes, this and a wicked plan concocted by a demon prince can be unearthed as the PCs explore the mortuaries of the mantid priests - if the PCs avoid death as it lurks around every corner.


Speaking of which: The very utterance of a death god may summon the soul-consuming, fickle godling from its aqueous realm and power-struggles, degenerate things and worse abound and interlace perfectly with the narratives already established in Part I of this saga...just remember, don't speak the name of CHOA-THOOM as you traverse these grottos...or he may take notice of your petty mortal existence...


As much as I utterly the adore this beautifully exhibited mastery of horrific tropes, though, as much as I love the wizard that seeks to recruit the PCs here, it is his devious arch-rival, legendary Jupiter Kwan and his hidden worlds that truly set my mind aglow with possibilities. You see, at one point, the PCs can find a strange artwork of rhizome-like strands that remind you of synapses or worse - turns out that this is the map for his hidden worlds, a kind of demiplane-conglomerate of chaos, stitches together from stillborn realities, crumbling demiplanes and the like - and exploration of this gruesome place within the endless void of Ginnungagap remains my absolute favorite environment in quite a while - not only due to tables upon tables of environmental peculiarities, but also due to the fact that Dark Souls-like mist gates with devious properties find a glorious rendition here, one I'm so going to steal the hell out of. In this chapter, Matt Finch's massive imaginative potential seems to have peaked beyond its otherwise already utterly impressive level.


Now, admittedly, I have not been 100% honest in the beginning of this review: You see, there is a humanoid culture down here - a whole holdfast of duergar mines can be found within the pages of this tome and its concise depiction of a ruthless ideology and the hints towards the malachite city (city of brass for earth, if you need an analogue...) are tantalizing indeed...but there is so much more going on here...and yes, this ties together with the at this point nigh obligatory demon lord that is a part of this area's power-dynamic, obviously constituting another exceedingly powerful evil to play against the vileness found herein...or simply try to vanquish or die trying.


This is ultimately me and my preferences, but surpassing even the grisly narrative shared before, the Orchard of Yiquooloome is, shudder-factor wise, very much the apex of the whole cyclopean deeps for me - a creature of primordial chaos that makes elder brains seem kind, it is here that PCs finally find out the truth behind elder ambergris...much like the origins of the fabled darkmist are explained in another chapter - but I'm not going to spoil that for you. Why? Because I could keep on babbling about the vast imaginative potential herein for ages without truly managing to depict how brilliant this one is.


For your information: We actually do get player-friendly versions of all maps herein and yes, there are ample new creatures, artifacts and the like to be found within these pages.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no serious issues in this massive book. Layout adheres to Frog God Games' elegant b/w-standard and the pdf sports A LOT of great b/w-artworks that capture perfectly the weirdness and sheer jamais-vu-level of wonder the Cyclopean Deeps require. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, though I'd very much recommend getting the absolutely stunning hardcover of the book - as always with FGG-books, it is made to last and features great production values.


Matt Finch, with assistance from Bill Webb, Skeeter Greene and Greg A. Vaughan has crafted a book that not only transcends book Vol. I in scope; in fact, the Cyclopean Deeps, as a collected entity, ranks among the best dungeon sandboxes I've ever read, regardless of the system. Book I was brilliant, Book II may actually be even more refined: There are less old-school-y relic in the rules-language here; the builds are more complex...in short, this is brilliant. I read this book back to back, while revisiting some of my sword and sorcery favorites....and if I'M honest, I found myself reading more CD. The prose of this book, its vast imaginative potential, bespeaks a mind that not only is capable of weaving disturbing and brilliant concepts with short hints, it also exemplifies a journey of exploration while reading it: As a GM, you explore the Deeps while reading this book, and I was not bored for a single second. Beyond being a milestone in imaginative potential, this book is sword and sorcery gold, perfect weird fantasy material for everyone with even a tiny soft spot for weird fantasy, for lovecraftiana, for fantasy that dares to deviate from the established concepts to provide something raw and gorgeous.


A word of warning - this book is very detailed and not for the faint of heart - when a sidebox explains in pretty grisly detail what happens when a PC's body in gaseous form, spread over mile-long in millimeter-thick tunnels, meets a magic-dead field and has his body extend through the caverns, I found myself shuddering and remembering one of Junji Ito's lesser-known, brilliant horror-manga. The Cyclopean Deeps are a place of eldritch beauty, but each and every part of its drives home that this is the place where "man was not meant to tread," combining a superb sense of the exploration of the unknown with a constant, disturbing sense of uncanny displacement and existential wrongness.


That being said, as easy as all of this sounds or may sound to you, finding a final verdict for this book was nigh impossible to me: You see, I can't really fathom and abstract my knowledge of Part I, separate it from Part II. Unlike other such sagas, they BELONG together...but Part I already received its accolades on my Top Ten of 2014 and I have a policy of not awarding spots to the same components twice (otherwise, you'd see Ultimate Charisma, for example, in my Top Ten of 2015 once that hits sites...). At the same time, this is a perfect example for my thesis that Frog God Games has surpassed the roots of 3.X Necromancer Games by leaps and bounds - no matter how you look at it, Cyclopean Deeps ranks among the best old-school modules/sandboxes out there. With intricate attention to details of not only formal criteria, but also regarding the prose, it ranks among the finest, most unique (and horrific!) sandboxes I have ever read.


How good is Cyclopean Deeps? The collective of both books is so good, even among FGG's mega-adventures, I'd only consider it second to Sword of Air, which makes it one of the best mega-adventures out there - PERIOD. My final verdict will hence clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval...and, I will retroactively bestow the grace of the Top Ten spot of 2014 Part I scored also on this beast, since it is a crucial extension of the first volume.


If my ample gushing was not clue enough: I'd strongly recommend getting this masterpiece; in my humble opinion, the Cyclopean Deeps are absolutely mindbogglingly good and transcend Rappan Athuk, which kind of gave birth to these, in their superb environments by leaps and bounds.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cyclopean Deeps Volume 2 Pathfinder
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Fields of Blood
Publisher: Frog God Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/24/2016 07:24:43

An Endzeitgeist.com review


Fields of Blood is a massive sourcebook/adventure-book that clocks in at 221 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 216 pages of content, so let's take a look!


So, first of all: What is this book? Simple: Fields of Blood is the latest terrain-centric hardcover-book by Frog God Games, a tome detailing perhaps the most neglected environment in adventuring and fiction in general, EVER. Plains. Don't believe me? Well, name 3 fantastic stories that use plains for more than a backdrop for an epic clash of armies or for the flair they hold. I mean, there are copious desert-themed and mountain-themed modules with epic backdrops out there; there are explorations of the underdark and swamps...plains? Not so much. Perhaps it's because they're so plain....chirping; tumble-weed rolls by Sorry. I'll hit myself later, but I had to get that one out of my system.


Kidding aside, if you thought plains were just too plain a terrain to make them awesome in your game...well, then this book should more than remedy this misconception. How? Well, let me once again ramble a bit and tell you a personal story: When I first got my hands on a particular book, it not only blew me away, it changed my conceptions of what to expect from the Underdark - this book was the classic, old Dungeoneer's Survival Guide, which, to this day, remains one of the books I pull out time and again, regardless of system: It made me appreciate caves and caverns on a whole new level, educated me and, beyond knowledge from which I directly benefitted at school, ultimately is the reason I even contemplates spelunking as a fun means of exploration, both in fiction and real life.


Similarly, when your notion is that plains are boring, lack proper, interesting environmental hazards and sport not that much of narrative potential, of plains being plain, well, then this book will forever change your perspective. For one, we receive a careful, precisely researched discussion on the different types of plains you can adventure in, their seasonal cycle and their very meaning within the frame of a concisely-presented campaign setting. However, the level of realism, unlike in most such supplements, extends to lengths that generate something I only rarely encounter - a presentation that concise, it manages to enlighten and teach and yet does not feel bland or boring; better yet, the serious and compelling presentation, including e.g. different toxins and diseases encountered, manages to slowly transition from the mundane to the fantastical. As a European, I was for example not aware of hazards like Black Blizzards actually existing - so beyond mosquito-swarms (including, as mentioned before, diseases) and earthquakes, we slowly move into the fantastical, generating a sense of immersive cohesion that can only rarely be encountered in supplements these days sans becoming dry - which the book never becomes.


Strange as that may sound, I found myself soaking up information on diverse plains-types, their repercussions for settlements and the importance of e.g. horses, the dangers of grass fires and the environmental challenges that hardy travelers face. When you're gunning (haha) for African-themed or Wild West-campaigns, you'll have your work cut out for you here as well, providing a spotlight for environments almost unanimously neglected. Easy random temperature generators and tables complete perhaps one of the most inspiring introductory chapters I've read in such a book in quite a while.


This being also a crunch-book, we go on to present various feats, which, for the most part, are interesting and reflect the local cultures one may encounter on the plains - teamwork feats building on Snatch Arrows that allow you and your ally to flip weapons around to thrown them at foes past their defenses and the horse-themed feats you'd expect alongside means of substituting Perception with Sense Motive for noticing Disguises. Over all, the feat-chapter provides a solid array of feat-options, most of which sport a narrative component, though they, on their own, did not completely blow me away. Where the previously stunning level of quality, however, is once again reached is with the copious array of survival gear, both mundane and magical: While never trivializing the challenges posed by the environment, the numerous mundane objects you can find herein lend an added sense of realism and a sense of accomplishment for well-prepared PCs to the fray. Similarly, the magic items, of which there are A LOT, are characterized, surprisingly, not by simply providing spells-in-a-can, bland +x weaponry or the like.


Instead, this chapter showcases two components I thoroughly enjoyed: First, while masters of atmosphere and adventure-crafting, early Necromancer Games and Frog God Games-titles did sometimes get the crunch-crafting somewhat less well done. Secondly, there is a tendency for regional supplements to make either the environments trivial via magic items or provide reskins. This book falls prey to neither of these issues, instead providing thoroughly inspired items that resonate with a sense of the mythical, the magical, while supplementing the regional fluff by virtue of their existence. What do I mean by this? Well, what about magical pelts that convey powers upon you? Magical beanstalks? Braggart's Mugs? Yes, the respective items are inspired, feel magical and yet realistic for their context and generally are mechanically sound and do not replace currently existing items, showcasing perfectly a crucial, yet imho under-appreciated component of Frog God Games as a company and the team in general.


The next chapter, then, would contain a pretty significant array of new monsters, a component in which you can, if you're like me, observe a similar growth: Most adversaries contained within the pages of this book sport unique abilities that set them apart: Whether it's knuckle-running gorilla-men or stirge-like, sleep-inducing and shape-changing bloodsuckers, the monsters within these pages, even when not drawn from real world mythology, do sport a narrative sense of cohesion that represents well the resonance of central themes of the conditio humana that we appreciate from our real life monster tales: When e.g. an undead creature, born from a betrayed and slain pregnant woman can not only execute sadness-inducing touch attacks via the undead unborn reaching through the elastic skin of her belly, can only be released from undead torment by a kiss of her lover, then we have not only a nightmarish adversary, we have practically the work cut out for us. When a person's perverse notions transcend death and render the villain even worse than when alive...then, of that I'm sure, not only I will be among the grinning DM-population of this planet we call home.


Now the sense of realism and internal cohesion is also maintained among the various spells and archetypes found herein, which, with one notable exception, represent mostly useful utility-spells, interesting buffs that represent a chaotic, yet powerful representation of Blood Brotherhood, necromancy-based duplications of the effects of dreaded ergot and, yes, more fantastical representations of magical might. Similarly, the archetypes provided herein are characterized mainly by their modification of rules to fit within the context of plains-societies, providing thus an array of options which may actually be relevant in other settings as well by virtue of the concepts they represent.


Speaking of a truly distinguished narrative cohesion and immersive presentation: Following the tradition of the environmental supplements of Frog God Games-manufacture, we also are introduced to a significant array of unique deities for the plains and savannahs - and here, usually, I'd be groaning; after all, I've read so many regional deity-write-ups...but I didn't here. Why? Because I have rarely read an array of this well-written deities - with creation-myths aptly summing up a feasible context of mythological genesis, we once again underline the overall feeling of holistic realism this book manages to convey - to the extent where this huge book left me with ideas to base whole campaigns around the content presented within these pages - and overall impression that is not even mitigated by the downright broken Time domain (with the other domains being solid) presented herein, which nets you 3+Wis move actions as free actions per day.


This module, much like its predecessor in spirit, the superb "Dunes of Desolation", we also receive three rather extensive adventures. I will not go into the nit and grit of those, but I will provide you with a general idea of the modules in question.


From here on out, thus, the SPOILERS will reign. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.


...


..


.


All right, still here? If you're a player and read on, Tsathogga may eat your soul!


...


..


.


Only GMs left? Great! The first module, Feats of Fury, intended for 1st level characters, is a tale of tragedy and woe: Vumira gave once birth to twins: Atsu and his sister Ramla; wonderful children they were, but, alas, on the last feast of their childhood, tragedy struck as tokoloshes attacked: Ramla, was badly wounded, while her brother emerged from this ordeal as the true hero of the settlement - but the aftermath of the tragedy saw Vumira emotionally scarred and deranged, the mother believing due to a strange birthmark erroneously her daughter to be in league with the dread adversaries - and, as so often, her campaign of mistrust and hatred drove her own daughter to ultimately become what she dreaded most, the instrument, at least potentially, of the village's demise. Years went by, and now Atsu, in love with none other than his disguised twin sister, is away from the village and revenge is at hand...or is it? To uncover the tangled web of fear and superstition, the PCs will need wits as well as brawns, investigating, roleplaying, hex-crawling and finally braving a dungeon to secure the future.


The second module, Red Wedding (intended for level 4 characters), is a rather interesting one that highlights interactions between settlements: Namely, the racially intolerant humans and the barbarous orcs - two settlements defined by mutual mistrust and violence, potentially to be bridged by the burgeoning love between two star-crossed lovers amidst the populace - when Crystal Biltumur was slain by her father for her love-affair (and the illegitimate child she was carrying) with the intelligent and rather sophisticated orc Stolen Tongue, what could have become a golden age dawned into burgeoning all out warfare, with outsiders being summoned by the bitter orcs from nearby Zabladai's ruins (which, alongside the hex-crawling action, provides a damn cool ruined city-feeling) - only if the PCs manage to defeat the ancient evil stirring then and ultimately, manage to unite the lovers in life or death, can the undead monstrosity that once was Crystal be truly put to rest.


The final module, Madness Grows, takes place in Akados' massive haunted steppe and is intended for 7th level characters - overall, it may be the story-wise most straight-forward of the modules, though it does make up for that via several interesting side-quest seeds: The general idea is pretty simple: The PCs arrive at a sacked town, realizing that the centaurs and other marauding (and surprisingly pretty aggressive) adversaries seem to be following a mad course - and madness may be spreading...but how? If your reply was "Demonic influence!" or "Machinations of the Great Old Ones!" or "A weird spell-plague!" - you'd be wrong in all three cases. What's the source of the insanity and violence that threatens to spread? Well, I am not going to spoil that component here, mainly since I believe that it is the coolest component of the module - and I want you to read it for yourself.


The massive book then closes with a significant array of random encounter tables that list creatures alphabetically by name, CR, resource, etc. (extremely handy!) and some nice random plain events you can use to supplement what you hopefully already have dressing-wise in Raging Swan Press' superb GM's Miscellany: Wilderness Dressing-book.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no grievous glitches. Layout adheres to Frog God Games' printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard with a slew of evocative, original pieces of b/w-artwork. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The hardcover book is stitch-bound and adheres to the exceedingly high quality of FGG's big books, meaning that it'll still look good and not fall apart in 10 years.


Tom Knauss' Fields of Blood is a book our hobby needed; beyond dabbling in themes of often under-represented cultures and mythologies, this book actually makes adventuring ion plains not only exceedingly sexy, it makes it an endeavor that should not be underestimated. Never again will your players consider plains the ride-through-terrain en route towards the "interesting" locations; this book makes plains be anything but plain, to use for one final time the lame pun with which I've punished you throughout this review.


This book, to me, represents old-school philosophy in a crucial manner: It treats the reader as an intelligent being; it educates without boring the reader; it inspires campaigns and narratives by tapping into the collective consciousness of our species and the vibrant mythologies we have, putting a new spin on them and making them fantastical. On this framework of realism, a fantasy is grown that feels surprisingly different and fresh, concise in its narrations and rewarding in the results of its craft. While, much like in Dunes of Desolation, there are a few scattered crunch-options herein I'd consider problematic, but the vast majority of material provided within these pages is exceedingly inspired and ranks among the best you can find.


Beyond this level of realism that truly inspires and makes you want to go out into the steppes and savannahs, this can be considered a superb resource not only for Pathfinder: The vast amount of awesome fluff herein will never date and I'm keenly aware that I will be taking out this book in years to come, whenever any module or supplement features plains - much like the massive Dungeoneer's Survival Guide in 2nd edition will once again find its way into my hands whenever I need material for the underdark. Yes, it's that good.


In fact, Fields of Blood may be the best environmental book I've read in ages, for a biome that NEVER gets any love; for the life of me, regardless of edition, I couldn't name a single good Plains-book...but this little masterpiece. Guess what? This is a must-own, superb and thoroughly inspired book, a glorious tome well worth a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval and yes, this book gets a nomination for my Top Ten of 2015 as well - get this superb book and never again mistreat plains - the endless seas of grass and prairie require respect...and this book will make you convey that!


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fields of Blood
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Dunes of Desolation
Publisher: Frog God Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/24/2016 07:23:38

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This massive book clocks in at 193 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a massive array of 188 (!!!) pages of content, so let's take a look!


So "Dunes of Desolation", hmm? This pdf's name would be considered audacious when used by most publishers -"Desert of Desolation" as a boxed set made some of my most precious, fondest memories back in the day - the glorious maze, the sky-boat at the pyramid's top, the logical, cool social sandbox at the oasis, the sheer level of detail, the sea of glass - this beast had so much going for it. So how does this one fare?


Well, first of all, this Book should be considered part of a direct line with Necromancer Games/ Frog God Games' Glades of Death and Dead Man's Chest - i.e. an extremely detailed environmental source-book in the style of publications of old, with a focus on information instead of x lame variants of races/classes as some other cough environmental supplements delivered.


Thus, we begin this massive sourcebook with an array of considerations regarding deserts -from desert-types (hot and dry deserts, for example), to how they come to be to transition zones and handy tables to determine water availability, this section should be considered somewhat educational as well as simply useful and inspiring. The next logical concern would pertain to travel and settlements, which include not only handy tables to determine settlement types, concerns of tolls and desert animals of the fantastic variety and how to purchase them. Deserts as a dangerous place also sport a variety of hazards, which would be represented in e.g. proper stats for agave-poison and even peyote - but beyond that, the dangers of impure water are also addressed with a variety of nasty afflictions the PCs can receive.


Taking the details one step further, the corrosive effects of deserts also receive their own rules and mirages, quicksand and similar iconic challenges are addressed alongside dangerous animals and vermin, rain...and, of course, temperature. The handy charts for temperatures, wind speed etc. are simply glorious (though I wished they were included in °C as well as in °F - while not complicated, my European mind still has to make the conversion and I always have to think a bit when I read °F until I remember the way to do it.). Among the more mechanic options, sliding on sand and dunes via acrobatics makes sense and the challenging survival DC-modifiers feel appropriate.


We also receive an array of new feats and while the majority of them are okay, a couple really stand out - e.g. one that allows you to put ranks in fly sans a means of personal flight or one that allows you to deal regular damage to swarms. Much more enticing, at least for me, would be the selection of desert equipment provided -from detailed outfits to waterskins that contain al-haloon kidneys that can purify water to magical treats like a sonic crack of doom-rattlesnake whip, enchanted ankhs and astrolabes to better flying carpets (4!!!) to magical dates, enchanted harem veils, and, of course, genie lamps. What about an array of damn cool magical hookahs?


We also are introduced to quite an extensive collection of new monsters, all of which come with beautiful, original b/w-artworks. Now regarding the beasts - from jackal shapechangers to serpentine threats, undead gunslingers, deadly cacti - a solid selection of creatures, including deadly demons, are provided. Many of these guys, gals and...things have unique signature abilities, which is nice to see, but even when they don't they tend to evoke a distinct sense of...belonging. Much like reading old monster manuals, these creatures feel distinct - what about, for example a cherub-like being with a slumber-inducing breath? An evil killer-bunny relative to the Al-Miraj? It's surprisingly hard to put the appeal of the creatures into words, for while they do not bombard you with awesome signature abilities or exceedingly clever builds, they feel like they've been taken straight from a mythology book of another world. They have this sense of cohesion and combination of imagery and concept that makes them feel, for lack of a better word...real. Or at least possible. Granted, the superb artwork does its fair share of the job here, but still - impressive.


The same partially goes for the spells -getting a cactus-body, a buff to remain chaste, counter cursing - sabotaging divinations, excavating a den of thieves to hide inside - the spells have a very classic touch to them that should assure them finding homes in plenty a campaign. What about trapping foes in a giant hourglass of sand? While not all of the spells herein can be considered truly iconic or glorious, there is quite an assortment that does feel magical. The core classes also receive ample support in the guide of archetypes (and in the sorceror's case, respective exclusive bloodlines) - from camel-riding mounted barbarians to scalp-takers, seductive concubines, the genie-hunting sha'ir, the keepers of the dead, palace guards, dervishs, sadhus, janissaries, to trance warriors, bazaar thieves and Viziers - while mechanically, these archetypes have in common that they're solid, if not awe-inspiring, they do have something different going for them - they are unique. They feel right and concise and they are anchored within the context of the environment and setting. Their very concepts resonate and make them feel...cool. Yes, preventing foes from attacking you is one thing that can be achieved via many means, but as soon as your courtesan PC accomplishes this with an ability called "1001 Nights", you'll be grinning a bit broader, won't you?


The massively detailed chapter on religions follows this level of detail - providing essentially a massive origin myth, an explanation for the providence of the churches that adhere to one faith, but still are very distinct and different, taking cues from what amounts to saints turned deities, this chapter is massive in detail and the primary deities come in excessive detail - while sans e.g. obediences and the like , they otherwise stand in no way behind the deities provided by e.g. the Inner Sea Gods, with copious information on doctrine, clothing, clergy etc. being provided Comparably in short-hand, but also there would be two full additional pantheons, adding ample chance for religious strife, cults, etc.


And here begins the section of the 3 adventures, so players beware, for the djinn pronounce woe upon the thousand year damnation of those players bound to tread within the following paragraphs and their SPOILERS.


All right, DMs only remaining? Great! The first module, Child's Play, is nasty - a particularly sadistic efreet has crafted a devious scheme - in the House of Thousan Delights, he grants people everything they ever wished for, offering for them to stay forever or return to their downtrodden, despondent existence - with the other option, of course, being a trap most foul, sending them to an extradimensional dollhouse replica of his palace to be hunted down there. When a djinn-blooded child runs afoul of this dastardly plot, her unusual physiognomy instead transports her brain and other parts of her into dolls - enter the PCs, who have to willingly enter the deadly playing ground and rescue her...of course, unbeknownst to the PCs, everything is MUCH more complicated, starting with the true master of the place being not as he seems - but in the case of nosy players still straying, I will not spoil the reveals - HINT: They're awesome.


The second module, King of Beasts, begins with beasts suddenly targeting men and becoming aggressive - coinciding with the notorious hunting troupe "Game Over" - to unearth the truth behind the attacks, the PCs have to deal with the grief of a sphinx in the guise of the lionweres serving it, prevent a dread curse from spreading, brave the desert sands in a rather epic trek through the hostile terrain, hone their detective-skills and finally, hopefully, manage to wrest the soul of an erstwhile force from good from the metaphorical clutches of a grimoire most foul.


The final module, My Blue Oasis, asks the question when it is required to let go of life-long obsessions and dreams and what kind of cost one is willing to pay for a change for the better. Oh, have I mentioned that a dragon, derro, and a potentially cataclysmic 42 million tons of water are there to unleash upon the world? Yeah, if you want to make your world Cerulean Seas as a change of pace, here's a very good option - and yes, here we have a type of artifcat that may spawn whole campaigns...wars even.


The pdf concludes with a random encounters-table for desert creatures and a table of random desert events, much like a miniature wilderness dressing.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are excellent - in spite of the book's size, it sports next to no glitches. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard and the book comes with MANY awesome, original b/w-artworks. I have rarely seen this amount of great art in a non-kickstarter book - this one is beautiful in all the right ways. The massive tome also comes with neat cartography, though I wished key-less versions of the maps t hand out to players had been provided in an appendix. The pdf comes excessively bookmarked with nested bookmarks. I can't comment on the print-version since I don't have it yet.


Designer Tom Knauss and conversion content editors Erica Balsley, Skeeter Green and John Ling have done a great job here: Frog God Games is not known for crunch-mastery or the like, but among the crunchy bits in their supplements, this ranks as one of the best so far. But you don't buy this for the crunch, anyways, do you? Figured. At least if you're ticking like me, you get Frog God Games-supplements because they feel concise, because they have this mythical flair, because they treat magic and the fantastical not as a commodity, while still managing to instill a sense of logical cohesion that makes the supplements and modules plausible and ultimately, relatable.


This ephemeral quality extends to just about everything herein - even the crunch; The material provided herein in that regard is superior to Dead Man's Chest and Glades of Death...and indeed, this is one glorious beast of an environmental source-book...even before the modules. Kudos to the conversion team and the obvious effort that has gone into making the feats et al. actually contribute something neat to the game - crunch-wise, this is perhaps the best book by FGG so far. And the monsters and modules...let's just say there's a reason I've been this opaque. Even in Frog God Games' oeuvre, they stand out. The 3 modules are detailed, breathe the spirit of Arabian Nights and the fantastic in equal measures and deserve the moniker "...of Desolation" in that they do not stand one inch behind the legendary boxed set in imaginative potential and believability, perhaps even transcending it.


Now in a book of this size, not all crunch is perfect, not every item can be a winner, not every spell mind-boggling - I do not claim that it is. What I can wholeheartedly claim is that this is the type of book that makes reviewing worthwhile - the writing is actually so good, I felt hard-pressed at times to step away and let sink what I've read. This made me dust off my 6 Arabian Nights-print-out and makes for a superb addition to any desert-campaign, even if you choose to ignore the Lost Lands-fluff. Add to that the low price-point and superb production values, and we have a collection of adventures that no self-respecting DM should pass by....whether you go for the Desert of Desolation, the Southlands of Midgard or to unearth the Legacy of Fire/Mummy's Mask - I guarantee that this tome will make your desert more alive, more real. This is a glorious tome, a fun read, and well worth 5 stars + seal of approval, while also qualifying as a candidate for my best-of 2014 - get this awesome beast of a book!


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dunes of Desolation
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Winter Eternal
Publisher: Just Insert Imagination
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/24/2016 06:58:17

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This massive campaign setting clocks in at 122 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 116 pages of content, so let's take a look!


Okay, so here I am, time and again, complaining about rehashed tropes - so does this book bring something new to the table? The answer to this is surprisingly complex. But let me begin. Winter Eternal takes place on the continent Ehlerrac on the world Azegar - said place was an environment of lush and diverse biomes, where people and magic prospered for ages. Then, the sun died in the event commonly referred to as Sun Death - which is kind of correct...and not. A sputtering globe still hangs in the sky and when the resulting cataclysms had passed, life continued - perhaps due to its sputtering last emissions, perhaps due to powerful magics...fact is, that instant heat death and entropy did not claim the continent: The Green Council tried to maintain life, the orc wars began and what once were camps of struggling survivors evolved into cities adapting to the harsh environment of Ehlerrac - massive heat spells keeping life possible in distinct zones. Similarly, current innovations have created protected roads, so-called archways, connecting them and the unearthing of strange crystals, dubbed sunshards, speaks of a revolution in technology in the making.


This is interesting indeed from a set-perspective, though its roots cannot be denied: As much as this book's diverse blurbs claim otherwise, this is pretty much a quintessential post-apocalyptic setting: It may not sport the nuclear/magical fallout component, but, from pockets of civilization with odd customs to rare means of making survival possible, this draws on tropes of the genre and generally inverses the spin one usually sees: Winter Eternal could well be considered to be the mirror image of Dark Sun. Mind you, this is not a bad thing - I just don't get why this book's advertisement tries so hard to deny these roots.


But back to the subject matter at hand - we're entering Ehlerrac 140 years after globes of life-saving light went up above the remaining cities and people by now have adapted to the strange lands and thus, character creation sports short blurbs for diverse characters and races as well as providing several edges and hindrances. Playable race-wise, we get dwarves, elves, goblins, grayns, half-folk, humans, mekellions and the orc-tainted. Generally, the races are well-balanced, though the mekellions are arguably the strongest of the races portrayed herein, at least on paper...with one catch. They're reptilians. Ina world defined by the capital letters word "COLD" - so go figure: You may be stealthy and a natural climber, but susceptibility to cold of all things...ouch. A total of 2 hindrances and 7 edges are provided for your perusal to expand your character's options.


Similarly, thereafter, we are introduced to a variety of items, which also features several unique things like velopedals, sunshard tents and the like - and it is here, the book shows its most baffling organization decision: Interspersed throughout this book, you'll note backer-inspired cards of characters, which sport full stats and background information. I like the respective write-ups do not get me wrong - however, having NPC-stats show right up in the middle of another section is just bad organization: It drags you out of the section and may even constitute a SPOILER in the player-centric sections of the book. Perhaps I'm a prick, but this bothers me to no end.


Now, to return to at least proverbially greener pastures, let us take a look at how the world is depicted, for it is here that Winter Eternal once again manages to shine. While you should not expect scifi-levels of concise logic in a setting that contains copious amounts of magic, the world as depicted herein does feel surprisingly concise: From lighting conditions to the archways themselves, the culture and its defining characteristics are depicted in a rather captivating manner, with Summer and Autumn zones and the respective cities in particular being surprisingly interesting: Beyond sporting neat maps, ghost-haunted Deadfalls, Dwarven Drogan and the sound-amplifying Echo all make for unique places that draw upon high-concept, unique ideas - particularly wallside, a city build along the walls in a huge chasm, is a visually-stunning idea I absolutely adored. Similarly, the respective organizations - which include the voiceless that convey the messages from the dead or the waywalkers make sense in the world they inhabit. 4 deities, 3 hells, calendars and festivals - there is quite a bit of material here, most of which firmly belongs in the high-concept class...though this breadth and density of good ideas does come at a price, namely at the price of details.


You see, the respective entries portraying these components ultimately remain sketchy - whether it's the deities or cities, you always are left with an awesome concept, perhaps a great map...and then have to do the heavy lifting of adding the details. Similarly, while there is a section on magic and its impact/restrictions, I ultimately found myself wondering whether there should not be more in that regard as well. The game master section collates rules for different environmental zones and helps convey a bit of the flavor of the setting and sports some more detailed and captivating hooks, like the chaotic, potentially mutating red shards. Similarly, fluff-only entries for the lost orc tribes, the dead ruler and similar high-concept ideas touched upon in the book are appreciated - but also feel, at least to me, brief. The book's bestiary provides a diverse selection of creatures to combat, some of which sport gorgeous full-color artworks. That being said, mechanics-wise, while not bad, you probably won't be blown away by the rather classic array of creatures herein - stone golem? Check. Zombie? Check. Going a step further and bringing something more unique here more often would have benefited this book.


Winter Eternal concludes with a thank you-list interspersed with more NPCs, a map of Ehlerrac and a handy index.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are okay - I noticed quite an array of punctuation glitches and couldn't shake the feeling that a capable editor could have made the prose a bit more alive - while not in all instances, there are some cases where it feels too stiff for the glorious concepts it tries to convey. Layout adheres to a two-column standard in full color that has a relatively wide margin in the middle of the page, which is used to enter comments and quotes - a nice idea, though one that obviously artificially bloats the page-count and makes the book longer than its content would require it to be. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks. Artwork-wise, the book sports absolutely glorious full-color pieces that oscillate with some less awesome, more cartoony pieces. The aforementioned NPC-cards, thrown haphazardly through the book, sport solid b/w-artworks - though their different style clashes, also on an aesthetic level, with the presentation of the respective chapters.


Author Morné Schaap has created a setting that breathes being a labor of love - this does present a significant array of imagination and panache. At the same time, this book has two significant flaws. Number one pertains the NPC-cards - Why not organize all those NPCs in their own, GM-only chapter? There is no good reason for this jarring layout-decision that takes you, time and again, out of the prose of the chapter you're reading....to the point, where I got really annoyed by them. Think about it, you're reading about the climate of Athas and poof, suddenly, 2 pages of statblocks and NPC-backgrounds, then more on climate. Call me a prick, but this annoyed me to no end.


Then again, I may have an idea why this decision was made...you see, the layout already leaves a pretty wide margin...and the cards stretch the respective sub-header entries. The whole history of Ehlerrac...is covered in 4 pages. The wilderness...in 4 pages...which include artworks and two cards. And THAT's the problem of Winter Eternal: Winter Eternal is not a campaign setting in the traditional sense - it's a sketch of a campaign setting, a basic gazetteer. When you take away the copious, interesting NPC-cards, you are left with precious few pieces of information on the world - granted, enough to run the game in Ehlerrac...but, at least to me, not enough.


Don't get me wrong: Winter Eternal is a fantastic idea-mine that shows a creative mind at work, a depiction of a world wherein winter is not only coming - it's here to stay. But at the same time, this book constantly show you awesome concept y...to then not elaborate on it, leaving you to flesh out the brilliant idea. As an idea-mine, this is great - as a campaign setting, it, at least to me, fell short due to not providing enough material for the respective components, due to being too sketchy in several of its key components.


Do I want to read more on Ehlerrac? Yes! I see vast potential in this setting to truly be unique, awesome and distinct. But at the same time, this book, on its own, left me like a good bowl of Ramen: Happy and satisfied for a very brief period...and then, the hunger started settling back in and I started thinking about it. How to rate this, then? Well, for one, I have written this review thrice now - the author is continuously streamlining the book, which is great to see. As per the posting of this review, I am very much hopeful for the future supplements planned for Winter Eternal and caring about a book...is a good thing. Still, ultimately, this one left me at once excited and with a distinct impression of having read a great, if flawed offering that simply could have used more material to make its respective aspects shine. My final verdict will hence clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo, to 4 stars for the purpose of this platforms - nice as an idea mine, somewhat short of what I expect from a campaign setting. If you're looking for the latter, round down.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Winter Eternal
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Mini-Dungeon #024: The Lapis Maiden of Serena Hortum
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/24/2016 06:53:36

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map (alas, sans player-friendly version) and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked to d20pfsrd.com's shop and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM.


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


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


Still here?


All right!


The desert village of Serena Hortum is the backdrop of this module, with a local named Nadia looking for her missing sister - a beauty named Alucia. The trail leads to the estate of a merchant called Bodigar - though, inside, the PCs are in for a nasty surprise: Bodigar has indeed abducted Alucia and his mansion does show enough indication of his depravities - the worst of which would be the statues in the garden, which also feature fair Alucia, transformed into stone by his pet basilisks. Bringing the vile merchant to justice will be an interesting task indeed!


Conclusion:


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


Justin Andrew Mason's Mini-Dungeon is compelling - either as straight-forward hack and slay or as an infiltration, this one offers a nice story, a cool backdrop, diverse challenges and even a bit of social interaction, this is a great example of what can be done with a straight-forward, smart application of the limiting mini-dungeon-formula. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mini-Dungeon #024: The Lapis Maiden of Serena Hortum
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Night's Black Agents: The Zalozhniy Quartet
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/23/2016 04:33:43

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This epic 4-part mega-adventure/campaign for Night's Black Agents clocks in at 148 pages, 2 pages of editorial, 3 pages of ToC, leaving us with 143 pages of content, so let's take a look!


This was moved up on my review-queue due to me receiving a print copy for the purposes of a critical and honest review.


All right, so this would be the first big Night's Black Agents-campaign released - and it ultimately is a release we needed. Why? Because NBA changes quite a significant amount of assumptions when compared to the more horror-centric iterations of the GUMSHOE-system, like the inspiring Esoterrorists. While I have A LOT of shadowrun-experience under my belt and while my fantasy and sci-fi adventures tend to end up on the complex side of things, I found myself, back when I got the base game, wondering how to capture a unique tone and theme. Note that this was before I had the superb Double Tap-expansion book. I was thus relatively excited to see this book - and take a look at Night's Black Agents as "intended", at a spy-epic.


Before we dive into the nit and grit of the modules/mega-adventure, I feel the need to address something, namely the thoroughly unique structure of this saga: The Zalozhniy Quartet features something that only very rarely works in the context of any given adventure: A dauntingly modular structure. Since the very nature of vampires is modular in Night's Black Agents, we obviously need to take these components into account - and the book does a superb job at doing just that: Whether you opt for the supernatural, mutant, damned or the alien angle, the saga works. So this would be the first modularity factor. The second, and more important one, pertains the facets of espionage gameplay - each of the 4 scenarios contained herein has a dauntingly different focus and if I didn't know it better, I'd seriously assume them to be written by different authors - from high-intrigue to full-blown action, the whole gamut of the genre is covered rather well.


Better yet, the overall module features two components I wholeheartedly endorse: For one, the content herein can easily be added to just about any conspyramid you could imagine, meaning that the content herein is important, but will not override the meta-plot planned for your campaign. Secondly, the modules contained herein can be played in any order, with the frame-narrative and knowledge gleaned being modified for the respective sequence chosen, though personally, I'd advise playing the books in the sequence depicted herein - to me, this looks like the most organic one, though the campaign finale for another sequence is one I personally prefer - but then again, this is so modular it supports actually utilizing all of the potential climaxes with minimal tweaking.


As far as supplemental material is concerned, we receive 6 pregens as well as 6 city maps of places visited - which is nice, but also the one weakness of the mega-adventure: While GUMSHOE is not particularly dependent on tactical maps as far as roleplaying games are concerned, this does sport a few encounters that could have benefited from more map material - I will explicitly note those instances in my review below, though, admittedly, a cursory google-search does net plans to use, so overall, this is mostly a non-issue.


And this would be just about as far as I can go sans diving deeply into SPOILERS. Potential agents should jump to the conclusion right now - you don't want to spoil this one for yourself.


...


..


.


All right, only directors left? Great! Few crime syndicates evoke the same level of dread as the Lisky Bratva, a brotherhood of the Russian mafiya, here guided the vor (which roughly translates to thief-in-law or thief-who-obeys-the-code) Josef Lisky, who has spent most of his 70 year-life guiding the criminal organization from the confines of his prison cell. Now, though, "Uncle Joe" is free and commands a significant array of criminal assets, the most important of which would arguably be Dr. G.D. Dorjiev, who, unlike his vor, is best characterized as a cruel attack dog - and as the Lisky Bratva's resident necromancer...and their source for the eponymous Zalozhniy, who may well be the most awesome creatures that so far have been introduced by Night's Black Agents.


What are the Zalozhniy? Well, they are creatures that have perished at an unnatural time, creatures that literally should not be, being wrong on a fundamental level. Having lost their time of death, they are out of sync with time itself and generate an odd distortion field that can be used to receive a last chance warning for their impending assault. Ina stroke of sheer genius, these powerful creatures gain Athletics or Health whenever they manage to have a person die in an accident. The time distortion created by these nigh-unkillable creatures (each of which must be defeated by bringing the ordained death to them, meaning that players will need to do some legwork...) has been exploited by Dorjiev - the necromancer is unkillable, as he's hidden his own death in their time-distortion, meaning he'll be a lethal and truly astounding recurring foe throughout the adventures contained herein. Obviously, the assets at the beck and call of the Lisky Bratva warrant a proper adversary map for the director.


Aforementioned flexibility in running the sequence of the modules is also visualized in a handy diagram and, while a sequence is presumed, there is, indeed a metaplot to be found herein, one that centers on Harry St. John Philby, a spy and traitor working for British foreign office and his son, Kim Philby - both of which btw. are real life persons you can easily research to add even further detail to this campaign beyond the significant array already offered: Philby of Arabia and The Philby Conspiracy in particular provide interesting further angles for the directors among you that are as obsessive as yours truly. In the context f Night's Black Agents, the already exceedingly intriguing life of these persons receives a further angle, namely their knowledge of the Albedo and Nigredo, substances that can be used to create the Rubedo. If you're not familiar with alchemical lore, this adds basically a philosopher's stone angle to the whole operation - one that admittedly could conflict with your definitions of vampires...or rather, it could in a lesser book. In fact, the rather nebulous nature of these particular artifacts allow for the customization by the director to suit his/her respective needs within the grand scheme of the conspiracy, though personally, I feel that supernatural, damned and mutant vampires work best here.


All right, so the first module herein is the most straightforward of them and thus, imho, works best as a tour-de-force opener: The Zalozhniy Sanction begins with the agents working together with one Donald Caroll in Odessa as they break at his behalf into a warehouse of the Lisky Bratva - while Donald is assassinated by a zalozhniy, he manages to impart the location of his safehouse in Vienna upon the PCs, which is btw. considered neutral ground - a fact that becomes very important in the second module.


Well, as you may have gleaned from the above, things almost immediately go horribly sideways - which means this whole module pretty much becomes a vast sequence of chases and border-transitions. The small chases in particular should be mentioned here, as they offer a staggering array of detail for the director, with handy parameters listed by route, including default pursuers and high stress additions. Beyond the high stress sections on behalf of authorities both straight and corrupt, a variety of mundane and supernatural counter-measures employed by the Lisky Bratva means the agents will need to be on their a-game as they escape to Transnistria, where further progress requires the delicate framing of a particular star. Optional human-trafficking to be uncovered and extracting targets mean that burning and counter-burning, strategies and responses, render the high-octane chase back to Vienna truly exciting and gut-wrenching - the agents should breathe a significant sigh of relief once they've reached Vienna sans being torn to pieces or snipe'd away...


In Vienna, perhaps the most brainy of the modules herein take place - due to the neutral territory status "Out of the House of Ashes", which focuses on the extraction of Arkady Shevlenko, takes place. Shevlenko, suffering from a heart condition and bereft of almost all of his family, was the last handler of St. John Philby and is in town with a retinue, accompanied by his FSB handlers - and he may be the crucial piece missing for the agents. The problem is, though, that both the CIA and the Listky Bratva want the old man - and thus, an epic array of smoke and mirrors operations begin in Vienna, including one of the most awesome extractions I've ever seen in a published module.


Were I to go into the vast array of internally connected details here, I'd quite frankly require at least 3 full pages for this module alone. From a narrative point of view, the high intrigue, smart structure of this module means that it feels like a welcome break from the adrenaline-infused first adventure, emphasizing rather a constant sense of mounting tension that only few movies or novels of the genre manage to reach. However, in the end, Arkady is not destined to survive the ordeal - but his last remaining relative, Anna is. And yes, there is a sensible and fitting explanation why even the most powerful conspiracy has not broken the stubborn old man...


The third module, once again switches emphasis - "the Boxmen" is a saga most in line with Mission Impossible, suffused with a healthy dose of sleuthing and researching the Swiss banker's family, the Montavons, whose vault hides something the PCs require - with the saga's modularity determining the exact nature of what there is to be to unearth. Alas, the PCs are not the only ones planning a heist for the legendary Koernersbank - there are high-class thieves that may provide to be allies, foils, or, more likely, both. Recovering the legendary Albedo from the vault, however, just may end with the item being stolen. Oh, have I mentioned he once again gloriously-detailed chase-rules, hot lead options and the level of detail provided here? Basically, this module can be considered to be a middle ground between the former two parts of the quartet, a blend of investigation and action...and the concise planning of the heist itself is awesome, modular and problem-focused - love it! With one caveat, though: The bank's floor-plans would have been exceedingly handy to have, since there is quite a high chance the agents will seek to acquire them.


The final of the 4 modules, "Treason in the Blood", could be best summed up as a more realistic James Bond meeting classic themes of pulp literature. Easily the most fantastic of the 4 modules, it takes place in Baghdad, Iraq and Saudi Arabia (see Kingmakers: The Invention of the Modern Middle East if you require additional information on the area and its turbulent history), unearthing a plot of potentially global repercussions, as the vampiric conspiracy is getting ready for taking control of the Middle East via a plan most devious - from a mysterious woman calling herself "Katun" (which roughly translates to "Queen") living in a mansion in Cyprus to finding what once was St. John Philby in the middle of the desert to a brutal check-mate situation and the James Bond-worthy climax (featuring a Camazotz), this chapter is by far the most fantastic, though one scene, set in the Mukhabarat Archive in Beirut, would certainly have benefited from a proper map. It should be noted that this one's end-game encounter (the one you usually only run if the module's the last of the 4) is particularly cinematic - and indeed, these climaxes are so cool, I'd encourage the respective directors out there to do the minor work and incorporate all of them in the module - they all are exceedingly gratifying and sport a level of palpable tension that feels like you could cut it.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are superb - I noticed no glitches of any importance in this epic tome. Layout adheres to a 2-column b/w-standard that's printer-friendly and the pdf comes thankfully fully bookmarked for your convenience. The b/w-artworks provided are excellent and the cartography shows realistic city plans, though buildings and smaller locales could have used some map support. I have the softcover print edition and encourage you getting that one: Not only does it use high-quality, glossy paper, this one is definitely a book that deserves a place of honor among your books.


Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan and Kenneth Hite have crafted a truly epic, astounding campaign, one that defined, for me, the massive difference in themes of Night's Black Agents versus the more horror-themed GUMSHOE-games; to me, this did a superb job in establishing a truly unique identity regarding what's at stake, how modules run and how the rules make sense in practice and interact. The thoroughly modular structure of this campaign is, to me as a designer, perhaps the most impressive component of this saga - seeing how most D&D/d20/PFRPG APs fail to retain a perfect level of consistency in a linear campaign, maintaining such in a modular campaign should be considered to be all the more impressive on a meta-side.


But more importantly than me gushing about the modularity and meta-structure of this book is one simple fact: This reads better than most novels on the topic I've recently read (with Ian McEwan's predictable, bland Sweet Tooth being a sad all time low for his books...but I digress) and, more importantly, it PLAYS even better. Add to that the fact that the Zalozhniy rank among my favorite monsters, regardless of system, and you get a truly superb campaign that btw. also works perfectly in conjunction with the introductory s(entries)-scenario. If you're a director who is new to Night's Black Agents, make sure to pick this one up - its unique pacing, variety and themes made me more cognizant of the unique themes and playstyle Night's Black Agents can support.


Being one truly amazing campaign, I wholeheartedly believe that even non-GUMSHOE GMs can benefit from reading this, learning the structure and scavenging details, set-ups and themes. I truly believe this mega-adventure made me a more versatile director/GM - and not many modules these days manage to achieve that. My final verdict will hence clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval, my only complaint remaining that this could have used a tad more maps.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Night's Black Agents: The Zalozhniy Quartet
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Campaign Events: Urban Riot
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/23/2016 04:31:54

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The second installment of the campaign events-series clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?


We begin this guide-book of dressing for the events of riots in the streets with a massive 100-entry strong table of miscellaneous dressings that reach from toppled statues to bloody teeth littering the streets in a rather grisly, appropriate background. Speaking of which - high priestesses torn apart and now-inedible stews mushes do one thing very well: They highlight different aspects of what it means when civilization as we know it and inhibitions are suspended, even if only for a short period of time.


Of course, it is not only the remnants of such events that constitute a riot (as opposed to a post apocalyptic dressing-book), but rather the individual things that can happen - which, then, would consist of no less than 100 minor events: From mobs forming to women crying to hooded hoodlums looking at intricately-carved doors to terrified nobles and dwarves buckling under the weight of their most cherished belongings, there are a lot of ways for PCs to get involved in whatever riot is currently going on in your campaign.


25 entries of fluff-only sample rioters, from uncanny doppelgangers to tattooed ex-convicts and graffiti-artists further complement this rich tapestry - and if your previous impression was akin to mine that the former tables didn't 100% live up to the diversity and chaos one would expect, then rest assured that here, the book delivers an awesome diversity indeed. Where things get truly intriguing, beyond even the former table, would be in the hooks, complications and opportunities, of which no less than 20 are provided: When for example a local lord pardons a known serial killer in exchange for information on political rivals and asks the PCs to investigate the criminal's claims while people are demanding the psycho's execution, you indeed have an awesome story in scant 6 lines, one that just about writes itself. Or what if the populist bastard son of the city's ruling class suddenly becomes the very symbol of freedom - what will happen then and there when he can or cannot live up to the symbolic charge endowed upon him by the body politic?


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, as I've come to expect from Raging Swan press. Layout adheres to a 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. It should also be noted that this pdf comes in two versions, one optimized for screen-use and one optimized for the printer - nice!


I won't lie - the first two tables herein Nicholas Wasko provided did not elicit maximum excitement from me; perhaps this is due to me hoping for more weirdness featured; perhaps it is due to me simply having read too much in that vein. It doesn't matter, ultimately, for what before looked like a good, if not stellar little pdf managed to turn everything around with the second half: Both the sample rioters and the complications in particular are downright inspired and leave you craving more, to the point where particularly the latter rank among the best hooks I've seen in such a section in quite a while, writing the adventures they spawn almost by themselves. Now, much like the former installment on masquerade balls, this is a good dressing-pdf, one bordering on great, but also one that left me with a tentative feeling that a bigger format with crunch blended in would have made the book even more useful.


Do not let this nagging fool you, though - this still is a very useful, neat dressing-pdf, one well worth a final verdict of 4.5 stars....though I do have to round down, since the first two tables could have used a tad bit more variety and deviations from the victim/perpetrator-dichotomy prevalent in the set-up itself.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Campaign Events: Urban Riot
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Mythic Monsters #29: Plants
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/20/2016 18:46:59

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of the mythic monsters-series clocks in at 28 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of introduction, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 17 pages of raw content, so let's take a look!


So, plants...to me, they always are the most creepy critters out there. I don't know why, but fungi and plants, perhaps due to my allergies and their overt and covert means of causing harm, always felt truly disturbing to me. Similarly, a fascination with herbalism is immediately catered to by this pdf, for we begin with truly magical, mythic plants - what about bellflower-like plants that are sensitive to sound and can easily be activated by the pure voices of children - granting fast healing as well as allowing for age resistance? Yes, these plants are truly interesting and breathe the spirit of magic and the fantastic. Love them! Spell-wise, this also sports two new ones, one to grow potion-fruits and a high-level spell that lets you grow a tree of life - both of these are absolutely awesome.


Creature-wise, we begin with the CR 4/MR 1 assassin vine, which is sentient and thus a great stalker and better ambush capabilities - nasty! (Oh, and the plant comes with a neat full-color artwork!) On the upper CR-range the CR 17/MR 7 Bodythief receives a brutal scream that not only deals damage, but also alerts all spawn creatures in a huge radius...oh, and the spawn they create are truly powerful...beyond a sample creature, we actually get a new template, the CR+2/+1 pod-paragon-creature...this is awesome and the step-beyond I really enjoy seeing!


Most iconic, perhaps, would be the CR 12/MR 5 giant flytrap, which not only has acidic sap and mythic power-based alluring pheromones as well as healing from engulfed creatures - brutal and awesome. On the lowest CR/MR-scales, CR 2/MR 1 Leaf Rays can change colors based on the season and implant seeds in victims - cool! The CR 1/MR 1 Leshy benefit from woodland stride, thus making them brutal guerillas.


Fans of Mr. King will enjoy the CR 6/MR 2 Living Topiary, which can root itself in the ground and combine entrap with trampling foes - glorious! At CR 5/MR 2, mythic mandragora get better blood drain and a rend that receives an increased poison DC - solid. The CR 10/MR 4 mythic quickwood receives magically-enhanced senses and may conjure forth tangles and even walls of roots for crowd-control tricks that complement the creature perfectly...oh, and mythic power-based quicker pulls are nasty, particularly if the target fails the save versus the accompanying stun...Awesome!


The CR 8/MR 3 Shambling Mound comes per default with the giant template added (though a version sans it is provided) and may sink into the ground, creating a deadly, quicksand-like mire...oh, and beyond better vine attacks, they can make big, nasty, entangling vine bursts by plunging them into the ground. The CR 7/MR 3 Tendriculous gets paralytic spores, a paralytic bite...and 25-ft-vines to grab foes with...so yes, the thing actually has proper tendrils! Thanks for making the bland base creature finally more interesting. At CR 3/MR 1, the Yellow Musk Creeper may create instant zombies - neat. At CR 20/MR 8, the mythic Zomok is a true nightmare: Permanent tree transformation, entangling breath weapon and a sacrifice-based healing wave make this one absolutely brutal.


The pdf, as always, comes with a new creature, lavishly rendered in full-color: The CR 15/MR 6 Venusi: Gigantic, purple vine-like alien plants, intelligent apex-predators and particularly well-suited to annihilating elves, they can infuse spores in the spinal columns of those trapped in their dread grasp, rendering their victims even more susceptible to their powers. Worse, soporific spore clouds and tendrils that can deliver touch attacks make them lethal...oh, and forest fires make them more dangerous, for these horrid THINGS are actually healed by fire damage! Have I mentioned that they sport caustic nodules and that they add fire and acid damage in a given round together for the purpose of resistance bypassing? This creature is a true beauty and one of the best original creatures in the whole series!


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Legendary Games' two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The artworks provided are nice as well.


Jason Nelson, Mike Welham, Alistair J. Rigg and Jonathan H. Keith deliver in this installment: Plants need to be tricky, but they also need to be efficient, somewhat realistic, if you will - we all know how plants work and while we want the fantastic, we also know our biology, so much like animals, this needed to be creative and magical, but still believable...and take creatures that are known for being deadly, but vulnerable and make them fearsome. This pdf achieved this goal with flying colors - all killer, no filler, this book takes some of the most boring creatures and breathes unique life and flair into them, while also providing superb supplemental material and a stunning new adversary. This is one of the strongest installments in the whole series - the final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval - get this now!


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mythic Monsters #29: Plants
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Player Paraphernalia #36 The Highwayman (hybrid class)
Publisher: The Knotty-Works
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/20/2016 18:45:37

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This class clocks in at 8 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let's take a look!


The highwayman is a cavalier/rogue hybrid class and, chassis-wise, receives d8, 6+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple and martial weapons, hand crossbow, light and medium armor, full BAB-progression and good Fort- and Ref-saves. The class begins with a non-scaling +1 bonus to Acrobatics, Climb, Disguise, Escape Artist, Knowledge (nobility), Sleight of Hand and Stealth as well as Swim.


At 1st level, 1/day, as a swift action, the class gets a kind of swingy challenge variant: The highwayman receives 1/2 class level to Sense Motive versus the target as well as +1d6 damage. This imposes a penalty of 1/2 class level to Perception and Sense Motive-checks involving anyone else - on a nitpicky side, the penalty-sentence fails to print the skills with capital letters and lacks the minimum 1-note, but that's mostly a cosmetic glitch. The highway man increases the bonus damage by +1d6 every 3 levels thereafter and also receives an additional daily use. The class receives mount and order at 1st level, thankfully noting that challenge modifiers instead apply to the modified ability.


Starting at 2nd level, the class gets +1 to Perception and Sense Motive, +1 every 3 levels thereafter and also nets drumroll a boon, which would be the talents of the class - yes, this means we have actual CHOICE and player agenda here, something painfully non-existent in the vanilla cavalier. An additional boon is gained every 4 levels after the second. The boons allow for the taking of a limited array of rogue talents, substituting the bonus damage of his variant challenge for sneak attack prerequisites. Beyond that, teamwork feat sharing, skill bonuses, (improved) uncanny dodge etc. complement the selection. Here's the cool thing: The boons allow for non-combat utility. The class actually plays rewarding when it's not bashing brains in.


On the defensive side, evasion at 3rd level, improved evasion at 9th and mounted bonus feats complement the concept. The capstone further upgrades the variant challenge of the class. And in case you're wondering - tactician, bonus feats, banner and the charge-related abilities are the things the cavalier retains over the highway man, ensuring that the parent retains supremacy in open warfare - which constitutes a perfect representation of fluff-relationships of classes in crunch. Kudos!


The pdf also sports a new cavalier order, the order of the road, which focuses on social skills as well as Bluff-demoralizes and is pretty non-descript - an okay order, but not one you'll see players gushing on about.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are good - while there are some minor formal hiccups, the book is easy to grasp and well-presented. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard and sports solid stock art. The pdf is layered, allowing you to turn off the blue background and the pdf comes with the good type of hyperlinks. Furthermore, it does sport bookmarks in spite of its brevity.


What John Buckley presents here can be summed up with few words: Genius in simplicity. The main issue of the cavalier lies in its lacking flexibility and player agenda as well as next to no non-combat-utility. This adds player agenda as well as the skills necessary to be a good face and actually matter in non-combat situations. The design's variant challenge is pretty elegant and maintains easy compatibility with rogue material, should you elect to diversify the portfolio of the class. Basically, what we have here is the class the cavalier should have been. While the order is not too exciting, that is imho not enough to drag down this class, particularly not at the exceedingly fair price. Similarly, while it does have some minor hiccups in editing, I don't consider that enough to truly complain about it either. I really, really like this class and will continue to use it in my game - hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 for the purpose of this platform and, since this provides a more rewarding take on the cavalier-niche while maintaining compatibility, I will also slap my seal of approval on it.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Player Paraphernalia #36 The Highwayman (hybrid class)
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Four Horsemen Present: Base Class Engineer
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/19/2016 03:11:54

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This base class clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let's take a look!


The base class engineer as presented herein has d8 HD, 4+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons as well as with light, medium and heavy armors, but not shields and receives a 3/4-BAB-progression and good Ref- and Will-saves. The engineer begins play with Craft Construct as a bonus feat and treats her engineer level as a caster level for the purpose of qualifying for magic item creation and feat-prerequisites. The engineer can create spell-trigger and spell-activation items. From the very first level on, the engineer also has a crafting pool of equivalent GP-value for crafting purposes, beginning with 100 gp and scaling up to 100K at 20th level, with the respective levels being cumulative. The gold may also be used for repair-purposes.


The first unique component of the class would be the automaton, also gained at first level - this is a construct of the engineer's size with a shape roughly equivalent to that of the engineer. Repairing the automaton does not cost gold, but the Craft-DC to repair it is 10 + class level and takes 1 day. Per success, the engineer repairs 1d6 times class level HP. Repairing a destroyed automaton increases the DC by +5. Spells like make whole and rapid repair apply to the automaton. Automaton base stats for sizes small, medium and large are provided. Automatons receive d10 HD and they do not have a Con-score, instead gaining bonus-HPs based on size. The automaton receives 3/4 HD-progression and BAB-progression as well as 1/4 Base-save-progression. The automaton receives a scaling natural armor bonus that begins at +1 and increases up to +12. The Str-score bonus increases from +0 to +14 and similarly, Dex-bonuses gained throughout the levels increase from +0 to +4. The automaton begins play with DR 2/adamantine and increases this value to up to DR 15/adamantine. The automaton begins play with a slam attack and increases the number of slam attacks it can perform to up to 4, though the progression here is a bit odd: The automaton has 2 slam attacks until15th level, where the automaton receives suddenly +2 attacks.


Now, the ardent reader may realize that the automaton is a bit weaker than the eidolon, for example - there is a reason for this. The automaton is designed to be worn by the engineer, and so is every construct the engineer makes, though only the respective engineer can wear a given construct. Entering or exiting a construct is a full-round action. Upon entering one of her constructs, the respective engineer may utilize the construct's physical ability scores, attacks, magic immunity, DR and the resistances provided by the construct traits, with class abilities and the like being used with the construct's ability scores, but the engineer does retain her own HP. Magical item benefits do not extend their benefits from the engineer to the worn construct and spellcasting is impossible while wearing a construct. On a downside, the magic resistant effects of e.g. magic immunity and the like also apply to beneficial effects and spells targeted at the engineer. Any damage that surpasses the DR-value is taken by BOTH engineer and automaton. Upon being rendered unconscious, an engineer's construct follows its last orders and for the purpose of arcane spell failure and the like, worn constructs count as heavy armor that apply a 50% arcane spell failure chance as well as no armor check penalty. Armor and construct-wearing cannot be stacked.


Starting at 2nd level, the engineer may choose one of the talents of the class, the construct modifications. An engineer receives an additional construct modification every 2 class levels attained after 2nd level and said modifications are automatically applied to all constructs she has at no additional cost. The modifications include improved AC, attribute bonuses as well as additional movement modes like flight or burrow speed. While the latter options could have imho used a slightly more finetuned availability, the base level requirement prevents them from breaking any game - kudos for getting that right! Teaching a construct language, allowing them to disguise themselves, replicant-style, as living entities, bonus elemental damage and energy rays, Grab, Size-increase and golem-like traits, maneuver tricks - there is a lot to customize here and high level engineers may even add limited fast healing to the constructs they create.


Now, the ardent reader may have noticed that the repair-speed provides a pretty nasty detriment for the engineer - one that would render the class all but useless at higher levels. (Think about all those HP and how long healing THAT would take...) - hence, at 3rd level, an engineer makes 1 week worth of Craft-progression in a single day, making not only construct crafting feasible, but also meaning that she can actually properly pursue the adventuring career. 5th level provides a teamwork feat and extends all teamwork feats the engineer has to the constructs...but my playtest did show that even quicker repairs were somewhat problematic in the mid-level range...a fact another class ability cleverly mitigates: Starting at 7th level, engineers may Int-mod + 1/2 class level times per day, repair constructs by patching them up, granting them 1d8 temporary hit points per two class levels. These last for 1 hour per level and cannot raise maximum hit points above that of the construct. Activation action is a standard action, a swift action while wearing the respective construct to be patched.


At 9th level, 1/day, an engineer may, as a full-round action, jury-rig constructs to replace a construct modification with another one, gaining a limited wildcard-flexibility, one that extends to all her constructs at 17th level. High level abilities include taking only half damage while wearing the construct, construct-disabling/controlling with a touch and finally, even quicker crafting progression as a capstone.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are excellent, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to Rogue Genius Games' two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Jacob Blackmon contributes his great, original art - aesthetics-wise, there is nothing to complain here.


Indeed, neither is there much to complain about in the craftsmanship or rules-language of Stephen Rowe: The engineer tackles a pretty complex concept in an easily understood, concise manner and presents a cool take on the power-armor-wearing class (as opposed to Interjection Games' full-blown Mecha-PrC, for example). Indeed, I was pretty positively surprised by how deceptively tight the balancing of the automaton is: You see, the issue with constructs lie in their massive array of immunities in combination with the difficulty of healing them: If you provide full healing, they inevitably end up as OP, while too stringent restrictions result in the respective class being unplayable due to not being able to heal up...ever. The feat of this class lies in its elegant solution of this issue, one that takes the non-linear power/damage-progression of PFRPG into account, with increasing flexibility to maintain functionality at higher levels. In one sentence: This class is, from a design stand-point, much more impressive than a cursory first glance would lead you to believe. Indeed, the class does play surprisingly well and can be considered to be a welcome addition to the roster of classes, though obviously one that belongs into experienced player hands, mostly due to the automaton-rules and the requirement for separate and hybrid stats. There is one thing I was missing from this pdf beyond a tad bit more unique automaton-tricks and that would be favored class options, but ultimately, both of these gripes boil down to me being nitpicky. Barring true complaints, I can settle on a final verdict of 5 stars for this well-crafted class.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Four Horsemen Present: Base Class Engineer
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