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Player's Guide to Kaidan
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/02/2018 06:16:54

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The Player’s Guide to Kaidan clocks in at 61 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page patron list, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 55 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

Before we begin, it should also be noted that I am somewhat of a Japanophile and love the Japanese horror tradition that this setting’s down to earth, gritty themes evoke. I was a backer of the Kickstarter that created this book, and, back in the day, I bugged Steven D. Russell (Rest In Peace) relentlessly about a good horror Player’s Guide sans spoilers for the setting. I was not, however, involved in the creation of this book in any way, shape or form.

All right, got that? Great! We begin with introductions by none other than F. Wesley Schenider and the man that first envisioned Kaidan, Michael K. Tumey. This section is a bit more interesting than usual, so I’m going to elaborate on it for a bit: You see, asian fantasy settings tend to gravitate to lumping all literary traditions and aesthetic conventions into one bucket; there is nothing wrong about that, in that we do the same for Western-themed RPGs: There is a style that hearkens to old-world aesthetics, some distinctly American settings – it happens and more often than not, the pot-pourri that is the result works. At the same time, this tendency has a consequence that few ever talk about, namely that the “loud” and flashy concepts override the nuanced ones, that mythology becomes this weird conglomerate. I’ve heard more than once someone remarking that e.g. “hero” would be a good “Samurai-movie” – which made me facepalm. In our globalized world, cross-pollination of aesthetics and concepts is a good thing as a whole, but at the same time, aesthetics cultivated in e.g. anime (and I’m a huge otaku!) can actually overlay and replace narrative traditions that are more subdued, but no less, perhaps even more, engaging. While I am, for example, a huge fan of Uzumaki (the manga!) or some of the grim horror-mangas out there, they do represent a different take onnarrative structure and employ different tropes than what you’ll see herein.

You see, Kaidan is based on the tradition of the Japanese ghost story, which has greatly influenced western sensibilities (most famously via the Ring and Ju-On franchises), but from Lafcadio Hearn’s traditions to Masaki Kobayashi’s classic movie adaption of these stories (Kwaidan, 1964), there is a lesser known, and, as one may argue, more humane type of horror that can be found – it is on said genre that Kaidan is based. The setting is horrific because of its deeply psychological nuances that remain relevant to this day, and because of the delightfully twisted cosmology that represents the backbone of the setting. The more subdued nuances of the setting allow you to tell different stories, and for that, I love it.

Now, if all of this sounds like a glowing recommendation before we get to the book, then you’d be right – I adore the setting. That being said, as always, this adoration also makes me rather stern regarding what I expect to see from this book, so can it withstand proper scrutiny? Let’s take a look!

Okay, so the first chapter here begins in a smart way – it explains to the player’s the social structure, caste system and environments found in Kaidan, including a nice b/w-map of the whole setting. Here is a crucial difference, though: The section does not pull back the veil regarding the central leitmotifs of the setting – it describes what PCs can learn and experience without spoilers, allowing the revelations, once they begin, to hit harder. It also helps players to feel embedded in the setting without explaining away the horrors at the root of the setting. That is a big plus and represents a central task I expect to fulfill from a player’s guide, so the section, in that way, achieves its lore goal.

Now, I know players, so I’m expecting that lore alone won’t cut it – the pdf knows as much as well and presents the races up next, starting with the Anu, one of the human ethnicities. Instead of the human bonus feat, these folks get +2 to Craft (poison) and Craft (trapmaking). They also get +2 to notice traps in forest settings – and yes, the bonus types are correctly codified. They replace the skilled racial trait with +1 hit point per HD. They also get 3 alternate racial traits that make sense and work. The henge come with 7 arrays of different ability-score modifiers for the respective clans (which include tanuki, hare, etc.), all of which are evenly dispersed between physical and mental scores and they get keen senses, +1 skill point or hp per level and are shapechangers, obviously. They also get Stealth and Survival as class skills and treat club and great club, long bow and spear as familiar weapons, gaining proficiency in them regardless of class. However, they also take a bit more damage from cold iron. The alternate racial traits include more bestial hengeyokai, who pay for natural weapons with decreased Intelligence. Aesthetic nitpick: Natural weapons are not codified, requiring the player to default to the standards regarding primary/natural and damage-types, but that is a minor complaint. Small and mixed marriage henge or those with priest or tengu training can also be found.

The dominant human ethnicity of the setting, the Kaidanese, come with a neat array of alternate racial options, with e.g. unclean and unwanted or being tengu raised as examples – they are mechanically sound and feature a strong narrative impetus, which is a big plus. Kappa are Small with +2 Strength, get a swim speed of 40 ft. and suffer no size penalties for grappling, gaining +1 to CMB and CMD instead. They treat Stealth and Survival as class skills and get a non-codified (this extends to all natural attacks and I won’t mention it from here on out) claw attack at 1d3 as well as kappa weapon familiarity. Sounds a bit stronger? Well, if you’re familiar with the legend of the water on top of the kappa’s head, you’ll grin when reading the racial weakness pertaining it. Kitsune can also be found – and in kaidan, they are significantly different from the standard race, gaining 40 ft. speed. They also are Small, have -4 Str, +2 Dex and Cha, are quadrupeds in their fox form and get a 1d4 bite. They have yokai traits, i.e. Stealth and Survival as class skills and may assume a specific, alternate shape. They get a single cantrip that can be sued 3/day for each use of Fox Magic – they are treated as 1/3 of a fox magic use. Fox magic? Well, that would be supernatural effects that can be used 1/day per tail of the kitsune. Save DCs scale based on Cha and fox tails. Oh, and guess what? If they fail a Will-save, their alternate forms may slip, revealing fox tells. They also can speak with foxes at will. I love this more subdued take on the kitsune. If you’d rather play a more martial kitsune, the alternate racial traits do allow for the use of fox magic as an attack-buff and nocturnal foxes and thieving specialists can be found here as well. The korobokuru are next at +2 Str and Wis, -2 Str. They are Small and have a slow speed, but get +2 to Stealth and Perception as well as +1 to saves to resist mind-affecting effects. They get +1 to Climb, Perception, Survival and Stealth in forests and their own array of weapon familiarities. They loathe conflict, though, and thus get -2 to atk versus non-animals, which is reduced to -1 in forests. Finally, the take on the tengu envisions them as +2 Dex and Wis, -2 Con, with yokai traits and a 1d3 bite attack (properly codified regarding types!). They are sword-experts and as such get quite a few racial proficiencies as well as +4 to Linguistics and receive 2 languages per skill point invested in them. They also have low-light vision…and an alternate racial trait that is called “Boar Rider.” Yes, there are dire boar-riding tengus. Come on. That’s damn cool. The races come with proper age, height and weight tables.

Now, next up, we take a look at forming an adventure party – whether you’re playing gaijin, yokai or samurai, there will be somewhat different things to consider, and the pdf helpfully states that “samurai” in the setting does not necessarily indicate having levels in the class. The roles of classes in Kaidan are explained, though, alas, the Occult classes or the ACG classes are not covered. The former is a bit of a pity, since e.g. spiritualist, medium and occultist imho would have made perfect fits for Kaidan. The pdf then proceeds to provide a selection of some of the cooler class options from the various Kaidan supplements: The blind Moso bard from Way of the Yakuza, the tengukensei from In the Company of Tengus, the yamabushi and yabusame from Way of the Samurai all have found their way here. The formatting of these has been improved. We also receive the kannushi priest cleric archetype, who gets 4 + Int skills and proficiency with light and medium armor and simple weapons. They only have access to one domain, chosen from a limited list and do not require a divine focus. Their channel-based healing is slightly less efficient, while their channeling versus undead is slightly more potent: +/- 1 per die, with 12th level allowing for full-round channeling for +2 damage per die. The rules-language here is slightly awkward, but remains functional and sans ambiguities. They gain spirit empathy as well as a bond to a shrine and may bless large structures and areas, very much emphasizing the priest aspect, which is something I enjoyed. Theme-wise concise, rules-wise less mind-blowing.

The miko shrine maiden is an oracle with a modified class skill list and proficiency in simple weapons and light armors and shields, expect tower shields, replacing Medium Armor Proficiency with Skill Focus (Perform [dance]). The pdf suggests curses and mysteries and proceeds to introduce the kami mystery, which yields Knowledge (nature) and (planes), Stealth and Survival as class skills. The bonus spells range from pass without trace to object/plant animation and summon nature’s ally spells. The spell array is okay, but nothing mind-blowing. The revelations include scaling energy resistance, a bonded animal, walking on water (later also on air) and the option to summon a kami into you for warrior-prowess. Minor complaint there: The ability is active and doesn’t sport an activation action. While it being SU lets you default to standard action, I think this one would actually warrant swift/immediate as activation. Making nature strike down targets is cool and we get nature sight, knowledge, talking with animals and elements – so nice, flavorful tricks here. The capstone lets you meld with any natural objects as well as 1/day elemental body IV.

The second new mystery would be the shrine mystery, which nets you Bluff, Knowledge (local) and Perception and pretty classic cleric spells. Here, we can find the nature mystery’s friend to animals, a shrine bond, fortune telling and a bunch of nice ones that thematically expand upon the concept of the bonded shrine. That being said, the mystery also loses a big chance: One revelation sports the option to make limited elemental bursts. …Come on! That practically DEMANDS some kineticist engine-action! The bonded shrine plus kineticist tricks would be perfect, natural fits for the setting! It’d explain why the flashy kineticist blasting isn’t found everywhere in the setting!

Now, the next thing the pdf presents is a new class – the necrotic warriors, elite agents of the Shogun, infused with the powers of dark arts. Oh, and guess what? No alignment restrictions! Thankfully! The class gets d10 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, proficiency with simple and light weapons as well as kama, nunchaku, sai, shuriken, siangham and light armors + bucklers. The class gets full BAB-progression and good Ref-saves. They also get limited Charisma-based spontaneous spellcasting at 4th level, with the spells limited by necrology chosen, which is btw. the most important class feature of the class, but we’ll get back to that in a bit.

The class begins with necromantic strike, which is basically a negative energy-based smite that adds Cha-mod to atk and twice class level to damage, usable 1/day, +1/day for every 3 class levels thereafter. Unfortunately, the ability fails to specify its activation action. 2nd level yields divine focus less channel negative energy as a cleric of ½ his class level. 3rd level lets the warrior add Cha-mod to Will-saves, but not if it’s negative. At 11th level, the same applies to initiative, which can be pretty strong. These wording constructs could have been phrased more elegantly by just noting that only the Charisma bonus is added. 5th level makes the necrotic warrior take damage from positive energy, be healed by negative energy, and also provides immunity to mundane diseases, +4 to saves versus magical ones. 9th level yields evasion, 15th level improved evasion and 17th hide in plain sight. 20th level is the undead apotheosis.

Now, as far as necrologies are concerned, we get 5 of them. As mentioned before, these define the spell selection and 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter, the list of bonus feats from which the warrior gets to choose. 2nd level and every 4 levels thereafter yield a special necrology power defined by the necrology in question. There is no choice here after choosing the necrology, which means that all such beings with the same necrology will be VERY similar. The class really could have used some player agenda there. The necrologies are blood, bone, brawn, poison and shadow. They…sport some weird design decisions. Blood, for example, lets you fling blood at nearby enemies – as a secondary attack, making the whole thing work as a natural attack, when that is NOT how such things are usually handled. Indeed, the material here is uncharacteristically rough for Rite Publishing. We, for example, fail to specify the save DCs of necrology powers. Some of the abilities specify the save DCs, but usually, that sort of thing is determined globally. There are also instances where damage type hasn’t been properly noted – bone darts should, for example, inflict piercing damage and later be treated as magical etc. for purposes of overcoming DR. Doubling Strength-bonuses (brawn necrology, level 18) gained from items is also a really bad idea and further skews PFRPG’s offense focus and high-level rocket-launcher tag syndrome. Yeah, not a big fan. The class, as an NPC-exclusive, could perhaps fly, but as a player-class, it’s too limited, has too few choices and while I love the visuals evoked by the abilities, the issues in the details make this one problematic.

The next chapter deals with Kaidanese weapons and armor as well as other equipment, which is neat to see. We conclude with a handy glossary of kaidanese terms.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting on a formal level are very good; on a rules-language level, the book isn’t bad, but it is also not as good as usual for Rite Publishing, with the new class sporting serious flaws in some of its components. Layout adheres to a two-column standard that is mostly b/w, apart from headers. The book is GORGEOUS: Ian Greenlee, Mark Bulahao, Mark Hyzer, Patricia Smith and Kamil Jadczak provide a ton of amazing, original b/w-artworks that manage to gel together into a consistent style. The pdf comes with bookmarks, but oddly, only for the appendices and the first chapter – the race and class chapters lack bookmarks!

Now, my long-winded introduction should make clear that I love the Kaidan Michal K. Tumey and Jonathan McAnulty created, with additional design by Steven D. Russell. And indeed, I like that the race and class options focus on flavorful choices that are suitable for more low-key playing experiences, for grittier games. I really applaud the consistency of the vision here. That being said, I also found myself slightly disappointed that we don’t get any occult materials herein, that no favored class options are provided for the races. That would be something I can live with, though. However, the serious issues in the new class, which takes up a ton of real estate, are somewhat jarring after the cool, spoiler-less gazetteer and neat race-section. If I were to rate this as a crunch-book, I’d probably settle in at something around the 3-star region. However, this is a Player’s Guide, and the gazetteer-section and flavor is amazing. Still, as a whole, I can’t go higher than 3.5 stars for this one. If you like grittier gameplay and the idea of Kaidan, round up; if you’re looking for primarily crunchy components, round down. My official final verdict will round up.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Player's Guide to Kaidan
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Mythic Monsters #46: Japan
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/02/2018 06:14:05

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of Legendary Games‘ Mythic Monsters-series clocks in at 32 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of 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 20 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Now, as always, we begin this supplement with new supplemental content – and this time around, that content comes in the guide of 5 new magic items, the first of which would be the mighty crane kimono, which nets the wearer Crane Style while unencumbered and in light armor and also bestows good fortune, which particularly shows when rolling an advantage-like roll, i.e. twice and taking the better result. Really cool: The kimono also protects from the ravages of time, rendering mythic wearers even immortal! Cool: We can use mythic power to render spells merciful or apply Touch of Serenity to attacks. I can see the kimono’s cranes being released. Evocative one. The second item would be a representation of the classic oni mask, here envisioned as allowing wearers to grow in size and gain oni-like defensive traits, which may be further enhanced via mythic power expenditure. Additionally, the mask can be thrown into the air to grow, pummeling a designated foe as forceful hand, representing a classic visual. Wearers can also fire rays and mythic wearers get passive bonuses. Cool take on the trope!

Less costly would be the princess peony, which can create a spectral bodyguard of sorts. The rokurokubi whip can have its tail transform into the head of the dreaded creature, which can also transmit caster croak! Mythic wearers can also wield it as a scarf, granting sustenance, the option to become a pseudo-rokurokubi etc. – amazing weapon! The tombo fan, finally, enhances bardic performance while acting as a magical fighting fan, while mythic wielders can begin to fly while maintaining performances with the fan. Nice one!

Now, what about the monsters? Well, at Cr 3/MR 1, we have the Pipefox, whose mythic incarnation is a true font of knowledge and who may, 1/day stun targets with a revelation. Fun one.! At the same CR/MR, kappa can thankfully now turtle up in their significantly stronger shells. I was also happy to see the water gourd represented in a proper ability here. Well done. At 1 CR higher, the Kawa Akago can break of their fangs in targets now, and they also get a luring, mournful cry – which is delightfully twisted.

From here, we move to the classic tanuki, here as CR 5/MR 2. The Tanuki gets its choice of a limited array of feats each round, to represent drunken master-style unpredictability, and yes, the classic flame breath as well as pilfering hand 3/day while in raccoon form. The Kirin’s mythic version clocks in at CR 8/MR 3 and is unfettered by boundaries – freedom of movement. They can use mythic power for quickened cure spells and get smite evil. They can also add a mythic power-based detonation to their new signature ability, which is a corona of purifying flames that harm neutral and evil creatures. (Kudos: Half fire/half untyped properly codified.)

At CR 10/MR 4, we have two creatures, the first of which would be the ogre mage, who gains a disease to afflict targets with as well as more natural weaponry to represent the maneater aspect. Oh, and they may use mythic power to increase spell DCs and enter a specialized rage. The second creature herein at this power-level would be the ice-maiden, the Yuki-onna can now bull rush in spite of being incorporeal and gets the trick to send magic flying back to casters. Nice! While we’re on the subject of deathly pale beauties: The Harionago clocks in at CR 13/MR 5 and does finally justice to the myth: DR-penetrating barbs in the hair, a nasty shriek (did I hear banshee?)…really cool. My favorite ability, though, would be a representation of her not handling rejection well: When someone resists her tricks, she takes Wisdom damage, but also gains a buff. This rewards smart players and has the plot-angle practically baked in. Kudos! Japanese legends sport some of my favorite woman-monsters, and the spider-hybrid Jorogumo, at CR 15/MR 6 is also included, and of boy is she cool: Webs laced with intoxicants and aphrodisiacs; enhancing spiders with breath weapons, implanting eggs, quick wrapping of targets – pure amazing!

At 1 CR more, the mythic Gashadokuro can fire skulls that latch onto victims and gnaw them to bits; they are nigh-unstoppable when faced by those suffering from starvation and they get a demoralizing roar and enhance the starvation aura to apply feast of ashes via successful attacks. At CR 21/MR 8, we have the Bakekujira, who can unleash mythic contagion, can Awesome Blow via tail slaps and gets fast healing 10 – but only in water…or, well. It can get half fast healing for a limited time for mythic power. Mythic power may also be used to attempt to affect creatures that saved via levathan’s call. They have bane versus ANY creature that killed an aquatic animal and those killed by their smashing breach rise as savage draugr! Have I mentioned the undead parasites? Oh yes. At the same lofty CR/MR, we get the mythic shinigami. These can crush soul gems quicker and gain cumulative bonuses when focusing on a target – death, alas, is inevitable, as they say. Similarly, escaping from one may see the mortal cursed with an escalating, devastating curse and their presence makes death effects bypass SR automatically. OUCH. And yes, their scythe can’t be disarmed…oh, and you DON’T want to be critted by them. If the damage doesn’t kill them, DC 37 save or die should make even mythic characters gulp for a second when facing these legends.

What’s the new creature, you asked? Well, none other than perhaps the most famous, legendary beast from Japanese myth. We’ve fought it in Nioh, in okami, we’ve read about it in Catherynne M. Valente’s Grass-Cutting Sword – represented in a ton of different media, we get the epic, eight-headed Yamata-No-Orochi, at CR 30/MR 10. Full attacks with charges. Beheading bites. 8 different breath weapons. Oh, it can INFLICT BURN. It has independent minds and control of which one is affected. It can intercept attacks by foregoing attacks or breath weapons. Oh, and it can, obviously, regenerate heads. Its jumps generate tsunamis/earthquakes…and it is a relentless sake-addict. Which may well be the only reliable way to survive seeing this glorious legend. Seriously, do the DPR-calculations for a smartly-played Yamato-No-Orochi. No matter how amazing the mythic high-level PCs are, they will fear this beast!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on both a formal and rules-language level, I noticed no serious issues. Layout adheres to Legendary Games’ two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The artists Tim Kings-Lynne, Mike Lowe and Tanyaporn Sangsnit did a glorious job with the artworks – the cover artwork in particular is PHENOMENAL. As in, one of my all-time favorite cover-artworks.

Jason Nelson, Loren Sieg and Mike Welham provide a homerun here – every single iteration of these mythic upgrades is suffused in mythology, sports amazing abilities, and blows its regular version out of the water – not only in power, but in how they try to represent the associated concepts. This is one of the best installments in the whole series, at least for me. It oozes flair and panache in every critter and the depiction of the legendary 8-headed snake as a new campaign-endboss-level super-beast adds icing on a cake made of awesome. 5 stars +seal of approval, given sans hesitation.

(As an aside, if you’re playing in Kaidan and are looking for some really tough bosses…there you go!)

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mythic Monsters #46: Japan
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Everyman Minis: Ghost Hunting Options
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/02/2018 06:11:53

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This Everyman Mini clocks in at 8 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page of advertisement, leaving us with 3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, we begin with two concisely-codified skill-uses to identify rules components of haunts via Knowledge (religion) and also, more relevant, unearth hints on how to end them. For settings like Kaidan or similar horror-themed games, this can be really neat! The latter is btw. reliant on a wide variety of skills, allowing all PCs to contribute to such attempts to identify.

The pdf then provides a new bard archetype, the spirit singer, who replaces soothing performance, adding call spirit (not properly italicized) to spells known and may cast it by performing 10 minutes. The bard must spend 5 rounds of bardic performance, +1 round per round he concentrates on it. Ähhh…I think something went wrong here. 10 minutes with that cost…I think this ability was supposed to offer bardic performance-based call spirit as an additional option, but RAW, this is just confusing. 18th level’s versatile performance lets you call a spectre, at high-performance-per-round cost, but here, the rules are tighter. You also take temporary negative levels while maintaining this. Instead of distraction (which may be learned instead of versatile performance, starting at 10th level), the ghost singer may bypass mind-affecting effect immunity of incorporeal undead with performances and bard spells. The archetype also begins play with speak with dead/haunts, which upgrades at 6th level, replacing versatile performance gained there.

We also get a new thematically-fitting bardic masterpiece, the Lullaby of Calming Spirits, which allows the bard to lull haunts into an inactive state – cool! We also get 3 new investigator talents. Phantom inkling enhances initiative versus haunts and allows the investigator to notice haunts. Using inspiration dice to make attacks as though ghost touch is nice. Spirit Sleuth’s header is not properly bolded and makes use of the new skill uses noted. The pdf also offers a level 2 burn 1 substance infusion for earth, the ghost-blight infusion, which makes the kinetic blast target incorporeal undead for full damage, courtesy of salts. Spectral barrier is a level 6 aether utility wild talent that duplicates anti-incorporeal shell, with 2 burn as an option to make it last for class level rounds.

The pdf also includes 4 magic items: Corpse glass can be directed at a place where an incorporeal undead was defeated, showing the remains and distance etc. – neat. Ghost-snarl bags are incorporeal-only tanglefoot bags. PEACHWOOD SWORD (oddly, allcaps) are problematic: These wooden swords cause Cha-damage on crits versus undead, and when destroyed from such a sword, rejuvenation etc. are ignored – the undead is destroyed. This wrecks many a great narrative and rewards critical-fishing builds. It can also target possessed creatures with cast out. Not a fan. Phantom snare, finally, is basically a ghost trap.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are still good, but not as precise as usual for Everyman gaming, with the archetype sporting a rules-hiccup, for example. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard and the pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none. The full-color artwork is nice.

I really like the new skill uses in Matt Morris’ ghost hunting mini, and some of the items are pretty neat. At the same time, the archetype takes up a lot of real estate and its concept has been done before in better, more interesting ways. The items, with the exception of the sword, are pretty nice. Still, as a whole, I was less blown away by this one than usual for both the author and the Everyman Mini-series. This is a solid, nice pdf and the skill-uses warrant getting this for horror-themed campaigns. My final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Everyman Minis: Ghost Hunting Options
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Rogue's Field Guide Rare Races
Publisher: Rogue Robot Studios
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/30/2018 06:05:14

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive book clocks in at 283 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page ToC, 1 page back cover/designation of product identity, leaving us with 277 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested to be moved up in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review.

We begin with a brief framing device that is mirrored in the end of the pdf, with notes by “The Rogue”, the eponymous explorer that comments the text and provides the respective surveys, as well as the lead designer.

As you could glean from the title, this book is concerned with unique and strange races. Each of the racial write-ups notes the RP-values (which are, as an aside, woefully inadequate at judging a race’s potency) and the basic notes we’ve come to expect – relations, background, preferred alignment, sample names – you get the drift. Age, Height and Weight tables are thankfully provided as well. Each race comes with alternate racial traits, racial feats and archetypes as well as favored class options. It should be noted that favored class options tend to clock in on the more detailed side of things, and that the lists take both classes from the ACG and from OA into account, and yes, even the vigilante. Additionally, each section comes with a sample NPC, who is depicted at levels 3, 6 and 12 – kudos for that. The NPCs have, PFS-style, their abilities spelled out, which can make them more convenient to use, but the abilities don’t state the type (Ex, Su, etc.) – personally, I think that having the type helps, but that as an aside. Length-wise, most of the racial entries cover slightly more than 20 pages, most of which is devoted to crunch – just to give you an idea of the extent of the pdf.

All right, we have a TON of ground to cover, so let’s start with the first race, the Branchards. Branchards are actually no unified race, instead representing a catch-all term for beings that carry the blood of neutrally-aligned planes in their blood. They are native outsiders with a base speed of 30 ft., Medium and gain resistance 5 to cold, electricity and fire, as well as a +2 racial bonus to Diplomacy and Sense Motive. They can use blur 1/day as a SP, have darkvision and if they’re chaotic, they add +1 to the DC of spells cast with the chaotic descriptor, but take a -1 penalty to saves versus spells with the lawful descriptor. This holds true vice versa for lawful branchards. Branchards that have an alignment on the neutral point of the law-chaos-axis gain a +1 racial bonus to saves versus both lawful and chaotic spells. Ability-score-wise, they get +2 to Wis and Int, making them lopsided on the caster-side of things – personally, I prefer one boost to physical, one boost to a mental attribute.

Now, the base stats of each of the races are provided on a sheet of parchment, in a bullet-point-style list, which, true to premise, mimics the notes of the titular Rogue, including a kind of handwritten-looking, pretty legible font. Now, while I like the commitment to the premise here, this makes, from a usability point of view, for not the best decision. The font sports no formatting differentiation between what is usually bolded and what isn’t; more annoyingly, it’s an italicized font, which makes spotting e.g. spell-names harder than it should. I’d strongly suggest for future books to just stick to presentation-standards here. The idea is cute in theory, but slightly impractical in practice.

This problem, thankfully, only extends to the base stats of a given race- the rest of the rules are provided in a cleaner font and adheres to presentation and formatting standards. While we’re on the subject of formatting – here, I may actually compliment the book: E.g. bonus types and italicizations of spells etc. are enforced in a rather meticulous manner. Kudos there!

While we’re on the subject of minor layout snafus, it should be noted that I stumbled quite often over the look of the “1” in the font chosen for the regular text; it almost looks like an “I” to me; once more, not a big issue, but something to bear in mind.

Now, let us return to the branchards – we get a total of 12 different alternate racial traits for the race, which include +4 to Perception and 1/day see invisibility in exchange for the skill-boost and the SP; +2 to Knowledge (history) and to saves vs. death effects as well as 1/day lesser age resistance in exchange for the axis-based magic boost, SP and skill-boost; we can find Deathless warden; at-will detect undead, easier passing for humans…you get the idea. There is also a halo of glowing runes (which serves as light, italicization missing) and which can convey secret messages as writing – cool visuals there. Natural weapons are properly codified, if taken.

Not enough for you? Want specific alternate versions? There are 8 branchard heritages to choose from to represent more specific ancestries: Aeon-blooded branchards are typically neutral, get +2 to Str and Wis, instead apply the skill-boost to Knowledge (planes) and Perception and get calm emotions instead of blur. With the exceptions of the jyoti-blooded, these btw. all have their attribute bonuses evenly distributed among physical and mental scores – nice. 1/day vs. constant SPs also make sense – psychopomp-blooded branchards, known as wayfarers, get, for example, a constant deathwatch, while the protean-blooded warped ones get twisted space 1/day. The favored class options are extensive and do not shirk away from more complex rules-operations, like granting additional bloodline power uses for bloodline powers that can be used 3 + Cha-mod times per day. Now, a positive surprise for me was the massive 100-entry dressing table for branchard-NPC-abilities; these can also be used to replace the SP of the base race and include a wide variety of SPs. Formatting is slightly less tight here – we have instances of natural weapons not categorized and spells not italicized; there are a few typos here and there is a 20-ft.-aura that stuns targets 1/day – RAW sans save…so yeah, while I liked this table, it’s not as tight as it should be and should definitely remain the providence of GMs.

Really cool: We get a purely fluff-table to determine random features that can yield a mouth-slit, splayed feet, extra digits, etc. – neat one! We get 5 new feats: One yields mount, companion or familiar the entropic or resolute template; protean-blooded branchards of 9th level may choose to gain basically light fortification, which automatically upgrades to 50% chance to ignore crits and sneak attack-based bonus damage at 17th level. There’s a feat that nets you a traded in resistance of 5 back and one that nets you 1/day blink, +1/day for every 5 levels a day. Complaint here – the total at 20th level will be 5 uses, not 4: 1 feat, +1 at 5th, 10th, 15th and 20th level – that makes 5. Extra Limbs can only be taken at 1st level and is pretty OP: You get +2 off hands. If you have ever built a multiweapon shredder, you’ll know how lethal that is bound to end...and why 4-armed races usually have some sort of drawback built in. We also get a few nice mundane items like sleeping powder, flash powder and prismatic paints as well as an oil that may be applied to ropes, chains, etc. to bind incorporeal creatures.

The race also sports 3 sample spells: Decode space generates a cube that encapsulates a TON of spells: blood biography, detect animals and plants, charm, magic, poison, secret doors, thoughts, undead, identify and see alignment and it lets you see through illusions in the terrain. It also nets you the ability to ignore difficult terrain in the cube as well as +4 insight bonus on ALL checks (should be defined) made against a target decoded by the cube – I assume, this bonus only lasts while the spell does. I like the idea here, but this spell can become a nightmare to run – the sheer amount of information you need to dump on each target makes the actual use of this one cumbersome. I’d suggest providing a baseline buff/bonus for decoding, with the OPTION to concentrate for one or more of these benefits instead. Emphasizes player-agenda, retains flexibility and is less of a headache. Hallowed lantern enthralls the undead, and warpwave is a 5th level attempt to replicate the protean ability as a spell – complaint here: CL = character level makes no sense for a spell, but 3 of the 20 entries sport that note.

The racial archetype would be the axial exemplar chooses one of the alignment extremes and gains the associated domain, including the 8th level ability and the bonus spells of level 1 – 6, in exchange for the inqui domain and second judgment abilities. The inqui detects the opposed alignment exclusively and 16th level nets a 1/day SP depending on the chosen alignment. This one…is really basic, boring, and has no tie-in with the race. More exciting would be the NPC, a sorcerer/brawler (steelbreaker). Nice one.

The second race would be the Isoonna, who get +2 Dex and Cha, -2 Con, are aquatic and immune to disease and poison (Boo!). They get +1 AC as well as +4 to CDM to resist disarm and grapple. They also get +1 to Knowledge (nature) and Survival, have a swim speed of 30 ft. and a properly codified 1d4 bite attack. They are amphibious and have darkvision and can, Con-mod times per day, minimum 1/day, secrete a Strength-damaging poison, with the DC scaling based on HD and Con-mod. They have an eel-angle going on: When they pin a creature, they cause 1 point of Con damage (should be contingent on bite, imho) and gain fast healing 2 for the round. Hand me that bag of kittens and a damage-dispersal option and we have infinite healing for the whole party. Blergh. Disqualified right there from any of my games. The lack of an abuse caveat here is sloppy. Which is a pity, for I liked the option to generate glue seals with touch attacks…though the save DC is wrong – it should be 10 + ½ character level + Con-mod, not “11 +…” Granted, they must consume one point of Con-damage in blood per day and are vulnerable to fire, but these folks still won’t get near my game…again, a pity, for I consider the idea of an aquatic vampire to be interesting and the slime, for example, makes for a unique and interesting angle. Also cool: Their spit can fortify others against disease and poison, granting a bonus to saves – now, sans the immunity for the base race, which wrecks a ton of low-level plots, this would be really cool…it still is. They may replace the slippery body with camouflage.

Also lulzy: At BAB+1 and Str 13 you can get BOTH grab and swallow whole with the bite. WUT? Seriously? Those two are VERY strong and should be locked behind a higher prerequisite barrier. The second feat is cool, though, allowing you to infuse the slime with toxins – really cool and what I like to see from racial feats. Unfortunate power-creep – there is an item that LITERALLY does the same as a tanglefoot back, but with added cold damage – flash-freeze foam. Cool, right? Well, it costs the same as a tanglefoot bag. Come on. Awesome, on the other hand – an expanding, higher level variant of glue seal and a vertigo-inducing variant of mirage arcana – both make for cool spells. The archetype would be the sanguisuge rogue, who can share potions imbibed by letting others drink her blood. At higher levels, we get alter self via blood drinking as well as addition the effects of progressively better beast shape or monstrous physique spells. Advanced talents allow for blood biography and the limited leeching or sorc/bloodrager bloodlines. Problem here: Limitations. The ability should spell out that gaining an ability thus multiple times does not reset any limited-use abilities of the bloodline in question to avoid cheesing. Nice: We get a write-up of the racial deity (5 domains and subdomains, shuriken favored weapon…) and the sample NPC is a chirurgeon alchemist/nature fang druid multiclass. All in all, a thematically amazing race with some needless cheese-exploits and a bit of feature bloat.

Iwaningen are aberrations that get +2 Con and Wis, and have a speed of 20 ft. The speed-entry is ccp’d, stating that if the creature is Medium, the speed is never reduced due to encumbrance. Guess what? They’re always Medium. They begin play with only their racial language due to their xenophobic culture…and, oddly, instead of listing it in the ability score adjustments, they list +2 Str as its own trait, making them somewhat lopsided there. They have DR 5/magic, +2 to saves versus poisons, spells and SPs, gain +4 natural armor, have fire immunity (wut?) and cold resistance 10, get +1 Knowledge (dungeoneering) and Survival while underground, +2 Perception, get +2 to concentration, +2 to CL-checks to overcome SR and +2 to dispel checks, have darkvision and may consume up to 10 lbs. of minerals or metal to heal 1 ability score damage per pound consumed. The healing takes 10 minutes to happen (good catch). But the ability does not specify an action required for eating 1 pound of minerals or metal. They take a whopping -6 to saves versus sleep or other spells that cause suspended animation. Alternate racial traits include burrow speed, +2 to CL with earth-spells or 3 Skill Focuses, gained at 1st, 8th and 16th level.

..

Yeah, well. 38 RP. What should I say here? Rock and crystal given life is a cool concept and the theme of the race is strong. The drawback versus suspended animation is really cool. But the race is choked in needless feature-bloat. Those numerical escalations for magic, the immunity to fire, the (almost always) lame skill boosts – they contribute nothing to making the race have a unique identity. As written, they are basically earth genasi/oreads on steroids. They get two cool racial weapons (where’s the proficiency for them?) and a feat lets them vomit slag! See, that type of thing makes the character unique! I’d strip all that numbers-escalating stuff, retain the metal-eating, slumber and DR and make that a racial trait. That being said, the slag vomited should have its damage cap based on level, not on metal eaten – a level 1 character can use this feat to vomit 10d6 fire damage in a 10-ft.cone if he’s eaten 10 lbs. of metal/minerals. That kills everything at that level. Oh, and guess what? The feat is missing its saving throw. RAW, there is NO SAVE. Cooldown 10 minutes, but still, way OP for low levels. The spells include a combo of fire resistance and DR via ceramic skin, and a level 3 touch attack that causes up to 10d6 sonic damage + nauseated on a failed save, sickened on a successful one. Save should negate the condition at this spell-level. Seismic skewers is cool, creating a tripping line of stalagmites that pierce foes.

The racial archetype provided is the construction chemist, who gets the option to infuse an extract in a bomb. Only direct hits are affected. Oh boy. This is so broken, I don’t even know where to start. The extract’s range is limited to the field it hits, but not the area of effect. This unintentionally allows for the bypassing of Personal range extracts, as the abuse caveat erroneously notes “Self” prohibited here, which does not exist in PFRPG – that’s 5e-rules language. The more significant problem is that the ability fails to specify how spell delivery, saves etc. interact with the magic-laced bomb, nor the actions it takes to lace the bomb with the extract – the alchemist can thus easily bypass casting-action-economy restrictions. The rest of the archetype sports formulae extensions and a cool idea, namely creation capsules that can duplicate the creation spells. Once more, we get a nice deity write-up and a sample NPC, this time around a staff magus/ancient sensei.

All in all, a race I’d only consider for NPCs, courtesy of the really strong racial baseline and issues in the cooler racial components.

The Kaalogii are next and clock in at a somewhat more moderate RP 26 – though, as we could see time and again in various supplements, that doesn’t mean much, so let’s see how they fare! In contrast to what the fluff text claims, the race is not a monstrous humanoid, but a native outsider at Medium size, with a base speed of 30 ft., darkvision, Dex and Wis +2 and Cha-2 – interesting, considering that they are butterfly people. The race gets +1 natural AC and always treats Perception and Sense Motive as class skills. They have adhesive spittle, which duplicates a non-magical glue seal with a range of 20 ft., usable at-will…which is interesting, but what is the DC of the ability? Does it scale with HD? No idea. The race gets unassisted personal flight at level 1, with good maneuverability, which can wreck the basic assumptions of many low-level modules. PFRPG has an implicit cap that assumes 5th level as a threshold for unassisted natural flight, building in the more commonly usable options on gliding wings and linear progressions or providing different ways to limit the availability of unassisted flight at low levels.

Hazard Hype is one of the two racial feats, and it adds +1 to your next initiative roll after succeeding a save or being missed by an attack. Somewhat weak, as far as I’m concerned. Perilous Panache is one of the infinitely abusable feats: Whenever you drop to below 1/10th of your maximum hit points (arbitrary threshold – not a fan), you regain 1 grit or panache. So, half-dead. Gain grit. Get 1-hp heal, cut yourself, rinse and repeat and you have infinite grit/panache. This needs an abuse-caveat. The racial spell would be nice: Greater share senses lets you share senses with other creatures. The intoxicating artist replaces bardic spells with an alchemist’s extracts, though the ability uses Charisma as governing attribute. Problematic: Instead of Performance, the archetype may use Fly – does that mean that the archetype can move AND perform via one skill check? No idea. The archetype’s bardic performance-effects are based on intoxicating powder, which represents nice imagery – the archetype gets an improvement for this dust at 2nd level and every 4 levels thereafter, adding scaling debuff effects to the powder. The rules-interaction here is pretty hard to grasp – the improved powders suddenly make it seem like the base powders (i.e. performances) require a swift action to activate. The interaction between the abilities here are somewhat wonky and confusing – the archetype would have been served better by replacing performance with a properly phrased powder-engine instead. As before, we get a nice sample racial deity as well as a neat NPC – this time, a flying blade swashbuckler/daredevil bard multiclass.

The Khartajan are unique – somewhat bovine, with a sword-horn and rather beautiful, these desert-dwellers are interesting and culturally rather interesting. Rules-wise, they get +2 Con and Cha, -2 Int, are Medium humanoids with keen senses and their movement rate is, oddly, split between noting their base movement of 30 ft. and the increase of +10 ft. they always have. They get a properly codified 1d4 gore attack, low-light vision. They get cornered fury and gain a +4 racial bonus on Con-checks and saves to avoid fatigue and exhaustion caused from starvation, thirst, forced marches, etc. They get +1 natural armor and they can take 10 or Survival checks to locate water within 1d4 miles, using their horn to dowse. This also allows them to pinpoint water bodies of sufficient size as though via locate object. They also get a desert-variant of woodland stride and low-light vision. While suffering a bit from feature bloat in minor bonuses, these folks struck a real chord with me – unique, interesting and flavorful. I can see myself using these. The 3 alternate racial traits provided are solid.

The race comes with 3 racial weapons and a solid horn sheathe and 3 racial feats: Lithe Charger negates AC-penalty when using Cleave or Lunge or while charging; Sword Horn provides the means to deal slashing damage with the horn and potentially cause bleeding wounds. Ungulate Stamina is a lame boost to saves versus fatigue/exhaustion etc. The spell stallion’s stamina also falls into this category – fatigue and exhaustion immunity at 2nd level, even granted by a spell, temporarily, is pretty problematic. Absorb toxins is a full-blown power-creep; better than neutralize poison AND at a lower level. The racial archetype would be the stargazing strider ranger, who casts spells as psychic spells, replaces the 1st favored terrain with the ability to determine his precision location and adds Cha-to all Wisdom-based checks while under the night sky. Not a fan of dual attributes to a skill, it further exacerbates the skill-abuse. 1/day, they can freely cast a spell with one of a few metamagic improvements. 9th level nets commune under the night sky. The race comes with a nice deity write-up as well as with a sample NPC, a bard (magician)/oracle (stargazer).

Up next would be the delightfully weird Leimaxi, the strange, purple creatures on the cover, who gain +2 Dex and Wis, -2 Cha, are aberrations with the leimaxi subtype, and a slow and steady speed of 20 ft. They begin play with only the racial language and get +1 to Knowledge (dungeoneering) and Survival . When remaining motionless for at least 1 round, they get +4 to Stealth. They also get +4 to CMD to resist grapples and Escape Artist. They get stability and DR 5/slashing or piercing and have adhesive pseudopods that grant them a climb speed of 20 ft. They also have a properly codified 1d3 bite attack and may, as a swift action, increase their reach by 5 ft., which may also be done as part of an attack action. While the arms are extended thus, they take a -4 penalty when attacking with non-close weapon group, natural attack or unarmed strikes, suffer from 5% arcane spell failure (unless casting via Still Spell) and retracting arms is a move action that provokes an AoO – this is interesting! They also secrete Con-mod (min 1) times day toxic slime that inflicts 1d2 Con damage as a swift action. As if all of that weren’t enough, they also get darkvision AND blindsense 30 ft. To somewhat make up for all of this, they get light sensitivity, are susceptible to salt and vulnerable to fire. This is a perfect example of feature-bloat. The race, when boiled down to its essence, is defined by the arms and the toxic slime and the climb speed; the CMD-boosts etc. and the blindsense are superfluous and needlessly limit the appeal of the race. Also, if you needed further proof of why I think that the ARG sucks: These fellows clock in at 16 RP. That’s one more than aasimar.

The alternate racial traits allow the race to replace toxic slime with acid one – oh, and the acid slime can RAW be used an infinite number of times. sigh The second replacement would be adhesive slime, which nets a countergrapple WHENEVER the leimaxi is hit with a natural or unarmed melee attack and the leimaxi does NOT gain the grappled condition. Weird: The ability suddenly starts to talk about manufactured weapons being stuck to the leimaxi – here, we’d need a whole different set of mechanics! So no, not functional as presented. An upgraded darkvision at the cost of worse light sensitivity can be found and the coiled arms may be replaced with two 1d4 tentacle attacks that get grab. At level 1. And they are under constant long arm. We get two new exotic weapons and 3 feats. Coiled Punch lets you “wind up” the arm, inflicting more damage for each round in which you “wind up” your punch. This is, engine-wise, interesting. Destined Occupation makes you gain both a racial and generic FCO when leveling up in one, but your level in all other classes is treated as one level lower, minimum 1. OUCH. Preordained Confidence nets you +4 to saves versus charm, compulsion, emotion and fear effects, Wisdom modifier times. Okay, must this choice be made beforehand? Does it require activation? Can you choose not to use the bonus? Life well is a high-level combo-heal spell that damages undead; nauseating vision is duplicated here; I covered that spell and its shortcomings in the Isoonna section. Weird: Why print the spell twice in the same book?

The leimaxi archetype here would be the mutation motivator oracle, whose 1st level revelation is replaced with an aura that nets you a deformity and mutation on a failed save. Yes. Permanently. Making the save renders you immune for 24 hours, but seeing how the aura can RAW not be turned off, this is problematic. The archetype can add a ability score boost to mutants and, at level 7, make a target in range of the aura a mutant. Permanently. With only wish and miracle as counters. Yeah…players will hate that one. The capstone is a pretty boring apotheosis-style potpourri of passive abilities. The section closes with a cool racial deity and the sample NPC, which this time around, is a maneuver master/sacred fist.

The next race would be the morphlings, born from a union of mongrelmen and doppelgangers. They get both low-light vision and darkvision, are Medium, get +2 Dex and Wis, and they treat Bluff, Disguise, Linguistics and Sense Motive as class skills. That is a bit unnecessary overkill once more – why not have them choose one? The idea would be retained without the significant power-increase. The race counts as Con-mod subtypes as well as monstrous humanoids. I don’t object to multi-typing, although it’s not commonly used. However, the race should specify how that interacts with effects that have different effects depending on races targeted. Say, I choose orcs and elves, right? There is a battlefield, where orcs are buffed and elves are debuffed – how would that interact with the multiple types of the race? The morphlings also get voice mimicry and ability score-adjustment-less alter self that may not be used to assume the shape of specific individuals.Morphlings may once per day use evolution surge as a non-magic ability, with CL equal to character level. They also get spontaneous change, which is AMAZING. When critically hit, they roll 1d12 and consult a table, spontaneously mutating, gaining e.g. scent or natural attacks. Complaint here: I think that some of the natural attacks granted should probably specify whether they entail dropping an item held in the limb. Also slightly weird: The bonuses some of these grant are untyped, when racial would be the more sensible choice. I really liked the morphlings as a whole. The random and short-lived crit-mutation is unique and flavorful and can’t be cheesed. While the race suffers a bit from feature bloat, it’s not even close to what the 25 RP value would suggest. If you take away some of the needless power-escalation, you’ll have a cool race here.

Voice mimicry may be replaced with curiosity, and the class skills gained may be exchanged for +2 to saves versus poison and mind-affecting effects. Slightly weird: Bonuses are once more untyped here. The evolution surge-ability may be replaced with DR 5/silver. The entry comes with magical earrings that heat when near the partnered earring – which makes sense for a race of shapeshifters. We get 4 weapons and 4 racial feats: Tailored Change nets disguise self when changing; Selective Change nets you voluntary access to the random change effects and Mosaic Change builds on that, allowing the morphling to manifest up to Con-mod such changes at once. Monstrous Change nets ability score adjustment-less monstrous physique I and the ability to assume monstrous humanoid shapes. Lock form does what it says on the tin and the second skin spell nets you natural armor and temporary hit points, and, interestingly, delays the effects of polymorphs etc. The racial archetype provided would be the henshin hexer ninja, who replaces 4th level’s ninja trick with a hex, with poppets allowing for at-range hex delivery of touch-range hexes and the possession of undead. While brief, I found myself liking this one. The racial deity would be the first Chimera, which is a cool idea for such a race. The sample NPC is a bounty hunter slayer/daring infiltrator, btw.

Nariphons are plant-beings that arise in a form of reincarnation of sorts from the slain. They get +2 Str and Wis, -2 Dex, have +1 natural armor, treat Int-mod Knowledge skills as class skills. In addition to these, the race chooses two non-Knowledge skills, treating them as class skills with a +2 bonus. Now, the race has restorative sap that can restore skeletons to corpses, gentle repose corpses and heal the living – which is per se nice. A Nariphon can’t benefit from the sap, so that’s nice. At the same time, the sap can be used to create basically potions of cure serious wounds. This has serious repercussions for any world: The lack of limits regarding the longevity of the sap collected means that a level 1 group could, time provided, flood the market with infinite sap-potions. This should have a limit. The race has low-light vision and is light dependent. The race, in an interesting drawback, is also compelled to fulfill the desires of the “parent” creature that spawned them, which is a nice RP-motivator. Now, while the sap needs a limiter and while the skills gained are overkill, I still generally liked this one. Bark skin may be replaced with slightly better enchantment and social skills and the sap may be replaced with the ability to speak with dead/plants.

Seedling and sap of the race are provided as mundane items and we get 3 feats: Photosynthetic Growth nets non-magical enlarge person and long arm effects in intense light; Grasping Vines help deliver touch attacks and when requiring fine, delicate operations. Weird: The feat requires a standard action for the growth, but doesn’t specify a duration. Pretty sure that went missing. Draw Nutrients. They may also root themselves for immunity to bull rush and trip (Seriously? Even when a dragon punches them?) as well as fast healing for Con—mod rounds. Unfortunate: The intended limit of fast healing doesn’t work – you can just root yourself once more. “Ended the rooted effect is a move action.” Should probably spell “Ending.” Perfume of the alraune combines calm emotions with Wis-damage and a debuff. Create celestial/fiendish fruit are interesting spells that can generate special fruit that can provide buffs/debuffs to those with the correct/wrong alignments. The racial archetype would be the past life pugilist brawler, who gains a Wis-governed, monk-style AC-bonus and panache instead of martial flexibility, with a couple of deeds sprinkled in. The racial deity is REALLY interesting and one of my favorites herein – Vessantara is actually called the Fruit of Nirvana and makes for a really cool concept. The sample NPC is a spiritualist investigator/speaker of the past shaman.

Paleplasmi are humanoid oozes born from the mythical waters of life and their mysterious origins are hotly-debated – we get some more information here than usual. The race gets +2 Dex and Wis, -2 Int and they are oozes, granting them a whole slew of immunities. They have a base speed of 20 ft. and they can, as an immediate action, make themselves acidic via digestive enzymes, dealing 1d6 acid damage to a creature that attacks them with natural/unarmed strikes or some combat maneuvers. The damage may also be applied to unarmed strikes. Split Self is really cool, flavorwise, but not really something I’d consider a racial trait: You see, the race can split and “die”, becoming two paleplasmi with half levels, feats, etc. each, obliterating the original personality. Obviously, this means that a PC will be grossly underleveled in such a case, which makes it not really helpful. The two paleplasmi can recombine, but only for brief periods. Okay, HOW? The fusion text that covers this super paleplasmi of fused beings doesn’t state a range or activation action. It also fails to state how many can be fused together – RAW, the race could combine a whole group into a super-being. If this was flavor, I’d applaud it, but as crunch, it’s woefully opaque regarding splitting and temporary recombination. It’s a great narrative device, but of limited use for players – and its 6 RP are not justified. As plasm, they can be returned from the dead more easily, which is kinda nice. They can mimic Large, Medium or Small creatures that have a solid body. They can use nonmagical variants of long arm and reduce person and they may form their bodily appendage into a weapon that can inflict one of the base physical damage types. They take -4 to Sense Motive and are vulnerable to cold. Splitting the self may be replaced with a swarm form, which is much stronger. The magic items include an enhancer for the morphic weaponry and a cloak for energy resistance upgrades that can render acid harmless. The racial feats allow for the wearing of armor, the assuming of inanimate forms and an upgrade for the morphic weaponry. We have acid-based ice prison variants and goo sentinels among the spells and the racial archetype would be the ooze tamer hunter, who gains an ooze-based animal empathy variant and an ooze companion as well as alternate focuses for oozes instead. Problem here: RAW, oozes with an Int of 0 can’t be taught. Which means that the base engine doesn’t work for most choices.

The artwork of the racial deity is the cutest thing in the whole book – loved it! The sample NPC is an unarmed fighter/exploiter wizard. Next up would be the Pallasyte race – picture beings made of starry night sky, with glowing meteorites in the joints. They get +2 Con and Wis, -2 Cha and get the psychic subtype. They only talk their racial language and have Dr 10/magic. From the get-go. Seriously, why not have that scale instead? RAW, this will make the race all but impervious to most threats at level 1. They get curiosity and aberration hatred, constant detect magic and at-will light if their Int is 10 or higher. They may once per day blink, but sans equipment! They are constructed and the racial magic item represents an energy shield that can store energy and apply it to weaponry or as rays. The racial feats include two bland skill boost-feats. The racial spells are crystal-based variants of ice spells. The racial archetype would be the radiant idol shaman, who is a spontaneous caster, using the oracle’s spells per day and spells known as well as Cha as governing attribute. Instead of the hex, we get a pretty potent buff boost that nets + class level to the touched creature’s next check. This should specify the type of check and ½ class level would still be really good, particularly since the bonus is untyped. The archetype gets pala-style channel energy and sanctuary/overwhelming presence at high levels. The racial deity is solid and the sample NPC is a storm druid/sensate fighter.

Tiervesen are basically an homage to the Grimm TV-series and the Wesen there. They get +4 Cha (urgh) and -2 Int, and in bestial form +2 to all three attributes. They are shapechanger fey and have DR 5/cold iron and get +2 to Disguise to pose as half-elves or elves and choose a totem animal, gaining +4 to Handle Animal and Wild Empathy checks, gaining that as a druid of their level. Vermin totem tiervesen get Vermin Heart as a bonus feat. They get +2 to Survival checks and may assume their bestial form as a standard action, resume default form as a swift action. They gain +1 to Cl in a chosen terrain, +10 ft. when running/charging/etc. and have low-light vision. Remaining too long in the bestial form runs the risk of primal regression, which is an interesting way to make them remain in regular form more often. That being said, this only comes into play when remaining in bestial form for one hour or more, which is easily enough to avoid. This could be a bit more punitive. The race comes with 12 tribes, all of which grant a slew of additional tricks for the bestial shape, two of which are chosen per transformation; these include at-will nonmagical Spell-duplicates, cooldown sonic weapons and the like – utter overkill, power-wise, that power heaps on top an already really strong and somewhat bloated chassis. The alternate racial traits include constant speak with animals, camouflage, urban survivalist and an intoxicating aura. Like in the luchador-episode of Grimm, we get a mask for bestial features and there is an amulet that can mitigate overuse of bestial shape, but which carries its own risk. The race comes with 3 mundane weapons and two racial feats, once of which, predictably, allows for move action change, while the other nets an additional feature. The spells include beastmind, which makes the target PERMANENTLY lose the ability to think above animal level. Level 3. WTF. Adopt totem lets the character temporarily adopt another tribe’s totem. The totemic stalker is a slayer that loses 4 slayer talents in favor of bestial form synergy. The racial deity is okay, if not too spectacular and the NPC is a totemic skald/blood arcanist.

This race is a perfect example of what should be a class-feature or a racial paragon class, instead jammed into a race. The engine underlying bestial shape is interesting, but the execution is problematic. The next race is not a race per se, but a phenomenon – the Veatman is a CR +2 template and as such not really intended for player-use, at least not mechanically regarding PFRPG’s underlying premises. That does not prevent the pdf from treating it as a valid PC choice, mind you. The template represents twinned souls, with an internal war raging between them. The template is per se really interesting, with trauma potentially engendering personality changes, insomnia and the ability to siphon off damage to the other soul. The massive ability score boosts (+4, +2,+2,-2,-2,-4) are needlessly minmaxy for an already really potent option. I’d strongly advise against using this as a PC-race, unless you’re playing in a really high-powered game where gestalting is common – in such a case, it makes for a cool choice, though! The high level spells provided include soul dividing and siphoning and there is a grand discovery for alchemists to duplicate the former and make it permanent. The alter ego shifter vigilante provided for the race basically represents a tweak of the identities in favor of personalities, also representing a gestalting of sorts, with both personalities having two separate ability score sets, HD, skills, etc.

The racial deity is okay and the NPC provided this time around is a sanctified slayer inquisitor/fearmonger paladin, depending on the personality in control. The final race would be the Verechelen reptile-humanoids, who get +4 Con, -2 to all mental ability scores, are xenophobic re languages, get +2 to Perception, Stealth and Survival and treated Perception and Survival as class skills. They get +4 to saves against diseases and poisons, +2 to saves versus charms and compulsions as well as a 1d4 bite attack. They also get ferocity and sprinter as well as low-light vision and scent and may replace sprinter with camouflage. Bonus types here are not as tight as previously. This would also be a good place to note that the favored class options often fail to specify available energy resistances to choose from – RAW, this would allow for force or sonic resistance, which is worth more than resistance to the classic 4 energy types.

The racial feats nets an immediate action 1/day scaling bonus to a save – which is very specific and limited. Responsive Healing Factor nets you once per day minor healing as a move action. We get two mundane weapons and a monk archetype who replaces flurry with challenge (not smart) and minor boosts versus such enemies and favored terrain. Not impressed. The deity is decent, a god of highwaymen and travelers. The sample NPC is a scout rogue/slayer multiclass. We end the massive tome with a few closing notes.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting get a lot right on a formal and rules-language level, but they also get a lot wrong. The bonus types, for example, oscillate somewhat in the precision of their application, and there are quite a few instances herein where the rules are a bit weird/rough. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard and is decent – I commented on a few of its peculiarities before. The full-color artworks for each race are colorful and actually really nice. I liked them. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, but not with nested bookmarks, which can make navigation slightly less comfortable. Still, nice to get them.

Producer Dennis “Wayne” Deshler, creative director Rahul “Rick” Kanojia and content developers Timothy Wallace, Lance Clodfelter and James Norse have delivered the single most ambitious freshman offering that I’ve seen in a long while. I mean, almost 300 pages of races? That is a rather impressive beast of a book. It is, alas, a book that shows that it is a freshman outing. The class options presented herein oscillate in their power and utility and generally are not particularly interesting. The same, thankfully, cannot be said about the races themselves. Concept-wise, I really enjoyed most of them, and they can almost all claim that they’re interesting in some way. The Verchelen are boring min-maxy reptiles, but apart from them, the book manages to present really interesting races, some of which have rather cool and unique concepts attached to them.

Thing is, this book represents what I feared would happen with the release of the ARG; the book's "engine" makes it easy to throw any balance with core races so far out of the window, you won’t even hear the “thud” it makes when hitting the ground. That's what happened here. Partially, that is probably by design, but I maintain that it is utterly unnecessary. Not a single one of the concepts herein needed the bloat of numeric escalation that these races suffer from – less abilities and a focus on core principles of the races would have been more fulfilling AND would have greatly increased the chances of these seeing play at the table. RP are a horribly inaccurate concept to judge race power, but here, with massive DRs at 1st level, economy-breaker-sap and what amounts to a shifter engine jammed into race traits, we have a power-escalation that is hard to justify. The absence of level adjustment-rules in PFRPG was never experienced more sharply by me than in this book, for that is how these races, or at least, some of them, feel: Like they had one or more class levels baked into the power that their racial traits bestow. Now, I do not object per se to a high-powered race-game, but the book has issues there as well – you see, the races are not balanced among themselves and there is quite a significant power-gap between them, so just whipping out this book and calling it a day is also not a viable strategy.

Add to that the issues that plague some of the finer aspects of rules, and we have an issue. When items are straight upgrades for the same price, one obviously should consult pricing ranges once more. So yeah, as a whole, I really wanted to like this book – there is a lot of care and passion that is evident from the material herein, but design-wise, there are many components that leave something to be desired, that limit their own appeal in needless ways in favor of power-creep. I love the ideas of e.g. Khartajan and Leimaxi, but as presented, I’ll use them for NPCs at best, as each race in the tome exceeds the power-level of aasimars, courtesy of their whole unnecessary feature and power bloat. I honestly found myself wishing that we’d get a racial paragon class for each race, one that unlocks the more higher-powered options as the game progresses; or a nerf or something like that.

Now, that being said, I still encourage particularly experienced GMs that like the weird to take a look at this book: The racial concepts are interesting and the NPCs available throughout the book make this work as a NPC-options/codex-book of sorts.

Now, how to rate this? Here, I have agonized and pondered for a few days. You see, the book is not boring – even after all the races I’ve read, this still had some neat ideas. The execution of them may be flawed, deeply so regarding any internal or external balance, but as a whole, it is interesting. Still, comparing this to other racial supplements, I usually wouldn’t be able to recommend it as a mixed bag. HOWEVER, there is one crucial thing to consider: This book is PWYW. Yep, you heard me. The Rogue Robot crew is actually offering it for any price you’re willing to pay. That is a pretty huge deal for a tome of this size, and it allows you to take a look at these races yourself and decide whether or how to introduce them to your game. This, to me, is not only really fair, it also allows me to recommend that you check this out yourself; it is a flawed book, but it has some gems worth mining. My final verdict will hence clock in at 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Rogue's Field Guide Rare Races
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Village Backdrop: Byrnfort
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/30/2018 05:58:11

An Endzeitgeist.com review

Huh. When I posted the latest Village Backdrop-review in my attempt to catch up with the series, I noticed that, while I had access to this village’s files, I never actually downloaded them or wrote a review. Weird. Anyways, since I am a completionist and pretty OCD regarding the like, here we go!

Byrnfort’s pdf clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Byrnfort is situated in the ancient Barainwood, and its frontier-status in a hostile wilderness becomes immediately apparent to anyone who sees it: With thick walls of timber and sharp stakes encircling the village (lavishly mapped by Maciej Zagorski), it is obvious that this place, hunched and somewhat claustrophobic, is a refuge from the horrors out there – but not necessarily one that can withstand all that is out there. More a fortification that a village in the traditional sense, the local dressing habits and “industry” mirror this reality, and so do the community leaders, who hearken to the nature-themed side of things.

We get a sample marketplace section here, and, as always, village lore for smart PCs to unearth as well as 6 sample whispers and rumors. The local inn, the Stout Draught gets its own little notes on the price of food and accommodation. Cool: There is a charhouse, which fabricates specialized alchemical coals, three of which are provided. These include one that potentially helps with poison at the cost of being sickened. I really like how flavor and mechanics are married here. The events do hint at something more going on here, and indeed, there is a secret society of sorts, the Green men – who have a pact with a rather deadly fey ghost. As such, they are obligated to conduct strange rites, of which 6 are provided, adding further flavor.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant 2-column b/w-standard and the cartography, as always, is excellent. The pdf comes in two versions, one optimized for screen use and one for the printer. They are both fully bookmarked for your convenience.

My apologies to author Amber Underwood for missing this nice village previously; Byrnfort has a cool, almost Twin Peaks-y vibe going on, and the emphasis on coal and the like is a seldom seen or developed aspect in villages, which adds a sense of authenticity to the village. The rites are really cool and further add local color to the place. So yeah, all in all, I found myself really loving this one! My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars +seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Byrnfort
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Epic! I'm delighted you enjoyed this village so much. Thank you for the review!
Village Backdrop: Byrnfort (SNE)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/30/2018 05:56:53

An Endzeitgeist.com review

Huh. When I posted the latest Village Backdrop-review in my attempt to catch up with the series, I noticed that, while I had access to this village’s files, I never actually downloaded them or wrote a review. Weird. Anyways, since I am a completionist and pretty OCD regarding the like, here we go!

Byrnfort’s pdf clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Byrnfort is situated in the ancient Barainwood, and its frontier-status in a hostile wilderness becomes immediately apparent to anyone who sees it: With thick walls of timber and sharp stakes encircling the village (lavishly mapped by Maciej Zagorski), it is obvious that this place, hunched and somewhat claustrophobic, is a refuge from the horrors out there – but not necessarily one that can withstand all that is out there. More a fortification that a village in the traditional sense, the local dressing habits and “industry” mirror this reality, and so do the community leaders, who hearken to the nature-themed side of things. Important for purists – the classes referenced by the NPCs include thief and wizard, so if you’re one of the folks firmly in the magic-user section, this may be a very minor aesthetic gripe.

The system neutral version, alas, does not gain a marketplace section, which is a minor bummer. and, As always, village lore for smart PCs to unearth as well as 6 sample whispers and rumors can be found. The local inn, the Stout Draught gets its own little notes on the price of food and accommodation. Cool: There is a charhouse, which fabricates specialized alchemical coals, three of which are provided. These include one that potentially helps with poison at the cost of being sickened, which can mean different things, depending on your system – just stating “can’t act” or “halves movement” or something like that would have been more elegant here.

Still, I really like how flavor and mechanics are married here. The events do hint at something more going on here, and indeed, there is a secret society of sorts, the Green men – who have a pact with a rather deadly fey ghost. As such, they are obligated to conduct strange rites, of which 6 are provided, adding further flavor.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant 2-column b/w-standard and the cartography, as always, is excellent. The pdf comes in two versions, one optimized for screen use and one for the printer. They are both fully bookmarked for your convenience.

My apologies to author Amber Underwood for missing this nice village previously; Byrnfort has a cool, almost Twin Peaks-y vibe going on, and the emphasis on coal and the like is a seldom seen or developed aspect in villages, which adds a sense of authenticity to the village. The rites are really cool and further add local color to the place. The absence of the marketplace section and not 100% perfect conversion of the alchemical coal represent very minor detriments for this version of the pdf, but not enough to cost it the well-deserved 5 stars for a rather cool little settlement.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Byrnfort (SNE)
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Epic! I'm delighted you enjoyed this village so much. Thank you for the review!
Village Backdrop: Byrnfort (5e)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/30/2018 05:54:55

An Endzeitgeist.com review

Huh. When I posted the latest Village Backdrop-review in my attempt to catch up with the series, I noticed that, while I had access to this village’s files, I never actually downloaded them or wrote a review. Weird. Anyways, since I am a completionist and pretty OCD regarding the like, here we go!

Byrnfort’s pdf clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Byrnfort is situated in the ancient Barainwood, and its frontier-status in a hostile wilderness becomes immediately apparent to anyone who sees it: With thick walls of timber and sharp stakes encircling the village (lavishly mapped by Maciej Zagorski), it is obvious that this place, hunched and somewhat claustrophobic, is a refuge from the horrors out there – but not necessarily one that can withstand all that is out there. More a fortification that a village in the traditional sense, the local dressing habits and “industry” mirror this reality, and so do the community leaders, who hearken to the nature-themed side of things. The 5e-version refers the default NPC-stats where appropriate.

There is no marketplace section in the 5e-version, which is a bit of a bummer. As always, village lore for smart PCs to unearth as well as 6 sample whispers and rumors can be found. The local inn, the Stout Draught gets its own little notes on the price of food and accommodation. Cool: There is a charhouse, which fabricates specialized alchemical coals, three of which are provided. These include one that potentially helps with poison at the cost of a temporary exhaustion level. I really like how flavor and mechanics are married here, and while there is a typo here (one instance where “poison” should read “poisoned”), I applaud that the items have been converted to 5e. The events do hint at something more going on here, and indeed, there is a secret society of sorts, the Green men – who have a pact with a rather deadly fey ghost. As such, they are obligated to conduct strange rites, of which 6 are provided, adding further flavor.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant 2-column b/w-standard and the cartography, as always, is excellent. The pdf comes in two versions, one optimized for screen use and one for the printer. They are both fully bookmarked for your convenience.

My apologies to author Amber Underwood for missing this nice village previously; Byrnfort has a cool, almost Twin Peaks-y vibe going on, and the emphasis on coal and the like is a seldom seen or developed aspect in villages, which adds a sense of authenticity to the village. The 5e-conversion is nice, though the absence of the marketplace was a bit of a bummer. The rites are really cool and further add local color to the place. So yeah, all in all, I found myself really loving this one! My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars for this version.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Byrnfort (5e)
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Epic! I'm delighted you enjoyed this village so much. Thank you for the review!
Alterkine: Planetary Survey
Publisher: HermaDolph
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/30/2018 05:52:47

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive supplement clocks in at 138 pages, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page ToC, 2 pages blank, 3 pages index/KS-thanks, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 129 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So, this massive book is basically exactly what it says on the tin – a ginormous collection of different planets and their inhabitants.

There are basically three sections for each of the entries of planets here: Astronomical, Environmental and Xenological.

In the first section of each planet, we classify the star or stars – for example,.Dwerradar has a binary star, Myrwyn and Aru. Now, if you’re a bit of a scifi-nerd, you’ll love these, for each star gets a star-statblock of sorts: The type is noted (e.g. Companion MV 7 V Red Dwarf), and we get distances in kilometers and AUs, radius in kilometers and Sol, mass in kg and Sol, temperature in K and luminosity in W and Sol. I really love this attention to detail, and it extends to the other system bodies, who are classified by type, with orbital radius (again, in Km and AU), period (hours and earth years) and gravity in m/s² (once more, with relation to earth noted as alternate values). Terrestrial worlds note the respective composition and special features like indigenous races and moons.

Indeed, habitable worlds get massively expanded data, noting their rotation, escape velocity, mass, land areas, hydrosphere, atmosphere, climate (in °F), populations, a brief overview of economy and installations as well as affiliations and foreign relations.

The environmental sections for each planet provide notes on aquatic, terrestrial and atmospheric peculiarities as well as places of interest, if any. It should also be noted that we actually get really nice full-color artworks for inhabited planets, which is a huge plus; indeed, the book manages to be really, really impressive regarding all its details and how the respective star systems deviate from one another. The data provided really helps to create a cohesive sense of immersion if you, like me, enjoy the added sense of plausibility this adds. So yeah. Kudos indeed.

This would also be a nice place to note that the book has an appendix that lists monster traits, creature types and vital statistics of age. The index mentioned before is really detailed and useful, providing orientation by place of interest, by planet, race and system. Organization of the book is neat.

Thirdly, there would be the xenological section, and it is here that we are introduced to the respective races living on the inhabited planets. Here, we can find 4-armed, red goblins, bone-ridged, badass equine creatures, the Tiny, subterranean Adaevia, basically Wookies, savage lizard people, utterly strange species that descended from tubeworms (!!), living constructs and more. We can find a race of excellent healers, which, when it dies, spreads a horrid plague; we can find sentient plants (bushes, fungi, etc. – and yes, there is an artwork with a badass fungus-person wielding an MP), a race of basically space wolpertingers, spiritual newt people, massive, Large, smelly space orcs, a race of Jekyll/Hide-y aberrations, bird- and otter-folk, 6-armed humanoid arachnids, actually nice lumps of tentacles, dog-like trees, vulture people…and I haven’t even begun listing them all. We get brief notes on the respective society and culture of the races. Really cool: We get a .ppt-file included in the deal to make basic paper-stand-minis for the races! Big kudos there!

…and it is here, that we have the crux of the book. The races. Now, up onto this point, Alterkine supplement were made for d20 Modern.

This one is different. It is billed as PFRPG-compatible.

That is patently WRONG.

There is no nice way to say this, but this is about as PFRPG-compatible as 5e. If there is something to be done wrong regarding racial presentation and rules-design, the pdf will do it wrong. Each language section, for example, notes a “Free Culture Skill” – whatever that is supposed to mean. Ability score enhancements are min-maxy and don’t follow PFRPG’s paradigms. We get uneven score-bonuses (like +1 and +3); we get +4 bonuses and penalties to ability scores in a variety of cases. A Large race gets +8 (!!) to Strength, not accounting for its size. The same race’s females get btw. “+ Intelligence” – the actual modifier is missing. Natural weapons are not properly classified in some cases, whereas in others, they are. Racial abilities sometimes sport fixed save DCs instead of scaling ones.

For f***’s sake, the book gets NATURAL ARMOR wrong, talking about “+3 bonus to Defense.” PFRPG has over 20 bonus types, accounting for BAB, etc. – and the book manages to get that wrong as well, conjuring up some make-belief bonus types that are utterly redundant. There is no “species bonus” in PFRPG – it’s called racial bonus, for crying out loud. Never mind that the concepts of CMB/CMD obviously are not something taken into account for any rules operation that is more than a size reference. The pdf talks about skills that don’t exist in PFRPG, like Athletics. Bonuses that should be racial or insight are untyped. The pdf grossly undervalues e.g. additional appendages. When a DC is scaling, its sequence is wrong, noting first the ability score, then HD. The pdf doesn’t get how pulling targets works in PFRPG. “Infiltration checks” may be used to break free of webbing. Darkvision ranges are incorrect. A “Staggering gaze” causes the stun condition. Abilities do not sport the correct ability types – you won’t find EX or SU/SP-classifications here. The pdf does not understand how Linguistics works in PFRPG. There are glaring errors and huge issues in every single damn race herein.

Oh, wanna know what made me head crash on the table? Level adjustments. I kid you not. Level adjustments. In PFRPG. W-T-F. Oh, and, this should be obvious by now: We do not get race traits. We do not get racial archetypes. We do not get favored class options. We do not get racial feats. We get no supplemental material for these races whatsoever.

Then again, frankly, I’m glad we don’t. I have never seen basic race design go this horribly awry. It is evident that the author has no clue about PFRPG and doesn’t play it. The level of ignorance that the glitches point out, is staggering. Frankly, I wished that this book had stayed with its d20 Modern roots.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, on a formal level, are mostly rather impressive. On a rules-language level, this is an unmitigated train wreck. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with a significant array of really nice full-color artworks for planets and races. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and the addition of paper stand-minis is neat.

This breaks my heart, it really does – on one hand, we have a book oozing creativity and passion, and a knowledge on how to make unique and compelling racial concepts. I loved all the data provided for systems, and the ideas herein are glorious! They really are! If you want a dressing book with brief dossiers on a variety of races and systems, this may well be worth checking out for that purpose! Whether you play Traveller or Starfinder or Stars Without Number, there are a lot of cool ideas in this book.

Unfortunately, this is no system neutral dressing book.

Unfortunately, this book suffers from the delusion of being a PFRPG-race book. In this category, this book, alas, is a resounding, colossal failure. Rules-integrity and both basic overt and detailed covert design paradigms are flaunted left and right and the book fails to grasp even basics like the skill system, much less anything more detailed. I could literally spend multiple pages listing what is wrong with each single race. The crunch is horrible and a sloppy conversion from a system into PFRPG, without the knowledge or care that such work requires.

As a crunch-book, this is a failure of epic proportions.

Now, if you explicitly do NOT want any rules to go along with the planets and racial CONCEPTS, then this may be worth checking out. Some of the ideas herein are pretty damn cool, though none of the races, courtesy of the brevity of the entries, gets a really detailed write-up. This is the only viable use for the book I could discern.

Whether you play Starjammer, Aethera or another scifi/space opera game in PFRPG, this one fails you, big time. It obviously doesn’t fare better, rules-wise, regarding Starfinder. In that discipline, the book is an unmitigated mess I cannot recommend. My final verdict will clock in at 1.5 stars, and frankly, I can’t round up for it. The fluff is too sparse for that.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Alterkine: Planetary Survey
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CE 9 - Both Foul and Deep
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/29/2018 09:45:43

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This DCC-toolkit clocks in at 53 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages SRD, leaving us with a massive 50 pages of content, though these are formatted for 6’’ by 9’’ digest size (A5), which means you can fit multiple pages on one sheet of paper.

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

So, first things first, in case you’re new to the series: The Campaign Elements-series is basically a collection of set-pieces supplemented with rules, intended to be dropped as is into an ongoing campaign…or to be used as a scavenging ground. As such, this sits squarely on the line between modules and setting supplements – while it can be used as written, it is just as useful as a file to supplement other modules; take e.g. “The Jeweler that dealt in Stardust” – the module assumes that the smartest way for the PCs to enter the locale would be via the sewers, but there isn’t much going on there. This is where an enterprising judge can employ this supplement, as we get a ton of material for sewers.

Wait. I know. Sewer levels/environments have a bad reputation. I can name, at the top of my head, a ton of modules that take place in sewers. Among these, 10%, at most, are worthwhile. But what if you want/need to run such a module? Well, this pdf pretty much helps dealing with that issue. We begin with a summary of different hooks to get the PCs down into the sewers. From there, we move on to general terrain features, the first thing a lot of modules in sewers fail to properly take into account. So yes, falling into sewage is a BAD idea – 6 different diseases can be found herein, ranging from mites and parasitic worms and scarlet rash. The second component many sewer-scenarios get wrong is that they depict, ironically, I might add, sewers as a mechanically sterile environment – this pdf does help here quite a bit: We get a d30 random encounter table, which brings me to one of the main components of this pdf.

You see, we not only get the usual people of the sewers (including secret taverns, cultists, etc.), but also a bunch of components we usually don’t see: Filthlarks, for example, the scavengers of the filthy places, gentlemen clubbers going to a clandestine meeting…and there are resurrection men; basically grave robbers in the name of science. Beyond those, we also get what amounts to a pretty massive bestiary section: We get albino alligators, aliens rats from another world, blood slugs, centipedes that seek to burrow into your flesh, carrion moths that spread hallucinogenic powder via their wings…even cooler: What about the cessceada? These swarming insects can cause the skin of those infected to slough off. There are beetles that can be sold to the dyer’s guild for profit, particularly agile drain runner foes, disgusting oozes, filth elementals… Have I mentioned the globlins that split by fission? Hellspore fungi and lamprey swarms are cool, and in the dark recesses, there also is the terrifying loathly one; there are phantom gentlemen…and more. This bestiary section is really cool, with each of the entries breathing some form of truly intriguing and captivating idea, in spite of the sometimes down to earth theme.

The pdf also provides the patron Squallas, mistress of the night soil rivers, but we only get the invoke patron table here – no custom spells, patron taint or spellburn, but all right. This would btw. be as well a place as any, there are quite a few really nice full-color illustrations throughout the pdf – particularly the sewer troll image is nice.

At this point, it should be noted that judges with an extensive library of books may find some nice easter eggs here and there – in the case of the troll, for example, a nod to the upcoming, Angels, Daemons and Beings Between II by Shinobi 27 Press. These nods are unobtrusive enough to not impede your enjoyment of the content, but certainly should be fun for quite a few judges…and they provide obscure and potentially easily ignored links you can further develop…but I digress.

Now, so far, I have mainly commented on the toolbox-y aspects of this pdf, but it is also an adventure locale. We get a solid b/w-map of the sewer-area depicted AND a player-friendly iteration, which is a huge plus, as far as I’m concerned. Now, the keyed encounter areas provided for the judge come with well-written read-aloud text (we have come to expect nothing less from Daniel J. Bishop!), but also feature unique hazards and creatures beyond the ones already mentioned – some are obviously intended as plot-threads for the judge to further develop, while others are just amazing; the image of a massive spider that carries its brood on its back is great, and just let it be known that just because corpses move doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily undead…which can result in a rather cool scene. Oh, and the line from the core book? Yes, there is a means to learn a spell from the mouth of a dead man…and how that phrase is twisted is really cool. I could explain all of the 9 keyed encounters here, but I’d frankly do the book a disservice.

You see, the series has traditionally a “squeezing it dry”-section, wherein you can find further suggestions to get the maximum amount of mileage out of the book – considering how strongly the toolbox/bestiary aspect is emphasized here, I can most definitely see judges employ this pdf’s contents far beyond the exploration of the sewers presented here.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting re very good, I noticed no serious glitches. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard that is pretty printer-friendly. The full-color artworks are captivating, cool and deserve a big shout-out. The cartography featuring a player-friendly map is really cool. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with detailed, nested bookmarks, making navigation comfortable.

Daniel J. Bishop’s name on a book is, for the most part, a great indicator that it will rock – in fact, even if you do not play DCC, both new school and old school games can get something out of his offerings. There is a crisp quality to his prose, an overarching vision that not only gets the peculiarities of DCC, but, more importantly, really understands the tone and what makes it stand out. There is always an aspect of the weird here, one that feels like it was drawn straight from the greats. In fact, much like Leiber or Howard, he is adept at using precious few words to inspire; his fantasy, infused with a little dose of gonzo and the soul of sword & sorcery, has a distinct tone that is both grounded and wondrous, that retains this strange, captivating sense of plausibility. This booklet brings this aesthetic to sewers, perhaps the most maligned of adventuring locales, and elevates them. In short, this little booklet is one of the very few supplements/modules dealing with sewers that I’d consider superb – the monsters are so cool and interesting that quite a few may well warrant conversion. DCC judges, the primary audience of this book, should consider this a must-purchase anyway. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
CE 9 - Both Foul and Deep
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Village Backdrop: Masquerade
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/29/2018 05:04:28

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Village Backdrop-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, so first things first: This is NOT your everyday village. Much like in every village backdrop, we do get notes on local nomenclature and dressing habits, as well as village lore and 3 rumors (instead of the standard 6)…but that is pretty much where the similarities with the regular installments of the series end.

Masquerade is not a fixed locale. Instead, it is a rickety conglomerate of three barges forming a floating village-theatre of sorts, with the performers masked and in costume at most times, at least while outsiders can witness them. This is Richard Pett, though, and as such, there is a theme of the grotesque, of underlying decay and grime suffusing the village – this case, represented by the bane of the village, the unifying factor that ties together this community: Masquerade is a colony of lepers, masking their affliction behind the gaiety they bring.

Tragedy and comedy entwine with one another in an intricate manner, for Masquerade’s founder, the enigmatic Silent Queen and absentee captain Absinthe Morell (take a look at that name and the connotations it automatically causes!) created this place as an exile and trap of sorts…but in a twist on trope, the place has become something more for her, a family of outcasts of sorts…and thus, she has taken on an oath that requires nigh-unparalleled willpower to maintain…but whether she can maintain it and for how long…only the GM decides.

Indeed, while Richard Pett has a knack for writing great locales, the extended cadre of characters herein deserves special mention – no less than 9 sample NPCs with potentially complex motivations can act as a foil or allies for the PCs and include some intriguing angles, with the theme of the masquerade itself obviously acting as a good reason to not provide read-aloud texts for their looks.

We do get such texts for the respective locations on the ships, though, and, as in all the new village backdrops, the respective points of interest come with services that can be purchased. Now, as you can glean from the set-up here, masquerade is very much depending on retaining its secrecy, which is upheld by the magical talents of the crew…but PCs may well pierce the veil, which can provide truly intriguing moral conundrums. Should they out the leper-troupe and their dangerous mistress?

An alternate angle for adventuring would be the fact that the troupe does regularly try to cure its members via magic when funds allow for it, but this also, to a degree, represents a parting of sorts, adding a bittersweet flair to the whole proceedings, something that ultimately suffuses the whole cast of characters – this place’s inhabitants are as multi-faceted as the masks and gowns they wear are outlandish and colorful. Indeed, none of the characters on the ship are evil, and while they may come into conflict with the PCs, this is ultimately not a location intended to be solely murderhobo’d through. I can easily picture compassionate PCs becoming very attached to the troupe, perhaps using it to cross borders or infiltrate enemy lands…but that may be me.

Indeed, one can obviously use this village just as well as a take on the trope of normals vs. “freaks”; one could run it in a vast plethora of ways, and indeed, we do get some suggestions on how to adventure in masquerade. Oh lord, I just made a formatting-based joke. Sorry, that’s a new low for me. Anyways, it should also be noted that, yes, we do get a list of 20 entries of village dressing and events, and the PFRPG-version comes with the usual settlement statblock as well as, rather cool, a nice little global effect pertaining magic in Masquerade.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant, printer-friendly b/w-two-column standard and the pdf sports some nice b/w artworks, though I have seen one of them used before. The b/w-cartography by Maciej Zagorski is really nice, though it is GM-only, noting secret doors and the like. High-res versions player-friendly were made available, at least to my knowledge, to Raging Swan Press’ patreons. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and comes in two versions, one optimized for screen-use and one optimized for the printer.

Richard Pett is perhaps the undisputed master of the tragically or comically horrific, or the grotesquely touching. His adventures and supplements (and his novel Crooked) show not only a capacity for great world-and location-building; there is always something deep and resonant in his prose. He can evoke the visceral and dark, and yet it never truly devolves into grimdark bleakness, instead settling in a more oscillating and thus, efficient manner. His spooky supplements work because they are relatable and this is no different. Masquerade will surely be considered dark by some, but ultimately, it represents a tale of hope and will overcoming the odds, depicts a company of uncommon outcasts that have been forced into the roles they now play. The duality of themes, of the eponymous masquerade, is mirrored in every little component of the pdf, bespeaking a careful and precise use of the evocative prose featured herein.

This book is very much an act of deliberate craftsmanship and wordsmithing, and thus manages to stand apart from favorites of mine and benchmarks, be that Ravenloft’s Carnival, the phenomenal Blood Bayou, or Nick Logue’s grisly fey carnival. Masquerade, in spite of having chosen perhaps one area in RPGs where absolutely superb supplements abound, manages to carve out its niche as a truly remarkable place; indeed, it almost feels like a village that could carry a whole series of novels…or, well. Adventures. The characters and general location are immensely captivating, rendering this a masterpiece, even within the context of the extremely high level of the Village Backdrop-series, rivaled only by some of John Bennett's and Mike Welham’s legendary contributions. Even in master Pett’s impressive catalogue, this stands out in its achievement of this level of depth so in so few pages.

This humble supplement set my mind ablaze with ideas and managed to really touch my heart…and considering that it’s only 7 pages long, that means something. This pdf thus gets 5 stars + seal of approval and actually qualifies as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2018.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Masquerade
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Village Backdrop: Masquerade (SNE)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/29/2018 05:00:11

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Village Backdrop-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, so first things first: This is NOT your everyday village. Much like in every village backdrop, we do get notes on local nomenclature and dressing habits, as well as village lore and 3 rumors (instead of the standard 6)…but that is pretty much where the similarities with the regular installments of the series end.

Masquerade is not a fixed locale. Instead, it is a rickety conglomerate of three barges forming a floating village-theatre of sorts, with the performers masked and in costume at most times, at least while outsiders can witness them. This is Richard Pett, though, and as such, there is a theme of the grotesque, of underlying decay and grime suffusing the village – this case, represented by the bane of the village, the unifying factor that ties together this community: Masquerade is a colony of lepers, masking their affliction behind the gaiety they bring.

Tragedy and comedy entwine with one another in an intricate manner, for Masquerade’s founder, the enigmatic Silent Queen and absentee captain Absinthe Morell (take a look at that name and the connotations it automatically causes!) created this place as an exile and trap of sorts…but in a twist on trope, the place has become something more for her, a family of outcasts of sorts…and thus, she has taken on an oath that requires nigh-unparalleled willpower to maintain…but whether she can maintain it and for how long…only the referee decides.

Indeed, while Richard Pett has a knack for writing great locales, the extended cadre of characters herein deserves special mention – no less than 9 sample NPCs with potentially complex motivations can act as a foil or allies for the PCs and include some intriguing angles, with the theme of the masquerade itself obviously acting as a good reason to not provide read-aloud texts for their looks. In system neutral version, their references obviously have been changed appropriately to the respective old-school monikers and classes.

We do get such texts for the respective locations on the ships, though, and, as in all the new village backdrops, the respective points of interest come with services that can be purchased. Now, as you can glean from the set-up here, masquerade is very much depending on retaining its secrecy, which is upheld by the magical talents of the crew…but PCs may well pierce the veil, which can provide truly intriguing moral conundrums. Should they out the leper-troupe and their dangerous mistress?

An alternate angle for adventuring would be the fact that the troupe does regularly try to cure its members via magic when funds allow for it, but this also, to a degree, represents a parting of sorts, adding a bittersweet flair to the whole proceedings, something that ultimately suffuses the whole cast of characters – this place’s inhabitants are as multi-faceted as the masks and gowns they wear are outlandish and colorful. Big kudos: The magical healing of the afflicted has been converted to refer to the proper old-school spell.

Indeed, none of the characters on the ship are evil, and while they may come into conflict with the PCs, this is ultimately not a location intended to be solely murderhobo’d through. I can easily picture compassionate PCs becoming very attached to the troupe, perhaps using it to cross borders or infiltrate enemy lands…but that may be me.

Indeed, one can obviously use this village just as well as a take on the trope of normals vs. “freaks”; one could run it in a vast plethora of ways, and indeed, we do get some suggestions on how to adventure in masquerade. Oh lord, I just made a formatting-based joke. Sorry, that’s a new low for me. Anyways, it should also be noted that, yes, we do get a list of 20 entries of village dressing and events, and the system neutral version has been modified regarding prices of goods etc. to reflect the different realities of the system; however, there is one minor complaint here: The settlement has a global effect regarding its effects on magic, which is pretty minor in PFRPG; in the old-school system neutral version, I personally would have gone a step beyond. It’s a matter of aesthetics in this version, though, and not a complaint versus the integrity of the effect.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant, printer-friendly b/w-two-column standard and the pdf sports some nice b/w artworks, though I have seen one of them used before. The b/w-cartography by Maciej Zagorski is really nice, though it is GM-only, noting secret doors and the like. High-res versions player-friendly were made available, at least to my knowledge, to Raging Swan Press’ patreons. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and comes in two versions, one optimized for screen-use and one optimized for the printer.

Richard Pett is perhaps the undisputed master of the tragically or comically horrific, or the grotesquely touching. His adventures and supplements (and his novel Crooked) show not only a capacity for great world-and location-building; there is always something deep and resonant in his prose. He can evoke the visceral and dark, and yet it never truly devolves into grimdark bleakness, instead settling in a more oscillating and thus, efficient manner. His spooky supplements work because they are relatable and this is no different. Masquerade will surely be considered dark by some, but ultimately, it represents a tale of hope and will overcoming the odds, depicts a company of uncommon outcasts that have been forced into the roles they now play. The duality of themes, of the eponymous masquerade, is mirrored in every little component of the pdf, bespeaking a careful and precise use of the evocative prose featured herein.

This book is very much an act of deliberate craftsmanship and wordsmithing, and thus manages to stand apart from favorites of mine and benchmarks, be that Ravenloft’s Carnival, the phenomenal Blood Bayou, or Nick Logue’s grisly fey carnival. Masquerade, in spite of having chosen perhaps one area in RPGs where absolutely superb supplements abound, manages to carve out its niche as a truly remarkable place; indeed, it almost feels like a village that could carry a whole series of novels…or, well. Adventures. The characters and general location are immensely captivating, rendering this a masterpiece, even within the context of the extremely high level of the Village Backdrop-series, rivaled only by some of John Bennett and Mike Welham’s legendary contributions. Even in master Pett’s impressive catalogue, this stands out in its achievement of this level of depth so in so few pages.

This humble supplement set my mind ablaze with ideas and managed to really touch my heart…and considering that it’s only 7 pages long, that means something. This pdf thus gets 5 stars + seal of approval. The system neutral version is just as strong as the PFRPG-version in its overall themes and execution, and thus shares its nomination for my Top Ten of 2018.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Masquerade (SNE)
Click to show product description

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Creator Reply:
Thank you for this review! You'll not be surprise to learn I'm delighted you liked Masquerade so much!
Village Backdrop: Masquerade (5e)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/29/2018 04:58:15

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Village Backdrop-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, so first things first: This is NOT your everyday village. Much like in every village backdrop, we do get notes on local nomenclature and dressing habits, as well as village lore and 3 rumors (instead of the standard 6)…but that is pretty much where the similarities with the regular installments of the series end.

Masquerade is not a fixed locale. Instead, it is a rickety conglomerate of three barges forming a floating village-theatre of sorts, with the performers masked and in costume at most times, at least while outsiders can witness them. This is Richard Pett, though, and as such, there is a theme of the grotesque, of underlying decay and grime suffusing the village – this case, represented by the bane of the village, the unifying factor that ties together this community: Masquerade is a colony of lepers, masking their affliction behind the gaiety they bring.

Tragedy and comedy entwine with one another in an intricate manner, for Masquerade’s founder, the enigmatic Silent Queen and absentee captain Absinthe Morell (take a look at that name and the connotations it automatically causes!) created this place as an exile and trap of sorts…but in a twist on trope, the place has become something more for her, a family of outcasts of sorts…and thus, she has taken on an oath that requires nigh-unparalleled willpower to maintain…but whether she can maintain it and for how long…only the GM decides.

Indeed, while Richard Pett has a knack for writing great locales, the extended cadre of characters herein deserves special mention – no less than 9 sample NPCs with potentially complex motivations can act as a foil or allies for the PCs and include some intriguing angles, with the theme of the masquerade itself obviously acting as a good reason to not provide read-aloud texts for their looks. In 5e, their references obviously have been changed appropriately

We do get such texts for the respective locations on the ships, though, and, as in all the new village backdrops, the respective points of interest come with services that can be purchased. Now, as you can glean from the set-up here, masquerade is very much depending on retaining its secrecy, which is upheld by the magical talents of the crew…but PCs may well pierce the veil, which can provide truly intriguing moral conundrums. Should they out the leper-troupe and their dangerous mistress?

An alternate angle for adventuring would be the fact that the troupe does regularly try to cure its members via magic when funds allow for it, but this also, to a degree, represents a parting of sorts, adding a bittersweet flair to the whole proceedings, something that ultimately suffuses the whole cast of characters – this place’s inhabitants are as multi-faceted as the masks and gowns they wear are outlandish and colorful. Big kudos: The magical healing of the afflicted has been converted to refer to the proper spell in 5e.

Indeed, none of the characters on the ship are evil, and while they may come into conflict with the PCs, this is ultimately not a location intended to be solely murderhobo’d through. I can easily picture compassionate PCs becoming very attached to the troupe, perhaps using it to cross borders or infiltrate enemy lands…but that may be me.

Indeed, one can obviously use this village just as well as a take on the trope of normals vs. “freaks”; one could run it in a vast plethora of ways, and indeed, we do get some suggestions on how to adventure in masquerade. Oh lord, I just made a formatting-based joke. Sorry, that’s a new low for me. Anyways, it should also be noted that, yes, we do get a list of 20 entries of village dressing and events, and the 5e version has been modified regarding prices of goods etc. to reflect the different realities of the system; however, there is one minor complaint here: The settlement has a global effect regarding its effects on magic, which has not been properly translated into 5e, as it assumes the existence of a caster level; this should instead employ the “At Higher Levels”-mechanics imho. Similarly, a -1 penalty to saves versus some effects is not very 5e-y; I’d actually escalate that to disadvantage.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant, printer-friendly b/w-two-column standard and the pdf sports some nice b/w artworks, though I have seen one of them used before. The b/w-cartography by Maciej Zagorski is really nice, though it is GM-only, noting secret doors and the like. High-res versions player-friendly were made available, at least to my knowledge, to Raging Swan Press’ patreons. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and comes in two versions, one optimized for screen-use and one optimized for the printer.

Richard Pett is perhaps the undisputed master of the tragically or comically horrific, or the grotesquely touching. His adventures and supplements (and his novel Crooked) show not only a capacity for great world-and location-building; there is always something deep and resonant in his prose. He can evoke the visceral and dark, and yet it never truly devolves into grimdark bleakness, instead settling in a more oscillating and thus, efficient manner. His spooky supplements work because they are relatable and this is no different. Masquerade will surely be considered dark by some, but ultimately, it represents a tale of hope and will overcoming the odds, depicts a company of uncommon outcasts that have been forced into the roles they now play. The duality of themes, of the eponymous masquerade, is mirrored in every little component of the pdf, bespeaking a careful and precise use of the evocative prose featured herein.

This book is very much an act of deliberate craftsmanship and wordsmithing, and thus manages to stand apart from favorites of mine and benchmarks, be that Ravenloft’s Carnival, the phenomenal Blood Bayou, or Nick Logue’s grisly fey carnival. Masquerade, in spite of having chosen perhaps one area in RPGs where absolutely superb supplements abound, manages to carve out its niche as a truly remarkable place; indeed, it almost feels like a village that could carry a whole series of novels…or, well. Adventures. The characters and general location are immensely captivating, rendering this a masterpiece, even within the context of the extremely high level of the Village Backdrop-series, rivaled only by some of John Bennett's and Mike Welham’s legendary contributions. Even in master Pett’s impressive catalogue, this stands out in its achievement of this level of depth so in so few pages.

This humble supplement set my mind ablaze with ideas and managed to really touch my heart…and considering that it’s only 7 pages long, that means something. This pdf thus gets 5 stars + seal of approval. However, when contrasted with the PFRPG-version, I was a bit disappointed to see the global effects on Masquerade not adequately translated to 5e, which is why this version loses the nomination for my Top Ten of 2018. That should not deter you from checking this out, though – the prose remains phenomenal and a capable GM can easily fix the global effect snafu!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Masquerade (5e)
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Creator Reply:
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Advanced Adventures #2: The Red Mausoleum
Publisher: Expeditious Retreat Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/29/2018 04:54:54

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 17 pages, 1 page front and back cover, 1 page editorial, 2/3 of a page SRD, leaving us with 14 1/3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by one of my patreons, who graciously bought the module and told me to finish it at my convenience.

Now, this is the second of the Advanced Adventures-modules released by Expeditious Retreat Press, and as such, it is not the latest offering of the author – James C. Boney moved on to create other adventures, which will be covered in due time. As with the first module and all in the series, the default rules system employed herein would be OSRIC. Also, like the first module, this chooses to deviate from formatting conventions, bolding magic items and spells, for example.This is not employed with 100% consistency, though.

The module introduces a new material, a kind of magical fabric that is as tough as metal, and it features three creatures: The illustrated Gehzin are basically telekinesis-using extraplanar frog folks with nasty diseases; harbingers are slain fallen paladins that have not atoned for their sins, revived by the forces of the abyss, and finally, shadowcaps are more of a hazard than a creature – the shrooms are my favorite critter here, as their spores render your incorporeal! Yeah, damn cool and something I’ll be using in games, regardless of system.

All right, this being an adventure review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! The premise of this adventure is rather simple: There have been undead excursions coming from the swamp and the PCs are sent in to fix this issue. After a trek through 15 miles of non-mapped swampland, the PCs arrive at the eponymous red mausoleum, ostensibly the source of the living dead roaming the land. The brief wilderness trek does come with a random encounter table, which is appreciated and feels “right”, in that it does not clutter the desolation of the swamp with humanoids, instead focusing on animals and vermin...including brain moles! This is smart, for it makes for a sharper contrast when the PCs actually find the complex.

They’ll notice that they’re in the right vicinity by redness oozing from the stones, coloring everything, which makes for some really neat visuals.

Now, the mausoleum was erected by a long gone civilization obsessed with blood and unlife, and as such, is not a nice place. A big plus here would be that the module doesn’t waste x pages depicting this civilization, instead opting for an indirect narration; the PCs get to piece together some aspects of how this society worked as they explore the complex. Provided they even get in.

You see, this very much is a module that not only is written for high level PCs, it also assumes appropriate player-capabilities, all without the GM having to constantly improvise. The complex does not hobble the PCs by artificially limiting their options, which is a huge plus. In fact, the module assumes that PCs and players have amassed a degree of competence during their adventures. So, if by any chance you managed to reach these lofty levels by just murder-hobo-ing your way through everything, you’ll suffer. What do I mean by this? Well, one of the best aspects of this adventure would be that, from the antechamber of the dungeon to a lot of bottlenecks of sorts, you’ll need to deal with puzzles. Not in the annoying way, mind you. The mausoleum has an array of defenses and these are often tied to obscure command words etc. – in short, you’ll finally get some use out of those divination spells. The module assumes that you’re using the like, and while there are ways for PCs to brute force these instances, we ultimately have a module here that asks the PCs to use their considerable resources. That’s a good thing and something high level modules often get wrong.

Better yet, the GM actually gets the command words spelled out, which may be a small thing, but it adds to the sense of the immersion when the players have to recite the pass phrase. The demands on well-rounded groups are also mirrored in the way in which dungeon progress is made: You see, the connections between levels are magical and require the understanding and use of some remnants of these days gone by; not true understanding, mind you, but rather a general concept – this is an altar, with this and that move, we can bypass it…

As a whole, this creates an interesting overall feeling that manages to evoke the sense of properly delving into an old complex. Anyways, these magical connections…they actually don’t last that long. If the PCs dawdle, they may well find themselves caught in the complex, forced to delve deeper. And yes, smart groups will have means to offset that, but I still considered it to be smart from a design-perspective.

Now, as far as random encounters go, the dungeon is very much a themed dungeon, in that the PCs will fight undead, undead, and, for a change, undead. In hordes. This is reflected both in the bosses and in the random encounters, which are btw. replenished pretty quickly…and there’s a reason for that built into the module as well, which is a big plus for me. The living dead don’t just pop up, after all. Anyways, the most remarkable non-undead encounter on the 3 dungeon levels that this adventure encompasses would be a tomb of honored knights, which, in a somewhat random move, houses a ton of creatures in stasis, which are consequently released in waves once the grave-robbers…her, I mean “adventurers” venture into the area. I am not a fan of the lay of stasis angle and the critters actually may end up fighting each other, which can make this a nice free-for-all. That being said, I wasn’t too keen on this encounter, as opposed to the exploration of the complex and the implicitly conveyed lore of the place. Which may also be a reason why I wasn’t too blown away by the presence of crypt things. The creature always seemed gimmicky to me and I have very rarely seen it used well. (TPK Games’ Caragthax the Reaver would be such an example.) Anyhow, these criticisms notwithstanding, the first dungeon level can be considered to be a success – it is flavorful and challenging.

Level 2, alas, is a slog/labyrinth. Level 2 is basically winding, claustrophobic catacombs with some spaces, where blocks react to the presence of good alignment creatures passing, sliding in place. Much to my surprise and in some form of minor inconsistency, the architects of the complex don’t use this feature to the full extent, imprisoning PCs etc. – instead of deadly, it just ends up as disorienting, which is probably the intent. The level is also crawling with undead and has precious few keyed encounters. It is, in essence, a level that exists solely as a war of attrition on PC-resources, which, per se, is a smart move for high level games. However, I really wished it had more going on. After the atmospheric first level, this one felt a bit more generic.

Level 3, then, would be the heart of the complex and a flooded passage may actually allow for escape, should the PCs find themselves in over their head. It is also here that we have the module’s most devious trap, which includes demons and a pocket dimension in a false crypt. And yes, potential for eternal imprisonment included. Combat-wise, this does sport the most memorable fight in the adventure: There is a ritualistic area, where a massive mandala on a raised pedestal channels negative energy, summoning hordes of the living dead to crawl from a pit, with a metal dome to keep its powers in check currently raised atop it. Lowering the dome can make the constant stream abate. This is very cool, and while harbingers and Gatheris, a level 21 cleric/level 19 magic-user lich have their abodes in the vicinity, I found myself wondering why they don’t join the fray here – it’d make more sense and be more climactic. Also, RAW, the lich may come with a buff-suite of sorts, but still deigns to fight the PCs more or less on his own, which, even in the lesser power-levels of OSR-gameplay, tends to be a bad idea for high level casters. Reliance on summoned aid doesn’t help as much and a caster in melee with a good fighter can be a pretty bad idea. Then again, perhaps this was intended, as resting in the complex is tough and the 2nd level’s war of attrition on the PCs can really drain their resources. Still, I think combat in the mandala-room would have been more remarkable and interesting.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level. I noticed no glaring issues. Layout adheres to an elegant, old-school two-column b/w-standard. The pdf sports a few solid pieces of b/w-artworks and comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The complex comes with okay b/w-maps, but no player-friendly version is included, which constitutes a comfort detriment for GMs like yours truly who hate drawing maps and enjoy handing out cut-up map-segments to the PCs.

James C. Boney’s “The Red Mausoleum” does a lot right. It is obvious that the author knows the capabilities of high-level PCs first-hand and has experience handling such groups, which is a huge plus: The design of the complex doesn’t just nerf or hobble them, instead working WITH the vast options the PCs have. That is good indeed. From the antechamber throughout most of level 1, I was pretty hooked: The stark visuals of the red complex and the clever “archaeology” of sorts that is needed to progress managed to elicit a sense of wonder that I enjoyed very much. Alas, after level 1, the complex feels like the lack of wordcount left for the subsequent levels necessitated a less interesting take on the remainder of the mausoleum. A good GM can make level 2 feel really claustrophobic and dangerous and level 3’s mandala-room is amazing, but in contrast to how the first level felt, they are less of a unique complex, and feel more like a standard evil-necro-lair type of complex.

The unique tidbits take a back-seat to defeating undead, undead…and then, even more undead. I don’t object to that necessarily, but it is evident in the writing of level 1 and in the glimmers where these become more unique, that they could have been more. I really enjoyed how this module started, but not so much how it progresses. That being said, design-wise, the subsequent levels aren’t bad and work in the context of the complex, they just aren’t as remarkable. I do NOT want the civilization explained, mind you; but some effects for the seeping red, some global tricks, perhaps blood locks or the like…the visuals and theme of the complex imho deserved more in the lower levels. This has the makings of something remarkable, and then settles for a solid, if conservative complex. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform. If you’re willing to tinker with the complex a bit, you’ll certainly find some cool ways to expand it.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #2: The Red Mausoleum
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Transcendent 10 - Spells of Synergy - Magical Interactions
Publisher: Lost Spheres Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/29/2018 04:52:55

An Endzeitgeist.com review

So, Lost Spheres Publishing, back in the day, began with the Transcendent 10-series. While these represent the early works of the company, the company flew under my radar for a long while, so it’s high time we took a look at the series, right? It should be noted that the company has evolved since then – reviews of more current books will hit sites soon as well. But how do these early works hold up against the test of time? Let’s find out!

One thing I really enjoy about this series would be the designer’s commentary that is provided for each respective piece of design – they help a GM and player to properly contextualize the content, which is particularly helpful for folks who don’t have a veteran’s level of system mastery. The pdf predates the ACG and OA, and as such, I will not complain about a lack of representation of the classes from these books in the spell-lists.

Anyways, this pdf is 7 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 /2 page blank, leaving us with 3.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, we begin with a couple of rules-addendums for the purpose of this pdf regarding spellcasting. The book introduces a so-called “Source” – this is basically the type of magic and may include divine, arcane, etc.; The pdf mentions other sources as well, a few of which I haven’t seen so far. Not sure we needed that term. “Flow” denotes whether a spellcaster’s casting is spontaneous or prepared. Considering the evolution of the game, this dichotomy may not hold up so well in all circumstances. It also begs the question where e.g. spontaneous conversion and the like fit in here. This can be somewhat problematic once we evolve to the concept of “counterflow” – this denotes sharing a source, but not a flow: E.g. spontaneous vs. prepared arcane spellcasters.

The pdf then goes on to introduce the [Dual-Souled] subtype, which denotes a acreature bound to the life-force of another creature. This nets a +2 racial bonus to saves versus necromancy spells (but RAW, not versus such effects) and the creature may be considered its original type and that of the bound soul’s form. All right, that is fine and dandy…but how does this interact with spells and effects that have different benefits, based on type? Let’s say Xailaius the elf is dual-souled with an orc and ventures into a desolate battlefield of yore that buffs orcs and debuffs elves, what happens? The better result, the worse, both? This needs some clarification. When failing a save versus a death effect, dual-souled creatures can opt to lose the subtype instead of dying, acting as a failsafe extra life of sorts.

Okay, we’ll begin with three bond of magic spells. The lesser one has a Close range and ties two allied spellcasters together; it is cast as a swift action and clocks in at level 1. Both caster and ally may only cast with the permission of the other character, but gain +1 to CL checks. If a partner expends a standard action, the ally instead gains +2 to CL-checks and +1 to the DC of spells cast that round. The greater version targets 1 + 1/per 3 caster levels targets instead and clocks in at 5th level. Also at 5th level, we get the parasitic bond of magic, which only targets one creature, but lets the caster compel the target to grant this boost. Such a compelled boost does allow for a second save, though. I have a few issues with these spells. They should imho only be able to target allies. Otherwise, it’s save or suck for enemy casters – and mutual lockdown isn’t fun for the player of the caster either. The parasitic bond makes for a cool take on the master/apprentice-concept regarding black arts, but the compelling of boost should be classified as an enchantment (compulsion) effect to properly account for immunities/interactions. This would be as well a place as any to note that, strangely, none of the spells herein are available for the witch.

Counterflow negation targets another caster with the other spellcasting tradition and has a Close range, a Will save to negate and clocks in at 3rd level. It results in a mutual lockdown of casters. Inverse consumption clocks in at 5th level and is a 10-minute ritual that is permanent and targets 2 counterflow spellcasters, one of which must be disabled or dying. (Considering the casting time, dying is unlikely.) Upon completion, the disabled or dying caster perishes (and may not be brought back by any means) and the survivor gets the dual-souled subtype. The survivor also gets spells added from the deceased caster, but the rules-language here is slightly wonky – functional, mind you, but yeah. Interesting: Casting this multiple times is an evil act, as stuffing too many souls into you is really bad news for all souls. I am a bit confused whether this means that you could become triple-souled, or whether the benefits of subsequent castings only apply to spells gained. While the spell is permanent, I am also not sure if losing the Dual-Souled subtype ends the spell or not. If so, are the spells retained? Can the character cast it again without it being evil?

Mystic rebirth clocks in at 5th level for druids, 6th for inquis and oracles and also has a 10 minutes casting time. It can only be cast once on a creature and basically is an instant retrain from prepared to spontaneous caster and vice-versa – wizards become sorcerers, clerics become oracles, etc. Now I get the intent here, but the spell does not allow for attribute re-assignment, which means that the new class will probably suck. It also reduces these classes to spellcasting, which can be an issue. Where do you get a bloodline from? Oracles don’t have to have their deity’s alignment, having the option to be unwilling prophets, etc. Not a fan.

There also are two Zenith surge spells, with the lesser clocking in at level 5. This one targets a prepared spellcaster and allows them to change a prepared spell of 4th level or lower to cast a known spell of the same level or lower from the spell-list. The greater version is, oddly, available for oracle and sorcerer 8 as well as bard 8. Did I miss something there? ;) Anyways, it pretty much works like the lesser version, but goes up to spell level 7. I do like the exclusivity of these spells for sorcs and oracles, but as a whole, I don’t think prepared casters needed the flexibility these offer.

Finally, there would be the lesser and greater inverse versions of these, for prepared casters only, he 5th and 8th level Zenith web spells. These allow spontaneous casters to mimic spells successfully observed via Spellcraft (not capitalized properly), provided they show up on their spell list, by expending an appropriate spell slot. Thresholds are 4th and 7th spell-level, respectively.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting on a formal level are okay; on a rules-language level, the pdf manages to depict complex concepts, but suffers from the base chassis not being perfect. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard and the pdf has no interior artwork apart from the cover. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Christen N. Sowards’ Transcendent 10-series had surprised me with how well it held up to the test of time; this can, alas, not be said about this pdf. The base concepts used by the spells are per se interesting, but can become problematic with the spellcasting modifications that have been released since the pdf’s release. Additionally, the spells, while not bad per se, have a few rough edges that make them less appealing, with quite a few of them boiling down to cheesy mutual casting lockdowns. Unlike the other T10-files I’ve covered so far, I did not find myself liking any of the spells herein particularly. There is some potential here, but the implementation of the spells requires more work than what I’d expect. My final verdict will clock in at 2.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Transcendent 10 - Spells of Synergy - Magical Interactions
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Book of Heroic Races: Occult Intrigue in the Wilderness (PFRPG)
Publisher: Jon Brazer Enterprises
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/28/2018 06:45:32

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement clocks in at 45 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page introduction, 2 pages of advertisement, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 37 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

So, if the title wasn’t enough of an indicator, this book provides material for the occult classes, the Ultimate Intrigue & Wilderness books – namely, for the Heroic Races introduced in Jon Brazer Enterprise’s Book of Heroic Races: Advanced Compendium. The races covered herein are androids, changelings, catfolk, dhampir, elan, lizardfolk, merfolk, samsarans, sashahar, skinwalkers, tengus, umbral kobolds, wyrwoods and wyvarans. Each of the entries for the races comes with favored class options for the new classes in the aforementioned Paizo-hardcovers, and we get class options, racial feats and otherwise unique options for each of the races herein.

Androids get two new racial archetypes, the first of which would be the living archive medium, who loses shared séance, haunt channeler and astral journey. This would be a good place to note that I like the formatting here: Each of the archetypes and more complex options note the associated class and race as well as the replaced and modified abilities in the beginning – this makes it easier to determine whether the archetype is for the build you have in mind. So yeah, I like this decision. Living archives use Charisma as governing sepllcasting ability and 2nd level nets spirit esoteric: One spirit is chosen as the specialty spirit, which means that the medium gains the chosen spirit’s spirit bonus even when not channeling it. When channeling another spirit, this bonus may supersede that usually granted by the spirit. 3rd level allows the living archive to perform a séance to channel this chosen spirit in places other than the favored location. 14th level provides SP legend lore, but requires that the target of the SP is “at hand.” I am not a big fan of this being at-will; on a formal level “at hand” does not constitute particularly precise rules-language – this should be within reach/require touching/etc. – some sort of tighter wording. And yes, I am aware that the storyteller medium archetype, for example, handles this wording construct thus. Doesn’t make it better.

The second archetype would be the splintered mind psychic, who loses detect thoughts, telepathic bond and telepathy. The archetype modifies discipline, who gains both the lore and self-perfection disciplines . Whenever the psychic gets a discipline spell or power, she chooses one from these two or a lower-level discipline power or spell chosen from the two. Wisdom remains the phrenic pool-governing ability score. 2nd level allows the splintered mind to use 1 phrenic pool point to use the nanite surge racial ability, even if she has already expended it for the day. 9th level allows the character to use nanite surge after failing a save versus an enchantment spell or effect to attempt a second save on the next round, with a bonus as if she had nanite surge’d it. Now, I assume that this still requires the expenditure of nanite surge’s immediate action activation, but the ability does not specify that and RAW could be used without an action. Or, you could make a case for standard action activation, which would make no sense, though. The ability would be slightly cleaner if it mentioned the activation action here. 17th level nets a failsafe spell: Spend 10 minutes of meditation and expend twice the spell’s level in phrenic pool point cost to get a contingency-style spell that is triggered as long as she has at least one nanite surge left. This, while functional, is a bit awkward: RAW, the base ability of the archetype does not grant new nanite surges – instead, it allows for the use of nanite surges via phrenic pool point expenditure when there are no uses left. I am pretty positive that the ability, in the context of overall archetype use, would be more elegant if the exchange was based on daily uses instead.

The race gets 3 new feats: Nanite Firewall lets you expend a daily use of nanite surge to mitigate influence; Nanite Maintenance lets you expend a daily use of nanite surge to reduce influence by 1d3 (minimum 1). Nanite Stabilization upgrades Logical Spell to not require higher spell slots while you have at least 1 nanite surge remaining. Psychic repair dispels ongoing effects that reduce the mental ability scores (does NOT cure damage, drain or burn!) and with a nanite surge to boost it, it can eliminate a charm or compulsion effect targeting the caster – the spell is personal, fyi. Solid.

The catfolk get the new feline interloper archetype, which replaces unshakeable. The archetype gets proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as shuriken, bola and whip and adds Handle Animal and Knowledge (dungeoneering) and (engineering) to the class skills. The archetype is locked into the stalker specialization and at 3rd level, gets + class level to Bluff checks made to feint. The archetype gets two social talents, one that acts as wild empathy with 1 + Cha-mod charm animal as a SP on top, which upgrades to charm monster at 7th level. Sounds OP? Well, it can only affect feline/felid creatures, so I’m good with it. The second talent nets better gathering of renown when stealing particularly valuable objects from a target. A new vigilante talent nets Improved Unarmed Strike and flurry of blows at unchained monk -3 levels. The second new vigilante talent allows for limited style strike poaching from the unchained monk. There are new mesmerist tricks here, including one that makes the subject emanate a dazzle-variant based on sound that can hamper spellcasting on the subject. The second trick can deny a target that moves adjacent to the subject their Dex-bonus versus the next attack executed by the subject, which is per se cool. However, the enemy gets an immediate action Sense Motive to negate this, which is interesting. There is a masterful trick upgrade of this one that should specify that it requires the base trick to take it, which it RAW doesn’t.

Changelings get the malformed eye mesmerist archetype, which loses consummate liar, hypnotice stare and painful stare. Instead, the archetype gets a witch’s patron and the evil eye hex, which allows for the addition of bold stare improvements as if it were hypnotic gaze. Okay, while the evil eye retains the hex-caveat and activation action drawback, I am not sold here – bold stare improvements are based on them being useful only as the focus of the hypnotic stare and RAW, the hex does not require the maintenance of stare and can be used to spam the penalties thus caused. Not sold. The archetype may also use forbid action as an free action, 1/round at-will SP, but the target may still sue the action. When doing so, the target takes scaling, untyped damage. This can only be triggered once per round, though. I like the flavor of this one, but I’m not sold on the archetype grafting rules-components on top of the stare-engine that are not intended to work as such. The race also gets a new medium spirit, the crone,, who applies spirit bonus to concentration, Int-based checks and Will-saves. The séance boon increases the CL of all non-instantaneous spells by 3 for the purpose of determining duration. Influence penalty applies to AC, atk, non-spell damage rolls and Ref-saves. The taboos are interesting. The lesser ability nets you use the mesmerists’s spells per day and expands your spell-list with witch spells. The intermediate power nets a non-stacking CL-increase for a school. The greater ability lets you accept influence to further boost per-round—duration spell durations. The supreme ability lets you 1/day use this in a better manner, and sans influence. The shifter gets the black cat aspect. Minor form nets you a minor luck bonus to AC as well as a penalty to nearby foes at 8th level, with higher levels increasing range of the penalty and the bonus. Minor complaint – penalties are untyped. The major form lets you assume a Tiny black cat shape, including a luck bonus to atk. Minor complaints here: Size categories are capitalized and the claw attacks don’t specify their damage dealt or damage types. Higher levels also grant Black Cat and extend the bonus to saves and makes the feat usable 3/day at 15th level. The favored class options here deserve special mention, as they are pretty complex and interesting.

Dhampirs get two new racial archetypes, the first of which would be the blood scion mesmerist, who loses touch treatment, mental potency and glib lie. Instead, 3rd level allows the dhampir to use a standard action to lock gazes with the subject of a hypnotic stare as a standard action, acting as charm person while under the dhampir’s stare. Interesting – the target loses the memory of being affected thus. Limited and rather potent, but also iconic for the vampire-theme. It is balanced by a hex-like caveat, so yeah -I actually really like it! 5th level allows for the summon nature’s ally-based SP of calling children of the night, with 10th, 15th and 20th level improving that. Huge problem: No daily uses. This is, RAW, usable as often as the character wants! 14th level adds the advanced creature template to the creatures called. 11th level allows for a better version of the archetype’s base ability, duplicating dominate person. Add a daily cap to the archetype and we have a really cool tweak here.

The second archetype is the grim warder occultist, who loses magic circles and outside contact. They are locked into adjuration and conjuration as first two implement schools, but casts spells from them at CL+2; however, necromancy implement school spells are cast at -2 CL and similarly, the level to qualify for focus powers of the school is reduced by 2. The archetype is also locked into these favored schools for implement mastery. 8th level nets warding circles, which are undead-only magic circles against evil that may be enhanced with death ward via mental focus expenditure, even suppressing, though not removing, penalties from negative levels incurred by creatures prior to entering it. 12th level provides an undead-only binding circle powered by mental focus and fast circle applies to these specialized circles. As much as I liked the first archetype, this one left me somewhat cold – a pretty vanilla anti-undead option. The race also gets the Hypnotic Charmer feat, which lets you take 20 or 10 when using Cha-based skills on targets of your hypnotic stare.

Elands are up next, and we get a new medium archetype, the generation channeler, who replaces shared séance. These fellows may spend 2 power points to increase the die-size of the spirit surge die. I assume only for one surge. Instead of a shared séance’s usual benefits, we get +2 to saves versus enchantment and mind-affecting effects. The archetype may also expend power points to ask additional questions to haunts channeled. Weird: The ability states that it costs 2 power points, but then goes on to note that we get an additional question for every 3 power points spent – which is it? Can the character expend more power points than 2? RAW, no, but the ability indicates it, even providing a cap. Looks like something got lost/mixed up in a revision here. The pdf also includes a new aether composite blast, at Burn 2 – the elan force thrust, which adds a bull rush t the blast and causes force damage. There is a new mesmerist trick that nets catapsi when targeted with a psionic power or psi-like ability, though it only affects the subject. There are new phrenic amplifications, the first of which is somewhat problematic: Use 2 power points for one phrenic pool point? OUCH. This really delimits phrenic pool points for primarily psions. The second amplification lets you expend power points to cast standard action divinations as swift actions or increase the DC of scrying or mind-affecting divinations. Elan vigilantes can get Ch-mod/day demoralize as a psi-like power plus class level power points; alternatively, another talent makes all vigilante melee attacks ghost touch and, later also adds a bonus of +2 to atk versus incorporeal targets, undead, mediums channeling spirits and spiritualist phantoms. Neat ones!

We also get a new medium spirit, the elan elder, whose spirit bonus applies to concentration checks and Intelligence checks and Int-based skill checks. The séance boon nets +2 to Will saves versus mind-affecting spells and powers . The influence penalty applies to Dex checks and Dex-based skill checks as well as Perception checks, but not on any saves. The taboos makes sense. The lesser ability lets you spend power points for capped bonuses when using psychic skill unlocks; the intermediate power lets the medium accept 1 point of influence for +4 DC for a medium spell’s or psionic power’s DC, which is pretty damn brutal. The greater ability requires to let the spirit gain 1 point of influence. If you do, you may manifest ANY psion/wilder power as if you were a psion/wilder of the same level. You expend a spell slot of a level to manifest ANY psion/wilder power of the level of the slot you expended. Metapsionics may not be added, but you can augment the power via power points. This is pretty brutal, but kept in check by the medium’s spell levels...or is it? The “of the same level” pertaining to class levels, or character levels, is odd and interacts weirdly with the slot-expenditure required, making this a bit wonky. The supreme ability lets you 1/day use the greater power sans spell slot requirements or influence gained – which makes me think that there is a bit of cut-copy-paste confusion going on here…or a version change or something.

The lizardfolk race gets a new shifter archetype that loses sharp claws, defensive instinct and trackless step as well as the shifter claw increases. 1st level nets scaling studied target and 2nd level a scaling, Wisdom-governed AC/CMD bonus, which is halved when wearing nonmetal shields/armor instead, otherwise akin to the way in which monk-AC bonuses work. 3rd level nets fast movement and 5th level extra precision damage when moving, which scales. The main meat of class options here would be shifter aspects, 5 of which are provided: Alligator/crocodile, gecko, chameleon, pteranodon and snapping turtle. The first nets better aquatic Stealth and a 1/minute boost to base speed at 8th level while in minor form; Kudos: The major form correctly codifies the natural bite attack granted and the abilities gained make sense. Chameleon also enhances Stealth in minor form, but less so and regardless of environment. It provides standard and move action in surprise rounds at 8th level, and the major form is cool, with high levels netting your sticky tongue bludgeoning damage based on racial claws or shifter’s claws. Gecko enhances climbing and initiative and the major form provides some true climbing superiority and bite enhancers. Pteranodon nets a bonus to AC and initiative in minor form, while major form nets you clumsy fly speed, which improves in speed and maneuverability later and also nets you Flyby Attack et al at 15th level. Snapping turtle is interesting, in that it nets an AC bonus that increases when the character doesn’t move or attack. All in all, I enjoyed these shifter aspects.

Merfolk get two new water blasts: Siren’s song is a burn 0 sonic simple blast at reduced die size of d4 to account for the rare damage type; the composite blast Shrieking Song clocks in at 2 burn and provides composite sonic with the same reduction. There also are two utility wild talents, the first of which is siren’s kiss. For 1 burn, the DC increases by 2 and the talent nets you unnatural lust, save it requires concentration to maintain. Siren’s call duplicates nixie’s lure, requires concentration and has a 100-ft.-range. Not a fan: If you accept 1 burn, you don’t need to maintain concentration and the effect is prolonged until you next recover burn. Merfolk mediums may gain two new legendary spirits – Charybdis and Scylla, based on marshal and trickster, respectively. Charybdis’ séance boon nets you +2 to grapple checks and the influence penalty applies to Int- and Int-based checks as well as CL for the purpose of determining duration and range, which is BRUTAL. You also can’t benefit from CL-enhancing effects. I assume that this does not include feats, but I’m not 100% sure. The spirit gets an intermediate ability: When an enemy targets the medium with a direct assault or counters or negates a medium’s action, the medium may allow the spirit to gain 1 influence to have the opponent suffer from crushing despair for a number of rounds equal to the medium’s highest spell-level known. Durations stack. Okay, a few issues: 1) This should probably have an activation action. 2) What constitutes “counters or negates the medium’s action”? Does not falling to a combat maneuver qualify? Making a save? This is woefully opaque and needs clarification.

Scylla, based on the trickster, applies the spirit boon to Dexterity checks, skill checks (yes, RAW, all of them) and Ref-saves. The séance boon nets a +1 bonus on one skill, which is also treated as a class skill. The influence penalty makes you not count as an ally for effects and also makes you not count as a willing recipient of spells. You must even be hit by touch spells, but you’re not forced to save versus beneficial spells. The unique ability here is classified as greater and is called…”Triumph of the Will.” … sigh I’ll just pretend that this unfortunate name was an accident and move on. The ability allows the medium to allow Scylla to gain 1 influence to either reroll a d20 or force an enemy to reroll; an enemy forced to reroll takes a penalty to the reroll equal to how much they’re outnumbered, minimum 0. OH BOY. Srsly? Okay, one: Range. What’s the range? Two: This is broken: Take an army of fluffy allied kittens with you. Have an ally cast any super-lethal/save-or-suck effect. Force a reroll. Marvel at how your army of hundreds of kittens makes the save DC impossible to beat.

We also get two mesmerist tricks: The first can be triggered on entering light, granting the target temporary hit points. The second grants darkvision upon entering darkness. Shifters gain a new shark aspect, which focuses on sensory improvements. The major form nets later a better bite. Minor and purely aesthetic wording quibble in the FCOs: “When gaining a taboo, the medium can use spirit surge without incurring influence one additional +1/4 time per day.” The final part of that sentence could be a bit cleaner.

Samsarans get a new occultist implement school, the eternal implements. The resonant power nets +1 competence bonus to Intelligence-based skill and ability-checks for every 2 points of mental focus invested, capping at 1 + 1 for every 4 class levels. The base focus power is touch of antiquity, which allows you to expend 1 point of mental focus to cause an object to age, inflicting 1d4 +1d4 for every 2 occultist levels untyped damage to an object and also cause it to be broken. Constructs may alternatively be targeted with a melee touch attack and a base damage die of 1d6, scaling the same way as the damage to objects. We get a total of 6 focus powers: One grants a combat feat, which must not have feat prerequisites, but otherwise, the target needs not fulfill the prerequisites. The power lasts for 1 minute and another feat is granted every 6 class levels thereafter and the feats may build upon each other, offsetting the no-feat-prerequisite caveat. Now this one is INTERESTING and well-executed...with one quibble: It fails to note that it requires mental focus expenditure, which it probably should have – the other focus powers get that right. Collective calm lets you choose multiple skills and take 10 in them, even under duress. Mantle of antiquity nets you a 20% miss chance and the option to automatically succeed a save, ending the mantle’s effects. To nitpick here: It should probably specify that the decision must be made before rolling. Personally, I also would have preferred a massive bonus over an auto-success. RAW, this would allow an occultist to even survive a deity’s assault. Reincarnation’s guise is a combo’d disguise self and +4 ability score boost. Restore grandeur is the inverse of the base focus power, restoring items and constructs. Living targets may also be healed thus, but only 1/day. Wisdom of the ages, finally, nets legend lore, but once more requires that the person or thing you learn about must be “at hand”, which still isn’t particularly precise rules-language. The implement school comes with its own spell-list – no complaints there. Samsarans also get two new racial feats, Empathic Healer, which lets you heal ability score damage via mental focus or phrenic pool points when using Life’s Blood, taking the damage yourself. Reincarnated Hero nets you a bonus on Cha-based checks in vigilante identity and helps renown when you gain it. While not perfect, style-wise one of my favorite chapters within! (And I don’t even particularly like the samsarans…)

The sashahar get a new legendary spirit with Sessinakka (based on Guardian), complete with taboos and gaining favor covered. The ability gained is intermediate and provides an extended spell-list and the option to use spirit surge to boost concentration and CL-checks when casting these spells. We also get a new implement school here, the sentinel implements. The resonant power here is applied to saves “against extraplanar creatures”. (Could be a bit tighter.) The base focus power is a swift action 20 ft.-burst that deals 2 points of untyped damage per class level, no save. Not a fan. We get 6 focus powers and a custom spell-list. Negating flanking benefits for one round per class level, a boost to CMD and saves versus attempts to move you and fighting on when almost killed by an extraplanar creature are three of the benefits. At 11th level, you can get a rather cool summoning-suppression-field, which I really liked per se. However, the field also suppresses medium spirits and spiritualist phantoms, which is somewhat sucky, as it doesn’t grant a save or the like and these are central class features. There should be some sort of mechanic for these two at least. Weird: RAW, eidolons are not impeded – and for them, the impeding would actually make more sense. Planar ward debuffs foreigners to your plane and nets a boost versus their tricks. I also really liked the high-level teleportation scrambler. We also get a new psychic discipline, the gate guardian, who uses Wisdoma s governing attribute. The first discipline power nets you temporary access to defense-themed monster abilities like fast healing, ferocity or light fortification and these improve at higher levels, also adding DR and AC-boosts and resistances to the mix. 5th level nets a scaling save bonus to either Fort- or Ref-saves, your choice. 13th lets you negate 1 critical hit confirmation per day, 2/day at 18th level. Nice one. There is a vigilante talent that nets the planar weapon quality and upgrades to +2 to atk versus creatures with the extraplanar subtype. Okay, so the weapon quality should be italicized and the bonus should probably apply to non-native outsiders as well, right? This is slightly unclear regarding the whole section, btw.

Skinwalkers get a pretty nice medium archetype that tweaks all of the standard spirits. The lunar spirits include: Witchbeast (archmage): Reckless and dislikes casting on allies, uses witch spell list. Ruler of Fangs (champion) nets better natural weapon base damage and martial weapon proficiency. Furred Warden (guardian) nets spirit bonus to AC and heavy armor proficiency as a lesser ability. The greater ability is wonky, though: When you or an ally in reach is grappled, you get a counter grapple fortified by spirit surge. Okay, this has a few problems: Spirit surge is a bonus applied to a roll and only applies to rolls modified by the spirit bonus: RAW, CMD is neither a roll, not a static value to which the guardian’s spirit bonus applies. Since using the spirit surge is not even an action, this allows for non-action counter-grapples. This should probably have an immediate action prerequisite.

Moonwatcher (hierophant) has the archmage arcana spirit power, using druid/shaman lists instead as a lesser power. The intermediate ability is pretty specific – it duplicates energy font, but instead causes all skinwalkers to change shape instantaneously. Overflowing moonlight builds on grace and the previous ability, modifying it accordingly. The Grinning Beast (marshal) gets only the basics modified, not the powers, and the same goes for the Sewer Grandmaster (trickster). All of the spirits have séance boons that grant bestial features according to the nature of the spirits. I really liked this one and wished it had more room to shine: The tying of bestial features with séances is smart, the taboos etc. are cool and I like the custom spirit array. This is worth returning to and expanding to full-blown class tweak, imho.

Skinwalkers also get a new vigilante archetype, the moonlight lurker, whose vigilante identity must incorporate the animalistic features of change shape. The archetype can shift identities as a full-round action, as a standard action in moonlight, using the change shape racial ability in conjunction with it. The lurker gets two bestial traits when usng change shape, which improves by +1 at 5th and 9th level. 13th level also nets a potent ability like fly, pounce etc. 17th level nets a second one from this list and 20th level provides regeneration 5, suppressed by silver. This does come with a price, though: No social talent at first level and, more painfully, no vigilante specialization. There are two lycanthrope-themed vigilante-talents, one for scaling attribute bonuses and one for scaling DR/silver.

The moonshifter loses chimeric aspect and its greater brother as well as final aspect. Shifter claw benefits are applied to two natural weapons gained via change shape and it may be activated as a swift action. 9th level provides a hybrid form when in minor aspect; this improved at 14th level and the capstone nets change shape/wild shape transparency as well as DR 10/silver.

Tengus are up next, beginning with the vinculum corrupter occultist, who loses magic item skill and aura sight. Additionally, he only gets ½ class level + Int-mod mental focus. However, he does get ½ level (I assume minimum 1) of vinculum focus. This behaves as a regular mental focus, but enhances the CL when targeting the owner’s type/subtype. Owner? Yep, for these points may only be invested in implements that rightfully belong to another, which is interesting. 2nd level yields +1/2 class level to Sleight of Hand and 5th level lets the archetype locate creature implement owners. The swaggering avenger vigilante loses the appearance-ability tree and the 2nd level vigilante talent. They are locked into the avenger specialization and gain Dazzling Display, usable sans weapon as a standard action, at 2nd level. +2 to atk versus foes demoralized thus. There is a talent that lets you make a creature hit itself via grapple or disarm – odd and makes no sense: This bypasses any DR but universal DR, which is WEIRD. 5th level nets Performance Combatant and a performance feat. 11th level nets temporary hit points with successful performance combat checks and 17th level lets you add damage as though you had hit an additional time when reducing an enemy to 0 hp. Oh boy. Does this include vital strike? Any modifications to BAB etc.? Not functional RAW. There is a complex phrenic amplification that allows you to steal mental energy, like focuses, mesmerist tricks etc. via spells, which is interesting and, more importantly, really smoothly designed: It can’t be cheesed with kittens, the save-interaction is tight and neat. The target is also temporarily staggered, and no, no stagger-locking the target. Impressive one! The shifter, finally, gets the crow aspect (doesn’t specify natural attack type, requires defaulting), but otherwise, solid. The favored class options here are interesting, though the occultist bonus requires a legacy weapon, making it only relevant for the transmutation implement school.

The umbral kobolds are up next, starting with the shadowpsychic, who gets more phrenic pool – but whenever he uses 2 or more points, the linked spell becomes a shadow spell. To make up for that, he gets telempathic shadow barrage and shadow targeting. The first lets you add debuffs to the telepathic bond via phrenic pool points. Shadow targeting is OP as F***. For 2 phrenic pool points, you ignore range, provided the target of the linked spell is in shadows or touching them. Range must be touch or greater, but still. OUCH. The race also gets the aether-based shadow blast simple blast, which adds +2 damage per die and makes damage nonlethal. At burn 0, that is a bit overkill, imho. At 15th level, composite blasts may also be enhanced thus, at the cost of 1 Burn. I think this would have made more sense as a utility wild talent. We also get a new medium spirit, Kurgog the Guardian. I assume this fellow replaces the regular guardian. The séance boon is applied to CMD and influence penalty nets you +2 to atk, but -4 AC “during the first attack or full attack of any combat”. The penalty should probably last for a round after executing it. Also: It’s called PENALTY. Not buff. The influence penalty should not provide an attack buff. The lesser spirit power nets Dodge, which also encompasses uncanny dodge at 10th level. The intermediate ability lets you, as a swift action, “expend 1 point of mental focus…” WAIT. WUT? Yep, we have a glaring cut copy paste error here that also extends to the greater ability. It’s okay to make another class’s ability available for a spirit, but it has to be MODIFIED to reflect the realities of the new class. Sloppy and non-functional as presented.

The wyrwoods get two new archetypes, the first of which would be the equinox infiltrator vigilante, who loses vigilante specialization, a ton of vigilante talents, dual identity and two social talents. They also share the druid’s prohibition versus wearing metal armor. They have 3 identities and change requires 1 minute of meditation. The archetype has one social and two infiltrator identities. Each of the infiltrator identities is associated with one domain chosen from the 4 base elemental domains and they may only use the domain powers while in the corresponding identity. They gain an additional such identity at 7th and 15th level and they get the hunter’s spellcasting, using druid spell list and domains exclusively. There are two feats to upgrade this fellow: Solstice Identity nets+ 1 identity with an extended domain choice. Specialized Equinox nets subdomain access for the equinox identity and the domain chosen.

The second archetype would be the phantasmagorist spiritualist, who replaces the phantom with a memorandum construct that does not have an emotional focus or ethereal form. Instead of an emotional focus, we get a sorcerer bloodline at 3/4th class level (minimum 1 caveat missing). Each bonus spell granted by this bloodline may be cast 1/day as a SP. LOL: While the memorandum is in the spiritualist’s subconscious, the character gains ALL teamwork feats of ALL allies within 30 ft. Yeah, not gonna happen in my game. Analogue abilities have restrictions for a reason. 3rd level’s bonded manifestation-tweak instead provides access to the bloodline-related powers. This is a bit wonky.

The final race would be the wyvarans. Here, we get 6 form infusions that represent cones and line-shaped blasts for any element, in three steps. Weird: The wyrmling’s minimum level is higher than the comparable fire form infusion, cost the same; (the cost should be higher to account for increased flexibility); the mature version has the same burn cost and level requirements and its water specialized spray – straight power-creep. And no, they don’t need the previous ones. The section also has a utility wild talent, the draconic mantle, which nets all creatures within 5 ft. energy damage equal to the number of burn you have. Energy types may be any energy blast you have. Dragonshifters lose the animal aspect gained at 1st level in favor of dragon aspect, which nets you a 1d4 rounds cool-down 15.-foot cone scaling breath weapon in minor form. Yes, at level 1. And there we go, disqualified at my table. Major form nets basically dragon boosts. This aspect is better than all shifter aspects. The archetype needs to lose more for the power gain.

The second archetype is the treasure hoarded occultist, who loses 14th and 18th level’s implements and outside contact. He suffers from diminished spellcasting and uses Cha as governing attribute for class features and spellcasting. He begins play with 2 implements, +1 at 2nd level and every even level thereafter, capping at 7 at 10th level. Öhm, wut? Add to that that 7th level makes all implements acts as having +1 focus invested in them, +2 at 20th level. Oh, and 14th, 16th and 18th level net another focus power. Yeah, that one fewer spell per day per spell level really doesn’t cut it there, needs nerfing. We also get a psychic discipline, the vishapakar, whose phrenic pool is governed by Intelligence. It nets at-will identify and the dowse occult skill unlock for ley lines and magic items even if untrained in Survival. We also get quicker ley line attunement and limited phrenic pool point recovery when doing so. Important here: Spellcasting is governed by Wisdom. The 5th level discipline power isn’t functioning as intended. It sports free, at-will short-range dimension door, with the caveat to break it into shorter ranges making me think that it’s supposed to have either a range-based cap or, you know, that it’s supposed to have a hard cap, like similar discipline powers. Only weak and passive 5th level discipline powers are always on. 13th level provides standard action attunement, provided you can touch a Large or larger carved stone touching a ley line. We also get two racial feats: Hoard Aura makes divinations fail to reveal worn and carried items unless the caster makes a CL-check. Also applies to a living area. Cool feat! Hoard Guard makes you keen eyed regarding items and provides AoOs when a foe attacks or seizes an object from you.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting on a formal level are good; on a rules-language level, there are a couple of issues to be found here and there. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with nice full-color artworks that will be familiar to fans of JBE. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks.

Quite a few authors worked on this: Joel Flank, Sasha Hall, Richard Moore, Kevin Morris, David N. Ross, Rachel Ventura and George “Loki” Williams. Alas, this diversity does show a bit here and there – some authors tend to be a bit more precise than others and what, rules-wise, works in one section may be slightly less precise in another. While analyzing this book, I realized pretty quickly that a few of the concepts herein could have used a bit more room to breathe – archetype-wise, we focus, with varying degrees of success, on engine-tweaks. The supplemental material, as a whole, sports a couple of interesting components, but also quite a few issues in the finer details of the rules. Occult classes are tricky to design for, and here and there, I found myself wishing that the material had been vetted/developed more carefully. This also holds true for the power-level of options, which oscillates a bit more than I’d have liked from author to author.

There are quite a few issues in the finer details of the rules, and while, for the most part, the material runs smoothly, this cannot be said about the entirety of the book. I attempted to be ultra-detailed in my coverage of this incredibly dense book – both so you should have a good idea of whether or not this book is for you or not, and to do the cadre of authors justice.

In the end, for me, this is pretty much the definition of a mixed bag. I liked a couple of components and disliked others; I was impressed by some rules-operations and flabbergasted by a few of the botches. In the end, my final verdict will hence clock in at 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Book of Heroic Races: Occult Intrigue in the Wilderness (PFRPG)
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