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Legendary Hybrids: Yakuza
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/19/2018 04:57:10

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This Hybrid Class clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of introduction, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 19 pages of content, which, as always for Legendary Games, are chock-full with text – so yeah, there’s more content herein that the page-count might lead you to believe,

All right, so the yakuza is a hybrid of the unchained monk…Wait. It’s NOT? WTF? So yeah, the yakuza’s parent classes are actually something completely different: Cavalier and ninja. I know, right?

So, the yakuza gets ¾ BAB-progression, good Ref- and Will-saves and d8 HD as well as 6 + Int skills per level. Proficiency-wise, we get proficiency with simple weapons, kama, katana, kusarigama (HECK YEAH!), kyoketsu shoge, nunchaku, sai, shortbow, short sword, shuriken, siangham and wakizashi as well as light armor, but not shields. The class begins play with a teamwork feat, for which he must meet the prerequisites. As a standard action, the yakuza can grant this feat to all allies within 30 ft that can see and hear the yakuza. This feat is retained for 3 rounds + 1 round for every 2 class levels the yakuza possesses. These allies don’t have to meet the prerequisites. This ability may be used 1/day, + an additional time per day at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter and is treated as the tactician class feature for the purpose of prerequisites and archetypes, etc. Additionally, all members of the yakuza gang are treated as having the teamwork feat for the purpose of determining bonuses granted by the yakuza’s teamwork feats. 9th level and 18th level provide more choices here regarding feats and improve action economy and allow for the sharing, in the latter case, of more teamwork feats at once.

Now, pretty cool: The Yakuza begins play with a contact and gains an additional one at 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter. They also get +2 to Diplomacy to procure services from contacts. If the contact is part of the same yakuza gang, the Trust level will be increased by 1. However, violating the tenets of the gang will result in a general reduction of Trust level by 1, by 2 for members of the respective gang. Gang? Yep, the equivalent of the cavalier’s orders is chosen at 1st level. Adherence to a gang’s ideals and what constitutes a violation thereof is within the realms of GM interpretation and changing gangs first strips you of the former gang’s abilities and requires a process of re-dedication.

The pdf provides a total of 5 such sample gangs. Each gang modifies the character by granting a boost to sneak attack and skills at first level; the skill boosts provide their benefit to one use of a given skill, like e.g. influencing a creature’s attitude. Formula-wise, the bonuses granted are +1/3 class level, minimum +1. Beyond those, 2nd, 8th and 15th level provide gang abilities. What do the gangs do? The black rain gang grants a +2 bonus to atk versus foes that are unaware of the presence of the character (or consider him an ally) when sneak attacking; 2nd level is treated as having concealment versus such targets and 8th level allows for a Cha-governed, supernatural, ki-powered suggestion. 15th level allows for the maximizing of sneak attack damage when attacking unaware or friendly targets.

The blood tong gains a +2 bonus versus foes that damaged him; skill-boost is applied to brokering a deal. The 2nd level ability nets a bonus versus targets that broke an oath with the yakuza or the blood tong. 8th level nets the option to use ki to make a deal a blood pact, which bestows a curse upon those that dare break it. The 15th level option allows the yakuza to shift obligations of blood oaths to other characters and treats the blood oath as geas/quest. The dragon lords chooses a ranger’s favored enemy and applies a +2 atk to sneak attacks versus that type. Skill-boost-wise, we get the bonus to Bluff non-dragon lord yakuza. 2nd level allows for aid another as a swift action and 8th level has something cool: 1/day when using aid another, the aided character also gets a move action. This may be used an additional time at 12th level and every 4 levels thereafter, 15th level allows for the expenditure of two uses of this ability to grant a standard action.

The Jade Triad gets the sneak boost versus demoralized foes, the skill boost to demoralize targets. 2nd level allows for swift action demoralizing when hitting a target with a sneak attack. 8th level upgrades demoralization to cause the target to be frightened 1/day. For ki expenditure, he may even bypass fear immunity. 12th level and every 4 levels thereafter yield another daily use. The 15th level ability allows for sneak attack damage dice rerolls versus demoralized targets: All that come up as 1 may be rerolled once. For 1 ki expenditure, the dice that come up as 1s and 2s may be rerolled, and they may be rerolled until they all come up as 3+. Finally, the white tigers gain their sneak boost versus targets threatened by more allies and apply their skill boost to shift attitudes of friends and foes via Diplomacy. 2nd level provides a 5-ft.-speed reduction (I assume, all movement rates are affected) accompanying sneak attack, for Cha-mod rounds, min 1. 8th and 16th level increase that speed reduction by 5 ft., respectively. 8th level provides the ability to expend a point of ki when successfully sneak attacking a target; if the yakuza does, the target may not use withdraw or 5-ft-steps for Cha-mod rounds, min 1. The 15th level ability allows for the expenditure of ki when damaging a foe with sneak attack, setting their speed to 0 and inflicting the staggered condition on a failed Ref-save. Minor complaint here – no save DC is given. While it is pretty obvious that the DC should be 10 + ½ class level + Cha-mod, analogue to other gang abilities, that can be a bit confusing at first.

2nd level nets a ki pool equal to ½ class level + Cha-mod. This nets them two hadou techniques: By spending 1 ki point, the yakuza can grant himself a +1d6 bonus on a skill check or save, or to atk versus a target who is denied Dex-mod to AC or flanked. Additionally, for spending one ki, the yakuza can grant himself an additional 5-foot-step of a +20 ft. speed enhancement for 1 round. Finally, 1 ki may be spent to grant the yakuza the option to open/close a door or draw/sheathe a weapon when using Sleight of Hand to conceal. These are activated as a swift action. Minor complaint: The save boost probably should have been activated as an immediate action instead; otherwise, it’s pretty useless. Cool: The ability covers interaction with other ki-based classes. 2nd level also yields sneak attack, which increases in die-pool-size by +1d6 every 3 levels after 2nd.

At 3rd level, the yakuza gains no trace who not only provide a bonus to Disguise and opposed Stealth checks, it also makes tracking them, particularly if they lay low, increasingly harder. This level also nets home turf, , which means that he treats all urban terrain as favored terrain, gaining Knowledge (local) instead of Knowledge (geography), boost-wise. The bonus begins at +2 and improved by +2 every 5 levels thereafter. Cool: The yakuza is not automatically familiar with a new city – it takes a bit of studying, represented rather well in the engine. He may only have one home turf, though. Even cooler: The bonus actually is not simply passive: The yakuza actually may use ki in such familiar terrains to increase his AC and is not impeded by crowds! REALLY cool representation of the concept.

4th level yields uncanny dodge and 7th level, improved uncanny dodge. 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter yield a ninja trick, with 12th level unlocking master tricks. At 5th level, the yakuza gains the right to wear the elaborate tattoos that we associate with the concept. These provide a +1 moral bonus to saves versus fear effects for all allies within 30 ft., which increases to +2 for gang members and further scales up by +1 every 5 levels thereafter. Additionally, the yakuza gains Dazzling Display, with a +2 to Intimidate versus targets that can see his tattoos. This bonus similarly scales. 6th level nets Black marketer, which nets Black Market Dealings as a bonus feat. Any team lead by the yakuza gets +2 to all Cha-based social skills (Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate) related to black markets. 10th level yields uncanny flanker, treating class level as 4 higher for the purpose of determining flanking capabilities regarding improved uncanny dodge. Additionally, the yakuza may spend 1 point of ki as a swift action to determine any adjacent square as her position for setting up flanking positions. COOL!

At 11th level, we get druglord, basically providing poison use and gets +1/2 class level to Craft checks to make drugs and poisons as well as +4 to saves to resist poison, drugs and alcohol, including recovery from intoxication or addiction. Knowingly ingesting a poison, the yakuza can delay the onset of its effects via ki expenditure. “Sure, this wine is totally not laced with black lotus. See, I’ll take the first sip…” Damn cool. Additionally, via ki, the yakuza can combine poisons and drugs, though such combined materials are short-lived, preventing the creation of ridiculous mega-drugs/poisons. Well done.

At 13th level, gambler nets the option to spend ki to roll twice when gambling (or guessing riddles). Also, whenever the yakuza rolls a natural 1, he can expend 1 ki for a reroll with +1d6 luck bonus – but if the reroll is still a failure, he takes -1 to all d20-rolls and can’t use the ability for 1 minute. Nice one. 19th level eliminates the autofail of atk, saves and some skill checks on a natural 1 and the capstone prevents dying from old age as well as providing immunity to death effects, diseases and poisons. Any accrued age-related penalties may be suppressed via ki expenditure. Cool one!

Now, I already mentioned one of the new feats herein, Black Market Dealings: This one nets +4 to Diplomacy to access it and eliminates the gp-cost to do so as well as the consequences for failing to the check by 10 or more. Additionally, and that is pretty damn cool, you can attempt to find merchants with deeper pockets by increasing the access DC, with a settlement’s crime modifier as a bonus. I really liked this and its concise rules. Mind Trick lets you select one Dex-based class skill, which may then be used as governed by Cha, ignoring armor check penalty for it. Additionally, when using aid another with the skill, you add Cha-mod to the boost granted, which can be brutal, but fits. Overflowing Ki makes you count as always having at least 1 ki for the purpose of abilities that require that you have at least 1 point. Additionally, you can meditate for 1 hour to regain 1 point of ki. The class also comes with favored class options for the core races as well as aasimar, catfolk, dhampir, drow, fetchling, goblin, hobgoblin, ifrit, kobold, orc, oread, ratfolk, sylph, tengu, tuefling and undine. In an uncharacteristic glitch, three favored class options lack their numerical values: Orc and half-orc deal “+ damage on sneak attacks”, which probably should be +1; goblins and humans get “+ of a ninja trick”, which probably should be 1/6, analogue to the rogue FCO.

A total of 8 different archetypes are included in the pdf: The Absent bansho replaces the teamwork sharing and contacts features with the vigilante’s dual identity and seamless guise; the teamwork sharing abilities are delayed to 5th and 13th level and yakuza-levels are treated as 4 lower for the purpose of these benefits. To make up for this, the gang abilities are replaces with a vigilante talent at 2nd, 8th and 15th level, assuming the stalker specialization. The flying tiger does not gain light armor proficiency and replaces the teamwork sharing with Improved Unarmed Strike and monk-like damage scaling. They also begin play with Tiger Style and get Tiger Claws at 4th, Tiger Pounce at 8th level, replacing the ninja tricks at these levels. Contacts are delayed to 6th level and are treated as -5 levels. Instead of 2nd level’s sneak attack, the character gains rain of star, +1 attack in a full-attack, +2 attacks at 11th level; for +1 ki, another attack may be added, though all such attacks must be executed with shuriken. Sneak attack is delayed to 4th level and gained at -2 yakuza levels and 3rd level yields slow fall and 6th level, high jump. Starting at 12th level, the character may choose style feats or monk bonus feats instead of ninja tricks. Instead of uncanny dodge, we get evasion at 4th level and 7th level nets swoop, which is really cool: As a sift or immediate action, you can spend 1 ki during a jump or fall to turn up to 90 degrees and move ½ slow fall distance in any direction, including up. Yes, it’s double-jumping/swooshing as seen in Wuxia-media, games like Devil May Cry, etc. Love it. Also: This movement has a dodge bonus to AC based on Cha associated with it...or you may forfeit the bonus, to end the changed movement with an unarmed strike.

At 10th level, this ability can be further enhanced and allows you to drag foes –love this part of the engine. 11th level nets improved evasion and 13th level nets flight for class level minutes per day, with the option to increase duration via ki-expenditure. And yes, sports proper interaction with the swooping ricks. A real winner here. Love this archetype.

The gun runner is proficient with all firearms, excluding siege engines and replaces contracts with Gunsmithing. 2nd level nets Amateur Gunslinger as a bonus feat, using ki as a grit-substitute. While he has at least 1 ki, he gains + Dex-mod to damage with firearms, capping, thankfully, at yakuza level, though. 2nd level increases reload speed by one step, stacking with Rapid Reload (note here – it would have been convenient to get the actions listed, but that is only the slightest comfort detriment); 8th level lets you spend a ki point to double the first range increment of a firearm wielded for Cha-mod rounds. I assume the action to be swift here, in line with other swift action ability uses, though the Su may point otherwise. Clarification would be neat here. 15th level upgrades this to also adding +Cha-mod damage, but only until the next round.

The junk pirate loses light armor proficiency and delays contacts gained to 6th level, treating his class level as 5 lower for it. However, they gain +2 to Sleight of Hand to conceal small objects, as well as to Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate, Linguistics and Profession checks to come off as a regular businessman. At 3rd level, they can spend 1 ki to force targets to roll at basically disadvantage (taking the worse result) when opposing these skills with Perception or Sense Motive, with a Cha-governed Will-save to negate. No trace is replaces with scaling skill boosts to Swim as well as Climb and Acrobatics atop a ship and in aquatic terrain. Home turf is replaced with favored terrain (aquatic) and the ninja tricks are replaced with deep sea pirate tricks. 4th level nets a familiar at ½ level, which also helps prevent being flanked while in the vicinity. 7th level nets the option to cut sneak attack damage in half for a free reposition as well as the option to move to a square thus freed as a swift action, sans AoO and in addition to other movement, mind you. Instead of gambling, we get ki-based curses, which improve at 15th level.

The pack rat is only proficient with simple weapons and light armor and gets either Catch off-Guard or Throw Anything at first weapon. He replaces the gang-based ability with a scaling crazy-prepared ability – 100 gp per class level. While the ability has a maximum item value and weight caveat, it does not have a no-specific-items caveat, which is a somewhat annoying oversight. The archetype also is treated as +4 Str for the purpose of carrying capacity if he properly packs his stuff and gains +4 to Sleight of Hand to conceal small objects. 3rd level allows the character to attempt Profession untrained, as well as getting +1 to trained Craft and Profession checks. Also at 3rd level, we get the option to use ki to feint as a response to being attacked by a higher CR foe; on a success, the foe must save or deem the pack rat harmless, focusing on other targets. A target thus bluffed can be attacked by the packrat as though flat-footed for one round. Nice: The ability has a caveat to avoid spamming it or use the trick on those that witness it, with a hex-like cooldown. 4th level nets a pack animal animal companion or familiar. No trace is delayed to 6th level and 7th level nets the gang war teamwork sharing ability, but only pertaining the companion. 11th level lets the archetype use dirty tricks in conjunction with improvised weaponry or unarmed strikes versus targets that are denied Dex mod.

The serpent chemist loses proficiency with light armor and delays contacts to 6th level, but gains druglord at 1st level. 3rd level nets swift poisoner. The archetype gets poison-related tricks to choose from, including some SPs in conjunction with drugs/poison or select some alchemical extracts. 9th level has an Int-governed option to create more doses, with Master Alchemist synergy provided as well. 10th level nets DC increases based on sneak attack damage dice foregoing as well as ki-based swift action poisoning. 11th level nets the option to use ki to reroll saves versus alcohol, poison or drugs immediately, taking the better result, which may also, as a full-round action, be extended to an ally. Minor complaint: The ability has no range and it probably should – 30 ft. or adjacent. The ability also allows the chemist to mitigate ability score drain and damage an ally has suffered from such toxins. 13th level allows for super-fast toxin creation.

The tattooed one replaces contacts with better Intimidate versus non-yakuza, better Diplomacy for yakuza. Additionally, fear effect DCs are increased by 1- 2nd level allows the yakuza to use prestidigitation at-will via his magical tattoos and higher levels net ki-based illusions, with 10th level and higher unlocking shadow illusions. These are btw. considered to be parts of the gang. Sneak attack is delayed to 4th level and 3rd level allows the tattoos to dance to fascinate targets, with ki to power the ability and 8th and 13th level improving the action economy of the ability. 8th level allows for the use of ki to double the range. Instead of uncanny dodge, we get the option to shake off nauseated, sickened, fatigued and exhausted conditions on subsequent rounds or halve the duration of save-less conditions. The conditions to which this applies are expanded by dazed, frightened, shaken and stunned at 7th level. Instead of black marketeer, the archetype can mark targets with tattoos, duplicate some cantrips and use ki for tattoo-based unseen servants. 9th level provides more ki-powered SP-like tattoo-animation.

Finally, the triad enforcer gets Enforcer at 1st level and replaces home turf and no trace with a samurai’s resolve. Cool: They can use their own resolve or ki to break that of other creatures! They can also cause Wis-damage (save to negate) with demoralizations, but for a cost of ki. Gang war is delayed to 5th level and 6th level nets a bonus to Bluff and Intimidate. Cool: This one has honor point system synergy, taking only half the penalty for dishonorable actions. 7th level nets dirty fighting, which helps with improvised weapons and CMB-checks as well as allowing the character to forego critical bonus damage for debuff effects. 11th level lets you add, as a swift action, another attack when reducing a target to 0 hp, at +character level damage. 13th level nets fear immunity as wellas the option to spend ki to affect creatures usually immune to fear, but only if they are no more than one size larger than the enforcer.

Finally, the pdf sports a detailed and lavishly-illustrated sample NPC, Shinsuke Tatsu a CR 7 tattooed one yakuza, whose story ties in with the deadly NPC from Legendary Villains: Vigilantes. It should be noted that the name of the character’s lost lover is Yoshi, which usually denotes a male in Japanese. Personally, I applaud the integration of a well-rounded, gay badass here. It should be noted that the NPC comes with a full boon-write-up as well, ending the pdf on a high note.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good for the main class; the supplemental material sports a few more glitches in the details than usual for Legendary games, though – none of them are grievous, but they slightly tarnish this otherwise inspired book. Layout adheres to Legendary Games’ two-column full-color standard. Weird: The pdf has no bookmarks, which constitutes a comfort detriment. The full-color artworks are a blend of artworks LG has used before and the new, cool class piece.

Okay, so first things first: I frickin’ LOVE Jason Nelson and N. Jolly’s Yakuza. This is a hybrid class done right. It plays differently from both of its parent classes; the abilities do an AMAZING job of reflecting the flavor of the yakuza and the tropes associated with them. The archetypes, even the engine-tweaks, are all meaningful modifications of the chassis and the abilities of the class manage to marry fluff and crunch in precise and flavorful ways. If only all hybrid classes were this good…

Now, the base class is great and expertly balanced – it should not provide issues in even low-powered, gritty games and I adore the vast majority of this pdf…but unfortunately, the minor hiccups here and there do need to be represented in some way in the final verdict. Hence, I will rate this as 5 stars, but omit my seal of approval. If the minor gripes I noted don’t faze you, then get this hybrid asap!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Legendary Hybrids: Yakuza
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Mini-Dungeon #062: What the Dickens
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/16/2018 07:53:58

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM. Oh, and the series now comes in an archive that also contains...drumroll a .jpg-version of the map, in both GM and player-friendly versions!

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

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

...

..

.

Still here?

All right!

Okay, so in a masterstroke of the old adage of „opportunity creates thieves“, a young pick-pocket named Dodger managed to steal an amulet. Problem #1): The target is a marais rakshasa. Problem #2): The amulet is actually a raktavarna raksaha. The evil outsiders, alas, have failed to reclaim the “amulet” and as such, they have set up a mini thieves’ guild, a coaching service for aspiring criminals of sorts, one that obviously resonates with the Dickensian overtones that you expected from the title. This is, once you think about it, rather hilarious, and indeed, when the pdf notes how one of the rakshasa in disguise looks after his “little wascals”, of the mighty marais disguised as a bawdy cockney gal, you’ll be hard-pressed to swallow your inevitable chuckle.

The adventure itself begins when the rakshasa asks the PCs to “stop the thief” – actually, she finally noticed dodger and attacked him, but he managed to escape. Provided the PCs survive catching up with Dodger, they’ll have to deal with “Nancy” – and after that, the adventure flips and has Dodger recruit the PCs to free his fellow young thieves from the new “guild.” Infiltrating the guild and stopping the evil outsiders will not be an easy job.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes sans bookmarks, but needs none at this length. Cartography is full color and nice. Huge plus: We get a GM AND a Player-version of the area in which this takes place, providing full VTT-friendly compatibility.

This is an utterly delightful, hilarious example of an excellent mini-dungeon; full of literary allusions, as seen through the lens of gaming, this is challenging, hilarious, challenging and utterly amazing, ranking as one of the best mini-dungeons in the whole line. It is baffling how much flavor is crammed into these 2 pages. Oh, and it’s been written by none other than Richard Develyn, you know, the man who writes the 4 Dollar Dungeons; the brilliant author whose modules regularly manage to get the first spot on my Top Ten lists. (Yes, you should absolutely own all of his modules; apart from his first one, they’re all masterpieces in one way or another.) Yeah, once you realize that, you probably won’t be surprised by how good this is. 5 stars + seal of approval, given without any hesitation.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mini-Dungeon #062: What the Dickens
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5E Mini-Dungeon #062: What the Dickens
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/16/2018 07:51:32

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a 5E-mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM. Oh, and the series now comes in an archive that also contains...drumroll a .jpg-version of the map, in both GM and player-friendly versions!

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

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

...

..

.

Still here?

All right!

Okay, so in a masterstroke of the old adage of „opportunity creates thieves“, a young pick-pocket named Dodger managed to steal a ring. Problem #1): The target is a rakshasa. Problem #2): The amulet is actually a ring of djinni summoning. The evil outsider is not alone, and, alas, they have failed to reclaim the ring and as such, they have set up a mini thieves’ guild, a coaching service for aspiring criminals of sorts, one that obviously resonates with the Dickensian overtones that you expected from the title. This is, once you think about it, rather hilarious, and indeed, when the pdf notes how one of the rakshasa in disguise looks after his “little wascals”, of the mighty rakshasa, disguised as a bawdy cockney gal, you’ll be hard-pressed to swallow your inevitable chuckle.

The adventure itself begins when the rakshasa asks the PCs to “stop the thief” – actually, she finally noticed dodger and attacked him, but he managed to escape. Provided the PCs survive catching up with Dodger, they’ll have to deal with “Nancy” – and after that, the adventure flips and has Dodger recruit the PCs to free his fellow young thieves from the new “guild.” Infiltrating the guild and stopping the evil outsiders will not be an easy job.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes sans bookmarks, but needs none at this length. Cartography is full color and nice. Huge plus: We get a GM AND a Player-version of the area in which this takes place, providing full VTT-friendly compatibility.

This is an utterly delightful, hilarious example of an excellent mini-dungeon; full of literary allusions, as seen through the lens of gaming, this is challenging, hilarious, challenging and utterly amazing, ranking as one of the best mini-dungeons in the whole line. It is baffling how much flavor is crammed into these 2 pages. Oh, and it’s been written by none other than Richard Develyn, you know, the man who writes the 4 Dollar Dungeons; the brilliant author whose modules regularly manage to get the first spot on my Top Ten lists. (Yes, you should absolutely own all of his modules; apart from his first one, they’re all masterpieces in one way or another.) Yeah, once you realize that, you probably won’t be surprised by how good this is. That being said, as much as I like Chris Harris’ conversion here, the PFRPG original is clearly the better book – not due to a bad conversion, mind you, but because the original makes use of PFRPG’s vast creature array in amazing ways – the ring, in PFRPG, is actually a disguised rakshasa subspecies in the shape of an amulet, the rakshasa faced is ophidian and triggers Dodger’s fear of it. It’s small flourishes, but they can’t be translated well. If you have the luxury to choose the version, get the PFRPG-version. That being said, the 5e-version remains absolutely engrossing and cool and deserving of a final verdict of 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
5E Mini-Dungeon #062: What the Dickens
Click to show product description

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Everyman Minis: Injuries and Scars
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/16/2018 07:49:14

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This Everyman Mini clocks in at 7 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So, one of the components I’m not too fond of in any iteration of D&D or d20-based systems would be that injuries don’t matter much; similarly, curative magic can reduce scars and the like to an aesthetic footnote.

This pdf provides a small toolkit for that: The basic premise for scars is simple: When you take damage equal to ½ maximum hit points or greater, you must succeed a Fort-save equal to 15 + ½ HD. On a success, you get a scar and roll on a table for the location of the scar. Spells of 6th level or lower can’t remove them unless specifically noted, but regenerate can remove one, if 500 gp of material cost in diamond dust is added. Returning from death does not remove scars. Displaying a scar can be beneficial: You get +1 to Cha-based skill checks versus creatures that would be impressed by them , but against some creatures, that may instead translate to a -1 penalty, perhaps even -2 for particularly squeamish individuals.

The pdf then proceeds to provide the Dodging Death section: Whenever a character is reduced to negative hit points equal to Con score or higher, the character can attempt a DC 15 Fort save. ON a success, the character takes an injury and stabilizes at negative hit points equal to Con score -1, instead of dying. This save is not allowed by death effects or when dying from a coup de grace. This should probably also note whether this works for poisons, diseases, Con-damage…

Anyway, you roll a d12 to determine the injury, or have the GM determine the injury. You usually incur a minor injury, unless you roll a 12, in which case you instead take a severe injury. Spells of 6th level or lower can’t remove an injury unless specifically noted, but regenerate can remove one, if 500 gp of material cost in diamond dust is added. Returning from death does not remove injuries incurred. Injuries can injure ears, eyes, locomotive system, arm, groin, spine, neck, head, chest, vitals or heart. Minor injuries, as a whole, cause minor penalties associated with the respective limb/organ damaged.

And that’s pretty much it – the majority of the pdf is devoted to depicting the respective injuries. As a whole, I enjoyed them all.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious hiccups. Layout adheres to the two-column printer-friendly standard of the series and the pdf comes without bookmarks, but needs none at this length. The piece of full-color artwork is nice, though I’ve seen it before.

James Ballod’s injuries and scars are per se a nice system. I like the idea, the implementation, and it can add some nice grit to a given game. Particularly in the more down-to-earth campaigns, this should be a neat addition to the game. That being said, I can’t help myself – the topic/subject matter deserved a broader stance. Interaction with weird creatures and anatomies and generally more options would have enriched this supplement in my book. That being said, I’d very much enjoy to see this expanded and may well build on it if my time permits. You could also use these to represent drawbacks, should you choose to. In short: This is worth checking out. My final verdict will be 4.5 stars, though I can’t round up for it – not because I don’t want to or due to a true shortcoming of the pdf, but due to the fact that it can’t develop its concept to be wholly encompassing.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Everyman Minis: Injuries and Scars
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Albion's Ransom: Worm of Sixty Winters
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/16/2018 07:47:42

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The massive second part of the Albion’s Ransom-saga clocks in at 80 pages, 76 if you only count content and take away editorial, etc. The review is based primarily on the softcover print version of the adventure.

This review was requested by my patreons.

Now, first things first: This module does not require that the group has completed part I of Albion’s Ransom, “Little Girl Lost”; if the PCs were rather successful in the previous adventure, the Esoterrorists enact a contingency plan to make sure that the events herein take place. Considering the way in which the first adventure “cheated” to put the players in a serious disadvantage, that feels like a bit of a cop-out to me and may be something that rubs you the wrong way, big time. A triumph in adventure #1 ranks as one of the hardest things to achieve in an investigation scenario I have ever seen; the very least I expected was to see this adventure acknowledge the skill it took to achieve a victory by presenting a branching path of sorts or some kind of serious benefit. Alas, while success in the previous module does make things a bit easier, it’s not by much and the overall impact on how this module plays out, is pretty subdued. More on that in the SPOILER-section below.

It should be noted that, depending on the tastes of you and your group, this adventure may work actually better as a stand-alone, for the themes evoked in this adventure are radically different from “Little Girl Lost.”

If you’ve enjoyed the previous adventure for its subdued themes, is mystery-angle and slow burner tension build-up, etc., then you’ll be surprised to hear that this adventure is a rather action-heavy scenario that diverges pretty significantly from the themes and mood established in part I. In a way, this is closer to fantasy in a modern world than actual horror.

Now, there is one more note: GUMSHOE, as we all know, does investigation really well and is slightly less amazing regarding combat. However, this book was released a long time ago and the system has since come a long way. If you run this today, I’d probably suggest revising it for the rules established in Night’s Black Agents and Double Tap – and indeed, the adventure may actually work better in such a context than in the more down-to-earth Esoterrorists context.

In order to talk more about that, I need to go into heavy SPOILER-territory, though. From here on out, only GMs should continue reading. Potential players should skip ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great!

So, I already touched upon the structural issues regarding the transition from book #1 to #2. Since we’re in the spoiler-section now, let me spell it out clearly: Catriona’s fate is utterly meaningless. While the pdf begins with a detailed post-mortem and veil-out section for adventure #1, that should have been in the previous book. Similarly, the utterly grating idea of a compromised Mr. Verity, one of the big things that dragged down the previous adventure and made it unfair, is resolved as an aside – the character in question gets stats and all, but ultimately, he does not contribute anything of significance to the plot of this adventure.

You see, whether or not Catriona was saved, Isa Kenaz’ plan works. They had a contingency. Now, personally, I applaud that – smart villains are a good thing and the cabal would be pretty stupid if it didn’t have such a failsafe for their villainous masterstroke. However, I object to how meaningless the module makes…anything that was achieved in module #1. If she ends up as a brainwashed priestess, we get stats, sure. But her impact on the overall story? Pretty much non-existent. If the PCs managed to rock module #1, they won’t have to face an ambush-scene in the so-called Boggart Hole. That’s pretty much it.

Now, the remainder of the adventure represents a RADICAL departure from the first adventure. Wherein “Little Girl Lost” was very psychological and reminded me in parts of Twin Peaks or The Killing, this one goes a completely different route. One attack one could have made on “Little Girl Lost”, beyond the structural issues I complained about, would be that it’s not really a horror-adventure. It’s a meticulously-crafted, very difficult, but rewarding investigation with some mystery and conspiracy elements added. Well, if you liked that, if you enjoyed that aspect, there is a pretty good chance you’ll hate this adventure, or that you’ll at least get some minor form of thematic whiplash. It almost feels like the author tried to do the exact opposite of what he did in “Little Girl Lost”, falling off the bandwagon on the other side.

That elaborate, smart Hell Haven safehouse system, the one that only really diligent investigators could even find out about or crack? Well, it’s handed to the PCs on a silver platter and the module spends the majority of its page-count dealing with the PCs trying to hunt down the leadership of Isa Kenaz, all while the Fimbulvetr is unleashed. Yes, this cheapens the achievement of cracking it in module #1. No, there are no benefits for doing so.

Which brings me to another aspect in which the module diverges greatly from the previous adventure in both structure and theme: As the mythical winter of Norse apocalypse is unleashed, Isa Kenaz is devoting time and resources to sacrificing for Níðhöggr (called Nithogg in the book, but as you know, I’m particular about that type of thing…) and Bergelmir, gaining the support of two types of supernatural goons: Ur-Mensch (German for: Prehistoric human) Svartalfr and Trolls. Yes, you’ll be duking it out with basically degenerate, magically-mutated creatures from myth. See what I meant with “modern fantasy”? In fact, close to the end of the adventure, optional scenes deal with Bergelmir and Níðhöggr manifestations. I’m not even kidding you.

The adventure takes on a distinct, post-apocalyptic notion the further it progresses: As temperatures plummet and society starts to fall apart, there are some genuinely freaky and spooky scenes to be found herein, but they are contrasted against taking all limitations off. PCs get uncommon vehicles and can drive them, the strict weapon laws of the UK fall away – where module #1 was devoted in a truly impressive manner to generate a sense of realism, this module kicks that all out. And it’s, to a degree, doing so intentionally – the contrast is intended to heighten the desperation and scope of what’s at stake. Unfortunately, the veil-out on a success and sheer scope of otherworldly incursions will be exceedingly hard to justify. This adventure, in short, doesn’t really allow the PCs to be good agents of the OV, instead focusing on damage control.

If module #1 was a smart, horrific, psychological thriller, then this is a popcorn-cinema action flick.

This 180° turn regarding themes is also represented in the structure of the module: The main plot, as noted before, focuses on hunting down the leadership of Isa Kenaz and on foiling their plans to further escalate the Fimbulvetr. Whereas module #1 required METICULOUS time-management skills on part of the players to succeed, this adventure does the opposite, putting the progression more or less in the hands of the GM. This wouldn’t be an issue per se, but after “Little Girl Lost” has hammered in, in both structure and consequence, time and again, that EVERY.MINUTE.COUNTS., this adventure does the opposite, which can be frustrating. The module can span multiple weeks in theory, and players will be conditioned after adventure #1, particularly if they failed to save Catriona, to agonize over every single decision. This puts a serious damper on the action-flick-like mentality of the adventure, as the detailed planning is often simply not required or has no significant consequences.

On a GM-side, it is nice to see a ton of floating scenes that can be used when the PCs travel through the icebound UK, and some of these, as mentioned before, offer genuinely creepy visuals. These are, however, undermined by the end-of-the-world survivalesque aspects of the adventure; what would be really disturbing and horrific in a regular context feels like just the consequence of the fantasy-apocalypse that has intruded into the world. Structurally, these floating scenes amount to dressing in most cases, but serve as a means to emphasize and improve the transitions from the respective hunting down of the Isa Kenaz leader of the week.

Okay, that sounded more vitriolic than it should. You see, the progression from leader to leader is per se nice; I also found myself enjoying the fact that a halfway capable GM can render the hunting down of these fellows in a modular manner. While the cult leaders themselves remain comparatively pale, the section has huge merits, even though I personally would consider this, the main meat of the adventure, to work better as a scavenging grounds, mainly due to the law of diminishing returns. You see, each of the cults is categorized by the same avid prose, meticulous research and compassion for its members. Take the Moravian splinter sect Adorers of the Wound. What another writer would have depicted as a sect of crackpot Christian fundamentalists gets a valid and rather nice background: The sect, born of anxiety towards ones own sexuality, in particularly homosexuality, has resolved this anxiety by basically connotating the desire to engage in same-sex sexual acts as a desire to pierce Christ’s wounds or be pierced like he was. There is some ideological background here that makes sense, that renders it plausible that its members follow such a creed. The same goes for the Covenant of Morrigan, a hardcore feminist group of green activists or the biker gang Sons of Satan. These groups are not depicted as condemnable beings, but rather as victims to Esoterrorist machinations and infiltration, and their respective members indeed are portrayed as plausible beings. And yes, the amazing Desdemona Reinhart character makes a reappearance and in fact may be crucial to stopping the downfall of more than one of these cults. It should also be noted that they all have wildly different themes, morals and that resolving the respective situations requires different strategies, in spite of the structural similarities. In that way, this chapter can be considered to be a resounding success that highlights very well the strengths of the author’s prose.

At the same time, the cults all suffer from the same problem, namely the somewhat opaque nature of their respective bases – the only maps we get are overview maps of the country as well as one of the final location of the adventure; the respective bases thus remain opaque and require some fleshing out by the GM, making that aspect needlessly work intense. And yes, GUMSHOE is less reliant on maps than other games, but the infiltrations thus, ultimately, feel just as opaque as the finale of “Little Girl Lost.” That weakness notwithstanding, one can consider this section of the module to be a success and GMs should, even if they don’t run the module in its entirety, find a place for these cults in their game.

As a whole, the structure of the module does suffer from the thematic overlap here: While the floating scenes can, and should obviously, be used to establish the worsening of the climate and to present a change of pace, they ultimately contribute to the thematic whiplash between pretty conservative and well-crafted investigations and the world coming apart in the frigid cold of the Fimbulvetr.

And then, there would be the finale, which sounds pretty amazing on paper: After the Sons of Satan-chapter, the PCs will quickly see an escalation of potentially globally catastrophic levels, namely the fact that the Esoterrorists have a sleeper in the British military, atop the HMS Vengeance. That would a nuclear sub, capable of nuclear strikes. The PCs thus are faced with what feels like a James Bond scenario in the end: A race against the clock to get atop the sub and prevent a nuclear winter. The military base does not get a map, and, once more, remains opaque. The PCs stop the final agent and that’s it. The Fimbulvetr subsides, but frankly, at this point, a proper veil-out of all that can have happened should be nigh impossible…and is instead brushed away as “the cold did it.”

After literally nuking the fridge regarding themes, and figuratively in game, that feels like a bit of an insult. It also posits a huge logic bug within the module as a whole: While rising panic and global tension serve as a backdrop to potentially justify the race against the clock and the inaction of the sleeper in the sub, we have spent two whole modules highlighting how ostensibly smart Isa Kenaz is supposed to be. If they really were that smart, they’d have launched the nuclear component right after the triggering of the initial onset of the Fimbulvetr. The internal justification for this component not being employed sooner feels, at this point, flimsy at best.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, if not perfect, on both a formal and rules-level. Layout adheres to a 2-column b/w-standard and is nice. The b/w-artworks within similarly are pretty neat. Cartography is another matter – it is too sparse for its own good. If you really want this, I strongly suggest getting the print version. The pdf lacks bookmarks, which, at this length, is a grating comfort-detriment; if you only want a pdf, detract at least half a star from the final verdict.

I almost didn’t believe that the same author wrote these two adventures, were it not for the evocative and interesting cults as well as the depiction of organic, multi-faceted characters. Ian Sturrock’s prose is per se amazing and inspiring…but. This module may not fall into the traps of its predecessor, but one could have claimed that the first part of this saga failed as a horror module, due to being too psychological, too deeply-routed in the mystery. I didn’t, because, to me, that made it fresh and unique.

“Worm of Sixty Winters” misses the mark of being horrific on the other end of the spectrum, by burying relatable elements under the coat of the supernatural cold apocalypse. It’s too easy for players to stop caring about the details, and the structure of the module doesn’t help engender an adverse response: The lack of consequences from Part I can act as a huge demotivator, and the escalating state of Britain’s clime generally results in an atmosphere (haha) of cold indifference, where the agents do what needs to be done – i.e. kill ‘em all. In that way, the module almost feels like a precursor to Night’s Black Agents, but without the refinement and stakes of moving against a massive conspiracy. The horror and intricacies of Night’s Black Agents can be pictured as scalpels that are slowly twisted; in comparison, this adventure is a sledgehammer. It strikes once with blunt impact, but after the novelty of the escalation this represents has worn off, it’ll be rather hard to return to the covert, methodical playstyle championed by Esoterrorists.

In short: This nukes the fridge regarding the basic themes and tenets of the setting. An immediate response may be “Awesome!”, but in the long run, it hurts the game. And also, to a degree, the system. The opaque locations don’t help infiltrations and made me think that I’d rather be playing Shadowrun. The pretty much straight-forward fantasy-elements made me want to play a game that excels at portraying exciting combat. Instead on focusing, like the first adventure, on playing to GUMSHOE’s strengths, the module seems hell-bent on trying to depict a type of gameplay that can work in GUMSHOE, but which needs to be executed with the utmost care.

From the lack of true consequences regarding the first adventure to the sudden run-and-gun mentality to the unfitting finale, I, as a person, absolutely despised this module. In spite of liking some aspects of it, it is the first Esoterrorist book that I really wish I hadn’t bought. While “Little Girl Lost”’s unnecessary cheap shots at the players and narrative cheating regarding the big boss annoyed me, it absolutely excelled in the investigation angle. I was so stoked for this sequel, mainly because I wanted it to win; I wanted to see this develop the story further, develop the intricate web “Little Girl Lost” had spun. Instead, I got the equivalent of a Roland Emmerich movie with a thin coating of rudimentary investigation; almost as if this were a conciliatory note by the author for being too difficult, cerebral and challenging in the first book. If this was intended to be completely different from book #1, then it succeeded. The problem is, that it’s not different in a good way.

And this is where we come full circle. This is why I’d consider this to be functional, yes, but less so as part #2 of the series, and even less so in the context of Esoterrorists. Where “Little Girl Lost” is an adventure I’d love to run in pretty much any GUMSHOE-system, in spite of its flaws, this one falls short of capturing the high-octane espionage of NBA, the themes of Esoterrorists or the desperation of Fear Itself.

How to rate this? OH BOY. As a person, I absolutely despised this module. For me, this is one of those rare 1-star-“what were they thinking”-moments. However, as a reviewer, I am required by my own ethics to try to abstract my own biases from the verdict as much as possible.

In light of that, I can provide a limited recommendation for this adventure for the following things: The cults per se are interesting. If you want to scavenge them and run them on their own, then this may be worth checking out. If you don’t mind your Esoterrorists game mutating into basically fantasy against an apocalyptic backdrop, then this should not elicit the same visceral response from you. Similarly, if the relative lack of consequence, change of pace, etc. don’t mind you and if you always thought that Esoterrorists should be more action-packed, then this may well be a module you can enjoy.

I have rarely gritted my teeth to this extent, but I have to concede that I can see this working for some groups, and rather well at that. This leaves us with the structural issues and the opaque nature of locales as well as with the issues regarding the interplay between this module and its predecessor. Thus, while I as a person would not recommend this to anyone (get part #1, fix the cheating aspects, have fun), as a reviewer, I have to admit to this probably having an appeal for some folks. Hence, my final verdict clocks in at 2.5 stars for the module of Ian Sturrock and Matthew Sanderson, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Albion's Ransom: Worm of Sixty Winters
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5E Mini-Dungeon #061: The Cackling Madness of Umberstone Manor
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/16/2018 07:40:46

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM. Big plus: This mini-dungeon comes both a GM and a player-friendly version of the area depicted, all ready for VTT-use. Kudos!

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

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

...

..

.

Still here?

All right!

So, first thing you’ll notice is that this mini-dungeon is actually no dungeon – instead, it is basically an adventure sketch of sorts, presenting the basic set-up, plot and providing guidelines to run this adventure, all on two pages. The eponymous Umberstone Manor is the ancestral seat of the Valniboom family, antique dealers of some renown; the manor is situated in the shadow of a massive mountain and, indeed, is the private playground of the family and, indeed, the entire umberstone hill carries a really, really potent global effect that will have PCs struggle, even at high levels. Really nice: Not only the small details, but this curse in particular have been properly adjusted for 5e-gameplay, making good use of the system’s mechanics.

Now, the PCs have been hired to investigate the strange curse that has befallen the local populace – 2/3rd of them have developed a cackling mania, with more affected by the strange cackling curse daily. Weirdly, though, no one seems to be dying from the curse…

The resolution is actually really cool and a plan befitting of PCs in how wickedly cool and over the top it is: You see, the Valnibooms are actually vampires – and they can, obviously, control the living, right? So, what’s a good vampire hunter gotta do? Well, Nicoletta Vasille’s response was to dump a boatload of specialized poison into the local water supplies; harmless to mortals, but it temporarily renders their blood unpalatable for the undead. Oh, and gibbering mania as a side-effect, but beggars can’t be choosy, right? Well, that’s not all. She also hired dwarves to create a tunnel into the mountain, planning on BLOWING UP THE MOUNTAIN, thus exposing the manor to sunlight AND letting a huge avalanche/rock slide crash down. And you thought your PCs have a tendency for overkill…

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes sans bookmarks, but needs none at this length. Cartography is full color and nice. Huge plus: We get a GM AND a Player-version of the area in which this takes place, providing full VTT-friendly compatibility.

This is but a sketch of a full scenario, but the amount of details it provides in scant few words is AMAZING. How the PCs interact with the factions, what they do – it all depends on you, but this makes a great 1-page adventure set-up that is more interesting than many that I’ve read. Yes, it needs some fleshing out, obviously, but Justin Andrew Mason’s angle here works admirably well. My one complaint here is that I’d have loved to see this fully developed as a big sandbox; you know, fully depicted villages, progression of everyone becoming ever more manic… the scope feels almost too ambitious for even the sketch-formula of this MD. The 5e-version is just as efficient as the PFRPG-iteration. My final verdict will be 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
5E Mini-Dungeon #061: The Cackling Madness of Umberstone Manor
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Mini-Dungeon #061: The Cackling Madness of Umberstone Manor
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/16/2018 07:38:16

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM. Oh, and the series now comes in an archive that also contains...drumroll a .jpg-version of the map!

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

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

...

..

.

Still here?

All right!

So, first thing you’ll notice is that this mini-dungeon is actually no dungeon – instead, it is basically an adventure sketch of sorts, presenting the basic set-up, plot and providing guidelines to run this adventure, all on two pages. The eponymous Umberstone Manor is the ancestral seat of the Valniboom family, antique dealers of some renown; the manor is situated in the shadow of a massive mountain and, indeed, is the private playground of the family and, indeed, the entire umberstone hill carries a really, really potent global effect that will have PCs struggle, even at high levels – kudos!

Now, the PCs have been hired to investigate the strange curse that has befallen the local populace – 2/3rd of them have developed a cackling mania, with more affected by the strange cackling curse daily. Weirdly, though, no one seems to be dying from the curse…

The resolution is actually really cool and a plan befitting of PCs in how wickedly cool and over the top it is: You see, the Valnibooms are actually vampires – and they can, obviously, control the living, right? So, what’s a good vampire hunter gotta do? Well, Nicoletta Vasille’s response was to dump a boatload of specialized poison into the local water supplies; harmless to mortals, but it temporarily renders their blood unpalatable for the undead. Oh, and gibbering mania as a side-effect, but beggars can’t be choosy, right? Well, that’s not all. She also hired dwarves to create a tunnel into the mountain, planning on BLOWING UP THE MOUNTAIN, thus exposing the manor to sunlight AND letting a huge avalanche/rock slide crash down. And you thought your PCs have a tendency for overkill…

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes sans bookmarks, but needs none at this length. Cartography is full color and nice. Huge plus: We get a GM AND a Player-version of the area in which this takes place, providing full VTT-friendly compatibility.

This is but a sketch of a full scenario, but the amount of details it provides in scant few words is AMAZING. How the PCs interact with the factions, what they do – it all depends on you, but this makes a great 1-page adventure set-up that is more interesting than many that I’ve read. Yes, it needs some fleshing out, obviously, but Justin Andrew Mason’s angle here works admirably well. My one complaint here is that I’d have loved to see this fully developed as a big sandbox; you know, fully depicted villages, progression of everyone becoming ever more manic…the scope feels almost too ambitious for even the sketch-formula of this MD. Still, this is worth getting. My final verdict will be 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mini-Dungeon #061: The Cackling Madness of Umberstone Manor
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5E Mini-Dungeon #060: The Unquenched Thirst
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/16/2018 07:36:40

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM. Big plus: This mini-dungeon comes with a key-less .tif player map as well as a high-res GM map for VTT-use – kudos!

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

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

...

..

.

Still here?

All right!

This mini-dungeon is a wilderness sidetrek on an island known for stranding folks, where orc watering parties have turned undead, deadly rapids drag towards the cascade that hides a cave; enchanted water,, the very rocks thirsting for blood - from children of the briar to leshies to interesting terrain features, the misery and death that has haunted this place is evident, sharply contrasting its dangerous nature with the per se pretty idyllic map for a relatively dark and interesting, if slightly unfocused, cursed region.

Wait, leshies? Yeah, page 2 of this conversion is taken up by the stats of both creatures, which have been reproduced here for your convenience. They originally appeared in Kobold Press’ fantastic Tome of Beasts and are credited as such. Nice!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes sans bookmarks, but needs none at this length. Cartography is full color and really nice, and the inclusion of a key-less map and VTT-capable options is a big plus for me.

Michael Allen provides a region the PCs can happen upon that should be considered to be pretty fun, unconventional wilderness set-piece. The theme of nature as mystic, hostile, makes for a cool change of pace and I like very much how this works. Personally, I think the leitmotif could be slightly stronger and focused, but I'm complaining at a high level here. The conversion to 5E by Chris Harris is well done and on par with the PFRPG version and gets the same verdict: 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform, but only by a tiny margin.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
5E Mini-Dungeon #060: The Unquenched Thirst
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Village Backdrop: Echo Harbour
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/15/2018 04:31:36

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 back cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Echo harbor is somewhat uncommon, as a brief look at the village’s demographics should point out immediately: Of the almost 200 inhabitants, more than ½ the population actually comes from rather uncommon stock, namely, we’re talking orcs and merfolk. There is a reason for this: Not too long ago, this was the solitary home of a tribe of merfolk, but that did change when a wounded, old dragon turtle and her orc attendants entered the bay, tired of a nomadic lifestyle. A deal was struck: Protection would be granted by the orcs and their mighty guardian, but in turn, they’d be allowed to settle. The alliance was the founding event of the settlement, with the council of community leaders, the “Recognized” making smart business decisions. Recently, though, the mighty dragon turtle vanished – and it remains to be seen whether Echo Harbour can stand on its own.

Still, for now, as a glance at the PFRPG settlement stats should show, the village remains relatively safe. Following the evolved village backdrop-formula, we get a generic marketplace section denoting items for sale, an entry on villager appearance and nomenclature as well as some village lore for PCs to unearth. 6 different whispers and rumors can also be found to add some spice to the experience.

The b/w-map by Maciej Zagorksi is really nice and the pdf does provide some nice, detailed notes on law enforcement, trade and local customs and traditions. Contests of skill and former adoption into the village’s fold are mentioned and the pdf comes with a total of 20 entries of dressing and events, which can add some nice local color to the village. The village of Echo Harbour’s vicinity is one of tropical coastlines, with reliable trade winds blowing in customers; obviously, this does mean that there are pirates as well – and in a cool twist, the village’s surrounding area also includes a description of the underwater area near the village.

Now, the pdf also contains a total of 7 notable points of interest and 5 different NPCs. The NPCs, as always, focus on a fluffy, statless depiction, with mannerism, personality and distinguishing features noted. Both the NPCs and the locations do feature their own read-aloud text for your convenience. As following the expanded formula of the series, the pdf also features one single, brief and localized table of events for the marketplace of the town, notes on food and drink in the local tavern, and we get notes on the kelp farms, the cave where Echo Harbour was founded as well as on the local shipyards. One of the locations also has two small quest-hooks suggested.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches on a formal of rules-language level. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant, nice two-column b/w-standard and the pdf features amazing cartography and art, both in b/w. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and it comes in two versions – one optimized for screen-use and one to be printed out. The pdfs come fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Amber Underwood’s “Echo Harbour” is an interesting village: Its cosmopolitan nature makes it a good hub for an adventuring group and the recent disappearance of the village’s guardian means that there is plenty of reason why it’s not as fortified or well-defended as it should be. There is a lot of room for the times to change. While the prose of the village didn’t captivate me to peak extent, the village excels in its sheer functionality.

You see, Echo harbor acts as a perfect hub and transition axis – the village’s trade connections can explain getting the exotic goods PCs are known to like, and its location allows it to act as a hub and transition point from in-land adventuring to naval or underwater adventuring and vice versa, acting as a great starting point for a change of pace. This makes the village rather valuable for longer campaigns that cherish changes of scenery. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars – very much worth getting!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Echo Harbour
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Creator Reply:
Hooray! Thanks very much for the review and the kind words. Glad you liked Echo Harbour!
Village Backdrop: Echo Harbour (5e)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/15/2018 04:30:00

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 back cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Echo harbor is somewhat uncommon, as a brief look at the village’s demographics should point out immediately: Of the almost 200 inhabitants, more than ½ the population actually comes from rather uncommon stock, namely, we’re talking orcs and merfolk. There is a reason for this: Not too long ago, this was the solitary home of a tribe of merfolk, but that did change when a wounded, old dragon turtle and her orc attendants entered the bay, tired of a nomadic lifestyle. A deal was struck: Protection would be granted by the orcs and their mighty guardian, but in turn, they’d be allowed to settle. The alliance was the founding event of the settlement, with the council of community leaders, the “Recognized” making smart business decisions. Recently, though, the mighty dragon turtle vanished – and it remains to be seen whether Echo Harbour can stand on its own.

Still, for now, the village remains relatively safe. Following the evolved village backdrop-formula, we get a generic marketplace section denoting items for sale, an entry on villager appearance and nomenclature as well as some village lore for PCs to unearth. 6 different whispers and rumors can also be found to add some spice to the experience.

The b/w-map by Maciej Zagorksi is really nice and the pdf does provide some nice, detailed notes on law enforcement, trade and local customs and traditions. Contests of skill and former adoption into the village’s fold are mentioned and the pdf comes with a total of 20 entries of dressing and events, which can add some nice local color to the village. The village of Echo Harbour’s vicinity is one of tropical coastlines, with reliable trade winds blowing in customers; obviously, this does mean that there are pirates as well – and in a cool twist, the village’s surrounding area also includes a description of the underwater area near the village.

Now, the pdf also contains a total of 7 notable points of interest and 5 different NPCs. The NPCs, as always, focus on a fluffy, statless depiction, referencing in some cases the standard stats of 5e, with mannerism, personality and distinguishing features noted. Both the NPCs and the locations do feature their own read-aloud text for your convenience. As following the expanded formula of the series, the pdf also features one single, brief and localized table of events for the marketplace of the town, notes on food and drink in the local tavern, and we get notes on the kelp farms, the cave where Echo Harbour was founded as well as on the local shipyards. One of the locations also has two small quest-hooks suggested. The magic items for sale in the village have had their list adjusted to reflect 5e’s sensibilities.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches on a formal of rules-language level. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant, nice two-column b/w-standard and the pdf features amazing cartography and art, both in b/w. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and it comes in two versions – one optimized for screen-use and one to be printed out. The pdfs come fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Amber Underwood’s “Echo Harbour” is an interesting village: Its cosmopolitan nature makes it a good hub for an adventuring group and the recent disappearance of the village’s guardian means that there is plenty of reason why it’s not as fortified or well-defended as it should be. There is a lot of room for the times to change. While the prose of the village didn’t captivate me to peak extent, the village excels in its sheer functionality.

You see, Echo harbor acts as a perfect hub and transition axis – the village’s trade connections can explain getting the exotic goods PCs are known to like, and its location allows it to act as a hub and transition point from in-land adventuring to naval or underwater adventuring and vice versa, acting as a great starting point for a change of pace. This makes the village rather valuable for longer campaigns that cherish changes of scenery. The 5e-version of Echo harbor is just as refined and well-crafted as its PFRPG-version. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars – very much worth getting!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Echo Harbour (5e)
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Creator Reply:
Hooray! Thanks very much for the review and the kind words. Glad you liked Echo Harbour!
Village Backdrop: Echo Harbour (SNE)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/15/2018 04:28:09

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 back cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Echo harbor is somewhat uncommon, as a brief look at the village’s demographics should point out immediately: Of the almost 200 inhabitants, more than ½ the population actually comes from rather uncommon stock, namely, we’re talking orcs and merfolk. There is a reason for this: Not too long ago, this was the solitary home of a tribe of merfolk, but that did change when a wounded, old dragon turtle and her orc attendants entered the bay, tired of a nomadic lifestyle. A deal was struck: Protection would be granted by the orcs and their mighty guardian, but in turn, they’d be allowed to settle. The alliance was the founding event of the settlement, with the council of community leaders, the “Recognized” making smart business decisions. Recently, though, the mighty dragon turtle vanished – and it remains to be seen whether Echo Harbour can stand on its own.

Still, for now, the village remains relatively safe. Following the evolved village backdrop-formula, we get a generic marketplace section denoting items for sale, an entry on villager appearance and nomenclature as well as some village lore for PCs to unearth. 6 different whispers and rumors can also be found to add some spice to the experience.

The b/w-map by Maciej Zagorksi is really nice and the pdf does provide some nice, detailed notes on law enforcement, trade and local customs and traditions. Contests of skill and former adoption into the village’s fold are mentioned and the pdf comes with a total of 20 entries of dressing and events, which can add some nice local color to the village. The village of Echo Harbour’s vicinity is one of tropical coastlines, with reliable trade winds blowing in customers; obviously, this does mean that there are pirates as well – and in a cool twist, the village’s surrounding area also includes a description of the underwater area near the village.

Now, the pdf also contains a total of 7 notable points of interest and 5 different NPCs. The NPCs, as always, focus on a fluffy, statless depiction, with mannerism, personality and distinguishing features noted. Big plus: The suggested levels for the NPCs refer to the proper classes of the old-school systems – magic-users and thieves, for example. Both the NPCs and the locations do feature their own read-aloud text for your convenience. As following the expanded formula of the series, the pdf also features one single, brief and localized table of events for the marketplace of the town, notes on food and drink in the local tavern, and we get notes on the kelp farms, the cave where Echo Harbour was founded as well as on the local shipyards. It should also be noted that magic items for sale have been adjusted to reflect items in line with old-school gaming. One of the locations also has two small quest-hooks suggested.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches on a formal of rules-language level. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant, nice two-column b/w-standard and the pdf features amazing cartography and art, both in b/w. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and it comes in two versions – one optimized for screen-use and one to be printed out. The pdfs come fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Amber Underwood’s “Echo Harbour” is an interesting village: Its cosmopolitan nature makes it a good hub for an adventuring group and the recent disappearance of the village’s guardian means that there is plenty of reason why it’s not as fortified or well-defended as it should be. There is a lot of room for the times to change. While the prose of the village didn’t captivate me to peak extent, the village excels in its sheer functionality.

You see, Echo harbor acts as a perfect hub and transition axis – the village’s trade connections can explain getting the exotic goods PCs are known to like, and its location allows it to act as a hub and transition point from in-land adventuring to naval or underwater adventuring and vice versa, acting as a great starting point for a change of pace. This makes the village rather valuable for longer campaigns that cherish changes of scenery. The system neutral version loses nothing of the charm of the other versions. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars – very much worth getting!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Echo Harbour (SNE)
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Hooray! Thanks very much for the review and the kind words. Glad you liked Echo Harbour!
By this Poleaxe
Publisher: Hydra Cooperative
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/15/2018 04:26:16

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This little FREE pdf clocks in at 5 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, leaving us with 3 pages of content.

This supplemental pdf basically provides a small-scale battle-rules variant of the mass combat system presented in “By this Axe.”

Each squad is made up of up to 5 combatants and is represented by a single figure.

Squads have 5 attributes: AV (attack value), DV (defense value), MV (morale value), HTK (hits to kill), M (movement).

Attack value is a squad’s ability to hit on a d10; total HD and divide by 5. A table of modifiers and AV by HD is provided. DV is calculated by averaging the AC of the squad and is used as a saving throw – I also assume that we use a d10 here, but I’m not 100% sure. Cover and defensive abilities modify this. Morale represents the value that you need to roll under to avoid breaking and running. Morale is checked when the squad takes a hit, when attacked from rear, flank or surprise or when friendlies are routed in line of sight. Footmen receiving a mounted charge must also check.

HtK is based on members of the squad and HD of the participants. A squad at 0 HtK is obviously out of the fight, and must roll on the table to determine how many are killed, with priests and druids helping the chances of surviving.

Movement is categorized in abstract move spaces, with common base move rates translated. Starting distance is an abstract 2d6 move spaces at the start of combat and missile/ranged weapon ranges are codified by move spaces as well.

Combat works as follows: Both sides declare movements/charges, then move half the distance. Missile fire and spells are next and then, both sides finish movement and melee is resolved last.

Nice: Spells and their effect on the squad are codified in a brief table, which is good to see.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious formal hiccups, though the rules of e.g. what to roll for DV could have been cleaner. Layout adheres to a no-frills two-column b/w-standard and the pdf sports public domain art. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Chris Kutalik’s skirmishing expansion for “By this Axe” makes for an intriguing little pdf – I actually liked this pdf more than its parent – mainly because I either want a hyper-detailed war-resolution OR a free-form mind’s eye solution. This pdf manages to be abstract, but actually doesn’t need minis, representing a synthesis of sorts of the two systems introduced in By this Axe. Speaking of which – this is intended, but it really pays off to read the parent pdf – without it, the system presented herein may seem a bit confusing.

That being said, the parent pdf is really inexpensive and this pdf is FREE. That’s a price that is hard to beat and allows you to check this pdf out without any risk whatsoever. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
By this Poleaxe
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By this Axe
Publisher: Hydra Cooperative
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/15/2018 04:24:28

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, leaving us with 10 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So, what is this? Well, it is basically a mass-combat mini-game system for Labyrinth Lord, and not, as the title may suggest, a Kull-reference.

The system wastes no time and immediately begins with its rules: There need to be 2 or more armies. Each army will have 2 or more units.

A unit of infantry consists of at least 3 figures, and may contain up to 25. Cavalry units contain at least 2 figures, up to 15. Players have free control over formation and how a unit is organized.

Each figure is an abstract representation and thus may represent any value of actual characters represented, with suggestions being there for 1:5 and 1:20 ratios.

Figures have attributes: FC (Fighting Capacity) represents skill, morale, cohesion, etc. In most combat, figures roll equal to or under its FC to hit. FC ranged from 1 – 5, with 5 being exclusive for heroes and monsters.

Str (Starting Strength)represents the number of figures in a unit as it begins. It is used for morale and identifying the unit.

AS (Armor Save) is the number under which a unit must roll when hit; “S” denotes shields – this bonus is canceled out if attacked from the rear or flank.

MV denotes Movement and should be self-explanatory. WP denotes the weapons carried. SA lists the special abilities of the unit.

Dice-wise, you only need d6s. You roll with a d6 for each figure, under or equal its modified FC – on a success, you hit. Same goes for AS; rolling under the value saves the figure.

PCs are not included in units – they are treated as individuals. Each army also has a general, who can only be killed in individual combat or when the unit led is reduced to a fraction of its size. Based on the general’s leadership ability, he may draw order cards per turn – one to 5, the more the better. This ties in with the optional control system – cards are drawn from a playing card deck, and they may be played by the players during a respective phase in combat. Up to 3 cards may be retained at the end of the turn, all others are shuffled back into the deck. The playing of cards adds a significant depth to the proceedings, with each suit offering usually 5-6 grades of different orders; diamonds provides the same benefit for all cards. This subsystem definitely can be expanded by the enterprising referee, and it emphasizes PC-relevance, which is a plus.

But let’s take a look at the combat round, shall we? Things proceed as follows: First, we draw order cards (if we’re using them – which we should); then, we move to the duel phase – here, you can obviously challenge foes to personal combat if close to them; declining costs all leadership benefits for the turn and prevents the leader from participating in an attack or rally a unit. Duels may obviously be resolved with your game-system of choice, but you can also use the quick resolution rules, which include 4 sample suggested die pools for a variety of hero-types. The duel—participants may then assign their dice in the areas for attack, parry and dirty tricks – only one die may be assigned to the latter, unless the character is a wizard. We all know they fight dirty. Dirty hits that are successful may cause targets to forfeit dice from atk and defense, then you roll attack, then parry. Quick, painless and still somewhat exciting.

After the duel phase, we move to the ranged phase, which includes its own to-hit table; after that, we cover movement and then, melee. It is relevant to note that distances for ranged weapons, challenges, etc. are based on inches, thus assuming that you use minis. This is relevant since e.g. terrain can influence your movement rates. Nice one: Musician in the unit increases movement.

Morale is checked after losing 3+ figures from either ranged fire or melee that turn; when at below ½ Str; when attacked in flank or rear and when a friendly unit routs in the vicinity. Minor complaint – “rangedfire” should probably read “ranged fire”; Morale is btw. tied to FC as well, and the system differentiates between ranged and other moral tests. Units failing the morale test will attempt to escape from the battlefield, but characters/generals can rally them, depending on their leadership levels.

The pdf provides rules for using truly larger than life heroes that can attack units on 1:5 and 1:20 rules, with a pretty smooth and basic system for mages in combat as well. Priests and high priests can cancel incoming attacks or add bonuses to the saves of allies. Both priests and mages are good for the morale of units in which they are embedded.

We also get a page in which monstrous units are covered – from Uruk-Hai Orcs and their regular brethren to Newhonian ghouls and serpent men. It is also here that a variety of special abilities are noted. Monsters with more than 3 HD are treated akin to fantasy heroes in the system. How does that help you to determine the strength of the PCs in this mini-game? Well, there is a pretty simple and painless guideline to translate characters to the system; same goes for determining leadership scores.

If you want a balanced encounter, there even is a Warhammer-esque point-cost list.

Don’t want to play Warhammer-lite? The pdf also features abstract mass combat: Add FC, AS and bonus modifiers together, multiply that with number of individuals in unit divided by 100 – you get the US, Unit Strength.

Before battle commences, both sides choose a stratagem – 8 are provided. Both sides declare troop numbers and describe units and choose their tactical posture.

To succeed, a stratagem requires a roll of 12+ with 2d6 + the general’s leadership value, with successes granting bonuses, though posture does modify the results here. E.g. Ambushes can only be prepared by defenders, and foes deciding for a screened attack modify this by one. There are 5 offensive and 5 defensive postures, with a handy table provided. After rolling, numbers are compared between total US and another table provides the means to determine how it went. Then, you roll casualties inflicted. Pursuit and long-term healing of a part of the casualties is also covered.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious glitches. Layout adheres to a no-frills two--column b/w-standard and the pdf sports no artworks, but doesn’t need them at this length. The pdf has no bookmarks, which constitutes a comfort-detriment.

Chris Kutalik’s “By this Axe” represents two takes on quick mass combat resolution: The first is basically a simplified version of Warhammer, while the second is more narrative and suitable for mind’s eye-theatre style games. Both have in common that they work surprisingly well and are presented in a succinct manner. At the same time, the pdf could be somewhat clearer in some minor instances – this may be due to the brevity, but I think the system could carry so much more if tied more tightly to OSR-rules. More importantly, there are a few instances, where the rules could be a bit cleaner - “modify by one” could denote +1 or -1, for example. While it is evident from context which is meant, instances like this detract slightly from how quickly you can implement the system. Still, considering the low and fair price point, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars – worth getting if you’re looking for an easy way to quickly resolve clashes of armies and command cards can easily be expanded by the enterprising referee.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
By this Axe
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Mad Monks of Kwantoom
Publisher: Kabuki Kaiser
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/14/2018 04:52:06

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive setting-supplement/adventure clocks in at 229 pages, 1 page front cover, 3 pages of editorial/introduction/ToC, 5 pages of SRD, 1 page advertisement leaving us with 219 pages of content. The pages are laid out for 6’’ by 9’’, meaning you can fit up to 4 pages on a given sheet of paper, should you choose to print this out and have sufficiently good eyesight.

This review was requested by one of my patreons.

Soooo…oh boy. Where to start? This is the second supplement by Patrice Crespin that can be used as a GM-less solo-adventure/campaign, so that would be the first use of the book. The basic formula of the engine of playing the game sans a GM, the best and most impressive aspect from “Ruins of the Undercity”, has been retained – here, the city is the eponymous Kwantoom, while the dungeon would be the 1001 Pagodas of Death. Since I already covered the mechanics and design-paradigms of GM-less playing in my review of aforementioned book, I am not going to bore myself or you by just repeating the same information with filed off serial numbers. Suffice to say, it works, from an engine stand-point, and admirably so.

That being said, the Ruins-book did suffer from a lack of distinct identity, details and usefulness beyond its procedurally-generated dungeon-aspirations.

I honestly did not expect this book to go to such lengths to change that. Mad Monks of Kwantoom does sport, again, like ruins, a single page of background, but proceeds to provide a potential for adaptation to a more Western medieval environment. As before, we assume Labyrinth Lord as the default rules-set – but this is where the similarities frankly end.

You see, this book, beyond its solo-play options, also doubles as basically a massive Oriental Adventures-style sourcebook for LL. This includes no less than 5 races: Bungayas, Kappas, Kitsunes, Tanukis and Tengus are covered – all with proper ability score modifications, minimum scores, level caps – the old-school gaming staples you expect. This would also be a good place to note that, yes, the red annotations are back – however, this time around, they actually are genuinely funny in many instances, providing a tongue-in-cheek commentary that made me smile time and again. Balance-wise, I have no complaints regarding the respective races and how they are presented.

A total of no less than 7 variant classes can be found in the book as well. If you don’t meet the minimum requirements, you just get them when using this in solo-play – and no, the monks don’t need to be lawful. They’re mad monks, after all! The variant monk provided clocks in with Str 12, Dex 15 and Wis 15 as requirement, and Wis as prime requisite. They get d4 HD and have a maximum level of 17. They do get a couple of restrictions and may deflect even magic and they even get a short-rest like, limited HP replenishment 1/day. When fighting without weaponry, they choose one of 8 martial styles, which modifies abilities, damage and AC. And yes, standard monk is still possible. 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 8th, 9th, 10th and 12th level provide unique abilities. All in all, the variant monk is a potent class as far as LL is concerned, but sports a surprising survivability and is fun and more precise than what I expected. I really like the fact that it sports some player agenda.

Fakirs would be ascetic monks who get limited cleric spellcasting at higher levels, as well as gaining control over weight etc. Kabukis are…well kabuki-ish monk performers. We also get notes on ninjas, ronin monks and shapeshifters (who later gain limited magic-user spellcasting), while swordmasters/kensai are basically the weapon-using monks. The rules-language for these variant classes (if you’re familiar with new school games, think of them akin to PFRPG’s archetypes in that they modify the rules-chassis of the class) is pretty precise and allows for a sufficient amount of choice and differentiation, which is really neat. Advice on increasing the power of monks, if desired, is btw. provided. We also get notes on multiclassing as well as a brief FAQ regarding these new rules-components.

Now, I’ve claimed before that the structure of this book is akin to “Ruins of the Undercity”, and while this is true, it is at the same time an imprecise generalization. You see, the city of Kwantoom is actually much better in differentiating its sections – it is not abstract to the same point: You choose a district, check for encounters and events, check search chances for shops, availability, recruiting and then rinse and repeat, as required. So yes, we’re actually differentiating between different subsections of the city, which contributes a lot to making the city-section feel more organic, alive, and less redundant. In short: The replayability is not simply based on generic set-pieces, there is simply more soul here. And yes, we get a full-color map of the city. The scope is also different: There simply is much, much more going on per district. This goes to the point where, honestly, this makes for a great setting supplement for dressing in Oriental Adventures-style settings. Similarly, returning for leveling also includes notes on purchasing houses, etc. and 20 different special events that may happen upon returning to the city, making the experience more modular.

In fact, this unique and intriguing component of the pdf, the honestly interesting quality of a sourcebook, also extends to the magic items. For example, there are 4 unique crickets. Yes, crickets. Yes, live crickets. There also are 6 different magical fortune cookies. And jasmine bows. Magic masks and puppets…so yeah, this is amazing. Honestly, I’ve seen a TON of WuXia-themed gaming sourcebooks, but the focus on unique ideas here is amazing and I’ve seen most of these item classes never before. So yeah, impressive. Now, it should also be noted that the book introduces lucky charms – no less than 100 of them. They have a break condition, and when a character violates it, they cease to function. Moreover, they can take a multitude of shapes – a table of 25 entries, with sub-entries, ensures that lucky charms will remain unique and engaging.

Now, as far as the exploration of the basically infinite, procedurally-generated dungeon goes, it does follow the same paradigms as Ruins of the Undercity – we get starting geomorphs (12, this time around), monster matrix, and tables upon tables to determine chambers, corridors, etc. – so the structure per se is different. However, there are two crucial differences that adds an impressive amount of unique character to the dungeon as you generate it. The first of these would be the massive Wah Tung Match Co. monster manual: The aforementioned company created cult classic, colorful renditions of monsters and characters on their matchboxes – no less than 48 unique creatures are provided for select pictures taken from these, all sporting pretty detailed background information.

The section on personal goals for characters has been greatly expanded, and we once more get a table f quirks and former backgrounds. There is more that sets this apart from its predecessor, namely the fact that we actually do get a secrets-chapter. This chapter contains basically exciting boss-encounter/special rooms – some of which sport subtables, while others significantly modify the sequence of events encountered thereafter. This chapter provides some really cool components, and builds on the gloriously weird angle some of the entries sport.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good – apart from a few minor hiccups, I noticed no serious glitches, with rules-integrity being surprisingly concise for the amount of content provided. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard with red annotations and is printer-friendly. The full-color cartograhy of Kwantoom is nice and the use of the Wah Tun matchbox pictures for monsters is genius and flavorful. Big kudos there. The pdf comes with nested bookmarks, though they could be a bit more detailed. I can’t comment on the print-version, since I do not own it.

Patrice Crespin’s Mad Monks of Kwantoom make good of the promise of “Ruins of the Undercity” – the book is an actually engaging GM-less solo-adventure, courtesy of the amazing backdrop, the bonkers ideas, gonzo components and vast amount of internal differentiation options. The book doesn’t become redundant and the unique secrets and more detailed goals help further to make this work as an engaging module.

Beyond that, the book actually manages to excel at being an amazing GM toolkit for old-school Oriental Adventures as well. Instead of just retreading the same old tropes, the book takes the high road and embraces the gonzo aspects of the mythologies and its tropes, succeeding in actually providing a distinct voice that goes beyond a simple retread of the same information we’ve seen time and again.

In short: This is somewhat of an “eierlegende Wollmilchsau” – an egg-laying wool-milk-pig; if you’re not familiar with the German expression, it’s used to denote a non-existing über-animal that serves all functions. This book is just that and works surprisingly well on many levels: The variant monks and races should work sans snafus in all LL-campaigns; the monsters are unique and the magic items creative. The tables and dungeon-generation aspects can be used by a GM for random dressing and loot and the secret-section basically provides set-piece encounters. Kwantoom as a city is also interesting – in spite of mostly existing in tables and stuff that happens. In short, no matter how you look at this book, it delivers.

It also manages to secure its own flavor and identity, which is another big plus. In short: This is an inspiring book well worth the asking price. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mad Monks of Kwantoom
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Deadly Gardens: Verdaxag, King of Trees
Publisher: Rusted Iron Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/14/2018 04:50:22

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Deadly Gardens-series clocks in at 5 pages, 1 page front cover, ½ a page SRD, leaving us with 3.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So, this is a change from Deadly Garden’s usual formula, in that we do not begin with the usual magic items – instead, we hear about the legend of Verdaxag and how it works: The colossal king of trees seems to empathetically feel the pain of plants, ignoring it for a while…and when the threshold is reached, the fury is unleashed! Well, or when multiple high-level druids undertake the wrath of Verdaxag ritual, which summons the mighty kaiju to lay waste to all humanoids within a 50 Mile radius. (Btw.: Kaiju subtype information is included for your convenience!)

Now Verdaxag itself is a BEAST. As befitting of a creature of its legend and power, it clocks in at CR 23. With AC 40, fast healing and impressive defenses, even high-level PCs will have a challenge on their hands when facing this force of nature, which btw. has no less than 5 attacks! Verdaxag can breath a cone of devastating, bleed-inducing thorns as a breath weapon and its mere presence entangles targets. Slaying a foe heals the king of trees and no plant creature can be harmed or compelled to harm Verdaxag. Additionally, the lord of trees can emit two types of pollen: Poison and rust can be caused …ouch. Setting fire to the fellow is btw. NOT a smart idea…and even if the mighty kaiju is defeated, that will not end the threat, as it will regrow. Only while in a weakened state after regrowth can the lord of trees be defeated. (Minor complaint: There is a spell reference not italicized.)

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, top-notch on a rules-language level. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard and the artwork for Verdaxag is fantastic, particularly considering the low price point. The pdf comes fully bookmarked in spte of its brevity – kudos!

Mike Welham’s King of Trees is AMAZING. I am a sucker for kaiju, and Verdaxag sports a ton of unique and intriguing abilities that should make the king of trees a fantastic foe for the forces of civilization. All in all, an excellent supplement for a super-fair price. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Deadly Gardens: Verdaxag, King of Trees
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