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The Grande Temple of Jing
Publisher: Hammerdog Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/24/2016 04:15:59

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This mega-adventure dungeon-crawl-saga clocks in at 505 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page backer-list, 4 pages of blank space for notes, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 493 pages of content, so let's take a look!


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


So what is the Grande Temple of Jing? Well, basically, this is the personal playing ground of the trickster deity Jing, who baits people into entering the temple with promises of untold riches - but exiting the temple is pretty difficult. The stay is limited to a number of Jing days, which (imho, annoyingly) deviate from solar days in being cumulative - 6 solar days would equal 3 Jing days, for example. These reset the dungeon upon elapsing. Leveling up in the temple requires an offering of gold equal to the number of XP needed to gain the next level...so, does this mean TOTAL XP or the difference between old and new level? No idea. After this donation, characters auto-level. The temple recognizes factions: Visitors, Honored Guests, Trespassers, Templers, Devout and Defilers - certain effects inside the temple affect only those that belong to a given faction.


The temple has 10 so-called Grande Levels, which can be divided into sublevels by Jing-blocks. These are unique and usually are closed when encountered. They block all teleportation and scrying as well as means to bypass them and are impervious to damage. Cloaked blocks are undetectable until uncloaked. Phased blocks are keyed to creatures and objects - these beings can pass through them. Non-keyed entities treat the block as solid. Each Jing block can be opened by a lever or similar means. The Grande elevator and highway represent the basic means of traversing the levels. Thankfully, the phased blocks are pretty well-explained and even sport a visual representation illustrating how they work. Various Jing statues with unique benefits and challenges associated can be found here as well. There are additional peculiarities: Getting on Jing's bad side can prove problematic for divine casters (though it's admittedly not easy to accomplish), which may result is less reliable spell gaining. Jing's favor is codified in certain blessings that unlock e.g. the aforementioned highway and similarly, combat-relevant blessings can be gained. The most important of these would be the boon of life - basically, an extra life. Upon dying, you dematrialize and are reconstituted at the next Jing day in a preset location. And yes, this means that dying can be actually used as a tactical gambit, provided you have the boon...


Now the dungeon also sports a specific design decision I am not a fan of: Namely, it cripples your PC's capabilities in several places: The trickster god's dungeon forces you to play his game and e.g. flight, teleportation and similar tricks are often impeded or outright countered from the get-go. More interestingly, there are special jingxes, which can change how a spell works, instead e.g. limiting the distance you can fly. I get why this was done and the in-game rationale is sound as can be, but ultimately, I consider this to be cheating - the challenge of high-level dungeon-crawls is to make them work, even with the PC's massive capabilities. Jing Blocks already constitute a pretty harsh restriction regarding the PC's options and these specific hampering options, ultimately, hurt the dungeon more than help it, as they enforce a particular way of dealing with the challenge "as the author intended" as opposed to "how PCs creatively solve it with their own, grown capabilities."


Flavor-wise, a unique currency is part of the deal and 7 sample storylines as (kinda) optional metaplots govern the idea, though ultimately all take a back seat to the narrative of the dungeon itself. (That being said, e.g. Xorn Poker is pretty cool - and yes, Jing is pissed they're not cutting him in on the action...) If the above was no indicator, Jing being a god of mischief, the mega-dungeon does offer instances where humor is the theme - which is nice to see. Missions and basic questlines as well as 20 sample end-games are suggested. 100 myths and rumors about Jing and the temple are provided in a dressing file, and the Grande Highway's function is explained in detail, so if the PCs manage to gain access to it, they'll have an easier time traversing the temple. Taking a further cue from video games, parties that are underleveled and stumble into certain areas can benefit from a "positive level" and, surprisingly, the rather complex implications of these are covered in sufficient precision. Speaking of the highway - there is a cool quest that requires the collection of the fully depicted song "The Language of Birds", which is based on exploration and fluff, rather than sheer numbers - it also makes the book feel magical and old-school in a good way.


That being said, if the video-gamey rules regarding extra lives and the like were no indicator, there also are a couple of room designators that obviously fit in that vein: There are, for example, gauntlets and arenas and vaults - defeating these challenges, some of which require Gold to participate in, reminded me of bonus levels in games like Devil May Cry and the like - basically, they are challenges you can (or have to) complete to progress or gain special benefits - and yes, I am vague here because the intent of this dungeon lies in a massive exhibition of modularity regarding quest-structure and, to some extent, rewards - this is very much designed to be exceedingly modular and can be taken apart for multiple modules, should you choose to go that way.


The pdf also sports information on Jing-enchanted items - these are keyed and sport drawbacks. The book sports a rather complicated-looking default configuration of the dungeon, though the actual use is less complex than the presentation may make you believe. Also, much like the highway's basic look, my pdf's text on this page strangely is less crisp than on other pages, making it somewhat harder to read - perhaps a compatibility issue with adobe's reader or something like that - not sure and since I don't have the print copy, I can't tell you whether this extends to the dead tree version.


Anyways, the dungeon ultimately begins with the entry-chamber level that already sports the leitmotifs of the temple - namely, a presence of puzzles, somewhat wacky entities, suffused humor...and a potential for death not being the end. Without spoiling too much, there is an exceedingly gruesome way to (temporarily) die that needs to be passed to enter the temple - fortes fortuna juvat...or rather "Jing favors the bold" is rather important to bear in mind.


If that component hasn't been ample clear so far...well, this is a huge module and as such, it is pretty much impossible for me to cover everything contained herein. As such, the following review will cover the contents of the Grande Temple at the very best in broad strokes.


I have already covered the entry chambers in as spoiler-free a means I can muster, but from here on out reign the SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion of this review.


...


..


.


All right, only GMs left? Great, so the respective sublevels all have their individual taste, the first of which would be kobold caverns, sporting a corridor of exploding doors hiding the proper caverns. The kobolds are domesticating protean jellies in a rather nice take on dungeon-ecology. At the same time, their leader King Lickabutt XXIII and his familiar Buttlick's names may elicit some groans from some readers.


There would also be an interesting undead-themed mini-dungeon that sports skeletons that animate depending on whether they're in light or darkness - which is a cool idea that could have been used to make the level favor the smart and provide a significant challenge, but as presented, it's pretty easy. Beyond a pretty run-of-the-mill orc-dungeon, a filthy dungeon covered in sticky slime (difficult terrain) is more interesting.


Here, the dungeon breaks from the level by level formula and instead goes on to present the exploration of the upper highway and the first trial/gauntlet, which, btw., constitute size-wise smaller dungeon-levels of their own. The training ground would constitute a more uncommon level - here, the dungeon not only sports a potentially lethal adventuring training ground, it's also the first time the players REALLY need their wits, with multiple levers and moving platforms (and prohibited flying/climb-enhancers) making this partially a platformer level in the vein of old NES-classics - basically, it constitutes a kind of puzzle...and yes, the level sports riddles and a subquest that pertains the ultimate riddle.


There would also be a goblin-themed dungeon, complete with hangman-minigame of guessing names of deceased kings. There would also be the twinklestar caves, which allow the inhabitants of the temple to find much needed water. A smaller level would provide a means to test the mettle of the PCs in ziggurat-containing caves against troglodytes. The next gauntlet and trial are fire/cold-themed. More interesting would be a truly uncommon level that has challenges according to rough representations of children's board games - and yes, here, you can play operation with a storm giant...and there's a tipping maze... Unique and evocative!


Chaos is also a leitmotif in two levels - one depicting more the primal chaos-cultist caverns, whereas another represents more of a deranged trickster deathtrap dungeon with unique hazards and hobgoblin denizens. Crab-themed river caves (including an apparatus) and the front door of the dungeon (including the great library) are next before the next trial, gauntlet and arena-section.


In a further cave-complex, the god of cave-stars shatir sleeps the aeons away, while bat-people do their best to avoid it. A section of rolling hills contains its fair share of ogres is once again a pretty much run of the mill level, before the nexus of doors becomes interesting again - ridiculous amounts of odd door qualities and a surreal atmosphere make this puzzle-style level very atmospheric and intriguing, while the troll-laden swamp level is less unique.


Back to full-blown weirdness and uniqueness is the dungeon when the PCs find a level where cyclones are generated and exported. Oh, and yes, the PCs may have to fight rhinoceraptors here. Yes, they are exactly what they sound like. On the nitpicky side of things, the infernal observatory is all about demons and devils...and pretty much a solid, if none too remarkable level with a damsel-in-distress-angle that doesn't work for any group with a modicum of experience, but oh well. The pdf is back on its more imaginative side with further explorations of the highway and the trial that emphasizes choice and grants benefits based on them and similarly, the gauntlet of the Jing Ring, which emphasizes teamwork, ir rather interesting.


A huge forest, including the council of trees and a vast plateau makes for a ncie change of scenery and also provides an option to embark on various quests and storylines - this area alone can generate a vast array of roleplaying options. Further levels here are a ruined, decrepit snake-themed temple and a subterranean forest. There would also be a fey forest quest that brings the PCs to an ancient observatory and a living labyrinth, wherein weretaurs can be encountered. For PCs looking for something cooler, a journey into the heart of a remorhaz-breeding ground or a trip through the caverns of the yeti-queen may be more to their liking. Another level presents clouds upon which you can walk and massive (rather sketchy) harpy-town, while a more trite and less imaginative smithy of salamanders and devils provides potential for new weapons...or conflict.


Okay, it's been some time since we had something more novel, right? Well, there is a level that made smile from ear to ear: There actually is a level that features intelligent oozes that behave basically as though they were 1930s-gangsters. Yes, including the slimefather. Hilarious fun and unique - I just wished this level had more room to shine! Meanwhile, the turtlefolk of the Koniyata want their totem returned to their caves, while the gravecaves sport an ever-increasing doom-counter and, surprise, legions of undead. The deranged gauntlet of heads, comparably, is more tame, while another level is all about size increases and fighting giants - personally, I'd suggest the more detailed rules from Everyman gaming's Microsized Adventures here - apart from that novelty, the level doesn't have that much to offer.


Fun for people like yours truly: The level containing a river of gold actually has a duo of interesting characters called Sam...and Max. And yes, these guys will always be my favorite LucasArts-characters, so bonus points in excess of providing one of the more unique and evocative areas. An underwater level full of mantapeople, while the gray zoo sports an unpleasant guy who seeks to put colars on the PCs to transform them into monsters.. In a skull-and-bones-shaped level, evil outsiders and undead vie for control over one book of power (which usually means: PCs kill everyone), while stormwrack caverns sport mystic weather that contains e.g. transformative lightning. A one-page entry on the back-door exit and the last section of the highway are next...and then we're in the deeper levels, the first of which is an antimagic desert...at least until the rainbow phoenix is slain. Yeah. Ouch. Next up would be the quintessential mad cultist's dungeon, where they call forth cosmodingus, the horror beyond the stars...yeah, I don't consider the juvenile funny name-thing funny. Sorry.


The Hall of the gods provides shrines and a quest where the PC can worship...basically Jing posing as other gods and get passports that award a blessing if all are visited. A reference to New Jersey is part of the read-aloud text, just fyi. More to my taste would be the gauntlet of a deranged ettin mathcaster, who grades the performances of PCs and their deductive abilities. The 9th level of the temple would be the massive, aquatic-themed area, aptly named the undersea, and it sports a ghost ship (the Grim Fandango...of course), a corrupted water temple, the demesne of an ancient sea god. At the end of the road, the PCs can btw. challenge a particularly nasty CR 25 dragon with unique breath tricks in an arena, but personally, I really loved the surreal level devoted to madness more, where lethal icosahedrons, a sublevel made of frustration and a moebius strip need to be navigated.


A thanatotic titan can be found past norns and challenged aplenty (here's to hoping the PCs are up to their best behavior...) and there is also a superbly lethal flower-themed Grimtooth-gauntlet, which may be required to escape.


The book also contains a short fiction by Dave Gross, aforementioned song of birds, a crapton of riddles and a ton of creatrues/statblocks, though the latter generally fall into the "more restrained and less original than I would have expected"-category. The magic items introduced generally are pretty cool, though they sometimes fail in the details - the gearblade forces you to expend an immediate action upon rolling a natural 1 - but what if the wielder has none? The book also contains a huge amount of sample stashes by APL and two empty maps.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are generally impressive for a freshman offering of this size - one can see the hand of industry veterans in editing and formatting in this book -Amanda Hamon Kunz did a good job here - if you need any proof regarding my claim that editors are the unsung heroes of the industry, take a look at the player's guide. shudder While here and there a "see above" or reference to a "table above" now should refer to "below" or to the next page, probably due to a layout-change, generally, this is well done. On a rules-language level, the book is also concise for the most part, with glitches, when they do come up, pertaining minor aspects. Layout adheres to a pretty printer-friendly two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports A LOT of absolutely original, gorgeous artworks of top quality. The same, alas, cannot be said about the cartography - while some levels sport neat maps, others were made with dundjinni (which isn't bad per se!) but also used in a rather pixelated version. High-res would have been better here and I've seen what you can do with that software! A massive issue that gall me to no end, however, is that we do not get player-friendly maps for any level - no keyless versions, none sans secret doors...sigh On the plus side, the book comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


As mentioned, I do not have the print version and hence can't comment on its virtues or lack thereof.


Lead author Danny O'Neill has amassed an illustrious cadre of additional authors: The book credits Jonathan Tweet, Monte Cook, Skip Williams, Ed Greenwood, Jim Ward, Grimtooth, Stan!, Chris Pramas, Larry Wilhelm, Matt Mayfield, Dave Gross and Kevin Andrew Murphy as authors, while a significant list of kickstarter backers has provided additional development.


The Grande Temple of Jing is a huge book. It took me a couple of months to properly take this apart, re-evaluate and get back to it, time and again. I feel I have arrived at a point where I can fairly assess the strengths and weaknesses of this book. As far as the strengths are concerned: The Grande Temple of Jing manages to capture the sense of wide-eyed wonder that featured so prominently in quite a few of the classics, it manages to recreate that sense of weirdness and happy-go-lucky-adventuring. In the best instances, it's a wonderful romp of the creative ID running wild, when dice golems try to pummel you to death, when you stumble into a level that represents boardgames we all know and love, when slime mobsters rule...this is where you fist-pump and smile from ear to ear.


However, there also are quite a few levels I'd consider boring filler; granted, they tend to have at least one interesting idea, but some levels are tiring, unimaginative slugfests through the same creatures, again and again. with so interesting builds or similar means of mitigating the dreary "it's the goblin level, guess what tries to kill you..."-symptom. Btw.: Thankfully, the annoying make-believe Jingcraft skill is not required a single time in this book. It's not even mentioned! So if you DID take it, heeding the advice of the horrid player's guide, hoping you'll do something unique with it...No. You won't. Retrain.


Speaking of creatures: Don't expect anything regarding interesting or innovative builds. There are reskins and modifications here and there, but unique templates or the like, smart builds or even a fully employed roster of PFRPG-classes can't be found in here - you'll be facing mostly creatures from the basic sources and core classes and monsters, spiced up, somewhat arbitrarily, via Jing's boons...which don't really interact well with their CR-ratings. Oh, and the "final boss", the toughest challenge? Ashardalon did that schtick better in the days of 3.X. Utterly lame and anticlimactic. 'Nuff said.


A massive plus of this mega-adventure, beyond its feeling of the magical, the truly "anything goes", would be the sheer amount of riddles, mini-games and puzzles - in a day and age where dungeons often devolve into slugfests, these are more than welcome and provide scavenging potential for campaigns galore and may even justify the purchase on their own. In fact, I'd rather recommend this as a scavenging ground for ideas than as a full-blown campaign. Why? Because no matter the overarcing storyline you choose...there is not much going on. The promise of fractions and the like in the beginning really doesn't pay off that much over the course of this mega-dungeon. The puzzles, flair and challenges are unique, but story-wise...well, let's just say that if your players want more in that regard, you'll need to do some work. Even Rappan Athuk and similar old-school mega-dungeons did a better job at creating a meta-narrative - here, there's nothing at stake but gold and glory.


Since we're speaking of Rappan Athuk, here's two subtle weaknesses of the Grande Temple of Jing: For one, even though the elevator and highway seek to evoke a sense of depth, there is not really one - the dungeon-levels themselves are rather flat and I'm quite frankly surprised to see no more 3-dimensional levels, even though several of the areas lend themselves perfectly to these peculiarities - the rules do offer for some great means to use more dimensions. Still, a good GM can add these elements...though ultimately, a GM seeking to run this will need to add more - expect no siege weapons or playful use of planar traits. You see, one of the core issues of the Grande Temple lies in its terrain: Basically, most areas and combat-centric regions could have frankly used a bit more going on: Pits, sharp rocks, exploding patches of shrooms, hazards...the like.


Instead, this book tends to use Jing's blanket effects...and they ultimately aren't utilized to their full extent...and they cheat. Basically whenever a particular spell or item would be especially useful, be it flight or teleport, the book prohibits it - not with a powerful effect you could potentially break for a short time...but with a blanket "doesn't work/screws you over" instead. This may fit thematically, but it also is lazy and enforces a playstyle rather than rewarding creativity. I consider that stifling and bad design - working WITH the system instead around it would have been significantly more elegant, particularly considering how the Jing blocks on their own could still work as progress blockers and prevent abuse. Still, it is when the book becomes prescriptive for the sake of enforcing a playstyle that it's the weakest.


Similarly, the video-game-esque components and design decisions here and there may annoy some of you out there, though they offer some of the more creative tricks - but ultimately, they also take away the threat of finality and...of the challenge. The Grande Temple of Jing is not easy; it can be brutal...but it lacks, by virtue of its design and particularly due to the not-so-interesting foes, the sense of stakes and ultimately, the sense of achievement that accompanies beating an old-school killer-dungeon. Since death is marginalized pretty much from the get-go, there is a higher acceptance for risk-taking, yes...but the sense of danger and threats is diminished. Sure, you can play the dungeon as though you were an adolescent again, doing odd and weird stuff sans fear of perma-death...but, to me, that was what made it fun. The challenge. The bragging-rights.


So...over all...I really did not like this book as a whole. As a whole, I will never run Grande Temple of Jing - too many components rub me the wrong way and I consider the framework itself to be not that intriguing.


BUT WAIT. This book DOES have a lot to offer - while falling short of perfection and the self-aggrandized goal of being the archetypical dungeon (No. Sorry. Just no. I can list at least 3 megadungeons at the top of my head that did that job better.), the Grande Temple of Jing excels at being a truly astounding scavenging ground - the puzzles and ideas contained within this massive tome make it worthwhile to have and I do not regret analyzing it: There are so many unique tricks I WILL use in my games, so many riddles to scavenge, so many level-concepts and rooms to steal that even when used in this way, the book is worth having.


This book sports a lot of unique ideas and it is these ideas that elevate this mega-dungeon beyond the self-imposed restrictions and gyves. When this shines, when its ID runs rampant, then this is a book of awesome ideas, which is ultimately what elevates the book to being a worthwhile read. Taking the great and the less than stellar into account, I arrive at a final verdict of 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 stars for the purpose of this platform due to this being the freshman offering of Hammerdog Games.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Grande Temple of Jing
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Alchemist Codex
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/24/2016 04:13:17

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This collection of NPC-builds clocks in at 23 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with exactly 20 pages of content, so what do we get?


Well, the answer here is pretty straightforward - we get 20 alchemist-builds, one for each level.


All right, that was an old and pretty lame joke the first time around; now, it's ridiculous. Sorry. So, much like the previous codex detailing sample kineticists, this one instead tackles alchemists and aims to give the GM sample builds to throw at characters, while also providing an interesting background story for them. Additionally, the reader can glean at a cursory look that thankfully, the helpful boon-entries for befriending the characters are still part of the deal.


Now, the previous codex excelled in the diverse selection of unique races and archetypes it employed - and the kineticist is a young class that doesn't yet have this much fodder for diversification. Well, the alchemist does not suffer from this restriction and hence, we get a solid array of options - mindchemists, psychonauts, chirurgeons, grenadiers, preservationsts, clone masters, reanimators and beastmorphs all get their due with a fitting character - oh and obviously, the level 20 vicisectionist is FEARSOME. Damn, this creature is BRUTAL: Hunter Dark, psychotic lizardfolk killer...who may just be willing to help you...provided he may eat the dead.


So yes, archetype-wise, we have a rather rich diversity here. Similarly, there are plenty of unusual races represented here: Living ghouls, for one. And yes, muses, saurians, gnolls...quite an array. It should be noted that this time around, there are no psionic races utilized, though one of the Porphyran xelusine drow is used.


Now the last codex had, as mentioned in that review, less diversity in the feat-department - well, guess what? This book does A LOT better regarding build-diversity - granted, in part due to the simple fact that the alchemist is a more versatile class regarding the ways you can take it: From bombing-specialists to more melee-centric builds that rely on extracts and mutagens, the build (and feat) diversity is significantly higher here and leaves nothing to be desired - kudos!


Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are pretty good, though there are some typos and similar glitches in the book - "bolster" instead of "bolstered" and the like. Rules-wise, there are a few very minor hiccups here, but overall, the statblocks are solid and ready to be used. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games' two-column full-color standard and the pdf has no artwork apart from the cover, but comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Brian Jolly's collection of alchemist builds is diverse, intriguing and sports some truly unique characters. While the at times a bit rushed editing takes this down a slight notch, this still can be considered an inexpensive, nice collection of alchemist statblocks. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 for the purpose of this platform.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Alchemist Codex
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Ultimate Relationships #1: The Lonely Lyrakien
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/24/2016 04:11:31

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of the Ultimate Relationship-series clocks in at 7 pages - 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page how to use/SRD leaving us with 4 pages of content, so let's take a look!


All right, so this series provides romantic interests for the PCs as per the Ultimate Relationship-rules, so I'm assuming you're familiar with them. If not, check out that pdf first (and/or my review for it).


This time around, would be a lyrakien azata cleric, whose level 3 statblock (sans CR) is provided. Associated with luck, the lyrakien has recently lost her human companion - praying to her deity, she is guided towards the PCs. Gifts will not help securing deeper connection, but shared experiences of unique beauty will. The character dislikes cruel jokes and the like. Convincing her to join the party should not be too hard. There is a crisis point the GM can relatively freely adapt, basically a point of no return, where she may require convincing to stay, with starting attitudes and individual options to entice her to stay around.


Advancement is covered briefly and there is a certain chance she may be doing other things on a given day before rank 4. Cohort status is unlocked at rank 7. As a lyrakien, she is obviously none too constant and romancing her is not too easy - on-again-off-again relationships can be expected until rank 10. Boon-wise, rank 7 grants either Knowledge (planes) or Perform (Comedy) as a class skills and also unlocks +1 to saves versus entangle/paralysis. Rank 10 doubles trait-bonuses shared and allows for 2/day immediate action 1-round the effects of freedom of movement, though the pdf fails to specify the CL - I assume her CL. Or is that supposed to be SU, since it only pertains the effects, not the spell per se? Not sure here.


As far as rank-up requirements are concerned, they are much more diverse than one would think - while Perform (Comedy) is often used, so are different Knowledge-checks and even Sense Motive. Finally, Fly can be part of the deal. The romance, as a whole, is interesting and alternatives, once breakthroughs have been achieved, are provided - the romance, as a whole, feels believable.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are good, though e.g. when separating lines are used is a bit inconsistent - still nothing grievous to complain about. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard and the pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length. The lyrakien has a nice full-color artwork, though fans of LG have seen it before.


Mark Seifter's first romance in the series is interesting, unique enough and believable. The lyrakien is pretty hard to romance, as she should be - and yes, I did enjoy reading this little pdf. At the same time, it's a bit of a pity that one boon is a bit wonky in the details. Still, overall a solid, nice, inexpensive offering that adds a bit of romance to the game - my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 for the purpose of this platform.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Ultimate Relationships #1: The Lonely Lyrakien
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The Elves of Uteria
Publisher: Lone Wanderer Entertainment
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/23/2016 05:05:48

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This book clocks in at 74 pages, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC & Ks-thanks, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 71 pages of content, so let's take a look!


This review was moved up in my review-queue due to me receiving a print copy in exchange for a honest and critical review. The review is based on the hardcover and I do not have the pdf, so unfortunately, I can't speak of the virtues or lack thereof of that format, so please take that into account!


This book is called "The Elves of Uteria", so we should perhaps recapitulate what exactly the setting of Uteria is: Uteria is a low-magic campaign world not unlike our own - you see, for hundreds of years, the fantastic and magical was gone from the world, only to suddenly return. How and why this happened can be partially gleaned in the narratives and metaplots, but ultimately, it remains a mystery for now. Rules-wise, Uteria is assumed to be an E8 setting, though the rules herein provide options beyond that.


Suffice to say, the return of magic has also brought back the more uncommon races, namely the sub-species of elf, to which this book is devoted. Now, if you're like me and have read too many racial supplements, this may still be interesting - why? Because it is dauntingly old-school in a rather refreshing way. 3rd edition sported many great design decisions, but also many sucky ones. If you've been following my reviews for a while, you'll know about my seething hatred for environmental races that basically invalidate the harsh climates, for races that are nothing but a lame accumulation of stats intended for power-gamers. In order to illustrate what this book is about, I have to tell you where this loathing comes from.


Back when I started gaming, I scrounged together the hard-earned bucks I got from paper delivery and masked lawn-mowing (thanks to my allergy, a rather unpleasant task) and invested them in books - and when I read, I was taken away to other places: I read about elven mourning songs so beautiful, they could literally break a man's heart; of dwarven ale that sends any human snoring to the floor; of gnomish inventions and halfling community. Not as part of a setting, but as general racial write-ups. These books sported details - a lot of them, and by virtue of these details, the values, the small pieces, the races came alive. It's the reason I enjoy Alexander Augunas' current takes on races - the books make them feel alive.


We begin this book with a solid map...and then letters - these letters, written in captivating prose, tell of the journey of Jarin Plainswalker, agent of arch-druid Erlwyn, who set out to collect data on the cultures of the elven people. His correspondence and replies, detailed in gorgeous graphics, provides what can work as either handouts or simply as a means of depicting the journey the reader undertakes while reading these pages.


From the get-go, once that premise is out of the way, we begin with perhaps the most uncommon elven race, the Alfiren, or elfling - 3-4 feet high, thin and goat-eyed with antlers, these children of chaos exist on a whim, heeding the calling of the chaos instilled in their very hearts. And no, this is not about the stats - unlike most racial supplements, this one is about culture, about the uncommon. The captivating prose introduces us to the creation myth and the deities of the elves - and yes, the book manages to actually weave a creation myth that resounds with central themes sans being a carbon copy of a real world myth - and yes, the narrative is depicted herein.


From this basic set-up, Jarin and the reader embark on their journey to the more conventional elven people, the first of which would be the nomadic Anarvari, the steppe-dwelling wilde elves that live in concert with their harsh environments, with the Kyzk, a new creature introduced herein, providing an analogue of native Americans/buffalo, though through a lens wholly fantastic. From the wild steppes, the journey of Jarin took him to the reclusive Kaelvari - which are most akin to what we think when we hear "elf" - they are reclusive champions that retreated to their forested domain after the dread Great War, with a legend of the love between Orum and Kala and the star of lost love lending a sense of deep-seated melancholy to the chapter.


When the elves were still enslaved by the eldar, the Alostrovari, the lorekeepers and seafarers of the elves, were the chroniclers - and while their forest-dwelling cousins may be less magically potent, they also are not subject to the harsh world as much - the massive changes of the world and the constant battle between waves and earth have instilled a somewhat bleak sense of memento mori and an expectation of betrayal among them.


The Evantari, the high elves, secluded on their plateau in the midst of a titanic forest, these people are perhaps the most aesthetically unique: The one-page full-color artwork depicts them as wearing red and golden armor with demonic-looking masks, haughty looks and the severed heads of mortals on sticks, a grim promise for trespassers. The Evantari may well be considered the elitist and dangerous component of elven culture...but they are not the only one.


All journeys must end, after all - and Jarin's ended when he met the Orovari, the dark elves that have been exiled to the frozen north, exiled to these harsh environs after both the defeat of Kaldrath and the warlock king - proud warriors and dangerous adversaries, they face winters growing ever longer and will be forced, sooner or later, to test the mettle they acquired by bleeding for the elven peoples against any that dare stand in their way.


Beyond these write-ups, the book also sports several excerpts from the well-written journals of Jarin. While certainly a rules-light book, the pdf does sport 4 pages that explain spellcasting in Uteria: Every spellcaster has spell points per day based on class level and attribute. Full casters start with 2 spell points as a base, while bards get their first at 3rd level, with bonus spell points being governed by maximum spell level available and ability score. Spellcasters may regain 1/4 spell points (no minimum) for 1 hour rest, 1/2 for 2 hours rest - but that's it. Beyond that, 8 hours of rest are required. Spells cost a fixed amount of points. An interesting rules-variant. Spells dealing damage based on dice-number deal the minimum dice-number damage - to use the full potency of the spell, you need to expend +1 point per die. Metamagic follows a similar way. Magic in Uteria takes a cue from Dark Sun - there are two base ways of spellcasting: Warding and Ravaging. Casters using their own lifeforce are warders. You see, you can cast spells even when you don't have enough spellpoints, but it eats at your life. Upon casting such a spell, you must make a concentration check versus DC 20 + spell level. If you fail, you take mental fatigue damage, which is treated as nonlethal damage. When it exceeds hit points, you drop unconscious. Mental Fatigue cannot be healed via healing magic. It should also be noted that, unlike nonlethal damage, it doesn't heal on its own - instead, brief rests can heal 1/4 and 1/2 of mental fatigue, respectively. Once you are suffering from mental fatigue, resting does not regain spell points unless you're taking a full 8 hours of rest.


Ravagers draw on the life-force of the lands and others: When casting ravager-spells, all creatures within 10 feet take spell level damage or all creature within 10 x spell level feet take 1 point of damage. Ravaging is an evil act. Warders can also suffer from this: If a warden rolls a natural 1 on his Concentration check and has "a skill less than 10" he will accidentally ravage. sigh Concentration is no skill in PFRPG. Does this mean "below 10th level?" Rolled below 10? No idea.


The book continues to provide several nice sketches of artwork before providing some help regarding the playing of alfiren and elves, a glossary, calendar and a pretty extensive bestiary, which covers creatures from CR 1/4 to CR 11 - the bestiary is pretty interesting in that its creatures are uncommon - filthy armadillo-people, herd-animal lizards, a goblin variant proficient in climbing, massive slugs, armored mammals - the creatures herein do not universally have unique abilities (though many do) - but they add an interesting dimension to the proceedings, they enhance the world with a sense of quasi-realism. There would also be a fungal infection that kills the host, turning head and hands into claws and forcing the victim to shamble onwards, propagating the infection. The creatures herein may not always be mechanically interesting, but they do feel realistic to some extent - which fits perfectly for the focus of this book.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch - no significant glitches impeded my enjoyment of this book. Layout adheres to a beautiful two-column full-color standard and the massive hardcover's thick covers and thick, matte paper are high-quality and certainly make the book excel regarding the formal qualities. The art-direction of this book is phenomenal - the artworks hearken to a classic, slightly Elmore-ish style, but add a twist to the aesthetics - from whole-page full-color illustrations to just as superb b/w-artworks, this book is absolutely gorgeous -if you like classic art-styles of fantasy and superb pencil-drawings, this will work for you. E.g. the sketchbook highlights stages in the disturbing infection of aforementioned fungi and the artwork here actually manages to convey a lot of intriguing details, conveys and enhances the text.


Michael Bielaczyc and Dane Clark Collins have written a racial supplement I enjoyed far, far more than I ever would have imagined: "So we get a book on elves? And it has the ole' wild/wood/grey/high/dark-guys covered? How exciting." Imagine me thinking this, with my mind dripping with maximum cynicism. Well, I'm happy to report that I was wrong.


Now, one note: If you're looking for even more elven crunch. age, height and weight and the like - then this book probably won't do it for you. Then again - there are already a gazillion of books covering those bases out there, right? Right.


So, to be frank, I shouldn't like this book. The crunch is, at best, a 3.5 to 4 and there frnkaly could be more room for each race. The point-based casting system, while relatively functional, isn't as concisely presented as it could and should be. The monsters contained will win, for the most part, no originality prize regarding their abilities (or lack thereof). I should be much harsher on this book. But I can't.


The fact is, you see - I enjoyed myself thoroughly while reading this. The legends, myths and cultures and yes, even the bland, ability-less herd animals touched something inside my cold and cynical reviewer's heart. This book resonates with me on an almost overwhelming emotional level - like playing "Out of this World" for the first time when I was a little child, like reading the race books of old, this book managed to send my mind wandering to this other world and I could see it - I could see the armored orillots carrying their masters in caravans across the world; I could see the lone, thirsty wanderer fighting the fungal infection, I could see the spider-y goblins tumbling around, the hourglass-eyed elflings frolicking. It's odd, really, but each and every chapter, each letter of the journey documented herein. I found myself longing for more, wanting to read more about this strange world and its cultures, a world familiar in some tropes, but still, inexplicably, novel to me. This book instilled in me a sense of wanderlust, a deep-seated longing for information about this fantastical world I haven't experienced in a long, long time.


Perhaps, this is just me. But I loved this book. The prose is captivating and compelling and I find myself often checking back to the respective vendor pages, looking for more material. I certainly hope to learn more of this world. To me, this book resonated with a sense of denied homecoming, a feeling of magical realism that made the cultures depicted come alive. I wished this was longer. I hope we'll see more.


Now as for a final verdict - well, my readers. I'm usually the bastard that complains, picks apart. I quite frankly don't want to do this here. I thought long and hard - and ultimately, our beloved games, when we take the math out of the equation for a second, boils down to the story, to what those words we weave in the hearts and minds of readers and players and GMs do. And surprisingly, this book proved to be excellent exercise in the power of the right words, the right artworks, the right presentation - it weaves images and a picture of a world that transcends the rough numbers and minor shortcomings that exist in the addition of bonuses and multipliers, in the dry language of the rules. Ultimately, to me, Elves of Uteria weaves a wondrous, captivating narrative - the craftsmanship may not be perfect...but the artistry, to me, is. For me, this book is worthy of 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform, + my seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Elves of Uteria
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Feats of Legend: 20 Celestial Feats
Publisher: Total Party Kill Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/23/2016 05:03:45

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of the Feats of Legend-series clocks in at 9 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let's take a look!


The pdf begins with a handy table that sums prerequisites and feats for your convenience and then goes on to present the individual feats, so let's take a look!


-Angelic Reputation: An achievement feat, needs to have caused fear in evil outsiders; increases DC of fear spells and effect by +2 versus evil outsiders; also nets a massive +5 bonus to intimidate said foes. On the nitpicky side: "In addition, the duration of the shaken condition is increased by 1 round." is slightly less precise than I'd like it to be - it's obvious, this refers to demoralize, but RAW it extends to all shaken condition-causing effects.


-August general of Heaven: This story feat allows you to, as a swift action pronounce a challenge versus an evil outsider, gaining +1 to atk and AC. If the foe or you are attacked during this challenge, you take a -2 penalty to AC and atk for 1 round. This ability can be used at-ill, but only once in 24 hours versus a given foe. As an interesting goal, this feat requires you to defeat good outsiders in nonlethal challenges - which is pretty cool, though an actual number of HD and encounters you need to beat would have been nice. "an appropriate number" does not really help here. Upon making the goal, you get a celestial cohort with leadership score of +2 for determining the cohort's level. Apart from the minor hiccup, an evocative, interesting feat that is a great way to have good guys fight good creatures for once, without jeopardizing alignment.


-Blood of the Fold: +4 to Knowledge-checks to identify good or evil extraplanar creatures and entities; +6 if you have 10+ ranks in the appropriate knowledge skill. You can qualify for this via Eldritch Heritage and the celestial bloodline.


-Celestial Pushback: Evil creatures failing to save versus your channel energy are subject to Bull Rush, with CMB equal to cleric level + Cha-mod. This does sound very powerful, looks broken, but is actually less useful than you'd think: The good alignment means that the creature with this feat will be channeling positive energy, which makes this, via vanilla channeling, only useful versus undead...which seems appropriate. Granted, variant channeling still works, but the okay CMB-scaling still retains this as a feasible feat that's better crafted than you'd expect when first reading it. (Though low-power groups using variant channeling may want to be careful with it.)


-Choir of the Host: Cha-mod allies influenced by Inspire Greatness gain the ability to overcome, interestingly, DR/evil, making them more potent when fighting celestials....which, according to the feat's fluff, was NOT the intent - this should be able to grant the option to bypass DR/good. sigh


-Demon Hunter:1/day, gain +2 to a single attack, saving throw or SR-check versus a demon or known servant of such an entity. AT 10+ HD, this bonus scales up to +4. This is also a story-feat, though it is not properly tagged as such. To make the goal, you have to slay a named demon with HD equal to or greater than your own. The completion benefit is significant: Whenever you deal damage to a demon with a targeted spell or attack, you get a free demoralize attempt that ignores fear immunity. "targeted" should imho be replaces with "single target", since you can otherwise cause free action AoE demoralize attempts...potentially, depending on how you handle free action limitations per round. Other than that, a cool one.


-Dimming the Light: Gain +2 to saves versus Ex and Su abilities of good outsiders in addition to your favored enemy bonuses. Okay.


-Divine Aura: This feat, based on Alignment Channel (evil), adds demoralize to channel vs. evil outsiders; allows you to exchange four rounds of shaken for 1 round of frightened. Solid!


-Fiend Foe: +2 to atk vs. evil outsiders. Boring.


-Find the Conduit: Add +1/2 your level to all healing you dish out. Does not apply to items used/created.


-Fires of Heaven: Spells with the fire descriptor you cast ignore 5 points of fire resistance. Odd: Does not extend to SPs...particularly since the infernal feat applied the bonus to SPs.


-Friends in High Places: 1/day add the celestial template to any neutral or good-aligned creature on the Summon Monster spell list. Works interestingly with skeletons from Skeleton Summoner, if the creature is neutral or good.


-Heaven Sent: Requires having died before. Makes you immune to fear. Basically a reskin of the revenant-feat from the installment of Undead feats. Makes me sad that such a brief book features it.


-Heavenly Weapon: When activating the bane class ability, you receive an archon's aura of menace supernatural ability.


-Holy Warrior: If you wear your patron's symbol on armor or shield, you get +1 sacred bonus to AC (+2 if both armor and shield feature the symbol). Alternatively, you get +1 to atk when featuring the symbol on your weapon, +2 when using 2 such weapons. You either choose offensive or defensive options when taking this feat; you may take it twice to get both bonuses.


-Strengthened Aura: 1/day as an immediate action, make your Aura of Good class feature duplicate circle of protection against evil (Sic! - shouldn't that be Magic Circle against Evil?) for 1 round per level of the class that grants the aura of good.


-Strong-Willed: +4 to saves versus charm- and compulsion-effects.


-Sword of Heaven: +2 to damage versus evil outsiders. Any weapon you wield (including unarmed and natural attacks) is considered to be good aligned for purpose of overcoming DR. This does not overcome weapons with the evil descriptor and they remain evil. Can eb qualified for via Edlritch Heritage and celestial bloodline.


-Voice of Angels: While under the influence of your Inspire Courage, affected allies get +2 to intimidate checks and +2 to Will-saves versus evil outsiders and undead.


-Heavenly Mandate: When using inspire competence, he may force one target to tell the truth, duplicating basically a single-target zone of truth, that requires the target to hear him. Evocative and well-executed!


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting is much more refined than in the last book - while there are some hiccups here, they boil down to minor glitches. Layout adheres to a clean white background with blue headers. The full-color art of the angel on the cover is reproduced inside and is nice. The pdf comes fully bookmarked, which is nice to see.


Neal Litherland, Simon Muñoz and Brian Berg have crafted a collection of feats in this pdf that can definitely be considered high-concept. While, unfortunately, there are some glitches that detract from some of these feats, sometimes even on a rules-level, the matter of fact remains that there are some evocative pieces herein. While this pdf does offer some filler, it's not much. Better than the previous pdf, this is a nice, if not perfect collection. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 for the nice concepts and ideas herein.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Feats of Legend: 20 Celestial Feats
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Treasury of the Orient
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/22/2016 04:53:03

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This collection of magic items clocks in at 22 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page introduction, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 14 pages of raw content, so let's take a look!


All right, so the items featured herein, as depicted on the handy table in the beginning span the range from humble 30 gp alchemical items to 180K gold (and one artifact) - but what kind of items do we actually get?


Well, the first one would be kokowai, a protective salve that supposedly wards off demons and temporarily nets the user the stench-quality. There are two magical armors herein and both are truly interesting: The first would be the Bestial Haramaki - a spellstoring armor - when bull's strength, cat's grace or bear's endurance is stored, the armor provides the bonus of the spell for an extended period while it stores it - nice expansion of the base concept! The second armor would be unraveling silks, allowing the wearer to turn into threads as a move action to duplicate gaseous form with a climb speed instead and prevent lethal falls. Evocative imagery, neat modifications of abilities - that#s how it's done!


A total of 7 specific magic weapons are part of the deal as well: The first of these is the beheading blade, and O-M-G, is it glorious: A flying blade that can be unhooked from its chain to be used at range, returning to the user, with abilities like dancing being powered by ki...absolutely awesome and best of all: The tight wording manages to get the complex mechanics just right. Two thumbs up! Or what about a katana that, upon a critical hit, generates a spray of razor-sharp cherry blossoms? Yes, this is evocative imagery with awesome mechanics. (Yes, you can designate squares to exclude so your allies aren't cut to ribbons...). There is also a cursed katana that cannot be sheathed unless you've crited an opponent or reduced him to 0 hp or below, though, alas, the lack of HD-restrictions here means you can bag-of-kitten-cheese the curse, which is an unnecessary oversight in my book. Another bow allows you to forego damage to instead make an incorporeal creature laugh (and unable to act for 3 rounds), allowing the user to pinpoint the target - this would be pretty OP sans its limitations, but with them, the bow works. A keen flying blade sans penalties, a katana that increases in power when pitted against overwhelming odds and a fan that can generate a nonlethal damage-dealing line of wind that knocks foes prone complement this section of the pdf for an overall, nifty arsenal.


The cane of butterflies allows the owner to disguise himself as older/younger and benefit from threefold aspect as well as conjure forth a massive, hampering swarm of butterflies. The rod of the monkey king can assume the shape of different weapons and extend at command, with concise rules regarding the extended reach and its rules-interactions, while the rod of shadow puppetry allows the wielder to paralyze foes whose shadow was touched and then direct such creatures to do his bidding - interesting and once again, evocative imagery. However, at the same time, Touching the creature's shadow" is pretty wobbly as far as design tenets are concerned - while this is nothing a good GM can't handle, e.g. playing with light-sources etc. can pretty much radically change how this works and the range, so some guidance for less experienced GMs would have been appreciated for this item.


There is also a truly diverse selection of wondrous items in this book: There is a circlet crafted from the horn of imperial dragons that fortifies the wearer against fear and activate a frightful presence that scales with Cha and level in potency, while expenditure of ki can extend this effect - however, the circlet also amkes the wearer subject to easier control by imperial dragons, so beware! There are also clothes that can adapt to surroundings, duplicating different styles of nonmagical outfits, a feathered map that provides quicker rests and the evocative concept of ghost food is also represented in this book. A magical inkset allows the user to hide special messages in the art he creates and there is also a damn cool kapstan that can store ki and, provided a threshold is met, then allows creatures with ki pools to command the ship to which it has been added to move. Additionally, this item allows the user to command the ship to use ki to try to evade missiles, obstacles etc. - all in all, a glorious item.


The kimono of honored ancestors allows the user to ask the spirits of old for advice, while the koto of ki shards can duplicate an array of spells...but is powered by Perform, with scaling difficulties...and instead of its charges, users may have ki power the effects. Cool blending here! A rather nasty skull emitting cursed vapors and a bowl that produces a meditative hum can also be considered to be rather inspired, if less complex items. The Monkey's head charm is visuals-wise all awesome: You throw it at foes for damage...and potentially command it to erupt in eerie laughter, which penalizes foes and renders them even flatfooted, with a chance to cause spellblights...However, the item states that Will can negate the effects, but not the DC - I assume the same as for the spellblight, but I'm not sure.


There is also a massive array of shapechanging-themed noh masks, covering the base beast shapes as well as vermin shape, giant form and form of the dragon - and yes, they take daily use ability abuse is prevented - kudos for catching that! A magical papercraft sheet, a prayer scroll amulet that protects against the undead (and can soak up negative levels) and a fire-themed robe as well as an enchanted samisen are next - and the latter is particularly cool, since it has an alternate use when utilizing downtime rules, generating 7 labor a day that must be immediately spend (and can thus not be hoarded)- cool! A variant dragon-form-granting lungguang and a flute that renders targets ethereal (and subject to the wrath of spirits) as well as a sugegasa that can turn into a raft complement this section.


Pretty cool idea: There are three magical tea-pots in this book, all working by casting one of three spells into the pot while preparing a tea ceremony; all sporting three different effects for those partaking in the tea ceremony. These items are cool and can't be cheesed, but I do believe the pdf should specify just how many people exactly can partake in such a tea ceremony. I assume an army couldn't, for example, but RAW, we have alas, no guidance for this.


Obviously, the pdf also offers full stats for the White Peacock Crown, which is a rather awesome item, just fyi. The artifact, in comparison, is a bit of a let-down, being basically a mallet that can provide miracles that don't require diamond dust. Yeah...wasn't impressed by that one.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good, though not as streamlined as in some Legendary Games-supplements - I noticed italicization-glitches here and there and rules-language-wise, there are a couple of minor, yet noticeable hiccups. Layout adheres to the elegant, nice, two-column full-color standard of Jade Regent plug-ins and the pdf sports a blend of previously seen and new full-color artworks of a rather high quality. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, with a rather nice little typo "magucal teapots" - does have an interesting ring, doesn't it?


Alexander Augunas, Tim Hitchcock, Jason Nelson and Victoria Jaczko have crafted, content-wise, one of my absolute favorites among the treasury-pdfs by Legendary Games - there is literally no filler in this little book and even items that are based on spells in a can modify the effect in unique ways. The items universally are evocative, though some of them have minor rough edges - which is understandable, considering that they tackle rather complex concepts and do their very best to be interesting. With the surprising exception of the artifact, they actually succeed in this endeavor and can be considered inspired. The rating, however, is a bit tricky - you see, the rough edges do mean I can't rate this the clean 5 stars I'd like to grant - however, at the same time, I'd rather have the rough edges and awesomeness than bland perfection -hence, I arrived at a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4, but will still add my seal of approval to this pdf for its intriguing arsenal of unique items. Highly recommended!


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Treasury of the Orient
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Mini-Dungeon #027: Kaltenheim
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/22/2016 04:50:37

An Endzeitgeist.com review


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


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


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


...


..


.


Still here?


All right!


In the frigid north, rumors abound that a massive raider has begun striking at nomads wandering the snowline: Dubbed Koloss and accompanied by a huge white wolf, thisboogeyman has recently called an NPC of importance - and now it's time to put him in his place for once and for all. The trail leads to a complex of frigid, natural caves, which contain not only multiple, powerful advanced yetis and subarctic shriekers acting as a natural alert-system.


More important for the module, the little pdf sports intriguing terrain features beyond the shriekers and they serve another function: The dread Koloss turns out to be an ogre-mage accompanied by a two-headed winterwolf and the PCs will be challenged by these adversaries...but if they manage to out-stealth them, they may actually catch them unaware! Have I mentioned the elemental nodes associated with arctic water?


Conclusion:


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


Jonathan Ely's Kaltenheim has a very distinct flavor that makes it unique and interesting - it rewards capable PCs and sports a cool (pardon the pun) boss.


At the same time, the skull and crossbones icon on the map, usually denoting traps, isn't clearly aligned with what's supposed to be there - I assume they pertain to the shriekers, but are also used for the trap that needs to be defused to reach the final room. Using two different icons would have helped make this slightly more user-friendly. Ultimately, this is a good, if not perfect, but certainly fun and immersive dungeon, well worth 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 for the purpose of this platform.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Mini-Dungeon #027: Kaltenheim
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Kineticist Codex
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/22/2016 04:49:55

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This collection of NPC-builds clocks in at 23 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with exactly 20 pages of content, so what do we get?


Well, the answer here is pretty straightforward - we get 20 kineticist-builds, one for each level.


...


What, you want to know more? All right, all right...So, the first thing you'll notice is that, as denoted by the huge Porphyra-logo, the characters herein sport fluff that is tied to Porphyra, firmly rooting them in Purple Duck Games' patchwork planet, though that does not mean that they don't work in different contexts. The second thing you'll notice is that each of the characters featured comes with a cool boon-entry that provides benefits for PCs engaging n friendly ways with the respective character. A closer look at the respective characters and their set-up will show you another rather interesting component - the characters themselves tend to be diverse. No, I mean REALLY diverse.


As in "Genderless oakling elemental ascetic"-diverse. As in Ultimate Psionics-Elan brothers. As in a kitsune overflowing soul. As in a god-of-war CR 20 forlarren or as an arrogant, superbly powerful genius half-elven artist of death in exile from court. The concepts of the characters are truly diverse and captivating and the builds themselves show Brian Jolly's experience regarding the creation of powerful characters - I can see pitting these versus my players sans them erupting in yawning matches. As for the exotic races used, you can access them for free, so that does indeed not constitute a detriment in my book.


That being said, the builds of the characters, while diverse in races, do not sport the same level of diversity in their feat-choices, where the obvious Toughness, Weapon Focus, etc. reign pretty much - a bit more variety for different concepts would have been neat here. While there are some minor hiccups here and there, over all, the statblocks are well crafted, though quite a few avoidable glitches like e.g. "kimetic"[Sic!] blast have crept into the book.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are generally solid, though not perfect - I noticed several typos and minor glitches. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games' two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The pdf has no art apart from the cover.


I enjoyed Brian Jolly's humble collection of kineticists more than I thought I would - while the statblocks aren't as flawless as those of some statblock wizards out there, we get a healthy dose of diversity in this book, with numerous uncommon character concepts and flavorful ideas. The write-ups actually make the beings portrayed here feel like proper characters, something I deeply appreciate. The kineticist builds themselves are pretty varied as well, though obviously beholden to the more effective options available for the respective direction. Beyond class abilities and races, diversity isn't that pronounced in the respective feat-selection, though we do have e.g. a crafter (with proper skills and feats), a half-giant with wild talent and the like - there is variety here, it's just not as diversified as for the rest of the respective builds. All in all, this is a nice, inexpensive, if not perfect collection of kineticists - my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 for the purpose of this platform.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Kineticist Codex
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Gossamer Worlds: INK (Diceless)
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/21/2016 04:00:24

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This trip to one of the countless Gossamer Worlds clocks in at 15 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let's take a step through this door!


Okay, have you read Flatland? If not, I'd strongly suggest you do so - for its implications are very much relevant for this Gossamer World: You see, INK is unlike most such worlds in that it exists as a 2D-world, where visitors are subject to the so-called rendering, as they are translated into 2-dimensional versions of themselves - for this world is one of sentient comics, classic ink drawings and the like - INK is layered on sheets and traveling from one sheet to another changes you - and yes, there is danger in this brute-force conversion of styles...in this translation, in which beauty and reality may be lost or gained.


In a world defined by the artistic, one should not be surprised to see a class-system, as portraits lord over sketches and the underclass of downtrodden scribbles, while specialized drafter annunaki (stats provided) and the erasing eraser erebi can be considered to be the truly powerful forces of nature of INK, dangerous in either the scroll kingdoms, panelopolis, the funnypaper farms or the scrawl - oh, and have I mentioned Major Maim? This guy makes Judge Doom look like a downright cute, reasonable guy - think of superman as evil and as an existential nihilist hell-bent of destroying (and/or escaping) the limitations of his world...


Considering the strange nature of INK as opposed to many more conventional gossamer worlds, it does come with rather detailed pieces of advice to properly implement it in your game, which is greatly appreciated.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing's two-column full-color standard for the series and a diverse array of high-quality full-color artworks illustrates the world in the different styles you can expect - nice touch. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Matt Banach's INK is brilliant - much like Planet Fiction, it allows for a huge array of real life creatures to be inserted in the game - from your favorite superheroes to manga/anime-characters and classic paintings, this one sports so many narrative options, it's not even funny anymore. Ever wanted to know what would happen if Garfield and Odie could duke it out in a Gundam? Well...there you go. Unlike Planet Fiction, though, this may have less space to develop the world - but it has the upper hand in one crucial regard: A unique selling point. Depicting the 2-dimensional, comic book reality herein can lead to truly memorable, unique adventures and constitutes one of the crucial strengths of this extremely evocative world. Granted, you can mostly ignore this component, if the repercussions give you a headache, but personally, I love this pdf for it and consider it one of the best in the whole series, on par with the genius Poetica Mundi-installment. Final verdict? 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Gossamer Worlds: INK (Diceless)
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Conduits of the Age (13th Age Compatible)
Publisher: Amora Game
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/21/2016 03:58:15

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This conversion of the conduit-class clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let's take a look!


First thing you'll notice is that the class pretty much follows the formula established in the 13th Age core books, with info on play style, popular races, etc. showing up. Attribute bonuses gained by the class (the usual +2) need to be applied to either Dex or Wis, though they can't be stacked on the same attribute favored by the race chosen. Starting equipment contains melee weapon, ranged weapon, light armor and receive 25 gp starting gold (or 1d6 x 10). Regarding basic attacks and armor-preference, the class is leaning toward the rogue, with Dex being added to hit and damage. Damage bonus from ability modifier increases at 5th and 8th level, base Hit points are (7+Con mod)x3 at first level, scaling up to x24 at 10th level. Level up ability bonuses are granted at 4th, 7th and 10th level and a handy chart provides the conduit stats and over all - I was positively surprised. The rather complex class depiction of 13th Ag has been properly replicated here.


The defining class feature of the conduit, though, would be the conduct die: This begins at 1d6 as adventurer and increases to 1d8 at champion, 1d10 at epic tier. After a given heal-up, the conduit assigns a conduction power for which she meets the prerequisites to a side of the conduct die. When a side of the die is rolled, this means a conduct power is being rolled. The die is rolled twice The powers that were thus rolled are considered to be "charged", whereas all other sides are considered to be "drained." Repeat sides are rerolled in this process.


Whenever a magical ability targets the conduit, they can choose to use an interrupt action to roll the conduct die. If the conduct die lands on a side depicting a drained power, said power becomes charged and the triggering ability automatically misses, as the conduit absorbs it. If the die lands on a charged power, the conduit may elect to have the magical ability automatically miss all targets, but then takes damage equal to the level of the creature that created the effect - or the conduit may have the ability proceed. The conduit rolls the conduct die each round as a free action - upon landing on a charged power, they can use it; on a drained power, they can't.


The careful reader may have noted some problems with this ability: One: Monster-level as damage is negligible, considering the amount of damage that flies around a 13th Age table. More importantly, though - 13th Age, alas, does not properly codify what is a magical attack and what isn't. Granted, one can argue that the GM can easily make judgments as to this regard, but ultimately, this isn't as easy as one would think - is a gaze attack magical? A dragon's breath? Some guidelines would be nice here.


The class talents available allow for the modification of the conduct die and similarly, feats available for the class allow for more reliable playstyle for more score modifications and e.g. the charging of drained powers when rolling a charged power. Special mention deserves the Gigas Conduct talent, which increases die-size further by +1 - more variety and a larger arsenal, but also less control. Mystical Weapon allows for the potential expansion of either atk or damage, though the bonus die granted at low level may be a tad bit much.


But what conduct powers do we get? Well, a total of 16 such powers are provided and they include pretty much what you'd expect regarding single-use attacks and defensive tricks: Better initiative, melee force damage blasts, interrupt action MD-based means of making foes miss (NICE!) or healing - there are some nice options here. However, once again, the "magical effect" hydra rears its ugly head -Dissipation deals psychic damage and may also lock down "magical" abilities for the affected targets - which, as established before, are simply not defined in 13th Age. It should be noted, though, that balance-wise, this remains the only problem of the conduit powers presented herein.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard and features nice full-color artworks, though personally, I dislike both the decorative diamonds and the blue/yellow-color-scheme. Still, this is a matter of taste and will not influence the final verdict. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.


Sasha Hall's Conduit is a surprisingly awesome take on the concept: I expected some issues for the difficult concept and 13th Age's rather intricate class design and encountered no brutal problems. More importantly than that, the conduct die is a truly unique playing experience that rendered the class an experience you can't really compare to others - and that's AWESOME. Seriously, once you've read so many classes like I have, jamais-vu-experiences become rare indeed, particularly when they actually work out as intended. The conduit, balance-wise, can be considered to range in the middle fields of 13th Age-classes - it is not weak per se, but the chaotic nature of the Conduct Die means that it plays in a unique style: Either you have excellent, variable damage...or tricks. Fans of quick-witted thinking at the table will certainly adore this class and I know the class has a place at my table. That being said, as much as I'd like to bestow my highest accolades on this class, I can't do that - the "magical" effect issue puts an undue burden on the GM and represents a significant chink in the design of the otherwise compelling class. Finally, one note for potential expansions: The conduct die SCREAMS interaction with the escalation die to me - in fact, I can see myself writing powers and talents tying them together - the result can provide both planning AND escalate the chaos factor even further - which would be win-win in my book. Why this obvious, glorious possibility wasn't yet used, I don't know, but I hope for such interaction in a future.


How to rate this, then? The conduct die is sheer brilliance and I love the unique playstyle, but with the "magical effect"-hiccup, I unfortunately cannot go higher than 4 stars for this supplement. I still wholeheartedly encourage you to check this out, though - we've got some talent here that deserves being recognized, particularly for the exceedingly low price-point.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Conduits of the Age (13th Age Compatible)
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Advanced Archetypes II
Publisher: Flaming Crab Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/21/2016 03:55:39

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The second collection of Flaming Crab Games' archetype-books clocks in at 15 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 11 pages of content, so let's dive right in!


The first archetype herein would be the Blood Scoundrel Bloodrager, who begins with perhaps one of the oddest decisions regarding spellcasting - instead of the highly restrictive bloodrager spells, the archetype instead gains access to all enchantment and illusion spells from the wizard spell-list. Ouch, but let's see whether the rest justifies that. The archetype adds Bluff, Disguise, Sense Motive and Stealth to the class-skill-list. They also receive proficiency in rogue-y weaponry as well as the option to cast bloodline spells (and only those!) in light armor sans arcane failure. Instead of a normal bloodrage, these guys receive a +4 morale bonus, increasing later to +6 and +8 and the archetype receives no penalty to AC and may still use Int-, Dex- and Cha-based skills. Instead of uncanny dodge, which is moved to 4th level, where it replaces Eschew Materials,, 2nd level provides Sneak Attack, which scales up by +1d6 every 4 levels thereafter. A blood scoundrel may elect to choose a slayer talent in lieu of a bloodline feat, with 12th level providing access to advanced slayer talents. DR is replaced at 7th level by improved uncanny dodge - I assume, eating the whole of damage reduction, not just the first increment. The archetype is pretty solid and rather interesting and features quite a few interesting tweaks. Granted, I'm not a big fan of the spell-list, but the requirement of materials etc. does offset this a bit. On a nitpicky side, the archetype's 5th level is dead, with improved uncanny dodge being moved to 7th level.


Chakram Dervish fighters are locked into Quick Draw as the 1st level bonus feat and replaces bravery with a scaling dodge bonus versus ranged attacks. 3rd level replaces armor training with the ability to treat dual-wielding chakrams as light weapons and also eliminates penalties to wielding them in melee as well as eliminating the chance to damage himself. 5th level provides scaling bonuses to atk and damage as substitutions for weapon training and 7th level eliminates AoOs when throwing chakrams. 9th level provides dual throwing and 11th level allows the dervish to move up to his speed and make a full attack with chakrams at -2 to atk...which is pretty strong. At 15th level chakrams automatically return whether they hit or miss, allowing for full attacks with just one chakram in the hands. 20th level nets auto-confirms of crits and increases the crit modifier by +1 (to x3). The character also can't be disarmed.


The Dread Thane skald adds all spells with the fear-descriptor of 6th level or lower to his spell-list and gets +1/2 class level to Intimidate...which replaces bardic knowledge. Instead of song of the fallen, the archetype receives a song that causes the shaken condition. 2nd level provides +2 to damage versus shaken foes, scaling up to +4 versus frightened and +6 versus panicked foes at 8th level. 4th level fear immunity replacing uncanny dodge, which is imho a bit soon. 7th level nets a horrific visage while singing penalizing saves of nearby foes (10 ft) by -4 and eliminating fear immunity in that range. The range increases by +10 ft at 13th level and 19th level instead of versatile performance.


The Eldritch Sage magus gets only simple weapon proficiency (no armor/shield, no martial weapons), but gains spells per day at +1 level. Arcane Pool gains full level + Int-mod points and may expend them as a swift action to increase the save DC of magic items used or spells cast by +1. 10th level allows for the expenditure of 3 points for a +2 increase, while 20th level allows for the expenditure of 5 points for +3 DC. Spellcombat is modified to instead apply to casting spells and using magic items...or at least, it's supposed to, I think. The archetype fails to specify which kind of abilities they replace - while it's pretty evident for the respective levels, this still constitutes a comfort detriment. And yes, this means duel spellcasting via wands...and this is pretty much problematic on its own. Similarly, 2nd level's Dual Spellcasting, which allows for the casting of two spells at once, provided they're one level lower than the highest spell level available and needs two free hands for the trick. I get why this is here - it's there to replace spellstrike, a mighty ability...but double spells are a tricky thing that is usually a 20th-level CAPSTONE. For a reason. Worse, the lack of limitation to spells from the magus spell-list allows for a nasty two-level dip here. 5th level and every 6 levels thereafter net metamagic/item creation bonus feats. 7th level allows the magus to expend spell level arcane pool points to recall a spell activated from an item, allowing the character to recharge it. This does not work on empty items...but is still pretty powerful and necessitates that the GM takes careful heed regarding low-charge wands, staves, etc. As a capstone, the no-highest-spell-level limitation is taken off dual spellcasting and the character uses his own CL when using wands, staves and rods. Oh, and he may charge depleted items. This archetype is broken.


The Faithful Paragon warpriest must be LG and gets additional access to the paladin's spell-list - which is pretty insane, considering the exceedingly powerful paladin spells being balanced so they become relevant at 4th level, not 1st. And we all know at least a couple of very powerful such spells - when extending them to the arsenal of a full spellcaster, they turn ugly fast. The archetype also receives + Cha-mod fervor and moves sacred weapon to 4th level, treating it as class level -3. 4th level provides Cha-mod to saves instead of channel energy, while 7th level replaces sacred armor with the option to, as a swift action, gain temporary hit points equal to Cha modifier TIMES HD - but thankfully, only 1/day, +1/day at 14th level. 9th and 18th level increase fervor dice by one step each and replace the respective bonus feats. Overall, a more paladin-y warpriest whose epsllcasting remains his one issue: Plus pala-spells is a pretty big thing that eliminates this one at my table from the get-go.


The Grasslands Prowler ranger has a unique combat style based on movement (and keeping enemies close) as well as natural weaponry, replaces Endurance with Fleet and adds some druid-y-themed spells to his spell-list. He's locked into plains as terrain and gains fast stealth at 7th level, pounce at 16th. No complaints here.


The Katana Duelist does not receive any armor or shield proficiency and gains an Int-based scaling AC-bonus that also applies versus touch attacks. He's locked into katana weapon expertise and replaces mounted archery with +2 to Ref-saves. 5th level provides Parry instead of banner, which allows the character to forego attacks of his full attack, storing one attack to later, as an immediate action, use as a competing roll versus the attack. On a success, he negates the attack. While I'm not a fan of competing attacks, size-based penalties and the option to, at penalty, parry attacks on adjacent allies, make this okay. 14th level's Riposte allows for an AoO to follow up on a parried attack.


The Mad Prophet oracle gets 5 curse/madness-themed bonus spells and may, at 1st level, mark foes as doomed souls as a full-round action, penalizing the saves of the target versus the mad prophet. The action required decreases at 8th level and 16th level, while the penalty becomes more severe. This replaces the 1st level revelation. 7th level allows the mad prophet to 1/day cause a target to suffer a freak accident determined by consulting a random d% table with 14 entries. All of these are nasty and they range from mummy rot to negative levels voice loss to being subject to auto-confirmation when crited for a period of time. The effects are powerful, but based on a save and higher levels net additional uses. I quite like this one - flavorful, a bit odd...kudos!


The Myrmidon swashbuckler only receives panache when scoring a critical hit or delivers a killing blow with a performance weapon and the archetype begins play with "the benefits of the Weapon Focus feat in one performance feat of her choice" - I assume that should be performance weapon. The myrmidon substitutes Charisma for Intelligence for the purpose or prerequisites of combat feats, replacing swashbuckler's finesse thus. Instead of the derring-do deed, the archetype can spend 1 panache to add a surge-like 1d6 to a given performance combat check, with 6 providing the means to reroll and add - essentially, the surge is an exploding die. Instead of 15th level's swashbuckler's edge, the myrmidon may take 10 even when distracted or in immediate danger...which is a bit odd, considering how good specialists of this trick become. (My current game features an insane gladiator performing for the crowd in his head...) 19th level provides a means for the myrmidon to decrease the attitude of crowds towards the target of his critical hit by two steps, with DC being equal to damage taken...which means the check is impossible for x3 and x4 weapons of even a moderately competent myrmidon, nigh impossible for x2-weapons. At 4th level, the archetype may replace a combat feat with a performance feat instead. 5th level provides scaling +atk and damage bonuses as well as Improved Critical for performance weapons. As a capstone, the class auto-confirms performance weapon critical hits and increases crit modifier by +1. This one is weird - I LOVE archetypes that do interesting things with performance combat, mainly since the mechanic is underrepresented and has potential. However, it's very niche unless an archetype (like some by Everyman gaming, for example) allows for a way to treat regular combat as performance combat. The lack of such a mechanic here and the slightly wonky components mean that, alas, there is no more reason to take mid-to-higher levels in this archetype than for the base swashbuckler.


The Nightmage rogue is locked into minor magic at 2nd level and 4th level nets prepared spellcasting based on Int, with spells known like a ranger and the spell-list being all abjuration, divination, enchantment, illusion, transmutation and universal sorc/wiz-spells. This replaces all rogue talents and CL is, analogue to ranger, paladin et al., class level-3. Solid, if somewhat unremarkable take on the casting rogue.


The Quickblade fighter gets Acrobatics as a class skill and they are locked in Dodge and Mobility as bonus feats of 1st and 2nd level, meaning you'll be stuck with 2 levels of passive feats...not too exciting. 2nd level provides +5 ft. speed when not wearing medium or heavy armor or a shield heavier than a buckler, increasing the bonus by +5 ft. at 6th level and every 4 levels thereafter. Instead of armor training, the archetype gets a scaling dodge bonus and 5th level provides 1/charge direction change (NICE!) and may continue to move after a charge, provided there is movement left. 9th level is pretty sick: Full-attack charge that can be dispersed between target of the charge and any foe threatened during the charge - an ability usually valued as significantly more powerful. 13th level allows the quickblade to expend a standard action to duplicate an extraordinary variant of haste for 1 round/level, thankfully not stacking. 17th level allows the quickblade to perform +1 standard, move or full-round action in a given round, with escalating conditions (fatigue, exhaustion, unconscious) thankfully preventing abuse by explicitly stating that curing a previous condition does not influence the following. 19th level provides a 20% miss chance when moving full speed in a round and 20th level makes haste permanent. This archetype is odd - the high-level tricks are unique and pretty well-made, if not perfect in their craftsmanship...but the low levels are passive and boring...and 9th level's ability could have really used a scaling mechanism to bring it more in line with the options - the charge/full-attack exceeds pounce in flexibility, which is pretty much one of the most powerful offenses.


The Righteous Flame Acolyte replaces lay on hands and mercies with a melee touch attack as a standard action that deals 1/2 class level times 1d6 damage, half of which is fire, half of which is "holy damage bypassing resistances and immunities", slightly deviating from the usual wording, but you get what's meant. That being said: There is no "holy" damage in PFRPG anymore...so purists may still balk at the exact wording here and long for the default. The ability can be used level + Cha-mod times per day, and, as a swift action, the paladin can expend two uses as a swift action to add this damage to the melee weapon. I assume this bonus damage does not multiply n critical hits, but I'd still appreciate the ability stating it. 5th level replaces divine bond with the option to make "iterative attacks with his weapon in addition to using his Righteous Flame Strike as an off-hand attack." Okay, got this - I assume this still requires a full-attack instead of being activated as the usual standard action of the righteous flame strike. Instead of aura of resolve, the paladin receives scaling resistance to cold (later immunity at 20th level), which extends to allies nearby. Solid, overall, if not perfect.


The Serenader bard adds half his level to Diplomacy instead of bardic knowledge and replaces inspire courage with a means to charm person while a performance lasts. At 14th level, a 3-round requiring dominate person can be performed instead of frightening tune.2nd level gets +4 to saves versus charm and compulsions instead of well-versed and 5th level allows for taking 10 on any Diplomacy checks instead of lore master. Solid one.


The Soldier of Gaia warpriest replaces the cleric's spell-list with that of the druid, remembering, thankfully to cover its bases regarding high-level items duplicating spells beyond the capabilities of the archetype. Similarly, spontaneous casting is modified to apply to summon nature's ally instead. The blessing list is restricted thematically and 7th level provides a vine-based fire-vulnerable black tentacle-variant usable 1/day, +1/day at 13th and 19th level instead of sacred armor. Awesome, intriguing little archetype.


The Spellhound inquisitor gets 1st level Spell combat instead of Domain and adds 1 magus spell as though it was a divine spell, +1 such spell at 4th level and every 3 levels thereafter instead of judgments. 8th level nets improved spell combat and 16th greater spell combat, replacing judgments gained there. The capstone provides auto-success defensive casting concentration and +2 to either DC, +2 to increase spell resistance or + 2to atk. Solid blend of inquisitor and magus.


The Steel Valkyrie cleric gets full martial and armor proficiencies, diminished spellcasting, Fly as a class skill and is locked into the war domain, treating her class level as +2 for the purpose of domain spells and abilities granted by the war domain and its sub-domains, though thankfully sans early access. At 2nd level, these clerics emit Will-boosting auras with scaling bonuses (getting bonus-types right!) and at 4th level, further AC-bonuses when wearing heavy armor. 6th level qualifies her as class level -4 fighter levels for feat-prerequisite purposes. 8th level allows her to have the armor grow metallic wings from her armor, granting fly speed 40 ft for class level minutes...though the ability fails to specify maneuverability class. 14th level provides a retributive, +atk-and damage-granting aura. All in all, an archetype with cool visuals and very minor nitpicks - like it.


The Tavern Brawler begins play with either Throw Anything of Catch Off-Guard. As a full-round action, the tavern brawler can imbibe alcohol to gain access to a combat feat he doesn't possess for 1 minute. Continuous drinking extends this and daily use-feats cannot be cheesed this way. 6th level allows for the maintenance of 2 (3 feats at 10th, which also provides for more flexibility regarding activation-action, which becomes faster at 12th level) at a given time, and yes, they may act as a prerequisite for one another. 20th level allows for Con-mod such wildcard feats at a given time. This ability replaces martial flexibility...and it rather powerful. Brawler's Fury may be used with improvised weapons and, at 2nd level, he may retrieve and imbibe two potions at once. 4th level provides scaling bonuses to atk and CMD while wearing light armor or none. 5th level allows for the use of brawler unarmed damage when using improvised weapons at level-4 if the brawler's damage would exceed that usually associated with the improvised weapon. They also may perform awesome blow with improvised weapons. I like this archetype for its modification of martial flexibility and focus on improvised weapons.


The Warding Bastion cavalier replaces charging prowess with the option to make squares in reach difficult terrain for enemies and 4th level replaces expert trainer with scaling AC-bonuses. 6th level allows the warding bastion to immediate action take damage for an adjacent ally, taking half damage for the ally, with additional effects still affecting the ally. Instead of mighty charge, the cavalier increases his reach for AoOs and the number he can perform. At 12th level, he can expend challenge to grant short-term buffs and slightly longer-lasting temporary hit points to allies nearby. As a capstone, he can uses challenge-uses to extend his life, even when dead due to hit point damage. Cool! This one is inspired, interesting and concise - love it!


The War Genius investigator has 4+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as light and medium armor and shields, excluding tower shields. As a move action, they may use 1 inspiration to duplicate a witnessed combat feat for class level rounds...sans needing to make the prerequisites, which can be problematic. This replaces alchemy. He may also spend 1 inspiration as an immediate action to gain inspiration die as insight bonus to AC versus a foe whose feat he's copying via the above ability. Instead of poison lore, he treats his level as fighter level-3 for prerequisite purposes and at 4th level, he can use the feat-copying as a swift action for +1 inspiration. I love this one's concept and think its mechanics could have used further expansion - that's some cool mechanics waiting to be further expanded.


The final archetype is the Wildfire Druid, who must select the fire domain or one of its subdomains; he may spontaneously cast such spells...which means these guys can, at least fire-wise, outblast sorcerors. Not cool. (Get it? Haha...I'll punch myself later for that one...) At 2nd level, the archetype can see through fire and smoke etc. sans issues (Nice!) and 4th level decreases fire resistance of adversaries (scaling) for purpose of his spells, which capstone ignoring even immunity. While this replaces wild shape, in combination with the massive blasting capacity, this is very strong. Resist nature's lure and venom immunity are replaced by scaling fire resistance. Wild shape is decreased to level -2 and gained at 6th level, also eliminating the option to form into a water elemental. 13th level makes foes that take fire damage from his spells gain fire vulnerability for 1 round. Overall, an elemental-themed archetype that is a bit too good regarding its damage-output. If you wanted a pure dire-specialist druid...this will do the job and net buckets of damage.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are more precise than in older Flaming Crab Games-supplements - the rules-language, while still sporting some minor deviations, is more in line with the conventions. Layout adheres to the two-column full-color standard and has gotten rid of the annoying blank space in earlier supplements. The pdf has no artwork, but does sport bookmarks for your convenience.


Tanner Wahlin, Alex Abel and C.J. Withers' second collection of archetypes is significantly more refined than the first - the rules-language is more precise and while there are a couple of archetypes herein that are pretty much broken, there also are some in this book that truly deserve being called "nice", ones that sport cool visuals and concepts. That being said, compared to some other Flaming Crab Games-releases I recently covered, this one does sport more examples of fast and loose play with balance, where the exchanges of abilities either have been swallowed or are not equivalent - mind you, that's not a bad thing for underpowered classes like the rogue, fighter or monk, but for already strong classes like the druid et al., this is unnecessary and potentially problematic. Still, this is an improvement over the first book - I actually can see myself allowing some of the archetypes herein in my game after a bit of filing off of rough patches. So, how to rate this? Ultimately, there is a decent balance between the solid and problematic, hence I will settle on a final verdict of 2.5 stars, rounded up to 3 due to in dubio pro reo.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Archetypes II
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Random Encounters Remastered: Porphyra
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/18/2016 04:16:55

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of the glorious Random Encounters Remastered-series clocks in at a massive 48 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 3 pages of SRD, leaving us with a whopping 43 pages of content - quite a bunch, so what precisely do we get?


Well, first of, the obvious: All RER-installments so far have been setting-neutral, though NOT generic - the environments covered have been evocative and interesting throughout the series. Thus, it is a natural fit to expect to see Purple Duck games' patchwork planet Porphyra with its unique environments to get its due, right?


So, since it has been A LOT of time since I covered an installment of this series, let's begin by recpaitulating how this system works, shall we? Each installment provides numerous adventure areas/terrain types - from the steppes to primeval woodlands and tainted estuaries. The areas themselves can be customized by providing unique hazards and terrain features. The system is dead simple: Choose a CR, multiply that CR with 20, add that value to your d%-roll...et voilà, there you have an encounter suitable for your designated target CR. One roll, simple math, HUGE tables. This elegant system is enhanced in its usefulness by several components: 1) Advice on how to best use random encounters, particularly useful for novice GMs, obviously. 2) The why-hasn't-this-been-in-the-GM's Guide-level of smart disposition-system.


What's that, you ask? Well, it's pretty much the base set-up for the adversaries - they can be charmed, disarmed, etc. - perhaps they just want to flee or are injured...or subject to a mayday on water. The system may not sound like much, but its inclusion in this series actually expands the variety and focus of random encounters significantly.


Where was I? Oh yeah: 3) Terrain features. If you've been following my reviews, you may have noticed that I very much look for interesting terrain in modules, encounters, etc. - why? Because it makes the fight more interesting...one could claim that it actually defines the fight as much as the combatants: Think about it, whether it's sieges, any swashbuckler-movie ever made or simply the tired old Luke-Vs.-Vader-showdown-comparison: Could you imagine that working in an even, bland room? Exactly. Hence, terrain is important - exceedingly so. There is a reason Raging Swan Press' dressing files are as beloved as they are. Well, this one here focuses more on rules-relevant terrain modifications - from fey-based hazards to quicksand, reefs and shifting dunes, there is a significant variety of evocative material in that regard, all ready to be inserted into your encounters at a simple glance - and yes, it also sports a table for random tunnel direction turns, widowmakers, mirages...you get the idea.


Beyond this general and awesome set-up, however, the respective environments and their massive tables also feature recommended dispositions and terrain features as well as building blocks you can use to further enhance the random encounter you create - and yes, if you're doing your task right, players will not notice that they're fighting a random encounter. A quick glance of the respective table-short hands will provide the discerning user of this supplement with a nice surprise: Both Purple Duck Games' rather impressive Monsters of Porphyra and the fourth Bestiary have been included in the creatures featured in these exceedingly-detailed tables, though the lack of neither of them will prove detrimental in a significant way to you when using this book: There are so many encounters herein, the tables are so big, that the entries featuring both books could be skipped, should you elect to do so.


As far as terrain-types are concerned, we have a field day: God-blasted wastelands, haunted seas, spirit-watched countries, tainted estuaries and underdeep ruins alongside primeval woodlands provide pretty much an all-killer, no filler selection of environments that imho prove just as useful beyond the confines of Porphyra as on the patchwork planet.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games' printer-friendly two-column full-color standard with some exceptional artworks from Monsters of Porphyra being used in this book as well. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience.


David Nicholas Ross' Random Encounters Remastered-series is pretty much one of those useful to have time-savers for the GM - having these pdfs at your beck and call makes the creation of random encounters a) faster b) more rewarding and c) results in more detailed, fun random encounters. While the very notion of the random encounter has been much maligned, my experience has been that they make the game more interesting, versatile and ultimately, more organic - they help create a more concise illusion of a world that's alive. This installment sports not only concise dispositions and fun hazards, the lists themselves are also exceedingly versatile - and what more can you ask for? I encourage you to check this one out and remain with a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Random Encounters Remastered: Porphyra
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Strange Magic Unchained - Variant Multiclassing
Publisher: Interjection Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/18/2016 04:13:26

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This pdf clocks in at 6 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 4 pages of content, so let's take a look!


This little pdf does pretty much what it says on the tin - it takes the Strange Magic-classes and translates them to the variant multiclassing system used introduced in Pathfinder Unchained.


The Breakdancer gets score and rhythm at 3rd level and qualifies for a breakdancer talent at 7th level, though only one to which a 3rd level breakdancer can qualify. 11th, 15th and 19th level go a similar way, expanding the options of the score -and yes, here we also have maximum level-requirements.


The Cantor needs to select a deity at 1st level and begins play with restrictions that are appropriate, with 3rd level unlocking score and 7th providing domains, which then alternate with score progression at 7th, 11th, 15th and 19th level.


The ethermagus gets void blade at 1/2 level at 3rd level and access to the voidmeld etherheart at 7th level as well as 2 1st level manifestation. 11th level unlocks void shield, 15th level provides 2 voidmeld manifestations and 19th level makes his level count as ethermagus level for purposes of void blade. EP regenerationr ate is 1, scaling up to 2 at 11th level, 3 at 19th.


The ethermancer begins at 3rd level with 1/2 level's ethermancer and lesser blasts that can only be modified by 1 manifestation and a pool equal to 1/2 level + Cha-mod as well as 2 1st-level manifestations known. 7th and 15th level provide a multiuniversal philosophy. 19th level brings more manifestations and allows for the addition of more than 1 manifestation to a blast, though one needs to be 1st level.


The etherslinger begins with 3rd level firearm proficiency, with 7th level unlcoking ether clear and ethersmith and a limited ether pool. 11th level unlocks Amateur Gunslinger and etherbullets, 15th level an etherslinging talent and 19th level another one.


Harmonicists gets limited score at 3rd level, expanding capability at 7th level. The capacity of the score is increased at 11th level. Counterpoint is unlocked at 15th level and the 19th level further offers more intros, melodies, etc. while also unlocking front and center.


The Maestro's take begins with score at 3rd level, obviously and unlocks refrain at a 2nd level maestro's potency at 7th level. 11th level and 19th level increase score capacity and 15th level provides a single opus with prereqs for which a 7th level maestro can qualify.


The Scion of Discordia gets truenaming at 3rd level with two 1st level recitations and 7th level unlocks the discordant zone at 1/2 class level's potency. 11th level unlocks more recitations (as wella s unlocking the Codex of Artifice) and 15th level provides a talent of discordia for 7th level whose prereqs can be met by a 7th level scion. At 19th level, recitations are expanded and the Codex of Far-Flung Spheres is unlocked.


The truenamer follows the same unlocking progression regarding the codices, but at 7th level, they gain an inflection and a second inflection at 15th level.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to a clear and crisp two-column b/w-standard and the pdf sports great artworks re-used from Strange Magic. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.


Bradley Crouch's variant multiclassing for Strange Magic is an inexpensive, humble and solid little book that does exactly what it says on the tin. While it does not cover the "archetypes" that basically constitute alternate classes, it does cover the well-crafted original classes. All in all, a solid, inexpensive little pdf one can't really complain about.


My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Strange Magic Unchained - Variant Multiclassing
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Mythic Magic: Advanced Spells III
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/18/2016 04:09:48

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of Mythic Magic-upgrades for the big Paizo hardcovers clocks in at 30 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of ToC, 2 pages of introduction, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, which leaves us with 21 pages of content, so let's take a look!


So, this time around, we take a look at the spells featured in one of my least favorite Paizo hardcover released so far, the Advanced Class Guide. Much like in my review for the supplement dealing with the ARG, I am not going to judge the content herein on the virtues of the source material on which it builds (or the lack of balance thereof), instead trying to judge this on the merit of its upgrade to the existing material.


All right, that out of the way, we begin, beyond the internally linked list of spells with a handy list of spells ordered by alphabetical appearance. As has become the tradition with these pdfs, the respective spells can be roughly separated into several categories. The first would be numerical escalation: Greater aggressive thundercloud, for example, increases damage output and even adds a minor, save-negated negative condition. (On a nitpicky side, the non-greater version of the spell's augment references flaming sphere instead of aggressive thundercloud - though this typo does not impede functionality.)


Other spells extend the tactical options - Communal Align Weapon, for example, adds further bonuses and ignores a scaling amount of damage reduction, but the augment (6th)-option also adds the respective special weapon ability for the respective alignment - axiomatic, unholy - you get the idea. Aura Sight's mythic version adds a skill bonus and mitigates the line of sight requirement. Bloatbomb receives a pretty high chance of killing the target and makes the corpse it leaves remain a volatile threat to any subject to its vile effects. Similarly, targets provide for an interesting means of modification: Blurred Movement, for example, can now be cast at range of touch beyond also increasing the potency of its effects.


There also are spell-upgrades herein that are closer to their real world mythology's inspirations, with climbing beanstalk being closer to Jack's story. Personally, I consider Contingent Scroll ignoring the spell-list restriction somewhat problematic, but that may ultimately just be me being overly cautious due to years of heavily UMD-ing players. On the plus-side, dimensional bounce is awesome: It lets you either choose more locations or decrease the locations available at the expense of a longer range in two steps, enhancing flexibility and granting the spell a new tactical dimension.


Flexible Fury can also potentially cause minor issues - the spell allows for the exchange of multiple rage powers, which may even act as prereqs for one another; however, at higher levels, the augment allows for the permanent exchange of rage powers, which can potentially cause issues. On the plus-side, multiple-use hex glyphs (or greater ones that can store multiple hexes) is pretty cool. Long Arm is pretty brutal - its duration can be consumed faster for increased reach, it can be applied to other characters and casting it on yourself is only a swift action - if that doesn't seem like much, start thinking what you can do with it...Bingo. Clinging damage is another theme featured in some of the spells herein. Sickening Entanglement is a bit odd, in that its poisonous, Dex-damage causing sap has no save AND does not declare its damage as a poison-effect, which is somewhat odd. The dual-maneuver using thunderstomp gets discrepancies between CMDs right, which is nice to see. I also really liked triggered suggestion's potential for AoE-effects. Similarly, senses dampening walls of blindness/deafness have intriguing effects, affecting even creatures only nearby.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good, though not as almost perfect as in most Legendary Games-supplements. Layout adheres to Legendary Games' two-column full-color standard for Mythic plugins and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The pdf provides internal linking for quick navigation as well. Artwork-wise, this book sports several rather neat pieces of gorgeous pieces of full-color artwork.


Jason Nelson has, at this point, my utmost respect for making these pdfs - I honestly can't fathom how much work it takes to convert all those spells and check them for internal consistency. This is not regular design work, this is a trooper's work and I am truly thankful for these mythic magic-books - mainly because I can't fathom a mythic campaign sans LG's material. So yes, if you're using the spells from the ACG in a mythic context, this book is basically a no-brainer must-own book. Now, while I am not a big fan of the ACG, some rare instances of spells herein feel like they are a bit too much for my game, but the vast majority of the content herein is rock solid in any mythic context. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 for the purpose of this platform.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Mythic Magic: Advanced Spells III
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Veranthea Codex
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/17/2016 04:15:45

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This ginormous book clocks in at no less than 393pages, vastly overdelivering regarding the page-count promised by the KS; 1 page is front cover, 1 page KS-backer thanks, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of ToC, 1 page SRD, 7 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 379 pages of raw content, so let's dive in, shall we?


Before we do: I was a backer of this kickstarter and based my review on the print-version of this book. I did not contribute anything to this book.


What is Veranthea Codex? The question's answer is surprisingly complex and will guide us through this review: For one, in-game, it is actually an exceedingly powerful (as in: world's most powerful) artifact in the hands of legendary wizard Yawvil - who can be pictured as basically an Elminster-like figure that takes care to know everything around and make sure the excrement doesn't hit the proverbial fan - unfortunately, as we dive into this book, we note that the gods, imperfect and squabbling though they may be, finally seem to have out-smarted him - the world is in a state of flux and in need of adventurers.


Speaking of gods, we begin with a brief summary of the gods of Veranthea, and for a reason - imperfect and less than omniscient, they share the squabbling and grudges of classic mythologies with their earthly brethren...though some of them make Zeus and his posse of douches look downright friendly and relatable: It should e.g. be noted that Wealbrens, the god associated with water had the oceans basically destroy everything trying to cross them for quite some time, thus explaining the divergent flavors of the respective continents spotlighted herein. I could go on to depict the whole pantheon, but will refrain from a tedious enumeration that fails to capture their essence.


Basically, the set-up is this: There is an IO-like overgod, Verahnus, who is asleep and deigns to grant spells still; there are the primal gods, the people's gods and the shadow gods...and there would be the nightmare gods, basically your source of world-ending chthonic cataclysmic evil and cthulhiana. While the themes of the gods are classic, the spins taken on them at times are brilliant, interspersed with sprinklings of full-blown satire: The "benevolent" god of trade and capitalism, for example, hides a true face marred by greed and hatred; the god of goblins, ever the trickster, has been punished and turned orange, ruining goblin capacity to hide properly in the wild and setting the species on a path at odds with nature - you read these entries and only later realize that the actions and natures of the gods present leitmotifs that shaped and formed all of Veranthea and yes, they meet in regular intervals at so-called Conexcrons, epochal deity-summits, if you will - it is these summits that ended the war of the gods, the Jabberwar...etc.


Speaking of leitmotifs, there is an interesting linguistic trick employed here: Traditional player-races are referred in Veranthea as Kind Folk (with a sense of irony, no doubt), while those belonging to the goblin, orc, etc. races are known as the Unwanted Folk, basically generating a linguistic construct of shared identity between races. This becomes pretty important in some contexts, particularly on the third continent.


But I'm getting ahead of myself. If you take a look at the sheer, colossal page-count of this book, you will no doubt realize that I can't well discuss everything contained within these pages and maintain any semblance of cohesion regarding the information value of this review, so let me instead focus on giving you the basic picture: This massive campaign world encompasses basically 3 continents, all of which sport significantly diverging flairs and playing experiences.


The first of these would be Grethadnis - this place, you can probably picture as the most conservative of the continents: Grethadnis, home of the Kind Folk, is as close to a traditional fantasy setting as you'll get, though that still means it sports unique components galore - the graveyard of the Trekth's visuals reminded me, for example of a certain, more frozen region in Dark Souls II, while dinosaur-studded jungles exist alongside a region that gave basically rise to Attack-on-Titan, the (actually functioning) PrC, which is in and of itself 5 kinds of awesome. There are soulwells, randomly appearing throughout the continent, trying to lure people to be sucked into the horrid underworld of Veranthea, the Forever Dark, where the Nightmare Gods reign. Additionally, black powder and tech is seeping its way slowly through the continent, as quite recently the first intercontinental flights have succeeded...but more on that later. Oh, and you'll notice something: This was Mike Myler's homegame world for quite a lot of years and hence, certain characters will no doubt elicit a smile from veteran players and GMs alike - there would be this one nation, for example, where Boris the Green Avenger, a powerful giant half-orc sorceror/dragon disciple/barbarian lich rules with an iron fist as a living god. Have I mentioned the CR 14 killer-bunny? And yes, there is a steampunk-element to the continent, albeit a subdued one. And yes, there is wild magic...oh boy, is there wild magic...


The second continent Urethiel is different in that it is the WuXia high-fantasy equivalent to Grethadnis' western high fantasy. Here, three immortals have guided the fates of warring clans from the throne and behind the scenes, clashing time and again - and yes, we get full stats for them as well as information on the respective clans...and the soul mælstrom that catches the ephemeral souls to bring them to their respective destination - the great beyond in Urethiel, the place where the souls go, is quite literally a place you can visit. Have I mentioned the artifact that turns you colossal and makes you capable of fighting Kaiju and the like in direct combat? It should also be noted that folk in Urethiel are sometimes born with spell-like or supernatural abilities, a resilience to hem...or even a downright immunity to magic, surprisingly resulting in an overall working equilibrium...but more on that later when I'm diving into the global rules.


The third continent is easily the most interesting in that I haven't seen one quite like it before: On Trectoyri, the monsters won. The Kind races have been all but exterminated, driven to one last free bastion, a place held only by means of brilliant strategies, powerful magic and e.g. a Nautillus-esque submarine...while on the mainland of Trectoyri, goblins and similar races rule by virtue of their massive ingenuity - from bikes to tanks and aircrafts, the industrial revolution, unfettered by paltry concerns for safety and lives, has resulted in a dystopian set-up that sports the world's largest metropolis, Goblinvania, where dangerous smog is ever present, as biker gangs roam the lands and a lone silver dragon ninja fights the creatures and artifacts allow the last bastions of the rebels to fight the Kaiju-sized battles against the warmachines of Goblinvania...but, and here things become interesting: Trectoyri is pretty much bled dry. Intercontinental flight has been mastered in the nick of time by the Unwanted Folk - the resources of the haunted, much abused continent are running low and in order to prevent collapse, the empire will need to expand...one way or another.


While it should be noted that the wild-west-meets-cthulhiana-style Forever Dark also receives an evocative, if brief chapter, it is less a focus than the three continents. It does sport an interesting psionic PrC that can generate an autonomous incorporeal duplicate I loved fluff-wise and features also some nice creatures. What I glanced over in nary a page is, just fyi, a gross oversimplification of what's going on in each continent: From a lawful good stone giant nation to cabals and gangs in Trectyori to multiple sample characters, items and vehicles, there is A LOT going on here....and I pretty much get why this book blew the targeted page-count so stylishly out of the water. Each of the continents, per se, could have made one campaign setting - basically, they each ARE a campaign setting...just one linked by coincidence on the same planet, with tenuous ties between them and a sensible story as to how that could happen in the first place.


Which brings me to the next component of my reply to what Veranthea Codex is: This is a campaign setting. But what type of campaign setting? There are, in my experience, two basic approaches to campaign settings that can work and generate a believable world: The first is the one exhibited by e.g. Kobold Press - we have a campaign setting that grows out of the small to the eventual release of the campaign setting, a world that grows from the bottom to the top. Then, there is the setting that begins by growing from the top to the bottom, filling out the details in smaller publications that follow the main book. There also is a dichotomy between focuses in scope of the narratives supported one can examine: Some campaign settings lend themselves to adventuring on the small scale, providing details like industry, produce, realities of daily life; struggles etc. - the small scope, the psychological scope where you narrate personal tragedies, fiefdom-struggles, political gambits.


Veranthea is not really intended for that approach. This setting is very much a high-light reel and more cinematic - Veranthea Codex is a campaign setting that very much is interested in the big picture - it's a setting, wherein you change the nations, turn Kaiju-sized, fight dinosaurs and stem the tide of an invasion of a nation with vastly superior technology, a setting wherein you fight alongside immortals, witness them clashing and then travel to the underworld to save a soul literally from the hell of its own doing. Veranthea captures perfectly the high-concept approach to campaign setting design and truly excels at these sweeping narratives - thanks to its size. Were this book any smaller, it would collapse under the ambition of needing to cover three vastly different continents. Thus, the book, as presented, manages to actually work in the context of high-fantasy, sweeping narratives, though the book does leave those of you yearning for the small growing into the large, fans of the more subdued fantasy, wanting - Veranthea is pretty much in your face fantasy and has very little in common with traditional, semi-realistic settings. This sets it both apart...and made me wish, frankly, I had received three books instead- one for each continent, but with more details, mainly since I prefer a lot o details...but I won't hold that against this book.


Now I mentioned that the response to what this book is would be complex. I am not done yet. Veranthea also understands itself as a kind of band-aid for several of the rules-components some GMs consider problematic, thus sporting several global rules that interact with the world in different ways to create its intended balance sweet-spot. How does that work? Well, for the most part, rather well. For the most part. To give you an example via the firearm-rules: The book introduces a recoil-mechanic, which is based on Strength-checks - one-handed firearms require a DC 16 Strength-check, two--handed ones a DC 18 Strength-check. Failing these penalizes further attacks this round by -3. The odd thing here is that the ability does not explicitly stat that it stacks with itself, which imho would have made sense. Still, it is a pretty easy mechanic, though personally, I prefer a more simulationalist approach to recoil. Nice idea: Medium and heavy armor convey fixed luck-bonuses to Touch AC versus firearms...though, again, I'd modify that to increase via e.g. armor mastery and/or magical enchantments. On the other hand, firearms, including modern ones, are even less reliable than usual, with the chances to explode increasing for early firearms (upon each misfire, broken and burst damage!) and modern firearms. While balance-wise, I get the latter, the former does seem overly punitive, considering my experiences with gunslingers at low levels - a constant drain on party-resources and painfully vulnerable. Oddly, the high crit multiplier has not been addressed and there are enchantments and feats that can somewhat mitigate some of these issues, basically introducing a feat-tax.


There is one rule, though, that I can see many a group use - a rule that actually helps balance significantly for some classes and eliminates one of the most annoying things out there. In Veranthea, the gods have realized that mortals with too many magic items = bad idea. Hence, there is an attunement value: Magic Arms and Armor, Rings, Rods and Staves, Wondrous Items, Intelligent Items and Spellbooks require an attunement period of CL x 2 days, during which the item may not be removed further than 5 feet from the character. Each character has an attunement value, based on WBL times a modifier that depends on your preferred playstyle - gritty would be x0.75, while high fantasy is x1.75. A given character cannot exceed this value of attuned magic items at a given point, which puts an end to quick magic item switching AND the Christmas Tree Syndrome. Unfortunately, it also penalizes certain classes like the fighter - it's an old truism that naked high-level characters suck, but one that holds particularly true for martials that require the items to make the math work out at higher levels. Don't get me wrong, I adore this system and will use it in my next campaign, but I will modify it to provide different attunement value modifiers for different classes to account for their needs.


The mirrored weapons some of you may know make a return. More importantly, the setting of Veranthea assumes per default that psionics exist - yes, this is Ultimate Psionics-compatible. However, psionic characters in Veranthea receive 1 power point less per level (minimum 1) and only get bonus power points equal to the number of bonus spells they have access to. Aegis have a reduced DR-progression and soul knife psychic strike bonus damage is reduced to d6. Now all of these feel odd to me, if I'm honest. You see, I've been playing with Dreamscarred Press' psionics ever since they released. They are a fixed value in my games and while some of the more recent additions imho overshot the target regarding power, overall, the system plays very solid and never eclipsed regular, vancian spellcasting, with the one potential problem being nova-capacity...though the capacity is significantly less pronounced than some posts make you believe. In my experience, people who complain loudest about it didn't understand the rules...or let their PCs rest whenever they want...but that boils down to being a sucky GM. What I'm trying to say is rather simple - I don't see the necessity here. The soul knife's blade is powerful, but so are similar godblade builds. And low DR is perhaps the most overvalued feature in PFRPG's design. Well...there is one component I generally like: When manifesting powers that have no display, the psionic character risks becoming afflicted by Psickness, basically receiving an insanity if he fails a second concentration check. It may sound harsh, but the subtle potential for psi-powers pretty much is one of the crucial strengths of psionics, so that one, I kinda understand, though it still seems harsh to me.


The wild magic rules, with 20 different effects, are pretty interesting and well-crafted, though personally, I would have loved more effects. I did mention magic in Urethiel and its interesting balancing, so what did I precisely mean? Well, 45% of the population gains spell-like abilities over the levels, depending on their character and determined by the GM, putting firm control where it belongs. 45% gain scaling Spell Resistance instead...which leaves 10%. 5% can absorb and redirect magic as an immediate action, though only spells targeting them - which probably means that AoE-spells that happen to include the character can't be absorbed...though a bit of clarification would be in order here. The final 5%...are immune to magic. As a golem. And get bonus hit points...but can't benefit from most magic items and enhancements, healing, etc. Now what this does is that it makes magic significantly less reliable - sure, you still can throw those deadly spells around, but there is a decent chance that some guys will resist or downright ignore what you throw at them to then proceed to smash you to smithereens with your own spellbook. I was pretty skeptical about this component, but it works exceedingly well in playtest and adds significant narrative potential to the fray.


There also are spellcasting traditions based on calligraphy brushes and ancestor worship that make sense. The pdf also introduces the Pilot skill and simplified vehicular combat rules, with mecha penguin-robots and dogfighters (aptly named Explodicus...) emphasizing that. The race-chapter is interesting: It fixes broken components like 1st-level Strix-flight, makes goblins less lop-sided (instead of +4 Dex, +2 Dex and Int) and generally make those work better. At the same time, the feylves (small fey-ish elves), half-doppelgangers and disgusting leugho are anything but balanced (the latter even gets crit-immunity...)- and presentation-wise, they deviate completely from the formatting established for races...which is a bit odd, since the playable mongrelmen work just fine and are well-crafted. Similarly, the rock-like Pantako are a unique and fun race I can't complain about, though I do wish we saw more about their culture, race-relations, etc. There also are variants of dragon-men (Uh, novel, didn't see those coming, hmm?), the dragonii.


Gaining a +4 bonus to one attribute, they are per definition lopsided. They also get pretty powerful additional abilities, including a Style-based racial feat-tree, which I liked in concept, if not in conjunction with the race itself. However, there is one race I was more than a bit positively surprised by: Sun Gryphons. Quadruped gryphons you can play. And yes, they are balanced, don't get 1st level flight AND sport a nice 5-level racial paragon class as well as feats for aerial maneuvers, taking a cue from Rite Publishing's excellent "In the Company of"-series. As a complaint regarding balance: 3rd level of the paragon class is pretty OP: You get both Fly AND Pounce - Pounce should be gained later (very strong) and flight is usually considered appropriate at 5th level, so yes, that one I'd modify. The pdf also sports a reprint of the Conduit-base-class first featured in Amora Game's excellent "Liber Influxus Communis." Beyond that, we receive a significant array of archetypes, but covering them all would bloat the review even further. Suffice to say, for the most part, they are intriguing and awesome, with the Attack-On-Titan-PrC I mentioned before being one of my favorites.


There is also a variant PrC for followers of dread Boris, a goblin-biker archetype...and an interesting archetype that basically is a paladin that requires gold for healing and starts off as nice...but has a built-in heel-turn...which is unique and something I haven't seen an archetype do before. And channeling capitalism's magnetic effects are hilarious. The scientific innovator, who can duplicate magic via SCIENCE!! would be another one I rather enjoyed. There is also a summoner who gets a swarm-eidolon and, obviously, there are some feats and class options contained in this chapter as well.


Okay, but even after all of this rambling, I have STILL not covered all this book is. Yeah, I know, right? The final section of this tome is devoted exclusively to characters and statblocks: Basically, you get a metric TON of statblocks for the APG-classes, the Magus and Ultimate Combat classes, spanning the CRs - while we don't get statblocks for each CR, we get a LOT of them...and the pdf does sport sample character backgrounds for the respective builds, which btw. also sometimes feature archetypes. Build-wise, they are nice and make sense - so part of the grand question's answer is that this book also can be considered to be basically a huge expansion of the NPC Codex, a treasure trove of statblocks GMs can throw at players. And yes, this does contain sample eidolons and multiple simple templates as well as sample random encounter tables.


This does still not properly answer the question, though.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are impressive for such a huge book - while there are some minor hiccups, the whole can be seen as an accomplishment of very good editing - kudos! Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard, with each chapter sporting a different color-scheme. Artworks are more than numerous - there is a piece of artwork on almost each two-column spread. The artworks range from gorgeous original art to public domain stock and is for the most part in full-color. The pdf comes fully bookmarked, but unfortunately the book does not sport an index, which is a bit grating when looking for a given component. The print version has, on a nitpicky side, the title etc. not in the center of the spine. I have the premium-paper-based PoD-version and the matte paper and gluing are solid, though I am not 100% sure whether the massive book will stand up to the test of time. If you're not 100% excited, I'd recommend getting the pdf first to see whether you enjoy this massive book.


Michael Allen, Luis Loza, Michael McCarthy, Brian Wiborg Mønster, Julian Neale, Colin Stricklin - these are the talented authors that contributed to Mike Myler's magnum opus and know what? I ended up liking Veranthea Codex, more so than I expected to, so, all of you: Good job!


This review was framed by the question of what this book actually is - and indeed, the focus on basically three wildly different continents as well as the NPC-Codex-like collection of statblocks makes this book extremely ambitious. I expected, quite frankly, to be disappointed by this colossal tome - a focus this diverse surely would dilute the focus of the book, right? Well, THANKFULLY, the page-count blew up. Due to the colossal size of this book, the respective components do have enough space to properly shine - barely so, if you're like me and a stickler for detail that usually grows themes and leitmotifs from the small scale to the global. Veranthea Codex manages to, surprisingly, present just enough on the respective continents to make them working settings for campaigns intrigued in the high-concept approach it takes.


If that sounds negative, rest assured that it should not be taken as such: If anything, the exceedingly high-concept locales, more often than not, could well provide enough material for 60 -90-page gazetteers each - and frankly, I'd love to see books like that. Thankfully, once again, the first expansions for Veranthea have already been released, so I'm positive we'll see more.


So is this book perfect? No, there are quite a few components I do not agree with, some instances of design-philosophy I consider less refined than others and there are components I'd love more details on (just about everything)...and I probably won't do a full-blown default setting switch based on this book alone. But Veranthea Codex is more than that: Due to the rules and ideas herein, in both crunch and evocative prose, the Veranthea Codex can be used pretty much as a perfect scavenging ground for rules, concepts and countries, society and gods - and as such, this book can be a pretty great toolbox.


The most important component of this book is one I haven't even touched upon yet: Veranthea Codex does one thing, in my opinion, the crucial thing, right: It is an honest jamais-vu experience. There is literally no setting like it. From Grethadnis' subdued un-steam-y steampunky elements and emphasis on uncommon themes (Jabberwock-war!) to Urethiel's fantastic WuXia that does not simply duplicate the tropes to the gloriously balls-to-the-wall weird Trectoyri and the unique take on the Forever Dark... Veranthea is unique. In a hobby, where we get x post-apocalyptic setting, countless fantasy worlds with diverging magic-levels, where I can count the dark fantasy/horror-settings and pseudo-vampire/Ravenloft-y settings, Veranthea is a thoroughly UNIQUE vision of the fantastic, one influenced y our current sensibilities. This is basically the current Marvel superheroes-movies' aesthetic applied to fantasy, with booms and blasts and unique, stunning locales, high-concept vehicular combat and nods to nerd culture, Veranthea Codex feels like a fresh wind, one that has left me wanting to know more about this evocative setting. When a book manages to actually provide fresh impulses to my game, when its concepts are evocative enough for me to actually scavenge the hell out of them, it does receive a heartfelt recommendation from me.


Veranthea Codex manages to provide an array of interesting options and paints, in broad strokes, a picture of a unique world as well as sporting a collection of neat statblocks. Granted, I wished each continent, each component had a book of this size, but thanks to its massive size, this book does manage to provide something unique for just about every game I can imagine.


So what exactly is Veranthea Codex? My final reply is this: Veranthea Codex is a massive, huge book that covers disparate elements and forges them into a cohesive collective; it is a thoroughly evocative, creative and refreshingly different campaign setting with a ton of high-concept crunch and even more intriguing ideas to scavenge. It is a book far removed from Tolkien-esque fantasy, a setting suffused by gamer-sensibilities and nerd-culture that plays with the tropes with one eye winking while being dead serious. Veranthea Codex, to me, is post-modern fantasy - and I love it for that and hope there will be more supplements in the future. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Veranthea Codex
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