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Village Backdrop: Denhearth
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/01/2016 07:18:45

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of RSP's Village Backdrop-series is 10 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let's take a look at the settlement


Situated high atop the mountains on an isolated plateau, Denhearth has suffered long from the vile predations of the powerful red dragon nick-named Cinderblaze - until the vile creature was slain by the benevolent gold dragon Galiantana - under her auspices, the village prospered and even saw the creation of a fabled academy, established to guide those that have the sorceror's gifts towards a wholesome and controlled application of their draconic gifts.


But, alas, all golden ages (Get it? ... -.-...sorry, will put a buck in the bad pun jar later) must end eventually and noble Galiantana has not been seen in quite a while. Some rumor her to be dead, while others only fear her to be missing; in any case, Denhearth, with its academy, seems rife for the picking by the forces of darkness once again. Now, as always, the village comes with copious information on both local color (like nomenclature, clothing habits and the like), lore to be unearthed via the respective skills, rumors and events as well as magic for sale; and yes, the rumors, questioning e.g. the parentage of dragon-blooded locals and similar interesting hooks provide a neat and uncommon, yet sensible angle to the village's plot-options - which include btw. options to develop Galiantana's absence in various ways.


Unlike most recent installments of the series, this time around we get two damn cool sample statblocks, the first of which would be a CR 8 sorceror/dragon disciple, while the second would be a half-dragon chupacabra - yes, you read right. Oh, and the fellow is one of the anti-theft security measure of the local shop, which deserves its name "The Hoard."


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. Layout adheres to RSP's smooth, printer-friendly two-column standard and the pdf comes with full bookmarks as well as a gorgeous map, of which you can, as always, download high-res jpegs if you join RSP's patreon. The pdf comes in two versions, with one being optimized for screen-use and one to be printed out.


Jacob W. Michaels' Denhearth is a thoroughly compelling settlement - with a unique angle, capable NPCs and a surprising emphasis on kind characters as a beacon of light, the place not only will be useful for the PCs, it'll be a place they WANT to keep safe - which ties in perfectly with the numerous options and narrative directions a GM can take the village. Considering all of that, the uncommon locale and cool premise, we have a prime candidate for a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Denhearth
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Shadowlands: Tarina, Spiral of Sin
Publisher: BlackStar Studios
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/01/2016 04:41:18

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This massive city-sourcebook clocks in at 70 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page SRD, 1 page editorial, 1/2 page ToC, 1 page advertisement, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 62.5 pages of content, so let's return to the world of Sæmyyr!


Wait, what? Well, it's arguably been a while and this book has slipped somewhat between the cracks of my reviewing folder, but let's recapitulate, all right? Beyond being the setting of the Gates of Tarina-adventure, the eponymous city is an important jigsaw piece in the panorama of the Shadowlands, also known as Sæmyyr.


The world of Sæmyyr's ambition is rather significant, to say the least: The basic idea lies in a fantasy-realism: Magic is based on nigh-unknowable level of technology (though players will probably never find that out) and Gygaxian realism is another key tenet for the setting. Basically, shadowlands takes the old adage of advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic (look at your smart-phone and doubt that one's veracity...) and applies it consistently to a huge planet. The result is surprisingly interesting, for the basic premise, consequently, results in magic behaving slightly differently, being treated differently - since the set-up implies a certain level of consistency you'd only see in hard scifi, the result feels surprisingly organic...feasible. This is coupled with a take on fantasy usually not seen elsewhere: Namely, that of a quasi-Roman empire that is, in fact, more developed than traditional Middle Age-based fantasy. Coupled with aforementioned take on magic and have a setting that feels not only novel, but also consistent. And yes, this is enhanced by the massive map of the city: Tarina's map looks like a satellite map taken straight from Google Sæmyyr.


But enough, you want to know what's in this book, right? Well, we begin our trip to Tarina with several pages depicting an immersive, well-written short-story that portrays life in this metropolis before taking a glimpse at relationship demographics, including racial subtypes and sub-species - instead of bogging the game down with alternate stats for each of the classic races, these entries are based mostly on the captivating and well-presented fluff, with respective entries featuring information on nomenclature, personality and the like. Now usually, this can end up being pretty bland, though not in this book - the write-up is captivating and diverse and actually, and this will be true for the whole book, a pleasure to read.


However, at the same time, one can see the relative (then) inexperience of the designers - a little sidebox provides additional racial powers that are supernatural abilities - sans codifying them properly as either alternate racial traits or as race traits - instead, they seem to represent modifications of the base racial stats - which is fine with me, but would need to be explicitly stated to avoid confusion. Design-wise, they tend to be solid and feature scaling mechanisms for daily uses and DCs where applicable, though one in particular is just bad design: Ghost Hammer. Dwarves (here called Durinn) with this power call upon ancestral spirits to provide minor +2 atk or AC bonuses in combat...in the most convoluted way I can imagine. Each round, at the character's turn, sans expending an action, the character may perform an attack based on BAB and Wis-mod versus AC 10, the bonus lasting 1d4+Wis-score. The ability fails to specify whether both bonuses can be granted by subsequent uses; the bonuses are untyped...and I don't get, at all, why the ability requires the time-consuming attack in the first place. It's just die-rolling for the sake of die-rolling sans justifiable benefit.


Thankfully, the book quickly focuses again on more interesting components - the means by which classes are codified and assigned culturally relevant places in the framework of Sæmyyr enhances the sense of immersion featured in this book - the very fact that magic is nigh-monopolized by the Brotherhood, for example, is certainly a relevant factor in global and local politics. On the positive end, the pdf does sport a number of unique traits that help root characters in Tarina - and here, the pdf manages to provide the required precision.


Tarina is a conquered city and the majority of this book is, obviously, devoted to this metropolis - its crime families, its occupying force, its politics and unique places. The general depiction of this city is ultimately hard to capture properly in a review sans quoting passages upon passages of material from within - suffice to say, the quality of the prose here is high - unlike many similar supplements, I found myself reading this supplement without an internal wish to skip ahead. The portrayal of the metropolis of Tarina is an excellent example of what good writing can make or break a supplement - the numbers and nomenclature are important, sure, but this one's writing is what it makes captivating. This level of quality extends to the write-up of the organizations and the visuals provided for them are great - though, once again, the crunch falls somewhat flat of the imaginative potential of the fluff: The Knights of Kashouli, for example, can take a feat that allows them to 1/day, as a swift action, heal twice Wis-mod Hp. Yeah, let's go ahead and spend a feat on that. Yeah, you read right - no scaling of uses or increasing healing. Urgh. Similarly, the 5-level PrC for the knights is pretty much the definition of mechanically bland - some minor talents, better Knowledge, Diehard and finally, +1 Int or Wis as a capstone. You may not properly grasp this, but in view of how good the fluff is, this is jarring.


Now noted, the authors can actually create solid mechanics - particularly the magic-rules that take into account the specifics of Sæmyyr are interesting - non-brotherhood members are subject to flux-rolls when casting - these can provide critical/maximum effects to spells and the like, minimal effects and have a chance of forcing a roll on the rifts of insanity table, providing a complex and surprisingly concise system - granted, not one for every game, but mechanically it is interesting - though the damage-maximization/minimization will make magic and psionics ultimately more swingy. It should also be noted that, while the presentation is concise, a short explanation text would have made the flux-table and the rifts-mechanic associated with it more user-friendly. The aforementioned brotherhood caster class is also provided and can be considered to be a variant full caster with some flavorful order abilities (which work akin to cavalier orders - they offer a linear progression of abilities) and the class also provides titles for the respective levels (and the color of the eyes of these casters) - flavor-wise, this is a well-crafted class, though the omission of pluses in the table remains an obvious formatting glitch that should have been caught in editing. Still, flavorwise, this class is awesome and inspired - though I wished more than 2 of the sample orders were provided.


The next chapter deals with the power players of Tarina and their interaction with the respective PCs, providing a vast, inspired tapestry of adventure ideas galore and further insight into the intricately woven tapestry of Tarina.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are good - on the one hand, formally, the editing is pretty awesome, though the depiction of the rules-components herein is simply less refined - a good developer/rules-editor would have helped here. Layout adheres to a beautiful two-column full-color standard and the book sports extremely awesome Paizo-level quality artworks and excellent cartography - this book is BEAUTIFUL. On the downside, the electronic version has no bookmarks, which represents a massive comfort detriment. This review was written by using mainly the print edition of this book, which was kindly donated to me by a friend and reader - the full-color KS-print is absolutely gorgeous and well worth getting.


Chris Merwin, Stephen Michael DiPesa and Jaye Sonia have created one truly astounding city herein - and, quite frankly, I shouldn't like Tarina as much as I actually do. There are quite a few rough edges in the crunch and some material that is flavor-wise awesome, but crunch-wise falls flat. Similarly, you won't find a settlement statblock for Tarina herein. I really shouldn't like this to that extent...but Tarina MAKES SENSE. One can clearly see the work of academics, of smart people that understand how culture, politics, society and the like work - and who manage to actually convey this knowledge and apply it. Tarina feels incredibly alive to me, chock-full of potential.


Similarly, this may be a detailed, very detailed setting, but one that does not drown in micro-management, walking the perfect balance between detail and high-concept: Whether you're interested in the big picture or in the small, Tarina delivers in spades and makes me anticipate the long-delayed campaign setting even more. How to rate this, then? This is kind of difficult - you see, if you're getting this for rules, then you'll probably be disappointed. But if you're getting this for the writing, for reading pleasure and inspiration, as a means of looking at a fascinating world I actually REALLY would love to play in, then this may well be an excellent investment. Still, with the minor flaws, I can't rate this as highly as I'd like to. The print version does receive a final verdict of 4.5 stars from me; If you're getting the electronic version, detract a star for the bookmark-issue, though if you even remotely have a thing for well-crafted cities and cultures, I'd suggest rounding up even then. 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!]
Shadowlands: Tarina, Spiral of Sin
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Sage (Character Class)
Publisher: Little Red Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/01/2016 04:32:45

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This pdf clocks in at 15 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1.5 pages of SRD, leaving us with 11.5 pages of content, so let's take a look!


Sages as a class receive d6 HD, 2+Int skills per level, 1/2 BAB-progression, good Will-Saves and proficiency with simple weapons. They are subject to arcane spell failure when utilizing armor or shields. Unsurprisingly from the chassis, the sage is a full caster that draws spells from the sorc/wizard spell-list and learns them at the same rate as the sorceror. Here's a divergence from established tropes, though: In spite of being a spontaneous caster, the sage's governing spellcasting attribute is not Charisma, but Intelligence. They still get Eschew Materials at first level.


The defining class feature for the sage, though, would be meditation, an extraordinary ability. A given sage can meditate for 4+Wisdom modifier rounds per day, +2 rounds every level after the first. Temporary enhancements to Wisdom do not grant additional rounds of meditation and the ability is replenished after resting. While meditating, sages receive a +4 bonus to Int and +2 to Will-saves, though the Int-increase does not net you skill points or the like. Additionally, spells cast receive a +1 bonus to their caster level, but this does come at an interesting cost - the base speed is reduced to 5 ft., 0 ft. if her speed already was 10 ft. or less. Additionally, meditating sages receive a penalty of -4 to Str and Dex and cannot make skill-checks based on them...oh, and they're flatfooted. A sage may end a given meditation as a free action, but remains befuddled for 2 rounds per round spent in meditation - this translates to -4 Int and Wis. Being subject to any effect that causes befuddlement while already befuddled renders the sage confused instead and entering meditation is impossible while befuddled.


All right, let's drop the pretense - the sage can easily be summed up as a full caster class that utilizes the design paradigm of the barbarian and as such it should come as no surprise that the sage begins play with a meditation power and receives an additional power every two levels thereafter, read: every odd level. Said powers can obviously only be utilized while in meditation. The meditation powers themselves un a rather diverse gamut of options - for example, one nets you scaling spells available only in meditation: First just a 0-level spell, but at 18th level, you also get up to 4th level spells - though the spells thus gained only remain available while meditating. Another two meditations allow you to treat the SR of e.g. evil or good creatures as lower than it is while meditating. At 6th level, you can teleport 30 ft within line of sight as a move action, somewhat offsetting the sage's crippled movement - nice, though imho this should be designated as a conjuration [teleportation]-effect for purposes of interaction with other mechanics. Similarly, sages with another power may use their out of meditation movement...provided they end the movement adjacent to an enemy.


There is also an option that allows you to freely change elemental types of spells cast (and gets the descriptor-caveat right - kudos!) or gain a familiar that only is present in meditation. Levitation while meditating can also be found among the options here and there also is an immediate action retributive bull rush based on Wis versus targets daring to come close to the sage. 1/meditation touch-spell maximization is nasty.


As for the other class abilities: I'm not a fan of adding two attribute-modifiers to any skill, so unsurprisingly, I don't like the addition of Wis-mod to all Knowledge and Spellcraft-checks at 3rd level.8th level provides essentially evasion for Will-saving throws while in meditation and 10th level upgrades meditation bonuses to +6/+3, respectively, with the capstone further increasing them to +8/+4.


At 10th level and every 4 levels thereafter, the sage receives an advanced meditation (5 such abilities are provided by the pdf, which is a bit sparse) - these can be considered modifications of a basic meditation - you enter them as a swift action, but can't revert back to a regular meditation. Only one advanced meditation may be in effect at a given time. The first of these allows the sage to damage herself to deal additional damage and also causes continuous damage while maintained - think of it as sudden death mode. Deeper Meditation allows for even better SR-penetration, while delving into cyclopean mysteries increases CL and upgrades the maximum damage dice cap of spells, but comes at the price of confusion after exiting the meditation. Studied Meditation allows you to pay for metamagic benefits with meditation rounds, while isolated meditation increased chances to hit and threat ranges of spells. The capstone ability of the class allows for the activation of two such advanced meditations at once.


The pdf goes on to present the Conduit, which is erroneously referenced as "sage" in the proficiency-list, which is modified to include the favored weapon of the conduit's deity. The conduit's spells are drawn from the cleric spell list and are not prepared in advance (though the write-up here contradicts itself by stating before that they are prepared in advance...nasty cut copy paste error...). Uncommon once again - they are governed by Intelligence, not Wisdom. Instead of the knowledge-bonuses and the will-evasion, conduits receive the Divine Conduit ability at 3rd level, which allows for channel energy, with a radius of 15 ft. This effect may not be suppressed and deals/heals 1d6 at 4th level (which is odd - is it 3rd or 4th level??), +1d6 every 4 levels thereafter. Okay, if you can't see the glaring issue here, let me enlighten you: This is always on. Not only in meditation, ALWAYS. ON. Infinite AoE-damage (which renders evil conduits basically incapable of interacting with anything but undead), it also represents infinite healing. I am pretty sure this is supposed to be only active while meditating, but ultimately, RAW, that's what we get - and as such, it won't get anywhere near my table.


The pdf also sports 6 new feats: More meditation rounds, +1 meditation power, expending 3 rounds of meditation as a swift action for +Wis-mod damage with damaging spells (do the expended rounds count towards the befuddlement period? - No Idea.), a feat that can be sued once per round when piercing SR to get +1 meditation round (effectively maintaining the allotted rounds), better skill-use in meditation and a feat for access to a bloodline power while in meditation.


The pdf also sports 4 unique magic items: A sensory deprivation helm that nets blindsight in meditation, a torc that allows for other classes to enter meditation (or adds +3 rounds) that is pretty underpriced at 8K, a ring that lets you ignore befuddlement at the expense of damage (or reduce confusion down to befuddlement) - but again: Does this allow for the renewed initiation of meditation or does it simply offset the penalties? No clue. There also are sandals that increase movement speed and grant sages access to a meditation power. Slightly annoying: The magic items deviate from formatting standards, lacking spell-italicization and the usual bolding of Aura, CL, etc.


The pdf closes with 2 new spells, touch of befuddlement and waves of befuddlement - the latter has an instantaneous duration and renders all creatures in the cone befuddled, no save...but does not specify for how long. The touch is solid and nice.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are okay, though not perfect - there are some deviations from formatting standards to be found here. At the same time, some potentially nasty cut-copy-paste-errors and ambiguities have crept into an otherwise clean array of rules-language exhibited in the class. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard and the pdf has some nice, original pieces of artwork. The pdf also sports bookmarks, though oddly, the archetype is absent from them - which doesn't really surprise me.


Why? Where the base sage is clean and precise in its depiction (for the most part), the conduit feels very much rushed, less refined and basically non-functional. Jeff Gomez, Dayton Johnson and Scott Gladstein seem to have created a solid, if brief class that could have used some more choices with the sage: In playtest, the class performed exactly as I expected: Basically, the sage is somewhat akin to a sorceror that can go hulk: It's pretty satisfying to start wrecking foes with enhanced magical potency. The cool-down means that you have to choose your meditation wisely and that buffs suddenly become more viable if their duration is long enough to survive the befuddlement cool-down. Similarly, meditation-cycling can make for interesting flows in long battles. Let me state this explicitly: The sage would be OP, were it not for the movement decrease and the vulnerability this imposes - even the best sage remains FLATFOOTED when meditating, which means a sage is only as good as his minions/fellow PCs - one rogue can literally instagib him...and this makes for a rather interesting dynamic. I ended up really liking the sage, in spite of some rough edges and me wishing it had more advanced meditations and meditation powers to choose from.


At the same time, the conduit is broken and the supplemental material, unfortunately, does not reach the level of refinement of the base-class, sporting several unnecessary issues that could have been easily eliminated. What remains, thus, is an interesting, powerful base-class that sports a unique playstyle, hamstrung somewhat (see what I did there - crippled movement, hamstrung...okay, I'll drop a buck in the bad pun jar) by the accumulating issues beyond the basic framework of the class. Hence, unfortunately, I can't rate this as high as I'd like to - my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3 for the purpose of this platform.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Sage (Character Class)
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The Master of Forms Base Class
Publisher: Interjection Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/29/2016 07:42:09

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This new base class clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 21 pages of content, so let's take a look!


Chassis-wise, the master of forms receives full BAB-progression, good Ref- and Will-saves, unarmed damage scaling of the monk, unarmored AC-progression of up to Cha-mod+5, d10 HD, 4+Int skills per level and proficiency with brass knuckles, cesti, club, crossbows (light and heavy), dagger, handaxe, javelin, kama. nunchaku, quarterstaff, siangham, sai, shortspear, short sword, shuriken, sling, spear and temple sword, but not any armor or shields. It should be noted that we do get the unarmed damage tables for small and large PCs - kudos there!


The class is defined by the forms. Forms can be considered to be martial arts that either are extraordinary or supernatural abilities. They sport three defining components: Focus required denotes the minimum number of focus required to perform the form. Focus Change specifies how the performing of the form changes the focus points. Costs are paid up front, gained focus is awarded after performing the form. The Element, finally, denotes the subtype of the form. Masters of forms begin play with 3 forms and gain +1 form every level thereafter. DCs usually are 10 + 1/2 class level + Charisma modifier and unless otherwise noted, the master of forms can only perform one form per round.


I mentioned the focus pool in the above explanation: The maximum number of focus points in the pool is equal to 4. The pool begins empty and does not refresh simply by resting. Instead, executing certain forms increases or decreases the focus pool. Focus points can only be regained in combat and last only for Charisma modifier minutes outside of combat. While this can be inefficiently be kitten'd, the short duration means that it's not a good strategy. The master of forms automatically learns certain basic, universal forms: These are gained at 1st level, +1 every 3 levels thereafter. Basically, you can picture these as the "minimum-functionality"-framework that prevents inexperienced players from locking themselves into a situation, where they can't gain focus - the most basic of these forms, for example, allows you to substitute a regular attack in a full-attack-sequence or use a standard action for an attack that deals regular damage + 1/2 Cha-mod (full Cha-mod starting 6th level) and nets you +1 focus.


At 4th level, for -1 focus, as a swift action, the master of forms can self-buff with minor luck bonuses, while 7th level provides a means for ending an elemental stance and immediately starting a new one as a move action. (As a swift action at 19th level, they can also end it, but gain focus and still be allowed to enter a second stance.). Level 10 provides temporary flight (YES - non-combat utility!) and higher levels sport save-bonuses. I already mentioned elemental stances, so let me elaborate a bit there: Universal forms have no element and thus do not disrupt active stances, though they do break the sequence required to activate an elemental stance.


All right, so what's the deal with stances? Well, whenever a master of forms performs three consecutive forms belonging to the same element, they enter the element's stance...and they are UNIQUE. Earth, for example, allows you to expend one focus when attacked by a weapon - if he does, he may roll dice equal to the weapon's base damage die, gaining the result as DR X/- against the attack. Oh, and guess what? No focus-cost if the master of forms is below 1/2 maximum HP.


Fire allows for roaring attacks, since here, the focus is gained prior o executing the attack. Ice allows for forms with focus change of +1 instead of an AoO, though that does change the focus change value of the form used to -1. Lightning increases movement rate by +5 ft. per focus point currently held, while wind provides +1 temporary focus when his focus is 0. This does not count towards required focus and are expended first, but otherwise, the temporary focus behaves as though it were a regular focus point.


At 2nd level, masters of forms may 1/day grant himself the ability to perform a second form per round 1/day, +1/day every 5 levels thereafter. Additionally, this level nets evasion, while 3rd provides slow fall, 8th purity of body, 14th diamond soul. As a capstone, the master of forms tallies up the forms known - the one for which he knows most forms (choose in case of a tie) is then known of predominant. The master is ALWAYS in the stance of this element while conscious and is considered even to be in the stance, while being in another active stance.


The class also gains access to so-called secret arts, the finishers/fatalities of the class, if you will - secret arts cannot be performed on the same round another form has been activated and if a duration is non-instantaneous, no other form may be performed while it persists. They do not require a focus, but require the master of forms to be in the corresponding elemental stance. Secret arts can be performed 1/day each, but choosing the same secret art multiple times adds +1 daily use of the secret art. Masters of forms choose a secret art at 5th level, +1 every 4 levels thereafter.


So what do they do? Well, let's take a look at Ice's Aquatic Triad: As a standard action, the master of forms expends all focus, choosing a 10 ft. burst area within 60 ft. range. This mist can be changed into steam, left as aerosolized water or deposit the burst as snow. Steam deals cold damage (drawing heat), maximizing damage versus foes in metal armor. Water makes all armor behave as having a Max Dex bonus of +0 for 1 minute and further enhance bonuses granted by flanking such targets; finally, snow deals scaling fire damage and maximizes damage versus targets wearing combustible armor. While the damage-types seem counter-intuitive, they are based on mighty science and energy transfer. Finally, it should be noted that the master of forms may choose two effects when performing this with 2+ focus, all when using it with 4 focus.


Bones of the Mountain allows you to draw forth a massive earthen, devastating club, while master of air can move as swift action and fire blasts of ranged touch attack trips that also deal damage. Another secret art allows the master of forms to treat himself as staggered, emulating the stasis of a frozen world - while in this ice-cold fugue, the master of forms may retaliate against any attack that hits him with attacks of opportunity, ignoring the usual limitations of AoOs per round. Blasting foes with cannon-like winds and auto-haste plus partial armor ignoring. Unleashing potentially blinding blasts of fiery pyroclasms or hurling lightning, Zeus-style also rock. The respective secret arts increase in potency and have scaling mechanisms both based on level and focus for the particular executions - love that component.


As always, you get a significant array of favored class options and they deserve special mention: Gnomes may, once choosing the FCO 5 times, add +1 form; when performing said form, they may spend 3 focus to execute a second form! Unique! Beyond the base-races, aasimar, drow, hobgoblins, kobolds, puddlings, orcs and tieflings are covered. The class gets +4 supplemental feats - one for +1/day deep focus use, +1 DC for the forms of an element, one for +2 forms and one that provides bonus elemental damage while in a stance.


All right, so, I've danced around this long enough - let's take a look at those forms. They are listed by element and requirements - most forms have no requirement, while level 4, 6 and 8 each can be considered to be thresholds that unlock new forms. It should be noted, though, that most forms are available from the get-go, meaning there's a lot of options to choose from the very beginning. The truly interesting component of the respective elements, though, would be that each and every one of the elemental types generally have at least one component that sets them apart and makes them feel distinct: While you'd expect e.g. earths forms to be movement-reducing (via grappling vines), they actually also sport temporary hit points...and the unique component of gaining additional benefits while below half maximum hit points. Their visuals are also pretty awesome: Gaining claws from crystallized hemoglobin? Heck yeah! Lassos from vines? Growing poisonous berries? Toppling shockwaves? Jup!


Fire allows you to suspend fast healing/regeneration and turn it upon foes, perform blazes of deadly fire...and quite a few of the forms here allow the respective master of forms to perform additional forms this round, emulating the sudden blaze of ignited flames. Oh, and 0 focus change bleed damage ending or causing weeping, seared wounds...quite interesting! Ice, however, is imho more awesome/unique: Beyond movement impediment, ice-chunks launched at foes, devastating waves of cold that may stagger foes, gradual freezing of adversaries or performing special strikes that make it very hard to concentrate...the forms of ice are wonderfully, delightfully dickish. There would be a strike that provides a warning to the creature attacked: If it subsequently performs a full-round action or move and standard action in the same round, with a failure staggering the creature. Particularly exciting would also be frozen surge, which is predicated on a former form missing, a save being made by a victim or you failing to hit a CMD, allowing you to unleash a burst of cold/bludgeoning damage. Ice, basically, is about building up focus...and then unleashing it suddenly, powerfully...and painfully. It's also about slowing/debuffing - absolutely fun.


Lightning, on the other hand, is about speed and volatile bursts - including, as a sidebox acknowledges, a means of performing potentially more than 2 forms per round. The forms also allow for changing directions in charges, penalize foes with blinding sparks...and at level 8, there is a form that allows you to take +1 standard action, but at the cost of being staggered in the round thereafter. Fast strikes that bypass certain amounts of hardness and DR or unleashing a storm cloud that can fire bolts of lightning at adversaries - once again, lightning has its own distinct playstyle.


Finally, wind may sound, concept-wise, as though it were similar to lightning - but it's not really. Where lightning is pretty much about agility in the way that pertains the covering of an area in straight lines, wind represents a more ephemeral component: Granting yourself concealment, defensive stances that make attackers provoke AoOs against which they are flatfooted - the wind element is interesting - also thanks to two interesting components: The build-up: There is e.g. a form that allows for a swift action trip as well as the execution of a second form, representing the rising of the storm. This theme is further enhanced by some forms having additional effects when the master of forms has at least a certain amount of focus, representing on a mechanic base the change from clear skies to storms. What about a touch attack-based whirlwind against all adjacent enemies, allowing you to perform AoO-less combat maneuvers against all of them? (And yes, this gets the moving-caveat right.) Wind is about fluidity, about maneuvers and foe control and it plays just as ephemeral as you'd expect it to.


Now here's the thing, though: While entering a stance is pretty much desirable...it's not necessarily the only strength of the class: Note that, unlike many such classes, this has no prohibited element - these diverse fighting styles are MEANT to be combined - perhaps to set-up a secret art and enter the respective stance, perhaps just to switch between them as you unleash new combos upon your adversaries.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good - while I noticed some minor instances of flawed punctuation, I noticed nothing to complain about. The rules-language, as we've come to expect from Bradley Crouch, is precise to the point. Layout adheres to Interjection Games' printer-friendly two-column full-color standard and the pdf has some nice stock art. The pdf comes sans bookmarks, which is a comfort-detriment.


My first thought when I heard about this class was: "Oh no, not ANOTHER elemental martial arts/bender-style class. Urgh. We had enough elemental burst-blasting borefests..." My second thought was "What a waste of Bradley's talent." Oh boy have I been seldom wrong to this extent. This class was commissioned by Alex Ross via Interjection Games' patreon and I am truly grateful for it.


First of all, a solid skill array and high Cha-score mean that this class makes for a solid option in non-combat environments - not the best, but you'll have things you can do. But more importantly, this class, to me, is genius. Know why I don't like elemental classes? They're BORING most of the time. You'll probably have seen this before: Earth specialists that throw globs of rock that are variants of fireball, with parameters like added conditions, other saves and damage types changes. We've seen that again and again...and it never played right to me. What made Avatar so popular beyond the story and the writing, what made elementalists in good anime stand out, what made Scorpion and Sub Zero different was that their powers may have looked similar, that there were overlaps...but they played completely differently nonetheless. Now granted, some classes and options out there managed that, but still stuck to their niche; air specialists got air walk and were opposed to earth...you get the idea.


This is the furious rebuttal to the claim that elementalists can't play radically differently depending on the element used and it also emphasizes fluidity between the elements, a constant change and flux, with stability having its reward as well via secret arts and stances. This is basically the class-design equivalent of Bruce Lee saying "Be like water, my friend." - instead of limiting yourself to one particular element, which remains a valid strategy, the most awesome way of playing these guys is by mixing and matching the different elements and their forms, generating set-ups to then either directly escalate or to generate a stabile stance to then conclude with a secret art - so, not only do the respective forms feel unique in the respective elements, the option to mix them makes the system even more awesome.


The master of forms play flexible, fun and has truly unique effects: Beyond being a solid front-line fighter, the class can also double as terrain control, targeted debuffer, skirmisher - there are a lot of ways to play this class, and all work. The one thing this pdf left me with, ultimately, is a huge desire to see even more: More forms, more types of forms/schools...more. This is a thinking man's martial class, a fun, balanced elementalist that actually makes the respective elements feel distinctly unique while maintaining flexibility. Oh, and yes, the unique components of the elemental forms do retain a distinct mechanical identity that fits together with the fluff. I so want more material for this class - my players love it, I enjoy it and it, overall, is a glorious martial arts-class, well worth a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval and nomination as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2015.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Master of Forms Base Class
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Four Horsemen Present: Pakuvresh, the Flesh Golem Factory
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/29/2016 07:40:08

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This pdf clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, 0.5 pages of editorial, leaving us with 9.5 pages of content, so let's take a look!


This being an adventure set-piece/location-supplement/encounter-collection, the following will have SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.


...


..


.


So what is Pakuvresh? The simple response would be that it is what happens when a truly vile wizard has too much time on his hands - the location is basically an autonomous plant that cranks out horrid monstrosities and awaits its creator's return to unleash its dread armies...or so the story goes. Situated in the astral plane, the place is certainly not one that novice adventurers will want to visit.


Anyways, the pdf then goes on to provide a series of linked encounters: We begin with bone devils harvesting flesh via their "recruitment" in a wasted village, with the devils bearing a new item, shadowstones, which allow for easy travel to Pakuvresh's gates. The gates of the factory on the plane of shadows are guarded - you guessed it - by flesh golems...and an animated lock. Nice to see that one feature herein. Beyond the adamantine-banded doors, strange machinery tries to dissect magical creatures to generate prototype plane-shifting golems, something the mad sole survivor, a one-legged gnome named Glimix, tries hard to prevent - though his delusions don't help him there.


Horrid golem gatekeepers and advanced crawling horrors guard the pens of the raw material to soon disassembled and recombined into flesh golem form, though to save the missing people, the PCs will have to brave Mauxet, an advanced osyluth...and the steel butchers, that are about to cut the hapless people to pieces...


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Rogue Genius Games' two-column full-color standard for the series and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The pdf sports nice full-color artwork, some of which you may know from other supplements.


Steven T. Helt's prose is impeccable - Pakuvresh is an awesome location and drips the gory fear of an automated slaughterhouse and combines it with body horror par excellence - prose-wise, there is not much to complain. At the same time, this supplement left me somewhat unsatisfied - for one, while I enjoyed the respective encounters, I did feel like the place is more opaque than it really should be - the lack of a map hurts this pdf quite a bit. There is a more important component here that's a bit amiss, one perhaps tied to the lack of a map, though I'm not 100% sure: This is this huge, magical slaughterhouse that makes monsters from killed people, right? So where are the conveyor belts? The automated hooks? The sudden saw blades ? The blood drains? The chutes? The "Evil Within"-cut-everything-to-pieces-madness?


When I picture a place like this, I see lethal terrain galore - monsters, yes, but also a location that's as much the enemy as any of its caretakers. The encounters, perhaps due to a lack of a map, are suspiciously bereft of interesting terrain features to utilize in combat.


You won't find complex hazards or the like herein, which, ultimately, made Pakuvresh less of a threat and more creepy window-dressing for a series of good encounters. So yeah, I was pretty much disappointed by this one, as loathe as I am to say it. The excellent prose and glorious concept quite frankly would have deserved a better, deserved the one step beyond this does not go. My final verdict will hence clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Four Horsemen Present: Pakuvresh, the Flesh Golem Factory
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101 Urban Spells (PFRPG)
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/26/2016 03:24:37

An Endzeitgeist.com review


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Endzeitgeist out.



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

An Endzeitgeist.com review


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


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


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


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


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


Conclusion:


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


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


Endzeitgeist out.



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

An Endzeitgeist.com review


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


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


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


...


..


.


Still here?


All right!


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


Conclusion:


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


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


Endzeitgeist out.



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

An Endzeitgeist.com review


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


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


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


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


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


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


Conclusion:


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


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


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


Endzeitgeist out.



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

An Endzeitgeist.com review


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Conclusion:


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


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


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


Endzeitgeist out.



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

An Endzeitgeist.com review


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Conclusion:


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


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


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


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


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


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


Endzeitgeist out.



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

An Endzeitgeist.com review


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Conclusion:


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


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


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


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


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


Endzeitgeist out.



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

An Endzeitgeist.com review


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Conclusion:


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


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


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


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


Endzeitgeist out.



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

An Endzeitgeist.com review


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Conclusion:


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


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


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


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


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


Endzeitgeist out.



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

An Endzeitgeist.com review


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


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


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


Still here?


All right!


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


Conclusion:


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


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


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mini-Dungeon #024: The Lapis Maiden of Serena Hortum
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