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Legendary Beginnings: A Feast of Flavor
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/08/2017 06:20:40

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 72 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page ToC, 1 page editorial, 1 page introduction,2.5 pages of SRD, 2 pages of character-sheet, 3 pages of advertisement, 1 page of back cover, leaving us with 59.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Now, first things first: The Legendary Beginnings-series focuses on adventures that are more family-friendly and suitable to both kids and adults that don’t want grim stuff/gore/dark material – the series focuses on exciting adventuring, but without the grimmer aspects. This adventure should run smoothly for kids ages 8+, though, depending on how sensitive the kids in question are, it may work for younger kids or, in the case of very sensitive kids, be appropriate for slightly older kids. Adults can have fun with this module as well, provided they do not mind the whimsical names and constant, food-based nomenclature of the environments in the region. There is dangerous wildlife to be found within – among others, aggressive geese. Some city-dwellers may scoff there or go “Oh no!” – if you do, you obviously haven’t grown up in the country. Geese are malicious birds. They are aggressive and their bites HURT. A lot. (Yep, I have been on the receiving end of them.) Just something to note when judging whether this module works for your kids.

The adventure is set in the world of Terrallien, the kingdom of Threll, to be more precise – that would be the same world assumed in the other Legendary Beginnings adventures and it remains open enough to allow the module to be inserted into pretty much any fantasy setting. The module is intended for 2nd level PCs and the PCs are assumed to be part of the Zekerian Order, which means they’ll have the “extra-life” zekerian amulets – basically free action heals and autoheals when reduced to 0 hp. These work only once per day, though! So yeah – they constitute a kind of “easy mode” particularly suitable for kids that are easily frustrated. More hardcore children or adults should probably not get these amulets as a safety net.

It should be noted that the adventure is presented in a sandboxy style – there is a hex-map of the environment, which is also reproduced in a player-friendly version. In themes, this can, to a degree, be seen as a continuation in themes of “Into the Feyweald” and builds to a degree on the experiences the players made there; while the product does offer handholding, it offers a bit less than adventures in the series that are designed to be “first GMing experiences.”

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

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! King Ambrose of Threll has heard of reports from unhappy residents in the aptly-named town of Bakewell Tart; thus, he has chosen to send elite trouble-solvers – the PCs. Bakewell tart comes btw. with a gorgeous isometric map, player-friendly version included, and folks there are annoyed. In the school building, massive meowing was heard at night, but felines in general seem to have gone missing without a trace. Layne at the pub is faced with an onion thief; Cain the carpenter needs willow root; the pass to the church is blocked by a mountain troll (ostensibly convinced to block the path by a nefarious being – the PCs can get potions to sneak past the troll and find the culprit in the chocolate mountains); kids at school complain about nasty goblins at the lake bothering folks; Bree can’t make maple syrup and the owner of the potion shop needs something from the old willow tree and mushrooms. These quests are also represented by handout cue-cards. Nice!

Nice: There are rumors to be found and a particular character can provide the solution for the conundrum of missing cats – but he speaks only in riddles! And yes, the riddles are once again represented as handouts.

Okay, so for all these quests, there is bound to be some wilderness exploration! The PCs will have a chance to pass a majestic maple forest (and encounter dangerous wildlife, which can be scavenged and sold in town) or play rock-skipping with goblins that are extremely sore losers…so losing may actually be in the PC’s interest! If they play their cards right, they may well get some cooked fish, which they may hand to a pseudodragon…who would help the PCs, for example with onions, but a gopher is vexing him. And here, the first array of cards comes into play: The module comes with absolutely MEGA-CUTE memory-style cards of flowers, leeks, onions etc with faces so cute, I almost had an overload. Nice mini-game there!!

Anyway, there is also a little dungeon, the cranberry caves – where Guy, the svirfneblin has lured the cats – not out of ill will. You see, the deep gnome really hates rats and the caves are swarming with them. He’s offering a deal to the PCs: He’ll return the cats, go free and reward the PCs for clearing out the rats…and there are some optional rooms that contain some additional challenges, for particularly brave PCs.

The toadstool ring that can be found also sports a kind brownie – collecting maple leaves for the fellow may well reward the PCs with a magical toadstool vest that grants DR 5 versus bludgeoning damage.

At the old willow tree, a young dire weasel may make for a potential ally – provided the PCs can catch the playful animal – this is where the optional Pursuit deck comes into play, just fyi. And yes, skill-check based resolutions are provided as well.

At a forking pathway, the PCs may find a slacking faun, who is currently munching berries – in order to get him to make good on his promise, the PCs will have to succeed at social skills…or employ the optional Social Battle deck and best the faun.

Once the PCs move towards the pass blocked by the mighty troll, they may be in for a surprise: The owner of the most run-down restaurant in town is actually a disguised forlarren in league with the mighty troll! While the troll will not hunt them, he may well unleash his mountain aurochs and his mountain lion – proper and potent foes!

Once the PCs have escaped the troll’s creatures (the troll doesn’t leave the canyon – he’s been ordered to stay put), they’ll have to confront the forlarren, who, at one point, surrenders and offers releasing the troll of his duty, thus unblocking the pass. This would also be pretty much the main-quest/most difficult one.

Just fyi: Pursuit deck covers two pages à 6 cards each; the social combat deck covers 13 cards (the last card being on another page) over 3 pages; and treasure and quest cards are also included, allowing you to hand out the cards to make sure that the players don’t forget one of the small quests.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious hiccups in either rules-language or formal criteria. Layout adheres to a really nice two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports nice pieces of original full-color artworks. The cartography in particular deserves praise: Full-color, with player-friendly versions, the respective maps are really, really neat. The pdf comes with basic bookmarks for the chapters, which constitutes a minor criticism I have with the pdf: Nested bookmarks would have helped here. In fact, organization may well be the one thing I don’t like about the book: We first gain all the adventure-locales (bar the final sequence), then the village. Since the village is pretty much the hub for the sandbox, it would have made sense to present it first, as the wilderness encounters refer to quests that are gained in the village. Since this series assumes that both players and GMs aren’t seasoned veterans, that most assuredly would have made matters easier for the GM. Furthermore, while the cards do a good job at keeping track of the quests, I would have enjoyed a cheat-sheet one-page table summing up the bullet points of the quest for the GM, perhaps as a screen-insert or something like that. Sure, you can use the quest-cards, but while they make great handouts, they are a bit less useful for keeping track of things at one glance.

Rachel Ventura’s “A Feast of Flavor” is a wholesome adventure that oozes whimsy; apart from aforementioned dangerous wildlife, the module rewards solving combat in non-violent ways for the most part, makes clear that brains trump brawns and offers a wide variety of options. That being said, the amount of cards employed can be considered to be a bit gimmicky; still, without them, the resolutions of a couple of the challenges lose a bit of their unique nature. The best use of the cards would certainly be the cool memory game – it made for a great change of pace. The Social battle deck also was rather helpful.

Now adults or veteran players may consider a couple of these quests a bit “beneath” them, depending on how they handle whimsy; I probably wouldn’t play this with kids in puberty that want to be “totally grown up”. That being said, as a whole, this makes for a nice, flavorful offering. That being said, the organization is a bit challenging for novice GMs and the lack of an encounter map or terrain features does hurt the final encounter’s tactical challenge a bit. Still, as a whole, I consider this to be a well-made adventure worth getting. Taking all into account, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Legendary Beginnings: A Feast of Flavor
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Dungeon of the Unknown
Publisher: Lamentations of the Flame Princess
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/08/2017 06:19:05

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This „adventure“ clocks in at 38 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial/ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 34 pages of content, though these include the same map of the dungeon twice; once with a turquoise background and once with a white background (printer-friendlier) – as a whole, we get 32 pages of content that have been laid out for 6’’ by 9’’ (A5) – you can easily fit four pages on a given sheet of paper.

This review was made possible by one of my patreon, who gifted me this module and requested that I review it.

Okay, so first things first: This module depicts a dungeon on the Isle of The unknown, perhaps the environment I have been most ambivalent about in all my reviewer’s career. I assume in this review that you are familiar with my coverage of the Isle-sourcebook and its particular brand of weirdness.

This book, in many ways, represents a continuation of the Isle’s approach to design, for weal and woe: Discrepancies from standard rules for LotFP etc. are all present. The main draw of the supplement (for I am loathe to call it “adventure”) would be the chimeric creatures. There are 19 monsters within this pdf, all with the neat comic-style full-color artworks. The book evolves the formula of the presentation with scaling: Each of the creatures has multiple entries, gaining new and unique abilities at higher Hit Dice. The brand of weirdness is pretty much what you’ve come to expect from Isle of the Unknown – there is e.g. a creature that sports an orang-utan’s body with a dugong’s head and tail. Among the denizens of the dungeon, there are three entities that I’d consider to be important: Alchemist, Taxidermist (with animated animals) and Jester – these fellows are magic-users and as such, sports the evocative signature weirdness of Isle of the Unknown’s magic users. Like in the big book, there is no explanation provided for their abilities, no context, no names.

The book also spends a little bit more than 4 of its pages on a slime generator. In case you needed a generator to randomly determine that slimes can’t be hit by some damage types, but hurt by others. Since the results are random, there are no correlations between the appearance of the slime and its abilities. It’s all random. One could say that this “enhances the wondrous nature” of the slimes. To this sentiment, I’d reply: “They’re slimes.” mike drop Seriously, I don’t object to a slime generator, but it’s all random without a proper structure, takes up a lot of real estate…and the generator isn’t that great.

Speaking of wasted real estate: Did we REALLY need tin, brass, bronze and copper pieces as a replacement for the usual coinage? Seriously? The pdf tries to justify this step by quoting Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. I fail to see the relation. We’re on an island where a valley has literally a whole herd of sheep with golden fleeces. Yeah, totally down to earth, strapped for cash struggle for survival going on there…In case you’re wondering, yes that was sarcasm. I don’t object to such references. They should better be earned, though.

There are twelve numbered treasures to be found – there is exactly one among these treasures that I’d consider cool – it depicts a spell that transform you and your allies to moles on a trout for a time, allowing you to travel as non-sentient flecks. That is amazing! Yeah, that’s everything positive I can say about this section.

The adventure also sports 12 weird locales (one of which is tied in with Christian mythology, relevant if you’re not playing this in quasi-earth) and they represent the high point of the supplement – the fountain of platonic solids, with its diverse effects, for example, is amazing. Dumb talking doors got a chuckle out of me as well.

Then, there are the human factions. Before I talk too much, let me just show you the level of imaginative detail we get there:

“These Brigands are accomplished robbers and murderers. Their leader (the individual of highest level amongst them) is called the Brigand Lord. They wear leather armor and are armed with spears and daggers, and 25% have short bows.” That#s all there is to them. The rules-relevant component for the faction looks like this:

“If the average level of the PCs is 1st, then: 1d4+1 men

2nd: 2d6 men

3rd: 5d6 men

4th: 6d6 men“

…and so on. This one table is used for the 3 incredibly creative factions named Bandits, Brigands and Buccaneers. The fourth faction, the similarly-named Berserkers, gets a slightly different table. Are you as much in awe as I am right now? Can you feel the creativity, as you’re inspired by this gem of a table?

Anyways, the dungeon itself is a square. Two levels of cramped rooms, square-shaped. There are no descriptions, since you’re supposed to fill in e.g. the shorthand for the creatures, NPCs etc. to customize the dungeon. While it comes pre-filled, a ton remains empty. This makes it even more generic, potentially nonsensical. There is no player-friendly version of the maps. Also: Square dungeon, two levels. This is, hands down, the most boring, least inspiring and generic dungeon map I have seen in ages.

Notice something? Yeah, this is not a module; it’s a sketch you can kinda use. If you really want to.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good. Layout adheres to a 1-column full-color standard and the artworks of the critters are nice. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

If this had been the first book by Geoffrey McKinney I read, I would have never touched anything he wrote ever again. From the generators to the respective rooms, a ton of places are blank spaces; no descriptions, nothing; ultra-generic human factions…and a few sprinklings of wonder…of the same type that already became tiring in Isle. In fact, this book, instead of expanding the strangeness of the Isle and adapting it to a dungeon just uses the same sterile approach and jams it into an encramped space. It doesn’t work. At all.

If you, by some wondrous happenstance, have finished Isle and ended up wanting even more of the same type of weirdness, then the monsters herein and 3 magic-users scratch that itch. The weird locales are nice and can be scavenged. But the rest of this “module” is a train-wreck. It’s bare-bones, generic and bland in all other aspects and even the wondrous aspects just provide more of the same old tricks from the Isle-book. In the dungeon, we could have had so many amazing locations, ideas; Heck, pretty much all LotFP adventures or those by other OSR publishers sport some amazing, creative, flavorful rooms, challenges, traps. This book, in comparison, is a sketch of a generator – and even if rated as such, it’s not a particularly good one. Having read this multiple times, I can’t for the life of me, find ANY reason why I should work with this dungeon in the first place. A couple of dressings can be ripped out, but playing this as written? Oh boy. I wouldn’t want to GM or play this book as presented.

As many of you know, I collect RPG books and I am blessed to have a lot LotFP-books in print; this book is one of the few examples of a book where, even if I was offered the physical copy for a buck…I’d say no.

There is some minor value in the weird dressing and critters, but frankly, Isle offers the better bang for buck ratio for that type of weirdness and there are literally a gazillion better dressing books, both for classic dungeons and stranger ones. My final verdict will clock in at 1.5 stars, and while personally, I consider this to be a 1-star-mess, as a reviewer, I have to take into account that some folks may enjoy even more creatures that adheres to the same aesthetics. Hence, my official review will round up.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon of the Unknown
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Fantastic Heroes & Witchery
Publisher: DOM Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/07/2017 04:27:59

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive rule-set clocks in at 430 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page general hyperlinked ToC (kudos for the added comfort!),4 pages extra-detailed ToC (again, hyperlinked for your convenience!), 4 pages of general index (again with hyperlinks and at the front of the book for easy navigation!), 4 pages of spell index (you guessed it – with hyperlinks, at the front of the book, for comfortable navigation), 2 pages of SRD, 1 page character sheet, leaving us with a massive 412 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This book was provided by a patreon (not sure if the gentleman wanted to be identified) and requested as a prioritized review. My review is based on the pdf-version of this massive book, since I do not own the print version and therefore cannot comment on the merits of the print version.

Okay, so this is, in general, an OSR-type of game; it is suffused in the aesthetics of old school roleplaying. But this is not just a rehash. To contextualize this book: We do not have a system that tries to be too close to the original versions of the game; unlike Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry or, for example, OSRIC, this moves a bit further from the established base. At the same time, it does not assume a d6-style gamplay like AFG or VSD6 and, while more “modern” in several aspects, the game is not as radical a departure from the old framework as NGR. But how does Fantastic Heroes & Witchery fit into the OSR as a whole, how does it work?

Well, among the attributes, there are no surprises: 6 attributes, Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma. Human range is usually 3 – 18, with 19 being classified as superhuman. Modifiers range from -4 (at 1) to +4 (at 19) for the attributes and maximum spell level is similarly capped by attributes. Very high relevant spellcasting attributes can provide a very limited amount of bonus spell slots. The system assumes a superhuman attribute cap of 25, akin to older editions of the game.

The attribute modifiers similarly should not provide too much surprises: Strength mod is added to melee attack + damage and physical skill checks like running, swimming, etc. and is used in saves vs. physically impeding obstacles, for example. Dexterity modifier is added to ranged attack roll (not damage!), used for Stealth etc. and may be used in saves to avoid e.g. a dragon’s breath etc. – you get where this goes right? Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll realize at this point that saves. Saves are denoted by a fixed value on the respective class table, and quite a few of the options herein further modify that. Still, as provided, there can be saves associated with any of the attributes, which means that, in this aspect, the closest analogue would probably be D&D 5e.

Races in the system are not necessarily treated as a class, but instead…well. As a race. As such, though, there is a balancing aspect applied to them – we have maximum levels for the non-human races to balance that aspect. A handy table collates these caps, just fyi. However, the races do have minimum attribute requirements AND maximums; when you’re a dwarf, your maximum Dexterity can’t exceed 17, for example. Now, I did write “necessarily” above, since there are actually racial classes for the non-human races; in these, they generally have unlimited advancement and this, ultimately, provides an out-game motivation to choose these. In-game, this makes the races more culturally relevant.

Important note: The race does determine the racial hit-die; this hit-die denotes the wound capacity; class-levels provide hit dice as well; these are vitality hit points. You will note at this point, that the system requires a distinction between character level and class level – and that, by virtue of the racial hit points, 1st level characters are not wet towels in a world of razors. Personally, I consider that to be a pretty elegant solution. Movement rates are denoted in both 1e/2e and 3e-style notation – default would be 12’’ (30 feet). Interesting among the racial write-ups: Instead of 3e and the follow up’s distinction between low-light and darkvision, we retain the classic infravision, but make distinctions in how exactly it works, from race to race. We do get the classic races, including half-elves and half-orcs. Humans are set apart by an experience bonus…but there is more. Beyond these usual suspects, we also add rules for tieflings – who are treated more as a template race here – there could, e.g. be Halfling-based tieflings and dark elves, to note one example that is depicted in full, would be considered to be a tiefling race.

Upon completing this section, you will immediately notice that this book, familiarity nonewithstanding, seems to be a bit…different. For after the traditional fantasy races, we get weird tales races – a whole chapter. This is not an afterthought, either – this section is pretty much the equivalent of another rule book’s whole racial chapter. Now, unsurprisingly, this section is deeply infused by Appendix N-aesthetics; we get rules for exotic humans (you could use the rules presented here to make Carcosan human species, for example); there are rules for Earthlings (humans from Earth, particularly suitable for planes-hopping and Sword &Planet, obviously), who actually gain some abilities that are WEIRD – what may be common here may well be uncanny in another world and we can’t fathom the effects alien worlds might have on us…so personally, I liked that. Tainted humans are those that have been tainted by radiation, exposure to the entities of the Cthulhu Mythos, etc.; there are rules for Planet of the Apes-style Primates; for Reptilian PCs (with subtribes based on chromatic dragon colors for the dragonborn fans), revenants (yep, playable undead, who offset their power with the need to consume life and vulnerabilities) and there even are winged folk. While I am not a big fan of low-level flight, the weight-based restrictions imposed on their flight and the other modifications do offset this significant advantage somewhat. Finally, witchlings are humans that devolved (or evolved) into another race via constant exposure to the occult and potent, black magic.

Okay, after this massive section, we get a couple of general backgrounds to choose from; Alignment is less important in FH&W; most people are assumed to be, basically neutral; the only other axis that is relevant is the old one – Law and Chaos. That being said, exemplars of these are probably rarer than in comparable games.

As you could glean from the existence of racial classes, there is bound to be a HEFTY chapter on classes; a handy table in the beginning groups classes by type/race and then lists them.

Classes provide a BtH – the Bonus-to-Hit, basically the attack bonus. BtH can be classified as full, ¾ or ¼ - generally, spellcasters will be REALLY sucky at hitting things; worse so than in even d20-based games. New vitality hit dice are gained each level, up to 9th; for the remainder of levels (as classes range in levels from 1 – 13), we get fixed bonus hit points. Classes do have requirements, feature the equivalent of proficiencies regarding weaponry and armor, and sport class features; classes may also provide bonuses to specifc saves – fighters, for example, get +2 to saving throws to Strength and Constitution saves. In general, you can assume each odd level to provide a class feature. In this way, the classes presented herein are indebted to new-school aesthetics – and, in my mind, they’re better off for it, as even fighters allow for a bit of customization and player agenda. Now, before the grognards out there start hissing and booing: The respective features, in general, remain well beyond the rules-complexity of e.g. 5e, let alone PFRPG. Speaking of which: The berserker and knight, to take two variants, would be the stand-ins for barbarian/paladin; Nice: knights per se are NOT per default paladins or antipaladins/blackguards; instead, there is a chance to gain this status in play, but it remains rare; considering that paladins were historically known as the 12 peers, foremost members of Charlemagne’s court defined by larger than life and mostly fictitious propaganda denoting the superiority of Christian martial arts over that of the Sarazens. I digress.

A big departure from traditional depictions of classes would be the lack of a divine caster – instead, we get an elegant little class that, to me, feels much more “divine” that the god-coated cleric ever did – the Friar. Armor up to chain-mail, d8 HD…and basically, the main draw of the class is the prayer mechanic: You roll dice, depending on your level, as a full-round action. This generates an effect: Countering magic, blessing allies, dispelling charms – you know “magic” stuff that is actually ascribed to the devout. However, each subsequent use of prayer actually adds to the chances of not getting the aid you prayed for. You begin with rolling 1d6 + Wisdom modifier and increase that to up to 3d12 base dice at 13th level; the second prayer only succeeds on a 2+; the third only on a 3+…and so on. This is dead simple, easy to grasp and flavorful. Oh, and at higher levels, they can ask for divine intervention. Seriously, seriously love this class. The mystic would be basically a monk class and is a subset of the friar; the templar would be the hand of god, the martial, blessed soldier. Assassins, bards and acrobats would be subsets of the thief.

Wizards would be the primary casters, gaining spells of up to 6th level, with warlocks and wise man/woman as subsets; before you’re asking: No, warlocks are not all-day blasters, but rather casters that dabble in forbidden magics, traitors to their kin by virtue of the knowledge they crave, if you will. You know. Closer to the actual meaning of the word. I digress. The base array of classes, as a whole, struck me as well-balanced. The rules-language is surprisingly precise and definitely takes a cue from the crisp and precise old-school books and the codification strategies employed by current systems.

Onwards to the racial classes! The clansdwarf would basically be the dwarven specialist fighter; the gothi the armored, dwarven spellcaster who can cast in combat while wielding a weapon; their spells are also not automatically ruined by being hit, making them pretty strong – they get a Constitution save. They are, however, restricted to white magic Elven eldritch archers can, bingo, enchant arrows and their fae-mages are gray magic specialists who may place spells in objects etc. The class comes with subsets – druid-y nature priests called forestalls that can exclusively nature spells and wardens, basically rangers with limited fighting prowess. I’ll give you three guesses what the specialty of gnomish Illusionists is; you’re correct, of course, though their spell-list is called “Delusion”, not illusion in a conscious departure focusing on effect rather than description. Tricksters are basically a hybrid of that class and the thief. Halflings can choose to be the lucky folk champion underdog fighter or the thief-y scout.

Now, there also are weird classes – if I had to codify these fellows in the terms of another rules-system, I’d call them occult classes, perhaps more fitting for early modern/Edwardian/Victorian gameplay; the necronimus, for example, can sense the spirits and gains a degree of awareness of them, though they are, perhaps surprisingly, white magic casters. Occultists would be the black magic side of the coin, defined by corruption and dark lore, but also uniquely suited to defeat fiends and demonic entities – basically the antihero trope.The psychic would be the equivalent of FH&W’s adaptation of the classic old-school psionics: We get the classics like mind blast, Id insinuation, etc., a point-based psi-engine, etc. – but also the attack and defense mode engine. I’m gonna earn some boos and hisses by saying that, but here goes. Old-school psionics suck. I always loved the idea of psionics to death, from the moment when I first read it. However, psionics only got good at 3.5 and onwards, courtesy of Dreamscarred Press and later, Paizo’s psychic spell engine as an alternative. The attack vs. defense mode system, while sensible on paper, never ever played well. It was always exceedingly clunky and frankly, I wished that this class had deviated further from it. Anyway, if this works for you: Cool, I don’t judge, more power to you. Playing with it, I consider it just as clunky as the old-school psionics.

The rifleman would be the gunslinger, the dashing space-opera hero with great aim, defensive rolls and tech-use; the savant is the Doc Brown-style mad tinker/inventor and is a class for the player who enjoys a bit more freeform: While concise guidelines for devices are provided, the engine presented is pretty open. The sky-lord would be the ace pilot, while the wild brute is basically the savage/Mowgli-type character.

Okay, so that would be the class roster; I already touched upon wound hit points and vitality hit points; this distinction is btw. only usually made for PCs - no need to track it with NPCs. Transition from saves of other systems, be that 3.X or old-school games, is btw. dead simple and further facilitated by the handy tables; transition from 5e is a cake-walk that probably doesn’t even require any brain-power; I’m confident I could manage it while horribly drunk. Petrification and polymorph, for example,a re translated to Strength; Death, paralysis and poison to Constitution; Charisma is used to resist spells that do not have a listed attribute noted in their description. Dead simple. Characters heal 1 + Con modifier hit-points per day, 3 + Con modifier for proper rest; characters are dying from -1 to -9 and -10 = death. For every wound hit point lost, characters suffer a cumulative -1 penalty to ALL DICE ROLLS. This means that, even if you have a high racial Hit Die, you won’t necessarily work well longer; it just means that you’ll be more likely to be able to limp away. Skill-checks work pretty much like in current games: d20 + bonuses vs. DC. An average task is DC 10, nearly impossible is DC 30. There are rules for opposed checks, characters may be aided – here, the emphasis on teamwork and assistance provides a nice bit of detail.

Now, let us take a look at the equipment: The system assumes a gold standard and provides both ascending and descending values for armor class notation. Default is, btw. AC 10. Armors impose a skill penalty and a spell failure chance. Exotic armor like dragon armor, samurai armor etc. is included. The weapon selection is massive, provides examples for further weapons, and base damage types are differentiated: Bludgeoning, slashing and piercing damage. A metric ton of kits, outfits etc. can also be found, and yes, there are rules for early firearms, should your game include them….and then, we get something I did not necessarily expect.

A whole chapter on science-fantasy equipment. Whether you’re looking for rules to play fish out of water/time anachronistic adventures, want to do some steampunky reskinning or go full-blown space opera, this chapter provides items from revolvers to laser guns, noting how technology differs from magic in its capabilities. And yes, from zeppelins to hover cars, this section is neat and shows that this type of gameplay is not just a fire and forget afterthought.

If required, a massive table collates item saving throws and substance hardness. Combat should provide no issues for veterans of the game: Initiative is rolled with a d6, adding casting duration or speed factor of the weapon to it; low scores go first. Surprise is btw determined by a d6 roll in scenarios where it’s not clear. The larger the creature, the higher the speed factor of natural attacks. Interesting: The further you walk, the higher the initiative segment, and receiving charges, for example, can decrease the initiative segment. If this sounds weird, it’s not: The roll determines when the action begins, the modification how long it takes. This sounds complicated on paper, but is dead simple in gameplay and can yield some surprisingly rewarding, tactical situations and also allows you to play really cinematic boss fights. Now, the combat system per se is similarly easy – I already covered how attacking works; actions are similarly simple: There are primary actions (basically like standard actions/5e actions), secondary actions (move actions/move/bonus actions) and free actions. The game assumes a critical hit/fumble engine and sports a couple of combat modifier, but not excessively many. Further emphasizing tactics, the game knows multiple defensive actions: Choosing to evade applies +4 to AC versus ONE attack; parrying nets you +2 to AC versus 3 attacks. Apart from fleeing in a panic, there is no real attack of opportunity system in place, but from strangulation to putting a blade against a target’s throat etc., the whole array of combat maneuvers is covered and pretty much available. TWF and unarmed fighting rules are pretty concise as well. Due to the simplicity of the system and the relatively easy math, even called shots tend to work as intended. Morale checks for creatures are also assumed to be part of the offering, just so you know.

Vehicle combat rules are included; turning/rebuking undead is based on creature HD and character level; psionic combat…okay, it’s not bad per se…but it’s indebted to the classic attack/defense mode paradigm. Next. We do also briefly mention duels of rhetoric, which was a nice touch. Exploration, overland movement by terrain, sea- and airborne travel (with trails, wind etc. influencing speed), becoming lost, chase rules (including chases in the wilderness and at sea, dungeons, etc.) supplemented with random hazards/obstacles.

Now, there is one component about the health/hit-point mechanic that I’m not too fond of: Not only do wound hit points influence the rolls of the character, they also decrease speed – which means that dwarves, with their low speed, can theoretically be still in fighting shape, but RAW unable to move. While easily remedied with a minimum value, this is still a surprising guffaw in the otherwise, as a whole rather impressively precise book. While we’re on the subject: I am rather happy that the Constitution-based percentile chance to not being able to be recovered from death makes a return – death should mean something and some of my most nail-bitingly intense moments were the rare resurrection rolls in my earlier games. But I digress.

Among the conditions known, we have the usual suspects like blindness/deafness, diseases, etc. – and 5 levels or drunkenness (YEAH!), 4 levels of fear (you guessed it: shaken, frightened, panicked, cowering)…but it should be noted that both starvation and losing limbs are their own things here. Ability loss persists while the condition that instills it does; ability damage heals at a rate of 1 per day; ability drain needs magical fixing. Energy drain, lycanthropy and petrification are as deadly as the old-school crowd wants them to be. Be afraid. Rules for high altitudes, suffocation, toxic air, smoke, corrosive atmosphere, extreme temperatures, deep snow, avalanches, instant freezing, falling (yes may go partially straight to your wound hit points…), rain, storms – you note it. The chapter on these environmental and terrain effects is massive, exhaustive and pretty much amazing.

Sample NPCs, hireling rules and an easy to grasp monster/NPC-notation – simple, handy, no complaints. Now, beyond the friars mentioned, we take a look at priests and gods – several takes on gods and how they may or may not exist, are provided before we get EVEN MORE class options, like the witch-hunter fighter, the crusader berserker. The preacher bard variant or the inquisitor thief sub-class. A MASSIVE array of deties and potential subjects of worship is provided, remaining setting-agnostic throughout – elemental water, fertility deity, fortune – you get the idea. Basically, you get the rules and then can apply the template provided to your setting of choice. A class for champions or law and chaos and one for the guardians of neutrality complements this section. While we’re at it: We do not stop there. We receive a massive, detailed discussion on the matter of the immortal soul, petitioners, as well as on the planar cosmology assumed (including discussions on positive/negative energy plane and plane of shadows!!) etc. - kudos for going the extra mile here!

Now, magic. As briefly touched upon before, FH&W does not per se assume an arcane/divine divide in magics; instead, magic is categorized in white, gray and black. I am not going to insult your intelligence by explaining these notions, so let’s talk about some of the other components that set the magic engine presented within apart: Beyond even more variant/sub-class options, we actually not only get rules and guidelines for spell-research, but also for incantations. In case you are not familiar with the concept: Think of these more as sword & socery-esque magic, as ritualized forms of magic that can have benefits ranging from a folk magic charm to the calling of a demon lord. The notion and concept has always been exceedingly dear to my heart, so big kudos for providing the like. It should also be noted that the creation of pentagrams and protection circles against entities is provided in its own brief sub-section, once more providing a level of detail and coverage that rather baffled me, in a good way. Speaking of which: The optional rules for severe sorcery put a smile on my face: Obsessions gained from study, true names and their power, inherent danger of preparing spells, ley lines, rules for ritual sacrifice – here, we have a massive selection of rules that can dramatically tweak how magic feels in your game. We get spell-lists by school…and then a MASSIVE grimoire of magic. Spells are listed alphabetically, with class level, casting time, save, target, range, duration, and SR, if applicable, noted in the beginning. I love this. You get the meat of the spell’s effects at one glance, sans having to skim through the whole spell’s text. Kudos for going the detailed route here. Oh, and guess what: Some spells are reversible. How many are there? 666. Yes, that’s A LOT. And there are some pretty cool ones: You know you want to cast zombie stooge ,or time mirror right?

Even after this HUGE chapter, we are NOT YET DONE. The appendices collate ability score in a table; you get age, height and weight tables, personality descriptors; a system to pledge allegiance to causes, nations, organizations, etc. to gain benefits; a system to track cultural origins and language and literacy (OH YES!!!) in THREE categories (primitive, default medieval, advanced (OH DOUBLE YES!!)! We get sample names by race and culture; an optional social origin system; alternatives to determine hit points; a quick and dirty one-page insanity-system; an appendix that collates all skills and provides sample DCs for them as well as conversion guidelines (YEAH!). Want further differentiation between fighters? Combat styles are provided; fencers can feint and deflect arrows, boxers can flurry…you get the idea. Want to adapt your favorite class? Conversion advice for 1E, 2E and 3.X classes is provided.

Oh, and guess what? MORE CLASSES. I am not kidding you. We get basically a Zorro-style adventurer; a druid-y animist; we get scary monks (all those creepy killer monk tropes rolled into a class), a pirate and a naval mage…and the thick brute. For when you want to play the rather dumb, but really strong character. Oh, and guess what – while the default system goes to level 13…there is an epic level appendix that expands that range to frickin’ level 25!

Now, if you want, you can also take a look at the saving throw appendix and take a look at the cool tweaks the system proposes for reactive and active saving throws: Foregoing your action to prepare for an incoming spell or effect would constitute, for example, such a case. This sounds complex, but in play, it is quite the opposite and rather self-explanatory. We close this massive tome with a list of spheres associated with particular domains, should you prefer spellcasting priests, and a critical hit table further expanded, with class specific effects.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting may be the one aspect that some people might grumble about. While the rules-language and formal language is generally precise, there are a couple of instances where it is evident that the author is not a native speaker; not through malapropisms, but via a couple of slightly rough verbiages. These instances are surprisingly few in number, though – I can literally rattle off a list of books with a lower rules-density, penned by native speakers, that did not fare as well as this tome. Layout is surprisingly gorgeous for such a tome: It is crisp, black and white and sports a LOT of nice graphical elements: Scrolls, original and stock art – all comes together rather nicely. The book is incredibly easy to navigate, courtesy of the indices, the hyperlinks and the massive array of nested bookmarks. My one criticism regarding the organization is that, personally, I would have preferred all classes and class options in one place; that is a personal preference, though – I get the decision to group them next to the respective optional rules.

Fantastic Heroes & Witchery is pretty much the “eierlegende Wollmichsau” among the OSR-systems. In case you’re not familiar with the term: It literally means “egglaying woolmilk(-giving)pig” and figuratively denotes a jack-of-all-trades. This book is perhaps the ultimate example of kitchen-sink modularity in OSR games…and beyond.

What do I mean by this? As many of you know, I really like BOTH super-complex games like Pathfinder, slightly simpler ones like 5e, old-school games AND really rules-lite games. Here’s the thing, though – ultimately, for longer games, you require two things to stave off boredom, or at least, I do. I need options and the capability to depict multiple types of gameplay. Sure, I love a good GUMSHOE investigation! I absolutely can get behind an amazing mega-dungeon hackfest! I adore really bleak purist horror! But know what I cherish about both the complex systems and the OSR-movement as a whole? Both provide a gazillion of ways to modify and tweak the game. Sure, I can play, e.g. LotFP as the designated quasi-historical weird fantasy game…and add some Stars Without Numbers etc. But this meshing, at one point, becomes a bit more complex than it needs to be. As “simple” as most old-school rules are, they quickly become less simple once you start getting into the heavy tweaking; that’s not bad for short games, but I prefer longer campaigns, and thus a sense of consistency in that department.

Dominique Crouzet's Fantastic Heroes & Witchery delivers just that for me. It’s a masterpiece. It’s like coming home. This game manages to walk the tightrope: You can play it as a rather simple, classic game on par with the big OSR-systems…or you can make use of the massive wealth of options presented. The combat, as depicted herein, is dynamic and incredibly fun and tactical – it rewards player brains and forethought. Moreover, it does not fall prey to them “I hit it with my sword”-syndrome, where the martial characters just stand around and bash on things. You can literally run a combat, where a gigantic Kaiju tries to squash the PCs as they hurry from cover to cover. I have rarely seen a system that is so simple, yet rewarding and complex, that lets you create such cinematic moments. The simple skill-engine nets a ton to do beyond killing things.

And better yet: Much like 3.X and PFRPG or 5e, the system sports an incredible flexibility: You can literally tie in almost anything into it with minimal fuss: Want to add in full-blown horror? No problem, the framework’s already here; expanding it is a cakewalk. Do you still have your favorite module from such a system lying around, the one you never got to run? Well, conversion is ridiculously simple. For 5e, you can basically do in on the fly as well. Want to include spacecraft rules? No problem. Heck, you could even translate a really complex combo-based martial artist class to this system, provided you have a bit of design skill. This system is not only compatible with regards to other OSR-games, it extends that compatibility to the new school systems and creates what may well be the absolute apex of system modularity I have seen so far, all without losing its own identity and touch. The magic-classification, the friar class, the way in which races are handled (which btw. also makes race –class conversion ridiculously simple), the excessive attention to detail provided for things like vehicles, travel, etc. – I have rarely seen a book that made me, time and again, smile so much. NGR, in comparison, is a glorious system as well, but conversion takes more effort, particularly when converting from newer systems.

The biggest achievement of Fantastic Heroes & Witchery, to me, however, would be that it manages to capture the nostalgia and simplicity of old-school gaming with the wealth of options (emphasis on optional!) of current games; all but the most number-crunching and min-maxing players will adore this book; it provides tactical and strategic depth without being mired in it. In case you haven’t noticed: This may not be as crisp as LotFP or S&W, but it is incredibly encompassing. I can pretty much take any book from my library of adventures, setting sourcebooks etc. and run it in FH&W without much fuss. Depending on your skill, you may even pull of such a transition on the fly. I deemed that to be an impossible feat. This book accomplished it.

And yes, I am SO going to get this in print.

If that has, by now, not become abundantly clear: I adore this book. It is a masterpiece in its encompassing nature, in its tendency to embrace what is good about a system, in how easily you can customize it.

If the idea of going old-school with simplified, quicker combat without losing the excitement provided by tactical combat even remotely appeals to you, if you look for a system that can easily handle PFRPG, 5e and OSR-conversions (heck, even 13th Age/4e, but that’ll be more work), then get this right now. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval. Oh, and while this was released in 2014, I make it a candidate for my Top Ten – after all, I only was pointed towards this masterpiece this year.

All right, only one thing left for me to do, and that is to thank the patreon that requested this book. I have rarely had so much fun with a book and FH&W is going to accompany me and influence my gaming sensibilities for a long time to come.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fantastic Heroes & Witchery
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vs. Stranger Stuff: Season 2
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/06/2017 12:17:56

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This second and vastly expanded iteration of „Vs. Stranger Stuff” clocks in at 112 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a massive 108 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

Okay, so first things first – this is obviously inspired by the AMAZING series Stranger Things – while I can still argue about why the D&D-name analogues in the series don’t work too well and that the kids should know better, I adore it and have rarely had this much fun with it; the original iteration of this game was pretty much a quick and dirty adaptation of the VsM-engine, with the primary focus on some easy gaming inspired by the hit series, or pretty much another form of weird 80s-inspired adventuring.

Fast forward and we get this massive expansion of the system. Beyond a list of inspirations that can be helpful, you don’t need much to play – a playing card deck will do the trick (minus Jokers) and, should you want to, there is actually a custom deck you can get; it is by no means required to play though! Big kudos here for not going for the cash-grab option and locking the system to a custom card deck.

Anyways, the first crucial difference to e.g. Vs. Ghosts will be evident pretty much from the get-go: This system comes in 3 modes: In Easy Node, the Kids are basically superheroes and PCs don’t die – they are just knocked out, which allows you to tell kid-friendly stories sans frustrations. Normal Mode lets PCs only die if they do something really dumb and the Kids are above-average in power. Finally, there would be Hard Mode (preferable setting for experienced roleplayers, whether they’re kids or adults) – in this mode, PCs die when their Toughness falls below 0 and the attributes of the Kids are as bad as everyone else’s. Season One adventures are retroactively classified as Easy Mode scenarios, just fyi. (It should also be noted that the Easy Mode is available as a FREE pdf and at-cost PoD!)

Character generation is simple: The player character is the Kid, and is defined by two attributes: Brains and Muscles. You either have 3/5 (strong Kid), 5/3 (smart kid) or 4/4 (balanced Kid) in these. These values determine how many cards you draw when you face an obstacle. 7 is usually mortal peak, 13 is basically “god”-level. These are the normal mode rules – easy mode nets 6/4 or 5/5, while hard mode nets a 4/2 or 3/3-distribution.

Much like vs. Ghosts, these can be modified by good and bad gimmicks. Some of these represent attribute increases, while others are what you’d expect: A cool older sibling nets you a reliable older buddy; being popular or schooled or rich; these similarly are pretty self-explanatory, I assume. They also include increased Toughness (hit points/health of the system), etc. – but while you have a good gimmick, you also have to pick a bad one: Broken homes, poor depth perception, nosy siblings – they are pretty much as self-explanatory as the good ones. Every character starts play with 10 Toughness, basically your hit points, which may be modified by gimmicks.

Vs. Stranger Stuff usually doesn’t track equipment – the system has you draw a card and compare it to the equipment value of the desired equipment. Cool: There is an optional rule for groups seeking to track money etc. and there are plenty of sample values and items. Cool: There are optional rules for off-brand equipment, which has a chance of malfunctioning and causing even injury…but at the same time, it’s less costly.

The core mechanic of the game is incredibly simple: When you e.g. have a challenge to Muscles, it sports a TV – the target value. You draw the associated attribute number of cards and succeed when you draw at least one card of the TV value. Opposed checks have two characters draw their attribute cards; the one with the highest card wins. Teamwork is emphasized: The character with the highest attribute draws cards, plus one per assisting character! This means that players will want to help each other out.

Okay, so, reading cards: Red suits are generally good, black ones generally bad. The sequence of suits is Hearts > Diamonds > Clubs > Spades – so yeah, cue anguished looks and Motörhead when you draw the “ACE OF SPADES”! …Sorry, couldn’t help myself there. A simple draw is an easy decision facilitator for the game: Hearts = something very good happens, Diamonds something good…you get the idea.

Okay, so how does fighting work: Each character can act once during a Turn; Turns have a variable duration, not a fixed frame of time – so, in one combat, a Turn could be a minute, in another a couple of seconds. Attacks and actions are usually resolved when the character takes then, unless a delay is in order and determined by the GM. Initiative is simple: The player left to the GM goes first, then the next, etc. NPCs and monsters act last. In Hard Mode, an alternate system for drawing for initiative makes things more interesting and causes less potential for bickering about seating order at the table- I strongly suggest using it, even in Easy Mode. Surprise is handled by providing a free Turn.

Movement in combat is similarly abstract per default, with drawing based on brains or muscles as an alternative to the freeform; if you prefer a more crunchy solution, hard mode bases movement on muscles: move muscles units of measurement and act, or move twice that amount but don’t act. This, once again, is easy to grasp, but makes the game more tactical…and, at least to me, rewarding. Melee is based on Muscles, ranged combat on Brains – so, either way, you’re automatically competent at what you do. Melee requires you beat the opponent’s Muscle value to hit, ranged attacks require that you beat the RV – Ranged Value. Some monsters may have a Defense Value that overrides these; weak monsters that are hard to hit. Hard Mode does provide optional values for tougher damaging of foes, basically a confirmation; otherwise, it’s fairly easy to damage targets, but not necessarily to kill them – attacks only inflict 1 – 3 damage, typically. That being said, incurring damage matters: 5, 2 and 0 toughness are thresholds that impose penalties to the attributes due to pain; -2 is the threshold for being dead. Wimpy kids are more susceptible to pain, while certain NPCs can be less susceptible. Furthermore, you can make bad gimmicks based on injuries – broken limbs, concussions.

Now, per default, there is NO HEALING. When taking basically a long rest, you regain 1 toughness; short rests reduce pain levels. There are rules for first aid, pain killers and long-term treatment that allow for the regaining of functionality, though, as a whole, characters will want to avoid serious injury. From basically video game logic to unreliable healing and drugs that require draws, the customization options presented for the system are impressive here as well.

Notice something? Customization is the name of the game and this book has more for you. Need rules for damaging objects? Included. Rules for fire, fireworks and explosives? Right here. Rules for Fear Challenges (including negative repercussions for (failing to) sleep)… really cool. Now, the GM gets some serious array of tools here: Hazard-wise, we get rules for falling, light/darkness, rules for sneaking through the shadows, water as a hazard, drowning, hazardous weather, endurance required by long-term tasks, food, air and water – these are simple and fun; the leitmotif for the GM is “keep it simple, make it fun” – as such, the GM section provides advice on the creation of 4-act adventures, reward bonus draws, reward good gimmicks, earned bad gimmicks…and we actually get downtime rules between adventures: These include ways to add/remove gimmicks, bonus draws, equipment or attribute increases; playing games within the game (The PCs are Kids, after all), is also handled – and sidequests can be either used as a story-facilitator, etc. The pdf provides examples for specific games, from whack-a-mole to pinball, including easy examples. Tickets can be turned into rewards – though here, something went wrong in the table – there are strike-through boxes placeholders where card-icons should be, which is somewhat odd…but since the basic resolution mechanic is simple, you can deduce the symbol meant). Oh, and if you’re lucky, you can perhaps get ninja throwing stars, switchblades, basically a Commodore=64 with serial numbers filed off…( As an aside: If your German is passable and/or you enjoy good Synthwave – check out Welle:Erdball, one of my favorite bands…they actually make music with them.)

Really neat: Locations have a cost to hang out there and rules that provide restrictions; they also have a cool rating; the higher the rating, the less likely bad stuff will happen there. They usually have points of interest, NPCs – you get the idea. It’s a simple, easy to grasp system to codify how you think about locales. Beyond generic NPCs, GMs also get a premade NPC babysitter as a nice example on how the rules can be employed.

Oh, and there, obviously, is the eponymous Stranger Stuff: We get enthralling recorders, a sentient build-your-own robot toy, tomes, x-ray specs that work…and there are strange powers; from astral projection t being forgettable (which comes with a nasty scenario-suggestion earlier) to parasitic rejuvenation and the classic pyrokinesis, these powers run the gamut of the iconic classics. Once more we get a sample character – 13, who is, surprise, wanted by the MIB…

The monsters presented in the next section fall in 4 general categories – Aliens, cryptids, humans and supernatural threats – from maniacs to aliens and sentient ideas, the basic tools here are nice. Cooler yet: The year is 1984, so we get a list of highest grossing films, TV programs (with network), full moons notes, billboard year-end Top 10 songs and important events. The town of Crestview Hills comes with some sample NPCs and locations and serves a brief backdrop and default setting for the adventures for the system, with a small town named Slim River being close to it, though it is less detailed.

Okay, so the pdf also provides an adventure by Kiel Howell – “The Mask Behind the Make-up” – it is intended as a Normal Mode scenario and sports a bullet-point break-down: At one glance you can see “Adolescent Mischief”, “Crude Humor”, etc. – in short, at one glance, you can determine what could be problematic if you use this for kids or sensitive folks, allowing for instant awareness and an easier customization…on the other hand, if you’re into horror and/or have hardened players, these can just as well act as bullet points to make the respective aspects more extreme. I really like this and hope that further season 2 scenarios will employ it as well! The adventure is pretty well-made (though it doesn’t sport maps or the like) and enjoyable – and it ties in well with the other Vs. Stranger Stuff offerings, which I will cover in due time.

A random generator for adversaries, their motivation, etc. allows you to quickly come up with adventure frameworks. We also get a neat full-color character sheet, a full-color location sheet…and a b/w-map of a town, which you can use as a coloring prop…or, you know, color unlocked/pertinent locations.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, for the most part, are very good; on a rules-language level, I have no complaints; on a formal level, there are a couple of relics where card-suite symbols should be and use/us-level glitches can be found here and there. Not too many, but if you’re picky, it may come up. Layout adheres to an album-style and the pdf uses graphical elements from 80s’ gaming/videos/etc. in subtle ways – it’s not obtrusive, but it is a nice touch and shows the extra care that went into the gorgeous layout of this game. Artworks depict e.g. collectible playing-card paraphernalia, poster-facsimiles, “photos” with strange stuff inside…the overall aesthetics are really neat. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Lucus Palosaari, with additional content by Rick Hershey and Kiel Howell, has really stretched his design muscles with this modification of the VsM-engine. My main issue with vs. Ghosts, in comparison, is that it is very reliant on the ghost-hunting equipment. The acquisition of these isn’t linear, so planning longer games isn’t too easy. Vs. Stranger Stuff Season 2 eliminates that component – it emphasizes different aspects of the game. The locations and their cool rating, and, more importantly, the versatility of the system, deserve a big round of applause: With this game, you can conceivably play a Scooby-doo-type of wholesome kid-mystery…or you can basically go Stephen King-grimdark smalltown-dystopia.

The more detailed and simulationalist hard mode rules add a SERIOUS amount of potential for longer games; while the VsM-engine isn’t perfect for epic tales and massive character progressions, the hard mode options allow for well-made and enjoyable “mini-series” – you know, half-year/year campaigns. The emphasis on roleplaying, the dead simple rules – what makes the system work well is still here; this is very much a rules-lite system, even with all optional hard mode options included. However, it is my firm conviction that this works infinitely better than vs. Ghosts to tell stories that are not just a few sequential adventures; in sort, it lets you tell “bigger” stories, with more nuances. The fact that it allows for kid—friendly entertainment and darker stories for adults (or for kids that are like yours truly was…I always had a penchant for the dark and macabre…) in equal measure is another HUGE plus for me. The modularity provided allows you to customize the game according to your preferences and it works well in all scenarios. What more can you ask for? This succeeds triumphantly at its intended vision and most assuredly represents the VsM-based game to get. While the pdf does have a few cosmetic rough edges, I thoroughly enjoyed this system and look forward to playing through scenarios for it. My final verdict will hence clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
vs. Stranger Stuff: Season 2
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Echelon Reference Series: Sorcerers (3pp+PRD)
Publisher: Echelon Game Design
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/06/2017 12:12:35

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive reference-book clocks in at 352 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page blank, 9 pages of SRD, 1 page series-overview dashboard, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 337 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

So, what is this book? Well, first of all, in case you’re wondering, this file exists in two versions – one organizes and collates only PRD material, while the other includes a smattering of worthwhile 3pp-material. I am, unsurprisingly, mostly concerned with the latter, though PRD-only groups should appreciate the existence of that version.

As a reference file, this pdf obviously is beholden to other criteria than most pdfs when it comes to determining its value; functionality and organization are king. So, let’s talk a bit about structure: After a brief introduction, we receive a recap of a class and its class abilities – here, the sorcerer. Obviously. Very helpful in cross-class categorization: The bullet point class summary: At one glance we see which saves are poor, proficiencies and the respective class skills, grouped by attribute – I have found this paradigm to present the information very helpful; it mirrors how I think of a class. The respective class features are explained, and from here, we move on to the archetype selection provided – very useful: the respective books that contained the archetypes/options are quoted; so if you liked e.g. the Bedreven archetype, this allows you to easily find the respective publisher and further books in that style.

This is relevant, as different publishers tend to have different approaches when it comes to presenting material, the type of material provided, etc. From here, we move on to so-called archetype classes: Perfect for newbies or time-starved players (or those that simply don’t enjoy building characters), here we have basically archetypes that have already been applied to the respective class: You get, to take the example above, the fully formed bedreven, including detailed class table etc. – it’s a form of convenience I thoroughly enjoy. In case you’re wondering: Tripod Machine, Abandoned Arts, Rogue Genius Games, Rite Publishing, Interjection Games (not the Big Book of Bloodlines) and Purple Duck Games material can be found herein,

Speaking of which: Not only useful from a player’s point of view, but also from a DM’s or designer’s POV – the next chapter is devoted to a MASSIVE, alphabetical list of class features that sorcerer, archetypes etc can provide; better yet, these depictions go one step beyond: They provide prerequisites and the interaction between the respective components in flow-charts, visualizing at one glance the whole construct. Exceedingly helpful: Little bubbles at the top of the class features denote e.g. prerequisite levels, allowing you to contextualize the power of the respective options at one glance…oh, and these flow-charts are internally hyperlinked! Just click on one ability and swoosh, you’re there. Obviously this cannot, system-immanently, cover all abilities, since there are features from other classes etc. also included in these interactions, but what already is here should be considered to be not only convenient, it’s helpful and sensible. I should also mention that ability type (ex, su, sp), where relevant is similarly presented at the top of an ability.

Forgot in which of your x zillion of pdfs the “Witch of the Wilds” sorcerer feat was? Well, this pdf does help remedy that issue for a lot of options. Witch is btw. a good cue: Beyond the obvious and massive section on bloodlines, we also take a look at witch hexes, including some of the more obscure ones…and yes, we also get a sub-chapter on wildblooded bloodlines. The other options section lists feats, once again provided with the helpful flow-charts, and we get a massive, collated spell-list – though only the spell-names are mentioned, obviously – that’s its own reference file! (Otherwise, this would easily blow past 1K pages…)

Anyway, we also receive NPCs, drawn from elite enemies, the NPC Codex, bestiaries, etc. Cool: The respective entries, where applicable, list racial traits for uncommon races like the gathlain. This basically provides a collated array of different NPCs, ranging from CR ½ to 19 – helpful if you’re looking for some ready-made sorcerers to drop in your game.

Now, beyond the excessive bookmarks provided in this book, we also have indices; a regular, 18 pages strong index, and a second 3-page diagram index. These, alongside the hyperlinks and bookmarks, render using the book very comfortable.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, while not 100% applicable, are well done; if an option had some rules-snafus in the original version, you’ll generally find them here as well, but that’s not something to hold against this book – it’s a reference file, after all. Layout, while not necessarily beautiful, does have its appeal: It is functional and grows on you while using the file. The excessive bookmarks and hyperlinks are great and add some serious value to the file, which holds true particularly for the diagrams, which can be really helpful.

Keith J. Davies’ reference-files are great ways to embark upon the adventure; instead of having to sift through hundreds of pdfs, you have a massive array of options right there at your fingertips, all focused on the subject material that actually interests you. Beyond that, the collation of class features, etc. can be very helpful when designing/homebrewing yourself to provide a frame of reference. Oh, and obviously, this is pretty helpful when used in its intended purpose, as a reference guide for the sorcerer. There is but one minor complaint I can field against this – it would have been nice to have bloodlines granting the respective spells note such in the massive spell-list. Oh well, this should not be considered to be a detracting factor – this is worth getting if you’re looking for a well-organized, massive toolkit for the sorcerer. I also would have loved to have the wildblooded bloodlines hyperlinked to their parent bloodlines, but you still have the super-detailed bookmarks, so yeah – no real complaint, more of an observation. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Echelon Reference Series: Sorcerers (3pp+PRD)
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Echelon Reference Series: Wizards (3pp+PRD)
Publisher: Echelon Game Design
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/06/2017 12:10:28

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive reference-book clocks in at 264 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages ToC, 11 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 248 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

So, what is this book? Well, first of all, in case you’re wondering, this file exists in two versions – one organizes and collates only PRD material, while the other includes a smattering of worthwhile 3pp-material. I am, unsurprisingly, mostly concerned with the latter, though PRD-only groups should appreciate the existence of that version. This reference file collects a metric ton of wizard material. That being said, as per the writing of this review, we’re looking at the RAF (Rough and fast…somewhat unfortunate acronym)-version; this version is discounted at 50%; it will be upgraded to the WIP-version (which will then sport a 25% discount) and then proceed to the final version, which will then be sold at full price – seems like a fair way to support early adopters.

In this review, I do assume, at least to a degree, a familiarity with the Echelon Reference Series; I am going to mention specific, convenient components and whether or not they are already present in this first iteration of the file. We begin, as always, with a breakdown of the class, though the handy short-hand bubble that lists the crunchy bits of the class at a glance is not yet included in the pdf; this means that class presentation, apart from the layout peculiarities, is pretty much as you’d expect; i.e. we have the little bubbles denoting ability type and prerequisite levels already included, so core functionality as a reference is definitely provided.

From there, we move on to the respective archetypes – while the archetypes themselves are provided in fully functional state, their individual files are not listed this time around, so, at least for now, it’s not that easy to find out which file contained that kenjin lorekeeper archetype you enjoyed. The selection is pretty nice, including exotic engine-tweaks like the zauberer, to note one of the more complex archetypes. It should also be noted that the convenient, pre-combined archetype + class presentations, the archetype classes, are not yet included in the pdf.

As this book is focused on the wizard, we also take a look at arcane schools; beyond the school specialists, the alphabetical list also features the elemental specialists (including e.g. crystal or earth specialists). Analogue to e.g. the sorceror’s wildblooded bloodlines or subdomains, we also get a list of focused arcane schools – these already note their respective associated parent school, though they are not internally hyperlinked to the respective parent; oh well, the EXCESSIVE bookmarks make navigation very quick and easy, so no harm done there, convenience-wise. Speaking of arcane school: Beyond aforementioned specialists, the elemental arcane schools get their own distinct chapter, including metal and wood.

From there, we move on to the arcane discovery section; here is a great way for me to comment on the way in which this version helps you navigate it without being annoying: You see, the book color-codes rules-relevant terms: When you e.g. read ioun stone, it will probably be green; same goes for spell-references. This denotes that they point towards rules-relevant material not included in the pdf; on the other hand, internally hyperlinked components are presented in a blue color, allowing you to jump to them with one click.

Another highly helpful component would become evident in the feat-chapter: beyond item creation, a serious focus here would be metamagic – and metamagic feats note their spell slot adjustment in the bubble that contains the prerequisite(s). One look at Arcane-Born Sorcery and you’ll see that the spell slot adjustment is 1 level. Seriously, that’s surprisingly convenient and frankly is the preferred standard for me; I wished metamagic feats used this form of presentation. An inconsistency that hearkens from the original files presenting the feats would be that some of them lack the descriptive line, but that is not something I’ll hold against this pdf. It should be noted that there are still a couple of rough edges, where blank spaces seem to have gone missing; here and there, you’ll e.g. read “hasspeak with animals” and similar cosmetic hiccups.

The pdf also sums up arcanist, sorcerer and, surprise, wizard spellcasting and presents a MASSIVE list of wizard spells by spell level.

Surprisingly, the helpful NPC-codex section at the back of the book is already included, running the gamut from CR ½ to CR 19; as before, the sources are not explicitly noted, but the section draws on the usual suspects, but also features e.g. a worm that walks, (core) PrC’d characters…you get the idea.

Now, thankfully, this pdf already features the immensely helpful, massive index – which, this time around, clocks in at an impressive 14 pages. You’ve probably wondered where the cool flow-charts are – well, this version does not yet sport the cool diagrams and flow-charts and thus, also does not feature a diagram index to read.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, while not 100% applicable, are well done, particularly for a rough first version; if an option had some rules-snafus in the original version, you’ll generally find them here as well, but that’s not something to hold against this book – it’s a reference file, after all. Layout, while not necessarily beautiful, does have its appeal: It is functional and grows on you while using the file. The excessive bookmarks and hyperlinks are great and add some serious value to the file, though, this being as of yet unfinished, it should come as no surprise for you that it is not yet as in-depth in the implementation of the ERS series’ comfort-enhancing functions.

Keith J. Davies’ “Echelon Reference Series” is one that is easy to judge at first glance and, frankly, most people would probably loathe having to review what amounts to a handy, collated catalogue; after all, you can’t well complain about the content depicted. I am pretty OCD, though...so I end up reading these in detail. That being said, believe it or not, I have come to enjoy tackling these massive monsters. Reading through them has an almost meditative quality for me; there is beauty in these massive accumulations of data and how they are organized; this version is not yet as polished and streamlined as the final version, obviously…which makes rating this pretty difficult for me.

I can’t well hold it to the same standard as the final version, but at the same time, it is arguably less convenient and useful than the final release will be. So, let’s speak a bit about it: This is NOT crippleware, the book already sports the trademark core functionality of the series and the usefulness of the concept and organization is already here. At the same time, this version still lack the refinement, the small flourishes that make the final reference files more than the sum of the content they present. In short, this feels more like a compilation than the finished products do; it doesn’t yet have this sophisticated smoothness conveyed by the totality of the features the series usually adds. As such, this represents a good offering to get now, particularly since the file will be upgraded to the level of gorgeous functionality we usually expect from these. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars for this rough and fast first version.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Echelon Reference Series: Wizards (3pp+PRD)
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Hybrid Class: Keener
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/06/2017 12:08:14

An Endzietgeist.com review

This hybrid class clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 10 pages of content. It should be noted, though, that the pages are formatted for A5 (6’’ by 9’’ digest) size – you can fit up to 4 pages on a sheet of paper if your sight’s good enough.

So, the keener would a hybrid class of bard and cleric, with d8 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, ¾ BAB-progression, good Fort- and Will-saves, proficiency with simple weapons and light armors and shields, excluding tower shields. They gain spontaneous Charisma-based spellcasting, drawing their spells from both the bard and cleric lists. Bard spells are converted to divine spells and the keener does not need to provide a divine focus. They gain spells of up to 6th spell level. As an aside: The table lacks the value denoting the amount of 6th levels at 20th level – extrapolating from the table, the entry should probably be “4.”

Okay, we begin with a very potent ability – eulogist allows a keener’s spells and lament abilities to affect undead creatures with mind-affecting abilities and conditions that undead are usually immune to. Yes, you read right. ALL of them. And this exact moment is when this class got banned at my table. That’s a capstone, not a 1st-level ability. Undead, usually immune, lack the defenses that comparable creatures get. Why not spread the conditions (which should be listed) over the levels of the class? Would be better balanced and rewarding. Also: Does this extend to Fort-based effects that don’t usually affect undead? This…is a mess. Additionally, the ability nets 1/day sanctify corpse as a SP, which, at 10th level, may be made permanent for 500 gp.

The signature ability of the keener would btw. be keening – gained at 1st level, the ability can be activated as a standard action. Good keeners get positive energy, evil ones get negative energy and neutral ones can choose. Keening has a range of 25 ft + 2 ft. per 2 class levels and bursts then in a 30 ft.-spread, striking a number of additional targets in that spread equal to the keener’s class level – kudos for the Dev-comment here – the regular ability is a bit confusing in its wording. The damage-scaling of keening contradicts itself 1d6 “plus 1d4 for every 2 keener levels beyond first (1d6 at 3rd…” – so, are the additional dice d4s or d6s? The save works analogue to a Cha-governed channel and the ability can be used 3 + Cha-mod times per day, +1 for every keener level attained after 1st. Targets must be able to hear the keener to be affected. So yes, keening is SIGNIFICANTLY better than channel energy. It has more control built in from the get-go and allows you to hit targets beyond line of sight! Once again, a per se cool idea, but balance-wise something I’d consider problematic.

5th level nets the ability to cast Verbal-only spells (erroneously referred to as “Vocal”) sans provoking AoOs. OUCH. It gets worse: Spend, as a free action, a keening use to cast ANY spell sans provoking AoOs. 8th level nets the Su-ability to ask a corpse a question (as speak with dead, but does not count as cast spell), with a ridiculous save of 10 + keener level. 10th level nets immunity to fear and 2/day overwhelming grief, +1/day at 17th level. 15th level nets one of the following SPs: Hymn of Mercy, Imprisonment, Soul Bind, Wail of the Banshee, usable 1/day. The capstone provides either undead or fey apotheosis. Lame.

Now, the keener also has a kind of talent array – so-called laments. The first of these is gained at second level and every even level thereafter yields another lament. Additional effects of laments used in conjunction with keening are negated on a successful save. Each lament may only be used once per day and affects a single keening. Laments may be chosen multiple times, granting an additional daily use. “All bonuses are either “profane or divine”…That should be “sacred”!

Now, there are a ton of laments: On the offensive section, we have added blindness, energy type conversion, sickening targets, fatiguing targets – you get the idea. Negative conditions last for class level rounds. The “good” laments on the other hand allow the keener to heal negative conditions. The wording for these, considering their simplicity, is surprisingly often a bit wonky.

The class comes with supplemental feats: +2 keenings, +1 lament, a feat for +4 to Intimidate checks (not Intimidation) against dragons, reptiles, snakes and similar critters (BOOORING) and Harmonic Lament, which lets you expend two uses of keening to apply two laments to a single keening. Okay, are these two keening uses in addition to the keening to be modified or is that cost instead of the 1 keening required for activation? No idea.

The favored class options are extensive in scope (covering a ton of the Porphyran races), but very inconsistent in their power, ranging from very powerful (spontaneous caster!) additional spells for some to nigh useless +1/2 daily use of sanctify corpse.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, on a formal level, are very good. On a rules-language level, a couple of issues that influence the rules-integrity have crept into the class. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games’ printer-friendly 1-column standard with purple highlights. The pdf has no artworks apart from the cover, but comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Aaron Hollingsworth’s keener could have been so much better – with a more dispersed unlocking of affecting undead, a more limited keening in the beginning (and instead, better laments/lament-scaling) and a generally tighter focus, this could have been an amazing hybrid. I like the idea and the flavor here. It should be noted that the dev-note explaining keening helps a lot –the wording of the ability is a bit confused. Speaking of which – the scaling and extent of keening remains opaque. This is an inexpensive pdf, sure, but the class presented is a flawed offering. You can make it work, but it will take a bit of fiddling – and honestly, what’s here, is very bursty. My final verdict, ultimately, can’t exceed 2.5 stars – and I can’t round up for this one.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Hybrid Class: Keener
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10 Vampire Magic Items (PFRPG)
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/30/2017 07:21:10

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This expansion-pdf for Rite Publishing’s phenomenal „Play VTM-style vampires in PFRPG“-toolkit „In the Company of Vampires“ clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

Okay, we begin not with the first item, but with an optional rule – the pdf introduces Blood Crafting. Warlock blood nobles (aka, the Tremere-stand-ins) have, RAW, a bit of a problem with crafting; this issue is addressed by the blood crafting rules. The vampire requires a blood magic blood talent equal to or greater than the level of the spell required; blood magic VI would, for example, act as a substitute for spells of level 6 and below. To make up for this increased flexibility, the crafting vampire employing blood crafting must expend the spell level of the emulated spell in cruor points on every day engaged in blood crafting. Cost in cuor is cumulative, which means that complex items will require a LOT of blood…blood that the vampire must somehow provide… However, there is a flavorful risk to using blood crafting – if the vampire fails the Spellcraft check by 5 or more, he can still finish the crafting process successfully, but the item may become thirsty, requiring blood to work properly. But hey, at least the materials aren’t wasted! (Plus: Love the general concept!)

Okay, so this was already pretty cool…now let’s take a look at the items! The first would be the blood doll – these effigies come in 5 variants and act as a painless means to donate blood…and temporarily store it. While the stored blood slowly dissipates, these dolls should provide a colossal boon for vampires embarking into lifeless environments. Big plus! Blood staves come in 6 variants – these staves can be used by vampires employing blood magic to 1/day per spell level, reduce the cruor cost of blood magic employed. Nice. Elixirs of lineage are really cool: Basically, this liquid acts as a vampire Litmus test – drop a blood inside and you’ll see color-changes depending on lineage. I love this item. It feels incredibly right for vampiric nobles obsessed with the purity of their bloodline…and can make for some really cool infiltration complications.

But we move even further past simple items, as the pdf introduces the item category raiment of the ancients – it should be noted that this entry contains discrepancies between the truths of moroi myth and what was elaborated upon in the account given by sovereign Evelyn Arlstead in ItC: Vampires – this is intentional and should be considered to be a mild potential SPOILER-warning. These items are rare, valuable and can only be properly crafted by vampires; they require components taken from vanquished elders; it takes a vanquished elder or ancient vampire to provide sufficiently powerful components. The astute reader will realize at this point that the respective raiments are basically the proof and in-game justification that is analogue to the defeat of the antediluvians in VtM, though, taking the system’s peculiarities into account, the narrative takes on a different turn beyond the impending doom of their return, setting the moroi more clearly apart. It should also be noted that these items have different benefits for vampires and other beings that are not of the respective, associated bloodline. It should also be noted that partial mitigation of the respective curse is part of the items, further enforcing their special place within the context of the moroi. In case you haven’t noticed – these are basically the most sought-after items of the race and could be defined as almost-artifacts…depending on the power-level of your campaign and considering the genesis of the items, they may well be considered to be such, though crafting costs etc. are provided, should your PCs manage to defeat such an elder vampire. As a huge fan of making items out of vanquished foes in RPGs, I applaud this notion. It just makes magic feel more magical.

Grisly Fetish bracelets of the nosferatu allow vampires to suppress their curse and better conceal themselves. Heart’s blood is a special magic weapon property (+2 or +4) that allows for particularly potent attack-deflection – the ancient one is borderline insane and allows for Reflex saves to deflect any attack (not an action), with only enhancement bonus modifying the roll. Usually, I’d be screaming hellfire and brimstone right now, but considering the requirements, that the item will not be for sale (unless you’re playing a WEIRD campaign) and its implications, I consider it frankly to be closer to an artifact than to a regular weapon and will let it stand. If you dish out these items like candy, you probably expected a brutal power-surge. Well, obliged. Memorial tomes of the warlock bloodline enhance blood magic and also act as a kind of spellbook of sorts for the blood magic engine (which is a more complex rules-operation than you’d expect!) – kudos! The inspired’s relic of betrayal allows the vampires employing them to mitigate the superstition and also fortifies them versus channeling. Minor hiccup: The item is an amulet, but the elder version calls it a ring in a cut-copy-paste remnant.

The shade’s secret urn is worn in the belt slot and helps versus sunlight exposure and light, while the sovereign’s shattered crown helps versus the mirror problem…which would be as well a place as any to note that the tales of how the elders were slain make SENSE. They tie into the lore, curses, etc. and add a layer of depth to the items. The nightcaller’s stolen fur allows for indefinite hibernation in the ancient versus and mitigates the homesoil restriction.

Now beyond these, the pdf explains some subtleties of the vampire condition and the potent curse that sparked the condition, which make, frankly, for a fantastic backdrop for a whole vampiric campaign. Speaking of which…Raiments actually echo the true, original sin that gave rise to the moroi – and thus, moroi gaining access to multiple raiments can enjoy synergy effects beyond the already potent item effects…the layers of lore woven with a scant few lines are inspiring.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good; I noticed no serious issues apart from the somewhat uncharacteristic ring-snafu. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s two-column full-color standard. Artworks are nice full-color stock pieces. The pdf comes fully bookmarked, in spite of its brevity. KUDOS!

I challenge you to find better wrought crunch and lore for a single buck. Stephen Rowe is not content with just writing some items; instead, he has crafted a glorious, must-have expansion for “In the Company of Vampires.” The rules for blood crafting alone warrant getting this book; the non-raiment items are great and the raiments OOZE flavor; they can arguably inspire adventures on their own…perhaps even campaigns. The thread of lore is intricately woven through the crunch presented herein, adding a further dimension to the humble pdf.

This costs a paltry $0.99. For 8 pages of fantastic, vampiric goodness. Seriously, if you own In the Company of Vampires, then this is pretty much the DEFINITION of “Must-have”. Heck, even if you’re not interested in ItC: Vampires (Why? Beyond the player option, it makes for a rather nifty GM-toolkit, even if you don’t want playable vampires!), the raiments may very well constitute an excellent reason t get this pdf and its parent-file…the anti-arch-vampire story practically writes itself. Heck, blood crafting has very creepy implications when you ponder the consequences… So yeah.

GET THIS. Now! It’s less than a buck!

Forgot the rating? Obviously, this is 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
10 Vampire Magic Items (PFRPG)
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Adventure Fantasy Game
Publisher: Lost Pages
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/30/2017 07:19:41

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This game clocks in at 102 pages of raw content once you take away ToC, editorial, etc. (101 if you don’t count the index). My review is based on the softcover print edition, fourth printing, 10th revision to be more precise. The book, as usual for OSR-games, is in 6’’ by 9’’/A5-format.

This review was requested by my patreons.

Okay, so Adventure Fantasy Game (AFG) can be considered to be an OSR-game, but it is one that strongly deviates from the roots of the game. The tag-line is “New School Mechanics – Old School Adventure Gaming” – sounds interesting right? Well, the first and most obvious deviation from e.g. Labyrinth Lord, S &W or LotFP would be that this system only employs d6s – it is based on the 5MORE-design of David Bowman. Its goal is to teach roleplaying quick and one of the best components of this book is the organization: Whenever you find yourself looking for rules, the book tells you where to find them. This begins in the introduction and is used to great effect throughout the book – this is easy to use.

So, 5MORE is simple: Roll 5+ on a d6 and you have a success. You gain +1 for easy tasks, -1 for hard ones; +1 for good ideas, -1 for bad ones, +1 for high relevant stat, -1 for low relevant stat, +1 for good equipment, -1 for bad equipment. 1 is an absolute failure, 2 – 4 are regular failures. That’s the core of the system.

Characters are defined by 3 Stats: Physique (PHY), Craft (CRA) and Spirit (SPI). You roll 3d6 for each, but bad rolls are less important in AFG than in comparable OSR-games. These stats know three grades: All values of 8 or less are low (-1 to 5MORE rolls), all above 13 are high (+1 to 5MORE rolls).

Low Physique means you have to two-hand all melee weapons; high adds +1 Additional Hit to melee damage.

Low Craft makes reading and writing difficult, high Craft nets +1 spell known.

Low Spirit means that you’re likely to be hit by random effects (unlucky), while high Spirit nets you +1 Mana and a 1/session die reroll.

Hits represent how much punishment the character can take. They are determined by the Way (i.e. class level) taken.

Level is measured from 1 to 12 and is used to categorize PCs and threats.

Tiers are the character’s status in the setting; Up to level 3, characters are tier 1; level 4 – 6 = tier 2, level 7 – 9 = tier 3 and level 10+ characters are tier 4.

AFG knows three ways: The Way of Magic would be the caster class; 1d6 Hits per level. 1st level spellcasters know 3 spells: Unveil Arcana (AFG’s detect magic) and a spell of level 0 and 1. They start with 1 Mana and for each level gained, the caster gains an additional Mana and learns a new spell of one spell level higher – at 2nd level, you learn e.g. a second level spell. Spells may be researched, but more on that later. Mana replenishes after 6 hours good sleep, but each spell may only be cast ONCE per 24 hours. Spells are written down in Grimoires – while this evokes the traditional wizard’s spellbook, it make well take other forms. The caster engine also features two important items: Talismans allow a caster to cast the spell associated with the talisman an additional time per day, while Mana Vessels are basically Mana batteries. Casters can’t cast in armor and are not trained in armor and shields. Spells that require concentration only allow a caster to move 10 feet per round and any tasks beyond the painfully mundane requires a Stubbornness save to avoid breaking concentration. Non-instantaneous/non-permanent spells can be prolonged by expending additional Mana.

The Way of Steel nets 1d6 + 2 Hits per level in the way of steel. Hits are tied to fighting skill (more on that later) and way of steel characters may later develop or learn secret weapon techniques. These fellows are obviously trained in armor, shields, etc.

The Way of Arts would be the specialist/thief (called practitioner here), who gains 1d6 Hits per level and is trained in light armor, but not shields. As skill specialists, they can distribute 5 EXPERT letters per level. They also may actually earn a modest living without murder-hobo-ing. Characters can freely multiclass, which allows for e.g. armored casters, though there are limitations in play to avoid abuse.

At first level, casters and practitioners roll 2d6 and pick the best result; fighters roll 2d6, pick the best result, and then add +2 o determine the Hits at 1st level. (Yes, you may end up having just 1 Hit.) Hits are regained at a rate of 1 Hit per day, though spells and medical assistance may hasten that. Temporary damage is recovered as a rate of 1 Hit per hour of non-strenuous activity.

Upon gaining a level, you roll one die for ALL levels attained (fighter add +2 per fighter level) and compare the result with your previous maximum – you keep the higher version. The German old-school RPG Midgard employs a similar mechanic and it works remarkably well to even out the playing field, while keeping the power-curve relatively flat.

If your Hits go to 0, you keep tracking negative Hits. You roll 1d6, add your negative Hits and consult a table – on 14 you’re dead, otherwise broken bones, scars etc. can happen. If you’re staggered, you can’t act, defend at -1 and roll an extra d6 on that table when dipping below 0 Hits.

AFG assumes a silver standard: 1 silver thaler (abbreviated as “t”) is worth 12 silver pennies, is worth 48 copper farthings. Gold coins are uncommon and may be worth 4d6 t. starting equipment is provided in a simple manner. There you go, character creation and basic rules in 5 minutes. (Probably 10 for roleplaying newcomers.)

Now, how are tasks resolved? Well, 5MORE, as per the rules depicted above. However, there is an additional component that also reminded me of Midgard: When you succeed at any given 5MORE task, you roll a d6. On a 5 – 6, you roll an Experience Roll. If that roll comes up as 5 or 6 as well, then you add an EXPERT letter next to the task. First time an “E”, third time a “P” – until you spell out the word EXPERT. This means that the character gains +1 to all 5MORE rolls with that task. After you’ve become an EXPERT in six Tasks, you can claim the title MASTER for one of your EXPERT skills. You erase the EXPERT letters and instead write down MASTER – in this one skill, you get an additional +1 to 5MORE rolls. The book provides a variety of sample tasks, but encourages groups to come up with their own array of tasks – this allows you to emphasize or de-emphasize breadth of skills as desired.

If a task would require more than 6 to succeed, it requires a 6, plus an additional 6 for each point above 6 – so a task with a difficulty of 8 would require three consecutive 6s to succeed.

Saving throws are rolled as 5MORE-tests, but they are modified by the character’s Tier – 2. First level characters thus save on 6+. AFG uses 5 saves: Alertness, Awareness, Toughness, Stubbornness and Morale. Saves are Tasks and can accumulate EXPERT letters and you may become a MASTER in one of them.

AFG has two different combat-engines. Base damage in both is 1d6, +1d6 for each point of FC; wielding a two-handed weapon with high PHY adds +1d6. Armor comes in 4 categories and decreases your speed.

The first of the systems is called 5MAIL. Akin in structure to THAC0, this means that you need 5+ to hit chainmail, less against targets with less armor, more than versus better armored targets. Simple.

Skill at arms is measured by Fighting Capability (FC). 1st level characters have FC 0, and a character’s FC is equal to the character’s Tier minus 1. Additional Hits (the +2 Hits gained by fighters) also increase FC, as per a table. Every 4 additional Hits increase FC as though the character level is +1 higher. Melee, Block and Missile are Tasks like any other. A 5MAIL combat round takes 6 seconds grouped in 4 phases. It should be noted that each character can only act in ONE phase. Melee phase lets you attack, charge (move twice melee speed, attack at +1, but that bonus also applies to the target of the charged foe), shield block (negates a successful attack on 5MORE. Then comes the Missile Phase: Cover and Range decrease 5MAIL rolls. In the Manoeuvre Phase, the character can move up to twice their melee speed. Magic Phase is last – here, spells are cast. Spellcasting must be announced at the start of the round, one round in advance for spells that take longer, etc. If the spellcaster takes damage before finishing the cast, the spell and Mana is lost.

In 5MAIL, armor reduces the chance of being hit.

The second system is FIGHTMORE; it sports the same phases and basic structure, but melee is a contest of FC, with a potential for both contestants hitting their target. This makes the combat, obviously, not more complex – just more swingy. Charge in the system is also more volatile, adding a bonus damage die to damage dealt and received. In FIGHTMORE, armor reduces damage incurred by 1- 3, depending on how heavy the armor is. Personally, I think FIGHTMORE is a bit ironically named – if anything, players will want to fight less, considering that the results are more unreliable and not necessarily more complex or rewarding. Just my 2 cents, btw.

There are a couple of optional rules for shield smashes, morale or hacking through mooks. More rewarding would imho be the alternate rules for different weapons: Flails e.g. can’t be blocked by shields, spears inflict damage first, etc. – this aspect is probably the best component of FIGHTMORE.

The book also provides means to tweak the combat engines.

As a roleplaying game book, AFG provides values for hirelings, travel, equipment, etc. It should be noted that searching for hidden things is done EXCLUSIVELY by the players – no task is assigned to it, so if you don’t think of checking that chest for a secret compartment…well, though luck. That’s one aspect I really like.

Now, as faith is concerned, AFG uses the term Venerable as a catch-all for godlings, spirits, deities, demons, etc. Venerables are appeased by Worship, by Henosis (emulating them) and Charisma is the term employed for being favored by the venerable. Some sample cults, from Cthulhu to Dove (Queen of the Underdogs) and Saint Eleuther (savior of the lost) are provided and feature some nice, quirky and interesting angles.

As you may have gleaned by this aspect, we have now wholly entered the more complex aspects of AFG, with spell research and design rules being per se not bad, but rather complex – on the plus side, the system does emphasize the serious benefits of having assistants/apprentices – I strongly recommend spellcasters to invest in them when researching. Spells have a range, casting time and duration as well as a spell-level, which may reach from 0 to 12. 9 example spellcasting traditions are provided, most of which sport 1 spell per level, though e.g. Goetia only extends to level 6, while dendromancy only comes with a level 0 and level 1 spell. That being said, conversion from OSR games (and current games), should be pretty easy. AFG does emphasize magic as less of a damage dealer and more as a wondrous tool, which, in general, is something I applaud.

Now I did mention combat secret techniques – while also complex, something you design yourself, etc., these are much more basic than spells. They prevent you from gaining MASTER in a Task, but increase your Hits. Yeah, I was also rather underwhelmed. Neoclassical Geek revival has, system-immanently, a significantly more interesting melee system.

Experience is btw. gained by securing (and escaping with) treasure troves and by achieving character (and party) accomplishments. The book also features tier-based rules for holdings, a monster-generator and a brief magic item generator.

The final section of the book is devoted to a 14 page hexcrawl-y adventure sketch; the map is pretty small on the page and no player-friendly version is included, but its premise is interesting: What if Switzerland had volcanoes, a temple of Cthulhu and some messed up critters. The adventure, while featuring a cool premise, is ultimately just a sketch you need to expand and develop – as provided, it is a skeletal structure of a nice region to adventure in, but you can’t use this well for go-play style gameplay.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious accumulations of issues on a formal or rules-language level. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard, with artworks being a combination of a few original b/w-pieces and thematically-fitting public domain sources. The softcover is…well, a solid softcover. I can’t comment on the virtues or lack thereof of the pdf version.

Paolo Greco’s AFG is a weird little system and I frankly am not 100% sure for whom it was made; on the one hand, you have a really simple, fun, rules-lite foundation with 5MORE and its 5MAIL combat. On the other hand, FC calculation is, to me, a bit more obtuse than it should be – when I pick up a rules-lite game, I expect such a central aspect to be…simpler? At the same time, the system tries to account for more complexity for veterans, with spell research, FIGHTMORE etc. endeavoring to capture new-school options. In that latter aspect, the game, at least in my opinion, fails. Apart from the nice peculiarities of weapon groups, FIGHTMORE essentially makes me want to fight less – very swingy results can be very frustrating in the long run, and honestly, from shield-bashing to charging, the “tactical” options feel like they were jammed into a rules-corset that is simply not designed to account for vast complexity. That is not to say that it doesn’t work; that’s just to say that I fail to see the appeal.

When I want brutal complexity, I play PFRPG. When I want to play OSR with new-school combat that sports serious tactical depth, I wholeheartedly recommend Neoclassical Geek Revival. So yeah, the “New School mechanics”-component here…not that well done.

That being said, AFG does have serious value, as far as I’m concerned – at least for a very specific target demographic. When used as a rules-lite RPg for beginners, it’s easily taught, plays fast and is, ultimately, fun. And if you absolutely want to play a campaign with a d6-only system, it has the tools to make that happen without becoming bland. While I maintain that the more advanced rules feel a bit tacked on to the simple chassis, they do help to keep player interest in the long run. If you’re e.g. a fan of Kort’thalis Publishing’s offerings, but fear that their default VSd6-engine (which, I maintain, works best for one-shots and brief mini-campaigns) will prove boring for your players in the long run, then AFG will be exactly what the doctor ordered! Slightly more complexity, but not that much.

Now, as a person, this system ultimately did not resonate with me; I appreciate the components of flavor here and there and some aspects of spell research (if not the entire system), but, as a whole, this didn’t really do anything for me. As a reviewer, though, I can see the appeal this system can have for some groups out there and it is NOT a bad system! The organization etc. is simple, efficient and I can see people having fun with it. Still, the nagging feeling remains that this would have benefited from being two systems – one simple and one complex. The “complex” components herein tend to be underwhelming, also due to the space available. Focusing on one type of gameplay would probably have been the more prudent decision. In the end, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars. Usually, I’d rate up due to in dubio pro reo, but considering the very specific demographics, I feel that this is closer to 3 stars than 4, also since fans of really rules-lite games will probably consider a couple of the more complex components…well…too needlessly complex.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Adventure Fantasy Game
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Mists of Akuma: Eastern Fantasy Noir Steampunk for 5E
Publisher: Storm Bunny Studios
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/28/2017 11:52:13

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive campaign setting clocks in at 279 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 3 pages of ToC, 1 page SRD, 3 pages of advertisement, leaving us with a massive 270 pages of content, so let's take a look!

Picture a colonial nightmare, for beyond what we saw in real life: During the Meiji-era of real world Japan, the feudal, isolationist Japanese culture was forced into accepting a new globalized world order; the analogue continent of Soburin, setting of this campaign setting, has seen a less benevolent interaction, one characterized by more than a century of oppression and exploitation. As such, the development of the new technology brought to Soburin did have radically different consequences for Soburin than for its real world analogue. Where Japan’s persecution of Christians and rigid caste system broke down, where the age of the samurai ended, in Soburin, the length and relentlessness of the oppression faced resulted in thoroughly different dynamics, dynamics characterized by the magic and technology that suffuses the world.

This era of oppression, however, has ended – but not in a revolution for freedom. Instead, it was the eponymous mists, the monsoon rains, the catastrophes that seemingly separated Soburin from the rest of the world. If you’re like me, then this will undoubtedly put a smile on your face – yes, this book is proudly inspired by my favorite setting of all time, Ravenloft. In fact, if I were to provide an elevator pitch for the setting, it would be “An even more messed up Meiji era Japan + Ravenloft + Steampunk.” If that is enough to sell this campaign setting for you, then go ahead – chances are that you’ll enjoy this.

So, we all know about the importance of honor, face, etc. – everyone who had to work with other cultures or who has been exposed to them from one form of media or another, will most assuredly encounter differences. Even between related cultures like the American and European cultures [plural refers to both – I wholeheartedly subscribe to the theory that there is a vast plethora of American cultures], different values and taboos exist, in spite of both being generally considered to be part of the Christian part of the world. Now, if these differences and potential problems already exist for related cultures, you can picture the issues when dealing with a thoroughly different culture and way of life. It is easy to get caught up in exotisms, xenophilia or xenophobia -and more often than not, roleplaying games tend to generalize “Asian” – cultures and throw concepts together willy-nilly. Beyond being potentially insulting, the problem I tend to experience in such a context has always been that such melting-pot catch-all settings tend to lack a sufficient stand-alone identity, that they feel wrong to me. There are precious few exceptions to this rule, with Rite Publishing’s Kaidan being one of my favorite examples.

Another potential issue that this campaign setting faces, would frankly be the pitch: Ravenloft Japan with steampunk. Okay, that can be pretty amazing…but can it surpass the conglomerate of its components, or will it remain a jigsaw of pieces that do not really gel well together?

Well, in order to analyze that, let us being with the rules and analyze them from the ground up. It should be noted, that approximately 100 pages of this massive tome are devoted to player-facing options. As such, I can’t analyze them all without bloating this review far beyond what would be useful. As such, I will instead focus on providing an idea of the respective options.

All right, the first thing you need to know, would be that Mists of Akuma sports two new scores – they behave at once like attributes and differently from them. These would be Dignity and Haitoku (“haitoku” translates, unless I am sorely mistaken, to corruption, immorality, lapses of (social) grace) – from this constellation, you should realize that they are indeed kind of entwined. A new character begins play with a dignity score of 10 and a Haitoku score of 10. At the GM’s approval, a new character may choose to have a Haitoku score of up to 15, and it should be noted, that both the new backgrounds featured herein, as well as the PHB-backgrounds modify these scores. Speaking of the PHB-backgrounds – they have been translated to their cultural equivalent in Soburin without eating up too much real-estate, page-count-wise. I digress. After character creation, an increase in one of these attributes results in a decrease of the other by an equal amount. For creatures lacking either score, Charisma acts as the stand-in for Dignity, while Wisdom is used for Haitoku.

You will probably have already deduced that, but yes, Dignity is pretty much how a character is perceived regarding ideals/behavior/etc.; it can be pictured as a combination of honor, face and reputation, if you will – and dignity has overlaps with Charisma. Breaching etiquette can call for Dignity saving throws, which also may be called for to resist Haitoku-based abilities and it governs e.g. the ability to gain travel papers, show the appropriate etiquette, etc. But it is also an important, metaphysical concept. More on that later. Haitoku, on the other hand, is both the measure of Intimidation, the depth to which a character is willing to go; while obviously connotated with evil, it also represents the measure of the character’s spiritual perseverance to unlock e.g. the power of magical items. It allows the character to fight back from the brink of death – in short, it is not necessarily evil – more a measure of the uncompromising drive of the character to do whatever it takes. It should also be noted that the breathing of the mists of Akuma requires a Haitoku save. It should be noted that Dignity cannot be substituted here – the higher your Haitoku, the higher the chance you’ll be able to resist the mists. At least, that’s what the rules of the Haitoku attribute state. The rules for the mists themselves, unfortunately contradict this, calling for a Dignity saving throw instead to resist the effects of the mist – which makes less sense to me: Considering the tone of the setting, I think Haitoku may be the more sensible option. Haitoku can btw. also be used to resist mind-bending horrors as a kind of sanity-save.

(If you need an example to illustrate the concept: Shishio from the classic Rurouni Kenshin anime would imho be a good example for a character with a high Haitoku score – he managed to claw his way back from death, is willing to put allies and whole landscapes to the torch and still retains a somewhat sympathetic character. Oh, and stop after the Shishio arc. Everything after it is really bad filler.)

Okay, now this tapped into the eponymous mists, so let’s take a look at them: As mentioned before, the rules do contradict those presented by the attributes, which is a bit of a bummer. The pdf provides 2 conditions: Hated puts you at disadvantage regarding Charisma- or Wisdom-based checks against humanoids who do not have the condition, simulating the practice of cultural ostracization. The Misted condition comes in 8 levels and a creature always has a number of permanent misted levels equal to the creature’s Haitoku modifier. While examples are provided for the effects of each step, this remains thankfully open for the GM to tweak. The misted progression can be pictured as a kind of dark powers-corruption, beginning with relatively subdued effects and increasing them to pretty serious benefits – though stage 8 represents full-blown transformation into an oni – and as such, NPC-dom. The saving throw to resist exposure to the mists would be Dc 8 + 1 per previous save in the last minute – failing the save means that the character accrues 1 point of Haitoku, which, however, does not reduce the character’s Dignity…oh, and it can raise a creature’s Haitoku above 20.

The astute reader will have noticed that running from the mists will be a more than popular tactic – after all, the Haitoku modifier governs the misted stages! Prolonged exposure can make you go oni VERY fast. There also would be a skill associated with Dignity, namely Culture. You can choose it instead of any other skill proficiency you’d gain from class or background. This allows you to avoid social faux-pas, insulting gifts, etc. Religion-wise, Soburin lacks true gods per se – as such, mythical beings like the Imperial siblings, yai sovereigns, etc. are representations of the divine, with the practices of placating the kami being the most prominent remnant that remains of Soburins Shinto-analogue.

Since we have already touched upon backgrounds, let us take stock of them: There are 8 new ones: Disgraced amputees can begin play with augmetics, for example. The backgrounds generally are more potent than those in the PHB, but mostly in line and flavor-wise, interesting: Gaining some gadgets, being a shinobi, rules entwined with mists etc. – the backgrounds are interesting. That being said, they are only focused on the rules v- the complimentary dressing-tables you know from the PHB are not included herein. There is one background that is either extremely important or problematic, depending on your particular execution of the setting: The Yamabushi background lets the character perform a cleansing ceremony: The target of that ceremony may make a Dignity save – on a success, the target loses 1d4 Haitoku. While this does not increase Dignity and thus does not wholly trivialize the corruption-angle and provides an easy angle to exert control over Haitoku from the player-side, it does allow for a relatively easy way to decrease the score that may not gel well with games that use the mists themselves more sparsely.

Okay, so what about the class options? Okay, so the first would be the Bushibot, a fighter who gains augmetics sans Haitoku-increases. The shinobibot would be the equivalent for the rogue class. There are two druid circles: The circle of the blight is basically an evil circle focused on decay, while the circle of shifting is a more complex modification of the druid – it does not grant the usual spells, instead focusing on unlimited wild shapes – and yes, thankfully, the circle does account for the loss of spells regarding in the later abilities. The clockwork adept wizard can generate basically limited clockwork spells, which are not subject to being dispelled or countered – which can be a truly potent…same goes btw. for the level 14 ability that nets you a clockwork creature of a challenge up to the wizard’s proficiency bonus. The bardic college of the gun nets you an enchantable, powerful vested gun that you can enhance in a variety of ways. The detective rogue is a skill-user specialist, obviously inspired by PFRPG’s investigator class – the class gets a pool, which allows the class to add surge-like bonuses to skill-checks. The herbalist rogue gains a very limited array of spellcasting and, at high-levels, even potent explosions – minor complaint here: Spell-reference not italicized. This is btw. a complaint that can be made multiple times. The ju-wai shu sorcerer bloodline is a master of the calligraphy staff who can tear open reality to negate attacks/spells – with a hard cap. One of my favorites herein.

The kami domain cleric is a neat offering, while the mage wizard is a good example of the classic scholar. Minor complaint: The most potent option allows for the combination of spells, which causes damage – the type of which is not properly codified. Martial Artist monks make use of the martial arts feats. Ninja rogues can throw multiple kunai/shuriken with one attack and gain the proper Stealth etc. tricks. The path of the faded for barbarians is cool: You ooze necrotic mists and upon ending the effect, you temporarily accrue misted levels. The priest monk gains limited druid spellcasting and blends martial arts with these tricks. The paladin can choose to follow the samurai sacred path, sporting ancestral weaponry, iaijutsu and sums of the tenets – solid. The tattooed monk can trigger magical tattoos via ki – cool. The tsukumogami hunter ranger is guided by a spirit of a former hunter and is particularly adept at dealing with these threats – more on the tsukumogami later. The Wu-jen warlocks, finally, are associated with the tainted nature of Soburin, and come with taboos: One patron for each of the 4 seasons can be found – and additional notes for the flavorful integration of them are provided. As a whole, I considered the class option section to be pretty neat – they are flavorful and offer some interesting options. Not all are glorious, but as a whole, I like the themes they represent – particularly the warlock-wu-jen-analogue was interesting.

Okay, let’s move on to the array of races. The pdf does sport notes to play spirit-folk and Korobokuru, the elf- and dwarf-equivalents: Humans are changed – the base race gets three different ethnicities: The native Soburi, the Ceramin (tech adepts) and the Ropaed – foreigners and socially adept. The goblins of Soburin, the bakemono, also come with 3 subraces – one of which can assume swarm form. Minor complaint: It would have been more convenient to have the swarm form’s insect swarm stats in the write-up. Enjin are monkey-people wit advantage on saves to resist exhaustion…but also more expensive armor-fitting and vulnerability to cold. No less than 7 different hengeyokai can be found herein, one of which sports a +1 bonus to all saves – rules-aesthetically not my favorite choice for the representation of luck in 5e, but oh well.

Oh, and there are 4 hengeyokai types that ostensibly are extinct – stats have still been included, for they are rare and secretive, but yet survive. Kappa are interesting – tough and armored, but they also have a harder time standing up. Mutants are ostracized and hated…but honestly, they feel like a race that doesn’t really fit that well with the tone of the setting. The necroji, finally, is a skeletal thing that houses an amalgamation of 9 souls, with a ton of immunities, but also radiance vulnerability. The oni-touched are not transformed by the mists at stage 8 – they are hated, but can move freely through the mists, trivializing the threat for the race. Psonorous are embodiments of all that is good in the dying world – two variants are provided. The pyon frog-folk are one of the more intriguing and well-situated races herein – they are deeply entrenched in the setting, sport more lore – they are, in short, more interesting. The shikome, another race resulting from exposure to the mists, would be the shikome, who can 1/turn deal an extra 2d4 damage hit with a melee weapon – they come in two versions. Not a big fan of them. Surprisingly, the construct-race of the setting, the steametic, is actually pretty well-balanced and interesting. Tengu and Tanuki can also be found, as can Umibo – people of living water, which are pretty interesting.

Regarding races…I couldn’t help but feel that less would have been more in the race-section. The mutants, necroji and shikome, to me, do not feel like they should necessarily fit well within the contexts of the setting; the different levels of detail provided for the races also contributes somewhat to that impression. In the end, the chapter does feel a bit like it wants to cover all those weird-race cravings some player may have, but loses some of the settings integrity, leitmotif-wise. Just my opinion, obviously.

The book also contains a wide variety of feats – from the aforementioned, customizable Ancestral Weapon – really interesting execution there. There is an investigation-based Deductive Mind feat for PCs that want to want to fail forward (an alternate investigation that always proceeds the plot somehow). Transforming into a Soburin-clan’s creature, good reputations, staring down foes with your killer’s glare, supernatural, mist-based abilities – in these, the Haitoku/Dignity thresholds become important. It should be noted, that although Haitoku and Dignity are pretty fluid, the score at the time of gaining the feat counts: You can thus gain some serious abilities for roleplaying characters that oscillate between redemption and damnation.

Now, I have already mentioned Martial Art Stances: These feats can be taken up to 3 times; In their basic form, they e.g. add fire damage to your attacks ; taking the respective feat multiple times adds usually resistance and immunity to the respective damage type, with some of the more common damage types gaining additional benefits…which does bring me to a slight problem: The damage-scaling for them is identical, making e.g. force damage a significantly better choice than e.g. the often-resisted fire damage option – and the additional benefits don’t really manage to catch these discrepancies. More unique benefits that transcend numerical escalation would have probably made these more interesting. Stances work only with unarmed strikes, shortswords or simple weapons and unarmored characters increase their AC by the stance feats known. Proficiency bonus (not modifier, as the pdf calls it – minor hiccup) acts as a cap for the maximum number of stance feats known. Problematic: The Martial Artist monk mentions a maximum number of stances that the character can be in at any given time –a limit curiously absent from the write-up of the feat-section. It should also be noted that taking multiple stances can provide a lot of simultaneous damage types, which is a pretty strong option in 5e’s rock-paper-scissors-based gameplay regarding vulnerabilities and immunities.

Okay, so what about the equipment-section? Well, here we have some interesting bits indeed: Variants of gunpowder, locking garrotes, 5 different armors – some intriguing options here. Firearms include an anti-scavenging caveat (good!) and otherwise behave pretty much like loading weapons. There are, however, a couple of questionable components here: The hand hwacha, for example, can fire 13 bullets at once, hitting each target in a 30 ft.-line (how wide? I assume 5 ft., but it could be just as well 10 ft., analogue to e.g. gust of wind) with a separate attack roll for each. This deals a whopping 4d6 piercing damage to targets. Okay, the weapon is costly and reloading it to 13 takes a lot of time, but still – why not simply employ a capacity-engine? RAW, it’s either all 13 or single shot. On the plus-side, I liked the grappling hook launcher – I would have liked it even more, if it specified how much it could carry (the PHB is annoyingly opaque there), but oh well. The book also contains some interesting vehicles.

Now, I mentioned the augmetics – the steampunk-prosthetics and augmentations. Installing these requires a Wisdom (Medicine) check versus “5 + Dignity modifier” – I assume, the modifier of the patient is meant, not that of the one installing the augmetic. The installation is grueling and makes the target take 1/2 maximum hit points in damage. Augmetics may be directly targeted at wearer’s AC +6. The augmetics follow a formula of magic items in presentation, with scarcity ratings etc. However, they also cause the person with the augmetic to gain varying amounts of Haitoku – in that way, not like Shadowrun’s essence attribute. These range from +1 to +1d4 per augmetic. Somewhat problematic: The book remains curiously silent on how these permanent body-modifications interact with magic items – I assume they do not count towards the maximum of attuned magic items and that they just work, but some note on that interaction would have been nice. Also weird: A couple of backgrounds and class options grant Tool Proficiency: Augmetics – but the book never introduces the toolkit, and the implanting of them is done with Medicine. Augmetics can be destroyed, as many come with hit points. Weird: Some note that they can’t be targeted…while others simply remain silent on the matter, leaving me guessing there. If you btw. expected a big chapter here – that is probably a component, where the book could have used more content. A lot more content. The augmetic-section spans barely 3.5 pages, which isn’t much, considering that it’s a central selling point and pillar of the setting’s vibe.

The book also sports a brief chapter on spells…which would be as well a place as any to note that, while for the most part, the rules-language is tight, there are a few Pathfinderisms to be found – references to subtype instead of subrace, a few references to PFRPG action types (thankfully few and far in between) – but yeah. Why do I mention that? Well, we have a remnant “Personal” here in the ranges, a reference to “target” that should reference “you” – mostly aesthetic hiccups. Strike within and without, however, is somewhat problematic: You choose a creature you can see within 30 ft.. Wait…is it 30 ft. or 60 ft.? The book contradicts itself here. Anyways, the creature takes damage as if critically hit by your melee attack, and you take half the damage dealt as damage. This damage ignores all resistances and immunities. 2nd-level spell for rangers and palas. As a whole, I wished the space allotted to the spellcasting section had mostly been used for more augmetics – though there are a couple of interesting components here: E.g. there would be a spell that influences the season-based options of e.g. the Wu-jen – that is creative and interesting.

Okay, so this would sum up the rules-centric section of the book. Approximately 30 pages of the book are devoted to Kyōfū, Sanbaoshi and Nagabuki – three absolutely glorious cities. The writing here is inspiring and interesting – and frankly, I wished, we got more. Thankfully, the book proceeds to blend flavor-information with another type of crunch: Namely 60+ pages of information on the clans and powerful factions of Soburin – each comes with at least 2 statblocks and yes, we do get an entry of oni overlords on yai sovereigns – and yes, there are locally forbidden technologies. In the stats, there are a few instances of dual damage-types – which makes it hard to discern if the damage is supposed to be half each or once the full damage in damage type I and once in damage type II. This can be particularly wonky considering 5e’s approach to damage types and the resistance mechanics. This can btw. be also observed among the otherwise pretty amazing dragons that get their very own chapter. The oni/monster chapter once more is massive and sports some serious gems beyond traditional Japanese monsters – however, these beasts receive a context, mostly courtesy of the setting’s unique set-up: Qirin, Tikbalang, Jiang-shi, Yuki-onna…and some classics and gems: Longhair ghosts, rokurokubi, gaki…neat monsters with unique abilities. The stars, though, would be the tsukumogami: Objects that turn 100 may well gain sentience – and represent one of my favorite monster class in ages, including basically a demon-tank. Yeah. Amazing!

The final 25 pages of the book are taken up by the adventure “Revenge of the Pale Master”, intended for PCs level 8 – 10. The adventure takes place in the city of Kazi, just before the Festival of Falling Hawks. Children have disappeared. An ancient evil rises. The adventure is one of the highlights of the book: It is a flavorful investigation with nice maps, mugshots of the characters, some cool NPCs and advice for running the NPCs. The module is interesting, well-written and provides some nice further adventuring – as far as modules for campaign settings are concerned, this is definitely one of the good examples, particularly for the allotted page-count.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting on a formal level are surprisingly good for a book of this size. The rules-language, on the other side, is not perfect. It’s not bad, mind you: I checked a LOT of the statblocks and the math is surprisingly solid. The book gets a lot of different, complex rules-operations completely right…but, you know, the book also sports several hiccups that do influence the rules-integrity. It’s small things in the finer details…but they do accumulate. Not to the point where they can sink this book, but they do detract a bit from it. I considered the basic Dignity/Haitoku-glitch particularly jarring. Layout adheres to a very dense standard that oscillates between one and two columns. The layout, while dense, is not as cluttered as in Mike Myler’s previous campaign settings, making the book, as a whole, more aesthetically-pleasing. Artwork and cartography-wise, we stick to a b/w-illustrations that range from cool original pieces to stock art and public domain art that has been properly modified – it may sound strange, but the latter tweaks actually represent some of my favorite pieces herein. The book sports a lot of dark pages with white text – to account for that, we actually get a printer-friendly version – huge kudos! Comfort-level-wise, the tome comes with a metric ton of nested, detailed bookmarks, making navigation comfortable.

Mike Myler, with additional design by Savannah Broadway, Luis Loza, Michael McCarthy, Christopher Lee Rippee, Jaye Sonia and Bryant Turnage, has managed to achieve something here, let me make that abundantly clear.

In fact, this is, at least in my opinion, the best campaign setting Mike Myler has crafted. While he tends to focus on the big picture, we get more details this time around, the information gels together better – Soburin feels like a place I want to run; it has the details and style. The campaign setting presented here is inspiring. It is more than the sum of its parts. It is more than just a Ravenloft-clone in a Japanese dressing. Neither is it just a steampunk-infusion. The continent comes alive as something more than the sum of its parts. Mists of Akuma is a thoroughly interesting, intriguing setting.

Let me make that abundantly clear: I adore this book. I really, really do. To the point where this had the potential to make my Top Ten list. Yes, that good. That interesting. At the same time, the aforementioned small hiccups accumulate. And there’s another component that prevents this book from realizing its true greatness to the full extent. Japanese Steampunk Ravenloft would already have been rather hard to get done right – and the book mostly gets this very tall order right in an exemplary manner. At the same time, we have these…strange tidbits that contradict the basic premises of the setting. From weirdo races to options to trivialize parts of the basic engine, the book almost feels at times like the authors (or one of them) at one point became frightened that one type of player wouldn’t like the setting, thus opting to try to cater to more folks…but this decision, at least in my mind, compromises, to an extent, the glorious flavor of the setting. There are basically apologetic options here – and they take up real estate that the setting could have used better.

It’s small things that give me this impression…and it thankfully is rare. It makes me feel like the visions of what the setting is supposed to be diverged to some extent among the authors – here’s the thing about anything noir/dark fantasy/horror: If you already are a full-blown monster and/or immune to the one corruption-source, why bother playing in that setting in the first place? It’s like playing CoC with immunity to becoming insane, like playing Vampire: The Masquerade sans bloodthirst or angst. Thankfully, these problems can be cut out of the book.

There is a second aspect of the book that SERIOUSLY underwhelmed me. Augmetics. Don’t get me wrong. I liked what I saw herein. But for a setting that is very much defined by 3 components, namely Japanese-inspired + Ravenloft + Steampunk, 3.5 pages of augmetics…isn’t enough. Not nearly. At least in my book. Mists of Akuma would have needed, desperately in my opinion, more of them. They are cool and an integral part of what makes the book so cool, what makes Soburin this amazing. Compared to that, some of the races, some of the spells and the metric ton of critters herein may be okay…but they all take up real estate. Focusing on the core ideas of the setting, on the thoroughly amazing, unique selling propositions of Soburin and providing more on them would have made this a true masterpiece.

You see, the flavorful entries we do get, the notes on the places, are inspired. So are the cool tales of the clans, many of the monsters – this is an inspired, great setting. One that is worth owning, that has great ideas, that feels unique and distinct. This is a really cool setting. At the same time, it is a book that, more so than Veranthea and Hypercorps 2099, borders on the verge of true greatness – and frustratingly feels like it holds itself back from that final step to true excellence. If you enjoy different, interesting settings, then check this out – it is certainly worth owning! For my final verdict, I will settle on a final score of 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform. However, since I absolutely adore a lot about this book, I will still add my seal of approval to this.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Mists of Akuma: Eastern Fantasy Noir Steampunk for 5E
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10 Aberration Magic Items (PFRPG)
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/27/2017 04:18:50

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This collection of magic items, tying in with the fantastic „In the Company of Aberrations“, clocks in at 7 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 4 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

All right, we begin with an item that actually has a nice visual representation – the calamitous tentacle. Before you start yawning – the tentacle is NOT yet another tentacle whip – it’s actually a ranged splash weapon that detonates in icky bits AND that may attempt to grapple foes! Really cool! Encapsulated weirdness is delightfully disturbing: This item is a magical tumor that contains an extraordinary abominable weirdness, conferring its benefits to the “wearer” – oh, and if you don’t meet the prerequisites, it demands a steep price! See, this is how “gain feature x”-items can be amazing! The eye of undoing is basically a dispel magic and disintegrate spell in a can. Okay, I guess. The flute of mad enlightenment, Z-shaped and weird, is easier to play if you have tentacles (AMAZING!) and causes confusion…oh, and it can absorb magic missiles. Cool!

Glasses of puresight clock in at 20K and automatically pierce mundane or magical disguises of aberrations. I really dislike this item, as it can wreck a plethora of plots. Harness of the Favored Pet is amazing – aberrations slap these harnesses on pets, allowing the enslaved humanoids to be handled easier…including command words to silence and pin them. Can you see the scenario where the PCs lead an uprising against chthonic masters? I sure as hell can! Mindkiller’s vise takes a painful toll upon donning, but does enhance the mental powers of the wielder with mind-affecting spells and SPS as well as the offensive capabilities in psychic duels. Nice. Synthetic skin suits are basically a combination of Disguise-enhancing stolen skins and bracers of armor, and thus come in 8 variants – solid per se, though personally, I am partial to Everyman Gaming’s Skinsuit Ritual for that particular concept. Voidcaller’s serum is unique: It makes being adjacent to the user very dangerous (untyped damage, no breath, fatigued…) and allows the user to call forth void-called beings. Basically a magic drug sans drug drawbacks…which, come to think, is something that could carry a book of its own.

Now, as in most of these small item-pdfs by Rite Publishing, the final item herein would be a legacy item, namely Rift. This mighty dagger of crystal comes in 6 stages of improvement (legacy items improve as you gain levels and unlock new abilities); the dagger is nothing short of the stain on reality left by the first touch of Nyarlathotep. As such, it should not surprise you that the dagger can confuse targets, cuts rifts into space to conjure creatures, etc. – a flavorful item! I am particularly partial to the high level ability that, whenever you roll a natural 1, lets you force another creature to take a natural 1 on its next round!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches in either rules-language or formal criteria. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports 2 solid full-color artworks The pdf comes fully bookmarked, in spite of its brevity – kudos!

Wendall Roy is one of the best-kept secrets, designer-wise – he constantly delivers intriguing, high-concept material with really cool, creative tricks and tweaks. This pdf is no exception – we get some really cool items herein. While personally, I loathe the flat-out auto-detection conferred by the glasses, that is mostly a matter of taste. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
10 Aberration Magic Items (PFRPG)
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Star Log.EM-004: Assassin
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/27/2017 04:16:51

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Star Log. EM-series of minis clocks in at 6 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1.5 pages of SRD, leaving us with 2.5 pages, including the usual introduction, so let’s take a look!

See, this archetype is a great example why I like Starfinder’s pretty open archetype-system – Assassins should be varied! There’s a reason I adore the more modular solutions presented for Assassin concepts in Pathfinder (most notably, the great Modular Assassin by Interjection Games and the exciting Assassins of Porphyra by Purple Duck Games). But I digress.

The assassin-archetype presented herein grants alternate class features at 6th, 9th, 12 and 18th level.

6th level nets Death Attack. In order to use the ability, you must succeed a Bluff, Disguise or Stealth check against 20 + 1.5 times the target’s CFR; the respective checks are properly codified. On a failure, the target notices you as a threat, preventing you from performing death attacks against it for 1 day unless you spend 1 Resolve Point. Okay, is that an action? I assume not, analogue to many envoy improvisations, but I still think it would have been nice to see it explicitly stated. You must study the target for 3 consecutive round, and after that, you may move up to your base speed and then perform the death attack as a full-round action.

The death attack must be executed with a melee or ranged weapon that you’re proficient with or a spell with a casting time of 1 standard action that deals Hit Point Damage and requires an attack roll against the target’s respective appropriate AC. Minor complaint – personally, I probably would have specified that the means of delivery determine the AC used, but that is pure aesthetics and won’t influence the verdict. If you hit with these paradigms, you deal normal damage to the target, the victim must succeed a Fort-save (governed by your key ability score modifier) and either be temporarily paralyzed or take bonus damage governed by item levels of the weapon in question. Nice for fans of the Starfarer’s Companion: 9th level-spellcasting classes get their spell-levels translated alongside Starfinder’s regular 6-level spellcasting progression. If the damage exceeds the remaining hit points, the target must succeed a second Fortitude save…or he’s dead – no bartering, no resolve – dead. You can’t make death attacks with unwieldy or explosion weapons or those that require a full action to attack. Spring Attack and Shot on the Run synergy are provided. It should btw. be noted that death attacks are NOT death effects!

9th level yields Hide in Plain Sight, already hinted at in Starfinder’s Hide skill use of Stealth, makes an appearance here – it pretty much does what you expect: Hide while observed, provided you have some sort of cover etc. The ability concisely defines interaction with darkvision etc. and other senses. At 9th level, there would be quiet death, which lets you make successful death attacks that kill (but oddly, RAW, not those that paralyze – why?) silent via Stealth. Pretty much the lack of the paralysis-option’s an oversight here. The 19th level ability enhances death attack: You can spend Resolve Points to reduce the number of rounds required for death attacks to a minimum of 1 round (2 Resolve) –spending Resolve this way doesn’t take an action, fyi. Additionally, foes slain via death attacks crumble to dust, preventing the more common ways of returning the dead to life.

The last 0.5 page is devoted to the contextualization of the assassin archetype within the Xa-Osoro system shared by Everyman Gaming and Rogue Genius Games – we hear about the Dragonheir Concordance corporation, a ruthless kobold mining corporation; we learn about the roles of freelancers, the deoxyian gene-trading goliath helix and Sanguinary stewards, sworn to protect the coffins of the vampire lords – some cool angles here.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no grievous glitches. Layout adheres to the 2-column full-color standard of the series. The pdf comes with a solid full-color artwork and has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Alexander Augunas’ assassin had me start rather skeptically – the Skill-check based mechanic may yet be unhinged, as Starfinder, so far, is a very young system. That being said, the strict limitations in place and the relatively conservative formula mean that, basic math-wise, this will, at least for not, not come apart – and after that, the archetype still has some knobs to turn, so kudos there – smart design. I generally liked this archetype, though e.g. the oversight regarding silent paralyzing struck me as odd – particularly, since, as the pdf discusses at first, this THANKFULLY does not sport the evil-only alignment-caveat. It discusses that component, but yeah. Sooo, how to rate this. I did enjoy this supplement, though, frankly, I would have liked to see some benefits for less optimal assassin-weapon-choices; RAW, range is pretty much king here, since the studying doesn’t have a range. That makes sense in Starfinder’s universe, obviously, but yeah, consider that to be a bit of a lost chance in my book. Ultimately, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars – a solid take on the concept, on the positive side; as impressive as the death attack engine is, I wished the archetype sported a bit of internal differentiation. Considering the limited page-count of the mini, I will definitely round up.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Star Log.EM-004: Assassin
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Isle of the Unknown
Publisher: Lamentations of the Flame Princess
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/27/2017 04:14:57

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive campaign setting/hexcrawl/toolkit clocks in at 134 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page blank, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 128 pages of content, though it should be noted that they are formatted for digest-size (6’’ by 9’’/A5); Printing the book may not be the best idea, though; I’ll get to why soon.

This review was made possible by one of my patreons, who donated the print copy of this book to me, to review at my leisure. My review is thus mostly based on the print version, though I have purchased the pdf-version as well to ascertain its properties.

Okay, so the first thing you notice when looking at this book is that it is GORGEOUS. I mean it, a wonderful hardcover, solid, great. See that cover? On the inside of front and back cover, we get the massive hexcrawl map of the Isle of the Unknown; the referee version sports icons that show the type of thing that can be found on a given hex, making use of the book relatively easy; this is also represented in the layout. You see, the pages don’t sport that much text and pretty broad borders. Why? Because hex-shaped frames highlight the artworks of the strange creatures to be found here, with the respective hex’s number below the image. Thus, if you’re flipping through the book and see something you fancy, you can immediately find the proper hex.

Better yet: The numbers denoting the respective hexes are color-coded by the general type of thing to be encountered in the hex. Speaking of organization: We get a monster-appendix that lists monsters by HD and hex (with small versions of their artworks) and separate lists of magic statues, magic-users and clerics by hex. We also get a list of settlements, by hex, though I need to comment on that later.

I mean, look at that cover; while the monster artworks are more comic-book-like, we do get a ton of artworks of this quality: You see, this isle is home to a vast array of truly unique magic-users and they come with gorgeous one-page artworks; if you’re a connoisseur of beautiful fantasy art, this book may be worth getting for that alone. In short: The artists Amos Orion Sterns, Jason Rainville and Cynthia Sheppard have done a stellar job capturing the wonder of this place.

Now, someone has read Carcosa. Oh. Wait. Sorry, scratch that. Someone has written Carcosa. This book is not simply an OSR-setting inspired by Carcosa, it was penned by the same man. HOWEVER, if you disliked Carcosa and its dark aspects, please read on – this is not a book that sports any kind of problematic or particularly dark content. Instead, the main focus would be non-Tolkienesque wonder.

What do I mean by this? Well, I enjoy Tolkienesque fantasy; there is a reason it resounds with so many people. But there is a downside to the cultural dominance of this particular type of fantasy. We not only fail to see the vast cosmos of mythologies our own cultures have produced, we also blind ourselves to our past, as the tropes of this type of fantasy subsume other, creative and unique ideas. One of the things I love about the OSR-movement is that many authors are pushing boundaries regarding the tales they tell, that there are plenty of deviations from the dwarf/elf/halfling-defaults. In this case, we take a look at a type of fantasy that, to my, is reminiscent of psychedelic, experimental cinema like “Twilight of the Ice Nymphs”, of dream-logic…and if I had to describe this Isle of the Unknown in one sentence, I’d call it: “A crusader’s psychedelic hallucination of the antique.” This book feels very much indebted to the cosmos of creatures hinted at in a variety of pre-Tolkien fantasy, for example the Prester John myth, though the creatures herein a thoroughly distinct.

The monsters I mentioned? Each of them is utterly WEIRD. To give you a couple of examples, I randomly flipped open the book and found “A 16’ tall aspen has four trunks rising from the ground to join into a larger trunk 6’ above the ground. One of the four lower trunks has the face of an ineffably sad human face.” Or “Seven crows can move only by levitating, and as such can never be more than 10’ from a solid surface. They have 4 legs, each terminating in a razor-sharp blade.” Or “Four limbless, serpentine beavers the size of wolves…” – yes, these weirdo creatures come with artworks.

The sense of antiquity is also enforced by the sheer number of magical statues dotting the isle, which, style-wise, are reminiscent of Latin Decadence – you know, like a humble person witnessing the splendor of fallen Rome and Greece for the first time while on route to the holy land. I couldn’t help but hear a somber “Frater, Ave Atque Vale” in the back of my mind while reading this book – the atmosphere of the whole is impressive indeed.

Now, I mentioned the magic-users, right? Well, these ladies and gentlemen would by the true stars of the book: Not only are the artworks fantastic, the magic-users feel as though they could have populated the fancy of an enlightened (as far as possible) medieval person confronted with the wonders of the antique: There is a mistress of 50 goats; the goat milk provides magical effects; there is a man with a jar of aluminium and if water from any body of water is inserted, that body comes under his dominion. There is a huntress in a valley of blackthorn, hawthorn and macrocarpa, her eyesight so accurate she can read a book from a mile away. There is a philosopher pondering scales that contain beetles; interrupting him may see the PCs shrunk and placed in the scales, to fight against the titanic beetles. There is a valley where sheep with golden fleece graze and diamonds and amethysts litter the ground. My favorite image and entry here would be: “Laurel, acanthus, honeysuckle, white roses, and lilies surround the waters. Strangely-hued tortoises, crocodiles, armadillos, and especially crabs (all of a silvery blue or a smoky gray color) make their homes here. Not even the crocodiles are normally aggressive. The mistress of these domains is a 10th-level magic-user (Armor: as chain, HD 9+1, hp 24, Move 120') garbed in a shimmering moon-white dress, a sil­ver necklace set with white pearls (worth 1,000 g. p.) adorning her neck.”

You’ve probably realized it by now – when I started reading this book, I was blown away. Utterly and thoroughly. The entries are incredibly creative and interesting. You can flip open any page and find something wondrous in this book; as the author comments in the beginning, the mundane is left up to the referee’s discretion.

Mechanics-wise, armor is denoted “as leather/plate/etc., we get HD and Move values à la 60’ – I assume LotFP standard movement rates here, but I’m not 100% sure. More relevant and annoying would be that the aforementioned magic-users lack spells known – you have to crafted the lists yourself. At least a generator or something would have been appreciated there. It should also be noted that this has a Gp-standard, not LotFP’s usual Sp-standard.

If wonder is what you’re looking for, if you are looking for fantasy reminiscent of a utopian fever-dream, then get this right now.

Here is the thing, though: I can’t remember when a book started so strong…and then crashed to leave me disappointed at a high level.

You see, this is very much akin to Carcosa in one crucial aspect: It is only concerned with the big picture; it lists hexes and is only considered with the big; you won’t find information on details, quests, etc. Speaking of quests – that may be the one of the two biggest drawbacks of this pdf in comparison to Carcosa: Carcosa sported implicit questlines by virtue of the dark rites required to control, conjure, banish and stop the Great Old Ones: PCs had to travel across the country, unearth strange things. There is an implicit structure provided for the referee to develop. There also are names, nomenclature, etc. – all magic-users and monsters, all places in this book, have no names. Similarly, there is no such implicit questline structure to be found in the Isle of the Unknown. There are precious few connections between hexes and creatures; regular persons and how they would react to all these wonders, how societies would work…these concerns simply never enter the picture. Similarly, all these monsters and mighty magic-users seem to exist in a state of blissful ignorance; there is no agenda, just idle magical frolicking. In a way, this almost feels like the antithesis of grimdark, grimy medieval gameplay, like a vision of a magical utopian pastoral. While I like this general notion, I really dislike how static and isolated everything ultimately feels.

In short: Once you scratch the surface, the setting begins to come apart, at least to a degree. There is another problem that made reading the final pages of this as dissatisfying as the beginning was amazing: This is basically a 3-trick pony.

Trick 1) Magic statues with weird effects. Solution: Don’t mess with them. Usually not worth it.

Trick 2) Utterly weird, cool creature.

Trick 3) Magic-user/cleric with powerful, unique ability. Messing with them is usually a bad, bad idea. Greedy players beware.

All of these three tricks are executed really, really well time and again. But they become tiresome due to the frequency of their structural repetition. You see, we consider wondrous what we perceive as unfamiliar. Once you see the structure, the wondrous loses some of its splendor. The formulae employed by the book could have looked like something like that:

Take one or more creatures, fuse them together and/or add/subtract limbs. Add strange skin-condition, top off with magic effect.

Describe utopian domain of magic-user, add familiar creatures/elemental powers, potentially add means to penalize greedy, murderhobo-ing PCs.

The problem here is that there isn’t enough change of pace; where Carcosa had aliens, dinosaurs, scifi tech, Spawns of Shubby, Great Old Ones, weirdly-colored men…this has weird monsters and weird magic-users.

The isle of the unknown’s wonder becomes, paradoxically, common and mundane due to its concentrated accumulation, and, to a degree, boring even. At least when used as written. There isn’t enough to contrast the strange with; there isn’t enough detail to create a believable illusion of this place, a problem particularly evident when it comes to the settlements and general lack of things to do for the PCs. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t expect a hexcrawl to provide epic storylines – but you can seed adventures easily by means of items, feuds, etc. This book, at least in my opinion, fails at that task. Now granted- this book tries to just provide a wondrous sketch for the referee to develop…but said sketch remains very superficial; there is no depth-structure, no rhyme or reason to ANY of the proceedings, no occult significance to unearth regarding statues, the powers of the magic-users…anything. This is just weirdness for the sake of weirdness.

Behind the coating of wonder this book presents, there lies a gaping hole of missing structures and global dynamics that needs to be filled…and frankly, I don’t have the time or inclination to do that. It’s puzzling, really – I never realized how important that aspect is before, and I’ve run a ton of hexcrawls. I always took that aspect for granted.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good; while I did not enjoy the deviations from LotFP-rules, at least this time, there are no ill-conceived rules that take up valuable real-estate. There are a few minor hiccups, but not enough to detract from the professional look of the book. Layout adheres to a one-column full-color standard and, as mentioned, is gorgeous and easy to use…however, it also sports pretty broad borders. The artworks are phenomenal and frankly, what sells this book – the fantastic artwork is superb; particularly the renditions of the magic-users are fantastic and cover-worthy. The pdf version comes fully bookmarked and with extra-pages of printable maps (kudos). Big plus: The pdf is layered in details, allowing you to control the content, icons on the maps, etc. – extra kudos there. I’d still recommend getting the print version, provided you can afford it.

Why? Well, here’s the thing: If you’re like me and prefer reading a book from cover to cover, then this may well frustrate you. As noted, the 3 tricks this book has become stale with repetition. Fast. Having a print version makes flipping up the book spontaneously, easier.

This book absolutely excels at its brand of wonder: Plants, utopian vistas, powerful magic-users and strange creatures that...just exist. The best use for this book is to simply use it as a weird infusion. Once you’ve been crawling through too much vanilla fantasy, flip this open, insert a hex’s critters/magic-users, there you go. When used (and read) in small doses, this is phenomenal. However, if you want to use the book in its entirety, you will run afoul of a lot of the issues I noted and I’d honestly be surprised if you could run this as written without at least trying to add some sort of mystic rules, some sort of meta-structure and sense underlying the proceedings. Without it, the coat of weirdness peels off quickly, making the per se cool prose feel random, the whole isle static. There are a couple of monuments that tie in with other creatures. How? Why? No idea. These few and far in-between instances feel almost like afterthoughts, excuses made up by the referee while running the game. Smashing a gem will banish a certain critter. Okay, why? No idea.

I began reading Geoffrey McKinney’s book and felt like my mind had been blown – more so than even Carcosa, I absolutely loved it, I actually dreamed of the isle and its wondrous places…and then, unlike Carcosa, that love turned somewhat sour. I only realized that when a gaunt, gigantic panda with a poisonous stinger elicited but a shrug from me; at that point, I had read about 80 pages of this brand of weirdness and had become numb to it. What this book needed, desperately, was more tricks, different kinds of strange, structure – anything to ground the amazing concepts. As written, I crashed harder from loving the book to being disillusioned by it than in any comparable book I’ve read.

How to rate this, then? Well, when I began reading this book, I was blown away and wanted to bestow my highest accolades upon it; having finished the book, I honestly can’t see me ever picking it back up, short of throwing some weirdness at my PCs when I didn’t have the time to prepare something. This is not a bad book, quite the opposite; its gorgeous artworks may make it worth for you…but in the end, I couldn’t help but feel like the lavish production values are here to help conceal the lack of depth that represents the main shortcoming of this book. If you’re looking for a book as a scavenging ground of the strange and wondrous, then this is very much worth getting; for other uses…well, not so much. Ultimately, I consider this book a mixed bag, slightly on the positive side. However, try as I might, I can’t bring myself to round up from my final verdict of 3.5 stars – I’m frankly too disenfranchised with what could have been a book for the ages.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Isle of the Unknown
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Everyman Minis: Black Blade Options
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/22/2017 05:28:59

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This Everyman Mini clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 5 pages of SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So, what do the options herein do? Basically, we get archetypes that modify the black blade (a deservedly popular choice) gained by e.g. the bladebound magus archetype. Since they are archetypes, they must be taken as whole packages – analogue to regular archetypes, there’ll be no cherry-picking here.

Okay, so, before we take a look at the archetypes in question, it should be noted that the pdf also sports two new magus arcana: Black Blade Endowment lets the magus spend points from his black blade’s arcane pool to add a selection of special weapon properties to the black blade. This consumes an amount of bonus equal to the property’s base price modifier. The bonuses persist for as long as you don’t reuse the ability. Okay, I am pretty sure that a line went missing at one point: As written, it looks like the ability consumes the black blade’s enhancement bonus temporarily, acting as a cap to e.g. prevent low-level vorpal, which is good – however, the arcana fails to note how much arcane points the enhancement costs. I assume that the cost in arcana points is equal to the base price modifier of the properties. But then again, is it intentional that you could recover the arcane pool points while retaining your current, favored combination? The arcana should really spell out not only that you need to spend points (it does that), but also how many. Oookay, number 2 would be Learned Blade, which nets you Breadth of Knowledge while wielding the blade.

The pdf contains a total of 3 different black blade archetypes – the first would be the ancestral blade, who gets mental attributes equal to 10 +1/2 the magus’s level, with an ego of 10 at 3rd level that increases by 3 every 3 levels thereafter. These blades gain 2 skill points per HD of the magus and treat skills based on the mental attributes as class skills. It may only use them within its given sense-reach. However, the magus determines the enhancement bonus at -3 levels. Below 2nd level or less, the magus may not apply the enhancement bonus on weapon damage rolls. At 5th level, the blade’s senses reach to 30 ft. with both low-light and darkvision. 9th level extends that to 60 ft. and grants the ability to speak and understand all the magus’s languages. 13th level increases this by a further +30 ft. and adds read magic; 17th by a further 30 ft. – and also unlocks blindsense 30 ft. This replaces energy attunement.

The second archetype would be the dragonsoul blade – you choose one dragon from a massive table that includes esoteric, primal, imperial and outer dragons alongside the classics. This determines the damage type that the altered energy attunement works with: At 5th level, the magus can spend 1 point from his blade’s arcane pool to alter the damage of the blade to the type associated with the dragon. No, umbral dragon based blades, who gain negative energy, cannot heal undead by whacking them – nice catch! The dragon chosen also determines the 13th level ability – the magus can point the blade at a foe to generate a breath weapon of sorts for 1 arcane point from the blade’s pool, with a 1d4 cooldown. This replaces transfer arcana. 19th level yields a 1/day form of the (exotic/alien) dragon III with additional uses costing 3 points – minor complaint: While it’s easy to default to a standard action for the Su, it would have been cleaner if the ability stated its activation action. This replaces life drinker.

The final one would be the levialogian blade (after the amazing monsters introduced in Paranormal Adventures), who must be evil. The blade is hungry, and to gain any powers from it, the master must feed it the equivalent of 1 point of Constitution damage of his body’s flesh per day. The blade has 3 + its Int-mod arcane pool points and at 3rd level, is symbiotically linked to the magus. As a swift action, the magus may sheathe his blade in his own body. He may similarly draw it quickly and somewhat grotesquely. Losing the blade lets the magus regrow it in a special ritual. This replaces unbreakable and Alertness. At 5th level, as a free action, the magus can spend a point from his blade’s pool to cause it to erupt in screaming, gnashing maws – think “Soul Edge.” This Makes the weapon cause bludgeoning, piercing and slashing damage and ignore DR and hardness for the attack. If used to sunder, this adds +1 to the sunder check for every 3 magus levels of the wielder. This effect only applies to the next attack made or until the end of the magus’ turn. Love the visuals here, but don’t like the DR/hardness-ignoring – a scaling decrease of the two would have imho been more elegant. Instead of teleport blade, 9th level allows the magus to spend 1 point of the levialogian blade’s pool to change its weapon type as though it was a transformative weapon – any light or one-handed weapon is game, even bludgeoning weapons.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, a couple of minor hiccups have crept into the designs here. Layout adheres to Everyman gaming’s two-column full-color standard and is pretty printer-friendly. The artwork featured is nice and, as always, the pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

I really adore the visuals and concepts of 2 of the three archetypes herein – and the third one is nice as well. I really like the customization options they offer. At the same time, I did stumble over one minor oversight and one bigger, rules-relevant hiccup and I’m not perfectly sold on the blade of maws’ DR/hardness-ignoring properties. Still, in spite of these complaints, I consider Alexander Augunas’ black blade options well worth checking out – they are unique and pretty cool – dragonsoul and levialogian blade in particular just beg to be used as high-concept options. In the end, my final verdict will hence clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Everyman Minis: Black Blade Options
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Hybrid Class: Abomination
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/22/2017 05:27:56

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This hybrid class clocks in at 25 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 21 pages of content. It should be noted that the text is laid-out for digest/booklet-size (A5/6’’ by 9’’).

The abomination as depicted herein would be a hybrid of unchained barbarian and unchained summoner. The class gains d12 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, full BAB-progression, good Fort- and Ref-saves and a natural armor bonus that increases from +0 at 1st level to +8 at 20th level. The abomination only gains proficiency with two simple weapons of his choice as well as with light armor.

Spellcasting is handled via SPs – the abomination begins play with a spell-like ability drawn from the unchained summoner’s spell-list. At 4th level, 6th level and every 3 levels thereafter, the abomination receives an additional spell-like ability. Restriction-wise, the abomination’s class level must be at least twice the spell level to be selected as SP to make it eligible – it thus takes 6 class levels to choose a 3rd level SP. These SPs are governed by Charisma and may be employed 3/day; exception to this rule would be 0-level SPs – such SPs can instead be used at-will. Now, summoner spells often influence eidolons in specific way – in a nice bit of service, these spells don’t just fall by the wayside; instead, we cover a couple of them, highlighting how they interact and work – life conduit, for example, can be rather risky. Still, I actually liked this aspect about the presentation of the class – it shows care.

Now, unsurprisingly, the abomination also gains an evolution pool: We start with 1 point and increase that to up to 8. These evolutions are per se fixed, but may be changed upon gaining a level or by being transmogrify-d. The abomination does receive a rage-variant, the rampage. This one can be maintained for 4 + Constitution modifier rounds, +2 per class level. Temporary increases in Con do not grant additional rounds. The abomination gains +1 to Atk with melee attacks, +1 to melee and thrown weapon damage rolls and Will-saves, as well as -1 AC and 1 temporary hit point per HD. After a rampage, the abomination is shaken and the ability is treated as rage for the purpose of prerequisites, etc. Now personally, I would have loved to see a caveat that precludes characters immune to the shaken condition for rampage-cycling here. On the plus-side: The 17th level ability eliminates the shaken-cooldown, but does not yield temporary hit points again if trying to re-enter the rampage before 1 minute has elapsed. The bonuses rampage grants are upgraded to +2 and 2 temporary hit points per HD at 11th level, +3 and 3 temporary hit points per HD at 20th level.

At 2nd level, we get uncanny dodge and evasion; 5th level provides improved uncanny dodge and 7th level nets DR 1/-, which improves every 3 levels thereafter. 14th level nets improved evasion.

Now thankfully, the abomination does not gain free access to all evolutions – instead, the class gets its own custom list, which thankfully do clarify the respective natural weapon interaction. That being said, there is a bit of an oversight, convenience-wise: the natural attacks tend to list their damage values for Large abominations – but not for Small ones. Probably a heritage issue left over from the eidolon-translation. Not a big deal, but inconvenient nonetheless. Big plus among the 1-point evolutions: They don’t break game-assumptions à la low level personal flight etc.; on the downside, there are a couple of choices that can be a bit weird in play: It is, for example, possible to give yourself pincers…but RAW, you don’t have issues tying your laces, holding those lockpicks – you get the idea. It’s not a big issue, mind you: As Limbs is a 2-point evolution, you can easily do the glabrezu and have a second pair of pincer arms (no, you don’t get additional attacks), but yeah – there are a couple of evolutions, where a bit more PC (as opposed to pet-function)-functionality/explanation would have been cool.

Know how I commented on how the 1-point evolutions don’t break low-level assumptions? Well, it is my pleasure to report that both e.g. elemental bonus damage and unassisted flight are locked behind 5th level; similarly, the powerful rake and rend options are locked behind 4th and 6th level, respectively. The nature of the natural attacks required for them further provide limiting factors here. Nice: The 3-pt.-evolutions include e.g. Wisdom damage causing consciousness (with sanity alternatives for Horror Adventures!); infinite, but slow fast healing is locked behind 11th level – not the biggest fan there, but yeah.

It should also be noted that 8th level nets a monster feat – the abomination must meet the prerequisites, thankfully, but may choose to lose and replace this feat upon gaining a new level. The pdf also provides new feats: +4 rounds of rampage, +1 evolution pool (which may be taken more often, with 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter as extended prereqs). The monster feats provided, Aberrant Creature and Determined Spell-like Ability, both made me cringe a bit – the latter lets you roll 1d20 upon using a SP – on a 15+, you don’t expend it, with 8th level and every 4 levels thereafter yielding you a +1 bonus to the roll. Yeah, I wouldn’t allow that anywhere close to player hands. Aberrant Creature sports this gem “You are now classified as aberrant in creature type.“ as part of its rules-text. Rules-language, this is not, young padawan.

The pdf does contain one archetype, the mire champion, who gains bonus languages, adds Knowledge (nature) to the list of class skills and draw their spells from the druid spell list, using the unchained summoner spells known charts. The archetype sports this puzzling sentence “Mire champions gain bonus spells and adjust saving throws using their Wisdom score and its modifiers. They are thus classified as ‘spontaneous casters’“ – that’s not how you designate prepared or spontaneous spellcasters; the saving throw bit is confusing at best and, newsflash, Wisdom-based casters are more often prepared spellcasters than spontaneous ones. Just as an aesthetic aside. The whole defensive array of abilities is replaces with fast healing while in contact with soil (sans limits – urgh, but works only sans armor) and the archetype replaces the 8th level monster feat with constant speak with plants. Not a fan of this archetype – it feels rushed in more ways than one.

We get a metric ton of favored class options for Porphyran races, which is pretty neat – however, the +1/4 evolution pool options are significantly better than the others; I am also not the biggest fan of the crit-confirmation-boosts with natural weapons, though at least the non-stacking caveat with Critical Focus there does help a bit.

The pdf comes with a nice little bonus file – the Dragon mite, penned by Perry Fehr, which represents a CR 1/3 Diminutive vermin that infest dragons! Yep, dragon parasites! The cranky dragon actually has a reason to recruit the PCs, as they delouse the creature from its potent, energy-blasting mites! Oh, and guess what? We get a cool dinosaur variant as well. These don’t have the energy shenanigans, but do inflict salmonella…ew!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level – the rules-language, for the most part, is concise and clean; while I would have liked to see a couple more prereqs/interaction elaborations here and there, the presentation per se is solid. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games’ 1-column standard, is printer-friendly and comes with purple highlights. The artworks for the class and the bonus critter are in full-color and rather neat. The pdf, strangely, doesn’t sport bookmarks, which represents a minor comfort detriment.

I enjoyed Aaron Hollingworth’s abomination more than I thought I would. I have seen quite a few evolution-based shifter-classes and this one’s focus is sufficiently distinct to make it stand out…a bit. You see, this may just be me, but after having played Darkest Dungeon, I did kinda hope that this would be a two-mode class; you know, with rampage tying in with the evolutions. As written, the components of the class, while not bad, are pretty static. It would have imho been more interesting to provide ability suite a) in normal mode, ability suite b) in rampage mode. But that’s just an opinion and will not influence the final verdict. Similarly, I think that going full-blown horror-adventures with the fear-rules, sanity etc. could have yielded a thoroughly compelling, unique engine here, one that would have set the class more distinctly apart from its brethren.

What will influence it, though, would be the sudden drop in rules-language integrity when it comes to archetype and feats, which frankly struck me as puzzling. That being said, the damn cool bonus critter does make up for those shortcomings, at least to an extent. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Hybrid Class: Abomination
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