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Dispatches from the Raven Crowking Volume 1
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/16/2016 18:35:42

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The first of the Dispatches from the Raven Crowking collection of blogposts, miscellanea, new material and the like for DCC clocks in at 53 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 48 pages of content, so let's take a look!


We begin this book with an essay that discusses roleplaying games under the criteria of the eponymous three Cs, but not before making clear that, what follows, is not intended as a cure-all or as a universal truth - it's been a while since I've seen a subjectivity clause in a GM advice section and I won't lie - I consider its inclusion refreshing and professional. Anyways, the following essay can be pictured as a concise and pointed breakdown of the three Cs, so let us begin: Ultimately, more so than in our daily lives, roleplaying games are exercises in free will and choices; much like our reality and social structure imposes a certain degree of rules upon us, so does a given roleplaying system. Once you realize the importance of choice, it becomes pretty apparent why both highly codified games like PFRPG and those that feature a minimum of rules enjoy their popularity: Either by means of simply providing a huge and fine-grained array of diverse options or by requiring none of them, choice is facilitated. However, this is only the system; the practice of roleplaying similarly is informed by choices and this extends to fudging - or not fudging, dice, a theme covered in a separate essay, but one that I feel ties directly into the 3 Cs.


The pdf makes a pretty vehement stand (unsurprisingly) in favor of letting the dice fall as they may and point a single fact out: If you roll the dice and disregard the result, why roll at all? At first glance, this may generate some anger or seem infuriating, but there is an intriguing meta-point here: If the module/system/engine you utilize features a choice and you decide via the dice, what does it say about the game when the results are ignored in favor of an optimum narrative? The pdf does take a stab at the design philosophy of 3.X here and, to a certain degree, I concur: As soon as you do not emphasize challenge, but rather a fixed and relatively likely success and then proceed to streamline deviations from said behavior away, you eliminate not only your own choice, but that of the players as well. More importantly: If a module or given supplement's options feature a lot of information that is bound (and assumed) to be ignored in favor of an ideal scenario, what does that say about the design? The problem here directly taps into the consequences of actions and the impact and severity they ought to have.


At the same time, I think the argumentation does undervalue the aspect of context - herein, context is defined as the world and the game itself; i.e. the environment in which the respective rolls are made. A context depicts the framework in which choices are made and making no choice is a choice in itself - to use the tired old quote "Sometimes the only way to win is not to play." - Replace "win" with "choice" and you have the paradox, for not choosing is a choice.


Here, the pdf imho could be a bit clearer: It identifies a crucial, immersion-hampering issue with quite a few roleplaying games, but fails to draw a truly helpful conclusion from it, instead opting for an enumeration of virtues of DCC and a more hardcore gaming aesthetic. A distinct issue that more codified roleplaying games have featured time and again lies in a sense of entitlement that has crept into the respective systems: Players demanding certain results; XP after this many encounters, levels after Y more, an availability of certain options because they are "official" (never mind how sucky many of 3.X's official WotC-splatbooks were...) and at the same time discouraging 3pp material. The second paradox in this development is, ultimately, that the people demanding such design-philosophy deprive themselves of the option to be surprised in favor of a streamlined experience; similarly this idealized streamlined experience needs to be reflected in "official" modules and supplements. This necessarily implies an ideal structure and sequence and as such, the fudging of dice to not deviate from this scenario suddenly becomes significantly more appealing.


What do I mean by this? Well, I have nothing but the highest respect for Paizo's module catalogue as a whole. There is a significant array of creative and downright brutal modules out there for Pathfinder that, if you do the math, will grind PCs, even minmaxed ones, when played properly. To have the industry leader put there out is a refutation of the premise that the adventure design philosophy is solely to blame. Instead, think carefully whether and how you fudged dice to spare a player making yet another character with complex rules, not wreck your metaplot, etc. It is, at least upon closer examination, not the module's fault or the fault of a design philosophy, at least not alone - it is a mindset, a capitulation before an internalized entitlement by both players and GMs that drains away subtly the achievement of having bested some of the more lethal modules. And I know, that even though I pride myself on being a killer-GM, am tempted to fudge the dice once in a while. But the clumsy lich, the TPK, the multi-criting halfling monk...perhaps the weirdness and uncommon quirks of fate that arise by virtue of the dice, deserve to be heard, deserve not to be fudged over. Perhaps GMs, just like players, have become a bit lazy and don't want to go off the rails anymore.


And I understand - unlike the text, my personal observation pertaining the issue stems from a deep love of both OSR-gaming, PFRPG, GUMSHOE, 13th Age and a ton of games more and in some of them, character generation is significantly more work than rolling 3d6 6 times and be done with it. Fudging is not bad per se. So let me propose an experiment: Get CoC or a similar rules-light system...and play a module with the distinct, purist mindset that everyone will die or become insane or worse. Play it. Let the dice fall. If you're doing it right, your players will have fun. Then return to your regularly scheduled game and play...and when next time the context is right and you're tempted...don't ignore that die roll. It doesn't have to be the infamous deck of many things...but still. Let the BBEG die ingloriously as the rogue backstabs him with a lucky crit; let the paladin be eaten by that gelatinous cube. If anything, there is fun to be had in failure and chaos as well.


And yes, this may have deviated quite a bit from the thesis of this pdf, but I considered it important to convey, for these observations and their clarity ultimately resulted from me reading the book and finding myself both agreeing and disagreeing - and this type of thought-provoking dialog, in lack of a better term, is exactly what I expect from such a book.


Another essay herein pertains the epic endgame - and the considerations you should make when planning the like: Why has no one else attempted it? The risks involved, etc. - think of it, both from a player and villain perspective: Every Bond-villain ever? Thwarted in the endgame. Throwing the One Ring in Mt. Doom? Endgame. By thinking about the scope and implications, one can lend a better sense of the stakes and gravitas involved to the proceedings. Beyond this, there is also an expansive Appendix N-section, which talks about Edgar Rice Burroghs, Sterling E. Lanier's Hiero's Journey and the impact both can have on a given campaign.


There is more than game theory to be found herein, though: If you are looking for an intriguing environment, you will find one with Shanthopal and the background provided for the Golden City, breathing the spirit of the fantastical blended with sword & sorcery, breathing an evocative spirit that only made me wish to hear more. Kudos!


On the utility-section, DCC judges will be happy to realize that the advice articles herein are useful indeed: Both regarding 0-level funnels and the transition to 1st level and the use of patrons within the game (and the modifications/expansions the author has brought to the concept) are discussed alongside relatively extensive lists of books to consult and check out, both released by Goodman games and 3pps. Similarly and more importantly, the emphasis to end the "generic orc/haf-dragon/etc."-syndrome, how to capture the weird and fantastic and slowly generate a DCC world and aesthetic are covered in quick, precise and well-reasoned terms, showing the author's understanding of the themes of DCC.


Alternate rules-wise, spontaneous spell learning with a significant risk factor is provided, though personally, I'm not the biggest fan of that one...however, that may be due to aesthetics. To me, in particularly in DCC, magic needs deliberation and study or help; unlocking, even a risky spontaneity in that regard makes it feel cheaper to me and thus, less magical. Your mileage may vary, obviously.


The pdf also features several creatures - namely statblocks for ammonites for DCC: Swarms in three sizes and single, larger ones from Small to Huge size can be found in the book. Additionally, we are introduced to R'yalas, lord of the drowned one, a powerful ammonite wizard and thus closes the pdf with an adversary worthy of our good ole' Cimmerian friend.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games' printer-friendly b/w one-column A5 format (6'' by 9'') and the pdf features some solid b/w-artworks. I'd suggest getting this in print, since the pdf has no bookmarks, which constitutes a comfort detriment for the use of the electronic version.


Daniel J. Bishop's first collection of dispatches is an intriguing little GM-handbook, in particular for the weird fantasy and the sword & sorcery aesthetic, both of which I really like. His writing is precise and while I cringed HARD when reading Mother Theresa listed alongside people you'd consider heroes in examples for epic endgames and their achievement, that does not take away from the fact that I took something away from this pdf.


The writing herein is certainly opinionated, but it deserves being replied to in as far as its content manages to elucidate several not necessarily apparent conventions and structures pertaining our games. As a person, I think the WotC-bashing component is not always justified and the prospective buyer should be aware that this is very much written from a DCC-perspective; the more complex tasks more rules-intense systems demand make the subject matter more complex than the book manages to depict or even acknowledge. This remains the crucial one flaw of this book's formal essays: While it extends its reach beyond the confines of DCC and provides a valid opinion piece that certainly is thought-provoking, it does exhibit a certain ignorance, whether willful or not remains irrelevant, regarding the different requirements and dynamics of systems with a higher degree of complexity and the ramifications that result from these complexities.


It should be noted that this does NOT mean that this is a bad pdf - far from it; it just means that it oversimplifies a rather complex topic when reaching beyond the primary comfort and application zone of DCC and OSR gaming. Within the chosen paradigm and primary target audience, this should resonate; beyond these confines, it can improve the game, but requires some deliberate and thoughtful consideration of the theses and their consequences.


...


Or you just don't care about all of that and just are a DCC judge who wants some nice essays, monsters, ideas and GMing advice for your favorite game. In that case as well as in the above instances, I'd recommend this booklet, for you'll certainly find some nice inspiration and intriguing thoughts herein. In the end, considering target audience, scope and quality, I will settle on a final verdict of 4 stars.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dispatches from the Raven Crowking Volume 1
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Bite Me! Werebats
Publisher: Misfit Studios
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/16/2016 18:33:35

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of the Bite Me-series clocks in at 27 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 3 pages of advertisement, 2 pages of SRD (with one page sporting one paragraph of text pertaining char-hooks), leaving us with 20 pages of content, so let's take a look!


This time around, we take a look at werebats, now reimagined as part of the Bite Me!-series. They get +2 Dex and Con, -2 Int, the two bloods racial feature (making you count as a parent race as well as a shapeshifter for purposes of being affected by effects), low-light vision, +2 to Perception and Fly. Beast Form works is presented in a rather precise wording construct that takes temporary hit points, equipment and the like into account and the odd formatting discrepancies gone - no complaints. In beats or hybrid form, DR 2/silver is gained and increases by +2 every odd level gained to a maximum of DR 10/silver. The werebat gains wolfsbane vulnerability and silver vulnerability. That may just be me, but I am not too keen on wolfsbane as a universal vulnerability for lycanthrope-races; to me, it makes less sense for werebats to be affected by it, but that just as an aside. Regarding beast form and advancement, I do not have significant complaints here...apart from the elephant in the room. We're talking BATS here, after all, and as such, beast form provides unassisted flight at 1st level, which may present a significant issue for some campaigns and modules, where unassisted flight is generally assumed to be available at around 5th or 6th level. Now I've ranted, raved and analyzed the unassisted flight component in detail in various reviews of mine, so let me leave you with this as a caveat emptor warning for GMs and move on. Werebats get their own age, height and weight table, which is nice.


Flavor-wise, werebats make sense to me: Considering the relatively social nature their real life brethren exhibit, expecting a tendency towards the lawful in spite of what outsiders would consider a pretty chaotic commune-structure as the most common social norm, werebats as depicted here are actually pretty comfortable in their hides and environments, which is certainly a relatively intriguing spin on the concept, deviating from the old tropes regarding them. Customization-wise, we receive a total of 7 alternate racial traits for quicker flying, Small werebats and improved social skills. I have an issue with one of these: Cavern Colonist nets a climb speed of 10 feet as well as +8 racial bonus on Climb checks associated with having a climb speed. Stacking with the bonus inherent in climb speed? There wording makes it look like it is. The trait also retains a 30 feet fly speed, regardless of form and fails to note what it replaces. On the plus-side, 3 different subtypes have been created for your convenience using the traits - just one look and there you go.


The pdf also features an array of favored class options covering Core and APG-classes as well as Magus and the UC-classes. In an only aesthetic nitpick, the names of the classes here are usually red and properly bolded - the cleric, oddly, is not red, but black. That's it and pretty much the definition of a harmless cosmetic hiccup. Rules-wise, however, the section of favored class options provides solid and feasible rules-operations and leaves nothing to be desired.


A massive total of 13 racial feats have been included, though veterans of the series will recognize some of them from previous installments: Primal Form makes a return, as does Hybrid Form, which was curiously absent in some of the installments. Personally, I welcome the inclusion of the two pretty central feats. The feats range from useful to creative: Using Fly instead of Acrobatics or as the skill governing bardic performances, for example, makes sense. blindsense 10 ft. that can be upgraded similarly makes sense and better dogfighting capabilities are appreciated. Improving CMD while flying and increasing maneuverability similarly fall into the utility category. Dazing Shriek and its follow-up feat Fearsome Shriek allow werebats to modulate their blindsense to emit an AoE-daze burst as a move action, allowing them to potentially daze lock enemies. While only available at 6th level and beyond, the lack of a hard cap (or at least cool-down) make me uncomfortable with this feat...which is rather odd, considering that Fearsome Shriek's debuffing cone does have a hard cap of uses and arguably, is weaker regarding its direct effects, though the lack of a save makes this also pretty hard-core and something I'd personally nerf in my games. Gaining a reflexive 5-foot step after being hit while airborne is really cool and, speaking of which - there is a feat called Feet like Hands which lets you use your feet for fine manipulations, wielding weapons, etc. However, the feat fails to specify how its benefits interact with multiweapon fighting etc. and, as written needs some serious GM work to work. Oh, becoming a disease carrier is also an option.


The pdf features one racial archetype, the thunder child monk, who gains a sonic-damage causing elemental fist that increases in damage output every 5 levels instead of stunning fist. At 4th level, slow fall is replaced with the option expend 2 points of ki to emit blasts of sonic energy that duplicate a sonic based variant of scorching ray. This theme is expanded at 8th level, where a variant of breath of the dragon can be found, 10th level, where discordant blast is unlocked and 14th level, where, for 3 ki, ki shout is unlocked. All of these are supernatural, but come with CL-info as well as concentration info, which is generally nice. I like the visuals of the archetype, in spite of many abilities being spells-in-a-can-style tricks; certainly one of the more evocative and flavorful archetypes in the series.


The pdf also features information pertaining mundane equipment, which includes bomber's harness, foot shields and delightfully disgusting guano grenades. On the magical item front, a total of 5 items can be found, with carrying nets helping the werebats carry loads while staying aloft, featherlight armor helping with protection while flying. Absolutely glorious: The gastrolith of the hidden hand: Eat a small stone shaped like a finger with a ring on it; you thereafter may vomit forth the ring intentionally (or when really botching saves vs. the nauseated condition), allowing for some pretty cool ring-smuggling. Infusion Collars act as a store option for infusions or extracts of up to 6 3rd level or lower extracts or infusions, which then can be activated via command word. I'm not the biggest fan of such storage items, but for the steep price, I can see it work. Screamer's Masks, finally, would be sonic-blasts-in-a-can.


The pdf also features a total of 6 new spells: These allow you to conjure forth bat swarms or riding bats, emit a sonic scream that can be hear up to 2 miles away, helping orientation and two mirrored spells that grant a bonus/penalize cavern exploration. An anti-air net of entangling force similarly makes sense.


The two sample characters in this installment would be a werebat paladin at CR 6 and a werebat alchemist at CR 9; the paladin comes with statblocks for all three forms (he has Hybrid Shape), while the alchemist comes with two; both of the NPCs feature, as always, neat artworks and notes on schemes and plots to integrate them easier into an ongoing campaign.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level; on a rules-level, there are some minor things that can use a bit of streamlining, but as a whole, the book does a good job. Layout adheres to Misfit Studios' two-column full-color standard and the pdf features several nice, original full-color artworks. As a nice service, we get a printer-friendly iteration of the pdf and the pdfs are fully bookmarked with nested, detailed bookmarks for your convenience.


Robert H. Hudson Jr.'s werebats are honestly better than I expected; while there is some overlap in the base engine of the race (i.e. it has the same traits as the other Bite Me!-lycanthrope-races with one skill switched), the beast form benefits are pretty solid and while 1st level unassisted flight is something I am very weary of in Pathfinder contexts, as a whole, the presentation here is nice. There are some fun ideas to be found herein and, while flaws exist, as a whole the pdf provides a pretty nice look at werebats. In the end, this is a good pdf of mechanically, but not power-wise conservative designs with a few hiccups. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 due to in dubio pro reo. If you disallow low-level unassisted flight, these obviously are not for you, though.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Bite Me! Werebats
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Advantageous Abilities: Charismatic Abilities (5e)
Publisher: Dire Rugrat Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/16/2016 18:32:31

An Endzeitgeist.com review


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


So, what do we get here? In short, we get abilities you can add to specific NPCs to grant them a more unique flavor, some tricks to set them apart, if you will. Distracting Allure, for example, lets you add your Charisma modifier to Dexterity (sleight of hand) checks. As a minor nitpick, rules-language, while functional, is not 100% according to the standards. Additionally, it does imply attraction and lacks a caveat to represent other critters - RAW, it would apply to creatures not attracted to the character like sentient oozes or worse.


Also problematic: Fearful Insinuation allows the character to deliver threats without seeming threatening. If successfully intimidated, the creatures suffers disadvantage on the next attack roll or saving throw...which implies combat use...and no action to activate is given. The ability also lacks a tie to the intimidating character or the mechanics to notice the intimidation while observing it. Another ability nets a reputation so stellar, it requires a hard task, a DC 20 Charisma (persuasion) check to make any creature believe bad things about the target - which is cool...but why is the DC fixed here, when usually DCs of character abilities scale? Where's the scaling?


Making an ally ignore the frightened condition for Charisma modifier rounds is cool - but where's the activation action? Does it require one? How many allies can be affected at a given time? being a local celebrity has its perks - but what constitutes a "city" for the purpose of the ability? Similarly, I love the ability that lets a creature move with a grace that renders targets incapacitated on a failed save...I really enjoyed that in the Tangible Tavern from which it's taken...but as a general ability, it lacks a save. And in the context, it works - the ability was featured by the waitress/maître d' and makes sense in the context...but can it be used in combat? The ability as presented here does imply the like. Also: No save scaling? There are nice ones here as well, including the means to thwart persuasion. Weird: provoking Words does have a scaling saving throw, making that component of the pdf inconsistent...but hey, I'll take it. On the downside, once again, I am not sure regarding activation action - sure, a regular action can be assumed, since reactions are their own category here, but some abilities feel like they could/should be bonus actions.


Speaking of reactions: 4 are provided. They lack the "use your reaction"-wording-component. One ability lacks a "to"; getting a Charisma save versus frightened or stunned at a fixed DC ( as opposed to the original DC) feels wonky to me. There is also a short rest healing ability that lacks a range and does not interact with maximum healing based on HD or spells, making it clunky and breaking the hard cap imposed on healing.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting on a formal level are nice, but on a rules-level, we have some serious issues. Layout adheres to Dire Rugrat Press' two-column b/w-standard and the pdf has neither artworks nor bookmarks, but needs none at this length.


Kelly & Ken Pawlik's second collection of advantageous abilities suffers unfortunately from the same issues as the first: These abilities are NPC-only, so don't expect balance-guidance or the like herein. The rules-language employed unfortunately also leaves something to be desired: While the fixed DCs in monster statblocks make sense for the general monster, as soon as you start applying them broadly via generic abilities, there should be differences here. The abilities are intended for mostly humanoid, civilized NPCs, which makes this somewhat odder still. In short - the pdf is less flexible than it should be.


Here's another issue: The pdf does not really distinguish between passive abilities and those that require actions to use, making how precisely the abilities work, particularly in combat scenarios, opaque. Whether you get anything out of this pdf depends highly on how you want to use its content: As window-dressing-abilities for the GM, this delivers, but I question the value of it as such; the draw of many of these did stem from the characters to which they were assigned and the social context from which they originated. In that context, they make sense. In a general pdf, divorced from their context, their rules fall apart and render this significantly less useful than I hoped it would be.


My gripes for the first pdf in the series persist here and, if anything, are exacerbated by the relatively loose framework of combat/social interaction of 5e; particularly in such contexts, it is important to know when an ability can be used and how, drawing clean and concise lines in the proverbial sand of rules-language. As written, in spite of the low price, I cannot go higher than 2.5 stars, rounded down for this one.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Advantageous Abilities: Charismatic Abilities (5e)
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Advantageous Abilities: Humanoid Special Abilities (5e)
Publisher: Dire Rugrat Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/16/2016 18:30:22

An Endzeitgeist.com review


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


Dire Rugrat Publishing's 5e-conversions are a joy to behold in that they add unique abilities to the respective NPCs. A total of 14 such abilities are included herein for your convenience. Barroom Brawler lets you ignore difficult terrain generated by bars. Below the Belt nets advantage on attacks versus foes that suffer from a variety of negative conditions...and it is here things get a bit weird - you see, the ability explicitly works for incapacitated, restrained and stunned targets...and those conditions already net advantage. Beyond that, even the argument of just listing the conditions for convenience's sake is moot, since paralyzed and petrified are missing...so yeah. Wonky.


Close-quarters melee shooting is very strong, allowing for shots in melee-range sans disadvantage. Using verbal jabs to dishearten foes is nice...but oddly, the save does not scale and remains fixed at DC 13 - no proficiency bonus scaling, no Charisma mod, nothing. Yes, I know that monsters adhere to this formula...but we're talking about general plug-and-play NPC-abilities here! Same DCs for vampire queens and hunchbacks? Weird... Rerolling 1s with fire damage is a cool idea and delivering spells through nearby familiars should help in particular with some conversion issues GMs may encounter....but why doesn't that work for eldritch invocations as well? They are technically not spells and thus RAW can't be delivered, when they probably should offer synergy. Motivating minions, the drawback of a peg-leg...nice.


Not so nice: The poisoner ability, which nets an infinite amount of weak poison the character can add to weapons. Weak, yes...but still. Infinite. Speedy reload as bonus action and chandelier swinging are cool. The pdf also features two reactions, both particularly suitable for BBEGs - swapping places with minions to let them take the hit and a reflexive teleport both make sense. The pdf offers nice designer's commentary on a couple of these abilities.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no formal glitches that would gall me. Rules language is a different matter. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard and the pdf has no artwork or bookmarks, but needs none at this length.


Kelly & Ken Pawlik's collection of advantageous abilities for 5e-NPCs is interesting in concept, if flawed in execution. While I would have loved some notes on use for players, it is pretty evident from the get-go that the majority of these should not get into player-hands: They work well as special abilities and guidelines, but aren't that carefully balanced. Generally, this is a pity, considering the fact that drawbacks and boons would allow for an easy point-based customization: Nasty drawback? -1 (-2 for a class that will encounter it often, +0 for a class that isn't really hampered by it). Solid boon? +1. The framework isn't hard to set up and would add a whole different dimension to the pdf.


Challenge-adjustments for using these cannot be found, should you be looking for that. The abilities generally make sense and add color and flavor to the NPCs, but some of them are lacking in precision and could use some clearer boundaries/definitions. This isn't that important when used only to supplement a given NPC, but as soon as you make the abilities the main meat of the offering, you'll be looking at an issue. Basically, by divorcing the abilities from their context, NPCs and situations you need to offer significantly more precision than this pdf offers. The oversight of not properly distinguishing between passive abilities and those requiring an action is a huge issue that pretty much sinks this pdf for me - we need to know whether and how these abilities work in combat, get concise refresh-info and potentially ranges, if applicable.


Similarly, if you're looking for abilities specifically designed for orcs, goblins, gnolls - the races one most commonly associates with "humanoids", you won't find those in here. The pdf technically is correct, since the abilities apply to characters, but the emphasis here is humanoid, not the implicitly implied savage humanoid most of us associate with the term in a roleplaying context. That being said, this particular gripe will not influence the final verdict, but is still something to be aware of.


So yeah, while I do like some of the options and still consider them extremely flavorful and while the pdf is inexpensive indeed, the brevity does also make the flaws weigh harder upon this than usual. The lack of context for these greatly diminishes their value and makes their issues pertaining opacity, somewhat alleviated by context, stand out like a green hat with an orange bill. While the passive abilities work well, the NPC flavor-tricks were not translated well into the hard, cold world of crunchy abilities in this pdf. I can't go higher than 2.5 stars, rounded down.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Advantageous Abilities: Humanoid Special Abilities (5e)
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Campaign Backdrop: Hills & Mountains
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/14/2016 06:01:28

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of Raging Swan Press' Campaign Backdrops-compilations clocks in at 115 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with an impressive 108 pages of content, so let's take a look!


This being a compilation of material, we begin this massive book with a handy list of statblcoks by CR with the respective page number for easy reference obviously included. Beyond that, the pdf provides advice for novice GMs on how to read statblocks and an extensive acknowledgement of author bios - I mention the latter primarily since I consider this aspect to be great and hope that other publishers will include the like in their books as well.


Anyways, as you may already know if you've read my review of the last Campaign Backdrop, we have an organization of Raging Swan Press material in this book by terrain; where the GM's Miscellany series took content and organized it by type (i.e. "Dressing" or "Villages"), these books basically provide all the material you'd need to flesh out a specific region.


The structure here is based on going from the general to the more complex/detailed; we begin with Wilderness Dressings for Hills and Mountains and move on to random encounters, which are separated by subregion - a total of 14 hill-themed encounters and 7 mountain-themed ones can be found. EL-wise, these encounters range from 1 - 9. The organization here makes slightly more sense than in the forest-installment, featuring general properties of hills and mountains (like movement through rubble, etc.) in front of the encounters with the good ole' Raging Swan Press GM-cheat-sheets I really have come to love.


Like the installment on forests, this book also has urban dressing material to reflect civilization's encroaching upon nature, with mining towns receiving their detailed dressing-due. After these more modular components, the pdf introduces us to the adventure location called prismatic tower and no less than 4 ready-to drop-in villages you can sprinkle into your mountainous region: This time around, these villages would be Denton's End, Feigrvidr, Hjalward and Silver Bluff - and yes, these rank as some of my favorites in the Village Backdrop-series.


Now, as before, gentle reader, I'd love to avoid redundancy and not rattle off the respective content again - I have covered in detail the constituent files and as such, I'd like to point you to the respective reviews I've written for them.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press' two-column b/w-standard and the pdf features several thematically fitting, nice b/w-artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and in two versions: One is optimized for screen use and one for the printer.


John Bennett, Creighton Broadhurst, Robert Brooks, Jeff Erwin, Fabian Fehrs, James F.D. Graham, Brian Gregory, Ben Kent, Stephen Radney MacFarland, Josh Vogt and Mike Welham deliver one exceedingly tight and useful toolkit here: Particularly if you don't already own the constituent files, this book delivers an extremely easy to use and game-enhancing toolkit for the beleaguered GM. Similarly, if you really want print of all the options herein, you'll notice that not all pieces of content in this book have so far been included in GM's Miscellany books, so there's that component as well.


As with the previous book, my one minor gripe with this is that I would have loved its terrain-related scope to be emphasized slightly more, with more hazards and mechanically relevant types of terrain...but that's just me being a total spoiled prick. The organization is slightly better this time around and, as a whole, this can be considered a true boon for any GM looking for material to flesh out the mountainous and hilly regions of her campaign. It should also be noted that the average quality of content provided herein is exceedingly high.


Now, this does not change that fans of Raging Swan Press that already have the material won't get much beyond the stellar and handy organization out of this tome...but at the same time, for people new to what RSP has to offer, this is a superb godsend indeed. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval, though with the caveat that RSP-veterans may want to skip this unless they want the book for the convenience it arguably offers.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Campaign Backdrop: Hills & Mountains
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Strange Magic Expanded - The Ethercoustic Theurge
Publisher: Interjection Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/14/2016 05:58:39

An Endzeitgeist.com review


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


The ethercoustic theurge is a new 5-level PrC who gains up to +2 BAB-, Fort- and Ref-progression and +3 Will-save progression. The class gains 4+Int skills per level, no new proficiencies and has d6 HD. To qualify, you must have 7 ranks in Knowledge(Arcana) and Perform (Conducting) to show for as well as the ability to cast etherspells with 2nd level manifestations and prepare scores with at least two melodies.


This being a theurge-PrC for combining composition and ethermagic,, the levels of the class stack with composition class levels for the purposes of compositions gained, effective composer level, total number of scores and number of melodies per score; in the case of the harmonicist, this also influences the number of scores that can be conducted simultaneously. Additionally, the ethercoustic theurge's class levels stack with ethermagic-using class levels for purposes of CL, manifestations known, acquisition of new etherhearts, ether pool size and EP regeneration rate. In the case of belonging to multiple classes of either half of the equation (breakdancer/maestro or etherslinger/ethermancer, for example), the class for which the benefits apply is chosen upon taking the PrC.


At 1st level, the class gains etheric drone, which is a score that contains a sinmgle melody, uses the harmonicist effect language and may only target the theurge; as such, only melodies that can be learned by the harmonicist may be added to an etheric drone score. This drone cannot be used via composition; instead, whenever the theurge casts an alteration etherspell, the theurge may lower her maximum EP by 2 for the etherspell's duration, looping the etherspell. While the etherspell is thus looped, the theurge may begin conducting an etheric drone as a swift action that provokes AoOs, persisting for 10 + Perform (conducting) ranks rounds. This drone requires no conducting to maintain and cannot be willingly ended. This can be done 1/day, +1/day at 5th level.


Starting at 2nd level, the PrC can reduce her EP maximum by 2 to generate a summon instrument (which should be italicized in the pdf) voidhorn with a CL equal to composer level and Charisma as key ability modifier. The voidhorn is masterwork and permanent until dismissed. 2nd level also nets the musical paradox ability: Such a paradox is a 1.minute ritual using a non-conducting perform-check (though conducting can be substituted at a penalty) - upon completion, she chooses a paradox that is inactive until triggered as a free action or when replenishing the daily allotment of conduct composition. The higher the skill-check result, the higher the bonus; while skill checks can potentially be boosted pretty high, the effects of the paradoxes are really interesting and consist in reflexive DR or bypassing, SP or spell modification, tactical movement benefits, initiative boosts and resistances. The ability is kept in check by requiring different Perform checks for different effects and daily uses...and has a ton of cool tactical options.


At 3rd level, we get singing goop. Yes, this is glorious: When modifying a lesser etherblast with them, you lob them at allies (or foes) and instead of causing damage, they either allow you to name a score and be treated as though they were within 30 ft. of the caster for the score's purpose or render targets valid for the purpose of harmonicist scores, regardless of distance. LOVE IT!


As a 5th level capstone, the PrC gains temporary Ep equal to a score's base number of melodies when conducting a score. (And no, melody-increasing abilities do not increase this amount.) The PrC also comes with 4 feats: +1 drone per day, affect two creatures with paradoxes, increase the paradox's benefits and a 5th-level-prereq feat that unlocks the multiverse-famous song apotheosis as a bonus when reaching 20th level, providing the cool capstone you'd otherwise miss out due to multi/prestige-classing...though at a slightly decreased potency.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good - apart from a missing italicization, noticed no real issues. Layout adheres to Interjection games' two-column b/w-standard and the pdf features fitting stock art. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.


From my own experience: There certainly are easier systems to work with than the intricate created and cool magic systems Bradley Crouch has designed. It takes a serious level of precision, commitment and math-skills to get right. Author Bennett Selchow has jumped in the deep end of the design-pool here; the one with endzeitgeist-shaped sharks waiting to take a bite out of the poor designer... Kidding aside - this is the first pdf by the author I've read and, spoilers, I certainly hope it won't be the last. Making theurge classes it hard. making theurge classes for spellcasting systems that are this complex and unique is even harder. Making sure that the result isn't boring? See, that is REALLY hard.


The author has succeeded at every one of these tasks: The ethercosuic theurge is flavorful, cool, has unique tricks and mechanics, feels different, maintains wide compatibility with the constituent systems. More than just two systems slapped together, the class has its distinct identity and as a fan of drone doom and similar music styles, I'll certainly reappropriate the damn cool drone mechanic beyond the confines of this PrC. You see, both drone and paradoxes could carry, concept-wise, their own archetypes or classes and my one regret herein is that this is not even longer. What we have here, in a nut-shell, is one damn inspired prestige class that fans of Strange Magic should consider a must-own pdf. My congratulations to the author alongside a verdict of well-deserved 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Strange Magic Expanded - The Ethercoustic Theurge
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Mythic Module Monsters: Rune Lords 3
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/14/2016 05:48:53

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This inexpensive little pdf clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let's take a look!


What exactly is in here? Well, know how the AP-installment have a couple of monsters in the back? This book converts the beasts in back of the 3rd book of the by now legendary first Pathfinder-AP, Nick Logue's twisted hillbilly horror saga "The Hook Mountain Massacre", into mythic versions.


The lowest CR/MR creature herein, at CR 6/MR 2 smoke haunt, was my least favorite critter in the original module. It has been upgraded significantly: The critter now features reflexive fire damage, better healing from fire and lethal smoke pattern - with an interesting typo: The DC 187 Will-save here is probably a typo and should be 18 instead. On the plus-side, sickening smoke is nice.


At CR 9/MR 3, the mythic totenmaske gets mythic power-enhanced fleshdrinking and a bite that causes horrible ennui. More importantly, the thing can form the flesh of its victims and control the unfortunates as its lackeys/slaves. Nasty. As something new herein, the CR +2/MR 1 mythic ogrekin template, with 20 powerful and deadly deformities - and yes, these come with fitting upgrades over the regular ogrekin's duality.


One of my favorite critters to come out of RotRL's original modules clocks in at CR 11/MR 4, the skull ripper, whose beheading claws now are truly lethal, including immediate deadly finishing rips and the option to create screaming giant beheadeds or skull swarms. VERY cool, and yes, construction notes included.


The stars of the original book, though, would be the CR 13/MR 5 argoths, who now receive better charging via swimming, burrowing and climbing and the creature now features a truly deadly shredding spiral that destroys natural armor, causes bleed and wrecks items. These lethal abominations are spawn and favored of Lamashtu, offspring of the Mother of Oblivion, who clocks in at CR 18/MR 7, who erodes sanity with its lethal breath. As a kind of elusive, gigantic engine of destruction, it now does feature a mechanical representation of the ability to slip under the radar and any creatures summoned nearby are nauseated by the experience of her warped dimensions. The critter does come with two mythic feats, reprinted from the Mythic Monster Manual for your convenience. Odd: The two feats have two different formatting types.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are good, though I did notice some minor, cosmetic glitches. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard and the pdf has no artworks, but needs none. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.


Jason Nelson and Tom Phillips deliver mythic upgrades of some of my favorite critters that came out of RotRL and perhaps it's due to the original critters being so good, but, as a whole, the mythic upgrades this time around did not feel as enhancing to me; particularly the mother of oblivion and argoth, while stellar creatures, pale before the coolness of some similar adversary-upgrades featured before in the mythic monsters-series. This should not mean that this is in any ways a bad file, mind you; I'm very much complaining at a high level here, a level very much reached by all the mythic monster books I've read, which have indeed spoiled me beyond belief. My final verdict for this one will be 4 stars.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Mythic Module Monsters: Rune Lords 3
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Mythic Module Monsters: Rune Lords 2
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/14/2016 05:46:33

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This inexpensive little pdf clocks in at 9 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let's take a look!


What exactly is in here? Well, know how the AP-installment have a couple of monsters in the back? This book converts the beasts in the back of the by now legendary RotRL-installment "Skinsaw Murders", the second Pathfinder installment, into mythic versions.


The pdf begins with the Lyrakien Azata at CR /MR 1,who may anchor herself to a fixed space and emit blasts of starlight that deal different damage-types for different alignments. At the same CR/MR-rating, mythic boggards have a caustic tongues that deal acid damage and may use mythic power to enhance their jumping ability. At one CR less, the carrionstorm's mythic version may occupy the same space as allies and expend mythic power to shield allies, which is particularly cool for evil bosses conjuring forth these swarms of undead ravens.


The CR 8/MR 3 revenant utilizes Following Step and Step Up's mythic version, with both mythic feats reproduced here for your convenience. The build here is pretty inspired - with ceaseless, cowering-inducing screams, nigh-impeccable pursuit abilities, the option to pain strike their murderers and a particularly lethal power versus their murderers, taking the concept up one notch.


The by now notorious lamia matriarch (at CR 10/MR 4) adds negative conditions to assaults on foes, depending on the number of melee attacks that hit home. Beyond that, flawless ventriloquism and fear-inducing illusions as well as a mythic upgraded version of their Wisdom drain render these deadly.


My favorite critter in the original module, though, were the faceless stalkers, who have been upgraded to CR 5/MR 2: Now, these lethal shapechangers may leech off blood...but more importantly, the creature gets a truly unique signature ability: Maddening Duplication allows the faceless stalker to replicate the face of a target, dealing Charisma damage and causing the disassociation spellblight to the target and even nasty effects on a success, emphasizing their twisted hunter-nature.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard and the pdf has no artworks, but needs none. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.


Jonathan Keith, Tom Phillips and Jason Nelson deliver a cool cadre of creatures here - though this time around, the divide between design-aesthetics is more pronounced in the first installment: The revenant and faceless stalker steal a bit of the thunder of the other critters herein, but that notwithstanding, we get an inexpensive, fun array of mythic creature upgrades here. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 for the purpose of this platform.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Mythic Module Monsters: Rune Lords 2
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Mythic Module Monsters: Rune Lords 1
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/14/2016 05:44:40

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This inexpensive little pdf clocks in at 9 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let's take a look!


What exactly is in here? Well, know how the AP-installment have a couple of monsters in the back? This book converts these beasts featured in the by now legendary first RotRL, the first Pathfinder installment ever, into mythic versions.


The first critter herein would be the CR 5/MR 2 Attic Whisperer - and one look at the critter makes clear that this is no hack job: White a morale-sapping aura of decrepitude, fast healing while within debris-laden areas and claws that can inflict hampering loneliness, the critter is an excellent example of really making a creature's concept shine to the level the cool creature concept deserves.


At CR 2/MR 1, mythic goblin dogs not only receive the ability to cause nastier allergies, their very mere presence can also inspire nearby goblins, in particular their riders. At the same CR/MR-combo, goblin snakes are upgraded to have the ability to insert some flammable gas into their belches. I like the simplicity of this critter, walking just the right design-balance between animal and weirdo monstrosity. The CR 1/MR1 giant gecko featured herein takes the animal-design I love and applies it - removable tail, water walking and climbing make a lot of sense!


At CR 3/MR 1, sinspawn are among the more complex (and lore-wise, important) creatures - and they make full use of the great thematic expansions one can associate with the themes - from Ultimate Magic to Occult Adventures, the better spells are now integrated...oh, and mythic sinspawn can actually change their sin-type via mythic power. Absolutely inspired.


The Sandpoint Devil, with filed off serial numbers, has also been included here, at CR 10/MR 4 - and it makes sense: The bay can cause widespread panic; it can AoO uses of mythic power and actually can gain temporary mythic power! The hellfire breath is upgraded and the deadly trample it has similarly is cooler. Oh, and if you're like me and were disappointed how easily it could have been slain...well, that stops now. This deadly creature is now truly an undying legend and while I would have loved some of the legends from the lore see a mechanical representation, that would have probably blown the being up to the highest of CR-regions.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard and the pdf has no artworks, but needs none. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.


Mike Welham, Jason Nelson and Steven T. Helt are all veterans - this little pdf is a great reminder why - there is not a single filler-creature herein, not one being I'd not immediately use over the non-mythic version. And that is awesome. My final verdict will hence clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mythic Module Monsters: Rune Lords 1
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Adventure Quarterly #7 (PFRPG)
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/13/2016 06:23:35

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The 7th installment of Rite Publishing's quarterly magazine, their spiritual heir to Dungeon, if you will, clocks in at 63 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 57 pages of content, so let's take a look!


As always, this installment begins with a brief editorial by Robert N- Emerson before diving into the modules, but let's take a look at the supplemental material first. Why? Because it is extremely useful: Steven D. Russell provides an article that helps structuring PC subplots in your campaign...and he has a 100-entry-strong table of Pre-Butt Kicking One Liners. This table is incredibly awesome: "We haven't been introduced, so I'll call you 'prey'." or "The only one who can save you now is Orcus...and since I can't bring him here, I'm going to send you to him!" - perhaps it's just me being a big fan of AHHHHNLD's one-liners, but I've been using that table quite a bit.


Anyways, let's talk about what's really important, namely the modules in here. As such the text that follows will contain SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.


...


..


.


All right, still here? Great!


The first adventure belongs to a woefully underrepresented type of module in PFRPG - namely, the hexcrawl. Bret Boyd's "Shattered Dreams in Winter" makes use of Ultimate Campaign's exploration rules and has a synergy tie-in with the excellent 101 Not So Random Encounters: Winter, though neither book is required to run the module. SDiW is intended for 1st level PCs and covers a surprising breadth of places - a total of 69 hexes await exploration of a truly gorgeous full-color map that depicts the snow-capped mountains, glaciers and stable permafrost. In this frigid land, remnants and obelisks of the old Nee'Qan culture, lost to the sand of time, stand as monuments to other days, while the freezing cold and copious amount of snowstorms render survival a challenge - even before strange, lethal gasses and magical effects enter the fray. Temperature, random encounters and hazards are provided for your convenience to drive home that this place is not particularly cuddly.


The whole region, from the frontier's towns that provide ample hooks and statblocks, to the mysterious amber scepters one can find and the massive monoliths, the whole hexcrawl is an excellent exercise in indirect, sandboxy storytelling and atmosphere - as a whole, I was reminded of the classic Savage Sword of Conan issue featuring a monolith and an infamous Khitan duke named Leng, crossed with the atmosphere of Dark Soul II's Frozen Eleum Loyce - and honestly, I was truly intrigued by Bret Boyd's offering here - including an uncommon, corrupted outsider from the higher planes as a dread hunter in the snow and the exploration of these strange places, the first module blows me already away and makes for one of the most atmospheric first level modules I know - if anything, the module left me wanting more...this atmosphere can carry a module of thrice the size allotted.


The second module herein brings us back to the wonderful institution for the series, the legendary Ruins Perilous, Questhaven's post-modern dungeon, which acts as a proving ground and means to climb the social ladder in the adventurer-run legendary city. While before, we had themed regions, Mike Welham actually managed to do something truly unique - for this level of the dungeon, intended for fifth level PCs, has a very strong leitmotif I usually don't like - elements. As often, random encounters can be found within, but here's the thing: The level has an outer ring - from said ring, elemental-themed room-sequences exist, allowing access to the center of the level.


The absolutely unique aspect here is that the module manages to depict a sense of fantastic realism - each of the environment-themed gauntlets actually also has a room that features related materials to pass the respective trials and tribulations...which may actually double as traps in the hands of the unwary: A tissue-regeneration trap can, for example, be rather lethal when applied to creatures aligned with the energy type. So, what's the deal? Beyond mephits, the dungeon is all about the powerful living storm bound within the complex and gathering the missing faces of the cube of elemental harmony, which can ultimately be used to bring reason back to the powerful elemental entity. The fantastic realism utilized here is compelling and well-made.


The third module, penned by Nicholas Milasich for 7th level is darker - the House of Butchered Manflesh, which is a dark module with an intriguing twist: The PCs will investigate a mysterious and sullen captain and a trail of pigs into the sewers, where the tragedies of a flesh-themed dungeon, complete with mite kitchens loom; beyond deadly slaughtering machines and the powerful derro butcher, the dungeon seems to have a straightforward "man are meat"-theme, with an evil mistress at the helm - but there is a twist to all of it: You see, the lady of the house is actually a deadly hag who uses wagers and her considerable polymorphing powers to keep their servants in line...and keep a twisted control over the people under her "employ" (read: slavery). Now before you expect something grimdark...turns out that the mistress is screwing over the cannibals to which her meat is delivered: She polymorphs pigs into humans and sells them to the creatures below - her operation must be stopped, sure...but the consequences may well provide even more issues for the PCs in the future. Different in tone and with an interesting twist, this module, while the most conventional of the three in structure, its creative themes make this yet another winner.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good: Apart from minor formatting hiccups, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing's two-column full-color standard and the magazine sports a significant array of drop-dead gorgeous, original pieces of full color artwork and the cartography by none other than Tommi Salama, is glorious, though I wished we got the usual high-res jpgs and player-friendly versions.


This installment of Adventure Quarterly is all killer, no filler - from the atmospheric offering of Bret Boyd to Mike Welham's awesome Ruins Perilous and Nicholas Milasich's uncommon twist on a horror-theme through the glasses of high fantasy, not one of the modules in this magazine disappointed me - all of them have a creative component, something interesting and evocative that sets them apart. In the end, I am left with no serious complaints, with only the lack of player-friendly maps that were present for all the older AQs being a serious downside that costs this my seal of approval. Still, the excellent modules are very much worth 5 stars and seal material, so yes, I do believe that this is well worth the asking price.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Adventure Quarterly #7 (PFRPG)
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Shrine of Serpents
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/13/2016 06:21:52

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This AP-plug-in clocks in at 23 pages, 2 pages front cover (it's also the last page of the pdf), 1 page editorial, 1 page introduction/how-to use, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a total of 14 pages for the module herein, so let's take a look!


This module is intended to be played between module 3 and 4 of the Mummy's Mask AP and is targeted at 8-10th level PCs, but, being a dungeon, it works equally well in any quasi-Egyptian context or in any context that uses a certain Sword & Sorcery aesthetic.


That out of the way, this is an adventure-review and as such, it contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.


...


..


.


All right, only GMs around? Apep, an ancient god of serpents and darkness those in the know regarding Egyptian mythology (or fantastic literature) should know, has remained important in the dark and despicable depth of Osirion's underbelly - there are always the evil and desperate that will worship entities like this...and a cult of the dread deity has recently started preying upon unwary travelers. Whether by accident of commission, the PCs will stumble over the hidden, eponymous shrine of said cult - and it begins with an array of visuals that is impressive indeed - walking into the deadly gullet. It's classic and could come straight from a visual novel adaptation of the classics of the Sword & Sorcery genre.


The exploration of the eponymous shrine of the serpents does feature a total of 11 different locations, which do include unique traps and even mythic adversaries, consciously designed to be pitted against non-mythic adversaries and balanced appropriately. Beyond the lethal rangers of the cult, powerful and deadly clerics and the classic gigantic anaconda, the dungeon offers a significant challenge for the PCs, as the read aloud text and the adversaries breathe the spirit of swords and sorcery.


Beyond this classic component, the BBEG of the module is intriguing: The module also features divs as well as an unique rakshasa as a boss that should certainly challenge the PCs.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Legendary Games' beautiful full-color 2-column standard and jams a lot of text into its pages. The pdf features gorgeous full-color artwork and the module's cartography is in full-color and nice indeed - and yes, it does come with a player-friendly version. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Alex Riggs' Shrine of Serpents breathes the spirit of Sword & Sorcery I adore and still features the classic, evocative visuals of Egyptian/serpent-themed creations. The most intriguing part, though, to me lies in the fact that the challenges are immaculately designed to be challenging and diverse. While skill monkeys could use a bit more to do, the dungeon as a whole manages to make the classic theme to feel relatively fresh. While personally, I would have enjoyed a slightly more pronounced emphasis on the serpent-theme within, rescuing prisoners and the mechanical challenges render this module a fun take on the classic serpent-themed dungeon that excels in particularly in its combat challenges - though, again, slightly more on the terrain-side could have made this book truly great. As written, it is an impressive take on the classic trope. In the end, this module feels like a worthwhile purchase for a lot of GMs out there - adaptation to basically any context beyond Mummy's Mask is ridiculously easy - just plug and play, no hassle. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, though I have to round down to 4 for the purpose of this platform.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shrine of Serpents
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Village Backdrop: Feigrvidr
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/13/2016 06:19:27

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of RSP's Village Backdrop-series is 11 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let's take a look at the settlement


If the name of this village does sound like quasi-Norse, there is a reason for that "feigr" refers to "nar death" and has connotations with Odin's trances; "viðr" means wood - and indeed, this village would make a perfect addition to a mountainous region: Nestled in the headlands of the forbidding Titan Peaks, Svingal Halfbeard and his renegade band of (mostly) dwarven outcasts have tracked the flow of gold nuggets to this remote locale, ever since driving their mines into the depths of the mountains. What started as little more than an outcast's encampment in search for the big haul has since turned into a refuge for the persecuted.


Prosperous and notorious, Feigrvidr; populace may seem rough and tumble, but there is both gold and glory to be found in this remote place. The thane's search for gold and giant artifacts continues and those that cross him tend to vanish. Whispers and rumors, a total of 6 of them, to be precise, have been included: A maze of shanties, decadent Sin's roost, halfling town and middens containing the refuse and slack of the numerous mines - the village manages to properly convey its unique take on a mining town, with 6 sample events to kick off adventures/action. As always, nomenclature and local clothing customs are mentioned.


Speaking of middens - here, a cool bit of quasi-realism blends with the fantastic, for the folk of Feigrvidr have bred CR 2 pygmy-otyughs (fully statted) to deal with refuse...but they tend to breed fast and true and swarms of them can be found there and the locals whisper that they also are the reason bodies of the thane's enemies tend to never be found...


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. Layout adheres to RSP's smooth, printer-friendly two-column standard and the pdf comes with full bookmarks as well as a gorgeous map, of which you can, as always, download high-res jpegs if you join RSP's patreon. The map deserves special mention this time around, being particularly nice. The pdf sports a nice b/w-artwork of a tentacle-studded pit, probably hiding the pygmy-otyughs. The pdf comes in two versions, with one being optimized for screen-use and one to be printed out.


Stephen Radney-MacFarland's Feigrvidr is one glorious village that can stand with the best in the series; equal parts ethnic settlement, frontier/mining town and rough and tumble refugee camp, it oscillates between various themes and blends them in a concise and fun whole. The village is inspired, cool and breathes a sense of the fantastic without becoming too "unrealistic." Much like the best of the village backdrops, this immediately inspires and makes for a great "throw the adventurers in and wait what happens"-experience. My final verdict will hence clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval - certainly my favorite mining-themed town by Raging Swan Press so far.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Feigrvidr
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Village Backdrop: Ashford (5e)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/13/2016 06:18:21

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment in Raging Swan's Village backdrop-series, converted to 5e, is 11 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with a total of 5 pages of content for the village of Ashford, so let's take a look!


Ashford may once have been a place brimming with the quiet, simple life of small towns - but no longer. Reduced to a shadow of its former state, Ashford is ravaged by the bubonic plague and the empty shells of houses stand among sad remnants that are inhabited by survivors of the plague - people with broken spirits and no hope, waiting solemnly to join their deceased friends and family in an early grave - or drowning their sorrows in alcohol. Visitors risk exposure on a daily basis.


The village priest has failed to contain the plague and so hatred, rage and despair abound, as plague pits filled with the corpses of the fallen litter the landscape and the local ruler ignores his citizen's plight. The local wizard met the interruption of her studies with a fireball into the enraged mob and no help is coming on that front either. Worse, one of the village's priests not only succumbed to the plague, but hasn't been interred in the chapel, thrown instead into plague pits and now has risen from the grave, seeking revenge as a ghoulish priest. Events in the village center on enhancing this sense of desolation and collapsing buildings and feral dogs paint in thick strokes an image of anguish and end-times-like circumstances.


Sidebars depicting abandoned and burnt-out houses (10 entries each) and whispers and rumors as well as lore should help render the trip to Ashford...well. Interesting. That being said, regarding teh 5-conversion, I honestly believe that we could have used game effects. Unlike Pathfinder, 5e has, at least to my knowledge, no mechanics for it yet and I found myself wishing that they were include. While symptoms and the like are part of the pdf, the actual game-mechanics are left out. As always, I believe that certain classes, backgrounds etc. should have an easier time unearthing lore information...but by now, you're probably tired of hearing that old spiel.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. Layout adheres to RSP's 2-column b/w-standard with neat b/w-art and as always, the high-res map is available to supporters of Raging Swan Press' patreon. The cartography of the village is top-notch and the pdf comes fully bookmarked and in two different versions, one optimized for screen-use and one for the printer.


Mastermind of Raging Swan press Creighton Broadhurst is a master of depicting dreary, gritty, grimy locales with concise writing and vivid prose - and this pdf is no different. Indeed, if anything, it is a prime example of what can be done with a scant few words - supplemented by a glorious map in b/w, Ashford is a town you want to include into your campaign, evoking a sense of ending that doesn't need a scream, but comes with an oh so much more powerful whisper - there's no villain to be fought, no monster to be defeated to make all well - this is an exercise in combating human nature, a chance for the PCs to make a point that the "g" in their alignment is not about killing things with "e" in their alignment - here's a chance to rekindle hope against all odds, combat despair and try to save not lives, but a town's very soul. We need more supplements like this and while reading it, I was constantly wishing for a true plague-outbreak module or even better, an AP in that vein. I have always loved Ashford and considered it to be one of my favorite village backdrops of all time; but alas, in spite of this, the fact remains: Ashford is DEFINED by the plague. It's literally the point of the village...and it has no effects contained herein. The pdf had the chance to make the bubonic plague for 5e, and instead opted for fluff-only, depriving the village of its mechanical heart, if you will. This renders Ashford's 5e-iteration, unfortunately, somewhat inferior to PFRPG's take on it. My final verdict, in spite of loving its writing to bits, will hence, "only" clock in at 4 stars.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Ashford (5e)
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Village Backdrop: Coldwater (5e)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/13/2016 06:16:27

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment in Raging Swan's Village backdrop-series, converted to 5e, is 11 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with a total of 5 pages of content for the village of Coldwater, so let's take a look!


Coldwater is perched upon an inhospitable, mud-drenched coast, with one access by land, its harbor is in the delta of a miserably stream that empties its contents into the sea - and if that does not reflect a place you'd like to visit, then that's pretty much a representation of how most folks see this place. Nearby caverns sport strange stair-like features that only rarely become visible and the inhabitants of the village are just as sullen and unfriendly as the weather suggests. Both village lore and demographics reflect the relative hostility and rugged nature of the village rather well, while a Finnish-inspired nomenclature emphasizes an association with the colder climes.


Indeed, the rustic and eccentric locals e.g. sport a man named Holg, who has a well-stacked ware-house, but lets no one in - you have to tell the old man what you're looking for and mysteriously, more often than not, he procures the object from within the depths of his dubious "locker." Indeed, one cannot really fault the locals for their sullen outlook on life: As the events and the subtle wrongness in the tides underline, there is something wrong here and quite a few of the villagers suffer from tell-tale deformities. It should be noted that magic items and a local deity's brief write-up that can be found here have been properly updated to 5e's conventions and that, much like the other village backdrops, there are no statblocks herein.


On a nitpicky note: The deformity and the sense of wrongness - I do believe that the lore section of the village or the rumors would have warranted a modification away from the pure Charisma or Intelligence check to respectively unearth information.


Conclusion:


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


Creighton Broadhurst has skill - and this one shows it pretty well. The mastermind of Raging Swan Press delivers what I'd like to call a wide open sandbox: We are faced with problems and the respective NPCs mentioned can be used to exacerbate it, change it...all depending on your whims. Basically, this is one of the village backdrops that is so compelling, it can make PCs pretty much write their own tale: Throw them in and watch what happens. It sports local color that made me think of the slight surreal elements that made Twin Peaks so compelling, at least for me -from the dwindling fortunes of one family to female, hard-working and drinking half-orc, there is a lot of quirkiness, a lot of unique bits and pieces here; enough, to make this thoroughly compelling and well worth 5 stars. My one gripe with it is that 5e so far has no Innsmouth-look style background tables, diseases or the like - a bit of crunch here would have been nice.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Coldwater (5e)
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Rogues in Remballo Pathfinder Edition
Publisher: Frog God Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/12/2016 06:17:15

An Endzeitgeist.com


This FREE adventure clocks in at 28 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 25 pages of content, so let's take a look!


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


...


..


.


All right, only GMs left? Great!


This pdf kicks off with essentially a highly detailed gazetteer of the city of Remballo, which is, btw., fully mapped in nice b/w-cartography. A pronunciation guide for the name, a full settlement statblock - all there. Relevant for this adventure would be to know that Remballo is essentially the home-base of the powerful Borgandy family, who is big in finances - like safe-keeping treasures for adventurers...for a price. I really like this notion, since the logistics of keeping a hoard of dangerous, highly volatile magical items is an often neglected component in adventures I personally like to emphasize.


But back to Remballo - from the local temples to the important tradition of toasting when gambling (also a nod to Chuck Wright, FGG's layout artist and a damn cool guy!) and an inn, this brief gazetteer is pretty well-written and compelling, painting a picture of a commerce-driven town in a time of turmoil, as the protectorate that once guaranteed stability crumbles and new power dynamics arise. But you want to know about the module, right? Well, we begin with one of several hooks - whether contacted by the Borgandy family, by the city watch or another hook, they will have to investigate the area surrounding Dead Fiddler's Square - a neighborhood fully mapped for your convenience. I love the fact that we get a GM and a player-friendly version of this map, though the player-friendly version sports numbers. Why am I not starting my usual rant? Because the numbers are deceptive - they do not pertain to the actual locations, but the number of stories of the houses! This is pretty brilliant and awesome.


The interesting thing here would then be one of the most concisely written investigation set-ups I've seen in quite a while - with a level of detail and a requirement for discreet inquiries and no less than 35 (!!!) investigation locales to check out, all with read-aloud text, mind you, the area is ultimately a glorious micro-sandbox that sports a level of detail scarcely seen in PFRPG-modules. In fact, this is further enhanced by the actual target area sporting an even more detailed room-by-room map - and yes, there is dungeon-exploration to be had as well - ultimately, the different hooks all tie together in a rather round climactic exploration that sports a truly dangerous adversary the PCs will definitely remember - oh, and I've failed to note that the conclusion, when handled properly, leads to connections with the Borgandys, the thieves guilds and the city watch, right? So yes, adventure galore to be had here!


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't spot any glitches. Layout adheres to Frog God Games' 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Artwork and maps are copious and thematically-fitting b/w.


All right, I'm gonna go right out and say it - a couple of Richard Develyn's (of 4 Dollar Dungeon) modules have all but ruined me for first level modules...because they're that good. When I nowadays read a first level module, it should better be truly remarkable and exceptional in some way. Surprisingly, this FREE module is just such a case. Matt Finch's free-form investigation is AWESOME. The level of detail provided generates an immersion I crave, a level of detail that makes the players feel invested, like they're actually walking the streets of Remballo. The sheer fact that it is relatively non-linear and detailed provides a level of realism scarcely seen, even less so in any free offering. I am quite frankly astounded by this component - usually, I have to sit down and generate x shops, x people, to make investigations not feel like "find the next action-spot to investigate."


This book's approach is glorious and I am of the deep conviction that we need more modules that feature this level of realism. In fact, I'd probably drool and slobber all over a complex investigation in a big city (like, mega-adventure-sized) with this level of detail. Have I btw. mentioned that there are none of the boring level 1-adversary combos to be found herein? Templated foes, multiclass'd enemies...NICE! The player-map depiction is also downright genius.


In one word: I love this module. I got it before the KS went live so I could playtest it and it ran as a stunning success - my players loved it and it proved to be a challenging, very rewarding experience. I can wholeheartedly recommend this module and will award it 5 stars + seal of approval - even if you're not interested in the module itself, it makes for a great neighborhood-sourcebook you could scavenge for your city, adding yet another level of usefulness to this pdf.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Rogues in Remballo Pathfinder Edition
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