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Fane of the Undying Sleeper Collector's Edition
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/01/2017 05:50:13

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The Collector’s Edition of Raging Swan Press‘ „Fane of the Undying Sleeper“ clocks in at 42 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page advice on how to read statblocks, leaving us with 34 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, first things first: It should be noted that this version of the module does come with 6 different pregens for your convenience. Also excellent: The adventure comes with a handy 1-page summary of the rules of water and movement. The pdf does come with a brief write-up on Dagon, the shadow in the sea; there also is the CR +0 deformed creature template with 12 rules-relevant and 12 cosmetic deformities. Moreover, the module is now contextualized within Raging Swan Press’ Duchy of Ashlar – to be more precise, the adventure now comes with the basics of the village of Coldwater (which I’ve covered in my review of that Village). That being said, I really liked how this not just copy-pasted Coldwater into the book: We not only get more hooks for the adventure, we get 8 entries in a gather information table. The pdf also sports handy sheets for facilitating play in the village, pointing towards the respective tables, summing up things to do, etc. – this enhances the Go-Play mission statement of the module.

What’s this? Well, the idea is that you should be able to run this with 0 or almost 0 preparation time. As such, each area featured in the module-proper does come with flavorful, well-crafted read-aloud text and there actually are multiple events for approaching Devil’s Cove by both boat and climbing. In devil’s cove, there are slimy stairs on a wind-swept beach, accessible only during particular low tides and sure to pique the interest of fortune seekers. 8 sample discoveries on the wind-swept shore add detailed dressing to the environment. The location also highlights a central tenet of the module – the tides wait for no man. Beyond this natural time limit, the attention to detail is as pronounced and well-developed as you’d expect it to be: Dripping water, smells, etc. – there is a lot of detail and even more rules-relevant material herein.

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

..

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But let me give you a sample here for the details- each room comes with a small description for the DM, followed by entrances and things players may perceive or miss, followed by read-aloud text and then features - from illumination, to terrain features and e.g. doors (including hardness/break-DC etc.) to dressings galore and infos gleaned via a vast variety of skill-checks, the level of detail is staggering and surpasses even most of Raging Swan Press' other offerings.

Throwing pews, looking at various carvings - there is a vast amount of mood-setting going on here that amps up the ante of what to expect from such a book by quite a bit. Indeed, the best thing here beyond that might be the fact that the presentation is so concise you can run this module sans preparation, just reading as you go. I did try that and it worked. The collector’s edition does cover e.g. even auras, provides details for carved runes and their identification, etc. Spell fragments, runes with latent energy that can be activated; tentacle-studded, strange pillars with weird dressings, tidal streams – the module manages to sport a surprising diversity of evocative dressing.

There are evocative guardian statues…and there is a truly powerful skeletal champion deformed half-fiend sahuagin oracle entrapped in a sarcophagus. Here, though, would be the truly cool component of this module: Beyond time and location as driving factors of this dynamic environment, the finale of the module is about the ire of dagon: A statue that may well hasten the rise of the waters – it can be defused and is presented as a skill challenge that is pretty interesting and not only sports an idea for further adventuring, but also involves the whole party. The concise summary of the effects of rising tide etc. make for a helpful further guidance for the GM.

Stats for Dagon cultists can be used to add further details and dynamics to the adventure. It should be noted that each of the combat encounters sports scaling advice for the GM.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no serious glitches. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard, is elegant, helpful and easy to use. The pdf sports some amazing b/w-artworks, though fans of Raging Swan Press will be familiar with some of them. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks. The module comes in two different versions, one optimized for screen-use and one optimized to be printed out. The cartography of the short fane is excellent and in b/w, but we do not gain a key-less version of the map for players, which constitutes a comfort detriment that’s relevant to the rating.

Creighton Broadhurst has further refined the already neat original module: The contextualization in the Duchy of Ashlar helps to ground the module and its cool ideas in the context of the region, adding some serious flavor to the proceedings. The module already was extremely GM-friendly in its previous iteration; in this collector’s edition, the module is even easier to run than before – a big plus, as far as I’m concerned. You can pick this up and pretty much run it smoothly with just 5 minutes of prep-time (or none, if you can process information while GMing) – that’s a big plus.

That being said, this is a pretty highlight-driven adventure: Beyond the skill challenge finale and the heavily template boss, the other challenges feel a bit tame for my tastes. That being said, this version is certainly worth checking out – I love the dressing, environment, challenges; the module is pretty brief and imho would have benefited from some additional rooms and places: As written, the threat of tides only comes fully into play in the finale. The time-management aspect would have benefited from, well, a longer, more pronounced complex that makes the player-decisions matter more. If your players are quick, they can clear the module rather swiftly. This does not mean that this is bad, mind you – it just means that the premise, the details and unique ideas herein could have (and imho should have) carried a bigger dungeon. In the end, my final verdict will hence clock in at 4.5 stars – but I can’t round up for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Fane of the Undying Sleeper Collector's Edition
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Creator Reply:
Glad you liked the adventure, End! I found your comments jolly useful. I did deliberately make the combats easier--I wanted to subtly encourage the PCs to be able to do the whole thing in one push. I'm sorry that didn't work for you 100% Thanks for the review, as always!
Better Than Any Man
Publisher: Lamentations of the Flame Princess
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/01/2017 05:47:27

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at an epic 180 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page internet resources, leaving us with 174 pages of content. Now, it should be noted that the pdf is longer than the physical version – and the space is used VERY well: We get ALL combat statistics collated in the appendix; a spell-index, a magic item index; reference-resources…and, really cool: Both the overview map of the region and all the maps are collected in the back – and, in a really amazing offering, all top-down dungeon-maps can be rendered player-friendly, courtesy of the layered pdf – HUGE kudos there! Furthermore, we get player-handouts and a player-map of the region.

Now, at this point, I need to thank one of my friends/supporters, who did send me the physical copy of this module, moving it thus up my reviewing queue. This review was also requested by one of my patreons as a non-prioritized review, which made me move this up in my reviewing-queue. The physical copy has a full-color map on the inside of the front/back-cover – it’s basically a nice sleeve of the regional map. The module per se, is, apart from that, a saddle-stitched, pretty big booklet in A5 (6’’ by 9’’)-size.

“Gott mit Uns!” The battle-cry of Carolus Rex, Gustavus Adolphus, resounds through the Holy Roman Empire. It is the year of our Lord 1631 and the king whose tactics would influence the history of military campaigns, has claimed his famous victory at Breitenfeld. His armies march onwards, but the growing force of the Löwe aus Mitternacht no longer are merely professionals – and, as the annals tell, his days are numbered. Still, for now his host approaches Würzburg and the notoriously inefficient fortress (which pretty much withstood only a single battle…) there. I grew up around this place and, while nowadays, the area is less swampy than within the module, I have to applaud the commitment to plausibility. Additionally, it should be noted that the German names used throughout the book, from Inn-names to the names of forces, are actually correct – huge kudos for not butchering my native tongue.

The champion of Protestants and his overwhelming force is approaching the area around Würzburg – the book has a VERY strict, extremely challenging time-limit – the PCs have basically 5 days, RAW, which is not much, considering the difficulty of this module. Beyond potentially modifying this time-line, there is another aspect that allows for some control, particularly when using this as a start of a campaign or one-shot. It should be noted that this module is not for the faint of heart or for the novice player – this is brutal in its difficulty, but it is NOT necessarily unfair. There is also another aspect of this book you should be aware of: The book is billed as intended for ages 18+; if this was a movie, it would deserve a hard R-rating for some gory scenes.

This is also the point in time, where I should comment on the controversy that was sparked by this book. In my opinion, it’s ridiculous. I mean it. To give you an idea: One of the best means to gather information, is to venture into a brothel; the magic-using mistress of the place gets her kicks from exchanging information for demeaning tasks and sexual acts. Yeah well, so what? The respective tasks aren’t explicit, can be glossed over or replaced…and this module is billed as “For adults only.” Perhaps it’s my European upbringing, but frankly, while I consider her tasks to be often disgusting, the PCs are not required to engage in them. It’s a choice. You can say no. I really don’t get it. And she never stoops to the lows of De Sade etc. – you can actually see more explicit or extreme things in real life on the internet without ever trying. That, and the lady in question is actually part of the enemies of the PCs. Similarly, while some images depict really gory, messed up stuff – that’s what the BAD GUYS are doing. You know, the bastards the PCs are supposed to stop?

Is this dark? Yeah. Is this dark to the point where I’d consider it problematic? Nope. Not even close. And those other ridiculous claims you can find? Similarly unfounded. If you like dark fantasy, horror, etc., then chances are that you’ve seen much, much worse.

It should also be noted that this is a combination of basically a regional sourcebook and sandboxy mega-adventure rolled in one; if you expect railroads, you won’t find them herein.

Okay, this basic discussion out of the way, from here on out, I will discuss the module. As such, the following discussion contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

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All right, only referees reading? Great!

So, Gustavus Adolphus is hell-bent on razing Würzburg to the ground, if he finds the rumors of occult practices to be well-founded. Unfortunately for all concerned, they are. Karlstadt, just before Würzburg, has been taken over by magic-users: Women ostracized by the hypocrisy of society, unified by a strange spell: Casting the ritualistic magic cost one of them her life, but granted their simple, unified wish of power: Now, all of them, hopelessly out of their depth, rule Karlstadt, courtesy of the powerful magics and the potent creatures gained from the casting of the spell.

The 7 (actually 6 – as mentioned, one died) are interesting characters in their own right: There would be a girl, who only wanted finery and power and now doesn’t now what to really do with it; there is a lady who always wanted to provide for others, who can now create food for others and help keep the masses from starving. There is aforementioned madam, now wholly entrenched in a web of debauchery of her own making; there is a twisted, bitter woman, who “teaches magic” – with the goal of reincranting herself into the baby of one of her students; there is a madwoman, convinced that she’s ferreting out the walking dead. All are pitifully weak casters…but they rule over Karlstadt and are, in some aspect or another, well-rounded characters. Gorgeous b/w-artworks also help making them more than just bad guys…and there’s a problem. For the most part, a sense of cosmic irony and cruelty pervades their magics: The Provider, Jutte Beckman, for example, does not really help sate the masses: Her magical food is filling and tastes nice…but actually doesn’t sustain anyone. It is wholly without calories, nutritients, etc. Similarly, the detect undead-like magic of one of the ladies actually has a 1 in 10 chance of delivering false positives. Yeah, fun. Each of the 7 sports sucha signature spell, just fyi.

There are two reasons the 7 remain in command beyond the authority granted by their ritual: Number one is the most interesting aspect: Basically, their ideas are hyper-progressive. The interim-society of refugees they have erected in Karlstadt is actually closer to our ideals than those of medieval Germany. It is, philosophy-wise, a well-meaning construct, suffering from incompetence and lack of interest in some cases, and power-trips in others. The second reason would be the creatures: Each of the 7 comes with her own guardian creature, horrific monsters (you can see one of them on the cover…), which all come with truly ORIGINAL rules. The lamest one of them just steals the best stats of those nearby; there is a monster that can switch ability scores, change XP and hit point totals; there even is an immortal, invulnerable thing that exists in another dimension – it causes tumors, and attacking these can be used to slay it. Not only are the illustrations cool and twisted, the monsters are extremely poachable – each can make for a challenging puzzle-boss on its own.

Why is this relevant? Well, if the PCs want to stop the destruction of the whole area, they need to take down the 7. With the lavishly detailed Karlstadt, their smart security and powerful guardian creatures, that’s easier said than done, though.

While Karlstadt is pretty much a hub for this module, the surrounding villages and wilderness do sport not only wandering monster-encounters (curiously focusing on insects…), they also sport instances of the spectrum of human suffering and desperation when faced with the impending doom. These are grim, yet flavorful, and add a big context and some well-hidden information to the massive sandbox that is this module. How do the PCs get into Karlstadt? How do they take down the 7? It all depends on the players and their actions.

Beyond these aspects, there is more – in fact, a lot more. The module contains 3 locations which most publishers would have used on their own as a free offering. All are only tangentially related to the plot at hand and may be used, providing a piece of the puzzle. None of them are strictly required, though. Number 1, and by far the worst part of the book, the only part I’d consider to be lame, would be the infinite tower. It is pretty much what you’d expect: An infinite tower with occupants and treasure..but also a chance to be lost for 1d6 x 10 years in the past or future. If you run that aspect RAW, chances are your PCs may miss the adventure. That being said, you could use this as a means to “save” the campaign: The PCs fail, travel back in time, level up, and retackle the module at a higher level. Just sayin’. The highlight here would be the isometric map: Big plus: In the layered pdf, you can remove the secret door!

The second red herring would be a sidequest you’ll usually gain from a wealthy-looking refugee waiting to gain entrance to Karlstadt: Gunther Moll and his rowdy band of bandits have kidnapped a child. Turns out, though, that, as far as bandits go, they’re not that bad: While they have taken up residence in an ostensibly cursed farmstead, they won’t harm a kid (They are not the insane farmer who cops up travelers and sticks their parts in his field…). The abandoned farmstead and its secret tunnels etc. are once again provided in a nice, isometric map – though here, the layered pdf does not provide for player-friendly customization. Anyways, unbeknown to the bandits, the former occupants were indeed evil – worshipers of the vile Insect God…and an undead is still lurking. Cue the potential for Mexican standoffs and strange alliances…

The third dungeon that isn’t really required would be the Mound – lair of the surprisingly powerful and thoroughly nasty Willibald Schwartz – a level 17 magic-user with garish clothes, who is not only a pervert, he also has a glass tiger as a kind of executioner golem to fetch new subjects. Alas, the tiger sucks at distinguishing proper from improper prey and sometimes brings kids instead of adults. Willibald likes making magical marionettes out of their bodies. Yeah, he is a thoroughly vile, disgusting bastard – and if the PCs are smart, they’ll listen to his offer: You see, he knows about the imminent rise of the Insect God – a threat to all mankind. And he has this spell, which is another means for the PCs to actually beat this module: Journey to the Past. It sends you chronologically back through time where you’re standing. Yep, this does require some serious referee fu, and when introduced, is most assuredly a spell (at level 1) that makes a one-shot use perhaps easier to handle. But it is a potent tool. You see, he knows that the Insect God needs a particular gem to rise – and where that gem was. Retrieving and handling the problem of the gem is a means to get rid of the cosmic horror lurking at the edges of this module…and a discreet note to the Swedes regarding Herr Schwartz can solve the problem of this vile bastard. Once again: He’s a BAD GUY. Just sayin’.

But what this module, beyond assassinating the 7, is truly about…well, like in any good investigation, that’s not readily apparent. You see, the 7 actually are compromised; they are, in fact, lams set up to be slaughtered. Their well-meaning creation of the Bürgerfriedensmiliz (Citizen’s freedom-militia) and their notes of ostensible pacifism may have been rooted in good intentions – but one of the 7 is actually a fervent devotee of the Insect God. Deep in the wilderness, there is the headquarters of the Bürgerfriedensmiliz, where the members are brainwashed into committing unspeakable atrocities (illustrated, btw.). The dungeon that contains the HQ is actually a complex: It houses the 4 levels: The caverns, the shrine of the Insect God and the headquarters…and it is one of the best dark fantasy dungeons I have ever had the pleasure to run.

In true LotFP-manner, it is a hellhole, difficulty-wise: There are dangerous, extremely deadly adversaries and hazards to be found; bone wearing madmen concealed in ossuary-caverns; the gateway to the Insect shrine, lavishly depicted, is nightmare fuel with its strange statues ringing it: As a hand-out, it should most certainly show the PCs that not all is well…and in the HQ, there is a powerful tinker and a powerful alchemist, both fully realized and sufficiently insane/complex characters, which can render the exploration even more interesting…though it should be noted that, while super deadly, characters can also find a super powerful artifact that can grant a character 1000 non-regenerating hit points. And yes, this actually remains balanced to a degree and provides a means to truly “win” this module, particularly if you’re using the time-travel angle of the tower mentioned before.

You see, while the unique madwomen within the HQ, their labs etc. are amazing and creative, the module constantly hints at the imminent rise of the Insect God – a chthonic evil of legendary proportions. The encounters, small tidbits , etc. all lead up to it.

That’s where level 4, the end of the complex, comes in. You see, upon exploring the dungeon, at one point, the PCs will find a particularly VILE place, an environment, where pure malevolence seems to seep through. They have to actually DIG there. Yes. They are warned. Everything OOZES “RUN, YOU FOOLS!” Heck, if clerics rest, an agent of their deity will tell them to get the hell outta dodge. It should be noted that the task of this module is fulfilled at this point; the PCs have NO REASON to dig down there, apart from curiosity, from wanting the whole picture. You know what we said about curiosity and cats, right? If the PCs dig down there, the module changes. Up until now, Better than Any Man is a brutal, but fair and challenging dark fantasy module. If they dig down there, they enter, physically, the realm of the Insect God.

At this point, the module becomes a horror-module. A balls to the wall, weird, Lovecraftian nightmare. Down there, they can find an insect borealis, the head of an extinct, regenerating giant (who is buried to his neck), the largest specimen of humanoids to ever life…now an idiot through constant insects gnawing through his brain. The Insect God thinks that this is mankind’s god…which is wrong, obviously – but woe to those that tell that to the Insect God. Here, every step shows new horrors and wonders…and can kill you. You can walk through the cavern, through which the haemolymph of all of the world’s insects runs, prior to reincarnation.

That being said, at the end of this dungeon lies a half-consumed cadaver of a gargantuan insect-thing, attended by the ghosts of literally countless insects (one of the most gorgeous b/w-artworks I’ve seen in any RPG-book, btw.) – and the dead Insect God speaks. It commands. The spectral insects attack in endless waves. The PCs will fall. One by one. Until only one remains. The unfortunate last person standing will be invaded by the insect legions, becoming one, bodily, with the crawling legions, a mind enslaved…this champion receives the living, vile blade of the Insect God…to go forth, and once again spread the gospel of insect superiority… Yeah, that can jumpstart a whole campaign of its own.

So yes, level 4 is NOT intended to be won; it is intended to be the horror-end to the module; it is intended to be a dark conclusion…or as a reason to really want to go back through time to stop the apocalyptic exploration of a place, where mortals were never supposed to tread.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch on both a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes with a TON of truly amazing b/w-artworks AND cartography – Aeron Alfrey, Gennifer Bone, Ramsey Dow, Alyssa Faden, Andy Hepworth, Laura Jalo, Anna B. Meyer, Jason Rainville, Jennifer Rodgers, Amos Orion Sterns and Peitsa Veteli did an amazing job. The player-friendly maps in the pdf-version are pure amazing. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks. I love the layered pdf…and guess what: Got a table to roll in the module? Click on it. It’ll roll for you. Oh, and the module is internally hyperlinked for your convenience as well. That’s one step beyond. Big kudos!

James Edward Raggi IV’s “Better than Any Man” is a masterpiece.

There.

I said it.

Yes, you can misalign and misread it. If you have an issue with adult content and dark fantasy/horror, then this is obviously not for you. If you’re a newbie, this will SAVAGE you. This is a massive module for pros: Experienced players and referees. PCs will die. If your players think, they can walk in the module and kill everything/loot everything – they’ll all die. Like flies. This is a module that requires a good referee AND smart players.

That being said, this module is pure amazing: The 7 are interesting; the regional setting is glorious and surprisingly well-researched; the monsters are inspired – each could conceivably carry its own module. The finale is phenomenal. It takes a certain type of player to FIND the final level; it takes a hardcore, dedicated group to get out of the deadly level, much less kill the thing; the latter will take a campaign beyond the range of this book – it is possible, though! And the level, in all its lethality, is ALL about the player’s choice. Literally ALL aspects tell them “Death (or worse) that way ->” – if they follow, well, then they reap what they’ve sown.

This book’s finale is pure, glorious horror; the module is dark before the finale – it is not for happy-go-lucky-family-friendly gaming. If you expected that, it’d be like putting in a Friday the 13th movie and complaining about it not being Sesame Street. But neither is it even half as dark, explicit, etc. as some of the more negative reviews would make you believe; some claims I read are objectively, patently false, some outrage ridiculous. Apart from the thoroughly optional horror-finale, this module is actually pretty survivable; challenging and hard as hell, yes – but most experienced groups should have a solid chance winning here.

Oh, and this is FREE. It is offered for PWYW in its electronic version; print was Free RPG Day. And guess what? I would pay serious money for this. If you can get the print version for ~40 bucks, I’d honestly kinda consider it worth it. I am NOT kidding. The superb, comfortable PWYW-pdf is a thorough must-have offering if you even remotely like dark fantasy. The bang-for-buck-ratio of this book is absolutely RIDICULOUS. In a truly amazing way.

I am not engaging in hyperbole, when I’m saying that this is very much the best, most professional, amazing module I’ve ever seen for PWYW. This is a truly amazing offering. I love pretty much everything about this module; the freedom, the characters, the desperation, the high stakes and pressure, the difficult decisions. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval. This also gets my “Best of”-tag. If you even remotely like challenging, deadly, dark modules, then download this gem right now – and if you can find the print version for a fair price…well, totally worth it. This is a stunning, gorgeous book – to think that it had been released for Free RPG Day is mind-boggling.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Better Than Any Man
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Demon Lords of Porphyra
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/01/2017 05:45:08

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Porphyra-series clocks in at 32 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 3 pages of SRD, leaving us with 27 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

All righty, the first thing will only come as a surprise to those of you not following the Prestige Class Archetype-series – namely the reprint of the (as far as Paizo hardcovers are concerned) Deific Obedience system from Inner Sea Gods, which is a big plus from the get-go. The demoniac, for example, made use of the materials herein. Anyways, we thus gain an expanded deific portfolio for the respective demon lords depicted within this book: Being the default obedience benefits, three boons are provided for all of them. It should be noted that, yes, domain arrays are internally concise – 3 domains, 3 subdomains. No undue discrepancies here, with the exception of the Spider-queen stand in, who gains 4 domains and subdomains. As a big plus, I should not fail to mention that each of the demon lords depicted within features his/her/its own spell-preparation ritual…and the favored weapons and animals/instruments noted in the respective demon lord summaries add a sense of immersion to the proceedings. At the same time, there are some minor, cosmetic hiccups here and there – the first demon lord’s alternate titles sport one that has erroneously been printed in purple. There also is a remnant formatting (b) before a correctly bolded spell-preparation ritual - you get the idea. On the plus-side, these are cosmetic and don’t impede the functionality of the game.

Well, if you’re like me, you’re here for the demon lords themselves, right? Well, we begin with Ayporos, the Counter – also nicknamed Mr. Blue, for his irrational fondness of the color, which extends to his signature narcotic Deep Blue…after all, the demon lord’s favorite weapon, the syringe spear, makes pretty clear that addiction’s the name of the game…and his clerics like to indulge…and to tattoo themselves. Balakor, the corpse-king, the unrepentant. Once the lord of the city that should not have been, fabled Bhaal-aak. Dispossessed, angry and driven into exile, his works crumbled to dust, wailing and a palpable sense of being cheated out of one’s due power adds a complex and interesting angle to the necromancy/living ghoul-theme of this demon lord – big kudos for managing to provide a fresh take on a trope that features in most campaign settings. Big thumbs up!

Buer, a classic from mythology, also comes with a rather enticing idea that I have NEVER seen before for a demon lord: The Giver, the Extinctor promises the ecstasy of a return to the wild, to a more primitive state of being. Oh, and his boons include the option to curse an area in a forest – those that linger suffer suicidal urges – NO SAVE. While this is very potent, its limitations are enough to reign it in and the ability is evocative indeed.

The Dark Mistress, an ascended succubus with ties to the movers and shakers, is interesting. Oh, and there is Gomm-Thog. All about destruction, this guy would be the demonic equivalent of the Incredible Hulk, defined by smashing and breaking stuff and violent, deadly rages. There would also be aforementioned spider-queen stand-in, Kazerothrine – who becomes somewhat interesting as an embodiment of hungry and destructive motherhood. The Lord of Many Forms is actually something different altogether: Imprisoned in the Crucible Tower, this entity has gestated from the amalgamation of a living seal made of nobles and proteans – a demon lord created and ripened, if you will,a being of pure chaotic malevolence, rather than just a large blob from the Abyss. Morcheox would make for another highly unconventional and cool demon lord – here, we have the trope of the demonic moon. IT alone (no typo!) makes for a potent foe that strikes the chords of the Sword & Planet genre, apocalyptic fiction and classics ranging from Final Fantasy VIII to 3.5’s Elder Evils in a rather neat manner. Naehemoth, an ascended Qlippoth lord, makes for a cool twist on old Nyarlathotep, though with a focus on madmen and forbidden lore. Perhaps it’s the symbol of the deity (each demon lord gets his/her/its own custom, full-color symbol!), but I was reminded more of the malevolent, inscrutable entities behind the Blair Witch, as heralded in the little-known Rustin Parr-sequel to the cult classic video game Nocturne. If you got that reference, my hat’s off to you, btw.!

Pasiphae would be one of the most interesting demon lords featured herein – the mistress of puzzles, is about unsolvable, nasty puzzles – and her obedience focuses on playing with a perception-defying puzzle. I absolutely ADORE this one. Why? Because the destruction of PERCEPTION is supremely creepy to me…and not something I have ever seen a demon lord focus on. Big kudos! Good ole’ classic Pazuzu can be found within, as can Tajam’muhur: This fellow is the lord of the despondent masses housed in squalor, the lorded over and downtrodden; he is the master of the mob, the cruelty of the masses that manages to eliminate any semblance of decency. Notice something? These are really creative. Thurin’Waethil, the bloody marshal, She Who Weeps, was defeated, but certainly not destroyed. Her boons include a hampering of mundane means to stabilize others and her desire for blood and vengeance make her an intriguing being as well. Yog-Muan would be the God-Killer, a reptilian demon lord that is a twist on Yig, with the added emphasis on killing deities – in a world, where they may rise and fall, this makes sense to me and provides, once again, a creative divergence from the default tropes. Zaqqit, the Fallen, is the epitome of the fallen angel – once a solar lord, he swells with pride and power, but also arrogance and hubris, cultivating a decadent sense of superiority.

Beyond these amazing, creative demon lords, we also get a wide array of new magical items (with some mundane ones spliced in) – here, we can find the angel-heart (exactly what it says on the tin…), which can bolster the summoning of demons and even be bartered away. The Kitab al-Sahar Shaytan, the book of demon lords, is amazing, idea-wise – it is basically the in-game representation artifact of this book: It contains the information on demon lords presented previously as well as the new spells featured herein. It also is hazardous to keep if you’re not a demon worshipper…and as an artifact, it makes for a dangerous tool indeed. Buerite unguits, which may ricochet, the magical drug Deep Blue…and I like the demonpelt cloak, which provides a variety of defenses, but only temporarily…and switching between them is a cool tactical option. Khadeg’s capturing pentacle is a temporary means of trapping demonic foes. When the ladder of the pit is inserted into desecrated ground, it can provide a means to get into the Lower Planes. There is also one item that is somewhat problematic: The lash of the legion conjures a dretch when doing damage – only 1 per target and the wound may not be healed without dismissing the dretch. Now, on a formal level, the “+1” should be IN FRONT of the magic weapon properties, not behind it (and nope, most of the items get that right). Secondly, the weapon should specify that it requires sentient beings to conjure dretches. While kittens can’t be whipped well due to the weapon’s unholy ability, slightly stronger animals to be herded and whipped can result in ridiculous legions due to a lack of a maximum cap of dretches called.

Thurin’waethil’s personal blade, Revenge’s Tear and a ring that fortifies against the potent auras of celestials complement this section. Now, as mentioned before, we also get a selection of new spells, which btw. come with full ACG and Occult Adventures compatibility. The signature spells note their associated demon lords and are, generally, rather potent. There are some minor formatting deviations – “Int” instead of “Intelligence”, slightly non-standard rules-syntax…but on the other hand, the spells actually do cool things: Gomm-Thog (the Hulk Demon Lord) comes with the signature spell concussion, which causes bludgeoning damage and Int damage on a failed save, scaling with damage caused (nice balancing), and enough subsequent casts may cause Intelligence drain. Really funny: The verbal component is actually shouting the alternate name of the spell: “BONK!”

A sneaky movement redirection curse deserves special mention as a creative and cool spell as well. All in all, I was rather impressed here: While a bit rough around the edges here and there, the spells featured are creative. Or take hubris, which begins as a buff and then proceeds to devolve into a debuff – really cool for sudden betrayal scenarios! Ultimate Weapon allows you to create a custom weapon, somewhat Green Lantern-style, and may modify it – personally, I think e.g. adamantine should be locked behind higher levels – more pronounced scaling among the effects would make sense here. Unfortunately, there also are a few instances where the rules are slightly compromised: Vengeful Tears causes the caster to bleed, but also makes those suffering regular attacks from suffering bleed damage. Two problems: The wording in clumsy, but more importantly, it is pretty evident that the bleeding damage should stack, which it RAW does not. Easy enough to fix, sure, but still.

Next up would be array of various subdomains/domains: Anarchy, Betrayal, Borders, Genocide, Porphyrite, Ruins, Spider and Verminkind: These and their abilities, as a whole, sport some seriously inspired tricks: Shifting ACs, drawing potent borders in the sand…but there also are some rough patches. The Genocide domain, for example, sports this sentence: “…as an immediate action, when any creature is killed within 30 ft. of you, you gain a caster level when casting spells against fur­ther members of that creature’s type for a number of rounds equal to your Wisdom bonus.“ This almost assuredly decreases the CL. I assume it should be a CL-bonus…but if that’s the case, then the bonus frankly is too high and should be nerfed in favor of a scaling one. The ruin domain’s Remembrance ability refers to druid levels.

Finally, we close the pdf with new traits for worshipers of demon lords – a LOT of them. And they generally are pretty nice. That being said, it almost looks as though multiple authors wrote this: We have precise traits with proper trait bonuses etc. We have a few remnant (i)s from intended, but not executed italicizations and some traits lacking the proper bonus type. We have really complex wording done right and potentially confusing, wonky verbiage like “You may class Knowledge (geography) as a class skill…” – we know what’s meant, all right, but you don’t “class” skills as class skills – for obvious reasons. It should also be noted that the traits do not state their trait type. We conclude the pdf with a summary of demon lords, with worshipers, domains, subdomains, etc. all collated on a handy table.

The pdf comes with a bonus pdf penned by Mark Gedak, one depicting “The Watch”, an eye-king otyugh who clocks in at CR 6 – think of these things as a beholder-y/otyugh elite law enforcement unit in the Advent Imperiax. Yeah, pure awesome!! Two thumbs up for this cool critter!!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are pretty good on a rules-language level, okay on a formal level. While there are more easily caught glitches here than what I’d consider good, it’s a big step up in comparison to the author’s previous offering. Rules-language is mostly functional, with only a few instances I’d consider to be problematic, though there are some herein as well. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games’ printer-friendly two-column standard with purple highlights. The full-color icons of the holy symbols are really cool – two thumbs up. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Perry Fehr is an inspired author. I’ll stand by that statement every day of the week. Alas, his rules-language tends to oscillate in quality rather strongly: Sometimes, he gets highly complex and evocative, creative concepts done right…and sometimes, he botches really basic stuff. This pdf highlights all of these observations in a rather succinct manner: The demon lords are absolutely amazing. I mean it. In a tradition so old, with so many iterations, he weaves narrative gold and really creative, innovative and flavorful concepts. As far as the concept-side of things go, this is a 5 star + seal of approval file – I adored the demon lords and while there are a few rules-hiccups here and there, they are minor ones. The magic items also are pretty strong offerings…and honestly, so is the rest of the book. However, similarly, the editing and formatting glitches do accumulate and drag down this pdf from the lofty perches I’d place it otherwise.

With a bit of nitpicky editing and/or development, this could have been a master-class pdf. Here’s the good news, though: A halfway capable GM can fix the issues herein pretty much on the fly, at least for the most part. And the high-concept content deserves being used – this is worth owning. If you’re looking for a go-play supplement, this may not be for you, but if you want to read some really fresh and creative takes on demon lords, then this can be a truly inspiring offering. This is, in short a diamond in the rough, with avoidable glitches hampering what would otherwise be pure awesomeness. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform based on the strength of the amazing concepts as well as the inspired bonus file.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Demon Lords of Porphyra
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Tower of Hidden Doors
Publisher: Wayward Rogues Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/01/2017 05:43:59

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The second adventure in the „Whispers of the Dark Mother adventure arc clocks in at 28 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 23 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, first things first: It should be noted that this module contains a two-page write-up of the deity Amaura, the mother of life and oceans – this deity was first introduced in Cultures of Celmae: Majeed, but has been expanded in this module: We learn about priest’s roles, shrines, etc. While, flavor-wise, the deity write-up is pretty concise, you should be aware that no Inner Sea Gods-style obediences are included. The deity comes with 7 domains, but no subdomains noted, and sports two different favored weapons – the latter can render things slightly wonky regarding proficiencies etc. Still, as a whole, the prose is rather nice.

The module also contains stats for the mythos grimoire that drove the plot of #1 – the lamentations of the fungus men. The tome comes with research DC, quick and concise little research rules (in case you’re not using them) and a nice “cost” for studying the tome. Spell-wise, colostrums cohort conjures forth lemurs with the entropic creature template added (having the stats here would have been more convenient). The symbol of the creator would basically be a variant of the Elder Sign as a spell – it protects against worshipers and creatures of the elder gods and is a level 1 spell, for pretty much every caster but witch, druid (weird, since shamans can cast it) and magi. The spell is pretty potent, but considering the context of the adventure arc, the PCs will need such an edge sooner or later. Now, the lamentations also contain a new occult ritual, the Ritual of Becoming. It is not one PCs should attempt. Kinda hilarious: Most mad cultists think that the failure of the rather difficult ritual is the intended effect. What’s the failure? Well, you call Gof duPog, the probably most unfortunately-named demon I’ve seen in a while – this fellow would be an advanced, entropic, gnarled goat demon (CR 7) and stats are included. It should be noted that I noticed some minor hiccups in the stats, but not to the point where using the creature would be problematic. The pdf also sports stats for the CR ½ lesser shadow (whose AC line has this explanation (+1 +2 deflection, +1 dodge, +2 Dex) – the first +1 is a remnant and should be deleted. Similarly, AC reads “14 15, touch 14…” – editing should have caught that.

The pdf also includes a story-feat (nice), namely Enemy Cult. Problem: The feat is unusable as provided: Part of the Benefits-section is missing! It looks like it should grant you SPs (including symbol of the creator), but still – even casual checking should have shown that a whole pararaph’s missing from the feat!

All right, so that would be the rules-section of the pdf – now, let’s move on to the module itself. This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

..

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All right, only GMs around? Great! So, after the chase that ended #1 of the series, the PCs will probably be stumped – they are promptly called to Sherriff Byron Tate – who offers a sizable reward for the apprehension of the one-eyed half-orc that led the assault on Lady Canterville. The PCs thus should have enough motivation to find out more about the assailant and the book – a brief table to gather information does provide further clues. Slightly weird: There is a DC 1-entry that basically constitutes failure and a hint to move the plot along. Ultimately, the PCs will venture into the Ogre’s Belly, where half-orc drunkards will try to mess up the PCs for daring to venture into “their” tavern. The likelihood of a bar fight is quite high, and 1d6 complications add a sensible amount of chaos to the proceedings. Slightly odd: The module introduces the “slick” weapon qualiy, which denotes weaponry that can render the floor slick (d’uh) or help escape grapples – while generally valid, the lack of a duration here is just one reason why the like is usually handled differently in the rules.

The tavern comes with a solid full-color map, but one that is pretty small (too small for minis when printed out) and it comes only as part of the module’s pages – i.e., if you were to print out the page, you’d have about ¾ text on the page that you have to cut off. There is no player-friendly map of the tavern sans room numbers etc. These points of criticism, btw., extend to all of the maps featured in the module. Compared to the industry standard with maps in the appendix, often player-friendly versions as well, this is rather inconvenient and a big comfort detriment as far as I’m concerned. The numbers on the map are also kinda puzzling, since there are no room descriptions keyed to them – one room is relevant, I assume #7, judging from the room’s description. The PCs will sooner or later get the approval to look through Kemon’s room – an in it, they are assaulted by an iron cobra. Stats not included, not hyperlinked, not even highlighted in the text. Not how that’s usually formatted – at least the CR and source tend to be noted. If the PCs managed to save Faven in #1, they’ll be granted a scroll of lesser restoration and have some assistance regarding crafting. Yep, magic item not properly italicized.

Anyways, the trail leads to the eponymous tower of hidden doors. Right before the tower, on the approach, there is a pumpkin patch, one housing a fully-stated jack-o’-lantern creature – a plant monster with a fear aura, a strangling entangle, etc. – per se nice, if weak critter. Which brings me to a balancing aspect: If the PCs hustle towards the tower (distance to Brighton is opaque), they are fatigued. No save, no check. That’s not how hurrying regarding overland travel works in PFRPG.

Anyways, the rest of the module deals with the exploration of the tower. Each room comes with read-aloud texts, which is pretty nice, though there are some strange wordings here: “Only a single leaf bangs against the frame.”, for example, is a really weird piece of prose. I have never heard a leaf “bang” against anything. There also are a few instances where the formatting is weird. The tower itself has an interesting background story – Wovunda, a former oracle and adherent of the dark arts, has once perished in this place – his undead existence is responsible for the haunts that can be found in the tower. The undead has also stolen the book from the werewolf cultists, who still camp inside (!!!) after a run-in with the shadows of the place. How dumb can you get? Speaking of which: The guy who could not be caught by the PCs before is so dumb, he left a hint to where you can find him in his room in town, even though he can’t be tracked?? Then again, the werewolves are so alert, they automatically perceive the PCs. Stealth-rules? Why bother? Urgh.

Unfortunately, the PCs won’t really find out any details about Wovunda – and the module doesn’t use the haunts to convey anything; they miss the chance of indirect storytelling. Another issue: At one point, the PCs can be penalized for having a good Perception. Yeah, not good design there.

The BBEG of the module remains opaque, the haunts don’t really tell a story. Creatures are referenced in the text, lacking CR-values and proper formatting, making close-reading VERY important. In some cases, the text e.g. mentions using telekinesis to use chains to hit PCs – including damage-values, but not even a short-hand for the BAB. Monster-stats, where present, sport glitches in basic stats like attack-values. The formatting makes the werewolf-cultists look like they have magic items, when they don’t. Neither damage, nor attack values are correct. With the DR, the combat against them will drag sorely and be pretty annoying, in spite of their weakened nature. Not even starting with the incorporeal adversaries, which can break groups without the proper tools…which, at level 2, may well be almost all groups. This module is challenging in all the wrong ways, using incorporeal subtype and DR/silver as a basic tool to make what would otherwise be easy combats frustrating in all the wrong ways.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are no longer okay. It is readily apparent that this module did not see proper editing – from obvious formatting hiccups, to layout stuff that should be here (notes of monsters in room) to the math being wrong, this module is bad. Layout is gorgeous; a to-column full-color standard that is really nice to look at. The artworks within are similarly amazing – full-color, original, really nice. The pdf comes fully bookmarked. Cartography is full-color and solid, but the lack of big versions and player-friendly maps make this inconvenient. As always with Wayward Rogues Publishing, you can’t highlight/copy/text, which is annoying when you’re trying to fix the numerous glitches.

Maria Smolina, Jarret Sigler, Robert Gresham and James Eder’s continuation of the series is a disappointment. The plot and behavior of the NPCs makes no sense whatsoever. The, per se, interesting location does not tell its tale, in spite of everything being in place. Instead, it feels generic and cobbled together. The boss having the McGuffin makes no real sense either. The combats fall on the frustrating side of things, not due to difficulty, but due to really nasty defensive options that can’t be properly deduced beforehand. The module also displays a puzzling ignorance regarding several PFRPG-rules. In short, this is not a good module; where #1 was saved by some ideas and a generally decent leitmotif, this one is generic in all the wrong ways. My final verdict will be 1.5 stars, rounded up by a tiny margin due to the neat artwork and the potential to salvage this for the continuation of the series. Then again, you may be better off improvising a stand-in module…

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Tower of Hidden Doors
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In The Company of Vampires
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/30/2017 04:00:02

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of Rite Publishing’s massive „In the Company…”-series clocks in at a massive 51 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 46 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?

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

After a brief foreword, we begin with a letter by Sovereign Evelyn Arlstead – the vampire correspondent and narrator that penned the in-character prose – a lady obviously at least slightly infatuated with Qwilion, which provides a rather amusing subtext throughout the flavorful prose that suffuses the pdf. She is rather adept at trying to “sell” undeath to Qwilion with honeyed words, interlaced with some flirtatious comments. Of course, as such, she does have some serious words for vampire-hunters, zealots, etc. Moroi, just fyi, would be the polite term for the vampiric race depicted herein. Physical description and poise, a predator#s confidence and danger’s subtle allure – the romantic notions associated with vampires have been duplicated in a rather compelling manner here. Fans of e.g. “The Originals” won’t be capable of suppressing a smile when the good lady comments on being “a bit melodramatic when it comes to family.” Similarly amusing: As the lady ges through the respective noble families, her own view color the descriptions. There are also the vampiric middle classes – the respective descriptions are briefer, but the descritions nonetheless are intriguing. As in Vampire: The Masquerade, those with thin blood constitute the lowest rungs of the social ladder.

Moroi are only created from the willingly embraced, but there are some moroi that can indeed generate slaves, a practice obviously condemned by the narrator – though the question of sincerity springing forth from her agenda makes this interesting. As with the revised installment on wights, we do have the modified ability score generation array for undead, Constitution-less races. Vampires retain speed and size of the former humanoid’s subtype, but none of the other traits. As such, they are Small or Medium, have slow or normal speed and ability-score-wise, gain +2 Cha, -2 Wis. Vampires gain darkvision and a natural bite attack (properly codified in type and size) that can also cause Constitution damage versus helpless and/or part of establishing a pin.

Which brings me to blood drinking: The vampire uses up 2 points of Constitution drained worth of blood per 8 hours of activity; blood and how to preserve it is concisely codified. Better yet, the math checks out – I happen to have done the math for the blood of humanoids the other day and the formula scales properly. Failure to satiate the thirst can result in fatigue, exhaustion, etc. – and vampires with a Cruor Pool can use that pool’s points to sate their hunger (more on that later). The way in which blood thirst is codified here is simulation-level precise, interesting and very concise. Excellent job here – frankly the best engine for this type of issue I have seen. As you can glean, this makes travelling potentially a challenging endeavor, though the pdf does provide considerations here. Big plus: At higher levels, the significant magic at the disposal of PCs can make the vampiric condition a trifle – however, there is an optional rule provided, elder’s thirst makes the draining ever more potent and dangerous – and thus harder to manage. Big plus, as far as I’m concerned, and nice way to remedy the trivializing options at higher levels. Now, everyone who played VtM with a serious level of detail will note how hunting can take up a lot of time: This pdf acknowledges that and provides means for vampires to hunt via a skill-check: The smaller the settlement, the more difficult it gets – though expenditure of gold, magic, current hunts, etc. can complicate the matter or make it easier. On a significant failure, the vampire may suffer from one of 10 consequences in a table, which may provide further adventuring potential. This system is not a lame addon – it works smoothly and 3 different feats interact with it. Kudos for the extra support accounting for Blood Pack teamwork hunting, Thralls and Territory (the latter makes hunting MUCH faster and reliable). In a nutshell, this represents the most detailed and elegant vampiric hunting/blood thirst engine I have seen for any d20-based game.

But I digress, back to the race, shall we? Vampires have families: The inspired gain channel resistance +2; Nightcallers gain scent; Nosferatu can demoralize adjacent foes as a move action; Shades increase their darkvision to 120 ft.; Sovereigns gain +2 Bluff and Diplomacy; Vanguards gain a weapon proficiency; Warlocks with Charisma of 11+ gain Bleed and Stabilize 1/day as a SP, governed by character level and Charisma. However, much like in VtM, each of these bloodlines comes with a curse: The Inspired are innately superstitious and have a taboo à la garlic, not entering holy ground, etc. Nightcallers can only rest while touching at least 1 cubic foot of their homeland’s soil; the Nosferatu, surprise, are disfigured and decrease starting attitudes of the living while undisguised. Shades can be blinded by abrupt exposure to light; Sovereigns cast no shadow or reflection and have a hard time approaching reflective surfaces. Vanguards can be paralyzed by wooden piercing weapons (deliberately kept vague) and warlocks can’t act during surprise rounds during the day and is flat-footed for the first round of combat while the sun is up. As with wights, the modified undead traits are listed for your convenience. Similarly, becoming a vampire later in the adventuring career is covered – kudos!

Regarding alternate racial traits, we have options to retain humanoid base racial traits – in two steps. The first renders susceptible to any source of fatigue or exhaustion, the second costs the racial immunity to death effects conveyed by the modified undead traits. Vampires with the elder trait can make Knowledge and Profession skill checks untrained and gain +2 to them, but must drink more blood to sustain them. Mingled lineages yield more than one lineage, but also the corresponding drawbacks and penalties to Charisma-based skill checks when dealing with other vampires. Survivalist nightcallers can sustain themselves via animals – but these must be killed and a HD-caveat prevents the vampire from just subsisting on a diet of kittens. Some vampires can discern information from tasting blood, losing the family’s racial ability benefit(s). Vampires with weak blood, finally, have no benefit or curse and require less blood to sustain themselves. Favored class options for alchemist, barbarian (which lacks a “ft.” after the +1 in a minor hiccup), bard, cavalier, cleric, druid, fighter, gunslinger, inquisitor, monk, oracle, paladin, ranger, rogue, sorcerer, summoner, witch and wizard are covered -alas, no support for the Occult classes, which is somewhat puzzling for me, considering e.g. the mesmerist. Oh well, perhaps in an expansion.

Pretty cool: There is a lite-version of the racial paragon class as a general archetype that can be applied to other classes, with the benefits balanced by the worsening curse. The other archetype included would be the cambion sorcerer. This guy can choose the Knowledge (religion) skill instead of the Bloodline skill. The archetype gains a unique list of bonus spells and may choose vampire bonus feats. The cambion may choose to gain the skills, feats and powers of the chosen family or bloodline, but at the cost of vulnerability to a material or energy type. The archetype gains a cruor pool as an additional bloodline arcana.

Which brings me to the racial feats: 8 feats are included; The cruor pool is ½ character level + Charisma modifier and can be used to store basically blood, with each point equal to 1 point of Constitution drained – this also can be used to power abilities. Extra Cruor increases the pool by 2. Fast Drinker lets you choose to deal 1d4 Constitution damage instead. Merciful Drinker decreases the blood you need to survive and can eliminate the pain caused by the bite. Recovery lets you help the living recover faster from blood loss. Stolen Life lets you expend cruor to heal/gain temporary hit points, the latter with a limit. Unfortunately, this ability fails to specify the activation action. Undead Mind lets you use cruor to turn a failed Will-save versus mind-affecting effects into a success, while Undead Resilience provides the analogue for Fort-saves versus diseases, poisons and energy drains – these btw. properly codify the activation action.

The pdf also contains 5 racial spells: Blood supply temporarily increases the cruor pool; rain of blood can nauseate and frighten the living exposed to it; suppress curse is pretty self-explanatory regarding the context of the race, as is greater vampiric touch; villain’s feast can sustain the undead and vampires and otherwise is basically the undead version of heroes’ feast.

The pdf also includes, obviously, a massive racial paragon class, the blood noble, including favored class options for the dhampir, elf/half-elf, dwarf, gnome, half-orc, halfling and human races. The blood noble gains ¾ BAB-progression, good Fort-, Ref- and Will-saves, d8 HD, 4 + Int skills per level and proficiency with simple weapons and light armor, but not with shields. The class gains the Cruor Pool feat as a bonus feat at 1st level. Also at first level, the noble family chosen upon character creation, with mingled lineage’s effects accounted for properly. Benefits-wise, this provides a number of class skills based on the respective family.

The class also begins play with undead evolution: +2 to saves against diseases, poison and mind-affecting effects. This bonus increases by +2 at 4th and 7th level, culminating in immunity at 10th level. 13th level yield energy drain immunity, 16th immunity to ability score damage and 19th, immunity to ability score drain – however, in a nice caveat, self-inflicted drain is not covered by this immunity. The class gains a bonus feat from a custom list at 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter.

The development of vampiric abilities is handled via blood talents: The first is gained at 2nd level, with every 3 levels thereafter yielding another talent. And yes, talents based on secondary families are not at full strength.At 6th level and every 6 levels thereafter, the blood noble can choose to get an additional blood talent – but if the noble does gain one of these, the blood noble also worsens the effects of the respective family curse. Each of the curse-progressions further develops what we’d associate with the families – flavorful and sensible. Nice! The capstone makes permanent destruction contingent on a special set of circumstances, once again defined the family of the blood noble. Really cool!

The blood talents come in two big categories: General talents that may be chosen by any blood noble, and those that are exclusives for the respective family. The general talents are reminiscent of the classic vampire tricks – ability-score boosts via cruor, channel resistance, spawn creation, energy drain, fast healing that’s contingent on cruor and sports (thankfully!) a daily cap, DR, supernatural movement forms based on family (thankfully without unlocking flight too soon), natural armor, slam attacks, skill boosts or some energy resistances. All in all, solid selection.

The inspired can gain cultists, channel negative energy via cruor, quench the thirst of other vampires…and from blood oaths t gaining cultists, a domain, etc., the talents are somewhat resembling the Assamites/Setites from VtM, just with a broader, more generally divine focus. The Nightcallers would be the Gangrel equivalents – with animal calling feeding from animals, gaseous form, melding into stone, locating foes – basically the wilderness hunter/survivalist. Nosferatu are the Max Schreck-style, inhuman and ghoulish vampires – like their namesakes in VtM, though less disfigured. They can drink the blood of the fallen, crry diseases and learn to temporarily suppress their unsettling appearance…or exhibit stench. Strigoi nets a tentacle-like, fanged tongue and there is the option to animate the dead or detach body parts to act autonomously – a nice option if you’re looking for a monstrous vampire.

Shades would be the equivalent of the Lassombra – the shadow magic/illusion specialists. Nitpick: The Veil ability lacks its type. Sovereigns would be the representation of the aristocratic Ventrue and as such, are the vampiric leaders, with charming, deathly allure, soothing demeanor, telepathy – basically the option for the potent face/enchanter. Vanguards are the vampiric fighters and as such, are closest to the Brujah clan in VtM, with cruor-based blood memory, granting proficiencies, better CMB/CMD, armor training, weapons that are treated as magical, self-hasteing…you get the idea. Finally, the warlock family would be the representation of the Tremere: These vampires can gain progressively better wizard-list based SP – additional uses beyond the basics are unlocked later and contingent on cruor. Beyond that, blood-based metamagic and homunculi can be found here.

While the vampire families are VERY CLEARLY inspired by VtM’s clans, it should be noted that the blood lineage is a significantly more fluid concept herein.

The pdf also contains a vampire template for the GM to make use of the material herein – kudos! Speaking of which: Lady Evelyn’s post scriptum made for a fun way to end the pdf.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on both a formal and rules-language level – I only noticed cosmetic glitches and those are pretty few and far in between and don’t compromise the rules. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports nice full-color artworks, all of which I haven’t seen before. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

If you’re one of the unfortunates who didn’t have the chance to check them out back in the day: In the 90s, I consumed World of Darkness books, both roleplaying supplements and novels, religiously. I adored Vampire: The Masquerade. Yes, the rules sucked and yes, it was a nightmare to GM, but I adored the game. Big surprise there, right? Well, that ended when Vampire: The Requiem’s lore-reboot hit (just didn’t click with me, lore-wise) and there was another book that pretty much ended, at least for a time, all desire I had to see vampires in game: That would be the d20-version of the World Of Darkness back in the 3.X days. I love Monte Cook as a designer, I really do, but oh BOY did I LOATHE this book with every fiber of my being.

Where am I going with this tangent? Well, this pdf constitutes, at least in my opinion, the “Play a VtM-story in d20”-toolkit I expected the d20 WoD-book to provide. The rules are deliberate, precise and interesting; balance is retained…in short, Steven T. Helt and Stephen Rowe provide THE single best “Play a Vampire”-option currently available for PFRPG. I love the prose, the clans, äh, pardon “families” – they strike a chord with me and work without needless complexity – If you know how to play PFRPG, you will be capable of using this – the design is very smooth. If there is one thing that could be considered to be a weakness of this book, then that would be the fact that the respective families and their unique ability-arrays and options could have carried a book of easily 4 times the size – the topic of vampires, particularly of vampires indebted to VtM’s aesthetics, can cover at least 200 pages. So yeah, this is a good candidate for an expansion/hardcover with more lore, family traditions, etc. – or, you know, you can dig up your old VtM-books and start adapting their flavor, add more blood talents…

My second, minor complaint, the second reason I’m asking for an expansion, would be the curious absence of occult adventure or horror adventure support: Vampires and madness (the weight of years), occultists and mesmerists…these books seem to be natural fits and the pdf doesn’t offer anything in that regard. Now, let it be known: The bang for buck ratio is excellent here. Similarly, vampires depicted herein will not unbalance campaigns wherein not all PCs are vampires, which is a HUGE plus, as far as I’m concerned – this is very easily usable. Still, this book did leave me wanting more, probably courtesy to my own long-term attachment to VtM’s lore. In the end, my final verdict will hence clock in at 5 stars for this book – and since I am a vampire fanboy, I will also add my seal of approval to this book, in spite of my nagging feeling that there ought to be more. If you do not share my love for VtM, you should mentally take away the seal.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
In The Company of Vampires
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The Wealth System
Publisher: Straight Path Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/30/2017 03:56:16

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 15 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 10 pages of content – for the screen-version, that is. We get a separate version for the printer, which presents all information on 5 pages in a classic layout (as opposed to the tablet-optimized screen version). Kudos for going the extra mile there. The supplement also features an extra pdf, a handy one-page cheat-sheet, but I’ll get back to that later.

This review is based on V.1.1 of the file.

So, the wealth system presented herein would be basically an abstract system to handle the affluence of PCs via an attribute – Wealth. Upon character creation, a character begins play with Wealth equal to their Charisma modifier + their character level, minimum 1. Upon gaining a level, the character’s wealth increases by a further +1, up to a maximum of the character level + Charisma modifier + 3. When an item is used, no longer required, etc., you just erase it from your sheet: Items are assumed to be part of the wealth accumulated by the character. Basically, this system gets rid off haggling, selling, etc.

The second term defined herein would be Value: This measures the worth of goods and services. The gp-equivalent Value increases exponentially. The pdf provides a table that lists gp-Value-conversions, ranging from 100 gp (Value 1) to 307,200 gp (Value 24). Okay, this may help when acquiring valuable objects, but what does that mean for you? Can your character afford the concrete item xyz with his abstract Wealth? The system is simple: If the value of the object character is -5 lower than the character’s Wealth, the concrete item to be purchased is so relatively inexpensive, it’s not worth noting and has no bearing on the character’s Wealth. Anything with a Value of Wealth -4 is considered to be Pocket Change. A character can acquire up to 15 such items per downtime period. Additional purchases decrease the character’s Wealth by 1. Objects with a Value of Wealth -3 are considered to be Readily Available. 5 such items may be purchased per period of downtime. As always (and in all other instances below), going beyond that, reduces the Wealth by 1. Values of Wealth -2 or Wealth -1 are Affordable. 3 such items can be purchased per period of downtime. A Value equal to Wealth are Big Purchases. A character may only have purchased one such item at a time. Purchasing a second reduces Wealth by 1.

Items that exceed the character’s Wealth can be exchanged for equivalent items – bows for crossbows, swords for spiked chains – you get the idea. Only one item above a character’s Wealth can be exchanged per downtime period.

Now, obviously, Wealth can be pooled. The highest Wealth is used to determine starting Wealth. Each character contributing to the Wealth of the pool can increase the Wealth of the pool, but only if the character’s Wealth is within 3 points of the current Wealth of the pool. In order to avoid exploiting this, the maximum increase is equal to the character’s wealth +4. The pool can purchase one item with a Value up to the pool’s Wealth. Until this item is returned/sold, all contributing characters reduce their Wealth by 2. Losing the item makes this reduction permanent, obviously. Shopping for others counts against the limits of the character actually spending the money.

There also is the concept of Credit. Taking an item on Credit temporarily reduces Wealth by 2 or more and prevents you from increasing your Wealth by selling items. If you return the item, the restrictions are removed. Keeping it makes the Wealth reduction permanent. One item with a Value of Wealth +1 or +2 can be purchased on credit, but selling it can’t increase Wealth. Only one such item can be purchased per downtime period.

Now, we all know that adventurers sometimes get their hands on items that far exceed their usual monetary means – hence, items with a Value of the character’s Wealth by +3, +4 or +5 or higher have special rules: Wealth +3 items increase the Wealth of the seller by +1. Wealth +4 items increase the seller’s Wealth and that of another character by +1. Items with a Value of Wealth +5 or higher can’t be sold – at the GM’s discretion, these may still be sold, but should not ncrease the PC’s Wealth by more than the item’s Value -3.

While mostly player-centric, the system can make shopping easier for the GM – all those +1 weapons and armor will no longer accumulate their gp values in this system – using a creature’s CR as Value guideline would account for that creature’s Big Purchase. Finally, we take a look at a handy table that notes the value of common equipment.

The cheat-sheet is really handy, summing up all the rules and featuring lines for valuable items to track, a line for “currently on credit” and lines to keep track of total purchases per downtime period.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good – while I noticed a missing italicization in reference to a magic item, as a whole, this is professionally presented in both formal and rules-language criteria. Layout adheres to a landscape-two-column standard for tablets etc. for the screen-version and the printer-friendly version really deserves its name. Kudos. The screen-version comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Michael McCarthy’s Wealth-system will be a godsend for many groups – it is not a perfect system, but its simple and easily grasped abstractions help dealing with the minutiae of adventuring without eating everybody’s time.

In short: This succeeds at what it sets out to do. The cap for pooling and purchases, subservient to the GM’s definition of what constitutes a downtime period, means that the GM retains full control over this system. Now, the wealth system obviously isn’t for everyone – if you want a game, where player wealth oscillates strongly, then this does account for it, but not to the extent of “rags to riches and back”-scenarios – you won’t see Conan-esque fluctuating fortunes. Similarly, and you will have already gleaned that, if you enjoy the minutiae of selling, haggling, etc. and/or e.g. use kingdom building rules, this becomes somewhat less useful.

That being said, for what its intended purpose is, this most assuredly works well: If you hate the selling/purchasing aspect, the WBL-tracking etc., then this is definitely for you and may even potentially rank among your most beloved purchases, particularly considering the low and fair price point. This is not made for me – but I can see a lot of folks enjoying this system. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Wealth System
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20 Things #19: Kobold Warren (System Neutral Edition)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/30/2017 03:51:56

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of Raging Swan Press' system-neutral #20-series clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let's take a look!

We begin the supplement with 10 events to occur in a kobold warren – from furtive scratches to piping that may constitute a warning, these are pretty cool. Then, we get a truly cool table: 10 extra things to say when the PCs fail to find a trap. This table is extremely helpful: The entries generate paranoia and atmosphere. Two thumbs up!

Of course, when failure is an option, there ought to be traps, right? Well, 10 system neutral, description-only traps are provided – and they generally are pretty creative: Embedded bellows, jars containing green slime in the ceiling and so on – so yeah, while we do not get Grimtooth-levels of complexity here, I was still pretty positively surprised by what the humble array provided.

There is a second array with 10 more traps here as well – like cavern orb spider silks, earthen jars with fermented troll excrement etc. – the deadly and twisted playfulness of kobolds comes through rather well – kudos! The pdf also sports 10 entries of kobold warren dressing, ranging from mottled scales to crude drawings or coils of string tied to painted pegs – really neat dressing entries.

The table of 20 things to loot from a kobold warren has been reproduced from the first 20 things-compilation. Finally, we get an “abnormal X”-generator: 10 different appearances for uncommon kobolds, 10 battle tactics and 10 sample treasures to be found on the foes can all be used to customize the kobolds encountered.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press' elegant two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The b/w-artworks are really nice. Additionally, the pdf comes in two versions, one optimized for the printer and one for screen-use - kudos for going the extra mile there! The pdf sports several pieces of nice b/w-artworks.

Aaron Bailey, Creighton Broadhurst and Paul Quarles have created a fun, creative dressing file. Compared to e.g. the goblin installment, it feels a bit more creative in the respective entries and while I would have liked a new table instead of a reprint of the looting material, the pdf is inexpensive and definitely worth checking out. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
20 Things #19: Kobold Warren (System Neutral Edition)
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Book of Beasts: Monsters of the Forbidden Woods (5e)
Publisher: Jon Brazer Enterprises
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/27/2017 04:35:30

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This little bestiary clocks in at 18 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

Okay, so the first thing you’ll notice herein would be that you get more than one statblock per creature: After a brief description, we also get a couple of paragraphs on the respective critter, contextualizing the foe with lore – I really enjoyed this decision, as one of the complaints I had against the monster-presentation of e.g. 3.5 and its derivatives, was that the glorious, often inspiring lore of previous editions completely fell by the wayside. So yeah – nice! Secondly, you should be aware that each of the creature-types herein gets a nice b/w-artwork that is kept deliberately to remind you of a sketch in e.g. an explorer’s handbook, with a sheet of paper making the drawing look like it was taken straight from an in-game artifact. This may just be a small layout decision, but considering the fair price-point, it is one that provides a significant increase regarding immersion. Speaking of which: Each entry also comes with in-character quotes that could be seen as further inspiration.

While I’m at it: We get advice for building a battle with the creatures, nomenclature, things to be found in its lair (or where the creature is encountered) and at least two interesting adventure hooks per critter. So yes, as far as supplemental material goes, this pretty much covers all bases. Big plus!

Now, let us take a closer look at the creatures themselves, shall we? The first creature would sound ridiculous when described, but the cool artwork actually manages to make the creature look badass – the addanc, which is basically a cross between a beaver and a crocodile, building dams and making for a deadly, semi-aquatic predator. Versions for challenge ¼, 2 and 5 are included – the statblocks, btw., are precise, and the multiattacking critters make for cool, fantastic critters.

The second creature type is actually more than just a variation of different iterations of one creature – instead, this pdf sports druidic guardians – each of which is radically different from the others: Tiny mushroom guardians come with false appearances, with incapacitating spore cloud clock in at challenge ¼. Stone guardians (challenge 1) can hurl rocks and sport a movement/gesture to bypass them – cool! The challenge 2 water hounds are elementals can squeeze to tight areas and the hounds may exhale waves of cold water in small cones. The challenge 3 vine protector sports multiple vine barbs, can conceal itself as vines and regenerates non-fire damage…and finally, the shrine stone, (challenge 4) is another sentry that can be deactivated once more with the proper sign – all in all, these guardians make for cool non-animal guards to make pagan/kinda-druidic adversaries to supplement such sites. Particularly the building the battle entry here provides some nice context for everything here -we also, btw., get 3 adventure hooks here..

We also take a look at giant animals, 4, to be precise. The dire owl (challenge ½) has a cool signature ability: 1/day vomiting a poisonous pellet at a foe. Oh, and their screeches are deafening. Neat! At challenge 1, monstrous rats have keen smell and diseased bites, as well as nasty claws. Oh, and pack tactics, obviously. The bloodboar is a challenge 2 foe with deadly charges that cause more damage and may knock foes prone. Oh, and once per rest-interval, the boar can recover from a deadly blow. Painful tusks and a 1/day squeal that rallies boars to attack (providing advantage on the next assault) complement a cool beast. The challenge 4 dire lion sports keen smell and pack tactics, pounce and yes, perform impressive leaps and execute several attacks. Slightly weird: The creature has a bite and claws and also a savage attack – the savage attack is not covered in multiattack, nor is it mentioned in pounce. Extrapolating from the presentation, I am pretty sure that the bonus action attack granted by knocking foes down with pounce should be the savage attack.

After this, we take a look at a deadly creature – the elemental known as a knaerk, a thing somewhat akin to granite, spider and hairless goblin blending into a nightmarish thing, these threats can burrow and earth glide, making the deadly ambush predators that can drop stones on foes – minor complaint: Losing the restrained condition requires a move action – a PFRPG-remnant. This glitch can be found in all 3 iterations of the knaerk (Challenge ¼, 3 and 6). The elder knaerk can also generate full-blown cave-ins, though the move action glitch can be found here as well. Another strange formatting peculiarity: The average damage values for the knaerk abilities are missing, even though the other monsters herein sport them.

The final category of critters made me think of classics in a good way: Spiderbears! Yeah, and you thought wolf-spiders were bad news, right? These critters not only sport pack tactics, spider climb and may move unimpeded through webbing, they also are strong – the smallest ones already clock in at Str 15! Adult and elder spiderbears gain webbing attacks (recharge 6 and 4 – 6, respectively) – cool: Not just, stat-wise, a duplicate of ettercap webbing…the nets are flammable. Spiderbears can also sense the location of beings in the net, have a poisonous bite. Minor complaint: The elder spiderbear’s skills are both off by 1: At challenge 7, the creature should already have a +3 proficiency bonus.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, for the most part, are excellent on a formal level. On a rules-language level, the pdf is similarly well-crafted, though it does sport a few minor hiccups. Layout adheres to an elegant two-column full-color standard and the pdf’s b/w-artworks of the sketches are really neat. The pdf also comes fully bookmarked with detailed, nested bookmarks – nice!

Dale C. McCoy Jr.’s monsters herein are great – they are flavorful, yet feel somewhat grounded and, in lack of a better term, realistic. Plausible. The guardians, animals and fantastic monsters herein are nice, with the added information, hooks and quotes adding some nice narrative potential to all of the monsters, contextualizing them properly. While not 100% perfect, this is well worth checking out for the fair price point. My final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Book of Beasts: Monsters of the Forbidden Woods (5e)
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Deadly Gardens: Hydra Vine
Publisher: Rusted Iron Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/27/2017 04:33:21

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

This installment’s magic item would be the vermin bait flask, which is a low-cost, sticky splash weapon that allows smart PCs to fool mindless vermin and/or use them for their advantage – cool, concise, two thumbs up! The pdf also contain 6 different natural items: Cyclops eye soup can auto-confirm the first critical threat after consumption; Gug wishbones can be broken – the one with the bigger piece gets a luck bonus for 24 hours. Moonflower blossom emit light and may be squashed for a blinding pulse…and they may force shapechanges from lycanthropes on failed saves.

Mothman powder nets +2 to Cha-based skill checks and to the DC of fascination-causing effects. Purple worm dye permanently dyes inorganic material and may only be removed with universal solvent (not properly italicized). Sard sap is hard to collect (spell reference in the text is not italicized, and formatting of magic item referenced is also incorrect)…and utterly ridiculous. It prevents death from negative hit points or negative levels for 24 hours. Functional immortality, if you cover insta-death bases. Utterly broken at 5K price. Utterly broken, even as a super high-powered item. Kill it with fire.

The central focus of the pdf would, however, be the lavishly-illustrated hydra-vine, which clocks in at a mighty CR 15. These critters entangle those within reach and whenever they take slashing damage, is gains growth points and heals…oh, and the plant knocks missiles out of the air – 50% miss chance. What’s the unique thing about it? Well, beyond aforementioned reactive regeneration, swallowing foes nets growth points – and upon gaining 5 of these, the plant gains the giant creature simple template – statistics for Huge, Gargantuan and Colossal size are also provided, which is pretty amazing! After 24 hours in a size greater than Large, the vine splits in two, decreasing both offspring plant sizes by one step…yes, you can have a plague of these plant juggernauts on your hand rather quickly! The creature is evocative and cool…though it should be noted that the statblock does sport some hiccups – these don’t compromise the coolness of the critter unduly, but yeah – if you’re picky about that kind of thing, it’s something to note.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are okay – there are a couple of avoidable formatting hiccups and a few components interact with rules-integrity a bit. Layout adheres to the two-column standard of the series and the b/w-artworks are nice, particularly for the low price-point.

Russ Brown, Joe Kondrak and Isaac Volynskiy deliver a per se nice little supplement, that has some cool components, but also some rough edges – the critter’s stats could have used a second pair of eyes, particularly considering how cool it is. The magic item is neat, but the sard sap needs to die in a fiery blaze – pretty much the epitome of unbalanced BS. This item and the minor formal hiccups drag slightly down an installment I otherwise rather enjoyed. My final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Deadly Gardens: Hydra Vine
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Altered Beasts: Gnolls, Vol. I (PF/5e)
Publisher: Total Party Kill Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/27/2017 04:31:33

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This dual-format NPC/monster-variant codex clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 20 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Now, how is this structured? Well, we get a brief fluffy introduction contextualizing the respective variant gnoll; after that, we first get a statblock for PFRPG, then a statblock for 5e, a brief box on how to use the critter in question and another box that notes the EL of encounters with the respective variant.

On a formal level, it should be noted that in 5e, features of critters are usually bolded and italicized – the pdf does not feature the italicization. A big plus as far as I’m concerned would be that the respective alternate gnolls featured herein do get signature abilities to set them apart. While this is one of the strong suits of the pdf, it also represents, unfortunately, one of the points where the pdf could have used a bit of refinement. Take the gnoll whelp’s cowardly retreat ability in 5e: When the gnoll is reduced to 0 hit points, it must make a Dexterity saving throw (“Dex save” herein) – if successful, the whelp “…instead has 1 hp and must move its full movement to exit combat.” Immediately? As a reaction? On its next turn? No idea.

In the PFRPG-statblocks, such instances can also be found: The CR 1 Crazed Gnoll Howler has the following ability: “Insane (Ex) Creature is psychotic.”[sic!] – Yeah, this is no rules-language I know of. On the plus-side: The 5e-version gets an ability quite akin to the one sported by the whelp done right – and it better should be, for it is an ability you can find in most of the statblocks. On the down-side: These critters come with a disease – which instantly kills the PC after 3 failed saves. OUCH!

Pygmy gnolls, also at CR 1, are ranged combatants; ravenous gnolls (CR 1) can regain hit points via bites in 5e. In PFRPG, they gain a bonus to damage and attack when fighting “potential prey” – whatever THAT’s supposed to mean. Lower HD? CR? Everything? No idea. The classic flind does NOT get any stats, just telling the GM to apply the Advanced Simple template. Which does not account for flind-bars etc. Oh, and 5e? No dice. No flind-stats either. Disappointing.

The pdf also contains a total of 4 different CR 2 gnoll variants: The winter gnoll is immune to cold and, in PFRPG, vulnerable to fire (oddly not in 5e). Speaking of 5e – these guys can throw basically bear traps – and these do NOT allow for a save to avoid them: If you walk into them, you’ll be hit. Problem: The ability doesn’t specify what type of action the gnoll needs to throw it: I assume a regular Action, but bonus action would make sense as well. Also problematic: No duration or rest-interval or recharge note. RAW, they can throw an infinite amount of traps. Cave gnolls suffer from light blindness, but are potent throwbacks. The 5e-version gets the Multiattack formatting wrong, making use of the attacks needlessly confusing.

Gnoll mercenaries are lame warriors 2 in PFRPG and not much more interesting in 5e. Mutant gnolls come with a wasting disease in PFRPG as well as DR 5/cold iron (and errors in the stats), while the 5e-version gains some cool defensive tricks.

There are 3 different CR 3 gnolls: The rageborn has the pack attack feat and some Barbarian tricks and raging 5e-versions are particularly defensive while in rage. Weird: Their rage has no duration. The CR 3 two-headed gnoll has this gem of an ability: “Improved Multiple Attacks: The two-headed gnoll never takes penalties from making multiple attacks.” – yeah, PFRPG rules-language this is not. Puzzling, since PFRPG des have well-threaded rules for the like. Speaking of which: In 5e, we get this: “The two-headed gnoll may roll two dice (keeping the best one) on all Perception checks and on saves versus blindness, charm, deafness, fear, stunning or becoming unconscious.” Spot the deviations from how that ability works. Hint: There is a concept called advantage and the wording for the conditions is weird as well…and the ability has already been cleanly codified. Plague bearers also sport some nonstandard verbiage and fail to specify in PFRPG, to which of their two plagues the DC applies – one save? Two saves? Do targets have to save once or twice? The 5e-version notes a disease cloud, but the disease-effects are weird.

At CR 4, we get the giant-blooded gnoll, who gains rock throwing in PFRPG – and displays an ignorance on how the damn universal monster ability works. The statblock’s wrong. This would be as well a place as any to note that the alignment/type formatting line is improperly formatted in all 5e-statblocks. Compared to this fellow’s massive damage output, the den mother at the same CR pales and falls behind quite seriously – she also lacks any unique tricks in PFRPG. In 5e, her spellcasting section deviates from standard presentation.

At CR 7 we get a demon-possessed gnoll, at CR 8 a gnoll warchief. As you can imagine, neither possession, nor other ability formatting specifics are 100% okay in either of them, making running them more complicated than it should be. The 5e-version of the demon-possessed one notes “negative energy damage”, which does not exist in 5e, and uses PFRPG-y summon mechanics. The summary of Jaguar Pounce manages to be incorrect.

The pdf also sports a significant array of monstrous feats, but only for PFRPG. They…suck. Okay, there is no way past that. There are minor number-boosts, boring benefits, wonky wordings, critical escalations…you get the idea. And no, the feats were not used in the builds, feeling like a weird afterthought.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are okay on a formal level. On a rules-language level, the pdf fails both systems, big time. Neither PFRPG, nor 5e sport the level of precision either system deserves. Layout adheres to a solid two-column full-color standard and the pdf has no interior artworks. Annoying: The “o”s in the font seem to be larger than the other letters. Really looks odd. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Brian Berg can do better. He has done better. Orlando Winters as an additional author hasn’t helped the pdf either, unfortunately. I hate to say this, as I do like this type of book – NPC codices are cool and while the dual-system format makes you pay for a system you don’t use, if the variant gnolls herein would live up to their ideas, it’d be a nice book. However, there s no way past it - everything herein feels sloppy and rushed. There are plenty of formatting issues, rules-language hiccups and deviations, statblock glitches etc. in this pdf – and in a crunchy monster book, that’s just not good. No matter the system you employ, you’ll get a deeply flawed book here, one that displays puzzling levels of ignorance regarding the mechanic aspects of both systems. I would have expected this from a novice, not a veteran. As a whole, I cannot recommend this pdf to anyone, but the most tolerant of GMs. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 1.5 stars, rounded barely up for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Altered Beasts: Gnolls, Vol. I (PF/5e)
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In The Company of Doppelgangers (PFRPG)
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/26/2017 10:15:00

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of Rite Publishing’s „In the Company“-series clocks in at 41 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 36 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

After a brief introduction of how this book came to be, we dive headfirst into the great in-character prose that is a hallmark of the series – with a threatening undertone, as the account provided for Qwilion of Questhaven did also allow the doppelgänger sufficient knowledge of the sage’s body… Anyways, we receive well-written notes on the background and myths of the race, including notes on the potentially problematic childhoods and adolescences of doppelgängers – by the way, the race refers to itself as immickers. This whole section, including the way in which the infiltration of societies are covered, carry a surprisingly threatening undertone, as the narrator tries to justify the influence of immickers – it’s all for the best for communities, obviously. The purchase of identities, even temporarily, is a thoroughly creepy concept as described here – the prose is impressive in how it makes a seemingly compelling, yet thoroughly disquieting case for the race. Similarly, the race is contextualized within the races and monsters via a tie to Limbo, providing an interesting angle there as well.

Unusual about immickers: They only lead a very brief life, and as such, their starting ages are modified. As shapechangers, they sport different builds and guidelines for these are presented – well done. Racial trait-wise, immickers gain +2 Str and Cha, -2 Con, are Medium shapechangers with a normal speed, darkvision, +4 to saves versus charm and sleep effects, +1 natural armor bonus. They gain at-will alter self to assume Small or Medium sizes, without adjusting ability scores – in order to assume specific sizes, immickers with a Charisma score of 12+ gain mental intrusion: They can employ detect thoughts, using Charisma as governing attribute, as per the psychic monster rules. The use costs 2 PE and an immicker’s PE-pool is equal to 4 PE per day. The immicker may assume the form of those that failed the save against the ability, but the ability thus gained only lasts for 24 hours. The adjustment process to such a specific shape takes 10 minutes and it remains in effect as long as desired, until changed. This is a really smart set-up: It provides full shapechanging at level 1, while still retaining balancing limits. Very elegant solution here!

There are two alternate ability score arrays: Brutes get +2 Wis and Con, -2 Cha, while guilekin gain +2 Dex and Int, -2 Wis. The other alternate racial traits allow for the replacement of the save bonuses in lieue of save bonuses against transmutations. This may also be replaced with properly codified (Nice!) claw attacks. Darkvision can be replaced with low-light vision. There is also the option to replace the natural armor and save bonuses for skill bonuses against a specific race. My favorites here, though, would be the alternative intrusions: The book makes excellent use of the occult rules, allowing for intrusions via detect desires or detect anxieties as a basis for assuming precise shapes – this allows you to customize the race in a rather interesting manner. The save-bonuses may btw. also be exchanged in favor of gaining two such intrusion options. Big kudos for these!

We also gain favored class options – beyond the paragon class, alchemist, barbarian, bard, cleric, fighter, investigator, medium, mesmerist, oracle, psychic, ranger, rogue, slayer and vigilante. I have no complaints regarding their powerlevel. Now, as befitting of the flexibility of the class, we actually get variant multiclassing options for the doppelgänger paragon class– nice! The pdf also provides archetypes: Mental grafter psychics gain Disguise as a class skill and does not gain a psychic discipline. Phrenic pool is based on Charisma. At 1st level and every 4 levels thereafter, the psychic gains +2 points of PE to use for the intrusion abilities. Successfully using mental intrusion also allows the character to regain phrenic points, and yes, there thankfully is a hard cap of regained points, preventing abuse. This replaces the detect thoughts SP. At 3rd level, the archetype gains the mindtouch phrenic amplification, but only for the purpose of using the spell or spells gained via the intrusions. 5th level unlocks all types of mental intrusion and 9th level provides two forms to fluidly change into, with additional forms unlocked every 4 levels thereafter.

The morphic petitioner cleric loses proficiency with the deity’s favored weapon and gains Bluff and Disguise as class skills, losing Knowledge (arcane) and Knowledge (history). Here’s the cool thing: Each day, the morphic petitioner swears loyalty to a deity, preparing cleric spells thus. The deity’s alignment must be within one step of the cleric, but this temporary allegiance influences the alignment aura and neutral petitioners can choose whether to use positive or negative energy anew, while good and evil petitioners are locked into their respective correlating energy. The petitioner only gains one domain, but may choose these anew with each new temporary allegiance.

Versatile armsmaster fighters begin play with the doppelgänger’s paragon’s appraising gaze, but may only retain combat feats thus gained. This replaces the 2nd level’s bonus feat. Also pretty cool: The archetype also gains a wildcard feat and at 6th level and every +4 levels thereafter, the bonus combat feats may be changed similarly. The ability codifies the prerequisite caveats correctly and the activation action improves, but retains a 1/round maximum. If this sounds like ridiculous flexibility, you’d be correct – however, an Int-based maximum keeps that somewhat in line. Weapon mastery may be changed, btw. Flexible and thankfully, more interesting than the base fighter, yet still sufficiently contained.

Druids may become natural mimics, who gain Natural Spell and treats the shapechanging as wild shape for the purpose of feats etc. The key ability of this archetype would be that it blends wild shape with the intrusion of the base race, but unlocks progressively better SP-equivalents, including monstrous physique, giant forms, form of the dragon, etc. They also, obviously, may assume animal forms and may memorize a progressively growing amount of forms.

Now, as always, the key component of this pdf would be the racial paragon class. The class gains d8 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, NO base proficiencies, ¾ BAB-progression, good Ref- and Will-saves and 5 PE at first level, scaling up to 15 at 20th level. The key base ability of the class would be appraising gaze, a more potent form of the base race intrusion. When succeeding at an intrusion, the class may make a special check to learn to mimic one particular trait of the target. This check is a d20 + Intelligence modifier + level (should probably be class level – in a later explanation, this is correctly depicted). The doppelgänger can retain knowledge of up to “twice their Intelligence score modifier” – that should be either “twice their Intelligence score” or “twice their Intelligence modifier” – I assume the latter to be correct; the former would be too much. The doppelgänger can choose to forget information at any time as a free action. This ability taps into baseline mimicry: The doppelgänger paragon gains the weapon and armor proficiencies of the current mimicked form and also a caster level in spellcasting classes, but this does not grant spellcasting prowess, only the option to activate spellcompletion or spelltrigger items. At 1st level, 2nd and every 2 levels thereafter, the class gains mimicked traits – these are retained in the dominant disguise and must correspond to the dominant disguise.

At 3rd level, the class gains morphic memory: At 3rd level when preparing a dominant disguise, they can choose two shapes they retain memory of via Appraising Gaze; these can assumed via change shape at-will. What is the by now often mentioned dominant disguise? At 3rd level,, one of the disguises is designated as dominant; this must be one chosen via morphic memory. The doppelgänger may only manifest mimicked traits while in the dominant disguise. Wait, what? Yes, this is somewhat confusing. At level 1, we gain 1 mimicked trait, another at 2nd…these only work in dominant disguises…but dominant disguise in only gained at 3rd level… I am, alas, not sure how this is supposed to work, meaning that this constitutes a serious flaw in the base engine of the class.

At 2nd level, the doppelgänger paragon chooses a specialization: Martial, skillful, or magical. The latter specialization gains access to the mesmerist’s spells per day, using the medium’s table of spells known. Charisma is the governing attribute – and yes, this means that mimicked traits will be used to gain more spells known. At 5th level and every 3 levels thereafter, the class gains an additional spell known. Magical specialists can only take general and magical mimicked traits. Martial specialization changes the BAB to full, but are locked into martial and general mimicked traits. Skillful doppelgangers gain +2 x their class level as bonus skill ranks, which may be reassigned upon gaining a level. Bingo: They may only take skillful/general mimicked traits.

At 5th level, the doppelgänger can mimic racial features in all disguises. 5th level nets an expansion for the detections available – slightly odd: one spell noted here is detect fears – which should imho be detect desires, as the other detection options mimic those available to the base race. At 9th level, the class gains a second dominant disguise, with its separate amount of traits – i.e. the full array, making the character exhibit two modes. 10th level nets the ability to count as both humanoid and monstrous humanoid and may be treated as either for a given effect. This does not grant inherent awareness of the effect. 13th level provides 1 mimicked trait for all forms retained in the morphic memory – these must not be dominant disguises. 17th level yields a second specialty and the capstone, the original form’s level no longer is capped by the level of the mimicked target, but instead use the doppelgänger’s level.

The check to learn traits, just fyi, categorizes them in three DCs – 5, 10 and 15…which means that the check becomes redundant rather quickly. Personally, I’d have preferred finer scaling here. Such mimicked tricks btw. use the level of the doppelgänger or that of the original, whichever is lower. Kudos: Interaction with e.g. psychic energy is covered, though, as an aside, we can find cosmetic hiccups here. Like “Craft: Alchemy” – not the correct formatting. In the skillset mimicking “equal to the appropriate HD amount in that skill” did confuse me. On the plus-side: The codification of alchemy is pretty solid. Beyond mimicking talents, the book then goes into the massive, impressive breakdown of Paizo-classes – including antipalas, ACG-classes, Occult Adventures-classes, vigilante, and even versions for the unchained versions of rogue, monk and summoner are included – which is neat and, detail-wise, impressive as all hell. Weird: The talents associated with the witch seem to have been cut from the book. I’d like to comment on their balance – as a whole, they seem to be solid, but due to the glitch in the base engine of the class, I have a hard time analyzing this properly.

The pdf concludes with 4 feats: One for +3 on gazes (wasted feat, considering the low DC), +1 mimicked trait (must be general), using your level as CL for item-activation if it’s higher and gaining more of the mind-reading options – here, the detect fear-glitch can be found once more.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are still good on a formal level – while I noticed more hiccups than in most Rite publishing books, as a whole, this can be read in a fluid manner. Regarding rules-language, I am thoroughly impressed by the high-complexity difficulty attempted here – for the most part better than I expected from the first big solo-effort of the author. However, unfortunately, some rules-hiccups compromise the integrity of pretty central components herein – development-wise, this could have used a stricter hand to iron out the minor hiccups. The pdf sports nice full-color artworks, though fans of Rite Publishing may know some of them from other supplements. The pdf is fully bookmarked for your convenience.

This is Joshua Hennington’s first stand-alone book, at least to my knowledge. Good news first: It is significantly better and more skillful than a ton of books by more established designers. The author manages to create a truly evocative race that gains all the cool shapeshifting without compromising even more conservative campaigns. The basic set-up is glorious. The prose and the ideas of the race similarly are inspired and make for a great reading. This book was on the fast-lane track to the 5 stars + seal verdict…but then, the paragon class came. And suddenly, the previously impressively precise rules-language starts to fray a bit; the class buckles under the weight of its high-difficult theme/concept. You can see the intent between the carefully connected abilities and how the engine is supposed to work…you can have the idea…but, of all the abilities, it’s unfortunately the core ability-cluster of the class that sports problems that compromise its entirety. From a didactic point of view, I read the system a couple of times and while I get the breakdown by class, even if it worked, it may be a bit needlessly complicated – codifying class features as tricks, with class and specializations as subtypes and minimum levels may have been a slightly more easy to implement solution.

I know. This sounds bad. It really isn’t that bad. The first half of this book is inspired, but the second half, at least to me, seems a bit rushed – the rules-language becomes less precise, we have references to non-existent spells, slight deviations from rules-language... With slightly more polish, this becomes a really interesting book, but I can’t rate that. I have to rate what’s here. My final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, but unfortunately, I can’t round up, in spite of the freshman bonus: The flaw at the heart of the class keeps me from rounding up, in spite of the freshman bonus. That being said, I sincerely hope to be able to read more of Joshua Hennington’s writing – this book does show a ton of promise and when/if it’s revised, it may easily become a fine gem. Until then, consider the race depicted herein to be one of the best-balanced, most interesting shapechanger-races I know. It may be worth getting for the race alone.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
In The Company of Doppelgangers (PFRPG)
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4Saken Cinema: Devil Films
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/26/2017 10:13:20

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first expansion for Purple Duck Games‘ neat 4Saken-horror-game clocks in at 42 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, ¾ page blank, leaving us with an impressive 39 ¼ pages of content. It should be noted that the pages are laid out for digest-size (6’’ by 9’’/A5), allowing you to fit up to 4 pages on a given sheet of paper.

All right, so this is the first (of hopefully many!) expansions for the 4Saken horror-game and it focuses, surprise, on the ideas and rules required to depict plots of satanic possession in the context of the game. Now, unlike many other supplements for various RPGs, the focus of this supplement is not on depicting the influence of untold legions of fiends of varying dispositions – instead, we’re focusing on THE Devil. The singular force of evil.

As such, we first take a look at means to classify these tales in 3 different categories, all of which come with helpful classics, should you find yourself requiring some inspiration. The categories are 1) Possession/Exorcism, 2) Devil Spawn and 3) Summoning. After discussing these sub-genres and their general structure, we move on to take a look at the backgrounds and instincts most suitable for the genre of devil-based movies: Very good choices, okay ones and not so great ones: Particularly Bargainer and Monster should be avoided, though we make up for this by getting new backgrounds: These include Cop (+5 Fortitude and Awareness after spending Trait points, can go above 19, and gains basic Ranged Combat and Vehicles as well as +2 Contact picks), Priest (+10 Trait points for mental attributes, can raise them beyond 19, +2 contact picks, gain Clerical Respect – he can defuse volatile social situations), Reporters (+5 Awareness after Trait points are spent, can go over 19, gain Artistry (Writing) and Investigation, Perception or Streetwise on basic level for free and gains Favors; may spend 5 Luck to treat an NPC as a Contact once), Theurgist (+10 Willpower after spending Trait points, can go above 19, gains Lore (Occult) specialty for free, +1RS with ritual magic/powers). All in all, a cool, fitting selection, though e.g. Trait points are inconsistent in their formatting.

We also get new instincts: Experiencer, Desperate, Despodent and Observer – all come with their own bonuses and penalties, with often interesting uses of the table for the orange and red results. Gifts should be limited to mundane ones to keep paranormal or psychic gifts from changing the intended mood. After this, we take a look on the rules governing the respective stages of the script: The director gains extensive guidance regarding the three stages of possession, and how to depict them – from slow and steady ramping up of the creepy to a quicker, more action-focused progression, the considerations depicted here are nice. Rules-wise, the Devil establishes his Menace Factor by channeling infernal energy through the possessed: Each incident costs Infernal Energy while attempting to reduce the victim’s Willpower – the lesser the Willpower, the more the possession progresses. The Devil starts at a whopping 50 Infernal Energy and limits are imposed: The devil can’t just attempt to whittle down the Willpower of the victim as fast as possible: Just one check per day, which is btw. resolved as a Fear check versus Instincts, with Infernal Points spent as Menace Factor – success not only triggers the instinct, but also lowers the target’s Willpower…

Attacks similarly cost Infernal Power…and know what’s interesting? This system means that the Devil becomes more likely to succeed later, but also constantly makes the Devil more vulnerably. This is an interesting trick, rules-wise. Extra effects that trigger fear, but are NOT part of the base attack, do not count for the purposes of Willpower reduction, btw. – this adds another interesting strategy to the proceedings. Obsession effects are qualified and quantified next, with effects organized by stage and each effect sporting the respective costs in Infernal Power: We have apportation, cold spots, ghost sounds, obfuscation, unnerved animals in the Obsession stage. In the Oppression stage, we get infernal visage, inflict slashes, rabid animals, tech failure, violent apport. Finally, in the subjugation stage, we have infernal storms, speaking in tongues, unnatural movement. All in all, this presents all the classic tools a director could ask for, though I do wish we’ll get a couple of more specialized uses of Infernal Power at one point.

With ritual magic being a central component of the genre, we take a look at the structure of it next: Rituals require Expenses, time, intensity (the color the caster needs to meet with intelligence on the Master table) and Costs – these represent the cost to the caster’s Willpower, Luck, Life or Fortitude. From mesmerism to abjure evil, to summoning hellbeasts, we get a couple of examples for the relatively easy to grasp system.

Exorcism works pretty much like an inverted possession – only one attempt per day, and the ritual takes longer, the further it has progressed – the Intensity obviously increases as well. The ritual requires serious cost in Willpower, which means that yes, you will probably need multiple characters joining forces. Beyond the frightening nature, exorcisms also require Exhaustion rolls. Relics and true names can provide an edge for the exorcists. After we have codified the mechanics of exorcism in a tight manner, we take a look at the forces of hell next.

In this chapter, we mention the marauders and gain stats for devilspawn (Stats for childhood and puberty included!), infernal animals, summoners and tempters – all the cool basic things you’d expect.

The pdf ends with the basic outline of 3 story seeds, which may be connected to form a cool trilogy – and in case you’re wondering, they do include strange…things found and focus on three connected, but radically different set-ups. No, I am not going to SPOIL these here!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on both a formal and rules-language level – I noticed a few minor formatting inconsistencies, but these are few and far in between and did not impede my ability to grasp this book’s content. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly 1-column standard and the pdf sports a couple of really nice, original pieces of full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Don Walsh and Brett Neufeld provide a really cool expansion for 4Saken: The mechanics employed for devilish possession can obviously be expanded beyond the confines of the genre; the backgrounds and instincts work well in conjunction with those presented by the core game book. There is a lot of guidance for the director, a lot of cool material crammed into these pages – more than I expected.

In short: If you’re enjoying the 4Saken-game, then this pretty much represents a must-own offering. Beyond the aforementioned minor hiccups, there is not much to complain about. Now personally, I would have enjoyed to see more of the outlier abilities and some suggestions for tweaking the strength of the Devil – to e.g. represent lesser demons, other demons, dark gods, etc. But then again, that’s not really a fair complaint, considering the focus of the book on the infernal big, bad guy. As such, I will round up from my final verdict of 4.5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
4Saken Cinema: Devil Films
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The Comprehensive Equipment Manual [Revised]
Publisher: Dungeon Masters Guild
by Thilo G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/25/2017 04:24:09

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive rules-book clocks in at 139 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, 3 pages of ToC, leaving us with 134 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested as a prioritized review by one of my patreons. The review is based on the updated V.1.2. of the book.

All right, so one of the most underwhelming aspects of the 5e PHB, at least for me, was the rather rudimentary section on items, weapons, etc. – I was hoping that we’d see a big equipment book soon after the PHB’s release, but so far, no dice. Fret not, though, for this is EXACTLY where this book comes into play.

Now, one of the things that surprised me here, would undoubtedly be a general sense of cognizance regarding how it emphasizes the actual use of the game – in the cases where e.g. pre-existing items are altered, the pdf does denote such changes. Similarly, the book’s introduction does state that its intended design-goal is to avoid power-creep, and as such, the added flexibility and diversity provided herein are balanced to take this aspect into account – a big plus, as far as I’m concerned. Further guidelines are provided for your convenience, as “DM’s Corner”-sidebars throughout the book elaborate on methodology, design intent, etc. In short – the general organization is commendable indeed!

Speaking of which: We begin with an interesting topic: Wealth. The book provides standardized exchange rates for iron, copper, silver, electrum, gold, mithral, adamantine and platinum pieces – and yes, in that sequence. As the book concisely argues, placing both mithral and adamantine coinage below platinum in value makes sense in the context of the value-suggestions provided by 5e. The emphasis of 5e on rock-paper-scissors-style mechanics make sense regarding the re-evaluation – but if your game has transitioned to 5e from another system – well, then the book has you covered as well and provides the values to retain the projected value of the older systems. Beyond coin names, alternate currencies and trade goods (with a massive sample table) also can be found – want to know the value of a blood hawk? Check the table. Managed to secure a pound of saffron? The book has you covered. There even is an abstract system for GMs wanting to track e.g. the weight of huge amounts of gemstones. Oh, and trade bars. And favors. The pdf also takes a closer look at 5e’s abstract selling mechanics, providing guidelines for the sale of monster equipment, mundane equipment, etc.

Of course, in order to sell something, you have to have the right buyer – and if you’re like me and prefer this degree of realism, you’ll most assuredly enjoy the buying power by population table. The selling magic items system from the DMG is explained and expanded to cover other valuable goods as well. So yeah, haggling, for when it is relevant, can be found. Lifestyle expenses are also part of the deal, concisely covering expenses and what’s covered by the respective styles. From food to coach cabs, messengers and hirelings and even a simple spellcasting availability system are covered in this book.

If you’re a rather simulationalist gamer, you’ll enjoy the possible synergy here with “The Comprehensive Treasure Manual” – which addresses maintenance cost etc.

Now, while the starting equipment choices by class and background are helpful, I do enjoy the stipulated options to swap items at character creation – the rules are easy to understand: You can’t e.g. swap a light armor for a heavy one, a simple weapon for a martial weapon. While these guidelines can’t obviously account for all differences in monetary value, I applaud giving the GM in question the tools to handle the like.

Nor here we come to the aspect of the book where things get REALLY interesting: Armor properties. We have, for example, armor that provides resistance against poison-coated weapons, but explicitly not against poisoned fangs. There is armor that helps against liquids by enclosing the target. There are rules for ersatz-armor, which degrades upon sustaining critical hits…and so on. Want more realism that requires armors to be custom-fitted? Well, the book has you covered. Speaking of realism: Want alternate rules that make swimming in armor toucher? You can find these herein. Want quicker armor donning variant rules? Covered. The leitmotif of this tome, without exception, is freedom of choice. Don’t like resting in armor being comfortable? The book has you covered. Want a speed reduction for wearing them? You can have that as well – the book is all about customization options. Armor spiked? Yep, included.

The weapons, for greater variety, include damage kickers – plusses or minuses to damage caused, for example 2d6-1 – this is not a penalty/bonus and as such, critical hits feature their effect twice. The pdf even explains the concept of halved dice (like d5s) – which are used only sparingly, but the explanation is certainly appreciated for the newer members of the audience. The weapons themselves also receive a wide variety of new features – take, for example, ranged weapons: Accurate weapons have an easier time hitting foes behind cover; aerodynamic weapons fly further. If you wanted a representation of Kyuss’ signature weapon, we have alternate choices of damage types. Armor-breaching missiles…and yes, a system for firearms can be found – firearms require being “charged”, which may, nomenclature-wise, not exactly be the perfect choice, but this is me nitpicking at a very high level. Weapons that are more durable, those that provide a higher damage-output…there is a lot to tinker with here.

Oh, and, of course, there are weapons galore – from the garrote to the atlatl, from bolas (which may restrain you and even knock you prone), boomerangs, bhujs, polybolos….Did you want your own stats for the maca or the kopehs? Well, guess what – you can find them herein! Heck, from lassos to liturgical maces to concise rules that make saps matter (particularly for rogues!) and extended scissors (!!!) – this selection on its own may be worth getting this book for…but it also talks about improvised weaponry.

Oh, and from bronze armaments to silvered weapons, we also take a look at modifications – including masterwork armaments that do not (thank the dungeon lords…) just duplicate the standard masterwork +1 from other systems/editions, using armor and weapon properties instead, providing a system that is a) more rewarding, b) more in line with 5e-design and c) actually makes masterwork equipment matter more! If you’ve been thinking about some of the classic feats and how the rules interact with them – well, you won’t have to wonder – the pdf does cover these aspects.

Want to know which weapons would make sense for which class/racial class feature, proficiency-wise? Well, a handy table does cover this aspect of the game.

This is not even close to where we stop in this massive tome – next up would be the section on adventuring gear: From caltrops and ball bearings to bell kits, blankets, expanded clothes, earplugs, muffled hammers, various lanterns, different ropes, weapon cords – there is a vast amount of cool equipment…oh, and if you enjoy grittier games or want to go Banner Saga: There are variant rules for stricter starvation! Equipment packs are grouped by class and maximum price and a whole table is provided for your convenience – not just for starting characters, mind you! And yes, each component of a pack has its separate weight noted. If you prefer realistic container and inventory management, well, the pdf does compile containers and provides concise container capacity rules for them. And yes, as always, if you prefer hand-waving these rules, rest assured that you don’t have to use these rules – they are variant options in a chapter! Personally, I adore this type of thing, but yeah.

Where was I? Oh yeah, know how it can be pretty boring to just fire the same ole’ bolt/arrow at you foes? Do you like Hawkeye/Green Arrow and want the (non-ridiculous) trick ammo? Smoke-arrows (Garrett from the Thief-trilogy is smiling. Nope, there are only 3 games in the franchise…lalala…), hooked blowgun darts, inking bolts, razor-glass sling bullets, grappling arrows…come on, you know you want to use these, right?

The same attention to diversity and care has been applied to the idea of both arcane and divine foci and similar items associated with the magical arts: Totem foci. Mistletoe sprigs, potions…speaking of which: If you love how the Witcher series emphasizes formulae and the importance of knowledge of recipes – you guessed it: There is a variant rule for alchemy, herbalism etc. that requires knowing how to make the stuff. While we’re talking about alchemy: Solvent, glue, eggshell grenades, embalming cream, flash pellets, ghoststrike oil, moonrods, glowing ink – you name it. Similarly, herbalism also covers a rather diverse breadth of options – like the scent-hampering aniseed, basically super-coffee (alertness draughts) or a fortifying root…which will poison you if you don’t have a strong stomach. Speaking of poisons: We introduce a lesser poisoned condition – wwhich only imposes disadvantage on e.g. the checks relating to one attribute – which is pure amazing, as far as I’m concerned – it enhances the versatility of poisons and makes choice and strategy matter more. And before you ask: We get a ton of cool poisons herein, some based on monsters, some classics – all amazing. This chapter is pure glory.

We also get tools. Including rules for shoddy and masterwork tools. And a downtime system usable while still adventuring. Artisan tools are described IN DETAIL. As are gaming sets. Which come with rules for cheating and fixing the game. Mounts. Combat training rules for them. Customizable tack and harnesses. Howdahs. Xebec warships. Oh yes. A 300-entry strong trinket table that is cleverly organized from low to high fantasy (roll 2d100+100 for high fantasy, for low fantasy just 1d100) constitutes yet another highlight in this gem of a book.

We don’t stop there either: Want to depart from the Eurocentric medieval default? Enter exotic lists. Want to play in the age of sail? This book has you covered. Want double weapons galore? Yep, included. Are you one of the polearm aficionados? Well, a mancatcher now has rules distinct from Lucerne hammers, partisans or voulges. Less interested in the historical aspect? Well, what about ornithopter rules? Or some for gliders and airships? I already mentioned firearms, but we also get siege guns, slow matches…or perhaps your PCs want a flail snail to guard their place? Enter the monster market section, where monsters are purchasable, organized by intelligence! Yeah, if you’re looking for a Dungeon Keeper-type of gameplay, this will be really amazing!

Now, chapter 6 of this colossal tome takes one of the most popular variant settings and provides all the equipment-based rules for the setting: Oriental adventures. However, we thankfully do not just mash the different cultures together and instead focus on the Japanese culture. We thus gain Tankos, fukimibari and the tables note the respective equivalents, if applicable. A kunai, is, for example, the equivalent of a throwing dagger. Makes sense. A kyoketsushoge, on the other hand, is pretty unique and thus requires unique rules – all in all, a nice grab-bag here.

The pdf concludes with an overview of upcoming products and product-lines…and the pdf does state that it will be updated further – as new official releases hit stores, so will this book expand further. And this is not an empty promise, either – I had this review almost done when V.1.2. hit sites and I subsequently had to go through this once more.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, both on a formal and rules-language level, are top-notch. Layout adheres to a nice parchment-style 2-column full-color standard reminiscent of the official D&D 5e-look. There is, big plus, a printer-friendly version included as well. Artwork-wise, the book offer pretty much…nothing. This is pure content. While I’d have loved artwork for the weapons etc., art is expensive. And this costs not even 5 bucks. I’m not kidding you. One slight downside of the book would be that the bookmarks are rudimentary – they only point to the chapter headers, which can make finding the respective material a bit tougher than it should be. Which brings me to another point: OMG; this needs a Print on Demand option right now.

Yeah, I’ve beaten round the bush for long enough: This may well be the most useful 5e-book I have read so far. Beyond the metric ton of carefully and deliberately crafted new material Randall Right provides, we get an astonishing, smart organization for the book – the structure makes sense in a ton of ways and while the absence of an index is a slight detriment, this book if pure gold.

Want to play a gritty game set in our world? Possible. Want equipment to matter? Want poison to be less boring? All of these and more can be found herein. I can honestly not recall when a crunch-book made me smile this often. The explanations for design-decisions are sensible. The rules-language is precise and to the point. The descriptions of items and sheer variety of cool material that you can find within – this book sports one of the best bang for buck ratios I’ve seen in ages. The book adds a level of customization and the potential to add more realism to the game, all subservient to the needs and requirements of a vast diversity of tables. This book never forces you to embrace a component, but if you’re like me, you’ll at least be using some of the amazing options herein. This, in short, constitutes a masterpiece of an equipment book, well worth 5 stars + seal of approval and this, in spite of the minor complaints regarding organization, is a nominee for my Top Ten of 2017. If you are dissatisfied with 5e’s equipment selection and rules, this is your one-stop-shop way to make the game more amazing. Get this now!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Comprehensive Equipment Manual [Revised]
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Deadly Gardens: Blood Root
Publisher: Rusted Iron Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/25/2017 04:14:20

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

All right, as almost always, we begin with a new magic item, which would be the hideaway log this time around: This item would basically be a twig that, on command, can turn into a moss-covered, hollow log, into which Medium-sized (or smaller) creatures can squeeze themselves. The item itself is concise in its presentation and has actually a second use: When uttering the command word again while inside the log, it doesn’t shrink, but instead detonates, potentially blinding targets nearby and also causing piercing damage to those outside the log. Slight problem here: there is no limit regarding the amount of explosions you can thus trigger: While not overly powerful, I am pretty sure that the item regenerating hit points while inactive in its small twig-size was supposed to cap this aspect somehow. Also problematic: The log has no weight even in its deployed form – this means that you can carry it around pretty easily – put a halfling sniper inside and you have a potent weapon. I am pretty sure that the deployed, massive version of the log was supposed to have a weight.

The pdf also contains 9 natural items: light-duplicating blindheim eyes that can be thrown as flashbangs; the alter self duplicating green hag wig; the shantak suit that helps fortify its wearer against the void between the stars; there would be lamia matriarch scales that can be added as power components to spells, causing failed saves to add minor Wisdom drain to the effects of compulsions. Stirge powder can help against poison, but does cause bleeding. Twigjack shafts can make arrows that burst into splinters, causing harm to adjacent foes on a failed Reflex save. Yeth hound fangs can be used in lieu of regular spikes, helping demoralization efforts. Xacarba runes can be used to make the covers of spellbooks, which nets 1/day access to Bouncing Spell sans changing the casting time or spell level, but only for a spell taken from the book. Not the biggest fan there, but oh well. Finally, there would be blood root vitae, which heals 1d8 points of damage and also duplicates lesser restoration (not properly italicized).

Now, the star of the book is obviously the critter, here the CR 7 Blood Root. The blood root can use sickening entanglement 1/day as a SP and is actually two plants: The conglomerate consists of a tendril network and the carnivorous predator. The latter sports a heart root, making it likely to regrow. Blood roots can move via earth glide through a symbiotic tendril network, which they may even share among others. The network also provides superior senses or the plant and blood roots can fire spray of thorns. All in all, a cool critter, though it does sport some minor hiccups; e.g. the CMD forgot the special size modifier for being Large and should be one higher. Unless I am not sorely mistaken, that’s not the only minor hiccup there – let it be known, though, that the plant can be used as provided.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect – I noticed a few minor hiccups, some of which pertain the rules. Layout adheres to the nice two-column standard of the series. The b/w-artwork provided is nice. Big kudos: The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Russ Brown, Andrew Umphrey and Joe Kondrak deliver an inexpensive file with a solid critter here. I wished the pdf did something more with its cool premise of two symbiotic creatures here, but yeah. As a whole, the blood root is a nice creature to thrown at your players. Not a mind-boggling one, but for the fair price-point, the pdf is worth checking out. Still, as a whole, I can’t round up from my final verdict of 3.5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Deadly Gardens: Blood Root
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vs. Ghosts Adventure: The Night Sparrow
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/24/2017 07:33:44

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This mini-adventure for Vs. Ghosts clocks in at 2 pages, 1 page content, 1 page editorial/SRD/Etc., so let’s take a look!

This being a mini-module, I do not expect epic storylines or intricate plots – I’ll review this for what it is, namely a short sidetrek. As such, the module doesn’t offer in-depth details and should be considered to be more of a sketch to be fleshed out further.

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

..

.

All right, only Ghostmasters around? Great!

The J-pop band CHI48 are on tour in the US, but rumors abound that the band’s been cursed – multiple concert-goers have been struck blind after attending their shows. The band has been extremely popular (reskin to current pop phenomena for kids) and thus the PCs are assumed to be in the crowd. The concert seems to proceed rather well – but just as the latest smash hit “Night Sparrow” kicks off, people start collapsing in pain, clutching their eyes. Emergency responders act immediately, but smart characters may be able to glean additional pieces of information – like the illusion of black birds coming from the stage and the belief that they heard a strange bird call.

Investigating these folk, the band’s manager Goro Watanabe sports and hires the PCs, who then get to interview the manager, the band, Lighting and FX and the soundboard…and as the investigate the latter, they’ll see a horde of black sparrows manifesting. Special equipment may show the PCs that the computer equipment seems to sport some sort of possession – Yosuzume, a division IV yokai, has become entangled in the equipment, painfully so, and lacking means of communication, the spirit lashes out. Full stats are provided and the pdf provides a fun idea – having the exorcism spill out into the performance – after all, the show must go on!

The pdf ends on a nice high note, with meet and greet etc. and some nice further employment angles for the GM.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious hiccups. Layout adheres to a pretty busy three-column full-color standard. The pdf has no bookmarks, but doesn’t need any at this length. The pdf does not sport any artworks.

Ben Dowell’s mini-adventure is surprisingly creative: The visuals are amazing, the hook is creative. The module makes great use of its limited space and manages to provide a fun mystery for kids and adults alike. In short: This is a great little adventure, well worth 5 stars. Kudos!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
vs. Ghosts Adventure: The Night Sparrow
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