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Green Devil Face #4
Publisher: Lamentations of the Flame Princess
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/06/2017 05:29:43

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The fourth installment of LotFP's Green Devil face e-zine clocks in at a massive 73 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 3 pages of SRD, leaving us with 68 (!!!) pages of content. It should be noted that the pdf adheres to roughly an A5-layout (6'' by 9''), which means you can fit about 4 pages on a given sheet of paper when printing this, provided your eyes are good enough.

We begin with a brief class, the Knight of Science (as featured in No Dignity in Death/The People of Pembrooktonshire), who gains d8 HD (d10 in advanced edition games). They are immune to charm, sleep, hold or cold spells (hold or cold? Or do you choose one of that list?) and immune to all fear effects. They can hit creatures only vulnerable to magic (no problem) and those only vulnerable to special materials (which CAN be a problem). They gain a minimum of 6 hit points per level and only gain XP from slaying foes and burning their equipment. Knights are treated as Fighters, but at 5th level, the squire becomes a proper knight and gains a squire or 4 levels lower, as well as a cleric of at least level 5 (though never higher than the knight) and 10 0-level men-at-arms. The knight's abilities hinge on unwavering belief and thus, he loses his abilities if he ever changes his mind on ANYTHING - unless their previous opinion was founded on a lie. This makes them basically the ultimate hard-headed a-hole order. The equipment of the entourage is btw. included in the write-up.

James Edward Raggi IV's second article herein would be "The Tower" - which takes the quest of the classic fairy tale suitor for a princess, including besting guardians and finding her in the tower and puts a delightfully twisted LotFP-twist to the subject matter - nasty traps...and a rather unexpected inversion, that is. It should be noted that a detailed "Here's how it can work"-explanation makes this rather easy t run. No map is included, but the sidetrek doesn't necessarily need one. The next article by his pen introduces us to variants of animate dead for higher levels, an old-school attack-all-in-range spell, aptly named army of one, a spell to disguise as good beings, one to animate toys as killers, spewing forth noxious gas, blood oaths - there is quite an array of different options here! Have I mentioned the spell-stealing options and the mass-impregnating level 9 storm of fertility? Ouch. Now that we have taken a look at the dread magics of the loathsome Duvan'Ku cabal, we move on to their magic items, which include bags that hold spirits, cursed cornucopia-baskets, the Book of Faust, maddening grimoires, undead-enhancing caskets, the horrid dead signs, elixirs of fleeting love, undead pacifying flutes, cannibalism-inducing rings and worse.

A random inn generator, which includes names, visitors, staff and all, with special details given to the folks, is up next before we get a variant of the rod of wonder, the wand of the weird - which includes fingers turning to gold, growing third eyes or hostile hair...rather cool one.

A mini-adventure/dungeon with 19 rooms is up next, the House of Snails (map provided, hand-drawn) - cultists, baby snails and a big snail made of mother-of-pearl can be found here...made me remember a lesser known Conan-comic. Solid. After this one, the next such mini-adventure would be the Frog Cult - 27 sketched rooms (mapped once again), with a couple of named adversaries etc. and fights versus e.g. giant dung beetles.

The first article not penned by the master of LotFP would be the Room of Four Pits, an easy-to-insert encounter that features a classic riddle, potentially bringing the PCs in conflict with some rather nasty creatures. James Brian Murphy takes us to "The Sneaky Book Room" for another easily inserted encounter-room, where a mutating book beckons...

Zak Sabbath's up next, first with "The Child" - and it poses an uncommon conundrum: The PCs happen upon a child. It is honest, polite and innocent...and if the child dies, it'll turn into a horrid monstrosity...but if the PCs take care of the child for a long time, they'll be rewarded. "The chamber and the box" contains basically a tutorial mode for new players, while keeping the veterans busy as well - per se a nice idea.

R. Lawrence Blake's "The Tomb to die for/in" is a highly lethal 10-room mini-dungeon and by far my favorite so far herein: Halls of randomly biting faces, armor golems and a really nasty skeleton (20 HD fireball) make for a chellenging meat-grinder of a dungeon. Jonathan Becker introduces us to the culinary (and slightly disturbing) wonders of shrieker stew next, while his pool of testing encounter will reward only the brave...and penalize the greedy...What about a dog that speaks the common tongue and is actually rather helpful!

James Edward Raggi IV picks up the pen once more with a massive and helpful random treasure generator as well as a brief, one-page spell-point theory for use with old-school games. Solid, but not mind-boggling.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no formal hiccups, though rules-language isn't always as crisp as I've come to expect from LotFP. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard and the pdf has no artworks. The cartography ranges from solid to hand-drawn to pixelated and pretty rudimentary. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Kudos there!

James Edward Raggi IV, Zak Sabbath, R. Lawrence Blake, James Brian Murphy, Ramsey Dow and Jonathan Becker provide an excellent bang-for-buck-ratio here - the magazine is pretty inexpensive and considering that, the amount of material herein is impressive indeed. Surprisingly, I ended up enjoying the options provided by the less notorious/famous designers more in this one. Still, having e.g. the dead sign codified is cool and the encounters often do interesting things...though a couple are pretty standard. My favorite herein was definitely "The Tomb to Die For/In", but, as a whole, this offers some serious scavenging potential. In short: This is a good offering, though one that, to me, doesn't quite reach the level of awesomeness, Hence. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Green Devil Face #4
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5E Mini-Dungeon #018: Neotomas' Paradise
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/06/2017 05:26:32

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM. Unlike most 5E Mini-Dungeons, this one does not come with VTT-maps or player-friendly iterations, which is a bit of a bummer.

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

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

...

..

.

Still here?

All right!

So, beggars have been vanishing and thus, it falls to the PCs to venture forth into the sewers to find them - and yes, they may contract sewer plague here - which is a nice deviation from the tired. Exploring the dark tunnels, the PCs not only have to brave rat swarms, they will also encounter a ghost of a slain beggar before finding the culprit of the disappearances - a nasty wererat slaver on a recruiting spree and by now transformed were-rat beggars...oh, and yes, the PCs can walk into a gelatinous cube.

On the downside, the ghost is once again not an encounter supplemented by social skills or interaction in that way...and the wererat boss uses the same stats as the wererat beggars...which feels a bit lazy. Which not provide some statblock modification shorthands here?

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant hiccups, though there are two hyperlinks that are not functioning properly. Layout adheres to a nice 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes sans bookmarks, but needs none at this length. Cartography is full color and surprisingly good for such an inexpensive pdf, but there is no key-less version of the map to print out and hand to your players. Stats, as mentioned above, obviously are hyperlinked to the SRD.

Michael Smith's good sewer level in the original had it all - environmental hazards, lighting, social interaction...and apart from the lighting issue, all are lost in translation. Social interaction? Not really covered - the ghost is just window-dressing. The boss uses the same stats as his servants (which sucks) and any skill information is curiously absent as well - fallen into sewage? Well, no idea how hard it is to get out again. Not impressed. The conversion, in short, gets rid of what made this fun, at least to me. My final verdict will clock in at 2.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
5E Mini-Dungeon #018: Neotomas' Paradise
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In The Company of Wights (PFRPG)
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/05/2017 13:35:10

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of Rite Publishing's "In the Company of..."-series clocks in at 17 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page of SRD, 1 page advertisement, 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.

All right, we begin this pdf with a heart-warming dedication to the founder of Rite Publishing, Steven D. Russell, who has left us too soon. After this, though, it is similarly heart-warming to see that the traditions of master Russell live on - we begin with an in-character letter of a member of the race, sent to Qwilion of Questhaven, the scribe that is responsible for collecting these pieces of information in the context of the great meta-narratives that suffuse these books.

Thus, as has become the tradition, the flavor-text presented to us would be written from the point of view of the species "We are the hollowed" - indeed! Intelligent, sentient wights spawned from strong souls, these beings sport a glowing gaze and retain the previous race's racial characteristics like height and they, obviously, stop aging -as such, this time around, we actually don't need an age, height or weight table and the racial traits replace those of the base race, but more on that later. The pdf elaborates on society...or rather, about how to fit in with the living and dead...and there is the Urge - the wights herein do crave the essence of the living and there are those that have succumbed to the Urge, while others resist it - the scenario is, roleplay-wise, not unlike that of the World of Darkness.

Now, regarding racial traits, we begin by acknowledging the first issue -as quasi-undead, the wights depicted herein (who call themselves the hollowed) have no Constitution, which would render them OP via most character creation methods - hence, ways to use them in a balanced context with point-buy etc. are included. The hollowed get +2 to an ability score of their choice and retain their former humanoid's race influences speed and size - either Small or Medium. As a minor nitpick: Size-categories are capitalized in PFRPG. As modified undead, the hollowed gain darkvision 60 ft., are immune to bleed and death effects, disease, paralysis, poison, sleep and stunning and are immune to Fort-save resisted effects, unless these can affect objects.

They may not be raised from the dead (spell references not italicized) but may be returned to become living beings. They get +1/2 their HD as a racial bonus to resist mind-affecting effects. They are healed by negative energy, harmed by positive energy (this wording is a bit non-standard, but works). Hollowed are also immune to nonlethal damage, ability drain or energy drain and they are immune to damage to physical attributes as well as to exhaustion and fatigue, but are also immediately destroyed upon being reduced to 0 hp. Sooo...this is ALMOST full undead immunities. Beyond that, they gain a +2 racial bonus to Intimidate...so what does the Urge bring to the table, balance-wise? Well, death's stigma imposes a grant total -1 per level to Diplomacy (not properly capitalized) when dealing with the living and a similar penalty to Disguise (also not properly capitalized) when trying to pass as a living creature.

When "violence is enacted in the presence of a hollowed", the hollowed has to succeed a Will-save versus 15 + 1/2 current HD (is 1 rounded down? I assume no...) or attack the closest creature. On a successful save, they are immune to the Urge. Succumbing to the Urge allows for rerolls of Perception checks to determine the undead nature of the hollowed. At 1st level, hollowed succumbing to the urge get +2 to hit and damage and HEAL BY THE AMOUNT OF THE DAMAGE CAUSED. Okay, let's play, shall we? What's the range of "violence caused" that may trigger the Urge? Does "attacking closest creature" include spells and abilities? What's the bonus type the Urge is supposed to grant? The wording there is wonky. After the first attack, the hollowed can attempt a fixed DC 15 Will-save to stop, but otherwise, their frenzy continues for 1d3 rounds. The bonuses increase by +2 every six levels. Does that mean 1->7->13->19 or 1->6->12->18? No idea. Wanna hear a joke? If that sounds like a hassle (WHY?? FREE INFINITE HEALING WITH JUST A KITTEN!!!), you can suppress the urge at the start of a day...and boohoo, you do take devastating -2 to Wisdom-based skill checks. This is a non-entity of a balance-mechanism. It allows for infinite healing "Quick, throw kittens to our half dead undead compadre!", fails to specify crucial ability interactions...and simply is not precise enough.

Beyond that, undead PC races tend to be problematic due to their gazillion immunities - hence why Rite Publishing's own, chassis-wise vastly superior restless souls tweaked that for even gritty game compatibility. If you're shooting for powerful, but balanced undead races, both Kobold Press' amazing darakhul and AAW Games' dødelig do a better job at making the race as a whole not break the game - this race needs a whack with the nerfbat for undead immunities and drawbacks that matter. RAW they only have the undead fragility-thing going for them and that is the least favorite part of playing undead of pretty much every player I know. Similarly, the reassigning of points for characters turned hollowed in play is okay...but imho still pales before the restless souls.

The race gets 3 alternate racial traits: Clung to Life "eliminate the effects of constant decay" - which should refer to the Death's Stigma drawback by name - the hollowed lose the Disguise penalty, but also loses immunity to bleed, death effects, disease, paralysis, poison, sleep and stunning "but instead gains a resistance of 1 + 1/2 their Hit Dice" - WTF is that supposed to mean? A bonus to saves versus such effects? Resistance =/= save bonuses in PFRPG. That is a non-entity, rules-language-wise. Also, the language mentions one losing the Disguise drawback (but not the Diplomacy) and then mentions replacing the proper drawback by name. Instead of darkvision, these guys can get crypt sense, which works only in crypts or simialr places filled with the dead and duplicates low-light vision...which is weird, considering that most such places will be...well. Dark. Oh, and they can detect bodies within 90 ft, even buried underground...and that is an issue. Do bodies need to be whole? Does lead block it? Do body-parts qualify? Animated bodyparts? The body-based immunities can be replaced with positive energy healing and being hurt by negative energy as though living.

The pdf features 5 favored class options - barbarian, bard, cavalier, rogue and true wight. They are okay, though the rogue's bonus is pretty weak: +1/2 to Stealth checks in dim light or darkness? sign me up. Not.

The pdf also features 3 racial archetypes. The night strider rogue replaces trapfinding with something utterly OP. "When not moving...in dim light and darkness, they gain total concealment. In full light, they gain a +40 on Disguise checks to appear completely dead." Total concealment??? WTF??? KILL IT WITH FIRE. Oh, and the option to " choose to instead do 1d3 points of sneak attack damage and cause their target to become shaken for 1 round." So, is one sneak attack damage die thus reduced? All of them? Is sneak attack total damage reduced to 1d3? This is NON-OPERATIONAL. As a rules-aesthetic aside, the ability should mention that it modifies sneak attack, not just that it replaces trap sense.

The pale rider cavalier gets an undead steed. And instead of banner, he gets an aura of despair, 60 ft., - 2 to saves vs. fear, -1 to attack. At 10th level and every 5 levels thereafter, these penalties increase by -1. This replaces banner. This...generates a dead level at 14th level with greater banner falling by the wayside. It's also...BORING. The definition of a cookie-cutter archetype. I can literally point you to several better undead-rider tropes and heck, full classes. Next.

The final archetype would be the void singers. Bards, in case you haven't figured that . They replace inspire courage with a song that inflicts -1 to attack and Will-saves, which is not language-dependant. Instead of bardic knowledge, they treat the Knowledge skills for Religion, Planes and Dungeoneering as class skills, get +1/2 level as a bonus and a reroll in these checks. The rules-language requires you to infer that this reroll is only available 1/day, courtesy of the scaling of daily uses. Bad. Instead of 6th level's suggestion, they can instill the Urge within a creature! PFFF...BEST ABILITY EVER? Better buffs that a barb's rage plus infinite healing via damage? Ugh, this whole section needs to die in a fiery blaze.

Okay, after this...let's hope that the racial paragon class holds up at least! The True Wight paragon gets 3/4 BAB-progression, good Ref-saves, d8 HD, 6 + Int skills per level and proficiency with simple weapons and light armor. The class abilities are not provided in sequence, but oh well. True Wights gain the option to use the urge sans external stimulus as a free action 1/day. (The ability should note its level, but you can see that in the table.) Also at first level, the true wight gains a death mastery, + an additional one at 2nd level and every 2 levels thereafter. A total of 13 are provided, which means that there'll be not too much variation here. We have increased speed and this gem: "The true wight gains a swim speed of 30 feet for 1 minute per level." That an (Ex), fyi. This is not how things are done in PFRPG and RAW, this does not work. It has a duration, is hence active and thus needs an activation action.

Internal balance is also off here: Locate a corpse of ANYONE they knew for 24 hours or longer? Come again? Wight police state? Oh, and perfect identification of corpses, no matter the state of decay or mutilation? This wrecks so many plots, it's not even funny. Detaching limbs is a cool concept, but the complex rules-language required to make it work is nowhere near represented here. A particular gem regarding two detached limbs is the following: "If both limbs are together, they can perform trip attacks using the true wight's CMB -1." What's "together"? Do they provoke AoOs? What size are they?

Well, you get the idea. 4th level nets a claw attack that does not specify whether it's primary or secondary, does not take true wight size into account and has the wrong dice size. 10th level nets "Damage Reduction 1", which increases by 1 for every two levels thereafter. Spot the extremely obvious style deviation... 10th level and 15th level allow for burst-like control of undead nearby. Rules-language isn't perfect, but functional. At 10th level, creatures they slay can be made into spawn and one such spawn may be controlled at any given time. The creature must be 2 or more levels below the wight...unless a PC, which makes no sense. Why not base this off Leadership? At 3rd level and every 2 levels thereafter, the class gets to choose from its second talent array, the living weapon-subsection of talents.

Here, we have 8 gazes and they fail to mention that the scaling DC should be based on CLASS levels, not levels, and the gaze's effects similarly sport that omission in the duration. These gazes are btw. pretty powerful and mention the antagonized condition sans explanation ( It does exist and I love it, see Ultimate Charisma by Everyman Gaming, but considering the glitch-density, I am not sure if that's intended). 5th level lets the wight choose daze for save-or-suck (too soon) and, stupidly, the stunned condition, worse than dazed, does not have a level prerequisite. Also: prerequisite formatting is not done like this "Prerequisite: True wight 8" - it's "A true wight must be at least 8th level to select this living weapon." - but that as an educational, aesthetic aside. Also: Spell-reference not italicized for the level 8 prereq-gaze that causes insanity. Compare that to the mesmerist. Yeah... Okay, one saving grace - the gazes behave as hexes -one save and you're immune for 24 hours against that specific gaze. Oh, and action economy? No idea. Can a wight maintain multiple gazes at once? What's the action?

Alternative abilities in this talent-suite net a bite (not properly codified, but at least the damage-die size is correct- for Medium wights... 1/day, 15th+ level wights may cause death with their natural attacks against creatures with lower HD. Save or suck, does it require a hit? Is it a touch attack? No idea. Ridiculous: "The true wight's natural attack gains the ability to cause 1d6 cold damage. Creatures that take damage roll a Fortitude save, DC 10 + Wis modifier or become staggered for 1d3 rounds." Do I even have to pick that apart? I'll ignore formatting deviations for now. Is this cold damage INSTEAD of the regular damage? Oh, and it provides INFINITE STAGGERLOCKS at 3rd level. That sound? That's my head. And a desk. The same lack of clarity pertains, just fyi, also the talent that adds Str AND Dex damage to attacks...though that at least only can be used 3/day. As a capstone, creatures hit can become spawn, he can break the HD-limit to control weak undead and gets immunity against "mind effect spells and abilities." I'll let that stand here.

We close the pdf with 3 feats: +1 DC for gazes. Whoopdiedoo. The second feat gets rid of the "obviously dead trait" - guess what? THAT RACIAL TRAIT DOES NOT EXIST. It's called "Death's Stigma, for cryin' out loud. There also is a "Team Work Feat"[sic!], improperly formatted, which nets blindsense (sans range! Full strength!) as well as "+1 AC dodge bonus, +1 to hit and damage, +3 to hit when flanking and you cannot be flat-footed" while within 60 feet of another hallowed. Bonus types. Wording. Power. Urgh.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, on a formal level, are good. On a rules-language levels, they're BAD and even inconsistent with themselves. Formatting is all over the place, wording conventions are flaunted left and right and abilities become more opaque than they have any right to be, considering analogue precedence cases. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing's two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The pdf sports nice full-color artworks.

Aaron Phelps' pdf started out so well. The prose in the beginning was glorious and the dedication to Steve pulled at my heart's strings. The flavor was great and when the race started taking character creation into account, I was pretty optimistic.

...

Yeah, that did not last long. This is gonna be harsh and I apologize to the author for it, but there is no way around it: The race is overpowered, has an utterly broken, defining feature and needs a complete rewrite. There are issues in the nomenclature, even in the internal one. There are copious rules-syntax and rules-semantics violations here. The archetypes are universally boring, cookie-cutter and ill-conceived and would have received a thrashing from me back in 2010; 2017? Just NO. Unfortunately, the racial paragon class is flawed as well, violating finer details of the rules, lacking crucial information for several components and promoting utterly cheesy and bad exploits. Rules-language is all over the place and nowhere near the level of precision required by PFRPG, and I'm not even going to bother explaining how neither balance with other options, nor within the options available, is anywhere near the required standards.

This is not on par with the 3pp-quality standards we have all fought so hard for and needs a complete rewrite of EVERYTHING rules-related. If I had to dev this, I'd scrap it and rewrite it from scratch.

This is in particularly BAFFLING, when gazes have been done by the mesmerist and when there are not one, but THREE vastly superior, excellent undead PC options, my favorite of which, Steven D. Russell's Restless Souls, does btw. everything this tries to do better - and it is several years old. And released by Rite publishing as well. And if you really want the hunger aspect, get Ben McFarland's Darakhul. And if you want to play Small undead, get AAW Games' dødelig.

I tried very hard to find anything positive to say about this - and apart from "The lore is cool (but also kinda redundant with Steve's restless souls around...)..." I drew a blank and came up with nothing. If you want to go for the lore, great...but as a reviewer, I can't. Aaron Phelps contributed to the Martial Arts Guidebook back in the day, if I recall correctly, so no idea what happened here. My final verdict cannot exceed 1.5 stars...with the lore making me round up. Barely.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
In The Company of Wights (PFRPG)
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Deep Magic: Ley Lines
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/05/2017 13:23:55

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Deep Magic-series clocks in at 14 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 10 pages, so let's take a look!

There are few magical concepts as established in popular culture and fiction as ley lines - these lines of power surging through the world, chaotic, changing and tied to the concept of an anima mundi, have always been a staple in fantastic literature, as it hearkens back to shamanistic traditions from which our more organized religions and conceptions arose.

In a fact, the concept rings true to us due to the anthropomorphization of the world - the ley lines and their parallels to our own blood circuitry lends a sense of the understandable to the proceedings that ring true to us - perhaps it is this synergy of the shamanistic and the quasi-scientific exemplified by arcane spellcasting (learned from book, mastered only by geniuses and prodigies...) that makes this concept so captivating.

The issue ley lines pose from a design perspective is more pronounced than this concept would lend one to believe; it is a common adage that arcane casters are the strongest class-choices in the game, directly followed by the divine ones...but the harsh limits on their magics ultimately serve as a means of keeping them fragile, at least in the hands of a capable GM. Now, if you add a gigantic external power-source to the fray, you risk the chance of utterly blowing the balance of the character...and the fun/believability of the world. If you need a good visualization of this process - think about Dresden Files, I series a worshiped until "Changes", which, to me, jumped an atomic shark riding a fridge atop the blast-wave of a nuclear explosion...I continued reading it, but it never felt right after that...but I digress.

In the context of 5E, ley line magic, as depicted within this pdf, is not a magic available to just anyone - per default, a feat or an arcane tradition are required to gain proper access to its power, with groups prohibiting feats getting support as well - tutoring by a prospective character acts as a prerequisite for such groups, keeping the GM firmly in control regarding the availability of this magic, which is the first exceedingly smart choice in this pdf.

Speaking of feats - two are provided: Ley Initiate is the unlocking feat, increasing Int or Wis by 1 to a maximum of 20, allowing the character to sense ley lines within one mile...and when finishing a short rest, you can regain an expended spell slot of a level equal to or less than you Int or Wis-modifier...and before you howl: You can only do so once before requiring a long rest. Cool! The Ley-Bound feat increases your Wisdom by 1 to a maximum of 20, yields advantage on Wisdom (Survival) checks to forage food and water, nets you inspiration when resting within 1 mile of a ley line and allows the character to infuse ley energy in a token. While in the possession fo said taken, you may use your reaction to add +d4 to your saving throw, which needs to be done before success or failure are announced, but may be done after the d20 is rolled. This may only be used once per long-rest-interval. In short - one unlocks ley line magic, the other one represents a tapping into its power that is more rewarding for non-spellcasters.

So, how do ley lines work? Well, for one, they are categorized in locked and unlocked ley lines - this distinction is subjective, however, and depends on the ley line in question - a GM has total control of these qualities: Locked ley lines always generate the same effect, whereas unlocked ley lines are less predictable. In order to tap into a ley line's power, you need to be within 30 feet of the ley line and make a spellcasting attribute check sans proficiency bonus, with a DC equal to 10 + the spell being cast. If you botch the check within 4 of the DC, you just cast the regular spell; if you botch it by more than that, however, you suffer from ley line backlash. Ley lines may change over time, and fans of Midgard can see a map highlighting prominent ley lines, which is a nice flavor bonus, though a full-page version would have been appreciated.

Anyway, ley lines come in three strengths: Weak, strong and titanic, with progressively better effects - each of the ley line strengths comes with a d10-table of effects that range from casting a spell sans verbal components in the weak one to truly potent effects: Those tapping into titanic ley lines can cause half damage to targets immune versus their damage...or the ability that concentration cannot be broken. Of course, negative conditions as a bonus effect are also included. And yes, these benefits are potent, but considering their cost and the fact that they will be unreliable in most cases, GMs still retain the control they should have over this powerful form of magic. Oh, and the d10 ley line backlash table of effects will make pretty sure that players won't want to constantly spam ley line casts either - they very much are highlight spells, where the risk justifies the reward. Big fan there, though I wished we had separate backlash tables for different ley line strength and different DCs for different ley line strengths - to me, tapping into a titanic ley line feels like it should be harder than tapping into a weak one. Then again, that component is easily modified.

Okay, let's talk about the geomancy arcane tradition mentioned before: At 2nd level, they halve time and gold required to copy ley line spells into their spellbook and one of the two spells gained thereafter upon gaining a level may be a ley line spell. They also can sense the presence of ley lines within a mile and, as an action, may discern their intensity. At 2nd level, they also learn to tap into ley lines for the unique effects granted by the magic and may bind themselves during a short or long rest to a ley line - the character may only be bound to one weak ley line and may, Int-mod times, use its power even when not nearby; these uses recharge on a long rest and subsequent new bonding cancels out older bonds.

6th level yields the ability to reroll ley line or backlash,. but if you do, you may not use a reaction until the end of your next turn. 10th level unlocks strong ley lines as bonding candidates and also yields proficiency bonus to the ability check to tap into them. AT 14th level, titanic ley lines may be bonded with and also provides the option to, as an action lock or unlock a ley line within 30 feet - but if you do, you may actually require several long rests before being able to use the feature again, depending on ley line intensity. All in all a well-crafted and really rewarding tradition that, by virtue of its strong, yet relatively unpredictable base system, makes for a rewarding playing experience.

All right, as always in the series, we do receive new spells that are aligned with the spellcasting tradition - this time around, that would be 15 spells. Amplify Ley Field allows you to increase ley line intensity in a select field (cool and at 5th level, appropriate...though, as a purely cosmetic nitpick, evocation doesn't make too much sense as a school for me); Disruptive Aura is awesome, potentially suppressing spells and magic items in a limited area. Energy Absorption is interesting - it can yield resistance to the classic elemental damage types or force, but the target affected is also hampered: When casting a spell using the listed damage, the character must save with his spellcasting attribute or lose the spell, as it's harmlessly siphoned away. Cool buff/debuff and well-placed regarding its level. Land Bond is very potent for a 1st-level buff: 1 hour duration, willing touched creature gains advantage on saves and checks to avoid being moved or rendered prone while standing on the earth and the creature may also ignore nonmagical difficult terrain and extreme environment effects from heat, cold and altitude. While this does not prevent damage, it is a pretty potent all-rounder spell...and I'd complain about it, but considering its locked nature and requirement for investment, I consider it to be within the bounds.

Ley Disruption is an interesting 2nd-level terrain control spell that may knock creatures prone and generate difficult terrain...and it particularly effects geomancers bound to ley lines, as its effects are increase in such areas - this is interesting and makes the concept feel less like a one-sided road, but rather like a dynamic system - I really like that and hope to see more! Ley Sense nets you short-range tremorsense. Ley Energy Bolt is an interesting alternative to the classic 3rd-level damage spells: It's a 5-ft.-wide and 100 feet long line of potent force damage that is balanced by its damage (5d8, less than comparable spells) - but beyond its shape, it also passes through the first cover, which adds a really cool tactical dimension to its use. Sniping through walls...just sayin' - I can see a dungeon using that as hazards, an investigation using a ley bolt killer...cool! Ley Leech, at 5th level, is a potent touch-based necromancy that inflict damage and debuff - okay, but not too exciting. In fact, I consider the 4th-level ray of life suppression MUCH more scary: 60 ft. ranged spell attack, 6d8 necrotic damage...and you reduce your maximum hit points by that amount until your next rest or until getting a greater restoration. OUCH! This is...really potent and, depending on your group, may be a spell that GMs may want to keep out of player hands..or at least halve the reduction.

Lesser (5th-level) and Greater Ley Pulse interact with 5E's rock-paper-scissors aesthetics: These spells allow you to negate a named resistance (or immunity, in the greater version) on a failed save (two if cast as a 7th-level spell)/9th-level spell, respectively). Ley Whip is particularly potent for the geomancer with a bound ley line and generates a whip that inflicts force damage and may move targets closer or further away as a bonus action. Again, this begs to be used as a highlight in a combat/environment: "The ley line is getting out of control, it seeks to purge us!" Come on, that's cool!

Volley Shield is a powerful 7th-level buff that nets a massive AC bonus, resistance to the physical damage types an grants a chance to rebound spells at their originator. Cool!...and there also are two apex-level spells: Ley Surge is a potent force-damage-based AoE-explosion that can stun targets and is freely available to geomancers with bound ley lines, regardless of ley line proximity. The same cannot be said of Ley Storm. Sounds badass? It is. Think Storm of Vengeance on ley-infused speed, with different effects depending on the rounds and a massive range...oh, and geomancers casting it regain hit points. Cool!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch on both a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to Kobold Press' absolutely stunning two-column full-color standard and the pdf features amazing full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Dan Dillon has yet to disappoint me, even in the slightest. I mean it. The 5E-specialist of the Four Horsemen takes an incredibly complex concept prone to being utterly broken and handles it with panache and grace. I can literally rattle off several iterations of ley line magic, from 3.X to 5E, and they all had in common that they either were too location-locked to make much sense or too powerful...all but this one. This is a truly impressive, potent system that does not take away the GM's control; there are even damage spells herein that actually made me come up with new ideas. Damage spells. The most profane and standardized category that magic has to offer.

This is absolutely glorious. I mean it. The one reason this does not get status as a candidate for my Top Ten would be that I'd have enjoyed separate backlash tables for ley line intensities and separate tapping DCs for different ley line strength...but that is an issue that a capable GM can easily remedy.

In short: This is a truly phenomenal supplement; it is, in fact, my favorite Deep Magic installment so far; it is inspired, glorious and leaves me craving MORE. It's an absolute steal and should be considered to be a must-own supplement for 5E-groups. 5 stars + seal of approval, given sans hesitation, "buts" and "howevers."

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Deep Magic: Ley Lines
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Everyman Minis: Leyline Qualities
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/05/2017 13:20:50

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This Everyman Mini-installment clocks in at 6 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 2 pages of content, so let's take a look!

In case you were wondering - this book expands upon Occult Adventures' ley lines rules and thus presents the Ley Line Adept feat, which nets a Spellcraft-bonus as well as a Dowsing skill unlock means of 1/day finding ley lines, making them more accessible. The process of "findings"[sic!] ley lines via such rods is covered and concisely presented with DCs and all- no complaints there.

The pdf then goes on to present 9 different types of ley line: Alignment-ley lines tap into the corresponding plane's planar traits (really elegant solution there!), while corrupted ley lines can spawn hazards, once again tapping into the general mechanics and codify these threats concisely via CR. Elemental ley lines increase spell save DC and CL accordingly, while manifest ley lines can be found with the naked eye. Restricted ley lines would be the first to really blow me away - you see, these can only be accessed via certain criteria - items, classes, being born under a special sign...and while UMD may be used to circumvent this, it's not an easy task and remains rather flavorful. Specialized ley lines enhance certain schools or subschools, increasing the CL.

Sylvan ley lines make magic harder to resist for animals and plants, while wild ley lines have their caster level modified by 1d4-2, potentially wasting spells...oh, and for fans of the phenomenal Microsized Handbook will love microsizing ley lines - which may affect some, all...or only specific beings in their vicinity...

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are generally very good (with the typo-exception mentioned) on both a formal and a rules-language level. Layout adheres to Everyman Gaming's nice 2-column standard, is printer-friendly, and I appreciate the full-color artwork for the supplement. The pdf comes without bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

I like Matt Morris' expansion of ley lines as a system, I really do - but at the same time, to me, it feels pretty basic. Yes, I know. It's a niche offering. But I couldn't help but feel like the ley line engine offers more. I expected a bit weirder material and while this brings ley lines as a system up to the level that I wanted from the base engine, it does not go beyond that. If you're like me, you have probably seen a bunch of ley line engines at this point and I am glad that Everyman gaming released this and expanded Occult Adventure's take on the concept. At the same time, I do feel like another page or two with stranger qualities would have helped this pdf.

That being said, if you're like me and were left wanting more from Occult Adventure's ley line-engine, then consider this a must-own offering. This is good, well-made and fun - and as such, deserves a final verdict of 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Everyman Minis: Leyline Qualities
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Cultures of Celmae: Oyapok
Publisher: Wayward Rogues Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/05/2017 05:37:06

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Cultures of Celmae-series clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let's take a look!

So, what are the oyapok? They, as a race, are relative newcomers to the world of Celmae, a marsupial humanoid species that hails from the swamps and only rather recently has made their way to interacting with the other folk of the world. While their first sojourn towards integration was thwarted by a rather nasty dragon named Dessuterrix, they are industrious and pretty optimistic folk with a generally positive outlook on life. The race comes with proper age, height and weight information, though it is not presented in the standardized table format - still, as far as I'm concerned, that's just cosmetic.

The race, as should be no surprise, values family and employs a nomenclature derived from French, with "mamere" and "papere" being titles, thus, in general, evoking a resonance with the tropes of e.g. Cajun culture that extends to cooking habits. Animism ad the importance of respecting one's environment and a generally good outlook on life conspire to make their fully depicted deity, The traveler, a nice fit for the race, even though the deity's symbol is dangerously close to that of a particular Faerûnian deity...

Nomenclature etc. is provided and racial stat-wise, they are Small humanoids that gain +2 Dex and Wis, -2 Str, have a slow speed (not properly bolded) and gain +4 to AC versus reptilian threats. They gain halfling luck (which should have been renamed "Oyapok luck", +2 to Survival, +1 to attacks versus giants and reptilian foes, low-light vision and both Hold Breath and a massive swim speed of 50 feet as well as a prehensile tail. The race, generally, ranks as one of the stronger races and, depending on the campaign, can be rather potent or on par with the core races - this hinges foremost on how much aquatic environments will feature in the campaign.

The race comes with favored class options for alchemist, bard, brawler, cleric, druid, fighter, hunter, oracle, ranger, rogue, shaman, sorceror, summoner, swashbuckler and witch. The favored class options generally are well-made and provide no balance-concerns.

The pdf also sports two racial archetypes, the first of which would be the traiteur cleric, who replaces domains with river's blessings - which is unique: It makes touch spells behave as though they have a range of 5 ft. per class level, but this range is predicated on traiteur and target being within the same body of water. While the wording for ranged touch spells is a bit wonky, it still functions. Touch spells thus cast gain +2 CL for the purpose of overcoming SR. This is VERY powerful, but situationally so - and it kills off one of THE most defining cleric abilities. Traiteurs also learn to scoop up water, imbuing it with positive energy, and pouring it over wounds. This has a range of 10 ft. and heals 1d8, +1d8 for every 2 levels thereafter. Starting at 7th level, you may replace one of these healing die to remove a negative level and at 15th level, as a full-round action, you can submerge a creature completely under water, maximizing the healing effect. This can be used 3 + Charisma modifier times per day and channel energy modifications may affect this. Speaking of which: It is pretty evident that this is supposed to replace channel energy, which it does not explicitly state. Otherwise, it should probably be a variant channeling effect and draw on the same resource.

The second archetype herein would be the foudre warpriest, who replaces aura with a whopping +3 CL for determining spell duration when summoning elementals. The blessings class feature is replaced with lacerations of the elements: At first level, choose one of the standard 4 energy types. As a standard action, a single creature in a 30 ft. radius takes sacred weapon damage + Charisma bonus damage of the chosen energy. To nitpick: energy=/= element and attributes are capitalized, as are saves: With a scaling Will-save, this may be negated. Fervor can be used in conjunction here. Starting at 7th level, replacing sacred armor, the foudre gains elemental wisps, granting SR equal to 10 + 1/2 class level, rounded down. As an immediate action, expend a fervor when attacking to hit as though using a sacred weapon.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are decent, certainly better than in most Wayward Rogues Publishing books - while some rules-language should be clearer and while some cosmetic formatting glitches can be found, the material is generally functional. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard and is pretty nice, with nice, comic-style artwork for the oyapok. The pdf, annoyingly, is not properly bookmarked. Worse, the pdf does NOT allow for the copying and highlighting of text, which means you'll have a sucky time when extracting text from this pdf.

Simon Peter Munoz and Jarett Sigler (quoted as Jerret Sigler in the editorial) provide a nice, inexpensive culture-file. The oyapok are an interesting race that should fit well within most settings and contexts. While the archetypes have a couple of rough edges regarding the rules-language and would have needed some capable dev to make them work properly, the prose and flavor make this potentially worthwhile if the cultural tidbits are what you're looking for.

If you're looking for mechanics, I suggest going elsewhere; however, if flavor and concept are what you're looking for, then this may provide some enjoyment for you. My final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, and I'd usually round up due to in dubio pro reo, also because I really wanted this to be a win for Wayward Rogues Publishing, but compared to other files and the harsh standards I apply to comparable files, that would frankly be unfair. Hence, I have to round down, though, if you're looking primarily for flavor, this is well worth checking out.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Cultures of Celmae: Oyapok
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Feats of Legend: 20 Story Feats
Publisher: Total Party Kill Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/02/2017 05:57:46

An Endzeitgeist.com

This installment of TPK Games' Feats of Legend-series clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us witrh 8 pages of content, so let's take a look!

Okay, so this time around, we need to be a bit more precise - in case you missed the great Ultimate Campaign-book, here's the gist: Story feats provide a benefit upon taking them, but also have a task - as such, taking them should be considered to be a joint-venture, something to discuss with the GM in question. Upon completing their task, they yield another bonus, providing a means of narrative scaling of abilities. It should come as no surprise that I am very much a proponent of this type of design, so yes, I do like the concept. It should also be noted that quite a few of them hinge upon defeating "challenging foes" - this is concisely defined in the pdf, thankfully allowing for the avoidance of book-skipping.

Okay, so that would be the basics...what about the feats? Well, Absent Parent nets you a heritage item that you need to use to defeat a challenging foe - if you do, you receive bonuses to social interactions with good folks and may reroll a roll 1/day. Demon Slayer is per se cool: It first just nets you a few numerical escalations, but upon completion, it provides uncanny dodge versus demons and an inability to become flat-footed via demons. That being said, completion is cheap - kill 20 HDs worth of demons or 5 times character level, whichever is greater. A dretch is CR 2 and can be summoned, so if you have some time on your hand, you can just slay the required number in safe confines. Sure, that's cheesy, but RAW, it's a valid way to fulfill the requirements. A simple diversity clause would have helped here.

Black God's Bloodletter is intriguing in concept: Capture a challenging good creature, sacrifice it to your dark god and then gain DR 10/good and magic and fast healing 5 whenever you slay a good creature, for the creature's HD in minutes....and infinite healing, highly cheesable. URGH. Next. Bring 'Em Back Alive...is pretty amazing! It begins as a lame skill-bonus feat, but upon completion, you gain Knockout Blow with any melee weapon if you deal nonlethal damage. Pretty damn cool! Big kudos!

Dragon Devourer makes it your goal to eat a dragon's heart...if you do, you gain DR 10/magic and energy resistance 10 against the associated energy. I'd complain here, but since encountering dragons is pretty much under GM-control anyways, I'm good with this. Extraplanar Escape is amazing - it requires that you escape via planar means from a prison and if you do, you gain an SP (plane shift, in the case of non-spell-based planar escapes) that you can cast 1/day...but only as a 1-hour ritual, which makes cheesing this impossible. Two thumbs up!

Headsman: Increases slashing damage with two-handed slashing weapons by crit-multiplier, but only against flat-footed or helpless targets; after having coup-de-grace'd enough creatures (based on HD/level - cheesable, in theory), you auto-confirm critical threats with such weapons against flat-footed or helpless opponents...which is very potent, yes, but also rather situational.

Incorruptible is really cool: Acquire a corruption, get rid of it in a strenuous process (determined by GM etc.) and then, become immune to further corruptions. See, this one is potent, yes, but it also helps tell a redemption-story and codifies its benefits. Inured to Necromancy requires withstanding an undead's fear aura and helping defeat it, but yields rerolls versus fear effects upon completion. Kingpin is epic - automatically know where/if there's a black market, rise within a black market...and gain basically a replenishing minor pool of gold that can be used each week to cover a variety of costs and tasks...really cool! License to Kill would be the James Bond feat and requires membership in an organization. It first yields only paltry skill-bonuses, but after finishing two challenging targets at the organization's behalf, you get the ninja's assassinate trick. Problem here: This trick is a master trick and there's a reason for that - the feat's prerequisites imho should reflect that, though, obviously, the GM does have control here.

Lost Love requires that you resurrect your lost love from the dead, netting you 1/day breath of life as an SP upon completion. Master Linguist is something rather cool - you need to learn 3 dead languages, but upon completion, you can potentially write ALL of them, with the caveat that the GM may still require Linguistics-checks. I know that quite a few folks may shrug here, but in my campaigns, this would be very potent indeed, so yeah - kudos! Redeemer focuses on, surprise, redeeming an evil foe - once you complete it, you'll have 1/day atonement as an SP, which makes sense for the really good characters. Restored Nobility continues the theme of a disgraced house from various backgrounds - upon bringing your standing back to the proper level, you gain the vigilante's renown, with interactions between talents properly codified...kudos!! Scion of Prophecy requires that you complete your prophecy, and when you do, you become seriously resilient to charms and compulsions, with a +5 bonus a daily reroll.

Sea Slain takes a cue from the Iron Isles and nets you a vision upon being drowned - once you have fulfilled the vision, you become amphibious and gain a swim speed! Yeah, this can be used in mystic of mythos contexts equally well. Betrayer has two options - after committing an act of betrayal versus an ally, you can elect to redeem or escalate this behavior, with potent benefits either way - unrepentant betrayers, for example, are treated as neutral...

Trollslayer is somewhat problematic, in that its completion benefit can suppress any form of regeneration or fast healing temporarily upon hitting a target, which is a bit much in my book. Finally, Wicked Lorekeeper is not what you'd think it is - whether due to an obsession or due to wanting to safeguard the dangerous knowledge, you become adept at finding evil and completion nets a bardic knowledge variant for the purpose of determining evil outsiders and the like.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good - I noticed no serious hiccups in either formal or rules-language. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard with a parchment-style background and the pdf sports a few solid full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience with nested bookmarks.

Neal Litherland's story feats are actually really well made - they are generic enough to allow for wildly diverging storytelling, their completion is for the most part in the GM's hands (which provides a balancing option) and even in the cases where cheesing them is possible, it is more of a rules-aesthetic issue and not one that will actually show up. Now getting a master trick potentially long before you'd usually get it can be an issue, but once again, it is one that lies within the purview of the GM, who has, via the tasks required, full control. There are a few options like this or Trollslayer that go one step too far as far as I'm concerned, but as a whole, this is a feat-supplement well worth getting! In fact, it is my favorite installment in the whole series - refined, well-made and the feats manage to blend challenge, GM-control and narrative aspects well, while still providing ample motivation to get them.

In short, this is a really good pdf and after approximately the 10 gazillion feats I've seen, that bespeaks quality. While not 100% perfect, this should be considered to be a great addition to the game - and as such, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform.

Well done!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Feats of Legend: 20 Story Feats
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5E Mini-Dungeon #017: Shadows of Madness
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/02/2017 05:54:12

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM. Oh, and the series now comes in an archive that also contains...drumroll a .jpg-version and a .tif-version of the map! Yeah, that's pretty amazing! The dungeon's number-less version of the map doesn't sport any deceptive trap icons or traps - kudos, though the place where the secret doors are can still be gleaned by proximity...but if you conceal that part, it works well. In short: Full, proper VTT-support and help for guys like yours truly that can't draw maps.

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

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

...

..

.

Still here?

All right!

Wizards strive as wizards are wont to do, for knowledge - and much like dwarves digging too deep, they are prone to being destroyed by this thirst for knowledge. Exactly that has, alas, happened to a wizard names Tibor - and now the PCs have found a stair amid the rubble of his former tower.

In this small dungeon, the PCs will fight undead foes and ultimately, save a woman -who was kidnapped by ogres to facilitate the planned retribution of said aforementioned wizard . This guy, now, driven mad by gibbering mouthers, constitutes the boss of this dungeon.

Loot-wise, there is a mirror of life-trapping to be found here, and skill-wise, you'll find the usual: Doors to break down or crack...and no social interaction, which highlights a weakness of this module

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches apart from the hyperlinks - there are quite a few that don't work, which is a bit annoying. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes sans bookmarks, but needs none at this length. Cartography is full color and surprisingly good for such an inexpensive pdf. The pdf does sport one nice piece of original full-color art - which I'd applaud, were it not for the fact that it depicts a bugbear, which was present in the PFRPG-version...but doesn't show up in the 5E-iteration. The cartography, with player and GM-VTT-maps, is nice.

Michael Smith delivered a nice mini-dungeon in its original iteration. Alas, Kyle Crider has done better conversions in the past. You see, this mini-dungeon, in the original, was pretty much defined by its strong shadow-leitmotif, with templated foes, rare enemies and a medium to save - all of this has been lost in translation, when a couple of minor modifications could have retained that feeling. In short, this leaves the mini-dungeon very much bereft of its soul and renders it much more generic in its 5E-iteration. The damsel to save, relevant in the original, is relegated to commoner status and once again, there is no social skill component here. While not bad per se, this is also a long shot from what I'd consider great. My final verdict will clock in at 2.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
5E Mini-Dungeon #017: Shadows of Madness
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VirtualFront
Publisher: R. Talsorian Games Inc.
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/01/2017 08:26:59

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This expansion book for the classic Cybergeneration-game clocks in at 90 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 86 pages of content, so let's take a look!

This review was commissioned by my patreons as a prioritized review.

Ah, the virtual world, as seen through the delightfully (at least from nowadays) retro-perspective of the 80s and early 90s, through the dystopian lens of Cybergeneration - we have an interesting sourcebook on our hands here, one that wastes no time and immediately situates us within the meta-narrative of the setting, explaining the legal situation and how the ISA have managed to basically abolish privacy...with the benefit of nowadays hindsight, the means by which this happened rings as delightfully top-down; as per the zeitgeist of the time of publication, it is obvious that a smart populace was considered to be the standard, not one that gleefully throws data out there...but I digress. If you need a good indicator of why I almost consider this cute, take the following sentence: "Even your cell phones are no longer considered private." If you know anything about cell phone-location, how whatsapp etc. operate...then this will get a wry chuckle out of you.

While netspace may have sounded dystopian back then, the whole section on it and how Joe ISA uses virtual shopping and the Net almost rings cute today, with chat areas and flap rooms providing forums where a degree of free speech is still maintained. Considering the existence of the darknet, this, once again, presents a delightfully retro and...positive take on the net. On a rules-level, we have a nice sidebar called "The Online Generation", which elaborates on things you can do on the web - and online encyclopedias and the like will bring quite probably a smile to the faces of most folks. Think, people - not too long ago, these types of things had to be EXPLAINED. General allowances of software and difficulties for such tasks are btw. included here.

There are aspects where the erstwhile conceptions of the future have yet to be surpassed by reality, though: The extremely immersive and potentially addictive V-sims and virtuality aspects of the sourcebook fall into this category and retain the "not yet fully realized"-status as per the writing of this review. That being said, considering that we already have people that played until they died, the potential warnings here do ring a bit like a dire prophecy for the shape of the things to come.

Really interesting from a contemporary status - the intersection of virtual reality and reality, virtual illusions and the like will sooner or later become relevant for us, as augmented reality and the like become less scifi-like during the game. The book does contain concise rules for virtual camouflage and using gaussian fields to hamper the effects of virtual reality on real life.

It is also interesting to note that the book makes certain that you're aware that the Net, for most folks, is a fairy land of infinite options and convenience - while both ISA and yogangs etc. are keenly aware of its dangers - electronic barbed wire, AIM sysops, brainwashed CorpsSec-hacking kids and the like - the book paints a picture of the web as a zone of conflict that is globally relevant and actually less cold or covert than you'd think - after all, that is the consequence of the overlap of virtual reality and real life.

Of course, considering the extensive depictions of angles, threats, etc., it should also be noted that we require some resources to navigate the virtual space. Basic rules for establishing flap rooms (safe home-bases, basically) are included, but I frankly wished this section had allowed for a bit more base building - RAW, the rules provided here are pretty rudimentary. On the plus-side, from NetBoxes to unabridged corporate encyclopedias and databases, the pdf does highlight several important resources with varying degrees of risk attached to them. A summary of Eden Cabal personalities also is nice...and the book's irreverent tone is glorious here. The chapter lists: "Netwatch. Just kidding." and then elaborates why it's a good idea to use them...

TSAIs (Transcendental Sentience AIs) are also elaborated, before a variety of different power players and net groups are depicted. Now, this is a "-Front"-book in the series and as such, it does also list the respective actions the yogangers may want to undertake, with sample allies and adversaries noted: T-squaring, Paranoia Painting, Leeching, Reality Checks...and after that, an extended Q&A-section, once again, a nice read, makes for a cool elaboration of how all of this works for the purpose of your characters - obviously, with a focus on wizards. D'uh. (And yep, sample familiars included for your convenience!)

With all of these aspects, you'll realize that we also should gain some new V-tech and, indeed, including a two-page-spread window-dressing-style artwork showcasing items, the section provides several cool tools. The first new yogang presented within the tome would be the v-punks, whose yogang skill would be Private Idaho, which allows for the creation of things - from floor to creatures...which can be EXTREMELY potent in the hands of a creative player. The second new yogang would be the Networker, basically the information-gatherers and spies of the online-world, whose datahound yogang skill is all about extremely effective online research...and in contrast, while powerful, I do believe that some slightly more precise information on what exactly you can find out would have helped getting a clue on the general potency of the skill here...but that may just be me.

That section out of the way, we begin with the extensive section on GMing successfully adventures that feature a sufficient amount of virtual components - including electronic handwriting. Legendary Rache Bartmoss is also depicted here...as are his RABIDs...which have had a rather...ähem...let's say, colorful background. Beyond that, Lt. Marcus Taylor, ISCTF field programmer complements this section.

And this is as far as I can go without diving into deep SPOILER territory - from here on out, we'll look at the adventure herein, Operation Upgrade. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

...

..

.

All right, only GMs around?

Great! So, the adventure begins with the group's wizard being contacted by a mysterious mental call, which proves to be an AI called Scoop (communicating in pseudo-binary - much to my chagrin, no correct correlation of letters here to the 1s and zeroes here)...and it soon becomes evident that the AIs are inhabiting a world of their own within the net...and the trail leads, via relatively creepy and urgent timeframes to an arcade (hopefully past some distraction) and meet up with a committee of AIs that tease about knowledge regarding the origins of the Carbon Plague...and they need the PCs - they want them to enter a facility of the ISA, where 601 awaits -an evolved AI that is scheduled for deletion within 24 hours. Double-checking the task of the AIs...well, doesn't really yield helpful assistance, so it looks like the kids are on their own...or at least, they'll have no cavalry.

However, this is where e.g. the networkers come in: Leg-work is smart and the pdf actually provides a full employee-roster for the complex, requisition forms and the like; pretty impressive attention to detail! From Vidiots (introduced in MediaFront, review forthcoming!) to V-punks, the other relevant gangs are also covered, but ultimately, time is not on the side of the characters - they have to infiltrate site 601: Getting past security can be accomplished with a variety of means, though it is pretty obvious, by which route the adventure assumes the PCs to enter is pretty evident. The facility itself is fully mapped, which is rather nice, but the maps do not sport a scale, which can render descriptions a bit more opaque than they should be. That being said, since the primary mans of infiltration assumes the use of cleaning drones as hide-away spots, it is interesting to note that the pdf specifies which drone cleans what area - once again, intriguing detail!

While the AI seems to be slightly creepy, ultimately the PCs should be able to get it outside...and as thanks, the AI installs a kind of program into their brains that allows for quasi-telepathic communication...and prevents them from leaving the immediate vicinity! It claims the carbon plague was generated via computers and has, at this point, basically enslaved the PCs! While scanners receive a new ability from this ordeal, the PCs are in a big bind - as 601 forces them, time and again, into dangerous situations, its evolved AI-human-interface making the AI prone to emotional outbursts mirroring the PCs...and its operation upgrade's tasks are completed one by one...so in order to stop the AI, the yogangers will need help, smarts and some serious backbone...otherwise, the dread operations will complete...but if they do prevail, they'll have made some seriously neat AI allies...just hope that 601's done for good...

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no undue accumulation of glitches or the like, Layout adheres to the nice 2-column b/w-standard of the series and the book features quite a lot nice b/w-artworks. Cartography is functional, but the lack of scales on them may be considered to be annoying. We don't get player-friendly maps, which is a bummer. The scan itself is generally nice, though the pages are slightly slanted. On a few pages in the upper right corner, the text could be a bit cleaner. Huge No-go: The pdf has no bookmarks, which constitutes a serious comfort-detriment.

Edward Bolme's VirtualFront is per se an intriguing and well-wrought sourcebook, though one that has aged a bit in some aspects. That being said, the retro-charm fits Cybergeneration really well - we have a somewhat more naive and friendly conception of virtual reality, though one that is not bereft of knowledge of the more problematic aspects. The supplemental material is well-made and the setting-information's prose is superb. The new gangs have very different power-levels and appeals, at least for me - the networkers just feel dry to me, more like an NPC-organization than a PC-option, but that may be me.

In contrast to EcoFront's module, the adventure herein may lack the epic final scene and feel more mundane, but at the same time, it is, at least to me, the better of the two: It is a fun and evocative ride and one that emphasizes throughout its course the importance of engaging in roleplaying with the AI - this module can only be beaten by smarts and roleplaying...and I really enjoyed this aspect. The module features a great antagonist and has plenty of follow-up potential. All in all, I really enjoyed this sourcebook...though the lack of bookmarks for the electronic version really sucks - if you can, get print instead. In the end, my final verdict for the pdf, the only version I own, can only clock in at 4 stars - while a lot of this book's content is still phenomenal, the aged components and the lack of bookmarks do not leave me the choice of rating this higher. Still, I'd love to see a new VirtualFront, updated and expanded!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
VirtualFront
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Moar Goblins (A Mini Bestiary) (5e)
Publisher: Dire Rugrat Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/01/2017 08:24:52

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This mini-bestiary clocks in at 18 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 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.

All right, first things first: The layout of this pdf has been streamlined and adheres to a two-column standard with color artworks, so that's the first thing I did not necessarily expect. Secondly, we begin this pdf with a nice recap of the term goblin and the various things it meant over the course of the centuries and in various cultures - for that's what this pdf basically does: It expands the concept of "goblin" and looks at different incarnations of the concept. Sounds intriguing, right?

Well, the interesting part here beyond the theme would be that the respective creatures all come with different and rather detailed notes on their background, nature and behavior - beyond what you would usually see in a 5e-bestiary, so that added flavor is something I personally welcome. The classic grindylow, for example, has adapted to water and may function for brief periods on land, but also is much harder to kill in water and is particularly adept at breaking wooden objects in water. Personally, I think it would have made sense to interact with the damage threshold mechanic here and the resistance to all mundane damage types while in water is potent for a challenge 1/2 creature (Why are magic attacks not exempt?), but these are aesthetic quibbles. Interesting: We get harpoons as weapons, with the mariner property introduced, which allows for non-penalized underwater attacks.

At challenge 1, the gudro bonga is unique and a piece of folklore I wasn't familiar with - basically, these goblinoids are worshiped as somewhat divine in subtropical climes; they can disguise themselves as children and may pilfer items at short-range, even potentially stealing items fasted down due to their unique talent of temporarily making objects incorporeal. Pretty cool! Notes on a sample settlement of multiple of these tricksters can also be found here.

Speaking of obscure: The Kallikantzaros from Anatolian folklore should rank as one of the lesser known creatures: Vicious, gray-skinned and trapped on the plane of shadows, legend has it that these vile beings are seeking to destroy the world tree. Creepy, ritualistic inclusion in their doomed ranks makes for a fantastic adventure hook, with the means to prevent being found resonating with mythology. Challenge-wise, these guys btw. clock in at 5 and they can sense victims born during winter solstice...but they may be tricked: making them say "triple" or "three" sends them back to their horrid prison! Amazing!!

Nacht kabouter are chaotic creatures with, stat-wise, a sexual dimorphism - both males and females can stretch and squeeze through small holes, both wear red caps (no, not the blood-drenched ones) that can make them invisible (greater invisibility) and both risk turning to stone when subjected to sunlight, but females (at challenge 1 versus the male's challenge 1/2) can cause nightmares. Anyway, as an aside, in Germany, there is the beloved child-icon Pumuckl, a cartoon/live-action crossover kabouter who is living with an old, kind carpenter called Meister Eder...so if you're looking for a nice way to learn German, that may be worth checking out.

The pukwudgies would be up next and come with both a regular challenge 1 statblock and a challenge 4 shaman version. These goblinoids once sought understanding, but cultural misunderstandings and similar issues have not been kind to them, which led towards a shift towards more mischievous behavior. These folks can assume a porcupine-shape and burn with their touch. Touching these prickly fellows is also generally not the best of ideas...Shamans gain the ability to use a reaction to emit a spray of porcupine-like quills to debuff nearby foes.

Decidedly evil would be the final critter herein, the tokoloshe, Tiny humanoids that clock in at challenge 2: Snatchers of children that ostensibly can hear others wishing harm upon their fellow creatures. With snares (sample trap provided), notes on how to call them and a binding obligation to heed their summoner, these vile child snatcher that can render themselves invisible make for a dark angle of the fairy-tale creature...

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant issues. Layout adheres to a relatively printer-friendly two-column full-color standard and each creature herein receives its own full-color artwork, which is nice for such an inexpensive pdf. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Kelly & Ken Pawlik have created a nice mini-bestiary worth checking out here: Beyond the basic builds, which all have at least one intriguing feature, it is undoubtedly the copious flavor and inspiring supplemental text that makes this pdf come into its own; it s also a big, big plus that this does not simply regurgitate the same tired creatures we have seen over x editions and instead opts to go for the uncommon and novel, drinking deep from the wellspring of more obscure myths and legends. In short: Totally worth the low asking price! An inspired mini-bestiary worth getting, full of evocative, nice ideas - only the classic grindylow feels like it falls a bit flat of its promise. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Moar Goblins (A Mini Bestiary) (5e)
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Difficult Circumstances: A Prologue adventure for What Lies Beyond Reason - Pathfinder
Publisher: Pyromaniac Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/01/2017 08:22:42

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The prologue-adventure for the "What Lies Beyond Reason"-AP clocks in at 65 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page KS-credits, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a hefty 59 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?

This was moved up in my review-queue due to me receiving a print copy in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

The first thing to note here would be that, generally, this module works well enough as a stand-alone offering, so if you don't want to run the whole saga, that is very much a possibility. A total of 5 sample pregens with brief notes on personality etc. are included in the deal, which is pretty nice, though scaling advice for higher or lower point-buy versions would have been nice to see for them.

Another thing one should be aware of would be the tone, for while this module is still very much a rather gritty endeavor, the campaign itself becomes a very much high fantasy saga, though one with mature themes. I will discuss what exactly that means in my forthcoming review of the campaign guide, but for now, just be aware that this module's theme could fit rather well in pretty much any fantastic context.

A thoroughly impressive component of this module, being a freshman offering for Pyromaniac Press, would be the cartography - we get full-color maps, with player-friendly for all encounters, with key-less versions provided as high-res jpgs in an attached archive, making this fully VTT-compatible. Since the main adventure site features a pronounced aspect of verticality, we even get a cross-view section of the main site's map - and a player-friendly version of that one as well. In the formal criteria, this is most definitely impressive - something further emphasized by the fact that this sports A TON of original artwork - pregen-portraits, important (and unimportant!) NPCs, wondrous caverns...this is impressively heavy on the full-color artwork, so if you and yours tend to enjoy modules supported by plenty of visuals, this delivers in that respect, impressively so.

The module also provides ample commentary in sidebars, which can help troubleshooting or just make the module run smoother and provide a glimpse behind the curtain. Finally, I should not be remiss to mention that, particularly GMs who have a hard time with read-aloud text and description-improvising, will get quite a bit out of this one - it sports impressive amounts of read-aloud text, some of which may be a bit overkill for players keen to act...but that's a catch 22-scenario. With the exception of the setting-the-stage-monologue, player actions or feelings are not prescribed by the text. (And here, the disgust exhibited by the PCs is very much justified...but more on that below.)

I mentioned a bunch of NPCs and there is a reason for that...but the most challenging aspect in this module would be that the GM has to juggle quite a few of these folks. Interestingly, while some have more levels than the PCs, they are built in a way that will not hog the spotlight from the PCs - big kudos avoiding the GM-NPC-syndrome there. The print copy is btw. a bit darker in tone than the pdf - which of the two you prefer is a matter of taste, but personally, I preferred the print copy's grimier, darker look.

In short: From a formal perspective, this looks rather interesting, so let's take a look at whether the module itself holds up, shall we? From here on out, the review will contain a ton of SPOILERS. Only potential GMs of this saga should continue reading.

...

..

.

All right, so we begin during a horrible storm, at night, in a rickety, thoroughly unpleasant tavern in the middle of frickin' nowhere. One of the places that just smell bad, that are bad news, you know, the kind you only get stuck in due to the horrible weather and lack of options. All NPCs and their stats are included in the NPC gallery in the book, just fyi: We have Bob, a thoroughly unpleasant and downright nasty old man of an innkeeper, Melissa, the gorgeous barmaid, Duran the merchant, James his apprentice, Lucious Thannillar the bard, Rufus and Faldor, mercenary brothers with a bad attitude, Thorgrim Shatterstone, the dwarven cleric, Barrat the gambler and Theric, the ranger. The PCs will have ample opportunity to interact with and seize up these folks and the GM retains a surprising degree of control over how much of the module pans out due to this cast of characters: Barrat, for example, seems to be cheating at cards, but strangely doesn't seem to empty the coffers of his victims...and there is a reason for that, but one the PCs may or may not find out during the course of the adventure.

As the storm rages on outside, the PCs awaken to some shenanigans, yes, but the module itself begins once the creaking starts...and a part of the tavern, with NPCs and PCs inside, tumbles through the floor into the cavern below, clogging the exit with rubble, unceremoniously dumping the PCs in a cavern complex that retains a surprising sense of authenticity - it is evident that the author has taken the timeless advice of consulting the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide...or has at least done his research regarding spelunking. The astute reader will notice that such a fall would usually kill PCs, but the rules-justifications for not doing so actually rang sensible to me...and if you're a sadistic prick GM like yours truly, that is a great chance to start bleeding their cleric NPC's resources dry...

It should be noted that NPC interaction is appropriately detailed for the GM...and one can quickly surmise that the danger-level and DCs required generally is pretty low. This has a reason: The anti-optimized and rather...let's say "colorful" NPCs that are caught with the PCs can provide the edge required to triumph, yes...but they also can be a liability if not handled properly. You tell the dwarf to get rid of his armor...

The exploration of the cavern-complex should lead players to an interesting cavern illuminated by quartz-like structures where a black ring-like thing with strange runes, obviously magical, can be found. While negligible in relevance for the plot of the overall AP, this is the linchpin that holds the module together - the ring beckons and behaves very much like a well-known example of its kind. If the PCs want to get rid of it and let someone else do the heavy lifting of this burden, the module becomes a bit problematic. That's another reason you need those NPCs - to talk some sense into the PCs or to try to take the ring. It is, in short, the weakest aspect of the story and the one thing you need to make your players accept. Oh, have I mentioned that this ring actually made one NPC immortal? Calls to him? And resurrects him after days of grueling torment in the netherworld? Yeah, if you have read the module, you should find one angle or another to appeal to even the most mercenary of PCs

But before the ring becomes a true problem, the matter of escape needs to be handled and it is less simple than it should be due to the NPCs. While the DCs are low for PFRPG, getting all NPCs out alive will not be simple, considering that some serious climbing and traversing of difficult terrain awaits beyond e.g. mud oozes. If you're using this within the context of the campaign, it'll be worth it, for boons beckon...as do the options to make enemies of the NPCs. There is quite a bit of interesting foreshadowing going on here, as the PCs make their way to the surface.

As a minor complaint, on a formal level, e.g. the "Dungeoneering" skill is mentioned, which should be codified as a proper subset of Knowledge, but that, as a whole, makes up the extent of what I'd consider problematic on a formal level. Once the PCs have escaped the tunnels, they will reunite with missing folks (or their remains) and have but one logical choice - start heading towards the Eternal City, main site of the AP and massive metropolis. Whether or not and how many NPCs accompany the PCs ultimately depends on their interactions and the GM, though the immortal does head in a different direction...only to be sent to a temporary grave by a missing man.

The journey towards the legendary Eternal City is fraught with peril and several scripted encounters that employ horror-themed, classic foreshadowing and doom...and it highlights a crucial monster in the AP, so-called psychic motes that are annoying on their own, downright lethal in swarms...and it is during these mapped encounters that the visions and nightmares begin taking their toll, imposing stacking negative conditions on the PCs, while everyone grows ever more paranoid. Personally, I was a bit annoyed by the lack of a concrete traveling distance: Considering PFRPG's overland movement rules, just fixing the journey at 6 days made no sense to me and is a structural weakness. The same can be said on a narrative level by an enforced kidnapping and lavishly illustrated horrific scene, where an NPC (per default the barmaid) is strung up like a scarecrow, "Bring it Back" etched in her flesh. Considering that you want to instill the need for the PCs to bring the ring to the city, the unpreventable kidnapping and contradictory message thus sent seems not like the wisest decision and needs careful GM-handling - once again, the hopefully sympathetic NPCs can help here.

That being said, the PCs will sooner or later arrive at the Eternal City, namely at the vast tent-slum before it, dubbed "Pilgrimage" - and they will soon find folks with improvised weapons and murder in their eyes haunting their step, as they reach the city gates...where they will have to wait, where they'll be ambushed by the insane tracker that wants the ring (who doubles as the final boss) and where they will meet both the arrogant captain of the city's Seekers (more on that organization in the campaign guide review) and the helpful alchemist Damien - who presents the reliable means and candidates of whom to entrust the dangerous ring for safe-keeping...it turns out that these relics are not unknown here...

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are impressive for a first module, but can use a bit of work - I noticed, particularly regarding hyphens and the like a couple of hiccups. While there are a few hiccups in the rules here and there and while I'm not the biggest fan of the number of attribute-checks (some Dexterity and Strength checks in the waterfall cavern, for example, should imho be Acrobatics/Climb), this generally is a solid module in these regards. Layout adheres to an impressive two-column full-color standard and the number of artworks within in impressive indeed, particularly considering their unified style and sheer number. This is, in short, a beautiful module. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and comes with a second, more printer-friendly version. The cartography is top-notch and particularly the inclusion of player-friendly maps warrants applause. The print copy is most certainly worth owning in the bundle with the pdf - the pdf is added for free to it, so yeah, I'd go with that one.

Micah Watt's first module is quite a gamble: It is a very narrative module that hinges on the GM juggling several NPCs, on social interaction, on players behaving in a certain way...and the module makes some risky gambles that look like they can push the PCs of the railroad. In short, it is not the easiest module to run, but when it works, it does so in a rather rewarding manner. While the plentiful read-aloud text makes this task manageable for even novice GMs, it still is a module that does require being capable of making NPCs likeable. So, form a structural point of view, I am not that impressed. The premise doesn't sound like too much either...BUT. The prose is actually really good. While there are a couple of hyphen-glitches and affect/effect-style hiccups, the writing itself manages to convey a surprisingly dense atmosphere that begins with grit and slowly builds up unease: Particularly what should look like a doomed hustle to the final destination would be a visual representation I haven't seen done well in a rather long while. There is also a handout-page, where short, unsettling descriptions can be printed out and then given to a player, helping immersion further - kudos for that!

In short: This is a module worth getting. It is not perfect and doesn't reinvent the wheel and it is a rather thinly-veiled railroad, but as far as spelunking, interaction and atmosphere go, you can do much, much worse than this! Much of the draw of this comes, ultimately, from the NPC-interaction. Oh, and, minor SPOILER: It's worth getting, in particular for the things to come, for the things set up here...but we'll talk about that in another review!

The verdict, right...so, honestly, I really love the map-support, the art-density and the atmosphere this creates, but the structural issues and cinematic conveniences stick out a bit, particularly due to the rather linear structure - the first adventure in the city handled that better, but we'll talk about that in that one's review. As a whole, this is a nice prologue for a fair price with very good production values and I have to take the freshman bonus into account - hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, though I can't round up for it. If you're interested in the AP, this is very much a must-have, though!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Difficult Circumstances: A Prologue adventure for What Lies Beyond Reason - Pathfinder
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Difficult Circumstances: A Prologue adventure for What Lies Beyond Reason - 5th Edition
Publisher: Pyromaniac Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/01/2017 08:17:55

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The prologue-adventure for the "What Lies Beyond Reason"-AP clocks in at 64 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page KS-credits, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a hefty 58 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?

This was moved up in my review-queue due to me receiving a print copy in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

The first thing to note here would be that, generally, this module works well enough as a stand-alone offering, so if you don't want to run the whole saga, that is very much a possibility. A total of 5 sample pregens with brief notes on personality etc. are included in the deal, which is pretty nice, though I do have to complain on a formal level about stat-block formatting - several features that should be italicized are not. This is a mostly aesthetic gripe, obviously, but it should be kept in mind, as it extends to NPCs and monsters herein - speaking of the latter: The statblock of e.g. a dwarf lacks the notes on armor in brackets.

Another thing one should be aware of would be the tone, for while this module is still very much a rather gritty endeavor, the campaign itself becomes a very much high fantasy saga, though one with mature themes. I will discuss what exactly that means in my forthcoming review of the campaign guide, but for now, just be aware that this module's theme could fit rather well in pretty much any fantastic context.

A thoroughly impressive component of this module, being a freshman offering for Pyromaniac Press, would be the cartography - we get full-color maps, with player-friendly for all encounters, with key-less versions provided as high-res jpgs in an attached archive, making this fully VTT-compatible. Since the main adventure site features a pronounced aspect of verticality, we even get a cross-view section of the main site's map - and a player-friendly version of that one as well. In the formal criteria, this is most definitely impressive - something further emphasized by the fact that this sports A TON of original artwork - pregen-portraits, important (and unimportant!) NPCs, wondrous caverns...this is impressively heavy on the full-color artwork, so if you and yours tend to enjoy modules supported by plenty of visuals, this delivers in that respect, impressively so.

The module also provides ample commentary in sidebars, which can help troubleshooting or just make the module run smoother and provide a glimpse behind the curtain. Finally, I should not be remiss to mention that, particularly GMs who have a hard time with read-aloud text and description-improvising, will get quite a bit out of this one - it sports impressive amounts of read-aloud text, some of which may be a bit overkill for players keen to act...but that's a catch 22-scenario. With the exception of the setting-the-stage-monologue, player actions or feelings are not prescribed by the text. (And here, the disgust exhibited by the PCs is very much justified...but more on that below.)

I mentioned a bunch of NPCs and there is a reason for that...but the most challenging aspect in this module would be that the GM has to juggle quite a few of these folks. Interestingly, while some have more levels than the PCs, they are built in a way that will not hog the spotlight from the PCs - big kudos avoiding the GM-NPC-syndrome there. The print copy is btw. a bit darker in tone than the pdf - which of the two you prefer is a matter of taste, but personally, I preferred the print copy's grimier, darker look.

In short: From a formal perspective, this looks rather interesting, so let's take a look at whether the module itself holds up, shall we? From here on out, the review will contain a ton of SPOILERS. Only potential GMs of this saga should continue reading.

...

..

.

All right, so we begin during a horrible storm, at night, in a rickety, thoroughly unpleasant tavern in the middle of frickin' nowhere. One of the places that just smell bad, that are bad news, you know, the kind you only get stuck in due to the horrible weather and lack of options. All NPCs and their stats are included in the NPC gallery in the book, just fyi: We have Bob, a thoroughly unpleasant and downright nasty old man of an innkeeper, Melissa, the gorgeous barmaid, Duran the merchant, James his apprentice, Lucious Thannillar the bard, Rufus and Faldor, mercenary brothers with a bad attitude, Thorgrim Shatterstone, the dwarven cleric, Barrat the gambler and Theric, the ranger. The PCs will have ample opportunity to interact with and seize up these folks and the GM retains a surprising degree of control over how much of the module pans out due to this cast of characters: Barrat, for example, seems to be cheating at cards, but strangely doesn't seem to empty the coffers of his victims...and there is a reason for that, but one the PCs may or may not find out during the course of the adventure.

As the storm rages on outside, the PCs awaken to some shenanigans, yes, but the module itself begins once the creaking starts...and a part of the tavern, with NPCs and PCs inside, tumbles through the floor into the cavern below, clogging the exit with rubble, unceremoniously dumping the PCs in a cavern complex that retains a surprising sense of authenticity - it is evident that the author has taken the timeless advice of consulting the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide...or has at least done his research regarding spelunking. The astute reader will notice that such a fall would usually kill PCs, but the rules-justifications for not doing so actually rang sensible to me...and if you're a sadistic prick GM like yours truly, that is a great chance to start bleeding their cleric NPC's resources dry...

It should be noted that NPC interaction is appropriately detailed for the GM...and one can quickly surmise that the danger-level and DCs required generally is pretty low - in the challenges posed, the 5E-version of the module, with rather low DCs, manages to capture the gritty feeling rather well. This has a reason: The anti-optimized and rather...let's say "colorful" NPCs that are caught with the PCs can provide the edge required to triumph, yes...but they also can be a liability if not handled properly. You tell the dwarf to get rid of his armor...

The exploration of the cavern-complex should lead players to an interesting cavern illuminated by quartz-like structures where a black ring-like thing with strange runes, obviously magical, can be found. While negligible in relevance for the plot of the overall AP, this is the lynchpin that holds the module together - the ring beckons and behaves very much like a well-known example of its kind. If the PCs want to get rid of it and let someone else do the heavy lifting of this burden, the module becomes a bit problematic. That's another reason you need those NPCs - to talk some sense into the PCs or to try to take the ring. It is, in short, the weakest aspect of the story and the one thing you need to make your players accept. Oh, have I mentioned that this ring actually made one NPC immortal? Calls to him? And resurrects him after days of grueling torment in the netherworld? Yeah, if you have read the module, you should find one angle or another to appeal to even the most mercenary of PCs

But before the ring becomes a true problem, the matter of escape needs to be handled and it is less simple than it should be due to the NPCs. While the DCs are appropriately low, getting all NPCs out alive will not be simple, considering that some serious climbing and traversing of difficult terrain awaits beyond e.g. mud oozes. If you're using this within the context of the campaign, it'll be worth it, for benefits beckon...as do the options to make enemies of the NPCs. There is quite a bit of interesting foreshadowing going on here, as the PCs make their way to the surface.

On a formal level, it should be noted that the adventure has a couple of instances where the skills have not been properly renamed - you'll find e.g. "Intimidate", "Bluff" and "Diplomacy" referenced here and there - not consistently, mind you, but the instances are there. Once the PCs have escaped the tunnels, they will reunite with missing folks (or their remains) and have but one logical choice - start heading towards the Eternal City, main site of the AP and massive metropolis. Whether or not and how many NPCs accompany the PCs ultimately depends on their interactions and the GM, though the immortal does head in a different direction...only to be sent to a temporary grave by a missing man.

The journey towards the legendary Eternal City is fraught with peril and several scripted encounters that employ horror-themed, classic foreshadowing and doom...and it highlights a crucial monster in the AP, so-called psychic motes that are annoying on their own, downright lethal in swarms (stats are provided and the pdf introduces the disoriented condition, which generally is an interesting addition)...and it is during these mapped encounters that the visions and nightmares begin taking their toll, imposing 3 exhaustion levels on the PCs, while everyone grows ever more paranoid and desperate - the effects are more pronounced in 5e than in PFRPG, which, for one, is something I applaud. Personally, I was a bit annoyed by the lack of a concrete travelling distance, but in 5e, that's less relevant than in PFRPG. I was also slightly taken aback on a narrative level by an enforced kidnapping and lavishly illustrated horrific scene, where an NPC (per default the barmaid) is strung up like a scarecrow, "Bring it Back" etched in her flesh. Considering that you want to instill the need for the PCs to bring the ring to the city, the unpreventable kidnapping and contradictory message thus sent seems not like the wisest decision and needs careful GM-handling - once again, the hopefully sympathetic NPCs can help here.

That being said, the PCs will sooner or later arrive at the Eternal City, namely at the vast tent-slum before it, dubbed "Pilgrimage" - and they will soon find folks with improvised weapons and murder in their eyes haunting their step, as they reach the city gates...where they will have to wait, where they'll be ambushed by the insane tracker that wants the ring (who doubles as the final boss) and where they will meet both the arrogant captain of the city's Seekers (more on that organization in the campaign guide review) and the helpful alchemist Damien - who presents the reliable means and candidates of whom to entrust the dangerous ring for safe-keeping...it turns out that these relics are not unknown here...

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are impressive for a first module, but can use a bit of work - I noticed, particularly regarding hyphens and the like a couple of hiccups. The module does feature a few relics where skill-names have not been 100% perfectly translated, but as a whole, the theme may actually work a bit better in 5e. Layout adheres to an impressive two-column full-color standard and the number of artworks within in impressive indeed, particularly considering their unified style and sheer number. This is, in short, a beautiful module. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and comes with a second, more printer-friendly version. The cartography is top-notch and particularly the inclusion of player-friendly maps warrants applause. The print copy is most certainly worth owning in the bundle with the pdf - the pdf is added for free to it, so yeah, I'd go with that one.

Micah Watt's first module is quite a gamble: It is a very narrative module that hinges on the GM juggling several NPCs, on social interaction, on players behaving in a certain way...and the module makes some risky gambles that look like they can push the PCs of the railroad. In short, it is not the easiest module to run, but when it works, it does so in a rather rewarding manner. While the plentiful read-aloud text makes this task manageable for even novice GMs, it still is a module that does require being capable of making NPCs likeable. So, form a structural point of view, I am not that impressed. The premise doesn't sound like too much either...BUT. The prose is actually really good. While there are a couple of hyphen-glitches and affect/effect-style hiccups, the writing itself manages to convey a surprisingly dense atmosphere that begins with grit and slowly builds up unease: Particularly what should look like a doomed hustle to the final destination would be a visual representation I haven't seen done well in a rather long while. There even is a handout page containing short, unsettling descriptions to hand out to a player, further enhancing immersion. Kudos for going the extra mile there!

In short: While not perfect, this is a module worth getting. It is not flawless and doesn't reinvent the wheel and it is a rather thinly-veiled railroad, but as far as spelunking, interaction and atmosphere go, you can do much, much worse than this! Much of the draw of this comes, ultimately, from the NPC-interaction. Oh, and, minor SPOILER: It's worth getting, in particular for the things to come, for the things set up here...but we'll talk about that in another review!

Now, the 5E-version of this module has me at a bit of a disadvantage (haha - sorry, I'll beat myself for that later) - you see, while the conversion relics and minor hiccups in statblocks are annoying, I do believe that this very gritty and grimy playstyle actually works a bit better for 5E. Comparing both versions back to back, the 5E-iteration has a bit more hiccups, but it, at least to me, tells the story slightly better. If you have the luxury of choice, I'd suggest getting the system that fits your preferences more, for while this one works, thematically, better in 5E, that cannot be said about all adventures in the AP. To give you a view behind the curtain: The 5E version gets +0.5 stars for fitting the narrative better, but also loses 0.5 stars for having more formal hiccups, which puts it on par with the PFRPG-version.

The verdict, right...so, honestly, I really love the map-support, the art-density and the atmosphere this creates, but the structural issues and cinematic conveniences stick out a bit, particularly due to the rather linear structure - the first adventure in the city handled that better, but we'll talk about that in that one's review. As a whole, this is a nice prologue for a fair price with very good production values and I have to take the freshman bonus into account - hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, though I can't round up for it. If you're interested in the AP, this is very much a must-have, though!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Difficult Circumstances: A Prologue adventure for What Lies Beyond Reason - 5th Edition
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5E Mini-Dungeon #016: The Halls of Hellfire
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/01/2017 08:13:34

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM. Unlike most 5E Mini-Dungeons, this one does not come with VTT-maps or player-friendly iterations, which is a bit of a bummer.

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

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

...

..

.

Still here?

All right!

The Halls of Hellfire were once a sacred neutral ground, a place for peace talks - now, the halls are a beacon for creatures of pure evil, tainted by the darkness that saw the downfall of this once-sacred space. The lamia of the desert have been drawn to this place and both regular specimen of the feared species as well as a spirit naga and a young blue dragon await the PCs to toy with their minds and break both their bodies and souls.

Conversion-wise, we have protection from good on the whole complex, which is solid, but skill-wise, we have Str and Thieves' tool DCs equal to one another...and that's it. No interesting terrain tricks or the like.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant hiccups, though, unlike in earlier mini-dungeons, DCs and skills are not bolded. Layout adheres to a nice 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes sans bookmarks, but needs none at this length. Cartography is full color and surprisingly good for such an inexpensive pdf, but there is no key-less version of the map to print out and hand to your players. Stats, as mentioned above, obviously are hyperlinked to the SRD.

Jonathan Ely's Halls of Hellfire provide a storied locale with per se cool combat encounters and some solid traps. Alas, at the same time, I did feel like this locale fell short of its awesome background story - some tantalizing hints, a bit more fluff, perhaps a series of short special terrain features - something to make the PCs experience the tragedy of the place first-hand would have gone a long way to make this more than a cool ruin inhabited by some lethal lamia. Since 5e doesn't have PFRPG's wealth of lamia, the other monsters also detract a bit from the strong leitmotif of the PFRPG-version.

Kyle Crider didn't do a bad job with the conversion, mind you - but I still felt like this could have used something more to make it properly unique. As written, it is a decent offering and hence, my verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, though I can't bring myself to round up for this.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
5E Mini-Dungeon #016: The Halls of Hellfire
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Legendary Villains: Vigilantes
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/31/2017 07:07:36

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Legendary Villains-series clocks in at 40 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of introduction/how to use, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 29 pages of raw content, so let's take a look!

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

All right, let's begin with the new archetypes contained herein, the first of which would be the alchemical scoundrel, who gets a modified class skill list and reduced the skills gained per level to 4 + Intelligence modifier. They replace the vigilante talents gained at 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter (until 16th level) with the alchemist's alchemy ability as well as the infusion discovery and they may select alchemist discoveries in lieu of vigilante talents. The main meat here would be over 20 special discoveries here, several of which may be taken as alchemist discoveries. These include alchemical splash weapon damage upgrades when damaging a target for the first time. Note that I assume this to not apply to bombs, since they RAW are not defined as alchemical splash weapons. I arrive at this conclusion partially due to other discoveries, which allow the archetype to replace the fixed DC of regular alchemical items for a limited number of them and designate these items as breakthrough items with a scaling DC.

Gaining access to bombs and throw anything can be achieved via another talents. Bomb Tinkerer is not perfect - it allows the alchemical scoundrel to change the damage inflicted to "fire, ice, cold, electric or bludgeoning damage" - neither "electric", nor "ice" damage exist in PFRPG. Worse, when combined with a discovery that changes a bomb damage type, you can choose half one such predetermined one, and "one damage type of the alchemical scoundrel's choice" as the second. Problem here: This should refer to the available choices. RAW, it allows for free damage type selection. 8th and 12th level unlock sonic and force damage, both of which reduce bomb damage dice size, though. A feral mutagen variant that also enlarges, penalty-less cognatogen options or evolving mutagens, which grant limited access to unchained evolutions (OUCH) can be found. Personally, I'm partial to e.g. a false tooth for immediate action infusion access with scaling uses.

Gaining the master chymist's mutagenic form and mutate class feature has interesting interactions with identity-change, though personally, I'm not too big on granting PrC-signature abilities via regular class features. Interesting: Those that choose the mutagen can learn brute archetype's special talents, which makes sense - particularly since they only work will mutated. Nyehilists (puntastic!) can choose the true mutagen at 20th level. I am not a fan of quicker creation of mutagens, cognatogens, etc. - delimiting limited resources can get wonky in the long run.

I am also not the biggest fan of persistent mutagen as a discovery being a way to gain the class ability as soon as 12th level, as opposed to the alchemist's default 14th level. All in all, a crossover-archetype I would have expected in the hero-book...and one that I'm not that keen on.

Second would be the consumed vigilante, who replace their old identity and gain Nameless One as well as bonus hit points. Instead of social talents, they gain Skill Focus (okay, I guess) To make up for that, these guys do require less food, water and sleep to regain health, with higher levels further decreasing this. 3rd level nets renown, with 9th level unlocking greater renown and 15th level incredible renown, with the duration to acquire renown also reduced. 5th level provides a +2 bonus to Will-saves, which increases at higher levels and applies the bonus also to several negative conditions. As a complaint here: The bonus is once referred to as insight and once as morale, so which of the two is correct? 19th level greatly increases the difficulty to find out anything about the vigilante. Suffice to say, this archetype gets rid of the whole social talent-stuff.

Now the next one would be the first one I'd consider a villain archetype in theme, the dread champion, to be more precise. These guys must be evil in their vigilante identity, get an aura of evil, smite good, etc. - dread talents can unlock further abilities in that field...you guessed it, this guy is basically an antipaladin/vigilante crossover. It's generally a solid archetype.

The Fortune Thief gains access to a witch hex and when affecting a target with the hex, they gain a luck point, with Cha-mod acting as a cap for how many they can have. Cool: The ability actually is kitten-proof and cursing one's allies is also no reliable means of refreshing the pool. These points may be spent as a free action for skill-check bonuses or temporary boosts to atk and damage...yeah, this is somewhat luckbringer-like in style. The pool does per se not empty or replenish without this refreshing, but since this ability replaces vigilante specialization, the new talents the archetype receives can allow for minor regeneration of luck points while sleeping, Hex Strike to be added to non-unarmed melee weapons, passive benefits for holding on to luck points, longer bonuses and reflexive luck boosts that can negate crits or allow for attack and damage rerolls. All in all, the engine is REALLY cool...but e.g. savage hex causing untyped damage (should be typed) equal to class level on a successful save is something I'd strongly suggest typing. Nice: This one does get its own capstone.

We'll get delightfully disgusting next - the plague scion is locked into the stalker specialization and begins play with the antipaladin's plague bringer class ability. At 3rd level, the archetype gains a signature disease, which gains a scaling DC...and from here on out, the scion can add diseases contracted to this list, which is rather cool. 6th level and every 3 levels thereafter adds further diseases, with one being dominant. This replaces unshakable. 4th level yields plague strike, which connects Sleight of Hand and hidden strike with the infectious warfare they engage in to lace objects with their virulent strains...and this is actually pretty cool and limited uses prevent abuse! I like it! Higher levels yield frequency-increases for diseases, detecting the diseased, variant transmissions for signature diseases and, at higher levels, adding the ravaging template to those infested...oh, and at the top, we get magic-resistant diseases. Two thumbs up for this nasty villain!

The protean prowler is locked into a chaotic vigilante identity and replaces vigilante specialization with access to scaling unchained eidolon evolutions, which they may reassign Constitution modifier times per day - this process takes 1 minute and covers half the points - so two uses for complete reassigning. This pool can also alternatively be used to use evolution points to duplicate a scaling array of transformations, duplicating the effects of ever more potent spells. The process of investing the evolution points to affect these changes could have been worded slightly more concisely - as presented, I am not sure whether the evolution points required for the respective transformation are regained upon its end - I assume no, but "invest" does imply that in contrast to "spend"...

Anyways, onwards to the shadow savant, who replaces vigilante specialization with shadow clone, a duplicate they can generate as a standard action within 30 ft., a total of 1/2 class level + Cha-mod times per day. The Disguise check rolled as part of creating this clone is also the Perception DC required to notice that the clone is not actually real.. The clone lasts for Cha-mod rounds and has an AC of 10 + Dex-mod + Cha-mod +1/2 class level and vanishes on a successful hit. It is properly codified as an illusion [shadow] effect, so kudos there. The maximum distance it can travel from the savant is equal to 45 ft., +15 ft. per level. At 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter, the ability conjures forth an additional shadow, and when sharing the space with the savant, they duplicate mirror image's benefits. Only one use of the ability may be in effect at any given time and all shadows may be controlled with the same swift action - all in all a mechanically sound take on a very difficult concept to pull off. The archetype adds shadow control techniques to their arsenal of social talents, allowing for shadow control beyond line of sight, light-dimming, longer-lasting duplicates, control over the shape of the shadows, the ability to see through their eyes...and at higher levels, things become awesome and include swapping places - kudos, btw.: Codified as teleportation effect.

Beyond these, there also are tricks added to the vigilante talents, and, as you may have guessed, it is here that we find the more combat-centric options, which include partial reality, retributive negative energy damage (and at higher levels short-term staggers), Now, this becomes even more intriguing at 5th level, when 2 non-tangible shadows can be replaced with a semi-real doppelgänger that shares your non-limited-use abilities and also duplicates non-consumable magic items - it is really impressive to see this ability this waterproof and airtight - an excellent representation of what N. Jolly is capable of. The appearance-tree of abilities is then further replaced by upgrades of this doppelgänger ability-array, making for one of my favorite archetypes in the book: Mechanically-challenging, diverse, sporting a unique playstyle, this is a really inspired one. Kudos!

The symbiotic slayer would be one that I can't, in any shape, way or form, judge neutrally. When I was a little child, I already loved good villains more than heroes...and I will never forget the Spider-man comic with the glorious Todd McFarlane-cover of Venom holding Spidey's skull. It was #207 in Germany, not sure which one it was in the US. So...yeah, for a couple of years, I was a huge venom fanboy after that. This archetype gets a tiny ooze-like familiar (sans bite and with 0 speed, it's an aberration) - the vigilante identity is assumed quickly as a standard action and this cannot be hastened via the usual talents - the end-result, obviously, would be the vigilante identity. And yes, when under duress, the symbiote may force being used; it dies when the host dies, but can be rendered dormant, though the host can feed hp to it to wake it from slumber. Symbiotes have an ego and increase that ego, the longer they are manifested, representing rather well the Spidey-trope. Instead of the familiar's regular benefits, it acts as an armor for the host, has a telepathic bond...but also sports an elemental weakness.

The symbiote has a cool, linear progression and while I am not a fan of stalwart, at least the ability is gained at 11th level and only works while the symbiote is manifested. The archetype also gains several unique vigilante talents denoted by the [symbiote] tag: These include gaining natural attacks (properly codified!), duplicating armor...really cool. Cool alternative to fast healing: The buffering symbiote talent: It nets class level + Constitution modifier (twice Con-mod at 10th level) temporary hit points that recharge at a rate of 1 per minute while not manifested, + 1 regained per two symbiote talents possessed. Represents the concept, abuse-proof. Elegant solution. Interesting: Stealth-upgrade that may bypass automatic blindsight/sense-detection. Dual minds, reflexive acid is cool - gaining first Improved Grapple and then, at 6th level, also Strangle and at 10th level smother looks like a bit overkill for one talent, though: Strangle alone is very, very potent.

Increased reach, throwing a limited amount of times per day an entangling cluster at foes, temporary swift action fast healing with limited uses (thankfully), creating a duplicate living garments, reduced weakness, allowing the symbiote to gain control, resistance, burrowing, alchemical self-enhancements of physical ability scores (Str or Dex), flight (locked behind 6th level, gets better) and whip-like tendrils...as well as a proper capstone ability complement a thoroughly amazing archetype...and if you're like me and love venom/carnage etc., then this may well justify getting the pdf on its own.

The new social talents included herein allow for complete disjunction of social and vigilante identity (absolutely overdue!), being able to use skills that would need tools without them, gauging marks, being able to use a vigilante talent in social identity sans compromising either, Performance Weapon Mastery and a chameleon-style serial-killer talent that lets the vigilante assume the identities of the slain - some really, really cool stuff here.

We also gain a significant selection of new vigilante talents that range in power from cool and balanced to KILL IT WITH FIRE. Advanced Grip would be one such candidate I don't consider too necessary. +1/2 Str-bonus to damage with one-handed weapons and offhand attacks are treated as not-offhand for Power Attack purposes. This...just is a further number escalation and I can make fearsome sh** with it. Boon Companions, bonuses while bleeding, making nearby terrain count as difficult - all cool. There also is a talent many folks will hate: Know the famous spiked chain exploit from back in the 3.X-days? Well, the chain lasher talent unlocks that one again - attack both adjacent and at reach. Personally, I consider this cheesy and won't use it. Death Dealer is also problematic - it nets the assassin's death strike...and at 12th and 16th level, it reduces the number of rounds of study required. Oh, and with sniper, that becomes available at any range - explicitly. There also would be talent that stacks critical range with other critical range-increases, which can be really, really nasty - there is a reason that stuff does not stack usually. The multiplier may be reduced to x2 as a catch, but the threat-range is the issue. Cool on the other hand: Breaking the 6th level cap of spellcasting vigilante options. There also are a few nomenclature hiccups here - one punch assault once was probably once punch hero, as its follow-up talents calls it by that name. Gaining a panache pool and then, via another talent, access to deeds, is interesting. Gaining hair hexes, smashing foes in walls...there is some cools tuff here. If you've been using Legendary Swashbuckler or Assassin, you'll notice both of these being supported, which is nice.

Notice something? Yeah, they really oscillate in power and utility. WILDLY. I'll return to that aspect later in the conclusion.

The pdf also sports feats, some of which add e.g. more shadows for the shadow savant, modified spellcasting, reduced symbiote ego, more social talents, using Int or Wis as governing attributes, hidden strike and sneak attack synergy...cool. However, I do have an issue with Injected Infusions: Why? Because it lets you inject mutagens and infusions in allies...which is once again a number-escalation. Modifying symbiote weakness is cool...buuut: Adding hidden strike/sneak attack to splash weapons targeted at foes at -1 damage die size is either solid or brutal. I assume that the bonus is supposed to not apply to splash damage? Once again, this felt a bit weird.

The pdf also sports a 5-level PrC, the Crimson Dreadnought with full BAB-progression and good Fort- and Will-save progression, d10 HD, 4 + Int skills per level and BAB +3, 5 ranks in two skills, etc. as moderate prerequisites. The PrC gains martial weapon proficiency and gains Nameless One and acts under royal edict: Horribly scarred by the brutal initiation, they gains scaling bonuses to AC and saves and makes removal of their armor nigh-impossible. There is also another issue: You see, these guys, RAW, are constantly fatigued. Sleeping in heavy armor automatically fatigues the character. Pretty glaring oversight there for a PrC that fuses you in the armor...2nd and 4th level yield vigilante talents, 3rd level bonuses to saves versus mind-affecting effects and a 2/day reroll. 5th level yields 2/day swift action fast healing and the option to fight on...I love the idea of the PrC, but I wish the abilities gained were slightly more interesting and fitting for the concept.

The pdf provides nice and balanced variant multiclassing rules for the vigilante and the pdf sports new magic items: Mystic bolt enhancers, memory-wiping smoke pellets (no, you're not immune - hilarious Code Geass-style intrigue can ensue...) and charming gloves...nice.

We do end with one of my favorite parts in the whole pdf; Red Love. The beauty on the cover. Her story ties in with Legendary Vigilante's NPC and she clocks in as a fearsome level 14 symbiotic slayer. She is...basically Carnage. The female version of Carnage. Her boon, unsurprisingly, focuses on killing and her tactics are brutal. Nice build!!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are inconsistent in rules-language and formal criteria: There are components of the pdf where it's almost perfect...and some that sport glitches neither characteristic for the author, nor for LG. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard and sports a variety of nice full-color artworks - most I have seen before in LG-books, though Red Love's amazing artwork does make up for that. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

So, I have this theory that explains some issues that haunt this book: You see, usually the "Legendary" class supplements for PCs and Villains are strictly separated; The PC options tend to be tighter in balance and, by design, the NPC villain options sport cheesy, nasty and powerful tricks beyond what I'd allow for PCs. Thing is, this, at least in part, feels more like "Legendary Vigilantes II"; The theme for "Legendary Vigilantes" was hybrids and we have two of the more interesting hybrids in this book - ones that don't really strike me as evil, mind you.

At the same time, we have powerful and obviously evil ones herein, distinctly designed for villains. In the archetypes, this aspect, this blending of the product lines, doesn't hit as hard, but once we get to the talents and feats, the small optimizing tweaks, things get nasty....and this is my main gripe with the book. I can live with a couple of nomenclature hiccups, but we get too much straight number-escalation here. Do we really need even more damage? Did we need the resurgence of one of the most-quoted abuse-builds ever? Sure, it's not as potent as it once was due to PFRPG's diverse options...but still. These aspects make me cringe, and not in a good way. In fact, a part of this pdf feels like it's the B-side of Legendary Vigilantes, where the concepts aren't as tightly controlled etc. That side is what I don't like about this book.

At the same time, OMG; I CAN HAZ VENOM!!! It's the single best representation of the symbiote-user I have ever seen. It's glorious. It's worth the asking price alone. In fact, don't get me wrong, there is more to LOVE, ADORE, OMG-level celebrate herein than in all of Legendary Vigilantes. The brilliant highlights are brighter here and this pdf, or so I'd like to believe, and it shows where N. Jolly was really inspired. At the same time, the proverbial shadows of this book are also darker, it feels less carefully designed than usual in some aspects, uncharacteristically so.

This strange duality also seems to extend to the power-level of archetypes and talents provided herein - there are some that yield PrC-signature abilities and actually improve them. As a talent. Yeah, can see it for NPCs, but players will never see them...but here's the problem: "Legendary Vigilantes", the PC-book, does point towards this book, implying player-use.

I am, ultimately very torn on this book - on the one hand, I consider enough material herein to be less interesting and/or problematic...but on the other hand, there is plenty of material I adore and want to praise to the high heavens - one side of me want to slap 5 stars + seal on this, while another tells me to rate it down to 3.5. I honestly wished we got a distinctly PC-centric book and one that is obviously and clearly designated as villain material...and I wish the glitches weren't there.

THAT BEING SAID. If you're a capable, rules-savvy GM, gives this book careful oversight and then give the aspects you consider non-problematic at your players. This book contains pure awesome. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars...and while there are components that deserved so much better, I can't round up or slap my seal on this. Still: Thank you, master Jolly - from the bottom of my heart. The Symbiotic Slayer is glorious.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Legendary Villains: Vigilantes
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Myrmidon Hybrid Class
Publisher: Wayward Rogues Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/31/2017 06:57:27

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This hybrid class clocks in at 9 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page back cover, ~1/2 page SRD, leaving us with 5.5 pages of content, so let's take a look!

The myrmidon class depicted here gets d10 HD, 2 + Int skills per level and proficiency with all simple and martial weapons as well as all armor and shields, including tower shields. Chassis-wise, we get full BAB-progression and good Fort-saves.

The myrmidon's defining class feature would be exclamations -basically the talents of the class, with one gained at 1st level and another one at 2nd level and every 2 levels thereafter. If required, a save is based on DC 10 + 1/2 class level + Intelligence modifier. The target needs to see, hear or smell (weird!) the myrmidon to be affected by an exclamation, but does not need to share a language with the character. Unless otherwise noted, an exclamation is a standard action to use.

So, what do these exclamations do? Well, they basically are martial, hex-like abilities that have limited daily uses. These include 1/day temporarily gaining a combat feat for which she meets the prerequisites. We can also find cure light wounds (scaling up to cure moderate wounds as an extraordinary self-only ability, with CL = character level and, thankfully, a hard, daily cap of uses. There is also an exclamation, which represents a curse that lasts for 3 + Int-mod days - when the target is healed, the caster needs to succeed at a CL-check, otherwise the last 10 points simply are not healed. At 5th level, this also imposes a penalty on saves versus diseases and poisons contracted from injury. Cool concept, if a bit wonky in its presentation - you usually describe the effect first, then the parameters. Unfortunately, I have no idea how this exclamation works. It has no range, no note on how you use it. Standard action, sure...but what's the range? Touch? Sight? 30 ft.? The flavor-text makes it sound like the myrmidon has to defeat the foe, so is it activated upon reducing foes to 0 hp?

Improving the attitude of an animal of humanoid within 30 ft. is nice...but it's not mind-influencing, has no negative repercussions for miss-use and oddly only lasts Int-mod rounds, which would make all but fast Diplomacy to avoid escalation not an option. The myrmidon may choose combat feats instead of an exclamation. As a whole, I get the idea here: There is, for example, a cackle hex variant that instead affects the exclamations of the myr-midon[sic!]. However, in the details, there are some rough edges. Let's take dazzling groan, a pretty simple operation: You get Dazzling Display sans meeting the prerequisites - which is Weapon Focus. A feat you require to use Dazzling Display - instead, the exclamation ties this to weapon groups chosen via weapon training...which is a valid decision per se. However, a weapon group is only gained at 5th level, which means that, at lower levels, this does nothing - it should have a minimum level. There is also a duplication of a 60 ft.-range doom (not italicized, like many a spell-reference) - and it's Ex, which can be considered to be slightly problematic, considering the infinite uses.

Similarly penalties that apply on even a successful save are problematic for an infinite use ability. There is also an exclamation to keep a creature from drawing weapons - which should probably be a mind-affecting compulsion. A variant of misfortune can similarly be found. Starting at 10th level, booming exclamations may be chosen - the formatting is inconsistent here, as in the weapon group summary, both of which sport sub-abilities that have not been italicized. The wording is not always perfect - "Once per day equal to her weapon training bonus" could have been phrased more elegantly, for example.

Beyond these exclamations, the myrmidon begins play with the ability to keep functioning as staggered while below 0 hp, gaining an untyped bonus to Intimidate while thus wounded. 2nd level provides a variant bravery that also is applied to mind-affecting effects, increasing the +1 bonus every 4 levels after that. 3rd level yields armor training and Endurance as a bonus feat. As mentioned before, 5th level yields weapon training,

7th level provides the first Heart of the Hero ability - which looks like it would allow for a choice of sub-abilities, when in fact, there are distinct, linear abilities - the meta-header is wholly unnecessary. This sequence of abilities include Heroic Recovery at 7th level, Heroic Defiance at 9th level, both with scaling uses. 11th level provides the option to get quickly recuperate from the fatigued condition. Problematic: Losing fatigue by being subjected to healing. 13th level provides stalwart. The fatigued condition elimination fails to properly interact with the 15th level ability: Exhaustion is reduced to fatigued...which then requires a slightly longer rest. The pdf does not specify how this interacts with the cure-options, though. 17th level yields the ability to roll twice whenever the myrmidon tries to recuperate from an ongoing effect. As a capstone, we get immunity to mind-affecting effects.

The pdf closes with a new feat, Verbal Combatant. This nets a character an exclamation with a save DC of 10 + Int-mod.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are okay on both a rules-language and formal level - I noticed glitches and hiccups in both, but not to the extent of earlier Wayward Rogues Publishing books. Layout adheres to the nice two-column full-color standard and the pdf uses solid stock art. The pdf has no bookmarks and also does not allow cut-copy-pasting text from it, which constitutes a serious comfort detriment when using the pdf.

Robert Gresham's myrmidon, let me state that clearly, is better than his earlier hybrid classes. It has a moderately unique angle and while it sports several hiccups in the details, it does generally have some decent ideas and can work. Not all abilities are as precise as they should be and ultimately, the exclamations could have used more unique abilities - the witch-based ones are decent when they work, but action-economy-wise, the standard action use means that the myrmidon has to choose between exclamations and full attacks. The class also feels a bit weird in actual play, feeling a bit unfocused. Compared to the hellion hybrid class, for example, the witch-aspect, apart from the engine stand-point, is thematically not really there. Is the myrmidon bad? No, but it features some glitches and does not really offer something truly amazing to set it apart. In the end, my final verdict will thus clock in at 2.5 stars, rounded up to 3 due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Myrmidon Hybrid Class
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