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Anachronistic Adventures
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/09/2015 05:01:59

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This massive book clocks in at 133 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page ToC, 2 pages editorial/SRD, leaving us with 129 pages of content, so let's take a look!


So, this book has been long coming - what we see here is, for now at least, the culmination of the rather cool Anachronistic Adventurers-series by Rogue Genius Games (then still Super Genius Games). The basic premise of the series is pretty simple: Taking a cue from traditional weird fiction and sword and sorcery novels, it's about people from our world falling into a fantasy context: Essentially, what happens when a navy seal wakes up in Golarion. But the rules ultimately provided more than that - the reason I love this series lies not in the new classes provided, though they obviously are pretty neat. No, to me, the supplemental rules generated have exerted the real draw.


From modern firearms to ESP rules, they offer a less fantastic playing experience, should you choose to embark on such a tale; if you're going for Solomon Kane instead of Tolkien, this very much may be worth a look. The investigator also featured the most elegant, simple research rules for a d20-based system I've seen so far - one I gladly have been using and one my players love to death. There's a reason that installment made one of my Top ten-lists.


So yes, as you may have gleaned from this, I have covered quite a few of the classes herein already, so let's go through these in express-mode, shall we? If you require details, please check the respective reviews for them.


The Enforcer would be the professional combatant among the classes. The daredevil allows for surges to supplement his tricks and is the suave secret agent, the daring escapist. The tough would be the brute you just can't smash down and may also be the nigh-unkillable driver. The Sensitive would be the kind-of-ESP or at least, supernaturally aware person and the Luminary is the brilliant face, the star, the dandy - the class represents, to me, the class I'd give Oscar Wilde. Obviously, the investigator had to be renamed and is now the cogitator, though that in no way detract from the appeal of the class.


Now unlike most traditional classes, anachronistic adventurers have built-in archetypes you must choose upon taking the class, allowing for massive customization options: Want a celebrity enforcer? A daredevil cold-reader? A sensitive who fought in the trenches? Well, all of that is possible now. It should also be mentioned that here, we actually get new, previously unreleased material - want to play e.g. someone who has his own devices that improve every level, essentially getting a built-in legacy item? Yup, in here. With pages upon pages of devices and bonuses by the level for a diverse array of slots - whether they be armor or rings. The thing with these archetypes is that they multiply the amount of concepts you can realize with these classes - and that makes them awesome.


Which would be a pretty perfect place for me to comment on one thing: This is not just a compilation. There is new material herein and generally, the streamlining that obviously went into the classes has to be acknowledged: From spagyric devices (originally pioneered in Advanced Options: Alchemist) to all new content, this massive book goes the extra mile. The progress-level system for technology-levels is explained more concisely. There is more equipment provided and the relative positioning rules for vehicular combat are downright awesome. And yes, there be vehicle maneuvers herein. Oh, and there'd be the vehicle template. Take a wolf, add this template, you have a wolf-themed vehicle. This template is a stroke of genius and something I hope to see expanded: With unique customization options, for example. Rules for group attitude and diplomacy and my beloved research-rules...all here.


Of course, there also would be new feats and advice on running diverse types of campaigns with these rules - whether a full-blown campaign or just one character doesn't matter - this book has you covered.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch: One can see the care that went into the making of this massive book and the fact that the small hiccups have been polished off. It's quite astounding, really - the original pdfs were mostly great, yes. However, at the same time, this book obviously went the extra mile to make everything more shiny and even more polished. Layout adheres to RGG's two-column full-color standard with a brownish border. Interior artwork consists mostly of stock art that thematically fits the topic at hand. The book's electronic version comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience.


When a compilation hits sites, I usually tend to be less than enthused. They mean a lot of work for me with not much pay-off: I have to go through all my old reviews and files and compare them to the compilation. This task, as you may note, is pretty tedious and takes time. Thankfully, though, the great 3pps that bless our hobby with cool expansions tend to go the extra mile as well and provide streamlined material, new content...you name it. Heck, last year's Top Ten saw Raging Swan's legendary Dungeon Dressing and Wilderness Dressing-compilations score my number 1 spot. This book, thankfully, follows the tradition of carefully crafted compilations and streamlines what was already a great collection of rules further.


Why should you care? Well, if you're like me, you're a bit of a stickler for mood while RPing. But we ALL have this one player who just can't swallow the modern-day allusions, right? Well, hand such a player an anachronistic character and suddenly, these quips make sense in-game. That's not the book's primary selling point for me, though.


In fact, I urge you to get this even if the concept of Anachronistic Adventurers annoys the hell out of you. Why? Because it's all fluff. The rules herein can be reskinned and the supplemental rules provided, quite frankly, are genius and can enrich any game - I'm not engaging in hyperbole when I'm saying that some of my favorite rules from the pen of Owen K.C. Stephens can be found herein. Considering his output, that does say something about the quality of this glorious book.


Transcending the limitations of its theme by virtue of its great design, sporting superb material galore...this is a superb offering indeed. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval and I nominate this as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2015.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Anachronistic Adventures
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The Animist: Nature Incarnate
Publisher: Interjection Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/06/2015 08:52:43

An Endzeitgeist.com review


So, took me long enough, right? This is the first of the classes commissioned via Interjection Games' patreon and clocks in at 20 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving su with 17 pages chock-full with CRUNCH.


One more note - the book sports a handy difficulty to build/play-index - the class scores just 2 of 5, so, as far as Interjection games-classes are concerned, that ought to be pretty simple - so let's take a look at the mechanics: The animist gets d10, full BAB-progression, good will-saves, 4+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons, greatclub, longow, shortbow and whip as well as with light armor and shields. Wearing medium or heavy armor reduced the maximum prominence (more on that later) by 1, unless the armor sports the wield special ability.


The key ability of the class would be animism, the ability to become one with various aspects of nature on a temporary basis - the animist uses temporary tattoos made of natural ingredients in a 1-hour ceremony after resting. This ceremony is only required if the animist wants to change aspects, however. The abilities thus gained are called "aspects." Aspects are grouped in two categories: Minor and major aspects. Animists begin play knowing 3 major and 3 minor aspects. Each level grants the animist one aspect known for which he meets all prerequisites.


If the grouping was not enough of a clue: Aspects occupy slots. An animist begins play with 2 major and 1 minor slots. At 3rd level and every 4 levels thereafter, the animist gets an additional major slot, while at 2nd level and every 4 levels thereafter, he gains a minor slot. If you're taking heed, you'll not that this caps out the class at 7 major slots and 6 minor ones at 19th level. All aspect slots must be filled upon taking the ceremony - you can't keep a slot open like e.g. with spells. t should be noted that animists can suppress the benefits of their aspects as a full-round action, so yes, the class actually can still attend social functions without all people running away screaming from the strange thing. While suppressing an aspect, the animist gains no benefits from it, though. Ceasing suppression is a full-round action that provokes AoOs, making this work pretty seamlessly along the lines established by Pact Magic's physical signs. Nice.


Beyond the basics of aspects, there is prominence - and this makes the class feel a bit akashic mystery-ish/incarnum-ish. For every four class levels the animist possesses, the character increases the prominence value by 1. What does this? Well, an animist may have a major aspect take up more than one major aspect slot, up to the maximum determined by the prominence-level. At 4th level, an animist has just reached prominence 2 and has 3 major slots available. He could e.g. use two major slots for one major aspect and gain the prominence 2 bonus of said aspect and bind a second major aspect for that aspect's prominence 1 bonus...or he could bind 3 major aspects and get the prominence 1 bonuses of all three. If that still sounds confusing, don't fret - the pdf does a great job explaining the mechanic.


Aspects, if applicable, have a saving throw DC of 10 + 1/2 class level + Wis-mod. Untyped abilities of aspects modify others, natural attacks or passive ones tend to be extraordinary, explicitly-stated SPs are spell-like abilities (d'uh) and all other abilities are supernatural. Simple, right? At 5th level, the animist may, as a full-round action that provokes AoOs, 1/day change a minor aspect via the Embody Anew ability, but only if e.g. daily use abilities have not been tapped - nice! This can be done an additional time per day every 4 levels thereafter. As a capstone, the animist gains an additional major slot that acts as a wildcard major slot with a maximum prominence of 1 - the major aspect of this slot can be changed as a full-round action that provokes AoOs. Limited use major aspect prominence 1 abilities are not eligible for this slot.


The class sports FCOs for the core-races, aasimar, drow, tiefling, hobgoblin, kobold, orc and puddling, providing a nice diversity of options. A total of 4 feats complement the class: 1 allows other classes to gain one minor aspect, one grants +2 aspects to the animist, one that allows you to reduce the prominence each ability by -1 (more on that later) and one for +1/day minor aspect use.


The pdf also sports 2 archetypes, the first of which would be the tattooist. This guy gets a pigment pool of 1 at 1st level, +1 every four levels thereafter. When preparing aspects for the day, these guys can expend pigment points to an aspect - this locks the aspect for one whole week - the animist cannot change said aspect. Pigment points only refresh once this time has elapsed. The pigments provide benefits like +1 use of an aspect, increased save DCs, increased damage, +3 initiative (but requiring the activation of the aspect) and 9th level allows for e.g. the swift action activation of an ability- but at the cost of all daily uses and only if none of them have been expended so far, increased prominence and similar, appropriate benefits - all at the cost of the flexibility of the Embody Anew ability: Slight power-increase for less flexibility is the trade-off here.


The second archetype would be the verdant herald, whose prominence caps at 2. Instead of embody anew, the herald gets an equality pool at 5th level, containing 2 points, +2 for every 4 verdant herald levels beyond 5th. The verdant herald may use these points to activate minor aspect abilities sans depleting their daily allotment, but they may not spend more than 2 such points per day on a single aspect. Very interesting - for double the cost, they can actually activate aspect abilities thus, even if they were not prepared. The pool refreshes after meditation and replaces embody anew. At20th level, the herald gets temporary equality points equal to 7-highest prominence among her major aspects, further increasing this flexibility in ability use as the capstone. Oh, and it should be noted that the verdant herald gets three unique feats to utilize the equality pool - minor healing when drawing on aspects not prepared, for example. I wished that one had some sort of scaling, though. On the cool side, you can increase your equality pool...Or, at 15th level, further reduce your maximum prominence to 1...but learn two new major aspects and gain temporary equality points equal to your equality pool size, effectively doubling this component. This feat would have been an archetype in a lesser book and while it looks odd and wonky, it's math, once you dissect it and the DPS-options between characters with and without it, is as concise as I'd expect from Bradley Crouch - essentially, the verdant herald's focus on minor aspects means you can nova better, but don't have that many staying power/non-resource-based combat options.


All right, so that would be the basics, but in order to properly judge the class, we obviously have to take a very close look at the aspects themselves, so let's start with the major aspects. 21 such aspects are provided herein, but each of them has not one, not 2, but 7+ abilities! No, I am not kidding. Basically, we have a default ability labeled "each," the prominence 1 ability and then escalating tricks at higher prominences. So let's take a look at what can be found here:


Autumn is all about stock-piling food, at least if the super-market-going populace or the squirrels around here are any indicator - hence, this aspect allows you to grow berries from your head. You (or allies) may pluck them for minor healing - which, while weak, is nice imagery. At higher prominence, the aspect becomes more interesting - you add buff-effects to the characters that consume your berries and turn them into acid-damage dealing, entangling (no save) crowd-control micro-bombs...and at highest prominence, you can actually regrow them when defeating foes...and yes, kitten-proof.


Perhaps you want to activate magic items based on dumb luck? If so, the more prominence, the less chance you have that your chimpanzee aspect's ability fails...oh, and you have a decent chance of not using those precious charges of your spell-trigger/spell-completion items and even increase CL or grant you save-bonuses versus such items. At the highest prominence, you may choose wild-card druid spells to use instead of the spell-trigger/completion item's effect. And yes, this still takes spell levels into account - no easy cheese to be found here. Perhaps you want to go all swamp-thing and shamble around in creepers that can autonomously perform AoOs? Go for the creeper aspect. Want some moderate inflict wounds SPs? Decay-aspect.


Want to go full-blown DC-villain, fly around and shoot gobs of phosphorescent, burning material akin to the villain Firefly? Just take the aspect of this name. And yes, the latter allows you to even ignore fire resistance at prominence 5. Want reflexive pustules that entangle foes attacking you in melee, a bite with grab (or even a tongue?) - Frog aspect, baby. Bite at reach with specialization-feats? Giraffe. Secondary tentacles, electricity and fortification? Jellyfish. Energy resistance + bonus damage, extending resistance to nearby allies? Obsidian sentinel. I'm not a big fan of the scorpion's option to negate melee attacks, but at least the math is sound and play-style wise, this works pretty well and the option to hamper offensive appendages via the claws is pretty damn cool... as is the fire-damage-dealing capstone poison. Want to be fortified versus some flanking/have movement superiority? Then the spider aspect, with spider climb and net globules as well as immunity to flanking unless dazzled, blinded, etc. would be what you're looking for. Spring increases maximum hit points and provides bonuses when at full strength and, with evasion and the like, is the low-armored, agile aspect. Want fast healing (that thankfully caps once it has taken care of enough damage)? Well, then, obviously, the troll is what you're looking for. The unicorn is about limited healing (particularly awesome if no one wants to play the healer...) and Winter's icy aura is slapstick gold...particularly nasty in combination with trip-builds. At high prominence, the aura not only can deal cold damage, it also penalizes Dex...by -4...OUCH. And if that does not look evil, then you haven't see these guys double-team foes into a trip-loop.


As you can see, the major aspects are mostly devoted to general ability set-up and fighting styles - basically, they are the passive ability-suites that supplement fighting styles with active and unique options. The minor aspects, on the other hand (30 provided, btw.) are more about the flashy, limited tricks: Anteaters may e.g. attack foes or stationary objects with their sticky tongue. If they hit with a "melee touch" (which should be "ranged touch attack"), they move to a square adjacent to the target (provided the way is not blocked), while benefiting from +4 to AC versus AoOs. Apart from the minor wording hiccup, a great ability with cool visuals...though I wished it specified whether the tongue can lift the weight of the animist like a grappling hook - I assume it can, mainly because the image of an animist in my playtest jumping from a tower's window, only to use his tongue to get to an adjacent roof three stories above ground (sans going splat) was too awesome. Cheetah-like sprints, minor reflexive rage, temporary DR by curling up armadillo-style, temporary bat-blindsight (hello, medusa!), create water at will (scaling up to 3/day touch of the sea and 1/day water breathing), con damage-healing via mosquito-drains...or what about decomposing bodies of vanquished non-undead/construct foes to power healing? Or a high-level phoenix-burst that deals AoE-damage and heals the animist?


If all of these do not seem too impressive to you: Remember, this is a full BAB-class that can stand pretty well on its own in melee! The minor aspects essentially add the cool highlights to the gameplay of the animist. EDIT: So, I've been asked to highlight a particular component of this class that I seem to have glossed over or at least not emphasized enough: the way in which the copious natural attacks of this class interact. You see, I mentioned the handy table that lists damage-types, attack types (primary/secondary) etc. for a reason. In case the partial shapechanger-style note below wasn't enough clue for you: What makes the animist interesting beyond the basic chassis and the effects of the respective aspects, is that you can go full-blown bonkers regarding your natural attacks: Let's take an 11th level animist as an example. The animist has 5 major slots, 4 minor ones and a maximum prominence of 3. For a bite attack, we can take either Frog, Viper or Giraffe as a major aspect, both granting the bite from the get-go, with the difference that Frog increases your HP and is more versatile at higher prominences, while giraffe provides a bite with reach and better upgrades -in case you don't have them, prominence 2, which grants Weapon Focus and Weapon Specialization for bite, may be a smart move. The viper aspect provides a poisonous bite - at 2 prominence, the animist gets a retaliatory anti-AoO-bite whenever he's attacked by someone in melee, but only if he has not yet bitten that round. Scorpion provides 2 pincers from the get-go and the 2-prominence parry may be worth the investment - particularly in combination with viper, this allows for a pretty interesting defensive harrier that can start an array of natural attacks on the fly. Jellyfish nets you a tentacle and, if you have the slot to spare, at prominence 2 light fortification...and a second tentacle. While these do not add ability-modifiers not special weapon abilities, but they can still be nasty. Alternatively, prominence 2 nets you claws with the lion major aspect as well as a defensive mane, so that would also be an option to take, though, alas, you have to choose between claws or pincers when attacking, so no combo there. Mind you, that's before minor aspects. At 11th level, we can add "The Cornered" as a minor aspect - when criting with a chosen natural weapon, all weapons wielded, both natural and manufactured, become wounding weapons for one round - you see what I'm going for here? Yeah, pretty neat. Another build my PCs really liked was based on charging and flexibility - basically, the minor aspect The Ravening allows you to increase the damage of your natural attacks by one size as a swift action and fatigues you on the following round for higher damage dice; minor aspect cheetah allows you to increase movement by +30 ft. as a swift action when running or charging and the boar allows for a second attack at the end of a charge, though that one does not stack with e.g. pounce. While not combo-ing with other minor aspects, these can make for a very versatile charger, particularly when combined with the right major aspects. Essentially, the class offers quite a few customization options and different variations you can use to make the type of natural attack-combo/combat option you want.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good, though not perfect - I noticed some very minor nitpick-points, though none that truly impeded the pdf's functionality. Layout adheres to Interjection Games' classic, printer-friendly b/w-two-column standard and the pdf sports several pieces of thematically-fitting stock art. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for maximum convenience.


Bradley Crouch's designs are among the most popular at my table - my players like tinkering with classes; we like flexible options and unique tricks. That being said, his previous full-BAB-classes like the brewmaster have been a bit heavy on the pre-planning. The animist is several things: For one, it's a pretty simple class to grasp. The base mechanics are elegant and smooth. The interesting thing is, though, that you have both the planning component and the flexibility directly in battle - major aspects provide plenty of pre-planning rewards and cool fighting style options that come 100% into their own when properly combined with feats: Then, the animist becomes fearsome indeed. Oh, and then there would be the "non-boring martial"-factor: The minor aspects provide ample unique, cool "see what I did there"-tricks that render playing this front-line fighter/controller rewarding.


Another potential problem did lie in the odd looks and visuals of the class, but thankfully, animists can still attend social gatherings...though getting back all aspects may take a while...which works pretty well, actually: Think of it as superman going into the phone booth - only that you mutate into a kind of grotesque man/animal/plant-thingy with many lethal natural attacks. Hey, and we all wanted to do that...right? Right?? Kidding aside, the animist, and that's the crucial component, plays well - yes, you can make a pretty nasty clawing, biting monstrosity here, but the class's true appeal lies in its flexibility. While there are some very minor hiccups here and there, over all, this beast provided a fun, unique playing experience and is an excellent addition to the roster of classes provided by master Crouch - essentially, this is a full BAB-spellcaster-like experience and fun as hell. At this point: Shout out to Sasha Hall, who commissioned this class - thanks for having this one made!


My final verdict will clock in, in spite of minor imperfections, at 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5...and I'll add my seal of approval - get this cool class, it's the coolest take on the nature avatar/partial shapechanger-class I've seen so far!


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Animist: Nature Incarnate
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Pirate Aspects for the Animist Base Class
Publisher: Interjection Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/06/2015 08:50:14

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This free expansion for the animist base class clocks in at 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, 1 page content, so let's take a look!


Okay, we begin with the parrot major aspect - and it's hilarious. No, really. I mean it. The base ability makes you fluent in a language you have heard during the last week - but only in a squawking, parrot-like voice laced with pirate slang. Better yet, you can throw a barrage of squawking expletives and insults at foes to demoralize them. The more prominence in the ability, the more languages you get and the better you are at being a sailor. Higher prominence increases the duration of the demoralize effect and allows for self-healing when consuming a herbivorous meal (thankfully with a daily cap), adds damage to the demoralize effect (even bleed damage!) and allows for the better coordination of others when pertaining sailing. Oh, and you can grow parrot wings. Obviously. Captain Black Parrot, scourge of the seas! ... Yes, I am making this character for my next pirate-themed module...


The pdf also sports 3 minor aspects: The barnacle penalizes grapple-checks attempting to break free of the animist, the carrageen lets you ignore mucky or swampy difficult terrain and the seagull allows for swift action steal combat maneuvers...with a bonus for the shinies, a penalty for other targets.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to Interjection Games' two-column b/w-standard and the pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none.


This free expansion by Bradley Crouch is awesome - it's hilarious for the parrot aspect's write-up alone and while the minor aspects left me pretty unimpressed when compared to those of the base book, the fact remains that this is FREE. It costs zilch, nullinger and as such is a cool, free expansion for the animist - one you particularly can't afford to lose when playing e.g. a Tulita animist captain or a similar seafaring scoundrel. 5 stars + seal of approval for a great, free product.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Pirate Aspects for the Animist Base Class
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The Genius Guide to Simple Class Templates for Monsters
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/05/2015 02:21:38

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This massive pdf clocks in at 54 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page ToC, 1 page editorial/SRD, 1 page blank back cover, leaving us with 50 pages of content, so let's take a look!


This review will deviate a bit from my usual style, namely because me tackling this book in it would just end up be extremely redundant and extremely boring - basically, what this pdf does is spare the GM a literal crap-ton of work. If your PCs and players are like mine, vanilla monsters will get curb-stomped left and right...and become boring pretty fast. The most obvious choice one has, beyond templates, would obviously be the addition of class levels. The grand issue being that a dragon with 1 level of alchemist not being that impressive...right? So, what to do? Well, what about templating class features of base classes and sticking them, via templates, on a vast plethora of creatures? Sounds great right? Witch-y redcaps, alchemist mohrgs...the whole shebang.


The set-up is a tad bit more complicated, but bear with me: The templates have a key attribute (and some a minimum requirement in that attribute) - via an easy and concise formula, one can adjust base creatures not suitable for a certain class template to work with it and remain viable in the context of the CR-system. Spellcasting is kind-of handwaved, with only the top three tiers of spellcasting featuring in the equation and lower level spells sporting a limit of 2/spell level. Yes, I could complain about that - but after having written more spell-lists than I can count, I get why - it's not feasible. Why codify each and every spell available, when only a fraction will be used anyways? Some of you may consider this sloppy - in the context of this book, with my experience, I consider this to be VERY sensible.


The templates sport valid quick rules and full lists of rebuild rules. CR-modifications of the tables cover a range based on HD and can cover anything between CR +1 and CR +4.


If that sounds awfully dry (or you're just too lazy to apply a simple template), you'll still have a means to appreciate this book - namely the sample creatures. Each template comes with a sample creature: From frost giant warpriests to fey corsairs, the fully statted creatures can be considered a nice statblock-gallery. Oh, and Bob Greyvenstein illustrated this one - that means that each creature's rendition, many of which btw. come as gorgeous full-page artworks, is downright gorgeous.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good - I noticed no glaring glitches herein. Layout adheres to Rogue Genius Games' new and pretty awesome-looking grimoire-style 2-column full-color standard and the artworks provided, as mentioned above, are copious and stunning. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


We've all done what this book does more streamlined- slapped a quick and dirty class feature on a creature. This book codifies and simplifies the process...it takes the "dirty" out of the "quick and dirty" of the process and is much more compelling than I expected it to be. Sure, this pdf will win no innovation awards - and I can already hear some designer grumbling over the ether. The fact remains, though, that this has simply not been done before. We may have practices what this pdf codifies, but, at least I, did it sloppily and exclusively for my home-game. The templates are simple and concise and capture the classes and their tricks pretty well. The CR-adjustments make sense. The sample creatures are nice to have. I'm quite frankly relatively surprised.


Why? Well, for one, I really see this pdf acting as a colossal time-saver for many a GM. And secondly, this is the first book by Jenny Jarzabski I've reviewed - and, with all due respect, my lady - you rocked this one. Not many authors can claim to have impressed me this way with their first book - so yes, I'm looking forward to your variant multiclassing rules, which I'll tackle soon! My final verdict for this extremely useful book will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval. An extremely handy book to have for the time-starved, yet discerning GM!


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Genius Guide to Simple Class Templates for Monsters
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Temples of the Frog Folk
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/05/2015 02:20:21

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment in 13th Age's monthly series of supplemental pdfs clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let's take a look!


This pdf portrays basically an ecology on frog folk - but why did no one write about them? Well, there is this odd phenomenon - all who write about the frog folk seem to experience unpleasant accidents...and 13 reasons for the paranoia exhibited by and surrounding the frog folk are given: For example, what if ALL gods hate the frog folk, as they are a cosmic mishap? Or what if their skulls contain the fables toadstones?


Frog folk as creatures are pretty interesting - the abilities provide allow for a poisonous disengage, the option to duck out of sight in the right terrain, attacking foes currently not engaged with them in a leaping assault or an inability to be surprised. Even the frog folk mooks have poisoned spears, btw.


Other variants provided, like their monks, get flailing froggy fists of death and end in poisonous splatters. Spellcroakers can emit curse-based blasts and generate lethal effects that buff all their brethren or debuff adversaries. Nastier specials are provided for these guys, with frog knights also getting a sweet deal here. Massive mutant bullfrogs can also be found herein.


Those mystic toadstones I mentioned before? Well, several variants of them are depicted among the treasure-section, including the cursed and thankfully rare black toadstones. Frogskin Leggings that allow you to make astonishing leaps...or what about a bunch of magical muck you can shape into any form you want, throw into a swamp and see the swamp assume the shape you just made? Yeah, neat! Sample encounters also render this section interesting and easy to use.


Need some more inspiration to use with these encounter-guidelines? Well, what about 5 adventure hooks, each one tied to a different icon (archmage, crusader, three, priestess, prince of shadows, if you want to know) -and yes, one may put what amounts to the Armageddon-spell into the PCs hands...thankfully, only this potent at higher levels, but there you have your tailor-made reason for everyone wanting a PC dead...or enslaved...


The pdf also sports racial info for frog folk PCs: They get +2 Dex or Con and get a 1/battle tongue racial power to re-engage with foes. The feats add poison-damage to the tongue and allow for multiple uses (11+) per battle, respectively - nothing to complain about regarding balancing here.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to 13th Age's two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports several nice full-color artworks. the pdf has no bookmarks, but doesn't necessarily need them at this length.


Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan knows his craft - quite frankly, at this point, I'm pretty much excited to see his name on any given supplement...and this ecology-style supplement is no different. Not only do the frog folk feel unique and compelling, the neat magic items and cool ideas sported herein render the content awesome even beyond the confines of the 13th Age-rules-set. If you ever needed some ideas to make grippli, boggards, etc. more compelling, this'll be your book. The solid racial rules and cool nastier specials add just the icing on a thoroughly enjoyable, cool supplement. The writing, while slightly tongue-in-cheek here and there, is never obnoxious or pseudo-cool, which is another plus.


All in all, a great offering, well worth 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Temples of the Frog Folk
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Dracoprimia 1: Disaster in Drak'kal
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/04/2015 04:27:34

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The first module in the Dracoprimia-saga clocks in at 43 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 39 pages of content, so let's take a look!


Before we dive into the meat of this module, a brief disclaimer - the following is an adventure-review. As such, it obviously contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.


...


..


.


All right, still here? Some of you may have been to the city of Drak'kal (which comes with full settlement stats and gorgeous full-color map, btw.) before - if you're like me and follow a lot of AAW Games' modules, you'll have passed by the city before, perhaps in the Fallen Leaves adventure arc. This time around, though, we begin the campaign in this city - one of the 3 sisters that constitute an outpost of the Klavekian kingdom's civilization before the wilderness of Serpent Lake and its environs.


No here's something playing against the trope: The Broztavya Circus is in town, and it's not a collection of insane killers or horrors hidden behind a thinly-veiled disguise. I know, stunning, right? And yes, I pretty much mean this - I can enumerate quite a few nasty circus modules, but one that actually depicts a "normal" one? Well, that would be a rare occurrence. As such, I greatly appreciated the very detailed gather information entries as the show is the talk of the town - it's supposed to be the most daring show yet and rumors even speak of elven blood among the performers (something rather rare in the human-centric Klavekian kingdom)...performers the PCs can actually meet as the walk around town and soak in the sights - from the drunken bear tavern to the docks, there is some opportunity to meet the performers and make sure they're not cannibalistic psychopaths.


The lavishly-mapped (in full color, with grid and player-friendly!) circus and its performers - from carnival games to knife-throwers...only the northern tent is restricted, after all, there, the animals are kept...and they include a friggin' dire bat, a deinonychus...and a man with dragon-like features and crystalline, gleaming scales. If a PC knows draconic (and no group I ever ran did not have that language), there'll be no misunderstanding - Verja is intelligent and not just grunting. He's one of the rare Draaki (pioneered in the Underworld-Races-series). Alas, the cages are magical and a jailbreak does not seem feasible...for now. It should be noted that the module does contain information on magical auras to be found in the circus - something I really wished more modules took into account - nice going there! This has a reason, though - you see, there have been mishaps...and a rather nasty wizard seeks to ruin the harbormaster and is using the circus as collateral damage - finding the devious enchantments is a pretty uncommon (and cool) task for the PCs.


After a relatively brief period of investigation, though, the main show begins - here we have wonders most awesome and intriguing, as a steam-based orchestra my malfunction (or properly work) - it should be noted that each act sports read-aloud text when it works...and for the instance, when the dread enchantments placed take effect - so yes, the PCs may have to save the tightrope-walking halfling, prevent the half-orc stongman from going berserk and avoid an accident with the knife-thrower's performance - failure results in potentially pretty grisly results. Then, it's time for the clowns, and to the sound of a strange word, all the cages pop open, as the animals run rampant - at this point, things escalate...fast. Worse - the conspicuous vikmordere raiders among the audience attack the PCs as astute PCs may see a clown escape...


On an unrelated note - the word uttered is an Easter-egg: "Spaetzle" (roughly translating to "little sparrow") is a glorious type of egg-noodle extremely tasty and popular in Southern Germany. Particularly Swabia is well-known for these very tasty noodles.


Back to the action: When the moon priestess and leader of town arrives, guards take note and thank the PCs - alas, unfortunately, the animals are still at large - a deinonychus in the tavern, hyena in the market, a rhino in the streets, crocodiles at the docks and, obviously, the dire bat - nice: Both docks and alleyways get full-blown, gorgeous maps - and at the docks, the PCs can prevent the mad mastermind behind the troubles from killing the notoriously corrupt harbor-master that ruined his life...and see to it that a better man can get this station. More importantly, the priestess can facilitate communication with the draaki: The creature, now free, was tasked to bring Upperworlders according to an ancient prophecy to his tribe via the newly established Rhizomorph road - so yes, adventures and the underdark await in Part II!


The pdf provides a map of the whole world of Aventyr, the Klavek Kingdom, a grid-less version of the circus, a version of the alley-map sans elevations for the buildings and a grid-less version of the docks.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with a mix of original artwork in color I haven't seen before and stock art, though it maintains a concise look. The pdf's cartography by Tommi Salama is superb, as I've come to expect from him. The pdf is fully bookmarked for your convenience.


This pdf is a breath of fresh air - when so many level 1 modules take the low level as an excuse to be boring, this is the antithesis - the circus is a great hook, the challenges diverse and the module exudes Mike Myler's trademark levity: This is not a grisly module, although admittedly, the results of failures to deduce sabotages can have unpleasant repercussions. In fact, I playtested this one with kids (ages 7 and up), toning down the effects of failures to deduce the problems and it works in that context just as well. In fact, the kids got ALL the sabotage-attempts and while the final confrontations proved hard, the module can be solved sans bloodshed. For didactic purposes, I grant such groups the option to deal nonlethal damage sans penalty with spells and attacks - if they want to be the good guys, they don't kill the bad guys - and indeed, it is my experience that they don't want to be the bad guys; even a suggestion of killing a circus animal by an NPC was met with defiant scowls and "We're the heroes, we handle that like heroes!" A heart-warming experience, really. Fun fact: Since the kids did not suffer from anti-circus-carnies-gonna-kill-us-all-paranoia, they had an easier time than adult players in this one.


The module as such is great, fun and steers clear of all those nasty 1st-level module clichés. If you want a nice suggestion: You may want to download Fat Goblin Games' Halloween charity-product Carnival of Sinners (available as "Pay what you Want") when running this module - either for the (evil) carnies to supplement the circus, should you wish to increase the gritty-factor, or to simply enjoy the carnie-speak that book offers. It adds a whole new dimension and some damn cool synergy to an already fun and inspired module.


When all is said and done, this can be considered a truly exciting, unique start for the Dracoprimia-AP, one that sees me tremendously excited for more. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dracoprimia 1: Disaster in Drak'kal
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Dragon Riding
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/04/2015 04:21:05

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The first installment of 13th Age Monthly clocks in at 8 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let's take a look!


There are few images so iconic in fantasy, there are few things as contended as the act of dragonriding. As such, it should come as no surprise that this pdf opens with a kind of disclaimer: Whether this happens often or not, ultimately is up to the GM - and that's a good thing, at least in my book. Why? Because this is one of those reviews, where I sit down and swallow my personal preferences: Basically, I think dragonriding should be something that only happens rarely, if at all. If you've been following my reviews, you'll know that I pretty much consider dragons to be the apex-creature and as such, am thoroughly opposed to spamming them in any way, as it lessens their impact. I was also pretty unimpressed by most Dragonlance novels - so yeah. Not the biggest fan here, mainly because, to me, the fact that these superb creatures let puny mammals ride them never made too much sense to me.


The rules provided within this brief supplement do acknowledge the diversity of requirements of campaigns: Some high-fantasy campaigns may consider dragonriding to be something wide-spread and accepted, whereas in others, the occasion is rare and something used to highlight a particularly epic story-line. The rules herein do NOT cover the out-of-combat implications of dragon-riding, instead focusing on their impact in combat - this is a strength and a weakness, but I'll get back to that later.


We begin this installment thus with some ideas for dragon-riding adventures, neatly tied together with the lore of the Dragon Empire. These ideas are well-presented - not much to complain about here. So here are the design assumptions: Dragon-riding is envisioned as a champion tier activity. Dragons are assumed to be roughly on par with your level. Dragon combats are intended primarily to happen outside, not within the confines of a dungeon. Mounts have to be larger than their riders...and willing to carry the character into battle. THANKFULLY sans rules to determine that and force the dragon to accept a rider. The pdf also uses the simple and concise flight-rules from 13 True Ways, reprinted here for your convenience.


Depending on how much of a focus you want to put on dragonriding, a free feat may be in order - whereas campaigns with a lot of dragonriding may utilize the 2 new feats presented here as part of a character's planned progression. The champion tier feat nets you +3 to your skill check and lets you keep mastery automatically on a critical hit of your dragon. The epic-tier feat allows you to extend the benefits of teleports and similar spells to your draconic mount, but requires you to roll to maintain mastery.


There are enough dragon stats in 13th Age already, but they're intended for monsters, hence some basic assumptions: Dragons have separate hit points and are a separate entity for purposes of conditions etc. Regarding initiative, one takes the average between one's own and the dragon's initiative and mounting up in combat means the lower initiative is used. I'm not a big fan of the somewhat clunky "take average between initiatives"-solutions, but I get where the decision came from. Personal bonuses to (dis-) engage do not matter when the mount is doing the (dis-)engaging and, if a dragon is engaged with a creature, so is the rider. Dragons are always eligible for opportunity attacks.


The healing front requires some work on part o the GM - a recovery is supposed to heal about 25% of a dragon's hit points - this is a solid guideline, but frankly, I would have preferred that being done for the GM and codified in a more stringent way. Now the action-economy is interesting: Basically, you and the dragon maintain the three default actions: quick, move, standard. The dragon burns his quick action to bear with the rider, the rider burns his move action to stay in saddle. Now, I already mentioned this nebulous concept of "mastery" - which is the cornerstone of dragonriding.


Essentially, what he have here is a skill-check against a DC that begins with DC 20 and scales up to 30, depending on dragon power. The more powerful your dragon, the higher the level-discrepancy between you, the more difficult it gets. The skill-check is modified by an attribute (which depends on the type of dragon you ride), level and relevant backgrounds. MD attacks, staggers and 0 hp all prompt mastery checks and activate attacks and tricks require mastery as well - however, and here's the cool thing: Failing the check does not keep you from doing cool things - instead, it requires that the rider spends a standard action on a subsequent round to regain mastery - sans check. Alternatively, you can spend a quick action (only once per round) for a hard save to regain mastery - on a failure, they botched and the quick action is lost.


Of course, battles with dragons thus require more observations on part of the GM - e.g. the fact that one should carefully watch metallic dragons and eliminate the metallic awe ability from these mounts, something the pdf thankfully points out. Dragons serving as mounts do not get random dragon abilities and yes, the development of a bond and the like does provide a factor in the observations. All in all, these rules are highly cinematic and cool - but they also take a bit of the "cool" away - what do I mean by this? Since you always get to perform those awesome stunts and only thereafter have to contend with regaining mastery, you'll be seeing loopings, 360°-spins and the like...a lot. At least if your players are like mine. And as cool as these maneuvers are, these lose some of their awesomeness if they always work. So that would be a system-inherent issue that may or may not irk you.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to a ncie, two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with full, nested bookmarks. The pdf comes with nice full color artworks.


This pdf, in spite of its brevity, is awesome - the rules provided for dragonriding, while slightly slowing down the game, are extremely fast for what they do - Rob Heinsoo and ASH LAW deliver here. The rules are awesome and well worth the asking price. At the same time, this one does feel like it fell a bit short of its potential. What you get here is a book that does a great combat in the combat arena...and one that completely ignores the ramifications beyond the combat component. What about the level-up component? When to level up regarding dragons? What about wide discrepancies between dragon and rider? Sure, the mastery-DCs get higher...but more guidance here would have been nice. What about the ramifications of a campaign setting's infra-structure? I don't expect Companions of the Firmament-level of detail from such a small pdf, but at least some components, some advice, would have been awesome. It is my firm belief that a couple of pages dealing with suggestions of non-combat implications of draconic mounts would have been more than appreciated and rendered this pdf awesome.


It should also be noted that, if you're like me, the header "Riders with Skillz" will have you cringe - no idea why this pseudo-hip language was included here. This does not influence my final verdict, but it is something that may upset you.


In the end, dragonriding's mechanics are awesome and great, but the book does require a lot of GM-fiddling regarding the structure of battles and the non-combat implications of the dragons - hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dragon Riding
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Warrior Prestige Archetype: Sun Seeker
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/04/2015 04:18:27

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This pdf of the Warrior Prestige Archetype-series clocks in at 9 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/introduction (explaining the base concept of the series), 1 page SRD leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let's take a look!


What are Prestige Archetypes? Well, I reviewed the whole first series, so here's the tl;dr-version: They are prestige classes blended with one (or more) base-class(es) to result in a new, 20-level-class - much like you had modified the base class with an archetype. Get it? Yeah, not a hard concept to grasp, is it? Now personally, I use Prestige Classes with an emphasis on the PRESTIGE-component, archetypes more like a career path, but this differs wildly from how PrCs are handled in most cases. Hence, for all who are dissatisfied with how Prestige Classes work in PFRPG - this series is for you.


This one takes the Skyseeker-PrC and utilizes the ranger chassis - which means full BAB-progression, good Fort- and Ref-saves, full proficiency with weapons and light + medium armor and shields, Wis-based spellcasting from the ranger's list starting at 4th level and 6+Int skills. 7th level nets heavy armor proficiency.


The class, as presented here, adheres pretty closely to the ranger-frame - favored enemy, progression 3rd level endurance, 1st level track + wild empathy - the dispersal of ranger abilities throughout the levels is pretty solid. 2nd level nets the know direction-based Find Citadel ability - so no, combat style is not part of the deal for this class.


3rd level provides a new ability that immediately makes this version superior to its PrC-iteration - ancestral allies: You choose either companions, allowing her to grant favored enemy bonus to allies, an animal companion or the favored terrain class feature - this level of customization is nice to see and thematically fits the class well. At 4th level, the rune-carved armor is gained and 5th level grants ancestral weapons, with the ability's damage-scaling being dispersed organically throughout the levels of the class. 6th level nets 1/week Commune, +1 use every 6 levels thereafter. 9th level either grants darkvision or expands it, with the second expansion happening at 14th level.


The SR-granting runes of Resistance is gained at 13th level and 16th level offers path of the ancients. The powerful, mettle-like effect Stalwart is gained appropriately late at 17th level and the PrC's capstone Call to Arms can now be found at 18th level. The new capstone allows for full speed tracking, standard action attacks versus favored enemies that operate on save-or-die, including the option to instead drop foes via nonlethal damage.


The pdf, as always, provides solid FCOs for the core-races and this time around, sports a sample dwarf at level 1, 5, 10 and 15. The pdf also has a feat that allows for easier stabilization alongside 1/day crit/sneak negation down to a normal hit.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games' printer-friendly two-column standard and has seen some streamlining - from font use to markers, the layout has been improved, so kudos! The pdf comes fully bookmarked and sans art apart from the cover.


The Sun seeker as presented by Carl Cramér here suffers from a downright sucky PrC -I liked its concept, but the execution of the PrC is all over the place and feels confused. This Prestige Archetype does a better job at making the class feel concise and thematically consistent. That being said, I really wished ancestral weapon, the first active signature ability that could be conceivably moved to lower levels, was there - perhaps instead of some ranger abilities. As written, the class takes a LONG time to become truly distinct. While ancestral allies somewhat mitigates this, one might argue that moving it slightly would have been nice, since it essentially mimics ranger abilities. As written rune-carved armor at 4th level is the first truly distinct ability, 5th level offering the first offensive one. In my playtest, this rendered the class, at low levels, pretty much less distinct than it ought to have been. Higher levels somewhat mitigate this, but still - all in all a solid take on the concept, but it falls rather short of Carl's better prestige archetypes. My final verdict will clock in at 3 stars.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Warrior Prestige Archetype: Sun Seeker
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Mythic Monsters #28: Animals
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/03/2015 04:34:07

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of the mythic monsters-series clocks in at 28 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page ToC, 2 pages hot to use/introduction, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 17 pages of content - so let's not waste any time!


The tradition of this series stipulates that we begin each of the supplements with a fun, customized offering that takes the respective nature of the installment into account - this time around, this would be a mixed entry regarding its focus, one that takes a crucial central component into account: Animals are hard to do justice in mythic rules. Sure, you can slap those supernatural abilities on them, but then you'll lose a kind of the quasi-realistic feeling of mythic animals - they captivate as a concept due to 2 factors: 1) We know animals - whether consciously or not, we are familiar with their evolution-powered biology, the function of their bodies and overall design. 2) At the same time, mythic is all about amplifying all up to 11. A recommended means of representing this conundrum would be by assuming a mythic animal to be an extraordinary creature of its kind, a paragon if you will. The optional, additional King of Beasts quality represents this, making the respective animal prouder, wilder, fiercer and harder to domesticate. Personally, I very much like this option and applaud its integration.


Beyond this component, obviously the factor of domestication must be taken into account and so the synergy with the installment on mounts, the Handle Animal skill (via new exploits) and the Ride-skill is provided. After this rather imaginative section, we dive right into the creatures, the first of which would be the axe beak at CR 3/MR 1 - in the mythic version, this book adds more powerful bites, better leaps and allows for more flexible, sudden charges. At the same CR/MR, the bat swarm and dire bat await - the former getting a powerful blood frenzy to tear bleeding foes to shreds, the latter gaining temporary hit points, potentially powered further by mythic power - both have in common that they deepen the theme of the creatures and that they maintain the concept of the animals - they remain believable.


The mythic dire bar at CR 8/MR 3 is definitely something if you and your players have recently seen one of these over-dramatized grizzly-scare horror/survival-flicks: With mythic power'd quarry and immunity to debilitating save-or-suck abilities, these bears are truly astounding foes - and the gorgeous artwork provided walks the line between dangerous and cuddly -fine job! The CR 5/MR 2 dire boar's bleed-causing crits and back-to-the-wall-bonus is more straight in its design, but still fits. Again, at CR 3/MR 1, the cheetah gets an awesome modification f the sprint - which may now also blur the creature - and if you picture the cat sprinting in the heat of the steppe, you can actually see that kind of being realistic in a world tuned up to 11 - they are VERY fast.


The dire crocodile at CR 11/MR 4 is mechanically extremely interesting - they can AoE-bite foes and have a particularly noxious bile - I love this build! Kudos to whoever made the creature! The CR 4/MR 1 petranodon gets stealthy flying - nice, I guess, but falls a bit short when compared to the former animals. The CR 2/MR 1 giant poisonous frog gets reflexive poison skin - solid.


At CR 6/MR, the dire lion, as the king of cats, can grant teamwork feats to other felines and wildcard-change teamwork feats via mythic power - add a deafening roar with a cool-down and better paws and we have one awesome build.


The lowest of the low, the mythic dire rat at CR 1/MR 1, becomes a particularly lethal plague bearer - you could craft a cool roleplaying heavy scenario focused on containing potentially infected creatures after dealing with this foe - two thumbs up! At 2 CR more, the rat swarm gets a nasty fear-inducing ability. At CR 4/MR 1, the murder of crows can quickly disperse and expand, combining two of my favorite rules for mythic swarms, both of which fit the visuals of this one perfectly. Oh, and they can take your eyes. Two thumbs up, also for the AWESOME artwork provided! On the nitpicky side, the source of d20pfsrd.com may or may not be a slight glitch. It does not impede functionality of the statblock, though


At CR 5/MR 2 the rhinoceros's statblock seems to have a slight layout hiccup - the statblocks organization is all correct, but the formatting that separates the sections has not been properly implemented. On the plus-side, a sufficiently deadly charge and the option to be armored further render the creature rather awesome. Its woolly brethren at +2 CR/+1 MR may instead impale foes, gets resistance to cold and the option to deal sonic damage via their stomps - awesome.


At CR 11/MR 4, the megalodon, receives immunity to mind-affecting effects, representing the single-minded predator. The creature may also rip open the skin of swimmers by just passing them by and accelerate to ramming speed for lethal slams - love this build and the full color art provided helps!


Next up would be snakes - CR 6/MR 3 for the emperor cobra is so fast, it may retreat to the shadows and thus negate deadly hits. With a warning growl and more lethal poison, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. At CR 13/MR, the colossal anaconda - these creatures may draw you under via their very wake, encircle foes and squeeze the air from foes - nice one, though the encircling ability has a its name not properly bolded. Per default, the creature's build has the giant templates, but stats sans it are provided alongside the Inescapable Grasp-feat's reprint. At CR 5/MR 2, the snake swarm wins by virtue of the sheer amount of toxin pumped into its foes - nice.


The mythic dire tiger at CR 10/MR 4 (represented alongside the snakes on the gorgeous cover, which features herein as a 1-page spread) is a consummately deadly hunter with hide in plain sight, soundless charges and the option to severely injure limbs - cool build, though one ability has a formatting glitch, where, instead of a minus, there's a crossed-out box as a remnant. This does not cripple the entry or render this problematic, but it does show. The CR 4/MR 1 wolf, as pack leader, may grant Pack Attack and combo maneuvers with the bite - which is cool. Cooler even would be the CR 6/MR 2 wolf pack - utilizing the troop-type, fear-induction, hamstringing foes and extra options to represent their relentless chase makes this a great build.


The final creature herein would be the mythic version of the wolverine who not only gets rage, but also a nasty cone of nauseating musk at CR 5/MR 2 - again, a cool build with a great artwork.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are good, though not as tight as most installments n the series - there are quite a few small hiccups in formatting etc. herein, though none of them impede functionality. Layout adheres to LG's two-column full-color standard. One should not be remiss and mention the excessive amount of new, full-color artwork provided for most creatures herein. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Mike Welham, Victoria Jaczko, Jason Nelson, Jonathan H. Keith - ladies and gentlemen, you have made what must have, design-wise, been one the hardest mythic monster-books actually one of my favorites: The lingering requirement of a quasi-realism is maintained in all builds, while still sporting a sense of the wondrous. Add to that the fact that quite a few build sparkle with creativity, going wildly different routes in design, and we get an excellent installment of the series. That being said, the glitches make it impossible for me to rate this the full 5 stars, in spite of me absolutely adoring this pdf's content. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 - but I will still award this one my seal of approval - I loved this pdf that much!


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Mythic Monsters #28: Animals
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Warrior Prestige Archetype: Student of War
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/03/2015 04:30:01

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This pdf of the Warrior Prestige Archetype-series clocks in at 8 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/introduction (explaining the base concept of the series), 1/2 a page advertisement, 1 page SRD leaving us with a 4.5 pages of content, so let's take a look!


What are Prestige Archetypes? Well, I reviewed the whole first series, so here's the tl;dr-version: They are prestige classes blended with one (or more) base-class(es) to result in a new, 20-level-class - much like you had modified the base class with an archetype. Get it? Yeah, not a hard concept to grasp, is it? Now personally, I use Prestige Classes with an emphasis on the PRESTIGE-component, archetypes more like a career path, but this differs wildly from how PrCs are handled in most cases. Hence, for all who are dissatisfied with how Prestige Classes work in PFRPG - this series is for you.


The student of war utilizes the fighter as the base chassis, which means full BAB-progression and proficiencies, good Fort-saves and d10 HD, but teh Student fo War gets 4+Int skills.


The class gets a bonus feat at first, 2nd and every 4 levels thereafter, which must be chosen from the combat-feat-type. They may select fighter-only feats, treating their class level as fighter level for the purpose of prerequisites. 3rd level nets armor training, 7th allows for full movement in heavy armor and 19th level nets DR 5/- whenever wearing armor or a shield.


2nd level provides mind over metal, i.e. the Int-for Dex-substitution of the PrC - good to see this moved down, since it's a basic ability. The signature ability Know Your Enemy is gained at 4th level, and if you're like me and obsessively memorize text, a quick check-up of the base PrC's text will show that the wording here actually cleans up a glaring oversight regarding humanoids from the PRC - kudos! The bonus granted and its scaling is solid and action-economy-wise, we also get a nice progression that fits with the respective levels. The same cannot be said about Anticipate - also gained at 4th level, it's where the class somewhat goes off the rails: Where the original ability had a daily limit, this one hasn't. Yes, this means essentially evasion for all 3 saves. Urgh.


8th level nets Telling Blow, 12th nemesis, 16th deadly blow and the class has a new capstone - against all studied targets, you auto-confirm crits at +1 multiplier - NICE!


The pdf provides FCOs for the core races as well as a sample goblin NPC at 1st, 5th, 10th and 15th level.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games' printer-friendly two-column standard and has seen some streamlining - from font use to markers, the layout has been improved, so kudos! The pdf comes fully bookmarked and sans art apart from the cover.


Carl Cramér has a difficult task here - the student of war is certainly not the most compelling of PrCs. The class presented here is a solid take on the concept - and one, let me state this loud and clear, that is better than the base PrC it is based one. That being said, it also falls a bit short of its own potential. The decision to make the first 3 levels defined exclusively by bonus feats & passive abilities make the class less compelling than it could be - by moving the distinct Know thy Enemy-ability down to 1st level and adding a scaling mechanism to prevent dip-exploits, this class could have been more distinct.
As written, it begins to come into its own at 4th level, where the active signature abilities are granted. And yes, I do believe that Anticipate should remain here - but not as an unrestricted ability. A lenient daily cap that scales with class levels could have made this one fit perfectly...as written, this ability is good enough to make a 4-level dip into the class an option I'd definitely consider, especially when combined with a class that provides many or more good saves...for in the context of the student of war itself, the ability is not broken...in the overall frame of rules, though...urgh.


At the same time, this Prestige Archetype does have some awesome components, providing a fix and some nice new content...so how to rate this? In the end, I will settle on a final verdict of 3 stars for this one.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Warrior Prestige Archetype: Student of War
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The Reign of Terror
Publisher: Four Dollar Dungeons
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/02/2015 03:24:25

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The latest 4 Dollar Dungeon-module clocks in at 88 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with a massive 84 pages, so let's take a look!


But before we dive into the nit and grit of this module, I feel obliged to point out some peculiar facts of this book: For one, I provided basic advice for a minor crunch-component that is part of the supplemental information in this pdf. I was not involved in any other way with this book. Beyond that, this book follows the format established by 4 Dollar Dungeons - that means you'll get A LOT of supplemental material herein - spells, items etc. Basically, the idea is to provide a holistic experience and minimize your requirement for book-swapping. Additionally, the pdf does provide all artworks in an appendix, so you can easily print out the pieces and utilize them as hand-outs.


Beyond that, the module offers excessive and sound discussions on the nature of fear in roleplaying games, particularly in the fantasy-horror genre - the observations and justifications for the design-process presented here are more than sound - and the same can be said about the detailed advice provided for the more lethal encounters herein. Few modules provide this level of guidance, so yes, GMs will have a pretty easy time running this - also due to handy tables listing CRs, XP, treasures and encounter-difficulty as well as scaling advice. Of course, the by now traditional, detailed random encounters and traveling information are also provided and, as a bonus, monster-lore for teh GM to hand-out to players, can also be found.


All right, so let's see whether Richard Develyn can maintain his streak of absolutely legendary modules. From here on out, SPOILERS reign. Potential players should jump to the conclusion. No, really. Don't spoil a 4 Dollar Dungeon-module - you'd regret it.


...


..


.


All right...only GMs here? Great!


So can Richard Develyn write classic horror? I'll let the module answer:


"Somewhere deep below the ground lies a vampiric creature of fearsome proportions [...] it stretches its veins, each of them big enough to swallow a tarrasque, through densely packed iron and rock [...] and when these tendrils break through to the earth's crust, a new dynasty of vampires soon comes into being." - and so, an ancient, quasi-cthulhoid menace spawned a vampire dynasty in Maison D'Artère. While subtle, the vampires, supplemented by this vein of terrible power, became a bit too confident - and so, they drew the attention of the order of the lily. Unlike the previous, foolhardy heroes that sought to end the undead menace, the cavaliers did their homework - and targeted a nodule of the vast cthonic creature, plunging the magical lance "Fleur de Lis" into the nodule, pumping poison into the vast creature to destroy it - but such gigantic threats are not easily defeated. Cutting the nodule off from crucial components of the vampiric Great Old One/deity-analogue, the isolated nodule soon turned against the vampires it had spawned - after the blood was drained from the vampires and after the cavaliers had fallen, nothing remained to sate the unholy appetite of the vast creature below castle Rougemord and so, the ancient veins petrified.


The Fleur de Lis, an intelligent weapon with an inflated ego (and a significant paranoia) remained lost, embedded in the ancient, chthonic threat. Now, the order of the lily has tasked the PCs to retrieve the lost item - the first clue of which will force the PCs to explore the tomb of Lemaistre, the fleur's former wielder.


But first, the PCs will get a taste of the walled town of Englouti (full settlement statblock provided), where the module starts, which also will provide a new experience for people familiar with 4 Dollar Dungeons: Know how the cartography was pretty much the one thing not absolutely superb in the 4$D-modules? How it usually was copious, provided for all areas, but just functional? What would you say when I told you that this one sports absolutely stunning, original cartography, both in b/w and full color? Particularly the renditions of the towns and overland maps are absolutely awesome and not something I've seen in many pdfs, much less ones at this price range, with player-friendly high-res versions provided? Yes, particularly for the low price-point, this is more than impressive.


An interesting note regarding the structure of this module would also pertain to the PCs traveling to the village of Sans-secours, from which the fabled tomb can be reached: You see, it's spring (NOT autumn or winter!) and thus, it is perfectly valid for the PCs to spend some time in the local village while they prepare their expedition to the remote tomb - and 3 weeks of slowly escalating weirdness and foreshadowing are provided for the life there, adding a pretty detailed depiction of the local life and allowing the PCs to form connections, rather than plunging head-first into horror. Oh, and they will probably fall to a bait-and-switch there - you see, the tomb does not hold the lance...or any undead for that matter. All the nice holy water and spells they brought...are pretty useless. Heck, the place isn't even really dangerous apart from one particular creature, but that lairs beyond the tomb.


It's when the trail leads to Rougemord, that things get creepy - fast. The castle's vicinity seems to spawn rather disturbing visions and nightmares and the approach of the castle is guarded by a creature that fits with the horror-theme in a slightly less obvious manner; that being said, this adversary can TPK foolish groups and provide a nasty hit-and-run adversary. The castle sports massive amounts of ravens, deadly animals, crawling claws - and something I could hug the module for: There's not a single undead to fear herein. heck, even dueling skeletons are animated objects. The exploration of the castle allows the PCs to partake in the horrors that once graced these halls and much of the place's incantations remain...as do some outsiders. From psychopomps to devils, there is a lot to uncover and indeed, some places can be considered micro-puzzles.


Describing the immense amount of detail that the castle is studded with would probably bloat this review to an extent I do not consider feasible in this case - instead, let's skip a bit ahead: Sooner or later, should the PCs not fall to the castle's dangers, they will find those odd caverns...and finally, the lance. Who is a) annoying and not too smart and b) urging them to pull it free. What nether the lance, nor the PCs know, though, is that with the removal of the lance, a strange heartbeat is heard - and no amount of coaxing can properly jam the lance back inside. From here on out, things become rather dark very fast - all lupine creatures within miles of the castle howl to a blood-red moon, as more and more hungry vampire-spawn are released from the slowly revitalizing walls...and it soon becomes apparent that the PCs are in over their heads...massively.


Fleeing the castle precipice under the auspice of hundreds of snarling, lupine creatures, they can witness a friend fall to the maw of a winter wolf - who also constitutes the boss...but not the end. With the sledge conveniently brought by their erstwhile, now dead ally, the PCs have a sledding chance to escape the doom that has re-awakened in Rougemord in a final adrenaline-laden chase sequence. If you've handled this well, the darkness has returned to Rougemord and a new reign of terror will begin...and your players will look at each other in true horror and whisper "What have we done?"


Now if the apocalyptic awakening of a vast clan of vampires and a chthonic elder vampire thing don't fit your plans, fret not - as the module suggests, there is a certain demiplane of dread all too willing to scour the whole region with its misty tendrils...


As mentioned before, the module has copious supplemental information, including the order of the lily, which actually features some intriguing visuals - and if your players are like mine, they may want to take up the order's vow and seek to right the terrible thing they have unwittingly wrought...


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good -I only noticed pretty minor issues here and there. Layout adheres to 4 Dollar Dungeons' printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience AND in two versions - one for letterpack-format and one for the European A4-format for people like yours truly. The pdf comes extensively bookmarked with nested bookmarks. The cartography's quality (and particularly, the gorgeous isometric renditions of the places) are beyond what you'd expect to see in such a low-cost pdf. The pdf also comes with high-res jpgs for use with virtual tabletops and, as mentioned before, with plentiful materials for the GM.


Richard Develyn has written the most un-gothic gothic horror adventure I've ever read. That's a great thing. Good horror is NOT, contrary to what 99% of found-footage movies believe, being startled. Neither does it derive its impact from being grossed out. Sure, that can be horrific - but it's not horror. Horror may spring from the grotesque and alien, sure, but that's not what this is about, either.


Horror has a psychological component that taps into our psyche with subtle imagery and symbolism - and such symbolism can be found herein - whether it's the idiot child, the twisted mother figure and the like - we may not perceive it consciously, but our unconscious notes these.


Hence, this module is decidedly smart - it begins at a stage of innocence with set-ups, which, while foreboding, mirror a certain innocence that is inherent in the fantasy genre. It then begins to dismantle it - slowly, but surely, escalating the threat by making the backdrop, symbolically-charged and the imagery of the lance and the nodule resonate with a primal sense of horror to which one could ascribe perinatal dread hard-coded into our very being. The season of growth, early spring, and the imagery of wolves and ravens with their symbolic charges further supplements this reading - it's these creatures that are the threat in the end, less so than the intentionally pitiful dragon that is featured in the innocent phase of the module.


Surprisingly, in spite of the lack of undead (a stroke of genius design in a genre that all too often is defined by the erroneous assumption that bones, blood and undead are creepy in and of themselves), this module GETS what makes gothic horror work...and one-ups it. While this can be read as a kind of gothic horror narrative, it could conceivably just as easily be read as a tale of cosmic terror or Lovecraftian proportions - the psychological imagery evoked by the module can just as well be externalized to represent a hostile cosmos of adversaries, a glimpse at a world at best indifferent to the suffering of its inhabitants. Note that usually, such a reading would be terribly at odds with any remotely related to Gothic Horror: Cosmic terror is existential, pertaining to a reality that is removed from the individual, to a sense of complete alienation from everything. Gothic Horror, on the other hand, is a deeply humane kind of horror, one wherein the internal struggles of the psyche are made into externalized threats - it is deeply personal. The only reason both are often confused is a shared array of backdrops and styles, both of which, however, sport vastly diverging meanings and readings - they may occupy the same physical building, but they do not play in the same house.


Horror must grow - and this pdf takes its time with a decidedly slow-paced set-up, one that has its climax hit all the harder - so hard, in fact, that it can become the nexus of a whole campaign, should you choose to embark on this train of thought. It doesn't have to, mind you - but the potential is undoubtedly there. So what do we have here? We have a module that actually understands what gothic horror is about. Yes, at first glance it does read a bit like early Ravenloft modules - something almost decidedly intentional. However, unlike those "bones & blood are creepy"-modules, it shows a distinct understanding why some of the classic Ravenloft modules worked, while others devolved into sucky hack-fests.


This knowledge is not something you could easily convey, either in modules, words or artworks - it bespeaks of a deeper understanding of the genre. To the point, where not even aforementioned pseudo-lovecraftian readings of the subject-matter undermine the impact of this book, allowing for one of the very few cases where one could conceivably generate an overlap between the two without losing the impact on either. And yes, should you choose to, you can make the finale less...impactful...but you'd rob yourself and your group of a truly horrific pay-off of epic proportions.


On a personal level, I read this module with some sense of dread, mainly because I've seen A LOT regarding gothic horror - I've dabbled for many years in all of its forms and representations, not only in the context of gaming. However, Richard Develyn once again displays his vast and diverse talent by portraying yet another genre in a way I have not seen done before - the design-decisions, imagery and brave ending to the narrative conspire to make this module one that will leave your players at the very least gulping, at the best rather shocked...stunned even. Not via a cheap, narrative trick, but by virtue of all those little symbols and pieces falling into place with an almost audible "thwump." This module could have been the plot to a classic tale by Poe, had he had a background of fantasy roleplaying games - what more can you ask for?


One more thing: If my above explanations made no sense to you, feel free to contact me and I'll elaborate. And if you don't care about any part of this, just run it - you'll understand what I meant once you've completed this module...


Richard maintains his streak - this is the 7th module IN A ROW, all wildly different in focus, story, structure and genre, that gets 5 stars + seal of approval AND status as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2015. In case you're wondering - yes, so far ALL of these seven featured in the final top ten for their respective years. These modules aren't simple adventures - they are stimulating, smart art that can be appreciated on a whim or analyzed in-depth. In either case, you won't find a module even close to this level of quality anywhere near this price-point...or beyond that, for that matter. Dear adventure-authors (and particularly, anyone who throws the term "gothic horror" around willy-nilly without knowing what it means), take heed - this is how it's done in a fantasy context without losing the impact the genre requires to thrive.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Reign of Terror
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Ancient Empire of the Troglodytes
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/02/2015 03:21:26

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The first installment of "Ancient Empires" clocks in at 23 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 19 pages of content, so let's take a look!


So, this is a source-book about an ancient empire, and as such, we are introduced to Ssar'targontha - the eponymous empire of troglodytes....only that it kind of isn't. See, we all know troglodytes as those smelly, degenerate lizardfolk, right? Well, you may not be aware of that fact, but the word actually came into the English language from Middle French, based on Latin - "troglodytae" denoting "cave dwellers," literally "one who creeps into holes." It should come as no surprise, then, that this empire is situated in the deepest recesses of the underworld. Bear with me, for a second, for the word took on another meaning, roughly during the 19th century, when its use to denote a person that was considered to be "degenerate" found wide-spread use aside the horrible tenets of social Darwinism - it is, undoubtedly from this context, that the connotation of dilapidation and regression that has influenced the portrayal of the troglodyte race, has been introduced.


It should then come as no surprise, that the denizens of this empire have no more in common with general renditions of troglodytes than we do with apes - 7 feet tall, intelligent and advanced, with their own cuneiform script, these beings once performed great rites atop their subterranean ziggurats - but alas, time marches on, and the empire fell to internal squabbles and the war against the elemental planes, incurred by the practice of elemental-sacrifice. Nowadays, only ruins and remnants of the ancient glory remain, and the deity of the empire, Amon-Pyr (with a full, fluff-centric write-up), has largely been forgotten.


Lost is the knowledge of the ancient troglodytes' caste-system (though not so for the GM, who gets proper insight into the subject matter) and several short write-ups of sample ruined cities help visualize the ruins alongside key notes on architecture...and a great b/w-artwork that captures the slightly unsettling glory of such a city -from the canals to the aqueducts, the civilization as depicted here offers a tantalizing glimpse of aeons long gone.


However, unlike more rudimentary supplements on such a subject matter, this book frankly goes one step beyond what you'd expect - there are no less than 20 whispers and rumors that double as potential adventure-(or even campaign-) hooks. Better yet, the book also sports some handy advice for the GM to help squeeze the maximum amount of enjoyment out of this book - so yes, this aspect can be considered to be somewhat of a larger, more detailed version of an alternate-dungeon-book... or a dressing-book. No less than 100 entries of dungeon dressing allow for massive customizations of ruins - thematically-fitting and awesome, this aspect of the book is reminiscent of the dressing-series we all know and love. So yes, there is a lot to see and experience in the ruins - if you don't get killed by the 3 new and awesome traps, detailed in Raging Swan Press' trademark level of detail - you could e.g. be cut apart by pressurized air (!!!). Yes, this is nasty and awesome!


Traps are not the only thing that can kill intrepid explorers, though - the CR 6 tentacled hunter-creature Pyr-tok, the scroll-wrapped CR 9 urshak'xhul troglodyte mummies of the massive CR 11 zworms, all with their own stunning b/w-artworks and unique, inspired signature abilities, constitute some absolutely glorious adversaries. It gets even better - 4 magical items, 4 sample hoards to find and a table of 20 sample trinkets and minor treasures provide sufficient rewards for the brave and/or foolish that explore these ruins.


The pdf also sports 5 new spells that let you belch forth writhing masses of tentacles or emulate the stench of troglodytes. 5 solid feats allow for the use of Cleaving Finish with thrown weapons, better defense while fighting defensively, etc. - the feats are okay, but fall greatly behind the rest of the pdf in terms of awesomeness. The book also sports two more extensive class options: The Urshak'entu cleric, whose life steal ability can grant temporary hit points when dealing negative energy (but having no synergy with all those channel energy-effects as a balancing factor) and the new Ssar'targontha-bloodline for sorcerors, which is pretty neat. Finally, there is the CR+1 degenerate creature template.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press' two-column b/w-standard with a significant array of unique and awesome original b/w-artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks and the pdf comes in two versions - one optimized for screen-use and one to be printed out.


This is the first Ancient Empires-book and, let's get thsi right out of the way - this cements John Bennett's reputation as an author who gets darker fantasy and horror even further: Were I to describe this book's flair, it would be a mix of Kenneth Spencer/Mr. Kortes and Nicolas Logue/Richard Pett. Yes, I'm not using these comparisons lightly - this book is awesome in all the right ways: Smart, concise...and it takes essentially the key-components of RSP's product-lines and combines them into one glorious book. From the rumors to the dressings to the traps and creatures, not one component of this book is anything less than stellar...apart from the player options. Don't get me wrong - they are not bad. The spells are a bit hit and miss, but both feats and class options left me somewhat less inspired than I anticipated.


Now before you judge too soon - at the point when I first read this, I was thinking "OMG, this is so awesome, it needs to feature on my Top Ten-list!" - the content for the GM is that superb. The player options, on the other hand, are solid - they're not bad in any way and supplement the material well, but compared to the more inspired pieces of crunch out there, they fell slightly flat of the superb quality of the rest of the book, only clocking in at good/very good levels, when the rest of this tome is all about excellence. In the end, though, this only is so apparent because the majority of this book is downright brilliant. While this book thus misses my Top ten-list by a margin, it still constitutes perhaps the most impressive first offering I've seen in a product-line for a long time. Any GM looking for a superb toolkit for ancient ruins should get this ASAP - my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ancient Empire of the Troglodytes
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Warrior Prestige Archetype: Stalwart Defender
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/02/2015 03:18:24

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This pdf of the Warrior Prestige Archetype-series clocks in at 9 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/introduction (explaining the base concept of the series), 1 page SRD, leaving us with a 6 pages of content, so let's take a look!


What are Prestige Archetypes? Well, I reviewed the whole first series, so here's the tl;dr-version: They are prestige classes blended with one (or more) base-class(es) to result in a new, 20-level-class - much like you had modified the base class with an archetype. Get it? Yeah, not a hard concept to grasp, is it? Now personally, I use Prestige Classes with an emphasis on the PRESTIGE-component, archetypes more like a career path, but this differs wildly from how PrCs are handled in most cases. Hence, for all who are dissatisfied with how Prestige Classes work in PFRPG - this series is for you.


So, here we go - the stalwart defender: Full BAB-progression, good Fort- and Will-saves, 2+Int skills, d12, full proficiencies, DR 1/- scaling up to 7/-, with +1 every 3 levels. Third level nets a dodge bonus that scales up every 3 levels....yeah, these guys are all about the defense, with 2nd and 5th level netting uncanny dodge and its improved variant.


Thankfully, we get the class's signature ability, defensive stance, at first level, with 4+Con-mod rounds per day, +2 per class level. This nets a +2 AC bonus, +4 Str and Con and +2 Will-saves...and before you see the abuse potential - yes, this has an anti-rage-stack caveat - kudos! "But this is better than Rage!!" - -Yup, the numbers are...and they'd better be, for this lacks the component of free mobility.


Starting at 2nd level, the stalwart defender as presented here may choose from a broad array of defensive powers - from rerolling failed Will-saves to better defense versus feints and being bypassed via Acrobatics to halting foes, the power here are valid and diverse, with the more powerful ones sporting a sensible level-cap. And yes, there are some cool, new complementary powers to be found here that are not part of the base PrC - and they make sense - like retaliating when an ally is hit.


Mobile Defense is gained at 8th level, whereas the PrC's Last Word-capstone is moved to 17th level, to make way for the Mighty version of the defensive stance.


This pdf also provides FCOs for the core-races and sample NPCs at 1st,5th,10th and 15th level, this time using a dragonblooded as a the base race. The pdf also provides an interesting elixir that enhances defensive qualities, but at the cost of the ability to move...Nice one!


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games' printer-friendly two-column standard and has seen some streamlining - from font use to markers, the layout has been improved, so kudos! The pdf comes fully bookmarked and sans art apart from the cover.


Carl Cramér's Stalwart defender makes sense - at the first glance, the slight power-discrepancy compared to the barbarian may seem upsetting, but the class works out surprisingly well. It also makes the stalwart defender more beautiful from a design-aesthetic point of view - it's just tighter, more streamlined and feels less like something tacked on, instead providing essentially a cool variant class. The new abilities and item just add icing to the cake. A great installment, vastly superior to the base PrC in aesthetics and execution, this is well worth 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Warrior Prestige Archetype: Stalwart Defender
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Thunderscape: the World of Aden: Campaign Setting
Publisher: Kyoudai Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/30/2015 10:15:03

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This massive campaign book clocks in at 227 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 221 pages of content, so let's take a look, all right?


Now, if I utilize my usual level of detail and analyze everything down to the feat-level, we'll be here next Christmas, so please bear with me while I present this book's content in slightly broader strokes.


After introductory prose and well-drawn maps as well as a general introduction, we begin this book with the section on races, discussing the core-races and their roles within the setting of Aden first - though it should be noted that there are no default gnomes, halflings or half-orcs here - instead, there are A LOT of new races. The Faerkin would be basically the replacement for gnomes - flavorwise, they have ties with the fey, which translates to various alternate racial traits that represent this - Quickling blood increases base speed to 40 ft., for example - generally, I like this race - it's pretty well-balanced, though the aforementioned racial trait lacks the "ft." after the 40. Ferrans would be a race that all fans of werewolves and anthropomorphic animals will love - they are an artificially created race, intended for servitude, though by now they have claimed freedom via a massive insurrection - this war did leave its mark on the race, though - the avian and reptilian ferrans are extinct and now, only the mammalian ones remain - which is, balance-wise, probably a good thing. With either claws or bites, movement speed customization. Here' I'd like to thank the authors - not only have they concisely defined natural attacks, less experienced players also have the rules explained to them - nice one! Btw.: Ferrans come with two complete, alternate racial suites for brutes and sneaks - oh, and the race can select from a list of 3 different bestial abilities to account for the race's diversity. While the ferrans are a powerful race, it's not one that suffers from feature bloat or the like - my playtest did show them to be most appropriate from standard to high fantasy and less so in gritty low-fantasy scenarios, but admittedly, they can function in such contexts as well. Well-crafted one. Here would be, btw., as good a place as any to mention that alternate racial traits etc. tend to favor untyped bonuses, not racial bonuses - so if you're a consistency stickler like yours truly, you might be somewhat annoyed by that. And before you pull out the pitchforks - yes, I am aware that not all published races adhere to this convention either - it just would be nice if they did.


The Goreaux would be Aden's goblin-ish race...and they are extremely smart - with a focus on mechamagic and a focus on brilliant minds, they are an interesting race. That being said, they do gain +4 Int, which is something I am not a fan of, since it makes the race lopsided and ultimately makes them predisposed towards certain pursuits...and such increased bonuses tend to result in higher powered builds. The Jurak, highly adaptable survivalists, would be the stand-in for the half-orc -and once again constitute a great race - diverse, adaptable, interesting. Nice one! Rapacians would be the lizard-folk-ish race of Aden, though they are not primitive. Personally, I'm not a big fan of them getting bonuses to 2 physical attributes, but this is somewhat balanced by them being more straightforward regarding other racial traits - so yes, these guys get a pass from me. Then, there would be the echoes -blank slates of black in humanoid form, they are relatively recent creations...and these creepy-looking individuals may alter self - but only the form of a deceased humanoid, and only if they can secure a component of the humanoid to be integrated into their jewelry/vials/etc. This race is balanced, creepy and all awesome...however, I think the Transient Echo-abilities ought to specify that is Su in the ability-header, not just in the text - and yes, this is the nitpick-level that will not influence my final verdict. The Ilthix Exile, insectoid exiles of their alien insectoid race, get +4 Dex, -4 Cha, making them pretty lopsided. Worse, the race gets unassisted flight at first level, hive sense and non-verbal communication. This is the very picture-book example of a lopsided race and the unassisted flight before 6th level can be quite problematic. That being said, at least the fluff makes these guys suffer for their powerful abilities. This chapter btw. also contains favored class options for the new classes herein - there are a lot of them and chapter 2 is devoted to them. The race-chapter also sports age, height and weight-tables, common names, information on languages, etc.


So now, we'll take a look at the new classes - 9 of them. Seeing how one in-depth class analysis usually tends to cover 4+ pages, I'm going to instead focus on a broader strokes picture. The first class would be the Arbiter - at d12 and Full BAB, these guys are the agents of law and order, gaining e.g. class level as bonus to 3 skills, the class can be considered a more martial inquisitor in theme, with the talents granted at 3rd level and every two levels thereafter providing some customization. Theme-wise, arbiters would be tanks - with a focus on using shields, they can attack and AoO even in total defense and increase the power of these tricks. A solid blocker class - no complaints here...apart from the 10th level ability missing from table and write-up. Like all classes herein, we get information on how the class may be played via the example of numerous sample fluffy character backgrounds.


The Entomancer at d8 would be an alternate class of the druid (nicely done - quite a few authors fail in pointing the like out, resulting in multiclass issues...) and are all themed around "insects" - not vermin, mind you, insects - the definition of this term is pretty concise. Player agenda is emphasized by providing multiple insect mastery-groups - these can be pictured as collections of talents: Unlike bloodlines or orders, entomancers are not restricted to one, but may freely choose between them...however, the respective categories have prerequisites within, thus rewarding specialization in a given way. Once again, on the nitpicky side, I can complain about the prereqs e.g. once depicting the required masteries known as "two" and then as "2" - but once again, this is a cosmetic issue and will not influence my final verdict. From cricket to hawk moths, the companion-steeds provided are pretty cool and options for verminous scouts and swarms add quite a bunch of interesting narrative options - espionage in Aden can be pretty compelling. Oh, and yes, this would be horribly broken, but the loss of 3 schools means that the class needs the golems and actually proved to be a valid trade-off.


The single most defining event of Aden is 10 years past - the Darkfall. The very sun itself was extinguished for a short period and the whole world saw a sudden genesis of creatures from the very nightmares, the subconscious of the populace, suddenly springing to life. The offspring of this cataclysmic event's dread unions would be the Corrupted. However, some do not serve - these beings would be the Fallen, people born from the Darkfall, yet striving to resist its call. 2 good saves, d8 and 4+Int skills point towards a skirmisher -and indeed, they are - with an addition: They bear stigma, which they can use to channel debuff effects, so-called torments, which scale, btw., on nearby foes - think of a mechanic somewhat akin to an antipaladin's cruelties, but at range. Additionally, the fallen can choose a type of stigma, which can be likened to an order or bloodline in that it provides a scaling array of abilities and determines the bonus feats available. I generally like this class and enjoy the fluff immensely, but it does suffer a bit from sharing the same niche as Forest Guardian Press's excellent direlock, though surprisingly, the two classes gel very well with one another.


The manite implants of mechamagic have an unfortunate side-effect -the Wasting. At the same time, extremely modified creatures with a strong sense of dedication and loyalty seem to resist this effect -enter the Golemoids. At d10 and full BAB-progression, Golemoids gain a reserve of steam points with which they can activate their implants and, beyond interchangeable parts and combat specializations, these guys can be pretty much considered to be the robot-class of Aden, with 4 classes of manite implants offering a rather diverse array of options to choose from -e.g. rocket-powered fists. Yes, this class is pretty awesome! The Mechamage alternate wizard-class would be an int-based full caster, with no access to enchantment, illusion and evocation. The interesting component here would be that the class gets a golem minion he can call to himself - or rather, as many as he can afford. You see, while only one such minion can be active at a given time, the mechamage can have multiple ones with different customizations - doll golems, for example. Basic golems are pretty dumb and thus, the commands they understand are carefully noted...oh, and want to do something different? There are writs and they make an otherwise been there, done that pet-class interesting: Essentially, you have pieces of writing, cogs, etc. you prepare (at cost), which you feed to your golem, programming it. And yes, love how this reflects the legend of Rabbi Loew's golem. New writs are unlocked at 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter for an integrated scaling mechanism.


The seer, who gets all good saves, 3/4 BAB-progression and d8, looks somewhat like a monk, but also gets Wis-based spellcasting from the class's own list. These rare beings, gifted with the power of prophecy, rank first among the Darkfall's hitlist - and as such, these beings are RARE. The class is interesting in that it utilizes its fatebending prowess via a significant array of customizable auras, some of which are powered (or can be enhanced) by a growing pool of second sight tricks. This class ranks among my favorites herein - unique in niche and presentation, the seer can provide narrative gold and remains an awesome addition to other settings and systems as well. The steamwright, at d8 and good will-saves + 3/4 BAB and can be considered a super-science-tinker-class, with the closest analogue probably being Alexander Augunas' Technician from the awesome "Age of Electrotech"-book. The interesting component here would be the variable pool of firepower-bonus damage that can be added with quite some flexibility to the damage-dealing components of the steamwright's arsenal. The inventions featured, from various guns/cannons to audiographs that can record what is heard, furthermore come with options to modify them - both invention-specific and general modifications. This class proved to be pretty powerful in playtest, though not to a point where I'd start complaining, especially since it does offer a neat array of awesome narrative options and non-combat utility. The Thaumaturge has a full caster's chassis and all bad saves and they may draw upon legends - the manifestations of how people are remembered (as opposed to how they were) - these legends are called forth and bound - and they modify BAB, feats, skills, etc., while also granting abilities - this class is essentially a dilettante-like class with a truly unique and compelling fluff. Interesting, btw. - the legends have aspects which provide a passive benefit and one more powerful consume ability, which renders the aspect inert until it's reactivated. This class is very interesting - it is extremely weak when caught on the wrong foot, but makes for a great class for solo-adventures or small groups that need multiple roles filled. Beyond that, an interesting conglomerate of narrative tricks can render this class in game pretty awesome - what if a legend's perception changes and a thaumaturge is invested in the legend's ideal? A good GM can craft some inspiring yarns from this class.
Did you always want to play the badass pilot on a rumbling micro-steamtank or a jetbike? With full BAB, two good saves, minor spellcasting and a customizable signature vehicle, the thunder scout class is THE class for you - with numerous talents and customization options (and spells pertaining the vehicle), we get an awesome class with one annoying oversight - the vehicle's dimensions and weight are not explicitly stated - while one can take the vehicles later as orientation, I still considered this annoying.


All right, next would be the modifications/archetypes/infos on the traditional classes and their roles in Aden - from alchemists gaining golemoid manites to more controlled rages, the options here are solid, if not mind-boggling -essentially, we get means for existing classes to dabble in the new tools provided herein. On the plus-side, the awesome NPC-fluff-write-ups continue herein! Special mention deserve raging monks and the fact that paladins do not need to be good - however, they need to take several vows...and they do not fall. You heard me. Evil paladins can continue to smite evil and do not lose their class features. Personally, I love this. Why? Shades of grey, baby - and it makes the hypocritical erstwhile hero turned fanatic knight a much easier trope to play. Oh, and if you visibly violate your code, you'll sooner or later be hunted down... Oh, and there are golemoid palas. Samurai get flavorful new order names and an order that takes the smart fox/kitsune as inspiration...and there would be the shark and leviathan orders...


The book also sports numerous so-called folk-magic traits - essentially a toolkit that allows you to cast a single 0-level or 1st level spell as an SP, with CL being locked at 1st level - neat idea! As a nice note - traits utilize the often forgotten trait-bonus type. The pdf obviously sports numerous feats for the significant array of new classes herein -from better piloting to more techniques. Beyond these, support for multiclass monk/sorcs that let them use Wis instead of Cha and similar enabler-type-feats are provided alongside feats that extend the powers of a given racial ability. The chapter also details new uses of Knowledge (engineering), Heal and the rules for Craft (Machinery). After all of this, we dive into a concisely-written history of the world of Aden, which thankfully does not manage to get bogged down in the details, though a significant array of intriguing events are touched upon, before notes on languages, cosmology, calendar, wildlife and agriculture and so much more are provided - in spite of the relative brevity of this chapter, it, surprisingly, managed to captivate me. Major and minor religions, organizations (including a handy Pathfinder Lodge-stand-in) provide more than enough potential allegiances to have and share - though you should note that the religion write-ups are not particularly crunchy.


After this particular section, we dive into the nit and grit of the history, lands and politics of the massive nations that shaped Aden, noting governmental type, major imports and exports and predominant races - you won't find a detailed break-down of these components here, nor (thankfully) the rather annoying alignment-based nation-stereotyping. At the same time, military and similar crucial components are touched upon - and the respective nations sport their own full-color flags, which is a more than nice touch.


Now something I touched upon before becomes much more important in Aden: Magic works differently: Divine casters are not restricted in domain choice by their deities - instead, they may freely choose domains; their belief shapes the power they command and the absence of gods in the traditional sense opens, obviously, the way for numerous heresies and ambiguous options - which is kind of awesome. At the same time, I consider free domain-choice highly problematic - there is a reason domains are grouped for deities - some are simply better than others and being able to cherry-pick domains is not something I'd advise a GM to let her players do. The chapter also, obviously, contains a significant array of new spells - as mentioned before, these interact (often) in unique and interesting ways with the mechanics introduced in this book and several new, unique spells that e.g. deal with constructs, piloting, etc. Some spells also feature an interesting mechanic that makes repeat casts more likely to succeed. Clothing yourself into your swarm of insects would be one intriguing option, to give you an example.


The most intriguing chapter of this book, at least to me, though, would be the one on technology: From the basic concept of manites to the steamreaver mecha-weapons used by golemoids. Firearms in Aden operate btw. via different rules than those presented in Ultimate Combat - the crit multiplier is smaller, they do not ignore armor and suffer no failure-chance. An interesting array of weapons is presented here, with several pretty nice artworks - though their style does not live up to some of the most stunning artworks in the book. Siege and vehicle weapons alongside a significant array of the latter, from thunder cycles to steamwagons and dragon gliders can be found in this chapter with full stats. Alchemical items poisons complement this section with some cool ideas, though e.g. alchemical oil lacks the obvious "fire" damage type it should inflict, at least judging from the item's fluff.


Manite-powered items and implants (along the aforementioned threshold that you should not overstep...) and the process of golmization are intriguing - much like Shadowrun's Cyberzombies, these beings may gain power, but also lose parts of their humanity - and the slow death sentence of the wasting constantly looms, putting these rules once again in the hands of the GM and the story to be crafted. Especially the rules here are great - e.g. alternate options that make the manite threshold unknown to the player and similar gritty options to evoke questions of humanity make this section top-notch in the inspiration-category. The greatly expanded and streamlined section of vehicle combat and customization also renders this component significantly more pronounced (and interesting) than I would have thought -with vehicle maneuvers, speeding thresholds and the like providing a rather exciting array of tactical options. This pdf's rules to avoid constant (and pretty meaningless) skill-checks for basic operation definitely are appreciated! I consider the rules herein more suited and closer in line to my own take on the concept, so yeah - kudos!


The book also sports a bestiary - on the plus-side, the awesome full-color artworks here should definitely be considered awesome and on par with the best out there. On the downside, most statblocks in PFRPG sport a very DISTINCT separation from offense, defense, etc. - while this is maintained, its visual cue is less pronounced - the respective headers for the statblock sub-sections are just as small as the rest of the text, which makes reading the statblocks slightly less comfortable than they should be.


We end this book with a brief treatise on the Darkfall, some fluff-only renditions of powerful corrupted and a handy index that facilitates utilizing this book.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-level - while I noticed quite a few small inconsistencies and minor hiccups, they did tend towards the type that does not (overly) impede the book's usefulness. Especially considering that this is the first book of Kyoudai games, you can color me intrigued for any further Thunderscape material. Layout adheres to a beautiful, yet still relatively printer-friendly two-column full-color standard. The book sports MANY original, beautiful full-color artworks - though the weapons and races fall a bit behind the otherwise Paizo-level artworks. Yes, this is a beautiful book. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience.


Don't start with the campaign setting. It's an old truism and one that mostly holds true - a campaign setting requires great fluff, great crunch, a big budget and it can go wrong in many, many ways. It requires a plethora of skills and is HARD to pull off. More so even when attempted for an established setting - even if that setting has not so far seen too much exposure.


Let's cut this short, shall we? Due to the unique options of Thunderscape, playtesting this took forever -there are many entwined components that require one another. Surprisingly, the rules-language employed is pretty precise even when tackling rather complex concepts. More surprising than that, though, would be the fact that the new classes, more often than not, offer a pretty unique playing experience. Shawn Carman, Rich Wulf and Christopher Koch have definitely excelled beyond my expectations in this book. Aden, as depicted herein, came more to life for me than it ever managed in the games of old - to the point, where I actually consider this a thoroughly compelling campaign setting I will gladly revisit. Granted, there is some sand in the finer components of the otherwise pretty well-oiled machinery that is this book, but seeing that this is a freshman offering, not for the authors, but for the company, and I'll gladly rate this 4.5 stars...and since I really enjoy the majority of choices herein, since the book offers so much coolness to scavenge and/or use, I will round up and slap my seal of approval on this book.


On another note - from now on, you'll also see Thunderscape-supplement-reviews, provided I can get my hands on them - I'm definitely intrigued to see whether they can live up to the excellent quality established in this book.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Thunderscape: the World of Aden: Campaign Setting
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Monster Menagerie Seasonal Stars: Pumpkin Stalker
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/30/2015 10:09:34

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This special installment of the monster menagerie-series clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, 1 page editorial, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let's take a look!


If the cover and sub-title "seasonal stars" wasn't ample clue for you: This special installment of the series is all about Halloween-themed pumpkin-ish creatures - blends of nature's power and seething anger. The creation of such creatures happens via the template sported herein, increasing CR, depending on base creatures size, between +1 and +3. Becoming a surprisingly nimble and resilient creature that is partially plant, the pumpkin stalker receives a pretty nifty array of supplemental defensive qualities that help the creature maintain its threat. The template also nets a fascination-inducing gaze as well as an overwhelming, cowering-inducing touch...oh, and depending on the creature's HD, it also gets access to up to 7 fixed hexes, one of which is unique - cursed wounds, fitting with the horror theme, renders wounds caused to a target pretty hard to heal.


This being obviously a kind-of-creepy adversary intended as BBEG (or as the mastermind's enforcer), the template also nets the creature rejuvenation and goes above and beyond what's required by providing six pretty diverse and unique means of permanent destruction, all of which could easily power a module of their own.


Beyond the basic template, sample stalkers based on assassin vines (CR 4), a wyvern (CR 8) and a mohrg (CR 11) are provided for your convenience.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard that makes the pdf look like it's taken directly from an ancient, open tome - neat! The pdf has no bookmarks, but doesn't explicitly require them at this length. Artwork, apart from the full-color cover-art (which is replicated inside), is b/w and thematically fits.


Owen K.C. Stephens delivers a nice, fun little supplement with some inspiring suggestions. The pumpkin stalker has enough staying power to not be instantly crushed by PCs, features some abilities that both players and PCs will fear and comes with solid mechanics and sample creatures as well as cool hooks for destruction that can kick one's creativity into high gear. It's a brief pdf, but it's a fun one and one that does not leave much for me to complain about - perhaps apart from the fact that I would have loved the template to be even more modular, but that may just be me. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.


Oh, one more thing: If you're a bastard, you can use this pdf to increase the terror of AAW Games' "A Frightful Time"-Halloween adventure. While that one was written for younger audiences, it's a perfect thematic fit and I've run it in "creepy mode" - it works pretty well, probably even better with this pdf added!


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Monster Menagerie Seasonal Stars: Pumpkin Stalker
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