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AaWBlog Presents: Mischievous Meadows
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/10/2015 03:28:57
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 55 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 50 pages of content, so let's take a look!



All right, after the last installment of AAWBlog presents suffered from finding its place with how the format works, this time around, we have a different take on the whole concept: This pdf can be divided into 5 quests, all of which can essentially be described as short sidetreks that can (and should be!) linked.



As always, the following discussion dives into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

...

..

.

If you're a player and still here: Brave yourself. You will lose items. The module kicks off with the most loathed of ways of antagonizing PCs and their players: Stealing their hard-earned loot. Worse: The thieves are ridiculously good at what they do and as diminutive fey, they are adept indeed at what they do - with interdimensional sacs and fey-themed haunts supplementing the thefts if the primary antagonists have issue, any DM should not have too many issues. Speaking of which, the issues WILL come - when the thieves return to take more as adventurers fuming with rage, they will have a massive tree with anti-magic zone supplementing them - speaking of which - said tree has an utterly unique ecology and synergy with the diminutive fey that also translates into the combat set-up. Among the bonus-content here, thieving grass and a nasty haunt further complement this nice set-up.



After this, the PCs will have the chance to run a mini-gauntlet, wherein puzzles and something odd will be noted by astute players - the whole scenario of a kind of "save-the-damsel" doesn't seem to line up...and yes, if they brave the puzzle and challenges, something...ODD happens... The 4th challenge pits the PCs against a group of mad critics - only to be assaulted by fiery avians, the prepfalcons - which, coincidentally, are the bred foes of the somewhat insectoid, thieving fey -a fact that the PCs will learn as they face down a whole army of the thieving creatures, whether with or without mass combat supplemented by arriving prepfalcons. Escaping the massive blaze evoked by the raptors, the PCs will have a chance to literally press a conspicuous red button laced with "Don't press!"-notes.



And yes, the PCs may at this point have come to the attention of the P.R.A.N.K.S.T.E.R.S.-secret society... The pdf also provides a short deity-write-up and ample DM-advice: And in this instance, that is warranted: The whole collection of encounters deals with eliminating magic items and changing equipment, thus advice on handling player frustration, on merging different play-styles and on ways to handle humor at the table.



The pdf also provides the Deck of Miraculous Luck as a reward system - a deck with 30 cards that provide lucky effects for the players to draw from, with each card sporting a unique bonus/effect to unleash. A fun reward system, though one I wished had more options...and particularly, negative ones as well. But that may be me. As a nice bonus, the pdf comes with back covers for the cards and individual representations for the respective cards - just print out back and front, glue it to card-board and go.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to AAW games' two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The pdf comes with a solid blend of new and stock art and the cartography, where provided, is okay.



Mike Myler, Justin Andrew Mason, Brian Wiborg Mønster, Rory Toma - gentlemen, this is a better example for the format of AAWBlog presents - the encounters herein may be thematically-linked, but they can relatively easily be dropped into a given campaign on their own. While the overall, connecting storyline between the quests remains pretty opaque for the PCs, these encounters are more self-contained, less burdened by an overarching narrative. The theme here is obviously "get rid of problematic items" and each of the encounters manages to do that with a variety of interesting ways -from haunts to creatures.

With playful items and set-ups, the general sense if one of light-hearted fun. At the same time, though, this collection does feel like it could have used some more care: references in the text that obviously hearken back to the time when these were published as blog posts, hinting towards the next blog post, just hurt the internal consistency of this collection. I also think this pdf's organization of haunts etc. may be less easy to navigate than the last ones - whereas Cultus Sanguineus collected them in one space, here, they are spread between the individual quests - and taking into account how the encounters herein work better as single ones that build up over multiple modules, that makes things a bit less easy to navigate.

So yeah - the roughly-linked encounters doe work better, though, once again, the overarching plot remains a weakness of the collection - this is NOT a module; this is a collection of content linked by a rough theme - it works for what it is, but once again, transitions remain somewhat problematic here and I wished, both the blog-references had been purged and the transitions had been smoothed. More means for the players to actually find out what is happening would have also been appreciated - as written, this ended with plenty of question-marks above my player's heads and an ultimate feeling of having missed the point. Still, what is here, is damn fun and as such, I will settle on a final verdict of 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
AaWBlog Presents: Mischievous Meadows
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The Kobolds of Tzarker Mines
Publisher: Bad Moon Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/10/2015 03:27:27
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 36 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2/3 of a page SRD, 1 page back cover, with the inside of front and back cover being two generic battle-mat-style maps, leaving us with 30 1/3 pages of content, so let's take a look!



Thanks in no small part to Kobold Press, no other race can come this close to being as iconic as Paizo's goblins - so it was a matter of time until we got a review that depicts the hard-knock life of kobolds - and it's a hard-knock life - enslaved to the magma dragon Tzarkethitor, the kobolds of the Tzarker Mines have a difficult life - and the PCs are part of the tribe.



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

...

..

.

All right, still here? Only DMs left?

Karken, the chief of the kobolds, has an issue - the crystals and gems have been stolen from the treasure pile of tribute for their draconic master and it's up to the PCs to mine new ones from the haunted crystal mines - and we arguably get the first issue right from the get-go - in order to lift the plug that seals the mines, the kobolds have to make a DC 20 Str-check. Two issues here - why not state the weight of the plug? Secondly: Aid another + attribute checks is a pretty disputed topic, but since kobolds receive a racial -4 to Str, there is a very real chance that a group of kobolds that has elected to not include a Str-based character can't open the plug via taking 10 or even 20; With aid another, the task can be frustrating, even with stacking aids. Then again, if ruled like this, the task can emphasize the need for cooperation, so this one gets a pass. The first thing you'll note here would be the maps - this module sports beautiful full-color modules, though I wished the maps themselves sported player-friendly versions sans keys/legend to use as hand-outs.



So, the task of mining crystal may sound simple - well, it would be, if the mines were safe - which they, of course, are NOT - they are now the hunting grounds of a significant array of gremlins and sport interesting threats like ghost scorpions, a dire corby or an immature phantom fungus. Obviously, the irony of gremlins using traps versus kobolds should not be lost on the players and yes, generally, this can be considered a solid crawl section, with the skill-based loud mining being a nice reason to generate some paranoia and creatures reacting actually to the kobolds. Over all, these threats can be considered interesting, though some issues can be found here as well - while there are some mining tools in case the PCs forgot to bring them, a GM should definitely make sure the PCs have Profession (Miner), Craft (Stonemasonry) or Knowledge (engineering) - none of which are necessarily in the array of a given array of PCs, for they are the tools of the trade required to mine crystal. While the pdf does have a means for forgotten mining tools to be salvaged, no DCs are given for repairing them, which makes this failsafe less useful for the GM. It should also be noted that one of the gremlin traps has the wrong trap-stats - instead of its own stats, it duplicates word-by-word the effects of another gremlin-trap in a glitch an editor or proofreader ought to have caught.



Upon returning from the gremlin-infested mines (no consequences for not re-sealing the place?), the second act begins - Karken sends the PCs to contact Seargal, a kobold trap idiot savant. Now the cool thing here would be a kind of trap generator: Kobold traps as presented here have 4 components: The Pain, The Trigger, Cam-o-floj and Moover Parts, with the latter being optional. This generator is actually rather nice, though I honestly wished it was more complex and sported its own pdf -still, for a module, it uses the space allotted to it rather well. If that was not ample implication - Seargal likes to test her creations against unwitting kobolds and coincidentally, has her lair within a labyrinth not only inhabited by creatures from the ToHC (stats provided), she also has littered the complex with traps. Now here's the fun part: Take the two flip-mat-like map-pages from the inside of the front- and back cover and put them back to back: Seargal and Karken allow the PCs to place dwarf lures into these tunnels and create traps:



The PCs get to create a trap gauntlet, designed to take down dwarves from the adjacent mines. Upon activation, the hapless experts begin entering the complex and start moving towards the lures. The PCs have to get a total of 10 dwarves. I love this set-up - it is interesting, cool and fun! It also, alas, suffers from a number of issues: 1) The PCs have no limited resource - the pdf fails to specify the number of dwarf lures available. 2) The PCs have no limited resources regarding the creation of traps - they can literally create a huge gauntlet and while a DM "can limit some of the more effective components," this takes the challenge out of the set-up. 3) at 2nd level, the level 1 expert-dwarves are no significant challenge for the 2nd-level PCs in anything but numbers. The PCs don't really need the whole trap tricks. What could essentially be an awesome set-up of trapmakers defeating foes becomes a pretty simple exercise. The area is also pretty small 17 x10 squares isn't that much room to work with and even with the reduced dwarven speed, a lot of ground can be covered by just your average walking. I love the set-up, but the execution falls short of the exceedingly awesome premise.



Part 3 pits the PCs against the complex of Ol' Lumpy - an oversized grick sleeping on a treasure trove - so not only will the kobolds have to brave the well-chosen, uncommon array of adversaries, they will also have to steal the valuables from under the grick's nose. This is a great set-up! However, once again, we have problems: "Treat Perception checks on actions made in the room as a total of 22 for the grick for checks that aren’t opposed (12 if the action involves a crea­ture that isn’t in contact with the floor or walls)." - that ought to be not the check, but the DC. Additionally, tremorsense (which the grick has) allows you to automatically pinpoint the location of foes.



Now the wording of tremorsense implies that an active effort is required to notice the target - if that is the case, then eliminating the +10 DC from being asleep makes no sense. If, however, one reads the ability to be always active, the very notion of a check in the first place becomes somewhat redundant for the sense allows for automatic pinpointing of locations - either reading does not gel with the means presented by this module. Now don't get me wrong - I like for example multiple failures being required to awake the grick and a half-awake state at only +5 Perception DC - I love the set-up. But the execution sports some grains of sand in the fun idea. Now if coup-de-grâce (not "de gras"[sic!]) is the planned option, the creature's stats make that a bad idea, so good job there. On the annoying side - I have no idea where the creature sleeps in the map's big lair denoted as the resting place - which is important here, since Perception becomes easier, the closer one is to the target. I don't mind other creatures not having their exact positions noted, but here, this is a damn issue that makes the cool climax harder on the DM than it should be. Conversely, this will probably pretty much become a one-kobold show for the skill monkey - at this level, it is highly unlikely that ALL kobolds have invested heavily in the Stealth-skill, which, alongside the rules as written for Stealth, makes a single thief more likely to succeed than a group - unless we're talking stealth-synergy and teamwork-feat granting.



Upon their return, the PCs find out that the jewel thief has been identified - it's an insane crysmal (which is btw. marked on the map for its caverns) that doubles as a very dangerous and lethal final adversary. Upon their return, the PCs find their draconic master has returned - and he is not pleased. The final encounter sports the PCs trying to appease the powerful dragon to avoid destruction - which boils down to a single skill-check - kind of anticlimactic - why not go the more complex skill-challenge (with two successes required, the set-up is here!) route with multiple checks required and different avenues for the interaction to go? The set-up is awesome and screams discussion, but the module instead opts for a Diplomacy, Profession (Miner) or Intimidate-check for each PC- success hinging on one roll. As a saving grace, at least the PC's performance in the different parts influences the DC.



The pdf closes with a short gazetteer of the Tzarker mines - with 2d-maps in a kind of isometric set-up (picture a horizontally-sliced cake, with each slice slanting towards you at the same angle) to show how they interact -alas, no player-friendly version is provided and the one-page depiction of the maps means that parts of e.g. level 3's map is hidden behind level 2's map. The maps are there - why not provide them sans overlap?



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are okay - while a bunch of glitches are there, there could be more - but also less. Especially when the pdf is more opaque than it should be and when a glitch influences how an encounter pans out, this becomes an issue. Layout adheres to a beautiful two-column full-color standard with a surprising amount of original, nice full-color artwork. The adventure comes with a second, more printer-friendly version sans frilly layout and with all artworks in b/w. The cartography is actually rather great, especially for a freshman offering - full-color and beautiful. I just wished one would actually get the maps in an appendix so one doesn't have to print out and cut up the page. I also wished this had player-friendly maps... Finally, this pdf has no bookmarks, which makes navigation much more annoying than it ought to be.



Brent Holtsberry and Dawson Davis have created an impressive first product that comes with relatively high production values and, more importantly, oozes heart's blood while also sporting a novel premise and indeed, I absolutely love the premise of each single part of this module - they are fun, engaging and deviate from the old kill-em-all style. The writing of the pieces of prose fiction spread throughout the module is also neat. Where this module stumbles, time and again, is in the details. From enemy placement on the maps to similar small glitches that impede gameplay, this one has a bunch of potential issues for GMs to circumnavigate. While each of them, admittedly, can be ignored and fixed relatively easily, they do tally up over the course of this module.



Beyond these, the lack of bookmarks and no pregens further hurt this module - what would be an instant go-play module for any DM, perfect for conventions, is hurt by their lack. Why? How many players take sample kobold characters to conventions? Furthermore, the pdf assumes certain skill-sets to be available to the group, when the lack of them can spell potentially disastrous results -which makes me believe that it was intended to be run with pregens that are not present amid these pages. I really, really want to like this module and recommend it in the highest praise, but ultimately, it stumbles in one way or another in each of the admittedly conceptually awesome and non-conventional climaxes its acts provide.



This does have the marking of talented authors with a great passion and unique ideas, so I sincerely hope the authors continue what they're doing and further refine their craft - in the end, all gripes are typical beginner's mistakes and can be rectified. Since this is Bad Moon Games' freshman offering, it also does get some leeway from yours truly - hence, my final verdict will clock in at 2.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
The Kobolds of Tzarker Mines
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Ultimate Evil (PFRPG)
Publisher: d20pfsrd.com
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/09/2015 02:35:48
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive source-book clocks in at 72 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page author bios, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 67 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?



The pdf kicks off with a King Lear quote that misspells it "King Leer" and sends the academic in me into a frothing twitch, but rest assured that this thankfully does not extend to the rest of the book's editing. ;) So, how the proper book begin? With essays on what makes a good villain - essentially, tricks and considerations for the DM to properly make memorable antagonists - including a 100-entry strong table of considerations: From villains who would never steal to taboos versus certain weapons in the villainous arsenal, the array here can be considered interesting indeed - after all, think about all those great villains and their quirks - more than once, you'll come over such a quirk of their morale code, twisted though it may be...



After these essays, we delve straight into the significant array of crunch presented herein, with the Darkwater Spellbinder wizard archetype - essentially a wizard who receive access to an evil, water-themed school, including close range pummeling water-surges and lines of poisoned water. Nice! The Traitor to the Faith, intended for paladin/anti-paladin, is one that deserves special mention - it is intended for paladins/antipaladins that stray from the path of their intended alignment and codes of conduct - it is, in a nutshell, a way to retain a character as viable even though the alignment isn't flipped on the head - we get mundane abilities that replace the supernatural/divine-themed one and a focus on powerful, mundane benefits that result from such a life, including synergy with Legendary Games' twisted surgical procedure-rules, which are partially reprinted in the back of this book. While not perfect from a power standpoint, the narrative potential of this archetype is vast and its offering of a viable alternative to "sucky fighter sans bonus feats" can be considered well worth it. Heck, even beyond the frame work of paladins, this makes for a compelling character concept even without the lost divine component. So yes, I like it.



Antipaladins seeking to remain in the good (haha!) graces of their vile patrons can enjoy becoming hands of pestilence, dread harbingers of disease and decay, including an inspired, multi-stage disease at high levels and appropriate imagery- grim and vile. And that is before the exceedingly deadly parasite-themed capstone. I like it! The gateway to godhood summoner is less interesting, though it will suit some tables - the idea is simple: Divine spellcasting, but a need to prepare the spells in advance and an eidolon that is beholden to the deity's will, not that of the summoner. On the slightly nitpicky side, instead of noting that the expenditure of one feat allows the summoner to influence it via UMD, why not simply provide the feat? Would feel less wonky and adhere to the standard way in which such things are usually handled in PFRPG. Overall, still solid. The Herald of Godhood is pretty similar in focus - only that they exchange spells beyond the first level with combat-themed feats for either themselves or their eidolon, which may be called via the summon monster-ability of the class. Okay, I guess, but utterly ineffective and in need of some additional power. Finally, the vile virtuoso bard is pretty cool - replacing standard performances with command/forbid, inspired fanaticism etc. feel neat and the option to deliver performances through works of his/her twisted art can be considered downright awesome - perhaps it's the Ravenloft DM in me, but I can see this one inspiring vast amounts of cool adventures - both as NPC and as PC. Kudos for this one! A new masterpiece to manipulate targets into feeling as if they were part of a deadly, righteous army does feel like it is employed on a regular basis by quite a few politicians to deadly effect - both in-game and IRL.



Next up would be blood rites - which generally are very interesting - you receive 3 feats, which can be used for a huge array of effects: From granting pleasant dreams to locating lost, nearby objects, the uses of the feats range from the mundane folk magic-y style to the powerful, with blood-based spellcasting. These feats are powered by expending blood points and one can only have con-mod blood points at a given time. these regenerate upon resting and furthermore, can be replenished by inflicting char-level damage to yourself - each such increment of damage nets you one point. This means they can be utilized infinite times per day, provided you have a simple way of fast healing or regeneration, rendering the whole system broken from the get-go. The abilities themselves, while awesome in concept, simply do NOT work within the frame of PFRPG: 3 blood points, for example, ward a house versus accidental fires. Now this IS awesome on a concept side, but what does "accidental" constitute? A mishap while fire elemental summoning? Define "house" - does a castle work? If yes, what about the stables in the court? Included? Don't get me wrong, these feats are thematically, conceptually, awesome - but they are not functional for PFRPG. They would work in the context of WoD or similar games, but in the highly codified rules-interactions of PFRPG, they ultimately provide wishy-washy absolutes that lack the necessary precision for smooth system-interaction - and yes, this includes lacking information on just about any rules-relevant interaction point, from ability-type to CL. The chapter also provides a blood point-storage item, as if the resource wasn't infinite enough... Another significant problem I have here would rest in the constant reference of a blood mage and said mage's resources - I have no idea to WHICH blood mage this reference points and it is neither hyperlinked, nor mentioned in the pdf, leaving me incapable of properly judging the interaction with said classes blood pool. Searching via d20pfsrd.com didn't help either, so consider me puzzled -which leaves this chapter as high-concept, yes, but also as ultimately very, very flawed, in spite of a nice nod towards NotNW's nice fiend-binding book. Apart from concepts, unfortunately a dysfunctional waste of space that is tantalizingly close to being the awesome chapter it ought to be and deserves to be.



The next chapter deals with a plethora of evil-themed spells - from ones that net DR 5/good or lawful to vomiting acidic black bile on foes, there are several that elicited a sense of unimpressed déjà-vu, whereas other with their ability to conjure forth mythic aboleths have an interesting component - they work better for archetypes introduced herein. Self-harm-inducing bardic spells. Many of the spells utilize mixed energy types, with e.g. a mix of negative and force damage for a reflexive damage shield at 3d level feels like a bit much. A suffocating sphere of water, on the other hand, is rather interesting and works moderately well balance-wise when compared to similar spells. All in all, a solid selection, though not one that blew me away.



The feat-chapter provides mainly an assortment of options for antipaladins, for extended auras and healing of evil, non-undead cohorts - on a definite plus, the pdf directly credits feats for their original publication if applicable - nice indeed! Developing an almost vampiric taste for blood in exchange for level-scaling SPs usable via touch of corruption. On the downside, the quoted microfeats have not had their language properly cleaned up, with bonus types etc. left out in the original due to the brevity of the format, not having been inserted for proper non-micro formatting - they may remain functional, but still. The diversity between cool and okay feats can be seen here as well, though I admit to really enjoying the feats that allow you to utilize touch of corruption to power scaling SPs. Brilliant would be the feat that actually presents a rationale for explaining your evil masterplan - the foes who have to listen to it have to save or receive massive penalties - this feat is downright BRILLIANT! I also love the option for high-level antipaladins to offer the ultimate temptation - in the form of wishes powered by massive drawbacks and uses of touches of corruption - after all, how else did they make those do-gooders fall?



DMs can enjoy a level 17 graveknight antipaladin build and a CR 22 banshee as well as a CR 12 vampire fighter - solid builds. Some additional creatures, from fey River Elk to the insectoid plaguewyrm, can be considered okay, but ultimately not too exciting in my book. Then again, I'm one spoiled reviewer...



The oathbreaker template, which may fuel class abilities by draining charges from items, is VERY interesting and yet another way of making the concept of the wayward champion work -a massive template neatly lines up all the class abilities and provides essentially the option to play paladins/antipaladins of any alignment, with alignment-specific bonuses and abilities, partially powered by charge-draining, being provided over a significant array of pages. Step-by-step, ability by ability, the respective new tricks are provided - and they are, overall, rather solid in their wording. However, they do suffer from one particular oddity - they utilize, correctly, I might add, rules to take e.g. smite evil and replace every component, including the results etc. - while I applaud the difficulty this must have been, why not simply write the new ability and then finish it with "This replaces.."? Don't get me wrong, I'm pretty impressed and the benefits are sufficiently complex and varied to hold my interest, but this is just the type of unnecessary over-engineering I tend towards as well. So if you mind stuff like that, consider yourself warned - personally, I have no issue with the concept and its somewhat convoluted rules-language. (And I downright love the utterly NASTY tricks the champion of sins abilities provide - nice scavenging grounds for Thassilonian-themed modules!) -so yes, overall, I like this chapter, in spite of the nitpicker in me complaining about rules-language deviating from the default in the presentation and a certain feeling that an alternate presentation may have been more concise.



The pdf, as mentioned, also provides surgery and sanity-rules originally presented in LG's "The Mad Doctor's Formulary." Since I have already covered that one, I'll just point you towards it.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect; I noticed a couple of minor glitches. The pdf's layout comes with a 2-column standard and a used-parchment look that is solid, if not particularly printer-friendly. Artwork is thematically-fitting stock art and the pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks and two versions - one linked to d20pfsrd.com and one unlinked - nice to see that, since I tend to click on links by accident while scrolling through the text!



So, I'll come right out and admit it - I'm a huge fan of Clinton J. Boomer's writing - "The Hole Behind Midnight" is the better Dresden Files and Coliseum Morpheuon remains one of my all-time-favorite roleplaying games-supplements ever. So yes, he and Peter K. Ullman have created a pdf that did not disappoint me - Ultimate Evil presents A LOT bang for your buck and more often than not, one can find some generally great pieces herein. Peter K. Ullman, who probably hates me by now for my reviews of his last couple of books, obviously has crafted some of these options - but know what? The man has improved! The rules syntax and semantics are infinitely more precise and while some of the wording choices may seem needlessly complicated, they can overall be considered functional and, in fact, fun! Kudos for the improvement!! Now some of these options oscillate in a pretty weird way - on the one hand, the exceedingly versatile options tend to end up as being pretty powerful. On the other hand, some are exceedingly conservative, especially among the spells.



I honestly have a hard time rating this book, mainly because its problems are local ones - a slight over-engineering here, a non-standard rules-syntax there... The spells left me unimpressed, but I'm jaded. The feats range from superb to okay. We have the downright awesome, but slightly over-engineered oathbreaker-toolkit (which is, essentially, a complex archetype, not necessarily the template it professes to be) on the one hand, the non-functional blood rites on the other hand. We have cool high-level foes, but also pretty bland additional monsters. We have a couple of glorious archetypes...and some that are just not smart choices for most groups. We do have a mixed bag here, but one that is definitely on the better side of the spectrum, with the amount of nice options and ideas exceeding the bad ones by quite a stretch. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Ultimate Evil (PFRPG)
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Classy Characters: Robomancer
Publisher: Sean K Reynolds Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/09/2015 02:33:57
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 6 pages, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 4 pages - so what is the robomancer?



In short, the robomancer is a summoner archetype that gets a mechrilon, a variant eidolon that obviously can be affected by spells that otherwise would only influence constructs and treats natural attacks as either that or manufactured weapons, whichever is more beneficent. It also takes half damage from rust effects, but otherwise counts as a creature that is alive and as an eidolon for the purpose of spells and effects.

Instead of the summon monster class ability, the robomancer gets an expanded spell-list and eidolons/mechrilons may take a 2-point darkvision evolution.



The mechrilons receive access to a total of 6 exclusive evolutions that include increased base speed, fortification (with increased point costs to scale the benefits up), limited DR (again, with scaling), construct body and mind-apotheosis-style evolutions and a poison gas breath weapon.



The pdf comes with 3 sample kits to base mechrilon base forms on and a sample NPC at level 5 and 10 alongside the respective mechrilon.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no formal or rules-language glitches to speak of. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly 2-column standard with one piece of nice full-color artwork. The pdf comes without bookmarks, but needs none at this length.



Sean K. Reynolds knows what he's doing and this pdf shows - the robomancer is a nice little archetype and since it predates the Technology Guide, I won't begrudge it the lack of synergy with said book. The archetype itself is solid - essentially, a summoner with a mechanized eidolon that has more staying power at the cost of summon monster-tricks. There is nothing to be complained about the frame or the execution.

But if I'm honest, I did not enjoy it. Why?

Because in my book, LPJr Design's Machinesmith and Interjection Games' Tinker do the pet-class trickery with a mechanical theme better, while personal apotheosis as per Amor Game's Metamorph or Rite Publishing's Iron Titan provides a more immediate experience, leaving this archetype without a niche in my games.

It's solid, especially for the brevity of the pdf, but when compared to the competition, it does not really sport that many unique mechanical tricks (essentially only the gas cloud is truly distinct) and boils down to a summoner with some very minor modifications to the mechanics. If that's what you're looking for, go for it - if not, you may want to take a look at the more complex versions. Unless you really want a summoner framework that works with robot-eidolon, I consider the other options cooler - much like many paizo archetypes, this does not feel particularly unique to me. This is not bad, mind you - but neither is it really good or captivating. hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Classy Characters: Robomancer
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Obsidian Apocalypse: Players Guide (PFRPG)
Publisher: LPJ Design
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/08/2015 02:51:29
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, 2 pages char-sheets, 1 page monster-mini-sheets, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 18 pages of content, so let's take a look!



So, what do we have here? A collection of the racial traits of the Obsidian Apocalypse races, with reprints of the racial traits? No, this supplement is all about new content supplementing the unique races of the obsidian apocalypse campaign toolbox. We begin, without any introduction or the like, with Zebadiah's progeny, the celestial-blooded Exalted - interestingly, this content, though, is not presented in a cut and dry manner, instead providing nice pieces of introductory prose for each of the races covered before providing favored class options that fit in interesting ways with the base races - take for example the one for the monks: Utilizing the angelic wings racial trait, it enhances the speed of movement via these wings, actually enhancing the unique racial tricks of the race. Guardian Angel clerics replace the option to cause harm with their channel energy with an AoE-alignment-based sanctuary-like effect- solid and makes nice use of the concept of guardian rituals on a lesser scale. Avenging Angels barbarians receive wing attacks that do mention correctly the effects of using wings as weapons, but should probably determine their type as well - still, fully functional. Scaling soulsword and modified DR/SR complement a solid archetype here.



The Genesai witch can learn to enhance the unnatural aura and in a pretty cool manner, the racial archetype for the ranger takes this aura, ties it to the favored enemy class feature and renders the result surprisingly nice for such a small archetype - like it! Dark Comic bards can replace three buffing performances (inspire courage, competence and soothing performance) with pretty cool debuffs, the last of which may even preclude creatures from targeting the victim of it with beneficial effects - the concise wording does get this concept right in as few words as possible.



The Harrowed's FCOs unfortunately sports one minor issue for the paladin "Add +1 to your roll when you channel positive energy against undead or haunts." -that is supposed to be the DAMAGE roll, I think. The Harrowed Predator barbarian receives what amounts to lifesight and gains life from vanquishing foes - and yes, the archetype is kitten-proof! Grave caller summoners are locked into the undead appearance evolution at 1st level. The signature ability is at once great and woefully problematic - the grave caller can create temporary haunts that duplicate spells, which do not need to be on the summoner spell list a limited amount of times per day, but only while the eidolon is not manifested. The issue here is obvious - this is an insanely overpowered wildcard of haunts, essentially access to all spells ever without knowing them. Worse, the archetype does not provide a guideline for the creation of haunts, meaning that notice DC, reset time etc. are issues for most players. I like the general notion and the mechanic that rewards the eidolon not being always active, something seen all too rarely, but overall, I wished this had limited the spell-selection and provided proper haunt-creation guidelines for the purpose of this ability instead of remaining opaque.



The Infernals receive FCO-powered increases of their limited use racial abilities and the paladin archetype for them is law-themed and receives an aura that reduces the elemental resistances of evil outsiders in the proximity, while also, at high levels, learning to prevent the calling in of reinforcements of hostile outsiders. On the evil side, demonic servitor oracles get a fiendish familiar, but are also easily tracked due to their infernal stench. Solid.



The Khymer generally also get cool FCOs, including ranegrs that learn to sustain the host-bodies of favored enemies for a longer duration. Sorcerors can opt for the hemotheurgical leech-archetype, which allow for the borrowing of bloodline powers depending on the host body entered - and yes, the mechanics actually work! This one was very impressive in my book, especially since it also helps the DM with sample bloodline suggestions. This is simple, but also provides pretty unique options. Two thumbs up! Body Snatcher rogues may use sneak attack to intrude foes, gaining the option to issue commands to the targets, later scaling up in potency and effect to dominate monster, while also getting full-blown body invasion against helpless foes. Additionally, bonuses when inhabiting large or small foes complement one awesome archetype - I adore this one and its quick body-switching. Kudos!



The Lykian race can opt for increases of the damage-output of their already pretty much impressive array of natural weapons via FCOs and receives an alchemist archetype of all things - instead of swift alchemy, they learn to make alter self-like mutagens to conceal their nature and conceal their presence as humans, later increasing the potency to beast shape II and its options. The archetype also sports unique discoveries that are pretty much awesome: What about a bomb that cuts down the incubation period of diseased characters? Yeah, pretty cool! The other options also are unique: When a target believes it has turned into a wolf, the imagery is nice. Alas, the wording here, while not bad, could be more precise: So the target tries to attack with "natural weapons only" - how does this work with creatures that have no natural weapons? I assume the default would be unarmed attacks - if so, does the target incur attacks of opportunity? Does the target drop weapons held? Can the target opt to hold on to the weapon and attack at penalty? This one needs some work to properly. Other than this hiccup, which can be solved by a good GM, this is pretty much awesome.



The Osirion's range-increment-increase for necromantic hellfire lacks the unit of measurement feet beyond the "Add +1", but that remains a cosmetic glitch. The archetypes allow gunslingers to gain an arcane pool that applies only to the gunslinger's firearm and lace bullets with necromantic hellfire as well as minor arcana abilities. The arcane tattooist wizard archetype is interesting - instead of spellbooks, they inscribe spells upon their flesh. As a free action, a tattooist can cause a learned spell to appear for "his study" - I assume that refers to preparation - not a fan of infinite spellbook-trickery. An arcane tattooist can inscribe a number of tattoos equal to his level in each magical item slot. Activating a tattoo in a slot wherein another tattoo is active ends the effect of the former. Overall, I consider this one to be slightly too strong.



Clockwork prometheans can become clockwork mount-riders and may repair the mounts as well. I'm not sold here - the clockwork benefits greatly outperform the basic animal's traits and a cavalier's mount already is VERY powerful at low levels. Add to that the lack of a need for handling the construct mount and we have an imbalance here. The lack of payout for this component makes me consider this archetype in need of some slight rebalancing. promethean machinesmiths may opt for the new Mobius Body greatwork, which gets 1/2 class levels + Int mod charges per day. On a nitpicky side, the minimum 1-caveat only extends to the class level, so theoretically, a machinesmith with a negative Int-mod (an absurdity) would end with 0 charges at first level. Now granted, this is only a glitch on a design-aesthetic perspective, no any viable glitch, but I still figured I'd mention it - rest assured it does not impede the final verdict. Said charges can be used as a swift action to increase Str- or Dex-based skill-checks by 1d4, upgrading said die-size at higher levels and also learning to negate negative conditions via the expenditure of more charges. The augmentations allow for SP-like effects to buff physical-attributes, extra limbs for the purpose of swift action item retrieval. The improved extra limb addition upgrades this to a fully functional off-hand, which is pretty nasty. Only two such additional hands can be added, though, with the second only becoming available at 10th level.



The Flesh prometheans have a cut copy paste error that denotes their chapter as "Promethean, Clockwork" - a rather obvious glitch that should have been caught in editing. Wildman druids replace wild shape and nature's bond with a hunter's animal focus, applying the animal aspect to herself and benefiting from an unlimited duration, with 6th level and every 4 levels thereafter adding +1 aspect. Now said additional aspects have a duration, which has to be spent in 1-minute increments. Personally, I think the ability would have benefited from explicitly stating this distinction/ option to stack additional animal aspects on the first, especially since the ability fails to mention whether more than the base and a second animal aspect can be stacked on another. The inquisitor archetype here is particularly resilient against madness/confusion-inducing abilities and spells and also receives this bonus to sanity-checks if you're playing with these rules. Instead of greater bane, these guys can inflict temporary insanities on foes and gains more domain powers.



The Raijin's FCOs allow the character to help mitigate conflicts of interest with the avenging spirits powering them. The Sword of Vengeance fighter gains a hatred pool (which lacks an editing glitch of 3 blank spaces missing) equal to Cha-mod, minimum 1. This pool, much like grit, can be refreshed by rolling a natural 20 on an Intimidate check or landing a killing blow against undead - both kitten-proof'd, btw.! Now pretty cool would be the fact that pool interaction etc. is covered and discussed. Deed-wise, immediate action 5-foot steps +2 AC-bonus versus triggering attack, barb-rage (with rage power-crossover, if applicable!) etc. Now overall, I like this one, though I am pretty weary of the high-level ability that allows for hatred (a limited, refreshing resource)to power rage powers (when barbarian rage is a limited, non-refreshing resource), but it is still functional.



The final race covered would be the Uzamati, whose FCOs for example allow cavaliers to extend the duration of necromantic phasing by +1 round. Among the archetypes, the Rift Mystic monk can ignore natural armor, armor and shields with unarmed strikes a limited amount of times per day, replacing stunning fist while still retaining the rules-language required to potentially combine them. Nice! Using phasing and ref-saves to negate attacks may not be particularly elegant regarding competing throws, but at least the math did show that the ability is conservative enough to be feasible sans being too reliable. High level mystics may discorporate foes. The new hexes provided here allow for quicker duration lapses of spells and also provide options to temporarily age foes, cause starvation or progress diseases by one day. Now while most diseases work on a daily basis, highly virulent strains could render this instantly lethal, so if your campaign does feature such uncommon diseases, that's something to bear in mind - settling on a one-step progression along the disease's progression track would have been slightly more elegant.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting is good on a formal level - there are some glitches, cut-copy-paste errors etc. Rules-language is pretty concise and only very rarely sports minor ambiguities, so good job there! Layout adheres to LPJr Design's beautiful full-color 2-column standard with several original, gorgeously nightmarish full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.



Jacob W. Michaels actually does deliver herein -I did not expect to like this player-guide, but I ended up enjoying it much more than I thought I would. Why? because it gets right what many similar pdfs fail at: A good racial archetype not only ties in with the race's unique individual flavor, but also ties in the best cases the unique mechanics of a given race to a class feature, making the racial archetype truly unique. To a lesser extent, this also applies to FCOs and this pdf gets both components triumphantly right. In fact, while there are quite a bunch of small archetypes, not one of them is boring. NOT ONE. My dislike for small archetypes tends to be grounded in a bland reconfiguration of content that usually just elicits yawns - instead, the archetypes herein not only tie class and race abilities together, they do so in an interesting manner.



Now, if you've been following my reviews, you'll recall two things: One, Obsidian Apocalypse's races are slightly stronger than core-races, so be aware of that. Two, some of the races have slight wording ambiguities. Now the intriguing feat this pdf accomplishes would be that it manages to actually circumvent these issues. It takes a truly skillful designer to pull something like this off. Finally, there is another reason I like this book - its flavorful, fun amount of cool fluff that made this pdf actually exciting to read.



So yes, I am not 100% sold on some of the abilities herein and yes, there are some rough edges herein. But know what? I'll take a glitch here and there in interesting mechanics over boring content that's perfect any day - and the overall package works for me pretty well. As long as you don't expect perfection and/or fixes for the more problematic race-hiccups, this will be a blast for you, offering damn cool options for all those delightfully grim races. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4.5 stars - round down if the aforementioned glitches rub you the wrong way; but if you're like me and prefer unique mechanics and properly-tied race/class-synergies, round up instead.

Endzeitgeist out

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Obsidian Apocalypse: Players Guide (PFRPG)
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Bite Me! Archetypes
Publisher: Misfit Studios
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/08/2015 02:47:25
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Bite Me-series clocks in at 17 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 11 pages of content, so let's take a look!



The first archetype herein would be the Lycanthologist alchemist, who chooses one type of animal - said type becomes available for a kind of empathy that allows for better handling (i.e. "raptors") and at 3rd level, the mutagen of this archetype allows for kind-of-lycanthropic shapes and some minor alter self-bonus scavenging instead of swift alchemy, with subsequent levels allowing for mutagens that also allow for beast shape-like benefits alongside some minor lycanthrope-themed benefits.



Feral Ragers replace their defensive tricks with DR/silver equal to 1/2 Barbarian level -which may not sound like much, but he also gets + class level extra rage rounds - upon first entering them, though, the feral rager becomes confused on a failed will-save, rendering this a dangerous proposition. The Soother of the Savage bard gets a modified spell-list and is themed around emotional control - whether it is according to calm allies and prevent hostilities or incite them, with lycanthropes or raging creatures being particularly susceptible.



The wild rider cavalier can instill barbarian-like rage in his mount and even share natural attacks with the mount, with higher levels further increase these powers - rather interesting one here! Moon Templar clerics must choose the lunar subdomain and 1/day during a full moon, may freely augment domain spells via metamagic. Alas, I'm not sold on the ability to channel energy at +50% efficiency for lycanthropes, with free selective channeling for the purpose of lycanthropes - whether as hunters or in all-lycanthrope-parties, I'm not sold on the massive damage-increase this freely provides for some of the most powerful 1st level abilities out there.



The Lycanthropic Soul Druid receives beast shape added to the spell-list and may cast them spontaneously; DR and summoning lycanthropes are also provided. Fighters may opt for the Master of Tooth, Nail and Sword for a better manufactured weapon + natural weapon-synergy -less penalties, full Str-mod, etc. - while not something flashy, it does the job well. The Avenging Gun Gunslinger gets favored enemy and two deeds - one for better atk versus foes that have damaged him and one to bypass DR - this one is pretty bland in my book, and the same extends to the Hunter of the Damned inquisitor, who gets an annoying shapeshifter-detect and better atk and damage versus lycanthropes. The Clawed Magus can enhance both natural attacks and weapons at once - nice! Simple, but nice!



Master of Inner Turmoil Monks may add non-claw-natural attacks to flurries and uses unarmed strike damage for the bite of her animal and hybrid forms - nice! Using hybrid attacks in humanoid form also is interesting -a cool archetype here, even before ki-powered shapechange-healing! The Oracle may opt for the Lunar Prophet archetype, with a moon-powered augury and immunity to lycanthropy and disruptive tricks via touch attacks. Paladins can turn into Holy Beasts, allowing for control over their lycanthropy and spell-list enhancement. The archetype also gets an animal companion at -4 levels and can smite evil lycanthropes with higher efficiency than other smites -solid! The Beast Warden ranger can identify lycanthropes via a check that does not take into account the disguise skills of lycanthropes, only HD. Bad in my book. They may grant favored enemy bonuses to their companions and high-level wardens get a lycanthrope cohort.



Bestial infiltrator rogues do not gain evasion, but can grant himself +2 to Dex for 2 x level rounds as a free action...lame? Danger sense and animal companion/scale up to +4/+6 Dex via talents doesn't help much here to remedy the weak rogue class bereft of one of its best, free defenses - needing to spend a talent on it is not cool. Sorcerors can take the new Lycanthrope bloodline - which obviously nets you scaling bite, DR, increased speed, etc. - still, not a good choice for squishy sorcs.



Moonlight summoners can easily make their eidolons get bites and can give them DR and make them inflict lycanthropy. Nice one! The Werelock witch is perhaps the most unique archetype herein - and awesome: They can turn their familiars into an anthropomorphic animal, with more forms, proficiencies etc. all being covered - this makes the witch more of a pet-class and thus results in diminished spell-casting, with 7 hexes/major hexes allowing for more customization. The final archetype would be the Feral Caster, who gets free natural spell at 5th level and automatically adds beast shape spells. As bland as the werelock's awesome.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, both on a formal and a rules-language level, are very good. Layout adheres to a beautiful two-column full-color standard and the copiuous artworks provided are original and high-quality. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The pdf comes with a second, more printer-friendly version that sports the artworks in b/w. Nice!



Mike Welham's archetypes (with additional content by Sean K. Reynolds, Morgan Boehringer, Jim Wettstein) herein are not bad, not at all - while the unifying theme arguably makes much variation not something you find herein, there is more diversity in here than one would expect at first glance. And indeed, quite a few of the archetypes herein are interesting and tackle relatively complex concepts. However, at the same time, some archetypes are obvious filler material and fall behind significantly behind the more inspired examples of design herein, which is also why this mechanically solid pdf misses highest accolades and only clocks in as a solid, good pdf for a final verdict of 3. 5 stars, rounded up to 4 due to the inspired archetypes for some of the classes in here.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Bite Me! Archetypes
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Path of the Stranger
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/07/2015 04:08:41
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of Legendary Games' mythic paths-series clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside front cover, 2 pages editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of introduction, 1 page SRD, 3 pages advertisements, 1 page inside back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 13 pages of raw content detailing this new mythic path, so let's take a look, shall we?



Now first things first - unlike the previous installments in this series, here, we have a mythic path that is very much intended to be used by the PCs, not their opposition, so that would be one change of focus. The stranger itself is an iconic concept and if the basic renditions of the trope it is based on is not readily apparent to you - this mythic path is about skirmishing and subterfuge, both mundane and magical. Tiers net +4 Hp and the path offers a selection of 3 stranger maneuvers: Fleet Charge lets you expend mythic power as a swift action to move up to your speed, while also executing a ranged or melee attack at full BAB at any point during the movement. painful reckoning allows you to use an immediate action to convert 5 points of damage taken per tier to nonlethal damage (or ignore nonlethal damage of said amount) and adds a luck bonus buff to AC/atk equal to 1/2 tier, to damage and Intimidate checks versus said foe equal to full tier. Surprise strike lets you expend mythic power as a swift action to execute a melee or ranged attack versus a target within 30 ft., which treats the target as flat-footed and adds tier to damage.



Of course, the pdf also provides a diverse array of path abilities gained at 1st tier and every tier thereafter, with some minor overlap with marshal, guardian and trickster. The path abilities allow for the learning of more stranger maneuvers, so no, you're not locked into an either-or-situation regarding the base path ability learned. Of course, the abilities themselves are diverse - but how diverse? What about calling in favors from contacts (with full synergy for the rules from Ultimate Campaign), gaining temporary followers or even a financial aid from your associates? Want to go Zorro on foes? Nonmagical signature arcane marks that may act as distraction to hide or to demoralize foes represent just that. What about using firearms and bombs to create dispel-effects against mind-affecting effects? And yes, including a valid range-related wording. Better dodge with retributive attacks OR diverting attacks to adjacent targets. Free action reloads powered by mythic power are also interesting.

Belonging to two orders (or flexible access to an alternate domain) to represent changing allegiances is pretty nice, as is the option to gain memory lapse as an SP, while ranger strangers may grant woodland stride to allies. Hearing heartbeats akin to Daredevil and the resulting repercussions for Sense Motive. Going Conan for the purpose of Stunning Fist/Improved unarmed Strike-punching creatures larger than you would be pretty neat as well. Automatically succeeding balancing on narrow edges also makes sense to me regarding the concept. Mythic upgrades for grit, ki and panache and Batman-style nimble falling gliding can be found in these options as well.



What about an ability that allows you to shroud your name and identity in mystery, making it hard for other creatures to recall your presence or an option to demoralize foes seeking to scry you and adding misdirection-tricks to those foolish enough to try to spy on you? Better improvised weapons and combining withdraw with disarm can be found herein as wel as improved tricks regarding resolve. One of my favorites lets you learn adding proficiencies with exotic weapons via short training as well as allowing you to treat the weapons as not suffering from detrimental qualities or adding beneficial ones to the weapon used for a massive array of odd combinations and weapon-tinkering. I also enjoyed the wall running options alongside the tricks to blend with and move through crowds.



Among the 3rd tier abilities, demoralizes to react to failed attacks on you while fighting defensively, full-blown batman cape-gliding with Wingover and a crazy-prepared trick are part of the fray, though I wished the latter had a caveat for not being able to duplicate unique items like specific keys. The abilities also cover being able to use suggestions while hidden from targets. Help and immunity versus emotion-effects and pain-effects and using language-dependent effects versus the caster make for solid tricks that fit well within the tropes covered. Counter-scrying, via the aptly-named "Watching the watchmen" also is neat. Beyond the sample suggested builds, the 6th tier abilities deserve their power - what about being able to return to life upon dying when healed within a certain amount of time, provided your body remains? Becoming, quite literally, an incorporeal ghost rider. What about going, Kill Bill-style, on a roaring rampage of revenge, allowing you to return to life if slain AND temporarily gain qualities of friggin' revenants in addition to the quarry etc.-tricks this nets anyways? OUCH! Oh, speaking of which - the capstone also nets the stranger immunity versus all movement-impeding conditions and options that force movement, including feats and maneuvers - fitting!



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to Legendary Games' beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with copious amounts of original full-color artwork, including some gorgeous 1-page pictures. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.



Jason Nelson has a field day here - if you have read as many of his designs, you've come to expect his trademark coherent crunch that tackles complex concepts, but sometimes, he goes above and beyond it - this would be such an example, one where the design gleefully marries unobtrusive pop-culture references with superb crunch that actually manages to properly cover the concepts it is supposed to cover. This mythic path is glorious, with no bland numerical escalations and a vast multitude of utterly unique path abilities that fit the concept perfectly, while remaining distinct and above the purview of what can be achieved with mythic feats. Additionally, none of the abilities herein, while universally solid and powerful, felt broken to me and so far, I found no issues worth speaking of in this great addition to the mythic rules. Obviously, my final verdict will represent this excellence, with a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Path of the Stranger
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Gossamer Worlds: Incursion Earth 626 (Diceless)
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/07/2015 04:05:45
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the evocative Gossamer Worlds-series clocks in at 19 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, leaving us with 17 pages of content, so let’s take a look!



Incursion Earth 626 is one of the infinite allotopias (i.e. alternate earths) than can be reached via the Grand Stair - but is a unique one. In 1985, reality cracked - this time not due to earth's humans screwing it up, but due to an extremely expansionist empire called the "Incursion" piercing the veils of reality. These technocratic conquerors botched something, though, when they arrived in this reality and mankind suddenly was faced with a vast influx of psionic power - from pyrokinesis to uncontrollable telepathy, the sudden rise of powers left the world almost in an apocalyptic state, when Switzerland, for example, paid for its lockdown with utter annihilation, becoming a creepy ghost-country. Just as things began to settle, with the powers-that-be establishing elite-squads of psionics, the incursion attacked.



With brutal displays that annihilated Washington D.C. and Moscow, the Incursion established supremacy over earth, rendering it one of its colonies. Now, two decades later, life remains pretty much normal for the average citizen. Once you've gotten accustomed to the shadows and drones, no issues. Unless you are psionically active, in which you immediately become a target for the incursion's forces...especially if you are a psycher - one of the powerful, almost demigod-level psionicists. Speaking of which - multiple ways to handle psionics and distinguish (or not distinguish) it from sorcery are provided. The incursion's renegade commander, Tau-Psi-5 receives full stats and beyond the threat of the incursion, the hidden remnants of the erstwhile secret service are creating their own cadre of super-psychers to reclaim earth, while Irkutsk is now the place, where a lot of earth's psionics are brought - for what purpose, though - none knows so far.



Oh, and then there would be the rise of a new spiritualism, with ancient, strange psychic entities rising, possessing people and turning them into nightmarish creatures...Yes, there is a lot of lethal potential for storytelling.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s beautiful 2-column full-color standard for LoGaS and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Artwork consists of glorious full-color pieces that are absolutely gorgeous to behold.



Matt Banach's Incursion Earth 626 is interesting, with a special shout out going to the interior artists Tarakanovich, Wataboku, Michael Richards, David Revoy, Justin Nichol, J.J. Tarujärvi - the artworks stand out even in this series and create an atmosphere that reminded me of Death Note's N as a psychic in some frames, creating a unique visual style. The potential of the world is vast - from teh Incursion's motives to the obvious potential for ALL kinds of X-men-style narratives, this place sports adventuring potential galore and is well worth 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Gossamer Worlds: Incursion Earth 626 (Diceless)
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Ultimate Commander
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/06/2015 02:36:03
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive class-pdf clocks in at 42 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside front cover, 2 pages editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of introduction, 1 page SRD, 4 pages of advertisement, 1 page inside back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a massive 30 pages of pure content, so let's take a look, shall we?



Before we get into the details of the general class, let me explain some of the basic premises of this class. If you've been following my reviews *VERY* carefully, you may be aware of the fact that I consider the troop-subtype awesome - much like swarms, it makes the pitchfork-wielding mob a challenge and its level of abstraction enables venue of storytelling not well-supported by the default system. At the same point, I am a pretty big fan of the mass-combat rules introduced in Ultimate Campaign, superbly supported by Legendary Games' glorious plug-ins. Both have one thing in common - a disjoint of abstraction, one that is slightly exacerbated by mass combat.



Pathfinder's combat is detailed to the point where one may argue that the game turns into a kind of simulator once combat begins - it is probably as close to a simulator with a low level of abstraction as you can get without compromising the fluidity of the playing experience. At the same time, mass-combat rules provide a relatively high degree of abstraction. The general attempts to bridge the gap between the mass combat and regular combat rules. As a base chassis, the general is a class with d8, 3/4 BAB-progression, proficiency with simple and martial weapons, shields and light + medium armor as well as goo fort- and will-saves.



The basic means to achieve that would be the general's squad. A squad can be considered a somewhat abstract troop of individuals which doubles as a kind of pet-creature that defends the general. As such, an obviously slightly gamist level of abstraction is required to run the class, but one that makes sense - but can the base mechanics stand up to the premise? Gained at 1st level, a squad acts as an aggregate, is not subject to flanking or massive damage, but to sneak attack and massive damage and when reduced to 0 HP, it disbands. A squad counts as one creature for the purpose of skill-checks, attacks, initiative, etc. Squads initially occupy 3 squares, shapeable as the squad sees fit, with actual size category determined by the component creatures. One may move through their squares and the squad may move through occupied squares, but incurs AoOs when it does. Squads cannot be dragged, pushed, repositioned, tripped, grappled or bull-rush'd, except when the effect applies to an area. Squads grappling opponents do incur the grappled condition. Squads are immune to single target spells and require AoE-spells to be properly affected, though, thankfully, with the massive array of spells, the GM remains the final arbiter to whether an obscure spell affects the squad. Squads obviously take +50% damage from spells and effects that inflict AoE damage. Nonlethal damage is properly covered as well.



Whenever a squad disperses or takes damage that is not magically healed within 1 minute, calculate 1/4 of the damage as casualties. Casualty damage cannot be healed by natural healing, since it not only stems from injury and death, but also from loss of morale and desertion. A squad suffering from more than 1/4 of its HP as in casualties receives 1 negative level, though said level cannot kill squads, only impose the penalty- Squads that suffer more than 3/4 maximum HP in casualties are disbanded until the casualty damage can be repaired. Yes, this is pretty much in line with how such mechanics work when used in mass combat. In order to regain troops, generals have to journey to a given settlement to recruit new members. Handy DCs by settlement-size are provided and a squad has a relatively simple attack, though one that can be supplemented by a second attack or a shield. Squads can execute combat maneuvers, threaten squares and can execute AoOs as normal.



Squads increase their HD (D8) every level and have 3/4 BAB-progression, good ref-saves and begin play with1 feat, gaining +1 at 3rd level and then +1 every odd level thereafter. A squad gets good ref-saves and increases its armor bonus every level by +1. Squads also receive a scaling str/con-bonus that scales from +0 to +7 and increase the numbers over the levels of up to 12-18 soldiers, occupying increasing amounts of squares, up to 6 squares. Squads also have their own skill-list and get 2+Int skills per level. Squads can make their teamwork feats only work in conjunction with one allied character.



Now, obviously, the general makes for a superb general when used in conjunction with the kingdom building rules, including quicker, scaling training and army-limits - awesome! Whenever a general benefits from a tactical bonus due to placement on the battlefield, he increases this bonus, rewarding players actually playing the general as the tactical commander he is intended to be. Now where things become interesting is via the synergy of general and squad: As a standard action, the general can enhance the squad's BAB to equal his level and at higher levels, the commands become VERY interesting - 3rd level unlocks the swarm attack: When the general issues this command as a standard action, the squad may expend a standard action to deal general-level damage to all creatures and unattended objects in reach. At higher levels, a buffing command that can be executed as a swift action provides further bonuses.



3+Cha-mod times per day, generals may issue motivational speeches to heal non-casualty damages to the squad that scale thankfully. At 2nd level and every 2 levels thereafter, a general may learn one squad tactic. Here, we have an example of the rare Legendary Games-glitch, with the page number not being correct, instead listing a "page ??" - thankfully, the adjacent internal linking renders this glitch cosmetic at best. Squad tactics cover a list of 3 pages, with improved mobility and aiding as well as the option to temporarily render terrain difficult. Further hampering spellcasting, firing volleys of bolts etc. can all be found, alongside more conventional tricks à la Blind Fight etc. Holy or unholy damage are also interesting. I noticed a minor issue with Mitigation tactics: This allows the squad to mitigate damage retained, with the amount depending on the general level - namely that since the ability does not use DR or resistance, I'm not sure whether the minimum damage of 1 still applies or not. Granted, this one point is not going to cut it in most cases, but I still would have loved to see this covered. Raising or lowering earth squares in record time may sound none too impressive, but oh boy can you make nasty ambushes with just a bit of time on your hands... All in all, these squad talents are great, though formatting can't seem to decide whether to include a blank line between the talents or not - mind you, this gripe remains an aesthetic one.



At 2nd level, 5th level and every 3 levels thereafter, the general may select a genius stratagem, which can be executed as a move action and the stratagem either affects an ally or his squad within 30 ft. The stratagems lasts for Int-mod rounds and cover various supplemental buffs, with some being relegated to higher levels. A personal favorite of mine allows for nonlethal damage sans penalties. The general also receives the cavalier banner class feature at 3rd level, with cavalier level +2 as the effective level. 4th level nets contacts in all sorts of places, with command skill determining availability. 5th level also nets higher effective scores for kingdom-building-related bonuses to Loyalty and Stability. Now if the action-economy seemed pretty bled-dry, you'll like to hear that, at 7th level, the general, fighting in tandem with his squad, may lend the enhancement bonus and weapon special abilities to his squad, more interestingly in conjunction with ranged weapons and a proper interaction with ammunition.



Better yet, at higher level, increased power in mass combat, with full synergy with Ultimate Battle, extends the general's field of influence from kingdom building to mass combat. Beyond these abilities, soldiers from the squad sacrificing themselves to keep the general from harm and similar defensive abilities round out an excellent class, with the capstone making the general an instantly recognizable man of wide renown.



The class provides solid favored class options for the core races and also features several archetypes: The Crusader would be a religious commander who can incite a kingdom to forego a kingdom's leader bonus to stability, instead applying it to a reroll of the three checks rolled. Other than that, the archetype nets favored weapons and a minor defensive aura. The guerrilla receives different squad stats and an emphasis on hit and run tactics, with vital strike-charge-synergy, for example. Kingpins would be the subtle commanders, with Stealth and Disguise allowing the kingpin to blend with the squad and the squad to be less conspicuous. Via their illicit gains, they can mitigate failed stability checks and foiling truth-finding and becoming pretty divination-proof also help. Damn cool one! The mindbender is a kind of eldritch-themed enchantment-specialist with a limited array of SPs that help recruiting and succinctly, ways of determining magical influence and a psychic debuff. I like the fluff here, but found myself wishing this had been realized as a telepathy-related archetype instead.

Nobles obviously have quite a bunch of gold to through around and may maintain endowments of a building autonomous of the kingdom and may have friends in higher places. The Rallier provides bravery and more enduring marches. Reavers share teamwork feats with their squad, but take longer to command it and can charge through their squad with a nasty synergy attack. Redeemers are specialists of rehabilitation and nonlethal victories - love them! Revolutionaries receive automatic casualty-replacements when in an area with sufficient dissent. They may also destabilize kingdoms and high-level revolutionaries may whip their squads into zealous frenzy, preventing dispersal.



Strategists do not get the support command, but may designate high-value targets and keep said order lasting longer. Tacticians depend mostly on Intelligence, not Charisma for motivational speeches etc. and may have two sets of squad tactics, switching between the two with a drill. And yes, the archetype gets a contingency plan. the Tactician can be VERY strong, as it essentially has a gestalty-squad. Tyrants use fear-based tactics and intimidation, while warbringers are the bloodthirsty barbarian warlords. On a nitpicky side, I don't think "Blood Rage" is a smart way of naming an ability, with the bloodrager out there.



The pdf also provides an alternate class, the hordelord, who must be evil, gets d8, 4+Int skills, proficiency with light armor, scythes and simple weapons and arcane spell failure in better armor. The class gets 1/2 BAB-progression as well as fort- and will-saves. Instead of a squad, the hordelord receives a unit of zombies that pretty much follows the rules for squads, with the exception that dispersal is handled differently and that replacements require only a ritual and some monetary investment. Hordelords receive channel energy as a cleric of their level and command undead as a bonus feat at 1st level. Hordelords get spontaneous spellcasting of up to 6th level, governed by Cha, but restrict their spell-selection to necromancy spells and those with the fear and death-descriptors. In a nice catch, the pdf does specify the priority sequence for spells that can be found on multiple lists with different spell levels. The hordelord also receives a kind of adaptation of squad tactics at 2nd level and every 2 levels thereafter, with some unique tactics thrown into the mix. (The question-mark glitch also can be found here, btw.) At 2nd level, the class also receives the path of depravity, a bloodline-like modification that further provides bonuses at 9th and 16th level - 3 such paths are provided. Increased and trampling zombies, killing off zombies to power your spells and becoming a scythe-wielding master of the undead - all covered. It should btw. be noted that the zombie horde does NOT suffer from the usual staggered-issue of the shambling undead.



The pdf also provides 2 pages of feats with extra class feature-uses, class feature upgrades, combat maneuvers, excluding allies from swarm attacks, etc. - a solid array of feats. The final page covers interaction of Leadership feat and general and lists the troop-subtype's characteristics for your convenience.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches, only some very minor glitches. Layout adheres to legendary Games' 2-column full-color standard and the pdf provides ample gorgeous full-color artworks, some of which may be familiar to fans of Legendary Games. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.



Will McCardell and Linda Zayas-Palmer make for an excellent team - after their superb and impressive demiurge-class, the general manages to achieve an unprecedented feat in blending personal and kingdom-level adventuring, spanning the gap between the two. When I first heard about this pdf, I expected a lot of undue overlap with Michael Sayre's cool Battle Lord, perhaps the most interesting adventurer-group commander I've seen so far. Instead of going that route, the general does something wholly unique, not only providing perfect synergy with kingdom building and mass combat, it also is distinct n that it makes adventuring with a troop of allies a valid option - hey, perhaps your players actually provide names for the squad members! Whether Bridgeburners or Black Company, the general has significant narrative potential that surprisingly is supplemented by tactical options beyond the scope of other classes - not necessarily in power, but in the breadth - battlefield control via earth-lowering etc. make for damn awesome tricks, for example. The fluid flux from the personal to the abstract dimension make this an achievement in design that proved to eb exceedingly fun to play, more so than many pet-classes I have seen. The synergy with Ultimate Rulership and Battle further enhance this.



So all absolutely awesome? As far as the base-class is concerned, yes. Now I'm not saying that the archetypes and alternate class are bad, far from it. However, I would have enjoyed the zombie horde to be more distinct - it didn't feel very zombie-ish to me - no staggered condition, no consumption of foes, no instant regain of casualties, no increased amount of members/area covered.... that and the VERY similar scaling of the squad's stats (being almost carbon copies) render the horde and its master a reskin that falls woefully short of being truly distinct. When the hordelord should have had me cackle with glee, it disappointed me as a minor reskin with some basic modifications. More paths would also have helped here. So that would be missed chance one. Some of the archetypes provided also feel very basic, with only a few truly blowing me away. That being said, I am pretty nitpicky here and ultimately, these gripes are not necessarily fair - why? Because both archetypes and alternate class provide imho less of a distinct, unique identity - they are system/engine-tweaks for the class. Basically, they serve to highlight a significant array of possible modifications for the general-chassis and thus can be considered guidelines to modify and adapt the base engine of the class - which is superb.



"But wait", you say, "I don't want to play with kingdom-building!" - you're lucky. While the general is intended for the like, just letting these fall under the rug does not impede the performance of the class - the general can be played without those rules and is still a powerful class. Since the kingdom-building/mass-combat abilities do not influence regular adventuring, you won't lose any power, just some of the experiences that render the class so incredibly awesome.



I've been thinking quite a bit about the final verdict here - on the one hand, we get a superb class that is mechanically truly distinct and innovative; on the other hand, the supplemental content did fall flat of the potential and uniqueness of the class, being essentially an array of engine-tweaks that provide options galore, yes, but on their own, they will not make you gush. So I waited for the playtest and asked about the fun-level this class provides - and here, the general excels. While I am not impressed by most of the supplemental content beyond their functionality as engine-tweaks, there are some gems herein and ultimately, no problems worth complaining about. More importantly, the general itself is a piece of beauty and genius - it is fun, both in regular and kingdom-building campaigns, utilizes several jamais-vu-level innovative mechanics and manages to proudly place its banner where no other class has tread before - and ultimately, I love it for that and recommend it wholeheartedly. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval....now can we have more kingdom-synergy-classes? Ultimate Kings and Queens, for example?

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ultimate Commander
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Purple Duck Storeroom: Spell Components (Core)
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/06/2015 02:32:51
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of Purple Duck Games' inexpensive Storeroom-series clocks in at 19 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of SRD, providing 16 pages of content, so let's take a look!



Every roleplaying game, ultimately, is a game of abstractions, of rules and individual interpretation - that's why no movie will ever amount to the awesomeness of the one stunt that character pulled off...and why discrepancies between a GM's description and a player's perception thereof prove to be such a source of frustration when they happen.



If your game is like mine, there is a certain level of simulation - and I believe that spellcasting would be considered much more balanced, if one tracked how much uses of this bat guano stuff the wizard has. The one issue here would be that, ultimately, there is the component pouch - and we have no idea what's inside. While this abstraction helps render the game more fluid, it does prove to be a problem once you start asking whether obscure component for ritual xyz is part of one's pouch, a problem, which to a similar extent can be applied to kits.



This pdf can be considered the ridiculously inexpensive solution to this issue - in handy tables, all foci and material components of spells from the CORE-book are tracked in easily navigated tables. Better yet, the pdf provides a sensible suggestion of how much such a pouch can hold and what (probably) is contained in such a pouch - and yes, the contents come with a nice 1-page full-color rendition by Rick Hershey.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no issues. Layout adheres to a 1-column printer-friendly standard and the pdf comes with full nested bookmarks for easy navigation. This can be easily printed out in digest-format, btw., making it a nice booklet to carry along.

This pdf, compiled and presented by Mark Gedak, essentially can be considered a godsend in my book. This is a humble, utterly awesome little pdf that may not be crucial for any group, but it adds a sense of realism to the game I adore. It takes a wibbly-wobbly, ill-defined, esoteric component of the rules and provides one-glance-done coverage. I love this pdf. For the low price, this is just awesome and I hope to see all other big books covered as well - this is extremely useful and well worth 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Purple Duck Storeroom: Spell Components (Core)
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Deep Magic (Pathfinder RPG)
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/03/2015 01:00:42
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive, huge tome clocks in at 378 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 3 pages backer-list, 2 pages of ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 367 pages of content, so let's...

...wait. I can't really convey the illusion of spontaneity here. Why? Because I have written and deleted this review 3 times as I'm writing these lines. This is quite literally one of the hardest reviews I have ever written, mainly because conveying my stance on Deep Magic is pretty ambiguous and prone to misinterpretation.



But let's start at the beginning. This book is beautiful. Thanks to one particularly helpful gentleman, I managed to pledge by proxy over him (didn't have the bucks when the KS ran...) and when this book's physical copy arrived in the mail, I was utterly blown away. Not only did I receive a massive, gorgeous stitch-bound hardcover, it was in gorgeous full color and sported some of the very best pieces of artwork I've EVER SEEN. The matte paper helps create an illusion of an "old" tome and the superb, copious artworks render this book so beautiful, it even mops the floor with quite a few Paizo-books. Yes, that gorgeous. The layout, with its parchment-look, its subdued, unobtrusive glyphs further enhances this. Deep Magic is one of the most mind-staggeringly gorgeous books I've ever had the pleasure to read and both artists and layout-artists have been up to their A+++-game. Kudos!



Then, I went on and started reading beyond the forewords and the introductory short story by Ed Greenwood and after them, yes, I was utterly blown away and totally in the mind-set for the things to come:



The first we see would be the respective magical traditions. Old time fans of Kobold Quarterly and Kobold Press will see quite an array of old favorites herein again - from blood magic to fool's summonings, quite a bunch of conceptual goldies can be found herein. At their very best, these new traditions are ridiculously inspired - new ioun stones and ley lines would be two such examples. The latter, for examples, can be tapped by casters with concise rules to tap into their powers - while very powerful, these ley-lines can not only make for interesting tools that can turn the tide of battle and e.g. prevent a TPK or provide unique, cool ways to execute narratives. The transient nature of ley lines and the option to burn them out/change their course places control firmly within the hands of the DM, preventing abuse. That being said, as a DM, I have to decidedly advise against making the numerous ley line feats available for PCs - their balancing is odd/non-existent, with no-save, no-SR 1-round blinding effects and the like not necessarily constituting good resources to place in player hands.



The fool's summoning tricks go a different way - beyond interesting, more risky, but also more powerful summoning tricks, a copious amount of spells receive flavorful modifications and reskins - which brings me to another point. These traditions sport unique effects, and the same holds true for chaos/wonder magic, with distinct, odd effects and abilities rendering the experience of playing the respective schools pretty interesting. Alas, not all of the traditions herein receive such interesting rules - in fact, quite a few of the traditions adhere to the following presentation: We receive a short fluff-text, spell-lists by caster/level and then, a sample spellbook, including preparation ritual. (And yes, rules for intelligent, living spellbooks can be found herein as well - they are pretty sinister and narrative gold.)Now don't get me wrong, I *love* the inclusion of these books, but all in all, the respective "schools"/traditions, at least partially, feel too rudimentary - there is not enough to set the spells themselves apart, no guidance to develop additional spells for such a school and some classes receive e.g. one exclusive spell for such a tradition - not much reason to pick a tradition. By providing a tighter focus, the traditions could have been infinitely more compelling, more specific...but...on the other hand, we for example receive a complete, new full-blown mythic path with the living saint.



What are living saints? Well, for one, they are chosen of god(s) - what I mean by this is that, like many a mythological leader of religious prowess, these guys experience a highly interesting phase of tribulations, wherein they are severed from their gods and besieged by the whole pantheon - essentially, all gods can tempt the saint towards their ideology and sphere of influence, proposing different spells etc. for obeisance and quests. This can also be used for interesting foreshadowing and over all, the mythic path, intended for divine casters, is pretty much a cool choice with plenty of narrative potential ingrained into the very fabric of the thing, especially due to the numerous spells sporting names of the saints, adding a cool narrative dimension and unobtrusive fluff to these miraculous powers. This mythic path is the first that actually feels like it could have originated in fiction, like it not only provides a rules-escalation, but an actually defining, narrative tool. I adore this path and the resonance of our own world's myths, with obvious references to Christian (sans the ideology, mind you - you can't be offended by this guy) narrative structures that are very ingrained into how we perceive certain myths, this path is a thing of beauty.



Vril, the unique pseudo-atlantean power-source introduced in Sunken Empires (inspired by Bulwer-Lytton's writing) also receives new specialists, both archetype, feat and spell-wise. Converting spells into vril-blasts, for example, is pretty interesting. That being said, careful looks into this system also shows us a couple of somewhat odd choices - the archetypes, for example, are separated and relegated to their own chapter - so instead of looking up e.g. vril magic, you have to know where what can be found. Yes, organization is neatly organized by crunch-type, but in a book this focused on awesome concepts, I think another solution would have been appropriate. Also odd - Ink Magic, in depiction pretty much a tradition, can be found in the chapter on rune-magic. Strange.



But this line of reasoning brings me to the first issue of this book, though it is admittedly one of preference. The traditions as such, as has always been the strong forte of Kobold Press, just BRIM with imagination. They provide iconic, well--crafted concepts that set the imagination ablaze. I know a couple of them from their original books and the fluff, usually, did in some way limit the respective traditions - whether it's the lost magic of vril, the blood magic of some limited tribes/traditions or the lost magic used to slow the progress of the Wasted West's Old Ones...there always was this implied scarcity, this alignment of crunch with philosophies, ethnicities and accomplishments. So the PCs have this powerful spell xyz, BECAUSE they have taken on caster zxy, because they have braved the ruins of Gru'tharkrr...



This book collects all of these traditions and breaks their spells into a massive, huge chapter, dissolving the lines between them and implying by its very organization a general availability not implied in singular presentations - essentially, we have a disjunction of fluff from crunch to a certain extent. Now this means that you have to search the spells in the lists if you want to make a specialist, but have an easier time when just browsing through the book, looking for spells generally available - hence, the implication is that these spells are available freely, akin to how spell presentation works in Paizo's big books. Now don't get me wrong, one could argue that THIS is exactly what this book tries to do, analogue to the big Paizo-books, where you essentially slap down the book and have a general extension of the arsenal. My contention, ultimately, is that this is balance-wise one of the decisions that shoot the book in its metaphorical foot.



In my first iteration of this review, I went through all of the crunch here in these traditions step-by-step - alas, this bloated the review to the point where it wasn't helpful anymore. (And if I'm saying that, with my tendency towards verbose reviews, you'll have an inkling of what a monstrosity this would have become - my guess was 20+ pages - and let's be honest, no one would read that...)



So, Deep Magic does sport, a HUGE chapter of spells, both new and old - all collated and organized by handy spell-levels. This chapter is where my first and second review-attempts broke apart. The first one due to my so far pretty jubilant review receiving a harsh dose of reality, the second because I realized that step-by-step analysis makes no sense, bloating the review. If that was not ample clue - not all is well here. It is only understandable that a vast array of authors will have diverging voices and different mastery of the system and yes, this does show herein. Now before you get the pitchforks, let me state one thing explicitly and clearly - the *concepts* of these spells are WONDROUS. Gorgeous. Superb. They are iconic. They *feel* like magic, not like some energy-colored damage-dealing vehicles. They manage to capture the elusive spirit of what magic ought to be and bring the "magic" back into a game often lost and sorely missed. I'd take the concepts of this book over those in Ultimate Magic and Combat combined any day.



The concepts.



For there is no way around the following statement, no way to sugar-coat it without outright lying. There are a lot of cool, functional spells herein. However, there also is a vast array of spells that would have desperately required the hands of an editor who truly knows rules-language and/or a capable developer. Name the issue and you have a very good chance of finding a representative of the issue herein, quite possibly in a spell that you absolutely love concept-wise.



This chapter almost broke my heart.



Any closer analysis shows ample problems, often to the point of rendering a spell highly ambiguous, unbalanced or downright inoperable - there are examples of authors obviously mixing up flat-footed and touch attack AC. Mechanics more closely related to 3.X-design. Spells that do not allow for saves which should. SR that is ignored when comparable spells allow for it. Contradictions between spell-block and its text. Faulty AoEs/ranges/targets. False spell-block formatting. Wrong save. Damage-escalation. You name it. Damage + no-save stagger at a level where it's ridiculous. Non-sense descriptor-placement. Balance is not even crying in the corner anymore, it is utterly GONE, evaporated into some nebulous dimension. Some author(s) seem to not get the distinction between material components, foci and divine foci. Unspecified bleed damage à la inflict " receives bleed 3" - bleed 3 WHAT? Hp? Attribute? What about a spell generating an AoE geyser-like effect that gets just about everything wrong you can possibly get wrong regarding AoEs? Racial spells that could have simply used focus as a limiting component instead of wonky wording-crutches that try (badly) to cut out other races? Sentences that peter off. Wording so convoluted I can't tell you how exactly a spell works. You name the glitch, it's here - and right next to it, you may see one of the coolest spells ever.



This massive chapter was one of the most heart-rending experiences of my reviewer-career. My first skip through it saw me exhilarated. Closer scrutiny brought disappointment, actual in-depth analysis...well, there's no way around it...pain. Now beyond the glitches, the balance-concerns herein may partially stem from bad design-choices and lack of rules-language development...but at least partially, they also have their origin in the simple fact that the book took the "soft" restrictions that served as a balancing factor before and took them away by smashing all spells into one big chapter. Where before, spells may have been "broken", but rare, the implication here is that they are freely available, exacerbating what might before have been a reward into power-escalation. Now yes, in face of the vast army of issues that plague this chapter, even a change in presentation in the proposed way would be a drop of water in a vast desert of issues and would do nothing to render the formal issues void...but yeah, that would be one exacerbating factor.



And one that extends, alas, to the next chapter. I am a huge fan of runic/glyph magic. Allowing non-casters to learn the powers of rues is one of the most-beloved tropes for me - whether clad in a pseudo-Scandinavian guise or via lovecraftian alignment with aboleths et al.; The very concepts of the runes are powerful, and intentionally so. But once again, stripping these of their fluff, of their direct place within the world, of the achievements required to learn them, renders them problematic. When you have to mimic the deeds of the gods to learn the rune Uruz and then, finally have it, it becomes okay if you can paint it on your shield for a 1/day +20 bonus to overrun/bull rush - chances are, your DM knew what was coming and planned accordingly. If the fluff context is taken away, a ridiculously powerful rune, accessible for 1 feat, remains - and suddenly, we see the system stumble under the weight of one of its foundations being eroded.



I'm not going to analyze the word of power-subchapter, mainly because I consider the base-system introduced in Ultimate Magic just not well-designed. On the plus-side, the awesome incantations pioneered by Zombie Sky Press back in the day receive a significant array of new ones and these tend to be pretty awesome narrative devices.



Alas, the sloppy rules-language of the spells also partially (but thankfully, only partially!) extends to the following chapter, detailing bloodlines and mysteries. What about tentacle-attacks that do not specify as what they are treated? Check. Flawed target/reach-nomenclature...check. Sp, Su and Ex, in some cases, seem to have been determined at random, rendering some abilities utterly opaque. You get the idea. Now yes, the problems are much less pronounced than among the spells, but they are still here. As an additional note - the options among these class options do not feel as though they were balanced among themselves, with power-levels ranging from weak to VERY strong. Still, overall, these options feel relatively operable and easily fixed and the concepts provided are often utterly unique and cool. On a footnote, wizards, oddly, have their arcane discoveries/focused schools etc. in the tradition-section in the beginning, ripping the class options associated with the traditions in half. The problems outlined here also extend, alas and much to my chagrin, to the chapter on archetypes. That being said, the archetype's main flaw remains the focus on the spells/traditions - you can't build a house on sand and these, as compelling as they often are, sometimes do just that - which is a pity, for here, much like with aforementioned class options, the imaginative potential is rather impressive..



The following chapters, thankfully, at least for me, redeemed the book, at least partially - a concise and utterly awesome chapter on the creation of homunculi/leastlings and simple rules for undead crafting as well as nice clockwork templates for familiars et al. make provide significant fun, engagement and narrative potential. Speaking of which - portrayed in glorious artworks, a significant array of iconic, cool NPCs - those that are here, are great and flavorful, but I can't help but feel that one per tradition would have been nice to see.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, on a formal level, are good. On a rules-level, they are BAD and ironically, deeply flawed. Layout, as mentioned, adheres to a 2-column full-color standard and the artworks range among the most stunning I've ever seen in an RPG-book. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks and the dead-tree copy ranks among the most beautiful books in my shelves.



Read this list: Wolfgang Baur, Creighton Broadhurst, Jason Bulmahn, Tim Connors, Adam Daigle, Mike Franke, Ed Greenwood, Frank Gori, Jim Groves, Amanda Hamon Kunz, Brandon Hodge, Stephen Radney-MacFarland, Neil Spicer, Mike Welham, Margaret Weis. With this amount of creative potential assembled, does it surprise you that I consider this book the most inspiring spellbook I've ever read? Alas, even these titans can stumble. And they did.



This book could have been the ultimate spellcasting-milestone, a legend, a book that defines the very game we play, a whole new dimension of spellcasting. And it is - on a concept-level.



Instead, at least on a crunch-level, it is pretty much, as much as I'm loathe to say it, a wreck -not one that has sunk, but one that leaks. The lack of a rules-savvy editor/developer is readily apparent - there are plenty of glitches herein that could have been caught by even a cursory inspection.



And no, that's not just me being overly picky. I put this book before one of my less rules-savvy players, opened it on a random page in the spell-section and had him read spells. Inadvertently, he stumbled over an ambiguity, an issue.



Were I to rate this one the crunch alone, I'd smash it to smithereens - the very skeleton of the book is flawed and that radiates outward to almost all chapters, poisoning them as well. Allowing this book flat and without scrutiny at a table is an invitation for rules-discussions and balance-issues - at least if the players are halfway capable at making efficient characters.



Why am I not bashing this further? Because, while deeply flawed, Deep Magic is also deeply inspired - the concepts herein are staggering, setting the mind ablaze with possibilities, conjuring forth ideas for adventures, campaigns even. Quite a bunch of the flaws can be ironed out by a capable DM...and flawed though it may be, Deep Magic has A LOT of passion, heart's blood and soul oozing from its pages. The concepts of this tome, in the end, made it worthwhile, at least for me.



I'm not going to lie. My players will never get their hands on this book. But I will take the concepts, take the spells, fix them and reap the benefits of the exceedingly awesome concepts provided herein. On the one hand, we thus have a terribly flawed book that fails quite spectacularly and depressingly at becoming what it ALMOST achieved - being the best spellbook for any iteration of a d20-based system ever. On the other, the often flawed crunch does provide more great spell-ideas and concepts (as opposed to their execution...) than the APG, ARG, Ultimate Magic and Ultimate Combat combined.



Whether this book is for you depends very much on what you expect - if you want solid crunch, a book to just slap on the table and allow...well, then stay the 11 Midgardian hells away from this book. If, on the other hand, you're willing to work with it, if you're looking for inspiration and are competent regarding the design/balancing of material, then this is a scavenger's mithril-mine and a great resource to have - you literally can't open a single page in this book without stumbling over at least one awesome, iconic concept. The hardcover is also great to show off to non-gamer friends and make them marvel at the glorious artworks, layout and presentation.



How to rate this, then? I hate and love this book. I want to slap my seal of approval on it, in spite of its flaws. But I can't. Deep Magic has too many issues and I can't rate potential, as much as I'd love to. I can only rate what is here and its effects - which oscillate between "utterly awesome and inspiring" and "wtf is this supposed to do?"



Without the superb concepts, the lore-steeped ideas, the downright inspired take on magic and its flavor, I would have gone further down on my scale. But, as a reviewer, I also have to take these into account, as well as the people out there who are like me and still can take a lot from this book. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Deep Magic (Pathfinder RPG)
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Mini-Dungeon #016: The Halls of Hellfire
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/03/2015 00:58:47
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map (alas, sans player-friendly version) and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked to d20pfsrd.com's shop and thus, absent from the pdf.



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



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



Still here?

All right!



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



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 sans bookmarks, but needs none at this length. Cartography is full color and surprisingly good for such an inexpensive pdf, but there is no key-less version of the map to print out and hand to your players. The pdf comes with a nice piece of full-color artwork.



Jonathan Ely's Halls of Hellfire provide a storied locale with per se cool combat encounters and some solid traps. Alas, at the same time, I did feel like this locale fell short of its awesome background story - some tantalizing hints, a bit more fluff, perhaps a series of short haunts - something to make the PCs experience the tragedy of the place first-hand would have gone a long way to make this more than a cool ruin inhabited by some lethal lamia. That being said, this mini-dungeon is by no means bad and well worth a final verdict of 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Mini-Dungeon #016: The Halls of Hellfire
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Varakt's Halo: The Great Pubo Hunt (1 of 3)
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/02/2015 04:25:21
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 33 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 28 pages, so let's take a look!



This pdf does sport a psionic psyllabus-page - essentially a handy cheat-sheet that sums up the basic peculiarities of the psionics-system on a handy page - nice for novices to psionics - who also happen to be the target demographic of this module. 11 pregens are provided for the perusal of the players, with all getting their own artworks - while these may not be beautiful, the pregens do sport roughly the same level of optimization, so that's nice to see.

Why eleven? Well, because there are two new psionic races native to the island of Varakt: The first would be the athmer, who get +2 Dex and Cha, -2 Wis, wild talent as a bonus feat, darkvision 60 ft., Run as a bonus feat and +2 initiative, are amphibious and can 1/day unleash a breath weapon of either cold or electricity damage that deals 1d6 damage of the chosen type in a 50 ft.-line. They also get energy resistance 5 to the breath weapon's chosen element, are amphibious and can choose +1 power point as an FCO. Personally, I consider this race to be slightly too strong - either eliminating the Run-feat and initiative or the amphibious racial trait. There is a nice tribal distinction between electricity and cold-based athmer and the fluff of the race is nice.



The second race would be the Hrek, who get +2 Str and Wis, -2 Con, are naturally psionic and gain the FCO-option. They also receive darkvision and can reduce the penalty to Stealth while moving by 5 and can use it while running at -20 penalty. 1/day, hrek can cause iron or steel touched to grow into another object - alas, the ability fails to specify what action this takes. the ability also does not specify the effects on magical equipment, whether this can be used offensively in combat, etc. Hrek are treated as +1 level higher when casting spells with the fire descriptor, for the purposes of the fire domain or the fire elemental bloodline, the flame mystery's revelations and alchemist fire damage-causing bombs. Odd that this does not extend to psionic powers utilizing fire as the chosen energy. Hrek also get a breath weapon and resistances tied to it akin to the Athmer, only theirs is a cone and either fire or acid-based. Very odd here - why can't one choose acid and related class abilities for +1 CL? And why have psionics not been included in that + 1 level? The two races come with age., height and weight-tables. I'm honestly not a big fan of the Hrek either.



But this is a module and as such, that's what I'll talk about next - so, from here on out reign the SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

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..

.

Still here? All right! The PCs begin this module stranded on the odd tropical island (fully mapped, btw.) after an assault of goblin pirates wrecked their ship and awake on the lush beach - only to be attacked by sahuagin and promptly, saved by a group of hrek -while pretty friendly, they pantomime to the players the issues and creatures looming beyond the treaded paths. Overcoming the communication obstacle, hampered by the strange crystals on this island, does make for some awesome roleplaying potential that cannot be solved by just one roll of the dice or magic. It should also be noted that awakening to psionic powers also falls into this chapter, which should be interesting for the pregens, whose strange unfamiliarity is explained via this change. Nice way of tying mechanics with the story! Decoding grat, this language, is a task beyond the immediate scope of this module, though nearby pylons and a skeleton of a translator at least help with communication to a point where it becomes kind of functional.



It seems like the annual Suar rains will soon be upon the island - which requires a sacrifice of a so-called pubo - which would be a fatter, dumber and psionically active local variant of the dodo. Alas, beyond this, the issue of the coastal sahuagin complicating hunting remains. Entering the pubo hunting grounds results in hilarious pain - the birds not only have cognitive crystal kidney stones, they also drop explosive excrement. Finding and capturing one of the dumb birds isn't that hard - but why are there no other predators in the area? Well, once a huge, mutated mamma pubo comes running, the PCs will know why. And yes, this beast is very lethal! Following the trail of the unnatural mutation, the PCs can find some interesting hints that someone is engineering troubles - as a conch-shell resounds and denotes another attack. On the way back, the PCs can test their mettle further in combat with both blue aegis and soulknives.



Upon their return, the PCs are made to understand that they'll sacrifice the pubo the next day on the volcano - but at night the blue tribe attacks and steals the pubo they brought - in the case of mama pubo, should the PCs have opted for her, leaving a huge trail they can easily follow and making the hrek look rather incompetent. At the blue's camp, the showdown with the remaining blues constitutes the finale of this module.



As a nice hand-out, sheets for each player-character allow for a nice help regarding pantomime, representing different words they can decode, providing a great, optional way of simulating the communication in grat-pidgin.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful, colorful 2-column full-color standard. Artworks range from the nice cover to thematically-fitting stock-art and the less than gorgeous pregen-artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Cartography ranges from great to okay and provides a total of 3 maps, all with player-friendly iterations.



Mike Myler's great pubo hunt is something I don't get to see often - a genuinely funny module. While it may not be apparent when just reading it, actually playing the pantomime/communication-breakdown is just FUN and this is further emphasized by the hilarious pubo-hunting. This is pretty much a very FUN module that can work perfectly when used with kids - it's not grim or dark or nasty, it's just FUN and even young audiences can appreciate the tone when handled by a halfway decent GM. The supplemental help also is a nice bonus and as far as the adventure is concerned. The great pubo hunt is a module that is just fun - a change of pace and a solid introduction to psionics, though mama pubo can provide a very challenging opponent. So, all perfect? No. Quite honestly, I wished the hunt itself had more detail and the same holds true for the hrek-settlement and the settling-in-period. This module would definitely have benefited from stretching this component longer and not just boiling it down to a short period of relative inconvenience. The finale could also have used more details, perhaps some more terrain features, traps, a map or something like that - anything to make it slightly more distinct, especially after the cool battle against the deadly mutation...

In short, I found myself often wishing that there were less pregens and more adventure herein, probably also since I'm not a big fan of either new race - they conceptually left me unimpressed.

This divide becomes more apparent when taking the exceedingly cool module that is here into account - the module-part here breathes Mike's trademark playfulness and imaginative talent. I contemplated quite a while, but ultimately, I'm going to settle on a final verdict of 4 stars. Consider me excited about the sequels!

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Varakt's Halo: The Great Pubo Hunt (1 of 3)
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AaWBlog Presents: Cultus Sanguineus
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/02/2015 04:22:31
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 39 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 34 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?



So, what do we get here? Well, essentially, we get a small collection of thematically-linked encounters - think of them as pretty much a kind of sandbox to fill out: You get the key-scenes and fill in the rest. Got that? All right! As such, the following obviously contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

...

..

.

Still here? All right! Countess Veresovich and Count Krev Ragata have been up to no good: Finding a set of dread scrolls during her travels, the countess plans to conjure forth a powerful entity - alas, and thankfully for the Klavekian metropolis of Mohkba, the players are involved. In the mean and gritty streets of a less savory neighborhood, the PCs witness an obviously incognito noble, said Count Ragata is stabbed and robbed right in front of the PCs - as they navigate the dark and rather gritty (and lavishly-mapped) alleyways of Mohkba, they hopefully manage to track down the assailants and avoid falling to the haunt -in the aftermath, they are invited to nothing less than Veresovich's masquerade ball - perhaps even keeping a mask as suggested by the count.



The masquerade ball itself can be considered a nice array of read-aloud texts and socializing. In any way, the masquerade will probably feature the items sanguineus, now assembled. A set of 3 magic items that collectively can transform the wielder into a vampire also feature herein...though oddly, the countess seems to vanish from the ball and when suddenly, walls of force supplemented by lethal blood vortex haunts lock down the house, things get ugly fast. The assembled nobles find out, the hard way, that the countess is not to be trifled with, as the floor of the ball room collapses and dumps them below the house...



Seeking of the house - there is a nice miniature map, but I don't get why we don't get a properly-sized map - as provided, the map is the one herein you can't properly use. And yes, the caverns below the house also sport a proper, big map - once again, just as useful as the one for the alleyways. So what is going on down in those nasty caverns - well, the countess' is currently engaging in the massive slaughter required for her ritual's success. In order to stop her, the PCs not only have to brave her cultists, they may also have to deal with allies foolish enough to wear the sangineus items and perhaps the vampiric Count Ragata, all while moving past massive blood pools filled with leech swarms - oh, and if you want to - this final encounter does sport mass combat between trapped nobles and cultists - oh, and yes, the daemon the Countess seeks to summon is part of the deal, as are even more, nasty haunts.



Thematically fitting traps further complement this supplement, as do valid pieces of advice regarding mass combat and when to use which rules and the same goes for social encounters.



I should also not fail to mention the presence of multiple magic items, all with significant descriptions, beautiful full-color renditions and lore-sections.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful full-color 2-column standard and the pdf comes with quite a few gorgeous full-color artworks. The cartography is very good and evocative, though I really wished the mansion-map had also been featured in one-page-size to actually be printed out.



Mike Myler, Jonathan Ely, Justin Andrew Mason, Rory Toma and Brian Wiborg Mønster deliver a damn cool vampire-themed set-up of encounters and set-pieces. The encounters themselves are great - every one of them, ultimately, can be considered fun and uncommon with at least one or more neat options/ideas per encounter. That being said, at the same time, this pdf does feel a bit like it has an identity-crisis.



I can get behind the format of roughly, thematically-linked encounters to flesh out - I actually like that. At the same point, this pdf left me feeling somewhat confused regarding the transitions and how the whole master-plan connects - essentially, what we have here is a GLORIOUS adventure, a superb investigation...that was not fleshed out. If you are familiar with The Skinsaw Murders: Think about the Sanitarium Encounter going to the Farmstead going to the Clocktower. You just feel constantly like the sinews that connect an awesome storyline are missing. Now this is partially due to the format, granted, but in this case, it frustrated me to no end.



Why? Because this is a supreme set-up of glorious encounters that get the gorier aspects of horror downright perfect in flavor - the encounters are FUN. The atmosphere is great. The adversaries are cool and the same goes for traps, haunts and items - but in the end, what we get here is a sketch - a sketch of something awesome, but a sketch nonetheless. The encounters do NOT need a fully fleshed out connecting thread - but they imho would benefit immensely from an actual structure being presented to the GM.

A capable GM can make this a full-blown 3-part adventure saga, perhaps even a full-blown AP, and it is inspired in what it delivers - but I wished its components had been connected better. Essentially, we get three set-pieces that are almost required to be run in conjunction, and still, we are left wondering about the transitions and left with a feeling of lack- when a short break-down of the plot, some structure to guide from encounter to encounter and expansions would have made this a legendary 5 star + seal of approval module.



As provided, this is a nice compilation, yes, but one with opaque villain motivations and structure that is held back from true greatness by being too story-driven and unique to work as disparate drop-and-forget-encounters, by being too adventure-like for being a disconnected encounter-collection, and by not providing enough connecting narrative thread for a collection of linked encounters.

Conversely, if judged as an adventure, even as a skeletal sandbox, it feels too unstructured to make the most of its great premises. I figured that running this as written would change my impression - alas, it didn't, it only made me wish more that this had been a full-blown gothic horror saga.

For scavenging purposes, this is an excellent buy, but as a sourcebook or as a DIY-module-toolbox, it falls behind the potential of its easy 5-star-premise. So, if you're looking for some bloody material to craft with, take a look, you won't be disappointed - if you want a full-blown module or drop-and-forget encounters, you may wish to look elsewhere. Still, this remains a solid pdf, one I hope will one day be made into its own, complex, investigation-heavy horror AP. For now, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars - and since I am a fanboy of all the themes evoked, as a person, I will round out. As a reviewer, though, I think I need to round down.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
AaWBlog Presents: Cultus Sanguineus
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Dungeonlands: Palace of the Lich Queen (Pathfinder)
Publisher: Savage Mojo
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/01/2015 03:04:41
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive mega-adventure clocks in at 220 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 3 pages of SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us a massive 212 pages of content, so let's take a look at this!



This review was chosen as a prioritized review and moved up my reviewing queue at the request of my patreons. Furthermore, I received a hardcover copy of this book for the expressive purpose of running it and providing a fair, unbiased review.



Wait, there's one more thing - after I ripped Tomb of the Lich Queen, the first part of the trilogy, a new one, why don't I review Part II, Machine of the Lich Queen next and instead jump to the final book? Simple - because Machine and Tomb still receive some polish/revisions and I'd rather review and playtest the best iteration of a given book. All right, so that out of the way, we begin this massive book with a truly extensive and well-written chapter of prose detailing the legends of the 9 fragments the lich queen has stored in her mental palace, providing further and somewhat tragic exposition for the genesis of this being- and after that, the crunch begins.



This being an adventure-review, unsurprisingly, the following will contain massive SPOILERS. Potential players should thus jump to the conclusion.

...

..

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Still here? All right! The lich queen's hall of world-spanning mirrors lies shattered by her hand, the machine grinding and stuttering - and to reach the palace of her, the PCs will have to traverse what amounts to a gigantic array of planes-hopping. If you're familiar with Savage Mojo's Suzerain Continuum, that may not come as a surprise; if not, let me give you a run-down - there are *A LOT* of what amounts to campaign settings galore, each with their own, unique takes. Beyond just taking a look at either of them, the respective chapters essentially provide a means for the PCs (and players) to glimpse at the wondrous realms provided - think of them like a selection of Gossamer Worlds for Lords of Gossamer and Shadows or akin to the strange alternate realities provided in Shadowrun's classic Harlequin's Return-saga. So while the cynic in me considers this a kind of advertisement, the fanboy grins and considers this a very smart move - why? Because, let's face it, at the end of a campaign, there is always the discussion on what to play next - here, more than its fair share of interesting options are provided.



Now, by design, this does mean that each world is represented in what amounts to a short vignette (I'm using this term through the review to denote the literary function implied by its meaning, not one of the others) that sums up some peculiarities and pits your PCs against a target adversary, aligns them with a positive figure and provides a bonus for success, a story-hook/future conflict in the case of failure. The first array of these vignettes, happening in day-time, send the PCs off to a true myriad of established settings and new ones: A Greece-inspired scifi-setting with mechanic pegasi would just be the first of these excursions - beyond this strange world, the PCs get a glimpse at a dystopian cyberpunk citystate controlled by a monolithic church, struggling to find a chosen child that can shatter the boundaries of reality, all while being besieged by strange anarchists and probably playing into the very plans of a silver-tongued angel in service of true darkness. In a celtic world, an assault on a ritual site against armies of demons awaits and fans of Greek mythology may actually fight side by side with Jason and pit wits and magic against none other than Circe.



In a steampunk world of highly-spohisticated goblins, a time-travelling tub and an aerial chase through the dangerous skies provides for a change of pace, before, sooner or later, the PCs get a chance to test their mettle against a demonic incursion to free the Dark One from his celestial prison, finally fighting against a tainted solar...and said being may not even want to escape his eternal prison. When none other than the sung-god Ra draws up on his chariot (a hyper-modern sports-car) to take the PCs on a trip through his hyper-technological pyramids and finally, stop agents of Set in a night-club, including zombie-ravers, that's awesome. Stopping agents of chaos from exposing the rigidity in a hyper-lawful realm may sound conventional, but at that point, the PCs enter a realm of pure science, elevated to the realm where it becomes indistinguishable from magic - when you're defending a mad scientist from his elemental Frankenstein's monster and what amounts to a revenant-igor, all while powerful spirits that embody chemistry, physics and biology try to kill them, your players WILL continue to talk about the wealth of ideas here.



What about a planet where hyper-powerful cybertechnology has been blended with wild west stand-offs or one where hyper-technological dinosaurs duke it out in an alternate stone age? There is also a vignette wherein the 3 ages of Relic blend in a kind of temporal disjunctions, a swashbuckling-themed, fast-paced one wherein the PCs get to defend a ship from a massive sea-dragon and yes, a terrible post-apocalypse of nanite and radiation-caused mutations and doom, where an impending nuclear strike might well be within the range of options. Have I mentioned the sojourn to what amounts to the Plane of Fire or the City of Brass, where agents of an unknown entity seek to extinguish the eternal flames of the grand braziers? Now each of these places does have something to offer for the further journey -and after all those short vignettes, finally, night is upon the PCs as they traverse the myriad worlds - and from here on out, the lethality of the vignettes, in which the PCs so far have shaken hands with legends and gods, increases further.



Here would as well a place as any to note several peculiarities I noticed so far - for one, by necessity for a module that spans this many realities, the respective vignettes are somewhat sketchy - do not expect handholding or excessive read-aloud texts - it is very much assumed that, provided the massive array of high-level statblocks, you as a DM can properly portray the respective worlds. While reading this, I was extremely skeptical whether this worked out in practice, but the frenetic pace assumed by world transitions did, in actual playtesting smash so many unique vistas over my PC's heads they didn't mind - whether this whole chapter works depends very much on an experienced DM who can maintain a fast pace that does not allow for too many in-depth analysis on parts of the player - as well as assuming a pretty cinematic transition from key-scene to key-scene. At the same time, though, this actually can work in favor of the module: This high-fantasy realm-stuff, these clockwork-gadgets or high-scifi-stuff you always wanted to use? Well, here you can. I ultimately failed to resist the lure of adding my material and some unique worlds to the fray - after all, how often do you get a chance like that? And at this level, very much all gloves are off - your PCs are called demigods by the module for a reason... Now, this slight opaqueness, which was an exacerbated issue in the first part of the saga, ultimately is here, yes, but at the same time, this book is very much concrete - the key-scenes, like the clockwork aerial chase, provide full vehicle-rules, terrain-hazards and features where applicable, are fully integrated and the book makes smart use of the troop-subtype alongside many items and yes, even the Technology-rules in a minor way. Among the nighttime-worlds, fighting in an alternate Shanghai versus huge mobs of vampires and braving deadly haunts in a realm of gothic horror only constitute two examples of proper rules-usage that supplements the narrative - a significant step forwards, especially considering the fact that the complex builds for the high-level adversaries and allies, while not always being flawless, generally come out on the good side of things.



Not on the good side of things, at least for the players, would be a venture into imperial Rome, where Ceasar has just been slain by demo cultists and only defeating a massive shadow kraken may provide an escape...though this world has a particularly nasty story-game-over for a bad, bad decision on the player's side... From an imperial Rome in the throes of demonic possession, the journey continues onwards into a tale of American noir, where possessed train yard cranes await. The realms of winter, complete with their nasty fey, do something I would have expected from a certain Dresden File book - including a fey lord that encases himself in a gigantic frost-mecha. In an alternate version of Tokyo, the PCs can duke it out against magical girls corrupted by a powerful hero-hunting demon, before they ultimately are deposited in a realm of darkest fantasy, including a blotted-out sun and a showdown in a ruined abbey before entering the Red Realm, a prison plane, and, more importantly, a nasty place where insanity abounds and a silent hill-esque array of perception-tricks, as well as a harrowing escape await. The final two vignettes pit the PCs against the horrors of a full-blown China Miéville-style fantasy...and has them battle Fafnir. Who makes proper use of the kaiju-subtype. NICE!



Then, finally, the chaos of worlds ends and the palace and its 7 halls loom: Here, this book becomes a much more conservative killer-dungeon once again - with each of the massive halls providing ever-escalating danger as well as full-color maps with solid detail, though you should be aware that no blow-up 1-page versions are provided. In the first hall, massive, lavishly-illustrated briar worms, demonic apes and finally, the Great Beast await the PC's prowess - only to have to face down the mashine gun-like efficiency of the deadly archer Tianet - though personally, I used the Deadly Aim-feat when modifying Tianet's build - at her firing rate, the damage piles quicker up that way -oddly, this will not be the last they've seen of the huntress and smart fighting is rewarded here. In the Garden Hall, flytrap hydras and the Lich Queen's foster mother Grandmother Maugh await and the Hall of Grandeur pits the PCs ambitions as well as djinns to finally defeat another mentor of the queen - the erstwhile djinn-binder par excellence, turned into her mayor-domo, Ranalek the terrible. The 4th hall does offer a new challenge - the hall of pleasure, where the lich queen's consort awaits alongside untold pleasures that can destroy one's spirit, memory and thus, identities - in this gilded hell, the lich queen's consort is the gatekeeper and, upon defeating him, the PCs will note he in fact is an automaton - the true fate of the poor sort is cataloged in the adventure "Consort of the Lich Queen", which I do not own. Even if you don't have it, though, you'll notice something - obviously, Ayrawn has purged any thoughts of doubt from her mind to retain her sanity- perhaps the one shot the PCs truly have to defeat her - and defeat her they'll want after the next hall, wherein the PCs are subject to a nasty, never-ending array of tortures - which may permanently cripple them, if they are not smart enough to escape their mistress.



Speaking of smarts - a vast library may see the PCs fight - but only if they behave in a manner unfitting of the place - otherwise, they'll find an agrippa, a man turned into a tome and librarian, master who once told Ayrawn to purge memories from herself, seeking freedom - and offering a further piece with which the PCS may shake the immortal confidence of the legendary lich queen. In case your PC's swords have since then dried of viscera, the hall of bones will end that - while the lich queen's tutor and lich here also provides a further piece of information about a skull with which the PCs can shake the confidence of the legendary adversary, she also follows her commands and unleashes not only her own might, but also that of a vast horde of powerful undead - and yes, the combines stats span multiple pages.



Finally, after much tears, exposition and pain, the PCS can final track down Ayrawn in her Hall of Broken Mirrors - her and all her mayor allies not yet slain, rendering this confrontation potentially very, very nasty - worse, the lich queen's phylactery is the very dungeon itself and only by shaking her confidence, only by understanding, can the PCs cause a realmsquake and breach the phylactery...and only then will the lich queen truly be slain by their efforts. Should they achieve this miraculous feat, they'll bear witness to the collapse of dungeonlands and possibly even ascend beyond the providence of mere mortals - in any case, infinite possibilities await.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect -I noticed a few italicization glitches, minor errors in statblocks and the like, but seeing the size of this tome and the complexity of the statblocks, that is not surprising and well within the level of tolerance. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard that conspires with a mix of gorgeous full-color and b/w artworks to render this book a truly beautiful book to behold -aesthetically, there is nothing to complain about here. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and my hardcover sports nice, thick, matte high-quality paper and a shiny cover - all great in that regard.



Kevin Andrew Murphy, Darren Pearce, George "Loki" Williams, Allan Hoffman, Andrew Hoskins, Brendan LaSalle, Matthew Medeiros, Richard Moore, Monte Reed - this is one epic book and it was a fun ride to embark on. But also one that is terribly hard to rate.



Why? For one, there would be the issue of high-level gameplay requiring a lot of foresight - pre-written modules have a hard time properly predicting PC-capabilities and one massive issue with the first book was the arbitrary stripping of powers from PCs and the issues with rules-interactions. I am more than happy to report that this book sports NONE of these. Neither will you find "Pcs have to solve this EXACTLY like this"-solutions and similar issues - instead, this massive mega-adventure essentially provides vignettes, vistas and general storylines - you can skip through them at your leisure, ignore some, substitute your own or expand them to full-blown module length.



When handled properly, these vignettes can act as epic, never-ending climaxes - if you took the final scenes of a vast array of stories and stitched them together, a kind of cool-moment-collage, if you will. Better yet, where applicable, the places do sport nice rules-tidbits from mutation-tables to steampunk gadgets. While not all such tidbits are perfect, this is a module and the like is simply not the focus of this review. The world/planes-hopping vignettes ultimately can be a vast amount of fun if handled properly, but they could also go horribly wrong - if you are accustomed to handholding, extensive read-aloud texts and not good at making transitions and filling in the blanks of the respective vignettes, that may result in massive issues - essentially, do not expect any guidance beyond a basic plot-summary and the statblocks for the respective adversaries. Yes, this DOES include a lack of maps for the respective vignettes, but not one I'm going to fault the pdf for - why? Because the focus on cinematic transitions ultimately, at least here, does not require them necessarily. In my game, this went off pretty well after my players sopped trying for the analysis-route.



The second part is a more old-school killer-dungeon and it is very much worth the status as a finale - the palace itself is exceedingly deadly, full of iconic adversaries and challenges and provides a great way for the DM to provide some exposition regarding the dread lich queen. The background story, as written, is surprisingly intelligent and beyond what you'd expect from a killer-dungeon, so yeah - kudos here. On the downside, the lack of one-page maps to print out can be considered a comfort detriment.



So, what does that mean? It means that this module, more so than many others, will prove to be a very polarizing book. If you can see the vignette-style planes-hopping working for you, then chances are, you'll love this beast and enjoy it immensely. On the other hand, if you as a DM have problems generating transitions or fleshing out details on the fly, or if your players are all about the small details, then this one may result in some issues - the discrepancy between whether this will be awesome, or, well, not so great - it all very much depends on your group's tastes, capabilities etc..



At the same time, this book, unlike the first one, does not cheat in obtrusive ways - one instance where a sleeping gas may send players to their sleep sans DC or stats comes to mind, but, quite frankly, if DC 40 is too hard for the PCs at this point, they're doing it wrong anyways... So overall, this book can be considered indeed one of the few examples of high-level modules that truly managed to captivate me - the glimpses at realms beyond the regular, whether released or yet unpublished, is interesting indeed and provides some pretty imaginative ideas and a much needed change of pace, while also providing a sense of the epic to the whole experience.



It struggled quite a bit with how to describe this massive module - and the closest analogue was delivered by one of my players - this is pretty much a module-equivalent of an all-star-movie akin to Avengers - it provides components for each world and concept to shine and show what's cool about it - but there is, by virtue of its format, no room to linger on the individuals, to go into depth regarding the individual vignettes and their characters. So do not expect the module equivalent of primer or a TV drama, but rather that of a big-screen all-star action movie. Personally, I tend to prefer more detailed modules, which is also why I'm pretty happy to have been able to test this module in detail -and while I did not have an easy time as a DM and preparation did take a lot of time, the results proved to be very entertaining and my players, surprisingly, enjoyed the continuous barrage the weird of the continuum threw at them. While some minor oversights can be brought to field against this book, the amount of material that works and shows an understanding of the intricacies of Pathfinder does offset this in my book.



Yes, I'm rambling. My final verdict, ultimately, will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 for the purpose of this platform, while less experienced DMs should probably round down due to the significant skill this requires to pull off.

Personally, I loved the massive array of cool ideas spotlighted and hence, I'll add my seal of approval for the vast imaginative potential.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeonlands: Palace of the Lich Queen (Pathfinder)
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