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Village Backdrop: Masquerade
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/29/2018 05:04:28

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Village Backdrop-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, so first things first: This is NOT your everyday village. Much like in every village backdrop, we do get notes on local nomenclature and dressing habits, as well as village lore and 3 rumors (instead of the standard 6)…but that is pretty much where the similarities with the regular installments of the series end.

Masquerade is not a fixed locale. Instead, it is a rickety conglomerate of three barges forming a floating village-theatre of sorts, with the performers masked and in costume at most times, at least while outsiders can witness them. This is Richard Pett, though, and as such, there is a theme of the grotesque, of underlying decay and grime suffusing the village – this case, represented by the bane of the village, the unifying factor that ties together this community: Masquerade is a colony of lepers, masking their affliction behind the gaiety they bring.

Tragedy and comedy entwine with one another in an intricate manner, for Masquerade’s founder, the enigmatic Silent Queen and absentee captain Absinthe Morell (take a look at that name and the connotations it automatically causes!) created this place as an exile and trap of sorts…but in a twist on trope, the place has become something more for her, a family of outcasts of sorts…and thus, she has taken on an oath that requires nigh-unparalleled willpower to maintain…but whether she can maintain it and for how long…only the GM decides.

Indeed, while Richard Pett has a knack for writing great locales, the extended cadre of characters herein deserves special mention – no less than 9 sample NPCs with potentially complex motivations can act as a foil or allies for the PCs and include some intriguing angles, with the theme of the masquerade itself obviously acting as a good reason to not provide read-aloud texts for their looks.

We do get such texts for the respective locations on the ships, though, and, as in all the new village backdrops, the respective points of interest come with services that can be purchased. Now, as you can glean from the set-up here, masquerade is very much depending on retaining its secrecy, which is upheld by the magical talents of the crew…but PCs may well pierce the veil, which can provide truly intriguing moral conundrums. Should they out the leper-troupe and their dangerous mistress?

An alternate angle for adventuring would be the fact that the troupe does regularly try to cure its members via magic when funds allow for it, but this also, to a degree, represents a parting of sorts, adding a bittersweet flair to the whole proceedings, something that ultimately suffuses the whole cast of characters – this place’s inhabitants are as multi-faceted as the masks and gowns they wear are outlandish and colorful. Indeed, none of the characters on the ship are evil, and while they may come into conflict with the PCs, this is ultimately not a location intended to be solely murderhobo’d through. I can easily picture compassionate PCs becoming very attached to the troupe, perhaps using it to cross borders or infiltrate enemy lands…but that may be me.

Indeed, one can obviously use this village just as well as a take on the trope of normals vs. “freaks”; one could run it in a vast plethora of ways, and indeed, we do get some suggestions on how to adventure in masquerade. Oh lord, I just made a formatting-based joke. Sorry, that’s a new low for me. Anyways, it should also be noted that, yes, we do get a list of 20 entries of village dressing and events, and the PFRPG-version comes with the usual settlement statblock as well as, rather cool, a nice little global effect pertaining magic in Masquerade.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant, printer-friendly b/w-two-column standard and the pdf sports some nice b/w artworks, though I have seen one of them used before. The b/w-cartography by Maciej Zagorski is really nice, though it is GM-only, noting secret doors and the like. High-res versions player-friendly were made available, at least to my knowledge, to Raging Swan Press’ patreons. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and comes in two versions, one optimized for screen-use and one optimized for the printer.

Richard Pett is perhaps the undisputed master of the tragically or comically horrific, or the grotesquely touching. His adventures and supplements (and his novel Crooked) show not only a capacity for great world-and location-building; there is always something deep and resonant in his prose. He can evoke the visceral and dark, and yet it never truly devolves into grimdark bleakness, instead settling in a more oscillating and thus, efficient manner. His spooky supplements work because they are relatable and this is no different. Masquerade will surely be considered dark by some, but ultimately, it represents a tale of hope and will overcoming the odds, depicts a company of uncommon outcasts that have been forced into the roles they now play. The duality of themes, of the eponymous masquerade, is mirrored in every little component of the pdf, bespeaking a careful and precise use of the evocative prose featured herein.

This book is very much an act of deliberate craftsmanship and wordsmithing, and thus manages to stand apart from favorites of mine and benchmarks, be that Ravenloft’s Carnival, the phenomenal Blood Bayou, or Nick Logue’s grisly fey carnival. Masquerade, in spite of having chosen perhaps one area in RPGs where absolutely superb supplements abound, manages to carve out its niche as a truly remarkable place; indeed, it almost feels like a village that could carry a whole series of novels…or, well. Adventures. The characters and general location are immensely captivating, rendering this a masterpiece, even within the context of the extremely high level of the Village Backdrop-series, rivaled only by some of John Bennett's and Mike Welham’s legendary contributions. Even in master Pett’s impressive catalogue, this stands out in its achievement of this level of depth so in so few pages.

This humble supplement set my mind ablaze with ideas and managed to really touch my heart…and considering that it’s only 7 pages long, that means something. This pdf thus gets 5 stars + seal of approval and actually qualifies as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2018.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Masquerade
Click to show product description

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Creator Reply:
Thank you for this review! You'll not be surprise to learn I'm delighted you liked Masquerade so much!
Village Backdrop: Masquerade (SNE)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/29/2018 05:00:11

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Village Backdrop-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, so first things first: This is NOT your everyday village. Much like in every village backdrop, we do get notes on local nomenclature and dressing habits, as well as village lore and 3 rumors (instead of the standard 6)…but that is pretty much where the similarities with the regular installments of the series end.

Masquerade is not a fixed locale. Instead, it is a rickety conglomerate of three barges forming a floating village-theatre of sorts, with the performers masked and in costume at most times, at least while outsiders can witness them. This is Richard Pett, though, and as such, there is a theme of the grotesque, of underlying decay and grime suffusing the village – this case, represented by the bane of the village, the unifying factor that ties together this community: Masquerade is a colony of lepers, masking their affliction behind the gaiety they bring.

Tragedy and comedy entwine with one another in an intricate manner, for Masquerade’s founder, the enigmatic Silent Queen and absentee captain Absinthe Morell (take a look at that name and the connotations it automatically causes!) created this place as an exile and trap of sorts…but in a twist on trope, the place has become something more for her, a family of outcasts of sorts…and thus, she has taken on an oath that requires nigh-unparalleled willpower to maintain…but whether she can maintain it and for how long…only the referee decides.

Indeed, while Richard Pett has a knack for writing great locales, the extended cadre of characters herein deserves special mention – no less than 9 sample NPCs with potentially complex motivations can act as a foil or allies for the PCs and include some intriguing angles, with the theme of the masquerade itself obviously acting as a good reason to not provide read-aloud texts for their looks. In system neutral version, their references obviously have been changed appropriately to the respective old-school monikers and classes.

We do get such texts for the respective locations on the ships, though, and, as in all the new village backdrops, the respective points of interest come with services that can be purchased. Now, as you can glean from the set-up here, masquerade is very much depending on retaining its secrecy, which is upheld by the magical talents of the crew…but PCs may well pierce the veil, which can provide truly intriguing moral conundrums. Should they out the leper-troupe and their dangerous mistress?

An alternate angle for adventuring would be the fact that the troupe does regularly try to cure its members via magic when funds allow for it, but this also, to a degree, represents a parting of sorts, adding a bittersweet flair to the whole proceedings, something that ultimately suffuses the whole cast of characters – this place’s inhabitants are as multi-faceted as the masks and gowns they wear are outlandish and colorful. Big kudos: The magical healing of the afflicted has been converted to refer to the proper old-school spell.

Indeed, none of the characters on the ship are evil, and while they may come into conflict with the PCs, this is ultimately not a location intended to be solely murderhobo’d through. I can easily picture compassionate PCs becoming very attached to the troupe, perhaps using it to cross borders or infiltrate enemy lands…but that may be me.

Indeed, one can obviously use this village just as well as a take on the trope of normals vs. “freaks”; one could run it in a vast plethora of ways, and indeed, we do get some suggestions on how to adventure in masquerade. Oh lord, I just made a formatting-based joke. Sorry, that’s a new low for me. Anyways, it should also be noted that, yes, we do get a list of 20 entries of village dressing and events, and the system neutral version has been modified regarding prices of goods etc. to reflect the different realities of the system; however, there is one minor complaint here: The settlement has a global effect regarding its effects on magic, which is pretty minor in PFRPG; in the old-school system neutral version, I personally would have gone a step beyond. It’s a matter of aesthetics in this version, though, and not a complaint versus the integrity of the effect.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant, printer-friendly b/w-two-column standard and the pdf sports some nice b/w artworks, though I have seen one of them used before. The b/w-cartography by Maciej Zagorski is really nice, though it is GM-only, noting secret doors and the like. High-res versions player-friendly were made available, at least to my knowledge, to Raging Swan Press’ patreons. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and comes in two versions, one optimized for screen-use and one optimized for the printer.

Richard Pett is perhaps the undisputed master of the tragically or comically horrific, or the grotesquely touching. His adventures and supplements (and his novel Crooked) show not only a capacity for great world-and location-building; there is always something deep and resonant in his prose. He can evoke the visceral and dark, and yet it never truly devolves into grimdark bleakness, instead settling in a more oscillating and thus, efficient manner. His spooky supplements work because they are relatable and this is no different. Masquerade will surely be considered dark by some, but ultimately, it represents a tale of hope and will overcoming the odds, depicts a company of uncommon outcasts that have been forced into the roles they now play. The duality of themes, of the eponymous masquerade, is mirrored in every little component of the pdf, bespeaking a careful and precise use of the evocative prose featured herein.

This book is very much an act of deliberate craftsmanship and wordsmithing, and thus manages to stand apart from favorites of mine and benchmarks, be that Ravenloft’s Carnival, the phenomenal Blood Bayou, or Nick Logue’s grisly fey carnival. Masquerade, in spite of having chosen perhaps one area in RPGs where absolutely superb supplements abound, manages to carve out its niche as a truly remarkable place; indeed, it almost feels like a village that could carry a whole series of novels…or, well. Adventures. The characters and general location are immensely captivating, rendering this a masterpiece, even within the context of the extremely high level of the Village Backdrop-series, rivaled only by some of John Bennett and Mike Welham’s legendary contributions. Even in master Pett’s impressive catalogue, this stands out in its achievement of this level of depth so in so few pages.

This humble supplement set my mind ablaze with ideas and managed to really touch my heart…and considering that it’s only 7 pages long, that means something. This pdf thus gets 5 stars + seal of approval. The system neutral version is just as strong as the PFRPG-version in its overall themes and execution, and thus shares its nomination for my Top Ten of 2018.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Masquerade (SNE)
Click to show product description

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Creator Reply:
Thank you for this review! You'll not be surprise to learn I'm delighted you liked Masquerade so much!
Village Backdrop: Masquerade (5e)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/29/2018 04:58:15

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Village Backdrop-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, so first things first: This is NOT your everyday village. Much like in every village backdrop, we do get notes on local nomenclature and dressing habits, as well as village lore and 3 rumors (instead of the standard 6)…but that is pretty much where the similarities with the regular installments of the series end.

Masquerade is not a fixed locale. Instead, it is a rickety conglomerate of three barges forming a floating village-theatre of sorts, with the performers masked and in costume at most times, at least while outsiders can witness them. This is Richard Pett, though, and as such, there is a theme of the grotesque, of underlying decay and grime suffusing the village – this case, represented by the bane of the village, the unifying factor that ties together this community: Masquerade is a colony of lepers, masking their affliction behind the gaiety they bring.

Tragedy and comedy entwine with one another in an intricate manner, for Masquerade’s founder, the enigmatic Silent Queen and absentee captain Absinthe Morell (take a look at that name and the connotations it automatically causes!) created this place as an exile and trap of sorts…but in a twist on trope, the place has become something more for her, a family of outcasts of sorts…and thus, she has taken on an oath that requires nigh-unparalleled willpower to maintain…but whether she can maintain it and for how long…only the GM decides.

Indeed, while Richard Pett has a knack for writing great locales, the extended cadre of characters herein deserves special mention – no less than 9 sample NPCs with potentially complex motivations can act as a foil or allies for the PCs and include some intriguing angles, with the theme of the masquerade itself obviously acting as a good reason to not provide read-aloud texts for their looks. In 5e, their references obviously have been changed appropriately

We do get such texts for the respective locations on the ships, though, and, as in all the new village backdrops, the respective points of interest come with services that can be purchased. Now, as you can glean from the set-up here, masquerade is very much depending on retaining its secrecy, which is upheld by the magical talents of the crew…but PCs may well pierce the veil, which can provide truly intriguing moral conundrums. Should they out the leper-troupe and their dangerous mistress?

An alternate angle for adventuring would be the fact that the troupe does regularly try to cure its members via magic when funds allow for it, but this also, to a degree, represents a parting of sorts, adding a bittersweet flair to the whole proceedings, something that ultimately suffuses the whole cast of characters – this place’s inhabitants are as multi-faceted as the masks and gowns they wear are outlandish and colorful. Big kudos: The magical healing of the afflicted has been converted to refer to the proper spell in 5e.

Indeed, none of the characters on the ship are evil, and while they may come into conflict with the PCs, this is ultimately not a location intended to be solely murderhobo’d through. I can easily picture compassionate PCs becoming very attached to the troupe, perhaps using it to cross borders or infiltrate enemy lands…but that may be me.

Indeed, one can obviously use this village just as well as a take on the trope of normals vs. “freaks”; one could run it in a vast plethora of ways, and indeed, we do get some suggestions on how to adventure in masquerade. Oh lord, I just made a formatting-based joke. Sorry, that’s a new low for me. Anyways, it should also be noted that, yes, we do get a list of 20 entries of village dressing and events, and the 5e version has been modified regarding prices of goods etc. to reflect the different realities of the system; however, there is one minor complaint here: The settlement has a global effect regarding its effects on magic, which has not been properly translated into 5e, as it assumes the existence of a caster level; this should instead employ the “At Higher Levels”-mechanics imho. Similarly, a -1 penalty to saves versus some effects is not very 5e-y; I’d actually escalate that to disadvantage.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant, printer-friendly b/w-two-column standard and the pdf sports some nice b/w artworks, though I have seen one of them used before. The b/w-cartography by Maciej Zagorski is really nice, though it is GM-only, noting secret doors and the like. High-res versions player-friendly were made available, at least to my knowledge, to Raging Swan Press’ patreons. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and comes in two versions, one optimized for screen-use and one optimized for the printer.

Richard Pett is perhaps the undisputed master of the tragically or comically horrific, or the grotesquely touching. His adventures and supplements (and his novel Crooked) show not only a capacity for great world-and location-building; there is always something deep and resonant in his prose. He can evoke the visceral and dark, and yet it never truly devolves into grimdark bleakness, instead settling in a more oscillating and thus, efficient manner. His spooky supplements work because they are relatable and this is no different. Masquerade will surely be considered dark by some, but ultimately, it represents a tale of hope and will overcoming the odds, depicts a company of uncommon outcasts that have been forced into the roles they now play. The duality of themes, of the eponymous masquerade, is mirrored in every little component of the pdf, bespeaking a careful and precise use of the evocative prose featured herein.

This book is very much an act of deliberate craftsmanship and wordsmithing, and thus manages to stand apart from favorites of mine and benchmarks, be that Ravenloft’s Carnival, the phenomenal Blood Bayou, or Nick Logue’s grisly fey carnival. Masquerade, in spite of having chosen perhaps one area in RPGs where absolutely superb supplements abound, manages to carve out its niche as a truly remarkable place; indeed, it almost feels like a village that could carry a whole series of novels…or, well. Adventures. The characters and general location are immensely captivating, rendering this a masterpiece, even within the context of the extremely high level of the Village Backdrop-series, rivaled only by some of John Bennett's and Mike Welham’s legendary contributions. Even in master Pett’s impressive catalogue, this stands out in its achievement of this level of depth so in so few pages.

This humble supplement set my mind ablaze with ideas and managed to really touch my heart…and considering that it’s only 7 pages long, that means something. This pdf thus gets 5 stars + seal of approval. However, when contrasted with the PFRPG-version, I was a bit disappointed to see the global effects on Masquerade not adequately translated to 5e, which is why this version loses the nomination for my Top Ten of 2018. That should not deter you from checking this out, though – the prose remains phenomenal and a capable GM can easily fix the global effect snafu!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Masquerade (5e)
Click to show product description

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Creator Reply:
Thank you for this review! You'll not be surprise to learn I'm delighted you liked Masquerade so much!
Advanced Adventures #2: The Red Mausoleum
Publisher: Expeditious Retreat Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/29/2018 04:54:54

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 17 pages, 1 page front and back cover, 1 page editorial, 2/3 of a page SRD, leaving us with 14 1/3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by one of my patreons, who graciously bought the module and told me to finish it at my convenience.

Now, this is the second of the Advanced Adventures-modules released by Expeditious Retreat Press, and as such, it is not the latest offering of the author – James C. Boney moved on to create other adventures, which will be covered in due time. As with the first module and all in the series, the default rules system employed herein would be OSRIC. Also, like the first module, this chooses to deviate from formatting conventions, bolding magic items and spells, for example.This is not employed with 100% consistency, though.

The module introduces a new material, a kind of magical fabric that is as tough as metal, and it features three creatures: The illustrated Gehzin are basically telekinesis-using extraplanar frog folks with nasty diseases; harbingers are slain fallen paladins that have not atoned for their sins, revived by the forces of the abyss, and finally, shadowcaps are more of a hazard than a creature – the shrooms are my favorite critter here, as their spores render your incorporeal! Yeah, damn cool and something I’ll be using in games, regardless of system.

All right, this being an adventure review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! The premise of this adventure is rather simple: There have been undead excursions coming from the swamp and the PCs are sent in to fix this issue. After a trek through 15 miles of non-mapped swampland, the PCs arrive at the eponymous red mausoleum, ostensibly the source of the living dead roaming the land. The brief wilderness trek does come with a random encounter table, which is appreciated and feels “right”, in that it does not clutter the desolation of the swamp with humanoids, instead focusing on animals and vermin...including brain moles! This is smart, for it makes for a sharper contrast when the PCs actually find the complex.

They’ll notice that they’re in the right vicinity by redness oozing from the stones, coloring everything, which makes for some really neat visuals.

Now, the mausoleum was erected by a long gone civilization obsessed with blood and unlife, and as such, is not a nice place. A big plus here would be that the module doesn’t waste x pages depicting this civilization, instead opting for an indirect narration; the PCs get to piece together some aspects of how this society worked as they explore the complex. Provided they even get in.

You see, this very much is a module that not only is written for high level PCs, it also assumes appropriate player-capabilities, all without the GM having to constantly improvise. The complex does not hobble the PCs by artificially limiting their options, which is a huge plus. In fact, the module assumes that PCs and players have amassed a degree of competence during their adventures. So, if by any chance you managed to reach these lofty levels by just murder-hobo-ing your way through everything, you’ll suffer. What do I mean by this? Well, one of the best aspects of this adventure would be that, from the antechamber of the dungeon to a lot of bottlenecks of sorts, you’ll need to deal with puzzles. Not in the annoying way, mind you. The mausoleum has an array of defenses and these are often tied to obscure command words etc. – in short, you’ll finally get some use out of those divination spells. The module assumes that you’re using the like, and while there are ways for PCs to brute force these instances, we ultimately have a module here that asks the PCs to use their considerable resources. That’s a good thing and something high level modules often get wrong.

Better yet, the GM actually gets the command words spelled out, which may be a small thing, but it adds to the sense of the immersion when the players have to recite the pass phrase. The demands on well-rounded groups are also mirrored in the way in which dungeon progress is made: You see, the connections between levels are magical and require the understanding and use of some remnants of these days gone by; not true understanding, mind you, but rather a general concept – this is an altar, with this and that move, we can bypass it…

As a whole, this creates an interesting overall feeling that manages to evoke the sense of properly delving into an old complex. Anyways, these magical connections…they actually don’t last that long. If the PCs dawdle, they may well find themselves caught in the complex, forced to delve deeper. And yes, smart groups will have means to offset that, but I still considered it to be smart from a design-perspective.

Now, as far as random encounters go, the dungeon is very much a themed dungeon, in that the PCs will fight undead, undead, and, for a change, undead. In hordes. This is reflected both in the bosses and in the random encounters, which are btw. replenished pretty quickly…and there’s a reason for that built into the module as well, which is a big plus for me. The living dead don’t just pop up, after all. Anyways, the most remarkable non-undead encounter on the 3 dungeon levels that this adventure encompasses would be a tomb of honored knights, which, in a somewhat random move, houses a ton of creatures in stasis, which are consequently released in waves once the grave-robbers…her, I mean “adventurers” venture into the area. I am not a fan of the lay of stasis angle and the critters actually may end up fighting each other, which can make this a nice free-for-all. That being said, I wasn’t too keen on this encounter, as opposed to the exploration of the complex and the implicitly conveyed lore of the place. Which may also be a reason why I wasn’t too blown away by the presence of crypt things. The creature always seemed gimmicky to me and I have very rarely seen it used well. (TPK Games’ Caragthax the Reaver would be such an example.) Anyhow, these criticisms notwithstanding, the first dungeon level can be considered to be a success – it is flavorful and challenging.

Level 2, alas, is a slog/labyrinth. Level 2 is basically winding, claustrophobic catacombs with some spaces, where blocks react to the presence of good alignment creatures passing, sliding in place. Much to my surprise and in some form of minor inconsistency, the architects of the complex don’t use this feature to the full extent, imprisoning PCs etc. – instead of deadly, it just ends up as disorienting, which is probably the intent. The level is also crawling with undead and has precious few keyed encounters. It is, in essence, a level that exists solely as a war of attrition on PC-resources, which, per se, is a smart move for high level games. However, I really wished it had more going on. After the atmospheric first level, this one felt a bit more generic.

Level 3, then, would be the heart of the complex and a flooded passage may actually allow for escape, should the PCs find themselves in over their head. It is also here that we have the module’s most devious trap, which includes demons and a pocket dimension in a false crypt. And yes, potential for eternal imprisonment included. Combat-wise, this does sport the most memorable fight in the adventure: There is a ritualistic area, where a massive mandala on a raised pedestal channels negative energy, summoning hordes of the living dead to crawl from a pit, with a metal dome to keep its powers in check currently raised atop it. Lowering the dome can make the constant stream abate. This is very cool, and while harbingers and Gatheris, a level 21 cleric/level 19 magic-user lich have their abodes in the vicinity, I found myself wondering why they don’t join the fray here – it’d make more sense and be more climactic. Also, RAW, the lich may come with a buff-suite of sorts, but still deigns to fight the PCs more or less on his own, which, even in the lesser power-levels of OSR-gameplay, tends to be a bad idea for high level casters. Reliance on summoned aid doesn’t help as much and a caster in melee with a good fighter can be a pretty bad idea. Then again, perhaps this was intended, as resting in the complex is tough and the 2nd level’s war of attrition on the PCs can really drain their resources. Still, I think combat in the mandala-room would have been more remarkable and interesting.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level. I noticed no glaring issues. Layout adheres to an elegant, old-school two-column b/w-standard. The pdf sports a few solid pieces of b/w-artworks and comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The complex comes with okay b/w-maps, but no player-friendly version is included, which constitutes a comfort detriment for GMs like yours truly who hate drawing maps and enjoy handing out cut-up map-segments to the PCs.

James C. Boney’s “The Red Mausoleum” does a lot right. It is obvious that the author knows the capabilities of high-level PCs first-hand and has experience handling such groups, which is a huge plus: The design of the complex doesn’t just nerf or hobble them, instead working WITH the vast options the PCs have. That is good indeed. From the antechamber throughout most of level 1, I was pretty hooked: The stark visuals of the red complex and the clever “archaeology” of sorts that is needed to progress managed to elicit a sense of wonder that I enjoyed very much. Alas, after level 1, the complex feels like the lack of wordcount left for the subsequent levels necessitated a less interesting take on the remainder of the mausoleum. A good GM can make level 2 feel really claustrophobic and dangerous and level 3’s mandala-room is amazing, but in contrast to how the first level felt, they are less of a unique complex, and feel more like a standard evil-necro-lair type of complex.

The unique tidbits take a back-seat to defeating undead, undead…and then, even more undead. I don’t object to that necessarily, but it is evident in the writing of level 1 and in the glimmers where these become more unique, that they could have been more. I really enjoyed how this module started, but not so much how it progresses. That being said, design-wise, the subsequent levels aren’t bad and work in the context of the complex, they just aren’t as remarkable. I do NOT want the civilization explained, mind you; but some effects for the seeping red, some global tricks, perhaps blood locks or the like…the visuals and theme of the complex imho deserved more in the lower levels. This has the makings of something remarkable, and then settles for a solid, if conservative complex. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform. If you’re willing to tinker with the complex a bit, you’ll certainly find some cool ways to expand it.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #2: The Red Mausoleum
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Transcendent 10 - Spells of Synergy - Magical Interactions
Publisher: Lost Spheres Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/29/2018 04:52:55

An Endzeitgeist.com review

So, Lost Spheres Publishing, back in the day, began with the Transcendent 10-series. While these represent the early works of the company, the company flew under my radar for a long while, so it’s high time we took a look at the series, right? It should be noted that the company has evolved since then – reviews of more current books will hit sites soon as well. But how do these early works hold up against the test of time? Let’s find out!

One thing I really enjoy about this series would be the designer’s commentary that is provided for each respective piece of design – they help a GM and player to properly contextualize the content, which is particularly helpful for folks who don’t have a veteran’s level of system mastery. The pdf predates the ACG and OA, and as such, I will not complain about a lack of representation of the classes from these books in the spell-lists.

Anyways, this pdf is 7 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 /2 page blank, leaving us with 3.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, we begin with a couple of rules-addendums for the purpose of this pdf regarding spellcasting. The book introduces a so-called “Source” – this is basically the type of magic and may include divine, arcane, etc.; The pdf mentions other sources as well, a few of which I haven’t seen so far. Not sure we needed that term. “Flow” denotes whether a spellcaster’s casting is spontaneous or prepared. Considering the evolution of the game, this dichotomy may not hold up so well in all circumstances. It also begs the question where e.g. spontaneous conversion and the like fit in here. This can be somewhat problematic once we evolve to the concept of “counterflow” – this denotes sharing a source, but not a flow: E.g. spontaneous vs. prepared arcane spellcasters.

The pdf then goes on to introduce the [Dual-Souled] subtype, which denotes a acreature bound to the life-force of another creature. This nets a +2 racial bonus to saves versus necromancy spells (but RAW, not versus such effects) and the creature may be considered its original type and that of the bound soul’s form. All right, that is fine and dandy…but how does this interact with spells and effects that have different benefits, based on type? Let’s say Xailaius the elf is dual-souled with an orc and ventures into a desolate battlefield of yore that buffs orcs and debuffs elves, what happens? The better result, the worse, both? This needs some clarification. When failing a save versus a death effect, dual-souled creatures can opt to lose the subtype instead of dying, acting as a failsafe extra life of sorts.

Okay, we’ll begin with three bond of magic spells. The lesser one has a Close range and ties two allied spellcasters together; it is cast as a swift action and clocks in at level 1. Both caster and ally may only cast with the permission of the other character, but gain +1 to CL checks. If a partner expends a standard action, the ally instead gains +2 to CL-checks and +1 to the DC of spells cast that round. The greater version targets 1 + 1/per 3 caster levels targets instead and clocks in at 5th level. Also at 5th level, we get the parasitic bond of magic, which only targets one creature, but lets the caster compel the target to grant this boost. Such a compelled boost does allow for a second save, though. I have a few issues with these spells. They should imho only be able to target allies. Otherwise, it’s save or suck for enemy casters – and mutual lockdown isn’t fun for the player of the caster either. The parasitic bond makes for a cool take on the master/apprentice-concept regarding black arts, but the compelling of boost should be classified as an enchantment (compulsion) effect to properly account for immunities/interactions. This would be as well a place as any to note that, strangely, none of the spells herein are available for the witch.

Counterflow negation targets another caster with the other spellcasting tradition and has a Close range, a Will save to negate and clocks in at 3rd level. It results in a mutual lockdown of casters. Inverse consumption clocks in at 5th level and is a 10-minute ritual that is permanent and targets 2 counterflow spellcasters, one of which must be disabled or dying. (Considering the casting time, dying is unlikely.) Upon completion, the disabled or dying caster perishes (and may not be brought back by any means) and the survivor gets the dual-souled subtype. The survivor also gets spells added from the deceased caster, but the rules-language here is slightly wonky – functional, mind you, but yeah. Interesting: Casting this multiple times is an evil act, as stuffing too many souls into you is really bad news for all souls. I am a bit confused whether this means that you could become triple-souled, or whether the benefits of subsequent castings only apply to spells gained. While the spell is permanent, I am also not sure if losing the Dual-Souled subtype ends the spell or not. If so, are the spells retained? Can the character cast it again without it being evil?

Mystic rebirth clocks in at 5th level for druids, 6th for inquis and oracles and also has a 10 minutes casting time. It can only be cast once on a creature and basically is an instant retrain from prepared to spontaneous caster and vice-versa – wizards become sorcerers, clerics become oracles, etc. Now I get the intent here, but the spell does not allow for attribute re-assignment, which means that the new class will probably suck. It also reduces these classes to spellcasting, which can be an issue. Where do you get a bloodline from? Oracles don’t have to have their deity’s alignment, having the option to be unwilling prophets, etc. Not a fan.

There also are two Zenith surge spells, with the lesser clocking in at level 5. This one targets a prepared spellcaster and allows them to change a prepared spell of 4th level or lower to cast a known spell of the same level or lower from the spell-list. The greater version is, oddly, available for oracle and sorcerer 8 as well as bard 8. Did I miss something there? ;) Anyways, it pretty much works like the lesser version, but goes up to spell level 7. I do like the exclusivity of these spells for sorcs and oracles, but as a whole, I don’t think prepared casters needed the flexibility these offer.

Finally, there would be the lesser and greater inverse versions of these, for prepared casters only, he 5th and 8th level Zenith web spells. These allow spontaneous casters to mimic spells successfully observed via Spellcraft (not capitalized properly), provided they show up on their spell list, by expending an appropriate spell slot. Thresholds are 4th and 7th spell-level, respectively.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting on a formal level are okay; on a rules-language level, the pdf manages to depict complex concepts, but suffers from the base chassis not being perfect. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard and the pdf has no interior artwork apart from the cover. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Christen N. Sowards’ Transcendent 10-series had surprised me with how well it held up to the test of time; this can, alas, not be said about this pdf. The base concepts used by the spells are per se interesting, but can become problematic with the spellcasting modifications that have been released since the pdf’s release. Additionally, the spells, while not bad per se, have a few rough edges that make them less appealing, with quite a few of them boiling down to cheesy mutual casting lockdowns. Unlike the other T10-files I’ve covered so far, I did not find myself liking any of the spells herein particularly. There is some potential here, but the implementation of the spells requires more work than what I’d expect. My final verdict will clock in at 2.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Transcendent 10 - Spells of Synergy - Magical Interactions
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Book of Heroic Races: Occult Intrigue in the Wilderness (PFRPG)
Publisher: Jon Brazer Enterprises
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/28/2018 06:45:32

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement clocks in at 45 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page introduction, 2 pages of advertisement, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 37 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

So, if the title wasn’t enough of an indicator, this book provides material for the occult classes, the Ultimate Intrigue & Wilderness books – namely, for the Heroic Races introduced in Jon Brazer Enterprise’s Book of Heroic Races: Advanced Compendium. The races covered herein are androids, changelings, catfolk, dhampir, elan, lizardfolk, merfolk, samsarans, sashahar, skinwalkers, tengus, umbral kobolds, wyrwoods and wyvarans. Each of the entries for the races comes with favored class options for the new classes in the aforementioned Paizo-hardcovers, and we get class options, racial feats and otherwise unique options for each of the races herein.

Androids get two new racial archetypes, the first of which would be the living archive medium, who loses shared séance, haunt channeler and astral journey. This would be a good place to note that I like the formatting here: Each of the archetypes and more complex options note the associated class and race as well as the replaced and modified abilities in the beginning – this makes it easier to determine whether the archetype is for the build you have in mind. So yeah, I like this decision. Living archives use Charisma as governing sepllcasting ability and 2nd level nets spirit esoteric: One spirit is chosen as the specialty spirit, which means that the medium gains the chosen spirit’s spirit bonus even when not channeling it. When channeling another spirit, this bonus may supersede that usually granted by the spirit. 3rd level allows the living archive to perform a séance to channel this chosen spirit in places other than the favored location. 14th level provides SP legend lore, but requires that the target of the SP is “at hand.” I am not a big fan of this being at-will; on a formal level “at hand” does not constitute particularly precise rules-language – this should be within reach/require touching/etc. – some sort of tighter wording. And yes, I am aware that the storyteller medium archetype, for example, handles this wording construct thus. Doesn’t make it better.

The second archetype would be the splintered mind psychic, who loses detect thoughts, telepathic bond and telepathy. The archetype modifies discipline, who gains both the lore and self-perfection disciplines . Whenever the psychic gets a discipline spell or power, she chooses one from these two or a lower-level discipline power or spell chosen from the two. Wisdom remains the phrenic pool-governing ability score. 2nd level allows the splintered mind to use 1 phrenic pool point to use the nanite surge racial ability, even if she has already expended it for the day. 9th level allows the character to use nanite surge after failing a save versus an enchantment spell or effect to attempt a second save on the next round, with a bonus as if she had nanite surge’d it. Now, I assume that this still requires the expenditure of nanite surge’s immediate action activation, but the ability does not specify that and RAW could be used without an action. Or, you could make a case for standard action activation, which would make no sense, though. The ability would be slightly cleaner if it mentioned the activation action here. 17th level nets a failsafe spell: Spend 10 minutes of meditation and expend twice the spell’s level in phrenic pool point cost to get a contingency-style spell that is triggered as long as she has at least one nanite surge left. This, while functional, is a bit awkward: RAW, the base ability of the archetype does not grant new nanite surges – instead, it allows for the use of nanite surges via phrenic pool point expenditure when there are no uses left. I am pretty positive that the ability, in the context of overall archetype use, would be more elegant if the exchange was based on daily uses instead.

The race gets 3 new feats: Nanite Firewall lets you expend a daily use of nanite surge to mitigate influence; Nanite Maintenance lets you expend a daily use of nanite surge to reduce influence by 1d3 (minimum 1). Nanite Stabilization upgrades Logical Spell to not require higher spell slots while you have at least 1 nanite surge remaining. Psychic repair dispels ongoing effects that reduce the mental ability scores (does NOT cure damage, drain or burn!) and with a nanite surge to boost it, it can eliminate a charm or compulsion effect targeting the caster – the spell is personal, fyi. Solid.

The catfolk get the new feline interloper archetype, which replaces unshakeable. The archetype gets proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as shuriken, bola and whip and adds Handle Animal and Knowledge (dungeoneering) and (engineering) to the class skills. The archetype is locked into the stalker specialization and at 3rd level, gets + class level to Bluff checks made to feint. The archetype gets two social talents, one that acts as wild empathy with 1 + Cha-mod charm animal as a SP on top, which upgrades to charm monster at 7th level. Sounds OP? Well, it can only affect feline/felid creatures, so I’m good with it. The second talent nets better gathering of renown when stealing particularly valuable objects from a target. A new vigilante talent nets Improved Unarmed Strike and flurry of blows at unchained monk -3 levels. The second new vigilante talent allows for limited style strike poaching from the unchained monk. There are new mesmerist tricks here, including one that makes the subject emanate a dazzle-variant based on sound that can hamper spellcasting on the subject. The second trick can deny a target that moves adjacent to the subject their Dex-bonus versus the next attack executed by the subject, which is per se cool. However, the enemy gets an immediate action Sense Motive to negate this, which is interesting. There is a masterful trick upgrade of this one that should specify that it requires the base trick to take it, which it RAW doesn’t.

Changelings get the malformed eye mesmerist archetype, which loses consummate liar, hypnotice stare and painful stare. Instead, the archetype gets a witch’s patron and the evil eye hex, which allows for the addition of bold stare improvements as if it were hypnotic gaze. Okay, while the evil eye retains the hex-caveat and activation action drawback, I am not sold here – bold stare improvements are based on them being useful only as the focus of the hypnotic stare and RAW, the hex does not require the maintenance of stare and can be used to spam the penalties thus caused. Not sold. The archetype may also use forbid action as an free action, 1/round at-will SP, but the target may still sue the action. When doing so, the target takes scaling, untyped damage. This can only be triggered once per round, though. I like the flavor of this one, but I’m not sold on the archetype grafting rules-components on top of the stare-engine that are not intended to work as such. The race also gets a new medium spirit, the crone,, who applies spirit bonus to concentration, Int-based checks and Will-saves. The séance boon increases the CL of all non-instantaneous spells by 3 for the purpose of determining duration. Influence penalty applies to AC, atk, non-spell damage rolls and Ref-saves. The taboos are interesting. The lesser ability nets you use the mesmerists’s spells per day and expands your spell-list with witch spells. The intermediate power nets a non-stacking CL-increase for a school. The greater ability lets you accept influence to further boost per-round—duration spell durations. The supreme ability lets you 1/day use this in a better manner, and sans influence. The shifter gets the black cat aspect. Minor form nets you a minor luck bonus to AC as well as a penalty to nearby foes at 8th level, with higher levels increasing range of the penalty and the bonus. Minor complaint – penalties are untyped. The major form lets you assume a Tiny black cat shape, including a luck bonus to atk. Minor complaints here: Size categories are capitalized and the claw attacks don’t specify their damage dealt or damage types. Higher levels also grant Black Cat and extend the bonus to saves and makes the feat usable 3/day at 15th level. The favored class options here deserve special mention, as they are pretty complex and interesting.

Dhampirs get two new racial archetypes, the first of which would be the blood scion mesmerist, who loses touch treatment, mental potency and glib lie. Instead, 3rd level allows the dhampir to use a standard action to lock gazes with the subject of a hypnotic stare as a standard action, acting as charm person while under the dhampir’s stare. Interesting – the target loses the memory of being affected thus. Limited and rather potent, but also iconic for the vampire-theme. It is balanced by a hex-like caveat, so yeah -I actually really like it! 5th level allows for the summon nature’s ally-based SP of calling children of the night, with 10th, 15th and 20th level improving that. Huge problem: No daily uses. This is, RAW, usable as often as the character wants! 14th level adds the advanced creature template to the creatures called. 11th level allows for a better version of the archetype’s base ability, duplicating dominate person. Add a daily cap to the archetype and we have a really cool tweak here.

The second archetype is the grim warder occultist, who loses magic circles and outside contact. They are locked into adjuration and conjuration as first two implement schools, but casts spells from them at CL+2; however, necromancy implement school spells are cast at -2 CL and similarly, the level to qualify for focus powers of the school is reduced by 2. The archetype is also locked into these favored schools for implement mastery. 8th level nets warding circles, which are undead-only magic circles against evil that may be enhanced with death ward via mental focus expenditure, even suppressing, though not removing, penalties from negative levels incurred by creatures prior to entering it. 12th level provides an undead-only binding circle powered by mental focus and fast circle applies to these specialized circles. As much as I liked the first archetype, this one left me somewhat cold – a pretty vanilla anti-undead option. The race also gets the Hypnotic Charmer feat, which lets you take 20 or 10 when using Cha-based skills on targets of your hypnotic stare.

Elands are up next, and we get a new medium archetype, the generation channeler, who replaces shared séance. These fellows may spend 2 power points to increase the die-size of the spirit surge die. I assume only for one surge. Instead of a shared séance’s usual benefits, we get +2 to saves versus enchantment and mind-affecting effects. The archetype may also expend power points to ask additional questions to haunts channeled. Weird: The ability states that it costs 2 power points, but then goes on to note that we get an additional question for every 3 power points spent – which is it? Can the character expend more power points than 2? RAW, no, but the ability indicates it, even providing a cap. Looks like something got lost/mixed up in a revision here. The pdf also includes a new aether composite blast, at Burn 2 – the elan force thrust, which adds a bull rush t the blast and causes force damage. There is a new mesmerist trick that nets catapsi when targeted with a psionic power or psi-like ability, though it only affects the subject. There are new phrenic amplifications, the first of which is somewhat problematic: Use 2 power points for one phrenic pool point? OUCH. This really delimits phrenic pool points for primarily psions. The second amplification lets you expend power points to cast standard action divinations as swift actions or increase the DC of scrying or mind-affecting divinations. Elan vigilantes can get Ch-mod/day demoralize as a psi-like power plus class level power points; alternatively, another talent makes all vigilante melee attacks ghost touch and, later also adds a bonus of +2 to atk versus incorporeal targets, undead, mediums channeling spirits and spiritualist phantoms. Neat ones!

We also get a new medium spirit, the elan elder, whose spirit bonus applies to concentration checks and Intelligence checks and Int-based skill checks. The séance boon nets +2 to Will saves versus mind-affecting spells and powers . The influence penalty applies to Dex checks and Dex-based skill checks as well as Perception checks, but not on any saves. The taboos makes sense. The lesser ability lets you spend power points for capped bonuses when using psychic skill unlocks; the intermediate power lets the medium accept 1 point of influence for +4 DC for a medium spell’s or psionic power’s DC, which is pretty damn brutal. The greater ability requires to let the spirit gain 1 point of influence. If you do, you may manifest ANY psion/wilder power as if you were a psion/wilder of the same level. You expend a spell slot of a level to manifest ANY psion/wilder power of the level of the slot you expended. Metapsionics may not be added, but you can augment the power via power points. This is pretty brutal, but kept in check by the medium’s spell levels...or is it? The “of the same level” pertaining to class levels, or character levels, is odd and interacts weirdly with the slot-expenditure required, making this a bit wonky. The supreme ability lets you 1/day use the greater power sans spell slot requirements or influence gained – which makes me think that there is a bit of cut-copy-paste confusion going on here…or a version change or something.

The lizardfolk race gets a new shifter archetype that loses sharp claws, defensive instinct and trackless step as well as the shifter claw increases. 1st level nets scaling studied target and 2nd level a scaling, Wisdom-governed AC/CMD bonus, which is halved when wearing nonmetal shields/armor instead, otherwise akin to the way in which monk-AC bonuses work. 3rd level nets fast movement and 5th level extra precision damage when moving, which scales. The main meat of class options here would be shifter aspects, 5 of which are provided: Alligator/crocodile, gecko, chameleon, pteranodon and snapping turtle. The first nets better aquatic Stealth and a 1/minute boost to base speed at 8th level while in minor form; Kudos: The major form correctly codifies the natural bite attack granted and the abilities gained make sense. Chameleon also enhances Stealth in minor form, but less so and regardless of environment. It provides standard and move action in surprise rounds at 8th level, and the major form is cool, with high levels netting your sticky tongue bludgeoning damage based on racial claws or shifter’s claws. Gecko enhances climbing and initiative and the major form provides some true climbing superiority and bite enhancers. Pteranodon nets a bonus to AC and initiative in minor form, while major form nets you clumsy fly speed, which improves in speed and maneuverability later and also nets you Flyby Attack et al at 15th level. Snapping turtle is interesting, in that it nets an AC bonus that increases when the character doesn’t move or attack. All in all, I enjoyed these shifter aspects.

Merfolk get two new water blasts: Siren’s song is a burn 0 sonic simple blast at reduced die size of d4 to account for the rare damage type; the composite blast Shrieking Song clocks in at 2 burn and provides composite sonic with the same reduction. There also are two utility wild talents, the first of which is siren’s kiss. For 1 burn, the DC increases by 2 and the talent nets you unnatural lust, save it requires concentration to maintain. Siren’s call duplicates nixie’s lure, requires concentration and has a 100-ft.-range. Not a fan: If you accept 1 burn, you don’t need to maintain concentration and the effect is prolonged until you next recover burn. Merfolk mediums may gain two new legendary spirits – Charybdis and Scylla, based on marshal and trickster, respectively. Charybdis’ séance boon nets you +2 to grapple checks and the influence penalty applies to Int- and Int-based checks as well as CL for the purpose of determining duration and range, which is BRUTAL. You also can’t benefit from CL-enhancing effects. I assume that this does not include feats, but I’m not 100% sure. The spirit gets an intermediate ability: When an enemy targets the medium with a direct assault or counters or negates a medium’s action, the medium may allow the spirit to gain 1 influence to have the opponent suffer from crushing despair for a number of rounds equal to the medium’s highest spell-level known. Durations stack. Okay, a few issues: 1) This should probably have an activation action. 2) What constitutes “counters or negates the medium’s action”? Does not falling to a combat maneuver qualify? Making a save? This is woefully opaque and needs clarification.

Scylla, based on the trickster, applies the spirit boon to Dexterity checks, skill checks (yes, RAW, all of them) and Ref-saves. The séance boon nets a +1 bonus on one skill, which is also treated as a class skill. The influence penalty makes you not count as an ally for effects and also makes you not count as a willing recipient of spells. You must even be hit by touch spells, but you’re not forced to save versus beneficial spells. The unique ability here is classified as greater and is called…”Triumph of the Will.” … sigh I’ll just pretend that this unfortunate name was an accident and move on. The ability allows the medium to allow Scylla to gain 1 influence to either reroll a d20 or force an enemy to reroll; an enemy forced to reroll takes a penalty to the reroll equal to how much they’re outnumbered, minimum 0. OH BOY. Srsly? Okay, one: Range. What’s the range? Two: This is broken: Take an army of fluffy allied kittens with you. Have an ally cast any super-lethal/save-or-suck effect. Force a reroll. Marvel at how your army of hundreds of kittens makes the save DC impossible to beat.

We also get two mesmerist tricks: The first can be triggered on entering light, granting the target temporary hit points. The second grants darkvision upon entering darkness. Shifters gain a new shark aspect, which focuses on sensory improvements. The major form nets later a better bite. Minor and purely aesthetic wording quibble in the FCOs: “When gaining a taboo, the medium can use spirit surge without incurring influence one additional +1/4 time per day.” The final part of that sentence could be a bit cleaner.

Samsarans get a new occultist implement school, the eternal implements. The resonant power nets +1 competence bonus to Intelligence-based skill and ability-checks for every 2 points of mental focus invested, capping at 1 + 1 for every 4 class levels. The base focus power is touch of antiquity, which allows you to expend 1 point of mental focus to cause an object to age, inflicting 1d4 +1d4 for every 2 occultist levels untyped damage to an object and also cause it to be broken. Constructs may alternatively be targeted with a melee touch attack and a base damage die of 1d6, scaling the same way as the damage to objects. We get a total of 6 focus powers: One grants a combat feat, which must not have feat prerequisites, but otherwise, the target needs not fulfill the prerequisites. The power lasts for 1 minute and another feat is granted every 6 class levels thereafter and the feats may build upon each other, offsetting the no-feat-prerequisite caveat. Now this one is INTERESTING and well-executed...with one quibble: It fails to note that it requires mental focus expenditure, which it probably should have – the other focus powers get that right. Collective calm lets you choose multiple skills and take 10 in them, even under duress. Mantle of antiquity nets you a 20% miss chance and the option to automatically succeed a save, ending the mantle’s effects. To nitpick here: It should probably specify that the decision must be made before rolling. Personally, I also would have preferred a massive bonus over an auto-success. RAW, this would allow an occultist to even survive a deity’s assault. Reincarnation’s guise is a combo’d disguise self and +4 ability score boost. Restore grandeur is the inverse of the base focus power, restoring items and constructs. Living targets may also be healed thus, but only 1/day. Wisdom of the ages, finally, nets legend lore, but once more requires that the person or thing you learn about must be “at hand”, which still isn’t particularly precise rules-language. The implement school comes with its own spell-list – no complaints there. Samsarans also get two new racial feats, Empathic Healer, which lets you heal ability score damage via mental focus or phrenic pool points when using Life’s Blood, taking the damage yourself. Reincarnated Hero nets you a bonus on Cha-based checks in vigilante identity and helps renown when you gain it. While not perfect, style-wise one of my favorite chapters within! (And I don’t even particularly like the samsarans…)

The sashahar get a new legendary spirit with Sessinakka (based on Guardian), complete with taboos and gaining favor covered. The ability gained is intermediate and provides an extended spell-list and the option to use spirit surge to boost concentration and CL-checks when casting these spells. We also get a new implement school here, the sentinel implements. The resonant power here is applied to saves “against extraplanar creatures”. (Could be a bit tighter.) The base focus power is a swift action 20 ft.-burst that deals 2 points of untyped damage per class level, no save. Not a fan. We get 6 focus powers and a custom spell-list. Negating flanking benefits for one round per class level, a boost to CMD and saves versus attempts to move you and fighting on when almost killed by an extraplanar creature are three of the benefits. At 11th level, you can get a rather cool summoning-suppression-field, which I really liked per se. However, the field also suppresses medium spirits and spiritualist phantoms, which is somewhat sucky, as it doesn’t grant a save or the like and these are central class features. There should be some sort of mechanic for these two at least. Weird: RAW, eidolons are not impeded – and for them, the impeding would actually make more sense. Planar ward debuffs foreigners to your plane and nets a boost versus their tricks. I also really liked the high-level teleportation scrambler. We also get a new psychic discipline, the gate guardian, who uses Wisdoma s governing attribute. The first discipline power nets you temporary access to defense-themed monster abilities like fast healing, ferocity or light fortification and these improve at higher levels, also adding DR and AC-boosts and resistances to the mix. 5th level nets a scaling save bonus to either Fort- or Ref-saves, your choice. 13th lets you negate 1 critical hit confirmation per day, 2/day at 18th level. Nice one. There is a vigilante talent that nets the planar weapon quality and upgrades to +2 to atk versus creatures with the extraplanar subtype. Okay, so the weapon quality should be italicized and the bonus should probably apply to non-native outsiders as well, right? This is slightly unclear regarding the whole section, btw.

Skinwalkers get a pretty nice medium archetype that tweaks all of the standard spirits. The lunar spirits include: Witchbeast (archmage): Reckless and dislikes casting on allies, uses witch spell list. Ruler of Fangs (champion) nets better natural weapon base damage and martial weapon proficiency. Furred Warden (guardian) nets spirit bonus to AC and heavy armor proficiency as a lesser ability. The greater ability is wonky, though: When you or an ally in reach is grappled, you get a counter grapple fortified by spirit surge. Okay, this has a few problems: Spirit surge is a bonus applied to a roll and only applies to rolls modified by the spirit bonus: RAW, CMD is neither a roll, not a static value to which the guardian’s spirit bonus applies. Since using the spirit surge is not even an action, this allows for non-action counter-grapples. This should probably have an immediate action prerequisite.

Moonwatcher (hierophant) has the archmage arcana spirit power, using druid/shaman lists instead as a lesser power. The intermediate ability is pretty specific – it duplicates energy font, but instead causes all skinwalkers to change shape instantaneously. Overflowing moonlight builds on grace and the previous ability, modifying it accordingly. The Grinning Beast (marshal) gets only the basics modified, not the powers, and the same goes for the Sewer Grandmaster (trickster). All of the spirits have séance boons that grant bestial features according to the nature of the spirits. I really liked this one and wished it had more room to shine: The tying of bestial features with séances is smart, the taboos etc. are cool and I like the custom spirit array. This is worth returning to and expanding to full-blown class tweak, imho.

Skinwalkers also get a new vigilante archetype, the moonlight lurker, whose vigilante identity must incorporate the animalistic features of change shape. The archetype can shift identities as a full-round action, as a standard action in moonlight, using the change shape racial ability in conjunction with it. The lurker gets two bestial traits when usng change shape, which improves by +1 at 5th and 9th level. 13th level also nets a potent ability like fly, pounce etc. 17th level nets a second one from this list and 20th level provides regeneration 5, suppressed by silver. This does come with a price, though: No social talent at first level and, more painfully, no vigilante specialization. There are two lycanthrope-themed vigilante-talents, one for scaling attribute bonuses and one for scaling DR/silver.

The moonshifter loses chimeric aspect and its greater brother as well as final aspect. Shifter claw benefits are applied to two natural weapons gained via change shape and it may be activated as a swift action. 9th level provides a hybrid form when in minor aspect; this improved at 14th level and the capstone nets change shape/wild shape transparency as well as DR 10/silver.

Tengus are up next, beginning with the vinculum corrupter occultist, who loses magic item skill and aura sight. Additionally, he only gets ½ class level + Int-mod mental focus. However, he does get ½ level (I assume minimum 1) of vinculum focus. This behaves as a regular mental focus, but enhances the CL when targeting the owner’s type/subtype. Owner? Yep, for these points may only be invested in implements that rightfully belong to another, which is interesting. 2nd level yields +1/2 class level to Sleight of Hand and 5th level lets the archetype locate creature implement owners. The swaggering avenger vigilante loses the appearance-ability tree and the 2nd level vigilante talent. They are locked into the avenger specialization and gain Dazzling Display, usable sans weapon as a standard action, at 2nd level. +2 to atk versus foes demoralized thus. There is a talent that lets you make a creature hit itself via grapple or disarm – odd and makes no sense: This bypasses any DR but universal DR, which is WEIRD. 5th level nets Performance Combatant and a performance feat. 11th level nets temporary hit points with successful performance combat checks and 17th level lets you add damage as though you had hit an additional time when reducing an enemy to 0 hp. Oh boy. Does this include vital strike? Any modifications to BAB etc.? Not functional RAW. There is a complex phrenic amplification that allows you to steal mental energy, like focuses, mesmerist tricks etc. via spells, which is interesting and, more importantly, really smoothly designed: It can’t be cheesed with kittens, the save-interaction is tight and neat. The target is also temporarily staggered, and no, no stagger-locking the target. Impressive one! The shifter, finally, gets the crow aspect (doesn’t specify natural attack type, requires defaulting), but otherwise, solid. The favored class options here are interesting, though the occultist bonus requires a legacy weapon, making it only relevant for the transmutation implement school.

The umbral kobolds are up next, starting with the shadowpsychic, who gets more phrenic pool – but whenever he uses 2 or more points, the linked spell becomes a shadow spell. To make up for that, he gets telempathic shadow barrage and shadow targeting. The first lets you add debuffs to the telepathic bond via phrenic pool points. Shadow targeting is OP as F***. For 2 phrenic pool points, you ignore range, provided the target of the linked spell is in shadows or touching them. Range must be touch or greater, but still. OUCH. The race also gets the aether-based shadow blast simple blast, which adds +2 damage per die and makes damage nonlethal. At burn 0, that is a bit overkill, imho. At 15th level, composite blasts may also be enhanced thus, at the cost of 1 Burn. I think this would have made more sense as a utility wild talent. We also get a new medium spirit, Kurgog the Guardian. I assume this fellow replaces the regular guardian. The séance boon is applied to CMD and influence penalty nets you +2 to atk, but -4 AC “during the first attack or full attack of any combat”. The penalty should probably last for a round after executing it. Also: It’s called PENALTY. Not buff. The influence penalty should not provide an attack buff. The lesser spirit power nets Dodge, which also encompasses uncanny dodge at 10th level. The intermediate ability lets you, as a swift action, “expend 1 point of mental focus…” WAIT. WUT? Yep, we have a glaring cut copy paste error here that also extends to the greater ability. It’s okay to make another class’s ability available for a spirit, but it has to be MODIFIED to reflect the realities of the new class. Sloppy and non-functional as presented.

The wyrwoods get two new archetypes, the first of which would be the equinox infiltrator vigilante, who loses vigilante specialization, a ton of vigilante talents, dual identity and two social talents. They also share the druid’s prohibition versus wearing metal armor. They have 3 identities and change requires 1 minute of meditation. The archetype has one social and two infiltrator identities. Each of the infiltrator identities is associated with one domain chosen from the 4 base elemental domains and they may only use the domain powers while in the corresponding identity. They gain an additional such identity at 7th and 15th level and they get the hunter’s spellcasting, using druid spell list and domains exclusively. There are two feats to upgrade this fellow: Solstice Identity nets+ 1 identity with an extended domain choice. Specialized Equinox nets subdomain access for the equinox identity and the domain chosen.

The second archetype would be the phantasmagorist spiritualist, who replaces the phantom with a memorandum construct that does not have an emotional focus or ethereal form. Instead of an emotional focus, we get a sorcerer bloodline at 3/4th class level (minimum 1 caveat missing). Each bonus spell granted by this bloodline may be cast 1/day as a SP. LOL: While the memorandum is in the spiritualist’s subconscious, the character gains ALL teamwork feats of ALL allies within 30 ft. Yeah, not gonna happen in my game. Analogue abilities have restrictions for a reason. 3rd level’s bonded manifestation-tweak instead provides access to the bloodline-related powers. This is a bit wonky.

The final race would be the wyvarans. Here, we get 6 form infusions that represent cones and line-shaped blasts for any element, in three steps. Weird: The wyrmling’s minimum level is higher than the comparable fire form infusion, cost the same; (the cost should be higher to account for increased flexibility); the mature version has the same burn cost and level requirements and its water specialized spray – straight power-creep. And no, they don’t need the previous ones. The section also has a utility wild talent, the draconic mantle, which nets all creatures within 5 ft. energy damage equal to the number of burn you have. Energy types may be any energy blast you have. Dragonshifters lose the animal aspect gained at 1st level in favor of dragon aspect, which nets you a 1d4 rounds cool-down 15.-foot cone scaling breath weapon in minor form. Yes, at level 1. And there we go, disqualified at my table. Major form nets basically dragon boosts. This aspect is better than all shifter aspects. The archetype needs to lose more for the power gain.

The second archetype is the treasure hoarded occultist, who loses 14th and 18th level’s implements and outside contact. He suffers from diminished spellcasting and uses Cha as governing attribute for class features and spellcasting. He begins play with 2 implements, +1 at 2nd level and every even level thereafter, capping at 7 at 10th level. Öhm, wut? Add to that that 7th level makes all implements acts as having +1 focus invested in them, +2 at 20th level. Oh, and 14th, 16th and 18th level net another focus power. Yeah, that one fewer spell per day per spell level really doesn’t cut it there, needs nerfing. We also get a psychic discipline, the vishapakar, whose phrenic pool is governed by Intelligence. It nets at-will identify and the dowse occult skill unlock for ley lines and magic items even if untrained in Survival. We also get quicker ley line attunement and limited phrenic pool point recovery when doing so. Important here: Spellcasting is governed by Wisdom. The 5th level discipline power isn’t functioning as intended. It sports free, at-will short-range dimension door, with the caveat to break it into shorter ranges making me think that it’s supposed to have either a range-based cap or, you know, that it’s supposed to have a hard cap, like similar discipline powers. Only weak and passive 5th level discipline powers are always on. 13th level provides standard action attunement, provided you can touch a Large or larger carved stone touching a ley line. We also get two racial feats: Hoard Aura makes divinations fail to reveal worn and carried items unless the caster makes a CL-check. Also applies to a living area. Cool feat! Hoard Guard makes you keen eyed regarding items and provides AoOs when a foe attacks or seizes an object from you.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting on a formal level are good; on a rules-language level, there are a couple of issues to be found here and there. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with nice full-color artworks that will be familiar to fans of JBE. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks.

Quite a few authors worked on this: Joel Flank, Sasha Hall, Richard Moore, Kevin Morris, David N. Ross, Rachel Ventura and George “Loki” Williams. Alas, this diversity does show a bit here and there – some authors tend to be a bit more precise than others and what, rules-wise, works in one section may be slightly less precise in another. While analyzing this book, I realized pretty quickly that a few of the concepts herein could have used a bit more room to breathe – archetype-wise, we focus, with varying degrees of success, on engine-tweaks. The supplemental material, as a whole, sports a couple of interesting components, but also quite a few issues in the finer details of the rules. Occult classes are tricky to design for, and here and there, I found myself wishing that the material had been vetted/developed more carefully. This also holds true for the power-level of options, which oscillates a bit more than I’d have liked from author to author.

There are quite a few issues in the finer details of the rules, and while, for the most part, the material runs smoothly, this cannot be said about the entirety of the book. I attempted to be ultra-detailed in my coverage of this incredibly dense book – both so you should have a good idea of whether or not this book is for you or not, and to do the cadre of authors justice.

In the end, for me, this is pretty much the definition of a mixed bag. I liked a couple of components and disliked others; I was impressed by some rules-operations and flabbergasted by a few of the botches. In the end, my final verdict will hence clock in at 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Book of Heroic Races: Occult Intrigue in the Wilderness (PFRPG)
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Everyman Minis: Mysteries of Autumn
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/28/2018 06:42:44

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This Everyman mini clocks in at 6 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages fo SRD, leaving us with two pages of content, so let’s take a look!

One the introductory page, we also receive a new spell, namely hibernate, which clocks in at 6th level for druid, shaman and psychic, 4th level for mesmerists. It is a magical sleep effect that causes the touched target to go into hibernation. Nice: The target may be awoken with repeated, vigorous aid another actions or by the passing of seasons.

Now, the main meat of this mini, obviously, is devoted to the new autumn mystery featured within. This mystery adds Fly, Knowledge (nature), Stealth and Survival to the list of class skills. The bonus spells granted by the mystery begin with obscuring mist and gust of wind and proceed with diminish plants, blight and call lightning storm. Interesting: The high level spells are classic negative energy-based spells, but we also get a representation of the feasts that take place in the spell selection. So yeah, these were wisely-chosen.

Now, let us take a look at the revelations, shall we? We begin with aging touch, usable 1/day, +1/day for every 5 levels. Versus objects. It is a sunder maneuver; against living targets, it deals 1 point of Strength damage per 2 class levels, 1d6 damage (untyped) per oracle level versus constructs or objects. Armor of fallen leaves may be activated as a standard action and nets you a scaling deflection bonus to AC as well as the benefits of entropic shield. The ability may be maintained for 1 hour per class level, with hours being also the increment you must spend the ability in. Fire damage caused to the armor temporarily grants the benefits of a warm fire shield starting at 7th level, and at 13th level, the miss chance granted by the entropic shield effect increases to 50%. NICE one! Autumnal repose fortifies you against exhaustion-based effects as well as poisons, curses etc- or those that bestow ability score penalties, with 7th level extending the bonus to saves to negative energy based effects and death effects and 20th level providing immunity to all of them, which may be a bit of overkill – that amounts to a second capstone worth of immunities.

Equinox lets you increase or decrease the illumination level within 30 ft. of you, for 1 minute per level, with later levels increasing the ability to modify illumination levels. Some minor complaints – since the ability can increase or decrease the illumination level, it probably should not always behave as daylight –while it properly codifies its use as a light/darkness-effect respectively, a darkness.-based daylight can be a bit weird. Also, the spell-reference here is not italicized properly, which also extends to the Hibernate revelation, which duplicates the spell of that name discussed above. The options also include the witch’s slumber hex, substituting Cha as governing attribute. There is also a scaling, low-range 1/day (more daily uses granted later) life leech that deals damage and grants temporary hit points, and which should probably be codified as negative energy damage, not as untyped. The thunder burst revelation, which causes half sonic/half bludgeoning damage and adds the deafened condition on a failed save, is nice.

Festival of the damned manifests a procession of spirits around you in a 20-foot spread, providing and interesting variant of either call spirit or haunted mist. Liked this one, even though the “scare”-reference wasn’t perfect rules-language. Still, functional and the only-at-night caveat this has is interesting. Lethargy is a bit of an odd one: As a standard action, you cause all creatures (including allies) within 30 ft. to become staggered for 1 round. Avoiding the gaze is possible and the ability can be used 3 + Cha-mod times per day. Now, I am not a fan of such lock-down abilities sans save, but its indiscriminate application is interesting. It should be noted that any option that renders immune versus the staggered condition can make this an absolutely brutal debuff, so some care may be required.

The final revelation of the mystery provides immunity to critical hits, ability damage and drain. Additionally, 1/year, you can touch a deceased creature, having it turn into a seed which will then grow if tended, sprouting into a Youth of the creature in question, otherwise acting as reincarnate. I assume that the transformation process works action-economy-wise as the spell, but clarification would have been nice, particularly since you can, as an immediate action, do that to yourself when dying. I love the visuals here.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting on a formal level are pretty good, and same goes for the rules-language level. There are no glaring issues here. Layout adheres to Everyman Gaming’s two-column b/w-standard for the series. The artwork is nice and the pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Margherita Tramontano knows what she’s doing – the mystery manages to convey the plurality of the concept of autumn in an admirable manner. While not 100% perfect, the pdf does sport some fun and unique tricks, and as such, should be considered to be a nice offering, well worth a final verdict of 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Everyman Minis: Mysteries of Autumn
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5E Mini-Dungeon #068: Awakening the Elder
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/28/2018 06:41:02

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a 5E-mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM. Oh, and the series now comes in an archive that also contains...drumroll a .jpg-version of the map, in both GM and player-friendly versions!

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, a helpful tool in the GM’s arsenal. 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 temple of Treania, goddess of waters, and her 4 divine children, has been raided by a madman and his cultists, attempting to call forth a kraken, who ostensibly should consume the temple’s essence to become a god. Here, we have a problem with the premise: For one, it’s pretty easy to slot a sea-goddess into the campaign – but her AND 4 divine offspring? That’ll require some justification. Furthermore, in pretty much all campaigns I know, divine ascendance is more difficult than just defiling a temple. Now, in contrast to PFRPG, the creature actually has tentacles this time around, so that’s a plus. Still, this’ll take more effort to slot into the game than usual. A significant part of the complex is wading through ruins of a religion you’ll probably not use again, so yeah, that aspect’s not so cool.

The main draw of this module, ultimately, is stumbling into the ritual, where mad cultists are being squashed as the elder deep one is called. Here is a bit of an issue: The idea here is awesome: Defeat the cultists, while tentacles flail around. Neat, right? And indeed, the 5e-version works MUCH better, opting to use the tentacle of the kraken as a discorporate hazard of sorts. Monster-wise, we get 3 different deep one statblocks taken from Kobold Press’ Tome of Beasts as a supplement for the kraken. The BBEG is not such a wimp as a consequence, which significantly improves the module.

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 nice. Huge plus: We get a GM AND a Player-version of the area in which this takes place, providing full VTT-friendly compatibility.

The PFRPG-version of this module had SERIOUS logic-bugs and the final encounter was choppy at best; Chris Harris’ conversion of Michael O. Holland’s module works much better than the original. While the kraken makes for a less sensible choice of a being that can only enter through the portal, and while divine ascendance and the temple itself feel still like overkill, this works significantly better. If you can look past these mainly flavor-issues, then round up from my final verdict. As a person, I can’t do that, but as a reviewer, I have an in dubio pro reo policy and thus will round up from my final verdict of 3.5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
5E Mini-Dungeon #068: Awakening the Elder
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Mini-Dungeon #068: Awakening the Elder
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/28/2018 06:40:08

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM. Oh, and the series now comes in an archive that also contains...drumroll a .jpg-version of the map! Yeah, that's pretty amazing! Better yet: GM-friendly version of the jpg's included as well!

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 temple of Treania, goddess of waters, and her 4 divine children, has been raided by a madman and his cultists, attempting to call forth an elder deep one, who ostensibly should consume the temple’s essence to become a god. Here, we have a problem with the premise: For one, it’s pretty easy to slot a sea-goddess into the campaign – but her AND 4 divine offspring? That’ll require some justification. Furthermore, in pretty much all campaigns I know, divine ascendance is more difficult than just defiling a temple. Add to that the fact that many campaigns consider mythos-related beings to be somewhat beyond the usual divine cosmology and the fact that these things already have the deific quality and I’m a bit torn there. So yeah, this’ll take more effort to slot into the game than usual. Now, a significant part of the complex is just wading through ruins – then, the PCs get to defeat blood golems made from sacrificed priests.

The main draw of this module, ultimately, is stumbling into the ritual, where mad cultists are being squashed as the elder deep one is called. Here is a bit of an issue: The idea here is awesome: Defeat the cultists, while tentacles flail around. Neat, right? Well, the elder deep one has a staggering aura that may, if things go bad, mean game over pretty quickly. The write-up also seems to be confused regarding WHAT an elder deep one is, mentioning tentacles in the flavor text that the creature simply does not have. Another aside: The BBEG…has a total of 45 hit points. Yeah, at level 9, even coughing at the dude will wreck the ritual. If the PCs have a moderately competent archer cohort, he’ll suffice to take out the boss in one round.

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. The .jpg version included here, which you can easily cut up and hand out to the players as they progress is a huge bonus -and even better: A KEY-LESS VERSION sans the annoying letters/numbers is included as well for full VTT-compatibility!!!. The pdf does sport one nice piece of original full-color art - kudos!

Michael O. Holland’s awakening the elder is, premise-wise, amazing. That does not change that the module uses the wrong mythos-creature, choosing one of the few that are not balls of tentacles. The module would have been well-served by making the entity behave more like a hazard. Using the creature makes for some awkward interactions. The needless wordcount expended for a deity you won’t care about is also a drawback. All in all, not really bad, but also not good. 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!]
Mini-Dungeon #068: Awakening the Elder
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5E Mini-Dungeon #067: What Canst Work i’ th’ Earth So Fast?
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/28/2018 06:37:09

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a 5E-mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM. Oh, and the series now comes in an archive that also contains...drumroll a .jpg-version of the map, in both GM and player-friendly versions!

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, a helpful tool in the GM’s arsenal. 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!

Deep beneath a mine, the PCs have ventured into a cavernous grotto steeped in ancient magics, a place throbbing with pulses of indigo energy. Magical energy moves rocks of its own accord in a potentially lethal flurry and the local fauna is deadly. To complicate matters, a duergar mining caravan is currently harvesting raw materials here, providing further challenges for the PCs. Now, unlike in the PFRPG-version, the monster selection can obviously not draw from the same wealth of critters, which does somewhat detract from the appeal of the module. In a nice move, the AAW Games crew has countered this system-immanent shortcoming somewhat with the inclusion of the monster stats of both adult void dragon and smaragdine golem from Kobold Press’ fantastic Tome of Beasts. Alas, we do lose the nice little random encounter table the PFRPG-version offered and the space the creatures take up does mean that the individual entries for the keyed encounters are somewhat shrunk down – 3. and 4., for example, have been collated into one.

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 nice. Huge plus: We get a GM AND a Player-version of the area in which this takes place, providing full VTT-friendly compatibility.

We have a return to form here for Stephen Yeardley. In just a few words, he manages to evoke a tight atmosphere, chooses smart adversaries and sports a couple of unique tidbits. Now, the module loses a bit of its appeal, courtesy of the decreased creature array 5e offers when compared to PFRPG. While the pdf does manage to partially offset this in Chris Harris’ conversion, the mini-dungeon doesn’t wholly manage to reach the level of coolness of the PFRPG version. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
5E Mini-Dungeon #067: What Canst Work i’ th’ Earth So Fast?
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Mini-Dungeon #067: What Canst Work i’ th’ Earth So Fast?
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/28/2018 06:34:28

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM. Oh, and the series now comes in an archive that also contains...drumroll a .jpg-version of the map! Yeah, that's pretty amazing! Better yet: GM-friendly version of the jpg's included as well!

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!

Deep beneath a mine, the PCs have ventured into a cavernous grotto steeped in ancient magics, a place throbbing with pulses of indigo energy. Magical energy moves rocks of its own accord in a potentially lethal flurry and the local fauna is deadly, including bulettes and myrmecoleons. A soulbound shell awaits and, to complicate matters, a duergar mining caravan is currently harvesting raw materials here, providing further challenges for the PCs. We also get a nice 5-entry random encounter table. Cool, btw.: Some creatures have been modified by the magical energies, gaining unique tricks!

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. The .jpg version included here, which you can easily cut up and hand out to the players as they progress is a huge bonus -and even better: A KEY-LESS VERSION sans the annoying letters/numbers is included as well for full VTT-compatibility!!!. The pdf does sport one nice piece of original full-color art - kudos!

We have a return to form here for Stephen Yeardley. In just a few words, he manages to evoke a tight atmosphere, chooses smart adversaries and sports a couple of unique tidbits. All in all, a great little mini-dungeon that makes for a fun, flavorful sidetrek. No complaints. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars +seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mini-Dungeon #067: What Canst Work i’ th’ Earth So Fast?
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5E Mini-Dungeon #066: Words Fly Up, Thoughts Remain Below
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/28/2018 06:32:45

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a 5E-mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM. Oh, and the series now comes in an archive that also contains...drumroll a .jpg-version of the map, in both GM and player-friendly versions!

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, a helpful tool in the GM’s arsenal. 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!

Okay, so what happens when a xhkarsh happens upon a bunch of kobolds currently fighting a drow antipaladin? Well, in this case, the creature managed to kill the drow and has since then whipped the kobolds into shape and recruited a cadre of diverse creatures under its banner. In the 5e-version, the emphasis on taking PCs alive has been removed, and it’s not the only thing: The table to randomly determine the placement of the adversaries herein has been eliminated as well. On the plus-side, we get the previously-mentioned Xhkarsh from tome of Beasts reprinted here and stats for a kobold chieftain as well. This is per se rather cool and indeed, the respective rooms sport tactics for the creatures that are most likely to be here. The presence of these tactics renders the complex rather dynamic, but brings me to the crucial issue here: You see, the dungeon has two levels, and one of them is 1 square left, two down of where it’s depicted on the map. There also are pipes and everything and the strategy of the adversaries is per se nice…but over the neat enemy set-up, the module forgot depicting the dungeon. The map doesn’t help there either, making the whole complex feel opaque and sterile and the 5e-version doesn’t really manage to remedy that.

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 this time falls a bit short of what we usually get, being more bare-bones than usual. Huge plus: We get a GM AND a Player-version of the area in which this takes place, providing full VTT-friendly compatibility.

Stephen Yeardley usually does much, much better. The two-level set-up is interesting, but suffers from the limitations of both wordcount and map-detail and the dungeon itself falls somewhat short of what it could easily have been. Try as I might, I can’t really recommend this one, in spite of its really cool premise – it feels like half a module and while the 5e-bonus critters are nice, the loss of the enemy placement table and less interesting monster-choices mean that Chris Harris’ conversion somewhat evens out when compared to the PFRPG-version. I strongly suggest you check out the other mini-dungeons penned by Stephen Yeardley, though – they tend to be amazing. For this one, though, my final verdict can’t exceed 2.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
5E Mini-Dungeon #066: Words Fly Up, Thoughts Remain Below
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Mini-Dungeon #066: Words Fly Up, Thoughts Remain Below
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/28/2018 06:31:42

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM. Oh, and the series now comes in an archive that also contains...drumroll a .jpg-version of the map! Yeah, that's pretty cool. Better yet: GM-friendly version of the jpg's included as well!

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.

...

..

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Still here?

All right!

Okay, so what happens when an intellect devourer happens upon a bunch of kobolds currently fighting a drow antipaladin? Well, in this case, the intellect devourer managed to kill the drow and has since then whipped the kobolds into shape and recruited a cadre of diverse creatures under its banner. And indeed, as a disparate cadre of entities is concerned, they are pretty nice, aiming to subdue any but drow. Drow must die. Now, in a pretty cool twist, we get a table to randomly determine who is where, with percentile values. This is per se rather cool and indeed, the respective rooms sport tactics for the creatures that are most likely to be here. This renders the complex rather dynamic, but brings me to the crucial issue here: You see, the dungeon has two levels, and one of them is 1 square left, two down of where it’s depicted on the map. There also are pipes and everything and the strategy of the adversaries is per se nice…but over the neat enemy set-up, the module forgot depicting the dungeon. The map doesn’t help there either, making the whole complex feel opaque and sterile.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, I noticed a missing hyperlink and a few minor wording/formatting issues, like the use of a rules-term where none is intended. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes sans bookmarks, but needs none at this length. Cartography is this time around less impressive than usual for the series and pretty bare-bones. The .jpg version included here, which you can easily cut up and hand out to the players as they progress is a huge bonus -and even better: A KEY-LESS VERSION sans the annoying letters/numbers is included as well for full VTT-compatibility!!!. The pdf does sport one nice piece of original full-color art - kudos!

Stephen Yeardley usually does much, much better. The two-level set-up is interesting, but suffers from the limitations of both wordcount and map-detail and the dungeon itself falls somewhat short of what it could easily have been. Try as I might, I can’t really recommend this one, in spite of its really cool premise – it feels like half a module. I strongly suggest you check out the other mini--dungeons penned by Stephen Yeardley, though – they tend to be amazing. For this one, though, my final verdict can’t exceed 2.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Mini-Dungeon #066: Words Fly Up, Thoughts Remain Below
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Advanced Adventures #1: The Pod-Caverns of the Sinister Shroom
Publisher: Expeditious Retreat Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/27/2018 03:56:05

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first of the Advanced Adventures-modules clocks in at 17 pages, 1 page front- and back cover, 1 page editorial ½ a page SRD, leaving us with 14.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look.

This review was requested and provided as a prioritized review by one of my patreons.

All right, quick history lessons – this is, to my knowledge at least, may well be the first ever commercially available OSRIC-module ever, which is a pretty huge deal that renders this a sort of almost historical relic of sorts for fans of OSR-style gaming. Now, the trade-dress evoked by the module obviously hearkens back to feelings of nostalgia, and indeed, structurally, this very much is in line with what you’d expect from a classic module – from the font to the lack of read-aloud text, to the aesthetics, the adventure manages to evoke the same sort of feeling, which is a good thing per se for the target demographic.

Now, I like playing advocatus diaboli, and indeed, there are things to complain about regarding the otherwise very concise aesthetics: If you truly want the classic experience, you may be galled by the absence of blueprint style maps in the interior of the covers – personally, I don’t mind. However, in the adherence to the classic formula and trade-dress aesthetics, the module also kinda ignores some industry standards – personally, I would have loved to see e.g. player-friendly maps or VTT-capable ones. There are plusses, though – the interior artwork, also penned by the author, has a distinct style I very much enjoyed. More importantly for me at least was a pet-peeve of mine – formatting is inconsistent. Magic items and spells are sometimes italicized as per the OSRIC standard, and sometimes bolded, with no discernible rhyme or reason. Now, to be fair, they are always highlighted in some way, which helps navigate and run the adventure, but the inconsistencies still galled me.

Now, on a more positive side, the pdf sports a total of 5 new monsters – vampiric moss would be pretty self-explanatory; the deadly funghemoth can be seen, or so I assume, on the back cover; the pod-men and the eponymous shroom (think evil wizard shroom-people) can also be found…but my favorite critter herein would be the snagwort. These are ugly, ropy plants hanging from the ceiling that attach their tendrils to adventurers and seek to smash them into the walls until they’re a bloody pulp. They are more hazards than really combat-material, but here’s the fun part: Their glue persists for a while after death. And they’re heavy. Yes, chances are that one of two of your PCs will carry one of their carcasses around for a while.

Now, the module is designed for 6 -8 characters of levels 2 – 4, and I’d strongly suggest a good mix of character classes. While this is no meatgrinder as far as OSR-modules are concerned, it similarly is not easy.

All right, this is as far as I can go without going into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, the first thing you need to know is that this actually has some replay value, at least for the GM. The module is designed so it can be tackled from two directions: Either from the ground/underworld, moving up (for example after the PC’s first dungeon collapsed/stranded them in the lightless depths), or, in a more classic manner, with the PCs exploring the depths, seeking to destroy the evil lurking down there. This two-directional approach is also mirrored in the dungeon-structure, for, whether you believe it or not, these few pages manage to contain 3 dungeon-levels. No, I am not kidding you.

Each of the levels sports a brief note on random encounter frequency is provided for each level, with the shroom’s lair, level 2, featuring a patrol as well. Now, what I liked about level 1 is that each encounter gets a little bit of agency – it’s just a word like “hunting”, “patrolling” etc., but it helps immensely in my part – alas, in a bit of inconsistency, this cool feature is not retained for level 2 and 3. Indeed, as a whole, the 1st and 2nd lvel are stronger than the third: In level three, we have basically abandoned laboratories and components of the shroom’s complex that have been left behind in the move towards the surface. Here, a map of the upper levels can be found (cue once more my complaint regarding player-friendly maps) and rogue pod men may be found; there is also quite a bit of delightful old-school weirdness and, as some may claim, sadism: There is a goblin shamaness who welcomes the PCs with open arms, thinking that a trapped ghast is her god. The aftermath of this encounter may well see the PCs meet the god of goblins. Similarly, there is a pool containing a sarcophagus: If the PCs dive down, they may trigger a squid-ink trap and find themselves in a black pool with a newly liberated undead. Fun times – and hey, no one said that graverobbing and adventuring would be wise professions to pick up.

That being said, the adventure as a whole does a really good job or balancing risk and reward for players: The module does not throw unfair situations at them and the risk incurred is always the result of their own actions or lack thereof – in short, this is not dickish, it’s fair in its difficulty. Still, compared to level 1 and 2, the third level lacks a distinct leitmotif and simply is less interesting.

You see, level 1, from the get-go, manages to grasp my interest: The means of egress into the cmplex has a sensible mechanism that allows smart PCs to use it, providing a bit of realism there – and subsequent incursions after retreats actually have consequences. The presence of a stream that runs through the complex as a sort of irrigation process further highlights this. The first two levels feel very much like organic, sensible set-pieces with strong leitmotifs: The first level sports, for example, maddened tree offspring of a captive treant that can be found at level 2; a giant leech-infested pool provides an alternate means to go further down. There is abit of weirdness here, which is also encapsulated by weird and unique mosses growing in some caverns and the PCs can e.g. find fish mincers (and, in level 2, those for…bigger lifeforms…), which is used by the shroom to create the disgusting nutritional paste made to cultivate his growing army of pod-people. The first level manages to foreshadow concepts in the second level, providing weirdness, yes, but also hinting at the explanations – this indirect storytelling is really rewarding for the PCs and players alike.

Ultimately, the PCs will make their way to the prison (where they should be careful regarding what they do) and the main complex of the shroom – they’ll witness the pods and have a chance to put an end to the growing army and machinations of the hyper-intelligent fungoid threat – whose labs btw. contain detailed documents as well as a potion rack with no less than 20 potions, which contains, for xample such gems as “liquid wood” or weird potions that make you runin circles and scream for a few turns.

The eponymous sinister shroom is no pushover, btw. – with potent pod-man bodyguards and quite a few spells and HD, he will definitely test the mettle of the PCs, particularly if they are at the lower end of the suggested level-spectrum. Have I mentioned the big bad funghemoth, which may actually be used to help clear the complex if the PCs are smart? Or the mushroom level-based portcullis traps? Yeah, I really, really loved level 1 and 2.

Conclusion:

Editing is top-notch on a formal and rules-language level; as far as formatting is concerned, the pdf does sport some inconsistencies. Layout adheres to a no-frills two-column b/w-standard and I really liked the interior artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The cartography is serviceable, but not spectacular. The absence of player-friendly maps is a comfort detriment.

So yeah, blame Matthew Finch, the author of this adventure. You see, unlike many folks that are active in the OSR-scene, I loved my old-school gaming back in the day…but frankly, there was, and this is something plenty of folks forget, a lot of crap back then as well.

There was a reason so many folks stopped buying the old books.

Not all was shiny and better. (Go ahead and call for pitchforks…)

Hence, I wholeheartedly embraced Necromancer Games, and later, Frog God Games, in their mission of providing new old-school gaming materials. I confess to having never heard about Matthew Finch when I backed the Rappan Athuk kickstarter back in the day – and I got that elusive Cyclopean Deeps bonus level. I read it and was HOOKED. When the Cyclopean Deeps hardcovers finally hit sites, I drooled all over them – I still consider them to be absolute masterpieces, regardless of system.

So yeah, that did lead me to investigate the author, to this adventure – and I sat on it for quite a while. It was the first time I really started digging regarding OSR-books. So yeah, blame Matt Finch’s excellent writing.

When one of my patreons asked me to review this series, I figured I’d begin at the start, and there we are. So, how do the pod-caverns fare nowadays, when the blend of classic and weirdness has become accepted, cherished and its own style? Surprisingly well, actually. While the module does suffer from some comfort-detriments and formatting inconsistencies, we can see a style of writing here that cites the classics without being just a knockoff – this is creative and manages to evoke a sense of consistency that draws you in – more efficiently than many modules with thrice the page-count, mind you.

Now, content-wise, I consider the first two levels to be excellent examples of stellar adventure-writing; the third level, in comparison, feels a bit like an aftertaste and a gimmick, added on to the complex without tying into it as well – it’s still good, mind you – just not outstanding. Personally, I’d run levels 1 and 2, using level 3 perhaps as its own dungeon-hook for the proper complex. That being said, level 1 and 2 warrant getting the book on their own. At the same time, the hiccups and lack of player-friendly maps do drag this down a bit – which is why my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #1: The Pod-Caverns of the Sinister Shroom
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Starjammer: Races of the Void Book One
Publisher: d20pfsrd.com
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/27/2018 03:53:14

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement for the Starjammer setting/rules clocks in at 39 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 35 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This being a racial book, we don’t waste much space before we’re introduced to the first new race herein, the Aurellians, who gain +2 Dex and Wis, -2 Cha. They are Small aberration (darkvision 60 ft., must eat, breathe and sleep) and they have a limited, natural fly speed (not affected by antimagic fields) of 20 ft., but must remain over a solid surface that can hold their weight. Slightly weird – there is no maximum height from such a surface mentioned (which to me would make sense, but oh well…) and they don’t have a maneuverability rating. Aurellians have eye-stalks and can theoretically look into all directions, but require focus, so in essence, they don’t actually get all-around vision. The stalks negate flanking-based bonuses to atk rolls, but not flanking itself. Their language is partially based on gestures and their limited telepathy. As somewhat weird jelly-fish-y beings, the race is mute (which means feat tax for most casters) and lacks chest or feet magic item slots. However, they do gain an extra wrist slot and two extra ring slots (ouch!). They also get grabbing appendages: They have two arm-like tendrils and one longer one with a 10-ft.-reach. This grabbing tendril can grapple as though the Aurellian had Improved Grapple and, unlike most monsters, it may maintain grapples with it and attack with regular arms sans penalty, which can make for some brutal, brutal builds..

The race sports a total of 3 racial subtypes: Man O’Wars lose grabbing appendages and eyestalks and are Medium. They gain two natural sting attacks (primary, I assume) for 1d3 base damage and 10 ft. reach. As a swift action, a number of times per day equal to Con-mod, min 1, the Man O’War may deliver poison via these stingers. This poison may be applied to weaponry as a move action, lasting for Con-mod rounds or until successfully hitting the target. At character creation, one of three poisons is chosen, all of which are governed, DC-wise, by Con. They inflict either 1 Con damage, 1d2 Dex damage or 1d2 Str-damage, all with a frequency of 1/round for 6 rounds. Man O’ wars gain Weapon Finesse as a bonus feat, +2 to Appraise and Perception to find hidden objects and determine whether food was spoiled or identify poison by taste. They also treat Stealth and Perception as class skills.

The second variant is the inspired one, who loses the grabbing appendages for 1/day aid and cure moderate wounds as SPs. Foes suffer -1 to Will-saves versus spells and effects cast and the inspired one gets +2 to Diplomacy and Intimidate versus other races and never suffers from penalties due to being a different race or not sharing a language. Thirdly, there would be the chaos child, wo also lose the grabbing appendages. They are treated as 1 level higher for the purpose of spells with the [chaos] descriptor or using powers (note: Not gaining them!) of the chaos domain, blessing, protean bloodline powers and outer rifts mystery revelations. They are immune to diseases and poisons and may use alter self 1/day for up to character level hours, assuming the shape of a Small humanoid. Note that this has none of the usual low-level shape-variety limitations, but it does at least not modify ability scores. Minor complaint here: While all abilities note the RP, not all specify the type – in the case of the shape changing, that would have been interesting.

The race gets 3 different racial archetypes, the first of which would be the aberrant warden druid, who replaces the spontaneous conversion into summon nature’s ally spells with the new summon strange creature spells presented as part of the supplemental material:These come with a massive table and range from beheaded and chon chon to gibbering mothers, chuuls and in the IX-variant to charybdis, flying polyps and froghemoths. As you can glean from this brief excerpt, the new creatures gained are more potent, something to bear in mind, for the druid is locked as a balncing mechanism out of the animal companion option and must choose the Madness domain. Nature sense is modified to apply to Knowledge (dungeoneering). Instead of wild empathy, we get the option to improve aberration attitudes, even those of mindless beings. Instead of resist nature’s lure, the bonus applies to saves versus SUs and SPs of aberrations. Instead of wild shape, the archetype gains aberrant shape at 6th level, which grants 4 evolution points, using druid level as summoner level to determine for what it qualifies. This may be maintained indefinitely, but used only 1/day, +1/day at every other level after 6th. 10th level increases the points to 6, 14th to 8. Additionally, evolution surge (not italicized properly) is added to the spell list and the warden may target itself with it.

The second archetype is the floating monastic monk. Flurry of blows is modified to add a free grapple attempt as a swift action when hitting at least twice, using monk level as BAB to determine CMB, though still at -2 penalty. Instead of 2nd level’s bonus feat, we get Crushing Blow. At 4th level, a floating monastic may spend 1 ki as a swift action before attempting a grapple to roll the check twice and take the better result. This replaces slow fall. The third archetype would be the void scholar wizard, who may apply the benefits of Silent Spell to wizard spells without increasing the spell level. If the spell requires that the scholar is heard, then the race’s telepathy suffices, provided the target is in range. This replaces arcane bond and Scribe Scroll. 5th level’s bonus feat is replaced with the option Int bonus times per day convert half damage of ANY spell cast with “damage caused by the cold vacuum of the void”, ignoring any elemental resistance (should be energy resistance) of any type. Ouch. I mean, okay, loss of the familiar sucks…but still. Ouch. 15th level’s bonus feat is exchanged for an upgrade: 3/4th untyped damage; alternatively, the character can expend a use to increase the DC of a Will save caused by 2.

The race gets a total of 4 feats: Highswimmer actually clarifies the confusing part about the limited flight of the race, but actually looks like a downgrade if read back to back with the racial feature. Did something go wrong there? Pattern Weaver is cool: As a move action, flash in colors. Creatures that see you within 30 feet take a -2 penalty to concentration. Additional Toxin unlocks a second racial toxin as well as +1 daily use of it. Twin Toxin Blow builds on that allowing you to deliver two racial toxins at once. We get notes on their segmented armor and 4 variant telepathy dishes (Tech-rules!) that increase their telepathy range, which is per se cool. Do they take up a slot? There is a magical gem that transforms armor into aurellian segmented armor and a low cost brooch that allows them to speak. Summon amoeboid lets you cool giant amoebas or amoeba swarms. Minor complaint: The reference to the aurellian racial quality is incorrect – should be limited telepathy, not “mindspeech”. Swarming tentacles is a level 1 psionic power based on inevitable strike that nets a temporary +5 insight bonus to the next grapple maneuver before the end of next round, as a swift action. The race gets a proper age, height and weight table, but no favored class options.

Okay, the second race would be the Bisoni. Bingo. The fellows on the cover. These guys get +4 Str, -2 Dex and Int, which makes them more minmaxy in that regard than what I enjoy. This is further exacerbated by them being Large (yes, this totals Strength +6!). They are humanoids with a normal speed and get a primary gore attack for 1d8. They also get +3 natural AC and powerful charge as well as proficiency with katanas as a bonus feat at 1st level. They are culturally inclined to have a stringent code of honor, which means they suffer -2 to skills, saves and atk after violating this code, requiring some form of redemption. As another double-edged sword, they have 6 + character level SR, which may not be lowered; this anti-magic component extends to spell trigger and spell completion as well as command word or mental activation items, which have a 10% chance of failure. There is an alternate racial trait that eliminates this one, losing SR, but also the failure-chance. Pretty cool: We actually get 6 pretty detailed codes of conduct as orientation.

The bisoni get two different racial subtypes, the first of which would be the runt, who gets +2 Dex and Con, -2 Int. These guys are Medium, get +4 dodge bonus to AC versus bisonic, +2 to saves vs. poisons, spells and SPs and an additional bonus feat at first level. They also lose powerful charge. As an aside: Being Medium, their gore attack’s damage should probably be adjusted as well. Void Blooded bisoni get Perception and Stealth as class skills and +2 to Appriase and Perception checks to find hidden objects as well as +4 to Craft (mechanical) checks to use improvised parts. These guys lose the katana, but also the honor code and the thick hide. The bisoni get favored class options for barbarian, bloodrager, cleric, fighter, hunter, magus, oracle, shaman, spiritualist and warpriest. No complaints there.

Once more, we get 3 racial archetypes, the first of which would be the savage mage magus, who may use the arcane pool to enhance natural weapons instead of manufactured weapons. Spell combat does not require the use of weaponry and spells that target the magus herself only bypass the racial SR. Spellstrike works with natural weapons instead and spell recall is replaced with enhanced savagery: As a standard action, gain a 1d8/1d6 bite, 2 claws (1d4, 1d6) or a slam (1d4, 1d6) for one minute. Yes, RAW, she may have multiple ones. Yes, this makes the already glass cannon-y magus a shredder in the hands of a halfway capable player. No, I would not allow this. The archetype may not choose item creation or metamagic feats (awww…) and instead gets combat feats (!) or rage powers (class level as barbarian level); rage powers requiring rage instead apply when the magus enhances natural attacks. So…how does this interact with rage powers that have a per-rage use? At 7th level, when enhancing a natural attack, the magus may spend an additional point to enhance a second attack. 11th level yields arcane pool-based pounce (instead of improved spell recall) and 16th level lets the magus enhance all natural weapons at once for +2 points when granting her natural attack an enhancement bonus, replacing counterstrike.

The second archetype would be the spellrender fighter, who may not have traded away the racial SR. Instead of 1st level’s bonus feat and all instances of armor and weapon training and armor mastery, the character can charge of sorts when a spell fails to penetrate the SR. This lasts for fighter level rounds and adds +1d6 acid or fire damage, +1d6 at 3rd level and every 2 levels thereafter, but the number of dice may never exceed the spell level of the absorbed spell, thankfully preventing abuse via cantrips etc. Only one such charge may be held. 2nd level yields spellshield, a +1 bonus on Ref-saves versus AoE spells that increases by +1 every 4 levels thereafter, replacing bravery. 20th level replaces weapon mastery by providing optional spell turning when affected by a spell that failed to penetrate SR. The final archetype is the tauric shinobi, a samurai who replaces mount with charging slice, i.e. +2 to atk during charges, and +class level to damage on crits executed with charges. Instead of challenge and demanding challenges, the archetype gets “Seeing Red”, i.e. an unchained barbarian’s rage, which is upgraded to greater rage at 12th level. This obviously adjusts honorable stand as well. Instead of last stand, we get a 1/day option to ignore hardness or DR, +twice class level damage…or attack a spell effect, duplicating greater dispel magic at CL equal to character level.

We get 4 racial feats: Distracted Stampede lets you join a charge of a nearby ally, providing potent synergy with Coordinated Charge. Merciless Gore adds bleed damage to gore attacks, scaling with BAB. Spellproof increases the racial SR to 11 + character level and the fail chance of activation items to 25%. Unstoppable Charge lets you follow a successful charge attack with overrun, also providing nearby allies an insight bonus on atk vs. a target you overrun. Magic item-wise, the amulet of reckless casting lets the bisoni 3/day as a swift action deliver a touch spell as a charge within movement range. Okay, does this refer to the base movement rate or the extended one of the charge? Snoutrings of foraging net +5 to Survival to get food and scent 30 ft. Once more, age, height and weight table is included.

The final race within would be the turtle-like Tortanians, who get -2 Dex, +4 Con, +2 Int, +2 Wis, +2 Cha, making them ability-array wise too strong and lopsided for my tastes. They are Medium humanoids with slow and steady, low-light vision and stability. They also get +2 natural armor bonus and get the option to enshell as a move action that does not provoke AoOs. Small or light objects may be pulled inside, others are dropped. This yields soft cover (+4 AC) and while enshelled, the character has no line of sight, but does not drop prone. The bonus to AC increases at 6th level and ever 6 levels thereafter by +1. While enshelled, the tortonian dos not threaten spaces and may take no other action than to exit the shell, which feels internally a bit weird, considering mental activation items etc. They also get +2 to Will-saves versus charm and compulsion effects and spells and if a tortonian fails such a save, he may retry one round later. Alternate racial trait-wise, we get Small size. And the antural AC bonus and stability may be traded for +2 Dex. The natural AC may also be exchanged for being umbra touched, i.e. cold and electricity resistance as well as a whopping 50% miss chance in dim light! Yeah…not seeing a fair trade-off here. Instead of the Will-save boost and stability, there also is an option to gain DR 5/- while enshelled.

The race gets favored class options for alchemist, druid, inquisitor, magus, ninja, oracle, shaman and vigilante. No problems there. We also get a racial variant, the exposed, who represents a tortonian that has lost his shell: The character loses enshell, stability, the Will-save boost and +2 natural Ac and gets +4 Dex, for an even more elite ability array. Additionally, slow and steady is replaced with 30 ft. movement, but the loss of the shell scarred the tortonian for life, imposing a -2 penalty to Will-saves.

The race comes with two racial archetypes, the first of which would be the shellshocker barbarian, who does not provoke attacks of opportunity when performing a bull rush in a charge and gets +2 to bull rush attempts as well as +2 to CMD against them; the ability qualifies as Improved Bull Rush for prerequisite purposes, but if used thus, the benefits may only be used during charges. This replaces fast movement. Instead of uncanny dodge, the archetype gains shell fortification, which allows the shell to be enchanted as if it were a masterwork shield, and may use shield bash with it as though it were a heavy steel shield. Critical hits and sneak attack damage have a 25% chance of being reduced to a regular hit. Instead of improved uncanny dodge, 5th level provides a +2 enhancement bonus to shield bashes with the shell, which is a bit odd. The fortification effect of the shell is enhanced to 50% at 8th level, replacing the rage power usually gained there. 12th level yields Shield Mastery in conjunction with the shell, replacing that level’s rage power. Instead of indomitable will, we get a final fortification upgrade for the shell at 14th level, of up to 75%. Probably one of the coolest archetypes in the book.

The second one would be the adamantine fist initiate for the brawler class. Instead of brawler’s cunning, the initiate may, after being hit in melee with a critical threat, attempt to sunder armor, shield or weapon of the attacker as an immediate action, gaining +4 to the sunder attempt if the crit was confirmed, which btw. does not provoke AoOs. Instead of the bonus combat feats gained at 2nd level and every 3 levels thereafter, the archetype gets the adamantine fists ability, which lets the brawler ignore 1 point of natural armor the target possesses at 2nd level, increasing by +1 at 5th level and every 3 levels thereafter. If the ignored bonus exceeds the natural armor, the brawler instead applies + brawler level to damage. So, lot of flexibility and player agenda lost for bland damage boost. Not a fan. Instead of maneuver training, we get +2 to bull rush and to resist it, which increases by +1 at 7th level, where +2 to CMB and CMD versus trip are gained. 15th and 19th level further increase these bonuses by +1. At 4th level, we get crashing assault: When making a melee or ranged attack versus a target with hardness, the brawler ignore ½ class level hardness 1/day, +1/day every 6 levels thereafter, replacing knockout. Instead of close weapon mastery, 5th level yields titan’s disruption, which allows the character to use martial flexibility sunder unattended objects for shards that cause all three types of physical damage in 10 ft., with the save to halve based on Strength. Yep, basically Shrapnel Strike. Having the feat doubles range. At 10th level, two uses of martial flexibility may be used to attack a vessel component: If damage exceeds twice the object’s hardness, it is disabled for 1d4 rounds, +1 round for every 5 by which damage exceeded that threshold. Multiple such attacks only increase a disruption’s duration by +1 round. The ability comes with an engineering remedy for it, btw. Easily my favorite archetype ability in the book.

The race gets 4 racial feats: Abjurant Shell nets SR 11 + character level while enshelled; Enshelled Concentration allows for the casting of psychic spells or those sans somatic components etc. while enshelled. Quick Enshell lets you assume or end enshelled status as a swift action. Shell Shield lets you treat your shell as a tower shield, granting total cover, but at the cost of -4 to atk. We also get a new technological weapon, the shock bat (guess what it does…) and 5 new cybertechs: Ley Matrix, at implantation 1, allows the shell to be enchanted as a shield and allows the tortonian to use its special abilities while enshelled. Shell cannons clock in at Implantation 4 and integrates a technological firearm in the shell, which may not be disarmed and the wielder is proficient with it. Shell spikes add a 1d6 slam for Implantation 1; the spikes may be enchanted. At Implantation 3, spell absorber can store a spell, releasing it as a full-round action into a single space adjacent to the wielder, with space affected being chosen anew each round as a free action. To offset the flexibility, the wielder is staggered while using this one. The effects may be ended as a standard action. Finally, the underwater exploration kit (implantation 4) nets +30 ft. swim speed, +20 to Swim checks and the ability to breathe under water, as well as providing full buoyancy control. This one does eliminate the enshell ability while installed, though. The magic item, the shellbrooch nets 3/day the option to store the shell in the brooch, gaining +4 to Dex and freedom of movement, but can mean potentially losing the shell. The race comes with an age, height and weight table as well as a new spell, namely shellsight, which allows the caster to see through the shell while enshelled, providing line of sight, but not effect.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting on a formal level are good. On a rules language level, I noticed a few hiccups, but no truly grievous accumulation of them; however, some of them do influence rules-integrity. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports original pieces of full-color artwork for each race, which I applaud, even though, personally, I didn’t like them that much. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks.

Tyler Beck’s races herein have in common that they all have cool concepts and that I have not see them executed before; that alone is worth something. He has also attempted to do something unique with each of them, which is something I really like.

That being said, this originality unfortunately does not extend to the majority of class options and feats within, which could have gone more creative routes as far as I’m concerned.

This pdf also stands as an excellent example to illustrate that the RP guidelines presented in the ARG, as I have observed time and again, SUCK as a guideline of the power of a race. While the races herein are not overpowered per se, they significantly exceed all core races in power, potentially limiting their appeal to games that favor higher-powered races, needlessly limiting their appeal. They also are bit too strongly geared towards specific roles for my tastes. Bisoni spellcasters, for example, are a bad idea, while their martial representations are ridiculously potent and mop the floor with comparative races of their RP. This overkill will certainly find its fans among the more min-maxy-minded players, but I maintain that the power-level of the races is not in any way required by the respective concepts, representing an artificial limitation of the cool ideas.

As a person, I liked the idea of all 3 races, but not the execution of any of them, which means I, alas, will never use them. That being said, I attempted to provide you with a good overview of what can be found within this pdf, so you shouldn’t have a hard to judge whether this appeals to you or not. Additionally, I do try hard to leave my own biases at the door when rating a product, and ultimately, this can be a worthwhile, if perhaps not an overwhelmingly awesome, book. My final verdict will hence clock in at 3.5 stars. If the strength of the racial concepts sells this on you, then round up. Considering the fact that a significant part of the supplemental material didn’t blow me away, I still feel justified in rounding down for my official verdict. All in all, this represents a mixed bag, slightly on the positive side for groups that enjoy really potent races.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Starjammer: Races of the Void Book One
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