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Places of Power: Monastery of the Marble Palm
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/22/2016 04:37:48

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Places of Power-series clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let's take a look!

On the ocean's shore, crafted from alien blue marble found nowhere in the vicinity, rises a titanic hand from the landscape, as if grasping towards the sky. The strange structure is impervious to magic and only enchanted weapons have ever managed to mar its facade. Known as Alrakkham's Glory, some ancient time ago, living quarters have been carved from the structure and those that spend time here tell of strange phenomena, with the marble's veins pulsing oddly at night and damage incurred due to the common earthquakes in the area mysteriously repairing themselves...

It is here that a tiny enclave of monks is studying their arts and local lore can yield more information for the PCs to unearth about this evocative set-piece. As always, the location is further enhanced by 6 sample events and 6 whispers/rumors - the former do feature rival monk sects, tensions between the two students reaching a boiling point and similarly interesting occurrences. Beyond notes of the lavishly mapped hand-like fortress and its individual rooms, the pdf also features common gossip (Hint: Alrakkham may be Bigby by another name...)...

The monk tradition featured in the monastery actually has mechanical representations here: Monks that study the way of the marble palm replace slow fall with the ability to spend 1 ki as an immediate action to increase the reach of their unarmed attack by 5 feet. - I assume for 1 round, but I'm not sure there. Starting at 5th level, monks that study this way of fighting gain DR 1/- while they have at least 1 ki, increasing that every 3 levels by 1, replacing purity of body. At 13th level, instead of diamond soul, they gain +2 dodge bonus to AC and CMD when facing more than one opponent. Slightly odd: The explicit mention of CMD here. Does that mean they get +4 to CMD? Dodge bonuses, as a default, apply to CMD. The ability increases in potency to +3 at 17th level. Instead of quivering palm, 15th level provides the option to generate grasping hand as a move action supernatural ability. The variant uses the wielder's Strength +10 (no idea what the 31 in brackets is supposed to mean) and may inflict 1d8 +10 damage when grappling - the damage doesn't note its type and it's odd that it's damage bonus is fixed, considering the variation's base on the monk's Strength score. Utterly OP; btw.: This can be done as many times as you like, provided you have at least 1 ki left. Alas, the archetype this represents is pretty flawed and requires some serious GM work to properly work; the rules-language isn't as precise as it should be.

The CR 14 master of the monastery gets a full statblock, which is neat indeed, and the two pupils currently there also are covered, though fluff only and not in as much detail as usual for Raging Swan Press.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are generally top-notch, with the exception of the monk tradition being not up to par regarding its rules-language. Layout adheres to RSP's elegant 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf features some nice b/w-artworks. The pdf comes in two iterations, one optimized for screen-use and one made for the printer - kudos there! The fantastic cartography by Simon Butler and Dyson Logos is excellent. I think by joining Raging Swan Press' patreon, you can actually get the high-res map for the evocative place, but I am not 100% sure. The map provided is cool, but sports keyed rooms.

Anthony Jennings' monastery is per se a great, evocative place - and I really, really enjoy the intention behind the monk archetype featured herein...but, alas, in that aspect, the pdf falters. If the archetype worked properly, this would be one excellent installment of the series; as provided, it unfortunately drags down the offering to a final verdict of "only" 3.5 stars - though, if you're looking for a great little monastery, it's certainly worth getting for the low asking price. Hence, I will round up for this pdf.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Places of Power: Monastery of the Marble Palm
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Places of Power: The Mudded Manse
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/21/2016 10:18:47

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Places of Power-series clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let's take a look!

Deep in the midst of the dreaded Salt Mire, near Thornhill, there is a manse at the top of a foreboding cliff, in the midst of the murky swamp. It is rumored to be haunted...WAIT. Wait, I tell you. Seriously, this is going somewhere you did not expect. Serious research via the high lore DCs can provide the information that one Vississ Leeai cleared out the place a couple of years ago and that it stands where once a powerful earth elemental existed. Sounds ominous, right?

Well, guess what: When your players actually get there, past the no-nonsense half-orc ranger 8CR 9, full stats provided) that guards the place they'll be greeted by a cheerful, immaculately clean staff. While local druids do exist and some strange, creepy even, circumstances can happen around here, the mudded manse, ultimately, remains one of the best-guarded secrets of the elite: You see, the sylph Vississi (fully statted at CR 10) has determined that the local mud can help against nigh incurable conditions and diseases. Yep, you heard right - this is basically a high-class, magical spa disguised as a haunted manor! And yes, this is not an operation of purely benevolent beings, but it certainly is a unique place to get massages and wind down from the horrible rigors of adventuring while also making some nice connections with notable folks who'd otherwise have no reason talking to the PCs. Obviously, as always, we actually get local dressing and mannerisms as well as rumors and sample events to add spice to the trip. As a nice aside, this place makes for a great way to plug in one of the various "going on vacation"-CoC-modules into your campaign without breaking a sweat. Just sayin'.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch. Layout adheres to RSP's elegant 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf features some nice b/w-artworks. The pdf comes in two iterations, one optimized for screen-use and one made for the printer - kudos there! The cartography by Simon Butler and Dyson Logos is excellent. I think by joining Raging Swan Press' patreon, you can actually get the high-res map for the evocative place, but I am not 100% sure. The map provided is cool, but sports keyed rooms.

Mike Welham rarely fails to deliver. When I read the title "Mudded Manse", I was yawning internally. When I started reading this, I realized the downright genius idea and its seamless integration into a fantastic context and knew I was hooked. Evocative, useful, unique - this has it all, and for a ridiculously fair price to boot. 5 stars + seal of approval, given sans hesitation. Get this and provide a bit of relaxation for your PCs. As a nice note: I actually had a local the PCs to deal with the "haunting" - imagine their surprise when they arrived, armed to the teeth...Yeah, that was something I don't get to see too often anymore...

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Places of Power: The Mudded Manse
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Letters from the Flaming Crab: Inspired by Heraldry
Publisher: Flaming Crab Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/21/2016 10:16:20

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Letters from the Flaming Crab-series clocks in at 19 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 15 pages of content, so let's take a look!

We begin this pdf, as always in the series, with the well-written correspondence from the planes-hopping UCS Flaming Crab - this time in the guise of a rather personal letter that mentions the strength a coat of arms brought to a member of the crew...and indeed, thus established is the leitmotif for this one's installment, which first begins with a small bestiary-section of creatures influenced by coats of arms, and yes, they come with a gorgeous b/w-artwork depicting them. So, what do we get? Well, at CR 1 the spitting and stubborn allocamelus (smaller, camel-like creature with a donkey-ish head), the CR 8 biscione with its barbed scales and coiled jumps - basically draconic serpents. The enfield, at CR 2, would be a wolf with a fox's head and front paws of talons can sense allegiances and at the same CR, the lepus hostili would be a killer bunny that can deliver kicking trips and wield Medium weapons. Yeah, pretty cool! The monster-hunting, loyal talbot hound (CR 1/2) and the CR 4 goat/antelope-hybrid Yale, with its rotating horns, complement this cool mini-bestiary.

Beyond the bestiary, we are introduced to heraldic feats - and these are intriguing: They are mutually exclusive, so you can only get one suite of these feats, which is important to keep in mind. These can obviously be easily rebranded for noble families as well (If Birthright/GoT or gothic horror is your theme of choice, then particularly cool!) and there are rules that enhance Diplomacy among those that have the crest feats. They also come in sequences of 3, somewhat akin to Style-feats: The first is called "Coat", the second "Crest" and the third "Achievement." A total of 17 such feat-sequences are provided, totaling 51 feats. And yes, visual representations of the respective feats are provided. So, are they any good?

Well, one thing you need to be aware of is that there are per-encounter feats; The Allocamelus lets you reroll saves vs. mind-affecting effects, with the sequel adding a +1 untyped bonus to atk and damage versus a creature that tried to affect you for the duration of the encounter. At this point, you all know my rant regarding how an encounter is not a proper duration. There is a reason Dreamscarred press codified per-encounter durations with an encounter-exceeding cooldown/duration in proper time. That being said, this is a hiccup that may not necessarily be something you consider to be problematic, but some of you out there have the same tendencies as I do, so yeah. Not all such feats are using such mechanics, btw. Thematically, sometimes the leitmotif could be a bit more pronounced: Basilisk Coat, for example, unlocks both Stealth and Perception as class skills and the feat also nets a skill bonus to both. The sequel feats, then, instead of further emphasizing these, enhance fascinate and provide an SP of a single-target hypnotism. The bear-feats, for example, enhance Intimidate and saves vs. feat, but then proceed to enhance saves vs. poisons/disease and then grant DR 2/piercing. So yeah, the leitmotifs generally kinda make sense, but do not build upon each other, which constitutes a crucial difference in comparison to most feat-chains I've seen.

Similarly, reflexive damage your biscione scales can cause to those that attack you to suffer are cool, but as the second feat, arguably better that gaining at-will detect chaos with the added caveat of being able to deduce if a target has willingly broken a law. As a minor nitpick, the scales in question do not specify their damage type. On the plus-side, e.g. gained natural attacks do come with properly codified type and size-based damage-dice, so that's a precision plus. On a nitpicky side, there also is e.g. a reference to element that should read "energy" and the like. Don't get me wrong, I don't consider these feats bad per se - but in some of them, the comparative power-level fluctuates between mini-trees and these small hiccups do accumulate. On the plus-side, e.g. the Improved Unarmed Strike-Fighter-enhancing Lepus feats that let you trip kick foes and handle oversized weaponry with Weapon Specialization are pretty cool. There are also some instances that made me wonder: Manticore, for example. Sure, there are plenty of mythological references to poison - but in our game, the critter is NOT poisonous, which made the poison-emphasis of the feats puzzling and illogical from an in-game perspective. It's like having a dolphin as a heraldic animal and gaining climb powers. Maybe I'm overthinking things.

The pdf concludes with the heraldic knight alternate class, basically a variant of the cavalier, who retains d10, good Fort-save and BAB-progression, proficiency etc., mount...you get the deal. Instead of an order, the heraldic knight chooses a coat of arms at first level - said coat of arms is associated with a virtue, nets a class skill and a bonus feat and also determines the selection of vigilante talents he can take. Wait, what? Yep, these guys are basically talented, gaining heraldic talents at 2nd level and every other level thereafter: These generally are social talents, with the exception of those mentioned before. Hidden strike talents instead affect melee, which is pretty strong, and the heraldic knight is always using his social identity. They retain challenge, banner, better charging and higher levels also net bonuses to the skill associated with the crest and, as a capstone, they get a kind of superior Leadership...and seriously are an example of a simple, yet effective hybrid class design: The class basically takes the cavalier, inserts copious amounts of player agenda and still retains a focus on the concept of the knight: The vigilante-options utilized mean that this guy will be better in social circumstances than e.g. the cavalier, which fits well with the whole knight-theme. Surprisingly elegant, efficient design!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, it osciallates a bit and ranges from top-notch t pretty good. Layout adheres to Flaming Crab Games' 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with nice b/w and full-color artwork. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Anthony Toretti, Neal Litherland, Jeff Lee and Michael McCarthy deliver an interesting Letter-installment here: The pdf begins with an all killer array of cool critters that feel creative and fresh and ends with one of the better hybrid classes I've read so far. The middle-section, the feat-array, though, feels less refined to me: Both the respective leitmotifs and the balance of the respective feats felt like it was oscillating a bit too much for my personal tastes. That does not make this pdf bad, mind you, but, as a whole, it feels less unified in voice and quality than usual for the series. As a whole, this is worth getting for the low and fair price point, but it didn't rock my world as hard as some other installments of the series. While I don't see myself using the feats herein, I do believe that both heraldic knight and the creative critters have a place in my games. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars - a good offering.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Letters from the Flaming Crab: Inspired by Heraldry
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Fat Goblin Travel Guide To Hell
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/21/2016 10:12:51

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive book clocks in at 58 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page ToC, 1 page back cover, 1 page of advertisement, leaving us with 52 pages of content, so let's take a look!

So, what is this? Well, a travel guide - after a one-page frame narrative that acts as a fluffy red thread suffusing the pdf, we begin with the conception of hell...and it is not like what you'd expect. Instead of envisioning hell as a traditional plane that is separate from the world it is tied to, this pdf envisions a concept of hell closer akin to AAW Games' HEL in their Aventyr-setting. Hell, as presented in this guide, lies within the respective planet, rotating against the rotation of the planet, hovering within the core of the planet. Inside of hell, there (probably?) is its own gravity or somesuch...but alas, if you are looking for planar traits for the layers of hell (7 of which can be found, just fyi), you won't find them. However, the write-ups (each about 1/2 a page) generally are pretty evocative, so the book has that going for it...and there actually are some unique features for hell: Blood for water, mysterious floating eyes, flesh pits - the concepts are very evocative, but they could use some actual mechanical effects.

The number 7 should make the reader hearken - and yes, the conception of hell is modeled after the feudal sins and the pdf does provide full information on the respective archdukes of hell - and, once again, the prose for these is well-crafted - in fact, I found myself enjoying these quite a bit. However, at the same time, the mechanical components of the archduke write-ups do not feature subdomains, unique boons or similar options - only title, domain, favored weapon and unholy symbol are depicted. Whether you care about that or not ultimately depends on your own expectations from such a book. Less detailed, but also with this level of crunch-coverage, 3 lesser nobles are included, before we dive into the crunchy section of the book, which begins with a take on the heavier, devilish black iron as a material with increased damage output (increased weight, counts as increased size). This alone would be strong; however, the material becomes utterly ridiculous when applied to a piercing or slashing weapon - on a critical hit versus a foe with armor (NOT on a sunder attempt), it renders the armor broken; a second crit destroys the armor. Disregard hit points, sunder rules, anything. Granted, it only works on a natural 20 crit, but that's still better than many sundering options. Oh, and it counts as adamantine. Sure, it is even more expensive than adamantine, but still...ouch...that could have been done slightly more elegantly.

The Omen of Vengeance item lets you send forth a slightly more powerful fiendish raven (with slightly wonky, but functional wording) to harry your foes. The eye of sin is pretty OP: Occupying a headband slot, this third eye not only can be opened for the see in darkness ability, it can also, as a standard action, fire hellfire beams (5d6, 60 ft. range, touch attack) that deal half fire, half hellish damage that cannot be negated (not a big fan of that in any context). The eye can be opened for 5 minutes a day, which need to be spend in 1-minute increments and...and has no other factor to reign in the power of the eye beam. No cool-down, nothing. Fire away. No, this is not getting near my game. The mirror of the black gate is basically a simulacrum in a can, though one that will try to kill those it mimics. The pdf also features two artifact-class items - the forbidden fruit of belecor and the angelbone aegis, both of which feature an interesting array of visuals and make for nice objects - particularly the fruit, whose pit may replace a heart, further enhancing [blood]-magic...but more on that later.

The pdf does feature a selection of feats for your perusal and they are rather interesting - Runic Scars allows you to inflict piercing or slashing damage (I assume, you need to have a free hand or an appropriate weapon) to yourself to gain 11 + HD SR for Con-mod rounds and the feat allows for the lowering of the SR and lasts only for Con-mod rounds and has a hard, daily cap balancing it. In spite of the minor clarification this can use, I actually really like it. Red Nectar allows you to drink blood to gain temporary hit points based on creature HD - not kittenable...can live with it. Gaining a Fiendish Legacy is nice, but there is also skill-boost filler material or a variant of nonlethal damage dealing joined with temporary hit points. Firebrand has an issue - it nets you fire resistance that scales up to immunity at level 15 (nice) and features an explosion when you're reduced to 0 hp...the DC is "con-based", but does not specify the DC. I assume 10 + 1/2 HD + Con-mod, but considering that there are alternatives, spelling it out would have been nice. Somewhat OP: Diabolist's Bond nets you +2 Cha and Con, +1 natural AC when you have a Devil summoned via the spell(s) - on its own not too bad, but I know a couple of tricks to keep this up all day. Still, not too bad. Utterly OP: Touc of Profanity: At-will touch to regain hit points and cause the sickened condition. Get one bag of celestial kittens or similar disposable do-gooders. Not a fan.

The pdf also covers an array of spells, which include the aforementioned [Blood] descriptor - such spells require the caster to deal 1 (or more, as noted in the respective spell) point of slashing or piercing damage to himself as part of the somatic component. This, unlike the aforementioned scarification feat, btw. covers the "needs utensil to inflict damage"-caveat. Similarly, the descriptor's rules manage to account for vampires, undead sans blood and similar critters. Here's the deal, though: spells with this descriptor ALSO render the target shaken on a failed save for the spell's duration and save-less spells still have a duration for the effect. The pdf also codifies previously released Paizo-spells as blood magic, which is a nice touch. I do have one nitpick, though: Does the self-inflicted damage require a concentration check to complete the spell or not? This is a potentially pretty important balancing component...so yeah, I'm in a bit of a cinch here and have a hard time properly judging whether the blood spells are appropriate for their respective levels.

The pdf offers spells that feature auras of pain, lidless laser-eyes and a pretty powerful spell that conjures forth a black twin that duplicates non-spell attacks at - 3 that mirror the damage caused at 1/2 potency and increases the DC of any ability that requires a save from the original attack by 2 if the attack is successful. This presents a bit of an issue - usually, attacks are resolved one after the other, with this happening at the same time, which can mess badly with the finer components of action economy. There are some visuals here that I've come to enjoy from the lesser known Blood Magic and BoVD-books I used in 3.X, though they are not just cut copy pasted and instead rebuilt within the context of the blood magic championed herein. The pdf does have some aesthetic hiccups here, though: There would be blood spells that deal basically fire and acid damage, while others feature the untyped damage/fire damage duality. The latter particularly, imho overshoot their intended powerlevel. An example: Sanguine cannon requires a full-round action to cast and requires a ranged touch attack...but deals 1d6 untyped damage /2 levels (NOT caster levels) and half as much fire damage...oh, and on a failed Fort-save, the target is sickened AND knocked prone. No CMD interaction, no maximum damage cap as usual for a 2nd level sorc/wiz/summoner spell (or 1st level bloodrager/antipala). The spells aren't bad per se, but they do feature minor hiccups like this throughout and GMs should be aware of their increased power.

Beyond these spells, we are introduced to new class options, the first of which would be the contractor, who receives temporary hit points equal to the total Hit Dice of devils he has summoned. Öhm, wut?? Oh, and 1/day standard action summon monster (which one?, not properly formatted...) as a standard action...which opens the old "How many actions/can the called critters act"-conundrum. The other options allow for an Imp familiar who ALSO gains the fiendish template and at higher levels, binding mortals with hellish contracts makes sense...but still...nope. The wizard most certainly did not require the extremely exploitable power-upgrade this archetype represents. Next.

The Dark Chanter cleric pays with diminished spellcasting with black benediction, usable 4 + Cha-mod rounds per day, +2 rounds per level - basically, a kind of bardic ability that allows for scaling bonuses...though the archetype fails to codify the bonus types thus gained. I like the visuals, but the execution falls behind the interesting concept. The halo hunter ranger would be, surprise, an anti-angel specialist is pretty much what you'd expect: Locked into favored enemy, any weapons treated as good outsider bane and later features the unholy property as well - which is not properly italicized herein. At high-levels, we get temporary hit points when confirming a crit versus good outsiders. An infernal companion replaces hunter's bond (OUCH!) and similarly, the class replaces the summon nature's ally spells with the superior summon monster spells, ultimately making the archetype stronger than the base ranger, even when pitted against foes that are not the chosen killing field - read that as: Slightly too strong. The black rider cavalier gets both Mounted Combat and Archery at 1st level and a steed that increasingly becomes more fiendish. The archetype also receives bonus feats instead of the tactician chain and a debuffing banner. He is locked into one of two new orders, one more focused on offense, one more focused on defense. A supernatural command is a nice idea, but needs a CL for suppression-interaction. The archetype may be a bit much for players, but still works; the orders similarly aren't perfect, but they work and do offer some nice ideas.

The fiendlash magus can manifest a fire lash that may, via arcane pool points, ignore armor and shield bonuses (O.O) - partial unholy power can bypass fire resistance and higher levels allow for scaling blasts and deafening critical hits. While the rules-language has some deviations from the standard, they aren't too bad. I can see this guy work, though, again, the omni-bypass of untyped damage and ignoring bonuses is nasty. The tongue of sin archetype would be the charm-specialist bard and the infernal chemist alchemist receives an alternate, fiend-themed mutagen. Not a fan of the fast healing gained at 5th level for obvious reason. Pit Warden druids would be, well infernal druids with diminished spellcasting and giant-summoning...actually, petty interesting one and the reduced spellcasting pays well for the increased power for the companions. Nemesis inquisitors must be female and may place marks on foes that increase the damage the target takes...and honestly, I kinda like it - it's got an unique idea and theme and runs well with it. Odd, though - why use "he" when the archetype is female-only? Looks like a cut-copy-paste hiccup...

The next archetype would be the armiger summoner (unfortunately non-unchained, but hey...), who calls forth a ghostly standard that can be moved by the character and confer bonuses and a variety of effects to those within its range, making it basically a cool, variable buff-aura, replacing eidolon thus. At higher levels, this standard may surge with power quicker, armigers may have more standards and these spectral banners will heal and at higher levels, allies may take damage for the banner. I really like this one! The focus is radically different and taking the eidolon away kills several balance-issues of the non-unchained summoner and makes for an overall neat play experience. This one, I will actually use sooner rather than later! Kudos to the author! The sanguine soceror bloodline can damage herself to increase CLs and at higher levels, they heal when damaging foes with blood spells or utter oaths of vengeance. I can't really judge this one's balance due to the issue with blood-spells.

The final piece of content herein would be the Blood Knight PrC, who gains full BAB-progression, 7/10th spellcasting progression, 1/2 Fort-save progression, d12 HD and 2 + Int skills per level. The PrC needs to be able to cast 1st level divine spells and have +5 BAB. At first level, the class receives Blood Strike, which can be activated as a swift action, remaining active for 1 minute. This can be activated 1/day at 1st level, +1/day at 4th level, 7th level and 10th level. The ability nets +2 Str-bonus (Strength not capitalized) and deals + 1d6 damage (damage type not specified); at 5th level, this increases to +4/+2d6, at 10th to +6/+3d6...but whenever the blood knight makes an attack while this is in effect, he loses 10 hit points...oh, and he can't benefit from healing while the ability is in effect, with one exception: 5th level blood knights regain creature's HD + 1/2 it's Constitution score, rounded down when a creature is defeated while in blood strike modus.

2nd level nets DR equal to class level and the levels provide bonuses to atk and damage with 2-handed weapons, bonus feats from a unique list and 4th and 9th level provide more hit points. 6th level provides a rend-like effect to blood strikes. At 7th level, these guys receive fast healing when below 50% or 25% maximum hit points - I assume, that this ends upon reaching 50% or 25%, respectively - some minor clarification would be neat and I'm not the biggest fan of such thresholds, but can live with them. As a capstone, the PrC receives truly devastating super strikes. I do like this PrC, but the blood strike, honestly, is too weak - the anti-healing caveat is mega-nasty and the very strictly limited daily uses mean that the PrC can't really use its unique tricks too often. More uses and a bit of dev and rewiring can make this a neat gem; as written, it needs a bit of polish to shine, but much like the armiger archetype, it has serious potential.

We end this book as we began it - with a nice piece of prose that wraps the content up.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are okay - there are numerous instances where things aren't properly formatted and while the rules-language is generally in a shape that makes it work, it sports several nonstandard wordings and minor hiccups in the details - sometimes to the point where the integrity of the rules is influenced. Layout adheres to a pretty gorgeous, unique and hell-themed two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports thematically-fitting stock artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience with nested bookmarks.

Justice Mora's travel guide shows a lot of potential: I really like the flavor and ideas contained herein, the alternate take on hell's cosmology and structure makes sense and the ideas contained within in that regard are nice...but the pdf fails to follow-up he structural innovations with the rules: Planar traits, etc. - NOPE. How does hell being on earth influence planar borders? Outsiders? Can hell's borders be expanded? The plane suddenly is finite due to existing in the material plane, so there's a lot of cool storytelling potential - with the proper GM-tools, that section could have been amazing.

The character options feels somewhat disparate: There is an oscillation between slightly too strong and slightly too weak and similarly, editing and rules-precision are not 100% consistent. More than that, the one central gripe I have with this pdf is that it was a sequence of déjà-vus for me. While the content has been modified to fit within the paradigm of the book's contents, most options in this book felt...like I had seen them before. This is particularly unpleasant as far as I'm concerned since the first chapters with the new take on hell provided a refreshing read. Ultimately, I only considered one of the archetypes, the buff-standard summoner (and the cavalier orders) to be sufficiently distinct apart from "let's make class xyz infernal-themed." The [blood]-spells are problematic, but the PrC has potential...though it does need a capable editor/dev to make it a more universally rewarding experience.

Which leaves me in a conundrum - there are quite a few things I like in this book, but the majority of the crunch feels either problematic or less inspired than the concepts deserve. You may not run into the same problem, but if you've read as many blood-magic takes or infernal books as I have, you will feel a distinct "been there, done that"-vibe quite a lot. This still has some value, but it falls quite short of the sourcebook it wants to be. One more thing: If the title made you expect a full-blown gazetteer or something like that, you will not be satisfied by this book. How to rate this, then? Honestly, I want to go 3 stars for this, since there are some things I really like in the book. But at the same time, the somewhat lukewarm archetype-array and half-realized chances can't be rescued by glimpses of brilliance. I can't go higher than 2.5 stars, rounded down to 2 for this one for me as a person. As a reviewer, though, I have to take into account that if you're less experienced with hell-themed d20-books and willing to invest some time in dev-work, you'll get some serious mileage out of this one. Due to this fact and in dubio pro reo, I will round up with my official verdict for this one. It should also be noted that, as per the writing of this review, you can get that book for a measly buck - not sure if that reduction is permanent, but it certainly is worth this very low asking price.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Fat Goblin Travel Guide To Hell
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Eldritch Archeologist, Hybrid Class
Publisher: Wayward Rogues Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/21/2016 10:09:38

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This hybrid class clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let's take a look!

This review is based on the revised iteration of the class.

The eldritch archeologist, chassis-wise, receives d10 HD, 4 + Int skills per levels, proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as with all firearms and light armors. The class receives full BAB-progression as well as good Fort-saves.

The eldritch archeologist adds 1/2 class level to all Knowledge skill checks and may, at first level, use a swift action to grant himself a +1 luck bonus to atk, saves, skill checks and weapon damage. Mainintaining thsi bonus is a free action and it can be maintaining for 4 + Cha-mod rounds per day. Interesting: It is treated as bardic performance and thus does not overlap with it. The bonus increases by +1 at 5th level and ever 6 levels thereafter. Unlike a gunslinger, these guys do not start off with a firearm, but may purchase them at only 50% cost later on. They also begin with the ability to sell non-magical objets d'art via Appraise at an increased value - nice: if playing with factions or affiliates, you may instead increase your standing as an optional reward.

The class also gets a passive secret-door-style sense that detects valuables, allowing for unprompted Perception-checks. It should be noted that the skill is not properly capitalized here. The class begins with grit, which is governed by Wisdom...and, unless you have a firearm, non-recharging, which makes the deeds also gained at first level less reliable. Speaking of deeds: Formatting is highly inconsistent here: First, we get them in an italicized manner and then, they suddenly are bolded. The deed-selection is a blending of different basic and archetype-deeds: The pistolero's "Up Close and Deadly" replaces Deadeye at 1st level; 3rd level deeds are standard gunslinger-fare; 7th nets deadeye, dead shot and startling shot as well as targeting...which is a bit weird, considering the default convention of 3 deeds per level. Similarly, 11th level nets Bleeding Wound, Expert Loading, Lighting Reload and the pistolero's Twin Shot Knockdown. 15th level nets only slinger's luck (odd: Other deeds have been renamed to e.g. "Archeologist's Initiative" - why not this one? And the class has a luck-mechanic...why not use it for a more unique twist on the deed?) and 19th level nets the 3 default deeds.

2nd level provides uncanny dodge and nimble (yawn), 1/2 class level to Disable Device and Perception, with 6th level unlocking the option to take 10 for these, even if under duress. The level also provides a +1 dodge bonus to AC while wearing light or no armor, which increases by +1 every 4 levels thereafter. The example is incorrect: The bonus caps at 18th level at +5, not at 20th level. 3rd level nets trap sense.

4th level, the class tries to do something unique and fails to grasp the ramifications: AoE spells and effects no longer affect any objects these guys are carrying and objects they carry can no longer be the target or spells or effects. No caster level check, no scaling, nothing. Flat-out no dice. See, the whole Mt. Doom thing would have been so easy...Frodo just should have taken 4 levels in that class.

5th level nets Lore Master (10 on Knowledge checks, 1/day take 20 as a standard action, +1 per every 6 levels to a maximum of 3/day), 6th level provides evasion, 10th jack of all trades, 16th improved uncanny dodge and 20th level, as a fitting (and cool) capstone, these guys may freely handle artifacts, automatically fulfilling their requirements and even have the chance to know how to destroy them!

The pdf closes with a sample level 7 character - as a nitpick: It's Cha, not "Chr".

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are okay - I noticed a couple of minor hiccups, but, as a whole, this is still okay. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports two nice full-color artworks. The pdf has no bookmarks, which constitutes a comfort-detriment.

Robert Gresham's Eldritch Archeologist is a decent variant gunslinger that wants to be basically Indiana Jones- the class. The good news first: It kinda achieves that goal. Kinda. It does not grant the whip-feats you'd expect. It doesn't net you gunslinging. Its story-abilities, with the imho OP flat-out immunity at 4th level, which just asks to break some adventure plots doa good job at depicting the gunslinging archeologist. Kind of. The absence of gunsmith and the lack of a gun at first level...kinda sucks. It inherits the issues of a full BAB-class...and while its ample skill bonuses mean that you can be a pretty decent sage, the one flexible ability is based on Cha, making the class very MAD (multiple attribute dependant) - without making the components really come together. The luck-mechanic at first level could easily tie in with deeds for a more interesting gameplay; deeds could actually be unique and offer some item-interaction...but no. Apart from a precious few exceptions, you'll notice that pretty much all rules-relevant components have been done before.

This is not a complex hybrid, a savage, a deadeye hexer or a bloodrager type class - it is a hybrid that took different parts and smashed them together. It's not bad per se...but it's literally design-work most GMs could do. It's also a class that feels a bit all over the place: To excel at the mental pursuits, you need Int high; for luck Cha...for ranged combat Dex...and Con would be nice as well. MAD classes like this need some synergy, some rewards for different focuses and I can't see this one delivering that. I don't really see the bardic aspect and the luck doubling as a performance leads to all kinds of weird questions regarding masterpieces, feats with the prereq, etc., as bardic performance potentially affects multiple targets.

The archeologist's ability never specifies what or whom it precisely affects "giving him" implies single target, though, which generates aforementioned weirdness. Anyways, the class is better than the parapsychologist...but frankly not by much. I can see some value in this for inexperienced GMs who have a player who wants to play Indy. Experienced GMs and designers, though, can quite possibly do a better job with the concept. My final verdict will clock in at 2.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Eldritch Archeologist, Hybrid Class
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Publisher Reply:
I'm sorry this one missed the mark for you. The feedback is extremely helpful and will definitely be considered during revision. Thank you for your review!
Treasury of Winter
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/20/2016 11:18:03

An Endzeitgeist.com review of teh revised version

This collection of magic items, intended (though not exclusively!) for use with the Reign of Winter AP clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page ToC, 1 page introduction, 3 pages of advertisements, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 15 pages of content, so let's take a look at what we can find here!

We begin this collection with a handy list of items by price, covering the span between 1400 gp and massive 110,308 gp before going into the items by category; within each category, the items are organized alphabetically, just fyi.

We begin this pdf thus with armors, the first of which would be the glitterfrost buckler: When confronted with foes that feature gaze attacks, you can peer through it and thus gain a bonus to saves: Pretty cool: You can expend uses of its blinding property to reflect gazes back at attackers as an immediate action, though a target has to be within 20 feet to be affected thus. Still, pretty neat concept and execution. The next armor, the gorynych scale has its properties not italicized in the text. Really cool in its visuals, it allows you to not only gain all-around vision via its 3-headed dragon-designs, you can also command the pauldrons and helm that resemble dragons to emit cones of flame...and yes, even combine the blasts, now with properly codified activation actions. Winterbark Warding allows creatures wearing it to gain woodland stride and protects them from cold climates as well as granting DR 5/- versus attacks executed by plants or via wooden weapons and the DR also applies against plant-themed spells like spike growth et al. The pdf goes for weaponry next - a total of 5 are provided. The first of these, the Bogatyr Blade...is uncharacteristically opaque for Legendary Games: "When attacked by a creature using a rage effect, including magical effects as well as exceptional abilities..." What are exceptional abilities? Does bloodrage count? Isn't that supposed to be extraordinary? Anyway, the blade provides minor morale bonuses versus such targets as well as against swarms and troops. Pretty cool: You may change its shape as a standard action - into other weapons...or even a pebble. I really like that idea. The Diamondice Dagger can suppress cold resistance/immunity on critical hits and dispel such defenses granted by magic. Multiple critical hits in a given round actually render this ability more potent, which is a pretty cool (haha) catch. Really amazing: weapons with the frost or icy burst abilities can be sharpened by using this dagger as a whetstone as a full-round action, granting them keen edge for 1 minute. Even cooler: You may jam the dagger into snowy or frosty terrain, duplicating spike growth or spike stones respectively...and if you leave the dagger planted, the AoE increases...I love that concept-wise.

The Scythian Saber is intended for cavalry and lets you, on critical hits, perform a swift overrun, with the chance of adding an attack by the mount. Pretty nice. The Snowball Sling is less efficient in warmer climates, but the snowballs it creates may burst on critical hits in potentially dazzling and fatiguing splashes...which is an idea I can totally get behind. The Tiger's Fang may switch sizes between being a +1 keen returning shortspear and a dagger and is particularly unpleasant versus feline or partially feline creatures, gaining bane's effects versus these as well as minor defensive bonuses versus foes damaged before during the day.

Next up would be a single ring, the Unseelie Solitaire, which can duplicate frigid/calcific touch, but only versus living creatures with blood, but with the potential of rendering the victims into solid blocks of ice! Fey wearing it also gain a massive bonus to Disguise to look like winter-touched fey, which can be incredibly useful, particularly since it gets the spell-interaction right. Two rods are up next: The Phosgene Flail, which can duplicate nasty cloud-based spells (you know, like acid fog, cloudkill...) 1/day and congeal these into a special weapon (+1 brilliant energy corrosive) that may sicken foes, then nauseate and finally suffocate them! I love this rod. The second rod would be the Snowstone Scepter which lets you see through cold-based weather, increases cold spell potency and even lets you see through solid sheets of ice and snow, x-ray style. Really cool: The wielder may cloud items in obscuring rime and 2/day transmute stone to snow and vice versa or even harden them. Oh, and it has spells. I love this one.

Unless I have miscounted, the pdf also sports 26 wondrous items: A bearskin cape enhances your combat maneuvers and nets scent as well as limited wild shaping; there is a blizzard in a bottle that may absorb cold spells and then be thrown or opened to unleash the winter's force it has collected. Damn cool (and with a really nice artwork)! Rapping on a calf bone properly enchanted can bring forth a Calfbone Man, who is basically a modified, more potent servant with extremely cool taboos...absolutely glorious and suffuses with folklore. The Candle Crown generates warmth, decreases nearby wind severity and actually produces goodberries that also help to ward off hypothermia and frostbite.

The Dancing Reed Flute can force others to dance, while the Diamond of Everwinter protects and sustains its wielder from the elements and even absorb damage incurred. Mythic wearers may also increase the potency and options available via this one and new tiers gained actually provide new abilities - cool! The entrenching spade is amazing, allowing the wielder to excavate holes fast...and even leave trenches behind as they move. Love it! I also like the visuals of the Feyfrost Brush, which lets you paint with frost, generating pictures, marks and exert a bit of terrain control, though the mechanics here are a bit opaque - the mention of skill checks implies that its effects are skill-based, when they actually aren't....if they're supposed to be skill-based, then the DCs would be missing. Not sure either way. Feed that grants animals flight (yup, including dragged vehicles) and the Foxfire Stole, dimly sentient and capable of animating as a fire elemental, are two winners, though the latter lacks its weight. Glass Skates similarly are very cool and may leave behind ice floes. I absolutely adore Hill Seeds, which may cause the land to rise. Halters that bestow the cold subtype on animals, while the Icon of Timeless Faith can duplicate various spell-effects for divine casters, with unique modifications for e.g. the spiritual ally. Very cool: mediums and spiritualists get alternate benefits! The invader's bugle is a nasty military horn that can generate freezing sludge and animate the dead...you were asking for a proper trench nightmare? There you go!

Bracers that duplicate iron body and make weapons count as metal and a minor buff/debuff-producing censer are solid. The Pelisse of the Light Brigade lacks its weight and is particularly effective versus ranged attacks and is more efficient for users with mounted Combat. A Servant Samovar can conjure forth friendly house spirits, while another helps versus possession. The Shawl of the Snowbird is pretty great, helping you pass off as birds when polymorphed and also featuring the option of a hypnotic dance and limited, reflexive discorporation into a swirling mass of feathers 1/day. I LOVE the visuals! The sledge of the bear needs to be commanded in the language of bears (i.e. via speak with animals), but may enhance its harnessed creature and change its shape. So cool! Using a matryoshka to safeguard a soul from negative energy, possession etc. similarly is very, very neat. The Toy Soldier's Ushanka is diminutive, but lets the wearer transform into such a tiny form...oh, and while in this form, you may project your being into other nearby toy soldiers. This is basically an instant-puzzle-boss waiting to happen. Love it. The Threefold Crown nets threefold aspect at will, with hexes granted depending on aspect chosen...and lacks weight. The wire tangler, finally, would basically be instant-barbed wire.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are, on a rules-language level very good and now, in the revised version, the formal glitches have been eliminated with extreme prejudice. Layout adheres to the nice, aesthetically-pleasing two-column full-color standard for Reign of Winter plug-ins. The pdf sports a couple of nice full-color artworks and comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Jason Nelson and Victoria Jaczko deliver my favorite treasury in LG's whole catalog here. I absolutely LOVE the vast majority of the items and adore how they use tropes of folklore, unique twists and generate an incredibly flavorful collection of items. While the original iteration sported several unpleasant hiccups due to something, somewhere, going wrong, the revised iteration is absolutely glorious. Bereft of any serious hiccups, my final verdict for the revised edition will be upgraded to the 5 stars + seal of approval. Get these items!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Treasury of Winter
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A Green Jewel They Must Possess
Publisher: Kort'thalis Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/20/2016 11:09:13

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first stand-alone module for the rules-light Outer Presence role-playing game clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, leaving us with 9 pages of content, so let's take a look!

Before we dive into the meat and grit of the module, we are introduced with a 20-entry strong table of character subplots for PCs - whether en route towards a bad drug-habit, PTSD getting worse or having been diagnosed with terminal cancer, there is a stressor back in the PC's mind. It is autumn in Chicago, sometime during the 1970s and the second concept to determine would be how the PCs are aligned with Ezra Jackson, their employer in this adventure.

It is him they'll meet in a seedy restaurant...and it is here that I will need to get into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

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Only GMs left? Great! Ina recent excavation in what would become Syria, a strange sphere of unknown material was unearthed; the archaeologists died due to strange circumstances and the sphere was shipped to America. Ezra opens a musty tome, Intrusions from the Outside and notes that the object may have been a present to the high priest of the Outer Gods, one Azran at-Ra. Now here's where the PCs come in - Ezra wants them to help him liberate the sphere from the Chicago Museum of Antiquities...and if the PCs seem hesitant, he'll note that another group may want the sphere...and who knows what these guys may want to do with it, right?

Now, which is pretty nice in spite of the brevity of the module, we actually get some nice information the PCs unearth via investigation and the heist. The opposition of the players would be Theta Chartreuse, a splinter group of a certain paramilitary anti-mythos organization (cough Delta Green /cough) who serves the dark; said foes may try to employ sorcery to steal it if mundane means fail. Ezra may well be killed or kidnapped, but the trail still remains and adept investigators may find out about Ezra's dark secret past...but ultimately, the trail leads to an occult bookshop, where a sorceror called Arnold Strangle may or may not remain amid the living - but the main task will be to keep the indestructible sphere out of the master of Theta Chartreuse, one nasty sorceror named Von Zos....but that leaves the issue of the dread (and lethal) sphere...so how to contain it? Well, the PCs will have to find out how themselves... have I mentioned the paintings that may generate sudden, emotional shifts? Well, there are some nice little vignettes here.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to an aesthetically-pleasing two-column standard that is pretty printer-friendly and pleasing to the eye - the slight green and blood-splotch-like stains are neat! The pdf comes with several, nice and original b/w-artworks. The pdf comes with excessive bookmarks for your convenience.

Venger As'Nas Satanis' module here builds upon the pulpy atmosphere established in "The Outer Presence" and is, actually in my book, the better module - it is more structured in its themes and narrative and tells its story well. It makes for a nice, fast-play pulp module with dark themes. Much like "The Outer Presence", it is not horror in my book, but rather a fun, pulp module that employs classic horror tropes - it's not scary, but it makes for a fun game. The module does well what it sets out to do and generates a solid atmosphere.

At the same time, the module does not do anything radically novel or beyond its usual genre tropes - it is a good module, a nice genre-piece, but do not expect to be totally blown away. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 for the purpose of the platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
A Green Jewel They Must Possess
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The Ferryport Adventures - The Dead Gulch
Publisher: Lone Wanderer Entertainment
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/20/2016 11:06:24

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This is the second part of the "Return of the Fey"-AP set in the world of Dark Return (previously known by the elven name, Uteria) and clocks in at 99 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 94 pages of content, so let's take a look!

It should be noted, though, that not all parts of this book are module-material; the final 26 pages are devoted to the "Tome of the Arts" - a guide to magic in the setting. If you are not interesting in that, please skip below to the review.

Since this aspect is pretty much bereft of spoilers, I will begin here: After several well-written in character letters, we are introduced to different groups of casters and a general history. Magic has only recently returned to the lands, and as such, it is considered to be rare. Spells are not cast via a vancian method; instead, spellcasters have a mana pool that increases at every level, depending on the spellcaster's caster level. The system also assumes that you can choose the respective spellcasting attribute. You take a look at the second table, which codifies bonus mana by governing attribute and add that to the caster level base. Simple, right? Nope. Unfortunately, the pdf fails to talk, in any way, about how feats and abilities that influence CL interact with this subsystem. It also fails to take multiclassing into account. There are plenty of options to gain full CL when multiclassing; in the instance where you take away the spell slot mechanics, this full upgrade suddenly nets you a ton of mana. At least RAW, there is nothing to prevent that.

Spells do not need to be prepared in advance and mana is regained after resting. The Dark Return is an E8, gritty world and as such, spell levels cap at level 4, character advancement at level 8. Spell levels have a base mana cost: Cantrips cost 0 mana, 1st level spells 1; every additional spell level increases this cost by +2. However, the system behaves somewhat like psionics in that it rewires spells to behave only at minimum efficiency if they are dealing some sort of damage. (The wording here is awkward.) Damage-dealing spells can be powered by spending additional mana: Each point spent increases the CL, but only for the purpose of dealing damage, not other parameters. Unfortunate wording issue: The rules-language notes "increase" and "damage dice" in the same sentence to refer to such escalations; unfortunately, this usually refers to e.g. d6s becoming d8s, rendering this aspect of the book a bit obtuse. Your level doubles as the cap of the maximum amount of mana you can pump into a spell.

The pdf covers metamagic and also basically takes a cue from Dark Sun by having the "focusing and ravaging" - mechanic: If you run out of mana, you have these two options. Focusing requires that you succeed a concentration check versus DC 15 + spell cost; on a failure, you take Mental fatigue damage. On a 1, you accidentally ravage instead - which should account for ample of mistrust towards basically any caster. It should be noted than 10 ranks in Spellcraft supposedly help and end the chance, but the rules seem to not be presented in too concise a manner here.

Mental Fatigue behaves pretty much like nonlethal damage, with the notable exception that it cannot be healed by magical means. For as long as you have at least one point of Mental fatigue, you're fatigued. Resting eliminates all Mental Fatigue, but, alas the precise way in which this works still is too opaque and pretty clunky: Are separate totals tracked for regular nonlethal damage and Mental Fatigue? No idea. If not, how do they interact? Is Mental Fatigue permanent or does it regenerate like regular nonlethal damage? What if you already are fatigued? Do you become exhausted? So yeah, unfortunately, that aspect, as far as I'm concerned, is non-operational.

Ravagers, much like Dark Sun's defilers, instead draw magical energy from living beings in the vicinity. When they cast a spell via ravaging, either a) all living creatures within 10 feet take the spell's mana cost as "physical damage". (Does that mean bludgeoning? Piercing? Slashing?) or b) all creatures with spell's cost times 10 feet take 1 "damage" - again, not properly typed. If said damage is supposed to be "physical", does it count as magic for the purpose of overcoming DR? Ravaging does not require concentration, but you still roll a d20: On a 1, you cause damage to yourself equal to the mana-cost of "the failed spell" - which seems to indicate that a 1 means failure here. Again, from a didactic point of view, that needs to be clearer. Ravaging is an evil act and, as an optional rule, you start suffering from some nasty physical changes of a cosmetic nature when engaging in the practice. It should be noted that RAW, the ravager takes damage when ravaging - clearly not intentional, but that would open another bag of worms regarding spellcasting. Again, alas, the ravaging system's not operational.

The pdf recognizes two spellcasting classes: Wylders and Luminars. Wylders receive 3/4 BAB-progression, d8 HD, good Fort- and Will-saves as well as proficiency with simple weapons, light armor, medium armor and shields, except tower shields. They still suffer from spell failure chance when wearing armor and shield, though. Odd: The description noted dropping shields to avoid spell failure, which implies that the act of dropping the shield can end it for armor as well: RAI is clear, but RAW...not so much. Interesting: They have no spell book and instead learn spells by committing them to their memory, allowing for the learning of spells on sight. They also get the option to generate wild bursts of magic. The rules-language here, alas, violates pretty much all tenets and conventions: "You must succeed a ranged touch attack +2. It causes 1d4+1 points of damage, doubling in power every 2 levels. It is a force effect." That is part of the ability's "Rules"-language. All right, I'll play. Ranged touch attack +2 - is that fixed? Does it substitute the ranged attack's attack bonus with +2? What type of bonus? What does "doubling in power" mean? Is the progression 1d4 +1 -> 2d4+2 -> 4d4+4 or does "doubling" here follow PFRPG's usual rules for doubling, which only ever comes up in threat ranges? Broken mess. The damage, for a force effect, is supposed to be force damage, not untyped. Have I mentioned the other ability that suddenly talks about ice, water and wind damage, none of which exist in PFRPG? Does not work as written.

The Luminar gets 1/2 BAB-progression, a non-standard Fort-progression, good Will-saves and proficiency with club, dagger, heavy + light crossbow as well as quarterstaff. Their HD are based on a training path - and guess what? The training paths fail to specify that. The class is supposed to e a catch-all for wizards, druids and clerics, but frankly, I am not going to dignify it with a full taking apart of the mechanics. They are not up to par.

Speaking of which: Advancement for legacy weapons, armor, etc. is provided...and there is frankly NO REASON to screw up that aspect. Both Purple Duck Games and Rite Publishing have fully functional systems for such weapons that exceed in precision and usability the sloppy basics we get here, which fail to articulate what type the respective benefits supposedly are and just presents a linear, boring conglomerate of brief tables that provide no variance or versatility. The chapter concludes with a list of spells available in Uteria.

Alack and alas, the spellcasting system is pretty much STILL a total and unmitigated mess.

All right, let's take a look if the adventure-section of the book fares better, shall we? The following is the adventure-review part, so from here on out, the SPOILERS reign. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

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All right, still here? Great! The PCs have been doing some odd jobs in the aftermath of module #1 (which also depicts Ferryport -without access to said module, the backdrop of this one is a bit more opaque) and we begin with the PCs taking a couple of bandits in custody - preferably alive. After this, we immediately kick off with a job offer: The PC's contact Garamond has recommended them to a druid-ally, who asks them to ascertain the whereabouts of the missing Lord Resly, last seen in the vicinity of the circus that has come to town. Investigating the manor of Resly can yield some hints, as can further inquiring in town, but sooner or later, the PCs are expected to check out the circus. A nice note: Traveling to and fro from the circus can yield an easy encounter on the road, which GMs can use to steer the PCs towards the next phase of the module.

The circus itself, however, is pretty much the star here: In the hands of a capable GM, this whole section's NPCs can pretty much present a great panorama of interactions in this free-form section of the module. Some fixed encounters and some optional ones provide a structure, but it is the cadre of NPCs, with excessive background information, adventure hooks, hang-outs, rumors and clues they can divulge that render this part of the module interesting to play. The NPCs are certainly the stars here, for while they do not come with stats of the like (which will make Sense Motive etc. awkward), their ample characterizations go above and beyond what you can usually find in a d20-based module and certainly represent one of the highlights of the book. Indeed, one could argue that they ultimately make for great dressing-scavenging. That being said, this may be as good a place as any to note that, annoyingly, skill-references generally are not properly capitalized herein.

Ultimately, the hints gathered should point the PCs toward the local cemetery and the eponymous dead gulch, where the tomb of the Resly family sports a simple trap-puzzle (with a visual representation) and a brief dungeon, wherein boggards await as well as Resly - who has brought a siren (or sirin? the book's inconsistent there) back, while unsuccessfully trying to resurrect his wife. Maddened by grief, his devotion is absolute - but no matter how the PCs deal with the subject at hand, his fate is sealed - he seems to have had an accomplice among the folk of the circus and indeed, Rosaga similarly seems to have wanted to bring back her love...foiling her plans and ritual will be a challenging task as well...

...and frankly, with the storm and tensions rising, the PCs may have to calm down a mob. However, the spirit form of sirin is nigh-indestructible and to defeat her, the PCs will have to encircle her body with salt and then pierce her heart with a silver weapon. Which is an amazing type of potential encounter and frankly something I've been using, a lot, in various games of mine. To get to her, the PCs will have to brave a challenging dungeon that includes several disturbing vermin-things, boggards and worse, rendering them pretty spent when they encounter the dread entity. That being said, the lack of rules for actually generating the circle of salt and the like, while feasible in a home-brew, make for a less compelling case in a published module. A GM basically has to take note on how to handle that specific aspect.

The pdf also provides 7 pregens for levels 2 and 3 each, all of which come with notes on background, etc. as well as ideas for further adventuring. Finally, we do get a nice glossary.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, on a formal level, are very good. On a rules-level, they are unsatisfactory. Layout adheres to a nice, two-column full-color standard. The artworks deserve special mention here: They are gorgeous, often coming with full-page, hand-out-style drawings that really make them shine. Cartography is pretty CGI-y and is the one detracting factor from an aesthetic point of view: While the remainder of the book adheres to this lavish, old-school vibe with its gorgeous art, copious read-aloud texts and visual elements, these feel a bit off. That wouldn't be an issue per se, but the lack of player-friendly, key-less versions is a comfort detriment as far as I'm concerned. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Users of electronic devices should note that this is a pretty big file, at over 90 MBs.

The Dead Gulch, Michael Bielaczyc, Shonn Everett and Cameron Tomele's investigation with circus-theme, is ultimately one of the modules that does not make my job easy. You see, this book, for me as a person, hits pretty much all the right notes: A ton of lovingly crafted multi-facetted characters you want to interact with, some nice, seriously free-form interaction/investigation, a bit of puzzles, a challenging dungeon - this hits all the right notes and pretty much feels like a module I'd craft/run in my main campaign. In short, it hits all my personal preferences and aesthetics dead center. I like the module depicted here and for the low price point, it IS a steal, even if you only scavenge the dressing.

That being said, while this book gets the artistry of adventure crafting down, it fails in the craftsmanship aspect. The statblocks of even CR 1/2 and similar simple critters sport glitches. We don't get stats for those amazingly detailed characters, formatting-conventions are flaunted left and right and the less said about the spellcasting system in the back, the better.

In short: This desperately needed an editor or developer who knows the system and its semantic and syntax. Time and again, the wonky rules get in the way; time and again even the most basic of rules-language components are mishandled. This against the backdrop of what otherwise would be a most compelling, evocative and artful investigation, to me is jarring. This is, in short, an excellent module that could have made the 5 stars + seal easily, but it is hamstrung by its own, wholly avoidable shortcomings. As per the writing of this review, this module is ridiculously inexpensive and as such, definitely worth checking out, particularly if you're a semi-experienced GM who knows how to run an investigative sandbox. Let me reiterate: I can literally fix this module's issues while playing it...but I can't rate it based on what I can do. I have to rate this as presented, and as presented, it is, unfortunately found wanting from the craftsmanship perspective. Even when ignoring the horrid spellcasting-system-appendix, the module still fails to realize its potential for excellence. I like it. As a person.

As a person, I value and cherish the complex cadre of circus-characters, the art and the ideas herein.

But as a reviewer, I cannot turn a blind eye towards the pronounced flaws this has. If mechanical perfection and copious crunch or precise and correct builds are what you expect, I'd steer clear here; the mechanical aspects of this module are in the 1 - 2-star-range.

At the same time, the non-mechanical aspects of the module very much are evocative and enticing and the extremely fair price point also makes this a valid scavenging ground. hence, ultimately, my final verdict will clock in at 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
The Ferryport Adventures - The Dead Gulch
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Crawthorne's Catalog of Creatures: Ioun Eater
Publisher: Misfit Studios
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/20/2016 11:04:17

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Crawthorne's Catalog of Creatures series clocks in at 5 pages - the front cover contains the header, creature artwork and the social media icons/homepage of misfit studios as well as some introductory text. The SRD takes up 1 1/3 pages and the editorial is in a sidebar - to get all the material you thus have to print out the cover with the icons and part of the SRD as well.

Diminutive goat-headed constructs, these creatures want to eat ioun stones - once they have one, they can eat it as a standard action, gaining its benefits. They can sense ioun stones, can be repaired (and self-repair when ingesting the proper stone) and spit them at foes, shattering them on impact, inflicting bleeding wounds. Their spiked skin also nets them a defensive, retributive skin that deals damage to those that hit it unarmed or via natural weapons. They come with construction requirements.

It is pretty cool to see that these guys gain size via abilities...but, alas, we get not statblocks for such advanced ion eaters and have to do the math ourselves.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good on both a formal and rules-language level - though the flavor text has a typo, confusing "green" with "greed" and e.g. a plural glitch or two. Layout adheres to the 2-column full-color standard of the series and while I'm not big on the social icons and dispersal of non-gaming parts through the pdf, from an aesthetic point of view, there is not much to complain about. The pdf comes with the classic Crawthorne-artwork as well as the solid ioun eater artwork. The pdf comes with a second, more printer-friendly iteration, which is nice to see. The book has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

I like the idea of these guys. In practice, though, Spike Y Jones' critters would all starve (they're constructs, so they wouldn't die) and still go extinct faster than you can say: "Natural selection would screw these guys over." Why? Look at the rules for diminutive creatures. Think of maximum heights when jumping. Guess what? These guys can't jump very high if you remember that and use it still. Otherwise, they can jump like fleas. They also can't climb. And no, the flavor text notwithstanding, they cannot fly. Even if no predators kill them, they just, RAW, have a VERY hard time getting anywhere near their food-source, which is wont to orbiting the heads of the titans called humanoids. This renders them a nuisance at best and a badly designed critter at worst that is hampered by one of the rougher sections of how small sizes and moving into hostile squares works. In short, even if your reading of the rules ignores the convention of maximum sizes for high jumps, they still will get whacked.

Thankfully, I don't have to elaborate on this particular clusterf*** of rules regarding AoOs, Acrobatics, etc. - and simply point out the fact that, no matter how you interpret the whole complex, the poor Ioun Eater still can't reach his nom. A good idea, flawed in execution, I can't go higher than 2 stars on this one.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Crawthorne's Catalog of Creatures: Ioun Eater
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Castle Falkenstein
Publisher: R. Talsorian Games Inc.
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/19/2016 09:27:03

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive RPG clocks in at 226 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 2 pages of editorial/ToC, leaving us with 221 pages of content, so let's take a look!

So, what is Castle Falkenstein? In short, it is one diceless pioneer of the pioneers of both Neo-Victorianism and steampunk-aesthetics. The year if 1870 in an allotopia of our own world and it, unlike the literary genres, does not necessarily take a grim or even dark approach to the era: Instead, it very much embraces a fantastic glorification of the good, high life or the upstanding, virtuous epitome of the age of enlightenment before the cynicism and disillusion of fin de siècle and modernism set in.

Castle Falkenstein's take on a fantastic, steampunk world does assume the existence of dragons, faerie lords and an enlightened New Europa with an economy driven by steam and magic. PCs are called dramatic characters and the game, being diceless, is a relatively narrative-driven experience. Instead of dice, Castle Falkenstein employs cards. The system, as a whole, is very concise to the minutest detail - why no dice? Gentlemen and ladies use cards, not proletarian dice, obviously! So, if you expect to play the plight of the common man, then this will not necessarily deliver; instead, the focus of this system lies in depicting the gentleman scholar; the daring lady, the fey lord, where swords and weaponry clash in the name of high romance, a fantastic iteration of Jane Austen, as seen through Midsummer Night's Dream.

This emphasis of clean cut heroes and villains is represented in the book, for you are asked during character creation if you're good or evil. No neutrality, no shades of gray; this is about absolutes. Character sheets are small notebooks, intended to be filled out by the characters as they explore the fantastic world and a generous list of questions allows you to further and more clearly define the character you are creating.

Castel Falkenstein, as a stand-alone, features a total of 20 abilities - you choose skills that have ratings; one of these will be "Great", four will be "Good" and one "Poor" - all other skills remain at the rating "Average". These ratings basically double as a kind of bonus. To determine success of an action, you draw a card from a standard deck (you only need two of those to play) and add your rating. Simple, right?

Well, let's talk a second about the deck: The suite determines the type of challenge the card can be used for: Spades cover social challenges, also those pertaining to status; Hearts deals with emotional challenges (so basically empathy, sanity, relating, etc.); Diamonds are used for intellectual/scientific challenges and Clubs are used for physical challenges. Playing an appropriate card allows you to add the face card value to the respective challenge. When using a wrong suite for the task, you only add 1. If you e.g. tried to understand a complex engine about to blow and played a hearts-card, you'd only add +1. If you played a 6 of diamonds, you'd add +6 instead! So make sure you play your cards right!

As an aside, this system results in players, quite naturally, oscillating between the various types of skills: You will not find the traditional class-skill-dispersal in the game: Soldiers will use social skills, ladies will engage in physical pursuits, etc. - as an aside here: The lamentable sexism and unpleasant stance towards the fair sex in our historical Victorian age does not extend to the reality of Castle Falkenstein, explaining a more enlightened stance towards women as the logical result of fey ladies et al.

Back to cards: Face cards also have values assigned: Jacks clock in at 11 and every step beyond that adds +1 to the value, with aces trumping kings at 14 points and jokers delivering a whopping 15 points. Castel Falkenstein recognizes 5 levels of skill success: Fumbles happen when you have half or less of the required number; failures denote less than the required number. Partial success means you beat the number; full success when you exceed the target number by half or more and high successes exceed the target number required by double. Each player only holds 4 cards and the same holds true for the Host, the term employed for the GM...and all draw from the same deck.

Sorcery is working in a similar fashion and makes use of the second deck, but the suite in question here determines the type of magical effect the cards resonate with. Drawing more cards takes time to gather up energy and playing a wrong type of card can "taint" the respective final manifestation of the effect in question.

If that sounds opaque, let's take a look at an example, shall we?

All sorcerers belong to a Sorcerous Order. You have access to the Lore of that order. Unlike many fantasy systems, you don't have set spells that you memorize and then cast. Spells involve research and the cost is highly variable depending on a varied array of parameters, and you can only start gathering energy to cast a spell once you've determined these parameters.

Let's say you are part of the Illuminated Brotherhood and wish to use their Lore Simple Geas to exert control over someone. It has a base Thaumic Energy Requirement of 4. You would need to work out your Definitions, so Duration - how long do you want them to be under your control, the Range you'd need, how many people you'd want to affect, how well you know them, etc. In other words, with the same Lore, you could craft a spell that would enspell your significant other for a few seconds to engage in some nasty household chore, or one that would let you exert a massive amount of control over a vast array of strangers, forming them into a temporary army - but they would have wildly different Energy requirements. With the first of those, let's say you want it to last for 5 minutes, that adds 2; simple adds 1; touch adds 1; single subject affected adds 1; subject is mortal adds 1; know subject well adds 1. This results in a total of 11, from which we'd subtract your Good sorcery of 6 to bring us back down to 5. After determining this value, you'd begin drawing cards from the sorcery deck. The Aspect of this spell is Hearts. Any heart card you draw adds its value, any other CAN add 1 point of "unaligned energy", but using unaligned energy will add harmonic effects. You could also "release" an unaligned card (rules-language for returning it to the deck) and redraw, so if you are prepared to take more time, you can gather purely aligned energy - but if you are in a hurry, you might have to a take a risk with harmonics and the taint they add to the manifestation.

Combat resolution, ultimately, is working in a similar manner, with the amount of damage dealt being based on the weapon as well as the level of success of the respective attack; If you expect to take more than 3-4 good hits, then this will not be perfect for you; this is very much an allotopia, which means that characters, ultimately, are fragile. However, at the same time, there probably won't be too much PC-death: Much like the romanticized novels and literature, killing blows need to be declared. This, btw., also brings me to the subject of gender: If you're not playing a heroic woman and rather a lady, you'll rather be disabled by swooning, intense social confrontation, etc. - some of my female friends enjoyed this, while others...well, didn't, though these still had the chance to play other characters.

Anyways, there also would be the duel-engine, which works radically different from regular combat: The two characters have a hand of six cards: Two black, two red, two faces. Faces represent rests, black cards defense and red card offense, with the Fencing skill determining how often a character must rest after an exchange. A defense card automatically negates an offense card; an offense card unopposed by a defense card results in a hit. The pdf provides concise rules for the dueling experience, including weapons-changes, movements, etc. - interesting: When you trick foes into defending while you are resting, you have feinted them. While it may look cumbersome to have special dueling rules and while that means that other PCs will be waiting, it is an interesting fact that you can pretty easily live action simulate a duel fought via the card system, which can make for a truly interesting experience.

Speaking of which: The experience of reading and playing Castle Falkenstein are pretty different from what you usually receive. For one, the book's narrative framework follows Tom Olam, a computer game designer who was magickally abducted to the reality of Castle Falkenstein; as such, we read about how DaVinci's devices changed the worlds, how accords with the fey were made (you can actually play fey and there is a TON of fey influence here!), how King Ludwig did not lose the battle of Königgrätz and how that affects e.g. the way in which Bismarck is seen.

The latter aspects are particularly hilarious to me: I live about 2.5 hours from Schloss Neuschwanstein, grew up with tales of the mad king and in history classes, we learned, in detail, how Bismarck pretty much was a voice of pragmatic reason in an insane German political landscape. The attention to detail given to this magical, steampunk alternative to our own world is frankly impressive: From proper ways of addressing people of different social orders to dressing the part and even proper nomenclature, the book provides a level of detail and logical cohesion that is amazing to just soak up: When e.g. dashing Marianne first opens her corset when getting ready to duel, you can almost see the lighter, more fantastic pre-Penny Dreadful steampunk age of enlightenment and sophistication come to light. It's like reading Ford Madox Ford's "The Good Soldier" minus all the cynicism and breakdowns and the inevitable all turning sour. Castle Falkenstein is fantastic in the truest sense, with Bayern fielding its own aeronavy, uniforms with their own designs and the influence of the dwarven people being just as pronounced as that of the fey.

It should also be noted that a short 3-page introduction scenario is included, set in, where else, Vienna. It is very hard to properly encapsulate the experience of reading Castle Falkenstein within the confines of a review, mainly because the less tangible components of this game are what makes it shine - the attention to detail, the imagination and love that went into the details of this book.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout is interesting: The first half of the book, the novel-section depicting the escapades of Tom Olan, is depicted in full-color, with artworks that make use of the aesthetics of period-piece artworks. The second half of the book is in b/w, contains the rules-information and is more aesthetically conservative. The electronic version of the book has a HUGE downside: The lack of bookmarks makes it basically impossible to efficiently use at the table: Get a print copy or print the pdf, otherwise you'll be in for a world of pain, particularly regarding the sorcery rules, at least in the beginning.

Michael Alyn Pondsmith's Castle Falkenstein is considered to be a classic of the steampunk genre and there is ample reason for that status. Unlike 90% of steampunk books and supplements I've read, it is not a loveless pastiche. It is not a book based on the futile attempts of making the reader feel clever for remembering some vague, hazy aspect of college-level history in another context. Instead, it is an exercise in expert world-crafting, where the very rules-system enforces, rather than detracts, from the immersion. The focus on high romance and the fantastic lend an angle of innocence to the whole proceedings that is downright refreshing: Instead of the grimdark sense of cataclysms we know from the fin-de-siècle and the 1920s, the emphasis here, unlike any gaslight-era setting I know of, lies on an impossible age of magical realism and chivalry in a very believable context. This does not mean that this is necessarily "unrealistic" or too b/w, mind you - instead, picture it a bit like the Victorian age equivalent of Prince Valiant comics (as an aside: The guy's called "Eisenherz" - literally "Ironheart" in German...much cooler!): I.e. you have a very resonant historic/mythological resonance, suffused with alternate concepts, but still very much and deeply rooted within the realities and possibilities of our own world.

In short: Castle Falkenstein is a phenomenal, captivating campaign setting and one that can depict e.g. comedies of manners just as easily as flying ship combats. This is, one of the very best steampunk settings/worlds I have ever read, regardless of whether you look at RPGs or at literature. Well, perhaps, you'd have to take away the "punk" aspect. Castle Falkenstein is neither gritty, nor grimy - it is a game of sophistication, manners, and as such, an exquisite delight - so steamsophistication would make for an more adept, if perhaps less catchy description.

That being said, the book, as amazing as it is, does have a couple of rough spots that a new edition, should we ever get to see one (which I ardently hope!), should clean up. The worst of the offenders being, frankly, organization. Castle Falkenstein, when you first open it, is a daunting proposal, intimidating even. Unlike e.g. Lords of Gossamer & Shadow and other diceless games I have played, the presentation of the rules frankly feels at times a bit obtuse: When you try to find out about e.g. rules for duels and first get an explanation of how everything works in a social context and in-game reality, that generally helps the sense of immersion, but locating the actual rules governing something can still be an exercise in frustration. Much like the often meandering prose of the age, Castle Falkenstein sometimes gets bogged down in evocative and captivating tidbits that inspire, yes, but that also detract from the playability of the game, in particular in the beginning.

My first session with the game was pretty problematic and, considering the high standards I have as a GM/Host, for my own ambitions, an unmitigated failure. This was mainly due to my own shortcomings, though: In order to play this game properly, I'd strongly suggest to have every player read this book. And make notes. It does not suffice to simply read it and guide the players through the process of character creation, particularly when sorcery's involved. In short: If your whole group is not prepared properly, the game can come to a grinding halt. So yes, rules-presentation is somewhat obtuse.

At the same time, once you DO have learned the rules (and they're not that hard...), the game offers an absolutely delightful playing experience that lends itself perfectly for dressing up, speaking in character and using all those hundreds of tidbits and knowledge you have gained from literature and history: Whether it's small facts from the lives of aristocracy, customs, or the tales of Jules Verne (yep, all historic personalities...did you know that Moriarty is sometimes in cahoots with Phileas Fogg?), from high adventure to comedies of manners and all in between, Castle Falkenstein delivers in a manner that is both heartwarming and amazing.

It is not the easiest game to learn; its lack of bookmarks sucks big time; but still, I can't help but love this world. It has so much heart and is so bereft of cynicism, so wondrous, that it makes for a fantastic experience to play. If you're lucky enough to have players that wholeheartedly embrace the aspect of ROLEplaying, that have the notion, knowledge and inclination of making evocative characters, doing their research, etc., then this is phenomenal. At the same time, Castle Falkenstein's appeal, more so than many an RPG's, is in my opinion based on the willingness and capability of immersing yourself and the group within its setting: If you have one player who just can't stay in character, who continuously blurts forth references to modern day life, who just can't get the appellations etc. right, you can make him a character from our world, stranded here...sure. But at least as far as I'm concerned, that somewhat detracts from the appeal of the world. Perhaps I am too elitist, but I can't picture anything more jarring. That is not to say you can't play like this, mind you: Frankly, you could go full-blown Bill & Ted with this, though personally, I think that would detract from the lovingly-crafted blending of historicity and fabulation.

How to rate this? Well, if you want to use the electronic version on a device...don't. 3.5 stars, at best. A core book sans bookmarks? Unacceptable and only good for being printed out. If you DO print it out, it becomes a whole different beast, though: Once you get past the somewhat rough start, once everyone has learned the rules and read the whole book (seriously recommended here!), then the game is absolutely amazing, evocative, captivating...a pure joy. On a formal level, the needlessly meandering and somewhat obtuse presentation of the rules is a big hurdle for the book, one that makes it suitable primarily for groups with some roleplaying experience already under their belt.

In the end, it is due to these structural hiccups and the lack of bookmarks that I cannot rate this book as highly as I'd like to - one of the two could be forgiven, but both, in conjunction, generate an overall unnecessary bump when learning the system. That being said, while my review cannot exceed a rating of 4 stars for this reason, Castle Falkenstein proves to be an exceedingly rewarding reading and playing experience that rewards those who manage to bypass the initial bump...and as such, it does receive my seal of approval. If you are looking for high adventure and chivalry and want a roleplaying system with a sensibility that rewards honor, virtue, etc. - this is exactly what you've been looking for!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Castle Falkenstein
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Psionics Augmented: Soulknives III
Publisher: Dreamscarred Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/19/2016 09:22:20

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The third expansion-pdf for the soulknife class clocks in at 14 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1/2 page blank, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 9.5 pages, though these pages are chock-full with text - and this time around, we look at a ton of PrCs...so what do we get?

After the obligatory introduction page, including the high-power-advice sidebar we know from the predecessors, we are introduced to the first of the PrCs, the Marvel. All PrCs herein cover the full 10 standard levels of PrCs.

The marvel, chassis-wise, receives d12 HD and receives 4 + Int skills per level as well as 9/10th manifester level progression, full BAB and 1/2 Fort-save progression. To qualify, you need to have the enhanced mind blade class feature as well as telekinetic athleticism, 2 psionic feats, one of which must be Psionic Body, the other an offense enhancer and the PrC also needs 5 ranks in two skills, 4 in a third, so qualification-wise, it is not too easy, nor too default to get into this one. The marvel, from level 1 out, continues to improve blade skills et al. as well as psychic warrior path abilities and trances. The PrC also adds Wisdom Modifier to Strength for the purpose of determining carrying capacity etc. and may throw rocks and objects that exceed the size limitations of the character. At 2nd level, while focused, the marvel receives a scaling bonus to natural AC and 3rd and 9th level provide psychic strike progression. 4th level nets fly speed 60 ft. with good maneuverability while psionically focused, up to class level + Wis-mod minutes per day. This limit is eliminated at 8th level, just fyi. 5th level nets DR 5/adamantine and 6th level a new blade skill. 7th level lets the character automatically overcome ANY DR while psionically focused (not a fan here). Tenth level increases DR to 10/-. and outsider apotheosis...and the marvel doesn't need to maintain psionic focus any more.

I like the marvel - it is a cool rendition of the psionic/telekinetic superhero-type of character and while the DR-ignoring is something I'll tweak, I have no complaints pertaining the balance of this one. Kudos!

The second PrC herein would be the primarch, who needs to be able to generate a +3 mind blade enhancement, must be capable of throwing the mind blade and has a few skill, skill skill and feat prereqs - like the marvel, not to easy and not too hard to qualify for. The PrC gets d10 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, full BAB-progression, 1/2 Fort-save progression and psychic strike progression at both 3rd and 8th level. The PrC treats its level as soulknife levels for the purpose of blade skills etc. and the PrC and gifted blade support is included, if you're going for the high-psionics route. Interesting: The defining first level psychic epiphany class feature is defined by the blade skill used to qualify for the PrC: When qualifying via e.g. Ice Blade, your soulknife receives the frost weapon enhancement. The PrC may also, once per encounter as an immediate action, trade a blade skill for another one, a total of 3 + Wis-mod times. 4th level lets him trade out 2, 7th 3 and at 10th level, he gets a wildcard slot to be filled at the start of any given encounter. The trade lasts for 1 minute. One question: 4th and 7th level's additional trades: Are they included in the immediate action activation or not? As written, the ability sports no caveat that precludes you from using the ability multiple times in consecutive rounds, which makes the whole sequence a bit ambiguous.

2nd and 6th level provide new blade skills and 4th level further upgrades the power of the soulknife, following up on the 1st level ability; if you e.g. got the aforementioned frost improvement, you now increase damage and also get a related psi-like ability. Starting at 5th level, the primarch receives energy resistance or DR, depending on the element chosen, while retaining psionic focus and 10th level, further upgrades the sequence of blade-abilities with a cool capstone: For expenditure of both psychic strike and psionic focus, you can unleash some devastating psi-like abilities...or cause nasty Whirlwind bleeds. Neat!

The third PrC herein would be the Strategos, whose qualifying criteria require manifester level 5th as well as telepathy; it similarly is pretty easy to qualify for. The PrC gets d8 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB-progression, 1/2 Will-save progression, 9/10 manifester level progression. The PrC receives uncanny dodge at 4th level, improved uncanny dodge at 8th level and begin at 1st level with a collective. When using the metapsionic knife feat (which was one of the feats from PA: Soulknives II imho, power-level-wise, would be closer to a class feature than a feat...), the PrC may expend psychic strike in lieu psionic focus to deliver power effects through the mindblade. The PrC retains mind blade and blade skill efficiency progression of the soul knife and manifesting progression draws power from the tactician power list when choosing powers. 2nd level nets an insight bonus equal to the primary manifesting attribute modifier, capping at class level, versus foes in range of telepathy, but only versus foes whose surface thoughts he can read. Unique: The PrC may lend mind blades to allies (reducing the enhancement bonus of the blade) and he may also treat an ally's position as his own, using blade skills to attack through allies, which makes for a very interesting playing experience.

Starting at 3rd level, the PrC gains a collective skill, with every odd level thereafter granting an additional collective skill. These allow for the lending of mind armors or shields, swapping places with allies and charge the collective with his psychic strike, allowing allies to use the psychic strike charge as part of a free action. Interesting: Allies with psychic strike may also recharge a collective they're part of...which may be a bit strong if your players are wont to feature cohorts and the like. The maximum of 1 charge per collective, however, does retain balance for the ability. Beyond offensive and defensive buffs, the ability to add your own AoO to that of an ally can be pretty nasty, but also tactical. While it lets you combo hard, it can be considered to be still in line. The improved blade collective ability has some sort of ccp hiccup: "He is may now grant his mind blade to an ally without reducing his mind blade’s enhancement bonus. Mind blades gifted to allies have reduce their enhancement bonus reduced by 1, but do not reduce the bonuses of any other mind blades." I am pretty sure that something went wrong here. Sharing balde skills with allies is cool and 6th level increases telepathy save DCs by +2 as well as saves against the discipline by +2. The capstone is amazing: You vanish and make one attack per ally contained in the collective!

The strategos is strong, but the relatively fragile framework makes for a nice balance for the concepts...and rules- and playing-experience-wise, these guys are frickin' glorious!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, but not as good as usual for Dreamscarred Press - there are a few hiccups. Layout adheres to the 2-column full-color standard and the book has the neat full-color artwork of the cover. The pdf comes with a second, more printer-friendly version and is fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Chris Bennett's third expansion for the soulknife class provides 3 concise, fun PrCs. The Marvel and in particular, the strategos, are absolutely amazing. The primarch, while nice, didn't capture my imagination to the same extent, but that is a personal issue and not something I'd fault the pdf for. Where the second installment sported some options that I considered to be problematic, the ones herein work in the context of both relatively gritty and high-powered gameplay. While the PrCs are pretty strong, it is only in conjunction with previous installments that issues can show up for grittier games, so as long as you take care regarding the combo potential, you're fine with these. The strategos' playing experience as a center at the storm unleashed by his collective is intriguing and fun. How to rate this, then? Well, this may not be perfect, but it is a fun supplement that sports some design-wise intriguing options - hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up fo the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Psionics Augmented: Soulknives III
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Legendary Hybrids: Deadeye Hexer
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/19/2016 09:20:19

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first of Legendary Games' hybrid classes clocks in at 28 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of introduction, 1 page SRD, 4 pages of advertisement, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 14 pages of content, so let's take a look!

Hybrid classes - they can be amazing, but at the same time, they can be disparate entities sans unique mechanics...so what is the deadeye hexer? Well, first of all, he is basically a hybrid of the gunslinger and witch classes and gains, chassis-wise, d8 HD, 4 + Int skills per level and 3/4 BAB-progression, which is SMART: Firearms don't need the gunslinger's full BAB-progression. The class also receives good Reflex and Will-saves as well as Intelligence-based prepared spellcasting draw from the witch's list, scaling up to 6th level. Weapon and armor proficiency-wise, they gain simple weapon and firearm proficiency as well as proficiency with light armors, which do not impede their spellcasting. As a minor layout complaint of an aesthetic nature, one sentence of the proficiency-write-up partially overlaps with the class table.

Somewhat akin to my own etherslinger, the deadeye hexer's gun acts as a catalyst for his magical powers, doubling as a kind of familiar. Huge issue: The firearm familiar's rules are supposedly found in Appendix A...which does not exist. The firearm familiar rules do exist, but yeah. Anyways, the firearm familiar receives scaling Intelligence, beginning at 6 and improving to 15 and similarly, its enhancement bonus becomes +1, increasing up to +5 at 1th level. 2nd level nets Quickdraw of the familiar, 7th improved empathic link and 13th the option to scry the familiar.

The deadeye hexer begins play with gunsmithing as well as a patron (9 of which are provided) as well as with a bullet hex. He gains an additional bullet hex at 3rd level and every 2 levels thereafter. Unless otherwise noted, using them is a standard action, they have scaling save DCs governed by Int and offensive ones need to hit the target. Missed bullet hexes do not count against the daily uses of the respective hex. 4 witch hexes are available (including slumber, with the cool tweak of inflicting nonlethal damage), but apart from that, we get only 6 such hexes for a total of 10...though thankfully, later levels also unlock major and grand bullet hexes, providing sufficient diversity and choice.

But what do the hexes do? Well, what about animate object via a bullet that hits a target? (Yep, only 1 in use at any give time.) Ranged bull rush via bullets? Yeah, pretty cool! As a full-round action, 15 ft.- shrapnel rain is pretty powerful, but action economy-wise somewhat justified...though I'd still include a minimum level for this one. At level 1, that is extremely strong. Concealment-granting clouds or whispering messages to bullets to warn others is pretty cool: In the latter case, you whisper up to 25 words to the bullet, fire in the air and its hits the ground near the creature, who may then proceed to read your message in the cracks formed by the bullet's impact. Come on, that is very, very neat.

Major bullet hexes are unlocked at 11th level, with 5 being provided: Here, we have an upgrade of aforementioned AoE-attack, immediate action + class level dodge bonus to an attack 1/24 hours when shot at, bullets that burrow further into the foe or Freischütz-like bullets that may hit multiple foes at progressively worse +atk make for some neat choices. 5 witch hexes may also be chosen here. Grand hex-wise, 4 of the witch's arsenal and 3 new ones are provided, with the ability being unlocked at 17th level. These include class level times d6 energy damage-causing bullets or hellfire bullets, which deal even more fire damage and linger, but only can affect a target once per day...or petrify foes.

Instead of grit, the deadeye hexer receives Mana at 2nd level, which acts in pretty much the same way and is governed by Intelligence and has full compatibility regarding grit, panache, etc. Deadeye hexers also receive, obviously, deeds at this level and may replace a deed with a gunslinger deed gained at a lower level. He gains 3 such deeds at 2nd level: One lets you cast a spell from the familiar sans preparing it, rerolling concealment miss chances and spending 1 mana to summon an unattended firearm as an immediate action to his hand, provided it is within 5 ft. per class level. 3 new deeds are gained every 4 levels thereafter: 6th level, for example, allows for concealment ignoring, potentially calling attended firearms and potentially using another hexer's firearm with said characters permission...or even force the gun to cooperate. 10th level lets you auto-confirm a threat via mana expenditure (no mana-regain, though) as well as swift action reload and scatter shots. 14th level unlocks mana-expenditure to add + Int-mod to saves, free action reload and acting during a surprise round. 18th level nets a killing shot powered by mana, preventing a misfire as long as he has at least 1 mana and always acting during a surprise round - as you may see, these mainly represent linear improvements of the respective abilities.

4th level nets nimble, which also doubles as the exceedingly unsatisfying capstone of the class. You get Nimble +5 and one 6th level spell more. Hooray.

The pdf has 3 feats: The obligatory extra bullet hex, +2 mana and a feat that lets you target a creature with a bullet hex that can affect it 1/day only a second time.

The pdf also contains 2 archetypes for the class, the first of which would be the eldritch musketeer, who must choose either musket or blunderbuss as firearm familiar and any ray, cone, line or ranged touch attack cast through the familiar adds the gun's enhancement bonus to the save DC as well as increasing the critical modifier of the spell, if any to x3!!! However, on a misfire or the target making a saving throw with a natural 20 (cool idea!), the gun first gains the broken condition, then detonates, though immediate action mana expenditure can prevent that in both cases - at 1 and 2 mana cost, respectively. This powerful ability replaces bullet hex. 3rd level allows for the sacrifice of spell slots to double critical threat ranges of the gun; one double for 2 spell level...or increase the critical multiplier by one. So yeah, you can sacrifice a level 6 spell as a swift action to upgrade critical multiplier to x7. URGH. Worse, I assume that casting spells through the gun that require an attack roll count as attacks for the purpose of this upgrade; at least the archetype does not explicitly forbid it. Do I really need to spell out how this exacerbates the issue of insane gunslinger crits and extends it to spells? Oh joy. The one thing the class or anything built upon the firearm chassis was a higher critical multiplier. Suffice to say, the hard spell limit does help, but still - this archetype will get nowhere near my game.

The second archetype, the hexslinger, modifies his proficiency to only cover one-handed firearms and must select a pistol as a fire arm familiar. Instead of deeds at 2nd level, he gets spell combat via the firearm, which is nice. Odd: The hexslinger still RAW gains Mana, which does exactly nothing until the higher level deeds are gained. 3rd level unlocks spellshot, allowing for the delivery of touch-spells via the firearm. 10th level replaces the deeds gained with greater spell combat.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are pretty good, though, as mentioned before, there are minor type-setting hiccups. From an RAW-nitpicky perspective, the functionality of bullet hexes should be a bit more precise - RAW the 1/day caveat of hexes could have used clean spelling out, as one could argue either way. Layout adheres to Legendary Games' two-column full-color standard and manages to cram a lot of content in the pdf's pages. The artworks are a mixture of previously used and a new full-color piece - they generally are neat. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Jeff Lee's Deadeye Hexer does a lot of things right: the 3/4 BAB-chassis for the magical gunman is smart and makes the class work smoother regarding its math. The base class, apart from minor complaints mentioned, is well-executed. Personally, I would have loved to see more interaction between the hexes and mana, but that is primarily me and a matter of taste and as such will not influence the verdict. While I would have liked to see something unique for the hexslinger, the musketeer...is broken. Unless you really want a crit-fishing build from beyond hell, I'd strongly suggest disallowing it. Particularly irksome in the archetype is that both powerful options could be clearer in how they interact...or not interact, so even if x7 crit multipliers or tripled threat ranges before enchantments sound like a good idea to you (there are games out there that enjoy this type of thing, after all!), the archetype's precision is lacking.

In short: I like the base class, but the archetypes feel like afterthoughts and drag down the pdf. My final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars. This has all the makings of a 5-star class and if you only want the base class, you should consider this 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 instead...but with the inclusion of the utterly OP eldritch musketeer, I can no longer recommend this unanimously. The lack of a rewarding capstone sucks. Still, the class does not deserve rounding down, but to have, of all things, bullet hexes not explicitly stating that they work with the same daily limitations as witch hexes is a big issue that actually led to a prolonged discussion in my playtest, so you should be aware of this component. My final verdict will still round up, if only by the teeny-tiniest of margins and because the class actually is not a hybrid that just smashes stuff together; the deadeye hexer has a distinct identity and playstyle I enjoy.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Legendary Hybrids: Deadeye Hexer
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Green Devil Face #3
Publisher: Lamentations of the Flame Princess
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/19/2016 09:19:15

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The third installment of the Green Devil Face magazine clocks in at 15 pages, the first page of which would be devoted to editorial + introduction, leaving us with 14 pages, so let's take a look!

Alfred John Dalziel begins with an interesting pool that regrows lost limbs - but, in the case of anything but a neutral adventurer, the limb has the opposite alignment of its owner, which may result in confusion. It is also suggested to make the save potentially penalizes, depending on the amount regrown. Yeah, call be cynical, but been there, done that.

Andreas Davour has a neat, sadistic little trap: A harmless room, non-descript, really, with a treasure chest in the middle. Inside are coins...but if you open the chest, the bottom slides away and opens to a grill of lava, which proceeds to heat the coins to searing levels. Two issues here: A) Coins made of precious metals melt pretty quickly and B), no suggested damage values or even general guidelines are provided - I am aware that this is pretty much the standard for the series, but I'd honestly have appreciated some guideline here.

The next trick by the same author would be the hypercube of doom: In an alcove is a small altar, made of cubes: The altar folds in upon itself when sufficient pressure is applied. "Make something up" - yeah, sorry, that doesn't really help me. No damage suggestions, no effect suggestions - just an opaque (and not in a good way) idea.

Andreas then proceeds to provide a relatively solid trap: A big room, mostly with some murky water, illuminated by some hazy flashes: In the middle of the dark room, a tank is precariously balanced on top of unstable poles. The tank contains electric eels. PCs will be in for a shock. Haha. Solid, in comparison to the former two.

James Edward Raggi IV is up next with "The Great Golden Ball": Somewhere in the dungeon, there is a huge pit, huge enough to not be able to see the other side. At the 12, 3, 6 and 9 o'clock positions, chains are bolted to the floor and lead over the pit. Above the pit, anchored by the chains, is a golden ball - weightless, that will rip itself free sans the support of all chains and fly upwards...indefinitely. Actually attempting to get this treasure will potentially get PCs killed...and they'll only have themselves to blame. Pretty cool!

His second contribution is a nice twist: You have a cavern, incredibly life-like hooded adventurers with hauls of treasure galore turned into statues, and a chained woman with strange upstanding hair...who actually is not a medusa, but rather a harmless, dressed up damsel, forced by mastermind xyz to behave as though she was one. Oh, and add giant snake. Oh, and the pretrified persons? Those actually ARE medusae...so de-petrifying them...bad idea. Their treasure also is a ruse, obviously.

Nasty set-up for a BBEG: Throne + lever. Flip the lever and all but safe zones start getting nasty spikes. Safe zones are subject to silence. Simple, but effective.

Akseli Envall presents the Zigzag Path of Doom, which is actually a square sequence of rooms, wherein lethal traps describe the eponymous zigzagging path of maiming, mayhem and death, which makes sense in particular for lived-in-dungeons that require a creature to have an easy way to access a treasure vault etc. Solid!

Caleb Jensen's contribution...rocks: The PCs happen upon a mummified corpse, warning them of the red stream. They hear mewing. They see a dire wolf seemingly attacking wild horses...and then realize that it is actually frolicking with them! The source of the mewing are Mer-fish, adorable piscine kittens. All's well as long as you don't have riding animals. Such beings will be enchanted by the adorably annoying kittens. Those wearing leather will potentially be spit upon by the kittens, cursing them and forcing them to basically become the annoying kind of die-hard vegans that screams "Murder" (here: literally) when anyone nearby eats meat and even vomit. Yeah, that'll go rather well in a quasi-medieval fantasy world...

Settembrini brings us a weird puzzle room - in the best of ways: Two strange basins with weird waters, some tools...and the option to grow Gelatinous Oozes - something that, once the PCs have discovered and survived, may become an interesting, if unreliable weapon.

Chris Weller's Swallow of Summoning is basically a magical swallow that can convey your messages and force those that listen to them to heed your requests....which is a nice idea.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant hiccups. Layout is no-frills b/w-1-column sans graphical elements and you can fit 4 of the pages on one letterpack or A4-page, if you print them out and don't mind relatively small fonts. The cartography, where present, does its minimalist job. Front and back cover are contained in a separate pdf and the issue comes with versions optimized both for US-letterpack and European A4-sizes, which is neat.

This collection of encounters is generally an interesting one that features some nice ideas...though frankly, I was somewhat less blown away by this one, especially in comparison to the first two GDFs. The tricks here are more common and there is a good chance that veteran GMs may have pulled off one or two of them already, which does diminish the appeal of the magazine, at least for me. While certainly not bad for the low and fair price-point, I can't go higher than 3.5 stars on this one, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Green Devil Face #3
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Book of Lairs for 5th Edition
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/16/2016 08:50:49

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive book clocks in at 109 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 3 pages of advertisements, 1 page of SRD, leaving us with a total of 102 pages of content, so let's take a look!

All right, before we do...what is this? In short, it could be considered to be a massive companion tome to the even more massive Tome of Beasts, but that would be only the tip of the ice-berg. Basically, this massive book contains a significant array of set-piece locations you can easily drop into your game, with the opposition making partially use of the monsters from the Tome of Beasts. While the book does not contain the statblocks of the opposition, it does provide rules for e.g. traps and obstacles, if featured in the respective environment. The respective lairs come with gorgeous full-color maps that feature the keys; every keyed location points towards an area, including a sequence of read-aloud text. The respective lairs are intended for level 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 14 and 15 - though several lairs e.g. are provided for 3rd level.

All right, this is about as far as I can go without going into SPOILERS. So yeah, potential players should jump to the conclusion, even though I will try hard to not go into the nit and grit of the respective storylines told by the environments.

...

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great!

Mike Welham goes first and provides a nasty old dockyard, where ratfolk have set up shop alongside some nasty wharflings and doppelrats; a suitable sidetrek challenge for 1st level PCs. 3rd level PCs may explore the lost halls of everforge, penned by Shawn Merwin - a dwarven hall now abandoned, where they may be just in time to prevent the ascension of a flame drake to its more powerful, probably too strong, iteration!

Also at this level, Mike Shea's "Den of the Rotten King", where a dread wererat king lords over the denizens of the underworld, which may be nice, but it pales before Mike Welham's trip to the Clockwork Tower - with the complex devices and interaction with the environment makes this one of the strongest offerings herein regarding its mechanics. At 4th level, Shawn Merwin provides a lindwurm lair in the titanic ranches of no other place than Yggdrasil! Oh, and add in some ravenfolk for added complication and you have a great lair.

Also at 4th level, Steve Winter invites us to visit the Castle of Sand, situated next to a gorgeous oasis...and yes, not all is here as it seems...but I'm not going to dispel that particular mirage here in the review. Brain England's Pirate's Cove for 5th level characters brings us to an almost archetypical pirate hide-out...that houses darkest horrors and a blasphemous cult instead! Mike Welham's All-seeing eye deals with a cult that has been on the wane...and features some disturbing motifs regarding eyes and the like - it does not have to turn sour...but then again, what would you do if you saw a disturbing cluster of eyes floating towards you? Yeah, thought so.

6th level PCs can look forward to a trip to Shawn Merwin's alchemists' guildhall - which may, map-wise, be one of the most conservative lairs herein, but it does feature an interesting component regarding the opposition that astute PCs may well notice....and the true villains here are perhaps not what the PCs expected. The Hive, penned by Mike Welham oncegain, would deal with the complex beholden to the feared spawn of Arbeyach and thus can be pictured best as a complex with a nasty termite/insect-theme.

Brian England takes us to the almost classic Temple of the Deep Ones at 7th level, where the PCs face off versus coral drakes, deep ones and similar critters. Not my favorite one, though the map provided for this one is truly gorgeous and colorful. James J. Haeck's Monument of the Thunderer, set in and on a gigantic dragon statue, certainly is one of the most amazing maps in concept herein and the lair, as such is high-concept and rewarding, though the opposition faced...well, isn't. The foes featured per default here are a bit bland. The same can definitely not be said about the 8th level "House of Reeds and Whispers", a wonderful, dark and horrific little set-piece that almost feels like it was penned by Richard Pett, and not Jon Sawatsky. Yes, this is intended as a compliment, Mr. Sawatsky, for the atmosphere here is neat indeed. If you are looking for a no-frills sword & sorcery-vibe, I'd certainly recommend Shawn Merwin's Tomb of the Scorpion King.

Marc Radle's dark forest has a direct tie-in with the umbral tower lair and represents basically a druidic area with a threat of shadow-themes eclipsing it; the location is per se solid, if less than what I expected from the evocative cartography. Shawn Merwin and Wolfgang Baur then proceed to take us to exactly said tower, which not only spotlights my beloved shadow-fey, it also offer advice for adapting it to temperate forests and features even a brief chase and some nice environmental options - another highlight herein. Marc Radle's Warlock crypt (9th level) redeems him - once again, we get the evocative themes we have come to enjoy from his writing, with the King in Silver and similar fexts making for unique foes, even though the map isin't as amazing as that of some other complexes.

Enrique Betran's Aboleth Grotto is a classic take on the trope and makes for a fun environment to explore, making good use of TOB's new critters...but it falls behind Robert Aducci's Bloowood of the Cruor Circle - which makes perhaps the coolest map I have seen for the dark druid theme...pretty much ever. Oh, and the adversaries also are neat. Shawn Merwin's Imperial Ghoul Outpost is per se nice, though I have an issue with the new material, which deals "1 point of necrotic damage" on a hit - is that +1 or does it convert 1 point to necrotic damage? Not sure there.

Jon Swatsky's cistern may not look as impressive as some of the other locations featured herein - but it represents one of the more challenging lairs in the book, if handled correctly by the GM, featuring some cool, unique environmental issues to deal with...

Steve Winters brings us back to the sand-choked tropes of sword & sorcery with the fane of serpents...including rival adventurers. As an aside, I combined that one with Legendary Games' shrine of serpents in my own game...worked rather neatly! Wolfgang Baur does show where his reputation comes from with the "Sky Stairs of Beldestan" - not only is this 14th level lair's cartography gorgeous to behold, the environment depicted is absolutely fantastic - and with traveler and pilgrims as well as death lurking at the top, this location just oozes pure style. Speaking of which: The kobold-commander-in-chief also presents the citadel of the void dragon, situated at the very edge of space; lack of air and the unique layout are just some of the obstacles to contend with here and yes, this lair is just as fantastic as the stairs. The final lair herein would be from the pen of none other than Jeff Grubb and pit the 15th level PCs against an umbral vampire. Yes, it features a soul organ and the complex is shaped like a star of David, adding some occult notions to the lair and ending the book on a high note.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on both a rules-language and formal level. Layout adheres to a gorgeous two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports numerous, gorgeous full-color artworks, though fans of kobold press may be familiar with some of them. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Cartography is at once amazing and the biggest drawback of the book: If you do want to get player-friendly versions of the maps, you'll have to purchase them separately on the Kobold Press-store. I kinda get why, considering their quality, but it is still something that would gall me...particularly if got the print and it didn't have them. I do not have the print version of this book, so unfortunately, I have absolutely no idea if it features the player-friendly iterations of the maps or not.

The designers Robert Aducci, Wolfgang baur, Enrique bertran, Brian Engard, Jeff Grubb, James J. Haeck, Shawn Merwin, Marc Radle, Jon Sawatsky, Mike Shea, Mike Welham and Steve Winter have done a per se great job in this book - there is not a single bad lair herein; all of the locations are evocative, fun and feature something that would qualify them as worth being used. In the quality of the writing, there is not much to complain about.

I have seen a couple of posts floating around the internet that claim this is almost system-neutral...but I'd vehemently disagree there. This is very much a 5e-supplement through and through that intends to maximize its potential audience by appealing beyond the confines of its rules-system. And the evocative locations succeed in just that; this is a nice purchase for other systems as well...but this flexibility also somewhat hurts the direct usefulness of the book. You see, the creatures featured herein do not sport stats. This is intentional to maintain a broader appeal, and due to this book's status as a companion tome to the massive "Tome of Beasts."

However, this also means that you really NEED Tome of Beasts to make the most use out of the lairs presented herein...unless you're as versed as yours truly is and know what a "fext" or an "alseid" is, what powerlevel you'd use there, etc. So nope, I would not consider this book as such a good supplement for other systems....the maps, though...heck yes!

When used as intended for 5e with the Tome of Beasts, the consequence of the lack of stats herein is that the book demands a lot of page-flipping, as you have to look up the respective critters in the ToB, which represents a comfort detriment I considered somewhat annoying; similarly, I get why official D&D-supplements can't be quoted by page. Why this can't be done for the book this is a companion to, though, baffles me. I found myself searching quite a bit in the ToB-pdf while using this.

As a whole, I really, really loved most aspects of this massive books; the writing is excellent, the maps for the most part stellar...but the book does feel a bit inconsiderate, with its externalized player-maps, with its book-flipping sans page-numbers for stats that should imho be inside these pages. If you're willing to put up with these admittedly minor hassles when using this, you'll get a superb collection of material, but personally...I never quite managed to shake off that little sense of annoyance. So yeah - quality-wise, most definitely a true gem and, if that was all to judge, this would get my highest accolades. But having no player-friendly maps included is a huge deal for me and, combined with the slightly "more-difficult-than-need-be"-handling of the book, I can't go higher than 4 stars as my official verdict.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Book of Lairs for 5th Edition
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The Ice Ælves of Niflæheim
Publisher: Storm Bunny Studios
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/16/2016 08:48:51

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This racial pdf clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page preface/editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let's take a look!

So, what is Niflæheim, the home of the ice ælves that so strongly shapes the whole race? Well, as the preface states, it is somewhere along the lines of Mad Max meeting 30 Days of Night - basically Antarctic survival in a fantastic context. It should come as no surprise then that the history of the ice ælves and their clades is written in blood and tragedy.

It is against said exceedingly harsh environment that these people have carved out their own niche to prosper even, as their shamans gather the power of heimilimarks, seeking to return to the fields of Midgard...but, alas, there is the doomsday, the leitmotif of Rhûne, also attached to the ice ælves, for Níðhöggroth (amazing from a linguistic point of view: Sounds like a more Black Metal version of Níðhöggr!), the wyrm of the long winter, is drawn inexorably towards them...

The prose of the race being outstanding, what about the mechanics? The ice ælves receives +2 Dex and Wis, -2 Cha, are native outsiders with darkvision and gain +2 to Perception, Survival and Stealth, +4 to Acrobatics when moving across slippery surfaces. They have cold resistance 5 and get elven immunities. They establish bounds with their heimilimarks, being immune to aging while within 5 miles of these as well as gaining at-will pass without trace in this area. They get snow stride and may, as a standard action, predict unerringly the weather in a given area for 24 hours. They are vulnerable to fire. The race comes with 3 alternate racial traits: +1 natural armor in exchange for elven immunities, 1/day ice armor and stone shield as SPs at the cost of weather prediction and elven immunities and finally, there are ælves that may subsist on a diet of snow alone, provided they eat 4 times the usual amount, but these also lose the forecast power.

As a whole, the race is pretty powerful, accounting for the increased power-level assumed by Rhûne. That being said, the power of the ice ælves is very much terrain bound: Unless your campaign exclusively happens in northern climes, the race will not prove to be unbalancing to even gritty games. In the frigid cold, though, they are very strong. The pdf provides a selection of favored class options that cover the advanced player's guide classes as well as the magus - these generally are nice, though e.g. the bolded cleric-line is not red like the others - which would be as good a place as any to note that there are some deviations in formatting from the established racial presentation, including, unfortunately, the absence of an age, height & weight table in this pdf. That being said, these, for the most part, are cosmetic.

The pdf also provides four mundane items - the relatively powerful grafa staff (aka combat shovel) and the fire proofing magical waters of Niflæheim being two: The third would be icicle arrows, the fourth a sheathe that freezes the weapon, making it harder to draw...which sounds odd, but becomes pretty cool (haha) once used in conjunction with one of the new feats: Weaponize Snow lets you make a limited array of fleeting snow weapons that obviously can be kept in shape longer via these sheathes. Those with the Touch of Niflæheim gain 3 + Wis-mod ray of frost per day and may use these to further enhance snow weapons to inflict +1d6 cold damage. Fists like Ice net you stone fist 3+ Wis-mod times per day, while Snow Slinger does the same for magic stone. Sharp Chill adds a scaling enhancement bonus to weaponized snow weapons. Snow Strider works in conjunction with Run and lets you change directions multiple times.

The pdf also contains 5 different magic items: Iceflame Torches produce a heatless flame, powered by the body heat of the wielder (fans of Dark Souls etc. - there is some amazing imagery here: "His flame sputters and soon,. only embers will remain..."), while Herklæði Crystal Gorgets can generate breastplate-equivalents of ice armor - makes sense and is pretty amazing! The 3 last items would be the heimilimarks, which come with lesser and greater versions as well. The lesser version nets you fire resistance and a kind of shields, but also allows you to expend this shield's absorption capabilities to provide SPs. The lesser iteration nets fire resistance, but provides ice SPs, which felt a bit odd to me, but if in doubt, I tend to assume intention rather than glitch. The regular version provides cold-based tricks. The greater version, obviously, have the most powerful SPs and, when holding it for long enough, you slowly start becoming an ice ælf.

The pdf concludes with 3 spells: Resonating Winds enhances the bardic dirge of doom; Night of Niflæheim is a more powerful, racial variant of darkness that also causes nonlethal cold damage...but said damage can be prevented by aforementioned iceflame torches. Finally, Instant Frozen Pool is basically an instant AoE-ranged trip.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are the one weak point of this pdf: While significantly better than in the previous racial pdf on the jötunfolk, there are some hiccups that could have been avoided, even though they mainly are aesthetic. Layout is absolutely glorious: 2-column, full-color, gorgeous. The same can be said about the numerous full-color artworks herein: While two look a bit stock-art-y, the rest is on par with the amazing cover. The pdf has no bookmarks, which constitutes a minor comfort detriment.

I absolutely hate terrain races. The one thing I LOATHED about Sandstorm and Frostburn, two of my favorite 3.X books by WotC, was frankly the racial section. Why introduce cool terrain and then make races that ignore the rules, but suck in other contexts? Plus: Just slapping "terrain name" before a race or racial concept does not make for a cool race. The ice ælves of Niflæheim are pretty much anathema to this: Instead of getting an identity-less terrain-race, we are introduced to a harsh people steeped in their own mythology. The tricks of the trade of the race are amazing...and while they are a terrain race, I can't find it in me to hate them. The prose woven by Jaye Sonia and Mike Myler is too captivating for that; The ideas are too cool. (Yeah, I'll punch myself for that one later...) While the race is strong in the given climate, GMs that do not plan on exclusively playing in the depth of winter should have no issues using the ice ælves as presented here. It is only the minor hiccups like the missing age, height and weight table that truly keep this pdf from the highest accolades. As a whole, this can be considered to be a good book, well worth a final verdict of 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Ice Ælves of Niflæheim
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