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Dungeonlands: Machine of the Lich Queen (Pathfinder)
Publisher: Savage Mojo
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/14/2016 04:36:20

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The second mega-adventure in the Dungeonlands trilogy clocks in at 120 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 3 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a massive 113 pages of content, so let's take a look!


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


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..


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All right, only GMs left? Great! We begin this second part of the epic high-level module, once again, with a massive short-story, the legend of the rat king, which, with its neat prose, manages to set the mood for the things to come. Having braved the Tomb of the Lich Queen, the PCs now have entered the massive machinery that guides the endlessly recombining rooms of the tomb - and thus, while movement and a lack of a unified map of the overall dungeon still are in here (whether you treat them as bug or feature), the machine of the lich queen is ultimately more plot-driven than its predecessor.


While wandering monster tables and the like still can be found here and while the sequence of encounters is still pretty much left for the GM to customize for his/her individual campaign, there is a tighter story-sequence woven into the encounters that makes the respective challenges feel more concise, fitting - let's for example take the first part of the dungeon: Beyond truly interesting traps like webs of shadows and eclipse engines, we meet the first construct maintenance staff...but the interesting component here would be the exceedingly interesting combination of environmental peculiarities, monsters and the maps themselves - when the devastating winds of time trap unleashes one of its effects, for example, you'll be gulping...and yes, the PCs may actually meet a young iteration of the lich queen...but ultimately, the first part of this part of the dungeon is all about finding and meeting the aforementioned Rat King - former familiar of the Lich Queen, abandoned and torn between love and hate...but how the audience goes...well, I'm not going to spoil that component.


In part 2 of this massive module, the PCs are trying to make their way towards the heart of the grand machinery - either hindered or helped by the Rat King's elite, to potentially find an unlikely ally in a demon, mighty Mulcimber who they may have faced before...What if the grouchy mechanics of the machine actually need the PCs to deal with a complex series of deadly hazards right within the jumbled intestines of the machinery? Well, simple - awesomeness, that's what happens! Even cooler - the task to stop the eternal reconfiguration of the machine itself is a similarly epic array of hazards, challenges.


It actually gets better - you see, the demon wants to take the Angel Anats' place in the heart of the machine - but the machine of the lich queen will not be foiled easily: As waves upon waves of foes are thrown at the PCs, as its vessel rises for a truly exceedingly epic finale!


Wait, what? Finale? Well, not really, for, you know, I barely even grazed the surface of the story-encounters that you need to run - Part III is all about optional encounters, and if you thought they'd be standard random encounters, you couldn't be more wrong - for one, small maps of the rooms help envision them (though, again, like in the first part, I think one-page player-friendly maps would have been a must from a comfort perspective...) and from oscillating pistons to auxiliary power chambers, lightning gestalts, molten golems and avalanche elementals to upgradeable alchemical golems, the challenges here are in no way B-side material, if you excuse the analogue - in fact, e.g. the corpse processing faculty and the resurrection room, to name two, have the chops of being potential final areas of less lethal dungeons.


Like the previous installment, this massive book also features what amounts to a lethal high-level bestiary, containing new creatures like the deadly coldfingers, gas trolls, living madness, the aforementioned avatar-style vessels, quicksilver panthers and profane shells and e.g. sticky blob swarms! (Which, coincidentally, may be used as a distraction against certain foes...)


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks. Artwork is copious and features a blend of lesser used stock-art of weird creatures as well as several original pieces. The cartography of the respective rooms is per se awesome, but, like its predecessor, remains a big flaw of this module: No player-friendly one-page maps you can print out/copy means that battle-map drawing will be a hassle.


Okay, the prose by Richard Balsey, Kevin Andrew Murphy and Darren Pearce is good - the rules by George 'Loki' Williams are better, though. I still remember the original first part with its copious issues, which has since been improved upon significantly. I've already reviewed Part III, the finale of the Dungeonlands-Saga, with its planar journey through the Suzerain Continuum...but, honestly, I wasn't too stoked for this one, mainly since the massive dungeon promised yet more grindy rooms, yet more chaos...but the cube-like room-reconfiguration works, by virtue of its flavor, much better for the Machine of the Lich Queen then for her Tomb - you see, players expect something odd like that going on here - it makes sense, feels less arbitrary. More importantly, though, this may actually be the most refined of the three mega-adventures that make up the saga: The huge array of diverse skill challenges, the unique hazards and challenging adversaries gel together better than any component of part I did.


The Machine is a holistic experience. More so than the first module, it feels like its modularity gimmick makes sense in-game and that the chaotic recombination is actually a feature rather than a bug - thanks to the often neglected virtue of indirect storytelling: You actually get to see the nit and grit of the tomb and thus, this elevates the first module in hindsight from a narrative, if not from a design point of view. From the processing of minions and intruders to the flair of the individual rooms and their inhabitants, the machine of the lich queen feels more concise than either of its brethren - though, admittedly, the third part of the saga is so by design-choice and mitigates this by virtue of unbridled creativity.


Now, I already mentioned the map-issue and, don't be fooled, it is a significant one. I don't know how you handle the like, but I tend to print out player-maps and hand them out (either by room or in its entirety) and then draw only the basics on the battle map or have my players do the drawing while I take a coffee/cigarette break and recapitulate the mechanical peculiarities of a given encounter. In part III, the omission of proper player-friendly maps was offset in part by the sweeping planar scope - whereas here, the detailed circuits and the like make me none too keen to properly draw the mini-maps for the room on the battle map...or even a one-page player-map. Basically, this is inconsiderate and imposes more work on the GM than one should have to do.


At the same time, though, and this is important, this one mops the floor in every regard with the tomb - and quite frankly, each of the rooms has the potential to be the heart of its own dungeon, its own glorious highlight. As a scavenging ground for encounters, hazards, etc., this excels as well: Need some ideas for the infiltration of an alien ship, a clockwork titan, a gigantic deific machinery? Well, here you go! The whole of the respective encounters tends to surpass the sum of its component parts, rendering just about any encounter herein truly interesting, captivating and stellar scavenging material to boot.


How to rate this, then? Well, as mentioned above, I consider this absolutely excellent in all content-related components...but at the same time, the omission of maps does hurt this book and its scope is, by nature of the beast, slightly less epic than part III's. I awarded part 3 my seal of approval and rounded up from 4.5, since it did feel like its scope deserves it. Content-wise, rules-wise, however, I vastly prefer this one and would be praising it even more, were it not for the map-issue. Hence, to represent the streamlined experience, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars...though the map-problems cost this the seal of approval it otherwise would have received.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeonlands: Machine of the Lich Queen (Pathfinder)
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A Fly in the Ointment (Fate)
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/14/2016 04:35:02

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This module for Rite Publishing's Demolished Ones (Dark City/steampunk-crossover) clocks in at 21 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving 18 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?


But before we do - please be aware that this is as much a thematic expansion and a kind of guidebook for such twists and encounters; thus following contains SPOILERS. Potential players will want to jump ahead to the conclusion.


...


..


.


All right, still here? Great!


We begin this book with a relatively daunting task, if you're a new GM - adding a turncoat to a group. Since this is not as simple as it may sound, the supplement discusses the pros and cons of pregen reveals and lack thereof, guiding the GM through the process of selecting what seems most appropriate for the respective group. I mentioned the turncoat - appropriately named "Murmuring Guller," the discussion to follow helps the GM (and the player!) take into account the specific challenges required for the task at hand, namely guiding the game by being a subtle foil.


Similarly, the central problems of such a set-up fall by the wayside due to "The Demolished Ones" very set-up: Fixed identities and memories already have fallen by the wayside and similarly, gaslighting and the like is part of the assumptions - as is the handing out of concealed notes and similar means of contacting players sans explicit group-knowledge. Much like the downsides of the FATE-system, "The Demolished Ones"'s framework mitigates the most central issues that would spring from such an endeavor in other contexts.


That out of the way, we begin with brief scenario seeds - the first one being quite delectably detestable: The PCs awake in the city's reservoir and from the notes strewn around, it becomes pretty apparent that they, for reasons unknown, have poisoned the water supply. Now seven such poisoning mechanisms have to be found. However, this actually is an elaborate experiment by the master Dr. Black...whose experiment was subverted by Ma Puess by introducing a murmuring guller into the PC-group - whose task will be to have EXACTLY two such doses be unleashed into the water supply - not more, not less, which means that, while he must sabotage PCs that are too successful, at the same time, he must also help them to prevent the full release of toxins. The hunt trhough the tunnels, a race against the clock through Amnesia-like tunnels certainly makes for a compelling set-up and further twists are part of the deal...what if e.g. the players (or some of them) have poisoned themselves as well? It should be noted that both masters actually get full stats, thus providing a finished final boss, a conflict of morality...and potentially a means for the PCs to choose the "lesser" of two evils...


The second scenario begins similarly with a ticking timer: Two bank guards are dead, the employees are locked in an airtight vault within the bank and 1 hour of oxygen - and in 15 minutes, the place is supposed to open for business. Here, the guller inserted into the group is there to make sure the PCs perish in their current predicament, but the character does believe the rest of the PCs to be responsible for the deaths of kith and kin at the behest of master Mr. Ahnt, a rather...let's say unpleasant fellow, even as far as masters go. And yes, players killing players is part of the possible set-up. There also, obviously, are several NPCs potentially hunting the PCs - with chances to run and a return to criminal life being a crucial choice here - as brainwashed convicts, this experiment is about finding out whether the PCs can refrain from criminality. Similarly to the first scenario, we get stats for the master responsible.


The third scenario begins as the PCs awaken to the scolding of Sigmund, a psychologist in the local Sanitarium. The only issue is: The PCs don't seem to be insane (at least right now!) and neither do they seem to be drugged out to their grills, though everyone seems to assume they are. Oh, and a potentially lethal electro-shock therapy is waiting in the wings for the PCs - joy...a proposition they probably will not be too excited about. However, unbeknown to the PCs, the pyschiatrist scolding them is another patient, while one of their own is the true psychologist...and the murmuring guller. You see, the PCs are criminally, dangerously insane and the guller actually tries to keep them alive and locked away, while another master seeks to unleash them on the unsuspecting populace of the dome. The master in charge here also gets stats.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant issues. Layout adheres to a neat 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf features several nice original b/w-artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Robert N. Emerson's expansion/riff on the themes of The Demolished Ones is truly interesting - much like the Amnesia-games, they lend themselves to fast-paced, intense and thoroughly disquieting games that work best as one-shots. The concepts introduced are interesting and so are the visuals of the adversaries. Quality-wise, each of the 3 scenarios provides some thoroughly compelling, iconic moments and is worth playing. At the same time, the scenarios themselves, by virtue of the relative brevity of this supplement, must be considered to be basically skeleton-3-act-set-ups that require quite a lot of GM-work to get going, making me truly wish this book were a bit bigger, had the respective scenarios laid out in more detail.


At the same time, this book has to be commended - In case you don't know, I really dislike FATE. The only means I managed to derive joy from the system was via The Demolished Ones, as the setting's base assumptions justify and circumvent some components of the system I consider system-inherent problems. While it took me quite a while, I buckled up and returned to the world of The Demolished Ones with this book, and it turned out to be a fun trip - so yeah, kudos for managing that level of quality with what is provided herein!


My final verdict, ultimately, will thus clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 for the purpose of this platform.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
A Fly in the Ointment (Fate)
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Player Paraphernalia #19 The Imperial Druid
Publisher: The Knotty-Works
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/14/2016 04:31:43

An Endzeitgeist.com review of the revised edition


This installment of the Player Paraphernalia-series clocks in at 7 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 4 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?


The Imperial Druid's angle, concept-wise, would be the inherent natural order of things within the animal kingdom, providing control over this concept by graces of the celestial Court. Imperial Druids thus need to be neutral good and may utilize metal weapons and monk weapons, gaining their proficiencies...but at the cost of all armor and shield proficiencies.


The imperial druid also receives an imperial bond - either a domain chosen from air, earth, fire, good, celestial court, nobility and water or an animal companion with the Minor Foo Creature template at 1st level, the full foo creature template at 8th level and the imperial foo creature template at 18th level, but the companion neither receives evasion, nor improved evasion. Problem here: As written, the ability is obviously intended to modify animal companion, but does not explicitly state this, rendering it RAW an addition to Nature's Bond instead of an replacement. While the intent is clear, RAW, this is still a nasty little oversight.


All right, you'll now note something - firs of all, yes, the Celestial Court domain is provided herein. The domain allows for 1/day communion with spirits, which acts as commune with nature, with the caveat that it also works in dungeons, cities, etc. EDIT: The ability has been re-declared as the proper SP. The second ability is a supernatural, more heavily modified spell: At 8th level, you can, as a standard action that does not provoke an AoO, call forth a celestial templated summon nature's ally with a minimum Intelligence of 10, which remains for 1 round per level, with the summon nature's ally spell-level being equal to 1/2 your class level (9th level version at 18th level) - while the wording is slightly wonky here, this still is okay.


The template progression of the foo-templates from minor to the lesser imperial foo template has been cleaned up and now lacks its prior ambiguity, making this key-component of the pdf work significantly better. On a further plus-side, while the powerful stony defense ability is retained, the lesser foo template has receives a nerf that makes it less overbearing at low levels, with its power-gain being a sensible offset for the delayed wild-shape gain.


Instead of nature sense and wild empathy, imperial druids may intimidate evil fey, evil outsiders and evil incorporeal spirits, gaining +class level to the check. The prior issue with the Knowledge (nobility) bonus has been fixed as well - though a GM still has to define "spirits" since that is no creature type...but granted, this is cosmetic, which is also why I didn't complain about it in the original review.


The imperial druid may also spontaneously convert non-domain spells (if applicable) to summon nature's ally-spells of the same level, adding kami to the list of creatures that can be called.


Instead of woodland stride, trackless step and thousand faces, the imperial druid receives a scaling natural armor bonus and, at 10th level, EDIT: nerfed to hardness 2 (which scales up to 4), though this costs 5 feet of movement in three steps, reducing movement down to up to 10 feet. Hardness 4, bought with what can be countered by a level 1 spell. Hardness is better than DR; notably energy and ranged attacks halve their damage before applying hardness. This is INSANE, even with the caveat of not working in wild shape and being able to negate it via stone to flesh.


The Wild shape (gained at 4th level, with a delay) similarly allows for the addition of the lesser foo creature template, with sizes of the animal form chosen and class levels determining the foo-creature template that is gained EDIT: Now sans template-botch and ambiguities! Conversely, higher levels allow for the assumption of draconic forms, with foo templates added, though at least the breath weapons thus gained adhere to a daily limit.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are rather good on a formal level - there are no obvious typos and the like herein. On a rules-language level, while there still are quite a few non-standard wordings, the new and exceedingly quickly revised version, while not perfect, has significantly improved. Layout adheres to an easy to read full-color two-column standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked and with the good type of hand-crafted, actually helpful hyperlinks - kudos for those!


John Buckley has crafted a thematically cool archetype herein - the idea of a quasi-eastern druid with fitting servants, in service of the celestial bureaucracy is something I really enjoy in theme. The new and revised iteration of this archetype is a powerful archetype for the druid - the foo creature summons, draconic wild-shapes at higher levels and HARDNESS (OUCHOUCHOUCH) still render this archetype too strong in my book - hardness on its own wouldn't be that bad, but its resulting halving of ranged/energy damage...now that's BRUTAL. So balance-wise, I'd suggest this archetype for more high-powered rounds; in low magic games, this one won't work. However, after a quick check of the math, I'm pretty confident that this will work as a strong archetype in more high-powered rounds. While some rough edges still can be found here, this constitutes a fast and significant step upwards for the archetype and thus nets it a final verdict of 3.5 stars - high-powered rounds that do not mind the relative strength should round up, while the others should round down. Due to in dubio pro reo, my final official verdict will round up.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Player Paraphernalia #19 The Imperial Druid
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Path of War Expanded: Mystic
Publisher: Dreamscarred Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/13/2016 02:29:15

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of the Path of War Expanded-series clocks in at 55 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with a massive 51 pages of content, so let's take a look!


As always with Path of War-reviews, note that I am NOT judging this book in accordance to the power-levels assumed in vanilla Pathfinder, but rather according to the level of power Path of War assumes. If you're not familiar with my stance on Path of War, its strengths and weaknesses, I urge you to take a look at my review of the book - also, since this is an expansion to the system and e.g. the fact that per-encounter abilities have a precise time-frame as well may not be known...but will the mystic attain the level of coolness of the harbinger?


Mechanics-wise, the Mystic receives d8, 4+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as light armors and shields, 3/4 BAB-progression, good Will-saves and begins play with 7 maneuvers known (which scale up to 21) as well as one stance, scaling up to 7. Mystics can have 5 maneuvers readied at 1st level and increase that to up to 12...however, here, things become interesting: Much like To9S's Crusader, the Mystic does not have 100% reliable access to her maneuvers: The Mystic, before her first turn, determines 2 maneuvers, which are immediately accessible to her; thereafter, each round grants her one randomly determined maneuver from those of her readied maneuvers, unlocking this one for the remainder of the combat. If using the Lightning Recovery or Victorious Recovery feats, the mystic can immediately unlock such maneuvers, providing an option for players that are not 100% fine with the random nature of this mechanic. If, during a combat, the mystic would have not withheld maneuver to unlock left, she instead gets all readied maneuvers back and may choose 2 new ones to be immediately unlocked. The number of maneuvers granted at the beginning of combat increases by +1 at 3rd level, 6th, 9th and 18th level by one maneuver, but unlike the base chosen two, these are randomly determined as well.


The Mystic key-ability is btw. Wis and the class also receives a so-called animus - this means that mystics count as class level arcane spellcaster levels for the purpose of prerequisites and stacks mystic levels with caster levels for the purpose of item creation etc. Upon entering combat, the mystic receives 1 + Wis-mod animus pool; this pool increases by +1 every subsequent round and lasts for 1 minute out of combat and whenever the mystic initiates a maneuver, she adds an additional +1 animus to her pool. Animus may be spent as part of a maneuver initiation action for e.g. a cumulative +2 insight bonus to d20 rolls (atk, CMB, skills) associated with that maneuver, up to a maximum of 3 animus spent for a +6 bonus, increase the DC by +1 per point of animus spent. 4th level unlocks 2 animus spent per maneuver for +1/2 class level damage. Alternatively, animus can be used to ignore 10 points energy resistance or 5 points of damage reduction. The latter is a bit problematic: DR is not a unified concept: DR/adamantine or DR/epic is significantly more powerful than DR/magic - a finer and more precise scaling here via animus spent would have made the ability significantly fairer and more streamlined. At 9th level, mystics can target foes up to 30 ft. away with a melee maneuver or move up to movement rate as a teleportation-effect as part of the initiation - nice to see the acknowledgment of it being a teleportation and the line of sight caveat. 13th level and 19th level unlock up to 4 and 5 animus spent per maneuver, but do not unlock additional options.


Animus is important in other ways, though: Mystics are attuned to the elements and when they ready maneuvers, they select an active element and associated energy type. Whenever the mystic initiates a maneuver that deals damage, the mystic may spend one animus to change the damage type to the respective active element. As a standard action (or as a free action upon assuming a new stance) she can change the active element. If the character is psionic, her active element and active energy type are the same and if the mystic has the Elemental Flux discipline, she treats the active element as the active element for Elemental flux.


It should be noted that the class also has a reset for readied maneuvers, namely blade meditation: As a full-round action, a mystic can spend 1 animus to immediately receive and EXPEND (NOT initiate!) the maneuvers readied, the mystic receives a new set of maneuvers as per the default rules of the mystic's ready-mechanic. Being slightly more vulnerable during this period, foes attacking the mystic still have to contend with the raging elemental maelstrom unleashed: Until the start of the next round, foes attacking the mystic receive 1d6 points of active element damage, +1d6 per point remaining in the mystic's animus pool. The class also receives bonus feats at 2nd, 12th and 17th level, being able to choose from Item Creation and Combat feats. 2nd level provides a +1 insight bonus to AC versus psionics and spells (and psi-like and spell-like abilities), increasing by +1 at 6th level, 11th, 16th and 20th level by +1.


3rd level Mystics may, as a move action 1 animus to affect up to Wis-mod allies within line of sight with her elemental glyph, lasting 1 + Wis-mod rounds and new glyphs supersede glyphs already affecting a target. Glyphs are supernatural abilities and add new effects at 3rd, 8th, 13th and 19th level. Beyond the elements, metal, darkness and illumination provide buffing options - air e.g. is about movement, darkness concealment etc. The mystic also receives solid chances of emulating unknown spells. At 5th level, the class gets an interesting ability: When targeted by spells/psionic powers or spell/psi-like effects that have a Fort or Ref-save partial, she may substitute a Will-save AND is unaffected on a successful save. If she fails, she receives 1 point of animus, but this ability only works while unencumbered and in light armor. The ability is very powerful, yes, but its limitations mean that it works actually pretty well in the Path of War-context. At 6th level, the mystic may 1/day as a free action swap a readied maneuver with another one the mystic knows, +1/day at every 4 levels thereafter. At 9th level, the mystic may utilize animus to suppress magical/psionic effects for Wis-mod rounds. 15th level allows for the expenditure of a move action to gain 1d6+Wis-mod animus points...which can be used outside of combat and, as a capstone, the mystic may create a glyph with the effects of two glyphs at the same time - brutal.


So what kind of supplemental material do we get here? First, one should mention feats: Using Animus for healing would be one - while the healing granted is low and has a 1/encounter cap, the feat can be abused to result in infinite healing by picking/ending fights with either kittens or friendly PCs. Note: I do not, as a reviewer, consider the feat per se broken, but if you're like me and do not want any kind of infinite healing anywhere near your table, then I'd suggest banning this one. The other feats allow for an increased energy resistance ignoring with a chosen element, more animus, more maneuvers and better action economy for the reset ability. An interesting feat allows you to not only increased damage die of katanas by one step and treat them as light weapons...which is per se relatively brutal...I mean, come on...katanas are not a weak weapon - why them of all weapons? There is also a feat for other classes to gain animus. The pdf also sports two archetypes for the class, namely the aurora soul and knight chandler. The aurora soul modifies skills and proficiencies and basically is an unarmed variant of the mystic with modified disciplines available, bonus feats to make unarmed combat viable and a defensive bonus to AC. A solid, function-driven archetype.


The Knight Chandler on the other hand is a pretty detailed, complex archetype: The knight-chandler needs to be non-evil and, at 1st level, receives a soul candle, a fist-sized mote of light that sheds illumination in a radius depending on the knight chandler's illumination pool. Once per round, the knight-chandler may will, as a free action, to move the candle up to her speed, ignoring difficult terrain, but being unable to pass through solid objects. If the candle is within the knight-chandler's space, she can have the candle move with her. Additionally, as a swift action, the knight-chandler may summon the soul candle to her square. Allies within 15 ft. of the candle gain resistance to the active element, equal to the number of illumination points in the knight-chandler's pool and the candle is only weakened in magic-dead zones, not suppressed.


Outside of combat, the knight-chandler has 1 point of illumination in her pool; upon entering combat, she adds +1 illumination point per round. She may also use a swift action to gain 2 illumination points and receives one whenever she initiates a boost. She also gains Tap Animus, which means that she does have animus in addition to her illumination pool. Starting at 3rd level, knight chandlers can utilize candle magic, beginning with votive effects and unlocking lantern effects at 8th level and bonfire effects at 15th level. The effects projected may be changed as a swift action. While it is relatively clear that only one effect from the respective lists can be in effect at a given time, I think explicitly stating this would be a wise choice to prevent ambiguity. The relatively close limitation of the soul candle's light is what makes these work, for the effects are rather brutal: More five-foot-steps, teleport, flat-out immunity to death effects...and then, there would be the bonfire effects, which provide AoE fast healing for infinite healing for the whole group and even ability score damage healing for initiators and a life 3-style option to reduce the pool to 1, but also receive immediate healing for 1/2 maximum hit point total plus an end to just about all negative conditions. I consider the latter to be pretty problematic, since it basically flat-out prevents death negating any damage that would bring the character below 0 Hp when used. Then again, seeing the ridiculous amounts of damage initiators can dish out, abilities like this may be actually needed in the long run. This does not change the fact that this is basically infinite healing once again, meaning the archetype will limited in its usefulness for some tables - as much as I like the archetype's mechanical frame, it won't get anywhere near my table. At higher levels, knight-chandlers may share boosts or counters readied with allies and as a capstone, the archetype gets an apotheosis alongside an increased illumination pool minimum.


Now the book obviously also features disciplines, some of which I've already mentioned. Since I have already covered shattered mirror in my review of the harbinger, I will not be going into details there. The book does sport 3 new disciplines, though, the first of which would be Elemental Flux, associated with Spellcraft and available for monk, thrown weapons and light blades. Elemental Flux requires elemental damage of some maneuvers to be determined in advance, but may choose this as a standard action. Furthermore, quite a few of the maneuvers in the discipline can be augmented via the expenditure of animus points. It should come as no surprise to the reader, then, that we're dealing with highly flexible offense/defense options here - unlike other disciplines, the significant flexibility of elemental flux is pretty hard to counter when combined by the resource-management of the mystic. For future-proofing purposes, this bears mention. As provided, though, the discipline is also highly interesting, with more than one maneuver offering wildly diverging in effects beyond just switching the respective energy damage types - and ultimately, I found myself enjoying this component most about elemental flux: While thematically, I did not consider the discipline too captivating, its flexibility is what ultimately makes me enjoy it. It should also be noted that the respective elemental benefits are pretty well-balanced among themselves. So yes, I was positively surprised here!


The second discipline herein would be Mithral Current, associated with Perform (dance) and the weapon-groups light blades, heavy blades and polearms. The discipline also has a unique flair and mechanical component: Being pretty much about Iaijutsu-style quick drawing, the discipline codifies a type of requirement for certain maneuvers that requires the wielder to properly draw a weapon immediately prior to utilizing the respective maneuver. The concise definition here is pretty much glorious and it should be noted that it does make basically for an optional component that can add additional effects to the respective maneuvers. It should also be noted that some maneuvers and stances here do allow for free sheathing of weapons as part of their usual effects. The discipline also does sport numerous rather interesting defensive tricks - alas, unlike some other more recent Path of War-installments, we once again have a more pronounced emphasis on skill-checks as substitutes for more valuable numeric options like AC etc., adding in the swinging effect more than in e.g. the harbinger's designs and making the content presented here feel less streamlined...and, again, more prone to being gamed. On the plus-side, the actual gaming flow of calm turning to brutal counter-assault and visuals of mithral current are fun.


The third discipline covered herein would be the Riven Hourglass, with the associated skill being Autohypnosis and the weapons being light blades, flails and hammers. Here, things get highly problematic in my book - no-save negative conditions and a 1st level strike that kills action economy for the target: Strike the Hourglass has this nice effect: "If it hits, it deals weapon damage as normal, and the target can only take a single move action or standard action during its next turn." Okay, so this 1st level strike prohibits the use of free or swift or immediate actions on the target's subsequent turn and cuts his actions in half, SANS SAVE. 1st level maneuver. This is, even in Path of War's context, broken. What about a boost you can initiate only at the start of your action that lets you grant a touched target your standard, move or full-round action? 4th level. Riven Hourglass is HORRIBLY BROKEN. It allows you to break any semblance of action economy and is chock-full with abuse-the-system-to-smithereens-combos. I'm at this point used to Path of War playing fast and loose with balance, even in the increased power-context of the series, but you don't have to be a rocket scientist to come up with a plethora of ridiculous ways to break...everything with this discipline. Urgh.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good - the complex rules-language employed tends to be precise and well-crafted, though there are some discrepancies regarding the consistency of what abilities need saves and what don't. Layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press' two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports numerous gorgeous full-color artworks. The pdf comes with a second, more printer-friendly version as well - kudos!


Chris Bennett and Jade Ripley's Mystic is an interesting class: The heir apparent to the Crusader, the Mystic has a flow in its maneuver availability I very much enjoyed on paper and, from experience, classes with a flow require playtesting. The Mystic, and this is interesting, is not the first Path of War class with a flow: All classes can freely and easily regain maneuvers and as such, there always was the flowing motion inherent in the system. The Mystic takes this up to 11...or at least, makes you think it does: Basically, the class feels like it's afraid of its own self-imposed limitations. We get a class that says: No reliable maneuver-access...unlike the default "you do x, y or z". Which is not bad per se, but it does mean that the class plays less unique than you'd expect from the set-up. A similar process can be observed in my mechanically favorite component of the mystic: The way in which animus increases over the rounds hearkens back to an escalation die-like 13th Age-style mechanic coupled with resource-management. It pretends to require serious resource-management...when it really doesn't.


Animus is a cool mechanic that has the potential to be extremely entertaining...but in practice, the system awards blasting away: If an enemy's still standing after you run out of animus, that slightly limits your options...but not in a manner that is strictly stifling for even a short duration or render it problematic: Basically, I love the ability's frame-work...but it's not really required for the class. Most combats can be defeated sans tapping into the animus-mechanic. Basically, I feel like this class is afraid of requiring the use of its resources and playstyle: It introduces these cool mechanics, these unique tricks, has the mechanical means to provide a flow and then tells you: "You don't need these, but if you do use them, you're even more awesome."


On the design-side, the high flexibility of Elemental Flux and Mithral Current's draw-component are truly astounding and render play with them exciting, though they do hint at another discrepancy. I also absolutely adored the Knight-Chandler's soul candle mechanic, if not all components of the particular execution here.


My intense dislike for skill-check substitutions is back in full swing here; after the Harbinger's maneuvers clothed such mechanics in effects that sported less potential problems, we have them here again...though, again, in a way that does show growth over the original Path of War, with an emphasis on defense and, since it represents more of a personal preference, is not a key component of my verdict. The book does sport some discrepancies with no-save nerfs and the like.


I think, if you're reading this far, you may be one of my readers using the original Path of War or at least being interested in the system. I've rambled on about a narrow implicit playstyle that does not take table-variation into account in one particular context: Unlimited healing. This installment once again does provide such options, which eliminate this pdf for a significant amount of tables, mine included. And then there would be Riven Hourglass. The harbinger's Shattered Mirror could be broken in some campaigns and brilliant in others. Riven Hourglass is just friggin' broken, regardless of context or powerlevel. It begs to be abused to kingdom come and you don't even want to know what an evil GM can do with this...or what a halfway decent adventurer group can make with this beast. This discipline needs a serious nerf and some significant limitations to make its utterly broken action-shifting more restrictive. "That's just EZG rambling, he doesn't get Path of War." Wrong. Path of War's emphasis on getting more power, more versatility out of your actions, if anything, exacerbates the problem this discipline poses.


In the end, the mystic does sport some conceptually brilliant mechanic innovations, but is too afraid to truly capitalize on them and make them the focus of the class - to me, this felt like the class, time and again, tries to apologize for its own mechanics, stating: "See, it's not so bad, you still get all your crucial tools when you want them." - and that undermines the unique framework the mystic offers. The harbinger's only issues were one out of place ability and the escalating DCs far beyond any you'd otherwise see. However, its accomplishment boils down to being a fun skirmisher that requires the player to treat it as such. The Mystic, in contrast, has these great flowing set-up mechanics...but doesn't strictly require them. It does feel like the class was revised time and again to cater to the taste of people that did not like the class's random maneuver-mechanics - which, to me, is a shame, because it undermines the unique and compelling identity the class actually sports. Worse, the increased flexibility the maneuvers of the new disciplines offer do look like they were balanced to work with regards to a more limited availability, like there was once the intent to offset the lack of control with more powerful options - something the class no longer requires. And yes, this extends to the animus-mechanics.


While I do consider some options here to be brutal power-creep and yes, broken, there is still a whole lot to like and truly interesting material to be found herein. Still, to me, this falls a long way short of the harbinger. It should also be noted that, while Mithral Current and Elemental Flux on their own are powerful (and Elemental Flux surpasses ANY elemental-themed option in power and flexibility, including Solar Wind), Riven Hourglass is pretty much the equivalent of throwing any sense of balance to the wind - it imho hurts this pdf...and it hurts Path of War as a whole. Even in my most high-fantasy of campaigns, I will not allow this anywhere near my table, which is a first for the series - I can conceive of campaigns where infinite healing is no issue and while I won't run one, I don't judge. Riven Hourglass, on the other hand, begs to be broken in any context.


It should be considered a testament to the quality of the other content herein and the pdf's mechanical innovation that this one does not sink the pdf. Ultimately, the Mystic is an exercise in brilliant highlights and darkest shadows - and hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3 stars. Even fans of Path of War should take careful stock before allowing this pdf, though.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Path of War Expanded: Mystic
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The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence
Publisher: Kort'thalis Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/12/2016 04:39:00

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This hex-crawl sandbox clocks in at 110 pages, 1 page front cover, 3 pages of editorial, 1 page Index, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 104 massive pages of content, so let's take a look!


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


Well, before we do, let's make one thing clear (if the cover hasn't already...) - this is declared as "mature content"...though, at least to my European sensibilities, it does not require this declaration. There are literally more butts in just about any music videos and there is no full-frontal nudity or the like herein. While not particularly tame regarding the subject matter, the artworks are pretty tasteful and subdued and, at least to me, this pretty much is PG-13 - I quite literally could rattle off a number of regular modules with themes as grim or even darker, which made me conclude that this one's rating mostly stems from a Kali-esque statue's rendition that shows nipples (gasp) and perhaps the two artworks that do depict the backs/sides of women. shrugs That being said, this is, tone-wise, a pretty irreverent book, so if green-skinned slave girls that may tear you limb from limb offend you, this may not be for you - in this way, the cover is pretty much genius: Offended by the female behind on the cover? Well, then this may not be for you....but before you do judge, please consider reading this review...there's a reason why I review this book...


All right, much like other Kort'thalis Publishing books, we begin this massive sandbox with an array of basically house-rules intended to run with this module. While this book introduces the VSd6-system, which is dead simple - basically, you roll a pool of d6s and take a tally of the numbers, with the highest determining the degree of success/failure and the pool-size depending on the difficulty of the task at hand. The system per se runs fast and pretty decent for this sort of gameplay, though admittedly, after playtesting it, we went for the slightly more refined iteration that would be featured after the release of this book in "Crimson Dragon Slayer". That being said, advice like situational bonuses for properly roleplayed actions and uniqueness of characters retain their validity. On the character-building side of things, the rather cool idea of dark secrets, as pioneered in "Liberation of the Demon Slayer", Kort'thalis Publishing's inspired, but also rather flawed freshman offering, is expanded upon via even darker secrets, which present significant stains on a characters karma and may well represent the very driving forces of the respective PCs. On the narrative side, 20 sample flashbacks and a list of so-called "purple spellcasting" is presented: Basically, this is an add-on to any existing spellcasting system, highlighting the magic-warping effects of the islands portrayed herein - upon spellcasting a d6 is rolled - on a 6, spell-efficiency is enhanced...on a 1 a disastrous failure occurs...and on a 3, something chaotic and odd (think: Purple-themed, icky wild magic...) happens.


Beyond these, quick rules for the instability of dimensional gateways, radioactivity, fighting harder once you're almost down and for time-travel backlash are provided - though I can dispel any groans this topic may have caused on your behalf if you're like me and subscribe to the rather complex notions of the concept à la Primer rather than the more popularized and story-hole-prone renditions in popular media: The theme, while existent, is thankfully relegated to the background.


Beyond a relatively decent, if not perfect monk-class, the book also features a d12 critical hit table as well as quirks for magical swords and their odd egos. Oh, and for those of you who think this monstrous meat-grinder is too easy - what about a brief table of permanent injuries, to be heaped upon poor characters unfortunate enough to drop below 0 Hp? Yep, there is quite a bit of material in this regard in the book... but ultimately, this component will not be the one at the focus of your interest, right?


Rather than that, you want to know about these islands, right? Well, I shall oblige, but in order to do so, I will have to resort to SPOILERS. Potential players are advised to jump to the conclusion or be forever traumatized of anything purple before even adventuring on these 3 cursed rocks...


...


..


.


All right, only GMs left? Great! So, in this module/sandbox, we return to the world of Razira, grim and deadly as it was depicted in the previous mega-adventure - only this time around, we dive head-first into true sandboxing, with numerous reasons for expeditions to the 3 islands being part of the set-up - and on it, the whole thing becomes pretty much player-driven. However, the GM actually receives some rather interesting tools - like micro-tribe-relations-generators to determine tribal relationships between e.g. the cyber-sorcerors and the beast-men. Cyber-sorcerors? Well, yes. This is pretty much science-fantasy at its finest, sporting numerous crash-landed alien-ships, strange interplanar travelers, slavers from galaxies far, far away...there are a number of such encounters to be found alongside radioactive material that has mutated local flora horribly (not that this would seem too much out of place here...)...there is a lot to work with.


Now if you're a purist, you may pretty much easily reskin these components or further emphasize them - a practice you can similarly extend to encounters where a dimensionally stranded adult movie actress is looking for fabled Alpha Blue (Kort'thalis' most recent supplement!) or to the credit cards that can be found upon other unfortunate souls stranded here. Unfortunate? Well, beyond the warring tribes and diverging technology-levels, there obviously are multiple factions vying for control over the islands, seeking to decipher the true purpose of the black monoliths that dot the landmasses? Beyond the character's individual story-seeds and suggested metaplots and elements, there are other components that can drive day to day adventuring here - for example the disturbing random events in the night table...or the encounters themselves: When highly lethal and completely bonkers purple harlequin assassins start targeting your PCs, you know you're in for a treat that is pretty much bonkers...and who wouldn't consider undead dinosaurs awesome? Basically, you can picture this as a sandbox defined by what just about anything rock/metal-related you'd consider awesome - but it's not that simple.


The key defining feature that unifies the whole atoll and makes the mega-adventure's seemingly disparate elements come together would be, obviously, the eponymous purple putrescence: This thing, the Thing That Rots From the Sky, is basically a Great Old One-level deity, potentially all-consuming and awful, with godlike powers - and its secretions, mutating purple rains and mists, generate a climate that suddenly makes flying ape-men with tentacles and the like seem...plausible. The same goes for the various disparate tribes and factions detailed herein, all of which, in some way, can draw upon hooks that tie in with meta-plot components strewn throughout this book..though, as usual for such free-form sandboxes, it remains ultimately up to the PCs how they play this glorious monster...and speaking of "playing" and " monster" - yes, there are actually rules for initiation into some nasty cults herein.


The book also contains numerous new spells and magic items, which btw. are more precise in their effects in direct comparison to Liberation of the Demon Slayer. The book closes with two lavishly-drawn maps of the islands, one of which is in full-color in the pdf.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good - I noticed no significant errors. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly 2-column b/w-.standard and the interior artwork is unanimously of a very high caliber that captures well the eldritch atmosphere of this islands. The pdf, alas, does not have any bookmarks, which renders navigation pretty much a colossal pain - I'd strongly suggest getting this in print. The print copy is inexpensive for its page-count and very much production-values wise a great deal. The maps are awesome, though travel-directions and similar comfort-notes are not included - much like in the modules of old, the GM has to work with this mega-adventure a bit before running it - though I do not hold that against the book.


So, I'll just say it: This book hits all the right notes for me. Lovecraftiana? Check. Gonzo elements? Check. Sword & Sorcery flair? Check. Brutal difficulty (your players can't just die - they can blow up the world!)? Check. This is Venger As'Nas Satanis' second book and the increase in quality of "Liberation of the Demon Slayer" is vast - the wording s more concise, the bonkers ideas are more pronounced - where LotDS was pretty much geared towards highly lethal dark fantasy, this book's genius lies in its variety: You could, obviously, run this as an exceedingly dark, brutal and savage module; you could emphasize the gritty, but still heroic components. You could emphasize the strangeness of the place and basically have the PCs tackle this like Redshirts exploring a planet...or you could blend all of them. While heavy metal aesthetics unquestioningly inform the overall base-line and theme of this sandbox, whether you prefer Death Metal or Classic Metal, whether you want a bloody, brutal experience or rather a gonzo, odd one - the emphasis and control lie with the GM. The brilliance of this module lies in the constant skirting of the darkly humorous and potentially completely disturbing, allowing GMs to set their own individual tones, to properly and truly own this massive sandbox.


In my first iteration of this review, I went into more detail regarding the individual encounters and the like, but I decided against retaining this version of the review, since the reading experience of this book is what actually makes the sum of its parts come together like some hideously-tentacled eldritch clockwork. The brilliance of this adventure lies in the fact that it should be an unmitigated mess of tones and concepts and manages to instead blend everything together in a thoroughly unique playing experience instead, one that works best if seen as a whole and not as the sum of its parts.


One note for inexperienced GMs - dungeon-wise and settlement-wise, there is, as with all hex-crawls, a need and requirement to do some work of your own (due to the sheer scope covered)- but if this wonderfully deranged and fun beast doesn't do the job of getting your creative juices flowing, I don't know what will. This is pretty much everything that makes the excited boy within this cynical reviewer jump around with excitement and squee and the book runs just as well as it reads...and if you truly need some material to scavenge, there's a lot out there...feel free to drop me a line if you're looking for some ideas to further enhance this magnificent sandbox.


My final verdict will clock in with a heart-felt, fist-pumping 5 stars + seal of approval for the print version -for the pdf, detract 1 star for the missing bookmarks.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence
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Crawthorne's Catalog of Creatures: Abroa
Publisher: Misfit Studios
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/11/2016 11:00:34

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The first installment of the inexpensive creature-supplement-series by Misfit Studios clocks in at 5 pages, with 1 3/4 pages of SRD and the creature's artwork alongside the header and contact/social site info on the first page, taking up about 1/3 of the space, while editorial information is on page 2 alongside product identity and the declaration of open game content - I'm not a big fan of this layout decision since I tend to print out books and thus, the cover features quite a bit unnecessary ink/toner used in vain...but what about the creature?


The carnivorous coin, or abroa on its own is a CR 1/2 aberration that is fine and has a nasty bite for its size - alongside a dangerous acid. On a cool side, susceptibility to Perform and music makes for an interesting weakness. A second creature-version, the CR 2 swarm of these creatures is much more powerful and the 3 adventure hooks provided also work well with the creatures alongside a brief piece of IC-prose by the eponymous Crawthorne. The one crucial flaw of these creatures, though, does pertain its very angle: These things should look like coins, yes? Well, they have Stealth, so that's nice...but no means of actually disguising themselves/using Stealth to pass as coins - no ranks, no ability to be mistaken for coins, no ability like freeze or a similar means to avoid detection in plain sight...which left me, quite frankly, rather disappointed.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard with 2 beautiful artworks I did not expect to find in such an inexpensive little file - kudos here. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none. The pdf also comes with a second, more printer-friendly version - kudos again, though the imho sub-optimal aforementioned layout-choices mentioned and the social media icons retain their color.


Steven Trustrum has created a great little creature per se - but also a creature that falls short of its own potential and a layout that could be more considerate regarding the ability to be printed out. While by no means bad, this does thus fall short of excellence and hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 for the purpose of this platform.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Crawthorne's Catalog of Creatures: Abroa
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Cyclopean Deeps Volume 1 Pathfinder
Publisher: Frog God Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/08/2016 07:31:13

An Endzeitgeist.com review


An Endzeitgeist.com review


The first book of the two-part Cyclopean Deeps-Saga clocks in at 198 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a massive 192 pages of content, so let's check this out, shall we?


So, let's, for now, process as spoiler-free as possible: Do you remember the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide released for 2nd edition (1e AD&D, if you count that way...)? It's a timeless classic indeed and showcases a significant component of what I consider flawed with most modern underdark/underworld modules. Let me describe it from this venue - have you ever been spelunking? There is an appeal to the hobby that is hard to describe, but I'll try - at the same time, you feel like you have entered a new world, a place where your civilization and all of its comforts do not stretch to. You enter a place wondrous that differs significantly, via all of your senses, from the tactile to the olfactory, from what we are used to - reaching the surface once again can feel a bit like a shock after some time - loud, bright...all those smells. However, accompanying this general sensation, one is (or at least I am!) constantly and keenly aware of insane amounts of solid rock, balancing precariously above one's head - whether as a sense of foreboding or respect, caves and caverns elicit a different perspective. Now, recently AAW Games has captured the proper sense of wonder rather perfectly with their Rise of the Drow saga.


In Rise of the Drow, we saw an unprecedented sense of realism applied to the section of the underdark that is kind of akin to the surface world, if not in environment, then in its social structures - we have dangerous animals, humanoid cultures (most evil) vying for dominance - it's the surface world on crack and the RotD-saga can be counted among the few that managed to instill this sense of wonder in the vivid pictures painted. However, there is another underdark - a place where neither light, nor surface-dwellers usually tread. If you're familiar with the Dark Souls games, think of this as the place that would have come below the lowest, blackest gulch. A place, where even the underworld-denizens fear to tread, a place forlorn and forsaken by the light. Below even Rappan Athuk, thus extends this place, one that can easily be transplanted to any setting - courtesy of there simply being no comparable supplement or module that goes quite that deep - usually, places like this are hinted at in the equivalent of telling the PCs "Don't go there!" So there the fools go - here dwell the things no man has ever laid eyes on, here is the Deep Horizon, here are the Cyclopean Deeps.


If the hex-sporting map is not ample clue - this constitutes a sandbox in the truest sense - that is, this a player-driven, old-school module with ample sample random encounters. Also: Know how old-school sometimes is used as a buzzword? Well, not so here. Indeed, this place is defiantly old-school and LETHAL. Even when compared to Rappan Athuk, the Cyclopean Deeps are deadly - very deadly. So yeah, if your group is looking for a challenge, a module worth winning - this is what you want. How nasty can this place be? Brutal enough to actually require no work on my part to make the module more challenging.


Want an example? All right, but to provide you with one, I'll have to go into SPOILERS. Players should jump to the conclusion.


...


..


.


Still here? All right! If you were one of the lucky ones, Rappan Athuk's KS back in the day provided two teasers of this massive module - and one detailed Ques Querax, gateway to the Cyclopean Deeps, wherein strange minotaur golems guard the premises. The local temple sports 3 priests, always in the same position, unmoving, catering to the whims of a strange head - only if you resist the unearthly fear of this place do you receive healing - but you never actually see it cast - upon leaving the temple, the effects suddenly...happen. Curiosity, alas, much like in CoC, may kill the cat, though - and like in the old truism, turn it into a multidimensional horror with puckered tentacles that is coming right for YOU! (Yes, actually trying to find out how these guys cast spells may shatter your sanity and provide a neat new career choice as a terrible servant of the mythos. A tavern owned by a denizen of Leng, an intelligent giant slug slaver, a dog-headed perfume-creating alchemist - not only are plenty of these folk EVIL, they also are WEIRD in a rather uncanny, horrific way. And the interesting thing is - this is civilization in these parts. It literally does not become better than this, so the PCs better figure out means of making this place work for them - a dangerous, but moderately secure base is better than none! Have I btw. mentioned the living eye of Gaaros-Uaazath, arguably one of the most powerful and odd entities herein, secretly creating a mind-bending, centipede-like war-machine?


But beyond the gates of Ques Querax, beautiful and precious wonders await - finding e.g. gems worth thousands of gold may be a reason for joy - until you read the entry of said random treasure - it reads "kidney stone." I am not kidding. The book brims with these little tidbits - and each and every one is tailor-made to come together in a vista exceedingly tantalizing and disturbing. From chain-bound jack-in-irons giants to mists of concealing, detection-blocking darkmist and the dark stalker/creeper enclave of Izanne, there are politics to be found, and yes, civilization - however, each veneer is distorted and odd, a threat underlying just about every step, every interaction - while never losing the evoked, profound sense of wonder that oozes from each and every encounter - and yes, some purists may scoff at decisions to smack down truly wondrous effects that lie beyond the capacity of spells here and there - but as for me, I love this decision - it drives home the need for care, the sense of magic...well, being truly magical. What level of detail am I referring to? well, what about a whole array of options, should the PCs elect to run across the rooftops of the fully-mapped Izanne? Or perhaps the PC's friendly nigh-ghoul guide wants to sell them some slaves and palanquins from his third cousin - the resounding themes of civilization can be found herein, though they are twisted in a grotesque way - a fact that also is reflected by the copious missions provided - and in the messages, that partially are traps, partially are odd - but ultimately, are different. Unique aberrations and strange folk abound, demons trod the streets and even here, a sense of decrepitude, of civilizations most vile, fallen to magics even worse, suffuses the paragraphs, with details upon details drawing a picture of a world that could be another, a place so wildly different, yet familiar, that it could be considered an escalation of the concept of the uncanny.


What about spellbooks that have been folded into the fourth dimension, pods that may transmit memories, odd, singing crystals - there is a lot of wonderful, enigmatic stuff to be found; and if your players prefer making an impact, the nasty and inscrutable people, from serpentfolk to aboleths, are all actually playing their own games, with subquests, goals and the like handily organized for your convenience. Now if you're not familiar with some old-school rules, you might be surprised to see e.g. a reference to percentile rolls and chances to decipher a lost language - this is a remnant of old-school gaming and should have been updated to PFRPG using the Linguistics-skill. And yes, some remnants like this can be found herein. However, in which other supplement are the players tasked (on an optional basis, of course!) to awaken a death god? Eat energy-bars of strange fungus or find out that the nice magic items they found are powered by energy infusions generated by constant sacrifice of sentient beings? It should also be noted that the NPC-builds, while sporting some straightforward ones, also feature some more complex ones.


But honestly, I don't love this book for its mechanics - but where else can you find human-faced, giant ants, unearthly flowers and air, spatial distortions and ways of thinking (properly explained for the DM) that may seem starkly in contrast to our logic...and have I mentioned the importance of the Leng rubies?


Now if the nomenclature and overall array of options seemed confusing to you, a massive glossary should help. The new monsters herein are copious and weird, as are the short, fluff-only write-ups of the elder things. The appendices also contain the numerous unique items - though, much like in the crunch, there are some examples of old-school mechanics to be found herein - e.g. an artifact that requires you to roll multiple d6s and score below your attribute score. The pdf contains various, cool maps, all of which receive player-friendly versions - and there are hand-outs.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to FGG's printer-friendly, two-column b/w-standard and the module comes with A LOT of awesome, unique original b/w-art. The book comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and the cartography in b/w is neat.


Author Matthew J. Finch delivers quite frankly one of the most imaginative, awesome books in the whole Frog God/Necromancer Games-canon; much like the stellar Dunes of Desolation, this book constitutes a prime example of why I want to see as many new FGG modules as possible. I own all Necromancer Games modules, even the boxed sets, and yes, even the rarities. That being said, I do think that FGG's modules surpass those of NG. Cyclopean Deeps Volume I is such a monument - this book reached a level of imaginative detail, of sheer creativity, that one only finds perhaps once in a blue moon. The literally only comparisons I could draw in that regard would be to the best of FGG-modules or to the 4 Dollar Dungeons-modules by Richard Develyn - and you probably by now realize how much I adore them. That being said, this book is far from perfect; the remnants of the conversion not being carried out properly in all cases do stick out like sore thumbs to me and formally, constitute a blemish that you should be aware of.


Then again, this massive book is intended for experienced DMs and experienced groups - beyond the lethality of the module, the sheer amount of sandboxing, of entwined things going on, means that A DM has to have some experience under the belt to run this. But know what? The complexity doesn't faze me and neither do the conversion relics matter to me - for one, in some cases, one could chalk them up to mechanics simply working differently here as well. On the other, capable DMs can easily fix these minor problems. And none of those minor hiccups matter to me in this case - what would singularly break the neck of lesser books just falls under the rag here - the writing is THIS good. Beyond a level of detail that can only be described as excruciating, there simply is no other module, no other environmental supplement tackling anything like this; the only other underworld sandboxes that approach this in terms of complexity would be the second Act of RotD or the classic Open Design "Empire of Ghouls" and both have a wildly different focus, completely different themes.


This manages to elicit a sense of cultural wonder akin to the writings of the classic titans like Gygax, a breath of the magical and uncanny, while also breathing the spirit of the mythos and classic pulp fiction akin to Howard or Haggard. Cyclopean Deeps managed to evoke something I almost never feel anymore these days - a sense of jamais-vu. This is not yet another rendition of some tired old, much rehearsed tropes - this is the antithesis of exceedingly tired level 1 module with goblins and an ogre or shadow as the final boss. This massive tome breathes more unique ideas in a chapter than some whole series of books. Even when compared to Rappan Athuk et al., this tome dabbles in themes and topics far beyond the focus on demonic entities, creates a sense of wonder and, paradoxically, realism. As odd and alien the vistas portrayed herein are, they still feel uncannily organic, realistic and alive - which drives further home the point of this book being not only unique, but inspired in the very best way.


The formal hiccups here and there might annoy you, but if you are missing out on this monumentally inspired world/setting-building due to them, you are depriving yourself of perhaps one of the most captivating reads I've had in any iteration of a d20-based system. And if you don't mind some old-school remnants or perhaps even enjoy them, then this should be considered a true milestone. I've been struggling with myself for quite a long time on how to rate this book, but as far as I'm concerned, the vast imaginative potential this book offers trumps just about any minor blemish or criticism you could field against it; to the point, where complaining would seem disingenuous and downright petty-minded. There are few books of this size that have managed to captivate me to this extent during the whole lecture of them and this massive sandbox should be considered a must-have addition to any DM looking for the deep below - even as disparate encounters and for the purposes of scavenging elements, this book is well worth the asking price. I thus remain with a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval, a nomination for the Top Ten of 2014, a longing for Vol. 2 and the regret that I am too poor to get this glorious tome in print.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cyclopean Deeps Volume 1 Pathfinder
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Four Horsemen Present: Gruesome Oozes
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/08/2016 04:05:57

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The third Gruesome monsters-supplement (for a handy list, use the Gruesome-tag on my homepage) clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, leaving us with 11 pages of content, so let's take a look!


So what are gruesome monsters? The simple explanation is that they're monsters that had a template added, which represents a type of design I personally absolutely adore: Basically, the templates have a goal and that is to reward smart players. Taking a cue from the best of dark fantasy and horror gaming, the templates provided here make the creatures not only more lethal, they also add a psychological component via the Shock Value to them, representing the potential for PCs being intimidated/frightened by the sheer wrongness of the creatures presented.


Furthermore, the templates may be lethal, yes, but they also come with an Achilles heel that rewards PCs acting smart and doing their legwork (meaning that knowledge DC-modifiers can glean crucial information - the modifiers and knowledge are part of the template) - mind you, you can ignore these components of the templates, sure...but why would you? The rewarding expression on player faces when they deal with such a foe courtesy of their smarts is priceless and represents one of the most cherished aspects in roleplaying gaming...at least in my opinion. It should also be noted that each such template comes with a sample creature that already has the template applied for your convenience.


The first template introduced herein would be the CR+2 Intruder Ooze, a thing from a reality beyond the confines of our laws of morality and physics - subsequently, mere contact with these things breaks down the unfortunates trying to fight it; clothed in defensive alien reality, these things can tunnel through ANYTHING and, worse, even gravity breaks down in the presence of these dread globs of goo...but the creatures need to keep moving: Their reality negation destroys anything they're in contact with...even the floor.


At CR+2, no less inspired that the previous masterpiece, would be the emulation-ooze: Basically, we have a body-snatcher here, an ooze that tries hijacking its victims...turning on their personality: The ooze actually believes it is the creature in question, making them truly disturbing adversaries that not even magic can properly sniff out.


The CR+1 exponential ooze would be the old-school, badass-version of the splitting ooze...you know, not the one with this pansy Hp-sharing, but the dread creature that actually can very quicklybecome a horrid epidemic, a flood of oozes...and one that can also divide on its own...and recombine. This is truly a great rendition of the dread blob-concept and a return to form for the much maligned and nerfed trope of the splitting ooze - love it!


The fourth template within these pages is, once again, a mythic template at CR +1/2 per mythic tier - the Hive Mind. And that template would be the answer to the question whether there is a good template to make oozes the BBEGs - with options to control its subjects, detect thoughts, absolutely perfect coordination between individual parts of the collective and the powers to assimilate and induct into its sphere of influence, the hive mind makes for a subtle and uncannily creepy adversary.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Rogue Genius Games' beautiful grimoire-style full-color two-column standard and the pdf sports thematically-fitting stock-art. The pdf comes fully bookmarked.


Stephen Rowe's gruesome oozes had a difficult legacy after the superb installment on fey...and it manages to uphold the superb level of quality the predecessor established - which is a feat in itself, considering how difficult good ooze-design is. Indeed, the creature-templates here are inspired in a variety of ways that is particularly surprising once you remember how one-dimensional oozes usually are. This pdf provides a superb means to instill the fear of oozes back into your players - a brilliant little pdf well worth 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Four Horsemen Present: Gruesome Oozes
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I Loot the Body
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/07/2016 04:21:59

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This little pdf clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 1 page ToC/editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 6 pages of content!


So, we've all been there: The PCs kill a foe...and then, they try to loot the foe. It happens all the time. What do you do first? You run down the magic items and armor, describe them, then the magic jewelry...and this is where things become problematic: You describe a ring? Suddenly it may be of importance. That weird figurine? hmmm...may be more worth, right? This is pretty annoying, at least to me - it makes smuggling unique and relevant items into PC possession rather difficult...and more diversity is ultimately GM-creativity better spent on making unique dungeons and encounters...and stories.


Enter this exceedingly useful little pdf: Basically, this book provides ample of dressing for loot to be found among foes - the first 100-entry-strong table spanning the gamut from fur-lined gloves to strange theatrical masks that are pale white, crying blood. What about strange rocks that supposedly purify water they're dipping into or weird tomes containing all blank pages? In case you're not familiar with items like this: Yes, they can enhance player speculation and provide room for you to gather your wits, providing blank slates you can later fill out.


My rambling above regarding magical jewelry similarly was a set-up - the second table provides 100 entries of odd jewelry - from miniature butterfly wings to polished jawbones and chunks of pink crystal, there is a staggering amount of diversity going on here - more so than in most regular magic items section, reaching a point where the dressings here practically demand to be used instead of the bland descriptions that so often plague magic items. And yes, there is humor to be found here: When a big hunk of wood attached to a rope reads "I am a witless dullard", that is a hook for the wearer on its own...after all, why did the unfortunate receive such a strange adornment?


The pdf features even more, namely a massive third table of 100 trinkets that range from dolls studded with needles, pieces of string snapped multiple times and then re-combined, disembodied moustaches (!!!), obsidian shaped into the form of a cow's head...or what about a silver bell sans clapper sporting the initials H.P.L.? (+2 Nerd-creds if you got that allusion!) A map of a city labeled "Middle of Nowhere" also breathes ample hook-potential and what about this odd book that's smaller than a thumbnail?


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press' elegant 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and features nice b/w-art. The pdf comes in two versions, with one optimized for screen-use and one optimized for the printer.


Josh Vogt's humble little pdf may not reinvent the wheel - but it is all you'd expect from such a small, humble dressing pdf you can ask for: The entries are inspired and run the gamut from the common to the weird, sporting a significant array of utterly unique options for the beleaguered GM. This pdf is absolutely awesome and well worth its fair asking price. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
I Loot the Body
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Prestigious Paths: Horse Lord
Publisher: Misfit Studios
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/07/2016 04:18:19

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This pdf clocks in at 6 pages, 1/2 page front cover, 1.5 pages of SRD, leaving us with ~4 pages of content, so let's take a look!


We begin this pdf with 4 new feats:


-Disciple of Cavalry: Use your or your mount's Str-mod for atk and damage; change as a free action. OUCH. This can be pretty powerful.


-Improved Trick Riding: Unless otherwise desired, treat all Guide with knees, Stay in Saddle, Cover, Fast Mount/Dismount-checks as taking 10. Damn cool since it eliminates unpleasant failures.


-Live in the Saddle: Substitute Ride skill modifiers for Wis, Int or Cha modifier for concentration checks in the saddle; sleep in the saddle for DC 15 Ride-checks. This is rather strong, considering how much higher a Ride skill will ultimately be. Not a fan.


-Master of Cavalry: Divide your inflicted damage freely in a 10-ft burst around the point of impact while making a mounted charge, minimum 1 damage per eligible target. Interesting.


There also are two new traits - one for determining breeds and health and one to negate penalties resulting from cultural discrepancies - I like both for their narrative potential.


The Horse Lord PrC nets d8, full BAB-progression with mounted, 3/4 BAB-progression while not mounted and requires a whopping 10 ranks, meaning it's a mid- to high-level goal. The PrC nets 1/2 Fort and Ref-save progression, 4+Int skills per level and proficiency in simple and martial weapons as well as light and medium armor and shields. I do assume that the mounted BAB is also used for the purpose of combat maneuver calculation while in the saddle, though an explicit note would have been appreciated here. At first level, all Ride-checks may be treated as taking 10; 2nd level nets aforementioned Disciple of Cavalry feat and levels 3, 6 and 9 provide a fighter bonus feat. 3rd level horse lords may issue simple commands, horse whisperer style, to their own horses (and others) via Handle Animal and 4th level increases the number of tricks a horse can be taught by 3, with 11 special tricks (duplicating, for the most part, feats like Iron Will or Weapon Finesse) being provided in a brief table as unique tricks, 2 of which are counted as one trick - including DCs and training time.


At 5th level, horse lords no longer suffer penalties to ranged attacks while in the saddle, even when running only a -2. 7th level provides Master of Cavalry as a bonus feat and 8th level Spirited Charge (triple/quadruple damage if the horse lord already has the feat). As a capstone, we get a +5 dodge bonus for horse lord and mount while engaged in mounted combat.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant issues. Layout adheres to a relatively printer-friendly 2-column full-color standard and the pdf has a nice artwork and bookmarks - in spite of its brevity. Additionally, we get a more printer-friendly version - kudos!


Steven Trustrum's Horse Lord is a humble little PrC that does pretty much what's advertized on the cover: provide a relatively nice mounted PrC to represent nomads or cavalry specialists. There is nothing per se wrong with this PrC - but it does sport some rough edges: The new Disciple of Cavalry-feat, for example, has a pretty low entry-barrier...and the PrC explicitly does not grant any benefits to PCs already having the feat, resulting in a potentially dead level, with the same thing happening for Master of Cavalry at 7th level.


I don't get this - either the prereqs of the feats are too low or there should be something for specialists already having them. Basically, this introduces per se interesting new material, but penalizes players trying their best to use all of it at peak efficiency - and Spirited Charge + Master of Cavalry + Smite/Challenge + Cleave-builds can cut swathes through foes...so yeah, as always with cavalry-specialists, handle with care. ;) At the same time, this certainly is no bad supplement and the traits themselves are nice, as is the steed-trick array. Still, ultimately, the horse lord PrC does feel like it could have used more unique tricks to set it apart, things that e.g. a mounted paladin or cavalier can't do. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3 - a solid, if a bit unremarkable PrC-book.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Prestigious Paths: Horse Lord
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Deadly Gardens Volume 3: Scorpion Cactus
Publisher: Rusted Iron Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/07/2016 04:11:18

An Endzeitgeist.com review of the revised edition


The third installment of Rusted Iron Games' Deadly Gardens-series clocks in at 5 pages, 1 page front cover, 1/2 page SRD, leaving us with 3.5 pages of content, so let's take a look!


We begin this humble pdf with new hazards and terrain types - in the former case, this would be the quagmire hazard, while terrain-wise, we get concise rules for salt-flats, both of which are pretty damn awesome.


The scorpion cactus itself is a CR 3 adversary that cannot move - a cactus studded with a deadly, poisoned stinger...and a unique trick: You see, the cactus can emit a heatwave that duplicates a strange confusion effect that makes the target believe that it's further away than it actually is, granting a unique defensive trick to the creature. Oh, and yes, it can fire the needles on the stinger...but alas, the pdf fails to specify a range for the ranged attack of these needles. EDIT: Stinger-range added!


Beyond this compelling adversary, though, we are introduced to new natural items - alongside concise harvesting rules for them: So if your campaign is like mine, then yes, you'll definitely enjoy this section: Beyond gorgon steaks (yummy!), chuul slime and highly acidic ankheg saliva, cockatrice tongues and similar items, with easy rules for use, can be found herein - obviously alongside two harvesting options for the eponymous scorpion cactus.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to Rusted Iron games' printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard and the neat artwork of the cactus is impressive for such a small pdf.


The scorpion cactus is cool - add in the natural items and the cool terrain type and hazards and we have an inspired, humble little pdf that is very much worth the fair asking price...EDIT: The range of the singer has been added, which increases the rating of the pdf to 5 stars.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Deadly Gardens Volume 3: Scorpion Cactus
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Shattered Heart Adventure Path #1: The Ties that Bind
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/05/2016 03:35:48

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The first installment of the Shattered Heart-saga clocks in at 44 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover - but before we dive in, let me ramble a bit:


Shattered Heart is the AP/Adventure Arc that was spawned from AAW Games' Pathmaster-contest back in the day: Basically, both reviewers (me included) and sales of the top 5 modules decided who would get to write the final AP. While I did like Michael Allen's pitch, I considered it pretty ambitious and ultimately not as awesome as others - it was my dear friend Joshua Gullion (Rest in peace...)who insisted, passionately, that Michael should get the chance - and if the SUPERB Twin Crossing-module is any indicator, he might have been right. This saga's very existence is thus, at least partially, here thanks to Joshua. Call me schmaltzy, but I wanted you to know that.


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


...


..


.


All right, still here? So, this AP takes place in Piccolo - a realm of halflings unlike any you have ever seen. Aventyr as a setting has seen quite a few cataclysmic events and few races were as abandoned by their allies, as harrowed by the events, as the halflings - marred by the dracoprime and harrowed by the insectoid høyrall, the halflings were on their own, lost the majority of the sacred trees of their goddess...and their society changed radically. As things stands right now, halflings have isolated themselves from big folk that left them to their fate and begun a system of indentured servitude of big folk as pretty much the only interaction with other races - and the module begins with the PCs escorting such indentured servants to the ship "Autumn Leaves" at the behest of a cleric of the Goddess, a female halfling called Carlyetta. Now if that does sound like an issue for anti-slavery paladins et al., it should be noted that Carlyetta does hold somewhat different views regarding the taking of servants and cooperation - Shattered Hearts, ultimately, is an AP not only dealing with the re-establishment of the fallen temples of the haflings, but one that is a battle for the very soul of a people - but that will only slowly dawn on the PCs, so conveying that this series is about the long reformation is smart and makes it possible to play this with any group.


The sea-journey towards Piccolo would be the true first massive section of this module and it sports a truly lavishly-rendered, gorgeous map of the Autumn Leaves - on board, PCs can find their sea legs and test their mettle as sailors in a truly interesting series of skill challenges to gain some respect from the clove-breathed bosun (and yes, there is an enhanced version of these challenges if the PCs refuse...or have fun and you want to challenge them more!) - and here at the very latest, something should dawn upon the PCs: There is a mechanic that you may hide or openly state, though I'd suggest the former: Community points. You see, each choice of the PCs, for example, to eat with the crew instead of superior food etc. influences in concise and sensible ways the community point total of the party, while divisive r elitist behavior may cost them such points, confirming the prejudices of the halflings. This mechanic influences the things to come throughout the saga - and yes, there is a shadowy eminence waiting to steer Carlyetta towards heresy and away from a mending of fences...but that will come into play in subsequent installments.


On board of the vessel, the PCs can help the indentured servants against the manifested attic whispers hiding below deck, defeat weird bilge slimes manifesting, find an issue with the food supply and fight back a giant octopus. From combat to skills to investigations, there is a LOT of ROLEplaying going on here...and then, the Nines, a settlement in Piccolo, finally can be seen - and yes, a top-notch, gorgeous full-color map is provided here. Here, interaction with Drigori Crosseyes, broker of indentured servants and other things, may have the PCs treat the servants better and secure an overland trek towards Pembroke...but that's just one component of the material featured for the Nines: The arrival can be easily likened to a massively social sandbox where PCs may meet the idealistic Tryfena Hayweather (married to the more conservative Myghal Weskenver), a paladin...and reap the first rewards of the seeds they have sown - at the Eldermoot, a resolution pertaining the rights of indentured servants and freedmen alike will be decided upon, with the PCs' actions directly influencing whether it passes or not.


After mingling with the peculiar halflings and their customs, the PCs will be en route toward coastal Pembroke (gorgeous overland map provided) - but on a beach (again, lavishly mapped), two days from Pembroke, the caravan happens upon a beached vikmordere ship alongside some rather lethal crabs - and on the ship, the PCs find a translated missive demanding the "foundling" to be delivered to the cyclopean ruins - and here, the module actually branches. At said ruins, Vikmordere raiders await with halfling hostages - you seen, some time ago, one powerful Vikmordere was reincarnated when slain while raiding Piccolo, thus giving birth to a gnoll...which was lost in the turmoil and storms and subsequently adopted by the halflings of Pembroke to grow up to become the extremely endearing and cute "Meatball" - brokering a sort of agreement between the vikmordere and Halflings should prove to be a rather interesting experience indeed!


Arriving in Pembroke, the village, beyond the threat of Vikmordere holding halflings hostage, will be subject to a dread raid of sea creatures - which, unlike the Vikmordere, aim to kill...and kill they do. In the aftermath, Tryfena is found slain at the hands of the undead rising from the waves. Whether they solve the issue with the Vikmordere by bloodshed or by diplomacy depends obviously on the PCs.


In order to access the temple, the PCs will have to find magical sargasso - for the temple to be re-sanctified lies beneath the waves of the sea, with coral-crusted steps allowing water-breathing pilgrims to move down...but alas, the weed has since then been turned into a lethal sargasso-fiend that first needs to be dispatched to once again allow for the access of the temple - and below the waves, the PCs have to breach the defenses of the darkness that has claimed the temple, a coven of sea hags and their numerous, lethal servitors, fighting in the sargasso-choked temple beneath the waves for the fate of the first lost temple of the mother goddess - and, again, reaping what they have sown in the aftermath of the module.


Handy community-tracking sheets and player-friendly maps (or Paizo/WotC-quality) complement a module that is absolutely stunning.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no issues. Layout adheres to a truly beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the module comes with a lot of gorgeous full-color artworks and cartography that is on the highest level you could ask for. The pdf is fully bookmarked. I actually bought the premium paper print for this, just to have it in my library and I urge you to do the same - this book is gorgeous.


Do not be fooled by the relative brevity of this module: For one, there is not a single boring encounter within these pages. Secondly, this book has A LOT going on - it took my group 6 sessions to complete and they're FAST. Still, I do feel like I somehow failed this module with this review, that I have not properly conveyed how incredibly good this module actually PLAYS: It is exceedingly hard to properly convey how good this book is. Michael Allen has crafted a module that is all about CHOICE - not an a) or b) either-or-scenario, but true choice in each and every choice the PCs make - and still maintains a tight storyline, an interesting cast of characters and soul. I love scenarios that feature a "reap-what-you've-sown"-mentality and this book allows for the decisions of the PCs to TRULY matter - we're looking at a fight for the very soul of a whole people and every small decision MATTERS. It should be noted that, while this module is steeped in Aventyr-lore, due to Piccolo's isolationalist stance, this module can easily be run in other settings as well.


Oh, and then there'd be the absolutely superb production values that very much exemplify how AAW Games has become a publisher of true premium modules. This is ambitious and brilliant and I wholeheartedly encourage you to check this out - my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval and nomination as a candidate for the Top Ten of 2015.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shattered Heart Adventure Path #1: The Ties that Bind
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Four Horsemen Present: Gruesome Fey
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/05/2016 03:31:59

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The second Gruesome monsters-supplement (for a handy list, use the Gruesome-tag on my homepage) clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, leaving us with 11 pages of content, so let's take a look!


So what are gruesome monsters? The simple explanation is: They're monsters that had a template added that represent a type of design I personally absolutely adore: Basically, the templates have a goal and that is to reward smart players. Taking a cue from the best of dark fantasy and horror gaming, the templates provided here make the creatures not only more lethal, they also add a psychological component via the Shock Value to them, representing the potential for PCs being intimidated/frightened by the sheer wrongness of the creatures presented. Furthermore, the templates may be lethal, yes, but they also come with an Achilles heel that rewards PCs acting smart and doing their legwork (meaning that knowledge DC-modifiers can glean crucial information - the modifiers and knowledge are part of the template) - mind you, you can ignore these components of the templates, sure...but why would you? The rewarding expression on player faces when they deal with such a foe courtesy of their smarts is priceless and represents one of the most cherished aspects in roleplaying gaming...at least in my opinion. It should also be noted that each such template comes with a sample creature that already has the template applied for your convenience.


So, obviously, we're all about the weird here, not the kind, friendly fey. The first template, clocking in at CR+2, would be the Believer, and oh boy, these guys just beg for complex, odd narratives: You see, the template allows the respective fey to create illusions that remain, infused with a sense of reality and worse, gaining potency when they're believed....but the sword cuts both ways: Disbelieving the lies and dream-reality woven can result in the fey losing power over the PCs...and they have yet another personality quirk, but I'm not spoiling that one. This is basically a perfect representation of the concept of superior fey glamours I've been championing in my home-game...and boy, do I love this template for it!


The second template would be a mythic one, the Exiled Lord (CR +1/2 mythic rank) is just as BRILLIANT: Basically, these fey are fey lords and ladies wandering the world, establishing their fey demesnes out there...and in their realm, they are nigh unstoppable foes with truly devastating options at their beck and call...but they also are subject to their own rules and laws and, taking a cue from real-world mythology, are subject to the compulsion to accept wagers, allowing for smart PCs to outwit truly superior foes far beyond their capability to defeat. BRILLIANT!


The third template herein would be the CR+2 Faded. Taking the awesome notion of gnomish blight one step further, the faded are losing their colors, seeking to drain magic and draining the spirit and vitality from their victims, stealing their very colors for disturbing visuals indeed.


At CR+2, Macabre fey, clothed in shadows while moving, make for perfect modifications of Kobold Press' more disturbing shadow fey: With movement that is plain WRONG they may also sing a song of sorrow and play on mortals via their pain akin to a virtuoso - including the disturbing requirement to utter truly disturbing things when faced with mortals: "Your scalp is so gorgeous...it would make for a great shawl..." shudder


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Rogue Genius Games' beautiful grimoire-style full-color two-column standard and the pdf sports thematically-fitting stock-art. The pdf comes fully bookmarked.
Stephen Rowe's gruesome fey are literally all killer, no filler: With each and every template providing a thoroughly inspired template that does something different, this little supplement is simply inspired in all the right ways. This is a superb little book and belongs into the toolkit folder of every self-respecting GM who has even a minor penchant for smart, inspired foes, for lethal templates...and for games that reward smarts. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval for this glorious little book.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Four Horsemen Present: Gruesome Fey
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Martial Arts Guidebook (PFRPG)
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/25/2015 07:45:20

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This massive supplement clocks in at 63 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 59 pages of content, so let's take a look!


Disclaimer: I was an IndieGoGo-backer for this book back in the day, but was in no other way associated with the production of this book.


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


So, what do we get here: Basically, we get 6 schools of martial arts that teach so-called techniques. Techniques can be gained via a plethora of options: Number one would be the Martial training feat, which nets a character permanent access to one technique, which can then be used at-will. Alternatively, there is the Steel Discipline-feat, which nets 3+Int-mod Steel points per day, which can then be used as a resource to activate a martial technique. If the character already has grit, panache or kit or a similar resource, said resource receives an expansion and can then be used to activate a technique. Beyond that, one should realize that access to the school teaching the technique is considered to be a given requirement, putting the reins firmly in the hand of the GM, including a discussion on how to base technique-acquisition on roleplaying. Speaking of which: Technique-acquisition sans expenditure of feats via roleplaying also does sport a concise mechanic for such a means of introducing the material herein.


All of this should already hint at the dual focus of this book: On one side, this book is all about giving martial characters more interesting options, but it is also about providing a social context for martial characters. "But what if a character has no x feats to burn?" Well, you see, that's pretty much one of the truly beautiful components of this book: From antipaladin cruelties to gunslinger deeds, there are plenty of alternate class options to allow such characters to utilize the techniques introduced in this book, a component also supported via the new favored class options that are introduced with the explicit purpose of making techniques more easily accessible. This level of customization options btw. also extends to the techniques prerequisites, which come with 2 different sets: Essentially, just about everything regarding the acquisition of techniques is modular.


Okay, so what exactly do we get in this pdf's respective schools? Well, first of all, this is very much a roleplaying book, as opposed to being simply an enumeration of crunchy bits: Each of the martial schools sports a detailed, well-written introduction, concise pieces of information regarding the respective traditions, information on the respective training grounds, concise adventure hooks (including hazards etc.), boons to be gained from a positive association with the respective school...and new magic items - including nutrition-granting tea, for example. The schools also provide unique feats as well as sample characters - a copious, diverse array of them.


The intriguing thing about the crunchy bits here would be, to me, that they are ultimately perfect examples of Rite Publishing's virtues as a publisher in that they blend high concept fluff with interesting crunch. Want an example? Sure: The Wushin Mountain's diverse schools sport quite a few interesting feats, one of which ought to trigger all my hatred: Stone Swallower allows for the regeneration of ki, a limited resource. Why am I not frothing at the mouth and bashing it? Simple: For one, I love the idea that this feat requires the swallowing of stones for a unique visual. More importantly, though, the strict limitations of the daily uses of the feat render it powerful, yes, but also balanced.


Now as for the techniques - there are a lot of them and a lot of schools to choose from: The dwarven-inspired Badger Style, for example, allows you to break free of grapples and even from being swallowed whole with penalty-less full attacks...and there is "Humble the Mountain" - which is just so awesome: If you hit a foe with it, you reduce the foe to a kneeling position before you, which, while not rendering the target helpless, makes for awesome visuals - and yes, flying et al covered as well. Scaling bonus damage based on BAB versus foes, ignoring DR and hardness may sound brutal, but ultimately, it is the limitations of the technique that render it mathematically feasible in EVERY game. What about a technique that allows you to retaliate against foes that attacked you before with increased efficiency?


The polearm-based Axe Beak style lets you add weapon qualities temporarily to your polearm. What about a mechanically valid way of spearing your foe with a thrown polearm, charging him and retrieving the weapon in one fell swoop? The two-hand-fighting/double weapon-centric trickery of Fox Style allows you to increase your weapon's reach and is surprisingly a style that allows for some unique tricks, while e.g. the Tanuki Style's Shadow Dodge allows you to use smoke pellets for pretty awesome dodge-then-retaliate moves. Otter Style martial artists may kick foes back to strike them with their ranged weapons or execute ranged disarms and perform melee attacks with crossbows and bows and even grapple foes with your bowstring, strangling them!


Now if all of this does sound too WuXia for you in style, you'll be glad to hear that Western martial arts are covered in this book as well: The first of these would be pretty much your swashbuckling/fencing-style school that allows its practitioners to on-the-fly pick up disarmed weapons, ignore difficult terrain, etc. - including using 5-foot-steps to charge or force movement (save negates) with each attack you perform: A simulation of binding weapons with reciprocal movement can also be found among the techniques here. Very interesting from a mechanical point of view: The stances of this school allow for the modification of your initiative score, providing different benefits depending on your position - and if that sounds like too much book-keeping for the GM, just follow the pdf's advice and have the player track initiative. It's definitely worth it!


The Third Suns (get it? "The first son inherits, the second is for the church, the third for the military...") would be pretty much Zweihänder-based martial arts for templar-style knights: Here, we get glory-techniques that can provide the stuff of legends: Brutal offense, at the cost of potential vulnerability, this style is all bout high risk/reward ratios and potentially, means to find a glorious death...or triumph...which would be as good a place as any to also comment on the rather impressive fact that, where a given technique overlaps with a feat, the techniques actually feature proper synergy/additional tactical option, showing a thoroughly impressive level of system-knowledge and mastery. The Halls of Ivy under the Oaks, then, would be an elven tradition that is basically the representation of the concept of bladesinging, blending magic and martial arts: As such, the techniques require the sacrifice of spells...or, via a feat, impose a temporary penalty on your Constitution-score. Now here's the interesting component: The sacrificed spell's descriptors actually change the effects of the respective techniques! Yes, this is as well-crafted as you'd expect it to be. Better yet, the techniques provided herein allow for the expert countering of magic (and crippling of spellcasters further enforced by new weapon properties), making the technique a great alternative to similar tropes. There is also a truly devastating aura at long range that can utterly cripple the whole opposition with unique effects per descriptor- but at a steep cost to yourself that will mean you won't pull it all the time.


The Martyred Arrows school, strongly aligned with a clan of gargoyles, allows for its practitioners to utilize the unique teachings to part winds, make trick shots to cripple the opposition or fire a last-ditch shot at an opponent right next to you sans AoO or penalty...potentially in combination with other school-techniques. And there is Marty's Arrow. Fire at a foe and save. If you make the save, you only are reduced to -1 hp. If you fail, you die. The opponent hit, however, also needs to save or die. If you choose to willingly fail your save, the opponent also takes bonus damage equal to your remaining HP. And yes, this is a death-effect. So, on one hand, I want to complain about this technique...but then again, I'm a sucker for heroic sacrifice last ditch shots and the scaling save means that even characters with a good Fort-save run a very real risk whenever they unleash this one...so yes, not going to complain.


And then, finally, there would be the Ludi of the Waiting Koi - the gladiatorial type school. The techniques here are visceral and intriguing: As an immediate action, you can e.g. lower your AC as a response to an attack, interposing an attack with a net, tanglefoot bag etc. for one of the best counter-strike representations I've seen in quite a while. Better yet, as befitting of the school, we actually get synergy with performance combat and negating immediate and readied actions targeting you via shields allow for unique tactical options...and yes, net/piercing weapon-follow-up combos are part of the deal.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly 2-column b/w-standard with b/w-bamboo-borders and the pdf sports copious amounts of high-quality b/w-artwork, most of which is new. The pdf comes fully bookmarked.


Timothy Wallace, Matthew Stinson, William Senn, Ben McFarland, Mike Wise and Aaron Phelps took some time to get this book done - sure. But know what: the wait was very damn well worth it! When Path of War hit sites, I expected that one to eliminate the necessity, but then was kind of disappointed by Path of War's explicit focus on high-level gameplay, on fantastic power beyond the means of some tables.


The Martial Arts Guidebook's main difference from this system lies in multiple instances: For one, more than the crunchy bits, this is very much a sourcebook that grounds the disciplines in a concise narrative framework. The balance of the martial arts maneuvers here is impeccable - and it manages something I did not expect.


The Martial Arts Guidebook takes table variation into account in an almost unprecedented manner. The fact that you have not 1, not 2, but, depending on how you count, up to 5 (!!!) ways to introduce this book's content to your game means ultimately that, depending on your campaign, you can limit these or de-limit them. Want full-blown martial arts? No feat-tax, easy access. Want point-based mechanic? Available. Want feat-tax based techniques? You can have those as well. Even the most gritty of 15-pt-buy campaigns can use the content herein - and so can high-fantasy 25-pt-buy rounds: The system works organically and smooth in either and manages to display a thoroughly impressive synergy with feats - it is here the guiding hand of Ben McFarland as a superb developer of exceedingly complex material can be seen at work - even when limited resources can be regained, there is always a fair balance here, no power-creep - this book is NOT about numerical escalation, this book is about broadening the options, about making combat more interesting and diverse - and it excels at its goal.


Let me reiterate this: On one hand, this is a thoroughly inspired book of crunch - but on the other hand, reducing it to this component would be a disgrace to the book; it is so much more. The styles presented here do not exist in a vacuum, though you can sure use them as such. Instead, the detailed information on the schools in this book render the techniques simply intriguing, organic components that can guide full-blown adventures, with sample NPCs and hooks galore. I did not expect to like this book and absolutely feel in love with this book, particularly since the options provide amply unique gambits and tactical options that can be introduced singularly or as complete packages into any given campaign sans unbalancing the material. Let's sum it up: Great fluff, great crunch, potentially perfect synergy with just about any Pathfinder-campaign...what more could I ask for? Well, simple: A sequel. The techniques provided in this book are brilliant and even if you take the crunch away, you'd get a thoroughly inspired book, one that has me wanting more. Whether Conan-esque grit, high fantasy WuXia or a more martially bent Western setting, this book delivers in spades - 5 stars + seal of approval and nomination as a candidate for my Top ten of 2015!


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Martial Arts Guidebook (PFRPG)
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Call to Arms: Mantles of Power
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/25/2015 07:42:16

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of Fat Goblin Games' Call to Arms series is a massive, huge beast of 94 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 88 pages of content - that's A LOT, so let's take a look, shall we?


Okay, we begin this installment of Call to Arms with a breakdown of what mantles are. Sounds strange? Well, it quite frankly shouldn't be considered to be strange. Think about it - there is more to a mantle than just the cloth and material from which it was woven - as the pdf aptly demonstrates, wearing a mantle can denote more than just "the wearer is protected from the weather" - in real world history, mantles have often been used to denote status and ultimately, power. Sheer, brutal, in your face POWER - whether religiously or by the grace of the kings, a gorgeous mantle had its own weight, a kind of symbolic capital. Now picture what happens in a world where such options actually carry significance beyond the realms of the symbolic, a world wherein faith can literally move mountains and where authority can literally break the will of others - aye, there is untapped potential here!


Similarly, there are armored mantles, but more on those later - for now, let us focus on mantles vested in authority - thus, we have ranks like acolytes, civilian commanders, scholars and the like - all covered, with respective boons associated with the mantles. This is brilliant not due to the respective mechanical relevance, but due to the social relevance and the sense of immersion it enhances; basically, we have items that enhance a world's inherent consistency here, with fluff, titles, etc. all there for your convenience.


Of course, this is not simply a book devoted to such prestige-mantles - we get concise tables of spell-level by class prices for mantles alongside a concise, easy to grasp break down of Item Creation of mantles. Obviously, specific magic mantles can be found within these pages as well - including cursed mantles and intelligent mantles...oh, and yes, mythic mantles - like the Lien of the Night-King...but what about the eponymous mantles of power?


You see, here, things become interesting indeed: A mantle is not necessarily only a physical vestment of authority - it has a symbolic dimension: We do speak of the proverbial mantle of authority for a reason. The pdf's mantles of powers can be pictured as basically an item-based mini-template, as a kind of story-reward beyond what regular items would provide - and as such, their massive benefits do come with a hefty responsibility - and a CR-adjustment...as well as a "Geis," for said power comes at a price...and requires investiture by a powerful being. Think of the mantles of power as particularly powerful emergences (See Imperiums CS), for example. Basically, these complex, exceedingly powerful mantles denote you as "the chosen one", the champion of a deity, etc. and similarly, such power can also be used for antagonists: What if there are beings that successfully take the mantles of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (not the writers!)? And yes, these mantles actually sport several abilities that interact with one another, allowing the wearers to consecrate weapons with their dread powers and tie them to their powerful tricks...and even better, there are ALTERNATE HORSEMEN mantles here as well...like anarchy or majesty, to give you two examples.


Oh, and have I mentioned the war of the seasons and the fey courts? Here, things become full-blown campaign setting/AP-style detailed: Much like Dresden Files' depiction of the fey, various positions in the respective courts of the fey coincide with mantles of power - from queens/kings to heir apparent, knights and jesters, there are A LOT of mantles of powers here - for each season!


While summer and winter generally blend positions in court with suite-of-card like themes, spring and autumn have their titles aligned with opposing pieces of a chess set, sporting e.g. "rooks". It should be noted that escalating mantles of general association and those highly prestigious mantles are all covered - basically, what we have here is a massive, template-based reward-system ready for your perusal that can be considered enough fodder for a whole campaign...or many of them. The significant level of power these offer may work btw. particularly well in low/rare magic item-campaigns. The significant ability-suites could offset the mathematical problems creeping in at higher levels to a certain extent. To give you a general idea of how long these mantles' respective write-ups are: The CR+8 King of Autumn's mantle covers more than 3 pages! And yes, the vast majority of this is CRUNCH. I am not kidding when I'm saying that these mantles can govern a whole campaign worth of material---or make for unique adversaries.


Oh, and there would be neutral parties that also receive 4 mantles and the Sidhe and mocking midnight Court templates/mantles to further expand the material.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch - I noticed no significant array of glitches or issues. Layout adheres to a nice 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The pdf comes with nice full-color artworks.


Lucus Palosaari delivers essentially a bait and switch pdf - I went into this book expecting an array of magic mantles...and they're in here. But this book is so much more. The notion of mantles as a social structuring element is a brilliant "why has this not been done before?"-moment that made me cackle with glee. Obviously, I went into the mantles of power-section rather skeptical - the obvious power-increase being just nasty...but know what? This section is x campaigns and villains waiting to happen. The brilliant horsemen mantles will be wielded by champions of darkness in my game (or by the players...we'll see...) and then, there would be the fey-mantles.


Okay, let's get this out of the way: If you absolutely are not interested whatsoever in the whole war of seasons-concept, then you'll lose a significant array of pages in this book: 47 pages, to be more precise, all of which are devoted to the fey mantles-come-templates for the respective positions and they are pretty much glorious: Granted, I am a bit of a fanboy for fey politics and unique effects and the blending of mythological, pagan tropes and the crunch here is very well-crafted. Moreover, we actually get information on the otherwise often neglected spring and autumn courts and, better yet, they receive their own mechanically-unique identities. Essentially, this is a whole campaign's worth of unique rewards just waiting to happen and the investiture and geis mean that such mantles are not only hard to get...they're also hard to keep. Just think what poor Harry has to endure since he went Winter Knight...well, some geis make that look downright cute.


I've been thinking rather hard on how to rate this book - the mantles of power themselves are utterly brutal and should obviously be handled with care...and this book is more of a narrative device than an item-book...but judging this book as an item book in the straight, traditional way would quite frankly be a disservice to the inspired material contained herein. I'd rather be positively surprised and inspired to make adversaries and extensive stories than have more replacements for cloaks of resistance that end up not being used.


From the low-magic end of mantles as a sign of office and authority to the high-end fey-court intrigues, this supplement offers some truly inspired options - just don't expect a huge selection of vanilla magic mantles. That being said, this book is imho better off for its chutzpah of actually doing something radically different - hence, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Call to Arms: Mantles of Power
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