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One Waiting One Prisoner One Sacrificed
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/19/2019 11:14:25

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure clocks in at 21 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page advertisement; each of the three chapters has its own sub-cover page, which means we arrive at 15 pages of content, laid out for 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), so let’s take a look!

All right, structurally, this is one narrative that was released in 3 installments by the Gothridge Manor patreon; the three chapters each represent a nice mini-adventure, and depending on how fast your players are, you can potentially finish the entire module in a single, long session. Unlike many multi-part adventures, the different chapter manage to retain their own, concise themes while still gelling together as a cohesive entity.

Now, in case you’re new to GM Games, it should be noted that the tone herein is one of somber dark fantasy; Tim Shorts has a gift when it comes to depicting the small and large shortcomings of human(oid) beings and their consequences. Much like e.g. the Witcher games, there is no moralizing, no raised index finger. It should be noted that this module does include a kid that the PCs can’t save from death; if that sort of thing rubs you the wrong way, you can pretty easily modify the adventure, though. The module is pretty much a dark fairy tale, and captures the themes of the stories I grew up on rather well.

As far as rules are concerned, we have Swords & Wizardry (S&W) as the default rules-set here. Formatting of rules-components does deviate in some aesthetic components from the defaults. The module sports no read-aloud text. Each of the 3 parts of the adventure comes with its one map – the first and second adventure sport a hand-drawn full-color map, while the third sports a side-view b/w-silhouette of a tower. I really like that the maps look like the thing they are – hand-drawn. It’s rather charming. I am less enamored with the fact that there is no way to get rid of the annoying numbers on the maps – no player-friendly version has been provided. The maps of the first and second adventure lack grids and scale; the third one has a scale that designates the height of the complex, but not the width. That being said, the maps don’t really hamper the use of the adventure.

All right, so, this module has no suggested level-range for the party: Mid to low level makes sense, but the difficulty of the adventure ultimately hinges on how smart your players are; this is very much an old-school adventure, in that player-skill trumps character skill. The final boss is a pretty tough cookie, though – 6 HD, and a bunch of immunities versus weaponry means that having an arsenal of damage-causing spells is a must. This is the primary reason I’d recommend running this module no sooner than 3rd level, unless you really want to challenge your players with a brutal final fight. Most groups should consider this to be a module best suited for levels 4th – 5th.

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

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, a few days ago, on the celebration of the summer solstice, a group of 3 children went off in search of adventure, finding Denizon’s Folly – the ruin of a tower that was never completed. The ruins of the tower and the burned-out houses there represent the first investigation angle – and indeed, there are strange things going on – sentient specks of light drift hazily through the burned-out shells, subsisting on memories, and indeed, a fey trickster may also be found. Sage plants growing in a circle make for a cool twist on the access point to the fairy realm; with an apple in hand, entering will lead you there. If the players are stumped, the trickster’s thievery may provide a hint there.

The second part of the adventure takes place in the realms of the fey – it is essentially a mini-hexcrawl through the fey village of Osmolt. The is a chaotic means to manipulate time (which courageous players may attempt to use to save all children, but that as an aside that is per se not explored within), and the region per se is chaotic: A table lets you determine fey type, information they provide and mood the fey’s in, and the pdf pretty much does an impressive job here – the angle is weird, and the randomness of the whole information gathering fits the fey well. There also is the eponymous Osmolt, a very potent green man, and a roc. Yeah, you heard me. This section is where murderhoboing will get the PCs TPK’d faster than saying “Roll 3d6, 6 times, in order.” Like it! You see, the fey are frightened – they are currently holding one of the kids, Pauline, imprisoned at the command of their new overlord, the vile redcap Blaspheemus. And yes, the name’s a bit cringy, but it fits the redcap and fey angle. One more problem – Pauline, even if saved, can’t expect a happy end. She has aged physically to become a young adult, while mentally, she is still a little girl…and the village-dwellers will not abide the feytouched among them. I liked seeing this angle – it is a chance for the PCs to be surrogate parents…or true heroes, not just a group of killers with pointy sticks.

The third part of the module deals with Blaspheemus’ tower, a weird edifice overlooking the churning sea of mists. The tower is guarded by the two-headed hellhound Char and Sid, and ina unique angle, the tower is highly vertical – inside, you can walk on all walls, knockers seek to defend their valuables, and the PCs may encounter a horse running on the walls – an illusion given shape, which can cause confusion. The tower is pretty dangerous, including effects that can blind people, teleportation ioun stones that teleport your hand away…and what about the actually pretty competent non-combatant goblin chef? A massive d100-table of Blaspheemus’ loot is included here as well. Speaking of whom: The redcap is a brutal boss – he not only has excellent defenses, he also has a tricky magic item (that works only n the fey realm, so no, the PCs won’t be able to capitalize on it) – and in the end, the PCs will have a hard task, for within this 100-entry table, his keys are hidden – and slaying the redcap will cause the tower to collapse pretty rapidly. The PCs will need to find the keys to release the traumatized Alice, the second of the kids who’s still alive, and escape with her from the tower.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are not good – “abandon” where “abandoned” should be and similar typos can be found throughout. On a rules-language level, I have, thankfully, not encountered serious issues. Layout adheres to a one-column b/w-standard with no frills. The cartography is per se nice, but, as mentioned before, doesn’t have player-friendly components. The pdf sports no bookmarks, which is an unnecessary comfort-detriment.

I really, really enjoyed Tim Shorts’ dark fantasy fairy tale here. It hits the right notes, and while its formal criteria aren’t perfect, this is certainly a module I’d consider to be among his best. If you can look past the formal hiccups, then you’ll get a rewarding dark fantasy fairy tale here, one with a surprisingly well-crafted atmosphere. Formally, this is, at best, a 3.5 star-adventure, but I genuinely found myself enjoying this adventure, and if you value atmosphere over perfection, then this will provide a fun adventure for you. As such, my final verdict will be 4.5 stars, though I can’t round up for it.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
One Waiting One Prisoner One Sacrificed
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Starter Adventures
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/24/2018 13:21:48

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This compilation of beginner’s modules clocks in at 51 pages, 1 page front cover,1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 47 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So, we begin with a brief introduction that sets the stage – this pdf offers 4 brief, introductory one-on-one gaming scenarios/encounters for each of the 4 core classes – fighter, cleric, magic-user and thief. Then, we get a fully depicted starting tavern and an introductory module intended for a group of adventurers. The rules default employed within would be Swords & Wizardry Complete, and we get, where applicable, solid maps for the encounters/areas. There are no player-friendly versions of the maps provided, alas. It should be noted that these are brief enough to be spliced into the start of gaming for a party, allowing each PC a defining moment to kick off the adventuring career. Alternatively, they can be run as a series of brief vignettes to explain the PC’s training.

The pdf also includes 4 nice new monsters, which are rather nice, and two sport solid artworks. They also have component use – i.e. taking remains can have tangible effects, which is something I like to see. One of these does note that the liquefied brain of the critter makes writing scrolls easier, but fails to specify precise effects. The pdf also offers 3 magic items, and these are solid, with particularly the torch knives being an interesting item, in spite of the simple concept. However, formatting in the pdf of such items deviates from established standards. Read-aloud text is printed in italics, setting it apart from the rest of the text.

Now, as far as the introductory mini-modules are concerned, these could also work as roadside encounters most of the time, and they note a general setting/environment. They are generally very easy to integrate into the game. Now, there is one addition to the game here, the so-called Skill Challenge. Before you boo and hiss – it’s not PFRPG’s take, but the rules are simple: Character level + attribute bonus + d20. If you beat the DC, you made the check. These are not essential and may be ignored, if you so choose.

Now, these being adventures, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great, so let’s start off with the cleric scenarios! The first one has the cleric save a young boy who is about to be roasted by 2 goblins; noticing footprints, the creatures can be stopped in time. In the village of Aquin, two skeletons roam in a crop field – smart PCs will find unmarked, shallow graves and sanctify them, preventing further rising skeletons. Now, the third of these vignettes deserves special mention: Test of Faith has the PC in front of an archway of swirling energy – there are 4 different tasks, all of which are assigned to different spells. This teaches the clever use of spellcasting to solve issues. Love it. The final one has the PC deliver a healing potion to a friend of their mentor – en route, they can fight skrivs (one of the new creatures) and retrieve the woodsman’s axe. This one teaches the importance of thinking and items – its reward includes a bracelet with minor AC-boosting properties.

The first fighter scenario has the PC fight 3 encounters in a fully mapped arena; the second one takes the classic trope of the boar hunt and may result in a friendly rivalry. Encounter number 3 is pretty tough – a caravan has been attacked, and while the PC gets a Strength-boosting potion, while 6 orcs + chief make for deadly foes. Only two orcs will attack first; after that, the chief will challenge the fighter to single combat. Defeating the chief will scatter the orcs, which is yet another valuable lesson: Take down the leader and the foes may scram. The final encounter is a classic tavern brawl that preferably should not result in deaths – as such, the player is taught that killing is not always a smart chance.

Magic-Users begin with a test – their instructor has been missing for a while, and the potions they have been working on may spoil. Clever observation may note a hidden trapdoor, where giant rats loom and a pseudo-corpse lies. This one, in short, teaches problem-solving sans resorting to spells. The second encounter begins with a little map, and may have the PC ally with a balan versus a nasty necromancer and his skeletons. Thing is: The necromancer does not wish to harm the sacred bush, and has no intention of harming a fellow magic-user…allegiances can be muddy indeed. The third encounter has the PCs hunt for the aforementioned squishy squab birds, whose brain liquid can help write scrolls. The final encounter teaches magic item interaction and focuses on dealing with two pet stirges that have escaped. It should be noted that the presence of NPC allies in these help to somewhat counteract the squishiness of magic-users.

The thief-scenarios begin with the PC earning their lockpicks by stealing a purse; scenario number two features a training burglary: The PC has to enter a guarded building and steal the contents of a box – and yes, it has a secret compartment. The third scenario nets the PC a torch knife as the thief enters a barrow (a 3-room mini-dungeon) recently cleared by adventurers. Nice one! The final test has the PC observe a cabin – and the mentor wants something from inside. What? Up to the PC to find out! We don’t get a map for the cabin, but interestingly, the most valuable item (in GP-value) is NOT what the mentor wants – this one teaches that value, though codified, can be subjective!

After these, we get a very well-written and detailed tavern: Beyond the staff, the rooms are described in exquisite detail, with different rates and some cool hooks included. The place is fully mapped (though I wished we got a player-friendly version) and its cellar also holds a secret – a well-made, fun tavern that once more showcases Tim Shorts’ talent of writing plausible NPCs that feel alive.

The final section of this book is devoted to the “Betrayal at Bender’s End” introductory scenario; a well-rounded party is recommended, and while the adventure notes that the PCs should have backup characters, this is no funnel or save-or-die-athon. That being said, it’s a dungeon, and PCs may well die. The cleric’s mentor notes that one of his acolytes has been kidnapped. The trip to the eponymous “Bender’s End”-complex can be spiced up with a 20-entry long, detailed table of random encounters. The fact that a dungeon requires some respect is driven home from the get-go: The PCs find the corpse of an unfortunate thief, and it’s infested with rot grubs…so yeah, this can end deadly. The PCs will witness the efforts of a tougher adventuring party here as they explore the complex, but also their…well, less than successful members. Beyond goblins, the PCs will find the missing acolyte as well as a nasty deserter. Each class will have something to do, and the complex does a good job at environmental, indirect storytelling. Similarly, it rewards smarts and can be considered to be a good example of a rewarding introductory scenario. It’s tough, but fair and manages to evoke a concise atmosphere. In short: A good example of what such a module should do! Kudos!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good – while not every rules-relevant aspect here is perfect, and while I noticed a few typos, nothing serious. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard with no frills, and the pdf sports quite a few nice and sometimes slightly humorous original artworks by Jason Sholtis and John Larrey. The maps are detailed and deserve special mention – they are functional and neat, but I wished we got player-friendly versions. Unfortunate would be the lack of bookmarks, which constitutes a significant comfort-detriment. I can’t comment on the print version’s merits or lack thereof, since I don’t own it.

Tim Shorts’ Starter Adventures book surprised me in a positive manner, mainly because it strays from the clichés while still providing the essential beginner’s experience. If I have to read one more 1st level module where the PCs kill goblins, hobgoblins, an orc and then an ogre boss or a shadow boss, which is invariably defeated by manipulating a magical light source, I may barf. This collection does feature goblins, orcs, etc., yes – it features the classic components. But at the same time, their execution and presentation makes these feel fresh, not like a stale rehash. The details provided for the tavern also are impressive, and the vignettes allow for the contextualization of the PCs and start them off with adventure hooks and some NPCs; they are not tabula rasa anymore. This helps with the task of making the group gel together and evoke a sense of consistency. While the lack of player-maps is somewhat saddening, it is only the lack of bookmarks that makes me round down from my final verdict of 4.5 stars. If you’re looking for well-crafted introductory adventures for players, this delivers in spades and is well worth checking out!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Starter Adventures
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Stone Fields of Azoroth
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/20/2018 04:57:41

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This is a bit different: The Stone Fields of Azoroth represent a mini-sandbox of sorts, and the deal includes 3 different pdfs as well as a .png-map. Said map depicts the village of Bad Water and looks charmingly hand-drawn. Much to my chagrin, no player-friendly version sans numbers and the like is included.

Rules-system wise, these pdfs adhere to Swords & Wizardry, though, as always, adapting the content to another old-school rule-set is pretty simple. AC is presented as ascending. Magic items are bolded in text. Monsters get full stats, while NPCs note their class levels, if any, and their actual profession in the context of the village. Now, this bundle of sorts presents a sandbox of sorts – two of the pdfs depict the “adventure-locations”: Book 2 presents a 6-room mini-dungeon, while Book 3 sports basically a climactic multi-stage encounter in the wilderness. The only maps for these also double as the front covers of these books, showing the region inside a circle in the middle of the front cover. Oddly, no .png maps for them are provided, even though the covers do make clear that these should indeed exist. While the map of the mini-dungeon sports squares, the like can, alas, not be said about the one that depicts the area of the confrontation on book 3’s cover, making dimensions somewhat opaque.

Book 1 is 20 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page blank, 1 page editorial, leaving us with 17 pages of content.

Book 2 clocks in at 8 pages, with the front cover acting as the map – and all pages sport content.

Book 3 also clocks in at 8 pages, with one page devoted to a nice “Thank you”-message, leaving us with 7 pages for this one.

All pdfs are laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), and the font-size is pretty large, which makes it feasible to print out 4 pages on a given sheet of paper. As for level-range, I’d suggest a well-diversified party, and difficulty-level-wise, this is tough – the finale can easily result in a TPK due to a few bad rolls. As for level range, I’d probably situate this somewhere around the level 3 – 5 range.

Now, while the books are numbered, they are not necessarily be required to be run in sequence, though it is very likely, and suggested, that the PCs begin exploring the village of Bad Water.

This is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All righty, only GMs around? Great! So, Book I begins with a handy overview of the keyed locations with names noted, making that aspect pretty GM-friendly, The services available are also explicitly noted here, which is a comfort-plus. The village of Bad Water is depicted in LAVISH detail: We begin with a handy overview noting the high-quality stone and how it makes farming challenging, while also briefly touching upon terrain features…but it’s the NPCs and homes that make this stand out: Each and every NPC in the village is discussed. Every house, every farm aid. All have names, all have agendas, all have things that drive them and characters. Tim Shorts really play to is strengths as an author here, managing to conjure a vision of interesting and evocative folks that feel surprisingly multi-faceted: Much like authors like Stephen King in a fantasy context, his “small people” feel alive, with all the foibles and flaws of the conditio humana in full display. In short: This village is inspired and feels organic, detailed and alive – it may well be this settlement that makes you get this, and personally, I consider the village worth the asking price. It’s really worth the praise and shows a keen insight into the human(oid) mind. Bad Water, as written, is a place you will want to use.

Now, unbeknown to most residents, the stone fields also are the place where a civilization once fell down, and this ties in with the adventuring locales. The connections between them, alas, remain somewhat opaque and remain open to GM placement.

Book 2, the one depicting the mini-dungeon, takes places in the “Last Temple of Praxus”, a recently unearthed temple of a long-forgotten deity of imprisonment. That being said, chances are decent that the PCs will be sent fleeing: The first monster herein would be a screamer, an undead that screams every round (no idea regarding the range of the scream) that can scream while it attacks. It has two claws, so two screams per round? No idea. On a failed save, the PCs will have to run away for an hour. Yeah, that can becoming pretty annoying. Anyways, the second unique creature herein, the manifestation of hopelessness, is not only mechanically more interesting (it splits, ooze-style) and has unique effects for its attacks, with a save to negate. Alas, no durations for these effects are noted anywhere, nor how you can get rid of them. Are they curses? On the plus-side, a couple of scrolls and the context here allows the PCs to discern and piece together some aspects of the background story. As a minor complaint: The PCs may get a rod of cancellation herein and potentially thus lose all magic items, so if you#re stingy regarding magic, this is one aspect to look out for.

Now, ultimately, the PCs will find a statue of a pretty mighty warrior wielding two short swords – that would be Samsus X, last champion of Praxus. He is petrified, and he is mad and animates if someone enters the room – the erstwhile champion/tyrant of the forgotten deity makes for a deadly enemy, being a fully statted 7th level fighter. Samsus X was devoted to his divine liege and offered sacrifice – but had his own people turn upon him. How bad were things? The folks rather worshiped devils than be subject to his whims. Yeah, pretty bad.

Praxus indeed seems to be a rather nasty god: He has created items called imprisonment stones, one of which holds the infernal commander still hidden from the world. They also detonate, but don’t specify how much damage they can withstand etc. Samsus X is deadly courtesy of his save or suck blades – each of the blades can immobilize a target hit that fails a save. Thankfully, they require blood, and eventually, quests to maintain their power, which means that triumphant PCs will have to think twice. Besting the erstwhile champion and destroying the stone will have the prison of infernal Azoroth manifest once more, though a shrouded figure, Praxus’ last vestige of power, will manifest, attempting to recruit the PCs. Failure to comply results in easily one of the most lethal encounters herein, as 14 (!!!) animated chains drop from the ceiling to attack.

Book 3, then, is pretty apocalyptic: A darkness has fallen of a part of the stone fields (not sure how big the section is, though) and temperatures have dropped to freezing: Approaching the darkness will make the PCs encounter one local fighting with 2 imps – the man is crazy, and the imps, well, are deadly. Worse: Two more are waiting in the wings. Since we’re talking old-school gaming, this means that the PCs will face 4 enemies with save or die stings. Ouch. More imps will assault the PCs as soon as they enter combat with another creature here. Within 5 monoliths, one of which lies shattered (that one was tied to the imprisonment stone, there is an armor, bound by mithril threads. While the threads can only be cut with +3 or higher weapons the PCs are unlikely to have, the monoliths may well be destroyed. Doing so unleashes a bulette, an insect swarm, and a save-or-die spore-cloud. Once the monoliths are destroyed, the mithril threads holding the armor fall from the item and unleash Azoroth. The armor is actually a custom-made magic item, an armor of imprisonment made by Praxus’ clergy. Azoroth, with AC 24, after all these save-or-die-saves, makes for a hardy horned devil type-foe with a short-range fear aura. His damage capability falls behind that of e.g. glabrezu etc. and he has no XP value noted – which btw. extends to all creatures within this supplement.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are pretty bad. There are rules-relevant deviations that make understanding how some critters work hard. On a formal level, the often nice prose suffers from verbs, sentence-fragments etc. missing. There are a lot of these instances. Layout adheres to a no-frills 1-column b/w-standard. The pdfs sport a couple of nice, original b/w-artworks. The full-color map of the village is nice, but the lack of a player-friendly version is a bit of a bummer. The lack of full-sized artworks for the adventure-sites of Book 2 and 3 are puzzling. Annoyingly, none of the three books come with any bookmarks.

Tim Shorts’s “Stone Fields of Azoroth” constitute a mixed bag, if there ever was one; on one hand, we have a massive, inspired and smart village that feels alive in the best of ways. I love it. On the other hand, formal deviations, the aforementioned map snafus…these do somewhat compromise this offering. The mini-dungeon is pretty hardcore and difficult, but in a (mostly) fair way; however, the finale is a ridiculous assortment of save or dies thrown at the PCs, and is imho not challenging, just frustrating – which is a pity, for the atmosphere is great. The structural issue of the locations and their relation to each other in a spatial sense also represents a detriment here.

This was once a mythoard exclusive, and this makes me think that it was written with a strict deadline: The village shows the care and detail we expect from the author, but the finale in particular feels rushed. The numerous glitches also add to this impression. With some careful editing and a bit more gestation, some smart connections and a timeline or the like, this could have been an impressive 5-star achievement; as written, it sports an assortment of serious flaws. With these, I can’t rate this as highly as I’d like to – if you are interested in the village, check it out. I have to rate the entirety, though – and for the whole packaged deal, I can’t go higher than 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Stone Fields of Azoroth
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The Manor, Issue #9
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/16/2018 14:21:04

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The 9th installment of the Manor-‘zine clocks in at 28 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 24 pages of content, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), which means you could theoretically fit up o 4 pages on a given sheet of paper when printing this ‘zine.

Now, first things first: Unlike previous iterations of the ‘zine, this one assumed the Swords & Wizardry Light (SWL) rules set as the default OSR-rules-set employed. As always, conversion to other old-school systems remains relatively simple. Upgrades to Swords & Wizardry Continual Light (SWCL) are simple enough, but are not done for you – you’ll have to extend the level-range by hand beyond 3rd.

After an introductory page, we get something I applaud: Actual gods for the clerics featured in the minimalistic rules of the SWCL –and each of the gods noted here are defined by basically a tweak on the cleric base class, differentiating between the adherents of different gods. I wholeheartedly welcome this notion, and 4 such gods and associated cleric variants are provided, the first of whom would be the exemplar, devoted to the War God Sarranth. Exemplars get linear HD progression (1 per level) until third level. Saves start at 14 and improve by one every level, and in a helpful manner (if you want to upgrade to SWCL), BHB is noted to improve at first and 4th level. (SWL only goes up to 3rd level). The exemplars have no armor or weapon restrictions and favor spears. They get +2 to saves versus death and poisons and gain a first level spell slot at 1st level. Taking cure wounds I nets the inverse as well. Their turn ability inflicts 1d3/class level against undead instead of the usual benefit and beginning equipment is noted.

The clerics of Delaquain are called Lions, and their base chassis is identical to the Exemplars, save that they may choose a 1st level spell at 1st level to choose from either cleric or magic-user list and they get normal turning. Curates, the cleric of Lavinia, a goddess of healing, have the same HD and save-progression, but only get a BHB at 3rd level, which makes extrapolating higher level BHB gains a tad bit harder when upgrading to SWCL. They are restricted to leather armor and daggers and staves, get the same save bonus vs. death and poisons, and they get a 1st level spell slot at 1st level and “additional Cure Wounds I” – the verbiage could be a tad bit clearer here. Their turning paralyzes undead, but requires maintenance each round, which is a nice compromise and preferable to the oftentimes annoying fleeing. The clerics of Possimium, a god of nocturnal creatures, share the chassis of the Curates, and are known as Parsons. They share the rules chassis of Curates, but have no armor restrictions, are limited to blunt weapons and get the 1st level spell slot as well as access to the charm person spell. They turn undead normally.

As a whole, I found myself enjoying these cleric kits/specializations. They offer solid tweaks on the class, and, while rules-verbiage isn’t always perfect, add some much needed flavor to SWL-clerics without unduly complicating the simplicity of the system.

The next page provides 6 different monster traits that cover classic abilities for SWL monsters – these include burrowing, being diseased, a concisely defined drain ability, pack mentality, etc. A 3d6 random encounters section is helpful, though it should be noted that monster damage does increase beyond SWL’s confines – the hill giant, for example, inflicts 2d6. This is analogue to SWCL, but, deepening on what you’re looking for, is something to bear in mind. Nice: The random encounters are not simply lists of critters – each one has a bit of lore and a small description to contextualize it. Treasure, if any, is noted.

The next chapter provides the Crooked Man, which would be something cool: A semi-legal dungeon-tavern that sometimes is open, sometimes isn’t – it can be slotted painlessly into even mega-dungeon campaigns and sports notes on determining randomly the beverages available. The tavern also comes with a nice b/w-full-page map that is player-friendly! Big kudos! The write-up also includes three fully statted NPCs, all of whom receive their own, nice b/w-artworks. The pdf concludes with explaining the concepts of hard silver and death coins.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are pretty good – not perfect, but better than in some installments. Layout adheres to a no-frills b/w-1-column standard and the pdf sports surprisingly nice b/w-artworks. The b/w-cartography similarly is pretty neat – doubly so since you can easily use the map as a handout. Kudos indeed! Alas, the ‘zine does not have any bookmarks, which constitutes a comfort detriment.

Tim Shorts’ ninth installment of The Manor benefits from using SWL/SWCL as the rules-set. It’s obvious that the author likes and enjoys the system, and similarly, the rules are tighter than they sometimes were in the past. While a few deviations from strict conventions and the like exist, this inexpensive ‘zine does offer some fun options for fans of the stripped-down, rules-lite iteration of Swords & Wizardry. Now, it doesn’t necessarily reinvent the wheel, but it is a fun and handy offering. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Manor, Issue #9
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Execution Corner
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/13/2018 03:38:42

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This little pdf clocks in at 5 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 2 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This is essentially system neutral, sporting no rules-relevant components, but the supplement obviously works bets in quasi-medieval settings.

Now, if you’re even halfway familiar with the history of the penal system, you will know that, at one point, we realized that basing a penal system solely on corporeal punishment, instead of focusing on reeducation and rehabilitation, would in the long run hurt society. I’m not going to bore you with a summary of Foucault’s Surveiller et Punir (Discipline and Punish), as pretty much every freshman gets to at least read a summary at one point; just let it be known that executions and corporeal punishment were routed in parts in the Christian notion of the world being a valley of tears to cross for a better afterlife – a notion we have thankfully, mostly, managed to at least lessen, courtesy of the wonderful advances of modern life.

However, in fantasy gaming, this notion does indeed ring true – because it kinda is. Particularly if your world is pretty grim and down to earth, the medieval notion of life being short, painful and something to be endured while people die like flies makes sense. That being said, beyond the spectacle of execution, the executioner himself, much like butchers and those working on leather, traditionally were rather shunned. When, after a lifetime of diligent service, Nuremberg’s Meister Franz Schmidt managed to gain citizenship rights in the city, that was a truly impressive achievement. As an aside, I have read his journals (he taught himself to write), which are still available for insight in Bavaria, and they are worth reading. For the less academically-bent, I can wholeheartedly recommend “The Faithful Executioner” by Joel F. Harrington for insight into the profession and this fascinating character, but I digress.

Unlike cities, most communities and villages had no resident executioners, often requiring that these folk travel through the rather unsafe roads from place to place, or sporting singular hangman’s cottages between the settlements, so that no settlement would have to necessarily count the hangman as one of its denizens. This pdf depicts one such rural set-up, with a hand-drawn full-color map (sans squares or other indicators of scale) depicting the execution site, the home of the executioner, as well as the little industry that sprang up around it: We learn about a baker selling bread on execution days, about an enterprising gentleman selling the ostensibly magical hair of the hanged, and about a tavern that has sprang up to cater to the folks that come to gawk. The nearby fields of the corrupt are where the executed are then buried in unmarked graves. Nearby creeks and woods are also explained, and 5 miscellaneous assorted facts provide further food for thought for the GM.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are pretty good on a formal level. Layout adheres to a no-frills two-column b/w-standard and manages to cram quite a lot of content on the one page. The map provided is nice, and while it does sport names for the depicted locales, no immersion-breaking numbers are provided. Big plus! The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Tim Shorts is up to his A-game here. This humble pdf is fun, evocative and cool. While I really wished that Tim Shorts had spent a full-sized book on the subject matter and its vast, mostly untapped potential, this pdf provided a fun supplement. It’s not a pdf that will change your life, but it does its intended job well – as a PWYW-pdf, this is certainly worth leaving a tip! My final verdict will hence clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Execution Corner
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Where is Margesh Blackblood?
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/07/2018 11:43:28

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/introduction, leaving us with 10 pages of content, all of which are laid out in the classic 6’’ by 9’’ old-school standard. Got that? Great, so let’s take a look!

Now, this was originally submitted to the One-Page-Dungeon-contest and seems to have done well there. Anyways, the adventure is basically a combination of 4 different hideouts, with 4 rooms each. The hideouts all come with basic cartography done in paint, which may not be too aesthetically-pleasing, but it does the job and the maps specify the respective grid – so already something that many maps fail to do.

Formatting-wise, monsters and enemies are bolded, and penalties to atk due to being drunken etc. are noted. Rules-wise, we get S&W, with ascending and descending ACs noted. The module seems to assume a silver standard. Spells and magic items are not italicized.

Now, the module does not sport much in the way of a story, so the SPOILER-warning here is somewhat tentative. Still, if you don’t want to know about some details, skip ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

Only referees around? Great!

The module comes with a random table to determine in which of the 4 hideouts Magresh is hiding – house in town, hunting camp, hill fort or ruin tower. Now, it should be noted that Hill Fort and House in Town should probably be only chosen for characters level 2+, since both locations contain a leveled and rather potent lieutenant of Margesh, significantly increasing the lethality of the encounter with the fellow. Margesh himself is btw. a 6th-level character and may well kill off a couple of PCs if they are not up to their A-game. You should be aware that the lieutenants all have magic items, and Margesh himself has no less than 3 plus potions – his sword in particular is pretty potent and requires a quest to use, but renders immune to “mind magics” – I wish that had been codified in a tighter manner.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are okay – I noticed a few deviations and minor typos. Layout adheres to a no-frills one-column b/w-standard that makes the pdf rather printer-friendly. Cartography is done in a no-frills and functional manner, but no player-friendly versions of the maps are provided. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Tim Shorts’ mini-adventure here is an unpretentious, hard little sidequest. It doesn’t offer much in the ways of story or fluff, but it does its job of being a sidequest sans frills rather well. Compared to his mini-manors like the inspiring “Faces without Screams” or “The Flayed King”, it does feel a bit barebones and lacks the unique, small tidbits that made these stand out. This may be a feature rather than a bug, though: You can pretty much integrate this module into any game without any headaches. At the same time, I found myself wondering why I’d do that. GM Games’ Manor-zine sports a ton of superior sidetreks, and while the PWYW-angle is helpful to sell it, master Shorts has penned more interesting adventures. That being said, there is a use for this: If you’re caught red-handed, need a diversion or just want a few minor outlaw hideouts to scavenge, then this has something waiting for you. That being said, I still maintain that a few more unique angles would have helped the module. Still, you may wish to check it out and, if you like it, leave a tip – it’s worth having in one’s arsenal, and the PWYW-nature of the module makes that a risk-less proposal. My final verdict will hence clock in at 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Where is Margesh Blackblood?
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The Manor, Issue #8
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/24/2018 07:28:36

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The 8th installment of the Manor-zine clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 23 pages of content. The pages are laid out as 6’’ by 9’’, which means you can fit up to 4 pages on a sheet of paper when printing this.

All right, so this installment of the Manor takes a distinctly different focus – this time around, we focus on crunchy components. The first article, penned by Douglas Cole and Peter V. Dell’Orto, deals with old-school grappling presenting two alternative systems to handle the rather infamous issue. We first take a look at the shortcomings of the grapple options available for S&W, with clear design goals stated. I really like this, as it not only makes my reviewer’s job easier (haha!), but also because it makes it apparent for the GM what to expect, and why. Now, as a graft-on system, the book thankfully codifies in a simple way how to add it to your preferred OSR-system. In short, grappling uses AC, HD and damage, three common things that can be found throughout OSR-systems. A grapple is handled as an attack, using 1d20 + the Strength-based to hit modifier; multiple attacks and fighting defensively are taken into account, and if you employ an attack bonus instead, that bonus is added instead. Cleave-like systems are also noted, if that type of old-school is how you roll.

Now, in the spirit of OSR-simplicity, you simply roll damage if you hit – but instead of damaging the foe, you get CP – control points. These are recovered IMMEDIATELY once the target is let go, with humans etc. dealing 1d6 + Str-mod control points damage. Up to half the defender’s HP, up to the defender’s HP and more than the defender’s CURRENT HP are the thresholds for effects. To hit penalty for grappled targets begins at -4, -8 and then prevents attacks altogether. Similarly, damage and AC as well as movement is reduced by being subjected to a grapple. The system presented is clean and concise and can be resolved very quickly in actual play. CP can be converted into damage, btw.

Now, this base system is smooth and elegant, and optional rules can be added to modify it – armor and grappling, for example; Control points that convert to dice…and even cooler, we get something for folks like yours truly that enjoy finer grained options, with a higher resolution distinction of 5 quality levels as an alternative. Certain thresholds may allow for takedowns or stunning throws, which are yet more fun additions. This system provides perfect mechanical symmetry, but the pdf does not stop there.

There is a second system that provides an alternative to the “I win” or “I suck” duality of the base system, with a condition-based second approach, which differentiates between grappled, restrained, pinned, incapacitated and prone conditions of inconvenience. This also represents a well-crafted alternative.

This article is gold. It warrants the asking price on its own, and is easily the best piece of crunch that the whole Manor-run so far featured.

The second article would be a guest article penned by Trey Causey, for his amazing Strange Stars space opera setting released by Hydra Cooperative, providing a playable humanoid clade Ibglibdishpan. The clade needs at least 14 Intelligence, Charisma and Strength may no exceed 10. They get +1 to skill checks based on Intelligence and 1/session, the race may ask the GM a question, gaining a useful fact based on available data. However, this focus on Intelligence comes with a risk. When the clade has to make an Intelligence based skill check and roles a natural 11 or 13, or makes use of the aforementioned hypercognition ability, the character must make a save vs. mental effects. On a failure, you get a selection of 6 nasty effects that range from catatonia to seizures, Stendhal Syndrome, etc. Solid, if somewhat brief write-up.

The next article, penned by Tim Shorts, provides quick rules to determine number of hirelings available by settlement size, costs for 5 occupations and a d20 table with 14 entries that provides a couple of unique, brief benefits and skills/knacks the hireling may have. 6 sample hirelings, with stats, are provided as well. Helpful little article. Master Shorts also penned the last article, which is devoted to the humble torchbearer! And I like a lot here! We get, for example, 8 different special torches, which include waxes torches that float, reinforced ones, flare torches that burn brighter…I love this per se…but in an odd twist, none of the torch-modifications come with a suggested price or weight-increase, unnecessarily limiting the appeal here. There also are 5 suggested skills/Special abilities for torchbearers, which are great ideas: Battle torchbearers can hit a target, imposing -4 to hit for one round. Scavengers can scrounge together an improvised torch. However, precision-wise, the article does leave a bit to be desired. “Scavenged torches don’t last as long and are not as bright.” Why don’t we get precise notes here? It’s not like e.g. the flare torch in the same article doesn’t provide the like. The article is cool, but it feels like it could have used a bit more meat/internal consistency regarding the level of detail it provides.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting can be considered to be good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a no-frills one-column standard and the pdf sports nice, comic-y b/w-artwork (with the exception of the artwork for the new clade, which is really detailed and nice). The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Now, up until this installment, I was never impressed by any piece of crunch in the Manor-zine. I liked a lot of the flavor and mini-modules, but rules-wise, not so much. While this pdf, partially, also falls short of its potential for excellence, it does represent the best installment regarding crunch. The grappling rules in particular are worth the low asking-price on its own. My final verdict clocks in at 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Manor, Issue #8
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The Manor, Issue #7
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/01/2018 12:38:51

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The seventh installment of the OSR-‚zine „The Manor“ clocks in at 27 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages editorial/ToC/introduction, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 24 pages of content, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’-booklet style.

The book sees the return of one of my favorite series from the early installments of the ‘zine, with Boltswitch’s Mobile Potion Emporium, penned by Boric Glanduum. The eponymous Boltswitch is basically a gnome snake-oil salesman, but one whose potions actually do something! Granted, not necessarily what you want them to do, but Boltswitch seems to be pretty up front about minor…peculiarities. Adak’s essence of age, for example, seems to be duplicating haste, but for briefer periods…and it eats up your lifespan. The unique component of this article would be that it is system neutral…and it is penned wholly in character. Boltswitch’s descriptions of his unique potions, his sales-pitches and the like, are really nice and useful, helping the referee/GM get into character. Particularly if you’re not that good with text-improvisation, having an extensive array of comments to paraphrase should be rather helpful. On the downside, while the text does an impressive job at conveying the benefits and drawbacks of the potions sold, the lack of precise effects for them feels unnecessary. Considering the brevity of rules-text that good OSR-mechanics can take up, it would have been nice to get a page of actual, mechanical benefits here.

The second article is penned by Joshua De Santo and introduces the skinwalker (coyote) class: Prime attributes would be Dex and Wis 13+ (with the customary 5% experience bonus) and HD are 1d4s. Skinwalkers are restricted to leather or chain armor and may not use shields. Weapon-wise, they are restricted to daggers or longbows – the latter restriction is a bit weird. Why not shortbows as well? Skinwalkers need to be neutral. Skinwalkers get low light vision, which is somewhat odd, considering how most OSR-rulesets know darkvision, infravision or x-ray vision, with low-light vision being something you see in more recent and rules-heavy systems. At 1st level, the skinwalker can change to coyote form and back once per day, +1/day at 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter. Okay, question: Is that always the same coyote form or can he assume different coyote forms? The skinwalker can use thief skills like a thief of one level below his character level. This should probably be gained at 2nd level, since 0-level characters usually have no thief skills. At 2nd level, skinwalkers get +2 to rolls to determine whether a person is lying to them. This is…kinda weird, since most commonly-used OSR-games do not roll for the like, using roleplaying instead. This makes the ability somewhat…useless sin quite a few systems. At 6th level, the skinwalker can produce minor glamors, such as changing color on herself or the target. No range, duration, save or limitation is provided. Saving throws improve from 16 to 7 and the class gains the first level at 2,500 XP, doubling required XP until 40K (4th level), whereafter we have a 20K per level requirement until 8th level – thereafter, it’s 50K per level.

I do not like this class one bit. It feels like an attempt to design for 5e that was aborted mid-way and jammed into OSR-games. The potentially interesting abilities are left to the referee to codify, which feels somewhat lazy.

Chris Coski has probably read about fabled Thuzun Thune: In a system-neutral article, we are presented with no less than 8 different magic mirrors, as well as quite a few really nice b/w-artworks. The article introduces such gems as the mirror of mediocrity or the mirror of mortis, which shows one of the myriad, gruesome way in which the viewer may die. I loved this article! It is pretty damn cool and authors that plan on jamming the oomphteenth mirror of opposition into their modules should take heed! That being said, I wished we got stats for them as well.

Beyond a funny mind-flayer haiku, we also have a micro-adventure by Simon Forster: One page map, one page explanation…and it can actually become pretty lethal pretty fast and sports stats for the BBEG, which are system agnostic, yet precise enough to use them smoothly! Kudos!

Now, this installment also sports a full-blown adventure, the Horrid Caves, penned by Garrison James, intended for 1st or 2nd level characters. Difficulty-wise, I’d consider the module to be hard – it definitely requires a well-rounded group. While I’m not the biggest fan of the font used, the adventure is a highlight – not just for this issue of the ‘zine, but for its whole run! I am NOT exaggerating! You see, it actually comes with no less than 7 new, precise and meticulously crafted spells, it also sports a summon-chart for one encounter and an extensive random encounter chart. Formatting here is precise as well – italicized spells, ascending and descending AC, precise rules…and a ton of unique monsters, which include flammable vermin that take more damage by fire, but also become ridiculously fast while ablaze. Even cooler: The strange ecology of the caverns makes sense – clever players are rewarded for observing how the weird fauna interacts with each other. Better yet: The module is really versatile: It can easily fit into traditional fantasy, into weird fantasy, or work just as well in a post-apocalyptic context or in a Sword & Sorcery world – more on that below. It also has a distinct vibe that DCC judges will most assuredly love.

Okay, from here on, SPOILERS reign. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

Once upon a time, an inhuman warlord and his crustacean soldiers from another plane were cut off from their means to return; separated from their spawning pools, these beings arrayed themselves in formation for the death to come, as they would for battle – and now, their caves have been breached. In the caverns, strange tadpoles levitate through the skies, only to explode upon death; a severed, undead head makes for a formidable spellcaster and the undead husks of chitin-creatures shamble through the complex, potentially leaving strange seeds behind. Tubular snails spew blinding fumes, and lime-green spiders…actually are mostly harmless for PCs, but can color the skin of their bites temporarily lime green. Hooray for mammals being for once not subject to all poisons. Of course, these spiders can collapse into green slime. Which is very much deadly for mammals. But hey, it takes a bit of time and doesn’t happen always…so don’t chuckle to hard in advance… A twisted idol can temporarily grant supernatural fecundity, though offspring born with have a crayfish-like face. Hexagonal blue-green-glazed tiles contain spells that fortified against the then-cutting edge bronze weaponry, and magic-users can learn to leave organic, semi-permeable membranes in their wake. There also is a spell to target gills in particular, which may be of more use than at first glance. A primordial ancestor of black puddings, the black oil, slimes away in a recess of the dungeon, and a snail-pearl may be valuable…but while in the complex, it has a nasty habit of summoning giant, carnivorous snails! Oh, have I mentioned the ancient, magical paintings of a time long gone? This adventure is mechanically-precise, has a cool map, and can fit into a ton of different games. It also represents a challenging, fun and amazing adventure. It warrants the low and fair asking price pretty much on its own.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting oscillate a bit between articles regarding their quality, but can generally be considered to be good when seen as a whole. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard, with a surprising amount of nice b/w-artworks I haven’t seen before. Cartography is b/w and similarly nice, though, alas, we do not get player-friendly, key-less versions of the maps. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

The 7th installment of the Manor represents, in a way, a highlight in the ‘zine’s run: The system neutral articles are both inspiring, if held back a bit due to their lack of precise rules. The micro-dungeon represents a surprisingly fun diversion as well. The class, on the other hand, alas, falls short of what it easily could have and should have been. Just because something’s written for a rules-lite OSR-game doesn’t mean that the rules get to be shoddy – precision is key and NOT anathema to flavor - see e.g. Gavin Norman’s phenomenal work, for example.

And then, there would be “Horrid Caves.” This dungeon is frickin’ amazing and warrants the price of the magazine all on its own. It’s precise, well-crafted and simply elegant, super-easy to integrate into a ton of different genres…I can’t say enough good things about this adventure. It’s a real gem.

Anyways, rating-wise, I have to rate the issue as a whole, and while it is one of my favorite installments of the whole ‘zine, as a whole, it falls slightly short of getting my seal of approval, with more articles falling into the “good, but not great”-range. Still, I highly recommend picking this one up - $2.50 is a true steal for the content herein. Hence, my final verdict will be 5 stars, in spite of a few rough patches here and there.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Manor, Issue #7
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The Manor, Issue #6
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/20/2018 04:25:56

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The sixth installment of the OSR-zine „The Manor“ clocks in at 28 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page introduction, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 24 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

It should be noted that the editorial sports a content-warning this time around – this issue of “The Manor” deals with mature topics – not in an explicit manner, mind you, but enough to offend some people. If you’re particularly prude regarding depictions of sexuality, you may take offense regarding the one picture herein of a spider/lady hybrid, which features exposed boobs.

The issue includes a new class designed primarily for NPCs – this would be the guard, who represents the watchmen. Prime Attribute would be Strength (5% bonus on Str 13+) and the class permits all weapons and armor as well as shields and does not have any racial restrictions. The guard gets d8 HD up until 9th level, with a ½ to hit progression. Saves progress from 17 to 9. Guards get +1 to “detection rolls” to notice things out of place, which increases to +2 at 5th level. Okay, I may be slightly weird here, but there are, Raw, no rules for detection rolls in S&W, which makes this one weird. 2nd level yields the option to 1/day interrogate someone over 1d6 turns. 3rd level provides +1 to AC when flanking – if both characters flanking are guards, they get +2 to AC. At 7th level, the guard gets +2 to saves vs. effects that would result in fleeing from battle, and he gets +2 to reaction rolls with creatures that appreciate his dedication. 9th level lets the guard declare that he’ll defend a target, object, etc. to the death before battle begins. Once declared, the guard cannot withdraw, but gains +1 to hit, attack and AC. He’ll also continue fighting at 0 hp, only dying upon reaching the death threshold. (Note: This assumes that you use the optional rule, whereby a character only dies upon reaching negative level in hp, as noted on pg. 43 in S&W.)

Okay, I’m not particularly impressed by the guard. However, I did like the rather nice 20 different guard greetings that are included in the pdf, providing a nice introduction to a given settlement, as well as angles for the PCs to be shunted into modules.

The second article herein that is not a module is “Getting from Point A to Point B” by Ken Harrison – basically, we get small, mapped rooms that act as a transportation devices. We get basically a Futurama-tube, a pool with grate and shark zombies (Yes!) and a really cool one, where an Ourouboros animates, uncoils and eats the PCs, only to vomit them back out in room #2. Cool little article and easy to implement, regardless of system, dungeon, etc.

Now, the majority of the module is taken up by one location/adventure and a secod adventure, both of which have a very strong dark fantasy vibe - The first of these would be Matt Jackson’s “The Brothel at Wargumn”, which may act as both a dangerous set-piece locale to insert into e.g. a PC investigation…or it may be run as a straight “close the place down” murderhobo-ing exercise, though the latter will probably deprive it of much of its impact. The area comes with a nice and pretty detailed b/w-map, though we don’t get a player-friendly version of it, which is a bit of a pity. The map also sports no grid, which makes judging distances somewhat harder than it needs to be. Okay, this is about as deep as I can go into this without SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, what makes this brothel special? Well, it caters to…let’s say…”exquisite” tastes – it features uncommon prostitute-choices and caters to the decadent ruling class. Here, you can find anything, from goblins to lamia, doppelgängers and succubi…or even ghouls. As such, this clandestine club is led by a thoroughly nasty gentleman named Grunfeld, who controls his employees with a magic item that controls the slave-braces of his “employees” – he and his homunculus are also supported by guards, and the complex is “realistic” in that it has different rooms as well as a latrine of sorts. The premise is simple, but rather effective: From misguided loves to sheer decadence, there are quite a few ways to effectively use the location in your game. I rather enjoyed the location.

The adventure penned by Tim Shorts herein is one of my favorites regarding what I’ve covered so far from his modules – designated as a low-level adventure, “Witches of the Dark Moon” has a rather distinct dark fantasy vibe and manages to evoke a concise atmosphere. The adventure locale is once more mapped, though the map does not sport a grid or a player-friendly version. I’d suggest it for characters level 1 – 2, though it will be very deadly at first level. Still, atmosphere-wise, I think this fits the module. It should be noted that, unlike the “Brothel at Wargumn”, the stats here only feature ascending AC-values, no descending ones.

The adventure begins with a really nice piece of prose, wherein the bodies of two kids, gruesomely sacrificed, are found – and two more kids are missing. The bodies found were marked with the symbol of Noctrina, the Night Mother, goddess of witches. (Alternatively, when played in e.g. the Lost Lands, substitute Hecate). The culprits have taken refuge in the ruins of the old hill fort. The interesting aspect here would be that this actually can be solved pretty quickly – the outhouse contains a tunnel, leading to where the missing kids are kept, and there is a secret room with an altar that contains a deadly spider-monster – destroying the altar will make the witch-incursions cease…but chances are pretty high that this alone will not suffice for good PCs, considering the macabre things they can find – slain animals, spell slot-restoring wine made from the blood of innocents…these guys are EVIL. The savage and vile nature of this place is also mirrored in the interesting “alarm”-mechanisms, for example. Screaming spiders, a nasty guy that uses Tim Brannan’s witch class (can be run without referencing the class), spiders that can turn you into werespiders…and there is “Aria, the Handmaiden – a witch/werespider who gets a signature spell (and the aforementioned image that features boobs) and is deadly. There is a severed head, the Head of Mundi, among her possessions, which can store Viz. First introduced in “Knowledge Illuminates”, this is a substance that allows you to replenish expended spell slots – I am not a fan of the ramifications here. That being said, it’s easy enough to make it just charges that can’t be recovered. Slightly annoying: The item’s properties are noted in the regular text, not in their own boxed text or Aria’s write-up, which is a bit odd. The new spell, fast web, targets a smaller area than web and is a level higher. Here’s a problem: You can only break free with a “Might roll.” I assume this to be, in OSRIC’s parlance, for example, a “Major Test” or a bend bars roll, if you’re so inclined. Still, rules-language wise, this could be a bit tighter. Anyways, the horror does not stop there – Ariana has actually impregnated her daughter with horrific spider-things that will soon burst forth from her, unless she is cured. Though being a “vessel” is an honor for her. Yeah, she needs some serious, professional help…

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting on a formal level are good, with a few minor typos here and there, like “-ed” missing, etc. On a rules-language level, the installment could be more precise. Once you take a look at the details, it feels a bit rough here and there. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard, is printer-friendly and nice. The cartography is neat and detailed, but I wish we got key-less, player-friendly versions. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The art by Jason Sholtis, Dylan Hartwell and William McAusland is original and rather neat, particularly considering the more than fair, low price-point.

Tim Shorts, Ken Harrison and Matt Jackson deliver a rather nice installment of this ‘zine. The two big articles in this one, i.e. the location and the adventure, both are really nice offerings that should provide some serious fun at the table, particularly for groups inclined towards darker shades of fantasy. The supplemental articles are nice as well, though the guard class per se did not impress me. The same can be said about the details regarding some of the rules, which suffer from the assumptions of a particular constellation of homebrewed rules-components. While easily hackable, I maintain that adherence to a single system would have decreased the potential for potential snafus at the table. As such, in spite of really liking a lot about this issue, my final verdict cannot exceed 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Manor, Issue #6
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The Manor, Issue #5
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/16/2018 04:41:11

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The fifth installment of the Manor zine clocks in at 28 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page introduction, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 24 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

The first chapter of this installment provides 4 different villains, illustrated with great b/w-artworks by Jay Penn: Here, we can find Morton Millwater, formerly an elf, who had to learn via near-death experience that he is, indeed, a half-troll, awakening to cannibalistic impulses. A truly vile dwarven cleric sworn to Eternal Darkness has become the sworn foe to his people. A true professional kills to hone his craft and leaves compensation for bereaved victims, but is probably the most disturbing of the villains here, courtesy of his disregard for the value of life. Finally, there is a potent warlord who does not quell the unrest in his area, as it allows him to retain control and indeed, get his share of bloodshed and authority. These NPCs are cool and fun, even though their presentations don’t sport perfect formatting.

Chris Coski provides cursed concoctions – here, you can find the decanter of dehydration, the god-awfully-smelling eau de trog, a representation of the temporary zombie-draught, a drink that causes constant babbling and one that nets a Babylonian language-confusion. Plumber’s poison turns metal to lead and we also get a philter of pheromones. Really cool article!

Sean Robson provides a 1-page tavern name generator with 20 entries for adjectives and 20 entries for nouns, though some entries sport more than once choice. Solid.

The next article is the crown-jewel of the pdf, at least as far as I’m concerned: It provides 4 thoroughly-discussed and intriguing types of special doors - from the sturdy Oxfords to the necromancer-suitable Magaross, the orcish Marchuz or the Delarogue, sold be capable thieves, this section details pros and cons of each door and is absolutely inspiring. LOVE it! Seriously worth the asking price of the pdf on its own.

The final article of the ‘zine contains 20 random city encounters, which first present the situation and then what has truly happened/developments in shaded boxed text. The encounters are nice and have tie-ins with e.g. #2’s Hugo’s as well as one of the villains herein. These include a sadistic psychopath kid, drunk folks, undead…all in all, a solid section.

The pdf concludes with a map of a complex, usable at your convenience and sans key.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are generally rather tight and solid in both formal and rules-language criteria. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard and the b/w-artworks are really amazing. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and the map is neat.

Tim Shorts, Sean Robson and Chris Cosky present my favorite Manor –issue so far. The articles on doors and weird liquids are amazing and warrant the low and great asking price. The articles are concise and fun. What more to ask? This is definitely worth checking out. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Manor, Issue #5
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The Manor Issue #4
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/12/2018 05:44:51

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The fourth installment of the Manor-zine clocks in at 39 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page introduction, 2 pages of advertisements, leaving us with 34 pages of content, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’, meaning you can fit up to 4 pages on a sheet of paper when printing this out.

All right, this installment of the Manor comes with two distinct chapters: The first of these would be an adventure/environment to explore, and the second would be a mini-bestiary of sorts, one that contains no less than 9 new creatures, illustrated by Jason Sholtis and Mike Varhola. Each of the monsters comes with a full-page b/w-illustration, an original piece, mind you. These are much better than what you’d expect to see for the low price point, so kudos! Rules-wise, they note HD, ascending as well as descending AC values, special features and movement rate/alignment and challenge level/XP. Saves are not classified by type.

At challenge level 9, penned by Jason Sholtis, we have the 1-3-headed basitrice, a horrid thing that is a magic-user’s experimentation gone horribly wrong. Two of the most loathed low-XP save-or-suck creatures of OSR-gaming, basilisk and cockatrice, rolled up into one amalgam of deadliness! As such, they come with d6 base body plans, 6 different heads and 7 different, highly lethal gaze effects that range from petrification to instantly aging 1000 years or turning to salt. Yeah, players should better have some mirrors…

Rob Conley provides two creatures here, the first of which would be the boglings, a take on the abyssally-tainted frog folk that can immobilize targets with their tongues. Unfortunately, these tongues lack a range for how long they are. The temple guardian, also penned by Mr. Conley, is a floating ram’s head that can be created by a cleric with a new 5th level spell. It can only fly up or down and fire both lightning and fire. The more resources are expended via the spellcasting ritual, the more potent the guardian will be. Boric G introduces the lesser and greater sneachta kin: The lesser one would appear as a swirling mass of acidic snowflakes that in actuality are tiny beings. Interesting! The greater variant becomes basically a sentient ice missile. Unfortunately, the rules are somewhat opaque here – the statblock notes infection, but the text provides no rules for this; similarly, the special, defensive qualities noted in the text are not represented in the statblock.

Ken Harrison provides two delightfully weird critters: The linen golem is a nice, low-level golem made of clothes and with access to limited cleric spells. The beer ooze is awesome in that it, bingo, inebriates the PCs. The rules here are much tighter and instead of a wall of text, we get bolded headers for the abilities of both creatures – presentation-and concept-wise, two winners. This pretty tight presentation also extends to the second of Tm Shorts’ contributions to this section, which consists of the molten spiders. Weirdly, the corpse flies, which have a really cool artwork and a rather amazing write-up do not sport this type of formatting and do not classify their infestation ability.

The other half of this issue is taken up by the Incident at Butcher’s Creek, a module for characters level 5 – 7, penned for S&W. It is classified as difficult and rated Teen and should have a good mix of PCs for the group to be successful. In order to discuss this adventure, I have to go into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

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All right, still here? Great! So, this adventure actually comes with a fully mapped hamlet, namely Low Ridge. This place is amazing. It contains some dangerous individuals of the retired adventure type and honestly, represents the best thing to come out of the Manor so far – the village is amazing and each of the individuals has its own hooks and little plots; there is the mandrake farm, where the rather abusive farmer Henry has become rather docile; there are obtuse pig farmers; there is a cabin of a magic-user/painter; there is a viz miner…it’s a small place, but all of the NPCs, many of whom come with stats, feel alive and sensible.

Now, the basic premise is pretty simple – the PCs are tasked to hunt down shadow panthers, a new creature that can be pictured as a variant of the displacer beast; i.e., they are deadly cats with tentacles, but they can cause Strength drain and teleport through the shadows. Exploring the caves that hide them and getting rid of the menace is just the start, though. You see, there is one home that has recently collapsed, and under it, there lairs the Or’Drog, a malicious, demonic entity that is responsible for the paranoia and behavior of the villagers – and defeating this deadly threat in its own complex below the village actually is the main meat of the module. Really cool bait-and-switch. And yes, I am aware that this does not sound particularly cool or special, but it’s the details here: The place feels more alive than most places I’ve read about and has a distinct, nice, gritty old-school Greyhawk-ish, dark vibe I love.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting have vastly improved in this issue – the proofreaders did a good job on a formal level. On a rules-level, a few inconsistencies have crept into the book. Layout adheres to a no-frills 1-column b/w-standard and the pdf’s artworks are impressive, particularly for the low and fair price point. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The adventure gets nice b/w-maps, but, alas, no player-friendly, key-less versions.

Tim Shorts, Jason Sholtis, Ken Harrison, Rob Conley and Boric G deliver a fine Manor-installment here – this basically represents the step towards professionalism for the ‘zine. You see, while this still has its old DIY-charm, it feels much more refined and is better in its presentation and the quality of the content. The adventure is amazing (worth getting the pdf for!) and the monsters are generally interesting, though the inconsistent quality of their rules does drag this down a bit. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Manor Issue #4
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Knowledge Illuminates
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/23/2018 09:19:45

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The freshman offering by Tim Shorts clocks in at 28 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 24 pages, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’, which means you can fit up to 24 pages on a given sheet of paper when printing this out – provided your eyes are good enough, that is.

Now, the rule-set employed here is Sword & Wizardry, the pdf assumes silver standard and the pdf assumes a skill challenge-like system more in line with new school gaming – d20 + character level + attribute bonus – simple and concise.

The pdf includes a few pieces of supplemental content: The plant blood drop can add a d8 to healing potions, but sports, oddly, no market value. Also sans market value: The new item arrow of fireball, which inflicts 1d6 damage in a 10 ft.-radius upon impact. The new spell, ward of living death, is a 5th level cleric spell that allows you to set a permanent trap (or until it’s triggered): If a creature violates the ward, it is transformed into a ghoul over a day. NO SAVE. Any living creature can be affected, which makes for a ton of questions – what about slimes, for example? Do the ghouls gain sentience? What if e.g. a dragon passes through? The spell also fails to specify which kind of “assistance” can be sued to reverse the transformation. Basically, a plot device, not a spell. Rules are not precise here. The module also introduces a new undead servitor creature, the Tvorn, who can teleport up to 40 ft. and still attack – and they get an ominous “back attack bonus” when porting behind an opponent. Pretty sure that should refer to the thief’s backstab ability and as such, should specify the level of power of the backstab.

The pdf sports, in a nice help for the referee, a 3-page table that lists XP-rewards.

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

..

.

All night, only referees around? Great! So, the module requires a series of assumptions to work as written, all of which are ultimately cumbersome and detract from the appeal of the module. The first of these is that the module assumes the existence of a Harper-like global organization of good folks that stood vigilant against extraplanar intrusions. The so-called Porters of Gideon, now deemed outlaws and exiled, every known member executed. Introducing a recently vanquished global organization for the sake of background story – not the best move here. Secondly, the adventure assumes the existence of Viz, a form of condensed that allows for the casting of spells sans components or a spell slot, completely delimiting spellcasting. Yeah, not getting near my game.

The module has basically two sections: Section one is a fully mapped mini-hexcrawl with 7 locales of interest and focuses on finding a reclusive wizard’s workshop – the man is called Tergul. (Or Tergal – the names herein are pretty inconsistent.) The locations of interest in the hexcrawl include a giant skeleton, a pond that nets 3d6 (!!) pebbles of Viz and a few bandits. The dungeon that is the workshop is interesting in that Tergul was a recluse, but not evil – hence, we have an 11-room mini-dungeon that sports an annoying, warning magic mouth, and the remnants of the tragedy: You see, Tergul found a box, which serves as a gateway to a pocket-dimension of a potent demon; he opened the box and the usual bad stuff ensued. While Porters attempted to close it, they failed and were killed by the demon, who retreated back home. He locked the box once more, grieved for his slain acolytes, cursed his goddess and hid away from the demon’s minions. It is in the aftermath of these happenings that the PCs stumble into a complex, which, while not bad, falls seriously short of being remarkable in any way. The complex, compared to Tim Shorts’ later works, is bland, sports standard monsters and obstacles…and frankly, I can’t really come up with a good reason to run this. It’s not exactly bad per se, but it is painfully unremarkable.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are not good – neither in the formal, nor in the rules-language category. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly 1-column b/w-standard and the pdf sports a couple of decent b/w-artworks. Cartography is b/w and solid, but does not come with key-less, player-friendly versions – particularly jarring for the hexcrawl map. The pdf has no bookmarks, which constitutes a comfort-detriment.

Tim Shorts has improved significantly over the years. Knowledge Illuminates, unfortunately, is a very weak adventure, hampered by bad formatting, by requiring more lore adjustments from the referee than required and by, on a rules level, subverting a pretty basic tenet of how magic works. All in all, that would be a sensible thing to ask for, if this book actually warranted the work. For that, alas, it is too unremarkable. On the plus-side, the author offers this for a PWYW-download, but frankly, I’d strongly suggest getting any of his other works, including the free mini-manors – you’ll get infinitely more fun out of them. In spite of this being a freshman offering and PWYW, I can’t go higher than 2 stars on this one.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Knowledge Illuminates
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The Flayed King
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/20/2018 05:03:56

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This FREE mini-adventure clocks in at 14 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This adventure contains slightly mature themes. Nothing grievous, but if you’re really easily offended, you may want to look elsewhere. Personally, I consider this to be pretty much PG 13. The module assumes S&W rules and should best suit a party of 4 of about 3rd – 4th level characters; depending on player-expertise, lower level PCs may survive.

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

..

.

All right, still here? Only referees around? Great! So, this module depicts a small dungeon, situated in Tullius Well. Slightly unfortunate regarding formatting of information: We have regular text, which can act as efficient and nice read-aloud text, if you choose to run the module as such; rules-relevant sections are printed in italics, which makes the discerning of spells etc. harder than it probably should be. Anyways, the well has no rules to climb down and conceals a small complex of 6 rooms – 7, really. A big plus here: There are reliefs in the doors and pressing the right ones can open a door. In a really nice twist, the first room may actually stump PCs a bit – footfalls echo. You see, the floor conceals a sealed hidden room and falling into it after demolishing it may put the PCs into a bind, as 6 draugr have been sealed here, wearing funerary necklaces for funds in the world thereafter. Here, a key may be gained by the lucky survivors.

Bypassing the complex lock, the PCs can walk a room of petroglyph-covered limestone walls, where finding a depiction of a 6-breasted boar as the correct glyph to progress. Once they do, though, the PCs will have to defeat Goreth, guardian of the Flayed King. Living to tell the tale of the combat against the undead champion might yield the minor artifact Ring or Raraek. The artifact’s exact properties are utterly opaque and subject to GM interpretation, alas. In the end, the PCs will find the grisly sight that you can see on the cover – the Flayed King, still alive and in pain, his skin nailed to the floor, petroglyphs etched into his flesh. The king can answer one question before remaining silent for a year; he is immortal…and freeing him may put the PCs at odds with the very deities themselves…

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are per se good – on a rules-language level, I’d have preferred hard guidelines to free the king or for the artifact, though. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard and is optimized for 6’’ by 9’’. The pdf sports two surprisingly cool b/w-artworks by Jim Magnusson – huge kudos for them. The artwork of the flayed king, reproduced herein, is fantastic and warrants downloading this. Cartography is b/w, functional and the pdf does not provide a key-less version, but the map provided does not display the secret room, so you can at least cut it up and hand it to the players. The pdf does not sport any bookmarks, which constitutes a minor comfort detriment, but not a grievous one at this length.

Tim Shorts’ second Mini-manor is a solid, unpretentious little adventure. I really like the old-school mentality that makes the interaction with doors and dungeon less contingent on rolls and rather on roleplaying. The atmosphere of the small complex is nice, with particularly the flayed king having some serious panache regarding visuals etc. That being said, this falls a bit flat when compared to the exceedingly impressive “Faces Without Screams” and its innovative premise and twists, feeling more like a typical, old-school sidequest. As a commercial module, I would rate this at 3 stars – a solid offering, but nothing to truly write home about. However, this module is actually FREE.

As in: $0.00 price-tag. That is amazing and frankly, the art alone warrants downloading this. Personally, I think the flayed king would warrant a bigger complex, to add to the gravitas of the situation, but yeah. The FREE nature of this pdf adds +0.5 stars to my final verdict, and since I have an in dubio pro reo policy, my official verdict will round up. A solid little adventure and, for free, one worth taking a look at.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Flayed King
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The Mini Manor: Faces Without Screams
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/13/2018 06:01:50

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This little pdf clocks in at 23 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 17 pages of content, laid out in the tradition 6’’ by 9’’ standard that means that you can fit up to 4 pages on a given sheet of paper, should you choose to do so.

First thing you should know: This adventure is intended as a solo-adventure, i.e. one GM and one player. It is also written in a somewhat stream-of-consciousness-style, which does not automatically distinguish between prose and descriptive text, though the formatting does highlight important bits with bolded or italicized text, but still: It’s very much recommended that you read the module in its entirety before running it. The module assumes ascending AC, silver standard and S&W as the default rules. The module champions that you resolve crazy ideas by having the player roll a d6, with 4+ denoting a success, should you find yourself in a pinch.

Now, beyond that, the module immediately makes clear that it was written for adults and as such, features some horror-themes that are pretty dark.

If you’re easily offended, then you may want to look elsewhere. It should also be noted that the adventure assumes a PC of at least 5th level, and for a reason – the module is rather difficult and deadly. Failure and death is a VERY REAL possibility. This is not for the faint of heart…which can also be said about the rather transformative choice that the successful end of the module poses. You see, there is a new race herein, but one that I cannot discuss without SPOILING the super-effective revelation that accompanies the final boss fight of the adventure. The race presented is really strong, but also suffers from severe drawbacks that make up for that.

Aesthetics-wise, you can probably picture this best as a TCM- or Saw-type of dungeon, or, if you’re so inclined, as a module indebted most to the aesthetics of e.g. early Nine Inch Nails or Marilyn Manson videos: A sense of grime, pain and dirt is evoked as a central leitmotif. Now, personally, I strongly suggest playing this adventure with a character with a more martial bent, i.e. fighter or thief, for the premise can make the adventure rather brutal from the get-go.

…but in order to discuss that, I need to go into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

..

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Okay, so the PC has been carousing. Hard. He has obviously had an altercation with a city guard. Now, the PC awakenes, Naked, cut up badly (1/2 hit points), shackled to a dead guy. Other pairs of prisoners have their faces cut off. A mean, big guy in a filthy loincloth is currently cutting off the face of another prisoner, obviously sporting a key hanging from a chain. The foot bumps a severed arm, which may just be the weapon, with its sharp bone protruding, that the PC needs to survive against the face-cutter. (But it does fall apart before the face cutter goes down.)

This is visceral in the right ways. Grimy. Deadly. This also is represented in the random encounters, mind you: Goblins with insta-kill poison, a blackened, smoldering ogre which will rise from the dead if slain, a merman beserker encased in a watery bubble, a pittrap with giant eels for added injury to…more injury. The 6 random encounters are savage and sport interesting visuals. Now, the hand-drawn map comes sans player-version, but s easy to draw and the PC can’t find out about the layout of the complex anyways, so I’m good with it. Exploring the complex may put the PC in conflict with a goblin shaman who dabbles in summoning and have the PC potentially attached/merged with the Hellraiser-esque, cursed Suit of Spines, which btw. is not the only unique magic item or spell herein; in fact there is, for example, a trident that, upon command, encases creatures in water, allowing aquatic beings to function on land, which may well drown careless PCs. There is a soul-collecting spirit dunjon, which acts a unique hazard/encounter of sorts…and there is the brutal boss-fight, which comes with perhaps one of the coolest tricks I’ve seen in a while.

This is imho the primary reason to read this before playing it as a GM – the immediacy of the narrative does lend itself to spontaneously running this, but the trick associated here can potentially contradict the improvisation of a careless GM, depriving it of its efficacy. And no, I’m not going to explain why this made me grin from ear to ear and why I consider it to be so effective. For that, you’ll have to get this yourself.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting have improved significantly compared to older GM Games-supplements. While the immediacy of the writing style is somewhat uncommon, I found it surprisingly effective, even though the structure and organization of the module thus become slightly harder to run. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard and is printer-friendly. The b/w-cartography is nice and the only artwork is on the front cover. The pdf has no bookmarks, which represents a comfort-detriment.

Tim Shorts’ first mini-Manor represents a turning point, at least as far as how I think about his writing is concerned. This is a bit more experimental than the first 3 manor-issues, but it is, at the same point, tighter – in the design of the race, the items, in the presentation.

Oh, and it was written for S&W-appreciation day and is FREE. Honestly, this humble adventure really surprised me. It is delightfully dark, grimy and brutal. Surviving it is an achievement and can really make a character that has become somewhat boring fresh once more. You’ll see what I mean when you play this. In spite of a few formal complaints, this would score high in my rating system as a commercial module, for pulling off the trick in the end can be immensely gratifying for all involved.

However, this is actually FREE.

This is SO worth downloading if you even remotely enjoy dark scenarios, horror, a desperate type of nightmare and if you really want to challenge one of your PCs. Seriously, we’ve all been at the point where we needed a really good solo-scenario, and this delivers in spades. I loved this one, and it is more than worth checking out – my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, though I will round up and slap my seal of approval on it, courtesy of my knowing a ton of commercial modules that fail to evoke such a concise atmosphere, that have such a cool payoff. Highly recommended!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Mini Manor: Faces Without Screams
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The Manor, Issue #3
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/15/2018 05:32:28

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The third installment of the OSR-zine „The Manor“ clocks in at 32 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page back cover/advertisement, leaving us with 29 pages, which are laid out for an A5 (6’’ by 9’’)-standard, which means you may be able to fit up to 4 pages on a sheet of paper when printing this one out.

The pdf is an evolution in comparison to the previous installments of the magazine, in that it subscribes to specific systems.

First of all, the pdf does contain a new class for Blood and Treasure, the Monster Hunter devoted to Adzeer, God of the Hunt. The class has requirements of Strength and Wisdom of 13 or higher and use the multi-class experience table. The class is allowed to use both all weapons and armor. Skill-wise, we get Climb, Hide, Move Silently, Survival, Tracking, Riding, Decipher Script, and the class gets d8 HD (11th and 12th level yield +3 hp instead) as well as ¾ atk-progression; Fort and Will-saves scale from 13 to 7 and Ref-saves from 15 to 10. The class gets spellcasting progression of up to 7th level, gaining access to BOTH magic-user and cleric spell-lists. The class is a prepared spellcaster until reaching 10th level, at which point the class may cast spells spontaneously. We get a proper spell-list for our convenience.

The class must complete 3 trials: Trial number 1 must be undertaken at 3rd level to progress to 4th: The character’s Perceptor designates a hunting target; upon slaying the beast, the monster hunter must spend 250 gp to enter the 2nd circle. Completion nets a unique armor or weapon that will increase in strength as the character does. Okay, how?

In order to reach 7th level, the monster hunter must choose a target creature and then collect a hunting party (do adventuring companions qualify? How much does it have to be?) and hunt a creature – this is not further defined, which is a bit weird. Also weird: The hunter gets to choose the target creature. The second boon is that the character gets to choose a ranger’s sworn enemy, inflicting double damage against the chosen creature type as well as gaining +3 to atk.

The third trial must be undertaken at the end of 9th level: The character must convert 3d4 targets to Adzeer’s worship (do adventuring companions qualify?) and establish a new temple at 10K sp cost – the benefit here is that the character gets to either become a teacher or continue adventuring…which is kinda lame.

The final ability of the class would be stun monster: A stunning attempt can be made instead of an attack or casting a spell and works akin to turn undead etc. – we get a table. However, all creatures within line of sight of the holy symbol are stunned. The stun lasts a whopping 3d6 rounds and targets drop items or weaponry held and the hunter gains tactical advantage against the targets. Stun Monster works against aberrations, dragons, giants, magical beasts, monstrous humanoids, outsiders and undead. The monster hunter may use this 1/day per level attained. Soooo, potentially really long-range AoE stun. That is really potent, and yes, auto-succeed and destruction are possible at higher levels.

All in all, the class is pretty damn potent in comparison with similar old-school classes; the stun-locking can be rather nova-like and I’m not the biggest fan of the execution here.

Beyond this class, we also are introduced to another installment of the vendor-depicting series of the e-zine, and this time around, we get to know Pog-Nog the goblin, and his cart. The goblin is the survivor/exile of his tribe, one known for omens…and when he pronounced doom for his fellows, he was exiled, becoming a sort of peddling Cassandra – after all, who’d listen to a goblin? The fact that he’s a goblin makes him a good candidate for an in-dungeon vendor, and his foresight as well as the fact that he attempts to prevent some catastrophes can make him for a great ally/recurring character. The entry is system-agnostic and doesn’t provide stats, but we do get some nice adventure-hooks.

The lion’s share of the magazine, though, is taken up by the module “Mine of Rot and Disease”, intended for low level (level 1 -3) characters. The adventure employs the Swords & Wizardry rules and takes place in the village of Aberton. The map for the primary adventure locale, the eponymous mines, is provided in nice b/w, though we do not get a player-friendly version of the map. A huge improvement over the previous installments of the magazine would be that the characters herein come with REALLY detailed write-ups: You see, the local NPCs, with their own dynamics, come as basically one-page characters with everything notes, including spells and items, though formatting of both deviates from the conventions. The characters range in levels from 1 to 3 and they can act as stand-in pregens, should you choose to run the module as a one-shot.

The pdf does include a Black Dragon-themed Haiku. Nice!

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

..

.

All right, only GMs around. Things turned sour when the villagers of Aberton noticed straggling figures – defeating them, they noticed that undead had risen…and when they tracked the living dead to their source, that was the old coal mine. Opting for the ole’ “Rocks fall”-trick, Obadiah, the village elder decided to collapse the mine. A few days later, Dowser Creek started to turn icky; it turned yellow and any exposed to it were struck by the Sickness. Folks had sent for help from Ambrose Abbey, but neither it, nor the messengers returned – thus, it’ll be up to the PCs to venture into the mine and fix the tainted river…if they don’t, the village will lose the harvest and face starvation.

An array of adventure hooks have been provided and so are random encounter-suggestions. In order to enter the mine, the PCs will have to survive the nearby undead – and then dig free the entrance. It is then that the weirdest design-decision can be found, one that can wrack the fun of the otherwise nice module. You see, the mine REEKS. As in save or barf, reeking and penalty. EW. However, on a really botched save, at failure of 5 or more, means that the PC can’t enter the mine. I’m totally in favor of degrees of success or failure as a design paradigm, but locking out a character of entry? That just sucks. Statistically, it’s likely that one of the PCs is locked out of the mine for a day before getting the chance to retry – and the module has a timer, with harvest impending, so it’d make sense for the PCs to enter with the character who failed the save sitting outside, twiddling his/her thumbs. That is not cool.

The mine itself is pretty interesting, providing flavorful locations, undead and a desperate goblin tribe, dwindled in numbers from being caught inside the mine with the undead….and they actually are potentially (if no PC is a dwarf or gnome) willing to negotiate their release. Beyond that, the PCs will soon find the culprit, a priest to a dark god who stuffed an otyugh carcass into the water. In order to save the village, the PCs will have to best the undead, the dark cleric (whoc comes with an evil, magic lantern), and then clear the disgusting filth from the disease-ridden spring. The pdf sports, btw., nice b/w-artworks, hand-drawn.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are significantly improved: The proofreaders did a good job on a formal level. Rules-formatting could be a bit tighter. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly 1-column standard and the pdf comes with hand-drawn artworks in the same style as the cover, which catches the old-school vibe. The map is surprisingly nice, but we don’t get a player-friendly version. The pdf does not have any bookmarks, which constitutes a comfort-detriment.

Tim Shorts knows how to write great characters and he gets the old-school vibe; I very much welcome the focus on actually adhering to proper rules-sets, as this renders the material more precise. The presentation of the villagers in detail is really neat and the hooks are similarly pretty fun. That being said, the new class did not blow me away and the puzzling decision in the module that may see the PCs stalled before the dungeon for days on end if one of the PCs is unlucky….really sucks. It’s not enough to sink the detailed and fun set-up, but it is a detriment to the strongest aspect of the pdf. That being said, the low price does make this worth checking out if you’re looking for an unpretentious old-school module/sidetrek. If a well-executed take on the classic low-level undead-themed dungeon does not seem interesting to you, you may want to skip this one, but if that’s what you’re looking for, then take a look. When all’s said and done, I consider this to be a mixed bag, slightly on the positive side. While the editing and formatting re a definite improvement and while the quality is more consistent herein than in #2, the module is slightly less amazing than Hugo’s in #2. Hence, while overall a stronger issue, I still feel I can’t go higher than 3.5 stars for this one, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
The Manor, Issue #3
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