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Book of Exalted Darkness (5E)
by Matthew C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/26/2020 21:47:51
The Book of Exalted Darkness and The Book of Celestial Heroes are two books by Legendary Games set in a setting called Askis. I’ll be reviewing the core setting, and the two books seperately. I played two campaigns side-by side for both books from levels 1-20: an evil party and a good party, with both campaigns being linked and in competition with each other. To be more precise, I’m 98% done-I’m about two sessions short of finishing it as of this writing.

I will warn that I used a lot of homebrew and I modified the setting of Askis to be a planet in my own spelljammer-esque setting (the campaigns took place entirely on Askis, but interstellar politics did affect the storyline). Note that this is also a full-spoiler review intended for DMs, so beware. -Matthew Campbell

The Setting of Askis: To my understanding, the train of thought that led to the publication of Askis is attempting to create a setting that’d be great for an evil campaign. The premise they went with was a world run by the forces of good, in essence an inversion of the premise of settings like Tyranny’s Territus. This is a “post-campaign” world of sorts: imagine a world where your typical good-aligned party has had a campaign all the way to level 20 and succeeded in their goals masterfully. In essence, Askis is a divine magic version of Ebberon. Whereas Ebberon has undergone and industrial revolution due to arcane magitech, Askis has undergone an industrial revolution due to divinely-powered magitech. They’ve discovered a resource called “Inaequa” which is a sort of holy-fuel. Machines powered by it only work in the hands of good-aligned creatures. This has caused the planet to become a sort of utopia where the forces of evil have been pushed back. The world is now run by demigod-like, level 20 adventurers. The utopian government is dependent upon 9 “spheres” (holy gifts of sorts, virtually none of which are sphere-shaped). BoED asks the party to destroy these spheres, and the BoCH asks them to save them. Personally, I feel they should have capitalized on a sort of magic-versus-science war. The mechanics presented even sort of represent this: They introduce the good-specific Inaequa technology, while also introducing an evil-specific magic school. Unfortunately, they instead have the primary forces of evil be mad scientists, and don’t have many technology themed heroes. This is a rather sad missed opportunity. It also creates a little bit of a headscratcher: if technology is powered by Inaequa...just what are the mad scientists using? Admittedly this question is easy to headcanon around (likely arcane artifice or mundane technology like batteries). If I had it to do over again, I’d probably have reflavored the mad scientists as wizards. One of the evil players-a druid-did play the sort of character I had in mind: A fanatical luddite trying to bring down the industrial system. The concept of Inaequa is very cool, to the point that I wish it was in more settings. I’d encourage-even beg-DMs to include Inaequa engineering as a sort of divine counterpart to Artifice if they have artificers in their setting, even if they’re not planning on playing in Askis. It’s the real killer app of this setting. It’s also perhaps a shame-if one completely outside of its creator’s control-that both books were released long before Ebberon: Rising from The Last War, as there’s a lot it could have benefited from (well, if not for copyright reasons anyways). I’d suggest reading ERTLW and including stuff like The Warforged and The Artificer class. Indeed, it’s also a shame there isn’t an Artificer subclass for Inaequa, though admittedly the Battlesmith works pretty well for this (just replace force damage with radiant), as does Jonoman3000’s Lightslinger. The Greasemonkey’s Handbook is also a great companion to this setting, as Inaequa-powered ATUMs would be epic.

The Book of Exalted Darkness: The Book of Exalted Darkness is a spiritual successor to The Book of Vile Darkness, both a guide to running an evil campaign in general, and a guide to playing evil campaigns in general. As a setting for an evil campaign, Askis works pretty well. It’s a setting run by a monolithic force of good, which makes the villains underdogs. You might not root for them per se, but you can at least admire their valor. Similarly, it creates a setting where evil can plausibly be a happy family-they need to work together, because their enemies are very strong. Evil is a cause the villains intend to fight for. Keep in mind, though, while The BoED doesn’t “force” anything per se, and staunchly condemns virtually everything it depicts (it is an evil handbook, after all), it seems to anticipate the PCs being very evil, which can be a bit of an issue if people would rather play more Bowser or Doofenshmirtz-esque villains (though admittedly, less gratuitous forms of evil are pretty easy to play with the stuff you find in the PHB). My evil party got pretty odd, as some players wanted to play cartoony-villains while others wanted to play more realistic terrorists. The party ended up being a bit like what would happen if Jessie and James teamed up with Pol Pot. For example, the sample starting adventure it gives, Killing The Golden Twins, essentially depicts the players committing a school shooting (more specifically, they’re sent to assassinate two specific teenagers while they’re at school). The book does remind the DM that it depicts some rather uncomfortable topics, and the book in general does a good job warning them to make damn well sure the players know what they’re getting into when running an evil campaign. Unfortunately, it doesn’t offer an alternative adventure or suggestions for alterations, so you’re stuck either with this one or making up your own. For what it’s worth, my players did give me permission to run this adventure (which I told them involved going to a high school to kill two teenagers), though they didn’t quite seem to realize what they were emulating. They ran into the school literally guns blazing, killing security staff, then were a bit taken aback (not angry or anything, mind you) when it dawned on them they were, well, shooting up a school. Everyone agreed to not kill any students except the twins. For an alternative starting adventure, I’d probably suggest something along the lines of kidnapping a princess. It’s cliche, sure, but I’d argue that’s often a good trait for a starting adventure to have. Plus, I’d argue starting adventures should be a bit more light-hearted, and then bring down the heavier stuff later (especially for ‘wham episodes’, if you will). This is true even for evil parties, have them start out more ‘harmless villains’ then get them to commit increasingly darker acts.

The other big elephant in the room to consider is The Divine Biologis, or “The Divine Virus'' as I tended to call it. This is one of the spherse of Askis, a disease that remains dormant in a person for a period of time and activates if the person commits sexual assault or rape, in which case it turns them into a sort of good lycanthrope called a Divirulent Hound. It’s an interesting quandry to be sure, and there’s even some non-evil reasons to want to destroy it (the government sponsoring the existence of a bioweapon is rather creepy). Having said that, the most obvious reason, especially for card-carrying villains, is being pro-rape in some manner. Obviously, not everyone would be overly comfortable with playing that sort of character, even in context. I’d also argue a card-carrying, mustache-twirling villain who drew the line at rape would actually love the divine virus: It not only deals with a form of evil even they reject, it does so in one of the most mustache-twirling ways possible. There’s no strict obligation to actually destroy it, mind you, but it does feel odd to not destroy one of the spheres if they’re going for a completionist run of sorts. Personally, here’s my recommendation: don’t have the virus be a latent disease or connected to sexual assault directly. Instead, have it be a sort of good counterpart to traditional lycanthropy: the Divirulent Hounds are pseudo-werewolves that exclusively hunt down and infect evil humanoids. While Askis is a great setting for an evil campaign, they do cheat a bit in two ways: some of The Celestial Heroes are secretly evil, and Inaequa itself is actually secretly damaging Askis and needs to be destroyed in order to save it. I’m not overly fond of either twist, personally. I consider it bad form when using a villain protagonist (or villain protagonists, as it were) to make their antagonist a hero who is secretly evil or a "Designated Hero" as TV Tropes would call it. It undermines the point of an evil-perspective story by turning it essentially into another form of good-perspective story. In truth, I’d actually encourage the DM to give the enemies they fight moral victories of sorts-the enemies might die off in droves, but let them die heroically. My players, at least, liked it when that sort of thing happened.

Plus, a lot of villains are portrayed as believing the forces of good are secretly just as bad as they are, and they’re more moral for admitting it. I could see Quickfoot and the like confirming this worldview. Personally, I think this is a stupid worldview and I don’t think giving it any sort of confirmation is wise, even here. Even if its premises are true (they aren’t), shamelessly admitting that you’re evil does not make you better, it makes you worse. With Inaequa specifically, one of the more interesting things about it is that it-and the effects it has on society-can be pretty unnerving in a way, but it’s not actually evil per se, even when you think about it. For example, one could argue it harms free will, but does it? It’s not like it’s a mind control device. It simply stacks the deck in favor of good. It’s enough of a quandary that giving it a dark secret makes it less interesting. This is true of Askis’s society in general: In many ways, it’s a rather creepy and dystopian society if you’re an evil person, but that doesn’t mean the society is evil.

The real meat of the book is the new mechanics and subclasses added. It adds two new ability scores: Sin and Sanctity. Sin represents how evil you are in a sense, while sanctity represents how good you are at pretending to be good to magic items and the like. For example, sin lets you corrupt Inaequa devices, while sanctity lets you use them despite being evil.

Personally, I did not use these scores (roll20 doesn’t support them), but I do like them. If you decide to not use them, however, the trick I found was to use wisdom in place of sanctity and charisma in place of sin whenever the rules call for a sin or sanctity check. Wisdom here represents “the ability to suppress evil thoughts in order to trick alignment-detecting magic” and Charisma represents “your overwhelming hatred and will”. One class it introduces is The Mad Scientist. Mechanically, it’s very similar to a Warlock, though I think it’s a bit better. Not a bad angle to take it, since the Warlock is all about ‘blasting’, but I will recommend The Artificer class over it. There are also some prestige classes, but I never did look at them.

Regarding the subclasses, I’ll express my opinions on some of them in order:

The Abyssal/Infernal Domain: Fiend-worshipping clerics are practically something that should have been in the base game. So uh, good job. Circle of Necrobotony: A logical place to take an evil druid, though it does overlap quite a bit with The Circle of Spores. Gruesome Salvager: Basically it’s a ranger that cuts off other creature’s body-parts and grafts them onto itself. That’s awesome. Gray Knight Warlock Patron: Basically, if Mordenkainen was a Warlock rather than a Wizard, this guy would be his patron. Has a lot of anti-magic powers, which fits the flavor pretty well. Gray Druid: Older edition druids who like to maintain the balance of good and evil. A small issue with it and the Gray Knight is that this setting doesn’t really give a ton of room for neutral characters. Masquerading Heretic: Basically if you want to pretend to be good, this is the class for you. It gives mechanics to fool magic and the like that detects alignment. Warrior of Darkness: Making an evil-flavored fighter must not have been easy. This one mostly works, for the record, though it is a little complicated. Essentially, it scars itself. The Meat Patron: The Warlock’s flavor is the one that best lends itself to evil and general spookiness. The Meat Patron has a lot of competition, but it manages to rise above and beyond by being an inner voice of the warlock that drives them to eat human flesh. Uh, yeah, that’s pretty creepy. Even the description is creepy. Vile Magic Wizard: To be perfectly clear, if nothing else, this is the reason why you should buy this book. Or, more specifically, the Vile Magic School. Initially, I assumed that necromancy covered evil wizards, but this manages to be distinct while being at least as evil. My favorites are blood bullet, blood spear, and savage break. Savage break lets you rip a bone out of somebody and then toss it at someone else, and Blood Bullet lets you use your blood as a projectile. Plus, every spellcasting class can learn Vile Magic, which is amazing. Sadly, my players seldom used it, but it’s something you can throw at good-aligned PCs to great effect.

The Book of Celestial Heroes The Book of Exalted Darkness created a setting that’s pretty cool, and as such, it made sense to make a book for more conventional heroes in it. As a setting for a good party, it mostly works. However, I would make a couple changes. For example, the book says that there is little unexplored wilderness. Personally, I would change this: have it so there are a lot of ruins of the world from before the Utopian Dawn, and many regions of wilderness, especially in the Samovi continent. Samovi, incidentally, is also a great place to put dinosaurs (something every campaign setting should have). The reason being to give them something to fight despite the utopian world. Not every danger is necessarily ‘evil’ as we know it. It might also be utopian in the cities, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t small amounts of evil or danger beyond. The book implements new subclasses, but sadly no druid or warlock (aside from the ‘grey’ ones that are also in the BoED). This is especially a shame for The Warlock, as The Warlock is the class that most needs a ‘holy’ subclass. The good news is: if you happen to own Xanathar’s Guide, you can use The Celestial Warlock Patron and The Circle of Dreams. As for other subclasses:

Holy Spirit Primal Path: Basically, you get possessed by angels while raging. I had overlooked this one while playing, but now that I’m re-reading it, I kind of love the flavor of that. College of The Celestial Song: Basically, it’s a worship leader. I’m very glad this exists, as the angel playing a harp sort of deal is a great way to take a bard. Oath of The Angelic Warrior: Y’know, when I heard they were making a Paladin subclass, I was worried. A ‘holy’ or ‘good’ themed Paladin is incredibly redundant. Luckily, they pulled it off in the form of the Angelic Warrior. Basically, you Paladin so hard, you actually gain angelic organs. Inquisitor Ranger: A ranger that hunts down evil creatures. If you’re expecting to fight evil, then this is a great class to have. It is a bit overpowered, though, so I might suggest make its Champion Against Evil feature a once-per-day deal. Samaritan Rogue: I once was in a campaign where this guy played a rogue who was a good natured, pacifistic kid guile-hero. This is the subclass I wish the DM had let him play. Holy Arcane Tradition: The Holy Magic School has a few issues. The first one is the name. “Holy” magic implies divine magic, which isn’t necessarily how it works. I’d suggest changing the name to ‘Exalted’ magic or something. The other thing is simply that there aren’t as many cool new spells here, and not every class can learn every Holy spell. There are two stand-out spells, however: Lance of Light, and Holy Hand Grenade. That last one’s spell text is the best thing ever.

Of course, the coolest thing in Askis is the Inaequa. As with Vile Magic for the BoED, This is the main reason, in my opinion, to buy this book. Again, I recommend DMs consider putting Inaequa as a sort of variation of Artifice in their games even if they’re not in Askis and make Inaequa weapons special magic items. Still, not every DM is liable to follow that advice, which is a shame. In any event, here are the Inaequa subclasses:

Inaequa Inventor: A good counterpart to the Mad Scientist using Inaequa goodies. I’m mildly disappointed it focuses on healing-I’d rather it had focused on radiant blasting, but it can do that too. Besides, most classes need a healer subclass. Apparently, playing with Inaequa devices requires one to follow a lot of bureaucratic rules and dodge a lot of red tape, but Inaequa Inventors are so intelligent-and perhaps crazy-that they can actually read, understand, and follow EULA agreements. College of Inaequa Tinkering: Essentially, these are people who would be Inaequa Inventors, but bend the rules of their EULA too much. Their more dangerous methods of experimenting cause them to be sent to a special college instead. I will say it’s a little odd to have a charisma-based technologist class in this context, but it works I suppose as something between an Inaequa Inventor and the Deviant Technologist below. The Deviant Technologist: These folk tinker with Inaequa so much that they’re basically shunned from all academic institutions. Apparently, Askis takes EULA agreements very seriously. I’m not 100% sure why Askis doesn’t want people playing with Inaequa. I mean, I suppose corrupted Inaequa devices can blow up in your face, though that’s solvable with the proper training. Tucker Quickfoot might be the answer. Inaequateer Ranger: I accidentally named this one when I proposed the name ‘Inaequateer’ at some point while looking over playtest material to its creators. And I didn’t even get my name in the credits, tsk tsk (just kidding). I was actually proposing it as the name of what would become the Inaequa Inventor, if I recall, but it works well for the Inaequa Ranger too. Anyways, The Inaequateer is a warrior who specializes in Inaequa weaponry. Personally, I would have went for a fighter subclass for this, but Ranger works quite well too, especially since you’ll mostly be using guns in all likelihood.

Probably my biggest issue with Inaequa weapons is that virtually none of them can kill, or even bring an opponent down to zero hit points, unless you take a certain feat. This might not sound like too big a deal, but it is enough that a lot of my players stayed away from Inaequa weapons until the the late-game.

The book also has two classes, The Exemplar and The Feywalker. Regarding Exemplar: At first glance, I’m not entirely sure what the purpose of The Exemplar is. It appears to be a cross between a fighter and a paladin. I suspect it could work if you wanted a superhero class, which is admittedly something I’ve wanted. That isn’t to say it’s bad, I just am not sure why it exists. Feywalker: You get a fairy godparent, essentially. While I’m having a little trouble nailing down its precise identity, it does do much better than the Exemplar in that regard. They’re a martial class that gains a bond with either Fey, Beasts, or Plants and gets a companion in the process. Apparently, it’s supposed to be somewhere between a druid and a Warlock.

Oh, one quick sidenote: Having some of the celestial heroes be secretly evil actually works for The Book of Celestial Heroes. I still am not overly fond of Inaequa destroying the world (since it means you have to destroy it, getting rid of something that makes the setting very unique), but it does fit the themes here much better. Having it turn out that some of The Celestial Heroes are evil also works great and can be a nice conspiracy to uncover, especially since they’re the people they work for. This could be something almost Deus Ex-like. I attempted to subvert this, personally: I decided early on Inaequa and the Celestial Heroes were actually quite good, but I did have Mordenkainen show up to the Good Party to try to persuade them that The Celestial Heroes had a great evil within them and that Inaequa was destroying the world (these claims were untrue in my version of the setting, though Mordenkainen believed them). However, the more good-leaning characters saw through it and the more mercenary characters simply didn’t care. A bounty hunter PC attacked Mordenkainem mid-sentence and a difficult fight ensued, which (impressively) they won.

Overall: The two main features of either books are Vile Magic and Inaequa, both are things I do love.Having said that, there are a few things that are superfluous (like the Exemplar class), better done elsewhere (like the Mad Scientist class), and some stuff that’s just rough around the edges mechanically. Personally, I would recommend it pretty strongly, but do be prepared to put in some work to smooth things out. If you like Ebberon, you’ll like the Askis setting. The Vile Magic from Exalted Darkness is useful even if you aren’t running an evil campaign (you can hand it to your NPC villains). Honestly, I wish the setting had more people talking about it. I could see it really taking off, especially if people tried making their own homebrew and stuff for it. I’m expecting to miss this world, too, and almost wish to run this campaign again. Admittedly, though, that’s in large part because I grew quite a bit as a DM and now have a more solid idea of what I want to do with the setting and my own. If I had a new group of players, I’d probably give another swing at it.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Book of Exalted Darkness (5E)
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Legendary Planet Adventure Path (Pathfinder)
by James E. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/20/2020 17:19:45

The Legendary Planet Adventure Path is out for everyone now, and let me tell you, $50 for the PDF is a steal. That's less than $10 per-adventure for a completely realized adventure path, not even counting the additional supplementary materials. Even more than that, this book is thick. We're talking Frog God Games thick. I backed this product on Kickstarter and got a physical copy, and while it took longer than expected to finish up, this is a PF1E adventure unlike any other. If you're interested in traveling to different worlds and seeing all sorts of new and exotic creatures, all backed by a future-fantasy feel, this is the AP for you. Solid 5/5, great art, incredible value for the content even if you get the physical version, and highly recommended overall.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Legendary Planet Adventure Path (Pathfinder)
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Creator Reply:
Thanks for taking time to write up a review and glad you love the book! We are very proud of it, and it definitely is a terrific value! I'm running two campaigns of it right now, one right in the middle and one midway through the final adventure, and we've been having a blast. Hope your gaming crew does as well!
Arcforge: Technology Expanded
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/20/2020 07:40:23

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive supplement clocks in at 84 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of introduction (including a ToC for tables), 4 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 74 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by my patreon supporters.

So, the first thing you need to know here, is that the material within makes use of Dreamscarred Press’ subsystems, most prominently akasha and psionics; beyond that, e.g. the new class that kicks off the supplement, the helmsman, does reference Path of War’s Knowledge (martial) skill. This poses an interesting question: For which tables and power-levels is this book intended? As you all know, Pathfinder’s first edition at one point somewhat split its demographic: On one hand, we have people that just want to play the game; on the other, there are people that derive a lot of satisfaction from pushing the system; builds and system mastery are important, as are the challenges posed. The latter demographic has split further, with particularly Path of War providing a convenient reference point, as it eliminated several limiters and balancing concerns of the system, with the explicit goal of providing a power-fantasy that other adherents of system mastery considered to be contrary to their own preferences. These issues were not inherent in Path of War’s system, but something chosen deliberately, and this paradigm did influence many of Dreamscarred Press’ latter offerings, which often sport innovative, genuinely awesome designs, but also a disregard for the power-levels featured by pretty much anything Paizo etc. released; this tendency can be seen in many post-Ultimate Psionics psionics releases, but the core framework of akasha is remarkably bereft of the like, oriented pretty much mathematically in line with Paizo’s offerings. So, where does this book fall in the spectrum?

Well, let us start by examining the helmsman baseclass, which is a veilweaver with d8 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, ¾ BAB-progression, good Ref- and Will-saves and proficiency with simple weapons and one martial weapon, as well as with light and medium armor and shields. Of note: The shield proficiency does not exclude tower shields, as customary, which I assume to be intentional here. The governing ability score of the helmsman’s veilweaving is Intelligence, and the class begins with 1 veil and essence, and improves that to 9 and 20, respectively, over the course of its 20-level progression. This puts the class one veil above the guru base class in that regard. Reallocation of essence invested is a swift action, rest is required to unshape and shape veils – you get the idea. The core defining feature of the class would be the companion vehicle or mech (collectively referred to as vessel) gained at 1st level; the effective pilot level is equal to the class level, and the helmsman’s bonded vessel gains all benefits of feats, veils and chakra binds that the helmsman is USING, even if it doesn’t have the corresponding components. Important here, and perhaps something that should have been spelled out more explicitly: USING. This means that benefits that are not based on, well, use, do not necessarily apply. It may sound like a picky differentiation, but it’s an important one imho. Anyways, for example, a Panzer would gain the benefits of an effect contingent on the presence of the feet slot, even though it, well, lacks feet. If a veil generates a weapon, it manifests on the vessel, but uses the helmsman’s size to determine damage dice, and may be used in addition to the vessel’s weaponry. Weapons explicitly wielded in hands do take up a weapon slot for each such weapon created. Size-increases beyond Medium (size reference not capitalized) can take up multiple slots, and the helmsman can reassign what the bonded vessel is relatively painlessly (good) in an 8-hour period.

At this point, you probably realized that this class is basically the anime/mecha pilot in the vein of Gundam, Code Geass, etc., so in order to discuss it, we should take a look at the mecha rules so crucial for the experience of the class before further diving into it. At first level, the character chooses a body type for the mech(a) – agile, bipedal or quadruped/treaded, and the mech must be of the pilot’s size or larger. All damage caused to the pilot is evenly split between pilot and mech, with excess damage from uneven values applied to the mech. If the mech is reduced to 0 HP, it enters a state of critical failure, ejecting the pilot. Repairing a mech takes a DC 10 Craft (Mechanical) check and takes a whole day, replenishing 5 HP; climbing into a mech and activating it is a full-round action, while exiting it can be done as a move action. I like this action economy dispersal here, as it mirrors what we get to see in anime. At 3rd level, the pilot can change the mech’s body type by spending ½ the mech’s HD in hours +1/2 the number of enhancements, rounded down, rebuilding it. During this time, the mech is NOT operational, but existing enhancements may also be changed. A destroyed mech can be replaced within 24 hours, which may not be realistic, but for the purpose of the game, it's a wise decision. Well, and the media this is based on pretty much also follows this paradigm. Mechs grants a bonus to their pilot’s physical ability scores and use the pilot’s mental ability scores; unpiloted or remotely-steered mechs have Strength and Dexterity scores of 10 + the listed bonus. Mechs use the pilot’s BAB, saves, proficiencies and skill modifiers, and do not gain skills or feats of their own. Mechs have a hardness score and take half damage from most energy-based attacks. While piloting, a character can’t wear armor or bulky clothing, and items that provide an AC-increase to the pilot, INCLUDING natural armor bonuses do NOT apply while piloting a mech. Mechs are treated as metal armor, but generally do not per default impose an arcane spell failure.

Mechs are designed for certain types of weapons in mind; this is known as Weapon Affinity; you can picture that as a kind of proficiency, as it influences the type of weapon a mech can wield. Standard weapons can be converted for mech use, though they have to be made for a size that the mech can make use of via weapon slots. There are three types of affinity: Ranged, melee and heavy. The first two are self-explanatory, while the third encompasses a list of weapons ranging from grenade launchers to rail guns and rocket launchers. Basically, if you could picture a weapon being the key-feature of a Gundam mecha that sets it apart, it’s probably heavy. The pilot of a mech with this affinity is considered to have Exotic Weapon Proficiency (heavy weaponry) as long as they are piloting the mech. Now, as for those weapon slots we’ve been talking about: A single weapon slot can accommodate a single Medium or smaller weapon, and in order to weild a weapon, a mech must have it slotted and the pilot must be able to wield it, unless otherwise noted. A crucial difference to regular weaponry: Multiple slots can be combined to fit larger weapons; two weapon slots can be sued to fit a Large weapon; three fit a Huge weapon, 4 a Gargantuan, and 5 a Colossal weapon, and such slotted weapons are thankfully not subject to the clusterf*** that are the rules for inappropriately-sized weaponry. That’s a good thing. If the linear progression instead of an exponential or similar curve struck you as odd: Attacks with a slotted weapon are made at the pilot’s full BAB, but no iterative attacks may be executed. Attacks with natural attacks or unslotted weapons executed by mechs are penalized with -5 to the attack roll.

Okay, so how does the mech companion operate? Well, they have a ¾ HD-progression, which means they start of at 1 HD and improve that 15 HD at 19th level; The mech has a ½ AC bonus progression, and a Hardness that begins play at 1 and improved up to 19; at 5th level and every 4 levels thereafter, the aforementioned Strength and Dexterity bonuses granted by the mech increase by +2, for a total of +8 at 17th level. At 11th and 20th level, we have size increases (you can stay your usual size and instead get +2 Dexterity and 10 additional hit points), and the mech gets a BP (battery point)-contingent. When a mech uses a technological item or weapon, they may have charges drawn from this pool instead, and the battery recharges at the rate of 2 per hour. It is important to note for GMs that this should probably not allow for use of nanite hypoguns; the BP is clearly supposed to be electricity, whereas the hypogun’s charges represent nanites, as made very clear by their capacity, which, unlike most technological items, explicitly reads “1 nanite canister”, not the simple numerical value usually presented for charges sourced from batteries. This is important, because we’d otherwise have a pretty overkill healing angle here. Explicitly stating this caveat in the rules here would have been more convenient for the reader.

At 1st level, the BP-contingent is still 0, but every level thereafter, it improves by 2. At 1st level, 5th level, and every 4 levels thereafter, the mech also gets a mech enhancement. Depending on which basic shape you choose from the three available, you also get a unique 5th-level advancement; these frame-based enhancements generally improve every 5 levels after 5th.

Okay, so, what do the base frames provide? The agile frame is Small (as such only available for Small characters at low levels), and nets +20 ft. speed, +1 armor, two secondary wing attacks à 1d4, Dexterity +4 and 5 bonus hit points; Weapon Affinity is ranged, and we have 1 weapon slot. At fifth level, the frame nets a fly speed that improves regarding speed and maneuverability at higher levels. The mech can hover sans check. Bipeds are Medium, get +2 to armor, a primary slam at 1d6, +2 Dexterity and Strength, 10 bonus hit points, Weapon Affinity for melee and ranged weapons, and 2 weapon slots. Bipeds start play with the arms enhancement, and at 5th level, their arms net a +2 shield bonus to AC, which improves at higher levels. This bonus btw. explicitly increases a shield bonus of a regular shield, if present. Quadruped/treaded mechs start play as Large (size modifiers listed), get +10 ft. movement, +4 AC, a primary slam à 1d8, +4 Strength, 15 bonus hit points, the stability trait, Weapon Affinity for heavy weapons, and 2 weapon slots. The 5th-level advancement nets an additional weapon slot at no cost (ditto for higher levels).

Unless I have miscounted, there are 23 mech enhancements provided. These include gaining an additional weapon affinity, a new weapon slot, and at 7th level, you can get e.g. +2 AC; the equivalents of Weapon Focus and Weapon Specializations and their Greater versions can also be gained; 9th level allows for the taking of +5 hardness. Quicker reload for firearms and heavy weaponry, arms, slow fall hovering for quadrupeds, swim speed and air filters, +15 for Acrobatics and Ride checks made to jump (should imho be typed bonuses), size increases (may first be taken at 7th level, then again at 17th level), climb speed for quadrupeds/treaded ones. I did notice an issue: Superior Arcforged Armor provides a hardness increase of 5 and requires Advanced Armor Plating as a prerequisite, with which it notes that it stacks; said enhancement, however, does grant an AC bonus, not hardness. The enhancement should not refer to Advanced Armor Plating, but Arcforged Armor, which does indeed grant hardness 5. Thrusters are also included, and there is an option to increase the damage dice of weapons you have Weapon Affinity for. Shielded cockpit and cerebral reinforcement are perhaps the most potent enhancements, available at 13th and 15th level, respectively; both net you an assortment of the construct immunities of the mech. Since these are locked behind high level prerequisites, I can get behind them.

Interesting as far as this enhancement engine is concerned: The mech’s arms can wield weapons “appropriately sized” (should reference the mech) and make iterative attacks with them; when doing so, the mech is treated as having two fewer weapon slots (min 0); this aspect of the engine, while not necessarily hard to understand, at first seems to be weird in conjunction with the base rules, until you realize that the mech’s default slotted weapons essentially operate like natural attacks as a default.

Okay, so, before we return to the helmsman, let’s briefly talk about the mech as a whole: The system is kinda clever in that is presents mechs as a non-autonomous construct, somewhat akin to how e.g. vehicles operate; they also behave in many ways like an armor, like an extension of the character. Mechanically, the closest approximation I could come up with, is probably the synthesis; in many ways, the base mech-engine generates what you’d expect: A serious increase in durability for all piloting characters, with math-escalation built straight into the core engine. At the same time, we have a serious Achilles’ heel built into the whole thing. The cap regarding armor stacking is very much required, and the hardness means that the mechs can withstand punishment they actually take better; at the same time, much like in the respective anime series, they can’t be quickly healed back up, and damage takes longer to heal/repair, unless supplemented by copious amounts of magic. In short: You’ll be hit rather often, and the hits won’t be easily or quickly cured.

This is intended, and indeed imho works rather well, particularly considering that the characters, when ejected, won’t necessarily be properly armored and armed, though it’s not hard to get a dress-as-swift-action armor. The core engine presented operates pretty well. Where I can see serious issues that you need to be aware of, though, is within the interaction with the other components of engines, such as psionics and the like. Mechs allow you to enhance your character significantly regarding their staying power, and as such, powers and spells intended to shield fragile casters, which apply their personal benefits to both mech and pilot, can become problematic, as they’re not intended to bestow their benefits upon tanky, potent things with hardness. Depending on the type of game you run, this may be a significant problem – or not. If you prefer a system that presents less avenues for exploits, I’d strongly recommend making each mech their own target for the purpose of multi-target effects, and to disallow the application of personal-only power and spell-buffing effects to mechs. From a rules-perspective, AoE attacks can be a bit weird in play, and explaining the sequence explicitly would have made sense and made the system a bit easier to grasp: When hit by an AoE attack, you roll the saving throw first, then apply the effects; i.e., if you failed the save, your pilot character takes half damage, and the mech takes the other half; since most AoE-attacks are energy attacks, however, the mech further halves the damage incurred.

After some tinkering and testing, I do think that the engine presented works pretty well for what it tries to do; it presents an engine for mechs that duplicates many of the tropes we expect from the genre well, operating in many ways like a gestalt-lite second mode for the character. The base system operates well and is really enjoyable, but the combination with other systems leaves it wide open, which can become a rather pronounced issue.

Personally, I think that focusing more on breadth of options rather than a deepening of numerical boosts would have been a more rewarding route – more customization for the mech, less static boosts – or, you know, make the static boosts for Strength etc. cost BP. Instead of the nigh impossible to control and balance wide open transparency the system offers, a more controlled system with select exceptions would have probably been the more elegant and robust solution that also retains the uniqueness of classes and class options that do focus on mechs.

Speaking of which, the helmsman did also have an option for vehicles, right? Well, the book presents rules for technological companions, (combat transport vehicle, infiltration transport vehicle, motorcycle, sportscar, and ship); these come with their own base shapes and use the mech’s table and ability gains instead of the default companion stats, following the mech frames with their benefits and enhancements granted. These do warrant some scrutiny as well; ships, in aquatic campaigns, would e.g. be an escalation over the “horse is more deadly than cavalier” low-level issue, as the ship begins play with a Strength score of 24. My observations regarding the potential issues of the mech engine obviously also apply here as a consequence. Since these vehicles also behave as though the driver was mounted, there are some seriously devastating attacks that can be pulled off with them. That being said, if you wanted to play e.g. Knightrider? Here you go.

But let us return to the helmsman class: At 1st level, we get the supernatural hypercharge ability: At 1st level and every odd level thereafter, we get one hypercharge from a list of 13; these are activated as a swift or immediate action, and sport a cost – this is a cost in essence burn, which recovers at the rate of 1 per minute of meditation. 7th, 13th and 17th level unlock previously level-locked hypercharges. Hypercharges last Intelligence modifier rounds (ability score reference not properly capitalized) unless otherwise noted – e.g. one that nets you an additional attack with the same weapon is instantaneous. These hypercharges can be VERY strong. For one point of essence burn, we have an attack roll or saving throw reroll for the bonded vessel as soon as 1st level, and the ability does not specify whether the decision must be made before results are made known. For 2 points of essence burn, we have an instantaneous repair for the bonded vessel equal to twice the helmsman’s level. (Infinite healing exploit is only an issue if you combine it with an option that allows hit points to be shared between constructs and living things.) You can also choose an akashic armament or veil that “the bonded vessel has essence invested in” (which is an odd phrasing that should probably read “´of the bonded vessel that the helmsman has invested essence in” or something like that, increasing that by 3, even beyond the usual cap. Later we have the means to get a combat feat for which the helmsman meets the prerequisites. Which brings me to a question of hypercharges like this: Could you use this hypercharge to gain consecutive feats/mini-feat trees for a limited duration? RAW, that’d be possible. On the plus-side, the high-level options include AoE ranged and melee attacks. Really weird: This is probably the first time that I’ve seen a base class refer to the ability suite of an archetype: The helmsman can also get a hypercharge that lets them learn one of the overdrive abilities of the reactor knight psychic warrior, using Intelligence instead of Wisdom as governing ability score.

Also at 1st level, we have the akashic armaments ability, which lets the helmsman imbue essence in the bonded vessel as though it were a veil; the limit based on veilshaper level applies to each of the armaments separately, not to the overall armaments. Well, scratch that: The armaments are unlocked at 2nd level, and a glimpse at the class table confirms that the text claiming that this is gained at first level, is wrong here – the ability is gained at 2nd level. The benefits are all unlocked, with 9th and 16th level providing new sets of options. The akashic armaments are in line with the existing options: Artillery, for example, nets you a +1 insight bonus to atk and damage with all weapons, and +1 to the save DC, if any, of weapons. This is pretty much a variant of the daevic’s armbands of the irked elephant, minus base damage and bull rush, but plus the DC-angle. Bonus type prevents stacking exploits. That being said, I’m not a big fan of the high-level initiative boost. On a formal level, we have some deviations from the standards here: Threat range is e.g. noted as “15:20”, and we have instances of feats not capitalized and weapon special properties referenced not in italics.

2nd level and every 3 levels thereafter nets a chakra bind in the progression head, feet, wrist, shoulders, headband, neck, body. Balance-wise, the head-chakra is usually gained only at 6th level, at the very soonest for full-caster type akashic characters; for others, the customary level-range is 8+. This does undercut some of the balance options of the system; take djinni’s turban from City of 7 Seraphs: Akashic Trinity, for example: binding this veil to the head slot nets you unassisted personal flight with perfect maneuverability if bound to the head slot as well as a 20% concealment against ranged attacks if you move at least 20 ft. in a single round. Usually, that’s perfectly fine, as you can do it at 6th level, at the soonest, if you’re a nexus or vizier. The helmsman, though? This fellow can pull that off at first level, which violates PFRPG’s balance-assumption of no unassisted flight below 5th level – and it also kinda undercuts the coolness of having an aerial mech. Alternatively, sparkling alicorn nets you a half-celestial unicorn at first level. Via the chakra bind for head; stare of the ghaele’s head chakra bind nets you 1d6+1 rounds of staggering, which is hardcore at the usual 6th level; at first level, it’s overkill. This, more than anything else, would disqualify the class hardcore for me – but guess what? This seems to be yet another error, for the class table does instead provide the hands chakra at 2nd level, which is very much a feasible choice! This is perhaps the most egregious issue in a class’s rules I’ve seen in a while, as it means the difference between “fundamentally broken” and “works well within the confines of the system.” Not cool.

4th, 10th and 19th level net enhanced capacity; 4th level also allows the helmsman to prevent the destruction of their vessel by sacrificing their own hit points. I get and like the intent here, but with a regenerating pilot, this can be somewhat problematic; with a 1/round caveat or a Burn-like mechanic, this’d retain the spirit of the ability, without resulting in the wondrous almost trash-indestructible mech. As written, this ability rewards you for keeping your mech nearly trashed, as the pilot can be healed up quicker than the mech. At 6th level, the helmsman may 1/day (+1/day at 9th level and every 3 levels thereafter) reallocate essence as a free action. 10th level nets the exclusive interface chakra; 12th level nets turboboost. This nets the vessel the ability to gain the benefits of one additional chakra to which any kind of veil can be shaped, but the helmsman takes essence burn equal to the number of essence invested in the chakra each round this is maintained. At 18th level, this is delimited, reducing essence burn to 1 if the vessel has “1 or more points of essence invested in the hypercharge chakra.” Wait. WHAT? Hypercharge is no chakra! That’s a series of abilities that requires essence burn to use, but you don’t invest anything in it? Turboboost is also not a chakra, so is this supposed to reference interface? I genuinely have no idea how the hell this ability is supposed to work. The capstone lets the character shift their essence as an immediate action an unlimited number of times per day, and hypercharge requires one less point of essence burn, minimum 0. The first part of this ability is phrased imprecisely: The core veilweaving feature provides the means to reallocate essence an unlimited amount of time as a swift action; adaptive response improves that to a free action a limited amount of times per day. So…does the capstone mean to imply that it allows for unshaping and constructing of new veils? It seems to refer to previous limitations and is phrased as a delimited, but the ambiguous verbiage makes this very hard to grasp.

The class is supplemented by a variety of favored class options, as well as 3 archetypes. The first would be the experimental engineer is an engine-tweak that is a straight power upgrade: At 3rd, 7th, 11th, 15th and 19th level, you get to choose a mech enhancement, an item creation feat, or a hypercharge. Instead of choosing one hypercharge, you get to choose from more. Pretty sure that, at one point, hypercharges were all unlocked at once, and this archetype was not updated properly. As written, it is a straight power-increase sans drawbacks or tradeoffs. The ability name is not bolded properly. The fleet commander can spread his pilot levels among bonded vessels – a 6th level commander could e.g. have 2 3rd level vessels, 6 1st level vessels…you get the idea; each level, the pilot levels must be allocated, and once chosen, these cannot be redistributed. The fleet shares a bond within 100 ft., +10 ft./level, which includes seeing and hearing through them, which can be ridiculously powerful. The fleet commander can also expend actions to command his fleet; “for example, a fleet commander can spend a move action to command the mechs to move, and a standard action to command them to make a ranged attack.”  At 6th level and every 3 levels thereafter, the fleet commander can issue commands to an additional one of his bonded vessels as the same action, though doing so causes the vessels to take a -1 penalty to atk and skill check “per mech commanded this way.”

The vessels have to take the same action, but may target different targets. Okay, so RAW, only mechs feature in the penalty, which is clearly an error, but at least only one of the vessels gets the very strong vessel shape sharing. Second error: The class feature references the eclipse base class instead of the helmsman. The archetype loses adaptive response. Hypercharges may affect additional vessels for 1 point of essence burn. I spoke too soon, btw.: At 8th level, investing essence into a single bonded vessel for akashic armaments and veils shares that with the entire armada. This replaces enhanced capacity. WAIT. There is no enhanced capacity at 8th level! So what is this supposed to replace? Is the level incorrect? 12th level replaces turboboost with the ability to bond with any vessel as a standard action, treating it as a bonded vessel for all purposes. “The fleet commander may have any number of vessels affected by this ability at a time, but a single vessel may only be considered he bonded vessel of one helmsman at a time.” WTF. Remember: He can see through all. Instead of improved turboboost, we have the ability to command +1 vessel for a point of essence burn How does this interact with the base ability to command more at once at the cost of penalty? Freely? Full choice? Do we need to pay only in excess beyond the basics? The capstone eliminates btw. the base penalties for multi-vessel commands, and allows the vessels to take different actions from each other, which is damn cool – and something the archetype imho should have, at a HIGH cost, gained  earlier.

The themistoclien helmsman replaces the hypercharges with Path of War maneuvers, starting off with 3 maneuvers known, 1 readied, and increasing that to 7 and 5, respectively. The disciplines available are the golden lion, piercing thunder, solar wind, and the atrociously overpowered rajah class’s radiant dawn. Maneuver recovery works via standard action, or he may gain temporary essence equal to half Intelligence modifier (minimum 1) that may be used for essence burn….and guess what? We have the ability to execute maneuvers through the bonded vessel, so essentially rajah lite, minus the rajah’s atrociously OP titles, but with a better chassis, and it has the same enhanced capacity glitch as above. Since it, like the fleet commander, suffers from a progression/ability exchange glitch, and since the core class already has one, I’ll stop trying to judge whether this fares on the power scale. Dual-system options are already hard enough to check when all components are in working order.

Beyond the veil list (which is another indicator that the class SHOULD in fact get the hands chakra…), we also get a couple new veils. Ablation field is for the chest slot and increases your DR or hardness, but RAW doesn’t grant you either, energy adaptation while bound; captain’s guided hand  is cool, as it provides skill boosts and, when bound to hands, lets your vessel ignore mundane difficult terrain and high winds. Dogfighter’s third eye is exclusive to the helmsman’s mid-level interface chakra, and nets you dodge bonus to AC; interesting: you get to move whenever you’re missed, and while bound, you get blindsense. Also for the interface chakra: expansive uplink, which nets long-range telepathy and sensory sharing; general’s beacon which lets you track allies (and enemies, if bound); ironclad bastion is a more straightforward buff with a movement enhancer when bound; navigator’s boon does what it says on the tin, including find the path (not in italics) while bound. Steel ward’s bond lets you interface with constructs and mind probe them. For non-exclusive chakras, we have the technological items disrupting interface bangles for slots wrist, body, which can also disrupt magic when bound, and warlord’s fist, which nets AoE Intimidate.

Okay, since the helmsman class requires knowing the reactor knight archetype, let us cover that fellow next. The reactor knight gets Fly and Knowledge (engineering) and diminished manifesting, and loses warrior’s path, expanded path, secondary path (powers, trance, maneuvers) and pathweaving in favor of a bonded mech and the overdrive ability referenced by the helmsman. The ability lets the archetype expend their psionic focus in favor of Wisdom bonus + ½ class level (minimum 1) boost points, which last for class level rounds and may be used to activate any overdrive known. At 1st level and every 2 levels thereafter, the archetype gets to choose from one overdrive of a list of 12. These include making Fly checks to negate attacks (broken; skills are super-easy to cheese beyond attack rolls), but that one is at least an immediate action, so only once per round. There is also a physical attack at a 60 ft. range that is extraordinary – which is cool. But how is the very possible scenario of preventing the return of the e.g. detached fist handled? How is this explained with weapons? This is missing the usual clarifications of extraordinary melee attacks executed at range. We also have AoE fire damage, or what about adding Wisdom mod to all attack, saving throws and Acrobatics checks for 3 rounds (no, this has no minimum level), for a lousy 2 boost points that are replenished whenever you want? Compare that with the one that lets you spend 1 boost point and a swift action to exit the mech and land on the floor safely with a DC 5 Acrobatics check. Yeah, let me take the latter over a boost that makes palas cry over their grace being sucky. We also have some formatting inconsistencies here, but this review is already very long. The archetype also provides some skill bonuses, mech enhancements and the capstone has a maximum overdrive that lets them use overdrives sans boost point cost. Don’t get me wrong: This is an archetype I per se LIKE, but it is one that desperately needed some limits, some minimum level requirements and internal balancing.

While we’re on the subject of psionic archetypes, let us cover the remainder of them: The Circuitbreaker cryptic loses the altered defense class feature in favor of Technologist and tech-related crafting feats at higher levels. Instead of evasion, they get Psicrystal Affinity and Psi-Core Upgrade; the latter is a rather cool psionics/tech crossover feat that lets your psicrystal bond with weapons, tools, etc. – which is per se neat. I do have one concern with the feat, though: It lets you convert power points into charges on a 5:1 ratio, which, while not exactly game-breaking, can be a pretty strong delimiter in games, considering how batteries, per the default rules, have a serious chance of going kaput. Lacing traps into targets? Nice. As a whole, I consider this archetype to be solid. The Eclipse archetype for the dread class is, unfortunately, not as well-considered. We have a fleet-scenario that sports much of the same issues of the fleet commander, but add to that the ability to execute ranged untyped damage causing touch attacks; that wasn’t good design for the dread, and it’s still not good design when it can be executed at range and via proxies, particularly since it can also channel terrors at range. At this point, the archetype is already disqualified for me. The mecha sentinel aegis is interesting: Instead of the astral suit, we get an astral mecha, including 3-point customizations for mech enhancements and 4-point customization for size increases, with cannibalize suit replaced with the ability to shake off some negative conditions at higher levels. The medimechanic vitalist can add objects and constructs to their collective, and get a modified powers-list instead of medic powers…oh, and they can exchange repair and healing through their collective. And here we have the HP-with-construct-exchange issue I warned of above.

The overcharger wilder gets a variant surge and three exclusive surge bonds to choose from: Armsmaster, Malfunction and Pilot. No surprise: The pilot surge, which nets you a bonded mech or companion vehicle at full CL is by far the best one. The latter should cost the archetype more. The squad leader tactician has a slightly better ratio there, losing coordinated strike and lesser strategies. As a nitpick, his collective erroneously refers to him as mech pilot, but on the plus-side, the feature is modified to lose the range upgrades, but allow for temporary teamwork feat sharing. Using the collective engine to remotely steer unpiloted mecha is also a neat angle, though I am very weary of the fact that this action tree actually is reduced at higher levels, particularly since there is RAW no limit to the number of collectives you can theoretically be a part of at the same time, which could result in some ridiculous scenes regarding the action economy of the faithful mech servants of a ton of tacticians. There are also two non-psionic archetypes: The cyborg engineer vizier may invest essence in technological items, which allows them to consume fewer charges -1 fewer per essence invested. And with the aforementioned hypoguns, that’d mean infinite healing…and the archetype’s out. (As an aside, combine that with the vitalist, and we have infinite mech healing…) The road warrior fighter is straight-forward, a vehicle companion fighter. No complaints here.

The pdf also features class templates and features, which include blade skills for the soulknife that allow for the emulation of technological melee and ranged weapons. The psionic formulist is a class template that removes the extracts mechanic in favor of psionic extracts; these do tend to be more powerful than regular extracts, but the per se solid implementation, comprehensive lists and considering the theme, I’d very much let those guys into my game. The powerful cerebremancer also gets an archetype, the metaforge is essentially a tweak that is based on the variant rule that treats psionics as advanced tech according to the old adage.

The supplement contains a 10-level PrC, the psiborg adept, who gets ¾ BAB-progfression, d8 HD, ½ Fort-and Will-save progression 8/10ths manifesting progression, and 4 + Int skills per level. Bonded mecha, astral suit, mindblade etc. are also advanced; the archetype suspends the draining of charges of technological items while psionic focus is maintained, and they have a higher implantation threshold, gaining progressively more construct-like abilities. The 8th level ability of the PrC is super strong, auto-regaining psionic focus when manifesting a power, provided you didn’t expend it while manifesting that power. The character may also use charges as power points at higher levels – you get the idea.

Rather cool: The book contains a couple of psicrystal archetypes: The Informant, the OS, and the targeting array – and I genuinely love these. The targeting array gets Int-based aid another, including follow-up feats; the OS gets holographic projections and can hijack robots – and we also get a synthetic animal companion archetype. Kudos for this entire section – apart from a few formal hiccups (ability score reference or size not capitalized, etc.), this section really knocks it out of the park! It’s evocative, balanced and creative and shows what the authors can do.

We also get racial variants, 2 for androids, 2 for forgeborn, 1 for the noral (essentially an akashic variant); Skills are not properly capitalized, bonuses are untyped when they should be racial, and they are lopsided, including ability scores on one side of the mental/physical divide, and one of them nets +4 to Intelligence. . Apart from the champion forgeborn, against whom I can field no nitpicks or gripes, I wouldn’t use them. The book also contains 7+ pages of feats, reprinting the required ones like the Craft feats and Technologist, etc. These also include Craft Companion Vehicle and Craft Mech. As a note: The rules for non-companion vehicles to which they refer point to “pieces” instead of gp. We have feats for having the mech integrated into a set of body armor, the usual class feature enhancers for extra hypercharge, enhancements, etc., replace animal companions with a mech, metapsionic means to cause irradiation with powers based on power points expended. Oh yeah, and then there is that feat that lets you always ignore temporary hit points. Always on. Prerequisite: Psionic Weapon or Fist. That’s it. WTF. Kill it with fire.

The book also has an array of over 20 new psionic powers, and the list includes the voyager class and the gambler among the lists provided. These psionic powers need to be vetted VERY CAREFULLY. Assimilate function, for example, is a costly level 8 power that targets an AI: The AI gets one save, and if failing that, it is instantly destroyed and you get all of its knowledge and special abilities. No duration, mind you. You literally get all of it permanently. Do I even need to explain that this can be an issue? Okay, what if I told you that there are powers that make targets resurrect or incarnate as AIs? Ton of narrative potential, but also a high potential for some logic bugs on why bad guys aren’t nigh-unstoppable.On the plus side, we have astral swarms with the robot subtype and cool augmentation options that include instead making gray goo. Weird, beyond the rather prevalent formatting issues: Even if a power has only one augment option, it lists its augmentation as “1.”, which makes quite a few powers look as though something was cut, when cut copy paste was a more likely culprit. We have rather powerful and flexible terraforming-themed powers, including wide-range weather control, but also changes of gravity, fauna, etc.; while I don’t agree with the cost of all of them, I found myself genuinely appreciating these powers, the formatting snafus here and there notwithstanding; for a scifi or science-fantasy campaign, these certainly are cool and appreciated. Quite a few of these are modeled after comparable spells, expanding the range of psionics while retaining a distinct flavor. I also rather appreciated the complex holographic projections, the power-based piloting, interplanetary movement via psionics, etc. – this kind of stuff. High-level tech-wrecking is cool. Not so cool: One augmentation of a power that lets you recharge tech via psionics lets you multiply the charges by recharging multiple items at once. Still, as a whole, one of the strongest chapters of the book.

The final section includes notes to reflavor both akasha and psionics as cybertech; in the case of the former, we get 4 veils: hover boots, H.U.D., micro-missile gauntlet and nanite cloud. The former being e.g. a variant of lavawalker’s boots that instead of resistances grants you an enhanced speed; H.U.D. is a reflavored sentinel’s helmet – you get the gist. The take on akasha is clever, in that it focuses on flavor; the one on psionics goes a different route, and recommends making them no longer susceptible to dispel magic etc. – essentially, it’s a re-establishing of the psionics-are-different paradigm, with the caveat that effects that affect technology now also affect psionics. Provided your campaign sports enough tech-related materials and effects/spells, this works – if not, be very careful, as psionics already are pretty potent. The section also presents three variants of psionic item creation feats for this context, and adds spells as powers to some class lists.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are not even close up to the standards of Legendary Games; beyond the rather copious deviations in formatting I noticed, the supplement unfortunately also suffers from several issues on the rules-language level, which include ones that wreck the functionality of otherwise cool concepts. Beyond that, the balancing of quite a few options, internal and external, is dubious. This feels like an excellent first draft; not like a finished book. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard that LG-fans may also know from Starfinder supplements. The supplement sports quite a bunch of full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Matt Daley and Michael Sayre are both talented designers, but the long and painful genesis of this book is readily apparent. The core engine presented is an interesting one that succeeds at its intended goal of depicting rules for a game alike e.g. Gundam SEED, but it is also one that would have benefited from not trying to fuse all those sub-systems – in many ways, one of the things that undo parts of this book, is that it loses track of all the moving parts of the systems it taps into, misses balancing caveats that were clearly intended to be there, misses internal level prerequisites for some ability arrays, etc.

This is particularly evident, as the book does e.g. show a cognizance of balancing caveats regarding e.g. threat range limitations and similar fine details that often are overlooked. The intent is here, the execution falls a bit short. As a consequence, the power-levels fluctuate starkly between OP and “I’d use and allow that without missing a heartbeat!” regarding quite a few pieces of content, and the issues are never there out of necessity for a vision, they are there because of what feels like refinement missing.

Again: The core of Arcforge’s engine does its job in a solid manner, though expansion of it instead of the inclusion of the archetypes might have been the more prudent strategy. In many ways, this feels like one of the most rushed books I’ve seen by Legendary Games so far.

After I had perused the mecha-engine, I was excited to see whether the classes and class features would offset some of its potential rough spots, but instead, they went the other way, exacerbating some flaws with numerous exploits, a ton of glitches, problems in functionality, etc. In many instances, supplemental materials with the proper focus could have rendered the engine a Top Ten-level masterstroke – the potential is here. Still, this does leave me hopeful for future installments!

And yet, while this book is deeply flawed, and while I’d advise extreme caution when implementing it in your campaign, it is also a book that is genuinely inspiring, that has its moments of brilliance, and that, if you can get your players to agree to refraining from gaming the system in its plentiful available ways, can make it a compelling cornerstone for entire campaigns. I just wished this had received the control, clean-up and refinement it needed. As provided, I can only recommend this with some serious reservations, and can’t go higher than 3 stars, consisting of a median of some components in the lower rating echelons, and some in the higher ones.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Arcforge: Technology Expanded
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Faerie Bargains (5E)
by C M W B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/17/2020 16:48:56

This is a really neat and unique concept, and one I've used to great effect in my own Tales of the Old Magreve game. Introducing treacherous and unpredictable fey bargains and fey mysteries, it is a really fun and flavourful way to maek your forest adventures have a bit more menace to them.

It adds a fun element of player choice in which they need to weigh the risk vs. the reward, with the long-term penalties for making the wrong choice offering up some fun roleplay opportunities.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Faerie Bargains (5E)
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Treasury of the Macabre (5E)
by C M W B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/17/2020 16:47:47

This is a fun addition to any DM's toolkit, with some terrific horror-inspired magic items to spring on your players.

I've used this when populating the hoards of evildoers and it has allowed for much more flavourful loot than your run of the mill scrolls, potions, and +1 items. While I used this in my homebrew setting, I can see it making a good addition to a Curse of Strahd game too.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Treasury of the Macabre (5E)
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Terrors from the Id: The Book of Psionic Horror
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/07/2020 08:41:21

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement clocks in at 40 pages,1  page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages introduction, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page blank, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 31 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

We begin this book with new class options for psionic classes, which include new tricks for the Path of War class Zealot (from path of War Expanded) as well, so let’s start here: Zealots get 4 new convictions. One  lets the zealot, as a free action, take sanity damage of up to his Charisma modifier, regaining an expended maneuver for every point of sanity damage taken. Sans sanity system,, the zealot may instead take 2 ability score damage to one of the three mental ability scores of their choice. Mad echoes lets the zealot cause 1 sanity damage to all creatures affected by echoes of steel; if he does this, the target of echoes of steel gets to use the loaned maneuver an additional time. I assume that the bonus use of the maneuver still is voided if the zealot chooses to recover the maneuver, but explicitly pointing that out would have been nice. The final conviction nets the “shattered mind” oracle curse, using zealot level as oracle levels. Unless I am sorely mistaken, there is no such thing. After combing through my pdfs and books, I finally realized what this should have been, or at least, I think I do: In PF #88, a shattered psyche oracle curse was introduced. This was the closest I got to discerning the intent of this one.

Zealots also get a new mission, corruption. This one nets all creatures in your collective the benefits of your corruption manifestation and stains while you maintain psionic focus. You can expend your psionic focus to allow all creatures in the collective to ignore their stains for 1 round. This ability is missing the action to activate it. The second ability, warping majesty, lets the zealot spend “3 power points on a martial strike, affecting the target with Malefic Metamorphosis[sic!]” If the target failed a saving throw against the maneuver that activated this power, it is affected automatically. For 4 power points added to a martial strike, the target can be forcibly included in the collective. As a swift action, the zealot may command the target to perform a move or standard action, with a “DC 10 + the zealot’s charisma modifier + half the zealot’s level” “will” save to stop performing the action. Leaving the collective requires a move action and a will save. Why all those quotes? Well, if you’re even remotely familiar with PFRPG, you’ll notice that there’s a lot wrong with formatting here – the sequence of the DCs is nonstandard, ability scores are persistently lower-caps, and, to get that out of the way, powers referenced and archetypes are both provided in caps – so the “Malefic Metamorphosis” does not reference a feat, it actually points towards a power – and should be malefic metamorphosis. Skills are btw. written in lower caps.

The issues this book has with formatting are VERY pronounced, and particularly in high-complexity contexts, they do impact the material.

On a formal level, it should be noted that the verbiage here also made me stumble a few times, but yeah. The mission is conceptually great, but before we can properly judge it, we have to make a brief excursion to new psionic powers, namely the aforementioned malefic metamorphosis. The power is one of the new powers introduced herein, and is a third-level power for psions/wilders and vitalists. It can be manifested as a standard action, has a range of touch, and PR applies; A fortitude save negates, and the power clocks in at 5 power points cost. The power allows you to impose a -6 penalty to an ability score, decrease the target’s size by 2 categories, make the target lose a limb, render the target blind or deaf, decrease natural armor by 3, decrease DR by 5, reduce fast healing or regeneration by 5 (nice: Has a caveat that prevents cheesing immortal enemies here!), decrease maneuverability by 2 “steps”, impose -4 on attack rolls, skill checks, ability checks and saving throws, impose a 50% chance to waste any given turn; this increases to only a 25% chance to act normally. For every 4 power points spent, you get to add another effect; for 2 power points, range increases to close; for 4, you can affect a creature with additional manifestations of the power, and for 2, the save DC increases by 1.  Sounds familiar? Yep, this is essentially a psionic, more versatile version of bestow curse. I like most of the flexibility it offers, though loss of a limb is pretty nasty, and should probably have been a costly augment. The power is, like bestow curse, permanent, but unlike the spell, it notes this: “any effect that would remove ability damage is capable of removing the effects of this power.“ Okay, I assume that means that any effect curing ability damage also ends this power. In short: It is more flexible, but also easier to remove than the spell. Per se not too big a problem. Oh wait, we were talking about the zealot, right? That means full BAB, and this potent power added for 3 power points to strikes? Now that is damn brutal – compared to destruction, we have the disabling of a limb equated with 3d8 active energy damage and +1 DC. And yes, this is the better comparison than destruction’s AoE-attack, as the new mission’s power point cost does not scale. I really love this conceptually – the infectious mutation/madness-angle reminded me of ole’ Sutter Cain, but as written, this is a very potent added debuff to strikes, one that exceeds in power the options granted by the other zealot missions. RAW, the ability also does not clarify the interaction with targets and affected area – as written, one could argue that 3 power points add this to all affected targets, when a single target was almost assuredly intended. This is a super-cool concept, but it needed some finetuning and polish.

While we’re on the subject of class abilities, we also get a new surge for the wilder, the horrific surge. This one lets the wilder make an “intimidate” check versus a creature within close range, gaining a untyped bonus to the check equal to the wild surge’s “value” – I assume that to refer to the manifester level increase granted by the wild surge class feature. If suffering enervation, the wilder is shaken for a number of rounds “equal to the level of wild surge used” and loses power points equal to the unmodified manifester level. This is, verbiage-wise, not really functional – does it refer to the manifester level as modified by wild surge? To the increase to manifester level? A wild surge in itself has no level. The surge bond increases the fear of targets already affected by shaken, frightened, etc., and the improved surge bond nets +1 creature affected by the wilder’s wild surge Intimidate checks, + another creature affected for every 4 levels beyond 5th.

Archetype-wise, the deranged min psion loses the bonus feats in favor of getting an oracle curse (adapted properly to psionics), and at 5th level, we have the tap the madness ability to accept temporary penalties to saves to enhance DCs, with the ability improving at 15th level. Interesting: At 10th level, this ability’s penalty becomes an aura. Formatting is inconsistent here: Class abilities are formatted as though they were feats for the most part (confusing), but not always. At 15th level, when using the save DC-enhancer, the archetype gets to completely ignore PR. Very strong. This should probably be a scaling decrease instead, particularly since they also ignore ANY immunities of creatures, which is OP even at 15th level. – granted, mind-affecting immunity instead nets a +5 bonus, but still. The capstone increases the radius vastly and provides a limited added psionic focus ready to be expended whenever the tap the madness ability is used.

The fearsome overlord dread replaces devastating touch with a collective governed by Wisdom, which is interesting (or a hiccup), considering that the dread otherwise is governed by Charisma – the archetype gets Unwilling Participant at 1st level, using Charisma instead of Wisdom, and adds the [Network] descriptor to all [Fear] powers and a list. The latter makes me think that the collective probably was intended to be Charisma-based as well. 2nd level’s terror is replaced with spirit of many. Terrors can be channeled as a standard action via the collective, and targets in it are treated as though affected by devastating touch for the purpose of being affected by a terror, or the target can be affected by an Intimidate check. The ability is correctly codified regarding descriptor and spirit of many’s augment, which is the big thing here – you can essentially use terrors on multiple targets for power point expenditure, which makes for pretty potent low-cost debuffs.

Aura of fear is replaced with a penalty applied to collective members regarding fear-based effects, including the loss of fear immunity. Channel terror is lost in favor of the ability to induct targets into the collective on a failed save by expending a use of terrors. I assume that the save DC here is based on the terrors, but the ability doesn’t state this. Twin fear is replaced with knowing/remote viewing  the location of creatures in the collective. The archetype also comes with a sanity damaging terror. This is an interesting engine-tweak – I rather liked it, minor rough patches notwithstanding.

The martinet tactician does not suffer drawbacks for collective members reduced to 0 hit points, and replaces coordinated strike with 3+ Intelligence modifier uses of press onward. This ability can be used as a swift action, and lets all members of their collective ignore a pretty massive array of negative conditions for 1 round, , +1 round at 5th level and every 4 levels thereafter. When the effect wears off, the suppressed effects have their duration extended by an equal number of rounds to which they were suppressed….and here, we have an unintentional exploit: Per default, the suppression of effects in PFRPG has their duration continue to elapse, so if the negative condition elapses while the ability is activated, there is no more duration to extend. This is, admittedly, a nitpick, but the exploit is completely avoidable via a suspension of duration elapsing clause. Oh, and there is this other sentence. While under the effect of the ability, creatures ignore ALL DAMAGE SUFFERED. Granted, they take twice as much when the duration elapses, but this is still broken as all hell. Deity blasts your level 1 farmer? Death delayed, you’ve got this level 1 martinet standing around…and again, it didn’t have to be this way. I love the idea. Add a simple scaling mechanism per round for damage ignored, and there you go. 6th level nets Diehard and collective members benefiting from coordinate gain it as a teamwork feat. 14th level replaces pooled knowledge with the ability to redistribute damage taken among collective members. Good here: The ability has a caveat that prevents damage negation – via DR. Since the base ability regarding delayed damage does not comment on energy types, this should be more broadly phrased.

The psyche preserver vitalist replaces medic powers with an expanded powers list and the respective powers being treated as though they had the network descriptor. Transfer wounds is replaced and delayed until 4th level, and the replacement instead transfers sanity damage. Collective healing is similarly modified to instead apply to sanity damage, health sense is replaced with sanity sense, and at 6th level, we have a pulse that lets the collective members ignore madness or mind.affecting effects for one round. 7th level allows for the negation of sanity damage taken via the modified transfer wounds replacement, and the 19th level ability allows for regular healing to also be able to deal with sanity damage.

Next up are two prestige classes: The 5-level psijacker, who needs 2 skills at 7 ranks, Inducting Power, Shared Power and Unwilling Participant, as well as the ability to manifest 3rd-level powers, which must include two telepathy powers. The PrC has d6 HD, 3/5 manifesting progression, and BAB, Fort- and Ref-saves improve by up to +2, Will saves by up to +3 during the 5 levels of progression. If the psijacker had a collective before, it advances as if the character had gained a level in the collective-granting class. The PrC is missing its class skills, and information on its skills per level and proficiencies.

1st level adds the attune target augment to all mind-affecting powers: for 2 power points, a creature that fails its save against the power becomes attuned to you, and can be affected regardless of range or line of effect. 4th level allows for the expenditure of an additional power point to add attune another creature that failed the Will save against the power.

The interesting thing comes at 2nd level: When attuned to a target, the psijacker shares an attuned target’s collective abilities, and can’t be forcibly removed. Additionally, the psijacker can redirect ANY power or effect that affects another creature in the collective to himself. No save, no limits here. This ability is AWESOME, but it needs some checks and balances. Particularly since all creatures in mental contact with an attuned target are ALSO treated as attuned, save that they can’t act in this same relay-like manner. 3rd level nets spirit of many, and creatures thus affected can be targets via collective effects and powers, effectively bypassing saves and limits that keep the already potent collective ability in check. Remember: Creatures affected by the relay of the attuned target do not get a save to avoid this! Really cool: The psijacker can change what a creature says in mental communication by expending their psionic focus. 4th level eliminates the most pronounced restriction to the psijacker’s attunement, making it last for 24 hours, which is strange, as RAW, the attunement lasts as long as the triggering power, which can be longer than 24 hours. Attuned creatures also take a -2 penalty versus the psijacker’s mind-affecting powers. The 5th level nets another global augment – for 4 power points, mind-affecting powers can become contagious, and only for powers that allow for a Will save. I love the concept of this PrC, but it could have used a few whacks with the nerf-bat. Still, this is definitely a cool concept! Still, I think many of these options either didn’t realize, or didn’t care about all the very potent benefits that collectives have already hardcoded into their rules. There is a reason why Unwilling Participant requires a standard action to use, has a save, and still is very powerful. So yeah, I wouldn’t allow these options in most of my games.

The paragon lunatic covers 10 levels, and requires 5 ranks in Autohypnosis, Iron Will, and at least one greater or two lesser madnesses. The class is immune to all mind-influencing effects save for madnesses already possessed, which can’t be healed or removed. The class also sports mad insight, which is essentially advantage on a d20 roll 1/day, +1/day for every odd class-level thereafter.

We have d8 HD, and ¾ BAB-progression, ½ Will-save progression, and 8/10ths enhanced development (not bolded properly), progressing regarding class features etc. in a class they belonged to before gaining the PrC. 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter net a bonus feat, and 2nd level and every even level thereafter nets a madman’s boon from a list of 12. These are not properly classified as extraordinary, supernatural, etc. – this is relevant in e.g. the ability that allows the paragon lunatic to extend a madness they suffer from to another creature. Most of the abilities are passives, like increasing one ability score by +2, and decreasing another by 4, but yeah…taking e.g. sanity damage when affecting the character with a mind-affecting effect would be another example where ability type is very much relevant. The level 10 ability lets them become super-flexible, and retrain all feats every day, exchange powers for spells (power/spell lists used?? I assume same list…), or exchange class talents etc.

The book also contains quite a bunch of new powers. To give you an idea: Armageddon is a 9th-level power that deals 10d6 force damage…to everything in a 1-mile radius, centered on manifester, including the manifester. Oh, and you take 4d6 ability BURN to the manifesting ability score. Brutal. Assign imperative is permanent (should be “Permanent, see text”, since an inability means it “only” lasts for several days, and essentially lets you implant Code Geass-like compulsions in targets – which is also the interesting angle here: This 6th-level power is akin to geas/quest, and per default takes 10 minutes to manifest, but otherwise has more flexibility due to its augments, which include the option to manifest it as a standard action instead. However, in such a case, the target gets a Will save. Confusing: The augment-section erroneously refers to this power as “Mind Control”, instead of its proper name; it’s not the only power with this particular glitch. That being said, with lantent programming and this one, you can do some seriously nasty stuff.

There is also a 60-foot shockwave spread that renders targets helpless on a failed save, a cool signaling beckon to call low-HD creatures to you (but doesn’t compel obedience…) Deathless Form begs to be abused. A 4th level power, the power has a duration of 1 round/level, and prevents death by hit points. ENTIRELY. It also ahs this confusing piece of verbiage “However, the creature does not heal nor regain consciousness; further healing is required in order to bring the creature back to positive hit points.“ Either the first sentence only applies to natural healing (if so, what about fast healing/regeneration), or it’s self-contradictory. It’s not that hard to remain operational with 0 or less HP. Either way, that’s the pre-augmented power. This sort of stuff is also usually a frickin’ CAPSTONE with limited uses, not a puny 4th-level power. WTF. Compare it to delay death. I mean, seriously. WTF.

On the plus-side, a 6th level power that is essentially a tweak on multi-target ectoplasmic form, a psionic tongues variant…cool. Speaking of cool: One of my favorite psi-powers, false sensory input, gets a complex level 5 variant that I’ll most definitely use. The level 8 feed to oblivion power is a better destruction that is most assuredly missing its [death] descriptor, an important balancing aspect for such powers/spells, particularly since it also imposes negative levels and even ignores immunity to the like. Halt has really cool visuals: It is a 30-foot radius, and saps kinetic energy. It makes projectiles fall to the ground, and creatures in the area must succeed on a Fortitude save or be paralyzed, which EXPLICITLY ignores immunity to paralysis, but not immunity to cold. Since duration is concentration-based, I can see this work rather neatly. However, it also notes that psionic effects are shut down as if affected by dispel psionics – so we have AoE save or suck aura that moves, is a dispelling aura, and eliminates projectiles. I think power-level 5 is too low here.

Insurrection has a chance to force the affected to attack allies. That should have the (compulsion) descriptor. I like the interference field’s massive penalties to concentration. Sharing real and false memories is cool. Personally, I think that the 9th-level power lore of the deceased, which permanently nets you a known power of a deceased creature, should have a limit regarding power lists to choose from, or some maximum of powers from other lists you can thus attain. I welcomed the powers that allow for the use of mindscapes with psionics. Relapse  also needs a limit, and obviously was based on a more limited class ability. The power lets you choose a spell or effect that affected the target within 24 hours that has been ended or dispelled. The effect begins anew. This lets you basically duplicate very strong attack spells/buffs/debuffs, as you with, and bypass 1/day ability limitations. On the plus-side, switching 2 20-foot cubes of terrain and people with spatial displacement? Awesome.

Okay, this should give you an idea regarding the powers. The pdf also includes 2 pages of new feats. These include making mind-affecting powers cause sanity damage, or render certain powers contagious (the latter being just what you think – at a flat cost of only 2 power points, this one is underpriced and very strong); there also is a Metapsionic feat building on Unwilling Participant – conceptually, many feats here are variants of class abilities I discussed above. Slaying creatures reduced to 0 sanity, enhancers for psychic duels are also here. The section also features the Dream Sovereign feat, which enhances both dream message and induce nightmare with custom augments, a per se cool design paradigm I can see work well on a more global scale. As an aside: The latter power lets you move targets to nightmare dreamscapes…just sayin’…Freddy’s be proud!

The book also provides 3 new corruptions: Overlord interacts with psychic enervation, and focuses its Manifestations’s Gifts on added effects when manifesting powers. The compelled is the other direction – instead of gaining the corruption because of excessive use of power/imposing of power, this one is about having been subjected to it. Bolding of the manifestation sub-headers here is consistently off, which is puzzling, since the previous corruption didn’t suffer from this issue. The ravager corruption is, no surprise for veterans there, a nod towards Dark Sun’s ravager tradition – your powers generate wastelands, sapping the life from the world. This also ties in with the artifact(s)

herein – torcs of the legendary ravagers exist in 4 variants, and, well, are artifacts that can vastly enhance the ravage radius.

The book then provides some notes on sanity damage, psionic (psychic) dueling, and generating MP from power points. The latter requires care in a mixed game: Psionic characters will mop the floor with psychic ones of these rules are implemented. A table of fleshwarping psionic creatures, including ingredients and costs, and 3 fleshgrafts, were pretty nice! Sealed mind is interesting – it makes you immune to mind-affecting effects, but also makes you have a trigger that can be sued for mind control.

Conclusion:

Layout adheres to a 2-column b/w-standard, and the original b/w-artworks herein are AWESOME. I love them.

Unfortunately that is all of the positive things I can say about the formal criteria of this pdf. Editing on a formal level is okay, but on a rules-language level, there are quite a lot of vagaries, glitches, etc. – several of which influence the integrity of the rules.

Formatting, though? Oh boy.

You know, I often feel petty when complaining about formatting. And I’m sure plenty of authors out there at one point wanted to beat me up for my nitpicking.

If you need a good example why formatting for a game of PFRPG’s complexity is so darn important, look no further than this.

I mean, I’ll complain about a bolding missing, sure, but that’s aesthetic. This book, though? It’s the first book I read in AGES, where the formatting is so bad that it makes it harder to grasp how some stuff is supposed to work. There are no italics in this book. Instead, everything, from archetype names to powers to class abilities is formatted like feats. Powers suddenly are called ability. References regarding “levels” don’t specify which levels are meant.

Combine that with some hiccups, nonstandard verbiage and the complexity of the engines this operates with, and we have a seriously hard to decipher book.

Oh, and this nonstandard formatting? It’s not even consistent! Heck, one of the PrCs is missing its entire skill section.

Oh, and guess what? NO BOOKMARKS! Not even F** bookmarks.

This book? It reads like a pre-development/editing Beta, like nobody took a swing at checking the stuff for balance, like nobody bothered clearing up the immediately apparent issues this has. This book looks like a freshman offering, like a book with a troubled development history, or both – my money’s on the latter.

I haven’t seen a blunder of these proportions in all of Legendary Games’ catalog. And it’s heart-wrenching, for Matt Daley is a talented author, and there are gems to be unearthed here. There are some genuinely cool ideas here, and while the implementations often are exceedingly rough, one can see the gem this could have been. Heck, the author has done so much better in other publications, this must have been some seriously old work…right?

…I wanted to love this book so badly. I actually had kept it on the back-burner, because I love psionics, I love horror, and I was confident it’d be a fun, well-wrought book. Instead, I got a heart-wrenching mess. In spite of the good ideas contained herein, I can’t rate this higher than 2 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Terrors from the Id: The Book of Psionic Horror
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Legendary Rangers
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/08/2020 12:01:52

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the series dealing with class-redesigns clocks in at 62 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, 4 pages of SRD, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 51 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreon supporters.

The supplement begins with something I enjoyed seeing, namely truths and lessons learned. These include knowing that nature is not your friend, that one should rely on oneself, that all tools and weapons should be used, that enemies should be wisely considered – you get the idea.

The legendary ranger base class doesn’t per se change the chassis, but addresses something interesting: You see, rangers are a super-popular class in my game – but none of them ever actually go the route of the classic ranger. I’ve had blood magic-using changelings, insane pirates and more…and these end up with class features they don’t really require. The legendary ranger gets full BAB-progression, good Fort- and Ref-saves, d10 HD, and the 6+Int skills per level that makes the class so attractive to my players. The legendary ranger is proficient in simple and martial weapons, light and medium armor, as well as shields, with the exception of tower shields. That being said, the class does do a lot of things different: At first level, we get adaptive learning, which absolves the legendary ranger of the need to meet ability score requirements for feats, and treats their level as fighter level, stacking them if applicable. I am ambivalent here. I do think that some prerequisites like Expertise and Power Attack? Yeah, there, the ability to bypass them makes sense. On the downside, this’d allow e.g. Large characters to gain Awesome Blow rather easily, which is not something I am fond of, or think of as intended. I’d strongly suggest limiting the ability to apply only to ability score requirements ranging from 10 to 18, or to limit it to combat feats.

The ranger also begins play with a natural gift – this may be an animal companion, animal summoning, shapeshifting (1/2 class level + Wisdom modifier times, up to 1 minute duration per use), which nets one form from a list of available choices, +1 form for every 4 levels after 1st. The forms improve at 11th level, sizeshifting (9th and 17th level unlock sizes beyond Tiny/Large), or a shaman’s spirit companion. There also is an option to make healing extracts, which is rather cool; while defaulting to the standard is easy here, I’d still have appreciated it if the ability stated the action required to imbibe an extract. There is also one important caveat missing from them, namely that they become inert when leaving the ranger’s possession, or at least briefly thereafter. I assume that choice was made because the word “extract” points towards the alchemist, but these extracts do no not behave as “pseudo-spells”, so having that explicitly stated would imho have been prudent. All of these options also have exclusive talents included, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Back to the main class, which gets a retooled quarry ability at first level. The ranger must be able to clearly visualize and describe the target to render them a quarry; 1/round as a free action, he can make any target they observed for at least 10 minutes within the last 24 hours their quarry; if they have interacted with a being for at least 2 hours, that countdown extends to a whole year. This decision to declare someone as quarry does not require the target to be present. If a legendary ranger meets a person, they can spend a move action to make the target the quarry immediately, provided they have some way to perceive them. Finally, evidence gathered can allow the legendary ranger to designate a target as their quarry, but a failed check prevents them from trying that target again for 24 hours. The class gets half their class level, minimum 1, to attempts to track them and may move at full speed while doing so, sans the usual penalty, and halves the penalty for moving at twice the normal speed. Perception checks to locate the quarry also get this bonus, and the ranger may use Knowledge to identify a quarry based on tracks. The ranger can also make a Perception check opposed by the target’s Bluff or Disguise to gain information about its condition, and the information gleaned makes sense and is codified properly.

Quarry also interacts with the Predation class feature, which is a scaling insight bonus to attack rolls against it, as well as +1d6 precision damage; these bonuses increase by +1/+1d6 every 4 levels beyond the first. Baffling oversight: Predation lacks that caveat that it isn’t multiplied in critical hits. EDIT: I've had a discussion with two friends on Facebook about this, so let me state this clearly: Analogue abilities like bombs, sneak attack, etc. do explicitly state that the bonus damage is not multiplied on critical hits. This lacks this caveat. /EDIT Since quarry is super-easy to apply and has no limits, one can’t argue that this is intentional, either. While the number of bonus damage dice is less than that of sneak attack, predation does not have sneak attack’s flanking OR ranged restrictions, which allows for a damage escalation of the already VERY potent ranged builds out there. I like predation, but it’s RAW too wide open for my tastes. I do like that you can apply this at range, but I think it should AT LEAST be a ranger talent, with some prerequisites or scaling, preferably.

Finally, the class gets wildspeak, which allows for communication with animals and magical beasts, as well as +1/2 class level to Diplomacy with them. 5th, 9th and 13th level unlock new creature types, and at 17th level, the ranger may talk to the earth itself. At 3rd level, the ranger gets improved quarry, which first allows him do designate a quarry and move as the same move action. 7th level allows for the use of quarry as a swift action; 11th allows the ranger to thus quarry a creature they can’t see (opposed skill roll required); 15th level may the action optionally immediate, and 19th level, a free action.

3rd level nets relentless stride, which allows for full Climb movement sans penalty, or ½ speed when using a shield on a successful Climb check; he may also move at full speed when swimming, is immune to tripping by slick and icy surfaces (including magical ones!), and move at full speed through undergrowth without damage/impairment, etc. At 7th level, the ranger can walk on walls and ceilings, provided he starts his turn on solid ground, and he falls if his movement ends; additionally, he can walk across water. While I like the intent of this ability, making the ranger essentially a terminator-bloodhound, I think it’s overkill. It includes stuff you’d usually associate with ninjas, assassins and rogues, and does not account for encumbrance, armor, etc. This should probably be at least something that needs to be chosen, considering how much it trivializes the most common forms of terrain hazards. 4th level nets the Wisdom-based spellcasting you’d expect.

5th level nets Hunter’s Edge: At this level and every 5 levels thereafter, he chooses a class skill and gains the skill unlock powers as appropriate for the ranks in the skill. Important note: I am not sure if the ranger continues to get the higher rank skill unlocks if they progress in a skill once chosen, or if they’d require taking the same skill again. 7th level nets covert nature, which means the ranger leaves no track, and can use Stealth while observed; 11th level allows the ranger also to negate detection by scent, as well as blindsense and blindsight – much appreciated, and appropriate for the level. 11th level nets evasion, which is upgraded to improved evasion at 15th level. Also at this level, we get blindsight that only allows the ranger to see objects and creatures that moved within the past round, the range doubling from 30 ft. to 60 ft. at 19th level. 19th level nets immunity to nonlethal damage as well as all diseases and poisons. He may also spend a swift action to gain temporary hit points, 20 to be precise, which last for 24 hours. These don’t stack with themselves or others, but any ability to redistribute hit points from the ranger to other beings makes this an infinite healing exploit. Booo! The capstone ability makes the ranger hit and deal half damage when rolling a natural 1 on an attack roll against the quarry.

At 2nd level, and every even level thereafter, the legendary ranger gets a ranger talent. These denote whether they are extraordinary or supernatural; talents with (Predation) as a descriptor obviously modify said class feature, and analogues are provided for Wildspeak etc. – the first of these predation talents maxes your predation damage dice when targeting flat-footed beings or those denied their Dexterity bonus. Some of these have scaling benefits: Ancient ways, for example, lets you always act in a surprise round, and at 6th level nets you uncanny dodge, at 12th level improved uncanny dodge. That’s usually 3 class features, all rolled in one. On the plus-side, at 4th level, we have gaining a wild-card combat feat up ¼ class level (minimum 1) per day that can’t be stacked with itself. We have a talent that nets you at-will detect magic as a move action, gaining instantly all information, and the legendary ranger learns the highest spell slot the quarried target can prepare, no save or skill check to counter. That is one that I seriously wouldn’t want to GM: Detect magic at will can already be super annoying; the secondary effect has no countermeasure as written, and wrecks plenty of plots of published adventures, where powerful casters masquerade as non-casters or weaker individuals. It also instantly unravels each plot where an individual masquerades as a caster, regardless of Bluff, Disguise or items. Not cool.

On the plus-side: Claim Dominion is an interesting high-level ability, though one that won’t work for every setting: It requires level 16, and lets the ranger call forth a region’s champion, which is a frickin’ CR 20 creature of the GM’s choice, to fight it in a duel, with only animal companions allowed. Once that creature is bested, the ranger gets powers in that dominion and instinctive fealty. This can be cool, but won’t fit every game – it implies that there’s a CR 20 creature for every 25 mile domain, so it’s something that some GMs might want to be on the lookout for. Fist of Resolve is also an interesting one: 2d6 damage to self as a swift action that cannot be reduced in any way to cease the effects of confused, fascinated, frightened, nauseated, panicked, shaken, sickened; conditions that build on those still apply – see, this is design-skill-wise a really cool one that fits the “grit my teeth”-trope perfectly. Its minimum level of 6th is a bit low for my tastes as written, though. I think it’d have been more elegant to have the talent scale and lack the minimum level: Start off with shaken, fascinated and sickened, then unlock frightened, nauseated at 6th, then panicked and confused at 8th, perhaps with scaling damage costs as well. Just my 2 cents. 10th level nets an additional attack at full BAB when directed against the quarry until it is reduced to 0 HP – it’s an always-on haste, which is pretty brutal, but at least it does not stack with haste or other attacks that grant an additional attack, so no monk-dip exploit. Ritualized dabbling in druid spells as a ceremony, better shield AC, improvising Crafting materials, hideouts that can avoid magic…and what about the ability that lets you ignore concealment bonuses and miss chances by focusing your gaze as a swift action on your quarry? Marauder’s step is brutal and makes pounce weep: At 8th level, you can move half your movement as a free action before a full attack. cough Dual wield with speed boost /cough This one should imho be higher level than it is. On the plus-side, there is Dexterity to damage, and threat-range increases have proper caveats. Variants of solo tactics and pack tactic are here; there is a high level option to get a fey shadowmate (built uses PC rules, so essentially a better cohort), who can also once return the legendary ranger to life; there is a 12th level option to use immediate actions to disrupt spellcaster quarries (nice!)…you probably got the idea by now.

As for the talents exclusive to a natural gift, well, here we have some really cool ones: Like raise animal companion, which does what it says on the tin, and really, really helps keeping the emotional bond. +4 Strength and Constitution for summoned creatures (nope, can’t be stacked with Augment Summoning – kudos for getting that!), mutagens lite, poisons that cripple, but don’t kill…pretty cool ones. Personal peeve of mine: The rather powerful poisonous extracts mentioned are pretty save or sucky: The penalty caused is 1d6 + ½ class level, half that on a successful save, which’ll reliably reduce targets to an ability score of 1 between mid and high levels; making that effect get the one save and then deliver the total damage over time, such as in increments of 2 or 4, would have been more interesting imho. Why am I not screaming at this ability? Well, while it’s too much for my tastes, it’s neither ability score damage, nor drain, but a penalty, and does not stack with itself – see what I mean when I say that the design does get complex rules-interactions done right? Even more interesting, the penalty gradually vanishes, which makes for a good reason why a villain might retreat for now… So yeah, I’m very ambivalent about this one, but I appreciate its design. Size shifters can take a talent to increase the size of one limb when using the attack action, which is kinda funny, kinda cool, and makes me think of Everybody Games’ excellent Microsized Adventures…

The book comes with 8 favored class options, available for any race.

The archetypes provided are the chasseur, a mounted ranger; the chrysanth caller is a ¾ BAB-archetype with fey-theme, Charisma as governing ability score, modified spell list (based on bard, with a selection of sorc/wiz spells added), and the ability to establish a telepathic bond with their quarry;  a complex class hack that radically changes how the class operates. Earthshakers are the barbarian crossover archetype; feral scavengers are the crossover with the unchained monk and some survivalism thrown in for good measure; the hand of nature’s might is a Spheres of Might crossover tweak, and hand of nature’s power, you guessed it, does cover that aspect for Spheres of Power. Harrier Scouts made me smile, big time: They get a unique natural gift that focuses on thrown weapons, and a combo-engine consisting of primers, follow-ups, and executions – somewhat akin to how the Swordmaster of old and some Interjection games classes, or the awesome Prodigy behave, just in a more limited version, as the abilities unlocked are fixed.  In a change of pace, only one primer, follow-up, or execution may be enacted per round, so it’s less of a linear build-up, and more of a mix and match. Still, I enjoyed this archetype’s 2.5 pages andgenuinely think that this type of design, applied to each o the traditional combat styles, would have made for an interesting angle to peruse. The head hunter gets macabre trophies and is particularly adept at hunting down escaped prey. The pack leader is BRUTAL: He essentially establishes a collective-like bond with allies, whoa re assigned certain roles, gaining potent benefits. These include never being surprised (at first level!), and also features bonus damage (not properly typed), but at the cost of moving down on the initiative order. Guardian role extends the reach of a character by 5 ft. Always, At first level. As part of the ability array of this fellow. Compare that to what you need to usually do to get an increased reach. This is a super-cool engine, but even PARTS of its base benefits are overkill for the levels; considering that they’re always on and last for days and are Ex, this is ridiculously strong. Dipping for even one level into this archetype makes the whole group much more deadly, and comparable commander archetypes and classes pale, big time. This is cool, but as written very much over the top.

Planar explorers get a frickin’ eidolon AND an expanded spell list, as well as a portal opening ability, but lose evasion. They still weirdly seem to get improved evasion, though. Skirmishers are spell-less rangers who receive a secondary, massive list of tricks, which includes adding no-save halving of movement, no save shaken, no-save entangled etc. to targets hit….but since they  can be used 10 + Wisdom modifier times per day only, that kinda works. Kinda. No save conditions that can be caused via ranged attacks are problematic. The wild-plains drifter is, bingo, the gunslinger crossover – it uses an interesting variant of the quarry engine that builds focus while the target is in sight, which can then be used for better shots and damage – I really like this base engine, as it represents rather well what you, well, do. You aim, observe, fire. Two thumbs up to whoever designed this one.

The feat array allows for the playing of Intelligence- or Charisma-based rangers. Mass Trap Spell makes you generate more traps – important if you’re like me and use lots of obscure books: This Is NOT meant to be based off of Rogue Genius Games’ Trap Spell ability to make spelltraps! Instead, the feat refers to one of three new spell types herein. Trap spells are placed in squares and pretty much d what they say on the tin; you can’t place them where they’d be immediately triggered. Primeval spells enchant a single piece of ammunition; herbal spells require either foraging or can be paid for. The spells provided are pretty cool, with terrain that heals allies and harms enemies, traps, ammo inflicting a negative level, a herbal variant of lesser restoration...I generally like a couple of them, but +1d6 times CL electricity damage (max 5d6 at 9th level) and +3 to attack rolls (UNTYPED!) vs. metal wearing foes for a swift action level 1 spell? Pretty darn brutal. Some spells here imho should make them specify that they can’t be made wands or potions, otherwise, you’ve just broken the already lax pricing. Take Life from the Land, for example, is a 4th-level spell, and cures blinded, confused, dazed, dazzled, deafened, diseased, exhausted, fatigued, insanity, poisoned and sickened. (Oddly not nauseated). It also cures all ability score damage, and 1d6 HP per CL, and it has a 50% chance to send you back home on another plane. It’s only personal, but in a world where you can make wands of this fellow, not taking UMD would be rather dumb. This guffaw is in as far puzzling, as the other variant healing spells, like treat critical wounds, seem to be line: Said spell affects the creature touched and heals 4d12 hit points, plus 1 per CL. However, if the creature has been affected by it in the last 8 hours, that is halved. This is an interesting angle, and checks out well regarding spell-levels, etc. There is also a spell that heals you whenever the wielder of the enchanted weapon hits an attack - but the healing is low enough to make a kitten-exploit monetarily unfeasible, which I considered to be a nice touch.

The pdf closes with the sample character Raqir (CR 4), complete with a  compelling background story and boon benefits for befriending him. There is a superfluous + in his HD, but otherwise, he is a solid build.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules language level; I only noticed e.g. italics missing and similar cosmetic hiccups. I think. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the pdf sports nice full-color artwork. Much to my annoyance, the pdf lacks bookmarks, which is a big comfort detriment for a crunch book of this size.

Andrew J. Gibson, Wren Rosario and Jeff Gomez have written a class rebuild that leaves me deeply torn; more so than any of the Legendary class rebuilds before. On one hand, we have a plethora of abilities I genuinely LOVE. The quarry rebuild is great and actually makes you feel like the sharp-eyed hunter/tracker; the class, as a whole, very much feels distinct and FUN. It has a wide selection of abilities that do allow you to roleplay, while never forgetting the mechanics. Which brings me to my primary concern: I’m not sure if the authors realized how strong their combined designs made the legendary ranger when compared to e.g. the legendary rogue or fighter. Just saying, since the sample NPC-build is relatively tame.

The lack of limits on predation makes every legendary rogue grit their teeth: Not only does the legendary ranger get the ability to walk on walls and ceiling and ignore the deadly terrain as a hard-coded class feature, they also have their full BAB for more consistent hits, and bonus damage that makes them much deadlier ranged combatants.

Know what did not need a damage boost of all things, at least not when played by a remotely capable player? Ranged ranger combatants.

In many ways, the legendary ranger is better at many rogue/assassin-y things than the legendary rogue. The different authors also show in the power-levels of the archetypes, which range from “solid” to “inspired”, to “conceptually great design, but broken as hell.”

To cut a long ramble short: I would not allow this class as written in my game. Not because of a personal pet-peeve of mine regarding mechanics, but because the overall package of the legendary ranger being better than that of the regular ranger, or talented ranger, or comparable classes by Legendary Games. I had peeves with the samurai and barbarian, with hiccups, some design decisions. But this one?

This is the first class in the series that I would not allow in my game due to balance concerns.

And it doesn’t look like the power level was anything but intended. The class is per se very finely-tuned, but omission of the usual balancing caveats in some key aspects taint it for me. I also have a legendary rogue player in my game, and where the legendary rogue or legendary gunslinger needs to invest and choose, the ranger just…gets stuff, and stuff that’s leagues better. This pdf has me rather concerned, to be honest.

How to rate this, then? Well, are you looking for a high-end class regarding power-level? Did you always think that your debuff full BAB-attacks should have no save? Tired of having to deal with the tactical ramifications of problematic terrain? Want to be a bloodhound? Or a witcher-like character? Then this’ll be pure awesome for you.

Are your PCs already fearsome enough with regular rangers? Oh boy, do you need to beg them not to power-game this beast.

For me, as a person, this is a 3-star file; its power-level is beyond what I consider appropriate for the games I run, and there are several components herein that I consider to be broken, too dippable, etc. – which breaks my heart, for the ideas and general chassis on display here are the finest I’ve seen for the concept.

As a reviewer, I have to account for the part of my demographic who is looking for such high-powered classes, though – for you, this should be a 5-stars file, though even you should beware of some options herein, while others may elicit less excitement from you.

Which leaves me with the formal criteria, and here, the lack of bookmarks hurts this book.

I thought long and hard, and compared this to my ratings of other comparable books, including the other installments in the series…and in the end, my final verdict can’t exceed 3.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Legendary Rangers
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Pirate Campaign Compendium (5E)
by Megan L. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/02/2020 14:44:03

I bought this book for my husband, as he loves anything to do with Pirates. We spent a few nights just reading out loud all of the different spells and classes. I particularly enjoy the rules around spell effects and a moving ship, the reputation mechanics, and the new druid spells. I always felt that the original 5e spells around water were a little lacking in flavor, so this book explores it a bit further! One of my players is also very excited to play the Privateer (Ranger Archetype), with a slight reflavor towards fresh bodies of water, rivers, etc.

All in all, there's a lot of content to fiddle around with and the creators definitely thought about a pirate campaign from many angles!

If anything were to be improved upon in future books, I would perhaps recommend better visual organization. With so much information inside I would get lost easily, as lot of tables and such would continue onto other pages. But this was solved easily enough by refering back to the table of contents consistently. I've seen other books use headers to help you keep track of where you are, such as in archetypes, beasts, spells, etc. That being said, I also understand that's a lot of extra ink on pages with limited space. All in all, this book is pretty solid!

Can't wait for the next session!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Pirate Campaign Compendium (5E)
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Vast Kaviya
by Jeremy E. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/28/2020 09:42:59

Vast Kaviya is an amazing setting and sourcebook that can be used as presented to create an incredibly rich and different campaign world - while also staying within the fantasy genre and the 5E ruleset. It is also incredibly useful as a toolbox to pull from. Featuring unique warlords that could be used as enemies or factions in other settings or homebrew worlds. It's packed full of flavor and is bound to inspire additional ideas. There's also new races and class options which are fitting for the setting but could also be used outside of it. A fantastic product!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Vast Kaviya
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Legendary Planet: To Kill a Star (Pathfinder)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/23/2020 07:01:16

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The final installment of the Legendary Planet AP clocks in at 172 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of introduction (which also contains notes on assumed power-level, etc.), 1 page ToC, 4 pages of SRD ,1  page back cover, leaving us with 161 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

As always, I was a backer of the kickstarter for Legendary Planet, but I was not involved in the creation of this book. This brings me to a big, important note: You see, the kickstarter back then barely made the funding required for this final module – and under that premise, it is exceedingly impressive to see that this not only is a full-blown module, it’s actually mega-adventure length all on its own, probably somewhere about twice to thrice the length of a regular installment. Making it thus right by the patient backers? That’s how you handle projects like this. Kudos for going all out regarding scope.

The book also comes with a ginormous Art and Map Folio. Ähem, for anyone in the industry reading this: “THE ART AND MAP FOLIO SHOULD BE INDUSTRY STANDARD.”  Apologies for the allcaps, but this really needs to happen. I’m so sick and tired of extracting art from pdfs, and with these, I have essentially a massive handout booklet. They REALLY enhance the game, are super-convenient, and just fantastic. The art and map folio this time around, btw.? 60 pages. And the artworks are stunning. Less stunning: The player-friendly maps sans labels included in the 1st,2nd,3rd and 5th installment of the AP are unfortunately missing here as well. I really don’t get why installment 4, 6 and this book’s folios were missing those, and I seriously hope that they’ll be added.

Now, as always, we do get read-aloud text and quite a lot of supplemental material for the module; the adventure is designed for 4 characters of 19th level, with 5 mythic tiers, and the module gives guidance regarding milestone advancement and Slow advancement. With the finale assuming level 20 PCs with 7 mythic tiers. The module does include the by now classic prose chapter by Chris A. Jackson.

As always, let us start by taking a look at the chapter dealing with supplemental material, to be more precise, the chapter that sports the header “BOOM” (from the feather of Jason Nelson) – the module is supposed to end with a huge bang, so we get a section on demolition by explosives. My players would love this, as throwing ridiculous amounts of explosives at problems has been a strategy of theirs whenever they get stuck…but I digress. The bombardier ranger archetype replaces Handle Animal and Knowledge (geography) as well as Knowledge (nature) with Knowledge (arcana) and Knowledge (engineering) and UMD; they reduce their proficiency list to light armor, simple weapons and explosives, and get the alchemist bomb class feature instead of favored enemy and master hunter; they also get one-half their level as a bonus to make or identify alchemical weaponry, and the bonus also applies to siege weapon aiming. The archetype comes with a custom combat style. Instead of favored terrain, 3rd level and every 5 levels thereafter yield an alchemist discovery at level-2, replacing favored terrain. Also at this level, we have an increase of the save DC of alchemical weaponry and grenades, and this DC further increases over the levels, but does have a cap and explicitly states that it doesn’t apply to bombs granted by the class feature. 4th level nets extracts with a custom list, and instead of the whole hunter’s bond/tracking and hide in plain sight suite, we get a collection of bonus feats to choose from, which allow for some amateur gunslinging and better heavy weaponry/siege weapon usage. At 7th level, we get 8 benefits that apply to grenades and alchemical weapons, which include modifying missed throws, deadman switches, dual throws, add Intelligence modifier to hit point damage (RAW to regular and splash damage), etc. – and at 11th level and every 4 levels thereafter, we can use an additional one of these benefits each round. This archetype is a complex, potent engine-hack that plays radically different than both base class, alchemist, etc. – and it makes the respective weaponry valid.

The article is supplemented by the inclusion of 4 alchemist talents that focus on using bombs under water or further delay explosions of bombs. I don’t have all my tools from office and reference materials here, but unless I am sorely mistaken, these discoveries were originally featured in the Carrion Crown plug-in Beyond the Void. The pdf also reprints Grenade Expert and Distracting Explosions  feats for your convenience (pretty sure that these two were introduced in Ironfang Incursion), and features two more that are somewhat familiar to me, but I can’t say for sure or place them: Deafening Blast adds a short-term deafen effect to bombs and grenades (no, it’s not like the Hobgoblin racial feat), and Demolitions Expert makes you deal full damage to objects etc. with bombs and alchemical items. These feats are welcome additions to the chapter, well-designed, and I liked seeing their inclusion here. Oh, and guess what: We get a whole page of incredibly densely-packed grenades, reprinting the Technology Guide’s material, but expanding it with e.g. radiation-causing grenades, dwarf star grenades, tear gas, etc. – in short, this is the grenade reference page now; construction requirements included, of course. Beyond that, we get stats for contact and remote mines, and the stats for plasma thrower and rocket launcher are included as well, so you don’t need to flip books. This also includes featuring the scatter weapon quality for your convenience.

Beyond these, we get 3 new technological items in the alien treasures section (penned by Jason Nelson and Steven T. Helt), and one new magical item. The former would be the klaven spacesuit, which features self-replicating polymer that can repair it, if provided a charge, and it does have some boosters as well as special slots that facilitate potion consumption. Nice one. The second new technological item would be the black ray pistol, which fires a ray of disruptive energy that is classified as a necromancy [death] effect that still inflicts half damage to corporeal undead. The classification here allows the pistol’s untyped damage to avoid my scorn, since [death] effects are very much something you can protect yourself from. The disintegration torc is a torus-shaped ring grenade that causes untyped damage in a very small radius burst, potentially disintegrate-ing those slain by it; it also is particularly efficient at destroying force effects. Nice. The new magic item, which is illustrated in a great full-color artwork, like the disintegration torc, fyi, would be The Unbroken Blade, which is a +4 adamantine mythic bane falchion with properly codified mythic abilities. It looks epic and is powerful indeed.

The massive adventure does contain more, though: What about, for example, the INCREDIBLY useful chapter “Adventuring in the Void” (penned by Jason Nelson, Robert Brookes and Steven T. Helt), which recaps rules for gravity, maneuvering and momentum in the void, zero-g combat (including reprints from the Aethera Campaign Setting), radiation (including a spell to ward against it), vacuum…magic in the void is properly codified…and so is surviving in the void, where we get concise rules for the devastating effects of deep space, perihelion, etc.; oh, and the supplement also provides rules for the incredibly lethal prospect of getting close to a star, which frankly only the best equipped, highest level and toughest PCs have a chance of surviving. This chapter is awesome, as it provides a handy one-stop reference for truly brutal and suitably challenging space exploration effects. Two thumbs up! GMs running this module: Study this chapter very well – it’s super useful.

The bestiary penned by Steven T. Helt and master of meticulous, marvelous monsters Mike Welham, if you were wondering, is super-sized as well: We are, for example, introduced to the naturally-psychic CR 7 Yllosans, allies of the elali, who get an aetheric variant of telekinesis and naturally light-bending bodies; the former servitor-race Kaulvrex (CR 6) with their third arm and chemical communication (and option to chemically brand targets with their tails) are also neat; the Cr ½ Erebus come with their own racial traits, which are +2 Intelligence and Charisma, low-light vision, +1 to saving throw DCs for enchantment spells and SPs, and 1/day hypnotism  as a SP if their Charisma exceeds 15; they get +1 skill per level and their limited mental connection nets them a +8 racial bonus to pass secret messages via Bluff to other members of their race. They also get a +2 racial bonus to resist charms and compulsions, and get an additional save to shake these off if they failed the initial save. Though derived from human stock, they have their own humanoid subtype, as can be gleaned from their statblock, but not their racial traits. Not the biggest fan of them due to being somewhat lopsided, but I wouldn’t flat-out disallow them in my games. The deadly CR 17 griever from the Construct Codex is reprinted here as well.

The CR 11 explosive egg-throwing Pelkrev, eyeless and derived from draconic stock, are an interesting race that can draw power from spells failing to penetrate their SR. On the slimy side of things, we have the CR 11 living nebula, which is rules-wise super-interesting: It is gaseous, but not incorporeal, and has a unique twist that changes how its grapples operate. Combined with its alien mind and fiery aura, I really liked these alien things from a monster design perspective. Need a bit more? Well, what about a frickin’ CR 20 star blight ooze that distorts light and gravity and really wrecks the range of ranged weaponry in a rather large area? It can emit exotic ability score draining bursts of radiation and also have a stunning effect with their attacks, channeling the cold of space. Delightful! At CR 16, the earth/fire elemental Diamantem are pretty much what you’d expect: With super-sharp carbon slams, immunity to fusion, etc. and light, and prismatic spray-beams, they certainly are cool. The CR 13/MR 2 locusdaemon hits with the strength of falling stars and additional attacks in full attacks; they are surrounded by an aura of gravity that pushes targets to them, and has this cool unique property that makes it always face those observing it. A clever GM can use this latter ability to rather interesting and devious effect…just sayin’…

As always, it is highly recommended that the GM reads the Gazetteer section (penned by Darrin Drader, Jonathan H. Keith and Jason Nelson) before running the module; particularly this time around, since we’re dealing with the massive Great Sphere, the dyson sphere that represents the heart of the Ultari Hegemony. The write-up also features full settlement stats for capital Atlas Prime, as well as a law enforcement table and the stats to supplement them; beyond the stats featured in the main module, we get 4 extra statblocks, ranging from CR 6 to CR 20/MR 5 – the latter being btw. The supper deadly mythic myrmidon strike wing troop. Yep, not even super-high-level PCs are safe from the power of this empire! These constructs are BRUTAL. Atlas Prime is also unique, since the Ultari have managed to tap into mythic powers and utilize them, but also taint them for others; this is represented in the super-potent Mythic Ravage disease: This affliction is a risk whenever the PCs tap into the vast powers their mythic abilities grant them, and the affliction is nigh-impossible to get rid of, and the disease bypasses even condition immunities. It is also not a simple save or suck, instead coming with 5 progressions (KUDOS!), and the affliction does properly codify attempts to deal with it. It is a really cool affliction, and genuinely made me wish for a whole book of these complex, multi-stage effects at this quality.

Now, as far as the module is concerned, the PC’s unique Morphic Nature benefit does grant them a page of benefits when it comes to handling space, including means to use mythic power to temporarily gain some Zero-G expertise; the bottom line here is, that the PCs don’t have to start from scratch regarding functionality – but considering the totality of the adventuring beyond the void rules presented, as well as the threat of Mythic Ravage. The module does throw some serious problems at the PCs – and that is GOOD. The PCs at this level have vast resources, and they SHOULD need to think how to use these resources to survive what would be literally impossible for lesser heroes. Instead of taking away or limiting their powers, the module proposes a series of persistent challenges that the PCs need to work with. That is a very good basic premise even before the module kicks off, as far as I’m concerned. Optional random encounters are presented throughout the adventure; obscure feats are printed where required; in one instance, an ambiguous verbiage of an ability referenced is clearly defined (kudos); the module warns you when you need to be even more keenly-aware of the capabilities of the PCs; the book provides the effects of upgraded mythic spells (no book-flipping to LG’s super-useful mythic books); we also get advice for handling the more scifi aspects of the genre, tech,  psychic magic, psionics – you get the idea; in short: The module is as convenient as a super high-level adventure can be.

Okay, I’ve danced around the topic for too long, let us take an in-depth look at the mega-adventure-sized conclusion to the Legendary Planet AP! Unsurprisingly, the following will contain a TON OF SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, in the last installment, the military counter-offense launched by the Ultari Hegemony was thwarted by the PCs; thus, this module begins in media res, with the PCs emerging from the Scarab Relay in hot pursuit of the Ultari, right in the middle of a cloud of blue and white gas; provided they can beat the welcome committee left. Aluum titan (CR 16/MR 1) – and that is one of the easiest encounters in the adventure. The location of the Hegemony’s home system was purged from all computers and minds, but, you know, there is the trail to the Latere Nebula, a cosmic graveyard of dead gods mined by immortal champions in a bid to end all existence. Suffice to say, that’s not just space, it’s space coterminous with the negative energy plane, aligning the nothingness of space with those of metaphysical oblivion, courtesy of the mighty Titan’s Maw wormhole.

Yep, that’s how this module begins. And in contrast to the defenses of the finale of the last adventure feeling a bit off for the heart of a military operations, the same can’t be said here, as the annihilator robot welcome committee adds further potential to add the ole’ “Dead” to “Dead Space. The PCs have to navigate life-consuming nebulae, survive the assault of the CR 22/MR 2 blackstar nightwave Broln. Did I mention the assault by no less than 8 (!!) of the new locusdaemons? The photo-negative appearance nebula’s black spaces slowly coalesce upon traversal into the colossal shapes of gods long slain, and before long, Arasaim, The Darkness, a nightwalker antipaladin (!!) and his undead mi-go (cosmetic niggle: B4 reference not in superscript), will attack. This THING is functionally impossible to finally destroy right now: It offers leading the PCs to their enemies, if they kill the one living this in the Latere Nebula…and considering that Arasaim respawns whenever something dies in the nebula…well…if the first combat doesn’t do it, the second, third, foruth…you get the idea. High-level haunts of dimensional instabilities tell the tale of the Maw, and Arasaim’s target? Well, that’d be Ingulnexia, advanced void creature old umbral dragon and her retinue of shadow storms, and while not mythic per se, her lair in the bones of a long-forgotten god do help even the playing field. Interesting: both vile entities provide the means to progress – dragon and nightwalker know that passage through the wormhole will lead the PCs where they need to thread, and if the PCs are VERY clever, they might even be able to avoid fighting either of the two super-powerful entities, though, per default, the module does seem to assume that the dragon will be the one slain.

Oh, and an event horizon? In case you were wondering: You better spend a mythic power right away, or it’ll destroy you irrevocably. That’s the start. The start. Know how, rather often, players and PCs tend to lose their awe before phenomena that should frighten them?  “I fall off the cliff, so what?”; “Yeah, I’ll just walk into that burning house, no biggie.” – the PCs may be now be nigh immortal and super-potent legends. But guess what? If they think they can just take traversal of the wormhole, just because they’re high level…they’ll ALL DIE HORRIBLY. As they should! This is super-deadly, as it should be; even fully buffed high-level parties will suffer and potentially risk perishing. The module notes several means of increasing their survivability, but frankly, at these levels, the PCs need to be able to handle challenges of these proportions. This is as well a place as any to note: To Kill a Star pulls no punches. More so than even previous Legendary Planet installments, this module is clearly written with a look to the vast capabilities that the PCs and players by now have. The module warns in the beginning that it is “Incredibly Deadly” – I’d agree, but in a good way. Unlike quite a few comparable high-level adventures, the challenges posed here are seriously brutal; as brutal as they need to be to represent a proper challenge for characters of this excessive power.

Anyhow, so, the PCs are up to the Hegemony’s sphere – hopefully seriously-battered, but alive…but guess what: They’ll be catapulted into a potentially deadly debris field, and beyond, high-range railgun turrets have excellent sensors…and when their sensors are triggered, the PCs will be assaulted by Klaven Draconians and their sundragon steeds! Then, the PCs will have to still breach the sphere, which may or may not be done via the sentinel tower, from which the dragoons emerge; instead of wasting space on a dungeon through which the PCs would partially curbstomp, the tower is depicted in a highlight reel kind of way, from crucial place to crucial place – however, it should be noted that, while the PCs do get to best the regular teams, there are still plenty of dangerous high-level hazards here; just because this is no apex-tier set of encounters doesn’t mean that the Hegemony’s forces can be taken lightly! With the help of an Yllosan-possessed jagladine tech, the PCs will have a means to access the hypertube network that is used instead of the relatively dangerous teleportation as a means of propulsion in the sphere. As for teleportation: Orium-laced construction limits it, and same goes for the sphere itself – and yes, the PCs will probably know as much at this point. It should also be noted that the tower contains an encounter with aforementioned griever; one that has a pretty clever and potentially lethal set-up. But back to the tubes: Beyond potentially deadly scavengers, we have a routine inspection (that can result in a CR 18 encounter…), and the PCs will arrive at a ghost nexus tower, where their capsule will temporarily crash, requiring that the PCs hold off waves of undead as well as waves of negative energy. Provided they survive all of that (hopefully they get the capsule working before a routine inspection of more dragon-riding jagladine happens…), the PCs are off to Atlas Prime!

The capital city of the Ultari Hegemony is suffused by aforementioned Mythic Ravage disease, and if you ever dealt with the supremely weird and annoying customs clearance of an intercontinental flight, picture that, but for a super-powerful evil empire, and you’ll have the entry station for Atlas Prime! With psychoactive crystal that doesn’t block line of sight or mind-affectinf effects, as well as exceedingly potent adversaries, this is a thoroughly unique angle that I’ve never seen pulled off: The PCs may be able to break through, but if they’re smart, they’ll take the infiltration route and attempt to pass the interrogation by the inquisitors. If they make too much of a hassle, they’ll well meet Xaver Brun, the CR 24/MR 3 ultari techlord. Hint: This fellow is NOT playing around. It is here at the very latest that the GM should have read the gazetteer, for the PCs, by stealth or force, need to find the safe house and reconnaissance with the yllosans here, engaging in some serious high-level research, beyond basic research, that is anything but basic, the presence of the Opus Aeterna can unveil true secrets beyond – the reasons for the sphere; the meaning of the shaft of light seemingly piercing the sun called Axis Major…

And indeed, here things become interesting: The Axis Major is not a permanent fixture, and is indeed controlled by a pair of golden crystals dubbed Egg of the Phoenix by the Opus Aeterna – a singular device, split in twain. If this artifact were removed, it would disrupt the Axis Major and render the star unstable…oh, and guess what: Near the Axis, one could theoretically even enter the star!

But this alone? Well, it would be brutal now, would it? Few would be cold enough to doom millions – and the module knows this; instead, we get the chance for the PCs to e.g. visit the onaryx and engage in their deadly, militaristic trials (culminating in a battle against mirror of opposition-like doubles; provided the PCs play their cards right, the savage onaryx agree to rise once the Last Daughter falls. The second trip to destabilize the ultari deals with the jagladine – once more, the PCs will need to prove themselves worthy – but do share the fact that the Bountiful Bowl of the Sun may well contain the Last Daughter’s essence – the jagladine can help them retrieve the item, but it will teleport back to parliament within 24 hours: The PCs need to be ready!

They will need to get to the Daughetr’s Fane and deal with the deadly adversaries and mythic immortal ichor guarding the fragment of the egg there – CR 21/MR 8, btw.! And that’s before the deadly golems and the advanced juju zombie ultari medium! Beyond those challenges, the demiplane of the creche awaits alongside the CR 18/MR 1 Seven Sons, amniotic elementals and dangerous hazards, there is Invidia Ultimi (nice nomenclature there), Last Daughter of the Ancients. CR 26/MR 10. Of course, even if the PCs triumph, the aftershocks and the arrival of a frickin’ hekatonkheires titan…

But, well, chaos wracks the sphere. If the PCs did not want to deal with the evil onaryx and jagladine, some basic troubleshooting help is provided; if the PCs did ally with them, the chaos will be pronounced – city on lockdown, etc. Factions will war – but there is more: It turns out that the sphere, the star Faa Dlan, is actually a kind of living thing; akin to a gigantic biomechanical matrix, its tubes and everything alive, it is essentially a gigantic, cosmic honey trap left by the mysterious Patrons. Retrieving the second part of the Egg of the Phoenix will require a risky gambit: While the party can attempt to enter the Axis from outside; doing so is dangerous, deadly, but the module actually does cover it.

Speaking of coverage: The module actually provides very plausible set-ups and justifications for the operation of the magical special forces task ahead, but explaining them in the review would take a page or so; suffice to say, you know how much of a stickler for internal logic I am, and I certainly was satisfied, so kudos! The operation’s default strategy will require that the PCs enter the Ultari Parliament; the PCs need to enter the parliament, find a safe haven, and trigger a spirit-conduit with their allied yllosan, launching their spirits to the far side of the dyson sphere, to the dark duplicate of the parliament, where the other half of the sun-core system is found; The system needs to be destabilized and super-powerful enemies, including Brun and an advanced thanatotic titan. Ultimately, the PCs will have the Phoenix Egg – perhaps the most powerful destructive force ever statted for PFRPG; its power scale improves in increments of 10 mythic power: Even at 0, we have 1000 force damage in a 100-mile radius; at level 11, the highest storage capacity, we have 10,000,000,000,000 force damage in a distance equating approximately 2 light years. Yes, that suffices to destroy planets by the rules. The item can absorb energy – but its true purpose? Convert mythic power into full-blown destructive potential. It takes 10 points of mythic essence to activate it; after that, it can store mythic power; its destructive potential can be unleashed by a final donation by 3+ individuals with 6+ mythic tiers at the very place where it was created – the heart of Faa Dlan.

The sun shuttle to Faa Dlan will not provide a safe journey – a sudden impact will pit the PCs against star blight and diamantem alike in a complex encounter that threatens to derail their descent; and upon arrival, more danger lurks – including the chance of getting a taste of the things to come with a CR 18/MR 2 advanced variant giant invincible feral adult solar dragon – the “LARVAL” Hydragon. Yep, “hydra-” as in many-headed, as in multiple breath weapons per round. And the foolish players thought that this was hard so far! On the way to the singularity star’s heart, the PCs have to contend with sun worms and super-potent shining children, savage inhabitants of the sun. In the sun’s heart, the PCs can see them; dark shapes, imprisoned, with power beyond measure, just short of being freed and unleashed upon a universe incapable of stopping them; the Principalities are on the verge of victory…and only the PCs can stop them. Provided they live long enough, for a creature birthed by mere influence of these things, which may even be beyond deities, is approaching. The Maws of Faa Dlan, CR 21/MR 6, a stellar 6-headed hydragon – the quantum-tunneling entity is the star’s last line of defense, and no, the good ole’ vorpal trick won’t suffice; worse, the dragon’s actions will expose the PCs to stellar plasma, radiation, and gravity – but thankfully, the PCs won’t have top beat the nigh-unstoppable killing machine, just delay it long enough to activate the phoenix egg. Depending on how well it was charged prior to detonation (PCs dying get a chance to add their mythic power to it as a last ditch effort), the PCs may actually manage to well and truly beat the Principalities and the Hegemony – but in doing so, they obviously are annihilated as well – and reborn as gods, with each getting their own…Legendary Planet! (What an amazing end!)

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a rules language and formal level – apart from a few cosmetic superscripts, there isn’t anything to complain about. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the book sports a ton of full-color artwork, much of which is brand new. The module comes with bookmarks for your convenience, and the art and map folio is a big plus. The absence of player-friendly maps is the main thing that hurts the module on a formal scale, but on the other side, the adventure is not really constructed in a manner that requires excessive cartography: With the vast mobility at the beck and call of the super-high-level PCs, this factor is less important. Unlike in the previous module, we have a less traditional structure that, in both the areas portrayed, and in the challenges posed, embraces less traditional dungeoneering approaches. Everything is presented less as a traditional dungeon, and more like the (more) free structure that high-level gameplay operates better with.

Jason Nelson, with the help of Darrin Drader, Steven T. Helt, Chris A. Jackson, Jonathan H. Keith, Mike Welham and Robert Brookes, seriously delivers. A name like “To Kill a Star” requires an epic scope; the target levels require a pitch-perfect understanding of what characters of this level can actually withstand. To give you a comparison: The final battle in my last campaign required that the PCs would be capable of dishing out damage while recovering from approximately 1,000 damage per round; that was non-mythic, mind you, and the only encounter; the PCs had time to prep, but you get my drift. PFRPG’s high-level gameplay, in the hands of veteran PCs and GMs, can be an incredibly challenging and rewarding experience, and I never expected to see a super high-level module that genuinely manages to pull off a super-deadly module, sport more than just war of attrition combats, and even push optimized mythic PCs to the breaking point. Granted it is not as deadly as I’m in the habit of scaling up, but it is the first time in a long, long time that I’ve seen an adventure get what makes high-level gameplay so rewarding in such a frankly beautiful manner.

To Kill a Star is EPIC in all-caps, with each letter the size of a skyscraper; it is indeed good enough to imho warrant running the AP all on its own. The only end-game adventure I’d put on the same level, would be the finale of the Zeitgeist AP, though the challenges posed by that AP are radically different, making a comparison between the two moot. Have your PCs curbstomped some Paizo AP finales? Did you throw optional superbosses at them before? Structurally and thematically, this is a proper and epic culmination of the AP, one supplemented by excellent material. We were patient, and the patience paid off. This is a finale worthy of an epic saga indeed.

So, are we done with Legendary Planet? No, for I’m still waiting for the big compilation books; once those show up, I’ll get back to the AP, and provide a more general “plus/minus” breakdown that focuses on what to be aware of when running it, and on the strengths and weaknesses of the individual adventures and AP as a whole.

Until then, I am left with only the task of providing my final verdict. Unsurprisingly, this gets 5 stars + seal of approval, and the book is nominated as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2019. If you are on the fence regarding the AP, getting the first module and this may well provide a great way to judge it. Oh, and even if you don’t want to run it – with some narrative work and set-up, this module will make for a phenomenal capstone for your super high-level party.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Legendary Planet: To Kill a Star (Pathfinder)
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Legendary Worlds: Polaris 7
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/20/2020 13:43:56

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Legendary Worlds-series clocks in at 20 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of introduction, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 10 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Orbiting a red dwarf star, Polaris 7 is best described as an inhospitable, frozen ball of ice, and one wracked by massive polar vortices; to make things worse, making the equatorial zone the only region habitable by any stretch of the word. The atmosphere is thin and requires supplemental oxygen for most humanoids. Why would anyone be here? Well, the answer to that, as often, is big corp – namely Polaris Industries. As an aside – this is not the 7th planet of the system; it was the seventh choice for the operation that is responsible for the sparse habitation of non-natives. The corporation found a serious amount of Tritillium deposits on Polaris 7, which is a superconductor that allows for the creation of relatively compact power plants.

The focus on the rare resource Tritillium is also mirrored in the supplemental crunch provided herein: We get stats for Tritilium Batteries as codified technological items: They hold 20 charges, and may be depleted in increments of 5 when recharging items; they may be recharged as usual, but only have a 10% failure chance when doing so. Craft DCs and cost are sensible for these, which is impressive: Since batteries are pretty much a cornerstone of the Tech Guide subsystem, tinkering with it requires the utmost care. So yeah, neat. Oh, and we do get the information for Tritillium Power plants as well – full weight, generator yield, hardness, HP, explosion, etc. These are powerful, but at 800 lbs. indeed something you can render mobile. KUDOS! One of the two feats, Tritillium Prospector, is intended primarily for NPCs and requires that you’ve mined in a proper Tritillium mine for at least 3 months; it nets you +2 to 3 Knowledge checks pertaining to mining and working Tritillium, and 1/day nets you a reroll versus a Tritillium-based trap or hazard, which, while specific, does potentially come in handy and salvages the per se not too exciting skill-boost feat. Cold-Endurance, the second feat, is basically the cold twin to Volretz’ feat that inures you to cold conditions. Not exciting, but well-executed. (Since the feat does reference those, and some of my readers do care about this as much as I do: As usual, temperatures are only provided in °F; no °C alternative is provided.)

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Prompted by the big corp Polaris Industries, the one city of the planet was constructed around the gate – and before you ask: Polaris City is a small city and gets a fully-realized settlement statblock, and one that actually has two different marketplace sections, with the better being exclusive to the corporate sector. And in case you were wondering: Polaris 7 is indeed a cold hellhole; have you played “The Outer Worlds” and marveled at the brutal late stage capitalism on full display in that game? Well, Polaris 7 came out earlier, but the corporate control over the life of the local populace is pretty much as brutal, including loans that are nigh impossible to pay back and indentured servitude running rampant. Attempts to formalize resistance and government, some sort of regulatory push, have so far been squashed by the corporation.

Polaris City is divided into 4 sectors, and comes fully mapped – somewhat to my chagrin, no player-friendly map is provided. All of the sectors are properly touched upon, and from there, we move on to the 8 (!!) factions that make up Polaris 7’s complex political landscape: We have the corporate overlords of Polaris Industries…but much to my pleasant surprise, this supplement does not dive into easy dichotomies and simplifications of corp=evil, union=good – no, this is a mature take on the complex subject matter…and the Miner’s Union may just be a tad bit worse than Polaris Industries! Good resistance fighters without a grand plan and a bad reputation, toothless, but good coalitions attempting to form a government, crime syndicates…and did I mention the raiders, or the fact that wolliped ranchers have a co-op? It’s genuinely been a while since I saw a per se classic set-up of factions and clashing ideologies has been executed this well, without jamming “x good, y bad” down our throats. While clear alignment notes are provided, the writing is nuanced enough to make clear-cut, simple solutions not feasible. Huge kudos for that.

While we’re on the subject of wollipeds – one of the new items, the wolliped wool tunic is pretty straight-forward, in that it protects against the elements, and even cold – the interesting aspect here is that is occupies the chest slot, and accounts for that in pricing. No complaints. The second item, the avalanche stone, makes an incredible amount of sense: It’s a stone that you activate, which’ll then use a modified dimension door to get you out of it…and if you are encased in ice and snow, unable to use it, it also goes off. I really like the narrative potential of this one-use item. It’s something I’d develop if stationed on an ice planet and capable of weaving magic. Nice! The pdf also contains a new spell, flash freeze, available at 2nd level for bard, sorc/wiz and witch, which is a multi-target spell that deals nonlethal and cold damage and fatigues the targets; it is per se pretty potent, particularly considering the number of targets affected, but its save does negate the nonlethal damage and fatigue. It’s a powerful spell, but not one that’ll break most sword and planet games. As a minor nitpick: Making it require indigo powder as a material component would have been an easy way to hand the GM a limiter, if desired.

What’s indigo powder? Well, it’s used to make addictive pharmaceutical Surge, which affects androids, auttaine and other characters with a significant amount of cybertech implants, making them awake and more attentive and quicker to act. However, well, it’s obviously addictive and comes with the cost of 1 Constitution and 1d4 Wisdom damage. It is a good type of pharmaceutical, in that it has a pronounced cost that makes abuse a bad idea, but it also has a sufficient bonus that means you’ll be tempted to use it. It’s also dirt-cheap and made from indigo powder, a waste-product of the process of refining Trillium, which allows GMs to potentially easily limit availability with in-game logic. The latter may seem like a small thing to you, but it really matters to me and quite a few of my readers.

Speaking of nice: The Prospector’s Basin that houses Polaris City is also mapped (alas, no player-friendly map included), and gives us overviews of the different mining sites…and their dangers. Dangers? Well, yeah, we do have a local creature that spells all kind of trouble: At CR 10 and lavishly-illustrated (not sure by whom: Simon Aan, William Henderson, Beatrice Pelagatti or Julio Rocha), the cryo-mantid is GLORIOUS: A Large mantis that shares both the cold and fire subtypes, with burning ichor and searing hot claws. And no, they are not remorhaz-like: With nasty SPs, ice-tunneling and scuttling, they feel like apex predators, and they do have an Achilles’ hell. In case you were wondering: OBVIOUSLY, the conflicting subtypes of the creature would usually contradict each other, but the vulnerability bestowed by each was changed to another energy type, while an additional weakness of similar strength was included, making the creature come out properly: The “rules value” of the subtypes was maintained. I btw. noticed no hiccups in the statblock. Great example of a critter that feels like an adapted, dangerous, magical beast.

As always in the series, we close the pdf with a series of 3 adventure hooks: All of these outline full sketches of adventures, and go beyond the usual “Go there, kill X” – I considered all of them interesting, particularly because they also provide alternate missions, in case you don’t like the primary one proposed.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level, and top-notch on a rules level; I noticed not a single instance where I could nitpick even a single rules-relevant component. Layout adheres to Legendary Planet’s two-column full-color standard, and the original full-color artworks are great. The cartography is solid, but remains my only true niggle here – player-friendly, key-less maps would have been nice…but then again, none of the maps contain even a single SPOILER, so I’m not penalizing the book for that. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

I expected to basically get the cold mirror-image of Volretz here, and I got something infinitely cooler, pun intended. If you read as many RPG-supplements as I do, you start to expect some things. One look at the cover, for example, made me go “Oh boy, second planet in a row (after Jowchit), and this one is cold, so it gets the obligatory magical aurora borealis that was creative and cool in Jowchit, but which is boring and expected for an ice-planet; the new creature statted will be a mostly harmless herd animal that was domesticated and gets some serious trampling and charging. It’ll also probably have cold elemental creatures analogue to Volretz.” The base premise “Evil mining operation”, on paper, also is not exactly novel, so I genuinely wasn’t that excited from the premise.

I am so happy when a book proves my first impression wrong in such a consistently delightful way. First of all, the writing: Russ Brown’s vision of Polaris 7 is clearly a homage to the tropes and genre, but the execution is what makes it shine: It is consistent, but never blunt; it knows its scope and focuses with a keen edge on it; it is nuanced and clever in its execution; in short, it is pretty much the antithesis to e.g. Carsis: It base premise may sound less exciting, but its execution, from the little narrative touches to the rules-relevant components, is absolutely fantastic. Polaris 7 is a great setting that can be taken as proof that the small details, the small touches that really show how much the author cares, can elevate a supplement, can mean all the difference. I genuinely love this planet. 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Legendary Worlds: Polaris 7
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Legendary Worlds: Carsis
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/20/2020 13:39:35

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Legendary Worlds-series clocks in at 22 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of introduction, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 12 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

A little more than one and a half millennia ago, the world of Carsis was wrecked by a cataclysm, as the rogue moon now known as the Heart of Carsis crashed into the planet, shattering the world and sending the polar regions into space, forming new moons and changing the planet’s gravity; meanwhile, the moon became the new core of the planet, absorbed into its molten core. This Armageddon reset essentially all life on the planet’s remaining 5 landmasses, and only 800 years ago, life properly returned. The pyramidal landmasses sport life all around, the tips heated by the core as the surface area is heated by the sun; the former regular moon of the planet now orbits the equator. And yes, this is illustrated by a proper map/graph, which made me smile indeed – this is one damn cool concept!

And then, things become a bit weird, as the pdf begins flat out talking about the landmasses having a distinct flavor, embodying aspects such as anger, love, hate, envy, joy, compassion, cruelty, and so on, all without an in-game context or rationale. The descriptions of the major land masses spell e.g. out that a place “embodies the struggle for life, epitomizing rebirth.” Don’t spell that out. Make it obvious from subtext, not text. A planetary opera game does indeed have room for the, as some might construe, sappy notion of applying human feelings to evolution, but it requires some finesse. And that’s just not done particularly well here. Even Guardians of the Galaxy 2 was more subtle there. The notion is also is lore-wise really weird: The pdf, for example, talks about the landmass Kerkor, embodying death and destruction, as the place where “the restless spirits of the shattering and undead seeking a home away from the vibrancy of life” have taken shelter. Undead fleeing life, instead of consuming it. This is…odd. Particularly since none of the rules of the planet support it. If Carsis had positive energy planar traits, okay, but this? It’s a stretch regarding Pathfinder’s internal logic for undead – or that of Starfinder or 5e, for that matter.

This is particularly grating, as all of these concepts are per se fine; they just are not executed with any degree of narrative finesse: The planet also gets write-ups for its moons and core and the trail left by the passage of the Heart, and one of the fragmented components, Milone, has a chaotic magic environmental rule that can increase CL and DCs hidden in the flavor text. Cool, more of that, please, and less of that “the planet may or may not have been sentient” stuff sans set-up. We also learn about the spaceport in Akeelan, the landmass, to quote the pdf: “Akeelan has come to epitomize the order necessary to rebuild a world, exhibiting great beauty within an ordered society.” See what I mean? How can a landmass be that?

The dominant species are btw. four-armed mantis-people, the Carsians (CR 7), who get gliding abilities, lunging and may execute particularly swift attacks. As a nitpick: They do not have “paws” as natural attacks – which would render their Weapon Focus feat inoperable. That should be “Claw.” There are playable race stats: Carisians get +2 Dex and Int, -2 Wisdom, proficiency with all weapons (!!) and light armor (!), neither of which should be granted by the race, +1 natural armor that scales at 3rd level and every 2 levels thereafter, darkvision 60 ft., +2 racial bonus to Acrobatics, Stealth and Perception. They start play with the mandible special ability, which is missing both here and from their monster statblock as well, gaining Lunge at 5th, sudden strike at 7th and gliding lunge at 10th level. This race gets a plethora of abilities that they should not have; universal proficiency categories are a matter of class, not race. The missing mandible ability is weird. Dumb: The player-write-up is missing not only the mandible ability absent from the statblock, it is also missing the glide ability that the 10th level gliding lunge is predicated on. Not properly functional.

The pdf comes with 5 brief adventure hooks before presenting a sample-encounter/mini-sequence of encounters, the spawning of the Grizzat, intended for 4-6 6th-level PCs; the brief encounter-section does sport read-aloud text. The encounter is basically an introduction to the Grizzat monsters, with some read-aloud text provided, but no maps. The Grizzat comes as a CR 3 threat that sports wounding attacks, but offer no other remarkable features; I am also pretty sure that there are errors in the statblock. The pdf also includes a swarm version, the CR 5 Grizzat swarm, which is per se decent, but also has a snafu in the stats.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, the pdf is significantly less consistent than what we’ve come to expect from Legendary Games, and sports some serious issues in power-level and functionality. Layout adheres to the two-column full-color standard of Legendary Planet-supplements, and the pdf comes with several really cool full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Carsis started off so cool for me: Anthony Adam begins this supplement by painting this fantastic concept of a world, where directional gravity, a recent cataclysm and the like practically demand for void-jumping, for hazards representing highly volatile evolution, for isolated eco-systems with specialized tasks! Carsis could have done pretty much everything with this amazing set-up… it is easily the strongest in the series so far. Let me make that abundantly clear: I LOVED this to bits. The author does have talent.

But what do we actually get based on that premise? Oh boy. So, we have essentially Thri-kreen with gliding wings as dominant species, with errors in stats and overpowered racial traits. Not new, but okay. However, the insect theme for a cataclysm-wracked world is somewhat unfortunate, as it results in direct comparisons with Kyoudai Games’ Thunderscape-setting Aden and the Darkfall, which is, by mere scope, automatically better off. The primary difference to Thunderscape, apart from the planet’s unique shape, would be the theme of emotions assigned to landmasses. In case you haven’t notice, I absolutely despise how this was executed.

This theme could have worked: Heck, Pathfinder has a whole magic type associated with emotions and concepts like the anima mundi, but the planet never establishes a proper mysticism, an occult lore, regarding its emotional themes. As a result of the absence of any reason, simply ascribing emotions to landmasses and evolution comes off as sappy and hackneyed at best; at worst, it contradicts how the concepts, on a metaphysical level, usually operate in Pathfinder. For me, a big part of the pdf was rather painful to read as a result, as I witnessed a great concept executed in such an underwhelming manner, furthermore severely tarnishing a set-up that had me already draw my seal from my virtual pocket.

This concept could have worked, easily; it didn’t need to be presented in such a shoehorned way; with localized planar traits, for example, this could have worked for the patchwork…

Wait.

The introductory paragraph and unique shape of the planet blinded me. Know what does this “country behaves as subworld/has a strong theme” patchwork-angle infinitely better? With special rules for lands, a reason for their differences, etc., and has a similar concept, minus planet shape? Purple Duck Games’ exciting Porphyra-setting.

Try as I might, I can’t look at Carsis as anything but a waste of an exceedingly fine planet-concept; instead of developing something befitting of the unique planet structure, it is just a mesh of Porphyra and Aden, and neither encounter, nor the flawed statblock/racial trait integrity can make up for the conceptual shortcomings due to their own issues. This is the weakest installment of the series so far, by a long shot, and the only one I’d recommend skipping, at least as is. My final verdict can’t exceed 2.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Legendary Worlds: Carsis
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Legendary Worlds: Jowchit (Pathfinder)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/18/2020 07:37:44

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Legendary Worlds series clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 1/3 pages of SRD, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of introduction, 1 page advertisement, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 14 2/3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Jowchit is a mostly subtropical planet in relative proximity to its sun, with endless rainforests sprawling, jungles and rivers, lakes, etc. – it is a green world and sports the clearest blue sky you can find anywhere but the elemental plane of air, with the largest metropolis situated atop the Hoopaka mountain range, and vanara, garil and girallons as the major species: Speaking of which: Jowchit’s girallons are highly-sophisticated (garil), and come with a CR 9 statblock for the jowchit girallon, as well as with a write up for the garil as a playable race.

The garil are Monstrous humanoids with darkvision 60 ft., a 20 ft. climb speed and if they win you over with Diplomacy, you get a -2 penalty to resist their Charisma-based skill checks for 24 hours. They have a 10 ft. reach, in spite of being Medium, which is VERY strong (as a nitpick: sizes are capitalized) and they get a +2 racial bonus to resist enchantment (charm) and (compulsion) effects and gain an additional save one round later if they failed the first. They also get +2 Strength and Charisma, -2 Wisdom. The reach ability is rather strong for certain builds, and something that needs to be monitored for some builds, but as a whole, I am happy with these fellows. There is but one hiccup here that makes the race seem less neat than it is: The write up lists a 2 HP-line, which was probably a cut-copy-paste oversight from SFRPG (which would also explain the very strong reach, as melee is less valuable in SFRPG than in PFRPG); another indicator for this would be that none of the racial abilities sport the (Ex) or (Su) classifications that Pathfinder has for most, though not all, of these traits. That notwithstanding, the race is fully functional and should provide no issues in PFRPG. If you need to nerf the race for your game, consider granting them the Lunge feat with a limited amount of daily uses until 5th level, where you take away that delimiter. To cut a long ramble short: Not perfect, but perfectly usable.

Now, in most instances, civilization would have never managed to get past the nomad/hunter/gatherer-stage on the planet. Why? Well, Jowchit is essentially Kaiju country, sporting more than 50 of the titanic monstrosities. Only when Kongarrath, an oracle sharing a bond with the white-furred titanic kaiju resembling a girallon (see cover) Zaiz showed up, could a vision of civilization be properly realized. A curtain of lights, the Aurora Prismatica that repels most kaiju, and Zaiz were both instrumental in establishing settled civilization in this world of titanic masters. And yes, the aurora actually has a tangible mechanical effect. The book then proceeds to walk you through the mountain range known as “Bones of the World”, and in a surprising attention to detail, the massive trees of the Deep Green get game-relevant information! The Deep green, which should come as no surprise, is also an incubator for a variety of dangerous diseases, and from the glade of delirium to the ratfolk monastery and the dinosaur graveyard, this hits tones exceedingly well. The footprints of the legendary first kaiju Jira also host a variety of adventure locations, including a purple-vined island that hosts undead dinosaurs, and a weird place featuring octagonal tunnels. These locales are top-tier as far as I’m concerned – they really got my brain going regarding unique vistas and adventure ideas. Did I mention the rogue free-spirited formian bard NoOne?

Speaking of bards: The book does contain a new bard archetype, the Apostle of the Green, who replaces bardic knowledge with +1/2 class level 8minimum 1) to Knowledge (nature) checks, which may be used untrained. The archetype also gets an untyped +2 bonus to Climb checks. The skill referenced is not properly capitalized here. The bardic performance of the archetype applies to plants as well, explicitly bypassing their immunity to mind-affecting effects with their bard spells. (Kudos for keeping that properly tied to class!) When gaining new spells, these fellows can choose from the druid or ranger list – as a nitpick, I think the archetype should specify how to operate when one spell is of a lower level on the ranger’s list than on the druid list. Ideally, the higher spell level should be used, as ranger spells can be rather potent. The archetype does lose countersong for this, though. Instead of inspire competence and dirge of doom, we get the song of the green: This is a bardic performance that entangles all but caster and Wisdom bonus allies in a 30 ft.-radius, allowing them to execute some pretty consistent and potent soft terrain control – like it!

Two cities are covered as well, both providing a lot of evocative ideas, but neither have settlement statblocks. The topic of religion is also covered in detail, and we have more rules-material: The book contains three drugs: Kaiju’s Breath nets a +4 untyped bonus versus fear and emotion effects; Kajarah nets you Kaiju Link as a bonus feat for 24 hours, and Vog provides fire resistance 5. The drawbacks and addiction danger correlate well to the power-level of the benefits granted, rendering all three of them welcome additions to the game. Jowchit comes with a proper breakdown of the environmental traits of the planet regarding global rules, with temperatures noted in °F; ideally, I’d have seen a value for °C here as well.

But I was mentioning that feat, right? Well, there are 7 new feats in the book: Greensage nets you +2 to Knowledge (nature) And Knowledge (arcana), which upgrades to +4 at 10 ranks in one of the skills. That’s filler. Greensinger does not properly capitalize the skills in the prerequisite line, but lets you choose druid or ranger spells instead of bard spells – basically the feat-version of the archetype feature. While kept behind 5 ranks, I do think the existence of this feat diminishes the archetype; if in doubt, I’d cut that feat. There also is the Lore of the Great Beasts feat that nets you a +4 bonus to Knowledge (arcana) checks made on Kaiju. That’s super-specific, and should probably have some additional benefit, or a reduced bonus and be a trait. Kaiju Sense lets you 1/day per Wisdom modifier determine the direction and distance of all kaiju within 5 miles. Really cool…but technically, it should probably list a prerequisite Wisdom that actually makes sure you have a Wisdom modifier to use the feat, you know. Or a (minimum 1) caveat. Otherwise, the feat could be rendered a useless “dead feat.” Kaiju Link provides an upgrade for one kaiju chosen – you are aware of the kaiju in a 10-mile radius. Kaiju Caster lets you 3/day add +4 to CL checks to overcome SR, and if it’s from the destruction domain’s list, you increase the damage die size. Minor nitpick: This should probably note that it’s used as part of spellcasting. Craft Kaiju Power Component does what it says on the tin – and should probably have the (Item Creation) descriptor, but that’s a cosmetic nitpick. And yes, we get general guidelines for use of kaiju pieces as power components for spells, which is pretty neat!

The final 2/3 of a page provides 3 well-crafted and interesting adventure outlines , in case the inspiring text didn’t do the job yet; hint: it’ll suffice, but there most assuredly are neat ideas here as well!

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level: While there are some nitpicks and issues to be found, none are truly structural issues that compromise the ability to use the supplement, with the racial traits of the garil being the one thing I can see rubbing some people the wrong way. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, with quite a few pretty awesome original pieces. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

There is a strange divide going through George “Loki” Williams’ Jowchit – on the one hand, we have a fantastic vision of a planet that makes sense, that is plausible and interesting in many ways; the GM-facing aspects of the supplement, including environmental effects, drugs, and the writing that pertains to the setting, is fantastic. On the other hand, the player-facing materials, particularly the feats and the racial stats, feel almost as though they had been written by someone else. The feats include ones that were considered to be filler back in the 3.X days (+2 to two skills – oh joy), and frankly, I didn’t like any of them, save the two that let you sense kaiju; these have a narrative justification, and can be super-rewarding, particularly if used for NPCs, or when running a campaign on Jowchit. And, like the best installments in the series, I can genuinely picture myself doing that.

Jowchit is a fantastic world, and if you’re even remotely interested in the concept, I strongly recommend getting this supplement. If you’re in it for player-facing material, you’ll be less enamored with this booklet, granted…but it’s a setting supplement, and in that regard, it’s certainly a resounding success. While the aforementioned gripes make it impossible for me to rate this booklet the full 5 stars, this does get 4 stars and my seal of approval, for this vista is both fantastic and exceedingly exciting.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Legendary Worlds: Jowchit (Pathfinder)
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Legendary Worlds: Volretz
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/17/2020 11:01:58

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Legendary Worlds series of supplements for the Legendary Planet setting clocks in at 22 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page of SRD, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of introduction, 1 page advertisement, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 12 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Tiny, and in close orbit to its Sun, Volretz is a glowing, scorching world, where metallic things leap from lava-like oceans of molten metal. The only solid landmasses of this foreboding furnace are situated at the poles, with transitionary areas, the so-called “Ridges” representing a surreal and dangerous ever-changing landscape of perpetually changing metal, as the “oceans” lap and cool against the landmasses, only to be molten anew. This description made me fondly recall the description of Patusan in Joseph Conrad’s fantastic novel Lord Jim regarding the struggle of mankind, but that may just be me.

Anyway, a high metal content in the atmosphere results in stunning sunsets, and a red glow remains even at night; the South pole remains a rocky wasteland, the North pole housing the only civilization of Volretz – the city of Morkansia, dominated by the Morkance Mining Copany, which pioneered a combination of magical and technological heat protection to make life and the exploitation of Volretz’ resources possible. Granted, the entrepreneur also had a hand for sabotage, which most assuredly helped retaining the monopoly on Volretz.

The city is ringed by 8 mining outposts, each manned by approximately 80 men, and 5 massive mobile mining stations sail the globe’s molten oceans. Work there is lucrative, but also dangerous – but at least there is a generous life insurance policy. It should come as no surprise that one mining station, fallen to catastrophic malfunctions, still remains on the southern hemisphere.

Morkansia is fully presented in the supplement, including fully realized settlement statblock, and a surprisingly well-executed description: From the docks and how they operate to the massive city center with its temple and ginormous foundry, the description not only deserves applause for the ideas (which include the greenbelt, a series of greenhouses and artificial water tanks tended to by divine casters with magic; a casino, etc.), but also in how plausible they make this place feel. After reading the section; I not only felt that this makes sense within the logic of the game, but also beyond that – and I could genuinely picture the planet. That’s a good sign! The city does come with a neat full-color map, though, to my chagrin, no player-friendly key-less map has been included.

We btw. get stats for the only creature native to Volretz: The Heavy Metal Elemental! No, unfortunately these elementals don’t embody the music, they embody the metals category, but they do come with a neat artwork and global rules, as well as 6 sample statblocks ranging from CR 1 to CR 11. Minor nitpicks: The statblocks, while generally very good, do sport a hiccup: The Medium version, for example, should have a CMB of +7, not +5 (its CMD and attack values are correct). As a whole, though, I liked these elementals with their forced conduction ability that makes them deadlier when exposed to fire.

Much to my pleasant surprise, we get a detailed breakdown of environmental effects, differentiating between city, northern and southern continent, and oceans – including rules for flaming hailstorms – these detailed rules are great. No complaint, but an observation: As usual in US-centric gaming, temperatures are noted in °F; these mean literally nothing to me, and I always have to remember the conversion formula, tinker with it, etc. – getting an alternate °C-value as well for the cultures accustomed to that would have been nice.

The pdf contains 4 feats: Elemental terror is a combat feat that 1/day as a swift action let you bypass an elemental’s DR/- until the start of your next turn. Other types of DR an elemental may have are reduced by 5. Cool: The feat has scaling, gaining an additional use for every 6 points of BAB. I like this, but personally, I’d grant an additional use for every 2 points of BAB – the application of the feat is already rather specific. Heat-Acclimated does pretty much what it says on the tin, but requires that you live at least one year on Volretz. Minor nitpick: One of two endure elements references in the feat-text is not in italics, but that’s a cosmetic gripe. Water Maker nets you create water as a 1/day SP, +1/day at 6th level and 12th level, with 12th level allowing you to expend all uses to duplicate geyser or hydraulic torrent instead. Ore Dowser lets you 1/day identify a single type of metal and instantly know the direction and distance of the largest agglomeration of it within a mile.

The pdf presents a new 5th-level spell for bloodrager, druid, sorc/wiz and witch, the flaming hail – neat: This spell was ostensibly created by Mortuven Morkance to fake flaming hailstorms when targeting the competition. Cool terrain control spell with damage added for good measure. I like it when magic has some concrete lore attached. Item-wise, we get two types of heat protection suits – light and heavy, both potent, yet affordable, their powers kept in check by their requirement of multiple slots. It’s a relatively simple design, but one that I enjoyed!

The last two pages are devoted to 3 adventure hooks, which deserve special mention for featuring e.g. fluff-only write-ups of a mobile mining station crew, including fire elemental deckhand, and a pretty interesting plot fully sketched out. Or what about solving the attempted murder of Ancrish Illton, the head of the Icebox Casino? These hooks are nice.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level, with the rules language level only slightly behind. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the pdf comes with neat original full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The full-color cartography by Michael Tumey is neat, but I’d really have liked to see a key-less version of the city’s map.

Kate Baker’s Volretz made me hum Warframe’s “We All Lift Together” once more; somewhere between themes of exploration and adventure, in almost feels like a temperature-inverted fantasy inversion of tropes associated with Alaska to me. (As an aside: I have never been to Alaska – Alaskan readers, please don’t be offended, my knowledge of your home is second-hand!) There is an inherent sense of plausibility in the writing here, and a well-executed restraint: Volretz is a fantastic planet, and one that has more than one leitmotif, but it doesn’t jam too much into it, thus retaining an identity that is easy to grasp. The same goes for the supplemental material, which makes sense to be there for the planet. The execution of the supplemental material furthermore supplements this. I really liked Volretz, and have only aforementioned minor niggles and the lack of a player-friendly map to complain about…and ultimately, I felt that it wouldn’t be fair to rate this any lower than 4.5 stars, rounded up for that. This is a captivating planet well worth checking out!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Legendary Worlds: Volretz
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Legendary Planet: Mind Tyrants of the Merciless Moons (Pathfinder)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/17/2020 10:58:42

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The sixth installment of the Legendary Planet AP clocks in at 100 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 3 pages of SRD, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of introduction, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 89 pages of content.

As always: I was a kickstarter backer of the Legendary Planet AP, but not in any way involved in the creation of this AP.

One should also note that the book comes with something amazing that should be industry standard: The book comes with an extra-pdf, a massive art and map folio that clocks in at 43 pages of content – all artwork and all maps are provided herein. I love this per se! Annoyingly, though, the art and map folio this time around is missing the most useful component: There are no player-friendly versions of the maps, which is jarring and something that should be rectified.

Structurally, the book follows the same approach as previous adventures, or the AP-formula: That is, we have a big adventure, some supplemental material, including new rules, and a well-written piece of fiction provided by Chris A. Jackson.

As always, let us take a look at that supplementary content first, with rules for advanced airships and vehicles first. As we start reading this, we learn about…Atoths? In a puzzling and glaring glitch, the flavor text of the atoths has been duplicated here as well, eating up 1/3 of the page with flavor that should not be here. As far as I could glean, this did not overwrite the intended content at least; still a puzzling oversight. The article codifies modes of propulsion by minimum tech level, and establishes three general speed categories. Toxicity and risk of propulsion are also covered, and a concise table allows you to have enough frames of reference to properly determine rules for exotic fuels, etc. 5 sample ships are provided, including a new gun. Apart from the paragraph snafu of the errant creature description, a rather neat article.

The gazetteer this time focuses on the domed city of Emirist-Tar, largest and most advanced of the city-states of Tarthos. The city gets a full settlement statblock, and we learn that both Atmospheredron and Aquadron are actually beyond the capabilities of the people here; while the city is domed, the interior of the dome is only inhabited by the upper class, with the outer plateau and mines beyond. The perimeter of the mountain is ringed by the kongrushu caves, carved out to house the draconic steeds of this caste. Society-wise, he have a transitory period that is currently emerging from feudalism, with a growing working class. All in all, this is a well-written little gazetteer that I wholeheartedly recommend the GM to read before running the module.

As always, we also have a section that features new items. This time around, we begin with the substance Orium, which can store up to 1 “psionic point” per 3 pounds. Rounded down, I assume. There is no such thing as “psionic points” – that’s supposed to be “power points”; furthermore, at the cost of weapon + 1000 gp, it is priced at the lowest tier of cognizance crystal, which is RIDICULOUS. A butchering axe weighs 25 lbs. That’s 8 power points storage for +1K gold; following the rules for cognizance crystals, this function alone should cost 20,500 GP, not accounting for being integrated in the weapon! That’s seriously broken. Cerebral collars occupy neck and head, and are a particularly vicious take on the slaver-collar trope, specifically geared towards slave soldiers. Ithosian golem armor is a prestige object usually only provided to the Queen’s Guard of Ithos, as the armor is surgically affixed to the individual, with integrated blades that can also be used as shields – pretty cool, per se, particularly since weapon AND shield function can be separately enchanted! I do have one question, though: What type of weapon are they? Do they require their own Weapon Focus, for example? What if a wearer of the armor isn’t proficient with shields, or martial weapons?

The particulate synthesizer is pretty damn cool, as it lets you generate very small quantities of artificial substances The supplement also sports rules for photon blasters, essentially blinding guns (nice); plasma javelins state “Whenever it strikes a target it ignores hardness and deals 3d6 fire damage before burning out and becoming useless, ignoring hardness of less than 20 and dealing double damage to objects with a hardness of 10 or less.” That “ignores hardness” is here twice, and oddly, the verbiage does not mention the 3d6 electricity damage here – does only the fire damage ignore hardness here? A clarification would be nice. Ultari broadswords, finally, are pretty ridiculous: They are exotic one-handed swords with a damage of 1d10 for Medium wielders, and they are better orium blades, with a storage of 1 + double enhancement bonus (should be 2 per default orium rules, but I assume that to be intentional); additionally, if the wielder confirms a critical hit, the target must succeed on a Reflex save (DC 10 + wielder’s BAB (!!) + weapon enhancement bonus or become flat-footed “until the end of the wielder’s turn.” Okay, so what if you crit on an AoO? I am pretty sure that this exceedingly powerful benefit at least at one point should have required an immediate or swift action to pull off the high-DC save to avoid becoming flat-footed. The sword costs only 2,335 gp and also sports a dual damage type, slashing and piercing. sigh This needs some cleaning up.

While we’re speaking of the Ultar: They are one of the entries in the new monsters-chapter, co-penned y Mike Welham. They can drain targets of Wisdom (kitten-proof!) and use that power to fuel their psi-like abilities and to enhance psionic powers, but not to actually manifest them. Clever. The second species herein would be the bat-like humanoids known as onaryx, whose write-up starts off with an odd section: It lists alignment, CR, Speed, etc. – so the base statistics, as well as ecology, but nothing else. Particularly weird since the alignment deviates from the one the proper statblocks all feature; any way, the sample stats provided are for CR 3, 6 and 11. The onaryx undergo a metamorphosis as they age, and behave functionally closer to how dragons do in their depiction, which explains the odd starting block. Onaryx get scaling sonic cries, which are grouped by age category. These are pretty potent and interesting and allow for a wide differentiation between them, as there are 5 categories of such cries for onaryx of ever-increasing power. Formally, one of them is missing the italics its name should have, and there’s a spell-reference missed in a disintegrate-ing cry, but functionally, they work. As damn tech-versed and capable flyers, they are interesting. Weird, though: The mature one seems to have an incorrect DC for their sonic cries, and the plasma javelins wielded by the dread and elder statblocks use stats other than the plasma javelin introduced herein. Weird inconsistency.

Beyond these, we have the primitive leaping saurian humanoids known as karn-tor and stats for the CR 7 golem conveyance, a flying thing that comes with restraining tentacles – essentially, a harvester-type construct with subduing gas, etc. Really cool! On the grotesque side of things, we have the CR 8 Ceroptor: These things are essentially a blend of grick (stingered tentacles) and penanggalan – i.e. they are heads that can pilot decapitated heads by bodying them – and yes, we get a bodied statblock. And yes, they get psionic abilities. Their unique physiology also makes them surprisingly difficult to finally get rid of if played properly. Finally, at CR 19, we have the atoth, a hideous, Large headless humanoid with a gaping maw where the head’s supposed to be; these things are incorporeal and can sense the discorporation of mortal souls from their body with a range of 1 million miles…and they have the ability to open holes in reality to the nightmare rift – a truly frightening, deadly adversary indeed. Love them…particularly since they are tied to the ceroptor species in their genesis; these two are BY FAR some of the coolest monsters in the whole AP.

Anyhow, as always for the module, we have read-aloud text for the module. The adventure begins with level 17 mythic tier 4 characters, and by the end of it, they should have level 19 and their 5th mythic tier, provided they’re using the Medium advancement track.

As always, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! At this point, the PCs know quite a bit about the ancient progenitor race of the Patrons, and they have just dealt a crushing defeat to the forces of the mighty Hegemony, by repelling the bil’djooli invasion in an epic underwater war. The module thus begins with the PCs in a planning session with the Accord, trying to spearhead a counter-offensive into the Hegemony’s defensive position. The PCs travel to Ithos, which orbits the gas giant Qanna, an erstwhile hub-world of the Patrons, with numerous gates on the varying moons. The module begins with a bang and a mass combat against the defensive forces of the Hegemony, one interrupted when the Ithosians intervene. Highly xenophobic, their arrival seems odd – and the PCs are taken to the people’s queen; this includes some minor intrigue and trouble-shooting advice for PCs sufficiently arrogant. Due to the culture’s taboos, the PCs will have to brave the Akrot and the endless tunnel to get to the gate they’re after – but to do so, they’ll have to beat The Guardian – a brutal mythic savage golok. Getting full stats for the fellow instead of abbreviated ones would have been nice.

On the other side of the sheer endless tunnel, the PCs have a chance to crash the genetics lab of the jagladine. The traps and combat challenges here can be brutal – know how e.g. vivisectionists can become pretty nasty? Well, what about an encounter with 3 CR 14 vivis? Or one that also has a bunch of vitalist (soulthief method) levels? This is easily one of the most technical and challenging dungeons in the AP so far. Somewhat to my chagrin as a person, the usual PC tools at this level aren’t really accounted for. There are no defenses versus teleportation, for example, and the lab, apart from its potent inhabitants, is generally not defended well regarding global effects, which struck me as somewhat odd. It is understandable, considering the location and actions of the Ithosians, so it makes sense in-game, to a degree – or well, heck, perhaps the intent here was to allow the PCs to go to town on a relatively “regular” dungeon and show off their ability to shape the place.

Having torn up the dungeon, the PCs now get to use the gate to the fortress Ithos-Crin on the moon Morthos and the Hegemony’s stronghold there – provided they survive the Hegeomy’s forces in Ithos-Crin. The PCs are to contact a group of prisoners who are trying to flee the moon by means of a risky psionic ritual – on the jump to Tathos, the PCs will run afoul of aforementioned mighty Atoth. (No, psionic ritual not included, rules-wise.)

EDIT, since I should have made that clearer: The Atoth as a creature is obviously intended to punish teleportation and provide a reason for the PCs to use other venues; this is, at the very latest, made very clear in the next section, where a sidebar actually does state that mighty Atoths will come - in this section. That being said, the remainder of the module does not sport this threat, and the settings featured herein don't explicitly provide a metric beyond this encounter for when to throw Atoths at the PCs. RAW, there is no threat of them intervening beyond the first scene, so in a way, the Atoth encounter is a bluff, rather than a consistent threat, and depending on the PC builds, one that will be called. So if you have teleport/skirmishing specialists, be aware of that.

Provided they live through that, they will arrive in an ancient ruin occupied by the saurian karn-tor, who are plotting to march on the city of Emirist-Tar, the very city the PCs seek! The PCs will need to arrive at the city before things are too late, and do that through rather deadly terrain. In the city, they get to do some much welcome social roleplaying, before defending the city in an epic large-scale combat from the saurian horde. If the PCs are not killed here, they’ll still have only won a reprieve from the onslaught of the hegemony’s vast forces – and thus, another moon’s up, which is, bingo, dangerous, and houses a well-executed encounter with surprisingly creepy seers, who task the PCs to reactivate a gate on Tathos. Even in strange caverns, the Hegemony’s spies loom, and the PCs will have to brave the mighty spirits of a strange culture, requesting offerings and tests…and provided the PCs best this section, they will be off to the finale, the hollow core of the mighty gas giant Qanna, where BRUTAL ceroptor swarms await as a welcome committee. From mystic, we move to high-tech, as this is where psionics, a neat switch-puzzle, the archive of living brains and mighty general Shokar-Mar (CR 20/MR 2) await – you see, this place? It’s an ancient mobile gate! And it’s something the PCs will need if they want “To Kill a Star!”

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are neither on a formal, nor on a rules-language level as tight as usual for legendary games; on a formal level, the misplaced paragraphs, several instances of formatting snafus, missing blank spaces and the like generate an impression of a module that was somewhat rushed. On a rules-language level, we have some issues as well, particularly pertaining the new items and regarding some consistency. As noted before, the module comes with an extensive art and map folio, which is awesome. Artworks and maps are full color, with some old and new pieces used together. The cartography is full color is nice, but the lack of missing player-friendly maps, which usually are included in these modules, is another strike against the adventure.

High-level adventures are HARD to design. Extremely hard. The sheer amount of options and power the PCs have at their beck and call is brutal; plus, you need a pretty hardcore array of adversaries to challenge them. On this latter technical level, the module operates surprisingly well in play; moreover, the module provides troubleshooting advice in several instances, and uses scale, with armies clashing and PCs taking down legendary foes to drive how just how powerful they are. While pretty combat focused, the module does have social scenes and spices up things in various instances. That being said, the module, consciously or unconsciously, also presents a couple of places that operate like regular dungeons. Considering the capabilities of PCs to skip ahead and the absence of global effects that limit these, there’s a pretty good chance that the PCs will go through the dungeons, not as dictated by their structure, but by how they can wreck them. This makes sense for most of the dungeons herein, but not for the last one, which imho should have had some sort of contingency defensive tricks versus teleportation etc. – particularly since earlier non-dungeon sections did account for such abilities (EDIT for clarity:) with threats of the Atoth.

This is one of the things that plenty of Paizo modules also do, granted, but it is one of the aspects that render running these high-level modules somewhat problematic for many, many groups. Whether you consider this to be an issue or not depends on your playstyle, but for me, Depths of Desperation, with its more pronounced focus on boss encounters, politics and the like worked somewhat better. In short: Technically, regarding challenges posed in combat, I’d consider this to be a success; regarding the surrounding components to set these scenes up, expect to do some work. That being said, regarding flavor, switching of themes and consistency of the sword-and-planet tone, this is a fantastic module, with particularly the juxtaposition of the final two adventure areas driving perfectly home what the genre is all about. Tim Hitchcock delivers in spades here, and gets the epic scales of the module very well.

On the other hand, the whole adventure feels uncharacteristically rushed in the formal criteria, with quite a few guffaws on a formal and rules-level that have to cost this some of its thunder.

In spite of my criticism regarding dungeons and high-level PCs, it is how well this executes its theme which renders it one of my favorite modules in the AP regarding its overall settings and challenges; it really gets the genre. Indeed, had this been polished slightly more, it’d have been Top Ten candidate material. It breathes sword and planet fantasy. And frankly, it’s only due to the strength of the module’s overall themes, of its fearlessness to go all out, that I can justify not punishing this further for its shortcomings. Mind Tyrants of the Merciless Moons is an impressive, well-executed beast, but one that deserved better; I hope it’ll get another pass to clean up its hiccups. As provided, I can’t rate this higher than 3.5 stars. I’ll round up, though, as the module simply does not deserve being relegated to the realms of being considered mid-tier. It is a flawed, rough gem.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Legendary Planet: Mind Tyrants of the Merciless Moons (Pathfinder)
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