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Call to Arms: Decks of Cards
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/11/2018 05:21:54

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Call to Arms-series of item-sourcebooks/compilations clocks in at 54 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with a massive 50 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?

As has become the tradition with this series, we begin the supplement with a recap of the history of the subject matter at hand, though this time, not only the playing cards as used in real life, but also of the cards employed in the iconic deck of many things. After this brief and informative history lesson, we receive descriptions and modifications for mundane playing cards, as well as more esoteric decks – with gold values provided, of course. The discussion, much to my pleasant surprise, does also mention the Thoth tarot deck, and, to my even bigger surprise, codifies the hanafuda deck.

Okay, so now you have decks – congratulations, but how do they interact with the primarily dice-based games we play? The pdf thus proceeds to provide basic rules for skills and their interaction with the in-game act of playing cards; want to look nasty so folks let you win? The pdf does take that into account. A couple of different ways to cheat are also expounded upon before the pdf proceeds to present 4 feats: one would be the Deadly Dealer feat introduced in the Harrow Handbook. There are three feats that build on this: Double Dealer allows you to basically flurry with Deadly Dealer cards; interestingly, it also allows you to potentially activate multiple effects of playing cards fired thus. Now, it should be noted that this explicitly allows for the ignoring of the traditional limits imposed here, which makes the feat potentially a bit troubling. As an aside, it should also be noted that card-magic based classes are not necessarily assumed to work in conjunction with this. Three Card Monte builds on that for a 3rd throw (and does not capitalize a skill-reference correctly), and Mulligan lets you use Sleight of Hand to attempt to mitigate unfavorable draws...but if you do, you may never use that particular deck again! Interesting one! It should also be noted that the pdf later proceeds to mention rules for blending of magical decks for Deadly Dealer purposes.

There are three class options included in the pdf, with the deck-touched sorcerer bloodline being first. This one modifies the random outcome of items like the good ole’ rod of wonders with its bloodline arcana, and the bloodline powers similarly are inspired by cards from the deck of many things and feature temporary alignment changes via touch. The rules-integrity here is solid, if not perfect – particularly from a formatting point of view, with stuff not capitalized that should be and vice versa, and sequence of DC formulae and presentation being nonstandard. However, unless you’re nitpicky, it should be noted that the function of the options per se is not impeded. The second option within would be the card reader focused arcane school based on divination, which replaces diviner’s fortune and scrying adept with the ability to use a deck of cards as a material component substitution for material components below 100 gp value and the option to engage in a 1/day 1-hour card reading for you and up to 6 folks, providing benefits depending on the suit of cards drawn. The pdf also presents the gambling subdomain of luck, which replaces good fortune with a Bluff-based means to reroll random outcome item/spell rolls.

The pdf also presents a means to use cards as die substitution for attack rolls – handy here: the pdf does explain the math behind this approach. Interesting alternative. As an aside – in case you do not have a deck of cards ready, the pdf also mentions a dice-based substitution for drawing cards –nice!

Using the infamous deck of many things in conjunction with Deadly Dealer is btw. also discussed – and yes, it is risky. The pdf then proceeds to compile various types of magical decks, namely the deck of illusions and of silvering fate, with the section devoting most of its space to magical decks I haven’t seen before. The deck of deals is a means to generate binding agreements; the deck of imprisonment can contain targets – you get the idea. Really cool for quite a few of these, including the deck of illusions: These decks tend to come with massive tables that note e.g. a playing card or Tarot-equivalent and then the corresponding effect; the deck of curses can curse targets with becoming leering and creepy, for example. Another example would be the deck of reincarnation, which provides an interesting tweak on the whole reincarnation angle. The fate-reader’s lenses have been reprinted here, and we also receive three decks of enchanted hanafuda cards (though one is a lesser version of another). I also enjoyed the weaponized prismatic deck, the chaotic deck of useful items…and it should come as no surprise that the grand-daddy, the deck of many things…actually gets its own chapter!

Beyond handy equivalency tables to simulate the drawing experience, the chapter also provides a cursed variant and optional rules for making card-orientation matter; there is also a kind of greater version – the full deck of many things, which exceeds in its power even its more commonly known regular variant! Card to card conversion notes are presented, and much to my joy, Ultimat Campaign synergy for e.g. drawing The Ruler is provided. The harrow deck of many things is reprinted for the sake of completion, though, oddly, the table rendered the text of the table for all readers I tried it on bolded. In the fine tradition of the series, we also get an intelligent item variant of the deck, The Hustler, who has a rather important agenda – to escape the Void. As such, playing a game with this one can be rather dangerous for those involved. Finally, if even the full deck wasn’t enough…what about a frickin’ mythic variation? And you thought the regular effects were massive…

Conclusion:

Editing per se can be considered to be very good; the rules-language is functional in the supplement. On a formatting perspective, the series has done somewhat better in the past: there are quite a few instances where sequence of presentation isn’t standard, and I noticed a couple of instances of feats and skills not properly capitalized. Layout adheres to the nice two-column full-color standard of the series, and the pdf comes with extensive, nested bookmarks for your convenience.

This is, unless I am sorely mistaken, the first pdf by Jessie Staffler I have read, and it does show a couple of beginner's mistakes in the finer rules-formatting aspects; however, it also shows ample promise: there is a sense of unbound creativity beyond what I expected to find. The card-equivalency tables alone bespeak an honest passion, and the variant resolution mechanics included did show this willingness of the better installments of this series to go one step beyond. This feels like a passion project, and like one that consciously went much further beyond compiling existing material, instead opting to present a healthy dose of delightfully quirky high-impact deck-shenanigans. All in all, this may have a couple of rough edges, but it is a pdf that shows effort, heart, and potential. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Call to Arms: Decks of Cards
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5th Edition Horror
by James E. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/20/2018 14:18:30

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this product for the purpose of this review.

I won't lie - there are parts of horror I love. In fact, my main 5th Edition character is a Warlock of a Great Old One (albeit a slightly silly one - a homebrewed entity of paradoxes). While I don't play full-on horror with the character, I do like to draw from the tropes and make use of them in various ways, such as by manipulating Dreams to bother NPCs who've offended my character. The point I'm trying to make is that I have a personal interest in any products I think might support that character, especially those from reputable publishers like Fat Goblin Games.

This product is a full-color, 132-page PDF. The artwork is primarily black-and-white, in keeping with the genre, but is generously sprinkled throughout the product. Four pages are used for the covers and general legal information, plus a table of contents - the rest of this product is almost solidly rules and other information.

The interior is broken down into 11 chapters of content, prefaced by an introduction that explains the themes and provides more detail about the rest of the book.

Chapter 1 focuses on Horror Roleplaying and how to add these kinds of creepy elements to what is, quite frankly, a heroic fantasy game. The two genres don't mix easily, and it's up to the GM to add horror in a way that works for the players instead of just annoying them. (Tip: Mood music helps.) Helpfully, the book describes several ways to include horror, ranging from the troubles of war to smaller-scale encounters that can provide a dose of the genre without sending the whole campaign into the abyss.

Chapter 2 is where we start to get real rules stuff thanks to its focus on Horror Races. The options here include things like changelings, graveborn (playable undead), shadelings, were-kin, and "wretched" (imperfect undead, in the style of Frankenstein's Monster). This section is mostly focused on rules, and the races only have a short writeup - it'll be up to you to elaborate on how they fit into your world. That's not necessarily a bad thing.

Chapter 3 is the big draw for a lot of people and focuses on Horror Classes. It opens with the Apothecary, a potion-making class similar to a 9th-level caster. It will feel familiar to anyone who enjoyed the Alchemist in Pathfinder, but it doesn't really do Bombs for the heavy offense. It also has a few near-dead levels at 7th, 11th, and 18th - the improvement to their "Byproducts" (Cantrips) at those levels can help, but I think the class could use some minor improvements at those levels to make them feel a bit more exciting - especially 7th and 18th.

Following the Apothecary, we get some additional subclasses (including things like the Possessed Berserker, the Bards' College of Tragedy, and the Paladin's Oath of Light). Note that some of these are anti-horror, making this product more helpful for games that are about overcoming the darkness than just surviving it. Some subclasses may be better for NPCs than players, though - not because of power concerns, but because horror tends to come from the GM's side of the screen.

Chapter 4 adds new Horror Backgrounds. which are suitable for players or NPCs helping them out. These include the Monster Hunter, Investigator, Innocent, Mad, and Survivor backgrounds. Some of these have alternate features, giving them a little more flexibility.

Chapter 5 focuses on Skills and Feats, and this is actually really nice. The main new skill is Monster Lore - but rather than asking people to spread their limited skill proficiencies any thinner, Monster Lore is given to classes that deal with certain types of foes more often and relies on the Derived Skill system to supplement it. For example, Clerics traditionally know a lot about Undead, so they can use Religion to gain more information on them. (This will feel fairly familiar to anyone who used Knowledge checks to identify foes in Pathfinder.)

The next section focuses on new feats. As always, these are optional within a game, but they do provide a variety of thematic new abilities (such as artistic talent, bravery, or acceptance by the undead) appropriate for Horror campaigns.

Chapter 6 focuses on new Equipment. This includes using a variety of improvised tools (like meat hooks of skillets), as well as new equipment packs that support particular things. Following that, we get a collection of new items like a book of lore, a neck guard to protect from vampire bites, and a plaguemask if you really want that classic Black Death doctor look.

Chapter 7 focuses on Magic and Mysteries, including a selection of new spells. This section includes things like a necromancy cantrip dealing necrotic damage, transforming into an undead, reverting lycanthropes to their normal form, and summoning dark hands to grapple foes. There's nothing especially crazy here. This product also presents new rituals, including ways for non-casters to attempt to cast certain rituals (which will, quite frequently, go rather badly wrong - in true Horror fashion).

Chapter 8 ends the focus on player rules as it switches over to Horrific Hazards that GMs can use. These hazards include multiple options each for poisons, diseases, and haunts.

Chapter 9 focuses on Fear and Madness effects, including insanity. Quite a few of these effects are random, helping to mirror the uncontrollable nature of many mind-blasting things. Man, I do wish my Warlock could throw a few of these at people... it really does fit them. Alas, my GM might yell at me if I tried. Oh well!

Chapter 10 offers some suggestions for Creating and Running Horror-based Adventures, complete with a variety of plot hooks.

Finally, Chapter 11 introduces a variety of Monsters and Cults, including many ready-to-run stat blocks you can use for horrific creatures. Some of these are definitely nastier than others, including the CR 15 Aspect of Death and several new types of dragons(!).

Overall, this is a solid product for horror games. It's not focused on Lovecraftian horror, mind you - sorry to everyone who likes the Great Old Ones and their tentacles. Wait for Sandy Petersen's Cthulhu Mythos for 5E if that's what you're looking for. This tome is more about undead, creepy dolls, and haunted locations. It's quite comprehensive, too, offering many new choices and rules for both players and GMs. If you're looking for a little (or a lot) more horror, this product is worth getting.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
5th Edition Horror
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Vathak Terrors: Cured of Ursatur
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/15/2018 07:17:42

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This little bestiary clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

We begin this pdf with a brief introduction of the context of Ina’Oth and the deadly Plague of Shadows that ravages these lands…and the results of the methods to combat the plagues that sweep Ursatur.

The children of vinari healer Anna Schafer still haunt the places, constituting the first critter within, Anna’s Forgotten, a CR 13 undead. Born from the desperate attempts to find a cure from experimentation on children, the canonization of the good Dr as a Saint of the One True God has not helped to render the gas/miasma-themed and mist-shrouded undead rest easier in their graves. Chilling.

At CR 5, the second creature within would be the extergeist. While the plague of shadows was hard to stop, some folks tried to combat it with cleanliness. And as someone who used to be very OCD in that regard, let it be known that cleanliness can harm you…so yeah, this makes this ghosts extra chilling for me: They are those that perished, in spite of their cleaning neurosis, and they still fear disease…their touch capable of unraveling, of scrubbing away the tissue that makes up the living…and their pronounced fear of contamination beyond death making for a great Achilles’ hell. Big kudos!

The final critter makes use of one rules-innovation from the superb Gamemaster’s Guide to Ina’Oth (seriously, one of the best regional sourcebooks I know!), namely multi-stage diseases, one of which is presented here to accompany the creature. You don’t need that book to make use of the creature, but the Plague Cymoth, equal parts plague and creature, makes for a chilling finale…oh, and we actually get two feats for those that learn to…utilize their horrid parasites! Nice! (Btw.: One of them nets you a second bite in your bite, Alien-style…)

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard, and the pdf comes fully bookmarked, in spite of its brevity. All 3 creatures get their own full-color artworks as well – impressive for a mere $1.50 asking price!

Landon Winkler delivers big time with these three creatures – they are all interesting and chilling in some way, and they have strong concepts and even manage to provide some mechanically interesting tricks. Honestly, you can’t ask for much more from such a humble, inexpensive pdf! This is absolutely worth getting if you even remotely like dark fantasy/horror and/or the Vathak setting! This gets 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Vathak Terrors: Cured of Ursatur
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Faces of Vathak: Survivors
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/15/2018 07:12:14

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This collection of NPCs clocks in at 18 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 14 pages, so let’s take a look!

The NPC statblocks within are, ultimately, NPC-Codex style stats for general themes, with the first page providing an overview of the NPCs by CR. It should be noted, however, that these stats are not exactly standard critters, providing a relatively complex array in some cases. They also come with a brief flavor description each, and the artworks featured are clever, often using public domain art that has been twisted in certain ways – I adore this, as it provides a sense of strange realism that suits the setting’s aesthetics really well. Take, for example, the cannibalistic cleric, former clergy driven to unspeakable acts. They are statted as a CR 6 ghoul brawler/ex-cleric.

At CR 3, we have a dhampir arcanist, at CR 2 bhriota scarred rider – and this fellow, alas, has a few minor snafus in the statblock. CMB, for example, is off. Also at CR 2, we get a Romni unbreakable fighter/fortune-teller multiclass is correct once more, though. There also is a grizzled veteran at CR 1, and the soldier 2 is indeed a nice low-level opponent. The half-life heretic is interesting, in that we here have a hauntling occultist 4 – love this combo; a vindari infiltrator investigator at CR 3 is neat…and then, we have a really cool candidate for a low level boos – the CR 4 patchwork butcher, who comes with a grotesque assistant fully statted – he’d be a wretched reanimator 5.

A vengeful remnant bhriota warpriest at CR 4 and a CR 2 romni hunter, including companion stats, closes the collection.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level, with only a few minor hiccups. Layout adheres to a beautiful two-column full-color standard, and as noted before, the full-color artworks are inspired and not something you’d expect in a pdf that is so inexpensive. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Matt Roth and Rick Hershey deliver a fun, evocative collection of NPC stats that make good use of Vathak’s unique tools – and to this day, the Vathak setting is perhaps one of the most criminally underrated settings out there. The NPCs are surprisingly cool, in spite of the intended, general appeal. My final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Faces of Vathak: Survivors
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Secret Societies of Vathak: The People of Ash
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/15/2018 07:08:32

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement depicting one of Vathak’s secret organizations clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

The huantlings of Vathak that believe that they have been granted their strange state of existence by virtue of fire hold the grimoires The Litany of Ashes in particularly high regards, searching for purpose in the book as well as the fragmented memories of their fire-stained past. Those that follow this creed of fire and ash are known as the People of Ash, and as such, the organization itself mirrors the diverse social realities of Vathak, with conflict, in spite of the lax unifying rules of the informal society, being scarce.

The pdf then proceeds to depict the three locations that are most known as gathering places for the People of Ash, depicting the locations in vivid, captivating prose. Following this presentation, three leaders of the society, Grandmother Bellace, Sarkara and The Foreman are depicted in flowery, well-crafted prose – no full stats are provided for these, but we do get write-ups that do grease the engines of the GM’s imagination. These NPC write-ups are indeed intriguing, and we do get 3 further fluff-only write-ups of further members that add further complications and angles to the material presented within.

The next section familiarizes us with the tenets and truths behind the beliefs of this society, which focuses often upon the realization of the hauntling condition, and a focus on the tempering of the body/mind, as ostensibly, only the strongest souls can make the transition, which adds an elite-thinking angle to the organization. The initiation rites of the society are presented, and as far as benefits beyond roleplaying are concerned, 5 feats can be found: Tempered Soul allows you to throw off mind-affecting effects for untyped damage that may not be cheesed; Fire’s Tempering builds on that in an interesting manner; Grace of Fire’s Fury is a torch-fighter’s feat and Graceful Brand lets you use fire to end bleed effects, building on it. Rekindle Soul can make fire have restorative effects while your hp is below 0 – and yes, it has a limit to prevent abuse. Nice one! The pdf concludes with 3 well-written adventure hooks.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf sports really nice full color artworks – impressive for the low price point asked! The pdf comes fully bookmarked, in spite of its brevity – kudos for going the extra mile!

Landon Winkler can craft compelling prose – The People of Ash are a cool secret society and sport some compelling, exciting angles to pursue. The feats are gold for grittier campaigns and retain their meaningful effects. That being said, I did wish we got some stats for the cool leaders of the society. That being said, at a paltry $1.50, this is definitely worth getting. A really nice supplement, well worthy of a final verdict of 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Secret Societies of Vathak: The People of Ash
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Shadows over Vathak: Ina'oth - Echo of Plagues
by James E. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/06/2018 19:36:58

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this product for the purpose of this review.

This is a 32-page, full-color product generously sprinkled with character and scenic art. Five of these pages are covers, legal stuff, and an ad at the back, leaving us with 27 pages of actual content. As the description above explains, this is a first-level adventure, complete with pre-generated characters suitable for the world of Shadows Over Vathak.

What the description doesn't mention is that you'll need access to the Player's Guide to Vathak to use some of the pre-gens. For example, the pre-gen Kiza Brova is a first-level Soldier (PGtV 146), with several abilities only available there. You can, of course, use pre-gens from elsewhere, but they won't match the setting quite as well. Mind you, the Player's Guide to Vathak is a good book and I recommend getting it, but you should definitely know about the need for it before you buy this product.

The adventure opens with a few hooks for first-level players, and includes helpful things like a map of the region to help you determine where events are taking place. It's not a full setting overview, but it's nice to have. The adventure itself has several potential combats, as well as a strong selection of social encounters where you can really play up the atmosphere of this setting. Length-wise, this adventure feels a bit like an extended Scenario to me - maybe half a level of stuff. You may want to intersperse it with additional encounters, or have a few roadside fights along the way to the PCs' next destination.

Either way, it's a solid way to open a game in the Shadows Over Vathak setting. The art is of excellent quality, and it's not afraid to be itself instead of trying to rigidly conform to the typical fantasy-realm formula. If you're planning to play in Vathak, I recommend this product.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadows over Vathak: Ina'oth - Echo of Plagues
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Castle Falkenstein: The Black Lady of Brodick Castle: An Adventure Entertainment
by Nick M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/06/2018 09:40:55

The Black Lady of Brodick Castle is the third official Adventure Entertainment for Castle Falkenstein written by Lady Jennifer R. Povey

A mystery plot centred around discovering the true nature of the being known as “The Black Lady” and her motives. Set on the Isle of Arran, in Scotland, this story is short but well-structured

The final outcome of this adventure has several options laid out and has been crafted to hinge entirely upon the actions of the Dramatic Characters. A few ideas for follow up scenarios are included.

Another well-explained and straightforward adventure which is well suited for Dramatic Characters whose Abilities are not orientated towards combat. It can be used for most types of character, but I feel that Lower Class characters may struggle a little due to their lack of Social Graces.

This short book has six pre-generated Dramatic Characters, however, four of them were previously published in “Firearms & Margarine” .

This mystery-filled adventure gets a four out of five.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Castle Falkenstein: The Black Lady of Brodick Castle: An Adventure Entertainment
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Castle Falkenstein: Babbage’s Engine
by Nick M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/06/2018 09:38:43

The Babbage Engine, the second official Adventure Entertainment for Castle Falkenstein wrritten by Grandmaster Stephen Kenson and Mister J. Gray.

Players in this story have the opportunity to take a trip on the World’s First train controlled by an Analytical Engine - What could possibly go wrong? I am sure that dastardly villains will not take an interest in this Technological Marvel!

As it stands,this beautifully illustrated adventure would make a nice introduction for a new Host or new players. The plot and any Feats (actions) required are well explained. If the Host (GM) has some experience, either with Castle Falkenstein or running other RPGs, they can easily expand the plot with the useful suggestions included by Grandmaster Kenson. The epilogue provides more leads for future fun following the conclusion of this adventure.

Again, this short book has six pre-generated Dramatic Characters, however, four of them were in the previously published “Firearms & Margarine” adventure.

The slight railroading involved in the plot and the re-use of sample characters means that this action-filled adventure only gets a four out of five.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Castle Falkenstein: Babbage’s Engine
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Castle Falkenstein: Firearms & Margarine: An Adventure Entertainment
by Nick M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/05/2018 13:30:59

Firearms and Margarine is the first published official Adventure Entertainment (scenario) for Castle Falkenstein written by Mr. J Gray.

It is a fine Murder Mystery set in the city of Paris. The underlying plot premise is based on the point of view of Brownies, a nice touch to bring out the Faerie side of the Falkenstein Universe.

The story opens with a murder at a labour protest which the characters then investigate. The search for the culprit involves dealing with the Upper, Middle and the Working Classes and their appropriate prejudices. There are enough suspects and red herrings to keep the characters guessing. When the players have found the probable murderer, there are hints on adjusting the final denouement to suit your on campaign style.

The introduction has ideas on how to involve most types of Dramatic Characters in the storyline.

The plot line allows for different paths of inquiry, giving the players a range of freedom in their actions. Any aspects of the case that are unique to the Castle Falkenstein setting are clearly explained.

There are several sub-plots mentioned during the narrative and these are expanded upon in the last section of the supplement giving a Host (GM) the opportunity to extend the adventure or to trigger new ones.

Lavishly illustrated with six pre-generated Dramatic Characters to get you started, this excellent product is well worth the price.

If you haven’t tried Castle Falkenstein, get the core rulebook and this supplement.

Not only do you gain a fun adventure, it gives plenty of guidance on play that is useful for new

Hosts. Also, the layout of the book can act as a framework for building your own Adventure

Entertainments if you have just started to play the Great Game.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Castle Falkenstein: Firearms & Margarine: An Adventure Entertainment
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Publisher's Choice - Black & White: Filler Art
by Kim H. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/01/2018 10:50:23

Detailed and universally usable filler art. Great B&W work!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Publisher's Choice - Black & White: Filler Art
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DNH4 - Confronting Hastur - 5th Edition
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/14/2018 03:31:43

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The fourth installment of the Haunting of Hastur-series clocks in at 36 pages, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 34 pages of content – this does not take the sturdy wrap-around cover into account. This cover is detachable, and the inside of this massive cover, is a GORGEOUS map of the city of Meavold, depicted in full color and in a player-friendly version – you can just hand it to your players. Big aesthetic plus!

The module, like every installment in the series, does come with an alternate introduction to the series, should you and your players be new to the series, making it easy to get into the series. This is easier this time around, courtesy of the structure of the module, but more on that later. My review is based on the Kickstarter exclusive premium print edition, which I received in exchange for a fair, unbiased review.

If you have been playing the series, you will have heard about Meavold before – it is the human city on the surface that is the primary trading partner of the City of Talos, now that the PCs have hopefully ended the self-imposed isolation of the Formene Elves.

The pdf does sport a total of 5 different statblocks, one of which belongs to a new creature, a so-called brain-drinker – you can probably glean from the angle that this fellow is basically a reskinned Illithid. This critter, with a vole’s head, is a pretty deadly adversary and its rendition is pretty solid. Annoyingly, the statblocks don’t provide the values for all attributes in the statblocks, which may require a bit of GM-mojo on your end – much like the previous installments. That being said, chances are that these minor hiccups won’t impact your game unduly. Skills are noted in allcaps, attribute checks are bolded and the like – the formatting deviates in several crucial ways from standard 5e conventions, so if that type of thing annoys you, it’s something to take into account.

Now, this module is unconventional in its structure, in that, much like the previous modules, it doesn’t really offer the traditional read-aloud text for new school modules or the like. Genre/structure-wise, this adventure is a sandboxy investigation that covers quite a few influential people. These NPCs are depicted with detailed background stories and characteristics and feel well-constructed and multi-faceted. The respective homes of these NPCs are fully mapped in detailed and high-quality maps – in the pdf, these are full color; in the print version, b/w. The maps by Justin Andrew mason are amazing and if you need a ton of mansion/upper-class mansions and stuff like that, then this may be worth getting for the maps alone.

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

..

.

All right, only GMs around? So, the PCs are contacted by Wyatt, a human agent of Talos – and he has unearthed troubling intelligence. The cult of Hastur, thwarted in the first adventure, has basically gone one step further: Wyatt is convinced that the cult is once more attempting to create a statue-vessel for Hastur, somewhere within Meavold. The consequences, obviously, would be dire, so it’s once more up to the PCs to thwart the machinations of the cult. Wyatt has thankfully started the investigation and limited the number of suspects : It obviously takes quite a lot of resources and clout to generate a larger statue of Hastur and keep the shrine/cult hidden – and this does limit the list of suspects in the massive city down.

Thankfully, the PCs still get a rather sizable list, and clever players will be able to already disqualify quite a lot of these beings. The encounters to do so and these easily disqualified NPCs are noted with names and occupations, but the module does not provide details regarding these. Some GM skill is required here to make these exclusions work. Alternatively, you can just handwave this away, but personally, I think that reducing this aspect of the module does take a bit away from the achievement of the module. The main meat of the module is devoted to the 5 primary suspects, all of whom feel alive in an interesting manner…and they all feel alive. The maps provided for their mansions and the like are super helpful. The fact that we get maps helps a lot to make them “qualify” as a potential villain: The players can’t just deduce the validity of the NPC being a villain by the presence or absence of detailed cartography. The details provided for the NPC-backgrounds also help regarding these fellows, and while we get ability scores noted for these NPCs, we don’t get detailed stats of sample hit points for them. As noncombatants, this is no issue, though. Associated NPCs are also noted, which further emphasizes the concept of a living, detailed cadre of NPCs.

Now, there are plenty of secrets to be unearthed regarding these NPCs – there are illicit affairs, for example, and there are folks trying to escape the bonds imposed by the prudish morals of Meavold’s upper class. One individual involved in an affair attempts to manipulate the partner to assassinate the spouse and hang for it, for example. A former smuggler gone legit has been goaded into a duel that he can’t win without help, and his thoroughly professional relationship with his unique live-in-chief can provide an interesting further angle. The fact that his manor has an observatory obviously makes him suspect. There also would be a brilliant businessperson, ages ahead of their time, who has a sham of a marriage and a long-term same-sex relationship…alas, their spouse has plans to get rid of them and end the charade, which may well result in rather disastrous consequences. A mighty dynasty of landowners has also been stretching their fingers towards the underworld, and a well-respected, reserved Royal Explorer complements this section.

The presence of the brain drinker also means that there is some rather dangerous aspect to the investigation – beyond the requirement to tread delicately when investigating the most powerful people of Meavold. Here, the adventure misses an obvious chance: The presence of the brain drinker could have allowed the GM to justify making any of these NPCs the culprit, but the adventure instead opts for a fixed culprit. While this does slightly decrease the replay value of the adventure, a GM halfway worth their salt will be able to modify this aspect thus. Still, as a reviewer, I think this could have made for a cool twist of the angle presented. Now, ultimately, the PCs will find the thankfully not-yet finished statue devoted to Hastur – and destroying it is simple enough, but in the aftermath, the Old One will have had enough – in a blast of unearthly light, the PCs will be spirited away to the final adventure’s locale – to the dread Carcosa Complex, but we’ll get to that in module #6.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, the adventure could have provided more regarding NPC stats and the like. Formatting also deviates in multiple ways from 5e’s standard. Layout adheres to a two-column standard and the module sports quite a bunch of original nice b/w-artworks. The cartography is particularly impressive, and the impressive amount of maps makes for a great selling point for the adventure. The print version is a nice book that embraces its old-school aesthetic in a concise manner, and the full-color map of Meavold on the insides of the detachable wrap-around cover is nice.

L. Kevin Watson’s “Confronting Hastur” is, in a way, the logical progression of his sandboxy adventures. Where #2 was limited by locale and #3 was focused on depicting a general timeline, supplemented by set-pieces, this one is, as befitting an investigation, as wide-open as possible. You can’t run this spontaneously, and novice GMs may well feel overwhelmed here. This adventure basically provides an array of plot-lines and complications, red herrings and the like, and requires that you run the module as the PCs explore the possibilities. I at once love this, and am somewhat disenchanted by it: On the one hand, the sheer amount of cartography and eccentric NPCs work exceedingly well: They make sense, are intriguing and won’t make the solution readily apparent. On the other hand, I can see some GMs annoyed by this – you get these lavishly depicted places, mansions and castles, but anything that happens here needs to be structured by the GM. This is both a crucial bug and a huge feature for the adventure – what we have here, is essentially a set-up. What you do with it is up to you.

Now, unlike adventure #3 “The City of Talos”, you’re left without set-piece tidbits to splice into the module. All such concrete components herein need to be crafted by the GM. Now, on the plus-side, the complex NPCs and their detailed agendas and exciting characters do mean that these basically write themselves, but it’s still something to bear in mind. Whether you can handle this or not, and whether you consider this an issue, depends on your own priorities. If you’re looking for a ready-to-run adventure that doesn’t require work, then this may not be for you. If, on the other hand, you want a complex investigation with amazing maps, one that sports unique NPCs, if you enjoy the idea of having a complex, fully mapped investigation scenario at your hands, then this may well deliver what you’re looking for. If you’re willing to properly flesh out the components of the adventure, that is. Now, I do consider this module to be a really worthwhile experience, but similarly, I can see this not work half as well for some groups.

As a reviewer, this puts me in a rough spot – I could see this work really well, and I can see it not live up to what some folks might expect. That being said, if you are aware of the sketch-like set-up and would like to see a great investigation set-up, then is definitely worth getting! Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
DNH4 - Confronting Hastur - 5th Edition
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Masters & Minions: Cult of the Mirrored King
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/13/2018 03:42:24

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Masters & Minions-series clocks in at 19 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page introduction, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 14 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Now, this is a toolkit for a basically ready-to-play evil cult. As such, there will be some SPOILERS below. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All righty, only GMs around!

So, I can summarize this pdf in one sentence: This is Vidocq, the gaming supplement. If you haven’t seen the 2001 movie, then do so at your earliest convenience. I used its visuals and aesthetics with great fun in my Ravenloft game back in the day – it’s an inspired supernatural mystery movie with a pretty subdued magical angle that makes it perfect for low/rare magic or gritty games, though it works just as well in a high fantasy context. And yes, this would work perfectly in Fat Goblin Games’ Shadows over Vathak. As an aside: The title track was contributed by Apocalyptica featuring Matthias Sayer, the singer of Farmer Boys, an obscure German metal/rock band that is criminally underrated. The music video for Hope Vol.II, said track, made me get the movie, and it floored me as much as the excerpts from the video made me hope it would. It’s not a super high-budget blockbuster, but it’s still one of the movies I’d consider true, hidden cinematic gems.

Now, there are some differences between the movie and the supplement – instead of the singular “Alchemist” serial killer in the movie, we have a cult on our hands here – one that serves the eponymous Mirrored King, a mighty devil who specializes in deception and overthrowing authority – and interesting decision to represent the methodical approach here, as opposed to the chaos of demonic agendas we’d usually associate with overthrowing authorities. Now, while in the movie, the chemical component is represented by the title “The Alchemist”, it is here provided via the angle of a drug manufactured by the cult – Unachieved Dreams. This drug, obviously, helps capture the seedy, grimy aesthetics of the movies without having to use established drug-stats for, for example, opium, which do not fit the narrative requirements.

So, this magical drug nets 4 hours of sleep, uninterrupted, and imbibing it risks severe addiction with a nasty DC 24 Fort-save. At 1 gp, it is pretty inexpensive and nets +2 to Charisma checks (not properly capitalized) – here is the nasty twist: While the imbiber sleeps, they witness their greatest desires made manifest, but unbeknown to the imbibers, their souls are drawn to the Mirrored King’s palace in hell, where they actually experience these; upon reduction to Wisdom 0, the souls of the addicts are magic jar’d by the nasty entity, and their body, outsider-possessed in a way, may continue functioning. This has horror potential galore and can be really frightening when played right.

Now, such a drug operation obviously does require some muscle and cogs in the machine to work – this time around, this is represented by three CR ½ flunkies: A bruiser, a drugrunner, a catburglar, and we get a CR 4 cult initiate – all of these come with full statblocks using NPC classes. Beyond these generic NPC stats for the lower ranking cult members, we get stats for Borunda “Smasher”, the CR 4 barbarian muscle of the cult – alas, her statblock does have a few glitches – her raging version’s CMB and CMD, for example, are incorrect – they do not take in the boosts. Easy enough to fix, but kinda jarring. For more delicate tasks, there would be “Shorty” Mirrek Novos, a CR 4 halfling rogue, who takes care of accounting as well. This fellow’s stats do get CMD/CMB right, btw.

The star here, though, would be the Mirrored Man, the stand-in for the primary antagonist in the movie: The mirror mask-wearing mastermind of the cult: The Mirrored Man clocks in at CR 10 and is an interesting cleric 6/alchemist (mindchemist) 5. We get a background story here, and in an interesting twist, the stats here do come rather close to the tricks the character can pull off in the movie. Speaking of which: The mask is represented here as a mighty, unique magic item, the mirrored mask, which allows for excellent redirection of divinations, and enhances Disguises – the hands of an evil vigilante, this one could become even worse… As a minor missed chance, it would have been nice to see the movies’ soul-glass angle represented here as well.

The supplement does not stop here, though: We get a summary of the current goals of the Mirrored Man, with the plots woven by these smart and dangerous foes and their considerable ambitions noted. Beyond these angles, the pdf also depicts the Tavern of Achieved Dreams, the headquarter of the cult – and guess what: We get a surprisingly nice, full-color map of its two floors, with squares noted. Getting a full-color lair map, particularly one you can use just as a handout, makes for a great additional option here, and ends the pdf on a high note for me!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect – I noticed a few minor snafus, though nothing that wrecks the supplement. Layout adheres to a fitting and flavorful two-column full-color standard with blood splotches etc. – this is an aesthetically-pleasing pdf, and we get quite a few nice full-color artworks I haven’t seen before. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Kim Frandsen’s tribute to Vidocq is a truly fun little pdf – but I have a hard time rating it. You see, I’m a pretty rabid fanboy of the movie, and its one of the very few movies I watched more than once. On one hand, I do think the lore does have more potential than what we get in here; on the other hand, I really enjoy the twists that have been made regarding the concepts the movie provides.

Let me make that very clear: This is a riff on the subject matter, and a good one at that.

Now, personally, I’d be making the mirrored master of the cult a gestalted mythic alchemist/skinchanger (Legendary Games’ excellent hybrid class), but one can’t conceivably expect the like from a supplement intended for mass consumption. While it has a few rough edges, the pdf delivers on what it promises, and it could have easily really botched the pretty demanding subject matter. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeit



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Masters & Minions: Cult of the Mirrored King
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The Gamemaster's Cartographer's Companion
by Bryan W. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/21/2018 11:14:58

Bought the printed book, Perfect for any cartographile, And it is exactly what you'd think you would get.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Gamemaster's Cartographer's Companion
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The Roleplayer's Arcane Spellbook
by Bryan W. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/21/2018 10:58:16

Good print quality Despite the low resolution and with a total of 200 spell pages and space for extra magical goodies it will more than do the job. I'm using one of the physical copies I ordered to make a custom spell compendium for a Custom world campaign I'm planning to run. Worth the money for the P.O.D. And if you like having your known spells on hand without going through the large lists in a core rulebook this is great if you don't mind the effort of transferring the info manually.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Roleplayer's Arcane Spellbook
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DNH3 - The City of Talos (5th Edition)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/18/2018 06:30:50

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This combined settlement supplement/ecology and adventure clocks in at two times 32 pages – 28 pages each for the adventure and gazetteer booklets, if you take away cover/editorial/etc. My review is based primarily on the kickstarter premium print version of this adventure/supplement. The sturdy wrap-around cover has a massive, gorgeous full-color map of the eponymous city of Talos on the inside – and Justin Andrew Mason’s map is player-friendly! That’s a huge plus for the print version right there.

As you can glean from the above, I have received a print copy of the module/setting supplement for the purpose of a fair and unbiased review. The books have thus been moved up in my reviewing queue.

So, at the end of the last adventure in the series, the intriguing “The Buried Zikurat”, which could be solved sans a single combat (amazing!), we this time take a sojourn into a sandboxy scenario in the truest form; but in order to talk about the adventure, we have to acknowledge the unique two-book approach. You see, one book is an extensive gazetteer of the massive City of Talos as the PCs encounter it, while the second book depicts the changes that will now befall this unique area.

Before we dive into the SPOILERS themselves, let me comment a bit on the formal components: The gazetteer is VERY rules-lite and can be of use in pretty much any roleplaying game. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a plus for the type of scenario presented here. Anyhow, the gazetteer also reprints the destroy stone spell that justifies the presence of the underdark as presented here, reprinted from the previous adventure. Similarly, the three formene items that granted the PCs access to this otherwise shrouded part of the realms below have been reproduced here. The minor hiccups present in them in the former adventure are still here, though. The prose, an important component of such a book, for the most part, is really tight and engrossing, though a few paragraphs feel slightly rougher than others. Still, atmosphere-wise, this does achieve something – more on that in the conclusion of the review, below. One aspect that I sincerely hope will be remedied at one point, would pertain nomenclature: The books use “Formene” to refer to both the reagion after which the unique elven culture herein is named, and to the elves. While this shorthand makes perfect sense to me, it can act as a minor detractor regarding reading flow. You won’t stumble over these, and context makes getting what’s meant easy, but it’s something I felt obliged to mention.

It should also be noted that the adventure-booklet includes an alternate segue into the module that does not require the PCs to have finished “The Buried Zikurat” – including an encounter map by Dyson Logos! It’s a pretty detailed alternate introduction and goes above what one usually gets to see. Skill references are usually bolded and in all-caps, making it easy for the GM to determine rules-relevant text on the fly. I noticed an exception, where the skills were only in Allcaps, but since it’s still easily discernible, I chalk this up to negligible aesthetic nitpickery.

The adventure book does come with a brief bestiary-appendix that includes short-hand monster stats that do not note all attributes; I know this is probably due to page-count issues, but it’s an aspect that slightly detracts from the otherwise nice chapter. As before, alas, formatting here also deviates in the statblocks from 5e’s standards: Colons instead of full stops, “Hit:” not italicized…you get the drift. The material is, as a whole, functional, but these deviations make it feel less refined than it otherwise would be. We do get a brief random encounter table for the Formene, should you require one.

We do begin the gazetteer-booklet with a detailed history of the Formene Elves, their trade nexus network and self-imposed isolation…but those were components we could piece together before. The two books go much farther than that. But in order to discuss the content, I need to go into SPOILERS.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, beyond discussing the connections with Hastur, placing Trade Nexuses in the campaign world (SUPER useful when playing this in e.g. Golarion, Faerûn, Oerth, etc.), we get something I haven’t read in about 20 years; the discussion of Formene Elves goes beyond just throwing stats at you. In fact, that’s probably one of the best things about this book. Instead, we are told about the Dehava. These beings are basically elemental-like, rocky creatures that were afraid of the other Formene denizens for their propensity to steal their eggs as trinkets or decoration. In a surprisingly sensible twist, the dehava did not really consider cohabitation or true sentience possible prior to making magical contact with the Formene Elves. Considering how alien they are, this rang plausible to me – and their unique metabolism, which can excrete ingots of precious rock, has led to a surprisingly smart and unique form of cultural symbiosis. The Formene Elves can guard dehava young while the parents hibernate, and the dehava can provide a truly “elven” form of mining that feels both distinctly magical AND plausible.

The Formene Elves, hence, also have the ability to fabricate weaponry of mithril, adamant and similar materials, generating a type of resonance with the old concept of the “riddle of steel” from our own history, one often quoted in sword &sorcery contexts, but without requiring copious rewiring of your game-world. Indeed, the adventure book does note the type of weaponry that may be available. The culture of Talos’ Formene Elves and their first gaze upon surface-dwellers in ages, can yield an interesting roleplaying potential.

And more so than in pretty much any book I have read in a long time, culture is emphasized as a roleplaying catalyst and as a means to generate immersion and wonder. The culture of Formene Elves is focused on the 5 virtues of Efficiency, Grace, Knowledge, Harmony and Privacy. Notice something? While many of us may subscribe to these values being important, we do not place the same value upon them. The consequences of this clash of cultures between PCs (and players!) and Formene Elves is amazing to experience and see. Anyhow, the different quarters are assigned special things of note: For example, the focus on Knowledge means that the quarter houses transcriptions of books deemed long lost on the surface, while new books are cherished. Opinions of the locals regarding the reopening of trade relations with the surface, as well as potential problems, can yield here a treasure trove of intrigue, side-quests and unique encounters – probably enough to last you a whole campaign, should you choose to really dive into this section. I should also mention that we get a sample farm area map and discuss other humanoids living in the Lower Formene.

This gazetteer fits seamlessly with the adventure booklet; you see, the module takes a defiant stand in favor of capital letters ROLEPLAYING. If you disregard the alternate introduction to the adventure, we get a total of 12 side-quests of sorts that form the very sandboxy and open plot of this adventure. The PCs are basically ambassadors for the whole world above! The PCs will have to negotiate reopening the trade network with the surface, with key aspects of the surface and the Formene Elves provided in bullet points. No, there is no simple “roll to solve.” I love the adventure for that. ROLEPLAYING, not ROLLplaying. Discovering the archive of the Formene Elves, negotiating trade of mithril weapons (and whether or not to teach the skills to make them…) – this is utterly inspired!

If your players get antsy and want to do some exploring, we also get a deserted, similarly alien city of the Ryba-Wiek fish-people, rendered abandoned by a strange statue that still remains, with explorers haunted by flashbacks. The PCs may have to contend with a temporarily insane Dehava, look for the lost caravan, deal with potentially hostile human encroachment upon Formene Elf territory, explore an abandoned duergar temple, deal with a black dragon…and there is a mushroom cave, which can have really chaotic psychedelic spore-effects – in case you needed an angle to insert a Narcosa-module, there you go! Defeating a pair of medusas can allow the PCs to free no less than 23 beings! (Ages since petrified, looks and names provided…)

Well, all of that, plus any underworld sidetreks you may want to throw at your players! Each of these little sidequests on their own would not be more remarkable than e.g. a solid Mini-Dungeon or OSR-one-page dungeon sidetrek; but their contextualization and detail does elevate them. The whole is here, for once, truly greater than the sum of its parts. Oh, and if the like doesn’t fit the tastes of your PCs, you can easily run this as a series of combat-related issues and make the whole module go by quicker…whether or how you tie these scenario-components together lies within your purview as a GM – this is, in the truest sense of the word, a modular module.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, on a formal level and rules-language level, are good, but remain the one aspect of the module where I can see some folks being less enamored by what’s presented. Layout adheres to a 2-column b/w-standard with copious amounts of high-quality cartography provided. Artworks range from compelling, original b/w-pieces to a few less amazing stock art pieces. As a whole, this is an aesthetically-pleasing module/supplement, though.

Okay, I have rarely been this glad to have been proven wrong. When I read the first adventure of this series, I filed the whole under “solid, but forgettable dark fantasy with obligatory Mythos reference”; I was dead wrong. “The Buried Zikurat” had a distinct voice, and so does this one. You see, L. Kevin Watson’s “The City of Talos” is an adventure unlike any you have probably read since the advent of d20. What do I mean by this?

Well, 3rd edition brought a focus on crunch, i.e. rules-relevant material. We’d get a gazillion of different elves with minor modification in racial stats. Fire elves, air elves…yeah, you’re probably as sick of them by now as I am. Rules-relevant material, from racial stats to archetypes, subtypes, weaponry and spells, began replacing what was once considered to be, you know, what made a race distinct. While the OSR-movement has somewhat flipped this, here, we often see an almost fetishized emphasis on really old-school dungeon-crawling and/or on immediate “gameability” – immediate hooks that affect the PCs on the personal level, that immediately segue into adventure.

This has cost us dearly, at least in my opinion. It took me a long time to formulate what exactly I loved so much about these two booklets; it’s not the presentation; neither the bite-sized quests/mini-adventures. It’s also not the emphasis on roleplaying over rollplaying, though I do like that. Still, we have seen all of these in recent years – not often, but we’ve seen them. Similarly, I have read and designed more races over the years that I could count, and the Formene Elves, while certainly distinct, also could not account for my fascination with these two booklets.

Then, it suddenly dawned on me. You know, when I started playing the game, and had NO IDEA what the difference between “gnomes” and “haflings” was, I read the books released in the boxed sets here in Germany. I read about gnomish ruby wine, and how it could render other races comatose, in strange psychedelic dreams; I read about elven poetry so haunting, it could break the hearts of mortals that witnessed it. I read about dwarven ales and bread. I learned why haflings wouldn’t usually want to go adventuring, about their agricultural (and pipe-weed growing) prowess, about the marriage customs of these races…and they came alive for me. Not because of rules, stats or immediate adventure hooks – but by virtue of their CULTURES.

Know what these things have in common? They are not immediately “gameable” and they are, what the low-attention-span, lowest common denominator demographics would consider “boring.” Now, it is my observation, that there, in some books, is merit to this observation. I know that plenty of racial books have bored me to tears with being uninspired twists/inversions on tired tropes. If I had to review one more “element + humanoid”-race (ice dwarf, fire elf, air halfling…blergh), I may smash my head against the table. I very much get how this type of writing got a bad reputation.

If anything “The City of Talos” represents a resounding rebuttal to the claims that only rules and immediate gameability matter; neither do you have to be weird to be interesting. Don’t get me wrong – there is PLENTY of material within this adventure that does offer immediate gaming; there are splices of things herein that can become atmospheric, weird, etc.

But that’s not where the soul of these booklets lies. The beauty, and I mean that in the truest sense of the word, was that this made me see elves, perhaps the most tired and exploited by various forms of media of the humanoid races, tarnished by a flood of good scimitar-wielding wanna-be Gary Stu drow Drizzt-clones and shield-surfing Legolases, in a fresh light. It showed me a magical culture that feels distinctly elven and yet, distinctly unique.

In a way, this module is an heir to an aspect of old-school gaming and aesthetics that is almost lost, that no one seems to give the proper due; an aspect that may, without folks realizing it, be responsible for a significant part of the fondness felt for those days long past. I couldn’t name a single adventure, or supplement for that matter, that takes this approach. This is very much conservative fantasy; it’s not weird, psychedelic or defiantly different – and yet, it proves in structure and presentation, in imaginative potential, that culture does not have to be boring; that it can engender, even nowadays, even among jaded veteran roleplayers, once more the sense of wonder that we all once felt upon exploring the first dwarven mine, the first elven town. Combined with the unconventional focus of the adventure and its open structure, we thus get an adventure that is wholly, utterly distinct in a surprisingly subtle way.

Is it perfect? No, as noted before, there are complaints regarding formatting to be fielded here, and when scavenged and divorced from the phenomenal flavor, this feels less compelling; the rules-components are simply not where the focus lies here. If these aspects truly irk you (they do irk me, don’t get me wrong), then detract a star from the rating. If you only want to murder-hobo everything, then this will not be for you.

However, otherwise, I can only wholeheartedly recommend you checking this out. L. Kevin Watson has found a distinct narrative voice and provides something within that is unlike anything you’re bound to find out there. This humble book has inspired me beyond anything I expected, even after module number #2- hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo…and this does get my seal of approval for managing the rare and tough feat of depicting a traditional fantasy culture that is wholly new. Highly recommended.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
DNH3 - The City of Talos (5th Edition)
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