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Swords and Wizardry Complete Rulebook
by Carl C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/25/2014 06:57:10

Swords and Wizardry sets out to be a return of the first role-playing game, the three little books in a paper box along with the first expansions, all brought into the 21st century as a 133 page PDF. Ambitious indeed! Did it succeed? This is free, so it is guaranteed value for money. However, there is also the issue of time. When you decide to use a system, or even to learn it, you devote a big chunk of your free time to it. Should you do that for Swords and Wizardry?

First a few words on where I stand. I began playing with the Mentzer edition back in 1979, so the original books were before my time, but I have looked through them and did not share the enthusiasm for "back to basics" those books represented, so my view of this is a bit slanted. Just to explain where I stand when reviewing Swords & Wizardry.

The PDF is absolutely beautiful and evocative of the style of the first edition Player's Handbook. It is well indexed and has lovely illustrations that fit the theme very well. I was very impressed by the Eorl Otus cover. After a brief introduction, it shows you a character sheet, and from there jumps right into the meat of making a character - no dawdling into long explanations of what a role-playing game is here! It has 9 classes, 5 races, alignment (law-neutral-chaos), and multiclassing - all done on 15 pages! Compactness was indeed an feature of the early editions.

Already, I get the wibes of just how hard the game was back then. The thief, at first level, has a 10% chance to pick locks, with the helpful description "Thieves can pick locks; some locks might be unusually difficult, in which case the Referee might reduce the percentage chance as appropriate". So, not only is my chance to succeed 10%, the rule also specifically mentions that GMs can make it more difficult, and retries are not mentioned. Sigh, one thing I did not want to be reminded of. Also, some classes have minimum ability scores to enter, depending on attributes, which are of course rolled randomly on 3d6. If you manage to get a score of 15 in the right attribute for your class, there is a 10% bonus on experience points. Admittedly, attribute scores do not do much besides this, but why those who have rolled higher on some initial rolls should be rewarded with speedier advancement eludes me. This theme continues; high scores are generously rewarded if you are in the right class, otherwise not. And yes, different classes have different experience requirements for advancement, which is used as an excuse to hold back multiclassing...

Ordinarily, I'd stop reading here, this is just too many things strongly contrary to my role-playing preferences, but since I've been asked to review this, I will continue.

The next chapter deals with combat and adventuring. It makes a point of saying that the original rules were obtuse, and that those give include many design choices, and can be freely changed. It then goes on to explain a fairly straightforward combat system; group surprise, group initiative, spells declared in advance, no spellcasting in melee. It also presents a number of variations of this theme. This is all fairly easy and intuitive and actually a good system once you decide which options to use.

Next comes a section on hirelings and castle-building, showing the game's war-game roots. Simple and workable, and there are actually siege rules in the back of the book.

Next up is spells, which begins by saying that spells over 6th level are not really needed - this is typical of the mood of the rules, telling GMs that just because the highest tiers of power are described in the rules, they need not be used. To me it comes across as a bit snide, but for campaign play it is actually a good idea to have slow advancement. I just feel that this belongs in a missing campaign section. The spells are simple but workable and quite similar to what we have in later editions. A few spells, like wish and limited wish, have very few guidelines but otherwise the spells are good.

After this is the referee's section, and if you were waiting to get to know what the game was all about, you are not told but shown what a dungeon is. The encouraged playstyle is a sandbox, while at the same time showing how to design a dungeon. It goes on to explain other types of adventures, including mass combat and siege. The monster pages contain an amazing 7-8 monsters a page while remaining playable. There is even a page on creating your own monsters, and monsters are tiered by level. The treasure section has an introduction that says "...too much fairness feels artificial to the players...". Again capturing the sandbox feel. What cannot be found here is advice to the GM on how to run a plot, drop clues, foreshadow, set a mood, or how to interpret rules and spells like the aforementioned wish - developments in role-playing techniques those first little books lacked.

Overall I must say I am impressed by the work, much more than I thought I would be when I began reading it. Yes, there are things I don't like, but these are personal preferences. When you make a retro-clone like this, you always have to decide what aspects of the original game are important to you. Swords & Wizardry made these decisions differently than I would, they have their own vision of what the game was and should be. At the same time, they put a lot of emphasis on presenting different options, which I feel makes the game bewildering. Maybe you will love these things even if I did not. The game is simplistic but definitely playable. The writing is fluid, it is a beautiful book, and the price can't be beat. Well worth a read, and might well influence how you play role-playing games, whether or not you choose to play Swords & Wizardry as written. "The rules are just guidelines. There is not a rule for everything. When in doubt, make a ruling." is the introduction to the referee's section, and captures the spirit of the game very well.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Swords and Wizardry Complete Rulebook
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Fire As She Bears (PF)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/13/2014 03:50:57

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This system for naval combat is 98 pages long, 1 page front cover, 4 pages of advertisement, 3 pages of SRD, 1 page ToC and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 88 pages of content.

So here we are - by now the third naval combat system for Pathfinder - after Paizo's system fell flat of my expectations and after EN Publishing's book thoroughly disappointed me, let's see whether this supplement can do the trick!

We kick off this sourcebook, as is only prudent, with an explanation of the terminology used as well as a handy diagram that explains how a ship is positioned in relation to the wind. In order to have a ship, one requires ship construction-rules - these are very concisely-presented here: Essentially, each vessel has locations, which could be thought of as 20-foot cubes that can be individually targeted by hostiles. How you place your locations is mostly up to you, though you have to adhere to certain conventions regarding length and breadth and height, allowing you to also add additional decks by stacking multiple locations atop one another. It should be noted, that one hull location could contain one or several decks, though! Each location-cube belongs to one of two classes - hull or rigging. Both types have different stats, costs etc. and their relationship has crucial consequences regarding the ship's attributes.

Attributes? Yes, ships have a str-score of 30+no. of hull locations + build modifiers and they also have a dexterity of 10+rigging locations-hull locations + build modifiers. (The latter, in case you're wondering, offer the choice between sleek and broad hulls. Ship armor-class is calculated just like with a regular character, though rigging is slightly harder to hit. It should also be noted that the rules depict not only touch AC (should you ever require it), but also the susceptibility of a ship from below the waves in a rather interesting manner and that they aren't silent on this matter either regarding AC. Carrying capacity, hit points - all of that is very intuitive and makes creating ships and grasping the system exceedingly easy.

Now where things get slightly more complex would be with movement - your ship has 3 movement rates, or speed values. Each point of speed roughly corresponds to 20 feet of movement - but why not simply go with the movement? The answer's simple, really - you actually could do that. But speed is also a resource AS WELL AS a restriction. Ships have no brakes in the traditional sense and thus you HAVE to move the value of your speed rating each round - furthermore, naval maneuvers like turns etc. have an associated speed cost. You thus have to actually plan movement rather carefully, adding a VERY cool tactical dimension to the combats that is easy to learn while offering opportunities aplenty for strategies and finesse - after all, sailing against and with the wind modifies your available speed. Putting essentially resource and restriction into one value is, in my humble opinion, a stroke of genius. Of course, ships also have a maneuverability and your ship's load influence how agile your vessel turns out to be - again, the rules here are very much n line with how characters work.

Now if you're like me, then you tend towards a relative preference toward simulationalist approaches - I tend to have my PCs track rations etc. For people who prefer this additional spike of realism we get advanced rules herein - the first of which would be the impact of wind speed on a vessel's speed rating. More complex, yes, but rather easy to grasp. And if you don't think that can be utilized for maximum awesomeness, I once ran an adventure based on the absence of wind - essentially stranding the players on the equivalent of the Méduse's grisly tale - no combats, just slow psychological descent into madness as the veneer of civilization started to crumble. Glorious. Of course, the more obvious use would be to handle ships sailing before a storm, as the sidebar "Riders on the Storm" suggests. Now beyond sails, engines (both steam-powered and alchemical, in varying efficiency-classes) and oars are also handled, and once again parallel to characters, ships get their own CMBs and CMDs and saves.

Saves? Yep. Though as objects, ships are immune to will-saves, ref and fort-saves, while hard to do, can be rationalized - which the pdf btw. also guides a DM through, explaining how to narrate a successful save. As you could glean from me spilling the beans about alternate means of propulsion, there are a lot of customization options here - 8 sizes of cannons, rams, crow's nests - it's easy and essentially just like equipping your character - locations having a certain amount of space, i.e. slots. There you go - elegant and intuitive. Where there are cannons, there better be grape shots, chain shots and the like and yes, for everyone who despises gunpowder in their games, reskinning is always an option here. Speaking of options - while cannonballs of a uniform size are the default simplification for fun's sake, there are rules to explain how to handle different cannonball-sizes, if you want that level of realism. the same holds btw. true if you'd prefer realistic load times - these have been, due to the presence of magic and to keep cannons cool, significantly shortened to between 1 and 3 full-round actions. For once, that's a simplification I will keep in my game.

Now I've mentioned grape shots. I shuddered upon reading this, for while the mechanics of the grape shot are solid, they don't take individual ACs into account. Well...UNLESS you take a look at yet another alternate rule that lets you take these into the equation as well! Even before ship armor, miscellaneous equipment like fire pumps, specific locations and the like come into the equation, we a thoroughly customizable base system of rules that is concisely presented and easy to learn, while providing just the level of realism you choose for your group.

Specific locations? Yeah, from smuggling compartments to brigs, captain's quarters etc., we have quite a few customization options here.

But a ship is only an object - we also need a crew. Recruiting a crew is done via relatively simple rules...but what about morale? We are introduced to a new loyalty-score, which is modified by the captain's level, his/her cha-mod and the mods of navigators, chaplains etc. - oh, and lost battles, pay, time at sea, charms and dominates - all of these are taken in. Additionally, charismatic captains may actually inspire their crews! Now we all have seen this: A basic issue in most naval combat systems would be that they degenerate into a one-on-one between DM and the captain's player.6 officer roles, all with benefits and vacancy penalties and special actions in combat does an excellent job in engaging the WHOLE PARTY, even beyond the capabilities of the respective classes that fill the roles. Now how does that work? Essentially, your players roll initiative twice - once for the level of their characters and a second, naval initiative wherein they may make the respective naval actions, ensuring that they don't have to spend actions to encourage the crew when they'd rather be flinging fireballs or swashbuckle through the riggings. It seems counterintuitive at first, but in play it works wonders - also due to each role using certain attribute-modifiers for their respective naval initiative. Food, crew placement, crew advancement, officer and enlisted roles - there isa neat level of detail going on here.

Now how does naval combat work? First, the most upwind ship may claim the weather gauge, which nets some bonuses (tough e.g. the +2 speed bonus may not fit in all strategies...once again, careful deliberation...) - but only until another ship manages to steal the weather gauge via skill or luck: Again, we have a neat dynamic herein that expands the tactical possibilities of naval combat. After that, the combat (with the exception of naval initiative) works much like a regular combat - but there also are 13 special naval actions introduced alongside 5 special attacks (including crossing the boards). We also get a handy table for spotting ships, some new skill uses (Can you disguise a ship? Yes, you can!) and an abstract, but relatively elegant way to determine losses among the crew (and prevent them, if you're a ship's surgeon. Of course, there is also the final resort of self-destructing engines, if available - and yes, the consequences are dire and the situation narrative gold.

Of course, as you're probably noted by now, specialists could have a field day here and yes, if you're so inclined, then a total of 9 feats allows you to improve your capabilities in that specific field - which is awesome, for while the system does not require such an investment, it rewards those that do. Now magic and naval combat is where a certain other naval supplement came totally apart - so how does FaSB deal with it? In one word: Perfectly. Instead of spamming us with useless over-specialized variants of spells, we get new uses for spells: Chill/Heat Metal+ cannon = useless cannon for duration of the spell. Zombie-crew? Possible. Control Winds vs. Control Weather? Covered. Fabricate? Repairs ship-location. Prestidigitation can btw. be uses to flavor gruel if food is scarce, thus offsetting the loyalty-penalty for eating gruel all day. We also get 9 spells, one of which temporarily transforms a part of the sea into GLASS., potentially trapping ships... Oh, and yes, there also is a ghostly crew for the wholesome necromancer captains among us.

Not content with all of that? Why not build levitating ships? Ships made from bone, coral or locations perpetually engulfed in flames? Masts that prevent casualties by means of feather fall? Enchanted bowsprits? Sails that steal souls? On the character level, what about enchanted rum? Magical hammocks? Tiny mechanical monkey with an extradimensional holding space? Harnesses that conjure forth ghostly whales to draw the ship? Yes. All here.

Now so far, we've limited ourselves to combat, ship-building and crew - but what about pursuits? Fully covered. Terrain obstacles for naval pursuits? Easy creation guidelines, various samples provided.

Don't want to stat a lot of crew? We get quite a bunch of sample statblocks (though it should be noted that they use Razor Coast's simplified gunpowder-rules), but thus no gunslingers. The book mentions "Brace of Pistols" as a great supplement and I concur, though I consider the absence of gunslingers still a huge pity. Now while there are a lot f relatively generic statblocks, the occasional weird one is in here to spice all up and sample characters galore accompany this chapter.

Beyond a pirate's song to sing and animated cannons, we also get full-color ship record sheets, 5 sample ships and finally, a 1-page appendix of sample ship names.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting is still very good, though a couple of minor typo-level glitches could be found herein. Layout adheres to a drop-dead gorgeous two-column full-color standard. Artwork is mostly thematically fitting stock art and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The hardcover of the book has solid production-values, though the paper feels slightly thinner than in other FGG-releases. The cover-illustration is a bit blurry in both the pdf and hardcover and was probably not intended as such.

Ähem In case you haven't noticed...look what's absent from this review: Yes. Serious complaints. This system is hilariously easy to grasp, working with established design-tenets and expanding them in a smart way that borders on being brilliant. Neither in 3.X, nor PFRPG have I ever seen such a concise, well-presented naval combat supplement - creating ships is exceedingly easy and fast, naval combat proved to be engaging for the whole group instead of for just one player and this supplement, unlike some books I've recently reviewed, does a splendid job at NOT creating logic bugs in-game. At working with the system and producing something that transcends and mops the floor with each and every naval combat system I've seen so far, offering a surprising amount of easy customization options and actually rewarding tactical combat decisions. Strategy, fun, easily implemented and presented in a truly concise manner, Lou Agresta & John Ling's "Fire as She Bears" is THE system for naval combat: Whether it's "Skull & Shackles", "Razor Coast" or something completely different - this supplement is a, let me emphasize that, MUST HAVE.

Seriously. Naval combat has never worked so smoothly, so seamlessly, so elegant. Heck, if I ever run En Publishing's Zeitgeist-AP, I'll ignore "Admiral o' the High Seas" and stat the ships with this. In spite of the work, the result will make it worthwhile. This is the perfect blend of options, solid rules, toolkit and makes for an extremely tight supplement, one I can't praise enough. I wouldn't be Endzeitgeist if I had no complaints, though - the lack of sample gunslinger-characters is a very minor detriment and honestly - I wished this had been a massive 200+page book with even more options, items, naval actions, magic items and sample ships.

...Yeah. That's about all the negativity I can muster against this superb book. This is non-optional. I want sequels...plural. Enchanted viking-ships, perhaps? After all, the Northlands Saga is impending...

This belongs into the library of each and every DM who only contemplates running naval adventures, a superb offering if there ever was one and the system that banished Mongoose's 3.0 "Seas of Blood" and Paizo's own system into oblivion. It's that good. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars +seal of approval, in spite of minor flaws here and there as well as this being a candidate for my Top Ten of 2013. From here on out, this will be the only naval system that sees any use at my table. Congratulations to the authors for a superb job!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fire As She Bears (PF)
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The Northland Saga Part 4: Blood on the Snow (Swords and Wizardry)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/09/2014 03:12:44

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The fourth installment of the Northlands-Saga-series is 28 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 23 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?

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

Still here? The area of Estinfird in the Northlands is depicted in lavish detail regarding its infra-structure and mindset - considered rather provincial by the jarls of the Northlands, this area is a true frontier among frontiers, where men are truly free and not even the yoke of jarls reaches. The geographic area by the way also includes full settlement statblocks for all mayor settlements herein, lending a further level of detail to the respective settlements. But what exactly requires the PC's intervention? well, unbeknownst to just about all mighty beings, the beast-cult of the demon god Shibauroth has been gathering its strength: Making its adherents rather stupid, but enhancing them into deadly, primitive, cannibalistic killing machines via twisted runes, the cult has risen and seems to follow a surprisingly organized plan. The PC are to travel to the largest settlement, the town of Three Rivers, where local hero Hengrid Donarsdottir has traveled. On their way, they can recruit essentially a small army of undisciplined followers and hirthmen (alas, no Ultimate Campaign-synergy) to help the beleaguered capital of Estenfird.

On their way to Three Rivers, the PCs will have chances to deal with first encounters against the Beast Cult and, via befriending the Great White Stag, potentially even turn an otherwise lethal ambush upon the bestial cultists. In order to reach the city, they'll also have to sneak past the camps of the unorganized cult. Finally, inside the town, the PCs will have a bit of time to get accustomed to the fully mapped and lavishly detailed town before the horns are sounded and the assault begins - depending on the amount of followers the PCs have recruited, the respective monsters get hurt/decimated. Oh boy - the siege is awesome - standing on doomed ground, the PCs will have to combat elementals, badger-sapper-squads and even keep a war-mammoth from breaking the nigh-impregnable gates - all while ice trolls and drakes ravage the town in one of the most concise, superb depictions of a deadly siege I've ever seen.

As the dust settles, the PCs will be in for a shock - the aasimar warrior-maiden has been kidnapped! Thus, the PCs have to enter a haunted marsh and infiltrate the poison-thorned, hedge-labyrinth of a frozen marsh maze in which the beast cult seeks to sacrifice the daughter of Thor himself in order to bring down their deadly beast-god: The finale sees the Pcs storm the ritual and hopefully free Donar's daughter from her bonds - otherwise, the terror has just begun. Oh, and bravery is required here - essentially the final encounter is insanely hard and requires the PCs to focus on their goal of interrupting the ritual - should they succeed, Thor himself will annihilate the beat cult and scourge it from the lands. And while the treasure is rather weak due to the savage nature of the cult, the Aesir don't forget the PCs, as the module concludes with a feasting held by Thor himself to congratulate the PCs - if they succeeded, that is. If they failed, they'll have a CR 22 Thanatotic Titan on their hands and survival chances that are at best slim...

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect - I noticed some minor glitches here and there. Layout adheres to FGG's printer-friendly 2-column standard and the pdf comes both with lavish maps and artworks as well as extensive bookmarks for your convenience.

Kenneth Spencer continues to deliver and provides an exceedingly awesome, cool module that breathes the spirit of Sword & Sorcery, dark fantasy in the north and simple panache to an extent that made me marvel at how the author managed to cram that many awesome ideas into the scant few pages. Now the module is not perfect - no Ultimate Campaign-support, some minor glitches - but this is epic, versatile and just compelling in so many ways, all of these nitpicks are swiped away by the sheer awesomeness of this superb module. Fans of Northlands and their lore, savage cults and challenging modules that push your players to the edge - this is for you! This is old-school awesomeness and Frog God Games very close to at their very best - my final verdict hence will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval. When do we get part 5?

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Northland Saga Part 4: Blood on the Snow (Swords and Wizardry)
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The Northland Saga Part 4: Blood on the Snow (PF)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/09/2014 03:12:20

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The fourth installment of the Northlands-Saga-series is 28 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 23 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?

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

Still here? The area of Estinfird in the Northlands is depicted in lavish detail regarding its infra-structure and mindset - considered rather provincial by the jarls of the Northlands, this area is a true frontier among frontiers, where men are truly free and not even the yoke of jarls reaches. The geographic area by the way also includes full settlement statblocks for all mayor settlements herein, lending a further level of detail to the respective settlements. But what exactly requires the PC's intervention? well, unbeknownst to just about all mighty beings, the beast-cult of the demon god Shibauroth has been gathering its strength: Making its adherents rather stupid, but enhancing them into deadly, primitive, cannibalistic killing machines via twisted runes, the cult has risen and seems to follow a surprisingly organized plan. The PC are to travel to the largest settlement, the town of Three Rivers, where local hero Hengrid Donarsdottir has traveled. On their way, they can recruit essentially a small army of undisciplined followers and hirthmen (alas, no Ultimate Campaign-synergy) to help the beleaguered capital of Estenfird.

On their way to Three Rivers, the PCs will have chances to deal with first encounters against the Beast Cult and, via befriending the Great White Stag, potentially even turn an otherwise lethal ambush upon the bestial cultists. In order to reach the city, they'll also have to sneak past the camps of the unorganized cult. Finally, inside the town, the PCs will have a bit of time to get accustomed to the fully mapped and lavishly detailed town before the horns are sounded and the assault begins - depending on the amount of followers the PCs have recruited, the respective monsters get hurt/decimated. Oh boy - the siege is awesome - standing on doomed ground, the PCs will have to combat elementals, badger-sapper-squads and even keep a war-mammoth from breaking the nigh-impregnable gates - all while ice trolls and drakes ravage the town in one of the most concise, superb depictions of a deadly siege I've ever seen.

As the dust settles, the PCs will be in for a shock - the aasimar warrior-maiden has been kidnapped! Thus, the PCs have to enter a haunted marsh and infiltrate the poison-thorned, hedge-labyrinth of a frozen marsh maze in which the beast cult seeks to sacrifice the daughter of Thor himself in order to bring down their deadly beast-god: The finale sees the Pcs storm the ritual and hopefully free Donar's daughter from her bonds - otherwise, the terror has just begun. Oh, and bravery is required here - essentially the final encounter is insanely hard and requires the PCs to focus on their goal of interrupting the ritual - should they succeed, Thor himself will annihilate the beat cult and scourge it from the lands. And while the treasure is rather weak due to the savage nature of the cult, the Aesir don't forget the PCs, as the module concludes with a feasting held by Thor himself to congratulate the PCs - if they succeeded, that is. If they failed, they'll have a CR 22 Thanatotic Titan on their hands and survival chances that are at best slim...

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect - I noticed some minor glitches here and there. Layout adheres to FGG's printer-friendly 2-column standard and the pdf comes both with lavish maps and artworks as well as extensive bookmarks for your convenience.

Kenneth Spencer continues to deliver and provides an exceedingly awesome, cool module that breathes the spirit of Sword & Sorcery, dark fantasy in the north and simple panache to an extent that made me marvel at how the author managed to cram that many awesome ideas into the scant few pages. Now the module is not perfect - no Ultimate Campaign-support, some minor glitches - but this is epic, versatile and just compelling in so many ways, all of these nitpicks are swiped away by the sheer awesomeness of this superb module. Fans of Northlands and their lore, savage cults and challenging modules that push your players to the edge - this is for you! This is old-school awesomeness and Frog God Games very close to at their very best - my final verdict hence will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval. When do we get part 5?

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Northland Saga Part 4: Blood on the Snow (PF)
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Hex Crawl Chronicles 5: The Pirate Coast (PF)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 12/21/2013 10:49:29

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The fifth installment by John M. Stater's massive Hex Crawl Chronicles-series is a massive 60 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC,3 pages SRD, leaving us with a massive 54 pages of content - at the low price-point an excellent bang-for-buck ratio!

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

All right, still here? Much like the fourth installment, we get two full pages of hexes to crawl through, though approximately a third of them are made up by the sea. As with other Hex Crawl Chronicles, it should be noted that this is a wilderness sandbox, where PCs journey from hex to hex, stumbling over adventure and embarking on player-driven quests - this is essentially one huge sandbox in the truest sense and hence, not all adversaries that can be found or fought here adhere to one CR or come with complete statblocks, though you'll find no shortness of those in here -from CR 15 Bonny Prince Andus and his 4 subcaptains to two more lords and their subcaptains, we get quite an array of different pirates to shake up and change the dynamics of these places. While build-wise, these being are not particularly complex, we at least get them spiced up with magi and even a multiclass duelist - though personally, I wouldn't have minded a gunslinger here as well.

The Pirate Coast is a truly intriguing place, culturally - once inhabited by Stone Giants and riddled with their monuments, nowadays the colonial sea people (white-skinned travelers that arrived from over the sea), the Bull-god-worshipping, island-dwelling Bucranians and the xenophobic, mechanically savvy yet emotionally crippled "Last Men" weave a cultural panorama somewhere between memories of Mu, Crete's lore and late colonial anarchy - and yes, elven and dwarven ethnicities are also covered here and rumor-tables offer additional incentives for adventuring.

Now unlike regular adventures, herein we get an array of locales, depicted in sufficient detail for DMs to develop or run as sidetreks - and oh boy do some of them breathe imagination and panache: Take the little valley and its shallows, where dinosaur ghosts manifest and a temple left by the ancient elves hides not only a deadly portal into annihilation, but also a boon if the PCs manage to solve the complex's weird riddles. Or what about a sword guarded by energy-drain-causing swarms of deadly butterflies and their mindless zombie slaves, perhaps all following the commands of green slime hiding in the hearth...or some other being that has crafted this strange micro-ecosystem...

Death awaits foolish adventurers disturbing sealed away pit fiends and a valley that is often visited by the lord of all horses may also see potential problems if the adventurers lay their hands on his centaurs or equine servants. Covens of hags, clouds that cover you in gold, served by oblivion wraiths, goblin tribes, lonely cambions, strange dwarves led by an opal-eyed "seer", granite cliffs hiding the mansions of stone giants left behind from ages long gone, giant beaver-dams, a neutral sect of hermit monks, ritual sites of alien, long-forgotten gods from the outer dark - and even Zarathustrans, monks that believe they have transcended humanity -all of these and so much more can be found within these pages. Fur-traders, seal-headed humanoids, oracles of the woods,, a windswept plain where the spirits of the 4 Black Winds may be conjured forth, a fully mapped mini-dungeon, an alchemist who grows obedient women in vats, hunting grounds of killer squirrels, a wood-craver that can create doppelgänger made of wood, a bored goddess of fortunae, trbes of warrior-nymphs, rainbow-crows guarding divine fire... There is fodder for weeks upon weeks of adventure herein.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, though by far not perfect - I noticed minor inconsistencies here and there, double letters etc. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Author John M. Stater and PFRPG-conversion chief Skeeter Green have delivered us a supplement that brims with raw ideas - so many in fact, that I wager you could easily spin a whole campaign around the ideas herein. Skeeter Green has learned from part 4 and this installment of Hex Crawl Chronicles offers more variety - alchemists, magi etc. make for more versatile builds than in the previous installment and statblock-wise, we get a lot of material, though personally, I'd upgrade the magical items of most beings herein, especially of the high-level NPCs. That being said, you won't buy this for the statblocks - you buy this for the IDEAS.

Whether to supplement Skull & Shackles or Savage Tide with free-form wilderness (h)exploration or to add to Freeport or Razor Coast, this mini-setting (for that it is) brims with more awesome ideas that almost demand being made into an adventure than some campaign settings I've read. With a touch for blending familiar and lien, we are taken on a ride into realms both wondrous and distinct, where piratey coolness and a sense of Sword & Sorcery rawness mix and foolish PCs might meet their demise by annoying the wrong hermit. Now all great? Almost. For a supplement about pirate coasts, there is a distinct lack of storm/seas phenomena & ship-combat and the like and no stats for legendary pirate ships can be found in these pages - which is a bit of a pity. Still, I can't find it inside me to rate this down for its flaws - it offers too many good ideas and an just about unbeatable bang-for-buck ratio; This could literally be 1/2 a year of diligent roleplaying! Half a year spent with fun, wonder and excitement and the thrill of very old-schoolish danger. Final verdict? In spite of the flaws, 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Hex Crawl Chronicles 5: The Pirate Coast (PF)
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Heart of the Razor (PF)
by Nathan C. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 12/08/2013 21:13:23

Heart of the Razor is a 4 adventure anthology of piraty adventures for your Pathfinder campaign. The adventures are a great compliment to the Razor coast adventure path but can be played completely separate in any campaign.

Each adventure brings something new to the at seas adventure, something that people will enjoy. Even what seems like the most straightforward of premises, finding treasure, takes a series of twists and turns.

What was Iron The strongest of the adventures without question is Owen Stephens JungleFever. The story was great at pulling in the players and is staged like a 3 act next entry into Pirate of the Caribbean.

What was Not Iron The two level 5 adventures were great, but I wish there was a lower level adventure for early level adventures.

The Iron Word Heart of the Razor is great for that side trek adventure where the PCs find themselves on a ship and you want to establish a strong non generic adventure. The editing performs its job, giving strong side bars and a clear direction for each adventure.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Heart of the Razor (PF)
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Fire As She Bears (PF)
by Nathan C. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 12/08/2013 14:58:12

It is amazing how much time a typical party will spend on ships and boats in a Role Playing Game. With Countries, enemies and new plunders usually separated by rivers, oceans and seas, players spend at least one or two sessions in a campaign arc aboard on a sea vessel. Fire As She Bears presents a set of meaty shipbuilding and ship combat rules that will ignite those long boring sea rides.

Fire As She Bears is one of the most engrossing subsystems of Pathfinder you are going to find. The systems bread and butter is an innovative building block system that creates an abstract series areas on the ship. In these areas, you place elements such as weapons, rigging, armaments and special options. The abstractness of this block system allows players and dungeon masters to creatively design their ship without delving t into engineering logistics. Once a ship is created, a unique recruitment system allows you to make your ship functional without creating dozens of NPCs.

The Combat system significantly differs from the Pathfinders static ship to ship combat system. In order to engage all PCs in the system, they receive Leader. With another element of smart design, the roles are not specific to any class or race, but instead relate to key ability scores. During Combat, players perform actions based on these roles, damaging the opposing ship and its crew. The combat feels very epic and adds depth to what even the most mundane pirate plundering.

For the Dungeon Master This system is built for those who like depth. The ship options are plentiful and allow for a diverse assortment of ship creations.

For the Player This is a very player friendly system. One of my biggest beefs with sea combat is that a good many systems only speak to 2 or 3 character classes leaving the rest high and dry. This system allows for any class to shine as they must pick the right roll, right equipment and perform the right tactics.

The Iron Word Fire as she Bears is an in depth sea combat rule system with a very different set of ship building rules. This is a great buy if you plan on a party being at sea and you want to adds some pop



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fire As She Bears (PF)
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Swords and Wizardry Complete Rulebook
by Jonathan B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/22/2013 13:32:15

This is a nice step up from the last S&W book I looked at. Frog god games got it right on this.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Swords and Wizardry Complete Rulebook
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(2012) Rappan Athuk Pregenerated Characters (Swords and Wizardry)
by Arnaud A. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/21/2013 03:19:09

Useless ! Completely useless ! It's just pregens for the old 'Wizard's Amulet' module. Even with background for this adventure and not for Rappan Athuk :-/



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
(2012) Rappan Athuk Pregenerated Characters (Swords and Wizardry)
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Unusual Suspects (PF)
by Thilo G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/16/2013 04:44:32

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf is 105 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages editorial/foreword, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 3 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 97 pages of content, so let's take a look!

NPCs are the fodder of a given campaign and a DM, at least in my opinion, should have names and NPCs galore in the ready when designing a given campaign, providing a vibrant backdrop for PCs to interact with - and this pdf endeavors to provide NPCs in that vein - from the humble to the deadly.

Generally, the massive NPC-collection provides us with 3 general types of environments - Town, travel and Tunnel - each taking about one third of the pdf's page-count, providing NPCs galore. But what do we get? The entries do actually come with portrait-style, beautiful b/w-mugshots of the respective characters and if applicable, new feats, mutagens and the like. Each statblock covers either one or two pages with all necessary information covered on the respective pages, thus allowing you to print out only those NPCs you really want to use. Now let's take a cross-section of each chapter's NPCs.

The town-section kicks off with Mawuu, a young street guide/runner-boy the PCs may encounter as he tries to steal from them or point them throughout the mazes of the city's bowels- also a nice possibility to introduce him as a kind of surrogate son. A famous horse-breeder, a bareknuckle fighter looking for a less physically taxing career up to more complex characters that essentially are adventures in and of themselves - there e.g. is a saintly doctor gentlemen driven by schizophrenia (or abyssal whispers?) into becoming an alchemically-driven serial killer -Dr. Jekyll, anyone? Corrupt watchmen, bastard heir-revolutionaries, socially deadly courtesans, obnoxious celebrity adventurers with a knack of being the sole survivors of expeditions - and there also are deadly assassins, invisible stalkers that specialize in ruining reputations, legendary smiths, a lich bard, a hobgoblin assassin/serial killer, an immortal free-willed eidolon, a former master spy turned kingpin/two-face mobster boss, planar city guides and a legendary mongrelman monk. Have I mentioned the ennui-driven ruiner of reputation femme fatale vampire lady and the bone devil inquisitor?

The second chapter kicks off with an expert seeking to atone for his character flaws, an halfling doing the orphan-scam, a gorgeous snake-oil saleswoman, a wild-child turned champion, a female goblin murderess and a disturbing fanatic, scouring the lands, burning any that disagree with her fundamentalist ideology. Heretic druids, harpy bards, a tragic rogue turned paladin turned antipaladin, a legendary skald from the northlands, an elven elite archer and the ghost of the wailing queen can be found in here - as well as the witch of the crossroads, which consciously breaks the rules in a minor way, blending a witch's familiar and the diabolist's companion - in an imho VERY justified and oh so much cooler decision. Seriously - I'm all for the crunch being subject to cooler decisions/story-telling and the decision to do so is properly acknowledged, so no complaints there. Have I mentioned the half-fiendish treant barbarian?

In the depths of the world, we also get individuals who are rather unique - from a snoring, but capable loadbearer to nasty svirfneblin misers, ghast rangers, degenerate geologists driven by strange compulsions, paranoid dwarves, potion-vendors that think they are living constructs (especially cool if you use a construct-race in your campaign!), a "blind" cleric with a hidden agenda, a derro rust monster trainer draped in human-skin cloak, a serpentfolk wizard, a minotaur cleric, a deadly kobold summoner (including his eidolon Claws-in-dark), a duelist devoted to the god of death, an awakened cave deinonychus, a spider-made drow-hunting gnome lady, an oread paladin with celestial blood and both a drow inquisitor and a deadly dark stalker cave druid complete this massive collection of NPCs.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch - I didn't notice any glitches. Layout adheres to an easy-to-read 2-column-b/w-standard with superb, original b/w-artworks for all NPCs adding quite some value to the deal. The pdf comes extensively bookmarked for your convenience.

Ok, before I go on, please take a moment and read the list of designers responsible for this collection: John Ling, Liz Courts, Adam Daigle, Tom Ganz, Mike Kortes, James MacKenzie, Hal MacLean, Greg Oppedisano, David Schwartz, Amber E. Scott, Willie Walsh. Yeah. You know these names, don't you? Take a look at your dungeon/dragon-issues. At your Paizo-supplements. Yeah. I could stop the review right here and there.

I won't - instead I want to mention that the designers under lead-designer John Ling did not opt for the easy way out, instead using copious archetypes, multiclassing and also providing fodder for fans of alchemists, summoners etc. - without focusing too much on them. Add to that the fact that the respective characters actually come with evocative stories that can spawn whole campaigns, not just adventures and are actually a joy to read and we get one superb supplement that comes with faces for all characters in here, adding further to its value and well-justifying the price-point of this collection -hence I'll clock my review in at 5 stars + seal of approval: DMs out there, get this - it will enrich your campaign and take quite some work off your shoulders as well as inspire you for years to come.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Unusual Suspects (PF)
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(2012) Rappan Athuk (PF)
by Thilo G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/30/2013 02:24:11

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf is 676 pages long, 1 page editorial, 2 pages ToC, 10 pages of thanks for kickstarter backers, 4 pages of SRD, 15 pages of space for character obituaries, 5 pages of advertisements,1 page front cover and 1 page back cover, leaving a total of 635 pages of content.

How does one review the third iteration of Rappan Athuk? Seriously. I asked myself this question for quite some time. Slumbering Tsar, the last monster-book by Frog God Games came in installments. Not so the granddaddy of dungeons, the so far highest grossing PFRPG-kickstarter and one of the highest funded RPG-products ever - Rappan Athuk starts off as this vast monster of content and here I am, at the point of writing this, after big-mouthed announcing that my review for this monster would be ready for Gencon. How am I to do this? In order to fully appreciate the book and quality-check the new content, I'd have to go through all of it and that's exactly what I'm planning to do. I initially thought about comparing it to its former two iterations, but with the review going to be as bloated and the limited use for people out there, I'll refrain from doing so. Since asking for mercy would be futile, I'll leave off for now with another wish: May Orcus look the other way, I once again open the pages that contain the most deadly dungeon I've had the pleasure of running in 3.X.

And how else to kick off such an epic milestone than with a tribute to the true legends among the RPG-designers like Arneson, Barker, Bledsaw, Gygax - touching and well-written. Speaking of well-written: If you know one of the older iterations of the dungeon, you'll know the legend of Rappan Athuk and have a warm (or clammy, if you're a player) feeling when reading the 66 rumors about the dungeon of graves. While an introduction on how to read the dungeon entries was expected, we also get a nice overview of all the levels and their names and then a 2-page side-view map, which makes it (relatively) easy for the DM to get how all the levels are connected. After that, we get into the first chapter, entitled "Wilderness Areas: Dying outside the dungeon". Now THAT's an announcement. Before I go on, I have another little thing to talk about: In the last two iterations of the dungeon, there were several monsters that are IP of certain wizards - when I recall such monsters being there, I'll try to comment on how they've been replaced.

Since from now on, I'll delve into massive SPOILER-territory and since this dungeon is probably the most epic you'll ever play in, I encourage players to skip to the conclusion (after about 3 metric tons of text).

Still here? If you're a player, you may incur the wrath of Orcus AND Tsathoggua by reading on. They watch us. They watch us all... ...Still here? Sure? All right, let's explore the area around Rappan Athuk! The chapter kicks off with the one ways to start old-schoolish wilderness-depictions - random encounters by area (And, again a map), thankfully also including non-hostile patrols - 5 of these general areas are presented. After that, we're introduced to the less savory individuals that haunt the area around Rappan Athuk. If you expect standard bandits, you'll be in for a surprise, though: What about a doppelganger rogue that not only comes with cronies, but also NPC-companions as a kind of party-anathema or a wizard that has enslaved a bunch of trolls? Not only are the respective bandits listed in their own entries, we also get encounter areas for PCs looking for some serious trouble/stamping out of the lawless beings: Care to take on the dragonmarsh's froghemoth, for example? Or PCs wanting to participate in a not particularly harmless fey festival? Other highlights include two mapped bandit-mini-dungeon, a fane with a dread prophecy, a sea-hag coven, a wrecked pirate ship and can purge a tribe of vicious bugbears from an (Also mapped) ruined fort and if the PCs are REALLY eager to die outside of Rappan Athuk, they can also try to invade the island home of the local wyrm...

And then, we get to the inverted-cross-shaped surface graveyard under which the dungeon rests - as well as a one page of grave-markers and the iconic entry to the dungeon: The very first trap is deadly and a potential TPK-machine - when I first ran my players through the first Rappan Athuk installment, they died here for the first time and knew that RA doesn't Screw around... In contrast to the other incarnations of the dungeon, we now also get two alternate, although also rather problematic entrance to Rappan Athuk - and deep levels of the dungeon to boot. However, the entrance is underwater, the caves are guarded by a kraken and at low levels, the PCs will probably die here - if they persevere and e.g. find the solution to a great puzzle, they might score the help of a neat ally - and the PCs can use ANY help they can get.

Another potential location from which to gain access to the legendary dungeon now rests atop a desolate ridge over the marshland and comes with a stellar artwork that immediately evokes a sense of almost lovecraftian foreboding - the cloister of the dread Frog God with two different cloisters and multiple levels of crypts and dungeons containing chthonic remains, dread intelligent killer frog swarms, old artifacts and challenges aplenty - creepy, unique in atmosphere and mood, the cloister of the Frog God would have made for a stellar adventure on its own, especially with the nice, player-friendly overview map: Here, though, it's just a precursor of the dread to come and a possible entrance to a sublevel (4A) of the dungeon of graves. But one thing remains before we delve into the dungeon of graves itself: Zelkor's Ferry, the small settlement and its immediate surroundings are detailed as well, including a nice old necromancer whose resurrection attempts may have some unforeseen consequences for the PCs subjected to theme - rules-wise an awesome throwback to the risks of returning to life.

But we've stalled long enough: Let's go through the dungeon, level by level. And yes, this review will probably be rather bloated and long... After passing the dread trap at the beginning, The PCs delve into the stinking, disgusting first level of Rappan Athuk and meet one of the place's iconic inhabitants - the slow, unkillable and truly dreadful Dung Monster (nicknamed "Dungy" by my players), which has probably slain A LOT of PCs. The level 1A, temple of the final sacrament, is another personal favorite of mine -accessible via more than one location, it features mocking, taunting inscriptions reflecting the challenges faced in this temple and PCs should beware - not only is the temple HARD, it also features an entrance to the dread bloodways, but more on these later. On Level 1B, the abandoned bastion, the PCs can encounter mist-filled alcoves containing strange and deadly connections to the otherworld as well as an organized force of goblins that will respond dynamically to incursions. Special mentioning also goes to the rather cool traps contained on this level. In direct contrast, the "Mouth of Doom" (level 1C), a mostly deserted and rather easy level makes for a new way to introduce characters to the rigors and dangers of Rappan Athuk - among the challenges and ideas on this level, most intriguing, at least to me, was the option to play at a rather neat divine slot machine and get some uncommon boons - or summon disaster! On the classic level two, insane madman Marthek still looms, but those familiar with the older installments will notice that Saracek the fallen, skeletal champion and dread adversary, has been upgraded to antipaladin in this iteration, making the undead menace even more deadly than his prior fighter/blackguard version. Of course, the third "boss" menace is also still here in the person of Ambro the Ogre.

The new area 2A will be hated by players - now, Rappan Athuk also has its teleporter-maze level. Yes. Teleporter Maze. Ouch. On the plus-side, the PCs can actually find a surface one-way teleport out of the dungeon. On the downside (for them) and to my everlasting glee, they actually have a chance to die by BUBBLES! Yes. Rappan Athuk can even kill you with friggin' bubbles! I love it. "How did your character die?" "Welll...ehh...he...was killed by bubbles." I HAVE to kill some PC off this way, I just have to! The Demon's Gullet, the sequel to the Mouth of Doom, also provides rather appropriate challenges (still being deadly, but not as bad as the main levels...) for low-level PCs and even features a wishing statue that could grant you your heart's desire - or swallow and suffocate you. Speaking of swallowing and related deaths - with level 3 and its eponymous warning of purple worms, the dungeon gets deadly. Prior to this level, Rappan Athuk is challenging - from here on out, it gets deadly as hell (or rather abyss) and this incarnation is no different - old favorites like the oracle are still present in this version of the dungeon and Scramge (now a rakshasa maharaja, btw.) and his assault should challenge the hardest of parties - unless they act smart indeed, this level WILL see the end of your PCs.

Speaking of the end of PCs - the warning "Don't go down the well" still applies - and level 3A, still features some of the deadliest, most sadistic encounters written - not to speak of this level's boss and his iron golem bodyguards. That's NOTHING, though, compared to the sick and deliciously evil traps that can be found on level 3B - here, the PCs can get into CR 20+ encounters. Several of them. E.g. Greater Stone Golems plus hasted regular stone golems. Or Stone Treants. Have I mentioned the ancient mummy lords guarding the creatures known as ravager spawns (CR 20), gibbering orbs (CR 27) and then, the legendary Ravager, a CR 30 beast that could very well be a spawn of Rovagug. Compared to the apocalyptic dread of level 3B, 3C, the third of the "beginner's levels" of RA feels almost tame - an enclave of healers wanted to once flush out the threat of Orcus. Now, though, only a bleak disease-ridden complex populated by vermin and worse remains. Especially the fountain of pestilence, which generates demons, rats etc. will make for a cool encounter indeed also thanks to the disturbing artwork that portrays it.

It is in level 4 that the PCs will face off with the main quest of Rappan Athuk for the first time - since the ultimate goal (and who are we kidding - rather futile) is to kill Orcus, it is here that the PCs will have to invade the first temple of Orcus and get a sense of the depravity and things to come - and face challenges that will have them sweat blood and tears: The NPCs make use of the Disciple and Zealot of Orcus Prestige Classes (more on those MUCH later), making the adversaries more deadly. Max the intelligent and potentially benevolent (at least as far as RA goes...)otyugh also makes a return. How challenging is the boss encounter? Well, the text tells the DM to buy the players a drink if they prevail and indeed, the finale is lethal...though in the context of the dungeon, it's just the beginning. The Basilisk Caverns (level 4A) include a potential dwarven cohort, the eponymous basilisk(s), a team of lethal goblin adventurers and even a mated pair of vampire/succubus with a rather evil trick up their sleeves... Level 4B, the "Gut" is essentially not a regular level, but a vast tunnel with several sub-sections that links the "beginner's dungeon" (understand that "beginner" means NOT easy) with the main-levels of Rappan Athuk - via Zombie stables, a subterranean inn run by a mongrelman, a colony of plantoids and more foes - including a Tiefling fighter with a rather interesting two-weapon build.

Level 5 provides us with the lair of Banth, wicked transmuter and his creations. Here, players can recruit further allies (or replenish their ranks after suffering losses) with two characters and especially rangers and druids might have a chance to shine/get nice companions in this level. A stream of lava runs through level 5A, the prison of time, in which time elementals guard the so-called Dark Thelaroi are contained - I look forward to reading more about these weird beings in future adventures. In level 5B, "Aladdin's Lament", some problematic, genie-themed items can be recovered - if the PCs manage to survive e.g. the ingenious and awesome trap that will make them feel like frogs in a blender. The level also utilizes some rather neat inscriptions to set the mood. Level 6 has always been one of my player's hate-levels - the Maze not only contains a storm giant ghost and the remains of the legendary titan Ereg-Tal, but also comes with 10 (!!!) sample mazes for your perusal - making sure that PCs will hate these labyrinthine corridors. Level 6A once featured a mind flayer in a gorgeous illustration - unfortunately, with the IP-problems, we only get the intellect devourer-substitution and no new illustration to depict the aberration. The bosses of the level, 3 ancient, well-equipped trolls and the spider/human hybrid, the Spider Queen, also make this level a nice challenge.

Level 7, the aptly-named gates of hell, has also been redesigned: While the cerberus-like 3-headed hell-hound being still here, we also get a great substitution of the mind-flayers and giths that once populated this level in the guise of encephalon gorgers and morlocks - a much better r3eplacement for illithids, though I still bemoan the absence of the good ol' squid-heads. In Level 7A, the halls of the phase minotaur king, the PCs not only will have to defeat this legendary minotaur and navigate even more deadly labyrinths, they will also have to deal with more lethal goblins from the subterranean city of greenskins and a crimson death as well as water weirds in their native elements... Level 8 contains the "Tomb of the Evil King", a breather for PCs - at least partially - the vast amounts of cave scorpions, the river flowing through the level and the eye of the deep (which replaces a beholder) still make this a challenge, as does the option to find and unleash a banshee, but generally, this level feels less lethal than others. Level 8A, the tomb of the beacon, on the other hand is one of my favorites: This vast level set in a primarily vertical cave features not only a waterfall, antimagic fields and a side-view map, but also offers PCs the chance to meet the utterly disturbing Blood Orchids and even form an alliance with flumphs! Come on, who doesn't like flumphs? The new level 8B contains not only a neat subterranean jungle, but also has the chance for the PCs to find evidence of a now extinct breed of intelligent apes and utilize their leftovers: Turns out the mummified monkey dung is explosive and that among other treasures, the PCs can find a banana of holding! Now that is cool!

And honestly, the PCs will need all the potential tools they can get their hands on, for starting with level 9, things start to get truly painful: The second temple of Orcus awaits and its caretaker, Gudmund, has a vital key the PCs will need. Unfortunately for them, the disciple of Orcus is not exactly a nice fellow and the demon-enhanced showdown will challenge your PCs to the breaking point - especially if you're a sadistic DM like me - there's a maze with a bunch of teleporters on this level and making a running dash for the area allows your NPCs e.g. time to rebuff - just as a tip in case players first manage to breach the temple's defenses and seem like they're winning. ;) Level 9A, the Hydra's Lair, contains one of the truly evil dick-moves of this dungeon: Extremely well-hidden, there's a tomb of a CR 26 death knight AND a CR 27 Demilich. When compared to these "bonus-bosses" of epic power, the normal foes like huge groups of trolls, a pair of umbral dragons and a 12-headed Pyrohydra guarding the mithril gates leading to level 11 feel almost easy. Until you recall and experience their power that is. Hope that your PCs are smart enough to let the two ancient beings lie... Level 9B and 9C make up the two levels of the well of Agamemnon and while the first level is not too hard, the whirlpool the PCs will have to brave to access the latter level will test their luck and ingeniousness, a good precursor for the difficulty that awaits the PCs in the person of Agamemnon, the now-corrupted vampire archwizard and his groaning spirit-brides.

Level 9D are the bloodways, first introduced in Rappan Athuk Reloaded: Taking the trope from the classic "Desert of Desolation"-set, the bloodways are a labyrinth filled with bloody, red mist that obscures vision, are almost impossible to truly navigate and make up 4 (!!!) levels of dungeon - the bloodways are flavorful and confusing, though their boss, Duke Aerim the bloodwraith, feels rather like a bit weak for the level. That being said, the confusing and lengthy nature of the Bloodways makes it still a disturbing challenge and perhaps one of the hardest levels - and there are the forgotten tombs, where undead mummy-priests and even a marilith awaits, so enough potential for death and mayhem here. Let's hope that by the time PCs reach level 10, the aptly-named Lava Pit, they have some option to make themselves immune to fire, otherwise the local salamander-population under the command of CR 28 noble salamander sorceror Irtuk will annihilate the PCs. Who are we kidding? Even if they are prepared, Irtuk and his elemental creatures will constitute a challenge that could break all but the most experienced players - and let's hope that their curiosity doesn't kill them - there's essentially a nice "story-kill" also possible on this level. Level 10A, the "Great Cavern" is appropriately-named - with another total of 4 pages of maps depicting both an overview as well as the respective sites. Among the creatures herein, the PCs can find the "Mother of all Purple Worms", two legendary orcus-mummies, negotiate with an insanely powerful lich who actually is a foe of Orcus, navigate a colony of fungus people and find another set of mithral gates and even a vein of gold! In level 10B, the goblin outpost features some rather interesting green-skins - armed to the teeth, having multiple class-levels and teamwork powers, they and their unit training should make the PCs reconsider hard any notion of underestimating goblins and provide them with a taste of the things to come.

In level 10C, the Talon of Orcus, another outpost of the Orcus-worshippers, has also a rather large contingent of deadly foes and overshadows the goblins from the prior level - the Seer of Orcus, special stone golems etc. won't make things easier for the PCs and the broken, MPD-afflicted adventurer they can rescue may yet succumb to the traumas he had to endure - with potentially fatal consequences, but also some very fun roleplaying potential. On level 11, the PCs can encounter, among other beings, a neothelid (which replaces a beholder, if my memory serves me correctly) as well as find the statue of a high priestess struck by a divine curse - greed and risk/reward ratios of groups are put to the test here, though I always considered it a pity that per se no way to free the priestess has been included. Oh, have I mentioned the mithral vein? Level 11A not only features the gates to the subterranean city of goblins, but also perhaps the hardest group of NPCs in the "rival adventurer"-style encountered so far with non only a hall of 40 wraiths at their beck and call, a group of high-level vampires will bleed the PC's resources further dry. Wait, you say: Goblin City? Yes, one of the largest levels of Rappan Athuk is the meticulously detailed Goblin City of Greznek in level 12A - a roleplaying town that comes with its own attitude-adjustment sidebox and the options for starved adventurers to not only stock up, but actually do some trading and even side-questing, making this city a great alternative and break from all the dungeon crawling. Level 12 contains a whole array of potential cohorts and the reason is rather evident by its title: The Slave Dens contain all those unfortunate enough to have been caught by the servants of Orcus or the goblins and it is from here, if anywhere, that the PCs will need to stage their escape attempt should they get caught alive by anyone. Worse for the PCs, two elite priests, their mohrgs and their option to summon a balor also are a part of the fun things they can encounter this level. Another cool break from standard dungeon crawling would be level 12B, Tiamat's Puzzle, in which the PCs do explore a dungeon, yes, but one focused very strongly on riddle-solving and with a different theme. It is here the PCs may find a potent sword, which remains cursed for now - until they find the parent-sword in the vermin-themed level 12C, that is. This level is more about mass than threat and probably will have the PCs feel a surge of power, which is ok, I guess -especially since the giant amphisbaena anaconda is waiting for worn-down, overconfident PCs...

Level 13 houses a dread ghost antipaladin - and options to die. Hard. By becoming cursed, by facing a mirror duplicate and by failing to properly navigate the portal on this level, for it is here that the only point of access to the final level can be found. But we'll return to examine that later - after we've checked out the Goblin Barracks and the military commander of the greenskins (13A), followed the winding Dark River (13B) to Zombieland (13C). Where, bingo, a LOT of zombies wait. To be chopped to pieces. That's fine, let the PCs smash through whole armies of them and find a way to access the "Lost Levels" as soon as they are released. As soon as the PCs are overconfident enough, they can find a wall of force - if they bash it down, they'll have fun with 2 CR20+ liches and the dread evil artifact, the Zombiestone of Karsh. Now if you're familiar with the classic mythology of demon-princes, you may not be surprised to find that the defense of the lowest of the three temples of Orcus falls to not only extremely powerful beings, but actually to a combination of demons, undead and disciples as well as Maphistal, a demon lord of his own right. If the PCs manage to clean this temple as well, they might actually have a teeny-tiny sliver of a chance against the Demon Prince of Undead. Level 14A houses a tragedy - it is here that the defeated army of Tsar retreated to and that a fallen angel and a dwarven undead abomination still lead an army of hundreds (literally, there are that many) undead in their congregation, guarding level 14B, aptly titled "The Grand Cornu of Orcus" - here, the high-priest of the demon-lord of the undead makes his final stand, here his shadow-advisor Pagonis, his Kyton torture-master, his denizen of leng librarian Ashfallen and his personal, powerful undead servants wait and work tirelessly for the detriment of all that is good and holy and it is here that the epic battle against this stain upon the planet will reach its penultimate climax- at least, that's what one would think until one sees the "Architect's Workshop" (level 14C) - where legendary planar architect Glazerel waits alongside his anima engine, where PCs can be hurtled to seemingly prehistoric times, a strange mercane-bar tended by valkyries, awaken stranded in a Kyton-hospital (Silent Hill is calling...), travel to a strange garden eden, battle an undead gold dragon and visit a plateau that might very well be adjacent to Leng itself - the planar chaos and dimensional sidetreks are plain awesome and make this my favorite new level of the dungeon.

Speaking of which: Only one to go: Level 15. The Den of the Master. When the PCs, covered in their own blood and naked, pop up in this dimension, they are in for an immediate blasphemy for fun and giggles, continuing blasts of evil energy and can kiss regaining clerical magic goodbye. Apart from highest echelon demons, we also get a selection of Orcus' most powerful level 20 allies as well as..well. Orcus' friggin' avatar. CR 35. The PCs better be running for that teleporter circle to et as fast away as possible from the Demon Prince. Though, of course, if they prevail, Orcus is gone for 666 years and their feat will be sung of in legends forevermore...

The pdf also contains stats for all new monsters, an appendix with the "Disciple of Orcus"-archetype, the Archwizard and Zealot of Orcus-PrCs, a total of 38 new magic items (of which many are artifacts), an appendix detailing the presumed default gods of the Necro/FrogGod-verse, illustrated pregens for level 1 and 6 of all CORE-classes, but not of the APG/UM/UC-classes, a total of 37 pages of battle-maps as well as the aforementioned obituary-sheets, which imho will see a lot of use...

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any significant glitches and the scarce minor formatting glitch did not detract from my enjoyment of this mega-dungeon. Layout adheres to FGG's two-column b/w-standard and the most iconic of the b/w-artworks have been re-used from the previous two iterations. It should be known, though, that we also get a vast slew of new pieces of art of a comparably stellar quality. One major upside since the latest incarnation of Rappan Athuk is that all encounters feature directly the CR-ratings for the respective areas, which is a huge help, as is the decision to include major statblocks where they are needed in the dungeon - layout wise, especially in direct comparison, this version of Rappan Athuk first mops the floor with its predecessors and then gobbles up the remains. The pdf has also been lovingly bookmarked, enabling easy navigation in this monster.

Rappan Athuk is perhaps the best dungeon released for 3.X. In my opinion, it's the best dungeon-centric module for the system. However, it had its weaknesses: While the initial levels had been detailed to the nth degree, the final levels felt a bit more abrupt and less imaginative. Another weakness was that the module(s) did not offer anything for low-level PCs to do. And finally, the wilderness was not as detailed as I would have liked it to be. These three weaknesses have been purged in the PFRPG-iteration - with the new low-level dungeon, PCs can suffer from 1st level on. The new wilderness-areas and 0-level entry-levels to the dungeon of graves are glorious. The sideview map means I don't need a spreadsheet of connections between areas to navigate the dungeon. The Frog God's Cloister would have made for an awesome module in itself. And the bonus-content keeps on coming: Even when compared with the reloaded version, the latest iteration feels vastly superior - minor ties to Tsar and the upcoming Sword of Air (which are always unobtrusive and don't require the ownership of either), top-notch new levels at the higher levels of the dungeon, more deadly foes, more artifacts and even cool utilizations of PFRPG-rules - Plain awesome all around. Now is there something I did not enjoy as much? Well, yes. I'm a huge fan of the APG-classes and you'll find no alchemist, no inquisitor, no magus etc. here (though witches are there). I would have enjoyed more support for them. The replacements of IP-protected monsters make sense and work well in the context of the dungeon and serve to mostly enrich their environments, not detract from them. (Though I still miss mindflayers...)

So. After writing this review for x hours, reading the whole monster thrice, I can say I look forward to my kickstarter-exclusive level and the bonus modules as well as the player's guide, all of which will also be reviewed in due time by yours truly. For now, I'll have to give my final verdict and even if my copy of Slumbering Tsar wasn't growling at me from my bookshelf, I couldn't rate this any lower than the full 5 stars + endzeitgeist seal of approval - this could literally be all the deadly, imaginative old-school dungeon-goodness you'll ever need.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
(2012) Rappan Athuk (PF)
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One Night Stands 6: Curse of Shadowhold (PF)
by Thilo G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/29/2013 02:45:55

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf is 24 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC,1 page SRD, 4 pages of advertisement, leaving us with only 16 pages of content - not much, but let's see whether the module holds up!

This being a review of an adventure, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players may wish to jump to the conclusion.

All right, still here?

The module begins when the PCs, in the border-town Nerimar, manage to save an elven ranger named Sarim Oakleaf from some thugs - he has journeyed to Nerimar to request aid for a particularly insular elven enclave located in a notoriously shadowy, dark forest.

Following Sarim there (or following via an alternate hook), the PCs will have to brave deadly shadow wolves and negotiate finally with some sentries to gain access to the enclave of Golden Oak and there, the elder tells them about a group of rangers that has gone missing. As the PCs embark on the quest, they will have to explore the ruins of an once-proud elven kingdom.

Inside these ruins (which seal the PCs inside), the PCs will have to defeat deadly shadow demons and similar beasts and brave the insane survivor of the missing elven party - and finally, in the last room of the short dungeon, find the culprit for the palpable shadowy veil of the forest - a dread Nightwing that has plunged its corrupting claws into the elven nation, forcing them to offer sacrifices to it on a regular scale. There is a mirror that can be used to get an edge in the combat versus the dread beast, but it requires 1 whole minute to free (which makes no sense) and thus is essentially completely useless in the battle. A lost chance there.

Upon the PC's return, depending on who of the elves survived, there'll be a bloody riot as the dread secret of the enclave is revealed - whether by blade or negotiation, the era of oppression and forced sacrifices is over.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I didn't notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to FGG's 2-column b/w-standard and the b/w-artworks are awesome. The maps are nice, though only the dungeon is depicted and we get no player-friendly maps, which costs the module some favor. The pdf is fully bookmarked and hyperlinked, but hyperlinked in the bad way - e.g. every instance of the word "veil", without rhyme or reason is linked towards the spell veil - that's just sloppy.

This module is problematic for me to review - on the one hand, author Alexandra Pitchford has created a nice module, but on the other hand, it suffers from its brevity - neither settlement is compelling in its respective depiction, the forest remains abstract and could have used some unique properties/flora/fauna and the final dungeon is atmospheric and creepy, but also too short and ultimately imho does not live up to its own potential.

The angle in the final battle and the scene upon return could have used some unique features/benefitted from having the "trick" actually work and overall, this module feels somewhat unpolished and cut-down to me, robbing it of much of the potential it could have had. Combine that with a trite background story that is essentially rubbed into the faces of the PCs and we get a module that has potential and actually a great dungeon, but also many minor issues and things the DM would need to fix. And then there's the length - with a net count of only 14 pages, this module should have been the BOMB in order to justify its bang-for-buck-ratio - which it simply isn't. Due to the low page count, cut-down feeling and not particularly well developed background situation that led to the status-quo in the elven settlement (HOW do they appease? Why? No one ever asked???), I'll settle for a final verdict of 2.5 stars, rounded down to 2 for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
One Night Stands 6: Curse of Shadowhold (PF)
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Tome of Horrors Complete (Swords and Wizardry)
by Michael H. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/02/2013 13:45:13

This book is wonderful! Formatting is excellent, content is excellent...I'd have to say the best part, is that there are little blurbs with each creature, outlining a possible scenario with one, in case you're somewhere, and you get stuck, or you're just looking for a new challenge for your players. There are creatures from the original game, and original content: the former come from all sorts of sources, and includes Arch-Devils and Demon Lords; the latter includes variations on "core" creatures, such as demons, devils, ghouls, oozes, orcs, and -so- many more besides! There are also a handful of playable creatures, which is a very nice option for groups.

The only "problem" I encountered, was a minor hiccup with getting the .PDF, but that was dingbattery on my part. And you know what, that made me all the more excited when I opened this for the first time.

This book is worth every single Copper, or even Electrum, or piece of real-world currency you put into buying it. Truly a beautiful work, and every retro gamer ought to have a copy!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Tome of Horrors Complete (Swords and Wizardry)
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Razor Coast (PF)
by William M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/01/2013 11:45:36

This is the setting/adventure path I have been dreaming of in the back of my mind for years! The Razor Coast is a very well put together product. The setting information is amazing and evocative, while the "create-your-own-adventure path" approach is very user friendly. Honestly, after reading this I wish most of the AP's were done in this fashion. Everything form the villain to the potential NPC allies are wonderfully detailed while still leaving room to tweak to your hearts content. The only thing I wish the book covered was low level adventuring in the Coast. The action starts at 5th level, mostly assuming the party will be new comers to The Razor. But what about those parties that want to be natives? It isn't that hard to write up ideas for levels 1-4, but a little bit of advice from the settings creator would have been nice. Other than that I highly recommend The Razor Coast to anyone itching for some oceanic, swashbuckling adventure!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Razor Coast (PF)
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One Night Stands: Scorned (Swords and Wizardry)
by Thilo G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 06/27/2013 02:16:56

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure is 32 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 26 pages of content, so let's take a look!

This being an adventure-review, the following review contains SPOILERS, potential players are advised to jump to the conclusion.

Still here?

All right! Whiterush is a little, relatively peaceful town located adjacent to a river (hence the name) and makes for a rather iconic place - the sample NPCs and rumors to be unearthed show as much. Obviously, the local lord, one lord Breldin Greaves has seen better days and is quite glad that his son, who used to spend a lot of time in the local forests, finally settled down - love at first sight, and with the daughter of the newly moved in Zoltan Quinn. A powerful man, he came with many henchmen and even a whole stable of hippogriffs that since then have been patrolling the city and replaced the guard - much to the chagrin of e.g. washwomen, who complain about horse-droppings from the sky. Wacky hijinxs with the iconic populace make for a great start that shows already the trademark subtle humor and imaginative ideas we've come to adore from both Lou Agresta and Nick Logue. But what's the adventure-potential?

Well, said Zoltan Quinn hires the PCs (sealed in blood) to deal with the constant attacks on his caravans - the local orcs have been sending his men beaten black and blue back to town. Racist adventurers will probably need no more goading, but observant PCs may realize that the orcs don't kill the men - weird, isn't it? Well, joining the Quinn-caravan is thoroughly unpleasant - stinking, abrasive guards will make for an unpleasant ride as the caravan willingly drives straight into an ambush. In the battle, the PCs will face the orcs - who use non-lethal weapons all around, while Zoltan's men try to kill the greenskins. Instead of dumping exposition on the PCs, they can turn upon their employers and join the orcs or repel them - only to have to track them to their extremely iconic camp - a collection of tree houses spanning islands on a river.

Provided the PCs switch sides, they get to interact with the orcs - who actually are EXTREMELY funny - learning crafts, laughing about local customs, seeing aspiring orc-children dragon-slayers and tasting local cuisine is all possible. This section is rather interesting, for the PCs learn something interesting: It turns out that the heir Brant Greaves was actually deeply in love with one Sragana, a true beauty - for an orcish maiden. The secretive lovers planned to elope if his father didn't approve of their love and she is subsequently infuriated by his betrayal, thus trying to keep the Quinn's dowry in order to keep Brant and Zoltan's daughter Jacklyn from marrying. If the PCs are only partially adept at magic matters, they may suspect enchantment - and just as they're getting ready to explain everything to the assembled orcs, Zoltan's men attack via their hippogriffs in force.

Having scried the PCs via the blood spilled in the beginning, the PCs are now officially on the kill-list of Zoltan's henchmen - even if they so far have stuck to their employer's order. In the ensuing epic battle, the PCs will have the pleasure of fighting these unlikable louts in one of the neatest environments I've seen in quite a while.

After the climactic battle, it's time to crash a wedding - the problem being that the whole wedding party aboard a paddlewheel barge has already left town. In order to stop the proceedings, the PCs will have to sneak abroad (not too easy due to a LOT of potential civilian victims and guards) and save the lord and his son - worse, the Quinns have a good escape-plan that the PCs will have to foil. Have I mentioned the ettin that actually drives the paddlewheel who may (very painfully) smash the PCs into the wheel? The fact that the steering is destroyed and that the ship is headed for massive waterfalls? That an overhanging outcropping will demolish a significant part of the barge? And that beyond the battle with the Quinns and subduing the charmed Greaves, the PCs will have to save the whole wedding party from plummeting to their death? The latter makes for an extremely cool idea and is something I haven't seen in a module before - temporarily jamming the ship at a bottleneck, using a harpoon-like ballista to temporarily anchor the ship - there are quite a few ways to help the hapless civilians escape a watery death in the dread rapids of the river.

And finally, the PCs get a chance to make sure the both Brant and Sragana may live happily ever after - and that there still will be a marriage.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. Layout adheres to Frog God Games printer-friendly b/w-standard with neat, original b/w-artworks and the copious maps provided are awesome - but they lack a player-friendly, keyless version to be handed out, which is a slight bummer. The pdf is extensively bookmarked with nested bookmarks.

This adventure was a surprise to me- and at the same time it wasn't. I expected a good module from two of my favorite authors out there (Lou Agresta & Nick Logue), but what I got is touching, exciting, iconic - Addressing themes like fantasy-racism, love, the worth of life and the repercussions of taking a life, the relevance of alignment and race and tying everything together in an action romp that quite literally has NO FILLER. None. Every combat, every social interaction, every rumor in town features some piece of absolute awesomeness - from neat puns to sample quotes, from characters that deserve the name, to interesting tactics/builds, smart-acting adversaries and last but not least absolutely superb locations and environments to adventure in, this pdf is chockfull of awesomeness and makes for a superb little module that you definitely should check out at its extremely fair price-point.

My final verdict, unsurprisingly, will clock in at a full 5 stars + seal of approval for this neat module.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
One Night Stands: Scorned (Swords and Wizardry)
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