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The Gem Prison of Zardax
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/01/2020 10:01:54

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 48 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 43 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This module was moved up in my reviewing queue as a patreon request to cover this and a few other modules and moved further up in the queue due to a direct donation requesting faster coverage of it and the other old modules released by the author.

So, this is, thematically, a pretty radical departure from Zazrchov Kowolski’s usual fare – instead of the plausible low-powered dark fantasy we usually expect, we get a psychedelic funhouse dungeon, which is also represented in the artworks, which this time around, have been presented by Scrap Princess – and there are a LOT of them; many of the rooms get their own little artwork, and the new critters also get their artworks. Now, Scrap’s art is divisive, but I generally tend to LIKE the frantic energy they exude – however, it should be noted that this time around, the artworks are in full color, and personally, I don’t think the use of lots of colors suits the style that well. Artwork is subjective, but I figured I’d mention it nonetheless. On the plus side, the excessive use of bright colors in Scrap’s artwork might have been a deliberate choice to drive home how tacky the dungeon is supposed to feel.

But I digress. As usual for Zzarchov Kowolski’s self-published modules, we get two rules systems – NGR (Neoclassical Geek Revival) and OSR – the latter not adhering to a specific system, instead noting movement, AC etc. in relation to other creatures/items, etc. – AC “as chain”, that sort of thing. I am not a fan of this, preferring proper adherence to a specific system, but I won’t penalize the book for that, particularly because the rules don’t suffer – when e.g. picking locks and similar scenarios are concerned, e.g. percentile, x-in-d6 and similar solutions are noted. The module is designated for a party of characters for levels 3-6, and indeed, some experience and prowess is strongly suggested; the module can be rather brutal.

The module lists the color of the walls for every room, and each room also has its little map right in the room’s description – and these room maps are player-friendly! Huge kudos for that! The supplement offers a random treasure and a random encounter table, and a book generator, and if you’re using NGR to play this (imho the better experience – plus, I really like the rules system!), there also is a spell generator here, with each component of the spell offering 6 variants, making use not only of NGR’s neat magic system and its versatility, but also providing quite a bit of bang for buck in that regard. Furthermore, NGR gets 8 fully-crafted spells in addition to this. The module color codes system-specific text – NGR text tends to be mint-green, OSR text a bit beige/greenish. The module does not feature read-aloud text. The treasure presented is also pretty neat, going so far as to e.g. describing mundane items like glass coins and the like; formatting of magic items does not adhere to the most common OSR-conventions.

Difficulty-wise, this is clearly aimed at experienced roleplayers – you can potentially TPK the group rather easily, but as a whole, the challenges tend to be pretty fair; personally, I’d suggest this module for the higher end of its suggested level-range; tackling this at level 3 would be a rather brutal test of survival.

Okay, so, there is one more thing to note: You need to do a bit of prep work, namely generate a couple of strings of dicerolls and put them on paper. Why? We’ll get to that. The module is billed as a puzzle dungeon, and it is not necessarily a simple one – there is a handout page of glyphs, and each room has a glyph. And the glyphs mean…well. There is a bit of a potential issue. The module does DELIBERATELY refrain from explaining its puzzle per se; the GM is giving ample information (which the player’ll have to deduce in actual play) to figure out how this is supposed to operate. It’s not hard, mind you – but for some GMs who are bad with puzzles themselves, but who have parties who enjoy them, this might be a problem.

The intention, obviously, was to make a puzzle that the GM can’t cheat, that the GM has to figure out. As this was the author’s intent, I am not going to spoil the puzzle’s solution here. I thought about doing that, but since the module can actually be solved by brute-forcing it, I ended up deciding that doing so would not be in the spirit of the adventure. Note that, if the party is not smart, trying to escape might well require a sacrifice.

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

… .. .

Okay, only GMs around? Great! So, there is the eponymous Zardax, a wizard of bad temper and worse taste, who happened to come into possession of this nifty gem-prison (Ravenloft flashback right there…) – while rumors suggest otherwise, holding the gem aloft in moonlight will transport you into the entry room of the dungeon – and the former dungeon has been redecorated in the most tacky of ways, with walls painted in different colors, etc. – the obvious Zardoz reference implied by the name is certainly somewhat present in the aesthetics – if Zardoz had such a prison, he’d have probably done something like this with it.

The extradimensional prison angle explains the diverse inhabitants: There are giant eyes firing lazzz000rz, protected by regenerating energy barriers, cat-headed elves, extraterrestrial ice-people trapped in a “scorching hellhole” 15 below freezing; they also think they are elves. Oh, and there are bosses – like the giant silver wasp, and Azoozl. The latter is essentially a lich who occupies 5 identical wraith bodies who share a pool of memorized spells and hit points – this one is pretty darn deadly if the party isn’t really smart. The wasp has a whopping 12 HD – so yeah, this is an old-school module that requires that the players play smart; murderhobo-attempts will cause TPKs here.

Now, I previously mentioned requiring some pregenerated numbers: You need to roll a d20 thirty or so times, and jot down the sequence.; then roll d8, d6 and d4 twenty to thirty or so times, writing that down; Azoozl needs spells if playing this in OSR. The three smaller dice can be used for encounters and treasures, while the d20 provides the initial sequence of the prison’s twenty rooms, which does mean that this has some replay value for the GM.

You see, the dungeon has essentially energy fields (portals, pretty much like the game) between rooms; most are reddish-orange, but designated cells have blue energy fields; at the center of each field is a copper plate shaped like a human hand, with the current room’s glyph (not the destination!) inside. Pressing the plate causes the portal to disappear, showing a random room based the sequence you rolled on the other side; such doorways stay open for 30 seconds, with a mist as a hint that it’ll close very soon – and being inside while it closes is not healthy. Here’s the crucial bit: As long as a sentient member of the party is on both sides of the portal, it locks itself in place. That is, opening it again will show the previous room, not a random one. So no, unless parties are pretty careless, they won’t be split – but the danger yet remains. I like that.

As an aside – once you run out of pregenerated numbers, you’re supposed to start rolling; this way, the players a get a metagaming hint as to the structure of the module. Having the pre-prepared sequence of numbers conceals the random nature for a bit. Add to that a room where the exit is mirrored by +(- 10 and similar tricks, and we have an interesting brain teaser. (Minor hint for GMs stuck with the code: Take a look at the symbols of this one, and compare it to another room with two entries.)

But how do you escape? Well, there is the exit portal guarded by non-hostile owl-headed warriors. Pretty decent chaps, really – they’re supposed to guard this place, as they’ve been tricked into providing their real names, but can shirk their duty and let the party leave…they just want a little “cannibaliscious feast” – if one party member volunteers to be eaten alive, they can get out. Trying to pick the lock of the exit portal is another means to escape by sacrifice and good roll: The door starts building up energy, which is potentially VERY lethal – and the chances to pick this are BAD. Still, theoretically, it’s possible. However, there is also one key hidden in the dungeon – said key can negate the lock’s magic…if the party finds it and realizes what it is, that is.

Conclusion: Editing is very good on a formal and rules-language, while formatting could be a bit more consistent: The exit room’s NGR-rules, for example, aren’t colored, and same goes for the OSR-rules here. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard without much frills, and uses colored highlights in room numbers, with Scrap princess’ artwork presented in full color. The b/w-cartography is pretty basic, but also uses some color highlights – being player-friendly is a huge plus here. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Zzarchov Kowolski’s “The Gem Prison of Zardax” is a nice change of pace; it is strange and does the funhouse dungeon with a twist angle very well; it’s dangerous, and clever use of the dungeon can seriously help dealing with the potent inhabitants of the prison: Players are rewarded for being smart here.

I might catch some flack for this, but here goes: I don’t think that the dungeon does a particularly good job regarding its “puzzle” aspects. Since the module can be solved by brute-forcing it, there is a decent chance that the players might not even need to solve the code. Unless I am missing something, I am also pretty sure that the code can be interpreted in more than one way. Whether you consider that a feature or a bug, I’ll leave up to you – personally, I’d have preferred a code that is simpler, but which has just one solution. I’d also have preferred it if the players had to, you know, actually solve the code to escape.

That being said, even if your players never decode the code/bother with it (happened in my test), the module still operates as a puzzle dungeon (in a lesser capacity), which is most assuredly a plus. As a whole, I consider this to a successful, if not perfect adventure, and thus, my final verdict will be 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Gem Prison of Zardax
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Under the Waterless Sea
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/28/2020 07:38:33

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module/setting/event book clocks in at 50 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page credits, and one page is almost blank save for a single sentence, so we get around 46 pages of content here.

This supplement was moved up in my reviewing queue as a patreon request to cover this and a few other modules and moved further up in the queue due to a direct donation requesting faster coverage of it and the other old modules released by the author.

So, what is “Under the Waterless Sea”? Well, first of all, it’s a somewhat quasi-Polynesian setting/module (inspired by Hawaii or a similar place), situated on the Old Island, complete with its unique monetary system (food tokens, pearls, etc., with coin-conversion noted). A marketplace section of weapons and trade goods for sale is included, and there is a 6-entry expanded table of black market goods/adventure hooks. The main backdrop would be the place, which, in an illusion of grandeur, is called “city”, and 4 cool types of hired help are provided – including a warrior with a Kiwi. There, that’s it, 5 stars + seal of approval. …I’m kidding. But I do love kiwis to death. So yeah, cool. Puzzling, however: While these cool NPCs for hire come with names, the same doesn’t hold true for the remainder of the individuals; indeed, the surface world/setting; indeed, a name-generator is curiously absent from the book, so you’ll need to do some digging for proper names…an unnecessary comfort-detriment.

A pretty huge plus, and not unsurprising if you’re familiar with the author’s previous offerings: This does contain not one, not two, but three of his amazing encounter tables, where you roll a d8 to determine “Where”, a d6 to determine “What”, a d4 to determine “Weird”, and get additional entries for triples, doubles and the maximum score. The regions covered are shallow water, twilight zone and midnight zone – bingo, this module primarily happens under water.

As many of the author’s modules, it is written with two systems in mind – NGR (Neoclassical Geek Revival) and OSR, with the latter not adhering to a specific rules system, something that I am not particularly fond of per se. AC is given with and in very general terms, e.g. “Level 4 warrior, very strong (18 or 18/00 if used), low charisma (6), maximum hit points”; critters get hit dice and note armor and damage in equivalents like “as leather” and sport a general idea of morale– you get the drift, you’ll have to hack this into shape.

If you have the luxury of choice, I’d suggest running this in NGR, as it’s clearly the smoother choice: There are plenty of items from which new spells can be learned, and disassembling some weapons can net sages or wizards 4 new spells that have no equivalent in the OSR-rules provided. That being said, that does not hold true for the majority of other spells; then again, the NGR rules, well, are better. The Branding of Hydra, for example, can increase power levels of unarmed attacks of up to a d30, while the OSR-version…nets a 1d6 touch attack for 1 round/level. A particularly icky spell lets you store a spell in your excrement, with the duration somehow tied to bowel movement, which also somehow can be passed to other characters? I’ve read and reread this spell numerous times, and it still makes zero sense to me. Either way I read it, it’s broken, though – I strongly suggest not allowing that version. The NGR-version, while still just as icky, is mechanically precise. In a way, this is one of the aspects that we’ll return to again in this review.

The module and premise is pretty dark in a nuanced kind of way, and certainly is not a module ‘d run for kids; while it can be run as a hack-and-slash, the adventure ultimately is based somewhat on shades of gray morality and can be run almost as a fantastic version of a Heart of Darkness/Apocalypse Now-ish manner. If the excrement spell example noted above was no indicator – this module does have a few components that can be considered to be mature: For example, there is an edifice that is shaped like a penis. So yeah, if the like bothers you, you’ve hereby been warned.

Similarly, I can only recommend this module to pretty experienced GMs, mainly due to one important structural aspect to which I’ll come in the SPOILER-section below. The module sports no read-aloud text, and as far as level-range is concerned, this works best in the 1-8 level-range, depending on how murderhobo-y your players tend to be, and on how you run your game, the power-levels of your OSR-game of choice, and how you want to play out the whole scenario.

The module comes with a stunning, isometric map in b/w of the region, and several maps of specific adventure locales in the classic top-down manner. Utterly puzzling to me: The pdf is a layered pdf, and yet, there is no way to turn off the annoying, immersion-breaking letters and similar indicators on the maps. Oh, and while there is a layer called “Guides and Grids” that’s turned off as a default, guess what doesn’t materialize when you click it? Bingo, a grid on the map. The result of these shortcomings, alas, is that the individual locales and relation between the mapped places, kinda remains abstract and hard to grasp – and the isometric map doesn’t help much there either.

This module exists in print, by the way – it is part of Zzarchov Kowolski’s Adventure Omnibus Vol.1, a limited edition book, which I do own – and in said book, there is an additional map, an absolutely STUNNING top-down b/w-map of the main adventure location – but like the other maps, it also lacks a scale, so while it helps picturing the area in a concise manner and makes running this in VTT easier, the map hasn’t been included in the pdf-version.

Okay, I’ve stalled for long enough, so let’s dive into the SPOILER-section. As always, I’d ask prospective players to steer clear and jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

Okay, only GMs around? Great! So, beyond the “fun” aspects like a brewing religious war among the human populace, the big kerfuffle of the module actually has already happened. You see, recently, a new priest has taken controls of the local religion, and he’s a hardliner – a hardliner who didn’t take kindly to learning about locals consorting with the Deep Ones, whose cities lies on the slopes of the surface of the volcanic island where this module takes place. As such, the usual purges and unpleasantries resulted – and then, something else happened: Somebody, somehow, opened a portal in the ocean. When saltwater falls on the portal, it shrinks. It’s fortified. But when you go through it, well, then you’re operating under a different set of physics and restrictions until you once more touch the ocean’s surface. You can act, fight, etc. as if on land. And all effects originating from you ALSO behave that way.

This section needs to be read VERY closely imho, because it is crucial to running the module. Essentially, the humans went through the portal, and brought bloody slaughter to a city of Deep Ones that was woefully ill-prepared to withstand the assault of such an army – and who proceeded to had to watch their underwater city BURN. The GM should think very carefully about how physics work in their game, because the module doesn’t really draw a clear dividing line. So, you could throw a fireball, okay. The targets would take fire damage. Okay. But the fire that springs from the fireball technically is no longer directly sourced from the aberrant set of physics employed by the land-dwelling invaders…and what about a target that operates under regular water physics grappling and dragging along someone who is operating under the aberrant, magical physics?

Don’t get me wrong, the module does a solid job defining how things operate, but a clear and more pronounced set of guidelines would still have been very much appreciated for the corner cases. Think I’m exaggerating? Well, in the Deep One city, there are pockets of air, such as e.g. in a sorcerer’s workshop. These become pretty deadly traps RAW, as the module states that breaching the surface of the water here will, well, end the effects of the portal. Okay, got it. But the portal states that it’s the ocean’s surface that counts, and a bubble of air beneath the waves? Is that really the ocean’s surface? Same goes for the human holding cells that can be found. An argument could be made that any surface of the ocean would do, but then again, this would theoretically render air bubbles of mammals or divers pretty damn potentially lethal.

Because this structural aspect regarding the basic premise of the module and the somewhat opaque spatial relation between adventuring locales, the module has another weak spot, but we’ll come to that pretty soon.

You see, the module is all about squashing the last traces of deep one resistance, taking their mighty, penis-shaped tower (which does make sense for deep ones…) – there are victory points that are tallied for the human aggressors and the deep ones, with a variety of outcomes – and yes, the module does account for the eventuality of the party switching sides, which I most assuredly appreciated.

The city has the spire, the labyrinthine apartments, the temple, the barracks, and the sorcerer’s dome as adventure locations, all mapped and keyed and suffering from the map issues mentioned above. There is a lot of adventuring to be had here, including the option to run afoul of a shoggoth, but all of them feel uncommonly sterile for the author. There isn’t that much going on regarding details here, and quite a few of the rooms are simply about mass. To give you an idea: “K.) a horde of 25 zombies sit in agitation, just waiting for their chance to eat the flesh of the living. Most are armed with stone maces, but a few have pikes and there are some with leiomanos as well.”

That’s…not particularly interesting. Indeed, I was surprised to see how positively mundane the entire city feels; this sense of wonder one associates with an undersea city, the option of verticality in architecture, an evocative dressing table – anything. There are a few instances where a sense of the weird manages to suffuse the scenery, but if you want my opinion, then don’t bank on the module managing to elicit a sense of wonder here.

Then again, that’s not the focus. The focus is WAR. And the horrors of war, even when executed against frickin’ deep ones; instead of a juxtaposition of the horror of civilization and nature, as in Heart of Darkness, we have a juxtaposition of humans committing the non-euclidean atrocities to the ones usually perpetrating them. That’s interesting. And the notion of burning a city beneath the waves is pure GOLD. A capable GM can weave a yarn here that will be remembered for years to come.

The premise is absolutely genius. But the actual execution of the deep one city is not. This is particularly surprising, considering that the author is a master at wringing unique magic out of pretty mundane setups. Here, we have a magical setup that couldn’t be more exciting, and instead, mundanity is wrought from it, at least for the most part.

Is this intentional? I can’t tell. I mean…it’s essentially Futurama/SpongeBob-logic, the war-module. It has a penis-tower. I genuinely don’t know.

I can say, however, that this is one of the weakest sunken cities I’ve had in all of my years as a reviewer; without the genius premise and context, I’d be trashing this to smithereens. With it? With it, this mundanity serves to humanize the deep ones, and de-humanize the humans.

…call me a philistine, but I’d rather have had wonder here. Unique dressing. Glimpses at a strange culture.

Structurally, it’d also have been nice to get a series of missions for both sides of the war, some if/then-conflicts and gambles, some strategy. You know, “If the party takes the barracks, the shoggoth will be unleashed by desperate priests in x days…” – that sort of thing. Some events to spice up the free-form siege. I read the start and was thoroughly pumped – then I got to the actual city, and by the end, I was bored by the city itself. In play, the war scenario adds the tension, but quite a lot of that rests on the shoulders of the GM. The premise makes this work. But it requires work.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-langauge level, but not as tight as usual for the author. Layout adheres to a one-column b/w-standard with a couple of nice b/w-artworks thrown in. The cartography deserves special mention for featuring the awesome b/w isometric piece (and the awesome top-down map in the print version!), but the maps of the actual adventure sites are pretty barebones and their lack of player-friendly versions and grids limits their utility. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, and the pdf is layered as well, which makes printing easier – I just wished the layers let you customize the maps as well.

Zzarchov Kowolski’s “Under the Waterless Sea” is at once a genius piece of adventure that can run REALLY well, and a disappointment. How well this performs depends very much on how well the GM is able to depict either an outrageous war beneath the waves or a somber story about the horrors of war; the backdrop of the action, which should be suffused with wonder, is anything but; instead, the module relies almost entirely on its brilliant premise to carry it. And it does carry it – to a degree.

In many ways, this should have been my favorite Zzarchov Kowolski module; it started off that way when I first read it. But then, it feels like it runs out of steam a bit; like the details never being able to live up to the level of excitement that the premise fostered. A good GM can make this a legend of a module; but I can only rate what’s here, and what’s here are a couple of unnecessary comfort-detriments, some oversights in dressing, and a general sense of lost interest in seeing the premise through to the end.

If you are willing to put in the time to add unique cultural tidbits and dressing, then get this! If not, then I’d suggest getting one of the author’s other adventures instead. My final verdict will be 3.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Under the Waterless Sea
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The Temple of Lies
by Paolo M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/19/2020 07:34:43

I used it for an introductory adventure - a sort of trial run that would then be used to start a longer campaign. I was very satisfied with it: there is enough structure but also a lot of space for improvisation or adding details.

(Addendum - August 2020). In fact I was so pleased with it that I used it again for kickstarting a completely new campaign. Btw in both cases I used TinySix as a system and conversion was a breeze.

One extra asset of this adventure is that it works well in a non-Western-influenced milieu: in both cases I used it in an "Arabian Nighthmares" setting without having to change a single word.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Temple of Lies
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Cliché Catalogue
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/15/2020 06:09:27

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, leaving us with 22 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue because I like really Neoclassical Geek Revival as a system that plays differently from the D&D-adjacent systems.

Now, Neoclassical Geek Revival (NGR) uses the notion of Schrödinger’s character as a means for both in medias res exposition and to speed up character creation, which extends, should you choose as such, also to equipment. While this has its uses, it does somewhat rub me the wrong way, which is why the equipment packs, and for NPCs, quickly assigning skill packs is the way to go.

The book also presents a randomized alternate method to choose a starting skill pack. The first component of this book is a massive array of skill packs by region – “The King’s Realm” depicts the standard medieval environment, and is a massive table of 20 rows and 6 columns. Fool #3 would, for example, take the pilgrim pack. Beyond this, we have smaller tables (6 rows, 6 columns) for the wild frontier, the far off decadent shores, and the halls under the mountain. Interesting here. An interesting layout decision is to e.g. make the packs from “far off decadent shores” use a somewhat pseudo-Arabian font, while making the font used for the “wild frontier” look more rugged.

Each pack consists of Stuff (usually a relevant item, such as rope for an acrobat, art supplies for an artist, etc.), as well as 4 different skills. Beyond these 3 to 5 exits are provided per package. In a way, these skill packages act as a kind of NPC-Codex generator, but unlike in more complex systems like PFRPG, they represent jobs or culture – six sample cultural skill packs are included as well. And yes, you can engage with all of those materials without the pdf, but the convenience presented is significant.

But perhaps you don’t just want skill packs? Well, the second part of the pdf presented sample stats – 30, to be precise. We get bodyguards, captains, scholars, knights, mad doctors, etc. – all wth suggested careers and stats properly presented.

The final page is devoted to a handy table that presents a means to determine random combat tricks: 8 entries are provided for archer, brawler, barbarian, cavalier, edgelord (LOL!!), hoplite, fencer and monk.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a no-frills two-column b/w-standard that makes good use of the different fonts, as previously mentioned. The supplement has, unfortunately, no bookmarks, which constitutes a comfort detriment. I strongly suggest printing this.

Zzarchov Kowolski’s “Cliché Catalogue” is a supplement that is essentially all about utility; it is helpful, quick and speeds up the game when employed by a capable GM. And that’s all it is, all it tries to do. The focus on skill packs allows you to get more out of the supplement than a straight NPC Codex style book (those are the books with stats for nameless NPCs, fyi) would have provided. If you expect detailed stories or the like, look elsewhere, but for those of us who are playing the wonderfully quirky NGR-game, this is a helpful GM-aid indeed. My final verdict will be 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Cliché Catalogue
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The Price of Evil
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/01/2019 08:48:28

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement clocks in at 32 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page blank for notes, leaving us with 28 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue due a patreon supporter asking me for helpful horror tools.

So, what is this? This is, essentially, and adventure toolkit that allows you to create a wide variety of haunted houses, with a first use of the generator taking approximately 30 minutes to make an adventure. But this booklet is more than that.

First of all, this is available as a pdf – I also have the limited edition Adventure Omnibus Vol. 1 that included this one among its pages, but this book is currently not available to the public, so pdf is where it’s at.

Rules-wise, the supplement provides material for NGR (Neoclassical Geek Revival, Zzarchov’s criminally-underrated roleplaying game), and generic OSR materials, including HDs and e.g. features like regeneration noted; NGR works a tad better than the generic OSR-angle, but frankly, this book is relevant for any D&D-adjacent fantasy game; if you know what you’re doing, you can use e.g. PF 1’s haunts and quickly use the material you generate here – just add stats. Same goes for 5e, DCC, and yes, PF2. This is pretty much relevant for any fantasy/horror game.

If you’ve been playing horror modules in your D&D-adjacent system and are a really good horror GM, or if you’ve run e.g. Lamentations of the Flame Princess’ by now infamous classic “Death Love Doom”, you’ll probably have encountered a response that is understandable: At one point, the party might decide that exploring/cleansing the hell-hole that you created was simply not worth it – get the torches, ladies and gentlemen. This book does something that may be easily overlooked, but which is super simple – instead of riling against the party being a professional elite team of supernatural-stuff exterminators, the kit embraces it wholeheartedly, and uses the angle to motivate the players and PCs to tackle haunted houses in the way they’re intended to be tackled.

How? By setting a price on everything. The notion is the valuable thing here, not its implementation – once more, application to any system is super simple. The idea is genius in its simplicity: Haunted houses are places nobody wants to live in, right? So they’re available for a few gold pieces…and then, you just have to purge the place. Well, guess what? Every room has a value noted, and throwing lightning bolts around, much less torching the entire place, destroys the investment made. The party is incentivized, by their own greed, or their employer’s interests, to not destroy the place. (Hence also the title.) So, super-clever angle that gets rid of ludo-narrative dissonance (Buzzword used, and actually within the proper context? Check!) from the get-go, got it – but how does it fare as a generator?

The generator uses a degree of abstraction, and focuses on rooms conceptually in relation to each other. Doors between rooms are explicitly noted, and merged rooms count as one. Each room is generated by taking a playing card from a standard Poker deck, and comparing the number and suit, with the relation to nearby cards (pairs, full houses, etc. matter) impacting the contents of the room and the haunted house as a whole. Some rooms are marked with an asterisk, and these are never merged, and some rooms may be unique. Two rooms are mandatory – master bedroom, and kitchen. If these are not dealt, you choose a location and turn it into the respective room of the same suit.

The pdf uses a helpful type of information design, with text in yellow indicating items that are not part of the seller’s manifest, and rooms with items that are printed in blue, there is a potential secret door to another adjacent room with an item with a blue outline. All those aforementioned “blue” items? Described in detail – so no, you don’t have to guess how a secret door might work, the book actually describes HOW you can open these secret doors.

The standard house is divided into four floors, with stairs always included – the floors are ground floor, cellar, upper levels and tower. A pattern to put down the cards is provided for each floor, and there are alternate patterns in the back of the book, but frankly, you can devise your own layouts with literally zero hassle.

Here, things become interesting, and the two smart components are combined: Each room has components listed, with associated prices. These components, if destroyed, decrease the resale value of the house. Some of the rooms laid down in the patterns for the respective levels of the house are actually color-coded: The best hand in these influences the type of spirit infesting the house, and the spirits are depicted in a manner that makes it very easy to translate them into phenomena, haunts etc. for any system: The spirits have names, descriptions, and note how they can be enraged, how they can be defeated, and the powers they might be able to manifest. Additionally, such spirits usually need to be fought in the witching hour, and the pdf provides a simple system to simulate the escalation seen in horror movies – during the day, the spirit has 0 haunting powers, and over the course of the night, these increase…with the witching hour, the apex of the spirit’s power, being the time when they need to be bested. Here is another thing: Each room notes room powers for the escalating stages of haunting – take the first room, the observatory: At first, we only have a sense of vertigo looking at the stars; then, as the night progresses, the floor might start to dissolve above the vast void of the universe, and at witching hour, oxygen and heat might accompany this phenomenon. The suggested deadliness of these room-based powers tends to be noted with helpful skull-icons (In NGR, these indicate the die size of stress incurred), and an icon of a hand rising from the grave, in red, denotes a power that’ll continue until stopped. There also are rooms that have powers contingent on the suits, or unique contents.

Otherwise, the card value of the drawn card determines a few things: The suit denotes, unless otherwise noted, the room’s specific condition, with heart being the default; spade indicates an occult impression; club indicates damage, and diamond, fitting, the presence of an additional valuable item present.

If all of that sounds helpful, but dry, fret not – this is Zzarchov Kowolski we’re talking about, one of the probably most criminally-underrated designers out there. For bathroom room powers, the pdf notes “Look, it’s a bathroom. We’ve all seen the Ghoulies. You can think of something, but I shall not dignify the obvious options.” Zzarchov’s trademark dry, black humor actually managed to make reading a generator fun (!!) – and yes, before you ask, the supplement manages to be rather creepy as well as funny. And yes, manor grounds are covered.

Note how I mentioned the best hand mattering? If you draw a royal flush, you’ll have an evil god; a full house indicates that, well, the house itself is just evil. Demons, serial killers, spiteful misers, white ladies, bogeymen, insane spirits, good ole’ Bloody Mary…or what about a leprechaun? Obviously, these are only a start – you can easily just supplement your own, favorite spirits/critters. Oh, and for jumpscares, the pdf covers both groundskeepers and cats. Obviously.

The pdf introduces a brief OSR-system for insanity, which uses aforementioned skull icons as the indicator of oppression points, but frankly, there are plenty of better and more detailed insanity tables out there.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. I noticed no serious glitches. Layout adheres to a smooth and neat two-column b/w-standard, with colors used for smart conveying of information. The pdf sports several really nice original b/w-artworks, with Alex Mayo providing both layout and artwork. The pdf is layered, allowing you to turn off art and gudies/grids, should you choose so. Much to my chagrin, the pdf sports no bookmarks, which makes navigation a bit of a hassle. Unless you happen to own the excellent Omnibus hardcover already, I strongly suggest printing this pdf. The lack of bookmarks would usually suffice to cost this supplement a star…

…however, this is a plain genius generator. I mean it.

Not only is this a pleasure to read, oh now. It actually delivers results that are better than many handcrafted mansion-crawls out there. It is also ridiculously broad in its options for application.

You could conceivably use this generator for years on end for e.g. your Halloween-game and still get new results. From level 1 to 20, a moderately capable GM can not only provide challenges for any level, it’s also possible to use this generator for pretty much any system that is even roughly D&D-adjacent. Moreover, it’s exceedingly easy to modify the generator with your own entries.

In short: This is one of the rare supplements that fully transcends the systems for which it is intended, creating a universally-relevant, wonderful and consistently creative experience.

The Price of Evil, had I owned the book when it was released, would have made my year’s top ten list, it’s that good. My final verdict will be 5 stars + seal of approval, and this book gets my EZG Essentials-tag as a super helpful and rewarding GM tool that has a ridiculous re-use value. If you want to be able to make glorious haunted houses with minimal fuss, get this ASAP!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Price of Evil
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The Temple of Lies
by christopher s. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/19/2019 17:39:45

I used this as a module in our overarching campaign, making it fit, which was easy as it was just themed enough but neutral enough to add to a local or foreign city as is. It is layed out in an easy to use manner, has some interesting interactions/encounters, and was enjoyed by the player group. I did find it needed some "umph" in descriptions of things but that was on me to play it up more. The snake room prompted someone to spark up the Conan movie track from the giant snake. Super fun. A great product worth getting.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Temple of Lies
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The Scenario from Ontario
by whitey j. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/20/2019 06:10:39

we played as a plug in for our LAMENTATIONS OF THE FLAME PRINCESS game. All of my female dominated group had a blast...and everyone died as per tradation of that lovely game.LAMANTATION PLAYERS GET THIS STUFF... The scenerios are as they out lined in the description and yes had some flaws. But RPG's are about flaws and complications and weird mechanics and rambling stories, and working it out in the name of fun. RECOMMEND IT for weird fantasy gamers not so much for your classic players.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Scenario from Ontario
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Down in Yon Forest
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 12/21/2018 09:41:56

An Endzeitgeist.com review of the revised edition

This module clocks in at 32 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page blank, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 28 pages, so let’s take a look!

Wait, before we do, a couple of notes: One, this adventure sports stats for both NGR (Neoclassical Geek Revival) and general OSR-stats that provide basic analogues for AC, HD, etc.; if you have the choice, I’d suggest using the NGR-versions. Like the more recent of Zzarchov’s adventures, this one comes color-coded: I.e. orange text indicates hidden danger, red indicates overt danger, blue the most obvious detail, and green treasure.

Now, why did I move this ahead in my reviewing queue? Well, I have covered it last year, and since then, it has seen a rerelease in print in the author’s limited edition Adventure Omnibus, which was enough for me to reread and revisit it. It should be noted that this module is only seasonally available. You can get this adventure only for a very brief timeframe: At the 25th of December, it will once again vanish into the ether for a whole year. So yeah, if you are interested in this, you need to act fast!

Now, in case you were wondering: This is not a happy-go-lucky Christmas adventure; it sports the rather dark and dry humor of the author, so yeah – not recommended for kids.

This out of the way, let us dive into the details! From here on out, ladies and gentlemen, the SPOILERS will reign. Potential players should jump to the conclusion. …

..

. All right, only referees around? Great! So, we all know how Christianity superimposed holidays on pagan traditions, right? Well, The Holy Church did just that (accompanied by copious mockery of pagan traditions) – thing is, they did know that the pagans were on to something: In certain locations, the veil between worlds grows dimmer. While the rhythmic chanting of yuletide congregations held the Krampus at bay just as efficiently as the pagan rites, this year will be a bit problematic. You see, the drunken priest has managed to burn himself alive and, in the process of doing so, he also burned down the church. Joy. (Told you this had a dark humor…)

So, the threat is, basically, that Krampus will take all the children…so what to do? Well, breaking off crosses at the cemetery may be smart (blessed, they can hurt the entity…) and there are a couple of additional complications: A child-eating, horribly deformed witch living in an abandoned mill is one issue; convincing some hussars that the old tale is real may be nigh impossible, but hey, worth a try, right? Islands that house perchten (beast-men) and random tables for the ice-covered wilderness are included – and yes, they are as interesting as we’ve come to expect from the author!

There are roughly 3 completely different ways, in which the module can be tackled, providing more replay value than I have seen in many a module out there: 1) The PCs can attempt to delay Krampus; while the entity is too strong to properly defeat (unless they are really lucky), delaying tactics may well work. A breakdown of individual strategies is provided, including countermeasures taken, etc. 2) There is also a fortress, abandoned due to plague and now infested with powerful gargoyles, which may yet act as holy ground, holding the entity at bay – but convincing the townsfolk to go there, even if the fully mapped place is cleared, may be tough. 3) Thirdly, there is the option of awakening the Winter King, a local pagan deity, currently sealed in his abode, which constitutes another dungeon that is fully mapped and depicted – smart players will not loot everything here and try to be respectful, while not being slaughtered by the undead…and hopefully, also not by the nosferatu interloper, who has no interest whatsoever in seeing that deity awaken…

Cool, btw.: From the bodies of defeated foes, new magics may be unearthed (when using NGR rules), while two grimoires may be found – one is btw. the book of moderate darkness. This dry humor also extends to the magic items – there are several items devoted to the Winter King’s rites, including everlasting cakes.

Conclusion: The formal criteria have VASTLY improved anno 2018! Editing and formatting are tighter than before; Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard and is professional and smooth…and the pdf now sports kickass Alex Mayo illustrations! The cartography by none other than Dyson Logos is b/w and smooth, and it has also benefitted from the overhaul: We do now get a player-friendly map of the village! This is a big plus. My one gripe on a formal level: The pdf, alas, has no bookmarks – if you get this, make sure to print it for easier navigation.

I ended up enjoying Zzarchov Kowolski’s pagan holiday adventure; it is a dark yarn set in an age of ignorance. There is serious fun to be had here – though it should be noted that this is not necessarily a Christmas module in spirit; instead, we have a dark fantasy/horror yarn that makes use of Christmas tropes, but that becomes very much its own thing. I most certainly consider it to be fun, if not a module I’d play to get into the holiday spirit.

Then again, if you’re like me and have…problems with the holidays, some sort of baggage and want a module that fits the season without hearkening too close to the things we associate with the holidays nowadays, if you want a dry, dark critique on the season, then this is pretty much perfect.

Now, I really enjoyed this module, due to completely different reasons than most Christmas modules; because it is kind of anti, but without resorting to a full-blown inversion or spitefulness; it is a tale of the holidays in a world, where the meaning behind such a celebration may well spell the difference between life and death.

The revised edition anno 2018 has significantly improved production values, and as such, the rating obviously has to reflect that. While the lack of bookmarks represents a comfort-detriment, I whole heartedly recommend this adventure to fans of dark fantasy. My final verdict for the revised edition will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform. And due to the massive replay-value, this also receives my seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Down in Yon Forest
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Scourge of the Tikbalang
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/17/2018 04:20:38

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, leaving us with 10 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Now, this module is made with two systems in mind – Zzarchov Kowolski’s NGR (Neoclassical Geek Revival) and OSR-gaming. Which system? Well, none. Like in the other self-published modules the author has written, we get very minimalistic OSR-stats: Class and level, if any, are noted. AC is given with the armor equivalent à la “AC: As leather and shield (high Dexterity)”, and attacks are similarly noted, though sample values are provided. The Stats also come with hit points.

NGR, a criminally underrated system in my book, gets somewhat more detailed stats, so if you have the luxury of choice, I’d suggest the latter. Still, fleshing out the OSR-stats is no big deal and won’t take long.

Anyways, I should note that you can run this, at least potentially, as is. Why? You can actually solve the module without shedding a single drop of blood, without rolling a single attack roll. I’d suggest around 1st to 3rd level regarding level range. The module has no maps, but needs none.

In spite of the option to solve it sans violence, “Scourge of Tikbalang” represents one of the darkest modules I have ever read, and the author has provided a trigger-warning in the beginning – AND urges GMs to really think about it. I applaud this. And the module actually doesn’t achieve its gravity and impact with gore.

This module takes place in a quasi-Phillipine village, with a very subdued potential note for a colonialist angle, but reskinning to e.g. Europe during the time of witch-trials or Loudon-ish contexts is pretty simple. You just need an equivalent for the Tikbalang.

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

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great!

In case you’re not familiar with the Tikbalang: It’s an ogre-ish trickster-spirit with a horse-skull head (nice b/w-artwork included!) that has hooves, is somewhat malignantly mischievous…and it ostensibly rapes virgins to produce more of its ilk. Yes, folklore can be messed up.

This is the issue the PCs have to solve: In a backwater village of motley napa huts, under the auspice of a greedy, old elder, the PCs hear a tale of woe, as Dakila Magbanua’s wife, the beautiful Mayumi, has been raped by the tikbalang. Dakila, the leader of the local militia, was first at the scene. Mayumi has since started showing that she’s pregnant – a horrible fate awaits her, for if the tikbalang is not slain, she will give birth to such a monstrosity….a fate that the backwater village culture is poised to prevent in the obvious manner. Worse, Mayumi has not been the only victim: Since then, Kiko Tala, a frumpy teenager, has also fallen prey to the tikbalang’s predations. One Magtanggol Palad, an accomplished pig hunter, confirms the presence of the monster, and nonagenarian Malaya Laksina has seen the horrid thing over the village…it seems like the PCs have their work cut out for them. Find the monster and slay it!

Except, that’s not the case. The cake is a lie, the tikbalang doesn’t exist. The old woman is senile. Kiko is, pardon my French, an attention-whore who doesn’t grasp how sex works yet. Dakila, if pressed, mentions that Mayumi did not exactly scream like she was having a bad time. Married to Dakila against her will, she actually never was raped. She made that stuff up, and the rest is a mixture of hysteria and deliberate deception. You see, her lover is one Makisig Palad, a scoundrel who has gone into hiding. He could have had his pick…but he had to go for the militia leader’s wife. Now, his brother Magtanggol is perpetuating the lie Mayumi blurted out when Dakila almost caught her and Makisig in flagranti.

The rest is a case study on how misguided faith and morals can wreck people…but what do the PCs do once they find Makisig? Do they perpetuate the lie? Do they unearth the truth? Both will have severe and unpleasant consequences. Makisig does have a plan: If the PCs just manage to steal the one horse from the pirates occupying the neighboring village, they can slay the tikbalang, right? It should be noted that this will NOT have nice consequences for the neighboring village.

There is no easy way to solve this, just an appalling situation with consequences that will not be pleasant for those involved. Then again, considering the story-line, I am not exactly brimming with compassion for the atrocious behaviors exhibited by the NPCs…and that is clever and intentional.

As an aside, the last page does mention an oddly out of place monolith as well as several pretty cool further adventuring hooks.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches of hiccups. Layout adheres to a professional, neat two-column b/w-standard with multiple pieces of original b/w-artworks. The pdf has no bookmarks, but doesn’t need any at this length. Same goes for a map.

Zzarchov Kowolski is always trying to push the envelope in some ways, but there is more here than shock value – this is not dark due to gore, difficulty and the like. Instead, it is very much a perfect example for the concept of the banality of evil. All characters within are despicable in some way – but in a very nuanced and human way. There is no ill intent underlying the actions, just humane fear.

The moral conundrum posed here is truly that – and it is handled in a mature and tasteful manner.

All that in just 10 pages. If you’re looking for something different, and if your group can handle the dark subject matter, then this represents an inspired little adventure. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Scourge of the Tikbalang
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Rampaging Monsters
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/16/2018 09:32:56

An Endzeitgeist.com review of the revised edition

The revised edition of this little generator clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page blank inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page inside of back cover (with a nice little artwork of a slimy golem thanking us for the reading the file, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So, as we’ve come to expect by Zzarchov Kowolski’s books, this one sports a rather neat and dry sense of humor, evident from the introduction onwards – sometimes, you don’t have the time to prepare a new plot, right? You’ll need filler, because “that Golden Girls marathon doesn’t watch itself”, to paraphrase the supplement. Well, the solution this booklet proposes is to generate a rampaging monster that scours the countryside!

The generator provided here indeed allows you to generate a creature, depending on your speed and familiarity with Neoclassical Geek Revival (NGR)-rules, in less than 5 minutes, so the convenience angle is definitely fulfilled – you could, in theory, do this behind the screen while the PCs are shopping, for example. Now, an important note here: Unlike many offerings by the author, this is NOT a dual-statted NGR/OSR-product – we have only Neoclassical Geek Revival support here and thus this does not translate too well to e.g. S&W or LL since NGR (which you should check out!) is pretty far away from standard OSR-rules.

All righty, that out of the way, how do we proceed? Well, first, we think about the monster’s size in relation to humans and then, we take a look at attributes – 6 values are provided, allowing you to quickly and easily generate scores with descriptors – very dexterous monsters would have Agility (A) 16, very clumsy ones instead Agility 7 – simple, quick, convenient. If in doubt, you revert to rolling 3d6. Now, in the new version, these pieces of information are clearly assigned mini-tables, and they employ one-letter abbreviations – this is made possible due to some rules-nomenclature changes of the system in its latest iteration. Then, you determine how a monster behaves and assign pies to the monster as though it was an NPC. Does it stalk its prey? Rogue. Bruiser? Fighter. Does it spread plague? Priest. You get the idea. While not all abilities may seem like they seamlessly apply, the pdf provides a bit of guidance there. The new iteration also provides a suggestion for when pie pieces of fool would make sense.

Here, the pdf becomes actually valuable beyond convenience for the GM – for next up, we get combat tricks…and if you recall my review of NGR, you should know how much I like the modular combat and its tactical depth…in spite of how easy to grasp and run it is. Size 8 monsters may e.g. damage foes by jumping up and down; shaking vigorously can cost grappled targets their actions, etc. – while these may not look like much, they can actually be employed in rather cool ways. If you’re like me and absolutely ADORED “Shadow of the Colossus” back in the PS2-era, you may be smiling right now – yep, the content herein does allow you to create such scenes…though, this being NGR, they will be much deadlier than in SoC…but the cheers will be louder. Believe me. Snatch attacks, knock-down assault with wings…pretty cool. This design-paradigm also extends to innate monster spells, which translate just as seamlessly to NGR. The examples cover the cool basics – breathing fire. Breathing exploding balls of fire…and LAZER-EYES[sic!]. Yes, this is a misspelling in the pdf. Yes, it made me cringe. Still, laser-eyes? Heck yes! Here, we can also see some system-changes: Breathing explosive balls of fire, for example, now either affects areas or Long Missile Range, and the innate spells of monsters no longer have a complexity rating, which makes sense to me.

Anyways, so now we have a monster…but why does it rampage? Motivation is up next – 6 basic ones, ranging from hunger to greed and malice, add at least a little bit of depth to the critter created.

Need a hamlet to destroy? Roll a d12 and a d8 and compare it with a table of 24 entries – 12 for the first part and 12 for the second part of the name. The position of the dice denote which one you’ll use for the first part and which for the second. These names will also hint at the peculiarities of the place – hamlets named “Carp-something” will e.g. sport ponds etc. Now, the new version has the two columns more cleanly laid out, so that’s a plus. The pdf sports 4 sample rewards for slaying the critter.

Finally, if you absolutely have 0 time left, a sample giant, a big statue, a wyrm and a T-rex are provided, should you need a monster to drop immediately. The presentation of these monster stats imho really benefits from the new presentation: It’s clearer, using bolding and smart structure to make reading the statblocks swifter. Obviously, the stats have been revised and adjusted to reflect the new version of the game as well. However, in the new version, we get more: A wyvern, a giant skull floating in a pool of ectoplasms, a giant spider and a cockatrice complement this section now, doubling the sample monsters featured.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good – I noticed no glaring issues in the rules and only minor typos. Layout adheres to a nice, printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard. The pdf use fitting b/w-artwork, but is mostly text – the pdf’s new layout is much cleaner and makes the pdf easier to read. Information is compartmentalized better, and the overall impression is one of a more professional file. Utterly puzzling: In stark contrast to the previous version of the file, this one has no bookmarks, making navigation slightly harder.

Zzarchov Kowolski’s little toolkit is still helpful, fun and easy to use; in particular the combat tricks and monster abilities, both mundane and magical, made me smile from ear to ear. The generator does what it’s intended to do…and yet, it made me realize how much I would have liked a full-blown monster-expansion book for NGR. The tricks and abilities presented are cool and fun and made me crave more…to the point, where I almost lost sight of what this tries to be and what it doesn’t try to be. This is not a big monster-enhancer toolbox for NGR – it is a generator for the time-starved referee caught unprepared…and though I very much would have loved to see a big monster book, and though this made me CRAVE more, it would not be fair to rate this generator according to a premise which it never intended to fulfill. As a generator for monsters ravaging the country-side, this does a great job – not a perfect one (it is hampered a bit by its economical size and the corresponding loss of depth that it could have had), but yeah. Now, while it looks like the revised version is shorter, that’s not the case – the new presentation is just tighter, and we actually get more content! While I’d usually contemplate upgrading my final verdict, the loss of bookmarks in the revised edition does partially mitigate the benefits of the streamlined layout and additional content. Thus, this remains a neat book for NGR-referees that is well worth a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Rampaging Monsters
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Hark! A Wizard!
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/16/2018 09:24:16

An Endzeitgeist.com review of the revised edition

The revised edition of this supplement clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page blank inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages blank in the back, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 18 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Now, first things first: Unlike most books by Zzarchov Kowolski, this is NOT a dual-stat book. This toolkit is intended for NGR (Neoclassical Geek Revival); while there is some value to be found within this for other rules-systems, but in the end, the majority of this books contents NGR-material. I assume familiarity with NGR in this review.

So, what is this about? Well, I think that pretty much any GM has encountered the random wizard issue before. Unlike sorcerers and similar spontaneous casters, the wizard sports a big issue for the referee: The reward-to-work-ratio for making wizards for random encounters and anything other than BBEG often just isn’t right. Making spellbooks and selecting spells is a chore…and with some bad luck, your cool, detailed wizard will be crited to smithereens after one spell…or perhaps before that.

Things get worse when books note “choose xyz spells” or “1d6 random spells” – it honestly infuriates me. Anyways, this book is intended to remedy this issue to a degree in NGR. The first20-entry table contains general grimoire names for wizards to hold on to; after that, we get 8 different tables, 8 entries strong each, with different themes like hedge magic, wizard schools, quasi-religious tomes, etc. – you get the idea. After that, we get the in-depth entries for the grimoires, including read-aloud texts. The read-aloud text is often inspired, and it also sports the subtle and hilarious humor of the author here and there: The Book of Aarrrgh… for example is so named due to the supernatural entity bound within, conveniently unleashed upon reading the book… The Rot on the Roots of Yggdrasil talks about the dread MiGo, here envisioned as a demon-god…or is that a misunderstanding? The referee will ultimately decide. Little handbooks, strange astrological tomes on constellations on the Western pole…you get it. Really nice diversity here! There have been minor improvements here: E.g. the text missing in “Secrets of the Nightsky” now properly notes its sorcerous rite as “A master of constellations: Dead Pixie in a Jar” – this is not a spell, but Pixie Dust may be reached from the corpse. The pdf then provides a brief and succinct write-up pertaining the use of the Sage power to reverse-engineer the abilities of strange creatures as spells. It’s a third of a page and works perfectly in conjunction with NGR. The aforementioned pixie autopsy has been added to the list of examples featured here.

The remainder and lion’s share of the book, though, would be taken up by a massive selection of different spells for NGR. They note their respective templates to difficulty, cost, range and complexity and add some further depth to the engine. Take “A Master of Constellations”, which allows you to set a condition to a spell to activate or deactivate, tying magic to astrological or astronomical conditions, explaining a metric ton of unique complex properties and things you see in many a module…and, obviously, letting players for once use this type of thing can be really rewarding! And yes, toggling on/off can also be done with this one. Organization is tighter here: “A Master of Constellation” no longer can be found at the start of the spell presentation, instead featring among the “M” entry of the alphabetical presentation. It should also be noted that the new edition of NGR no longer features complexity ratings – these are thus absent from the revision. Blood Pact is a new one, as is Conjure Poltergeists. The easily cheesable “Defiler of Gaia” spell has been eliminated, thankfully. Gazing into embers via Ember Trance is a nice new one that lets you scry targets, and “A Mighty Yarn” allows you to command ropes and the like. There also is a spell to interact with sizes, and these are pretty potent in NGR.

Generating illusions in a limited square, DR, enhancing items by inscribing earth runes of “Base of the Mountain”, concealing yourself in starlight…the spells have a subtle aesthetic that hearkens closer to actual real-world beliefs regarding magic, less to the flashy magic-laser-beams. This ultimately makes the chapter feel more alive and evocative. That being said, there are damaging spells – like a conical “Bee Swarm” blast or one that lets you use Beelzebub’s hellish flies. Spells for gaining influence via “BFF” are here, and there is a spell, where you can conjure forth vents, inflicting a nasty disease that may cause the target to return from death as an undead, making great use of NGR’s engine.

Speaking of spells that evoke themes we are familiar with and that tie in with game-mechanics: What about drinking blood under moonlight to replenish mana? The new version now causes intoxication, preventing abuse by less scrupulous PCs. “Carrion’s Debt Foreclosed” can generate undead from carrion eaters and there is a representation of containing spells in bubbling broth or potion, though its power will decrease over the course of time – so yeah, no stockpiling…and power-loss once more ties in perfectly with NGR’s spellcasting engine.

Now, this is something you either may like or hate, but the “Congress of Yig” no longer requires sexual intercourse with serpents, instead tying into the mutation engine component. This does prevent abuse of the spell and renders its design better. It’s less icky, but, you can take care of that, should you so choose.

Mechanically interesting would also be “Cooled Passions”, which allows for the indefinite increase of a spell’s duration at the cost of not being able to cast the spell again; alternatively, the spell can be linked to a trigger spell, which can act as a means to end that binding. Thoroughly creepy: “Cordyceps Mammalia” does the “Last of Us”-move and animates the dead via cordyceps fungi, potentially with free-willed consequences. Yes, I am freaked out by this one.

Siphoning magic from eggs is also really cool, and the verbiage is now tighter and accounts for cases like mammalian eggs and those of fish etc. There would be a spell that helps eliminating mutations at the cost of stress…which may actually hasten the transformation of deep one to hybrid, for example. Funny and interesting: “Fireworks of Happyland”, which only deal damage on a 1 or 6, with 6s adding more dice for potentially brutal consequences, otherwise focusing on blinding foes temporarily.

The “Grand Idol of Bhaal” allows for the caster to bind demons, djinn, etc. in idols, once more codifying a classic trope within the context of the game. What about “Happily ever after”, a spell that acts as a trigger based on e.g. a prince’s kiss. Or Influence-based hypnotic gaze, appeals that damage supernatural targets or a spell to remove texts, images, etc. via” lost to the ages”? On the necromancy-side, we get a spell to animate a target you have personally drained as a vampire…and, really macabre (and some might argue, tasteless), one that animates a stillborn child as an undead. Yeah…personally, I could have done without the existence of this one. On the plus-side, strange spores, calling miniature comets and tapping into the power of e.g. eclipses makes sense and works well.

There is also an advanced locking spell…and Schmetterling (German for Butterfly, just fyi): A flight spell that only allows the target to be attacked in melee by non-fliers when interrupted while attacking someone in melee. There is a spell to create a portal in the shadow of objects…and one that lets you emit a horrid blast of static, white noise-like shrieking. Oh, and what about locking supernatural targets into the skulls of targets? Yes, they may be alive. Yes, those voices may either be insanity…or dread magic…Well, you get 3 guesses what Toad! does…

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious glitches on either formal or rules-language levels. The new design decisions made herein are tighter and less open for abuse. The revised edition’s öayout adheres to a nice two-column b/w-standard and the pdf sports a couple of nice, original b/w-artworks inside. The new presentation makes using the pdf smoother, so yeah, an improvement there. The content-expansion, however, is paid for with an absence of bookmarks that is puzzling and constitutes a comfort-detriment.

Sooo, I really liked Zzarchov Kowolski’s “Hark! A Wizard!” – but I kinda did not get what it says on the tin.

The official description reads: “Hark! A Wizard! Is a generator to give NPC wizards a cohesive set of spells in just a few seconds. It is a useful tool for further lowering the prep required with a game of Neoclassical Geek Revival.” This is not what I got. Not at all.

Did I love the cool modifications and options presented in all those spells? Yeah! The revised rules are tighter, clearer and less prone to abuse. Similarly, I really, really liked the sample read-aloud texts and diverse ideas for grimoires, making spellbooks feel, well, interesting and creative. The subtle, dark humor of the author makes reading this rules-book actually enjoyable.

But know what? I got this pdf because I expected a generator to make wizards quickly. Are the modifications herein capable of making the NGR-magic rules more versatile and smart? Yeah! They are! They are great. They help you make spells more unique, modify them, etc. Pretty much everything here is really cool…

…but it’s not a way to give NPC wizards a cohesive set of spells in a few seconds/minutes. It’s an expansion of the magic-engine. That rocks. It sports great spellbook dressing. Which once more rocks. However, as a generator to make quick wizards for NGR? Honestly, I don’t even get where that aspect is coming from. The revised edition STILL does not really offer that. Beyond the grimoires, it does not expedite the process of making a wizard in the slightest.

As a reviewer, that leaves me in a weird place, particularly since the revised edition had the chance to make finally good of its promise. Frankly, I should rate this down. Were I to rate this on its merits as a generator, I’d have to pronounce this a failure, as an, at best as a mixed bag. Then again, if I rated this as a spellcaster’s expansion for NGR that adds depth and fun to the already impressive magic system, then this would be a 5 star + seal of approval recommended masterpiece.

The matter of fact remains, though: This is NOT what it was advertised as. While I consider this to be a must-won expansion for fans of NGR, I have to take that into account as a reviewer.

As a wizard generator, I’d consider this to be a 2-star file. As a magic-expansion for NGR, I’d consider it to be 5 stars + seal of approval. The new content and design-wise streamlining makes this better than before, but lack of bookmarks mitigates this improvement. In the end, my final verdict will fall in between these, at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Hark! A Wizard!
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The Temple of Lies
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/02/2018 04:14:38

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This little module clocks in at 16 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover, 1 page editorial, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

As with all dual-format modules by Zzarchov Kowolski, this adventure provides general stats for OSR-games, which are pretty basic. To give you an example: “A level 1 thief. Unarmoured with a high dexterity bonus. Attack as weapon + poison. Excellent morale. Speed of an unarmoured man.” As you can glean, this gives you an idea, sure, but it does mean that you’ll have to hack this into shape.

The second set of stats is for Zzarchov Kowolski’s own game, Neoclassical Geek Revival, which is abbreviated as “NGR.” NGR is an amazing game. It takes a bit of time to get into, but it does Stealth really well, emphasizes player-agenda and from customizable spells to martial traditions does an excellent job at creating a smooth and fun playing experience – it’s one of the few systems that manages to marry old-school feeling and aesthetics with the design-improvements of more contemporary games. If you do have the luxury of choice, play this with the NGR-rules.

Now, as far as organization is concerned, this is smart: NPCs and enemies are provided with red text; treasure is noted in green text and general terrain features are printed in blue. This makes spontaneously running the adventure surprisingly manageable if you’re fluent in your system of choice. Otherwise, I’d recommend at least a bit of prep-work. Stats are collected in the back and provide information for pretty much anything that can be interacted with. The treasure-appendix deserves special mention for its exemplary attention to detail. We get descriptions for pretty much everything of value within. Yes, gp values are provided for things like silk curtains and the like, so if your PCs tend to loot everything that’s not bolted down, you’ll definitely appreciate this. Orange text is used to denote hidden dangers.

The inside of the front cover contains a b/w-map that is isometric – but which, alas, lacks a scale or indicators like squares to denote the dimensions of a room. The map also does not specify where North is. No player-friendly version of the map is provided, which is a bit of a bummer.

Now, as for level-range, the module is designed for levels 1 – 2, though personally, I’d use it as an introductory module, as one of the ways to use this module subverts a central tenet of how adventure modules are written nowadays…and I love this subversion and what it can bring to the table.

There is one more thing to note: The black humor is strong with this one. I actually chuckled a couple of times while reading this adventure for the first time. “The Temple of Lies is a small light hearted adventure about the typical shenanigans one gets into involving human sacrifice and severe opiod addiction” – to paraphrase the publisher’s blurb. The book does contain references to evil cult practices, but they remain pretty tame. I consider this to be basically PG 13. Unless you’re already appalled by a pdf mentioning sex in a non-explicit context, this will not shock you or anything. It can be sanitized pretty much on the fly, if you’re picky about the like.

The front cover artwork, depicting a piece by Jean-Léon Gérôme, one of the artists of what is now known as academism, shows one of his pieces in line with his Orientalism-phase. “The Snake Charmer” pretty much encapsulates the atmosphere of the adventure – we have a decadent tale that could well be set in one of Conan’s desert kingdoms, most places like e.g. Qadira in Golarian, Al-Qadim, etc. Since the adventure takes place almost exclusively in a dungeon-complex, reskinning to e.g. Victorian or fin de siècle England and similar contexts is very much possible without much hassle. The module can easily be inserted into another adventure – in fact, that’s how I used it once: Just have McGuffin/fugitive run inside/vanish and there you go. An extraction, PCs fleeing into the place, etc. is similarly possible. The PCs just have to stumble into a back alley – that’s all.

All right, this is as far as I can go without getting into SPOILERS. As always, potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, the alley provides access to a cellar, guarded by thugs and beggars, who are actually killers in waiting – managing to survive through these, the PCs enter the complex, which is basically a combined opium lair/serpent cult crossover. If they’re not careful, they may trigger an alarm. As a minor complaint, for NGR, I would have liked Suspicion increases noted, but the game is designed to allow for defaulting here, and the RAW assumption is that triggering the alarm results in awareness of everyone. The alarm is basically small hammers striking massive crystals, btw. – there is a sense of the fantastic in the very first room, and this is further emphasized by the rather vile serpent cult members: There are, for example, so-called “nuns” that have scales tattooed all over their bodies, and tongues split.

There is a very deadly pit of writhing snakes in the complex, and the centerpiece of the cult is a massive python. This very much resounds with Conan’s Stygians and their Set-worship, right?

Well, here is the unique part, the subversion I mentioned: The serpent cultists may all be deluded hacks and addicts. The high priest may be either a holy man of a dark religion…or a charlatan who has brainwashed/conned the cult. Yes, with separate stats. Any supernatural component of the module, from the high-priest’s stats to the treasures found, is entirely optional. There may be a serpent demon lurking in a sarcophagus…or just a mummified snake. This is amazing for a couple of reasons.

For one, just because that crystal in the beginning looked magical, it doesn’t have to be. In fact, it’s mundane. Similarly, this establishes a gritty, low-magic aesthetic that elevates actual magic showing up at one point during the campaign. It also does not detract from the module, and rather elevates it in my book. Why? Because, even if we’re playing in a low-magic game or campaign setting, we expect to stumble over magic. It’s just part of the deal, and chances are that one PC or another will have magical powers. That makes the impact of the mundane hit much harder. It also humanizes and contextualizes the behavior of the addicts/victims. If no supernatural evil is responsible, that makes the body-modifications and abhorrent human sacrifice practices hit harder. I love this.

As an aside: If you do want to go for a magical serpent cult, I recommend Rafael Chandler’s “Obscene Serpent Religion” for abilities and depraved concepts you may want to flesh out. Beware, though: That book is definitely for mature audiences!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a no-frills, two-column b/w-standard, with color used to facilitate running the adventure. Experienced GMs should have no issue running this off a b/w-print-out. I did just that. The pdf has no interior artwork and I liked the cover artwork, as it establishes the themes of the module. Yes, there’s a naked backside on it. Personally, I don’t mind – it’s about as sexual as a Greek bust. The cartography is functional, but pretty weak. The pdf has no bookmarks, which is an annoying comfort-detriment for the electronic version.

Zzarchov Kowloski’s “Temple of Lies” is a fantastic introductory module that oozes pulp flair galore. Its down-to-earth nature and two play-modes enhance replayability. The details are surprisingly concise and best of all – this is PWYW. It is definitely worth the suggested donation, and manages to be better than quite a few commercial modules I know. It is smart, atmospheric and just plain fun – it manages to execute the old trope of the serpent cult with panache and grace. That being said, were this a commercial module, I’d have to detract from the final verdict due to the lack of player-friendly maps and bookmarks, but as a pay what you want offering? Very much worth checking out!

As such, my final verdict, taking the PWYW-nature of this module into account, will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval. If you’re looking for a great module to kick off your sword & sorcery campaign, this delivers in spades and is definitely worth a tip.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Temple of Lies
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A Thousand Dead Babies
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/12/2018 06:36:04

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The second of Zzarchov Kowolski’s self-published dual-format NGR/OSR-adventures clocks in at 20 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 17 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by my patreons.

So, let’s talk about the pink elephant in the room first. The title is basically a gigantic trigger warning. This module is NOT about killing infants or the like, quite to the contrary. However, it deals with a really sadistic, high-impact conundrum that involves, well, babies. If infanticide by bad guys and the like are not something your group can handle, then don’t even bother. It goes without saying that this module needs to be handled with care, and that it is NOT for everyone. Genre-wise, this is really gritty, really, really DARK dark fantasy, so the title, ultimately acts as a deterrent and as a caveat emptor for anyone contemplating getting this. In that way, the title must almost considered to be a form of fair warning.

Anyways, this is the second of the author’s NGR/OSR dual-statted modules, and difficulty-wise, it is a step up. Some monsters for OSR-games are referred to by being e.g. wraiths, and chances of being heard, for example are presented as e.g. 1/6. Formatting-wise, e.g. magic items are noted as bolded in the text (not as italicized, as in most games), and e.g. some key-NPCs have notes like: “Level 4 Cavalier, Anti-Paladin or Fighter with XYZ strength (not capitalized) and maximum hit points.” If you’re using this module with more classic OSR-games, you’ll need to do a bit of work. For NGR, the book is more precise, noting parts of classes, specializations and the like. More importantly, holy/unholy ground is rules-wise more relevant and noted where applicable. As far as level-ranges are considered, I’d probably play this at the very soonest at 2nd level in most OSR-games, as the adventure can become TPK-y-lethal very fast otherwise.

This can also be found in the new spells: 8 of them are provided in total, but 2 only exist in the NGR-rules – bane of mush’kar, which allows for the storage of a removed tooth of a still living person. When burning the tooth, the spell is cast by the burning being. Breath of the moors is a spell that conjures forth fog, based on the obfuscation spell template. There are three low level (level 1 for OSR) spells for magic-users: One conjures forth a bee swarm, with the OSR version being a bit confused regarding verbiage:”… in a devastating cone with a radius at any given point equal to the distance from the caster.” Cone or radius? The NGR version does not have this issue. Faerie sense lets you smell magical items, and screams of anguish doesn’t generate more than, well, a scream, which can make for a good distraction. In NGR, the scream can slightly increase the difficulty of another spell. At 2nd spell level for OSR, we have a wall of thorns, and the 3rd level spell dire goose makes a goose (which are FRIGHTENING when angered – take it from me, I grew up in the country!) into a massive monster with 3HD, AC as leather and two 1d6 wing attacks. In NGR, the stress mechanics explain the rage of the monster. No, you don’t control it. Yes, I consider that to be funny. Finally, there is a spell to bind extraplanar beings in empty tomes, filling the book with cursed text – in OSR-games, this is a 5th level spell. In NGR, the spell is more interesting, requiring the creature to be defeated briefly after being touched.

There are quite a few magic items to be found in the module as well; even basic items like a +1 dagger of bone that also acts as a holy symbol get their one section, and the book of Aarrrgh (aptly named due to the demon bound within), a scroll made of manleather, a cursed coin, a pouch of teeth and the like provide a surprising depth regarding descriptions and effects for both systems.

One item is btw. also the central fixture and high-impact problem that the PCs will need to deal with, but before we discuss that one, I should note that the module comes with a really elegant layout and cartography (though no player-friendly maps), and that it has consequences for the actions of the PCs, and there is a pretty good chance that things will not end up well for the surrounding area – retaining the status quo should be considered to be a success. Did I mention Old MacDonald’s farm?

All right, in order to discuss further details of this adventure, I need to go into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

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All right, only referees around? Great! So, the module is somewhat akin to the first dual-statted module published by the author, in that it takes places in a remote locale, here, the vale of Corroc, named for the settlement of the same name. As in the “Gnomes of Levnec”, we are introduced to the key-NPCs for the settlement, including the yeoman, a local berry-plucker, the village priest, etc. We also get such a fluff-centric write-up for e.g. the cook of the lumber camp, and the settlement New Smithwald, south of the Thousand Acre Wood, houses a potent knight, who has not been punished for not converting due to his stalwart loyalty and reputation.

Converted? Well, yes, for we once more have a situation akin to that of “Gnomes of Levnec”, where a remnants of a pagan cult are competing with Christianity (or its stand-in), but unlike in that module, there is no misguided cult of blithering, violent idiots responsible for some of the odd happenings. Instead, there is but one active human (she does have elven allies) member of the cult of Titania left – in the power vacuum that accompanied the purging of heathens, a dread cult of Baphomet has taken root. Alas, the none-too-smart village priest can’t keep it in his pants, having an illicit love affair. If his deeds are brought to like, they will have dire consequences for the poor maiden engaging with him, but failure to do so will not be helpful in the long run either. The very medieval aesthetic also is represented in the existence of a rather pitiful example of a black library of the church in town, which btw. also houses the crypts of once mighty pagans, where clever PCs can get magic items…or get a blessing from a fountain that may guarantee offspring. No matter the usual physiological hindrances like race or sex.

Anyways, the PCs are most likely here because they heard about footprints of an upright walking goat, and indeed, the dark cult of Baphomet is busy at work: Beyond the cultists in the settlement, there is a very potent black knight and an upright-walking, razor-sharp teeth sporting demonic goat monstrosity that watch over/participate in the grisly orgy/ritual every night…for they have found a mighty juju tree, once sacred. The tree is now afflicted with a demonic fungal infestation, a literal corruption, one that may be dealt wish, provided the PCs manage to stop the cult and water the heart of the tree with blood…provided they can survive the trip into the small dungeon, that is.

But how can a cult generate enough sacrifices? How does the cult manage to keep up all this mystical pressure on the potent tree? Well, the Goat in the Woods has a potent cursed artifact, found after the previous owner has committed suicide, being unable to cope with the responsibility. This vile artifact would be responsible for the module’s name – it’s the stork’s bassinet, and it teleports to its owner (who may only be saved by death or potent magics from ownership) every day. It then produces a single, healthy baby. Every. Single. Day. In the lack of an owner, the babies simply pile up. Are they teleported away from somewhere? Are they magical simulacra? Clones? No idea, but whatever choice you opt for, the consequences will be DARK. In the aftermath of the cult’s demise, it is quite likely that a PC will end up being the owner of the bassinet, which will require a quest to destroy. While it is easy enough for the GM to rule that one of the magic items in the module can destroy it, this is per se not intended by the adventure. This is also the reason why this adventure can really use the title to scare away folks that definitely will be offended – leaving the item or the babies generated anywhere will be a rather bleak and dark move for PCs and players to swallow, and even if you devise an easy and quick way to destroy it, there still will remain the fact that an untold number of these infants were slaughtered. This is not for every table.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, there are a few minor hiccups and, due to the dual-stat nature of the module, the formatting can be somewhat unconventional. Layout adheres to a gorgeous two-column b/w-standard and the pdf sports two really neat original b/w-artworks that could come straight out of Death Frost Doom – no surprise, as Jez Gordon is responsible for both. Same goes for the cartography, where the absence of player-friendly versions of the maps makes for a comfort detriment. The pdf sports a couple of basic bookmarks.

Zzarchov Kowolski’s “A Thousand Dead Babies” is, on a formal level, more refined that “Gnomes of Levnec;” the presentation is smoother, and while we don’t get a cool “getting lost”-generator this time around, the module’s presentation and sequence is professional and nice. That being said, where the supplement on the gnomes focused on the weird and genuinely hilarious, this one is pretty much the epitome of super-dark fantasy. There is some subdued quip to be found here and there, but considering the subject matter, this is probably one of the darkest modules I know.

…and, to be honest, I don’t think the module required the shock value. If you tone that aspect done, you water down what makes this module have such a gut-wrenching impact, but you’re also left with a rather well-crafted adventure. Now, I firmly believe that a reviewer should be capable of abstracting being offended and the like, and I do not condone the subject matter; killing kids and infants is one of the few things that I do not tackle in my games, which otherwise tend to gravitate towards the dark. That being said, the PCs ARE the heroes here; they get to end this horrid massacre, and while the consequences may be hard to swallow, I can see this work well for groups seeking to explore the logistic and moral conundrums that arise from ownership of the vile item that made the cult’s atrocities possible.

Would I inflict this module on my players? No. But it is not up to me to decide what works and what doesn’t work for you and your game.

Which leaves me with the craftsmanship of the adventure, its locales, etc. – and here, the module manages to create a grim, captivating atmosphere that feels very medieval, grimy and desolate. Prose-wise, this is impressive. As far as the rules-components are concerned, I’d consider the NGR-rules to be significantly tighter than the OSR-material posed; lack of adherence to a specific system and minor inconsistencies mar that aspect for more common old-school games somewhat.

Don’t get me wrong – there is a lot to like here, and the module is not a gratuitous gorefest; however, it is hard to stomach due to its subject matter, and at this point, you probably already know whether this is for you or not.

Which leaves me with the job of rating this. I won’t lie. I wouldn’t have reviewed this sans the request, mainly because I have a hard time giving this a fair shake, because it’s really hard for me to look past one of the few things that I, as a person, consider distasteful and don’t want to see in my games. As a person, I frankly considered the grimdark topic of the adventure to be…well, superfluous. The base line is similar enough to the “Gnomes of Levnec” to allow for direct comparison, and where the latter went the weird (and hilarious) route in a slightly dark manner, this one goes pitch-black regarding its themes. If you enjoy that kind of thing and thought that Gnomes was too lighthearted, if you really wanted a twisted moral conundrum and shock value galore, if you thought that LotFP’s “Doom Cave of Crystal-Headed Children” was too gonzo/goofy and didn’t provide real grimdark themes…well, then this one delivers in spades.

If you’re not that into super-dark subject matter and want to check out what the author has in store, I wholeheartedly recommend the “Gnomes of Levnec” without any reservations; for this adventure, I am left with a per se captivating dark fantasy yarn that, depending on your preferences, either is enhanced or ruined by the themes presented. Hence, my final verdict will be 4.5 stars, and I’d ask you to round up if you are interested in the like; if you’re offended, then steer clear. However, the minor imperfections in the OSR-rules and the lack of suggestions regarding the central moral conundrum in the aftermath represent both needless detractors from the adventure; a “solution” or at least some suggestions, would have gone a long way to render this more palatable, at least for me. My final verdict will hence round down for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
A Thousand Dead Babies
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The Scenario from Ontario
by David M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/29/2018 11:07:01

Okay, maple zombies... I get it. Now I know it was a friendly challenge, but as you're selling it, wouldn't it have been great to rewrite it a little? Its painfully amateurish.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
The Scenario from Ontario
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The Gnomes of Levnec
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/25/2018 03:31:04

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure clocks in at 20 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 17 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was made possible and commissioned by one of my patreons, to be undertaken at my leisure.

Now, first of all: This is a dual-format adventure, providing mechanical stats for both NGR (Neoclassical Geek Revival) and the more traditional OSR-games. Stat-wise, we get the bare minimum for OSR– hit points/Hit Dice, AC expressed as “as Plate and Shield”, for example, and morale noted in general terms. The NGR stats work a bit better as far as I’m concerned, and use more terrain features. Now, both systems get a selection of different spells that can be found here – for example an iteration of the old hover disc spell; avenging bolt is a level 1 damaging spell that deals less damage, but may have the target barf…and, nastily, cause delayed damage after completing the next sleeping cycle. Open sesame can open objects, windows etc. and stone spirit, which is the only non-1st-level spell herein conjures forth just that. For OSR, this spell suffers from not adhering to a single system, making its rules-language somewhat elaborate for what it does. Now, two of the best spells herein are NGR-exclusives: Chalk mist transforms the target into chalk in a damaging manner, while childish conjuration is a cantrip that can transform material into different, malleable one, but only if no one is looking. The best spell available for both systems would be the level 1 spell beckon the dragon, which has the caster whisper the name of a dragon within 100 miles, beckoning the dragon to the caster’s location. No, this does not make the dragon liable to like you. Yes, this spell will potentially bite the PCs into their behinds, but it’s also ridiculously high-concept and players will love it.

Okay, the module does contain a charming, hand-drawn map of the region it’s set in (no scale, but that’s kinda intended), and it is basically a sandbox-set-up – the module presents a situation into which the PCs are introduced, but it remains wide open – there is no read-aloud text, but plenty of personality to be found. It also sports some…somewhat mature topics. Nothing grimdark in the traditional sense, mind you, but there is a macabre undertone here, though one that is also suffused by the author’s glorious, dark humor. To give you an idea, here’s the quote from the publisher-blurb:

“The Gnomes of Levnec is an adventure about the fate of an empire and the byzantine machinations of a court that no longer has a monarch. Just kidding, it’s about Gnomes.“ Such deadpan lines suffuse the module as well. They work. They make reading the module really FUN.

While the pdf does not specify a level-range, I’d suggest that it works best for new characters, i.e. level 1 for most games. As a special aside, I should note that DCC-judges should continue reading, in spite of this sporting gnomes. You’ll see why soon. The module is setting agnostic and works perfectly in most settings, including our own world, with magic very much subdued. E.g. the Black Dogs-zine theme-hack for LotFP by Daimon Games would make a nice fit – the area around Levnec is basically a frontier backwater that works well with gigantic forests and a lack of civilization or structure as a baseline.

All right, this is as far as I can go without entering SPOILER-territory. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

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The area around Levnec is under the command of one Lord Kristoph, a rather bad and pathetic ruler, and indeed, this is a leitmotif of sorts: The area feels like a world that has moved on from a more fantastic epoch, but which, at the same time, hasn’t replaced the danger of the mythical era with an equal substitute – instead, it’s very much down to earth and somewhat grimy. Levnec is a poor thorp, with the write-up mentioning 4 different NPCs with a fluff-only write-up and a brief sketch of two locations that tie in with the metaplot of sorts. You see, the place isn’t necessarily considered to be fantastic, but there are ostensibly still pagans around, clinging to the old ways, and the church of St. Nicholas, while beloved by many, is a rather poor place of worship. The corrupt lord doesn’t help, and indeed, when fires ravaged the fields prior to last harvest, the lord refused to have his cattle slaughtered, resulting in a tenth of townsfolk dying. Wildlife is sparse and even the rats are gone in the aftermath of the starvation-inducing winter. While there is a low-level magic-user here, the tower is rotted as well, the caster a rather paltry excuse, who is planning to create a gargoyle to exact vengeance on the disrespectful townsfolk.

There is another plot here, one that ties in with the pagans I mentioned – the Coven of Veles. “These cultists believe they will be able to crush their enemies and be immune to the ravages of time […] So, there are a couple of things wrong with this. For starters there are no clerics here, only funny people believing funny things.” The humor here is hilarious, and they like abducting folks, dancing naked with masks on, and then making a manhunt of the poor sod, who’ll have his hands broken. Yeah, they’re bastards – to quote the pdf: “I am not sure Veles would even want them as followers.”The cult has a fully mapped temple hidden in the woods, and the temple comes with a nice, professional map, though no key-less, player-friendly map is provided. This mini-dungeon manages to evoke a concise atmosphere, portraying a dilapidated temple that may actually, Dark Souls-style, collapse into a gigantic chasm, evoking flashbacks to the deep regions of From Software’s series. Similarly, the dungeon sports interesting features and indirect storytelling that can be rather deadly – a mummified head with a stitched-shut mouth teaches present magic-users the beckon the dragon spell…and casts it. This is very much Soulsian, and it earns this by being fair, yet obscure – it’s a hard balancing act, but I feel this earns the favorable comparison.

While we’re on the subject of the dragon – it’s not a majestic beast, but a pot-bellied, paltry thing…but it’s still a dragon. But yeah, let’s return for a second to the “pagans”/wannabe-cultists. They also think that they might become woodwose, the big, mythic predators that ostensibly haunt the forests. They are wrong. Few woodwose remain, as the starvation and scouring of the local wildlife has rendered their numbers lower than knights ever could, but some remain.

Levnec itself has something rather strange for such a small place – toyshop, closed down. While the townsfolk are not helpful, some investigation will show that the owner was one of the mythical gnomes that ostensibly only exist here…and that the gnome feared being eaten “sooner than expected” by the townsfolk, which should be shocking, considering the childlike innocence of the writer. Some asking around will note that some of the villagers actually vanished completely in the forests, leaving only clothes, but no trail of their physical forms behind.

So yes, there are gnomes here. There is a gnome village in the woods, and it is inhabited by cute garden gnome style beings, with pointy hats and all, whose elite warriors are absolutely paltry…but in order to find the gnomes, the truth about the missing villagers, the cults, etc., the PCs will have to enter the forest…and here, a massive “Lost in the Woods”-generator makes for the mechanical meat of the module. It sports an 8-entry table of where, a d6 table of “What” a d4-table of “Weird” aspects…and rolling3 of the same number yields super-weird Trips-encounters, while two 5s or 6s add additional treasure…like, you know…food. Oh, and maximum rolls on all dice lead you where you actually set off to. This is a surprisingly fun “getting lost”/”Stumbling through forests”-generator, and it makes finding e.g. the gnome village a rather tough and fairy-tale-esque proposition. Now, the gnomes themselves, as mentioned before, are horrible combatants. They also have names like Nuttercloud that you can generate in a small name-generator. They also smell deliciously, garbage turns into delicious raw materials, and the smell of cookies suffuses the air. They only have few taboos, namely not giving them a name – apart from the leader, the Grand Poomba, they don’t seem to have a sense of individualism.

Oh, btw.: Magic-users claim that eating gnome can enhance your magical abilities, and the gnomes, while shy of discussing this, will not dispute it. Heck, it almost seems like their carefree nature, their smell of honey and cinnamon etc., might make them delicious. And indeed, clever players will be able to pinpoint gnomes that know about their “mothers” having memories of missing people. Who are nowhere to be found. You see…the gnomes are WEIRD. They are all they say they are. They are just as innocent and cutesy. They have innate magical powers and indeed, they grant magic powers when eaten. Alas, there is a resolution to what they truly are that is creative and really, really cool, as it ties into the woodwose having been decimated by the humans, and it makes all of it make sense in a delightfully, capital letters WEIRD way. No, they are NOT nefarious. They would not try to fool someone into eating gnome and there is no straight twist here...and if you really want to know what’s up with these strange gnomes, you’ll have to get the module. It’ll be worth it, regardless of system you’re playing!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a rules-language level, as far as you can claim as such for the generic, non-system-specific OSR-components. The NGR-components are precise and to the point. On a formal level, I noticed a couple of typos, but nothing jarring. The layout adheres to a nice two-column b/w-standard that is crisp, well-presented and easy to read – surprisingly nice for a first offering. Same goes for the maps, though I do bemoan the fact that we do not get player-friendly versions. I strongly suggest printing out the pdf, as the electronic version has no bookmarks, which constitutes an annoying comfort detriment.

Zzarchov Kowolski’s freshman offering (as far as I know) is an impressive scenario for advanced GMs. The sandboxy nature and presentation requires that the GM knows the module properly and doesn’t bother with much handholding. At the same time, the scenario features a really cool mini-game and makes SENSE in its weird own way. The atmosphere is absolutely superb and its strong motifs echo throughout the book; the threat of starvation looming over the region makes for an uncommon and challenging obstacle for the PCs, and the reveal is amazing. This module can go a ton of different ways, courtesy of its open structure, and thus sports a ton of replay value. From a focused convention.game to a long-winded mini-campaign, it could carry a selection of different playstyles.

It’s also frickin’ hilarious. At least it was for me. I only rarely laughed this much when reading an RPG-supplement, and it earns this dark humor, without having it spoil the atmosphere. Now, the absence of bookmarks and player-friendly maps would usually lock this down to the 4-star-regions, but this would honestly not do the module justice. The Gnomes of Levnec is an amazing 1st-level module (or 0-level funnel for DCC) that manages more in its couple of pages than many modules with twice that page-count. It also gets the freshman offering bonus, which is why I will round up from my final verdict of 4.5 stars…and since I really enjoyed this, I will also slap my seal of approval on this, in spite of its formal imperfections. If you like your fantasy dark and weird, with a dash of black humor, then put this in your cart ASAP. Have I mentioned the hand-out? Well, it has one. I’m not going to SPOIL what’s on it, though.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Gnomes of Levnec
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