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Neoclassical Geek Revival Acidic 2nd Edition
by Samuel O. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/16/2023 11:50:39

This game system has a very playable solution for every weird situation that has come up at and around RPG tables over the last 40 years. Suddenly have to figure out how strong an elephant is vs an ogre? Use the Size rules to quickly get to the bottom of it. Wish there were more gameable mechanics around conflicts that aren't combat? Arguments and Stealth are here for you. Want it to be easier to make your own character classes, weapons, armor, spells, and almost anything else? Revival has all of that, too! With one simple dice mechanic, the dX, Kowolski has made a system that is easy to learn and fun to master. Do you stay Calm and automatically roll a 10, go On Edge and roll 3d6, or become fully reckless and roll 1d20? Since NPCs are always rolling 1d20, you may eventually find that you can't remain Calm for long. This is a great, modern, every-stat-matters reworking of first-generation roleplaying games that still plays and feels like the original games. I promise it won't let you down.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Neoclassical Geek Revival Acidic 2nd Edition
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Neoclassical Geek Revival Acidic 2nd Edition
by Michael I. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/16/2023 10:29:52

Convoluted rules that wreck the point of OSR. If you can assume a base d20 or 2d6 system, why pretend it's OSR? It's a whole new system and a pain to learn instead. Meanwhile, the tone of writing is condescending and a major turnoff. I'd rather stick with The Black Hack, or Sharp Swords & Sinister spells, or OSE, or any number of other OSR games instead.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
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Neoclassical Geek Revival Acidic 2nd Edition
by Ariel A. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 06/12/2022 09:46:59

Awesome system, feels like an old school game but throws out all the mechanics you're used to and replaces them with stuff that makes the game way more fun for players. Combat is interesting and active without becoming the forefront of the game or overrun with fiddly bits. Even basic actions like stealth become their own minigames that offer meaningful choices to players. It is challenging to wrap your head around the first time, and it requires a lot of the GM to fill in the gaps (e.g., there is a whole mechanic for mutations, and the author does not provide a table for said mutations, you just have to come up with it yourself). It is also not easy to convert older content to the system, as the chasiss it's based on is very different from DnD and adjacent systems. If you can get past that content and learning curve, it is an absolute blast to run. Even if you don't like it at the end, there are so many good ideas here you can take and implement in your retroclone of choice.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Neoclassical Geek Revival Content Guide 2nd Edition
by Ariel A. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 06/12/2022 09:30:12

This is a solid resource for very non-essential game content you can refer to for your NGR game, including a handful of sample magic items, monsters, traps, religions, and spells you might add to your game. Most beneficial by far is the NPC section, as building even a generic level 0 bandit enemy or whatever can take a while in NGR. There is also a robust set of wilderness encounter tables which I will definitely be using both in and outside of NGR.

More dissapointing is the lack of content in the monster section, which is one of the biggest reasons I bought the book. Instead, there's a "do it yourself and stop being lazy" message in that section, which would be hilarious if it wasn't so disappointing. Building monsters in this system is, in my opinion, one of the biggest barrirers to running of the system, since it's not straightforward to convert OSR monsters right into this system. This felt honestly like a missed opportunity to help people getting into running what is otherwise an excellent system.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Neoclassical Geek Revival Content Guide 2nd Edition
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Neoclassical Geek Revival Content Guide 2nd Edition
by Michael I. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/05/2022 12:30:57

I had high hopes for this game. I'm into indie magazine sized OSR D&D like-games generally. This one just rubs me the wrong way. It's trying SO hard to be different that there are mechanics that seem to be there simply to make the game unintuitive. Rules like taking the opposite number of a die rolled (which on a d6 is fine but on a d12 or d20 range are a nuisance). In addition, the attitude the book was written in is sarcastic in a sort of insulting way (.."you were too lazy to give a f*ck"). And, the worst bit is that you gain ZERO efficiency from all your years of D&D play, no matter the version to help you absorb these rules. This is a practically a sin given that the main advantage to the OSR movement is that they operate generally in the way a historic game did so you only need to learn the minimal changes. Not so here. You will be learning an entirely new system that no one ask for and that does not seem by a read through to streamline play.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
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Neoclassical Geek Revival Basic 2nd Edition
by Newton P. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/09/2021 18:53:57

The pages are dripping with inovation. This is my first exposure to Neoclassical Geek Revival (I had never played the 1st ed).

It is hard to call this an OSR game, as it is filled with inovation and 'Indy-like' mechanics. None of which seem 'gimmicky', but flow smoothly. One could easily port many of these rules to a D&D 5e game.

The game designers realized that social interactions (like negotiations with a King) and stealth/covert actions (like sneaking into a wizard's tower) are just as exciting and important as combat, they are treated in a similar fashion (no simple pass/fail check).

Every spell is customized with simple formulas, so no out-of-the-box-generic magic spells (yet very easy to recreate all the classic spells).

While there are a few referrences to "advanced" rules (in an upcomming Kickstarter), the game feels very complete.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Neoclassical Geek Revival Basic 2nd Edition
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Lost in the Wilderness
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/25/2021 15:00:07

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This toolkit for Neoclassical geek revival (NGR) clocks in at 25 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 22 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Before you skip ahead: While this has been written for NGR, its generators per se are useful for any fantasy game, particularly ones that tend to gravitate to the side of gritty realism.

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue because it’s the only one of the NGR toolkits that I haven’t yet covered, and that triggers my OCD.

So, what is this? Well, if you’re familiar with Zzarchov Kowolski’s often absolutely amazing wilderness modules, such as the classic Gnomes of Levnec, you’ll recall the cool random encounter engine they use: One rolls a d8, a d6 and a d4, and the results let you check on tables that, together, make for an encounter that is more interesting. The cool thing, though, particularly for longer treks, would be the additions: If you roll doubles, called “dubs” (say, a 5 on both the d6 and d8), or triples, called “Trips” (say, a 1 on all three dice), then you get a rarer, often more fantastic encounter. If you have a run (say, 1, 2, and 3 on the dice), you also get special things, and when you roll the maximum (so, 8, 6, and 4), you get the special “Max” encounter, often dealing with high risks and rewards. The cool thing about this engine is that its very design lets you maintain and control the degree of the fantastic/weird rather well. It works.

The generators herein also use the Σ-sign, which denotes the sum of all dice rolled. After a brief one-page explanation of the engine, we get one of these generators per page, with the region also noting a travel speed and the health of the environment. The d8 denotes “Where” the encounter happens; the d6 “What” and the d4 something “Weird”.

To give you an example, I rolled 3,4,4 on the farm country generator. This yields: Where? Rotten remnants of huts or other outbuildings overgrown with shrubs. Hat? Wild game. This has an additional roll to determine the type of game—I rolled pheasants. And the weird aspect would be a small pond. If I had rolled 3,4,5 instead, I’d have gotten a special “Runs”-encounter: “Charcoal burners are heading to the nearest town. They carry backpacks of charcoal and hatchets.” A maximum result might see the outlaw king holding court in a commandeered farmhouse!

As you can see, these generators are rather useful and handy. The regions covered in addition to aforementioned farm country would be the royal woods, the river, the scrublands, hill country, olde woodes (druid, fey county; Margreve-ish), haunted forests, the barrens, the swamp, the coastline, the foothills, the mountains, the undermountain, the caves, the plains, the desert, the sand-swallowed civilization, the dust choked lands, the jungle, the endless savannah, and last but not least, the land that time forgot (dino country). So yeah, apart from proper oceans or tropical isles, this does cover quite a wide breadth of biomes/regions.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a no-frills 2-column b/w-standard, with a few b/w-artworks thrown in. The pdf, alas, has no bookmarks, which is really annoying when using the generators. I suggest printing the relevant pages when using the booklet.

I really enjoy Zzarchov Kowolski’s wilderness-encounter generators, and I maintain that they are useful far beyond the confines of the NGR-system; if you enjoy your fantasy on the gritty side of things, then these encounter-generators provide compelling dressing with just the right degree of strange sometimes just…happening. The fact that the special encounters are automatically rarer is also neat.

So, is there something to complain about? Well, the island/tropical angle and oceans are missing, and there is the lack of bookmarks; the latter is particularly egregious for a book that you want to use time and again. As such, I feel I can’t round up from my final verdict of 4.5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Lost in the Wilderness
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Gellarde Barrow
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 12/01/2020 12:15:43

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure for Neo-classical Geek Revival clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested as a prioritized review by one my supporters via direct donation, and also as a regular request by one of my patreon supporters.

This module contains two different spells: Craft barrow guardian (based on Simulacrum) and barrow hex (based on Trigger & Summon), both focusing on making guardians for barrows. The module also includes a really cool treasure, the mallet of Gellminster, a carpenter’s mallet that can be used to drive sharp objects into pretty much anything: Nail ghosts to walls, etc. Cool concepts! But: its rules are opaque. It will “strike more heavily than an ordinary mallet” (okay, what effect does this have?), and it e.g. doesn’t note how actually nailing critters to objects works rules-wise.

The module comes with a brief random encounter table and sports no read-aloud text.

The module is a barrow crawl for low-level/relatively new parties, and as far as the unique things that set NGR apart go, it doesn’t utilize many of those, feeling very much like a conventional OSR-module. In spite of this, it is one of the harder modules for both players and GMs to execute.

In order to talk about why will require that we go into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

Okay, only GMs around? Great! So, the PCs are about to explore the barrow of fabled Luc Gallarde, who was rumored to be capable of duplicating anything that can be made of wood in other media, like stone. Note that this is true: In the very first room, a chair (constructed as one would make a wooden chair) of marble can be found. Cool! It weighs 150 pounds, nice, this’ll make it hard to get to safety for the party! Problem-solving ftw.! …wait. It’s valuable, right? The module says as much. Then why doesn’t it list a, you know, actual value? This problem in the details isn’t the only one, but it illustrates one of the weaknesses of the module.

As far as strengths are concerned, we have a few as well: Beyond bandits in one room, we also have a dangerous hipposteus that can be outmaneuvered by a clever party (if they read the signs well) – and one room is particularly interesting: At the top level, there’s a walkway blocked by pallid, white roots that crosses a larger hall; these roots attack and regrow pretty quickly, but not too quickly. Below, we have the biggest room of the dungeon, including a stationary root monster thing that not only can be outmaneuvered by clever PCs (to at least stay out of melee range), it also throws curled up trilobites (!!) as ammo. That is AWESOME. Seriously, two thumbs up. This creature, alas, also serves as a good way to illustrate that the module isn’t always consistent in how it rewards the players: That hallway with the roots reaching up? If the party takes the time and clears out all the roots, the monster below will fall to the floor. Does it suffer in any way, shape or form from this? NO. In fact, it gets tougher, because now it’s angry and mobile. Granted, bypassing the roots in the corridor above may be the smartest move, but penalizing wanting to deal with the monster in a clever manner strikes me as counterproductive. Taking potshots at it while it’s rooted is much more efficient. I was also surprised to note that it can unroot, because the regular write-up doesn’t imply that, with its limited mobility/can’t reach PCs that stick to the walls angle.

The second part of the module that makes it kinda tough, is that the barrow has essentially three levels crammed on one map, and a gimmick where two levers allow the party to flood the barrow to a degree. This process is pretty much a question of trial and error (there are only two levers, so that is somewhat valid), but since they seem to lock in place until the water has reached the new level, it can be a bit weird. Anyhow, it would have been REALLY HELPFUL if the individual regions that can be flooded actually noted some sort of shading on the map. Granted, each room that can be flooded notes its differences in the flooded state, but yeah. Considering how simple the actual module is regarding its set up, I shouldn’t have to make notes and reread the module and puzzle that sort of thing together. It’s not that it isn’t there, it’s just that it’s inconvenient.

The aforementioned mallet, btw., was used by a tomb robber to nail a shadow thing to the wall as he lay dying. The shadow thing, obviously, can’t be trusted, but tries to get the party to free it. And no, there are still no rules for nailing enemies to solid objects – or how to get, you know, out if you’re nailed to an object.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are okay on a formal and rules language level; I noticed a couple of hiccups. Layout adheres to a 2-column no-frills b/w-standard, and the pdf uses some nice stock art. The b/w-maps by Dyson Logos are really neat, but I wish there was an unlabeled, player-friendly version, or even better, a proper jpg for VTT-use. None is provided. The pdf has no bookmarks.

Michael Moscrip’s Gellarde Barrow does a lot right; it has a cool item premise in line with Zzarchov’s aesthetics, and when he gets things right (like the ranged attacks of that one monster), he does so rather well. However, at the same time, the complex doesn’t really live up to the cool “I can nail ANYTHING together”-premise. I mean, picture what you could have done with that!! Instead, we get a pretty solid, if inconvenient little dungeon crawl. The whole water/flooding premise, ultimately, is underutilized as well – you could have made some seriously cool puzzles with that, influence and redefine how one or more combats operate, etc. There is a ton of promise here, but as a whole, much of the promise is not realized properly. This also holds true regarding all the possibilities NGR offers in contrast to other old-school systems; the game has so much more to offer than what’s on display here.

As a PWYW-offering, this is worth checking out, I guess, but in contrast to the other OSR/NGR-compatible adventures, it falls a bit flat. My final verdict will be 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Gellarde Barrow
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The Price of Evil
by Gus L. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/23/2020 07:58:14

Kowolski's work is usually top drawer, and Price of Evil is no exception. A procedural haunted house generator that uses cards to produce both layout and contents of grim, creepy abandoned mansions stuffed with ghosts and tragic history. Like all procedural generation tools the individua content tends towards the short and evocative, with a fair amount of work for the GM 'designing' the adventure still to prepare - but its excellent and flavorful, sticking well with the haunted mansion themse. A book worth reading through if one has any interest in procedural adventure design, or wants to run a haunted house adventure.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Price of Evil
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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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