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Welcome to Scarthey (D&D 5e)
by Randall S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 06/02/2020 08:59:41

While definitely an interesting read with incredible artwork, Welcome to Scarthey is a lackluster document for this kind of game. There is history of the school(nice enough), Faculty Members(but with only about a paragraph about them), and overviews of their extra-curriculars/games. Cackleball sounded like an awesome game, but when I came up to it in the document, it was a simple description-no rules and no way to implement it at a table. Furthermore, there are no tips and tricks on actually running a game in such a setting. "Players will choose their subjects of study..."; That's great and all, but what kinds of things can a Game Master do to keep it engaging and immersive? If you already have an idea as to how you want to run a Magical University, then this is a good document to augment that. However, it is not suited to someone who wants to run a game like this but has no idea where to start.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Welcome to Scarthey (D&D 5e)
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Creator Reply:
Thank you so much for the review. I highly recommend you check out our Anaximander's Adventuring Studies, which is set in Scarthey and runs through the character's first three years at the university (levels 1-3). It's for Pathfinder though, which might not be so helpful, but there are many ideas on how to run adventures in a magical university within its pages.
Death Queen and the Life Stone
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/14/2020 07:32:11

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 30 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of editorial, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 22 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

It should be noted that these page-numbers are provided for the single page version – there is a double-page spread version (better for e-readers etc.) also included.

Okay, so, this module is very different from my usual fare; it’s not just a supplement provided for the context of Rising Phoenix’ Scarthey setting – it’s actually a module designed to work as a GM-less solo-adventure for a 1st level fighter or cleric. It can also be run as a regular 1-on-1-scenario, but the primary presentation seems to be one intended for GM-less solo-play.

The module mentions the Stone of Ashirai – a mighty, dark artifact that can influence the difficulty of the module, providing one of 4 effects – this provides some replay value, and you choose one or roll for one before the module actually starts. Two are particularly brutal: One of the effects has vanquished foes potentially return to unlife on an 18+ on a d20, and the other makes you set aside a d20, with the 20 facing up. When an enemy rolls, they use the value facing up, and detract 1 from the value; when you defeat a creature, the value increases by +1, up to the maximum of 20.

For a further difficulty-increase, you can add duskin goblins as allies to the primary antagonists – the process of doing so is randomized, and the goblins’ stats are decent – while I noticed a few minor snafus (rules and formatting – HP are off by one, and feature headers are only bold, not bolded and in italics), you can use these. Formatting for other creatures tends to be off as well. Apart from that, DCs tend to clock in at around 10, with one instance missing the DCs – that one is called out in the errata notepad file, but as per my policy, only properly updated pdfs are taken into account. (As an aside: Why this policy? Because otherwise, publishers can point towards obscure homepages, form threads etc. and claim errata – and that is not customer-friendly.)

These aforementioned gobos do come with morale, which is a nice underutilized touch, imho. (One of the artifact’s effects can add a change here.)

The module then follows essentially a choose your own adventure-book style formula – we get read-aloud text, and after that some choices, with notes to go to other numbered encounters.

Now, unlike in my usual reviews, I will not talk about the plot or the like here – after all, I’d be spoiling the module for the GM-less solo-players that are the primary demographic. Testing the module, I should note that this is a pretty deadly beast – there are a couple of story-game-overs (traps’ll generally just kill you sans save), and the module sometimes uses skill checks where I’d have expected a saving throw – for example when a massive block of stone squishes you. After multiple failures to beat the module, I can discern the primary goal to succeed here: there is one encounter that can net you an uncommon ad pretty cool ally. This is perhaps the most crucial encounter to get, as it changes the action economy slant in the encounters with multiple enemies. I strongly suggest making your character hardy in order to avoid being one-shot by encounters with multiple enemies.

Don’t get me wrong – this’ll still be tough, but once you’ve found this one, you’ll be on track to beating this. Good luck!

Conclusions: Editing is pretty good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, I noticed a couple of snafus, but nothing to wreck the pdf. Formatting in particular deviates quite a bit from 5e’s default conventions. Layout is gorgeous and uses a quasi-Egyptian full-color background, with colored scarabs at the top and bottom. Artworks are pretty copious, and blend public domain and high-quality full-color pieces of artwork. This is a beautiful book. Big plus: While the book has no bookmarks, it does have internal hyperlinking – which is actually better for books like this: You’re not SPOILED by accident if you exert some discipline. But know what SUCKS? You can’t highlight texts in this pdf, or copy it. This becomes an issue when using the goblins for added difficulty. While usually, the encounters simply provide their stats where needed, the goblin stats are in the beginning, and you can’t quickly jump to those – having a single bookmark for that stat, or a “go to goblin/jump back”-button would have been nice. Or, you know, just having the damn common courtesy of being able to just copy the text from the pdf, like pretty much 99.9% of pdfs out there.

Rodney Sloan’s “Death Queen & the Life Stone” is an unpretentious, challenging, choose your own adventure style book using 5e; it’s deadly and not something you’ll beat at first try, and that’s a good thing. For the most part, the story-game-overs for bad choices seemed fair to me, though the very high sudden death chances for encounters with multiple enemies irked me slightly. As noted before, some of these might have warranted an escape DC or saving throw to avoid, but that may be me trying to hearken too close to 5e’s conventions. The narrative won’t necessarily blow you away, but the scenario per se is solid and fun.

So yeah, all in all, I consider this to be a pretty neat, if not perfect offering. Now, I’d usually round up from my final verdict. But not being able to highlight text? That’s really aggravating. My final verdict will hence be 3.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Death Queen and the Life Stone
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Companionable Darkness
by Jay G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/12/2020 18:39:21

I've now played through all 3 of the Scarthey solo adventures for 5e and can comfortable say that Companionable Darkness was both my personal favourite and probably objectively the best entry in the series.

Companionable Darkness has the most fully realised story in the series as well as a number of NPCs for the PC to interact with. The story itself was engaging and started off a little grey before moving into more traditional black-and-white good-vs-evil territory. I also really enjoyed the more detailed entries and the fact that it felt like this time out the backstory of the adventure was more than tangentially linked to the University Of The Arcane.

I enjoyed Companionable Darkness and would definitely recommend it but there were 2 minor issues that I felt should have been caught in the editing or proof-reading stages:

  1. Entry 53 is formatted incorrectly. It starts off mid-sentence and then at the end of the text block you find the missing text from the beginning of the dialogue.
  2. Entry 38 tells you to make a DC 13 Wisdom save then offers you two choices neither of which are affected by the outcome of the save.


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Companionable Darkness
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Creator Reply:
Thank you for the feedback and we're glad you enjoyed it. We'll do what we can to fix those errors. Thanks again!
Forest of Secrets
by Jay G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/12/2020 10:09:06

After playing through Death Queen And The Life Stone I was optimistic about the next solo adventure in the series hoping it would build on and improve on my prior experience. That's not quite what I got here but in fairness that's because the creators decided to try something really different that some players will probably find more appealing, unfortunately in my case it wasn't really what I was looking for.

Forest Of Secrets breaks from the traditional mold of linear solo quests where the narrative is driven by branching player choices and instead replaces that mechanic with a randomly generated map. The big upside in this is that it drastically increases the replay value of the adventure and means multiple play throughs can yield significantly different experiences. The downside is that there is effectively no linear narrative. All the key story beats happen in the first entry and the final encounter, in between the start and the end there is efffectively no change or development in the story.

For players interested in a solo play experience similar to a 'quest' style dungeon board game this adventure will probably be right up their alley and very satisfying. For players hoping for more of a story-based or RPG style experience this adventure may fall a bit flat.

Objectively well designed, just not my cup of tea.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Forest of Secrets
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Creator Reply:
Thanks for the review!
Death Queen and the Life Stone
by Jay G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/12/2020 09:58:25

Although Death Queen And The Life Stone was a fairly short adventure I did really enjoy it.

The randomness of die-rolling meant it did take me multiple tries to successfully complete the adventure, not due to poor choices or an overly high difficulty level but due to being overwhelmed twice by relatively low CR encounters (the joys of a single first level character I suppose). Overall the art and descriptive text made this feel like a fairly immersive experience and it definitely had me looking forward to the next adventure in the series.

I do have a few minor suggestions if the creators are checking on on these reviews:

  1. Entry 42 asks the player to make a History or Religion check but assigns no target number to the roll
  2. Action economy can really slant the difficulty of some of the encounters. Entries 29, 33 and 38 your opponents are all fairly soft and squishy but their damage output means they can potentially take out the PC in one round if they both hit. Entry 34 (and therefore also 45) conversely are painfully easy if you have the item/companion from Entry 26. It might sound boring but from a balance point of view all these encounters might have been better balanced had the number of opponents been reduced, but the opponents hit points been increased. Just my opinion though.

Overall for under $3 it definitely felt like I got my money's worth and I enjoyed my brief time in Scarthey.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Death Queen and the Life Stone
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Creator Reply:
Thanks for the rating, and we'll certainly consider your feedback.
Gear Heart
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/03/2020 07:08:20

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 16 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 11 pages of content, laid out in digest size (6’’ by 9’’/A5), so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by one of my patreon supporters after the rather interesting Anaximander’s Adventuring Studies had piqued their interest.

This is a Scarthey-module for the magical-school setting, and I strongly suggest using Anaximander’s Adventuring Studies as an introduction to the setting, should you choose to go that way. The module is nominally designated for PCs of levels 1st to 5th, and it references Bestiary 3 material.

The module comes with introductory read-aloud text, as well as a surprisingly nice almost isometric full-color map of the adventure location. The map does not come in a player-friendly version, though, and individual rooms are not consistently designated on the GM map with keys.

The most glaring issue I encountered on a formal level, though, would be that the pdf switches between text that looks like read-aloud text and rules-relevant components/GM-instructions without a formal way to differentiate between the two. For example, we have a paragraph of descriptive text, that then proceeds to continue describing things…and suddenly mentions that a DC 20 Perception check is required to notice that. Layout-wise, this could have been implemented in a cleaner fashion.

Spoilers ahead! Move to the conclusion, if you’re a player!

… .. .

Only GMs present? Good!

It should be noted that, while the pdf does have a background story, which also ties in with a plane of infinite bleakness and nulled magic, but it does not really bear any relevance on the proceedings: Instead, the PCs arrive at the adventure location, engage in some very basic investigation of the location, and then delivers one interesting sequence that pits the party against a combination of creature and trap (a clockwork brain animating servants!), which must be beaten in a few turns – 8, to be precise. I am pretty sure that this should be “rounds”; otherwise, there is a good chance some groups might not be able to do much at all. The trap has no range listed for its single mode of attack, and the attack does not scale: At a +6 ranged touch attack that inflicts 4d4 electricity damage, it is very brutal for 1st level characters, and for all higher levels pretty pitiful.

And that’s pretty much it. Creature names are not highlighted, and while I liked the essentially one encounter this module consists of, it’s not enough to challenge a veteran group. You could conceivably play the entire module in less than 30 minutes. I’m not kidding you.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting on a formal level are okay, though the sequence of information and how it’s presented may cause some confusion. Layout adheres to the baroque full-color standard of Scarthey, and is pretty nifty from an aesthetic point of view, but a brutal drain if printed. The artworks are surprisingly neat for such an inexpensive offering, and same goes for the map. The lack of a player-friendly one-page version of the map is a downer, though. The pdf has no bookmarks, which is a comfort-detriment, but considering the brevity of this module…ähem, encounter, that won’t be an issue.

Gear Heart, by Rodney Sloan and Bob Storrar, builds a cool premise and atmosphere, and then proceeds to do nothing with it. It has this one solid idea, but sports no interesting global effects, no build-up, no denouement – it’s almost jarring. Granted, this costs less than 2 bucks, but I’d genuinely recommend getting the big Anaximander module instead; it is more than an encounter, has a more precise presentation, and will keep your group busy for several sessions. Gear Heart, though? I can’t really recommend it. It’s not terrible, but neither is it up to par, which is why my final verdict can’t exceed 2 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Gear Heart
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Heaven & Hell: Aasimar & Tiefling Ancestries
by Jack D. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/12/2019 22:43:38

Well written but imbalanced.

I really enjoyed reading the in depth ancestries descriptions that hit all the hallmarks of Paizos new standards (how people might percieve you and how you might feel as a member of this race). However, while it gets the formatting spot on, several ancestry feats are flat broken, including giving aasimar a level 2 champion feat at level 1 which is doubly broken and likely a poor inference based on the bestiary.

All in all, its a good guide line to fill in the gaps until aasimar and teiflings get a first part conversion but it needs some strong arm home brew errata.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Heaven & Hell: Aasimar & Tiefling Ancestries
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Creator Reply:
Thanks for the feedback. We'll be putting up an errata file soon.
Heaven & Hell: Aasimar & Tiefling Ancestries
by Cameron D. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/08/2019 06:50:36

Kim and Rodney have never failed to amaze me with their work, so when Heaven & Hell: Aasimar & Tiefling Ancestries was announced, I knew I needed to review this and see the combined and amazing skill of two DMs Guild powerhouses. I can tell you right now, it is stunning - absolutely stunning. With Rodney's amazing attention to building excellent layout and perfect narrative and Kim's skill at building compact and clear abilities and tables, this book is practically glowing with perfection topped off with Bob's stunning art.

It feels and reads like a Paizo-published piece, knocking most other fan-made content out of the running. I especially enjoy the tables at the end of each section which gives you so many cool rollable options for a unique Tiefling or Aasimar appearence, such as how an Aasimar's hair always smells like a spring meadow or a Tiefling has a forked tongue. The ancestral feats are also great for both, adding more and more to this chocker-block full 40-page masterpiece.

Anyone who is getting ready to start up a Pathfinder 2e game should definitely grab themselves a copy of this book otherwise you are going to be missing out.

Comics, Clerics, & Controllers d20 Roll: Nat 20



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Griffins - A Field Guide (D&D)
by Cameron D. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/04/2019 09:27:34

Griffins. Gryphons. Gryffins. Why are there so goddamn many different types of griffins?!?! Well, thank mythology - and with Griffins - A Field Guide, Rodney makes life so much easier being able to differentiate the different species of griffin - such as the Common Griffin, or Mandover's Feral Griffin, or Arthfael's Flightless Griffin. And on top of that, you also get some new class options and mechanics for having a griffin as a companion.

The only major issue for me is the formatting - at times it is hard to read stuff or to try and decipher the font, and the class options are organized a little strangely. I think perhaps if the bestiary section was kept as it is, and then the class options and other mechanics just put into a regular D&D format, it would be a perfect product. But overall, really fun, and I totally see myself using it.

Comics, Clerics, & Controllers d20 Roll: 15



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Griffins - A Field Guide (D&D)
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Anaximander's Adventuring Studies
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/21/2019 08:07:15

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 75 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 4 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 65 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

This adventure is intended as an introductory adventure for the Scarthey setting that depicts a Harry Potter-esque magic academy; I have covered the basic setting assumptions in my review of the “Welcome to Scarthey”-supplement. It should be noted, though, that, while useful to have, said supplement is not required in order to run this adventure. All the respective components required to run this in a meaningful manner have been included within. This includes, but is not limited to, a representation of the overview map of Scarthey’s campus, which still doesn’t feature a scale to denote the actual dimensions of the massive magic academy.

The basic assumption of the adventure is that the PCs are invited/admitted to Scarthey as part of Adventuring Studies, a program that seeks to generate an efficient adventuring party. This process is roughly grouped into not a few weeks, but is intended to cover no less than three in-game years, with the players taking control of their PCs for key scenes, so no, you won’t have to micromanage complex school-day/social life calendars. (Come to think of it: That’d have been awesome for nerds like yours truly…) Anyhow, this focus on a long-term adventure is something I only rarely get to see, so this is indeed something I am excited to see how it is performed!

The module features read-aloud text for key-scenes, but not every encounter, and also sports side-bars that help contextualize things, and indeed, it is interesting to note that the summary of the fields of operations the module classifies characters in includes the occult classes – kudos for catching and rectifying this oversight of the original Scarthey supplement. Another thing I really loved: At the end of each year, we get an “End of Term”-Report, a pretty fancy-looking document that makes for a great handout! This also extends to a certain outsider contract and a final diploma, all of which get their own handouts. Going above and beyond the required here, this aspect really rocks. A fully-gridded one-page Undervault map has been included (an unlabeled version would have been nice), and the supplement features a couple of rather nice full-color, unlabeled battle-mat-style maps for more complex encounters. Story awards for roleplaying are noted throughout the adventure, which I something I definitely consider great.

Structurally, the module can thus be seen as a primarily event-driven sequence of happenstances that allow for a significant freedom when it comes to the implementation of when and how to modify a given encounter; one could also argue that the structure of the adventure lends itself rather well to poaching components from its pages.

All right, that is pretty much as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS. Potential players of this adventure should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? Great! After the introduction ceremony and welcoming speech of the Arcchancellor, the PCs will have a chance to mingle and become acquainted with the university grounds. Their dormitories are housed in the Undervaults, a massive series of caverns, with the armor of a once famous, nameless paladin acting as an appropriately magical guardian. The PCs are housed in the Octavius dormitory, so named for one of the university’s largest benefectors, and 4 adventurers to be are grouped per room to represent the four fields of operations. A concise list of fellow students, focused primarily on fluff-centric write-ups, but noting alignment, templates and classes if applicable, is provided as well, allowing an ambitious GM to potentially flesh out the class and fellow students in a Persona-like manner without much hassle – kudos here! Indeed, the PCs will have a nice candidate for the snobbish foil with the scion of the mighty Octavius clan, Kellin, being one of their fellow students – and yes, he does come fully statted. Oh, and his cronies? A gorgeous female and a halfing-sized slime-thing called Splish-splosh. Yes, this does embrace the magic-angle more than the “Welcome”-file did.

The PCs then will be undergoing a test (in which the best of them will be beaten by a hair’s breadth by Kellin) and then, they’ll be assigned to each other in a narrative conceit the module freely acknowledges to the GM, which I considered to be pretty refreshing. This would also be an excellent point in time to note that academic success is tracked throughout the module, with “Merits” making for a kind of currency and abstract measure of success. Further scenes deal with e.g. a guardian scroll trap left in the library to test the resourcefulness and mettle of PCs, and notes on the location where detention is held, and on a creature if the PCs wander off-limits – these are basically the global and intrdocutory floating scenes.

After these, we dive into the nit and grit of year 1, which includes scenes that encompass being attacked by a freed, animated rotating tumbler (in a class on, bingo, bypassing locks), trying to pass a trapped door. Defense class studies, pranks for breaking curfew that may or may not see the PCs outsmarted…and what about PCs being tasked to find the lost laundry building? Nope, that was no typo. The laundry building vanishes, and it’ll be up to the PCs to deal with a mischievous, but not necessarily evil leprechaun! Of course, dealing with their rivals and finally passing the exam should also be noted as steps that the PCs will have to succeed at on their way to becoming full-fledged adventurers! (As noted before – cool inclusion that we get an end-of-year document/certificate as a handout!) Year 2 includes soup animating as oozes that need to be dealt with (surprisingly dangerous!), a brief “micro-dungeon” quest in the Undervaults to get the fully statted magical inkwell of the discipline’s founder at Scarthey (the eponymous Anaximander), and more – for example, the PCs will have to find a miniature phoenix on behalf of one of the deans: The critter is lavishly-illustrated and properly statted, including notes for use as a familiar! PCs (and players, if they’re new!) will learn to deal with swarms, and another test deals with first being afflicted with a curse, and then finding a way to undo it. Additionally, the PCs (and players) will learn to mind AoE-effects when e.g. attempting to secure fragile blossoms. The final exam is rather cool: The PCs are led into the forest, poisoned, and have to secure the eggs of a forest drake from a nearby cave-complex to get rid of the exotic poison.

During year 3, we have frost wights stalking the complex via obscure tunnels in the middle of summer vacations – and the PCs learn dealing with outsiders. This includes a smudged summoning circle and a devilish contract – the contract is reproduced, and indeed, the pdf goes so far as to provide not one, but two different addendums for PCs not so easily fooled by the devil’s clever contract – this was a really clever, well-executed version of the old trope. Kudos! During the PC’s time off, they may fight merrow on a lavishly-mapped beach, and then get their first underwater adventuring experience, if they play their cards right. A race to assemble an armor (nice mini-game). The PCs will also get to be paired with their (by now) loathed rivals in an encounter that features a smart badger, teaching cooperation once more.

The final exam of the class focuses on a sphere of annihilation that has appeared in a side tunnel, requiring the unearthing of a talisman…and as the PCs are briefed, the rector vanishes when tracing a curious rune – and right after that, dark folk assault from a secret door. The PCs will have a chance to save or leave Kellin to his fate – and ultimately find a secret study, where Anaximander, founder of the program and now a broken lich-thing bereft of his phylactery. Defeating the lich constitutes the end of the supplement and final exam – failure to do so does not result in death, though: Just in the requirement to repeat a year, as in that case, it turns out to be staged. Smart way to avoid frustration for new players!

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the lavish and pretty impressive two-column full-color standard that made the first Scarthey-supplement such a joy to look at. The artworks are a great blending of perfectly fitting public domain and gorgeous full-color artworks. The cartography provides ranges from nice (encounter-maps) to okay (Undervault map), and the latter could have used a player-friendly version. It is my huge pleasure to announce that the Rising Phoenix crew learned from their mistakes – not only is the entire module studded with bookmarks that render navigation as comfortable as they should be, you can also highlight, copy and search the text, eliminating two serious gripes I had with the original Scarthey-supplement!

Jeffrey Swank delivers in spades in this module – not only is this long and could be deemed to be a sandbox of sorts that you can easily expand, it also does something I like: It teaches newbies the basics of adventuring…both PCs and players. The magical context ensures that veterans will have their fun as well, and indeed, personally, I consider this to be one of the best modules to introduce new players to Pathfinder – provided the GM knows what they are doing. The module does assume that the GM has some experience under their belt, and there may be modules that are easier to run. But as far as “teaching by doing” is concerned, this covers all the bases of the adventuring life. This, interestingly, generates a unity of themes between intent out-game and in-game, a notion I thoroughly enjoy. We also have the depth here that I was sorely missing from the “Welcome to Scarthey”-supplement – we learn about teaching methods, rivalries and the like, and the whole academy felt more vibrant and alive to me here. In short: This can be considered to be an impressive success, particularly since, unless I’m mistaken, this is the author’s first adventure.

It should, if the cool ideas and themes mentioned were not ample clue for you, also be noted that the module is appropriate for play with kids. While I probably would suggest it for ages 8+, there are serious differences between how sensitive kids are, so do take that with a grain of salt. This is a wholesome module that manages to capture the themes of rivalries and whimsy rather well. If there’s anything missing from this module, it’d have been nice to see scoring implemented a bit more thoroughly, and to have a player-friendly version of the Undervault. Bereft of any serious pieces of criticism beyond that, I will remain with a final verdict of 5 stars for this adventure, just short of my seal of approval. A grand step forward for Scarthey!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Anaximander's Adventuring Studies
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Welcome to Scarthey
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/20/2019 04:58:05

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This setting supplement clocks in at 64 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page acknowledgements, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 53 pages of content – at least in the single-page version. If you prefer e-readers and the like, there is a double-page version of the pdf included as well.

This review was added and moved up in my reviewing queue because I was tasked to review a module set in this setting, and it makes no sense and violates my OCD-tendencies to cover a module without first talking about its backdrop.

Okay, so Scarthey is a magical university, one that sports 4 different Houses that you’re assigned to; there is an orientation, and courses are assigned based on the things you wish to learn. Anyone wishing to study magic can enroll in Scarthey, and among the staff, there are rectors – basically the sanctioned adventurers of the university, which also contain non-casters. As such, this can create an interesting dynamic, as a adventuring group is assumed to consist of a mix of rectors and students.

Archchancellor Gwydion Ambrosius gets a full-page artwork, one that makes him, aptly, look like a cross between Gandalf and Dumbledore – it’s a pretty damn gorgeous piece, and indeed, this is something you realize once you open the pdf for the first time: This is one beautiful book. The pdf sports a parchment-like background with blue highlights and headers and a ton of baroque graphic elements that don’t detract from the text, but rather enhance it – the layout is absolutely stunning and deserves some serious applause.

Scarthey is properly mapped in a solid, if slightly less impressive two-page spread map (one page for the double-page version, obviously), which I’d usually applaud. However, it would have been nice to a) get a player-friendly, unlabeled map (though I can, for once, stomach its absence, considering that campus-maps will be present) and b), the map lacks a scale. As provided, it’s hard to glean how sprawling or cluttered those grounds are supposed to be. The map also, obviously, lacks a grid, so it remains pretty much abstract. Scarthey also seems to have only one means of getting there by land (as noted in the description of the gatehouse), but unfortunately the exact dimensions of where the university is can’t be gleaned from the map.

The description of the individual keyed locales that follows is written in a semi-IC-prose style, reminiscent of the pamphlets you’re handed when enrolling in a new university – “friendly librarian staff under the direction of Professor Raama Tuko” will gladly assist you, though some levels are obviously off-limits for new students – you get the idea. I enjoyed the implementation of this particular narrative conceit. From a prestigious healing house to a bardic school, there are quite a few different components here – at this point, it’s also worth mentioning that quite a few perfectly-chosen pieces of public domain drawings supplement the academy – there are a lot of those inside, and from alchemy tower to artificer’s hall, this section covered a lot of ground – with curious absences: None of the occult classes seem to receive instruction in Scarthey.

Speaking of which: While e.g. stabling is covered with costs for flying mounts and the like per semester, the book, as befitting of its tone, does make mention of e.g. the phantom chariot spell and similar components. This brings me to a crucial thing you need to know:

This supplement, while nominally declared PFRPG-compatible, makes many of Raging Swan Press’ offerings look positively crunchy. It is basically almost bereft of actual rules-relevant material in all but cursory references. No settlement statblock is provided for Scarthey, no feats, traits, spells – nothing in that regard. This also becomes pretty obvious with the staff: A total of 13 different NPCs are presented with a gorgeous artwork, a brief introduction, and a sample quote. The artworks deserve mention, as I did not expect to see so many gorgeous pieces herein. However, we don’t even get an inkling about their alignment and chosen classes – not even a brief “N male human transmuter 14” or the like. This is a bit puzzling to me, considering that the pdf for example does present the structure of the university in a handy two-page spread chart. Speaking of gorgeous two-page spreads – there is a rather impressive two-page artwork that depicts Scarthey, which made me think of Neuschwanstein – just with waterfalls and a gothic architecture hall (that seems weirdly out of place in contrast to the rest of the architecture) added – but that may just be me being a Bavarian.

Rules for conduct in Scarthey are presented alongside a variety of punishments for breaking said rules – these, fyi, remain pretty lenient and enlightened. A total of 4 pages is devoted to the chronology of Scarthey, with banner like headers denoting the respective year – I mention this, because the banners, while gorgeous, take up quite a bunch of space, and some people are irked by the like.

After this, we are guided through the process of choosing a house – and oddly, here we do get stats for the chancellor’s crown of casting, which only enhances your Intelligence by +2 and nets you a bonus equal to your HD to concentration checks. It comes with construction notes – and as you could glean, is just a reskin of the headband of vast intelligence +2, one that fails to note the skill-component correctly, and one that is mispriced rather severely, as its additional benefit should have increased its base price – it costs the same as a headband. It also kinda made me think that it’s weird that a school of magic can’t afford a better item for its most prestigious positions.

Anyway, we do get information on the 4 houses, which all feature their own absolutely stunning crests, with house master, motto, alignment, values, beliefs and mascot briefly noted – but we don’t get to know about total strength of the like. Each house comes with its own campaign trait; these are okay, but e.g. ignoring up to 3 rounds of staggered is probably preferable to +1 Diplomacy and getting it as a class skill. As an aside, in the latter case, the trait is missing its bonus type.

The pdf continues to talk about wizard supplies and takes another cue from the Harry Potter franchise, in that it presents a variant of wand-based casting – personalized wands can allow you to ignore up to 25 gp worth of material components, and casting without one makes you increase spell failure chance. This is per se a cool notion, but one that would have needed to be supplemented by rules that explain how metamagic, options that ignore somatic casting and the like are balanced within the context of the modified wand-engine. It is a nice notion, but one that will not survive contact with an experienced group of rules-savvy players.

After very brief write-ups of a tavern and some extracurricular activities (like dragon boat rowing!) that could have used more crunchy representations to make them engaging mini-games, the pdf closes. The rowing game does have a touch of crunch sprinkled in, but to me, remained somewhat opaque.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level; on a rules-language level they are solid regarding the presentation, but less exciting regarding the underlying design. Layout, as noted, is GORGEOUS and provides a unique identity to the supplement. I really enjoyed this quasi-baroque aesthetic employed within, and a surprising amount of gorgeous full-color artworks and well-chosen public-domain art, initials and the like make this one beautiful book. Seriously. The cartography’s utility does not live up to the beauty of the artwork or layout, alas, and no unlabeled version is included. Unfortunately, there are two components here that must be mentioned. Neither of the two versions has any bookmarks, which makes navigation a colossal pain. Additionally, printing this, in the absence of a printer-friendly version, will be a massive drain on your ink and toner-resources.

More important, and jarring: This book takes the same grating approach as Wayward Rogues Publishing: You can’t highlight or search ANY TEXT in this file. Every page is basically an artwork. Combined with the lack of bookmarks, this renders the pdf a huge pain to navigate, and if you want to create a GM-cheat-sheet, you’ll be copying text by hand. URGHH. Particularly for a setting supplement that provides an overview of a region/organization/etc., this is utterly grating.

Bob Storrar and Rodney Sloan provide a very vanilla experience regarding a wizard school here – if you expected intricate notes on courses, an engine to acquire spells or feats or the like, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Then again, considering the gripes I had with the few pieces of crunch within, this may have been a wise decision. Depending on how you look at it, the fact that this book doesn’t really integrate the rich lore of PFRPG and casting traditions into its framework may be a bug or a feature – if you expected to see truly unique and potent faculty members with stats, well, then I’d probably recommend Drop Dead Studios’ “Wizard’s School” sandbox/mega-adventure/bestiary instead.

If you, however, wanted a Harry Potter-style wizard’s academy with very enlightened tenets and an overall wholesome appeal, then Scarthey may be more up your alley.

To make that abundantly clear: Scarthey’s main problem is not the fact that it’s so fluff-centric; my main gripe, apart from the atrociously grating experience of actually trying to use the pdf, is that it remains solely concerned with the surface level. So, necromancy’s heavily sanctioned. Okay, how? No idea. You can’t cast death magic. There is a great hospital, got ya- how do they research these afflictions that are not easily curable with magic? Quarantine measures? The book never dives beyond a surface level – “this is here.”

Okay, understood – how does it work? Well you won’t find the answers within.

While beautiful, the layout, at times, with its copious artworks, almost felt like it attempted to make up for the lack of depth regarding the information provided. Ultimately, the text probably could have been jammed into a book half the size of this one. This would be fine as well – but in the end, I couldn’t help but feel that I wasn’t comfortable running this as written. The supplement lacks so much information regarding depth that I can’t help but feel that I simply don’t know enough about Scarthey to run it for a prolonged time.

And this is a genuine pity, for this book, in spite of its shortcomings, does not feel phoned in. It is a book into which, when all is said and done, showcases energy, time and genuine passion. For me as a person, this represents a failure – while I admired the aesthetics (I really did!), I want more depth from my supplements. At the same time, I can understand and easily conceive of people for whom this would be amazing. There hence are two opposing points of view that can be contrasted with one another, and there’s no reconciliation between them. Do you want mechanical and narrative depth? Then this doesn’t have much to offer. Do you want a stylish pdf that executes its notion of being basically a “start of the semester pamphlet” rather well? Then this may well be fun for you and yours!

Usually, this’d mean that the book ends up somewhere in the middle of my rating system, probably on the upper end – however, this also is one of the most inconvenient, asinine pdfs to actually use I’ve seen in quite a while. The combination of the lack of any form of bookmarks AND the fact that you can’t even cut-copy-paste text together renders this pretty much unusable without an e-reader. And that is a huge no-go for me. Hence, my final verdict can’t exceed 2.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo and the impressive work that went into the overall presentation. If rated for its content alone, you should probably detract at least another star.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Welcome to Scarthey
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Welcome to Scarthey
by Marco v. D. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/14/2019 10:38:19

Really only a few pages with the most rudimentary and introductory words you can imagine.

Compatible with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game? There aren't any game-stats, classes, abilities, skills, traits or anything else for even a single person or creature or other rules-related content whatsoever. Members of the faculty are only presented giving their name and about two further sentences. Nothing is decribed in any more detail. There's an overview map and a picture of the "academy". This book contains nothing you cannot come up with much better with a few minutes of thinking about the given topic - especially related to a theme like a magic academy with the idea of Hogwarts in mind.

In addition to that the file has a very low technical quality. It's very large since all "texts" are pictures. No bookmarks, no hyperlinks and you cannot search or mark any text, since there is no "text".

Conclusion:

The book is utterly useless for players and GMs alike.

Might only be useful free of charge as the pages of an advertisement for a large setting-book with some truly groundbreaking content.

This book is a bad joke, especially at $5.95.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Forest of Secrets
by A customer [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/26/2018 07:51:50

Solo adventure with a time constraint: the final encounter is harder if soldiers reach the end cave before the character. Lacks meaningful choices: the end reward is the same whether your character opts to be honourable or mercenary. Would be improved by the addition of codewords, for example HONOURABLE and MERCENARY, that may change according to character actions; some encounters should play differently according to which codeword, if any, is held. A potentially interesting encounter with a satyr may be missed. Otherwise variety in replays seems to depend on random encounters rolled. A good addition would be areas where profit is available at the expense of time.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Forest of Secrets
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Where Heroes Stand
by Kim F. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/08/2018 12:55:37

This was originally reviewed on the Open Gaming Network.

We take products and review them, intending to give the reader the best chance of evaluating whether this particular release is for them.

There is, of course, a scoring system, similar to that used elsewhere, in a 5-star rating, which we have determined as follows:

1 * – Bad

2 * – Mediocre

3 * – Decent

4 * – Good

5 * – Excellent

Now, let’s get on with the show!

This week we give you Where Heroes Stand!

Publisher: Rising Phoenix Games

Author: Rodney Sloan

Cover Artist: Julia Sloan, Rodney Sloan

System: Pathfinder

Page count: 42 ( 1 page cover, 1 page credits, 38 page content, 1 page OGL and 1 page back cover)

Right, so let’s look at the cover first. The Kabuki mask that you see, with the Japanese flag style overlay, gives off a very “Japan”-vibe, making you expect a game set in that country or at least the “classic samurai era”. I’m happy to report that THAT is exactly what we get here. But let’s skip to the contents.

I’m happy to report that this particular adventure does NOT succumb to one of my pet peeves of content to cover ratio. In fact, you get a LOT of content for your buck in this one, though I’ll admit that it’s not what I had expected.

Since this is an adventure, I won’t go too far into spoiler territory, in that it’s a murder mystery set in a Japanese village, complete with fireworks, a “Shogun” like village lord, brutal bodyguards, and kitsune. The basic setup is simple, in that the village lord is murdered (a man named Honda) by a mysterious group aiming to attack and take the village, to use as a spearhead for further hostilities. Good, but simple setup, but I’m not a fan of how the murder itself is accomplished, as it feels just a bit too much like railroading. I suppose that’s hard to avoid when setting up a murder investigation, but it is nonetheless slightly annoying. The players then take on the roles of people from the village (which I like the execution of. They’re an interesting range of characters, and very believable within the context of the adventure), and they’re tasked with figuring it out. Since I won’t spoil it, let’s just say there are tengu and oni involved. It all ends up with PCs retaking a castle.

The adventure itself is decent enough, if a bit straightforward, but there are a few things that I have a bit of an issue with. One is the kitsune. I like the kitsune, but they feel like they were just thrown in here for no particular reason. I’d have liked to have seen a bit more reason for them being included, or at least a bit more to do with them.

My other issue actually is, well, less of an issue. And that’s because I don’t want to call this an adventure. I want to call it a mini-setting. And I like this mini-setting, but I really want to use it more, than for just an adventure. A bit of a luxury problem.

And so we come to the conclusion:

OK, I’ll preface this by saying that you’re getting a large amount of content with this book for the price (though admittedly there isn’t much art as such, and the maps are a bit simple). As said before, I found a lot to like in the book, though the adventure itself is likely not something I’d be running. The setting and village, however, is what I’ll be taking away from this particular book, as I find that it’s what I’ll be using from this. As such, I don’t think I can give it the full 5-stars since the adventure part isn’t what I’ll be using. But playing around with the NPCs and PCs of the near-Japan fantasy village, and the potential for conflict with the traditional lifestyle of the village and the Spanish priest does make for an interesting clash of cultures, one that the right group of games would enjoy. – So, as said, while I can’t quite give it a 5 star, it is a VERY solid 4. If I had liked the adventure part itself better, it would have been a 5-star. (Though I do find it a bit of a shame that there’s no more art within the pages of this book, I’d have loved some fitting artwork for both GM and players to enjoy).

Well done Rodney. Can we get a followup, for the ACTUAL lord and his area too? – But this time, make it a full setting book.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Where Heroes Stand
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Forest of Secrets
by Troy W. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/27/2018 21:30:28

After playing and enjoying "Death Queen and the Life Stone", I tried its sequel, "Forest of Secrets".

"Forest of Secrets" is not as linear as Death Queen. Aside from the first and last encounters, most of the adventure is determined by the route the hero chooses to move from one end of the forest to the other. The player is given 25 tiles representing the encounter sites (start tile, end tile, and 23 others). There are some duplicates (5 copies of one tile, 2 copies each of three other tiles, the other 12 are unique encounter sites). The player is instructed to randomly place, upside down, all but the first and last tile within a 5 tile by 5 tile grid. As your hero moves into a tile, the adjacent tiles are revealed so you can plan your next move provided you survive the current situation.

Tiles may indicate terrain based obstacles or site specific foes or challenges. There is also a chance for a random encounter on every tile using a four entry "wandering monster" list. The hero must navigate across the forest within a certain time limit (based on time it takes to traverse the tiles and specific obstacles on those tiles) before a competing party moving around the outside of the forest reaches the end square. If the competition gets there first, the situation for the final scene changes significantly.

The tile system, with their random layout, makes this module much more appealing than its predecessor for replay. Very little is fixed in place, and in my first run through the mission, I actually missed a lot of interesting scenes that would have provided additional challenge, deeper atmosphere, and some interesting clues about the mission.

The difficulty I had with this module is in understanding how I was supposed to use the tiles. What counts as "adjacent tiles" is not clearly explained. Do diagonal's count? I assumed yes, but maybe not. A visual example would have helped. A hex based tile system would have been clearer, but hex's are tedious to cut out (or snapshot and paste as images into a VTT).

The other issue I had was in knowing what resources were available for one specific fight scene. Since I was using my character from the previous adventure, I had the necessary tools to prevail. Had I simply generated a 2nd level Fighter for this adventure, I would not necessarily have come across the tools I needed for that fight. At least, not as the adventure is written. I suspect this might be due to an oversight rather than a deliberate hurdle the character is expected to face.

The randomness, replayability, and the inclusion of an interesting NPC are the things I like best about this module. The best way to improve on it would be to provide greater clarity about movement across tiles, and the reduction in the number of duplicate tiles/scenes in the set.

I really look forward to the next entry in this series!



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Forest of Secrets
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