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B/X Essentials: Monsters
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/07/2019 13:45:03

Original review appears here: http://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/2019/05/review-bx-essentials.html

B/X Essentials is a redesign of the classic "Basic/Expert" rules using OGC sources. The books are all digest-sized, 6" x 9" format. All of the books feature fantastic full-color covers from artist Andrew Walter and color accented interiors; limited to mostly pale green. A moment about these covers. They remind me of a surreal 70s version of Lord of the Rings meets Elric; easily some of my most favorite covers of in all of the Old-School movement. All the books are extremely modular. This was a design goal by Norman and it pays off. Everything is easy to find. Sections usually take up a page or multiple full pages. If you were so inclined you could cut up your books (!) or print out the PDFs and reorganize them as you see fit. Really at this point, the only thing that could make these books easier to use is having all the content in a spiral-bound volume so it can lay flat at your table.

Ah, now this is a book I would have loved back in 81. Also coming in at 48 pages this book is about monsters and nothing else. Stat blocks are concise and there is none of the bloat in the descriptions that appear in later editions (ok to be fair that bloat was demanded by players). The book is fantastic with my only reservation in I wish it had been illustrated more. But even that is fine. I can easily see a "Monsters 2" and "Monsters 3" sometime in the future for this line.

In truth, I can't say enough good about this. Is it 100% brand new material? No, but that was also never the design goal. The books do exactly what they say they are going to do. If I were starting with a new group using B/X-flavor D&D I would be hard-pressed to come up with a reason NOT to use these books.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
B/X Essentials: Monsters
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B/X Essentials: Demihumans of Dolmenwood
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/07/2019 13:44:52

Original review appears here: http://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/2019/05/review-bx-essentials.html

B/X Essentials is a redesign of the classic "Basic/Expert" rules using OGC sources. The books are all digest-sized, 6" x 9" format. All of the books feature fantastic full-color covers from artist Andrew Walter and color accented interiors; limited to mostly pale green. A moment about these covers. They remind me of a surreal 70s version of Lord of the Rings meets Elric; easily some of my most favorite covers of in all of the Old-School movement. All the books are extremely modular. This was a design goal by Norman and it pays off. Everything is easy to find. Sections usually take up a page or multiple full pages. If you were so inclined you could cut up your books (!) or print out the PDFs and reorganize them as you see fit. Really at this point, the only thing that could make these books easier to use is having all the content in a spiral-bound volume so it can lay flat at your table.

This free product is only 8 pages long and is only in PDF. It is the only genre and world-specific book in the line covering the Dolmenwood, the shared setting used by Necrotic Gnome. This book includes two new races, the Fairy Elf and the Woodgrue, both fairy races of the Dolmenwood. There is also a listing of some Fae lords and ladies.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
B/X Essentials: Demihumans of Dolmenwood
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Old-School Essentials: Basic Rules
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/07/2019 13:44:46

Original review appears here: http://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/2019/05/review-bx-essentials.html

Old-School Essentials is a redesign of the classic "Basic/Expert" rules using OGC sources. The books are all digest-sized, 6" x 9" format. All of the books feature fantastic full-color covers from artist Andrew Walter and color accented interiors; limited to mostly pale green. A moment about these covers. They remind me of a surreal 70s version of Lord of the Rings meets Elric; easily some of my most favorite covers of in all of the Old-School movement. All the books are extremely modular. This was a design goal by Norman and it pays off. Everything is easy to find. Sections usually take up a page or multiple full pages. If you were so inclined you could cut up your books (!) or print out the PDFs and reorganize them as you see fit. Really at this point, the only thing that could make these books easier to use is having all the content in a spiral-bound volume so it can lay flat at your table.

Old School Essentials expands on these rules and reorganizes them some more. There is a Basic Rules that takes place of the Core book and then a Genre book that covers classes and other "D&D" like topics. I imagine that different genre books will have other rules and classes.

Old-School Essentials: Basic Rules This free 56-page book covers all the basics of the OSE line. Picking it up you can see the stylistic changes from B/XE to OSE. Also this book covers just about everything you need to play right now. It includes the four human classes, some rules, some spells, some monsters, and treasure. Enough to give you a taste of what OSE will be like. It has the same modular design as B/XE so finding things is simple, leaving more time for play. There is no interior art in this free version, but that hardly detracts from it.

I am really looking forward to seeing OSE out. But until then I am going to enjoy playing with B/XE!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Old-School Essentials: Basic Rules
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Wormskin Issue 5
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/23/2019 04:12:42

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Wormskin-zine clocks in at 54 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 48 pages of content, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), so let’s take a look!

All right, so there is a general article that fans of Dolmenwood will not want to miss in this issue, namely one that details hexcrawling through Dolmenwood. While the basic OSR-rules do cover these aspects, the book smoothly codifies a rules skeleton that allows for methodical and fun means to structure the treks through the wilderness. These are btw. not just useful for OSR-games – modern games tend to be relatively silent regarding hexcrawling procedures, and this supplement’s rules make that simple: You choose an action, check random events, and then resolve what happens. Actions are tightly codified, Visibility is noted, and the pdf also sports a whole array of tables – random events, locations, encounters, spoors, weather (by season), etc.; mishaps get a full-page mishap array. This article is very smooth in its elegance.

The book also has a new monsters section, one that oozes the attention to detail we’ve come to expect from Wormskin’s monsters – i.e. we get stats, lore, traits to customize individual monsters so they don’t all look and behave alike, and the entries sport notes on sample encounters and lairs of the respective critters. This time around, we are introduced to the Boggins, things with gangly limbs and matted, sea-weed like hair, whose bodies dissolve upon death, hinting at the eldritch origin of these deadly lakeside/marsh predators…who do seem to like to abduct folks. On the witch-y side of things, the bramblings are thickets of thorns and spines, animated by fell magics. Most interesting, at least to me, would be Flammbryggard (written by Andrew Walker), spirits of weary fighting men, clad in bodies of courageous soldiers of metal, with hearth-like chests, these boisterous beings can make for rowdy, but also helpful beings…provided they are not beset by the incorporeal obscurant mope, depressing spirits that like bringing them down. These guys are btw. lavishly-illustrated in a full-color artwork. The final creature-entry actually depicts one of the movers and shakers of Dolmenwood – a rank-and-file Drune.

The Drune, obviously, are the secretive and mysterious arcane spellcasters, the masters of the woods – what, in installments so far, sounded like a patriarchal druid order. Well, this installment of Dolmenwood has a massive article that unveils the secretive origins, hierarchy and goals of the Drune. These notes are explicitly noted to be deep lore, not easily unveiled by the PCs, and as such, I will refrain from commenting or explaining this article. However, it should be noted that my preconceptions about the Drune? You know, my theories about how they operate and their goals, about their nature? They turned out to be dead wrong – the Drune actually managed to surprise jaded old me. That should tell you something.

Anyhow, this ‘zine also depicts 7 new hexes in Dolmenwood, which tie in with another major mover and shaker in the region, but in order to discuss this section, I need to go into serious SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion. … .. . Okay, only referees around? Great! So, the region depicted in the hexes is known as “Hag’s Addle” – the banks of the river Hameth, trickling towards Lake Longmere, is now a marshy and rather desolate place, but it wasn’t always – at one point, it was the crown jewel and the wondrous playing ground of fairy royalty, but so did the ruin of the region spring from this source. Jealousy bred contempt, and when interest in the region waned, a bored part of fairy royalty destroyed this region, made it fall into ruin and decay…but when the rightful mistress, known as the Queen of Blackbirds, returned, the despoiler was duly punished in the capricious and cruel manner of fairykind: Transformed into a hag that would forever be adjacent to an open portal to the Otherwold of Fairy, but never to pass, her body a mirror image of the decay she so seemed to enjoy. This is the legendary hag – and dealing with her is covered in its own article (co-written by Matthew Schmeer), which includes write-ups for her array of magical tools, as well as detailed guidelines for her erratic behavior, and for making non-combative contact with the exceedingly mighty crone.

As an aside – her hut is mobile, and indeed, the mythological resonance does hearken back to Baba Yaga and Grimm’s various wicked witches, but none of these thematic similarities are simple pastes: the hut levitates, for example; her willow switch may not deal much damage, but allows for a ridiculous number of attacks. If you are familiar with the classic, rather dark fairy tales, you’ll recognize the nods, but at the same time, marvel at the twists, be grateful for the respective components not being simply quoted, as is so often seen.

But I digress – in the hexes of the Hag’s Addle, we have a callback to the Atacorn Farthigny; the aforementioned Boggins creatures loom and wait to abduct strangler, smearing strange muck over the faces of mortals – this makes it possible to breathe underwater and toil in the sub-aquatic mines hidden away in the depths of the murky waters at the hands of these strange beings, mirroring their erstwhile enslavement to a horrible sorcerer (vivimancer?). Speaking of vivimancer – there is one of these fellows in the region, and his write-up does come with a spell that is interesting – it allows for the splitting of hybrid beings, like half-elfs, into two beings – a human and an elf, in this example. Something of a ritual, and dangerous, it’s not a spell you’ll cast often, but it’s interesting. The vivimancer has an issue, btw. – his spell kinda botched, and now, his skeleton, his viscera and his skin all are individual entities – his nerves and organs are pretty much in horrible pain, while his skin has taken on a psychotic streak. This is an adventure hook that wrote itself. Not a fan of his unique magic item, though – he has a bell called chime of incontinence, which does exactly what you’d think it does. I am generally not a fan of denigrating/humiliating PCs for things they did not deserve/provoke by their greed, so yeah, AoO soiling yourself is not high on my “good idea” list.

Speaking of which: As a whole, I was not as blown away by the hexes herein, as there are two that have things of the quality “better not enter here” – there is a monument that generates a sympathetic resonance that wrecks the ability to sleep and desire to walk away, becoming worse towards the center. The background story is awesome, but the mechanics are not, easily having a chance of TPKing travelers, if the undead don’t do the job on their own. Cordoning this off seems like it’d be in the interest of plenty of Dolmenwood’s factions, and thus, the presence of this darkened monolith struck me as odd, particularly since the Drune, narrative-wise, know about it. Anyhow, there is another hex, which contains one pet-peeve of mine – a way to extract targets from history. sigh I am very particular when it comes to time travel, and if you don’t mind, then great – no issue for you. Personally, I really hated the handwave-y implementation of the time hole here. To me, it makes no sense and genuinely represents the lowest point of all Dolmenwood hexes so far– I’m a Primer-guy. On the plus side, a mysterious ritualistic marble podium, and the tower of Lady Frost-Dusk-Shadow? Heck yeah, these ooze the style I’m accustomed to see from Dolmenwood!

Conclusion: Editing and formatting re very good on a formal and rules-language level, I only noticed very few glitches, and these very missed italicizations in non-combat contexts. Layout adheres to a one-column standard with nuance color-highlights and a blend of b/w and full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, and yep, I have the PoD softcover, and it’s sure as heck worth getting.

Gavin Norman and Greg Gorgonmilk, with contributions by Andrew Walker and Matthew Schmeer, continue to deliver – this installment of Wormskin is easily the most occult and foreboding of the installments so far; it hearkens closest to LotFP-ish aesthetics in the good ways…and, in the instance of two hexes, unfortunately also in a bad way. Don’t get me wrong – this is still a very good, evocative ‘zine, one brimming with creativity and inspiring tidbits that put many publications of twice that size to shame. But compared with the series of absolutely mind-bogglingly cool installments so far, it feels a bit more one-note on the bleaker side of things, with less of the STRANGENESS of Dolmenwood, and more touches of LotFP-ish weird tropes seeping into the supplement. This is per se not bad, but it makes a few of the environments feel less special, less distinct from LotFP’s offerings. These are subdued (and don’t extend to future installments), but I couldn’t help but consider this to be one of the weaker installments in the excellent magazine’s run so far – it’s still very good, but not as genius as the ones so far. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Wormskin Issue 5
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From the Vats
by Adamo D. c. M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/15/2019 07:47:43

Another great release, with added bonanza from Ben Laurence. Must have if you're running a campaign with Vivimancers.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
From the Vats
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B/X Essentials: Cleric and Magic-User Spells
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/15/2019 05:30:17

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the B/X-Essentials-series clocks in at 37 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 30 pages of content, formatted in old-school A5 (6’’ by 9’’), so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing-queue due to me receiving a print copy of the book.

So, after the extremely impressive reorganization of the B/X-rules Gavin Norman provided in the first two installments of the series, where we got perhaps the best, most sensible organization of the rules in its extremely hackable presentation, we now dive into the book that covers probably one of the most divisive components of any OSR-game. Spells.

Some prefer long-form spells; some prefer none at all; some systems have very specific aesthetics…and this book, following the traditions of the previous tomes, focuses on a faithful rendition of the original Basic and Expert rules for spells. The pdf is clear and upfront in which ways it carefully modifies some of the spells herein, and it does so, universally, I might add, for the betterment of the content within.

The first aspect is one that the BIG systems should also consider; it’s simple and smart. It separates different mechanical aspects of a spell by bullet points. No more glossing over or missing that last line that notes yet another aspect. Furthermore, DIFFERENT possible uses are separated out and numbered for your convenience. If you’re like me, for example, and frankly forgot that cure light wounds, in B/X, also has the optional use of curing paralysis, then this will be appreciated indeed. Did you recall that light can blind targets in B/X? Well, you probably will, but depending on how much you hack your game, how many different OSR-games (or other games) you play, you may have forgotten that. Well, even if you did, here, the presentation makes that a non-issue.

The pdf goes one step further, presentation-wise: Spell-uses that allow for a saving throw are highlighted with bold text. The inconsistency of spell ranges of 0 or 0’ have been replaced with Range: The Caster – with one exception, at least in my print copy. Oddly, protection from evil retains the 0-Range, which I assume to be an oversight; it makes sense for cloudkill, which acts as an emanation from the caster, but not for the former. Now, before you ask and point me towards that: This has been cleared up in the meanwhile. The current version and print versions do not have this VERY minor inconsistency anymore. I...honestly just left those paragraphs in the review, because I was so glad to have found something to complain about...only to see it's been taken care of. (Seriously, that is amazing!)

As far as range is concerned, spells with a range of touch now explicitly allow the caster to use them upon him/herself. Now, before you balk – no, the pdf has not cleaned up all original “charming” ambiguities of the B/X-rules. Web does not state whether it needs to be anchored, for example. That being said, the book e.g. clearly states how haste does not allow for double item use or spellcasting.

I might get a couple of boos and hisses from the hardcore B/X-crowd, but frankly, there is one shortcoming that I feel the pdf could have addressed with, at least a house-rule, would be concentration. It is an aspect that is not clearly defined in the original rules, and it makes me somewhat uneasy to see the showcasing of the problem, but no concise definition of the like. Here, we have a missed chance to at least provide an optional means of doing so...but yeah. I get it. It’s the B/X Essentials series. The very intent is to NOT do that and remain faithful to the original.

…damn, my OCD’s making it hard for me to let that one go. Particularly since e.g. control weather prohibits movement, while clairvoyance doesn’t. Perhaps “B/X Almost-Essentials: Rules-clarifications for obsessive sticklers” is in the cards? ;)

Anyways, if a reversed version of a spell exists, it is noted in the respective description as well. The presentation-sequence begins with the cleric spells, organized by spell level, and alphabetically within the spell level. And there is elegance to these spells. If you have no B/X-experience, it is interesting to note that we have 5 spell levels, and that e.g. create food is 5th level, which is something I am hereby declaring to be the default for all my games forevermore; I loathe how level 1 food-creation makes the threat of starvation and thirst nigh obsolete. I also had to smile at cure disease having a separate use that notes that it instantly kills green slime. Oh, my pretty…

Anyways, as the grognards know, magic-user spells (also used by elves) scale up to 6th level in B/X…and as we all know invisibility is the most OP spell in the rules, since. Wait.

It.

Has.

Happened.

For the first time, ladies and gentlemen…we actually have, in spite of the mission of faithful rendition, the famously missing B/X-spell. This book gives to us: Detect invisible. 10’ per level range, 6 turns, 2nd level. Well-situated regarding level-range, the spell is concise, well-presented and just as minimalist as it should be. No complaints. (No surprise there, considering how much I adored the author’s Vivimancer…) Can’t remember where than one spell that module referenced was? Well, the pdf actually has a handy index in the back, listing the spells for your convenience!!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are absolutely top-notch, precise and impressive, to say the least. Layout adheres to a truly elegant two-column b/w-standard with unobtrusive, mint-green highlights as colored elements. The artwork deserves special mention: The book sports A LOT of it. No, seriously – we get a ton of original, really well-made b/w-artwork, with perhaps my favorite piece illustrating a magic-user showcasing how a lightning bolt can bounce off walls to hit different targets. It’s a bit goofy and comic-like, but I absolutely adored it. Of course, the majority of artworks are more serious, but I like this blending of styles. The pdf version comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, with a bookmark per spell level and spell-list, but not for individual spells. I have the premium print edition, and there is a low-cost standard edition that is perfect bound. The premium version has higher quality paper, better color and ink saturation and comes stitch-bound, which is per se preferable. The cover and artwork definitely deserve going premium here.

Okay, honestly, this is the first time in my reviews of this series where I wished Gavin Norman had deviated slightly from the goal of the faithful rendition. The inconsistency of the original rules regarding concentration is something I never considered to be charming or endearing, just annoying. It requires that you learn by hard the stipulations or lack thereof of the spells, and that, anno 2018, is just bad game design in my book, nostalgia be damned.

That being said, as a reviewer, I can’t fault the book for its intended design goal of faithful rendition, particularly when it does such a SUPERB job at it. The presentation of the spells is absolutely gorgeous and showcases how a small OSR-publisher like Necrotic Gnome Productions can provide impulses for the industry at large. This type of concise spell presentation is a joy to behold. It’s clever, concise and clean. It’s simple and elegant. I adore it. So yeah, with but one minor oversight in the very subdued and faithful streamlining, this may well be the best iteration of B/X-spellcasting you’ll ever get to see. It bespeaks the author’s passion for the rules-set and showcases a humility and reverence to the subject matter that is refreshing to see…all while clearly showcasing the design and presentation-skill the author obviously has. In short, this is a one-map passion-project, apart from the art, and an example of the best ones in that category.

While, as a person, I would have required the clarification of concentration (why stop at the missing spell?) to consider this a true work of art, as a reviewer, I am perfectly capable of abstracting my own bias and rating this for what it is – a resounding success for what it attempts. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
B/X Essentials: Cleric and Magic-User Spells
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Old-School Essentials: Basic Rules
by Benjamin B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/12/2019 18:26:07

Great layout; a beautiful piece of work! Clear and to the point rules. I can't wait to get the hardcover!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Old-School Essentials: Basic Rules
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Wormskin Issue 4
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/20/2019 06:37:57

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Wormskin-‘zine that depicts the strange and wondrous forests of Dolenwood clocks in at a massive 72 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a massive 67 pages of content, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), so let’s take a look!

As always, the material herein has been penned with Labyrinth Lord or B/X in mind, but conversion to other OSR-systems is pretty easy. I own the print version of the ‘zine, which is a nice little booklet. Its spine doesn’t feature a name, which is a bit of a minor nitpick, considering that it is massive enough to have the space for it. …yeah, you can see, I’m having a tough time finding things to criticize here.

All right, so, as far as universally applicable material goes, this includes a brief one-page table of conditions, under which fickle fairy magic items cease to work…like being exposed to a bird’s song! The entries provided are nice, the concept simple, and yet, what may be drawn from this is pretty neat. Unpretentious, usable, solid.

The ‘zine also features a massive d30 double-spread table covering 6 pages that allows you to depict the “lesser” standing stones of Dolmenwood, or to customize weird monuments in your other games. The table sports 6 columns: One column to let you determine stone material, one that denotes the source of the material, one for the state of the stone, and one that establishes the setting. The table notes, for example, that, when a surface has been properly cleaned, it is worth considering by whom. The table also sports uncommon properties, like pleasant or unpleasant smells, attracting wildlife, drawing, elephant graveyard style, dying animals to the place, etc. Finally, detailed features of note may include fine, Drunic inscriptions to summon forth ghost crows, or being able to speak in a grinding voice, proclaiming itself to be the voice of the forest. Think that sounds lame? A table for stones? Okay, so here’s one of the results I got from this table:

A standing stone of salt crystal in the form of a toroid, veined with metal, crawling slowly atop a thousand insectoid legs, accompanied by strains of ballroom music that seem to drift from somewhere, sporting a warning in a coded form of Woldish, which warns the PCs of the dangers of spellcasting in the vicinity. …Come on, this is awesome! These two sections have been penned by Gavin Norman and Greg Gorgonmilk.

Beyond these tables, the pdf contains a detailed and mapped wayside encounter/mini-module of sorts, which is suitable for low level characters – about level 2 – 4 should be viable. This would be Matthew Schmeer’s “The Atacorn’s Retreat”, which comes with a plethora of rather interesting adventure hooks that go above and beyond, but in order to discuss this in more detail, I will have to go into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion. … .. . All right, only referees around? Great! So, atacorns are the offspring of the Nag-Lord’s trysts with witches: Cloven-footed, cow-tailed, with mule-like features, the atacorn herein, Farthigny, is a bit special in that he seems to have managed to annoy none other than Lord Malbleat…and bards. Known as the “Fiddler in the Dark”, his ostensibly potent magical fiddle is sought after by bards to be destroyed, and indeed, the atacorn does come with 8 different sample tunes – like “Never Ever Swim Through the Fever Marsh”(got the reference?), a pun-filled country jag poking fun at lost travelers. His little two-room bungalow is fully detailed and mapped – he does have a retinue of moss dwarves that seem to enjoy the abuse he subjects them to. His fiddle, btw., is a unicorn-like protrusion that grows from his lower jaw, and it can indeed generate truly astounding tunes. Getting to it, though? Impossible sans killing the atacorn, who, while rowdy, seems totally nice! He invites the PCs to his abode, and proceeds to offer a true feast while regaling them with songs. Said abode, btw.? Lavishly-mapped by Kelvin Green, the bungalow’s b/w-map is truly gorgeous in its impressive details, and is actually player-friendly, bereft of keys and labels! You can copy and cut up the map and hand it to players! Big kudos!

These impressive details do extend to more than the map, btw.: This is one of the densest adventure locations I’ve seen in quite a while – heck, even the fillings of pillows (!! Human hair and fairy wings, in most, but not all, cases…) may be interesting, let alone all the carefully hidden, odd and magical stuff to be found. Of course, there is a catch – Farthigny is not a nice guy. In fact, he drugs the PCs – with drugs to which he’s immune. He totally wants to check their livers – the Jale God once prophesized that he’d be slain a child of a parent whose liver bleeds blue. Did I mention the half-dead dryad in the furniture? There is true dark fantasy, hidden behind a veneer of gonzo whimsy that feels plausible. He also has a cozy torture cellar for ritual sacrifices hidden below the bungalow! Yay! This horrid place is btw. lavishly illustrated in full-color, with a one-page hand-out-like artwork that you can hand to PCs. This place is just as detailed, and Farthigny’s living space contains quite a few odd magical items – like a dagger inhabited by a lesser murder demon, the Ring of Calibraxis (In case you didn’t notice – yep, this does contain quite a few cool eastereggs!), and similar oddities. One note: There is a save or die here, but it’s a justified one – if the PCs drag a magical, potentially cursed tapestry and put it atop a bloody ritual circle, the result may be fatal. It’s very obscure, and I’d be surprised if it comes up a lot during play, but it certainly has the feeling of “you’ve meddled with forces beyond your ken” – random actions beget random (and dangerous results). I can live with that.

The lion’s share of this installment, though, is devoted to the subterranean level of the eponymous ruins of St. Clewd’s abbey, penned once more by Gavin Norman And Yves Geens. This part of the module can be rather challenging, depending on how much your PCs explore, and whether they think they can slay everything in sight. I can see this be a tough challenge for mid-level PCs, or potentially “solvable” for even low level PCs. Suffice to say, this is old-school – and “taking your tail between your legs and run” is certainly the better part of valor – for example, when a massive hydra shows up: Said entity has different attacks for each of its heads, which range from bloated boars to inverted cow’s heads, with different personalities to boot. Trying to best this one? TPK machine for low level groups. That being said, the hydra also is not immediately hostile, which makes this behave as a “reap what you sow” moment. Anyhow, the level of detail is once more impressive: The random encounter table is only half devoted to different creatures, with the other half consisting of chaotic phenomena, courtesy of the dimensional cataract that pulses within this complex, rendering reality somewhat unstable.

It should also be noted that this complex comes with a lavish isometric b/w-map drawn by Claytonian (of “The Wizardarium of Calabraxis”-fame); said map comes with a scale, but no grid, and is pretty damn impressive. It should be noted, though, that, in spite of numbers for keyed locations having been added in blue bubbles, no unlabeled version has been included. We do get a proper jpg.-version, though.

But I digress – you see, this module is STRANGE. There, for example, would be the dangerous, oracular and slightly telepathic catfish that actually manages to make sense, and that makes for a great way for the referee to seed further adventures…if it doesn’t eat all PCs, that is. I used “strange” in opposition to “weird” consciously, as this does not adhere to e.g. LotFP or DCC’s type of weird fiction, instead opting for an oddly plausible scenario of high magic strangeness grounded in a fairy-tale-esque backdrop. In short, it perfectly encapsulates how you can portray Dolmenwood’s unique flavor in a dungeon setting.

The dungeon itself, while certainly deadly, has plenty of loot (including a massive one-page treasure table), for sure – but what sets it apart from many modules would be that it actually, at least half of it, is a social dungeon.

But to explain that aspect of the module, I will have to go into pretty significant, deep lore SPOILERS. If you’re a player, please, at least stop reading now. … .. . All right, only referees around? Well, when St. Clewd vanished while fighting the black unicorn men dubbed Sallowbryg, it wasn’t the end. Indeed, a cataclysm has befallen the monastery even before the goat-men razed it to the ground: You see, a particularly greedy and incompetent abbot sought to call forth St. Clewd once more – not cognizant of the fact that the saint had fused body and mind with the foul beast. Suffice to say, the results were not pretty, and now, the deranged and horribly mutated saint (lavishly illustrated by Andrew Walter in their signature style) has been helf here, watched over by the order of wardens, so that his shame may never be known. This order of fanatic monks whittled away the centuries below the monastery, held alive, ironically, by the effects of the botched ritual, which created the chance to revive the fallen. Okay, it may go horribly wrong. Sure, many come back as zombie-like vegetables…but there’s the sacred duty!

Said monks (random monk generator included), have, in recent years, experienced a schism of sorts – the traditionalists (or Fidelii) and the semi-heretical splinter-sect of the Cardinites. The Fidelii want to keep the deranged saint-thing contained, and keep their vigil, while the Cardinites believe that freeing St. Clewd will help him recover and usher in…something good? Their leaders and holy ceremonies are btw. covered in detail, allowing you to create a subterranean and utterly strange “Name of the Rose”-ish intrigue, should you choose to. Of course, kill ‘em all might be an option, but one with consequences…And yes, the PCs can try to test their mettle against the saint-thing, but it’s not something I’d recommend, unless you’re fond of rolling 3d6, 6 times in a row.

The best way to use these folks, though, would be to have them be what they’re supposed to be: An isolated society of weirdo fanatics, whose whole world-view and fragile power-dynamics may well collapse/ignite when the PCs are added as the proverbial fuse. It should also be noted that the struggle of factions, obviously, does allow for the use of this as a repeat-visit scenario…and, one more note: Even if you don’t like Dolmenwood (WHY??? O_O), this module could be easily used as a kind of religious fanatic bunker in a post-apocalyptic, weird world. Just a thought…

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are top-notch on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the ‘zine’s one-column b/w-standard, and the pdf sports a surprising amount of awesome full-color artwork by Anxious P. and Sean Poppe. The b/w-cartography by Kelvin Green and Claytonian deserves special praise – both styles are amazing, detailed and evocative, though I do wish we’d get an unlabeled version for the dungeon as well. The pdf version is fully bookmarked for your convenience, and the softcover is a neat version – personally, I’d advise in favor of getting this and #3 in print, as it’s definitely a high-quality little booklet worth the price-point.

The fourth installment of Wormskin, while more module-centric than the ones before, is AMAZING. From the sidetrek that kicks this off to the dressing table to the massive and lavishly-crafted dungeon-level, this installment continues the streak of unadulterated awesomeness of the series, and, some might argue, one ups it with easily one of the most unique and rewarding dungeon-levels I’ve seen in quite a while. This oozes passion, has a distinct style, and when rereading this for the purpose of this review, I found myself just as stoked as when the booklet first fell into my claws. This is excellent and a great example of what a ‘zine can achieve. 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Wormskin Issue 4
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Wormskin Issue 3
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/14/2019 11:06:58

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The third installment of the Wormskin-‘zine clocks in at 56 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 2 pages editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 50 pages of content, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), so let’s take a look!

As always, the OSR-rules employed within are intended for Labyrinth Lord or B/X and may be easily converted to other old-school rules-systems.

Okay, so, this installment of Wormskin represents a shift in focus – this time around, we embrace distinctly Dolmenwoodian tones, beginning the supplement with a brief recap of the history of Dolmenwood, penned by Gavin Norman and Greg Gorgonmilk. And don’t fret. It’s not hundreds of pages of bland dates – it sports a couple of entries, tells us about the erection of the warding versus the entities of Fairy, the mysterious Drune sect of self-styled elite protectors/masters, the arrival of the church of the One True God and how it pretty much failed to civilize Dolmenwood, but slowly managed to have the Drune ostracized…it’s just 4 pages, and in this brief section, it’s more inspired than many such timelines I’ve seen before.

Better yet, the following article, which details the languages of Dolmenwood, is awesome: Only the most potent members of fairy aristocracy will know the Immortal Tongue of Fairy; mortals attempting to speak Sylvan will sound like fools; Liturgic, as a Latin stand-in, is the language of sermons of the One True God, and from the goatman’s caprice and high caprice, to woldish and high woldish or the drunic language, these briefly touched upon languages add some intriguing details to the setting.

A cursory glance at the FREE Referee’s Map of Dolmenwood will make you realize that there is this weird circle held by rune stones – this is the Witching Ring, and it is unique and several ways…but honestly, this is getting into territory I feel I need to mark, so here goes:

From here on out, there will be PLENTY OF SPOILERS. Potential players of Dolmenwood should jump ahead to the conclusion. … .. . All right, only GMs around? Great! So this massive witching ring of runic stones? It’s boundary can’t be crossed by fey; teleportation doesn’t work, and charms and illusions have a 33% chance of failure. Interaction with runic stones, detailed notes on the inscription (which speak of the King of Brakenwold, Elder Phanatarch and St. Clewd slamming the doors on Frigia shut) and more can be found. You see, Wild Hunt-ish fey of what one would associate with the Winter Court have been driven from Dolmenwood…and should the wards ever collapse, Winter eternal shall reign. Oh, and yes, the book discusses, in detail, how this may be done, how the stones etc. can be sabotaged. Because, you know, if the villains don’t do it, PCs are liable to start tinkering with forces beyond their ken…

The book also continues depicting the hexes of Dolmenwood, covering a total of 7 different hexes (these are once more penned by the Gavin Norman and Greg Gorgonmilk): All of these are winners, to say that up front: The first ties in with one of the 4 new monster, the scrabey (plural: scrabies) – these demi-fey (fairies that have left the immortal lands, becoming natives of Dolmenwood) are grubby, scrawny elf-like beings 4 ft. high that can assume worm form in a pitch. As shrewd merchants, they come with a d12 table of stuff for sale, and 6 traits allow for customization, making them feel unique rather than just a generic creature. As in installment #2, we get 4 ready to go encounter ideas and also 4 detailed lair-ideas for them. Beyond this hex, we also learn of the phantom isle that houses a black elk goddess, the summerstone and the strange tower that is inhabited by 3 badger mages. Yes, badger mages. If I didn’t know better, I’d assume that Mike Welham wrote this… XD A local column allows for strange gifts, but unwittingly may subscribe the PC’s souls to a forgotten godlet…

Another hex deals with yet another unique critter, the mogglewomp. Mogglewomps are awesome. They truly feel like a medieval fey that have been purged from the pages of legend at one point: Mogglewomps are a bit like predatory fairy hermit-crabs in theme, not in looks: Without a home, a mogglewomp is a droopy humanoid, neckbearded and pretty harmless, wandering with but one goal: To be invited into a home. Once invited, the mogglewomp will start growing to grotesque dimensions (lavishly illustrated in full color) until it fills pretty much the whole homestead, eating the host. This perversion of hospitality makes the critter resound, and traits to customize both forms, sample encounters and lairs are provided as well. This is a fantastic critter.

While we’re on the subject of critters, let’s comment on the two final ones, which are tied to, you guessed it, the eponymous ruined abbey of the nigh-mythical St. Clewd. As an adventure-locale, it is intended for low-to mid-level characters; if your players are smart, they may well live at low levels; when run as a combat-centric module, it will almost assuredly wipe out groups below 3rd level, and it can be made challenging for much higher level PCs, so GMs should beware. The abbey’s ruins are depicted in a gorgeous b/w-top-down isometric map. Minor complaint: The map lacks a scale, which makes judging dimensions somewhat hard, and there is no unlabeled, key-less version of the map provided. The abbey has been penned by Gavin Norman and Yves Geens. In this installment of Wormskin, we learn about the ruins of the abbey that are left above ground. Beyond the random monster encounter section (8 entries), which is more detailed than you’d expect, taking up about ¾ of a page, the ruins feature a so-called scryke (also penned by Yves Geens) as a new critter: Stunted, jet-black humanoids, manifestations of chaotic energy…that, surprisingly, tend to keep their word, if only the letter of it. These beings can assume a destructive fog form, and they are not per se hostile: Drawn to relics and religious icons, they are repelled by the divine, requiring often the assistance of mortals. As before, traits, sample encounters and lair notes complement this creature beyond the confines of the module-section.

Now, not necessarily a part of the monster section, but an important factor of the highly customizable difficulty of the ruins of the abbey, would be the massive ghost monk generator: 8 names, ranks, appearances, characters and positions are provided. We also get 8 attack forms, 8 wishes and 8 secrets, making this an efficient encounter/side-quest generator that can easily be used to expand the module, to make it more deadly, or to weave small stories into the exploration of the dilapidated ruins. Ghost crows that partially exist in the ethereal nest here as well, and the ruined chapel shows a great example of direct indirect storytelling, if you well, with beautiful mosaics telling the legends of St. Clewd, foreshadowing the things to come in part II of the adventure.

Okay, you got me. I saved the best for last. You noticed that I have to yet cover the final new monster, right? That would be the Gloam. The gloam is one of the coolest undead I have read in quite a while: What may look like a flock of ragged birds in one form can become a gaunt man made of feathers, bone and beaks, a strange avaricious, but not inherently evil living dead that comes with a sense of palpable unease. It carries deadly diseases, and the detailed customization options we expect by now are included, as is an amazing one-page b/w-artwork of the entity in undead swarm form. What sets this apart? They can charm kids, the innocent. In the ruins, three kids have fallen under the spell of the mighty “Mister Rag-n-Bone”, one of them equipped with a motherlocket, an amulet that would allow for communication with her mom, were it not for the creature’s charm…but then again, it is looking after the kids…right? Right??? The gloam is awesome, and my favorite part of the upper ruins.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are top-notch on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standards with golden highlights and a combination of gorgeous full-color and b/w-artworks. The cartography is great, though the lack of a scale and player-friendly version represent downsides. The pdf version comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Gavin Norman, with help by Greg Gorgonmilk and Yves Geens in a couple of articles, maintains a streak of pure imaginative vision, of excellence. Wormskin #3 is an incredibly dense, evocative glimpse into the tantalizing world of Dolmenwood, which seems to be utterly bereft of filler, of the boring. The magazine tiptoes the line between the surreal, the horrific, the absurd, and manages to be darkly funny and tragic at the same time in a most profound and awesome way, further crystallizing an aesthetic that sets Dolmenwood apart. I love it. The absence of a player-friendly map for the ruins above represents a drawback, though, which is why this loses half a star, for a final verdict of 4.5 stars, though I’ll still round up and gladly award this my seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Wormskin Issue 3
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The Weird That Befell Drigbolton
by Josh D. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/07/2019 00:25:25

Good product, fun little adventure. I would have liked to see a rumour table about drigbolton to help me foreshadow some of the gonzo stuff that's going to happen. For example, there's a part of the town in each house that the author says something similar to "townsfolk consider it rude to talk about X, so they will awkwardly refuse to answer questions" (i have inserted X to avoid spoilers). But then, when a cool twist happens with X, i cant imagine the players have any idea how that would happen.

Great little module, place it in your setting if you have a backwater town somewhere and want to take your game down a different path.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Weird That Befell Drigbolton
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Wormskin Issue 2
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/21/2019 05:08:23

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The second installment of the Wormskin-‘zine clocks in at 50 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 45 pages, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), so let’s take a look!

Rules-wise, Wormskin favors B/X-rules, but adaption to other OSR-systems is pretty easy. This means e.g. HD, descending AC, etc. My review is primarily based on the print version, though I also consulted the pdf-iteration.

Now, as before, this is another look at the strange and wondrous area known as Dolmenwood, but it should be noted that this installment is somewhat different in focus, in that we do learn about actual areas in the region known as High Wold, Lankshorn and surroundings in particular.

But before we get there, we begin with a handy one-page table that depicts common tavern-fare: The first column notes the main part of the course, the second column the form, and the third the additional components: A quick roll would leave you, for example. With “Sparrow brain crumble with minty peas” – but fret not…while the table does offer a couple of the more weird components, standards like chicken wing, eel, etc. can also be found…I just liked this particular result. ;)

Anyhow, after this brief introduction table, we move on to the second component within, namely rules for psychedelic compounds – it is here that the issue hearkens back to the first installment, but imho surpasses it: We get a massive article on psychedelica: A massive d30-table that features slang names, substances, procedures of consumption, primary effect (including value per dose) and side effects is provided. This massive table once more spans 6 pages, 3 two-page spreads. The psychedelica also come with notes on consumption, on selling and purchasing them…and, in an amazing addition, notes regarding the creation of said substances. It really can’t be overstated how good this whole section is, how it manages to weave unobtrusive lore in footnotes and small sections: When we read about a petty trickster deity in 9-legged unicorn form, we smile. When the drug “grobbage” are harvested from blue hornet eggs, when certain lunatics may be “milked”, when bite-y verminous fairies need to be milked, then you just can’t help but smile. These drug-origins are diverse and utterly inspiring, with each of them capable of acting as a proper adventure-hook. I adore it.

After this, we take a look at the High World – in the guise of several hexes covered (for reference, please consult the FREE Dolmenwood Referee’s Map), which means we cover 7 different hexes, which also tie in with the new monsters: For example, the sacred stone where weddings of the local aristocracy are held, the Trothstone, is near the territory of witch-owls, which is one of 7 new monsters: These violet-eyed owls have a gaze that may steal your memories…and it’s a great point to discuss what the monster-write ups have: They not only provide precise stats, they also come with 6 traits, 4 sample encounter set-ups and even 4 lairs where applicable (which is true for all but one monster within); in the case of witch-owls, we can, for example, find cyclopic owls, feathers shimmering in moonlight, or a grotesque human mouth that allows the owl to speak. The result is simple: It becomes difficult to discern if the creature is just a nameless critter, or something unique. I love this.

But let us return to the hexes of Dolmenwood for now, and let me mention the village now swallowed by a bog, courtesy of a nasty relic brought there – and yep, the bog-zombies that roam this area (another new monster) are cool. There also is King Pusskin’s road – where you definitely should leave an offering of milk or mice at the shrine…unless you’re keen on a distinctly feline haunting that may manifest in a variety of ways. The ditchway street, on the other hand, is haunted by nightworms, eye-less and grotesque worms that haunt it at night…you better get to safety once these rear their ugly, eyeless heads. King’s mounds are the home of a new type of fairy from the Otherwold (Not a typo!) – the mischievous barrowbogey, brown-skinned and wrinkled, these fellows use jugs and similar containers as “heads” – and are illustrated in an appropriately psychedelic style by Anxious P. (Who contributed quite a few artworks to this book.)

Now, I have skipped past two of the most detailed hexes, as they tie in with Lankshorn, the largest settlement in Dolmenwood, which is the other main-focus of the pdf and which also provides for the remainder of the monsters in that section: Lankshorn comes with 7 different locations noted, which include the apothecary (tie in with aforementioned psychedelic compounds), the church of the One True God (as a bastion of, ostensibly, normality, that does NOT deliver on this promise of the familiar…thankfully!) and the local inn, to state a few. There is a d16 rumor table, a blacksmith that comes with prices for silvering weapons, custom engraving and foe binding and the like – a ton of immediately useful, strange components that add to Dolmenwoods actually really creepy, slow-burn sheer ODDNESS.

You see, it took lankshorn to make it clear to me how smart this mini-setting actually is; the playfulness and weirdness hinted at in issue #1 comes to the forefront here: Lankshorn, while inhabited by humans, is not under human rule. Lord Malbleat is the local lord, the aristocracy. He is a Longhorn…and a goatman. You see, goatmen come in two versions: Shorthorns are the lower-class, longhorns the aristocracy. Slaying goats is forbidden by law, and humans…are basically a slave-caste. Decadent and oh-so-civilized, the goatmen bring a clever sense of horror to the proceedings: You see, goatmen enjoy domesticating humans. In a twist on the lapdog etymology (guess where the “lap”-component originally came from) goatmen are liable to take human brides and produce degenerate, mad offspring with these sexual thralls. Hence, the Lankshorn-look, in a nod towards the Innsmouth-look, is provided as an additional dressing. But more than that, goatmen carry another, more subtle component that can be profoundly disturbing: Dolmenwood’s humans are not the centerpiece, the navel of the world. Instead, humans, and indeed, the “normal” is almost incidental to the novel and captivating world that this humble pdf shows us. They are pets, who, as Lord Malbleat would note, stumble through a primal, strange world inhabited by godlings, strange plants and fairy lords…but humans are also dangerous…and as such, should be kept in check. Thankfully, the goatmen have this handy draught named Addercorn that renders their favorite humans utterly docile, drugged and fully subservient to their hourglass pupilled masters. Don’t get me wrong – this is not played as a call for revolution, as a straight set-up to overthrow the goat masters. Instead, it depicts them as cultured, benevolent overlords…with a thoroughly nasty twist. Goatmen are frightening BECAUSE they are cultured, because they behave very much like humans behave towards other species. They reminded me of Catherynne M- Valente’s Gaselli and hooked me on Dolmenwood. I love them.

Did I miss something? Oh yeah, there’s also a new spell to see otherwise invisible fairy things. Nice one.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting re top-notch on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a concise 1-column b/w-standard and the book has both full-color artworks and b/w-artworks, which constitute a mixture of well-chosen b/w public domain artwork and original pieces, which include both b/w and full-color pieces. The softcover is nice, and the pdf comes fully bookmarked. A minor nitpick would be that Lankshorn does not get a dedicated settlement map.

Gavin Norman’s second installment of Wormskin is what sold me on the ‘zine, on Dolmenwood. The first installment was already impressive, particularly for a first glimpse at Dolmenwood, but this book makes the setting start taking shape. It clearly and distinctly differentiates Dolmenwood from comparable settings and regions. It finds and further develops its unique tone and themes, and does so with panache aplomb. There is not a single monster, table or hex covered herein that is not in some way, quirky, strange, frightening…or, more often than not, all of these. This is clearly a labor of love and it is a brilliant, inspiring booklet. Even if you’re not interested in the rules, if you play e.g. PFRPG or 5e, this is worth checking out for the phenomenal dressing, for the unique and compelling concepts. 5 stars + seal of approval, easily and triumphantly earned. Btw.: I strongly suggest getting the print version, as it makes the psychedelica double-page-spread just easier to use.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Wormskin Issue 2
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Wormskin Issue 1
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/18/2019 03:41:18

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first installment of the Wormskin-zine that depicts the unique and wondrous Dolmenwood-setting clocks in at 42 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 36 pages, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), so let’s take a look!

I own the softcover print version and mainly based my review on this version, though I also consulted pdf v.1.5.

However, by now, the first Wormskin-booklet has actually been upgraded and includes an expanded iterations of the B/X-Essentials Demihumans of Dolmenwood-pdf. This bonus pdf clocks in at 21 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page back cover, making this expanded bonus pdf clock in at 16 pages, also, once more, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5). Why is this included herein? Well, a large part of Wormskin #1 would be two massive race-classes, which have been compiled in this bonus pdf for a kind of player-friendly handbook you can just hand to your players sans notes to skip pages xyz. I love that! Big kudos!

Now, I have already covered the details of the elf and woodgrue race classes, as well as the elf-rune rules in my review of the non-expanded version of Demi-humans of Dolmenwood. For convenience’s sake, here would be that subject matter once more. If you don’t want to read this once more, skip ahead in the review. I’ll provide a marker below. There are a few subtle changes, though.

We begin this installment with a brief foreword before introducing us to Dolmenwood’s elfs, the fairy elf, who has Charisma as a prime requisite. Contrary to standard rules, an elf may raise Cha by point swapping during character creation. The race-class requires at least 9 in Charisma, Dexterity and Intelligence. The race-class caps at level 10, yields d6 HD, and uses the XP-progression and (TH)AC0-value of the regular elf class. A difference, though, would be that the save vs. rods/staves/spells progresses equal to the standard elf’s Death save, which makes the class more aesthetically pleasing to me – from a rules point of view. In contrast to the standard elf-class, Dolmenwood’s elf race-class gets a glamour at first level, with another one gained every level thereafter, excluding 4th and every 4 levels thereafter – we thus a total of up to 8 glamours over the race-class’s ten-level-progression. It should be noted that Dolmenwood’s elves gain these instead of regular spellcasting. Elves may use any weapons and armor, and do not die to old-age, are immune to non-magical diseases and may not die of starvation or thirst, but do become insane and bloodthirsty if deprived of sustenance, which is a unique angle. Elves studying a text for an hour get read magic, and may use arcane caster items, including scroll use.

Elves always count as having at least a Charisma score of 14 for the purpose of tests based on physical attractiveness. Personally, I think this attractiveness clause should only apply to mortals. Elves can notice passages to Fairy with a 3-in-6 chance and are immune to sleep spells and gain a +2 bonus to saves vs. charms and illusions. They are immune versus a ghoul’s paralysis. Now, what do these glamours do? Well, they allow an elf to charm a single mortal addressed, who must, on a failed save, believe the elf’s words – but only for a moment, and after that, the mortal will know what has happened. Another glamour allows for shapechanging – quick alterations work smoothly, while more dramatic ones require a turn of concentration, but the elf may not assume the precise look of another target. The elf may also disguise objects, see perfectly in the dark as in a moonlit night, alter the look of garments, communicate with any being – or vanish from sight for one round, but this one has a limit: A target may only be affected once per day by it. There also is a 2-in6-chance that an elf may short-range teleport (60’) by using shadow doors. This makes the elves feel like a fey class – why? Glamours have no daily cap. Once you know one of them, you can use it as often as you’d like! They are very potent, and the teleportation’s flavor and unreliability make the combat-relevant option always at least a bit risky, keeping it from becoming OP. Elves may learn up to class level runes by service to the lords and ladies of Fairy…but they pay for their power a hefty price: They take double damage from cold iron, and contact with silver imposes a -2 penalty to attack rolls and saves…and there are no gods in Elfland. Elfs have a 2-in-6 chance of not being affected by beneficial divine healing spells. OUCH! (Yep, hostile clerics can still kick their behinds!)

The second race-class within would be the woodgrue, who also has Charisma as the prime requisite (and may do the same switcheroo as the elf for Charisma during character creation); requirements for the woodgrue (aka demi-fey) would be a minimum of 9 in Charisma and Wisdom. They may use leather armor, but no shields, and may use all weapons. They see normally in darkness and has a 3-in-6 chance of going unnoticed when hiding in shadows or woods. If they have a minute, they can hide an item in a location so it may only be found as a secret door. Woodgrues can communicate via woodwind instruments, allowing them to contact all woodgrues and their indentured servants within 1 mile per class level. The race-class caps at level 10, grants d6 HD, and its (TH)AC0 starts at 19, and improves to 17 at 5th level, 14 at 9th level. The class has its own save-progression, with Death saves improving from 13 to 8, Wand save from 12 to 7, Paralysis from 14 to 9, Breath from 16 to 11, and rod/staves/spells from 14 to 9. XP-progression is closest to the dwarf race-class, but slightly quicker – at 2000 XP, you’ll have level 2, and 400,000 XP will suffice to reach 10th level.

The signature ability of the woodgrue would be the mad revelry: 1/day per level, the woodgrue may play a wood wind instrument: Anyone hearing the tune may make a save vs. spells (fairies and demi-fey get +2) or be affected by one of 8 effects, which include stripping, piggybacking or confessing a sin or the like. Seriously cool roleplaying potential there! Woodgrues are bound to the laws of hospitality and may not use mad revelry when properly invited. They take double damage from cold iron, and a woodgrue invited to a party or celebration MUST partake. A save may allow them to refrain, but they will be drained by the experience. They have the same vulnerability to silver as the elf. One of the more subtle changes herein: It should also be noted, that the woodgrue now joining a party uninvited will cause a random target to be affected by mad revelry. Love it!

Now, I mentioned favors of the elf lords and ladies: These require usually taking a quest, and upon completion, a reaction roll is made: 2d6 + the character’s Charisma modifier, with modifications based on magnitude of service rendered, experience level and race of the target. Mortals are more penalized than demi-fey, for example. A brief table determines the type of runes, if any, you can get. Each such rune is a boon that may only be used a number of times. Elfs may have up to class level elf runes; other classes and races can only ever have one of these at a given time. Rune activation takes but a thought and may not be interrupted. Runes are available in three strengths: Lesser, greater and mighty.

Each of them can only be used a limited number of times, though the number of uses hinges on the level of the character that has gained the rune. This does leave me with a question, though – do you track when the rune is gained, or the current level? When, e.g., an elf has received a mighty rune at level 9, he can use it once, and then it’s gone. However, the table does not that, at 10th level and beyond, the mighty rune may be used once per year. So, if a 9th level character waits a level, does the mighty rune now work once per year or is it still gone upon being used? This is more relevant for the elf class, who could have multiple ones. As another example: An 4th level elf who used a greater rune, usable usually once per experience level, gets a level. This bumps the elf to 5th level – can the elf now use the rune at the new frequency of 1/week? If a 9th level elf has used a greater rune already this week, how does that change at 10th level, when it becomes available once per day? This needs clarification. Beyond spell-like effects, we can find summoning the wild hunt, getting a flower that cans end targets into a deep sleep, etc. – cool examples!

MARKER! Here starts the discussion of the new material!

The pdf does contain the 10-level race-class for the grimalkin. Ever wanted to play an ageless fairy catfolk? There you go! Grimalkin cap at level 10, have a prime requisite of Dexterity, and must have at least Dexterity 9. They gain d6 HD and have a pretty slow XP-progression, though not as slow as magic-users: level 2 is gained at 3,125 XP and 10th level requires 400,000 XP. (Th)AC0-progression starts as 19 and improves in the same way as the woodgrue, i.e. 17 at 5th, 14 at 9th level. The grimalkin uses the cleric’s save-progression and sports the weakness of the other fairy-based races, i.e. double damage from cold iron, and -2 to atk and saves when touching silver due to silver sickness. Grimalkin have a 2-in6 chance of noticing invisible creatures and passages to Fairy.

And here is, to get that righ out of the way, the reason why I consider the grimalkin to be one of the best, perhaps the best catfolk-style playable race I have ever read, regardless of system: They have phases, modes if you will. The standard player form is the Estray. They may use small weapons and may use all types of tailor-made armor as well as shields. They get +2 to AC due to their small size in combat with larger-than-mansized targets and learn spells of up to 4th level. These are spontaneous and don’t need to be recorded. The Estray gets their own spell list. The get scaling pick locks, beginning at 15%, and improving to 60%. This is the shape you probably want to have. However, you can end up a Chester.

You see, when a grimalkin sees a rodent, they will need to make a save vs. spells to not attack. Transformative magic targeting the Estray has a 50% chance to turn them Chester (or back!), which makes them an unusually fat cat. Chester halves the Intelligence of the Estray and limits them to claw/claw/bite, 1 point of damage per attack. Dawn reverts them to Chester form. Thirdly, there is the wilder form: Think of it as a gleaming, deranged pair of predator’s eye, with an invisible feline behind – psycho Cheshire cat, basically. The attack sequence upgrades to 1d4/1d4/1d4, it increases HD by 2 and gains 2d6 upon transformation. Attempts to see the wilder form suffer a -2 if the target can’t see in darkness or invisible targets. When in wilder form, the grimalkin has no control, attacking indiscriminately. At the end of combat, wilder form is spirited away into fairy. Additionally, each round of exposure to sunlight requires a save vs. petrification to avoid turning into a lump of hardwood. Each of the states of the grimalkin notes the conditions to transform into the other forms.

…Okay, here’s the thing: In the original Wormskin-iteration, grimalkin were kinda cooler. Why? Because they had this addiction to eating rats, including the big ones. Consuming these would be like a drug that could turn them Chester, which would require weaning them. Similarly, wilders could drag prey into fairy. Grimalkin could also get hammered on fermented catnip for bonuses to atk and Dex-based rolls, but makes them insufferable drunks on a failed save. Don’t get me wrong. I get all changes made here. They make for the better, more player-friendly DESIGN. They are easier to play, can be handled by less experienced players. But personally, I think they make for the less interesting ROLEPLAYING experience. The original version’s addictive personality and mechanics for it really set the grimalkin apart, made it special. I can’t help but feel that the new version lost what made them so special on a roleplaying level, as opposed to a design-level. Instead making the consumption of rodents less punitive or add a scaling tolerance by level to prevent going Chester would have been cooler. At least for me. That being said, we get the best of both worlds, as the original grimalkin is still in the Wormskin #1-book! So yeah, kudos for offering both visions. A definite plus, though, would be the streamlined and precise depiction of the grimalkin spells in the Demihumans book: Disappearance lets you fully embrace Cheshire style and disappear or reappear body parts. Furball makes the grimalkin retch before projectile vomiting fur, bone shards and acid at targets – the longer the grimalkin retched before discharge, the higher the damage. Mouse hex temporarily renders the target a mouse, while musk of the most ancient generates a fear-inducing smell that becomes harder and harder to withstand. The new layout for the spells makes them much easier to use – kudos!

The second class that was originally premiered in Wormskin #1 would be the moss dwarf, who uses Wisdom as prime requisite, needs to have a minimum Constitution of 9 and uses d6 HD. The class caps at level 8, they gain level 2 at 2,200 XP and cap at 140,000 XP, and moss dwarves may use any non-metal armor and shields. Moss dwarfs may only use small and normal-sized weapons, no longbows or two-handed weapons. (Th)AC0 starts at 19, and increases to 17 at 4th level, increasing to 14 at 7th level. The moss dwarves use the dwarven save progression. They are also one of the coolest subraces I have seen in a long while. (In Wormskin #1, they get an amazing full color-one-page artwork, just fyi). Moss dwarves are immune to poison and spores and they have fertile flesh – as they age and adventure, they gain symbiotic traits: Each level, including first level, nets a symbiotic plant or fungus, like miniature trees growing from the ear, toadstools growing from joints, edible toe cheese (EW!) and the like. Moss dwarves have a 2-in-6 chance of hearing noises and can speak to plants. Each plant/colony answers 1/day and does so in a single word.

Moss dwarfs get a knack at 1st level, gaining an additional ability determined by the knack every odd level thereafter. 6 sample knacks are provided: Bird friend lets you talk to birds, charm them and later relate messages or call forth swarms of birds to defend you. Lock singers can sing to locks, convincing them to open. Root friend makes you a friend to beets and the like, culminating in the ability to summon a root thing. Thread lore lets you command strings or lace and later even unravel garments or ropes. Wood Kenning and yeast master may also be found here – these knacks are really creative and emphasize B/X’s focus on creative problem solving. Moss dwarf armor is btw. included as well, including pinecone armor. Cool!

All right, so this would be the stuff that has been included in the expanded Demihumans pdf, including the two excellent, revised race-classes from Wormskin #1. Now, all collected in a handy player-booklet, sans spoiling your referee material. The gorgeous referee map of Dolmenwood is btw. represented in a 2-page version; it’s just as neat as in the stand-alone version.

As far as Moss dwarfs are concerned, referees also get a massive generator to make moss dwarf NPCs: 10 tables, with 10 entries each, allow you to determine trinkets, facial features, coins and vittles, odor, pets, dress, manner of speaking, weapons and beards – and yep, the latter does acknowledge the touchy subject of dwarven females and beards. One of the most useful things about this would be the massive article on the various fungi of Dolmenwood: We get concise rules on how to identify them, a table for the referee to determine what happens if cautious PCs sample strange shrooms, and tables to buy them: One for edible fungi (10), one for fun and psychedelic ones (8), one for bad hallucinogenic and/or poisonous ones (11) – and a reaction roll to check how NPCs respond to being offered shrooms for purchase. The main meat, though, would be the massive d30-table for them. In the print version, this table spans no less than 3 double-page spreads (that actually look good!), or 6 pages. Each fungus gets a name, notes on form, odor, flavor, and an effect if consumed. This table is frickin’ gold and sees a ton of use in my games, regardless of system.

Finally, there is a new monster – as hinted before: The root-thing, a 3 HD critter that nets 80 XP. These sentient humanoid root vegetables (!!!) can entangle targets and bury/unearth their victims! We get 6 sample encounter ideas, 6 sample root types and 6 sample general traits to customize them. Awesome!

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are top-notch for 99% of the time, with only very few minor hiccups, most notably the rune rules in the bonus pdf, but yeah – as a whole, this is precise as hell. Layout adheres generally to a one-column b/w-standard with some color highlights and a combination of cool original artwork and public domain images used in an aesthetically pleasing manner. The pdf for the Wormskin #1-book is fully bookmarked for your convenience, but the expanded Demihumans of Dolmenwood bonus booklet has no bookmarks…but it’s a bonus, so it gets a tentative pass. I do own the PoD version, and frankly, I’d recommend getting it.

Gavin Norman and Greg Gorgonmilk’s first Wormskin installment was an impulse buy for me. I was browsing OBS, looking for good indie supplements, stumbled over this and loved the cover. Suffice to say, after reading this bad boy, I started saving up and got all the other Wormskin installments. All of them. That should tell you something. This book contains two of the best races/race-classes I have read in any game; they are diverse, unique and ooze creativity. The dressing is gold as well, and I can hardly think of a supplement that would be a better kickoff for a new ‘zine.

Gavin Norman’s impressive rules-precision and creativity generate a fusion of ideas that is amazing, far beyond the confines of OSR-gaming. What do I mean by this? Well, are you bored by catfolk being bland in PFRPG or 5e? With just a bit of rules-fu and translation of concepts, you could make grimalkin work in those systems, particularly if you focus on the high-concept original version that still has the mouse-addiction. In short: This is a gem, and very much worth the more than fair asking price. I usually would slightly penalize this for the minor hiccups in the bonus pdf, but that’d be unfair – after all, I paid for the ‘zine and got a bonus file out of it – plus, I already bashed the stand-alone version of the Demihumans file down one star for those. My final verdict for Wormskin #1 will hence be 4.5 stars, rounded up – and this does get my seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Wormskin Issue 1
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B/X Essentials: Demihumans of Dolmenwood
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/18/2019 03:36:38

An Endzeitgeist.com review

All righty, this FREE installment of the B/X-Essentials series codifies some of the delightfully weird things that roam Dolmenwood on 12 pages, 1 of which is the front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

We begin this installment with a brief foreword before introducing us to Dolmenwood’s elfs, the fairy elf, who has Charisma as a prime requisite. Contrary to standard rules, an elf may raise Cha by point swapping during character creation. The race-class requires at least 9 in Charisma, Dexterity and Intelligence. The race-class caps at level 10, yields d6 HD, and uses the XP-progression and (TH)AC0-value of the regular elf class. A difference, though, would be that the save vs. rods/staves/spells progresses equal to the standard elf’s Death save, which makes the class more aesthetically pleasing to me – from a rules point of view. In contrast to the standard elf-class, Dolmenwood’s elf race-class gets a glamour at first level, with another one gained every level thereafter, excluding 4th and every 4 levels thereafter – we thus a total of up to 8 glamours over the race-class’s ten-level-progression. It should be noted that Dolmenwood’s elves gain these instead of regular spellcasting. Elves may use any weapons and armor, and do not die to old-age, are immune to non-magical diseases and may not die of starvation or thirst, but do become insane and bloodthirsty if deprived of sustenance, which is a unique angle. Elves studying a text for an hour get read magic, and may use arcane caster items, including scroll use.

Elves always count as having at least a Charisma score of 14 for the purpose of tests based on physical attractiveness. Personally, I think this attractiveness clause should only apply to mortals. Elves can notice passages to Fairy with a 3-in-6 chance and are immune to sleep spells and gain a +2 bonus to saves vs. charms and illusions. They are immune versus a ghoul’s paralysis. Now, what do these glamours do? Well, they allow an elf to charm a single mortal addressed, who must, on a failed save, believe the elf’s words – but only for a moment, and after that, the mortal will know what has happened. Another glamour allows for shapechanging – quick alterations work smoothly, while more dramatic ones require a turn of concentration, but the elf may not assume the precise look of another target. The elf may also disguise objects, see perfectly in the dark as in a moonlit night, alter the look of garments, communicate with any being – or vanish from sight for one round, but this one has a limit: A target may only be affected once per day by it. There also is a 2-in6-chance that an elf may short-range teleport (60’) by using shadow doors. This makes the elves feel like a fey class – why? Glamours have no daily cap. Once you know one of them, you can use it as often as you’d like! They are very potent, and the teleportation’s flavor and unreliability make the combat-relevant option always at least a bit risky, keeping it from becoming OP. Elves may learn up to class level runes by service to the lords and ladies of Fairy…but they pay for their power a hefty price: They take double damage from cold iron, and contact with silver imposes a -2 penalty to attack rolls and saves…and there are no gods in Elfland. Elfs have a 2-in-6 chance of not being affected by beneficial divine healing spells. OUCH! (Yep, hostile clerics can still kick their behinds!)

The second race-class within would be the woodgrue, who also has Charisma as the prime requisite (and may do the same switcheroo as the elf for Charisma during character creation); requirements for the woodgrue (aka demi-fey) would be a minimum of 9 in Charisma and Wisdom. They may use leather armor, but no shields, and may use all weapons. They see normally in darkness and has a 3-in-6 chance of going unnoticed when hiding in shadows or woods. If they have a minute, they can hide an item in a location so it may only be found as a secret door. Woodgrues can communicate via woodwind instruments, allowing them to contact all woodgrues and their indentured servants within 1 mile per class level. The race-class caps at level 10, grants d6 HD, and its (TH)AC0 starts at 19, and improves to 17 at 5th level, 14 at 9th level. The class has its own save-progression, with Death saves improving from 13 to 8, Wand save from 12 to 7, Paralysis from 14 to 9, Breath from 16 to 11, and rod/staves/spells from 14 to 9. XP-progression is closest to the dwarf race-class, but slightly quicker – at 2000 XP, you’ll have level 2, and 400,000 XP will suffice to reach 10th level.

The signature ability of the woodgrue would be the mad revelry: 1/day per level, the woodgrue may play a wood wind instrument: Anyone hearing the tune may make a save vs. spells (fairies and demi-fey get +2) or be affected by one of 8 effects, which include stripping, piggybacking or confessing a sin or the like. Seriously cool roleplaying potential there! Woodgrues are bound to the laws of hospitality and may not use mad revelry when properly invited. They take double damage from cold iron, and a woodgrue invited to a party or celebration MUST partake. A save may allow them to refrain, but they will be drained by the experience. They have the same vulnerability to silver as the elf.

Now, I mentioned favors of the elf lords and ladies: These require usually taking a quest, and upon completion, a reaction roll is made: 2d6 + the character’s Charisma modifier, with modifications based on magnitude of service rendered, experience level and race of the target. Mortals are more penalized than demi-fey, for example. A brief table determines the type of runes, if any, you can get. Each such rune is a boon that may only be used a number of times. Elfs may have up to class level elf runes; other classes and races can only ever have one of these at a given time. Rune activation takes but a thought and may not be interrupted. Runes are available in three strengths: Lesser, greater and mighty.

Each of them can only be used a limited number of times, though the number of uses hinges on the level of the character that has gained the rune. This does leave me with a question, though – do you track when the rune is gained, or the current level? When, e.g., an elf has received a mighty rune at level 9, he can use it once, and then it’s gone. However, the table does not that, at 10th level and beyond, the mighty rune may be used once per year. So, if a 9th level character waits a level, does the mighty rune now work once per year or is it still gone upon being used? This is more relevant for the elf class, who could have multiple ones. As another example: An 4th level elf who used a greater rune, usable usually once per experience level, gets a level. This bumps the elf to 5th level – can the elf now use the rune at the new frequency of 1/week? If a 9th level elf has used a greater rune already this week, how does that change at 10th level, when it becomes available once per day? This needs clarification. Beyond spell-like effects, we can find summoning the wild hunt, getting a flower that cans end targets into a deep sleep, etc. – cool examples!

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are top-notch on a formal level; on a rules-language level, the elf rune engine needs a bit o clarification in my book, but otherwise, both are as good as we’d expect. The artworks are nice. The pdf has no bookmarks, which is okay at this length, but not ideal.

Gavin Norman’s Demihumans of Dolmenwood stand-alone pdf is a fun offering; I very much enjoyed the flavor and style of both the tweak on the elf class and the woodgrue. The runes are super exciting as well, but still suffer from ambiguities at the heart of their engine. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
B/X Essentials: Demihumans of Dolmenwood
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Welcome to Dolmenwood
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/18/2019 03:35:33

An Endzeitgeist.com review

All right, so this humble FREE pdf clocks in at 6 pages, 1 of which is the front cover; the second page contains the editorial – and the rest provides exactly what it says on the tin: An introduction to Dolmenwood!

While Dolmenwood is a kind of serialized campaign setting, in that it is expanded in the Wormskin-zine, and while the setting’s rules are presented in B/X as the chosen OSR-rules-setting, this pdf is 100% player-friendly, and should be considered to be a kind of a teaser trailer for PCs. On a rules side of things, this means that this does not feature rules, and as such, it gets the system neutral tag on my homepage.

So, the first page paints in broad strokes what Dolmenwood is. I am not going to reiterate the information here, and instead provide my own understanding: Dolmenwood is somewhat akin to Kobold Press’ much beloved Margreve, in that it represents an ancient forest that is deeply steeped in mythology, in ancient times. That is where the similarities end, though.

Now, Dolmenwood could be described as “weird”, but this adjective is by now so broad in its application that it needs some explanation: Dolmenwood is not deeply entrenched on the quasi-LotFP-ish side of things regarding its adversaries; it is a fantasy setting through and through, but it is one that feels, at least to me, more primal. Less on the tentacle side of things, and more indebted to real-world mythology, in particularly the German, British and Slavic fairy tales, as seen through a lens more strange, more odd, than what you’d expect from a quasi-Grimm-style adaptation.

Instead, this feels like an unfiltered look at a somewhat obscurely quasi-mythology, one that is suffused with nods towards the Celts and Picts; it is also not a mere dark view of said topics, in that it is suffused with an unobtrusive and impressive, very British humor that manages to tip-toe the line just before becoming gonzo. While there are surreal and intriguing components in Dolmenwood, they never transition into the gonzo, remaining rooted (haha!) in a kind of plausibility that generally would make it possible to drop this into a historic setting’s stranger corner of the wilds. A big potential issue for historic settings, i.e. gods, is bypassed here, as the micro-setting knows the “One True God”, though this religion is anything but dominant in the strange wilds of Dolmenwood. The closest approximations I could think of would be a blending of Zzarchov Kowolski’s and Chris Kutalik’s styles, though less grim and less goofy.

Dolmenwood features plenty of leylines, and it is a setting very much informed by proximity to the lands of Fairy. As a micro-setting of sorts, it can be inserted into most campaign settings sans any kind of kerfuffle.

Now, this pdf is clever in that it presents player-information: For example, we get brief write-ups of the sentient races within: Thus, players will know that things like goatmen, moss dwarves and grimalkin are common in Dolmenwood, bringing the player knowledge on the same level as the knowledge all but the most oblivious PCs will have. The pdf then proceeds to provide summaries of the known factions and powers associated with Dolmenwood, introducing us to the aforementioned church, the Duke of Brackenwold, Fairy lords and the things in the woods. The pdf also provides delightfully spoiler-free information on some sites of interest, as well as a visual representation of a map-sketch that the PCs can find…

Conclusion: Editing and formatting re top-notch on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a nice, printer-friendly two-column full-color standard, and the use of public domain art within is nice and enhances the flair of the book. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

This introduction by Gavin Norman and Greg Gorgonmilk is a great little pdf: It shows players a glimpse at Dolmenwood’s unique aspects without spoiling details. It is a great pitch for the setting – and it is FREE! It’s very hard to argue with that, and as such, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars –a great example of how you can make a good player-teaser!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Welcome to Dolmenwood
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Dolmenwood Referee's Map
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/18/2019 03:34:12

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This map is awesome and full-color. You can download it for free; it sports heraldric crests of Dolmenwood’s noble houses on the side, notes the position of the rune stones in the setting, the ley lines, is VTT-friendly, notes the GM’s points of interest, etc. It’s beautiful it’s useful, it’s actually FREE, and even the print version (which I do own!) clocks in at a ridiculous $1.50 – a price this assuredly is worth.

If you’re a referee interested in Dolmenwood, download this right now. If you’re a player, download the “Welcome to Dolmenwood”-teaser instead. This map does contain important information not intended for player’s hands. Now, when do we get a player’s version? Oh, rating? 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dolmenwood Referee's Map
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