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Fosc Anansi
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/02/2020 13:58:01

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module covers 50 pages, with two additional pages devoted to the Lands of Lunacy character sheet for OSR and 5e, respectively; this page count already excludes front- and backend matter and editorial. My review is based on the hardcover version of the module. I do not own the electronic iteration. The hardcover does not have the name on the spine, in spite of sufficient space, but considering the striking, white cover and art-direction of the book, it stands out on the shelf.

This review was requested by my patreon supporters, and as such was moved up in my reviewing queue.

I’d like to ask something of you: Please read the entire review before making your decision, for the rating this received is VERY contingent on priorities.

Obligatory caveat: I don’t think that dual-system supplements are ever a good idea for the customer, as you have to pay for at least one system’s content that you usually won’t be using. Different systems have different power-levels and internal logic: Some OSR-games assume that you can fling plenty of fireballs, while others don’t. The power level of a 5e or PFRPG group will vastly exceed that of e.g. a similar party made in Labyrinth Lord, and implicit design assumptions, like an ability to fly at certain levels can result in some serious logic issues. That being said, as far as this module is concerned, these problems did not surface for me. One more downside from a reviewer’s perspective: How do you rate a book that does one system well, and another atrociously? You have to rate such a book at the median value, which can be rather sad; a good example would be Brindlemarsh, which is a nice module in the old-school context, but fails utterly at 5e.

Okay, so this module is intended for 4 to 6 PCs of 6th level, and power-level-wise, this actually works both for OSRIC and 5e without being too deadly or easy in either iteration. While the adventure briefly references the Lands of Lunacy, the like is not required to properly run this. Rules-wise, this module assumes OSRIC as the OSR-system., so let’s talk about that aspect of the book for a bit.

The monster appendix presented can be commended in a positive manner: We get stats for the relevant creatures featured in the adventure, and the presentation is actually easier to parse than OSRIC’s standard statblocks: The creature writeups take a cue from 5e, in that they list the respective creature abilities, with bolded headers – much like e.g. the formidable Old-School Essentials presentation of B/X-rules does. I really like this, as it makes parsing the information of more complex creatures easier. On the downside, the creature skittershade’s web ability erroneously uses the 5e-ability. This type of guffaw is the exception, though – at least when it comes to rules. As a pleasant surprise, the book for example codifies global spider rules for web walking etc. There are some small hiccups here: The distance a web can be fired, for example, is erroneously called “reach” instead of range.

On a formatting side, the ability headers are inconsistent, and so is the way in which venom is handled, which, apart from the inconsistency, is per se a plus: Instead of giving every spider a save or suck poison, the module takes a more differentiated approach. One spider’s venom e.g. causes additional “venom” damage, with a save for half; on a failure, the target is reduced to 0 HP and has a few turns before dying, allowing for intervention. Now, granted, there are enemies with save or die here, but as a whole, the module exercises a welcome restraint here. The aforementioned inconsistency pertains to this venom damage, by the way – in one poison, it’s untyped, in the other, it’s designated as venom damage. This does not impede functionality, though. “nausea with fever induced” as a consequence, sans rules-repercussions, though, is a bit weak. Does this nausea work analog to sinking cloud, for example? The rules-formatting does sometimes fall into an almost 5e-territory, instead of rephrasing them. An example: Venomous Spit. Ranged Weapon Attack: Range 120 ft., one target.[…]” You may not mind, but it’s very jarring if this is the ONLY attack of the target formatted thus. Even a cursory editing check should have been able to unify these.

Spell-references do not properly italicize spells, as per OSRIC’s conventions, and instead capitalize them. There are also typos like “venemous[sic!]” or “Axionatic[sic!]” to be found. On a formal level regarding the criteria, these are a mess. On a rules-language level, though, they are functional. You can run these rules without needing to fill in crucial gaps. There are exceptions to this rule, like aforementioned nausea, but they are few in number. One even made me smile for how absurd it is: “1/day – Darkness at will.” You can glean from the context that this is simply supposed to be darkness at will, but if you need further proof that even a moderately capable rules-editor could have polished this further…well, there you go. There are two magic potions/ointments included; one of these references the advantage mechanic from 5e, probably, because, short of one paragraph, they have been cut-copy pasted. In 5e, they lack scarcity ratings. In short, the formal criteria of the rules-presentation are not good, but they are not atrocious – I’d call them passable.

Can the same be said about the 5e-materials sported herein? Well, it’s “Constitution saving throw”, not “CON save” in 5e; “(Recharge 3-4)” should be in italics and bolded, and it should be (Recharge 5-6) instead, as recharge is rolled with a d6. As one can read on the 11th page of the Monster Manual, in the very basic core rules for critters. Medium creatures have d8 HD, not d10. Large creatures have d10s, not d12s as HD. The final boss does not list their HD next to the Hit Points. Spell-references are not formatted properly, and there are typos like “rech[sic!]” for reach. We can also find incorrect skill or ability score values: Skittershades should have either a Wisdom modifier that’s +1 to make their Wisdom-based skill values check out, or increase the value of the two by +1 to justify that with getting double proficiency bonus to the value; as presented, the values are incorrect. One of the spider statblocks puts the “poisoned” condition in quotation marks and erroneously refer to the associated damage type as “venom damage” instead of poison damage – particularly egregious, since the minority of the statblocks use the correct damage type.

Average damage values are often off: 1d6+3 does not average to 5; 2d6 don’t average out to 6, but to 7. The average damage value for 3d6+4 should be 14, not 11. The Huge Brown Spider’s Dexterity should be 16 to make her Stealth and attack values check out. The Huge Wolf Spider’s Wisdom score is off for her passive Perception, and Strength needs to be 18 or 19 to make her bite attack value check out. 2d8+3 does not equate to an average damage value of 9. Funny: The same paragraph gives 12 as the average value for 2d8+1. Webbing, instead of giving an escape DC, requires a Strength check. There is no cure disease/poison spell in 5e, that role is served by lesser restoration. By any metric applied to the statblocks, they are not good – which is puzzling, since they are close to correct in almost every instance. Syntax is generally correct or at least very close to it, and the balancing of the adversaries is suitable for the power-level. In short, while the stats are pretty bad, they are not nearly as atrocious as some others I’ve seen. If you don’t care about statblock integrity, you can run the module with what’s provided. Still, I have rarely found myself wishing so hard that some competent 5e-designer had at least looked over these statblocks.

Now, as for the formal criteria of the module: The adventure comes with read-aloud texts, and uses brackets to denote 5e-rules and DCs -the latter being sometimes rather problematic – “Observation DC 17”? that’s not a 5e-skill…so yeah, aforementioned issues bleed into the module, but not to the degree where I’d consider them to be getting unduly in the way of running the module. The adventure provides random encounter tables, where applicable. Structure-wise, we have a village and a brief overland trek leading to a dungeon with small levels, but multiple ones. The complex actually has more than one entrance-vector (which are fully realized – level 2 is actually the most likely entry-level!), and the dungeon comes with a sideview that helps the GM picture it properly. Furthermore, we get lavishly-detailed maps – they are aesthetically-pleasing, and show more details than usual, including webbing. Much to my most pleasant surprise, we get the full array of them presented in player-friendly versions as well – a huge comfort-plus! Even better: The maps actually do redact secret rooms and the like in a manner that makes the maps spoiler-free. Huge kudos for going the extra mile. Less pleasant for 5e-GMs: The maps assume 10-foot-squares, which makes them less useful for the purpose of 5e’s tactical combat.

As for the general aesthetics: The module probably fits best into a setting such as AAW Games’ Aventyr (With a reskin for the start to the underworld, it’d make for a nice expansion for AAW Games’ fantastic 5e-Rise of the Drow) or Kobold Press’ Midgard, as the module tends to gravitate to high fantasy aesthetics, with some subdued magitech. It should be noted that this doesn’t mean that you’ll find guns or the like – the tech is somewhat steam-themed and has a pre-industrialism feel, so it won’t e.g. break the consistency of settings like Faerûn or Krynn.

Ideally, you set this module up a few sessions before running it, but in order to talk in detail about this, I’ll need to go into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

Only GMs around? Great! We begin in a small town, where a talented smith named Jenest lives – this NPC works best if established as an ally/valuable asset/friend before the module starts, as the default hook sees the small village encased in webs as the PCs arrive – and overrun by dangerous spiders, their smith kidnapped. The trail through web-choked forests leads the PCs to a cabin (where smart 5e-players and pretty much any OSR player whose character reached 6th level knows to rest – in the dungeon proper, that’ll be a bad idea. It should be noted that a random encounter can yield a handout, which can be found in another way as well. Either way, the trail leads to cliffside – on top, a chimney is an optional means of getting inside, if the main entrance seems foolhardy to the PCs – in and below the cliff, the complex of Nevnooblin awaits. What’s Nevnooblin? Well, it’s a pretty damn cool setup for a dungeon: It is essentially a dark gnome/svirfneblin startup, where the gnomes have taken to infusing giant spiders with chaos energy siphoned from a planar breach to the Landy of Lunacy. Why? Turns out the silk thus infused is super-potent, and their drow investors acting essentially as venture capitalists, want results.

Funnily enough, this rampant exploitation of spiders has rather irked none other than the eponymous Fosc Anansi, a unique demon/godling-esque monstrosity that did not consider this exploitation of his eight-legged servants funny. Suffice to say, the shadow of the spider goddess did not hesitate when wreaking havoc and assailing the complex.

Nevnooblin as a dungeon deserves the fullest respect and is the best thing I’ve read by Fail Squad Games so far: The dungeon is internally consistent and makes sense: With its network of water/steam pipes (which may be damaged and harvested, at the risk of destroying weapons), it feels unique. Granted, the rules don’t operate as they should in 5e (and the separation of the two systems breaks somewhat apart here), but these pipes also essentially give the PCs means to use the dungeon to their advantage, which they definitely should do. So, we do have a dungeon that has unique tactical properties – from hissing steam to creaking valves, Nevnooblin feels very distinct, and it does an excellent job at environmental storytelling – the dungeon does not explain its purpose per se, but clever players can and will piece together the function of the complex.

The somewhat twisted logic (worker safety? Pff, who cares…) also extends to e.g. a massive compactor – which is btw. no stupid save or suck trap, but rather a handy tool that clever players can not only learn to use, but do so with devastating effect regarding their opposition – the compactor deals tremendous amounts of damage. Automata, looms and sewing stations – slowly but surely the complex will divulge its secrets, and unlike some of eh weaker offerings by the author, the complex doesn’t lose steam (pun intended) and retains its fidelity and organic construction throughout without railroading the PCs into actions. The details provided help the GM understand everything and manage to achieve what precious few modules do: Make the complex feel plausible and unique, yet fantastic – and WITHOUT constantly resorting to “A Wizard did it”-syndrome. Everything makes sense, and the level of detail goes so far as to provide temperature values in both °F and °C. Awesome! Thank you! There is also some mild horror to be found, including e.g. survivors with last dire prophecies/hints before dying…oh, and the notes and exploration? They hold the key to actually finding the ways to properly win the scenario.

You see, ultimately, the PCs have to stop Fosc Anansi and his legions, but things get worse, as the drow party sent to take control is approaching as well – the finale requires a tough decision as the PCs save Jenest: Leave to stop Fosc Anansi and have her stall the drow (she succeeds, but pays for it with her life), or stop the drow, but have Fosc Anansi massacre the town…They can’t eb in two places, so what’s the smart move? Well, there is this one engine that the note for new recruits told you not to set to a certain setting, right? Well, doing so transforms the entire complex into a gauntlet of bursting pipes that will collapse sooner, rather than later, preventing the need to fight the drow as well, and freeing the capacities to stop mighty Fosc Anansi – provided the PCs are toasted by their attempts at getting out of the complex, that is! The fight against Fosc Anansi is btw. a multi-stage affair, with phase one below, and phase 2 above – this is not only the best boss fight in any Fail Squad Games module I’ve seen so far, it’s a really good boos fight regardless of publisher. It’s deadly in both the OSRIC and 5e-versions, and ole’ Foscy gets two different forms in either. The one-page artwork of the final form also provides an intimidating handout for your players. Just sayin’…

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are the one thing that this module struggles with, big time. On a formal level, there are more typos herein than I’m comfortable with, and formatting is inconsistent time and again. On a rules-language level, we have some minor snafus in OSRIC, some major ones in 5e – the book really needed a strict rules-editor or developer to go through this and polish it. In my estimation, fixing this book’s issues would have taken a day or two, tops. Layout adheres to an easy to parse two-column b/w-standard that is simple, yet elegant. As often for Fail Squad Games, the artworks deserve special mention: All original pieces, all impressive. My personal aesthetic highlight, though, were the maps: Their details, and particularly the fact that we get proper player-friendly maps? That’s a HUGE plus, particularly these days. I can’t comment on this regarding bookmarks, etc.; as mentioned before, the hardcover is stark white, distinct, and doesn’t have the spine on the back.

Bryan Burns as the 5e-conversion specialist, unfortunately, didn’t help the integrity of the rules to the extent that I wished. On the plus-side, the 5e-material can be used, but there are too many errors in them to consider that task a success. My list above? It’s not comprehensive. Not by a long shot. So yeah, the OSRIC version runs smoother if you want my opinion. It’s not perfect either, but its rules are better than the 5e ones, provided you can stomach a bit more checks than usual.

Lloyd Metcalf’s modules always have some sort of potential, but things can get in the way. In some, it seemed like the author ran out of steam; in others, the rules got in the way so badly that the modules ceased working.

It is my tremendous joy to announce that this is NOT the case here. The attention to detail and genuine love that went into this, is palpable. This has all the markings of a labor of love, from the small details to the way in which the module establishes a sense of plausibility that is hard to achieve; the little touches show a level of love that is impossible to fake. This is n earnest, well-crafted yarn with a dungeon littered with interaction points and things to do, that rewards good roleplay over good rolls (though PCs should not be sucky – this is an old-school module!).

In case you haven’t seen that coming: I genuinely enjoyed Fosc Anansi. It plays well, feels unique, and if you want to support the author, I wholeheartedly recommend getting this book.

But this book puts me into a super-weird spot as a reviewer. Not only do I have to account for two systems, I also have to account for the fact that we have a writing/concept-wise fantastic module, but also one tarnished with blemishes so serious that it’s hard to recommend this, particularly for 5e.

To give you an idea: If I rated this purely for mechanics, I’d give it 3.5 stars for OSRIC, 1.5 stars for 5e. If you want correct stats, correct rules-language and are as allergic as I am, or more so, regarding having to fix nonstandard rules to fit the system, then think twice before getting this. There’s a good chance the book will aggravate you to no end. You should probably consider this to be, at best, a 3-star book, probably lower if you run 5e.

If, however, I disregard mechanics and rate this solely on the strength of its vision, based on the obvious love poured into this – well, then this’d be a 4.5 or 5-star module. In many ways, it vindicates what I’ve said before. There is some serious talent here, hamstrung by VERY pronounced issues in rules design and editing. If you play rules fast and loose, or if you consider rules-glitches to be great exercise for flexing your own design muscles (hey, I know I do!), and if you’re looking for a great fantasy yarn full of spiders that takes a different approach, then chances are that this module will make you smile as much as it did make me. I really liked this module, in spite of its glaring and very pronounced issues.

Fosc Anansi is, ultimately, a mess of a book, but a lovable, charming mess. If you’ve read and run as many modules as I did, you recognize when somebody really poured their heart into a book. This is such a book. And traditionally, I have always rated fun and ambition above mechanical perfection. Went back and forth for quite a while about the final verdict, but considering the difference in quality of the complex featured and the genuinely cool ideas and set-up, my final verdict, this once, will be 4 stars – if, and only if, you have a VERY pronounced tolerance for rules-hiccups. If not, consider my rating suggestions above to be more representative. I genuinely hope that Fail Squad Games can recapture that spark and build on it with better rules in the future.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Fosc Anansi
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Those Dam Goblins (Revised)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/01/2020 10:51:27

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure clocks in at 38 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, 2 pages Land of Lunacy character sheet (one OSR, one 5e), leaving us with 32 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by my patreon supporters, to be undertaken at my convenience. While the module does have ties to the Lands of Lunacy meta-setting/template, you do not need aforementioned supplement to run this – these ties are very subdued and tenuous at best. The review is based on the pdf. I do not own the print version.

Before I get ahead, I should note that one character is depicted in the character sheet, taking up a page – this was done only in the OSR-version. The 5e-version is in the file per se, which is weird. The final page of the module is taken up by a goblin song, which was a nice touch as far as I’m concerned.

To address the elephant in the room: This is a dual-format pdf, which means I have to rate it in its entirety, as for how valid it is for both OSR, and for 5e. This also means that half of the rules-relevant content will be superfluous for all customers. I am a big opponent of dual-system files, as they are inherently customer unfriendly, and if e.g. one version is much better than the other, it makes rating the entire book harder. This is not the case here, as you’ll see.

Genre-wise and regarding its aesthetics, this is perhaps closest to early Forgotten Realms; it doesn’t have the Greyhawk-grit, is what I’m trying to say.

As far as rules are concerned, the module seems to be based, OSR-system-wise, on Labyrinth Lord. 5e-rules are provided in brackets, and there is read-aloud text provided, though not a copious amount. The module is designated as suitable for 4-6 characters of 1st to 3rd level, and while that might work for BECMI and B/X-derived rules sets, this does not hold true for 5e. 2nd level characters will have too easy a time (for the most part), while 3rd level characters will curbstomp the opposition to kingdom come day before they have even finished their breakfast.

Okay, so the following is an adventure-review, so here come the SPOILERS. Potential players should…

I can’t do it.

I seriously can’t.

I will not divorce mechanics from content, and frankly, you should be aware of the issues this has, and I’m not going to dignify this with a properly enunciated spoiler-warning.

The story is per se a pretty simple:  A few years ago, human settlers discovered a marshy plain, and proceeded to dry it with the help of a dam. This, alas, displaced goblins – somewhat like the metaplot of Expeditious Retreat’s “Stonepick Crossing”, just minus the settlement actually being in the damn, and thus, interesting. The human leader is Stroh Larhley, and he promises some rewards – 4 magic items, none of which have been properly adjusted to 5e, and they are not interesting either. Don’t believe me? 10% bonus to clerical turning checks against undead. Oh boy. A dagger that “emits light on command.” Oh boy. It should be noted that both magic items and spells are persistently not properly formatted throughout the module.

If you’re a fan of DCC, you’ll have guessed the name of the antagonist: Curtis. Curtis Mileach. There is also an optional encounter with Di-Zimm, and Brensalle. (This one was contributed by Bob Brinkman, and is BY FAR the best thing about this book – it’s an albino goblin outcast with a massive ferret, who is actually friends with some kids…but also paranoid. There is a chance for a genuinely nice trip through the pair’s labyrinthine warrens, with the resolution and how it goes mostly contingent on player-skill.) This encounter has nothing to bear on the module’s actual plot, but it’s where some joy was found for me, so thank you. Mr. Brinkman. The artwork for the pair is also stunning.

…okay, in case you didn’t get it, the names are thinly-veiled anagrams of Harley Stroh and Michael Curtis, and evoking these two titans of adventure-writing made me wish VERY HARD I was running one of their adventures instead. Heck, same goes for Brendan LaSalle and the rest of the DCC-crew. Homage is fine and something I generally enjoy, but putting such a reference front and center means that you should at least attempt to live up to the referenced material. This is not the case here.

But back to the main plot: Curtis Mileach was corrupted by an item from the Lands of Lunacy, and now guides the goblins in a bid to blow up the dam. The goblins have a backup plan, and have tainted the human water supply. There is no proper way to notice this, since the village isn’t properly depicted. Not even means to notice tracks, etc. In 5e, one would assume that a village with a mid-to high-level caster would purify food if people got sick, but I digress. This boils down to a lackluster “it’s not over yet” final encounter...that never comes. See below. However, even if, due to you fixing the module, the PCs get here, you’ll notice that the hobgoblins involved here are missing their whole attack section of their statblocks.

En route to the damn, we have rot grubs, which are depicted in a way that is super hard to beat, in how it fails to grasp how 5e treats hazards. They are depicted as creatures, which makes no sense.

The main meat of the module is the dungeon of the goblins, where Mileach and his cronies have created the “infernal machine”, which spans 3 levels, with ropes and pulleys; one highlight here is a schematic of one door and the rope system through it – at this point, I once hoped for some awesome payoff. This machine can blow up the damn.

And this is where things become “fun”: The module can’t RAW be solved in either version. The first room of the machine notes that there’s a percentile chance for drowning everyone in the complex if you even TOUCH the machine. There’s also only a “25%” chance that characters can disarm the trap ONLY on this level. The second level notes that the machine can’t be disarmed here, only in the previous room. The third level of the machine also points to area 1…which means that the trap is a self-referential, kafkaesque nightmare that may never be properly disarmed, only activated via mechanics that make limited sense in one, and no sense in the other of the designated systems. It immediately flooding the complex and drowning everybody is also a Schrödinger-scenario, as another room notes that it takes 6 rounds – so which is it?? Close-reading this self-contradictory mess literally gave me a migraine trying to understand it, only to realize that the module simply is sloppy and RAW not solvable.

Oh, and what about some fun save-or-die SLOWLY, but too fast to reach the village for a cure disease effects? Those are always fun, right? Fun fact: There is no such spell in 5e. Lesser restoration. The module also has one of these “fun” scenes, where the BBEG talks to the PCs, and casts essentially a suggestion-like spell while talking, without the PCs noticing. Why? How? Never explained, because that’d take effort or an actual understanding of the rules.

Speaking of effort: There are essentially magitech items (like a baton that deals additional damage due to being electrical) for the goblins, and no value ratings or the like are provided for them; their rules are at best boring in the OSR-version. In 5e, they’re a sloppy mess. This is particularly true for every single serious instance of 5e-rules-formatting: Things that are supposed to be bolded are not. A reaction is missing in its entirety. Things are lower case that shouldn’t be. Things are not in italics that should be.

Speaking of 5e: This pdf introduces LL’s initiative rules for encounters and for Turns in 5e. I kid you not. Turns…are RADICALLY different things in OSR-games and in 5e. In 5e, it’s your turn when you get to act. This bothered me to no end. It’s not all. The module proceeds to state something ballsy about this use of initiative, which is incompatible with how 5e operates.

“[T]his adventure is created with the intent of using the following order of events from older versions of the game. This approach may alter the balance and outcome in some 5E conversions of encounters. Some accommodation may need to be made on the fly by you, the Game Master, to maintain balance and a challenging game.“ (Those Dam Goblins, pg. 1)

WTF.

Seriously, WTF???

Let me translate that into plain English for you: “We want you to jam an initiative system in a half-baked manner into your game to make our dual format module work. We have no idea how, and don’t care that your game already has a perfectly functional one. We have called this a dual-format module, but we actually have no clue how one of the two systems this is advertised for, works. You may have purchased a module so you don’t have to do the hard work, but guess what? You’ll still have to do the balancing!”

W-T-F.

If that doesn’t bode well: The OSR-stuff may be bad, but the 5e-rules are a whole new level of WTF. Things that should be saving throws are called checks instead. This sentence is designated as 5e-rules: “A successful Knowledge (Nature) or Knowledge (Healing) check [DC 15] reveals the benefit of the herbs.” This is NOT 5e!!! The module does not understand the difference between Perception and Investigation. Sometimes, the pdf calls it “INT save.” There is an instance where enemies auto-detect PCs unless they’re invisible, which contradicts how both systems work. The magitech items are utterly non-functional in some instances – glue never specifies whether it behaves as a melee or ranged weapon, or its ranges. Magic items lack scarcity ratings or gp-values.

If you’re playing 5e, you’ll also want to know that proper damage types are missing pretty MUCH EVERYWHERE. If it’s a trap, an item, or anything like that, expect to have some sort of issue with it.

And there is not a single correct 5e-statblock herein.

Not one. I went through all of them. From math not checking out to missing bits, to wrong HD to the omnipresent, atrocious formatting, they all have issues, many of which influence the integrity of the rules.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are atrocious. On a formal level, there are glitches, but on a rules-level, this is genuinely BROKEN. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard with really nice full-color and b/w-artworks, original pieces. These are the one good thing about this. The pdf has no bookmarks, which makes navigation of this mess annoying at best, and adds one last injury to this insulting clusterf***.

Christopher Clark’s module, expanded by Lloyd Metcalf and Bob Brinkman genuinely made me feel bad. Because I felt like a bully writing this review. Because, from the albino gobo hermit with his ferret to the idea per se, this has a good premise. It is, alas, a premise that has not been executed.

No, there is no “well” missing, because the frickin’ module can’t be solved in either system as written. I don’t object to the introduction of modern, tech-y items for the goblins, though that does limit the appeal a bit, it could have made this work. Heck, after the introduction/summary, I hoped for a cool, complex, perhaps even visual puzzle for the dam-busting machine! I mean, it’s master Metcalf – he could draw that! And the first room ahs this cool schematic illustrating how the rope goes through the door.

None of this goes anywhere.

I felt bad about not liking some Fail Squad Games modules, I felt bad about bashing some of them for their shortcomings, because I don’t like being negative. Because there always was this spark, this attention to detail, that showed that the authors cared. The skill might have been lacking from e.g. Marathon of Heroes, but the idea was good – if that module had been written for a system the authors actually understood, it could have been a fine romp! Roadside Respite may not be perfect, but there is some fun to be had with it. Brindlemarsh’s 5e-rules may be a mess, but at least the module is playable in OSRIC. The technical issues notwithstanding, there always is some minor saving grace in these adventures, and they usually feel like the author(s) cared.

I can claim none of these things about this frickin’ mess.

This module, right after Bob Brinkman’s conceptually nice sidetrek (If you can ignore the rules-issues), nosedived so hard, it genuinely pissed me off. I screamed at my printout.

This is EASILY the worst module I’ve reviewed since “The Verdant Vault of Malakum”, and unlike that cluster-f%&#, this ate much more pages. I’ll delete this pdf. After that, I’ll throw away the paper I used to print this.

This feels like the authors lost any interest to actually try making this work. This feels like a case of lost interest, of laziness, of something phoned-in. It doesn’t engender pure rage or outrage, it just left me feeling drained, disappointed and empty.

I have nothing to recommend here. 1 star. I’d give less, or 0 stars, if I could.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Those Dam Goblins (Revised)
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Brindlemarsh - BR-2 of the Brindle Series
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/06/2020 05:51:09

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The second adventure in the Brindle-series clocks in at 39 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 36 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by my patreon supporters, to be undertaken at my convenience.

So, first things first: This, unlike the previous module in the series, is a dual-system adventure, with stats and rules intended for both OSR and 5e-games; the OSR-rules employed are OSRIC, in case you were wondering. The module is intended for 3-5 character of 4th to 5th level, and it is an old-school module: You can’t just hack and slash through it and hope you’ll live to tell the tale. This does require some smarts, and the group’s survival rate will increase drastically if the majority are capable of operating with stealth and subterfuge. Having a thief/rogue on hand is highly recommended.

Now, if you recall the first module in the series, “The Bogey of Brindle”, you’ll be surprised to see both systems mashed into one book; personally, I am not a big fan of this approach, as dual-stat books by definition make you pay for some content you won’t be using, and you have to account for the peculiarities of both systems: If e.g. system A nets flight at 3rd level, system B at 6th level, you have to account for flight in one system, but not in the other. In short: Writing a module as dual statted tends to introduce a lot of instances where rules or logic might fail. Dual stat books also require that the reviewer rates the entirety: If one system works super well, but the other one doesn’t, this would result in two ratings for dedicated versions – one good, and one not so good. For dual-stat offerings, one is forced to instead rate the book as a whole. “The Bogey of Brindle” has been my favorite Fail Squad Games adventure, so here’s to hoping this book can expand on that – but can it improve on the botched 5e-version of its predecessor?

Well, before we go into the nit and grit, it should be noted that the module comes with read-aloud text, and that it does not require having completed “The Bogey of Brindle”, though doing so is helpful. You see, there was this gate in the dwarven mine taken over by kobolds – it’s time to go through this gate. The pdf provides, in brevity, the scene from part 1; this gate is btw. also easily inserted into pretty much any dungeon context, so integration of the module is swift and painless. The module takes place entirely in a dungeon complex, and random encounter tables are provided for the respective sections of the complex.

Okay, and this out of the way, we have to go into SPOILER-territory to further discuss this. Potential players should skip ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, the lore surrounding the kobolds and area around Brindle noted that, at one point, the dwarves that lived here vanished. Well, we find out what happened to them. Basically, they were beaten. Their conflict with black dragons escalated, and they led an attack on the survivor (whose lone egg the kobolds found…), but were, ultimately, soundly trounced by the enraged, magic-imbued apex predator finding his family slain. Opting for a more exquisite punishment, the dragon Nagareth the Poisoned managed to transform the dwarves into servitor-creatures, the grotesque drillo, and has been displaying the mighty regalia of the dwarves ever since. While the way by which this whole conflict took place is a bit opaque, as is the drillo transformation, those aspects are ultimately not that important.

The idea of the module is pretty simple: A frontal assault on an alarmed complex would be suicide at this character level, but with the magical axe unearthed, the PCs essentially enter the complex by means of a gate that had been dormant for ages, which makes for a good reason why the dragon never demolished it. The dragon has no reason to suspect intruders, and the PCs have very good reasons to make sure it stays that way as they explore. While no shifts, patrols or the like are provided, a capable GM should be able to evoke a sense of threat throughout. Interesting here: The PCs arrive not that far from the dragon, and the dungeon exploration, in many ways, is treated more like a stealthy, lite-investigation than a kill-all romp. You see, there is a tribe of troglodytes that can make for unconventional allies, as they really don’t like being enslaved by the dragon. Their stench also is a good reason why nobody bothers to keep a closer eye on them.

From the sub-level of the dungeon sporting giant ants to small tidbits and terrain (the troglodyte caverns are color-coded on the map), the module manages to evoke a sense of cohesion and plausibility – the dragon is deservedly arrogant, and its behavior makes sense in-game. Smart players may also unearth a means to undo the curse of the drillo and revert them to their dwarven state – particularly the dwarven hero Grimfolk Dain would be more than helpful…and that is highly recommended, for the goal is, ultimately, to take down the dragon. If the PCs fail to take care of the drillo, they will have to face both Nargareth and his servitors – suffice to say, that is not a smart choice.

So yeah, this is a potentially very deadly adventure that, while not perfect, runs surprisingly well and is a fun, exciting romp. Formatting tends to be relatively consistent, and though there are instances where spells and the like have not been properly formatted, and while magic items consistently flaunt OSRIC’s conventions, the module works for the most part. There are a few inconsistencies, such as when the pdf mentions physical attacks being repelled, but doesn’t state whether that’s supposed to mean negation, or that the assailant takes the damage instead.

In OSRIC.

As far as 5e is concerned, the same cannot be claimed. If I ever felt dread at a module’s starting passage, the following paragraph exemplifies it perfectly:

“Some creatures and challenges don’t always convert seamlessly to 5E from OSRIC / 1E, so a GM should use discretion while running the game, i.e., 2 zombies facing a party of 4 first level characters in OSRIC / 1E may not be the same challenge as 2 zombies facing the same characters in 5E because of various abilities, powers, and effects. We have done our best to take these into consideration during conversion, but the details may need some adjustment to adapt to your game, homebrew rules, and character play style across editions. The entries and descriptions in context are apparent if they are intended to be a serious challenge or simply cannon fodder for the PCs.”

No. Just NO. This is what we buy modules for. That’s what a proper conversion, particularly to a more rules-heavy system, DOES. It adjusts a module or supplement, and tweaks the challenge and rules to conform to the playstyles of the target system. This did not bode well, and is frankly an insulting notion. I had a sentence by sentence vitriolic disassembly of the statement above at one point in the review, but I elected to delete it in favor of something more constructive. Suffice to say, this really riled me up. If you can’t be bothered to make your module work in the target game system, THEN DON’T DO IT AT ALL and write material for a game you CAN be bothered with doing right.

In the spirit of trying to be constructive, formatting is better than what I’ve seen in previous Fail Squad Games attempts at 5e. For the most part, the statblocks, items, etc. are formatted correctly, though e.g. Skills are often listed incorrectly.

And that is the extent of the positive things I have to say about the 5e-version. It is a horrible, sloppy, broken mess. Name the bug, and you’ll find it here. DCs missing? Check. Incorrect HD? Check. False ability for a check? Check. Saves vs. skills? Check. No understanding that “poisoned” is not the same as “poison damage”? Check. Misunderstanding how a spell works? Check. Obvious issues understanding how Stealth and passive Perception work? Check. Incorrect HD for monsters? Check. Incorrect HP for the HD? Check. Incorrect trap/hazard-formatting? Check. Incorrect skills, saves, DCs, damage output? Check. Incorrect average damage for damage incurred? Check. Cut-copy-paste glitches in stats taken from the MM? Check.

Those are the basics that denote a bad conversion. The module goes further, though! Beyond that, it fails to ever codify the drillo transformation properly in rules; it also seems to lack understanding regarding how dangerous a frickin’ challenge 14 dragon is in 5e. While it is not utterly impossible to take the fellow down, the weaksauce allies won’t help half as much as in OSRIC, where numbers tend to mean more than in 5e. And don’t start with accounting for long/short rests or some of the intricacies of 5e, or its rules language. This module does not work properly in 5e, and is an at best sloppy, at worst insulting conversion.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are okay on a formal level; on rules-language level, they are okay for OSRIC, abysmal for 5e. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard with neat, original b/w-artworks. Cartography is full-color and functional, but not particularly detailed or captivating. There are no player-friendly maps included. The pdf has no bookmarks, which is a seriously unacceptable comfort-detriment. I can’t comment on the print-version, since I do not own it.

Lloyd Metcalf’s second part of the Brindle-trilogy deserved better; while the OSRIC-version is a fun experience that would have benefited from a slightly closer eye towards the formal criteria, it is an adventure I could recommend as an enjoyable, nice old-school romp, somewhere in the 3.5 -3-star vicinity.

Unfortunately, I can’t rate it as such, because the 5e-conversion by Ric Martens and H.M. Sims is atrociously bad. While at least rudimentarily functional in theory, this version will not survive any contact with tables, unless accompanied by copious GM-calls to make up for the bad job done here. I wager most experienced 5e-GMs who actually bothered to learn how the system works could do a better job. This version would deserve, at best, a 1.5-stars-rating.

It is much to my chagrin, then, that I have to rate these two iterations as one composite entity, because one deserved better, and the other deserved worse. Averaging out, we thus arrive at a final verdict of 2.5 stars. Usually, I’d round up in favor of the OSRIC-version and my in dubio pro reo policy, but from lack of bookmarks, to no player-friendly maps, to the INSULTING 5e-version, I just can’t bring myself to doing so. 2.5 stars, rounded down. This adventure deserved better.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Brindlemarsh - BR-2 of the Brindle Series
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Maximum HP Issue #001
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/07/2020 04:24:58

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The inaugural issue of the Maximum HP-‘zine clocks in at 50 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page ToC, 1 page introduction. 9 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 38 pages, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), so let’s take a look!

This review was requested to be moved up in my reviewing queue by my patreon supporters.

Okay, so rules-wise, this is based on 1E, making it most suitable for OSRIC, and conversion to other systems pretty simple. Nominally, the content herein is a glimpse of the campaign setting of Artera, but it is pretty easy to integrate in certain other settings, namely old-school Forgotten Realms. The aesthetics here are those of vanilla fantasy (not meant derogatory!), lacking the grit we usually associate with Greyhawk. The themes herein are ones that make the fantasy feel pretty contemporary, using magic as an analogue of sorts for more modern concepts; much like the Forgotten Realms are no medieval setting, and not even early modern analogues. This is a wise choice, for remarkably few ‘zines cover this angle.

Regarding themes, this is all about dwarves, their culture, associated items, etc., so what exactly do we get? Well, for one, we get some salient advice for GMs and players new to the old-school experience – namely keeping notes on NPCs and the like, and, in the back, some genuinely nice advice for (high) fantasy campaigns on how to handle the mortality of characters – you know, getting on the good side of clerics, budgeting for resurrection/raise dead…that sort of thing. It may be obvious for many, but I certainly recall my humble beginnings, and this advice, back then, would have been rather helpful, so kudos for these pieces of advice.

From here on, we begin to take a look at means to make dwarven settlements come to life, with the example being mighty Dwarfhome’s business district. After a brief overview, we get three different stats for guards of different capabilities; as a nitpick, the lowest level iteration notes encompassing 3 levels, but only offers a static THACO for them. Why not provide three correct stat-arrays? It’s not like that’d have taken up much space. After this, we get 6 fluff-only businesses, with ach business owner listing their ability scores, but not their full stats. Why? No real clue, but the businesses are actually really nice and charming: We have a gruff beard barber obsessed with personal grooming, a cobbler specializing in really good dancing shoes, a guy who offers tours in the Everdark, a lady making delicious jams, and the QPP – Quatell’s Potato Processing, and finally, a poultry specialist. These write ups are plausible, and show some modern concepts without feeling intrusive/immersion-breaking, adding a nice level of quirkiness here. This is Fail Squad Games at their best.

Of course, the book also has three general dressing table – a 2d10 table for physical quirks, a 2d10 table for mental quirks, and a 2d20 general quirk table. From unusual dentation to missing fingers, club foots, etc., these are solid, if not ground-shattering. After this, we get 3 benevolent NPCs and 5 villains, with full stats each. While magic items are not set apart, the spells are formatted properly here, but there is one odd thing going with them: Their stats are included in somewhat NPC-sheet-y boxes that list the ability scores, etc., which is nice, but oddly, all text in the boxes is slightly pixilated, as though it was badly scaled up from a low-res image. This does not negatively impact the utility of these NPCs, but it did admittedly irk me. The builds are generally better than in some of Fail Squad Games’ other offerings, though I did notice some errors regarding e.g. a 3rd level bonus spell missing, or thief-abilities not properly applying the bonuses gained via high Dexterity. These issues are not universally present, but they are here.

The pdf then proceeds to present 7 new magic items. These items do not sport GP- or XP-values, fyi. Anyhow, there is an enchanted comb, boots that increase the speed of dwarves to humans, a warhammer +1/+2 vs. undead, +1 more for good dwarves, which has a limited amount of spells-in-a-can (not properly set in italics). There are tools for making better jewelry, a monocle to see in darkness…these are pretty bland. I did like the satchel of pebbles that turn to boulders when removed from it and tapped – enterprising PCs can do some cool stuff here. The most interesting item here would be the dwarfhome stones, made from bantam cockatrice eggs. These allow dwarves to foster their connection with their mountainous home, help vs. curses…and there is a VERY low chance the cockatrice may hatch as a loyal, if troublesome, pet. More items like this, please!

After this, we take a look at the beasts of burden: Unstatted dwarven ponies are explained alongside the fully statted dire boars and how they are domesticated. The lion’s share of this section, however, is devoted to the woollyphont featured on the cover: These are crosses between oliphonts with wooly mammoths, and I genuinely liked this section – not only do we get stats for them, and yes, they are living tanks that WILL wreck you, the ‘zine also provides advice on considerations regarding their integration into your game, how long they take to raise and domesticate, etc.. Suffice to say, while PCs may want them, dwarves will throw a LOT of hassle and red tape their way…This is one of the highlights of the ‘zine.

Unfortunately, we follow this with easily the worst part of the ‘zine, a brief adventure for 4-5 level 3 characters, which is primarily a linear exploration of some tunnels in the Everdark. Random encounters are provided, and the PCs are sent essentially into the tunnels to save some dwarves. The module makes use of some of the villains introduced earlier. The module sports a new monster, a mutated, massive kobold brute-thing, which is pretty unremarkable. I can’t really recommend the module, not because it’s bad, but because it’s pretty much unremarkable.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are still okay on a formal and rules-language level, if certainly not impressive; I noticed a couple of glitches, some of which influence rules-integrity. Layout adheres to a one-column b/w-standard, with plenty of really nice, original b/w-artworks. As mentioned before, the NPC-boxes being somewhat pixilated hurts this aesthetically. Odd: The ‘zine uses white text and black header-lines, and in my printed out version, the white text just vanished. Tried it with two printers, happened both times. The module sports a solid b/w-map, but lacks a player-friendly version. Grating: The ‘zine lacks any bookmarks, making navigation a pain in the behind.

Lloyd Metcalf’s first Maximum HP-‘zine was an uneven experience for me: On one hand, you can see the talent and vision here: In some items, in the quirky characters, in the Woollyphont entry, we have some fun and joyous entries; you can feel the joy oozing from the page there. Let’s take the dwarfhome stones – they may not exactly be mechanically interesting, but they have heart, flavor; they feel magical. They are great. Back to back with a bland spell-in-a-can hammer? It almost feels like totally different people wrote this – one who really loved what they were doing, and one who painted by the numbers and phoned in the other components. The ‘zine oscillates between stuff I’d consider to be 2 stars and 4 stars, same going for the mechanical components; so my final verdict will thus clock in at 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Maximum HP Issue #001
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Falls Keep (5E)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/16/2020 06:31:48

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 10 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested to be moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreon supporters.

This Fail Squad Games Side Quest comes with boxed read-aloud text, and a total of 6 rumors can be used for foreshadowing, or to reward player characters for doing the proper legwork. The module features a couple of astounding full color artworks – Lloyd Metcalf is an artist, and it shows – I particularly loved the artwork depicting the eponymous Falls Keep: Near a guard tower, a low, square place, intentionally designed regarding windows and entry to elicit skull-like associations without being ridiculous, rests among stunning waterfalls that made my heart ache for some places in the United States or Scandinavia. I Love this artwork, and I’m seriously curious why it’s not on the cover. The cartography is a hand-drawn full-color map for the lead-in-encounter, and that map has no scale. Falls Keep itself sports a little full-color overview map for the outside, and b/w interior cartography – which does sport grids. To my chagrin, no key-less player-friendly versions are included.

I did like the inclusion of a visual puzzle, which is represented in three different artworks regarding clues…which brings me to a curious decision: Why not have these rendition in an art-appendix, so referees can print it out, cut it up, and show it to the players? As written, I need to print several pages and cut out these visual representations from the module.

This version of the module is penned for D&D 5e, for 4-5 PCs. Or at least, it formally purports to be. The module is missing pretty much every instance of something that should be in italics, saves and checks are persistently formatted in the wrong way, and while the module contains a couple of statblocks, there are SERIOUS glitches in ALL of them. These range from improperly calculated attack values, incorrect damage averages, to damage types missing… or what about the BBEG’s statblock missing senses that he supposedly has an explanation for why he can’t be surprised. DCs are incorrectly calculated, there is an instance of something hidden missing a DC to find it, and there is an instance, where item durability is relevant…missing a damage threshold. In short: The 5e-rules are a sloppy mess; not in a gamebreaking manner, but in one that is seriously jarring if you’re anything like me and care about the like. You only want to dive further if you don’t mind that.

Genre-wise, Falls Keep hits closer to the dark fantasy side of things, sporting an instance where children might be slain, as well as a tragedy. It never devolved into grimdark territory, though. If you need a reference, I found myself most reminded of e.g. Tim Shorts’ less grim work, as featured in the Manor-‘zine. While 5e lets you choose whether to kill or subdue vanquished foes, I still strongly suggest bringing a paladin along, for lay on hands is one of the only ways to reliably cure diseases at a low level. The module is not exactly super-hard in this iteration, but it is no cakewalk either – PCs can very well die, and more importantly, be maimed permanently at one point.

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

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, the module kicks off in the vicinity of the Wheatwey farm, where the PCs are attacked by hens in a blind rage – these hens are cursed. These are a precursor of the things to come, namely two cursed children currently devouring a farmhand they dragged up into the tree near the well. The well contains strangely radiating water, which, as it turns out, is the source of the berserker-rage-inducing curse. (As an aside: The curse can be mitigated via remove curse, dispel magic or cure disease. This is my aforementioned gripe with the suggested level-range: The farm contains further cursed individuals, and without a paladin (who can use lay on hands to cure diseases – I assume that counts!), the group will not have a way to cure the cursed, save to put them out of their misery. Considering that there are cursed kids involved, this begins on a pretty darn dark note.

Anyhow, by carefully checking the strange, cursed farmstead, the PCs will be able to deduce the source of the contaminated water, namely the tower of the mad lord Venwexal, who retreated into it to escape the rebels during a recent uprising, sealing the keep behind him. Okay, so, what if the PCs cast purify food and drink on the affected? What about lesser restoration or any other more likely option that PCs at this level should have? In many ways, this does not make use of 5e’s potential to a degree I’d consider to be satisfactory.

Venwexal’s survival is explained by an escape to the Lands of Lunacy (not required to run this, fyi)…and so, the PCs, provided they can best some worgs, gather clues from the remains of the Wheatwey farmer who perished here and the guardpost. Perceptive PCs can find a parchment and markings that hold the key to solving the puzzle required to enter Venwexal’s tower. As a curious aside: Cursed farm animals are MUCH more lethal than the worgs! The tower holds 9 holes, with handles, and the correct ones need to be turned in the right direction – trying to bruteforce this will btw. cost you your appendage, which can be pretty nasty. In 5e particularly, that is not something you’d usually do. Rules-wise, this trap uses a check instead of a save to mitigate, has an incorrect damage value, and does not format its magic blade properly. Speaking of which: The blades that cut off the appendages can’t RAW be disarmed or removed, or bypassed by magic, which rubbed me the wrong way as railroading. It should also be noted that the blades are, as written, +1 blades, and yet, the PCs have no means of removing them.

Things turn a bit sour in Venwexal’s tower, though. There is a metal rod causing AoE-blasts of electricity (it’s not called “electrical damage” – there’s no such thing in 5e; that’s lightning damage, FFS), and there are animated items – an armor, a table and a firepoker – with the latter using the stats for a flying sword. Spell/item-references here are not properly set in italics, and then, there’s the super railroady finale: Venwexal has 32 Hit Points and while his spell array in 5e makes him MUCH more interesting than the OSR-TPK-machine, the mad wizard has another issue: His addled state is due to a glowing rock that deals damage to those striking it. The stone has 60 HP, and notes no AC to hit, nor a damage threshold. Considering that destroying it is supposed to be the “good” way to solve the module, as it allows Venwexal to come to his senses, this is somewhat appalling. The stone orb’s destruction also makes the magical taint causing the curse to lift, but RAW does not end the cursed state of those affected.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are bad on a formal and rules-language level; they disregard, left and right, 5e-conventions, eking out a barely passable, and only because the average GM can run this as written. It’s not as bad as Marathon of Heroes, but it’s pretty close. Anyhow: You can run this. Layout adheres to a green-tinted two-column full-color standard, and as noted, the artworks presented are definitely my highlight of the book. A more printer-friendly version is included in the deal. Cartography is okay, and the lack of player-friendly maps is a bit sad. The pdf has no bookmarks, but doesn’t necessary need them at this length.

Lloyd Metcalf’s adventure Falls Keep starts off on a potentially pretty dark note, but one I’d generally like, were it not for the fact that the author obviously has serious issues with 5e’s finer rules components. Formatting is all over the place, and considering 5e’s simple math, there is no excuse for getting ALL stats wrong in some manner. Structurally, the railroading into the final encounter is okay, but both the BBEG’s spells and the environment make me marvel at the lack of lair actions, which are pretty self-evidently what should be here. If you can stomach the deeply-flawed formal criteria, there is a decent module to be found here, but much to my chagrin, the adventure, while working RAW/balance-wise better in 5e than for OSR, manages to suffer from a whole array of different issues than the old-school version. I wanted to like this, and just can’t. There is potential here, but it is squandered. 2.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Falls Keep (5E)
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Falls Keep (S&W)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/15/2020 06:06:43

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 10 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested to be moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreon supporters.

This Fail Squad Games Side Quest comes with boxed read-aloud text, and a total of 6 rumors can be used for foreshadowing, or to reward player characters for doing the proper legwork. The module features a couple of astounding full color artworks – Lloyd Metcalf is an artist, and it shows – I particularly loved the artwork depicting the eponymous Falls Keep: Near a guard tower, a low, square place, intentionally designed regarding windows and entry to elicit skull-like associations without being ridiculous, rests among stunning waterfalls that made my heart ache for some places in the United States or Scandinavia. I Love this artwork, and I’m seriously curious why it’s not on the cover. The cartography is a hand-drawn full-color map for the lead-in-encounter, and that map has no scale. Falls Keep itself sports a little full-color overview map for the outside, and b/w interior cartography – which does sport grids. To my chagrin, no key-less player-friendly versions are included.

I did like the inclusion of a visual puzzle, which is represented in three different artworks regarding clues…which brings me to a curious decision: Why not have these rendition in an art-appendix, so referees can print it out, cut it up, and show it to the players? As written, I need to print several pages and cut out these visual representations from the module.

This version of the module is penned for S&W (Swords & Wizardry), for 4-5 PCs, but adaption to other OSR-games is generally pretty simple. It should be noted that the module makes use of a roll under mechanic for checks. Genre-wise, Falls Keep hits closer to the dark fantasy side of things, sporting an instance where children might be slain, as well as a tragedy. It never devolved into grimdark territory, though. If you need a reference, I found myself most reminded of e.g. Tim Shorts’ less grim work, as featured in the Manor-‘zine. Regarding difficulty, this is a pretty brutal adventure, particularly regarding the final boss fight, and it is a pretty linear affair. I have an issue with the target level, which is 3rd. Unless your group contains a paladin willing to rest A LOT, you will encounter a hazard that you can only solve a couple of levels later.

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

… .. .

All right, only referees around? Great! So, the module kicks off in the vicinity of the Wheatwey farm, where the PCs are attacked by hens in a blind rage – these hens are cursed. These are a precursor of the things to come, namely two cursed children currently devouring a farmhand they dragged up into the tree near the well. The well contains strangely radiating water, which, as it turns out, is the source of the berserker-rage-inducing curse. (As an aside: The curse can be mitigated via remove curse, dispel magic or cure disease. This is my aforementioned gripe with the suggested level-range: The farm contains further cursed individuals, and without a paladin (who can use lay on hands to cure diseases – I assume that counts!), the group will not have a way to cure the cursed, save to put them out of their misery. Considering that there are cursed kids involved, this begins on a pretty darn dark note. Considering the difficulty of the final encounter, I’d genuinely recommend this for level 5 characters, at the very least.

Anyhow, by carefully checking the strange, cursed farmstead, the PCs will be able to deduce the source of the contaminated water, namely the tower of the mad lord Venwexal, who retreated into it to escape the rebels during a recent uprising, sealing the keep behind him. His survival is explained by an escape to the Lands of Lunacy (not required to run this, fyi)…and so, the PCs, provided they can best some worgs gather clues from the remains of the Wheatwey farmer who perished here and from the guardpost: A parchment and markings that hold the key to solving the puzzle necessary to enter Venwexal’s tower. The tower gate holds 9 holes, with handles, and the correct ones need to be turned in the right direction – trying to bruteforce this will btw. cost you your appendage, which can be pretty nasty. The blades that cut off the appendages can’t RAW be disarmed or removed, or bypassed by magic, which rubbed me the wrong way as a bit of railroading. It should also be noted that the blades are, as written, +1 blades, and yet, the PCs have no means of removing them, which can be pretty problematic if you run with GP = XP.

That being said, so far, the module is a solid, unpretentious offering. Things turn a bit sour in Venwexal’s tower, though. There is a metal rod causing AoE-blasts of electricity (which have a really good chance of killing off magic-users), and there are animated items – an armor, a table and a firepoker – with the latter using the stats for a flying sword. No such creature can be found in the S&W Complete rules, or in the appendix, though. The appendix does have stats for animated objects, though. Spell-references here are not properly set in italics, and then, there’s the finale, which is the main issue of the module in several ways: Venwexal has 32 (As magic-user in S&W!!) Hit Points and can cast frickin’ third-level spells. Venwexal has “blindsight, darkvision, and true sight”, and can’t be surprised, which is lame. Also: Guess what does not exist in S&W? Bingo. Blindisght and True Sight.

Venwexal is brutally difficult (lightning bolt can TPK a 3rd level party, easily), and mad, courtesy of a rock: The stone has 60 HP, and notes no AC to hit, even though it is supposed to be the “good” way to solve the module, as it allows Venwexal to come to his senses. The stone orb’s destruction also makes the magical taint causing the curse to lift, but RAW does not end the cursed state of those affected.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are okay on a formal and rules-language level; they are not exactly impressive, and I noticed a couple of formatting deviations, but yeah. You can run this. Layout adheres to a green-tinted two-column full-color standard, and as noted, the artworks presented are definitely my highlight of the book. The pdf comes with a second, more printer-friendly version. Cartography is okay, and the lack of player-friendly maps is a bit sad. The pdf has no bookmarks, but doesn’t necessary need them at this length.

Ian McGarty’s conversion of Lloyd Metcalf’s adventure is solid, if not entirely remarkable. Falls Keep starts off pretty darkly, and my main complaint beyond formal issues with this version, is that the OSR-iteration makes it nigh impossible to do the good thing, as the one means to help people, apart from putting them down, is beyond the grasp of most adventuring groups, i.e. all save those that have a paladin. Those with paladins will require A LOT of rests, which can be a bit grating. The module, this notwithstanding, was off to a pretty good start, and while I did not like that the PCs are forced to solve the puzzle, I can still kinda get behind that. Unfortunately, the module kinda falls apart in the end. The final encounter is pretty ridiculous, and wasn’t properly scaled for S&W; the end of the module also suddenly becomes inattentive with formatting, making the entire finale feel rushed, and unfortunately, very flawed in that it does not properly adjust the challenge faced down to the appropriate OSR-levels. This very much is a 5e-conversion that could have done it right, but didn’t. As such, my final verdict can’t exceed 2.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Falls Keep (S&W)
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Marathon of Heroes 5E
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 12/06/2019 04:59:55

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure clocks in at 36 pages of content, sans front cover, editorial, etc. My review of the module is based on the softcover; I don’t own the pdf and thus can’t comment on its virtues or lack thereof.

This review was requested by one of my patreon supporters, who sent me the print version, to be undertaken at my convenience.

This is an adventure for 4-6 5th level characters, and it makes use of the concepts presented in the Lands of Lunacy Campaign Guide. The supplement includes a character sheet, but it should be noted that the skills and the lines to write them down aren’t properly aligned.

Okay, here a word of warning: I am starting with a dissection of the formal criteria – please do read the entire review.

The supplement introduces a new playable race, the Murine, which are mouse-like natives of the Lands of Lunacy, who receive +2 to their Dexterity, optionally, subject to GM discreation a “penalty of -1 STR”, are Small (size not properly formatted) and have a speed of 30 feet. Murine have a nonstandard darkvision range of 40 ft. Proficiency in “perception” and advantage on it as well. They only need 4 hours of sleep and get +2 to Stealth checks, which struck me as odd. They also get +1 to all “climbing rolls” and are proficient in Athletics. They are immune to the effects of the Lands of Lunacy -. Okay, does this include the drexol’s drain? No idea. The write-up is littered with formatting discrepancies, and quite a few rules-components look more like a 3.X or PFRPG-race than like one for 5e.

While we’re on the subject of formal issues, let me get that out of the way right now: The statblocks and their presentation are more in line with 5e’s standards than the ill-fated Lands of Lunacy 5e-conversion; they also, alas, sport a lot of errors regarding, but not limited to, lightning damage being called electrical, incorrect attack values, incorrect HD, incorrect damage values, serious deviations from formatting conventions and rules-syntax, incorrect proficiency bonus values, incorrect saving throw values, “ft.” missing, nonsensical/unusable grapple notes, missing and/or incorrect formatting, etc. Alas, this aspect not only haunts the statblocks in the back, but also severely impedes the functionality of the adventure. 3 magic items are included, and they feel more like items from the 3.0 days. Yep, 3.0 – why? Because 3.X and PFRPG tend to do more interesting things with magic items.

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

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, the great dragon Vatrastrom must be stopped – thus, the PCs are hired to do just that. They set sail towards isles and are beset by Cephalugia, strange octopus beings, and giant electric eels – which is per se cool, but with the issues in the rules language + the lack of a map for the ship, the combat falls flat.

On the mist-shrouded isles, the proper “marathon” begins – there is this stone-circle with 5 stones – touching one transports the PCs to the respective “test.” There is a fighter’s section, one devoted to clerics, one devoted to wizards and one devoted to “thieves” – that should probably be rogues… Anyhow, each of these tests sports a serious of tasks that actually are really creative and far-out, as befitting of the Lands of Lunacy. In the fighter’s challenge, we for example have a scene where a berserking kobold attacks – if it’s slain, it spawns two new ones! This would be interesting, were it not so simple to, you know, not kill in 5e. There is a warrior that can’t be hurt by anything outside of a salt circle. There is a giant (stats not included) and the means to contract a disease that clearly fails to grasp how 5e’s exhaustion mechanics work, and in the end, a combat with hobgoblins to save a damsel – who turns out to be a friendly medusa, who can revert petrification. Okay, what happens with her? I assume that she might accompany the PCs, but I’m not sure.

The cleric’s challenge doesn’t work particularly well RAW: The global effects are even more messy than that of the fighter’s challenge (which btw. entail penalties to spell damage dice and healing dice - including HD? If so, why? Also: 20% spell failure chance…more 3.Xish aesthetics); here, we operate with reductions of HP, and there are basically pyramids in a forested region swarming with undead – these beacons are supposed to keep the horde at bay. Damage can be used to power them, but no indication is provided how close you need to be for the damage to register. The idea here is pretty awesome, and I really like it, but its implementation is so confused, I basically had to guess the author’s intentions regarding how the whole thing was supposed to work within the confines of 5e’s rules. The supplement also denotes here things that should clearly be a saving throw as a check instead, etc. – in short: Not operational.

The wizard’s challenge, in contrast, while flawed as well, does work better – because it doesn’t try to do anything too fancy. Still, credit where credit is due – a magic carpet ride with aerial combat? Cool! The rogue’s test similarly has a rather neat angle – it’s basically a flight from a frickin’ Clay golem through a vast canyon, Apart from damage types not codified, the whole section doesn’t really account for how much the discrepancies in speed actually matter – while it could be excused as handwaving (“The golem is just behind you…”) in an odd decision, it’s not the rogue’s forte that tracks escape speed, but rather, correctly, Athletics. Making the canyon, you know, actually challenge roguish skillsets would have made sense there. Plus, it’s very much possible to do the math and calculate obstacles that would require e.g. being 1 minute in advance of the golem and maintain the excitement of the scenario. Ultimately, this is a great idea that has been implemented in a borderline broken manner. Traps are incorrectly presented regarding formal criteria, damage types, etc.. Again, non-functional.

Oh and here’s the thing: RAW, each of the challenges is supposed to grant the PCs some sort of advantage, but in the end, none of them truly matter. They can all be skipped and don’t influence the finale at all. The PCs can theoretically, as written, skip to the dragon by just touching its rock, which brings them directly to the climax of the module. In the beginning the adventure notes that there are supposed to be benefits for completing the challenges, but apart from a few minor magic items that can help a bit (which include stars like an improperly formatted scroll of fire bolt…a frickin’ CANTRIP-scroll….), the ultimate joke of this module is that there is no reason to actually finish the entire adventure. NONE. Aforementioned medusa? She just fades into the background. Oh, and the big bad dragon? No legendary actions, no lair actions, no strategy – it’s just a fire-spewing lizard that waits at the end of lava tunnels. Also: “a character with a weakness to heat (whatever that’s supposed to mean) risks being “exhausted” until leaving the tunnels. This displays a blatant disregard and lack of knowledge of how this works. Having a barbed DEVIL guard two succubi also showcases a lack of understanding regarding planar cosmology. sigh

And if the PCs triumph and return, murine will ask for the treasure to rebuild stuff – where was the population before? Also: Upon their return to their ship, all but one NPC will be dead – said NPC will try to kill the characters. Okay, I can get behind a good denouement à la “It’s not over yet!” – but guess what? The guy has no stats. NONE. No idea. If he’s supposed to reference default stats, he doesn’t mention as such or have the formatting to indicate it.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting on a formal and rules-language level are a train-wreck. If there’s something to do wrong, this module will do just that. It’s not even consistent in its own errors. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard, with Lloyd Metcalf’s amazing artworks being the one good thing about this adventure apart from its ideas. Cartography is b/w and ranged from “okay” to “it exists”; no player-friendly versions are included. As noted before, the character sheet has issues. I can’t comment on the electronic version.

This is heart-breaking to me, it really is. I genuinely like the Lands of Lunacy; I also genuinely enjoy the ideas behind many encounters, and this module has heart; it’s not phoned in, it’s not bland, and the ideas underlying every little aspect of Lloyd Metcalf’s and Ric Marten’s “Marathon of Heroes” are genuinely cool. They deserved better.

It is painfully evident that, from rules-language to basic formatting and balancing to everything else, the authors had no idea how 5e operates; it’s what I’ve come to call the “old-school-trap”; 5e looks, in many ways, like an old-school system, when it really, really is not. Sure you can ignore a ton of the rules and play a handwaving pseudo-old-school game with it, but then you’re ignoring 90% of the rules of the system – and you’re not designing for the system, but for your homebrew hacked version. This is evident here. This has obviously been written (I will not demean the term “design” by using it in this context) by well-meaning and creative individuals that don’t play the game, or if they do, they choose to ignore even the most basic first-readthrough evident conventions of the system that you can think of. There is no understanding regarding the aesthetics, the math or the functionality of 5e beyond a most cursory familiarity here, resulting in a weird mishmash of old-school and 3.X-y rules grafted onto a rules-chassis without an understanding why that doesn’t work. AT ALL.

From the statblocks to the traps to components that are frankly required to run the adventure properly, this only works if you are exceedingly tolerant of a nigh-constant and blatant disregard for crucial components of the game system, if you’re willing to handwave almost every mechanical component anyways. This is the most broken attempt to write a module for a system that I’ve seen in quite a while, with rules-issues bleeding into the very fabric of the plot, requiring copious amounts of GM calls to make this work as intended, even if you are willing to ignore the HUGE amount of formal glitches, formatting deviations and other issues.

It is horrible, really, and one of the instances where I genuinely would love to state that this has saving graces beyond art and ideas, but it really doesn’t. I try hard to stay positive, particularly when it comes to per se good ideas, but the issues here are so darn pronounced, I can’t justify rounding up from my final verdict of 1.5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Marathon of Heroes 5E
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Bogey of Brindle - 5E
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/31/2019 06:48:38

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This first installment of the Brindle-series clocks in at 34 pages if you disregard front cover, editorial, etc. I noticed that neither iteration of the adventure features an SRD, but that just as an aside. Important for the purpose of this review: I own the perfect-bound print softcover of the OSR-version, and the pdf of the 5e-version; I assume that the properties of one version hold true for the other and vice versa.

The difficulty of the module is very much contingent on how good the players are in old-school thinking, i.e. unconventional problem-solving of potential combat scenarios. Groups unaccustomed to that way of tackling a module may die the death of a thousand cuts, while those that are experienced in such thinking may have a very easy module on their hands. This is designated as a module for 3-5 PCs of 2nd – 3rd level, but I first level PCs can easily succeed here as well – they just need to be a tad bit more careful. It should be noted that the 5e-version does explain some basics like “unbalanced CR” to 5e-GMs new to the old-school style of playing, which is a plus.

Theme-wise, this, although not explicitly designated as such, works as a pretty neat Halloween or Thanksgiving module, depending on the emphasis you place here, and in fact, depending on your GM-style and what you emphasize and/or leave out, would actually work in equal parts well for adults and kids, with my recommendation being ages 8+, but since all kids are different, I trust in your discretion there. Anyhow, this recommendation stems from one thing being palpably absent from this module: Cynicism. This is a rather wholesome and even funny adventure, and a specific plot-point would actually prime this for being easily adapted in Pathfinder’s Second edition, but that as an aside to which I’ll return later.

The rules material herein includes 2 custom spells and a cantrip provided in a statblock of the BBEG, one of which is a better variant of magic mouth that should probably be situated at a higher level. These have in common that they highlight a total disregard for how spell-formatting works in 5e, rendering them essentially inoperational as written. Speaking of ignorance re 5e: What about a magic item that references Pathfinder creature types? Even something as simple as getting advantage on Strength (Athletics) checks made to climb is botched. Creature features in statblocks are bolded, but not in italics, which is odd, considering that the Actions tend to be correctly formatted. Bolded sections like “Senses” are not bolded properly, and the statblocks sometimes use the proper full-stop, sometimes a colon – no rhyme or reason there. That being said, at least average damage values etc. tend to be correct – for the most time. I encountered errors there as well. Weird: One statblock lists a proficiency bonus (usually not done), and has underlined Actions and Reactions listed. On the plus-side, the statblocks get damage types right and are nowhere near as bad as some earlier offerings by Fail Squad Games for 5e – you can run these. Still, even a cursory glance will confront you with formal glitches galore. The BBEG has their challenge entry in the wrong line AND a second, wrong challenge entry, as well as a wrong passive Perception value – should be 10, not 8. Climbing speed is not properly noted. And yes, I could continue doing that for a whole page. IT’s an improvement, but not nearly enough. Both of the spells have been formatted improperly as well; and indeed, formatting is not good throughout – instead of putting spells in italics, they are capitalized – most of the time. The book is inconsistent with that. Said BBEG’s spellcasting list, let that be acknowledged, at least properly lists the slots each level, unlike the OSRIC version. That being said, the friendly NPCs get basic statistics, listing skills etc., and being noncombatants, no attacks – I can live with the omission here, and the NPCs can be run in a combat scenario, if need be. That’s a good thing and an improvement in comparison with the OSRIC iteration. So yeah, summa summarum, if you expect precision regarding the rules (not that hard to achieve for OSRIC), let me tell you right now that this module will annoy you in that regard. The adventure also includes a new creature, which is a worm with paralytic tendrils – a carrion crawler variant, essentially. Not impressed there. Formatting being bad, the combat stats at least get damage types right, which is not something you could say about the traps and environmental features alas – damage types matter in 5e VERY MUCH, and the module fails to properly designate pretty much all environmental damage encountered. Granted, it’s usually easy to discern when acid, fire, piercing etc. should be the source, but I maintain that a GM should not have to do so in 5e. Furthermore, trap formatting deviates from how things are properly done in 5e, and in one instance, we have Constitution damage, a concept that is SUPER rare in 5e, and certainly should not be caused by acid. Traps sprinkled with catatonic agent? Okay, so what does it do? No idea, no rules are provided. The author obviously did not understand how poison works in 5e. Skill/Ability check references also tend to be incorrect, often not even referencing the thing you actually check for.

What did impress me, though, were the visuals: Lloyd and Raven Metcalf are artists, and it shows – the original pieces of artwork provided for the module are impressive b/w-pieces, and both the map of the eponymous village of brindle (with even a touch of isometric cliffs) and the dungeon featured within are awesome to look at. I did not expect the module to feature such neat artworks. Minor niggle: The dungeon area could have used player-friendly maps for VTT-use etc. – you know, sans secret doors indicators, sans numbers. A minor downside: The dungeon map has no grid or scale noted, which can be relevant, considering the challenge faced there, but we’ll get to that later. It should be noted that the module sports generally well-written read-aloud text.

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

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, the frontier settlement Westwego has an issue – the Firstfeast celebrations are approaching, and while the church of purity frowns upon the annual excess, it can use the tax revenue…but more importantly, the village can really use the boost of morale before the years’ darkest days. Thankfully, Westwego isn’t too far from the eponymous settlement of Brindle, a settlement that specializes in producing the finest tobacco, booze and (pipe)weed. So yeah, this adventure is essentially a beerrun! Awesome premise!

If you’re following my suggestion and want to run this as a Thanksgiving/Halloween-ish kids-module, just replace tobacco, weed, etc. with sweets, turkey and the like – granted, the map of Brindle spells these out in text, but yeah, this is a simple way to modify the module.

Anyhow, the beerrun begins with a brief wilderness track towards Brindle, but, alas, the party will soon find out the reason for the troubles getting there – in a rather unrewarding manner. You see, there are quite a few traps on the way through the wilderness, and they are not fair: They are not telegraphed in any way, as they just happen – they are invisible lines that are traversed. A better way to handle that, would have been to describe a small scene, and having the trap be part of that scene in a fair manner. As written, this is not a good start for the adventure, but thankfully remains the weakest part of the adventure.

Once the adventurers arrive in Brindle, they’ll be greeted with a rather intriguing sight: Brindle is a village inhabited entirely…by goblins! And they work! Sure, there is playfulness in the job descriptions, when the module refers to hoochmaidens and poop-flingers, taking a funny and irreverent take towards agriculture, but the village excels in another way – it manages to feel plausible. From the “street” names to the details, it feels plausible, something that also extends to the entirety of the adventure – it’s a small thing, but it’s this very hard and ephemeral thing to achieve that I rarely get to see and really enjoy.

Anyway, the goblins, former adepts of a cloister, who, courtesy of their quick succession of generations, essentially became pretty “good” as far as goblins are concerned, live in fear of the night, for that is where the horrible bogeys arrive! As an aside, the module also has the option of arriving at night, and start with combat, but I’d advise in favor of taking the time to soak in the unique atmosphere of Brindle, supported by the friendly and quirky NPCs. While, as noted before, these NPC-statblocks are incomplete, they don’t need to fight – that’s what the party is for.

The legend of the bogey, started in the context of some alcohol-induced haze, has been indeed hijacked – you can see that on the front cover – and indeed, the bogeys are…kobolds. Clever kobolds under the lead of a strange, feathered illusionist kobold deemed to be a quasi-deity. The crafty creatures have had a field day plundering Brindle’s excellent trading goods, cowing the goblins effectively.

Once the party has repelled the nightly assault and figured out the truth, they will be able to track the assailants to their base, an abandoned dwarven mine, where the kobolds have also found a dragon egg…but that might not be relevant for you if you don’t plan on playing the next adventure in the series. A big plus here: Particularly smart and crafty groups can deduce that there is more than one means of entering the dungeon, which is a pretty nice angle we should see more often – kudos for that.

The lack of scale for the dungeon can potentially cause some problems when running this, though, for the adventure deals with the defeat of the kobolds – and there are over 100 of the little pests in the complex. In 5e, this makes the module potentially a horrific, frustrating SLOG. Slogging through killing 100+ kobolds is just not fun, and sans a grid, actively aggravating. Speaking of which: The complex’s terrain features include things that are usually handled with exhaustion, which show that the author doesn’t know how/when those rules are used, instead providing a (badly) improvised alternative. Which also notes “saving throws VS death” – that’s called death saving throw, and you don’t arrive at that immediately. sigh

And yet, having a proper grid for a massive running battle/retreat etc. would have been very helpful indeed. On the plus-side, like the village, there is a consistent sense of plausibility in the dungeon, and plenty of small details ultimately make the complex feel both lived in and organic – from acidic sludge to a ton of small details, the terrain feels alive and plausible, and is often combat-relevant in a nice manner. You can feel that the author genuinely cared about making this adventure fun, rewarding and versatile. And that is very important to me. However, this sense of care and attention to detail has not been afforded to the 5e-version of this adventure, as touched upon before.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are plain bad on a formal and rules language level, no mincing of words here. The layout adheres to a solid 2-column b/w-standard, and the pdf features several amazing b/w-artworks and nice maps – though I do bemoan the lack of a player-friendly variant for the dungeon map, and the lack of scale on it. The pdf comes without bookmarks, which constitutes a huge comfort detriment. I strongly suggest getting print; for pdf only, you should take that as an additional downside into account.

Lloyd Metcalf’s first Brindle-module deserved SO MUCH BETTER. This is the absolute barebones minimum of a conversion to 5e, a conversion that barely manages to work in a rudimentary manner, with a ridiculous amount of glitches, inconveniences and hiccups. I really liked the original version, in spite of its flaws, but the exceedingly problematic rules issues that were annoying in OSRIC become downright grating in a more rules-heavy game like 5e. It is readily apparent that there is a lack of understanding at work here, with many of5e’s rules, the conventions of the system, and even basic components required to run the game, simply absent. In short, this, alas, is an example for a bad 5e-conversion that only manages to get the bare minimum done, and does so badly. Not even starting with the difference in how combat operates and the absence of a shifted focus for the grind-y dungeon portion of the adventure. I can’t recommend this conversion to anyone, try as I might, and though it breaks my heart, my final score can’t exceed 1.5 stars, though I will round up, mainly courtesy of the fact that the charming original vision is still here – it’s just buried in serious issues.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Bogey of Brindle - 5E
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Bogey of Brindle - 1E/OSRIC
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/31/2019 06:44:30

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This first installment of the Brindle-series clocks in at 34 pages if you disregard front cover, editorial, etc. I noticed that neither iteration of the adventure features an SRD, but that just as an aside. Important for the purpose of this review: I own the perfect-bound print softcover of the OSR-version, and the pdf of the 5e-version; I assume that the properties of one version hold true for the other and vice versa.

Nominally, the Bogey of Brindle is designated as compatible with OSRIC, which means that conversion is pretty simple. The difficulty of the module is very much contingent on how good the players are in old-school thinking, i.e. unconventional problem-solving of potential combat scenarios. Groups unaccustomed to that way of tackling a module may die the death of a thousand cuts, while those that are experienced in such thinking may have a very easy module on their hands. This is designated as a module for 3-5 PCs of 2nd – 3rd level, but I first level PCs can easily succeed here as well – they just need to be a tad bit more careful.

Theme-wise, this, although not explicitly designated as such, works as a pretty neat Halloween or Thanksgiving module, depending on the emphasis you place here, and in fact, depending on your GM-style and what you emphasize and/or leave out, would actually work in equal parts well for adults and kids, with my recommendation being ages 8+, but since all kids are different, I trust in your discretion there. Anyhow, this recommendation stems from one thing being palpably absent from this module: Cynicism. This is a rather wholesome and even funny adventure, and a specific plot-point would actually prime this for being easily adapted in Pathfinder’s Second edition, but that as an aside to which I’ll return later.

The rules material herein includes 2 custom spells and a cantrip provided in a statblock of the BBEG, one of which is a better variant of magic mouth that should probably be situated at a higher level. Both of the spells have been formatted improperly and lack the proper formatting information OSRIC spells have, rendering them inoperational, as e.g. the rules-language references a range that is never specified; these spells have a primarily narrative function, though, so they can be KINDA ignored. Kinda. With gritted teeth. Still, it’s one of the weaknesses of this module. Indeed, formatting is not good throughout – instead of putting spells in italics, they are capitalized – most of the time. The book is inconsistent with that. Said BBEG? The statblock notes the number of slots for 2nd level, but not for the first, requiring referring to the OSRIC book. While ability scores and languages, modes of perception are provided for the friendly NPCs, they lack other combat relevant statistics, making their statblocks essentially only halfway done – they are not enough to run the NPCs in a combat scenario. So yeah, if you expect precision regarding the rules (not that hard to achieve for OSRIC), let me tell you right now that this module will annoy you in that regard. The adventure also includes a new creature, which is a worm with paralytic tendrils – a carrion crawler variant, essentially. Not impressed there.

What did impress me, though, were the visuals: Lloyd and Raven Metcalf are artists, and it shows – the original pieces of artwork provided for the module are impressive b/w-pieces, and both the map of the eponymous village of brindle (with even a touch of isometric cliffs) and the dungeon featured within are awesome to look at. I did not expect the module to feature such neat artworks. Minor niggle: The dungeon area could have used player-friendly maps for VTT-use etc. – you know, sans secret doors indicators, sans numbers. A minor downside: The dungeon map has no grid or scale noted, which can be relevant, considering the challenge faced there, but we’ll get to that later. It should be noted that the module sports generally well-written read-aloud text.

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

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, the frontier settlement Westwego has an issue – the Firstfeast celebrations are approaching, and while the church of purity frowns upon the annual excess, it can use the tax revenue…but more importantly, the village can really use the boost of morale before the years’ darkest days. Thankfully, Westwego isn’t too far from the eponymous settlement of Brindle, a settlement that specializes in producing the finest tobacco, booze and (pipe)weed. So yeah, this adventure is essentially a beerrun! Awesome premise!

If you’re following my suggestion and want to run this as a Thanksgiving/Halloween-ish kids-module, just replace tobacco, weed, etc. with sweets, turkey and the like – granted, the map of Brindle spells these out in text, but yeah, this is a simple way to modify the module.

Anyhow, the beerrun begins with a brief wilderness track towards Brindle, but, alas, the party will soon find out the reason for the troubles getting there – in a rather unrewarding manner. You see, there are quite a few traps on the way through the wilderness, and they are not fair: They are not telegraphed in any way, as they just happen – they are invisible lines that are traversed. A better way to handle that, would have been to describe a small scene, and having the trap be part of that scene in a fair manner. Worse, one of the traps has a chance for a catatonic agent. Okay, what does that do? No clue. No rules are provided. As written, this is not a good start for the adventure, to say the least, but thankfully remains the weakest part of the adventure.

Once the adventurers arrive in Brindle, they’ll be greeted with a rather intriguing sight: Brindle is a village inhabited entirely…by goblins! And they work! Sure, there is playfulness in the job descriptions, when the module refers to hoochmaidens and poop-flingers, taking a funny and irreverent take towards agriculture, but the village excels in another way – it manages to feel plausible. From the “street” names to the details, it feels plausible, something that also extends to the entirety of the adventure – it’s a small thing, but it’s this very hard and ephemeral thing to achieve that I rarely get to see and really enjoy.

Anyway, the goblins, former adepts of a cloister, who, courtesy of their quick succession of generations, essentially became pretty “good” as far as goblins are concerned, live in fear of the night, for that is where the horrible bogeys arrive! As an aside, the module also has the option of arriving at night, and start with combat, but I’d advise in favor of taking the time to soak in the unique atmosphere of Brindle, supported by the friendly and quirky NPCs. While, as noted before, these NPC-statblocks are incomplete, they don’t need to fight – that’s what the party is for.

The legend of the bogey, started in the context of some alcohol-induced haze, has been indeed hijacked – you can see that on the front cover – and indeed, the bogeys are…kobolds. Clever kobolds under the lead of a strange, feathered illusionist kobold deemed to be a quasi-deity. The crafty creatures have had a field day plundering Brindle’s excellent trading goods, cowing the goblins effectively.

Once the party has repelled the nightly assault and figured out the truth, they will be able to track the assailants to their base, an abandoned dwarven mine, where the kobolds have also found a dragon egg…but that might not be relevant for you if you don’t plan on playing the next adventure in the series. A big plus here: Particularly smart and crafty groups can deduce that there is more than one means of entering the dungeon, which is a pretty nice angle we should see more often – kudos for that.

The lack of scale for the dungeon can potentially cause some problems when running this, though, for the adventure deals with the defeat of the kobolds – and there are over 100 of the little pests in the complex. That’s what I meant by “death of a thousand cuts” – while kobolds pose no serious threat to the party at this level, their sheer numbers might well overwhelm the party. The module does mention a few of the strategies that the PCs might employ, and I applaud it for that, but also getting some response actions from the opposition, how they handle e.g. attempts to smoke them out? That’d have been helpful. Still, nice to see a scenario that tentatively helps GMs not yet as accustomed to old-school styles of play account for such strategies.

And yet, having a proper grid for a massive running battle/retreat etc. would have been very helpful indeed. On the plus-side, like the village, there is a consistent sense of plausibility in the dungeon, and plenty of small details ultimately make the complex feel both lived in and organic – from acidic sludge to a ton of small details, the terrain feels alive and plausible, and is often combat-relevant in a nice manner. You can feel that the author genuinely cared about making this adventure fun, rewarding and versatile. And that is very important to me.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are okay on a formal level, but on a rules-language level, there is a lot of room for improvement. The layout adheres to a solid 2-column b/w-standard, and the pdf features several amazing b/w-artworks and nice maps – though I do bemoan the lack of a player-friendly variant for the dungeon map, and the lack of scale on it. The pdf comes without bookmarks, which constitutes a huge comfort detriment. I strongly suggest getting print; for pdf only, you should round down from my final verdict.

Lloyd Metcalf’s first Brindle-module was a thoroughly pleasant surprise for me, because it oozes heart’s blood and passion; it is not a particularly well-designed module and stumbles in the formal criteria, but it is written with such passion that it was impossible for even cynical, jaded ole’ me not to smile. Brindle is genuinely charming, often funny, and the module is delightfully unpretentious. It’s readily apparent that the author genuinely cares about everything here, that this is the antithesis of a corporate module. It doesn’t have a sexy elevator pitch or anything – it’s just honest, great, classic fantasy with a lot of passion and heart. And frankly, I should round down from my final verdict of 3.5 stars. In fact, if you’re picky about formal criteria being perfect, this’ll probably be closer to the 2.5 stars vicinity for you, but this module touched me emotionally in a way that is impossible to artificially craft. As a person, this thoroughly flawed little adventure was more fun to me than many comparable, more professional ventures that get all the rules right. Hence, for once, my final verdict will round up. If what you read sounds intriguing to you, then take a look – it’s a genuinely charming adventure that feels friendly, that lacks cynicism. And we need more of those in these trying times.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Bogey of Brindle - 1E/OSRIC
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Hell Hath no Furry
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/30/2019 15:17:54

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 6 pages, with e.g. cover art as a small ~1/4 of a page artwork, so let’s take a look!

Just before you ask: No, this has nothing to do with furries or fursecution.

Rules-wise, this employs BECMI/labyrinth Lord rules and is intended for four to six characters of 3rd level. Conversion to other old-school rule-sets is pretty simple. While this nominally has ties to the Lands of Lunacy supplement, the reference may be removed easily, should you choose to do so. 60’ (20’) is the default MV, AC is descending and we get HD-ratings and saves based on certain classes – “F5” e.g. pertaining to saving like a 5th level fighter. Most folks should encounter no issues using this as written

Structurally, the adventure is an interlude that consists of a hexcrawl overland section as well as a brief 9-room mini-dungeon, both of which come with decent full-color artworks, but no player-friendly version. The mini-dungeon actually has two different paths, which is a nice touch. Some, but not all rooms/encounters have read-aloud text. Formatting of statblocks is better than usual, with components bolded. Spells are not italicized.

This is far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS. Only referees should continue reading.

… .. .

All right, only referees around? So, essentially, a pack of hellhounds has escaped into the material plane, which resulted in a forest fire. The PCs are hounded (haha!) by the deadly fire-breathing canines, and may also encounter fire hornets. Ultimately, they will find a complex with low ceilings and pretty high temperatures. (Nice: The heat has mechanical repercussions!) The dungeon is pretty straight-forward and includes imp-like beings called dirieli (which are somewhat akin to imps) and since most adversaries are intelligent, there actually are chances for roleplaying.

The best angle of the module, at least for me, would be that Gris, the alpha of the hellhounds, has actually escaped an abusive fire giant master from the lands of lunacy. So, do sadistic hellhounds that cause forest fires have a right to determine their fate? Will the PCs attempt to cut a deal with the giant? The finale btw. also has an option to destroy the portal, but the aftermath may well see the PCs stranded in the lands of lunacy…

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level – not perfect, but vastly better than the previous sidetreks by Fail Squad Games I’ve covered. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color artwork, and the pdf has no artworks apart from the nice cover. The full-color cartography is solid, though the lack of player-friendly versions is a bit of a bummer.

Lloyd Metcalf’s sidetrek doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it’s a decent enough little interlude. The dilemma at the finale is potentially interesting, particularly if your players are of the “not-murderhobo-everything”- profession. All in all, I consider this to be a per se solid sidetrek; not anything that will blow your mind, but solid and inexpensive. My final verdict will thus clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Hell Hath no Furry
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Lands of Lunacy Setting 1E/OSRIC
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/08/2019 04:41:50

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement clocks in at roughly 27 pages if you take away editorial, ToC, etc. – why “roughly”? Page Zero contains an etymological definition of “Lunacy” that blends actual fact with some fantastic tidbits, and the final page has only approximately half a page of text, so it comes out at this page-count.

If the title wasn’t ample clue, this supplement does deal with madness to a degree and starts with a proper disclaimer. Personally, I consider it laudable, yet also a bit sad that nowadays, our elfgame-supplements, particularly ones like this, need such a disclaimer. To contextualize this: The supplement is probably as PG-13 as can be.  This is not a horror or dark fantasy supplement, it is thoroughly classic fantasy.

There is one more thing to mention: I own the softcover version of the OSR-iteration of this supplement, but not the pdf-version. I do, however, own the pdf-version of the 5e-iteration of the supplement, so I’m extrapolating the properties of softcover and pdf to the other respective edition, since in my experience it’s pretty rare to encounter significant deviations between such versions regarding formal properties. Should I err here, please do let me know and I’ll immediately rectify any errors made as a result of this assumption.

Okay, this out of the way, what is this booklet? I can summarize it in one sentence for grognards: It’s an application of the original pre-consistent setting Ravenloft concept, clothed in a fantasy context that hearkens closer to Planescape. If that didn’t means anything to you, let me explain: Ravenloft at one point was a “Halloween”-game; the mists would creep in, abduct the PCs, and they’d suddenly be faced with a horror module in these strange lands. These early sojourns often required the death of the master of the domain they found themselves in to escape. It took a ridiculous time until the authors realized that this killing off of the big baddies would ultimately hurt the integrity of the notion of a concise setting, thus transforming the setting. This also, of course, led to conflict, when suddenly PCs were supposed to act like…you know, mortals, instead of ridiculous superhero murder-hobos.

Lands of Lunacy is cognizant of this fact in an admirable manner – it doesn’t try to provide a meta-setting that intrudes into the campaign; instead, it embraces the sidetrek nature that was at the core of the original Ravenloft iteration. The notion is simple: Without a disruption, you can easily enter a sidetrek pretty much any time, any place. Need all players for a climactic battle, and the key-player for a story-twist is simply not here? Guess what, the mutability of the Lands of Lunacy may have the PCs transported there, adventure, and return – all in the blink of an eye, and all without breaking the immersion or established in-game logic. Theme-wise, the adjacency to Ravenloft is founded in the justification for the existence of these intrusive domains: There is the Chaos Void, overseen by entities called “drexol”, and from it, pocket-dimensions ceaselessly spawn. A ruling power (often an individual) stabilizes this, and there are those that hop from dimension to dimension. As such, in another nod towards Planescape, there is a slang-term for those not touched by the Lands of Lunacy – “banals.” Means of egress to the pocket dimensions are so-called Lunar Gates, which is a clever linguistic tie-in that generates a sense of underlying consistency by tying lunacy, as per its etymology, and the lands, together. Like the good ole’ Domain-borders, we do have barriers and boundaries.

There are also a couple of unique mechanical tweaks for adventurers traversing the Lands of Lunacy: On the more flavor-centric side of things, we have afflictions, which may vary from domain to domain, and include delusions of grandeur, thinking you’re a velociraptor, getting an imaginary friend or changing genders – these obviously are intended as roleplaying facilitators first. Two 15-entries-strong tables are included for arcane and divine magic, providing basically chaos magic effects for spellcasting based on a 2d10 roll. To nitpick: Why not go for the full 1d20 table here? Anyhow, the effects range from “Dr. Banner” (gaining Strength 18/00 [that’s ogre-level, for people who never played 1st edition]) to allowing all targets in the vicinity to cast a single magic missile at the utterance of a word, provided this happens within 1d4 turns. You could also end up wanting to eat insects. (As an aside – I can relate. Insect protein is not only healthy, it can be rather delicious, by I digress…) On a formal level, spell-references are not formatted properly here, and they also sometimes use the wrong names, which can be somewhat annoying – there is no Fae Fire spell in OSRIC; that’s supposed to be faerie fire. I am also not 100% sure what “Wraith Form” should be, but I assume some sort of incorporeity.

Now, the drexol as a monster is statted, coming in 4 age categories that range from infant to elder. These hidden masters can establish a link to those within their domains, slowly draining their XP and sanity. They also have a magic absorbing attack and a means to employ a mana burn AoE attack. Solid critter, though personally, I think I’ll rather use the concept for similar beings used in the Stonehell mega-dungeon and relegate the drexol to being the pawns of the hidden masters.

The supplement also presents a Sanity-engine: You have your Wisdom score sanity points, +3 per character level. Sanity points restore themselves at the same rate as hit points, provided you have a quiet and calm environment to rest. That is, unless your sanity points drop below 2, at which point, you suffer a temporary insanity. At a sanity score pf -1 to -8, you start getting an indeterminate lingering insanity, and getting rid of it no longer just happens – it needs calm, counseling, etc. and is predicated on saves. At -9 to -16 sanity, you instead suffer from permanent insanity. This may not be cured sans quests and the like; below that, starting at -17 sanity, the character is well and truly lost. Each of the 3 sanity-levels comes with a 10-entry-long table of sample suggestions for respective insanities, which, as befitting of OSR-gameplay, focus on the roleplaying aspects for the most part.

And that’s it as far as the core engine is concerned! The second part of this booklet is devoted to the module “A Witch’s Trial”, which is intended for 4-6 level 2 – 3 characters and can be seen as a kind of introductory module. Boxed read-aloud text is provided for the adventure, and difficulty-wise, it is dangerous, but not overtly so, sitting at a comfortable low to mid tier regarding what it demands of the players. The module does come with a nice, hand-drawn map of a complex, but unfortunately, no player-friendly iteration sans labels has been provided.

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

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! The PCs are cast into a domain that sprang up when a witch called Maggris was about to be executed by ignorant folks. The witch has since then managed to eke out a living, warding her hut, and that is good news for the PCs, for when they arrive, they are quickly assaulted by wolf-sized berserker rats – and endless tide, it seems, and worse, PCs start having a chance of incurring Lands of Lunacy afflictions. After a few rounds of combat, the witch opens the door and asks the PCs to escape inside – just in time, it turns out, as a horse-sized, rather deadly berserker rat come crashing forward. Really nice: The read-aloud text for these encounters does not replace nice descriptions regarding the approach to the hut.

Resting in Maggris’ well-warded house, however, will definitely afflict them with lunacy – but thankfully, the kind woman does have an idea where the answer to the plague of insanity scouring them may lie – an old wizard’s hold. She does offer an item to help the most stricken PC – the stone of order, which does fortify against the effects of the Lands of Lunacy. At one point, the witch had a relationship with the wizard that once laired there, and a long-dead cat, Mittens, hanging as a charm from her house, is actually the former familiar of the wizard – it brought the stone to Maggris.

The dungeon begins with a somewhat unfortunate first room, where plenty of marked Xs provide one of 8 different and pretty deadly effects. There is no better way to grind the playing experience to a horrid halt than to litter barely perceptible “cross an invisible line and take damage” pseudo-traps sans any kind of telegraphing at the start of a module. It’ll just result in paranoid players checking every damn square. Not fun. This is particularly jarring, for apart from this snafu, we have a classic magic mouth riddle, we have a surprisingly detailed library (with a book-title generator) and a subtle hazard, a greenhouse powered by magic (actually pretty neat!), and finally, the PCs may find the details about the old relationship and the drexol seeking to drive them insane. Defeating the entity allows the PCs to escape – and there may be a somber note, for leaving her stone of order  to the players – madness has seized her, and it’ll take the help of the PCs to get her out and back to sanity, but it is, at least, possible. I like this. It’s a chance for heroes to be, well, heroes. I also enjoy that, brevity notwithstanding, the complex actually isn’t strictly linear, which is definitely a plus.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level – while there are some deviations from formatting conventions to be found here, and while some snafus pertaining rules may also be found, as a whole, this is a solid offering. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard, and the softcover booklet I own is a nice offering. The art, as pretty much always for Fail Squad Games, deserves special mentioning: Lloyd Metcalf’s original b/w-drawings are amazing and surprisingly plentiful within. The pdf-version of the 5e-iteration doesn’t have any bookmarks, which is a big comfort-no-go. As mentioned before, I only have the dead-tree version of the OSR-version, but I assume the same to be the case here. The cartography provided for the complex in the module is b/w and nice, but could have really used a player-friendly, unlabeled map.

Lloyd Metcalf’s “Lands of Lunacy” would be an example for the rarest of setting books, of roleplaying books: A booklet that doesn’t reinvent the wheels, and one that arguably doesn’t fare too well regarding its rules-integrity, but that still manages to remain inspiring – courtesy of the deliberate care that went into thinking about the concept. From the development of the etymology-angle to the way in which the surprisingly efficient cross-over idea between Ravenloft and Planescape has been implemented, this setting guide provides a nice tool for the GM’s arsenal, has its primary value situated in this elusive animal called “idea” – and for that, I like it more than I expected to. If anything, it’s probably not the relative brevity of the booklet, but the fact that it could have used some more tables and afflictions, more room on the setting guide side of things, that could have used improvement, at least as far as I’m concerned. Still, this is a supplement worth checking out. My final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Lands of Lunacy Setting 1E/OSRIC
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Lands of Lunacy Setting 5E
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/08/2019 04:40:41

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement clocks in at roughly 32 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page mission statement, 1 page back cover. It also features a brief etymology of the word “lunacy” on one otherwise mostly blank page, one that blends the real and fantastic in a pretty smart manner. As a whole, we thus have approximately 27 pages of content.

If the title wasn’t ample clue, this supplement does deal with madness to a degree and starts with a proper disclaimer. Personally, I consider it laudable, yet also a bit sad that nowadays, our elfgame-supplements, particularly ones like this, need such a disclaimer. To contextualize this: The supplement is probably as PG-13 as can be. This is not a horror or dark fantasy supplement, it is thoroughly classic fantasy.

There is one more thing to mention: I own the softcover version of the OSR-iteration of this supplement, but not the pdf-version of the OSR-version. I do, however, own the pdf-version of the 5e-iteration of the supplement, so I’m extrapolating the properties of softcover and pdf to the other respective edition, since in my experience it’s pretty rare to encounter significant deviations between such versions regarding formal properties. Should I err here, please do let me know and I’ll immediately rectify any errors made as a result of this assumption.

Okay, this out of the way, what is this booklet? I can summarize it in one sentence for grognards: It’s an application of the original pre-consistent setting Ravenloft concept, clothed in a fantasy context that hearkens closer to Planescape. If that didn’t mean anything to you, let me explain: Ravenloft at one point was a “Halloween”-game; the mists would creep in, abduct the PCs, and they’d suddenly be faced with a horror module in these strange lands. These early sojourns often required the death of the master of the domain they found themselves in to escape. It took a ridiculous time until the authors realized that this killing off of the big baddies would ultimately hurt the integrity of the notion of a concise setting, thus transforming the setting. This also, of course, led to conflict, when suddenly PCs were supposed to act like…you know, mortals, instead of ridiculous superhero murder-hobos.

Lands of Lunacy is cognizant of this fact in an admirable manner – it doesn’t try to provide a meta-setting that intrudes into the campaign; instead, it embraces the sidetrek nature that was at the core of the original Ravenloft iteration. The notion is simple: Without a disruption, you can easily enter a sidetrek pretty much any time, any place. Need all players for a climactic battle, and the key-player for a story-twist is simply not here? Guess what, the mutability of the Lands of Lunacy may have the PCs transported there, adventure, and return – all in the blink of an eye, and all without breaking the immersion or established in-game logic. Theme-wise, the adjacency to Ravenloft is founded in the justification for the existence of these intrusive domains: There is the Chaos Void, overseen by entities called “drexol”, and from it, pocket-dimensions ceaselessly spawn. A ruling power (often an individual) stabilizes this, and there are those that hop from dimension to dimension. As such, in another nod towards Planescape, there is a slang-term for those not touched by the Lands of Lunacy – “banals.” Means of egress to the pocket dimensions are so-called Lunar Gates, which is a clever linguistic tie-in that generates a sense of underlying consistency by tying lunacy, as per its etymology, and the lands, together. Like the good ole’ Domain-borders, we do have barriers and boundaries.

There are also a couple of unique mechanical tweaks for adventurers traversing the Lands of Lunacy: On the more flavor-centric side of things, we have afflictions, which may vary from domain to domain, and include delusions of grandeur, thinking you’re a velociraptor, getting an imaginary friend or changing genders – these obviously are intended as roleplaying facilitators first. Here’s the problem – while you can get away with this approach in OSR-games, in 5e, quite a few of such effects would require a saving throw from a design aesthetic perspective, or at least something akin to how thirst and starvation work.

Two 15-entries-strong tables are included for arcane and divine magic, providing basically chaos magic effects for spellcasting based on a 2d10 roll. To nitpick: Why not go for the full 1d20 table here? Anyhow, the effects range from “Dr. Banner” (gaining Strength 20) to allowing all targets in the vicinity to cast a single magic missile at the utterance of a word, provided this happens within 1d4 turns. Problem here: No spellcasting ability score, nor any information regarding slots are provided; while a rage-inducing effect has been translated in a decent manner, this still is flawed. You could also end up wanting to eat insects. (As an aside – I can relate. Insect protein is not only healthy, it can be rather delicious, by I digress…) On a formal level, spell-references are not formatted properly here, and even are inconsistent among themselves: We have instances where spell-names are capitalized, and some where only the spell’s first word’s first letter is capitalized, so it’s not even a consistent deviation.

Now, the drexol as a monster is statted, coming in 4 age categories that range from infant to elder. These hidden masters can establish a link to those within their domains, slowly draining their XP and sanity. They also have a magic absorbing attack and a means to employ a mana burn AoE attack. They are ATROCIOUS. As in: Non-operational. Percentile magic resistance, a basic failure to grasp how Hit Dice and monsters work and an obvious disregard of the impact of the proficiency bonus render the key-critter non-operational. The formatting of abilities is also nowhere near how they should work. This does not work as written. AT ALL.

The supplement also presents a Sanity-engine: You have your Wisdom score sanity points, +3 per character level. Sanity points restore themselves at the same rate at a rate of 1d4 + Wisdom modifier per long rest. That is, unless your sanity points drop below 2, at which point, you suffer a temporary insanity. At a sanity score of -1 to -8, you start getting an indeterminate lingering insanity, and getting rid of it no longer just happens – it needs calm, counseling, etc. and is predicated on saves. At -9 to -16 sanity, you instead suffer from permanent insanity. This may not be cured sans quests and the like; below that, starting at -17 sanity, the character is well and truly lost. Each of the 3 sanity-levels comes with a 10-entry-long table of sample suggestions for respective insanities. Notice something? Yeah, as far as 5e is concerned, this is basically needlessly reinventing the wheel. 5e already has a madness engine. And it’s not hidden in some obscure book. It’s in the frickin’ DMG. Why not simply expand upon and/or tweak that? While I enjoy the roleplaying-centric aspect here, this whole engine is, unfortunately, pretty redundant. Add to that the fact that the DC to shake off lingering insanities is very low, and we have a pretty toothless engine.

And that’s it as far as the core engine is concerned! The second part of this booklet is devoted to the module “A Witch’s Trial”, which is intended for 4-6 level 2 – 3 characters and can be seen as a kind of introductory module. Boxed read-aloud text is provided for the adventure, and difficulty-wise, it is dangerous, but not overtly so, sitting at a comfortable low to mid tier regarding what it demands of the players. The module does come with a nice, hand-drawn map of a complex, but unfortunately, no player-friendly iteration sans labels has been provided. The statblocks are a total mess. They don’t even remotely attempt to adhere to 5e formatting conventions, lack average damage values, proper types for creatures, have errors in the attack bonuses and look like a mess, as they present the rules-relevant material as run-on text, with stuff like “traits:” interspersed. You can potentially run them – that’s the nicest thing I can say about this. They are more operational than the atrocious drexol statblock and may, in contrast to that one, actually be used, but they are nowhere anything I’d call acceptable. Ability score-references are also improperly formatted re saves and checks, and we have “fun” stuff like ability score reductions, which are only very rarely, if ever, used in 5e. A LOT of it. Oh, and complex operations like grapple? Don’t even get me started. No escape DC, no proper codification. A frickin’ mess. Bear that in mind, for me personally, it wrecks the module in its 5e version. Utterly.

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

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! The PCs are cast into a domain that sprang up when a witch called Maggris was about to be executed by ignorant folks. The witch has since then managed to eke out a living, warding her hut, and that is good news for the PCs, for when they arrive, they are quickly assaulted by wolf-sized berserker rats – and endless tide, it seems, and worse, PCs start having a chance of incurring Lands of Lunacy afflictions. After a few rounds of combat, the witch opens the door and asks the PCs to escape inside – just in time, it turns out, as a horse-sized, rather deadly berserker rat come crashing forward. Really nice: The read-aloud text for these encounters does not replace nice descriptions regarding the approach to the hut.

Resting in Maggris’ well-warded house, however, will definitely afflict them with lunacy – but thankfully, the kind woman does have an idea where the answer to the plague of insanity scouring them may lie – an old wizard’s hold. She does offer an item to help the most stricken PC – the stone of order, which does fortify against the effects of the Lands of Lunacy. At one point, the witch had a relationship with the wizard that once laired there, and a long-dead cat, Mittens, hanging as a charm from her house, is actually the former familiar of the wizard – it brought the stone to Maggris.

The dungeon begins with a somewhat unfortunate first room, where plenty of marked Xs provide one of 8 different and pretty deadly effects. There is no better way to grind the playing experience to a horrid halt that litter barely perceptible “cross an invisible line and take damage” pseudo-traps sans any kind of telegraphing at the start of a module. It’ll just result in paranoid players checking every damn square. Not fun. This is particularly jarring, for apart from this snafu, we have a classic magic mouth riddle, we have a surprisingly detailed library (with a book-title generator) and a subtle hazard, a greenhouse powered by magic (actually pretty neat!), and finally, the PCs may find the details about the old relationship and the drexol seeking to drive them insane. Defeating the entity allows the PCs to escape – and there may be a somber note, for leaving her stone of order  to the players – madness has seized her, and it’ll take the help of the PCs to get her out and back to sanity, but it is, at least, possible. I like this. It’s a chance for heroes to be, well, heroes. I also enjoy that, brevity notwithstanding, the complex actually isn’t strictly linear, which is definitely a plus.

Conclusion:

The editing and formatting in the 5e-iteration of this supplement are an unmitigated mess on a rules-language level. The statblocks range from nonoperational to flawed, and many details just don’t work as well. The sanity engine is, at best, redundant. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard, and the softcover booklet I own is a nice offering. The art, as pretty much always for Fail Squad Games, deserves special mentioning: Lloyd Metcalf’s original b/w-drawings are amazing and surprisingly plentiful within. The pdf-version of the 5e-iteration doesn’t have any bookmarks, which is a big comfort-no-go. As mentioned before, I only have the dead-tree version of the OSR-version, but I assume the same to be the case here. The cartography provided for the complex in the module is b/w and nice, but could have really used a player-friendly, unlabeled map.

Lloyd Metcalf’s “Lands of Lunacy” was a strong offering for old-school gaming, courtesy of its inspired idea. In its 5e-version, it falters big time, though. Showcasing a lack of understanding about even the basics of the system, the conversion is barely functional and fails to capitalize on even the most basic aspects of 5e’s robust rules-chassis. The redundancy of the sanity engine hurts the overall appeal of the supplement further, and since the module is all but tanked by the bad conversion, there isn’t much left to recommend, apart from the story of the adventure and the strength of the original vision. Personally, I’d suggest that 5e-fans instead get the OSR-version – converting and adapting the material in that iteration to 5e will probably yield better results than attempting to salvage this version. I can’t go higher than 2 stars for this version.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Lands of Lunacy Setting 5E
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Verdant Bonds (5E Interlude)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/22/2019 12:09:38

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This interlude for 5e covers 2 pages, and is intended for level 1 – 3 characters, though I’d personally recommend it for level 2 characters at the highest – level 3 characters will curbstomp through this one. The little adventure does feature read-aloud text for most locales, and also has an okay full-color map. No unlabeled, player-friendly version is provided for VTT or printing out. The map has no scale noted.

As always when I review mini-modules, it should be noted that I rate them for what they are – brief sidetreks. I don’t expect epic stories from them.

All righty, in order to discuss the adventure, I need to go into SPOILERS. Potential players should skip ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

Only GMs around? Great! While the PCs are traveling through the Verdant Wood, they happen upon a game trail that leads to a clearing, where a pool and a massive oak tree greets them – alongside Seriana the dryad. Structurally, the dryad does something…dumb. She attempts to charm the PCs into helping her. As a nitpick – the ability is called “fey charm”, not “charm.” Also: Such an action is usually taken as a hostile act by all player groups I know, when asking will usually do the trick usually…but I digress.

Her request doesn’t require magic for most groups – her husband’s been kidnapped and held hostage by goblins, and she wants the PCs to save the fellow. The module offers an optional encounter, where the PCs happen upon a shrine and twig blights. Investigation of the shrine is covered…but…the pdf doesn’t properly italicize the spell reference, and doesn’t know how detect magic operates: There is no means to use the spell to detect “restoration magic”, as that’s no school of magic. En route, there is also a hunter’s trap (not telegraphed, obviously), and PCs may happen upon a goblin patrol. Problematic: The approach to the goblin lair notes a “+4 circumstance bonus to Stealth checks”, due to the lack of goblin vigilance, which is admirably precise rules-language…for PFRPG. Not for 5e.

The goblin boss has a magic dagger coated in paralytic poison (magic weapon not properly formatted), but otherwise, that’s kinda it – kill the boss, free the hostage…no stand-off, no hostage threat, no unique complication…that was a missed chance. On a nitpicky side of things, the dagger should probably make use of how poison works in 5e.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting on a rules language level are okay – ability/skill checks are, for the most part, properly presented. On a formal level, the same, alas, can’t be claimed, and we have a couple of deviations from the standard. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard. The piece of full-color artwork is amazing. The map, as noted, lacks a player-friendly version.

Ric Marten’s Verdant Bonds, oddly, is better than the second interlude “The Crypt on Keeper Hill” – this one has better rules, more flavor text, and doesn’t suffer from the glaring issues of the crypt keeper trip. It’s still not exactly impressive, though, and while a per se okay offering, it also leaves me without much reason to recommend it. It’s a sidetrek any GM can make, and probably has made, at one point. Granted, it’s inexpensive, but still – there is nothing here that would set this apart in a positive manner. As such, my final verdict can’t exceed 2.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Verdant Bonds (5E Interlude)
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Crypt on Keeper Hill (5E Interlude)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/03/2019 13:17:14

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This mini-adventure for 5e clocks in at 2 pages and is intended as a brief interlude. It is intended for 3rd level characters, and the two pages are pretty much chock-full with text. The adventure sports two sections of read-aloud text – one for the introductory angle, and one for the boss-section, and we do get a small colored map, but no player-friendly version for VTT-use/printing out.

As always for mini-adventures, I do not expect an epic story from this and will rate it for what it is. Monster stats are obviously not included on the two pages.

All right, in order to discuss the content within, I need to go into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All righty, only GMs around? Great! Keeper Hill has been shrouded in a wretched gloom for 20 years, and the local populace lock away their livestock and themselves at night, as undead emerge to plague the vicinity of the cursed place. When the PCs arrive, they are approached to hopefully solve the problem…when arriving in daylight. By night, they’ll be thrown in combat with zombies, with a villager providing solace from the horrors of the night. A tenth of the zombies are infectious, and a “save vs. CON” per wound will prevent infection with zombiism. Okay, so that’s not how you phrase saves in 5e. Furthermore, the disease transforms the PC in 2d4+2 hours, unless targeted by Cure Disease. This spell does not exist in 5e. It’s lesser restoration. Beyond that, this should have been resolved with the wealth of 5e’s conditions or at least a fairer exhaustion level accumulation mechanic, not a save or suck. The pdf compounds on this obvious lack of knowledge by having the villagers hand off a scroll with that nonexistent spell. sigh

At night, the approach to the hill is guarded by zombies, and, on a plus-side, the lock may be opened both via holy water and…a “DEX – Sleight of Hand” check – which is once more, not how 5e handles the like. This obvious ignorance of even basic rules and formatting of 5e extends to the 4 sample traps, where e.g. poison darts don’t inflict poison damage or the poisoned condition. A gas that makes PCs start “wretching uncontrollably”[sic!], (should be “retching”) also does not use the rather obvious, proper rules language here. There also is a fungus that drives PCs insane – you guessed it, sans specifying how that should be interpreted in the context of 5e’s robust madness system.

Beyond a hazard of unstable walls that may collapse (and have rot grub-infested corpses fall down) once more doesn’t exactly get the rules right, and the finale is a battle versus the erstwhile protector of the hamlet, now a banshee, and infected zombies. And that’s it.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are okay on a formal level. On a rules-language level, this gets almost everything wrong. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard; the artwork is nifty and the full-color cartography is neat as well. No player-friendly or VTT-compatible map is included, which is a bit of a downer. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Lloyd Metcalf’s 5e Interlude would be a decent module, were it not for the fact that it gets pretty much every 5e rules-convention or aesthetic wrong, failing to capitalize on the cool things the engine can do, which is a pity, as the prose here and there does have potential. Still, my final verdict can’t exceed 1.5 stars, rounded up due to the low price.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Crypt on Keeper Hill (5E Interlude)
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Roadside Respite
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/26/2019 05:14:06

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure clocks in at 36 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page mostly blank, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 31 pages of content, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), which means you can fit up to 4 pages on a sheet of paper when printing this. Since the font-size is pretty large, this indeed is a solid option here.

This module is designated as compatible with OSRIC and Labyrinth Lord AEC, though it should be noted that there are several inconsistencies regarding rules-language; we have, for example, a mention of summon zombie, which, for example, would in OSRIC rather be handled via animate dead. There is a Fear 15’ Radius noted, when fear uses a cone – these do not make the module impossible to run, mind you, but if you’re like me and like running stuff by the book, this will come up, and it will bother you.

Speaking of which: One of the things that irked me about this adventure, is that it bills itself as a “Mini Mod” – a sidequest that can be picked up and GM’d with minimal prep work. Thing is, when the rules language isn’t perfect, that won’t happen or, at the worst, grind the game to a halt. Worse, of all the pages, the adventure synopsis is actually the one with most typos and weird verbiages – to the point where it becomes a bit hard to understand what’s going on. That becomes clear upon reading the module, but yeah. When compared to e.g. Raging Swan Press’ Go-Play adventures (which CAN be run with 0 prep-work!) for a vastly more complex system, this is particularly galling. That being said, the module does do a better job at organizing its content than many comparable ones – stats for enemies, for example, are provided where they’re encountered, and read-aloud text is properly bolded.

A boon for my sore eyes: The formatting of this module is much better than that of many comparable OSRIC-adventures, and actually makes an effort to adhere to the conventions set by the rules. Read-aloud text is provided and presented in italics and bolded, and the module does provide a couple of GM notes.

This module is intended for 4 – 6 characters level 4 – 5, and if I were to categorize it, I’d consider it to be medium to old-school challenging regarding its difficulty; it’s not a meat-grinder, but you very much have a decent chance of perishing, particularly in one instance. A well-rounded party is suggested, and particularly characters capable of handling undead should be part of the party, though wilderness specialists also will have some scenes to shine. PCs definitely should have access to cure disease.

Genre-wise, it’s call this a somewhat gothic fairytale that has somber notes without diving into being grimdark or fueled by misery; it’s a module that will probably leave you with a bittersweet memory, emphasis on the “sweet”, rather than the bitter, which I genuinely appreciated, as it’s a) a rare tone to go for, and b) pretty hard to achieve. The background story includes the death of an unborn child, so that may be a trigger for some.

But in order to talk more about this, I will need to go into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, only referees around? Great! So, the PCs happen upon a cellar of a dilapidated farmhouse, and soon are haunted by strange visions – these, ultimately, lead them to a shrine, where a riddle awaits (including a visual representation of the shrine in full color and a means to help players that get stuck), and after that, the module centers around a two-part dungeon exploration that starts off as pretty linear and then branches a bit in part II. The dungeon itself begins as a hidden sepulcher of sorts, haunted by the dead – which is, in a nice touch, represented, among other things, with a d12 table of random creepy dressing to enhance atmosphere. I liked that!

The way down a well-like structure and past the first alcoves may well be a rude awakening, as there is potentially lethal, nigh undetectable mold there – as a big plus, though, the PCs do get a grace period of 4 rounds, which doesn’t exactly make this save or die. It is an AoE effect, though – remember how I told you that cure disease would be helpful? Anyhow, exploring the dungeon will have the PCs face ghostly apparaitions mourning in sadness for their families, caught here – and a journal provides the exposition. While not necessarily elegant, it gets the job done. Puzzling to me, though: The journal’s text covers approximately a page, and is provided in a different font. It looks like a handout, it can be used as a handout – and it’s spread over two pages that otherwise contain referee-only information. I can’t for the life of me, fathom why this wasn’t relegated to an appendix as a proper handout.

Anyhow, the journal tells a take of woe: The Torrine family, once guardians of sorts, had a talisman bestowed upon them by the guardian of the woods, this pleasant ginormous, somewhat angelic owlbear on the cover. However, dark cultists of Grenndig infiltrated the family as guest-workers and incited a kind of madness that led the author to kill his wife – his corpse remains, clutching a box. This box is constantly referred to simply as “box” – until it suddenly is referred to as “soul box” when it becomes a prime way to deal with an issue – jarring and annoying.

Once the box has been claimed “activated”, the apparitions, in hopelessness, start to cling to the PCs – once more, this is where a cleric is very much recommended, as the can be turned as type 2 undead. The souls implore the PCs to find the Talisman stolen by the vile cultists, and return it to the homestead. Squeezing through partial collapses, the PCs will ultimately reach a gate guarded by a crypt thing of the more annoying variety, as it sends PCs back to the forest above – not a fan of this inclusion here. Here, the pdf also presents two magic items, which, alas, flaunt verbiage and formatting conventions in several regards.

Defeating or tricking the crypt thing allows the players to pass through the gate to the frozen temple, where Grenndig’s followers have been entombed by the Talisman – these now roam the second part of the dungeon as undead. Situated in the frigid northern tundra, we have giant tundra ants here as well – and a really brutal (but optional) room, where the whole floor is a thin sheet of ice over supercooled water that begins freezing very quickly if ice etc. is dumped in. To make matters worse, breaking through also releases a ton of methane, which, you guessed it, can cause a big BOOM…and potentially a TPK. This room is brutal, and I like it, though less experienced dngeon-crawlers should probably get a warning. In fact, the environmental effects are rather nice. Ultimately, the PCs will find the illustrated armature that holds the Talisman, which keeps blasting the PCs with spell-like effects (this is where such oddities as the aforementioned summon zombie come into place. Withstanding the assault once it’s removed is the brute-force way – you can also put it in the aforementioned soul box, which is here, for the first time, referenced as such. The Talisman will prevail over the dark, and the PCs can take it back from the tomb of these evil cultists – and either keep it, or present it to the guardian, bestowing peace upon the lost souls.

Conclusion: Formatting is decent, if not impressive. The same can’t be said for editing. There is a ton of typos in this book, and some weird sentence structures can be found – particularly the synopsis was a pain to read. Layout adheres to a one-column b/w-standard, with no graphic elements, making this pretty printer-friendly. The tables provide some unobtrusive touches of color, and the pdf does contain quite a few nice full-color artworks that would showcase Lloyd Metcalf’s talent – were it not for a grating effect that extends to maps and front and back cover as well: While the text is crisp, the artworks and maps are not: They all are pixilated in a really grating manner, which is a genuine pity, as I know the artist’s work and quality, and even in that state, they have something going for them. The cartography of the complex is in full color, but annoyingly, we do not get a player-friendly, keyless version. Finally, you guessed it – this has no bookmarks.

Lloyd Metcalf’s “Roadside Respite” made me grit my teeth. SO HARD. Why? Because this is actually a really nice old-school module. It’s unpretentious, challenging without being frustrating, yet has its deadly moments. It genuinely manages to evoke a somber-creepy atmosphere and blend it with the fantastic for a unique, relatively nuanced tone that resonates with me. As a person, after I finally got what this was about, I really enjoyed this sidetrek.

Which brings me to the crux: The formal components. Most of them. There are plenty of issues in both, and particularly the synopsis, the glitches made it really hard for me to get what was going on. The pixilated artworks hamper the book in the aesthetic department, where it’d otherwise offer some cool pieces, and worse, this extends to the map. Which is not provided in a player-friendly version. And to add one final insult, the pdf has no bookmarks. WTF. As far as the formal components are concerned, this must be called a failure.

Which is utterly galling, as frankly, with a strict rules editor, with someone making sure that this works as it was intended, with the proper pdf- and comfort-functions, this could be an easy 4 stars, perhaps even a 5 star-offering. This does feel like a passion project; it’s not cynical, it doesn’t feel like a rushed cashgrab. It is suffused with these little touches that show that the author CARES. And that’s a big thing for me. As a person, I’d take this VERY flawed module over many more professional, but soulless ones out there. It does have this spark that makes it clear that this is intended to be fun.

But as a reviewer, I can’t let the grievous issues this module has in the formal department slide. As a matter of fact, I should most definitely rate this 2 stars. But…I can’t bring myself to doing so. This may be a deeply-flawed offering, but it is also one that has heart, that has soul – and that, provided you can look past the list of issues, really can be a fun and challenging little sidetrek with a tone we don’t get to see often in published adventures. This is why, after much deliberation, I have opted to settle on a final verdict of 2.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform – with the caveat that you have to be willing to look past all the issues I mentioned.

If you’re not, then steer clear. If you are, however, then this might be the best formally-atrocious adventure you’ve ever run. Let me close this with stating that I hope that this review doesn’t discourage the author – I very much hope that we’ll get to see a revised edition at one point. The module would certainly deserve it, and I’d love to revisit a more refined iteration.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Roadside Respite
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