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Classes of the Lost Spheres: Zodiac
Publisher: Lost Spheres Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/19/2018 04:29:09

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Classes of the Lost Spheres-series clocks in at 42 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page blank, 1 page back cover, and 5 pages of SRD, though it should be noted that a part of one statblock can be found on the first SRD-page. This leaves us with 32 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

The zodiac class gets, chassis-wise, d8 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, proficiency with light and medium armor and shields, except tower shields. They get ¾ BAB-progression as well as good Fort- and Will-saves, and their essence improves in a linear fashion over the levels, starting with 1 essence at first level, and increasing that to 20 at 20th level.

The zodiac is an akashic class, using veilweaving to form unique magical benefits. At this time, I have presented how akasha works in detail not only once, but twice: Once in Dreamscarred Press’ “Akashic Mysteries” and once in Lost Spheres Publishing’s “Akashic Trinity.” Both of these present really cool classes, and akasha, as a subsystem for magic, is super-interesting to me. I assume familiarity with the system in this review. It should be noted that this is a stand-alone supplement – you do not require Akashic Mysteries or Akashic Trinity to make use of the class: The basic rules of akasha, how veilweaving, shaped veils etc. work is explained within.

The zodiac handles the akashic engine in a couple of unique ways, but more on that later. At 1st level, the zodiac gains the ability to tap into the so-called constellations. Constellations can be manifested as either forms of equipment (in which case they occupy the appropriate slots), or as champions, but not as both at a given time; a given constellation may only be manifested once at any given time by a zodiac. Champions called forth by the zodiac are always the same and retain feats, skills etc., and they are capable of understanding the zodiac. In case of the zodiac being unable to command them, they use their best judgment. Most champions gain levels and improve as animal companions, with zodiac levels being substituted for druid levels to determine progression. The manifestation of a constellation is a standard action that imposes essence burn, depending on the precise manifestation chosen, on the zodiac. While the manifestation is ongoing, this essence burn may not be recovered. If the zodiac loses consciousness, manifestations are automatically dismissed, but otherwise, they have no set duration. Reducing a manifestation’s hit points to 0 does dismiss it, and if it is then called upon once more, it manifests with only 1 hit point and all conditions previously in place and not yet elapsed, if any - unless 24 hours have passed, in which case, the manifestation is fully restored. Manifestations may be healed or repaired as usual. Manifestations also act as essence receptacle, with unique benefits for having essence invested in them.

A total of 12 such constellations are provided, though there is a cosmetic snafu among the bookmarks, which erroneously puts 7 of them under the “champions”-header. (The other 5 also have champions, so I figure that this stems from a previous version.) Each of the constellations has an element associated with it, and constellations of an element opposed to one currently in place by the constellation in effect cost more essence to manifest. Each constellation comes with a bit of flavor text in all-caps introducing it, and then proceeds to list element in question and manifestations granted in their own lines. Below these, the respective manifestations are listed, with essence costs in brackets. As a minor complaint, the formatting of the subheaders of the respective manifestations sports two cosmetic glitches on page 11: Once, champion is underlined instead of bolded, and once it’s not bolded. These are cosmetic, though. Each of the manifestations of a given constellation furthermore has an essence-invested line, which allows, as noted before, for further modification. It should also be noted that the essence cost required for a given manifestation acts as a kind of limiting factor for the options granted by the zodiac: The costs to manifest a champion, for example, span the gamut from 4 to a whopping 12, which imposes some strict limitations on the potent abilities granted. The other manifestations, i.e. armor, equipment and weaponry, are significantly less costly.

To give you a couple of examples: The archer constellation can, for 5 essence, manifest a hunter’s bond-using elven ranger with archery style that also has a scaling magical bow or crossbow; for essence invested, CMD versus disarm and trip as well as base movement speed increases. The champion granted by the bull constellation would be a war bull animal companion with a starting Intelligence of 6, who, unsurprisingly, receives boosts to CMB and CMD pertaining bull rush and overrun attempts. Sometimes, you get to choose: Fish, for example, lets you choose between dolphin and shark, and e.g. the sea goat’s champion would be a Capricorn that improves at zodiac level 4 and every level thereafter. Twin nets a scaling rogue – you get the idea. Now, if that sounds like a lot of work for players and/or GM, depending on who usually builds cohorts, let it be known that the pdf does note that only prepared companions should be options that can be called forth. The different essence values and use of a couple of already pretty much done companions also speed up the process. Finally, the discrepancy regarding essence cost and thus, minimum levels required, also means that this task is, thankfully, spread over the progression and makes handling this aspect comparatively quick and painless, considering what it does.

As far as equipment is concerned, one example would be a wooden mask that allows for wild empathy use as though class levels equaled druid levels, and also yields speak with animals as a constant effect. Essence invested in this example would yield bonuses to Handle Animal and wild empathy checks. Manifesting the ram’s equipment nets a properly (type and damage type! YEAH!) codified primary natural gore attack, courtesy of the ram helm (Small and Large zodiac damage values included as well!) that scales, with essence invested enhancing charge attacks – fitting, right? Interesting would be the item granted by the scales: It’s a rod, which allows the wielder to channel the forces of balance: When the wielder is hit, the rod gains healing power (with a cap), and when healed, the wielder can choose to forego healing and charge the rod with damage. Damage and healing, as well as the complex action economy situation here are properly codified, and, in an impressive feat of design prowess, these rules also prevent any form of cheesing I could think of regarding the stored healing etc. Once essence is invested, damage healed/dealt by using the rod is increased by +2 per point of essence invested.

Let’s take a brief overview of what the different armor manifestations, if any, can do, shall we? Here, we get scaling armors and weapons, with e.g. hide armor granted by Lion, and Crab providing one the wearer is proficient with. The archer can yield a ranged weapon (no firearms, and composite bow Strength ratings are taken into account), while the druid nets clubs. It should be noted that essence-investment is taken into account and used to differentiate between the constellations. For convenience’s sake, let us list the respective options by element, shall we?

Air: Armors 0; Champions 2 (Druid, Twin); Equipment 3 (Druid, Scales, Twin); Weapons 2 (Druid, Scales).

Earth: Armors 0; Champions 3 (Bull, Sea Goat, Scorpion); Equipment 3 (Bull, Sea Goat, Scorpion); Weapons 1 (Scorpion)

Fire: Armors 1 (Lion); Champions 3 (Archer, Lion, Ram); Equipment 1 (Ram); Weapons 2 (Archer, Lion).

Water: Armors 1 (Crab); Champions 3 (Crab, Fish, Water Bearer); Equipment 2 (Fish, Water Bearer); Weapons 0.

From this, you’ll note a few distinct oddities – not every element gets an armor or a weapon, and water end up one manifestation short of the others – however, it should be noted that water gets the strongest champion manifestation, so that may have been intended. It also should be noted that this tends to be no real issue, considering that the zodiac gets automatic access to ALL of these manifestations and constellations. This HUGE amount of options is hardcoded right into the class, allowing for a TON of player agenda at any given point. Speaking of which, there is one very important choice at first level: The orbit.

Essentially, the zodiac is two classes in one: If you choose a lunar orbit, you focus on enhancing your champion: You reduce the cost of champion manifestation by 1 to a minimum of 1 and gain an additional point of essence at 1st level, 2nd level and every even level thereafter. This makes the class, unless I am sorely mistaken, eclipse even the vizier regarding essence, which may be slightly overkill. At 4th and 6th level, the lunar zodiac gets Access Low Chakra (Head, Feet or Hands) as a bonus feat; 10th and 12th level provide Access Middle Chakra Slot (Wrists, Headband or Shoulders), and 14th and 16th provide Access Higher Chakra Slot (Neck, Belts). These feats, included within, basically double as a free-form way for characters to gain access to chakra binds to the respective item slot – an option that vastly enhances the flexibility of this system. For the purpose of the zodiac, the chakra bind choices add player agenda into what previously was a linear progression in the akashic context – something I definitely applaud. Something one may easily overlook here in power-comparison would be that the lunar zodiac is missing a couple of the chakra-binds that the vizier can get, for example. The highest level ones (chest, body) won’t be unlocked by the zodiac, and each category only unlocks two of the bind slots, not all three. But let us return to look at the rest of the lunar orbit’s engine, shall we? Lunar zodiacs use Charisma as their governing veilweaving key ability modifier and may shape two veils per day, plus an additional one at 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter. They may reallocate essence as a swift action.

The second orbit available would be Solar. These zodiacs gain access to proficiency with heavy armor and all martial weapons. They use class level instead of BAB when wielding the weapon manifestations of their constellations and for the purpose of feat effects based on BAB. The solar zodiac also gets a bonus feat on 2nd level and every even level thereafter, chosen from akashic, combat and teamwork feats. Shape Veil is also on this list. It should be noted that for these, the class uses zodiac level as BAB-prerequisite instead. If solar zodiacs take Shape Veil, they use Charisma as veilweaving key ability modifier. So yeah, the solar orbit is basically a veil-less akashic class! Interesting!

At 3rd level and every 6 levels thereafter, the zodiac’s essence capacity for all essence receptacles increases by 1. 5th level further reduces the cost of manifesting opposed element constellation manifestations, from 3 to 2. Additionally, for each constellation of a matching element manifested, the zodiac and his champion inflict +2 damage with weapon attacks and veils shaped that deal hit point damage, with the element governing the energy type as per convention – air adds electricity damage, earth acid – you get the drift. At 11th level, the essence penalty for opposing element constellation manifestations is further reduced by 1, and complimentary elements (fire and air, or earth and water) may now be treated as the same element for the purpose of determining the benefits of the bonus damage: With one earth and water manifestation in place, he’d for example deal +2 acid and +2 cold damage. 17th level gets rid of the essence penalty completely, and having a weapon or armor manifested renders the zodiac immune to the energy type of the corresponding constellation’s element. A manifested champion gains immunity versus their constellation’s energy, but manifesting a champion does NOT bestow the immunity on the zodiac.

7th level provides ½ class level uses of stargazing: An immediate action 1d6 surge to an attack, save or skill check. This must be rolled after rolling the check, but before results are made known. 13th and 19th level increase the die size of this surge to d8 and d10, respectively. At 20th level, we have different capstones, depending on orbit: The lunar orbit zodiac may bind to the body slot and make manifested champions take half damage incurred, and the zodiac may have half damage of a champion apply to another champion instead. The solar orbit zodiac gets immunity to death effects and ability drain, as well as twice the recovery of ability damage. Additionally, manifested armor or weapon cannot be disarmed or sundered. The class comes with a veil-list and 11 favored class options: Cool here: Each gets their own flavor-text. Less cool: The undine FCO does RAW nothing, as it only applies its benefits to water weaponry – and there is none. The animal companion stats for champions have btw. been included for your convenience, which is a huge plus, and same goes for the statblocks required – you won’t need to flip books.

Now, I have already noted a couple of feats, so here goes: The pdf contains 12 feats, of which 5 are, at least to my knowledge, reprints. The new feats include 2 feats that allow for dabbling in the constellation engine. Expanded Veilweaving is SUPER-important: At 11th veilweaving level, it allows you to increase the maximum veils shaped by one. This ALSO applies if you use Shape Veils and have no veilweaving class level, which is REALLY smart. Definite winner there. Stellar Strike is an akashic combat feat that allows you to enhance the damage caused by your constellation weapons via essence investiture, and there are 3 chess-themed feats: Queen’s Knight (enhance loyalty between you and champion, preventing compulsions etc.); King’s Castle (allows you to intercept attacks on allies; great for tank-y characters) and Pawn’s Sacrifice (use Sense Motive to redirect the attack to a veil companion or champion). The latter is a bit iffy, due to how easily Sense Motive can and will be boosted through the roof, but since it is no attack negation, but rather a redirect, I’m pretty good with it. I’d feel better about a hard-cap of uses or a cool-down, though. 4 neat traits are included in the deal as well.

There are three archetypes included: Albedo fighters gain Perihelion pauldrons and reflect rays; knights that are literally, clad n light. The celestial knight cavalier uses a quadruped champion as mount (essence cost 4 or less, until 8th level) and later gains the weapon, armor or equipment options of a constellation. The prism mage wizard archetype is based on the Aurora lenses veil, and basically represents a cool concept of the spellcaster who also happens to dabble in magical lenses.

The pdf follows the trend established in Akashic Trinity, in that the new veils presented within are grouped by theme, providing leitmotifs that help contextualize the veils. Three such themes are provided: Starry Elements, Priestly Raiments and Apparel of the Merchant Prince. This, at least to me, makes these more interesting, exciting. You get the idea. A couple of these are reprints, though we do get new ones here. It should also be noted that the traditional one –letter code for the veil chakra-binds for the classes has been omitted this time around. Personally, I welcome this: A concise table for each class simply makes more sense and, as this is the 7th veilweaving class, things would become cluttered, fast. These veils are of the excellent quality we’ve come to expect from the author. EDIT: I was asked to state what I think about them, so there goes: Aurora Lenses are a godsend; these lenses allow for counterspelling of spells and psionic powers for veilweavers. The Mask of Elemental Adaptation is a means to convert energy damage taken to a chosen type, with sensible caps. Perihelion pauldrons allow you to retaliate with energy when assaulted in melee. Shooting Stars let you fire those, with the bind adding them to be used as basically a weapon. Star Metal Bracers allow for energy type change. While Stellar Stompers can generate energy bursts and, provided sufficient essence is invested, even propel you forward. I really liked these veils!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Considering the depth and complexity of the subject matter at hand, it is pretty impressive to see such a tight pdf here. Layout is GORGEOUS and adheres to a 2-column full-color standard (Liz Courts did the graphic design – no surprise it looks this damn good!) that is enhanced by absolutely stunning, original full-color artworks by Bryan Syme. This pdf is beautiful indeed! Look at the cover – yep, that’s the same artwork quality as inside. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience.

Michael Sayre’s Zodiac is a super-impressive class; From a design perspective, it manages to portray a pet-class that feels and plays radically different from pretty much any other pet-class out there. This does not play like a summoner, spiritualist, tinker, etc., and the distinction is not solely based, as one would assume, on akasha access. Instead, the zodiac embraces player choice and freedom to a degree that is almost baroque in its splendor, in a good way. The immediate access to the totality of constellations, to what a lazier designer would have made a bloodline-like fire and forget choice, renders the zodiac very flexible and interesting in its overall themes and options – from level 1, you will have quite an assortment of tricks.

And then, there would be the orbit class feature.

Most designers would have made two classes instead, or made this an archetype – here, it is part of the core design paradigm and as such, it is something that should be applauded. That being said, it also represents the one component of the base class where I am a bit weary. You see, the uneven nature of manifestations among constellations, as noted above, isn’t as relevant for the lunar zodiac as for the solar one. The solar zodiac indeed has some choices among constellations that are frankly better than others. My own design experience tells me that this likely stemmed from a shifting of elements associated with constellations, but I’m not sure. Either way, I do think that a few tweaks to the constellation abilities could make this a tad bit more “even.” The solar zodiac, in case you were wondering, performs approximately on the level of the better martial classes – so better than the fighter (but who doesn’t these days…), for example, but not on a level that would present an issue in most games.

How to rate this? Oh boy, this is where things become difficult for me. You see, this sense of an inequality between the elements of constellations and their respective power is something I find hard to ignore; there are a few cosmetic hiccups as well…and yet. And yet, I honestly believe that the zodiac is one damn cool class. I can see myself actually choosing to play, wanting to play these fellows, and considering the vast wealth of class choices at my disposal, this is something. The class could work, courtesy of champions, wonders for a 1-on-1 game with only one player; the champions could offer a ton of roleplaying potential. And the design is daring. Whenever there is one way to do things in a safe and bland way, the pdf instead goes on and does things in a creative, harder, but also more interesting way.

So yeah…what to do? Well, first of all, I can’t rate this 5 stars – the aforementioned hiccups and the uneven elemental distribution regarding constellation manifestations makes that impossible. However, at the same time, I don’t feel justified rounding down, as this does not present anything broken, as the craftsmanship of what’s here is simply too precise. Hence, I will round up. I also really love the wondrous ways the akashic engine was tweaked and modified here; the constellation engine is a bountiful ground for further design choices, and the means to expand upon the options presented by Shape Veil should let a sigh of relief escape from more than one dabbler in the akashic arts. As such, and due to me really enjoying the wonderful flexibility the class offers, I will also add my seal of approval to this file.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Classes of the Lost Spheres: Zodiac
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The Unfortunate Circumstance of Dame Margaret Pearl
Publisher: Violent Media
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/19/2018 04:27:14

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This is the second of the brief adventure-sketches/set-ups released by Violent Media that I’d describe as “Weird-Sad”; it clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content. It should be noted that the print version features a ToC as well as a bonus page. Pages are laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5).

So, what is this? Structurally, this is an adventure of sorts, a mystery/Investigation of sorts to be precise. It presents the characters encountered in a bullet-point format that notes station, visage, personality and secrets, if any. The module assumes a kind-of-Victorian backdrop and should equally work well in Early Modern contexts and sufficiently progressive cities. A town of at least intermediate size is recommended regarding the backdrop. For level-range, I'd suggest level 1 - 2.

To give you an example for the bullet point presentation of the NPCs: One notes for “Personality”: Bombastic/Melodramatic/Vain/Delusional. This makes running the respective NPCs surprisingly simple. Regular NPCs don’t get stats within, though the main antagonist does. As far as rules are concerned, the supplement assumes LotFP (Lamentations of the Flame Princess) as the default, but is converted to other OSR-rules easily enough.

As far as navigation is concerned, the pdf has no bookmarks, but instead has hyperlinks to each section at the bottom of each page, capitalizing on the brevity of the supplement. The side-view mini-cartography of the respective homes that the PCs may visit is okay and provides a general notion, with an office and 2 floors of Dame Margaret’s home also getting a top-down view. That being said, Luka Rejec does contribute one artwork that is indeed nightmare-fuel.

As far as rules are concerned, there is a central ability that notes “Saving throw vs. Poison, modified by CHA” – I assume that to be a bonus, not a penalty, though one could argue for either interpretation.

This is a dark adventure that features themes of deceit, old age, mercy-killing and decrepitude. Discretion is advised.

All right, this is as far as I can go sans diving into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only referees around? Great! Mayor Preston Hilden Greenbriar II has offered a generous reward to cure a mysterious ailment that has befallen the widow of the honorable Herbert Pearl. (Who was his secret lover over many a year…) and an inept occultist, one Alan Smythe-Worster has been all too willing to accept…but so will the PCs, right? As an aside, the first page provides a couple of quotes that make for a good basis to paraphrase from.

When they encounter Dame Margaret, they will meet the sweetest old lady: Naïve, nice, kind and a true sweetheart, which may well have the PCs suspect Bethany Flora, Herbert’s bastard sister, who constitutes a great red herring. You see, Margaret may be sweet in personality, but she has contracted a truly gross magical, degenerative disease: One arm has cracked off, like from a statue, but to make up for this, extra arms have begun to grow, with some of them sporting disturbing face-like protrusions that occasionally whisper and scream. Pointed teeth, frequent vomiting and a round, weeping eye, usually closed, embedded in her chest, make her nightmare fuel indeed.

She is also utterly unaware of her lamentable state. To make matters worse, the magical parasite that has befallen her takes control of her body while she is asleep, something that she cannot be made aware of: She suddenly becomes a super-stealthy and deadly creature and much, much more deadly. Worse, there is a timer, as, during the 9 nights after transformation, the Margaret-thing will proceed to ritualistically stalk and murder cats, build a twisted nest and lay a horrid egg…and sooner or later, she will attempt to consume her associates in the state before succumbing to the disease…and spreading it further. These occult practices are genuinely creepy and atmospheric.

Now, Margaret, while not under the control of the parasite thing, is a non-combatant, and in order to stop the thing, both she and her subconscious parasite-thing form need to be slain. There is a sad truth underlying all: “Beware of Angels, quick to sing, but black of wing.” – an angel of pity saw her, and these do not exist to evoke pity, but to perpetuate it; it saw Margaret say a prayer for a corpse in an alley. That’s all it takes.

Here is a crucial difference between the pdf and print version: The print version does provide an additional page, an addendum, wherein the means of unearthing this truth are explained, alongside the means to bring the angelic entity to heel. Its stats are also included in a rudimentary fashion in the print version. This one page makes that version superior, in that it allows for a more interesting and alternate resolution; whether the parasitic disease’s banishment reverts Margaret to her former form or not, though, remains up to the referee.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, if not perfect, on a formal and rules-language standard. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard. I have already commented on the artwork/cartography above. The pdf, as noted, sports handy hyperlinks. The PoD softcover is thin and a bit pricey, and the paper quality, alas, is not as high as that chosen for “Smile with us, Friend”, the previous weird-sadness scenario.

That being said, I do recommend that, if you enjoy this supplement, you support author Evey Lockhart by purchasing the softcover; this humble offering is surprisingly gripping in its set-up, and while it is basically just an adventure-sketch instead of a detailed, thoroughly formulated scenario, it is more original than many brief adventures I have read. The prose, in spite of the brevity, manages to evoke a weird and horrific atmosphere, and I applaud moral conundrums and brains to be the focus here, as opposed to just hack and slash. The red-herring array that each NPC offers also can be considered to be helpful to customize this one, but I still wished we had this in a more fleshed out manner.

Oh, and the pdf? It’s PWYW, so you don’t run any risk checking it out. If you do enjoy it, consider leaving a tip and/or getting the print version. This is very much worth supporting. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Unfortunate Circumstance of Dame Margaret Pearl
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Advanced Adventures #12: The Barrow Mound of Gravemoor
Publisher: Expeditious Retreat Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/18/2018 12:09:51

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Advanced Adventures-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front and back cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1/2 a page advertisement, leaving us with 9.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

My reviews of this series were requested by one of my patreons, to be undertaken at my convenience.

This adventure, like all in the series, uses the OSRIC rule-set, but can easily be converted to other old-school rules. It should be a given by now that there are a few formatting peculiarities that are still consistent in their application, so boil down to a matter of aesthetics. The cartography is functional, as always, but we don’t get a player-friendly version. This adventure is intended for level 5 – 7 characters and a well-rounded party is very much recommended. As far as supplemental material is concerned, we have an artifact that plays a part in the story (would have been nice to get a means of destruction, but that may just be me) and an evil magical weapon, a mace that evil clerics will adore. The pdf also includes a new monster with its own illustration, the barrow golem, a being that can encapsulate PCs…pretty nasty one!

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

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! ähem “The Clans are marching ‘gainst the law/bagpipers play the tunes of war/death or glory I will find/rebellion on my mind!” Richard Dirkloch has rallied the clans of a moor-like Highland region to march against the good King Oldavin, whose men have burned Dirkloch’s beloved for the witch she admittedly were; the battle was fierce, but in the end, the good King did triumph…but Richard Dirkloch is not yet vanquished and found. Having retreated to his barrow fortress, built atop the ruins of castle Grimspire, it’ll be up to the PCs to bring Dirkloch in and squash his plans for sedition, which actually turn out to be darker than anticipated!

The PCs begin their adventure on the field of battle, with several means of getting them there provided. The gravemoor as a region comes with an appropriately creepy array of different possible random encounters that make sense and don’t devolve into the too fantastic…and when they reach the Gravemoor barrow mound pool, they’re in for a surprise: Richard Dirkloch assaults them as a wight with unique properties – this establishes the antagonist early and allows the GM to roleplay the dichotomy between sadist and romantic lord. Sooner or later, he’ll retreat to the ice-cold and murky depths of the pool, leaving the PCs to explore the grave moor barrow mound, which is a combination of maze and regular dungeon – and it is littered with secret doors.

The winding tunnels and non-linear-structure of the barrow hill make for a surprisingly, considering the brevity, nonlinear experience here. Secret doors galore conspire with the dungeon’s global effects to generate a sense of claustrophobia I did not expect. Even better, this is also enforced by global rules applied to the dungeon, penalizing attacks with anything but small weapons, and the curved structure means that ranged weapons are less effective as well – an excellent example on how a dungeon’s design and map can help emphasize the theme and generate atmosphere. Two thumbs up!

This intelligent notion also extends to the keyed encounters in this massive mound – while there are only 7, these do have in common that they provide twists on classics and feature evocative adversaries. Strategies for Ach na Creig the gleistig, half woman, half goat, are provided, and manage to make her a credible threat. This all-killer, no-filler attention also extends to the terrain features like magical pools, a lobratory – there is player-agenda here, and e.g. cleaning a saint’s statue may net a potent boon. Hidden below the barrow level, there is the second level of the dungeon. Smaller and more compact, it represents a respite from the horrors of the claustrophobic barrow and doubles as the base of Dirkloch, where his undead steed and personal quarters await – and where he will orchestrate his masterplan, unless stopped: Courtesy of the midnight opal, he seeks to animate the untold fallen soldiers and lead an undead army against the king – preferably with his bride returned to his side…and only the PCs stand between him and the fulfillment of his ambition…

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column, classic old-school style, right down to the font. The artworks are b/w and solid, and the cartography is functional, but we do not get player maps. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Andrew Hind delivers big time here. The plot and dungeon scenario are both classics, and executing these well, in a matter that does not feel stale or bland, is an achievement indeed. The concise writing not only produces a very atmospheric dungeon, it also manages to make the adversary plausible, the struggle against him more personal and thus, engrossing. This is, at least for me, the best of the early Advanced Adventures – it manages to evoke more atmosphere than many modules of thrice that size, leaving me just with the lack of player-friendly maps as a serious criticism. This time, though, I do feel that mapping is such a crucial part of the experience, even in VTT-scenarios, that the module doesn’t suffer from their omission. While this may be brief, it is better than many longer adventures - quality over quantity.

As such, this receives a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #12: The Barrow Mound of Gravemoor
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20 Things #29: Lich's Lair (System Neutral Edition)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/18/2018 12:08:20

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the #20 Things-series clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

All righty, we begin this installment with the locale outside of the lair, with 8 different, flavorful entries establishing the influx of evil magic on the surrounding area; this is further supplemented by 6 whispers and rumors: As the tales of vanquished would-be lich-slayers ring in your ears, the floors approaching the lair as smooth, destroyed equipment littering the area, telling tales of all the failures that came before you and your friends…

But the true horror begins within, where10 trinkets and 20 horrible spell components are provided: These include brightly polished shields, boiled and shrunken heads, ruined diamonds suffused with cracks...some truly amazing ones here. These are further enhanced with 20 entries of lair dressing, where remnants of disintegrate spells left trails of dust and persistent shadows cling to the masonry, refusing to be dispelled by encroaching light…

12 strange sounds and smells make the saturation of unearthly magics very clear, with sighs redolent with despair and ear-splitting gongs just a few of the examples; oh, and there are also 12 strange events and effects to be found: From spontaneously coalescing blood-runes on the walls to iron masks twisting into grimaces of unspeakable pain. If you use these, the players will have no reason to claim that you did not foreshadow your deadly undead arcanist…

Of course, an important aspect of any lich’s lair would be the thing that holds the undead archmage’s lifeforce; as such, no less than 10 sample phylacteries are included in the deal – and these include the bones of the lich’s erstwhile first animal companion. Hidden inter-dimensional recesses, a rusted comb…there are narrative implications here, and the choices are creative and interesting…what about the lich, for example, who used a paladin’s holy sword to house his life? Yeah, that one’s nasty…

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to an elegant, minimalist 2-column b/w-standard, and the pdf sports a couple of really nice b/w-artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, and the pdf comes in two different versions, one of which is optimized for screen-use, and one is optimized for printing it out.

Creighton Broadhurst ups his already super-impressive dressing game in this supplement. The dressing-files for the lich lairs within this humble pdf ooze flavor galore and made me grin from ear to ear. This is easily one of the best installments in the whole series, worthy of a 5 stars + seal of approval verdict.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
20 Things #29: Lich's Lair (System Neutral Edition)
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Creator Reply:
Gosh. Blush. Thank you old chum!
The Creator's Handbook
Publisher: Drop Dead Studios
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/17/2018 08:15:56

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of Drop Dead Studios‘ expansion of the Spheres of Power-series clocks in at 36 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1page blank, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 30 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

We should start analyzing this book from the back, as the last chapter provides quite a few rather important clarifications of the Creation sphere’s parameters – particularly, the woefully brief definition of what can and can’t be created receives a much-needed, more precise clarification that should prove to be a boon for many GMs out there. Interaction with magic items, anchoring items and destruction/dismissal of objects also are very much relevant. Additionally, the base sphere now allows for the expenditure of a single spell point to extend the duration to 1 minute per level SANS concentration. That part is important and helps render the sphere significantly more appealing. The pdf also clarifies the interaction of the creation of multiple falling options and size categories and the creation of slippery and dangerous terrain. Similarly, the creation of very small objects and dropping objects is tightly codified, making these rules-clarifications pages worth the price on their own.

All right, that out of the way, if we do tackle this supplement in a linear manner, we begin with a well-written introductory prose before presenting an assortment of new archetypes, which begins with the lingichi warrior for the armorist base class, who receives proficiency in light and martial + 1 exotic weapon as well as light armor and shields, excluding tower shields. Instead of summon equipment and quick summons, the archetype provides armory arena, which allows for the summoning of an infinite array of weapons surrounding the warrior, causing damage in an area surrounding the character that grows over the level, with damage caused allowing for the choosing of physical damage type. The character may exclude targets up to spellcasting ability modifier from the aura, and the aura leaves a difficult terrain of weaponry in its wake, allowing characters to pick them up and fight. Higher levels allow for the use of create in conjunction with the ability, making it possible to establish the aura in a faster manner.

Higher levels also provide the means to maintain multiple contiguous auras. Instead of bound equipment, higher levels provide scaling enhancement bonuses for these ephemeral weapons; armor training is replaced with nimble and the archetype receives no less than 10 exclusive tricks that provide the means to use spell points to increase the damage output, control between enhancement bonus and special abilities, establishing a kind of control within the arena, exclude targets from the difficult terrain effect, have weapons dance…this archetype is INSPIRED. I mean it. Perhaps it’s the otaku within me, but I found myself reminded of Fate’s Gilgamesh and similar characters. This is a very magical archetype, and obviously not one for super-gritty settings due to its theme and supreme magic item flexibility, but for high fantasy? HECK frickin’ yes!

Archetype number two would be the word witch for the fey adept class, who uses Intelligence as spellcasting ability modifier and gains, surprise, the Creation sphere as a bonus magic talent, replacing fey magic. Instead of master illusionist, creations made by the archetype that require maintenance or concentration, ultimately remain for +1/2 class level (min 1) rounds. Shadowstuff is replaced with a massive engine-tweak dubbed “words of creation”, which is powered by a word pool equal to Int mod + ½ class level, with the DC being the classic 10 + ½ class level + Int-mod, if any. These word points may be used to create a wide variety of effects that include the creation of runes of flame that may then be launched in bulk or against multiple targets; similarly pillars of ice trapping targets, severe blasts of wind (correctly codified!) and analogue effects can be created – overall, I enjoyed these and was once more reminded of a rather compelling ability array, with higher levels providing the means to render objects animated or silver them. The adamantine coating is also secured behind an appropriate minimum level, and the archetype provides an alternate capstone.

Next up would be the dustbringer mageknight, who gains proficiency with simple and monk weapons as well as light armor, and begins play with the wrecker oracle curse as well as Creation and the limited creation drawback – as always, this can be offset if the character already has the sphere. The archetype nets alter (destroy), which should, alongside the curse and name, cue you in on what it specializes in: The dustbringer is an unarmed monk-y item-destruction specialist that blends unarmed strike with alter (destroy) and sports 7 unique mystic combat options that include auras that can destroy incoming attacks, extend the ability of alter (destroy) to animated objects and constructs, or, with another talent, living beings etc. Minor complaint here: Formatting isn’t perfect in this one and somewhat inconsistent. Some moderate Destruction sphere synergy is also possible, allowing for (blast shape) talents to be added.

The thaumaturge may elect for the path of the knight of willpower, who modifies forbidden lore to add +50% CL increase to Creation, Light and Telekinesis, though this does not influence invocation bonus. This may be boosted even further, but at the cost of unavoidable backlash. I consider the increase here to be somewhat overkill – sure, the drawback is significant, but the escalation of CL is something that worries me greatly. The meditation and lingering pain invocations are replaced with Will-save rerolling and adding a shaken effect to glow effects from the Light sphere. They also get a buff/debuff aura versus fear plus immunity instead of occult knowledge, and an alternate bonus feat list. Incanters can gain two new specializations, one of which, at 2 points, Master of Creation, prevents taking Sphere Focus (Creation) and represents a specialization here, while Sword Birth nets armory arena and limited arsenal tricks. Hedgewitches may choose the new transmuter tradition, which nets Knowledge (engineering) and (nature) as well as Intimidate and limited use item changing via touch that improves regarding the maximum size of item affected at higher levels. Later, these folks may transmute objects into creatures and animals into different types, while also bestowing knowledge on how to use this new body via one of the 4 new tradition secret. 3 grand ones are also included here. A general one allows for dabbling in these tricks, and the section closes with a talent for the unchained rogue to create tools.

The undoubtedly most important chapter within this book, though, would be the basic magic section, wherein the creation of alchemical items and poisons is tightly codified and makes for a very important, and flexibility-wise super cool modification. Similarly, being capable of altering unattended non-magical objects in burst is great…and creating objects with momentum makes dropping objects on foes a significantly more feasible option. Fans of the Loony Tunes should take heed! The update of the Expanded Materials talent, which encompasses acidic creation, gaseous creation, plasma production, etc. is similarly a godsend. Magnifying and minimizing objects, creating matter from force, generating significant amounts of liquid…and what about the talent that lets you generate a constant stream of replicas with your effects. Manipulating how rigid objects are, creating restraining cases for targets, making material transparent…this chapter is a complex expansion to the sphere that it desperately needed, and it presents a whole slew of versatile options for clever players.

The advanced talent array this time around, and it contains 10 advanced talents; as an aside, I am not the biggest fan of the talent Plasma Production having the same name as the ability of the subsection of aforementioned Expanded Materials: Plasma Production; a single “advanced” or somesuch word would have made working with the nomenclature here easier, but that is me nitpicking. And yes, this allows for the creation of energy weapons. Want a light sword? There you go! Really high-level characters can learn to create adamantine and similar materials, and yes, with these, you can use advanced talents to modify the body of targets into other materials. Skin of gold? Yes, siree! There also are crossover tricks here – spherecasters that also have the Nature sphere and fire package can create/alter lava and magma. Picture me cackling maniacally here. All in all, I very much enjoyed this section as well.

The pdf then proceeds to present no less than 12 different feats. Once more, formatting is not always perfect within these pages, but there are feats that provide multiclassing support…and there are some really neat ones: One lets you ready an action (alternatively, works with spell point + immediate actions) to alter destructive blasts and codifies the types via damage and interaction there correctly. Countering ranged attacks and spell effects is another pretty potent and cool option here. The classic Dual Sphere talent array that we expect here is included as well, providing synergy with e.g. Enhancement and Telekinesis. Creating longer walls and disguise specializing via wardrobe creation may be found as well. 4 traits can be found – these are potent and meaningful, going beyond boring numerical bonuses.

The drawbacks presented are interesting: Being limited to water/ice/steam creation, to gaseous forms or needing to be in contact with objects certainly made me think of comic book heroes and interesting character concepts. Using your own body in a painful way to “create” could be seen as an interesting engine base-line to duplicate an array of iconic scenes as well. The pdf also sports a new general drawback that requires the drawing of a diagram to work – this reminded me, obviously, of Full Metal Alchemist – and that is a good thing. The section also presents 7 alternate racial traits that focus, unsurprisingly, on the Creation sphere.

Finally, it should be noted that the pdf contains 6 magic items. Beyond aforementioned energy swords, there is the +3-equivalent plasma blade property; Wall slats allow for a the creation of expanding walls as a nice low-cost item. The wizard’s cube of gaming is basically a fold-out gaming table and acts as a challenge of skill and luck that rewards those that play well; two variants of this item are also part of the deal here.

Conclusion:

Editing per se is very good on a formal and rules-language level; formatting, on the other hand, isn’t. I encountered quite a bunch of faulty italicizations and formatting instances of rules-relevant material, and due to the complexity of the system at hand the nomenclature employed, these deviations made a couple of rules harder to grasp than they otherwise would have been. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports a couple of solid full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Michael Uhland has vastly improved his design-game since his humble beginnings. The handbook for the creation sphere certainly was one of the harder ones to craft, much less provide inspiring and interesting content for. This pdf manages to achieve that and makes creation fun and exciting, clarifies rules and vastly expands the material at hand. This would, were it not for the annoying formatting hiccups, my favorite handbook in the whole series so far; it offers a bunch of very interesting character options; unique feats, great talents – all in all, this is a really, really cool supplement and a worthy addition to the series. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, though I will round up for the purpose of this platform. The book is too good to round down. Well done!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Creator's Handbook
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Mutants in Toyland (MCC)
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/15/2018 05:36:52

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure/environment clocks in at 60 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a massive 56 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue…because I wanted to. Post-apocalypse is a genre that is not employed as often, and Goodman Games’ Mutant Crawl Classics provides a unique twist on the subject matter…and, unless I am sorely mistaken, this may well be the very first MCC 3rd part adventure released!

Structurally, this funnel is a combination of a sandbox that allows for a wide variety of different outcomes, and a more story-driven experience. It can be run as a straight fire and forget module, but arguably can provide more playtime by virtue of its free-form set-up. The module does include read-aloud text for the regions visited, and provides guidance with sample answers to likely questions posed in NPC interactions, making free-forming these conversations easy for judges usually not that well-versed in portraying such interactions.

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

..

.

Okay, only judges around? Great! So, after the Great Disaster, Sammy Squirrel’s Smart Toys went dark, as the AI running the place went into power conservation mode to weather the centuries. When Servitors of a bored Star Child found the store, it reactivated – and combat ensued. In the centuries since the Great Disaster, the neural consciousness had been severed, allowing the Smart Toys to gain consciousness. Pilgrims, in the meanwhile, followed the “Star” of the Servitors, encountered the toys and promptly began worshiping them as gods. Not all sentient Smart Toys liked that, and thus, further fragmentation and shenanigans ensued…but that’s not all. Amoral and bound to the program, the Sammy Squirrel began substituting organic components in the creation of new toys, giving rise to Toy-Borgs and abominations. It is into this chaos that the PCs stumble.

That is a recipe for delightful chaos, and the AI acting as it does makes sense; plus, the Freddy Fazbear-like style of Sammy on the cover immediately gave me the creeps, big time. Now, if all of this seems like it’s a pretty large amount of things to decide and room required to make the factions work, then you’d be correct. However, the module does not leave you alone as a judge; instead, and this is a big plus regarding replay value and unique adversaries: Each faction comes with an at-one-glance summary of goals, leaders, noting leaders, allies and the like at one glance before providing details regarding the faction in question. Moreover, these do include, for example sample stats for members. These stats, however, do not just come with the basics, oh no! Each of the factions comes with tables to customize the aesthetics of the adversaries and NPCs encountered, and in some cases also provide more detailed customizations with MV values included, to give you just one example.

Beyond the factions I noted, there also are the Dollies, who want to make the store presentable once more; there are the Furries, which are led, no surprise there, by a bear. I’m having 5 Nights at Freddy’s flashbacks right now. In an adorable and really cool twist, these guys do have a weakness – hugging them makes them hug back! This can really generate some bizarrely-hilarious “AWWWW”-moments. Unique abilities of e.g. the Servitors, Sammy’s holograms and mechanically-relevant Toyborg modifications to customize them… all of these details are bizarre, weird, and oftentimes hilarious in a way…plain and simple, really cool. Oh, and guess what: The module does account for the means of using a Toyborg as a replacement PC! (A similar option is noted for toy worshipers, fyi!)

Now, the module sports a rather significant array of toys, and as such, it uses Artifact Checks, but for toys, these do not require the expenditure of Luck, which adds to the leitmotif of whacky playfulness suffusing this adventure, allowing the PCs and players to experiment with penalizing them for doing so. The sandboxy support goes so far to have tables suggesting two-faction or multi-faction encounters, with the respective tables further making the actual use of the module easier. The module presents its sandboxy aspects thus as comfortable for the judge to implement as you can potentially demand from a module.

This level of customization options also pertains to the amount of hooks that the funnel provides. It is this amount of tweaks that ensures that the module’s factions and environments may remain relevant beyond the scope of this adventure.

That being said, this is nonetheless also a story-driven module, and as such, it begins with an introductory scene, wherein the PCs happen upon mula-a-pedes (with their own mutation table!) and thus happen upon the buried toy store – this choice of location also allows the judge to potentially bury the place sans bigger impact on the setting or seamlessly plug and play it into ongoing campaigns, should such a solution be desired. After all, the extensive customization tricks ultimately do translate to the module being pretty easy to organically scale to higher levels.

Anyhow, the PCs are greeted by the slightly mad Sammy Squirrel, who obviously is an AI hologram in its decidedly unnerving following of programming and inability to process the state of the world of Terra A.D. As the PCs proceed to explore the store, they can find a wide variety of unique toys that come with evocative descriptions and rules-relevant effects, with TLs and CMs noted as appropriate. From smart boomerangs to zeroballs and hoverboards, another man’s toys may be a wasteland survivor’s potent tricks. Encountering the toy worshipers (led by, obviously, Ma-Ma…), finding the seasonal room of the store that can indeed change, med-bay (featuring boo-boo bandages, for example…), fake and real traps…there is a ton of stuff to find and encounter, and indeed, quite a few quests can be unearthed by encountering the diverse factions. Sarge and his toy soldiers, for example, want to secure the store from the invasion that they know will come. Mister Bear, the leader of the Furries-faction has a slight temper, which makes the sample dialogue one of the most hilarious examples of writing I’ve seen in a while – picture it, and then remember that hugging the fellow will make him hug back. Regardless of short fuse and a somewhat less than enthused relationship with regular folks and moderates – damn meat-huggers! XD (For the information of real life furries – this is not fursecution; it is not mean-spirited...unless you want to run it that way!)

This glorious absurdity encapsulates and captures a tone that is hard to get right without losing the thrill, without devolving into just fun and giggles. Ultimately, it’s the oscillation between what’s funny and what could be played as downright horrific that makes sections like this so successful within the confines of the adventure. This can also be aptly envisioned by the second level, where a room has Sammy (who makes for a great judge-proxy; bonus points for inhaling helium before speaking as Sammy…): “These pods let your parents make a backup copy of what they value the most: YOU!...” This notion of kids being clones by potentially neglectful parents in a pre-apocalypse dystopia…actually managed to send shivers up my spine, particularly since the system isn’t (and perhaps never was) reliable. Pet-combiner is another such super-science aperture that really creeped me out, and its undone button is broken…

Heck, this tightrope-like oscillation of tones that makes this work so well, combined with the attention to detail, is pretty impressive throughout. Candy with weird effects and notes on using them as nutrition (and the consequences!)…those are just a couple of examples.

Where I frankly started to stare in disbelief at the pages in front of me, was when the module provided the Game Room. Here, the PCs can enter a holo-dungeon (complete with a d7-table of holographic character classes!) and basically roleplay a fantasy roleplaying game within the roleplaying game. Yep, including adversary overlay and obvious further adventuring potential – as Sammy Squirrel, GM, notes, they can always get the full experience! Questing for new levels or simulations could make for some great adventure hooks and may well allow for a combination of MCC and more traditional fantasy games or even the blending of systems! After all, it’s perfectly feasible that the hologram game played may adhere to different rules! Or, well, you can just have that be a brief, if fun encounters wherein the PCs battle illusory adversaries…but why waste this vast potential? I mean, you can roleplay MCC-PCs roleplaying usual characters! That can and will be funny as all heck!

Did I mention that PCs can well become sleeper agents, and that the module can conclude in a truly amazing free-for-all bout of epic proportions?

Conclusions:

Editing and formatting re top-notch, I noticed no serious issues. Layout adheres to a nice and printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard with purple high-lights. The artworks presented throughout are often really neat full-color pieces, but the aesthetic highlight for me personally would be the GORGEOUS b/w-isometric maps, with artworks, details and grids all noted…and even better if you’re, for example, playing via VTTs or the like: In contrast to the (amazingly beautiful) Good man games maps, the maps within actually do come with an unlabeled, key-less version! You could print them out sans SPOILERS, cut them up and hand them out or use them in VTT. That is a huge plus for me, particularly considering the top-notch quality of the maps.

While Keith Garrett has, to my knowledge, contributed to the Gongfarmer’s Almanac community ‘zine before, this is the first of his books that I have read, and it’s his first release as sole author. As such, this would have received a freshman bonus and some leeway from yours truly. However, Mutants in Toyland is a rarity among such books in that it frankly doesn’t need me to be merciful.

Even if I wanted to pick this apart, it would withstand such attempts, as it perfectly encapsulates the outré and outrageous, wild and weird tone of MCC, walking the narrow path between being horrific and hilarious. You could run this for laughs and giggles, as something utterly disturbing or a combination thereof; tonally, this reminded me of the essence of my favorite Fallout-series moments, distilled and expanded upon, and then injected in a concentrated form.

Mutants in toyland is a furious debut of delightfully quirky and quarrelsome factions and places that will stay with you long after the adventure itself has ended; in fact, I can see this acting as a really cool and novel starting settlement or PC homebase of sorts!

If what I mentioned above, if the concept even remotely interested you, then you will want to checks this out; I’d even go so far as to recommend this module beyond the confines of its system, for the unique concepts work just as well in DCC or any other game. This is one amazing book and provides yet another super-impressive entry in Purple Duck games’ DCC/MCC-lines. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval – highly recommended!!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mutants in Toyland (MCC)
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20 Things #28: Travellers' Inn (System Neutral Edition)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/15/2018 05:34:57

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the #20 Things-series clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

All righty, we begin this installment with 6 sample traveller NPCs, who, as always, are depicted as fluff-only write-ups, noting alignment, race and class, if applicable, in brackets. Class references do mention the old-school classes like thief and magic-users. A lavishly-illustrated ranger wearing a wide-brimmed, feathered head (seriously, amazing artwork!), a magic-user looking for a lost barrow-mound…some really nice write-ups here; the NPCs do sport plenty of adventuring hooks. The pdf then proceeds to provide 8 locals and staffers: From sharp-tongued old ladies to borderline alcoholics and chronically disorganized folks, these fellows are rather fun and a diverse lot.

A massive entry of no less than 20 entries of tavern dressing notes old carvings of names in tables, tables and chairs for small folk, expensive drinks in locked cabinets – I adored this section. It did what it’s supposed to do: Add detail and jumpstart my imagination in unconventional ways. 12 different sights, sounds and events, including kids bored into mischief, barrels running dry and the arrival of travelers can change the dynamics of the inn, and if you’re gunning for a brawl, why not take a look at the 6 bar brawl triggers?

Now, obviously, an inn is most commonly differentiated from a tavern by the presence of proper guest rooms – as such, 12 different dressing entries for the rooms are presented. With shutters that sport loosened hinges. Threadbare rugs concealing weathered parchments and the sigils of dark gods carved into headboards, these are big time adventure hooks – kudos here! Beyond these, there actually are 8 different things that previous guests have actually left behind. Cries for help penned hastily down on parchments left in cloaks, sodden mattresses smelling of feces, a shredded, bloody sock left in a bin – some neat discoveries here!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to an elegant, minimalist 2-column b/w-standard, and the pdf sports a couple of really nice b/w-artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, and the pdf comes in two different versions, one of which is optimized for screen-use, and one is optimized for printing it out.

Creighton Broadhurst’s take on a Traveller’s Inn is one of the strongest entries in the series – the dressing is diverse, inspiring and smart. It’s down to earth and easy to use, jumpstarts your imagination and the PCs will want to investigate quite a few of these! This is all one could ask of such a dressing-pdf; as such, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
20 Things #28: Travellers' Inn (System Neutral Edition)
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Club Anyone: An Interface Zero Novel
Publisher: Gun Metal Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/12/2018 04:15:03

An Endzeitgeist.com review

And now for something completely different!

Club Anyone is a novel that clocks in at a total of 308 pages of content, with visual representations of the setting helping to envision the setting, TRIC city, on Mars.

This review was requested by one of my readers. I have received a print copy of the book for the purpose of an unbiased review.

It should be noted that this book contains well-written descriptions of sex, substance abuse and the like – these are not gratuitous, and they are written in a concise and well-presented manner, but I felt the need to state this for your convenience. While I try to be as SPOILER-free as possible in my discussion below, I do SPOIL some structural surprises that the book has to offer. I only do so in an abstract manner, but I do so nonetheless in my discussion below; if you like the notion of cyberpunk/scifi-noir, then check this out sans reading further; if you’re skeptical regarding the genre, then you may want to continue reading.

So, let me preface this review with a couple of observations: This book takes place in Gun Metal Games’ Interface Zero setting, which means that it can draw upon a wide variety of different concepts and established lore – at least in theory.

This is, at once, a potential boon for the book, and, if one takes a look at the books released for other roleplaying games settings, a potentially huge issue. Don’t get me wrong: I have devoured a ton of Dragonlance, Forgotten realms, etc. novels in my day…but at one point, they all started to bore me to some degree. A central issue of books based on roleplaying systems is the question of system-adherence and structure: Roleplaying settings, system-immanently, expect not a single protagonist, but rather a whole party of them, and in my experience, there’s a pretty good chance that one or more characters end up as annoying – and the more such protagonists there are, the more disjointed is the sense of immersion, the less room you have to develop the characters in question. We can add to that the huge issue of the adherence to the system, which represents a gigantic Catch 22-scenario: If you deviate from the system’s realities, you end up disappointing the expectations of those wishing for a faithful depiction of the realities of the setting. If you adhere to them, you’re often left with issues regarding the story that you actually want to tell – the rules don’t always lend themselves to helping make the experience of telling a novel’s story exciting.

The second issue pertains lore-depth: You can’t assume every reader to be intensely familiar with obscure setting-details, but explaining them all in detail can result in huge, and potentially boring exposition dumps. This is an issue that we can observe with many comic books nowadays, where the interconnectedness and background canon has reached a ridiculous depth that makes them less accessible than they once were.

Thirdly, there is the issue of the type of story: Many books falter due to trying to tell a pen-and-paper-RPG-story in the guise of a linear book; perhaps one with only 2 – 3 players, but nonetheless. Combined with the above, this makes for quite a burden for the author, even before taking the need to be canonical into account.

Let it be known that “Club Anyone” manages to navigate these pitfalls admirably; to the point where the book made me intensely curious to read more from the setting. It does so in a pretty smart manner: Instead of jamming exposition dumps into the narrative where they wouldn’t fit, the book introduces a precious few concepts that all characters would be familiar with (and thus not talk about) in the beginning of a few of the chapters, in the guise of Encyclopedia Brasilia entries or a delightfully amusing advertisement for a piece of tech. Note that I experimented with skipping these, and the story and plotline STILL work without a hitch; they just serve to bring you up to speed with the setting.

The more important decision, and what really ultimately made this book work, is the protagonist Derek Tobbit. He is not a superhero, an outlaw, a chosen one. He is just a regular megacorp programmer, one who specializes in bioroids – think of these basically as lobotomized, programmable clone/machine hybrids. In the first chapter, the prologue if you will, we witness Derek become a hero of sorts on his first day at work on Mars after migrating there for the job…only to have him plunged into a personal catastrophe that spirals out of control on a personal and more global scale.

This approach manages to achieve something rather impressive, namely that it, by letting us share in the protagonist’s triumph, immediately generate sympathy for the man, which is then further developed upon. We have a relatable main character from the get-go. This is so important, because the novel could be described as a scifi-noir-thriller: We do have a very human and fragile individual here, not an iron-clad superman, but the cynicism that is so prevalent in noir aesthetics, is, at least in the beginning, absent.

Aforementioned personal tragedy and struggle then proceed to have this average Joe become pretty much steeped in the vortex of grime and twilight that we associate with noir aesthetics; in this, the early section of the book, the writing becomes pretty bleak, cynical and suffused with a rather potent sense of pessimism, one constantly enhanced by the dystopian corporate control, the omnipresence of augmented reality. It is here that, at least for me, some of the most remarkable (and wise) sentences throughout the book exist. The interaction with the severely limited cab-service AI Aygee, which poignantly remarks “Sorrow exists, Derek Tobbit,” serves as one example of this notion, and also as a kind of leitmotif. It should be noted though, that the book remains more personal and never reaches the sense of cosmic bleakness and nihilism that e.g. suffuses the “Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch” or similar books by Dick et al. We remain deeply entrenched in the noir-aesthetics, and indeed, the book, without putting too fine a point on it, manages to retain the human dimension that is so crucial for noir-aesthetics. In a way, the Augmented Reality angle that is so important throughout the book represents a subtextual transgression of the boundaries of how reality is read by the characters, and proves to be the catalyst for the most potent narrative forces, both benign and malignant.

Indeed, one could argue that “Club Anyone” is exceedingly successfully and engrossing in the way it manages to encapsulate the tropes of the noir genre, and then proceeds to slowly subvert them; yes, there are plenty of examples regarding the tropes you’d expect within, but they are, on an intrinsic level, subverted in their tone and outcome. In a way, the book, like the leitmotifs of augmented reality and corporate control, controls them on a structural level, but transforms them in a rather benign and surprising manner; at one point, the narrative ceases to revel in the grime of Blade Runner-esque darkness, and transforms into a page-turner, a high-octane conspiracy high-scifi page-turner.

It is this bait and switch that represents one of the strongest points of the novel, and one of its weaknesses, depending on how you read it: On the one hand, there is careful deliberation in the motif of rebirth, which is also applied to genre that you’d associate this book with. On the other hand, I’d lie if I said that I didn’t get a kind of thematic whiplash during this turning point. Once it has passed, things happen quickly and ferociously, and the plot speeds up significantly. At least for me personally, this second part of the book felt like it could have used a couple of extra pages. There are a lot of unique and captivating ideas and set-pieces briefly touched upon, but ultimately, this section rushes to the inevitable conclusion in a more sped up manner than I would have liked; with 50 – 100 extra pages fully developing the transition in genres and character growths during it, the book would have ranked as one of my all-time favorite scifi novels.

As written, the almost post-modern playfulness with genres and expectations does not realize its full potential in this second half of the book. However, that is not to say I did not enjoy myself – quite the contrary! While this second half loses a bit of the gravitas of the first half, it did, even in its imho weaker sections, provide more entertainment than the entirety of the sluggish blandfest of oh-so-critically-acclaimed “2312”; it’s also smarter and, in my opinion, more successful in its world-building/setting-utilization than that book.

In short: “Club Anyone” is a surprisingly fun and intelligent novel; it sports interesting and well-written characters you can relate to; its plot and tweaks actually managed to entertain and often, even surprise ole’ me. It’s also the least bleak noir-story that can still be called “noir” I have ever read, and for that alone, deserves accolades. Whether you consider the very condensed narrative a plus or minus depends on your perspective; personally, I could have seen this cover a full trilogy of books – easily! That being said, in spite of not being 100% enamored with the second half of the book, I have rarely found myself this profoundly touched by a science-fiction novel, as in the first half of this book. Considering that this is Lou Agresta’s first published novel, it represents an impressive achievement in more than one area: The characters are relatable and interesting, the pacing had me turn page after page; the prose is oftentimes profound without being artificially obtuse, and the deviations from genre-conventions make the book stand out. Similes and metaphors, both cleverly tweaked and original ones, provide an optional cosmos of associations for the well-read that adds a surprising level of associative depth to the proceedings.

Club Anyone is a really captivating proof of a very promising talent, one that has me excited for future offerings. Taking the freshman bonus into account, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval. Even if you absolutely loathe noir storylines, this is worth checking out.

Sorrow exists, yes…but so does happiness.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Club Anyone: An Interface Zero Novel
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Everyman Minis: Magus Arcana
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/12/2018 04:13:29

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Everyman Minis-series clocks in at 7 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page introduction, 2.5 pages of SRD, leaving us with 1.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This supplement contains a total of 15 new magus arcana, so let’s take a look!

-Abundant Metamagic: This arcana needs another arcana that adds metamagic effects to a magus spell with daily uses, and allows for the payment of arcana points to not expend the limited uses of such metamagic enhancer arcanas. Nice. Should probably specify requiring such an arcana as a prerequisite, though.

-Augmented Aspergillum: Upgrades the damage of the holy water in a battle aspergillum wielded in conjunction with spellstrike. Damn cool!! Love it!

-Blunt Strike: When dealing nonlethal weapon damage, the magus may choose to make the spell delivered via spellstriek nonlethal as well. Nice one!

-Combat Trapper: Another winner, this one allows for mancatcher magus use, as well as the channeling of spells into said catcher. Super iconic – picture the elite squad, subduing dangerous folks that way…Two thumbs up!

-Concealed Strike: Renders opponent flat-footed versus Conceal Spell-enhanced spellstrikes. Ouch!

-Consume Spells: Nets consume spells for magus arcane pool points instead. Not a fan, as it delimits the resource. It also doesn’t work RAW: The arcana specifies items as source, not magus spells, which generates a ton of questions regarding if they go dormant, if items wielded by enemies can be targeted etc.

-Dweomer Brace: Brace/spell combo. Nice!

-Ethereal Strike: Pay arcana when using spellstrike with ghost touch to bypass incorporeal traits with the spell. (Has a min. level cap that holds it in check.)

-Hypnotizing Strike: Use hypnotist’s lockets or nunchakus to add Reach Spell to touch attack spells, but these do allow, thankfully, for a save.

-Magus Exploit: Replace an arcana with an arcanist exploit. Not a fan.

-Polearm Sweep: Cool one: Modify a cone-spell to instead affect all squares threatened with polearm, min 6th level.

-Sand Spray: Use poisoned sand tubes to deliver touch spells as part of a ranged attack, changing delivery method and allowing for a unique, cone-shaped variant with a short-range and tight rules. That being said, the arcana should specify that the three spells that can be imbued at once in the poisoned sand should have a limitation regarding casting time. That being said, impressive to see the spell recall synergy here done right.

-Shining Limelight: liming weapon property added, plus unique debuff added, though that one should have a duration stated.

-Spell bash: Shield Bash-dispel combo. Nice!

-Swift Augmentation: Spend arcane pool points to enhance the weapon s part of expending a swift action to trigger a magus class feature.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level, with not much to complain about. Layout adheres to Everyman gaming’s two-column full-color standard, and the pdf sports a neat artwork. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Jen McTeague is an author who needs more work. So far, I have been impressed by everything she has penned, and this is no different. At this point in time, it is remarkable that a class as well-supported as the magus has still so many blind spots, and many arcana within actually allow for thoroughly exciting and unique combinations. I do consider a few of them to be slightly problematic, but similarly, there are more than I expected that I really ended up loving, that managed to inspire me. And, as always, I prefer daring design and complex tricks over bland and safe perfection. This humble pdf had more arcana inside that made me come up with character ideas than almost every such file I have previously read. As a reviewer, though, I have to take these minor flaws into account, which is why I can’t rate this higher than 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Everyman Minis: Magus Arcana
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Call to Arms: Decks of Cards
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/11/2018 05:21:54

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Call to Arms-series of item-sourcebooks/compilations clocks in at 54 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with a massive 50 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?

As has become the tradition with this series, we begin the supplement with a recap of the history of the subject matter at hand, though this time, not only the playing cards as used in real life, but also of the cards employed in the iconic deck of many things. After this brief and informative history lesson, we receive descriptions and modifications for mundane playing cards, as well as more esoteric decks – with gold values provided, of course. The discussion, much to my pleasant surprise, does also mention the Thoth tarot deck, and, to my even bigger surprise, codifies the hanafuda deck.

Okay, so now you have decks – congratulations, but how do they interact with the primarily dice-based games we play? The pdf thus proceeds to provide basic rules for skills and their interaction with the in-game act of playing cards; want to look nasty so folks let you win? The pdf does take that into account. A couple of different ways to cheat are also expounded upon before the pdf proceeds to present 4 feats: one would be the Deadly Dealer feat introduced in the Harrow Handbook. There are three feats that build on this: Double Dealer allows you to basically flurry with Deadly Dealer cards; interestingly, it also allows you to potentially activate multiple effects of playing cards fired thus. Now, it should be noted that this explicitly allows for the ignoring of the traditional limits imposed here, which makes the feat potentially a bit troubling. As an aside, it should also be noted that card-magic based classes are not necessarily assumed to work in conjunction with this. Three Card Monte builds on that for a 3rd throw (and does not capitalize a skill-reference correctly), and Mulligan lets you use Sleight of Hand to attempt to mitigate unfavorable draws...but if you do, you may never use that particular deck again! Interesting one! It should also be noted that the pdf later proceeds to mention rules for blending of magical decks for Deadly Dealer purposes.

There are three class options included in the pdf, with the deck-touched sorcerer bloodline being first. This one modifies the random outcome of items like the good ole’ rod of wonders with its bloodline arcana, and the bloodline powers similarly are inspired by cards from the deck of many things and feature temporary alignment changes via touch. The rules-integrity here is solid, if not perfect – particularly from a formatting point of view, with stuff not capitalized that should be and vice versa, and sequence of DC formulae and presentation being nonstandard. However, unless you’re nitpicky, it should be noted that the function of the options per se is not impeded. The second option within would be the card reader focused arcane school based on divination, which replaces diviner’s fortune and scrying adept with the ability to use a deck of cards as a material component substitution for material components below 100 gp value and the option to engage in a 1/day 1-hour card reading for you and up to 6 folks, providing benefits depending on the suit of cards drawn. The pdf also presents the gambling subdomain of luck, which replaces good fortune with a Bluff-based means to reroll random outcome item/spell rolls.

The pdf also presents a means to use cards as die substitution for attack rolls – handy here: the pdf does explain the math behind this approach. Interesting alternative. As an aside – in case you do not have a deck of cards ready, the pdf also mentions a dice-based substitution for drawing cards –nice!

Using the infamous deck of many things in conjunction with Deadly Dealer is btw. also discussed – and yes, it is risky. The pdf then proceeds to compile various types of magical decks, namely the deck of illusions and of silvering fate, with the section devoting most of its space to magical decks I haven’t seen before. The deck of deals is a means to generate binding agreements; the deck of imprisonment can contain targets – you get the idea. Really cool for quite a few of these, including the deck of illusions: These decks tend to come with massive tables that note e.g. a playing card or Tarot-equivalent and then the corresponding effect; the deck of curses can curse targets with becoming leering and creepy, for example. Another example would be the deck of reincarnation, which provides an interesting tweak on the whole reincarnation angle. The fate-reader’s lenses have been reprinted here, and we also receive three decks of enchanted hanafuda cards (though one is a lesser version of another). I also enjoyed the weaponized prismatic deck, the chaotic deck of useful items…and it should come as no surprise that the grand-daddy, the deck of many things…actually gets its own chapter!

Beyond handy equivalency tables to simulate the drawing experience, the chapter also provides a cursed variant and optional rules for making card-orientation matter; there is also a kind of greater version – the full deck of many things, which exceeds in its power even its more commonly known regular variant! Card to card conversion notes are presented, and much to my joy, Ultimat Campaign synergy for e.g. drawing The Ruler is provided. The harrow deck of many things is reprinted for the sake of completion, though, oddly, the table rendered the text of the table for all readers I tried it on bolded. In the fine tradition of the series, we also get an intelligent item variant of the deck, The Hustler, who has a rather important agenda – to escape the Void. As such, playing a game with this one can be rather dangerous for those involved. Finally, if even the full deck wasn’t enough…what about a frickin’ mythic variation? And you thought the regular effects were massive…

Conclusion:

Editing per se can be considered to be very good; the rules-language is functional in the supplement. On a formatting perspective, the series has done somewhat better in the past: there are quite a few instances where sequence of presentation isn’t standard, and I noticed a couple of instances of feats and skills not properly capitalized. Layout adheres to the nice two-column full-color standard of the series, and the pdf comes with extensive, nested bookmarks for your convenience.

This is, unless I am sorely mistaken, the first pdf by Jessie Staffler I have read, and it does show a couple of beginner's mistakes in the finer rules-formatting aspects; however, it also shows ample promise: there is a sense of unbound creativity beyond what I expected to find. The card-equivalency tables alone bespeak an honest passion, and the variant resolution mechanics included did show this willingness of the better installments of this series to go one step beyond. This feels like a passion project, and like one that consciously went much further beyond compiling existing material, instead opting to present a healthy dose of delightfully quirky high-impact deck-shenanigans. All in all, this may have a couple of rough edges, but it is a pdf that shows effort, heart, and potential. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Call to Arms: Decks of Cards
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Advanced Adventures #11: The Conqueror Worm
Publisher: Expeditious Retreat Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/11/2018 05:00:43

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Advanced Adventures-series clocks in at 21 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 17 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by one of my patreons, to be undertaken at my convenience.

As always for this series, the default rules-system is OSRIC, and the presentation is perfectly in line with the nostalgic 1e style, down to the font. This is an old-school adventure, and as such, you should not expect much read-aloud text beyond the introduction. The cartography included within is functional, but does not include player-friendly maps. Cartography is serviceable. This module is, nominally, intended for 60 levels of PCs, so for PCs level 10 – 14. Officially. Unfortunately, much like the author’s last offering, this very much showcases that this module has not been playtested. This is an adventure more suitable for characters nearing or already at the apex of their power, and even then it is a meat-grinder with a boss that will make some of the deities as statted up in the classics weep.

Thematically, this goes as similar route as “The Lost pyramid of Imhotep”, and while I personally could derive some joy from said super-deadly meat-grinder of a module, this one does lack the angle of precise research acting as a contextualization.

But to discuss this further, I need to go into SPOILER territory. Players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great, so the White Worm is basically spreading winter from its icy fortress, the PCs should slay it, and on the way there, there’s a tomb where they can find a sword that will help with this endeavor. The premise is simple and offers some interesting angles; for example, the tomb that contains the legendary sword is the tomb/testing ground of one Harald Hardada[sic!], echoing obviously King Harald III of Norway, Harald Hardrada. In the iteration presented within, said mythical being was actually a frost giant, with all that entails. Indeed, while PAINFULLY linear, I can suspend my agenda for the purpose of the testing ground angle that the cairn of said being, and first, completely optional, dungeon operates under.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The trek towards the fortress of the white worm is handled with a mini-hexcrawl, and the longer the PCs take, the more spellcasting prowess their already super-potent enemy will have accumulated. The random encounters provided for the short trip are solid, if not particularly remarkable – yetis, winterwolves, frost giants, white dragons. Pretty much classic ice monsters. Without magic aid, the frigid cold will cause HP loss, which is a nice angle. The PCs will have to fight their way through a gated pass, and hopefully, they will check out the optional dungeon.

Why? Because Harald Hardada[sic!]'s dungeon is one where the author plays to his strengths: There is a logic to the challenges, deadly though they may be, and making a mythic hero a literal giant is a creative tweak that allows for some interesting changes to the logic of riddles and the like. When these work, then they do so with the same enjoyable effects as in e.g. “The Lost Pyramid of Imhotep”; when they don’t, however, then they come off as deliberate and nasty screwjobs. This is not only a super-linear dungeon in the way in which the rooms are aligned, it is also super-linear regarding solutions. Open the false door (no clues available) and you’ll be prismatic spray’d. In one room, failure to have a fire-based spell ready prevents getting further. All of these traps and the like are per se creative and interesting, if a bit sadistic. However, here’s the issue: There is pretty much no way for even mythologically-versed players to navigate these. Player skill does not really matter that much, and since the angle combines the myth of Harald (which does not help navigating the dungeon, fyi), Norse lore and frost giants, players are reduced to educated guesses in quite a few of these instances. I never thought I’d write this, but “The Lost Pyramid of Imhotep” feels positively fair in comparison.

And then there would be the main dungeon, a citadel carved into an iceberg, where the white worm lairs. Amazing set-up, right? Well, alas, it kinda lacks a distinct identity. Fire and ice, one could say, due to e.g. hell hounds, red dragons and the ice monsters you’d anticipate, but that’s about it. There are demons. The obligatory and tired mirror of life-trapping. The room where no less than 6 magic users wait to unload on the group. The traps and general sense of identity here feel distinctly magical, but not in the most interesting sense, and, as mentioned before, the final boss is basically on a deity’s level: AC -2, 6d8 damage (plus paralysis), breath weapon, constriction and both cleric and magic-user spell array. And over 200 hp. If there has ever been a boss where even killer-GM ole’ me has said “That’s overkill”, this would be it. If someone, ANYONE out there has killed this thing sans GM-fiat or ridiculous custom damage magic items that deal a crapton of bonus damage, let me know. Unless, by some miraculous event, my math skills have taken a serious nosedive, the chance to defeat this thing, even f the PCs and players do everything right, are next to nil. And before you ask: That super-sword, the dungeon of which probably has cost at least one or two PCs their lies? It’s actually pretty underwhelming regarding its abilities to best this monstrosity.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard with nice b/w-artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and the cartography is functional, but does not include player-friendly versions.

Alphonso Warden’s modules so far have been a mixed bag for me; on the one hand, there is a definite fascination that “The Lost Pyramid of Imhotep” managed to evoke, and I do like some of the creative traps. However, this does not change that, this module, alas, more so than the last, is frickin’ unfair in a bad way. Player agenda and skill do not matter that much, and the linearity of how this is supposed to work and solved, while not as pronounced as in previous adventures, lacks, much like the traps, a context that at least makes it possible for the players to deduce how this is supposed to be solved. More often than not, this comes down to luck and the roll of the dice, not to being clever.

And then there is the horribly out of whack difficulty. I’m not a GM who wants “level-appropriate challenges”; I throw dragons at 1st level PCs and expect them to run like crazy, grovel, etc. I have no problem TPKing my groups. But that type of thing must be EARNED and not subject to Gm fiat, to an adventure allowing only the author’s logic to persist. Unlike the lost pyramid, this lacks the mythology as a guiding principle, as an extensive, externalized hint-catalogue, and thus becomes, much as it pains me to say, an exercise in frustration. I so hope that the author would bring the same level of expertise and creativity regarding puzzles etc. to Norse myth in this one; instead, we unfortunately get a woefully unfair adventure that I would not inflict on any group. It’s not as bad as the atrociously-boring “The Prison of Meneptah”, but it’s close. My final verdict will be 1.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #11: The Conqueror Worm
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Thunderscape: Iron Guard Field Guide
Publisher: Kyoudai Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/10/2018 11:47:03

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This class expansion for Thunderscape’s classes clocks in at 38 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 33 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Now, first things first: This is an expansion for the Golemoid and Thunder Scout classes – as such, I assume familiarity with both classes in this review. If in doubt, consult the campaign setting to freshen up regarding their mechanics.

After a well-written piece of introductory fiction, but there is more to this: As the name implies, there are intrinsic connections to the setting’s flavor here: The class options are tied, flavor-wise, to the Iron Guard of Urbana, and as such, the content does not simply exist in a vacuum: The supplement does talk about the roles of golemoids and thunder scouts in the context of the setting. These blend rules-relevant components and history, in a way: We learn, for example, that specific golemoids excel as damage dealers, while others can act as blockers. Beyond, as noted, a history of the golemoid, we also learn about their role and public perception throughout Aden…and about, for example the black marketeers that may be able to salvage golemoid components, making them rather nasty repo men…should you decide that these exist in your game, that is. The interaction of golemoids and rust-causing beasts and effects is fyi also noted.

The golemoid manite implant array is significantly expanded by this book, though it should be noted that other characters with manite implant capacity do qualify for these. The minor implants include using an immediate action and expanding a steam point to use feather fall (not properly italicized), using a move action to create subsonic vibrations (subtle ones!) that penalize Perception and Sense Motive, expending a steam point to reroll initiative (only once per roll and you must take the reroll, thankfully!), using a standard action to make a touch attack that sickens the target on a failed save…some interesting ones here. Mechanically, I’m particularly partial to using Fearvun Ocular Implants to extend the range of precision damage and Point Blank Shot, making one of the most maligned feats ever more suitable. I’d definitely want a fire-starter digit IRL (you can make objects catch fire, and I really like the notion of an integrated grapnel launcher. (RAW, it can reel in stuff as a swift action and may not be used for at-range maneuvers, just fyi!) There are some formatting glitches, though – endure elements, for example, is capitalized and not italicized. If these sound underwhelming, fyi, bear in mind that manite implants are extraordinary, so the elemental enduring would be nonmagical! Auto-stablizing and similar tricks complement a solid, fun section here, one often benefitting from cool flavor: The auto-stabilizing option? It’s called “Phoenix Stabilizer”, which does sound pretty badass. And yes, there are upgrades and more potent versions there.

The basic implants do include some interesting and unique tricks – including a steam point based option to generate a thin sheet of steam that filters out harmful particles from the air. Nice one! Steam point based, limited condition curing with a self-only target, charging unarmed attacks etc. with a stunning charge, an integrated lie detector (sans 100% accuracy, thankfully), a bonus to atk versus undead, retractable claws and the like may be found. The latter btw. come with tightly codified damage types, but no notes on the type of natural attack, requiring defaulting in a minor comfort detriment. Also interesting: The ability to hold a spell of up to 3rd level, usable as a wand.

The section also includes 7 advanced manite implants that include becoming immune to effects specifically targeting metal creatures, the option to extend spells with a duration other than instantaneous or permanent via steam point expenditure and the like. The latter can be problematic for spells with different, specific effects by rounds and would probably have benefited from having a caveat that only applies to spells with a casting time contingent on caster levels, as measured in rounds, minutes, hours or similar increments. Weird: Hypnotic eyes lets you cast suggestion as a SP, which somewhat makes the interaction wonky: “Duplicate the effects of a suggestion spell…” would have been more feasible here, considering the per se default extraordinary nature of these tricks. Delayed phoenix raise dead via previous, significant steam point investment is interesting and gaining additional ring sockets is also a unique trick. There also are three superior implants, one of which nets a 30 ft. cone of electricity. Cosmetic nitpick: There is no such thing as electric damage – the correct term is “electricity damage.”

The pdf also includes two new golemoid specializations: The steamshadow gets steam point based disguise self, courtesy of the integrated illusion matrix and Dexterity to damage when attacking with a single, chosen one-handed or light weapon. This should probably specify that Strength is not added in such cases, though at least two-handed wielding interaction is covered. The improved specialization provides a variant of Hide in Plain Sight, better Stealth and squeezing. Nice: The pdf accounts for the issue that 1st level characters should gain access to the skills granted by this one, contingent on the fact that they take the steamshadow specialization. The level 17 ability nets an automatic critical threat when hitting a flat-footed target and they get steam point-based mislead. The harrier specialization nets better Acrobatics and may choose to trail steam and generate steam clouds – cool soft terrain control angle. The high level options further emphasize this, allowing for two unique tricks: Swift action movement and a multi-target trip/move make for cool tricks. The pdf also features quite an extensive array of new steamreaver weapons. These include aci-drills, cyclone maces and the like – they all come with passive and steam-based tricks, and they are surprisingly cool and unique regarding their benefits. Big plus here!

The pdf also includes one new golemoid archetype, the modular, who replaces basic combat specialization with +1 basic and minor implant at 2nd level and +2 steam points. Whenever they gain access to a new implant level, they also get +1 implant. They are locked into Extra Steam or Manite Implant for bonus feat choices at 3rd, 11th and 19th level (the feats are not properly capitalized) and instead of interchangeable parts, the archetype can, as a full-round action, spend steam to change one of their implants to another of the same implant level, with costs depending on the implant level. 13th decreases the activation action to standard, and 18th level allows for the change of multiple implants at once. Instead of the improved combat specialization, the golemoid gains a bonus swift action at 9th level, but one that may ONLY be used to activate manite implantsm steam mastery effects or steam feats. At 17th level, the modular regains 1 steam point at the end of the round, whenever they spend more than 3 points of steam in a round. This may just be an engine tweak, but it is one that radically changes how the class plays. Nice one. The pdf also provides 9 different, new steam feats, contingent on both old and new specializations and choices: With Aci-Deluge, aci-drill specialists can spray acid; there is a feat that allows for the limited regaining of steam (and no, it can’t be cheesed!), one that nets you temporary hit points…and here, I whip out my trusty bag of badly mistreated kittens. Unfortunately, the duration of these temporary hit points is an hour, and the ability explicitly notes that it stacks with itself. As long as you have kittens to slaughter, you can generate a massive shield of temporary hit points. That is just bad design, and utterly uncharacteristic for the otherwise tight rules within this book.

We also get two sample golemoids: Hesh Dargoh, a ferran predator (tiger) steamreaver, who, as a cyborg-anthro-tiger is probably one of the most badass iconics I’ve seen. Stats for level 1, 6 and 12 are provided. The second sample NPC would be Satsobek, a rapacian steamshadow, who also gets stats for these levels.

The second class covered in this book would be, as mentioned before, the thunder scouts, and in the flavorful write-up section here, we learn about the crude secret language of thunder runes (and who is liable to know them!), public reception, etc. 14 different scout techniques are introduced, allowing for limited mechamage spell-poaching, + class level to Acrobatics to avoid AoOs, increased vehicle jumps, better vehicle or regular movement charge damage, and there is a 1/day option to use a swift action to gain a move action limited to movement – basically a built-in quickrunner’s shirt. Sharing favored terrain bonuses with allies is also solid, and zig-zag charging, running etc. can also be found. The class also gets a variety of new class exclusive spells that interact with the signature vehicle: Hazard zone nets the vehicle a threat range that can inflict collision damage at half speed, while Jerome’s Command is a cantrip for signature vehicle actions. There are a variety of retrofit spells, which allow for quick changing of bonus features, including notes on sidecars and even vehicle type change for the true version of the spell at 4th level. Rubber ride allows for vehicle squeezing (heck yes!) and did I mention the option to create shadow vehicles? Yeah, amazing!

We also get two new fully statted basic vehicles – the Mekanus Loader, an exo suit, and the high-speed arctic snow hare. Love them! There also are three new advanced vehicles, the first of which is the wagon of wonders, a wagon that may upright itself, is lieghtly fortified and an all-terrain Huge vehicle with air generator etc. Really cool! Speaking of which: What about dirigibles? And yeah, these can be made nonflammable. Finally, subterrane mole machines are damn cool – if these feature prominently in your game, playing Gaming Paper’s classic “Citadel of Pain” adventure may be a good idea… ;) And yes, we get a unique feature here as well. The vehicle also provides a crucial bit of clarification: Co-piloted signature vessels retain their status while the thunder scout is manning the pilot station. The pdf also includes the Tsunami superior vehicle, an ironclad marvel of naval warfare, a deadly gunboat…Oh, and prices for signature vehicles are provided! Less daily maintenance, jump pistons, parachutes and ultra-light frames are included among the new vehicle features included within. The pdf also provides rules for the Jump vehicle maneuver.

There also are two thunder scout archetypes: The iron scout replaces spellcasting with limited golemoid tricks with Int mod + ½ class level steam points, using Intelligence rather than Constitution as governing attribute, with Igniter provided for free, but usable only to power mechamagical engines. Instead of the bonus feats, the archetype allows for the use of steam points to operate signature vehicles sans using their hands, with increasing power. Lone Rider, the second archetype, loses additional vehicles, and instead nets a bonus HD and feature at the levels when these would be otherwise gained. Bland.

There is one archetype for other classes: the metalheart bard: Instead of spells, cantrip and bardic knowledge, the metalheart gets ½ class level + Charisma modifier steampoints, using Charisma as governing modifier for them and manite implants as a golemoid. They can double the range of bardic performances for a round by spending steam points, and 5th level nets combat specialization, with 13th level netting the improved combat specialization, but must take the one chosen at “level 6” – that should be level 5. Higher level options include using bardic performance for greater dispel magic (not italicized) and steam point/performance synergy. Interesting hybrid archetype. The thunder scout class also gets two different sample NPCs – a half-elven thunder scout (lone rider) named Lucius “Finder” DeNiels (once more, level 1, 6 and 12) and the dwarven Isolde Waldorf (ditto regarding levels). Both of these characters get signature vehicle stats for all their levels.

The pdf also sports a couple of mundane equipment choices for better climbing, baskets that halve the weight of ferrous objects carried, parachutes and the like. There are three weapon special abilities, one of which allows for automated vehicle gunner tripods, one for sonic damage and one for reduced penalties for attacks with speeding vehicles. A rod that can clamp down on vehicles (think of these as a magical tire clamp), one that unfolds a vehicle…some cool ones here. A painful and unstable elixir that temporarily grants manite implants, reduced collision damage, jet boosters, a draught that replenishes steam points, a good luck charm for pilots…pretty cool. The pdf also notes a couple of traits from the background category. A minor issue here: While these are well-designed and interesting, one of them gets the bonus type wrong. Really cool: The pdf ends with a section that provides role-playing tips for the options within, as well as 2 tables with 10 entries, each of which sports different origin stories. Cool!

Conclusion:

Editing is excellent on a formal level, and the rules language editing is similarly very good – however, formatting is not as good. There are a ton of missed italicizations and wrong formatting choices, as well as a couple of issues in finer rules-formatting. These are few and far in.between, but ina book of this quality, they do show. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard that manages to fit a TON of content on each page – this book could have been twice the size. You get quite a lot of content for your bucks. Artworks deserve special mention: Full-color, original and style-wise consistent with campaign setting and cover art, this is a beautiful book. Annoying: The pdf does not have any bookmarks, which is a huge comfort detriment for a book of this size. I can’t comment on the virtues or lack thereof of the print version, since I do not own it.

Rich Wulf, Christopher Koch, Matthew Tyler and Michael Lawrence provide an amazing expansion for the golemoid and thunder scout classes – while I like the new manite implants very much, I was mostly enamored with the vast potential of the thunder scout tricks. That class is inspiring, and this books made me think of many amazing encounter, adventure and campaign ideas. The blending of unobtrusive flavor and crunch makes for a great supplement of high-quality crunch. That being said, the minor hiccups in the details and formatting do accumulate, and the lack of bookmarks is utterly puzzling. These aspects do tarnish slightly what would otherwise be an excellent book. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Thunderscape: Iron Guard Field Guide
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Blood Dark Thirst
Publisher: Kort'thalis Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/09/2018 04:34:20

An Endzeitgeist.com review

Blood Dark Thirst clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page kort’thalis glyph, 1 page editorial, leaving us with 21 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, the first thing you’ll note upon opening this pdf, is that it’s gorgeous: The layout by Glynn Seall, with its blood tint and splotches, is glorious. There are no less than 7 (!!) full-page artworks within, all adhering to a mostly black-white- and-tones-of-red aesthetic. This is easily one of Kort’thalis Publishing’s most beautiful books; perhaps even the most beautiful one.

This may not be a surprise to anyone, but I’ll state it nonetheless: Blood Dark Thirst is another rules-lite modification of Venger’s VSd6-system, which is also employed in Alpha Blue, The Outer Presence and Crimson Dragon Slayer. This means you roll 2d6 for most tasks, with advantages and disadvantages reducing or increasing the numbers rolled. 0d6 means rolling 2d6 twice and taking the lesser result. The system then is about interpreting what happens. 1 is a critical failure, 6 a critical success – “Yes, and”… or “No, and…” are the key words here. 2 is a failure, 5 a success, and 3 and 4 are partial failure and success, respectively. These are the base rules; they’re very simple and easy to grasp, can be explained in less than a minute, and is all you need to know to play.

Character creation is similarly painless: You choose three things your character is good at, and thus gets a 3d6 pool; 2 that you’re bad at (1d6) – there is a 20.entry table to randomize these, should you choose to go that route. These are not all equally helpful. Investigation/Perception and Awareness/Alertness are two entries, for example, that could have used specifying for what they’re used respectively. The character gets three flaws (d20 table provided) and picks a quirk that sets him apart. Then you pick your birth, the age when you were turned and mannerisms. A d30 table with a column of male and female names is provided.

The game does have a couple of more crunchy bits, though: Each character starts with 6 humanity, looking human; evil acts decrease humanity, at a maximum rate of 1 per night, and humanity 1 means you look like a monster. Vampires can hold up to 6 points of blood, and only one may be spent per round. Rising at dusk actually costs 1 point of blood, so yeah, you will need to feed. A human has 6 blood; 3 may be drained sans medical attention. Often. Also due to blood being the resource to heal. A vampire begins play with 25 Health. Humans regain 1d6 per day, vampires need to spend one point of blood to regain the same amount. Vampires do not die unless decapitated or consumed by fire, so yes, you can be revived! This is important to keep the combat system in check.

Who describes first acts first, which isn’t a system of initiative I enjoy –iit results in competitive shooting matches by the players, but that’s just my preference. Damage incurred is based on the attack dice pool size, and damage explodes – 6s are rolled again, results added together. Damage can carry over to others when killing NPCs.

Vampires can have up to 6 Willpower, and up to 3 may be spent per scene/encounter, but only 1 per round. New characters begin with 0 Willpower and earn Willpower by roleplaying flaws. Willpower may be spent to resist supernatural effects, resisting bloodlust/frenzy, making a new vampire or adding 3d6 to the dice pool. Frenzy? A vampire down to 3 Blood rolls an additional red d6; less blood means you roll more red d6s. If one of them comes up as a “1”, you enter bloodlust. Here’s the thing: there is power in bloodlust: If the red die comes up 6, the vampire may take the critical success result, provided he is roleplaying the flaw or immediately feeds.

Now, as far as vampire abilities are concerned, the vampires all get the ability to influence minds, have better speed and attacks and more devastating attacks – however, all of these require the expenditure of, bingo, blood. 20 more sample powers, with another one gained every level. Sounds like Vampire: The Masquerade/Requiem? Well, kinda. But not really – the pdf has Vengerized the vampire, taking a cue from vampsploitation movies: Vampires are not living or undead, but rather bloodthirsty demons; they are monstrous and not necessarily noble; there are no bloodlines, though sunlight, religious symbols, stakes, fire, etc. are all covered as traditional weaknesses. Vampires do not have to be invited in, can cross water, etc. – many prohibitions that would impede gameplay have been designated as false. And yes, they can have sex. This is from the man whoo brought us Alpha Blue, after all. ;)

Vampires can form bloodbonds, which may enthrall or affect the relationships. Vampiric slaves for blood and a d6 table to establish the grip on the victim is provided. Similarly, a d6 table to determine whether you were seen, and a general list of 6 NPC challenge levels is provided. Leveling is simple and governed by completed story-arcs, here designated as campaigns.

The pdf also provides an introductory scenario of sorts that features a handout-ish letter; beyond that, a few words summarize a sketch to develop; this is supported by a d20 table of occurrences in the city, and a d6-table of information about the city’s ruler.

The game comes with a nice, impressive character-sheet.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. This is probably Venger's best-organized and most concisely presented VSd6-game. Layout is, as noted before, full-color and gorgeous, and the artworks are similarly amazing, particularly considering the low price point. I have never seen such an inexpensive game look so good before. The pdf comes fully bookmarked, and a second, more printer-friendly version is included in the deal.

Okay, I’ll freely admit it. I was not particularly excited about this one. I loved VtM’s lore, disliked VtR and frankly didn’t expect to see this game work; Venger tends to gravitate towards a beer & pretzels style of gaming, and looking at the page-count, I expected this to be too rudimentary. It’s not. The frenzy-dice-mechanic adds tremendously to the engine’s usual iterations and just FITS. The focus on being a blood-sucking demon, coupled with the really high turn around of blood points and unreliable victim-grabbing also means that just remaining fed can be a struggle, evoking a grimy vampsploitation “blood-by-the-buckets” feeling that distinguishes this from VtM et al, in spite of the thematic overlaps. This actually manages to feel differently from the game that inspired it and the other Vsd6-games; it is, mechanically, by far my favorite of the bunch.

That being said, Blood Dark Thirst suffers from a single downside that prevents it from being the crowning jewel in Venger’s games. The length. BDT is super-short, and ultimately, more than his other games, it would have deserved to be significantly expanded. If this had different bloodlines, more powers, perhaps a couple of magic items and the like, it could have been my favorite super-rules-lite game. As presented, this is a basic toolkit, and it delivers what it promises for a fair price point. At the same time, the adventure-sketch could have used further pages, and the game, as a whole, would have benefitted from more room to shine. Frankly, I found myself wishing that, at one point Venger may get back to this and expand it to twice, thrice the size. Blood Dark Thirst is a fun, promising game for those looking for a rules-lite, savage vampire game. (As an aside: In such an expansion, different pool sizes for Willpower, Humanity and Blood could allow for a wide variety of game-styles and extended campaign play…just sayin’…)

I really enjoyed this game; apart from it’s limited scope and length, there is nothing I really disliked or found problematic here. Thus, my final rating will clock in at 4.5 stars, though I can’t round up for this one. Here’s raising a blood-filled chalice to hoping that our thirst for an expanded version will one day be quenched!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Blood Dark Thirst
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Advanced Adventures #10: The Lost Keys of Solitude
Publisher: Expeditious Retreat Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/09/2018 04:26:06

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 29 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 26 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by one of my patreons, to be undertaken at my convenience.

This adventure is intended for characters level 6 – 10, and in this case, the level-range is well-supported by the actual playing experience; you see, this module very much champions the old-school aesthetics of risk-reward-ratio; it is possible to experience this module as relatively easy, or as truly brutal, with player-greed very much dictating the difficulty and potential fallout stemming from exploring the complex depicted within. A well-rounded group is very much recommended to successfully tackle this one.

Now, it should be noted that the text on the back cover can make for a kind of introductory read-aloud text for the adventure, with the means of the PCs getting the eponymous keys otherwise not specified. As always in the series, we do not get read-aloud text or the like, the rules-system in question would be OSRIC, and internal formatting of rules-relevant information does not always adhere to the standards. The maps are b/w and functional, though the brief overland wilderness trek map provided lacks both scale and grid, which makes calculating traveling distances a tad bit annoying. While I’m on the subject of maps: The module sports the complex dubbed “Solitude” and the tunnels beneath it and has a clever means to prompt the PCs to explore, but more on that later in the SPOILER-section. In a really unfortunate decision, the module uses straight numbers for the rooms above and areas below the surface – thus, the short table that is supposed to help the GM track the whereabouts of the missing keys is less useful than it should be. The key is in room 14? Okay, which of the two? It’s a small thing that could have been rectified with simply adding letters to prevent mix ups and constitutes an unfortunate comfort-detriment. It’s not something that wrecks the adventure, mind you, but it’s so obvious, I wondered why it hadn’t been implemented. Instead, the subterranean complex uses letters to designate rooms that belong to humanoid territories, which makes the whole numbering/lettering convention feel a bit unfocused. There are no player-friendly maps included.

The adventure, though longer than usual for the series, spans 17 pages, with the rest devoted to supplemental material, in particular to a smattering of new creatures. 2 spells are provided: Champion of the Tome enchants a book to have a fighter-version of the caster appear to defend it, while Phineus’ Writhing Tentacles is a cool and dangerous spell to call forth the class mass of tentacles, which also gets a blinding effect, but makes up for that by blindly flailing at any target in range. The module also includes 5 magic items, which are per se solid, though the army of tireless tin soldiers is missing its XP-value. EDIT: I believe in owning up to my mistakes, so tehre goes: I misread this item to not be an artifact, when it clearly is. Mea culpa! Now, as far as the monsters are concerned, I’ll cover those in the GM-section below.

The module is in so far interesting in that it captures in an expert fashion the feeling of a very classic D&D-esque fantasy; from the random encounters in the wilderness to the constellations of adversaries faced, the adventure successfully evokes the fantastic vibe of old-school gaming with a slightly subdued, gonzo angle; you know, the feeling you had when you first encountered druids acting as rust monster shepherds? There is a sense of a very classic fantasy vibe that does not cross over into the weird or totally gonzo. If you enjoyed the old AD&D-classics like Desert of Desolation, then you’ll know what I mean.

All right, this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS. From here on out, only GMs should continue reading.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, the PCs, after having encountered a weird hermit, have received some plaques depicting animals, which seem to interact when brought together, and which seem to provide a map through a mountain pass towards an unknown destination called “Solitude.” The wilderness trek, which does come with random encounters, is wholly linear in its fashion, as the terrain of the pass does not offer for opportunities to deviate from it. While the adversaries faced contain vermin and similar critters, there also is a valley where quite a few quickgrasses sprout´, and a fool’s dragon pair (think weaker, dumber dragon-like lizards) also waits in the way.

But what lies at the end of the journey? Well, Solitude is actually a monastery – or at least it looks like it. A slain T-rex, with plenty of meat cut from its flanks is a great example for the “(A)D&D-ishness” of the module: You see, while Solitude had lain abandoned for a long time, its gates have been since breached by spriggan siblings that lead a small army of gnolls. In the aftermath of inadvertently setting free the T-rex, one of the spriggans died, triggering a schism between the remaining siblings, who each have since taken their (rather well-equipped!) surviving gnolls, those that the dinosaur didn’t eat, that is, and started plotting the downfall of their brethren. An enterprising GM and smart players can observe these latent hostilities and exploit them, for the PCs will have to explore both monastery and the caverns below to truly find everything here – and encounter the strange creatures below.

The bestiary includes a predator that eats jellies and oozes and can spit them at targets; spiders that have developed a symbiotic relationship with deadly fungi; pixies degenerated into stirge-like beings – the pdf, in its best moments, feels like a celebration of the old-school vibe we all know and love. Not all critters are this creative, though: A deadly ambulatory fungus, a race of small degenerate humanoids and a magic-eating slime aren’t exactly super exciting. The bone-sovereign depicted on the cover, however, is surprisingly cool, and there is a fungal ring that can act as a safe haven for good folks…but will try to digest evil-doers and all nearby! Really neat! The pdf also includes stats for an elemental prince of water and a unique and horrid undead, ritually created via starvation (not as easy as it sounds, as the grueling ritual is described) – and the latter two should provide a clue to what Solitude actually is.

Some readers may have already come to the right conclusion, but let me spell it out nonetheless. Solitude, at one point, was a kind of artifact-level magical prison, and the tablets, the keys, are literally that – they open the cells of the inhabitants of Solitude, the inmates if you will. The erstwhile wardens have fallen prey to corruption and died, but the prisoners remain and include a dragon who has managed to tie her lifeforce to a volcano – slaying her may cause an eruption and untold suffering! Some other cells just hold treasure, though – so, once the PCs realize what this complex is, will they gamble? The T-rex freed by the spriggans provides ample warning for greedy PCs, so they can’t claim to not have been warned…

However, if the PCs are to collect all keys, they will also have to interact with the two sentient rodent species below the complex: On one hand, the Mus Maximus, smart mouse-people, make for unique and good folks that can be a boon; on the other hand, the groundlings, sentient groundhogs that are invisible to the undead make for a far less pleasant company…I was surprised to note that I did enjoy these two micro-societies and their depiction. All in all, this module has a lot of what I want in an adventure, and it executes its premise and flavor well; however, at the same time, I couldn’t help but feel like the premise of the module could have carried much more. Ultimately, the keys only grant access to rooms and that’s it. There is no sequence to the exploration, there are no ways for clever PCs to e.g. lock down parts of the complex with the keys and potentially make hostile forces take each other out after being caged. The evocative visuals and magical natures of the keys would have lent themselves superbly to making this a module where smart PCs could use the terrain to triumph against overwhelming odds, to quarantine evils inadvertently unleashed with foes, slowly whittling down enemy strengths. In short, the premise of the adventure is far stronger than the somewhat disappointingly mundane execution of the artifact-prison angle. Don’t get me wrong – I like this module. But I began reading this as super-excited and couldn’t help but feel somewhat blasé about the actual implementation of the concept. With a few less pages devoted to monsters, and a more clever dungeon, this could have been one classic for the ages.

Similarly, a timeline for the factions and the like, some clearly stated goals and agendas and subquests would have taken up not much real estate, but would have added to the sense of the complex being alive.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level, bordering on very good, with formatting, as noted before, being somewhat inconsistent. Layout adheres to a 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes with nice, old-school b/w-artworks. Not all monsters get art, but quite a few do. Cartography is serviceable, though the numbering/lettering conventions are somewhat unfortunately chosen. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

The team of Joseph Browning and Suzi Yee delivers a module that truly breathes the spirit of old-school (A)D&D; it feels right, and that tone is harder to hit than one would imagine. The adversaries faced are clever and brought me back to the time when I devoured the descriptions of ecologies of odd beings and monsters back in the day. I’m not a nostalgic man, but this hits the tone admirably well. That being said, at the same time, I couldn’t help but feel like this module could have made the step towards masterpiece simply by making full use of its amazing premise, which, at least to me, ultimately it did not end up realizing to its full potential. All in all, I consider this to be an adventure worth checking out if you’re looking for a neat old-school module. This is not the most convenient adventure out there, and its central concept for the complex could have been realized in an infinitely more rewarding manner, but as a whole, I do believe that this is worth a final verdict of 3.5 stars. For me as a person, I will round down. However, as a reviewer, I have an in dubio pro reo policy and thus will round up for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #10: The Lost Keys of Solitude
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Echelon Reference Series: Alchemist (3pp+PRD)
Publisher: Echelon Game Design
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/08/2018 07:59:22

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive installment of the Echelon Reference Series clocks in at 192 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page blank, 9 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a whopping 178 pages of content, at least for the PRD +3pp version. The PRD-version is, obviously, less hefty, though still a pretty big file.

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

So, first things first – this is a reference work and I will rate it as such. This book focuses on the alchemist and my review is based on the iteration that is based on both PRD and 3pp-material from a wide array of different sources. There are basically three different steps of completion for Echelon Reference Series-pdfs: They grow, and once they have grown, their price goes up as they become more refined – rather fair, at least in my book.

There are three steps: RAF (Rough and Fast, 50% discounted), WIP (Work in Progress, 25% discounted) and the finished version.

However, the “Rough and Fast” or “Work in Progress” monikers are actually a bit deceptive, in that they usually conjure forth images of Beta-tests for video games etc. – this is nothing like that.

Even the Rough and Fast versions already have full functionality provided, with bookmarks, etc. – but a couple of the unique comfort functions of the series are not yet implemented in these versions. Most importantly, the RAF-version does not yet include the super-handy flow-charts that depict the connections between feats, talents and similar class features. These have proven to be particularly helpful when building characters or planning progressions.

The RAF-version also does not yet feature full, internal hyperlinking (though there are plenty of working ones!), although it should be noted that navigation is sufficiently convenient, courtesy of the bookmarks provided.

We begin this time around with the alchemist base class and the archetypes collated and collected from various sources among the more refined 3pps as well as the Paizo books. The version, right now, goes up to ACG and provides a solid selection of different archetypes. The astute reader will also notice something subtle, but it really does enhance the aesthetic value of the file: You see, Echelon Reference books provide small bubbles on top of the colored ability-headers: one of these designates the ability type (like SP, SU, EX…) and one the level it’s gained. This is a small thing, but it makes navigation quicker and allows for faster information processing while reading. In this supplement, that presentation has undergone a slight, but efficient evolution: The bubbles no longer jut forth from the ability header, but instead have been integrated into it. They still have a white background, which sets them apart in a distinct fashion from the core abilities and thus retain functionality – but as a whole, they make everything look smoother. Kudos! Even better, and this is a HUGE improvement and comfort plus, would be the fact that now, these bubbles have a second part, which, if applicable, notes the ability an archetype class feature, for example, replaces. This adds another layer of comfort on top and is something I absolutely ADORE! Huge plus for the time-starved gamer here!

The master chymist prestige class included does btw. also come with the handy “class at a glance” box that the series provides for the base classes.

These improvements in presentation btw. also extend to the class features and how they are presented: It will take you only a single glimpse to immediately know that a discovery pertains to bombs, mutagens, and exclusive discoveries that prevent other discoveries are similarly apparent at a glance. I frickin’ love these improvements to the presentation. They make the supplement more aesthetically-pleasing AND even easier to navigate and use! Heck yes! Oh, and did I mention that we get a bullet point quick use version for the discoveries in front of the big text? A boiled down “at a glance” version? This adds serious value to the reference file. To give you an example of such a bullet point array before the full text, let’s take Dual Mind:

Gain +2 bonus on Will saving throws. On failed save, can try again one round later at same DC. Usable only if there are uses of mutate ability remaining.

Prerequisites Alchemist level 10th

See what I mean? All there. The proper, big rules text is still there, but this presentation type can make running the game so much easier, as the pdf acts as a huge GM (r player!) cheat sheet! I love this. Seriously. Can we please have more of these?

The feat section and spell list is handy, and, as always, we have a significant collection of statblocks, ranging from CR ½ to CR 20, with Bassam the Pestilent, a ratfolk plaguebringer, getting stats for every single level – in addition to the other NPC-stats, of course!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch considering that this is the first iteration, I noticed no grievous glitches. Layout adheres to the functional and efficient 2-column b/w-standard with brown spliced in, and as noted, the improvements to the layout prove to be extremely helpful for the book AND make it more pleasing to the eye. This is a pretty printer-friendly file, just fyi. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, with individual bookmarks for the archetypes, for example, but not for every single feat or discovery. The book is internally hyperlinked and the index further helps making navigation simple and painless.

Keith J. Davies’ alchemist reference pdf is a surprising evolution for the series that I did not expect. The improvements in layout extend the appeal of the installment significantly: Instead of being “just” a handy reference file, the streamlined presentation and bullet point ability summaries manage to make this a massive and impressive cheat-sheet as well! It may sound weird, but once you try it out, you’ll realize how much sense the organization and presentation like this makes, how useful it can be when you forgot the precise details of an obscure discovery in the midst of battle and don’t want to read the whole text – one glance and, BAM, you’re ready to rock! This is a thoroughly impressive, welcome and well-crafted evolution of the series and its presentation paradigms, and as such, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Echelon Reference Series: Alchemist (3pp+PRD)
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