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Future's Past: Paying Forward (2 of 5)
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/12/2018 12:27:14

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The second part of the Future’s Past AP clocks in at 21 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page advertisement (somewhat to my annoyance in the middle of the module), 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 16 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

It should be noted that, as before, the module does come with expertly crafted monsters with glyphs denoting their general role. The module starts pretty much immediately where Part #1 left off, and, as before, has proper stats for pretty much everything, read-aloud text where you’d expect it to be, etc..

The following contains MASSIVE SPOILERS for the end of the first module in the series, as well as for the entirety of this adventure. As such, I STRONGLY urge anyone wo wants to play this adventure to skip ahead to the conclusion.

..

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All right, only GMs around? Great! So, things look pretty hopeless for the PCs: They are stranded on Edge Station in Druune space, probably infected by Druune cells that will probably mutate them into disturbing Necromorph-like monstrosities enslaved by the Druune, and their powerful Central AI has deserted them. The final orders of the AI were to destroy the prototype timemachine the Druune developed – and it’s up to the PCs to decide on whether to follow this suicidal command and martyr themselves, or attempt to use it.

Indeed, an extremely dangerous mission has just become outright suicidal, as the PCs are bereft of Central AI’s exceedingly potent guidance – but in its stead, something else has taken the place of a global effect: You see, across infinite realities, the PCs have perished, failed, died. Again and again and again…until one of them got through, sending a part of the PC’s consciousness back through time, allowing the PC to have limited control over the time-stream via visions, ideas, etc. Set against the backdrop of Druune-cells subverting the consciousness of PCs, this should not simply be a form of fate favoring the PCs (and a means for the GM to help out, if they get stuck), but also represent a constant source of paranoia. This is incredibly clever from a narrative point of view. I adore it! Better yet: If the PCs figure out what’s going on, they can use this to a somewhat chaotic, but utterly unique effect – thematically, it’s a great continuation and escalation of both in-game and meta-game practices of module #1…and I could well spend another page extolling the virtues of how much sense this makes. Suffice to say, I love it. And yes, Druune infection is ALSO part of the atmospheric themes going on here.

The most sensible reaction for most PCs will probably be attempting to simply take their space ship and get the hell out – but Central Ai has hacked the docking station’s module and sent their craft hurtling into space. Worse, the outside of the station is covered in Druune remnant swarms, one of the new monsters within.

Whether they want to heed Central AI’s suicidal commands or use the time-machine, the PCs will have to dive deeper into Edge Station, and indeed, the pdf does note information that the PCs can glean by doing their legwork here. Leaving the lab-section, the PCs get to deal with the offices of the now Druune-enslaved populace – full of hazards and a dark theme reminiscent, once more – at least from a player’s perspective, of the fantastic space horror that the first Dead Space game managed to evoke. (You know, before EA made the franchise a sucky action-game that no one wanted…) Genuinely creepy whispers from victims in various stages of Druune transformation, a rudimentary and imperfectly-sealed hole that may suck PCs into vacuum…and yes, the Druune infection can be transmitted by some of the traps found within. Horrid gestalt things, a technogolem spreading Druune-infection…the atmosphere is pretty much pitch-perfect.

Clever PCs can find experimental Druune weapons, a 3d-copy machine…and yes, copies of creatures may be made…with potentially…öhem…interesting consequences. It is in the depths of the complex, past all of that, where things take a turn for another one of the games that really blew me away: SOMA. You see, the Druune have found a way to transfer consciousness between beings (yes, PCs could use that to, e.g., lose their Druune-infection-ridden bodies…but it’d trap the consciousness in that body…so yeah, anyone up for doing some nasty things to the duplicates you may have made?

Oh, and ultimately, the PCs will reach the Druune, see the PC that made it – the one that helped them get so far, that proceeded to kill himself to avoid assimilation by the Druune, and thus presented the chance the PCs took: A vision takes a hold of the time traveler PC, one that explains a lot, one that actually sent shivers down my spine. I am not exaggerating. This reveal, which I deliberately did not spoil in my review of module #1, is just brilliant. After this, we get the final boss fight, including unique temporal distortion effects, – and then, a travel back through time. To another body, as the PCs can only project their consciousness back through time. It’s 3 days before first contact with the Druune. Time’s ticking.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard, and the pdf sports a bunch of truly amazing, original full-color artworks. The cartography is in full-color as well, and comes with player-friendly versions, ensuring that you can use them as handouts and VTT-functionality. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

And here I was, thinking that Stephen Rowe, a masterclass designer and storyteller, had delivered an excellent adventure in #1 of this AP. It’s baffling. It really is. After a module that was exceedingly hard to follow up on, this actually manages to surpass the first module. The craftsmanship and artistry is just as amazing as before, but it’s the extremely efficient use of paranoia, with distinct science-fiction themes, that is frankly, a class of its own. I am not engaging in hyperbole when I’m saying that this module, in its pages, manages to tackle more exciting themes than many whole campaigns. Blending questions of transhumanism and what constitutes identity with time-travel, adding a complex and truly intelligent plot, and topping it off with a reveal that WILL leave your players slack-jawed and truly stunned/mind-blown? This module does it all, and is a perfect example of quality over quantity. This is master-class storytelling and adventure design. 5 stars + seal of approval, and this is a candidate for my Top Ten of 2018. It’s this good. If the AP can retain this level of brilliant writing, then we’re looking at a masterpiece for the ages.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Future's Past: Paying Forward (2 of 5)
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The Conjurer's Handbook
Publisher: Drop Dead Studios
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/12/2018 12:25:32

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This expansion for Spheres of Power clocks in at 39 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 34 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

The supplement begins with the by now traditional flavor-centric introduction before diving into the crunch. This time around, we begin with something rather interesting: Upon gaining a Conjuration sphere companion, you may now choose an archetype for the companion, which follow the usual restrictions. I.e. you can have as many as you’d like, provided they don’t change or modify the same features. 8 different such archetypes are provided and allow you to get an aquatic companion, for example. A companion with a bestial intellect (who does get a free (form) talent) and requires Handle Animal, a familiar-style one, and we get one that makes your companion a kind of mage-lite. Mindless or puppet-style companions are also included, and bipedal companions may become basically warriors. Much to my joy, there also is the Martial Companion option, which allows for synergy with the fantastic Spheres of Might book. All in all, this section is an all but required modification and broadening of options.

Now, this does not mean that the pdf doesn’t offer archetypes – for example, there would be the alter ego vigilante: Instead of a vigilante identity, the alter ego trades places with an extraplanar allay until it’s time to resume social activity. Instead of assuming the identity via the vigilante’s usual rules, the archetype instead makes use of the Conjuration sphere, using class level as caster level, stacking with other CL-sources. The companion can’t have an Int of below 3, and the combined archetypes applied may not have an increased spell point cost. Basic awareness is shared between them, and Link/Greater Link apply, despite planar boundaries. Alter egos begin play with a single bonus (form) talent, and conditions/effects are not shared – when switched out, they run their course, so no poison-cheesing etc. However, once switched out, the other part of the team is otherwise safe. Vigilante talents only apply to the alter ego companion, and social talents may only be used by the character, not the companion. This replaces seamless guise and vigilante specialization and modifies dual identity and vigilante talents, but archetypes that alter the latter may explicitly be combined with this archetype. The companion may cast by taking Con-damage to use Call of the Departed, if any – this is not ideal. Speaking of which: The vigilante appearance-ability sequence leaves me puzzled in conjunction with this archetype – does the alter ego gain the benefits, the companion, or both? I have no idea. Since we now have two entities, these would require clarification to make the archetype work RAW.

The second archetype is the awakener armiger, who requires the use of Spheres of Might. This one receives only 2 customized weapons at 1st level. When customizing weapons, these guys also forge a connection to a spirit. As a full-round action, the awakener can make the spirit manifest, which acts a s a Conjuration sphere companion with the martial companion archetype applied and a CL equal to the class level of the awakener. Thankfully, only one such weapon spirit per awakener may be kept in play, and once summoned, they can’t be called again for 1 hour, preventing abuse by spirit-cycling. The ability also tightly codifies dismissal. Weapon spirits get an additional (form) talent at 3rd level and every 4 levels thereafter. Additional customized weapons are gained at 11th and 19th level. Instead of rapid assault, the awakener may expend martial focus as an immediate action upon successfully damaging a creature or executing a successful combat maneuver. Unfortunately, this does allow the awakener to ignore the 1-hour cooldown, which ultimately means that I need my bag of kittens to beat up…As at least a minor drawback, this does render the awakener staggered for a round, but still. On the plus side, action economy of a spirit thus called is properly codified. At 10th level, 1/round when dealing damage to a creature with a customized weapon, the hit creature draws an AoO from the weapon spirit. At 15th level, the weapon spirit may instead execute an attack action against the target, which allows for fearsome martial combos! Cool! 20th level renders the duration permanent until dismissed or another spirit is called, and lightning assault no longer requires martial focus expenditure. There also are 3 unique prowesses provided for better weapon spirit flexibility and mental links or sharing a spirit’s knowledge. Apart from the slightly wonky cycling issue that should imho have a longer cooldown, a cool archetype.

The knight-summoner mageknight replaces resist magic and the 1st level talent with the ability to summon a pala/cavalier-ish mount, as codified by the Conjuration sphere. Mystic combat is replaced with a (form) talent for the mount, which may be exchanged as a kind of wild-card trick. At 11th level, this may be used quicker, with spell points as a means to even use it as a free action. Mystic combat’s benefits aren’t wholly lost, though – instead, marked is replaced at 7th level, allowing for the sharing of mystic combat benefits between mount and rider. 2 archetype-specific mystic combat options are also included. The pact master thaumaturge does not gain the casting class feature, nor magic talents from class levels, though his class levels do count as casting class levels for Counterspell etc. Instead, the pact master forms a pact in an 8-hour ritual, granting a pact companion, which may then be called forth with a 1-hour ritual This functions as a companion with CL equal to class level, with CL not stacking with other sources. The pact companion remains for 24 hours and gets a bonus (form) or (type) talent at 2nd level and every 4 levels thereafter, though a companion still can only have one type. (It should be noted that Undead Creature has been retroactively declared a (type) talent. While within Medium range of the companion, the pact master gains a CL equal to class level, and a magic talent, plus another one at 2nd level and every 2 levels thereafter. A pact master may retain up to three pacts, and it is suggested that talents granted should correlate to the nature of the companion. This replaces occult knowledge and basically makes the class behave more like a witch/warlock from folklore, one that draws strength from the proximity of otherworldly allies. Extensive adveice for building pact companions is provided, and instead of forbidden lore, the companions can channel energy into the thaumaturge, boosting CL. Cool: Instead of the percentile mechanic, this causes the companion to take Constitution burn – a more elegant mechanic than that employed by e.g. the awakener. The archetype does come with pact invocations to redirect damage to them, share forms, etc. – rather extensive and interesting archetype!

The twinsoul elementalist modifies the elementalist class (D’uhh) and replaces weave energy with Conjuration and Destruction access. The interaction with pre-existing spheres is properly noted, and the companion is known as elemental conduit, who gets the mage archetype and the destruction sphere locked into the chassis. Instead of 2nd level’s combat feat, we get the destructive capacitor ability, which is pretty cool: The twinsoul elementalist can charge the conduit, who then receives temporary spell points and more powerful blasts. Neat one! Favored element is replaced with bonus damage from such charged shots. Cool, meaningful engine tweak. The void wielder armorist replaces summon equipment with a special weapon, the void blade, which may retain the essence of up to two creatures – whenever a creature is slain with it, a fragment of their essence remains in the hungering blade. The void blade may meditate an hour on such an essence, calling forth a duplicate of such a slain being, which behaves as a companion, with CL stacking with other sources. This companion only remains for 1 round per HD of the original creature sans concentration; for 1 spell point, it’s one minute per HD instead. Minor nitpick: Should have a “minimum 1 round/minute”-clause. Other than that, I do consider this to be a flavorful one, as such duplicates can impersonate the original creature rather well…3 signature arsenal tricks allow for further customization, for example for an additional essence stored, harder raising of those you’ve slain, etc. Nice ones!

Beyond these archetypes, we get an arsenal trick to have summoned or bound equipment appear in the hands of a Conjuration companion, and we have a mystic combat for banishing strikes.

The most important aspect of the book, though will probably be, at least for a significant amount of folks, the new base forms. Huge plus: The avian form does not break the low-level flight assumptions! Ooze and orb form are also interesting – particularly since the latter has a distinct and different means of preventing low-level flight exploits. Huge kudos for going the extra mile there and making these feel distinct and different. Finally, there also would be a vermin base form added. We do get a total of almost 30 new talents for the Conjuration sphere, which provide a diverse array of customization options many a player had wanted: There is one that lets you spend an additional spell point to choose another base form for the companion when calling it. There is a means to re-summon vanquished companions with negative levels. Camouflaged companions, granting feats…pretty nice. In a pretty obvious glitch, the Climbing Companion (form) talent does not have its name properly formatted. You can have your companion explode upon being defeated; you can have constructed companions, ones that have adapted to extreme environments. You can have companions with diseases, Mounts (as could be gleaned from the archetype), companions with ki points and monk-y tricks, ooze companions, planar and plant creatures, companions with minor rage, you can bestow swallow whole, increase companion Int, have blood-related companions, companions that act as spell conduits…what about ones with SR or those that come with magical quarterstaffs? Superior senses? You get the idea – this greatly enhances companion versatility. Furthermore, the pdf expands the companion progression table to the lofty heights of 40th caster level!! I know quite a few folks who enjoy super-hero-esque/gestalt-y gameplay that will love this extension.

A total of 8 advanced magic talents can be found as well, with size changes to Fine or Colossal potentially possible, for earth creatures with earth glide, better companion fast healing, summing more companions, having ones that regenerate, and, much to my joy – swarm and troop companions! That being said, these talents are well-placed in the advanced section, in a good example that shows awareness of the different playtsyles and power-levels that the spheres of power system attempts to cater to.

To my further joy, we do get a cool summoning diagram incantation, as well as the summon extraplanar being incantation, both of which certainly retain their usefulness beyond the scope of this book. The pdf also includes, of course, a rather extensive array of feats – Advanced Circles builds on the Diagram advanced talent to quicker diagram creation. (As an aside: Here we can find one of the, alas, couple of instances where formatting isn’t perfect – in this case, a skill-reference is lower case’d.) Very potent and reminiscent of some of the more interesting psionics tricks would be the feat that allows you to pass concentration on to a companion. Destruction specialists may modify their exploding companions with blasts (now this does make for some messed up villain ideas…) and e.g. quicker manifesting for shadow creatures, substituting casting ability score for Cha when determining outsider DCs and haggling with them, companions with poisonous blood or better poison DCs…some cool stuff here! The sphere-specific drawbacks are also rather cool: Not gaining the summon ability, being locked into companion archetypes, requiring concentration for companion presence to be maintained – these allow for some specific and really cool flavors and sharing HD, for example, is another one I really enjoyed. These are fun and evocative – cool enough to make players choosing them for how they fit the themes. The pdf also includes two solid traits and a page of alternate racial traits for the planetouched races, kobolds and snake-blooded races (nagaji vishkanya, etc.). – nice. The equipment section provides a new item class, foldable circles, which do pretty much what you’d expect them to.

Kudos: Since conjuration is one of the notoriously trickier aspects to GM, the pdf does provide some GM advice…and for your convenience, an appendix reprints the more complex and often lesser known swarm and troop subtypes.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level. I noticed a couple of hiccups regarding formatting and the like, and a few of the components could have used minor tweaks to make them a bit more precise. Not to the point where things stop working, mind you, but yeah. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard and the artworks within are mainly color-artworks by Rick Hershey – if you have the Close Encounters: Hyperspace Fiends supplement, you’ll be familiar with the majority of them. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Andrew Stoeckle’s take on the Conjuration sphere is one that leaves me torn at a very high level; one the one hand, I consider this pretty much to be an essential expansion for the Conjuration sphere. On the other hand, there are a few hiccups in the admittedly high complexity of the design here, and companions/pets can become rather potent, rather fast. That being said, the engine tweaks presented often do rather interesting things; the drawbacks are intriguing, and there is plenty to love here. If anything, this book had to provide a rather significant amount of material that one would have expected from the base sphere, but couldn’t get due to page-count concerns. As such, the book, as a whole, provided for the most part what I expected to see, and provided the means and flexibility I expected to find. As a whole, I ended up enjoying this pdf, and it may not be mind-blowing, but it is very much a book that Spheres of Power-games using more than basic Conjuration will all but require in the long run. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Conjurer's Handbook
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Saving Saxham: A Dungeon Age Adventure (5e)
Publisher: Dungeon Age Adventures
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/12/2018 12:24:15

An Endzeitgeist.com review of the revised edition

This module clocks in at 24 pages of content , 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page of which is the SRD, leaving us with 21 pages of content.

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

All righty, this is an adventure for characters level 1 – 3, with well-rounded groups being the preferable target demographic, as often the case. This is a one-man operation, with the maps and artworks provided by the author as well. The cartography in b/w is solid, but does not provide a grid/scale or player-friendly, unlabeled version per se – however, it is cleverly constructed in a way which allows the GM to print it out and cut out the map section sans the labels, making the maps functionally player-friendly.

Let it be known that this book looks very professional from the get-go: Read-aloud text (which is flavorful) is clearly set apart from the text and color-coded, and important key words are bolded – whenever they point towards a locale, an item, etc. that has its own description/section, we have the information in brackets. This may sound like a small thing, but from an information-design perspective, this renders running the module surprisingly easy for the GM.

Indeed, in spite of being basically an investigative sandbox, this adventure can be run with minimum prep time, courtesy of its smart presentation. That’s definitely more forethought than I expected from a freshman offering. This is even more evident when it comes to room/locale descriptions – below the read-aloud texts we actually get helpful bullet-points that list items of interest/interaction points, rules-relevant information, etc.

The pdf also provides quite a few helpful minor magic items – for example a helmet that provides advantage on saving throws versus being stunned. Here, I need to nitpick their formatting a bit – no item scarcity is noted and “Attunement.” is bolded, when it should be both italicized and noted in the line for item scarcity. That would be a cosmetic hiccup, though.

EDIT: And this is where this module deserves a re-evaluation: Where previously, we got barely functional stats, the revised edition now features abbreviated statblocks in the front, where they are relevant, and full statblocks in the back, in case you need to look up some obscure rules-interaction. This is a VAST improvement for the pdf!

Coupled with the fact that even e.g. a goblin gets some personality, his own agenda and responses to news and the like, we now thus have the proper mechanics to supplement narrative class: We get dialogue options, guidance and this super-neat presentation; heck, even mundane, interesting items such as letters get detailed descriptions – in the fluff department, this totally excels.

But to properly explain what’s sets this module apart, I need to go into SPOILERS. Players REALLY should skip ahead to the conclusion. Seriously. Reading on will thoroughly SPOIL the adventure, and you don’t want that.

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Okay, are only GMs left? Are you sure? One more time: I will spoil this thing! Big time! So, “Saving Saxham” begins as generic as it can be – there is a small village called Saxham, established by the wealthy Sax family, courtesy of the grist mill. As the adventurers arrive in the town, they will be puzzled indeed – a curse seems to have taken a hold of Saxham – houses are dilapidated an overgrown, weeds are all over the fields, and, as a boy tells the PCs en route, monsters are in the woods. All of these observations, save one, are correct – in the woods, there indeed are monsters – and as the local elves have come to investigate, there is a similar problem – the forest seems to be suffering a mysterious blight. Strange variant zombies, so-called clayskins (things of clay) and woodwalkers (basically woodzombies with green berries for eyes) lumber through the forest, with the former evolving into the more deadly, second form over time.

If this sounds like something that could have been taken straight from a Witcher-game, then you’d be right – the premise does not disappoint: There is no gizmo responsible. There is no evil necromancer with the cliché shadow boss. There is no standard evil humanoid tribe responsible. Nope, the solution is actually much more amazing. The surrounding area, NPCs and small dungeon, all detailed in intriguing ways, does hold a secret most delightful in its implications: You see, the buildings and fields aren’t cursed. Neither are the villagers. 30 years ago, the plague struck Saxham and wiped it out, making it a ghost town – and now, the ghost of the town cleric has risen, and in her despair, raises the villagers, successfully, I might add, from the dead. Okay, they need to shamble a bit around as beings of grave clay…and then as dangerous wooden monsters…but after that, they’ll come to their senses, stumble naked back into town, and have no recollection of what happened. The life-source required is drawn by the undead from the flora of the region. Bound to the cemetery, the ghost requires its minions to dig tunnels – and she is draining trees from below. If the adventurers don’t interfere, the blight will spread, but a town that has died will be repopulated…though, obviously, the elves wouldn’t stand for such a perversion of the natural order…

This is a fantastic and clever conundrum, a great twist, and frankly renders this one of the coolest first level modules I’ve read in a long while. I absolutely love it!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, on a formal, and now also on a rules-language level, are excellent; the combination of easy to use shortened statblocks and full stats in the back is amazing. The pdf comes laid out in a two-column full-color standard with b/w-artworks and cartography, and a low-res version as well. The pdf does not have bookmarks, which constitutes a comfort-detriment – I strongly encourage you to print this out when running it.

Joseph Robert Lewis’ “Saving Saxham” was a HUGE surprise for me. First, I enjoyed the presentation and clever way in which the scenario handles information. Then, my spirits sank as I saw the statblock issue –an issue, which, as per the writing of this review, is no more!!

I read this...and my reaction was: "Oh boy!" “Saving Saxham” is a fantastic, slightly weird fantasy-ish/dark fantasy module that provides a truly tricky moral conundrum, a clever story and evocative prose. This feels like a module I’d run in my home-game; it is clever, smart, and yes, fun. It has a very distinct narrative voice and is more creative than a TON of modules I’ve read. This is a true winner, and as a person, I LOVE it. If you have similar tastes, then do yourself a favor and check this out!! Better yet, its revised edition now provides the rules-integrity to supplement the amazing angle, making this pretty much one of the best modules for PWYW that you can get. My final verdict for the revised iteration will be 5 stars + seal of approval - get this ASAP!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Saving Saxham: A Dungeon Age Adventure (5e)
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Future's Past: Edge Station (1 of 5)
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/12/2018 05:47:48

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first part of the Future’s Past AP clocks in at 22 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 17 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

First things first: In a rather helpful notion, the pdf does feature icons to designate the type of NPC/monster faced with helpful glyphs – a neat plus. As often, the module works best for a well-rounded group, and as far as implicit setting is concerned, the module does assume the presence of a galactic coalition of some sort. This component is vague enough to make integration into the ongoing game simple – you can run this AP in pretty much any scifi-context.

This module begins with the PCs tasked to embark on a reconnaissance mission to the eponymous Edge Station, a facility studying rifts in space-time, deep in enemy territory, where the disturbing Druune exist, carrying a potent boon with them: Hybrid items called nodes, which contain a fraction of the potent Central Artificial Intelligence. Each node specializes in two skill checks, which the node enhances. The ship bringing the PCs to the setting of the adventure is fully statted as well. The adventure features read-aloud text for all keyed locales and key moments.

A HUGE plus would be that the adventure does clearly state the rules under which the time travel assumptions that are an integral part of the plotline operate

And this is far as I can explain what happens without going into SPOILERS. Potential players will want to skip ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! During the travel to Edge Station, the PCs experience strange phenomena like a closed loop, random ship system disassembly and the like – these establish tone and help the PCs get accustomed to their fellows, and research/information to be unearthed about the station is also presented…oh, and the Druune? They store information on a cellular level instead of in a central nervous system, are capable of rewriting DNA, and are practically immortal. They can infect targets for horrid consequences, and indeed, Druune infection, a disease with its own custom track, is a serious danger the PCs will encounter. But thankfully, Central AI is a potent ally: 1/round or 1/out of combat minute, the AI can give a PC perfectly-timed advice that allows for the reroll of a d20 roll. It’s just odd that sometimes, a weird déjà-vu event accompanies this whole thing – but then, that’s a great tool for the GM to show the PCs a brief vision of how they would have encountered catastrophic failure.

Anyhow, the approach to Edge Station can be as varied as gaming groups – from force to Disguising the ship to Stealth, there are quite a few cool means of entering Druune space. As an aside – the artworks within this book are stunning, depicting Druune-tech in an almost Giger-esque blending of tech and organic components that shows that they are beyond the Coalition – but their general scavengers and druune-enslaved footsoldiers should not prove to be too much of a hindrance for the PCs. Indeed, the one association you will have nonstop, is that of Dead Space’s Necromorphs – the artworks presented for the Druune-forces are as disturbing as they are inspired.

This is not to say that Edge Station is not one cool environment to explore, mind you: The station, you see, stretches across multiple dimensions, and as such, the PCs will be traversing multiple dimensional rifts, which can have a pretty wide variety of effects, with a table offering 10 different effects, all with meaningful mechanical consequences. Note that these are the effects of traversing the rifts – the respective labs make good use of this cool premise by employing a variety of planar traits and unique options to keep things fresh. It also bears mentioning that the station feels alive, in as much as going on High Alert will make things tougher for the PCs. Similarly, the complex does have cool traps that can be disabled via a variety of means, that have the proper EAC/KAC/HP-values, that can be destroyed and bypassed…neural nets and the like make for fitting obstacles, considering how smart the Druune actually are.

From the PC’s perspective, though, Edge Station will be a horror show; humanoids turned into oozes in the attempts of the Druune to elevate the, from their collective intelligence-perspective, horribly stupid humanoids, resulting in clones and the nightmare-fuel-style servants…this will work perfectly as a space-horror adventure. Add planar traits like subjective time to the fray, and we get one damn cool adventure….that can potentially end with a bang. The node realizes that the druune defied Central AI’s predictions – a prototype temporal consciousness teleportation device is in the facility. The node comments that it must deliver this data to Central AI. Then it states that there is a non-zero chance that the PCs are infected with druune-cells. It tells them that they cannot be allowed to leave and forbids investigation of the druune tech, issuing a final task, to destroy the prototype, before going dark.

The Central AI abandoned them. The PCs may be infected, slowly turning into Druune slaves. The node is initiating its self-destruct sequence…and they are stranded in a Druune facility. Now if that’s not an amazing cliffhanger, what is??

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no issues on a formal or rules-language level. Layout adheres to a really nice two-column full-color standard and the pdf sport a lot of absolutely amazing original full-color artwork. The pdf is fully bookmarked for your convenience. Cartography deserves special mention: The PC’s ship and the Druune ships they encounter are fully mapped in full color, and the complex they explore similarly comes with a neat full-color maps. Better yet, we get unlabeled, player-friendly versions of these maps, making the module really VTT-friendly and allowing for the use of maps as handouts et al.

Okay, I did not tell you, not even in the SPOILER-section, what made me cackle with glee. For the GM, who will get one crucial piece of information in the beginning, this module takes on a whole different dimension that makes it much smarter than it would seem from my above elaboration of its plot. From a player’s perspective, this is one utterly creepy, amazing dark scifi module that really drives home how alien the Druune are, how strange – it oozes Dead Space-y themes and atmosphere, condensing the best of said franchise down in a surprisingly efficient manner. In spite of the seeming brevity, this module has quite a lot of content to offer, and NEVER, not even once, presents a standard encounter or boring design-piece. Here, you can see why Stephen Rowe may well be one of the best designers currently working in the d20-realm: Beyond being a gifted author, he also is an exceedingly talented designer, and it shows here – the blending of mechanics and flavor is seamless, organic, perfect. This is as amazing an introductory scenario as you could expect from an AP and represents a phenomenal kick-off for the series. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval, given sans hesitation.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Future's Past: Edge Station (1 of 5)
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Ships: Pirate Fighter
Publisher: Evil Robot Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/09/2018 12:13:29

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Ship-centric Galaxy Pirates supplements for Starfinder clocks in at 5 pages, 1 page front cover, leaving us with 4 pages of content – for the pdf that sports “demo” at the end. You see, this actually comes with a second version that I consider to be the true iteration of the pdf – that one clocks in at no less than 15 pages, of which 1 page is taken up by the front cover, 1 by the SRD.

So, how come? Well, the pdf is somewhat akin to the ship-pdfs by Evil Robot Games that I’ve covered so far: We get a fantastic artwork of the ship in question, presented as a damn cool 1-page artwork/handout. We also get a page of paper-mini-style small artwork versions of these.

HOWEVER, the pdf does also represent an evolution in several crucial components: The first, and most important evolution would be that the pdf does not simply present a single ship. Instead, there are no less than 7 (!!) ships, with full stats included. All of these are pirate fighters – the base version comes with a micron light power core, a gyrolaser and mk 3 armor and defenses, clocking in at a tier 1/3 interceptor with 30 BP. Like all the ships herein, we get proper crew modifiers for the pilot, and a little table of Computer Check DCs to glean information for it.

That would be the basic, stock pirate fighter – the pdf then proceeds to present an advanced gun-fighter, which, at 40 BP and tier ½ is powered by a micron heavy power core and comes with a coilgun – and a MK1 mononode computer! But perhaps you prefer raw power over mk 4 armor and defenses and a better computer? Well also at tier ½, there would be a variant that comes equipped with a micron light power core and a chain cannon instead – though, obviously, this means that compromises had to be made regarding defenses. On the other side of the spectrum, the heavy armored fighter would be a variant that has a gyrolaser and with mk 5 armor and mk 6 defenses certainly is…well, better defended! You get to choose! Really cool!

However, unlike in previous pdfs, there are variants provided – the ace pirate fighter, at tier 2 and 75 build points, for example, comes with a signal basic drift engine, a pulse black power core and forward-facing weaponry that includes a coilgun and a light torpedo launcher…oh, and aft? Actually defended in contrast to most fighters – a light laser canon is waiting for fools. With an MK 2 monode computer, as well as better armor and defenses, it certainly makes for a significantly more impressive vessel, as befitting of an ace pilot!

On the other side of things, you know how it can be. You’re stranded in some sucky desert cantina, with barely a credit to your name, and you know you need to get around? Well, sometimes beggars can‘t be choosers and for these instances, we get tier ¼ ships with a paltry 25 BP – the degenerate gun-fighter and the degenerate laser-fighter. The former comes with a flak thrower, the latter with a gyrolaser and a light laser at the aft. Big plus!

Anyhow, there is more to these: You see, in contrast to other pdfs, the respective ships do come with notes on famous units: For the tier ¼ vessel, we for example learn about how…certain…ahem… temperaments of pilots favor it; we learn about ace pilots and how Errad’s Roughriders favor the armored vessels – these little bits of flavor enhance immersion.

Now, here is the reason this pdf is so much larger than the previous ones – we get fully filled-in ship-sheets for ALL of these variants – you just need to print them out, and bam, you’re set to go. That is pure awesome, particularly considering how aesthetically-pleasing these sheets are.

There is one more aspect in this pdf that put a HUGE smile on my face, that sent my mind to the stars. It’s about 2/3 of a page long, and it has the rather unremarkable header “procedures.” It adds more to the sense of reality, to being plausible, than I imagined, and it made me very aware of how much I missed that type of information from Starfinder’s Core book. First of all, the external visual inspection section can provide some cool roleplaying cues and even adventure hooks for players and GMs alike.

Even cooler, and put a big smile on my face, though, were the detailed “Prepare for takeoff” instructions – they really let you visualize how it is to pilot them. It adds actual soul and detail to getting into your fighter, it makes the whole thing…more real, less of an abstraction. This may well have spoiled me for any scifi-RPG; it’ll now be something I’ll be looking for everywhere – and yes, “Takeoff Procedure” also is explained. You don’t see how amazing that can be? Okay, perhaps this is the otaku in me talking, but I still get goosebumps when my favorite heroes get in their fighters, are sent towards launch pads, hit the ignition switch and announce over intercom their names and that of their fighters, how they’re ready for takeoff. Perhaps it’s just me being a huge Gundam fanboy, but this section…oh boy, did it made me smile! It’s a small thing, but to me, it vastly enhances the pdf.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch on a formal and rules-language level, I noticed no issues. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard, and, as before, the artwork presented for the fighter is amazing. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length. While we do not get a map of the one-pilot interceptors, this is offset by the sheer amount of content we get.

Paul Fields and Jim Milligan deliver a pdf here that is insane. The amazing artwork alone is worth the asking price, of, get ready…a paltry BUCK. Yep. $0.99. You can’t buy ANYTHING even halfway significant for that nowadays (not sure how much a snicker bars is today in the US), but I know that you can’t even get a cup of joe for a buck! The artwork alone is worth the asking price; and then, you not only get a whole bunch of ships, ready for insertion into your game, you also get them already filled into ship-sheets…AND you get flavor galore! For a buck! This is one of the pdfs that really made me scratch my head regarding how it can…well, exist– honest passion is the only explanation feasible.

It really is. The evolution of the already impressive base of the series in this way further shows a willingness to listen to fans…oh, and that humble procedure section? It’s not something you’ll whip out all the time, obviously. But it adds an immense amount of soul, of plausibility, to the proceedings, and it helps reduce the disjoint between playmodes – it makes piloting feel less like “We hit the space combat mini-game”, and more like “I go into MY fighter. I start the sequence. I go out.” – this humble bit of fluff makes entering space combat feel like it’s a continuation of the game, not a hard-cut-abstraction, as modes shift.

Beyond roleplaying potential (My lucky safety harness…pictures of holiday planet xyz, etc.), this is so obvious now that I see it, it’s puzzling that I never realized how much I missed it before.

This is one little stroke of genius indeed, and I sincerely hope that SFRPG publishers take heed- this is how it’s done regarding ships. I am genuinely and thoroughly impressed by this offering, and if you even remotely have use for a couple of space pirate fighters (seriously, who hasn’t?), then get this ASAP. If you purchase this and end up genuinely thinking that this wasn’t worth the single buck of its asking price, then contact me. I’ll refund you. And no, I’m not affiliated with Evil Robot Games in any shape, way or form. I just believe this much in this humble, amazing little pdf. Final verdict? 5 stars + seal of approval. If these guys ever kickstart a big book of ships, get on board. Seriously – if this is the shape of things to come from the company, then consider me a fan!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ships: Pirate Fighter
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20 Things #30: Orc Village (System Neutral Edition)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/09/2018 12:11:46

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!

Orc villages, suffice to say, are living, breathing places, and as such, the pdf begins with different sights and sounds, depending on whether the green-skins have been made aware of the presence of intruders. From ongoing torture of non-orcs, to orc mums carrying water and slapping kids, the atmosphere of evil, of violence, is palpable, with a feeling of aggression simmering right below the boiling point making this a rather compelling table. The alerted sights and sounds, then, represent the eruption of said violence…and when armed, homicidal orc kids try to prove themselves as proper human-slayers, even hardened adventurers may balk at using deadly force…

The series makes good use of its structural improvements on the next page, providing 12 entries for dressing of the village proper, with dejected, abused cows and rubbish strewn around establishing a sense of squalor and misery, while the 8 entries for dressing in orc huts show a proclivity for violent means of decorating things as well as the obvious lack of knowledge/talent regarding architecture. Smartly hidden treasures may also be found by perceptive PCs, but as a whole, the achievement here is the maintenance of the aggression-leitmotif suffusing these as well.

The next section provides fluff-only entries for notable sample orcs, noting alignment in brackets), but otherwise remaining system neutral; 6 warriors, champions and chiefs, 4 rank and file orcs, 4 shamans and 4 orc kids with personality are included – and yes, they all are CE. Don’t like that? Well, you can make a case for the impact of good nurturing right? Provided the PCs don’t murder-hobo through everyone, of course.

We conclude this supplement with a table of 20 sample orcish treasures and trinkets, which includes a prized, hallucinogenic toad, voodoo dolls, the revered skull of an orcish king, perhaps and badly-stitched together hide armors complement this section.

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 and Bart Wynants succeed in creating a fine and thematically-concise dressing file for the orcish village; at no point does it feel like a generic goblinoid village; instead, the simmering savagery and violence of orc culture is emphasized in a wide variety of different examples for successful indirect story-telling. My final verdict is 5 stars + seal of approval, a great little dressing file.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
20 Things #30: Orc Village (System Neutral Edition)
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Null Singularity
Publisher: Steve Bean Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/08/2018 05:25:44

An ENdzeitgeist.com review

This supplement/one-shot/setting-ish book clocks in at 56 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 52 pages of content (laid out in 6’’ by 9’’(A5), in a landscape orientation), so let’s take a look!

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

I can review this book in one sentence: Black Sun Deathcrawl, Scifi-edition.

…I jest, of course. Partially. I assume familiarity with my review of Black Sun Deathcrawl in the discussion below. If you haven’t, please take a look at it. You can find it here.

You see, Null Singularity does note on its cover that it’s inspired by Black Sun Deathcrawl, and the author has actually asked Black Sun Deathcrawl’s (I’ll shorten that to BSD below) creator for his blessing – a brief interview can be found in the back of the book, spanning two pages.

And indeed, in a way, Null Singularity does imitate BSD in several obvious key components: The ominous flavor-text used to establish tone and setting? Check. The slightly obscure, doom-laden introductory scripture that invites individualized exegesis to fill out details? Check. The unstoppable, all-encompassing threat, coupled with a theme of futility and nihilism? Check. You get the idea – there are a lot of similarities, quite intentionally so.

However, there also are plenty of differences that mirror the science-fiction context and that influence, rather significantly, the tone and experience of playing this game. In a way, it is nigh impossible to discuss Null Singularity without spoiling some parts of it – before I get into the “story”-related components presented within, I will add another spoiler-warning, but in order to discuss it and how it diverges from BSD, I have to explain a couple of things, so if you want to go into this as a blank-slate experience for maximum efficiency, stop reading NOW and skip ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

Okay, only judges around? Okay, so a key difference of this supplement and BSD would be focus. BSD is very much a game of savagery, one wherein struggle for survival is often brutal on a physical and emotional level. Null Singularity is similar in that it gets rid of classes and races – there only are the Voidants (character sheet provided in the back). The Null-Singularity is basically consuming everything, a thing beyond even the Singularity as an event, something beyond the infinite, crushing in its endless inevitability – it is, to quote the pdf, “EveryWhere and EveryWhen.” Voidants, life, learned F/Utility aboard their VoidArks. There is just the mission. It has no parameters.

Voidants roll 3d6 for ability scores, get 1d6 +1d4 +2 for Stamina modifier hit points, and one ability is raised to the lowest score that improves its modifier. Voidants act, functionally as thieves, substituting the thief skill that works best for using a scifi item/accomplishing a task: Find Trap to diagnose malfunctions, etc. Alignment is randomly rolled, and each PC begins play with a Void Zoot, Oh-Too Well, Squawk Box, VoidZeal, HydraCycler, HeatPak, Battery and Ration (Ize-Kreem Brik and Or’nge-Flave Powder). You get a d12 roll for additional equipment, and you roll 1d4-1 to determine how many pieces of equipment are malfunctioning; then, a d12 to determine the extent of the malfunction. Every 30 minutes real time, every piece of equipment with failure imminent will be destroyed/shut down. Also, every PC rolls a d6. On a natural 1, one piece of survival gear will malfunction – for every additional 30 minutes passing, you ADD another d6. If you roll all sixes, you find a salvageable piece of gear.

There is no Luck score, only Resource Fullness. Resource Fullness may be burned, but PCs don’t get a luck die and do not recover burned points. A PC at 0 Resource Fullness is taken by the Void.

Resource Fullness is also on a timer: Every 20 minutes real time, all players mark off half a box of Oh-Too, H2O and Battery Pak (for heat). In any round that a PC has zero Oh-Too, H2O or Battery, or a malfunctioning Void Zoot or HeatPak, the PC MUST burn one point of Resource Fullness.

PCs may steal Resource Fullness from other PCs and monsters.

Okay, this is the basic rules-chassis, and it is radically different from BSD. It isn’t focused on exploring the dynamics between PCs and Hope, about what it’ll take for them to give up. This is not, like BSD, an attempt to depict the experience of depression or other such metaphysical experience. Instead, from language to rules, it is focused on one thing “F/Utility.” The duality encompassed in this term is stark and reverberates through the entirety of the supplement: For one, Voidants being thieves in functionality places a greater emphasis on trickery and adds options to their array, at least when compared with BSD’s Cursed.

The language, as you could glean from the equipment names above, depicts a clever evolution of terms, which adds a distinct feeling of both estrangement and familiarity – like many contemporary scifi books, it thus manages to enhance immersion. From the rules, you will have noticed one thing: The voidants are horribly fragile, and unlike the Cursed, they can, and will die without their consent mattering in the least. That there is the central and most important distinction: Beyond the scifi-theme, which, by font, language, etc., evokes a stark and harsh sense of clinical detachment, the central theme and goal of this game is radically different from BSD: This is a game of survival and doing whatever it takes; it is indebted to BSD, yes; it is similar in many components, yes. It’s a wholly different playing experience nonetheless.

Since the launch of the VoidArks, XenoData has been collected, which is represented by stats for the XenoPhases encountered so far – these include GravSpectra, malevolent fields of gravity; silicate, maggot-like things that leech heat and fungal masses that consume Otoo. Quantum fluctuations caused by the Null Singularity represent hazards based on spell effects, and among these, there also would be StarkReal – basically, the madness engine of the system. And, there would be XenoHorrors. In a way, this feels like a better realized mini-bestiary/hazard array to complicate matters…but this is also where Null Singularity drastically diverts from the course of BSD.

The following is slightly more SPOILER-laden that before. I strongly suggest that players jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

Only judges around? Great!

Know how I basically told you that the encounters in BSD, with one exception, pretty much sucked and probably should be ignored? Yeah, well Null Singularity goes a different route. The second half of the book is devoted to basically the adventure – we have massive read-aloud texts and a sequence of challenges that a judge could expand/develop further, if desired. It is here, where you can choose to play Null Singularity not as a customizable campaign template, but as a linear one-shot module, and honestly, it’s a pretty amazing series of encounters that we get here. The descriptive text really drives home the atmosphere of F/Utility suffusing the game, of the nightmarish existence depicted within. To quote from the introductory read-aloud text: "You were brought into being aboard Alektryon and you’ve spent 99.1968% of your life inside It. LifeDatum: you spend most of your time in SomniStays-Iz to help conserve resources. You hate it. In SomniStays-Iz you dream endlessly about the Null Singularity. Occasionally, you Re/Sur/Vive. And then, it happens. The VoidArk is experiencing catastrophic PlanetFall."

I am not going to explain the entirety of the plot here, but the F/Utility angle reaches its culmination in the end, when the book basically closes a loop, one that may not restract, but actually become worse. True to the focus on Survival, it is thus theoretically possible to replay this scenario over and over – to survive it. Null Singularity, within its bleak parameters, may be “won.”

The pdf does btw. offer an appendix for inspiring media.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a landscape, one-column b/w-standard, with the pdf using plenty of thematically fitting stock-art to enhance the stark atmosphere of the experience. Much to my chagrin, the pdf-version has no bookmarks, which makes navigating the pdf a colossal pain – a serious comfort detriment. I strongly suggest printing this or getting a print copy. I can’t comment on the merits or lack thereof of the print version, as I do not own it.

Steve Bean’s “Null Singularity” is more than Black Sun Deathcrawl in space – and that is quite a feat, considering the shared themes and obvious homage to the latter. In theme, this feels like someone took the black metal band Darkspace and wrote a game as bleak and uncompromising as their devastatingly bleak sound. The suggested bands in the appendix (Pink Floyd, Husker Du and Philip Glass) or acts like Mare Cognitum, imho, do not capture the mood half as well. The stark science-fiction backdrop is uncompromising in its vision, and the threats, the constant experience of malfunctions – they render this one brutally-tough game with a singular, most efficient vision.

And this brings me to the point that differentiates this most from Black Sun Deathcrawl, at least for me: While the trappings are similar, the function couldn’t be more different. Where Black Sun Deathcrawl, arguably, is more artwork than game, more experience than RPG, Null Singularity is, very clearly and distinctively, a game – a game of resource-management that shares themes and bleakness-levels with BSD, but a game that may be won – in a manner of speaking. Kind of. As a piece of game design, it is clearly superior in that its plot and playing experience is, by design, more differentiated. This, however, also means that it can’t duplicate the sledgehammer-like impact, the psychological intensity, of Black Sun Deathcrawl. I don’t think that this would trigger most folks, for example. So yeah, whichever of the two you prefer is ultimately up to what you want from the experience – or, as one of my players remarked, of “…how much of an RPG-hipster you are.”

Black Sun Deathcrawl manages, like e.g. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice did for psychosis, to depict, in a gaming context, how it can feel to live with depression.

Null Singularity does not attempt the like. Instead, its thesis could be summed up as follows: “Look, this is how you can make an experience like Black Sun Deathcrawl behave more like a game without losing the emergent storytelling from a super-bleak setting.” In a way, it re-gamifies the aesthetics of Black Sun Deathcrawl and creates something that is truly and wholly distinct from its parent. Beyond the different setting, Null Singularity is probably more fun for groups that like to see if they can “beat” or “endure” or “survive” something. It is more fun than Black Sun Deathcrawl, courtesy of the frantic resource consumption mechanics. On one hand, this makes it the better game; on the other, this means that it can’t, at least for me, reach the level of impact that Black Sun Deathcrawl had.

But what does it mean? Well, ultimately, in the face of the Null Singularity…nothing, of course. Only you can decide what meaning is, as a concept, to you and yours, only you can ascribe meaning, quantify and qualify your priorities and that of your group – whether you prefer this or Black Sun Deathcrawl is a matter of aesthetics and what you’re looking for.

As a reviewer, I consider Null Singularity a resounding success – it could have just been a lame clone of Black Sun Deathcrawl and instead created something wholly and radically distinct. While the lack of bookmarks hurts the book and makes it lose half a star, I still arrive at a final verdict of 4.5 stars, which I will round up for the purpose of this platform. This also deserves my seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Null Singularity
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Ships: Eldred Intermediate Cruiser
Publisher: Evil Robot Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/08/2018 05:22:15

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the ship-centric Galaxy Pirates-supplements clocks in at 7 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

On page numero uno, we get the stats for the intermediate cruiser of the Eldred, which clocks in as a tier 4 vessel with the suggested 115 BP. As far as frame is concerned, the intermediate cruiser uses the large destroyer and an arcus heavy power core. Interesting: It is pretty solidly armed with a light particle beam and a torpedo launcher as well as light laser cannons and a signal basic drift engine, but its energy consumption can theoretically exceed output (theoretically - it's more a flavor thing, to emphasize that once more), showing its status as a bridging model intended to test new designs. The ship comes with basic shields and slightly above average HP, at 170. Crew modifiers are provided for captain, engineer, gunners, pilot and science officer, and we do get a small table for Computers check DCs to know details about the ship. A brief flavor-text further contextualizes the ship, and the page containing these pieces of information sports a rather nice full-color artwork of a cockpit.

Amazing: We get a full, top-down map of the ship in full color, with every component explained…so if your PCs get one of these charming ships, they’ll know exactly where what is. The detailed labels really bring this ship to life and are super helpful. HOWEVER, it would have been amazing if the pdf had also featured an unlabeled version, for the instance where the PCs enter it without having a clue where they are. The ship encompasses three decks, btw. Also a huge comfort-plus: the pdf comes with an impressive one-page full-color artwork of the cruiser, perfectly-suitable as a handout. A whole page of paper-mini-style stand-ins is included as well, and if that weren’t enough, we get a surprisingly neat, lovingly crafted ship-sheet, already filled out for your convenience – now that is consumer-friendly!!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard with a surprising amount of high-quality artworks. The cartography is very impressive and in full-color – add an unlabeled version and I’ll be in heaven; even at this point, though, this is beyond what I expected to fin. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Paul Fields and Jim Milligan honestly surprised me with this humble pdf – we get a ship with character here – a slightly overburdened one with its intentional flaws, but personally, as a fan of series like Firefly et al., this makes the intermediate cruiser actually more charming to me. The quality of the artwork and cartography, the added filled-in sheet, the paper mini-versions, the handout versions – these people have really put some thought into this supplement. The attention to detail and care must be applauded, and indeed, here’s the even better thing: This fellow is actually available for PWYW! Seriously, this is one cool, unpretentious premium-ship for any price you’re willing to pay! What’s not to love?? So yeah, I highly recommend checking this out and leaving a proper tip for it. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ships: Eldred Intermediate Cruiser
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Ships: Interceptor
Publisher: Evil Robot Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/08/2018 05:16:47

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Galaxy Pirates supplements that focus on ships clocks in at 6 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 4 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

On the first page of this supplement, we get the stats for the eponymous interceptor, which clocks in as a Tiny tier ½ machine – which obviously has but one crew-member, namely the pilot. As far as defenses are concerned, we have basic 10 shields, mk 4 armor and defenses and a micron heavy power core fueling these. EDIT: Here, my review text may have been misleading for folks who don't know that gyrolasers can fire in broad arcs. I tried to state that the interceptor has only weapons facing the front firing arc. The interceptor has 2 fire linked gyrolasers, and gyrolasers have broad arc, which allows them to fire at -2 to an adjacent firing arc. The ship comes with a brief table of Computer check DCs to know something about the vessel and a VERY brief description of the craft, but not much about its story, design, etc – instead, about ½ of the first page is blank. Some additional fluff would have improved this little fellow and made it stand out.

On the second page, we get a massive, one-page artwork version of the interceptor, which is really neat; we follow this with a page of smaller versions suitable for e.g. paper-mini-construction, and we close the pdf with an aesthetically-pleasing ship-sheet that ahs the interceptor’s details already filled out for you.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a full-color two-column standard with a white background, and, as noted, the artworks provided for the interceptor are great and compelling, and the handout-version, the mini-version and the filled-out sheet show that he authors thought about immediate usefulness at the table – a big plus. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length. However, unlike the larger ships, we don’t get a map of the insides of the interceptor, one of the things that really blew me away about e.g. the intermediate cruiser the Eldred manufactured.

Paul Fields and Jim Milligan deliver an interceptor with amazing artworks, ready to use at the table, and for the low price of just a buck, you indeed get your money’s worth. A map would have been sweet, but I don’t hold that against the pdf at this price point, particularly considering the quality of the artwork. That being said, I do hold against it that the interceptor is a bit pale – it could have really used some additional descriptive text to make it stand out more – on the first page, there is ample blank space that could have been used to make this vessel more interesting. As a whole, I consider this to be a solid offering, though personally, it didn’t excite me to the same extent the intermediate cruiser did. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Ships: Interceptor
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La Bas Chartreuse
Publisher: Kort'thalis Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/07/2018 07:22:17

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement intended for Venger Satanis‘ „The Outer Presence“-game clocks in at 11 pages, with half a page front cover, 1 page devoted to the editorial and 1 page devoted to the big Kort’thalis glyph, leaving us with 9.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Now, first things first – while the name implies as such, do not expect a homage to Là-bas by Joris-Karl Huysmans – instead, this brief supplement represents basically a plug-and-play weirdness that could theoretically be inserted easily into an ongoing game. Theme-wise, this is, unsurprisingly for The Outer Presence, lovecraftian and heavily indebted to the aesthetics of the Cthulhu mythos. That being said, structure is not traditionally the strength of Kort’thalis Publishing offerings, so be aware of the need to read this, in its entirety, before attempting to use it.

The following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

Only GM’s around? Great!

The pdf begins, after a brief introduction, with its longest section, which is written, well, I might add, as an in-character narrative of an explorer happening upon the demonic stairway and the horrible consequences thereof. That being said, the dimensions of the stairway are actually are found on the last page – it’s 700 steps long. There is a brief table of wandering encounters: Guerilla fighters, natives, cartel thugs, cultists and an expedition, as well as a tentacle dripping lurker can be found here and contextualize this with the implicit south-east Asian jungle. A table of 4 entries allow the GM to establish who surprises who, if any. None of these random encounters get any stats.

Now, the stairs ostensibly lead to hell, but within 30 ft. of the entrance to it, there is the monolith, covered in vagina-like mouths dripping slime. This monolith also acts as a gateway to an alien universe, with 6 entries in a table of things that happen to you (hint: you won’t like them) and 6 entries noting some kinds of silver lining for the experience.

Speaking of “lack of structure”: We get a table for the amount of blood around the monolith after a d20 table of properties for alien metal. Guess what does not show up in this supplement?

Bingo. Alien metal.

The table is per se cool, but it applies more to Dead God Excavation, and feels like it eats up page-count here that the set-up could have really used, for there are 3 one-page artworks, which, while all really neat b/w-pieces, further cut down the page count describing the phenomenon itself. If we take the alien table and artwork tables away, we arrive at 4.5 pages remaining…and I couldn’t help but feel that we could have used more space to actually develop the concept. A table of 6 entries in the table “Thy Destiny Awaits” allows for the creation of consequences of the trip down these infernal stairs.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level. Due to the absence of any rules-relevant components, there are no chances to screw that up – this is basically system neutral. Layout adheres to a GORGEOUS two-column standard with a sickly green tint, runes and different splotches of blood on each page – this is a gorgeous pdf. The pdf also comes with a more printer-friendly version. The pdfs also come fully bookmarked for your convenience – kudos indeed!

Venger Satanis is a talented author – he can actually succeed at evoking the, admittedly, clichéd aesthetics of the Cthulhu Mythos in a way that is visceral and effective. Surprisingly so. And I like the idea of La Bas Chartreuse! A hellish stairway that could be easily plugged into your game? Heck yeah!

The execution, though, suffers from a couple of flaws: Even for the most rules-lite of Venger’s VSd6-engine based games, this is very flimsy as far as gaming content is concerned. The structure, while portraying atmosphere in an excellent manner, makes the GM slowly piece together what the hell is actually going on, and the insertion of the alien metal table in the middle doesn’t really help navigate this somewhat confusing sequence. This is pretty much as GM-unfriendly in its presentation and structure as it can be – it’s a solid reading experience, its presentation is beautiful, but it’s not a well-presented or -structured supplement.

It also needlessly hamstrings itself by being super peculiar in some aspects, vague in others – the reader should not have to search through the entirety of the pdf to discern how the location looks, and its close association with the implicit Sri-Lankan angle is intriguing, but also limits the use of this stairway unduly. Think about it: Make this a “wandering” staircase; have a table of omens for its arrival, for its door, and make it recurring…and suddenly, you have one nasty place. Egress from the stair may well put the PCs out of space or time, etc. – there is potential here, but none of these intriguing angles are actually developed or mentioned within. Instead, as presented, we have a somewhat cthulhoid staircase that leads to hell. The monolith, the second big feature herein, alas suffers from having to stand up to LotFP’s “Monolith from Beyond Space and Time” and its supremely creative effects, and falls short in every conceivable way.

In short: This is a surprisingly weak offering for Venger, perhaps the weakest supplement I have seen him produce. Now, the low price point does salvage this supplement to an extent, but ultimately, I’d consider this only interesting for fans of Venger that are completists. My final verdict will clock in at 2 stars due to the low asking price.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
La Bas Chartreuse
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Rogue's Run
Publisher: Gamer Printshop
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/06/2018 04:16:45

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module, billed as an extended one-shot (or two-shot) clocks in at 70 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page blank, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 65 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

All righty, first things first: If you’re looking for a one-shot for 7th level, this module can easily be condensed to be a smaller module, should you choose to do that; it’s also important to note that about ½ the page-count of this pdf deals with supplemental material. This may sound like much, but in this case, it generally should e considered to be a plus, as it does offer depth if you choose to dive a bit deeper – at least in theory.

The module does sport well-written read-aloud text for your convenience.

All righty, this being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. I will denote the end of the SPOILER-section further below, as the supplement does contain a ton of supplemental materials we should discuss. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! The pdf assumes that the PCs are trader-smugglers/for hire with their own Medium starship (the Jack of Diamonds, as an example for the like, should your PCs have none, is provided with full plans and pictures!), and the basic premise is a pretty simple one: The PCs are to pick up goods and deliver them from frosty Niflheim, a mining planet to Port Carthage, which is a rather notorious pirate haven – somewhat akin to Freeport in space, if you will.

We thus join the PCs as they can explode the icy outpost Hvergelmir (including a fully-mapped inn/tavern, player-friendly, I might add!), and as a plus, their contact gets stats. These are incorrect in a variety of ways, but thankfully, they probably won’t impact the game and should be considered to be optional.

Anyhow, the issue of the smuggling is as follows: Hostilities between the MegaCorps and Port Carthage’s pirates have recently escalated, and a corporate navy has basically created a huge dimensional lock-like effect to prevent Drift access as part of the blockade of Port Carthage. Thus, it’s up to the PCs to engage in some old-school, pre-Drift smuggling via the old smuggler’s route, the eponymous Rogue’s Run. Exiting Drift near the begin of the notorious route will have an Adam 12 sector-police patrol (fully mapped and statted) on the PC’s trail. Two statblocks for the police are provided, and the good news is that they are more precise than those provided in the appendices (more on that later); they do have a couple of glitches and lack plusses for skills, and equipment/damage values for melee attacks. In fact, they don’t seem to have melee weapons. Oddly, all seem to have awards for heroism as per the morale line. They seem to have been built with PC-rules, but regardless of whether you look at them with PC-rules or NPC-rules, there are serious glitches here. If correct statblocks matter for you, then this will have you grit your teeth. (As written, they, as level 6 and 8, can be mowed down by PCs without much hassle.) No values are provided to bribe/fool the police.

Now, the first part of the route would be the Hellgate – passing it will take a tool – 1 Hit Point…and on a failed Fort-save after the journey, that loss will be permanent! OUCH! Pretty epic, though: exiting the portal of pulsing flames will have the PCs immediately facing a minefield and a centurion class mine laying vessel – passing the field may rock the vessel, but soon thereafter, the PCs can witness the sight of the Sisters – twin black holes…and, to make matters worse, the minefield#s rocky ride has caused a crate to burst open – and now a crazed assembly ooze is on the loose in the ventilation system! Corralling it into a trap can make for one cool mini-game – and yes, ventilation system maps for the ship are provided! The PCs will also be seen by a star-eater nymph, a ginormous thing that may take the ship for a morsel. It may be dissuaded with some pain, though.

Easily my favorite encounter of the whole module would pertain the Sisters. Their Event horizons spin in opposite clockwise direction – and they can, when timed properly, act as basically a horrid super-catapult. Personally, I made timing this a proper mini-game where the PCs could show their knowledge, and then handed out the cool diagram for passing them as a reward-handout of sorts. I think that this encounter could have used a bit more mechanical meat on its bones. Arriving near Port Carthage, the PCs are contacted by the Cyberian, obviously a pirate vessel, which requests their aid triangulating an out-of-phase corp ship that may be responsible for the Drift-blockade.

Arrival at port carthage will show that the PCs have not been the only ones dealing with crazed oozes, and indeed, the PCs will get a chance to impress the Baroness of Port Carthage in a final conflict with a more…massive ooze, potentially starting a promising career as smugglers/space pirates!

END OF SPOILERS

The first of the aforementioned appendix-sections details the Kronusverse, the implied setting that was introduced in “Dead in Space” – I welcomed the brief introduction provided within, since I don’t yet own that massive book. The ideas presented are pretty interesting: Earth, turns out, is actually a sentient plant, who proceeded to receive an ultimatum from the being now dubbed Kronus, who pronounced a 1-decade countdown: After that, it would destroy any remnants of mankind left on it. Thankfully, humanity had already taken to the stars. After that, the underclass)es) sought freedom from the reign of the MegaCorps and ventured forth into what is now known Colonial Space, to differentiate it from Corporate Space. (Odd here: The first sentence of this section is printed twice.) Beyond even the frontier of Colonial Space lies the stretch, as of now the true frontier of humanity exploring space.

The second appendix gives us a summary o Port carthage (bonus points if you quote Cicero), a station salvaging vessel built into the shell of an asteroid, the slowly turned into basically a planetoid-sized station with the help of assembly oozes. Led by Admiral Baroness Ching Shi as a constitutional monarchy, where your profession and standing determines the amount of votes you get. A kind of pirate constitutional monarchy, if you will. Pretty cool: We not only get more detailed descriptions, we also get a fully mapped version of Port Carthage, with a separate pdf for full one-page-sized maps as well. Indeed, as always with Gamer Printshop, the map-support is extraordinary: The pdf comes with no less than 6 (!!) bonus pdfs containing read-to-print maps. Only one of them, the Outpost Hvergelmir, does have somewhat jarring labels on it – the other ones all could be printed and used as hand-out-style maps, if you want. For me, that is a huge plus.

The pdf does come with 5 pregens, though it should be noted that the formatting of this pregen presentation is very busy and cluttered – it makes more sense to take a sheet and fill them in. Plusses are missing before skills, attributes lack modifiers in brackets, and so on. Spells are not formatted correctly, etc. Personally, these made me twitch and I’ll pretend that they’re not here. Yeah, sorry, but the formatting’s that messy.

Unfortunately, this extends to the next appendix, at least to a degree – here major NPCs (Including a really nice 1-page artwork of Baroness Ching Shi) are provided with full stats. Or rather, half stats. The good new first, the stats are easier to read than those of the pregens – they are not as cluttered and messy. Good news: They generally seem to adhere, for the most part, to the monster/NPC-creation guidelines presented in the Alien Archive, at least when it comes to the basics. Alas, e.g. mastered skills and good skills do not check out for the CRs, offensive/defensive/other abilities are not correctly assigned, there are not enough Languages noted, attack bonuses don’t check out, there is no gear noted and the attack values note BABs that are not correct for the CR-values. Not even remotely. A level 19 envoy notes +23 for melee, +29 for ranged attacks. The Envoy class graft requires the expert base array, and this one clearly states +31 for the high, +29 for the low atk value. No damage or weaponry is given, so you basically look at something like that: “Melee +23”. That’s the entirety. Perception also is nonstandard throughout. There are only 3 of these statblocks, but try as I might, I can only describe them with one word: WRONG.

Thankfully, the author seems to have taken a much closer look regarding the details when it comes to the new ship bays like the assembly ooze reprogramming bay, the asteroid processor, etc., as well as landing claws, an ooze system one-use enhancement – these are genuinely cool and interesting and some armor augmentations from the Starships, Stations and Salvage Guide are reprinted here as well. Alas, the table does lack bay, PCU and BP-costs for ship mines. The entry’s there, just not the proper values – but then, this may be intentional, as their cost is based on capital tracking weaponry and a flexible means of calculating cost. Still, having the full information here would have been nice.

The pdf also includes a section of personal equipment and these tend to be interesting – there, for example, would be a heavy multi tool spanner, which is a cool visual indeed. However, skill-references don’t capitalize them properly, and it does deviate from standards in a couple of ways: For one, the table does not note bulk, requiring the reference of the text. Secondly, add-ons are a lower level than the weapon, which is odd. I am pretty sure that the base damage should be “B”, not “A”, as there is an acid-add-on…which does “B” damage. sigh These add-ons are a cool idea, allowing for flexibility. Alas, they don’t state how the critical effects are supposed to interact. I’m pretty sure the item’s melee should not have “explode” as a critical effect. This one really hurt me, as I really like the idea, but the implementation is pretty rough. Not unusable, but it does require some serious fixing by the GM to work in a precise manner.

The two vessels, the CCN Dido and the Geode Survey Rig 23 (with images from the outside for both and full maps for the Geode Survey Rig 23) are tighter, thankfully. (We don’t get tier-ratings for either, though. Five further ships are provided, and we get two more full-page pictures of them, which is rather neat.

The next appendix presents the space pirate base class, who gets 6 Hit Points, 6 + Constitution modifier Stamina per level, 6 + Intelligence modifier skills per level, Charisma as key ability modifier and proficiency in light armor, basic and advanced melee weapons, small arms, long arms and grenades, ¾ BAB-progression and good Reflex and Will-saves. (As an aside: In the table, the “Will” word at the column’s header seems to have drifted to the class abilities.) The class adds a class skill every level (!!), and every other level, you get +1 to that skill. Okay…shouldn’t that, I don’t know, be a free rank or something like that? The ability also contradicts itself, suddenly stating that, at 13th level, you get a second class skill, when RAW, at this point, you’d have already received +12 class skills! The class also receives a unique weapon, which uses the highest attribute modifier (!!) to atk and which receives a fusion equal to the class level and may be used in conjunction with trick attacks at 9th level. Guess who RAW does not receive trick attacks? Bingo. The space pirate. The class comes with an array of talents, tricks of all trades, which basically poach from other classes in some cases. Rules-language and formatting is inconsistent. This class does not operate properly RAW and would have been better off as an archetype. The section also includes a theme, which, at 12th level, lets you take a gear boost, envoy improvisation, mechanic trick or operatives edge. Wait. The latter is a fixed ability. Should that be exploit?? It should also specify that prerequisites other than those contingent on class abilities should still be met.

The bestiary chapter is more interesting – here, we get an vessel-sized assembly ooze (including starship assembly/disassembly-rules), which is pretty neat. If you’re very particular about monsters adhering strictly to the values proposed in the Alien Archive, you may be irked to see that the creatures herein do deviate from the standard values. However, on the plus side, formatting here, while not perfect, is MUCH better than the mess we witnessed for the NPCs and pregens, and from control cube oozes to crazed ones, we get some interesting fellows here.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are okay on a formal level. When it comes to rules-integrity and consistency, I unfortunately can’t claim the same. There is no nice way to say this, so here goes: There is not a single correct statblock herein; some have glitches so blatant you can see them at a single, cursory glance. The rules-integrity of non-statblock related components is also quite compromised in a couple of cases. If you’re picky about correct rules, then consider yourself to be warned. Layout adheres to a crisp and neat 2-column full-color standard and the artworks range from really nice to a bit goofy. The big formal plus, as far as I’m concerned, would be the cartography: If something even tangentially shows up, you’ll have full-color maps. Ships get depictions that show them from the outside, and maps for each floor; even tangentially relevant settlements get detailed full-color maps…it’s really impressive, and the maps come as pdfs as well and are player-friendly. That is a HUGE plus as far as I’m concerned, and depending on your priorities, may be enough to warrant checking out this module. The pdf also comes with extensive bookmarks that render navigation comfortable.

Michael Tumey’s “Rogue’s Run” is a module that has me torn: The angle of engaging in an old-school pre-Drift smuggling run is really cool, and the complications are interesting, to say the least. It is by design a linear experience, yes, but it is a linear experience that knows how to make the encounters feel exciting: From the first step on Rogue’s Run to the end, I was reminded of an episode of Firefly or Cowboy Bebop, and I mean that as a huge compliment. The encounters, even in the instances where they are mechanically not too exciting, do feel exciting – the ideas presented here are fun and evocative and the module can be a really exciting experience. The writing side of things is pretty darn cool, and if I were to rate this only on the merits of its ideas and vistas, it’d get a definite recommendation.

If, on the other hand, I’d solely rate this on the merits of its design-components, I’d have to tell you to steer clear. The rules-issues are pronounced and require serious GM-work to fix the statblocks. The crunch of the supplemental material, from the broken class to the half-way done NPC-statblocks, is, alas, a mess. It’s a mess that you thankfully (for the most part) don’t need to run the module. Still, were this a crunch-book and not a module, It’d, at the very best, would get a 2-star rating. This was in desperate need of a critical eye of a system-savvy editor.

So, how the heck should I rate this? I’ve mulled over the final verdict longer than for a pretty significant of modules I’ve covered. If you don’t mind the editing and formatting glitches, and if the cartography is something that’s important to you, then you may well check this out! It has its merits! On the other hand, if you want go-play and incorrect rules-language irks you, then you may want to give this a pass. Since almost half the page-count of the module is devoted to appendices of dubious rules-integrity, I’ve considered rating this to account for this component, but on the other hand, the massive amount of maps does offset this, value-wise, even if you ignore the majority of this part of the pdf. Hence, I chose to rate this primarily with a focus on its integrity as a module.

I can see folks really getting into the flavor and cool environments – I can see this working as a good module; similarly, I can see folks utterly loathing this for its flaws. I mulled it over time and again, and ultimately, my official final verdict will be 2.5 stars, rounded up – without the cool maps, it’d have been 2.5, rounded down, but they and the per se neat environments do have the potential to really enhance the experience for some folks. If rules-integrity is important to you, then consider this to be 2 stars instead.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Rogue's Run
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Book of Heroic Races Compendium (PFRPG)
Publisher: Jon Brazer Enterprises
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/06/2018 04:13:23

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive supplement clocks in at 117 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC/introduction, 2 pages of advertisements, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 110 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested as a prioritized review at the request of one of my patreons.

All right, so this is a compilation with new materials added – it collects the first three spotlight-pdfs for new races released by Jon Brazer Enterprises, namely the Half-Faerie Dragon, the Seedling and the Umbral Kobold races. The latter have been released as part of the supplements intended for the Plane of Shadows-related supplements that, alas, much to my chagrin, never kicked off beyond a few initial supplements. Jon Brazer Enterprise’s Shadowfall material is definitely worth checking out.

Now, I have written full reviews for these 3 massive chapters/stand-alone supplements – they do several things right: The seedlings still rank as one of the most balanced plant-PCs out there, and the umbral kobolds do a great job remaining kobolds, while being a better PC-race choice. The book compiles these three sections into new chapters, improving sequence of presentation and the like. However, e.g. the balance-concerns I have about the half-faerie dragon’s breath weapon feat chain (which lets you get a breath weapon that affects targets even if they make their saves) still remains valid – that aspect hasn’t been cleared up. In short, these chapters very much remain compilation-chapters sans further refinement. While understandable, considering that the three racial files range within the upper echelon of quality levels, it’s a missed chance to make them universally laudable files; as written, the rich lore provided and execution renders the races basically a good-to very good selection of tricks. These also take up the lion’s share of the book – 87 pages of the content are devoted to this massive collection of material. So yeah, this would be the tl;DR-version; for your convenience, and since I had to go over the compendium and original files, here would be the compiled information of the 3 reviews, for your convenience.

---------Begin of Review Compilation---------

Half-Faerie Dragons:

. If someone had told me I'd one day review such a book, I would have laughed that person in the face - which is thematically fitting, as few words describe this race's outlook as well as "whimsy". As the superbly amusing monologue that starts this pdf proves, Half-faerie dragons may not be too wise, but damn, they can be fun to play as a race - or can they? Well, let's take a look at the mechanics: Gaining +2 to Int, Dex and Cha, but -2 to Con and Wis, they are fragile. They also get the draconic subtype, slow speed, are small, get darkvision 60 ft., can cast prestidigitation Cha-mod times per day as a spell-like ability, +2 to saves versus paralysis and sleep effects and courtesy of their butterfly wings, +2 to acrobatics and fly-checks. They can also 1/day breathe a cloud of euphoria-inducing gas that staggers and sickens those hit by it, but also makes them immune to fear-effects, making it possibly to use it both offensively and defensively. Generally, the race feels like it belongs to the upper power echelon, but not necessarily in an unhinging way.

Taking a cue from the first book of the series, we go on to get extensive descriptions on the physical characteristics of the race, relations etc. - all in all well-written and compelling and also links the faerie-dragons with wishing. The 5 new traits allow you to customize your half-faerie dragon to be naturally adapt at magic, good at running away from angry tricked larger folk or better at acquiring things. Also, if you want to sparkle, there's a trait for that - just take care you don't become a vampire if you do! (Or wait, THAT would actually be damn funny...). The race also comes with 5 alternate racial traits that exchange draconic resistance for the option to cast disguise self cha-mod times/day, for 1d3 claws and if you also lose the power to use prestidigitation, you can belong to the dragon type. Alternatively, you can just sacrifice your capability of arcane whimsy for +2 to AC or sacrifice your breath weapon for the power to cast sorceror spells at +1 caster level.

Favored class options for bard, cleric, druid, paladin, rogue, sorceror, summoner and wizard are provided as well, as is a discussion on Half-Faerie Dragon psychology that includes the Art of the Prank, their approach to technology and magic, love and mating, history and lore etc. - all painting a surprisingly logical, well-presented panorama of an uncommon race to say the least. Oh, by the way, age, height and weight tables are also part of the deal.

Three new racial archetypes are presented after that, with the bookwyrm (for the wizard) replacing his 5th level bonus feat with getting half his class level as bonus to all knowledge-checks and providing the option to make these checks untrained. Thieves with Wings replace uncanny dodge and a rogue talent with gaining the fly-skill as a class skill, the feat to allow them flight as a bonus feat and the flyby attack feat. Butterfly Troubadours may boast of their exploit to the extent where they believe themselves to be actually better, mock foes and subtly weave the usage of his breath weapon into his performance, which is perhaps my favorite piece of rules in this context. This chapter also provides the new faerie dragon bloodline for sorcerers, which allows for befuddling touches, the signature euphoric breath weapon, butterfly wings, swap locations at higher levels with other beings and finally become a Half-faerie Dragon/live up to your full draconic potential. Quite nice about the bloodline: Its abilities take half-faerie dragons also into account and expand their racial powers instead of granting them like the bloodline does for none-half-faerie-dragons. The pdf also includes a new PrC for the race, the Dappled Theurge, who gets d6, 2+Int skills per level 1/2 BAB-progression and medium will-progression. What's interesting about this PrC is that it grants full spellcasting progression to BOTH prepared and spontaneous arcane spellcasting classes, taking a holistic approach to both. Rather interesting is the ability to cast progressively higher (starting at first level and going up to fifth) spells she knows (but need not have the spell prepared) by sacrificing a spontaneous spell slot of one level higher. As a capstone, the class reduces the level-increase of meta-magic applied to spells by half to a minimum of +1 spell level Int-mod/day. A thoroughly interesting design and an intriguing PrC.

A total of 9 racial feats have been included in the book to develop the race further: Temporarily blinding foes with light reflected from your blade, beast-shaping into a faerie-dragon, chameleon scales that allow you to use stealth even when observed and unable to hide, telepathy as a spell-like ability and at 7th level a fly-speed are some of the new options. Breath weapons may be augmented to use them once every 1d4 rounds and via other feats, add the confused effect to the others AND even get an option to make the breath weapon make foes staggered, confused and sickened for 1 round EVEN if they save. And honestly, that is where the pdf kind of underestimates the power-level: We are speaking of a 30 ft cone every 1d4 rounds that has a save of 10+ 1/2 class level + Con-mod and inflicts move OR standard actions (No more full-round actions), -2 to ability, skill checks, saves, atk and damage and the effects of confusion - for 1d6 rounds per application, at least 1 even on a successful save. As a supernatural ability that CAN'T BE DISRUPTED. This is the pay-off of 3 feats. This is insane on so many levels: Once every 4 rounds would be insanely strong even sans the confusion added. Making it apply even if foes save is really, really bad. And offering no way to counter it (it doesn't even count as poison) is just the icing on my personal Broken-rules-cake. Yes, I get that the Con-penalty is significant regarding the DC, but for e.g. martially inclined half-faerie-dragons this mini-feat-tree is rather powerful and unbalanced. Either a fixed limit, getting rid of the effects even on successful saves or a way to counteract the breath weapon are required to salvage this. A feat that lets you cast any prepared spell spontaneously by sacrificing one prepared spell of one level higher would also set off my radar, but its limitation to being usable once per day saves it and makes it an actually rather interesting idea.

Among the new items introduced in this installment, we get a kind of hookah that mixes multiple breaths for a more hilarious story-telling, globes containing bottled breath, swords that deal less damage than similar ones, but count as cold iron and have a threat range of 18-20, timed purse-shaped color-bombs to stain potential thieves, laughing poison, patchwork armors and arrows that essentially are stinking bombs of the most disgusting variety. All in all, cool items!

The pdf also includes write-ups of Half-Faerie Dragon theology and 3 racial deities as well as the new butterfly and wish subdomains and 4 new spells that allow you to conjure up butterfly swarms, plaguing victims with a chaotic (and funny) curse that changes properties each day, conjure a phantom crowd to mock your foes and transform just about anything into a pile of apples or a giant apple. Why? Half-faerie dragons LOVE apples, as the flavor-text in the book shows... Thus, we also get 3 magical apple tree tokens and the "Bag of Awesome", a bag of holding that can vomit forth items in a belch of euphoria-inducing gas, has a tongue-like rope (that can be used for rope tricks) and can blast foes (while in rope-trick-form) with euphoria-gas. There is also a foolish cape and a fitting rakish hat you can use to disappear in - when the fickle magic works...

The two artifacts are also neat: One straight-forward crown and one an artifact-level rod-of-wonders-style item that can summon giant squirrels to do your bidding or rain frozen apples from the sky or turn foes into dark chocolate...

GMs daunted by integrating this race into their campaign will welcome the 4 sample communities (sans settlement statblocks or the like, but full of ideas) as well as the advice given for both players and DMs to avoid turning the inclusion of this race into a kender-fiasco V.2.0. Be sure to read this chapter carefully! We also get sample NPCs, with the first being a straight-forward bard level 1, the second being an illusionist/sorcerer 4/dappled theurge 2 and the final one being truly interesting: At CR 11, the character is a bard 2/fighter 2/oracle 2/ranger 2/rogue 2/sorcerer 2 - a jack-of-all trades, indeed, though one that uses all the broken breath weapon feats.

Seedlings:

Kicking off with in-character journal entries that depict the life of one of the race of seedlings, this book introduces us to the new race called Seedling: These beings get +2 to Con, +2 to Wis, -2 to Dex, low-light vision, +1 natural AC, +2 to con to avoid suffocation, drowning and starvation as they can draw sustenance from photosynthesis, can as a standard-action treeshape (and gain tremorsense 30 ft.), +2 to saves versus mind-affecting effects and paralysis, and 1/ day speak with plants. As you may notice, seedlings get the distinct fluff of being plant-like creatures and appropriate benefits without succumbing to gaining the subtype and its associated benefits, going thus a similar route as RiP's Ironborn did for constructs. If you want more alien plant-beings, I'd point you to Purple Duck Games' Fehr's Ethnology: Xhesa.

The race is extremely detailed and up to current rules-developments: From favored class options, alternate racial traits (which include resistance to fire and electricity, having thorns, hailing from the underdark with darkvision and burrow speed and resistance to disease and poison) to favored class options, all niches are covered. Better yet, I don't have anything to complain about!

In stark contrast to many race-supplements, we get quite extensive pieces of information on seedling-culture-lore and land and of course, also on their takes regarding other races and classes - two thumbs up for these avidly and well-written pieces that make the race stand out and feel integrated into a campaign world, not just some addition. The race also gets two racial archetypes, with the first being the Switcher, a fighter that uses the new weapon of the seedlings, the signature switch whip (which is essentially their hair) and allows it to be used to inflict bleeding damage, ooze a poison that makes its victims flat-footed, grow razor-sharp leaves on the head etc. VERY COOL! The second archetype, the tree spirit druid, is extremely adapt at scrying via trees by focusing senses into trees - again, very cool!

The race also gets an exclusive PrC, the negotiator. The PrC gets d8, 6+Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB and medium Will-saves as well as a gamut of abilities that allow them to form binding agreements and make them superb "face"-style negotiators. Nice! The 9 new feats allow seedlings to further expand their switch whip powers and also do some interesting things via their rooting-ability, allowing them to better weather assaults and also increase their healing/photosynthesis.

Beyond aforementioned switch whips, we also get a new armor, glow moss and a serum the seedlings use for ritual scarring and healing. Beyond these crunchy bits, we also get a massive genesis-story told in captivating prose, a write-up of their 4 deities (with appropriate domains, subdomains and mysteries - nice indeed!) and 4 cool new spells, themed for plants and seedling flavor and anatomy. Among the new magic items we get explosive seeds, the dread aurora pendant, heartwood, two iconic artifacts (one of which can grow a forest - over night!) and even more:

5 fluff-only community-write-ups (I.e. no settlement-blocks, but ideas galore) provide further ideas for GMS and players alike to capitalize on and the write-up also features extensive advice for DMs to fit this race into a campaign.

Finally, the pdf includes 4 sample seedling characters, using the content herein, all ready to be dropped into your game and spanning CR 1/2 to CR 14.

Umbral Kobolds:

Dale McCoy Jr., head of Jon Brazer Enterprises, was dissatisfied with the standard race of kobolds and an introduction of what this race is – essentially, a kobold-race ramped up to be on par with PC-races without using the identity of being koboldish. We also get a short rundown on Shadowsfall, the plane-of-shadows-setting of JBE before we delve into an actually very well-written piece of in-character prose. The short story gets you just in the right mindset before you get to take a peek at the mechanical traits of this race.

Umbral Kobolds get -2 to Str, +2 to Dex and Int, are small, get darkvision, +1 natural armor bonus, 2 to Craft (Trapmaking), Perception and Profession (miner). Stealth and Craft (Trapmaking) are always class skills for umbral kobolds. They also get light sensitivity, extensive pieces of information regarding their relationships with other races, alignment and adventuring etc. as well as thankfully a table for age, height and weight including starting age. They also come with 4 alternate racial options that may replace light sensitivity with albinism (weird choice, since albinism makes one not particularly appreciate bright lights either…), give them a blinding spit attack 1/day, make them especially tied to the plane of shadows (for increased caster levels in the dark, but also heavy drawbacks upon confrontation with bright lights and finally, kobolds that replace their natural armor bonus with +1 to Dex and +2 to stealth. With the exception of the albinism-trait’s minor fluff/crunch-disjunction’s exception nothing to complain about here.

2 racial character traits are also provided, one that nets you Knowledge (Planes) as a class skill and +2 on it and the other that gives you +1 to ref and initiative. After that, we're introduced to two new archetypes, with the shadowsneak getting bonuses to racial bonuses to movement and as well 1/2 rogue level to craft (traps) and Perception to discover traps. Solid, I guess, but nothing too special. The Mad Bomber alchemist archetype gets 10 + 3/4 level +Int to determine bomb-DCs, doesn't provoke AoOs when using bombs and counts as +2 levels with regards to alchemist discoveries related to bombs. Solid.

After that, we're introduced 4 new feats, with one allowing you to mitigate some issues related to 1s on disable device checks and gunslinger misfires, one that allows bonuses for saving throws for each kobold in range, one that doubles miss chance in dim light to 40% and one that allows you 1+Cha-bonus shadow jumps per day.

Two new items are also included, with a new nauseating, blinding poison being one and the other being a dye to color scales. 32 full-blown racial kobold gods are also here and after their well-written write-ups, we get 3 new spells - one that creates an illusory double you can blow up, assault foes with shadow-illusion coins and one to create an aura of darkness for which a swarm of shadowy kobolds panics foes. Among the new magic items, we get an incantation that makes shooting into melee versus undead easier, a crown that nets +2 to Int and Cha as well as form of the dragon I, black dust that sends the undead running from recollections of their past life and a kitchy talisman that guards you with minor bonuses versus specific types of death.

The pdf closes with 3 sample communities in neat write-ups (though sans settlement statblocks) that can be considered well-written indeed. The final piece of crunch is a CR 11 shadowsneak umbral kobold.

---------End of Review Compilation---------

EDIT: So, I totally managed to miss copying my discussion on the reaper-race into my review – because it had languished in the drafts-section. It was penned at a time when I was asked to hold on to the review, and while it was done back then, I never ended up releasing it. So yeah, with a bit of delay, for the first time.

Reapers:

After a brief bit of evocative introductory prose, we dive into the section on Reapers – what are these fellows? Well, they are basically a plane-touched race with psychopomp blood. Trait-wise, they get +2 Dex and Wisdom, -2 Charisma, are native outsiders, have darkvision and get a +1 racial bonus to saves vs. death effects, energy drain and negative levels – when wearing funeral masks. This is the only item type they may wear in the face slot, but masks may be enchanted. (Cool!) 1/day whenthey would die from hit point damage, they get a respite unto next round, potentially delaying their deaths or avoiding them – sufficient healing can prevent death. This only works for hit point damage, so rules-integrity is perfect here, though personally, I’d have made this abilityhave a scaling maximum – as written, they get even the 1 round when blasted to shreds by a deity, firmly anchoring them on the high-fantasy side of the thematic spectrum. They can, as a swift action, wreathe their scythes in a ghost touch weapon, and they may crit incorporeal creatures, unless these are also immune from a different source, such as being an ooze. Great catch. Additionally, they may damage haunts with their weapons as though they were positive energy effects – a great mechanic!! Use daily is equal to character levels. Reapers get +2 to all social skills (minus Sense Motive) versus undead and geta 5 ft. undead-sense that works akin to blindsense for undead only, but does not extend to possessing spirits. All in all, an amazing race! Slightly on the powerful side, but chock-full with flavorful narrative facilitator abilities that make them stand out. Great return to form and, with the seedlings, another highlight for the series!

As before among the races covered in this series, we do get a couple of interesting race traits and a selection of alternate racial itraits that include psychopomp bloodline synergy, the ability to 1/day manifest an incorporeal spirit of themselves when dead or dying, undead hunting – particularly the spirit-angle is really, really cool. Detailed information on lands and cultures are provided as well as notes on their languages and relations with other races. As far as class options are provided, we get a memento mori/anti-undead style druid who receives access to a tweaked spell-list, Knowledge (religion) and one appropriate domain. Solid engine tweak. The second class option would be the psychopomp bloodline, which, with its spirit touch and sepulchral veil, should be considered to be one of the better examples for bloodlines.

The pdf does include two PrCs – the memoriam amanuensis, who gets d6 HD, 4 + Int skills and good Will-save progression as well as 4/5 spellcasting progression. It spans 5 levels and basically represents a historian of the dead, who collects information from the dead and masters obscure knowledge to the benefit of allies – solid one! The second PrC spans 10 levels and would be the spirit guide. Here,w e have d8 HD, 6 + Int skills per level, proficiency with light and medium armor and shields, excluding tower shields, ¾ BAB-progression and ½ Fort- and Will-save progression. They are spear specialists and get really cool abilities – crossroads can lead them to souls in need of assistance, and they are specialists of the mask feats (more on that below) – they are one of the best “focused” PrCs I’ve seen in a while, making spears potent and focusing on more than just adding combat power versus undead. Big fan!

As before in the series, we get an assortment of new feats, many of which make up a kind of mini-tree: Bonded Mask makes your mask a kind of bonded item that can then be enhanced by the other ones, with a spirit inhabiting it, causing of fear, etc – rather nice, and reminded me somewhat of good ole’ Shadowman! (That’s a good thing!) Better undead sight and undead-affecting bardic performances complement this section. We also get a selection of really neat mundane equipment pieces, interesting deity write-ups, a new subdomain for Repose, the psychopomp subdomain and 4 neat spells that include a portal that sucks incorporeal creatures towards the afterlife! Oh yeah! Two magical masks and a potent artifact spear complement the arsenal of reapers.

We close the reaper-section with a selection of flavorful notes on reaper communities as well as sample NPCs ranging from CR ½ to CR 11.

Beyond these previously released, super-detailed races, the pdf also features 4 new races in significantly less detail – only a total of 18 pages are devoted to these new races, which means that, alas, we do not get the same excessive, cultural detail as for the first three races within. The first of these entities would be the Fosterling, a result of the dalliance of mortals with eldritch horrors from beyond. These guys get +2 Constitution and Wisdom, -2 Charisma, are Medium humanoids, and they may keep fighting as if disabled until negative Constitution modifier hit points. They can’t be reincarnated, and their bodies rapidly decay, so if they are to be returned to life, their allies should better hurry. The race gets Skill Focus for one knowledge skill chosen from a list of 4 at 1st level, as well as -3 to Handle Animal, but +3 to Diplomacy with aberrations etc. – the bonus type here should probably be racial, not untyped. They get a +2 racial bonus to saves against mind-affecting effects, may reroll the percentile die of being confused, and rolls to confirm crits against them suffer a -4 penalty due to their weird anatomy. Interesting take here! To supplement the race, we get 6 racial feats, each of which locks them as the progeny of one mythos-creature like mi-go, etc. The race also comes with an oracle curse. All in all, a solid take on the “touched by eldritch things”-concept, and one I wished had received more room to shine.

Melodians, according to legend, are the offspring of immaculate humans and fey songbirds, and they receive +2 Dexterity and Charisma, -2 Wisdom, are Medium and count as fey for the purposes of race-related effects. Minor complaint: Can they choose which type they count as for the purpose of e.g. a spell that harms fey while bolstering humanoids or vice versa? Or not? They get low-light vision and +2 to saves to resist fear- and despair-based effects and may 1/day reroll a natural 1. They also get +2 to one type of Perform check and add +1 to the save DC of spells with the sonic descriptor. Melodians with Cha 13+ get sound burst as a 1/day SP. This SP and DC-increase may be exchanged for 2 others via alternate racial traits, and other alternate racial traits allow for bard FCO-improvement, and one for better Linguistics instead of singing. The race also gets a fighter archetype that is a dervish-y one with minor bard tricks spliced in. The write-up also includes three feats and the songsteel material.

The Sashahar are Small reptilians that receive +2 Intelligence and Constitution, -4 Strength, who are also naturally psionic, and may use conceal thoughts and detect psionics at-will as psi-like abilities. They have only 20 ft. speed, but get a whopping +2 luck bonus to all saves. They also are ebrrations with the psionic subtype, which is a bit odd – I’d have expected humanoid (reptilian) here. The write-up includes 2 solid traits and 3 ones that provide alternat psi-like abilities. A minor psionic rogue engine tweak archetype and 2 feats are provided. One of these feats, Force Burst, fails to get the rules-language for psionics correct, mistakenly mixing the rules-language for attacks and powers for a somewhat confusing whole. 2 solid equipment types and a power to locate traps complement this fellow. I would have really enjoyed to learn more about this race – more so than the previous two, it would have greatly benefitted from having the room to develop a unique culture etc. to set it apart.

The final one of these new ones would be the Ursine, who, bingo, would be bearfolk that get +2 Strength and Wisdom, -2 Dexterity. Low-light vision and hatred versus aberrations and giants (+1 to atk), as well as +1 to CL-checks to overcome SR are also part of the racial traits. These guys get +2 to saves vs. polymorph spells and effects, diseases and versus ingested/inhaled poisons. In a pretty cool and unique ability, these guys may wield a couple of less impressive weapons as though they were a size larger, making them viable. Beyond these, the ability actually makes this “kind-of-a-size-larger” ability active, allowing for selective target choice. The race also get Lucerne hammer familiarity. This and the size-trick may be replaced with natural weapons, which are properly codified regarding type, but require defaulting regarding damage type. There is a means to replace low-light vision with scent. The save-bonuses may be replaced with Handle Animal bonuses, and the alternate racial traits include a Craft/Profession and more martially-inclined trait that also is pretty interesting. A spirit caller druid archetype is provided, which replaces the ally-summoning angle with spells. The archetype also has a surge-like self-boost and is a solid engine-tweak. There are 3 racial feats, with a 2-level mini-tree allowing for 1-handing a two-handed weapon or wielding a one-handed one of a larger size. This is, in a way, tapping into one of PF’s more problematic engine-parts, so yeah, not the biggest fan.

The first appendix collects a HUGE amount of favored class options for pre-ACG-classes as well as the pre-Psionics Expanded psionic classes: So Psion, Wilder, Psychic Warrior and Soulknife. FCOs for dhampir, drow, duergar, fetchling, grippli, etc. are provided – a ton of these can be found, including ones for the new races. Apart from the ones for the new races herein, many of these have been taken from the Shadowsfall Favored Class Options-pdf, though the Time Thief/Warden and Malefactor class option-references have been eliminated.

The second appendix comes with an assortment of engine-tweak-style racial archetypes for duergar, dhampir, dwarves, etc.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on both a formal and rules-language level, which is pretty impressive for a book of this massive size. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard, and the pdf contains quite a few really nice b/w-artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The pdf is hyperlinked for your convenience.

Michael Eshleman, Dale C. McCoy Jr., Richard Moore, Mark J Seifter, Marie Small, Todd Stewart, R. William Thompson, George “Loki” Williams – this cadre of authors does know what they’re doing. The races within have one major benefit, as far as I’m concerned: None of them are boring. They all have an interesting angle, and the base races themselves should not provide any balance-issues with these, even if you gravitate to lower power-levels. This level of precision, alas, does not always extend to the supplemental material, and a couple of feats in particular should be subject to GM-oversight. The racial archetypes, as a whole, tend to gravitate to the engine-tweak side of things. All in all, this compilation is well worth getting, particularly if you don’t already own the seedlings, half faerie-dragons, reapers and umbral kobolds – the four previously-released races are the stars here and warrant the asking price.

That being said, you should be aware that the release of this one predates both ACG and Occult Adventures, so no synergies there. I am not going to penalize the compilation for this, as it wouldn’t be fair, but it’s something to bear in mind.

If you already have the four main-races, the compilation unfortunately has a bit less to offer – the new races are all interesting, but universally suffer from the brevity of their presentation. While we do get age-height and weight tables and basic rules-customization tricks and supplemental material for them, compared to the first 3, one can’t help but feel the absence of lovingly-crafted, detailed fluff and cultural information for them.

How to rate this, then? Well if you have the first 4 races, this’ll be a tough sell on you and probably is something only for the completionist. If, on the other hand, you have missed them, then you’ll find some interesting and creative playable races here. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars – whether you’ll round up or down will depend on how you value supplemental material in relation to the race: if you want in-depth cultures and flavor, then the first four truly deliver – round up; otherwise, the racial options presented tend to gravitate to the smaller and simpler side of things, so if you’re looking for complexity, you may want to round down. As a reviewer, I have an in dubio pro reo policy and thus will round up.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Book of Heroic Races Compendium (PFRPG)
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Mystic Pangolin Issue 1
Publisher: Blackie Carbon
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/06/2018 03:37:54

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first installment of this ‘zine clocks in at 54 pages, though front and back cover have been provided on one page for a wrap-around style. 1 page is devoted to editorial, 1 to the ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement (annoyingly in the middle), 1 page adventure cover, leaving us with a pretty massive 48 pages of content, laid out for 6’’ by 9’’ (A5).

So, this is one OSR-‘zine that uses the Swords & Wizardry-rules as the default rule-set, and as always, conversion is pretty simple. It should be noted that this does offer quite a few system neutral articles that are useful, regardless of system used.

We begin this supplement with something I never expected to see: An article on the terminology pertaining casks and containers! And yep, this is rather well-researched and can be used by the enterprising GM to impart knowledge – did you know what a “Tun” or a “Hogshead” are? Or that “hogshead” was not unified, having different sizes for wine and ale? This may be a small thing, but once you’ve explained them, you can add a linguistic dimension to your descriptions that you previously can’t. A cool (and similarly well-researched) system-neutral article has collected a vast amount of hobo-signs in tables, allowing for graffiti in dungeons and cities – these are pretty awesome and handy to have, and signs like this can add greatly to the atmosphere of the game. It should also be noted that the author is probably an academic – sources are provided for further research, and the ‘zine even provides a citation-sample that you can just cut-copy and paste. And yes, citation is according to standards, which would give further credence to my thesis. Anyways, it may sound odd, but these two very “mundane” articles proved to be more inspiring than many more “magical” ones I’ve read, so huge kudos for adding such an angle.

Speaking of which: If you’re like me, you’ll also enjoy the next article, which probably has stemmed from the same frustration I regularly felt: Paper was expensive. As such, the overabundance of scrolls in many games tends to irk me somewhat. Well, the third article does introduce us to alternate means of writing down stuff, explaining clay tablets, wax tablets, clay cylinders, and scrolls are also expanded. Silk, papyrus, pothi and metal scrolls are covered, and lime bark codices and the like can be found. In case you want to randomly generate material, you can do so with a pretty complex generator – it looks a bit daunting at first glance, but is actually rather elegant, fitting the whole process on one page. A simple d50 table for general content may also be found.

Okay, the system neutral content so far has been a series of winners, so how do the materials with rules fare? The first article with the like would be about “Haeford” a coastal community with a solid b/w-map and 12 keyed locations supplemented by stats for key NPCs. 4 adventure hooks are provided, but no unlabeled map of the supplement is provided. This is, in style, somewhat akin to e.g. Raging Swan Press’ Village Backdrops-series, though it does not feature the same level of depth regarding dressing, local dressing habits and the like. Still, generally a solid coastal mining town, and the hooks are pretty nice.

The book also presents a module for characters level 2 – 4. As with most old-school modules, a well-rounded group is definitely suggested. The module only sports read-aloud text for the introductory angle. It should be noted that the map of the module within is formatted in A3, should you decide to print it out in A3. The dungeon sports 24 keyed locations and is pretty massive for being included in a ‘zine, though no unlabeled, player-friendly map is provided. Somewhat to my chagrin, no scale or grid is included on the map.

All right, you know how this goes – this is where I will start talking about the adventure in detail. As such, consider this to be the big SPOILER-Warning. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs/Referees around? Great!So the name of the module “The Reliquary of Thazar Zul” evokes instantly hardcore Sword & Sorcery vibes, but starts in a somewhat problematic manner. An old lady spins an elaborate weave on how the PCs should retrieve the head of an evil man, one “Ector Kale”, who has ostensibly wronged the family – and now, they need his head to make him own up for the crimes. Since Kale has been dead for years, that RAW means according to S&W-rules that the old lady a cleric level 15+ on retainer. Öhem. Yeah. Logic-bug. Secondly, she is lying. Transparently. If the quest to get a skull of an evil man does not raise PC-suspicions, what will? The introductory rant, while well-written, will be highly suspicious for almost every group of players, and rudimentary fact-checking…can make the story partially unravel…or the like. This whole angle can be ignored – it’s ultimately just a pretext to get the PCs into the dungeon, which begins as natural caverns bisected by a stream.

The complex comes with 3 different random encounter tables for sections of the complex, and the complex provides 2 different unique fish that come with b/w-artworks – these are interesting and solid, and they are my favorite part of the complex. (A magic item with a cool b/w-artwork) allows for fish-charming, which is pretty neat. Yeah, alas, this doesn’t bode well, does it? The caverns are inhabited by gnolls and kobolds that are feuding. Ultimately, this’ll probably boil down to PCs killing them all. At one point, the natural caverns give way to a complex, where the eponymous reliquary may be found – which, may well be a phylactery or the like. Then, oh surprise, the evil mercenaries of the Cultus Tenebrae attack and try to take the reliquary on behalf of the old lady. Once the mercs are slain…the module ends. Yep. Unfortunately, this module is basically the bland prologue to an epic adventure – I’d have much rather read a module about handling/getting rid of the reliquary, and not deal with the super-obvious “evil cult tries to dupe the PCs/players”-angle. So yeah, if the name evoked Sword & Sorcery expectations…not much going on here.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are surprisingly good for a ‘zine, much less for the first ‘zine in a series – the rules-language and formal integrity of the text is top-notch. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly one-column b/w-standard, and the b/w-artworks deserve special note – they are surprisingly neat. The cartography is also more than solid, but suffers from a lack of unlabeled player-friendly versions. A big downside of thus ‘zine would be the lack of bookmarks, which makes pdf-navigation less than comfortable.

Blackie Carbon’s Mystic pangolin #1 stands as an interesting supplement for a first ‘zine-installment. It is, formally, more professional than many established ‘zines. It also stands apart by virtue of its uncommon dressing-angle: Instead of the standard dressing tables you may expect, the installment provides quite a few great system-neutral articles that are well-researched and evocative. These actually educate, provide some obscure knowledge that even veterans may not have – and they represent a great starting point. With the hobo-signs, for example, it’d be super-easy to expand the list to include additional signs unique to your game/campaign. I loved these.

The village also is nice, but has to withstand the comparison to years of excellence in Raging Swan Press’ backdrops or Tim Shorts’ impressive ability to weave a tapestry of interconnected beings that form a small settlement; in contrast to these, the village feels like it does its job well, but doesn’t reach the level of excellence.

And then, there’d be the module. And there is no nice way to say it – it’s a painfully standard dungeon crawl with a problematic, really hard to sell entry-vector, one that ultimately rewards neither GM, nor players for experiencing it. It’s not bad, mind you, but it is not interesting in any way, ending when things would become interesting.

So, how to rate this, then? Ultimately, I’d usually settle on a final verdict of 3 stars, courtesy of the weak module; however, this is a freshman offering as far as I know, and thus gets a bit of leeway. Additionally, it is a pretty inexpensive ‘zine for the amount of content. Thus, as a whole, I will round up from my final verdict of 3.5 stars due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Mystic Pangolin Issue 1
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Death Love Doom
Publisher: Lamentations of the Flame Princess
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/02/2018 05:29:11

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 21 pages of content, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5). Unlike many books laid out this way, the module does have quite a lot of content per page, so bear that in mind. I do own the print version of this module – it’s a softcover with a detachable sleeve that has the maps on the inside. As a HUGE plus for everyone looking to play this online, it should be noted that the pdf is layered, and allows you to turn off the map labels. Big plus!

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

Anyhow, as you may have noticed, this is suggested for mature audiences only. 18+. Usually, such ratings stem from (at least to my European sensibilities) pretty harmless cartoon nudity. Not so here. This haunted house module deserves the hardest of hard R-ratings you can imagine.

Indeed, I should note that this module will NOT be for everyone. In fact, it may only be suitable for a very select audience. And yes, that includes folks that otherwise enjoy Lamentations of the Flame Princess releases. If you have a trigger, then chances are pretty high that this module will hit it.

If grotesque, explicit and excessive illustrated violence, including mutilations of infants and children offend you, then steer clear. Same goes if grotesque and disturbing images of nude cartoon people disturb you. More than that, I’d like to strongly dissuade anyone suffering from depression or recuperating from it from playing this module, particularly if the like was prompted by a break-up/infidelity/failing relationship. The tone herein is allcaps GRIMDARK. This, in a way, is abyss-gazing; pure unadulterated misery. If you’re the referee, please make sure that your players can handle this adventure.

This becomes pretty evident from the author’s notes, who therein admits this module to have sprung from a nasty breakup, which, while good, first meant that hell would reign for a while – metaphorically, of course. In a way, this reminded me of some of my own best modules for my home-games in tone. In a way, the emotional struggle and pain are very much palpable in the grim and unrelenting hopelessness and misery this depicts; at least to me, it is pretty much evident that this is a form of catharsis, a transformation of traumatic experiences into a module. It is hard to explain, but unlike many dark modules out there, “Death Love Doom” very much carries this relentless bleakness with it throughout. It made me gulp. The catalogues regularly state that this is not a module to be enjoyed, but one to be endured. This is, for once, not ad-speak hyperbole. Reading this, when you’re already emotionally exhausted, can be draining; same goes for prepping and running this.

Who should consider reading on, then? Well, do you enjoy horror? Can you stomach gut-wrenching misery and excessive gore? Do you enjoy transgressive fiction and/or abyss-gazing? I know that I, personally, can draw strength from media depictions of atrocious misery, but plenty of people don’t work that way. If that sounds like something that you and your group could enjoy, then read on!

As far as rules are concerned, the module uses the Lamentations of the Flame Princess (LotFP)-OSR-rules, but conversion to another old-school system is easy enough. The module works best for characters level 1 – 4, and as a whole, the group’s composition is less important than in many other modules. The module does not feature read-aloud text for the respective locations.

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

..

.

All right, only referees around? Great! So, it’s the year 1625, and the wealthy merchant Erasmus Sylvester Foxlowe, hasn’t been seen or heard from after receiving his latest shipment of imported deals, and the man lives in the Bloodworth House, a manor, near London, with his wife, mother and 4 children. Some gangs have been spotted casing the joint, expecting rich pickings. Of course, adventurers in LotFP are assumed to be misfits of a sort who can’t be bothered to get a proper job, so warning Foxlowe (or stealing all his belongings themselves!) may well be up their agenda.

The manor and its surrounding grounds are fully mapped, and the referee determines the position of the mobile, named adversaries at the start of the module, adding a certain chaos-factor to the proceedings. 12 different rumors are provided for your convenience. Checking out the stables, the PCs can make their first grisly find – a retainer, who had his head removed, and a horse’s head sewn on. That’s NOTHING compared to the horrors that have taken a hold of the manor.

You see, Erasmus hired a nanny to help his wife to help her, due to the demands of his job – said nanny turned out to be Sabrina Newguard, and he did fall madly, horribly, in love with her. So far, so cliché. However, unlike what you might expect, Foxlowe managed to keep it in his pants. Instead, a gift he presented his wife to quench his guilty conscience for his fantasies turned out to be the deadly Necklace of the Sleepless Queen, an item of the most profound morbid power. Sporting the dead sign on its inside, it is activated by handed from one lover to another person loved: The act then summons forth…the THING. This entity is accompanied by two psychic drones, the flesh-movers, which take “the lovers” – here, Erasmus, the giver, and the object of his love, Sabrina. After these somewhat insectoid, incorporeal things have parasitically merged with the two, the thing and its drones proceeded to twist the other family members, into grotesque shapes designed to inflict maximum pain while keeping them alive. Oh, and the flesh-movers will keep the two conscious. Basically, everyone has been transformed into grotesque tableaus of suffering. Applying curative magics sans surgery will fix these forms in place, dooming the unfortunates, and surgery has ridiculously low chances of saving anyone – and in many a case, the resulting survivor would pretty much be a paraplegic. That’s the best possible outcome. Told you this’d be dark.

How grotesque? Oh boy. So, Erasmus and Sabrina have insectoid things on their back, are fully cognizant of what happens, but are not in control of their bodies, as the flesh-mover can lash forth with a poisonous stinger from Sabrina’s vagina. Erasmus instead had his genitalia impaled from the back and now shoots acidic, black sludge from his penis. Yes, there are artworks for both. These are perhaps the most harmless ones. The maddened grandmother Penelope has replaced her nipples with her eyeballs and keeps her torture-instruments stuck in the raw meat of her genitalia. Her attacks, when scoring the occult “8” as damage (a leitmotif in LotFP), can rearrange her victims.

The 1-year-old-infants are particularly chilling: One of them has had his limbs amputated and sewn on to his brother. Instead of his limbs, pseudo-clock like limbs have been attached, his eyes removed and replaced with a grotesque pair of glasses, a clock set in the chest cavity. Touching the fellow, getting close, may mean rewinding the time for the horrors already defeated, which can be super-deadly. The limbs missing from the poor toddler? They’ve been sewn on to his brother, who had the top half of the skull removed, the brain lying there, bare, with eyes and nerves similarly still attached. The chest cavity has been opened, and in full-blown misery-mode, many of these unfortunate kids feature gold in their bodies – taking it kills the respective kid. Did I mention the castrated boy who had his teeth removed and limbs/heads sewn back on in the wrong way? The girl turned chandelier? What about Myrna, Erasmus wife, who had a miscarriage and who is now dragged around by her innards, courtesy of the undead foetus that was once to become her youngest child in a horrid twist that should be considered to be the utmost bleakest possible twist on anti-natalism? Even witnessing the latter can utterly. All of these folks are still ALIVE. And yes, we get b/w-artworks. Usually, Kelvin Green’s comic-like art style would make these look less…disturbing, but he has actually managed to make them feel even more twisted than they’d otherwise look.

Told you that this was twisted, right? I did warn you. And yes, the descriptions are VERY detailed.

The thing, just fyi, can’t really be slain, and the amulet is similarly nigh indestructible, increasing its value constantly – the fallout from this module for PCs managing to survive the encounters with the horrors within will be serious.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no serious glitches on a formal or rules-language level. Layout adheres to a 2-column b/w-standard, and the pdf has plenty of original b/w-artworks that illustrate the gruesome fates of the poor NPCs within. The softcover, as noted, is a nice little booklet, and the pdf has a plus in that its cartography is layered and thus, player-friendly. Really nice to see.

Oh boy. James Edward Raggi IV knows how to create nightmare fodder. Far beyond mere gore, far beyond the usual dark fantasy/horror-angle of his books, this is gut-wrenching misery, truly frightening gore and twisted body horror of the most explicit kind. If grimdark misery and pain, hopelessness and an acceptance that, sometimes, killing an innocent may be the only viable option, then this could well be for you. This is apex-level dark, as the rewarding for bad behavior, the futility of trying to be good, makes this, even for LotFP, easily the darkest, most twisted adventure/supplement in the whole catalogue.

To the point where, in spite of my own predilections, I am frankly not sure whether this could be called “fun” – it’s an experience, and a depressing and twisted one at that. It’s a module that might well be used as a threat, as a dark consequence of PC behavior. It’s perhaps the only commercial module I have ever read that managed to genuinely make me uncomfortable with its depictions of misery and pain beyond measure.

Let me make that abundantly clear: If you think that LotFP’s usual material is “too dark” or “borderline”, then this may not be for you. If LotFP’s regular modules, on a color-scale, were black, then this is frickin “vantablack”; a whole different level of darkness, sadness, and grotesque horror. I’ve had this module for more than a year now, and to this day, I am not sure I actually like it or consider it to be too much to stand.

Thankfully, as a reviewer, deciding that is not my task. On a formal level, this is a precise module that succeeds very well at what it attempts to do. It sets out to achieve exactly that reaction. If I were to criticize something, then that the house itself is simply not as interesting as in the author’s other modules. Having a series of nasty traps set up by Penelope as they explore, a bit more dynamic elements, would have further enhanced the replay-value. Provided you want to play this more than once.

How to rate this? Well if the above has managed to offend you in any way, then steer clear. For folks triggered by any of the dark themes within, this most certainly is not suitable. If you can stand the darkness, if you want to experience a truly abyss-level dark adventure that manages to be somewhat psychological in its grotesque gore, then this might work out rather well. As a whole, I think that the module succeeds in what it tries to do. As such, my final verdict will be 4 stars. Caveat emptor, though.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Death Love Doom
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5E Halloween Mini-Dungeon: The Horror of Ochre Grove
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/01/2018 07:15:42

An Endzeitgeist.com review

All right, the first thing you’ll notice upon opening this mini-dungeon would be that it’s twice the usual size – that means we get 4 pages of content instead of the usual 2 pages. Mini-dungeons are super-condensed scenarios that deliver a small adventure. As such, I am not going to expect epic storylines or the like here – I’m rating these according to the virtues they display within the confined space available.

The second thing you’ll notice would be the evolution regarding layout: The pdf is laid out in the same way as the massive Mini-Dungeon Tome: Color-coded for swift reference. Statblocks are not included, and instead, the module links towards the respective SRD-page with hyperlinks. This particular mini-dungeon has no read-aloud text, but it does offer a nice, full-color map as well as a piece of quality artwork. Somewhat puzzling to me would be that there, as per the writing of this review, is no high-res jpg.-map included for VTT-play. In this particular case, that is not as big an issue as it would be for most mini-dungeons, though. The module is intended for 3 – 4 PCs of levels 6 – 8.

This review was requested to be moved up in my reviewing queue by one of my patreons.

As always, this is an adventure-review, and as such, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players may want to skip ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! Ochre Grove is a small village, with the Rusty Mist Distillery, owned by the Cornelius family, being its main source of income. This changed somewhat when Hammond Gresham founded his own distillery and began cutting into Victor Cornelius profit margins – and as such, Cornelius presented forgeries, attempting to evict Hammond. Revealed as forgeries, the claims were dismissed – and Hammond still disappeared soon thereafter. In the absence of an heir, Victor Cornelius evicted Margaret, the mistress and sister of Hammond’s late wife from the property in retribution for her accusations of foul play.

Unfortunately for all involved, Margaret is a sorceress (oni statblocks are used) who proceeded to bide her time, finally managing to summon both an incubus (nice touch for 5e re enemy choice!) as well as the spirit of her erstwhile lover. She plans to have Hammond’s spirit take care of Victor and his son, while she kidnaps the Cornelius daughters to sacrifice them and invoke a curse upon the land.

It is into this tangled web of deceit and vengeance that the PCs stumble – and while the village may seem quaint, this quickly ends when the grain dust in the Cornelius distillery’s bins explodes! The PCs and villagers hurry to the site, but the only bridge crossing the stream has taken serious damage and has been destroyed, with only the framework offering for a rickety means of crossing the stream.

After managing to cross the stream, the PCs will witness a dark rider with a kid towed up, Victor Cornelius in hot pursuit. From the burning distillery, though, there is a sound – and guess what, the module actually features a small, branching plotline here: It has consequences if the PCs immediately pursue the riders, and same goes for checking out the voice at the burning distillery. Victor’s wife Amelia is currently bleeding out, claiming that stick figures (animated scarecrows that use the stats of animated armors) have abducted her girls…and if the PCs visit the site later, they will only find a corpse and a trail. If the PCs instead follow the riders, they’ll arrive when a desperate Victor, half smashed below his horse, is forced to watch the wraith that once was Hammond, who has strung up his son. Without intervention, the wraith will first kill Victor’s son and then Victor. If the PCs split up, they will have a tough time dealing with both threats. (In an ironic twist, this is where Hammond’s bones lie – Victor indeed did kill his competitor…)

Ultimately, the paths converge once more, and the PCs will have a final fight against Margaret and her servants in the dilapidated former Hammond homestead. Once more, time is of the essence here, at least f the PCs want to save the Cornelius daughters…

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to clear and nice two-column full-color standard, and the pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none. Cartography and artwork are in full color and rather nice.

Justin Andrew Mason provides a nice, brief sidetrek here – the instance of a branching path is a pretty sweet inclusion for such a small module, and while the revenge-yarn featured herein isn’t exactly groundbreaking, it doesn’t have to be. The 5e-version, to me, actually works a bit better than the PF 1 version; if you have the luxury of choice, then this is the slightly superior version. As a whole, this is a fun sidetrek and thus should be considered to be worthy of a final verdict of 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
5E Halloween Mini-Dungeon: The Horror of Ochre Grove
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