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Tip of the Tongue
Publisher: EN Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/15/2018 11:34:00

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 45 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 41 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This is a high fantasy adventure for characters level 7 – 8, and takes place in a town steeped in magical academia – the city Bellek. We get a proper settlement statblock for the town, and the magical nature of the place is emphasized throughout: A whole list of magical alcohol for the obligatory starting tavern, for example, has been provided. As a minor nitpick, there are a few inconsistencies in their rules, though these remain largely cosmetic and don’t impede functionality. (Electrical instead of electricity damage, for example.) The starting angle has a couple of hooks provided, and the module does not come with cartography for the town or locations visited. The module pretty heavily references the NPC Codex for less crucial foes/NPCs, so having that, or the SRD-pages ready is suggested. If you own the Liber Influxus Communis, you’ll be interested to hear that the mnemonic class features somewhat prominently in this module. If you don’t have it, fret now, for all relevant information is provided.

All right, you know how this goes – from here on, the SPOILERS will reign, as I discuss the module in detail. Potential players should definitely jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? As the PCs arrive in town, they’ll spot the guards sweating in winter armor – and indeed, as they explore the spire of knowledge, they’ll have an…interesting time, as anything short of a DC 10 Stealth check will be met with shushing sounds – and the PCs may well be escorted out of the place after 5 failed consecutive checks. This can be hilarious for your group, but be careful when running this RAW, as it could similarly frustrate players. Anyways, at the top of the spire, the PCs get to meet Hirsli Aptal, a mindchemist who may have a brilliant mind – but also has puzzling news: obviously, the keenest minds, particularly nobles et al., have recently been struck by an odd wave of amnesia, and Hirsli is beginning to suffer exactly the same slips of memory. Something is amiss, and PCs willing to investigate the matter get a badge that should help during the investigation. (Btw.: Attacking her is a bad idea – book golem…)

Investigating Aptal manor, the PCs can find a secret passage in the treasury that leads into the tomb of Ipo Aisun-Aiji, a mnemonic from days gone past that sacrificed himself to end the threat of a horrid entity – Mitk’. Alas, as often the case, Mitk’ wasn’t destroyed, and has since found a mad apprentice/prophet of sorts in the eleven oracle Kit Mha, who has placed clues that allowed Hirsli to break the cipher of the Kitabu Mitk’ – a grimoires now hidden below, ready to be unleashed upon the adventurers. The tomb of Iso Aisun-Aiji is btw. a magical labyrinth full of yithians and the like – now maps or puzzle helps solve the maze, which is a bit of a downside – particularly since failing a skill check and traveling willy-nilly can cause ability score damage. As written, this is a clear example of PC skill over player skill use.

Returning the book to Hirsli, she creates a concoction that cures the amnesia – and that’s it, right? Wrong. The PCs do get to meet King Halfviti (lol), and in the aftermath of a feast, an assassination will be carried out – hinting that not all is well, and indeed, a mysterious killer named Kurtaric manages to (probably) get away. Thing is, there is an invasion looming, and 3 nearby settlements, and thus, the PCs are sent out to gather armies, while the old killer attempts to strike if an opportunity presents itself – but not all is as it seems: The old warrior finally opts for parley, and just as he talks, he is struck dead – and with his death, his ritual fails: the old mnemonic attempted to isolate and contain the spread of the idea of Mitk’, eradicating the idea the PCs helped to inadvertently spread.

The game is on, as Mitk’, as a deadly idea of sorts, now has reached critical saturation – a war for ideas, fought with mass combat rules, against the gruesome vergeten –and, obviously, Mitk’! Ultimately, the PCs may, courtesy of special (and seriously potent for the level) weapons, triumph – these special weapons, oddly, have no value, but instead use a charge-like mechanic and quickly decrease in power. Still, it’s something to keep an eye on.

The pdf comes with extensive statblocks and army stats.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect. I noticed a couple of minor hiccups, though no game-breakers per se. Layout adheres to a no-frills two-column standard with few colors and a white background – the module is pretty printer-friendly. The interior artwork is a blending of nice original pieces and fitting stock art, in full color and b/w, respectively. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. No cartography is provided, which is a slight comfort detriment.

This module, penned by Mike Myler and Christopher Kugler, is per se amazing in many ways – the ambition and story is grand, and particularly the climax can be amazing – if you draw the battle-field, etc. The module also suffers a bit from its scope and what it can accomplish in it – this feels like a trilogy of adventures, jammed together into one: Act I, the investigation and dungeon – the latter of which is pretty much glossed over and could have used a more rewarding solution. Act II, as the gathering of forces – the traveling and locations could have used more time to develop the threat amassed…and thirdly, the showdown, which has all the makings of an epic finale. The third act works best here, but even it could have used a bit more room to shine. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed this module, but it does require some serious fleshing out by the GM to truly realize its potential. And I really, really wished it didn’t rush things like it did. As provided, the narrative weak points are the exposition dumps at certain stages, which, to me, felt like a necessity for the sake of remaining briefer than the material would have warranted. This module is not bad, not by a long shot – but, frustratingly, it has all the ingredients of being a great epic, condensed to a briefer presentation form that slightly hurts the module.

That being said, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform. If you don’t mind doing lots of fleshing out, then this might make for a grand and rather epic experience for you and yours!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Tip of the Tongue
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Advanced Adventures #38: White Dragon Run II
Publisher: Expeditious Retreat Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/15/2018 11:32:42

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Advanced Adventures-series clocks in at 20 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page of SRD, leaving us with 17 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

The first 7.5 pages of this supplement depict the region of the Skathernes and the village of White Dragon Run – and yes, this section is identical to what we got back in the first Advanced Adventures-booklet, leaving us with 9.5 pages of new material. The suggested levels have been raised to 2 – 5 for this return to the Skathernes to account for the challenges presented by the new environments. Now, as always for the series, we have OSRIC as the default old-school rule-set, and as always for the series, we deviate from the conventions and have magic weapons not italicized, but bolded, and similarly, spells are not italicized either, but bolded – most of the time. I did notice instances where they’re italicized instead. A smart and well-rounded group is definitely recommended, and PCs and players should know when to run. The pdf does not offer read-aloud text for its environments.

If you hoped that this would be a true sequel, and adventure that would build on the events and areas featured in the first White Dragon Run, well, then I’ll have to disappoint you.

In case you haven’t read my review of White Dragon Run, here is the breakdown of the wilderness region and how it operates. If you have read my review of White Dragon Run #1, skip ahead.

----------Begin of Hexcrawl/wilderness-discussion-----------

“White Dragon Run” is a departure from what we’ve seen so far in the series, in that it is essentially a hex-crawl wilderness sandbox. In case you don’t know what that is – the adventurers basically travel through the wilderness, encountering beasts and finding unique areas, dungeons, etc. – it’s basically a form of free exploration through a region, somewhat akin to an open-world game. The respective regions surrounding the village of White Dragon Run show that it’s a borderlands type of village, in that it’s pretty much the last stop before the wilds. In the Southwest, Lathergrave (or Lathargrave – depending on whether you believe text or map) Forest can be food; North of the village would be the Mimir Woods, East to South-West of it the Auranas Woods. Between these, the rivers have cut into plains, and beyond the latter forest, there would be the hills known as “The Skaths” that grant the region its name: The Skathernes. In the West, beyond these hills, the majestic Mountains of Xur arise.

Auranas and Mimir Woods share a table of random encounters, with a mix of humanoids and minor fey taking up the majority of the entries, with a few zombies and the obligatory wolves sprinkled in. These forests are dangerous indeed, and stand in sharp contrast to the significantly less lethal La/ethergrave Forest, where the most outré encounter would be giant blowflies. Ew! The first two forests also get their own table of random encounters for the night time, where you won’t encounter fey, but where some of the more dangerous predators and humanoids roam in larger numbers.

That is not to say that the vicinity of the eponymous river that provided the name for the village is safe – quite the contrary! Crocodiles, giant poisonous frogs and large packs of wolves render the area beyond 1 mile of the village very dangerous…but the Skaths are actually even tougher: Here, pretty significant raiding parties can be found, and at night (the Skaths also get separate daytime and nighttime tables), the undead roam in dangerous quantities. The wilderness section also comes with a mini-generator of sorts that lets you sprinkle in dead bodies, random camps and ruins throughout the landscape. It should be noted that PCs should think twice before exploring ruins – they are either occupied or haunted 50% of the time, and both translate to some seriously tough challenges. 1d3 wights or a poltergeist can and will TPK a group of careless adventurers.

While these tables may not look like much, they do play better than they read and facilitate emergent storytelling – encountering 2-16 wolves at night can result in a TPK if the PCs aren’t smart and you roll up a lot of wolves; similarly, stumbling into multiple quicklings in the Mimir Woods can be a rather humbling experience…and when 2nd level adventurers encounter a band of 8 worgs in the Skaths, they’d better have a plan B ready…or replacement characters. So yes, these encounter-tables paint a picture of a harsh environment, and do so rather well.

The village of White Dragon Run itself is fully mapped (no player-friendly, unlabeled map included), and comes with a total of 20 rumors. The village is defended by a garrison (and you get a list of HP so you can track who falls) that keeps the dangers of the wilderness at bay, led by Sir Kallan, who is also the de facto leader of the Triune that governs the village: In his absence, the Triune can’t meet. The other members would be Landan, a paladin, and Janra, the village’s cleric – these two do have appointed replacements, should they not be able to attend a Triune meeting. Cool, btw.: Janra has the Wide Book of Genth, a valuable tome, and the back of the module does contain an appendix with some fully-presented excerpts from it! Nice one! The village also has its resident magician, who is commonly known as “Smoke”, and the village does have its jeweler, a retired soldier, a shop – you get the idea. Nice here: percentile chances for having things in stock are provided.

I also really enjoyed that every single building in town actually gets notes for how it’s constructed, the condition it’s in, the number of occupants and occupations of the folks that live there. It may be a small thing, but it can really aid the GM to bring the village to life.

One building is fully mapped, and that, no surprises there, would be the one that is most crucial for most adventurers: The tavern. The “Twelve Toes Inn and Tavern” (so named because the proprietor indeed has twelve toes!) is the pulsing heart of sorts of the settlement, and it does note the chances of meeting a given NPC with a percentile value for daytime and nighttime as well.

As a whole, while White Dragon Run certainly may not be the most extraordinary village out there, it manages to feel plausible, with the percentile charts, random encounter tables for the wilderness and details provided rendering this part of the supplement a success. It’s not a genre-changer or the like, but it is a well-presented execution of a classic environment.

----------End of Hexcrawl/wilderness-discussion-----------

All right, this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS – from here on out, I will proceed to discuss the new set-piece environments found within this supplement. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, this adventure states that it has 4 new encounter-areas. To quote the description:

“White Dragon Run II contains four new locations in the Skathernes: The Sane Hermit, The Rainbow In The Dark, the rare and unusual Ambulatory Tower, and the deadly Temple of the Snake God.”

That is simply incorrect. The first one is a non-hostile ex-adventurer half-elf druid. You can meet him. That’s it. That’s not a full locale or encounter-area, that’s an NPC.

Yes, this really pissed me off.

That being said, this NPC can tie in with the first of the new locales, the so-called “Ambulatory Tower.” This tower sports a really cool idea: Basically, it’s part of a planes-spanning structure that is kinda-alive; a type of feeding tube that is a heat sink of sorts for the quasi-alive structure – the presence of undead in the area is thus explained rather well, and an influx of zombies can make for a neat hook to get the PCs involved. The creatures encountered within are consequently not quite right, representing an immune response of sorts of the entity: First, they will be grotesque and less potent, but with each subsequent sojourn into the tower, its guardians will improve, losing penalties and gaining bonuses. A wandering monster table is provided, and each room has a leitmotif of sorts that the GM can use as guidance for potentially changed challenges and the like. This makes the tower an interesting place to explore – but I wished that this was also represented by the dungeon itself: Prohibitively short, it only spans 8 rooms and is super-linear. There is but one way, and while terrain-use and themes are strong, the same can’t necessarily be said for the overall structure. The facsimile of the dragon as a final boss here is certainly deadly. On the plus-side, the “heart” of this tower may indeed be destroyed by clever PCs, even without the high-level options it’d usually take, though chances are good that they may need to stock up…and return. Which, of course, means facing new and tougher foes! Even if the tower is vanquished, escape is interesting: The players have to, with closed eyes, describe their way out! Even though it is this linear, I found myself enjoying this small dungeon much more than I expected to. It’s fun, challenging and interesting.

The second new mini-dungeon presented within would be the “Rainbow in the Dark”, a cavern with 4 keyed locations that is currently inhabited by a tribe of rather potent bugbears (and a currently hibernating cave-fisher, for an extra chaos infusion) – inside, there is a magical quartz that, once per day, is hit by a beam of light, creating magical light that can grant permanent boons! Pretty cool! As an aside, I do think that this amazing premise could have carried more, but I digress.

The third mini-dungeon is the longest one: 17 keyed locations can be found, which once more are thoroughly linear. Utterly baffling: The random encounter chart for the Mountains of Xur is included here, in the back, instead of where it belongs, in the front, next to the others. As an aside – the table is, even for the White Dragon Run-wilderness, a deadly challenge, and should be handled with care. I’d suggest level 5, and even then, things can go haywire pretty badly. Then again, at this point, the PCs have had some experience with deadly wilderness encounters. This third mini-dungeon is called “Temple of the Snake God” and features two “new” monsters – serpent-people called “Serpentians” (distinguished as lowblood, high blood and chosen) and shadow weirds, a snake like life-form from the plane of shadow that attempts to paralyze targets and rag them into shadow pools. The dungeon has two easy riddles I’ve seen before, a fountain that changes color (Why? Because, I guess.), snakes, and new magic item-wise, there is a spell-in-a-can ring (boring) and arrows that cause additional damage via poison and that turn into harmless snakes upon being fired. You may well call me hipster, but I’ve seen the snake-men angle done so many times, it’s hard to impress me with it – and I’ve seen it done better rather often. In the absence of Sword & Sorcery themes around White Dragon Run, you may appreciate it if you’re more of a genre-fan than I am (And I love me some Sword & Sorcery…), but personally, I did not feel like it fit into the area particularly well. It feels like a foreign object to me, and not in a good way. It’s a challenging dungeon, I’ll give it that much, but it’s less interesting and atmospheric than the other mini-dungeons herein or the Gray Temple from module #1.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the classic two-column b/w-standard of the series, and the b/w-artworks are nice. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Cartography is solid and b/w, but no player-friendly versions are provided.

James C. Boney, Joseph Browning and Joseph A. Mohr returning to White Dragon Run could have been so much more. This could have expanded and further developed the themes in the first module, it could have been a true sequel. Instead, it feels like a parallel version. The Mountains of Xur random encounters being in the entry for a mini-dungeon did annoy me to an extent; similarly, I think the module’s advertisement is false, as there are only 3 true encounter-areas/complexes – adding a single NPC camping in the wilds does not for a new location make. Encountering a pretty generic retired-adventurer-druid in his camp is not a “location”, particularly if there is no map, no adventuring, no interaction points to be had. It’s basically a random encounter. Heck, the module suggests using him as such.

That being said, 2 of the three new locales are really interesting, cool and sport potent challenges and unique visuals. I wish I could say the same about the third, which feels like it just jams a pretty unremarkable execution of a classic Sword & Sorcery trope I usually enjoy into a region, where it doesn’t necessarily fit. I sincerely wished that the first two locations had received the page-count spent on this one instead. I should also note that the absence of an easier dungeon, with all 3 of the new ones being tougher, de facto renders this suitable for level 4 – 5 characters, for the most part. The only content suitable for lower level characters would be running into critters in the wild. Not sure if that qualifies for you or not.

How to rate this, then? Honestly, if you already have White Dragon Run, you may want to think twice before getting this. The two cool mini-dungeons that I really enjoyed span a grand total of 4 pages plus one paragraph; the rest is reused content from the first White Dragon Run, and the underwhelming final mini-dungeon. Honestly, I’m kinda sad for the 2 cool locations – had they been in #1, or had the Gray Temple been featured herein, we’d be looking at a much stronger offering all-around. As written, I was thoroughly underwhelmed by this one – I paid full price for this, and beyond the advertisement being patently false, I also consider the suggested level range problematic. Dear authors of the ambulatory tower and the rainbow in the dark – I liked what you brought to the table! Consider your parts of this module to be good and worthwhile.

That being said, if you already have White Dragon Run #1, you’ll probably want to skip this. If you don’t own #1, then you may want to get it – provided you have some ideas/modules that can bring the PCs to levels 4 – 5, as White Dragon Run II has nothing but reprinted wilderness encounters to offer for levels 2 – 3.

How should I rate this? Well, ultimately, I’d usually rate this akin to its predecessor: The inspired locations, put together, almost reach the same keyed encounter count as the rather lackluster final one, offsetting that one somewhat. However, the challenges posed are more on the higher level range and offer less for lower level PCs than in the first module, so I’d detract half a star for a 3-star rating.

That’s what I’d usually do. But this module falsely advertised that it offered 4 new locations. I can stomach almost half of the module being a reprint from #1, no problem. I really HATE it when a supplement’s advertisement and description blatantly lies to the customer. Hence, this loses another star for a final verdict of 2 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #38: White Dragon Run II
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Monster Menagerie: Draconis Arcanus
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/14/2018 10:25:17

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive installment of the Monster Menagerie-series clocks in at 58 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 3 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 52 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

All right, so, if you’re like me, you can never have enough dragons. In my games, dragons are extremely deadly, rare, and my players try to avoid them at all cost – with my staggering array of supplements, supplemented by home rules, I have made these fellows true forces of nature. It’s a matter of aesthetics, but I’m very much in favor of using dragons very consciously of what they should signify for adventurers. This notion has ultimately led me towards considering pretty much every dragon as its unique entity – whether I’m using metabreath feats, the vast amount of templates, Legendary Games’ Path of Dragons or other supplements, I try to never have two dragon encounters feel alike.

As such, it is very helpful to get a whole bestiary devoted to a new type of true dragon – here, that would be the draconis arcanus; the collective term that peasants may butcher to instead be “spell dragons” – basically, these fellows are organized by magic schools, with each of the types of dragon receiving its own age category table, rules, and 3 sample dragons already statted for you. Much to my joy, none of these sample statblocks are devoted to the low levels, where any GM worth their salt can nowadays stat a dragon – instead, the lowest CR-iterations of the sample statblocks tend to clock in between CR 7 and 9, while the most potent ones run the gamut from CR 16 – 19. We get a sample young, adult and ancient dragon for each of the types of draconis arcanus.

As a new type of dragon, we do begin the pdf with universal rules for these dragons: These dragons can counter spells with any spell of the same school. They may freely learn cleric and sorcerer spells, and any spell from a school that corresponds with their type, regardless of spell list it’s from. As an immediate action, they can increase their CL for a spellcasting attempt by using Spellcraft, with the option to attempt for more potent overcasting by beating higher DCs. All dragons get the Spell Focus feat, with the adult age category also providing Greater Spell Focus. They add Charisma modifier and age category to checks made to overcome SR, get 11 + CR SR, and add their age category to their SR for the purpose of determining its value for spells of the school associated with them.. Interesting: These fellows get the ability to manipulate raw magic, either in the shape of untyped blasts of destructive energy of the dimensions of their breath weapon, or t heal themselves or other creatures – this is but one of the plethora of aura-altering abilities within. The latter, the healing aspect, is a gamble of sorts, though – for the spell dragon does take Constitution damage for using raw magic. Finally, for 1 point of Con-damage per spell level these dragons can attempt an immediate action counterspell. As beings of magic, all spell dragons are susceptible to antimagic effects, which actually hurt them – from dispel magic to mage’s (formerly Mordenkainen’s) disjunction, damage values for such effects are provided – and woe betide spell dragons trapped in a magic dead area.

The theme here is pretty obvious – dragons as incarnations of magic, as perhaps their source, would be a theme that these very well could provide. That out of the way, we begin with the massive array of draconic tricks that this pdf offers, and there are quite a few gems here that will make your PCs fear these majestic beings. Let’s take the Abjuration dragon: Usually neutral, these fellows have adaptive energy resistance, and at age ancient or older, they actually can become buffed by being attacked with magic weapons, leeching off the enchantments temporarily. That mighty +5 dragonbane holy avenger? Not so holy or dragonbane-y anymore…here, let me snap this metal twig for you… Oh yes, this one goes there: Players will fear these fellows. I mean, we all know that dying in honorable battle with a dragon is something many a player will brag about…but first having all magic items wrecked? Now that is plain mean…and I love it. Have I mentioned the 1/day 500 ft. disjoining pulse that wyrms get? Oh, the delicious tears… XD Kidding aside, I love how nasty these fellows can be. Did I mention the great wyrm prismatic scales – these are a dragon hunter’s worst nightmare, right after their disjoining pulse…And no, you won’t be doing a lot of fancy porting around these fellows…Love them!

Now, you may have noticed something – the abilities of the abjuration dragon don’t look very template-y; i.e., they can’t simply be exchanged for the “spell school xyz”-equivalent. This notion is proven true when taking a look at the conjuration dragon, who gets the ability to use free actions to layer metamagic feats on conjuration spells (no, he doesn’t have to know them!), and it can modify the duration of such effects, and retroactively layer metamagic effects on them – oh, and they can redistribute targets in line of sight. Know what’s conjuration? Teleport. Healing…oh BOY, will PCs and players look dumbfounded when first encountering one of these fellows. And yes, they get frickin’ unchained eidolons. Better summons…and great wyrms get a gate breath. They can transform their frightful presence into an undead debuffing healing aura…and what about mist-auras? Or ripping parts from other planes here for planar trait fun? This is gleefully creative, and yes, before you ask, these dragons do think with portals…and these portals actually are only visible for these dragons and those having true seeing…That they get a summoning breath should, at this point, be taken as a given.

Divination dragons get plasma breath (excellent: Rare damage type properly explained in breath weapon entry) and they add Int-mod to initiative and all saves as well as AC (at juvenile+ age category) – and at later stages in the life cycle, these guys get further defensive tricks. Their breath can trap targets in a flood of visions that may confuse them, and these fellows may exert massive control over nearby divinations. Free ation 1/round Int to a d20-check, scrying tricks, and seeing past and future, the dragon may strike traumatic fear in the hearts of his adversaries. Oracular scales…and did I mention the ability to get a more flexible true strike-y bonus that may be distributed among allies nearby? A massive disadvantage aura (roll twice, take worse result) is nice, but the capstone is the genius thing here: Great wyrms may utter a word after observing a target – this can change even an outsider’s alignment, make priests lose their faith, etc. – functionally, it can be insanity, and, ina cool touch, the ability states that making the save equals “forgetting” what the dragon said/not processing it. This one is frightening in all the right ways.

Enchantment dragons, as befitting of their school, are masters of the creatures they defeated, gaining a sonic breath weapon that may confuse foes, and control over an emotional aura that has several different modes. A paralyzing gaze, infectious suggestions and the ability to call forth minions charmed or dominated…nasty fellow. Oh, and attacking these guys? Not so easy, courtesy of their majesty ability. With subliminal commands and subtle suggestions, these dragons make perfect puppet masters behind the scenes.

Know what’s not subtle? Evocation. Neither are the dragons. They can (and will) absorb energy-based attacks – and yes, this includes sonic and even force effects and have these fuel their breath..or provide healing. Oh, and they can do one thing at age old or older that should make them frightful. If you’ve, in the 3.X days of yore, played with a lot of obscure 3pps, you’ll know the notion of chained spells – a concept that, by definition, never was balanced well…but it’s cool. Well, guess what? For an old dragon, chaining spells together makes a ton of sense and can provide one super-deadly, nasty surprise. These dragons can cause their energy effects to be admixture, charge objects with destructive force impulses. Speaking of destruction: Great wyrms can enter the aptly-named “Devastation” energy form; and adult or older evocation dragons cause all damage dealing evocation spells and SPs to be both Empowered and Maximized, with unique effects for the various damage types – basically, debuffs are heaped on top. Ouch. Nitpick here: This ability should REALLY specify a range – I assume here that aura range was intended, but not specified. Did I mention the sundering capabilities of their breath? The option to make wall-breath effects?

Illusion dragons get a vulnerability exploiting breath, the ability to create illusory servants and create projections which it may then inhabit. Subtle and smart, they are naturally greater invisible, and get phantasmal killer auras, shadow duplicates, a breath that traps PCs in a fantasy utopia…while the latter allows for a Will save to end, here’s an idea: The dragon can peer inside the PC’s visions, and thus could modify their memories, so what if you seed odd occurrences, and when you’re fed up with the current story/region – have the PCs wake up, facing the dragon! Just an idea, obviously – though not one that’s so far-fetched, considering that these fellows may indeed alter reality…

Necromancy dragons get an animating aura, the ability to use astral projection at will at age very old or older, acid breath weapon (laced with diseases, for extra fun!), blood drain…and the dragon may lick targets (EW!), and for the next 24 hours, drain physical attributes from targets licked. This is…awesome. “Sure I’ll help you, little ones…I just want to…lick you.” shudders A fear-based gaze, freely interacting with incorporeal targets, a fatiguing touch and a banshee-style howl can be found – oh, and their breath can cause frickin’ lycanthropy! Their blood is diseased. They can generate clouds of rotting skin flakes. Those slain by their bite are almost certainly, barring wish/miracle, lost…oh, and they get a kind of sub-bloodline with unique benefits and associated undead. Did I mention that great wyrms actually dim the sun in the vicinity, getting the full-blown dark overlord vibe? Soil becomes deadly, water toxic…and just uttering the name of someone allows great wyrms to curse them. This is just super-nasty and cool! I’d have loved to see this lair-style ability feature notes on how it can affect a kingdom, but oh well.

Finally, there would be the transmutation dragon – these fellows get electricity breath, the usual control over their associated spell school’s effects, the options to blink around, fabricate materials…and what about a mist that can haste the dragon or slow foes? What about a venom that deals massive damage due to dininetgrate-ing you? As masters of transmutation, these dragons have a serious amount of control over their own bodies, chosen from their own list. Potentially polymorphing breath, the ability to create reverse gravity traps or to control the sizes of their foes – and what about gaining the traits of a subtype? A transformation aura nonlethal damage + Strength and Dex damage via touch attacks, making anthros, temporarily reincarnate-ing targets…and yes, the great wyrm ability is, no surprises there, a time stop-tweak. Here, the rules are a bit odd, as the ability basically represents a target-lockdown, not the ability to step out of time and prepare, so the spell-reference doesn’t make much sense here.

This is not where the pdf end, though – instead, we close the pdf with 10 different templates that allow for e.g. oracle or witch ability pouching, basically presenting quick to implement ways to further customize these dragons.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on both a formal and rules-language level. While I noticed a few missed italicizations and similar formatting hiccups and a few glitches in some abilities, these are few and far in between. Layout adheres to the grimoires-like two-column full-color standard of the series, though, after each dragon-type/subchapter, we have pretty big sections of blank space. The artworks within are original pieces and in full color: Dan Houser certainly has a unique style that some may consider to be a bit goofy, others delightfully charming. The front cover should give you a good idea there. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience. The pdf comes with a second version that is more mobile-device-friendly.

Sam Hing’s draconis arcanus, for me, started off as a concept I honestly was not excited about. AT ALL. Well, I’m happy to report that I was wrong in this instance – the dragons themed around spell schools actually work. Even better, they dare to be NASTY. They dare to be deadly and brutal – you know, like dragons should be. The ability arrays presented render these dragons potent adversaries that offer both brains and brawn as far as their capabilities are concerned. While they share their school mastery as a leitmotif, I was pleasantly surprised by how distinct from one another they ultimately turned out to be. They play differently, have radically different abilities, and more than one could be its own story twist. That evil empire with the enslaved evocation dragon bolstering the battlemages, the conflict of an enchantment, illusion and divination dragon, an epic game of chess and maneuvering…there are some seriously inspiring components here. Now, the pdf is not perfect, granted, but it’s a surprisingly captivating offering that actually made reviewing it fun. If I were to nitpick something, then that would be that the pdf could theoretically make more use of PFRPG’s subsystems, but then again, this may be a feature, not a bug for you and as such, won’t influence my final verdict. Even after all these monsters I’ve covered over the years, these dragons managed to elicit a sense of excitement – and what more can you ask for? While I did not reverse-engineer all stats within, I did check out a couple of them, and they are solid. All in all, I definitely consider this to be a worthwhile purchase and a great addition to the GM’s arsenal. My final verdict will hence clock in at 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Monster Menagerie: Draconis Arcanus
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Advanced Adventures #13: White Dragon Run
Publisher: Expeditious Retreat Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/14/2018 10:23:38

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This Advanced Adventure-installment clocks in at 17 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

Now, as always for the series, we have OSRIC as the default old-school rule-set, and as always for the series, we deviate from the conventions and have magic weapons not italicized, but bolded, and similarly, spells are not italicized either, but bolded. The adventure is intended for level 2 – 4 characters, and a smart and well-rounded group is definitely recommended. The pdf does not offer read-aloud text for its environments.

That being said, “White Dragon Run” is a departure from what we’ve seen so far in the series, in that it is essentially a hex-crawl wilderness sandbox. In case you don’t know what that is – the adventurers basically travel through the wilderness, encountering beasts and finding unique areas, dungeons, etc. – it’s basically a form of free exploration through a region, somewhat akin to an open-world game. The respective regions surrounding the village of White Dragon Run show that it’s a borderlands type of village, in that it’s pretty much the last stop before the wilds. In the Southwest, Lathergrave (or Lathargrave – depending on whether you believe text or map) Forest can be food; North of the village would be the Mimir Woods, East to South-West of it the Auranas Woods. Between these, the rivers have cut into plains, and beyond the latter forest, there would be the hills known as “The Skaths” that grant the region its name: The Skathernes. In the West, beyond these hills, the majestic Mountains of Xur arise.

Auranas and Mimir Woods share a table of random encounters, with a mix of humanoids and minor fey taking up the majority of the entries, with a few zombies and the obligatory wolves sprinkled in. These forests are dangerous indeed, and stand in sharp contrast to the significantly less lethal La/ethergrave Forest, where the most outré encounter would be giant blowflies. Ew! The first two forests also get their own table of random encounters for the night time, where you won’t encounter fey, but where some of the more dangerous predators and humanoids roam in larger numbers.

That is not to say that the vicinity of the eponymous river that provided the name for the village is safe – quite the contrary! Crocodiles, giant poisonous frogs and large packs of wolves render the area beyond 1 mile of the village very dangerous…but the Skaths are actually even tougher: Here, pretty significant raiding parties can be found, and at night (the Skaths also get separate daytime and nighttime tables), the undead roam in dangerous quantities. The wilderness section also comes with a mini-generator of sorts that lets you sprinkle in dead bodies, random camps and ruins throughout the landscape. No random encounters table is provided for the Mountains of Xur, and it should be noted that PCs should think twice before exploring ruins – they are either occupied or haunted 50% of the time, and both translate to some seriously tough challenges. 1d3 wights or a poltergeist can and will TPK a group of careless adventurers.

While these tables may not look like much, they do play better than they read and facilitate emergent storytelling – encountering 2-16 wolves at night can result in a TPK if the PCs aren’t smart and you roll up a lot of wolves; similarly, stumbling into multiple quicklings in the Mimir Woods can be a rather humbling experience…and when 2nd level adventurers encounter a band of 8 worgs in the Skaths, they’d better have a plan B ready…or replacement characters. So yes, these encounter-tables paint a picture of a harsh environment, and do so rather well.

The village of White Dragon Run itself is fully mapped (no player-friendly, unlabeled map included), and comes with a total of 20 rumors. The village is defended by a garrison (and you get a list of HP so you can track who falls) that keeps the dangers of the wilderness at bay, led by Sir Kallan, who is also the de facto leader of the Triune that governs the village: In his absence, the Triune can’t meet. The other members would be Landan, a paladin, and Janra, the village’s cleric – these two do have appointed replacements, should they not be able to attend a Triune meeting. Cool, btw.: Janra has the Wide Book of Genth, a valuable tome, and the back of the module does contain an appendix with some fully-presented excerpts from it! Nice one! The village also has its resident magician, who is commonly known as “Smoke”, and the village does have its jeweler, a retired soldier, a shop – you get the idea. Nice here: percentile chances for having things in stock are provided.

I also really enjoyed that every single building in town actually gets notes for how it’s constructed, the condition it’s in, the number of occupants and occupations of the folks that live there. It may be a small thing, but it can really aid the GM to bring the village to life.

One building is fully mapped, and that, no surprises there, would be the one that is most crucial for most adventurers: The tavern. The “Twelve Toes Inn and Tavern” (so named because the proprietor indeed has twelve toes!) is the pulsing heart of sorts of the settlement, and it does note the chances of meeting a given NPC with a percentile value for daytime and nighttime as well.

As a whole, while White Dragon Run certainly may not be the most extraordinary village out there, it manages to feel plausible, with the percentile charts, random encounter tables for the wilderness and details provided rendering this part of the supplement a success. It’s not a genre-changer or the like, but it is a well-presented execution of a classic environment.

The last 5.5 pages of the module, then, do present two more detailed locations – small dungeons, if you will.

In order to discuss these, I need to go into SPOILER-territory. Potential players should hjump ahead to the conclusion.

..

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All right, only GMs around? Great! The first of these would be the “Gray Temple”, and abandoned edifice to the evil god Gaevud, a ruin of a granite structure somewhere in the Skaths. Today, vermin nest there, and this is represented by the random encounter table provided, which features giant lizards, giant rats, huge spiders and giant ticks, as well as a couple of humanoids. Indeed, the outer chapel, pretty much the first encounter-area of the temple, already has the potential to have the PCs surprised by no less than 8 giant spiders. If you haven’t learned to be careful via the dangerous wilds, this will drive it home. All in all, this is basically an exploration of an old ruin – though there are plenty of mundane pieces of equipment to still be scavenged herein – which is great for the notoriously-broke low-level adventurer…oh, and particularly perceptive PCs may well find a hidden room that hasn’t yet been looted and found…though, alas, the undead occupants may well object to it being looted… I liked the sense of dilapidation that this complex sported – it is something we don’t get to see that often. At the same time, I do feel that this would have benefited a bit more from some details regarding the long-vanished religion; more details for the iconography etc. to be spliced into the ever-present ruin….but that may have been intentional here.

The second complex presented would be The Forgotten Outpost – an underground complex that once served as a waystation for the Count’s men. A decade ago, it was overrun and sacked by humanoids, and today, it acts as a haven for a particularly vicious band of brigands. Clearing them from the outpost to potentially make it usable once more could really help the PCs getting Sir Kallan’s favor. Bandit HP are provided in a way that makes it easy to check them off, and the complex itself is a straight-forward extermination mission, unburdened by much in the way of hazards or the like…for the first 12 rooms, that is. A slight criticism would be that the bandits remain comparably pale – they don’t really have a proper response strategy or the like – compared to Advanced Adventures: The Curse of the Witch Head”, that aspect is weaker than I hoped it’d be. The interesting aspect of this complex is one that the PCs can potentially miss – there are quite a few rooms that haven’t been found by bandits, hidden by secret doors. Here, a forgotten, undead menace looms, and a room that is haunted can make for a rather creepy experience. I did like this (and the option to find a significant weapon cache) here, but as a whole, the complex still is basically something most GMs could improvise.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-level, with the by now almost traditional formatting deviations. Layout adheres to the old-school, two-column b/w-standards of the series that evoke a proper, old-school flair. The artworks within are b/w and rather nice indeed, and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Cartography is solid and b/w, but no player-friendly versions are provided.

James C. Boney’s “White Dragon Run” is a challenging little hexcrawl that can provide a surprising amount of game sessions. Courtesy of the danger of the wilderness, there are quite a lot of stories that will simply happen organically. And chances aren’t bad, particularly if you tackle this at 2nd level, that one or more PCs…or groups of PCs, will find their grisly ends in the Skathernes. The challenge is a central part of the appeal here, and indeed, the village is also well-presented. While I would have enjoyed a bit more conflict-potential to be baked into the settlement, as presented it makes for a point of light, for a fragile haven, and fills its role in that regard nicely. The hex-crawling section of this module, in short, should be considered to be a success, particularly for those among us that enjoy a down to earth and somewhat gritty aesthetic. I like that not everything is cluttered with magical things here – it grounds the experience and makes encountering the fantastic more remarkable.

That being said, the two mini-dungeons provided in the back of the book fall a bit short of what I have seen the author produce so far. The first dungeon does succeed at its goal, and while it’s not the most remarkable of places, it turned out to be enjoyable. In direct comparison, the second mini-dungeon feels like the less inspired, low level lite-version of his really enjoyable and cool “Curse of the Witch Head.” With a defense strategy for the adversaries, and perhaps a slightly more meaningful impact for finding the less obvious parts of it, this could have been a much more compelling expedition. So yeah, in direct comparison, the two brief dungeons did not exactly blow me away.

How to rate this, then? See, here things get a bit tricky. While I did enjoy the settlement and rather deadly wilderness, the two mini-dungeons included are simply less exciting. And when compared to other adventures that have received 4 stars from yours truly, this simply isn’t wholly there – it needed that little bit, that extra oomph in the dungeons, perhaps a couple of mini-quests in village and wilderness, to truly shine. As such, my final verdict will be 3.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform – a solid release on the positive side of things.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #13: White Dragon Run
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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.

..

.

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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