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The Grimoire Arcane: Book of Eight Schools
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/07/2020 12:19:19

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement clocks in at 30 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 25 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

Okay, so what is this? In short, it’s a selection of 8 specialist wizard classes, one for each of the big schools. As such, we assume d6 HD, 2 + Intelligence modifier skills per level, good Will-saves and full 9-level spellcasting progression governed by Intelligence as casting ability modifier, and the progression is based on the wizard’s spells per day, as well as proficiency with select simple weapons as a default here – but there are plenty of deviations from this paradigm, which I’ll call out in the coverage of the individual respective class. The classes gain a special spellslot that may only be used for their specialty school. All of the classes come with favored class bonuses for the core-races minus the half-elf and half-orc, but plus orc.

Got that? All right, so, the abjurer is proficient with all 1-handed and ranged simple weapons, as well as boar spears and light armor, and they may cast arcane spells in light armor sans incurring the risk of arcane spell failure. This paradigm holds true for the other casters herein as well, just fyi – if they get armor proficiency from a class feature, they can cast in it. Same goes for wearing a buckler, just fyi! Spells must be taken from the abjuration, divination, transmutation or universal schools, and other schools’ spells are NOT on the spell-list. At 1st level, the character gains a bonded buckler, which may 1/day be used to cast an abjuration spell in the abjurer’s spellbook that they know and are able to cast sans preparing it beforehand. It may be enchanted and replaced, and provides the usual self-regeneration rules if only damaged. Abjurers use Intelligence, and not Constitution, to determine their bonus hit points when gaining levels in this class (important caveat to prevent dip-abuse!), and at 2nd level, they gain abjurer’s aegis, allowing them to choose one benefit when preparing spells: One nets resistance equal to the highest spell level they can cast to one of the core 4 energy damage types; number 2 nets DR of an equal amount, and number three nets a competence bonus to melee attack rolls equal to the highest level spell they can cast. At 11th level, two aegii may be chosen at once. Starting at 4th level, when wearing the bonded buckler, the abjurer may spend a swift action to grant the shield bonus to AC to all allies within 30 ft, or increase their shield bonus by this amount, with the effect lasting for Intelligence modifier rounds, up to 3 + Intelligence modifier times per day. 6th level nets Mettle, which is essentially evasion for both Fort- and Will-saves…and yes, abjurers have a good Fort-save.  

Starting at 8th level, they may absorb 3 times their class level, they first check for immunity, resistance or vulnerability, then apply the rest to this absorption. And yes, this RAW does apply to force, negative energy, sonic, etc. damage – but it is a limited ability. 10th level nets proficiency with medium armor and light shields (bonded item can now be such a shield as well), including casting in it, and 14th level upgrades that to heavy armor and heavy shields. At 12th level, whenever the abjurer dispels or counterspells an enemy’s spell, they get to scavenge the magic, prolonging the duration of an already cast abjuration spell by the negated spells’ spell level. Rules-wise, this is clever, as instantaneous spells or super-short duration ones obviously prevent use with counterspelling, but personally, I do think that it should specify that the spell to be prolonged must have a duration of rounds per level or more, but this is mostly aesthetics. At 16th level, the abjurer may expend a 3rd-level or 5th-level spellslot whenever they confirm a crit against an opponent as a free action, affecting the target with targeted dispel magic, or greater dispel magic, respectively. At 18th level, we have the ability to ward a creature by touch as a standard action, at will, and enemies have to succeed on an attack roll to attack the warded creature, including with targeted spells. Only one creature may be warded at a given time. The ability doesn’t list the saving throw formula, but, being SP; I think that 10 +1/2 class level + Intelligence modifier is an easy and intended default. The capstone lets the abjurer expend a spellslot of the same level or lower as an immediate action whenever the duration of an abjuration spell would expire, to prolong it as though it had just been cast. I really like the abjurer’s shield themes, and how it makes a defense mage really feel distinct. This is a winner.

Conjurers get proficiency with club, dagger, quarterstaff, simple ranged weapons and shortbow as well as longbow, and their spell-list covers conjuration, enchantment, necromancy and universal, with the exception of those referring to class features such as eidolons, and they also get the summon nature’s ally spell sequence. This is in as far interesting, as the special slot that conjurers get for conjurations only also require that you choose summon monster or summon nature’s ally, and said spell becomes the only one you can cast with this. Such spells also remain in effect for 1 minute per level, rather than the usual 1 round per level, and may be cast as a standard action. The latter is a significant power-gain, as summoned creatures act immediately on your turn, something usually offset by the 1 round casting duration. At 2nd level and every 4 levels thereafter, the class gets one (summoning) spell added to the spell list and spells known, or the conjurer chooses a combat or teamwork feat, which ALL creatures summoned gaining that. This can be rather strong: The monsters do not RAW need to meet the prerequisites, just the conjurer. HOWEVER, you can only choose a feat you’d meet the prerequisites for to be granted by this ability, so in order to grant e.g. a feat tree to summoned monsters, you’d have to “waste” the prerequisite feats by taking them for your conjurer, so the requisite clause is fulfilled. 4th level nets Augment Summoning, and every 4 levels thereafter, we get to choose from a list of feats. The capstone makes all summon monster spells (but oddly, not summon nature’s ally) count as one spell level lower, including making summon monster I essentially a cantrip, and metamagic adjustments to such spells are treated as two lower. I won’t lie, this one sends my alarm bells ringing to a degree; the modified spell list does help keep it in check, but in order to make a final judgment on it, I’d need longterm data, which I don’t yet have. Short term, the option is certainly strong, and I’d be careful with allowing multiclassing here.

The diviner gets d8 HD, proficiency with one-handed simple weapons, lantern staves and light crossbow as well 3/4 BAB-progression and good Reflex- and Will-saves. We once more have a bonus spell slot for divinations, and spells are drawn from abjuration, divination, transmutation and universal schools. The class begins play with Scribe Scroll, and always gets to act in the surprise round, but is flat-footed until they acted. Detect Expertise is gained at 2nd level, and a whole plethora of detect spells is added to the spell list and list of spells known at 2nd level as well. Their CL is also treated as 2 higher when casting such spells. 4th level nets uncanny dodge, 8th level improved uncanny dodge; 14th level provides evasion, 18th level improved evasion. 6th level provides the detect weakness ability to use a move action to choose a creature within 30 feet, which takes a penalty to AC and saves versus the diviner’s spells and attacks equal to ½ the diviner’s class level for one round, usable 3 + Intelligence modifier times per day as a move action. This is pretty brutal and can be overkill: There is no save, and a 14th level diviner could impose a -7 penalty to e.g. saves versus transmutation’s save or suck spells like flesh to stone and the like, which is an almost guaranteed success, unless the target has REALLY high related ability scores and good save, and then it’s still a stretch if the diviner is halfway decent in their optimization. This ability is imho overkill and could have used a whack with the nerfbat. The ability’s range extends to 60 feet and may be activated as a swift action at 11th level. 10th level nets +1/2 class level to Perception. At 16th level, they autodisbelieve phantasms and get a +5 insight bonus and an automatic disbelieve save when coming within 60 ft. of illusions. The capstone lets their scrying sensors pierce lead and makes their sensors 5 harder to detect, as well as always treating them as having firsthand knowledge. In case you were wondering: I’d make detect weakness’s penalty based on ½ the highest spell level they can cast instead – that’d be e.g. -3 if they can cast a 6th level spell, which seems more in line than the escalating  class level based scaling.

The enchanter gets proficiency with brass knuckles, cestus, blade boot, heavy crossbow, light crossbow, quarterstaff, sap, spring blade and war razor, and draws spells from enchantment, illusion, necromancy, universal. Their governing spellcasting ability score is Charisma, and they gain each level a bonus skill rank for Bluff and Diplomacy (normal cap applies), as well as half their class level  as a bonus to those skills. At 2nd level, when attacked and damaged by a non-reach melee weapon, they can use an immediate action to generate a blast that may daze the attacker briefly, usable 3 + Charisma modifier times per day. No daze-locking, btw., and creatures with more HD are immune to it. Nice! 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter net a teamwork feat, which the enchanter may then share with a creature affected by their charms or compulsions as a swift action for 3 + Charisma modifier rounds. The creature DOES NOT have to meet the feat’s prerequisites. This, of course, provides a justification for why you’d want to allow the enchanter to control you…which is a surprisingly interesting angle. 6th level allows enchanters to throw off enchantment effects, with one reroll per round, up to a maximum of their Charisma modifier attempts, minimum 1.10th level affects those charmed or affected by a compulsion as by Disruptive Spell, if the enchanter chooses so. 14th level lets the enchanter sacrifice a spellslot of equal level to remove the mind-affecting descriptor from a compulsion, which is made more potent by the capstone, which btw. also autogrants the teamwork feats mentioned before sans action expenditure required. 18th level extends single-target charm and compulsion spells to another target within 30 ft. of the first. A potent take on the enchanter that fared well in my tests – as a hint: At high-levels, these fellows may very efficient guildmasters etc. and puppeteer-style villains…just sayin’…

The evoker gets a ¾ BAB-progression, d8 HD and proficiency with simple weapons and light armor, as well as alchemical thrown weapons and one martial or exotic weapon of their choice. Spells are drawn from conjuration, evocation, transmutation and universal, and we get the bonus spell slot for, bingo, evocations each spell level. The class adds their Intelligence modifier to evocation spells that deal hit point damage, but may only add it once per target in the case of multi-target spells or thse spells that can split their target. This adds damage potential, but rewards the class for spreading damage. At 2nd level, evokers choose an elemental attunement to one of the 4 core energy types; the evoker may substitute the chosen energy type for the normal one of any energy-damage causing spell of the other 4 core elements not chosen. So, if you choose cold, you could e.g. cause cold damage with spells dealing fire, acid or electricity damage, which also can change the descriptor. The ability also determines the energy used in the second ability gained at 2nd level: The evoker can use a swift action to charge wielded weapons, adding +1d6 of the chosen energy per 2 class levels on the next attack, and said attack also benefits from a competence bonus equal to the highest spell level they can cast. The charge dissipates if not used, and the evoker gets 3 + Intelligence modifier uses. 6th level and every 4 levels thereafter net a combat or teamwork feat as a bonus feat. 8th level nets Vital Strike, and 6 levels thereafter, this upgrades to Improved Vital Strike, finally culminating at Greater Vital Strike at 18th level. The capstone nets fee and spontaneous Maximize Spell for evocations cast for Intelligence modifier times per day. Solid take on a battle mage.

Illusionists get proficiency with dagger, hand crossbow, iron brush, kerambit, sword cane, whip and tube arrow shooter as well as light armor, and also have good Reflex-saves in addition to the Will-standard. Their spell list draws from abjuration, divination, enchantment and illusion, and the added spellslots are freely available for illusions. They begin play with ½ class level as a bonus to Perception to detect traps and see through Disguise. Second level provides a bonus to their spell DCs if the target would be denied their Dexterity modifier to AC, and at 4th level, targets attempting to pierce an illusionist’s illusion must make a CL check to do so, believing that their effect worked as intended on a failure. 8th level nets an increased DC to disbelieve the illusionist’s illusions as well as an increased Spellcraft DC to identify their handiwork. 12th level nets a miss chance whenever the illusionist moved at least 10 feet, and 16th level nets the illusionist’s Intelligence modifier as a bonus to all saving throws as well as Bluff, Disguise and Stealth. The capstone negates true strike and similar effects used against the illusionist based on knowing the future, and also shields versus the usual detections. This effect may be suppressed.

The necromancer gets d8 HD, ¾ BAB-progression, and adds a good Fortitude-save to the Will-save default. Proficiency includes club, dagger, heavy and light crossbow, scimitar, scythe sickle, quarterstaff and light armor, as well as medium armor made from cloth, leather or hide. Their sell lists consist of the illusion, necromancy, transmutation and universal schools, and their specialization slots may be freely used with necromancy spells. The defining feature of this one would be the corpse companion; if said companion is lost or destroyed, it can be replaced relatively painlessly in 24 hours. At 2nd level, 5th level, and every 2 levels thereafter, the necromancer gets 2 corpse points used for augmenting the corpse, which act as eidolon evolutions. The corpse companion gets full Will-save progression, ¾ BAB-progression, as well as 2 skill ranks per level, excluding 3rd level. Over the course of the 20-level progression, the companion accumulates 10 feats, but to make up for that in comparison, the Ac bonus is less than that of the eidolon’s cap. The base forms available are a canid corpse, and Small and Medium humanoid corpses, which does suffice as a baseline to create additional forms if required. It should be noted that, since the corpse isn’t as mutable and absed on fixed forms, it does not need a maximum number of attacks listed. 3rd level, in case you were wondering, nets the necromancer channel energy, but negative energy only – and yes, at full level, not at the -2 You’d expect, so these fellows actually don’t suck in comparison to clerics in that regard. Minor nitpick: I’d have liked to see the pdf state that the companion does not count for the purpose of maximum undead HD controlled, but since I’s a class feature, that is no oversight – just something that requires a bit more in-depth rules knowledge than some GMs have.

Finally, we have the transmuter, whose proficiency lists includes battle poi, bladed scarf, cat-o’-nine-tails, chain spear, dire flail, double chained kama, dwarven dorn-dergar, flail, flying talon, gnome pincher, halfling rope-shot, heavy flail, kusarigama, kyoketsu shoge, meteor hammer, morning star, nine-section whip, nunchaku, sanetsukon, scorpion whip, spiked chain, urumi, whip, light crossbow and quarterstaff.  If you seriously end up using the quarterstaff with this awesome proficiency list, I really don’t know. The spell list includes conjuration, evocation, transmutation and universal, and the transmutation specialization slot isn’t limited to specific transmutation spells. The class adds good Fort-saves to the standard chassis. 1st level nets phase step, which is a 10 ft. per class level move action teleportation, usable 3 + Intelligence modifier times per day.  At 2nd level, all transmutations with a duration of 1 round per class level get +1 round, plus another round at 4th level and every 2 levels thereafter. 4th level nets the ability to sacrifice a spell of one spell level lower as a swift action when casting a transmutation to apply one metamagic feat known sans increase n level or preparing it ahead of time. Cantrips can’t be used thus – important balancing caveat. 6th level nets a -2 penalty versus the transmuter’s transmutations if the target is already under the effects of a transmutation. 8th level provides the option to sacrifice spell slots to maintain existing transmutation spells running out, but metamagic feats applied are not thus maintained, preventing cheesing with the previous ability. At 10th level, self-targeting with transmutations makes the character’s spells be treated as +3 CL. 12th level lets the transmuter, as a swift action, exchange a prepared spell with another in the spellbook, usable 1/day, +1/day every 2 levels thereafter. The capstone lets the transmuter change between different creature forms when affected by a given spell as a swift action, allowing for fluid shapechanges within a spell’s parameters.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good as a whole – bonus types are applied consistently, and apart from a “one/once” hiccup, both formal and rules-language are precise and well-wrought. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard, and the artworks used are stock arts, some of which I hadn’t seen before. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Michael Sayre’s 8 variant wizard classes are a difficult design proposition – we all know that a properly played wizard (or druid) is a fearsome monster at higher levels, and incisions into their flexibility must be justified, at least to a degree. The book does this in a rather smart manner, by making the specialists real, well specialists. The loss in spell flexibility is made up for by them simply being more fun to play, at least as far as I’m concerned, and I wish we had gotten these classes when thassilonian magic was introduced – they all fell surprisingly different from core wizards in how they play. Now, I get it – divination has to do with fate, and is unpopular in many groups anyways, so I totally understand why detect weakness is as strong as it is, but if your players are fond of diviner concepts, that’s the one part of the pdf where I’d advise in favor of using the nerfed solution suggested above instead.  On a very personal note, I absolutely adored both the enchanter and the abjurer. Both can be really potent if played right, and both feel VERY different from their standard specializations – these two imho warrant the asking price on their own, if you want my opinion. The necromancer is a kind of hotfix that makes arcane necromancers more on par with their cleric compatriots without stepping on the spiritualist’s toes. The evoker has a distinct soldier-mage feel to it…you get the idea. The book can’t well make up for the loss in versatility by eliminating parts of the most powerful spell list in PFRPG. Instead, it makes playing the specialists more rewarding, and, well, special as an experience. So if you started to get bored by all wizards feeling the same, this is what you should get. Considering that this was the design goal, I consider it a resounding success. It is not perfect, but its very few flaws are not nearly enough to cost this my seal of approval, or make me round down from my final verdict of 4.5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Grimoire Arcane: Book of Eight Schools
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Pop Culture Catalog: Infosphere Shows
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/06/2020 12:17:20

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Pop Culture Catalog-series clocks in at 25 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 21 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

Okay, so the Pop Culture Catalog series so far is one of my favorite things available for SFRPG, no hyperbole. Since it’s been a while since I’ve covered one of these, let us recap briefly: The core idea of the engine used, is that experiences and interests shape who we are. As such, the series introduces a fandom-engine, which lets you benefit in specific way from frequenting a certain restaurant, enjoying a certain drink, following a certain show, etc. Now, the benefits are nice and all, but beyond mechanical benefits, the system ahs a pronounced further plus side: You start thinking about what shows your character would watch, what food they’d consume – in short, you add depth to the character. Actually roleplaying through the process of becoming a fan of something also is intriguing, as it grounds the game, and provides an interesting change of pace for the party. Beyond that, there is also the fact that the lore in these pdfs tends to be fantastic – some lampoon e.g. companies with various degrees of subtlety, and provide plentiful adventure hook ideas based on unique settings. There is for example that wonderful, high-class beauty spa on the moon where the unfiltered air can cause lycanthropy. In another installment, we have a redesign for drugs and similar vices, which makes them scale throughout the levels! (And yes, I do have plans to use these rules for a stoner comedy in space type of scenario…)

Anyway, you can belong to 1 + Charisma modifier, minimum 1 fandoms at a given time, and leaving one or becoming a fan are rather easy processes as well, which retains a flexibility in play – it’s not a singular character build choice, but one that you can switch and adapt in a flexible manner as the game progresses.

We begin this supplement with the respective infosphere shows – each states its type, its price-modifier, the streaming service where they’re available, and a very quotable tagline. Beyond that, we actually get proper logos for each of them; in case you didn’t get some of the allusions here, the logos will often help. I should mention that, as a German, there are bound to be some references I didn’t catch, no matter how immersed in US-culture I may be. The shows run a VERY wide range of themes and topics: Take #MutantSchool, a procedural set in the MSU (Mayhem Superhero Universe) obviously inspired by the X-men. It doesn’t simply copy the standard heroes of its terrestrial version – it provides its own cadre of familiar, yet distinct heroes. Did I mention an assembly ooze with a puppy’s disposition? Now I want an assembly ooze with a puppy’s disposition of my own! Interesting here on a mechanical level: The fandom perk nets a +1 enhancement bonus to Bluff, Diplomacy and Intimidate against adolescents, since you understand their mindset better. See what I mean regarding the blending of flavor and crunch? Fans of Alluria and the Primordial Princesses’ perk helps dealing with relationships, as codified in the Advanced Skill Guide, to a greater deal than usual for a perk, but balances this against the fact that it only works if the relationship isn’t dysfunctional.

“As the Asteroid Spins” is a soap opera that started off with a high budget, and received a horrendous reception; however, when it was cut down and all but done and over in season 3, said season was so trashy and enjoyable that it attracted a huge fanbase. This one nets you Bluff as a class skill, or a bonus to it f you already have it as a class skill. Prefer reality series? “Cabinet of Curiosities” is a format where curios are presented to a team who then estimates their value – I can see PCs starring there, and, fun fact, the format also exists in Germany, where it’s called “Bares für Rares”, so “Cash for rare stuff.” The fandom perk makes selling items, regardless if they can normally be sold for 10% or 100% of their price, 5% more efficient, which is particularly at higher levels very useful.

The space equivalent of Topgear would be “Catch my Drift”, and it lets you add bonuses to skill checks used for crew actions of skill checks made to pilot vehicles, but has a 10-minute rest (including, obviously, Resolve expenditure) to regain caveat to keep it in line. Ole’ nerdy me also was beaming from ear to ear when learning about “Crimson Goblin”, the tale of Oswald Verr, a dwarven food synthesizer repairman alone on board the eponymous vessel, with only a living hologram, a senile AI and a catfolk as company. Fans of the series can benefit from the Engineering knowhow conveyed, and may use Engineering untrained regarding ships and crew actions, even getting ½ class level as a bonus when doing so; if you are trained, you instead get a +1 bonus to the checks, which, while potentially meaning that you be better untrained than trained, kinda fits the premise of the series perfectly. And in case you haven’t realized the obvious real-world version: Go watch Red Dwarf now if you even remotely enjoy darkly humorous scifi. It’s a cult series for a very good reason.

Dead station features protagonists like a vegan vampire (XD) and is a black satire about a station overrun with undead, who are primarily cast from a nearby planet…but yet, rumors of there being living actors in deadface continue to circulate… Deisauryu (still love the linguistic compound, invoking god of dinosaurs), Xa-Osoro’s Godzilla (fully statted in their own Star Log.EM) also gets their own cartoon-series, and its strong themes of cooperation are represented by the fandom perk allowing you to enhance covering or harrying fire, as well as aid another, with the usual rest + Resolve regain caveat to prevent abuse. Televangelism/a primer to the philosophy of solarians is particularly useful for solarians, who can spend 1/day Resolve to gain one attunement at the start of their turn; and yes, non-solarians also get a benefit. Habitat, Xa-Osoro’s version of Cribs, was recently wrecked by a scandal that unearthed that several shows were actually fakes made with the vidgame Simulacraft Zeta! Shirren police procedurals, medical dramas…but there are also some less cute ones. Pain Game, a kinda illegal show of brutally gory fights, is particularly notorious, as it has so far evaded the authorities. While officially, it’s supposed to be primarily show and effects, there are plenty of people suspecting foul play and actual deaths happening…now doesn’t that sound like a great adventure for your party?

My favorite show herein, though? Well, much to my pleasant surprise, I’ve seen “Rimestone Squox” – which is obviously a take on the phenomenal indie cult-series dealing with Slenderman; since the Tall One (i.e. ole’ Slendy) is canon in Everybody Games’ supplements, this would allow you to do as the Unfiction community (if you’re interested: Check out NightMind’s summaries on Youtube after watching the series, or to get some recommendations) has done, and build your own adventures surrounding the myth. (Also: Yes, I’m one of the guys who bingewatched Marble Hornets obsessively; if you enjoy that show, I’d also recommend Everyman Hybrid; that one starts slow, but becomes REALLY cool.) so yeah, the diversity of shows, genres and benefits provided is pretty wide, with Disney-like shows (Whacky World of Whimsy) and a proper news-show all included as well. The former lets you btw. spend 1 Resolve for a 1d6 surge to a Culture check to recall a culture’s history, the latter lets you reduce the DC to recall knowledge pertaining current Xa-Osoro events by 5, explicitly stacking with theme-based benefits. Balancing-wise, I had no problems here.

After this section, we get a similar treatment for no less than 6 fully-realized streaming services: These include the magic-focused Dweomervision owned by kitsune billionaire Tashinado Tymira, or the horror-streaming service howler (bonus types smartly chosen and balanced with regards to Rimestone Squpx, for example. I know I’d have the latter at the very least, in spite of the rumors that it’s actually a study of 1010 Robotics regarding the effects of fear on intelligent beings. I’d certainly also be interested in the educational streaming platform Icewire, and if you’re into sports, there’s no way past Kapow! The new Disney streaming service’s analogue, UltraWhimsy, btw. also owns the MCU-representation – and in the entry, we learn a bit more about some of the legendary heroes of that universe.

Now, one of the things I always appreciate about this series, is its commitment to actually defining its content – as such, streaming platform types then proceed to be concisely-defined. Beyond that, we get proper prices for pay per views of different quality-levels, subscirptions, vidjacks 6 mks of streamcast modules, prices for autographs, print media, collectibles, trading cards, production drones, and rates for professional actors based on their skill bonus. The items among those, like the streamcast modules, are properly defined, and include holovid editing modules; if “toy” seems too generic too you, by the way, fret not, for different subcategories are presented…oh, and did I mention the level 1-6 technomancer spell mystic streaming? With the rules presented here, you could run a whistleblower/investigative journalism module…just saying…

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch on a formal and rules-language level, I noticed no serious hiccups. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the pdf sports quite a few neat full-color artworks. The company/series-logos are an awesome touch, and I really love them: One look at e.g. the Marble Hornets-version, and fans of the series will immediately recognize it. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

George “Loki” Williams is an excellent writer for this series; considering the exceedingly high standards Alexander Augunas has set, it is impressive to observe that the installment retains the combination of whimsy, imagination and gameable content that made me fall in love with the series. How much do I enjoy it? Well, as some of you might know, I don’t enjoy writing bad reviews – I’m ultimately a fan of RPGs, and I want to see creators rewarded for their efforts, help them improve. So sometimes, being a reviewer can be strenuous. I know how much time and effort flows into many books. Anyways, when I’m starting to feel a bit down, when I want to read something that has a high chance to put a smile on my face, that lacks any issues and makes me recall why it’s also fun doing this? Well, then Pop Culture Catalog is a series that has so far ALWAYS delivered. Reviewing this series makes me feel good, and it puts a smile on my face. It makes the space opera that is SFRPG feel alive, fills in details usually ignored in world-building, and has these satirical touches woven into genuinely interesting adventure hooks that make you smile and jumpstart your imagination. I love this series, and this pdf, in case you haven’t guessed it, continues this impressive streak. My verdict: 5 stars + seal of approval. If you haven’t checked out the series, now’d be a great time – after all, we can all use some good news by now.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Pop Culture Catalog: Infosphere Shows
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Ships: Terran Frigate
Publisher: Evil Robot Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/06/2020 12:15:35

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the ship-series by evil Robot games clocks in at 16 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

The terran frigate’s base version is a tier 6 Large destroyer that comes with light 60 shields, evenly distributed, with a  Arcus Maximum power core and a signal basic hyperdrive; weaponry-wise, we get heavy laser canon and heavy torpedo launcher on the front, light torpedo launchers on ort and starboard, and coilgun turret; on the defense, mk 4 armor and defences, basic medium-ranged sensors and a mk2 duonode. As always, the stats are complemented by a table that lists the Dcs required for the PCs to actually know about the ship’s interior and weaponry.

As always in the series, we get additional stats: We have the tier 9 elite custom frigate (powered by Pulse Orange) with better all-around defensive and offensive options, as befitting of tier 9; on the other side, a battle-damaged frigate at tier 4, and a tier 10 mighty blockade runner are also included; the latter deserves special mention, because it is not a linear upscale of the tier 9 ship, but has radically-different weapon-loadouts – in play, the difference in the ships’ focuses really shows. Much to my enjoyment, we get more, though: each of the 4 write-ups notes famous ships and provides a brief hook, as well as some name suggestions – when a ship is written off as a total loss and becomes a damaged frigate, for example, the name is usually changed to include something related to fire, like “Erebus”, “Fury”, or “Phoenix”; blockade runners, on the other hand, as vessels breaking through enemy lines, often get names/components like “Implacable” or “Steadfast.” It’s a small thing, but it shows care.

Now, as you know by now, we get a proper 1-page art-spread of the ship from both front and back (which you could also use to represent two different ships…just sayin’), but this time around, we also get a one-page artwork of a soldier. As always in the series, we do get filled-in versions of Evil Robot Games’ neat ship-sheets; we get the paper-mini-style page as well, of course…oh, and guess what? The maps of each of the two decks this time around are so massive, they take up two pages! I kind you not.

I can’t say enough positive things about the details of the maps: Here a chair that’s not straight, there a couple different tech stations/computers, different tables and engines, and yet all’s subservient to an overall aesthetic that makes the place feel organic and lived in. Crew quarters’ common areas has unified chairs and table-placement, but working desks? There you can see differences in tech. You can point on a part of the map and state “XYZ is here” – and it’s visible. The map does note weapons, gunnery stations, etc. in big fat letters…so boo? NO! It is my pleasure to report that the massive ship’s two levels both come with proper VTT-ready, PLAYER-FRIENDLY maps. I love it. Particularly right now.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good as a whole; apart from the persistent “DC’s”-typo for the plural form, I noticed nothing that would impede anyone’s enjoyment of this offering in a serious manner. The pdf adheres to a two-column full-color standard with a white background, making printing out of shipsheets, stats, etc. no problem regarding printer/toner-expenditure. The pdf has no bookmarks, but doesn’t need any. The frigate model by CGPitbull deserves special applause: The ship looks AMAZING, and Keera McNeill also did a great job – aesthetics-wise, this is a beautiful ship. The maps by Matthew Francella also deserve a big shout-out: They are full-color, and, as noted, are presented in player/VTT-friendly versions – huge plus in utility right there.

Okay, so let’s make that clear: Sometimes, size does matter. Case in point: This installment. Paul Fields and Jim Milligan have written essentially both a ready to use ship, and made a fantasy of mine come true. You see, I enjoy switching between starship combat and regular combat, I like running scenarios where you infiltrate a ship or hijack it, but map-wise, particularly larger ships tend to not exactly grow on trees. This handy book delivers a great map you can use as an adventure backdrop, a home away from home for the players (think of Firefly’s ship-centric episodes – this one could carry that sort of thing), and has the stats done for you as well. I know I’ll provide this one to my players as soon as their current characters reach the appropriate level…you see, I have a couple of nasty things planned…

So, is this worth the asking price? Heck yes! It also lets you send a sign: If you’re like me and want more BIG SHIPS, then do yourself a favor and get this. 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ships: Terran Frigate
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Book of Heroes: Heroic Fighter Archetypes (5e)
Publisher: Jon Brazer Enterprises
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/03/2020 11:23:37

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Book of Heroes-series clocks in at 16 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 11 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 patreon supporters.

As you could deduce from the cover, this book contains a new slew of martial archetypes for the fighter, so what do we get? Well, the first would be the knowledge guardian, who gets to choose two skills chosen from Arcana, History, Investigation, Nature and Religion, gaining proficiency in both. Additionally, you may use Intelligence instead of Dexterity to determine initiative, and a similar substitution is possible for when you’d usually add Strength or Dexterity to damage rolls.  At 7th level, you can use a bonus action to make a Charisma (Deception) check contested by a creature’s Wisdom (Insight) – on a success, you get advantage on your next attack against it; oh, and the creature needs to be within 5 ft., so no using this with weapons that have reach. At 7th level, you may also substitute Intelligence for Charisma in a skill check, but may only do so once until you require a short or long rest to do so again; you get an additional use per rest interval at 15th level. 10th level lets you spend 10 minutes in an area to know the location of traps in a 30-foot radius. One use, then requires  along rest to recharge. 15th level nets proficiency in Intelligence saving throws, 18th level lets you ignore class, alignment, race and level restrictions of magic items.

The pact-bound blade requires taking an otherworldly patron and treats any weapon wielded for at least an hour as magical and adds 1d6 force damage to its damage. This improves to 2d6 at 10th level. The archetype also gets Charisma-based spellcasting, starting off with 1 spell slot of 1st spell level, and improving that to 3 spell slots and maximum spell level 4th; you probably have realized by now that this is essentially a warlock-style archetype; The 2nd level spell is gained at 8th, the 3rd at 13th, and the 4th at 18th level. 7th level nets an eldritch invocation, with warlock level equal to ½ fighter levels regarding prerequisites. 15th level nets an otherworldly patron feature of 10th level or lower.

The shadowed blade starts with an feature to increase your melee reach by 5 ft. twice before requiring a short or long rest, with 8th level adding a use, and 15th level increasing that to 10 ft. 7th level allows you to teleport 15 feet while in dim light or darkness, 30 ft. at 13th level. One use before you need a long rest to use it again. 7th level also nets darkvision 30 ft. 10th level nets AC +1, 15th the feature to use your reaction to teleport up to 30 feet away – this might seem a violation of how reactions are usually phrased in 5e, but actually isn’t, as there are two distinct instances that are covered regarding incoming attacks and this feature, namely before and after damage is rolled. Personally, I think that more uses, but before/after attack roll results are made known would have made more sense, but that are just my 2 cents. 18th level makes you invisible when in dim light or darkness, even against opponents usually able to see in them. Somewhat surprising that the archetype got no Stealth proficiency.

The shieldbearer extends you shield’s AC bonus to allies within 5 ft. of you; allies wearing a shield do not get this bonus. 7th level lets you sacrifice your shield, making it broken, to negate a single weapon attack that targets you. This is btw. surprisingly not codified as a reaction, which I assume to be intentional, since the 10th level feature allows you to intercept attacks on nearby allies by throwing your shield in the way, imposing disadvantage on the incoming attack. This is a reaction, and has an interesting caveat: It can only be used again once you’ve obtained a shield. Decoupling this one from the rest mechanic is a good call. 15th level allows you to add your shield bonus to saving throws versus area of effect attacks, and if you’re standing between the source and allies, they also get that bonus. This is the iconic scene of the knight guarding his friends – love this one. The 18th level lets you use your reaction to make a melee attack against enemies trying to move, knocking them prone on a successful hit.

The tainted soul is immune to the frightened condition (they know the abyss or hell awaits them, and try to redeem themselves…) and other conditions caused by fear; you also increase your speed by 10 feet when taking the Dash action, provided you move towards an enemy. When you do, you can make a melee attack as a bonus action, at the cost of losing 2 AC until the start of your next turn. 7th level lets you interpose yourself between an attack and an ally within 5 ft. as a reaction; this hits you automatically, but doesn’t bypass resistances or immunities. Starting at 10th level, you only need to sleep once per week; you can still take long rests, etc. 15th level increases all of your weapon attacks’ damage by an additional 1d6 necrotic damage. 18th level makes any creature you attack suffer from disadvantage on attacks against you.

Tacticians can use their bonus action to grant allies your Charisma modifier either as a bonus to attack rolls or damage rolls against a creature for 1 minute, with 8th and 14th level providing another use before needing a short or long rest to recharge. Odd: The feature has no range, and does not specify that the allies must be able to hear/understand you – pretty sure that’s an oversight, comparing the phrasing with e.g. bardic inspiration. 7th level is neat, as it lets you use your bonus action to suppress a couple of negative conditions. At 10th level, you may Help an ally attack a creature within 5 feet of you, granting all of the allies’ attacks advantage. At 15th level, you can grant allies temporary hit points via a 1-minute pep-talk. 8th level nets a 30-ft. battle cry that renders enemies reliably frightened, with success reducing the duration to only the start of your next turn.

The thrown weapons master gets 3 throwing tricks at 3rd level, and 2 additional ones at 7th, 10th and 15th level. You have 4 uses of them, and at 7th and 15th level, you gain an additional use. There are 13 throwing tricks provided, which include critical hit on 19 and 20 (risky, since tricks have limited uses, in contrast to e.g. the champion’s Improved Critical feature. There’s also one for ignoring half or three-quarters cover via banked shots, double throws, choosing physical damage type freely, etc. Weird: Flesh Wound makes your thrown weapon deal half damage. Why would you ever do that in 5e, where you literally get to choose if an enemy lives or dies? Unfortunate name: “Foot Attack”, since RAW, it should also work on things sans feet. I was also puzzled why we didn’t get more tricks – there aren’t that many, considering that the archetype will get the majority of them (9 of 13) during its progression.

Also at third level, we have the feature to throw weapons sans disadvantage while in melee. 7th level nets proficiency in Acrobatics, Insight and Perception; if you already are in one, you double proficiency bonus for that skill. 10th level makes your aim as a bonus action versus targets within the normal range (consistently called “shorter range” here) for a doubled proficiency bonus on a single thrown weapon attack. 15th level lets you use your reaction to hit missiles passing within 10 ft. of you out of the air, and at 18th level, you notice invisible or hidden creatures within 10 ft. The former imho should get a contested check, but since it’s the 18th level feature, I get why there’s none here.

The unbroken hero can use their reaction to make an attack targeting an ally within 5 feet hit them instead; oddly, this is missing the caveat that you must be able to see the attack, which another feature in this very pdf did have; it obviously doesn’t work with AoE attacks or spells, as explicitly stated here. At 7th level, we have proficiency with Intimidation and Persuasion, doubled proficiency bonus if you already are. At 10th level, you get +1 use of Second Wind before requiring a rest; 15th level provides immunity to the frightened condition, as well as the option to remove it from an ally within 10 feet as a bonus action. The 18th level feature is better than that of the tactician – it’s also a Charisma-based scream, but it’s one that paralyzes for a minute, or renders frightened on a successful save until the start of your next turn.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are okay on a formal and rules-language level; while the syntax of abilities sometimes deviates slightly from 5e’s conventions, that doesn’t hamper rules integrity here. Apart from very minor snafus, such as one instance of proficiency “modifier” instead of bonus, I have nothing relevant to complain about. On a formatting side of things, some features list average damage values, which is not the standard for class features, but doesn’t hurt either. The pdf comes with a two-column full-color layout, as well as full-color artworks, with 3 one-page pieces and a half-page version of the cover-image. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Dale C. McCoy Jr.’s martial archetypes for fighter cover some roles that are bound to see some demand out there; that being said, I also couldn’t help but finding myself wishing that there had been a few more bold designs here; the Tactician’s coordinated strike, for example, is rather potent, but only starts off with one use. Having it more limited, but more uses, would have made it more versatile and less of a feature you leave for the boss encounter. I was also somewhat surprised by the thematic overlap between a few of them: We have two capstone battle cries, for example. There’s more thematic overlaps here than I expected from a pdf of this size. The designs here aren’t bad in any way, but I wished the pdf was a bit bolder with its concepts. That being said, if you do enjoy the less complex martial archetypes and similar class options, you’ll find some compelling material here. As a whole, I consider this to be somewhat of a mixed bag, which is why my final verdict will clock in at 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Book of Heroes: Heroic Fighter Archetypes (5e)
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Fosc Anansi
Publisher: Fail Squad Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/02/2020 13:58:01

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

..

.

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Fosc Anansi
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Thunderscape: Villains of Aden
Publisher: Kyoudai Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/02/2020 13:56:11

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This Thunderscape-supplement clocks in at 17 pages, 1 page front cover,1 page back cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 12 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, like the last supplement in the series, this pdf focuses on depicting named NPCs with their respective stats and brief histories – so let’s see if this one fares better!

Well, if the Smoketown Bandit, a CR 4 jurak alchemist radically opposed to Mekanus’ industrial infrastructure is anything to go by, then partially, but not wholly: The build is missing its daily bombu-use, bomb DC, and unless I overlooked something, their damage is off as well, which is a pity, for the discovery-selection is neat. Arcus the Black (CR 11) once was a member of the Radiant Order but his slow descent into anti-paladin-dom isn’t really justified, which struck me as weird, considering he’s got an arena where he pits the captured against each other and legions of soldiers. He, like the previous character, and all but ONE NPC in the entire book, is missing his threat-range and critical multiplier. Big no-go. His CMD is also off by 1. On the plus side, I liked that favored class options and ability score improvements taken are explicitly noted in the pdf.

Bilefang, a rapacian fallen (befouled) 7, is interesting: The survivor of a horrible catastrophe, he has found solace in his unique, grotesque and mutated state, and uses his powers as a killer for hire. Nice one. Durreal the bloody, a level 1 thunder scout, acts as a horribly-scarred vigilante. His signature vehicle’s stats are not included, and yes, I noticed a hiccup in the stats as well. Goremax Bloodhorn, a CR 9 ferran brute golemoid (juggernaut) was once a feared bandit lord – but when he was considered to be slain, his will persevered and allowed him to reach a mechamage, and he became a golemoid – I like that idea. He is tough well-armored, but oddly, two of his magic items are not in italics.

Infectious Elanna is one of the more interesting characters herein: The CR 7 entomancer is obsessed with insects carrying infectious diseases. Her CMD is off, big time. Verminous servant stats are not provided. Karigitha, a serpentine-blooded Jurak sorcerer captured and brainwashed by naga, is a tragic figure, and comes with a sidebar that talks about the possibility of redemption here – I liked that. Unfortunately, I e.g. did notice e.g. spell DCs noted being off. The Shogun (the one character who correctly lists threat-range/multiplier) is a samurai 5/slayer 5. The build lists a feat called “7”, which I couldn’t find and assume to be a glitch. The swamp lord is a CR 15 master summoner who is missing his spell save DCs and has other glitches as well. On the plus-side, abbreviated minion stats are included.

Tovar, the Grand Kazan of the High Steppes, is facing a challenge he probably won’t be able to win, against a jurak contender…and we all know how the desperate can cling to power. This CR 13 villain is super interesting, in that he stands to lose everything. His mount’s stats, are absent from the book, even though his rage powers include ferocious mount and trample. The Iron Tyrant Lord Marlek Urbane gets a huge and compelling background story, and is a genuinely complex character: Both heartless despot and one of Aden’s greatest heroes ever. AWESOME. His artwork is similarly amazing. Rules-wise, he is a paladin (shining knight) 14/fighter (tactician) 4, and gets CR 17 – I assume due to resources! I really like that, in spite of his alignment, he’s not an antipaladin, and his faith and doctrine are fully explained. This fellow’s build is also one of the more challenging ones and worthy of such a legend. I’d go so far as to say that this fellow is also the hero of this supplement, as it’s easily the most interesting construction within. The final NPC herein, Wamba the Mad, is an elven witch who curiously seems to ignore that fact…she is thoroughly obsessed with immortalizing her legend…and insane. Kid most of the time…but, well. She is multi-facetted, and from small tidbits about her character to this dynamic, I liked her story, if not her build, which, you guessed it, does have hiccups. No familiar stats included either.

The pdf concludes on a strong note, with two villain organizations, namely the Gray Masters and the Nameless Ones – both are strong and inspiring, but don’t sport any actual organization rules – they are all about flavor, but do that well.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, on a formal level are good; on a rules-language level, this is a deeply-flawed offering, though not as uneven as the Heroes of Aden book – there is more consistency here, and the builds are more interesting as well. Layout adheres to Thunderscape’s two-column full-color standard, and the pdf comes with 2 neat full-color artworks I liked seeing. Annoyingly, the pdf lacks any bookmarks, which is a comfort-detriment.

Shawn Carman, Chris Camarata, Rob Drake and Rich Wulf have certainly improved since the last book of NPCs. There are, writing-wise, some real gems and cool villain concepts in the book; there also are some less exciting ones, but as a whole, the lore is neat. The statblocks, while less problematic than in the last book, unfortunately still suffer quite a bit. There are a lot of small hiccups herein, though they tend to be at least somewhat consistent. You can use the stats here and get a CR-relevant villain…but the errors are still a downside, particularly the annoyingly persistent threat-range glitch, hiccups like daily uses missing, and off DCs. The latter is particularly puzzling when the build focused on getting that DC up via feats… So yeah, rules-wise, there is still quite some room for improvement. The absence of any companion stats, even for classes that have it as a crucial feature, is JARRING. Seriously.

And yet, it represents an improvement in writing, in build-quality, and as a whole, while I consider this to be a mixed bag on the negative side of things, I’ll round up due to in dubio pro reo from my final verdict of 2.5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Thunderscape: Villains of Aden
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Elemental-Kin of Porphyra
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/01/2020 10:53:55

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the „…of Porphyra”-series clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1.5 pages of SRD, leaving us with 20.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

In case you weren’t aware of it: Porphyra RPG is pretty much compatible with PFRPG’s 1st edition; the game behaves akin to how PFRPG modernized 3.5 back in the day, and presents a continuation of the tradition, in contrast to PF2 being a whole different beast. As such, the content herein can be adapted to PF1 with minimal fuss.

We begin with the tale of the fall of the Ruby City of the Mountains, Chelmor, at the hands of the elemental-kin armies, and then proceed to learn about their turbulent history on the patchwork planet; how the war between Elementalists and Deists waged, how they suffered, and how they ultimately segregated from the teachings of the Zendik order.

Each individual write-up features a brief overview of the race, the racial characteristics (including alternate ones), and supplemental feats. All are, obviously, native outsiders. Ifrit get +2 Dexterity and Charisma, -2 Wisdom, are Medium with a base speed of 30, and get darkvision (which has no range in Porphyra RPG and includes low-light vision), resist fire 5 , and if you have a spell list, you get spells with the fire descriptor added and cast them at +1 CL. When they take fire damage, the ifrit get fast healing 2, though there is a scaling fixed daily cap on how much they can heal per day. They also get a +1 racial bonus to attack-rolls versus non-elemental outsiders, and choose elf, orc, or human, getting a +4 dodge bonus against the subtype. The race also gets dancing lights 1/day as a SP. Alternate racial traits include replacing the fast healing for a +2 racial bonus to Stealth; the fire spell affinity and SP may be replaced with 1/day enlarge person as a SP; fire magic affinity may also be traded in for +1 fire damage with unarmed attacks and making them count as armed; the fire resistance may be traded in for +2 to initiative. The attack and dodge bonuses can be traded in for Diplomacy as class skill, bonus and boons that let you retry. There is a nice consistency here, in that the aforementioned bonuses represent war memories and hatred, which doesn’t fit with Diplomacy; in short, there is consistency of tone and mechanics here.

The race also gets two feats: Blazing Personality lets you demoralize as a swift action; Scorchblade lets you sue a swift action to wreathe a weapon in fire, increasing its damage by +2 fire damage for 1 round. Now, in case you didn’t know: Porphyra RPG feats scale: Blazing Personality, at 5 HD, lets you demoralize via Diplomacy, sans the targets taking it personally. Scorchblade increases its fire damage at higher levels.

The Khashabi, also known as woodfolk, get +2 Strength and Dexterity, but only have a 20 ft. speed, which is not modified by encumbrance or armor. They also get darkvision, a natural armor bonus of +1, resist radiance 5, the same bonus to attack as the ifrit versus non-elemental outsiders, and the same dodge bonus. Why? These are the traits shared by the elemental kin due to their experiences in the wars. Khashabi get +4 to Stealth (bonus type missing, should be racial) in overgrown areas and forests, and a +4 racial bonus to resist combat maneuvers hat move them while they’re on the ground. They also get enlarge person as a 1/day SP. The armor and dwarf-like movement can be replaced with 30 ft. speed; alternatively, the armor can be traded in with proficiency in unarmed strikes and a threat range of 19-20 with them. The race adds all radiant spells to their list, if present, and 1/day in full sunlight, can heal 1d8 + Charisma modifier damage. Nitpick: This should state that it can heal their own damage; as written, the wording is ambiguous and could be taken to instead apply to anyone. It’s pretty clear that the ability’s supposed to only apply to the khashabi, though. This one btw. replaces the war abilities. The plant-stealth and difficult to topple abilities can be traded in for a + racial bonus to attacks with axes. The racial feats include scaling damage bonuses with weapons made of wood and additional sun-healing uses.

The oreads of Porphyra get +2 Strength and Wisdom, -2 Charisma, and get the usual native outsider, darkvision and war memory abilities as above; their elemental resistance applies to acid, and they get an analogue ability to the ifrit regarding healing when taking acid damage, with the same cap thankfully in place. Their SP is stone fist 1/day, and, bingo, they add all earth descriptor spells to their spell-list, if present. These magic tricks can be replaced with 1/day entangle and access to all plant descriptor spells instead. Stone magic may also be replaced in favor of an increased Ac versus ray attacks, and 1/day Deflect Arrow style ray deflection. Cool! The SP may be traded in with the ability to sacrifice a gem to increase the CL or damage output of earth spells. The attack bonus versus non-elemental outsiders can be exchanged for two class skills, representing sapper-experience, and elemental resistance can be exchanged for an untyped +2 to combat maneuvers made to bull rush or overrun. If you have the gem magic tricks and want to see more, consider using the Crystallomancer feat. (As an aside: These oread abilities reminded me of Underworld Races & Classes, particularly the colliatur and the svirfneblin’s gem magic, so if you enjoy these concepts, blending them would be a neat idea…) The second racial feat makes stone weapon wielding a reliable operation, and provides a damage bonus with them.

Sylphs receive the war traits, air magic affinity, alter winds as a SP, resist electricity 5 and +2 Dexterity and Intelligence, -2 Constitution. They also get the self-healing when hit, this time applying to electricity damage. Cool: One of the war-traits can be replaced for a bonus to Knowledge (engineering) and a 1-time-round trip for free to any place in Poprphyra, courtesy of your Fourlander Flight guild connections. The healing and air magic can be replaced with an AC boost courtesy of the winds surrounding you, and you can exhaust this passive ability with a 1/day ranged combat maneuver to bull rush or trip a target. Neat! The resistance can also be exchanged for a bonus to saves versus diseases, poisons and related conditions (which is quite valuable, considering that poisons are better in Porphyra); the second war-related trait and SP can also be exchanged for running Stealth and reduced penalty while moving. Finally, the anti-outsider bonus can be replaced with increased summon-duration for air creatures. The racial feats include scaling negative energy melee damage in shadows and darker, while the second one nets you scaling power and uses of feather fall and shocking grasp as SPs.

The undine of Porphyra get +2 Dexterity and Wisdom, -2 Strength, swim speed 30 ft. hydraulic push as the 1/day SP, and their resistance applies to cold, the magic affinity obviously to water spells. One of the war traits may be exchanged for +2 to CL, and SPs and water magic affinity may be exchanged for a cold cone breath attack. If you choose the latter, you can get a feat that also lets you wreathe your weapon in scaling cold damage, analogue to the ifrit feat. The war traits and water magic may be replaced with blindsense 30 ft. in water; the SP can be traded in for poison use, and one of the war traits and resistance for a bonus to saves versus mind and poison effects and poison. the latter bonus is not typed. The other racial feat requires taking the CL-boosting trait, and nets you an additional 1st-level spell slot for water spells, as well as the ability to ignore level increases of metamagic 1/day for a water spell. The ability can be used more often at higher HD.

Finally, there are the Vithr, also known as Ironmen – much like the Khashabi, they get a rather cool full-color artwork; rules-wise, they have +2 Strength and Charisma, -2 Intelligence, and their elemental resistance applies to sonic damage. Beyond the shared war traits and elemental spell affinity, we have ironskin as a 1/day SP. Minor nitpick: The elemental affinity has a cut-copy-paste glitch, referring to water instead of metal as the relevant descriptor. Unfortunately, they are missing the entry for their base speed, which is somewhat egregious, since the first alternate characteristic lets you exchange elemental resistance in favor of +10 ft. movement when charging, running, or withdrawing. The magic-related characteristics may be replaced with +1 to CMD (should be typed), the SP for a +1 natural armor, and one of the war characteristics with an untyped bonus to saves versus fear (should be typed). On the plus side: 1/day forming a metal piece into an object weighing 10 pounds or less? Awesome. One of the racial feats represents an alternate ability score adjustment array as well as axe proficiency, Dwarven language, and scaling a mage bonus with axes. The second feat lets you negate critical hits by sacrificing armor or shield, which become broken. I like this conceptually, but it should have some sort of caveat, since it’s reliable, and nothing keeps me from stocking up on a ton of bucklers…

4 global feats are also included: These range from a potentially Con-damage causing dance-challenge (NICE!) to Elemental Sight, scaling sues of plane shift to the associated plane, and the rather potent Zendik Commando, which can net you two of 5 bonuses when adjacent to an ally or flanking with them. The verbiage, unfortunately, is super-vague her. Are these chosen once? Each time anew? Is a “+1 teamwork bonus to attacks of opportunity” a bonus to the amount of times per round, or to the attack roll? I like this feat, as it looks like it’s a teamwork feat worth taking, but it needs to eb more precise.

The pdf also provides 6 archetypes: The Bolt-thrower is a sylph archetype for the arcane archer (which is my least favorite Porphyra class); this one lets you fire limited amounts of arrows that count as magical at higher levels and also cause bonus electricity damage; starting at 9th level, you can create arrows ex nihilo, the latter of which replaces all of archer’s luck, instead of having a scaling boost at 14th and 19th level, respectively. The Brotherhood of rust for the vithr is locked into the elemental assassin secret, and instead of poison use, gets the ability to lace their weapons with radiant damage. Interesting: the second secret nets you a cloak, which makes you count as in a situation marked by the element, but takes up the shoulders slot. The ifrit forgeknight eldritch knight gets a special breastplate bonded object in which they can sleep, crafting, and later may make the armor glow. The Khashabi get nature’s wrath as a champion cause, which enhances your survivability in a natural environment, as well as later providing a companion steed, telepathic bond, growing, etc. The oread pillar of stone for the stalwart defender, which is a minor engine tweak with a cool endgame, that lets you self-petrify into a nigh-invincible stone form. The undine seeker of Arlia is essentially a water-themed magic bloodhound for the slayer class.

7 magic items are presented: Elixirs of infiltration make native outsiders pass as human; forgelings are cylinders that seem to fuse with the hand, becoming harder to disarm; they can change variant weapon types as an immediate action: The Warhammer form, for example, bypasses a specific material DR, etc. Iron rings flat out negate the first 4 critical hits or sneak attacks per day, but make the wearer susceptible to rusting attacks; at just 12 K price, this is VERY strong. Khanjar of resistance let an elemental-kin apply their resistance as damage on critical hits. The mask of radiance can be charged up to fire light beams – oddly at a fixed attack bonus, and sans specifying the type of action that firing the beams takes. Oppressors of the elemental-kin are shaped like related items and can cast 0-level spells, but can also enslave the related elemental-kin. Totems of the elemental kin net an ability score boost and a CMD boost versus being demoralized.

The pdf concludes with 7 new spells: Absorb weapon is an exotic spell that heals you when struck, as you absorb weaponry used to attack you if the wielder fails a Reflex save. Ironskin nets a scaling bonus to your pre-existing natural AC, and may be dismissed to negate critical hits or sneak attacks. This is pretty strong for level 2 – at the very least, this spell should imho be exotic. Awful radiance dazzles those nearby and imposes more penalties on the light sensitive. Radiant armor is a defense spell that causes minor radiant damage to foes attacking you in melee; Radiant beam and focused radiance both deal radiant damage in a pretty straightforward manner; flame of Aurex is a mythos radiant battle spell. Radiant damage, by the way, cannot be healed by positive energy, or by fast healing and regeneration – only naturally, making it a VERY valuable resource.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting oscillates from proper precision to a few instances where the author falters and falls back into old habits; as a whole, I consider this to be a well-crafted supplement, though unfortunately, some of the glitches do hamper the rules-integrity of the presented material. Layout adheres to the series printer-friendly 2-column standard with purple highlights, and the supplement comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The artworks presented are full-color and really nice.

Perry Fehr’s take on Elemental-kin starts off very strong: The respective races have been tweaked to work well in the context of Porphyra RPG’s assumed power-level, are well-executed and share enough similarities to be considered to be related, also historically, but also have quite a few components that set them apart. Much to my surprise, I found myself enjoying some of the alternate racial traits most here. The system’s scaling feats are a good call, and remain so, but what’s done herein with them is often less interesting than what I’ve seen, often favoring a simple escalation of numbers, which is valid, but e.g. minor fire damage boosts won’t justify spending a valuable swift action at higher levels. The scaling here needed some nuance. The archetypes are probably the weakest part of this book – they have cool concepts, but their execution is very basic, making them all minor modifications. They left me with a sense of unrealized potential, and feel slightly rushed – e.g. the arcane archer archetype lists a higher level ability before a lower level one; that sort of thing. Why am I talking about “unrealized potential” instead of whacking this more? Because conceptually, there are really cool nuggets here, and they’re realized. I was also surprised to see some of the cool ideas for the elemental-kin as a whole – Perry Fehr is great when it comes to cultures and the like, and I wished he spent more time on them here.

As a whole, I consider this to be a mixed bag, slightly on the positive side of things; personally, I wasn’t too blown away by the archetypes, but some might well enjoy them. Still, as a whole, when compared to what the author has done before, and what other authors have done with Porphyra RPG, this feels less impressive to me. If you’re looking for a selection of strong and interesting elemental kin-races, this’ll do, and you should round up, but as a whole, I think this is closer to 3 than 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Elemental-Kin of Porphyra
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Those Dam Goblins (Revised)
Publisher: Fail Squad Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/01/2020 10:51:27

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can’t do it.

I seriously can’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WTF.

Seriously, WTF???

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

W-T-F.

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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

None of this goes anywhere.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Those Dam Goblins (Revised)
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Druid Enclave (Pathfinder)
Publisher: Infinium Game Studios
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/30/2020 14:01:33

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The massive Druid Enclave Adventure Book clocks in at 838 pages; if you take away the introduction, the explanation of Infinium Game Studios‘ FlexTale and quadded statblocks etc., you instead arrive at around 820 pages, which renders this massive doorstopper of a tome one of the largest books I have ever covered.

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue due to me receiving a print copy in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Okay, so first things first: The “Druid Enclave Adventure Book” is imho not an adventure book: It’s a massive, tome-sized setting supplement that depicts a city in intricate, obsessive detail; it can be likened o arriving in e.g. a Skyrim town sans quest-indicators and the like, with nigh endless “interaction points.” If you are familiar with Dark Obelisk I: Berinncorte, Druid Enclave is more akin to that book than to Dark Obelisk II. The Mondarian Elective – by design.

The latter tome, which depicts a ginormous mega-dungeon, did hint time and again at this enclave, for this place owns the site of Dark Obelisk’s second part. As such, the best way to picture this tome, is to consider it an optional companion tome, or to use it as a stand-alone city supplement.  If used in conjunction with Dark Obelisk II, the Druid Enclave adds stronger hooks to explore, and breaks up the ever-deeper sojourns into the vast subterranean mines and caverns with some political intrigue, faction roleplay, etc.

Factions? Yep, there are a ton of those in this book – the write-ups that also are featured in the player’s guide are included herein as well. Now, I personally expected to see the prestige award mechanics for Pathfinder to be represented here, alongside perhaps some unique mechanics and rewards, items, traits, the like – but alas, no such thing is provided. The factions remain flavor-only, which is a drawback as far as I’m concerned. They do have one addition in comparison to the player’s guide: Each faction gets AT LEAST one quest-outline. These are not fully-realized adventures per se, but instead rather detailed adventure-sketches, with suggested sequences etc. noted; some of these tie in with overarching plots, while others are small sidequests, like convincing a young man who failed the test to become an elite guard, to give up his position and face his failure. Personally, I am not a big fan of the reward star-mechanic used in these books, but that’s a matter of taste; what’s less a matter of taste, is that some of the rules and how they are suggested to be employed contradicts how PFRPG usually handles the like. Convincing someone of something via Diplomacy is usually not an opposed check in PFRPG, for example, much less one contested by another social skill – the DC depends on starting attitude and Charisma modifier. Bluff, on the other hand, is opposed by Sense Motive. This does not wreck the book, but if you’re picky about rules-aesthetics, or if your social skill-focused character has invested heavily in starting attitude adjusting tricks, this may rub them the wrong way and require some refinement. On the plus side, most of the quests do not have this problem, and there are quite a few sketches for brief skill challenge-lite discussions provided, something I certainly appreciated.

Negotiating between treants and druids, uncovering the culprit of fur-forging going on, and more: What if, for example, one of the factions seeks to permanently separate from the enclave, and also demands a stipend? Much to my pleasant surprise, many of these quests provide a) meaningful tasks that require neutral parties such as the PCs, thus making sense to be outsourced to them, and b), also genuinely allow the PCs to shape the face of the Druid Enclave as they adventure. Some of these quests also directly are in opposition to each other – what one quest giver might sell as quenching the seeds of sedition and rebellion, another may portray as a request for very much necessary aid, essentially posing a fantasy-version of a whistleblower-dilemma. The realm-wide operating factions, alas, do not get their own quests, which is a missed chance here, as it’d have been a great way to provide additional, global entry-points to the Dark Obelisk saga. On another note, it’d have been prudent to cut them in favor of organization benefits, prestige awarded progressions, and the like, but that’s just my opinion.

Now, as you know by now, I am a pretty big fan of the context-bands FlexTale uses for rumors and lore to be unearthed, and as such, the 15+ pages section that contains rumors and lore provided in FlexTale tables (can be run as is), as well as random encounters, can be considered to be helpful indeed. It should be noted that this book does use the FlexTale 1.0-book to randomize the contents of every table and crate: If you have a table, you can simply roll on the tables for Martial 1H and Martial Ranged to determine the weapons on top; rummage through a sack, and you roll on the Rations and prepared food-table. Much like in Dark Obelisk II, I strongly suggest using these tables. To cut my long-winded explanation of why this can be so great short: It lets you zoom in to a treasure content, and makes it hard to determine the “proper”, the “relevant” interaction points, and separate them from what would at best be dressing in most supplements. If you want to know more about that, please consult my reviews for FlexTale and Dark Obelisk II.

Each level of the Druid Enclave notes its connection areas and levels in the beginning, and tables to randomly determine NPC presence etc. can also be found. As in the Mondarian Elective, the details are what makes this unique: When you have a thoroughly-mapped, massive city, where every weapon, chair and the like may be seen on the map, you can do things that other books just can’t do. Take a simple guardroom. In most gaming supplements, that’d be a brief one-paragraph summary, perhaps with a  similarly brief read-aloud text, right? Well, in Dark Obelisk II, and in this book as well, we instead have a fully-depicted map of the room in detail, with 6 keyed encounter areas IN THIS ROOM ALONE. And yes, they do have read-aloud text – while not every keyed area has the like, A LOT of them do, including e.g. just stacks of crates. That is insane in the best of ways, particularly considering that FlexTale would allow you to “zoom in” even further. It’s hard to convey what this does to the playing experience without actually trying it; I tried to convey it in the Dark Obelisk II-review, but in short: It makes everything feel incredibly persistent and tangible, and it conceals things like secret doors and “adventure-relevant content” in a truly astounding manner. This also extends to gaming-related content, mind you: If there’s a counter, it’ll let you know about the bonus to Stealth that crouching behind it may yield; if you need to pass a checkpoint, the book’s tell you how many checks it’ll take to pass it. On the downside, the production for both PFRPG and 5e means that there are instances where a “Reflex/Dexterity check” are noted…and this is the PFRPG-version. That sort of stuff should not be inside. Moreover, in 5e, that should be a Dexterity SAVING THROW, not a check – those are two different things regarding proficiency, but that as an aside. In short: For every instance, where the book takes the time to tell you that a secret door’s easier to find on one side, including proper modifiers, we also have one of aforementioned snafus.

A massive 369 pages of the tome are devoted to the dramatis personae and common NPCs; the named NPCs come with their own (mostly) b/w-artworks, and structurally, we usually get around 2 pages of flavor information, and 4-5 pages of statblocks, as the NPCs come in Infinium Game Studios’ usual quadded format. The stats make use of Pathfinder Unchained’s variant skills, though these are easy enough to ignore, should you choose to. As always, we get the respective abilities and less common feat-texts required to run these copy-pasted to the end of the respective statblock section, and also as always, don’t expect to see classes featured beyond the more common: If you expected to see vigilantes, shifters, occult classes, etc., you won’t find those here, with the cut-off date seeming to be pre-ACG. As far as statblock integrity is concerned, it’s pretty decent considering the sheer amount, but stats are more than just their math, and it is here that the quadded statblock format continues to fall short.

On one hand, Aquilae has this notion of making characters have higher ability scores to make up for less items, but on the other, it doesn’t fully implement automatic progression for them. It also comes apart at the higher two difficulty tiers at the latest, partially because the gen-based approach is contingent on a flawed metric; challenge, particularly at higher levels, needs to be carefully crafted, and does not follow a linear progression. As an example that perfectly illustrates this issue, let us take a look at the Farmer statblock for the members of the Rake & Sickle faction, which is essentially the peasant’s guild. (Guild membership is denoted quickly in text and with guild icons.) It should be noted that this is the most unfair example I could find in the entire book; the statblocks generally are better than that, but the farmer illustrates my point best, and in the most drastic fashion. That being said, the following should be considered to be the most exacerbated iteration of the issues discussed, and it is not representative of the average statblock quality.

As befitting of such a fellow, the lowest level band statblock makes him a commoner 1/fighter 1, with a low Intelligence, but damn high Constitution. At 18 HP and with a good Fort save, this fellow works well as the “tough farmer who can also wield a weapon.” Let’s move to the final band. Here, the farmer is a commoner 7/fighter 4; his AC has improved a whopping 3 points since the lowest level iteration, to 16, but he now has a +2 returning shortspear and 111 HP, which is certainly respectable. And he’s supposed to be CR 10. Now, the CR-mechanic has always been flawed, but this is a great way to illustrates this. The fellow attacks at +11/+6, and deals a whopping 1d6+4 damage per attack. The feat choice, with Defensive Combat Training and Desperate Battler make sense, but don’t help make this a valid CR 10 build. Feat-choices like Animal Affinity, Athletic, or Endurance fit the farmer-angle – but not that of a CR 10 obstacle. If one takes the stance that the build is supposed to be a hardy farmer, I can’t help but marvel at the fellow having two +2 items in the first place, which RAW would suffice to feed his family for YEARS. And yes, I am aware that I am picky here, but this…it takes me straight out of the world that the excessive details generate. In many ways, the Infinium Game Studios supplements are soothing to my OCD regarding details, the need to flesh out everything…it’s all done for me. Such instances take me back out of it. In many ways, I think that all of these books would be better if they focused on providing statblocks for one or two bands, but making sure that they are valid and make sense in-game.

For fairness’s sake, the book shows that it can deliver good statblocks at higher levels, which it particularly highlights with the named NPCs, where we get proper AC and attack values for multiclass characters, level-appropriate ACs that mean that the NPCs won’t be curbstomped immediately, etc. AC 29, two +5 weapons and proper armor at CR 15? Yep, that should do it. On the downside, e.g. feats like the entire TWF-tree still have not been included in the attack sections, which might require that you do some adjustment on the fly, which is usually hard-coded in the statblock of NPCs. I see the value of quantity regarding the statblocks as a reviewer, but I do believe that the quadded statblocks also result in quite a few drawbacks, which, for me as a person, remain more pronounced that the benefits.

Why am I harping on this for so long? Well, because the supplement otherwise does a rather impressive job regarding the NPCs: As in the player’s guide, we get an overview, appearance & demeanor, but we also learn about the background, combat tactics, faction membership is noted, and habits and logistics are also provided. Speaking of evolution: Know how I loved the nuanced attitude tracker in Berinncorte, for example? Well, the book provides the explanation of that sub-system, and nets general modifications, but each named NPC also features their own personal attitude modifiers. Some do respond favorably to rumors being shared, while others do not. If anything, these personalized modifications are neat, but there are a bit more general ones here than I’d have liked to see. Pretty much every non-criminal NPC does not take kindly to direct action against the enclave, but at least the values by which they take offense differ, so this does get a pass - partially. There are a couple of instances where I wished a more nuanced approach had been taken. There is, for example, a working-class lady who considers herself to be a socialite, but who constantly slips regarding her sociolect. Okay, so how does she respond to being made aware of that? What if a PC does so publicly? How does she respond to offers of being coached properly? This is particularly evident, since the lady’s questline is about a tailor, who modifies her dresses to look more posh – and she wants the PCs as intermediaries. That is a cool Pygmalion-style sidequest, but one that would have worked better with a more nuanced individual attitude tracker.

Nice for GMs who have a hard time improvising dialogue: Each named NPC comes with conversation pieces and answers to likely questions posed. Almost everyone of the named NPCs gets their own questline attached (Gaeryn being a sample exception for a NPC sans questline), though not all of them are exciting: Surviving an attempt by one NPC to assassinate them is an encounter, not exactly a quest that needs to be spelled out for anyone. In many ways, that is the crucial flaw of Druid Enclave – it relies, as far as grand narratives are concerned, too much on pointing to Dark Obelisk II, and doesn’t have as much going on regarding grand narratives of its own. In a way, I believe this to be intended, as the faction set-up, council and council-members with their questlines generate emergent gameplay when you throw the group of players inside. Add to that the plethora of short slice-of-life-style side-quests, and we get an environment that feels alive and generates adventuring almost on its own.

And yet, it does not utilize what it has, ignores its own crucial strength: Its scope. With this amount of detailed maps and NPCs, this has an unprecedented potential for running investigations, complex plotlines, conspiracies. Picture it: A timeline of clandestine meetings and actions, a conspiracy threatening to unravel the place’s social order. Unlike in pretty much all published modules, you can meticulously track the progress of a NPC and the party through the fully-mapped city; you could do fantastic detective/intrigue scenarios, shadowing targets, murder mysteries, fights in the streets and more – the Druid Enclave has a dream come true of a set up, and with its redacted player-friendly maps, vanished NPCs hinting at secret trapdoors – this could handle all of that, and setting it up would be comparatively simple! “NPC A moves from map A, location 1, to map B, location 3. (10 minutes); there, they lock the door behind them, and enter the secret door, closing it behind them…” Druid Enclave has this intricate faction set-up, with the council elders as powerplayers and the whole settlement subject to the unique flavor and situation; the place practically reeks of intrigue, but all that potential remains relegated to the  more or less personal space and faction quests, and does not sport “big” questlines beyond the ever-looming Dark Obelisk II. And I don’t get why, for the set-up is probably the best of any Infinium Game Studios books to date.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good considering the vast scope of this tome, and the fact that this is a single man’s exceedingly ambitious vision. Layout adheres to Infinium game Studios’ two-column full-color standard, and the supplement provides quite a lot of original b/w-artworks for the NPCs. The full-color cartography of the supplement is excessive in scope and detail, and brims with small touches that make the city feel alive. The gigantic hardcover comes with its name etc. on the spine. The adventure book does not sport player-friendly maps, since these are included in the player’s guide.

J. Evans Payne’s Druid Enclave is a natural evolution of Berinncorte in themes and scope; a ton of small slice of life quests, a ton of NPCs, an organic settlement that feels alive. In many ways, I’d be more impressed by this book if I had read it prior to Dark Obelisk II. Druid Enclave’s central issue, as noted before, is that it doesn’t fully capitalize on its scope and complex faction set-up; it promises intrigue and politicking, a change of pace from the gigantic mega-dungeon in Dark Obelisk II, but this change of pace remains on the micro-level, not the macro-level; on the individual level, all the small tidbits are great as a change of pace, but if you expected, like I honestly did, to get a complex set-up that would potentially interweave plotlines with Dark Obelisk II, and/or that had its own massive faction-based plotline, you won’t find it here. Another thing that could have elevated this further, would have been a means to influence elders and factions based on things done in Dark Obelisk II, perhaps working towards a specific resolution that all at first oppose? That sort of grand storytelling would have also provided a good reason to dive ever deeper into the mega-dungeon, to retreat – it would have added a dynamic to the whole monster.

In many ways, I have a hard time rating this book fairly, because I can’t help but feel a twang of sadness for what this easily could have been with a tighter focus. I’ll still try. Druid Enclave is partially a fulfillment of the experimental promise of Berinncorte; it is an organic city, it does not feel constructed, and it is rife with detail and potential. It literally BRIMS with it. At the same time, it suffers from the same weaknesses as Berinncorte, namely the lack of big things to do, of genuinely complex storylines. The side quest-sketches are nice, but in Druid Enclave, they feel a bit like getting tasty fast food servings made from a vast table of 5-star diner ingredients. In contrast to Dark Obelisk II, we have less of the regular adventuring fare like exploration to pick up that slack, much less the utterly novel slow-burn build-up of atmosphere that made Dark Obelisk II so utterly novel and captivating to me. This is, in short, an improvement over Berinncorte in execution, but has even less big quest-lines going on regarding the macro-level that that tome.

For me as a person, this is a 3-star book. As a reviewer, however, I can see this work much better for other people who are less interested in complex and nuanced storylines than me and my players. As such, my reviewer’s final verdict will be 3.5 stars, rounded up.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Druid Enclave (Pathfinder)
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Druid Enclave: Players' Guide (Unisystem)
Publisher: Infinium Game Studios
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/30/2020 14:00:07

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The massive player’s guide for the Druid Enclave supplement clocks in at a ginormous 200 pages; if you take away front/back end matter, you’re left with 193 pages; approximately 10 of these pages are devoted to explaining how to use this book; as Infinium Game Studios has a couple of unique things going on in their supplements, including quadded statblocks, etc., this is appreciated. It should be noted that the introductory section also features a couple of helpful angles: A brief “Game starts in 5 minutes” information briefing (sans SPOILERS) and some general hooks are provided. As brief summary of the setting of Aquilae’s peculiarities is also included here – thankfully, ocne more, this section is properly adjusted to be player-friendly.

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue due to me receiving print copy of the hardcover in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

The book begins by providing the general information regarding the druid-run eponymous city, including a proper settlement statblock, and some notes on general fines imposed by law enforcement, as well as notes on encountering the watch; the encounter-summary here does reference the page-numbers of the big book. The random guard encounter table thus feels pretty displaced here, but doesn’t per se hurt the book. This out of the way, we are introduced to the council members that run the Druid Enclave, each of whom comes with a nice b/w-artwork, and a summary of races and alignment and classes, but without stating the class levels – a good thing, considering that general class is probably something the PCs can discern, while exact power-levels, well, obviously are not.

The Druid Enclave sports a surprisingly deep level of politics and faction interaction, and as such, the book prints the rules explaining the faction presentation here. Factions are presented with an overview, a brief description, and are classified by type as military, intelligence, trade, etc. Beyond that sigil, alignment, racial restrictions if any, key motivations and day-to-day goals are noted alongside long-term objectives. Notable philosophies, such as phrases or mantras, are provided, and influence levels are classified in 7 steps, ranging from no influence to near total control. Faction reputation is similarly classified in 8 categories, and there are 9 categories to determine how old a faction is. A total of 14 general size categories are provided, running the gamut of regular size categories, but also including Family, Local, etc. 8 stability and resource categories are provided. Common traits, dues and taxes, general demeanor and membership notes are provided as well. The supplement also covers the peculiarities of religious factions, if applicable, noting favored weapons, domains, etc. All those categories come with d%-values, so if you want to randomize faction sizes, powers, etc., this system per se delivers. While I don’t necessarily think that the section needed to be in the player’s guide, it does render reading the faction write-ups simpler. Beyond that, I consider the orientation provided by these components as a valid strategy to think of factions in a structured manner, so yeah, nice.

Speaking of which: We begin with two write-ups of major deities, namely the hardliner Zugul, god of order, and Sheergath, who is probably one of my favorite fantasy deities, concept-wise: The deity is usually depicted somewhat goatlike and is CN – and the portfolio? Resigned fate. The deity teaches acceptance, and is as such popular for the downtrodden and those screwed by life. It is at this point where I should note that names for members depending on their station are included for the factions, which is a nice touch indeed. Beyond tehse religious factions, we have no less than 12 local factions, which include the dwarven miner’s union and administration already noted in Dark Obelisk II: The Mondarian Elective, and beyond that includes e.g. guilds for Pelters, farmers, hunters, etc., all properly noted. In many ways, this prominence of factions/guilds does add something subtle to the overall supplement: It makes it feel more lived-in, realistic. You probably know how important guilds among craftspersons were in the medieval age and beyond, so having something like this? It makes the city feel more plausible. 14 additional factions are provided beyond the local ones, which include the secretive information-gatherers of the Scarlet Path, the Order Mechanique, couriers and more – we essentially get a good overview of the movers and shakers of Aquilae here, and I very much enjoyed reading this sub-chapter.

The next massive chapter is devoted to player-friendly maps – the chapter sports an overview of the enclave’s levels in a sideview-ish organization, and then proceeds to present the metric ton of maps herein; as always for Infinium Game Studios, the player-friendly maps really deserve their name: Trapdoors and secret doors on the GM maps have been properly redacted, going that extra mile that I love seeing. Speaking of which: Like the Mondarian Elective, the quality of the maps is higher than in the first Dark Obelisk. The city may look more ordered than a dungeon, but the amount of detail, from weaponry lying on tables to crates etc., is extraordinary. It’s little touches like e.g. a table that doesn’t have one chair cut-copy pasted, with some of them farther under it than others, that your conscious mind may not immediately pick up, but ultimately, your unconscious does. While a few assets are reused, with a carpet being a good example, the maps nonetheless achieve an attention to detail and general sense of being organic that I’d have considered to be nigh impossible to achieve with a map-tool prior to the release of Dark Obelisk II.

While some maps sport a few more of these touches than others, as a whole, the extensive cartography allows you to genuinely see the settlement in all of its details. Infinium Game Studios’ trademark excess regarding details is a rather impressive asset here. Speaking of assets: I am also particularly fond of the fact that there are translucent outlines of buildings depicted over the basement levels. In case you wondered how any GM can keep control over so many maps: Each map has its own letter-code, like DE-GL-EGE, which allows for quick and precise searching and communication between GMs and players. IN case you were wondering: These letters follow their own, simple logic: “DE” stands for “Druid Enclave”; “GL” for “Ground Level”, and “EGE” is the “Entry Gardens East”-map. Simple, easy to grasp, and actually very easy to use at the table. The secret areas of the Druid Enclave do not feature in the player’s guide, thankfully.

The final chapter deals with a ton of NPCs, sporting notes on an overview of the NPC, as well as general appearance and demeanor – these GENERALLY tend to be helpful, as they do not give away crucial details. Generally. When it comes to less savory individuals, things do become problematic. For example when it comes to the Black Market Leader, who has this very profession listed next to his name! Or take the assassin (in profession, not class), who has “(Assassin) in big, fat letters next to her name. That sort of information should be redacted in a player’s guide! Not cool! That’s the one thing that this Player’s Guide really botches, which is particularly weird, considering how the write-ups generally otherwise do a solid job avoiding spoilers. Also weird: Two of the NPCs have stunning full-color artworks; the individuals are obviously sisters, and one sister’s write-up notes that she styles her hair differently from her sister to look distinct from her. This directly contradicts how the two artworks depict them – with the same style of haircut. It’s a small thing in comparison, but it stood out to me.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are better than one would expect from a one-man enterprise that produces tomes of this size. Layout adheres to Infinium Game Studios’ 2-column full-color standard, and the hardcover sports the handy color bands on the side that let you quickly jump to the correct chapter. Cartography, as noted, is really detailed and goes the extra mile regarding player’s maps. The original pieces of artwork, mostly in b/w, provided for the NPCs is a neat plus, though e.g. seeing a rather evil/grim-looking man described as a happy stoner may at first seem odd. In dubio pro reo, though: I assume that this contrast was chosen intentionally, and it’s the exception, rather than the rule: An artwork of a heavily-tattooed one-eyed dwarven lady, in contrast, really put a smile on my face! The artworks are generally well-chosen. The hardcover sports the name on the spine, as proper.

J. Evans Payne’s player’s guide to the Druid Enclave, while structurally akin to the one presented for Dark Obelisk II, does not run afoul of the same issues: The book, for one, does not spoil mechanics of the supplement. As Druid Enclave is structurally closer to Dark Obelisk I’s Berrincorte-settlement’s depiction, it provides a player-centric overview of the vast settlement and its political structure, and does so well. While the spoiling of secret identities and functions in the NPC-section is a big no-go, it remains the only faux-pas of the supplement, and it’s one that could be explained by making it an “open secret” or by PC-connections. Oh, and then there’s the fact that this is FREE as a pdf, and I’m pretty much certain that $19 for a 200-page hardcover is at-price for printing, making this a super-fair offering. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Druid Enclave: Players' Guide (Unisystem)
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Druid Enclave: Atlas (Unisystem)
Publisher: Infinium Game Studios
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/30/2020 13:58:26

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The massive atlas of the Druid Enclave supplement clocks in at 312 pages of maps, already disregarding front/back end matter.

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue due to me receiving a print copy of the hardcover in exchange for a fair and unbiased review. My review is based on this hardcover.

The book sports the handy colored bands on the side, which render navigation simple; as always, the maps have their letter-codes noted, which makes finding them rather simple. This massive atlas first features the GM maps, then the player-friendly maps; the latter have been featured in the player’s guide, while the former are in the proper adventure book.

Which brings me to the central note here: This premium atlas only makes sense getting if you do not plan on getting the main Druid Enclave book. Why? Well, the primary selling proposition of the premium atlas, usually, is the massive amount of player-friendly maps, and in this instance, since the Druid Enclave is essentially a town and not an adventure area, those already are featured in the player’s guide.

The book misses a HUGE chance, in that it does not provide player-friendly versions of the secret areas redacted on the player maps. To elaborate: One thing I love about Infinium Game Studios, is that the company  properly redacts secret door “S”-indicators, trapdoors and the like properly; on the player-friendly maps, none of these are present, walls are thick, etc. The downside of this practice, though, is that there are secret areas hidden beyond those doors – and said areas only exist in the GM-map iterations. It’s one of the things that really irked me about Dark Obelisk II as well: Once the players do unearth a secret area, they suddenly don’t have a player’s map any more, and you have to use the GM-map.

The player’s guide to Dark Obelisk II only sported the maps for the initial settlement, not the mega-dungeon, which rendered the premium atlas a super-handy resource for that book, courtesy of all those player-friendly maps for the mega-dungeon; the same can’t be claimed here. If you have the main book and player’s guide, you have all the maps, and there is relatively little reason to get this, with the main draw here being that the atlas sports zoomed-in versions of some of the overview maps that were not included in the PG.

That out of the way, if you are just looking for a metric ton of full color maps, and don’t want the main meat of the supplement, then this certainly delivers. The maps, while made with a tool, are genuinely better than I’d have deemed possible with the like prior to DO II, full of details and small tidbits that make them stand out. They achieve the task of making you feel like you’re exploring  dynamic, lived-in settlement.

Now, as far as ratings are concerned, it really depends: If you plan on running Druid Enclave, SKIP THIS. You do not need this, and it literally offers only little additional value. For you, this is a 2-star-dud.

If, however, you do not plan on running Druid Enclave, then this is certainly is worth the asking price, and if you want to get an idea of the style of maps, you can download the FREE player’s guide and check those out. If you like what you’re seeing, then getting this will be worth the asking price. For you, this’ll probably be a 4-star supplement. For you, only the absence of player friendly maps for the redacted areas remains as a detriment.

There is no fair reconciling of these points of view; hence, my final verdict will be JUST for people not interested in the Druid Enclave book. For you, this is a massive array of maps for a fair price, and as such, a 4-star book.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Druid Enclave: Atlas (Unisystem)
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Starfarer's Arsenal: Shotguns
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/26/2020 13:18:11

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

The pdf begins with some observations I found myself applauding – namely that scatterguns are not shotguns, in either functionality or concept. Based on these observations, we begin with new weapon qualities. “Double” means that the weapon has two barrels, and may be fired with a usage of 1; however, as a full action, you can unload both barrels at once, expending 2 rounds of ammo, dealing additional damage as listed by the quality. “Imposing” weapons are load, bright, and somewhat flabbergasting – as such, if you use these weapons to hit and damage a target, the target gets no AoO against you until the start of their next turn. This is very strong versus some builds, but also adds a serious tactical angle to the gameplay that I really love.

The “Shotgun” quality means that you can fire scattergun shells, which come as slugs or shot; slugs behave as kinetic weapons, but may not eb fired with using a choke. When using shot, for each range increment beyond the first, you get +1 to atk, but also -minus 1 damage PER DIE. On 0 or less, the target takes no damage at all. A shotgun can be sawed off/have a shortened barrel, or a choke. A sawed-off has a shorter range-increment, determined in 5-foot increments, minimum 5; chokes increase the range increment by 10 feet. Chokes can be removed or replaced as a standard action.

The pdf presents 5 types of shotguns, all of which come in 4 different iterations. We have assault shotguns, combat shotguns (which are automatic), hunting shotguns, riot guns (imposing) and break guns (which get double). Combat shotguns get bleed as critical effect, while riot guns get wound; hunting shotguns and break guns get knockdown. Ranges and capacity make sense for the items, the former being obviously on the low end of the spectrum, and one weapon is presented for each of the 20 item-levels. They are classified as longarms, just fyi.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the artwork features on the cover is neat. The supplement has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Owen K.C. Stephens delivers big time here; from pricing to damage values to genuinely playing differently from scatterguns, this supplement delivers big time in its frame. This is a great little supplement, well worth getting for your Starfinder game. 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Starfarer's Arsenal: Shotguns
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Extinguish the Sun #02
Publisher: Apollyon Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/26/2020 13:15:52

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The second installment of the Extinguish the Sun-‘zine clocks in at 20 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/introduction, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 17 pages, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), so let’s take a gander!

As the introduction notes, this book is essentially a genre-port/hack that takes the LotFP-rules (Lamentations of the Flame Princess), and adjusts them to apply to the cyberpunk genre. (As an aside, if you’re like me and considered the first issue’s setting to be promising – it’s been picked up by Necrotic Gnome!) The different focus can be seen in layout, with corporate logos and warnings provided.

The supplement presents 4 new classes; The cyborg gets d8 HD, save- and XP-progression of the dwarf, and the class gets 3 skills to be divided among 5 core skills; these behave like the usual LotFP-skills, and include Guidance (which covers navigation), Knowledge, Vision mods, Math, and Strength – the latter is a bit unfortunately-named. Why not call it “Feats of Strength”, “Muscles” or some such to avoid confusion between skill and ability score. The Lowlife gets d6 HD, save-, XP- and skill-progression as a specialist, with two unique skills introduced: The first is Acquisitions, which represents the ability to get their hands on goods, legal and illegal products, etc.; the second skill is Offloading, which is the skill used to get rid of stuff, fence contraband, etc. These two skills start off as 1 in 6, so the base values need not be purchased. The mercenary has d10 HD, an elf’s saving throw progression, and an XP-progression of the specialist. The mercenary can get odd jobs that pay 50 bucks per day, and they pick a primary weapon from a list of 3, a sidearm from a list of 4, and a special ability from a list of 4 (Skilled, Stout, Savage, Martial Arts). With the primary weapon, the mercenary has an attack bonus equal to their level, ½ their level (rounded up) with the secondary weapon. If choosing unarmed as secondary weapon, the mercenary deals 1d4 damage with those. Martial Arts upgrades unarmed secondary weapon damage to 1d8, if present, and when the character attacks, they get +2 to Ac until their next turn. Stout upgrades HD t d12. Skills nets 4 points that can be used in specialist skills, but not the new ones of the lowlife. Savage increases the daage die caused with all attacks by one step; d12s become d12 + 1d4, just fyi.

The final class, and the only one sans a delightful b/w-artwork, would be the Phreak who gets d4 HD, save-progression as a magic-user, XP-progression as a cleric. These fellows have embedded datajacks, and can jack into the Matrix. If they take damage while jacked in, they are ejected and take additional damage. Safely logging off from the Matrix takes a whopping 10 minutes. The Matrix as envisioned here is explained in detail; its structure is that it is made up of nodes, rooms, all interconnected, a vast, sprawling digital metropolis/dungeon-crossover. Equipment must be smuggled into the Matrix via a backdoor, and costs as much in the Matrix as in real life. Matrix-use items can’t be sold. Regular characters can only take 4 items with them, while phreaks get up to 6. Additionally, phreaks get d12 HD in the Matrix, and attack bonus equal to their level. The HD of other users is contingent on skin-quality of the avatar, ranging from d4 to d10.

The pdf also presents a basic equipment list that covers both melee and ranged weapons, as well as armor. Ranged weapons do tend to inflict A LOT more damage than melee; the pdf does not state how reloading, clip-size etc. is handled, and regarding the latter, no information whatsoever is provided. Considering the damage-discrepancy, I’m pretty sure that something’s missing here.

The pdf also features a brief summary of the setting, which is pretty much par for the course: 5 big corporations  rule the world, and they all get a brief paragraph of a summary, alongside their own corporate logos. Only a job at the big 5 is worth anything – everything else renders you an outcast, as the employment card doubles as an ID and credit card. Players are either ID-less outcasts  or have the very limited freelancer cards.

The pdf closes with a brief interview featuring Daniel Sell of the Melsonian Arts Council.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting is very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a one-column b/w-standard with nice interior artwork by Evelyn M.; David Shugars’ layout is nifty for such a minimalist publication, and I really like Anxy’s cover art. The pdf has no bookmarks, which is a bit of a comfort detriment.

Chance Phillips’ cyberpunk hack left me exceedingly unimpressed; I’m a fan of the genre, and while the execution of what is here is decent, I don’t really see the necessity of the supplement; this is very much cookie-cutter cyberpunk without flair or novelty, and if you have ever read Neuromancer, or played 2020 or Shadowrun, you can probably improvise more complex and exciting  material. The conception of the Matrix as a dungeon stand-in is clever, but not sufficiently-realized/explained to make long-term campaigning make sense. As a whole, I’d be hard-pressed to play a compelling game with these rules, or a motivation to build on them. Unlike in the first installment, there simply isn’t much here to set this apart on either a mechanical, or narrative level. I can’t recommend this ‘zine. My final verdict can’t exceed 2.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Extinguish the Sun #02
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Extinguish the Sun #01
Publisher: Apollyon Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/25/2020 12:33:40

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first installment of the „Extinguish the Sun“-zine clocks in at 16 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 14 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

The rules-set assumed in this supplement would be B/X, which means that it operates relatively seamlessly with Old School Essentials, my current go-to presentation on the B/X-rules.

So, this supplement assumes a kind of Mad Max-y/Tank Girl-y setting that is somewhat fantasy-post-apocalypse like; there is a subdued, slightly allegorical quality that is particularly prevalent in the environment depicted in the beginning of the ‘zine, namely the “City in Chains” – a rotting country, where the king watches from his sealed tomb, where are representatives of castes are caricatures or perversions of their erstwhile craft. The hazy notion implies that you have to want to get there, or you won’t find it, forgetting it; this dreamlike haziness is the strongest component of this write-up, for it adds a surreal aspect to the place. Chefs are blinded and have seared hands from being forced to check temperature by hand; the engineers are paranoid creators of strange weaponry, for there can only be a few, and to get a spot, you have to kill one of them; the generals rule and are decadent…you get the idea. Priesthood and taxmen are covered as well, and as a whole, we get an impression of a city rotting at the seams. It is an interesting piece of writing and setting, but one that suffers from its indecisiveness: If it is allegorical and surreal, it could go much farther and doesn’t; if it’s primarily supposed to be plausible, it feels almost like a caricature of such a place. The article was an enjoyable read, and certainly can inspire, particularly if you’re less jaded and versed in such literature or concepts than I am.

After this, we get the two new classes – both fit all relevant information on one page, and indicate with a handy scissor item that they can be cut out of a print version; the Marksman is an 8-level class with Dexterity 9 as prerequisite and Dexterity as prime requisite, who may not wear armor, but may use any weapon. The class gets d8 HD, uses the fighter’s XP-progression and (TH)AC0 progression, but sports a unique save progression. They begin play with an ancestral firearm, and may execute stunts. These must be announced before an attack roll is made, and apply a penalty to the attack. The pdf encourages making more than the 4 presented. These include doubled range at -1 to atk, save or die due to a headshot (if you roll a natural 20 only), ricochet and rapid fire. Weird: The class caps at level 8, explicitly says so, but applies the header “Reaching 9th Level” to a section that pertains to their capstone level. All in all, a decent take on a super-stripped down version of Pathfinder’s gunslinger. Okay, but doesn’t win any prizes.

The Librarian is much more interesting: This class has a prime requisite of Intelligence, but needs a minimum Wisdom of 9; it spans 14 levels and gets d6 HD; they may use any weapon, but no armor.  They use the thief’s XP-progression, but their (TH)AC0 only improves from 19 to 17 at 6th level, and to 14 at 11th level. Their “attract followers”-level is 11th; the librarians are conceptually awesome: You may not (necessarily) know how to read, but you know of the importance of books – that’s why you wear them on your body the whole time, clad in a thick coat of books that works as chainmail armor. This is a fantastic concept, well-illustrated in a one-page artwork by Evevlyn M. Downside of wearing so many book: You take double fire damage. What do you get for that? Well, at 4th level you can smell books, automatically detecting them if passing within 10 ft. of one; at 10th level, you get a 5-in-6 chance to passively notice secret doors. Their death/poison save starts off at an atrocious 16, and the other saves aren’t particularly great either. As always, HD are capped at 9th level, with further levels providing +2 HP. And yes, that’s unfortunately it. No ability to cast from the books; no papercut abilities; no paper-plane, no magical origami. Just a dude wearing books as armor. This is the biggest, almost criminal waste of an awesome idea I’ve seen in a while.

The pdf then provides a table of 9 firearms with their stats, as well as three general templates of a sort; the damage values and range seem plausible, as do the prices. While the table is concise and shouldn’t provide problems for experienced GMs, the tables also has a “Notes”-column that e.g. lists: “a, m, s, 2h, L”; particularly since quite a few GMs I know switch between rules systems frequently, getting a brief explanation here would have been prudent.

So yeah, so far, this ‘zine may have been rather underwhelming, but then comes a great reason to get this supplement for its low price: Vehicle rules that are simple and elegant. You generally don’t need to check when driving, just when attempting a special maneuver. You check by rolling 1d10 + your Dexterity adjustment versus a number that is, at the highest 10 – essentially a DC. You check a small table, which lists different numbers for going slow, medium or fast. The rows denote conditions like the area being off-road, flooded, etc.; Swerves, turns, halts and controlled skids are defined, and the vehicle engine provides stats and costs for bikes, compacts, regular and large vehicles, including #1 of seats, Hit Points, cost, base speed, etc. Oh, and they have upgrade slots! 13 upgrades are provided, which range from being solar-powered to having a mounted cannon. I genuinely enjoy this engine; it is by far the best component of the pdf as far as I’m concerned, and considering the low price point, might well warrant getting this for you all on its own. Then again, I wished the supplement had provided more upgrades, covered e.g. melee weaponry, etc. There is a lot of material that the engine could use and is missing, including suggested damage values for being run over.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard with some neat pieces of original b/w-artwork that I really enjoyed. The pdf has no bookmarks, which constitutes a comfort detriment.

Chance Phillips’ first “Extinguish the Sun”-‘zine started of in a solid manner; the  write up of the city, while not exactly novel, might be enjoyable for some less jaded people out there; I liked it well enough. However, much like the two classes, I feel it didn’t go far enough with its ideas. The classes are duds to me, with particularly the librarian’s cool concept deserving better: The increased HD over the thief doesn’t pay for the lack of reasonable stuff to do and the deadly Achilles’ heel. The vehicle rules, though? They are genuinely well-crafted. I wished there had been more of them, for if this had used one or two of its pages more to make them work, we’d have a system I’d wholeheartedly recommend. If you’re looking for the like, this will be worth the $2.00 price-tag for you; if not, then…well. Not. As a whole, I consider this a mixed bag that sports some duds, but also a fun and well-executed subsystem. As such, my final verdict will be 3.5 stars; and due to the low and fair price point, I’ll round up for this one, if barely.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Extinguish the Sun #01
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Thunderscape: Heroes of Aden
Publisher: Kyoudai Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/25/2020 12:28:58

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement clocks in at 16 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 11 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So, what is this? Well, functionally, this is a collection of NPC allies with statblocks included. They are the named variety, so not the generic everyman’s statblocks, and the individuals make ample use of Thunderscape’s class array; if required, for example when a thaumaturge is concerned, we have the stats modified by the typically-channeled legend featured in brackets, with spirit points properly noted. Similarly, more complex rules operations are noted in brackets, which can be handy for some less experienced GMs.

We begin with Corbin Clark, who may be of Kuzark stock, though his name is that of an Arasteen native; he oddly is a staunch enemy of the concept of a rewarding life after death, but still is an ardent enemy of the wicked – a position I can relate to, and one rarely seen in TTRPG-products. Rules-wise, he is a fighter2/thaumaturge 4. Aforementioned use of brackets is somewhat inconsistent here, with the senses line noting a Perception of +8, which is the value provided for the legend; this extends to all such characters using thaumaturge legends, just fyi. The statblock is per se nice, but sports errors, like an incorrect initiative value and the magical shortswords not in proper italics in the offense section.

Next up would be Daevid, an echo bard 5/thaumaturge 4 (who ALSO draws on the warrior legend as a default), bereaved of his paladin love; a solid tragic hero. Davan Campos’ bloodline hails back to the  first Lord Protector of the Mistland Republic, he is an exceptionally driven and capable captain, a steamwright 18 who gets a new trait that allows for halved size for non-combat starting inventions. Kaera, Sorceress of the Free Cities, is at this point one of the most powerful benevolent protectors of the Coolwave Coast. Mechanically, she is a rogue 3/sorcerer 15, and while liked her background, her statblock lacks the HD lists, her AC similarly lacks the breakdown of how it’s calculated, her feats are lower case, her statblocks lists her iterative attacks, and her, build, as a whole, is VERY unfocused;  at her level, she is rather ill-prepared to face her appropriate challenges.

Magnus Arcane’s name, before you groan, is indeed a pseudonym, and the somewhat odd black sheep of the family, he’s taken to magic. His statblock (he is a universalist wizard 11) is btw. also missing HD-breakdown, AC bonus key, etc. Marek Celdyrm a level 8 thaumaturge, does not have this issue and lists the like properly. He is also drawing upon a different legend – protector, this time around; Marek is hunting a necromancer, seeking to end the family curse.  Michiko the Fox, an elven ninja, gets a ninja trick that lets her spend 1 point of ki to gain scent for 10 minutes, which is neat, but no activation action is provided; that should probably be free. Ridiculous: Know what scent helps most? Yea, noticing stuff and  tracking. Michiko has not a single rank of Survival. Her list of ninja tricks is also missing this one, and her CMD is listed as “+20”. Her weapon is incorrectly called “katana of frost” instead of frost katana, among other issues.

A mechamage of remarkable skill, Mykal the Toymaker is the lavishly-illustrated fellow on the cover, and being a friend of the fellow (a new trait that is not properly classified by trait type) makes a beginning golmeoid implant masterwork. It is odd, then, that such a potent fellow only ranks at 7 class levels. Odder still: While he comes with a doll golem, the text also mentions his dollhouse, a mobile manor house that can fit into a 30-foot-square, with rotating cannon-platforms. No, that’s NOT the doll golem. Yes, the issues in the statblocks are here as well, with CMD, among other things, being off. I really don’t get why the exceedingly cool Dollhouse wasn’t statted properly.

Nikkos Moran is fighter 5 who uses a single shortsword, not kidding; his CMB and CMD are also wrong. Most amateur players can make a better fighter. Ophelia Mimina is a bard 12 focusing on casting (no magic weapon, all defense) who erroneously lists her CMD as 13. Reinn is a fighter 3/ranger 5 multiclass, and is essentially described as a lone wanderer over whom little is known. The final NPC is Taela Dragonstar, a sorcerer 4 with the draconic bloodline, with 4 qinggong monk levels and 2 seer levels thrown in; is her build impressive when compared to what shows u at my table? Not really, but she is leagues better than  the majority of NPCs herein, and she feels like a character that could kinda happen in a game where the player focuses on making the development of the character based primarily on the story.

The pdf ends with some general advice on handling NPCs and a brief campaign framework of PCs as pseudo law enforcers in Mekanus.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are not good on a formal or rules-language level; I noticed too many discrepancies and hiccups that influence the rules. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the pdf sports a really neat full-color artwork. The pdf has no bookmarks, which is a comfort detriment.

The different design skills of Shawn Carman, Chris Camarata, Rob Drake and Rich Wulf are, alas, on full display here: There are a few NPCs I’d consider to be worth introducing, but from the formal hiccups to the build validity on the characters featured herein, the supplement is highly inconsistent on a mechanical level. This tendency, alas, extends to the stories as well, which range from captivating and interesting to utterly bland; unfortunately, cool complex and good builds don’t necessarily correlate in the supplement, which renders recommending this something I simply can’t do. This is not the worst NPC book I’ve seen, but it is a long shot from being fully functional or something I’d recommend to a discerning GM. My final verdict can’t exceed 2.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Thunderscape: Heroes of Aden
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